Should Music be Free?

Chris Anderson talks about Free in a recent Wired article. As you probably know there’s been an ongoing debate about whether music should be free. His argument is that the cost of digital goods is trending towards zero. You can have millions of people downloading your songs without any additional cost to replicate the song. While this isn’t completely true (there are costs and time in producing a CD and bandwidth costs – although these costs are also declining) there is some truth to it.

I usually get annoyed when people say music should be free. I often think, ‘Why the hell should it be free? We put a ton of effort into making a CD, pay for studio time and production, or software/hardware for our computers, spend tons of our own time and we should just give it away? Fuck that shit! I’m sick of society devaluing artists!’ But the practical side of me also says, ‘Well if people are expecting music and other stuff online to be free, how can I work with that and still have a career?’. The truth is I’m still trying to figure it out, and so are many others. For now I still have a day job. Maybe that’s the model that will have to be.

A popular business model for musicians is to give away their digital downloads for free and sell the ‘experience’. This means making money from the concerts. You could also sell tangible goods like T-shirts, Mugs, sheet music, special CDs and DVDS which Kevin Kelly calls embodiment.

What if you’re not a touring musician? How do you sell the ‘experience’? You could do a live video webcast of you playing some songs or teaching, and charge for it. You could teach lessons and link to songs or lesson books in which you are an affiliate, or put ads on your site. You can now put different types of ads on your videos. You could get sponsors from the guitar companies or related industries to put ads on your site. Most likely a variety of these techniques in combination will be most effective.

Everyone’s still trying to figure out what to do about the Internet. So get out there and try different things and see what works.

New Pinch Harmonics Guitar Lesson

Check out this new lesson on pinch harmonics

Site Cleanup

I’ve made some changes to the site. Hopefully the lessons are easier to find now. I’ve put up a menu of lessons and grouped by style and level. I also linked my lessons at youtube back to the specific page of the lesson. Some of my old lessons led you to a whole different site look and feel and you could get lost in that old site. I also dug up an old blues riff that I had tabbed out. The URLs have changed, but are easier to understand now as well so hopefully you haven’t lost any bookmarks.

I will be making more changes to make the site easier to navigate and hopefully more useful with more lessons.

Metal Mayhem Video Released

I released a video showing me playing most of Metal Mayhem. You can check it out here.

How Best to Learn Guitar

As a former engineer, I constantly ask myself: “What is the best way to learn guitar?” (or for me currently it’s “What is the best or most efficient way learn jazz?”. This is especially true since I went back to college at age 36 to study jazz guitar. With pretty good technique from being an 80’s shredder, and with a good work ethic (from Master’s Degree in Engineering, and Diploma in Object-Oriented Programming) people were telling me I’d have no problem learning jazz – I just needed to “learn the theory” since I already had the chops. Boy was this a wrong assumption!

In Classical music, in which I don’t claim to be an expert, musicians spend a lot of time playing songs. These are scores by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, etc and these composers usually have written many etudes. This means ‘study’ in English and provides a means to develop one’s chops, but in a musical manner. Sure these musicians also practices their scales. When you go to see a classical concert, the performer has undoubtedly spent countless hours playing and replaying the piece until it is up to speed and perfect. While no one really understands how learning works exactly in the brain, the usual comments are that this practice builds up muscle memory in the hands and head. I doubt any musician could play a challenging piece at full speed the first time it is placed in front of them. There are stories of famous jazz musicians who couldn’t solo over songs like Giant Steps at first because of the unusual chord progressions – these are people who were excellent musicians, knew all their scales and theory but were frozen. I view improvisation and the spontaneous combination of pre-rehearsed ideas, not as mysterious as many artists would like to project. Even Charlie Parker was quoted as saying “Learn the changes, then forget ’em”. I interpret this to mean “learn what works over the progressions, get them into your ears so that you hear them and reproduce them without much thinking”.

When I think back to how I learned guitar, I spent most of my time trying to learn songs. This was because I was inspired after hearing a song. I needed to be able to play that tune! The challenge was that often these songs were so far beyond my technical ability at the time. And they usually incorporated way too many techniques in just one solo – bends, slides, hammer ons, pull-offs, two-hand tapping, sweep arpeggios, economy picking, legato playing, pinch harmonics, you name it! When this happened I had to isolate the issue (sweep picking) and get this working before adding it back into the main song.

Music is a language – the way we learn a language is by imitation. Early on ,we learn words and phrases without really understanding what we’re saying, then we assimilate the information and eventually innovate or improvise in daily life when we speak sentences to each other. Learning a style of music like rock or jazz should be the same way. Most of us never learned all the technicalities of the english language but we picked it up by listening, reading, speaking and making mistakes and being correct by our parents or teachers. Learning music should be the same.

There are many components to being a well rounded, professional musician, especially when improvisation is required. You need to learn scales, intervals, triads, arpeggios, chords, sight reading and ear training to name a few. These things as practice items themselves should be a smaller percentage of your overall practice time (say 20%). You need to have at least the basics down -such as the ability to alternate pick, hammer on, pull off, chords, etc. (If you’re a beginner, check out this excellent guitar course). I had top marks in courses like jazz theory, put in tons of practice time, but still wasn’t happy with my improvisation ability. Most times it felt like a deer in the headlights.

I recently was lucky enough to find Jazz Sax Etudes by Greg Fishman from Chicago. He teaches differently than most, using tunes to inspire and teach students, and focusing on the songs. His instructions are to first get the tunes up to full speed BEFORE diving into all the theory.

So in summary, my point is that the best way to learn guitar in any style is by learning songs you love. Songs you love will inspire you to keep practising and to get better. These songs will teach you the techniques you need to learn. Transcribe the songs, slow them down, buy a book to get the correct tab, do whatever you have to do to get the song down on paper. Remember that at slower speeds any song is playable by anyone! I use software called “Amazing Slow Downer” to slow down tunes and then I play along with the slowed down version. Play it slower at whatever speed you can play it perfectly, then slowly increase the speed until you have it at the actual tempo. If you have problems at speeds of 50% or less, isolate the problem areas until they match your ability with the rest of song.

Soloing Over Chord Progressions


PDF, and mp3

The exercises don’t sound like great music yet, but other techniques that I will discuss in the future will spice them up! Hopefully you can see the potential. Also, listen to the sound of each note over the chord (roots, 3rds, 5ths). Try to sing them without playing your instrument sometimes. Trying adding vibrato and a bit of rhythm to the notes once you get them down. On the mp3, I go thru each exercise without stopping but you can focus on each part before you progress to the next exercise. The last exercise I play a faster eight note idea but it still uses the basic framework on beats 1 and 3. If you want more info on this topic, check out this book on chord tone soloing.

Simplified the Site

Ok, I realized the slight was a little complicated so I hopefully made it easier for you to find the songs and lessons.

New song – Dirtbag

Wow this one was done quickly, thanks to ‘brad sucks’ from ccmixter.org. I added heavy guitars, solos and outro to the tune and removed all the electronics and sound effects.

Dirtbag

New soul style song – “In Your Eyes” with Vocals

Ok for a huge change from my normal stuff, here’s a song with vocals. I got the vocals from the awesome collaborative and sharing site ccmixter.org and a vocalist named Songboy3. If you haven’t head about the Creative Commons licence you should check it out.

I used Reason drum and bass samples as well as a rhodes instrument and guitar loop. Cubase to do the final export to wav file and GoldWave to convert to mp3.

Song-A-Week/Lesson-A-Week Project slow, meets objectives

Due to a variety of reasons I am altering my Song A Week Project. More accurately, I’m slowing the pace of song creation to a more manageable level – about 1 song per month. Some of the reasons are:

  • The project achieved it’s major goal which was to start writing music, getting off my butt, turning off the TV and taking action rather than talking about it all the time
  • I have a bunch of good quality tunes that I can work with in the future to re-engineering or modify for a CD.
  • I proved to myself that I can put in the large effort required after work, before work and all weekends with a full-time job in IT!
  • I’m working out of town, and fly back every 2 weeks on thursday night, without all my guitar gear of course. So every other week I only have 3 days (monday to wednesday) to get a song done!
  • I need to focus an equal amount of time on marketing my music and updating my website – changing the website, joining forums, responding to questions and comments, submitting tunes and videos all over the place, etc
  • I am still doing video guitar lessons
  • Jazz practising has ground to a halt
  • Absolutely no social life at this point, etc, etc.
  • From some of the constructive comments at Garageband.com, I will be increasing the quality of production of the songs before releasing them, having more time to do this, including more involved bass lines, drum parts, etc.

So I will be still putting out new tunes, just at a bit of a slower pace for the foreseeable future.