Dear Spotify, Apple Music, et al.: I’m Not the Guy from Steppenwolf

Dear Spotify, Apple Music, et al.: I’m Not the Guy from Steppenwolf

I’ve had an ongoing battle for the last five years behind the scenes…

Out of nowhere, one of my fans will hit me up with something to the effect of “Hey, I just saw that you’re playing in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks at the casino! Me and the wife will be there, dude!”

My response? “Um, I’m not booked in Atlantic City. Where are you seeing this??”

“It was posted on your Facebook page.”

I check my Facebook page. Sure enough, there’s my picture along with an event link, advertising that I’m playing in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks.

I immediately delete it.

Why??? Because I’m not booked in Atlantic City. The other John Kay is! The other JK is best known as the singer, songwriter, guitarist, and frontman of Steppenwolf.

Does anyone under 35 even know who Steppenwolf is??

Either way, his social media team has been linking his events to my accounts for years. I’ve reached out to them to resolve the issue, and they can’t figure out why it continues to happen.

That is the reason I changed all my social media handles to @TheRealJohnKay. It’s not because I’m pretentious, there’s a serious confusion here!

In fact, just yesterday, I went to my local health foods store, and was checking out with my regular cashier when she and I got to talking about what’s going on with me music-wise. After a brief chat, I wrote down my website URL and gave it to her.

“TheRealJohnKay.com, huh? Like the guy from Steppenwolf??” she remarked.

Anger, rising…

I smile, “Haha! Yeah, that’s an ongoing thing…”

I’ve been getting this my whole life from Boomers. “Oh, your name’s John Kay? Hey, like the guy from Steppenwolf!”

No. Not like the guy from Steppenwolf.

I’m tired of playing along with the “Oh, like the guy from Steppenwolf?” comments.

From now on, I’m going to say…“…Who?”

The guy from Steppenwolf is 73 years old, released “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” in 1968, had his last hit in 1972 (Boomers, can you name it without Googling??), and hasn’t released a studio album since 2001.

And, according to his Spotify analytics — which I was granted access to! — his fans also listen to Savoy Brown, Grand Funk Railroad, Leslie West, Robin Trower, Mountain, James Gang, Humble Pie, Johnny Winter, and Alvin Lee.

In other words…NOTHING NEW!!

This isn’t meant to derogate him or his fans. Hell, he’s essentially been touring since he first formed Steppenwolf in the ’60s. Good on him, and if people are coming to see him, all the better.

But the confusion and the cross-pollination has to end. As much as I appreciate his fans’ cursory exposure to my music by way of its misplacement on his pages, and welcome any of them who wish to enjoy my songs and see me perform, I’d much rather separate our catalogs.

I’ve been in touch with Spotify, who have been assisting me with this ridiculousness, and they have since gone ahead and created my own dedicated artist page.

And yet, my music distributor has been continuing to submit my songs to each of the streaming platforms as if I were the other John Kay, which means my new song “Hate U Back” was released under Mr. Steppenwolf’s artist page on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Google Play, and the lot this past Friday.

So, this is my public cry for help. Since the streaming platforms rely on the distributors to place their clients’ music correctly, and it’s not happening in my case despite repeated efforts…we need to take this fight to the streets.

To that point, I’m asking that you do these three simple things:

  1. Create a Spotify account if you don’t already have one; it’s free.
  2. Follow my actual artist page here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Lx9QDuqrvKCyr1jr1Q324
  3. Finally (and most important!) set up this playlist to play on continuous repeat: https://open.spotify.com/user/22qcpuhhd2wlo4lwvhh6yvnii/playlist/25xZUV2uGPOQ5ZA7eQSZij.

You can even mute and minimize Spotify in the background as you do your thing, just keep the playlist going.

The point is to rack up as many spins of MY music as possible in the next 24-48 hours to perhaps get the attention of Steppenwolf Guy’s team. (If you use another streaming platform, feel free to make your own playlist of my music, or humor me and sign up for Spotify just for this!) Maybe that will effect a change here.

Thanks in advance, everyone! 😀

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: Spotify Artist Page
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

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10 Things I Didn’t Know About Kurt Cobain

10 Things I Didn’t Know About Kurt Cobain

We weren’t allowed to have MTV on in the house when I was a kid — MTV didn’t play country music or classical or oldies; it was forbidden.

Nirvana changed that. They were our Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I brought home Nirvana’s Nevermind and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger on the same day. My dad allowed me to play them each in full, back-to-back, on the home stereo while I did homework. Afterward, I asked him which he preferred, and he said “I like the Nirvana album better.”

That became my permission to watch MTV when Mom protested: Nirvana was undeniable.

But they weren’t that way before Dave Grohl joined the band.

Beyond being a powerhouse drummer, his backup vocal harmonies added more colors to the band’s sonic palette. Plus, Krist Novaselic finally had a drummer who understood groove, the rhythm section was locked in. Kurt, from what I could tell at the time, only enjoyed being a brat and was a drug addict.

My love affair with Nirvana began and ended with Dave Grohl, and continues with Foo Fighters.

With that, I have to admit, as much as I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in our current cultural zeitgeist, I’m late to the party on some things. One of these things was Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.

I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and while my first impressions of Cobain were validated, I made a list of ten things I learned from the documentary. They each resonated with me.

1. Divorce irrevocably changed his life.

Touré, in his book I Would Die 4 U: How Prince Became an Icon, explains that divorce was the cultural zeitgeist of Gen X, and even people whose parents remain married feel fallout from the divorce of relatives, friends, et al. Cobain would not have become an icon if he, much like Prince, didn’t experience being a child of divorced parents.

2. His girlfriend before Courtney Love supported him 100% while he lived an artist’s life.

How does anyone make it in our current culture without a support system? Anyone who says they became successful through their own hard work alone is deluded.

It’s true, hard work is the first requirement when it comes to achieving goals, and using time and resources wisely is important, too. But without a support system of people who believe in you, who see how hard you’re working, who help pick you up when you’re down, who have your best interests at heart, who know you appreciate them…you are doomed.

3. There is still bad blood when it comes to Dave Grohl.

Although I gained respect for Cobain while watching MOH, there is obviously still a grudge with Dave Grohl.

He wasn’t featured as Novaselic and Love were, and it was not acknowledged that the band got better when he joined, or how Kurt felt about him joining. Seems weird to me, considering his post-Nirvana success and celebrity.

4. He was constantly studying and learning and experimenting.

Cobain would sit alone in his room, playing his guitar, reading, writing lyrics and poetry, performing audio engineering experiments with his tape recorder, and more, all day long. He became what James Altucher refers to as an “idea machine”, filling notebook after notebook with his thoughts.

5. Marijuana expanded his mind and artistic capabilities.

DUH!

6. He kept his super-ambitiousness hidden.

I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview once that when the Nirvana was in their first meeting at Geffen Records, a label rep asked “What do you guys want?”

Cobain replied, “We want to be the biggest band in the world.”

That’s the only occasion I can think of when Kurt said anything about wanting fame. I assumed he was trying to be flippant.

Nope. He wanted to be the biggest band in the world. He just didn’t know what fame (and heroin) was going to do him.

7. He sacrificed everything for his band.

His band and his music were his top priorities. Everything else was dismissible — relationships, material things (except music equipment), etc. If it didn’t help his band get to the next level, it didn’t matter.

8. He was incredibly self-conscious, and thin-skinned when it came to critics.

As most true artists feel about their creative output, Kurt’s songs were like his babies. When critics were negative about his music, Kurt took it personally. His songs were him, he poured his soul out. His soul was under attack.

9. He was much better-looking than I gave him credit for.

Handsome dude, when not on drugs.

10. He thought a band needed to practice five times a week.

I found this fascinating because it revealed the true intensity of his drive and discipline.

Also, it showed that he was willing to grind, to hone, to perfect the performance, getting it down to a science, where the rules are known, and can therefore be broken at will. All musicians and entrepreneurs can learn from his example.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

What I’ll Bring Up at Therapy Today

What I’ll Bring Up at Therapy Today

I am very confused right now.

A band that I gave my blood sweat and tears to is calling it quits. I found out on Facebook when I saw a post from one of the members about a farewell show.

I put a great deal of trust and faith in this band. We made great music together for a few years, then we had a falling out. We reconnected nearly ten years later, and we started making new music, and it was well received.

But then I told them I wanted the band to grow, and they said, ‘No, we’re not trying to grow, we’re just trying to have fun,’ and I said ‘Well, I can’t be a part of that. I’m trying to always grow. Growing is fun to me.’

That’s actually the same reason that things didn’t work out with Koffin Kats. I wanted to grow more than they wanted to grow. Our ambitions did not align. That’s been the story of every band I’ve been in. I’m tired of it.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last 10 months. I started seeing a therapist because I wanted someone in my life who I knew was intelligent and would ask me questions that no one else in my life would think to ask me, who is professionally certified to ask me these questions, and has my best interests totally at heart. A stranger, someone unbiased, to whom I can talk about the things that concern me most and get to the root of the issue.

Frankly, what concerns me most are my relationships with other people.

If it isn’t obvious by listening to my songs, I care about people. I care about making them happy. I care about being and doing my best.

When I first joined the band which is now having a farewell show, I knew that I was going to make them happy with my drumming. But I also looked at where they were at and asked ‘How can this band be better?’ and instantly it was obvious that the quality of their recordings needed to be better. The songwriting was on point, it always was, but they needed a better presentation of those songs.

So I talk everyone into driving to Indiana to record at a legitimate recording studio, with a producer who had worked on albums that we all loved.

Out of that recording experience came opportunities for pretty much everyone in the band: I got offered (and turned down) the drumming job for Rise Against, who at the time was first forming. Our guitarist went on to be guitar technician for bands like Queens Of The Stone Age. Our other guitarist ended up touring in a band with the producer. Our singer ended up joining a band and touring with them, and this particular band was the reason we recorded with this particular producer.

We all got to see our dreams starting to come true, and then we had the falling out, and we didn’t talk for years.

We reconnected in 2011 and recorded in my home studio an EP of songs that we had played live but had never recorded, plus a brand-new song that summed up our journey as a band. Things looked promising. It seemed as though we were going to start doing it again for real. We all seemed excited.

But everyone in the band had wives and children and lives and responsibilities, like we all do (well, I have an ex-wife and no kids, but definitely a life and responsibilities). For the other guys, the band was more about having fun and letting loose and relieving pressure from their lives than it was about moving forward, creating new things, picking up where we left off.

But we could have.

It’s easy to write new music. I do it often. And I know that one of the guitarists of the band does it often as well. He even formed another band which performs from time to time, and he’s the principal songwriter for the band, but he’s complained to me and shared with me his frustrations about working with that band. He wants more from them.

I think he wants, deep down, what I want. But I don’t think he believes that he is allowed. I wanted him to be part of the new band that I’ve been putting together, a band that is excited about where we’re going to be in 10 years, not just in 10 days or in 10 hours.

There’s part of me that regrets certain things that were said or done within the context of the dissolving band, but ultimately we are all where we are today because of the decisions that we made yesterday. It really pains me to see that a band that I put so much faith in is calling it quits, and not only am I not a part of the last hurrah, it’s not even a conversation that the rest of the band felt needed to happen with me, and that makes me sad, because some of the best memories I have as a musician involve being in this band.

I love these guys like brothers. I’m very confused.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

89X

89X

I woke up today to the news that 89X, Detroit’s alternative rock radio station, owned by a Canadian company, has axed its American operations.

That means that a dear friend of mine is now out of a job.

I remember when he was still in school learning about audio engineering and the inner workings of radio. My band was one of his guinea pigs as he honed his recording chops. He was concerned with taking care of us, and making sure to do things right. As always happens when doing anything creative, there were some technical issues which slowed the session, so we weren’t able to finish the recording. But what did get recorded, he mixed and sent to me a few weeks later.

He sees his job through to the end, no matter what.

While at college he hosted his own radio show, and interned at 89X, reporting to program director Jay Hudson. Together they ran a weekly program which showcased independent artists and put a spotlight on the local music community. They held events and shows around the metro Detroit/Windsor area, and chose artists to perform with large touring acts.  (Hudson resigned in July 2016 after 10 years of working at the station.)

A year or so later, my friend and I were hanging out in my studio. He had nearly completed his internship, and was concerned that the station wouldn’t be able to hire him. He felt the pressure, worked even harder, and turned out to be hired and become a regular on-air for years to come.

And yesterday, he was laid off, along with around a dozen others affiliated with the American side of 89X.

The layoffs were part of a larger restructuring at Bell Media, the corporation who owns 89X and three other stations. According to Bell Media news director Matthew Garrow, “The restructuring is a response to the challenges we and other Canadian media companies are facing on multiple fronts: changing broadcast technologies and growing international competition, a tough advertising market, and ongoing regulatory pressure.”

That is all business-speak for “radio isn’t as profitable as it used to be.”

But that’s because nothing is what it used to be. Everything is changing. Before we know it we’ll be able to use our devices to request the car of our choice on demand, and it will show up with no driver inside. Commuting to work? Get a small hatchback. Going out for a fancy date? Get a Mercedes.

Abundance rules.

It’s already happened in music. It used to be that radio was the only way to hear music, unless you bought the record. Now, with cloud-based streaming services and customized playlists, not only do you not need to own any music, you can create your own personalized radio station! Why would you listen to terrestrial radio, waiting for them to play the song you want to hear, when you can reach into your pocket, pull out your device, and hear it right now??

And most people tell me that terrestrial radio sucks, that they play the same songs over and over and over, that the music is homogenized and pasteurized for the masses, that there’s no there there.

But that’s because terrestrial radio is run by large corporations.

The DJs used to rule when they had autonomy over their shows, were able to spin the tunes they wanted, not just the company-approved playlist. They would scrounge record stores and listen at home for songs that resonated with them, with the current culture, not just what was blowing up the charts. The great DJs took risks, they helped push music forward, they captivated their audience.

That’s what made Howard Stern so popular, he takes risks, says what others are too scared to say. And he knows the world is much cruder than it used to be, which is why he knew that satellite radio was the future, a place where he could be his authentic self without fear of the controlling corporation bringing down the hammer. (When Jay Hudson resigned from 89X, he took a job at Sirius XM.)

Corporations don’t like free-thinkers or risk-takers.

And Bell Media, rather than taking a risk and truly shaking up the format and pivoting into the Now, decided on the impossible task of figuring out how to continue doing what they’ve been doing, because it’s what they know. They looked at their profit margins, and they cut the first thing companies always cut when their profit margins are low — payroll.

Payroll is generally the biggest expense of any company, and the first line item to receive cuts when the company wants to tighten its belt. That’s the reason the car you’re going to call won’t have a driver: it will cost less. (The trucking industry is going to experience a revolution soon, as will many other industries due to automation and robotics. If a human can be replaced, they will be replaced. Humans cost too much.)

My heart breaks for my friend. He sacrificed to get where he is, he said no to a lot of things that other people would not in order to become successful in his industry. From day one, he put in the hours and the sweat equity to do his best for the station. He learned from his mistakes and his mentors, and applied his knowledge on a daily basis. And now the station says they’re moving in a different direction, without him.

But I’m not really surprised — I’ve seen this before.

My dad worked for a radio station in Detroit — W4 Country — for 13 years, ultimately becoming the station’s creative director. He was laid off in July 1995 by the parent corporation which owned the station. W4 Country was part of a 19 radio stations group owned by Shamrock Broadcasting, a division of Shamrock Holdings, which was founded in 1978 as an investment company by Roy E. Disney (yes, that Disney).

Shamrock Holdings bought a bunch of television and radio stations in the 1980s and early 1990s, and sold Shamrock Broadcasting to Chancellor Broadcasting in August 1995, right after the layoffs at W4. Chancellor Broadcasting restructured and became known as AMFM Inc. in 1999. In 2000, AMFM Inc. merged with Clear Channel Communications. After the merger, Clear Channel owned 830 radio stations, 19 television stations, and over 425,000 outdoor displays in 32 countries. In 2005, Clear Channel Communications split into three separate companies; Clear Channel Communications for radio, Clear Channel Outdoor for out-of-home advertising, and Live Nation for live events. Clear Channel has since become iHeart Media, and 89xRadio.com redirects to iheartradio.ca.

So when I saw the news this morning that Bell Media decided to lay off my friend and his co-workers as part of “restructuring”, I shook my head in disgust, but I wasn’t shocked. When it comes to corporations, it’s only a matter of time before the rug gets pulled out from under you. They are always buying and selling and merging and splitting, and they only care about profit, not people.

I believe my friend isn’t going to have a problem finding work. He’s talented, and emotionally intelligent. If anything, I’m happy for him. At least for now, he’s no longer under the yoke of a corporation.

He’s free.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Twitter – @therealjohnkay
Instagram – @therealjohnkay

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

https://youtu.be/sfmQvc6tB1o

I don’t cry often, but I have sensitive spots, and this commercial hits a spot.

A creature — an idea — is born, “scary and messy and fragile”.  It walks the streets, receiving looks of disgust from passersby, its fur and tail matted with filth.  An outcast everywhere it goes, it seems it doesn’t have a home.  The creature appears quite sad.

And then a person puts their arm around the creature and guides it into the GE building, smiling and talking and laughing, the creature’s fur and tail becoming cleaner and prettier with each passing moment.

In the final scene, the creature, now clean and colorful, walks alone onto a stage in front of a large audience — they are giving a standing ovation.  The scene fades out as the creature steps behind a microphone to address the audience.

The tagline is “Yes, ideas are scary, and messy, and fragile…but under the proper care, they become something beautiful.”

Gets me every time.

The point is, we’ve all got something to say, and even the scariest and messiest and most fragile of us need love in order to become our best, to bring our ideas to fruition.

Everything and everyone contains a unique opportunity.

Back in June 2016, I read my local paper and saw a bunch of errors, so I found out who the publisher was and scheduled a meeting to discuss how I could assist in making their paper better.  This meeting led to me being hired to do some editing and also to rewrite a political ad.

Rewriting that ad was the experience which led to working with a candidate for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge.  I crafted a 14,000-word story about her life and career, and used it as the centerpiece of a grassroots social media mobilization, which, according to her social media marketing manager, was the crucial ingredient in her being elected to a seat on the bench.

When the judge and I first met, she asked me how I came to write political ads for the Redford Connection.  I explained to her that I looked at the paper, saw the errors, and instead of seeing a problem, I saw…

She finished the sentence for me, “You saw opportunity.”

She nailed it.  I heard opportunity knocking, and I opened the door.

It was an opportunity to help my community by assisting the local newspaper, which is run by two gentlemen who place great value on engagement, growth, humility, integrity, and a servant mentality.  They love the community of Redford, and they love its citizens.  They want to be the best they can be.

But the opportunity to help these gentlemen would never have been discovered if I wasn’t already in the habit of cultivating awareness.  If I wasn’t so focused on details, the little things that most others dismiss as unimportant in the grand scheme of life, I wouldn’t have noticed any errors to begin with.

The judge’s social media marketing manager was impressed with my skill set, and has since introduced me to several business owners in the hopes of engaging my talents to help them write their stories and create content which will add value for their customers and (ultimately) profits to their business.

I had a meeting yesterday with one of these business owners.  We spoke for less than an hour, then he shook my hand and told me that, from here on out, I am his go-to premium content creator.  This was after he asked what he could do to help me get further along my path, how I preferred to work, what my schedule is like, and what my rates are.

After that meeting, I went to the office of the publisher of the newspaper which started this journey, and discussed working together to transition the paper into a formidable source of Redford news, information, journalism, and community outreach, with a strong online presence via a website and social media.  I’m now formulating an overall strategy, and coordinating the team which will implement it.

None of these things would be possible, I would not know any of these people, if when I picked up the paper from my porch seven months ago I didn’t notice any errors, or saw the errors and threw the paper away, dismissing it as an amateur rag.  None of these opportunities would have come to be if I didn’t recognize an opportunity in the first place.

Understand: a heightened sense of awareness helps in all areas of life.

You need to be aware of the opportunities around you, especially if you are already somehow at a disadvantage.  Take advantage of all opportunities that are available to you, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing so.

There may already be an opportunity that you know is right for you, an opportunity that completely aligns with your value system and who you are, and what you really want to do.  But that opportunity may challenge the beliefs of people who are close to you, people who you love, or who you associate with regularly.  They may say it’s too risky, or too difficult, or too expensive, or too selfish, or too different, too radical, too scary.

I’m telling you now, go get that opportunity.  Go take that opportunity and make it the best opportunity for you.

Be warned, some opportunities will present themselves to you that may seem like good opportunities, but in fact are not, and rob you of precious time and resources which would otherwise be used for better opportunities.  The key is to be aware of the path that you’re on and what values you hold within yourself, and adhere to those values, letting them guide your decision-making.  Let your experience and your values be your map and compass.

Remember: you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is the result of the decisions you make today.  Hold yourself accountable to making better decisions today, and you’ll wake up with a better tomorrow.

If someone whose values align with yours is willing to offer their help, take it.  If there’s a tool that will help you become more effective at your job, get it and use it.  If there’s a person who supports your endeavors, love that person and champion them.

A lot of people don’t answer when opportunity knocks.  A lot of people can’t recognize when opportunity knocks, or they’re not prepared when it does.  A lot of people are unaware of all of the opportunities available to them.  Knowing all of this puts you at an advantage.

So be prepared and be aware, because opportunity is always knocking.  You just have to know how to listen.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

P.S. Episode 003 of my podcast Get After It!, with my guest Jim Doyon, is now live!  Jim is the founder and co-owner of InkAddict, a tattoo lifestyle apparel company, and he hates doing interviews, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you his insight and wisdom on life and business.  Click the link and get after it!  http://getafterit.libsyn.com/get-after-it-w-john-kay-003-jim-doyon

P.P.S.  I’m working on a new song, and plan to have the recording process wrapped up this week.  😀

P.P.P.S.  If you haven’t given me your feedback on my newest song, I’d love to hear it.  Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and based on what I’m being told, this may be my best song yet.  What do YOU think?  Check it out here, then let me know: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

Is Your ‘Producer’ Ruining Your Band’s Potential?

“The scene sucks.”

“We need to fix the scene.”

“What’s wrong with the scene?”

If you are involved in a local music community in some way, regardless of your particular city or area, you have probably heard the above phrases and other similar sentiments.  Spoken by your friends in bands, their fans, the people that work in bars and music venues — and perhaps yourself — people are very eager to express their concern and love for “the scene”.

Based on my experiences, the burning question that keeps the people who are truly passionate about their musical craft or their support for independent musicians up at night is: Why?  Why does “the scene suck”?  Why does it need fixing?  What is the cause of the problem?

[NOTE: I personally don’t think anyone’s scene “sucks”.  I’m sure that there are some “suck-y” scenes out there, but more often than not I find that “the scene” is just fine, and it’s actually the lack of true community that really sucks.]

Can anyone, myself included, confidently pinpoint exactly why “the scene sucks”?  Not likely.  Many will claim that they have the answer.  Personally, I think the truth about why “the scene sucks” is more complicated than a one-answer summation, and those who claim to have one are drinking Drano®.

I’m going to attempt to illustrate my belief that a major contributor to why “the scene” suffers — and new/young/up-and-coming bands ultimately fail — is the audio engineer’s decision to manipulate a mediocre or less-than-mediocre band’s recorded performance into a near-perfect production.  In this situation, the band is given a false representation of their actual abilities, and because of this, a distorted perception of the band is created both in the audience’s mind and in the minds of the band members themselves.  When the band is unable to reproduce the performance quality and sound of the final recorded production — sometimes, not even coming close — the audience, other bands and even venues disconnect from the band.

The argument: when a band is recorded and represented accurately, their strengths and weaknesses will be exposed, causing them to either work harder at practicing and do better next time when they go into the studio, or receive negative feedback and quit; either outcome helps “the scene”, because both outcomes tell the truth about that band, their abilities and their true passion for their craft.

With all of this being said, consider the following…

“Let’s make a record!”

Imagine your typical local rock band, consisting of a vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer.  They’ve written six songs, and performed at a few shows in and around their home town, mostly for a handful of their friends and family, who support them almost unconditionally.  Based on the feedback from their audience, they decide they want to pay to record their six songs in a professional recording studio.  They go online and look in their city’s weekly magazines for advertisements for a local recording studio.  They call one of the studios listed, and are immediately able to schedule as many days as they think they’ll need with one of the in-house studio engineers.

The band shows up to the studio to record their songs.  While recording, a few realities become immediately apparent:

– The band’s equipment is at the consumer- or “pro-sumer” level.
– The drummer has never learned how to tune drums, and tunes them poorly.
– The drummer has difficulty playing in time and/or to a click track.
– The drummer hits inconsistently during their performance.
– The bassist and drummer do not perform as a proper rhythm section.
– The bassist and guitarists do not know how to properly tune and intonate their guitars.
– The bassist and guitarists have a poor sense of timing.
– The vocalist is unable to perform consistently in time and on pitch.

Let’s say that the engineer continues to record the band, just as they were hired to do.  The engineer endures the poor tuning, lackluster performances, wrong notes, off-timing and pitch issues, and records everything the band needs to complete their six songs, just so long as the band understands they’re paying for it.  Once the band leaves, the engineer begins working on something we affectionately refer to in the audio industry as “polishing a turd”.

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“Fix it in the mix!”

Starting with drums, the engineer aligns the drummer’s performance to a grid, making it appear as though the drummer performed perfectly in time, almost like a machine.  Since the drummer’s kit sounded poor, the drums are replaced with pre-recorded drums from different studios around the world, making it appear as though the drummer has a professional, well-tuned drum set.

Moving onto bass and guitars, since they were poorly tuned and intonated — and poorly performed — the engineer uses his studio’s collection of guitars and amplifiers and personally re-records the parts for the band, generally without their advance permission and/or knowledge.  (Believe it or not, this absolutely happens, and occurs commonly.)

When it comes to the vocals, the engineer corrects the timing and pitch of the vocalist where necessary — and at many times, where unnecessary — making it appear as though the vocalist sang “in the pocket” and with near-perfect command of their pitch.

Once the above operations are completed and the mixes of the songs are to the engineer’s liking, the band is invited into the studio to hear their recordings mixed for the first time.

“It’s studio magic!”

Upon hearing playback of the first song, the band can’t believe their ears.

“Wow!  It sounds amazing!!” one of the band members says.  “My drums sound incredible!”  “Man, what did you do to get our guitars to sound so good?”

“Studio magic,” the engineer replies.

The band leaves with their CD in hand, incredibly excited.  They listen to the CD for the whole drive home, as loud as their car — perhaps their parents’ car — will allow before the speakers rupture.  They text their friends and family and tell them how awesome their CD is, and that they can’t wait for everyone to hear it.  They start talking about booking their CD release show, and how much merchandise they’re going to sell.  They talk about touring.

They believe they are going to realize their dreams.

When they get home, they invite their best friends over to listen to the CD, and they are blown away at how great the band sounds.  The band shows other friends and family the CD, and everyone exclaims at how good the CD sounds and what a great job the band did.  Everyone that hears the CD is extremely proud of the band, and champions their new recording to anyone that will listen.

“I can’t wait to play this stuff LIVE!”

The band books their CD release show on a Saturday night at a well-known local venue with other local bands, and engage in promoting the show aggressively.  They sell tickets.  They make events on their social media sites and get several people to click “Attending”.  Local radio stations play their music in the weeks prior to the show based on the strength of the recording.  The buzz for the show grows and grows, and the band is more excited than ever.

The day of the show arrives and the venue is packed.  It’s obvious that the band put in a lot of work to ensure the success of the show.  They bought a banner with their name on it to hang behind the drummer.  They spent money on new t-shirts to have for sale.  They ordered 1,000 CDs, which — unbeknownst to the audience — arrived the morning of the show, just in time.   This is obviously a very important night for them, and they worked as hard as they could to make it successful.

Out of the 200 people in attendance, 100 people showed up to see the band releasing their CD that night.  They heard the CD, and listened to it several times in anticipation of the live performance, even on the way to the show.  The band takes the stage to a roar from the crowd, and begins to perform all of the material from their brand new CD.

Halfway through the first song, it is immediately apparent that something isn’t right…but only to the audience.

– The drummer has difficulty performing in time, speeding up and slowing down.
– The drums themselves sound thin and/or dead.
– The bassist and guitarists have a hard time playing in sync with the drummer.
– The guitarists are out of tune with each other, and possibly their instrument itself.
– The vocalist has timing issues, and the singing sounds “out of key”.

“Dude, that was our best show yet!”


Meanwhile, the band on stage is having the time of their lives.  They were able to get free drinks from the venue before playing, since they had so many people show up to see them, and they’re feeling pretty good as they perform.  Their significant others and friends and family are in the front of the audience, singing every word that they know back to them at the top of their lungs.  The band itself has an amazing energy and excitement level that they’ve never displayed on stage before.  They sell almost 50 CDs.  They believe it is their best show yet.

After the CD release show, they book a string of shows a few weeks apart in order to play out more and sell more CDs.  At the next show they play, they have close to 50 people there to see them.  They don’t mind the drop in attendance because “it’s not as big of an event as a CD release, and anyway, it’s twice as many people as we normally get to come out to a show.”

At the next show, around 30 people attend.  “But it was a weekday, not a Friday or Saturday, so lower attendance is to be expected,” the band believes.  Just under 25 people attend the next show, so the band decides they need another new t-shirt to entice fans to come back out to see them…and they deplete their band fund.  At the next show, on a Saturday night at a venue close to where they and their friends and family live, less than 15 people attend.  The band performs…angrily.

“This scene sucks, man!  It SUCKS!”

The band doesn’t understand what’s happening.  They don’t understand why people aren’t coming out to their shows.  They don’t understand why other bands they’ve played shows with don’t come out to see them or encourage others to check them out and support them.  When they text their friends and family asking if they’ll be at upcoming shows, many of the texts aren’t responded to.  People aren’t “liking” or commenting on their social media posts, and those that do are the ones that were doing so long before the band entered the studio.

The band decides to put a call out to their music community and tells them to “support the scene”.  They talk about venues and how people don’t go out to shows as much because they aren’t allowed to smoke indoors, or because the drinks are too expensive.  They talk about how shows that require bands to sell tickets are a scam, even though they’ve done a ticket show before.  They have band meetings and talk about potentially changing their band’s name, or their logo, and any other things they can think of.

They play some more shows to small audiences, mostly consisting of the same people that supported them before the recording process for their CD began. They still have over 900 CDs in their inventory.  They feel disheartened.  They feel like they wasted their time.  They blame “the scene” and everyone in it who doesn’t come to their shows, buy their merchandise or post about them online.

Ultimately, the band breaks up, and a couple of the members decide to continue on and form a new band.  They write six songs, and perform at a few shows locally, mostly for a handful of their friends and family, who support them almost unconditionally.  Based on the feedback from their audience, they decide they want to pay to record their six songs in a professional recording studio.  Since the last engineer they recorded with made them sound so amazing, they go back to work with them again…

The band shows up to the studio to record their songs.  While recording, a few realities become immediately apparent

Rinse…repeat.

“I can’t believe it!”

Most bands and musicians I have the pleasure to know and work with are incredibly passionate.  They sacrifice money, jobs, relationships, possessions, their credit rating and more in order to pursue a dream of a successful, lasting career in the music industry.  In my opinion — and the opinion of comedian, Eddie Izzard — the biggest thing that keeps a band or artist working and sacrificing in order to realize their dream of “making it” is…

Belief.

Belief is the fire inside the artist’s belly that keeps them focused on the prize, keeps them from giving up, keeps them from listening to the naysayers and forging on toward the greatness they know they will ultimately achieve.

Many musicians acquire their belief in their musical abilities from their parents.  Some get it from other family members or their friends.  Some gravitated toward music naturally on their own, and developed the belief in their abilities over time.  Some have been influenced by all of the above.

I truly feel that at the moment an audio engineer discovers the true nature of the band they will be recording, it is their duty to capture that band’s performance as accurately and professionally as possible, and showcase the band in the best possible light, based on the band’s current skill set; or encourage the band to rehearse more, and offer advice and tips to help them become better musicians and a tighter band.  Either way, the band wins, because they are being told the truth about themselves.

When the audio engineer decides to record a mediocre band knowing that later on everything will be replaced with professionally pre-recorded instruments, re-recorded or “fixed in the mix,” the engineer is doing the band — and the local music community — a huge disservice.

They are creating false beliefs for the band, the band’s audience and anyone else who hears the recording.

“Help!  I’ve been robbed!”

Most people learn how to get better at something from two sources: mistakes and mentors.  For the most part, when people make mistakes they become embarrassed, and they do their best to not repeat the same mistake again.  Mentors help us by pointing out our mistakes constructively — or telling us of the mistakes they have made — in an effort to get us to become better at whatever it is we’re doing.

Q: How did the audio engineer in the story above mentor the band during the recording process?

A: They didn’t; they just took what the band gave them without counsel.

Q: What mistakes were left on the recordings for the band to hear over and over again, embarrassing them into practicing harder at their craft and rehearsing more as a band?

A: None; the mistakes were erased and replaced with the use of technology and the engineer’s knowhow.

Because of this, the band believes that what they recorded is what is on the record, and can’t believe that the reason they are floundering and unable to get people to come to their shows is because of their personal and collective musical and performance abilities, when in fact that is the case in many, many circumstances.

Studies have shown that in order to become a “master” at a particular craft it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice.  To break that down, if a musician practiced their instrument for an hour every single day without fail it would take them over 27 years to become a “master”.

When a mediocre recording is manipulated to near-perfection through the use of the readily available technology, the musicians in the band are being robbed of their 10,000 hours of practice, and consequently being robbed of their ability to become a “master”.

“The truth will set you free, but at first…it may piss you off.”

Audio engineers can do almost anything to perfect and enhance otherwise mediocre performances, thanks to the technological advancements in digital recording and their immediate availability in retail stores and online.  It is up to professional audio engineers with quality standards not to coddle or deceive their clients, but to expose them to the harsh truths about their abilities and their skill set.  Whether that toughens their skin or sends them scurrying away isn’t the engineer’s problem.

While we are able to understand and appreciate that many engineers have bills and expenses related to their studio and their career, and need to generate steady income, does the need for money excuse them from accepting the great responsibility they have to their clients and musical community?  Should a professional audio engineer with extensive knowledge in recording, songwriting, arrangement, mixing and production simply stay silent while recording a poor performance and manipulate it near to perfection while the band is away, ultimately giving them an inaccurate representation of their work, simply because the studio bills have to be paid?

My belief is when audio engineers decide to placate their clients instead of telling them the truth, they impede the  short- and long-term improvement of the skill set of the musicians, and the fallout from that impediment is something that really, truly hurts “the scene”.

I’m trying to assert that the recording engineer is the first/last line of defense in accurately representing a band to the public, and when they just take the band’s money and “polish the turd”, the band (and scene) ultimately suffers.

Thanks for reading.

:-J

John Kay is a professional musician, producer, mixer, and engineer currently operating in metro Detroit.  He plays guitar around the world with Koffin Kats, mixes at his personal recording studio — Stu Stu Studio — and is in the final stages of production on his first full-length solo album.

Email for recording and mixing booking inquiries: johnbof@gmail.com.
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