Monday, April 13, 2015

For the Record

I'm breaking a cardinal rule in the stay-with-me-me-me world of webpage design and blogging.  Traditionally, we're not supposed to send anyone to another site for citation purposes or other corroborative reasons until they’re hooked into my narrative.  Screw that!  If you don't click on the link below for fear of symptomatic adult attention deficit disorder, you'll miss the revelation that thousands are not only buying vinyl records, but paying a king’s ransom for pristine old plastic. Check this out:

The Vinyl vs. CD Thing is Making a Comeback!

Huh?  Yep.  Here it comes; the olde “because vinyl just sounds better” audiophile pontification.  I’m willing to bet half of those types don’t have a clue about dynamic range, harmonic distortion, compression, coloration, frequency response, crosstalk, signal-to-noise ratios, or half a dozen other analog/digital sound measurements that greatly affect the quality of what’s penetrating their ear canals.  Add a little EQ warmth to a CD, hand them a glass of aerated Sutter Home, and behold the spectacle of suggestive psychology.  Not all are so easily fooled, however.  There must also be also tone arm, needle (er, stylus) and large platter involved, but not just any; it must be the very best their money can buy!  These are the folks that will happily pay a small fortune for their precious because somewhere, someone told them that a plastic record cannot be beaten—ever.  It doesn’t matter you see; to them, vinyl just sounds better.  But does it?  Well, naturally, that’s a highly subjective question with enough pitfalls to trap most listeners, with exceptions for the most erudite engineers and discerning audiophiles.  Not much different from wine tasting, actually.  Perhaps a little education might help?  First and foremost, with few exceptions, nearly all popular music has been recorded and mastered digitally since the early 1990s, so there goes ye analogness.  Other comparisons almost always involve Compact Discs manufactured and mastered in the 1980s, and those recordings were purposely mastered with increased dynamic range in the high and low frequencies to showcase the new technology.  Look, no scratching, popping or skipping—turn it up! 

Owner of a Lonely Heart

Hmmm…  There’s a bit more to the vinyl experience than just the sound of it, methinks.

Listening Style?  Properly listening to a record takes a certain discipline and time commitment.  It means you must remove a large plastic disc out of a thin paper or plastic sleeve in such a delicate manner as not to break or scratch it.  They are quite fragile in that regard.  They must then be placed upon a platter, cleaned of any lint and/or dust, and rotated at an exact revolutions per minute (RPM) for the disk’s size.  Next, the listener must play Operation by moving a tone arm and needle to the desired track and lowering it—again without damaging anything, which is quite easy if you’re careless, distracted or intoxicated.  Thus begins your listening experience, assuming you already own a fine audiophile amplification system worthy of the medium.  Time to relax for the next 20-25 minutes.  Grab a snifter full of XO cognac, enjoy the large format cover art, read the album’s sleeve, or make love—quickly.  You see, it takes a certain commitment to listening to a record, and because of that commitment, there includes an intrinsic value to the listening experience.  That is, until it pops, crackles or skips entirely from excessive volume or lint buildup, and that can be, um, deflating.

Enter the mighty Compact Disc.  No such hassles, and mostly flawless playbacks for decades.  You can celebrate the newfound sheen in the higher frequencies too.  Other advantages?  Full length previewing without having to flip sides, and the capability for more content.  We get up to 80 minutes instead of 45, and that means potentially more songs and more royalties for the artists.  More uninterrupted time in the sack, too.  But, the art is smaller, less significant, and less enjoyed.  Shameful!  And, the sonic quality of a CD is, in fact, not quite on par with its analog mother.  It’s great, of course, but not perfect enough for those discerning sermonistas—the audiophiles.

Certainly, there have been other robust formats in the last 20 years.  High sample rate DVD audio and Super Audio CD never really caught on even though they're sonically superior and faithful to the studio recordings.  The latest recordings have even higher rates (perceptibly unnecessary) and nobody seems to care or notice—recording engineers excepted, of course.  (see article, "Is SACD Doomed" - 50% can't tell a difference and aren't worried about it) What a pity!  Well, maybe not.  If the return of vinyl records is the catalyst for a few folks returning to the obsessive appreciation of an album—its music, its fidelity, the fantastic artwork and the story of it all—I’m fully onboard.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  As a coincidence (being that this article was actually written last week), this piece of news just hit this morning:  UK's first official vinyl chart launched as sales rise

Another expanded: Vinyl charts launched in UK

Copy This, Change That, and...

“It’s a derivative, that’s all.”  That was an expression I read last month from a recording star trying to describe the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit.  Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were in court for plagiarizing Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” and his lesser-known “After the Dance.”  The jury deliberated two days and concluded yes, they ripped them off, now pay $7.4M smackers.  Ouch!  Wait, ouch?  There is the possibility that the court’s fine might have been less than a share of the overall royalties earned, but that’s doubtful considering future earnings.  It’s a great party number that’s still quite popular, but that’s not the real story here.  What it and a few other memorable copyright judgments mean is that the flattening of original compositions is apparently escalating.  The music industry has long suffered from the disease of clone degeneration under the guise of carefully distilled popular elements.  Almost everything you hear these days sounds like something else you’ve heard before, or at least contains an element derived from a previous hit.  A lick, a chop, a sample, a twist, a beat, a sound.  Viola!  It’s a bit more complicated than that, however.  Just because it’s possible to sing one song over the melody of another doesn’t quite make a solid litigation.  It’s usually either a case of blatant plagiarism or a combination of enough similar elements to conclude a theft.

So what exactly did Pharell and Robin steal from Marvin Gaye’s song?  Lyrics?  Melody?  Nope.  The Gaye’s argued that Blurred Lines copied the feel and/or the sound of Got to Give it Up.  That’s a tad ambiguous, frankly.  The similar elements were actually the cowbell pattern, the tone and pattern of the bass, and the drum beat—to a degree.  It was enough to evoke comparisons from anyone familiar with Marvin Gaye’s hit.  Wait, doesn’t this happen all the time?  Absolutely.  I will get into some well-known cases below, but the main difference with the Williams-Thicke v Gaye case is Robin’s recorded interview stating he tapped Marvin Gaye’s "Got to Give It Up" for "Blurred Lines"—an admission he later recanted.  You can get the whole pre-trial story HERE. 

“But I was high at the time!”

About those other cases and/or highly debated instances:  Here are a few you might remember, presented in no particular order.  You be the judge.

·    Coldplay: “Clocks” vs. U2: (pretty much everything)
·    Gotye:  “Somebody That I Used To Know” vs.  Who do ya think?

Others might be the Cars’ “Bye Bye Love vs. The Who’s “Can’t Explain” and “Ghostbusters” to Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug.”

Seriously, this could go on for weeks.  If you’re morbidly curious and want an extensive list of lawsuits, click HERE—knock yourself out.  And let’s eschew Country performers and their lyrical revolving doors, shall we?  Okay, well there's this nugget:  It's complete hearsay and would never stand in court, but my clue-in came decades ago at a small musical instrument store located in a suburban southern town.  One of the clerks said he had a good friend working at Capitol Records in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.  Sometime in the early 1990s, Billy Ray Cyrus reportedly walked in the door to the computer lab, handed this guy a sheet of lyrics and said, “Here, match that up with the melody for ‘I Walk the Line’” (Johnny Cash).  Really?  That hurt.  Whether it was true or not didn’t matter.  I fathomed it was a plausible anecdote given the commercial nature of the performer.  It’s the music business, and a wise chap once (actually several times) reminded me, “There are only 12 notes.”

A right way to do it, a wrong way to do it, and getting away with it.

Sam Smith did the right thing by cutting Tom Petty in on the royalties.  Petty wouldn’t back down from that. Free paycheck?  Hell yeah!  Vanilla Ice also coughed it up after admitting, denying, then admitting he sampled the bass line (and changing one note) to Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure".  Conversely, Pharell maintains that “Blurred Lines” is a completely original composition.  Tisk!  We all know better.  Ah, but then there’s the getting-away-with-it types.

Skip to 1981.  Billy Squire ripped Led Zeppelin’s sound entirely, and that has all the appearances of an economic proposition.  John Bonham died the year before and that was the end of Zeppelin as such, yet the demand for their music—their sound—remained the same.  (yeah, I went there again).  Econ 101.  No surprise a fantastic Reinhold Mack-produced album chock full of thoughtfully conceived songs with a very Zeppelin sounding rhythm section—most notably the blatant Xeroxing of John Bonham’s drum sound—arrived just a year later.  Not to take away from Squire’s achievement in songwriting; the album’s a choice rocker!  Thing is, it will always be remembered for the Zeppelin similarity. 

This is what it boils down to for me:

You must ask yourselves: Which are accidentally influenced similarities and which are carefully-concerted derivative efforts?  In the case of the former, that’s fine.  Either give credit where it’s due or toss it in the can.  In the case of the latter, there’s a place for you in Antonio Salieri’s record collection.

Writing Update!

Still writing, of course.  In fact, I might have accomplished more if I weren’t spilling enk on blogs and social media.  Ah, but things on me mind…  The follow-up to DUST is developing nicely.  No release date yet, but I am working on it. 

And more friendly nonsense:

Enjoyed last week’s interview aboard THE Multimedia Ninja’s remote studio, Jacie Sails—a 37ft. sailing yatch tethered somewhere off St. Petersburg, Florida.  That was quite an experience!  Never a better place for a refreshing gin and tonic with excellent company.  Ahhh...

More Soon!


Monday, April 6, 2015

The Multimedia Ninja Strikes!


Well (say it like Reagan), it had to happen sometime.  An author interview!  How'd I do?  Check it out:

The Multimedia Ninja - #18 T. Nelson Taylor
Click the image, nice person whom I deeply appreciate.

Oh man, I totally blew a few questions last night. In a word, DISJOINTED. Okay, it wasn’t quite that horrible. Such as it is in unscripted free-form conversation with a dear old friend, band mate, and media colleague—THE Multimedia Ninja—Bradford Rogers (you have to put emphasis on the THE). My memory doesn’t quite serve well enough to recall it as my first broadcast interview, but that says more about my memory than the facts! Oh well, another fleeting moment passes; now to address those lingering regrets.

Favorite authors?

Mentioned were Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, Joseph Wambaugh, and C. Wright Mills. I meant to cite Mills for just the one book, The Power Elite, not so much for the actual writing. In that moment, I forgot Isaac Asimov (but how?), Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Louis L’Amour, Larry Niven, Terry Pratchett, John Grisham, and…oh; there I go naming everybody. Then there are the screenwriters…

Favorite drummers?

God in heaven above (fingernails on chalkboard moment), how could I broach that question without mentioning John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Rod Morganstein, Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Buddy Rich, Gary Husband, Terry Bozzio, Jeff Sipe, Tony Williams, Bernard Purdie, Manu Katche, Dave Garibaldi, Mitch Mitchell, and about 50 others I’ll never remember in full at a moment’s notice. Forgive me! But yes, Dom Famularo, Vinnie Colaiuta and Mr. Peart are certainly in my Top 10.

Favorite lenses?

I’ll stand by that 50mm f/1.2 Canon L lens all day long; mostly for portraiture and low light work. I also love the 10-22mm EF-S for architecture and outdoor spaces. Should have also mentioned the 600mm Sports Illustrated standard, and Tamron’s uber-handy 18-270mm tele for documentation. (I understand they have a 16-300mm now. Sweet!).

Android or iPhone?

Android. Currently, that’s a Samsung Galaxy S4. One thing, however; no mention or Mac or PC? WHUUUUTTTT? All simply tools to me, but since I spend the bulk of my time in MS Word, it’s PC and Windows. I should also mention how much I loathe Windows 8.1. Worse than WinME! So now we get W10 for free? Fingers’ crossed. Prayers sent. Incantations mumbled over bubbling cauldron. The only comment I have for Mac and OS(never goes to 11)X: to my observation, the whole “it just works” maxim is a complete myth. Just ask Neil Giraldo (Pat Benatar’s guitarist husband) about crashing sequences during a show! Thing is, Windows’ BSOD forever haunts. Are we not geeks, though? Why no mention of Linux or Chrome? Simple—it’s their relevant software catalog. Or did I mean irrelevant? Hmmmm… for me, for now.

Dealing with thousands of manuscripts…

Oh yeah, a synaptic interlude that happens in free range dialogue. Brain Fart? However you wish to label it. I spoke of publishers dealing with manuscript overload. Their solution was to gauge potential output and risk by publishing the famous, newsworthy, or controversial—anyone with built-in sales. The downside is that millions of query letters are instantly disqualified based on that paradigm. Many of those might have contained bestselling stories. No solution? The free market is providing one—sort of—in that writers may decently publish their own works. If they build enough sales, the sharks will smell it. I also meant to relay another interesting Chinese company’s solution for being inundated with tens of thousands of résumés for each job opening. L’Oreal is on to something huge, killing the traditional curriculum vitae for, well, you’d probably need to read it for yourself. I love it! Now if only publishers had something similar. Not everyone can successfully publish their own books. The rest appear to require major assistance. Sounds like a business opportunity for someone…

Ahh… that feels better.

HUGE THANKS to THE Multimedia Ninja, Bradford Rogers, for having me on. Great experience and superb location.  Yeah, I'd do it again...but AFTER the gin and tonics.

More Soon,  (apologies to David Cantrell for stealing his More Soon tag.  Please don't hire the Marvin Gaye family's lawyer!)


T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita