Work

September 29th, 2014

Work has been good this year; actually, it’s been really good! Not only have I never made more, I also get to do mostly gigs I truly enjoy. From traveling to distant lands, to weekly performances with Jeff Robinson and at St. Paul’s that have given me a chance to really get some time on the keys, to some awesome recording sessions for various talented folks, it’s truly been a blessed year. So far I’ve made just over $36K, more than in all of 2013, and with plenty of stuff coming up, this should be the best year I’ve ever had! Now with my health insurance premium at $70 a month instead of the $560 it was going to be, rent at $1100 and my basic monthly nut at around $1700 without food, I’m actually making a good living! I have two of everything I need, am in good health and have fantastic friends. Most of the money I got from my mom’s inheritance has been spent, but not much of it frivolously; I’ve invested in gear, making my albums, the mini-tour to Holland from promoting the first, and upgrading my computers.

Every time I hear people bitch about how only the rich benefit from the stock market, I feel a little sad. I just sold my ING stock I bought for $1100 for $1800. Made 60% on my money in 3 years! When I told one of those complainers (alley buddy!) he said: “That’s not such a great return!” Why do we argue with idiots? Some just don’t want to be happy… It seems I’ve timed this well; I’m left with about $8000 in stock and savings and a pretty solid outlook for work to come, making more than I need. Now it’s time to start building up some savings and investments. At 44 that’s pretty late, but at the same time, I certainly don’t plan on retiring at 65, and seeing Ronnie Gutierrez’ dad still kicking ass at 82 I feel good about it. My published music catalog brings in about $1000 per year these days and hopefully I can add to that in the years to come.

When I first really thought about moving to L.A., and I was reading the Musicians’ Institute catalog and such, I’d been doing some research about the business here. In magazines like Guitar Player these were occasional stories about working musicians. What sold me on it was that at that point, guys on a solid tour would work 6-9 months out of the year and make, if I recall well, $60-$90K. When I first got to Hollywood, a 1 bedroom apartment much like the one I live in now cost $500 per month. You don’t have to be a math genius to realize that times have changed. Not only are there very few tours anymore that go out for that long as music has splintered, simultaneously the advent of computers and backing tracks has taken away the need for real talent and thus lowered the pay tremendously. Most big Pop stars will pay their band members $1500 a week if they’re lucky. Even if you go out for 6 months, you’re only getting $36K. And I’m talking playing stadiums! Most of the time, you’re lucky if you can work 3 months out of the year.

Thankfully I’ve always been taught to keep learning, to try and figure out where the needs lie, and try to find a way to develop skills to become needed. The decision to really study piano/keyboards again has turned out to be a good one. These days more than half my gigs in town are not on the bass anymore!  I’m on track to doing close to 150 live gigs this year, which is just about the perfect number; plenty of time for studying and play, enough to keep my chops up.

So, this year might be the first year I’ll make more than the median income for the US which currently stands at $43K. That is for a family by the way, although I live in one of the most expensive areas in the country of course. I guess it makes me decidedly middle class which is pretty awesome considering how much I actually enjoy my work! Now, the ‘mean’ income, or what most would consider the average, is $60.5K; that’s my next goal, although it becomes increasingly difficult when you realize that most regular gigs around here pay $100 and 600 gigs in a year is beyond impossible! With most big shows or weddings at $400 per gig I would need to do 150 of those, which is realistic. So far, my own music has only cost me, but I still believe that can be turned around if I keep at it.

In the meantime I’ll just keep at it! I love learning new music, new instruments. Perhaps it’s time to take some singing lessons……

“The Media”

September 25th, 2014

First of all, why in the world has Media become a singular noun? It’s literally the plural form of Medium. We even say “the police are”, and that’s a singular in most languages.

Secondly, it’s time we stop lumping all media together. You heard it all the time, media getting blamed for this or that, being biased in one way or another, not reporting something. The bottom line is, we have to differentiate! In my opinion, the L.A. and N.Y. Times are good papers, somewhat liberal, but if you know how to draw your own conclusion very fair and thorough sources of information. At the same time there are MANY other sources so making blanket statements about all of them is just not helping because it makes people write off ALL of them. Instead, we need to watch them, check them and share discrepancies we find. We need to keep them honest, or at least as honest as possible.

We need to do that with each other as well. I can’t begin to count the number of times where someone I know would dismiss all media because “they don’t report the truth”, only to start spewing numbers that are so far from reality they seem just made up. Whether it’s about employment figures or other economic signs, who the hell thinks he can determine them better than the Times? It’s quite amazing. Reminds me of my old neighbor, pretty smart young kid, who thought he was a whiz with numbers. He actually believed that 50% of all health care expenditures was on insurance and malpractice, because his friend “is a doctor” and he pays huge amounts! It turns out, the highest estimate I could find that’s supported by actual research and written down is less than 10%, pretty much exactly like I told him the night before. This guy got literally mad at me, because I’m just a musician and he’s got some degree having to do with finance.

And now we have more and more people who pretty much get all their news from Facebook. Guess what, that leads to only hearing what you already believe, doesn’t it? You get fed the diet that goes along with all your friends, a feedback loop of great danger actually. It’s very similar to what happens to societies in big cities as opposed to small towns. In the latter, you can only be so misguided before the whole group pulls you back in. If there’s only one doctor, chances are you’ll benefit from the millions of man-years of research that went before him. If there are thousands, you can always find one that’ll tell you what you want to hear: vaccines cause autism for instance. Then, you believe it more, because a doctor told you so!

Let’s face it, television news programs have taken a serious dive on the major networks. Especially the big local versions are all about ratings, a corrupting factor of biblical proportions! At the same time, anyone with cable or antenna can get PBS and thus BBC World News! You see, you can’t lump all media together for dismissal!

For now, just about any big newspaper is a solid source of information; you can’t believe everything you read, but if you do it regularly and from as many sources as possible, you can draw your own conclusions. You have to differentiate between the news and the opinion pieces of course, and sometimes read past the bias, but even a Republican can get most important information from the LA or NY Times. Certainly they are a better source than your buddies, or Fox News!

Schadenfreude

September 25th, 2014

\ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\. : a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.

Why do I feel like pointing out the flaws in the land of the Big Fruit? Is it perhaps because of the incredible arrogance displayed for so many years, originally led by the Grand Poobah Steve Jobs and then perpetuated ad nauseum by his followers who are rewriting history to make it so Apple invented all that’s good?

Fact is, one of the Baristas at my regular Starbucks just upgraded his iPhone 4 to a……..Samsung Galaxy S5, calling Apple a joke. What’s even more telling is the tone with which both the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert have talked about the 6 and 6+; how long can something be the butt of so many jokes and still be hip?

Now think about this: Apple has been the most valuable company in the world for a while now, with billions in the bank, and what have they come up with? Two phones that are little more than playing catch-up with Android and a watch, in a whole year! Look at what Samsung has introduced: many computers, a few watches, probably ten phones, televisions and other appliances…. it’s really quite incredible how big the difference is. And then Apple releases iOS 8.0.1 so bad that they have to pull it! Still, they sold 10 million 6 and 6+’s to people sight unseen, that’s how much people love this brand. It’s crazy.

From here I don’t see a way out of the hole Apple has dug for itself. iOS is becoming more and more unstable, with the newest version crashing 70% more than the last, and major compatibility problems for older apps, some of which might never be updated. With more than 80% all the world’s smartphones running Android, it has become the first platform to develop for and although right now iPhone users are on average richer, thus more interesting for some companies, the lack of interoperability of its ecosystem only means it’ll become more and more marginalized just like happened to the Mac in the days of OS9. There’s just now way Apple can compete with all the other guys pushing the limit and it’ll rather die than play along.

Speaking of computers, a buddy of mine just bought a new (used) Mac Pro. He paid $600 for a 2009 (!!!!) machine with a Nehalem 2.93Ghz quad core, just a little faster than a Haswell i3 dual. This machine is for studio use, so 4 internal drives is a good feature and the plan is to put a Motu 424 in there, which is still one of the very best low-latency solutions and maybe the most stable. The guy he bought it from had gotten the new Mac Pro, the trash can model. Of course his desk was filled with peripherals and cables: external hard drives and such! Again, form over function, in the worst way. I have to say, it kind of scares me that anyone could fall for this.

The big Thunderbolt experiment seems to be backfiring on Apple too as Intel has not been getting on board. Now Motu has dropped the 424 because new Macs don’t have any PCIe slots anymore, where you can still build a new Windows machine with even a PCI slot. We’ve ended up in a situation where we’ve taken a step back in functionality because real-time input monitoring is not an option unless you’re spending huge wads of cash, or buying something used! Golden tip: Motu 2408 MK3’s with card are going dirt cheap on Ebay, as low as $350. If you have the slot, this is the way to go, with a cheap machine and a copy of Sonar you’ll have a rock solid system that’ll blow away anything short of Protools HD; for under a grand……

OK, I’m done with my schadenfreude; it’s time to let it go and let the chips fall where they may! Just don’t come knocking when you realize it’s time to get off the Apple bandwagon and now you need to figure out how to get your data out of the walled garden. Why don’t you ask the ‘genius’ at the temple, I mean Apple Store?

UPDATE:

In response to what some users have dubbed #bendgate, Apple says handsets which bend when placed in pockets will be replaced — on condition of a “Visual Mechanical Inspection.”

Bendgate

September 24th, 2014

That’s what they’re calling it: BendGate! Between the botched 8.01 iOS update which was pulled only after rendering a lot of phones unable to make calls and this, Apple is not having an easy time with this launch. It turns out that they might just have made the iPhone 6+ too thin. In a typical form-over-function move, not only is it uncomfortable too hold, but the structural integrity is so light that these devices are literally bending just being inside people’s pockets. The unfortunate part of them being made of aluminum is that they don’t bend back! Some actually go as far as to say you shouldn’t carry them in your pants, but that’s quite ridiculous of course. Apple hasn’t responded to allegations yet, but even the BBC has reported on it now.

bendgate

To get back to the iOS update, it’s playing out pretty much as I expected: as complexity goes up, and Apple has to catch up to at least some of the feature set of the competition, they’re losing control of their own code. In addition, older apps are not scaling properly to all these new resolutions, and older phones are not taking well to the new OS. I believe it’s only going to get worse as Google and Microsoft keep improving their ecosystems. We had a nice voice-control shootout last night in the alley, between a mid-range Android device, an iPhone 4S and my HTC 8x, all similar in specs. Windows Phone was the clear winner, with even the ability to change an existing appointment by talking. Now we realize how we’re all paying the price for the early adoption of the iPhone, by the fact that so many companies don’t make proper apps for Windows Phone yet.

Compatibility Part Deux

September 23rd, 2014

After writing about the woes of iOS8, I decided to see about update my ancient Galaxy Tab to the newest ROM available. It’s the original 7″ one with 3G connectivity built in. It can actually be used as a phone, something that at that size seemed beyond ridiculous, but is now not even all that weird! Releases in October 2010, it came with Android Froyo or 2.2, and was only updated to Gingerbread or 2.3. The CPU is a 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex-A8 chip, RAM severely limited at 512MB. When the geeks started making new ROMS after Samsung gave up on this thing, at first they didn’t run very well. Android was getting pretty bloated and anything less than 1GB had a lot of trouble even booting up; when we realize you can run Windows XP very, very comfortably on that much RAM, we realize there’s gotta be a way and Google stepped up efforts to make KitKat (4.4) run at least usuably on half a gig.

samsung-galaxy-tab-ofic-2

So, I found the newest Cyanogenmod nightly build and flashed away. Installed the smallest G-apps I could find and you know what, this thing is not bad! Animations look fine, Calendar, Contacts, Gallery all run fine. Now, what I’m worried about is Now, Maps and Browsing. The built in browser works decently actually; it starts up fast, and only bogs down with really complex pages. The newest version of Maps is basically a slide show, not really usable. The beautiful thing about Android is that you can “sideload” apps, or install them not from the Play Store but straight from the APK file. I had saved an older version and it runs excellently, voice navigation and all!

So now the big one; I downloaded the Google Now launcher fully expecting it to make my Tab unusable. Actually, wow, it works fine! Not as well as my Moto G of course, but totally workable! Voice recognition is excellent! Add in the fact that T-Mobile is kind enough to give me 200MB free 3G data every month forever and this just became a very handy device to keep around.

Compatibility

September 22nd, 2014

Everyone loves to make fun of Microsoft, but guess what: they have proven time and time again that they look ahead, think about more than the here and now that Apple is all about. So now that we have the ‘fragmentation’ in iOS land that so many had been putting down Android for, how’s the Big Fruit doing? How well does its ecosystem support all these various devices with different aspect ratios and resolutions?

First off, it’s been widely reported that the iPhone 4S, the oldest to allow installation of iOS8, can not handle it very well. In addition, because of its 3.5″ screen and the larger graphics of many elements, sometimes one is left with just one line of info, between the status bar and the keyboard! There are reports of stuttering, a 50% slowdown of app starts and more. For now, you’re still allowed to revert back to 7.1.2 but that windows always closes very fast.

So how about the brand new models? Of course the apps that come pre-installed work fine, although even they crash once in a while. There are bugs in the OS itself, but that’s normal for something brand new. The question is of course how fast, and perhaps if at all, they will be fixed. From what I’ve been reading, the real problems are with older apps. Because of all this insanely convoluted way iOS handles different resolutions, oftentimes graphics are rendered internally at higher density and then resampled to the actual screen rez. Not only does this cost processing time, and thus put an extra strain on battery life, it can actually cause ‘softness’ or fuzziness in the result. Is this Mickey Mousing a solution after Mr. Jobs had declared that 3.5″ was the perfect size and thus there was no need for a framework that could support higher resolutions and/or different aspect ratios? And so the house of cards is built…..

Then there is the issue of size. It might just be that these new models are too thin! Why Apple chose to have a protruding camera bump instead of a couple more mm’s thickness with, wait for it, a bigger battery, I don’t know. Form over function? Then there are the top and bottom bezels: they are large, resulting in devices that are bigger than competing brands with the same size screen. For a company that made fun of the others’ size this is pretty ironic, isn’t it? The new CPU is not that much faster than the previous, so maybe the iPhone 5S is actually the one to have. It’s plenty modern, and really compact.

 

Here are some quotes from the trenches (Anandtech Forum):

“Finally got a chance to hold both sizes. I thought going in the choice of slimming down was a mistake. And after holding them both, that opinion remains. Too thin. Thin + rounded edges + matte metal = slippery phone. They are just awkward devices.”

“Anyone else noticing different keyboards can be buggy in different apps? Like sometimes not popping up, etc?”

“Lag fest. email app slow to open, browsing is noticeably slower. I turned everything off that I could and it feels like an iphone 4 on 7. Its a test ipad so I dont really care. I was going to update my ipad 3 but will hold off for now. im sure 8.1 will fix it”

“Wow iOS8 has seriously murdered performance on my 5S. Laggy everywhere, even after a full reformat of the phone. Web browsing in particular is noticeably laggier, open new links in background delays longer than it needs to and scrolling can be chunky through heavy websites.
My phone feels bloated now and I’m almost regretting upgrading to iOS8. I appreciate the new keyboard and messaging improvements though, very nice. ”

“The keyboards are buggy as heck. It seems to randomly pick from my chosen keyboards each time I bring it up. And some apps don’t even recognize the third party keyboards, so if you’ve deselected the default English keyboard (to try and fix or eliminate the keyboard roulette problem) and you try to type in these apps, all you get is the emoji keyboard.
Still seeing a lot of random lag in typing, browsing, and using apps like the built in mail, or Gmail or OWA. OWA is the worst offender. Performance wise I have to say this is a poor showing from iOS. ”

“Nope. My phone is still nude. I have been desperately searching retail stores for a case I don’t hate. Being EXTREMELY careful with my $1,050 phone in the meantime.”

“the more and more i use the ip6+, the less and less i like the size.”

Mesmerized by the size (of it)

September 21st, 2014

Have you seen J-Lo’s newest video? It’s called Booty and it’s something….I was gonna say “else”, except it isn’t! It’s yet another marginal song, racking up MEGA views on da Tube (27 million in 3 days!). Poor, poor Jennifer Lopez working that behind like a working woman….. make yo momma proud!

iOS 8

September 18th, 2014

It’s here, the next software update for Apple’s mobile world. iOS 8 is now available for iPhone 4S or newer and reports are rolling in. There’s nothing revolutionary in there, mostly just catching up to Android of course: finally users can choose a different keyboard! On an iPhone 5 or higher it seems to be working fine, although there are many reports of crashing apps and funny stuff going on, but that’s to be expected. It’s worse than any update before though, and it’ll only get worse. This is what happened to Apple before and what led to OS9, the abomination. It’s funny how quickly people forget, but maybe it is because there were so few people left in the Fruity camp at that point; fact is that the last OS before the slate was wiped clean was truly awful.

You see, Microsoft might be geeky, not very exciting, but it thinks ahead, it lays the groundwork while thinking of things it can’t even imagine. It builds foundations that hold up, which is why I can STILL run applications from 15 years ago! Apple on the other hand has amazingly little foresight, with a track record of making the wrong decisions: they bet the house on the G4/G5 chip, until they had to admit that Intel was the future, resulting in breaking compatibility for everyone going forward. We can talk about proprietary stuff they Fruit has given the world for hours….

So now we’re at the 8th iteration of iOS and we’re starting to see the jury rigged methods showing up. Look at sharing for instance: in its never-ending quest to control everything its users do, the iPhone never got a proper file system. What one is allowed to do is very strictly managed and because of that for the longest time you couldn’t play an MP3 that someone emailed to you! All the while iPhoners get chanting how easy the system was! Android from the beginning let you see your device for what it is: another drive. You can hook it up through USB and drag and drop. Now Apple has implemented “Extensibility” a new framework to allow the things that Google had given us from the beginning. As I predict we will find out, it will lead to problems as its complexity grows. This is what happens when you Mickey Mouse extra stuff onto an insufficient foundation. Efficiency goes down, and at some point it becomes unfixable.

Which brings us to the iPhone 4S again: in a typical move for Apple, you can actually install iOS 8 on it, and of course once you do you can’t go back to 7. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well, to the point where some find unusable.  As a matter of fact, I’ve watched many of my friends’ iPhones lag and stutter like crazy for the last couple of years, while everyone keeps singing their praise, even on iOS 7. If nothing else, this new version is designed for higher resolution screens and instead of just properly scaling will leave 3.5″ users with ridiculous situations. Some would say it’s deliberate on Apple’s end, to gently force people to upgrade. At the same time, look at Windows Phone running on devices with less hardware than the 4S perfectly smoothly! Even Android Kit-Kat can work on phones from that era, and with Google Now voice recogntion and all the other new stuff that Apple leaves off older devices. Efficiency FTW!

Background Music

September 18th, 2014

You know all that funny/weird/shitty/derivative music you hear in the background while you’re watching yet another sucker embarrassing him- or herself on a ‘reality’ TV show? It almost certainly came from what is called a ‘music library'; the kind stuffed full of music no one cares about, not even the people who made it, carefully indexed to maximize the efficiency with which it can be used to set just the right tone for the happenings. The names of the pieces are hilarious: “Argue now” or “Deciding the loser”……

For a while, there was pretty good money to be made for a composer who placed his stuff on TV shows, but of course the market was much smaller. If you had a tune in an ABC program, you were definitely gonna be paid handsomely, multiple times too when reruns aired. The checks were high enough for it to be worth it to compose something specifically for the show. But these days, if for nothing else but the ever increasing amount of channels and the resulting fragmentation of audiences, payouts have shrunken and shrunken and when you realize what that 30 seconds in the the background of Real Wives of Neverneverland 13 really pays, it’s going to be impossible to get custom tunes. That’s where libraries come in!

Some of them contain the years and years of mindless compositions from sweat shops that have sprung up, others are repositories for independent music makers. There are a few online shops, but it seems that here in L.A. it’s a pretty small group of people that control the whole process, at least for the big brands. I know a few ex musicians that went the route and some have made a LOT of money. I’ve been invited many times to participate in the process, but I have a very hard time with it. I guess I don’t like money enough, but composing without pushing the limit to me is sacrilege. It damages my artistic soul; so many around here will literally try to copy successful library music, which already was without artistic merit! And then they complain that they can’t make a living because too many people are doing it!

To me it’s all part of the overall downfall of commercial art. In the golden days of Television, it did successfully combine making big money with true art, precisely because it was so new and wide open that it took pioneers, crazy creative people. Now that it’s an established medium, and the bean counters have taken over the reins, in my rarely to be humble opinion, it’s in trouble. Of course there are still creative things on network TV, but they are few and far between. The late-night talk shows have become an unwatchable mess which even the enormous talents of guys like Fallon can’t save. Sitcoms have become beyond predictable and the music on them a disgrace. The real progress is at HBO and Showtime, and even sometimes at some smaller cable channels. Breaking Bad is such an example: a brilliant show that exists despite the restrictions imposed by commerce and the lowest common denominator that results from advertisers providing the money.

In the end, it’s up to the people themselves, the consumers. The principle of a free market working depends on folks choosing correctly, as in what’s best for them. As much as I am for democracy, we cannot dismiss the fact that we are herd animals and as such unable to truly choose more than a leader, the alpha we choose to follow. This is why some still talk about Steve Jobs, our savior. It led to large groups of people, self-declared ignorami when it comes to computer, making recommendations as to which type to buy! It led to people carrying iPhones trumpeting the occupy movement! The irony is jarring.

In the end, I’m lucky to be able to live frugally. I don’t have kids or a wife, and am only responsible for myself. My mother instilled a healthy confidence in me, so I don’t need fancy stuff to feel good, all while retaining the ability for appreciating the finer things in life. I don’t need to create music I don’t want and that’s a luxury. At the same time, my choices in life have a lot to do with it too, and every time I hear someone with a $700 phone say she doesn’t have time, it makes me realize that people often don’t make the right choices for themselves.

Buh bye!

September 15th, 2014

Time Warner Cable no more! I did, I handed over my preposterous little “Digital Adaptors” today (they would have cost me $160 to keep……ouch!) and with that my obligations to the dreaded company are over. As a matter of fact, they owe me money now, for half of month’s service I paid for when I cancelled. It’s Monday and over 100 degrees in the San Fernando Valley today, so I figured it’d be a good time to be in the air conditioning while I wait for my turn. And guess what: there was a wait!

The Yelp listing on the location in Van Nuys closest to me has some seriously low ratings! There aren’t many places out there with a 1.5 rating (out of 5) but this one’s pretty special; writes Jean M: “Oh. My. God. This is literally as bad as the dmv. I have been sitting here for 45 minutes. There is a room FULL of people right now. This is miserable. They are on number 89. My number is 36. There is a very good chance I could die here.”

It really is wild in there! I pulled number 73, the next one called was 8! Americans aren’t known for being particularly patient and it showed. All in all it took me about 90 minutes, but I saw all kinds of stuff…..people arguing with the customer service reps, asking for a manager who was always “in a meeting”…….veins popping out of legs so fat they seemed to belong to a different species…..kids running around…… people dropping half the cable boxes from the tower they’re carrying in…..wow! There it is……..71….72……….73! I give the obviously agitated woman my bill, here come the dreaded devices….she spits out a receipt and that’s it. I’m free!

As I watch the poor folks in this stupid place I think of how much they’re paying Time Warner to feed their addiction to Television. The “broadcast basic” package I had was the lowest priced thing available; many of my friends pay close to $100 a month to these guys! Time Warner committed to paying 8.35 BILLION dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcasting LA Dodger games for the next 25 years! This city has less than 4 million inhabitants, so that’s more than $2000 per person. How’s that even possible?

The wild thing is that the only channels out of the pathetic selection that I was paying $24 per month for that I might actually watch once in a while still DO work without the digital adapter, and in HD too. It’s basically the ones that are broadcast over the air, the local affiliates of the big networks. I’m not sure if they will physically disconnect my cable now so that even those will disappear, but I think they made the whole digital encryption move in order to not have to mess with physical connections anymore and allow themselves to control people’s access by administering the boxes remotely. Regardless, I’m going to look into getting a good antenna, because over-the-air channels are very high quality these days, and completely free. Funny how old is new again…..