Monday, March 24, 2008

Zen and the Mixtape

If there is one totally lost art that can be attributed to the home CD burner and the rife availability of free/illegal music on The Internet, it's got to be the mix tape. It seems to me that now there are mix tapes being made, but not good ones. It seems as if the idea of just making a mix tape to entertain someone has gone totally out the window.

On the one hand, you've got your John-Cusack-Inner-Monologue-High-Fidelity mix tape maker who's putting together a mix tape because he or she feels that they aren't articulate enough to make a strong case as for why the mix tape reciever should sleep with them. This, I find, is laughable. If you can't talk your way into those pants, how is a mix of songs going to do that? I mean, it's really rare to find someone who cares about music just as much as you do, which is the only way that I could see that working. If they weren't into music the way you are, you'd spend the whole mix tape explaining artist and songs and why they are important, and if they are way more into music, you're just exposing to them how boring you are.

On the other hand, you've got your Hipster-Indie-Look-At-How-Many-Bands-I-Know-That-You-Don't mix tape maker. This person drives me up a wall. I can understand where this idea comes from, but I don't condone this kind of behavior. I mean, we all want to expose our friends and relations to cool shit that we know and they don't, but a mix-tape is not where this should happen. Especially in the modern era, where music is pretty much free to everyone, and it becomes harder and harder to find new music, you end up reaching into the corners of your library and pulling out shit that you don't actually listen to just to be impressive. These mixes tend to jump all over the spectrum, from hip-hop, classic rock, R&B, to metal and the rest, and they are usually unlistenable.

And the last sect of shitty mix makers can't even really be called mix makers. I've been given shitty mix tapes that are nothing more than playlists. Now, playlists are cool, like the, "hey man, you're going to the beach? Righteous, pop this mix in, bra, and it will be all good," playlist, and the, "you trying to get laid tonight? Totally put this on man, she'll be down on ya before track three," playlist; those are both great things to have on hand, but a playlist is not a mix-tape.

So I've put together a list of rules for making a good mix tape, and hopefully, it will help you.

1. Make sure the songs flow together and have a nice pacing to them. A disjointed mix will seem tossed together.

2. Consider your audience. If your intended mixee is a casual listener, stick with singles and songs that they may have heard before. Take into account music that they like and introduce some stuff they may not have heard, but don't go crazy.

3. Watch out for incredibly long songs. You want your intended to listen to every song all the way through, and they aren't going to like every song on the mix. A skipped track is a missed opportunity.

4. If you have romantic motives, avoid the all love songs mix. Love songs are great, but if you want your mix to get listened to more than once, you've got to consider how boring love songs can get one after another.

5. Time travel helps. Sample music from different temporal areas, unless you want your mix to sound like one hours worth of a 80s radio station, but avoid the mix that samples one style of music through a long period of time. Too many times the "Metal, 1975-2005" retrospective has ruined a friendship.

6. If you want to go really obscure, but don't want to alienate your listeners, try using a a cover song, or a popular band covering them.

7. If you reason for putting a song on a mix would take longer than the intro of the song to explain, then it doesn't belong. Every song on the mix should be obvious, after listening.

8. Don't put music you don't listen to on it. Sure, tossing in some classical music makes you seem sophisticated, but when you say, "Gee, I sure love Brahms," and they say, "Actually, it's Stravinsky," you definately won't get laid.

9. Be careful with instrumentals. Some people don't take the music part of music very seriously, and are only listening for lyrical content. A quick test can help you decide whether or not a instrumental will work. Does this person like to have music on in the background while doing other things? If so, an instrumental will be in good taste.

10. Just because CD-R's can hold a lot of music, doesn't mean you have to use it all. 30-45 minutes is a good length to shoot for. That's long enough to put a wide variety in, but not so long that it will be a chore to get all the way through.

10.1. Pick out more songs than you plan to use, put them all together, listen to them all and pick your order. The listen to the mix all the way through to make sure you haven't got any skips or mislabled songs. Pear it down to your final length and then listen again. If you can get through without skipping, then you're golden.

11. Hand write the play list along with artist name and the record it came from. This will make it easier for the listener to download or buy more music by the artist, if you succeed in amusing them. A printed track list, while more legible, is less personal. The disc should also have a date on it.

12. Be careful with cover art. If you want to decorate the case, make it something cool, but not over involved. You're trying to showcase the music, and glitter will just draw away from it. I personally like to have the play list right on the front of the jewel case. That being said, ALWAYS use a jewel case. A blank CD without a case will be lost or destroyed long before it's full effect can be felt by the recipient.

So there you have it. A mix-tape in 12 easy steps. Now go get your CD wallet, your vinyl collection, your iPod together and make some tasteful mixes.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dr. Strangecrude or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barrel

I find myself here often. I almost promised myself that I'd stop, but I feel it's necessary. Every time I see gas prices rising, I cringe. I cringe because I know in my heart of hearts that, in short order, I will soon start receiving forwarded e-mails and MySpace bulletins promising to put my father's company out of business and to, once again, make the world safe for SUVs. [Look at me and my split infinitives!]

I just had a customer pick up some tune-up parts for an older Ford escort. I was in the back of the store pulling his parts, when I overheard him making an aside to my worthy constituent in regards to the fuel efficiency of his car and how it saves him from giving, and I quote, 'another gah'damn dime to those bastard oil companies.' Yes it is true that ExxonMobil increased their profits by about 8% last year. Sure, you're right in thinking that that's about $40.6 billion dollars. Sounds like the Devil to dare they make money in a capitalist society. How dare they provide secure jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, domestically. How dare they turn a profit that is securely in the middle of the national corporate average! How dare they make drastically lower profits, percentage-wise, than banks, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical operations, who turn an average 22% profit...wait, what? So can we suffice to say that companies who have the most revenue deserve to make the most profit? The way I feel, and this is just rational-old-me talking, is that as long as the profit margins stay the same, it seems to me that, it just means they are doing more business than most companies. [src]

So let's now take a look at why the price of gas at the pump is what it is. When I was a kid, way before I was driving, but after I was old enough to care, I remember seeing signs that read $0.99/gal. Now according to actual data that I can get my hands on, gas, when I was about 10 years old, was going for $1.337/gal. [How leet is that?] Then, closer to my 20th birthday it was about $2.080/gal. So when you look at that, you can see that the price of gas increased about $0.75 cents in 10 years. Then, between 2004 and today, average price $3.272 as of February 15th, it's increased about $1.20. That looks like damning evidence of price gouging. If I were ignorant to the economy, I'd tend to agree, but, unfortunately for my reader(s), I am not. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics own Inflation Calculator, one can easily see that something that cost $1.337 in 1994; say, one gallon of gasoline, would cost, adjusted for inflation, $1.70 in 2004. So the price, in unchanging cents went up about $0.38/gal.

At this point, you're probably asking, 'Well who gives a flying Dutchman about the price of gas in 2004? This is 2008! What does 2004 have to do with the price of tea in China?!' If I had to respond to a question like that, I'd probably start by commenting on your over use of idiomatic expressions, and then I'd say, 'I'm gonna get to it, keep your panties on. Yeesh, I was just trying to give a frame of reference.' Now that you know my techniques, I'll just say that, adjusted for inflation, the price of gas increased about $0.94/gal in those four years. So what does that mean? That means that if our currency stopped inflating domestically in 2004, gas would cost about $2.33/gal today, but that doesn't really explain why ExxonMobil has maintained a consistent ~8% profit throughout the 90's up to the current day. Are you wondering, then, why the price has increased so abruptly? I will do my best to explain.

If you take into consideration, what happened to gasoline and our country in those fourteen years; the vogue of Global Warming culture, the international political climate, and the concept of supply and demand as it applies to finite resources, not to mention new refining processes that are more expensive, but yield higher amounts of the petroleum distillates that we use the most, i.e. gasoline, kerosene, lubricant base stock, diesel, you'd be saying that we were lucky that the price of gas hasn't hit $9.999/gal.

Now if all of this wasn't enough to justify a measly $0.94 increase, there's also the little issue of our currency. Now inflation and currency value are correlated, but are two totally different concepts. The value of our currency on the international market is based largely on confidence and speculation. Upon the introduction of the Euro, it was trading at about e0.80 to the dollar. Today it's trading ~e1.60 to the dollar. We are trillions of deflated American dollars in debt to the Chinese, we're extending ourselves into war after war, our housing and employment numbers are spiraling clockwise, and we've got a guy in the Oval Office who couldn't impress a deaf/mute convention with his eloquent speaking. On top of that, we're exploring and touting conservation methods (e85 ethanol) that would make us less dependant on our foreign oil suppliers, without taking into consideration the logistical impossibility it would be to implement that system on a large scale.

So I guess what I am trying to get at is that since 1994, the only thing discussed above that has remained constant is ExxonMobil's profit margin, and it was all no thanks to our government, OPEC, and Al Gore.

As for why boycotting a specific brand does nothing to change the way that company does business, it's much simpler. When you go to a Mobil station, you're may not actually be buying gas from a ExxonMobil refinery, you're buying gasoline from the nearest refinery. Gasoline is delivered on trucks, which are expensive to run, so the local Getty station buys gas from the local Valero refinery, which keeps a tank of Getty's additive package on hand, mixes raw gasoline with the additive into a truck, drives to the Getty and you're none the wiser. So when you boycott ExxonMobil, the only person who is harmed by it is the guy working 90hrs/wk on the pump, the franchise owner, and their families. At one point, I'd even seen chain-mail that suggested boycotting gasoline all together on a certain day. This is just ridiculous considering that if the entire population of the US bought half as much gas on Monday, they'd just buy twice as much on Tuesday.

So spread THIS around. Let this little blog post spread viral across the land. Then I might be able to sell some adspace on this blog.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Don't Tread on Me.

As of recent, I've been privy to a cavalcade of blogs and blog comments that are attempting to marginalize the youth vote in America. There are a few lines of reasoning. The Hillary supporters tend are trying to say that Barack leads with his heart and not his head, and that's why he picks up a larger margin of the youth vote. They say things like "...Then there are the Liberal Utopian youth who are still living at home, going to college on mommy and daddy's dime, and who never knew the concept of having to fight for something. Cause[sic] everything was handed to them..." [source]

There's just a few issues with this line of reasoning.

One of which being, unless you live in New Jersey, Chicago, or Louisiana, everyone gets one vote, regardless of thier parents wealth. So the winner of that vote is going to be the person who can best motivate this group of unmotivatable people. The reason why Hillary can't do it is because she is a manager, and this group doesn't, obviously, respond well to authoritarians. The reason why McCain can't get these kids to vote is because he is old and stodgy. The reason why Obama is litterally swimming in this vote is because he's a leader. Imagine that? A leader running for President. I mean, can't we all revel in the fact that we finally have a candidate running who isn't a glorified swing shift manager from a fast food restaurant? We don't need another bureaucratic conduit who's just going to be a path for money to leave the government and inneficiently enter the hands of the already rich.

Another issue that keeps being neglected is the very definition of youth. We all know that teens and twenty somethings like to rebel. Why has only one candidate taken that into account? Because he's smarter? No probably not. Is it because he's manipulative by nature and knows how to speak? Partially. Mainly it's because he is a natural leader who knows how to motivate everyone, not just his base. Barack has a sensability that everyone can approach.

Now, the above commenter offended me a bit more than my flaming repsonse lets on. He so closely associates military service with moral intuition. I am easily offended when people challenge the youth in this way. The 'kids these days' mentality drives me up a fucking wall. I know just as many 'adults' who could care less for politics as I know 'youth voters' of the same ilk. The only major difference I see in the cross section of voters I know personally is the level of informedness. I know many more single issue, race, gender, or ill-informed adult voters than youth. As far as the race vote is concerned, closed-minded racism is a trait that is fortunately on it's way out, as far as my constituents are concerned. Thankfully, the bastions of racism in the country are balanced by the trodden-upon, for the most part.

And I'd just like to finish up this little threadless rant with a message to my readers about Geraldine Ferraro and the Clinton campaigns total ineptitude. Geraldine Ferraro has been a card-carrying racist for years. That's not my issue. I don't mind racists. I know that a lot of people, due to poor upbringings, can't help but hold stereotypes. What does bother me is that some people can make it so far in life without ever getting checked. Did no one ever tell Mrs. Ferraro to just shut the fuck up? Has no one ever considered slapping her wrist? Her face? In a life without discipline, in a candidacy without candor, what else can we expect? I am worried, more now than ever, about a Hillary presidency. If Slaughterama-worthy gutter trash can that easily hold a lofty position in Mrs. Clinton's campaign, what could we expect find hanging out in the War Room?

And if Hillary wins, does that mean that Bill get's to redecorate the White House? That's an exciting prospect, and possibly the only benefit of a Clinton Presidency. The world's largest flatscreen? Full service 24hrs Wendy's window? Perhaps a round spinning bed and velvet wall treatments in the Lincoln Bedroom..."Yeah, but...Did you DO IT?!?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

They Might Be Dead

If there was a time in my life when I was more suseptible to the wiley charms of music, it would have during the time that my parents were divorcing, and I was moving around inbetween them. No, this isn't a broken home sob story, it's a story about maturity and rationale. When I lived with my mother, in New Jersey, after my father moved away to Illinois, I had no positive musical influences. All I knew, I learned from my brother, who was having a crisis of his own. I am not saying that good things didn't come out of this time in my life. I was over the top obsessed with bands like Tool and The Deftones. I was also listening to a lot of Sublime and Smashing Pumpkins.

But then, something happened. I moved to my father's house in Illinois. Now mind you, where we lived in Illinois was culturally devoid. It wasn't happening in any way, but there was a small thriving community of cool bands and musicians. We also found ourselves, my brothers and I, in constant interface with 20-something college students who, for the most part, tend to find the boundaries of art and look out into the smokey darkness.

For the first time in my life, I heard bands like Jeff Buckley, Iron and Wine, and of course, They Might Be Giants. This was a watershed moment in my life. My father had, since I was around anyway, always been in what I, up 'till then, referred to as a novelty band. After really listening to They Might Be Giants, and looking past the obvious laughs, I was faced with a terrible realization: Music can be funny, entertaining, and well crafted. I was forced to look at The Spuds, my father's band, from a different light.

But this blog's not about The Spuds. No, no, no. This blog is about They Might Be Giants, and what I consider to be their best album; Apollo 18.

I learned a lot listening to this record. I learned that dorky kids can make dance music. I learned that all mammals have four chambered hearts. But most importantly, I learned that you can write a lyric that is devestatingly depressing, with macabre and disgusting concepts and imagery, wrap it up in a poppy melody and add in a pleasing rhythm, and you still get entertained. My experience with what would eventually become emo dictated that if you were going to use a lyric like...

And his face which was a paper-white mask of evil, sang us this song

Turn around, turn around / There's a thing there that can be found / Turn around, turn around / It's a human skull on the ground / Human skull on the ground, Turn around!

...then you'd have to couple it with dissonant chords, angry distortion and loud drums. Instead, it's paired up with a chug-a-lug drum beat, an accordian, a male and female chorus out of a childrens television program, and probably one of the snappiest bass line's I've ever heard, bar-none. The song, Turn Around is just one of many exceptional songs on this album.

My Evil Twin is probably the nicest way I've ever heard anyone say, "You know, I can be a real dick sometimes, but I'll never accept blame for it."

But what most TMBG fans will remember from this record is the last 'track' which is actually a collection of, I think, 21 seemingly unrelated short bits of ideas for songs. As an audio engineer, I find the idea of recording 21 different track for 21 totally differnt sounding song daunting at the least. It must have been ridiculous to record it, but the over all affect of the songs are hilarious. The last track, which has been titled "Space Suit" by fans, I truly believe to be an homage to the music of Bomberman 64. It's an instrumental, about a minute and a half long, and well, it's my favorite part of the record.

If you're a casual TMBG fan, you've got to buy this record. If you aren't a They Might Be Giants fan, then shame the fuck on you.

Friday, March 7, 2008

It's fucking MARCH!

So in order to keep up my blistering pace of three blogs per month, I've got to get on the hump. It's not that I feel the need to propagate, but I kind of feel like if I ever register at Digg, I'm going to need to have some kind of a back log of matierial for people to read.

I guess I used to be a photographer. I used to have a nice digital SLR, a Canon 10D that took some pretty nice pictures. I got into it because my friend, Kevin, who's a great photographer, made photography seem like lots of fun, and I came to find that it really is. So I did shit like this:

...and sometimes like this...

So I wasn't the most creative and innovative photographer, but I enjoyed doing it, and the digital format was very beneficial in teaching me the basics in an environment where I didn't have to worry about buying film or processing film, and I didn't have to worry about messing a shot up because if I blew out the exposure or used to low a film speed and blurred a shot into indescribable abstract shapes, i could just hit the delete key.

That ended pretty damn quickly one night in New York City. Shortly after all that sassafrass happened, I realized that I had left my camera in the van. Suffice to say, the camera is probably sitting on a pawn shop shelf collecting dust.

So I went a long while without taking any pictures, and until recently, wasn't really pushing to hard to get back into it. It's kind of hard to justify a $500-$1000 purchase when you work part time at a job that net's negative amounts of money. So I was out of it for a while.

Then last Saturday, Kevin invited me to a photoshoot he was doing at his new place of emplyoment, Project Basho. He's always amazed me with his goofy collection of medium and large format film cameras, ancient garage sale/flea market Polaroids and big bellows cameras. My feelings on film, out loud at least, were nasty and vile. "Why would you want to shoot with film, it's like old. I think my grand father had a film camera once. Ew." But internally I was thinking more along the lines of I wish I were talented enough to shoot with film. I suck so bad. So I've made a jump, based on a couple of factors.

  1. I bought a cheap 35mm SLR on eBay. It barely hit my purse-strings
  2. I've got access to a dark room through Kevin, and he's excited to teach me how to process and develop film
  3. Film, typically, looks a thousand times better than digital, IMO
  4. I will be forced to develop my technique and mastery of the technical aspect of shooting, because film cost money, which is something I don't have a whole lot of, right now.

So I guess what I am getting at is I need some models. Right now, I am looking for a male and female.

  • Male: mildly androgenous, preferably tall. your face may or may not be shown. Willing to do tasteful artistic nudity.
  • Female: Either considerably smaller or a little bit larger than 'average.' above the waste nudity with possible full very tasteful nudity.

I really can't compensate you, but I would be willing to do a free photo shoot for you if that's what you're into.

Please. Help...the...photographer.