Currently Spinning Rubber Skunk

As many of you know, Rubber Skunk has been working on its debut album for close to a year now. We had our first release party in Arden, DE which was awesome. Coming up we are having a NYC release party at the Bitter End on February 10th. I have been wanting to write about this album for some time now, but how do write about your own project? Well, luckily it looks like I won’t have to. We just got a write up in Music News Nashville, so I will just leave the talking to them.

 

http://www.musicnewsnashville.com/rubber-skunk-release-first-full-length-album

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Spotify, Last.fm and Pandora

So I sat down tonight because I promised myself that I was going to get back to blogging for my website. I intended to write another installment for the “Currenly Spinning” section of my website. I have listened to a handful of things recently and wanted to make small comments on all of them, but I couldn’t remember everything that I wanted to write about so I opened up Spotify to see if there was a listening history inside. Unfortunately, it doesn’t keep track of your history once you have closed the program. When searching to see if I could force it to show me the history I found out that Spotify will link to Last.fm and keep track of everything you have listened to. It turns out that these services are an important new revenue stream for the music industry, but before I get into that allow me to backtrack a little bit here.

            In the past few months my listening habits have changed drastically due to emerging web based listening services. I am referring mainly to Spotify, although I have used Pandora and Grooveshark in limited capacities. And finally tonight I discovered Last.fm.

Grooveshark was recommended to me by a friend, but I don’t know why I never got into it. To be honest, I never really bothered to learn what it was all about, but I would use it when friends put up links to it on Facebook.

Pandora was the first service that I paid attention to. When I was growing up I enjoyed listening to the radio for the element of surprise. Since I never knew exactly what would be coming next, each new song was like a special little treat. Unfortunately for me, two things happened concurrently. One is that my taste in music continued to expand and move away from the mainstream. At the same time the loosening of government restrictions on radio station ownership in the mid-late 90’s allowed Clear Channel (http://www.clearchannel.com/) to swoop in and buy up huge numbers of stations. Check out this link for a quick DJ’s view on the deregulation. http://photodude.com/2003/05/29/20-years-of-radio-deregulation. Through Clear Channel’s corporate wisdom the playlists shrunk and became much more predictable and repetitive. In contrast, Pandora seemed to be the antidote for such narrow mindedness. I do enjoy it sometimes, but I still find that it wants to pigeonhole me into one style too often. I feel that when I create a station Pandora stays too close to that style. My moods tend to have a greater range than that and getting the right mix of music to come out can be a challenge depending on my mood.

Next I discovered Spotify. For those who don’t know, Spotify, unlike Pandora, allows the listener to choose exactly which artists and songs to listen to. Their library is vast, but not all encompassing. I was able to stump it pretty quickly, but I do have to admit I was asking it for an out of print fusion album from the early 90’s. What I have used it a lot for is jazz research. The jazz lexicon is just so large that I can’t afford to go out and buy every album that I feel I should be familiar with as a musician. I don’t have that kind of time either. With Spotify a couple of keystrokes remedies that problem pretty quickly. For now Spotify and Pandora seem to fill a couple of specific needs rather well.

Enter Last.fm. I had been aware of it in my periphery, but like Grooveshark, wasn’t exactly sure what it was all about. When I found out that it would log plays from Spotify I decided to sign up. Remember, my whole purpose for this was to try and remember those couple of tunes that I wanted to blog about. Once I signed into Last.fm it asked me if I would like to start scrobbling. What the hell is scrobbling? Well, it turns out that this is the feature that I was looking for that would link Spotify and Last.fm. Great, I will finally have my list. At this point I also found out that Last.fm will scrobble with iTunes. (Not sure if I am correctly using scrobble as a verb.) Why would I want to do that? I guess they want to see my playlist so that they can suggest music to me, like Netflix does. I have another reason for wanting to scrobble which I feel is much more important. The musicians/record labels actually get paid for this. The label/artist disparity is well documented and the payouts from Spotify and Last.fm are small, but I would like to point out that these tough times we are in are hitting musicians particularly hard and anything that provides a little but of support for the struggling artist is welcome. I have let Last.fm scrobble to (from?) iTunes because it appears that my play counts will go towards royalty payments for the musicians that I really enjoy.

Now all of this isn’t much, but something is better than nothing, I would encourage everyone to sign up for all of this stuff and get those play counts out there. The music business is still struggling to catch up with all of the technological developments of the last 10-15 years. Hopefully, this is one solution that will help the artists get a little ahead in the game. For a better breakdown of how artists earn money from all these different royalties check out http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/. It is a bit depressing to see just how little the musician earns from all of this, but like I said before, something is better than nothing.

Well, that’s enough music business for tonight. Please go listen to something you really enjoy. And while you are at it go ahead and scrobble it too!

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Interview at NYCBass blog

If you have not heard about NYCBass blog, you have to.

The NYCBass blog is about “Interviewing and profiling local bass players from the greater new york city area. NYCBass will also provide tips about how to “survive” as a bass player in New York City while maintaining your sanity and not going completely broke.”

The blogger behind is Joseph Wallace, who defines himself as ” …a double and electric bass specialist from the greater new york metropolitan area. He has vast live and studio experience with multiple genres including classical, jazz, rock, pop, r&b, musical theater and more. Joseph possesses a B.A. in Music Education from Montclair State University and has studied with Linda McKnight, Mike Richmond and Bill Moring.”

Well, Bob DiGiacomo was interviewed today in this great blog.

Read the full interview here:

http://nycbass.tumblr.com/post/10993949236/interview-with-bob-digiacomo

And read the full site, of course.

Musician_Corner_VIII

Musician’s Corner Part VIII

Welcome back to the Musician’s Corner. Previously, we took a look at the C major scale and from it we derived all of the naturally occurring modes. Today we are going to continue to analyze the C scale, but instead, shift our focus to the chords that can be created from it.

More specifically, today we are going to build triads. A triad is exactly what you might guess, a group of three notes. Even though more interesting and cool sounding chords can be built with more notes, doing this would be jumping ahead of our selves. A solid understanding of the triads on which more complex chords are constructed will not only give you a better understanding of the larger structures, but also allow you to take this knowledge into any style you wish. Jazz relies on these larger structures but all western music has these more basic triadic structures in common.

Just for review, let’s look at the C Major scale again:

Now, instead of building scales from the next successive note, we are going to skip one note. For example, the first triad we will build will be C E G. Why are we building chords by skipping notes? Well, simply because our ears think those combinations sound good. Remember, the theory generally comes after the execution, not the other way around.

Here is the table showing the seven basic chords that can be derived from the key of C. As before, it also analyzes the chords in terms of intervals relative to the parent key as well as relative to itself.

(Click the image to enlarge)

There are several pieces of information that we can derive from this chart. When we look at each chord we see that the first interval is either 2 whole steps or 1 and ½ steps. The chords that begin with 2 whole steps are major chords. Remember from before that an interval built out of two whole steps is a major third. A chord that first has two whole steps, followed by 1 and ½ steps is a major chord. Conversely, a chord that has 1 and ½ steps followed by 2 whole steps is a minor chord. If you look at the last chord you will see that it is the odd man out. It does not contain any interval consisting of 2 whole steps. Instead it is built with two minor thirds. This kind of chord is called a diminished chord. This refers to the interval between the root and fifth, which is diminished as opposed to being perfect.

This chart also gives us another way to name the chords, using numbers rather than letters. The first chord of the key is a C major chord. It is also called the “one” chord because it is built off of the first degree of the scale. The second chord of the key is D minor. It is called the “two” chord because it is built off of the second degree of the scale. Convention tells us to use Roman numerals when referring to chords in this manner. I prefer the system that uses capital Roman numerals for major chords and lower case ones for minor chords. I find that this makes viewing this concept in writing much clearer. Here is a chart demonstrating the names and relationships discussed in the last two paragraphs.

Most of this chart is redundant with the first one, but it may allow you to see the same information in a different way. However, the Roman name is the most important piece here. This way of naming has maintained the same relationship between all the chords in the key, but removed the actual note names. This is what will enable us to move this concept into other keys. Unless are happy to play in C major your whole life, then just ignore that part.

The most important thing to pick up from this lesson is which chords are major and which are minor. The I chord is major, the ii chord is minor, and so on. This must be memorized. Don’t worry if you cannot remember it at first. If you cannot remember this order of chords, then just remember how we came up with it. You can always work out this order from the notes in key.

Knowing this pattern is the key to figuring out what notes to play in a song. Later we will look at actual chords from songs and see how there patterns fit with this order of major and minor. From that we will be able to know the key (or temporary key) and then choose appropriate scales. It is also great if you need to learn a song quickly from someone. They can yell out “4” and you know instantly that since you re playing in a major key the “4 (IV)” chord has to be major. This makes communication on stage much faster when all some one has to yell out is “6,” rather than A minor. A minor is a much bigger mouthful.

This lesson showed us what al of the triad type chords are in a major key and we learned the order of major and minor chords: I – major, ii – minor, iii – minor, IV – major, V – major, vi – minor, vii – diminished. In the next lesson we will take a look at some actual chords progressions from songs and begin to apply this knowledge. Until then, make sure you have memorized the pattern of chords and then go back to review the modes.

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Currently Spinning Carlos Santana

Bob Dylan, Baez and Santana
Carlos Santana

One of the challenges for me in life is accurately conveying my emotions. There are many times when I am experiencing something and I want to be able to convey that feeling to other people, but the tools that I have at my disposal seem to be quite limited. So you are probably asking why I don’t just talk about these feelings. Well, I find words to be very rough tools when trying to convey a feeling. We have many words that are supposed to correlate to specific states of experience but I find even these specific words to be a double-edged sword. If you and I have the exact same definition and understanding of a word then it can work great, but so often our definitions are not exactly the same. Languages are constantly growing, shifting, and expanding. For two people to have the same understanding of a word, those people must have been educated from the same or similar sources and have had enough similar experiences to shade their understandings of words in the same types of ways. This is not such a problem if I want to express the concept of a chair. The chair exists outside of the mind. We can construct models of it, measure it, and generally experience a chair in a very concrete manner. But what happens when I want to express the concepts of melancholy or malaise?

These concepts are internal very personal. They color our experience of reality, so if one has never felt them then he or she will never have the same understanding of the term as someone who lives in such a state. We can’t build a model of malaise and then take measurements of it. Even if two people think that their definitions of the term are the same how can they know that for certain? If their emotions were triggered by different circumstances does this change the connotation of the emotion? Does this change the meaning for the person, and does that subsequently change the experience of the emotion itself? So how do you know what I mean when I use one of these terms that posses such subtle shades of meaning?

For me, the solution to this problem is found in music. There are moments in music when I feel like all of this possible confusion that results from language is bypassed. Under the right conditions I am able to express myself on my instrument in a way that I feel cuts past this predicament and reaches people on a direct emotional level. Granted, this does not happen all the time. Some musical situations do not allow for this kind of expression, and many people are not open to receiving the message. However, I do feel that the way to reach the most people in the clearest and most direct way is through my instrument. So why am I talking about all of this and what triggered it? In a word, Santana.

I have recently been listening to Santana again during my trips through the rail tunnels of New York. When I first sat down today to write about Santana I found that I couldn’t. I started a paragraph a few times and stopped. And then I sat here for a while. In fact, I have even been putting off writing this article. The reason I was procrastinating was not immediately clear to me, but once I spent a few minutes trying to put my thoughts into words, the reason came into sharp relief. Carlos Santana speaks to me. He manipulates his guitar strings and controls his amplifier in such a way that shoots straight into me. I feel what he is feeling. He doesn’t need to talk or write about his intention with a song or a solo, because the meaning is obvious. I would seriously doubt if anyone ever needed to ask him, “What did you mean when you played that phrase?”

This is something that I have been striving to do my whole life. It is not easy, and even though it comes more naturally to some people, everyone has to work hard to be able to do it. There are times when I feel like our purpose here on earth is to learn how to communicate with each other. There are so many miscommunications or people who blatantly refuse to communicate on a daily basis and this saps everyone’s energy. Ask yourself, have you ever felt energized by a miscommunication? How do you feel when you have been intentionally ignored or lied to? Contrast that with the energy you feel when you are communicating with someone at a very deep level. That feels great! For me, Carlos Santana is someone who has mastered the art of communication through his instrument. He not only brings us messages (feelings) at a very deep level, but also serves as and example for the rest of us on how to communicate.

When I listen to Santana I feel energy. I also feel longing, hope, suffering, love, and excitement. Here come those words again. Rather than attempting to do exactly what I just said doesn’t work very well, I recommend that you go straight to the source. My favorite Santana album is Abraxas. I was crazy about this album in high school, and still return to it without disappointment. Highlights for me include Incident at Neshabur, Se a Cabo, and Samba pa Ti. Carlos and the band use dynamics very effectively and the entrance of an organ, or the addition of distortion on the guitar pulls me into a new emotional space. These songs are not static and are really representative of the different emotional states that we all can go through even over the course of a few minutes.

Some people don’t like Santana’s material ever since his reentrance into pop culture with the Supernatural album. I don’t know what these peoples’ problem is. If Santana had sacrificed his own personal voice in order to have a large roster of guest stars and promotion from the record label, then I would have a big problem with it, but he didn’t. This album puts him into new settings, but he never loses his sense of self or his voice on the instrument. Even Smooth, probably the biggest single from the album, is a really well written song. It has a great set of chord changes, a real horn section, classic Santana guitar playing, and they let the band open up at the end of the song. And I still feel that same level of communication from him. What is not to like?

It is hard to resist the urge to try to put my feelings into words. It is habit. I still find myself sitting here trying to explain exactly how I feel when I listen to all of Santana’s music. Well, if you haven’t already started to listen to his music, shut off your computer (or at least close your eyes) and listen. Don’t even think about what you have just read. Just allow your self to be open and I would be willing to bet that you will feel all the things that I have just failed to put into words. Enjoy!

Source Image:

Wikipedia.