Well I think we’re doing it again. Princess Little Tree and I joke around about “what a challenge it is to BE Ed Hale” compared to just “dealing with him” like other people do. I’m always like “yeah yeah I know, I’m sorry about that,” when she complains about how many different projects I have going at once and how unwieldy and crazy our schedule is, “but just imagine BEING the person who has to LIVE AS me!” I respond. “It’s hard enough dealing with me, I know, but it’s a whole different thing to keep waking up to the fact that you ARE that person and trying to figure out ways of handling being that person!”
I think of it like this: I’m just me. A regular Joe like anyone else. But on top of it, I was born INSIDE this totally crazy super-curious and ambitious wild man who never stops thinking and planning and taking notes and starting new things. If it were up to me, I’d just be chilling like anyone else. The usual things, picnics, TV, movies, family, the park, having drinks with friends, I don’t know, whatever normal people do… But I feel like I’ve got this responsibility to try my best to honor this guy that I was born inside. And he’s got this massive imagination and all this ambition and he really does believe he can do it all and more. So I just do my best to make that happen and hang on for the ride; and hopefully survive it all. Yep. It feels like that.
So we started Ed Hale’s new solo album in the summer of 2011. Right at the right time. The first single from the last solo album was taking off. A few months later the second single was doing even better than the first. We needed a new album and we needed it fast. Problem was that we recorded about 17 songs initially and instead of one good solid album, it sounded more like two partially completed albums. So we all flew back to New York to record more songs. Ended up with 34 new songs. So now we’ve been slowly making progress on them. Little by little. Drums, bass, acoustic guitars and vocals are slowly all getting done. Along with various percussion and keyboards. The crazy thing is how many hundreds of hours it takes to finish one song. At least for us. Now. On this album. Let me put it into perspective. We’re in the summer of 2013 now and I’m only done with 12 songs in terms of being done with MY parts. That’s insane. I know it. But it’s just a lot of work.
This album started out as a continuation of the Ballad On Third Avenue album. Acoustic pop, or what in the business we call Adult Contemporary; that’s the actual format. But what we’ve ended up with is three distinct sounds for three distinct different albums. One is still more organic acoustic, what you would call almost folksy. Think Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes or The Lumineers. Simple stuff. Do it in your sleep stuff. But I tire of that real quick. Whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I have a tough time getting through three songs in a row of that kind of material. So we branched out and made some of the songs more electric, more upbeat, more pop. I dig that. Though it takes a lot more instrumentation and production. And then there’s this third style that’s coming out that’s more like electric folk, kind of like Dylan when he went electric… Rubber Soul perhaps? But not really cause it’s more folky.
It’s all acoustic based. None of it is “rock” per se. And that was the plan. These are Ed Hale solo albums after all, and since all the same players play on these that do the Transcendence albums, THAT’S the only difference between the two artists at this point: the solo albums are slower and softer, more acoustic, more pop, and Ed Hale and the Transcendence albums are more rock. It’s just a name/style thing, rather than a change in lineup. I’ve been working with the same group of guys since 2002 and don’t see changing that anytime soon. They’re like brothers now. They know what I write and sing like. And they call me on my stuff; they know what to do and say to bring the best out in the music.
I’ve been living in Seattle for the last few months and so we’re working out of a studio here. Only problem is that all the guys are in different cities and states around the country now. Most of the guys are still somewhere in South Florida. But others are in LA or Texas or Minneapolis or Atlanta. It’s crazy. What we’ve decided to do, what I’ve decided to do, is keep on recording the songs here, my parts, and then we email the songs out as MP3s to all these other players — we’ve got about 15 additional players now around the country, adding strings, woodwinds, horns, guitars, keyboards, drum programming, background vocals — and have them import the MP3 into their recording studio rig. They then record their parts onto the track to their liking and then they send only their parts back to us and we then drop them into the original open track, as if they were there in the studio with us.
We’re really tracking three albums here… We have about 13 songs done with “my parts” now… meaning the basic drums/bass/acoustic guitars, some keys and all my basic lead and background vocals. That’s what these guys will be tracking to. But we have musicians all over the country adding other instruments while I am NOT there. And neither is the producer. So there is no way to monitor what they’re going to be recording. I’ve never done ANYthing like this before… NOT being there when peeps record their parts. It could turn into a total MESS. But I’m hoping to create a totally NEW sound by doing it this way — encouraging the dissonance that will naturally come from the musicians stepping all over each other without knowing it. Trumpet parts stepping all over sax and flute parts etc. It’s a crazy idea.
Of course we’ll mix the messy parts out and just keep the “good parts” Meaning whatever fits and sounds good. And hopefully that will provide a GIANT palette from which to choose for Zeke Zaskin who is set to mix yet again. He’s mixed every one of our albums since Nothing Is Cohesive and he always does a great job. Bear in mind that we usually provide absolutely insanely confusing tracks. Usually very messy because we record A LOT. I’ll lay down at least 15 different vocal tracks plus three to five guitar tracks and two to five keyboard tracks. In addition Vancouver will lay down five to ten additional guitar tracks. Now we’ll be adding an additional 10 to 15 additional musicians all laying down whatever they want to however they want to…
It has the potential to be a royal mess. But it also has the potential to be a roaring success, something brand new and exciting sounding. the potential for the musicians to step on each other musically is VERY high. Notes that may sound good to them clashing with notes that other players have added… Cause none of us are going to hear what the other people are adding. But that’s what i LOVE about the prospects of this new way of doing it. The utter randomness of it. No, it will not be the usual organic “all built up from the bottom up together as a unit” kind of recording style that we are used to. It’s going to be the exact opposite. But that’s what I am kind of digging about this new method. We now have the technology to record in this fashion. Of course no one in their right mind would do this on a professional commercial release. It’s crazy for sure. But it just may blow us all away with how cool it could sound.
In any case, there’s a catch up for ya. That’s where we are. If you were wondering where this new album is. Yes I know we’re a year behind schedule. But there’s a valid reason for it. We’re trying something a little different with this one. So be patient. As soon as we have something finished, IF we ever finish a song that is…. We’ll post it for you all to hear. Frankly I can’t wait to hear what this grand experiment produces. It’s bound to be new. Good? Can’t say yet. The songs are good. But I just may ruin them… LOL! We’ll just have to see. Standby on that.
Love him or hate him one thing is for sure, Bob Lefsetz loves music. The way that WE love music. The way MANY PEOPLE used to love music. Not as a money making commodity that has to follow hundreds of modern trends, rules and industry codes the way that people in our industry today “like” music; to them, and there’re many of them now unfortunately, music is something to buy and sell. Preferably sell. To whom? They don’t care. Just as long as it sells. What it sounds like they don’t care about that either. Just as long as it sells. The singer’s a 17 year old white Midwestern girl who pretends to dress and act like a black slut from the ghetto because she’s insecure about her coolness in the industry right now and thinks we might “sell more if we sell sex instead of music”. Shes willing to act even sluttier if we’ll let her. She has a potentially large demographic of young middle American girls she may influence in not the healthiest manner if she treads down this path. They don’t care as long as it sells.
The music sucks in general. It has no long term historic appeal. U don’t hear an artist as much as a short lived trend coming out of the speakers. It all sounds the same at the Top 100 level no matter which format you dial up. Every damn song is a 3 minute and 30 second mirror copy of the song that played right before it. Forget about by the same artists. A whole album with ten songs that all sound exactly the same. They don’t care. As long as it sells. Granted the artists come and go faster than anyone can remember their names or ages or what town they’re from and every few weeks the cycle repeats itself. God help the artists long term…
We’re growing a new commodity here — catchy but cheap contrived often vulgar and depraved disposable soundbites — and in the process destroying a classic one, i.e. music as art/history/cultural landmark/hero/messiah.
Those in the biz, we in the biz, still know there’s good stuff being created out there. All over the world. More so now than ever. It just doesn’t hit the Hot 100 very often. So we buy those for our own enjoyment while giving the masses what we assume they want in exchange for the .99 cents per track they’re willing to throw down for a download times a few hundred thousand to million people. Thats our pay. With that revenue earned we can afford to buy the good stuff we hear coming out around us. We just can’t promote it. Why? Because that’s what “they” say. Keep the real artists off the radio and on the road. That’s where they belong. U can always get them late night shows and some morning show play. On the radio we keep the cheap candy, the disposable hip hop hits dance tracks and Pitbull raps about drinking and cars and gold chains. And pistachios.
Hasn’t always been this way. Sometimes we just need a reminder. Music industry vet Bob Lefsetz acted as that reminder for us today with his random blog about his first experiences hearing the forever amazing british rock band Queen. Read on and prepare to re-remember what getting excited about great music feels like.
Here it is in full:
We were not prepared for it.
I bought the initial album, with the pinkish purple cover, based on a review in “Rolling Stone.” You could tell by the enthusiasm and the description that this was something you wanted to check out. And from the very first note it was enrapturing. That’s the power of “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Right, now it seems obvious. But it was anything but in ’73. I never heard “Keep Yourself Alive” on the radio, it was kind of like Yes with the first three albums, they were for fans only.
And then came “Queen II.” Also with no synths. Oh, how amazing is Brian May. And it wasn’t quite as good as the debut, but it got even less traction, it was like it didn’t even come out, and I figured Queen was another one of those bands I knew by heart who were destined to disappear. And then came “Sheer Heart Attack.” “Killer Queen” was all over the radio, like the band always belonged there. And at this late date, you can see that “Killer Queen” foreshadowed what was coming, but those who bought the album heard cuts like “Stone Cold Crazy,” which also got airplay, which were closer to what had come before as opposed to what was in the pipeline. Queen was another hard rocking band with impeccable chops, very British, very interesting, but they were still making music tied to their roots. And then came “A Night At The Opera.”
At this late date the album is overshadowed by the enduring success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but the breakthroughs were on the first side, with “You’re My Best Friend” and “’39.”
It was not like today. In the midseventies you could like singer-songwriters as well as hard rock. A true music fan had broad tastes. So when you were expecting bombast and heard “You’re My Best Friend” a smile crossed your face…how’d they come up with this combination of west coast and UK? Soft with harmonies was positively SoCal, but previously Queen had been more about assault than subtlety…but the band was not afraid to experiment, saw no need to repeat itself, “You’re My Best Friend”…sounds like the joy of said, that one person you can count on, but it’s not only the vocal and the harmonies but the pure instrumental sound, it was an aural concoction that accelerated to its conclusion and begged to be played again when this was difficult, when we lived in the vinyl era and the needle segued into the next cut.
Which was even quieter, something more similar to the Band than anything Queen had done previously, the aforementioned “’39.” Unlike today’s in-your-face music, “’39” was reflective, a whole story, with a jaunty chorus… It’d be like Angus Young suddenly cut an English folk song!
But those two cuts were just the most obvious. Before them on the first side was…”I’m In Love With My Car.” Which was typically Queen heavy, but in a newfangled way. It was slow where everything previously had been fast. Not sung by Freddie Mercury, but drummer Roger Taylor, who wrote it!
“I’m in love with my car, got a feel for my automobile”
We all felt it, but we never heard it put so emphatically, not by the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean. This was an English sensibility, with all the joy of pride in your machine. With harmonies to boot!
And what was dramatic was that none of these three songs sounded remotely alike. Once upon a time a band could be more than one thing, and the audience rewarded them for it.
Then there’s the baroque “Love Of My Life” on side two. You’ve got to understand, Queen was a heavy band! But now they were quiet and meaningful, and to listen to this alone in your bedroom on headphones brought in to question your masculinity not a whit. Boys are romantic, and Freddie Mercury gave us permission to be.
The only track on the album that sounded close to what came before was the opener, “Death On Two Legs.” It was like the band jettisoned a few stages and rocketed into hyperspace, years before “Star Wars” was released.
And when we initially heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” we didn’t think all time rock classic but innovative ear-pleasing cut.
And there wasn’t a single other band doing anything like this in the marketplace. Nobody was Queen-like.
And the audience could have rejected “A Night At The Opera.”
But no, when something is this good, people can’t help but embrace it, the way all the musos acknowledged how great a guitar player Eddie Van Halen was when they heard his band’s debut.
And if they had no base the album still would have succeeded. But with some airplay from “Sheer Heart Attack” and relentless quality touring, making diehard fans on the road, the audience was primed for what they didn’t expect, with “A Night At The Opera” Queen became superstars overnight
Track #10 from the 2011 Ed Hale and the Transcendence album All Your Heroes Become Villains, the anthemic “After Tomorrow” is the climax of the album, a suicide letter and soundtrack to the lead character’s journey to the beyond after death. A dirge-like heavy Brit-rock foundation punctuated by a lone echoing trumpet played by Emiliano Torres.
In one of those “Human beings are amazing. You never know what they’re going to discover and/or explore” moments, someone randomly posted a YouTube video to my Facebook wall. Normally this is not something I enjoy or encourage. Not even a little bit truth be told. But in this instance I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not one of their songs or videos or essays or lectures as is usually the case, nor was it some political article skewed one way or the other. Rather it was a strange video explaining why the note we know as “middle A” in Western music is tuned specifically to the frequency of 440 Hertz. I knew this to be true, just as any musician does, amateur or professional, because this is what we are taught in school. The real question is WHY do we never question why that particular frequency was chosen to represent this particular note?
Back in music school when I was a kid just out of high school, all the other students were a few years older than I was — to say the least. I was 17 at the time. I think the youngest person in any of my classes was probably in their early 20s. So there was a lot of learning for me then, both in the classroom and out. I actually believe that I could confidently state that I can recall more of what other students taught me or attempted to teach me during those two years than anything I learned in any particular class. There were many lessons… About romance, the art of music, literature, and life.
One night in particular I remember this guy named Tim who was probably about 25 at the time (though to me he might as well have been 40 — everyone seemed old and very adult to me there) explaining to me how the notes and scales we use in Western music are random when you consider them from a bigger more global viewpoint, especially contrasted with music and scales from other countries. I had honestly never thought of that before. Didn’t even know about it.
How we just assume that there are 12 notes in between C and C, when in fact there are many more, infinitely more in fact. This blew my mind. How our guitars and pianos are actually crafted to ONLY play those 12 notes. We can’t play all those other notes in between those dictated 12 notes even if we wanted to due to the construction of the instruments we play here in the States and in other so-called Western countries. Imagine that…
How we consider C to be the start of our scales. Why? How we usually have 8 notes in a scale. Why? Other countries don’t necessarily limit scales to that. Some have less. Some have more. That all of our music, including what we call Middle C, is based on a random tuning of the note A to the frequency of 440 hertz. I had never thought about musical notes in terms of what frequency they are tuned to… Never got that deep with it. I was 17. Just beginning to peek my head out of the clouds. I did remember learning that electronic tuners, the ones we use to plug our guitars into, were calibrated based on A being set to 440. But I didn’t really know what it meant. I just remembered it as one of those unimportant random facts we pick up along with the way.
Ever since that evening I have gone back to that conversation again and again in my mind… Especially when listening to music from other countries that do not use or rely on the traditional Western 12 notes for their music… wondering about those secret hidden notes between the 12 notes we use. Simply put we go from C to C for example and in between those two Cs there are 10 notes and that’s it. Bear in mind that we have no actual scales that use all 12 notes because it wouldn’t sound like a scale per se. It would just sound like a bunch of notes all run together. Unless someone just plays what we call a “chromatic scale” which literally translates to “play all the notes in between one note and it’s octave (the C higher than Middle C, the C higher than that one, etc…)” What you end up with is the sound of “no discernible scale” because you’re playing ALL the notes available to us. But “available to us” is the key to seeing the magic and mystery in that sentence.
Most of our most common scales have only 8 notes in them actually, 7 really if you don’t count the octave (the C higher than the C you started on). Think Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. That Do represents C. So really there are only 7 notes. Sometimes we’ll veer off of that and add an extra note or 2 in there, such as a 7th, a 2nd or 9th, a 6th. These are all pretty common additions. Depending on how you play it you might be still playing just 8 notes or you might play 9 instead. Sometimes we’ll use more than one of those, let’s say for example the chord Cmin7(9), meaning that we’re adding the 7th and the 9th to the chord in addition to the usual 1st, 3rd, and 5th. On and on. It’s an endless contemplation. And not really pertinent to this post. The main point is that we have for whatever reason limited our music in the West to the above explanations. For better or worse. That’s just how it is.
But deeper than that. We’ve also limited it in terms of WHAT each individual notes ARE exactly. That’s something that most of us don’t think of. Hum something right now to yourself. Just one note. Out loud. Any note. See, here’s the deal. You MAY have hummed a real note (in Western music) OR you may not have. You might have been off a little. Perhaps you were “real close” to humming an A let’s say. That’s what is known as a tone or a frequency in reality, in the study of sound. You hummed a tone really. We don’t know if you hummed an actual “note”. It’s a tonal frequency, but not necessarily a “note” in a strict sense. We’d have no way to know IF we hadn’t chosen specific frequencies to represent the individual notes we use. How would any of us know what an A was unless we specifically decided as a society that the note A was to be represented exactly by the frequency of 440 hertz? We wouldn’t. We’d all be playing slightly different tones or frequencies and calling them “A”. SO at some point 440 was chosen to be “A”.
So… What’s all this lead to? Well the video below says it way better than I could at this point. The main thing to consider is this: What if A isn’t really 440? Hah! In reality it’s NOT. That’s the thing. It’s an illusion that we have all just agreed to agree on. Like almost everything we think we know or believe as humans. That seems to be the pervading theme of the Transcendence Diaries isn’t it? All these illusions that we have agreed to agree on in order to make life more acceptable and sensible to us, to create order out of the chaos. Of course that’s where we get Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics, this realization that the actual universe is NOT ordered or sensible, that there is no way to really nail things down as much as we’d like to… not even things that seem relatively stable and solid such as atoms or time or gravity… Ever heard of leap year? It’s mind boggling really.
It’s certainly NOT the year 2013. We know that. My name isn’t really Fishy. We know that too. truth is I have no name. My parents were asked to and one assumes felt compelled to at some point “name their first born son”. So they did. But it isn’t really my name. This isn’t really the United States of America that we live in. Consider the origin of this country, even just it’s name… and you really start to bend over backwards trying to take in all the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Primarily because it’s all randomly man-made. They say Christopher Colombus “discovered America”. But we know in reality that his name was Cristóbal Colón; that the land he “discovered” had already been discovered 10,000 years before and was inhabited by millions of other people; that the name “America” came from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who supposedly had “discovered” the land before Colon had. And on and on it goes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg really. So many illusions, just in regards to the name of one country.
Forget about all the other illusions that we agree to agree on. “God” anyone? In the history of humanity we’ve believed in and had over one-thousand “gods” so far. And we’re really just beginning in our evolution. Hell we don’t even know when we started out in our “evolution” or if we even evolved so to speak. I cannot help but entertain the theory that we may just have been created by another species of sentient beings entirely and that we never really “evolved” from fish as some people agree to believe. I mean, that’s the thing isn’t it? It’s all just man-made.
Which beings us back to music. More and more people are beginning to explore this idea of WHY we use the specific frequencies we do for the musical notes that we use to create music in. The video below goes into this. How some frequencies are “healing” and how some may be “harmful”. I’m not sure I could fully get behind believing in this belief system 100%. After all, it is just a belief system. Being true for a person to the degree they believe it to be true and thus dictating their experience. But it is a fascinating thing to explore. What if we did decide to change our entire musical architecture and make the note A 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz? We could easily make that decision. No problem in that decision. The problem would be all the music instruments all over the world would have to be re-tuned and re-calibrated. In other words, we’re so far gone in this belief system, it’s such a rigid system, that there’s no way in hell that collectively enough people will ever allow this decision to be made.
And therein illustrates a damn good example of why so-called conspiracies exist and may just not always be “theories”. One might say that certain conspiracies exist simply due to the fact that the majority of people involved in the decision making process of whatever paradigm or system we are discussing decide that things are fine the way they are and that it would be too much trouble to make things different.
This isn’t to say that WE can’t choose to decide that the note A will from now on be represented by 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz. We can. We can even re-tune all our instruments that way and continue to write all our music like that from now on. Of course no one else would be able to play with us unless they did the same thing. Frankly it’s something I’d like to hear. Changing A would necessitate changing ALL of the frequencies of all the notes in any musical scale we would use from that point on. So every note we play in any given piece of music would have an entirely different sound to it…. Fascinating… I’d love to hear it. So much more. But good for now.
I highly recommend these videos. Check out this one.
We’re on day four straight of resuming recording the new albums. For the record, I say “albums” because though we started with just one, we quickly ended up with more than enough songs for three, so we figure if we whittle down what we have to two different albums we’ll end up with two really awesome works of musical art. One will end up being pretty acoustic and organic, more ballads, and the other will end up being more pop and electronic sounding.
Started with the song “So For Real” this week, which was suffering from some severe rhythm problems… Took days and days to rectify and I still don’t know if we’ve totally fixed it.. But last night it finally started to sound like it was coming along. It’s a gorgeous song, beautiful strolling melody that goes in a lot of different directions and yet still has “hooks”. I loved the song the minute I first started fleshing it out. Reminds me of All Things Must Pass. We’ve just been adding whatever seems cool or fun or creative and running with it. Mic’d floor toms, 12-string guitar, organ, Rhodes, etc…
Pretty cool so far. Hard, challenging, super frustrating, but we’re making progress. I can’t believe — nor can I imagine that most non-musicians could — how long it takes to record ONE song from beginning to end. We’re talking hundreds of hours… It’s insane. The only reason a person would do this is out of a super passionate love of making music. More later. Everyone is waiting for me.
In the recording studio all week this week. Working on the new album(s). We were aiming for one when we started last year, the follow up to Ballad On Third Avenue. But we ended up with 34 songs, with two very different styles… so it’s really two different albums we are creating at the same time. One is more acoustic and organic sounding. The other is still ballad based but more on the pop side. We had a temporary freak out a few weeks back when going to cut the vocals for the song “Oh Sophia” (yeah the one I demoed on YouTube a few years ago in the Song Log series). Couldn’t find a HUGE batch of songs. I was going CRAzy. As always Princess Little Tree stayed calm, kept me from having a nervous breakdown, and eventually we found them. Had them in a big stack next of papers next to a laptop I barely ever use in an office I barely ever use in order to make some edits to them or type them in.
[There is a process. A strict one. Like most artists I’ve slowly huddled into a very strict and detailed highly OCD and methodical routine for songwriting and tracking all the songs. Because after the first few years you start to realize you’re going to be dealing with something really big. A giant project with a mass of paperwork and tapes etc. For some reason whenever I think about this topic my mind immediately jumps to this one distinct memory of being at our summer home in the Cayman Islands and announcing the whole family the moment that I hit 100 songs written. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. It felt like a big accomplishment. Now it seems kind of meager and embarrassing. But that’s the nature of any art or craft I’m beginning to realize. As we evolve and progress our past achievements tend to seem small compared to our present reality. I wouldn’t know how to even ascertain how many songs I’ve written now.
I remember hitting 1,000 about a decade ago. I remember when I was a kid hearing about how Steve Allen the famous comedian and talk show host had written roughly 1,000 songs and how surprising that was because most people weren’t aware that he was also an accomplished songwriter. I remember feeling angry with myself… for not having achieved that yet. So the 1,000 mark felt like a big deal at the time; maybe… not really now that I think about it. I “remembered” the Steve Allen bit for a day or two and the buzz quickly dissipated.
I remember hitting 3,000. From there I just stopped counting. Perhaps that’s the sign that you’ve finally arrived — when you reach the point where you stop counting. When it becomes so routine to you that the number doesn’t even matter anymore. I’m sure painters, career painters, have no idea how many paintings they’ve created.
Regardless of how they start — a tune pops up in your head, or in a dream, or while you’re strumming a guitar or tripping out on the piano — that song gets into a recording device (now most of the time my iPhone) as quickly as possible.
[From there I start putting it to paper. One of many legal pads kept in one of many leather binders with one of many thin silver Cross pens sitting in an inner connected loop. The song may stay that way for a few weeks to a few years or decades. When I feel like it I go back to it and work a little more on it. I never force a song to flesh out. I’m always working on so many that I don’t have to. More importantly I don’t think forced songs ever come out well. If I’m not feeling it, that song will just sit there. And I keep plenty of legal pads in leather binders around filled with plenty of songs. So there’s never any rush. Usually I can just pound through them though. A good song writes itself. Once it comes, all I have to do is just ride it like a wave. It’s all in my head already. I hear it. I hear it’s potential is more like it. So all i have to do is just keep playing it over and over again, massaging it along the way each run through, listening for different things, subtle changes and additions…
[I take breaks, a few hours, a few days or weeks, and I listen to the song play in my head over and over again. It’s like a repeating record. It never stops. Usually a few of them at a time. And as I listen to them up there, they start to take shape and form themselves, as if they already exist — (which if one subscribes to the whole “time isn’t linear but circular” paradigm, then they do already exist… just in the future which is really in the here-now only we don’t usually recognize that) — so by the time I pick up an instrument to work on it more I have a much better idea of what it’s meant to sound like as a finished product.
[Once I am done with writing it all out on pages in the legal pad, I make a copy of that original stack of pages in the legal pad. When a legal pad is finished and all the pages are filled I send it off to my mom who has been saving them for all these years since I was 17. She has boxes of them. Tons of them. Now we’re in the process of moving them to a bank vault. Can’t take the risk anymore. I keep the copies of those pages in boxes and take them with me wherever I live. Just to have access to the original (copy of the original) handwritten notes. I then sit down and type the song up and save it on my laptop in a giant database of all the songs… a folder filled with thousands of songs. There are two sub-folders: songs that have been recorded and songs that haven’t yet been recorded. Obviously the latter folder is still much larger than the former. The goal is the exact opposite of that.
[Once I save the song as a file, I print it out and it goes into a clear protector sheet and into one of many black binders where all the printed out songs are alphabetized. The black song binders are also grouped into two different groups, one for songs that have already been recorded — for when we are planning set lists for live shows, and one group of binders for songs that have not yet been recorded — so we can flip through all the songs when choosing songs to record a new album. Pretty anal huh? It works though. Smooth. No guess work. I can do it all in my sleep. All the kinks have been worked out. That’s the process in a nutshell. Why I’m telling you this I have no idea. But hey, at least we finally have this down for posterity. This is how I do it.]
I fell behind. Once Princee Little Tree and I fell head over heels in love for the millionth time back in ’08 I pretty much fell behind in everything… And taking care of the songs was definitely one of those areas. So there are songs and song notebooks in various stages of processing all over the freaking place. We travel so much that I’m lucky if I remember to bring at least just one binder with me for songwriting. Always one at least. Problem is that there are tens of other binders at home with songs in various stages of being half-written that I always seem to want when I don’t have them.
But it’s never a huge deal. I can always record ideas into my phone and scribble them down on a new notebook. That’s the thing. They’re going to eventually get typed into the main database, I know this. So it gives me a real sense of security.
So that’s what I did for the last few months. Typed up a truck load of songs that needed to be typed and put into the database and then printed out. Now I am organizing and alphabetizing them. There are hundreds. Way too many. But I need access to at least the 34 for these new albums and the 25 that are on the other new album(s), what we’ve been affectionately referring to as “the Girls Album” for the last few years. Hopefully we will finish that one this year along with these other two.
So yeah. I’ve been sitting here while the engineers are in the studio working on stuff, I’ve been organizing and alphabetizing all the song lyric-sheets from the last 25 years. (I ran out of space in this master binder I was using and decided I need to break some of the binders into broader sets.. Maybe something like Songs A to B, C to D, etc. Like that. Because the binders get so big and heavy and then songs start falling out. I’m just doing it to the typed-up ones that haven’t already been classified so far. Gotta be 1000 songs here. Big project.
Every time I come across one from our college years, the Broken Spectacles years when we were smoking out and tripping on acid everyday, there’s something very special about THOSE songs… A really deep vibey heaviosity to them. They weren’t necessarily “hit songs” — in fact they’re downright un-hit songs — long and wild and free-form and complex, with infinitely long chord progressions that go on forever — similar to “Bored” or “Rise and Shine” but even more so; but you know, that’s not what we were about back then, that’s not what we were going for.
I cannot help but feel as we are working on recording these new albums now that something has gotten lost along the way. Songs just seem to be way better when you write them when you’re tripping on something. I know that is so NOT the thing to ever say, especially if you’re a public figure… But sometimes I cannot help but think that… Some of these songs I am revisiting and seeing for the first time in years… Wow… They are just soo sooo good. So groovy and vibey….
There is so much pressure now. As a professional singer/songwriter, to make a living from it, to make enough money to live and support a family from it, especially now after we’ve had a few hits under our belt… It’s not like it was back then when we were in our late teens and early twenties. When we just did whatever we wanted. When we were going for a heavy serious vibe. I mean, now, it’s just so different…
I have to go. Have to finish this project because the guys are waiting for me. Just need to remember from looking at all these songs what it was like back then.. what THOSE songs were like… how much emotion and passion and EVERYTHING we put into them. I honestly don’t feel that commercial radio, that the commercial music market has a place for that kind of music. Really, that’s the thing. When we were young and only had dreams, we didn’t think about these things. We thought we could force the industry and the people to listen to and like whatever it is that we did. We learned the hard way. I mean I struggled for years as a starving artist. Decades. So I learned… But I loved every day of it. Homeless? More than once. No problem. I actually enjoyed the experience. It was an adventure.
Our biggest hits have come from sincerely sitting down and crafting hit songs. Being very careful in every step of the process to do things in a way that structures the song and the sound and the feel of the song to resonate with the commercial music market. And it’s paid off. Big time. You aren’t going to hear me complaining. Because lets’ face it, as these Diaries and everyone who knows me can testify, I spent YEARS doing it my way, doing whatever I wanted to do for ME. So I got a lot of that out of my system.
It was only later that I started thinking it would be fun just to “try” creating “commercially viable” music. And luckily it actually worked. I mean it’s really not rocket science. Writing hit songs is just doing the exact opposite of what you would normally do as an authentic and sincere artist who loves to innovate. Funny but true. You just write the song the way that all the other songs that people listen to sound like. Rather than try to get creative and innovate. It’s like yes you innovate during the production and sound creation process. But not during the songwriting process. People don’t want to hear innovation. At least not in the commercial world. They just want to hear what they’re used to hearing plus something a little special and different. But they don’t want to hear a twenty minute song that traverses thirty different chords and changes keys ten times… Sucks, for us, the artists. But that’s how it is now. Didn’t used to be that way. Inventiveness in music used to be highly valued. But not right now. Not in this climate. The top three songs of the last three years have been “The Harlem Shake”, “Gangam Style” and “Thrift Shop”. Fuck me. Fuck us all. We’re screwed, as artists, we’re screwed.
But frankly I like those songs too. I dig the commercial ones that we do, and that other people do. I like the “sound” of them. Not the songwriting… But the sound of them. But honestly not even one-tenth as much as i like the crazy wild non-commercial ones. THOSE are the ones that I really love. That really get me off. But then what? Get a day job. I mean that’s really the quandary. People don’t realize it. But those are our choices. We become a slave to the tastes of populace OR we settle with not making a ton of money from making music… We can always make money from doing other things… And I have NO problem with that, EXCEPT that it greatly limits our ability to spend all our time making music — which is THE thing I enjoy most in this life hands down — because we have to spend the majority of our day to day life working at something else… So it is definitely preferable to create music that, commercial or not, is popular with enough people that it generates a ton of money. Most of the time that means it’s COMMERCIAL, i.e popular, i.e. liked by many people, current, trendy, a valuable commodity to the masses. Commercial, let’s face it.
Maybe one day this will all change. My hope is that one day I will feel as though I “have enough money” from this that I can “stop working” for a living, i.e. stop creating music to make money — and have enough money saved up that I don’t need to generate revenue anymore…. Then I can just make the kind of music that I want to. And then if people like it, great. If they don’t and we only sell a few hundred copies, that’s great too. Either way, I’ll be following the inner muse. (Is it inner?? Not sure about that… save it for another blog post.) Gotta run. Peace.
Today we resume recording for the new album(s). 34 songs in total were laid down last summer by me on rhythm guitar and vocals, The Poet on drums and The Ex Norwegian on bass and production. All in New York. For the record (pardon the pun) those songs are: American Cinematheque, Another Day in the Apocalypse, Baby Blue Doll, Give Me Blue Skies, Born to Lose, Closer to You, Crazy Heart, Don’t Be Sad My Love, Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Stranger (Hello Hello Hello), Hold On My Love to Keep You Strong, When the Battle is Through, Honestly, I felt Freedom When You Said No, I’m Looking For, It Will Be Me, It’s Alright It’s Okay, Junk, Knee Deep in the Apocalypse, Marsha’s Sleeping, Jack Johnson (working title…), My Black Brother, Never Too Far Apart, Oh Sophia, Our Love Still Turns Me On, Silence Kills, So For Real, Summer Flowers, The Ambassador in Paris, The Prince of New York, Welcome to the Rest of the World, White House Jihad, and Without You.
We’re in Seattle presently. We’re primarily working on my parts, adding rhythm guitars and some minor leads — mostly acoustic and some electric, lead and background vocals, and various different keyboards and percussion instruments. From here, once I’m done with all my parts, the songs will be sent out to Vancouver in LA to add his special Transcendence magic (which “literally” translates to lead guitars, various keyboards, percussion and background vocals), The Ex Norwegian — who may clean up or redo some of his bass parts and add various other guitars and keyboards, DJ Johnny Rose who will add piano and keyboard parts, Infinito who will add percussion, and Zeke Zaskin, who, besides being the one who will ultimately mix and master the albums to completion, is usually encouraged to add additional guitars, keyboard and background vocals. Various other musicians will come in to add things like cello and strings and horns.
For all of our albums over the last 11 years we have used Trophy Wife as our main female background vocalist along with Vancouver and me and Zeke. But on All Your Heroes Become Villains and Ballad On Third Avenue we used The Toad for background vocals as well (this momentous occasion detailed in Diaries entries back in ’04 ’05 and ’06). He really knows how to match and augment my vocals and is a freaking stellar harmony vocals writer. So I’m hoping that all the tracks can be packaged up and sent to him down in Florida so he can add whatever he wants to. This is going to be the strangest album we’ve ever recorded due to the fact that we’re all in so many different states and all the recording will be run solo and sent back and forth over the internet or via giant external hard drives. A lot of albums are recorded like that these days. It’s surprisingly less infrequent than most people would think.
It’s not been easy getting back into it. It’s going to take a while to get back in the vibe of these songs and the respective albums that they will eventually become a part of. Besides the fact that the band is experiencing some of that seven year itch meltdown drama that is customary with bands who have been together for a long time. Vancouver is vehement about not wanting any “fake drums” on the record, meaning drum machines, samplers, keyboards, sequencers, MIDI drums — anything but “real drums, i.e. acoustic drums played on a regular old fashioned drum set.
Most popular music that we hear today on radio or TV is created using machine made drums or samples and NOT “real drums” or at best a combination of both, which is what The Ex Norwegian and I recommend doing this time out. An artist has a much better chance of the music sounding modern , current or contemporary AND has a lot more control technically of those sounds, compared to “just” “real drums”. He actually sent us an email saying “sorry guys, it’s me or fake drums”. On the other hand The Ex Norwegian is so freaking mad at all the drama that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Vancouver anymore because of all this. Me and the other guys are stuck smack dab in the middle.We love Vancouver, especially his ability to make beautiful music. We put up with a lot of shit because of his unique talents and believe it’s totally worth it. He is after all a HUGE component of our sound.
Of course, it’s all subjective. What one person calls “real drums” can be totally different than what another person calls real drums. Gotye released a series of documentariy styled short videos detailing how he created his last album — the one that everyone is familiar with now due to that hit he had last year and when he’s discussing this one song he shows how he set up two floor toms and a snare and remarks “this song is special because it’s the first we ever used any real drums on any of my music…” So what we’re doing is normal for the industry at this point in time and in fact will sound a lot more like the music that everyone is now accustomed to. That’s what we want. We really want these albums to “sound” modern and current and professional, pristine, polished, commercial, regardless of what is expected for your typical rock band.
I spent all day yesterday listening to the two rock radio stations here in Seattle (both are awesome stations — I wish all the other cities in the States had stations as good as we have here) and just about 95% of the songs that were played all had computerized drum sounds on them as opposed to acoustic drums. It’s just the sound that people are used to now. We don’t see anything wrong with going in that direction for an album or two, especially considering the fact that The Poet is still “playing a drum kit.” He’s just “triggering” drum samples that are inside of the computer or drum machines etc. It’s really freaking cool. Working with the technology that we available to us now to make the best sounding album we can using all the tools we can find. It’s fun and creative.
I hope Vancouver catches up. Not only do I worry about us as a band but also about him. I personally don’t want him to fall behind just because of any purism or principle. He deserves to be well known and popular for his skills and musical gifts. But you’ve got to keep up; no one is going to hold your hand and drag you to what’s happening. But he’s always taken a long time to catch up in these matters. Back in 2001 when I first started getting into what was then being called “indie rock”, he hated it. It wasn’t until this year that he started to “like” indie rock. Of course now indie rock is old and stale and the cool thing to do would be to steer clear from it and head into a totally new direction — which is exactly what The Ex Norwegian suggested we do on these two albums. Try to mix our rock band sensibility with a more modern and popular music approach in order to capitalize on the thrilling success we had with the last solo album. I dig the idea. Just hope we can pull it off.
Last night Vancouver and I were on the phone about the new album the band and I have been recording. I brought the hard drive that the whole album is on to his place in my suitcase when we flew to LA for the Sunset Sessions gig. Vancouver called me screaming that he had just listened to the tracks and had vomited in his mouth. He couldn’t believe how raw and rough they sounded. He especially couldn’t believe how insanely rough the drums sounded. I had told him I was bringing him “the finished tracks” so he could add all his parts. (This is a technique that is becoming more and more popular fyi for those who are not musicians. Transcendence is a band. The same band that has been touring and recording together for 11 years. Same guys. But we do presently happen to live in five different cities. All over the country. From Miami to Atlanta to New York to Seattle to Los Angeles. It’s crazy. Normally we fly to one city to record. For the basic rhythm tracks for this new album we did. But then we parted ways. I’ve been recording my guitar parts in New York and my vocal parts in Seattle. Father Bloopy (now-The Ex Norwegian) adds his bass and keys and guitars in Miami. Vancouver will add his guitars and keys and vocals in LA. All through shipping hard drives around the country. It’s a fascinating process. Sometimes if we are just doing one song, we will just fly the files over the internet. And yet the end result is still the same thing: a finished track. (the latest one I just described is about to appear in an upcoming sports film being released later in the year. We were never in the same room once together. But no one will ever know or even think about that aspect of it… They’ll either “like” the song or not. This is a side note, but it’s essence is actually pertinent to the major theme of this post.)) Vancouver knew we had started tracking the project using v-drums triggering a multitude of high grade drum samples. It was an experiment based on several different needs at the time. Using drum samples is so common today that 98% of the music we hear on the radio is made that way. Even if the drummer of the group originally recorded his parts on real drums. Often times the mix engineer will substitute better sounding drum samples if he thinks he can improve the track or he wants it to sound more current or even if he just wants to change up the sound of the drums a bit from section to section. Again, most people don’t know this. Then again, they don’t care. They don’t think about it. So The Ex Norwegian and The Poet and I fill Vancouver’s head with days and days of stories about how incredible “the new stuff sounds”. And he can’t wait to power up this hard drive and listen to the tracks and start adding his parts to them. But I had brought the wrong hard drive to LA! So what he was listening to were the rough demos we did of the songs back in July of last year. He was aghast. He couldn’t believe this was our idea of “amazing sounding finished songs”. And for good reason. Demos can be notoriously shitty sounding. Even if you’re used to listening to them as we are. But he had been set up to believe he was about to sky dive over the Grand Canyon with a choir of angels or something. And instead we throw him out of the back of a plane over a garbage heap with a couple of crack whores. The conversation soon turned into a debate about using drum “samples” versus “real drums”. (Drum samples are “real drums”. But they are samples of real drums. The sound itself isn’t being created there in that moment. The PART is being played live there in that moment. But the SOUND could have been created thirty years ago. Google it if you aren’t familiar with the process.) Granted, in our genre of music, rock, (pop-rock in general — ALL of the various different radio formats and genres and sub-genres included) we almost exclusively use real drums. Rock bands that is. Yes the engineer then replaces a good portion of them with what he considers “better sounding” real drum samples IF the band lets him or her do so; but the playing is all real, the feel is real, it’s human. And that’s what we the artists are used to. Again, the people, the music consuming public, has no idea that this paradigm or any debate about it one way or the other even exists. [It is still shocking, funny, twisted, trippy, controversial and disturbing to US, musicians, when we see an artist pretend to play live on TV with a little group of musicians behind them also pretending to play drums and bass and guitar and keyboard when we know that the album was almost entirely made on a keyboard and that those musicians were hired just to show up and pretend to be playing — their mics aren’t even turned up. It’s still an “issue” for most musicians to see that. Especially if the singer is also pretending (lip-synching).] The conversation got me thinking about this whole ongoing debate about what is REAL music. To be fair, it’s primarily only musicians that even think about this kind of thing. Music lovers especially casual ones don’t seem to even know the difference between what we call “real” music, i.e. traditional music instruments being played, and “non-real” music, i.e. music that is made on computers or keyboards or beat/drum machines. But as much as non-musicians don’t give a shit, musicians really give a shit. Trust me. They are ADAMANT about how important it is for music to be made on “real instruments”. Typing it here it sounds ridiculously inane and funny. I know. But believe me, it’s a subject that much passion goes into when you get a room full of musicians together. To my mind, though I used to agree with this sentiment and it’s taken some getting used to, I just couldn’t really rationalize it. I believe it’s a generation thing more than anything… more on that later. I couldn’t figure out why the rest of the world didnt seem to care as I and other musicians did… for example, EDM (electronic dance music) is the most popular music in the world today — if we go by certain statistics… And it is made entirely on computers — no “real” musical instruments involved. Why didn’t average everyday people care “how” this or any other music is made? I struggled with this question for years. Both as an artist and as an ardent music lover. As a listener I could care less how the music I love is made. I LOVE Nabukazu Takemura. Everyone knows that. he makes “blip music”. It’s just a sound or two repeated over and over — all chopped up using a laptop. For the most part. And if a band wants to go all keyboardy like Bowie did with Eno back in the mid-seventies, if i LIKED the music they produced, I didn’t care HOW they made it. But why did I care as a musician? Why did it matter to me if a band used drum samples versus real drums? Or if a guitarist used a guitar amp modeling app from a computer instead of a Vox AC30 amplifier? No matter how I tried to piece my logic together I just could not rationalize my criticism. So I did what all musicians should do. I continued to contemplate it and feel into it and at the same time I listened to the Top 40 — Billboard’s Hot 100 list of the “most popular songs on radio and in sales” — to try to get a better understanding of what the differences were. Truth be told, there are no differences in the bigger picture. The WAY that the music is being made may be different, but the passion and skill and sentiment behind it is still surprisingly the same. That’ s why the average music listener or even the aficionado doesn’t care or even notice. To them it’s just MUSIC: a feeling and/or a thought expressed through the filter of the art and craft of music. They either vibe with it or they don’t. I kept on listening to popular music. Not just the popular music that I perceived that I “liked”. But ALL popular music. Studying. Learning. (I will grant anyone that the lyrics to 99% of popular music suck. That is, they just don’t offer anything intelligent, meaningful or new. AND that popular music is for the most part ingratiatingly repetitive. Not only within the construct of the same song, but from song to song and artist to artist — they all sound phenomenally similar. As if ONE artist made them all rather than 100 different artists (on the Hot 100 list for example). These are valid viewpoints. As valid as a purely subjective viewpoint can be that is. Most people share them. (this is a false and illogical attempt to rationalize a viewpoint, i.e. “everybody feels this way…” I know that). But to be fair, these aren’t new ideas. Many people have this complaint about pop music. This is why the majority of popular music is geared towards and consumed and enjoyed by young people between the ages of 10 to 18; and why most people move beyond pop music once they reach a certain age. They are searching for more meaning, for something new, for more intelligence and variety lyrically, etc. One thing to bear in mind though is that we as young people don’t listen to popular music because we like it or dislike it. We listen to it to be a part of a scene. To feel a part of something bigger than we are. Because most people — or at least the perceived majority of people we come into contact with in school when young — listen to whatever is being played on pop music radio and TV, we tune in in order to have knowledge of it and to share in that collective experience. Black sheep and outsiders, like myself when I was younger, do the exact same thing by taking an opposite approach. We fit into and become a part of a different scene by refusing to listen to what is popular on the radio and instead join a smaller niche group where everyone does that. But our primary goal often times at that age is just to be a part of something big due to our limited access and mobility. So yes, popular music does have it’s limitations as mentioned above. Few would argue with these distinctive markers of popular music. There is only so much one can listen to songs exclusively about dancing, drinking, falling in love, making money and fucking to a 4/4 rhythm set to 120 beats per minute. I grant the music snobs that.) But I did and do find a lot of the music that is popular today and has been since the beginning of the “popular music” concept first developed remarkably entertaining and intriguing. So I have continued to listen. Genre and format and “how it’s made” be damned. It finally hit me one day while taking a walk outside to get some fresh air. It really shouldn’t come down to “what instrument” is used to make music. As long as its “good music”. Meaning that “we like it”. Music like all art is completely subjective. Our perceived like or dislike of it IS purely subjective. So too is our transparent judgment of what makes it good or bad. Those are just terms we use to reflect what we like or don’t like. This idea of course drives so-called music snobs CRAZY. They will scream and argue till they’re blue and pass out that there IS a difference between “good and bad” music. That they can somehow qualify it. But they’d be lying; to whoever they’re arguing with and to themselves. (It’s much like the visual art world in that aspect…. What makes a valuable painting versus one that sells for $1 at a yard sale?) If we discovered a another species of conscious beings from another planet or solar system entirely who knew nothing about out music or how it is made and we played them a wide variety of music that has been created on planet earth over the last fifty years, they would have NO idea what we consider good or bad. They would have their own opinion and feelings about it. The last thing they would probably think about would be “what instrument is that song being played on?” They just wouldn’t care because it wouldn’t occur to them to care. So whats to stop regular folk from worshiping the music of the Black Eyed Peas? or Drake? or Usher? or JT? or Kesha? Or anyone else they happen to love…? The same way musicians tend to love The Beatles or The Doors or Led Zeppelin or The Boss? So what if Kanye and Jay Z make their music on little MPC beat boxes or laptops or keyboards as opposed to on traditional musical instruments? Isn’t that MORE inventive and innovative in a way? I began to see that perhaps it was. After all, any 13 year old can pick up a guitar and learn to play a power chord well enough once some overdrive is added to make it sound “cool/hip/authentic/real” and write a “song”. But these new music makers (and they aren’t really new anymore –(that’s what I meant about this being a generational thing…) are pioneers in their quest to make music withOUT any traditional musical instruments. We can no longer use the term “real instrument” because what IS a REAL musical instrument? I would assert that it is ANYthing that one can make music on. So we are reduced logically to calling them what they are: traditional musical instruments, versus just “musical instruments”. I began to see that the only reason we care is because we are musicians. It matters to us… For a variety of reasons. Sure. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is when these musicians use this idea to justify insulting or criticizing the music that others make just because they don’t make it the same way that they do. Their true claim, their only claim, is that “they aren’t making it using traditional music instruments”. But what does that really matter? It’s a principle issue. And all because of this illogical reason of “principle”, many musicians are willing to ignore entire social trends of modernization and progress transpiring all around them in the art and music world. Some call these types “traditionalists”. We’ve all heard the term before. In a variety of contexts. I’ve never liked tradition myself. I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid it at all costs. Rock ‘n’ roll certainly didn’t start off traditional. It was all about bucking the system and breaking with tradition. What’s with this small group of close minded musicians who refuse to accept the various new methods and processes that their contemporaries are using to create music with? It’s an odd anomaly when you consider it. I used to belong to this group until recently. I don’t want to mislead or misrepresent. I have always been open to ANY kind of music, purity or tradition be damned; as a listener. I liked what I liked and that was that. But as a musician I must confess to playing the music snob millions of times when critiquing other musicians. Why now I don’t really know. But that is pre-epiphany. The whole paradigm has changed for me now. I find music snobs annoying. The funny thing is that there are so many little sets and subsets of music snobs in every category of music, all claiming that the music that they like is the “best” or “only real” music. It’s ridiculous. Pair up the classical music snobs against the indie rock snobs against the classic rock snobs and let them verbally duke it out for a few days or weeks. They’ll eventually realize they’re all saying the same thing based on early-adopted transparent beliefs that have no justification and make friends and laugh it off, or they’re most likely mentally or emotionally challenged and we shoulnd’t be entertaining adult dialogues with them in the first place. After all, it’s this same group who 70 years ago protested against the “electrified guitar” versus a “real guitar”, or 100 years ago complained about the switch from classical to pop composition not being “real music”. Ten years ago you wouldn’t catch a “real musician” recording “real music” into a computer (rather than onto analog tape) even if they were dead. Five years ago it was “they suck; they use autotune!” Now who in their right mind releases music withOUT autotune??? Perhaps only people who don’t want to make living from making music. All of these distinctions eventually become arbitrary and archaic because society continues to move forward without us unless we r willing to keep up and embrace what it is we r actually doing: making popular music, i.e. making music that is popular with the masses as our job. To make our living. It took me a while but I actually love technology in music now and see no difference between a great guitarist or a great loop or beat creator. About eight years ago, I watched for the first time this DJ kid take our music — as we were creating it in the studio on acoustic instruments — and import it into his laptop every night and come up with the most insanely catchy “new” music from it by the time we arrived in the morning. Like totally new songs… The result can be heard on our All Your Heroes Become Villains album from 2011. We combined what we did and what he did to create an absolutely thrilling sound. It was like he had a whole different aesthetic and artform to music making than we did. Yet he was using OUR music… but making it all on his laptop. It was wild. He couldn’t play a note on a guitar or piano. But he could talk music and he understood music just as well as any of us did. [An interesting note: Our nomenclature is also different. Artists like him, Moby, David Guetta, Skrillex, Akufen, Jam and Lewis, Kanye, Mark Ronson, et al. DO have an entirely different way of speaking about music. They might not refer to notes and chords in the traditional sense. It may take traditional musicians some time to learn the vernacular of their style of music making, but the final result — what everyone is going for — is the same.] I have heard so many musicians over the last ten years attempt to qualify why and how their music is better because they play an instrument versus those who don’t. They use terms like genuine or organic or authentic. But I believe that all those terms are more indicative of something mysterious inherent in the soul of the music rather than in how it’s made. I have worked with too many “musicians” now who don’t play a traditional instrument but they still believe they are organically creating “music” and so too do their fans. The DJ guys and beat maker guys. It’s just a new form of music… It sprang up around us all while we were digging rock music. So maybe we missed it. But I’ve watched them. They’re doing the same thing we are. Just on different instruments. It’s a trip. It’s glorious. Their inspiration is the same. Their commitment to purity and greatness. They know no different than how they make music. They never thought “hey I’m going to try to create music NOT on a traditional instrument. They take it for granted that that’s how you make music. Just as many “rock” musicians know no difference. But it’s all music. I look at it this way now: If an artist comes out one day whose main instrument is a cardboard shoebox and whale samples (weirder things have happened) and he finds a way to make it sound cool and it catches on and people like it, there is really NO way that someone can rationalize saying it’s “bad music” — just because it’s created on a shoebox and not a “real instrument”. They can try. But they’d just be spinning their wheels. No one would care. The song is already at #1 and now inspiring a whole new generation of kids to go find old shoeboxes and write hit songs on them. And THAT’S the real beauty of music/art.
ATTN ALL MUSIC ARTISTS: IODA & The ORCHARD have been attempting to secretly collect YOUR streaming royalties along WITH your digital sales royalties. No matter WHAT label you are on you need to contact SOUND EXCHANGE directly and fill out a bunch of forms telling them “We wish to collect our OWN digital streaming royalties DIRECTLY.” It’s a pain in the rear and it takes a few days of solid work to complete (and a lot of calls), but its worth it. Don’t let the digital sales aggregators take your streaming $. It’s YOURS. Not theirs.
Fight for this. Digital Streaming — Pandora, Spotify, YouTube etc. is one of our last revenue streams and is quickly surpassing digital sales (iTunes, amazonMP3, bandcamp, etc.) as our main source of income. Now that The Orchard has bought IODA there is only ONE main digital aggregator (the mechanism to get digital music online for consumers to purchase) in the world today. All the other systems actually run your songs THROUGH THEM. This monopoly is not necessarily a “bad” thing. But this should ONLY apply to SALES. Not streaming. Streaming should be paid directly to YOU or the label you are on.
Call Sound Exchange AND your label and let them know you’d like to be paid directly for ALL digital streaming of ALL your songs through all formats — audio and video. You’ll have to write a legal letter. In addition demand that ALL BACK MONEY paid to someone besides yourself also be paid back to you. More later.
– Posted by The Ambassador using BlogPress on an iPhone
During today’s monthly hair multi-coloring experiment, PURE ECSTASY rained down upon me as we listened to Bowie’s entire Space Oddity album for the first time (for me) since high school. I am meant to be rinsing now, but I refuse until I finish writing this. tempers flare at my stubbornness. But WHY ELSE am “I”? If not for this? This glorious and magnificent work of art; in so many ways. Fuck my hair. Let it fall out. Fuck time tables and deadlines and schedules; in light of this feeling.
Tony Visconti and David created such a timeless cohesive & passionate epic w this one. Bowie is still channeling a lot of Dylan here. Only hints of Ziggy can be heard, but only w the hindsight we possess now. His voice is still high nasally free & full of heart hope & passion. The lyrics as well. More pot and LSD than booze and cocaine. It’s intriguing how we are able to discern things such as that. I miss that voice of his. I long for it to return; though intuitively conjecture it most likely never will.
The arrangement & production of each song perfectly fit what they are, what they were meant to be. No cynicism yet, none audibly or viscerally overt at least. (Personally this is, for me as an artist, the thing I detest the most about contemporary popular rock music and the scene that surrounds and creates it. Think any local music scene U.S.A.; or MTV’s annual VMA awards show… How are we even meant to breathe freely in such small minded shallow competitive and materialistic confinement? Let alone feel free enough to create heart based or soul revealing works of art?)
These are simple songs; but no less impactful; innocence is still apparent. A raw human naivety and vulnerability in the songwriting and vocal delivery. Bowie’s and Visconti’s harmony vocals, child-like fresh, clear, clean; chill evoking. A strong sense of excitement innovation & experimentation to the production. Psychedelic folk pop perhaps best describes the genre or style of the songwriting — but filled with a high-art occasionally near operatic drama in the production; (someone is taking risks here, excited, ambitious, taking a stand, attempting to leave their mark…) It hints of what will come with their arguably best album to date, Diamond Dogs, (and to this listener one of THE greatest musical albums of all time in the canon of human history). Nothing like this remains in popular music today. Nothing even close. The confines of popular music won’t allow it.
As a child I listened to this album every single night before falling asleep for a solid year or two during high school. No one my age understood or could relate. It was old. Dated. Classic rock. Ancient. Bowie had long since gone dance-pop and worse by the time I as a boy had discovered him. But I didn’t care. I heard and felt the same thing in his music as I did in Dylan, Bolan, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed or the Beatles and Stones. It was visceral, emotionally moving, life changing. Something was missing in the music being created while I was growing up. It still is.
Perhaps that period of time in popular music — ’59 to ’79 — will forever be considered the only moment that music was allowed to rise to its full peak potential artistically. There are many variables responsible for it, many reasons one could cite for this possibility. Or perhaps it’s just me and the few others who feel the same. After all, this is admittedly an entirely subjective thing. Impossible to prove. Worthless to debate. One is aware of that. And yet still feels compelled to defend the point to the death.
One of the most fascinating side effects of the experience was observing the reactions and listening to the comments made by others while we listened (even as casually as was necessary because of the inherent focus required for professional hair coloring… They could ONLY listen casually, matter of factly; and it was their first time ever hearing this album). Their surprise at how similar the songwriting and singing sounded to mine. I never thought about it before. It happened before I became self aware as an artist. The influence and inspiration. It must have seeped in. Soaked in. Taken root. And then slowly oozed out. Sometimes overtly. I can hear that now. But only as part of a much bigger-picture amalgamation comprised of so many artists. Never deliberately mimicked another artist. There were always too many. And too much going on inside my own head.
But it did get me to thinking. Perhaps the music we crush on the most as children becomes the foundation of who we are as artists ourselves. We have the time and energy and desire to afford to do nothing else but obsess over music (if that’s your thing, which for me it was, more than any other one thing… (Sports and athletics with others? Or science and technology…?)) And for the rest of our lives out it pours. All based on those most formative years of ours as children. Definitely worthy of exploring further. Another post though.
For now the most important thing is to acknowledge how incredible this one simple glorious collection of songs is, to place this flag solidly in the moon and pierce its surface for all time. Music is more than music. More than the chords or the notes or the shapes we randomly assign them. It is indescribable. It is the highest form of art. Art the highest form of human expression. The most sincere representation of human feeling and emotion. Space Oddity, one of the greatest human works of art, reminded me of that today. And for whatever reason I am left unreasonably and irrationally moved to tears, overjoyed, grateful and inspired.
We may turn out to be nothing but human in the end. But through music we are able to transcend whatever limitations we attribute to this confounding mysterious possibility.
More later. Your thoughts as always welcomed.
– Posted by The Ambassador using Blogpress on an iPhone
[Bummer Warning] Talking with The Poet… Texting actually. I never talk on the phone truth be told. Which is fine it seems because no one else i know does either. We were discussing our recent ASCAP royalty checks. Fucked up and low-balled as usual. Music is the greatest art form in the world to be a part of but it’s the worst f*^king business. I love making music more than anything else i can think of. Nothing gives me more pure unadulterated joy than the simple act of making music, whether alone w just a guitar or piano, or with the band; whether writing and recording new songs and albums, or performing live. There’s nothing like it. But financially it’s a nearly thankless career choice.
We made more $ last year than any other year in the last 25 years of our career and it’s still not enough to make a decent living. Added all up it seems like a large amount. But considering how hard you work and how much money you spend it’s just peanuts compared to so many other careers. Not much else to say. Just bummed. Has to be a better way than this. How much longer can or will Princess Little Tree hang on under these circumstances? I know she had no idea it would be this hard. Frankly neither did I. You would think by now… After all the… But it’s just seems to be an all or nothing kind of business. You’re either making big bank or barely getting by, and nothing really in between. Bummed.
– Posted by The Ambassador using blogpress on an iPhone
Heard a more than decent song this evening during the ending credits roll of an old TV show I am currently having a mild obsession with, a little something called The Riches starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard. Yes you read that right. Turns out the pair teamed for a one hour drama for the FX network back in ’06 to ’08. Though it only ran 10 episodes per season and only lasted for a season and a half. Seek it out if you’re a fan of either actor. They’re both better great at what they do in it. Minnie really shines. That’s a different story though.
The song started off with the lyrics “the fox… the fox…” I liked it immediately. Wanted to know who sang it. Sitting right there while the credits rolled, I picked up my phone (at this point it doesn’t even matter what phone we use. They all do the same thing give or take…) and Googled “Who sings the song with lyrics the fox … The Riches…” Within less than a minute I discovered the song was by the band Nada Surf, one of the few acts on planet earth I’ve never explored, let alone purchased an album by. With this new found information I then headed to YouTube and ran a search for the song. At least five uploads were available, whether I wanted to hear the original or the band performing it live in concert, there it was. I selected the one that seemed to appear the “most legit” and clicked play, placed my phone in my shirt pocket and went about my business of locking up the house for the evening — all the while this fresh new great song accompanying my every move, the music emanating clearly and cleanly from somewhere within the confines of my clothing. Like a walking jukebox.
When it was over, I hit play again to grab another listen. I also added it to my Favorites Playlist, which not only acts as my own personal music collection now, say goodbye to needing iTunes, but also alerts roughly fifteen-thousand of my closest friends on Facebook and Twitter about the song’s awesomeness and a link where it can easily be found. For free. And again it hit me. Walking around the house to turn off all the lights, the music still blaring out of my pocket, I casually asked my beautiful wife, “Babe we just heard that song on a TV show and had no idea who it was. How long did it take me to find that out?”
“A minute… Less than a minute” she replied as she let Alistair out for the night.
“Exactly. And how long did it take me to find it so we could listen to it?”
“And how much did it cost us?”
“Zero,” said she, letting said dog back in the house.
“Yep. The business has changed, changed forever. For better or worse the glory days as we used to know them are truly over for us in this business.”
“You keep saying that honey. What are you going to do about it?”
“Less than five minutes after hearing a song we like on TV and we’re listening to it. And we’re not paying a dime for it. I know I keep saying it lately. I just can’t fully believe it…”
“Maybe you don’t want to believe it…”
“Maybe… I hadn’t thought about it like that… But if 2012 was about anything, it was all about my denial of how quickly the music business has changed… and how nearly every single one of our income streams has dried up in the last few years. I mean, we worked harder in the last two years at making it than I ever have in my entire life…” She smiled at me and patted my chest, implying I just might be overstating things a bit.
“Okay perhaps I’m exaggerating… the truth is I’ve been working like this non-stop for the last twenty years is more like it… But we REALLY kicked into high gear this year, and we achieved incredible things! Bigger and better and faster and more than at any other time in my career. And yeah we made great money from it… But it’s not enough. And no wonder. Look how different things are. It’s one thing reading about these changes in Billboard every week. It’s another thing to actually see myself doing it… participating in the exact activities that are tearing apart the whole freaking system.”
“Well it’s become real to you now. You’ve switched roles with the audience and now you are seeing things how they see things.”
“Exactly. And it freaking SUCKS. I don’t want to be doing this. Listen to this!” I exclaimed pointing to the music playing in my pocket. This is insane. These guys aren’t going to to get a fucking dime from my standing here listening to their music. And that sucks for them. And their label. And the producer if he’s getting points on the record. It’s all so wrong…”
“Well you could always stop doing it. But you won’t. No one will. Like you said, the business has changed… So have you as a music fan, just like everybody else. You want it now and if you don’t have to pay for it you won’t argue with anyone about it.”
“Yes. Exactly. That’s the thing. See? I don’t MIND paying for music. God knows. How many songs or albums do I buy each month?”
“More than you should. More than we can afford. Especially if you’re only going to listen to the song a few times and never listen to it again. Which is what you usually do when you find a song you like. You’ll probably never go seek out this song again to listen to it now that you’ve heard it a few times. That’s why people don’t want to buy music anymore. It’s not rocket science.”
“That IS the flipping point, isn’t it? The only difference between now and before is that unless a person wanted to sit around and make mix tapes or burn CDs from their friends, which was a royal pain in the ass, people were forced into buying music if we liked it. Now we don’t have to. And that’s that.”
“Honey I’m tired…”
“I know. Me too. What I’m trying to say is that this my love is why I need to start writing,” I said, giving her a hug before she went upstairs to prepare for bed. “More than ever before I now understand that it’s time for me to seriously become that rockstar turned writer we keep talking about.”
“You already seriously are that rockstar turned writer we keep talking about Baby Joon,” she said, her eyes drooping but still looking into mine. “You just need to finish one of the ten thousand books you have started. No amount of writing in the world, no matter how good it is, is going to help us if you never release any of it.”
“I know honey. I get it. I more than get it. It just keeps hitting me in different ways all of a sudden. I mean here again tonight it just really hit me. I need to shift gears fast and start actively focusing on the writing. Like a job.”
“No different than you already do babe. You already ARE a writer. You write more than most writers. AND you can still do your music. But what I don’t like is we keep talking about it and not doing anything about it. I think you’re afraid that it’s going to affect your music career. But I don’t think it will. If anything it will help….”
“Yeah I get that too actually…. you know what it is babe? I always saw me becoming “the writer” later… Like after the rockstar thing was over… you know, when I was older and married and had kids and all that. more like a retirement thing…”
“Honey you are older. I hate to tell you. And you’re already a writer… What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing I guess. I already told you my plan. The first book, When I Was Twenty-One will be completed and released by the end of January. For sure. And while we continue to work on the We Are the Revolution book, I can easily get the Casanova Diaries finished. That one’s already done. I just need to edit it. It’ll be easy. I can do this honey.”
“I have no doubt you can do it. I just want to see you START. And I’m not talking about making your little notes all over scraps of paper that just pile up all over the house… You have to approach it like any other job. The same way you approach your music when you want to get a new album recorded. You’ve got to actually sit and work at it till you finish. And you can still make time for your music. What do you do all day anyway?”
“Write or work on music….” I smiled. “I know, I know. I know what to do. You want to know what my biggest fear is?… Okay, two biggest fears actually…”
“One, what if I am not meant to stop music right now? What if now is not that time?”
“We aren’t talking about you quitting music honey. We’re talking about you working on only one book at a time instead of twenty and releasing them. And continuing to work at your regular job too. Just stop working on so many things at once and focus on one book and get it out.”
“And what if people don’t buy it? I mean what if people don’t buy me as a writer? What if I’m fooling myself?”
“Well you’re never going to know until you try honey. Talking to me about it isn’t going to get you there…”
“I know. It’s the new year. Plan B is working incredibly so far. You know I haven’t missed one day of studying Farsi in three weeks? You hear how good I’m getting?”
“Honey! I was going to tell you that when I came in this morning. I was laughing so hard! You have to be careful with some of the words you are learning. Some of them aren’t polite if you mispronounce them. This morning you were saying a bad word instead of “bowl” but I didn’t want to interrupt you…”
“No. Babe don’t do that! If you hear me pronouncing a word wrong, tell me. You know how hard it is to try to learn this freaking language? There’s no english alphabet. I have to stare at the pictures of objects and just keep hitting repeat over and over trying to learn and memorize it like that because I can’t read the freaking letters… It’s like music.”
“Well you’re good at it. You’re great at it. You’re doing it honey. I am really impressed.”
“I am getting good huh?”
“Yes my love. I’m proud of you. You have no idea how much it warms my heart seeing you practice so hard everyday…. Thank you honey.”
“No thank you for being so patient. I told you I would learn your native language. It just took me a lot longer than I thought. But it’s working out now with my new plan. I’m actually doing it.”
“So now just apply your plan B to your writing. Schedule a time of day you’re going to do it and do it. You’re good at that.”
“I think I’m actually horrible at it.”
“Not really. Not compared to everyone else. When you set your mind to something you go after it more than anyone I’ve ever seen. You know this. We’ve talked about it. You’re going to be teaching me Farsi soon! You just need to approach completing the books the same way you’re doing with learning Farsi or your music…”
“I know. I will. I am. I don’t have a choice at this point. I know it. I have to…”
“Honey I’m going to go upstairs now. Can you make sure all the doors are locked? I’ll see you upstairs.”
For the next hour it’s all I thought about. While getting ready for bed. I made over $9,000 from my music in the first quarter of this year. Just from radio airplay. It was a good year. But it cost three times that to get a song high enough in the charts to where you’re making that kind of money. That’s the catch 22 of the whole damn thing. This is nothing compared to five years ago. Because sales are now almost entirely out of the picture.
But the thing I keep thinking about is all these new indie bands that come out every month. They get a hit song in a movie or a TV show and then Bam! THEY do get sales. So sales haven’t dried up completely. Not for everyone. Frankly I think the conversation should be more about what leads to sales than how they’ve dried up. Because they’ve clearly not dried up for everyone. And sure I may not be buying as much music as I used to, but I’m still buying a ton of it. And so are others obviously. That’s really the key to it… How to stay in that top bracket of the rare few who actually still sell a ton of songs or albums… Second quarter pay outs are going to come any week. And they should be even bigger than first quarter. Thank God. But it’s the sales we are after. How to compel people to not just want to go on YouTube or Pandora and listen for free or play the songs on the radio…
Don’t get me wrong. There is NOTHING like having a hit song on the radio or in Billboard. But there is a very broadly drawn and large line in the sand between those who actually sell music and those who don’t. And that’s where we are waning now that the industry has changed. And I refuse to believe that it’s because we aren’t good enough. I went down the path a hundred times over the last twenty years. Until I finally realized through just sheer quantity and quality of fan feedback that it’s bullshit. It’s an excuse we tell ourselves because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing wrong. So we start questioning the merit of what we do, regardless of how much we like it or think it’s great.
Frankly I think the missing piece, the thing we’re doing wrong, is not touring regularly. Not that any of the Top 40 artists tour very often. Most of them are singles oriented. They DON’T tour. They do these big shows here and there. Morning TV, late night, festivals. We’re getting close to being able to do that now. But we’re not there yet. We need one more big hit. The other thing is that we’re a band. We’re not a Top 40 artist. And bands notoriously tour their asses off. So that’s something else to think about. What’s the resistance? Okay well we know what the resistance is… We don’t have enough money to tour or better put we don’t make enough money from touring to support a real tour. At least not yet.
But what if while I’m taking the time to finish writing one of these books in order to get more money coming in, we continue to work on the album, promoting and marketing, and if there’s a God in heaven or a sliver of luck anywhere near me with this, something will pop that will lead us into an opportunity to tour as we used to. It only takes one. We already know that from past experience, time and time again. What I’m hearing is that I’m just being impatient. Spoiled by how things used to be. The new album has only been out for less two months. There’s plenty of time for it to continue to rise in the charts AND for a song or two or three to get picked up for something that can lead to enough money to support a tour. And demand one. That’s the other thing. The demand… It ain’t easy. There’s no way around that. But it’s fun. Hell, I don’t even believe it’s fun any more. It’s more scary than fun. But it’s my life. That, really, in the end, is what it’s all about.
Okay, so that’s what we’re going to do. Here it is 2:44 am and I’m writing in the Diaries. So maybe that’s something that needs to change. The Diaries are free. Like the music now is. (insert loud laugh here!) We need to turn our attention and the writing towards other things that are NOT free. Other vehicles. We’ll see. This isn’t going to work. There’s no way I’m going to be able to maintain the Diaries AND make music full time AND finish a few books. It’s impossible. Unless I start writing super short blog posts. Which actually might not be such a bad idea. And with that, let us end. Tomorrow we apply Plan B to the writing too. We will add it to the schedule. And we’ll play it by ear with what happens to the Diaries… Until then.
I just listened to the last but unreleased Broken Spectacles album, the one called Aftermath. The one that took us two years to make, a year and half of which was building the recording studio. Recording the album probably only took us a few months at the most. I hadn’t heard it in 15 years. The Grey Wolf just sent it to me. All I could do was cry cry cry… I had totally forgotten how quirky weird and special we were. Broken Spectacles is the real name of the band that I have been referring to as Shattered for the last fifteen years in these Transcendence Diaries and other places.
What a sad beautiful trip that just was. Grey Wolf aka Donnie J Groovemaster Jam, has just recently unearthed a treasure trove of master tapes from those six years and had them digitally remastered. He sent me one CD of the “old stuff” and one CD of the never released last album we recorded called Aftermath. We may need to change that title since it’s a Stones album already. I don’t believe we knew that at the time. Grey Wolf burned the CDs all wrong so it’s just ONE big hour long song per CD, which is classic Groover. He’s going to do it over again he tells me. That I assume will take another fifteen years. I have a lot of the old songs already mastered and ready to go, but only the ones that I wrote, for the Spectacularly Broken compilation album… But now I am rethinking the idea and wanting to do a WHOLE Spectacles compilation instead of just Ed Hale songs… Would take all four guys agreeing to that… That’s the problem. Bands are tricky.
Today I only listened to Aftermath… The first song that came on was called “LOVE”. Fans won’t even know the song because Aftermath was never released and unlike most of the songs on the album, we never played the song “Love” live, not even once. That one was a Toad song. We all contributed to each others songs, adding various instruments as we saw fit and vocal harmonies along with background vox. By the time we got to Aftermath we had been together for five years. So Toad and I were still working together very closely, but not writing together as much as did in the beginning. More like coming in with completed songs and then just assisting each other with suggestions and musical additions. There are some horn and string parts I added to this one along with my usual backgrounds and harmonies, but for the most part it was all Toad. And it was utterly transcendent. I couldn’t believe it. What i was hearing. Now. Fifteen years later. It felt like a different life. A lifetime ago. Truly.
In that moment it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Reminded me of George Harrison. I didn’t remember it at first. Couldn’t place it. I didn’t understand why it was there. It wasn’t part of the album was it? Wouldn’t I remember that? Turns out that it was. I had just suppressed the memory I assume. And for good reason. There was always a tense and bitter but beneficial competitiveness between Toad and I by the time we got to the recording of this album. Who was the better writer? Who was the better singer? Who got more girls? Who got more press? Who got more positive reviews? Who knew more? Who played their instrument the best? Who played the most instruments? Who wrote more songs? Who was deeper? Who sang more like John Lennon? Who was as multi-talented as Paul? On and on. (Funny right? I know… But bands are like that when they first start out… It’s cute when you think about it…)
I cannot help but think that one of the reasons why Broken Spectacles was so good was due to this very intense but loving competitiveness between the two of us. Always pushing ourselves more, to be the best we could be in order to outdo the other. But we were also best friends, beyond brothers. With an infinite love between us, one that I have still not to this day experienced with any other man, perhaps not even any other human being. A lot of water has passed under that bridge.
Listening to it this time, anew, I was flabbergasted by its beauty. Astounded. Couldn’t stop crying. And then in comes Coon’s “KALEIDOSCOPE” with the most amazing triple lead guitar harmonies “Freebird” style ending. And on and on it went… “AINT IT HARD”!!! Another masterpiece. “Nature Boy”, “Wrong Again”, “I Want Blood”, “Going Nowhere”, “Aftermath”, “Your Face Ain’t That Pretty”… Every guy was doing such a good job at what they were trying to do. I was so impressed with the musicality of it all. Couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I had somehow sold my soul over the last fifteen years since those days… Just to get more success and make more money. We now don’t make anything like this kind of music I was hearing from this strange glorious mess of an album.
Princess Little Tree couldn’t believe that it was us she was hearing. She had never heard the band before. Only knew the Transcendence and the Ed Hale solo stuff. Had only heard me talk about Broken Spectacles. All the stories… She was impressed by the variety of vocals. Had never heard Toad or Coon sing. Never heard all three of us sing together before, one of the things that really stood out about that band, three lead singers, oftentimes singing at the same time in all the songs. It was special. But here’s the coup de grace… the last song Grey Wolf put on the album for some reason was “AND I GO”. A mega monstrous masterpiece, an epic anthemic musical gift from God the likes of which I’d never heard before or since. Like a thunder bolt straight out of heaven into your ears and your soul. I could not believe what I was hearing. What a freaking masterpiece. Of course it’s a Toad song too. I always hated being in a band with him. As much as I loved it. (to be fair he claims the same thing and for the same reasons… just goes to show…) I was such a shite singer back then compared to now (which isn’t saying much I know). But holy crap what a monstrously gorgeous song that is. Toad could die tomorrow and his legacy will forever remain top tier due to the four songs he contributed to this album. Same with Coon. His are equally epic and brilliant.
I could not stop crying. First just sobs like with the other songs… Little baby tears. And then by the time we get to the “I want you to go deep…” breakdown of this song, I was full on sobbing like a baby, like a mental patient, face all scrunched up. Tears shooting out of my eyes. I seriously don’t think I can ever listen to that song again. It’s just too good. It’s frightening how good it is. I have no idea what happened to me, but it was one of the most cathartic events of my life. Cathartic in how emotional I felt, how completely moved in so many ways… Up, down, sad, happy, amazed, traumatized, relieved, proud, regretful… over the top emotion anguish and expression. I couldn’t help but feel this deep sadness and fear that over the last few years I had just completely sold out as an artist. Compared to what I was hearing on this album, recorded when we were just kids, but so unique and special.
I so wish I could post this song for everyone to hear… the whole album. But it’s all up to Grey Wolf at this point. And getting an agreement from all the members of the band. I don’t actually have a real copy of this album. Haven’t had one in over 15 years. If ANY of YOU have a copy of THAT album in any form let me know. Perhaps we can speed this process up. Also — if ANY of YOU have high quality PHOTOS to use as artwork for the release, let someone know. Once we schedule this, we can commission someone to do the artwork. We will need REAL PHOTOS to scan. I have no idea if I have any pro-grade or high quality ones really. Just scanned in low quality ones. But that’s what we need here to take it to the next phase.
I believe that more than anything what affected me most about hearing this album from start to finish like this for the first time in so many years was that number one, what I was listening to was old. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, so like seeing someone you love, like a family member, for the first time in over a decade, that’s just going to get to you regardless. Number two though, as a work of art it’s absolutely BRILLIANT. It’s big brash experimental avant garde. Epic and all over the place stylistically… And yet it has a very distinct sound all its own due to the fact that the same four guys recorded it in the same six month period using all the same gear and in the same two rooms. It has a mythic quality to it. We were peaking artistically as individuals and as a group when we recorded it (but then again when are we NOT peaking. I have yet to experience “writer’s block” or any “down time” as an artist… I guess that’s lucky. Or maybe that’s just how it is for all artists…) What it’s not is commercial. It’s entirely NOT commercial.
Moving as all hell. But just not commercial in any way. And see that’s the thing… We used to not give a shit about being commercial. That was never our aim. Never the goal. I mean, I honestly don’t think we even thought about it. And the music shows that. It’s extraordinarily amateurish in many ways. But you can’t help but be blown away by how mammoth and ambitious it sounds as well. Walls of noise really in some parts… On the one hand Broken Spectacles had some of the most exciting and advanced musicianship you could hear anywhere. On the other hand it had a very weak sort of chock full of mistakes sound to it as well… go figure. But that was us.
A few years after The Specs broke up I reverted to my real name, Ed Hale, laid Eddie Darling down for good and formed the band Transcendence with Infinito; first time I played with anyone besides the other three guys in the Specs in seven or eight years. We’ve recorded and released nine albums since then. Right out of the gate we experienced a ton more press, airplay, sales and critical acclaim than we ever did back in The Specs. For many reasons. Older, wiser, more experience, more money. But more than anything else I think it was because I understood that making music for me at least couldn’t just be about doing whatever the hell I wanted anymore. It had to include a measure of financial return to it or I was going to be forced to stop doing it full time. Besides, I wanted to make money with it. I wanted to experience what we call success, in the traditional sense. And we did. Thank God. I haven’t sat down and counted, but off the top of my head we’ve charted about ten songs on one chart or another over the last ten years. Sold a hell of lot of albums. That number would be triple that if I weren’t always trying to reach so much artistically… I know that. But still, we do make music that is commercially viable for the most part, at least compared to what we were doing in Broken Spectacles.
What I notice from a lot of my peers from that original music scene down in Miami when we all started out as teenagers and others I connect with all over the world still is that they’re all still making the same kind of music that they made way back when. They do what they do and they don’t change. And that’s a big problem. They expect that the industry is going to come to them. That the listeners are going to come to them. But it doesn’t work that way. Not even a little. Sure you can innovate here and there. But it has to be within the confines of what is happening within the music business and what is happening in pop culture now. There is a flow to it all. A flow of what’s hip cool popular modern happening. That’s popular culture.
Every now and then we get lucky and we may happen to be at the front end of that curve when the music is about to take a hard right or left… The way Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins were when hair metal was at it’s peak and everyone was desperate for it to die. Or the way that Radiohead and Muse and Travis and Ours and Mercury Rev were when we were all looking for grunge to die off. But hell, who can really say that Nirvana innovated that sound when we all know they really didn’t? They became the poster child for it for a while. (which sucked for some of the better bands, no need to name names…) But it wasn’t just ONE band or artist that did it. It was a wave of them.
And what I find today amongst many of my peers in rock is that they aren’t on the cusp of any wave at all. They aren’t even riding a wave. They’re just making the same old music that they’ve always made. Expecting people to like it. That’s music making as a hobby. Not music making to be a professional. You try to explain to them that they need to focus on using sounds that are modern or current or contemporary, their drum sounds, their guitar sounds, the way their voice is recorded… even the arrangement of the song itself… and they either argue the merits of what they’re doing or they just go blank and don’t understand. And yet we can’t argue with reality. With results. If you’re not experiencing the kind of success and popularity that you desire, then SOMETHING is wrong, or at least “not right” about what you’re currently doing.
I can’t sit here and say that I completely changed spots and switched to totally making commercial music all of a sudden once we formed Transcendence. I didn’t. Especially considering that the original idea for the group was to create a world music meets modern rock sound that no one had ever heard before and have me sing in four or five different languages sometimes within the same song. That first album, Rise and Shine, was phenomenally eccentric. I know that. And hell, most of the guys in Transcendence are still pissed at me for how much I’ve switched genres over the years with the release of every new album, and how much I’ve focused on “creating art” or making artistic statements over the years. In fact, The ex Norwegian sent me a Fb post TODAY admonishing me to “PLEASE not worry about creating art” and just this once try to make all these songs commercially viable so we can make some money. He’s referring to real money. Big money. Not $1 or 200,000 a year money. But $1 to 10,000,000 a year money. I want the same thing. We all do.
We came damn close on the last solo album. But then I flipped it all around with the next two releases that we did with the group, All Your Heroes Become Villains and The Great Mistake. Both evidently were on the extreme and eccentric side compared to the solo album. At least that’s what we were told. But to everyone’s defense, I have to admit if backed into a corner that I did have major concepts and agendas when making the All Your Heroes album. Super focused. Hyper-focused. I mean, it was meant to be a giant concept… high art… an amalgam of statements all tied together to create one bigger statement. Something final and permanent. A mark. A sculpture. Solid and lasting like a castle or a mansion. ONE big piece. NOT merely a collection of songs. There’s a difference.
Contrast that with what constitutes hit songs in today’s market, or in any age’s market… What happens in those cases? The hit songs end up eventually losing their original home, whatever album they happened to be released on, people forget, and that album goes out of print. The song may last forever, eventually gaining the moniker of “classic”. But the album that it came from is lost forever to most people. THAT is exactly the opposite of what we’ve set out to do in Transcendence. Every album (except perhaps for The Great Mistake, which really is just a collection of songs…) was created as one cohesive work of art, to stay together and last forever. Pink Floyd is a great example of this. Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall… albums. Permanent cohesive entities in their own right over and above the hit singles they may or may not have had. Zeppelin, same thing. People say the album is dead ALL the time. They’re wrong. (To a certain degree anyway. Save for another post…)
I can’t complain that All Your Heroes wasn’t accepted as a huge commercial success compared to our previous one. It is dark and moody and insanely complex, wildy emotive and overly noisy in some areas, and more than anything it’s entirely dependent on being an ALBUM. It’s not really singles based at all. Hell, all the songs ram into each other and then flow into another song. I don’t think there’s ANY empty space on the whole album. I know. I think we all know. It wasn’t created to be a commercial thing… But the important thing is that I can die happy with it as an artist. Over the last two years since the release of that album I have felt very very good about it. I will die with a smile on my face when remembering it, when contemplating what we intended versus the final result.
And therein lies the eternal struggle. There’s a balance there that we constantly have to be considering when creating. Do we sell out with a song or two? And still try to preserve a great album in the process? Do we sell out entirely, just create the whole album as one sixty minute collection of unrelated mainstream pleasing current sounding tasty pieces of ear candy? How far can we swim out into the popular music sea once we jump overboard before we get lost and are unable to ever return to the comfort and safety of the artists’ artist boat?
And vice versa, how far off into left field can we ride that beast of innovation and experimentation and doing whatever the hell we want to before we are lost forever to the popular music loving masses? Some say it’s ALL selling out as soon as you begin to contemplate such matters. I say bullshit. If you don’t ever think about your art, about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, the possibilities, the various different styles and arrangements and directions you’ve got before you, then you’re just winging it. I’ve been there before, when you’re young you think you’re just going to wing it. I know that terrain well. Did it for years in the Specs. Refused to think about what we were doing. It ALL had to come spontaneously, like magic. No thought about the expression. It had to flow out naturally. It’s an artistic mindset. But it’s only ONE mindset. In a world where there are infinite mindsets one can occupy. One day I just decided to deliberately occupy a different mindset and see what would come of it.
Ballad On Third Avenue was not the most successful album we ever released contrary to what most people believe. Sleep With You was a much bigger seller (so too in fact was Nothing Is Cohesive — which also still to date is by far the most critically acclaimed album any of us have ever been associated with) and had several big hits at Alternative Rock radio. But Ballad did have one thing that none of the other albums had up to that point: a verifiable Billboard Top30 hit song. Two of them. All the other hits were on different charts or specialty charts or college radio charts or made it to the Top 100 but just never got into Billboard’s Top40, let alone the Top25 like “Scene in San Francisco” and “New Orleans Dreams” did. That was something different. And it made a HUGE difference. Worlds of difference. In many different areas of our lives. For one thing we made a lot of money. And that was a very good thing. The songs still bring in a lot of money.
But it also had its challenges. The cons. Creating those songs was not just “hey let’s just create whatever we want to and see how people like it” as in times past. The songs were run by a seemingly endless string of consultants and then remixed and remixed again until every last one of them at every level of the industry was satisfied with how each song sounded. See, this is something that I NEVER would have done fifteen years ago when we were in Broken Spectacles. We were offered it sooooo many times. And every time we fought it and instead just created total chaos and confusion. I’ll never forget Toad telling the head of A&R at Island Records to “fuck off! We don’t need your advice about OUR music!” That’s how we did things…. We thought we held the whole world in our hands. And to a certain degree we did. Creatively we were an amazing unit. But we were young and green and stupid. We’d make sure we were always tripping on something whenever we had a meeting or a showcase with any major record label executives. Just to show them how little we cared. We weren’t going to change anything for anyone regardless how “big” or wealthy they were.
We had the opportunity to work with two of the biggest producers in the business. No need to name them here because it’s common knowledge. But in both cases, looking back, these were men who absolutely dwarfed us in terms of their experience and achievements in the music business. And in their abilities as musicians. And in both cases we played the fool every day we showed up. We KNEW what we wanted to do, knew what we wanted to sound like; we knew what was best. Or so we thought. So… why bother to have producers then? Well that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? We’d get excited to be working with a big name… And then when push came to shove and we got in the studio we always thought we knew best and fought with them. We were real shits.
Those were big mistakes. Looking back I can see WHY we did what we did. Why we acted the way we did. Our biggest fear –though at the time it was probably unconscious to any of us — was to ever consider that we were sell outs or selling out in any way. Pandering to the mainstream masses for money or fame or popularity. It just wasn’t who we were> in fact it was the exact opposite of who we were. We knew that. Being in that band, at that time in music history, at that point in our lives, at that age, the mentality and the sentiment and the statement was as important as the music.
The reason you made music and the kind of music you created or DIDN”T create was as important as the music… It was an elitist purist idealist state of mindfulness. Beyond arrogant. With pride in that arrogance. Very similar to what Vancouver is expressing now. Poor bastard. His “I’ll only play with acoustic drums and never drum loops or samples or synth beats” when everyone in the industry does it for very specific reasons — they sound badass — is precisely what makes his music sound so dated and local. And he SO wants to be liked and wonders why he isn’t. It’s curious, intriguing, perplexing really.
But I can relate. Because I suffered the same mental illness back in the days of The Specs. Granted, in our defense, we were 18 years old at the time. Vancouver is like thirty-something so he really has no excuse. But still, I can relate. The key for me, what changed, was that eventually I realized that I really did want to make popular music. And money. And if it was “I” who was making it, in the end, I would still probably like it in the end. Or so I hoped. On top of that, when you make popular music, you can generate enough money that you can then afford to make more avant garde or eccentric music in addition to the more popular music that you’re also making.
If I was to be honest with myself I think that underneath it all, at least for me personally, was just a fear that perhaps I really couldn’t create popular music… I was so focused on innovating all the time… But innovating is easy. you’re not going up against anyone when you’re always innovating. You’re only competing with yourself. Against whatever YOU consider your last great work of art. And that’s a really groovy place to be. Honestly that’s the world I’d like to live in as an artist ALL the time… But I also recognize the benefits of competing for commercial viability too. They both have their merits. It’s fun to popular and famous and successful and have money. And the competitive nature of it compels us to higher levels of greatness.
In any case, after all I’ve been through as an artist over the last ten years, all the hard work to create great works of art that were also somehow commercial and popular, listening back to this simple yet profoundly complex and beautiful Broken Spectacles album Aftermath really got me. I haven’t cried like that in years. Decades. That was a different world back then. We hadn’t a care. We were happy to be one of the “most popular local bands in our town”. That seemed like a big deal at the time. Our eyes and our dreams were bigger than our potential perhaps, or bigger than our willingness to stretch and grow…. I was happy to hear what we had created back then. To hear how incredibly good and ambitious it was. Nope, it would never yield the kind of commercial success we’ve experienced over the last ten years as Ed Hale and the Transcendence. It would never be played on commercial radio stations. But we were very very proud. We walked around like roosters on ‘roids, heads cocked high. And for good reason. We were fucking great and we knew it. Just not commercially successful great. But there’s something to be said about that kind of attitude.
Unlike a lot of artists in popular music, I personally have no big dream to dominate in the realm of most chart toppers or most #1 records or hit albums, nor that nagging fear that I am losing my grip as a key player in the pop world who is always on the Hot 100 with a Top 40 song. I see that kind of success and the money from it as a tool that can be used to allow me to do both: create popular hit music AND more eccentric and innovative works of art. THAT is where my dreams and fantasies of domination lay. How deep, how relevant, how innovative, how prolific, how intelligent, how thought provoking, how moving, how much new ground can I break… That’s what keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. Not the stats or the numbers. But the hearts and souls and minds that are deeply moved, called to act. Like that. So it’s a balancing act. These next six to twelve months, recording these new albums… It’s going to be fun. Tricky, but in a fun way.
Alright, I’m out. 4800 words with no break. My fingers are killing me. More on this topic later for sure.
It took a while but it finally happened. IT happened. Maybe it’s a good thing… When it happens to us it often hurts… So we resist it. We often label it “bad” and thus put it off, or even when it does happen we continue to label it bad, which then prevents us from seeing the good in it. A little backstory…
Last night we saw the film Silver Linings Playbook. I had no idea what the film was about, but was sucked in from the very first minute. See it. It’s better than good. Due to this new trend of infinite potential greatness in art all happening simultaneously, I found it easy to exclaim that Silver Linings was the best movie of the year, beating out even Speilberg’s Lincoln, before settling back down into recognizing that we are now in an age when it’s possible for there to be MANY “best movies of the year” all at the same time.
[This is a fairly new and exciting trend, due to many factors; globalization being one, another being the continued decline of the cost of the tools and technologies of all the various fields of art. Whether filmmaking or music making or just about anything else, the cost of entering, the entry fee, has come down to a price point making it possible for anyone to make a movie or an album or whatever else the heart and mind can imagine. It’s one of the Signatures of the Personal Expression Age and has both good and bad ramifications. It’s not the purpose of this particular post, but in the book I’ve been working on for the last six years, we elaborate on it in much more detail. Suffice it to say that this Signature has created a world where there is more “Best Of the Year” projects being released simultaneously than any one consumer could possibly take in — unless you make being a consumer of art your career.]
So towards the end of the film, during the end credits roll actually, we hear this song, an amazing song, an incredible song, sounded like the Stone, or the Faces, maybe Chris Robinson’s new band. As always I waited till the very end of the movie to see who the artist was. It turned out to be a group called Alabama Shakes. The song was called “Always Alright.” I took a note of it in my phone in the usual file where I note music that I plan on purchasing later. The film ended. We exited the theatre, talking idly about how great the film was, how believable, how real, how moving; our dialogue occasionally interspersed with my excited exclamations of “how fucking great that song was, wow!”
In the men’s room a few minutes later I was still thinking about that song, fantasizing about that moment when I would be able to go home and buy it and listen to it over and over. And then it hit me, just standing there in front of the urinal. I didn’t need to wait till I got home. I could pull out my phone right there while still taking a piss and download the song using iTunes and listen to it immediately. So i reached into my pocket to grab my phone. But then another realization. I didn’t need to go to iTunes. I could probably just go to YouTube and do a Search for it. So i did. Sure enough, ten to twenty different versions of this particular songs came up and I began to listen to each one until I found the one I was looking for. (I never did. Instead I listened to a few live versions of the song, never finding the actual recording of the song itself.) But that was enough. I got my fill of it. At least for the moment.
When we got in the car to drive home, I took it further and plugged my phone into a little quarter inch jack we’ve rigged into our car stereo so we can listen to our iPods and iPhones through the car’s stereo system. I didn’t think much about this experience truth be told. For whatever reason, IT didn’t happen then. But it did this morning.
This morning I woke up with the song “This Guys’s in Love with You”, the Herb Albert version, in my head while I was dreaming. With eyes still closed I fumbled my hands around the bed seeking my phone so I could check my iTunes library to see if i had already downloaded the song. I wanted to hear it. Right then and there, before I woke up fully and the day started. And THAT’S when IT hit me. I didn’t need to check my iTunes library to listen to the song. Who cares if i had already downloaded the song. All i had to do was go to YouTube. Sure enough, there it was. In hundreds of different forms, uploaded by hundreds of different people. Within less than a minute I was listening to this haunting and beautiful Burt Bacharach song over and over again and not paying a dime for it. And THIS is when it really hit me.
For the last six months I have been struggling like a mother fucker to make ends meet for my family. My last big hit was in May of this year. The checks from sales and royalty checks roll in eventually and that’s always a great thing. But they aren’t what they used to be. Not even close. Something has changed. Many things have changed. You can have a song that goes to #1 in cities all over America and even jump up into the Top 30 on Billboard and still not be able to support yourself as a working musician. It’s not something we talk about. Call it denial. No one wants to talk about it. But it’s happening. Access to music has become so easy for all of us as consumers that it’s become impossible for those of us who make music for a living to make an actual living at it. It’s no one’s fault per se. It’s just the way the industry has shifted.
Sure we make money every time someone downloads one of our songs or albums. We do. And it’s good money. If it’s done in the traditional legal and above board fashion, ala going through amazon.com or iTunes, we get paid for that. So the first thing is just to continue to encourage friends and fans to buy our songs and albums. Because that is still our primary means of making a living. But this morning I watched it happen with my own eyes. Not as a working musician, but as a consumer and lover of music. I just wanted my fix in that moment of this song. And I went to the fastest way i knew how to get it. YouTube. And the sad truth of the matter is that we as artists don’t get paid when people listen to our music on YouTube. It doesn’t matter that “Gangam Style” has become the most viewed video on YouTube in terms of the artist making any money from it. He doesn’t. It might feel good. And yes, surely it leads to other potential money making opportunities. Maybe. But the act itself does not make any money. Nor did it help Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach when I listened to “This Guy’s in Love With You” ten times in a row this morning on YouTube. Hell, I even Shared the song on Facebook and Twitter to spread the joy with my friends and fans. And that led to more people listening to the song on YouTube. For free.
And that’s the operating word now in our industry. Free. People that like having easy access to music and listening to music for free will jump at this point in the discussion to point out that artists DO get paid if people listen to our music on Pandora or Spotify. But let’s yank that cat out of the bag once and for all so the whole world can feel the shock and pain of it as much as we who make the music do. You ever wonder how much we get paid each time someone listens to one of our songs on Pandora or Spotify? It looks like this: $00.0001. That’s what it looks like. On the statements we receive each month or quarter from the various different companies who collect and distribute the data and money to us. Hundreds of pages comprise these statements. And we do get to see each and every time someone listens to (streams) or downloads one of our songs or albums.
Sometimes it’s in the millions. Or even tens of millions. “Scene in San Francisco” has been streamed more times than I can count at this point. But at that rate of pay, it amounts to less than enough to make your mortgage payment. Which is why most working musicians rent. And worse, that’s ONLY if people are listening through very firmly established music services, like MOG or turntable.fm or Spotify or Pandora. Most of the places people go online to listen to music, like YouTube for example, don’t offer a way for the artist to make even one-one-hundredth of a cent from that experience. Not a penny. Not half a penny. Not a tenth or even a hundredth of a penny. Zero. Combine that with the fact that most people have stopped buying music — why WOULD you BUY music when you can listen to it for free anytime you want to from a device that is literally in your hands 23 out of every 24 hours in a day? — and what you end up with is an industry where 99% of the people working in it aren’t able to make a living from it.
This was a huge realization for me this morning. For months I have been struggling to decide what to do about this. I have never seen anything as heart breaking as my poor new wife crying her eyes out in fear that we are already broke and penniless because my well ran dry so fast after having two Top 30 hits this year. I’ve never seen anyone so frightened. “I’m not used to this like you are,” she scream-mumbled in between big sobs and moans… “What are we going to do???” she asked me. I had no answer. Only, “I’ll think of something honey. I promise. Our new album just came out. We’ll get money from the sales of that.”
But i knew I was kidding myself, being delusional. Those days of big sales numbers from a new album release for most of us started drying up in ’05. Sooner than that for some people. Adele’s last album, 21, just topped the 10 million mark I believe, making it one of the few albums in decades to sell that many. Albums that now sell a million, what we call Platinum, are few and far between. It’s a small earthquake in our industry when it happens. Selling half a million, what we call Gold, happen a bit more, but we are talking about maybe five to ten artists a year now. For the most part, the large majority of working music makers sell in the thousands. The last stat I read was disarmingly sad and sobering. It showed that out of the 5,000 albums a month that are released each year, less than one-thousand of them sell a thousand copies or more. Most of those are in the classical music genre. That’s 60,000 albums a year that get released, with less than 1000 of them selling even one-thousand copies. Don’t bother doing the math. It’s so far below the poverty line that it isn’t even worth considering how much those artists make. It certainly isn’t enough to support a family.
For me the big realization happened towards the end of this year. We were convinced that with all the hype and sales and radio airplay and Billboard hit making that we were doing earlier in the year that it would lead to bigger and better things, i.e. more money. At least enough to live comfortably. Or live, period. But it happened fast. The money comes and the money goes. Whatever you make usually goes right back into either making more music or marketing and promoting the music you’ve already made in an attempt to reach more people and make a bigger splash. It’s throwing money after money is what it is. It used to work. And for a very few it still does. But they’re few and far between.
We are supposed to make money every time our songs get played on the radio. This is true. So with a song like “Scene in San Francisco” where it received tens of thousands of spins on radio stations all over America and eventually the world, you would think we would have received tens of thousands of dollars from it. But it doesn’t work that way. There are three companies in the entire world that collect all that money for every musician on planet earth. ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. And they collect hundreds of billions of dollars each year from our music being played on the radio. But their systems are crooked. They don’t pay per spin. They claim to have a proprietary system that they can’t reveal to anyone. Not even Congress, who has been breathing down their backs for nearly a century to try to get them to conduct a more honest and transparent business.
So big hit or not, two big hits or not, what ASCAP wanted to pay me personally came to less than $3,000. I went into a bloody apoplectic seizure when I found out. See, it isn’t that they didn’t collect the money. They collected the money alright. From every single radio station in America and beyond they collect plenty of money. And it’s not that they cannot see how many times each song has been played. They can. The system is all computerized now. It’s easy to discover how many millions of times your song has been played on radio each year. That’s not the issue. The issue is that they “cannot reveal their proprietary system” to the artists that shows how they calculate how much money they are going to pay out for all your radio spins. It’s a fucking nightmare. They’re the mafia of the music industry. Pirates. Raking in huge sums of money on behalf of every working musician in the world with no intention of paying it out.
That’s radio airplay. Sales is a different matter. Coldplay’s record label spent five million dollars just on promotion of their last album (the one before this latest one) in their attempt to get the sales they needed to pay for the recording of the album. I never bothered to check to see if they made the money back. I just couldn’t believe that they spent five million dollars on marketing and promotion alone. It was an astounding figure. A huge risk. But for a very established act.
Most artists don’t have that kind of established reputation in the industry, nor access to a record label with enough liquidity to be able to afford to do something like that. For their last album, just a few short years had gone by, but by this point their record label had gone bankrupt, gotten divided up and all the little pieces sold off to a variety of different other players, and so the money for marketing and promotion wasn’t there. Instead of throwing five million dollars around for marketing and promotion, they chose a different path. They teamed up with Google Music and put the new album up for sale for .99 cents to try to market it. They sold an 250,000 units through that stunt. Which was considerably more than they had sold up until that point. And that’s a huge artist.
But again do the math. If the artist only receives ten percent of the net proceeds…. Yikes. Split that 25 grand four ways if you’re in a band and you better be married to Gwyneth Paltrow, because you aren’t eating if you aren’t. Personally speaking, I’m not. So I need to come up with a different plan of action to make a living and support my family. And fast. It doesn’t mean I don’t love making music. I do. I’ve already written a few thousand songs. So for me the whole mission is to just try to record and release as many of the songs I’ve written over the last thirty years as I can before I die. The fans I do have deserve it. I know that. And I deserve it. I want to. There is nothing more painful than having thousands of songs sitting in notebooks unrecorded. Nothing I can think of. At least not for an artist. But I also need to make a living.
After this morning’s experience, after watching how easy it was for me, me, a working musician myself, someone who has always resisted the trends of accessing music or free for fear it might jeopardize the livelihood of the musicians I love the most, even I found myself taking advantage of this new system and simply heading to YouTube to spin a few songs I love five to ten times, knowing full well that the men and women who created that music that I love so much wouldn’t make a cent from it. It’s just not the same industry anymore. For all of us. Yes, something CAN be done about it. YouTube could enforce a law that ALL music that gets uploaded to their servers MUST go through a database that tracks the airplay, the spins, the views, that somehow cycles back to the musicians themselves. But who knows when that will happen.
In the meantime, the Ambassador is going to have to find another way to make a living that permits me to still be able to make music at the same time. It won’t be easy. The trick with being a musician is that every cent you make from whatever it is you do you want to take all that money and put it back into recording and production and marketing more music. So one needs a job that pays you twice as much as you need to live. Either that or you starve as you spend every cent you make from your job on making music. I did that all through my teens and twenties. As everyone already knows. You get used to living without a car or a phone or electricity or even food. Your teeth fall out one by one because you can’t afford to go to doctors or dentists. But you’re making music. You’re fulfilling your life’s purpose. You’re happy. You have fans who love what you do and it makes you happy thinking about how your music makes them happy.
But things are different now. And I know it. I finally took the big leap I had both dreaded and wished for my entire life. I got married. I have a wife that I love. I have step daughters that I love. We’ve been trying to have children of our own for years. Eventually we’ll achieve that goal, either naturally or through adoption (which I have started to see only recently is a very cool thing). And children are expensive. I have to stop trying to change the music industry to go back to the way it used to be. I also have to stop living in denial. I either need a HUGE break, as in times past, one that propels me to a place where a backflip into poverty once more could never happen again; or I have to invent or devise or discover some new way to make a fortune from continuing to make music for a living.
Or i need to choose another way entirely to support myself and the family. I’ve been meditating and praying about it incessantly. And miraculously money has been flying in from all over the place. Loads of it. So as we gratefully and graciously have been able to pay the bills as of late all of a sudden, I’ve been scrambling to try to figure out what the hell I’m going to do. Perhaps that big break will come. Perhaps it won’t. Maybe the industry will change and musicians will begin to get compensated commensurate with how much their music is enjoyed. But until then… I cannot help but feel that somewhere around the bend is this silver lining. There always is. Perhaps this waking up and recognizing how the music business really is now was a good thing, even though it felt like a bad thing. Perhaps it’s one step closer. I hope so.
Two major events happened in American history yesterday. Tuesday November 6th, 2012 saw the official release to the public of the new Ed Hale and the Transcendence album The Great Mistake, one of the tastiest catchiest collections of garage-pop and celebration-rock of all time… and one other thing which for some reason escapes me at the moment…. Gosh what was it…? Hhhhmmm… Oh yeah, that’s right… the United States held another General Election, which among other things voted to keep President Barack Obama in the White House for another four years. Some would call that a great mistake. Though in the circles that our little awesome team runs in, both here at home and abroad, this outcome was not only expected but met with joyous enthusiasm.
It is hard to imagine what last night’s victory speech would have looked, sounded and felt like had it been Mitt Romney standing up there speaking rather than His Holiness, the Great Professor, the Stoic One, the Staunch Leader with the Backbone of Steel, President Barack Obama. Though there were little rural counties all over the electoral map of this great country that bled bright red after voting Republican, nearly all major metropolitan areas and big cities stayed true blue and voted to keep the Rational Voice of Reason in his coveted Oval Office chair for another term. As usual his victory speech was a spectacle to behold, not only in terms of the sheer number of people who crowded together all over the world to listen to his words with rapt attention in more community environments rather than at home alone, but also because of the way he speaks, his graceful, near effortless and powerful oratory skills, but most of all to hear the content of his combination of words and to listen to what he had to say.
Not since F.D.R., Kennedy or Reagan has a U.S. President held a people as captivated or spellbound as Obama. The honor is well deserved. One is struck inside by a sincere feeling that he genuinely means every word he says. In the twelve months of campaigning leading up to his re-election, President Obama didn’t shift his stated policies or platforms as many are opt to do in presidential elections in order to grab more independent voters or swing states. He didn’t flip flop. He didn’t swing Right or sway more Left. Love him or hate him, he stayed himself. And that kind of sincerity and genuine backbone is a rare commodity in modern American politics. Especially among presidential candidates.
One could argue that it was one of the many things that guaranteed Obama the re-election. Especially when considering the actions of his opponent. A man by the time this is read will probably be largely forgotten as most losing presidential candidates are — they don’t die, they just fade away into a hazy oblivion, but also a man who shocked the American people and indeed many people all over the world as being so flimsy and shady in his beliefs and viewpoints that even right up to the night of the election most people still did not feel that they really knew or understood who he was or what he stood for. His name was Mitt Romney. And last night’s election was as much a referendum to rid our soil of his type as it was to re-elect the current president.
Social Media was abuzz for the last twelve hours from people of all ages, races, nationalities, social classes and creeds excited that once again the majority of America elected a rational voice of reason rather than one of fear and bigotry. Last night I Tweeted that the results of the election were more of a mandate against racism, religious isolationism and radical extremism than pro-Barack Obama. Never before in our lifetime have we seen a political party, as evidenced by the Republican Primaries earlier this year, so antiquated, so backward, so old fashioned, and so extreme in their beliefs. At one point in the Republican Primary debates when the subject of capital punishment came up, the audience in attendance erupted into applause. During another occasion, this strange robotic Tinman-like figure called Romney declared that in order to solve America’s illegal immigrant problem he would hope and encourage illegal immigrants of all ages to “self deport” themselves. Though no one was quite sure what the hell he meant by it, on the night of the election, Republican Strategist Ana Navarro stated “Mitt Romney self deported himself right out of this election!”
And so it was with Latinos, who voted against Mitt Romney by a sweeping 76 to 23%; so too it was with women, gay people, Jewish people, Muslim people, non-religious people, college educated persons, young people, African Americans, and anyone the least bit worldly, cosmopolitan, free thinking or progressively minded. The Republican party of today is singularly minded: they are white and Christian. No longer concerned for personal freedom and liberty, as in the golden days of true Jeffersonian Republicanism, they want to ban and regulate women’s rights to reproductive health and everyone’s right to marriage and family, i.e. as long as you are one man and one woman you can get married and have a family; if not, then you’re shit out of luck because they want to stop you through governmental regulation and constitutional amendments. That isn’t Republicanism. It’s a strange breed of antiquated Puritanical Christian values from the 1500s and wealthy white men who couldn’t care less what country they’re fucking with as long as they’re passing laws that make them wealthier.
It’s ironic when looking at the electoral college map in regards to who votes blue and who votes red that the same people who were against a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery one-hundred and fifty years ago feels perfectly content to pass one to ban equal rights for same sex couples. True democratic progress in America seems to always come from the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast, from the big cities rather than the rural suburbs.
I was besieged with Tweets, DMs and Facebook Messages last night from friends who felt great relief that we wouldn’t be forced to endure four years of yet another numb-skulled Republican White House administration as we did during the Bush years, some of the most disturbing in all of American history. One friend from Florida wrote, “Tonight was a great win for all us women who came out of those binders to stick up for our equal pay and equal rights under the law. The Republican party today is a joke IMO and cannot be taken seriously.” Her sentiment seemed to echo most of my generation and the generations below it and above it, entertainers, artists, athletes, public figures, celebrities as well as regular folk; literally anyone with a brain it would seem. Or a heart.
I wrote back simply, “I couldn’t agree more K. So many people keep saying it. But even this morning Laura Ingram on Fox declared that “the Republicans do not need to become more moderate in order to win.” I’d cynically agree with her. They don’t need to become more moderate to “win”. They need to become more moderate to even be relevant. If this election was anything (and it was; a BIG thing on many counts) it was a referendum on how out of touch the Republican party is with the majority of average everyday Americans on social issues. The day after the election a Romney Adviser told CNN that “we really thought that we were going to win this race,” a statement which if really true goes to show just how out of touch the Republican party is today with the American people. There wasn’t an intelligent observer alive in America who had called the election to go to Mitt Romney. From objective journalists to third-party pollsters to Las Vegas bookies, all odds were for another landslide victory for President Obama. Which is exactly what happened.
“The Repub party of our youth used to be all about personal freedom and liberty and fiscal conservatism, not trying to control every aspect of our lives like this new breed is recommending. It’s flat out frightening. (the re-election of Michelle Bachman (yes it’s true) is a perfect example of how scared rational thinking people should be.) Their mandate should be “fix the economy and stay out of our homes and personal lives.” As it used to be.”
In an environment when States are now voting to approve the legalization of marijuana and four states approved laws legalizing same sex marriage in one night, you simply can’t be more out of touch than the current crop of Republicans. Their platform is so damn confusing that it is impossible to understand the mindset of the people who claim to be registered Republicans. One guesses that a good majority of them were born and raised that way and are simply spewing the same limited government (except when it benefits themselves) and bigoted rhetoric that they grew up hearing from their parents. Whereas the democratic party seems to be precisely the opposite: a cornucopia of a wide range of people who have flocked to the Democratic party from a wide variety of different viewpoints and parties because to be Democrat now means moderation, logic, compassion and tolerance.
But what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. Both parties need to get something: this is not about your party winning or losing. It’s about serving the American people and their stated interests and desires. Political elections may appear from the outside to be run like competitive sport; but no one should be so short sighted as to believe that at their core that’s what politics is. It isn’t sport. It’s service. Over the last eighteen months the American people were bombarded from every side by this theme of competition, as if the election were more about “whose side is the best or most popular”, rather than what it really was about: which party — out of at least six — are most prepared to meet the needs of the people. (This is a topic that is so important that it should be saved for another day and its own entry. But at the core of the subject is the suffocating stranglehold the two-party system has on American politics and how they have slowly fooled the American populace into believing that they are participating in some kind of public championship in professional sports, choosing sides, picking winners and losers, going to rallies and fundraisers… All may be significant aspects of democratic politics during campaigns, but that’s where the competitive mentality should end. Once elected, politicians should remember that what they really are are public servants, not winning horses at the Kentucky Derby. The rallying cries, campaign slogans, chest pounding and victory marches should stop; and the business of getting on to the business of serving the American people should begin.
There is a feeling of dire urgency in the air in America right now. Even among all the happy feet and happier faces, most are well aware that there are grave dilemmas facing the president, the senate and congress in their next term. Gridlock is a term that is brought up repeatedly in the media, both before and since the election. One way that all parties concerned can avoid this treacherous outcome would be to truly reach across the aisle in old fashioned Senator McCain style and start compromising to create solutions to the many problems that are facing us as a nation.
We have no guarantee that President Obama has any intention of doing this, even though he announced he did during his victory speech. One way he could surely show good faith in this direction would be to invite former Governor Mitt Romney to accept a cabinet position in his new administration. Not that Romney would accept such an invitation. But if he were serious about his assertions that he would work hard to reach across the aisle in the campaign promises of the last thirty days of his election bid, then he would at least consider it. Not only would it inspire many of his fellow Republicans who allegedly backed his bid for president, one guesses that the whole country –especially the economically anemic Obama administration– would most likely benefit from it. Be it Secretary of Commerce or Trade or even an entirely new position especially created for him, anything having to do with business and finance could probably benefit from Romney’s successful career as a private sector businessman. It would also make one hell of a statement to a very divided American people, that compromise is not a dirty word and that working together is just about the most American thing we can all do right now. Whether or not this will or even could ever happen is yet to be seen. But it should at least be considered. The fear of Romney’s political party’s draconian stance on social issues would be squashed, and the Obama-Biden White House may just learn a thing or two about how to grow an economy.