Archive for June, 2012

promote your stuff day

Been crazy busy this week! Leannan Sidhe just left, having popped up for a few days for Westercon rehearsal, work on a new track for her Roses and Ruin project, a particularly spectacular Wednesday night live webcast hangout, and general plottery of mayhem.

Not to mention hackery.

So much speaker hackery

There’s enough to know here that I’ll write a little series on cheap home-studio build-out next month. Anyone wanting a jump on that: learn to solder. 😀

But today is YOU GUYS PLUG YOUR STUFF day! I haven’t had one of these in a while and it’s overdue. In comments, PLUG YOUR STUFF! Include links. I’ll make a compilation post next week, probably Wednesday, because Monday is Part III of the RIAA article series.

I’ll get us started with two things from other people. One: The Harmonic Fire Pendula project, over on Kickstarter. Fish at Attoparsec is doing this huge fire sculpture that makes neat patterns with flame. Here’s a video of the 1/3 scale model; the final will be three times larger:

Two: Angela Korra’ti’s Faerie Blood, for which I was book designer, and for the sequel I’m doing the book soundtrack, is now on the Nook and now also on Kindle! Since those are eBook versions there’s not much of my design in them other than cover text, but still. You can see my actual design in the print edition, once that comes off the press next week, and also in the PDF, which is specifically designed to be Retina-display friendly.

And I’ll be doing a new song from the soundtrack at Westercon. Just sayin’. ^_^

Now, ready… steady… PLUG YOUR STUFF! 😀

will you look at this thing

Will you look at this awesome thing I mean damn:

two turntables but no microphone

It’s a Gaumont Chronophone, which is an even better name than I’d’ve expected, because it implies that you control time through sound. Also totally not real and not a mockup unless the name is a joke by the time traveller who went to the past and built it as a gag.

I gotta know what that bad baby sounds like scratching the ragtime mix. I just gotta.

Been rehearsing for the Westercon show (Friday, July 6th, 8pm) with Leannan and Marcos; yes, for Westercon, we’ll be a three-piece. o/ In particular, if you’re there, you’ll be the very first people ever to hear one of the new original songs for the Bone Walker soundtrack project. We went through the setlist last night, and we’re like, yeah.

Tonight, we’ll be doing a G+ hangout live, Leannan and me both from my studio so we can actually play together. I’m not sayin’ we’re doing Sad Muppet, but I am saying it is in the campaign, depending upon who else we encounter on the way.

part two: the damage is worse than i thought

I was going to write about making money in a post-scarcity environment today. But something’s come through in comments so very clearly that I have to write about it first, because you need to understand this before you can even think about trying to make music for money.

Last time, I talked about how the record companies had brought a lot of the current situation upon themselves. I wrote about how their insatiable greed and desire to attain a we-own-everything and you-pay-for-every-play system had ruined any chance at some sort of DRM-based continuation of the old way.


But it’s worse than that. Responses to my first article made across the web – Facebook, Livejournal, other places – have clearly illuminated that they did far more than just fail at rent-seeking. They have successfully convinced everyone that people do not own the music they “buy.”

The record companies would, of course, be the first to affirm this. They’d correctly say you own certain very limited “use rights,” and that’s it. They’d suggest even those could be revoked. You most certainly don’t own the music, and there’re things you can and can’t do with it, mostly on the side of can’t.

Their former customers now agree. They totally get it. Congratulations, RIAA! Congratulations, MPAA! They get it! They pay you and DING! They don’t own the music! You won!

And in doing so, you have destroyed the value of purchase. You have destroyed the value of ownership. And you destroyed yourselves, and everyone else with you, because nobody is going to pay good money for something they don’t get to own.

People not only see music “ownership” as meaningless, they see themselves as being played for suckers and contemptible rubes. They see examples being made of people like them in court. They hear clowns from the MPAA talking about how leaving the room during commercials is stealing from TV networks. They post a family video with music from an album they bought and paid for in the background, and get a DMCA takedown and threatened with loss of internet access.

Music fans see constant haranguing from the industry telling them what they can’t do. And they see other people saying fuck that, and doing it anyway.

I want to grab industry people by the ears and say, LOOK, GUYS: before all this, before even cassette tapes, people shared recorded music. Sharing is part of the point. In the past it was portable record players, or going over to your friends house and playing songs there, or if you had enough money, even a record player in the car. You’d trade albums and borrow and return and not care.

And that didn’t start with the transistor, kids

Now all of those sharings are replaced by throwing the songs across the net, since a lot of your friends aren’t physically close. Conceptually, to much of the public, it’s the same thing. And they’re not just being told “no, you can’t do what their parents did,” they’re being told “not only can’t you do this, we will fuck you up and destroy your family.”

Honestly, there’s nothing funny about this

So guess what: people aren’t buying music so much anymore! Is it surprising that people won’t pay for something they do not see as having value? It’d be far more surprising if they did. Forced sales through threat and intimidation only get you so far. “Here, give me $5 for absolutely nothing. Oh, I might sue and destroy you, but it’s even more likely if you don’t pay.” “Fuck you, no! Oh hai, bittorrent.”

Once you’ve shattered that money-for-value association – and it’s good and shattered – even DRM-free music files become clutter. They’re something to have to keep track of and back up and worry and think about. And with little to no ownership value, who wants to bother?

It’s arguably not even zero value. It’s arguably negative value.

As a result, many people are turning to supposedly-universal subscription services. But even there, it’s the same dicking-around-with-rights games. Subscribers see songs appearing and disappearing as companies fight about licenses, and gods forbid you try to use the music for anything. Same story for the MPAA and studios and Netflix and such – same idiocy, different media.

So people get tired of it, and we’re back to OH HAI BITTORRENT, because the industry has destroyed the value of both ownership and paying. In the process, it has destroyed itself, and indies trying to leverage recording income are being taken down as collateral damage.

But there is a saving grace here, for musicians: this rejection isn’t about the music. Download estimates alone show that.

It’s about rejecting the current recording model.

Get ahead of that curve, and you can guess about half what I’ll be writing about next. Spoiler: it’s not all about playing live.

This is part two of an ongoing series of articles about music in the post-scarcity environment.

show announcements

Hey, everybody! I’ve got a couple of shows to announce!

There’s been 65 of these things!

FRIDAY, July 6th: Show at 8pm at the Westercon 65, a science fiction convention in Sea-Tac, Washington, just south of Seattle. We may be able to livestream this one! I’ll post about that when I know.

There’ll be a lot of other people playing this one, including Seattle favourites Vixy & Tony (who also have a show this weekend with Molly Lewis at The Triple Door), Alexander James Adams (whose career is too long to list here), Leannan Sidhe (about whom I’ve talked lots ^_^), Jeff & Maya Bohnhoff (whose Midichlorian Rhapsody was a YouTube hit), and more.

I’ll also be on several panels as an attending professional. All that’s at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Seattle Airport, 18740 International Boulevard, Sea-Tac, Washington, across from the airport a safe walk from the train station.

Only one of this so far!

SATURDAY, July 14th: I’ll be doing multiple shows through the day at Comic Sans, the Clallam Bay Comiket. It’s their first year and it started out as a gag by Donna Barr (Stinz, The Desert Peach, Afterdead, many more), but has turned real! There’ll even be a second one next year if people turn out – they’ve already made the T-shirt design. Plus, it’s free admission!

I have more shows to announce late in July/early August, but that’ll wait until I have one more thing nailed down.

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion at various places about the first half of the Emily White post, particularly at the Livejournal and Google+ echos. I’ll have things to say on most of these topics on Monday. I can’t provide all the solutions – if I could, I’d be a success already! – but I have some ideas.

so the problem with all of this

As you’ve probably seen by now, Emily White, an intern at NPR, posted this commentary about how she’s bought maybe 15 CDs in her life but had a library of tens of thousands of songs, and how people of “her generation” won’t pay for music but will pay for convenience. Go read it; I’m a bit curious how many downloads aren’t included in those CDs but were paid, but let’s assume the answer is “not many.”

And all of the pr0n

In response, we have David Lowrey writing about how horrible this is and stealing from artists, and how evil “free culture” is. He argues that bands do make money from labels (counting advances as income – and wildly understating the sad facts about how all that money is taken right back), and brings up a lot of what I consider economic false-flag arguments about how Google and Apple and Megaupload et all are raking it in from piracy. But read his column yourself.

And over here, Jonathan Coulton finds himself agreeing really with both sides, and empathising with Mr. Lowrey, but saying we’re leaving the age of scarcity here and that there’s nothing much to be done about it. That’s true, but doesn’t go far enough.

First, I’ll admit this right up front: David Lowrey is right, at least in part. This will destroy the old system. Really, it already has, and 21-year-old Emily White is the spectre with cloak and scythe staring its participants in their faces. Understandably, they do not like that.

And in some ways – particularly the earlier versions of this system – this is a bad thing. It did pay people – vocalists, instrumentalists, studio engineers, producers, artists – all kinds of people who made and are still making artistic contributions. Along the way, some artists – even some of the “talent” – made real money.

Now, people who came up in that system find it collapsing around them. That’s brutal, and there is real suffering for it which should not be ignored. Leaving aside the corporate end, and the gatekeepers, and the eat-all-your-money-and-own-your-everything and lawsuit-happy RIAA and MPAA ass monkeys, there are artistic contributors – musicians – of the old system who used to make a living and now don’t.

That sucks. I sing the praises of trying to find new ways to do all this a lot, and of the opportunities, but the wreckage is real. A lot of it’s deserved – Burn, Warner Pigs, Burn – but as always, a lot of artists are going to take the worst of it. That’s unfair.

But the elephant in the room everyone is busily ignoring in their indignation is that the only way to restore this dying system and achieve Mr. Lowrey’s goal would be to destroy everything. Turn off the computers, shut down the net, blow it all up, get out the polyester and pretend it’s still 1971 just like the rest of the baby boomers have been doing since 1982.

Which won’t happen. So instead you’d install comprehensive DRM on everything along with massively intrusive surveillance of everything you do on your computer and your music, and – even in the best version of this – restrict everything you do now to only and exactly those things you could’ve done in January of 1971, just before chromium dioxide magnetic tape made first-generation cassette recordings off LPs worth hearing. Every time you hit “play,” their software would ask their servers whether they think you should, and a copyright lawyer would get their horns.

Sure. That’ll work.

Of course, that’s exactly what they’ve been trying to do. Ironically, I think there’s an argument to be made that they might’ve pulled it off had they been willing to settle for the old status quo, but they are and always have been too damn greedy. They’ve gone after the super-goals of we own everything and you pay us every time you listen, and the one thing you don’t do is get between Americans and their entertainment. Maybe once there may’ve been a middle ground of people willing to say, “yeah, it’s fair to keep paying here” had the industry been reasonable about it, but they haven’t been.


Which really, is for the best. The mere existence of any such monitoring system is intrinsically abusive, can only be abused further, and, in fact, has been so abused. It’d be a bigger fiasco and bigger destroyer of rights than the drug war. Political censorship, information trolling, Sony’s infamous audioCD-based rootkits – the list goes on and on.

All these abuses and outrages and the fact that this is one of the few areas Americans actually care make that approach a total non-starter. And all of that, taken together, means exactly one thing:

It doesn’t matter what you think of Emily White.

Where there’s a way, there is a will, and all the protestations and harrumphs and those-kids-today you can cough up do. not. matter. This is reality, and reality does not care whether you like it. They have successfully rejected the old system and superseded it with their own simply by reacting to the new facts on the ground. As we’ve already shown, nobody’s putting the old one back.

It is long past time to stop complaining and start dealing with it.

So, given that: what can you do? How can musical artists make any money doing this, moving forward?

We’ll talk about that next time.

This is Part 1 of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of articles on, well, what it says on the tin.

still on internet break

Spent the whole morning working with the printer on colour matching for the cover of Anna’s book. Screen-to-print colour matching is still such a pain in the ass.

Non-sarcastic pro tip: Photoshop lets you edit its CMYK output profile curve directly. If, by editing that profile curve, you can duplicate on screen whatever assholery the press software is doing to your artwork on paper? Do that, then hit the little button to invert the curve. This’ll result in Photoshop doing the opposite – overcompensating on screen in the other direction – and the two errors will mostly cancel each other out.

That’ll get you 90% of the way there. Then fiddle with that to finesse it the rest of the way home.

I also have a cool Westercon announcement but it can wait until I have time. 😀

a brief internet break

Hey, everybody – I’m hip-deep in soundtrack and book and also some equipment upgrades and tour setup stuff so I’m mostly taking an internet break this week. But I’ve finished another new song for the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack! I wish you guys could hear it, it’s awesome.

Are you coming to Westercon? I’ll have an announcement once they get back to me again to confirm, but it’s pretty confirmed. ^_^

faerie blood RELEASE

One of the projects I’m working on is a soundtrack for a fantasy novel series by Angela Korra’ti. The trilogy is collectively called The Free Court of Seattle, with first novels Faerie Blood and Bone Walker.

Kickstarter backer copies and pre-orders for Faerie Blood in electronic form are going out now, as in, right now, as in check your inboxes. The first copies of the print edition should be made this week, and ship shortly thereafter. Electronic editions will be available through Amazon/Kindle, Apple/iBook, B&N/Nook, Chapters/Kobo, and the rest of the alphabet as the rollout schedule progresses, print editions will come through Third Place Press.

I’m the book designer – hey, I have an art degree, I may as well use it – and I’ve restarted my old small press to handle taxes. It’s weird being back in the small-press saddle. I never thought I’d typeset LOW ORBIT PUBLICATIONS again, much less announce book releases, but, well, here I am!

I’m really happy with how this book looks. By which I mean, PDF people? We are Retina-display aware and ready. Because that is just how we roll.

I also finished one of the original songs for the soundtrack last night. Anna was all jumping up and down at the lyrics.

This? This is gonna be good.

some things for you

Suddenly there are CHAINSAWS! next door. So, no recording right now! Enjoy some URLs instead:

Badass of the week: Julie D’Aubigny. Go read that, she was awesome.

In May, Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of “story basics.” There are no doubt other versions, but this is one.

Blue lobster! Very rare, caused by a super-unusual genetic defect.

rooms and sound

Let’s talk a minute about rooms and sound.

I’ve mentioned spending a lot of time last week on the studio. While at it, I finally set up some proper monitor speaker pairs. I had a pair of AFCO minispeakers, but they weren’t set up right, and I only had the one pair. Mostly, I was working with headsets.

I’ve now fixed that. The AFCOs sound much better, properly placed. But I also wanted a second pair for higher-fidelity monitoring. To do that, I puled my 1982 Bose units from the living room, where they’ve been part of a home stereo.

Bose 301 Series II; three cones, three directions!

Here’s the thing: in that living room, these speakers have always sounded kind of muddy and terrible. Nobody listens to that stereo since we moved. I imagined something was broken – I’d already rebuilt the amp and it sounded great now on headphones – but I thought I was going to have to rebuild the speakers, too.

However, after hauling them upstairs, I found there wasn’t anything wrong with them at all. They’re fine. In my studio, they sound like the speaker version of my studio reference headphones – nice and clean, with good separation and a nice even low-end. Not the most precise speakers in the world, but that’s why I have headsets. Plus, you want variety in monitors; that’s why you have multiple sets.

This behaviour difference shows how rooms matter. My studio is essentially a sound-dampened squarish box. By contrast, our living room is long and narrow, and has this slanted ceiling that’s one storey up at one side, and two at the peak in the middle on the other side, with skylights, and at one end, there’s a giant dormer, and in the other, kind of a box window.

There are angles everywhere. See?

Our ceiling, lying down, looking up. No, really.

The Bose 301s were built for squareish rooms that might need a lot of sound-scatter. (Bose is kind of famous, or infamous, for this, depending upon your opinions of scatter.) Their individual elements are angled in multiple directions intentionally, to defeat the rectangular-room problem of heavily localised sound loudness, and poor imaging.

If your room is scattering your sound to hell and back already, just by having many weird angles, you end up with far too much scatter. Everything ends up sounding like mud, because everything is going everywhere and you start playing wave cancellation games. There’s no distinction or isolation.

Not that bad

So, studio sorted! But since I still needed something for the living room, I dug a pair of early-1980s Realistic Minimus 7s out of the closet. I know, Radio Shack mini-speakers; my excuse was that nobody used that stereo anyway. I remembered them fondly, but, still, minispeakers.

Turns out these are sought-after classics. I had no idea how much until this weekend – look up the mod kits and the GearSlutz articles and stuff, it’s kind of amazing. So, surprise!

Despite that, in most objective terms, they aren’t nearly “as good as” the Bose in lab conditions. They’re quite precise, but being tiny, don’t have so much in the low end, and can’t handle too much higher levels of output. Response curve is good, but below 100hz…. well, let’s just say bassheads need not apply. And all the drivers face straight out, so there’re sound-concentration problems; they don’t fill a room of any size. It’s very uneven.

one of the 18 million variants

Or, turns out, they don’t fill a normal room. In this room, with a little bass boost, they sound significantly better than the Bose did. There’s better staging, a better sense of place, lots more depth, and the muddiness is gone. They do fill the room, even at pretty low volumes, and the sound is very even – if a bit shy in the low end.

Why? Because the room matters. This room doing all the scattering you could ever want. As a result, the tight focus of these speakers is perfect.

So the moral of the story is simple: Figure out the room first, and then go buy things. You can do a lot more with a lot less if you pay as much attention to to the environment as the equipment, and all the speaker budget in the world won’t fix a mismatched room.

For those curious, a pair of late-70s/early-80s Minimus 7s will run you $35-$70 on eBay, depending upon condition and any mods. Crossover mod kits vary from $15-$30, depending on type.


This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio.

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