Thursday, January 27, 2005

Haven't posted in a while, but it's like this...

The only thing I'd have to post would be "big things are coming soon, don't want to tell you about them right now because they're in the works" but that always sounds like a lame come-on, so I think the best way to maintain interest and still be up front is to say:

"I haven't had time because I've been working on some things that will be really cool that should be fun to read about, but I don't want to write about stuff that falls through and makes me seem more haphazard and inept than I already seem in this blog." :-)

But there is some news that is worth a post:Utenzil makes #1 in Electronic on!

Friday, January 21, 2005

More software, this time a mastering limiter...

So I've worked on getting the vocals to sound better and continue to do so. I don't sing on most tracks-- there is only one track with vocals on the first Utenzil CD, but there will be more on the upcoming release.

Next point of refinement that I mentioned, and which was also pointed out by this (very good) fellow CD Baby and Garageband artist, whose CD I bought and which you might enjoy, is that my levels are a little low when compared to "major label" discs in the same genre.

So I fretted about this, because while I could readily crank the volume that could introduce distortion and that is worse-- unwanted harmonic distortion is what causes listener fatigue and general "blech" upon hearing a recording.

What I did was to purchase the Voxengo Elephant mastering limiter. Along with the Voxengo Soniformer, the multiband compressor that I can use this to adjust levels on select frequency bands to allow for innate hearing (in)sensitivity, I can crank the levels but "squash" peaks before clipping kicks in (hence the name, I guess, a nice strong but articulate Elephant foot on your levels). I worked with it just a bit, it does seem transparent and is not extremely expensive for the problem it solves for me.

There are some very expensive mastering software packages, I will not go there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sales, contests, reviews and ruminations

CD sales have soared this month. How many have I sold? :-) I'm not telling, not anywhere near enough to have covered costs so go buy one!! :-)

Two Utenzil tracks have gotten some special mentions on during the week of Jan 10 for "Most Bitter Breakup Song", *simultaneously* in two separate genres. Wondering got it in indie rock and Alp-E-Phants got it in Electronica. That is kind of funny, very appropriate for "Wondering" and sort of appropriate for "Alp-E-Phants".

So the ruminations part: a loooong time ago I read an interview with the guitarist from Cheap Trick (yes, a loooooooong time ago-- I am blessed/cursed with a memory where I remember odd "words to the effect of" pieces of info from everything I read). Anyway, this guitarist (one of the great rock guitarists of his era) mentioned how when he got older, he dreaded that day he'd end up playing guitar music that involved "sitting on a stool", like jazz, blues or folk. I think about some of the music I used to play in bands, and some of what I do now, and yeh there is some tendency towards the seated-on-a-stool as one "matures as an artist". Being able to work on new music is the main thing, tho', and it's fun with the new technology. I miss playing with a live drummer sometimes, but I do not miss dealing with equipment loading and gig logistics.

There is always one person in a band whose transportation is unreliable. Sometimes that was me, seems that usually it's a bass player or a drummer. Then there is someone else whose family situation makes it difficult for them. Always I will remember the one keyboard player's predicament one weekend, explained in hush tones over the phone "hey, can't make practice today, my grandmother sh*t on the rug and my mom's freaking out, so things are a little crazy here".

So while there are things you miss when doing a solo recording project, there are definitely things you don't :-).

Friday, January 14, 2005

An interesting poll regarding music and happiness

Time magazine's current issue focuses on Happiness, and includes a poll whose respondents indicate that 55% of women and 52% of men listen to music to improve their mood. Here is the graphic--

Listening to music is the secondmost ranked mood-improving activity for women, the first being talking with family and friends (63% of respondents), however, it is the FIRST ranked mood-improving activity for men.

Other interesting data includes an indication that women would prefer all of the other choices as opposed to having sex to improve their mood, whereas the choice between eating and having sex is pretty much a toss-up for men looking to improve their mood. :-)

In a totally unrelated note, there is a tattoo design named Utenzil available for download! It's a cool design, I've contacted the artist, Phil Merkle, who has some really sharp fantasy artwork to view online as well as tattoo designs, I really like his work and would like to use some as art on my next CD.

In general, if you are into tattoos this looks like a good way to browse a wide selection of designs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

And some movement is occurring...

Here's some advice: always have a copy of your CD in your pocket, and you can sell direct and/or promote one on one. I'm glad for everybody who is willing to give a listen.

Utenzil Four Song Sampler Download for sale

Buy Utenzil Quadshot Sampler!
Four Songs for $3.29, Utenzil Demo.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

What I plan to do first in order to promote my CD

I am not the best example of the rabid, driven self-marketing artist that would be star. I am not 'hyperexciting', some of the music is kind of exciting, some of it is; well, just weird. I'm not even a particularly good writer, lots of typos, my grammar is a little bad, so thanks for reading...

So some of the tentative marketing steps I've taken:

I have an account on the MWS Media site. It is a fledgling content site, with a weekly "audio magazine". I listened to it, and I liked it: there is a friendly, FM-radio-when-FM-radio-was-still-a-frontier feel to the announcer's voice, what lacks in polish is offset by sincerity and a positive and hopeful vibe. The sound is pretty good, and the concept is pretty good: weekly audio installments via a blog as opposed to streaming radio. It's an interesting leveraging of the RSS feed technology. Anyway, I have passed along my music to see if it might be included there. There are other internet radio stations I am looking at as well: many charge a fee for you to register your music with them, then they play it/feature you, which rubs me wrong, seems a little too crass.

anyway... Now, I've got some 'product issues' to consider. Utenzil is not a DJ project that mixes and produces, I'm a musician that composes, playing keyboard and guitar, applying vocals or not, then mixing and producing.

"Electronic" music encompasses 'turntablism', and it is actually the case that a currently particularly 'hot' aspect of electronic music is DJ-centric turntablism. I do use samples from sound libraries, particularly drum loops. Many electronica purists disdain loops, you should only program your own beat patterns using single hit samples and MIDI-- I do some of that too, and I don't think you *should* only do anything.

At any rate I will likely provide some CDs to local DJs, have done so with one already.

Some other issues: I'm not a late night partier-- sorry to disappoint. Can't deal well with the second hand smoke thing in bars/clubs. So if I were to play out, where would that occur? This will be an interesting challenge. Maybe outdoors, that would be cool, but that wouldn't be possible in this climate for a few months yet. Maybe a cyber-cafe or bookstore? DUnno. Also, might need some visual effects. Computers are good at generating those, watching a person fiddle with a mouse is not like watching a person playing a fiddle, even. If so, then that means a projector, more hardware.

Also, there is patience. This works against me, because I'm not a youngish musician, I am an oldish musician. If you consider a project like Deep Dish, a DC-area originated DJ house duo, they've put out at least 1 disc per year since 1992 but eventually made out well, and they are still "youngish". But this particular genre is wide ranging in artist ages, as opposed to pop or rap.

So I kind of see where this would go if done best. The music needs to be more meticulous, intricate and more refined, more sophisticated in craft. If I play out, it will tend to be more a multimedia show, 'interesting and thought provoking' as opposed to 'club energetic'. It will always be niche, and because I'm more a 'responsible' fuddy duddy :-) I would seem like I can be relied on to create a soundtrack or theme song, maybe for an indie film or TV pilot. So I've registered with Versus Media, a company that matches up people looking for music for indie films with musicians who can provide it. That field is very competitive, populated by musicians with more rigorous formal training, also, but if I generate something that is usable for that, then that would be cool.

These are tentative steps, again, I am not much of a role model in the promotion/marketing aspect of things.

The CD has been out since early December. CD Baby has distributed it digitally to several MP3 download services, including iTunes, MusicNet, LoudEye and Rhapsody, but it takes a while (sometimes months) for those services to get it out there. I like the model of being able to download just the tracks you like, so this makes me feel much better in general: CD Baby is definitely cool in being able to have this sort of distribution setup.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Promoting the Album"... uuooogh.

If you are a musical artist that wants to record a CD from scratch and has not done that yet, this blog may be useful for you. If you have CD and want to make it sell more and more, that's kind of where this blog leaves off-- if you have just now visited, you are joining at that point.

If you are someone who likes free MP3 downloads then here's site that you can sign up for an account and do that and you can download the music of Utenzil that is the topic of writing herein here.

If you are a music fan, then this blog takes you behind the scenes of the recording and production of an artist's first CD release. The artist is not particularly outrageous, hopefully knows his limitations and generally performs on key, on tempo with lyrics that are not too amateurish and original music that has a fair amount of variety and interest.

Also, this is *not* 'remixes', where the large part of the musical composition has already been established by someone else and is then embellished, but electronic compositions that might use some musical ideas already established, but not assembled into a composition.

As a money making venture, music almost always requires up-front investment with no real guaranteed return. Take the lowest common denominator: we've all seen musicians that are, say, pretty good saxophone players and have a saxophone, standing out on a street corner playing and get some spare change thrown in their instrument case-- it will be a while before they would be able to pay for a saxophone in this manner. If you are a really good singer, you *might* be able to do this and make money from the get go with no investment (because your instrument is free) but the singer on the street corner across that is maybe half as good as you but which can also can play a guitar and has one, will very likely win out. So the essential idea there is get an instrument that is as inexpensive as possible, play it well, and you will get ahead eventually.

And of course people walking by with headphones listening to an MP3 or CD player only regard these street musicians as noise. Let's say the same guy on the corner playing the good sax could accompany himself with computer produced tracks and be playing on those headphones on those devices. At what point is he doing better monetarily? At the point he sells enough to pay for the CD and more.

The fact of the matter it is practically a certainty he will make more money faster and very like more money total (albeit less comfortably and safely) playing on the street corner if he is so inclined.

Now the CD is produced, what he's doing now, he's thinking about 'the next step' in trying to sell more CDs. The Indie Bible comes highly recommended from a number of sources. Now, here's the thing. Promotion is not easy, it is work, and there is some of the 'music scene' that is fun for people, and some that is not.

Here's how promotion works: you pay some service some money, and they promote your album. "Promotion" means they say good things about you in the right ears. It also requires that you provide enough valid and accurate information regarding your music and goals so that they may do this effectively.

I have not promoted my album successfully yet, and may never be able to do so, but what I can tell the music fan, the aspiring artist, and the people who just like to download free MP3s, is that I have done research on the subject and it means this:

'The musical artist' must do those two things that 'musical artists' typically dislike the most: 1) pay somebody some money and 2) real work that has little to do with making music.

Most musicians, including me, have a 'day job', right; and this musician actually happen to like his day job a fair amount. There is also this notion that your 'music career' will actually be more fun/make you happier than your 'day job' but of course your 'music career' becomes your 'day job' at that point. I do not want my music career to become my day job. I want to be able to write words in my blog and websites, write music on CD, read about things that are interesting to me but at the same time somehow generate value for my family and friends when I do these things.

If you look at it completely sensibly, you are making an investment if you are deciding to release an album. If you start completely from scratch (none of this includes musical training and audio production training, but assumes you have enough of that to start) and you follow what happens in this blog, you are looking at an investment that involves the following:

  • More powerful than normal computer (anywhere from $1200-$5000, really could go to $10,000+ if you are serious about going into that business). You need Firewire and/or USB 2.x inputs on the computer. I don't use Mac, I use Windows. Mac is preferred by many musicians, and of course those are more expensive for the higher level machines.
  • Some computer based audio production software and hardware, here I am referring to interfaces that plug into the computer via USB 2.x or Firewire (IEEE 1394) ($150-$1000, really could go to $10,000+ if you are really serious). Btw, do not bother with USB 1.x devices regardless of price unless you just want to mess around, go for USB 2.x or whatever comes later only. Also Firewire is generally regarded as superior in handling multiple audio inputs and is more expensive. In addition, there are new variants of USB and IEEE 1394 that are and will evolve, faster and faster is what this means.
  • Instruments ($300-$1500, yes, $10,000+ easily if you are really serious)
  • Audio hardware (monitors, microphones, cables, mixers, effects, amplifiers) ($800- easily lots and lots)
  • CD duplication and production, distribution services: ($100-$1000 and easily much more)

    So, prior to promotion costs, take some not all the way at the low end numbers of all of these, add them up:

  • Computer $2000
  • Interface $ 500
  • Insts. $1500
  • Audio HW $2000
  • Services $ 500

    If you budget about $6000 *to start* you can have a go at it. So the first CD will be expensive, and it won't be the best because the musician will learn, but afterwards the cost per CD drops. But in the above hypothetical case, about a $6000 investment has been made to start with very little chance of a return.

    What promotional services do is boost the chances of return. By how much it's not possible to say, but definitely by some positive amount. If you look at it this way, $300-$500 to get that to happen is among one of your lower end costs. On the other hand, it may do nothing for you, because it cannot be guaranteed: risk on top of risk.

    Many indie artists, including this one, also hold out hope for their work being "licensed" by a movie maker or television show. One such licensing could easily cover the startup costs.

    I will tell you why I sweat the startup costs (which, even as a hobby or amusement, are not all that high-- one could buy a fancy bicycle, go golfing every weekend, go to sporting events, do skydiving, collect any number of things and easily go through that much money or more).

    It is because I want the things I "put together" to work, and I think the music is not that bad. Also, I could make it better, and will.

    :-) Anyway, all of this-- I'm guessing add up to some reasons why, typically, reasonable business types are not musicians, and why musicians can become the 'economic victims' of the business folk that advance their careers.

    Think about all the *signed* artists whose CDs sit on shelves waiting to be sold. Go to a music store, no matter what kind of music fan you are, out of ALL of them-- soundtracks, showtunes, comedy, country, folk, classical, jazz, blues, R&B/Funk, rock, metal, punk/emo, indie, alternative, pop, electronic, world.... how many of those categories would you consider browsinng, and then in that category, how many CDs would you even consider buying? Some very small percent. [so, if you even consider buying mine, I am honored and thank you]

    The ones who make the profits, they can often have incredibly short "runs" of popularity but can make astronomical money, much of which in turn is consumed by the process of making and promoting the music.

    Like moths to a flame, yet we keep flitting ever nearer to the beat of our Muse.
  • Thursday, January 06, 2005

    Musings, how to use this blog, other musical URLs of possible interest..

    There is this theory of art criticism that discusses the 'intentional fallacy'. What this says in a nutshell is "what the artist meant to say don't mean squat. What he/she ended up conveying is what is meaningful". This refers more to 'fine art' one prequisite for this being (as near as I can tell) that the artist be dead but that the work outlives the historical/cultural context and also the audience for which it was created.

    As far as this particular theory is concerned, music is mostly not real art. It is "amusement art" where various base sensory devices are employed to provide an ephemeral stimulation-- it is fries and a shake compared to the elegant textured cuisine and rare aged wine of "fine art".

    So all of that is ok by me. It is the rare individual who can dive down to the core of human being-ness, surface to the rest of us and somehow exhale that essential universality so that it might touch us and generations of us to come. People who play most music nowadays should not liken themselves to these extremely rare and usually highly tragic conduits of sacred knowledge. On the other hand, it's not exactly chopped liver to come up with songs that people like out of nothing and perform them well, and on the other other hand, it's definitely "craft", such that it is formulaic to a degree.

    The music discussed here is done for fun. It's done for expression, for amusement, for exploration, for challenge and for experimentation. You have to take yourself a little seriously, to provide some direction to what become your artifacts, but you're not painting freakin' Starry Night fer cryin' out loud.

    Ok, so how to use this blog: it's about how one musician, genre "electronica", recorded and released an independently produced CD.

    So start at the start and read thru. Also, here are some blanks filled in:

    The music is largely improvised, then honed (or not-- see what you think, you can have a listen at this site where you can stream and/or download MP3s.

    The improvisation occurs using loops, programmed drum machine, guitar melodies, keyboard melodies, vocal melodies and also effects. A few measures at a time might be built from beat through bassline to chords or melodies up to embellishments, like a single square slice of lasagne, or it might be built a layer at a time over the whole time of the song, like a whole pan of lasagne.

    I play guitar and love to jam with a good live drummer. Drums are difficult to record well, it must be really nice to be the kind of a recording artist that can afford to have a skilled engineer set up mic'ed drums in a studio and be able to jam with the drummer to come up with a song. Drum loops are well recorded drums, midi drum machines can be used to trigger good drum samples, and midi drum machines can sound good as themselves also. Computer recording coupled with these loops and samples makes it, if not simple, very not difficult when compared to what you have to do in the studio to get a good sound.

    So maybe you ask how much different is that from one of those synthesizers with the speakers that you can get for $200 and press the 'Rock Pattern #4' drum button and then some other buttons that fill in chords? Aren't you closer to doing that than being in a band that plays originals?"

    Well, in terms of the mechanics of the activity in question, yes, you are: you are not meticulously, intently and passionately fingering an instrument that has taken you years to learn in concert with other musicians following the song plan of your mutual design.

    But in terms of the process, no you aren't: you are being both something less and something more than a band that plays originals if you have the flow of what you're doing right, you are improvising on multiple instruments at once in lockstep, not preset patterns but actual totally original musical phrases along with some other more familiar riffs that can provide grounding and context. And because you are using a computer to do this, you are creating a high quality digital recording at the same time, you can go back and refine it. Also, because you are doing it on your own you can really stretch and bend and flow,incorporate instrumental sounds, found sounds and theoretical sounds that would not be possible otherwise: because the system is 'taking notes' for you, you don't need to remember how you got to where you are in the composition, you just need to go where it leads you.

    So it's more than a little fun and interesting.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2005

    Portion of CD proceeds will go to non-profit...

    So I have thought about this. I have corresponded online for many years now with a group of people involved in First Nations issues , and have pledged a portion of the proceeds from the CD sales to Barefoot Connections.

    Monday, January 03, 2005

    CD proceeds for charity

    In light of recent events, I'm going to be donating some portion of my CD sales proceeds to charity. I mean, why not? This fund is a good one, imo. .