New Gear, New Sounds, New electronica

Some new electronica in progress,  Nice to start getting back into things. I’ve been kinda down and while that is fuel for some musicians, it’s not for me.  BTW this is a new setup- I am always reinvigorated by redesign of my workspace. Heck I don’t even like calling it a workspace or workflow because it’s about fun right? Still I wonder how many other musicians like to rearrange their creative spaces periodically? At anyrate I have better access to some of my older gear like the Casio VZ-10M the Kawai XD-5 and my trusty old Korg M3R.   Propellerhead’s lastest  version of Reason allows control of External midi Gear so I’m looking to see what mischief I can do there. Yes, I know I have always had the capability in Ableton, but I really like Reason’s layout and it fits right in with the design aesthetic (Rack-mount skeuomorphism and all that )WP_001319

But I love new toys, Who Doesn’t?   (Muzik 4 machines I’m looking squarely at you)

New gear is always a plus so I’m having some fun with a recently acquired M-Audio Venom and Korg Kaossilator. The Venom is very cool sounding synth that I think has been somewhat of an ugly duckling for M-Audio err Avid Umm InMusic whoever they are now .  It’s too bad because it has a lot of promise, good sound and flexible audio  implementation. Having the low latency Audio interface streamlines my setup in some ways, though as a controller it is merely OK (a better way to change programs let alone drum clips would have been awesome as would a phrase looper Oh well that’s what Ableton and Reason are for lol. With some of its feature you would almost think its’ a live performance synth but as it tunrs out changing between Drum patterns its glitchy- and not in a good way.  Still it has a lot to offer and can be had for cheap.  I may do a mini review of it though it seems to be covered fairly well on the Youtubes.

Speaking of the YouTubes here a little snippet of what I’ve got in my head now. Next time I’ll improve the audio

Driven Music Conference 2013 Florida – Are These Shows Worth It?

Driven Florida Music Conference May 16-19th 2013

On Friday May 17th I went to the Driven Florida music Conference held at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Ft Lauderdale. I had the good fortune to be accompanied by local Rapper Kid Berg who was also interested in this more “industry” focused conference.  Kid Berg is a cool cat who I think exemplifies to comfort millenials (Morel like Gen Z because he is very young millenial) have with new media. He is business-savvy, yet unassuming.   When I was talking to the PR guys and some of the artists they were fronting, Kid Berg was merrily texting  away.  But he wasn’t just some kid texting LOLs. When we were finished talking and walking away, he’d casually mention that that so and so is not that impressive because he only has x amount of traffic and followers and a low search ranking while artist Y is not fooling around and has a good online presence and looks like he’s got a grip etc.

Nobody is going to pull the wool over him- Solid B.S Detector.

Anyways as Far as Driven goes  it was OK,  I wish I could have stayed for Saturday and some of the early morning cocktail access to some of the panelists. It was laid back, informal and pretty open. But as a conference I could say that it had a few problems, that are kinda minor and I will get them out of the way quickly.
Sparse Attendance – From an attendee perspective this is not a bad thing as you have more time to interact with the panelists,  and in some ways forced you to be a little more social with other attendees, but it still  had the feeling of “What do we do now?” – that said I picked up a few cards from some interesting people. However from an event sponsor PoV it is not so good- but this is the 2nd or 3rd year here for them so this may have been an improvement.  Also I was only there for the Friday Sessions and Saturday could have been Monster.

Few “booths”-   too bad, would have liked to see reps from gear /Software makers like Ableton and  Korg  showing of some toys (I want to play with some Volcas)  but it was for the most part SAE school and internet marketing (Website promotions)  companies. I understand that this was a business and not a tech show but I think there is room for some of that.
Meager swag   – Not even a USB keychain with some dopey pix or showcase artist demos (That’s what the Internet is for I guess) 😦 Oh well, I can’t complain about the price for the two day conference and live showcases as it  was very reasonable.
Note: I could have paid to put discs and stuff in the bag to pimp my shit but I didn’t. so If your Swag-Bag wasn’t pimp enough for you either, go ahead blame me for not putting one of my discs in there (but you had the same opportunity amirite?!) wtfits

Ok so my complaints are pretty minor and to be fair there was a great legal panel that was scheduled earlier in the day but was moved up to the morning slot which was fine by me. The  Chase Entertainment lawyer (Greg Bloom) was a cool guy and straight shooter it seemed. While the major focus of the panel was on the 360 deal, along the way I learned a few things about copyrights , transfer of ownership, where everybody is on the royalty food chain and who collects what at the end of the day. I also got to meet the guys from “Approaching Nirvana” , another “Cinematic Electronica” band based in Miami. As it turns out there may be more to the Miami “Electronica” scene then the gate keepers at Ultra music and the local clubs would lead you to believe. They talked about marketing and the DIY -perspective and made themselves available after the panel session was over.  For anyone looking to get into the business this panel alone was worth the admission price.

tl;dr “360” deals are here to stay. Nobody is just going to give you money so you can go be an artist- they want ROI from all the ways your work can be monetized. Good thing for you is that  you get to negotiate with labels on bigger variety of items, from merch to live shows, streaming rights, synch rights etc, and you can negotiate different rates on each part so you can give a little on one thing put potentially do quite well on another, for example the percentage between streaming revenue and concert tour revenue. Also If you decide to go label hunting, having all these different revenue streams under your control will make you look more together and appealing as a business investment (Because that is what your are to them, never forget that).  FYI if all this talk about “Product” and “Monetization” bugs the “Artist of the peoples”  in you perhaps you should consider another line of work. If becoming some kind of “commercial success” (and I will define this as “Getting paid some amount of money to do what you love” ) important to  you then you kinda have to think in these terms, failure to do so will most likely leave you unhappy.

Bottom line; little plastic discs are tanking and the major record industry has collapsed into 3 or four major labels. As such,  labels look to maximize the artist’s total revenue stream. What does that entail? Well before, the record company basically paid for the record production and derived royalty payments from sale of that. Other revenue streams were not counted. Publishers actually made a shit-ton of money. (See this Primer from Tunecore). <—That primer or something like that should have been handout at this session,  Bloom and company reinforced the concepts there.
However, artists  have a wide variety or revenue streams open to us depending on the use of our Intellectual Property. (E.G. Don’t think of your music as just songs or video think of the broader use your work.) The goal here is to get yourself in a position to leverage the strengths of all of your work be it ringtones or commercial soundtrack.
Now let me stop for sec here and change gears for minute. Part of the focus on this event is to get a picture of how the industry looks today. This includes what it takes, the “things you need to know” about the industry. So there was a some focus on the traditional record deal with a label. But I would be doing the conference a disservice if I didn’t say that there was huge representation of the DIY side. This was not Big label Rah Rah. This was definitely letting artists know that with the digital age and social media.  Artists have more avenues for expression and connecting with their audiences in different ways than ever in the history of man.
But…
Everyone is out to make a buck and frankly some artists will need resources to help with the parts that they don’t know, (I’m still not sure what Moozar really brings to the table). It’s like the insides of a major label threw up on to the internet and each dept can now help you with monetizing all your revenue streams…. for a small fee.  That’s  where all your internet marketing companies I mentioned earlier come in.  From Soundcloud Wannabe’s to All in One Promotion shops, you could spend a ton of money trying to pimp your work and if your not careful lose it, in Nickel and dime fashion in all this freedom. Many of the services are good but they will sell to anyone who can pay. There are also free services too, use the hell out of them if it makes sense and drop it if it doesn’t.

The Take Away

So what does that mean? In practical terms it means, use the free tools that are out there to find and know your market/audience before your start paying someone to spam what your THINK might be your audience.  Some of the best promotional tools are free- Youtube and Google analytics. Facebook accounts are good for a presence but for music promotion it is a veritable wasteland (or so they pointed out at the conference).  Soundcloud is a good place but it still has that kinda musician-to-musician vibe. YouTube however is king, get a good following there and you will have a solid lead.  However, you should think of these places as  a place where you would link your content to from your site, because those “free services” could disappear and all your work, leads and info gone in the wink of a press release, (Think Google RSS and Buzz).

Website’s ? What? People still have those?

Speaking of Driving traffic to your site, all the panelists agreed that owning your own site is super important to maintain control over your online brand or presence.  It’s where you collect emails and increasingly cell phone numbers and twitter feeds as email is for old people apparently. The importance of the Website may be a little diminished as a communication tool but it’s still seen as a requirement to show that your are “serious” More importantly it is the destination to which you can drive all traffic to from whatever the “Flavor of the Month” Social media site there is.  This is where you can keep and or direct access to your core content. If /when your social media picks become non relevant (6degrees, Friendster, Old MySpace where art thou?) where will your fans go? Do you want to put all your eggs (and contacts and marketing data) in one basket controlled by someone else who at the end of the day doesn’t give a shit about you and your data?

So All in all the Friday at Driven was good, there was the Big Panel at the end talking about Concepts,tours, and marketing which was also good but it was very wide and not too deep. I would have like to have stayed longer but we had a tight schedule to keep.  Lot’s of idea juice was picked up and made a few contacts.  Let’s hope they come back next year.

Anniversary of Sorts.

3 years Ago today I wrote on this wordpress blog that my brother Alex and I were going to try and get gigs. Next Friday on the Feb 22nd will be his funeral mass. I’m still doing music but it’s not going to be the same with out him. I love you Alex, I miss you.

Solid State Disks and your Music Software

A question was recently asked on the Ableton  Forums concerning whether or not a Solid State Disk Drive (a hard disk with no moving parts) provides some real advantages over your typical spinnng metal platter based drive, beyond just fast load times of your samples into memory.  It is not wrong to assume that there is the speed benefit to loading samples into RAM from your drive but it goes beyond that, it  goes to the heart of modern operating system performance.

(Below is highly abstracted to illustrate the issue, as not everyone is a computer anyalyst and this is a subject that is SOOO easy to geek out on )

 Given the lack of physical RAM to Disk space (relatively speaking) modern computers have used something called “virtual memory”. This is where the operating systems get to take some space on the Hard disk and “pretends” that is is RAM memory. The operating system then figures out what you are doing (memory wise) and whatever you are doing at the moment it allocates more “real” chip based RAM. Whatever you aren’t actively working on it pushes off to slower Virtual memory in a process called Paging, Then when you need that application or service, it pulls it from the disk and into RAM. Its is during this transition that program slowdowns, pauses or audio stuttering can occur. Add to this the creation of “temporary” work files and caching that Ableton (or many other music software) and you have a hard disk that is working quite hard to (even @ 7200 or 10,000 RPM) to give you a smooth experience.

Traditionally you solved this by throwing RAM at the problem. Some folks go even going further by creating  paging or “swap” file partitions, putting the paging file on a dedicated separate physical drive, or even altering cluster sizes when you partitioned /formatted the Drive so you have more effecient use of space. All this in an effort increase mechanical efficiency to prevent the paging file from being fragmented/overused thereby decreasing the amount of movement the R/W heads have to do.   Microsoft even added “Ready Boost” to Vista and Win7 so you can use SD or Compact flash cards for Caching operations since they can have good read speeds. (Ahem..I once experimented w a Disk array using USB sticks and USB hub)

Well now, you can just spend a ton of money and get a solid state drive and forget about all that nonsense. No moving parts, incredible transer rates, no worries about vibration, no partitioning hassles, disk fragmentation is a relative non issue.  Now to be sure SSD’s comes with their own pecadillos but for our purposes price is the biggest obstacle.
Should you get one? Thats up to your wallet really. Do you need one? Probably not. Will you immediately benefit/ notice a diffrence if you buy a good one? Most likely  Hell yes!  Its one of those things thats once you actually try it the difference is quite obvious (Night/Day on Windows systems I can’t speak for Macs but I’m sure the experince is comparable). The good news is that if you can wait 3-6 months, you’ll undoubtedly save money as the prices will drop on the 120’s (as the 200+GB come out). But if you have an extra 3-400, (tax refunds, bonus, robbing a 7-11 what-eva), the SSD is not a bad investment. Compared to what some artists spend on new synths, mikes, compressors, or Controllers its chump change. 

SSD’s are the future of local data storage, even now Hewlett Packard  is looking to produce drives and other technologies from “Memristors” .  So don’t worry at some point and SSD will be part of your setup and you’ll be wondering you dodn’t make the switch sooner. (Conveniently forgetting todays price tag LOL).

Tax Strategies for Musicians?

First off let me be clear that this is not about cheating taxes or grey areas. I have had to pay the IRS for legitimate mistakes and I certainly don’t want them looking at me funny for questionable filing. The other thing is that I am not a professional musician by trade. I have a day job that I will probably keep until I quit, die or they outsource me.

OK, now with that disclaimer out out of the way I’ll get down to it.

I’m writing this this because I did some freelance computer work last year and lost about 50% of that in taxes (so much for encouraging small business.) Now lets say by some good fortune I make over $1000.00 this year doing gigs and selling merchandise. If I claim it on my personal income tax as misc. income I know I will lose half (due to self employment taxes for FICA and SS).

Now as a “part time” musician and I have yet to make any income however, that may change in the future as Alex and I have been rehearsing for upcoming gigs. We are lucky that we have good relations with local promoters/booking agents and can get some “starter” gigs so that’s not a worry (That usually the biggest hurdle right?). Now most of these are of the low/non paying local music scene type deals (is there any other kind?) but that doesn’t mean that we don’t incur expenses. Gas and Tolls obviously but what about gear and software? If I decide to sell my Axiom 49 and buy an Axiom Pro or a new Subwoofer is there anyway I can deduct it as a business expense?

Its one thing to keep accounts on Quickbooks but should I incorporate? If so what kind? Now obviously there are plenty of working musicians out there for whom it obviously makes sense to incorporate (wedding/event bands and other pros), but is this the path that “itinerant” musicians should take? When should your “expensive hobby” be treated like a business? What do other “Not famous at all but occasionally make a buck musicians” do?   Obviously answers from U.S. folks are preferred but it always interesting to hear how things are handled in other countries.

Ghost of Old Bands past #dejavu

An old band mate (Static Opera) contacted me after many years and we had the longest chat on the phone. After we covered over what’s been going on in our lives for the past 18 years (Married, Kids etc), we did what we always did; talk shop and Gear.  Turns out after we parted ways he became an Audio Engineer, toured with the Genitorturers for a while, got married had family,  amassed huge collection of gear, had Ebay-A-thons and then realized how much of PITA HW can be and switched to software synths. He’s big into Reason/Record. Thats Sweet since Reason was my first love of Soft-Synths. (I had played with stuff like Cakewalk but I wan’t feeling it so I stuck w/ hardware.)   In many respects is was like hearing my story in a different voice. (Except for the Audio engineer and Touring with the”The World’s Sexiest Rock Band” part).

It was really great to talk to him and find out what he had been up to but in no time we were talking shop about gear and software, comparing notes as it were.  It was as if  we had never been apart for too long. Thats cool because I don’t have too many people I can blab on about Waveforms, samples and modulation CV routing and Thor patches without eyes glazing over. It seems lately my past has been coming back to haunt me but in a good way. Perhaps 2010 is the year of re-connecting, so far so good.

Here’s Justin’s Myspace if you want to hear what he has been up to.

Some more music.. Puff Puff Pass Mon :)

..of the Red ‘Lectroids is an Electro Dub groove that Alex and I put together a while back but the original was 11 minutes long and I had clipping issues so I tightned it up and trimmed it down to a little over 5. It’s probably going to change once Alex and I start rehearsing it for live performance but I liked the choon enough to want to share it with you all. (It wasn’t until after I named it did I realize that it should have been Black Lectroids but what the hell…. Who’s going to get it right?)