RIP, Tom Petty

I came late to the music of Tom Petty.

I’d heard songs on the radio, but the pivotal moment came when my friend Jon Grier, at the time, an engineer at Music Annex in San Francisco, brought me into the control room to demonstrate the studio’s new Genelec monitoring system.

He put on “Learning To Fly” from the album “Into the Great Wide Open” which had just been released. I was completely blown away. The music was deeply human, 100% pure, and it sounded GREAT.

I immediately went out and got my hands on every recording I could find. I have been a huge fan ever since that day.

Tom Petty’s music beautifully captured that poignant human experience of striving, falling down, and getting up again for another try. To me, his songs were filled with hope, and tinged with melancholy.

His catalog was remarkably consistent, and his records always sounded extraordinary, with some of the best production of the time.

Tom Petty was also one of the first musicians to take on the major labels for their egregious manipulation and mistreatment of artists. His advocacy inspired many musicians to become business savvy and stand up for their work.

I highly recommend the 2008 Peter Bogdanovich documentary “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream” if you haven’t seen it.

RIP, Tom Petty.

Coming together to fight climate change

60ed9c8ef85b5bbd6ea848b2411557261d6f4960A recent AP piece argues that climate change is the most polarizing current social issue because it stimulates our intuitive tendencies toward collective action or individualism. The logic makes sense but that isn’t what happened in WWII. The country came together and galvanized its resources to fight a global threat.

In The New Republic Bill McKibben makes a cogent argument that what is needed to battle climate change is a concerted national (and international) effort similar to what FDR instituted during the Second World War. The battle against climate change presents a unique opportunity to build a sustainable energy infrastructure, bolster our economy, and bring together our divided nation.

This is a long read but well worth it.

What can we do as individuals? Become active in local community politics, contact our elected representatives, support the development of renewable energy in the private  and public sectors, and track environmental leaders like McKibben and

Because climate change is developing over a relatively long trajectory relative to our evolutionary sense of danger, we have been kicking this can down the road for generations. The key to shifting our response is understanding the science and the implications for global security, economic stability, social justice, and general well-being.

REFUGEE at The Annenberg Space for Photography


I recently visited the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, CA for the first time. The main space and Skylight Studios are in the middle of the Century City complex and you would never know they were there from the street. This felt elitist to me but the layout is nice, admission is free, and the underground parking is almost free with validation. The REFUGEE and NEW AMERICANS (Skylight Studios) exhibits were rich and powerful. An international team of photojournalists and professional photographers are working with the UNHCR to tell the human stories of the refugee crisis abound the world. There is a lot to absorb and this certainly changed my thinking about refugees, immigration, and the incredible human cruelty that has created this situation. I highly recommend this show which runs through August 21st.

YouTube Revenues Explained…

YT3YouTube monetization is complex but well worth understanding in a music economy where every revenue stream counts.

Attorney Chris Castle recently participated in a SXSW panel and posted an excellent guide to YouTube monetization on his MusicTechSolutions blog.

A Billboard chart explains revenue splits for compositions, recordings, and videos, and Castle touches on the opacity of CPMs and the impact Multichannel networks (MCN) can have on creator’s revenues.

The article explains the difference between “Official” or “Premium” videos and user generated content (USG).

Castle delves into the mysteries of YouTube’s ContentID and Content Management Systems (CMS) and shed light on the reality of what it takes to become a YouTube celebrity.

“We often hear about “YouTube stars” with elite channels (1 million plus subscribers) who are very well compensated. The source of this high level of compensation is rarely limited to advertising revenue. Most of the time, their ad revenue is salted with a high number of payments for what are essentially sponsorships, endorsements or product placements, often called “brand integrations“.

This is a good read for all musicians that can help them decide how best to distribute their marketing assets.

Learning How To Learn

Image courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt
Image: D Sharon Pruitt

I read a lot…mostly nonfiction; business books, history, science, and cognitive psychology, not to mention the endless online journals, blogs, software tutorials, and news articles. When it comes to the practical application of Big Ideas retention rapidly fades. I have so many books I want to read I jump into the next one, hoping that all of this information is somehow being stored in my personal cerebral cloud for later recall. It is easy to become addicted to the novelty of something new.

To apply my rudimentary understanding of cognitive bias or Bayesian inference to a problem, it is not enough to have a broad conceptual familiarity these complex and counterintuitive ideas. I need to strengthen my thinking skills, and that requires intentional practice.

Ideas and skills are encoded in the brain through the process of recall, particularly randomized recall that allows some in-between time for forgetting to occur; not too much forgetting, just enough to create cognitive effort and some failure when recalling the skill. It turns out that contrary to what many of us have been taught, mass repetition (repeating that difficult four-bar musical passage for an hour until you go into a trance) is not the most efficient way to learn; better to spread the drilling over several days and contexts.

Some books are designed around how we learn, continually coming back to key ideas, synopsizing chapters, and building quizzes into the text. I have tried the time consuming task of taking extensive notes while reading, but my notes tend to be forgotten when I move to the next field of study.

Lately I have begun experimenting with flash cards. While reading, I note ideas I want to learn, dig deeper with additional research, and develop flash cards to quiz myself. I am using a program for the Mac and iOS called Flashcard Hero. The program allows you to easily create you own card decks which are stored in the cloud and sync to a free iPhone app. It is easy to quiz yourself anytime, customize the look of the cards, and shuffle them randomly. We’ll see how this goes.

What learning techniques work for you?

Was Alan Turing the Father of Hip Hop?

binary-code-63529_1280The tragic story of brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing has been popularized in the award-winning 2014 film, The Imitation Game and recent books by Walter Isaacson and Steven Johnson. Turing’s work cracking the Enigma code, and developing the technology that would become modern computing has become part of the popular lexicon. Less well known is his work with “pulse code modulation”, the predecessor to today’s digital audio technology.

In 1941, as the United States entered the war in the Pacific, General George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff faced a difficult challenge. He suspected that the encryption system used for military communications, the A-3 Scrambler developed by AT&T in the 1920s, was not secure. In fact, in the fall of 1941 the Deutsche Reichspost, tasked with handling telephone and telegraph traffic, had broken the A-3.

Enter The Green Hornet…

In the early 1940s, Bell Laboratories, under the direction of A.B. Clark and assisted by Turing, began work on what became known as “The Green Hornet”. The name was derived from the soundtrack of a popular serial radio show as eavesdroppers could only hear a buzzing noise. The system, whose official moniker became SIGSALY, digitally sampled speech, converting it into binary code. Consisting of 40 racks of gear, weighing 50 tons, SIGSALY successfully encrypted communications throughout the Second World War, mostly famously between Washington and London.

As with the development of the Internet decades later, military research broke technological ground, creating innovations that reach far beyond their original applications. While it may seem a stretch to connect Alan Turing and Kanye West, the world would not have seen the E-mu SP-12, or Pro Tools without the groundbreaking teamwork that developed SIGSALY.

Now what you hear is not a test…

Rosanne Cash responds to Hypebot’s Bruce Houghton

Beethoven’s Morning

Beethoven_2089781b“Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care – he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked until 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity. (Perhaps for this reason, Beethoven’s productivity was generally higher during the warmer months.)” -from the book, Daily Rituals, How Artists Work by Mason Curry

Musicians Are Natural Entrepreneurs

Berkle article clip imageBerklee Today, the journal for alumni of Berklee College of Music, recently gave me the opportunity to explore the relationship between musical training and the skills of entrepreneurs. I interviewed several Berklee alumni who have gone on to create groundbreaking music technology companies serving independent artists.

Each of these companies provides tools that help musicians distribute music, raise funds and market themselves, but what struck me was the similarity between direct-to-fan and lean startup practices. Direct-to-fan platforms give artists a strong connection with their super-fans, providing valuable feedback and ongoing engagement. In particular, early-stage pre-release platforms like PledgeMusic show artists what their fans value and how they want to be engaged. By the time the funding cycle is complete the artist knows their customer and has had the opportunity to tweak their offerings. Each person I interviewed described their musical training as fundamental preparation for working in a startup environment.

You can read the full issue of Berklee Today here or download a pdf of the article. Please check out each of these inspiring entrepreneurs and their companies. You will be amazed!

The rare and valuable skills of musicians

Daniel IndartI recently had the opportunity to create a presentation for Daniel Indart’s Music Entrepreneurship students at the Cornel School of Contemporary Music at Shepherd University in Los Angeles. My presentation: Thinking Different(ly)…The Rare and Valuable Skills of Musicians discussed the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset in today’s music industry. While business and music are diametrically opposed activities, they are complimentary. The life of professional musicians is remarkably like a startup company. We may not think of ourselves in that light, but the similarities are striking. Musicians can learn a great deal by thinking metaphorically and studying lean startup practices. We are uniquely equipped to learn new skills because we understand the process of deep, deliberate  practice. This also makes musicians valuable in a continually disrupted economy where innovation, flexibility, and intrinsic motivation trump past work experience and training.

The students were inspiring and I had a great time. You can check out my slides, a list of related resources, and a survey of revenue streams for musicians from the awesome folks at the Future of Music Coalition.

Please be sure to find out more about Daniel Indart and Latin Music Specialists. Daniel is one of the premier authorities on all genres of Latin music, a prolific composer/producer and a wonderful educator. Thanks for inviting me!