Saturday at 20:56 (8:56PM NM time) is the fiftieth anniversary of the moment that man set foot on the moon for the first time. I was ten years old and played soccer with other kids in a small village in Austria when I heard my dad whistle and holler. He made me come into the house and watch the event, and I am glad he did… It was grainy black and white, but it was exciting and great.
Where were you? Or perhaps you are too young?
This morning I took a loaf of bread to my friend who owns a local bike shop. He was sitting with another friend of his and we started talking about bread. His friend told me he is thinking of building a wood-fired oven for baking bread. I said I would love to learn how to bake in that kind of oven.
Then my friend’s friend asked me what my name is and I said Ottmar. He didn’t understand so I repeated my name.
Then he said oh, Ottmar, like Ottmar Liebert… except you can’t play guitar. Exactly, I replied.
I left and laughed all the way home… :-)
Since posting this I have heard two other stories, but I don’t know whether they are true or just musician lore. The first one concerns Johnny Cash who was in a bar when another man told him he resembled Johnny Cash. The reply was I am Johnny Cash. No you’re not. But I am. You can’t be. Back and forth… and then Johnny Cash was slugged by the other men for impersonating the great Johnny Cash. It’s sounds so outlandish that it just might be true!
The second story is about Christopher Cross. A TSA officer told him that he looked like Christopher Cross. Yeah, I heard that before. The TSA officer ended with, it’s so sad that he passed away. Oops.
I recently learned that many of the first books that were printed following the invention of the Gutenberg press were books about witchcraft. Perhaps there is hope for the internet after all.
The new album has gone through a whole bunch of different titles, from the first working title Rumba Pa Ti, which was a reminder to myself that I wanted to create an upbeat album, to Hu, which I’ll write about separately, to Indigo, and now Fete. This last one seems to stick for several reasons. When Jon heard the first track of the album he sent me a message that said “this song is a party”.
In Köln, in the mid-seventies, we always used the word Fete for party, pronounced with two syllables instead of one… Fete or Fête, comes from the French language. A lot of French words are used in Köln. Portemonnaie means wallet, or Pottmonné in Kölsch, the local dialect. The dialect word Trottewar comes from the French Trottoir, or sidewalk.
Although Indigo was my favorite album title for a while, because the song of that name started a new development for me, it became clear that Fete was the right name for the album.
Because the music is upbeat – joyful is the word several people who listened to new songs used – I wanted a strong color for the cover. I really haven’t used color in ages and for a long time my albums tended to use neutral or earthy tones. I opened Lightroom and searched the 16,000 images I have collected there for the word red. I played around with a few of the images – this is a photo I took when we performed at a theater in Ecuador a few years back – and this one stood out for me. I imported the image to an iPad and played with it. I like the hand lettering which gives the cover the feel of a personal postcard.
Fete is in the final stages and I hope to have the album finished by the end of July. The ListeningLounge is very old and rickety and I have been convinced to replace it by joining Bandcamp. That means that the LL will go away within the next few months, to be replaced by a Bandcamp page on this website. The album will first be released on Bandcamp in multiple downloadable formats – this should happen sometime in August. Next we will have CDs for sale at our concerts, although I don’t have a target window for that yet. I imagine I will also start selling the CD via mail order. The rest of the usual digital distribution, including streaming services, will have to wait a while.
Fete will be the first album, catalog number 001, for my new label HuHeartDrive.
And just like that the loudness wars are over. Honestly, I only found out about it this weekend. I was having lunch with Jon Gagan and he informed me about this, apparently not so new, development. Yesterday I did some research and reached the conclusion that I will have to mix several different versions of the new album, one for streaming, one for CD, and perhaps a third one for HD files.
How did the loudness wars end? It was the logical result of so many millions of people subscribing to streaming services, like Apple Music or Spotify. Whether one listens to a personal playlist or a curated stream of music, it’s not fun to have the volume go up and down with each track. In fact sudden changes in loudness are the #1 source of user complaints. The same is true for watching a bunch of videos on YouTube. It would be annoying if some of the videos were much louder than others, right?
As a result the streaming services came up with guidelines and are turning down loud songs. Here is an article about loudness normalization across different platforms. This has been going on for a while now. Here is an article about YouTube normalizing volume since December 2015.
If you want to see what this means in practical terms, go to the website Loudness Penalty and drag and drop any mp3 file on it. It will show by how much that file will be turned down by streaming services.
Here are a few links to posts I made about this subject in the past:
It seems that I am allergic to Apple plastic. To be more specific, my ears get infected from Apple earbuds. And that’s too bad because I find that Apple EarPods, AirPods, and the new PowerbeatsPro have really decent microphones, certainly much better than any other headset I have tried.
I first discovered my affliction in 2017 and in the fall of that year I had to go to different doctors several times before I was able to figure it out. It got so bad, at one point, that it was super painful to wear my IEMs during soundcheck and concert.
That I spend quite a while on the phone each day may have something to do with it, but it’s certainly strange that my ears are only affected by Apple products. It has to be the plastic, I figure. It also has nothing to do with Bluetooth, because the wired EarPods make a mess of my ears as well, and a Bluetooth headset by a different brand does not bother me.
I hoped the rubber tips of the new Powerbeats Pro would mean that my ears would like them. I wore them for a couple of hours the first day I had them… and they affected my ears badly. It must be that the plastic touches my outer ear… it’s the plastic, damn it. Has to be. I gave away the Powerbeats Pro and the new owner LOVES them. Of course, because they sound pretty good, Bluetooth works flawlessly, and the mic is great!
I wear my IEMs on tour around 2-3 hours per day but they must be made from a different kind of plastic because I have never had a problem. I also often wear Shure 535s for hours without a problem.
I have, so far, only found one other person that is affected by Apple earbuds, and couldn’t find anything relevant on the internet. (sigh)
We’ve been hearing an alarming narrative that “record labels are making more money than ever from streaming, but they’re just not paying musicians”. To be clear, we certainly have our issues with major labels, however we also need facts and to be truthful.
The truth is, that a decade after losing half of it’s revenues due to piracy as reported by CNN (click here), record labels are now only getting back up to half of what the peak business was in 1999. Half of where we were in 1999, twenty years later. Let that sink in. As unpopular as he was twenty years ago, Lars Ulrich was right.
I have been meaning to mention a couple of items I find very useful. One is a phone app, available for iOS and Android, and the other is an email provider, available for all platforms.
I use the CloudBeats app for iPhone to listen to music I put on Dropbox. Dropbox is great for listening to CD-quality music, but one can only listen to one individual song and can’t listen to an album or a playlist. That’s where CloudBeats comes in. It lets me stream or download an album on Dropbox to my phone and I can create a playlist for any number of songs. Very useful when I am working on the sequence of a new album. And CD quality is, of course, better than the 250kbps files I can hear on Apple Music.
I was looking for an email provider that is safe and efficient, and has an encryption option. For the past year I have used Protonmail. I am really happy with them. If you want to free yourself from Google or Apple, you should check out Protonmail.
PS: this is not an ad and I don’t receive anything in return for mentioning these two
Today I was asked about the gear I use to record my guitar and I wondered whether it would be of interest to leave that information here as well…
I have already recently mentioned that I use a 2002 Macintosh G4 computer. That 2002 computer runs at the awesome speed of 1,25 Ghz!! For comparison, my 2018 phone runs at 2,5 GHz! Ha! The latest version of the Pro Tools recording software that can run on this Mac is PT 6.9.1. I believe PT is up to version 12 by now. My computer is very stable and PT 6.9.1 is very stable, and I have no desire to upgrade.
In the studio I use a Neumann M149 microphone, which I have had since sometime around 1997. Around that time I also acquired a Martech MSS-10 microphone preamp, after testing and comparing a dozen different preamps. All in the room immediately knew that the MSS-10 was the best of the bunch, certainly for my guitar.
I think microphone and preamp are far more important than the recording device. One has to start out with the best possible signal.
For concerts I have the Earthworks SR40. I have used this microphone for a few years now and absolutely love it. Great sound, great feedback rejection, and plenty of gain.
I am in the late stages of creating a new album. As of this past week I am pretty certain that all of the music has been recorded and that I am now simply fine-tuning the mixes. Almost every morning I walk about five miles and listen to the music, making notes as to the changes I might want to make in the afternoon.
Working digitally has changed the mixing process radically for several reasons. One of these reasons is that everyone working with a computer can recall any aspect of a mix, from the volume of each track to the panning (left-right location), the EQ and Reverb settings. Movement can also be automated, for example an instrument can move in the left to right matrix, or can move up and down in volume.
This kind of automation came at great cost in the mid-Nineties, and wasn’t available at all before then. An analog mixing console with total recall might cost up to a million dollars. Renting time in a studio that had such a console was quite expensive, so I don’t have much experience using one. The only time I would see such a mixing board was when I played guitar on other people’s records.
We found ways to simulate some of the effects of recall. I remember delegating jobs to band members, and the engineer, who were tasked to move a fader up or down at a place in the song, or pan a certain track. In essence we were playing the mixing console. And since we didn’t work in a studio with a total recall board, every mix was original. We had to keep making changes manually until we got it right. And if I later heard something I didn’t like, we had to set up the mix from scratch. I would fill pads of paper with numbers, trying to make note of a basic mix in case we had to revisit it.
Another big change is that in the Nineties mixing commenced when recording was completed, as it meant switching to a different playback head on the analog tape recorder. Working digitally I constantly make mixes and the computer remembers those mixes. I can make a copy of a mix and then make any changes to it without losing the mix before. Nowadays nothing much happens when recording is done because I have been mixing since the first day.
This digital process has become natural to me. In many ways I prefer it to the analog process. Working with a tape recorder I always needed an engineer, but recording with a computer I can handle by myself. I can experiment and get as far out as I want to, and can instantly go back to a different mix. I also do prefer working by myself in the studio, my laboratory. Being alone in the studio feels more like a painter’s process.
So, now I am finalizing the mix of each piece of music and it is curious how a song comes together. I always know the moment it happens. I am sitting at the console and am listening, either on two old Tannoy speakers I love or on headphones, Stax or Audeze… then I make a tiny change, and it could be anything, like turning up a drum or the bass, or moving a rhythm guitar to the other side, and suddenly I am jumping up and it’s happened. I dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching!! Before my brain figures out what’s going on, my body already knows. I love that feeling. Happened again this evening.