Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No Off Switch

An annoying new trend in electronic devices has quietly crept upon us. While we were busy being dazzled by our gadgets’ myriad abilities, they lost one important ability: the ability to be shut off.

Recently I bought a new audio interface and external hard drive. Neither of them has an off switch. You have to physically unplug them from the computer for them to be off. I find this both surprising and unnecessary. Would it really have been that difficult to add an extra 10-cent part so I don’t have equipment running all the time when I’m not using it and I don’t have to crawl behind the computer to shut it off?

I’m not sure what the manufacturers are thinking when they do this. Perhaps they’re afraid of the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” and want to keep me aware of their existence by whirring or by flashing lights at me all the time? Are they too horrified by the notion that parts of my life may involve activities for which they are simply not necessary?

Or perhaps it’s merely a symptom of our 24/7 always-on wired society - a metaphor for what our 21st-century lives have become? I’m not entirely sure, but this year, regardless of which holidays you choose to celebrate, take some time and stop for a bit. Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of an off switch.

Happy Holidays from Omnimusic.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Close Shave


Years ago, I had written some music for a big corporate show. At the show, during rehearsals, they decided one of the percussion sounds I'd used was sticking out too much. Apparently it was drowning out the voiceover.

As the composer, this is not your favorite thing to hear. After weeks of putting this all together, you'd think someone would have thought of this sooner. In their defense, I guess it wasn't obvious until they played it on the 56 whale-sized speakers at the venue.

The producer called me in a panic. I talked him down from the ledge and told him I'd take care of it. I quickly made the changes and posted the track for them, which they downloaded on a laptop and threw into the video just as the show was about to begin. Talk about cutting it close!

Sometimes computers are your friends.

Sometimes…

-Dave Hab

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nerd Corner: SYSEX gone bad


I once had a SYSEX dump go bad. If you know what that phrase means, then
a) I’m sorry, and
b) Welcome to NerdWorld.

All the settings and sounds for an entire composing project were corrupted, and (of course) the client needed changes. I found that my MIDI interface had glitched and had randomly duplicated certain blocks of data. (either that or there were some nasty karma elves taking revenge on me for something.)

Looking at a healthy batch of SYSEX data for comparison, I had to try to figure out where the corrupted blocks were and delete them by hand. Lest you be impressed at my hexadecimal acumen, let me quickly say I was guessing a bit. OK, a LOT. Ever had the feeling you're trying to perform surgery while handcuffed and blindfolded...without a medical degree and with only that 7th-grade science class anatomy poster to guide you? That about sums up what this was.

After several hours of this, no one was more surprised than I when it worked! Everything came up just fine and I got busy making the necessary changes to the track. However, this experience does not top my list of fun things to do on the weekend...or, for that matter, any other day that ends in “y.”

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pick Two


There is a maxim that producers tend to live by. A project can be three things:
1) Good
2) Fast
3) Cheap

However, you can only have it two out of the three ways. If it's good and fast, it ain't cheap. If it's fast and cheap, it ain't good, and if it's cheap and good, it ain't fast.

I can almost hear all of the producers out there smiling knowingly. Now if only more of the accountants understood this...

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sanctum - Part II


While recording “Transcending Time,” I’d been playing with my new Duduk. It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship handmade by a master somewhere in Turkey. (There is truly very little you can’t get your hands on via the internet.)

As a violinist, learning to play erhu, viola, and cello weren’t much of a stretch, but the Duduk was in interesting challenge. I fell in love with the sound of this instrument after hearing it on shows like Battlestar Galactica. Not long after, it became extremely popular in all kinds of movie scores. It’s a double-reed instrument which, unless you’re an oboe player, is something new. It requires you to purse your lips and apply pressure in an extremely non-string-player manner.

This instrument is a bit difficult to tame. Controlling the pitch was an interesting task, and its not a wonder it takes many years to play it well. What made it particularly tricky in this context was the fact that I intended to play it over some background chords, so the pitch had to be brought into line with these or the whole thing would sound truly awful.

Fortunately I had a little help from my friends at Autotune to keep things from getting out of control. Yes, instead of practicing for years, I cheated a bit. (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.) The resulting track is OMN 179/11 “Empty Eons” http://bit.ly/di5zwB

As the title may indicate, just playing this felt like a trip back through time and space. The Duduk is considered one of the oldest instruments on the planet, and you can feel the history in its sound. I suppose there’s something slightly ironic about recording it digitally and altering the sound with computers in order to travel back through time, but I loved the end result.

As I mentioned previously, finishing “Sanctum” took almost exactly one year. Of course, part of this was that I had other projects to do, but another part of this was that the devil is in the details. As with any project, the first 95% is easy, but it’s that last 5% that’ll kill you. Since this was a labor of love, I gave it everything I had, and that meant driving myself insane with the last 5% to get it “just right.”

Anyone who’s done this knows the strange and frustrating places it can take you, but I figured if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it all the way. Do it right and it’s right forever. Do it wrong, and you’ll always be bothered by it.

So mixing, re-mixing, fixing, tweaking, tweaking some more, tweaking even more…you get the idea. Finally, however, I arrived at a finished product. Fourteen tracks born of the heart through freedom. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having accomplished this. Along with it, though, comes the vow to never do it again. Joy, frustration, confusion, elation – all part of the mix.

But now at least I can say I did it.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sanctum - Part I


I’ve been asked to write a bit about what went into some of the tracks in our libraries. I figured I’d start with a couple of tracks from the album I had the most involvement in: OMN 179 Sanctum (http://bit.ly/di5zwB)

Previous to starting work on writing these tracks, I had spent years as a freelance composer and producer. This meant that I was either writing for someone else’s specifications or working on someone else’s music – again, to their specifications. Being busy trying to make a living precluded me from having the luxury of just writing something for ME and not for someone else.

When I started writing for Omnimusic, I was given more leeway in writing than I was used to having, and I liked it. I pitched the idea for “Sanctum” to Doug and he let me run with it and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I spent the next year following my muse wherever it led.

I envisioned something with a world influence, fairly acoustic, and peaceful. In preparation for some of the ideas I had, I bought and learned how to play an erhu, duduk, pennywhistle, Irish tenor whistle, cello, viola, and various percussion instruments.

I started at 5AM on New Year’s Day. The astute will note that either I was still up from partying all night, or I was an incredibly boring human being. I assure you it was the latter. But for some time, I’d been bouncing around the idea for what became the second track on Sanctum, “Transcending Time” and having the day off afforded me a chance to get started.

I wrote the piece before the family got out of bed, and recorded it a few days later. The title “Transcending Time” came out of the fact that it was a bit non-standard in its phrasing. Pulling out my new cello, viola, and Tenor Whistle, I played all the parts myself, making me a one-man quintet (something I’d always wanted to try.) Here’s the resulting track: http://bit.ly/rZcw67

Now the liberation had begun and the floodgates had been opened. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was writing for me, and had the freedom to write what I wanted, instead of what I had to.

It's a nice feeling.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Low-level Monitoring


Discussing ear fatigue leads me to the topic of low-level monitoring. What most people don't realize is that everything sounds good at paint-melting volume. It imparts such power and drama and your senses are so overwhelmed by sonic mayhem that you don't get a sense of what the track really sounds like.

Since not everyone will be blasting the track through fusion-powered gigawatt-rated speakers, you need to also know what things will sound like at human volume levels. This is where low-level monitoring comes in in the studio.

It actually takes quite a bit of discipline to keep the volume levels low while mixing, because it sounds so much more exciting LOUD! However, the louder you mix, the more quickly you will not only lose perspective, but your ears will wear out, and then you'll start doing things like turning up the cymbals…

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turn Up the Cymbals


I once heard about a producer who would immediately end a mix session as soon as someone uttered the words, "Turn up the cymbals."

The point was, this was a measure of ear fatigue. The upper midrange frequencies (where the cymbals live) are the first to go when your ears get tired from mixing too long. So once someone needed the cymbals turned up, he knew it was time to call it a day.

This leads me to wonder about eye fatigue. Is it time to turn off the computer when you misread “Avid” as “Rabid?”

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Overwhelmed


In the movie “Moscow On the Hudson,” Robin Williams plays a character who defects from cold war Soviet Union to the United States. The first time he walks into an American supermarket with thousands and thousands of products piled up as far as the eye can see, his head starts spinning, he hyperventilates, and passes out in the middle of the aisle.

This, I think, accurately describes the situation with our music choices today. Production music libraries love to talk about how many tracks of music they have available – we’re all guilty of it. But at what point is “too much” a bad thing?

An experiment on this idea was run not long ago. They put out a display of homemade jam at a gourmet food store. First they only put out two flavors. Then they added a whole bunch of other flavors to the choices. They discovered that many more purchases were made when there were fewer choices. When there are too many choices, it becomes too much work to choose, so people don’t.

In our industry, it would appear that the same principles apply. Options are good, but if there are too many options, there is the danger that you’ll spend too much time trying to make the decisions, and your workflow grinds to a halt.

With this notion firmly in mind, we here at Omnimusic have always focused on quality and usefulness, rather than quantity. Which is better, thousands of tracks to listen through to find the useful ones, or fewer that are more useful?

So the next time you find yourself passed out on the floor and buried in music, wander over to www.Omnimusic.com and try it out.

Or stay on the floor. It’s your choice…

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time Compression


While we’re on the subject of time, in my audio software I have a tool called ‘Time Compression/Expansion.” Oh, if it only did what the name says. Imagine something that would compress or expand time as you needed. Boring events could fly by, while moments of pleasure could last longer, deadlines would never be missed, and other things could be postponed indefinitely. (Of course, if other people had access to this time-warping tool as well, things could get complicated.)

We discussed deadlines last week, and how we try to speed up our workflow. Essentially we are attempting to compress time. My audio software does this by cutting out little tiny slices of audio throughout the track – so small as to be inaudible. Any one slice has no significant impact on the timing of the track, but put them all together and you can speed up a track significantly before you start to hear bad things happen to it.

In our work, every click and keystroke saved, every quicker way of doing things, every more efficient search adds up into our ability to compress time. The trick is to not go too far so the quality of what we’re doing suffers. It’s a balancing act we’re always trying to achieve here at Omni. Speed things up, but not at the sacrifice of quality.

This is particularly evident in the audio production department. We’re always trying to find ways to release more music, but we refuse to sacrifice quality to do it. We don’t think that serves anyone well in the long run, although it may look good on paper. Speed is only good if it still achieves the desired results in the end.

Bt myb ths blg wld gt dne qckr wtht vwls.

-Dave Hab

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Linear Time


Here’s the shocking revelation of the week: our experience of time is linear. I know that may sound obvious, but it seems to be something frequently forgotten in the video production industry.

I am as guilty as anyone of wanting everything done NOW, but seeing as how events happen sequentially, you can’t always get what you want without altering the fundamental laws of the universe. (Good luck with that.) Accepting this fact, however, is easier said than done. (You know who you are.)

This also means true multi-tasking is a myth, as the human brain can only process events one at a time (and with some people, not even that. You know who they are.)

What we’re left with, then, is speeding up our workflow. Efficient methods and tools to help us get our tasks done quicker (if not simultaneously.)

Here at Omnimusic, we kept this firmly in mind when we rebuilt our web site. Everything is designed to make your workflow smoother and to get you the music you need as quickly as possible. Sure, we could’ve made it flashier, fancier, busier, etc. but we didn’t think that would really help anyone except the web designer.

Best of all, when you’re working on a project where yesterday isn’t soon enough, we’re always here to lend a hand as well.

Until that time machine is finished, of course…

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cell phone as studio monitor?


Earlier in this blog, we discussed “The Truth.” However, there is such a thing as taking this too far. During one huge project, full of theater music and choreography, we were making the 6,487th round of changes while the producers were getting on a plane to fly to the show.

We had pulled two consecutive all-night sessions, and were playing the mixes over one of the producers' cell phones while they were on the plane awaiting take-off. Now THAT's quality audio.

And yes, they made more changes…

-Dave Hab

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The future is here! Sort of…


I recently read a story about a defense contractor that started work on a fantastic piece of equipment – something unheard of in our times. How were they this far ahead of everyone technologically? No one could touch them! Then I read down farther in the story and realized this project had a deadline 50 years from now! Yes, they had made projections 50 years into the future as if they were being fulfilled today.

This, of course, is ridiculous, as 50 years from now no one will remember anything they promised or even the company itself the way mergers and such go these days. But what a fantastic idea! There’s nothing to lose by doing this, they’re not exactly lying (they may well intend to make this device and have started brainstorming about it) and they had worldwide publicity to gain (which they definitely got.)

In light of all of this, I am now announcing that Omnimusic has begun work on a service that will revolutionize the music for film business: The Omnimatic 3000 Mind-melding Music Mapper.

Yes, find the perfect piece of music for that video you’re working on simply by viewing the video while our home page is open in another window. We will be able to read the brainwaves of your sub-conscious while you are viewing the video and will be able to know instantly what piece of music you need - even when you don’t know it yourself!

Imagine the time and effort you’ll save slogging through countless pieces of music that just don’t seem to work. Oh yes, by the way, we don’t intend to have this finished for another fifty years or so…but we’re working on it.

In the meantime, we offer a service that’s close. When you’re stuck, contact us, let us know what you’re working on, and we'll help you find music that will work. No, we’re not psychic (yet) but we do have an enormous amount of experience in music supervision as well as audio and video production, so it’s the next best thing.

“What a great idea!” you say?

We knew you were going to say that.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Best Have the Worst


I've noticed that all the best and brightest producers I've met have the absolute worst stereo systems in their homes. I'm talking about systems that are woefully outdated that appear to have been bought used on a street corner out of the back of the truck of some guy named "Fingers."

This may strike most people as a bit odd. It's certainly not because these people can't afford better systems. In fact, these people have speakers in their studios worth more than a car and that would put even the best consumer systems to shame. Why not great systems in their homes too?

Because they need the truth.

We discussed "the truth" in a previous post, and this is just an extension of that idea. Listening to their tracks on low-end consumer systems gives them a more accurate idea of what their work will sound like in the real world. Very few people listen to music on expensive systems these days - mostly it's low-quality .mp3's through free ear buds.

So if you want the best idea of what the end result will sound like, apparently it pays to buy the worst.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Truth


I once heard about a studio that had beautiful, giant $10,000/pair speakers that could reveal things in the music that had previously only existed in other utopian dimensions. These were the kind of speakers that would give you a religious experience when you heard them.

But this is not about those speakers. This is about the single speaker that sat between them. It was a small, beat-up old piece of garbage with the frequency response of a flounder. Below it was a sign that said, "The Truth."

All of you out there who have had to mix music that is supposed to sound great on a wide variety of audio systems are nodding your heads knowingly. It's not about how great your music sounds on the BEST speakers - nearly everything sounds great on those - it's about how it sounds on the WORST speakers, because if you can make it sound great on those, it will also sound great on better speakers. Unfortunately, the reverse isn't true.

So to the ancients who equated truth with beauty, I can only say, “Not in this business.”

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monkeys and Whisks


I once complimented a composer on his guitar playing, and he said that he was afraid it wouldn't sound so good if it weren't for the plug-ins he was using.

I told him that it didn't matter if he used a monkey and a whisk - it was only the end result that mattered. (Of course, thinking about it now, that conjures up quite an image.)

This brings up the discussion of two schools of thought when approaching music production: Purists vs. Perfectionists. The purist approach is more one of the documentarian. Their goal is to capture the reality of a performance. They tend not to use a lot of gadgets and tricks to make things sound hyper-real, but rather are interested in the reality and honesty of a performance and recording.

The Perfectionist, however, is interested in making things hyper-real: a level of perfection not found in nature that can only be achieved through massive amounts of technology.

These two schools of thought have no common ground and each tends to think the other is in error in their approach. But both positions do have their place in the world of music. Not every performance (or genre) benefits from one approach or the other. It would seem the genre and purpose for which the track is created must be taken into account as well.

While I do tend to lean toward the Perfectionist camp, I’ve used both approaches, and you’ll see plenty of representation of both camps in the Omnimusic libraries. Ultimately, we do what we need to do to serve our clients’ needs.

But boy, that monkey sure can play the whisk...

-Dave Hab

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Five-second Rule...


The five-second rule applies equally well to both food and music - that is, not at all. Germs and copyright infringement are transferred in exactly the same amount of time: instantly. That's right: contrary to popular belief, there is no safe amount of time to leave your food on the floor and no amount of music that's legal to use without permission.

There, we've busted two myths with one metaphoric stone.

(For more copyright info, check out our “Copyright Q&A” at http://www.omnimusic.com/copyrightqa/

-Dave Hab

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Annoying, but Necessary


While we’re on the topic of making things better:

My wife is a print editor and I am a music producer. I have discovered that these are basically the same thing, only in different media. I have also discovered that both are fairly annoying but necessary roles.

Every time I write something (in words, not music,) she’s got her $.02 about how to make it better. It doesn’t matter that she’s always right. It’s still annoying. (Maybe that’s WHY it’s annoying.)

I would imagine our composers feel the same way about the $.02 we’re constantly sticking in about how to make the track better for our clients. Hopefully, they understand that we’re less interested in the esoteric artistic “greatness” of a work, and more interested in how it serves our clients’ needs.

Sure, we love great art as much as anyone, but we can never lose sight of whom and what it is we are creating for. Some composers understand this; others decidedly do not. The ones that DO understand this write for Omnimusic.

When we make changes to the music, hopefully we’re always right. Either way, I’ll bet we’re annoying.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Better vs. Different


I mentioned in an earlier post that the Broadway Cast album mix was a whole other story. It's the story of people who can't make a distinction between "better" and just “different." You know who they are - I'm sure you've dealt with them at some point. Well, we had three of them on this project, and each had their own perspective on how things should be done. I'm sure now you understand why this project was interminable.

“Better” vs. “different” is a murky gray swamp of an area, and one producers swim in every day. Making a change that makes the track better is one thing, but at some point, you're making minute changes that no one but you could ever notice, and you're not making it better - you're just making it different. To some, making the distinction is a bit like understanding the difference in quantum spins, but in a creative project it's an important distinction that can mean the difference between greatness and insanity.

-Dave Hab

Friday, August 5, 2011

Water and Hard Drives Don't Mix


The fact that water and hard drives don't mix should be self-evident to anyone who's ever used electricity, but I once witnessed first hand the outcome of such an ill-advised marriage.

We were six weeks into a Broadway cast album mix (no, it shouldn't have taken that long, but that's a whole other story.) We were a few days from finishing (in theory) when a clogged storm drain flooded the studio with six inches of water. Of course, the computer containing all of the automation from the mixes was on the ground, and was now doing its best impression of Jacques Cousteau.

With horrifying visions of having to repeat the previous six weeks (to which prolonged dental surgery would have been preferable) we sent the hard drive off to be dissected in a clean room in a mysterious black ops facility somewhere in California. Funny how in certain situations money becomes no object.

In any case, it all turned out fine in the end. The microchip magicians burned some incense, waved their wands, recovered all of our data, and we finished the gig. I guess the moral of the story is "Don't place computer equipment on the floor of flood-prone areas unless you have nothing to lose or money to burn." (Or some kind of sick need to repeat your work.)

Words to the wise.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Music Rights


A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to a group of cable TV producers about music rights. The session was scheduled to last over an hour, and as I put some thoughts on paper in advance of the event, I wondered if there was enough to talk about. I should have known better.

Music rights are complicated, and recently they've become even more complicated as music users and rights owners try to figure out how the old rules apply to the ever-changing new world. Protection for authors and inventors is enshrined in the Constitution, but the framers could never have imagined the 24/7 media soup that has become our common milieu, or the challenges it would bring to creators.

The good news for media producers is that in our corner of the world, not much has changed in the past fifty years, nor is it likely to in the near future. There will always be "synch rights" for music in media, and there will always be instances of "public performance" to be licensed. There will always be some version of "mechanical rights," even if that term is retired in favor of something more modern.

If you're not sure what some of those terms mean, you might be interested in reading my new blog about Music, Media & Copyright. There you'll find a useful glossary of the most common licensing terms, and answers to some of the most common questions we get here at Omni.

And if there's something you'd like to know about, shoot me an email!

- Doug

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Power of "Spice"


Music is powerful, and adding words to it magnifies its impact. Movie and commercial producers have known this for a long time, and it's a concept that has quickly spread to nearly all other media communications as well, from viral web videos to corporate productions.

With this in mind, Omnimusic has released a powerful new collection of songs for media. (With the amount of material that was submitted to us, we could’ve put together one of the biggest collections around, but throwing everything in just for the sake of quantity won't help busy producers.)

Within Spice you'll find a handy lyric search system as well. Type in a keyword, and you'll find all of the songs in the Spice collection that contain that word. Want to know how the song ends? Click on the “Play Ending” button of any track to find out.

We’ve released Spice with a core collection of amazing Rock, Pop Rock, and Singer/Songwriter tracks that cover the a wide range of styles within those genres. And we'll be adding more in the months to come.

Drive your message even deeper with a track from the Spice Vocal Library. Words + Music = Power. Experience it today at www.Omnimusic.com www.Omnimusic.com

Friday, March 18, 2011

Inspiration

Apart from grabbing and keeping the audience’s attention, one of the best things the Music Outside the Box library offers, from a producer or director’s perspective, is inspiration. Everybody claims they want to do “something different,” but few seem to actually manage it. MOTB is the chance to really do it.

If you’re going to do something different, then it stands to reason you should start with something different, and MOTB is just the thing. These tracks push the mind in completely different directions than it’s used to going. Different kinds of ideas and visuals will spring to mind, and these will be the inspiration for a whole new direction.

This is because these composers have leaped out of the familiar and into unexplored territory. They have committed to this path and have decided not to be concerned whether or not popular approval awaits.

This is the fearlessness we’ve written about in previous blogs, and it is the basis of trying something new. They have taken the first step into the great unknown, and invite you to push it further with equally creative visuals.

Be inspired, and let MOTB lead the way: http://www.omnimusic.com/motb/

- Dave

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Catch ‘em & Keep ‘em

Initial audience response to many of the tracks in the Music Outside the Box library is often, “What the…?” This is to be expected, and even desired. Now you have their attention. There’s always a danger that “normal” music will be tuned out by the listener, but MOTB is hard to ignore.

It’s true that these aren’t works the vast majority of people would put in regular listening rotation, but when you marry them to video you find a whole different response. Filmmakers have known this almost as long as there has been film, and if you listen to the soundtracks of many of the most famous films, you realize that this is the music driving it. That’s because it works really well.

Why is this? Perhaps, since the mind is engaged in visual stimulation, it is more open to something that inspires feeling, rather than needing something out of which it can make logical sense. Perhaps, since the senses are already engaged in something that’s larger than life, a complimentary experience of audio that’s “outside the norm” works particularly well. Both may be true. But the bottom line is that the brain tends to tune out the overly familiar, so if you want to catch and keep the audience’s attention, you must present something different than they’re used to seeing and hearing all the time.

While many things can be said about the Music Outside the Box library, accusing it of being “overly familiar” is certainly not one of them. These composers have pushed the boundaries of music in every conceivable direction. Some of them have even pushed the definition of music itself. But all have presented an auditory experience that will make the listener pay attention and realize something interesting is going on. This is a dream come true for the creative filmmaker.

Hear it now at MusicOutsideTheBox

- Dave Hab

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There’s a Method to the Madness

Prior to putting together the Music Outside the Box library, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of Avant-Garde music. After all, anyone can sit down at a piano and randomly play notes – my kids do it all the time. But after immersing myself in this world for awhile, I soon became aware that not all of this music was created equal. Yes, the landscape was cluttered with imitators and wannabes, but there existed a certain class of composer who stood out. They were doing something different – something that on the surface might seem incoherent to the casual listener, but it really wasn’t.

There was an obvious difference between what I’d consider the “real thing” and people who were just imitating the style, but what was it? At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew it when I heard it.

I came to realize that the truly great ones were attempting to either convey meaning or elicit emotion with a non-standard musical vocabulary. They were creating what linguists would call “phonemes,” or basic building blocks of sound, and then using those to build something that did have an underlying structure, much the same as “traditional” composers would. This was not always immediately obvious, but to my ears, it made the distinction between art and chaos.

In some of these pieces, the structure is obvious: patterns emerge, themes return, and you begin to hear something not nearly as non-standard as you first thought. Other pieces are less obvious, but can have just as strong an emotional impact. And that, as filmmakers, is ultimately what we’re after: impact and response. If we can’t get those, then the music isn’t doing its job.

The tracks in our new Music Outside the Box library have all been chosen with the creative filmmaker in mind. They catch the attention, say something, and deliver an emotional impact in a non-standard package. So we find, after all, that there is a method to the madness.

- Dave Hab

Monday, January 31, 2011

Music Outside The Box - Part One

I've been a fan of contemporary concert music for a long time. First, I'm intrigued by composers who think so differently about music, and who hear the world in a completely different way than I do. How do they create this music? What's the spark?

Second, the music business can be tough. As Hunter Thompson once famously wrote, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Generally speaking, contemporary concert composers aren't expecting or even seeking to become rich and famous. They relentlessly pursue their musical vision with the near certain knowledge that they will never achieve the celebrity or success that so many in the music business aspire to. I admire that.

In my capacity as a Board member of ASCAP I have the privilege to meet and hear some of the country's most talented young concert composers when they come to New York to receive awards from ASCAP's concert division or from the ASCAP Foundation. I never cease to be inspired by their music, their optimism, their fearlessness.

I often see visual images in my mind when I hear music. A few years ago as I sat listening to performances at one of the concert music awards ceremonies, the images came fast and furious, just like the music. And it occurred to me that much of the music I was hearing would make fantastic soundtracks for really creative productions. Not for the typical things, of course, but for the really unusual ones.

So my associate Dave Hab and I set out to find some of the most interesting and visually-stimulating concert music we could. The fruits of our search form the basic Music Outside the Box collection we're launching today. In the next few days we'll tell you how we put this particular collection together, and why we think you may find it more useful than you think.

            - Doug

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sessions with Marian


Marian McPartland, the jazz legend, lives here in Port Washington.  I've been incredibly fortunate to have worked with Marian on a variety of projects, from her promos for NPR's "Piano Jazz" to original tracks she has composed for the Omnimusic Library.  There are many things I love about Marian - her sense of humor, her British slang, her determined spirit. But the thing I love most about Marian is her fearlessness.

Most jazz music is built on a framework of sequenced chord patterns and rhythms. Improvising musicians build on this framework, concocting elaborate melodies, and even going off on tangents, but eventually returning safely home at the end of their solo chorus. So long as the underlying framework remains intact, it all works and everyone knows where they are.

But if someone in the group starts playing unexpected rhythms, or using different chords, it rocks the foundation of the tune. It can feel as if the rug is being pulled out from under the soloists, and it's a little scary for most ordinary musicians.

But Marian has no fear.  When she plays, she often climbs out on a limb, introducing new chords and new rhythm patterns until the original framework of the tune is almost completely obscured. I'll admit that at times like these, I've sometimes wondered if she knows exactly where she is.

Then all of a sudden - BAM! - her left hand comes down with authority on the final chord of the chorus, and she calmly re-enters back into the original tune without batting an eye.  

Incredible. And inspiring. Taking chances is what makes the great ones great.