Saturday, December 5, 2015

New Demo Recording Available

I just released a 7 song mini-album called “the [Sing Free] demonstration recording.” (see the tracklist below for Youtube links to the songs). As the title suggests, this recording is meant to be thought of more demo or set of bonus tracks than as an album that can stand on its own merits.

All of the songs on here have either appeared on previous albums or will appear on the upcoming album “Hydrogen” I am working on. But the recordings here have the songs stripped down to only acoustic guitar and vocals, nothing else.

I recorded this demo about a year ago as a preview for “Hydrogen” and to get a sense of what some of the new songs sounded like. My girlfriend suggested recording some guitar-only versions because she liked hearing them, and I also wanted something to submit if I ever wanted to try and get coffee shop gigs or something like that. I never intended to release it, but I had thrown a couple tracks on Soundcloud a number of months ago.

But I decided to release it now because the “Hydrogen” album has run into some delays and bumps in the road. Since recording the demo almost a year ago I moved back to Albany, NY from California, spent all summer studying for the bar exam, and in October I got a job in Geneva, NY. In Geneva I don’t have ready access to a grand piano for recording, and just recently the computer I use for recording died (fortunately the project is backed up, except for the outline of a new track I was working on a couple weeks ago). In other words, things are moving at a snail’s pace. The album “Hydrogen” is like what scientists say about fusion power; it’s 40 years away, even if they said that 40 years ago. So I figured I would release the demo just to release something.

Anyway, here is the tracklist:
3. Unknow
6. Ask

This recording is very raw. I recorded vocals and guitar simultaneously, which didn’t allow for any mixing (my recording setup only does one stereo input at a time). There are also a couple rough spots. For example, at 2:02 in “The Abundance” there is a note that is horribly off-key (trying to sing a tritone above the root and approaching it with no lead-in was a bad idea). 

That being said, I think it’s ok for the most part. The newer songs are decent, and I think the version of “Ask” that’s here is better than the version on the “Nine Questions” album. Strangely, my voice seems to have changed significantly with age, but in a good way. Listening to recordings of myself between 2009-2012, my voice sounded a lot tinnier (and dare I say whinier) back then.

So I hope you like it. Spotify streams it for free. CD Babysells an MP3 and lossless download for $3.38. Amazon MP3 and iTunes sell it for more so don’t buy it there. Private message me for the free download.


Monday, August 10, 2015

New Song!! (but also some problems I need your help with)

As I alluded to last week, I have begun to record music again. Over the last few days I put down a new track, called "Unknow," which is the first to be recorded for the forthcoming album Hydrogen (the album from which this blog takes its name). I attempted to record Hydrogen three years and a half years ago, but I soon abandoned it in favor of the album Expression. "Unknow" is one of two songs that caused me to put the entire Hydrogen project on hold, as my attempt to record the song in 2012 produced unsatisfactory results. But this past week I have taken another crack at it, and I would like you to hear it:

This track still has a number of problems, and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions. The problem stems mostly from the programmed electronic drums. They sound kind of cheesy.

As I've complained before, I don't have a drummer, I don't have drums, and I don't have the resources or equipment to record drums. So my options are to either not record anything at all, or to try and make do by programming electronic drum patterns using software. But if you try to use software to impersonate real drums, this usually sounds fake. Electronic beats usually don't work if they're trying to mimic something real. Rather, electronic beats work best when are trying to sound...electronic. This is usually why I perceive a rock song with fake drums as sounding way cheesier than straight up techno music, because techno is not trying to be something it's not, it's just being techno.

And so that's the issue with "Unknow." The snare-drum-type sound here sounds very synthetic. That was partly intentional. I have a more realistic sounding snare sample I could have used, but I was worried it would sound even sillier because it would just sound like I was trying to trick people into thinking the drums were real. So I thought by using an obviously fake sample, I would clear the air, but instead it also sounded stupid. (On a side note, could the question of how we define "cheesy" be an interesting one for academic study?).

So going forward, what do you think I should do? Should I (1) leave it as is because, you know, it can't really be that bad, can it? (2) try to make the drums sound more "real" even though they're not? or (3) go in the other direction and use beats that are more techno-sounding? As for the last option, since this track prominently features acoustic guitar, I am worried that throwing in a bunch of weird bleeps and blurps will be too much for the song to handle. But at the same time, could that approach be "innovative"?

Probably not. Part of me is tempted to can the whole thing and say "see you in another three years." I think it's appropriate that the album is called Hydrogen because it is a lot like what scientists say about nuclear fusion. It's always coming but it's never here.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Possibility of a New Recording

I may or may not be starting to record again soon. I suppose it depends on how quickly I find a job, and various other factors. The longer I stay unemployed, the greater the chance of new music coming out in the near future. There is a significant amount of music I want to record. Some of it was written recently, but much was written just prior to my 2013 album Expression, and some dates back even farther to 2007-09.  I'll post updates if new information becomes available.

(meanwhile, here is the stuff you've already heard from me):

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Three new demo tracks.

Check out three new demo tracks:

I recorded these solo demos in preparation for the album Hydrogen. These songs a more in the singer-songwriter style, and they are a change in style from the Expression album, which was focused more on instrumental rock music. More to come.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Brief Thoughts on the Grammy Awards

Thoughts on the Grammy Awards:
1. I never actually watch the Grammys, I just read the list of winners later.
2. The "major" categories like "Record of the Year" are entirely meaningless, for a number of reasons I won't go into here.
3. Steve Martin was famous first for being an actor, but he is actually a very good banjo player.
4. For some reason I can't explain, I'm happy to see Daft Punk win.
5. Who the heck are Imagine Dragons?
6. I realized that by making this list, I'm probably coming off as a total music snob.
7. Does anyone else think it's weird that Led Zeppelin can win "Best Rock Album" for a live album that contains no material that was written after 1976?
8. What exactly is the definition of "World Music"? Isn't kind of insulting to group all music from the rest of the world into an "other" category, and compeltely disregard distinct cultural and musical traditions?
9. Colbert wins "Best Spoken Word Album" like a boss, though I have to say, it's never been clear to me the criteria by which this category is judged.
10. I have to admit, "Skyfall" is a cool song and Adele nails it.
11. Wayne Shorter will always be awesome.
12. Tõnu Kaljuste wins a well-deserved Grammy for his recording of Arvo Pärt's "Adam's Lament."
13. I really need to check out the Maria Schneider composition "Winter Morning Walks" that won a Grammy tonight.
14. I haven't heard of most of the people who won Grammys, and the fault is mine. Even though I make this annoying list, I don't actually know anything about this stuff.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Paradox of Ambition and Public Interest Law

UCI Law is a law school that really wants us to get good jobs when we get out.

I’m sure all law schools are like that, but this is especially true of UCI, since it is new and really feels like it has something to prove. This is good in many ways because the school really focuses on giving students the resources they need to succeed. But the drive for success, and the self-promotion that it requires, makes for an uneasy tension for those of us who want to practice public interest law. Is it always possible to simultaneously serve the public and serve one’s own career?

I came to UCI because it places great emphasis on service and pro bono work, and it really supports its public interest students. UCI has been everything I had imagined it would be, and now in my second year my desire to practice public interest law remains as strong as ever. Who wouldn’t want to have a job helping people? It sounds simple enough, right? It’s true that public interest lawyers do not make as much money as other lawyers, but the job satisfaction usually more than makes up for it. In a strange way, it feels good to say, “I’m taking a pay cut to help save the world.”

So what is the problem then? It is hard to grapple with the law school culture of ambition, and this does not go away even if one wants to be a public interest lawyer. Public interest students have ambitions just like anyone else. If you can get the “good job,” you can make huge positive differences in the world. Some cynical observers might say this is just as much about maximizing one’s own moral superiority as it is about serving the public. And while I would disagree strongly with such an accusation, it still lurks underneath. Public interest law is about serving the public, but many of us perhaps unintentionally serve ourselves in the process because doing this kind of work is what makes us feel good. Is it contradictory for us all to be clamoring for all the great jobs, while at the same time saying that we’re just in this because we want to serve others? I often ask myself, “If I feel like other people would be better difference-makers than me, wouldn’t it make sense to just yield and let them go and achieve a better outcome for society?”

There are not that many public interest jobs out there. Public interest organizations do not have a lot of money, and there is a great deal of competition to do this kind of work. Offices are also constrained not by having a lack of clients, but rather by a lack of funds to hire everyone they would want to hire to serve those clients. For every person that gets hired, that’s one qualified person that doesn’t. So to get the jobs we want, are we supposed to just step on whomever may be in the way?

To quote Robert Duvall’s character from the movie Thank You For Smoking, “if you want an easy job, go work for the Red Cross.” Indeed, it is a luxury to feel good about yourself and your job. When I worked at a grocery store, I didn’t feel like I was saving the world, but I did feel proud of myself for keeping the recycling room at the store clean. And so anyone who says that the only jobs worth doing are the ones where you help people demeans all of the people who are working hard at whatever job they can just to get by. I was lucky because my parents did fine financially and my grocery store income was just supplemental. Many people are not so lucky. Everyone wants to be that person who took that case all the way up to the 9th Circuit or the Supreme Court and won a great ruling that will help everyone. Not everyone wants to just be good at whatever job they have. But this is really what is more important. Justice Benjamin Cardozo once said, “In truth, I am nothing but a plodding mediocrity—please observe, a plodding mediocrity—for a mere mediocrity does not go very far, but a plodding one gets quite a distance. There is joy in that success, and a distinction can come from courage, fidelity and industry.” The plodding mediocrities are the people who make the world go round.

I wish that the law culture gave us room to be mediocre. And by this I don’t mean lazy. I want nothing more than the opportunity to work as hard as I can, and to define success on my own terms, rather than be boxed in to someone else’s definition of success. Is it possible to have a job that helps people, while at the same time turning away from the culture of ambition that is so prevalent at law schools? Is it possible to get where you want to go, but not have to step on anyone to get there? Ask me in five years.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Amazon's New Music Purchasing Options Make No Sense and are Not Economically Sustainable

Right now I'm holding in my hand an album called "Kveikur," the newest release by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. I really like it. So I bought it.

I purchased the disc on Amazon. Buying it in disc format was about a dollar more expensive than the MP3 version, but I think discs are nice to have because you get the audio in lossless format, and you get the full album artwork.

When I purchased the disc, I was able to take advantage of a new feature that Amazon offers. When you purchase a physical disc, Amazon allows you to download the MP3 files immediately. This would seem to make sense at first glance. Surely someone who purchases a disc should be entitled to listen to that music in MP3 format, because MP3s are just a lower quality version of what is heard on the disc. No one disputes that purchasers of physical discs should also be allowed to convert the files to MP3s and put them on their computers or portable music players.

So why then does Amazon's new feature present a huge problem in terms of economic incentives? When I purchased "Kveikur," I downloaded it immediately, put it on my ipod, walked to class with it, jogged with it, etc. I had complete access to the MP3s for almost a week before today when the CD came in the mail. Psychologically, it's a bit of a letdown to get something in the mail that you basically already own. It kind of takes the fun out of opening the package. But then a more sinister thought crossed my mind. The CD, like all discs sold by Amazon, is in "new" condition, and is still shrink-wrapped. But because of Amazon's new feature, I had been able to access the music without actually unwrapping the disc, and if I wanted to, I could re-sell the disc on Ebay or even Amazon Marketplace, and list it as being in "new" condition. I could probably recover most of what I spent to buy it, while still retaining the MP3 files on my computer.

I would say this is a major loophole. The old notion of "if you buy the CD, you should own the MP3s too" is undoubtedly still a valid one, but this presumes that the purchaser has unwrapped and accessed the CD first. If you can get to the MP3s without unwrapping the CD, then it allows consumers to double dip, and before long the pricing and incentive structure starts to break down.

This feature also presents a more subtle problem. About five years ago I purchased the album "Meddle" by Pink Floyd on CD. The CD edition I owned was a remastered version done in 1994. Then in 2011, most of Pink Floyd's catalog, including "Meddle" was remastered again and re-released. Because I had purchased "Meddle" on disc earlier, Amazon said that I was entitled to download the MP3s of the album. However, the edition that I was permitted to download was the 2011 remaster. I have no idea whether the 2011 remaster of "Meddle" is superior to the 1994 remaster, but technically, they are two separate products. If a remastered version of an album is essentially given away to people who had purchased an old version, then doesn't that take away the incentive to remaster the album at all? After all, mastering does cost money, not as much money as recording, but still some. Record companies wouldn't remaster albums if they thought that it wouldn't lead to new sales. Is Amazon's system fair to whoever put forward the money to fund the 2011 remaster? Probably not, and maybe no one cares, but I think it would be unwise to ignore the issue completely.

These problems present themselves rather oddly come holiday season. If one were to give music CDs as gifts, under Amazon's system, the purchaser can download the MP3s, and the recipient of the gift can get the disc. (They always said it's more fun to give than to receive, and now Amazon is making that a reality!)

Of course, these problems have presented themselves before, but in slightly less extreme forms. In the past there has been nothing stopping people from giving CDs as gift, and then ripping them onto their own computers. (I imagine this is a common Christmas morning tradition in some families). Similarly, there has been nothing stopping people from buying a CD online, ripping the music to their computers, and then reselling it in "like new" condition on Ebay or Amazon Marketplace. And aren't the CD sections in public libraries really just functioning as government-sponsored file swapping?

I am not proposing that we crack down on friends ripping each other's CDs, but I do think that Amazon is perhaps making things a little too easy. Even today, it is still tacky to say "Hey, can I rip that CD I just bought for you?" Likewise, for people reselling music, they're going to get more for it if the product is "new" and shrink-wrapped than they will if it is "like new," even if it doesn't have a scratch on it. I'm not quite sure why Amazon thought it would be good idea to create such large loopholes, since I find it very hard to believe this problem did not occur to anyone in their corporate offices. It could be that Amazon did a cost/benefit analysis, and determined that they would make more money doing things this way, even if it did result in knowingly giving away some music. If so, what recourse do artists have? It is unclear. Some stores, most notably iTunes, have dispensed with discs altogether. Amazon clearly does not want to go down that road, nor should they if they don't want to, but if they're going to sell both discs and digital content, they should really keep them separate so as to avoid confusion and unintended consequences.