Category Archives: technology

iTunes, without the ball and chain

Apple Fanboys had their orgiastic expo-tacular today, where new products are typically unveiled by His Steveness. Steve was absent today, part of the ongoing effort to confirm the internet rumors that he died in March of last year.

Nothing big was announced: a new laptop, upgrades to popular software suites iLife and iWork, pretty much what was expected. The big surprise for me was the announcement that iTunes would be going DRM-free. For those of you who don’t take the time to memorize every TLA that you come across, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s the thing that prevents you from emailing a song to a friend, or playing it on another computer, or taking advantage of any of the awesome powers granted to us by the digital era. It’s the industry’s lock and key.

I haven’t bought anything on iTunes for about 12 months, and DRM is exactly why. I love everything else about the Apple model, but I can’t abide having my audio files locked away, preventing me from doing things that are well within my legal rights to do (like playback on any device I own). I switched to the Amazon MP3 store because they offered a universal file format (mp3), and no DRM lockdown.

In some ways, I think Apple was paying the penalty for being first to market. They made a deal with the devil to get major record labels to agree to release their catalogs to the iTunes music store, and the price was DRM lockdown. Once the model proved successful, other distributors (amazon, for example) were able to negotiate much more favorable terms for their own download sales. Steve Jobs said as much almost two years ago.

I’m glad to see Apple unchain their content. I hope this marks a step forward into a new model of distribution for all kinds of digital media, from video to software.

I dream of a wireless, portable, personal, and highly fungible digital future, where my data moves with me and works for me, without barrier or constraint.

AAAAAAAHHHH!!!! MY EYES!!!! THE CHANGES!!!!

Yes friends, the time has finally come. Addison Road is wearing her new clothes. All it took was back-to-back recording sessions where I sat around for 12 hours making sure students didn’t set anything on fire. I spent the time splicing together this here bit o’ awesome for ya’ll.

The biggest change is that only the two latest posts show up on the front page, with text excerpts. Comments are more prominent, with the latest comment showing up at the top of the page, almost like a post.

There is also a new category, called “Featured.” It’s designed for significant posts that belong on the front page for multiple days. If you’re an author, feel free to use it, but do so advisedly. I’ll reserve the right to manage that category, adding and removing posts at whim, like a petty dictator.

On the todo list, I’ll get gravatars back in place in the comments. If you find anything else wonky, let me know and I’ll try to squeeze it back into place. Apart from that, enjoy!

The Power of Going Solar

Since public schools so often get a bad rap, I thought I’d share one reason I love our public school. After salaries, the second-biggest cost to schools is energy. Rather than holding a bake sale, here is a more creative solution to current economic woes. It reduces our carbon footprint, and actually puts energy back into “the grid”. I have no hand in this program’s creation or evolution, but it is inspiring to be around.

Ubuntu, Baby

This is my daughter, showing me how the drawing program works on her new linux computer. I set it up for her, and 30 seconds later she told me to go away, because she didn’t need my help anymore.

My work here is done.

SEE

Stanford has taken their school of Engineering to the world. They join MIT, and a host of other universities in giving away their content for free.

Of everything that the internet has brought us, I’m the most thrilled with this revolutionary new mindset, that knowledge is the province of all of humanity, not a scarce resources to be hoarded and doled out in strict hierarchies of authority.

I’m excited for what this means for the role of the teacher in the coming generation. In addition to being experts in our field, we will need to become more adept curators of knowledge, organizing and presenting it in a compelling way. We also need to become more adept at modifying and evolving our teaching in improvisatory way, as student curiosity and awareness changes. The experience of being in the room should be different, based on who is in the room.

My authority to teach no longer comes from my ability to take money and dispense knowledge – anything I can teach my students, they have ready access to for free online. My authority to teach (if I have any!) comes from my ability to create a compelling environment in which to learn, and to bring to my students attention new ideas in a way that meets their development in a timely manner.

I’m often puzzled by profs here at APU who don’t record lectures, don’t publish their notes, don’t push content out in ways that students can access on demand. They are trapped in a protectionist mindset, concerned that if they give away their content, they will make themselves obsolete. Students won’t attend classes if they can get the content off-line.

If the only reason my students attend my class is because I am holding information hostage, I’m violating one of my fundamental obligations as a teacher. If I can’t give them some other compelling reason to be present in that room, then why shouldn’t I be replaced by a bikini-clad supermodel reading straight from wikipedia?

Problem Solver

I just came up with a brilliant solution to a nagging problem!

I’m trying to record vocal demos of an acapella choral piece. In order to get all of the parts to line up with each other, I had been relying on one of two methods. First, I can just map out a click for the entire song, and chase it on each of the parts. This method pays a pretty hefty cost in musicality, though, especially for a piece that is going to rely heavily on a conductor’s sense of phrasing. The second option is to record one part, free of click, and then stack the rest of the parts on top of that trying to listen to and remember the timing of that first part. This works OK if the choral parts are all roughly the same, but is disastrous if you’re doing counterpoint, or any sort of aggressive part writing.

What I really need is a conductor who is capable of conducting exactly the same thing every time I go back and lay in a new track.

The solution? I shot video of me conducting through the song, loaded the video into logic, and now I’m stacking all of the other parts to the video of me conducting! The video tracks with the timeline of the song, so that I’m always following the same phrasing, same timing, but I don’t have to create a complex click map to get there.

The added bonus is that can package this whole thing up, send the project to another singer to do the high tenor parts, and they can track to the same conducting, deliver the same phrasing, same timing. I think that’s a pretty cool solution!

iPhone Apps I’d Like To See

I love the new iPhone Apps store – another coup for Apple in their ongoing campaign to change how we use technology. The release of the WordPress app got to me thinking about other iPhone apps that I’d like to see. Hopefully some of these software makers will take up the charge and release these apps!

Terminal

I realize this one is a geek-out, but I’d love to have a command line interface that will allow me to login to remote servers via SSH, and do basic maintenance tasks (like deleting Zack’s bootleg collection of vintage pinup girls that he keeps uploading to the server). This shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

Tivo Command Center


Find programs, record them, manage season passes, order video rentals from Amazon’s UnBox, all remotely. And by remotely, I mean from the kitchen table. Tivo already allows http access to your home box, through both Yahoo’s TV listings and amazon’s website, so the code infrastructure should be in place.

Remember The Milk


Remember the Milk is my favorite task-list software, and it already has a very nice iphone web interface. So what would they add by building an iPhone app? The ability to import and export tasks from the iPhone calendar, the ability to add contacts to a task, and the ability to push alarms for incomplete tasks. Basically, the ability to take away every excuse for my total lack of personal organization.

HULU


I know. iTunes video downloads rock, hulu.com sucks. I said as much myself, some while back. You know what? I was wrong. Hulu is fast, high quality, has a very broad catalog (including great older shows), and the ads are less obtrusive than on broadcast TV. I realize that this will never happen, because 1) Hulu videos are flash-based, so far an iPhone no-no, and 2) Apple maintains tight control over apps that are released in the store, and there is zero chance that they are going to allow access to an app that directly competes with one of their primary profit models. Still, a girl can dream.

Armagetron


If you don’t yet know the awesomeness that is armagetron, here’s the recap – you race the light cycles from the movie Tron. Now, picture the same thing, but with the motion sensor in the iPhone controlling your cycle turns. Awesome.

Well, that’s me. What about ya’ll? Anything you’d like to see someone build for the iPhone?

15 Future Conversations

Brief quotes from conversations I fully expect to have before I die:

  1. “Of course we wanted that house, but you have to understand honey, back then a million dollars was a lot of money!”
  2. “I don’t care if it is the ‘casual’ service, you’re not wearing ass-less chaps to church!”
  3. “I just don’t enjoy listening to music on beam-o-wave. I prefer the vintage sound of mp3s.”
  4. “Yeah, we were planning to go up to Santa Cruz for the 4th of July, but Gretchen got placed on the Homeland Security ‘No-Drive’ list, so we’re not allowed on any Interstate Highways.”
  5. “You damn kids, get off my astro-turf!”
  6. “So he’s just bricked? Totally comatose until the next upgrade? See, that’s why I’m waiting for the 2nd generation iControl neural implants.”
  7. “Well, yeah, we used to have salad at almost every meal, but since we deployed the Death-Ray Border-Bots, nobody can afford to grow lettuce commercially.”
  8. “If you read the course description, it still says Logic Pro and ProTools, but these days we spend most of the semester on Guitar Hero.”
  9. “So even though the company went bankrupt and was sold off piecemeal in the mid 30′s, we still use ‘google’ as a verb.”
  10. “There is no plug, it runs on gasoline.”
  11. “This is disgusting. We should just spend the extra money and get the name-brand protein cartridges for the food replicator. I’m tired of the sludge these refills put out.”
  12. “Welcome to the 11:45 Karaoke Service. If you’d like to lead a worship song, just hand your slip of paper and offering envelope to the nearest usher.”
  13. “We would love to put some trees in the backyard, but we can’t afford the mandatory carbon-onset credits to reduce global cooling.”
  14. “Now it’s mostly used as a skate park, but back when it was first opened the Large Hadron Collider was a very sophisticated piece of scientific equipment.”
  15. “Heard of them? I played keyboards on their first two records!”

You kids can take it from here.

Studio Days

Chris had a few days free at Eldorado, so he called me to come hang out and track weird, bizarre, science-experiment like music, as an excuse to try out playing and mic’ing techniques that we would never, ever suggest in front of actual clients.

Like what, you might ask? We wanted the sound of a pencil scratch while writing on paper, so we auditioned two different vintage mics, an API vs. a Neve preamp, used a $12,000 Fairchild compressor, and did an A/B test between a full-sized pad and a little 1/4 sized pad with only 10 sheets of paper on it.

If anyone wants to know the ideal way to capture the sound of a pencil writing on paper, I know of two very geeky experts in Burbank that you can call.

New Camera

After years of trying to show off her brilliant designs using a cheap little point-and-shoot camera, Gretchen finally decided to buy a fancy schmancy new Nikon D40, complete with lenses and everything!

These are the first four photos to be shot on it – see, IRS, it really is a business expense. Those are flowers. Stick that in your zigzag and smoke it down to the clip!

Apple Fan Boy Thread

Today, Jobs will ascend the holy mountain, and deliver unto us the wonder of his majestic design, sparking desires in us that went hitherto unknown. Yes, friends, the Jobs Keynote Address at the Worldwide Developer Conference is today at 10am (Standard Cupertino Time Zone).

I put the over / under odds on a new faster iphone at 80%, and I’m almost certain we’ll see the developer release of the next iteration of OSX. Aside from that … who knows! You?

Good Business

I just got bailed out of another gear jam by Sweetwater. They run a very, very good business.

  1. I always talk to the same person, Trip. He’s been my rep for 5 years. The guy before that was my rep for 6 years. Low turnover in a position like sales tells me they’re doing something right.
  2. Trip knows everything I own, and what I do with it, and can make intelligent recommendations based on that. He understands the gear as well as I do. Those of you who shop at Guitar Center will appreciate how valuable that is.
  3. There have been times when I’ve called to purchase something that I think I want, and he’ll talk me into something else based on his own experience. It’s even odds on whether the new thing costs more or less. Just today he talked me into a pair of stereo mics that were $200 less than the pair I was looking at, because he’s convinced that the price difference isn’t worth it for our application (live sound).
  4. Get in, get out, get paid. I have a job to do, so does he, and the phone calls are always very quick and to the point. I can’t stand sales reps who try to engage you in “casual conversation” to “make you feel at home” with them. I need one thing from you. Send it.
  5. They save me money. Their prices are cheaper than our local stores (even here in LA), and they look for ways to cut the cost down on large purchases. We just ordered about $2000 worth of mics, snakes, cables, stands, etc., and they’re picking up the tab to ship it overnight to us. Nice.
  6. I called once to see if they could match the price on a ridiculously cheap Shure SM7 from another sales company. Their response: “Whoah! That’s really cheap – sorry man, we can’t do it. You should buy it, that’s a great deal.” No trying to talk me out of it and into another mic, no attempt to pitch me their “superior level of service” as a reason to buy from them, nothing. Just the truth. I feel like every time I talk to them, I get the straight. I like that.

When I was 21, had no money, and was trying to scrape together the first few pieces of my professional rig, I spent hours on the phone with the sales rep (Alex, the guy before Trip), picking his brain, trying to figure out what I needed and what I didn’t. I would call for 20 minutes, ask a ton of questions, and then end up not buying anything. I was never once made to feel like I was wasting his time.

Now, I make pro audio purchase decisions for myself, for a touring ensemble from our school, for our church, and for the 200+ students who come through our school of music. I don’t always buy from Sweetwater, but I always start with them. I also get asked all the time by students who are buying their first mic, or their first keyboard, where they should go. I always tell them the same thing. “Call Sweetwater. You’ll thank me in 10 years.”

That’s my little unsolicited advertising for the day. I like this company. I love how they do business.

Tivo Tragedy

I love Tivo, except for tonight. I set it to record the Angel game. It’s a 4-hour record time, usually more than enough time for a full game. Not tonight, though. Tonight, the game lasted exactly 4 hours and 1 MINUTE!

My recording ended in the bottom of the 12th inning, score tied at 0-0, the bases are loaded, Anderson at the plate, the count is 3 balls and no strikes, and during the wind-up of what ended up being the pitch that walked in a run, my recording ended.

Tragedy, thy name is Tivo!

6 Things I Love About Overdubs

The bass and drums are all tracked, 80% of the primary keyboard and guitar parts are in place, now we’re getting to the fun stuff. Overdubs. Corey and I will get to go back into the songs and layer in the secondary parts, small fills, and ear candy jangles. Here’s why I love this part of the process:

  1. You’re playing to songs, not just to charts. By the time the bass and drums are locked, there’s already a full song there. You’re building on a foundation that already feels great.
  2. It’s highly creative. Innovative ideas is the point – you get to come up with, try, abandon, and recycle ideas very quickly, with instant feedback.
  3. We get to play against each other. Corey and I have enough time spent playing together that we have a sense of what the other person will do with a certain section of music. We play our parts, but we also get to play gaps into the arrangement where we know the other person will drop in something amazing.
  4. 1929 Steinway Piano, Hammond B3 organ, Wurlitzer, Dirty 76 Suitcase Rhodes, Clean 88 Suitcase Rhodes – this is an old school record. I love playing these keyboards.
  5. On some tunes, it’s the bed tracks, bass and drums, that deliver the song (on this record, “Feel Good”), but often, it’s the perfect overdub part that just makes you lean back and go “Aaahh” (Check out Corey’s guitar chime on “A Sovereign Nation Sleep Beside Me”).
  6. You get to do science experiments – setup instruments in odd ways, amp and mic them awkwardly, play them in unconventional ways, hoping to get a spark of something amazing and creative. Chad gave me 20 minutes to chase down a rabbit trail on “Kiss Us Goodbye” that ended up being a fantastic science experiment. It involved palm-muted and plucked piano strings, slammed lids, tapped harmonics, getting overtones to speak across a group of held sostenuto pedal notes. The end result barely sounds like a piano, but it is awesome.

The Dailies Rock The Valley

We’re getting the band back together.

The Dailies are heading into the studio tomorrow. If you see storm clouds gathering and a column of fire rising up from The Valley, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the power of our awesomeness changing the forces of nature.

For the duration of the studio session, I’m turning Addison Road into a microblog – if you are registered as an author, the posting interface will show up on the main page, and you’ll be able to enter quick updates right from the front page of the blog. That way, those of use in the studio can give you obnoxious volumes of drivel, direct from the control room. It’ll look something like this:

Those of you looking to post more meaningful content can still use the same login as always, and the back end of the blog will look the same.

Welcome Back!

So, apparently our RSS feed has been down for, well, nobody knows quite how long. A while, anyway. It just kept showing no new posts, and then finally, nothing at all. It’s back up and running now, thanks to some fancy codin’ by an unnamed hero of the masses (named me). To all of our rabid fan (hey Bobby!) who thought we had folded up shop and moved the blog offline to Aly and Ash’s backyard, let me be the first to say …

… Welcome back!

Big Shoes to Phil

As of yesterday, I am the new Phil.

In a tense, embittered, deeply sectarian 30 second meeting with the Dean, I was officially made the Director of Music Technology for the APU School of Music. The position comes with, among other things, new business cards, and the long-sought respect of my peers that I so deeply crave. Well, for sure the business cards, at least.

It’s easy to forget, now, what a visionary Phil was when he started building this program. In the early 1990′s, Phil was insisting that facility with music software was going to be an essential skill for musicians, regardless of their particular emphasis. He fought the uphill battle of getting all of our faculty teaching theory, arranging, and orchestration using notation software, which gave us the ability to hear, analyze, and modify student projects live in class. Because of his efforts, we were one of the first programs in the country to make musical technology a required part of the curriculum for all music majors. He pushed hard to make laptop leases mandatory for the school of music, so that we are still one of the few programs in the country where every music student has an identical setup, and uses music software as an integral part of their
writing and arranging.

Those of us who teach here take all of these things for granted – we just assume that any student who has a question about brass voicings for big band can simply email us the file they are working on, and we can both have copies open to modify and change, that we can be hearing exactly the same thing while we are working. We take for granted that we can ask our jazz piano students to sequence their own rehearsal combo to practice 12 bar blues solos. We assume that our education students can create and print technical exercises to help the community children who are part of the youth music academy that we run. We don’t even pause when suggested that our composition students email a copy of the file they are working on to the string section leader, to get suggestions for bowings – we know they are using the same laptop and software, and will be able to view each other’s work without difficulty.

None of these things happened by accident. They are all the result of Phil’s visionary efforts to make music technology a core part of our curriculum, so that when our students graduate, no matter what their degree or emphasis within music, they find themselves unexpectedly equipped for the present state of the industry. I was the beneficiary of that foresight as a student, and I am the beneficiary of that effort as a faculty member.

Thank you, Phil, for building this program, and for trusting me to carry it forward.

WordPress 2.5 TestBlog

Our blogging software, WordPress, has a major upgrade coming in the next week or two. In order to prepare, I setup a testing website so that those of you who are contributors to this site can get a sense of the look and feel of the new version.To access it, follow this link:

http://addisonrd.com/testblog/wp-admin

username: test
password: test

Wordpress 2.5

Feel free to mess around a bit, check things out. Let me know what you think.