Archive for music

Michael Jackson

Tape recorder

On one of my earlist birthdays that I remember, my parents gave me a tape recorder similar to the one pictured above (but less curvy). Along with the tape recorder, I got my very first tape – a copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. For as long as I’ve been listening to music, I’ve been listening to Michael Jackson – and the songs have never gotten old. Michael’s music has accompanied me through every stage of my life. There are millions of people out there with a similar story regarding Michael and his music.

However, there are also millions of people without a similar story. As I browse through the various social networks I participate in, I am finding that when it comes to MJ, people fall into one of three categories. In category one are folks like me – folks whose lives have been greatly affected by his talent, folks who are saddened by his passing. In the second category are people who were not very much affected by his music, people who aren’t really moved by his death. I can understand where they’re coming from – if you were not affected by him and his music when he was alive, why would his death really matter to you?

The third category is made up of people who seem extremely annoyed and bothered that a likely child molester is getting so much positive attention. It seems ridiculous that people would mourn the death of a pedophile. The thing these people don’t seem to be understanding is that Michael was human. No human is just one thing. Michael was a troubled person, a talented musician, a father, and yes, a possible pedophile. Mourning the death of someone who has touched our lives the way Michael did does not mean that category one people approve of the things he was accused of, it simply means that that is not all we see of him. If Michael didn’t affect your life, fine, don’t mourn him. If you see him as a pedophile, that’s fine too, because there is some justification for that. However, whatever you feel about the man, it is not fair to hold it against the people who see more than the negative side of Michael Jackson.

I do think it’s pretty likely that Michael did molest some children and I have always been disgusted and disappointed by that possibility, but I can never forget the beautiful music he has brought to the world and to my life in particular. RIP MJ.

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Nothing Expected

NothingExpected.com

I announced my plan for 2009, but then I was worried about meeting the February deadline I set for myself. Well, there was no need to worry.  I realised that the whole site revamp I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen by February, but that was no reason not to go ahead with my 2009 plan.

So, without further ado, I’d like to announce the launch of NothingExpected.com. NothingExpected is a podcast/blog where you will find all of my 2009 creations available for free download. The site is still a work in progress, but it’s up and running and the first release is available. Visit the site, listen to the music, and subscribe in your reader or podcatcher of choice.

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Podcast

I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna start a podcast. It’s gonna be all about sharing songs I like with other folks. Of course some of my own material will get slipped in there as well. The genre will be all over the place – like my musical tastes. I’ve been toying with the idea of a name thats related to the expected variety of genres. Hmmmm . . .

Stay tuned for more info.

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Simply Amazing

I got to talk a good friend of mine the other day. It had been a while since we last talked, but whenever we talk, we geek out on new and old music technology and techniques. A few months ago, he’d been on a crazy quest to find out everything he could about vocoders and talkboxes, so we revisited the topics. He told m that I should head over to YouTube to check out a video of Stevie Wonder playing the talkbox. I watched the video and loved it – Stevie is amazing. When I searched for that video, the second search result was a video of Stevie doing a drum solo. I knew Stephie could play a lot of instruments, but drums? He’s not usually associated with drums, but he was amazing on drums too.

As I was watching the drum video, I was thinking, “I knew that Stevie is a musical genius, but I guess didn’t fully understand what that means.” We hear artists on Cd’s and the radio or we see them on videos, and as good as their recorded material is, we miss so much of them by not seeing them live. There are certain things that just can’t translate on record. It’s one thing to hear a recording of a good guitar solo, but it’s another thing to actually see that solo played. Back in 2004, I went out to see Ayro perform. He did amazing things with an MPC and 2 keyboards. Later on, when I listened to the recorded version of that same performance, while it was good, it did not approach the experience of what I had seen in person.

I write my music, but I lack the skill to play it live. I’m completely happy with that, but I have to respect the people that can do this stuff live. How can you not admire good, live music? It’s simply amazing.

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Performance Notes – Lessons Learned

On Tuesday night I went to a small open mic night. The vibe was different than what I’m used to. Lately I’ve been performing for people who came out specifically to see underground hip-hop. On Tuesday, it seemed that most of the people came out for the event (free food, open bar, etc.) instead of the music. On top of that, the first performer went on stage and rapped about guns, money, and hoes – typical mainstream hip-hop subject matter. The crowd seemed to react well to him. At the other events I’ve performed at lately, the crowd would have not-so-subtly stepped outside to socialize until his performance ended. I was second. I got up there and performed Resistance (from Reverse Psychology – which should be out by the end of this month) . It didn’t start off well. The DJ scratched it in instead of just playing it, so I lost track of where I was supposed to start. During the first verse, the music was way too low – the DJ did not seem to be paying attention to levels throughout the whole night – and it’s hard for me to get into the song when I have to concentrate just to hear the beat. Some of the people in the crowd were paying attention, but I knew I could do better. During the chorus, I signaled for the DJ to turn up the music, and I put my heart into the next two verses. It worked. I got their full attention. Lesson learned – just because people like music with no content doesn’t mean they won’t respond well to music that attempts to be thought provoking.

Towards the end of the night, when the host said he was putting on the last MC, a girl went up to the stage and corrected him – there was one more MC who wanted to perform. The MC who had been getting introduced offered to allow “ladies first.” She said “hold on, let me get a shot and then I’ll be ready” and walked away. The guy went ahead and performed. I don’t think he had been serious about letting her go first, but still – lesson learned – do not make the crowd wait for you while you do something completely unrelated and unnecessary.

So this girl had already called attention to herself when she approached the stage. When it was her turn, she went in the back to conference with the DJ while the host did his best to stall for her. Finally he told her she’d had enough time and she needed to do what she was doing. Apparently, she had been picking out a beat. She came out on stage and the audience gave her a welcoming round of applause. She corrected us, saying ,”like this,” as she raised her hands in the air and began snapping. I guess clapping wasn’t Nuyorican Cafe enough for her. As the music started, she told the audience that she had just written what she was about to perform. She then began to rap from a paper. Performing poetry from paper can work because there is no music to keep up with. Singing from paper can work because singers’ lyrics are usually less dense with more room for pauses than rap lyrics. Lesson learned – rapping from paper doesn’t work.

Her lyrics were full of awkward pauses as she figured out what was on the paper or as she realized that a particular word was too early or too late. It was not going well. Finally, about half way through, she stopped and told the DJ that the beat was too fast. “Do it acapella!” the host yelled. So she did it acapella. What followed was a mediocre, at best, poetry performance. I would have been a lot less harsh in my judgment of the final poem if this girl hadn’t made a big scene out of approaching the stage, making people wait, and insisting we snap for her. With all that build-up, her performance should have been amazing. Instead it was simply anti climatic. Lesson learned – do not make a big production and draw tons of attention to yourself when you’re about to suck or be mediocre.

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Cleaning Up Their Act (a little) – Burnlounge Update

Previously, I wrote about Burnlounge and their shady business model which looked suspiciously like a Quixtar pyramid scheme. It seems that after getting the unwanted attention of the FTC, Burnlounge decided it wasn’t worth it. They’ve changed their business model to “eliminate the network marketing portion.” Now instead of paying them for the opportunity to sell their music, you can create your own Burnlounge store for free. Of course you’d still be selling their music, but without the fee, the Burnrewards you get in return seem a little more enticing.

Of course there are still a number of for-pay services available, but they are a lot more straightforward now. You can still pay a monthly fee in order to get cash instead of Burnrewards, but you no longer get cash or rewards for convincing other people to sell stuff under you . . . though there is something about getting rewards for sales your “affiliates” make. I think the value of some of their for-pay services is still questionable, and the affiliate thing sounds a little pyramid-ish, but the new business model is definitely an improvement. Take a look at their frequently asked questions for more info the changes.

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Everything Except Country

Think of how many times have you heard someone say “I listen to everything except country music.” That exception at the end is always stated with a bit of pride and there’s always an air of understanding, a bit that’s unsaid but understood – “because you and me both know that country is crap.” Chances are that you’ve said something similar at some point in your life or at least nodded your head in agreement when someone else said it. It’s become part of pop culture to hate country music. So much so, that I don’t think many people really think about what they’re saying when they say they don’t like country.

How many of the everything-except-country people have actually listened (not heard, listened) to country music and honestly given it a chance? I definitely wouldn’t call myself a big fan of country – I hardly even know any songs or artists – but I’ve come across enough appealing tracks to realize that this entire genre definitely does not deserve to be written off as too corny for the cool people.

I’m a latecomer compared to other folks that like his music, but I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cash ever since I heard his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt. Just recently, I found out that Almeda Riddle is the singer of an old acapella song that I love – Hangman Tree. The O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard. Everyone knows and should love Patsy Cline’s Crazy. I’m not sure if Ray Charles did it first or if it was a country song before he touched it, but whichever version you listen to, Your Cheatin’ Heart is a great song. Many people could probably relate to Bonnie Raitt’s Let’s Give them Something to Talk About.

If I can come across all this stuff without even trying, imagine how much more must be out there? I wouldn’t say that I’m a country music fan – I find much of it to be boring and tedious -but there are plenty of gems out there. Actually, I bet if I dug deeper, I’d find that the boring, tedious stuff is not representative of most country – kind of like smooth jazz could make you think you hate jazz.

I’m not saying that you should dive into the world of country music head first and with reckless abandon, saturating your senses with the vivid story telling and copious amounts of guitar playing (not saying that you shouldn’t), I’m just saying give it a chance. You may be missing out.

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Burnlounge

I wrote this article about burnlounge.com a while back for a website that never really took off. I’ve been meaning to repost it in my blog for a while but I kept putting it off. I just read that the FTC is taking a closer look at BurnLounge, so I finally posted it. Now I can say “I told you so.” :-)

Being an artist today is not like it used to be. The combination of broadband internet and cheaper technology has made easy for just about anyone to express his creativity and share it with the world. This ease of access hasn’t reached its limit yet – new businesses and websites targeted toward do-it-yourself artists are constantly popping up. Unfortunately though, opportunities like this are rarely missed by those looking to exploit the uninformed and eager.
I recently learned about BurnLounge.com, an online music store with a twist. I’m always interested in new things in music and new things on the internet, so this sounded like it was right my alley. I went to the website, searching for information on this service, hoping to figure out if I’d be able to afford to take advantage of whatever it was offering, but the more information I found, the more confused I became.

The idea behind BurnLounge is that you pay BurnLounge a yearly fee, and they allow you to set up an online music store where you can sell digital downloads of music supplied by them, but chosen by you. As you make sales, you receive BurnRewards which you can trade in for free music downloads for yourself. If you get your friends to open BurnLounge stores, you get rewards from their sales too. If you are willing to pay a monthly fee in addition to the yearly fee, you can earn cash instead of BurnRewards for your sales.

My first reaction was to wonder why someone would buy music from me instead of just going directly to BurnLounge or another person with a BurnLounge account. It’s not like it’s a physical store where it would make sense to own a franchise. The McDonald’s at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station isn’t really competing with the McDonald’s down the street from me because they are in different locations. Online music stores do not have that distinction – they are all located in the exact same place – your desk…or wherever you keep your computer.

My second reaction was to think that I must be misunderstanding. If they are asking for yearly and monthly fees, there must be something that their users gain. I figured that there had to be some benefit that I had missed, so I went back over the site, scouring every page to find it. I didn’t find it.

Then, somebody mentioned something to me that made it all make sense – pyramid schemes. Wow. I thought those didn’t make it past the 1980’s, at least not in the mainstream. I even checked out the website for Quixtar, one of the most notorious pyramid schemes in the U.S. Some of their marketing material has wording extremely similar to what is on the BurnLounge site.

For the benefit of those that don’t know, here’s how a pyramid scheme works. The parent company has a product. You pay the parent company a fee to sell the product. You get a percentage from the sales of the profit. If you convince other people to sell the product, you get a percentage from their sales to. If those people get people to sell, they get a percentage from those people’s sales and you get a percentage from both of them. It’s all very logical and it sounds like you could make a great profit for a relatively small amount of work.

While it may sound nice in principle, problems arise when pyramid schemes are put into practice. In a 1979 FTC ruling, Amway, a company founded by the same folks behind Quixtar, was determined to be a legitimate and legal business. However, it came to light that less than 50% of the sellers ever made any profit and that most of the profit that Amway made came from the sellers own use of the products. Pyramid schemes are marketed as being great money-making opportunities for sellers, but in reality they are for the parent companies to make money off of the sellers. I’m sure most of the people reading this either have or know someone that has stacks of boxes in the spare room, attic, or garage, left over from a “business opportunity” that didn’t quite work out.

At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not buying into the whole BurnLounge thing, but I thought maybe I’m being unfair. I went back to the site and found a contact e-mail address. I sent an e-mail with a few questions to customer support @ burn lounge . com. Honestly, I had doubts that I would get an answer, but in less than one hour, Eric Kerslake of BurnLounge Retailer Support sent me a response. Here are my questions and the answers I received along with what I think of each answer.

Q. Can you clarify the amount/value of BurnRewards or cash per song sold that BurnLounge store owners will receive?
A. BurnLounge retailers will receive .05 cents per track sold, and .50 cents or 20% of the gross profit margin (whichever is greater) for any album costing 9.90 or more.
My Thoughts: Let’s do a little math. Let’s say you want to break even over the course of a year. It costs $29.95 to set up a store and an additional $6.95 per month to get cash for your sales instead of BurnRewards. To break even, you would need to make $113.35 for the year. At $0.05 per song and $0.50 per album, that means you would need to sell 2,267 songs or 227 full albums in the year.

Q. When compared to similar but free services like those offered by PassAlong.com or iTunes’ referral program, what are the benefits of using BurnLounge?
A. The benefits of using BurnLounge is [sic] the ability to have your own customizable download store to attract customers with tastes similar to yours. BurnLounge also is a great opportunity for any person that has their own music they would like to sell on the BurnLounge site. BurnLounge allows artists to submit their music for free to the BurnLounge catalog. So an artist can have their own BurnLounge and receive commissions for the tracks that they sell and royalties for their own music sold by them or other BurnLounge retailers.
My Thoughts: I guess having your own customizable store could be considered a benefit…if you could make money from it. The problem is at this point, the idea of making a profit from a BurnLounge store is not very feasible. For $55, CDBaby.com will sell artists CD’s and send files for digital downloads to a large number of online music stores. That’s $55 period, not per year and instead of a measly 5% of sales (or nothing if you don’t pay at least $113.35 per year) the artist gets the full sales of CDs minus $4 and 91% of whatever the various online stores pay CDBaby for your sales. That 91% may not amount to the larger part of your sales in all cases, but it will usually be well above BurnLounge’s 5%.

Q. The concept behind BurnLounge sounds very similar to the business model behind notorious pyramid scheme company Quixtar. What is the difference?
A. I am not familiar with (Quixtar) and when looking over their site it looks to be a very different style of website. BurnLounge is not a pyramid scheme and is in compliance with all local and federal laws.
My Thoughts: This is very true, the websites are quite different, but my question was specifically about the business model. As for Kerslake’s straightforward but unsupported statement that BurnLounge is not a pyramid scheme, check out the wikipedia entry for Pyramid Scheme and decide for yourself.

Q. Should potential store owners join BurnLounge expecting to make a profit?
A. All BurnLounge store owners can make a profit, however the less effort that a retailer puts in to BurnLounge the lesser the return. You do not automatically make money as a BurnLounge retailer, you will need to put some effort in to getting customers and traffic to your BurnLounge site through advertising or word of mouth.
My Thoughts: Advertising costs money. You already have to sell over two thousand songs to make money from your initial investment, how much would that number jump if you have to include marketing costs as well? You could always go by word of mouth. You only need to find enough people to spend over $2,000 at your website.

Q. What do you think will make music buyers choose BurnLounge stores over iTunes and other popular digital music stores?
A. BurnLounge offers a unique opportunity to support artists and local retailers by offering the same products that other download sites offer for the same or similar price. BurnLounge is also the only download service that allows members to have their own customizable download site for as little as 29.95 per year.
My Thoughts: Let’s take a look at some excerpts of this question and answer. “BurnLounge offers a unique opportunity…by offering the same products that other download sites offer for the same or similar price.” That doesn’t sound very unique. In my brief search of the web, I did not find another site that “allows members to have their own customizable download site for as little as 29.95 per year,” but I am not sure how this offering will “make music buyers choose BurnLounge stores over iTunes and other popular digital music stores.”

Things are not looking good for BurnLounge sellers. Drawing visitors to a website is far from easy, especially when that website does not offer any significant advantages over many popular, corporately backed websites. For a seller, drawing visitors would just be the first step. Generating sales is even more difficult. Success at drawing visitors and generating sales seems very unlikely considering the current context. iTunes is the largest seller of digital music downloads. Most people looking to buy music online will go there simply because of its popularity or because songs bought there will play on their iPods (BurnLounge songs will not). More discerning shoppers will search for cheaper stores (e.g. PayPlay.fm tracks cost $0.77) or stores that offer downloads without restrictive DRM (digital rights management).

My verdict on BurnLounge – stay very far away. The “service” they offer is nothing but bait to convince people who are looking for alternate sources of income to hand over their hard earned money. There is nothing to gain by signing on with this company and plenty of money to lose. I generally feel that anytime someone asks you to pay them so you can make money, they are not to be trusted, and BurnLounge is no exception here.

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