quiet the noise

Hearing masterful musicians perform live is always a thrill. Being able to record them is a privilege. But when the musicians are communicating at an incredibly high level at an extremely young age, I’m filled with admiration and joy.

The Isaiah J. Thompson Trio joined us for a night of music @exuberance last October. These three young lions are all studying at Juilliard, and the chemistry and dynamic of the trio was truly inspiring. I recorded the show and mixed it for them, and a few tunes are now available.

I’m glad the recording has been released for several reasons. I’m sure it will be the first of many for these talented musicians, and it would be a disservice for anyone not in attendance that night to be denied this music. It’s hard to believe that their best is yet to come when you hear a performance like this.

Secondly, I hope that releases like this will raise awareness for what we are doing @exuberance. The spot is a private residence owned by Matt Yaple, who opens up his home, once or twice a month, to anyone who wants to appreciate the superb series of performers he curates. I don’t believe I have ever met anyone who is as fiercely and singularly driven by a passion and wonder for jazz music as Matt. To that end, there’s really only one rule @exuberance: simply listen. We don’t allow texting, photos, video, or anything else that would detract or distract. It’s a beautiful setting in a great sounding room with an incredible Steinway B available for all players who come through. I record every show as part of the service we offer to the musicians (besides paying them everything that comes through the door minus expenses – profit is not part of the mission).

In this age of endless devices, “multitasking,” and staring at screens, @exuberance offers an alternative. For each show, we quiet the noise and offer a calming respite where some of the best jazz music in Philly can be enjoyed. If you’ve never joined us, I hope you check it out sometime.

my music

What is it about music consumption that elicits a feeling of ownership? Why do we refer to our personal collections of files, records, CDs (or recordings from a streaming service stored in the cloud – hello, 2018), as “my music.” It was written, performed, and recorded all by people who are not you. And yet, because you have picked it and deemed it to be enjoyable to your ears, it becomes yours.

I can’t find an analogous example in other art forms. We don’t get prints of our favorite pieces of art, hang them in our homes, and proclaim them to be “my art.” While we may refer to a stack of books or DVDs as “my books, my movies,” the same ownership context isn’t attached.

And let us not forget the judgement attached to the ownership. For serious music fans, meeting someone who doesn’t share *your* love of the same type of music can be disastrous. We all know those who look down on others who we feel do not exude the same standard of taste, because clearly, “our music” is better than “their music.”

Herein lies my theory: I think that the inherent ownership of music is routed in the consumption. First, let’s take live music off the table – that deserves a separate discussion. Recorded music is cheap, and often free. It’s everywhere – aural wallpaper when you go to a store, the background to your conversation in the car, your phone ring tone. Music fills in the silence. And because it’s everywhere, it’s not valued the same as other media, and other art forms. Why would we value something that permeates our lives?

I do not mean this as a disgruntled rant against the music industry. As someone “in it,” whatever that means, I am perpetually interested in how people consume music and claim it to be worthy of their time, money, and interest.

How did we get here? It can easily be pinpointed to the rise of downloading music, both legally and illegally. The iPod made music so portable, it decimated the radio industry. And sure, the rise of Napster et al. blew up the traditional model. But is it that simple? For sure, movies and books can and are downloaded, but not on the scale of music. Further, you have to sit down and read a book, watch a movie, look at a piece of art. It interrupts you and demands your attention. Music can do that, but it just as easily can not do that, if the listener so chooses.

I offer no solution here, because there isn’t one. This is simply how we live with recorded music, at least right now. I think I’m more interested in what others have to say. What is your relationship to recorded music? How has that changed over the years? What value do you place in recorded music, if you can be completely honest with yourself? Feel free to write to me using the contact form. I truly want to hear from you.

tune the room

I’ve found that a key to me staying afloat in this strange business is to be able to do a number of different tasks. For example, last week included recording strings for a couple of folk songs for the prison project, doing my radio show, producing another radio showplaying a gig on bass, and mixing audio for a Monster Truck show. I love the variety, and each situation is a learning opportunity.

I recently got a call from someone who needed help with their home studio. Their goal is voiceover work, but the control room and tracking room needed a lot of help from an acoustics and connectivity standpoint in order to achieve professional results. I love this kind of work. Not only did I build and treat my own home studio, but I have consulted and implemented acoustic plans for several clients. I jumped at the opportunity to work on this project.

As an aside, I was extremely lucky to study with the mad scientist/genius acoustician and architect, John Storyk. His class was incredible, not only from an informational/real world/knowledge perspective, but also for his personality. Some memorable moments include an answer to the question “will it do anything acoustically if I put (fill in the blank) in the corner?” Storyk: “I don’t care what you put in the corner – a plant, a table, your mother-in-law, it’s doing something!” Or the time when we had to take a break in the middle class so John could take a call from his longtime friend, Eddie Kramer. Storyk also pronounces “reverb” in the most wonderful way. It was a formative experience to learn from this man, and I still revisit the texts and materials he gave us. It’s also an interesting twist that I frequently work out of a studio that Storyk built. The room is unmistakably his – the man has many signature fingerprints in his designs.

For this home studio project, I applied many of the tools I learned from studying with Storyk: assessing the scope and goals of the studio, testing and tuning the room with tones, white noise, and pink noise to discover the frequency response, designing and wiring custom wall patch plates, and working with the client on a solution that meets their needs, while also building out enough for the client to expand the scope of the studio’s capabilities should the need arise. And of course, staying within a budget. I’m pleased with the results. With the help of some well placed absorption, diffusion, ceiling clouds, de-coupling speaker stands, and an easy to use wall patch panel, the studio is fully functional and turning out great results. And we fit the aesthetic already established in the room, so it looks good, too.

behind the sounds feature

I was recently featured on the Philadelphia Jazz Project’s website for a series called “Behind the Sounds.” It includes interviews with a handful of audio engineers who do a lot of work in the local jazz scene. I’m incredibly honored to be included, and have a tremendous amount of respect for the PJP and all that they do. Check out the full interview here.

songs in the key of free

I’m producing an album inside of a prison.

I’ve shared this news with friends and colleagues, stated just as I have above, to mixed reactions. Some simply say, “wow,” and change the subject. Others say, “good for you.” Some want to hear more. If you fall into that last camp, please read on, as I have a lot to say about this project.

I met Miles Butler, co-founder of Songs in the Key of Free, at my neighborhood cafe. He and co-founder August Tarrier have been conducting songwriting workshops at SCI Graterford for the last year and half. During that time, they have cultivated a community of men who have composed a collection of songs. Now that the songs are ready to be recorded, they’ve tapped me to helm the production.

And these songs deserve to be heard. There is pain, love, regret, anger, and frustration throughout this group of songs, expressed by men with nothing to lose. It’s an honor to be in the unique position of facilitating the encapsulation and distribution of this music that would otherwise go forever unheard.

To those with the mentality of “lock them up and throw away the key,” I would respond by saying that someone does not cease to be a human because they have committed a crime. And just as we are free to make music as soon as our young bodies are able to figure out how to make sounds, it is my belief that music is a basic human right. Not only that, but many of these men will rejoin society at some point. How can we expect them to be adjusted members of a community if they are not treated as human beings while they serve their time?

Miles and August have done some incredible work with this program. They have cultivated a community within the prison, and these participants, that is one of respect, communication, and admiration. Most of these guys have overwhelmed me with their humanity and wisdom, and trust me, it comes through in the music.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, check out the video below. They are in the middle of a crowd funding campaign to help pay for this ambitious endeavor. Feel free to throw some bucks their way if you want to get involved. Thanks for reading.

beats per minute

Maybe it’s fueled by my desire to connect with the local community. Maybe it’s my selfish need to play the music I want, whenever I want it. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m kindred spirits with Marc Maron and Terry Gross. Whatever it is, I’ve started hosting a radio show.

I’ve always had a fascination with radio. I think it started when I was an intern for a local station in high school. It all seemed so whimsical – a relationship with the community through the air. A personality that people knew, but never met. When I was an intern, the DJs used to send me on ridiculous missions – most notably dressed up like a Christmas tree and waving to people on the side of the road, or being the gatekeeper of concert tickets where listeners had to decipher clues over the air to find me in town. It was a great way to encourage my shy high school self into becoming a sociable person (or at least less shy).

The new show is whatever I want it to be, which I continually find to be incredible in this carefully calculated, mainstream radio climate. Due to streaming services and other factors (thoughts on that for a future post), the radio industry is certainly not the giant it once was, so it seems that all stations are doing everything they can to hold on to listeners. At a low-power, non-profit FM station, that problem doesn’t exist. It’s been a liberating, exhilarating experience, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.

The show is called Beats Per Minute (after my initials, BPM), and I’m doing it twice a month so that it doesn’t ever feel like work. I have guests, I play records, and talk about whatever I feel, to whoever wants to listen. Check it out sometime, either on 92.9 if you are in the NW Philly area, or gtownradio.com.

aaron & the spell

Well, it’s been a while. This site has grown embarrassingly out of date, and all I can say is that life happens, the good and the bad, and updating my website somehow became the last item on my list.

Enough of that. Plenty has been happening, and I plan to post with regularity to document and reflect the highlights over the past couple of years. Plus, I’ve updated my bio, music, and film pages, so please take a peak to see and hear what I’ve been up to.

But this post is about Aaron Parnell Brown. I had heard his name and his music around Philly for several years, and been a fan. I’ve just started playing with Aaron and his band, The Spell, over the last 6 months or so. His music is exactly the type of stuff I love – soulful, bluesy, energetic, all with something to say. Aaron is a thoughtful leader, and the band cooks. The first time we got together to rehearse, we already felt like a band. That’s no small task.

Last month, Aaron wanted to film an NPR Tiny Desk audition. Regardless of what happens with the video submission, the filming was a lot of fun. We shot the video at RareCo, this great antique shop in South Philly. They had the greatest collection of old, weird, cool stuff I’ve ever seen in one room. Just as an example, there was a giant high heel hanging from the ceiling. Like 10 feet long, and oh, it was built completely from wire clothes hangers and zip ties.

I hope you enjoy the video, which I also had the pleasure of mixing.

we are music film premiere

To say that this has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on is a start. But it’s not everything, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to express everything this project has meant to me and everyone else who has worked on it. It would have been cool if we only incorporated the tons of talented players and filmed around the cool locations that we did. But being able to pay tribute to a musician who meant so much to so many of us elevated the project to a special place of significance. It is an honor to be able to dedicate this project to the music and memory of Dante Bucci.

For those interested in the production process (which is often what I talk about on this blog), let me begin by thanking everyone who worked on the film. We had an excellent crew, and excellent players who braved the cold (I still shiver when I think back to those shooting days). Because if the music isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how nice the gear is, or if the microphones were placed in the optimal spots. The music is king, and all of the players rose to the occasion.

The production process ran like a proverbial well oiled machine. The three person crew (myself, Todd on camera, Kyle assisting audio), piled into my car, pulled up to the location with talent waiting, setup audio and video, and ran takes. We gave everyone three takes of the song to do what they wanted to do, then we quickly tore down and drove to the next location, charging the laptop in the car during the commute.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our fair share of problems. People ran late, we had to switch schedules and locations a few times, and we were kicked out of two of our locations (although the second time it wasn’t until we already had recorded 1.5 takes, so we had enough material). I am generally a proponent of the “ask for forgiveness, not permission” style of filmmaking, and in this indie production, it largely benefitted us. Plus, the happy accidents outweighed any of the road blocks. There were multiple times during production where we all thought, “wow, we couldn’t have planned that.” Examples of this can be seen at the Academy of Fine Arts shot, where all three players (who were not originally supposed to be in the same shot) were all dressed complimentary not only to themselves but to the walls of the Academy as well. Also, the 30th St. Station scene featured two musicians who were playing with no acoustic sound – only direct line instruments. So we were able to quietly work without bringing attention to ourselves by making lots of noise.

From there, post-production was the most intensive part of it all. With all of those players doing multiple takes of the song, the audio mix alone was a bear. Going through and finding the best material was a challenge that yielded a great reward, because after I was able to pick and choose the parts I liked best, everything seemed to sit really nicely together. Again, top musicianship.

Once the audio mix was mastered, we could move onto video editing. It was great working with Jay on the edit. Since he’s also a drummer, this job proved to be ideal for a video editor with musical timing.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the premiere on December 1st. It was a great evening of sharing music and stories. And we raised a bunch of money for charity. I’m feeling thankful all around, and am pleased to share this project with the world.

Daniel J. Bowen: Blood Moon

Blood MoonI couldn’t think of any better way to get backing into blogging then to share a recent project that I think is way cool and unique. Daniel J. Bowen is a guy that I pretty much grew up with. We used to play music in high school for various talent shows, basketball games, and other such high school type opportunities. He’s one of those guys that has always made me turn my head to hear what he’s playing, not to mention pushing me to be a better musician. Since then, we’ve kept in touch intermittently. Every few months he’ll give me a call to get my take or advice on something, and it’s a call I always take. Daniel is just one of those guys you want to be around, and one of those guys I always want to help if I can. For this record, I was so happy to be involved and facilitate such an enriching project.

Imagine my surprise when I guy I’ve known primarily for playing gospel, R’n’B, and jazz, shows up with full sized orchestral scores. Daniel was inspired by the Blood Moon, a celestial event that has had much historical and religious significance. I helped Daniel contract several orchestral players for this project, and engineered the strings, horns, and voice. Daniel, the ever evolving and super talented guy that he is, mixed the project and is working on a documentary about the experience.

This music is haunting, introspective, and beautiful. Check it out.