Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music industry in the digital age

As a big music fan and amateur musician who doesn't make a living from the music business (also a tech guy who makes a living in the tech biz) I have always been interested in how tech affected the music industry. For example, everyone must have heard that illegal download was killing the record companies. Most people know about musicians got signed by record companies or work as session musicians and made money from record sales. It seems that illegal download or even legal streaming broke this model completely: musicians earn much less from streaming or downloads. Record companies became more "conservative" and only willing to promote artists that are deemed "safe bets" Even the "frugal" (i.e, not paying musicians enough) streaming service providers were not making a profit! (Well, at least the last one was no longer true for Napster, rebranded from Rhapsody, the service I used for years and just dropped in 2016 when they became profitable!) Some in the industry think high resolution downloads might save the day. It does have a niche market of audiophiles as potential buyers. Check out this article to see if this is for you.

So, what type of music company/service looked promising and profitable in the digital age? Here is an example: Bandcamps, which allows musicians to upload their music for free. They make money by taking a cut when fans buy downloads from musicians they enjoy. I guess it's really a win-win-win situation, isn't it? Not using traditional record companies as a middleman is definitely a trend. Jazz guitar master Martin Taylor has gone this route. In fact, this "route" is century-old, the same one used by Mozart! Basically his music was funded by his patrons: who got to watch Taylor's video and listen to his tracks.

Another jazz musician has also found his way to make money as a multi-faceted performer, recording artist (running his own label) and educator. That is trumpeter Dave Douglas. Bloomberg wrote an article about him (available to professional subscriber only)

I guess if you are savvy and good at music, you could still make a good living. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy International Jazz Day

Today is the International Jazz Day and I had a sort-of International Jazz month of April as I had a family vacation/cruise in Australia. I visited Cafe Stritch the night before I flew to see the Essiet Essiet Quartet featuring the fabulous Sylvia Cuenca on drums. And as the cruise (Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas - 8 day Queensland) was mainly geared towards old folks, I got to hear a lot of jazz by ways of oldies/easy-listening music. Of course there won't be any "pure"/free jazz (borrowing the terms from "La La Land") as it's opposite to the relaxing atmosphere. I am amazed by how versatile these cruiseship musicians are! Almost all of them could play some jazz standards and improvise over the changes. I could hear them relying on a few "cliche" licks but that's par for the course. (I would consider myself graduated from the Jazz High School if I play anywhere near that!) Over that week I hear almost every tunes I practices: Blue Bossa, Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Fly Me to the Moon, Satin Doll...... performed by:
- a guitar/violin duo: they handled the "easy listening department." For the first few days the guitarist strictly accompany the violinist who would take improvised solo. However, one night the violinist was MIA (I guess he went to rehearse with the Radiance of the Seas orchestra at that time for the Tango show later that night) and the guitarist played over accompaniment from his phone and I finally heard him soloing. It was very enjoyable.
- a guitar/singer duo: they sang oldies, country and standards
- a 4 man band: they could easily be a Eagles cover band but they play everything from the Rolling Stones to jazz.

After the cruise ended I stayed at Sydney for that Tuesday night and I visited Australia's most famous jazz club: 505. Even though its website mentioned it's Old School Funk Band's night, I figure I should just give it a try and the band was way more than OK! Everyone was playing with a ton of energy. The bass player surely knew secret of laying down a good funky groove. And everyone launched off from there. It was not "pure" but definitely "jazz", and high-quality one.

Gotta praise Air New Zealand for playing local jazz cats on their in-flight entertainment, including Ron Samsom's Ace Tone, The Rodger Fox Big Band Plays New Zealand's X and Phil Broadhurst Quintet's Panacea. I enjoy them a lot on my way home.

And I conclude the month of jazz with another visit to Cafe Stritch for the SJZ Camp Faculty Sextet. (This is the San Jose Jazz camp, not the Stanford Jazz Workshop camp that I attended before) The show started with a sad announcement though: local jazz bassist and SJSU professor John Shifflett has just passed away. The members of the sextet were all local musicians who were close to Professor Shifflett and we had a moment of silence before they played a set dedicated to him. I finally get a chance to see Brian Ho on piano/organ. (Saw his name listed on many local gigs before, including one at the Casino, but never get to see his performance) Trumpeter John Worley is a staple of the local jazz scene. So is guitarist Hristo Vitchev. It's a wonderful thing that we have so many world-class jazz musicians living, teaching and playing right in the (figurative) neighborhood!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Audacity and Mac OS X

I have used Audacity on PC for a long time so it's among the first batch of software I installed when I bought my Mac. I noticed a couple of functionality I used often is missing from the Mac version though. It turns out it has to do with file permission. Glad that I found the solution from this forum post.

files in the Audacity app have the xattribute "xattr" set. This means that Gatekeeper blocks them. To fix it, open a Terminal (Applications > Utilities : then type or paste:
sudo xattr -r -d /Applications/Audacity/

and hit ENTER on your keyboard. Type your admin password (you won't see it on the screen) then hit ENTER again. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

我的爵士雜記:Jazz tunes to learn (revisited)

Three years ago I posted this about my first tunes played at the Stanford Jazz Workshop Guided Jam. From simply improv with the blues, we moved on to modal, major ii-V-I, minor ii-v-i and finally rhythm changes. I recommend checking out this article on Guitar Player by one of my favorite online guitar teacher Matt Warnock about 5 tunes beginner should learn (with great video examples from YouTube too!):
  • Summertime: improv with A minor pentatonic (yeah, every guitar player knows) 
  • Maiden Voyage: with dorian mode
  • Cantaloupe Island: dorian and mixolydian
  • Autumn Leaves: major ii-V-I
  • Sunny: minor ii-v-i
This set (and in this order) pretty much mirrors what we did at SJW (add your choice for a rhythm change tune: Oleo or Anthropology!) 

And if you check out this list from my other fav Jamie Holroyd, you would find similar tunes:

  • Summertime: same as above
  • So What: dorian
  • Tune Up: This is actually my go-to tune for practicing ii-V-I changes

Yes, you really should learn to play Summertime: the melody, improv and comping. Matt Warnock taught several commonly seen jazz voicing for Summertime here.

Speaking of comping and voicing, I do have a counter example. Another online teacher put up this video and was promoted by GuitarPlayer: 3 Easy Jazz Songs - For People Who Don't Play Jazz! Don't get me wrong: I really appreciated his effort in getting more people to play jazz. However, jazz players simply don't play that! First of all, his video taught the chords of the songs (without the melody) so I'd say it's a bit misleading. Second, it's one thing to know and learn to play those chords (Drop-2 and Drop-3 chords in Berklee's terminology) In a real jazz jam situation you won't play those chords like that though. When you jam with a piano and/or bass, you won't play the low notes on your guitar since it would clash with them. Guitar players should stick with those "upper voicing" when comping.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ripping CD to FLAC on a Mac

I have rejoined the Mac family for some time already and enjoyed the machine a lot. However, I found it lacks free music-related tools when compared to PC. My go-to music file player on PC is foobar2000, which is very versatile (support many formats) I like to simply drag some files from my drives to it and have it start playing. No import/library BS like iTunes. I could also rip CDs into my preferred format (FLAC at this time) Sadly it's not available on Mac. After Googling for a while, it seems to me that I could still use 2 pieces of free software as "replacement" of foobar2000:
  • VLC can play many formats and I can drag-and-drop
  • XLD can rip to various formats
However, probably for licensing reason, the "default" installation for XLD does not include FLAC as an output format (which is chosen under "Preference") To add FLAC as a format, one needs to download the plugin, unzip it and mv the whole "bundle" (a dir) under ~/Library/Application Support/XLD/PlugIns/ For other XLD tips, please read this. (I changed the file naming convention to my favorite one: %T_%n_%t)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Smooth Jazz and Metal Weekend

I came to SF less often since the beginning of the year partly due to changes at the office but I went two days in a row during the past weekend. After my tax appt, I visited the Legion of Honor, which I chose over De Young Museum, because of the "Early Monet" exhibition. (The "regular" ticket does not cover this exhibition) I overheard the security guard saying that it has been crowded even since it opened more than a month ago! I also read that Monet is one of the painters who can always draw big crowds. Impressionism gotta be the most popular art style (maybe Surrealism is #2?) Even though "early" implied that the pieces were not from Monet's "peak" period, there were still good and interesting enough to be appreciated in their own rights (not to mention the values of seeing how he evolved as a painter) For the evening, I had a choice to make: whether to see a Joshua Redman led quartet ("Still Dreaming") playing avant-garde jazz inspired by Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman. videos) at SFJAZZ or the smooth jazz master Richard Elliott at Yoshi's in Oakland. Well, the box offices have decided for me as I wasn't able to buy any tix for the former. And to be honest, the music from the videos are not exactly very attractive either . Even though I often found that the beauty of the "ugly" sounding music shines at live performances, watching Richard Elliott live was definitely a great choice: if I want to play smooth jazz on tenor, he is THE guy I should imitate. He also played an Akai EWI at the show. (I play the USB version of it) I especially enjoy the tunes he played from his latest album "Summer Madness" (in the middle of March Madness, pun intended)

I rarely go to concerts two nights in a row these days but I just don't get to listen to great Death Metal bands live that often so there's no way I would miss Obituary's performances at the Fillmore on Sunday. Again, if I want to play death metal, this is the band I would cover. They are promoting their brand-spanking-new album, which is a strong effort, on this tour. The headliner is actually the legendary thrash metaler Kreator, who also had a new album out in 2017. The other opening acts are also worthwhile to mention: the show started by Horrendous, a two-guitarist/vocalists plus bass and drums lineup. Their sound reminded me of the Death Metal pioneer, Death, with very technical playing. I dig it a lot. The next band was Midnight, which I have also never heard of before. I could hear strong influences of the "punk"-side of Motorhead and also early Venom. They played with their head covered by a black-cloth-mask. And they no only got the look but also the chops. Both bands started the show strong for Obituary. If I remember correctly, I have never been to their show before. (And to be honest, I have probably seen all metal bands that I really dig after this one) Some of their songs are considered to be "easy" to play for "beginning" death metal bands. Don't underestimate their skills because of this though. Their guitarist used the whammy bar very well and played a lot of dive-bombing solos. And finally, it's Kreator's turn and they reminded me once again that they are as good as any of the Big 4 of Thrash Metal. Thrash and death metal are still going strong after all these years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Obituary interview

The only reason that I'm still subscribed to the Rolling Stone magazine's Two-time-a-day newsletter is because once in a very long while they would write about music I'm interested in (most of the other times they just trash DT) Today they published an interview of Obituary, about their three decades of history and the upcoming new album, which is supposed to sound like 1990's Cause of Death (my all-time-favorite) I am surprised the Tardy brothers were influenced by Southern rock/blues back in the days! These days they are recording at their own studio, which is also a "man-cave" with pool table and TVs. Yeah, that's the dream of every male musician!