Two Partied Out (1.26)

This was originally intended to be part of a concept album about a staunch partisan’s son breaking family tradition and running as an independent. Apologies to Dennis Kucinich.

Mastering Loud Songs is Hard

So I’m working on mixing these two new songs.  However, despite the explosion of free or cheap resources available to today’s amateur home recording musician, I’m finding the “mastering” process more challenging than ever for one single reason:  Loudness.

You may not be aware of this, but those AACs and MP3s you get from iTunes and Amazon are staggeringly loud (also, the CDs you buy).  Perhaps you’ve heard about what sound engineers call the “Loudness Wars.”  Unfortunately the Loudness Wars impacts poor me and my songs because if I create an MP3 of my song as I mixed it, and then you put it on your iPod in a playlist with any modern music released after 2000, my song would sound like a whisper.  So my goal with these new songs is to master them loud enough that they won’t stand out solely for the annoyance of having to turn up the volume to hear them.

It turns out, though, that while the theory is relatively straightforward, in practice, it’s hard as hell to boost loudness beyond a certain point without serious clipping.  In my case I need around 12dB of gain before my songs are in the same ballpark as commercial rock music (which I roughly determine by comparing the loudness of the lead vocals).  But the sound quality really degrades if I try to go over 9dB of gain – it takes on an FM radio quality of mush.  The kind of sound you get when you turn up a car stereo too much and the speakers can’t handle the amount of wattage they’re receiving.  Distorted, in other words.  (Which is not surprising since that’s what clipping sounds like.)

I’m about ready to give up on it.  If I were serious about this music I’d have no choice but to ship it off to a professional for mastering.  As it is, I’m just a poor hobbyist, so you’re going to be stuck with my meager efforts.  It’ll be good enough for computer speakers or ear buds, but I won’t make any promises beyond that. 🙂

August Music Update

Some of you reading this may be surprised to learn that, in the previous millennium, I wrote and recorded a whole bunch of music.  Some others of you already knew that and might be wondering if I’m ever planning to do that again.

(This has been sitting in my Drafts for a month, so this is actually a July Music Update. 🙂

The answer is yes!  As a matter of fact, I’ve written not one, but TWO songs in the past decade!

Actually I’ve written more than that, but I’ve only recorded two songs that are close to “feature complete.”  They aren’t the pristine studio quality that I used to strive for, but they’re good enough for non-audiophiles listening on their crappy MP3 players. 🙂

The question is:  What to do with them?  I don’t have (or want to find) a record label and I don’t have the ambition to start one so I can get my stuff into iTunes or Amazon.  I don’t expect to make a living as a musician anyway so there’s no particular reason to “market” them.  I just want to make them available in case anyone wants to hear them (mainly family and friends).  Although I admit it would be cool to build up a cult following. 🙂

So I’m planning to upload new MP3s under an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike Creative Commons license.  That should provide adequate protection against blatant thievery.  The song composition would still remain under full copyright; only the sound recording would be licensed under Creative Commons.  (There are actually two copyrights on a song:  One for the song composition, usually owned by the music publisher, and one for the recording, usually owned by the record company.)  So theoretically you wouldn’t be able to record your own version of my song and make a top 10 hit out of it, but you could download my song and put it on your iPod, or burn my song to a CD, or use my song for your Internet radio station or in your YouTube video (as long as I get a credit).  I say “theoretically” because I’ve never seen an adequate explanation of how Creative Commons licensing applies to sound recording copyrights versus song copyrights – every “distribute your music with Creative Commons!” explanation I’ve read sounds pretty ambiguous, and in any case I’m sure there aren’t any legal precedents yet.

I also feel like I should start uploading all of my previous music, good, bad, or indifferent.  I’ve often wondered what would happen to my “discography” if I were to get hit by a bus or something.  I don’t have any kids and Cynthia would probably chuck all my computers and master tapes into the trash the day after my funeral anyway.  But it seems kind of a shame for all these hours and hours and hours of music to disappear forever.  Somebody, somewhere, sometime might find them in the digital universe hive mind collective and enjoy them.

A Disturbing Civil War Parallel

We were watching Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary the other day, and I commented that I used to think it was impossible to imagine a civil war in America, but lately it seems more and more plausible.

Then the documentary mentioned that after Lincoln was elected in 1860, opposition protesters would burn him in effigy.  I thought, “Well, at least we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

Then I saw this come through my email from Congress.org:  Protesters hang Graham in effigy.  Uh oh.  Suddenly it’s pretty easy to imagine hardcore conservatives burning Obama in effigy.  (And/or hardcore liberals burning whoever the next Republican president is in effigy.)

Said hanging was over the topic of abortion, by the way, which is one of my top two potential reasons for the next American civil war.  (The other being immigration.)