Category Archives: Music

Posts about music and being a musician

Why you don’t listen to music

There’s a good reason why you might not enjoy listening to music as much as you used to: It’s gotten too loud. All music has “dynamic range,” variations in volume between the loud parts and the soft parts. People sing and play at different volumes. Individual notes have an initial attack and then a gradual […]

the Vinyl Archive

There’s a well known article by the photographer and critic Allan Sekula which points out that from the beginnings, photographs posed a problem of archiving. You’d go on vacation, take some pictures, send them off to be developed, and they’d come back in an envelope, or as slides. Then what? For most people, it was […]

Dancing Queen

Last week Jimmy Fallon released a modestly funny, very interesting segment from his show. The bit, titled “the history of mom dancing,” features Fallon, dressed as a mom, and First Lady Michelle Obama, sort of dressed as a mom, dancing to a generic light club  beat. if for some reason the video won’t embed–try this link […]

Why I like playing the bass

Here’s a clip of an English bass player, Johnny Copland, playing a short section of classic bass line from the Aretha Franklin song Until you come back to me. The original bass part was played by Chuck Rainey, a famous studio musician who’s played on thousands of songs.   Until You come Back to Me (That’s […]

No thing’s any good

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet) “A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.” (Aldous Huxley) With those words in mind, consider the music of Shooby Taylor, “the Human Horn” Stout Hearted Men Lift […]

History, Technology, and the Shuffle Beat.

There’s a kind of beat called a “shuffle.” You’ve heard it thousands of times, maybe without knowing it. It’s an amazing beat when it’s played well, a unique combination of relaxed and urgent. Wikepedia has a long explanation which will be hard to make sense of. I think of a shuffle as triplets—1,2,3—played against four […]

I hear America Singing in a Mask

American singing–a distinctively American style, not imitating formal styles from Europe–starts with white guys in blackface. The first distinctive American style of music, known to most people through virtually any Stephen Foster songs or a song like Dixie,originated in the minstrel show. There’s really no way around it: American popular music starts as the soundtrack […]

Secret, Illegal Music

It was sort of like buying drugs:  to get this book you had to go into an alley, and pay cash, or go back behind a legit music store, where the clerk furtively snuck you a copy; or grab it out of the trunk of some guy’s car. Maybe you had a teacher who sold […]

Blind Imitation

What do we do when we learn by imitation? What does it mean when the imitation crosses “racial” lines? I’m working on the history of music, and looking here at the career of Eddie Lang, who was perhaps the single most recorded person in the 1920s. I want to eventually compare Lang to John Powell, […]

Economics of the Great Compression

After getting a lot of generous and smart comments on my initial post about compression and mid scooping I decided to take another crack at it. The basic fact, described here, is that modern commercial music is heavily heavily compressed and has its midrange scooped out. The question I’m looking at is why. The late […]