All about music & divas

I’m an underground musical artist on hiatus. No more songs to give and certainly no money or gigs. So when something like COVID-19 comes along, and it just isn’t going your way, you give it up before it consumes you to death. It’s called listening to that inner voice that’s telling you, “Listen to your mother.” So now I’m just a music fan again, which means I can catch up on what’s been going on for the last 25 years or so in popular music.

When you become an artist you commit yourself to the process and believe 100% in who you are and what you are doing. You must have this approach because no one else will believe in you. You rely on yourself because only you know what is in your head & heart. This is why I haven’t paid much attention to what’s been happening in the popular music realm these past two decades plus.

What I did musically (& with this blog) can be defined as underground. This is the realm of revolution. I always look at making a record as trying to set a standard that’s hard to beat. When you seriously listen to AC/DC’s Powerage (1978), or any of their other great records, you finish shaking your head & saying to yourself, “That’s hard to beat.”

That’s what inspired me over the years. I was always trying to make that song, EP, or LP/CD that was hard to beat. You have to know it’s going to be great before you record a note. Every great record you’ve ever heard in every genre had that. They all knew they were about to do something great, and then they did it. It’s a great feeling when it’s done. You know it’s going to be a classic because it’s hard to beat.

It’s harder than ever today to make a great record. It starts with great songs which have become scarce. A dirty truth of the music industry is that their popular music stars rely heavily on professional songwriters. These manufactured stars just don’t have much to say, and I get bored with that. I know I’m not the only one.

Songwriting is also a dividing line for those such as myself with punk ethics. Underground music in 100% organic, meaning it is not using professional songwriters, but instead creating its own material. Most of it isn’t very interesting, but there are genuine artists in every genre at all times, you just need to know how to find them. They’re all more interesting than Diane Warren & Max Martin.

For decades, you had to be a fan to know who the major artists were, especially in more esoteric genres such as electronic, dance, etc… Today, AllMusic & YouTube provide any eager listener with everything they need to decide who they really like. The basic rule for going into unfamiliar genres is to do early research and figure out who the major artists are– past & present. How long has the genre been around? Who started the genre, and who is the best artist today? Work your way forwards & backwards from there and you won’t get too lost. Lost means you don’t know and buy too much junk.

Let’s take country music as an example, as I’m not the biggest country music fan in the world. I lived in central Florida for over 25 years, and I’ve been around a lot of country music fans so I understand how they feel about it, but generally their contemporary stars don’t move me. I love Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie, Waylon & Jessi. But contemporary country largely doesn’t catch my ear. George Strait, Reba McEntire & Garth Brooks were the best & biggest country music artists through the early-1990’s, which is where I left it, so I’m looking for the best since then up to the present.

As you may have guessed, I’m more interested in songwriters & story tellers, especially in the country music genre. Contemporary country largely has the same problem that pop & rap absolutely have; there’s so few vital voices/performers who are their own songwriter anymore. The last time there was an “excess of originality” in songwriting was when indie grunge & hip-hop turned major label artists from John Mellencamp to Winger into has-beens overnight, when Nirvana hit with Nevermind in September 1991.

The mafia which runs the corrupt music industry machinery weathered this crisis and adapted by buying-up all the indie labels & college radio stations. U2, REM, Metallica, Soundgarden, etc, were then canonized into classic rock. 1980’s indie label bands such as the Minutemen, Husker Du, the Pixies, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, etc, never reached mainstream radio. They had too much VU & Andy Warhol in them. The mafia that owns & runs the music industry hates its artists because they can’t control them. They hate artists for devaluing all of their mediocrities & posers which they throw stupid money at to promote. If the kids only knew…

Artists take everything seriously which means they must develop a razor-sharp sense of humor with ironic sensibilities in order to get along. You can’t be serious & on-point forever, especially without money, as it will burn you out and/or kill you. You have to be able to let it go & adapt.

I celebrated Record Store day during the few weeks leading up to it, as well as the day itself. It was April 23 this year, the day after Earth Day. The truth is every day is Earth Day and I wrote that long before it became a meme.

Vinyl costs a lot for a good reason. Its expensive & dirty to produce. New CD’s now list for roughly half the cost of vinyl on new releases. It is my professional record collecting opinion that records have gotten too expensive in every sense, therefore I go for what I only absolutely need on vinyl, otherwise I go for CD. I’ve always been like that in building my music collection: whenever the market is zigging, I zag.

That’s how you find the best deals and stay on budget. Records now cost ~$25 apiece. If you want 1000 records in your new collection that’s $25,000 cost. The used record bins have all been scoured at this point, and there are very few bargains remaining, with too much to hunt through to get to them. That’s my feeling on record buying at this point.

I’m not so much about the format anymore as I am about having the music itself. CD’s & records let you play what you want, without an app tracking you & sending you messages. Put mp3’s on an external Ipod and connect it into an auxiliary input on your stereo. That’s how you have a rocking music collection that doesn’t need to be online.

Until my recent record store binging, I hadn’t considered 21st-century artists very seriously for the reasons stated above. When I began my artist journey it was Alanis Morrisette, Brittany Spears & American Idol coming online. That didn’t impress me much. But Shania Twain did, so I bought all her classic stuff that she made with her then-husband, the famous rock producer who did so many records I love. Shania Twain is perfect pop, with irresistible hooks & a beautiful voice. She translates best to CD in terms of top sound quality and typical album length which exceeds the LP format.

Compact discs are perfect masters which means they can be ripped onto a computer & pirated, which is what happens everywhere. CD’s have wav files of the songs with all the metadata. When Napster came along, kids who had ripped their CD’s shared them online as compressed audio files known as mp3’s. YouTube is mp4, an audio & video file. Compression means some loss of fidelity. The gain is smaller files which are easier to share. I review all this basic stuff because this is how you look for & buy music today. You research & listen online. After you figure out what you really like, go to the record/CD store and buy what you love.

Vinyl is the original format of rock & roll. It was 45’s when Elvis Presley hit in 1955. Black artists such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard & Bo Diddley became huge stars. Jim Crow racism had kept black artists down, but when rock & rock was unleashed it was irresistible to the kids. After Elvis hit, rock & roll became bigger than Jesus, and young Presley was vilified for it along with all the rest.

Scandals & tragedy took most of them down, except for Fats Domino. It wasn’t until Elvis first became a GI and then returned as a teen idol, hopelessly behind-the-times that he became mainstream with adults. He still produced hits, but when the Beatles arrived in 1964, Elvis & the rest went into the oldies bin. AM radio formats this “golden hits era” as oldies, as compared to the FM dial’s classic rock. It’s the difference between mono & stereo.

Rock in 1955 was 45’s in a jukebox format. Kids would meet wherever there was a jukebox and room to dance. 45’s are different than albums which are 33.3 RPM. 45’s are singles, so you’re always looking for that GREAT song that grabbed you from the first time you heard it. If the artist who made that song never made another one, then get that single on 45 or mp3. Most flip-sides of 45’s aren’t good songs, but occasionally there will be a gem.

When vinyl (33’s & 45’s) was deleted by 1990, the singles format disappeared, as CD’s don’t work as singles or as EP’s. This was a creative problem for nearly a decade until mp3 sharing came about, because there are many, many more artists who can make a great song or two, versus those who can make a great album. Those who can make multiple great albums are the major artists.

The advantage of CD’s (over records) is their ability to hold up to 80 minutes of length. A vinyl record sounds best if the album can be split into two 22+ minute sides. Anything at or over 23 minutes/side degrades the sound quality significantly, meaning you must either make it a double album or else go to CD.

My advice for young artists is to make great CD’s. The CD revolution was not only a quantum leap in audio fidelity, but also creativity. If you’ve got 75 minutes of great music you can put it online & onto CD. Then people like me will want to hear it. Once you impress enough people and become a huge success, then you can sell that album as a double LP on vinyl.

Making records involves the use of toxic petrochemicals which degrade our Earth’s ecosystem. Therefore my rules on vinyl are these. Reissue only great & very good records. No more Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Supertramp, Yes, ELO, etc, re-issues. These such albums sat unclaimed in used bins I looked through for years, so why is the industry still pumping out fresh copies of this mediocre, industry-produced fodder? It’s the great rock records of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Mott the Hoople, along with the groove of P-funk & David Bowie that represent the best of 1970’s rock. Punk, reggae, funk & disco are what people covet most from the 1970’s.

Releases from 1990 onward are universally considered CD’s. Genres like pop, rap, country & rock are all recorded digitally with in-studio multi-tracking. Songs are constructed over hours, days, weeks & months on computers with the musicians, engineers & producers. This allows the sound geeks to get the best (loudest) sounds.

This has led to the “loudness wars” an industry term extensively discussed by serious sound professionals in online forums. Basically everyone in pop, rock & rap wants the loudest records, so we’ve reached the point where there is so much compression on all the tracks (guitars, bass, vocals, drum kit, etc) that the music lacks heart & soul. It’s sounds too slick & digitized because it is.

No popular artist in any of these genres does live-performance studio recordings on their albums. It’s kinda been that way since the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper’s in 1967. You can always make it cleaner & louder if you multi-track, because it allows sound separations and treatments (reverb, compression, etc) of each individual track.

So which format (record/CD/mp3) is best? Here’s my rule, if it has great songs and performances it will sound great on any format. Pre-1990, everything was released as a vinyl record. Pre-Beatles was 45’s, except for Bob Dylan who was always an album artist. Note that these are guides and that when you are record shopping you have to adapt to what is actually there. Don’t go insisting on a certain format when it’s unavailable or too pricey everywhere. The best deals today are on used CD’s. Major artists past & present in every genre populate the “used CD’s” bins, so find them.

Good stuff can be hard to find, and when it’s a good deal you should jump on it. If it moves you and has great songs from start to finish it will sound great in ANY format. The exception is cassette tapes, which degrade over time no matter what you do. Cassette tapes always have hiss, and are susceptible to getting eaten by vehicle tape decks & boom boxes.

It was always considered smarter to buy vinyl, and then record it onto a blank 45/90 cassette tape, than to buy pre-recorded cassettes. That way you got two albums per tape and if it got eaten or lost, just record another. Turntables were considered a nuisance by most as the 1980’s progressed, as CD players changed the music market.

VCR’s had revolutionized television watching habits and opened up new avenues in home recording. MTV hit in 1981 and popular music was never the same. From MTV on, you had to look good in front of the camera, otherwise you had no chance with the kids. Before MTV, oldies bands & performers could hide & hang-on as “rockers”. MTV immediately assigned REO Speedwagon, CSN, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, etc, to “classic rock” & “adult contemporary” status.

Of all of the classic rockers, it was Tom Petty who best survived the 80’s into the 1990’s when grunge & hip-hop exploded. By then Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson, etc, no longer had the kids attention, and were then considered legacy artists along with Billy Joel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, etc.

Grunge proved that kids liked bands influenced by the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart & the Stooges better than those championed by the classic rock dogmatists. The music industry canonized classic rock in the 1970’s under the institution of Rolling Stone magazine in which a few ex-musician hangers-on anointed themselves as the preeminent critics on rock, country & pop music.

Since the grunge wave of the early 1990’s, Rolling Stone has lost much of its credibility as the unassailable critics of music & pop culture. The more one learns of this institution, the more it can be seen for what it is: a tool of the music industry which employs its legion of hack writers, fake journalists & unserious critics to prop up the latest project the music industry deems important. These industry creations will always get a positive review in Rolling Stone; and depending on their industry clout, they may also get anything from a quick (positive) write-up, to a cover with full interview. That’s mainstream popular music in all genres. It’s totally a business, and that’s why it sucks so hard.

Divas are the explosive phenomenon in popular music in the last 25 years. The last divas I loved were Gloria Estefan & Madonna back in the day. Before them, Deborah Harry (Blondie) & Pat Benatar were my original favorites. MTV & the internet made divas more possible. The original modern diva in pop culture was Marilyn Monroe. In rock music it was Nico with the Velvet Underground & Warhol. Nico was the original bad girl, and a fascinating study in the ephemeral character of divas. They all want to be considered as artists.

The previously mentioned Shania Twain was first American pop music diva of the 21st century. Just to define the term, divas have to be beautiful, stylized & talented. Divas are coveted by all straight men, so they set the standard for women. Country music never really had a diva before Shania Twain. The original female country star was Patsy Cline. For a long time Dolly Parton was the closest thing to a country music diva in a genre dominated by wholesome-image female artists.

Country music since the 1970’s (at least) can be classified into two distinct styles: Nashville sound & outlaw. It must be understood that all country records are recorded in Nashville, TN, but there is a difference in style. Outlaw is rootsier and appeals to purists, while Nashville sound is slicker and more pop oriented. Contemporary country has been profoundly changed by pop, rock & rap. I listen to country songs that have a singer with a twangy voice, but if it’s a fast song, it’s rock music. Maybe they throw-in a harmonica & steel pedal guitar track to countrify it, but it’s basically rock. All the country ballads are basically pop & rap production.

In contemporary country music, the biggest pop diva has been Carrie Underwood since she won Season 3 of American Idol. Her first CD Some Hearts (2005) had the entire music industry behind it, so it was going to be a success no matter what, kinda like Titanic (1997). My listening of her first few albums is that they are highly polished, with some good singles, but also with too much well-constructed filler. Carrie Underwood has an amazing voice, but I never much cared for Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, etc, and that’s her style. It’s too much syrupy pop for my taste, which leans towards rock. My best chance of finding something I like in country music was in the outlaw style that takes Waylon & Willie as its roots.

The biggest star in country music for the past 15+ years has been Miranda Lambert. Like Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert also came from reality TV, and released her debut album Kerosene in 2005. Reading both these album credits today provides definitive clues in advance as to who would be the enduring artist in country music.

Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts has only one song that she wrote, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore,” while Miranda Lambert wrote (or co-wrote) every song on Kerosene except one. Both their follow-ups are they same way, and so on…

Miranda Lambert does use professional songwriters, but I get a sense that she really gets to pick the songs she likes. She also collaborates with these songwriters much more, in order to get them right for the album. Carrie Underwood had the material handed to her, and if Max Martin insisted that his song be on her CD, it got done. Carrie Underwood does the best she can, but too much of her material isn’t very inspired.

The songs that Miranda Lambert writes have more depth, heart & soul. These are songs of a restless artist who has the songwriter gift. I have nothing but respect & admiration for that because I know how hard it is. Carrie Underwood is more of a true diva, where Miranda Lambert is more of a Woodie Guthrie folk singer. They’re both country singers and both divas. Miranda Lambert is the true artist.

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The “Boycott Spotify” campaign

It was just over a year ago that Neil Young sold 50% of his worldwide copyright & income interests in his 1,180 song catalog to some UK capitalist whale. Now Neil Young has started this ‘boycott Spotify’ campaign over some reactionary podcast that promotes COVID misinformation, when it’s mass media misinformation EVERYWHERE.

I respect Neil Young the musician as I have many of his records & CD’s, but it just feels like all the wrong people are making money for all the wrong causes and nothing ever gets better under this existing set-up. I respect Neil Young’s & other artists’ right to use their political clout, so I hope they respect my right to say it’s self serving and a political dead end.

Spotify basically doesn’t pay the artists, especially indies. The reason our music is still on their platform is because it’s “new radio,” meaning free distribution through the internet. The music goes online through a major label (or the likes of CD Baby), which places it on every streaming site: iTunes, Spotify, etc, and you don’t get to pick & choose. The problem for indies (besides not getting paid) is that all their algorithms work against us, so relatively few listeners can find us. It’s like that with all the corporate platforms.

The original streaming service was Napster (1999-2002), which was destroyed by the RIAA, when its well-heeled shills (Metallica & Dr. Dre) did their dirty work for them. Their claim was artists needed to get paid. Napster offered to work out an artist payment model, but they wouldn’t listen or negotiate, only the destruction of Napster would suffice.

This opened the way for Apple iTunes & venture capitalism (Spotify, Pandora, etc) to monopolize the mp3 market. This is why 99+% of all mp3 downloads are “illegal” today. We need a revolution, not reformism, because these elitist bloodsuckers will never willingly give up control.

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Get Back (2021)

I just watched Get Back (2021) and it’s amazing! Get Back is directed & produced by Peter Jackson, who takes the vast film footage & audio material originally captured for Let It Be (1970) a documentary of the album by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, whose 16mm cinematography is stunning. Get Back seamlessly transports you back in time, while the digital editing & titles give it a clean modern look. Pushing eight hours in length, it never gets dull. It was all filmed & recorded in January 1969, and then finally put together just recently, but everything about this Beatles documentary is timeless.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg was a pioneer in music film production, who makes his face seen & voice heard in Get Back. For instance, there’s a debate among the band over 35mm vs 16mm for filming. Paul insists it should be 35mm, or else it won’t look right. Michael Lindsay-Hogg then interjects that 16mm will be fine, and that’s it. Watching in early 2022, it looks like Get Back was shot a few months ago, and put together quickly. Of course it was all shot 53 years ago, and took 4 years to produce. There are no flaws in the moving images, and the camera framing is exquisite, giving Get Back an authentic appeal.

This is mostly a testament to how well the original film crew & Michael Lindsay-Hogg did their jobs. This made the digital transfer much easier, and the result is one of the great rock documentaries ever, maybe THE best. And to think, it sat “in the can,” wasted & unused for decades. In many ways it compares to the Netflix release of Orson Welles’ famous unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind in 2018.

Get Back is Disney property, which maintains strict monopoly distribution of its content. I’ve got friends who have pirated it, because that what happens when you try to “own” something that really should be public domain. Everyone has the right to see this film, as the Beatles are part of the fabric of our popular culture. I know it’s being called a TV series by Disney, but really it’s a 3-part movie that runs 468 minutes total. That’s too long of a film for most people, so it’s marketed as a TV-series.

This definitive Beatles documentary of their early break-up phase has an unending cast of interesting characters; Mal Evans, Peter Sellers [!] & (of course) Billy Preston are a few of my favorites. There’s plenty to choose from as each of the Fab Four comes to life under constant camera & microphone recording, which (in retrospect) was their recording of Let It Be, released in May 1970; after Abbey Road (September 1969), and after their break-up was officially announced by Paul in April. Paul is the one who tries the hardest to prevent their inevitable break-up, because he profits the most from working with John. Everyone loves Ringo, so it’s George that’s made the target of Paul’s frustrations.

The real war in Get Back is between Paul & John for band leadership. John had always been the leader of the Beatles, but increasingly Paul feels he is more than qualified to lead. The disagreements are creative, as well as financial. Linda Eastman makes her first appearance on the scene during filming, and becomes another of the cast of characters fans will come to know better in time. There’s a scene featuring Paul working out a song on piano, with Linda & Yoko talking in the background so we can’t hear them. As far as popular music & human interest goes, it hard to get much more fascinating than that.

Paul always had a tough time with Yoko, which meant a conflict with John. This is early tabloid era, where you just needed to refer to them by their first names. Nothing ever again approached 1960’s Beatlemania, not even K-pop. The Beatles separate oldies & doo wop from classic rock. The Beatles flipped the switch, and music went from AM to FM; from mono to stereo. John sings “Revolution” in different ways, single vs. album. The Beatles changed cover art & lyric writing. The Beatles led the counter-culture & anti-war movements. In a word, they forever changed everything in popular culture.

As a diehard Velvet Underground fan, I take the Beatles as the pop standard no one can match. The Velvets did their underground Factory multi-media show with Andy Warhol & Nico in 1966. The Beatles were attempting to put on some kind of TV show in Get Back, but mostly it’s bad ideas, and then the drama of George leaving the band for a few days over Paul’s harassment. Artistically, the Velvets were far ahead of the Beatles in many important ways, but they were both broken-up (around the same time) by the same industry forces.

George was always the weakest link in the Beatles, and not coincidentally he’s the one who was most taken-in by Allen Klein in his post-Beatles career. George has a weakness for mysticism and is most-influenced by John, whom he idolizes for his songwriting & emulates in his singing style. George also is in awe of Paul for his prolific songwriting, musicianship & sweet singing voice; and thus covets his respect & approval.

Allen Klein is introduced to John & Yoko on the evening of January 26, 1969, and it’s referenced, but not filmed in Get Back. It helps if you know your Beatle-ology here, as Allen Klein is one the most notorious & prolific conmen in music business history. Allen Klein made a career for himself by ripping-off artists such as Sam Cooke, and then the Rolling Stones with his ABKCO Records, but his ultimate ambition was to manage the Beatles. Eventually he would, over Paul & Linda’s strenuous objections. It was definitely one of those times in Beatles’ history where Paul was right. Allowing Allen Klein to manage Apple Records for just a few years, led to bad personnel decisions, millions in lost royalties & endless lawsuits.

In Get Back, Paul has ideas for his new songs, that George can’t get to. It’s a truth of the Beatles that John is their best guitar player. George offers little when it comes to being a “lead guitarist,” and that’s why in his early solo career he worked with Eric Clapton so much. By 1969, George is a rhythm guitarist & aspiring songwriter, who is of little use to Paul. This is why Billy Preston is the key to making the Get Back sessions work, as the “Fifth Beatle.” As Paul acknowledges, “Billy Preston solves a lot of problems,” meaning his musicianship helps Paul realize his songs more fully, which eases George back into the band and relieves the pressure, which was immense.

Most Harrisongs aren’t Lennon-McCartney quality, but any attempt at songwriting is always welcome in any serious band. John encourages it, while Paul mostly dismisses George’s new ideas. The hardest thing to do is produce good new material. The Beatles did this for a dozen albums, all classics, due to an amazing songwriting team in Lennon-McCartney, which gave them a freshness & unique sound that always put them at the cutting edge, from mop-top sensations, to rock pioneers of studio recording.

A lot of people like to slag Paul, but I’ll take him in my band any day. Bass players are hard to find, and prolific songwriters are even rarer. That’s why John latched onto him when they were the Quarrymen. To have talent means you recognize it in others. The hard truth was that most of George’s new songs weren’t that good, but he had colleagues (outside the band) who were telling him they were, so egos start flying.

One can argue that it was George Harrison who broke up the Beatles, as he wanted to do a solo album of songs that Paul wouldn’t do, and John wasn’t crazy about. Or you could just Let It Be. For those who don’t know, writing songs is serious business, and the true artists who can do it don’t hand out free passes just because you’re a bandmate with ambition. You have to deliver, repeatedly, at a high level. These lessons in collaborative creativity & artistic standards remain relevant today.

The confusion that permeates their first rehearsal location, as well as the Apple Records studio are brought into focus when George Martin finally arrives, and promises the band in his assured & professional style that he will get all the sound issues straightened-out by the next day. The band finally breathes a sigh of relief as they leave. This is how it was.

The Beatles never really had a manager who could handle everything, because nothing like the Beatles had ever happened before. Brian Epstein had their best interests at heart and guided them to stardom, but he wasn’t tough, and he died in August 1967. Apple Records was established in January 1968, with no leadership, which meant the Beatles financial issues wouldn’t start to get resolved until the mid 1970’s.

But they always had a great producer in George Martin, and that’s more important, because if you don’t make great records then no one cares. Great records start with great songs, which means the producer has to recognize it, and then record an inspired performance. Then it can be produced. Get Back proves once again that no matter how gifted you are creatively & musically, you need a producer with a clear head.

The legends of decadence & excess at Apple Records are confirmed in Get Back, with all kinds of stoned employees, gay groupies & other hangers-on, etc, occupying the studio. Who are these fucking people? Answer: It was the 1960’s. Many appear well-meaning, but too many are wasted and none can handle the Mafiosos constantly in the background, rubbing their hands over how much money they were going to make. It should be noted in retrospect that it’s this lack of attention to security that ultimately got John killed.

Perhaps the best part of Get Back is when the Apple employees handle the bobbies, as the Beatles are playing their final concert unannounced on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. “It’s making quite a bit of racket… We’ve had over 30 complaints already,” claims the UK cop immortalized in the footage. Apple Records receptionist Debbie, and Beatles road manager, Mal are priceless here. So much love went into this music created by John, Paul, George, Ringo & Billy with their ever-producer, George Martin, and yet it’s the businessmen who are raking. That’s how it is when you’re an artist, and it’s all in the film.

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Extended Play 2019-21: “Primary Colors” & Bonus Tracks

      1. Bitter To Better - Ric Size
      2. It's A Steamy Jungle - Ric Size
      3. When You're Out There - Ric Size
      4. Primary Colors - Ric Size

 

Extended Play 2019-21 has undergone many permeations, as “Millennial Whoop”, “The Road Rage Song” and “Patch Me Up Doc” have been released. This EP originally had 4 songs, and was to be finished by the end of 2019. But “Primary Colors” was never properly done, and then the coronavirus pandemic struck, causing further delays in production & release. When it finally came time to try again on that song, and then again, I had written more new tunes, which I’m calling “bonus tracks” for clarity on this sprawling 7-song EP which took two years to complete.

Tom Pearce & I got recordings of two brand new songs, “(It’s a) Steamy Jungle” & “When You’re Out There,” so it was a nice session on December 2, 2020 in Sanford FL. Minimalist studio recording is the only safe way to deliver meaningful new music during this coronavirus pandemic. That’s the idea here.

Tom brought a somewhat different recording rig this time. He still uses a Mac flatscreen installed with Studio One software. But now he’s using a router to connect wirelessly to a Behringer rack pre-amp, which he likes. This rack pre-amplifier rests solidly on a milk crate which carried the cables, etc. The vocal & guitar microphones were wired to the pre-amp, as well as a line-in from the guitar through a DI-box, for crystal clean three-track live recording.

I’m the one who insists on the guitar line-in, as it gives the producer another track to fatten the sound, if needed. I play an acoustic-electric so I can get both sounds. The two live mics have “sound spillage” due to their proximity, so lining-in gives the producer a clean track to boost the guitar sound without affecting the vocals. It’s called double tracking the guitar, and I know I didn’t invent it.

As you can see in these images, Tom used folding microphone stands to drape blankets & create sound screens which envelop me. This significantly cuts down on the guitar & vocal reverberation in the room, giving Tom a cleaner acoustic recording.

My vintage Tech 21 Trademark 60 guitar amplifier never got plugged in, again, instead it made a comfortable seat with a sofa cushion in-between. It really helps when taking pictures, I think. We also had a different headphone monitoring set-up, with me getting a small wireless dedicated unit, while Tom was headphone monitoring through his computer jack. This performer monitoring unit can rest on a flat surface, or be clipped to the microphone stand.

Tom’s always explaining this stuff to me as he’s setting up. I’m listening until it gets too technical, and it’s time for me to check my lyric sheet one last time, or whatever. Lots of nervous energy being exchanged. He goes on until he finishes and then says to me, “Got all that?” I reply, “No. But as long as you like it, I’m good.” Then he says, “I think you’ll like it.” And I respond, “Alright, let’s rock.”

And then we do it. And when it’s over, we get photos. As an artist, if you do this well here, it’s so much easier to get everything done & online. Good images help with visualization & concretizing of abstract ideas into forms people can recognize & relate to. If the song is strong & well-performed, then artwork is the final piece that the artist must give to the producer to help him finish.

When the song is mastered, what I need from my producer is a jacketed mp3 & the cover art image jpeg. With that I can make a thumbnail video, which allows me to promote & distribute the song across all platforms. This is everything necessary to promote a song, with minimal resources spent. A website with a running blog, a YouTube channel, and a social media presence is your ‘press release’ department. You have to wear a lot of hats, and stay on top of things as best you can to succeed against these industry odds.

Live streaming is now a valid artist delivery method. It works better as a revenue stream if you are a ‘name performer,’ otherwise you are better off streaming for free, and soliciting donations. Live streams are the now & future, so prepare for it, while understanding there’s a limited amount of excitement that an artist can create with a live streaming performance. Live streams are better for interviews, discussions, comedy, etc. Making new music is the most effective way to reach fans during this pandemic.

The next step is pressing CD’s & vinyl, but that takes money & connections, so be sure you have a deal that pays you (the record & publishing company) upfront, otherwise stick mostly to the low-budget DIY model. If you’re insistent on selling CDs, do it right. Keep the publishing & copyrights updated, the website & social media running with consistent fresh content, and the domain name locked up.

“When You’re Out There” was written in August 2020 after I listened to a LOT of Sun Ra on YouTube. With COVID-19 killing the live music scene, it was a good opportunity for me to finally hear many of his records which were never really available during the vinyl era, and were overpriced during the CD era.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was always a champion of Sun Ra, and was the one who introduced this unheralded genius jazz composer & virtuoso to me. Sun Ra’s music is timeless, with depth, and a spirit of fierce independence. He’s out there, and that’s what inspired this song.

The other bonus track we recorded during this session was “(It’s a) Steamy Jungle,” an acoustic reggae song I came up with in October 2020.

Tom took all the pictures of me, and I took the set-up shots. He ripped mp3’s of all the recorded songs during playback, and put them on my thumbdrive. The mp3’s are uploaded onto my computer and checked (skimmed before parting) for audio fidelity & length, meaning all songs are clear, and none are cut-off short. That is what an artist expects & needs from a producer after recording.

These mp3’s are “prints,” meaning raw stereo recordings with no processing. This is what the artist listens to and determines if there is a song that can be produced, or if it needs more work, re-recording, etc. Pictures are shared & reviewed, and we discuss the ones we like, and how they are to be used. Cover art is a collaborative effort, where we both share thoughts & ideas, and then I let Tom do it. Meanwhile, these liner notes are written [12-2-20], while everything is still fresh in the mind.

“Primary Colors” & “Bitter to Better” were recorded on March 1, 2021 in Sanford, FL. Pics by Tom. In total there were 5 recording sessions in Sanford, from August 2019 to March 2021, to get 7 songs. The coronavirus pandemic was the primary reason for the long process in making & releasing this EP. Tom recorded the electronic beats & drums to “Millennial Whoop” & “Patch Me Up Doc” at his home in Tavares, FL sometime in 2020. Ask him for details on that.

As an artist, stay connected with your producer during mixing & mastering, and LISTEN. Production is not your domain, otherwise you would be doing it, so the producer gets the final call on sound. The producer has the song(s), and how long it takes depends on: 1) how good are the recordings, 2) how good is the producer, and 3) how much it costs? Choose wisely.

These are hard truths. As an artist, transition your efforts into online marketing by publishing videos, pictures, press releases to encourage discussion among fans, friends, etc. Use friendly forums, your website, preferred platforms, etc. This is how to generate content & promote– DIY.

Below in bold type is the template I now use for releasing songs as singles on my site. It can be as brief or as long as needed, rearranged, etc, but this is a professional press release. This is your first chance to promote your new song, so do it right.

“Song title”

jacketed mp3

liner notes & discussion

cover image

lyrics image

video

tags: album title (year), official mp3 release

Once all the singles to this EP are online, I then publish these liner notes as a post, and create a permanent Media page for the album on my site. I also update my Free Music Downloads page by adding the new mp3’s as they are released. Every song is released onto Spotify, iTunes, and all the rest of the streaming services for maximum distribution, along with the thumbnail videos on YouTube. That’s all you can do when you’re blacklisted.

Everyone says “organic is best” for promotion, but the rub is that it’s a lot of work, and there’s a lot of censorship, with nefarious spamming, hacking & de-platforming across the internet. The world goes on 24/7/365, and no one can be there for all of it. So be smart about putting up media that keeps working for you. Pick your spots to be active, and engage in real debate on serious issues, when it matters most. That will attract people on all sides, because EVERYBODY is sick of the pablum from the fake media. Everything you see, hear & read here is an alternative to MSM.

The message is that we have a choice in deciding on what the future of music will be. It’s the artists who create the culture and it’s the cool young kids that are hip to it who promote it. That is who this music is for and why it was created. Tom & I hope you enjoy it.

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“Primary Colors”

      1. Primary Colors - Ric Size

 

Recorded March 1, 2021 in Sanford, FL, by Tom Pearce who used Behringer software to record & monitor on his Mac flatscreen, to match with his Behringer wireless pre-amp, which is the heart of everything. Two cabled microphones, one on vocals & one on acoustic guitar, and a line-in guitar through a DI-box to the pre-amp.

Photo by Jose Luis Magana (AP), taken on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC

Production & art design by Tom Pearce. Previous references to this song on Extended Play 2019-21 are to a version we recorded in 2019 which didn’t work out. This song was also recorded (mono live) on March 20, 2020 as part of my Coronavirus Concerts project.

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Bandcamp page promo

I’ve been repeatedly asked how my music can be legally purchased in a way that pays the artist. As of now, everything Ric Size from Magnified (2012), Electrified! (2015), Hwy 19 & Main St (2015), Fully Covered (2016), and Over & Out (2017) is available as a HQ digital download on Bandcamp.
 
Over & Out (above) is available on CD for $10 + S&H. Supplies are limited. This is currently my only album available on CD, as the cost of production is too high, while sales opportunities are too restricted, under conditions of censorship & de facto blacklisting.
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“When You’re Out There”

      1. When You're Out There - Ric Size

 

Recorded on December 2, 2020 in Sanford FL by Tom Pearce. Photos, production & art design also by Tom.

“When You’re Out There” was written in August, 2020 after I listened to a LOT of Sun Ra on YouTube. With COVID-19 killing the live music scene, it was a good opportunity for me to finally hear many of his records which were never really available during the vinyl era, and were too overpriced during the CD era.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was always a champion of Sun Ra, and was the one who introduced this unheralded genius jazz composer & virtuoso to me & many others. Sun Ra’s music is timeless, with depth, and a spirit of fierce independence. He’s out there, and that’s what inspired this song.

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“It’s a Steamy Jungle”

      1. It's A Steamy Jungle - Ric Size

 

This is the fifth single from Extended Play 2019-21.

“It’s a Steamy Jungle” is an acoustic reggae song I came up with in October 2020.

Guitar & vocal by Ric Size. Recorded March 1, 2021 in Sanford, FL, by Tom Pearce.

Photo, cover art design & production also by Tom Pearce.

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Coronavirus Vaccination: A case study

My first vaccine report card is below. It was a painless injection with no initial side effects. WUCF 89.9 was playing Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” on my drive home. Irony?

There is a lot of misinformation, which is creating hesitancy to get vaccinated. As a doctor, I categorically state that everyone should get vaccinated, and take whatever brand you can get. They are ALL better than being unvaccinated. It’s the only way to end the pandemic.

Until we can get all 7+ billion people on this planet vaccinated, this pandemic will continue. This coronavirus is a deadly flu strain, which is mutating before our very eyes. The problem is that too many people remain willfully blind. These people are known as anti-vaxxers & capitalists, and they must be politically defeated forever to win the Coronavirus War.

Here’s a truth: you need to be ready to be vaccinated, physically & mentally. There’s no question about that, so forced vaccinations aren’t the answer. Everyone has to be educated with real science, and when they are, they will realize they need to be vaccinated. It’s a political struggle against ignorance, reaction & fascism on one front, and a battle to educate the international working masses & youth on the other.

If you are obese, alcoholic, have heart problems, liver, kidney, etc, issues– then you will have more adverse reactions to any of these vaccines. This is a nasty virus, and the vaccines are made of its bits & pieces. It’s your immune system that needs to be ready. You need to be rested, not stressed, when you get vaccinated. It helps to be in good shape, outside & in.

With all the mutations, we may need boosters in the future. That means we need to change our way of thinking entirely. There is no “getting back to normal” anymore. That’s a big lie. This pandemic has been a world-historic “trigger event” which leads to revolution, as every nation’s leaders, especially the US, have no answers for humanity in this struggle to defeat coronavirus.

It is clear this is foremost a political battle. The technology is there to win easily, but capitalism can’t bring humanity together to get it done. It only wants to make profits for itself.

That’s why I just go into Walmart, and get my shot, then leave. Walmart is part of Florida’s pay-to-play vaccine rollout program. Vaccines are distributed at places like Walmart to get people into their stores. They ask for your insurance card, and if you don’t have one, then you sign a form and you’re good to go. The shots are free, but this delivery model boosts the economy in the right direction. Walmart gets the insurance money (if possible), and since you’re already in their store, you might as well go shopping! Convenient, huh?

First dose: Wed 21 Apr 2021 ~9:30 AM EDT

Doctors make the worst patients. When the nice Puerto Rican woman who was injecting everyone pre-swabbed the site with alcohol, I screamed in pain. She jumped back, until I winked at her and said through my mask, “Just kidding.”

She injects, then peels off the injector target, and says, “Oh, a bleeder– that’s rare.” She gets a band-aid and places it on the site. I say to her, so that all the other patients in the room can hear, “I heard that if you get a bleeder, that means you received a placebo.” She’s stunned, and doesn’t know what to say, until I reply, “Just kidding.” You’re supposed to stay for 15 minutes, and they hand you a timer, but I just put it on a table and left. Leave ’em laughing, I say.

A few hours later, there’s a bit of swelling & tightness in my left triceps area. You know something has been injected there. The histamines have been inflamed, and my body is processing the vaccine to achieve a level of immunity. I think I’ll get the second dose in my right arm for comparison. I hope I don’t get a bleeder. The next appointment date is on the back of the card, and it can be time-scheduled online, or just walk-in that day.

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YouTube channel reorganized & updated

The entire Ric Size song catalog is now on YouTube. Magnified (2012), Electrified! (2015), Hwy 19 & Main St (2015), Fully Covered (2016), Over & Out (2017), Coronavirus Concerts (2020), and Extended Play 2019-21 [still unfinished] now have at least thumbnail image videos for every song.

For those who don’t subscribe to a steaming service, this is where online fans can listen for free.

There’s also an “Official Videos & Interviews” playlist, along with a “Films” section for Electrified!, the movie attempt released in September 2015.

Most musical artists have turned off YouTube comments at this point, as it’s a lot of spam & other unwanted distractions. That’s what’s been done here, so speak with your like (or dislike) button, and by sharing.

Electrified! is far & away the best rock album in the last 25 years or so. It’s at least as good as Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (1988) is tough to beat, and there are about twenty records that can match that in rock history. Bob Dylan, the Beatles & Rolling Stones made a few of them, so did the Velvet Underground & Captain Beefheart. Wire’s Pink Flag (1977), Cheap Trick Live at Budokan (1978), The Pretenders (1980), Husker Du & the Minutemen classic double LP’s in 1984, Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990), PJ Harvey’s 4-Track demos: Rid of Me (1993, )and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (1993) are tough to beat.

That’s the list Electrified! is on. And just to show my appreciation, if that list had to be shortened to the 20 best songwriters of the rock era, then Iggy Stooge/Pop, Neil Young, CCR, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Pete Townsend, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, AC/DC, Tom Petty, Van Halen, David Byrne, Devo, Blondie, U2, REM, Pixies, Fugazi, etc, join that list. Tough to beat.

The second & third best rock albums of the past decade are Magnified (2012) and Over & Out (2017), in whatever order you prefer. And our EP’s are even better. This is the level Tom Pearce & I work on. It’s the reason this site & music are so blacklisted.

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