Digital choices, digital decisions

Having seen the Rush Time Machine Tour in El Paso while traveling there in the summer of 2011 (one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, btw), I was looking forward to getting the concert video to watch and the album to listen to. I’ve always been interested in how concert videos and the accompanying albums are produced, especially in comparative terms of the mixing and editing of the music, effects, audience, etc, and there are plenty of such things with Time Machine 2011. (For example, the removal of some dialog at the end of their instrumental “indulgence” from the album.)

Continue reading “Digital choices, digital decisions”

All this machinery making modern music

To make music these days, musicians need to know just a bit more than how to play their instrument. A guitar player, for example, needs to be able to play the guitar (a given), but also must have an understanding of how the guitar is built, what accessories provide what features, how to mic the amps. Likewise a drummer, bass player, or other band member. Then comes the process of recording music to produce a song and, hopefully, all the work that goes into putting on a live performance. There are a seemingly endless supply of options available to these musicians that must be overwhelming at times.

Kind of like the seemingly endless onslaught of new collaboration tools and ways to communicate with others.

A little over 5 years ago, I wrote the following:

I’ve been messing around with blogs (with varying success) for over 5 years now, have set up and contributed to my fair share of other online sources like wikis and as a commenter to other blogs. But I’ve only recently really understood the value and, yes, appeal of text messaging and the ability to send photos and videos from anywhere on my phone. And, though I’ve recently signed up and started experimenting with Facebook, I’m still not quite sure exactly what to do with it. And don’t get me started with things like Twitter – as much as friends and others praise it, I just don’t get it.

Of course, it has only gotten worse (better?) since then.

List of feed options for the Lifestream plugin
All this, plus a way to add any that aren’t already included

I have spent the better part of the past year or so exploring and trying out new tools, seeing where they add value or don’t. I still don’t use Facebook much, but have found my groove with Twitter. I see the value and potential of Google+ but just can’t quite get into it. On the other hand, I have come to love and rely on Jive in our “behind the firewall” social/business network. I’ve signed up for many of the niche services that have come out: I really like InstagramUntappd is a cool idea, and I don’t get Pinterest (at all). A quick look at the feed selection list for the Lifestream plugin for WordPress gives an idea of what’s out there. I have no idea what most of them are, and this isn’t even all of them! (Lifestream provides a way for you to add “generic” feeds for all those that they’ve missed.)

Speaking of WordPress… Although I haven’t been blogging publicly for a while (16 months or so, yikes!), spending a lot of time writing and making things happen behind the firewall, I have kept up with the evolution of WordPress and the great tools available in the system, not to mention the evolution of its positioning in the market from “just another … blog” to “just another … site”. I’ve read a couple of good WordPress books through my Safari Books Online subscription, and played around a bit under the hood.

Wordcamp St. Louis 2012

And in a couple of weeks I’m attending WordCamp St. Louis 2012 to learn and share even more.

I could say that all this goodness was part of why it has taken me so long to actually get back up and running. (I told @tomcatalini back in April that I was “very close” to a return to blogging, not sure 4 months counts as “very close”.) And though it sounds like an excuse it is, at least partly, true. Part of my absence has been directly related to my trying to figure out what direction I wanted this blog to take, to build on my previous blogs or to try something new. But part has been trying to understand what is possible with regards to how I do it.

A perfect example of this interplay was my discovery of different post formats, along with the Showcase page template in the Twenty Eleven theme, and how I could use it to capture and present both my own extended thoughts on things (an ounce of perception) and a log of my more random thoughts and observations (a pound of obscure).

I don’t need to worry about all those sites and services in the list above that I don’t know about, or know how to use, nor do I need to worry about all the bells and whistles in WordPress. Perhaps they will be of value to me some day, and if so I expect that I will find them if and when I need them. What I care about is what I can do with them. 

Like the musicians I mentioned earlier, my purpose is not to “play an instrument” or to set up a bunch of gear. My purpose is to make music, and all this machinery is just a way to do that.

Now, let’s see what kind of music I can make….

Expertise, opportunity, and legacy are key to success (a review of “Outliers”)


I had been meaning to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Successever since it was first published just over a year ago. Since a lot of the discussion of the book focused on the “10,000 hour rule” for achieving expertise, or mastery, it seemed a perfect fit for my interests. I’m still surprised that it took this long for me to get to it, but I have to say I’m glad that I waited. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I think I appreciate its message better now than I would have if I had read it a year ago.

My first impression on reading the book was along the lines of, “Wait a minute. This book isn’t about mastery.” True, Gladwell talks about the hard work that goes into becoming an expert in a given trade or profession, and includes this expertise as a prerequisite for achieving success. What comes out, or at least what I got out of it is: mastery is required, but not sufficient, to achieve success. (For the purposes of this review, I’ll leave a discussion of what constitutes success to another day.) Mastery is just one part of success, according to Gladwell, the other two being opportunity – and taking advantage of it – and legacy (your cultural background).

Of course, both opportunity and legacy definitely have an impact on your ability and desire to achieve mastery in a given topic.  Gladwell goes through a wide variety of examples of real people, showing these principles in action, including:

  • Bill Gates had an early interest in computers, and because of his cultural environment had the opportunity to use a nearly unlimited amount of free computer access at a time when that access was prohibitively expensive for everyone, much less a teenager.
  • A study of Canadian junior hockey players showed that because of the of the structure of seasons and age cut off dates,  those born early in the year were more likely to have success. He applies this same process to Jewish lawyers in New York and other groups.
  • In a chapter titled “Rice paddies and math tests”, Gladwell explores how the differences in agriculture between Asia and the US have contributed to the differences in education systems and the conventional wisdom (you could say stereotype) that “Asian kids are good at math.”
  • And more…

I enjoyed this book. I’m not sure I learned anything new in terms of “facts”, but I did come away with an understanding of a different way of looking at the stories of the people around me, successful or not. After reading the epilogue, in which Gladwell tells his family story applying the concepts in Outliers, I can’t help but look at every situation now and wonder, “What’s the real story behind how that person got to where they are?”

It has also encouraged me to look at my own past, to better understand my legacy and the opportunities that I’ve had along the way. And my future, to wonder what unique opportunity that my generation has been given and what I will have made of it when the time comes to look back on my life.

Video games save the radio star

It may be true that “video killed the radio star” back in the early ’80s, but it looks like video games are coming the rescue here in  the late ’00s.  From the AP story Boom in music video games helps original artists:

Artists from Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have seen sales of their music more than double after being released on the games [Rock Band and Guitar Hero].  Some bands are featured on special editions — like Aerosmith on “Guitar Hero” this year and, soon, The Beatles with MTV Games — and last month, The Killers released two new songs on “Guitar Hero” the same time their latest album came out.

Aerosmith made more money off the June release of “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” than either of its last two albums, according to Kai Huang, co-founder of RedOctane, which first developed “Guitar Hero.”

And yes, in case you are wondering, we do have Rock Band in the house and I can tell you it is a blast to play.  What’s really great, at least to me, is the ability to download and play all that good classic rock I grew up on – like, for instance, the entire Moving Pictures album from Rush!  The kids have been introduced to all that good old stuff, and I’ve actually picked up a few new things, too.

Interestingly, this turn of events is actually helping the artists more than it is the record companies:

Although labels get some royalties from the play-along games’ makers, they are often bypassed on image and likeness licensing deals, which the bands control and which account for a rising proportion of musicians’ income. Meanwhile, the Recording Industry Association of America pegged its U.S. members’ sales at $10.4 billion in 2007, down 11.8 percent from the year before, with a further drop expected for 2008. By comparison, sales of music video games more than doubled this year, hitting $1.9 billion in the past 12 months, according to NPD Group. And they’re expected to keep growing.

Though Warner Music Group Corp. Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. bemoaned the “very paltry” licensing fees record labels get from game makers in August, the labels haven’t stopped sending their music to game makers.

That’s partly because they lack leverage. Even the largest label, Universal Music Group, controls just a third of the U.S. market, said Wedbush Morgan entertainment analyst Michael Pachter.

“There are literally probably 2 million songs out there, and fewer than a 1,000 were used in these two games combined in these last two years,” Pachter said. “If Warner wants to say we’ll take our 20 percent of the market and go away, a lot of bands are going to leave the label if they think they can get better exposure by being on these games.”

Amazing to me, after all this time, that the record labels still don’t seem to get it.  They are still trying to make a buck selling product, when what people want to buy is content.

Take me As I Am…

I wrote recently about the Dream Theater song “Solitary Shell” and how it brought to mind the impressions many people have of autistic individuals.  Tonight I popped in Dream Theater – Live at Budokan to help get the creative juices flowing.  The first song in their set list for this show is a song called “As I Am”, an excellent opening.

Anyway….  I’m pretty confident that this song wasn’t written with autism in mind, but the message the writer is trying to get across – that he is a unique individual and should be accepted as that – reminds me of what many of my autistic friends ask for.   (Like most poetry, this is best appreciated in spoken, or in this case, sung form.   Just imagine a driving guitar, bass and pounding drums as you read this anthem out loud to yourself.)

Don’t
Tell me what’s in
Tell me how to write
Don’t tell me how to win
This fight
Isn’t your life
It isn’t your right
To take the only thing that’s
mine

Proven over time
It is over your head
Don’t try to read between the
Lines
Are clearly defined
“Never lose sight of
Something you believe in”

Taking in the view from the outside
Feeling like the underdog
Watching through the window I’m on the outside
Living like the underdog

I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end I will just defy you

To those who understand, I extend my hand
To the doubtful I demand, take me as I am
Not under your command, I know where I stand
I won’t change to fit your plan, Take me as I am

The emphasis on the last verse is mine, because I think it really gets to the heart of the issue.  Though we may not have all thought about this, because our situation in life allows us to not worry about it, if you give it some thought you will realize that this is what you want for yourself as well.