— a modern way to produce music

Just before the new year I learned about, a very well designed portal for hiring session musicians and producing music.  Gina Fant-Saez has done a fantastic job engaging world-class studio musicians, engineers, and producers (who have a minimum of 15 major album credits) and creating an environment where requests can be made, tracks can be played, and talent can be paid.

I hope to meet with CEO Gina Fant-Saez on my next trip to Austin and discuss with her how the great work her team has done could possibly meet the infrastructure requirements of Manifold Recording and provide a commercial engine for The Miraverse.  It is exciting to see so many good potential frameworks for launching a new generation of creative and commercial approaches to 21st century music production.

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!

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!”

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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.

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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.

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is a multi-discipline, minority directed, center for arts and learning that employs the visual and performing arts to foster a sense of accomplishment and hope in the urban community.  Pittsboro is not exactly an urban community, but the needs of youth and the role of the performing arts to develop and nurture an authentic, powerful voice is every bit as important in North Carolina as it is in downtown Pittsburgh.  And I do hope that if the Guild fancies a visit to North Carolina, or if there is a new Guild that forms closer to Pittsboro, I hope there might be an opportunity to share the dream and to give these young performers some studio experience, too.

I am ABBA and so can you!

Amy sent me a link to this latest ABBA shrine, a 70,000 sq ft museum, stage and recording studio ready to inform and entertain ABBA’s greatest fans. Not that the band didn’t do a great job releasing the definitive concert/tour DVD in 2004. Platinum-level tickets cost only €190 (and given the ABBA style, I cannot imagine settling for less).  I look forward to seeing what it costs to step into the recording studio and cut one’s own track with the most fabulous four, and I am delighted that ABBA are willing to open their music up this this form of enjoyment.  Mamma Mia!

And yes, I hope that those who want to see ABBA in this context will also want to see other favorite musicians making music and having fun in other studio contexts.

What's your story?

Yesterday I heard Dave Isay promoting his new book, Listening is an act of love. The StoryCorps® oral history project began in 2003 in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Since then over 30,000 stories have been told and recorded, and the stories broadcast weekly on NPR have become one of my favorite features of WUNC‘s programming. The stories selected for broadcast are as eclectic as one could imagine: an American citizen of Japanese descent describing life in American concentration camps, a pastor whose simple act of charity changes the life of a man and a community struggling with poverty, a prominent doctor honoring his unschooled-but-wise father, an old woman recounting how she first fell in love. But what makes the stories remarkable are not just the circumstances and not just the actors—real people in this case—but the way in which the story seems to draw life from both the telling and by the listening of the interviewer in the booth.

Continue reading “What's your story?”

Tom Dowd & The Language of Music

Earlier this year I attended SPARKCON 2007, a conference set to “ignite the creative hub of the South.” I joined two days of “ideaSPARK” sessions, including one that covered my favorite topic—combining open source and music. I made many great connections and gained more than a few truly profound insights about how to make my studio plans better.

One of the folks I met there was Frank Konhaus, and he introduced me to the movie that gives this blog its title: Tom Dowd & The Language of Music. I immedately ordered it from and then promptly left for a 15-day trip to Asia, but the DVD was on my doorstep—and dry because of the drought—when I returned.

After watching the video, I can only imagine that everybody wants somebody like Tom Dowd in their studio, using their technical knowledge, musical knowledge, profound humility and wonderful optimism helping to make the best possible records. I certainly do! But more importantly, I believe that the environment we are trying to create will nurture new Tom Dowds, not box them in or shut them down.

I heartily recommend to any and all that this video demonstrates the viability of collaboration between artist, engineer, and producer. And I will start to build a library of quotes from that video that talk to the specifics of the successes Tom helped achieve for his artists, his label, and all of us, the music-loving community.