The A.I. Arpeggio

2+ years ago, when toying with new and personally exciting ways of making music, I would have laughed if you told me that Google and Nvidia would provide such incredible studio assets. A lot of this is probably because the music production industry has been incredibly underwhelming from a technological point of view in the last decade, and I don’t blame them. Why spend money on R&D introducing a learning curve when you can serve up a stylish recreation that will sit next to 4 other recreations of the same classic synthesizer? After all, there is no real push to innovate anymore. In the early days of the DAW, there was a climb to support more tracks, sample more realistically, and match, in hopes to replace, the reverbs and tones of expensive rack gear. So companies once on the cutting edge have gone the path of least resistance, iPad apps and retro synthesizer clones. Take the Yamaha Montage for example. Anyone who understands the basics of FM synthesis can glance at the specs and note that this thing goes where no VST plugin or synthesizer has gone before. But despite its amazing power for the price, its rare to see in the wild. I don’t have Yamaha’s sales figures, but I fear this might be a lesson for them to dump their resources into making some apps or MIDI controllers in the future. I hope not.

This isn’t to say there isn’t interesting stuff coming out here and there. There certainly is. But it’s a far decline from the awe-inspiring 1990’s and 2000’s where the announcement of new gear would inspire a whirlwind of personal ideas. So I’m on my own, kind of.

My interest in software/hardware and development isn’t some kind of selfless journey to keep music production technology moving forward, but rather a natural (if not selfish) way to keep myself entertained and fulfilled as a producer. My last release was mostly made on buggy, 32-bit homemade software, and previous to that, I was so sick of looking at a DAW session that I just wrote piano songs day in and day out.

Last year I got obsessed with 3 things. Modular synthesizers, robotics, and neural networks. When Google dropped the source code for Deep Dream, I began to fantasize about not how this could make music production more efficient, but how it could be exploited and fucked with. Parang Mital made an excellent Kadenze course allowing my caveman brain comprehend cutting edge software development, and I fell deep into the endeavor of using artificial intelligence to make melodies and sounds that will be new to my ears.

As with anything, you have to do some boring stuff before you can go crazy. I had my computer “learn” from just about everything Bach ever wrote and compose an original (thanks to the “Classical Archives”).  Then, using Tensorflow, I went on a bender MIDIfileizing a large majority of my music, and attempting to recreate myself both melodically and rhythmically until I enjoyed listening to the results. While this locked in some distant-future plans of having an A.I. alias that automatically writes music, I’m more immediately fascinated with neural synthesis, which not surprisingly Google’s Deepmind team beat me to by about 4 weeks with nSynth, which is strikingly close in concept.


If you know what a vocoder is, then I can explain not so much how this works, but a metaphor for the result. Your average vocoder has a carrier (synthesizer oscillator) and a modulator (usually a human voice). In modern vocoders, when you carefully allow the modulator to alter the fast fourier transform spectrum of the carrier, it sounds like your synthesizer is speaking (Daft Punk is probably the most notable artist to use this in popular music, but far from the first). A limitation that most artists likely don’t even think about, is that you’re limited to one carrier and one modulator, otherwise you’ll just have nonsense. But there are certainly many casual uses of shooting non-vocal elements into the modulator input of a vocoder, my favorite and most obvious example is Datassette’s Flechte.

So firstly, let’s give the neural network some stuff to study (dare I say modulators). I’m including short clips of much, much larger data sets (the use of that word was not on purpose, how about that).

Here’s some mandolin and marimbas. It’s my melody, with a totally chaotic rhythm:


Now, we need some form of rhythm. Nothing too boring, and nothing too exciting (since the above data set is chaotic). So here’s an annoying sounding Goldilocks:


Next, I want this to sound unlike a bunch of stupid drum machine sounds merged with mandolins and marimbas, so I’m going to pump in a saw wave. A bonus to having a single monophonic tone is that I can run it through and modulate a low-pass filter, which allows me to control the intensity of the final output:


And finally, with a lot of fine tuning, we have the A.I. spectral firstborn of these data sets:


You were probably expecting something way cooler, weren’t you? That’s okay. I’m just happy that I’ve never heard a breathing, organic arpeggiator sound until I ran this one of many exploratory sessions into the wild world of sound synthesis now available to anyone who wants to get past a few learning curves.

In other words, I’m sorry that my next album won’t be dubstep wobbles with eastern/ethnic instrument loops plopped on top. Like the aforementioned music production industry, I’d probably make a hell of a lot more money on the path of least resistance.

By the way, I might be the only recording artist doing this (though maybe not!), but I’m far from the only person diving into neural synthesis. Here’s some links:

A great article:

A profound dissertation about a fellow who trained a data set by having it watch Blade Runner, then had it recreate Blade Runner from memory:


My puzzling placement on festival flyers.

Before I get into this, I want to make one thing clear. I personally don’t care about flyer placement. I get paid the same either way.

In fact, not being the bold, stylized, giant font on top of a flyer means that if I fall ill or have an emergency, I won’t feel as bad for missing a gig. So it’s less pressure, and I’m all about that. I also live in the woods for a reason, I’m comfy maintaining a low real-life profile.

But it’s puzzled me for years. Seemingly 4 out of 5 festivals I get booked for, I tend to be buried deep somewhere in the middle of the flyer. I’m not talking about Coachella here, but rather smaller, regional, genre-oriented festivals that don’t have household-name headliners. At least from what I gather on social media messages and comments, it outrages some of my fans who think I deserve the giant font. (BTW, thanks for caring, but I really don’t mind!) But still, it’s incredibly confusing how these flyer-rankings get designed. These flyers are getting promoted all across the internet and printed by the thousands, and a mistake in the visibility of certain names can actually offer diminished returns if severe enough. After all, let’s be honest, a festival is buying the right to use the artist’s names to sell tickets. That’s how the economy of festival booking works, and that’s how I know how much to ask for monetarily.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is because 3 people have already shared the Infrasound 2017 poster with me, and 2 of them had a follow-up message of “lol I didn’t even see you until the 2nd time I saw it”. In all transparency, I only know of 2 of the other artists playing (ediT and Tipper), and it’s only because I’ve met them personally when performing with them previously. Both are nice fellows and incredible artists in their own right, and I want to emphasize that this post is purely about odd festival marketing and not about criticizing artists or claiming some sort of pecking-order. I’m sure inspirational performances can be found from top to bottom of this poster.

I wanted to find out if my suspicions had any basis behind them, and was kind of shocked by the results. I feel like the best approachable way to gauge an artist’s “name value” is by how many active listeners they have on Spotify in the current month. Last.FM is also good, but I feel like it’s getting a bit outdated as I haven’t heard anyone talk about “scrobbling” in years.

So here’s the poster: LINK

Now, for the Spotify metrics.

Active Spotify Listeners for April (individual users):

Tipper: 72, 954
Edit: 40,026
Caspa: 72,536
Opiuo: 86,640
C?NJ?: No data (Triangles don’t work too well to figure out what letters those are supposed to be.)
White Night: 364
Moody Good: 25,636
Thriftworks: 34,591
Ivy Lab: 66,255
Bazoo Bajou: (personal playlist page, 87 subscribers)
Truth: 18,485
Loefah: 7,356
Etheogenic: 21,375
The Flashbulb: 89,996
N-Type: 577
Boogie T: 7,471
Shiverz: 172

Now, you can probably see why this is puzzling to me. I do know that Tipper is very popular in the festival scene, and is probably the right choice for the most visible listing. But the rest of it? A statistical mess. It has no effect on me or my ego personally, but it does inspire me to at least share this with festival promoters. After all, they’re a paying to have my name on the flyer, and the most effective way of utilizing that investment is maximizing how many tickets those 2 words can sell.

Then again, maybe my wannabe-economist brain may be deeply over-analyzing a scene I’m only familiar with from short visits behind the stage. Perhaps I should put on some LED jewelry and a dreadlock wig and enjoy myself instead of taking Khan Academy courses in my hotel.

Update: Shortly after publishing, a friend noted that promoters might be going for Facebook likes (something I never even paid attention to since I’d rather my social media audience be “quality over quantity”).
Facebook Likes tell a different story entirely from active listeners:
Tipper: 122k
EdiT: 72k
Caspa: 300k
Opiuo: 134k.
The Flashbulb: 24k (cue ‘The Price Is Right’ losing horn sound)


This isn’t political at all. It’s my “the most famous person I ever met” story.

In 2003, I was on Friendster.
Friendster, for those who don’t remember, came before Myspace and looked strikingly similar to Facebook’s layout and color-scheme, despite being around before Mark Zuckerberg graduated high school.

At the time, there was a successful, state-funded non-profit organization that worked as an intermediary between gangs in Chicago. It had nothing to do with the police, and literally worked with ex-gang members to get current gang leaders in the same room to negotiate their differences with compromise rather than violence. It was controversial to spend tax dollars on “marriage counselling for drug pushers”, but it was also a brilliant way to spare over 200 lives annually from the homicide charts. Having grown up in West Englewood, this was about more than a statistic, obviously.

There were also plans to destroy housing projects and move the inhabitants into Section 8 apartments and homes. This was a disaster waiting to happen, since housing projects are functional gang boundaries. Spreading those boundaries over a 20 mile radius wasn’t going to stop crime, it was going to create conflict.

So back to Friendster. I noticed a new state senator whom I recognized from community activism on the southside, Barack Obama, had an account. I added him, and he added me back. How cute, I thought, that some intern at the state capital had made a Friendster account for a senator.
A few weeks later I read a blurb in the paper that this particular state senator was actually an active Friendster user because it allowed him to communicate with a demographic that typically doesn’t write letters to politicians. So I sent him a message about these programs, his involvement with them, and my concerns. He responded the same day, indicating that I was preaching to the choir, and he was doing everything in his power to save the intermediary programs and stall public housing change until more research is done.

Yay! I talked to a senator! I didn’t bug him after that, after all, he has more important things to do than to chat with some dork on Friendster.

Fast forward a few months. I was doing studio session work on the north side of the city, which meant waiting for and sitting on trains for 2+ hours a day. One day, while standing on a platform downtown waiting to switch train lines, I see none other than Barack Obama standing at the edge of the platform. He was wearing a stylish blue suit and had a lit cigarette in one hand, a briefcase in the other. I was starstruck. Not so much because I saw a recognizable state senator, but that I saw a state senator looking as bored as I was on a subway platform.

I heard a train coming, and, for some reason, being completely socially inept, barked “YO BARACK!”, and walked over to shake his hand and, well, I hadn’t figured out what I was going to say. Probably something equally as stupid. When I got to him, he put down his briefcase, put out his hand, looked at me with a pause, smiled, and said:

“Benn, right?”

Now it was my turn to pause while nodding, as I was incredibly confused. He quickly reminded me: “From Friendster!”. I commented that it was amazing that he remembered me after all those months, and he made a joke that he struggles to remember important names in the capital, yet somehow retains the ones he’ll likely never meet again. As that interaction happened, a train was coming to a stop. The doors opened, it was my train. His likability was strong enough to where I considered not getting on and chatting with him for a while, but that’s awkward. I told him it was a pleasure and away I went.

Of course, this wasn’t THAT big of a deal to me until his speech at the 2004 DNC. If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that his warm likability certainly played a strong role in his rise from a state senator who rode the subway to POTUS in less than 4 years.

Thanks Obama.

Andy’s Candyland, Why I Waited 3 Years

For context, here’s the video:

I woke up to a lot of hateful messages calling me everything from a “coward” to a “piece of shit” for not releasing it immediately. Let me attempt to explain why I made that choice.

Like I said in the video 3 years ago, this isn’t anything new. This certainly isn’t the first time someone has reported on it, whether coming from independent or major journalism. Saying there’s deep corruption in Chicago is like saying the sky is blue.

The situation on my block was a delicate ecosystem. Gang members patrolled the streets and families said “hi” to them while walking to church. I had a non-profit music school a block away that had plenty of local children as students, and I was involved with larger local non-profits.

50,000 Youtube views and, at most, a blurb in the newspaper wasn’t worth jeopardizing all of that.

Plain and simple. It wasn’t about my safety, it was about keeping other things that help the community outside of the scope of collateral to be used against me for filming and uploading the video.

Furthermore, all I had was what I experienced, what I recorded, and hear-say. I can tell you that Andy certainly wasn’t smart about the way he setup his rec center. He had no business license and didn’t even have a plan to follow things like fire code. (Andy got in touch with me, and he was legit with his paperwork. I apologize for letting hearsay somehow become fact in my memory.) That’s why I was initially there with the camera. I wanted to help him get on a legit path to keep the center open. I cannot attest to Andy’s side of the story, all I have is what I recorded.

For those of you not in south Chicago, you’re too optimistic about what this video could have accomplished. What do you think would have happened? Would cops get fired or suspended? No. Would the city help Andy move his things back in and repair the place? No.

All it would have accomplished at the time was making me look like a whistle blower for 15 minutes and lighting a fire that would burn down other services to help children. If you believe that’s cowardice, you’re allowed your opinion.

Finally, the message here isn’t “all cops are evil” as some people are taking it. This is a look into the climate of this area of Bridgeport, which has always been unique.

Performing At The Cobra Lounge: A Journal

As I grow older, I notice that when dealing with ridiculous and frustrating situations, I cross this line where it just starts being comedic content. When it’s a gig, that line is a bit harder to reach due to the normal stress and timetable of a live performance. It was crossed last weekend. What I’m dropping below is 100% non-fiction.

April 2015:
After an exhausting search for an appropriate venue to perform at in Chicago this summer, a friend recommends Cobra Lounge. I was vaguely familiar with the joint and had a negative association to it, but couldn’t figure out why. My mother, of all people, had frequently eaten there when she worked nearby and had great things to say about it. Moms are usually right, right? So I contact them, we find a date, June 27th, and confirm it. I find supporting artists, announce the gig, book a grand worth of non-refundable travel accommodations, and off we go.

June 20th (1 week before the show):
Cobra’s booking person emails me briefly explaining that the show has been canceled due to MOTOBLOT, a Progressive Insurance backed scooter party of sorts, renting the property. I email and call them trying to figure out a way to make it work, but nothing gives, they won’t even respond. I lose a night of sleep emailing other venues, rental spaces, galleries, etc. The next day I call Cobra and get a manager on the phone, he tells me the gig is axed and there’s nothing that can be done. I announce that the gig is in limbo. People who had booked flights/hotels to Chicago to see the show are beyond bummed.

June 22nd
I miraculously find a place 2 blocks away willing to scratch a DJ night and host the gig. I negotiate with them and sort it all out. A few hours later, someone from Cobra calls me and says they’ve changed their mind and I can still play. I’m left with the decision of playing at a venue that sold me out to a corporate sponsored event, or forcing everyone to refund their tickets and purchase them for the new venue. I didn’t look too deep into it due to time restraints, but it seemed like service charges weren’t refundable. Argh, okay, Cobra it is. I’m grateful that this is back on, but I’m not exactly happy with the venue.

June 24th
Someone from Cobra Lounge who doesn’t actually work at Cobra Lounge sends me a 2 page Excel sheet to fill out with details for every artist, from sound stuff, to load in times, to sound check needs, etc. This is required ASAP. I’m already heading out to Kansas City, but make it work and give them every minute detail that they requested. I’m kind of impressed with their attention to detail, that can’t be a bad thing.

June 26th
The same person who sent me the Excel sheet calls me to change some of what I put in the sheet and told all the supporting acts. Among the most important are load-in times being pushed back, which means I can’t go have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, and that they will not have any tables. Yep, a restaurant that can’t supply tables. The conversation is difficult as this woman explains to me the definition of a “sound check” when I’m literally driving on the highway in-route to what is probably my 500th gig. Breath. Relax.

June 27th

When backing my car into the parking spot for load in that was explicitly detailed in aforementioned Excel sheet, I am immediately yelled at by a venue staff member. When he runs out of breath we explain to him who we are and why we’re here. He asks if anyone other vehicles will need the load-in, and we honestly don’t know. He demands a solid number a few times, which has my eyes swelling up from holding in laughter.

After all of my gear is loaded on stage, on my own god damn folding table that I lugged from Georgia to a venue filled with tables. Someone tells me that I have to move everything off of the stage because they need the rug. I contemplate just murdering this person and hiding the body, but it takes too long to sort out so I have to carry all of my gear down, get the rug, and lift everything up again.

I am informed that the show will be certainly sold out. Yay! I ask how they know this, and they say because they sold over 100 tickets. I’m confused as I was under the impression that the venue held over 300 people. It does, but the room I’m playing in only holds 150. Great. Having been told this specific nugget of information in April, I would have chosen a different venue. But I’m keeping my chin up, it’ll be a rad show.

I missed dinner, I’m on Eastern time, and I’m getting weak. Luckily, Cobra has negotiated a free dinner from their restaurant. I ask a bouncer where to put in an order and am directed to the bartender. I ask the bartender if I can order food and he directs me to the other bar in a separate room. I wait roughly 10 minutes for a bartender in the separate room to make eye contact with me, and he tells me I have to talk to a waitress. I spend 10 more minutes finding a waitress, and she tells me to “Stay right here, don’t move, I’ll be right back.”. About 10 minutes later she comes back, walks right past me ignoring my beckoning, and seats other customers.

I order pizza.

The pizza delivery driver calls me and says they won’t let him into either side of the venue/bar. I meet him out front, and then they won’t let me in with the pizza. I say “okay”, and walk into the loading area and take it up to my green room where all of my valuables are.

A white dude with dreadlocks yells at me and 2 other artists performing and tells us we can’t use our green room, and that it is for MOTOBLOT people only. I’m kind of confused, as there were no MOTOBLOT people up there. But he keeps yelling at us to leave, and I’m kind of defeated, so I carry my stuff down and just throw the pizza into a booth and give up on trying to finish dinner.

I love pizza, but I also haven’t eaten it in a year. My stomach is not happy with me at all. Doors open in 10 minutes, and the public bathroom is tiny. There are few things worse than talking to fans through a stall door while your body is expelling the first greasy meal you’ve had in a year. WDWD (white dude with dreads) zooms through the room, and from the stage I very politely and humbly ask him if I could possibly use the bathroom up in my greenroom. He goes on a alpha male tirade about how he’s managing 3 different bars and doesn’t have time for my shit, and if I have to use the bathroom, I can “use the fucking bar bathroom like everyone else.”

So this is it. This is that comedic line. The bullshit is so unreasonable that I cannot take it seriously any longer. I’m glad too, because otherwise it would have been this dude’s teeth or simply me packing up my gear and leaving. I laugh and explain that I’m not going to be spoken to like that, and he storms off.

I run out of water. Did I ever tell you that I drink a lot of water? I drink a lot of water. 2 gallons a day on average. Water makes me feel like a million bucks. I had some big 1.5 liter bottles that wouldn’t fit in the bathroom sink, and the venue only served tiny Dixie cups of water, which isn’t something I’m going to stack up next to my gear anyway. I ask a bartender if she would kindly fill my bottle. She tells me she’s not allowed to bring containers behind the bar. I ask her if she can fill up a pitcher and let me pour it into my bottle. Nope, against the rules. Sigh.

I walk down the block and buy some bottles of water and rush to get back to see Polyfuse perform. The bouncer won’t let me in with bottles of water. Luckily the load-in door is still unlocked, so I’m able to walk around the building, squeeze through the fence opening, and sneak my highly illegal contraband in.

I decide that I’d like a beer, but the bartender in our room is absent, so I go into the other room, making sure to show the bouncer my wristband that says I’m allowed backstage into the greenroom that I’m banned from so he’ll let me back in. I buy an overpriced oatmeal stout, walk back to my show, and the same bouncer tells me he can’t let me back in, and that I’ll have to go outside and re-enter. Any persuasion or reasoning just makes these people irate, so out I go.

I’m not allowed to bring beer outside the venue so I must throw it away. I’m going on soon so I throw it away.
I should note that there’s beer and water for me in the green room, but I’m not allowed to get it.

Showtime! Great crowd.

I dropped my pick and can’t find it. I play a guitar solo with a butterfly screw that was on the table. I finish the song and run to my guitar case for another pick to play a few more tracks in the reprise (my set goes until 1:00AM). It takes me about 3 minutes of troubleshooting while the crowd stares at me to realize that the sound guy cut me off. I signal to him, he’s not looking. I yell, he’s not listening. Okay. Gig’s over, I guess.

WDWD comes in, minus the attitude, and gives me $100 extra dollars for the inconvenience. It was a nice gesture, but I’m still blown away by how ridiculous this place is, and how every single problem was completely unnecessary and preventable. I would have liked an honest apology a lot more than $100.

Looking back, as miserable and degraded as I was at the time, this is already a hilarious memory that I don’t regret having. The Cobra Lounge will take the prestigious award of the worst venue I’ve ever dealt with in over 16 years of touring. I want to thank the audience for distracting me from all of that though, you guys were awesome.

Apple’s Streaming Service Is Still Rotten

The word “rotten” is more than just a pun, it’s a perfect fit. In the physical sense it means something is old and decaying. In the descriptive sense, it means something is morally despicable or corrupt. That’s what this streaming service is.

A lot of people have been asking for my opinion on it, and if I’ll return my catalog to it now that Apple has decided to actually pay for content. Let me make some points.

Streaming is not bad.

Streaming services, well, in my case, Spotify, may actually be the hero of the music industry. There’s still a lot at odds, like the fact that mobile phone signals aren’t consistent, or that many mobile and broadband data providers are capping bandwidth and charging for “overuse”. In a weird way, companies like AT&T and Comcast are at war with major labels and movie studios, and they may not even realize it yet. But when I get my Comcast call telling me that I’ve used up my data for the month, I close Netflix and login to the Torrent seedbox/server that I lease so I can manage bandwidth more efficiently. I can’t be the only person doing this, and I doubt I’m the only person who doesn’t feel bad about it either. I’m going to watch Sons Of Anarchy tonight one way or another. If piracy is the most efficient method of doing so while my ISP is robbing me for using a service I already paid for, so be it. My point is, expect this to be a growing issue.

But when it works, and when I’m not “watching my bandwidth” and behaving like the equivalent of my grandfather handing out blankets to my family when the heating gas bill was too high, it’s really convenient. In fact, it’s far more convenient than piracy. No torrents, no files, no hard drive, no organizing. Just press play and you’re listening to what you want, when you want. I honestly don’t know if it pays well, but I do know that I’m making a living solely from releasing music and I do know that Spotify has yet to actually turn a profit. I have nothing to complain about. For the first time since Napster, I’m being, at least somewhat, fairly compensated in contrast to how many people are listening to my albums. That’s fucking huge.

I keep hearing about how Spotify is ripping off artists, but I just don’t see it. There’s always some botched variable missing from these instances. Usually it’s the simple fact that the artist didn’t have listeners to begin with and fail to grasp the concept of how royalties work with streaming services. Other times it’s a pop icon who has 10 profit-sucking degrees of separation between their income and their fan’s money. Which brings us to…

Taylor Swift is daft.

Okay, maybe that’s harsh. I have no idea how smart Taylor Swift is, my relationship with her music is pretending that my tiny female dog listens to it, although I can’t name a song myself. I have read her open letters to Spotify and more recently Apple, and they are daft. Anyone who gets handed 6 million dollars in a year in royalties that they would have otherwise not been privy to and is upset about it is not living in 2015. I’m not sure what her reasoning was. There is literally no data to actually compare it to. Yes, her CD sales are dropping. But that’s kind of like blaming Best Buy for the decline in firewire cables. I do know that people who buy my albums also listen to me on Spotify. I get to double dip because of the convenience factor. I’m sure Taylor Swift does too.

Of course, Taylor Swift argued back that she was paid less than 500k. So let’s put on a monocle and figure this puzzle out. Spotify hands a briefcase filled with 6 million dollars to “Big Machine Label Group” (I couldn’t make this stuff up), then Big Machine hands Taylor Swift 500k. What could have possibly happened in that simple hand off that would eat up 5.5 million dollars? Surely a gigantic record label didn’t gobble up all of that money, right? Since when is that a thing?

So last week, Taylor, the self-proclaimed superhero of independent musicians, pulls her catalog from Apple’s streaming service because Apple wasn’t paying royalties during the trial period. But wait, if Taylor was outraged with Spotify’s 70% royalty rate, why would she even be initially involved in another streaming service that only pays 1.5% higher? Isn’t that odd?

It’s not odd at all, considering that Apple is buying Taylor’s record label. So let’s all have a golf clap for the corporate circle jerk sold as a bogus controversy that supposedly ended in a win for independent musicians.

I Wish I Could Quit

So, to answer the question: Am I putting my catalog back up?
It’s kind of like asking a working class family if they’re going to take out a high interest loan so they can have a roof over their head. The answer is yes, but the road leading to that answer is a shitty one.

My relationship with Apple began in 2007, with me literally in debt from sending them cease and desist orders as they were selling my music without my permission, not paying me anything for it, and not even responding to my many attempts to resolve the issue. They didn’t even initially respond to attorneys. It took a viral news story about the incident that made the front page of Reddit and was covered around the world by media outlets to get them to even talk to me.

I wanted to tell them to fuck off forever. But iTunes was 2/3rds of my digital sales. I openly, and frequently tell people to use Bandcamp (it’s better for me and far better for the consumer), but Apple’s reach is too vast. If someone hears my song somewhere and decides they’re going to buy my album, iTunes is pre-installed on their iPhone and Macbook. Their payment information is already in there. They type “flahsblub” and hit a button. And that’s fineI’m not going to ask anyone to go out of their way to support me. I’m grateful that they’re supporting me in the first place.

But Apple built the framework for that marketplace, and it was a genius, long road of risk-taking to pull it off. I respect that, despite the DRM, bloated software and lack of compatibility.

Every week some moron from Comcast knocks on my door and tells me that cable and “Streampix” is better than Netflix. I tell him/her to get off my porch and go back to whatever I was doing. Last week I got a package and an envelope from Comcast. In the box was a tiny cable box, and in the envelope was a letter explaining to me how awesome Streampix is, and, this is the kicker, streaming movies from Streampix will not count against my bandwidth cap. See what they did there? They know they can’t compete with Netflix, but they do know that they’re incomparably bigger and more powerful, so their business strategy is to hold their customers hostage with bandwidth caps, unzip their pants, and ram Streampix down their throats.

But that’s Comcast. This is Apple.

Apple’s big announcement at the WWDC was Spotify, but with a 700 billion dollar company behind it forcefully pushing it on everyone’s devices in system updates. It’s not competition, it’s just power. And that’s why they didn’t think they’d need to pay for the content, because the independent musician’s relationship with Apple is held together by unfair market saturation, not a happy business relationship. I guess I’m glad they’ll be paying for their content now that they’ve changed that policy, but they didn’t change it because they give a shit, they changed it because throwing some pocket change at us will make a PR problem go away.

I don’t want anything to do with Apple, but I can’t currently afford to not have anything to do with Apple. Most of all, I just don’t trust the company at all. Maybe it’s my experiences, or maybe it’s just logic. I will be stunned if my relative income from Apple’s streaming service is even in the same ballpark as my income from Spotify.

Maybe It’s Nothin’ Anyway

Even if you have the power to break a bunch of antitrust laws and force feed people your own service, getting people to migrate away from something they’re happy with isn’t an easy feat. Spotify sits nicely on a social networking platform. My account has tons of playlists, saved radio stations, subscriptions, etc. If I had no stake in any of this other than wanting to listen to music, I personally wouldn’t be canceling my account to jump ship for a new service, especially one with fewer artists and lower bitrates. More importantly, Apple’s mobile phone market share is 14.2% and steadily dropping. From that perspective, it seems like they’re trying to get a bunch of people to crowd on to a gigantic sinking ship.

As someone who used Apple products for years and even uses an iPad as a control surface for gigs, I hope that ship capsizes and a company that once was the forefront of technology will find its way back to those roots.

More G̶a̶r̶b̶a̶g̶e̶, Chicago Style.

Early this morning I received an email telling me that my show next weekend at Cobra Lounge in Chicago has been axed to make way for Progressive Car Insurance’s MOTOBLOT. No amount of my persuasion has worked to recovering a gig I confirmed in fucking April.

I’ve already spent 4 figures on non-refundable travel and accommodations, even more in new live gear, many tickets have been sold, and I personally know a handful of people traveling to Chicago for the event. I’ve pulled an all-nighter reaching out to other venues and spaces, but the 1% who responded told me that they are booked.

I’ll update this post with news related to the event as well as my Twitter. If anyone knows of a space in Chicago that has a decent sound system and can legally accommodate 200 people on June 27th, please let us know. You can email

Cobra made good and rescheduled the other event. The gig is on. I have PTSD.
For a bulk of reasons, this will be my last set of shows for a long time. So I hope everything goes smoothly!

Also a shout out to Grandbar. They were very open about accommodating a last minute booking and extremely nice folks. I know where I’ll be having a drink on my day off in Chicago.

The Perils Of Living Your Ultimate Fantasy

What I’m about to go into is the first truly personal post I’ve made in a long time, if ever. I normally keep stuff like this to myself, for good reason, but this has been building for some time. I feel like it has long ago changed the way I make decisions with my career, and because of that, I feel like I owe my fans and supporters some form of explanation. At best, perhaps this will give some insight to new artists of what they may encounter in the future.

I also want to state how immensely grateful I am for many aspects of my life. I truly came from the bottom and ended up on top. What was once a guitar and amplifier in one of the worst neighborhoods in America is now a 1,500 sq ft studio with 4 acres of forest out the window. I make most of my income from music sales, which had been a dream that I thought was unobtainable even in my most optimistic fantasies. I worked extremely hard for it, so while I don’t consider it “luck” by any stretch of the imagination, I do realize that a lot of people work hard for something and end up regretting it. So, for this upward transformation over the decades, I am forever grateful and blessed.

In the back of my head, I always have this thought: If I, for some reason, won a Grammy award for my most recent album, what would I say in my acceptance speech?
I’d probably be proper and thank whoever came into my head first. But really, I’d want to thank my fans, then say “fuck you” to a long list of people and companies. Fuck you to Beatport for selling people’s illegal remixes of my music after declining to carry my actual albums. Fuck you to Tunecore for making me explain how audio compression works to 12 different customer support people who insisted that iTunes is a better audio ripper than Exact Audio Copy and subsequently delaying a digital release for 3 weeks. Fuck you to the person who leaked the album and forced me to ship the CDs early. Fuck you to the warehouse that took 7 days to open the CD boxes and put them in your inventory, preventing me from opening pre-orders. Fuck you to the venues who can’t respond to my emails, and fuck you to the booking agents who can’t simply spent 30 seconds researching my demographic before disregarding me.

Okay, so you see where I’m going with this. At some point it became apparent that with very few exceptions, in the world of releasing “The Flashbulb”,  I have to fight tooth and nail with every single person and service that I do business with. I fight to give away money. With nearly every interaction, I’m imagining myself strangling someone so they’ll take a giant wad of cash to do the job that they’re supposed to do. The job that uses musicians to keep their family fed. It’s as if there’s this invisible line between successful artists and groveling, starving artists, and because of my choices to be smart with my income and release my music on my own terms (via Alphabasic), I’ve somehow ended up on the latter side of that line. This, over the years, has changed me.

I can’t really put into words how much frustration and negativity comes with that. The “business side” is nearly a full time job that is farther away from being an “artist” than it would be if I became a car salesman. It used to be exciting to release albums, now at best it’s exhausting, at worst it’s simply degrading. But it’s all worth it because all of this fighting is so I can keep creative control over “The Flashbulb”. A record label would have forced me to put vocals over all of my music and then licensed it to a Viagra ad. They would have cut songs and released something in 2015 that I wrote in 2011. They would have sued people for sharing my music. I don’t think I could ever deal with that. “The Flashbulb” is my soul. It is essentially the exclusive way I express myself. I could never just hand the keys to someone else and relax while they drove it wherever they wanted to.

So all this fighting has been worth it. It’s a trade-off for creative freedom, and just as importantly, the freedom to release music however and whenever I want.

…well, that part has been getting increasingly convoluted, unfortunately.

Something happened recently that’s been a huge blow to me. I know it shouldn’t be, and I should have a stronger spine and be able to laugh things off. Let’s go back 5 years.

In 2009, I had a particularly rough year. I was dealing with both the suicide of a close friend and the death of an immediate family member, and at some point the suppression of my feelings gave way to anxiety and depression. For about a year I couldn’t bring myself to get professional help, and subsequently bounced between self-medicating and expressing myself in music I never intended to release. Most of that music is still unreleased and unheard, but a few things crept out. “Louisiana Mourning” being the obvious short compilation of pieces relating to this period, with tracks “We Are Alone In A City” and “Skeletons” being the others. “We Are Alone In A City” was initially 10 minutes long and had vocals, and I probably cut the track up 10 times before including it on a release. I was constantly on the fence about sharing it with the world. To me, it symbolized this moment where, in my own mind, I had nothing in my life but ghosts to hang on to, and I knew to everyone else, it would merely be something to help pass the time while riding the bus or doing homework. Releasing music that comes from those places is an incredibly insecure, naked experience. If someone criticizes the song, to them, they’re just sharing their opinion about music. To you, they’re criticizing your soul. There’s no way you can naturally come to terms with that arrangement. But the job of a “successful” musician is to suck it up and be humble. You can’t expect everyone to understand the novel-sized, epic saga that is behind certain pieces of music, much less respect it.

So let’s fast-forward to 2015. I’m almost getting comfortable with the aforementioned “fight” that accompanies every music release, and once again, I’m getting naked in front of the world by releasing a solo piano album. I have no idea if I’m a good piano composer. If I was laughed at by even the most uneducated music listener, or if I was praised by people with doctorates in composition, neither would be a big surprise. I’m completely cut off in my own world when I’m writing, and while that has its caveats, it locks out influences that aren’t coming naturally. Once I start trying to appeal to someone else’s standards, the quality of my work starts plummeting. It’s always been that way, and I believe it always will be.

The piano album’s release was, frankly, a disaster. Since my music writing is a mix between music theory and some alien language I invented to help me remember specific ideas, I had hired a transcriber and pianist to transcribe the album into a music book that other pianists could use. It was meant to be included with a special edition of the pre-orders. Well, the transcriber took my down payment and stopped responding to emails, and the whole thing is still dwindling in a Paypal dispute that I honestly no longer even care about. The album’s announcement came premature from a 3rd party, the CDs arrived late, the manufacturer screwed up the bleeds on the artwork,  the warehouse didn’t properly handle inventory, the t-shirt order got screwed up, iTunes rejected the album because I marked it as classical, which then prompted Tunecore to throw it back into limbo, which was then accompanied by a bunch of site bugs preventing the album from being anywhere other than Alphabasic and Bandcamp for nearly a month. Oh, and it leaked, meaning I had to ship everything prematurely. It was by far the biggest shit show I’ve dealt with in terms of releasing an album. Every single thing that could go wrong did.

More and more, over the last few years, I feel like I’m losing control over my own music. Even though I’m doing it myself and constantly multitasking through various battles, it’s still all too often being swept into someone else’s terms of service. Someone else’s time frame. Someone else’s release schedule. I now find myself nearly dreading the actual task of releasing music as “The Flashbulb”.

Then, something that would normally be utterly hilarious happened to me. But it happened at the wrong time, with the wrong song, and the wrong idiot behind it all. Due to 2 days worth of DMCAing’, you can’t see exactly what I saw, but this is the relic of it:

And if you want to hear one of the outcomes (most of the many Youtube links are DMCA’d):
(Please don’t leave this guy mean comments, he bought the instrumental from SF Vibe Beats under the misconception that it was an original creation)

So, to sum this up briefly, “SF Vibe Beats” was illegally licensing “We Are Alone In A City” with a drum loop over it in exchange for money via his Shopify store to everyone from rap artists to marketing campaigns. This guy sold it to over 30 people that used it and released the songs. One of the music videos using this “beat” had more views than my top video of all time (Undiscovered Colors). Try to imagine the weight of this. A stolen song of mine with a drum loop plastered on top earned more success on Youtube than a timelapse video I spent a week in a desert shooting to a song that I had written/recorded an entire orchestra for.

I know, I know. “Lawyer up!”  “Bury this douche!”
And I probably will. This is far from the first time something like this has happened, and that’s kind of the point I’m trying to make. 20 years ago, I sat in my bedroom programming music on a tiny 2-line LCD screen of a synth workstation for, literally, 3 days straight. It was so pure and beautiful. Every track I finished energized the next. I long for that feeling again.

Now? I wake up and alternate between emailing venues, lawyers, music distribution sites, and writing music. I have the knowledge that anything I release can, and probably will be exploited to its fullest potential without my permission. And frankly, while I’ll never imprison myself with a rash decision about the future, I have a huge library of music that I’ll never release because it’s the best, deepest, and most coveted thing I can produce. That’s not to say my recent releases are lacking effort, I don’t believe they are. I think they have their place. But I don’t have it in me to “fight” over my soul, if that analogy makes any sense in reference to what I’ve said here.

I don’t know what this means. But if I’m to continue with “The Flashbulb”, I definitely need to completely restructure not only the way I release things, but my mindset in regards to releasing music to the public. It should be healthy for everyone. The reception of my releases should inspire me to keep writing, and if it comes down to choosing between purely and naturally writing music or releasing music with a bunch of baggage attached, I think everyone can agree which one of those options would be the right choice.

Before I press “publish”, I want to again emphasize my gratefulness for being able to feed myself by writing music. More importantly, I want to thank my supporters. All of this “fighting” is so I can get my music to your ears in a fair, efficient, and affordable manner. I owe it to my fans to find a better way of doing that.

The Big Music Usage FAQ

A couple years ago, I made a cheat sheet showing what I allow, encourage, and disallow in terms of using or licensing my music. Needless to say, things have gotten a bit more complicated. We receive an average of 3 usage requests per day, and I’m going to try and cover the most common questions with a brief explanation. If you don’t care about music usage, here’s a documentary about deer that will probably be a more entertaining way to spend your time.

The 4 Commandments Of Music Usage*
*For Benn Jordan/The Flashbulb

1. Thou shalt not use my music for a commercial and/or to promote a product or service that is for sale without permission. This includes all possible variations of this, including footage of a Budweiser sponsored dance party where the DJ is playing my music. If you want my music to be connected to marketing, you need to get a license.

2. Thou shalt not use my music for anything that is for sale without permission. This includes but is not limited to compilation CDs, compilation iTunes mixes, remixes, DVDs, digital rentals, subscription services (Netflix, Spotify, etc) and movie tickets.

3. Thou shalt not use my music for anything broadcasting on television or radio without my permission. Simple enough, right?

4. Thou shalt not use my music on a major project without my permission. In other words, if you have 300,000 Youtube subscribers, run it by us first.

I realize this might seem stingy to a person who has never sought to obtain permission for music usage before and is just trying to get to the finish line of a project, but I promise you, my “commandments” are very liberal in comparison to most musicians/labels/publishers and are basically allowing free use as long as you’re not making money off of it.

I remixed your song, why can’t I release it?

I’m honored when people release or cover my music, and on many occasion I’ve sought out artists to do it. The problem isn’t my personal feelings, it is the clusterfuck your remix will cause when the audioprint matches my music on digital stores and streaming services. For example, one particular asshole put some extra sound effects over Undiscovered Colors and released it as his own. The audioprint systems somehow removed my track from the rankings, and some services even threatened to remove my entire catalog for copyright infringement. Other services refused to honor the DMCA take downs since they simply didn’t have the time to actually look into the issue. Needless to say, this cost me thousands in legal fees just to be able to continue selling my own album. Down the line it caught up to him, and both him and his digital distributor ended up having to foot those legal fees, as well as their own.

Now, I’m dealing with the same issue with someone releasing a track of mine that they sang over.

But moral of the story, thank you for remixing my music, but please do not release it without working something out with me or Alphabasic.

Your cheat sheet said I could use your music on Youtube, and now I can’t monetize my video!

My cheat sheet does say that, but it also said that you can’t make a profit from my music without a license. I didn’t make up that rule because I’m greedy. It’s because the agreement reached between the publishing company that keeps track of my Youtube royalties and Google decided to suspend monetization on videos using unlicensed music. There’s a lot of red tape, and I have very little control over the process after my music goes into the system. Some people have asked me to “whitelist” their channel. I’ve searched and asked if this is possible, and it currently is not. However,  you can get a license from us, show it to Youtube, and they’ll clear it all up.

Can I get a free license for Youtube monetization then?

No. You can get a cheap license. I’m usually making nothing off of it, it’s just that preparing a legal document costs money. In all humble honesty, even if I had a law degree to oversee all types of license agreements, if I were to prepare licenses for everyone who asked for a free one, it would literally be a full time job. I’d rather be a musician, not an IP attorney who works for free to ensure that he doesn’t get paid for his previous work. =)

I want to monetize a Youtube video of your music with the video being a still image of your album art or a photograph. Is that okay?

While I won’t go out of my way to have the video flagged or removed, there are very few cases where I’m okay with this, such as the content provider being the press or a well-known music blog. I wholeheartedly appreciate people sharing my music, but there is a growing culture of people who upload songs they like, monetize the videos, and collect the royalties. While it’s not on my list of priorities to interfere with that business, please understand the audacity of asking me to provide you with a free license so Youtube is prevented from giving me royalties on my own music. It would be more noble to just ask me to give you $100.

Why are you asking for so much money for using your song in my commercial? Library music I looked at was $100. It’s free money!

It’s not free money, it’s the value of my work which is determined by hundreds of thousands of dollars and work hours I’ve put into my career and studio. If you found something that works in a royalty-free music library, you should absolutely use that instead of obtaining a license from released material. My music isn’t library music the same way that a painter’s work isn’t made for a clip art CD-ROM. I have no disrespect for musicians who write for libraries, I actually collect and listen to old library records, but it’s just 2 different industries for music distribution.

I’m making a film on an indy budget. There’s a chance it may be picked up and sold, but I can’t afford a license.

This isn’t  a big deal. We can cross the bridge when we come to it. If your film ends up being distributed yourself or through Kickstarter/etc to a limited amount of people, we can negotiate an affordable license. There are lots of options like length of use, region, etc. If your film gets picked up by Miramax, I’d rather negotiate a license with them than someone just out of film school anyway. So hopefully that structure makes my music friendly to a shoe-string film budget.

Hopefully this covers everything a bit more thoroughly. Again, I’ve always greatly appreciated people sharing my music. It’s been a vital part of me being able to make a living and continue releasing it. I hope this post doesn’t sound brute or discourage sharing or artistic use. If I won the lottery I’d make all my music public domain anyway.

If you need a license or have a unique situation that isn’t covered here, please email:
Thanks for reading.

July Tour

I bought a giant, tour-friendly SUV.
I’ve updated my live rig.
I have a lot of people asking me to play their city.

I don’t have a booking agent anymore, and am often treated like a band playing their first show when cold-calling venues (on the rare chance anyone responds).

Regardless, this is what I’d like to make happen this July.  Wish me luck. I need it.