A cool new surfing video popped up on YouTube this week, highlighting the coolest rides of the year from surfer “Grom” Ryan Huckabee. A very cool watch, that also happens to feature 2 songs from rock band Ed Hale and the Transcendence. The compilation video uses the songs “Solaris” and “Blind Eye”, both from the All Your Heroes Become Villains album.
Deep uncover still, exploring the world of investing and trading. Six months now. Don’t get me wrong, It isn’t just research; it’s also a way to make money. But it isn’t as easy as it once was. Those days are long gone. Yes, with the right amount of capital it isn’t difficult to make anywhere between $500 to $2000 a day actively trading. But it’s intense and stressful. And always a risk. You’re on the edge of your seat the whole time. Every minute seems like an hour when you’re in the middle of a trade. When you win, it’s exhilarating. When you lose, it can happen in an instant and there’s nothing that feels worse.
This is our third exploration into the world of active trading. The first was the period between ’97 to 2004, when I was still a kid, wet behind the ears and green as a newborn. Then 2005 to 2007. By that time I’d already made my fortune and investing was just a way to have fun with money. And now, once again we’ve jumped into the pool with the sharks. But this time it’s different. There are motives here much bigger than just to have fun or make a little extra money. And things have changed in this world. A lot. For everyday readers of the Transcendence Diaries, this isn’t going to be as transcendent as usual, but give it a chance. There is learning here. Just a very different world than what you’re more accustomed to here.
Yes, indeed, things have changed tremendously in the world of trading and investing. And yet things are seeming more and more like the old days. More on that in a few. For one thing HFT (High Frequency Trading) has been invented and is solidly embedded into the system; hell it is the system now. It makes trading operate at a rapid fire speeds. Mili-seconds matter. Pico-seconds in fact. [Many of the things I make note of will need to be Googled if not understood. For the purpose here is to post observations and lessons, not define terminology.] When I first started actively investing it was in the mid-nineties as already established here in The Diaries numerous times. We were in the process of a giant economic recovery in America which many mistakenly believe to be the effect of the Clinton White House or Alan Greenspan, when in reality it had a lot more to do with Silicon Valley and the advent of the internet age and modern technology becoming a regular part of the everyday man’s everyday life. Not only that, something amazing was invented, something truly revolutionary. eTrade. The ability of the average citizen to invest their own money their own way, in real time, without the need of a middle man or a broker.
eTrade was the first such system. Trust me when I say it was truly revolutionary. Up until that point you really did have to call a broker to buy or sell any kind of investment vehicle such as a stock or a bond or an ETF. Hell, ETFs barely existed back then. I was one of the first eTrade clients, coming on board in the beta stage as an early adaptor the same way I did with PayPal and eBay. Elon was still with PayPal back then. eBay was still a home based business. You became friends with the people you bought from and sold to. It was a small community. eTrade too. I still use the same eTrade, ebay and PayPal accounts from 1997 and 98. People are amazed when they see the date attached to my accounts. As if these are relatively new inventions. But to many people they are. That’s something that we always have to remember. The reason why companies like eBay and Netflix are still so valuable is because they’re nowhere near mainstream market saturation. Most people still don’t have a PayPal account; just as most people still don’t have Netflix accounts in their home. So there’s plenty of room for them to grow.
But back to the real meat of the story. Now eTrade is considered the old guard. The old dog that can’t learn new tricks. Try as they might they are having difficulty keeping everyone on board, though they’re still the most used platform out there overall. There’s something about being the first and the oldest that can backfire on you, whether product or service. The same way that Facebook ate MySpace who ate Friendster. Only time will tell if Tumblr will eat Facebook. I’m going to say no. But hey, they made their billion so at this point, who really cares. (Herein lay one of the main points of this post, along with a few dozen more, i.e. how similar today is to the dotcom crash of 2001. But that’s for later.) There are a hundred of these types of electronic home trading platforms out there. Scott Trade, Cool Trade, Ameritrade. Think Or Swim or TOS for short seems to be the popular kid in school these days, the current flavor of the month. Especially with the career traders, the ones who wake up every morning in their bathrobe and actively invest for a living all day. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I’m doing it now, though more for research and learning than for a living obviously.
Something has definitely changed though. Now everyone and their brother has access to a computerized home trading platform. And everyone who does fashions themselves an expert. I’ve joined about two dozen investing services over the last few months in order to get a real feel for what’s going on behind the scenes with these retail investors, the average Joes, versus the big dogs. Whereas the big fund managers that we smoke cigars with every day at Barkley Rex or De La Concha are trading huge amounts of cash in the hundreds of millions and billions, the owners and members of many of these trading services are small players. One thing I’ve noticed is this: the big guys, the ones worth seven figures or more who have taught me much of what I know about wealth and finance are quiet, humble, and careful with their words. They volunteer at their church on the weekends. They do their best to keep a low profile. The smaller guys are the exact opposite. They talk a BIG game. They really believe they’re “the shit”. Or at least they talk like they believe it. Totally the opposite of the guys that manage at the big houses that I’m friends with. These smaller guys prey on small fish through seedy posts on social media like Twitter and Facebook and StockTwits. They claim to be able to make you “a fortune overnight”. Obviously this kind of attitude and activity is not new. It’s been around forever. Back in the day our friends at Agora Financial were the masters of it. They’ve turned it into a gigantic business now. Almost to the point where one could call them, dare I say, viable or nearly reputable. El Infinito is working there now. Learning a lot. Some decent minds are now contributing to their content. Very different than the small team that once was back in ’04 and ’05 when it was just Bill and Addison.
But I’ll tell you, this new breed, see they don’t manage money for any big firms. They’re traders. Pirates. But many of them are also professional hucksters. They need the money brought in through monthly subscription fees from small mom and pop investors to make their living. Whereas the guys we hang with over the weekend wouldn’t sell a subscription to their investment advice if you paid them to. And I’ve offered. They’ll talk to you free. But they would never sell you any advice. Why? Because it’s a very closed and private environment number one. And number two, they know how risky it is and how lucky they are to be in the position they’re in, so they’re humbled by that. And three, they don’t need or want that kind of money. They’re in the game for entirely different reasons. It’s more a professional sport to them. They’re in it for the Superbowl Ring. Not for a monthly subscription fee. Obviously we can’t name names here and I never have; we wouldn’t have any friends left if we did. But I have always been amazed at how cool and humble most of these guys are at the Big Ten. I’ve spent ten years smoking and drinking with them and they’re some of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. They’re not what you think, the way it’s portrayed in Hollywood movies. I’ve been to their homes, been to their vacation houses in the Hamptons, been on work trips with them, building houses with Habitat for Humanity or with church, and you wouldn’t believe the kind of effort they put in. You can tell they’re fighting some inner demons of guilt for making the kind of money they make when most everyone else is struggling just to get by. So they work their butts off on these work trips. You have to admire this.
Then there’s this whole new breed of guys out there now. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. They sell subscriptions to their “expert advice” to anyone and everyone who is willing to cough up 20 to 99 bucks a month for it. Some of them are as high as $5,000 a year. It’s an amazing market. For who doesn’t want to make it rich over night? These guys, they fight with each other over Twitter about who’s the better investor, who made the right call on the right stock. Verbally pounding their chest like apes, bragging about their latest great call. Things like that. Constant bragging. It’s silly kid stuff. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are more concerned with being right than they are with being smart. This is definitely a lose-lose way of operating in the world. And this is where it gets really concerning. You’ll notice that their real teeth in the game is in feeling “right”, as opposed to making money. I’ve heard some say “I’d do that trade a hundred times and even if I was wrong about it 100 times I’d do it again.” That’s actually a favorite tag line of this lot. It’s the “asserting identity” gone wild. The ego seems to take over for the being and runs on auto pilot, while the being itself is only God knows where. Very different than the large fund managers who will spend an hour with you explaining how often they are wrong and how careful we all have to be because “no one can time the markets”. This is experience and maturity speaking. They don’t have to brag because their title does the bragging for them.
[It actually reminds me a lot of the music business. When we’re kids, we swear we’re the greatest thing since the Beatles or Dylan. Then we get a few years under our belt and a few Billboard hits and before you know it, we’re taking three years to finish an album because we’re so damn aware of how average it most likely sounds. Our maturity informs our humility. We take on a humility that is more rooted in the reality of being in the business rather than wanting to be in the business. I assume most industries are probably like this.]
Another trend I’ve noticed now is that social media has really taken a prominent stake in the world of small time investing. People go into various social media outlets and tag the name of companies with a dollar sign. Such as this: $AAPL, when referring to Apple Computer. You see no end to the kind of treachery that one will partake in to make a buck. They pump up a stock the first half the day to trick average investors into believing it’s a great investment and right when it reaches the top of the day, they turn around and dump it — it’s called the Pump and Dump — leaving the average investor holding the bag with a giant loss for the day. Very sad.
Today one such slimy character Tweeted out “$GOGO stock rallying up after FAA approves cell phone usage on flights”. Of course no such announcement had been made. He just wanted to see if he could get a few more suckers to buy some Gogo stock so his shares would go up and he could sell it. Very heinous. The worst kind of pariah. Unfortunately it’s all too common. Lying is about as regular stuff as it gets with this crowd. This is NOT the world of the Avatar or Wayne Dyer or Abraham Hicks. It’s not about being a good person or taking responsibility or helping make the world a better place. It’s about making money. And that’s about all it’s about. Plain and simple. In a post earlier this week, I talked about how the world of investing is destroying the world we live in in the name of making money. Whether it’s the destruction of the environment for fossil fuels or promoting slave labor to improve shareholder dividends, it’s just a very seedy heartless business.
I’ve had a tough time fitting in. But at the same time, it’s the only way we will truly learn all there is to learn about the world of investing in order to better harness the power of Compassionate Capitalism in our quest to create an Enlightened Planet, which is the goal here. Compassionate Capitalism is a growing trend around the world of the wealthy, though very few are as of yet participating. For it takes a lot of self restraint and well, compassion. It also takes a lot of compromise when it comes to foregoing profits in favor of helping. But we’re getting there. More and more are jumping on board. And that’s where we’re headed as a society. It’s just going to take showing everyone else that it’s possible to make a fortune AND be cautious with our investment dollars to avoid contributing to the problems; AND even being pro-active, with a focus on making the world a better place. This might mean investing more in solar and alternative energy rather than oil, fracking and coal. This of course has the potential to lose you a lot of big money. Very true. And I have already experienced the conflict that sets in when trying to stop yourself from jumping into a company that you just know is ravaging the earth while making its fortune. It’s difficult.
A case in point that hits closer to home is that of Pandora. Yes the online radio company. What most people don’t realize is that Pandora has gone public. You can buy and sell shares of the company. And potentially make money doing so. The problem is that Pandora has slowly eroded the very lifeblood of the music industry. The initial deal they structured with the record labels and publishers was for 7 cents a play for each song — try splitting that up ten ways — it was already ridiculously low for as artists. A huge sacrifice. But we were told it was temporary, just until they got their foot in the door, that they were “new and experimental” so we all said yes just to see what would happen; on a temporary basis. Flash forward three years and they are logging tens of millions of listens a day; so they’re no longer “new and experimental”. What was planned was that they would up the ante for us artists once they established themselves and started gaining a bigger listenership. Instead what they’ve done is file a law suit against all the record labels and publishers in the world to ask the courts to allow them to cut that royalty rate in HALF. Yes they now want to only pay about 3 cents per song per spin. That way they can keep the cost down for the listener — it’s already primarily free — AND increase the amount of bonuses they pay to the directors of the company and the dividends they pay to the shareholders.
What’s really heinous is that their primary method of generating revenue — this is classic — is advertising. And who is their main advertising client? Yep. Music business companies. Turning around and selling advertising to US: record companies and publishers in order to promote new albums and singles by the artists. But if WE aren’t making any money from sales anymore, nor from online spins, then what incentive do we have to advertise on their platform? The music business is headed for complete implosion at this point. Not just “gone are the good old days”, but total annihilation. As in no one makes any money at all and everyone just does it for fun IF they can find someone to support them financially. Pandora is one of the reasons why. And what will this lead to ultimately for the average music fan? No good music. Just a lot of random shit gets released — as in whoever can afford to release music of some kind will. No gate keepers. No purveyors. We’ll see. This might be a good thing. But so far all it’s done is muddy the playing field so much that even the most open minded listeners are beginning to recognize that “there just seems to be a lot of really bad music being released these days.” Well now you know why.
[PS — for the record iTunes is not part of the problem. Unfortunately many people are operating under the misconception that iTunes ruined the music business through the distribution of online music and MP3s. But that isn’t the case. iTunes pays one of the best royalty rates out there for artists. And it doesn’t matter who you are or how big or small you are. If people are buying your music, you’re being paid handsomely from iTunes. Kudos to them for this.]
But Pandora, that’s just one example of the kind of conflict I’m talking about. So, let’s say we have a feeling that Pandora is going to rally on Monday, maybe it’ll go up a buck or two. We have a good chance of making some easy money if we invest a large sum. Jump in Friday. Ride it up till Wednesday or so and sell. Easy. But are we contributing to the problem by investing in the company in order to make a profit? I suppose if we turn around and use that same money to fund the counter-suit against them and spread awareness through PSAs about what a wretched organization they are, which is what just about every musical artist in America is doing at the moment — jumping on board this anti-Pandora train, then I guess it’s alright. Especially if we don’t invest for the long haul but only for a few days, to make some money. Why not? But that’s just one example. What about fracking? We know it’s the fastest way towards creating the great zombie apocalypse and destroying the world as we know it, but there’s BIG money to be made in natural gas. I made thousands trading it this week alone. And I KNOW what it is. I KNOW how it is made. And yet… I couldn’t resist the temptation. Again, if it’s just jumping in and out then is it really contributing to the problem?
Unfortunately I would say yes it is. For if NO ONE invested in these companies then they wouldn’t have any access to capital. They wouldn’t be able to keep going. They’d be forced to shut down. There’d be no more fracking. And there’s the problem. The only people fighting the good fight, against the frackers and the GMO monsters and Big Pharma and Big Oil, are the poor and middle class. They’re the ones out in the streets protesting and demonstrating and occupying. Everyone else is trying to figure out which of the big drug companies is going to be the next one that doubles in price next month and investing in it. Along with all the others. It’s a crazy scene. Trust me. For people like us, it’s just an absolutely insane scene. You check your morals and ethics at the door when you step onto the trading floor. You have to if you want to make big money. At least that’s the vibration that emanates from the room as you enter. Very few people speak of changing the world or taking responsibility or faith or peace or love or anything like that.
It’s a strange world full of animal consciousness. A cut-throat world. Ruthless. You hear phrases such as “chop those bears into little pieces” or “major bull trap” or “we’re going to eat these grizzly bears for breakfast once this stock hits $50″. On and on. Most of it I wouldn’t repeat here. Like I said, it’s cut throat. But remember, we’re here to learn. I do my best to keep the peace and stay true to myself, try to offer some civility into the game while I’m learning.
Another thing I’ve learned is this: no one can time the market. Everyone is guessing, analyzing in hindsight. No matter what kind of analyzing they’re doing, whether it’s technical or fundamental or chart reading, it’s all just made up formulae. Everyone and their brother has a special system that they’ve developed or have adopted from someone else, and they all think it’s “the best system out there”. They speak about proprietary systems and all these rules of the market. But no such rules exist. Every time one of the so-called rules is broken, they’ll come up with a different rule to explain why that other rule was broken. It’s hilarious. But it’s also sad because you can see what a vicious cycle it is of ignorance. A company can be worth a veritable fortune and be ridiculously profitable and still have a stock that is poorly valued. Another company can not even be profitable — they actually LOSE money every quarter — and their stock price can be selling at a price that is in the hundreds. It’s a completely illogical game. Twitter, the little company, is about one-tenth the size of Facebook for instance and yet today it traded for about ten dollars more per share than Facebook. No logic. No reason. Just hype and excitement. This is what makes the world of investing so dangerous. No one is using intelligence or rational thinking anymore.
It’s exactly like 1999 to 2001, right before what we call the dotcom crash. We all know what that was like. Most people weren’t actually investing back then. But they’re familiar with the story. I was smack dab in the middle of it. Though I didn’t do it for a living. It was just fun. But I swear we’d make a few thousand dollars in a day just from jumping into a new company’s IPO at the start of the day and jumping out by the end of the day. Things like that. No one even bothered to check out the fundamental financial health of the company. The fact that it was going public through IPO was enough. It had gotten crazy. Which led to a giant melt down. As I’ve already written here, twelve years ago when it happened, I was one of the lucky ones. I was advised by some friends who managed at Goldmans to get out. So I took everything we had out of the market and put it all into Berkshire Hathaway B shares. At the time these were selling for $3,200 per share. I couldn’t believe that one stock could be so expensive. But after the crash, when everyone around me lost a fortune and my shares stayed relatively the same price, I had a lot more appreciation for quality and value when it comes to investing.
We’re in a similar place now. You can feel the rabid nature of the whole thing crashing in around everyone. And yet all they want is for the markets to keep going up. It’s a fascinating study of human behavior. All the sell signals are there right in front of us that we are headed towards a major correction — for a variety of reasons, not just one — and yet everyday in all these public forums and chat rooms and even on TV, you’ll hear the majority of the people still speak very bullish about the markets. Only the very few, the currently unpopular, speak logically and reasonably about the possibility of a coming crash. And yet the smart money simply wants to make money. And with the system as advanced as it is now, the way it’s been designed, making money in a down market is just as easy as making money in an up market. So being bullish about the markets being bullish is just, well, being bull-headed. Smart money feeds on making money. Not on being right. There’s nothing more rewarding than leaving “being right” at the door in order to make some money. But you’d be surprised how many people are ignoring the signs right in front of us all.
Another thing I’ve noticed about the game in general, the industry, the business, is that there is this very prominent “us versus them” attitude that is very prevalent. You’ll hear people constantly referring to “they” as if there is this mysterious malevolent force out there lurking in the shadows whose sole mission in life is to defeat them. They believe it to be an us versus them game, with them being the heroic underdogs of the story and “they” being the wicked apparition or monster out to get them. In reality, it’s nothing of the kind. There is no “they”. There are just millions of people putting money in and taking money out of various different investment vehicles. No real rhyme or reason. But the conspiracy theories are legend and there are many.
I’ve read hundreds of books about investing over the last 18 years and studied hundreds of different systems; attended all the big courses and bought into all the secret societies. Each and every one thinks that it alone holds the secret key to how the market works and how to “always win and never lose”. But I’ve never seen one person do it. The closer you get, the more losses you see. People tend to only advertise their wins. So you have to actually buy in in order to get behind the scenes enough to see what’s really going on. And once you do, you see just as many losses in the most expensive proprietary formulas as you do from the average investor. One thing that does seem to help though are the guys who strictly do Options trading. They do tend to understand the market better than anyone else. And they also know how to minimize losses better than most. This has been the primary focus of my research over the last few months. Learning about Options trading. It’s complex stuff. It’s calculated risk because it’s limited risk. Though the timing has to be even better; and because no one can time the market, the losses seem to be more frequent compared to the wins. But at least they are limiting them. Last week I made a small fortune with my first two options trades, both with Apple. This week unfortunately I lost an entire premium — luckily only about $1500 — with another options trade. I’m telling you, it’s potluck. Damn close to gambling it seems sometimes.
But not if you’re smart. And that’s one of the things that I’ve learned from the guys at the big houses. They don’t gamble. Everything they do is very calculated. They keep risk to a minimum. And they pay a lot of attention to fundamentals. If a company isn’t worth a shit, they don’t go there. The average investor speculates. They’ll invest in anything if someone tells them that they might make some money from it. They truly believe that “fundamental analysis is old fashioned; that it’s for the old mom and pops who don’t understand the new game”. But they consistently lose trading these highly speculative companies that are pure “trader’s plays”. Those are stocks for companies that aren’t yet profitable or haven’t yet proven themselves. Smaller companies. It’s become a huge trend. Just as it had in 2000. And just as it had in 2007 with Credit Default Swaps and the rest of it. Personally, I smell a major correction coming. So I almost always sell out of everything at the end of each day. This week every index lost money. It was a bloodbath. And December is supposed to be “most profitable month of the year in the stock market”. Go figure. Like I said, there are no rules. And anyone who believes there are is kidding themselves. There are only rules AFTER. Not before. That’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on this most recent venture into this world.
What I’d like to accomplish from this little adventure is two-fold: besides just mastery over all the knowledge of the investing world and global economics — which is what really juices me about all this, I’d also like to be able to understand it all well enough to where I can really help contribute to the advent of Compassionate Capitalism going mainstream. Making money while making the world a better place. We’re a long way from that right now. But we are ON the way. Many have already started. Many more will come on board as older generations die off and the younger ones enter the game. Right now when someone comes on a financial news show who is proposing a business model that helps AND makes money you should see the way that people look at them; it’s as if they’re from a different planet. They are met immediately with suspicion that their business model is no good or is faulty in some way. Just because it has an ulterior motive of doing the world some good. That’s something that needs to change. Together we can do that. We need to continue to spread the meme though mass consciousness that making money and making the world a better place are not mutually exclusive missions. They can easily work together, in harmony and synergistically. It’s the only way we are going to create a world that lasts for a long time to come and is fair and just and friendly to all its citizens. This is the goal. More later.
Well I think we’re doing it again. Princess Little Tree and I joke around about “what a challenge it is to BE Ed Hale” compared to just “dealing with him” like other people do. I’m always like “yeah yeah I know, I’m sorry about that,” when she complains about how many different projects I have going at once and how unwieldy and crazy our schedule is, “but just imagine BEING the person who has to LIVE AS me!” I respond. “It’s hard enough dealing with me, I know, but it’s a whole different thing to keep waking up to the fact that you ARE that person and trying to figure out ways of handling being that person!”
I think of it like this: I’m just me. A regular Joe like anyone else. But on top of it, I was born INSIDE this totally crazy super-curious and ambitious wild man who never stops thinking and planning and taking notes and starting new things. If it were up to me, I’d just be chilling like anyone else. The usual things, picnics, TV, movies, family, the park, having drinks with friends, I don’t know, whatever normal people do… But I feel like I’ve got this responsibility to try my best to honor this guy that I was born inside. And he’s got this massive imagination and all this ambition and he really does believe he can do it all and more. So I just do my best to make that happen and hang on for the ride; and hopefully survive it all. Yep. It feels like that.
So we started Ed Hale’s new solo album in the summer of 2011. Right at the right time. The first single from the last solo album was taking off. A few months later the second single was doing even better than the first. We needed a new album and we needed it fast. Problem was that we recorded about 17 songs initially and instead of one good solid album, it sounded more like two partially completed albums. So we all flew back to New York to record more songs. Ended up with 34 new songs. So now we’ve been slowly making progress on them. Little by little. Drums, bass, acoustic guitars and vocals are slowly all getting done. Along with various percussion and keyboards. The crazy thing is how many hundreds of hours it takes to finish one song. At least for us. Now. On this album. Let me put it into perspective. We’re in the summer of 2013 now and I’m only done with 12 songs in terms of being done with MY parts. That’s insane. I know it. But it’s just a lot of work.
This album started out as a continuation of the Ballad On Third Avenue album. Acoustic pop, or what in the business we call Adult Contemporary; that’s the actual format. But what we’ve ended up with is three distinct sounds for three distinct different albums. One is still more organic acoustic, what you would call almost folksy. Think Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes or The Lumineers. Simple stuff. Do it in your sleep stuff. But I tire of that real quick. Whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I have a tough time getting through three songs in a row of that kind of material. So we branched out and made some of the songs more electric, more upbeat, more pop. I dig that. Though it takes a lot more instrumentation and production. And then there’s this third style that’s coming out that’s more like electric folk, kind of like Dylan when he went electric… Rubber Soul perhaps? But not really cause it’s more folky.
It’s all acoustic based. None of it is “rock” per se. And that was the plan. These are Ed Hale solo albums after all, and since all the same players play on these that do the Transcendence albums, THAT’S the only difference between the two artists at this point: the solo albums are slower and softer, more acoustic, more pop, and Ed Hale and the Transcendence albums are more rock. It’s just a name/style thing, rather than a change in lineup. I’ve been working with the same group of guys since 2002 and don’t see changing that anytime soon. They’re like brothers now. They know what I write and sing like. And they call me on my stuff; they know what to do and say to bring the best out in the music.
I’ve been living in Seattle for the last few months and so we’re working out of a studio here. Only problem is that all the guys are in different cities and states around the country now. Most of the guys are still somewhere in South Florida. But others are in LA or Texas or Minneapolis or Atlanta. It’s crazy. What we’ve decided to do, what I’ve decided to do, is keep on recording the songs here, my parts, and then we email the songs out as MP3s to all these other players — we’ve got about 15 additional players now around the country, adding strings, woodwinds, horns, guitars, keyboards, drum programming, background vocals — and have them import the MP3 into their recording studio rig. They then record their parts onto the track to their liking and then they send only their parts back to us and we then drop them into the original open track, as if they were there in the studio with us.
We’re really tracking three albums here… We have about 13 songs done with “my parts” now… meaning the basic drums/bass/acoustic guitars, some keys and all my basic lead and background vocals. That’s what these guys will be tracking to. But we have musicians all over the country adding other instruments while I am NOT there. And neither is the producer. So there is no way to monitor what they’re going to be recording. I’ve never done ANYthing like this before… NOT being there when peeps record their parts. It could turn into a total MESS. But I’m hoping to create a totally NEW sound by doing it this way — encouraging the dissonance that will naturally come from the musicians stepping all over each other without knowing it. Trumpet parts stepping all over sax and flute parts etc. It’s a crazy idea.
Of course we’ll mix the messy parts out and just keep the “good parts” Meaning whatever fits and sounds good. And hopefully that will provide a GIANT palette from which to choose for Zeke Zaskin who is set to mix yet again. He’s mixed every one of our albums since Nothing Is Cohesive and he always does a great job. Bear in mind that we usually provide absolutely insanely confusing tracks. Usually very messy because we record A LOT. I’ll lay down at least 15 different vocal tracks plus three to five guitar tracks and two to five keyboard tracks. In addition Vancouver will lay down five to ten additional guitar tracks. Now we’ll be adding an additional 10 to 15 additional musicians all laying down whatever they want to however they want to…
It has the potential to be a royal mess. But it also has the potential to be a roaring success, something brand new and exciting sounding. the potential for the musicians to step on each other musically is VERY high. Notes that may sound good to them clashing with notes that other players have added… Cause none of us are going to hear what the other people are adding. But that’s what i LOVE about the prospects of this new way of doing it. The utter randomness of it. No, it will not be the usual organic “all built up from the bottom up together as a unit” kind of recording style that we are used to. It’s going to be the exact opposite. But that’s what I am kind of digging about this new method. We now have the technology to record in this fashion. Of course no one in their right mind would do this on a professional commercial release. It’s crazy for sure. But it just may blow us all away with how cool it could sound.
In any case, there’s a catch up for ya. That’s where we are. If you were wondering where this new album is. Yes I know we’re a year behind schedule. But there’s a valid reason for it. We’re trying something a little different with this one. So be patient. As soon as we have something finished, IF we ever finish a song that is…. We’ll post it for you all to hear. Frankly I can’t wait to hear what this grand experiment produces. It’s bound to be new. Good? Can’t say yet. The songs are good. But I just may ruin them… LOL! We’ll just have to see. Standby on that.
As always, more later.
Love him or hate him one thing is for sure, Bob Lefsetz loves music. The way that WE love music. The way MANY PEOPLE used to love music. Not as a money making commodity that has to follow hundreds of modern trends, rules and industry codes the way that people in our industry today “like” music; to them, and there’re many of them now unfortunately, music is something to buy and sell. Preferably sell. To whom? They don’t care. Just as long as it sells. What it sounds like they don’t care about that either. Just as long as it sells. The singer’s a 17 year old white Midwestern girl who pretends to dress and act like a black slut from the ghetto because she’s insecure about her coolness in the industry right now and thinks we might “sell more if we sell sex instead of music”. Shes willing to act even sluttier if we’ll let her. She has a potentially large demographic of young middle American girls she may influence in not the healthiest manner if she treads down this path. They don’t care as long as it sells.
The music sucks in general. It has no long term historic appeal. U don’t hear an artist as much as a short lived trend coming out of the speakers. It all sounds the same at the Top 100 level no matter which format you dial up. Every damn song is a 3 minute and 30 second mirror copy of the song that played right before it. Forget about by the same artists. A whole album with ten songs that all sound exactly the same. They don’t care. As long as it sells. Granted the artists come and go faster than anyone can remember their names or ages or what town they’re from and every few weeks the cycle repeats itself. God help the artists long term…
We’re growing a new commodity here — catchy but cheap contrived often vulgar and depraved disposable soundbites — and in the process destroying a classic one, i.e. music as art/history/cultural landmark/hero/messiah.
Those in the biz, we in the biz, still know there’s good stuff being created out there. All over the world. More so now than ever. It just doesn’t hit the Hot 100 very often. So we buy those for our own enjoyment while giving the masses what we assume they want in exchange for the .99 cents per track they’re willing to throw down for a download times a few hundred thousand to million people. Thats our pay. With that revenue earned we can afford to buy the good stuff we hear coming out around us. We just can’t promote it. Why? Because that’s what “they” say. Keep the real artists off the radio and on the road. That’s where they belong. U can always get them late night shows and some morning show play. On the radio we keep the cheap candy, the disposable hip hop hits dance tracks and Pitbull raps about drinking and cars and gold chains. And pistachios.
Hasn’t always been this way. Sometimes we just need a reminder. Music industry vet Bob Lefsetz acted as that reminder for us today with his random blog about his first experiences hearing the forever amazing british rock band Queen. Read on and prepare to re-remember what getting excited about great music feels like.
Here it is in full:
We were not prepared for it.
I bought the initial album, with the pinkish purple cover, based on a review in “Rolling Stone.” You could tell by the enthusiasm and the description that this was something you wanted to check out. And from the very first note it was enrapturing. That’s the power of “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Right, now it seems obvious. But it was anything but in ’73. I never heard “Keep Yourself Alive” on the radio, it was kind of like Yes with the first three albums, they were for fans only.
And then came “Queen II.” Also with no synths. Oh, how amazing is Brian May. And it wasn’t quite as good as the debut, but it got even less traction, it was like it didn’t even come out, and I figured Queen was another one of those bands I knew by heart who were destined to disappear. And then came “Sheer Heart Attack.” “Killer Queen” was all over the radio, like the band always belonged there. And at this late date, you can see that “Killer Queen” foreshadowed what was coming, but those who bought the album heard cuts like “Stone Cold Crazy,” which also got airplay, which were closer to what had come before as opposed to what was in the pipeline. Queen was another hard rocking band with impeccable chops, very British, very interesting, but they were still making music tied to their roots. And then came “A Night At The Opera.”
At this late date the album is overshadowed by the enduring success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but the breakthroughs were on the first side, with “You’re My Best Friend” and “’39.”
It was not like today. In the midseventies you could like singer-songwriters as well as hard rock. A true music fan had broad tastes. So when you were expecting bombast and heard “You’re My Best Friend” a smile crossed your face…how’d they come up with this combination of west coast and UK? Soft with harmonies was positively SoCal, but previously Queen had been more about assault than subtlety…but the band was not afraid to experiment, saw no need to repeat itself, “You’re My Best Friend”…sounds like the joy of said, that one person you can count on, but it’s not only the vocal and the harmonies but the pure instrumental sound, it was an aural concoction that accelerated to its conclusion and begged to be played again when this was difficult, when we lived in the vinyl era and the needle segued into the next cut.
Which was even quieter, something more similar to the Band than anything Queen had done previously, the aforementioned “’39.” Unlike today’s in-your-face music, “’39” was reflective, a whole story, with a jaunty chorus… It’d be like Angus Young suddenly cut an English folk song!
But those two cuts were just the most obvious. Before them on the first side was…”I’m In Love With My Car.” Which was typically Queen heavy, but in a newfangled way. It was slow where everything previously had been fast. Not sung by Freddie Mercury, but drummer Roger Taylor, who wrote it!
“I’m in love with my car, got a feel for my automobile”
We all felt it, but we never heard it put so emphatically, not by the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean. This was an English sensibility, with all the joy of pride in your machine. With harmonies to boot!
And what was dramatic was that none of these three songs sounded remotely alike. Once upon a time a band could be more than one thing, and the audience rewarded them for it.
Then there’s the baroque “Love Of My Life” on side two. You’ve got to understand, Queen was a heavy band! But now they were quiet and meaningful, and to listen to this alone in your bedroom on headphones brought in to question your masculinity not a whit. Boys are romantic, and Freddie Mercury gave us permission to be.
The only track on the album that sounded close to what came before was the opener, “Death On Two Legs.” It was like the band jettisoned a few stages and rocketed into hyperspace, years before “Star Wars” was released.
And when we initially heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” we didn’t think all time rock classic but innovative ear-pleasing cut.
And there wasn’t a single other band doing anything like this in the marketplace. Nobody was Queen-like.
And the audience could have rejected “A Night At The Opera.”
But no, when something is this good, people can’t help but embrace it, the way all the musos acknowledged how great a guitar player Eddie Van Halen was when they heard his band’s debut.
And if they had no base the album still would have succeeded. But with some airplay from “Sheer Heart Attack” and relentless quality touring, making diehard fans on the road, the audience was primed for what they didn’t expect, with “A Night At The Opera” Queen became superstars overnight
In one of those “Human beings are amazing. You never know what they’re going to discover and/or explore” moments, someone randomly posted a YouTube video to my Facebook wall. Normally this is not something I enjoy or encourage. Not even a little bit truth be told. But in this instance I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not one of their songs or videos or essays or lectures as is usually the case, nor was it some political article skewed one way or the other. Rather it was a strange video explaining why the note we know as “middle A” in Western music is tuned specifically to the frequency of 440 Hertz. I knew this to be true, just as any musician does, amateur or professional, because this is what we are taught in school. The real question is WHY do we never question why that particular frequency was chosen to represent this particular note?
Back in music school when I was a kid just out of high school, all the other students were a few years older than I was — to say the least. I was 17 at the time. I think the youngest person in any of my classes was probably in their early 20s. So there was a lot of learning for me then, both in the classroom and out. I actually believe that I could confidently state that I can recall more of what other students taught me or attempted to teach me during those two years than anything I learned in any particular class. There were many lessons… About romance, the art of music, literature, and life.
One night in particular I remember this guy named Tim who was probably about 25 at the time (though to me he might as well have been 40 — everyone seemed old and very adult to me there) explaining to me how the notes and scales we use in Western music are random when you consider them from a bigger more global viewpoint, especially contrasted with music and scales from other countries. I had honestly never thought of that before. Didn’t even know about it.
How we just assume that there are 12 notes in between C and C, when in fact there are many more, infinitely more in fact. This blew my mind. How our guitars and pianos are actually crafted to ONLY play those 12 notes. We can’t play all those other notes in between those dictated 12 notes even if we wanted to due to the construction of the instruments we play here in the States and in other so-called Western countries. Imagine that…
How we consider C to be the start of our scales. Why? How we usually have 8 notes in a scale. Why? Other countries don’t necessarily limit scales to that. Some have less. Some have more. That all of our music, including what we call Middle C, is based on a random tuning of the note A to the frequency of 440 hertz. I had never thought about musical notes in terms of what frequency they are tuned to… Never got that deep with it. I was 17. Just beginning to peek my head out of the clouds. I did remember learning that electronic tuners, the ones we use to plug our guitars into, were calibrated based on A being set to 440. But I didn’t really know what it meant. I just remembered it as one of those unimportant random facts we pick up along with the way.
Ever since that evening I have gone back to that conversation again and again in my mind… Especially when listening to music from other countries that do not use or rely on the traditional Western 12 notes for their music… wondering about those secret hidden notes between the 12 notes we use. Simply put we go from C to C for example and in between those two Cs there are 10 notes and that’s it. Bear in mind that we have no actual scales that use all 12 notes because it wouldn’t sound like a scale per se. It would just sound like a bunch of notes all run together. Unless someone just plays what we call a “chromatic scale” which literally translates to “play all the notes in between one note and it’s octave (the C higher than Middle C, the C higher than that one, etc…)” What you end up with is the sound of “no discernible scale” because you’re playing ALL the notes available to us. But “available to us” is the key to seeing the magic and mystery in that sentence.
Most of our most common scales have only 8 notes in them actually, 7 really if you don’t count the octave (the C higher than the C you started on). Think Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. That Do represents C. So really there are only 7 notes. Sometimes we’ll veer off of that and add an extra note or 2 in there, such as a 7th, a 2nd or 9th, a 6th. These are all pretty common additions. Depending on how you play it you might be still playing just 8 notes or you might play 9 instead. Sometimes we’ll use more than one of those, let’s say for example the chord Cmin7(9), meaning that we’re adding the 7th and the 9th to the chord in addition to the usual 1st, 3rd, and 5th. On and on. It’s an endless contemplation. And not really pertinent to this post. The main point is that we have for whatever reason limited our music in the West to the above explanations. For better or worse. That’s just how it is.
But deeper than that. We’ve also limited it in terms of WHAT each individual notes ARE exactly. That’s something that most of us don’t think of. Hum something right now to yourself. Just one note. Out loud. Any note. See, here’s the deal. You MAY have hummed a real note (in Western music) OR you may not have. You might have been off a little. Perhaps you were “real close” to humming an A let’s say. That’s what is known as a tone or a frequency in reality, in the study of sound. You hummed a tone really. We don’t know if you hummed an actual “note”. It’s a tonal frequency, but not necessarily a “note” in a strict sense. We’d have no way to know IF we hadn’t chosen specific frequencies to represent the individual notes we use. How would any of us know what an A was unless we specifically decided as a society that the note A was to be represented exactly by the frequency of 440 hertz? We wouldn’t. We’d all be playing slightly different tones or frequencies and calling them “A”. SO at some point 440 was chosen to be “A”.
So… What’s all this lead to? Well the video below says it way better than I could at this point. The main thing to consider is this: What if A isn’t really 440? Hah! In reality it’s NOT. That’s the thing. It’s an illusion that we have all just agreed to agree on. Like almost everything we think we know or believe as humans. That seems to be the pervading theme of the Transcendence Diaries isn’t it? All these illusions that we have agreed to agree on in order to make life more acceptable and sensible to us, to create order out of the chaos. Of course that’s where we get Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics, this realization that the actual universe is NOT ordered or sensible, that there is no way to really nail things down as much as we’d like to… not even things that seem relatively stable and solid such as atoms or time or gravity… Ever heard of leap year? It’s mind boggling really.
It’s certainly NOT the year 2013. We know that. My name isn’t really Fishy. We know that too. truth is I have no name. My parents were asked to and one assumes felt compelled to at some point “name their first born son”. So they did. But it isn’t really my name. This isn’t really the United States of America that we live in. Consider the origin of this country, even just it’s name… and you really start to bend over backwards trying to take in all the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Primarily because it’s all randomly man-made. They say Christopher Colombus “discovered America”. But we know in reality that his name was Cristóbal Colón; that the land he “discovered” had already been discovered 10,000 years before and was inhabited by millions of other people; that the name “America” came from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who supposedly had “discovered” the land before Colon had. And on and on it goes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg really. So many illusions, just in regards to the name of one country.
Forget about all the other illusions that we agree to agree on. “God” anyone? In the history of humanity we’ve believed in and had over one-thousand “gods” so far. And we’re really just beginning in our evolution. Hell we don’t even know when we started out in our “evolution” or if we even evolved so to speak. I cannot help but entertain the theory that we may just have been created by another species of sentient beings entirely and that we never really “evolved” from fish as some people agree to believe. I mean, that’s the thing isn’t it? It’s all just man-made.
Which beings us back to music. More and more people are beginning to explore this idea of WHY we use the specific frequencies we do for the musical notes that we use to create music in. The video below goes into this. How some frequencies are “healing” and how some may be “harmful”. I’m not sure I could fully get behind believing in this belief system 100%. After all, it is just a belief system. Being true for a person to the degree they believe it to be true and thus dictating their experience. But it is a fascinating thing to explore. What if we did decide to change our entire musical architecture and make the note A 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz? We could easily make that decision. No problem in that decision. The problem would be all the music instruments all over the world would have to be re-tuned and re-calibrated. In other words, we’re so far gone in this belief system, it’s such a rigid system, that there’s no way in hell that collectively enough people will ever allow this decision to be made.
And therein illustrates a damn good example of why so-called conspiracies exist and may just not always be “theories”. One might say that certain conspiracies exist simply due to the fact that the majority of people involved in the decision making process of whatever paradigm or system we are discussing decide that things are fine the way they are and that it would be too much trouble to make things different.
This isn’t to say that WE can’t choose to decide that the note A will from now on be represented by 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz. We can. We can even re-tune all our instruments that way and continue to write all our music like that from now on. Of course no one else would be able to play with us unless they did the same thing. Frankly it’s something I’d like to hear. Changing A would necessitate changing ALL of the frequencies of all the notes in any musical scale we would use from that point on. So every note we play in any given piece of music would have an entirely different sound to it…. Fascinating… I’d love to hear it. So much more. But good for now.
I highly recommend these videos. Check out this one.
Last night Vancouver and I were on the phone about the new album the band and I have been recording. I brought the hard drive that the whole album is on to his place in my suitcase when we flew to LA for the Sunset Sessions gig. Vancouver called me screaming that he had just listened to the tracks and had vomited in his mouth. He couldn’t believe how raw and rough they sounded. He especially couldn’t believe how insanely rough the drums sounded. I had told him I was bringing him “the finished tracks” so he could add all his parts. (This is a technique that is becoming more and more popular fyi for those who are not musicians. Transcendence is a band. The same band that has been touring and recording together for 11 years. Same guys. But we do presently happen to live in five different cities. All over the country. From Miami to Atlanta to New York to Seattle to Los Angeles. It’s crazy. Normally we fly to one city to record. For the basic rhythm tracks for this new album we did. But then we parted ways. I’ve been recording my guitar parts in New York and my vocal parts in Seattle. Father Bloopy (now-The Ex Norwegian) adds his bass and keys and guitars in Miami. Vancouver will add his guitars and keys and vocals in LA. All through shipping hard drives around the country. It’s a fascinating process. Sometimes if we are just doing one song, we will just fly the files over the internet. And yet the end result is still the same thing: a finished track. (the latest one I just described is about to appear in an upcoming sports film being released later in the year. We were never in the same room once together. But no one will ever know or even think about that aspect of it… They’ll either “like” the song or not. This is a side note, but it’s essence is actually pertinent to the major theme of this post.))
Vancouver knew we had started tracking the project using v-drums triggering a multitude of high grade drum samples. It was an experiment based on several different needs at the time. Using drum samples is so common today that 98% of the music we hear on the radio is made that way. Even if the drummer of the group originally recorded his parts on real drums. Often times the mix engineer will substitute better sounding drum samples if he thinks he can improve the track or he wants it to sound more current or even if he just wants to change up the sound of the drums a bit from section to section. Again, most people don’t know this. Then again, they don’t care. They don’t think about it.
So The Ex Norwegian and The Poet and I fill Vancouver’s head with days and days of stories about how incredible “the new stuff sounds”. And he can’t wait to power up this hard drive and listen to the tracks and start adding his parts to them. But I had brought the wrong hard drive to LA! So what he was listening to were the rough demos we did of the songs back in July of last year. He was aghast. He couldn’t believe this was our idea of “amazing sounding finished songs”. And for good reason. Demos can be notoriously shitty sounding. Even if you’re used to listening to them as we are. But he had been set up to believe he was about to sky dive over the Grand Canyon with a choir of angels or something. And instead we throw him out of the back of a plane over a garbage heap with a couple of crack whores.
The conversation soon turned into a debate about using drum “samples” versus “real drums”. (Drum samples are “real drums”. But they are samples of real drums. The sound itself isn’t being created there in that moment. The PART is being played live there in that moment. But the SOUND could have been created thirty years ago. Google it if you aren’t familiar with the process.) Granted, in our genre of music, rock, (pop-rock in general — ALL of the various different radio formats and genres and sub-genres included) we almost exclusively use real drums. Rock bands that is. Yes the engineer then replaces a good portion of them with what he considers “better sounding” real drum samples IF the band lets him or her do so; but the playing is all real, the feel is real, it’s human. And that’s what we the artists are used to. Again, the people, the music consuming public, has no idea that this paradigm or any debate about it one way or the other even exists.
[It is still shocking, funny, twisted, trippy, controversial and disturbing to US, musicians, when we see an artist pretend to play live on TV with a little group of musicians behind them also pretending to play drums and bass and guitar and keyboard when we know that the album was almost entirely made on a keyboard and that those musicians were hired just to show up and pretend to be playing — their mics aren’t even turned up. It’s still an “issue” for most musicians to see that. Especially if the singer is also pretending (lip-synching).]
The conversation got me thinking about this whole ongoing debate about what is REAL music. To be fair, it’s primarily only musicians that even think about this kind of thing. Music lovers especially casual ones don’t seem to even know the difference between what we call “real” music, i.e. traditional music instruments being played, and “non-real” music, i.e. music that is made on computers or keyboards or beat/drum machines. But as much as non-musicians don’t give a shit, musicians really give a shit. Trust me. They are ADAMANT about how important it is for music to be made on “real instruments”. Typing it here it sounds ridiculously inane and funny. I know. But believe me, it’s a subject that much passion goes into when you get a room full of musicians together.
To my mind, though I used to agree with this sentiment and it’s taken some getting used to, I just couldn’t really rationalize it. I believe it’s a generation thing more than anything… more on that later. I couldn’t figure out why the rest of the world didnt seem to care as I and other musicians did… for example, EDM (electronic dance music) is the most popular music in the world today — if we go by certain statistics… And it is made entirely on computers — no “real” musical instruments involved. Why didn’t average everyday people care “how” this or any other music is made? I struggled with this question for years. Both as an artist and as an ardent music lover.
As a listener I could care less how the music I love is made. I LOVE Nabukazu Takemura. Everyone knows that. he makes “blip music”. It’s just a sound or two repeated over and over — all chopped up using a laptop. For the most part. And if a band wants to go all keyboardy like Bowie did with Eno back in the mid-seventies, if i LIKED the music they produced, I didn’t care HOW they made it. But why did I care as a musician? Why did it matter to me if a band used drum samples versus real drums? Or if a guitarist used a guitar amp modeling app from a computer instead of a Vox AC30 amplifier? No matter how I tried to piece my logic together I just could not rationalize my criticism.
So I did what all musicians should do. I continued to contemplate it and feel into it and at the same time I listened to the Top 40 — Billboard’s Hot 100 list of the “most popular songs on radio and in sales” — to try to get a better understanding of what the differences were. Truth be told, there are no differences in the bigger picture. The WAY that the music is being made may be different, but the passion and skill and sentiment behind it is still surprisingly the same. That’ s why the average music listener or even the aficionado doesn’t care or even notice. To them it’s just MUSIC: a feeling and/or a thought expressed through the filter of the art and craft of music. They either vibe with it or they don’t.
I kept on listening to popular music. Not just the popular music that I perceived that I “liked”. But ALL popular music. Studying. Learning. (I will grant anyone that the lyrics to 99% of popular music suck. That is, they just don’t offer anything intelligent, meaningful or new. AND that popular music is for the most part ingratiatingly repetitive. Not only within the construct of the same song, but from song to song and artist to artist — they all sound phenomenally similar. As if ONE artist made them all rather than 100 different artists (on the Hot 100 list for example). These are valid viewpoints. As valid as a purely subjective viewpoint can be that is. Most people share them. (this is a false and illogical attempt to rationalize a viewpoint, i.e. “everybody feels this way…” I know that). But to be fair, these aren’t new ideas. Many people have this complaint about pop music. This is why the majority of popular music is geared towards and consumed and enjoyed by young people between the ages of 10 to 18; and why most people move beyond pop music once they reach a certain age. They are searching for more meaning, for something new, for more intelligence and variety lyrically, etc.
One thing to bear in mind though is that we as young people don’t listen to popular music because we like it or dislike it. We listen to it to be a part of a scene. To feel a part of something bigger than we are. Because most people — or at least the perceived majority of people we come into contact with in school when young — listen to whatever is being played on pop music radio and TV, we tune in in order to have knowledge of it and to share in that collective experience. Black sheep and outsiders, like myself when I was younger, do the exact same thing by taking an opposite approach. We fit into and become a part of a different scene by refusing to listen to what is popular on the radio and instead join a smaller niche group where everyone does that. But our primary goal often times at that age is just to be a part of something big due to our limited access and mobility.
So yes, popular music does have it’s limitations as mentioned above. Few would argue with these distinctive markers of popular music. There is only so much one can listen to songs exclusively about dancing, drinking, falling in love, making money and fucking to a 4/4 rhythm set to 120 beats per minute. I grant the music snobs that.)
But I did and do find a lot of the music that is popular today and has been since the beginning of the “popular music” concept first developed remarkably entertaining and intriguing. So I have continued to listen. Genre and format and “how it’s made” be damned. It finally hit me one day while taking a walk outside to get some fresh air. It really shouldn’t come down to “what instrument” is used to make music. As long as its “good music”. Meaning that “we like it”. Music like all art is completely subjective. Our perceived like or dislike of it IS purely subjective. So too is our transparent judgment of what makes it good or bad. Those are just terms we use to reflect what we like or don’t like. This idea of course drives so-called music snobs CRAZY. They will scream and argue till they’re blue and pass out that there IS a difference between “good and bad” music. That they can somehow qualify it. But they’d be lying; to whoever they’re arguing with and to themselves. (It’s much like the visual art world in that aspect…. What makes a valuable painting versus one that sells for $1 at a yard sale?)
If we discovered a another species of conscious beings from another planet or solar system entirely who knew nothing about out music or how it is made and we played them a wide variety of music that has been created on planet earth over the last fifty years, they would have NO idea what we consider good or bad. They would have their own opinion and feelings about it. The last thing they would probably think about would be “what instrument is that song being played on?” They just wouldn’t care because it wouldn’t occur to them to care.
So whats to stop regular folk from worshiping the music of the Black Eyed Peas? or Drake? or Usher? or JT? or Kesha? Or anyone else they happen to love…? The same way musicians tend to love The Beatles or The Doors or Led Zeppelin or The Boss? So what if Kanye and Jay Z make their music on little MPC beat boxes or laptops or keyboards as opposed to on traditional musical instruments? Isn’t that MORE inventive and innovative in a way? I began to see that perhaps it was. After all, any 13 year old can pick up a guitar and learn to play a power chord well enough once some overdrive is added to make it sound “cool/hip/authentic/real” and write a “song”. But these new music makers (and they aren’t really new anymore –(that’s what I meant about this being a generational thing…) are pioneers in their quest to make music withOUT any traditional musical instruments. We can no longer use the term “real instrument” because what IS a REAL musical instrument? I would assert that it is ANYthing that one can make music on. So we are reduced logically to calling them what they are: traditional musical instruments, versus just “musical instruments”.
I began to see that the only reason we care is because we are musicians. It matters to us… For a variety of reasons. Sure. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is when these musicians use this idea to justify insulting or criticizing the music that others make just because they don’t make it the same way that they do. Their true claim, their only claim, is that “they aren’t making it using traditional music instruments”. But what does that really matter? It’s a principle issue. And all because of this illogical reason of “principle”, many musicians are willing to ignore entire social trends of modernization and progress transpiring all around them in the art and music world.
Some call these types “traditionalists”. We’ve all heard the term before. In a variety of contexts. I’ve never liked tradition myself. I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid it at all costs. Rock ‘n’ roll certainly didn’t start off traditional. It was all about bucking the system and breaking with tradition. What’s with this small group of close minded musicians who refuse to accept the various new methods and processes that their contemporaries are using to create music with? It’s an odd anomaly when you consider it.
I used to belong to this group until recently. I don’t want to mislead or misrepresent. I have always been open to ANY kind of music, purity or tradition be damned; as a listener. I liked what I liked and that was that. But as a musician I must confess to playing the music snob millions of times when critiquing other musicians. Why now I don’t really know. But that is pre-epiphany. The whole paradigm has changed for me now. I find music snobs annoying. The funny thing is that there are so many little sets and subsets of music snobs in every category of music, all claiming that the music that they like is the “best” or “only real” music. It’s ridiculous. Pair up the classical music snobs against the indie rock snobs against the classic rock snobs and let them verbally duke it out for a few days or weeks. They’ll eventually realize they’re all saying the same thing based on early-adopted transparent beliefs that have no justification and make friends and laugh it off, or they’re most likely mentally or emotionally challenged and we shoulnd’t be entertaining adult dialogues with them in the first place.
After all, it’s this same group who 70 years ago protested against the “electrified guitar” versus a “real guitar”, or 100 years ago complained about the switch from classical to pop composition not being “real music”. Ten years ago you wouldn’t catch a “real musician” recording “real music” into a computer (rather than onto analog tape) even if they were dead. Five years ago it was “they suck; they use autotune!” Now who in their right mind releases music withOUT autotune??? Perhaps only people who don’t want to make living from making music. All of these distinctions eventually become arbitrary and archaic because society continues to move forward without us unless we r willing to keep up and embrace what it is we r actually doing: making popular music, i.e. making music that is popular with the masses as our job. To make our living.
It took me a while but I actually love technology in music now and see no difference between a great guitarist or a great loop or beat creator. About eight years ago, I watched for the first time this DJ kid take our music — as we were creating it in the studio on acoustic instruments — and import it into his laptop every night and come up with the most insanely catchy “new” music from it by the time we arrived in the morning. Like totally new songs… The result can be heard on our All Your Heroes Become Villains album from 2011. We combined what we did and what he did to create an absolutely thrilling sound. It was like he had a whole different aesthetic and artform to music making than we did. Yet he was using OUR music… but making it all on his laptop. It was wild. He couldn’t play a note on a guitar or piano. But he could talk music and he understood music just as well as any of us did. [An interesting note: Our nomenclature is also different. Artists like him, Moby, David Guetta, Skrillex, Akufen, Jam and Lewis, Kanye, Mark Ronson, et al. DO have an entirely different way of speaking about music. They might not refer to notes and chords in the traditional sense. It may take traditional musicians some time to learn the vernacular of their style of music making, but the final result — what everyone is going for — is the same.]
I have heard so many musicians over the last ten years attempt to qualify why and how their music is better because they play an instrument versus those who don’t. They use terms like genuine or organic or authentic. But I believe that all those terms are more indicative of something mysterious inherent in the soul of the music rather than in how it’s made. I have worked with too many “musicians” now who don’t play a traditional instrument but they still believe they are organically creating “music” and so too do their fans. The DJ guys and beat maker guys. It’s just a new form of music… It sprang up around us all while we were digging rock music. So maybe we missed it. But I’ve watched them. They’re doing the same thing we are. Just on different instruments. It’s a trip. It’s glorious. Their inspiration is the same. Their commitment to purity and greatness. They know no different than how they make music. They never thought “hey I’m going to try to create music NOT on a traditional instrument. They take it for granted that that’s how you make music. Just as many “rock” musicians know no difference. But it’s all music.
I look at it this way now: If an artist comes out one day whose main instrument is a cardboard shoebox and whale samples (weirder things have happened) and he finds a way to make it sound cool and it catches on and people like it, there is really NO way that someone can rationalize saying it’s “bad music” — just because it’s created on a shoebox and not a “real instrument”. They can try. But they’d just be spinning their wheels. No one would care. The song is already at #1 and now inspiring a whole new generation of kids to go find old shoeboxes and write hit songs on them. And THAT’S the real beauty of music/art.
‘Too Picasso…. you’re just too fucking Picasso man… That should be the title of the documentary about what it is like to work with you Fishy,’ Dasher tells me. ‘you’re just all over the place… too abstract. you have to hone in man, just hear me on this… you can’t go interview people about health care problems and hear all these fucked up stories for instance and then head out into the street with your ipod and be dancing around ten minutes later to a Jay z song. people are going to think you are a bastard and its going to totally minimize the impact of what we’re going for in the story…’
‘bro I hear you. o.k.? I really do. But check it man. Life is sad. I’ll give you that. life is always going to be sad. God knows that’s part of what we’re doing here with the show is showing how fucked up everything is… but bro… that’s just life. life is always sad. No matter what. all the time all of us know someone in our life who is going through something fucked up and sad… but man life is good too… at the same time… you know?’
‘Yeah man, and like with music…. music is there for us no matter what. good or bad… even during the sad times… so o.k. so lets say I do the interview with the freedom fighters in Chechnya… and they’re all fucked up because the media is inappropriately labeling them terrorists and blah blah blah and its really sad that Russia has killed all their fucking men in their whole country and all that’s left now is young kids and women.. and sure that’s fucking sad as hell man.. and I’m feeling that sadness… I mean, bro you know me… I’m feeling that pain…’
‘I know you are. That’s what I’m saying… you’re there… and I love that. and I think people are going to see that Fishy….’
‘o.k. but dig what I’m saying…. o.k. so then… on the plane coming back home, some girl and I are digging each other right? and I want to film us dancing to some awesome music and just let it out… you know man.. that’s life…. or maybe we get it on in the bathroom at thirty-thousand feet and I want to film that and put it in the show… that would be cool man…’
‘No Fishy that would not be cool. that’s why I mean… it won’t work man… it would just never work… people do not think like that… they need something solid. They want one statement… they don’t want ten statements… maybe you do… and I respect that man. You’re an artist… I understand that… I do, but its not going to sell. And we’re going to bomb bro. and I am too young to bomb. You’re going to have to trust me on this…. I respect you, but you’re going to have to trust me on this…’
I’m sick now. have a cold. I love having colds. I love sneezing. I love blowing my nose. I love the whole art of having a cold. Its never unwelcomed…
Current spin: Al Green – I’m still in love with you. this is the original album, the masterpiece. One of them. Just great. Perfect. so singular in what it attempts. Pulls it off perfectly. digging into all of the old original Al green releases. A master in his time. He and Marvin and Curtis and Sly and Ray and James. And then Prince sashayed in. So forget about it. He just blew the doors off of place.