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Desperate and Way Too Serious January 18, 2014, 10:15:am
No passion is an easy pursuit. To get good at one takes countless hours of training, practice, and patience. This goes for anyone learning how to fix cars or someone trying to make their first album. The unfortunate truth about any creative passion is that it can be, under most circumstances, horribly unrewarding for the efforts put in. Artists (and I’ll say good OR bad ones) are, by their nature, sensitive creatures. They/we/I, for some insane reason, try to connect with other people by putting out art into the world, allowing people to judge it as harshly or delicately as possible. As much as many of us have developed thickened skin to criticism, it still sucks when someone doesn’t like (or even remotely GET) something you’ve put a lot of time and thought into.

Even worse is a complete LACK of response when you share your art. While I think it’s a smart move to not expect anything when releasing something, there’s always a small part of your head (and I don’t think I’m the only one who does this) going “What if this blows up? What if I finally get the recognition my flimsy, easily shattered ego deserves?”

The logical answers are a) It probably won’t blow up. At most it’ll be few firecrackers and then quickly sink into the entertainment void, but hey you gave it a good shot and had some fun, right? And b) Honestly, your ego is that void—it’ll never be able to be filled.

This is the daily struggle of, I think, every artist, keeping that balance between logical expectations and DAMMIT-WHEN-WILL-I-GET-WHAT-I-DESERVE? The difference between the artist and that person learning how to fix cars is simple: Most people will need their car fixed at some point. They won’t always want a ballad about your childhood or a lacquered painting of a wicked cool helicopter. Art may make the world go round, but not necessarily YOUR art.

Artists are all, to the vast majority of the world, completely inessential. Most people know a good car repair when they see one, but most people will have varying opinions on what’s good art. You can only worry about Your People and trying to impress them. We aren’t all the Beatles.

This brings us to one of the ugliest parts of being an artist: the desperation. You see it constantly, and even more blatantly since there are so many artists now on the internet—artists losing their minds on their social media sites or forums, whining and going off on how nobody appreciates their music/poems/painted shoes or comes to their shows. Frankly, it’s never pretty, regardless of their justification for it. It’s not even a matter of lack of professionalism, it’s just awkward and, occasionally, pathetic.

[FULL DISCLOSURE- I’ve done this as well. Four years or so ago I went off on a rant how I wasn’t going to do live shows anymore because I was annoyed with the lack of audience response and/or attendance at them. Mostly I was just bummed out that promoters lost money on my shows and was sick of feeling guilty about it. I just wanted to say this so nobody thought I was getting all high and/or mighty about this stuff.]

[Oh, and I still do live shows. I put on my big boy pants and got over it.]

The first things I do when I see artists go off like this (after visibly wincing and saying “Owwwwwwwww”) is think “Well bitching at the people that already support you is really going to help,” as well as “Seriously, get the hell OVER yourself.” There’s no conspiracy why your band isn’t popular, unless you’re a jerk and have annoyed enough people to actually create a conspiracy. No, it’s because either you haven’t put in the proper amount of time to promote yourself, don’t know how to do it effectively, or, and this hurts the most, because your art…isn’t as great as your mom tells you it is.

Regardless of the reason, any of the three of those things can be worked on. But being a whiny little baby isn’t the way to do it.

This isn’t to say you can’t take issue with something, but this woe is me BS is just your ego getting in the way of reality, and reality really sucks sometimes. Nobody wants to admit they may have taken a wrong turn…for the last half decade. Nobody wants to admit that maybe they aren’t as great as they’ve been led to believe. Nobody wants to say “maybe I shouldn’t have hit the bars every night and actually practiced. Or maybe it’s weird to say “Well look at everything I HAVE accomplished. That’s something to be proud of right there.”

The thing is, there really are no problems—only potential solutions. Instead of freaking out and turning into Negative Nellie of Negativeville (Negativland was taken), why don’t you try and be a bit introspective and dissect why you think you aren’t achieving your goals and try to work on a solution to turn yourself around? Is it that you’re not getting any gigs? Think about how you can impress people running the venues and learn PATIENCE. Nobody’s pledging for your Kickstarter? Read some articles on how to run a successful one. Is it that you’re a negative dick and people are sick of hearing your complaining? Work on your attitude, stupid. You may not become the biggest artist in the world if you work on this, but at least you’ll know you’re not just screaming into nothingness. Take control. Take responsibility. Be professional. And for the love of Pete STFU about what people “owe” you.

Nobody owes you shit. Get to work and be grateful for what you get, always. Be proud of what you accomplish and understand that most people can’t even pry their eyes away from the television long enough to write out a proper grocery list, let alone complete a work of art. Refocus, get that chin up, try and have fun, and just keep going. That’s all there is to it. And never be openly desperate. It never looks good on anyone.
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Drama Whores and Wasting Creative Energy January 15, 2014, 12:25:pm
One of the easiest thing anyone with too much time on their hands can do is get on the internet and stir shit up. While this is in no way a relevation, I see plenty of artists doing it and never see it as a good thing. It’s an easy habit to get into: Years ago I used to spend entirely too much time screwing around on forums, flexing my big virtual cock of cleverness for all to see. It was fun. A lot of fun. But it was also a complete and utter waste of time. I also realized it was doing absolutely nothing in terms of my main reason for being online the majority of my time anyway—promoting my music. I still do it occasionally, but only after seriously thinking “Is this something I can say that’s innocuous enough to not cause actual bad blood? Is this worth chancing getting into a bullshit argument with someone over?” Most of the time the answer is a resounding no. Hell, I tend to pick on people IN my art the most these days-- see the promo copy for my December album OBΔMΔCΔRE as a current example.

So I stopped. Partially because I realized how stupid it was and also because if I did get into a random argument with some troll it did nothing but annoy me, get my mind off more important tasks at hand, and, surprise, in no way changed anyone’s opinions or stances in the slightest. It was a complete waste of fucking time; a distraction. I realized my time could be better spent on trying to build a fan base on social media sites and trying to improve my overall music.

By saying this I’m not saying I’m better than anyone, either. I still have plenty of distractions too, but I try and keep potentially detrimental ones to a minimum. Mostly I just don’t have the fucking time to dick around and make fun of X-PERSON for whatever dumb thing they did.

As we all know it’s way too easy to get lost for hours dicking around the web, chatting with friends, or playing games. Getting into the scene drama game is probably the least helpful of them all, because not only are you wasting time, you’re making potential enemies. Sure, they may be douchebags, but burning even the most rickety bridge isn’t always a good idea. After all, you don’t necessarily know who that douchebag is tight with. They may be close with that band you’re hoping to open for on their next tour. If anything, they may just slag on you all over the place just because you thought it would be funny to get drunk and be a dick at three in the morning…or eleven in the afternoon. I’m not judging. That was called “Saturdays” to me for a long time.

And yeah, I know, some artists are asshats and need to be confronted. Sure, but don’t you realize that the artists that are whiny little babies online are turning off people (generally potential fans) left and right with their negative bullshit? I often think of confronting other artists who say ignorant shit online, but always think better on it because, once again, I’ve got better stuff to work on. I’ve got more important things to do than call someone an out-of-touch twit making embarrassing music yet acting like they’re owed something because they’re still in the game after X Years and still touring.

This isn’t to say I’m not a snarky dick. I let loose on plenty of other artists, but I do it privately and with people I trust. It’s more professional, and I have little risk of whichever friend I’m talking to revealing what I said. You don’t have to like everyone, but you also have to learn to ignore the idiots. Their tactics are mostly harming them the most anyhow.

“Private” does NOT mean Facebook, by the way, even if you have your privacy settings on high. People will take a screenshot of a jerky post faster than it’ll take for you to take it down, and it’ll be shared everywhere faster than a picture of a kitten with its adorably curious lil’ grey head caught in a Pringles can (AND OMG SEND ME THAT NAO NOMNOMNOM).

We get it, you’re clever. You’re funny. You’re creative. You’re also wasting that creativity needlessly. Sure, you’re maybe just blowing off steam, but by being a dick online you’re only impressing either a) The lowest common denominator, which isn’t saying much, or b) Your friends, who you could be privately emailing to get the same reaction. I’d rather put that energy towards something of substance, like working on lyrics to a new album, writing music, promoting a current release, or, well, writing blogs like this. And while you may be funny to some people, you might just be coming off as a malicious, bitter, pretentious asshole to twenty times that amount of people who hear about you but don’t know the context, or, worse, do know it. Is that something you can afford? Sure, you might shrug it off, because hey, you’re just “telling it like it is” (translation: being an asshole), or “keeping it real” (translation: being an asshole), but mainly you’re just wasting time and channeling your energy into bullshit.

As an artist you want people to pay attention to you and like you, and take it from an expert-- stirring up drama’s an easy way to do that, especially if you’ve already got a bunch of people in your corner. Learning to put your fragile ego aside (and it is fragile—people who are comfortable with themselves don’t give a shit enough to lash out at others to feel complete. Plus, you’re an artist. We’re all sensitive, bitchy little flowers.) and focus on what’s important is a difficult thing to do at times, but the more you practice walking the walk instead of talking the shit the better the chances of your art growing faster, as well as your potential fan base.
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Remix Kits 101: How to Put Together a Proper Kit January 06, 2014, 03:49:pm
If you make electronic music you’ve probably done a remix or had one done for you. Hell, if you’re in pretty much any band you may have had a remix done these days. Remixes are a staple of many genres these days, and a well presented remix kit makes it significantly easier for people remixing your tracks to do it more quickly, effectively, and with the least amount of questions. Here are five pieces of advice on how to put together a good remix kit.

1) SOUND FILES NEED TO BE AS HIGH QUALITY AS POSSIBLE

I’ll make a confession here—when I first started making remix kits for Caustic I would make mp3s of short loops and think that was good enough, so essentially anyone remixing my music would have lower than CD quality files to work with…and 8-12 second files on top of that. I just didn't know what I was doing, but now you do know.

You should break each file into its own .wav file at as high a bit rate as possible-- the minimum should be 16 bit/44khz. This ensures that the remixer is receiving files with as little sound distortion as possible and helps make a cleaner, better sounding mix overall. Warning though- these files will be huge in comparison to an mp3. Use WinZip or Rar to compress them when sending them to people.


2) MIX DOWN EACH FILE FROM BEGINNING TO END

When breaking down a remix kit, pull each element of the track (guitar, bass, synths, drums) into its own .wav file at as high a bitrate as possible (the minimum should be 16 bit/44khz) and did it as a “zeroed” sound file, meaning from the beginning of the track until the very end. If a guitar is only used for 30 seconds halfway through the song, that means there will be a lot of silence for that full track, but it also means that the track can be reconstructed easily since all of the sound files will go from the beginning to the end and line up perfectly. In some cases this shouldn’t matter, as a lot of remixers just pick and choose what sounds interesting from the kit and edit away, but I’ve had instances where I needed to understand the placement of certain elements to do something to the mix as a whole, and having everything in complete tracks can help with that. Also, it allows me to pick out what sounds good together separate from just listening to the mixed down version of the track.

Although a lot of people doing remixes often use their own drum samples (or a live drummer), I generally break down every drum track as well (meaning turning kick, snare, open hat, closed hat, crash, etc. into individual files) in case people want to reconstruct my original drum track. Other artists mix all the drums into one track as well, so it’s your call.

Another nice thing to do is LABEL YOUR TRACKS PROPERLY-- I've gotten kits where each of the files is just named with a number (000001, 000002, etc.) and gives no indication if it's the drums, guitar, or whatever. This is a pain, especially if there are twenty tracks to wade through. Let people know what the tracks are, even if it's just describing the sound of the track. I've named more than a few wavs things like "brrrrrraaaaaammmmm". If anything it's funny, while still descriptive.


3) INCLUDE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND MIDI

While elements of a track may seem obvious you (you always write in the same key, you rarely eclipse 110 beats per minute, or BPMs), it may not seem as obvious to whoever is remixing the track. For clarity’s sake it’s good to let a remixer know a few things about the track to help them get started faster. Some of these things include BPM, what key the song is in, or the time signature (which is, most of the time 4/4, but you never know).

It's always a good thing to include the MIDI, or “Musical Instrument Digital Interface”, file. Basically this is a map of the notes and everything else your track is comprised of, minus whatever sounds you already assigned to those notes. It's the rawest version of the data for your song. Including MIDI means that a remixer can still use your melody but substitute in a different synth for it. This allows a remixer greater flexibility and more creative control. Mostly it means you can get more interesting remixes back, too.


4) LET THEM HEAR THE ORIGINAL TRACK (IF THEY WANT)

Some remixers refuse to listen to the original version of the track they’re remixing, as they feel it would taint their creative process of doing their version of the track, but in some cases it may be good to hear the original, so include a high quality (at least 256kbps) version of the track they’re remixing. If they don’t want to listen to it, then fine. If they do want to give it a listen though, it will be easy to find and play.


5) SEND BOTH WET AND DRY VOCALS

“Wet” vocals are the vocals with any effects applied, like reverb, delay, or distortion. Wet vocals are what you hear on the final track. “Dry” vocals are what you have prior to trying to make yourself sound really cool and/or scary. Send both versions, as although you may love your vocals with all the cool effects on them (or are so self-conscious about them you feel the need to drown them in effects) some remixers may want the clean version to apply their own effects to them. If anything, it’s really hard to vocode wet vocals. Or use autotune on them. And if you do use autotune on them, please shoot yourself in the face.
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The Time is Now: Creating Fearlessly January 01, 2014, 03:16:pm
Happy new year, everyone. Let's get back to work.

While I'm not a big one for resolutions, I am, however, a big one for forcing myself to get off my butt and get things done. It's not easy for me. There are a million excuses I can use to say why I shouldn't be writing new music, or a blog, or finishing those twenty other projects that are only a few hours away from completion. If I were to be honest, and I am, mostly it comes down to nervousness, or not knowing how to start the damn thing. That's the problem though-- usually there is no actual "right" way outside of just DOING the damn thing. Everything will sort itself out as you go. Just start.

For me, getting ideas is relatively easy, and knowing which of those ideas are GOOD ideas just takes practice and trusting your instincts. After all, inspiration is everywhere if you keep your mind open and are looking for it. The hardest part for me is to actually start pushing that rock up the proverbial mountain again. By the same coin when I do finally start that track, that blog, that whatever, it's an extremely gratifying feeling just getting on that creative road again, and even moreso if it's an idea that makes me nervous because I've never attempted it before. It's easy to repeat yourself. There's a confidence in repitition, a comfort, but as was said in Steven King's Storm of the Century, "Hell is repitition".

You can't grow as an artist if you always do the same thing, and there's only a finite amount of times you can do something before, frankly, you can't do it much better. You can only rework the same theme, idea, story, or bassline so many times before you're in a rut. And plenty of artists get that way. We're not all the Ramones, people. And while some artists do it and remain popular, most just end up sounding like a one trick pony. Maybe the fans don't mind, but if you're worth your salt as an artist you should care, and you should care a lot. Your fans aren't the ones that have to sleep at night knowing they could have tried harder and done something extraordinary, not just Another Album.

So with the new year and so many resolutions already broken, I'd like to propose a challenge: get off your butt and actually start that project that you've been too afraid to attempt. Start that project that's been quietly percolating in the back of your head for the last few months, years, or decades. Start that project that's destined to fail but goddammit you still want to do it. The other stuff can wait. Whatever show you're addicted to will be on DVD soon enough and whatever YouTube videos you can't stop giggling at aren't going anywhere. Be bold, be relentless, and have the time of your life exploring all the crazy ideas you can come up with. No artist has ever succeeded triumphantly by taking the easy road. Challenge yourself. Second guess yourself. Overthink your ideas and then realize that keeping it simple is the best way to go. Be hard on yourself but recognize when you nailed something and don't wait to give yourself a little pat on the back for getting that facet of the project done well. Aim to be judged harshly, but aim to understand your intent so you can justify your decisions. Don't expect universal acclaim, in fact detest the thought of it, because few works of art that are worth anything are loved by everyone. I much prefer respect from my fellow artists and fans for taking a big chance than worrying that a few of them might not get it.

Mostly just create as hard as you can. Don't give up. Take a break and step back when you need to, as perspective is vital at times, but don't ever say "This is too broke to fix." Bullshit. It's art, not brain surgery. Figure it out. Failure is an option, but only if you actually finish your work to the best of your ability. At least you saw it through.

It's 2014. Time to regroup, focus, and beat the living hell out of your awesome ideas. And get scared-- It's the only time you'll know you're doing something worthwhile.
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