Archive for the ‘Music’ category

That 70’s Song

October 19, 2013

Just a little something from my days in San Diego with the band.

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My Journey in the World of Copyrights

August 26, 2013

The issue of Intellectual Property (IP) is a very contentious one in libertarian circles and indeed between differing political philosophies, not all parties seem to agree on whether such a system could exist in a free society or whether such a system is just in the first place. Admittedly, it wasn’t an issue that I had put much thought into until I began reading some of Stephan Kinsella’s work, which eventually converted me to being an anti-IP advocate. While it is great to study and to understand the theoretical positions for or against IP, it is quite another thing to actually experience such a system first hand in the practical sense. Fortunately or unfortunately, I recently had the privilege of that experience.

I am a multi-instrumentalist who also has a love and knack for production. My idea was simple: I’m going to produce something. So I decided that I would perform and record a full cover of a song and also produce an original video to accompany it, and then I would post the whole thing on the internet. Since I am not planning on monetizing this project I figured that I wouldn’t need to worry about copyright or licensing, but I soon realized that I was being quite naive.

Rather than spending time actually recording and producing my music video I instead found myself searching through the labyrinth of copyright laws to figure out just how I could go about completing my project without either being sued or thrown into a cage. As it turns out, there is a licensing scheme that exists and all people must comply with it in order to do anything creative with a work written by somebody else.

There are four basic licenses dealing with music copyrights, they are:

Performance License– This license deals with performing a work in a public place or venue. It could be a bar, a club, on television, a street corner, an aerobics class, on the internet, or any other situation in which multiple people will be hearing the music. This license applies both to cases where one is actually performing the piece, as well as when they are simply playing a previous recording of the piece (such as on a jukebox). The licensing agencies that deal with this area are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. The fees are varied, depending upon the venue and the song(s) being performed (i.e. the class of license being issued), as well the fees can be based upon a per song basis or a blanket license that covers a particular period of time.

Mechanical License– This license deals with all cases where a work will either be recorded (as in the case of a cover) or simply copied to a medium. Essentially, any time a work is put onto a medium other than the original medium, even if they are of the same type (CD, hard drive, website, etc), one must get this license. The licensing agencies that deal with this area are Harry Fox Agency and Limelight. The fees are 10¢ per physical copy or download, and 1¢ per online stream (for songs up to five minutes in length), as well as processing fees.

Synchronization License– This license deals with all cases where a song will be synchronized to a visual media output (such as a film, commercial, website,etc). There are no agencies that issue this license, it must be obtained directly from the publisher and/or songwriters. The fees vary from no charge at all up to $200,000 or more, per instance or into perpetuity.

Print License– This license is pretty straight forward. Any time you wish to reprint the lyrics or music of a song (words, notation, or tablature), you must obtain this license. The fees vary, as do the issuing agencies and the conditions of the license.

Now one might say to themselves, “that seems pretty straight-forward and simple”, but au contraire, this is where it starts to get interesting. To keep things simple, I’ll just run through some of the considerations and complications that I encountered with each license.

At first I was considering hosting my work on my own blog, but then I realized that in order to do this I would have to get a performance license. After inquiring about what this would cost, I soon decided that this probably would not be a good idea, and that I would be better off using Youtube instead. The reason is that Youtube already has a blanket performance license that covers everything, if they didn’t, then their business model of user-created content would crumble very quickly.

Almost all online media websites with user-created content have these licenses, which is very helpful to those who wish to do what I am doing, but it only shows how very insidious this license is. The owners of these websites are not the creators of the content, yet they are still required to purchase the license as if they were. The logical implication here is that one party is being held accountable for the actions of another party, and that they are also being held legally liable for any “damages” caused to the copyright holder. It is sort of like if you had a party at your house, and one guest punched another guest, yet you’re the one that is hauled off to jail for assault (this isn’t a perfect analogy because it deals with actual property, whereas in the case of copyrights, there is no real property under discussion).

The one license that I knew I must purchase is the mechanical license. This allows me to record my own version of the song and to release it to the public (or even sell CDs or digital downloads). However, things get a little tricky when it comes to the copyrights of the songwriter(s). If there is more than one songwriter, then they can either own all portions of the song equally or each person owns only their contribution to the song (i.e. the guitar part, the bass part, the vocal, etc), or some combination of the two. Unless the songwriter(s) have their own publishing firm, they will most likely be dealing with another party as the publisher, who in turn will own a portion of the rights to the work (usually 50%). The kicker here is that the only purpose of having a publisher at all is for it to be the sole issuer of licenses of a copyrighted work, but rather than accepting a fee for this service, the publisher instead acquires actual ownership of a portion of the copyright. Hmm?

In the case of my project, the song in question has three songwriters who each own their respective contributions, but since they contracted with a publisher, the publisher owns a portion of each songwriter’s copyright to the song. So even if I got the permission to record the song from all three songwriters, I’d still have to go through the publisher for final clearance. Even more, I would still have to pay the licensing fees regardless of whether the songwriters demand me to do so or not, because the publisher will always demand a fee.

As I’ve mentioned above, I also wish to make an original video to accompany my cover of the song, so one would think that I must get a synchronization license in addition to the mechanical license. This is not necessarily true and it is the portion of this story that gets a little vague and non-exact.

If I were to host my project on my own blog I would have to not only get a synchronization license, but also the mechanical and performance licenses, as well. Luckily, due to the shear number of people who post videos of themselves doing covers of songs and posting the original recordings of songs, Youtube has gone to great lengths to secure agreements with music publishers, such that so long as the person doing the posting of the song is not doing so for monetary gain, then they cannot be held liable for any “damages” inflicted upon the songwriters and publishers. However, the video can still be taken down without notice.

One problem that I encountered when becoming aware of the agreements that Youtube has with music publishers is that almost none of these agreements are made public, so most people have no way of knowing whether they are breaking the law or not when they post copyrighted material on Youtube. Some of the publishers do post small blurbs about posting such covers on Youtube, but they are very vague.

In my case, the song that I am recording is published by Warner Music Group (WMG), and they do post their policy on their site (you can read it here). Clearly WMG is not granting any real rights or licenses in this agreement, rather they are saying that they won’t sue so long as you are only posting WMG content in a “personal, non-profit” manner. Further, it states that they –as well as any other party that holds a copyright claim to the work– can decide to remove the content, or to simply monetize it.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many ads before seemingly personal videos on Youtube, this is why.

Essentially, the publishers realize that they cannot pursue every copyright infringement due to the shear number of people posting. Further, they realize that in many cases it is in their best interest to monetize the video for their own benefit rather than take it down. While this is a trend toward a loosening of the restraints on those who post covers on Youtube, it also hinders the spread of information by having an advertisement before the video (which may cause some to simply skip the video altogether).

With my project I did purchase the mechanical license, but I have decided to forego purchasing the synchronization license (due to the prohibitive cost). This is actually taking a very big risk on my part. While I will be free from liability for posting the video, there is no guarantee that it won’t be taken down, in which case all of my efforts would have been wasted. Further, I cannot monetize the video at all, but due to the particular mechanical license that I obtained, I will have to pay 1¢ for every view of the video. While I don’t expect to get a ton of views, this still means that if the video where to, say, get 100,000 views, then I will owe WMG $1000 for something that I can make zero money on. That’s a pretty scary proposition, one that makes me question whether I should complete this project at all.

While a print license has nothing directly to do with my project, it bears discussing because it is very much related to my musical journey of learning.

Back in the 1990s when I was first learning how to play the guitar and bass, there was a great online resource hosted by UNLV servers called the On-line Guitar Archive (OLGA). Essentially, it was a massive library of guitar and bass tablature for just about any song imaginable, and it worked very much like Wikipedia does, with all content being user generated. Even better, these tablatures (or tabs) were extremely accurate and of good quality, because users would consistently correct and update the tabs.

Note that tablature does not contain any time, rhythm, or pitch information (the most important aspects of music), so one cannot use tablature effectively unless they already know the timing and pitches of the notes in the song, or they have a recording of the song to use for reference. Absent this, tablature is nothing more than lines and numbers, with no practical use.

One of the most important ways that musicians learn their craft is by learning and playing songs written by others, so it is no surprise that OLGA was a very popular website and was a boon for budding musicians the world over. However, beginning in 1996 the copyright complaints began to come in. The first was by EMI Publishing, who did not sue, but was able to persuade UNLV to kick the archive off of their servers. Two years later, the site came back up on a different server only to receive complaints from Harry Fox Agency, and thus disappeared again for a short period. Finally, in 2006 OLGA met its death as the National Music Publishers Association and the Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA and MPA respectively) issued an official take-down letter.

The result –other than me having to get better at ear training– is that now musicians would have to purchase tablature from the music notation industry. The problem here is that many of these pieces of sheet music and tablature are very expensive, as well they are very limited in what songs are offered. Further, the tablature websites that exist today are horribly inaccurate and are far less encompassing (I don’t know for sure, but my speculation is that this inaccuracy is a means of getting around copyright laws). While OLGA had accurate tabs for just about every song under the sun, and was continually updated with new material, instead we now live in a world where there are less resources for the beginning musician to learn their craft.

This journey through the world of copyrights has been an eye-opening experience for me. I already had a theoretical basis to justify my position against copyright, but having gone through this process, it has only further cemented my opposition to it.

It is said by the supporters of copyrights that it fosters the arts and protects artists. This is false. Clearly, as I have shown, the system of copyright kills the arts and exploits artists. The entire system is nothing more than a mechanism to make the publishers, copyright organizations and associations, and record labels a lot of money, all at the expense of the artist’s efforts. Luckily, in today’s world of digital technology, the internet, cheap recording gear, social networking, online media venues, etc; it is becoming much easier for artists to not only collaborate and produce their own material, but also to get their art out to the world without having to contend with the dictates of a third-party rent-seeker.

The great irony here is that while the proponents of IP falsely claim to promote innovation, it is innovation that is going to eventually kill IP. I think that this aptly explains the motive behind their lies.

Heat Wave Givin’ Me Night Fever

March 23, 2013

I don’t think that I’ve been shy in sharing that I am a big fan of funk:  what do you expect, I’m a bassist.  Here’s a couple of tunes that always get me shakin’ my booty to the get down.

*Okay, the second tune is actually disco.  While loosely related to funk, it is not funk proper (due to the arrangement of the drums and bass).

Bassaroo

November 24, 2012

This is a song that I wrote entirely on the bass, which is why I called it ‘Bassaroo’. However, I also called it by that name because of what I was trying to do aesthetically to the overall sound. Essentially, I was trying to mimic the old smiley-face EQ of the 70s, but instead of the entire mix having that distinctive smiley-face shape to the EQ, I was instead doing it by mixing each instrument in a certain fashion to reap the same result. For instance, I wanted an extremely heavy bass, a really thin guitar, and the drums to be a mix between the two (depending on whether it was snare, kick or cymbals). I think I got pretty close, but it certainly isn’t what I expected.

In writing this tune I was essentially trying to come up with a very simple, but catchy tune. It’s very repetitive, but is arranged in the exact same fashion as many pop tunes, except that instead of just an intro or just a pre-chorus, I instead have a full intro and full chorus at the head. Intro-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-verse. I will admit that while I was trying to make the song catchy, I also wanted to make the intro as least catchy and most irritating as possible (I’m weird like that).

Now let’s get to the mix.

The intro is the only part of the song with a thicker guitar sound, that’s because I used my Gibson Les Paul Standard Plus to record it. But that is where the thick guitar sound stops, instead favoring a thin sound for the rest of the song to go along with what I was attempting to do with the entire aural picture of the mix.

In order to get the thinnest guitar sound possible, this required that I use a guitar that produces the thinnest sound possible (unfortunately, I didn’t have my Fender Telecaster back when I recorded this). My 1978 Electra Omega is essentially a Les Paul copy. However, it has many features that you don’t find on a Les Paul. I can switch each humbucker pickup to single coil, which goes a long way in thinning out the sound. However, the other feature of my Omega is that I can also have both pickups be paired together, but be out-of-phase with each other (that’s straight 70s funk, right there). This is the guitar sound that is present throughout, but it changes slightly during the chorus.

During the chorus I was not happy with this thin guitar sound. It isn’t that it wasn’t thin enough, it is that it sounded far too much like a guitar. So I kept all of my guitar’s settings the same, except then I routed my guitar through a Whammy pedal set to one octave above standard. Then, I applied a few filters on specific frequencies in order to take out some of the “guitarish” tone. The result almost sounds like a synth, but not quite. Actually, it almost sounds like Poindexter’s violin from ‘Revenge of the Nerds’. In any case, I was very pleased with the result.

Also during the chorus is a guitar that is playing a single chord every 8 bars that is run on a really long tape delay (long tail, but short decay). I did this because it just sounded like something needed to go there.

As for the bass, it is recorded as is throughout the entire song. However, I have it set somewhat high in the mix during the chorus in order to give a punchier sound, and to dominate that particular part of the song. Also, during the chorus I was not entirely happy with a clean bass sound, so I wanted to distort it a bit. Instead of just putting a distortion effect on the bass, I copied the bass track so that there are two identical bass tracks. I kept one untouched, but with the other I bit-crushed it and added compression. Bit-crushing isn’t distortion, per se, rather it is decaying the resolution of the digital signal. Imagine running your iPod through an Atari or Nintendo system, that’s essentially what bit crushing is doing. Once I got one of the bass tracks bit-crushed to my liking, I then mixed them together (the bit-crushed and dry bass tracks) to produce that bass tone that you hear during the chorus. I think it turned out awesome, because it reminds me of how back in the late 70s, all of the funk bands would have a synth bass playing along with the electric bass (think Lakeside’s ‘Fantastic Voyage’).

The drums aren’t messed with much, other than to make the kick have more bottom, the snare a little more top, and the cymbals natural. I did, however, have to overdub a few cymbal splashes here and there, because some of the originals weren’t quite on time, and two of them accidentally got cut short of their natural decay during editing. Also, the drums during the intro and the bridge are actually AppleLoops. I tend to use AppleLoops during recording to help me keep good time. I rerecorded the chorus and verse drum parts using my Roland TD-9SX drum kit, but I left the other parts as they were.

As for reverb, I didn’t get too crazy. Just enough so that the instruments don’t sound dry. This is a departure from what was prevalent in 70s mixes, but then I was only trying to mimic the EQ curve of the 70s, not the dimensional aspects. Also, I mixed the drums in such a way that the layout of the drums follows the placement of the guitar. When the guitar is on the right channel, the drums are mixed with the HH on the right (as if there is a right-handed drummer playing), and when the guitar is on the left channel, the drums are mixed with the HH on the left (as if there is a left-handed drummer playing). The bass guitar and kick drum are always right down the center throughout the song.

A little word on the bridge: In case you haven’t noticed, it isn’t complete. First, the bass part for the bridge that is on this recording was done entirely off the cuff and improvised. I knew what chord changes I wanted, but I never wrote anything for it, so I just played whatever came to my mind when I hit “record”. I really need to rerecord it because it is not nearly tight enough for my liking. Also, I wanted to put a guitar solo in there, but alas, I am too lazy. I will eventually get to it, but it isn’t that important, so I’ll do it at a later date.

Anyhow, here’s what I have so far … Without further ado, here’s Bassaroo!

01 bassaroo

Music Monday: Barry goes to the Beach with Bubblegum Pop and Soft Acid Rock

September 10, 2012

I am not a fan of any of this music, but as a musician I can appreciate it. You see, I don’t listen to music in the same way as most, I listen to distinct parts, pieces, instruments, and tones. So, I often pick out certain elements of songs that I really dig, even if the general song does nothing for me. The following songs are good examples of what I am talking about.

Each of these tunes has an awesome rhythm section. Nothing but old school funkiness and groove. If you listen to the drums and bass, you realize just how the foundation of a good tune is laid down. It all starts and ends with the rhythm section, without that the whole thing crumbles. Each of these song’s success, I believe, is predicated upon the fact that they have a solid rhythm section, nothing else. Percussive 8th notes, triplets, quick double-ups on the beat (stutter steps), a little falling behind the beat (syncopation), tasty niblets of cymbal splashes, high-hat clasps, sparingly smart accents; all of these things I do enjoy.

Each of these tunes kinda sucks, in my opinion. However, if you listen to them within the scope of what I describe above, all of the sudden they rock. It’s all in perspective, and perspective is a wonderful thing.




The TSA Song

August 19, 2012

(ht to Charles Burris at the LRC blog)

Too Crunk 2 Funk

August 16, 2012

This is a song that I wrote while I was a member of the ‘Murderous Disco Fiends’ back in 2005.  I wrote it in response to the drummer’s self-described “pokey” style, that is why the bass line is so, well, pokey.  It was recorded live in a garage using 4 SM57s run through a PA mixer and then routed to a digital recorder.  There was no way to monitor each channel, nor could you tweak each track afterward (it was recorded as a two-channel stereo file), so it is kind of a crappy recording.  However, considering the circumstances, the recording turned out way better than I would have expected.  Still crappy, but at least you can almost hear everything.  I was the guitarist while in this band, but on this song I am playing bass, my friend Scott ‘Bootman’ Gregg (who is a bass extraordinaire and ninja-master on the wah) is on guitar, and Dustin (can’t remember his weird last name) is on drums.  We had only been playing together for about 2 weeks and the drummer had only been playing for about a year or two (he’s a fast learner).  Eventually, I will rerecord it properly.

Too Crunk 2 Funk 1