Success only happens when luck, talent, and hard work combine.

Luck

Luck is not about having good odds in roulette or hitting all green lights on the way to work.

There are a lot of factors of success that are not up to an individual. Luck is about not getting cancer that gets in the way of your career and kills you at 25.

Luck is being born in a country where it’s possible to be happy. Someone who stays healthy enough to work is lucky. Someone who doesn’t get blown up on the way to work is even luckier.

Talent

Talent exists. Some people are better at learning than other people.

I remember practicing about 2-4 hours a day from when I was 10 to about 21. I went to a music camp with people who practiced as much as I did, but knew more repertoire and played it far better than I could.

I also know a producer who, after four years, got around 1.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and offers to play EDC. It took me a year to make a track.

It also took me four years to learn how to read sheet music. Now, I sight read professionally, but those were a tough four years.

People with talent will get farther than other people. And, they can do it with less work, but only if they commit to it.

Those pianists at the music camp aren’t getting paid as much as I am, and the producer who got to play EDC isn’t making music these days. So, like the other aspects, talent isn’t everything. It’s absurd to say talent doesn’t exit, though.

Hard Work

Finally, there’s hard work. Obvious, right? But what I’m about to say isn’t as trite as the millions of writers out there lauding hard work.

There’s a hard work fetish in this country. We believe we can accomplish anything with enough time. We believe talent doesn’t exist, and only losers in casinos pray to lady luck.

It’s just not the case. Hard work is necessary, but it won’t get anywhere without luck or talent.

You need luck to get in front of the right people at the right time. You need talent to go farther than people who work harder than you. And, you need hard work to persevere through the slow periods.

Failure

I haven’t encountered many failures in my career. I usually meet people who hit a hard wall and simply can’t grow anymore. Maybe it’s up to them. Usually, they’re missing some talent, hard work, or luck.

You simply have to have all three.

This continues the first post. Click here to read it.

Here, I’ll argue that “natural” is a term that refers to everything that exists. I will also prove why analogies are meaningless. Finally, I make the case using contemporary evidence that music periods are utterly meaningless and should be done away with.

3) Natural? What?

Lazy critics and teachers toss around the word “natural” or “unnatural” when they really mean “I like this” or “I didn’t like this.”

But, “natural” is a very odd word. What does it really mean?

We can divide the world into “natural” and “unnatural” (or non-natural). This is how we tend to think about the world. Colloquially, we think that what humans make isn’t natural, and what bears and tigers do is natural.

Let’s take this division further. Natural refers to what exists in nature (bears), and unnatural necessarily refers to everything else (us). What this means is that everything that exists is natural, and we don’t have to worry about the rest, since the rest isn’t there.

But we’re here. We’re natural, since we’re from nature, because we’re using the condition “that which is from nature” to divide the dichotomy. Since nothing exists outside of nature, then everything must be natural.

Music exists, so it is natural.

Instead of hiding behind words like “natural,” take the extra step and make a statement about music that’s not based on personal taste using evidence from the score.

4) Your analogy is like garbage

Analogies are great until you try to say something.

Some people (no one I studied under) told me piano playing is like flying a plane. That makes absolutely no sense. At what point when I play piano do I find myself pulling into an airport terminal? Turning on the seat belt light? Using a vocal fry to communicate?

When you make a chart that lists out items compared in an analogy, you’ll find that the items compared don’t have anything in common.

It’s often said that being a sound designer is like being a sculptor. That is, until you realize that sound designers don’t work with marble, sound isn’t solid, you can’t touch a sound, and you certainly don’t use Pro Tools to make a bust of Caesar.

5) Modern music is from a century ago: Stop using periods

Music periods are utterly meaningless.

Classification is based on a set of characteristics. Academics group music from certain periods, like the “baroque” using a certain date range. This is a horrible way to classify things, because those dates are shared among everything.

Recall that our classification systems use unique characteristics, not shared characteristics. Classifying music by a time period is far too broad to have any real meaning.

This makes no sense. The music from the “baroque” “period” that lasts is here because it’s outstanding music, not because it follows some ideas that people made up centuries later. A few centuries later.

Here’s music that’s all published within 25 years (1970-1995). Notice how these pieces have nothing in common. And I’m not even using periods as broad as academics are.

Agree yet?

When I reviewed the “Discussing Music Badly” series, I thought it wasn’t fair of me to critique other people and their ideas without talking about things I messed up. Although I stand by what I argued in those posts, I already wrote the second part a few months ago, and I scheduled that post to publish automatically January 2020, it just doesn’t feel right to attack others and pretend I’m perfect along the way.

I let myself get distracted by things that aren’t important for music production. I trusted too many YouTube tutorials that didn’t help. Other mistakes I made were that I cracked software and I didn’t pay any attention to how my design looked.

1) Getting distracted

There are all sorts of distractions in life. I’m not really talking about the day to day distractions, like making sure you don’t spend too much time on email or social media and letting yourself get sucked into a YouTube hole. With enough coffee, Diet Coke, and fear I don’t find myself getting too drawn into these time wasters as deeply like I did a few years ago.

Here I’m talking about parts of making music that aren’t relevant that I spent too much time worrying about. You can find countless forum experts who manage to balance a full-time job, a music career, and hundreds of thousands of posts on a forum that prattle on infinitely about parts of producing music that just don’t matter. What compressor circuit types you use, which DAW you use, whether it’s ok to clip or not, if it’s better to use MIDI sequenced drums or lay them out as audio files in the timeline, and EQ “rules” are insignificant. These are all based on opinion and I found that I change all these elements from project to project anyways. I wasted too much time and energy on these really boring topics and weighing these pros and cons took time away from working on music.

What matters in music is the melody, chord voicings, the arrangement, and the emotional connection the audience feels with the track. No one wants to talk about these things because it’s hard to talk about. It’s a lot easier to discuss what tools to use instead of how to use them, and I found that people generally shy away from discussing aesthetics. What I don’t get is that a lot of mixing involves aesthetic choices, too, but when it’s hidden behind an EQ or piece of software people seem to think that it becomes more objective.

So, don’t pay attention to what these guys have to say. Most of what I do now that people tell me sounds good breaks all the “rules” I “learned” in forums anyways.

2) Trusting tutorials when they didn’t work

YouTube tutorials can be a great resource. I personally love stuff by Greg Howlett, the guys and girls at Pretty Simple Music, and Nahre Sol’s entire channel. I also watched lots of masterclasses from Alfred Cortot and the harpsichordist Scott Ross. Those people are brilliant and really helped supplement what I learned on the job and in lessons. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t lucky enough to find their tutorials.

I also wasted tons of time on producers who gave advice that was wrong. Did you know that decibels are logarithmic? Yeah, the guy who made that video you probably watched didn’t really talk about that when they discussed gain-staging or how compressors change sound pressure. Sometimes they’d share some mixing technique. The worst part was that I spent too much time trying to get these horrible techniques to sound good, instead of just dropping it and moving on.

Now I’m much more critical of YouTube tutorials. I’m always open to trying out new techniques. In the future, instead of wasting time trying to parse out a malformed video by a guy without any chart positions who’s using a cracked version of FL and kisses the microphone with every syllable, I’ll just drop the technique if I don’t get a benefit after trying it out.

3) Cracking Software

When I started producing, I didn’t have that much money. I had lots of time though and knew people IRC chatrooms who helped me crack software.

I cracked software in all sorts of ways. I typically attained plugins through free trials. On Macs at the time, you could right-click on the .app file and select “Show Contents.” Then, in some cases, you could view the source code of the plugin. I typically removed the parts of the plugin that connected to the internet to verify its installation, or talked to whatever the “Authorize.app” was, or looked for a section in the code that set a timer on the fully functioning trial mode so that the trial went from lasting a few hours to a century. Later on, I ran keygenerators on any plugin I couldn’t get a trial for. Now I can’t believe I ran something developed by a criminal and even gave it administrator access to my machine!

I don’t use cracked software anymore, and now I don’t recommend it, even if you don’t have the money to buy plugins and still want to make music. Software has come a long way in ten years, and the copy protection probably isn’t this easy to break anymore. Malware also came a long way in ten years, and the vast majority of cracks are trojans and sophisticated coin miners that will make your system unstable.

Also, there’s a big irony in guys who go to the club, get bottle service, go to the casinos, or get hotels and claim that $150 is too much to spend on their careers. Those are the guys who also tell me I’m too expensive. People really reveal who they are in their spending habits.

Anyways, running cracked software caused all sorts of issues in my machine. Nothing ever felt like it worked correctly, and I spent more time rebooting and troubleshooting my machine than making music. Ethics aside, it’s just not a good business idea to have your main tool break all the time.

I did learn a lot about the architecture of the Mac operating system in 2006, which could be useful. Cracking and copy protection testing could be a good route for me down the road to make extra cash. It never really was that hard, especially since engineers typically included a comment that said “Trial mode enabled here” at some point in their code.

4) Not paying attention to design

I’m not a very visually oriented person. Although I appreciate good design, I just can’t do it myself. I thought for a while that my music was good enough to market itself. It wasn’t.

Packaging is a significant way in which people interact with products. You wouldn’t buy a can of peaches with a label that didn’t look good. Why would I get anywhere with how my music was packaged? I’m surprised I’m where I’m at now, considering how badly Joe Roller was marketed.

I addressed that by hiring a designer I believed in and seeking honest feedback from my friends. I read lots of books about art, spent hours searching images online, and really thinking about my own visual aesthetics and what I like.

It took a while, but now the Joe Roller branding is something I can really believe in.

Thanks for reading!

Thank you so much for continued readership. I didn’t expect my blog to be a huge source of engagement. I only did Thank you so much for reading my blog. I did this just for fun and share my thoughts about what’s going on in the world and share my approach to music and 500 people a month are interested in reading it.

Part of the components of my blog outlined in the first post includes a “Repertoire Quarterly.” Since I started the blog in Q4 and it’s the end of the year, I’m going to show you everything I did through the entire year of 2019.

Occupations:

  • Accompanist at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy
  • Rehearsal Pianist/Accompanist for Take Note! the subset of Denver Woman’s Chorus of the Rocky Mountain Arts Association
  • Substitute Accompanist at Denver School of the Arts
  • Rehearsal pianist for CenterStage Theater Company
  • Accompanist at True Voice Vocal Studio
  • Private Instructor

Writing:

  • Undergraduate Honors Thesis (awarded magna cum laude from the English department and the University of Colorado)
  • This Blog

Original Classical Music Chronological:

  • 4 Waltzes, op 99 (40 pgs)
  • Bach Passacaglia BWV 582 for Piano (13 pgs)
  • Buxtehude Chaconne BuxWV 160 for Two Pianos (24 pgs)

Original Dance Music as Joe Roller Chronological (Publication Pending):

  • Fire Inside (ft. Kay-Kay) (5 min)
  • Arapahoe Wind (8 min)
  • Sixish (6 min)
  • Tawa (6 min)
  • Nuvak (6 min)
  • Onyo (7 min)
  • Dream Field (7 min)
  • Lucid Sound Distribution (5 min)
  • IM3 (3min)

Solo Piano Repertoire Alphabetical:

  • Schubert Impromptus D935 op. post
  • Bach/Roessler Passacaglia BWV 582 for Piano
  • Buxtehude/Roessler Chaconne BuxWV 160 for Two Pianos (both parts)

Musicals Alphabetical:

  • 9 to 5
  • Footloose Jr.
  • Frozen Jr.
  • Into the Woods

Choral Repertoire Alphabetical:

Adkins, Adele and Wilson, Daniel Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Someone Like You
Ahrens, Lynn and Flaherty, Stephen Shaw, Kirby Make Them Hear You
Bassett, Dave and Platten, Rachel Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Fight Song
Batie, Cassandra Monique and Decliveo, Jennifer Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Rise Up
Bechler, Emma   The Revival
Brown, Andrew “Knox;” Glynne, Jessica; Smith, Finlay; Bennett, Janee Sharpe, Bryan Ain’t Got Far To Go
Burrows, Mark   Until All of Us Are Free
Holland, Brian et al. Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Feel It Still
Ivory Circle   No One Will Find Us
Jones, Mick and Strummer, Joe Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Should I Stay or Should I Go
Jovi, Jon Bon and Karak, George Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Runaway
Key, Francis Scott Redei, Rob The Star Spangled Banner
Lauper, Cindi and Hyman, Rob Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Time After Time
Milck   Quiet
Miranda, Lin-Manuel Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott How Far I’ll Go
Moroder, G. and Forsey, K. Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott The Never Ending Story
Olsavsky, Alexendra Artemisa What Happens When a Woman?
O’Mara, Mike   It’s Love, I Just Know It
Peňa, Andrea and Garrity, Sawyer Finegold, R. M. Shine
Rae, Kayla   All Love
Rae, Kayla   Changed Up
Ray, Amy Lemon, Shari Go
Reagan, Bernice Johnson and Baker, Ella Josephine Kucsan, Kathy and McElhaney, Clarsa Ella’s Song
Rollison, Shelly   Human to Human
Sherman, Richard M. and Sherman, Robert B. Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Chim Chim Cher-ee
Simon, Paul and Withers, Bill Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Bridge Over Troubled Water / Learn On Me Medley
Thomsen, Sara   Water is Life ~ Mni Wičoni
Young, Adam and Owl City Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott Fireflies
Young, Adam; Thiessen, Matthew; Lee, Brian Roessler, Joseph and Merchant, Scott When Can I See You Again?

Vocal Repertoire Alphabetical:

Composer Title
Anka, Paul Put your Head on my Shoulder
Barber, Samuel Sure on This Shining Night
Brown, Jason Robert Stars and the Moon
Brown, Jason Robert Still Hurting
Carmichael, Hoagy and Mercer, Johnny Skylark
Carnelia, Craig What You’d Call a Dream
Collins, Phil You’ll Be In My Heart
Davenport, Phil and Cooley, Eddie Fever
Fauré, Gabriel Ici-bas!, op 8 n 3
Garner, Erroll Misty
Gershwin, George and Gershwin, Ira Someone to Watch Over Me
Gershwin, George and Gershwin, Ira Summertime
Griffes, Charles T. Tone Images, op. 3
Hamilton, Arthur Cry Me a River
Hamlisch, Marvin and Kleban, Edward What I Did for Love
Howard, Bart Fly Me to the Moon
John, Elton and Taupin, Bernie Your Song
Lambert, Lisa and Morrison, Greg As We Stumble Along
Lawrence, Drew C.; Perri, Christina; Yeretsian Barrett Jar of Hearts
Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul Let It Be
Mancini, Henry Moon River
McCartney, Paul and Lennon, John Blackbird
McCoy, Kansas-Joe Why Don’t You Do Right?
Mercury, Freddie Bohemian Rhapsody
Minchin, Tim When I Grow Up
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Ave Verum Corpus, K618
Pasek, Benj and Paul, Justin Runnin’ Home To You
Pickett, Wilson Mustang Sally
Porter, Cole In the Still of the Night
Reid, Mike and Shamblin, Allen I can’t Make You Love Me
Rodgers, Richard My Funny Valentine
Schubert, Franz An Die Musik
Schubert, Franz Ave Maria
Schumann, Robert Im wundershönen Monat Mai
Sheik, Duncan and Sater, Steven Mama Who Bore Me
Sondheim, Stephen Giants in the Sky
Stewart, Dave; Rubin, Bruce Joel; Ballard, Glen With You
Stewart, Michael and Coleman, CY The Colors of My Life
Strauss, Johan and Genée, Richard Mein Herr Marquis
Traditional Par un Matin
Tunstall, KT Black Horse and the Cherry Tree

That’s a wrap! Thanks for a great year and see you on the other side!

Most people, including most professional musicians, tend to use language carelessly when they discuss music. While the main ideas one wants to communicate, such as arguments concerning the best interpretation of a piece or other ways to perform a piece effectively, still make it to the student, most music teachers and academics use language that weakens, or refutes, their own argument without realizing it. This is not to say that what they’re saying is always wrong, just that they leave themselves open for debates that they could easily end.

There are a few phrases and terms that one often hears in lessons or reads in academic articles that simply do not make sense. I bet you see them all the time. Phrases that make arguments about a composer’s intention (“Bach’s music is always devotional”/”Beethoven was inspired by rage”) and phrases that use the words natural or unnatural (“your playing sounds unnatural here”) simply are impossible to prove. Claims about intention are impossible to support using evidence. Arguments in music that use terms such as “natural” or “unnatural” can be easily refuted when one considers how strange the dichotomy between natural and unnatural is, or whether this dichotomy exists in real life.

Another favorite among teachers and writers is “essence.” “Essence” is a metaphysical term that, like just about everything in philosophy, does not have a substantive definition yet. Another problem is when using periods and genres definitively or gushing about an emotional response to music (“Mendelssohn’s motifs remind me of ocean waves”), or using analogies (“the music glows”).

Now that you know how these words are used carelessly, should you correct other people when you hear them? Do you want to be the person that says “I’d just like to interject for a moment…”? I don’t recommend that you correct people, unless they clearly and directly ask about your reaction to what they’re saying. Unless, of course, you don’t want to get called back.

Now that these careless uses have been established and defined, let us explore the weakness of each phrase in more depth. In this part, we’ll discuss why it doesn’t make sense for us to talk about composers’ intentions or use language relating to “essences.”

1) Composers Intentions: Who knows?

People change over time. Composers are no exception.

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend, and walked away thinking that you didn’t know them as well as you think you have? I have, and I bet you have too. It can really be kind of devastating. Here’s a person I share an emotional bond with. I spend a lot of time talking to him, and we’re in the same time period. Suddenly, there’s a whole part of this person I didn’t know before and it causes me to question everything else about them.

I don’t know my friends very well. How could I dream to assume that I know what Bach thought at any given time? I can’t talk to him. We’re not in the same time period. We don’t even speak the same language. Even if I spoke German, the current slang probably doesn’t have much to do with how they spoke back then.

I’m not even reading Bach’s music directly. Bach wrote a good deal of his organ music in organ tab notation, not what I’m used to reading. Some of his keyboard music is originally in alto clef. If you gave a pianist today a score with alto clef, he’d probably leave. Other scores Bach produced had time signatures no one uses anymore, and the beams and layouts don’t match anything we use today.

A lot of musicians have the illusion that they know the person because they know that person’s music. Music doesn’t reveal an entire personality. Otherwise, unpleasant people wouldn’t be good musicians. Or, one couldn’t play multiple styles.

Music, as an intellectual art form, requires resources that are outside oneself. One must react to what has come before using training and theoretical knowledge that comes from someone else. Music that came before is also outside of oneself.  Therefore, music is not entirely personal.

It follows that there is a necessary separation between an individual and their music. This degree to the separation between an individual and their music varies based on the artist’s own intentions. These intentions are impossible to prove after the fact.

2) Problems with Essence and Music

Pieces don’t have essences. Music may have connections to Forms, but Forms are not essences. Since Forms are unchanging and music is always changing, music may have the least connection to Form out of the arts. That should be discussed another time.

What is an essence? Well, thousands of pages are written about this and I don’t have a lot of space in these blog posts I’m doing for fun. So I’ll give you an inadequate summary that, if you read between the lines, should get you on your way.

The most prominent use of “essence” comes from Locke, where he argued that all things have an invisible essence, like a pool, that surrounds them in an ether. Locke interpreted parts of Plato’s The Statesman where the Athenian Stranger proposes a classification system. The Stranger argues that things must be classified in terms of their own “essential” characteristic, that is, a characteristic that the thing does not share with other things. Locke took this idea and argued that everything has an “essence” in an ethereal space that it does not share with other things. Quine argued against this when, centuries later, he claimed that everything when we discuss it is in a semantic plane of language without a necessary connection to reality (I thought that this was loosely based off the complaint against writing in Phaedrus, but this isn’t really relevant here and my professors didn’t quite agree anyways). I don’t think most teachers or writers want to claim that a piece of sheet music has some invisible, ethereal parts to it that have to do with essences.

Pieces of music do not really have essences. A singular piece shares so much with other pieces of music that to distill it down to a characteristic it doesn’t share is impossible, even in the case of distilling a piece down to a theme. If another piece is found that shares a theme, then that theme cannot be an essential characteristic of the piece.

This is the first part of two posts. Click here to read the second post.

Optimizing a WordPress installation for speed is not that hard when you have the right plugins and some patience on your side. The best part is that you don’t have to be a web development expert to enjoy the benefits of these plugins. If you created your own WordPress site, you already have the skills to follow this guide. Anyone who uses WordPress will benefit from these plugins and settings. After you complete this guide, your website will load in ½ the time it used to if it doesn’t load instantly.

I did web development professionally for a couple years before music took off. One thing that saved me were guides like this, so I want to give back to anyone, especially a fellow musician, who’s trying to build their own website and needs a little bit of help.

After you follow this guide, make sure you use your website at least once a month. That way, everything stays running smoothly and you can share your website with confidence. Keep your plugins updated, test your links, optimized your databases, and use your contact forms to make sure they still work.

All the plugins I recommend are free. The only thing this will cost you is a few hours of your time. Developers can charge upwards of hundreds of dollars for this service (I did at one point), and there’s not really a good reason to pay that much when you already most of the work on your website yourself.

You are following this guide at your own risk. I will not support your WordPress site or your speed optimizations. Make sure you have a full backup of your website before you start following this guide in case you cause irreversible damage.

Between each step, load your website in a separate browser to make sure nothing breaks. Hit Shift + Refresh to clear the cache between each load so that it’s always loading from the server. You’ll start to notice every refresh gets a little faster.

Be sure to check the date on this guide. While this should last a long time, plugin interfaces may update or change and, while the plugins will probably still be good options, it may make the guide harder to follow step-by-step like I intended it.

Note: If you don’t see the names for the plugins you added in the left sidebar in the WP Admin panel, maximize your browser window.

Here’s how you make your WordPress site load instantly!

1) Delete unused themes

Make sure that you go through all your themes and delete the ones you aren’t using. That will save space and clutter in the database so your website can read it faster. It will also remove any unnecessary images that take up space in your website.

2) Delete unused plugins

Go through all your plugins and delete any plugins you aren’t using. If you’re not sure whether you should delete a plugin, try deactivating it first, leaving it deactivated a few days, and then checking to see whether your website broke. If it broke, then reactivate the plugin. Otherwise, delete the unnecessary plugin.

Make sure you have a complete backup of your website before you proceed.

3) Install, activate, and configure the Asset CleanUp plugin

Asset CleanUp: Page Speed Booster

After this plugin is installed, experiment with settings to unload unnecessary JavaScript files on your blog posts. This may break some functionality, so experiment with that doesn’t break your website first.

Within the Asset CleanUp plugin page (navigate here by using the sidebar when logged into the WP Admin Panel), go to the Settings tab. Navigate to Optimize CSS and Enable CSS files Minifcation and Combine loaded CSS (Stylesheets) into fewer files by clicking the green sliders. Hit Update All Settings at the bottom of the page. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Next, go to the Optimize JavaScript tab within the same Settings tab. Enable JavaScript Files Minifcation and Combine loaded JS (JavaScript) into fewer files. Then, click Update All Settings at the bottom of the page. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Afterwards, go to the Site-Wide Common Unloads tab within the plugin settings. Disable Emojis Site-Wide and Disable jQuery Migrate Site-Wide. The other options in this section are at your discretion. If you’re not using comments on your website, go ahead and Disable Comment Reply Site-Wide. Also, if you’re not interested in embedding YouTube videos or having your blog posts embedded on other websites, click Disable oEmbed (Embeds) Site-Wide. Click Update All Settings. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Now, go to the HTML Source Cleanup section. Remove the “Really Simple Discovery,” “Windows Live Writer,” “REST API,” “Pages/Posts “shortlink tag,” “All ‘generator’ meta tags,” “Wordpress version,” “generator” tags. If you’re not using a blog at all, Remove main RSS link, as goes with the comments. Click Update All Settings. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

We’re done with the Asset CleanUp plugin. Let’s go to the next plugin.

4) Install, activate, and customize the Hummingbird plugin

Hummingbird – Speed up, Cache, Optimize Your CSS and JS

Navigate to the Hummingbird dashboard by hovering over the Hummingbird entry in the sidebar of the WordPress Admin panel.

Run the speed test. Hummingbird will prompt you to do this.

Scroll down to Page Caching. Click Activate. The settings will be activated for you. Enable Cache 404 requests and Clear full cache when post/page is updated. Hit Save Settings. Return to the Hummingbird Dashboard. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Go to Asset Optimization in the Hummingbird Dashboard. Click Activate. It will start checking files for you. You may get a warning about how this is for advanced users. Click continue. Most of your files are probably already optimized by the previous plugin, so this step probably will not do very much. Now, go back to the dashboard. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Go down to Browser Caching. Click Configure. Scroll down to the bottom of the Caching page, and click Activate. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

We’re done with this plugin. Let’s go on to the next one.

4) Install, activate, and customize the WP Smush plugin

Smush Image Optimization, Compression, and Lazy Load

Navigate to the Smush dashboard from the Admin Panel. Click Begin Setup and follow the prompts, leaving everything at its stock setting. Then, click Finish Setup Wizard.

Smush will check and optimize your images. Click Bulk Smush Now to complete the operation. It will optimize all your images for you. You may get a message to re-check your asset optimization from Hummingbird. You may ignore it. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

We’re done with this plugin, so let’s go on to the next one.

5) Install, activate, and customize the WP Fastest Cache Plugin

WP Fastest Cache

Go the WP Fastest Cache page from your sidebar.

Click the checkbox to enable your cache system. Preload everything. Click OK. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Click the checkboxes for Logged-in users, New Post, Update Post, Minify HTML, Minify CSS, Combine CSS, Combine Js, Gzip, Browser Caching, and Disable Emojis. Then click Submit. Do not click the checkbox next to Mobile if you’re using a responsive template. If a dialogue box appears, click “Clear all cache” and OK. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

It may take some time to see the effect of this plugin, since the cache has to build itself up. After five minutes or so, your website should be running faster.

We’re done with this plugin. Now, let’s go on to another one.

4) Install, activate, and customize the WP-DBManager plugin

WP-DBManager

After the plugin is installed, click on the Database text in the sidebar of your admin panel. A page will come up with some information about your databases and tables that looks kind of scary. Don’t worry, we’re not working with this page.

While you’re on this page, a submenu will open up on your admin panel under Database. Click Repair DB, leave everything selected to “Yes” and click Repair at the bottom of that page. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Next, click Optimize DB in that same sub-menu we talked about earlier. Leave everything selected to “Yes,” and click “Optimize” at the bottom of the page. Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

6) Adjust Discussion Settings

Navigate to yourwebsite.com/wp-admin/options-discussion.php and uncheck all the settings, including ones for avatars. If you want comments on your posts, enable those comments on each post. Click “Save Changes.” Test your website in the secondary browser where you are not signed in.

Now that we’re done with the optimization process, here are important things to consider:

  • Your admin panel will still load very slowly. This is because we did not enable caching for administrative users, so they always see the current version of the page. The website will still load quickly for visitors, however.
  • When you make a post or create a new page, we set the cache to clear out and re-build itself. This is a good thing so that visitors will see current content. However, your website will load a little slowly again until the cache builds up again. This is normal and it shouldn’t last more than five minutes.
  • If your website is still slow after running these optimizations, the issue is on the server you have and not with Wordpress. Contact your host or get a new one.
  • If you’re website is still slow when you’re logged in, log out. We set the caching so that users who are logged in will not see it. Visitors who do not have accounts will always enjoy the speed optimizations.

Troubleshooting

Why is my website is still slow?

Are you sure you’re logged out? Clear all the data out of your browser and try again. If that does not solve the issue, contact your host.

If you just made changes, the website will run slowly again until the cache rebuilds itself. After about five minutes, your website will return to its new optimized speed. If it does not, contact your host.

I can’t see changes after I made them.

Clear the cache on WP Super Cache by navigating to the top of the page and selecting Clear Cache and using the dropdown menu. Also clear the cache and data in your browser. Your website will run slightly slowly while the cache rebuilds. If it’s slow in your secondary browser, wait about five or ten minutes, try again, and see whether the speed improves.

I screwed something up. What do I do? Will you help me?

Restore your website from the backup you made before you started. I can’t provide support.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully optimized your website. Your website should load much, much faster than it did before. If the guide worked, be sure to email me!

Introduction

When people write music, many times they use track titles like “something,” “somethinga1,” “new idea,” “new idea 2q34234,” or “blasdfh2345” because they’re too early in the project to really have a strong concept for the track. Their Ableton folder is a mess of these types of tracks, finding anything is impossible, and data loss is inevitable. It is amazing these types get any work done at all, and if they do, chances are they aren’t making any money anyways. Why do people write like this? Because of bad version control practices. Why doesn’t anyone know effective version control practices and data recovery methods?

Well, most people think that version control is one of the most boring topics ever, and no one likes to talk about it. Why spill ink over this aspect of music production when I could write about compressors or aesthetics or something and generate more clicks? Well, put simply, version control is terrifying. Without it, you’ve found yourself explaining to a client that you’ve lost that earlier revision that they preferred. You lost data due to a hardware failure or a devastating ransomware attack, and now you look like a fool and your reputation is in damage control mode. You tried to pull up a file in front of a client using the search function, and Spotlight pulled up your collection of “gentleman’s” images instead. You are always at risk of losing your hours of hard work. Your data is at the mercy of whoever assembled your hardware in the sweatshops, and whether they did a good job at quality control that day.

Version control practices are a central component of any successful artist’s career. Effective version control involves the following components:

  • Consistent File Naming and Directory Structures
  • Automated Data Backup
  • Data Security Practices

It is necessary that all components are employed in your version control strategies. Without consistent file naming, it is impossible to keep track of projects across multiple revisions or move them to different workstations. Realistically, backups simply will not happen unless the workstation takes care of them automatically, because it is an easy thing to forget to do with everything else going on. Another part of version control is security. If your data is vulnerable, your career is vulnerable and can be destroyed with a few keystrokes or that one malicious executable that found its way into your email.

Let us now discuss each component of effective version control.

Consistent File Naming and Directory Structures

File Naming

File names are difficult for producers because, during the early stages of a track, producers often experiment with various styles and sounds, and often don’t have a clear idea of what the concept of a track is. This leads someone to title their tracks with inconsistent nonsense instead of something usable.

The best practice for file naming is:

  • [Genre] [Revision Date] (for solo projects)
  • [Client] [Genre] [Revision Date] (for client work)
  • [Title] [Revision Date] (for when the title is figured out)

There are mitigations one can use to avoid this. First, it is generally best if the first part of the file name is the overall genre of the track. Something like “Deep House,” “Dnb,” “Neuro,” just so there’s that additional information in the filename. And, if down the road, someone wants to change their genre completely, there is a record of the initial attempt and one can compare their first drafts of the track with subsequent ones.

It is imperative to track the revision date in tracks. Every day one starts work on the project, one should create a new file. A benefit of this is that it helps guard against file corruption. Every file system is vulnerable to hardware failures, and a hardware failure can corrupt some or the complete project file. Having multiple project files prevents total corruption, since it is unlikely that every file should be damaged, and some part of the project can be recoverable. Another advantage is that it makes tracking revisions easier. If you want to go back to an early revision of a track, having the dates there makes it easy to track which version you preferred, if you take a direction that you don’t like as much down the road, or your client prefers an earlier version. Multiple project files help mitigate damage done by accidental file deletion. We’ve all deleted files accidentally, and when you have multiple files, at least you don’t have to start from square one.

Directory Structures

Now that we’ve discussed files, let’s move on to directories, or folders. Every project should have its own directory, organized thusly:

  • … /Production/[Project Name] (here’s where your project files are for easy access)
  • …/Production/[Project Name]/Audio (here’s where the samples you use are, so that they aren’t spread across the hard disk)
  • …/Production/[Project Name]/Images (if you have any album art, its effective to bundle it with your track so that they’re together, even if the images are in a different directory on your workstation it’s nice to have them backed up here, too)
  • …/Production/[Project Name]/Audio/_export (here’s where your exports live)
  • …/Production/[Project Name]/Notes (here are where your notes about the project are, saved as text files, so you can keep track of how your client responds to what you do)

It is important that your samples are copied from the sample library into the project’s directory. Be sure to refer to your DAW’s documentation for how to configure this setting. That way, samples aren’t lost if your sample library directories get corrupted, or you move them to a new hard drive without changing the paths in your DAW.

Another benefit is that it makes your projects easily portable across different workstations. You can just create a .zip archive and have everything you need for that particular project on a new machine. To create .zip archives, refer to the documentation for your OS.

Automated Data Backup

Data backup can be accomplished using built in tools or third-party solutions. Third-party solutions are more powerful and offer more options than what Windows or macOS offer. They ought to be configured to run daily backups to a secondary storage drive in your workstation.

For Windows, I recommend Macrium. Click here to visit their website. Macrium is excellent software, but it’s difficult to configure, so you can click here to learn how to set up scheduled backups.

Carbon Copy Cloner is a great option for macOS users. You can click here to visit their website. You can click here to learn how to set up scheduled backups.

If these software options don’t appeal to you, make sure you use a utility that creates and retains versioned backups in some way, so that in case you delete something, you can go back to an earlier backup and recover the file.

I used both of these utilities and they are excellent. Since I’m currently on Windows, I use Macrium. I wish I could say the companies behind these utilities sponsored me, but I can’t.

Data Security Practices

Version control and computer security are serious topics that you can’t take lightly.

If your data is insecure, it doesn’t really matter if it’s backed up and if you truly took the time to use effective version control strategies. Here are some common security failures most producers make daily.

Use Authorized Software

Pirated software is a security risk. Most pirated programs contain trojans that exploit known vulnerabilities in your operating system. These trojans are commonly set to execute “invisibly.” You will not see them in your Task Manager or in the Activity Monitor. Typically, these trojans will be crypto mining programs that will negatively affect your CPU performance and make your system unstable. Or, they may be keyloggers that send all your internet traffic to an attacker. Another option is that your computer may be part of a larger botnet and be a slave to a master server that instructs your workstation to send spam emails, host illegal content like child pornography for a darknet website or perform denial of service attacks on other servers.

Pirated software is a common technique to distribute ransomware. A ransomware attack is no joke, and if there is no mitigation or way to decrypt your data, you lost all your data, plain and simple. Even if you remove the ransomware infection and miraculously recover your data, ransomware now is operating as a Ransomware As A Service model, and it is likely that your machine is still infected, even if the visible aspects of its payload are gone.

You are not safe if you use macOS or GNU/Linux. The Linux kernel has been compromised. The largest botnet is currently the Mirai botnet that successfully exploits the Linux Kernel. Macintosh computers are not immune from trojan attacks; there is plenty of known crypto mining software that exploits the Apple platform, too. Your perception that your macOS computer is more secure than a Windows system is not true and may make you less cautious when you use your machine, thus making you more vulnerable to attacks.

It may be tempting to install software from images that are not from the official vendor. People in the Hackintosh community do this, and the number of users on versions of Windows from third parties seems to grow. Unless you have the skills of a professional software engineer and can successfully reverse engineer these images and examine them yourself for compromised drivers or other malicious code, you should never install this type of software out of a malware risk. With these images, it is possible for malware to be baked so deeply into the code that your machine is compromised from the moment you use it.

Another issue in using pirated software is that you give up your right to dispute cases in a court of law. While it is unlikely that you will ever be sued in the music world, you may be sued and the Court may subpoena you and force you to provide your workstation as evidence, especially in a copyright dispute. You cannot refuse the Court, unless you want to have a Contempt of Court charge. Did you know that since Contempt is not a criminal charge, you do not have the right to due process? You do know. A Contempt charge means the Court may imprison you indefinitely.

If the Court sees that you run unauthorized software, they may charge you with copyright infringement. Or, you will immediately lose the case, as the opposing counsel will make the persuasive, evidence-based argument that you are untrustworthy and refuse to follow agreements.

If you use unauthorized software, it is highly recommended to physically destroy your system disks and buy new ones, or never connect your computer to the internet.

There are also advanced ways to track computers now. If you use pirated software, your computer has been flagged, especially if you install another program legitimately that sends back your computer information to its vendor.

You may hear “well, I never had these issues!” It is likely that they do in fact have these issues but lack the appropriate skills to recognize them. Invisible malware often hides as hexadecimal code somewhere in your RAM. I doubt the person who uses pirated software knows this, or even how to view what’s going on in RAM. Musicians can really be their own worst enemy!

Rarely Open Attachments

Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Most file formats are hacked by now and are executables in disguise. VLC is exploited to run code, so is Microsoft Word, Adobe products, and most everything by now. There are even exploits for the built-in PDF viewer in iPhones. What a world!

Keep Your Computer Physically Safe

Keep your computer locked up and protected from the weather. Think about things like humidity and flood control should account for where you keep your computer.

Use a Login Password

Make sure that no one can use the computer except for people who have its password.

Encrypt Important Files

You should encrypt important files so that they are not readable in case your computer compromised. Windows and macOS offer built in encryption features. You can also use 7zip to create encrypted files.

Over the course of the summer, I completed a few different creative projects. The first one was a transcription of Bach’s famous Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor BWV 542 from organ to solo piano. The second project was an original trance track called “Arapahoe Wind” that featured orchestral breakdowns and some real wooden flute playing. The third project was a transcription of Buxtehude’s Chaconne in E Minor BuxVW 160 for two pianos. There are many more dance projects that are still in the loop stage, and due to a volume of other work I had to do for students as well as launching some websites, those are on the back burner for now. The other projects I completed were mostly recordings of songs for vocalists I’m working with, so that they can use them as practice tracks with their parts played out for them and the accompaniment. Despite that, I managed to write a few thousand measures of music across different styles this year, and now that I don’t have to worry about my honors thesis, and soon my other web projects will be done, and I can thankfully continue to work on music and finish up all the dance tracks I wrote so they can be published in 2020 after some rebranding efforts.

I follow a simple creative process. In fact, there are only really three steps I follow, called PIE: Plan, Implement, Evaluate. Anyone can follow these steps. I want to devote most of this post to the evaluation stage, because that stage is the most demanding and hardest out of all the stages. My friend who is a wonderful trumpet player asked me in depth questions about the evaluation of my work, so I thought if it was interesting for him to hear about, I thought I’d share most of that step with anyone who reads my blog.

Plan

Anyways, first, I plan out time to complete the project and balance it with the other work I committed too. Paid work generally takes priority over work I do for my own enrichment, so a project may be delayed if its profitability is lower than a paid project. During planning, I weigh the amount of time I have for a project versus the amount of time my teaching schedule allows, the work I’m doing for other people allows, as well as maintaining my health through yoga classes and gym time and seeing my friends outside of work so I don’t go insane (assuming I’m not already there). Usually I have about four hours of solid work time every day that I can allot to working on projects.

Implement

Second, I implement the project. That is, I start to do it. I work on projects no matter how I’m feeling. A lot of people will be surprised know that my musical output has nothing, if anything, to do with my emotional state or life experiences. It has to do with, well, the music. If I wake up in a bad mood and I’m working on a happy piece, you won’t hear it in the piece. Since projects usually take up a few weeks of time to complete, my daily moods simply cannot enter the music. Otherwise, the piece would end up being a haphazard collage of me feeling sad, me feeling burned out, me feeling excited, or me after drinking my fifth cup of coffee. No one wants to hear that. Consequently, I completely separate myself from the music that I make, whether its classical, jazz, electronic, or the commercial stuff that supplements the better work.

I also stopped writing about experiences I had in my life in my music. When I was younger, I only wrote musical narratives about what happened in my life. The pieces might have well been little vignettes about me going to school, travelling, going to shows and parties, and whatever else. I stopped doing this because my music had a limiting appeal. If I only write about myself, then the only person who will identify with the music is me, or people who feel similar emotions to the ones I do. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that, I wanted to have a wider musical reach and devote the music to more interesting topics. Instead of writing about some music festival I attended, why not write about a feeling or sensation that more people can identify with? What about the creation of the world, or how people fall in love, or what it feels like to be abandoned, what it feels like to be elated? These are bigger, sexier, more applicable topics to other people. After I made that decision, my reach increased with the musical quality.

Anyways, implementing the project is usually pretty easy, provided I sit down and do it.

Evaluation

The last step is the evaluation stage. When I evaluate a project, I ask the following questions:

  • What is the overall quality of the music? How does this compare to what’s on the market? How does this compare to what I did in the past?
  • What is the quality of the product? (Is it engraved well? How is the engineering?)
  • What went well about this project? What went poorly about this project?
  • What was the most significant challenge? Did I overcome it? How will I adapt to this project in the future?

I’m going to be as transparent as possible and not withhold anything, except the projects themselves since they are awaiting publication. If you want to get a copy or something, you can always contact me and I’ll send it over.

Since this post is already too long, I’ll only talk about the Bach transcription today.

Musical Quality

The music is very high quality. Obviously, it should be. Bach wrote it a few centuries ago in organ tab, and somehow it made it into me today, so it clearly has some staying power. It is among the greatest pieces ever written in music. It encapsulates many tone-colors and emotions, while incorporating dissonance in an inventive, sexy way. It inspired me to complete the project. So, the music is very high quality.

Product Quality

The engraving is adequate. It was challenging to engrave this piece since there is just so much information in the score to get across in a very limited space. The right hand has to play three voices simultaneously, and many times the middle voice switches between hands. Balancing this information in a readable way was quite difficult. Once a staff has more than two voices playing simultaneously, it gets quite hard to read no matter what kind of engraving tricks you have in your toolbox. To mitigate this issue, I mostly combined the multiple voices into two voices per staff. This was done at the expense of someone who wants to analyze the piece, because the voices in the double-fugue are blended together for readability because I thought that was more important than someone who needs to know exactly what the soprano voice does at all times.

What went well? Poorly?

What went well were the interpretive notes I made to Bach’s music. It was very freeing to be able to do whatever I want. In piano lessons, sometimes I had debates about the proper way to play Bach with my teacher. In fact, most of the times the debates would end with him saying quite honestly “well we don’t know what he thought, so if you think it sounds better then play it that way.” And I did, and most of the time it sounded better. My interpretation of Bach is largely based on what the great Russian masters of the past did anyways such as Richter, Gillels, Nikoleyeva, and Yudina compared to the pale, kitschy interpretations that modern artists usually present. Lionel Rogg and Czerny’s editions of Bach’s scores specifically shaped my playing of Bach’s music and how I crafted the interpretive marks on my transcription. To have the freedom to experiment with my favorite music is heaven to me!

What went poorly was the act of engraving the piece. I am a Finale expert. I used Finale since 2003 and when I was in high school my composition teacher had me hack Finale’s font and measure systems so that we could write scores in modern notation together. While, in practice, those experiences are honestly useless for anything that’s going to be played by another person ever, it did teach me a lot about Finale’s architecture and how to get the result I want. Engraving the transcription was troublesome because of bugs in Finale and how Finale’s defaults work. For some reason, caesuras I placed in measure 15 (for example, don’t quote me on this) would move around when I moved notes in measure 203. The result was that, after lots of time adjusting all the notes to what I want and revising them, caesuras would be in the middle of the page, which is simply unacceptable notation.

 Finale’s defaults are geared towards someone who needs to write a lead sheet before church service, with big friendly printing and lots of space between notes, not someone trying to make an organ piece into a piano piece. I spent so much time adjusting beams, manually adjusting the heights of the notes, that I spent most of this project fighting Finale instead of writing music. I started to question the value of notating things digitally when I had to adjust the piece measure by measure, and line by line over the course of hundreds of measures.  

Most significant challenge?

The most significant challenge was figuring out how to make an organ piece playable and easy to play on the piano. I purposefully wrote this transcription in a way that any advanced pianist could play it. I think that a student could learn it as early as high school, if he’s the type of student that already has a few Beethoven sonatas and Chopin etudes in his repertoire. That took much more thought on my end to accomplish. Most of my writing sessions were spent trying out different fingering combinations and different leaps, different placements of the alto or tenor voices in the left or right hand and figuring out how to make it intuitive. I did not write fingerings in this piece because I designed it in such a way that there is a maximum of two fingering options to play it. Consequently, each single measure is the result of about a half hour, or more, of work toying with all the different options on my own, then comparing it to the previous and subsequent measure to make sure that the musician who plays it can intuit the fingerings and the gestures easily.

The reason why I did this is because I want a lot of people to play this piece. If it’s too hard, no one will want to play it or spend the time learning it. If it’s too easy, a serious musician won’t take the time to study it. I want to make sure as many people can play my transcription as possible, so they can develop the same love for the piece that I have. Bach’s harmony is a joy to hear and analyze, but you don’t understand it until you can touch it and go to the place he went to when he wrote it.

The reason why I didn’t go to your show is that I hate you. I hate you, I hate your music, and I think you’re the biggest scumbag to walk the planet. Your personal tastes are garbage, and, on a good day, your “band” might sound like the fifth-grade band at the school just up the way. Wait, scratch that. Screw you and your band. I’d rather see a group of fifth graders struggle through “Hot Cross Buns” than listen to your group of wannabees. What do I hate the most about you? You have the narcissistic audacity to call the unprofessional, screaming banshees that you assembled with the assistance of of Craigslist and terrible taste on your side “musicians.” Merely sharing that job title with you is enough to make me want to quit music and apologize to the general public on behalf of musicians everywhere that you exist. You sicken me.  

In all seriousness, I didn’t go see your show because I had no idea it was happening! I really hadn’t the faintest idea. Why does this happen? After all, a large part of any musician’s leverage is draw. So wouldn’t someone who wants to do grow their music career put effort towards their draw? Or, have some marketing power when it comes to other projects that they’re a part of? Where does this this power come from? And where does it go when it’s not engaged properly?

It is true that most musicians would want to focus on their draw. There are a few ways to increase one’s draw which are unfortunately rarely employed by players. One way is to promote shows according to a schedule so people can mark the date on their calendars and make sure that they show up. I am a big fan of the four-week promotion plan. One month away from the event, or preferably sooner, people are notified about the date, and they can mark it on their calendars. During the weeks up to the performance, audience members are reminded of the show date through multiple channels. Email blasts, text message blasts (although antiquated right now), flyers, and social media posts tend to help this. Then, the day of the show, there are going to be at least a few people who show up and are willing to buy tickets. I see a lot of clubs using this method, where shows are announced even a few months before the show date. This allows people to plan on actually showing up, instead of throwing a haphazard event on the internet.

Promotional things usually get lost among the vast amount of digital noise on the internet. There are a lot of musicians who I actively follow on social media and I just don’t see their posts. I’m part of a lot of groups, and the group posts tend to take up most of my feed. The other posts that take up most of my feed are promotional posts of some kind, or unpleasant political posts. It’s rare that I actually see content that’s relevant to me, including posts from people I respect and want to engage with. Sometimes I’ll go to a musician’s profile, only to see a listing of all the gigs they played that month. I’m not sure how they expect me to attend any of them, since I wasn’t told directly, and I usually can’t make it after the show already happened. Email blasts are a great way to mitigate this because

Another way to improve attendance numbers at a show is to increase the quality of the music. This is probably the most obvious step in a musician’s career, but ironically most musicians do not focus on it. It is easy to read some blog posts about music industry tips and apply the business tips to one’s own career. Unfortunately, without quality music, these tips aren’t very relevant because people are not interested enough in the product to go spend time and money to engage with it. A product must reach a certain threshold of quality before others will enjoy it. While there are multiple interpretations of what good music is, there is a certain class of music which is enjoyed by millions of individuals that exceeds the quality standards that most local musicians are capable of.

Before we discuss these characteristics that have to do with a piece of music’s perceived quality, I’d like to briefly add that I’m writing very loosely about what these characteristics are and where they exist. Discussing music is challenging for all sorts of reasons, but the most significant challenge to writing about music is that it is an inherently invisible artform, and the traits are determined after the musical experience ended. Music is a time-based artform, so attempts to condense complicated musical ideas into a time-less medium, such as writing, should always be taken with some doubt. When we write about music, we have to “freeze” it in a certain sense, and through the process of this “freezing” we run the risk of distorting the reality of the music itself and how listeners engage with it. Also, the boundaries that I use to divide these ideas are porous at best, and non-sensical at worst. This is a topic that I will come back to in more depth in later posts, such as where musical properties and stylistic practices exist outside of someone else writing about them at a later date. But, we’ll talk about those things later on.

Most of the issues I see with performances involve precision. Many people play without attention to maintaining the pulse. It is important to maintain the pulse among all the players in the band. Many times, I see a show, to hear that the vocalist, bassist, and drummer have a different interpretation of the beat. Other times, the instruments are badly turned, or the balance of the group is off. Sometimes the bassist is incredibly loud or the pianist wants to redline his amp. Either way, it is not very pleasant.

In addition to these lower level issues, there are some aesthetic issues that often negatively impact a musician’s draw. The most common issue I’ve identified is that the music can sound generic. What do I mean? Well, when music sounds generic, it lacks that special quality that separates it from other players. For instance, a jazz group playing at one hotel likely sounds like it’s made up of the same musicians as a jazz group playing at another hotel even when they’re different people playing at different times. The issue is that, instead of using the music as a vehicle for artistic expression, it is used to play another night and make a few extra bucks or drum up some business. Musicians often think about music in terms of traits. So, jazz (or other styles) ought to be played with x BPM, y eighth note feel, and z chord patterns and voicings based off of what their teacher or some other scholar wrote. Instead of developing their own opinions on what jazz should be, they’re simply rendering what others agree on. Consequently, the attempt at music sounds agreeable and inoffensive, without having any interesting content in it. It’s all style without content. While I targeted jazz musicians with this example, every musician must fight this type of ennui. I hear the same issue across scenes and styles. Whether it is your local, anonymous club DJ, a classical pianist, or church musician, most of the time people play music that is, well, hard to remember.

Another aesthetic issue that often negatively impacts draw is the “advanced” music. This type of music only appeals to those with degrees or years of study of music and draws upon influences that are based more on the score and academia, influences foreign to the craft of music itself. It appeals to the type of listener who yearns to hear a special polyrhythm or polytonality to check off in their head that they heard it that night. Is there anything wrong with this? No. While this music may not be to my taste, and it is certainly not how I listen to music, I’m not making the case that musicians who produce this type of content are lesser than others, or that their followers are foolish for having these tastes. What I mean to get at is how it negatively impacts concert draw. Should you be interested in increasing your draw, and your music appeals to a minority of people that have advanced training, the draw will be perpetually limited by the small amount of people who have this training. If having a large audience is not a priority for you, and engaging with others is not either, then I suppose there’s no point in changing your style. But it could be getting in the way of your career without you knowing it.

One of the first things people ask me when I tell them I’m a producer is something along the lines of “what gear do you use?” so I decided that I would devote this post to a detailed description of everything I use with short justifications on why I use it. I’d also include, well, everything on my computer, so you can have as much detail that you need.

The first half of this post will be devoted to hardware. You could potentially use it as a slightly outdated budget audio workstation guide since I had a total of zero issues working on this machine so far. The second half of this post discusses all the software I use and how I use it. If you also happen to run Windows, you could use it as a recommendation for high quality Windows software.

Before we get started, I’d just like to interject for a moment and say that I don’t have any of this memorized off of the top of my head, and I mostly pasted the information in from HWiNFO that is a free utility which lists hardware that is connected to the computer.

Hardware:

Self-Built Computer:

  • OS: Windows 10 64 Bit Home Edition (yes, Windows is just as good as the Mac for creative people)
  • Case: NZXT H320 in white (I used this from my previous build)
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600
  • Cooler: Stock Stealth Cooler
  • GPU: XFX AMD RX 560 with 4GB of VRAM
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE AB350M-DS3H-CF SOCKET AM4 with the AMD X370 Chipset
  • RAM: 16 GB (2×8 GB) Mushkin Essentials DDR4 2133 MHz (15-15-15-36) (I would’ve gotten faster RAM but it was very, very expensive when I built my machine)
  • PSU: EVGA 750 GQ 80+ Gold Semi-Modular
  • Storage Configuration:
    • There are four storage devices in this computer that serve different purposes. At the moment, this computer can store up to 6.256 TB, or 6256 GB.
    • This computer also serves as an archive of my career. My oldest files are from 2003 and these files are actively backed up and guarded against corruption using Macrium Reflect.  
    • Windows and my applications are stored in a 256 GB M.2 NVME Samsung EVO drive.
    • A 2 TB Seagate HDD serves as my primary storage that is used actively.
    • There are two more 2 TB Seagate HDD drives that are backups of the primary drive. I bought these drives at different times to make sure that they wouldn’t all die at the same time. A guy can dream, can’t he?
    • The drives are backed up automatically every single day with a Grandfather-Father-Son backup scheme to ensure no data loss.
    • There is also a 2TB Seagate drive, stored in a safety deposit box away from my computer or the internet, that serves as another archive of my career.
    • I don’t have any brand preferences when it comes to computer storage devices. It just so happens that Seagate ones are on sale more frequently where I live.
    • One of my favorite things about having a computer that I build myself is that I can replace storage drives very frequently. I look at all my drives like time-bombs.
  • Optical Drive: HP DVD Writer 1265t (this is way back from 2013 and sounds like a dentist drill but hey it just werks)
  • Front USB Panel: Kingwin 7x Front Panel (overkill but I felt rebellious)
  • Display: LG 27EA63 1920×1080 @ 60Hz (this one is also very old but it still works and I haven’t seen a reason to replace it yet, considering that I’m not really a gamer)
  • Keyboard: HyperX Alloy FPS with Cherry MX Blue Switches
  • Mouse: I have no idea. It’s from some Amazon store back in…2010? I wish I could tell you what it is but Windows just calls it Generic PnP Device.
  • Mouse Pad: Also very old and from…who knows.
  • Printer: Brother MFC-J53300W
  • Laptop: HP EliteBook 8540p with Intel Core i5 (I use this for my laptop needs. It’s heavy, but it was cheap and gets the work done. Also, despite dropping it, spilling coke on it, spilling coffee on it, throwing it around, and checking it in baggage a few times it still runs just fine!)
  • Other Laptop: Apple MacBook 2011 Series White (this is my white laptop that I still use on keyboard gigs, but it’s not safe to connect it to the internet anymore and it can’t run software made after 2011)
  • Tablet: Apple iPad 2018 Series
  • Phone: Apple iPhone SE

Audio Hardware:

  • Audio Interface: RME Fireface UCX (thank you scholarship!)
  • Monitors: Genelec 8250 (thank you scholarship again! Worth it!)
  • Cables for the monitors: Mogami Gold
  • Cables for everything else: too many to count/deal with all from random sources over the years
  • Hardware Synth: MicroKorg (I don’t use this anymore)
  • Midi Controller: StudioLogic Acuna 88
  • Custom Keyboard Stand (this was a gift and the brand rubbed off after all the gigs I took it to. We took IKEA shelves and placed them on the top parts for the “tower of power” look)
  • Keyboard Amplifier: Roland K-350
  • Audio Interface for on the road: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (the circuitry is lower quality than the RME, but it does the job)
  • Piano: Pramberger upright slightly modified by the Anteque Piano Company in Denver, CO

Non-music Software (in order of most frequently used):

  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Stickies (I use these to organize everything)
  • Telegram
  • Windows Media Player
  • Clocks and Alarms
  • Discord
  • Newsflow
  • Macrium Reflect
  • 7zip
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • iTunes
  • Steam Games (I’d like to add that half an hour a week of gaming is a lot for me):
    • Audiosurf
    • Cities: Skylines
    • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
    • Euro Truck Simulator 2
    • Goat Simulator
    • Grand Theft Auto V
    • SimCity 4 Deluxe
    • Yakuza Kiwami
  • Hexchat
  • Event Viewer
  • VLC
  • HWiNFO

Music Software:

  • Steinberg Cubase 7 (mostly using included VSTs)
  • Finale 25
  • SmartScore X2 Pro
  • Adobe Audition CC
  • Third Party VSTs:
    • Ozone 8
    • HALion
    • Synthogy Ivory
    • Spire
    • Sylenth
    • Dubstation
    • Stutter Edit
    • VPS Avenger
    • RP-Delay