Monday, July 14, 2014

Affirmation of a Late Bloomer

"You know what?  I am a talented motherf**ker."

It was about a month ago that I stood alone in the living room in my apartment and declared that statement out loud towards the reflection of myself in a full-length mirror.  I've been on this earth for a little more than 40 years now and that is the first time that I've ever said such a statement to myself without thinking, "Damn, that sounded really conceited."  It felt good to say.  It may not have been the most delicate way of putting things, but I had to shake myself out of an emotional rut.  When you know yourself enough to know that you could stand to be happier during your private moments, the time has come to encourage yourself.

I have been blogging for about ten years and writing about music for the past 15.  Although 2014 has been the year that I made the decision to take a break from music reviews, I still love to write.  I just think that it's important to write when I truly have something to say and not just because I have to meet the next music review deadline.  There are some things in this life that I can't do, but writing is not one of them.  I know I can write.  And write well.

I have a podcast that I have been hosting and producing for almost nine years now.  I don't stop to think about that enough.  I started doing this in August of 2005 and I'm still here.  I'm closing in on my 150th episode and have been feeling like my second wind has kicked in recently.  There was a recent blog post from David Jackson that was a necessary kick in the teeth as far as my podcasting crossroads period was concerned.  It reminded me that doing this is a lot more fun if you take your focus off of the download numbers that someone else is getting and be grateful for the listeners that you do have.  In this day and age, time is an extremely precious commodity and I know that there are people who take time out of their busy schedules to listen to my show whenever there's a new episode available.  That's something to be grateful for.  I should never take that for granted.  Beyond that, listening to the shows that come out of the Cold Slither Podcast Network as well as podcasts like Operation Cubicle and Encyclopedia Hip Hop have reminded me to just have fun and not to take my show so seriously.  Before anything else, this podcast thing needs to be fun.  When it's not anymore, then it's time to consider shutting it down.

Last but not least, I had a possible epiphany in terms of a potential career.  I have no idea if it will come to fruition or if it's truly the right lead to chase, but after several years of thinking about what else I could be doing and not being able to see past the clouds, this recent light bulb going off represents the closest thing to a successful brainstorm.  I will gladly take the progress where I can get it right now, even if it's only a baby step forward.  Whatever it is that I am supposed to be career wise hasn't revealed itself yet, but I need to tell my impatient self that there's nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.  It's not like I don't know that God's timetable is completely different from mine.

I'm learning to let God work, to be less of a control freak, to be okay with letting go of the things that I was ever meant to control.  This takes time.  Whether in podcasting, my current job status, or otherwise, I can't keep comparing myself to others because the grass will always look greener over there.  Meanwhile, I have my own lawn to care for.

As far as my life in general is concerned, a quote from David Jackson has been speaking to me today:  "Bring your passion and bring your patience."  Still learning.  Yay me.  :-)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Anatomy Of A Podcast: The State Of Radio BSOTS

"You know, you should consider podcasting.  I can totally see you doing that."

I was told that by a good friend and college radio station associate back in the Spring of 2005.  Almost nine years later, I can't believe that I'm still doing this, particularly after thinking about all the things I went through within those first few years just to get the show started.

Radio BSOTS started in August of 2005 with an outdated Radio Shack three-channel mixer and microphone along with a pile of records and CDs.  I would run the mixer into a boombox, record music sets and voiceovers onto a cassette, and then dump the audio into my computer.  I did that for at least the first ten episodes.  The computer that I was using at the time was a HP Pavilion PC running Windows Millennium Edition.  Windows ME did not support iTunes, which meant that I had to give my podcast information to a friend to submit to iTunes.  If that weren't enough, I was working from a dial-up connection at the time.  Downloading songs for the show was a minimum of 20-30 minutes per song, depending upon the file size.  As for uploading the completed show to a server, that was an overnight deal.  I would start uploading before I went to sleep and pray that the connection didn't timeout before the upload was complete.  This went on for about 70 episodes spread across the first three years of the podcast.  How crazy is that?

Even those early continuous mixes were made in an unorthodox fashion, creating blends in Audacity with its Time Shift tool, changing tempos and fading tracks in and out long before I would get my hands on a DJ software controller that allowed me to mix digital files in a similar fashion to the vinyl that I was so used to.  The Internet connection got upgraded to high speed in November of 2008, making show prep a considerably simpler exercise.  Thanks to inroads provided by podcasting comrades Fave and EJ Flavors, I was able to create a special GRAMMY podcast episode to coincide with their awards ceremony in 2009 and came back the following year to serve as a World Music Community Blogger.  Despite being very proud of those achievements, I often wonder if that was the show's plateau in terms of success and why gaining new listeners seems to come at a snail's pace, as if I'm destined to preach to the already converted.

For those of us who either listen to or produce podcasts, we must recognize that we are the one percent as far as consuming content in that form.  There are still lots of people who have yet to listen to a podcast, regardless of the fact that those same people can download an app to play a game on their phone.  Demystifying the practice of listening to a podcast is key if more people are going to come over to this on demand form of radio.  Reportedly, word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find out about a podcast, but it's not enough.  There's making sure that your show is listed on different platforms like Stitcher and Tune In and whatever else will be created next week.  As of late, I tire of the hoops that you have to jump through just to (possibly) be noticed.

I do not have a mind for marketing or metrics; I do, however, have a mind for music.  My gift is selection and curating.  Perhaps I need to seriously consider teaming up with those who have the gift of marketing and metrics in order to find that larger fan base.  I like to think that my show provides a safe haven for those who have given up on hip-hop and need to believe in the genre again.  With hip-hop at the core, soul and funk as familial counterparts, and electronic music for an outer layer, my goal is to connect the dots between these diverse sounds and find some common ground.  Hopefully I succeed more often than not at this practice.  In my mind, Radio BSOTS is a show ready for the music geeks as well as those brand new to underground sounds to embrace on a grand scale: they simply don't know it yet.  Right now, it's for the few and the proud that have managed to find it, but everyone doesn't seek out new music like that.  Most people just let it come to them in the easiest way possible.  For the masses, that tends to be the radio dial.  I still believe that once listening to a podcast becomes as simple as tuning in a radio station, the new converts could increase exponentially.  Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but I'm choosing to have a positive outlook regarding all of this, even in a world where East Village Radio finds it too costly to be a popular Internet radio station (check out this article for more on that story).

Shortly after 2014 started, I contemplated something about my podcast that I had never considered before:  a kill date.  December of 2015.  It wouldn't leave me alone.  Stranger still, I was surprisingly comfortable with the idea of podfading into the sunset once that time came.  About two months later, something inside me said, why wait?  I bumped up the date to the end of this year.  For the last two months, I was dead set on calling it quits once 2014 came to a close.  Prior to this blog post, only my wife and a good friend knew I was planning to do this.  I thought about the effort and energy that I poured into this and how little I felt I got back from it.  I thought about the exhaustion that comes from the day job and how it barely leaves me with the strength to work on the next episode.  I thought about my responsibilities as a husband and a father and how they are so much more important than this little side hobby that I refuse to let go of.  Even more than that, I was convinced that GOD wanted me to give this up for Him.  I've been deep in thought about the possibility of this distracting me from my destiny, that my podcast was keeping me from my purpose.  Real talk:  I have no idea what that is.  I simply know that I can't afford to operate outside of GOD's will and if the podcast is steering me in the wrong direction, then it's gotta go.

Recently, my wife got in my ear on some "are you sure you want to do this?" type stuff, which I totally didn't see coming.  I just figured that she's had the most to lose over the years because of this, but she didn't want to see me give up doing something that I love.  About a week afterwards, I get an out of the blue email from a DJ acquaintance that I knew from my college days.  Turns out he's been listening to my show and loves it.  Around the same time, I heard a new episode from Classick Material of the Cold Slither Podcast, who had been away from podcasting for almost a year.  Getting a new show from him was like a Christmas miracle and he sounded so excited to be back.  Beyond that, every time I hear an artist or song that makes me freak out, I always think that I can't be the only one that would have this reaction to this music.  That's what has kept me going:  the music, the constant hunt for something that I didn't know before, be it old or new.

So I'm not pulling up the tent stakes on Camp Lo-Fi just yet.  I came really close, though.  I've been having this discussion with myself about GOD, music, and purpose for quite some time now.  In fact, it even showed up in podcast form during the Fall of 2011.  It was show #116, entitled "The Priority Shift."  For anyone who hasn't heard that show, I have provided it below.  It's me thinking out loud about the place that music has in my life and whether I'm honoring the creation more than I do the Creator, because I have had those moments.  Some reflective and introspective music shows up in between to tie things together.  From a conceptual standpoint, I think it's a pretty good show, even though I know that it might not be for everyone.

Considering that I'm still writing down potential playlists for future episodes in my little black book and listening to a podcast chock full of tips on how to make your podcast even better, it's safe to say that Radio BSOTS isn't going anywhere for the time being.  If you've made it this far, GOD BLESS YOU.  Thank you for being interested enough to want to know what's going on with "the poor man's podcast."  Until the next episode, there's a lot of music out there, so you know what to do...

Keep diggin'.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Look Back At Medúlla

Recently I came to the realization that I've been writing about music either as a hobby or professionally for the past 15 years.  The email newsletter that I started in January of 1999 turned into the Both Sides Of The Surface website in 2002, which gave way to the Radio BSOTS podcast in the summer of 2005.  I stepped away from writing reviews about two months ago, but the podcast remains an ongoing exercise.

Being a fan feels a lot better than being a critic, so I don't have any plans to jump back into writing album or single reviews any time soon, but there's clearly a reason why so many older releases have been on my mind lately, particularly those that were released back in 1999.  I've hit an anniversary in my relationship with music and it's probably more significant than I initially realized.  As an effort to keep my mind engaged, I've started to revisit some albums and songs that came out five, ten, and 15 years ago.  Some entries will be through my Tumblr site, though I really ought to make sure that a few appear here as well.

August 30, 2004 will mark the tenth anniversary of Björk's sixth studio album, Medúlla.  Considering its focus on the human voice as an instrument, it could be the one that so many of us were secretly waiting for up until that point.  Let's face it:  her voice is a force of nature.  There is simply nothing like her singing as she is truly one of a kind.  Teaming up with the likes of Mike Patton, Tagaq, the Icelandic Choir, and vocal percussionists like Rahzel and Dokaka to bring this album to life was a stroke of genius on her part.  The album still sounds as fresh and innovative as it did when it dropped into our stratosphere in the summer of 2004.

The closing track "Triumph Of A Heart" remains one of my favorite cuts from this album.  I included it in a DJ set once while spinning at a Lower East Side spot in New York and it was cool to watch people dancing to a piece that was created entirely with human voices.  Today I watched the video for this song (posted above) for the first time, another collaboration with director Spike Jonze that proves to be every bit as playful and interesting as the song itself.

To find out more about how Medúlla was made, I would recommend watching The Inner Or Deep Part Of An Animal Or Plant Structure.  It's a 50-minute behind the scenes look at the recording and collaborative process: truly fascinating stuff if you're as much of a geek about such things as I am.  Thankfully, the entire documentary is available on YouTube, so you can check it out below.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When The Words Get In The Way...

It's been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture.  I don't know who said that, but I really need to thank them for stating that idea in such a fashion.  It's the unflinching dose of reality that I can no longer avoid. 

I've been writing music reviews as a hobby and professionally since at least 1999.  Every now and then, I'll revisit a few of those album and single reviews that I wrote as part of my email newsletter ON THE VERGE and take note of a certain wide-eyed innocence and insatiable passion.  Whether it was a positive or a negative review, I was down for the cause of representing for various rhythms and sounds, so much so that I wrote many of those reviews under several different pseudonyms.  That's how much I was writing.  Much of it still lives on for posterity (or my own personal satisfaction and archival instincts) on my Both Sides Of The Surface website.

It was my friend Ezekiel Honig who introduced me to Derek Evers of Impose Magazine back in 2007, hoping that they would take on someone who knew more about electronic music than just John Digweed.  I dove in headfirst, eventually writing feature articles on the likes of 2 Many DJ's, Jneiro Jarel, Ohmega Watts, and Amon Tobin, along with a boatload of music reviews along the way.

It was probably about a year later that Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR started her own music review writing service.  As a part of the Review You writing staff, I got to experience something that I never had before:  a writing gig that actually paid.  Review You supplied the pocket change necessary to keep up my music buying habit, which I remain eternally grateful for.

That being said, I made the decision to walk away from it last month, emailing the editor of Review You regarding my decision.  In fact, today I turned in my last album review for Impose.  The passion that I had so many years ago had become a flickering flame of its former self.  I've been trying to figure out if there's simply no time to devote to it anymore due to the unforgiving leviathan that is my day job.  I've played the "that which pays trumps that which doesn't" angle before in my mind with Impose, but it's more than that.  It really comes down to being more excited about playing music for people rather than having to explain it to them.  Music tends to be a very subjective thing, so why not put it on and let the listener decide for themselves what it is that they feel and think when they hear it?

I always found it funny that the most interesting music came through the non-paying gig while getting paid per review brought me a whole bunch of crap that the floodgates managed to allow through.  That's the thing that got tiring:  the complete and total lack of quality control.  If you can't even bother to prep your own MP3 release with the appropriate ID3 tags and you're sending it in for a professional review, we've got a problem.  If you're a rapper and my review of your work is more descriptive and poetic than anything that falls out of your mouth over 18 tracks and 72 minutes, we've got an even bigger problem. 

I once had a Review You client demand that my editor give them my email address due to the review that I wrote for their single.  Not their album, mind you, a single.  And it wasn't even a negative review.  I give a guy three out of five stars for rapping over trance and I get an email from him forwarded from my editor dissecting my review and trying to make me see why I was wrong for not suggesting that he had somehow reinvented the wheel.  He emphatically made it clear that I described the song incorrectly, that it was not a trance song but "a hip-hop song with trance overtones."  Just between you and me, does the world really need such a thing?  I'm sure that there are a bunch of Paul van Dyk and Tiësto fans who would disagree with me, but my position still stands.

Not to turn this into a MC Catch Wreck Over Trance On The Decks diatribe, but if critics can't stray one iota from your perspective on your own music, then why bother sending it in for a review?  Write your own liner notes and surround yourself with yes men and women to act as PR for your release.  For me to contact such a person would have been the equivalent of psychological suicide in mind-numbing increments.  After 40 years of existence on this planet, I know all too well what a potentially pointless conversation looks like.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, it needs to be stated that this instance was the only one of its kind during my Review You experience.  Each year, there were a handful of releases that truly surprised me and earned every bit of the four or five-star review that I gave them.  Even so, I find myself no longer willing to separate the wheat from the chaff, to unpack the sub-genres within sub-genres that can clutter the ability to simply enjoy music on its own terms.  Above all, I do not have it in me to find yet another way to say that some artist could have done better.  I've felt like I haven't been able to find the right words for quite some time now, but perhaps this post is proof that I haven't lost that ability entirely.

Maybe it's just time to get back to being a full-time fan of music and leave the critic title to someone else.  If anyone needs me, I'll have my headphones strapped on securely, massaging the soul with an essential blend of gospel, revolutionary/spiritual jazz, and ambient sounds.  Music is the place where freedom should reside, not frustration.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Quiet Ones

For those who don't know, I'm a DJ.  Once upon a time, I did this sort of thing out at clubs and a rave or two.  Nowadays, it's primarily an online thing via my podcast and mixes for the Phuture Frequency site.  I really must give respect to Guy Andrews, who gave me the challenge three years ago to put together a mix for Halloween.  At first, I didn't think I had this in me, but the challenge proved me wrong.

This is definitely one of the craziest mixes I've ever done and I thought it was worth sharing again, now that Halloween is here.  NOT SAFE FOR WORK, though.  Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hello? Is this thing on?

A Jim Morrison quote seems appropriate right about now:

"Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin..."

In regards to what you can expect from this blog: writings on life, music, purpose, and coming to terms with your own mortality. More on that later. For now, enjoy the video above...