Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Strange Silence of Sandy


When hurricane Sandy swept through here, we lost power for seven days.  Fortunately, we didn’t sustain any property damage (which is more than I can say for most of our neighbors) but living without power for a week was something new to me.  Last year, with hurricane Irene, we lost power for three days, and thought that was a big deal.  As any preschooler could tell you, three ain’t seven.

The first few days were interesting and not too bad.  The weather was cold, so we ran the fireplace every night and played games by candlelight.  However, by day 4 or 5, we were over it.  The strangest thing for me, however, was the silence.  I realized it was probably the longest I’d gone, since birth, without music.

I was raised in a musical family, and from day one was groomed to be a musician.  I listened to music for hours a day from the age I could sit up, and practiced the violin every day from the age of three.  These days, as a composer and producer, large amounts of my time are still spent listening to music.  All of the years between then and now have been a constant stream of music too, except for those days without power.

The world is a different place without music - a place that most people would agree is not nearly as nice.  This is an important realization for people in the music industry who may feel like their contribution to society isn’t worthwhile.  It’s easy to watch emergency workers, doctors, policemen (and in the case of hurricane Sandy, the power crews) and feel like what they’re doing is valuable, while you are just wasting your time goofing around with music.  It’s true that what these people do is extremely important, and I have nothing but the most respect for them.   But as it turns out, the world needs a bit of what I do as well.  Music does make the world a better place.  I may not be saving lives, but I hope I’m making them better.

Happy holidays to all of you and yours from all of us at Omnimusic, and I hope it’s all that much nicer with some good music.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quality or Nothing


I decided it was time to replace our coffee maker.  I actually like our coffee maker, but something had worn out over the years, and it was getting harder and harder to get the carafe into the machine.  THIS time, I was going to get a really GOOD machine.  Yes, I was ready to spring for the best!  Bring it on!

I went online and did a ton of research only to find that there was nothing out there worth buying (other than a $4,000 truck-sized monster that was intended for restaurants and was a bit impractical for my kitchen, seeing as how I’d probably have to get rid of the stove to accommodate it.)

I couldn’t believe it:  brands that used to have reputations for great products were now making machines that leaked, broke quickly, or even caught fire at an alarmingly high rate.  I decided to limp along with what we had, because apparently it was better than the new stuff being made.

Awhile later, the pitcher to our iced tea maker (same company as our coffee machine) broke, and it turned out to be $5 more for a whole new machine (with pitcher) than it was to just replace the pitcher.  The problem was, the new machine was terrible.  People reported all kinds of problems with leaking and bad design, and the consensus among people in my situation was to spend the money for just the replacement pitcher, which I did.

Something’s wrong here.  I, an American consumer (notorious for our prolific purchasing,) was ready to drop some money on new machines, and couldn’t find anything worth spending it on. Think about that. Costs (and subsequently quality) are being cut to the point where the product is not worth buying. How is that a sustainable business model?  How long before all of your customers get burned by the garbage you’re putting out, stop buying it, and you go out of business?

Frankly, we’ve seen the same thing in our field too.  It’s always a question of quality vs. cost.  The problem is that cost has an immediate effect whereas quality takes longer to discern.  If I tell you product “A” is half the price of product “B,” then the effect of saving money on “A” is immediate.  However, it’s going to take you awhile to find out that “A” is half as good as “B” and to figure out all its problems and inadequacies.  By then you’ll probably be ready to scream and throw it across the room.  (Ask my family how many times they’ve heard the phrase, “Who is the IDIOT who designed this?  Did they even USE their own product?”)

This cost-cutting, garbage-producing business model is one I’ll never understand, as it goes against everything I believe in.  Fortunately, I work for a company who agrees with me.  Good thing too, as otherwise it would be impractical for everyone in the office to have to get earplugs to block out my constant screaming.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hey, Come Back Here!


Dr. Ned Hallowell is one of the world’s foremost experts on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) so if anyone knows a thing or two about grabbing and keeping someone’s attention it’s…wait, where was I? 

Oh yeah.  Dr. Hallowell uses an acronym to describe the elements used in holding someone’s attention: SIN.  These stand for Structure, Interaction, and Novelty.  He certainly had my attention, as this is something I’ve encountered before in music. 

I’ve noticed that without structure, music tends to wander and get boring very quickly.  Without novelty, it gets boring even quicker. But what about Interaction?  Clearly, given the amount of time people love to spend listening to music, it keeps their attention. People sit there with headphones on and don’t move, yet they’re enraptured and music is a powerful force that moves their life. This scene doesn’t seem very interactive.  Or is it?

Perhaps the interactivity in listening to music comes with the familiarity of whatever piece of music you’re listening to.  If you’re familiar with the tune, then your brain knows what’s coming next, and actually anticipates it, essentially playing along with the song.  This is about as interactive, on a mental level, as anything you could hope to do.

This is also why the catchiest tunes tend to be quite simple.  The more quickly your brain becomes familiar with the tune, the more quickly you become interactive with it, and the more it holds your attention.  Pop tunes tend to use repetition along with this simplicity to reinforce the process.  And remember all those infectious TV jingles you wish you couldn’t remember?  Simple, repeated, and therefore quickly familiar.

Of course, simplicity and repetition aren’t enough.  Remember that structure and novelty are part of the equation as well, so just repeating two notes over and over won’t hold your attention for very long.

In composing production music, the understanding of these principles is what tends to separate the “not bad” composers from the great ones.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard tracks that were a fantastic 20-second idea that was then basically repeated ad infinitum for 2-3 minutes.  But a truly great track has a structure as well as a changing landscape within that structure.

This is one more thing that separates good production music from bad, and which good video producers know instinctively, whether they know the causes or not.  Therefore, if you find yourself wondering why a piece of music is boring, ask yourself if it contains structure and novelty or if it wanders around aimlessly or just repeats itself into the ground.

And for those of you whose attention has been held this far into this blog entry, click here.

No, nothing will happen if you do, but I’ve just added interactivity to structure and novelty.  I guess you could say I put the Interactivity in SIN. 

Thanks for your attention.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Musicians


Musicians create intangible product with no apparent objective value which (usually) takes a few minutes to experience and then relies on the hearer’s sensory memory to answer the question, “So, whaddya think?”

Couple this with the insecurity of waking up in the morning and not knowing if you have any good ideas left, and you have a recipe for madness.  It’s surprising more musicians aren’t a bit nutty.  In fact, in my experience, most of them are shockingly decent and sane people.

Maybe that’s because there’s something that drives them.  “Passion” is the first word that comes to mind.  Everyone I know who got into the music business got into it first and foremost because of their passion for music.  There was not only an appreciation for it, but a burning desire to create it.  I’m not entirely sure where this impetus comes from, but it’s the same thing that has driven humanity to all of its creations and discoveries, from art, to science, to architecture, and everything else we've achieved.

Unlike these other things, music suffers from intangibility.  It’s not a concrete “thing” that can be handled or admired - it’s merely a bunch of waves moving through the air that come and go.  It could be argued that video has the same “problem” but try pausing a video, then try pausing a song, and you’ll notice a difference.

In spite of all this, music has a power that runs through the globe and its history.  Every society seems to have had a strong sense of music, and  today there are very few who don’t listen to a great deal of music.  It speaks to something deep within us and has the power to move us in a variety of emotional directions.  It is also a core element in most video as well.  Music is listened to without video, but not often is video watched without music.

So in the field of production music, composers have a great and strange task at hand.  We are attempting to write music for video that does not yet exist, in the widest variety of styles and emotions to fit every conceivable need.  Imagine - creating an intangible product for an as-yet invisible end.  Again, I wonder that these composers are as seemingly normal as they are.  (Well, most of them.)

In light of all of this, it’s not a wonder that passion is the driving force.  What else could push us onward like explorers into a great unknown, invisible world?  Either that or we’re all just nuts.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Originality


Is any music really original?  To answer this, first we have to decide what we mean by “original.”  Do we mean something completely different from everything that came before, or do we mean something that is at least in some way different than what came before?  If the latter, than how different does it have to be?  This is where copyright law comes in, and even then, originality is sometimes a bit hard to concretely quantify.

I suppose it is not impossible to be truly original if you try hard enough, but what you will come up with is unlikely to be considered music by most, and is very unlikely to be commercially viable.  When you consider how much music has been written in the history of the world, true originality is quite difficult, and even more so with every passing day as more and more music is created.  So composers tend to use the same 12 notes and stay, at least roughly, within the bounds of what came before.

To complicate matters even further, it is possible to create something that came before without having heard the previous work.  This actually happened to me once.  I was writing some inspirational music for a corporate show.  I wrote and re-wrote the theme several times until I arrived at what I thought would work.  My wife took one listen and said, “That’s Carly Simon’s 'Let the River Run.'”  I said, “What?”  (Believe it or not, at the time I didn’t know the song.)  We played the original, and she was completely correct.  It was identical.

Now, it’s very easy to assume I’d heard the song and was just pulling it out of my subconscious, but I knew the process by which I’d written it, so that theory couldn’t be correct.  If you think about it, since we’re all using the same basic 12 notes, it stands to reason there would be some kind of overlap sooner or later. This is where it’s important not to live in a bubble, and to work with people who are deeply knowledgeable.

There’s no question that most composers take a great deal of inspiration from what came before.  It’s doubtful we could write music at all if we didn’t.  Somehow we had to learn what music was and how to write it.  The trick is to put your own stamp on it - to merely take inspiration, not to copy it.

You would think that mathematically we would eventually arrive at a point where all possible combinations of those 12 notes (and the various rhythms) have been done and there is no music left to be written (at least within our present definition of  what most of us consider “music.”)  I don’t know if or when that will ever happen, but for the moment we press onward, trying to come up with something new – something at least in some way significantly different from what came before.  We also (at least in the field of production music) want something that is useful to our clients.  It doesn’t do anyone much good if our unbounded originality leads to something incomprehensible that no one has a use for.   Neither is anyone served by doing the same old thing over and over. 

So this is the balancing act we perform every day.  Sometimes we push the envelope more than others, but we try not to lose sight of what we’re doing, and for whom.

As Jean-luc Goddard once said, “It’s not where you take things from it’s where you take them to.”  Hopefully, we’re taking them to good places.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Process


When I recently bought a new blade for my table saw, the thought occurred to me, “Man I’m paying an awful lot of money for a few cents worth of metal.” Of course this is ridiculous, because it’s not about the raw materials, it’s about what it took to turn them into the finished product.

Somewhere there’s a giant factory devoted to turning this “few cents worth of metal” into hardened steel, shaping it into a perfectly-balanced circle, engraving grooves into it to reduce vibration, cutting each tooth into a specific pattern suitable for certain kinds of cutting, and then sharpening it into something that will do the job without ruining the wood you’re working with. Well now, when you put it that way, the price seems more justified.

These days, music often seems to be thought of as that “few cents worth of metal” rather than the finished product it is. Perhaps this is because everybody has the tools in their computer to create music. But it takes a lot more than these raw materials to create a piece of music that will work well with a video production. Even after the composer is done creating the piece, there is usually some refinement that goes on to make the track even more usable for our clients’ needs. This refinement is the result of years of experience and client feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. This is but one of many things that set Omni apart, and why our music is always acclaimed for its quality.

Perhaps the perception of music’s lack of value is the result of many companies not putting this kind quality control into their product. Sure it’s a lot more work for us, but we believe the results speak for themselves, and that our clients (and our clients’ clients) do notice the difference.

So the next time you’re trying to decide on music for your project, ask yourself if you’d rather have a “few cents worth of metal” or the finished blade.

 -Dave Hab

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cool in the Fourth Dimension


Recently, Keith Richards (yes, THE Keith Richards) was in the studio (no, no our studio) complaining that his kids thought he was un-cool.  Can you imagine?  And if Keith can be un-cool, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Very few things are universally cool.  I would say the Rolling Stones, at least at one time, were pretty close. But from their kids’ perspective, none of that matters, and they’re un-cool.

However, cool is not only a function of perspective, but of time as well.  Think about the stuff that was cool when you were a kid.  Most of it becomes deeply un-cool at some point, and then becomes ultra retro-cool later on.  All a function of the fourth dimension.

Because Omnimusic has been around for over 30 years, we’ve seen this in our own library.  Tracks that were insanely cool when they first came out lost the cool factor for awhile, and now are retro-cool.  We actually have Disco tracks, for instance, that were released in the disco era!  So when you want authentic Disco, voila!

It’s kind of fun watching tracks like this have a second life, but you’ve got to keep on top of it with the metadata.  At one point, we had to go back and tag all the stuff that was released in the 1980s as “80’s” music.  Of course, when it came out it was just contemporary music.  Now it’s its own genre.

So when you’re looking for stuff from previous eras, don’t forget to check with the people who were there releasing it when it was the newest thing.

And thanks to Keith, you know you don’t have to listen to your kids’ take on your coolness.

Cool.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Competition


You don’t have to compete if there are no competitors. Yeah, brilliant, I know.

This a rare but great position to be in. In a race, it would be pointless, as you’d be going around the track alone for no reason. But when it comes to style or innovation, it’s great.

One of the more recent examples of this (and there are many in our technologically innovative age) is the iPad. When it came out, people flocked to it because it was great, and there was nothing like it. Of course, it didn’t take long before the copycats tried to play catch-up, but all that did was keep Apple on their toes. Instead of running a monopoly where innovation was unnecessary, they had to keep pushing forward to stay ahead of the market, all the while remaining true to their style and original vision.

This is an interesting balancing act, and one we’re quite familiar with here at Omnimusic. Omni was one of the very first production music libraries. Of course, it didn’t take long for people to catch on that the library business was the future, and libraries have been popping up like friends around a lottery winner ever since.

Now, with so many libraries around, where does Omnimusic fit? It’s not enough to have been around the longest with the highest customer satisfaction. There has to be something to make Omni stand out from the crowd.

That something has always been not only the first-rate customer service, incredibly helpful music supervision, and the high quality of the music, but a focus on music that is particularly useful for a wide variety of applications. Where the balancing act comes in is not allowing yourself to become dated or stagnant – you have to keep up on the latest music too. Of course, you don’t want to release so much “flavor of the week” music that you lose the style and focus that your clients love and that made you great in the first place.

We rely heavily on feedback from our customers to maintain this balance. Sure, we have the composers and resources to release the latest top-40 thing all the time, but that doesn’t serve our clients’ needs. We strive to both stay up to date and to remain true to what got us here in the first place.

So when you’re looking around at various library options, first ask yourself what it is you need. If you need the biggest, the loudest, or the trendiest, there are plenty of choices. But if you need a well-rounded bunch of really high-quality music that is appropriate for a wide variety of applications, coupled with great customer service and music supervision, then there really only is one choice: Omnimusic. Like everything in life, we believe there’s a balance, and we work hard every day to maintain it.

Plus, it’s kind of fun to watch everyone else try to play catch-up.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Inappropriate Behavior

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went out to eat at an Indian restaurant. The food was authentic (as was the d├ęcor,) the staff was attired in traditional Indian garb, but something was wrong with the ambience: cheesy 70’s American elevator music was piping through the restaurant’s speaker system. This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, it seems to be a common trend in our part of the country, and for the life of me, I can’t understand it.

I used to live in Manhattan and regularly went to 6th street, otherwise known as Indian Row. It was a whole street of nothing but Indian restaurants, and there you would never hear anything but traditional Indian music playing. In fact, a few of the restaurants even had a live sitar player in the corner. (To this day, whenever I hear sitar music I actually get hungry and crave Indian food.)

This brings up the discussion of the appropriateness of music in a given scene. You wouldn’t walk into a bookstore and expect to hear heavy metal any more than you’d walk into a biker bar and expect to hear Mozart. You wouldn’t make ballet music the soundtrack of an extreme sports competition any more than you’d put new age music into a rave scene (unless you were going for something really crazy.)

Music makes a huge difference in the perception of any scene, and frankly, any place. Choosing the right music is a huge part of video production, and we often help our clients with the music supervision to make sure they get just what they need. Otherwise you’re in danger of turning your documentary of India into an elevator.

With restaurants, maybe it’s just that they need music supervisors too. I volunteer: “Will work for food.”

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Experience the Difference


I recently bought a really good ping-pong table. The marvelous thing about it is its absolute perfection. First of all, it was packaged by a magician. Everything fit into two flat boxes and was perfectly protected. Each piece was without blemish, no marks on the table surface, everything went together perfectly, the parts were all clearly marked and organized, and even the assembly instructions were simple and clear. The whole experience was an all-too-rare treat.

It’s a company that’s been in business for a very long time, and it shows. There’s something to be said for people with a great deal of experience. They say it takes 10,000 hours at something to become an expert, and personally, I think it’s worth the effort.

This thought came up recently at a big band recording session we were having here. All of the players involved were way beyond the 10,000-hour expert mark, and it really made the difference in both the ease of the session and the quality of the results. It definitely pays to work with the best.

Omnimusic has been around for over 30 years now. That’s a LOT more than 10,000 hours. We’d like to think it shows in the way we produce our music and help our customers.

There’s much more I could say on this, but I’ve got about 9,000 hours of table tennis to play.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Least We Can Do


I always have to chuckle when I hear the phrase, “It’s the least we can do.” Why are you doing the least you can? Why not try doing more? I would imagine this phrase began life as “At least we can do this…” and over time morphed into the less helpful version we have today.

I am always surprised, however, at how many people practice the idea of doing the least they can. In the workplace in today’s competitive world, it’s a surefire recipe for disaster, and yet there seem to be so many people doing it. I have no idea how they survive, but I keep running into them and they amaze me every time.

I am happy to report that here at Omnimusic, we don’t do the least we can. We always push it the extra distance to make sure everything we do is as good as it can possibly be. When it comes to music production, this very often means getting composers to tweak and re-tweak their tracks until they arrive at something we think will be most useful to our clients. It is true that we could probably get away with not doing a lot of this, but in the long run, we believe it makes a difference to the end user.

So to all of you who have told us how much you love our music, how easy it is to find what you need, and how well it fits into your productions: you’re welcome. It’s the least we can do.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shocking News!

Recently, a study in Tampa revealed that during the recession, injuries to construction workers dropped by 60%. It was hailed as an “unforeseen benefit” of the recession.

To this shocking discovery, most would respond with a resounding “Duh.” Seeing as how construction ground to a near-complete halt during this period, it stands to reason the injuries associated with this profession would drop. It doesn’t take a study to figure that out. It’s a bit like saying instances of drowning are lower in the desert.

Here are some other shocking revelations:
Loud music is loud
If you turn it down, it gets quieter
If you play it backwards, it sounds weird
If you play it faster, it sounds funny
If you play it slower, it sounds heavier
If you chop it up and do all of the above to it, it gets surreal
If you don’t play it, you can’t hear it.

And of course, if you add it to picture, the picture gets way better (a completely unbiased opinion, coming from a production music library…)

Now all I need is a large government grant to study these very important issues.

-Captain Obvious, Scientifical Studier Extraordinaire

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day


Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually predict the future with groundhogs? Companies would bring a groundhog into the boardroom, ask a question, then wait for it to come up, and whether or not it saw its shadow would determine the answer to the question.

We could use it to try to predict the next trends in music. Or we could play different kinds of music and see which makes the groundhog come out of his hole.

Either way, it doesn’t seem like very sound business practice. But the truth is, in the music business it might be as good a predictor as anything else. The musical landscape is constantly changing under our feet, and try as one may, predicting the next thing is impossible.

What we can do, however, is pay attention to what’s going on out there and react accordingly. You’ll see that with several of our releases this year, including our most recent CDM #40 “Dubstep” http://bit.ly/xeRxBD

Of course, some music never seems to go out of style, so it’s unwise for a production music library to abandon everything from the past that made them successful and chase nothing but the flavor of the week. This would leave a large portion of their clients scratching their head or even fleeing in disgust.

Somewhere between “the tried and true” and “the new” lies the balance, and here at Omnimusic, it’s something we’re always seeking.

Like the movie “Groundhog Day,” we’ll keep trying until we get it just right.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Overchoice Paralysis

OK, it’s time for the paper towel companies to just stop. Purchasing paper towels is something that, like so many other things these days, is a very simple function that has become way too complicated.

First of all, the size of the roll has apparently become an issue. One brand, besides their “Regular” roll also offers Giant, Mega, and Huge rolls. Can you guess which of these is the largest? Neither could I. (Turns out “Huge” is bigger than Giant or Mega, by the way. Go figure.)

Once that's been settled, then I have to decide if I want plain or printed, then whether I want whole sheets or sheets that are perforated for partial-sheet use. At this point, I count 16 different products to choose from. All I want is a roll of paper towels.

Choices are good – they give you flexibility. But ironically, at some point having too many choices crosses the line from flexibility into paralysis: so many choices that you can’t make a decision.

This issue goes beyond too many choices, however, and into the realm of worthless and confusing metadata. If they want to have 16 choices of paper towels, then fine, but at least give the consumer clear data he can use to make a choice. Giant, Mega, and Huge tells me nothing.

All of this is analogous to our industry. Too many music choices can grind your project to a halt, but not having good metadata to find what you need is even worse. At Omni, we’re constantly trying to find the balance needed to maintain flexibility, and all the while striving to provide the best metadata to navigate your way through these choices.

And no, we don’t sell paper towels.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, January 12, 2012

EnduroEdit

It would appear that audio and video professionals share a common characteristic: they tend to have the ability to focus on their work for very long periods at a time. In fact, the business has gotten to the point where this is almost an essential trait.

I will admit this is a very useful ability, but there is such a thing as going too far. My endurance record has to be the time I edited audio for 24 hours straight.

It was a radio theater-type show with voiceover, music, and sound effects that was being created to teach their sales department how to sell more effectively. I literally sat in front of the computer editing audio for 24 hours straight (minus a couple of very brief breaks for bathroom and food) in order to get the project done on time.

As I’m sure many of you know: in this situation coffee is your friend, time isn’t, and reality takes on a whole new meaning after awhile.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year, New Things

Last year, fitness guru and superhuman Jack LaLanne died at the age of 96. Also last year, the inventor of Doritos died at 97. You can draw your own conclusions from this, but one thing’s for sure: they were both old.

I think it’s fair to say that most people are happy to see 2011 go, and are looking forward to 2012 with more optimism than we’ve seen in awhile – above and beyond the usual New Year’s Breakolutions.

At Omnimusic, we’re planning to push the envelope a bit in 2012. No, we’re not going to suddenly abandon everything that has made our clients happy for the last 30 years, but neither are we going to stand still.

So as we cruise into the new year, stay tuned for more great stuff like we’ve done in the past, and some new stuff you haven’t even imagined yet.

Now the only problem is that I can’t decide whether to work out or have some Doritos.

-Dave Hab