Category Archives: Music

New tune on Myspace

My latest work “Thing-Kinda-Thing” is up on if you’re bored.

I cried while writing this song.
True story.
It happened last Wednesday while writing the lead guitar solo. (at the end, during the song’s fade-out.)
I’m not talking about Waa Boo Hoo bawlin’ here. But I DID shed a tear in my right eye.
It’s the equivelant of watching your children on the playground and suddenly it hits you…”Wow, those are my beautiful kids (notes) right there on the swings. They came from ME!”
Although it’s the first time it’s happened during one of my OWN songs, it’s not the first time it’s happened at all.

One particular moment it occurs is during a melody from the movie The Good The Bad and The Ugly. It’s when the “Ugly” fellow first stumbles upon the graveyard.
It’s called “Ecstacy of Gold” by film composer Ennio Morricone, if anyone wants to check it out.
Anyway, there is something about certain rare songs, the way the notes fit JUST right, that turns me into an emotional little girl inside.

So my question is:

Does this happen to anyone else? With music or any other artform?
I don’t understand the reason for the feeling.
It’s pretty pointless…

Crippleware: Why, I’ll Cripple You!

I am evaluating music sequencers to use with my new E-MU Xboard 49. It came with Ableton Live Lite 4 and Proteus X LE, and my sound card (Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum) came with Cubasis VST (Cubase lite) and FL Studio 4 Creative Edition. Not one full version in the bunch. I can respect that, but the way some versions were created is very frustrating.
     Kudos to Steinberg and Proteus. From my limited usage, they seem to be true, self-contained lite editions of other products. Ableton and FL, however, did a half-assed hack job. First off, Ableton hasn’t created a Lite version of Live 5, which shipped last fall. So it’s basically Live 4 with Operator (optional software synth) running in demo mode, with an option to hide the features not in the Lite version. If you could fully hide them, that’d be great, but I keep getting messages that read, “You are trying to access a hidden feature, you need to switch to demo mode”. Hidden feature? It’s right on the menu, jackass! Sometimes I get them from trying to drag and drop things. I should never see those messages, it should just not allow the operation, or show that you can do it. Also, you can’t save or export in demo mode, making it pretty worthless to me. Couldn’t they just remove the export functions, so you could save work but not render it to an audio (MP3, WAV, etc) file? Then every time you came up with a cool song or loop, you’d have more incentive to upgrade. It has built in tutorials and a hefty manual, but neither were pared down to match the Lite version. The manual has links that read, “See the feature chart to find out if your version even has this feature.” Of course, the feature chart hasn’t been created yet. I spent a lot less time with FL Studio, because I was getting those same “This version can’t do that” messages. My patience was used up with Live.
     This is a shame, because Live seems like a cool product. And after all that bitching and moaning, I can’t find a better product for the money. Owning the Lite version allows me to upgrade to Live 5 for $200. I’ve also looked at Reason 3 ($200 academic price), Sonar 5 Producer ($420 street) and Cubase SX3 ($400 academic price). Reason is the only one that comes close price-wise, but it can’t do audio recording, which I need for recording my dulcet tones. I may pick up Reason later, as it’s considered an excellent companion to Live, which is lacking in the instrument department. I’ll let you know how it goes in an upcoming article. – Can Anyone Beat This?

I recently signed up with CD service, and so far it’s the best deal in music I’ve seen. If you’re familiar with Netflix, the concept is similar (no, you’re not renting CDs). You go through their catalog and add CDs to your queue. Every month, the CD at the top of your queue is sent to you and your credit card is charged, until you quit the club.
Here is the amazing part. Cost of the CD? $6. Oh, cost with tax? $6. Cost with tax and shipping, you ask? $6. Wanna buy more CDs? $6. Cost per disc for box sets and double albums? $6. Cost if your queue is empty at your “time of the month”? $6 (and they don’t ship you anything).

That’s it. Frankly, I don’t see why you couldn’t just sign up, buy all the CDs you want at $6 each, and then quit. At worst, you leave one CD in the queue if they require a 30-day notice (which they don’t state, I’m just speculating).
My price threshold for CDs at a store is $12 for a disc I really want, otherwise $10 because they?re gonna tax me. has some great deals, but their shipping charge is $3 per disc. So, for me, this is a pretty stunning deal. Heck, I just saw Coldplay?s X&Y at Sam Goody (yeah, I know) for $20! Who the heck pays that? Hmm, doesn’t offer that CD, so perhaps that’s a bad example…

The catch? None, really. Shipping isn?t instantaneous. I signed up on a Sunday morning (1/15), they shipped it on Tuesday (1/17) and it arrived today (1/26). About average for free shipping. Their selection isn?t stellar, about 14,000 CDs, but I was still able to find a few good ones. Reviewers elsewhere pointed out that CDs sometimes disappear from your queue, so if you really want something, you might want to order it while you know you can still get it. The only issue for me is that Rhapsody fulfills most of my listening needs, so I?m only buying CDs that are great as a whole, and something I?d want to listen to in the car. When I get a subscription-capable MP3 player, my need may disappear altogether. Until then, my queue is loaded. Review

On a lark, I subscribed to the Rhapsody Unlimited music subscription service, lured in the by their 14-day free trial ($10/month after that). I had fun with Pandora, but wanted to try something that gave me more control over what I listened to. In this case, complete control. Rhapsody has over 1.3M songs, and gives you the power to listen to any of them in any order. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but you’ll still run across missing albums, and occasionally missing artists. At least they have a button that reveals all of an artist’s missing albums.

Listening on the go

One of the benefits of the Unlimited service is Rhapsody To Go, which allows you to download tracks to a compatible portable device (the ones that say Subscription). There are 3 catches in that statement: 1) you are a current Rhapsody Unlimited subscriber, 2) your MP3 player is Janus/PlaysForSure compatible (iPods aren’t), and 3) you’re using Windows XP. And 4 catches if you include the fact that not all Rhapsody tracks are Subscription tracks, but in my experience almost all are. The quality of purchased and downloaded tracks is 128K, in WMA, AAC, or MP3.

Since I don’t see myself dropping the service anytime soon, I’m highly motivated to get a Subscription compatible player. Because I’d like an expandable player, I’m leaning towards the Sandisk e200 with a microSD slot, removable recharbable battery, FM tuner, and voice recorder, due out in March (happy birthday to me). [Attention Sandisk: when your marketing dept. launches a product at CES, without so much as a press release on your website, it’s time to fire them.]

Listening at home

You can listen two ways, through their web interface or their dedicated client. I usually use the client/jukebox software for its interface and convenience features. If you add a track to your library, it can download it so you can listen to it even when the site is down (which happens occasionally). Assuming you’re a current subscriber, of course, and are using Windows XP (I’m guessing it’s a DRM issue). You can purchase tracks for $.89 and albums for $7.99.

I don’t know how much music I listened to before, but I find with Rhapsody I listen to about 3 albums a night. It allows me to more thoroughly explore artists and genres. I find I’ll listen to classic rock musicians from past to present, until they start sucking (which happens pretty consistently as they approach the 1980s), and indie musicians from present to past, for pretty much the same reasons. I’m generalizing, but there’s definitely a pattern there, and it’s cool to see how the artists evolve (or devolve).

They also have several pre-programmed radio stations to help you explore new stuff, and allow you to create a station based on your tastes, like Pandora. I haven’t tried the custom station feature, and would be impressed if it was as good as Pandora, but I’ve been too busy albums to check.


A while back I heard a cool song on AOL Radio called Le Monster vs. Phofo by My Favorite. I went on to check out other stuff by My Favorite, and found that while they were decent, they didn’t create the sound I liked so much: Phofo did. I’ve had similar discoveries in the past: Super Bon Bon by Soul Coughing was only a hit when it was it remixed by Propellerheads; Battleflag by Pigeonhed and Lo Fidelity Alltars, whose collaboration created a whole greater than the sum of their parts.
     In his remix of Le Monster, Phofo infuses a lounge/bossa nova sound and snappy drums. If you listen to his other stuff, you see it’s a common theme, along with prodigious sampling. Speaking of which, he is a practicing trial lawyer (and I thought I was a renaissance man) and has set up to help other artists with this issue.
     He has many of his tracks posted as MP3s in the audio section of his site, definitely worth a listen. Notable tracks include the aforementioned Le Monster, Roger 7, and I Love Happy Funball (which was also a fantastic SNL skit: “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.”)

Children’s songs

So heres the deal.
For those of you who don’t know (or care to remember), I have two kids. Boy-Girl twins. They are almost 5 and getting closer to a cool age where toys are fun for the both of us and video games, well, let’s just say I’m going to teach them Tetris and Street-Fighter AND BLOW THE PANTS OFF OF THEM. (I’m too immature to be one of those caring dads that can let their kids beat them at stuff.)

Soon, I will be forcing, er um, I mean hoping that they will follow the same industrial and punk influences that I do.

BUT FOR NOW it’s just non-stop nursery song stuff, which brings me to today’s rant.

We watch the Noggin channel or Nick-JR A LOT. There are a few shows that actually have decent tunes on them.
Take “Lazytown”.
All the music is written in a “I’m a Barbie-Girl” dance/pop style. It’s not bad at all. (For childrens music. Give me some credit.)
Then there’s this chick Lori Berkner who has some good jams between shows.

So what’s my problem? You want to know? Really?

It’s that none of these songs will be remembered 20 years from now! Who the f*ck made the rule that only certain songs, written 200 years ago, are allowed to be passed on through the generations.
I got dozens and you know them all too.
“London Bridge is Falling Down.”
“I’m a Little Tea pot”
“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (grossly plagiarized by the ABC song, yet no lawsuit… WTF?)

Some are even sung purposely off-key. Example “On top of Spa-get-teeee
Shoot me.
No, not me.
The moron who came up with that one. Shoot him.
If I could go back and see that song as it was being written. Maybe by some lumberjack taking a break, back in 1810. I’d swipe it from his hands. Read it out loud, so that he can hear how stupid it sounds, then rip it up and tell him to get back to choppin or you’re fired.

What’s aggravating is, that you can’t stop it.

When my kids are 25, I’ll ask them if they remember a show called Lazytown and maybe, after thinking for a second, they will get a vague picture of the show BUT the music will be lost to them.
YET if I we’re to start singing “There’s a hole in the bucket, Eliza Eliza…”
They’d be slappin’ their knee and singing right along with me.

Pandora: Your Personal Music Geek

When I was in college, I was a database of certain types of music. Mainly alternative, especially industrial. I’d actually keep handy a two page typed wishlist of albums to get, if I could find it cheap/used. If you mentioned bands or songs you liked, I’d be right there with, “well, if you liked that, give this a listen.” Since college, I’ve backed off a bit (and I have a theory that most people’s interest in music peaks when they’re in college). However, with a wide variety of net radio stations available (and working on a screenplay that involves, in part, the music industry), my interest is again rekindling, especially with indie music. So I could really use a music geek to advise me, based on stuff I know I like.

Enter Pandora, a web version of said geek, but without my endearing arrogance. Give it a song or an artist, and it creates a radio station filled with similar music. It’s powered by the Music Genome Project (I hadn’t heard of it, either), which catalogs musical attributes of songs and artists, so it can find similar ones. It also accepts your feedback to help sculpt the station; if you don’t like a song it plays, it’ll never play it again on that station (but it might show up on another). You can also combine artists/songs on one station to create hybrids. For instance, I’ve combined Elliot Smith and Jon Brion to form a station I call Pop Genius. For the record, I am not a genius. Just brilliant. Anyway, I also created a KMFDM station, which has so far played Static-X, NIN, and Rob Zombie. Hmm. I wonder if I can recreate AOL’s WB channel by entering the best tracks from the Smallville soundtracks. Uh, not that I’d want to… What? No, you’re gay!

The interface is Flash, and is quite smooth and intuitive. You can pause and skip tracks, but not rewind. The sound quality is excellent! I listen to a lot of net radio, and this is probably the clearest, cleanest feed I’ve heard, even though others are also listed as 128Kbs. I have a hunch that the ones I’m accessing through iTunes are streaming 128K MP3, whereas Pandora might be using a variable bitrate format utilized by Flash. It is currently commercial free, but they warn they’ll be ramping up the advertising. I don’t know if this means radio commercials or not, but they’ll give you an ad-free version for $36/year. That seems reasonable, and well under the $10/month Rhapsody/ charges (although you can directly choose songs and albums with those services, whereas Pandora you can only “steer” the selections with feedback).

The only issue is whether they’ll be able to keep up with cataloging new and old music. Obviously, if a song’s attributes haven’t been cataloged, the software can’t really recommend it. They claim they don’t pigeonhole artists, which is good considering the range some of them have (how I miss Leeb and Fulber, who created a new band for every variation of industrial they tried: Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Intermix, and a few others). However, their catalog is 10K artists, and 300K songs, so you’ll probably be good for quite a while.

Stay tuned, I plan to experiment with some software that may complement Pandora frighteningly well, as well as necessitate that MP3 player I’ve been eyeing for a while now…

Tomorrow is Yesterday

The title sounds like a good name for a Star Trek episode. Wait, it is. Oh well, it still captures my theme for this message: that some of the answers to our current-day dilemmas can be found in the technology of the past. Case in point: the Digisette MP3 cassette player. Better than your iPod, let me explain.

I still remember the days of the big debate between two different types of automobile CD-changers. Some folks preferred the type which mounted in your trunk and would beam the sound to your FM radio. “No fuss, no wiring muss” was the battle cry. You could just plop this product in your car and it would work instantly. Instantly, through your dopey, static-filled radio. Audiophiles rightly decried this monstrosity and preferred the wired models. Sure, they were a hassle to install, but they delivered crisp sound to your speakers, sound that was carried on shining, 12 gauge copper wire. The difference was apparent to any ear, whether refined or not.

Which brings me back to the current dilemma facing iPod owners: you now own a device that carries your entire collection of music (and more), but you can’t easily play it in your car without using an FM transmitter or some sort of cassette adapter plugged into your car radio. Either of those solution introduces a tangle of wires and a headache both aesthetic and operational. Do you dare risk a car accident while trying to find your favorite music or trying to reach your windshield wiper controls over a tangle of wires?? And how about the poor quality of FM-transmitted music ?? How easily the masses forego the high quality of car stereo sound by selling their souls to the ever-increasing capacity of the iPods of this world !

The elegant solution to this dilemma lies in a product from the past, one of the first breed of MP3 players which is now, sadly defunct. The Digisette MP3 player looks like a tape cassette that has been dipped in aluminum alloy. It is heavier than its analog cousin because its innards contain a fully workable MP3 player and a tiny amount of flash memory. Add a MMC memory card (a totally redundant name!) and you have yourself a bit less of 1Gig of memory for the road. And I do mean “for the road.” Pop this baby in your cassette player, and you have yourself a good 10-hours or equivalent CD capacity, easily accessible through your player’s FF and REW buttons. Elegant. The player pops into your cassette player (out of sight, out of mind) without a single wire in sight. And the sound: it is played directly to your car stereo’s cassette playback head. It is wonderful. If you wish to walk away from the car, you can always pop this beauty into the belt-clip holder provided with the player and plug-in your favorite headphones for a similar, portable sound experience.

Sure, the memory does not allow you to carry the Virgin Records library in your pocket. But the provided PC interface allows you load up a gaggle of MMC cards with your favorite tunes for a swappable library of surprising capacity. I use mine to listen to hours and hours of podcast material in my car; it is an invaluable ally against the poor FM reception I encounter on my way between Orange and San Diego counties.

Good luck trying to find this beautifully designed and amazingly geeky technical wonder. Although it fits my needs (and probably yours) to the fullest, it does not fit with the model that Steve Jobs and all of the iPod copycats are foisting on you: “Bigger is Better.” Don’t believe them. Size does NOT matter when you can’t use it where it counts the most: in the back of your car. The Digisette may be small, but that is its charm. It can do the job you really need, not the one you think you need. And it looks right at home in your car cassette deck. Just remember to buy a couple of spare batteries for it; you may be listening to it for hours and hours on end…….