Saturday, January 14, 2012

Things Change (But the Song Remains the Same)

I made a comment in the last post that there will be some big changes ahead.  Last Saturday, I became a father for the first time. It's an event I've looked forward to with a great deal of excitement and a healthy dose of fear (anyone who doesn't experience the latter, in my opinion, is clinically insane). There is no doubt this is going to turn my world on its head and affect every corner of my life, and one of those corners is this project. Does this mean the end?

Nope. I personally know several parents of young children who find the time to fit in their musical endeavors. In fact, I see this project as more important than ever as my son enters the world. While he might not appreciate yet, I see it as embodying some of the lessons I want him to learn about music. It is something to be shared with others, both as a performer and as a collaborator. It is something created, not simply consumed and/or regurgitated, meant to express something within you that makes you who you are. It is art, contributing to the culture around you, in its own way big or small. Stepping back somewhat to a broader view, continuing the project is a lesson by way of demonstration that one must not sacrifice what is important to them. The last thing I want to do is provide him with the example that having a child means throwing away your other passions and dreams. No one should ever have such a tragic view presented to them.

That's not to say some adjustments won't have to be made. The luxury of sequestering myself in the basement studio may need to give way to impromptu recordings, or a greater emphasis on loops and sequencing that can be done on my laptop while looking after him. It may mean less frequent posting, or perhaps just more brief. Any plans and direction for the project in the coming year will need to be made with him in mind. It will be interesting to see how fatherhood factors in, and I'm excited to see what challenges and surprises it will present me with.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Song to Close The Year With

I know, it's been a very long time coming. Here it is, the last song in 2011 for the project, before the new year turns my world on its head (more about that later).

Creative Commons License
Given how long it was since the last one, one might expect a grand and polished product. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I'll be coming back to this song down the road, I think. There are horn lines bouncing around in my head that will take me some time to sort out, and many of the tracks could use some serious touching up (or outright scrap and redo). But, in the interest of sharing instead of letting it sit on the shelf collecting dust, it is being unleashed upon the world.

The song grew out of the slide guitar riffs in the chorus and verse. As musicians who I've jammed with have come to learn (poor bastards) I often like to slip into reggae grooves in the middle of a song out of nowhere. It stems partly from my love of Big Sugar, who are masters at infusing blues and rock with rich, thick veins of reggae. I can't do it nearly as well as them, but it was fun nonetheless.

The lyrics started with the chorus, and the verses were built around it. I wanted to keep the quasi-gospel, semi-protest combination often found in classics like "The Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff or "Could You Be Loved" by Bob Marley. Or even just a fun, joyful vibe like "Pressure Drop" by Toots and the Maytals.

Oh right, I hinted at big changes ahead. So I did, so I did...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It Be Rainin' Guitars Up In Here!

[NOTE: I am fairly certain that were I to utter the above phrase, I would sound like an incredible dork. If anyone sends me a sound clip proving that the above phrase can be spoken in a way that is full of awesomeness, I will immortalize it in a song featuring your clip and the subject(s) of this post (it's gotta be good, though).  Just upload it to my Soundcloud dropbox.]

If you have zero interest in guitars, you might as well stop reading; the rest of those post will serve only as a sleep aid.  For those that do, at the very least you can enjoy some eye candy even if the details bore you.

In the past months, two new guitars have entered my collection. While that may make me sound like Mr. Moneybags, both of these instruments were a long time coming and the arrival of one was never supposed to coincide with the other. They are also moving guitars out as they come in, one of which has already found a new home.

Every song that has been recorded for the project (not counting Mean Left Hook of course, which was recorded long ago) has featured my Variax 500, a veritable Swiss Army knife of a guitar. A few weeks ago - after nearly a year on order - the next generation Variax has reached my hands. I'm not going to go into great detail talking about this one, not because I don't love it but because there's already a fair number of reviews on various blogs, forums, and online magazines. I'll keep my assessment short and sweet; if a rechargeable battery, custom tunings at the flip of a switch, and the ability of the guitar to remain useful if you absent-mindedly forget to charge the battery sound like highly desirable or must-have features to you, this guitar is worth it (otherwise, one of the previous generation Variax will likely do you just fine).

The second guitar is a custom build that I began back in May. I've always wanted to build my own guitar, partly to entertain the tinkerer in me, and partly to create a guitar that was exactly what I wanted it to be. For years I owned a 1983 Squier '57 Vintage Re-issue Stratocaster. Anyone familiar with this model knows that at the time Squier were making these re-issues better and more historically accurate than their American-made Fender counterparts. As wonderful as the guitar was, I wasn't enjoying it like I once was. I have developed a taste for thicker, baseball-bat like necks, the tone of the pickups didn't speak to me like they once did, and I had a desire to get creative with the electronics.  Rather than modifying the guitar and destroying the unique and coveted prize that it was, I sold it over the summer to someone who will hopefully appreciate it for exactly what it is.

And so I set to work creating a replacement that would suit me to a tee.  While I won't go into the long history of where all the parts came from (mostly a mix of eBay, a guitar parts supplier called Warmoth, and three red pearl-topped knobs I bought almost 15 years ago when the music store I was working at went out of business), I'll touch on a few of the deviations from your typical Fender Stratocaster that make it special:

At a monstrously thick 1" for the entire length, the only Stratocasters ever offered with a neck comparable to this were early Jeff Beck signature models.  In fact, despite many players commenting on the comfort and tone of thick necks (both of which I can confirm), there are almost no guitars on the market that have them.

Rather than go with a big-name pickup manufacturer such as Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio, I wanted to go with something outside the norm; a diamond in the rough, if you will. I ended up selecting Wilde Pickup's MicroCoils, launched in March of this year. Wilde is a pickup company started by Bill Lawrence - a legend in the pickup design field - and his wife Becky (also a highly respected pickup maker). They're noise-resistant, sound killer, and are incredibly responsive.

I based the wiring on the Strat Lover's Mod found on GuitarNutz, which effectively adds 8 additional settings on top of a Stratocaster's usual 5. The one alteration I made was including a capacitor in the out-of-phase switch to create what is referred to as 'half-out-of-phase'.

The verdict?  I had a lot of fun putting this guitar together, and the end result is a distinctive and unique guitar that feels and sounds exactly like what I had hoped to achieve.  When all is said and done, it really wasn't that difficult or expensive, and there's some excellent resources online when in doubt.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bill C-11, Part 2: We Don't Need No Stinking Badges!

[Just in case anyone finds the origin and evolution of mis-quotations interesting - as I do - you can get the scoop on my selected title]

Last time I talked mostly about the implications of digital locks and their ability to wipe out any rights Bill C-11 grants. From further reading it sounds like the exemptions are not governed by the locks policy; the anti-circumvention rule is only applicable in cases deemed infringement. However, my position remains the same. Circumvention methods will likely be targeted for litigation, regardless of the context they are used in.  And once again, we will almost certainly see burden of proof placed on the supposed 'infringer', an individual or group without the means to adequately defend their perfectly reasonable actions in a legal setting against the onslaught of a large media corporation's legal team.

But there's also another scary part to the bill.  If passed, it would make mandatory the "notice and notice" system that is currently used on a voluntary basis by Canadian internet service providers.  For those unfamiliar with the "notice and notice" system, it works like this: an Internet service provider receives notice from a copyright holder (which these days means large organizations like the RIAA/MPAA) that one of it's subscribers may be engaged in infringement by making available copyrighted material.  The ISP then has the option - now obligation - to forward that notice to the subscriber and keep records on their identity for six months.  No further action is taken by the ISP; they do not forward on the subscribers information, remove the supposed offending material, or punish the subscriber.

While this is still undeniably better than the notice-and-takedown system found in the states, I have a couple issues with this system. Firstly, we're once again seeing a great deal of power placed in the hands of organizations like the RIAA and MPAA to stir up trouble unchecked. They do not have to go through any law enforcement or judicial body to verify their actions are just; there is no requirement for them to provide evidence for their allegations. There is no punishment if they make false claims, so there is no reason not to make frequent, spurious claims. If they tell the ISPs to jump, the ISPs don't even have to ask "how high?"; this bill has told them exactly how high, and to do so without question.

The second problem is the impact of this mandate on Internet service providers.  An indication of the volume of these notices has already been presented, and it's no small number, reaching thousands of notices per week.  For the large ISPs, this is likely an inconvenience, but manageable given their resources.  For small ISPs, on the other hand, even being forced to deal with several hundred a week could be a burden in an already difficult uphill battle against the powerful oligopoly (we Canadians all know who they are).  This ineffective system will only serve to place a damper on competition in the Canadian ISP market.

All right, enough of this darkness and despair... back to happier events in the next post.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

At Long Last, Some Music

Two months of silence has yielded two minutes of music......... Wooooo!

Pretty Sure That Yesterday I Hurt You

Creative Commons License

It may be short and simple, but that's all the song seemed to call for. Musically it seems to draw somewhat from the folk rock camp, which has crept into some of the other tunes as well. The lyrical theme for the song came from a dream, which is rare as only once or twice a year do I ever remember anything about my dreams upon waking. Perhaps it is better to term it a nightmare as it was far darker than the song's lyrics suggest. I remember it closed with a horrid feeling, an suffocating sadness in the realization that the words that had left my mouth seconds before had irreparably harmed the loved one in my dream. I could sense the scars forming within as their face fell, knowing that no amount of tenderness and care would ever make them whole again.

But who wants to write a song like that?!  So I wrote this song, which is still tragic but a little less so.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bill C-11, Part 1: Rock Beats Scissors, But Lock Trumps All

I try to make this blog educational, and Bill C-11 is a topic that really can't be talked enough about. If you haven't read at least one article on the new copyright bill, you owe it to yourself to at least have a quick read. At a glance you may feel that it's unlikely to affect you or that you're comfortable with the measures being proposed, but what is going on is really quite sinister.

The first thing to note - if it hasn't sunk in - is that digital locks trump everything. Yes, you are now allowed to make backup copies or move from one device to another. Yes, you are now allowed to make temporary recordings of broadcasts for later consumption. Yes, you are allowed to use copyrighted content for fair use purposes such as education, satire, and parody. Yes, you are allowed to incorporate legally-acquired copyrighted content into your own non-commercial work. But every single one of these permitted actions can be nullified by digital locks.

Also consider that such practices such as region locking would also fall under this provision. At first glance this might not appear to be an issue, but consider that content from Europe and Asia may not be available in a version locked to the North American region. We therefore find that these rules may restrict the migration and influence of culture from other parts of the world.

There's also the lock-in factor. Not only could digital locks be used to tie content to a particular device, locks on the device itself could potentially be used to deny alternative content. This could give rise to anti-competitive behavior in the marketplace.

The one thing that doesn't seem to get touched on is that fact that the party to apply a digital lock to the content won't necessarily be the rights holder. In fact, I would guess that the vast majority of the time this won't be the case. The e-Book George R. R. Martin's next novel won't be encrypted by Martin himself or his publisher, rather Amazon will do so before placing it on Kindle Store. There have even been cases of Amazon using their DRM to place restrictions on works in the public domain, which by definition should have no such impediments.

You won't hear many artists and creators speaking in favour of the digital locks provision. More often than not, they're railing against it just like the rest of us.  In the end, they stand little - if anything - to gain by the locks.  They will not be the ones who see the money from court settlements over circumvention lawsuits. Restricting legal purchasers' ability to share their content is unlikely to significantly increase their sales as legal purchasers probably weren't the ones who would disseminate the artists work copiously and the pirates aren't likely to knuckle under and buy the music. Instead reducing exposure to a potential audience or having their existing audience driven away by restrictive policies.

There's even more to this ugly bill, but I'll save that for next time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Second Thought...

Last night I had gotten ready to share the next song. I finished the mixing and mastering and uploaded it to SoundCloud to include on the blog. I was all set to write up a post talking about it this evening. Then I gave it another listen.

It's not a complete atrocity. Somewhere in there I can hear a good song, waiting to be uncovered like a gold vein in a cavernous mine. But man... there's a lot of crap to blast out of the way first. I recognize that sometimes I'll have to share something that might not be as good as what has come before it, but as I looked at the list of songs I've produced so far, I realized it doesn't belong up with them (and that's saying something).

So, I'm going to shelve it. I hate doing it, both because it's been a fair while since anything has shown up on here and because it feels like a cop out. But I have to be honest with myself about the song: it's just not ready yet. And that's OK. Six months from now, a year perhaps, it will still be there and maybe I'll know what to do with it then to unlock its potential. A couple things already come to mind:

  1. I feel like the song could really use some extra instrumentation. Some Hammond B3 organ or piano are immediate thoughts, but there may be more. I'm still not very good with MIDI sequencing yet, so maybe through a couple other songs I can learn to work in it well enough to create tracks for this song that sound fitting and organic.
  2. My vocals are already pretty rough to begin with, but having to throw out takes due to outside noises makes an already bad situation worse. I'm not about to plaster the entire room in soundproof foam, but I may look into creating a makeshift vocal booth (which despite the name will not be an actual booth).

On a positive note, I've got another song fully written and waiting in the wings. It's simple (solo acoustic), short (it may not even clear a minute and a half), and shouldn't take long to record.