It's common knowledge that classical record companies basically stink at marketing and CD design. Sure, there are a few good album covers out there, and a few CDs break out and create a buzz (which in classical parlance, means selling more than a hundred CDs), but basically, albums are usually marketed on the merit of the performers, composers or perhaps the actual music. Classical covers almost never help market the CD, and are usually boring—often an abstract painting or not-so-great photo of the performers or composers. Just something to fill up space. With this CD, we wanted to provoke people, so we modeled it after a hip-hop album.Read More
Whether or not we are aware of it, we all follow different developmental models over long spans of time. Many people gravitate toward certain organizational systems without realizing it—in effect, creating large-scale waves. Some people's lives are more like sine waves, others more saw tooth, and so on. Some people's lives begin one way and end in another, or are a combination of different waves piled on top of each other. An alarm clock going off at the same time every morning is a definite pulse, but the emails piling up in your inbox are probably not very pulsed at all.
Many parts of our lives seem to mimic waves; when heard or viewed or heard together, they could create a harmonic or spectral profile of who we are. We are all different chords, melodies or even a series of rhythmic patterns that could potentially come together to create a musical composition that represents each one of us.
If every major parameter of our lives was recorded, I think we could figure our which instrument we are, or chord, or at least whether we lead a life of dissonance, relative sine wave purity or more like the sonic spectrogram of a crash cymbal. I can think of a few people who, if I analyzed their lives, would definitely fit a crash cymbal's profile, like Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols.
Here are illustrations of different types of sound waves:
The amount of research it would take to decode major waves for any individual with a long lifespan would seem daunting, but if we can send people to the moon or decode the human genome, it is certainly possible. It would mean tracking certain major, interrelated details about someone for a long enough period to see if there are patterns, or more darkly, controlling someone's environment, Truman Show style, so we could analyze as many patterns as possible.
What could be tracked? How often someone becomes sick (perhaps a micro version of Google's Flu Tracker), sleep patterns, financial profiles, what you eat, your weight, disintegration (this could be represented either as a diminuendo or crescendo, or an accelerando or ritardando, depending on your point of view and whether you favor youth or antiquity), which routes you take to work, or even how often I update this blog. Various waves for different parts of our lives are influenced by our surroundings and seemingly random events, circadian rhythms, and perhaps, in a subtle way, the moon's gravitational pull. Interestingly, this experiment would probably work best with those that are not aware they are being tracked, or for those who have been tracked for so long that they become indifferent. (Note to self: tracking when someone becomes indifferent is part of the pattern, and the tracker tracking is a pattern as well.)
As an aside, I believe that the main reason so much research is flawed is because we don't compile enough details and co-mingle seemingly unrelated patterns with enough people, such as what has been demonstrated with the so-called butterfly effect (i.e., sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory—thanks Wikipedia). If someone is suffering from a disease, often times the root cause is something that is at first, seemingly unrelated, but when a huge sample of people are analyzed, with as much relative, recorded data as possible, the pattern becomes clear. With enough human patterns translated into waves, rhythmic patterns, articulations, melodies or harmonies, someone's musical "iComposition" becomes evident.
In an Elliot Carter String Quartet No. 2 sort of way, you could represent certain patterns in each instrument in an ensemble, and the evolving composition would literally be a musical representation of those patterns. For example, using rhythmic diminution, a whole movement could be based on the four members of a string quartet dining out in a particular month, or an entire year. Each dining excursion is an eighth note, every other day is an eighth rest. Each type of cuisine could be a different pitch (Thai could be B, Chinese, could be C, and so on). This could be coupled with representations of whether anyone became sick with food poisoning (perhaps octave shifts or arco playing rather than pizzicatos, or scratch tone—best done with an adventurous string quartet that eats exotic foods!). The level of dedication to tracking these details is definitely beyond what most people would be willing to undertake, but with social networking devices like Twitter, this becomes possible.
Of course, just as Messiaen's bird songs only approximate real birdsong, this is merely an abstract approximation of certain events. Truncated and normalized, it might be interesting, or even humorous. A lot of rough edges would be shaved off, and you can't really represent every detail, but that's where the art comes in: selective choosing—finding and combining interesting patterns.
A while back I wrote a post called the Ultimate iPhone Wish List. Fortunately, many features I was hoping for are included in the iPhone 3G, the iPhone I finally purchased, but a few are still missing. Here is a breakdown of what I would most like to see added to future generations of the iPhone and iPhone OS.
To Do List and Notes Apple's To Do List and Notes synchronization is the pits. The best workaround I found—which works perfectly for me, by the way—is to use Appigo's Sync service for my To Do lists in iCal, coupled with Toodledo's Notebook for notes. This allows me to edit my notes from any computer, since Toodledo's website is accessible anywhere. I haven't yet figured how out how to sync To Do's with Toodledo, but since I usually view my To Do's in iCal, I have not found the need to sync To Do's with Toodledo, but it is possible.
So what is my wish here? I wish that Apple would get their act together and make all of this seamless, so I do not have to always resort to Third Party apps to fill in the gaps. I am happy to support the wonderful people who make them, but it is interesting how Apple will embark down a path in a half-baked way (with Notes in Apple Mail, for example) and not do a really good job. These ill-fated moves almost undermine the care that goes into creating devices like the iPhone in the first place.
Sharing Music: Update It is now possible to share music on your iPhone using SimplifyMedia. This is not a feature that I will use often, but there are times when I will want someone to have temporary access to some of my music. This is particulary important to me as a composer, but I know a lot of other people will find this useful.
Auto Feature Shut-Off I really want to be able to turn off all services—3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.—with one simple click at the top of the screen, without using a hack such as BossPrefs. Sometimes I am using my iPhone and don't need connectivity, like when I am walking outside listening to music and don't want to take calls. It is really annoying that Apple doesn't make this easier.
Better Mail Handling As MacWorld wrote back in 2008:
There’s also still no way to mark multiple messages as read, force HTML messages to display as plain text, or adjust how much of a message is quoted in a reply. And Mail’s handling of pictures, both sending and receiving, remains limited: You still can’t move photos from Mail to the Photos app, or e-mail multiple pictures at once. Those of us with multiple e-mail accounts still bemoan the lack of a unified inbox that would allow us to skim messages in all of our accounts at once.
I agree, and I think the biggest problem here is integration between programs, particularly Apple's, but ranking right up there is the ability to delete en-masse and a unified inbox.
Personalized Ringtones Right on the iPhone As far as I know, it is still not possible to make customized ringtones right on the iPhone; you still must do it in iTunes or on your computer, using a program like Fission. If a ringtone is available through the iTunes store, you can download it, but that's it. If someone knows something I don't, please give me a heads-up.
Replaceable, Swappable Battery: Update This still isn't possible, perhaps for good reason (the built-in battery probably saves a lot of space), but it would be very cool to be able to swap batteries. In the meantime, I'll vote for the Solio Solar Charger, a nifty device that takes your iPhone off the grid.
iPhone as Credit Card This still does not exist, as far as I know, so I will mention it again...
Imagine swiping your phone to pay for a purchase, instead of carrying around a whole wallet full of credit cards. Don’t laugh: this is already possible in Japan via RFID tags. Some normal plastic credit cards in the US even incorporate RFID tags so cards can be waved rather than swiped. However, I think biometrics will eventually replace cards altogether, but this is still a great idea.
iChat: Update Although I don't use this, the best option I found is BeeJive's software, which allows you to use any currently existing service you like.
Rotating Lens (or Lens on Both Sides) I mentioned this before, but it would be really useful if there was a camera lens on both sides of the iPhone. It would then turn the iPhone into a great video iChat device, which is the wave of the future, or at least one of the waves. According to AppleInsider, the next generation of iPhone will have a video camera, so this will hopefully be included.
Remote Control for TV and Kitchen Appliances You can use your iPhone to control iTunes and your Apple TV, if you have one, but what if you don't have an Apple TV? Alternatively, it would be great to be able to control my RCN Cable box remotely, or at least be able to program a recording with an iPhone app. Apple will supposedly include this capability in the 4G iPhone.
Someday, in my Wired kitchen, it would be great to interact with my kitchen via my iPhone, or even just a computer, to adjust my thermostat, lights and access the contents of my modern refrigerator via bar code scanning. It would be efficient and time saving to automatically find out if certain items in your refrigerator have gone bad based on expiration dates, and if you're missing a key ingredient for that risotto you want to make tonight.
There are other nifty details that will improve with the upcoming iPhone OS update, like cut and paste and hopefully un-hacked Flash support, faster speed, and so on, but I have a feeling many items on my wish list won't make the cut.
What's on your wish list? Vote below for what you really want in the upcoming OS release, or in the next generation of iPhones.
If you have any musical taste whatsoever, you probably do not rely on radio for your daily musical fix. Radio is useful for traveling, but it has always been limited, especially while driving across state lines, through forests and in back woods areas. Broadcasts cut out every few miles, but does this really matter? Most stations' programs are awful, particularly now that they are almost all controlled by Clear Channel.
It is important for our government to update our technological infrastructure, and I think it is time for traditional radio to be die or to be reinvented.
The death of traditional FM and AM radio will allow indie and new classical music to have a fighting chance. Updated technology will allow us to easily listen to a mix of podcasts and traditional radio shows side by side, even in cars.
Many people—myself included—are only listening online or on cell phones. Some of my favorite listening experiences are podcasts, and I almost never listen to radio anymore, but that is because I like listening to what I want when I want—and I don't drive much.
We think we are way ahead in the U.S., but are actually way behind Japan and many other developed countries. Our rural areas often lack cell sites, but most urbanites are indifferent until they have to take a drive in the country and their mobile phones cease to work. Once cell sites become more common in rural areas, most people will listen to radio shows via cell sites (even solar-powered cell sites), Satellites or through broadband connections at home.
If I do want to listen to radio, which might be useful for a live broadcast of a friend's premiere in a far-away city, I could use Pandora (for traditional radio stations) or eventually, Sirius satellite radio on my iPhone. This is the same reason that I almost never watch something on the television when it actually airs; I just record it with our RCN equivalent of Tivo. DJ's were useful in the past, but I think that Podcasts have taken over, and now I often find out about new releases through podcasts.
Some say it is not cost effective to put cell towers in rural areas, but I think part of the reason businesses do not locate to areas like Middlebury, VT is because of the lack of broadband and cell phone coverage. Small-scale farmers and other traditional businesses (candle makers, microbreweries, etc.) would also benefit from upgraded infrastructure. I have heard the argument that businesses should not be located in rural places, but you cannot grow maple sugar trees in Manhattan or ski in Florida.
If infrastructure in one area improves, there will be more incentives to upgrade other areas. With more cell towers and better broadband, more businesses will locate to less populated towns. High-speed rail systems will hopefully follow. This is all theoretical, or course, but I think there is some truth to it.
With cell sites and reliable broadband access, a maple syrup company will be able to effectively use the Internet to market their products to customers in California, but if they are limited to dial-up, which is crushingly slow, they will mostly sell locally through cooperatives or to larger companies, or by using snail mail lists, which is not always cost effective. Better technology will help small businesses.
All musicians—especially composers and classical musicians—need to push for upgraded infrastructure, especially where technology is concerned. Many of our biggest fans lie in out of the way places. It is in our best interest to push for traditional radio to die a quick death.
Everyone finds different iPhone apps useful. Most seem indispensable or at least fun the day you download them, but then you never open them again. Personally, there is only so much joy I can derive out of an app that let's me pretend I am drinking a pint. Cool trick, but it gets old quick.
This is a list of my favorite iPhone apps that I find particularly useful, while leaving out specialized ones like the Tempi metronome that only applies to musicians, or VegOut, which is awesome, but only if you are vegetarian or vegan like I am. Of course, I am leaving out the ones that come with the iPhone, as I think those are generally all great. One disclaimer: since I live in NYC and don't drive much (except when I leave town), I do not use GPS Apps, but my friends who drive a lot say they are extremely useful.
Without further delay...
Top Ten Favorite iPhone Apps
10. Quick Tip (Free): the runner-up Tip Calculator lets you split between people, but Quick Tip is free. If you want to get all detailed, there's Meal Splitter, which helpful since it lets you divide meals between many people, and separate out people who didn't order drinks, but since I am either always eating out with my wife and kid or with just one other person, Quick Tip is just faster and simpler to use.
9. Google Mobile App (Free): I love that Google searches are formatted for the iPhone, and I love that it anticipates what you are looking for when searching. Very cool.
8. Facebook (Free): this app basically just formats Facebook for your iPhone. Other than email, this is the social networking site that I use most often, although I am occasionally on MySpace, and they have an iPhone app called MySpace Mobile that I use less often.
7. Amazon Mobile (Free): I often purchase through Amazon, and this app makes it easy to purchase using the iPhone. Everything if formatted for the iPhone screen, so purchasing something from the Amazon store becomes a pleasurable experience.
6. Memengo Wallet ($1.99): this encrypted password manager app is great for storing personal information credit card information, usernames, and of course, passwords.
5. Stanza ($1.99): this book reader doesn't allow you to read Kindle books, but it allows you to read everything else.
4. Kindle for iPhone (Free): the Kindle book reader for iPhone just came out, and it works quite well for an initial release. I was never planning on purchasing a Kindle reader, and the small screen size of the iPhone does not bother me. Best of all, my wife loves this app, and if she's happy, I'm happy.
There are a few annoyances:
- It doesn't allow you to upload books from other sites or free books.
- You cannot download magazines or newspapers.
- You cannot look up lines in a dictionary.
- You cannot add notations.
- You cannot copy and paste small amounts of information.
- No horizontal reading option.
- No font color or background color changes (but you can change font size).
- It remember bookmarks, but no search function.
Hopefully many of these details will be addressed soon.
3. Toodledo and Appigo's Notebook ($4.99): Apple's notebook app blows. This solution is much better, and also allows you to view your notes from any computer. You use Appigo's Notebook app and sync it on Toodledo's website. Another alternative is syncing using Remember The Milk, but I'm vegan, so I just could not bring myself to use their software (I guess I could Remember The Almond Milk?).
2. Appigo's ToDo ($9.99): I use the ToDo list in iCal all the time, and this app allows me to view my ToDo's on the iPhone. Too bad Apple has not made this process more seamless, but this solution works really well. You also need Appigo's free Appigo Sync application on your computer. BTW: don't be swayed by the couple of negative reviews on iTunes: those are from a few disgruntled users who either wanted to do something really complicated, or didn't read the directions. The price is a little steep, but if you want a To Do list that works, this is the app for you.
1. Mint (Free): this is hands-down my favorite app. As depressing as my financial situation is these days, I really like being able to see my entire financial profile in one place, including credit cards, loans, checking and savings accounts and investments. The best part is that it is free, and works very well on the iPhone. It also lets you see what you spend using pie charts. The only hitch is that sometimes it takes a while to refresh, and it is still not as robust as Quicken for Windows, but I really hate how Intuit (the company that makes Quicken) has treated Apple users like second-class citizens, and I think Mint will only get better. I wish I could import my old Quicken information into Mint, but maybe they will add that in the future. Again, don't be put off by the few negative reviews about security. Your data will be fine. Mint doesn't store anything on their server; they just pull information from financial institutions. Why don't people get that?
There were some runner-ups, apps that—although they are very cool—I just don't use as much, like Jott (a virtual voice recorder that transcribes voice memos into text), Instapaper (lets you send articles you find online directly to your iPhone) and UrbanSpoon (finds restaurants in your immediate Urban area, like NYC—maybe I'm just not going out to eat as much these days). I am sure these are useful for some people, but I just haven't used them as much.
What are your favorites? Vote below. If you don't like my choices, add your own and let's see which ones rule.
There is an informative article on CNET Comparing the Kindle 2 to the New Kindle for iPhone application, so I will not go into detail about the pros and cons of either, but I want to comment on Digital Rights Management (DRM) and how this may apply to the future of e-books and music.
The same way I think reading on a phone will never replace reading a larger format e-book or regular books, I think listening to recorded music will never completely replace the experience of a live performance. As an aside, I think we have a long way to go to repair the disconnect between ensembles and classical audiences, but I think we are all moving in the right direction, as exemplified in the new Alice Tully Hall and with venues like Le Poisson Rouge. For me, it is all about the experience. I like reading a book comfortably, which means larger, nicely formatted pages. I also like listening to music in social settings with others. However, there no discounting the ease of convenience of only carrying one device that does it all, and I am willing to trade large page size and attending a concert with friends for convenience. I would rather listen to music this way than not at all, and since my evenings are often spent with my son Dylan, convenience trumps experience.
Back to DRM, those of you who have read my past posts know that I am not a fan of proprietary formats. My prediction is that Amazon's Kindle format will eventually be opened up, the same way MP3s are now available DRM free on both Amazon and iTunes.
Many people dislike DRM because it is inconvenient, and it gets in the way of the experience. I do believe that we should have the freedom to use different devices to play music or read e-books that we purchase. I also think we should be able to share music and e-books, but in a limited way.
By limited, I mean that I think you should be able to trade music with friends and family, but I do not think you should be able to distribute content over the Internet in a way that would undermine content sales. There is a great site called DigitalConsumer.org that goes into detail about this.
Here is a simply way to think about it: you should be able to trade content with those in your immediate social or familial circles—people you know. It is just common sense. Do you like what you are reading or listening to? If you do, you need to make sure the people who created what you enjoy can continue to do so. Sure, authors can get speaking fees, and musicians can get fees for ticket sales from concerts, but you should want to support your favorite authors or artists, and every bit counts, especially for Indie writers and musicians.
Just because you can build a bomb, doesn't mean you should deploy it. Just because you could get away from stealing something from a grocery store or the company you work for, doesn't mean you should. Just because you can get away with speeding at 85 MPH when the speed limit is 65, doesn't mean you should. The ease of trading information does not give us the right to dismiss having to pay for something of value. The burden should be on the consumer, not the provider.
Many proponents of the "information must be free" ideology are not content creators. Creating great content requires time and resources. It is simply not possible to hold down a regular non-creative day job and have enough time to regularly create great content. You will not learn about what is happening in Afghanistan unless the New York Times or some other media company can send someone there to see what is happening. It is that simple. If we lived in a world where everyone was completely honest, people would automatically compensate each other when they acquired great content, a great experience, or bought something of value. Although many people are honest, others are not. For every person that sees the value in paying for a ticket for a classical new music concert, or sees the value in paying for an MP3 of a piece of music by an Indie artist, others that can afford tickets will still try to get comps. This also applies to content.
Ultimately, the problem is that the cart came before the horse. Technology moved too fast, and now there is no going back. There needs to be a more effective Digital Content Bill of Rights tied to Copyright and Trademark laws. Perhaps DigitalConsumer.org is setting the tone on this issue. If writers, musicians and other artists cannot justify creating content because they cannot afford to pay their bills, they won't create, and that will be sad. Personally, I would rather not have to rely on part-time writers who are not that good—or interesting—for crucial information, or musical hobbyists who excel at Garage Band. I have no problem paying a reasonable fee for something of high quality.
I founded and run a group called the American Modern Ensemble in New York City. Although I have a lot on my plate, I have been considering starting a podcast that focuses on modern music. This could incorporate elements of AME, such as interviews from our concerts, excerpts from composer's works, and so on. Since AME is a modern group, it deserves a modern outpost in cyberspace, which would help us attract a larger audience. This podcast would be a step in the right direction.
Just as I think that as the Kindle and similar devices will ultimately subvert printed books, I predict that podcasts will—and already are—the death of many radio shows. Not all, since I really believe that talented hosts are few and far between (just listen to the myriad of bad podcasts out there to see what I mean, the ones with low rating on iTunes, for example), but certainly most.
Back to AME, we have mini-interviews at our concerts with the composers, and although this has been a great way for audience members to connect with the composers and see that they live and breathe, it is really just a tease and certainly does not allow us to go into great depth.
Furthermore, there are far too few Podcasts and radio programs that focus on living composers, and the few that exist are either located on college campuses or in out-of-the-way towns, or of a somewhat limited scope. This podcast would be more candid and open than most pseudo-scripted radio shows. Also, as long as you work out the kinks ahead of time—and for those who know me, I have become somewhat tech-savvy over the last few years—it would hopefully not be that time-consuming, but would also reach a broader audience.
There is just too much inefficiency built into the modern music world. All concerts should be good enough to record, and digital files should be automatically available. The problem is that live concerts are often never perfect enough to release to the public, since careful scrutiny will reveal subtle flaws, whether technical or performer-based. Usually, audiences do not readily notice these small mistakes, but great performers are perfectionists, and they like to really get a piece of music right before it is listened to over and over again.
A podcast would allow us to expand upon a resource at our disposal, the wonderful guest composers who show up to our concerts, and would also allow us to hear more from the performers. It would also allow me to talk about issues outside of our concerts but related to the modern music world. I am not that into writing about modern music, particularly because there are many people who already do it so much better than I ever could, such as Alex Ross and Bruce Hodges. But I really like the idea of being able to listen to what composers have to say while listening to clips of their works. After all, it's music, and the best way to describe music while talking about it is by playing it.
Finally, one requirement is that I would never do this podcast alone. I find that the most interesting podcasts always include others, whether as guests or with two or more hosts. I will try to interest my wife Victoria, since she provides such a good foil, but if she's not into it, I'll look around, or just use different guests, or rotating guests.
I am most interested in quality rather than quantity. I would probably attempt one podcast a month, and if I can somehow generate income (although it is nearly as impossible to generate income from a podcast as it is from a blog), I could probably up it to two per month.
I am still not sure whether this webcast would focus exclusively on American composers, although I am pretty sure it would, or if it will be an offshoot of AME. I think I will just have it be my own personal podcast focusing on American Music so I could branch out and do other projects. After all, AME's current season is only three programs, although that will hopefully change).
I am not sure what to call it, but here are some ideas: Modern Music Today, Living Breathing Composers, ComposerCast, Living Composers. These are all pretty dry and a little boring, so if you have a better idea, let me know.
Also, perhaps importantly, if I mess up, I want the onus to fall on me, not AME. If I ask a crazy question or go off on a rant, AME should be a secondary player on the whole process, mostly just providing access to composers, performers and great music.
If I do go through with this, it will probably roll out in fall, 2009.
So what I need to know is if this will interest anyone. I might go ahead and do it anyway, but I would be grateful for feedback.
What do you think? Should I embark down this path?
I have written about this before, but I spend more time than I would like jumping between different social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and even LinkedIn, and I still do not even have a real presence on other sites like YouTube, Flickr or Ning. It makes me feel like a monkey jumping from tree to tree in the social networking landscape. It frustrates me that all of these sites have similar and/or overlapping functions, yet are basically their own islands.
With all the hypotheses about what Web 3.0 and the Semantic web could or will be, what I want most of all is for everything to be more integrated and intuitive. I would like to be able to push my Facebook and MySpace conversations to my regular POP email account without much effort. I want my blog entries to seamlessly appear on my website and on my MySpace page (it already appears in Facebook). If I update my bio on my personal site, I want it to update everywhere on the Internet, and I want a universal way of tagging everything, whether on MySpace, the American Composers Forum, my website or this blog.
It is obvious that centralization will save millions of dollars and hours. Proprietary systems are ultimately a huge waste of time. Perhaps it's the pack rat in me, but I like saving email conversations so I can refer back. Ironically, the longest messages I receive are often on Facebook, and I cannot search effectively if I have to move between multiple databases.
There should be universal, central address database that everyone can use to enter their information, and that all other databases would refer to. There could be various options, such as allowing or disallowing companies from accessing these databases, opt-in highly selective advertising, and so on. I know that many companies are trying to achieve this, but to my knowledge, nothing satisfactory has caught on yet.
Perhaps this is all a moot point in our increasingly digital word: our physical location is mattering less and less as time goes on. The cell phone is the perfect example. I know many people that do not have landlines—and Victoria and I may eventually follow. Perhaps this is for the best. Someday information will be so easily accessible and liquid that we will not even need devices, we will just think the information, and it will appear right in front of us. No iPhones, no headsets, no computers. The future might make what we are up to now seem positively primitive. That's a pretty a scary thought.
Although I want to stay connected to everyone I know, I feel like the methods we use to connect are getting out of hand and becoming more splintered.Read More
Computers surround me and the digital realm is a huge part of my life, but there is so much to love about records. They are analog, old-fashioned and so yesterday, but I am not the only one. During the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in records.
1. They are Fun to Look At
This summer we visited my in-laws in Vermont, and they have a fairly large record collection. My son Dylan was fascinated with their record player, and especially with the pictures inside the foldout record cover. Every day, he wanted to listen to Annie and read along, singing the whole time. Sorry, but it is just not as fun—particularly for a toddler—to read along with a tiny CD booklet. If you want to get kids interested in music, this is the way to do it.
2. They are Fun to Browse Through
I don't relish browsing through my CD collection. Admittedly, digital browsing is fun, but it's still a huge chore to see liner notes (if they even exist), lyrics and so on. There is something both thrilling and relaxing about holding a colorful album cover in your hands and not having to squint. I imagine that aging baby-boomers will start to wish they kept their record collections when they get older.
3. Better Sound
This is probably the most dubious claim: do records really sound better? No one will argue that digital tracks (track—a quietly antiquated term, like splice, or groove) sound much cleaner: no pops, hisses and usually no skipping, unless you have a toddler who regularly handles your discs with grubby fingers. My theory is that people think records sound better because the noise helps your years focus, and the fuzzy lack of clarity in the analog realm mellows out the high frequencies, making the sound waves seems less harsh. Call me crazy, but my ears tire more listening to CDs, particularly if I am forced to listen using cheap headphones or speakers.
4. You can Raid your Parent's Collection
My dad has an amazing classical record collection. He has recordings that I am certain will never be re-released, particularly ones that were put out by indie record labels. Recently, for our Food & Music American Modern Ensemble concert, I went online and purchased a recording of Three Place Settings by Barbara Kolb on the long out-of-print Desto label, for the whopping grand total of $1.00. This is the only recording that is currently available. I used a service I found online to transfer it to a CD to use as a reference recording for a few of the players. Although we played it quite differently, it was great to hear this recording to give us an idea.
5. More Music for Less Dough
If money is an issue, you can't beat records. You can find some real treasures in stores that still sell records. Even trolling garage sales will turn up some great finds, usually for no more than a dollar.
6. Fewer Anti-Piracy Restrictions
If you have the right equipment, it's very easy to make a mix tape of a record, and a hell of a lot of fun. Time consuming, but so deliciously retro. You can immediately see why piracy is a much bigger deal now: you cannot easily upload a record onto a file sharing service and distribute it to hundreds or thousands of people, and you cannot rip a record in less than five minutes—like you can with a CD—without severely harming the sound quality.
7. They Make You Slow Down
We live in the age of "fast". Listening to records takes more time than scanning tracks on your iPod, and again, you can not easily load them into your computer. I think it is nice to chill once in a while, and records make you do just that.
8. The Memories
The smell of vinyl brings back so many memories. When I was playing records for my son Dylan at my in-laws house, the smell instantly reminded me of my father dancing with me and throwing me up in the air when I was his age, playing me Stravinsky, Bach and Shostakovich, three of his favorite composers. Those are some of my happiest memories as a child.
9. The Machinery
One detail I miss with CD players, iPods and so on is being able to see what's happening. I love seeing the needle approach the record, looking at the grooves and actually seeing where a track ends and the next begins. Dylan also loved this, and I am certain that the mechanics of the record player are part of the reason he loves playing records so much.
10. The Concept Album
As much as I love the convenience of only downloading the one track that I like from an album, the idea of a unified album is gradually disappearing, particularly with pop music. Even the idea of putting out a release (antiquated) based on the length of a CD, let alone a record (doubly antiquated) will eventually disappear. If it was not for the limitations of records, we would probably not have concept albums.
11. They Are Just Plain Cool
There is something deliciously retro about playing records; movies like High Fidelity remind me how much of my daily life as a teenager was built around this medium: waiting for releases (not downloading tracks before a band releases them—whatever happened to delayed gratification?) and actually going to a record store (will those exist in ten years?)—a real record store, not two isles in Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart.
I do not suppose that an analog renaissance will last long. The digital age is too convenient, and as much as I love to slow down and smell the vinyl, I love having a hundred albums on-hand when I am traveling even more. Even so, I am so glad my parents and in-laws have their collections, waiting for us to enjoy when we visit.
Lately I have been listening to webcasts in the background as I work, particularly if I am correcting scores and parts (which as any composer will attest, is personally fulfilling but mind-numbingly tedious). Damon Lee, a composer friend of mine who lives and teaches in Germany, recently turned me on to TED, an amazing site that contains talks by some of the world's greatest inventors and thinkers, including Dean Kamen, Ray Kurzweil, Al Gore and others. One brilliant, very funny lecture that caught my attention is by Sir Ken Robinson, entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity?
Something Robinson points out and that I have noticed with children—mostly with my 2 1/2 year old son Dylan who is the child I spend most of my time with—is that if they are not hindered by adult preconceptions, they will interactively express themselves in truly unique and organic ways. Dylan synthesizes all sorts of influences and stimuli into his own form of creativity. He sings and dances while he paints, holds two paint brushes like drumsticks, painting and drumming on the paper all at once, and even depicts stories in his paintings that combine all of his diverse stimuli—everything from Itsy Bitsy Spider to the moon and the stars. Interestingly, everything makes perfect sense to him because no one has told him otherwise. Nothing is a mistake. The whole time, he is developing motor skills, exploring and stretching boundaries. His personal expression, without adult-imposed limits or categorization, is a highly entertaining and profoundly beautiful experience to watch.
Back to TED, the summary on the Do Schools Kill Creativity? page states that Robinson makes a "profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity." Robinson calls the meeting of passion and skill "The Element" and perfectly summarizes all that is wrong with most modern educational systems. Even some of the most radical schools still treat the arts, sports and "the other intelligences" (anything other than the humanities and languages) as second class citizens. Arts courses are allotted fewer credits, and most schools still structure their degrees and curriculums using outmoded models meant to prepare people for a society centered around industrialization.
I think we are entering—or already experiencing—a New Renaissance. Our life spans are now long enough that we need not have one career, one passion or even one intelligence. We can have multiple facets, either at the same time or one after the other. They can be related or not, and we do not have to choose one over the other. You can be a musician and a corporate CEO, a dentist and a pianist, a photographer and a professional chef. Technology is helping us express ourselves and save time enough to distill the essence of what we desire. Our only limits—other than a lawful society and survival—should be what we place on ourselves.
As I have always said, genius is mostly about connecting disparate elements where there were no connections before, and having the skill and passion to carry out your ideas. I only hope that as parents, we can allow Dylan to be as unique, creative and skilled as possible.
Lately I've been thinking that one of the major problems I have is feeling compelled to work with multiple databases. Facebook, MySpace and every other mainstream social networking site should work together via a central database, an all-purpose location for all of of our information. These sites should be shells rather than separate entities. Proprietary networks are interesting, but extremely inefficient. I'm certain we could save billions, and perhaps trillions of dollars—and millions of hours—if everything we used in the digital realm subscribed to a central database. It's not just social networking sites, but credit card information and medical records as well. Everything should originate in a central location. As shocking as this may sound, I think the government should spearhead this, and force credit card companies, the medical establishment and even social networking sites to comply. Just imagine: never having to enter a credit card number again; never having to fill out a medical form at the doctor's office; never worrying about where you can access your email, and where your records are stored. The possibilities are endless.
If all of our important pieces of information are stored in one place, the greatest danger would be two-fold: the government accessing our information without our permission, and the possibility of security breaches. Otherwise, it seems like a win-win situation.
Last night I was cleaning our kitchen, and since I had not given it a once-over in a while, I decided to clean our coffee machine. It wasn't that grimy, but fresh is best, at least in my book, so I like to go the extra mile.
There I am lying in bed at 3AM, thinking, why can't I sleep? I did not have a late-night snack or drink, I did not watch TV, and I only read a little bit, and what I read was tame. My composing has been going great lately, so I am not at all anxious about that. I should have been able to fall asleep easily, right?
At 3:30 AM, the thought crossed my mind: I wonder if caffeine can be absorbed through the skin? Then I found this Shower Shock soap, and that pretty much confirmed my suspicion. My fingers probably absorbed some of the caffeine residue on the machine while I was cleaning it.
Next time, I'll clean it in the morning.
I blogged a while back about what I wished the iPhone would have, before it's debut. Of course, almost no one—including me—anticipated how cool it would actually be: it's even better than some of the, intriguing, whimsical ideas our Apple-loving community came up with.
As the dust finally settles, I am noticing that there are many features the iPhone doesn't have, some frivolous, but some potentially very useful. A few are so important to me that I will hold off purchasing an iPhone until they are implemented.
To Do List I haven't seen much written about this, but I use iCal's To Do List feature all the time. Am I the only one? Why is this not included? Some other features I could care less about (like the Stocks button), but this one is crucial to my personal workflow. I don’t want to have to access the web for my Do List (what if I'm on an airplane and think of something I need to do?), I want to use the one I’ve been using that’s attached to iCal.
iTunes Music Downloads I should be able to download music from iTunes right onto the iPhone, and it should automatically upload to my computer when I sync.
Sharing Music Some people have written that they want music sharing, a potentially great feature. I would love to be able to beam my music, right onto someone else's iPhone. Obviously, copyright infringement is an issue (i.e. how many devices can be authorized for a piece of music), which is probably why this feature doesn't exist yet. Modern technology could solve this if we charged monthly micro-payments to someone's account as each tune is shared more than the basic amount. We could also prevent second generation sharing: if you share it with one person, that individual can't then share it with someone else. Or, something could be shared for a limited amount of time, say, a week or a month, and then be disabled until you purchase it outright.
Personalized Ring tones I would love to customize my ring tones. The available ones are fine, but every other cell phone allows this, why not the iPhone? Hell—I should be able to create my own ring tones, easily, right on the iPhone. Maybe someone out there can design an iApp to do this.
Portable iApps They are being developed as I write this, but there are a few specific pieces of music-related software I would love to see, such as a metronome with a tap feature (like the Dr. Beat) and odd-meter capability. A tuner would also be nice. For all the non-music geeks out there, the most useful applications would probably be either productivity tools, such as something that produces MS Word files and/or PDFs and then beams or stores them, or file sharing software.
More Storage The iPhone should not only be able to store regular files (like a portable hard drive) but I want it to also be able to play as many songs as the best iPod. Granted, it's got a lot of storage already, but in this case, more is better.
Replaceable, Swappable Battery Why did they build in battery that can't be accessed by the user? We should be able to easily replace the battery once it's drained.
Credit Card Imagine swiping your phone to pay for a purchase, instead of carrying around a whole wallet full of credit cards. Don't laugh: this is already possible in Japan via RFID tags. Some normal plastic credit cards in the US even incorporate RFID tags so cards can be waved rather than swiped. However, I think biometrics will eventually replace cards altogether, but this is a great idea nevertheless.
RSS News Reader This is a great idea I saw on another wish list. This would alleviate having to surf the web for news text. It would be great to be able to access news and blogs via a continuously updated, easy to read list. It would also be great if read/unread and flagged/unflagged status could be synced with work and home computers. Offline support would also be nice, so material could be read when on an airplane and/or where mobile access in limited or impossible.
iChat SMS but not iChat? What's up with that? Maybe Cingular forced them not to implement this, but it really needs to happen. It's only a matter of time before we can bypass phone companies and their ultra-expensive SMS options. Instant Messaging specifically designed for the iPhone would be very cool. Perhaps it could incorporate voice and video as well, over WiFi. Maybe Skype will tackle this.
Lower Price This is a given: the price needs to eventually drop. This is a lot of money to pay for a phone, even this one, and it's a huge barrier for millions of potential converts.
Different Service Providers Some people are already figuring out how to "unlock" iPhones, but it will still be relieving when other service providers are able to sell them. I know, Steve Jobs and Apple had to do it this way, and the other phone companies couldn't see the light or were too stubborn, or whatever, but we can all hope.
Better Camera Sure, cell phone cameras have traditionally never that great, but why can't Apple buck the trend and build in an amazing camera? Not a full-fledged professional camera, just something that produces prints that are reasonably good, not just pics that are really only good enough to beam to someone else.
Rotating Lens (or Lens on Both Sides) Someone else blogged about this, and it's an intriguing idea: "the camera lens is currently located on the backside of the phone which makes it easy to take pictures and preview them on the screen. However, it would be really useful if the lens were rotatable to allow you to point it at yourself. It would then turn the iPhone into a killer video iChat device."
Voice Recognition I saw this on another post: "this would allow you to interact with the iPhone while driving. 'Computer: show the location of my next appointment.'" This could also act as a translator, alleviating having to include a bulky dictionary on your iPhone.
Voice Recording Sometimes when I'm driving, I have an idea, but can't pull out my phone. How about an iApp that translates your recorded voice into text and either saves it as a note or a To Do or sends it to you as an email message?
Hand-writing recognition This would be a nice option and make text entry easier for some people.
Hold Music It would be cool if you could pick a song from your phone (in my case, my music, since I am a composer) to act as the music someone hears when they're on hold during call waiting.
GPS Technology This is an ever-expanding market that is becoming more popular every day. GPS technology is so much more practical than carrying around geeky-looking maps.
Seamless International Calling I don't want to have to think about whether my phone will work when I travel from country to country, what each country costs for phone calls, etc. I should be able to easily choose options on the phone company's website, how much I’ll pay, which countries I'm traveling to, how many minutes I need, billing options, etc., then be able to travel wherever I want, without worrying about anything, kind of like driving through an E-Z Pass toll booth on a U.S. highway.
Wireless TV/FM/AM Signals This seems like a no-brainer. It would be amazing to be able to mingle TV, radio and web-based channels "webcasts") and sites together in one, customized list. However, I do believe that FM/AM will eventually die out, as it's so much more efficient to listen to what you want, when you want.
Portable Projector Perhaps this could be something you could add as a clip-on device. Not everyone would need or want this, but I've seen it mentioned elsewhere, and it does seem pretty interesting.
Some of these ideas are useful to some and not others, but that's OK: we all have different wants and needs. Hopefully they will be implemented sooner rather than later. Until then, I'll hold off on purchasing an iPhone until Apple incorporates the iCal-based To Do list.
Any other ideas? Let me know...
Lately I have been thinking about The Long Tail, a term coined by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The term refers to a distribution theory and is taken from a book Anderson wrote called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006). Here is what it looks like:
In the diagram above, the long tail is represented by the yellow tail, and bestsellers are represented by the green part on the left.
Basically, what Anderson argues is that low demand products that have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. I am not so sure that the long tail correlates to high quality, just distribution or perhaps micro-distribution and perhaps individuality.
What interests me is the implication this has for composers and new classical music. It should be obvious to everyone by now in the classical music world—performers, composers, conductors and record companies—that the future of recordings lies in digital distribution, and for better or worse, physical recordings will become extinct, at least in their current form. Don't get me wrong: I love the physical sensation of holding a CD or record (especially records: those were cool—all those big photos!), but the efficiency of digital media is just too enticing, technology is constantly getting better, and album art, program notes and the like are becoming easier to access via digital players.
But how does this effect composers?
I think technology and instantaneous track switching will create a new form of classical music, one that's more malleable, more like a Mashup. It is already happening, but is still not that prevalent. If customers can combine individual tracks in the order they want, what's to stop them from combining parts of pieces, modulating them instantaneously (both with pitch and tempo), and creating whole new pieces? Cadenzas from one concerto or recording by a certain artist could be added to another. This process requires at least some level of musical intelligence and patience, but it is becoming easier to do over time.
The big mistake is thinking that our Garage Band culture and level of education can always substitute for the artistry of those who toil their whole lives, creating work that is truly earth shaking, moving and timeless. What we end up with in a creatively free YouTube society, one in which the tools are easy to use but the education and craft are still difficult (after all, plugging our brains into a sort of Matrix, Total Recall upload scenario is still not really here yet, at least in an off-the-shelf sort of way) is either appropriating someone else's ideas and calling them our own (which many of us do anyway, but often in a subtler fashion) or creating work that is vapid, lacking depth and silly. Don't get me wrong, I love silliness more than most composers, but are we really going to cherish Evolution of Dance in 50 years?
Laurence Lessig, that bastion of free creativity, has some interesting ideas on this front, but as far as I know, he does not really create, he just pontificates, and he gets some of it wrong. Creative Commons is an interesting and extremely useful idea, but sometimes, it takes the mind of one individual to create something truly fresh and extraordinary. Lord of the Rings, Berio's Sinfonia, The Ring Cycle, and other classics could not have been created in a YouTube culture. Maybe that will change, but for now, it hasn't.
We have the potential to create works with infinite variables, and have them all available, all the time. This type of world will reply on filters we can trust: excellent librarians, store clerks (online or off) with PhD's, and so on. We simply won't have time to filter it all ourselves. Perhaps the Amazon approach to reviewing will help filter for us, but who knows what the level of education is of the people doing the reviewing? Wikipedia, as much as I love it, has a similar problem, but at least there is always a way to correct someone if they are wrong, and you hope that over time, correct information wins out over incorrect by virtue of its correctness.
With modern classical music, it seems that The Long Tail will end up being a sort of Deadhead type of availability of potentially infinite variables of different works, whether via recordings or something truly creative. The question is, how many Long Tail creations will actually equal the quality of the best of the best sellers? Does quality correlate to availability? We shall see...
Finally, after months of tinkering, my new website is up and running. I think it is a vast improvement over the last version, but I would love some feedback. If there is anything that does not work or looks bad (especially on a PC, as it was constructed on a Mac), please let me know. I know a few of you out there will be especially critical: a while back I wrote a strongly worded post called Why Website Navigation Matters, but it's OK. I can handle it. All I ask is that you try to be constructive. So what's different? Here are a few additions and changes:
• Probably most importantly, the navigation is definitely better. Depending on the type of search you use, you can now find my works in many different places. There is also a search button at the top of each page.
• If you order one of my works, you can use different shipping methods and shipping costs to different countries will automatically be figured in.
• A few more sound files and more photos (in different resolutions)
• Three different versions of my bio, reviews and quotes
• A few new links pages.
• My past performances are now divided by year, in case you really want to know when and where my works were performed.
• For percussionists, there is a new in-progress essay called Introduction to My Six-Mallet Technique that now includes photos. This should give percussionists a rough idea of how to play my six-mallet marimba pieces.
• A new essay on Why "Serious" Composers Should Support Broadway
• I removed the awards page that existed on the last version of my site.
Eventually, I will add videos, more photos, sound and score clips, a links page to performers who have performed my music, as well as information on new pieces I am working on right now.
Aside from the website, I also am in the process of redesigning this blog to look a little more like the website, but so far, it looks pretty bland; I still have to figure out how to edit the CSS page. If any of you out there are good at this, let me know. I might have a job for you.
Lastly, please check out my new MySpace page. It's basically a watered down version of what you'll find on my site, but I do include information on my influences, which might interest the two people out there that bother to check it out. If you have a MySpace page, I hope you’ll stop by and be my friend.
"You hear that Mr. Anderson?... That is the sound of inevitability... It is the sound of your death... Goodbye, Mr. Anderson... "
The Matrix (1999)
Like the subway car about to roll over Neo in The Matrix, Tower Records was run over by the Internet. Unlike Neo, Tower did not adapt or get out of the way—it just got crushed, owing creditors about 200 million dollars.
The demise of Tower Records stores is on almost every musician's lips. My take on it is that it is a good thing. The Internet is the new unifying force, and luckily, independents are thriving in the digital world. Even Tower Records will probably still survive online.
Tower Records was never that friendly to independents. Sure, you would find a few local bands in the bins, maybe a few independent classical CDs, but they did not know how to market anything other than the largest names on the biggest labels, and that is primarily because they had the money to provide them with display cards, posters and other advertising paraphernalia. Half the time I walked into Tower, the staff had no clue about classical music, jazz or anything other than mainstream pop.
What is truly scary about Tower closing is that Wal-Mart might be taking its place, online or not. Wal-Mart is not the friendliest, except to its investors and the millions of people who want something cheap, or to its sadly brainwashed, horribly paid workforce. (Ironically, you may purchase something cheap at the time, but the cost to everything—local and small businesses especially—is staggering.) Without the occasional mom n' pop store or the Internet, independent musicians and labels would die.
My lovely wife Victoria recently started a record company, Lumiere Records. Luckily, Tower closed right before she began distribution, so she did not send any units to Tower, never to be seen again. If it was not for the internet, she would not have a business. It is just too much work to go to every single independent record store (the ones that still exist) and market her CDs, one store at a time.
On a related note, yesterday we saw High Fidelity on Broadway, the second to last show (it just closed last night). We really enjoyed it, by the way, and I think it is better than Rent, as rock musicals go. If you have never seen the movie or read the book, the story takes place in and around a record store. In the old days, the release on an album was a big deal: people lined up outside record stores, performers and bands showed up, and the albums themselves were more spectacular. There were big, bold covers, often lyrics and lots of liner notes, and you really felt like you were holding something substantial. But best of all, there was a sense of community. I am not saying that there is not some sort of community online, or that there will never will be (with video chatting, this will probably change), but right now, it is just not the same.
Why is this significant? I think that physical stores that sell CDs will be celebrated the same way in the not too distant future. Everything is going digital. There are over thirty sites that sell, stream or rent digital downloads and this is only going to become even bigger. Soon (if not already), you will bring your iPod or other device to a concert and upload the concert instantaneously, having your credit card charged instantaneously. You will not even have to pull out your wallet, and you will be able to do it via a wireless connection. Live concerts will not only be processed in real time, but you will leave the concert will a cleaned up version as you leave the arena or concert hall. You might even leave with program notes, lyrics and other goodies already uploaded to your device. To my mind, that is difficult to beat.
The one aspect of physical stores I will really miss is getting advice from knowledgeable staff. Of course, with stores paying minimum wage, this went the way of the Dodo anyway, but I really think the wave of the future will include hiring people with expertise, online or not. Perhaps this is already happening in a micro-meshed way with millions of real people giving their two cents, their 15 minutes of cyber fame to an Amazon review, but someone needs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and currently, it is not Amazon or even sites like Wikipedia. They are trying hard, and even I go on there occasionally to find some little tidbit of information (and yes, it is often pretty darned good), but that is not always the case. Intelligent people are key, whether with an online encyclopedia or a record store, physical or not. People believe too much of what they read without intelligently sorting things out.
It sure will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.
I am in the process of re-designing my website as it is sorely in need of a total re-haul. I designed it a long time ago before I knew anything about website design or navigation. In order to get some ideas, I spent the better part of an evening looking at a LOT of composer websites, and I have concluded that most composers do not have a clue as to how others will look at their sites. It seems like they often do not test their site with friends, family or anyone else. Composers usually create in a solitary environment and these days, often do everything themselves: composing, copying, promoting, recording, performing, publishing and even designing their own websites. They are used to living in a bubble. However, not having anyone check you site before you "go live" is a mistake. You may think it is amazing, but everyone else might not understand it and think it is a navigational nightmare. Websites absolutely need to be user friendly.
Here are ten key points I think composers—and for that matter, almost anyone else—should remember when designing their sites.
1. Navigation, Navigation, Navigation!
This is the single most important design element. If people cannot find what they are looking for, they will leave quickly. All the bells and whistles, pretty graphics and Flash effects will have little effect—and may even be hugely irritating—if your site is a virtual maze.
Here's a test: get everyone you can to look at your site while you watch them. If you can, shoot a video of the screen and ask them to talk out loud to themselves about the site while they are perusing it. Give them seven seconds to find certain pieces of information. Keep in mind that seven seconds—and that's being generous—is about how long someone's patience will last before they become aggravated. Ask them to find a program note, sound file, your biography, etc., anything that you would want to be found quickly. If it takes them more then ten seconds to find it, your site is too inefficient.
It is wise to have your website seriously criticized. It is meant to sell you and your music, and if people can't maneuver through it, what does that say about you and your work? To me, it sends a subtle message that your work is not worth finding, or that you don't value my time. As a composer, conductor, performer, artistic director, professor, and as someone with a family, my time is valuable. If I can't find what I am looking for right away, I will move on and look for composers who value my time more than you.
2. Navigation—on Every Page
One particular aspect of navigation is so important it deserves its own number. Except for the home page (and personally, I even think the home page should be like the other pages in this respect), each page should have the same navigational structure, and the navigation links or buttons should be on every page. Why? Because otherwise, we'll have...
3. The Back Button Blues
I hate the back button. Using it takes me out of your site and causes me to look up and down, mousing and scrolling like crazy. Websites should have their own internal structure, and it should be elegantly designed. Relying on browser buttons to get the job done is just plain lazy.
4. The Basics
At the very least, your website should have the following:
• List of works • Bio • Photo • Contact Info.
If you are really with it, you will have:
• Sound files • Program Notes (if you write them) • Two bios, both a long and a short version • Detailed info on sheet music purchase/rental (publisher info, payment options, etc.)
And if you really have your act together, you will also have:
• Upcoming Concerts and a Recent Events page or info. box • Links to CDs or purchase info. for digital recordings of your music • A link to high-resolution photo(s) for print • A links page
Why upcoming concerts and recent events? This should be obvious: let people know what you are up to. As for links, some people don't like them, but I do. Isn't this one of the main advantages of using the Internet? I like to know what sites you find interesting, who your friends are, what groups have played your music, etc.
Everything else is just frosting.
What don't you want?
• A welcome page: this was cool for about ten minutes back in the '90s. Not anymore. • An awards page: they are amateurish-looking. People who are either not good web designers or want to feel powerful give out most awards. Do you really want them passing judgment on your website?
5. Sound Clips
It is irritating to not have sound clips on a music website. There's really no excuse. Unless you are world-famous, like Philip Glass and have a bazillion recordings on Amazon, and everyone knows your music, not having sound clips sends a negative message. Even if you are ultra-famous, I still think it's wise to have them. Not having them is like a painter having no images of their work or a writer having no samples of their writing. You don't need many, just a few to give people an idea of what your music sounds like.
6. Frames are Dead
The are so many reasons not to use frames. I won't go into all of them here, but the most important reason to avoid them is that people should be able to enter your site at any point, not just on the home page. Frames make it difficult for spiders to index your individual pages. You want this. Here's an example: if you write a string trio about bananas, and someone looking for string trios for their banana festival and does a Google search for banana trios, they'll have a really difficult time finding your work if it's part of a website made with Frames. If the trio information is on its own individual page, then it will be more likely to come up in a search. There are many details that come into play when making a site that is search engine-friendly, and there are plenty of articles and books out there that explain how to do this, so I won't bore you with the details here.
7. Scrolling is for Monkeys
Humor aside, if you have to scroll more than a page worth of information down or scroll sideways at all, then your site is probably not designed efficiently.
8. Flash is Usually Trash
I want to be able to bypass it or turn it off if possible. Personally, I hate it, but I know some people—particularly those who have a lot of time on their hands or who are new to the Internet—find it interesting. OK, I'll admit it: if it's done well, it can be pretty snazzy, but usually it's just a bandwidth-sucking, coma inducing waste of time. Unless you are good at implementing it or have tons of dough to hire a great web designer who is a Flash expert, I would avoid it.
9. Fast Load Time
Have you ever visited a web page and waited more than a few seconds for it to finish loading? This shouldn't happen. Everyone knows now that there is a difference between photos and images optimized for print and those optimized for computer screens. Simply put, make sure everything looks as good as it can but use the smallest file sizes possible. (Obviously, this does not include images or photos of you that you have links to that are meant for print.)
10. Page IDs on Every Page
This should be obvious, but every page should have a title bar or something that indicates that it's a page from your site. You would be surprised at how many sites out there have random-looking pages that seem to have no connection to their parent site.
In a huge way, most composers are the masters of their own demise. I think many of them believe that few people visit their site or care, so they put very little time into thinking about design issues or even content. I think this is the wrong attitude. If your website is elegant, carefully laid-out and has obvious attention to detail, it will go a long way toward enticing others to be interested in your music.
(Final note: hopefully after reading this and looking at my soon-to-be redesigned site, you will think I practice what I preach.)
Perhaps it is because I am a composer and have sensitive ears, or maybe it is because I live in noise-filled Manhattan, but I think there is way too much noise pollution. There is probably not a spot in the entire world—except maybe a tiny island in the Pacific—where you can go and have true peace and quiet, or at the very least get away from man-made sounds. Vehicles are the main culprits. Hundreds of years ago, there were no cars, planes, trains or ships. You could be virtually anywhere in the world and find a spot away from the din of humanity, a place where you could feel truly alone and forget that there are millions of people just like you walking the earth. Even when you think you are really in the middle of nowhere, off in the distance, you will probably hear the low hum of cars speeding down a highway, an airplane overheard or the lonely sound of a train whistle.
Of course, there is a difference between really loud sounds that damage our hearing and the soft sounds that are just slightly annoying. It is fascinating that we have become so accustomed to man-made noise pollution that we almost forget that it is there, or shockingly, are even comforted by it. As I write this, I hear traffic in the background, the hum of our refrigerator, the whirring sound of the fan in this laptop, the ticking of a clock and a train way off in the distance. I have become used to these sounds, and they are fairly soft depending on proximity, but there are others that are so ear shatteringly loud that they can damage our hearing or at the very least, cause us to have psychological problems. Jackhammers, those insanity provoking Mr. Softee songs, and those extremely irritating car alarms top my personal list, but there are many other sounds that just drive me nuts.
Shockingly, some people are so used to background sound that even when presented with a golden opportunity to cut noise levels, they are not interested. Auto companies that make electric cars have recently begun installing devices on cars that actually add artificial noise to offset the relative quietness of the cars. I guess one argument against silent cars is that the blind will have a difficult time hearing them when they cross the street, but surely we can figure out a solution. Maybe electric cars can have an internal "noise" device and those who are blind can also carry a device so that when they go out, their device will make a sound that let's them know that a car is approaching or in the area. Or, maybe electric cars can be programmed to make sound in cities and towns with crosswalks, but not on highways. Nevertheless, I am sure we will eventually get used to quiet cars and wonder how we lived without them. But for now, noise is still a huge problem.
Can anything be done about this?
I think we all have to make it a priority to put an end to noise pollution. There are so many ways we can cut down or even eliminate man-made noise, and as usual, it starts with putting communities' interest above that of corporations and making governments around the world really listen (no pun intended). Our health should matter much more than Mr. Softee’s bottom line. I should not have to hear a car alarm in a sleepy town in the Midwest. In fact, car alarms should be banned. It has been proven that they have little effect on crime anyway. As for more innocuous forms of noise pollution like clocks and refrigerators, all modern inventions should be cleverly designed so that noise levels are as low as possible, or even non-existent.
Maybe it is because we live in such a visual society, or perhaps it is because we have just become so used to it, but noise is everywhere. I would sure love to live in a world where I could have an afternoon of true peace and quiet.
(Note: I tried constructing a title with only words that start with 't', but seven out of nine isn't bad.) None of my complaints are new, but I thought it would be a good idea to summarize them. I often think that when we get used to working with bad technology we fail to imagine ways to improve it. Part of the reason for this is that the technology sector started out—and continues to be, in some ways—a little like the Wild, Wild West: a free-for-all land with few or no laws other than an unspoken, lightly enforced code of ethics that is constantly ignored or side-stepped.
Here then are the top ten technological things that tick me off, in no particular order.
1. Using Customers as Beta Testers
It is obvious when companies treat customers like Guinea Pigs. If a piece of software has more than a handful of bugs, then the programmers are not being careful enough. Some people want to be Beta Testers, but I don't. What if software had to pass through some sort review process? Not that this always helps—look at all the bad drugs that make it to market—but it would be a start. We waste millions of dollars and hours working with poorly designed software, and I think guidelines need to be more stringent. Just imagine if Microsoft had to submit to this. It would probably never release a new operating system!
2. Unintuitive Design
As one of my favorite talk show hosts Bill Maher says, New Rule: if my wife and dad can't figure something out without looking at a manual, then it is not designed correctly. Tech support should be obsolete and so should manuals. A good sign that a company's product is designed poorly is when its tech support forum is robust. This rule doesn't apply to software that caters to highly-specialized niche markets, like Pro Tools or Sibelius.
3. Bad Integration Between Software Applications and Devices
I have too many email accounts spread across the Internet tundra. I want my Classical Lounge email to enter my inbox, yet still be listed on that site. Also, every time I send an email from that site, I want it to automatically appear in my sent mail box in my Apple Mail program. Is that too much to ask? Software, even applications designed by different companies, should be somewhat modular. We're getting there, but it could be much better.
They should be punished severely. I have an idea (insert tongue in cheek here): why don't we jail all spammers for ten years minimum with only an unprotected email account to communicate with the outside world—no spam filters? Then, we can barrage their account with their own spam and that of every other annoying spammer. Seriously, we really need to deal with this problem head-on. I should not even need a filter. If I opt-out of an email list, that should be the end of it. Anyone that abuses this rule should be jailed for life.
5. Flawed Background Syncing
Despite what companies tell you, this still isn't really happening. Synchronization is still severely flawed, not idiot-proof, not transparent enough and not close enough to be useful for the general population. Only geeks like me have enough tolerance to put up with the headaches and frustration of setting up even remotely complex syncing.
Here are a few details I should not have to think about or ever waste time reading about in a tech forum because something is not working correctly:
• BlueTooth should work between ALL devices, with minimal set-up. I gave up a while ago trying to set this up with my Treo and my computer. Even if I could set it up, it will be too slow. What is the point? Bluetooth should work well, and fast.
New Rule: I should only have to input settings in plain English. Life is precious: I want the computer to figure out computer code. I should not have to think about it if I do not want to, yet I should still be able to use innovative technologies.
6. Platform Incompatibilities
Can we get over this and move on? Apple is getting closer with OS X, but I think we have a long way to go. What computer and platform you use should be a matter of taste, not of whether it runs a piece of software or not. I know: we have lived so long with this problem that we can't imagine a world without it, and yes, it is getting better, but still—it can be much better.
7. Mini Software Updates
Companies that release software versions that you have to pay for that are not major upgrades should be fined. I feel ripped off when I pay for a "major" upgrade that is really a series of bug fixes and a few unimportant add-ons. Finale by Make Music, Inc. is the perfect example: many of their upgrades have had a few new bells and whistles, but my hunch is that they schedule out their versions over many years so that they can keep offering an upgrade every year. What I would much rather do is pay twice as much for the upgrade, every other year, with free bug fixes and minor upgrades in between.
8. Link Farming
Link Farming should be banned. It wastes time, bandwidth and energy and is ultra-annoying. If a site is popular, it should be naturally popular. Otherwise, we are being lied to. People that set these up are a sad bunch, but we are even sadder for falling for it and letting it happen.
9. Incompetent Tech Support
Assuming you really need tech support (see no. 2 above), I think I have certain rights as someone who has paid for a piece of software:
New Rules • I should be able to converse with a human being within a reasonable amount of time. • I should be able to understand the person on the other end, i.e. they should speak English well. • Tech Support should have a constantly updated database in front of them that catalogs problems so that if my problem happened before (or didn't) they can log it. • Programmers should be available so that if I really need to ask an important question, one of the people who wrote the software can answer it.
10. Lack of Communication Between Similar Software Companies and/or Developers Regarding New Ideas
I am all for an open market and competition between companies. After all, this is what entices companies to upgrade and improve software. But this should not apply to a developer working with a company like Apple or Microsoft. It is all too common for these companies to be secretive, at our expense. Since new versions of software for new operating systems take a long time to develop, we often end up with a new, upgraded OS or even a new computer and older software that cannot take full advantage of it. If companies worked together more closely and release dates were more synchronized, a lot of time and money could be saved. Each extra minute I spend on the computer is one more minute I could be doing something else.
Having said that, time to get back to composing...