Saturday, December 12, 2009

New CD Project - "Coda"

I've started a new CD project, and it is one that I have been thinking about for a long time.

When my buddy and musical co-conspirator Paul Bass died in 1999, we had some unfinished business. We had been planning on making a sixth album in our Three-Day Weekend series. We never really got out of the planning stages before his illness had progressed to the point that doing any musical work together was impossible.

I became the caretaker of all of the demos, work tapes, and writing session recordings Paul and I had made over the years. I've been going through these over the past year or so, and there are some real gems there, certainly enough for (at least) one more CD.

I've decided to title this project Coda. For the non-musicians reading this, "coda" is Italian for "tail," and in music, it is a section of music that brings a larger piece to a close. I chose this title for obvious reasons - it will bring our Three-Day Weekend series to a close.

I'll try to post some updates as I work through the material.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A response from ASCAP

Well, my article of a few days ago about ASCAP and BMI beating up small venues drew the attention of someone at ASCAP. This was in my inbox this morning from an anonymous person at ASCAP:

We at ASCAP saw your piece from 10/4/09 about ASCAP and BMI, and the licensing of small venues. As a follow up, we wanted to share a link to a recent article we wrote for our members on this very subject: We thought you'd be interested in reading this. And in the specific case of small venues, our licensing team does work very hard to set reasonable, low annual fees -- or in some cases, exempts the smallest of venues altogether.
The article the nameless ASCAP drone references covers some of the same points I made in my original article, primarily the idea that if a venue is making money because of the work of a composer is being performed, then a portion of that money is owed to the composer. However, I still feel that their bar is set too low. If both ASCAP and BMI want even a small fee of several hundred bucks a year, many small establishments will simply stop having live music altogether, to the detriment of all. As a composer (and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of a performance rights organization), I would happily give up any revenue gleaned from these little 10-table joints to assure that musicians can still play in their neighborhood taverns, coffeehouses, and restaurants.

Here's the response I sent. I'm only publishing it here because my direct reply bounced (apparently, they have time to troll the internet for references to "ASCAP" and to email bloggers like me, but they don't want to be bothered with any inbound mail):

Dear anonymous person at ASCAP,

Thank you for the link to your article. In the pursuit of fairness, I have published your response -- unedited -- in my blog, along with its link to your article. Of course, I added my own commentary as well.

If you read my original article, you'll see that I really do agree with ASCAP's position in most respects. Where I disagree is mainly in where the line is drawn. I think there should be a reasonable threshold, below which the little joints get a pass.

The other area of some disgreement is one I did not address in my original blog entry: The assumption that a venue *must* have an ASCAP/BMI license, because music licensed via one or the other organization *will most likely* be played. Unless you have an agent staked out in every club to monitor what compositions are being performed, this is impossible to determine. In fact, I would counter that the songwriters in an unsigned band playing all original compositions are extremely UNLIKELY belong to ASCAP or BMI.
Membership more commonly comes *after* the band is signed or an established artist covers one of their compositions.

Now, I'm just a small-potatoes composer with a day gig. I will probably never see a dime from any of my compositions. If someone does profit from my compositions some day, then I want to get paid. But I'll give up the pennies I would theoretically make from my buddy's trio playing one of my tunes down at "Megan's Vegan Region" restaurant, to make sure that Megan can always book little bands like his.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

ASCAP and BMI beating up small venues

I recently heard from a guitarist friend of mine that a nice little coffeehouse / whole foods store in St. Johns is being threatened by ASCAP and BMI if they didn’t take out a live performance license. This venue has a tiny stage and has a weekly jazz jam – one of the few places left to hear a truly open jam. My friend said they were thinking of having a policy of “Original Music Only” as a way around the problem.

However, ASCAP and BMI are taking the position that having a policy of only hiring bands that play originals does not let the venue off the hook for a performance license. The old CBGB club in NYC tried that, insisting that bands play only originals there. It built their reputation a place to hear new music (like the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie), but then those bands put out records, and of course they had to be affiliated with one performing rights group or another, and CBGB was back in the same boat again. My opinion is that it would be a huge waste of time for either organization to come after a venue as small as this. I'm sure the owners are just barely keeping their noses above water financially, anyway. ASCAP/BMI would only succeed in driving them out of business, meaning one less venue for performers.

Here's a pretty good article on the situation:

ASCAP and BMI have incredibly complex schedules - ASCAP alone has over a hundred different rates, based on square footage, type of establishment, etc.

I think this whole thing will eventually blow up in their faces. While I agree that composers should be paid when someone performs their works, there should be a threshold below which it does not apply. Right now, the threshold seems to be that for anything beyond backyard parties for friends and family, you have to get a license.

But I can see the other side of the coin, too. Say a small coffeehouse has a good -- not great -- business. They serve fine roasts, some pastries and sandwiches, and they have live jazz a few evenings a week. The marquee outside says LIVE JAZZ TONIGHT! Folks come in to dig the music, drink some coffee, and hang out. The bands play the standard jazz repertoire: All Blues, Night in Tunisia, Caravan, etc. I can see a case for the venue making some payment to the accounts of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Juan Tizol for the use of their compositions. After all, the owner of the venue is making some increased income because of the existence of these copyrighted compositions. Gregorian chants are in the public domain, but it doesn't draw the kids like it used to.

I suggest that ASCAP, BMI, and the other rights organizations take a hard look at their live performance rates and draw a line to drop off the bottom 10-20%. The total revenues recovered cannot add up to much anyway, and they are really making life tough for these small, struggling venues and the musicians and songwriters who often get their first exposure in dark little dives, redolent of espresso.

Mingus, Monk, Bird, and Roy Haynes at a little dive in 1953. LINK

Saturday, October 03, 2009

So long, Facebook

OK, so I was never a wholehearted fan of Facebook to begin with. However, it turns out that a number of people I know use it fairly extensively, and they were sending me emails telling me that they just posted a great picture or something else on their Facebook page. Well, you can't see anything there unless you sign up yourself and friend them. (I hate this tendency to verb a noun). So I decided to play along a few weeks ago.

It was semi-OK for a while. I put up a half-dozen old pictures of myself, a link to the CD info page, and little else. I was able to see some fun pictures of my friends.

But, it gets out of hand. I've gotten "friend requests" from many people I don't know (or don't want want to know), and some of the ones who I did friend have been posting all kinds of offensive stuff, which I have to look at when I log in. They think it's clever and hip. It's not -- it's just juvenile, stupid, and offensive. And every one of their brain farts and conversations with their other Facebook "friends" shows up, too. Great stuff like: Wut up? Word! Dude! U R awsum. Puts the Algonquin Round Table to shame.

I pulled the plug on this nonsense tonight. So, my apologies to my real friends; you'll just have to reach me "old-school" -- email, telephone, or in person. And I will just have to forego seeing your latest holiday snaps or listening in on your chat with someone I don't know.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Memorials, Funerals, Celebrations of Life

I went to a memorial service yesterday, for the wife of a very nice man I’ve worked with for over a decade (we work at different companies now). His wife had passed away from an aggressive disease that had been discovered less than a year ago.

The service was held in an Episcopal church, and was quite lovely. I met up with a couple of old friends there and we got to chat a bit afterward.

The whole experience got me thinking about memorials – funerals if you like – and how we feel about them.

Something that surprised me was that only one of his current colleagues at work came to the service – his manager. Why did the others choose not to attend? What is it about a funeral that keeps people away?

I can imagine the excuses: “I didn’t really know his wife,” “I hate funerals,” “I’m not of that faith,” “I never know what to say,” and so on.

I’m calling bullsh*t on all of these excuses.

It’s an hour out of your life, folks. The deceased is well beyond caring whether you show up or not. This is not even really about her. This is about the human beings who are still alive – and someone you know who is in pain. You don’t have to say anything to the bereaved, other than perhaps, “I’m sorry.” Indeed, one of the worst things you could say is, “Oh, I know exactly what you are going through, because when my great aunt Jenny died......” Believe me when I tell you, dear, that you do NOT know exactly what he is going through. All you need to do is be there. That will tell your friend, your co-worker, the person you see at the coffee-machine every workday, everything he needs to know – that you care about him.

If the memorial is being held in a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, and you have been invited, then please do go, even if it is not your own particular faith. This is not about you and your faith. These structures are places of peace, love, and fellowship. They are places where people gather to forget about themselves for just a little while, and ponder the infinite. What is so scary about that? You might learn something.

Perhaps we are uncomfortable with seeing people crying, in pain. I think that’s natural. But this is also good for us to see. Many individuals are there whose heart has been broken. These people must go on with their lives, carrying this hole in their hearts. It is a good reminder to us that our own hearts can – and will – break. Let yourself be there, in the presence of these fellow human beings. Let your own heart break just a little.

I suspect that at the bottom of it all, we simply don’t want to acknowledge or accept death. That’s a bit strange, because it will happen to all of us. I can understand that feeling, but I don’t think we should give in to it. Going to a funeral won’t kill you.

So let me encourage you, the next time you are invited to a funeral, memorial, “celebration of life,” or other similar event, to please go. Open your eyes, mind, and heart while you are there. Death is a part of life. Yours, mine, and everyone’s.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My CD is released!!!

My new CD, titled Sometimes Things Work Out has been released!!! It's currently for sale at CD Baby (a terrific local mail-order distributor) and for download at Digstation. It should be available for download at iTunes and soon, but I don't know exactly when that will be.

More information about the CD HERE.

Buy it HERE!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Deal of the year!

For most of my home recording projects, I use a Tascam DA-38 8-track digital recorder. This machine has served me well since the 1990s, and has been very reliable. However, tapes were always a bit expensive (at least $5-7 a tape), and my preferred manufacturer - Quantegy - has ceased production.

Imagine my surprise when I peeked into the bargain bin at the local supermarket last weekend. In among the expired Similac, discontinued spray-on salad dressings and dented cans of beans, there were four two-packs of Sony Hi-8 digital tapes, the same type my recorder uses, for $1.50 per 2-pack! I bought all of them. These hold nearly two hours of 8-track musical recording at 44.1 khz/20 bits.

This is totally cool. I never get a deal on anything like this, and in fact I usually end up paying much more than most people do, simply because I am not a natural bargain hunter. I am in awe of folks who are good at getting bargains, because I simply don't know how to do it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

CD is being pressed!

After a long wait (including a few more of the bits of "real life" I mentioned in my last post), I've finally sent the CD project out for pressing, which of course gives me something new to fret about. I got the first proofs of the printed materials today, and found problems with one of them. I think it will be easy to rectify, though. That's what I get for using an amateur designer (me).

Before sending the master out, I listened one last time to the whole album, uninterrupted, on my best headphones. I must say that it still sounds fresh. Charles at East2West helped me get the natural, live sound I was looking for, and with the headphones I could even hear people breathing in a couple of places!

I think we'll have the CDs by the first of March if no further snags come up. Then I'll need to fret about having a release party...