Have A Heart: The Value Of Humanity In a Digital World

Although the tech slogan “information wants to be free” is catchy, popular, and enormously convenient for those who want to appropriate creative works on the internet without paying for them; musicians, artists, writers, and people in other creative professions want and need to be paid.

As a broadcaster, journalist, and musician; I’ve had plenty of opportunity to both observe and experience the devaluation of individual creative work through “disruptive” internet technology for quite some time. But it wasn’t until I read these books recently, that I really started putting it all together.

Each book explores different technology issues, developments, and opportunities.

But they all touch to some degree on how many people are losing their jobs, their privacy, and their ability to profit from the fruits of their own creativity as a result of disruptive internet technologies.

So, that’s why I was so interested to discover Jaron Lanier’s  2010 book, “You Are Not A Gadget“, which examines those issues in great depth. A  computer scientist known for coining the term “virtual reality“; Lanier also helped develop Microsoft Kinect, and the virtual reality world, “Second Life”.

Lanier contends that many influential computer scientists and technology business leaders value machines over people. These  “cybernetic totalists” ,  he says, have lost sight of the fact that without people; computers and the programs that run them have no meaning.

In addition, he argues, if we devalue the creative contributions of individuals, and instead elevate the “hive mind” of the online collective; we are not only impoverishing content creators, but also dumbing-down online information to the consistency of mushy goo.

Lanier says he believes we may be headed for a future where most people will be very poor, democracy will give way to socialism, and only the “masters of the cloud”–those who control vast computing networks and companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple–will be wealthy.

But is this necessarily true?

Can we find a way to embrace technology and all of the good things it provides, without devaluing people, depriving them of the means to make a living, and undermining both society and our economy as a result?

Read the book, and let me know what you think.

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In Praise of Taxes

 The next time you hear a very wealthy person threaten to lay off employees if their taxes are raised; go talk someone who’s already out of work.

They’ll likely tell you that they’d give their right arm to pay income taxes, because that would mean they actually have an income.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Last week’s election made it clear that the many have not been hoodwinked into believing self-serving line of the privileged few.

Now Congress needs to get the message and pass a budget that includes both revenue hikes and spending cuts before the upcoming “fiscal cliff” deadline at the end of the year. If they don’t, and the country falls into an even deeper recession; more people will be out of work.

The only good news is, when the mid-term elections roll around two years from now; some of them may even be Congressmen.

Mendacity!

Anyone with eyes, ears, and a television can figure out that this has been a banner year for campaign ads. Virtually unlimited spending and what appears to be a complete disregard for actually telling the truth has resulted in a seemingly endless parade of strident, name-calling, last-minute ads.

People are so tired of the rhetoric that a video of a cranky four-year old wailing about “Bronco-Bamma and Romney” has gone viral.

Because I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed plenty of other Presidential campaigns; you’d think I’d be used to it all by now.

But I’m not.

This time it’s different…or at least, it seems to be. This time, it seems a whole lot more mean-spirited, divisive, and vile; calling to mind the outraged bluster of Burl Ives’ character “Big Daddy” in the classic 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”.

Mendacity!!!

  • Click here to play the clip, “Mendacity” (YouTube).
  • Replay it in your head every time you see a campaign ad between now and Tuesday.
  • Don’t believe everything you see and hear on commercials.
  • Actually do a little homework, and find out where your candidates stand on the issues.
  • Get out and vote!

Do your part to put the politicians in their place; either back in office, or out on the street!

It’s well-worth your time.

…and that’s no lie.

New Challenges; New Business Models For Music Recording Professionals

When audio producers, engineers, studio owners, and musicians gather on November 3rd in Seattle for the Recording Academy’s 13th Annual Pacific Northwest Studio Summit, one of the topics they’ll explore is how to make money in an industry that’s experienced a dramatic decline in revenue over the past 14 years.

Advances in digital technology that allowed consumers to download and  stream music for free, or to buy single digital tracks instead of entire physical CD’s, combined with the record industry’s slow response to adapting to the digital revolution, spurred massive losses in revenue from recorded music since the late ‘90s.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) US music industry revenue has dropped 53 percent since 1999 when it stood at $14.6 billion, to only $7.0 billion in 2011.

On a more positive note; digital music sales surpassed physical formats sales for the first time in 2011. But illegal downloads–online piracy–is still a growing problem that is cutting into record label profits worldwide, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. (IFPI)

The worldwide decline in music industry revenue has resulted in the layoff of thousands of employees at related businesses such as record labels,  and music retailers including Tower Records, and Sam Goody, over the past decade.

In addition, the widespread availability of relatively low-cost, high-quality digital audio production software such as Avid Pro-Tools has made it easy for musicians to record their own music at home, instead of at professional recording studios.

These factors, along with an weak economy still reeling from the effects of the 2008 recession, have made it increasingly difficult to make a living as a recording professional, according to experts such as famed Audio Producer/Engineer Steve Albini, who spoke at the Recording Academy’s first Pacific Northwest Studio Summit back in 2000.

Even though Albini has produced and recorded albums for some of the best known bands in the world, including Nirvana, The Stooges, The Pixies, The Ramones, and The Velvet Underground; he said he had to lower prices, and keep his Chicago recording studio running round the clock to make a profit.

Now fast-forward to the present,and business conditions are even more challenging, according to Seattle Producer/Engineer Glenn Lorbecki.

He says there are fewer professional recording studios in major US cities today than there were back in 2000, and record labels have almost completely eliminated the practice of giving artists advances on record sales to cover the cost of recording. Today, he says, labels expect artists to hand them a finished master recording, before they will help market the music.

As a result, Lorbecki, who has produced and recorded projects for well-known artists including the Dave Mathews Band, Goo Goo Dolls, Weezer, Green Day, and Kelly Clarkson, says the key to making money today as a recording professional, is building relationships through networking and collaboration.

“It’s probably more important now than ever that recording studios forge alliances with musicians and bands”, he says.

“Even though a band may have its own recording setup, they still at some point are going to need a big room to record drums in, if they are a rock band. And at some point, they’re probably going to want to consult a professional mix engineer to get the best possible sounds out of their tracks. Once their tracks are mixed; they’re probably also going to want to consult professional mastering engineer to prepare that product for distribution,” he says.

Noting that even though most musicians are now using audio production software such as Pro-Tools in their own home recording studios; sometimes they still need help from a recording professional.

“Those things are not yet baked into the software. Know-how and experience are not plug-ins,” he says. “You can show musicians that you understand what they’re trying to get. You can save them money by doing in eight hours with it would take them twenty-five hours to do in their own home studio.”

Networking with other musicians both in person and via social media is also good for business. Lorbecki, who is the national Secretary-Treasurer of the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees, says the organization is a gathering place for all people involved in the industry.

“What a great way to expand your network; to go to a meeting where there are people who are doing interesting new work who need help; who need an engineer, a mastering engineer, or producer.”

Even if you don’t live in a city where there is a Recording Academy chapter, he sats “Any time you can either go to an educational event, an industry panel or discussion, or even a social networking night out; I think that’s a great way to expand your network. Using Facebook, and using Twitter, are also great ways to kind of let it be known what you’re doing and invite people to be a part of your creative circle.”

In order to continue to prosper in a challenging economy, Lorbecki has also changed the way he does business, and expanded into other areas where his expertise can pay off.

For example, when  faced with a drastic rent increase on his spacious Seattle recording studio last year, he chose to shut it down, and operate his business as a “virtual production company”. Now, instead of producing projects in his own studio; he uses other studios in the area, choosing the one is right for each project.

Besides freeing him from having to operate an increasingly expensive facility; it has had the side benefit of making him a whole lot more popular with other studio owners. “Instead of being competition; now I’m everybody’s buddy,” he laughs.

Lorbecki is also an author and instructor. His most recent book, “Power Tools for Pro Tools 10” was just published a few weeks ago. He’s been teaching classes in audio production at the University of Washington for the past 20 years, and plans to launch his own educational program next year.

Earlier this year, he worked as the Music Supervisor for a PBS television special on the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair in Seattle. “We composed some of the music for the soundtrack, found some other artists music to use, and did the final mix,” he says.

In closing, I asked Lorbecki if he could pass along just one recording tip; what would it be?

“If you don’t have a great song; it doesn’t matter how great the recording is–it’s not going to be what you wanted to be. First, have a great song, then have a great performance, then record it really well.” Once you have that, Lorbecki says, “you’ll have something you can shout about.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to succeed as a audio producer, engineer, or studio owner, and you live in the Seattle area; attend the Recording Academy’s 2012 Studio Summit on November 3rd at the Experience Music Project (EMP). It’s free for Academy members, and $100 for non-members. Click here for more information.

If you cant’ attend the event, but want to learn more about the Recording Academy, click here.

You can also learn more about Glenn Lorbecki, by visiting his website, and checking out his series of Pro Tools instructional guides.

Algorithms, Wall Street, and The White House

One of the most fascinating parts of a book I reviewed recently for USA Today, “Automate This, How Algorithms Came To Rule Our World“, by Christopher Steiner, is the story of how a poor but brilliant Hungarian immigrant who arrived in the US in the early ’60s, figured out how to use computers to automate stock trading on Wall Street.

That’s why I was equally fascinated this week when that same man, Thomas Peterffy, showed up as the star of a Republican Presidential campaign commercial. Grainy black and white pictures of what appear to be post WWII Eastern Europeans are flashed on the screen, while Peterffy warns against the evils of socialism. The spot, “Freedom To Succeed“, is posted on YouTube.

If I had not read Steiner’s book, I would never have known that the white-haired guy with the Hungarian accent, is in fact one of the wealthiest men in the world. By escaping grinding poverty behind the Iron Curtain, and amassing a fortune here in the US through intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, and tenacity; Peterffy is a prime example of the rags-to-riches American Dream.

But his commercial appears to suggest that voters are not being asked to choose between a Republican and a Democrat; but  between Democracy and Socialism.

Is he on the money, or out to lunch?

You decide. Then, get out and vote!

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Mobile Threats Scarier Than Halloween

Q: What’s scarier than Friday the 13th, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Dracula, and all of the Scream and Saw movies combined?

A: Your mobile phone when it’s infected with malware.

There’s nothing creepier than your phone taking on a life of its own; tracking your movements, recording your phone conversations, and/or surreptitiously sending overseas text messages that could cost you a bundle.

Mobile malware is on the rise, particularly for Android devices. Click the link below for important and timely info on this spooky trend.

‘Yes To The Mess’ Explores Link Between Jazz + Business (USA Today Book Review)

I was really happy when my Editor at USA Today gave the me the opportunity to review Frank J. Barrett’s new book “Yes To the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz”. (Click here to read review).

That’s because I’m not only a jazz fan and singer; but also because I programmed music for businesses and homes worldwide for more than 10 years, when I worked for AEI Music/DMX in Seattle.

Through classic jazz at Talbot’s, Smooth Jazz at Hilton Garden Inn, Bossa Nova at World Market, and electronica-laced Acid Jazz at Polo Ralph Lauren; the colorful palette of jazz, and jazz-hybrid styles helped me paint unique and compelling audio brand images for my clients.

Programming music for business also taught me how working for a company that adopts the collaborative and improvisational jazz mindset, can lead to increased creativity, innovation, and harmony in the workplace.

So, when I read “Yes To The Mess”, I had the most amazing “ah-ha!” moment. What Frank Barrett outlines in his book, is exactly what I experienced in real life at AEI/DMX.

I was lucky to have bosses who would collaborate instead of dictate, to have co-workers who would share, instead of compete, and to work in an atmosphere that encouraged individual creativity instead of corporate conformity. This collaborative, improvisational, and jazz-like approach, helped us create unique and compelling signature sounds for our customers.

But, it wasn’t all collegial bliss and Kumbaya. Sometimes there were rather vigorous disagreements, snarky comments, and system meltdowns. Sometimes, it seemed to be completely out of control; exactly the kind of creative “mess” that Barrett explores in his book.

To find out more; click here to read my USA Today book review of “Yes to The Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz”, and here to order it from Amazon.com.

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