Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Real Musicians and Boxed Musicians

I prefer to hire musicians for productions. Real, live, creative guitarists, bassists, drummers.

Hire someone brilliant, and then get out of their way. They'll be brilliant.

But - when I was creating New Metal From Old Boxes (and This Is Not A Love Letter), the musicians I wanted to hire were busy.  They're professionals! And professionals work.

And so, what to do? I needed to get this music out of my system, and out into the world, as quickly as possible. It'd been too long since my last production, and it was much more important to me to get a great album of music created and shipped than it was to wait until all of the stars aligned and I could get the perfect group of people on the thing.

And so, just me. I had to rely mostly on my technical and programming chops to create tracks that sounded cool. I didn't have a guitarist? Great - that created an opportunity for me to get creative with creating "guitar-like" sounds for the arrangement.  And so, after creating a stack in the Native Instruments amp simulator (Guitar Rig 5 Pro), I dialed-up a few sounds: a sampled guitar, a sampled English Lute, a tone generated by a Korg Mono/Poly.   The solos I played are unlike anything a guitarist would play (which was the point, right?) - they're evocative of a monophonic, distorted solo but very rooted in keyboard technique.

No bass player? Keyboard bass. Sounded good to me, and still does, and the performances are rooted in keyboards.

The drums required a lot of technical work. The software I used creates procedurally-generated drum sections: patterns and fills based on tempo, time signature, and so on. I hand-edited some sections and fills, depending on what I needed, but most of the parts are generated and then played through a sampled, huge drum kit in a beautiful room (Native Instruments again, Abbey Road Modern Drummer).

Although I didn't have access to the source code of the drummer software, I was able to take some educated guesses as to the input parameters I could tweak to get the performance I wanted. I've been around procedural generation of music before (in C and in Python programming languages), and had an idea of how tempo, time signature and key signature would effect the output of the program.

Here's a good example: if I handed a chart to a drummer that had alternating 5/4 and 6/4 measures, the drummer would create a part that fit the feel of 11/4, or 11/8 depending on the overall style of the song. But the software would produce wildly different outcomes based on whether I set the DAW to (5/4, 6/4), or (5/8. 6/8), or 11/8, or 11/4, or even (4/4, 4/4, 3/4).

In the end, I wanted to great music that I loved, and I did that. Would the album be better with live musicians? No.  It would be different, but not better.

And what now? Well, for my next productions, I've hired some incredibly talented musicians. I can't wait until it's ready for the world, and I can't wait for everyone to hear these people.  I'm sure I'll create more music that 100% "me", but it's much more interesting to get a bunch of musicians together and see what happens.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Looping Piano

One of the things I've been working with in the studio is a series of piano-loops that build in intensity.

Here's a working-demo from a few months ago that builds some improvised piano-loops into a heavy rock section.  It's a "sketch" for an idea for my next recording project.

Listening to this, I'm struck with the idea that I might be able to swap out, or double, the guitars with some very heavy piano (piano/bass/drum unison riffing).

I'll also have to play with re-introducing some distortion to the piano. I have an old Tube Screamer I can put in line & mix with the clean piano signal, and I'll try that this weekend.  The trick is to make it sound good without an immediate association with NIN.

We'll see what happens. In the meanwhile, here's that track:

Looped Piano with Rock Band No. 1 ver 2.0 (Updated) by Jason Rubenstein

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Album Review!

Whew, this is a great review.

Thanks, Unsound America, for the insight, commentary, and track-by-track overview.

Unsound America
Now what?  Now, Jason Rubenstein.  He may have his own storied history of making music over the years, but “New Metal From Old Boxes” is a break-through – to my ears, anyway.  As I have described it elsewhere, this album is replete with an articulate viciousness.  This is not an over-the-top mad-dash for the loudest, most obnoxious noise – but rather a calculated aural assault with something to say (clearly, with perfect annunciation) before it bashes your head in.

Read it all here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Release Day!

My new album, "New Metal From Old Boxes", is available today!

Look for it on Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and many other places.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

An interview for Prog-Sphere

Friday, May 02, 2014

"Transforma" Progressive Rock Compilation XVIII Is Out Now

The new compilation of progressive rock and metal bands & musicians, from around the world, has just been released. "Transforma", the eighteenth (XVIII'th!) release from Prog-Sphere.

My song "The Blow Off" is the opening track! I'm honored, gang. And thrilled to be included among these bands, who are very, very good.

Seriously, the curation of this series is excellent. I'm not kidding when I say I'm honored, and excited, to have been included.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

And this is what the new album looks and sounds like:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured at Prog-Sphere's "Progstravaganza" compilation

This is pretty cool. I've been featured over at prograstravaganza.com, as I have a track that's been included on their XVIII'th compilation.

Their previous compilations are excellent. They're digital albums of some of the best progressive rock, progressive metal, and progressive jazz in the world.  I'm thrilled to be a part of it, and honored to be alongside these excellent musicians.

Visit the Progstravaganza page here. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More process, more practice

Lately, I've been playing around with Shreddage-2. It's an excellent sample-library for electric guitar and it sounds very, very good. You can hear some of these experiments over at soundcloud.com/jasonrubenstein  - that's where I put my various works-in-progress, ideas, demos, experiments, mistakes, and other noises.

I'm not sure how, or whether, I'm going to use this sample library for the next record. On the one hand, it's pretty fun to mess around with and it sounds good; on the other, I might rather hire a guitarist & record their interpretation of the directions I provide. On the other other hand, this is a great opportunity to use the sample library to create something original rather than just imitate the djenty-dude-of-the-week.  For example, say, how about sending the signal through a bunch of Moog signal processing... I don't know.

Anyway, playing with Shreddage-2 isn't really the point, and thus I bury the lede:  I'm in the middle of a process, again. I'm fishing around for new ideas and techniques for the next record. This is basically hours and hours of practice, play, experiments, and feeling around for ideas. At least a half-hour a day during the week, and as many hours as possible on weekends.
Studying the Master

The process is pretty broad at this point in the work: I practice piano exercises just about every day. Mainly the first ten Hanons, over and over and over. And over. I'll start at around 92bpm to warm up the hands, and end up at about 108bpm. It keeps the chops up, and the skills improving every day. Then, time allowing, improvisation until my hands give up or I have to get up & go to the office.

The other part of this process is to play. Fiddle around. Experiment for new textures, ideas. See how they feel, how they fit.  "Hey", I said, "what if I run a medieval lute sample through a Mesa Boogie amp simulator? Or a rectangle wave while I modulate the width?"  I'll pick weird scales & riff on them for a while. Or substitute distorted B3 for double-tracked guitars in a heavy riff.

The goal of all of this is to widen my palette and vocabulary of sound, texture, feeling. When I start working on the tracks for the next album and start answering the questions "What do I want to hear right now? What do I feel right now? And then what happens? And what happens after that?", I'll have a few more creative choices that are quick-at-hand.

Anyway, today I want back to Bach. I dug up a couple of preludes from The Well-Tempered Clavier and analyzed the chords & scribbled them down.  Then, played around with the chord progressions in various patterns and time signatures. 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 6/8. I did a lot of "What if..?" stuff.  Most of what I came up with was terrifically uninteresting. But some of it was pretty cool, and I'll keep it for future consideration.

Process, which most of the time feels like "I have no idea what I'm doing -- but I'm doing it anyway."

Friday, March 21, 2014

My New EP is Finally Here!

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Create 30 Songs in 30 Days. (or, "What worked for me when I wanted to write 30 songs in 30 days")

I posted this up to reddit /r/wearethemusicmakers a few days ago. 

Caveat Emptor: this worked for me. Will it work for you? YMMV.

OK, how to write a song a day for 30 days:
Read this book.
  1. Read this book: "Becoming a Writer" by Dorothea Brande. I know, it says it is about writing. But really, it's about art. All art, including music.
  2. After reading the book, pay attention to the part where the author advises to separate the creative mind from the critical mind. For the next 30 days, you shall create. No judgement of quality, no analysis or editing. Just. Create.
  3. Every morning, fire up your music-making gear (in my case, my studio), and ask yourself "What do I want to hear?". Start writing what you want to hear.
  4. If you don't know what you want to hear, try this: Pick a scale, at random. Pick a time signature, at random. Play anything. record it.
  5. While you're writing, and have a part, or a section, or a riff, or a phrase down, ask yourself "What happens next?" Write (and record) that.
  6. Keep going until it feels done. How will you know it feels done? You won't, probably - it will just feel.. done.
  7. If you think you don't have time to do this, get up 2 hours earlier. Yeah, the ass-crack of dawn sucks. But awesome coffee and time alone to create music is awesome.
  8. In some cases, especially for some genres, you might need a 2nd day for a song. That's fine. "A song a day" is a guideline, not a rule.
  9. When someone says "You should...", walk away. Create what you want to create. Ignore everyone else.
  10. When you have a song done, move on. Do not listen to it. Do not review it. It's done. Next one!
  11. Borrow from anyone from whom you want to borrow. Led Zeppelin? Steely Dan? Pharrell? Joe Bonamassa? Chopin? Meshuggah? Go for it. Don't worry if you sound like someone else for a while. Just create.
  12. Fuck the nay-sayers. Just create.
  13. Don't let anyone hear what you're working on. It's none of their business until you say it is, and now's not the time. Create.
  14. Keep going. At day 10, at day 20, keep going.
  15. Some days will feel meh. Some days will feel awesome. Keep going.
  16. Finally, at the end of 30 days, you'll have a collection of creations.
  17. Congratulations, you've just written around 30 songs in around 30 days. (I had 27 songs in 30 days). Most probably: a few will suck, a few will be absolutely fantastically great, and most will fall in the middle somewhere. But who knows? Maybe they're all great.
Ultimately, I picked 12 sings from the 27 to put on a new LP.

Last piece of advice: once you play your songs for people, remember this:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” (Neil Gaiman)

Friday, March 07, 2014

A sneak preview of the new EP

All of the music has been mixed and mastered. It's ready to be launched upon the world like some loud, noisy creature with too many sharp teeth, that likes to bite at ankles .

There will be an EP of five songs, followed by a full-length LP.

Here's a preview of a track from the EP.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Some music inspired by cold weather

A little 2-minute mood inspired by 90s King Crimson and the cold weather of the Great Lakes midwest.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The New Music Project: A "Calling Card"

So. My new music project is a bit, shall we say, loud.

My previous projects skirted close to the worlds of heavy sounds, incorporating elements of prog-rock, fusion, and even a hint of 90s-era prog-metal, but were always tempered by the ambient-groove genre. I'm happy with those eclectic, hybrid projects - that's where I was at the time and that was how I was feeling back then. 

Yeah. Now, not so much. The latest stuff is loud. Intense. Angry. 

The very first album I put together in 1986 (with my bandmates at the time) was loud, progressive-rock that was tempered by heavy doses of 80s-era metal, Rush-like arrangements, and Ultravox-synthesizers. Another heavy, proggy project like that has been on my mind for decades. Now, it feels like it's time.

"So, JRub, you getting back to that teenage-rage thing?"  No. That's an uncontrolled bonfire of heat, empty bottles and burnt potatoes.  I don't care for that nonsense. This is older, wiser, and focused like a laser. A really pissed-off laser. With a drum kit. A laser with a drum kit.  Alright, then. Now we can get somewhere.

This is a demo - a "beta test", if you will - of a couple of ideas. It won't make the final album in this state. It's a "calling card" of what's to come.

The title contains a little nod to Michael Moorcock. I imagined a horde, tearing across the Sighing Desert out of the pages of an Elric story... and so...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Using Software Development/Project Managment Techniques In Your Music Recording Project

There can be great similarity in project management between creating and shipping a new software product, E.g., an app or a website, and creating and shipping a new music project, E.g., a digital album or a CD.

(This is a blog post aimed at musicians, but if you're a developer, engineer, or product/project manager, all of this should look very familiar to you).

"Well, how the hell would you know, JRub?", I hear one of you ask. I apply the tools, techniques, and skills learned from developing and shipping software products to producing music projects (and products). Look, I've been programming and shipping software since Napoleon came back from his winter holiday in Moscow, and producing & publishing music since the antediluvian times-of-old when the 33rpm-vinyl-dinosaurs covered in Roger Dean-colored feathers roamed the prairies. In 7/4 time. Uphill both ways in the snow with 300lb Hammond organs strapped to their necks under spangly purple capes. Or spangled leather ponchos. I don't remember. Whatever.

I know what works for me at least, and perhaps this post will help you. Or not, in which case you took a nice little break from learning how to djent on your ukulele.

The typical stages of a project, whether software or music, at a high level look something like this:

  • Burst of creativity and enthusiasm, hard work, weekends and late nights of programming or tracking,
  • Lots of work, some of it tedious, getting the design & code correct/the tracks ready for mixing and mastering (and, if applicable, manufacture), and the product ready for your fans, the consumers.

So lets talk music project. . .

The Fun Part
Creating the music, recording the tracks, dialing in some great tones. This is what a recording musician lives for, right? Creativity, unbounded. The music just pours out of you, unimpeded, like water through your ceiling that time the toilet upstairs blew a seal at 4am. This is awesome. The music, I mean, not the flood. Soon, you have a collection of a few dozen songs ready for review! Right? Wait, you're not writing music every day? Ah. I see. Yeah. Well, that's a blog post for another time. Fine, then, you have ten songs recorded.  Great!

Now what?

The (partially) Tedious Part
Now, you have to get the tracks ready for mixing, mastering, and digital distribution. And, if applicable, for manufacture. 

This is a lot of work you're facing. For now, let's focus on one part of the work: Either you're mixing it yourself, or you're taking to a professional audio engineer. Either way, there are steps you will need to follow to make sure that at the end of all of this work you have high-quality, ready-to-mix tracks.

And this is where basic project management comes in. 

I know, I know, we're musicians, man, project management crap is, like, a day job. Come on, this is like work. 

Yeah, yeah, cry me a D-minor river. Yes, it's work! If you're not willing to slog it out, put in the time, focus, and attention so that at the end you can enjoy the musical fruits of your inspiration and creative effort, then.. I got nothin' for you. 

Still here? Awesome.. cool. Now look, kid, who says work has to suck? Not me. There are techniques and tools to make this step of your project easier and to decrease the probability of mistakes.  I'll use my personal process for this as an example, in a moment. First, a caveat: This is a process that works, and not the only process that works. I'm certain there are many others that work just fine. This is a process that works for me very well, and it's not static: in other words, it's dynamic. In other other words, it changes over time as I see fit, or as the project demands, or as I find parts of the process that are no longer as useful and other parts of the process... you get the idea. I encourage you to find a process that works for you, whether it's this one or some other one.

Right. So how do I get from the "many tracks of recorded brilliance" to the "ready to be mixed by Monte Genius Audio Engineer and his pal Master Agnes the Mastering Master"? (I made those names up. They're not real people). 

First of all, I borrowed from my experiences building and shipping software products and managing teams of software programmers.  A tool I like is a "kanban" board. At the moment, I use Trello.  What the heck is a Trello? It's a cross between a Trombone and a Cello. Sounds like hell. Wait. Sorry. No. Lemme wikipedia this thing, one sec...
Trello uses a paradigm for managing projects known as kanban, a method that had originally been popularized by Toyota in the 1980s for supply chain management. Projects are represented by boards, which contain lists (corresponding to task lists). Lists contain cards (corresponding to tasks). Cards are supposed to progress from one list to the next (via drag-and-drop), for instance mirroring the flow of a feature from idea to implementation. Users can be assigned to cards. Users and boards can be grouped into organizations.

There ya go. 

How do I use this thing? Well, after creating about 30 tracks of music and editing the list down to about a dozen that were superb, I called the mix engineer and asked how he wanted the tracks prepared. (This is a very important step, and there are no stupid questions: ask exactly how he or she wants the tracks, what format, what resolution, and so on.).  I took notes. In this case, I needed to prepare WAV files at a depth of 24bits, and a bit-rate of at least 48k.  

From the notes, I created a bunch of steps I needed to turn the contents of my DAW into the standard described by Mr. Mixing Guy. 

Here's an example, based on but not exactly the steps I took, because a few of the actual steps I needed to take are very idiosyncratic to my project:
  1. Copy project to new file
  2. Zero the faders
  3. Zero the pan
  4. Insure bit-rate of 96k
  5. Set every track to between -6Db and -3Db -18db and -12db range [edit: oops. Too hot for digital]
  6. Remove plugins to be added at mix-time
  7. Bounce tracks to WAV
  8. Verify that all tracks are bounced, within range, and dry or wet as expected
  9. Copy tracks to new folder
  10. Backup folder to local backup and to offsite backup
  11. Write notes for engineer, if applicable
  12. Done!
Each of these steps now becomes a list in the Trello kanban board, in the order listed above.  And, I add a list which will live all the way to the left called "Track To Prepare". So now I have 13 lists: 

Tracks To Prepare
Copy project to new file
Zero the faders
... and so on. 

Now, I start adding cards to my "Tracks to Prepare" list. Each card is the name of the track I need to prepare for Mighty Ms. Mixer.  Working titles, whatever.. but your list and cards will look something like this:

Tracks to Prepare
Rock Ballad 1
Rock Ballad 2
Alt Rock Thingy 1
Alt Rock Thingy 3
Alt Rock Thingy 11
Stadium Rock 12
Hawaiian Post-Progressive Death Folk Metal 3
... and so on

Now you're ready to work. As you work on a track, drag the card ("Rock Ballad 1") from the "Tracks to Prepare" list to the "Copy project to new file" list. As soon as you have completed that step (and remember, these steps are represented by lists in Trello, you with me?), keep working, dragging that "card" to the next list (the "card" represents the song you're working on.. still with me?). 

I love this. It means that I can easily keep track of where I'm at in the process, I can work on more than one track at a time, and I can keep tabs on the state of each track in the workflow.   Your ass, glue it to your chair. Follow the steps you created for yourself and that are now represented by the kanban board. 

Hell, even create a new board for QA (Quality Assurance). Be your own QA engineer and create a series of steps for you to verify, seriously, that the track are ready for Mr. Mix Audiogenius. This is your workflow!

Another point is: whether or not you use a kanban board tool, create a process for your workflow: for your studio work, or the work necessary when getting ready for a tour, or the work of marketing your new release, and so on. 

Hey, by the way, what if you're not hiring an engineer to do the mix? Just create the steps you want to take, every time, for your own mix.  And remember, you can change these around if you want to - remove some, add others, whatever. Workflow process is a living thing, and it will probably change in increments over time. 
  1. Copy the project to a new file
  2. Zero out all faders and pans
  3. Disable all plugins
  4. Drums
  5. Bass
  6. Piano
  7. Guitar(s)
  8. Djent Ukelele
  9. Vocals (clean)
  10. Vocals (filthy)
  11. ... and so on
  12. Done!

So, in summary: break down the tasks and document them, and then use some tool(s) to keep track of your workflow; especially for the non-creative work in your projects. The goal is quality and consistent outcomes, delivered with speed and accuracy.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

7Digital API wrapper in Python

I've been looking at the developer API from 7Digital, the digital media delivery company, and realized that I needed a lightweight, python-friendly wrapper for the API requests and responses.

And so I wrote one. It's called py7D, and it's here: https://github.com/jasonrubenstein/python-7Digital
and the README is here: https://github.com/jasonrubenstein/python-7Digital#readme

I wanted a very thin layer of code that wasn't dependent on ORM-like structures. I don't believe that abstracting out each and every API method/function call to a method on an object makes it "easier for the programmer". If anything, it makes it a pain in the ass to maintain the library every time 7Digital comes out with a new API method/function. I also wanted to keep the separation between function and data cleaner, more obvious, and clearly intended.

Ok, enough with the negative comments. Lets get positive. What I wanted to do: create a library of small, clean modules that do the absolute minimum to get the data from the API; provide the responses in a python-friendly form like a dictionary or a list (rather than in XML, which is what the API returns); make no assumptions about how the data is to be consumed, and therefore just pass it on in as much of an unmodified form as possible; separate data from function and separate disparate functions from each other (for example, relocating API calls from the OAuth module to the API module).  I also wanted to do away with the use of classes where I think it's not necessary. There really wasn't any state being kept here, and the settings that could imply state weren't enough of a deciding factor to go with a class.  Also, if the requirements of a project require the maintenance of state, the modules are written such that wrapping them with a class would be trivial.

I also wanted to update the oauth library used in the existing, legacy library. I upgraded my version to use oauth2 and implemented its convenient Client class for making oauth signed requests.

My plan for this thing is to create a service around it. The service would handle an incoming request for information, call the API, and then convert the response from the API into some consumable form (probably a JSON string or an edited dict or list of dicts). It would also handle routing certain responses to a cache in redis.

The page for 7Digital's API is here,  and a direct link to the docs is here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Process kills developer passion

I'd say "Too much or too little process..."
Now, I’m certainly not advocating some kind of Wild-West approach where nothing is tested, developers code what they want regardless of schedule, etc. But the blind application of process best practices across all development is turning what should be a creative process into chartered accountancy with a side of prison.
Either extreme will kill an engineering team's passion and productivity. Good article by James Turner.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Twitter for Musicians, Writers, Filmmakers, And Other Malcontents

There is a great way to use Twitter and a terrible way to use Twitter. If you're a writer, musician, filmmaker or in some other arts-related business and you're using Twitter to reach your fans, gain new fans, keep your fans, and "market" your work and it just isn't happening,  this post is for you.

Why me?
I'm a software engineer and a musician. I've produced and published several music projects, and I worked in San Francisco at a social media/games company called "Slide" (which was, alas, acquired by Google and then subsumed into the great, primary-colored googley googleness of a googleplex on the peninsula), most significantly on a Facebook app called "Top Friends", which was a very successful social-network-in-a-social-network. It was also the largest app on Facebook for a long time.  I'm talking, literally, millions of users.

Great. So you probably know what you're talking about. Get on with it, I'm on a deadline.
One of the biggest lessons learned from building successful social products was this:  Fostering personal, meaningful relationships between people was one of the keys to growth, retention, and scale.  

"Well, duh,", I hear you cry, "Isn't this obvious?"  Yeah, I know, I'm stating the simple and obvious. But it isn't always easy, at least not for some people, even though it's simple.1

Well, look. Here's the simplest way I can explain it: speak to people on Twitter like you're speaking to someone in person. Write about you, what you're doing, what interests you, things that happened and are happening right now. Be personal in your conversation, and re-tweet things that personally interest you. Your fans want to connect with you.  What your fans do not want is a spew of advertising copy.

Speak to them as people, and not as targets of online marketing.  

When I follow my favorite writers or musicians, or when I discover new ones, I want to read what they have to say and read about what they're doing or thinking that may or may not be directly related to their projects or products. The speak with me, not to me.  Most of the time I don't reply. I nod in interest or agreement at the screen (figuratively or literally), but the opportunity to reply is implicit in the original tweet.

Think of tweets that could elicit a response from your followers (And by response, I do not mean "OMFG STFU already").

Do not fill their twitter feeds with marketing noise, advertising crap, or other non-personal stuff that's the equivalent of junk-mail. 

There's a lot of horrible advice out there about using twitter as a medium for marketing copy. Don't follow it.  

Build fans and customers, or shoot yourself in one of your toes.
Twitter (and Facebook, among others)  is a great product with which to build and maintain meaningful, valuable relationships between you and your fans & customers. It's also a great product with which to shoot yourself in one of your toes and end up with diminishing fans and decreasing followers. 

Here are some examples of both. 

"4 out of 5 moviegoers loved what they saw at the screening! You will too! http://..."
(Try something like "Great screening last night at X. Lots of compliments, I'm still grinning like an idiot" instead)

"Big sale today only in our gallery come on down http://"
(Advertising. You're not speaking with me, you're speaking to me.)

"Have you read my new book? http://... "
"Have you read my previous books? http://..."
"Customers love this book I wrote in 2009 http://..."
"Review of X: http://..."
"Review of Y: http://..."
"Review of X: http://..."
(and so on. My twitter feed was filled, FILLED I tell you, with these from a self-published author. I unfollowed in a hurry.)

A good rule of thumb: if you'd hate to see it in your feed, or it's pure advertising copy, or it isn't some form of personal communication, don't tweet it. 

Another good rule of thumb is don't spam your followers. A steady stream of tweets from you in sudden succession looks like spam. And, uh, that's because it is spam.

"Wow. Cool thing on my walk to my office: http:///"
"Dogs barking at a terrifying, aggressive maple leaf on the patio, stopped me at 2200 words. Got my quota for the day."
"Off to Free Jazz CD day. Won't forget to buy something while I'm there"
"Woke up to awesome reviews this morning! Feeling vindicated! http://..."
"Listened to new XYZ music while I painted this morning. Inspiring! New art soon."
"The amazing Fred sketched this from my novel X. Very cool http://..."
"So-and-so's article on free digital music downloads. Agree completely http://..."
"This asparagus is huge. Monsterous. I expect it to start chasing me around the kitchen."
"RT: @someone My book is out today! excited and hopeful"
(re-tweets are personal; they're still a tweet from you, and so are personal communication. 

And so on.  In general, be yourself. Consider tweets about what you're doing, what you're thinking, what inspires you, wild sudden thoughts, what you agree with, what you disagree with, what you hate, what you think deserves attention, sudden flashes of inspiration, what you're doing to procrastinate... all within the scope of what you're comfortable talking about, of course. Look, just be you. And you ain't ad-copy. 

Homework: Ask yourself, "Why do I follow the people I love to follow?"
And, conversely, ask yourself "Why did I just unfollow that person?". 

What is it about your favorite artists, your idols, your mentors, that you enjoy when you read their tweets? What connection do you feel with them?   One author I follow tweeted that the wolf-howls in Skyrim are so realistic that they drive his dogs nuts. Hey, now I know that one of my favorite authors plays Skyrim. I play Skyrim! We're connected!  The meaningful connection between customer and artist  has been reinforced ever-so-slightly-but-significantly. And the image of his dogs freaking out at the sound from the game is pretty amusing.2 Will I be inclined to pay attention to his next release? Yup. The meaningful signal coming from him is greater than the background noise of the interwebs-social-webverse-thingy, so without much effort from me I'm inclined to pay attention to it.3

More Homework
Ok, so what about tweets about upcoming books, performances, and so on? How do you get around just spamming marketing copy in these cases?

Here are some ideas. I'm sure there are more ways out there besides these, but the basic tenet is be personal.

Got a show coming up? How are you feeling about it? When is the last time you were there? Playing new songs that they haven't heard yet? Pick one and add it to your tweet. It has to be real, though - if you're feeling nothing about playing this gig, uh, you may have other problems than gaining Twitter followers. 

Open a word processor and write some tweets about professional events. Make 'em personal.

Here are some (somewhat generic) examples.
(Note: don't spam a bunch of these.. pick one or two and go with it. Maybe two over two days or so. Use your judgement. If it feels like spam, it's probably spam)
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th. Can't wait, haven't been there since '09"
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th. Hope the chandelier doesn't fall this time!"
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th then jumping into the van to Cleveland for next gig. All night drive"
"New book out tomorrow. Can't sleep, critics hiding under bed will eat me".
"Book signing alert: J's Bookstore. See http://... for more info. Come by, it'll be fun"
"I normally hate flying at 3am, but I love the venue for this reading. Beautiful place, can't wait to get there"
"Talking to a distributor today. Fingers crossed. They saw film at the festival, loved it"
"Great time at the awards last night but head now hates me. I drank how much?"
"Film at the festival today at 4. Please come, I'll be hanging out afterwards, come up and say hi" 

That's it
Alright. That's enough lecturing for today. Bottom line: be real. I want to hear from you, not from your marketing copy. 

1. The inspiration for this post came from a new-to-me author whose tweets filled my feed with ad copy. Nothing personal from them, just a rapid-fire spew of reviews, links to books, "buy me now" type stuff that drove me nuts. The post was further inspired by some companies out in the midwest whose approach to twitter was "all-spam-all-the-time" who followed me, expecting a follow-back.  It turns out that their "social media expert" recommended they use twitter as an ad platform. As we say in web engineering circles: FAIL.

2. Back when I owned dogs, I used to record their barks in my music studio and later play it back at random times. The two of them would freak the hell out. They're run around the house, barking, trying to locate the sound of their own voices. "WTF? That sounds familiar! Holy cats, it is familiar! Like, what the crap, where the hell am I? I have got to find me!  Quick, I'll flush me out by running around all of the furniture, barking at me!" Eventually they'd make their way to my studio, tails wagging, and barking at nothing. "Whoa, dude, you sounded just like me! I was like all freaked and shit because I was down there looking for me and I was up here and now I'm not down there looking for me, I'm up here, which is exactly where I was barking when I was downstairs barking at me barking from up here where I am now but I wasn't and, wait... what? Aroo? Oh, fuhgeddit, if you're not gonna gimme a pig's ear, I'm going back to sleep. My head hurts."

3. Another artist I follow posts "found art", which are cel-phone pics of odd shadows, interesting juxtapositions, and so on, and they're usually wildly cool. It gives some insight into how he thinks about art in general. Very interesting.  And there's the writer with an incredible penchant for tweeting puns; I bought a couple of his books based on his sense of humor. Through these two and others I've discovered other writers and musicians as well as podcasts, blogs, articles, and more books and music.  The social-proof that's gained from trusting the tweets of one person can (and usually will) be beneficial to them and to the other artists in your network.  Social-proof itself is a topic for a different blog post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Micro-frameworks

Says my friend and former colleague james-m:
I like the idea of micro frameworks, or very compact, loosely coupled library of components that you pick and choose from to create your overall architectures. A micro framework approach has the following benefits: a) because they’re so loosely coupled, you have more choose (sic) for any given component. b) smaller, bite-sized pieces of code are easier to digest, and the more you digest of what a framework is doing under the covers, the better able you’ll be to diagnose problems.
James says succinctly what I've been thinking and saying (much, much less succinctly) about micro frameworks. I've been putting this into practice on my recent projects.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Life Hacks for "A"-players Living in SV and SF

Over the last few years, I've observed how some local "Entrepreneurial A-players" execute so-called "life hacks" to make their lives easier, more efficient, and quicker.

I've outlined some of them below, as if they were written as a guide for "A-Players".  And I'm wearing my Hat of Disdainful Sarcasm while I write this.

Starbucks hack
A-players don't wait for coffee - they're too busy working to change the world. Here's a great hack at Starbuck's, or any other coffee place, so you can keep changing the world and keep ahead of the competition without having to waste time.

Grab a seat with your laptop, and start working. Since you're an A-player who can focus on several things at once, keep listening for the coffee you'd like to drink. This shouldn't be a problem - you already have several windows open on your desktop: a spreadsheet, your email, your browser with several tabs open, and either Spotify or YouTube. or both. Go the extra mile and listen for "double cafe mocha with extra whip" or whatever else floats your marshmallow.  Casually stand up, make sure you look like you're thinking about something extremely important and entrepreneurial, grab the coffee and return to your chair. Score!

It doesn't matter who ordered that drink, only that they're too slow to get it when called. They're probably not paying attention and are gabbing on their phone or playing "Sudoku with Friends", unable to focus on more than one thing at a time (hey, they're B or C players). A-players don't wait, they seize the moment.  Or, in this case, they seize the caffeinated water-of-life.

Extra credit: If you're in a place that's actually calling orders by a person's name, just wait until you hear a name that could be you. But pay attention - don't go for a "Linda" when you look like a "Sergei".

Extra extra credit: This also works at the grilled-cheese or hipster curry restaurants. Wait for some order that sounds good, walk up like you're late for a meeting, and take the food. Leave a dollar in the tip jar, though, because it's not nice not to tip.  Go have your lunch while you're working on your deck. A-players eat A-lunches. B players starve.

Queue barger (or: queues are for sheep)
A-players don't wait in line. You know who waits in line? Sheep. Sheep wait in line. You know who else waits in line? Hogs on their way to getting turned into bacon. Don't be waiting for bacon. Queues are for sheep. And bacon-providing hogs.

A-players are much too busy working on changing the world, so don't wait in line. Look for a gap large enough to shoulder-in, look like you're late for a very important meeting, and barge the line. Better yet, time it so that you jump the line entirely - get to the head of the line, right to the service-person, just as the previous servicee is leaving. Ignore anyone who barks at you, you're too busy. The probability is high that the service-person won't want a confrontation and will get you in and out of there as fast as possible. Let the unwashed masses grumble about you as you're leaving - while the door is closing behind you, you've gotten what you needed to get done done. The rest of the sheep-hog-waiting-for-bacon people are still back there. Standing in the line.

Extra credit: if your company has a cafeteria, look up and down the line and find some neckbearded engineer-looking type and shoulder in front of him to get at the "green-means-healthy" labeled almond-encrusted sea bream. It's more probable than not that he's some Asberger's afflicted socially-inept asshole who's already pissed-off all of his co-workers, so no one will care that you've barged the line in front of him. And even if he's not an Asberger's PhD-degree-in-CS poster-child, he's still a neckbearded engineering asshole who couldn't deliver product on time if you tied an exploding, loudly-ticking alarm clock to his ass, so who cares? What's the worst he's going to do? Probably call you a "noob level three troll" and some other equally incomprehensible names. Yeah right. Whatever, 'bro, sticks and stones. You're way ahead of him - you're going to go eat lunch while he's still standing in line.

Red lights are for other people
You know that A-players don't wait, right? You don't succeed if you're not aggressive.

When walking, keep walking. Get to a corner and hit a red light? Keep walking. This is a pedestrian-friendly state, therefore cars have to stop for you. We know that the rule says "red light means STOP", but A-types break the rules.  A's are rule-breakers, not rule-followers.  A-types don't ask permission, they apologize later (but only when absolutely necessary. They should be too busy to apologize).   While all of those people are stopped at the corner, waiting for the light to turn green and for the green-walky-guy to light up, you're already way ahead of them.

You can't beat the competition by stopping at the red light.

This also applies when riding a bike. Don't stop for reds, and remember: you can ride on either side of the road and in either direction. Rules are for B and C players.

Get that referral bonus you know you deserve.
Does your company give referral bonuses for referring new employees? If so, here's a great hack. A-players don't wait around for someone to claim the goods. When a new employee is hired, march straight to HR and claim the referral. In most cases, HR is too busy to notice who referred whom, and won't bother to look for an actual email from you or anyone else. Look earnest, sell it to Ms.or Mr. HR with a humble brag about the amazing depth of your professional network (hell, everyone loves you anyway, so it shouldn't be a tough sell), and get that extra money next pay cycle. Score! The lesson: snooze and lose - if the referring party isn't fast enough to get their ass out of the Aeron chair and haul to HR to make their claim, lulz too bads.

Note that this will not always work. Sometimes, HR will have an email from an actual referring employee, so you're out of luck. Look innocent, quickly excuse yourself, and try again next time.

Closing commentary
This kind of behavior really irritates the hell out of me. Over the last few years I've experienced or observed this behavior from aggressive "A-player" startup people, and my love for humanity decreased a few centimeters each time. Stealing coffee? Really? Intercepting referral bonuses? Really??

The bottom line is that this is selfish, rude, anti-social behavior, and these people aren't "A-types". They're just jerks.  I'm all for "don't ask permission, ask forgiveness" in the creative context for which it was intended, not in the social context where you end up "pwning" the people around you.

This behavior sucks. In fact, these "hacks" should be included in a collection that could be called  "How To Be An Asshole", because the people who've done this crap are.. well, you know.

Are these experiences anecdotal examples of individual jerks, or are they examples of symptoms of a deeper problem in our society where rude, selfish behavior is increasingly becoming the accepted standard?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Music review

I finally put in my order for new music software (and a few bits of hardware) from my local music gear shop. It's been a long time coming - my last music project dates back to around 2004 or so.

This is exciting! Music software & hardware have come a long way since then, and my last composing & recording rig dated back to mid-90s synthesizers and software.  Some of the new stuff I'm getting is way, way cool.

But the specifics of gear is not what I want to talk about right now.

This whole gear-purchasing spasm really came about as I've been thinking about music ideas for the last two years or so, especially applying my recent experiences in engineering & product to music composition.  In effect, I've had music rattling around my head for a while now, and it's becoming impossible not to compose and record (as a hobby, and not with aspirations of quitting my day-job. I like my day-job, thanks very much).

I've also been listening to my previous catalog of work & critiquing it, asking myself "What works? What doesn't? What keeps my interest? What moves me to abject ennui? What's too long? What's too short? What takes forEVer to get to the point? Have I engaged the listener? Have I kept their interest? Do I surprise them or delight them or challenge them?"

Specifically, I've been listening to my 2000 effort "Tonecluster" this week, since that was a project in which I was experimenting with space, a limited number of textures, and trying for specific moods. I wanted to hear what worked from a technical perspective, and what my efforts at "slimming down the sound" were like 12 years later.

Some pieces really work for what I intended; some don't, and some are great little experiments that I might never try again, but at the time were real reaches (for me).

Anyway, after listening to this album a few times over the last couple of weeks, I've decided I'm confidently in the "less is more" camp, and will be purchasing the minimum number of virtual instruments necessary to create another album of music that I have boinging (and fizzing and banging and thumping) around my noggin'. And, since 2004, I've sold or given away a crapton of music gear, so I'm left with four different real synthesizers ranging from vintage to modern.

You can hear this old music for yourself, at this link. (You can also download the music, for free, which I encourage if you find you like it enough to add it to your collection).

What will the new music sound like? Heck if I know. I'm all over the place, with ideas for loud rock tumbling around with separate ideas for textures & beats you'd find in a Chillout session.  I will probably end up with a non-genre-specific project (and since genres are arbitrary rubrics anyway why the hell not?),  which is frankly more fun for me anyway. I get to be rust-never-sleeps loud when it suits me, and Tosca-like chilled when it suits me otherwise.