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.