Making Everyone Go Away

As a bit of a hermit and someone who occasionally plays Project Zomboid with the zombies disabled just to fantasize about being the only person on Earth, I had this neat idea.

I was playing around with some astrophotography software that “stacks” similar images with the goal of making star trails or canceling out noise. I had this silly idea for a photo project/book: What if you subtract data rather than stack it to make a place like Times Square look abandoned?

The result using software like StarStax or Photoshop’s statistic scripting yields interesting, but unsuccessful results. So I upped the dork level and searched for a platform that would allow me to solve linear problems that could use image data. I gave up and finished my last album.

Then, getting obsessed with this task again, eureka: GNU Octave.
So the idea with my script is, if something appears exactly the same 2 times or more, keep it. If something changes, throw it away. Then the remaining data is re-rendered to a high resolution jpg image, and then the clusterfuck of images is stacked in Photoshop. Not too difficult, right?

Wrong. It’s actually uncomfortable to know how many combined images you have to take during the day in an urban area to be able to see every piece of sidewalk, road, or building two times without any obstruction. The first successful number is 2,100 in Chinatown on a normal Sunday afternoon with a 10mm lens. That’s 46gb of image data, and about 5 hours processing time.

However this is exponential, so if sidewalk and road traffic were twice as bad, or if I did this at rush hour in Times Square, it would take an estimated 4.4 million images, or 97tb of data. Not only would I need a giant RAID array hooked up to my camera and a military grade mainframe to process the mean data, but if I had a super camera capable of taking 3 images per second without ever needing a cool down period, it would take me 169 days to capture the aforementioned data, which certainly is far more than enough time for the sun to change position enough to make the data worthless.

So the bad news is, I’ll have to try Times Square again in 20 years.

If you’ve read this far, here it is, Chinatown an hour after the rapture: Before and after.

china-empty-web

Comcast Might Actually Be An Evil Genius

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that my relationship with Comcast is a caustic one that gets dirty and personal. It all started in early 2008 when they suspended my account and sent me a warning for downloading a torrent of my own album. I didn’t have to fight much, the person on the phone agreed that it was absurd and promptly cleared my name and reinstated my service.

Then I moved to the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago where, for a year, I had a constant dropping connection and speeds that were closer to dial up than the national broadband average. It turned out that they had 1 node for the entire densely populated neighborhood. The norm is 1-4 nodes per residential block depending on amount of subscribers. After months of complaining, tweeting, writing, and even threatening, finally came the day when everyone in Wicker Park’s internet went down for a few hours, and came back delivering broadband speeds.

Then I moved to Bridgeport, to an old carriage house that didn’t have any broadband lines installed. The “technician” drilled through my closet door because he was too lazy to fish line through dry wall. Seriously, I have to unplug my entire network whenever I have to go into my storage.

2 days ago they installed this, apparently a fiber array that could have went anywhere in the 250ft between utility poles, but, despite my protest, blocks my desk window and bans me from my daily sunset view, which I was pretty darn attached to.

But this isn’t about me. This is actually praise for Comcast. Not the praise that you would have for something respectable, but praise for something so is incredibly avant-garde-shitty and ballsy, that you can’t even be mad.

A little while ago, Comcast started rolling out a gigantic, semi-public WIFI network. The awe-inducing part is that this network runs, without permission, from customer’s routers and internet connections. If you’re leasing a Comcast modem/router combo, you’re paying them to host a semi-public network on your connection, using your bandwidth and your electricity.

Am I the only one that thinks it is insane that Comcast would be making special back doors in all of their routers that would enable them to pump some firmware into them that would make them dual mode devices that would pass out your internet connection without your consent or knowledge? It’s a huge security risk. It’s a huge ethical shitstorm. But most impressively, it’s a huge, expensive, organized pain in the ass.

And why? Are you just trying to be dicks at this point? In case they haven’t noticed, most of us don’t use WIFI when checking our email when walking down an urban street. 4G has come a long way, and in many cases outperforms Comcast’s direct broadband speeds. So why…oh….OH. Wow.

Did you catch it? The big snip. The plan so sinister that I keep wondering if I’m turning into a paranoid train wreck.

Let’s pretend that you’re sitting in the park having a picnic with your wife. Your wife insists that Joe Montana is a pop singer, and you know that you can easily resolve this dispute by shouting “JOE MONTANA” into Google Now or Siri or whatever pathetic excuse for an AI assistant you have. But it doesn’t work because you’re connected to an open WIFI AP that requires a username and password to bypass the proxy and use the internet connection. You have to turn your WIFI off and try again using the data plan you pay for from your mobile provider.

Since Comcast rolled this out in Chicago, I can’t get away from the Xfinity Network. I have no use for it, I’ve banned access points, but every one has it’s own ID, so the new ones pop up and cock blocks my phone’s 3G/4G internet connection. If you’re not a Comcast customer, you can’t use it. See what I’m getting at?
Comcast is tricking your smart phone into thinking it’s on an open network, which makes it abandon its mobile data connection, forcing you to choose between being a Comcast customer, disabling open network use, or turning your WIFI off every time you leave the house. And it’s doing this by hijacking peoples private home internet connections and covertly turning them into public WIFI beacons.

I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.

With all the lobbying and package structuring and Mr. Burns’-esq plans, you would think that it would just be easier to roll out some fiber and lead us to the next generation. Giant, monopolistic conglomerates that hold back technology don’t do very well in the very long term. If you don’t believe me, read me the date on your last AT&T or Southern Bell phone bill, or log on to AOL and have yourself a chat. A decade from now, Google will be the lawnmower buzzing over Comcast’s old, unsightly, tall grass. Rather than using their resources to provide an affordable, globally competitive service, Comcast has shoveled their investments into lobbying and shit like this. Every year, they scoot closer to being unwanted, but needed until something better comes along.

Anyway, I just think this whole dark plan of theirs is fascinating, insane, and possibly even genius (in the utmost evil way, of course.)

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to look into making a tasker script or simple program that will tell my rooted Nexus to ignore any Comcast related WIFI AP. If I do, I’ll post the source or APK here.

So give Comcast a hand. They’ve innovated some amazing ways and overcome some truly impressive feats to ruin WIFI as a functional amenity. But more importantly, buy your own modem and router. That’s the only way you can “opt” out of your home internet connection being leased as a public WIFI service.

If you’re having a similar problem with your phone, you can turn off open networks, but you’ll have to re-enable it the next time you need to use WIFI in a hotel. office building, library, etc (anywhere with a multiple AP configuration).

Showseed And Some Early Drama

I suppose you know you have a pretty good idea when people are threatening to ruin your life over it.

A few days after uploading my video vaguely outlining my Showseed project, I got a couple of emails and messages from people kind of aggressively telling me that another company is already doing this much better than I could, and there’s no point for me to bother.

I’m sure I’m the millionth person to think of crowdfunding live events. A good fraction of Kickstarter is filled with bands trying to crowdfund tours. This is nothing new. I always felt like Kickstarter is a shitty platform for it though. The task of using the money left over after Kickstarter fees to book your first tour on your own, then figuring out who has tickets to which show, and who gets which perk, is complicated and error prone. It also stinks of charity a bit. It’s like saying “Help us so we can be a successful band!” rather than “Want to see us play? Ok, here!”.

So, as stated on the Showseed site. It’s not a startup, or a business, or foundation, or a network. It’s just a workflow that may or may not be released as an open source CMS (or perhaps a WordPress plugin if I had some development help). If it grew beyond my personal use, nobody would ever have to go to my website. Any growth, improvement, or further development would be out of my hands and control. That’s my idea, anyway. I have no desire to run a tech start-up. I’m an artist, and the more time I spend not being one, the less happy I am.

So anyways, over the weekend I got slapped with a cease and desist order claiming that I’m violating a patent. The company that sent it hasn’t even launched yet. They haven’t booked any shows, worked with any artists, and don’t even explain what their business model is on their website, which is still in pre-launch status.

I had a helpful friend look into it a bit deeper, and they DO have a pending patent, but I can’t imagine it is technically anything close to my idea. If it were, you’d have someone developing an open source platform to help artists for no compensation or profit suing someone else for doing the same thing. It doesn’t make much sense.

So the question is, if I disobey the C&D, will I be litigated into poverty? Or are they just bullying me because what I’m attempting to do for free essentially voids the purpose of their multi-million dollar startup?

I understand that it would be virtually impossible for them to actually WIN a lawsuit of this nature, but if they have a few attorneys on retainer, they can bury me in litigation for years.

I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do. I guess I need to think it over and get some further advice.

One thing is for certain though, this company, whom I won’t name because they’re already lawsuit crazed, is claiming to be the saving grace for touring musicians, while throwing money at attorneys to attack independent musicians for trying to crowdfund their own performances.

Thanks but no thanks, assholes.

Why I Fight.

This post is sort of an answer to a common question or a reply to common remarks I receive from people via email, in person, or on social media sites is in regards to my “fighting”.

I certainly don’t feel the need to explain my hobbies to anyone, but I feel the need to at least humbly attempt to take some stigma away from a very legitimate sport.

A question I often get from people, and do not have the time to adequately answer, is “Why do you fight?”.  A lot of times this question comes with hints that I’m battling personal demons, or even more ridiculous theories that perhaps I’m associating with the wrong people.
It is often more appropriate for me to answer with a question recalling the same level of closed-mindedness: “Why do you not?”.

Paragraph answer:
I have never not fought. I was a junior black belt in Taekwondo. Then I went into wrestling in high school. Immediately after high school I transitioned to American Jiu Jitsu (black), Gracie Jiu Jitsu (purple), and amateur MMA. In my late 20′s and early 30′s I concentrated on Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, and eventually professional MMA. It’s a hobby that I enjoy, and I find that the more involved I am in it, the healthier I am, both physically and mentally.

But since the internet loves reading top # lists…

6 Great Reasons To Fight Competitively

1. Physical Health
This is the obvious one that should surprise nobody. There is no way that you can be involved in any form of competitive fighting without being in the best physical shape of your life. Of course, you’re almost always injured somewhere during training. But a stress fracture in your ankle doesn’t threaten to shorten your life. Cardiovascular stress, obesity, and poor diet does. In addition, being in great cardiovascular shape doesn’t just mean you can run to the store without running out of breath, it shows up in every facet of your life. You see noticeable improvement in your metabolism, your immune system, and even nagging life long ailments like eczema and frequent migraines often disappear. Most importantly for me, good physical health brings on #2.

2. Mental Health
Whether you’re a physician, a yoga instructor, or a neuroscientist, you simply can’t deny the insurmountable evidence that physical health and mental health are closely intertwined. In fact, cardiovascular health has shown to increase brain size and function, increasing spatial memory by up to 40%, and can even stave off or slow degenerative brain diseases. There is no placebo effect at play. Even if I’m tired and sore, the influx of dopamine and serotonin gained by training or sparring in the morning help me concentrate, stay focused, and feel accomplishment for the rest of my day in the studio. Like night and day, the more involved I am in training, the less I feel symptoms of anxiety, depersonalization, or depression. For me, it is more effective than any drug or therapy at accomplishing relief for the above symptoms.

3. Healthy Competition
If there was one thing I can never do, it is merely going to the gym or go jogging simply to stay in shape or improve my appearance. I can’t even imagine checking into a fitness club, running on the treadmill, lifting weights, doing some pilates, and then calling it a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I completely lack motivation if there isn’t an end goal. But that’s why marathons and soccer leagues exist, they give you a deadline for your personal fitness achievements, and directly reward you if you’ve reached those achievements. Over the course of a few years, being on a soccer team or running marathons is no less dangerous than competing in MMA.  The point is, a lot of people aren’t in shape because it is miserably boring when they don’t have competition as a reward and climax to all their hard work.

4. Peace And Self-Discipline
For the sake of this post, this is probably the most important thing to note, since it directly attacks the misconception that combat sports are related to general violence. While I am certainly not timid, soft-spoken, or afraid of confrontation, I rarely lose my temper. The amount of people, in my entire life, who have witnessed me punching or throwing something out of frustration, or even raising my voice in anger can be counted on one hand. I attribute this, almost 100%, to training. When you focus on, let’s say striking, to the point of it being a skilled art-form refined over many years, it stops being a subconscious tool to use when you’re angry. It’s no longer as simple and instinctive as using your fist or foot as a loosely controlled bludgeon, and because of that, when I can no longer tolerate a situation or person, I’ve mostly lost any instinctive desire to physically harm them.

This is reflected vice-versa in every contact sport, and you learn it on your first day. Your muscle fibers operate and react much faster when relaxed, and even sparring feels much closer to a speed chess game than a venue to express anger. In boxing, one of the first things you have to conquer in training is the speed bag. The beauty of a speed bag is that it is completely impossible to use when frustrated, angry, or impatient. The sooner you learn how to free your mind of that stress, focus, and relax, the sooner you see improvement when hitting it. And that’s the point. You’re not learning how to strike with a speed bag, you’re learning how to relax and strip the association of negative and violent thoughts away from striking.

So when someone says “Wow, I’d better not piss you off!”, I laugh to myself. The absolute last thing I would ever want to do is solve a disagreement with violence, and I don’t even have a violent urge or temptation to struggle with in those types of rare situations.

People generally associate MMA with the yoked up guys who wear UFC or Affliction shirts and start fights at clubs. I do encounter these people from time to time, but they either show up to a class or training camp once and never return, or they quickly get transformed into humble individuals.  Which brings me to #5.

5. Socialization
There’s this whole side of my life where I deal with a lot of disrespect, poor-sportsmanship, ego, and general douche-baggery. And it’s in my career as a touring musician. When on tour, I have been threatened, spit on, shoved, and even had to defend myself. Albeit, usually by someone who is intoxicated or out of their mind. This type of emotional conflict has never happened to me in a training camp or even competition. Even if you have a scheduled fight against someone, that person is an athlete, just like you, who is just as nervous as you are. You both have something together that words cannot describe, much like people do with “war buddies” or even family members. My training camp has people from many walks of life. There’s a high school teacher, a bartender, an ex-gang member, a few full time fighters, a plumber, an investment banker, and even a famous politician who is now in prison (me being from Illinois certainly doesn’t make that an easy guess). But while I have so little in common with any of them, they are the first people to detect if something is bothering me, and they are the first who would offer whatever they could to help.
This might not sound like anything unique to some people. But I come from a very sparsely connected family, and a lot of the relationships you gain as a musician are more about networking and common interests than something deep or genuine. So to me, it’s very relevant to give to and receive from this avenue of deep, steadfast respect.

6. It’s A Creative Outlet
A long time ago I accepted the fact that I’m drawn to things that allow me to be creative, whether I’m good at them or not, or even whether they’re productive or not. I’ve logged way more time into stupid Roller Coast Tycoon games than I have Call Of Duty. The difference between MMA and most other sports is that MMA is still rapidly evolving. You have your general do’s and don’t’s, but after that, if you plan to be successful in any way, you need to pave your own path so your opponents can’t prepare for you. So what you have is an intense strategic sport that is relatively new and unexplored. You’re encouraged to be creative and use your head, and those that do that well are undoubtedly the champions and icons in the sport.  I think that aspect, more than anything, is what kept this as a big hobby of mine in one way or another since I was a child.

In the past 2 years I have been professionally commissioned, but I mostly made that jump because I’m in my 30′s and I feel like I would regret not taking it seriously later in life. While it makes touring a bit more difficult, it has no effect on the time or energy I put into writing music. And I have no plans to switch careers or even continue maintaining this level of training for more than a couple of years.

So, I have no demons that I’m fighting, or no toughness to prove.  I am in the best mental and physical health of my life and thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing.

I hope this post helps wash away the distaste and negative connotation of MMA from some of my readers. I’ve never understood the general thick border between athletes and musicians, or sports fans and music-nerds. I think we may have a lot to learn from each other.

I Can’t Believe It’s Getting Better?

It’s Getting Better?

If you read any copyright related interview I did in the last decade, I probably sounded akin to a doomsday prophet. Not that I shouldn’t have. RIAA were suing soccer moms for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Net Neutrality was about to be abolished, SOPA was gaining enough momentum to where we were all positive it would be passed, iTunes was monopolizing the digital music market, and at the bottom of it all, musicians were going broke with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Most of these issues are still around, but becoming more and more neutered. RIAA is slowly figuring out that getting less than 10% of their investment back in mass litigation probably isn’t sustainable or favorable for share holders. With a little backroom pressure  from Congress, the FCC,  just this week, promised us that Net Neutrality will indeed be back to kick the likes of Comcast and Verizon in the balls. After SOPA was thrown out, a similar bill, PIPA, was tossed aside by the Senate Majority Leader.
Musicians are still going broke. But it’s not like my musician friends and I would light Cuban cigars and race our yachts around Lake Michigan in the 90′s. Musicians have always been broke. There’s a joke I vaguely remember, or am making up and not realizing it because I’m tired:

“-How can you hire a musician to come to your house on a Saturday night?
-Order pizza.”

The only thing that changes is the things that musicians blame for making them broke. And it’s not to say that the music industry isn’t full of caustic, evil shit. It totally is. But we all knowingly dove head first into it. I realize 90% of my readers will want to punch me in the face for saying this, but I think being broke is a really important part of being an artist. Example:
When I got my first “break” financially (which was in the licensing/composing realm), I immediately upgraded everything related to my work. I moved into a big 2-floor condo in a artsy part of town, built a 3 room studio in it, put in studio desks, automated surfaces, the works. When I was all done and ready to start making tunes, I was lost. You see, before that, if I spent $700 on a piece of gear, I would stay up for 40 hours learning every single possible feature, hack, and possible use for it. When it came time to use it, I knew exactly how to make it work for me. Now, I sat alone in a 3 room studio with 5 figures worth the gear, only able to make something I was happy making sitting in one small area with the gear I had already owned.
My long-winded point: Being broke makes you value your tools more, which, in turn, makes you much more adept and creative when using those tools.

I still watch new synthesizer review videos as if I’m watching pornography, but I realize that 90% of the “crap” I could accumulate runs a larger risk of hindering my “natural creative process” than helping it.
Not that I could afford it all even if I chose to buy it. My dog and I aren’t starving, but I’m far from wealthy.
Which leads me to:

Spotify. Let’s Think Before We Bitch

(I realize that the sentence above is pure comedy for anyone who follows me on Twitter.)
Something has caught my eye on social media sites and at times, mainstream news reports: Spotify Hate

Why do artists hate Spotify? Well, a shortened answer would be because they aren’t getting a sizable amount of money. But this is, in almost every case, due to one or all of the following reasons:

1. They’ve signed away a chunk, if not all of their streaming royalties to their record label or digital distributor (ahem, IODA). Keep in mind, that even with a straight forward equation such as iTunes, with a very fair record contract, for every $1 the listener spends, the artist will get $0.23 after the label’s, distributor’s, and store’s cut. And that’s after recouping album expenses.  So if your streaming agreement goes by the same rules (if you’re lucky enough to not have completely “licensed” those away), you’re only getting $23 for every $100 out of Spotify.
And yeah, that sucks. But, you suck too for putting your signature on that agreement. The era has passed where we should sob for musicians sucked into bad agreements with record labels and distributors. For decades, labels have been lower on the scale of trust and ethics than personal injury lawyers and used car salesmen. Want to make money? Roll up your sleeves and release your music yourself, or find a label that will respect you enough to give you a fair deal.

2. Bluntly put, nobody is listening to their music. I know people who have complained about Spotify ripping them off on their debut, 3-track, experimental electronic EP. How exactly do they think the system works? If nobody is listening to your music, you’re not generating any income. This is no different than if an unknown artist is on iTunes, or even featured on a CD in Best Buy. Generating a listener base is an unpredictable process that takes the duration of your entire career. Spotify has never claimed to be a solution to that, but in a way, they are, with their radio channels and social network integration.
In this New York Times article, heart strings are pulled for an “avant cellist” who says “In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music”.
Did I miss a part of the last 30 years where classical and jazz artists weren’t condemned to poverty? When you see thousands of ravenous fans eagerly waiting at an airport in hopes for a glimpse of their musical idol, they’re Beliebers, not freestyle bassoon junkies. And while that’s a fact that makes me want to walk into the ocean and never return, it, again, isn’t Spotify’s fault.

3. Spotify was started a mere 5 years ago, and wasn’t even fully available in the US until 2 years ago. They’re just now building a vast library and ironing out kinks with their massive servers and device integration, and even then, their subscriber numbers don’t even stand near the ones you’ll see over at iTunes or Netflix. They’re still losing money as a company, but as they grow, they’ve promised to increase royalties. So, it’s safe to say that if Spotify continues to grow at the rate they have, in 2 years they’ll be paying almost triple what they are now. And what they’re paying now per song stream is much higher than the likes of Pandora or Youtube.

And the Spotify hate doesn’t just come from beginning or obscure artists. Thom Yorke said to The Guardian, in jest of Spotify: “We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off.”

Really Thom? You’ve created a legal, royalty paying library of music that will allow me to literally listen to whatever artist I can think of, whenever and wherever I desire to? Because that’s the one thing we, the people, the pirates, the innovators, could not do in the last 7 years when we had all the technology in our hands to do it. Our alternative to piracy has been listening to music encoded as Youtube videos, which is so hilariously ass-backwards that I still can’t wrap my head around it.

(And sorry to be sharp, but if I remember correctly, Radiohead’s last innovation in the world of music distribution was asking their fans for donations for a 128Kbps version of their album, only to sell them a listenable quality version 2 months later via a RIAA-aligned record label.)

The real bottom line to every single issue in the music piracy debate is that people will turn to whatever is the most convenient, as long as it is affordable. I truly believe that the vast majority of music pirates in the Napster era weren’t raiding the music industry like looters in a riot. They were simply acquiring music in a much more convenient way. It’s actually hard to imagine life as a music lover 14 years ago, relying on album artwork and magazine reviews to direct what will fit my pallet, and then having to drive to a music store that would carry what I was looking for and shell out the little money I had to see if it was worth listening to in the first place.

And I think, in another decade, we’ll be scoffing at the idea of trolling websites with porn banners and downloading torrent clients that tricked us into installing toolbars and spyware to “conveniently” acquire an album we wanted to listen to. And for once, finally, the more convenient solution actually involves artists being able to be compensated without a record label.

How Much Are They Really Paying?

Whenever I offer my career’s finances into conclusions like these, I always want to remind you that the data needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Not that it isn’t real, or a good indicator, but every musician has weird trends and slumps in sales that they cannot seem to explain. December of 2012 to December of 2013 is an ideal period of time to crunch numbers from, as I have spent most of that time off the map. I didn’t have any new “The Flashbulb” releases, I didn’t tour that much, and I’ve done no promotion for my own music. There’s aren’t any notable additional variables to consider.

So just short of publicly divulging my income, I can tell you that Spotify has made me about 30% more than iTunes, Pandora, Amazon, Xbox Music, Google Play, eMusic, Rhapsody, Rdio, Deezer, MediaNet, Simky, Nokia, and Myspace Music combined in that period. Even if you tack on my checks from ASCAP to that long list, Spotify is still ahead.

I can tell you that Spotify alone, for the last 9 months or so, has paid for my rent in a 2 floor coach house with garage. But what is predictably notable, is that the numbers for Spotify are growing monthly, and have actually doubled from the first month to the last while sales on other platforms remained the same.

I know, some of you are thinking “where’s Bandcamp in all of this”? I didn’t include Bandcamp because unlike all of the other services, they’re focused on integrating with their artists, rather than stuffing them into their own library. For that reason, and because of an extremely fair royalty percentage, Bandcamp remains my favorite company to do business with in this field. That being said, due to me only linking to Bandcamp on my website and often publicly suggesting to buy through them, they just now have numbers higher than iTunes in royalties. But that number is still far below Spotify’s.

Also, I should note that Pandora has never paid me a dime, and my music has been on their system since the beginning of the company. I’ll hopefully be working that out legally, but that’s a 25 page post for another day.

So what’s changed?
Well, when I compare my income from album sales and streams, Spotify seems to simply look like quite a bit of additional income. As Spotify grows quickly, my sales from other sites grow slowly, like they have since I started selling music through them. So that leads me to the conclusion that Spotify is overwhelmingly succeeding in 2 things:

1. Generating income from casual listeners or listeners who don’t have the expendable income to buy my albums. This demographic used to exist almost exclusively between Soulseek and torrent sites.

2. Rewarding artists who have re-playable albums. If someone buys my album on iTunes and listens to it every day while exercising (yeah, not likely), I get $7. If that person uses Spotify, it can accumulate to a whole lot more.

Of course I’m not discouraging people from buying albums. I still prefer the old hard drive of music, and as an old-fashioned 30-something, I probably will for a long time.

But at the end of the day, that additional income has allowed me to almost completely scale back on television composing and concentrate hard, exclusively on writing and recording new material. For the first time in my life, I’m able to be “The Flashbulb” and not have to worry about filling in the income holes to monetarily survive.
I don’t know how sustainable it is,  I’m certainly not betting on it keeping me afloat all the way to retirement.

So in regards to Spotify, as a completely independent artist who does just about everything himself, the last thing I’m doing is bitching.

R.I.P Treefield

I’ve decided that my show at the Adler Planetarium last Friday will likely be my last with the Treefield visualization system.

I figured I’d make some sort of official statement/explanation:

I spent an unfathomable amount of time designing, building, coding the thing, and way more money than ever imagined on the “research and development” of it. Was the final product worth it? Absolutely, at least in my opinion, and I tend to be at least on the top 10 list of my biggest critics.

So great, it worked out, right?
Well, not really. The one thing I completely forgot to include in my plan was that booking tours as an independent musician is already difficult and frustrating.
In April, I managed to find a total of 3 venues that could support the system. Well, on paper they could. When I showed up to the venues, it didn’t ideally fit on any of the stages. When I ask you to think of your favorite moderate sized venue, and if I ask you if the ceilings are 10ft tall above the stage, you’re answer is probably “oh yeah, easily”. Oddly, you’re probably wrong…just as I was.

Then the part I hate thinking about, money. I booked those 3 gigs as a test run before booking a much longer tour, and while getting paid fairly for most of the gigs, I lost about $2,500 simply on transporting the system and people to help me set it up (it would be impossible to setup alone in the limited load-in/soundcheck time that most venues have).

So I thought, OK, European shows seem to pay a lot better, and I’m WAY overdue for a tour overseas. But the cost of putting the entire truss system on a plane with me is thousands per trip, not to mention the increased cost and hassle of work visas.  I would essentially have to arrive to each city and rebuild it with local parts, parts that I spent hundreds of hours acquiring in the comfort of the workshop I built it in.

Finally, I’m a huge fan of touring with supporting acts, and Treefield is basically a big “fuck you” to anyone who plans on sharing the stage in the same 24 hour period.

At the end of the day, and after a lot of brainstorming, the conclusion is that I’m simply not a “big enough” act to support such an endeavor without hemorrhaging money and creating an endless headache for the promoters that have supported my live shows over the years.

Granted, it pains me and I certainly feel like it is a waste to put so much time and money into this and then just lock it in storage. But the reality for my fans is that they’ll be very unlikely to see me perform unless I go back to the way things were 2 years ago.

To those of you who got to see Treefield, I hope it was enjoyable. For now I’m putting my head back into new ways to perform that increase my showmanship and “efficiency”.  And to those of you who have booked me in the past or have tried to in 2013, my rider is going back to the half page where all I need is a sound system and some bottles of water.

Thanks and sorry.
Maybe one day I’ll find a way to make it work. :-\

Some images: http://imgur.com/a/h6LuN#0

That feeling like someone possessed you for 6 months.

There’s this weird feeling I very infrequently get, in regards to my own art, that is almost indescribable. Artistic amnesia perhaps? Let me explain:

I think I only have a handful of examples.

Réunion – After spending forever making Kirlian Selections (which could’ve been a double or triple CD had I not had to answer to a record label at the time), I was gassed out from music making. I was even more tired of computer crashes and “visually” making music.  A few days later a friend who owned an old studio was opening a new state of the art studio and offered to let me essentially live in the old studio for the summer. It had no air conditioning, and smelled of dead rats. But I had this large amount of rusty musical instruments and tape machines at my disposal. So I just sort of haphazardly went there to play around, and a month later I had another album finished. I can’t remember when or how I made most of the tracks, all I know is that the heat wave and some strange possessed motivation kept me awake through the night and morning for over half the time I was there.
In interviews when asked what my favorite album I’ve made is, I always say “Réunion”, simply because of this. It was like I blacked out, woke up, and a solid record was finished. More importantly, I couldn’t write another Réunion even if I tried.

The most recent example is Treefield. Just about a year ago, I decided to finally take a shot at making a visual experience that complimented my live performances. I started out expecting to spend a $800 on some fun toys, and within a week, I found myself looking out over a vast field of road blocks. As I anonymously talked to condescending lighting and audiovisual experts on message boards, at some point I just said “Fuck this whole stupid little industry.” and started building my own. Then boom, black out. 6 months later I’m playing test gigs with this massive 5 figure visualization system that I designed, built, programmed, and completed. Anyone who knows me well can surely attest that I was more stressed out and grumpy in that period of time than ever before.

The insanity of it all didn’t dawn on me until this week. I haven’t performed in about 6 months, and I kind of put Treefield in the back of my head. While itemizing the gear, the code, the files, the customized networking to connect everything…I felt like I was in a trite Hollywood scene where I played a rookie cop searching though the apartment of an accomplished serial killer. I was looking at technology with complete and utter confusion with how it was developed, and I’m the one who developed it…like 6 months ago.

I’m starting to realize that I should just read this blog post to a psychiatrist rather than posting it.

Regarding Treefield, I’m a little nervous, but I’m also excited because I kind of forgot that none of my friends or family here in Chicago have ever seen me perform with it. It’s my personalized magnum opus for live performances, yet I don’t feel like it’s mine at all.

Do all artists have this phenomenon? Perhaps that’s where the term “muse” originates.
I don’t know, just sharing my sleep deprived thoughts. Hope to see some of you out there on Friday night!

Top 5 Space Albums – Unabridged

On a lighter note, Time Out asked me to list my top 5 space album recommendations for promotion of the Adler’s Cosmic Wonder. I think my humor was a little too dark for a recreational publication, but here’s their article: http://www.timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/museums/16233731/space-music-and-the-adler-planetariums-new-cosmic-wonder

Below is my unedited mindless dribbling:

So you need some advice for your intergalactic road trip, eh? Well, I’ve been asked to help with that. I’m going to give you 5 good picks from the genre that isn’t really a genre yet: Space Music.

Outer space is, in reality, pretty vast and terrifying. So before you even step into your rocket ship or UFO or whatever, you’re going to need to get yourself excited. Take a wild stab in the dark, typically in the part of the dark that feels like a shaggy rug, and you’ll find a French disco band called “Space”. In 1978, Space released a record called “Just Blue”, which features an illustration of a futuristic space shuttle surfing in the ocean on the cover. I probably don’t need to say much more, do I? There is only one place in the known universe where space is funky, and it’s found in between the grooves of this record. Just remember, space + funk = cheese, so make sure you close your windows if you’re blasting this one.

What an adventure we’re on. Time to get a little serious now that we’ve made it outside of the atmosphere. See that boring looking flatland in northwestern Europe? That’s Holland. Since the landscape and atmosphere is so dull there, they tend to overcompensate with their music. And if I’m to pick a great album to listen to while floating around the earth, I’d pick “Tryshasla” by Secede. Secede, in my mind, starts where “The Future Sound Of London” left off. Stunning textures and soundscapes compliment his excellent composition. It’s airy, cinematic, and never boring.

So assuming you’re floating away from your planet at the speed of mach 5, by the time you’re done listening to that album, you can’t even feel the effect of the earth’s gravity anymore. Did you know that the gravitational force of the earth extends as far as the earth has existed in years, times the distance light has traveled in that time. Of course this assumes the general belief gravity does not propagate instantaneously. What? Oh yeah, music. As your home planet becomes nothing more than a dimly illuminated grain of sand, things are starting to get a little ethereal. Now would be a good time to listen to Boards Of Canada’s  “A Beautiful Place Out In the Country”. The title is a bit misleading for this purpose, but one can’t listen to this album without imagining celestial objects glimmering to the simple and gentle melodies in tracks like “Zoetrope”.

Now that you don’t even remember what up and down means, there’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that you’re way too far away to ever return home. So sorry about that, bro. The good news is, not only is this next recommendation (what I believe to be) the most influential ambient album of all time, but it is a double disc! It is none other than Aphex Twin’s Select Ambient Works Volume II. By definition I’m not even sure if it is ambient. It is consistently as warm and docile as it is beautiful. I can’t imagine life without this album.

Life! What a coincidence that I said that word. Speaking of life, did you notice the sign out there that said “event horizon”? Oh well, don’t worry about it. My next and final pick is Brian Eno’s magnificent song “Thursday Afternoon”. I picked up the CD as a young teenager in a library simply because it was on a Thursday afternoon when I found it, and it pretty much changed everything I thought about music. The song is roughly 60 minutes long, which is just about enough time until you are reduced to a bunch of disconnected atoms which will be stretched into a single file line that resembles the outside of Best Buy on Black Friday. Dude! Don’t worry. You’ll be, uh, fine.

I hope you enjoyed my curated list of space music to accompany your incomprehensibly painful death awesome voyage across the universe! It’s fun to think of you way out there while breathing all this natural oxygen and eating fresh fruit.

Oh, one more thing. Sound doesn’t work in space. So nevermind. Sorry.

Love,

Benn Jordan

Adventures In Charity

Today is a sad day for me.
A disclaimer, the story I’m about to tell is not intended to pull on your heart strings, ask for your donations or support, or pose as a tool to create ill-feelings against individuals. I am going to use real names and describe real events, because it is in my best interest to be transparent, and just as importantly, if I am not specific, I exempt myself from issues of libel. And the looming threat of libel makes me unable to write about anything that cannot be proven.

This message is being written here, in public, because I do not want there to be any speculation on what has happened, what is happening, and what my future intentions are. It is important for me to have a personal statement for both the press and students of Alphabasic Music Center.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many fruits of my labor as a recording artist. For a while, after lots of grinding and uphill climbing, I lived a life where my responsibilities were mostly limited to doing whatever I wanted to do. I reached the point where my purpose in the world was to write records and perform songs from them around the globe. It paid my bills, and most importantly it allowed me to keep doing it.

But I was unhappy and unfulfilled. I was living a life that was beyond the most fantastic goal I had ever imagined as a teenager, and not really enjoying it. That was because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything that mattered. A police officer, a nurse, a janitor. I viewed all of these professions as superior to mine, for they were making a tangible difference in the world. So at many times in my career, I’d dump my savings into a charity. Sometimes as an anonymous donation, and other times as an active member. But it still didn’t mean much to me. Landing a music license in a big film and donating half of that money didn’t really make me a better person. I needed something that my hands were on constantly.

In August of 2012, I had just gotten home from a great tour. I landed some big composing jobs and was ready to find a new path. A friend of mine, Nissa Sampson, was frustrated with her job as an office manager and teacher in an expensive suburban music school, and was living down the block from me in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. Glaring at me from across the street was a giant vacant storefront, smack dab in the middle of a lower-middle class neighborhood that lacked any quality music education. Even if there was quality music education, it would be unlikely that 80% of the people who lived here could fit it into their budgets.

By the time the idea to open a non-profit music school clearly entered my head, Nissa was on board as a partner. We both had a wealth of friends who are talented music teachers who were on board as well. The month of September was a crazy one. I learned how to do everything from mounting drywall to cutting custom window frames. Another non-profit, “Keys 4/4 Kids” (where you should absolutely be going if you’re buying a piano, by the way) generously donated 2 pianos of our choosing to our cause. In 3 weeks, we turned a dilapidated, vacant storefront into a modern, friendly music school. I built a studio in the back and moved most of my gear there, so I would effectively be in the building for the majority of my time.

I expected, at best, to not have a busy schedule of students until October of 2013. If we weren’t sustainable by then, it would be time to either merge the business into something that works or chalk it up as a good deed that didn’t hit the spot. But by March, we had more students than I could even keep track of. It seemed like every time I went into the waiting room to hang out, I’d be introducing myself to a new friendly student or parent who had nothing but praise for our organization. I think my sense of accomplishment bloomed when hearing the younger guitar students play songs rather well just a few months after watching them get handed a guitar for the first time and holding it so awkwardly that it was humorous.

More importantly, it was the first time in my life when I’ve seen music students excited to take music lessons. It wasn’t a boring thing their parents were forcing them through, but something they were racing to. They would often show off their new skills immediately after the lesson. Some of them would be in a hurry to leave so they could go home and practice!
And that’s it. Success. My grumpy kid-phobia had gone away, and any doubt I had about dedicating half of my time to this path deteriorated.

And all of this was without ever asking for a hand out. We received no government assistance, no financial donations from others, and were at the brink of being completely sustainable on our own.

But nothing is without its problems.  The real estate company that owned our building didn’t really share our vision, nor were they expected to. But the building, essentially, was falling apart. The roof leaked during storms, there was mold in the rear kitchen, the ceiling lighting didn’t work properly, and worst of all, there was nasty sewer gas in the basement. My initial idea was to list these things, and have the owners drop rent by a few hundred dollars. The business would be perfectly balanced, and any growth could lower lesson costs and maybe even hire someone to work the front desk. But the owners didn’t want to budge, and were confident they could rent the unit to someone else for the price we were paying (which may actually be true considering the thousands of dollars we put into it).

But, just as I was scrambling to build a workshop program and setup Yoga classes on Sundays to help make up the remaining couple of hundred bucks in rent, I got a break. The storefront of the building I live in opened up, was bigger, had giant rooms with windows, and was about 40% cheaper. We figured out a way to move that would only suspend 1 day of classes, and that was on my radar for June. In fact, I had planned on having an opening party at the new location where I’d give an active demo of my Treefield visualization system.

In that location, the business would be set. At our rate of growth, by the end of the year we’d be surpassing other small music schools in the amount of students we had, and our prices would be lower, perhaps even free to those on public aid.

I was as enthusiastic as ever. I had negotiated a lease for the new spot, and instead of complaining about our current renting situation, I was getting our customers excited about the new one. Nissa, on the other hand, didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic, and we had to have a meeting about her intentions with the business. Differences were easily resolved, and the green light was set.

It was a few weeks later,  she surprised me by telling me that she decided she was quitting the business. She refused to sign any agreements or papers regarding her decision, and she expected some of the foundation’s assets to be given to her as payment for her time and money put into the business. Obviously it is far more complicated than just walking away, especially for a non-profit. I explained that her decision, in the legal realm, was akin to buying a new car, abandoning it in a parking lot somewhere, and then asking the dealership for a refund. This was 8 days ago, and that was basically the end of her correspondence. I spent 5 days contacting her asking if she still intends to teach her students with no response at all. This week was spent trying to gain access to files and business information in her files, contacting students about the changes, and finding someone to substitute for her.

I dreaded yesterday. I didn’t know any of our Wednesday students or parents personally, and the parents weren’t exactly thrilled that their children are being subjected to the sharp side of this drama by having to switch teachers. But, I felt like I was handed another gift. An old friend and music teacher Morgan Krauss came in and made these young children feel comfortable, and perhaps even taught them better than Nissa had. Despite the looming uncertainty with my business partner, I was relieved that Alphabasic Music Center was still capable of doing its job: Music education.

Today I woke up and headed to the gym for my morning training. On my way down the block I noticed something off when passing the school. I was shocked to find that most of the furniture, a piano, and countless other things, including gear I use for my live shows, was gone. It became apparent that in the early hours of the morning, my partner had secretly rented a truck and removed these assets from the school. I still haven’t itemized everything that is missing.

The worst part of today, was finding out that Kyle, our best and most valued teacher (and also Nissa’s boyfriend), was not only helping her do this, but has quit with no intention of giving us time to replace him or even telling his students.

I understand greed, and at times fear it. I knew it could possibly included as a pawn in the outcome of this business, as it could be with any. But what I do not understand is why this was handled so recklessly. I made it clear that I harbor no ill-wishes on anyone and intend to do everything I can to make the business dissolution as easy and painless as possible for everyone involved. I just have no explanation for this, not even a theory.

For those of you who are enrolled in the school, I give you my deepest and most sincere apology. I used my best judgement in my attempts to find you a good long term education, and I failed. I cannot express enough gratitude for your business and trust, and I would do anything in my power to keep you. Any tuition for this month, whether you got lessons or not, will be refunded out of my own pocket. There is no arguing it, it is already done. If you paid in cash or believe that we owe you lessons or a refund, email musiccenter@alphabasic.com, it goes directly to me now, and I’ll promptly see that you’re refunded.

What happens next?
Our head piano teacher quitting was the nail in the coffin. I simply do not know a teacher at his skill level that can jump in and save the day. In fact, if this has taught me anything, it is that hiring teachers who I do not have a long, trusting, personal relationship with is no longer something I will do. It breaks my heart to see children hungry for education and it being denied to them for greedy or personal principles, and I refuse to allow it again.

With Kyle and Nissa gone, over 40% of our students don’t have a teacher. At this point the business is far from sustainable. I could personally keep it limping along for another month, but I cannot afford to renovate another building and move everything. Financially, the legal costs of dealing with Nissa’s unannounced departure from a non-profit are devastating. I’m not even referencing litigation, I’m just speaking of figuring out a way to defend myself to the IRS when explaining how a large portion of a non-profit’s assets are sitting in someone’s apartment without any sort of transfer agreement or receipt.

I have many expensive and lengthy steps required in order to dissolve the business. Due to the closely inspected nature of a not for profit structure, it makes more sense to close our doors, deal with this mess, and start over fresh.
I cannot give you a time when this will happen at this point.

As for students who wish to continue lessons elsewhere and need a referral, I will do my best to find you a program that is comparable, or work something out for private lessons with the teachers that remain at our school. I will be contacting each and every one of you personally in the next week.

Thank you so much for your trust and support. It breaks my heart to publicly announce that Alphabasic Music Center, despite it’s success and impact, must close its doors. I will remain committed to the community as long as I reside here.

The Strange World Of Copyright Misconception

Below is an article which was initially written for a larger site, but I decided that most of the biggest misconceptions have to do with musicians, rather than users:

Before I dive in, I am not an attorney. For over a decade I’ve been a professional producer and owner of a music publishing company.  Without going into detail, I’ve sued for copyright infringement, I’ve been sued for copyright infringement (unsuccessfully), and I negotiate licensing and copyright contracts more than a musician would ever like to. In fact, the reason I don’t normally use an attorney for these negotiations is because, while an IP lawyer can translate a contract, he or she doesn’t necessarily understand copyright value.  At least not on a scale I would trust when it means the difference of $500 and $40,000 to use a recording for a television commercial. The world of music licensing is a unique one that can only be learned with experience, and it is an industry much smaller and more incestuous than one might imagine. That being said, obviously nothing said here (or anywhere on the web) should be considered legal advice.

Copyright VS. Copywrite
In many discussions, on both internet forums and around a dinner table, I’ve heard someone break down the specific differences between copyright and copywrite. Some say that copywrite is the musical notes, while copyright is the recording. Others go as far to say that copywrite applies only to literature. Well, no matter what you think copywrite is, you’re wrong. In fact, it isn’t even a real word. “Copywriting” and “copywriter” applies exclusively to someone writing to promote a product or service. For example, a piano moving company will hire a freelance copywriter to nicely describe their services in a way that would make you trust them with your piano and credit card information. It has nothing to do with intellectual property, or copyright.

“It Is Legal To Download Content You Previously Purchased On CD/DVD/iTunes/etc”
I think this misconception is born out of common sense. You bought the intellectual property, so it would be ridiculous to consider downloading it from a torrent site as piracy. Guess what, it is considered piracy, it is illegal, and it is ridiculous.  I’ve read a lot of posts about people eagerly awaiting a PC confiscation only to one-up the feds with a matching CD collection. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t prevent the charges, it wouldn’t work in your favor in court, and it most likely wouldn’t even reduce your penalty. It is, however, legal to copy a CD to your computer or download something from iTunes and re-encode it to an MP3. However, you legally cannot make a tangible duplication (burn another CD).

“If An Artist Samples Less Than 3 Seconds Of A Copyrighted Song, It Falls Under Fair Use (And Other Fabricated Fair Use Perversions)”
This specific topic is so well spread and argued that, to me, it feels like a scientist arguing with a creationist.  There are all sorts of different versions of the myth:  Some say 7 seconds, some say 1 second, and some say the trick is changing the pitch down or up a note. Whenever I’m somehow involved in this debate, I always make note to ask where they heard such bullshit. Astonishingly, the number one answer to that question is “college”. This means that all the way up the hierarchy to your trusted professor, nobody seems to understand fair use. I have at times, with a foil hat on my head, imagined that these misconceptions have been spread on purpose to make lawyered-up music publishers and film studios money.
So let’s set the record straight. You cannot legally sample music without clearance. It begins and ends there. If someone were to take a tiny clip of one of my songs, pitch it down to 10% speed, reverse it, and slam 8 minutes of echo on it, I could sue their pants off (not that I would, or even be able to detect such a thing). For you electronic musicians out there, also understand that a lot of sample and loop libraries do not clear their samples for professional use. This means that if you use a drum loop from a library you shelled out $499 for, and you end up licensing that song to, say, a tampon commercial, the original copyright holder can, and probably will sue you.  Always check the clearances before purchasing (or pirating) a sample library.

Another very weird fair use misconception is the “Ask Three Times Rule”.
I get a lot of emails asking to use my music for college films, performances, even feature length films explaining that they have no budget. I have a nice little graphic on my site explaining the terms and conditions of using my music that these people usually ignore, choosing to send me an email anyway. If I drew up a license for every one of these requests I’d have to quit working and spend my life switching between Gmail and Microsoft Word. So, like an asshole, I ignore them. But once in a while, something strange happens:
A few days after the first email, I’ll get the same email again, but with “second request” at the end of the subject line. Then, a few days later, I’ll get a “third request”. Then I never hear from them again. This never even became a conscious thought until my friend, who has a degree in dance and worked for a large dance company mentioned the “Three Notices Rule” for music used in performances. It turns out, not only her university, but one of Chicago’s largest dance companies was under the impression that if nobody responds to your clearance request three times, you legally have clearance. I thought she simply misunderstood something until I thought about all the emails that matched this strange set of false rules. To be clear, you cannot use music for a performance unless you have a license agreement. Even if you get a response saying “go for it!”, that provides you with nothing in the terms of US copyright law.

“It Is Legal To Reuse Public Domain Material”
The short explanation:  Usually, but if you’re not sure, don’t.
The medium explanation:
First things first, figuring out if something is public domain can be very difficult. A few months ago I got the idea to pitch an in-house produced version of Gershwin’s “Summertime”. As of 2012, George Gershwin has been a corpse for 75 years, thus making his writings public domain. But wait a minute, the Copyright Terms Extension Act of 1998 now comes into play, extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978, was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date. Go ahead, take an Advil.

To make matters more confusing, while copyright is very important, it doesn’t always cover potential trademarks or source identifiers. Let’s imagine McDonalds abandons their horrible major scaled “I’m Loving It” jingle and popularizes the first 9 notes to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” as their new mnemonic. That doesn’t make it copyrighted by McDonald’s, but you would find yourself in quite an entanglement if you went on to produce a dubstep remix of “Fur Elise” (yawn) that made its way to a Wendy’s commercial. This plays a much larger role in visual art, where copyright and trademark blend a lot more often.

Finally, there are 2 sides to every music license, the master and the synchronization license. The master is the song itself, and the synchronization is the recording. Pretty much any version of “Fur Elise” that you can buy or download is still covered by synchronization. The music is public domain, the recording is not. Stick to MIDI files, I guess.

Thanks for reading. I hope someone out there learned something. There are about 200 more misconceptions that I could cover here, but I’ll save that for another installment.