Archive for January, 2011

Graduated Rock N Roll School!

January 31, 2011

Rock Enroll!

Although I finished nearly a year ago, I officially graduated ‘rock’ school yesterday evening.  It’s not rock school like ‘School of Rock.’  It’s more like…music…industry…business…

…school.

Sounds boring, but it was really amazing.  Everything from artist management to publishing to marketing to booking agency to graphic design to introductions to sound design and audio production and all over the place YOWZAH, how the HELL did I learn all that stuff a year ago?

It’s crazy to look back and think “I took 60 courses in 12 months” when now I’m surprised when I read one book in three!

What did I learn?  Everything I need to know about the music industry, which I can teach you right now.  Well, the principal at least: “Learn everything you can, because you never know when it’ll come in handy.”  It’s not about learning math to do maths, or geography to do geographies…it’s about learning about everything to prepare yourself for the unknown…or even for entrepreneurial opportunities.

I think this applies to everything…musicians should learn everything they can know about their instruments, about musical genres, and ESPECIALLY the business.  Not because they’ll use it, but because they might.

I probably won’t be doing graphic design for a living anytime soon…but if I suddenly need a half page ad whipped up for a project I’m working on, I can do it.  If I need to write a press release and can’t afford a publicist, I can do it.

Shakespeare (gah…I forgot…this stupid blogger-dude went to theatre school too!) once said “All the world’s a stage.”  I think all the world’s also a school…when you stop learning, you stop growing, and then you’re stuck wherever you are.  And no one wants that!

I didn’t listen to any music today!

January 30, 2011

…that’s a lie, but it’s a little lie.  The kind of lie that doesn’t hurt anyone.  But it’s also true…a lying truth…the kind that is alright so long as it’s over something mediocre, like this.

Today was a creative day with the summer camp which required working both on ‘Really Boring Stuff’® and creative things, so having blaring music of the sort I’ve been listening to recently wouldn’t have helped the process.  Instead, we listened to atmospheric beatless trance…otherwise known as New Age.

New Age is tricky…it could be synth, or jazz, or orchestral symphonies…but somehow you know when you hear it…it’s New Age.

I’ve been a closet fan of New Age for awhile…but not the super popular stuff.  Yanni makes me yawn! (…hah …hah!)  I like the bargain bin stuff, like E. Starink’s Crystalline, apparently a Dutch release from 1981 but, to me, a $6 purchase from BiWay.

Good one, Roo...a blog about music, and you find a picture of a Canadian thrift store that's gone out of business...huzzah!

It was pretty neat…I honestly thought it was just a cheapo basement creation from the early 90s.  I was shocked (…today…while writing this blog) to find that it was actually from the age of Numan!  It’s cheese…but it’s mellow cheese.

I used to eat this shit up, my playlists not quite as quick and diverse as they can be today with an iPod, but I wouldn’t put it past my young self to listen to Crystalline between Nirvana and The Replacements.

I since grew to love an artist named Patrick O’Hearn, who’s music sounds like it was recorded in a cave, and incorporates a gentle beat that almost brings it up to the ‘trance’ world.  Here’s a sampling of my favourite track:

I’m a firm believer that every music collection needs a wide variety of moods and sounds.  Too many people are trapped in their ‘favourite genre,’ or worse, trapped in their high school days.  Active listeners are sexy.  Even if they’re listening to New Age music.

Tangent: Google Docs

January 29, 2011

…likely the first in a million part series of tangents…I intend on making them relevant, and if I don’t, entertaining…and if I don’t…

…full of ellipses…

I have fallen head over heels in love.  It’s true, it’s true.  We are registered online at google.com, and you can find the list of things we love here:

Click Here To Add To My Registry!

Yup, I’m in love with Google Docs.  Prior to this I fell in love with Google Wave…but after a long illness, Wave passed late last year.  Don’t worry…I feel as though there’s still a little bit of Wave in everything…

I also fell in love with Evernote, and I still…*ahem*…have a fling on the side.  Evernote serves me in different ways, though…and I think Google Docs understands.

It’s Docs that I keep coming back to, though.  And there’s good reason for this: everything is in one place, and unlike an email that shoots out around the world in fragments and comes back in bits…you can ‘invite’ people to a document…and they can add or take away as they please!

You could just use Google Docs to do the same stuff you’d do with a word processor, and that’s great!  You can get it from any place that has a net connection and a browser…if you forgot your USB stick, who cares!  It’s online…

…but using a word processor as a word processor is so…Word Perfect 5…

 

In other words...the early 90s are over, it's time to think outside the box!

Here are some ways I’ve used Google Docs this week:

  • Event Planner: I made a document with the general concept for an event and then invited some creative minds to add their two cents…in the end, many minds are working on one document, and little things that are often forgotten (napkins…seating…your best friend’s invitation) can be brainstormed by everyone.  The final product is a calm collective creation rather than a manic clusterfuck.
  • Database Builder: I wanted to send out ads to all events events to my geeky summer camp, but first I had to collect all relavent events, contact points, dates, maybe even some notes as to differing requests for print production, or even requests for animated ads to be used in digital promotion.  My friend and I sat in the same room, chatting to each other, doing identical research…but there was no doubling up or confusion as we were working on the same spreadsheet!  I could watch his work as he did it.  In an hour, I had done more than would have taken a week before using Docs…and I had fun doing it!
  • Content/Copy Collector: the website for my summer camp au nerd is very copy heavy, as is the convention handbook.  I can toss the ‘Code of Conduct’ online into a doc and invite people to read, edit, update or comment…rather than hold a boring meeting where everyone goes over the document with a fine tooth comb, there are now months where people can check in on their own time…same goes for information on events taking place at the convention, on thank you lists (to make sure no one is missed), or even on new ideas!

In essence, the whole exercise is about having one document, in one place, that many people can use.  But with a little brain power you can turn that into anything!

That blog you’re writing missing some citation?  Put the copy up, invite some trusted friends to go over it, and in a couple of days (on their spare time) they not only find the citation but also some facts you missed!

Trying to get a complete budget for an album you want to record?  Put the spreadsheet up, give everything you need a row, and give friends a column…they can go out and find various quotes for you, and in the end you not only have a budget set up but you might have found some deals you didn’t find otherwise!

Think differently about how you can use the internet to be more productive.  It’s amazing what’s already out there.

If you’re into collaboration, event planning, organizing shows, or anything that requires a document to help stay organized…or maybe you prefer having data that you’ve created accessible from anywhere, and backed up for free up in the cloud…I highly suggest you give it a shot!

Also…be generous on my registry.  I didn’t think it was biologically possible…but there may be a baby on the way!!

Rediscovered Gems: The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

January 27, 2011

XTC was a huge influence on me, but old XTC.  People may know of songs like Making Plans for Nigel or even Senses Working Overtime (this is a live performance link, btw…in 1982 they stopped touring after Andy Partridge caught spontaneous stage-fright!)…and thanks to Sarah McLachlan, people know Dear God but probably have no clue it was written by a British band in the 80s.  I ate them up, specifically the albums Drums and Wires and Go 2.  They had this catchy blend of punky-rock and british-pop that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Tasty!

Old stuff usually beats new stuff, not because new stuff sucks, but because I had more time to hang out with the first albums.  Each time I’d hear something new from XTC I’d go back to the old XTC and BOOM….I’d end up listening to the old stuff again and forgetting about the new album (Oranges and What?…SkyWHOing?)

And then came Peter.  Seeing XTC as a band I owned because no one else I knew listened to them, hearing XTC on the radio was a pretty strange experience, matched only by seeing live Dixieland in New York City, or eating the best jambalaya I’ve ever had…while watching Dixieland in New York City.  I didn’t even know a new album was coming out…how would I?  I got ALL my information from the radio and the music guy down the street who was more of an ‘Eric Clapton’ kind of fan.

…don’t wanna date myself because I don’t really feel that old…but before the internet, in a small town where I’d heard of this ‘cable’ TV but hadn’t seen it yet…finding out about music was based entirely on the few radio stations I could get, friend recommendations, and Video Hits: the poor man’s MTV.

Peter Pumpkinhead.  You and I have a strange history.  I played the song ad nauseum at home.  I sang it, trying desperately to hit those high notes.  Luckily my band mate and bud Ryan loved it too.  Strangely, Crash Test Dummies recorded a cover of it for Dumb and Dumber of all things (XTC would also appear on the Me, Myself and Irene soundtrack!)  Our band Brillohead decided we would do a cover for the local Starsearch competition.  Only we did the original XTC version…

…we didn’t win (8th…there were 8 prizes)…but we became known for the song.  So much so that we recorded a song as close to Pumpkinhead as we could without being a complete copy.

This song is apparently about a pumpkinhead…well, written ‘for’ a pumpkinhead.  Apparently Andy Partridge and I are similar in our empathy for inanimate objects: he had carved a pumpkin for Hallowe’en and stuck it on a fence post after the holiday, and feeling sorry for the rotting head as he walked by it every day he decided to write a song for it…

…it just so happens the song is also a ‘Do Gooder Done Wrong’ allegory which is pretty damned well done if you ask me.  It’s not about any one figure, but all the figures that try to do good in the world and are taken down by people in power.  I think that’s a pretty good homage to the pumpkin-head that will (hopefully) always be remembered in song.

From the opening guitar-jack clicks, to the harmonica, to the catchy chorus, this song does not disappoint.  From 1992’s Nonsuch album by XTC…here is The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead…

My Musical Year Starts Now: Triple J Hottest 100

January 26, 2011

Since 2007, my ‘Year in Music’ begins on Australia Day.  Sounds kind of weird, but I guess it makes sense.  For one, my name is Roo…and I think I’m a kangaroo…and both of those are very Australian.  I was fascinated with Australia as a child…I even watched Yahoo Serious movies!

But all this is moot…the REAL reason is a little station called TripleJ and their annual Hottest 100 list. I’m not a big fan of lists…well, of their authority (I love making them) though I make one exception: The Hottest 100.  It is the authoritative collection of songs that impressed Australian listeners in the previous  year, and will rock your world in this one.

…I’m assuming you’ve missed most of the songs upon their actual release.  I think that’s fair.  Clearly there will be songs on the list you  heard in 2010 (in this edition there’s Fuck You! by Ceelo Green, Ready to Start by Arcade Fire, etc.)  If you’re a music freak, you may have heard of many of them.  The thing is…the rest of the country will get clued in to most…and you’ll be introduced to many that you didn’t catch before!

Take, for example, the illustrious list of #1’s in the last couple of years, of course note the year refers to the year the song played on radio, not the year the list was announced:

  • 2007: Muse – Knights of Cydonia (I first heard Muse on the radio in 2008)
  • 2008: Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire (this song showed up…in 2009)
  • 2009: Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man (…surprise! You may have known them before 2010, but they didn’t break in North America until then!)

And this year, the number one is a band I discovered on the Hottest 100 years ago: Angus and Julia Stone – Big Jet Plane!  I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard them on television or even had the opportunity to see them live here in Canada or the US in 2011!

The list is a collection of great tracks, and predicts many of the new stars you’ll hear more of.  I’ll be showcasing my favourites in the weeks to come as they grow on me…or, in some cases, punch me in the face with their awesomeness.

So you want to be a superstar…

January 25, 2011

Musical Balls

…so did I!  Sort of.  I guess I did.  Did I?  I forget…that was before I learned the b in ‘debt’ stood for ‘balls.’

Superstar is relative. I wanted to be a superstar, but my imagination was a touch more…batshit crazy?…than the traditional “I want to be on MTV, sell a million CDs, and hear myself on the radio” thing.  I wanted that whole ‘respect-unique-different’ superstardom.  I now realize that isn’t really superstardom at all.  And with my behind the scenes experience, I realize isn’t really ‘real’ either!

So much depends on marketing, and the second you start picturing your career as something ‘marketable’ it changes…especially if the person picturing the marketing for you is paid to do so by a label.  This applies to all arts, and probably to all careers though I’m too lazy to come up with a good allegory.  The second you change from ‘doing it for the love’ to ‘doing it for the bucks’ and actually expecting the bucks to show up, something’s gotta give.

Let’s take ‘getting your music on the radio’ for instance.  Ignoring campus and community and internet radio, you first have to find a way to get your song into a music meeting (typically on a Tuesday) which requires getting in good with someone at the station…good enough that people will be willing to spend thirty seconds listening to your song.

Oh yah…and your song better have something worthwhile in the first thirty seconds.  Hell, you’d better hope they actually give you thirty seconds!  If you can’t catch the ear of the ‘gatekeepers’ in that amount of time, they will assume you won’t catch the ear of the listener, and if you don’t catch the listener’s ear they will change to another station…and then why would an advertiser care to pay for advertising…which is the only reason the radio station is on to begin with!

And there’s the rub!  You are writing music because you love it.  And it’s likely aside from die hard fans and that lucky show you played where you sold out of your self-made CDs, you’re making about enough money to cover gas and guitar strings.  Radio stations aren’t playing music because they love it, and although that would make for an amazing station, they are a business.  In the end they make money because they play songs that will keep people listening so ads can be heard.

So…to get on the radio…you change your song based on suggestions you get back…again, if you’re lucky enough to pique interest and get a review.  You remove your second verse, jump into the chorus earlier, maybe drop your buddy’s backing vocals that you loved and he was so proud of.

BOOM!  Your song is different now!  But it might get played!  …on that station… If there’s a reason to play it.  Maybe you’re playing a show with a big local act!  Maybe your YouTube video got a bit of buzz.  Why should they play the song?!  Do you have a story?  Or do you just have a good song…

You’ll note…I just cited the process of trying to get your song on ‘one’ radio station.  Repeat that for every station in your city, your province or state.  It’s a lot of work.  And it goes beyond the song.  And that’s the sad thing…it always comes down to the song, but just to ‘get’ to the song there needs to be a story…

This goes for mainstream…but also for indie acts, for singer-songwriters, for  DJs (though they kinda get their own culture of fame), for everyone.  A good song…a good story…and hard work…

Do I still think I could be a superstar?  I’m too humble to actually believe that, but I do believe the industry is changing and a clever mind can find ways to get their music out there.  Look at OK Go and their clever videos, or artists who UStream or vlog their songwriting and recording process.

…but that was all a part of a good story…and in support of a good song.  And that’s where every musician should start when they want to step out of the basement and try to get on the stage.

I’m on Twitter @Potoroo!  I’m not an expert (…I went to school for music businessy stuff…) but I figure I have something to say so if you have questions or just want to shoot the sheet, drop a line through the blog or throw me a hellow in the TweetTweet world!

When ‘not’ to procrastinate…

January 22, 2011

…don’t procrastinate when it comes to things you care about.  You never know when something will suddenly be gone.

I guess this applies to pretty much anything…career, relationships, objects, musicians performing live…

Regardless of what it is, losing something over procrastination feels a lot worse than losing something while fighting for it.

Monkey See…

January 22, 2011

I’ve noticed a strange event this morning that I thought I’d point out. You see, last week there was some online drama and adventure involving a person (I guess I should say ‘allegedly’ here) guilted home from an attempt at independence and then forced to remain home against their will. Some friends noticed the the person’s online accounts had been deleted, and upon calling to see if they were ok were told to leave their child alone.

After this, a daring rescue took place, taking the victim (who is an adult, just clearly with overbearing parents) to the city he had tried to move to…

…and it all unfolded on Twitter. In real time.

If it’s all as accurate as I’ve been told then it’s an interesting example of friends helping friends get a leg up, helping someone achieve a goal despite obstacles.

This morning, on the same media the drama unfolded, I’ve noticed two occurrences…more regular than I’ve seen before:

People announcing that their parents are demanding they leave their online friends for good…

…and people panicking because they haven’t heard from someone in 24 hours or more online…

The cynic in me wonders if it’s an attempt by some to draw on the ‘celebrity’ of others.

Instead of focusing on the (alleged) Moral of the story – friendship, community – the aftermath is “Maybe I can be involved in something like that myself!” Or at least, the attention it got…

Or maybe I’m wrong…maybe there is an epidemic of parents dragging kids away from their online friends.

…lock yourself to the computer, I guess? They’re after you!!!

The Same Songs and the Same Results

January 21, 2011

Creative blocks are a pain in the ass.  They can interfere with anything, not just art.  Have you ever had to come up with a unique idea, at work or at home, and just felt stuck?  Before, clever approaches may have popped in your head like epiphanies, but when you can’t do it and there’s no clear reason why (hangovers are generally good at blocking creativity I find) it sucks.

I’ve had a creative block for about four years now.  Rather, a creative ‘songwriting’ block: I’ve been able to write blogs, come up with fun ideas, do marketing projects, develop and expand on fun and unique themes for camp and so forth.  But when it comes to the one thing I ‘want’ to do (besides camp of course, love camp, camp camp camp) I’m screwed.  And it’s not a matter of what I come up with being ass…I’d love to write some ass music right about now.  It’s that nothing comes at all.

Before you virtually backhand me, please note I know it’s temporary.  A person doesn’t spend their life writing songs to just *poof* have it vanish.  I may get exasperated but I know it’s coming back…it’s just hard waiting!

Creative blocks are, in my humble and wholly uninformed opinion, a form of insanity…artistic insanity I guess?  They self-perpetuate, they feed on your inability to create, and the more you try the tighter it’s grip.  I know some people argue that point – that if you just work at it and keep trying the wall will come down – but in my experience it’s kind of like I’m going crazy…and there’s one element that really cements the ‘insanity’ idea for me: I keep playing the same songs…over and over again.

I knew I was in trouble when I realized I was only playing about five or six songs: when I sit down at a piano it’s one of two songs I play…when I pick up a guitar…it’s one of about four or five.  And I’m not improving my technique, or coming up with new arrangements. It’s the same song, in the same style, over and over again…for about two years now.

There’s a quote/concept attributed to Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I keep playing these songs over and over again…and I keep expecting that after I finish them I’ll have warmed up, shifted my brain to music mode, and I’ll start writing a new song.  But normally I play the song again, or do the dishes.  The results are the same: no new song.

I used to hear music everywhere. I described the phenomenon to someone back in University: I feel music as movement, like a physical wave in my body.  When I’m writing a song or developing one it’s a multi-layered physical and mental sensation which I separate and work through.  The song isn’t a song like you’d hear on the radio…it’s a concept that I’ve fully realized.  Then I sit down and make it tangible by writing and recording it.

When I stop playing one of those same songs that I play over and over…I don’t hear any music, and I don’t feel any movement.

There are two ways I’ve overcome creative blocks in the past.  One is the suck it up and do it approach, where I sit down and just do it.  I found this easy with story writing.  I could just stream something onto the page and eventually I’d realize “Hey…something is coming out of this!”  I have successfully done this with music before. Some of my favourite songs have come out of sitting down and doing it, ignoring how horrible it sounds at first. This time the block is still there

The other way is inspiration.  The ‘muse.’  Being inspired to write!  Something just smacks me in the face and I can’t help but write a song.  I used to drown in inspiration…you can probably hear it in my old music (I’ll link to my music available free online to stream or download at the bottom of this page). I found inspiration in dead raccoons, in fights with my boss, in television sets, in cookie jars…in chocolate milk bubbles.  Anything and everything became a song.

For the last two years I felt inspired but unable to draw from it.  For the last six months…I haven’t even been feeling inspired anymore.

This isn’t an emo post…there’s a silver lining.  How am I dealing with all of this?

Well…I like to think that, like karma, there’s a bank somewhere in the sky, and that bank is holding all the pent up, built up, unused, blocked creativity that I’ve been lacking for the last four years.  And that the increase in frustration over the last six months is sending a message to the banker in charge of my account.  And that someday, someday soon, I’m going to open my door and step outside, or take a drink of especially tasty hot chocolate, or hear say just the right thing…and I’ll make a massive withdrawal.

Until then, I guess I’ll keep playing my songs.

For old music by Roo go to any of these sites…you can stream the music or download anything for free:

http://roogoyle.bandcamp.com is Roo’s solo music, mostly under the name LHR.

http://brillohead.bandcamp.com is Roo’s high school band.  There are remixed and remastered versions of the songs that will be up shortly and will be announced on this blog when it happens.

http://overgrownspatulas.bandcamp.com is Roo’s first high school music collaboration with Ryan McLarnon, his friend and co-songwriter.  These are the birthplace of creative songwriting, with no worries about whether people will like the songs and no attempts to make anything commercial.  It’s just two guys, enjoying the opportunity to write and record songs.  They are also undergoing the remixing treatment and will be online soon.

Curious what songs Roo keeps playing?  Here they are:

  • Tori Amos – Pretty Good Year (on piano)
  • Tom Waits – Grapefruit Moon (on piano)
  • Josh Pyke – New Years Song
  • theeverpresentmelancholy – Crooked Design
  • Billy Talent – River Below
  • Toad the Wet Sprocket – Is It For Me?
  • Sparta – Cut Your Ribbon

No Matches – The Glimpse Part 2

January 20, 2011

Part two in my series showcasing the music I listened to as a kid and through high school.  Some, like the first here, could almost be heard on the radio!  Some, like the last one…actually was…but shouldn’t have been!  Enjoy!

Jazz Butcher – Mr. Odd: I never owned this album.  But I was obsessed with this song.  When I was little I listened to the Jazz Butcher non-stop. I remember being in Grade 7 and being so excited that I bought my first Jazz Butcher tape – Big Planet Scarey Planet. There was a swear on it.  I turned the speakers down when it happened.

It’s funny looking back…I hadn’t yet realized that bands may not be around forever.  Of course, I was in Grade 7, I highly doubt I was going to head to Toronto to catch a Jazz Butcher show, but they were in the middle of their career when I grabbed that album.

Nomeansno – Now: I was worried about swears in Jazz Butcher…yet I also loved Nomeansno, especially this album 0+2=1, and most importantly, this song. This is probably one of their few radio friendly songs…if it had come out a couple of years later I have this weird feeling it might’ve done better. Nomeansno has this really neat rhythmic quality to their music, something I also love with the Wooden Stars and Gandharvas…where bass and guitar almost act like drums at times.

Max Webster – Toronto Tontos: Another fricken weird song, this one from Canadian rock icon Kim Mitchell’s first band.  I used to totally go crazy for this song…never listened to the rest of the album. “Free publicity’s not free when it’s public!”

No Cigarettes!

No Matches!

What the hell was wrong with me as a kid?! I’m digging out those tapes in the God Room downstairs and trying to find more gems.

Lemme know what you think of these blogs in all their insanity.  Also, I ramble on Twitter as well if you like little versions of this!