Small Label, Big Label, We're Both Able.

Okay, so why do I try to run an indie record label? It’s for the art. It’s sure not for the quick money! Is this face-saving malarkey to cover up an inability to succeed?

No.

Consider: The music business still lives in the myth of the overnight success and even stories like those of MySpace creating an overnight success seems to further that myth. Packed gigs and high visibility on social media won’t bring success either, apart from a few “Likes” and empty huzzahs. It takes a lot of long term, skilled, persistent coordinated effort to make records succeed. A good small indie label has two things: abilities the artist doesn’t have and the humility to admit or recognize what they don’t know, then go get the needed expertise from other experts. I feel humbled that, because of my membership in the Recording Academy, I have the talent and insight gained from ear of superb A&R guys – something the cut rate studios and their pretend record labels lack. A “holiday special” and an “artists package” of CDs, download cards and tee-shirts splattered on a web page isn’t a record label. It’s just another small commercial recording studio hungry to make a few extra bucks by flattering the artists why separating them from their hard-earned gig money.
The collapse of live music gigs in the USA over the past 40 years has killed the quality of most new music because live gigs are where you learn to be great performers and build fan-bases that aren't dependent on advertising-supported media for expansion. Live gigs are where you discover what you can do that is unique without losing your audience.

Consider: Indie labels are the future of the recording industry. The few smaller record labels who are true fans of music and push to develop artists and refine them until they are economically viable is absolutely essential. That’s what’s behind my label: love and passion for music, to the point I do not want to compromise. Okay, some think I go too far, not keeping a studio always set up, then building it only once I have a project. Laziness? No. Wackiness? Yeah, maybe, but I have always believed only custom audio is the best audio. That goes for studios too – custom made for the ultimate realization of each artist’s projects. Sure, pre-built standardized studios are more efficient, and a few have been so well crafted that they have achieved sonic perfection. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

Consider: The major labels’ biggest failings are their unwillingness to take risks. If they’re not convinced every album can go gold, they’re not interested. Go away, kid; you bother me. True, it's unfortunately too risky and too speculative for large record corporations to develop up-and-coming or new artists when they are operating in an environment where they must look for a good Return-On-Investment to show in the next quarterly earnings report. Music is a street-oriented, bottom-up business. Attempting to "manage" it from the top like big labels do has always been a case of herding cats and it is often a complete train wreck. CEOs, stock analysts and investors don't want to hear this.

Consider: Some big labels have awakened and become aware of the time it takes to bring a product to market in their specific industry and have that time frame and process written into their business plans. That’s where indie labels come in: our job is to be the booster stage for the band’s rocket to stardom. Develop, boost sales to the point that the band is about to become economically viable, then partner with the big labels for the final stage: unambiguous success.

Consider: Dismayingly, the creators of the work are almost always the last ones to see the benefit. With the advent of 360 deals, it's hard to see how that is going to change much. But a small label who has marketing muscle from a major once it's needed is good for the artist. That’s why I partner with big labels once the artists are ready for the big time. Until then, I’ll take the risks and weather short term-losses on faith in the artists. I’ll go the extra miles to create the finest sound technologically possible, then get any artistic help needed from among the music industry’s best. Hey, I don’t know it all, and I admit it. But, at least I know what I do not know and I know those who do know what I don’t.

Consider: I’m interested in artist development that happens over a period of years, as opposed to "if your first album sales are low, off our label you go." But that’s also why I’ve decided to become quite particular who I’ll put myself out for.

Consider: As far as I’m concerned, if it's a major corporation like LiveNation that is only looking at its shareholders’ earnings reports when it determines who to promote and market, then I think an artist would be well advised to run screaming for the hills.

Finally, consider: The music business still relies on people who are passionate about music, just people wanting to get rich. That's still the way it works.

New Studio Announcement

Great recording session today (11/08/2013). It’s also the last one for my digital recording system. Can't stand the sound of it (but that's just me, I dislike the digital sound as a whole). I was going to use the digital system for one last project because the band stated they preferred to use the digital system for the project instead of the analog recorders -- but that project fell through. (The band decided to go to a cut rate studio instead.)

As some of you may be familiar, I build customized recording equipment for each project so the sound is as good as technologically and artistically possible. I also reconfigure the studio's acoustics to match the needs of each project; in essence, building a new studio for every album or band. This limits the number of projects I take on. Between projects, the room gets cluttered up with other things, but a few shovel-loads later it's ready to go. I fully underwrite the costs of the recording as much as possible so the band can focus on art, not money.

The studio is now closed until mid-December, so I can rebuild it as an all-analog studio (with analog-to-digital transfer, alas, a marketplace reality). This time, I'll be adding electronically-variable acoustics, active outside-noise blocking. Of course, I will continue my tradition of building custom equipment for each project, and fully underwriting the costs of the recording.

Then it's off to record the next three projects. In the future, though, I have to become far more restrictive and selective about the recording projects I take because analog recorders are more costly to operate than digital audio workstations.
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Originally, I went to a digital recording system to lower operating costs with the idea I could give every band "big label sound," and give up-and-coming bands the advantage of the best sound. It was a naive notion.

Most of the bands I've dealt with over the past 20 years, frankly, either weren't dedicated enough to an uncompromising approach to the art of music, or didn't see the need for ultimate sound quality and custom equipment.

So, I'm ending my policy of choosing solely based on talent, or potential talent. I'm looking now for only those who want to push beyond, to create new sounds, to settle for nothing but the utmost technical and artistic excellence (without getting uptight about it); the bold few who put art above money with the faith that excellent art will bring the money. The bands who are status seekers, who crave adulation, who are control freaks, the uptight perfectionists, or those who just want to slam out their next hit album as quick-and-cheaply as possible (the easy way) I will be referring to the many cut-rate studios dotting the landscape.

I'm sorry if that sounds egotistical, elitist, or arrogant; I don't mean it that way. I'm in this business for the advancement of the art of music and of sound recording, not fame, backslaps, ego gratification, quick money or control.

Live or Memorex?

My personal philosophy with regard to recording is that involvement with all forms of recording, whether audio or audio-video, entails involvement with the future. Concert halls, recital stages, opera houses, and other live performance venues represent music's past. I know this may be seen as radical. Good. People who choose radical departures of any sort from the accepted orthodoxy of the day sustain themselves with the idea that, however reluctantly, the future is on their side. However appealing is to those who debate such topics in social media to formulate emphatic past/future equations, the prime sponsors of such convictions, the strongest motivations behind such "departures," are usually related to no more radical notion than their attempt to resolve the discomfort and inconvenience of the present. I find that utterly narcissistic! It's also entirely at odds with everyone’s expressed desire for “progress.”

By furthering the interests of preserving the great traditions of the musical or theatrical experience, or of maintaining the presumedly-noble tutorial and curatorial responsibilities of the artist in relation to his audience sacrifices progress toward realizing the fullest of expression to savor ego gratification, hiding behind the presumed nobility of “communicating with an audience.” No, I don’t expect anyone to understand this, but I feel it robs the musician of opportunities for unfettered expression, it becomes a proscenium setting in which the naked fact of their humanity is on display, unedited and unadorned; musical expression is thereby subordinated by their humanity, by the mob mentality of celebrity-centrism.

When audiences sheer a live performance, is it for joy of the artist’s musical expression or merely common movement with a mob mentality? Too often, mob mentality moves the applause. Agnetha Faltskog, singer for ABBA, was afraid of live concert audiences because she saw the thin line between the adulation of the fans and mob violence. Her insight vividly illustrates the fallacy of The Great Performance: mob movement is the genesis of approval, the pressure of the peerage of the crowd enforcing the accepted behavior of applause and critical acclaim. Only in the privacy of recorded music can both the artist express themselves to their fullest and the listener experience the music to its fullest, uninfluenced by the insidious seduction of collective experience. I encouraged you to savor the joys of a one-to-one relationship with the artist through the venue of undistracted sound recording playback.

I advocate as the ideal that the artist should be granted, both for his sake and for that of his public expressional anonymity. By this let me say I abhor the hierarchical implications of both the terminology and the relationship implied, even enforced, by the terms “artist” and “public.” The highest expression can be acheived only through granted anonymity. The artist should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with, or, even better, unaware of, the presumed demands of the marketplace. Marketplace demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. Once marketplace demands disappear, the artist will then abandon his false sense of "public" responsibility, and his "public" will relinquish its role of servile dependency, to re-emerge and make contact on an altogether more meaningful level than that which relates any stage to its apron.

You may say that I indulge in contrarianism, that as a record proudcer I give flight to fancy espousing an idealistic role swapping to offer a satisfying rhetorical flourish. A "creative audience" concept does offer a kind of McLuhanesque fascination.

The musical artist, however hermetic his life-style, is still in effect an autocratic figure, a benevolent social dictator. His public, generously enfranchised by gadgetry, richly endowed with electronic options, is still on the receiving end of the experience of his art. Unfortunately, a neo-medieval anonymity quest on behalf of the artist as zero, and vertical panculturalism on behalf of his "public," isn't going to change that in the foreseeable future. But it is still an ideal for which to strive; perhaps the isolation of musical performance in the concert hall of a iPod’s earbuds can, albeit by means ad hoc, aided by instrumentalities not yet in existence, create the freedom of anonymity once it can be found that music can be chosen not on the merit of celebrity-centric lemming-ism, but on the merit of the art on its own expressional merit. Pardon me, but I do feel strongly about the artist as superman, rising about the craving for a personal experience of the one-to-one, artist-to-listener relationship; shunning the magnetic attraction of a great artist visibly at work before his public.

Consider again the experience derived from a face-to-face confrontation, shared with an audience, and not simply from the disembodied predictability purveyed by even the best of phonograph records. Have you truly enjoyed the art of the music, or were you intimated, led, influenced into your ecstasy by the personal magnetism of the artist? What moved you, celebrity or art? You’ll never know definitively.

But what if, instead of being led by the crowd, swayed by celebrity, you could allow yourself the pleasure of letting the artist revise, in the anonymity of a studio, the dynamics of the recording to suit the mood of the text it accompanied, and that liberty, surely, is the product of the enthusiastic irreverence of a zero-to-one relationship? A mix for every mood, a song to express every feeling, at your fingertips, at your beck-and-call, free of the tyranny of the live artist. This is what the iPod promised but failed to deliver, because celebrityism still dominates and recordings mimic public performance, and failing – creating a thin caricature of the art of music.

Studio executives need to recognize, then accommodate, that every listener has a "project at hand," simply in terms of making his experience of music relate to his life-style.
No real aesthetic yardstick relates public performances as originally conceived to the manner in which they will be subsequently audited. Aesthetic judgments attest to a degree of spiritual perfection that many artists have not attained. What about those who make aesthetic judgments in regard to the artist’s work? Do they acknowledge or ignore the spiritual state f the artist, or merely revel in trivia; pace, timing, technical refinements or other pedagogic vagaries?

I do feel "spiritual perfection" relates to a state in which aesthetic judgment is suspended, yet such a suspension would constitute the only criterion for such a state. As such, it be fair to say that the critical mentality would necessarily lead to an imperiled state of grace. The music critic represents a morally endangered species. The mature artist can successfully distinguish between an aesthetic critique of the individual, something I reject out of hand, and a setting down of moral imperatives for society as a whole. There are obviously areas in which overlaps are inevitable. Criticism and celebrityism encourages a climate of competition and, as a corollary, of violence; art subordinates to pecuniary needs, ego needs replace spiritual perfection. Criticism and celebrityism are both aggressive behaviors, yet there would be an aesthetic/moral overlap at this point. The artist who performs publicly purely from an aesthetic preference, to use an old-fashioned word, would be "sinful" if I were to take him to account in respect of his taste. Such an accounting could inhibit all subsequent judgments on his part. But if I were able to persuade him that his particular aesthetic indulgence represented a moral danger to the community as a whole, and providing I could muster a vocabulary appropriate to the task, an undertaking that couldn’t use the vocabulary of aesthetic standards, then that would, I think, be my responsibility. I advocate defining a type of censorship that contradicts the whole post-Renaissance tradition of Western thought, because it's the post-renaissance tradition that has brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. Our attachment to freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and so on is a peculiarly Occidental phenomenon. It's all part of the Occidental notion that one can successfully separate word and deed.

Recall that McLuhan talks about just that in the Gutenberg Galaxy wherein he posits that preliterate peoples or minimally literate peoples are much less willing to permit that distinction. There's also the Biblical injunction that to will evil is to accomplish evil. You should see art for the menace it really is, then experience that menace privately through recordings, not publicly through celebrity-fueled mobs known as audiences.

I can’t vouch for the art-as-technique-pure-and-simple theories like those of Stravinsky, but hat's quite literally the last thing art is. I also eschew the art-as-violence-surrogate theory espouse by German expressionists. I don't believe in surrogates; they're simply the playthings of minds resistant to the perfectibility of man. However, the art-as-transcendental-experience theory is the only one that attracts me.

Nevertheless, I do have my own theory of art, but you're not going to like it. Art should be given the chance to phase itself out. We must accept the fact that art is not inevitably benign, that it is potentially destructive, if nothing else through its motivations transmitted through itself to the beholder and into subsequent action by the beholder. Analyze the areas where art tends to do least harm, use those parameters as a guideline, and build into art a component that will enable it to preside over its own obsolescence.

The Western world is consumed with notions of qualification; the threat of terrorism fulfils those notions, and the loss of art does not. Until the two phenomena are recognized as one, indivisible, until physical and verbal aggression are seen as simply a flip of the competitive coin, until every aesthetic decision can be equated with a moral correlative, I'll continue to listen to the music from behind a pair of loudspeakers.

The individual conscience aspect of the Reformation and the collective censorship of the puritan tradition are curiously intermingled because that tradition involved perpetual schismatic division. The best and purest, the most ostracized, individuals end up in artistic valleys as symbols of their rejection of the world of the plains. Each of us seeks our own expressionist latitude. This may seem a rather long way from the concert-versus- record dichotomy this article began with, but I feel I've performed a set of variations on that theme and that, indeed, I've virtually come full circle. Save that ticket money. Go buy a great album, an even better stereo to play it on, chase everyone out of the room, and truly experience the art of music!

How Akiki sticks it to you.

I haven't done a BAP (bogus audiophile product) Warning in a long time, and generally try not to be so negative, but this is one I have to warn against: The $150.00-plus Akiki Audio Tuning Stick.

To quote the literature, "The Tuning Sticks plug into a vacant RCA input or output or power outlet and clean the earth by means of applying known techniques and new insights in the areas of crystal patterns using paramagnetic and piezoelectric properties of natural raw materials. The Tuning Stick's contents are then stabilised with black resin, a material which sufficiently suppresses microphony (sic) effects."

In other words, you're supposed to believe that rocks and a connector, once glued into a carbon fiber tube, will make your audio gear sound oh-so-much better. It doesn't. I tried it just to be sure what it does, or doesn't do, before reporting on it. This sort of product wraps itself in scientific-sounding jargon and makes specious claims about tuning and energy.

It works on the placebo effect: After paying for this expensive tripe, you expect to hear a difference -- and so you do. Its advertising claims do not even make for good science fiction, and read more like some sort of pamphlet espousing Eastern Mysticism or New Age pseudoscience. Products like this prey on ignorance and on the hope for anything promising to improve your sound.

Save your money to buy more albums!

If you say it doesn't work, the product's aficionados defend its through ad hominem and ad bauculum arguments: you have a tin ear, your equipment isn't any good, you're biased, you're a shill for the competition, you're unenlightened, you aren't discerning enough, you're a denier, and so forth.

Worse, blog and magazine reviewers actually praise this fraudulent product, providing a good example of the vapidity and intellectual corruption of today's hi-fi publications. Julian Hirsch would never prostituted himself by peddling such drivel.

Do you see why I eschew the audiophile market?

ONE NOTE
~~~~~~~~~
Consider this -- if you've just spent thousands of dollars on a high-end stereo and you believe this gadget actually DOES improve your sound, here's what you need to do:

1.) Return the Akiki Tuning Stick to the dealer.

2.) Sell your stereo system, because you got ripped off big time! A well-designed audio component is already immune to quality losses arising from vibration, RFI/EMI, power line noise, AC mains surges, and other environmental factors.

Battery Not Included?

I've seen too many eBay sellers state in the description of a camera they’re selling something to the effect of, "There is no corrosion in the battery compartment, but it will need new battery (not included)."

Every time I've read that statement in a camera’s description I receive the camera only to discover that the meter doesn't work. Testing the meter for basic function, but not accuracy, is easy and there's no excuse for not doing it: put a battery in, take off the lens cap, point the camera out a window and adjust the shutter speed and f-stops. If the meter reacts, it's okay, if the meter doesn't change it's dead. This test takes less than five minutes.

It's often not what is said in a description that is important but what is left unsaid. These days, when I read the "battery compartment is clean" statement, I assume the meter doesn't work and therefore won't bid on the camera unless it looks to be extraordinarily clean and undamaged. Even then, I brace myself for the inevitable dead camera meter.

Record an audiobook instead of publishing?

So, you’ve written some stories and want to record an audiobook instead of hassling with getting you book published. Want to know how you can? Easy: you can’t!

True, you can release your stories as audio recordings in two ways: as a spoken word album or as an audiobook. Here are the caveats to both approaches:

A recording does not qualify as an audiobook unless it is someone reading a printed book or eBook. You have to have published a real printed book or eBook before you can release your work as an audiobook.

Audiobooks must be assigned an ISBN as well as numerous copyrights, greatly increasing prerelease overhead and slowing recoupment for the project.

Audiobooks must be recording to very stringent audio standards defined by ACX to stay within the narrow audio capabilities of eBook readers.

Audiobooks qualify for inclusion on the NY Times best seller list.

The distribution channels for audiobooks are presently controlled by Audible and ACX. Only Audible aggregates for the iTunes store and Amazon.com, and they reject most audiobooks submitted to them for sale over iTunes or Amazon.com. This monopoly means that the distribution channel for audiobooks have a severe set of barriers to entry and high channel costs. Direct-from-publisher sales seldom realize any profit.

Spoken word albums are defined as any non-musical entertainment, such as recorded speeches, copies of radio programs, comedy improv, storytelling, religious homilies, literary exposition, or educational narrative; but excluding a book reading. But if you just “tell your story” as an audio recording then that qualifies as a spoken word album. A book can be made of your spoken word album later.

Spoken word albums must be assigned ordinary sound recording copyrights in the country of origin, a Digital Rights Management agreement and an ISRC. This is inexpensive.

Spoken word albums must be recorded to standards reflecting customary professional audio practice, such as that recommended by the RIAA, the Library of Congress, the BBC, NARAS, SMPTE, the NAB or any major record label.

Spoken word albums are eligible for a Grammy under certain circumstances. (Any spoken word album I record can qualify.)

Spoken word albums are eligible for sync licensing to broadcasters, television, motion picture studios and video-game producers. OK, this seldom happens for spoken word albums but you never know.

Spoken word albums are eligible for full AllMedia protection and other enforceable DRM systems internationally, audiobooks are not. Audiobook copyright infringement must proceed the same as printed book copyright infringement, as defined under the Berne Convention in 1972; for overseas infringement this often means filing with the World Court in the Hague, then through legal representation in the country wherein the infringement occurred. Guess how successful that is, especially in Asia.

Numerous companies control the distribution channels for spoken word albums, and several aggregate for the iTunes store. Channel costs are low and have few barriers to entry. Direct-from-studio sales can realize profits, albeit usually small ones.

At this time no clear consensus exists within the industry whether audiobooks outsell spoken word albums.

Major publishers dislike audiobooks and realize little profit from them.

Studios large and small love spoken word albums and earn good money from them, enough that some studios do spoken word albums exclusively; they will often do other voice-over work and audiobooks as a sideline.

So there are the options available to you. Contact me if you need any further help.

Have a shot at a thot!

Herein you can visit the inside of my mind, if you don’t mind. Herein are my “thots.”

A “thot” is a shot at a thought. A thought shot, if you will. Or even if you won’t.


I don’t mind.

This blog is a mindfield, or minefield, of “thots” great and small. Thots of interest to none or to all.

So click your keyboard, don’t be bored, and skip all ads for anything you can’t afford.

Fun: A Photofinish!

• HAVE FUN! If you don’t have fun taking the photo, no one will have fun looking at the photo! I’m serious!
• KEEP IT FUN! If you give too much attention to (and are too uptight while working on) being a successful photographer, you’ll crowd out your fun, kill the spontaneity of your work, and blind your artistic vision. You’ll end up as yet another “clichetographer,” churning out the same old stuff every other pro-wannabe cranks out. Good recipe for failure!
• So what if your camera isn’t the latest and greatest, lacks snob appeal, shoots film or is digital? Do you enjoy the photos you get with it? Perfect! It’s a great camera!
• Don’t blame the camera if the photos are bad. It’s a camera. You’re the photographer.
• Don’t let the camera be the photographer and you just be a “camera-aimer.” No camera’s automation can be as good as what you can achieve with practice.
• Delve into the settings, and tweak everything that affects color accuracy and overall photo quality, like White Balance, Image Mode, Metering Mode, Autofocus Target Select and so on.
• Don’t shoot auto-everything all the time, try manual exposure.
• Use optical filters instead of in-camera digital image filters or software effects.
• Photoshop can’t really save a bad photo, so don’t rely on it. If you get it right in the camera, Photoshop can add that extra something. It’s just like when film photographers use a darkroom to add subtle enhancements to their photos.
• Remember: the more of the photographic process you control, the better the photographs you’ll have.

Is Audio Music to Your Ears?

• Listen, listen, listen! Train your ears! Learn to recognize chords and notes in music, distortion and noise in equipment, resonances and echos in rooms and spaces.
• No, you can’t fix it in the mix. You know why really old records sound so good? There was no editing, no way to fix it in the mix. The musicians just sat down and made great music.
• Digital or analog? Use both. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Combining the best of both will give you superlative audio.
• Don’t edit the life out of your music.
• Perfection is a laudable goal, but perfectionism will rob your music of its joy and beauty. Perfectionism has killed too many recording projects. Imperfections often are the secret spice of great music recording. Listen to Louis Armstrong or the Beatles for great examples.
• Are you an audiophile or a musicphile? When you turn on your stereo, what are you listening to, the equipment or the music? If your stereo demands more of your attention than the music does, get rid of it. Don’t let a stereo come between you and your music.
• How do know if a stereo is good? Easy! Do you forget that you’re listening to a stereo and just lose yourself in the music? That’s a good stereo!
• Are you always aware of the technical aspects of the stereo? Do you feel you’re not hearing everything in the music?  Are you always unsatisfied with your stereo, and spend more time figuring out the next upgrade than you do enjoying your music? Then that’s a bad stereo, regardless of how much it costs!
• Music, audio and sound is inherently subjective; it’s all an opinion. Don’t be swayed when someone presents their opinions as fact. Don’t present your opinions as fact. Respect others’ opinions.
• Your favorite music was handmade. Shouldn’t your stereo be handmade?
• Mass production, by necessity, requires compromise. No mass produced stereo, regardless of cost, can be “the best”, “the ultimate” or “without peer.”
• Beware meaningless marketing buzzwords, like: Digital Ready, warm-sounding, audiophile quality, high resolution, premium, sonic integrity, euphonic, pristine analog path, unprecedented, truthful audio, high speed, and so on.
• Beware audio manufacturers who won’t give specifications, instead relying on florid writing to advertise their wares. There probably is a good reason the company doesn’t want to give spec sheets out: bad specs, high-priced product.
• Don’t rely on specs alone. Specs are valuable but cannot alone describe what something will sound like. Your ears will. Use specs to narrow down your choices, then go on a listening safari. Or a listening Firefox. (Joking, bad pun!)
• There’s a reason many manufacturers reject double blind testing. It reveals their products aren’t as good as claimed. Double blind testing was instrumental in assisting the development of high fidelity audio, stereophonic sound, surround sound, and most of audio’s technological advances. It was good enough for the “founding fathers” of audio, so it should be good enough for the makers of genuinely excellent audio equipment.
• Throughout the history of audio, there have been great audio systems and bad audio systems. Every technology has yielded great sound and awful sound.
• Don’t get uptight about, or be impressed by, about the technology used in a stereo. Choose whatever you enjoy, and only whatever you enjoy.
• Using a reference stereo system for comparison? Reference recordings as a way of evaluating a stereo? Don’t be impressed. The only accurate reference is live, unprocessed music.
• The only thing a “reference system” tells you is that another stereo sounds different from the “reference system.” It won’t tell you how close to live music the stereo sounds.
• Connect a pair of studio microphones and studio preamplifiers to the stereo you’re evaluating. Put the mikes in an adjacent room, have a live musician or band play. Now go back and listen to the stereo. Does it sound live? Great stereo! You’ll be surprised how many high-end stereos fail this test while sounding wonderful playing the “reference recording.”
• While you’re at it, make a recording of the live music onto a really good recorder. Analog or digital, whichever you can afford. Use no EQ, no compression, no processing. Now you have your own reference recording that is actually valid for evaluating a stereo. You know what the “reference recording”  sounds like because you were there when it was made.
• Unless you made a reference recording, no, you don’t know what it sounds like. You know only what it sounds like on the first stereo you listened to the recording on, which is not a really useful evaluation standard.
• Silver wire, brands of capacitors, circuit topology, or impressive spec sheets don’t matter. Only your enjoyment of the music matters!
• Don’t buy a stereo based on peer pressure, status seeking or choice of technology. If you like something everyone else dislikes, ignore them. It’s your stereo for your music. Only your enjoyment of the music matters!
• Reducing skin effect: worth the high cost of audiophile cables? No. Cable makers have blown it out of all proportion. Forget about it. Save your money for buying more records. Just enjoy your music.

Art should ... but does he?

• Art should make us feel more clearly and more intelligibly.
• Art should give us coherent sensations which we otherwise would not have had.
• Art should be unique and individually irreplaceable.
• Art should be hand made, not mass-produced.
• Art should spring from your true self and your deepest aspirations, not from your desire to impress others, make money  or to be better than someone else.

Artness

Artwork is more than just painting, drawing, or sculpture that you hang on a wall or set in a museum and think to yourself, “That looks pretty.” Art is the recognition of aesthetic, the recognition that an object is more than its obvious purpose. Although some animals create tools and build structures, humankind is unique in that our creations both serve functions and evoke emotion.
All of humankind’s endeavors can become art; indeed, they are art, a reflection of their creators. The most humble object can be imbued with “artness” when its designer and its maker recognizes the aesthetic of the object, seeing the object as something more than its innate function. One only has to look at the Bauhaus movement for excellent examples of the perception of the mundane object elevated to “artness” while retaining its essential function. The “artness” of an object enhances its function, creating an emotional bond and a desire for the object that makes the object more desirable, more valuable.
It has been said that art evokes emotion, and that is certainly true, yet art is more than crass provocation. When the designer and maker elevates a mundane object to become art the emotion evoked by the object cause the passerby to want to possess the object. Thus a cup can become a treasured heirloom, a piece of decoration within the room, and a moment of pleasure — all occurring simultaneously.
I posit that art sometimes has an obvious function, yet the function may also be to beautify your surroundings, to stir your emotions, to cause you to desire, to make your life more pleasant. Enjoy!

Oh no, a new phono!

So, have phono preamplifiers improved since the 1970s? Audiophile companies would say yes, but is it truly so?
Although I don’t advertise it aggressively, I’ve been making phono preamplifiers since 1977, mostly for archives, studios and serious collectors; I’ve made only four models, two vacuum tube and two solid state (each with variable/selectable EQ curves), intended mainly for record lathe use and archival reproduction of all formats of analog discs. Over the years, I’ve seen a few meaningful improvements, but mostly the state of the art seems to have peaked in the early 1980s. Since then, many (but not all) designers seem to be indulging in one-upmanship, focusing on expensive capacitors and resistors, gold wire and so on. Other companies indulge in exaggerated advertising braggadocio, acting like they’ve created circuit approaches that in fact have existed since the 1950s: variable EQ (often called “linearization”) and fully-symmetrical push-pull designs are two good examples. In contrast, during the 1970s, the focus was clever circuit design that sought to overcome the inherent nonlinearities of active components.
Nevertheless, in all fairness I have found that better modern phono preamplifiers and the better “vintage” models are equal in every aspect. The only differences are merely marketing and the features added to the specific product.
The reason for the equality of vintage and contemporary phono preamplifiers is simple: advances in LP technology are stagnant. No substantive improvement in LP technology has been introduced since the mid-1980s, nor have any radical improvements in reproducers (turntables and pickups) been advanced, advertising claims notwithstanding. Therefore, a phono preamplifier made today and one made 30 years ago are both responding the same technical needs, operating constraints and customer requirements.
There is a very good reason why so many boutique audio companies make phono preamplifiers: it’s just so easy to do. The only real challenge is marketing, but it certainly isn’t the design engineering.