Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

An Appeal…

Posted by on December 19th, 2014

TranspositionSkeleton CrewI don’t normally do things like this, but I would like to ask you, if you’re reading this, to consider supporting Chameleon Red by buying our music.  We are independent musicians.  We don’t have record companies lavishing money on us (such things are rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, anyway).  We don’t have swimming pools or limousines.  In fact, we literally don’t make any money at all from our music.  You see, we are still in the red for the productions of our two albums, Transposition and Skeleton Crew.  In additional to the countless hours we spent in writing, recording, and producing them, we also shelled out the money out-of-pocket to make CDs and for digital distribution.  We are still thousands of dollars in the hole from that expense alone.  We also have expenses to maintain our online presence.  This doesn’t even count all the equipment and software we have purchased (and kept in repair).  Now, we’re not in this for the money (obviously).  We love making music, plain and simple.  But it would be nice to at least break even.  So if you like our music, please help us cover our costs by buying it.  We sell physical CDs and digital music, too.  Where ever you normally buy music online, we are most likely there.  And if you’ve already bought our music, bless you!  Enough said.  Thanks, and happy holidays!

Slicker Than Slick

Posted by on May 2nd, 2014

You know, there’s produced, and then there’s overproduced.  When I hear the latest radio fare, be it rock, “country” (quotes because pop country is really bad 80’s rock), or especially pop music, I’m really struck by how overproduced most of it is.  To ears that can hear it, all the sounds have been compressed, pitch corrected and processed until they barely resemble sounds that occur into the real world.  I actually get agitated when I hear pop music, with anger and revulsion.  Yes, my reaction is that visceral, and that may be hard for many to understand.  For an analogy, consider images of men and (mostly) women in glossy magazine ads.  Many of the images are so Photoshopped that they seem to depict Barbie and Ken dolls rather than actual human beings.  I think both the Photoshopped images and the overproduced music betray a cultural obsession with perfection.

I think the Photoshopped images foster an unrealistic expectation of bodily perfection in oneself and others.  Hello, anorexia, bulimia, and obsession with plastic surgery.  Similarly, overproduced and overprocessed music set an unrealistic expectation that musical performances be “perfect”.  Overproduction is not a new problem, but I think it’s one reason that you almost never hear live music in dance clubs and many other venues anymore.  And I think it discourages people from playing music as amateurs or professionals, because no matter now good you are, you’ll never play perfectly.

Fortunately, I see signs that not everyone is taken in by the airbrushed reality we are sold in current mass culture.  There is righteous anger in the air over the slick images we see, the overprocessed food we eat, and, at least where I live, reclamation of older musical forms and live music.  “I’m so tired of plastic faces on every screen; the real world is marked with scars…” Hope springs eternal.

Now that I have that off my chest–have you seen the “Impatience” video yet?

The Proliferation of Crap

Posted by on February 28th, 2014

As the Internet has evolved, it’s been exciting to watch all the new avenues for artistic self-expression open up.  The gatekeepers are being swept away, and literally anyone can present their music, writing, painting, poetry, photography, journalism, etc. to the world.  You don’t need a record company, or a publisher, or an agent anymore.  How wonderful!  Except that, it’s not always so wonderful.  It seems like these days we are awash in crap.  Bad music, bad photography, you name it–it’s out there, often invading our Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever Web 2.0 app is popular at the moment.  And generally, only those creative types who are great a marketing are able to grab your interest.  But great marketers are not always great creators.  Now don’t get me wrong–there is good, even great stuff out there, too.  But it’s often buried in the sheer volume of the mediocre to bad, and buried under the strident voices of the tireless self-promoters.  I believe that eventually new gatekeepers will emerge–with all the good and bad that entails.  But until then, we are left to our own devices; once in a while we even find some life-changing work of art among the garbage.  If you do find something worthwhile, please share it with the rest of the world; we may never find it otherwise!

Most people know that September 19 is International Talk like a Pirate Day.  Not as well known, but equally FAR MORE important, is the fact that today, September 20, is Multinational Talk Like Christopher Walken Talking Like a Pirate Day.  In honor of this glorious event,  we offer this:

Do Artists Deserve To Be Paid?

Posted by on May 10th, 2013

After reading this article in the Huffington Post about tensions between Pandora and musicians, I happened to scroll down and read the comments.  This is almost always a bad move, guaranteed to lower one’s faith in humanity; this experience was not an exception.  The general drift of several posters seemed to be that musicians not only didn’t deserve to be paid royalties for plays of their songs, but that songs were like commercials and therefore musicians should pay to be played on the radio, Pandora, etc.  What?!?  One commentator opined that musicians should all get day jobs and that music should be no more than a hobby, not a vocation.  It makes me wonder, where does all this hostility toward musicians come from?  Believe me, producing quality music is hard work and can be quite expensive.  Most of us do indeed have to work other jobs because we can’t make a living otherwise.  But I would be interested to hear others’ opinions on this.  Should musicians just work for fun and give up any hopes of generating an income from their craft?  Should we all just hang it up and do something more “productive” with our time and energy?


Posted by on April 26th, 2013

Alfalfa SingingAuto-Tune is a particular brand of software (there are others) that can alter pitches in a vocal performance.  In a nutshell, it’s like “Photoshop for human voice”, as Time journalist Josh Tyrangiel put it.  It can correct a sharp or flat note so that it is pitch-perfect.  It’s also used as an effect to make a vocal sound somewhat unnatural or robotlike–the first notable instance of Auto-Tune used in this way was Cher’s “Do You Believe” back in 1998.

Auto-Tune is much used in pop (including pop country) music these days; most of the time it’s pretty obvious because the vocal sounds too perfect.  Interestingly enough, it’s difficult to get the robotlike effect unless the pitch of the vocal is way off; this of course makes one wonder how many pop stars can actually sing these days.  It’s also notable that Auto-Tune can be used in live performances as well as recordings; some artists have admitted to using it in this way as a “safety net”.  Auto-Tune could even make Alfalfa sound like a perfect singer.


Posted by on April 19th, 2013

In this installment of our ongoing series on modern music production techniques (see previous ones here and here), we looking at quantization, a term you may never have encountered.

Basically, quantization is a function of modern digital audio workstations that allows you to take a musical performance that is poorly performed, timing-wise, and make it better, even perfect.  For example, suppose I record a piano track but I play very unevenly, holding some notes too long, coming in too late or too early at times.  I select all the notes, select quantize from the menu, and–voila!–all the notes I played are now perfectly timed.

However, perfect timing in music = boring.  The best performances are not perfect but have a certain feel or groove.  Some musicians play slightly behind the beat, creating a laid-back feel, or slightly ahead of the beat, giving a more aggressive feel.  Well, fear not!  There is also a function called “groove quantize”, which lets you match the feel of your performance to a preprogrammed groove.  So now my performance, which was originally crappy, now sounds like Ray Charles played it!

In reality, quantization has technical limitations and my example is a bit simplified, but you get the point.  You don’t have to be able to play well (or really, at all) anymore in order to create a decent-sounding song.


Posted by on April 12th, 2013

SynclavierIn the second installment of our series addressing some technologies employed in modern music production.  You may have heard of sampling; in the 80s and 90s there were a few court cases surrounding the sampling of music to create new recordings.  So what is sampling?

Sampling is, in essence, recording something and then playing it back as part of a musical performance.  For example, recording the sound of a flute playing and then playing it back through a keyboard.  An early kind of sampler was the the Mellotron, which played back loops of tapes with recorded sounds.  Each key on the keyboard played a different loop of tape.  This is the sound you hear at the beginning of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”–a Mellotron loaded with tape loops of flutes.  Even back then there was controversy surround this sort of thing–session musicians felt that this technology was robbing them of their livelihood.  After all, why pay a group of musicians to play when you can just lug this Mellotron into the studio and play it yourself?

Sampling really came into full flower in the 80s with digital samplers that played back sounds with higher fidelity.  Now it became possible to construct fairly realistic digital pianos that played back samples of real acoustic pianos, drum machines that played back samples of actual drums playing, etc.  In fact, it became possible to construct songs entirely of sampled instruments.  But sampling was taken even further when whole sections of songs started to be lifted off of recordings and redeployed as samples to create “new” songs.  Often this was done without crediting the original writers and performers of the music, hence the court cases surrounding Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which sampled the main riff of Queen’s “Under Pressure”, and MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”, which similarly lifted the main riff of Rick James’ “Superfreak”.  The upshot of this is that the original artists now have to be credited and receive royalties for this sort of sampling.

As a musician, I have some serious issues with the use of sampled performances.  To me, it’s kind of like taking a reproduction of a classic work of art, spraying some graffiti on it, and calling it your own work.  In other words, it’s a shameless appropriation of the product of others’ labor and creativity.  It’s possible to someone to sit in a chair in front of a computer, never touching an actual music instrument, and string together layers of sampled performances to create a new song.  Some people make a career of doing just that.  I don’t deny that doing it well requires creativity, but to me it’s much less interesting than hearing a performance of actual human musicians playing together.  It’s analogous to collages made by cutting things out of books and magazines.  It can be interesting, but I have greater respect for the Leonardos and Monets of the world.

That aside, sampling has been a boon to the low-budget DYI musician–it makes it possible to incorporate sampled instrumentation such as string sections and exotic instruments that would be cost prohibitive if one had to hire musicians to play them for you.  Still, I won’t deny that it’s problematic in the sense that the proliferation of easily available sampled instruments has reduced the number of paying jobs for session musicians.


Posted by on April 5th, 2013


“Duuude! You know what I would do, if I were you? I’d run my guitar through a compressorrrrr…”

Back after a week’s absence!  While taking the “Art of Mixing” class through Berklee Online, I got to thinking about how processed modern music is, and how little the average person realizes this.  One could say that modern pop music is the aural equivalent of a Twinkie: it bears only a slight resemblance to music as found in nature.  So I thought I’d do my bit to educate the public on a few of the tools used by recording engineers to process and manipulate recorded sounds.  I’m going to try to explain things in layman’s terms without resorting to technical talk.

Let’s start with compression.  Basically, a compressor is a device (hardware or software) that reduces the dynamic range of a signal going through it.  In other words, it controls loudness; it’s sort of like having an automatic hand on the volume knob, ready to reduce the volume if the signal gets too loud.  It basically lets you get away with a louder average signal because the loudest peaks are tamped down.  Compressors are not new; they’ve been used in music for many decades, and have a lot of practical use.  For example, they are used to keep an instrument from overloading a recording console because of sudden loud notes.  Instruments like drums have a lot of dynamic range; they can play really soft and really loud.  A compressor helps to even things out so that the loudest notes don’t cause the recording to become distorted.  Compressors are also used at radio stations to make sure that the station never exceeds the broadcast wattage permitted by law, by ruthlessly controlling the dynamic range of sounds being broadcast.  That’s one reason why your favorites song played on an FM station never sounds as good as it does in your CD player.  Also, commercials on TV and radio have their audio compressed–that’s why the commercials sound much louder than the regular programming.

In modern popular music, it’s not uncommon for every single instrument and vocal to be compressed.  Why?  I suppose because it’s technologically possible, not because every track actually needs compression.  Also, the entire mix is compressed to make the average loudness higher.  So now we have a situation where every instrument and voice has much of the dynamic range squashed out of it, and the entire song is further squashed until it sounds really, really loud and distorted.  Now there–isn’t that better?

Happy Dynamic Range Day! #DRD13

Posted by on March 22nd, 2013

Loudness War diagramIn case you didn’t know it, there’s a loudness war on in the music world.  Without getting too technical, popular music for nearly 20 years has had the dynamics squeezed out of it in order to appear to be louder (see the diagram).  The official starting shot of the loudness war was the 1995 Oasis album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?  and from there, new releases have gotten more and more compressed.  The result of this attempt to cram maximum volume into CDs is that the music is squashed, sounds terrible (and audibly distorted), and fatigues the listener’s ear more quickly.  Well, there is a movement underway to stop the loudness war and return dynamics to recorded music, and today is Dynamic Range Day.  You can read more here:  We wholeheartedly support this effort and do not participate in the loudness war; Chameleon Red’s music is delivered to you with dynamics intact.