Friday, December 22, 2006

The Best 100% Free Windows Plugins


Just when I thought I had exhausted the possible list of resources for Windows music plugins I bump into this site. A great site in its own right for the articles it puts up on “creating digital” music. They also maintain a column on the “best” free music plugins. Of course, “best” can be a matter of likes and dislikes but they seem to know what they are talking about. I found that one needs to take a chance into trusting some source on this issue. The fact of the matter is that if you Google for “free vst” etc that you will bump into an almost endless list. Availability is not the problem but rather the issue is one of screening. This list also includes a number of soft synths and many analog emulation i.e. like the synths of old such as the Moog.

Monday, December 18, 2006

An awesome and free Sampling Synth



I was turned on to this free VSTi instrument i.e. virtual instrument which accommodates to the VST specs by my friends at Audio Masters Forum. This little jewel packs the same sampling engine that rgc: audio uses in their hardcore top of the line synths. sfz only functions as a sampler but with very impressive performance specs. Furthermore, it can load SoundFonts which are very high quality and very widely available sound libraries. Actually, there is quite a bit of free SoundFonts which may carry one quite a ways. I loaded a Grand Piano SoundFont and it sounded quite good. I would have t say as good to my ears as the Grand Piano sound in my Roland XV2020. sfz can be tuned depending on the performance constraints of the PC and what one is trying to do. In English this just means that one with a modern PC can use sfz on a live gig at an acceptable quality level. At the home studio the highest quality settings can be brought out to render to wav file i.e. where on to use sfz in the recording studio.

As mentioned sfz is a VSTi instrument. This means that one requires a host. In my studio I use a combination of an inexpensive audio recording package , namely Sony’s ACID Music Studio and Adobe Audition. Unfortunately, as great as Audition is it does not support VSTi. Audition is very much multi-track recording focused. Music Studio although not by a long shot as powerful as Audition in the multi-track recording area it does support VSTi and midi sequencing better, so its a good compliment. Music Studio is only $70.00 so its well worth it.

Having said that there may be times when I will want to use sfz outside of Music Studio i.e. I may indeed want to record into Audition directly. In that case we need a VST host and one can be found here:

once hosted sfz can be triggered via midi and its audio output properly re-routed so that it can be recorded into Audition or whatever. Yes, I could just host with Music Studio. Well, I’m guessing , honestly have not tried hosting with Music Studio and recording sfz into Audition but it does technically follow that one can do that. The reason though to use something like Cantabile is that it is a lightweight no frills, and of minor impact to the host system.

To conclude , again , a great time to be a recording music enthusiast. Another set of tools to add to one’s arsenal. sfz will certainly help make your music sound great.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Its Okay if your Dad is a Music Exec

This is too funny. Warner Music CEO admits his kids are music pirates. Apparently, they somehow missed the arm of the RIAA. Wonder how?

Found this on my lawyer’s blog. Great blog well worth subscribing to it.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Land of Free VSTs

Things have changed quite a bit since the last time I really tried my hand at audio recording and production. Not only are the tools better, PCs cheaper and hardware more affordable on the software side I to my delight find that there is a tremendous amount of “goodies” , to be exact VST and DirectX plugins which can be loaded into my Adobe Audition recording system. Not only are these plugins free but many of them are actually quite good, if not excellent. I primarily have interest in plugins for signal processing i.e. your reverbs, eq , compression etc but one can also find VST instruments i.e. software sound modules. Its a great time to be alive and working in audio and trying to produce your own music. The tools are there to really produce wonderful and professional quality level music. I already use these on a regular basis. I put down my ideas on track and apply a quick mix. It sounds great. What I find most exciting is that it feeds the “inspiration” . To be able to hear stuff that sounds good , that sounds like it has promise inspires one to continue working and tweaking the tune.

I plan to blog about the particular plugins I use as I use them and have develop some solid understanding of their use. In the meanwhile check out this thread where I asked about VST resources.

Most of these developers have taken the “open source” philosophy. Many ask for donations and a few ask that if their plugins help one make money i.e. CDBaby sales that in turn the user should reciprocate by making a donation. Sounds very reasonable to me and I’ll gladly do that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Podcasting with Audition


Fig. Omni-directional powered stereo pair from Giant Squid Audio Lab.

I decided to try my hand at Podcasting the NYC Smalltalk user meetings which I basically organise and have done for a number of years now. Smalltalk is a programming language, very powerful, simple and cool and used in just about every sector of industry imaginable. Its a niche but like my music I like niches. So I have something to Podcast and I have the tools to Podcast i.e. Adobe Audition which earned some recent noteworthy mention at Podcasting conference out in the west coast. As a matter of fact I believe it won whatever the competition was. I can dig that up if somebody cares.

There were some technical logistics to conquer though. Well, I at least imagined them. A simple mono mic was not  going to do. Our meetings are somewhat chaotic with folks talking out of turn, popping questions left and right. I really needed a mic situation that would really capture the room and not just the speaker. Secondly, our presentations go for a hour plus so I needed something with a fairly large storage capacity. Of course, there was the production of the podcast. Certainly, the recording was going to need some editing. Bring the content down to a PG-13 level. A fair amount of cursing goes on. I’m told that its mostly me but I just think they are too freaking sensitive. However, never mind editing , I was going to need to bring up levels , get rid of ambient noise and possibly interject where the presentation got confusing. So to summarise I needed:

  • A stereo omni-directional mic — decided on Giant Squid Audio Lab.
  • A recorder — decided on my iAudio X5, stuff like this was too over the top for my purposes.
  • Editing software — decided on Adobe Audition which I already use for my personal music projects.

But there was one other snag. The iAudio external mic connection is actually a line level connection and that meant I was going to need a mic preamp.



This unit is sold at Microphone Madness, it actually comes with a built in mic. Not sure yet what type of mic but it will itself take an external mic.. In anycase, I already have the omni mics. I don’t believe that anything else will quite do the trick, not for my application. BTW, a secondary use for all of this will be that I can also now record my collaboration sessions with my composition partner Jon Raney. Those sessions include music which this setup should be able to handle well.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Three Voices of Godin


After months of agonising I finally made the commitment and purchased one of these beauties. Yes, another Godin. I am definitely a fan. Very well made guitars, unfettered synth access with a reputation for top-notch tracking and to top it off great looks. For the type of music I want to write synth access is a must. My only other must which goes for all my guitars is that it must have an ebony neck and this one does. Check out the specs .

I tried the eBay thing. I was successful in obtaining my Godin Multiac Nylon SA from eBay. An essentially brand new guitar, which I was able to verify. Owned by a guitar player and not just an eBay peddler which is pretty important to me. I saved $400.00. In the case of the LGX-SA , I tried eBay for a while. The main problem was that I needed to get something from 2004 to present due to the fact that the synth access system had been changed. According to Godin it was a significant change. I came close but got outbidded. That was a fortunate thing. The winning bid was about $250.00 off ,without including shipping , from what one could purchase the guitar brand new. Not usually enough to warrant not getting a new one. Especially since I keep my guitars. I lucked out Rudy’s Guitar on 48th from which I have already bought two guitars, a classical and my Al DiMeola Ovation gave me a good deal. Not as much as buying it used but a significant savings from what one can find on-line. I had to pay NY tax but no shipping and what is great is that the guitar is being shipped directly from the Godin factory i.e. this guitar is brand new. I get to inspect it and I know where its been. Full warranty. My new baby is coming home.


Oh, why Three Voices of Godin?  Well, because the guitar actually has three separate sound sources. The Seymour Duncan pickups for the electric sound, an acoustic pickup for a purely acoustic sound, and finally the synth access for the controlling of a guitar synth like the Roland GR-20. I got the one on the right.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Natural dynamic compression

Well this is the week to plug Bruce William’s podcast on Adobe Audition which in particular has an emphasis on explaining how Audition can be used for producing podcasts. Here is the link again:

Today I just want to comment on what was both a flashback and lightbulb moment to me. I was listening to one of the podcasts on my subway ride home  and this great insight came through my ear buds. Namely, Bruce was explaining how in the old days a form of audio compression was simply achieved by the engineer riding the faders during the recording session. This is where I had that dual flashback/lightbulb moment. Of course, I remember doing that years back so many, many moons ago when I was taking two semesters of sound engineering at the local community college, that’s exactly what was done. In Audition that can be achieved via “automation lanes” and no it does not involve one actually riding faders. Its basically much more precise and tweak-able than that. Its actually quite cool. Bruce covers that in his tutorial CD. For more info see my last post on Bruce.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Jon Raney at iTunes


 My friend, composition teacher and collaborator now has his CD at iTunes.

Of course, this is strictly digital downloads. If you want a real physical CD which you can burn freely and play on your stereo then you should think of buying it directly from Jon which you can do by visiting his site. Jon makes more money when his CDs are fulfilled through his site, so if you are a fan of Jazz and also feel compelled to help out struggling independent musicians then please purchase directly from Jon. Nonetheless, being at iTunes is great. There are people that do indeed buy one tune at a time. Also, its exposure and just another very popular place to check out new music. Hopefully, we have the right keywords there so that he can be found easily. Certainly searching for Jon Raney will score a direct hit.

Anyhow, check out the link above. You will need iTunes installed on your computer but you can get that for free.



Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Audition tutorials on Podcasts?

Yes , an Aussie from the land of down under, of course, by the name Bruce Williams has been developing a podcast series on Adobe Audition, a very powerful and complete hard disk recording system for Windows.

Check it out:

I went through a couple podcasts and this stuff is just full with information and insight on using Audition in the recording and post production process. I can’t wait to load this stuff into my iAudio player and listen to it on the subway ride back and forth from work.

I actually bumped into this in a sort of back doors sort of way. I am ramping up working with Audition which as a matter of fact, my new “ultimate” digital audio workstation will be arriving,  hopefully by the end of the week, and I was looking for tutorial material on Audition.

I found this screencast based tutorial Audition 2.0 Essential Training , checked out a few of the sample free chapters and was impressed. This tutorial is all screencast based, no fancy production but just full of substance, unlike the Total Training Audition 1.5 DVD that I bought which although had good basic information , a lot of time was spent on making it a cool DVD as oppossed to making it a meaty tutorial. Some people may prefer that I guess. In my case I just want to see what the tool does and don’t need the rest of the fluff to keep my attention.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

DiMeola in Gotham


On Friday I did what has become a tradition. I went to visit  a person that has become as a guitarist , my main inspiration. Al DiMeola had a concert in Manhattan last nite in support of his newly released album, Consequence of Chaos. This album marks a return to predominantly solid guitar body playing and is in many ways reminiscent of his earliest work. I actually have not heard the CD yet i.e. besides what I heard at the concert. I did pre-order the CD the moment it was available but I did not want to spoil the surprise. I’m glad I did not. Dimeola manages again to compose fresh music that is imaginative and achieves that balance between strong melodies, contagious grooves and “spirited playing” and I mean the guy still has all of his chops.

The Venue

The Ethical Culture Concert Hall is located at 2 West 64th Street right around the corner from the Lincoln Center and a little further down from the Shops at Columbus Circle. The place like most things New York is old and charming. It seems to have been a place of worship that was retrofitted for supporting concerts although I figure more in tune with classical type of music i.e. small ensembles etc. The ceilings are domed cathedral ceilings. I really don’t think that there was a single bad seat in the house both visually and acoustically. I was 5 rows down from the stage on the right hand side. Gumbi Ortiz was on a diagonal to me and I was able to see his articulate conga work perfectly. Al DiMeola was ten degrees down from Gumbi and I also had a perfect shot of him. The only time I was not able to see Al was when he sat down to play his Ovation during the first set. The chair was set back deeper into the stage than from where he stood when playing the electric, the result was that Gumbi was basically blocking my view. In anycase, they must have taken notice of that since in the second set the chair was brought up to the front of the stage and again everything was perfect.

The Sound

The Ethical Culture Concert Hall is a venue that has natural great acoustics . On the other hand I think that it is probably a hard venue to manage for music that is amplified. The reason is that it has very decent reverberation due to the high ceilings but it is also a shallow venue and so the sound engineer really needs to be on top of it. Unfortunately, the mixing console was actually offset basically to the immediate right of the stage and I just don’t think that the sound engineer was hearings things well. The venue did not seem to be setup to support housing the sound engineering console in the center of the venue. The top of the set the guitar was a bit too muddy although not enough to not be identifiable. There were clearly some problems with the monitor mix on stage. Al had to cry out some directions a few times. They were certainly aware that they were in for some choppy waters since they actually had setup isolation partitions around the drummer. Don’t get me wrong. None of this detracted from the fun and excitement of the performance. As a matter of fact to me this can make it more fun. To be fair I may be a bit more sensitive than the average audience member just because I have had a decent exposure to sound engineering. It also got better and better as the night went along. At the second set, classical guitar solo piece rang out as crisp as morning air. By the time we got to the encores the sound of the electric guitar sounded just like the CD. Which reminds me that I should have tried to peek at what amp Al was using.  As far as guitars he was using the PRS for his main electric, his Ovation series and a classical with a cutaway for which I did not recognize the brand. I’m sure a custom job. It also had this funny gizmo on top of it. I need to find out what that is. Maybe one of the guys at the forum will know. He did not play on a Godin Multiac Nylon SA which he has used on some of his Piazolla influenced albums, instead he used his PRS for some of the tunes such as those of the Grande Passion CD. One interesting note is that Al had a Les Paul with double horns and sort of a root beer finish propped in the back of the stage but for some he did not play it.

The Performance

There was a good balance of new material with old which I appreciated. There was also a good balance between electric guitar playing and acoustic. That suits me fine as well. Some fans prefer one Dimeola “genre” over the other i.e. acoustic work over electric. I like them both. One thing though, is that when I go to a concert I prefer to listen to the familiar more. Then again , I heard a couple of new tunes which I liked quite a bit which I assume are from the new album. Not that I need any convincing, at this point I buy DiMeola albums without pre-screening them.

Gumbi was as always at the top of his game and having so much fun. As far Al , after something like twenty albums he is as good as he ever was . What I admire about Dimeola is not just his chops but how he uses his chops. DiMeola does not use technique just for the sake of technique. He makes it work with the tune. Granted his music is about “spirited playing” , about the energy but it is about music, and he grooves. That’s hard to find. He also is not afraid to experiment with his compositions. I think that one of the advantages of that is that an artist is bound to find a wider audience. For example, I think that the move to acoustic work i,.e. the World Sinfonia and Piazolla influenced albums brought in a set of different fans.

I guess when I think back on the show last nite that there are a couple of things that linger with me. One is that Al thanked his fans for following him for the last eighteen years. He did that twice. I remember thinking, wow, that really feels like he meant it from his heart. People often say many things but its not often that one totally believes. The other thing he said was that “fusion lives”. I believe that its true and a lot of that has to do because you Al keep cranking out albums. I also hope that fusion will live because you inspire others to compose and express themselves.

Conclusion, great show. I’m re-charged with inspiration. Right on time too, because I have to get off my ass and get back on track with my stuff. By Monday of the following week the “ultimate” digital audio workstation I ordered should be delivered. That’s just a necessary part of getting my project together. I’ll blog about my research in the quest of the ultimate DAW soon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shrink wrapping , a necessary pain ?

Shrink wrapping was a mystery to me.  I thought you had to have specialised machinery to wrap your CDs. So either I was going to outsource it and probably substantially increase my unit cost on the CD or I was just going to have to resign myself to shipping CDs naked. As it turns out it does not take much to do shrink wrapping of at least your CDs. First of all you need one of these:


An industrial heat gun which goes for $58.00. I bought this at which I found has an intense supply of everything related with packaging, stationary, you name it. They also have the other necessary component, of course I’m referring to the PVC shrink bags. These babies go for $18.00 for a 500 unit carton i.e. an approx 4 cents added to the unit cost of the CD. Now, we all now from the tedious accounting classes some of us took at school that cost is not just materials. Its time & materials. So here’s the rub. It will take you a couple minutes or more to do this and guess what it won’t look quite perfect. The bags come with excess material , too much I think. Some excess is needed to accommodate for “shrinkage” but this extra stuff does not quite melt so nicely. Maybe there’s a trick that I have not caught on or maybe you do need some fancy machine to make it look as nice as the CDs you purchase in traditional retailers.

Lately I have been asking myself how necessary is this really. It does protect the CD. Its sort of expected, but this again is a brave new world we independent musicians live in and there are no hard fast rules. I can’t complain about the added material cost but it sure would be a pain to have to do 500 of these by hand. CDBaby interestingly enough does not require them. Secondly, CDs are sent to customers well protected in padded bags when we fulfill the orders. My guess is that these do become necessary when one is sending decent amount of CD stock to traditional retailers but let’s face it we are not there yet. If orders are fulfilled via CDBaby or our site then I think that shrink wrapping is a pain we can do without.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The End of Guitar Tabs

Beware big music publishers are now mimicking the tactics of the RIAA. Ray Beckerman points this out in this article:

this very much includes tabs that other guitar players come up with i.e. this is not about piracy, this is just about money.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Remembering Jimmy Raney

I first came to know about the great Jimmy Raney through his son Jon Raney, a great Jazz pianist and composer in his own right. We met Jon some 4 years ago at the dog park and have since become good friends. Jon is also my composition teacher. Jimmy Raney was considered among his peers a legend. A truly great and unique Jazz bebop guitarist. Other greats such as Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny to name few consider him  a major influence.

Jon shares a memorial radio broadcast by NPR where Jim Hall talks about his late friend Jimmy Raney.

If you don’t know who Jimmy Raney is then this is the time to learn. For those that do the broadcast is a poignant snapshot of Jazz history and not to be missed.





Weird Al and the RIAA

Ray Beckerman , NYC lawyer fighting the RIAA, shares this funny link to a video by Weird Al which parodies the RIAA tactics.





Friday, August 11, 2006

Raney's idea on practise

Jon Raney put a post on his blog about practising. Good article, I added some comments of my own.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Jon's New Site

Have not blogged in a while. I have been bogged down with work and with cranking out a new site for Jon.

Some of the highlights of the site include:

  • Music Excerpts.
  • A Store where the new CD Waltz For Talia can be purchased.
  • Reviews of Jon’s music by third parties.
  • A Gallery where pictures of Jon and friends can be found but also of his famous father Jimmy Raney.

Besides the site I also went ahead and setup:

  • A Forum for discussion of music composition, theory and all that Jazz.
  • Well, actually Jon setup a blog for himself where he already has a very interesting and  funny article written by his Dad, Jimmy Raney.

BTW, for those that don’t know which could be quite a few Jimmy Raney is a unsung legendary guitarist of Jazz bebop. Jimmy Raney played with the likes of Stan Getz and other greats. Artist such as Wes Montgomery and even contemporary artist such as Pat Metheny cite him as a major influence. Jon plans to dedicate part of his site to his father’s memory and accomplishments. One of the projects consists of a book Jimmy Raney was working on melodic lines.

Finally, Jon’s CD is great. It has a little of everything from straightahead Jazz to fusions with Brazilian grooves to melancholic balads to blues. Its a great value at $10.00.

If consumers want great new and innovative music and great selection for that matter it is important to support independent music. If you love Jazz then supporting the “indie” Jazz/ fusion scene is a must otherwise you will get some big record label executive’s version of what Jazz is. So at the very least check out Jon’s CD.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Defective by Design

The Free Software Foundation is starting a campaign against the imposition of DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology by colluding mega media. Their new campaign is called Defective by Design. Tomorrow they join Ray Beckerman, in a conference call , the objective is to communicate the importance of thwarting the RIAA’s strategy of bullying consumers with punitive and meritless lawsuits.

The Defective by Design campaign is also trying to enlist U2’s singer Bono in the fight against big business media companies.

Ray blogs about it here , find out more about this important issue and see how you can help.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Copyrightng your stuff

Many, many moons I had checked into this and the conclusion at the time was that it was expensive and a hazzle to copyright one’s stuff. There was of course the alternative , the poor man’s copyrght. Basically just mail yourself the copyright-able material and keep the envelope un-opened. I actually read this in a book. However, this strategy may have some holes in it or so thinks. They may have an obvious bias but it does make sense to protect our labors of love. Really, better safe than sorry and especially when well, it is so easy to do nowadays. It is also not expensive. Here is some of the how and who:

Most independent musicians will be interested in what is called an SR (sound recording) copyright. This is what protects your audio recordings from piracy. Well, better said it affords you rights in the case that your work is pirated and otherwise used for profit without your consent. The form can be obtained at the U.S. Copyright Office. It will cost you a $45.00 application fee and of course shipping costs. In this case, it also makes sense to send the package as “registered” mail.

The SR application is overall pretty straightforward but an application nonetheless and if you can’t be bothered then there are outfits that will help you out. As previously referenced is one. Another outfit and one associated with is

One thing to note is that your work is under copyright enforcement from the moment the U.S. Copyright Office receives your application so as soon as possible is probably the best time to send things in. To save money , it is a good idea to copyright an entire album i.e. a “compilation” there is only one application fee per claim and in the case of a compilation i.e. your album all of the tunes within the compilation fall under the protection of the compilation’s claim.


Monday, July 03, 2006

The Forum and the Fan Club

For an artist the on-line forum becomes that virtual club house where his or her fans can meet. The forum allows the artist to keep in closer touch. Tentative touring schedules can be posted. Samples of new material can be shared way before an album is actually ready for release. Depending on the artist , the genre of music and just plain availability, the forum can be a great place for the artist to interact or give back.

I just recently setup an on-line forum for Jon Raney. In Jon’s case, he loves to engage in discussions regarding the art of writing good music. The discussions tend to be about Jazz and the fusion of Jazz with Latin and other genres but even the pop composer will find some great advise here. Jon has been contributing to these types of discussions for years but now we have setup a venue where we can bring the discussions here. To the students of Jazz and those like myself that want to develop their skills in composing this forum is truly a great resource, not only because Jon is very knowledgeable but because he is willing to share and spend the time. These traits of knowledge and willingness do not happen very often.

As a composition student of Jon’s I have had the chance to exercise the forum. Already, I think that there are some interesting threads. Soon , and to coincide with the release of the second generation of Jon’s web site, we will be making announcements to colleagues and friends about its availability.

To conclude , the independent artist to be viable , must develop a loyal following of fans. Fans of the music but also perhaps students of the teachings an artist may wish to share about the craft of music writing. The on-line community as facilitated by tools such as forum hosting applications, is an indispensable tool in developing the artist’s fan base.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Managing your project

Any worthwhile goal takes an action plan. To reach a desired objective requires attention to detail, overcoming of all the obstacles and interim objectives to that golden pot at the end of the rainbow. In my case that golden pot is producing a CD of original music and the successful marketing and promotion of said CD. My objectives also involve helping my composition teacher Jon Raney achieve his goals of promoting his new CD Waltz For Talia.

As a software developer and manager I have learned that multi-faceted problems require extreme organisation in order to achieve desired results within an acceptable timeline. Will you be satisfied if you crank out one CD every ten years? If that is okay with you then the easy going approach will do fine. Otherwise you will need to be very , very organised. Fortunately, now a days there are some great tools available that greatly facilitate staying on top of the game. I find that “Issue tracking” software applies very well to music projects. Issue tracking is not just about logging in what is wrong with something. Its about defining all the myriad of sub-objectives  and the associated tasks. Its about assigning responsibilities to team member. It also a tool of collaboration on specific tasks. Its  a great tool for documenting what went wrong , what went right and thus an asset to the project. Not repeating the same mistakes is key to becoming more efficient and therefore having a log of the process is invaluable.

There is of course some initial pain and getting use to using these tools. One must enter tasks, one must report on progress and document the hick ups, the successes etc. Often, when one is encountering a lot of issues with a certain task it may seem that one is spending more time with the tool rather than working the problem. All of this is good. The next time the problem or type of problem comes around , and it will , one will be prepared.

An issue tracker is key to success. It eventually becomes second nature. Intelligent and steadfast use of these tools will maintain a level of energy and momentum that would otherwise be much more difficult to achieve.

We are using MANTIS. Its an open source application, its extremely easy to install and although it has its quirks it overall is a solid and easy to navigate issue tracker.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Online Petition Against RIAA Lawsuits

I found this great post on Ray Beckerman’s blog. A record label has put up an online petition to stop RIAA and its British counterpart BPI from suing music fans.

These lawsuits are just not the right way. Express your views and sign the petition if you agree.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

LightScribed UPC codes scan great

As I have written before we are using LightScribe to burn our art work directly on the CD as opposed to having a CD sleeve liner. That is coming along well. There is a new design which we will show later and which incorporates an abstract photo of Jon. I was also burning the UPC code on the CD. I want to make the CD sort of self – containing i.e. that it provides all the necessary info on it. I asked the LightScribe support team about this. They were so cool that they actually ran the experiment for me. The UPCs scan great and that includes the very tiny 2D UPCs.

They also let me know of a specific utility for LightScribing which will significantly enhance the contrast on the resulting burned images but at the cost of increased burn time. Here is the link for that:

LightScribe is also working on a new film technology which will significantly reduce the burn times. Currently , the CD takes about 20 minutes to burn but I suspect it will get into the 30 minutes with the above mentioned enhanced contrast utility.


Monday, June 19, 2006

CD 1.1 - Not a Jazz Waltz

My first tune on my my first CD  is in 3/4.

So its a  | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | etc but the tempo is at 132 bpm with an upbeat bossa like groove so it is not a waltz. The tune starts with an 8 bar intro where there is a one chord per measure change and which clearly established a typical 3/4 feel but then it gets strange in that most of the A and B sections there are two chords per measure but the beats are not evenly divided between the two chords. Jazz players, as confirmed by Jon, when confronted with a lead sheet in 3/4 with 2 chords per measure will evenly divide and therefore every chord would get 1 and a half beats i.e. a dotted quarter rhythm. However, in the case of this tune the first chord receives two beats and the second chord one beat. So against the 3/4 meter one gets this type of feel going:

ta ta-ah

where a ta is one beat and the ta-ah is the two beats.  I seem to be inverting these, right? Invariably, well at least to me my ear latches on to the “ta ta-ah” i.e. I catch the train on a one note pickup, the 3rd beat,  to the changes for the sections in question. I don’t mean that literally the section does start on 1 with a 2 beat chord but I don’t start synching with it, if that makes sense, until the 3rd beat. Lots of fun. Its has been challenging for me to do the comp on these changes since one has to face a one beat shift at 132 bpm on quite decently colorful Jazz chords. No power chords on this baby. Of course, the fact that in the past I was so obscessed with lead playing has come back to haunt me but I’m getting there. Truth be told , I have also been working on a second tune with decent technical challenges.  Jon thinks is an interlude to this current tune . More on that later. I worked a decent start to the melody. Most of the A section is pretty solid for a first pass and the melody is keeping a tango-ish ethnic feel. Another interesting aspect is that the phrases are breaking up into 5 bar phrases I believe driven by the lop sided placement of beats on the changes and just where my ear heard the cadence points i.e. the melodic places of rest.

This “composition focused” approach to the study of the guitar I’m sure will pay off. I know I’m getting better technically and I’m also becoming a better musician. Forcing myself to extract the music out of my head and committing to a structure is a struggle. The tendency to “doodle”during practise sessions is great. Having somebody of the musical caliber of Jon to bounce ideas off, to be taught about strategies, the gotchas and just the lingo of music is invaluable.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Jon's UPC

In a previous article I mentioned that an artist through CDBaby could obtain for a mere twenty bucks a UPC. UPCs are necessary for digital downloads but also if you want to sell your CDs in traditional retailers. When CDBaby provides you with a UPC not only do you get the “code” but you also get a JPG for the respective bar scan. One can then print labels and then attach to whatever CD packaging. Here is Jon’s UPC:


I went ahead and added the artist and album name. I purchased a set of 600 labels for under $10.00 and printed what you see on my desk jet.

Next step is to get 5 CDs ready to ship to CDBaby. The copyright application will go out reserved mail tomorrow. The copyright is retroactive to the mailed date of the application. Before we ship we are going to tweak the art work LightScribed on the CD and look into the mysterious world of shrink wrapping.

LightScribe - 2nd Look

After reviewing yesterday’s post I realized that I had published the BW image that one would use with a LightScribe capable software. That does not do justice to LightScribe so I thought I post 3 other pics illustrating what one actually sees. provides an ample gallery of backgrounds.







I can see a new art medium developing.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Burning your ArtWork

Packaging your cd used to be a significant effort. Labels had to be printed  then pasted on the CD which often did not look quite perfect. Labels are not cheap either, never mind including the CDs inner sleeves , back cover etc. All of this tedious and not inexpensive. I believe that the advent of LightScribe has changed what packaging a CD entails and has dramatically reduced the amount of work and the costs. LightScribe is a technology that allows one to print images upon the face of a CD. The image are printed in grayscale upon a brazzy looking background. The result can be very appealing. For example:





As one can see a very beautiful CD can be made. The CD itself can be made appealing and one does not have to rely on expensive labels and CD cover artwork to create a professional looking product. Of course just pretty artwork is not all that should be placed on a CD. The appropriate information is the typical :

  • 1. Album name
  • 2. Artist name
  • 3. Tracks

Less obvious:

  • 4. UPC Code
  • 5. Copyright tag
  • 6. User registration id (special order)


The independent musician has several avenues to distribute music. For example CDBaby and digital download providers. One avenue is that artist can do the work. These would be “special orders” , the cost would be slightly higher to the music fan but the fan would receive a customised product, with special artwork and even engraved with the listeners name or perhaps an engraving appropriate to a gift for a special someone. The sky is the limit. I plan to later blog about ideas on how the artist can provide the fan with more value beyond the music and at the same time keep more of the profits.

I’m using LightScribe on Jon Raney’s CD which we will be sending to the U.S copyright office tomorrow. For now we kept it simple:



Click on the image for a larger view.


Monday, June 12, 2006

The Art of the Sound Clip

Jon’s sound clips are now available.

Creating these music excerpts is really an art. How long should they be? How do you give enough to entice the listener but not give away the mystery? What if you choose the wrong 30 secs and turn off the listener. Maybe for that reason 30 secs is not enough. That’s what we went on. Amazon does 1 minute clips and so we decided to follow suit. Another question is who should create the clips? Should it be the artist? Will he or she be objective enough? In this case Jon created the excerpts. Yet another issue was what format to use. We decided to go with mp3 since that would have cross platform support. Finally we decided to go with FM quality sample rate. This cut down the excerpts from 2mb + to about 700K.  FM quality sounds just fine for review purposes and of course downloads much quicker.

From an admin perspective I re-used some CGI functionality that our ISP provides and integrated that to the site. This means that Jon has an admin screen that allows him to enter his excerpts and the Music page is now equipped with a link that goes to a downloads record page. It looks pretty good and its was certainly cost effective. The final thought I had for this was whether it would be worth it to incorporate streaming of the clips. The main reason is that this should be helpful to those potential listeners that do not have broadband access.

The next step is to burn the art work onto 2 CDs and send those to the copyright office which should happen tomorrow or the next day.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Got your UPC ?

We just received the UPC code for Jon’s album Waltz For Talia. Yes the same UPC code that you find on just about everything nowadays and of course CDs that one can buy at one’s favorite CD retailer. Now is this really necessary for an independent music album? It really is. For one, the UPC code is what SoundScan uses to keep track of your album. This apparently includes digital downloads. It turns out that if one hooks up with CDBaby one can make one’s CD available for download for providers such as iTunes and others. CDBaby also comes to the rescue as far as to obtaining the UPC code. UPC codes are very expensive. Prohibitively expensive for the average independent music artist. However, one can operate under a parent code which is what you get from CDBaby for twenty bucks.

Hear are a couple articles of interest regarding UPC codes and the relevance to “indie” music:

One of the reasons why we got the UPC code right away is because I felt it would be a good idea to burn the bar code on the CDs that are sent as “deposit” with the copyright application to Uncle Sam.

Another important code or id to get is the ISRC. Unlike the UPC which is meant to identify a product for sale i.e. the CD in this case, the ISRC uniquely identifies a sound recording. ISRC are used for purposes of identification and aiding with copyright management. Here is blurb from the ISRC site that may help clarify things a bit more:


It is stressed that ISRC identifies sound recordings and music video recordings and not physical products (‘carriers’) and that there is no conflict with existing product catalogue numbering systems with which it co-exists. Neither does ISRC identify a digitally distributed package, although sound and music video recordings included in such a package should be identified with an ISRC.

Adobe Audition 2.0 i.e. the hard disk recording and mastering software I use allows me to tag the CD with the UPC and ISRC for the respective tracks therefore enabling suitably equipped readers to pick this information up.

The next step is to send the CDs and application to the U.S copyright office. I’ll blog about that phase of the adventure soon.



Tuesday, June 06, 2006

RIAA Tales

James Robertson has some interesting blogs about RIAA activities:

  • He blogs  about an article by TechDirt pointing out how artist are starting to embrace this new digital world.
  • He also blogs about how CD-Rs were used as probable cause by cops that received RIAA training.

Ray Beckerman seeks help for which is being sued by Kazaa.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Genesis - 1st Projects

It makes sense to state up front what is the “mission” of this blog. What is its motivation?

The initial driver for this blog can be divided into 2 projects:

  • blogging about my support of Jon Raney’s current release.
  • blogging about the creation and release of my first album.

Jon’s current release Waltz For Talia is an excellent Jazz trio album where one will find melodic ballads to straight ahead Jazz to blues and Brazilian feels. Blogging on this project will invariably consist of issues such as copyrights, royalties, distribution, packaging i.e. a journal of what we will try to do to make it a successful “indie” album in this new brave world of the independent music biz.

In my case, my project is basically in its infancy. Its a journey whose objective is to create a CD of original music and in the process to not only become a better composer but also a better musician and guitar player. As I have blogged before, to me composition has to be the focus of practise. Blogging about my project will tend to deal with issues such as music composition and arrangement, digital recording and mixing, music gear and software and some aspects of guitar technique i.e. as pertinent to the compositions in question.

Perhaps this will be of interest to others which would be great since input would just make this experience all that richer but as I have also blogged before this diary of this adventure will help to keep focus on all of those baby steps and little mountains that have to be conquered to attain the long term objective of becoming a composer and musician that I am happy with.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

CD 1, Track 1

My first track on my first CD is inspired by my desire to exploit the beautiful open sounds of the guitar. What I mean is that I select voicings that use as many open strings as possible with the effect that there is a ringing pedal that basically carries through an entire progression. In my case the top two strings. I really like this a lot and as a matter of fact so far most of the ideas that I have come up with include this notion to at least some degree.

The Intro

The intro is basically a minor I chord to the V dominant with coloration i.e. b9, the dominant chord is also based of a bass note that is 1/2 step away from the bass note of the minor I chord, in order to do a nice “side-stepping” latin bass line i.e. one where I am going back forth between the two notes. The intro is currently 8 bars long.

The Form


  • Intro
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • A
  • B
  • Outro

Where the first AB is repeated probably about 3x then followed by new territory in turned followed with restating of the melody and finally with a vamp which fades off , the vamp right now essentially being the same vamp that started off the tune. Anyhow, that is the plan for now.

The A section is 16 bars as is the the B section but because of the transitions and cadence points it is really not quite as even as AB but I think even more interesting for that reason.

The tune is in 3/4 and its in a perky latin feel.

What’s Next

The melody is. I’m hearing a Tango like Piazolla thing. Some of the tunes of Al DiMeola Grande Passion album seem to resonate. I think I’ll listen to that album and Piazolla next week on my iAudio i.e. on the way to work, so at least a couple hours a day.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Away pops & clicks & creaks

I’m helping a friend Jon Raney get his album ready to ship to CDBaby. Jon had the master tracks so in this case there was no help with recording. However, we both felt that the general over all volume of the album could be raised a bit. I used Adobe Audition formerly known as CoolEdit to  group “normalize” the tracks. I’ll talk about normalization some time later. What I want to talk about today is about Audition’s restoration effect called the “Click/Pop Eliminator”. You see normalization did a great job i.e. which was to raise the overall loudness of the tracks. Unfortunately it also raised a couple “faux pas” in the recording which were not very audible in the original recording but quite apparent now due to normalization. Jon had slightly moved his piano chair which got picked up by the mics.

Fortunately, Audition’s Click/Pop Eliminator very easily and basically with default settings was able to eliminate the transient chair creak. Here is what the user interface to the effect looks like:


Here is a blurb from the help text for the effect:

The Restoration > Click/Pop Eliminator effect detects and removes clicks and pops. Like the Auto Click/Pop Eliminator, this effect is ideal if you want to clean up the sound of vinyl recordings before transferring them to CD or another digital medium. The Click/Pop Eliminator, however, provides a much wider range of controls, letting you customize settings to repair other transient artifacts such as vocal plosives or radio static.

This is an increidibly handy thing to have and it worked like a charm. I also used the Graphic EQ effect to roll off the bass and perk up the piano on another tune and it worked great. I’ll probably blog about some of these effects at some other time. If everything goes right we should be sending some CDs to the U.S. copyright office next week and possibly to CDBaby as well.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Focus of Practise

From my perspective the focus of practise or in other words the precious little time one has to spend on guitar playing should be centered on composition. To focus on just getting "better" doesn't do it for me. Sure for a while I was obscessed with becoming more technical but that becomes a soul-less dry exercise. One can spend one's time learning a tune of a favorite artist and surely that can be a tremendous accomplishment but somehow at this moment in my life it is unsatisfying.

I'm sure that the answer is to focus on creating something from within. Technique will get better, time and feel will get better, all aspects of musicianship will get better. The joy and agony of art for an artist is not just in the creation of the art but also about the reflection of the art created.

To not compose music will leave me an unfulfilled and bitter man. In a way I blog because I believe it will keep me on the path.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Change of Focus

I previously used this log as a private journal for my guitar practise. I decided to change the focus so that it becomes instead an account of my adventure in trying to independently publish a CD of original music. My music is basically of the genre of jazz fusion. It is instrumental guitar music. My inspirations are varied but I guess the two guitar players that I most prominently listen to and try to emulate are Al Di Meola and Pat Metheny. One of my other efforts is in trying to promote the work of a friend and composition teacher Jon Raney , a great Jazz pianist and son of the legendary Jazz guitar great Jimmy Raney. During the day I’m a Smalltalk programmer. I’m the project lead for a small but established financial software firm in the NYC metro area. I also run the NYC Smalltalk User’s Group.