Stephin Merritt exposes his creativity

The NPR show All Things Considered issued a challenge earlier this year: write and record a song—in two days. Stephin Merritt took them up on their challenge, enjoying the benefits of NPR’s beautiful recording studio (studio 4a) fully stocked for his creative purpose.

You can see a video of that two day creative sprint on the NPR website, and you can form your own opinions about whether the challenge or the result are for the ages or not. My question is more technical: how well did the studio itself perform? How well did the video capture the creative process at work? If you had access to all 48 hours of recorded materials (multitrack inputs, video cameras, computer monitor outputs, etc), what would you want? What would you cut?

As Stephin himself acknowledges, the song itself had only one section–most popular music has at least two and usually three–so perhaps two days was a bit short. What could have been done in three days? What about five? And what about an elegant corpse model of music composition–what if three artists had been given the image and the word that one had selected, they agree on the key, tempo, and major thematic device (in this case, 1-9-7-4), and one did the verse, one did the chorus, and one did the bridge? How exciting might that have been upon reveal?

If you have links to similar experiments, please share!

David Byrne riffs on the music industry

David Byrne says:

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

I agree! See the full article at WIRED.

This American Life—the remix

I have always been a huge fan of This American Life because of all the shows on our NPR affiliate station WUNC that I listen to during the week, none make me laugh or make me cry so more rapidly, so frequently, or so powerfully as a typical episode of This American Life. A few months ago my wife Amy burned me a CD and said “you’ve got to listen to this—it’s so Miraverse you will die!”

Continue reading “This American Life—the remix”

Experience is the new luxury

I didn’t say it–Robert Frank did. Robert Frank covers the topic of wealth for the Wall Street Journal, and I have to say that his advice on which $1M watch to buy, or which $750,000 bottle of wine is ready for drinking is a bit too rich for my wallet. But his latest column (which builds on several earlier columns) boils down to this: stuff for the sake of stuff is just not that satisfying. That’s terrible news for people who expected money to buy them happiness in the form of sports cars, yachts, beach houses, and other property, but no surprise for those of us who find happiness in the doing (rather than the buying) of things.

Continue reading “Experience is the new luxury”

Sound familiar? A recording experience opens in Nashville

While looking at how Parlor Productions are put together, I came across a link for a creative workshop for event planners:

The event involves Hit Songwriters from Nashville who gather together in small groups with the attendees, and write a short song or jingle about the company. Then the separate groups come back together in the studio, and surrounded by lots of laughter, record their individual masterpieces.

The highlight of the evening comes at the end, when the hit songwriters do a performance of their biggest hits in the intimate setting of the studio.

What a great opportunity for people to see how their own create works draw, consciously or unconsciously, from the culture that surrounds them.  And what a great opportunity for professionals to raise their game through this collaborative experience.
I wish Parlor Productions and their clients much success!

Philly Through My Ear

The things I learn by talking with just a few people who know a lot!

I just learned about Philly Through My Ear, a creative, collaborative effort to bring together great jazz musicians, honor them, pay them, record what is still <em>great</em> music, and then give them a lottery ticket in the form of a CD that they are free to sell whereever and hoever they wish. Why, that sounds just like the fair share model I’m trying to promote in The Miraverse!

According to the wealth survey of the Wall Street Journal, there are now more than 10,000,000 millionaires in the world and 3.2 million living in the US alone. Why are they spending so much on mere stuff that’s polluting the environment and not much on transcendent experiences that can be made in carbon-neutral ways? I don’t know, but I do know that Will Smith Sr. (father of Will Smith Jr.) has his priorities in order, and his generosity expands far beyond just the support of his favorite living artists: it actually enriches the arts.

So a shout out to Will Smith Sr., and an invitation to those who are trying to decide how they might allocate their assets between things (that need space) and experiences (which can be carried always). And a prayer that my favorite living artists will have the creative and legal freedoms to create more musical descendents to fill us all their their genius.

Audio Clips of Rough Mixes

How cool is this?  A bunch of recording engineers sharing their works in progress so that they can learn and improve their craft.  (And maybe show off a little, too.)  This is one example of an organic version of what I hope to do when permission to share is granted.  As I explain in the thread:

While the Manifold Recording will certainly cater to high-end folks that want to lock it out and keep all the mixes and masters to themselves (until they release commercially), I’m also hoping that there are artists, engineers, and co-producers who are as interested in really developing not just an understanding of equipment and techniques, but creating works that are interesting and rewarding to others who try their hands at mixing and production. I detail that somewhat here the PROGRAMS section of the Manifold Recording website.

One particular technical challenge I have to address is the best way to tag all the data so that equipment chains can be easily annotated in the recording process and can be easily searched in a large (100TB) online archive.  As you can see from the thread, there are no standards as to the level of detail or the integrity of the data of these community-led efforts.  One idea is to use RFID to tag basically every piece of gear that can move (plus those that cannot) and then scan the chain from source to console and then attach each signal chain’s scan data to the respective track.  This will ensure that every device is scanned according to its canonical identifier.

Will this catch on?  I certainly hope so!