2009-12-31

Resolutions or Goals


So here they are in no particular order.  The musical things I plan on accomplishing in 2010.

  1. Continue learning to use what I have better.
  2. Continue working on my not-so-fabulous guitar chops.
  3. Do another RPM Challenge album and make it better than last year's effort.
  4. Play a proper live gig.
  5. Find a (semi)local collaborator.
On that last one...  it's like looking for a lover in a way.  You have ideas about what you're looking for and those ideas may have little relationship with what would be good or would work.  So here's what could be my craigslist ad:
Me:  Hobbyist computer music geek interested in all kinds of electronic music but particularly interested in mellower hybrid forms combining electronic and traditional instruments.  I play bass, guitar, keyboards and flute with nothing that could be confused with expert ability.  I'm reasonably handy with music theory and recording tech.  I'm a Mac guy and use Ableton Live and Logic Studio.  I have no aspirations to fame, fortune, record deals, etc.  I do this because I like it.
You:  Live in the greater Toronto area (biased to the west).  Are interested in experimenting and not that interested in sounding like anyone else (or doing covers, etc).
So if you're tired of the sight of your own navel, drop me a line at mmi@alonetone.com
This public stating of goals is weird.  I have had a lifelong superstition about doing it (the thinking being that if I talk about something, I'll jinx it and it won't happen).  But we all know that's bullshit, right?

So here's hoping that your 2010 will be as wonderful as mine.

Happy New Year.

2009-12-28

Year in Review

It's that time of year when those inclined to make resolutions start to think about what they might be.  Since I actually made resolutions last year, I think it might be better to first have a look at how I did...

  • learn an instrument
In January 2009, I started taking guitar lessons for the first time in my life and I'm happy to report I am still at it.  I bought the first guitar (after borrowing my son's for the first few lessons) and was told it would not be my last.  I didn't know it then but they were right.

I am a bit of a weird student.  Most kids come in wanting to learn to play insert favourite song here.  As somebody already making and recording music, I wanted more theory.  And my instructors have been happy to oblige.  So my playing is still on the crap side (though, that's probably true of anybody with only 1 year under belt).

Recording the guitar has posed new challenges.  I wrestle with latency in my recording setup.  Composition takes longer while I fart around developing guitar parts and practicing them to the point where I can get a passable take.  And it's exposed me to the bugaboo of computer recording which is latency.  Something about my setup is crap.  When I figure it out, I'll be a happy man.

Another challenge is remembering things outside the computer.  "In the box" artists tweak their virtual knobs and the computer remembers all.  As soon as you leave the box, you have real knobs and you need to note all the settings if you ever need to recreate sounds.  And without MIDI, you need to remember chords, voicings, etc and write them down somewhere.  Pickup switch, tone settings, etc.  There is a lot you get to take for granted when everything is a virtual parameter.  Of course, being extremely fastidious can interfere with creativity so some sensible balance is something that I'm in constant search of.

Finally, a guitar is just the beginning.  And I ended up buying some toys.  Some affordable (e-bow) and some less so (GT-10).  And then, about a week ago, I bought my second guitar.  I'm in love all over again.  More and different sounds.  Bigsby.  Now learning new playing tricks.  And I'm tempted to start recording the acoustic sounds alongside the electric sounds...
  • learn to better use the things I have
To some extent I did that.  I did take an Ableton course and I bought the fabulous sound design videos from Nick's Tutorials.  The primary intent behind this resolution was to not buy/covet new gear before more fully figuring out how to use the stuff I already had.  I failed.  Flashy software upgrades happened. New plugins happened.  Max 4 Live happened.  My cup floweth over.

Resolutions and goals for next year?  Stay tuned.

2009-12-19

I Never Win Anything


We've all said it.  We all have friends that have said it.  And for me, just days after my birthday it became a lie.  w00t!  Over at the Mac OS X Audio forums there was a giveaway of String Studio VS-1 from Applied Acoustics and I was one of the lucky winners.
Now as an owner of Ableton Live Suite I already have Tension instrument (which is a joint development between Ableton and Applied Acoustics) so I sort of knew what I was in for.  But there are some extras.

If you like presets, this thing came with many hundreds of presets (way more than in my Live library).  Say what you want about presets, I find them useful tools in learning what is possible with a software instrument.

Additionally, it has built in effects.  Live instruments are typically very dry because the intent is that you feed into audio processing modules that you've set up (which is very cool).  However, as a beginner in the world of sound design, it's often easier for me to alter a fully fleshed out sound than it is to build one up.

There is also a built in arpeggiator that is different from the Live arp which is good (I'm not a huge fan of the Live arp [perhaps I'm just not smart enough]).  I don't fully understand it yet but it seems to be a combination of an arp with step sequencer which makes for some coolness.

Finally, as a friend pointed out, I'll be able to use this in Logic which is a criminally underused tool in my box.  (That is if I ever get to the point where it works properly for me -- the Logic 9 + Snow Leopard combination is having "issues" but that's a separate rant).

So thank you to Eric Thibeault who held the giveaway and to sandbags who poked me to enter.

2009-11-30

Geo-blocking Bullshit


I am a fan of the band Animal Collective.  Today, (for the nth time) I looked up their latest album on emusic.com and got this:
We're sorry. This album is unavailable for download in your country (Canada) at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
I've complained directly about this before.  Once to an artist.  They didn't respond.  Another  sent to emusic who were kind enough to send this corporate bullshit speak:
eMusic shares in your frustration with the inability of international customers to access all of the content offered on our site.   Many labels sign geographic-based distribution deals that limit worldwide distribution of a particular album.  That is the reason that some albums are available worldwide while others are limited to certain geographic regions.
So to whoever is responsible for this sorry state of affairs.  You are retarded.

I suppose I could get off my ass and buy the CD in a store.  Not likely.  Turns out there aren't that many stores that have interesting CDs in them anymore.  The cool ones that do are in the city getting to them is a full-on event.  I could buy from iTunes.  Not.  Won't on principle.  Between DRM and their pricing I'm just not interested.  I could torrent/steal it.  Not.  I'm an adult now and I think it's ok to pay for music.

I get 100 tracks per month (subscription) from emusic.  Honestly, I have trouble absorbing them all.  Between working for a living, working on my own stuff, listening to the music of my friends, and commercial music I am practically drowning.

So if you're unwilling to sell me your album, that's just fucking fine.  You will not be missed.

2009-11-24

It's Neu To Me


A couple of years ago I walked into my favourite indie hipster CD shop and as was often the case, something cool was playing. Of course, I had to ask and pretty soon I was the proud owner of a Manual by Appliance. The track that grabbed my ear was Food Music. Didn't think too much about it, just liked it.

Fast forward to earlier this month, when I recently watched a documentary called Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany. I hear this band from the early 70s called Neu! and I'm hooked. One of the tracks the documentarians used was Hallogallo. There's that sound again. And it hits me. This was one of the roots of much of the music I've been listening to since I was a teen! David Bowie (from his Low period), Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, Pere Ubu, Joy Division (the list goes on) have all drunk from this well.

You've probably heard somewhere that rock music has its roots in the blues. But a lot of modern music has no blues. How did that happen? We've been fed this stuff about young punks rejecting the big established acts. As is often true, it's probably not quite that simple. In their attempt to sound neither American nor British, the young German bands of the 70s forged a new sound. And in hindsight, that influence on the rest of "modern rock" seems profound.

So now I'm busily filling this massive gap in my music "education" and wonder about the numerous forces that have kept me ignorant all these years. Probably was just the force between my ears.

2009-11-16

Warning: Extreme Introspection


A lifetime ago, my friends and I would spend time talking heavy. One of the topics, since we were listening to what others might have described as depressing music (Cure, Bauhaus, Smiths), was did you need to be unhappy to create good music.

Well, I can't speak to good music but last week my dog, Bear, died. I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the shock and grief I felt. I and my family were (are still) devastated. For three days, I could not bring myself to touch my guitar.

For me, I now know that unhappiness, in the extreme, kills creativity (apparently not for my daughter who took a number of wonderful photographs).

This weekend, exactly one week almost to the hour when it happened I recorded Grief. I'm not sure it qualifies as good or how it comes across. But I can tell you that I was weeping as I played the last note.

It was cathartic but I remain sad. I also have no desire to play that anymore. Right now I cannot imagine how Clapton could sing about his son night after night.

For the rest of the weekend, I spent as much time as I could wangle hiding out in the Lab making music. Which leads to the conclusion that mid-grade unhappiness seems to be good for creativity.

What about other parts of the emotional landscape?

2009-10-26

SPDIF, Not Completely Useless


Figured out a new trick this weekend. I have a Focusrite Saffire audio interface connected to my computer. (Seems to have been discontinued :-( When I got it I learned that all that 4in/10out stuff around audio interface marketing is a bit misleading. As far as I was concerned I only had 2 ins. I can use XLR or 1/4", I have a line/inst switch, a gain knob and some level LEDs for each of these ins. The third and fourth inputs are SPDIF which is a single RCA style connector and thus completely useless.

Or so I thought.

Later on, I got a Boss GT-10 for mo' better guitar wankery. It has a lot of stuff on it including its own USB audio interface. I tried this out and quickly determined that to my untrained ears it sucked. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about why, I just plugged the analog outs to my Saffire and moved on. Of course I have guesses. One guess is that the GT-10's USB interface presents 16bit/44kHz audio whereas the Saffire is capable of delivering 24bit/96kHz... Another guess is that I just like something that the Saffire preamps are doing. Another guess is that I didn't spend enough time figureing out how to setup the USB stuff to sound good. The final nail in the coffin comes from the way Logic will only deal with a single CoreAudio entity. What that means is if you have an input only device, like a GT-10 and you want outbound sound to go to a Saffire, you need to create an aggregate device (which is a totally cool feature but not without its little problems).

I lived happily in this way for a while until somebody asked me if the GT-10 had a digital out. Dunno, but I looked and surprise it had one... Quick check of the manual, I learn that digital out is actually SPDIF. Hmmm. I wonder if I can free up my analog inputs (so I could hook up a mic or something) by using this SPDIF thing?

Long story short, it works. And it sounds great.

Some minor details did need to be worked out. The Saffire comes with a program called Saffire Control and I needed to enable the SPDIF input. Additionally, the incoming level was a little low. Turns out the GT-10's digital out level is controlled by a configuration in one of the System menus. The main output level knob on the unit only controls the analog output level. This is actually kind of cool since you could, in theory, record the digital signal in addition to mic'ing an amp.

Interesting hobby we have. Lots of shiny toys but like Lego it's up to us to figure out what to do with them.

2009-09-25

Apparently Summer is Over

In my other life as an inline speedskater, another racing season is coming wrapping up which means I'll be able to get back to making music and continuing the journey.

To mark that, I actually did a bit of recording and whipped up this little ditty: Sixes and Sevens.

During the summer, my super cool music school took a break and when things resumed I got a new guitar teacher. He is Geoff Torrn and even though he's got me back into a normal tuning he has managed to continue where Mark left off and my head is full of groovy new bits of theory every week. I must be a weird student, wanting more and more theory but that's how we roll...

In other news, I upgraded to Logic 9. Early days yet but I did a side by side test of Logic's flex stuff and Live's warping and ... the results from Logic sounded better. More on that in a future post.

I've been coveting hollow body guitars. Given infinite money, I'd probably get an ES-355 but I don't have infinite money. So what recommend you? There are some very nice and affordable Gretsch guitars around which are all very sexy beasts... oh the sweet pain. The irrational thing is that I can't even really explain why I want a new guitar. What do you all tell your wives/partners when you get "another" guitar?

Enough rambling... I'll try for more focus next post.

2009-07-27

First We Take Port Credit / Then We Take Berlin

To this point, the journey has been one of relatively private exploration. I can take as long as I want, apply all manner of studio trickery, layer infinitely to build something that I feel is halfway presentable.

This past Sunday, I took a detour. The T-Rox Music Academy (where I started taking guitar lessons a little over 6 months ago) hosts a monthly jam / open-mic for its students. Something came over me and I decided that the time was now to pop my solo performance cherry.

Now I've played bass before publically but that's always with a bunch of other people and invariably somebody else is the centre of attention. This was very very different.

What to play? For that I decided that I could possibly pull off the main picked melody of my track D Is For... I arrived very nervous with gig bag over shoulder. The instructors are playing Bille Jean and generally kicking ass. Oh this is a mistake. But Nick's seen me. He comes over with the clipboard and asks what I'm playing and if I'm ready to go on... Yikes! No I'm not ready. I haven't even decided fully to play! Quick give me a beer. Pretty soon, I'm almost tuned and ready to go. Stall some more. Let somebody else play. They were young but very awesome. Ugh. I'm totally in the wrong place. I'm gonna kill the vibe with my ballad-y crap. Dude, you're up!

Applause, plug in. Awkwardly acknowledge the audience and start. Of course, I had cut the fingernails on my right hand to play a bass part on another track I was working on... my hands are clammy. Finger picking with no finger nails and clammy hands is not good. Focus, keep playing. My left hand is shaking. Breath. The tune is in the form A B A B A C and each section can repeat pretty much indefinitely. This is good because my brain can't count right now. Ok should I start the ending? Yeah, now. Ouch, wrong first note. Rush through the rest; miss the opportunity to save it by playing it right on the repeat, hit the final note too hard and stop. Fuck. Applause. And I'm done. I have another beer and magically my hands are dry and everything is normal again. WTF just happened?

As I'm sitting there, Nick, perhaps seeing my post-coital grin, asks me if I want to go again. Boy do I. But I have nothing ready... and now I wait until next month.



2009-07-26

Art and Art School


In the beginning, I was self-conscious about the music that I made. I even kind of distanced myself from it by playing the various mental games we all play:
This is my first track.

This is a rough mix.

Just got this new fill in the blank and this happened.

Just a little something I cooked in an evening. I have no investment in it so it's totally OK for you not to like it too.
Of course, there's a grain of truth to all of these things but at their root, they represent a kind of emotional shield. Perhaps something to explore another time but this ramble has other places to go.

Over time, I developed some skillz and a touch of hubris. Not quite willing to call myself an artist but being able to imagine a day where I'd be comfortable with the label (as though it's something someone else bestows on you [but that's still another thing]).

That first bout of hubris has been smashed (in a good way) by some very talented friends and it is conversations with these friends about our art that makes me realize that I'm less an artist and more an art student. But that's still not where this ramble is going.

In conversations with friends, we show signs of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), we share videos describing various production techniques, etc and it's in this diamond mine we varyingly feel like we're in a rut. That we're doing things the same way and need to find new toys, etc. Driving around today I had a flash. What if Picasso tossed all his cubist works after the first one? Felt he was in a rut? Didn't want to repeat himself?

Perhaps we audio sculptors should take a cue from visual artists by embracing our "ruts" and exploring everything they have to offer.

Picasso's The Mandolin lifted from this site without permission.

2009-07-10

Listening


On this journey many friends have been made. It is a wonderful thing to be able to share things with people on a similar path that you would otherwise have no hope of actually meeting in person.

Recently one such friend has come to the point on his journey where he has made music that he actually likes listening to. He wondered aloud one day whether or not it was conceited to listen to your own stuff. Interesting question, that. I don't think so and here's why.

I find that music reveals itself to us over repeated listens. Hits are hits partially because they're good but partially because of repeated exposure (be that radio or friends raving). When we make music we automatically get a headstart these listens as a simple byproduct of the creative process. After having got over my own self conscience I too found myself spending a ton of time listening to my own stuff. Partially because I like it and partially I'm listening with an ear to making improvements or learning something. It's obviously difficult to be objective. Perhaps it's not worth examining too closely. But I definitely do not feel conceited.

So sandbags keep on making music; we're all richer for it.

Which brings me to the some of the special people that have done me the honour of listening to my own music enough to have found something worthwhile:

glu, who is a prolific master craftsman of beats
sistersavage, wields a heart melting voice and a wicked wit
kavin, kirklynch and dougsparling, who are part of the forces that got me actually playing guitar instead of just sampling it

(of course there are more but this isn't an Oscar speech). The important thing to take away is that there are a bunch of talented people on Alonetone.com that deserve to be heard (and won't charge you anything).

So with all this listening and recording going on, I am finding that there is increasingly less time to listen to commercial releases. Currently, I'm devoting some time every month (when my eMusic account recharges) to grabbing and listening to new music but it's an effort... Is there a deeper meaning to be extracted? Probably not.

There is an ocean of music and I'm just peeing into it, enjoying the temporary warmth that affords.

CC licensed photo courtesy TomRaven.

2009-07-01

T-Rox Rocks


Recently, my sons played live for the first time. My younger, 11, played a drum solo and my elder, 16, played a Black Sabbath tune with his teacher accompanying on bass. It was part of the twice yearly show that T-Rox Music Academy (where we all take lessons) puts on. This is kind of like a recital, except the students can play pretty much anything they want.

As a parent, obviously I'm totally stoked that my boys did this. It's hard, it's nerve racking, it's work but it's fun. I also admit to feeling all of their anxiety along with them. It was hard for me too. Of course, that didn't prevent some good natured ribbing. On arrival, our young drummer saw no music stand next to the kit and asked where he would put his music. My daughter and I both said, "What?!? You didn't memorize it?"

As a person interested and concerned about music, I'm really pleased too. Anybody that's worried about the future of music need not worry. The kids are learning to rock.

Which brings me to the big thing. Full disclosure time. Way back in the Stone Age, when I was in high school I became friends with a young guitarist who had charm and an infectious smile (which I tried to ignore at the time cause I was too cool). Our experience together, lugging amps for some great players stuck in the wedding/party band circuit gave us a desire to play but with no outlet. Constantly, we were told we had to "pay our dues"...

Unlike myself, Sean continued on the musical path, did a bunch of cool stuff and ultimately became one of the founders of T-Rox. It is he and his team that built this outlet for young musicians to "pay dues" and learn their craft. It is one of those very special things. The depth of which may not be immediately apparent. I, for one, am very grateful.

And yeah, I'm definitely playing in the next show and, more importantly, the boys say they will too.

Photo courtesy of T-Rox.

2009-06-30

Virginity Lost

I, like you, have spent most of my life watching professional musicians make faces while they play. As a teen, I didn't think too much about it because things in my own life were plenty intense and it was all about me anyway. As I got bit older and more cynical I started to wonder how much of the whole thing was an act. Then I read that book... This Is Your Brain On Music. Awesome. Opened my mind to the possibility that some artists are actually feeling something profound.

My own facial expressions while playing have been of intense concentration or grimaces as I've hit wrong notes. What do I expect, I suck. But recently, I had some quiet time so I laid down a 4 chord organ sequence, added a bass, looped the thing and strapped on the guitar to just make some noise.

Over the next couple of hours, I played and I played. At some point I crossed over. My face was a glow. I felt electric. To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, I felt "tingly in my jingly". It was the closest thing to rapture that I have felt in any remotely recent memory. For a full ten minutes after I put the guitar down, I had a stupid post-coital grin on my face. It was almost embarrassing!

It was good. It was scary. I'm not entirely sure about letting go in this way. I want to go back. But I'm afraid. Makes no sense. Makes no sense at all.

CC licensed photo by Heart Industry.

2009-06-29

At Minute Marker 480, Pull Over and Enjoy The View


At the bottom of your iTunes window, you may have noticed the stats. Before I resumed making music, I read somebody's blog where they had finally crossed the one month threshold. They had finally collected enough music, that if played continuously, a month would pass. It's an interesting number (my own collection is now at 10081 items, 34.5 days).

But what's recently surprised me is that my own music (or music that I collaborated on) now represents 104 tracks spanning over 8 hours. Really?!? Holy crap!

If any of it were any good, that would be like 7 CDs. That would have been pretty good career for a successful pop act :-)

If I built this up on hobbyist time, what kind of "extra" music might a pro have? Perhaps their own month of music?

2009-06-08

Grab Bag


Been a while. Won't bore you with the usual excuses and crap. Just dive in with some stuff that's been on my mind.

First up, the fabulous Inside Home Recording podcast. Specifically, episode 71. In it one of the hosts discusses some work that he did using a big band sample library complete with audio examples. His specific topic was funky MIDI control of sample libraries to add a human element. All very interesting but what really caught my ear was the mixing step. Where he went from a flat, sample based arrangement to a professionally mixed big band. Wow. The early taste Dave gives of the arrangement makes me think, wow what a crappy sample library. People pay for this stuff? But he soldiers on and magic happens. Something to be said for get the performance right and worry about the tonal canvas later. But please Dave, a segment on how you mixed that would be really cool.

Second, we all have favourite tunes from our teens. Somehow they imprint on us. I happened to be a teen in the mid 80s and one of the tracks that I've been listening to on and off since then is The Spangle Maker by The Cocteau Twins. This is not their best work but the rawness of the track has always, for me, added that certain je ne sais quois. This weekend, for the first time I actually heard something different in it. With my recording geek / guitar player wannabe ear, I actually was able to pick out the various guitar parts. As separate things, rather than the swirling soup that I always loved. There are two things about this experience that are totally fucking cool to me. For starters, no matter how much I learn about music it is still magic and still touches me deeply. And the other thing is that you can listen to a track for 20 years and find something new in it. How fucking cool is that.

The last bit of news is that I went out and bought a Boss GT-10. Best. Toy. Ever. I've been playing with it for a couple of days now and I've only explored half of the presets. Let alone making my own, or the looping function or connecting it to my computer, recording or any of that. Just like getting a new synth can inspire, I gotta say there's something magic the plethora of guitar sounds that my feet now have access to. More on this amazing device soon.

2009-05-14

What Will They Think


Years from now, when we're all dust and the archaeologists, anthropologists or spacemen are picking through our stuff... what will they find?

This morning, I read my email which included this item from the Lefsetz Letter where Bob enumerates and editorializes on the weekly record sales for the top 40 or so. Now I'm not a top 40 guy but when I was a younger angrier man I at least had heard of all the artists on it. Now not so much. Chrisette Michelle? Who? My story only I makes Bob's point. Of course, willful ignorance is the worst kind so I consult the Oracle of Google and watch this. Wasn't missing much. Next.

Later, I see a tweet from Peter Kirn of CreateDigitalMusic pointing me at another youtube video. A cover of Fleet Foxes' Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Wow, what voices and harmonies. Who are they, well they're First Aid Kit out of Sweden. According to their myspace page they sound like what Gary Numan would if he did folk music! Brilliant.

Of course, I hadn't heard of Fleet Foxes either, so I clicked on one of the related videos and saw this beauty.

And it hit me, like it has many many times before, that there's a ton of music out there. You could spend 30 minutes a day exploring things you never heard of everyday for the rest of your life and not scrape the surface.

So what will they think when they start digging through all this?

For us? We do live in interesting times and it fucking rocks.

CC licensed photo spaceman2 by The Untrained Eye

2009-04-30

Silly Rabbit, Picks Are For Kids

I have had in my possession for a whole three days now a thing of wonder. Now that I'm playing guitar (or attempting to) and I find myself looking hither and yon for "talent enhancers". I had heard about E-Bows when I was a teen but never seen one so it seemed perfectly logical that I should buy one on impulse.

Now the sales guy warned me in a heavy southern drawl, "now when you first use an E-Bow, you're gonna suck!" Strange both in the directness and that here in the Toronto area we don't hear drawls like that. I was taken aback but I bravely plowed on and said, "well I make experimental music so it's ok if I suck."

Once I bought my new treasure home, the Southern Man turned out to have hit the nail on the head. I did suck. Was it broken? Did I need a new battery already? Should I take it back? You mean I need to read the instructions? You mean I might need to listen to the included CD with a players guide? The buyers remorse lasted a good 15-30 minutes.

Somewhat fortuitous for me, sandbags had recently posted Rytme Shifter 1 which seemed perfect to E-Bow along with. Soon enough things were getting completely out of hand. I felt like Fripp! Perhaps I should have recorded all that but I didn't. Instead I played and played late into the night...



The next morning, I woke up and decided it was time to record and in a much mellower mood, I came up with this:



Of course, the training wheels are off now and I'm working on the next track and all thoughts of taking the thing back are gone. I even went back to thank Southern Man for his warning.

2009-04-11

Disaster

Good Friday my ass. My MacBook video died just like a certain religious figure.

This means no music beyond what's already on my iPod. No guitar (why have an amp when you can have a computer that fails).

Good thing I have other things like this iPod Touch that offer a backup connection to the world and my data.

But let's explore this a little shall we? In this digital age (for lack of some other pretentious label) are very dependant on machines costing a big chunk of our change. We are all told about backing up our data but what happens when the machine dies? Some people point at the cloud and say that's the future. Maybe. But right now could you replace your main machine on a moments notice?

For me, this has ceased to be a hypothetical question. This is the second major failure on a holiday weekend (you may have read about my drive failure) and it has me thinking. No big ideas, just thinking and fuming.

This time I got very lucky. My local Apple store has a new motherboard in stock and I bought AppleCare so it shouldn't cost me any $$ right? Almost. Apple has this extortion racket called ProCare. For another $99 per year you can get expidited service. Or you can wait longer for them to get around to it. Obviously I paid the ransom but I feel like I've negotiated with Somali pirates.

Now I sit outside the store waiting for my Precious... Hope it's ok.

Edit:

So the above was from my iPod Touch. This is from my (newly repaired) Precious. Driving home from the Apple store I thought that I was perhaps unfair. Yes it's expensive. Yes it's unfair. But how many other computer companies will repair your gear same day for any price? This is not my first time dealing with the store as well.

My wife's Macbook logic board was replaced.
My son's ipod touch was replaced.
My harddrive was replaced.
My logic board was replaced.

I know from experience that failures with other manufacturers gear involves me taking shit apart and replacing parts myself. Mother/logic boards would be pretty much impossible too.

So all in all, I'm $99 poorer but infinitely happier.

2009-04-09

Help! I've Been Kidnapped By My Guitar

My guitar lesson count is now at lucky number 13.

I've been swallowed whole by this thing. I love playing. I still suck. But I love playing.

I was given the intro to finger picking a couple of lessons ago and I could spend entire days doing that.

So what's wrong? Well nothing except that I'm not spending as much time recording as I might. And even when I do, I lay out a track pull out the guitar and start jamming with the track. And jamming. And jamming. And jamming. Without the record button on (cause I still sound way better in my head than the reality).

I've grown my fingernails a little longer on my right hand. I've established a relationship with a nail file and it still feels weird to type (hitting the . key with my nail instead of my fingertip, for example).

The other thing it has me wanting is foot pedals. Mouse clicking and guitar do not go together. The new looper in Live is awesome but it's not entirely hands free.

And did I tell you my fingers hurt? The callouses are coming along nicely but...

In lesson 13 we started playing with weird chord voicings which led to drop tuning first the 6th string, then the rest of the guitar. And again my head explodes with new possibilities. I think I'm going to be stuck here for a while.

2009-04-05

Live 8 Tip -- EQ + Spectrum


In the Live 8 beta forums there was a bunch of discussion about having some kind of spectrum analyzer built into the EQ plugin. Many other DAWs have this, and the Live 8 beta seemed like a reasonable place to ask for this feature.

It occured to me (and I posted to this effect) that you could get what you wanted by making yourself a rack. Here's how:
  1. Starting with an empty set, drag EQ8 onto an audio track (not a preset).
  2. Right-click and select group (or hit Cmd-G). You now have a rack.
  3. Drag a Spectrum and drop it on the EQ (it'll slot in behind the EQ in the chain).
  4. Click the Macro button, click Map Mode.
  5. Click the Spectrum On/Off button and then click Map under the first knob.
  6. Right click the title of the first knob (or hit Cmd-R) and rename the knob to Spectrum On
  7. Click Map Mode again and you're pretty much done.
Now you can rename the rack (Cmd-R is your friend) to something like EQ+Spectrum and you can drag the rack back into your library (in the Audio Effects Rack section) for use in other sets.

Confessions of an Eno Imitator


Whenever I get new music software the first thing to explore is new presets. With synth sounds, I usually start in an orderly fashion and play around with each sound for at least 30 seconds (sometimes several minutes). At some point there will be crossing point where my interest level wanes and the musical idea I'm currently playing with takes over and I decide to go with it and make a track.

In the new Live 8 library, under Instrument Rack there's a section called Ambient and Evolving. If you like strange and wonderful pads, don't go in there. You may never come out.

No Endorphins For You came from exploring this area. I'm ambivalent about the track but I'm still not at the point in my journey where I'm willing to walk away from tracks that I don't care too deeply about. But that's a topic for another post.

If you're not interested in how the track was made, we're done here. Thanks for stopping by.

Track 1 is the Alien Riches preset. Just me slow arpeggiating a Cmin chord with the occasional Bbmaj thrown in. I just free played for 4 minutes.

Track 2 is the Melonoise preset. I also free play here accompanying myself from the first track.

Track 3 is me and my guitar. I play around with a bunch of ideas for a while and again I record a single long take. It sucks. I started off with GTRSolo, tossed that. Settled on a ridiculous chain that starts with the new Overdrive, Guitar-Rhythm Doubling, Guitar-Guitar Space, Abstract-Synced Phaseverb plus an EQ. All but the EQ started off as a preset but I twisted the knobs until I got something I liked. The guitar was sufficiently chopped up by all this that the quality of my playing was irrelevant.

Next it was time to tame the synth pads. I added some auto filter and auto pans to give them a little more movement and I EQed them so that they fit together better.

Still felt the thing was too abstract and I needed a title so after a couple minutes of thought I came up with the title. Which then led to my use of Vox Machina to capture one of the MacOS voices speaking the title. I put that through some minimal processing (preset male vocal chain plus some reverb).

Mix a little, adjust pan positions a little.

I notice that the tails on the tracks is going to be a problem. By tails I mean the sound that carries on after the recorded material ends. This could be reverb, delay repeats, whatever. The problem is that those things always get cut off when you render your track. Annoying. What I typically do is create an empty MIDI track and place an empty region at the end of the track. Then on the master track I add volume automation to fade out the track. Now when I render, Live renders to the end of the empty midi region which I've lined up with the fade out. This is pretty basic stuff but I put it here in the hope that somebody points out that I'm doing it wrong and offers up a better way.

Another new thing in Live 8 is the limiter and multiband compressor. This has made possible a bunch of new mastering presets. I tossed one of them, shockingly called Mastering Suite, onto the master track liked what I heard and rendered the track.

I wonder what Eno thinks of the ease with which his imitators can explore his sonic ideas.

2009-04-04

Ableton Live 8

As has been reported widely, Ableton released Live 8 this week. I, having become attached, nay hooked, to the beta simply had to upgrade.

The upgrade went swimmingly. During the beta, I left my Live 7 library alone (mainly out of fear). I suspect this was a good thing because the upgrade did it's thing on the Live 7 library without any drama. As it should be.

I was asked by a friend what sold me on the upgrade. I have to admit that while I was able to answer I wasn't fully satisfied so I'll definitely be making a point of exploring all the new toys (and there are more than a few). But the funny thing is that having done my RPM Challenge album on the beta I was pleased that none of the changes got in my way and I was able to work the pretty much the way I always had. As a software developer, I have a pretty good understanding of the need to remain compatible with the past while also wishing that customers would discover all the cool stuff you added...

Anyway, for posterity, here's how I answered the question:
  • price, as a Live 7 Suite owner (having arrived there upgrading from Lite 4 to 6 to 7), the upgrade price was tolerable (there are others that feel the Suite price is too high and I'm inclined to agree)
  • out of the box support for my nanoKontrol (a little thing but made me happy)
  • new instruments and sounds
  • I happen to like the Library organization improvements
  • I love the multiband compressor
  • Looper (admittedly I am nowhere close to knowing how I'll use this but it's very fun)
  • Groove. I hated (read: didn't know what to do with) the old swing thing. Groove grooves. It's huge. I'm quite the n00b with beats and I managed to do something useful with it.
Pretty weak, I know. Much exploring to do.

2009-04-03

Fun With SMS

I an SMS from my daughter this morning. Odd, given that we were both in the same house. I open the message to see:

Goddammit can you bring some toilet paper upstairs?

So there's your pro-tip for the month. Always bring your cell phone to the washroom with you. You just never know.

2009-03-13

Clock: A Simple But Very Big Thing


The start of my guitar education marked the start of me using the input half of my snazzy audio interface (Focusrite Saffire). Prior to that my recordings, with a few exceptions, involved "in the box" sounds. Since I started recording myself playing guitar, I've been having timing problems. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Being old school, I'd just do a new take. Or being new school, I'd done some more modern magic and make corrections. I have read and heard people talk and complain about latency. I just chalked my problems up to latency and my own n00b guitar chops.

Several people I talked to seemed to think what I was experiencing might be a bit much but until today I've been accepting this crappy state of affairs. What changed? Today, I was playing around with a track from sudara and glu on alonetone. I noodled and noodled but every recording I made was way out of time. wtf!

Eventually, a gasket blew and I recorded myself playing quarter notes with a metronome. The recordings were like a 16th note off! Check the audio settings in Live. The reported inbound latency is 9ms (a lot less than a 16th note!) ... What gives? Look lower. On a Mac, lower in the software stack is CoreAudio and the app you use to configure things is called Audio MIDI Setup (pictured above). Here is where you select the default audio ins and outs, their properties, etc. Looking at my settings, I see Clock Source: and mine was set to Device. I change the setting to Mac and magically my guitar playing no longer sounds like a fall down drunk (just tipsy).

So there it is, I'm a dumbass. But maybe my story will save you some grief. Too bad I won't get back the time I spend recording and discarding takes. Argh!

2009-03-06

Thank You

The post RPM recovery has begun in earnest but before I go on to write about other more interesting things (he says, blithely assuming there is an audience for his drivel) please bear with me as I wax sappy.

In my last entry I failed to thank a bunch of people I've never met. Without them, of course, my RPM CD may never have happened.

First are my friends at alonetone.com. It was here that I learned of the challenge on the first place. And there were a few people there that encouraged us all. For me, support came from sudara, sandbags, glu and kavin.

Next are all the people that make the challenge happen. I have no idea who you all are but wow. You're doing something big.

Lastly, I should mention the fine freaks 'n folks on the #rpmchallenge IRC channel. When things were sucking, they were always there with helpful shortcuts and cheats. Awesome.

Thank you, all. For things you don't even know you gave me.

2009-03-01

It Is Done


I have completed the 2009 edition of the RPM Challenge. It was a surprising and rewarding experience that I will almost certainly repeat next year. Some thoughts:

At the beginning, a month seems like a long time. I thought, going in, that I'd be able to whip up a bunch of tracks, discard several, spend some time working on mixes, master the whole thing as a unit, do some cool artwork and so on. The reality is quite different. Real life gets in the way; this challenge happens at the expense of other activities or in the gaps between. The tracks are not as plentiful as I thought. The mixing was rushed. Mastering, well, who are we kidding. Artwork... what a schmuck. People spend lifetimes developing their skills and I think I'm just going to imagine something and produce a quality product on the first or second try. Hah!

Through this challenge I read @imogenheap as she works on her latest and envied her the time she can afford to devote to making each track the best it can be. To try many ideas, only keeping the best. Not feeling the need to finish before bedtime because you don't know when you'll be back.

Enough whining. Fucking hate that shit. There is much to be happy about and thankful for.

Obviously, my family. Who tolerated the odd noises emanating from my lair and the amount of time I spent hiding there.

Gear stuff:
  • Ableton. I managed to join the army of beta testers for Live 8. There are sounds on my CD that are a direct result of new things in Live 8.
  • Oliver Chesler, of Wire To The Ear, had a video showing (Waves) GTR Solo on his site. That inspired me to get GTR Solo (easy since it's free for the first year). This led directly to I Wanna Be Like Trent.
  • my beautiful guitar. Only been with me for a short while. My playing is still weak. But honeymoon is definitely not over.
About the CD. I stole the title from Ian Rankin. In his latest book, Doors Open, there is an artist character Westie:

Westie always thought of the government as “They.”

One of his first portfolio pieces was a manifesto, printed in black against a blood-red backing: They Are Out to Get You/They Know What You Do/They See You as Trouble. At the foot of the sheet, the printing had switched to white-on-red for his coda: But I Am Better Than Them at Art.
For me, "They" is the recording industry establishment and, well, that's a rant for another day.

Incidentally, to the copywrong police or lawyers that stumble upon this, the 5 words I used are the only connection between Rankin's work and me.

The CD is a bit of an eclectic ramble through various things in my life through this past month.

I'm not sure I should do this but what follows are some tidbits about each track. So if you don't want me telling you what the tracks "are about" then stop reading here...



In the second week, I had to fly for work and the week was almost lost (for music). Denver happened on a three hour stop-over in the Denver airport of all places. The noise you hear throughout the track is the real noise of the airport that morning while I sat there. The odds of me capturing that much noise without some kind of page or clear human voices is weird.

While away, I got nothing musical done but on the flight home I couldn't stand it anymore and I broke out the laptop and did Coming Home. I have good headphones. Really good. But they are no match for twin jet engines propelling a tube of aluminum around 500mph. When I got home I listened to my work and hated it. It was some herculean re-arranging, mixing and EQing that saved the track.

Still Breathing is my favourite. It happened quickly and organically. Some simple chords followed by a little guitar jamming. Pretty soon I had all my building blocks. Arrange, mix and post. Given infinite time, I would have spent a ton of time tweaking this track. I'm actually grateful that I did not have the time. No guarantee that I wouldn't have fucked it up. It feels fragile. As though correcting the flaws would break it.

As I wrote above, I Wanna Be Like Trent was inspired by a video showing random drum loops and synths being run through GTR Solo. As soon as I got mine downloaded and installed, I was running all kinds of things through it. Pretty soon (like 30 minutes, crazy) I had this dirgy thing going which was crazy fun... The only thing to do was to add some guitar wankery. Which, you guessed it, used even more GTR Solo.

Spazangles came from a practice session. Every guitar player is given warmup exercises; I was farting around and decided to record a couple patterns. Then I added some keys. Then some bass. Soon enough, I had this little mess on my hands. Without the RPM Challenge, I'm not sure it ever would have seen the light of day.

Happier Times came from me playing with chord inversions on the keyboard. Gmaj7, Bbmaj7, Amin7, Abmaj7 was the first one. I stumbled on one set of voicing that really tickled my brain so obviously had to record them so that I could try other stuff with them. Added some synth bass and felt the need for some thin-ish busy snare pattern drum loops and went on the hunt. Found some that sort of fit but I spent a pile of time editing out the features that didn't work. Then some Mondo Sekrit Effects to add variation and space... That gave me a bed upon which I could wank with my guitar until I went blind. I recorded something like 100 different loops of guitar. The thing was turning into a monster. Sensibly I walked away for a couple days but before doing that I left myself a trail of crumbs so that I could later find the good bits to quilt together into what you hear.

Improv is just that. An improvisation. I was fooling with a synth sound and an arpeggiator. It just lent itself to some free form playing; which I did for a while. That lead me to a basic sequence which I recorded. Then while watching the piano roll of the midi, I played and recorded the guitar parts (doing my best to emulate the great Robin Guthrie).

Nowhere started with me playing with FabFilter's Twin2 (which is great fun). After making a lush, if not pretentious, soundscape it was time to bring up my nascent mad guitar skillz. While developing the track (the term "writing" is all wrong) I found myself stuck, going round and round, basically nowhere. Rather than fix it, I decided to explore that idea and develop it further.

2009-02-20

Free Music?

I have always made my music freely available. There are a handful of reasons for this:
  • it's not very good
  • it's my hobby
  • I have a day job
  • I believe in the ideas enunciated by people like Lawrence Lessig
This is an admittedly naive and idealistic place to be. Occasionally, I play my stuff to my guitar teacher (who is a professional musician). He asks me what I'm doing with the music and is shocked and horrified when I say that I just put it up on the Internetz for anyone to do anything with. "Well, he just doesn't get it," I would think to myself.

Today, I learned of something that challenges all that. A while back I wrote gushingly about Zoe Keating's hauntingly beautiful work. Recently, a snippet was used in an episode of the NPR show All Things Considered. Zoe twittered about this, expressing some concern about the absence of credit. Expecting attribution, for me is a no brainer so fair enough. What struck me, however, was how the music was used. It was used to foreshadow a coming tragedy.

My reaction to this is mixed. On the one hand, as a listener, it was very evocative; exactly what a soundtrack producer is looking for. On the other hand, wearing my artist's empathy hat, I'd be completely creeped out if my music was used in this way. (Yes, you should listen to the story that I'm trying not to spoil; the music in question is played within the first two minutes or so)

Now, Zoe is a professional and operates in that parallel universe that us hobbyists can only dream about and I don't mean to imply that our situations are similar. This story does, however, make me wonder if I'm really ok giving away my music to all comers.

Ask yourself, do you want your music used in another production that is:
  • an instructional video for teen suicide?
  • promotional material for a hate group?
  • Girls Gone Wild XIII?
  • or just not very good?
How strong is your idealism?

2009-02-09

RPM Progress Report

The first nine days of February are pretty much gone and I have three tracks. Still rough and in need of some mixing love but not too bad. Was hoping to have a little more done up front so that I could spent some time towards the end of the month on the polish. Still don't know where I'm going but that's part of the fun...

Good news is that I won't be able to track any guitar this week so things should go faster. The bad news is that I won't be able to track any guitar. My playing still blows but I'm having a blast.

I do have a title for the album, "They See You As Trouble" which I lifted from an Ian Rankin book I recently read... I leave you to meditate on the possible meanings.

2009-02-05

American Idol Is A Scam


The news today that AP is going after an artist for copyright infringement over an image of the new US President came up in an RPM Challenge chat room. Somebody quipped that the average person doesn't know or care about copyright issues and will not until it affects American Idol.

I responded that copyright abuse will never affect American Idol because the show glorifies licensed copying. About 10 seconds later, the full weight of what I said hit me.

Each time somebody sings, butchers, whatever a popular song on American Idol there's a long line of people that get paid. I don't fully understand the business but thanks to some seminars I have attended I now know that there's a byzantine shadow world of publishers, PROs and others that are busily making sure that monies are collected for as many performances as possible. And that includes those annoying Hallmark music cards. Fuck, Desmond Child and Ricky Martin made money when William Hung became a minor celebrity butchering "She Bang".

So that's the scam. In exchange for the promise of stardom, you have people performing music that makes other people money. Music that might be good, might have been popular but no longer sells records.

Fucking evil genius.

Incidentally, I took the above image from Why Idol Auditions Are Packed With Bad Singers, an article that, in trying to answer the question, fails to follow the money.

2009-01-31

Cleaning My Desk


Tomorrow it begins. The RPM Challenge. I'm not overly stressed about it but I'm not calm. I've been getting things in order. Collected some new sounds and plugins. Tonight I might even vacuum...

But I got distracted. My guitar was calling me with those sweet tones. So I played. And played. Occasionally stopping to apply some lube cough I mean press record. Ack, this is cheating! The challenge isn't until tomorrow! Nothing to do but to towel off and face the music.

In my very first guitar lesson, I learned some higher voicings for Em, D and C. I use those in this track which opens with those. From there it quickly gets down to business with an additional two layers of guitar, a bass much drums. So much fun, it outta be illegal.

So now my desk is clean. There are no half started tunes. I need to rest up for tomorrow. I got a busy month.



CC licensed photo love travels at illegal speeds by snowpony.

2009-01-29

Really Gone And Done It

I may have lost my mind. We'll see at the end of it. I have signed up for the RPM '09 Challenge. What's that? The challenge is to create an album in 28 days. Forget about having a life in February (like that's a big fucking loss) and just make music. Rules? Simple. 10 songs or 35 minutes. All in February. Put it on a CD and mail it in (CD? wtf?!?).

My feelings going in are that this is similar to the alonetone 24 hour album but a little more sensible. Of course, with the extra time come traps or obligations. Like spending too much time on some stupid sound that only I'll know about. Or worrying about album art.

Of course, this is meant to be fun. And it will be. And if I'm really fortunate, I might have something I like at the end of it.

What are you doing in February?

2009-01-28

Gone and Done It

I finally bought myself a guitar. I've had it for a little under a week now and I think I'm in love. We're still learning about each other but the s-s-s-s-ound is f-f-f-antastic!

For the guitar geeks in the audience it's a Michael Kelly Valor Custom. Grover tuners, Rockfield pickups (split tap), blah blah. It's got a beautiful red flame maple finish that this picture does not show.

As is common with new lovers, my parts are getting worn. And how sweet it is.

2009-01-26

We Interrupt This Program

Sometimes it's fun to try something new. I shot some video this weekend and strung it together using iMovie. I killed the sound and attached an old track of mine and ended up with this:


Scooters Invitational from Georg Nikodym on Vimeo.

The result is interesting to me in several ways. The removal of the original sound and the addition of my synthy music gives a floating, dream like quality to the piece. While putting it together, I tried using a different track Bad Part of Town and it was completely different again (dark sense of foreboding like somebody was going to crash). Also, there are musical elements that coincide with events in the video. They were accidental because I just attached to separate creations together. But it does raise the question, "How good could this be if those cues were deliberate?" and even more profoundly, "What if I actually had some training in this?"

Oh to be young again.

2009-01-21

Lesson Three and the Beginner's Plateau

I've now finished my third lesson and the magnitude of the thing I'm trying to do is starting to become apparent. It's kind of like I naively said, "Hey, let's walk to LA from NY." And then three blocks from my house I start to realize, "Uh oh. This is big."

Of course, all this is natural and I don't even know the half of it yet. In my very first lesson, Mark counseled patience. So patient I'll try to be.

That's just the playing part. The recording part is an additional headache. I'm learning beginner lessons about latency. And how in Logic, if I reduce the buffer size and start using mega plugins things don't go well. My audio interface can do low latency monitoring and has some onboard effects but I have yet to arrive at a set up that I consider workable. When I do, that'll likely be at least one post of its own.

2009-01-14

The Next Leg

It may not have been obvious from one of my previous posts but learning guitar was one of my resolutions for the New Year. Today, I had my second lesson and I am a man possessed.

In the learning of any instrument there is a hump. A time in the early going where it's just not fun. I think this is equally true for adults and children. But the approaches are different. With children, there's parental pressure and the ability of a teacher to make things fun. With adults, we bring our own pressure but also complex baggage. I like this. I can't do that. I have superficial knowledge of this but I think I'm expert. The teacher, I suspect, has to navigate these waters a little more carefully.

My first lesson started with some discussion about what I want from guitar. I'm going to write my answer here so that I can look at it later and marvel at my idiocy...

Currently, I'm getting my creative juices flowing by experimenting with sounds. The bulk of those sounds are generated by software. Quite often, while working, I want to add guitar textures. Not necessarily super complicated parts. More ambient textural things like say Robin Guthrie might play (I've always swooned for the Cocteau Twins). I'd love to be able to play like Robert Fripp but let's be honest. I'm old and not that disciplined.

My teacher listened patiently to me blather and was able to channel my excitement giving me a simple three chord sequence to work on. These weren't the usual open chords you see other beginners struggling with but chords up at the twelfth fret that I could play around with and are exactly the kind of ambient textural thing I was looking for. With the explicit instruction to experiment. Wow. One lesson and my head was exploding with the possibilities. Two lessons and I'm feeling like there's hope for me (a very pleasant change from thinking that guitar is too hard for me, like piano or violin hard).

Who is my new mentor? None other than Mark Patterson. Are you kidding me? I can't believe my luck.

So the next leg of my musical journey has begun. I don't know where I'm going. And that is fucking cool.

2009-01-06

I Have Seen The Future

While everyone else fawns over or complains about Apple's latest products, over at CDM, I'm reading about something really exciting.

Turns out that there are some amazing developments in multi-touch controllers. You must watch the video. If you're not technical, sucks to be you but just tune out the technical stuff at the front end but do stay tuned for the playing demos.

One of the points of tension between instrument players and electronic musicians is that the former feel that electronics lack the expressiveness of real instruments. And if I'm to be honest, they have a point. But with a controller such as this I see that argument losing all validity and I could even imagine being able drive guitar samples in believable ways (something of a holy grail in my mind).

Randall Jones is da man behind this wonder and he's on his way to a prominent place in music history ebooks.

2009-01-05

New Toy, New Tune

Reading a recent post in CDM I was intrigued by the BigSeq plugin from Audio Damage so of course I forget my New Year's Resolution and grabbed a copy (and for $39USD, it could have been much worse).

What a fun toy. First I put pads through it like in the CDM post and came up with Funk A Duck.

Then later, sandbags asked if I had tried running piano loops through BigSeq. That seemingly innocent question resulted in Slooooooow. This track is embarrassingly simple. Two piano loops, each simultaneously run through BigSeq, a drum loop and some other textural sounds all at the blistering tempo of 26bpm. Oddly, the dropping of the tempo had the biggest effect on the direction of the piece.

Funk A Duck was more complex and might deserve more explanation but since I'm not really happy with the track at the moment I'll save that for another day after I've fixed it.

So I leave you with the evidence...


2009-01-01

Too Easy

In the closing days of 2008, my first issue of my shiny new Sound On Sound subscription arrived in the mail. Laying about here on New Year's Day I set to reading it and one of the things that caught my eye was the Sounding Off column on the last page.

The author, Mark Wherry, is responding to an interview in The Guardian with none other than John Adams. Apparently, the composer laments that music is too easy to make and has given rise to a flood of mediocre music. Mark takes small issue with Adams as do I.

As a single creator of "mediocre music", I don't really have an argument aside from taking some kind of personal offence. But as part of a larger community of such artists I have to observe some things that might not be apparent to a casual listener of the output.

My main point is that making music, as a side effect, teaches me and those like me how to listen. And that makes me a more informed consumer. That does not mean I'll be be buying more of Speers' or Cyrus' product. It does mean that I'm more likely to be interested in the work of artists producing what Adams calls "contemporary serious music" because I am better able to appreciate their work.

Indeed because of the way the internet has enabled communities of "mediocre musicians" this education grows and becomes motivational fuel for more creation and thus more learning.  Kind of a self sustaining reaction.

As an aside...  It may be easier to make passable music with current technology but the paths to improvement are always the same. Learn something about music theory.  Get lessons on an intrument.  Seems to me that if you have the ability to teach then it seems to me that you have the potential to do quite well for yourself; particularly if you can offer something that helps your students understand how to (better) work with their toys.  Who knows, we may keep more young players who would have been turned off musical studies by the old ways...

Of course, what do I know.  I'm mediocre :-)

Rumours of the death of music are greatly exaggerated...  and in fairness to Adams, he finishes the interview saying as much.