Audio


As The Byrds say:

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
And learn how to play.

Rock Stage by Lisa

Every musician starts somewhere, usually playing music with some friends. Next thing you know someone suggests you form a band with dreams of playing to stadiums or clubs full of fans. It is that last word, “fans” that makes you into a rock and roll star. While The Byrds teach you the music side, Techlife  has four simple tools for the self promotion side of the budding rock star in you.

It seems today that a new group pops out of nowhere and then before you know it even your mom is telling you about them. It starts because everyone who’s anyone gets their microphone, guitar, Facebook Fan Page and YouTube Channel. It almost seems silly for The Byrds to include the first two, but just as silly for Techlife to not include the last two. These two are the cornerstone of today’s self-promotion movement. Direct access to your fans on a Fan Page and great music shared via YouTube are the staples of a rock star. Fans get to see and hear you, both performing music and behind the scenes of the creative process. Welcome to the life, you are a budding rock star.

Your YouTube Channel is gaining some momentum, at least your mom checks it out. But it isn’t fast enough. What you need is more exposure and the best way is simply to let fans easily listen to your music. Bandcamp is a great service for helping musicians set up simple sites with songs, albums, album art, lyrics, liner notes all in digital format. It lets the artist keep full control over their music including even selling it. Though early on give it away to fans as they will share it with more people. Bandcamp like YouTube Channels and Facebook Fan Pages let you track your fans too, seeing stats on what they like and what they love. Bandcamp also plugs right into your Facebook Fan Page making it easy for fans to see new music from you.

All this exposure and the hottest club in town calls you to play Saturday night. Then you wake up with a little drool on the side of your face. A more likely route is your visiting local venues who have open mic nights or small bars or other places that encourage live music or might consider it. Talk to the manager, have them hear your music see your fanbase and if you are lucky get a chance on a Tuesday night. This is it, your first gig. Obviously sharing the gig is key. Sure Facebook Events lets you invite fans of your Fan Page, but a little bit more exposure using Songkick and their artist tool Tourbox allows you to seed your tour date (just one right now) to Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Foursquare, Spotify, and of course your Songkick artist page.

As a bonus tool, consider crowd sourcing your first studio album. This is how all the indie bands do it these days. They reach out to their fans and use a site like Indiegogo or Kickstarter to entice their fans to help share the cost of making the first album and give them great rewards for like good seats, sitting in a studio session and even guitar lessons. (Techlife has used Indiegogo to run a camaign and supported a few cool Kickstarter efforts.) It takes creativity and work but it is another way to connect with fans.

Having all these tools makes you look like a rock star. Now comes the easy parts; put out good music and a great show and the fans will follow.

It is always surprising (yet really never all that surprising) when a reader contacts Techlife with a problem that leads to a massive discovery. In this case the problem was “How do I burn this?” from our friend Allan over at Scubaology.com. He had found a Grateful Dead concert he wanted as a CD.  But herein lies the surprise, it wasn’t the concert being online that surprised me, it was the location, The Internet Archive.

Ominous sounding?  Yes. Intriguing, even more so. The Internet Archive is an astounding non-profit all digital library. Like any good library, it would take hours to begin to explain the vast array of collections and how to access them.  So for this column we will stick with our aural sensibilities and examine the audio section of the Internet Archive. If you were looking for some new material for a workout, a long drive or flight around the world how does over 700,000* free digital recordings work for you?

How is that staggering amount of audio organized? I’m glad you asked:

And of course to add to the quirky yet completeness of this library The Grateful Dead is given their own top level category with 7,780 items; more items than 7 of the main categories as organized!

Within each category is of course plenty of subcategories.  I quickly sought out the Radio Programs category, which had a sub-category of Old Time Radio. I clicked on Browse by Title “A” and found 4 different collections of Abbott & Costello and in less than 10 seconds I was listening to the famous, “Who’s on First?” routine.

As with most libraries, this one appears understaffed.  It has 17 contributors for the entire audio section, which is likely why there were four Abbott & Costello collections with some repeats and some files with no descriptive text or titles.  But they also offer context for the content in the form of Top Downloads, Top Rated and Top Reviews. Each added piece of user-generated content makes the library all the more useful.  Plus there are many encyclopedia type entries along with great user generated tidbits while you listen.

Finally getting to Allan’s  request of burning a CD; Audio Player? Smartphone? CD? Streaming? However you listen the choices today of carrying your audio collections with you have made it easy to store, listen and access content. The Internet Archive’s Audio Archive Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for example is available on the site to stream, in both low and hi-fidelity M3U format, two quality versions of the MP3 format and in an Ogg Vorbis format. Oops…did we forget to tell Allan how to burn that CD?  Ok, I’m just going to listen to one more song, I promise.

* Numbers as of 10/18/2010.  Note total item numbers might vary as with the example of Radio Programs – 1,947 items at the top level. There were eight sub-collections with a total of 4,195 items.  That is more than double the top level’s reported items.

Often when I write a column like this I open myself up to a barrage of “help me” requests from friends, family, random strangers who recognize me and stop me on the street.  It seems today’s problem is one we all are saddled with, spaghetti wiring. Before we delve into this meatball topic (forgive that last pun, it’s cheesy – Parmesan cheesy. Sick yet?  Just wait.) I want to cut off the requests at the pass.

Techlife is all about you reading, absorbing and doing.  Techlife is excited to hear from readers (and family, you know who you are) who solved their spaghetti wiring. Are you still asking yourself why take the column in this direction? Because I don’t want to come to your home or office, you can do this.  There I said it.

The New Gadget

Look behind your desk or main television, mess of wires? That’s spaghetti wiring. That’s what I was facing.

I had gotten a new DVD Recorder/VCR (yes we still have some old tapes) combo unit and was excited to replace an aging and often broken DVD player and remove an old VCR from my living room setup. Streamlined. That was going to be me.

Upon close inspection, I realized this was going to be a time sink. I had a TiVo, a TV, a Wii, a Receiver, a DVD player, a VCR, surround sound speakers, and a few other black boxes that did who knows what. Each had a power cable and many connecting wires to carry video and audio and connect and record and — STOP!  Spaghetti wiring.

A few months later came the inevitable, “Why is this new combo unit still sitting here?” I took another peek at the spaghetti wiring and saw not surprisingly, nothing had changed.  The next thing I knew I was scraping arms, reaching deep behind wall units, and moving things around. Then came the moment of truth, powering up for the test and…

Spaghetti Wiring 101 – a How To Guide

  1. Invest in small velcro cable ties and white labelmaker labels.
  2. Start simple. Pick one unit and extract the wires.
  3. Label both ends of the extracted wire, with descriptive helpers such as  “To TiVo” or “From Wii”.
  4. Grouping wires using velcro straps. Open a strap and add new wire to bundle and velcro back up.
  5. Only deal with the units you need too, this is not the time to re-wire the world.
  6. Use a camera to take photos before you start and after you finish. Store photos for future reference.

It’s All in the Title

I believe in karma when testing.  I had ripped the guts of my system apart. Had dust bunnies across everything and now was the time to test the system. I pulled out my test media I thought were in line with the situation. For DVD, Defiance, the amazing true story of survival during the Holocaust. For CD, The Big Chill soundtrack,  a collection of classic tunes all music lovers should own. For VHS, The Nutcracker, a fantasy story about a little girl’s dream world with beautiful music.

Well look at this, the first few images from Defiance, one down, two left. Next up the first few notes of Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the Grapevine sweetly reached my ears. Finally darling little Clara dancing with Sugarplum Fairies. I had done it!

I had defied the spaghetti wiring while a DVD player and VCR were casualties of their own big chill. I had cracked the nut of taking the wiring mess and giving it beautiful future. (I warned you this was full of puns.) Let’s hear your stories of spaghetti wiring warfare, puns welcome.

Reading by Christine RondeauFrom the sweet sound of your iPod, to the burning of CDs, to your car radio finding music is never a problem?  Even finding music you like is pretty easy these days.  But new musical search tool Songza allows you to find that one song stuck in your head or have been jonesing to hear.  After Techlife published that article we were reminded about how our office rocks to various music using a few different solutions, including Pandora, Slacker and Jinzora.  So after reading this article, you might want to unplug your iPod and try your hand at some other options.

Slacker Radio's Web Interface

Techlife’s recent Songza article has had some reader’s emailing about Internet Radio. FM radio has always been about commercials, DJs, and maybe a bit of wacky news. Listeners are now getting to play radio station owner with a few great radio station options. Techlife has been using two free options lately.

Pandora is of Techlife favorites of internet radio, but sadly it has been losing global audience with constant country restrictions. The idea is simple offer a customizable radio station that helps program songs based on other songs and artists you already told it you like (or don’t like.) They use a fancy rating system, called the Music Genome Project that is often discussed in depth. We have been using Pandora for years and really enjoy how easy it is to use. Pandora is great for exploring lots of new music. One issue I had with Pandora was I might have customized my station to much, I often would hear a few songs repeat in the same day.

Slacker is a newer entry into the internet radio business. It too offers a simple interface where you can quickly setup a station, add artists you like and start listening. It is a bit less featured than Pandora right now but it is easier to ensure the people you like you get to hear. They do less adding new artists music and play a bit deeper cuts from artists you know. I also like all the comedy Slacker has in its library. Slacker has a mobile media player, like an iPod, that allows you to take the custom station options with you. Techlife has not yet had a chance to review this hardware.

Overall: If you are looking to have a new radio experience give either or both options a try. They are both easy to use and certainly are a nice change from “my music library.”

Bonus: If you are really technically savvy, run a Jinzora Media Server and Do-It-Yourself broadcast your own music collection. A friend is doing this and it is nice to be able to explore their music collection all just using a simple web browser.

Songza Screenshot from Techlife

Techlife has been rocking recently to an easy-to-use music search engine, Songza. Type in an artist or song title and get a choice of various versions of songs that might be what you were searching for.

Google simplifies searching for web content. Songza simplifies searching for audio content. Part of the trouble of audio search is text descriptions might not do justice to what you want to hear so Songza has a flash player that allows you to listen and keep searching. They also use crowdsourcing, which means you can help clarify if a song is what you wanted, and rate it thumbs up or thumbs down which helps make Songza better the next time around.

With Songza’s elegantly simple interface, great search, the ability to build a playlist without even giving them your name or a login, an audio player, crowdsourcing, various sharing options and vast library it is interesting to see where it goes next. Songza’s free, doesn’t ask for any information and right now is really advertising free except for a link to buy the music you are listening.

My only complaint is the very rudimentary music player. I would like to see a fast forward or reverse capability, as other sites that search video, like Techlife TV, offer this.

Overall: Give Songza a Grammy for technical achievement. Songza may sound simple, because it is. But when simple is done right it rocks.