Basement tapes: phone messages

In conjunction with this year’s virtual Basement Tapes Day celebrations on October 17th, we’d like to share a glimpse into the more esoteric side of the history of recorded audio by looking at two strange and yet commonplace recordings we’ve managed to dredge up. These recordings are from two different eras of telecommunication. The first is a video from an accidental pocket dial. It was discovered while engaged in the transfer of media from one cellphone to another.

Pocket dial

There are several points of interest in this recording from a found audio/ amateur recording perspective. The person speaking is one of the authors of this piece–that’s me, Simon Rogers–and I believe I am discussing note-taking in a randomized notebook and neighbourhood construction, which is hilarious that that was captured on a pocket dial video. I wouldn’t have remembered the conversation except for the accidental documentation.

I also like the audio in a video format. When I was a radio DJ in high school, we used to keep the radio logs on VHS tapes on slow play format, as a way of documenting the broadcasts for the CRTC [The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission]. In the case of the pocket dial the video is merely obscured but I remember being told the audio quality of the VHS tape was better than on standard audio cassette. People also used to use VHS for recording audio at Ed Video, a Guelph multimedia arts centre, for mixing short artist videos. It makes me wonder about the audio quality of various digital formats. Also, though the media format in this case is born digital, the issue of transferring files from one device to another is not entirely dissimilar to transfer from analog to digital. I would not have discovered this audio artefact if I hadn’t been transferring my files from a cloud storage to a physically more stable storage environment.

The second recording is from a typical home phone answering machine, in use towards the end of the 90s in various houses that I (Curtis) was living in. I was going through some old boxes of media and suchlike at my parents’ house a while back and stumbled across these two tapes:

I had absolutely no memory of keeping these, nor what was on them, but I did recall having one of these units in play for many years across a wide variety of student houses and living arrangements:

SANYO TAS345 TELEPHONE ANSWERING SYSTEM

For those of us not old enough to remember, one of these units functioned as our planning logistics hub in the days before ubiquitous cellular technology took hold. Out of curiosity, I digitized the tapes using a relatively straightforward rig with a Marantz cassette deck connected to a desktop terminal (and its rather limited built in sound card) via a basic audio converter with a USB interface. I used the free open source software Audacity to generate the mp3 file I’ve shared here, and also to amplify the sound a bit as the sound quality on the source tapes had become quite compromised over time given the fact these tapes were recorded over many hundreds of times with incoming messages. I also edited the clip for brevity and to focus on the more interesting messages I discovered to share. The resulting rescued audio in part documents some relatively mundane interactions, but also manages to partially capture a view of what it was like planning for the ins and outs of event attendance without a smartphone.

Basement tapes: microcassettes

Sometime circa 2002 my wife bought me this sweet little SONY recording unit. Probably this device was used most commonly to record interviews or as a dictation machine. Its portability and compactness are useful for discrete recording and it is a fairly quiet unit. I have recorded music ideas, trial runs of stories for readings, snippets of conversation and interviews with my device. I still use it occasionally but mostly it has been replaced by the several digital Zoom recorders in the household and at work. In the early 2000s I could still find tapes for $1.89 at the Super Savings Discount Store at Queen Street and Brock. That store later became a fancy sushi restaurant and then a brew pub, a sign of gentrification hitting Parkdale, the Toronto community I called home for almost two decades.

The Clear Voice Plus
Audio from “Bella Did Ya Eat” brunch at the Free Times Cafe

Take this gem from the Bella Did Ya Eat brunch at the Free Times Cafe, which I would date as having been recorded some time in 2004 or 2005. I wasn’t an archivist in those days, so I didn’t know to date my recordings and record metadata meticulously. Still it is a nice mix of sounds from the buffet brunch I worked every Sunday morning for the better part of four years, the chaos of it, the kind of replication of a family tradition, the personal touches of the owner and creator Judy Perly. I have some stories I could tell but the recording situates the listener in the midst of the hubbub, in part because the recorder was out of sight and out of mind for the participants.

Collecting royalties – where do I start?

Whether or not you’ve been a performing musician for a long time or a new recording musician just looking for collecting on digital distribution (spoiler, its not going to be much) its best to register your works with SOCAN and at least a couple of the organizations listed below. This is a great chart courtesy of Connect who will also help issue you with proper ISRC codes. You don’t need ISRC codes for every platform (and largely, its up to you or your record label to get these) but once you get into the nitty gritty of licensing music, you will absolutely need them.

Go to the Connect page for more information on how to obtain an ISRC set of numbers here:

https://connectmusic.ca/isrc.aspx

15 irregular albums I have listened to repeatedly

In going back over my Facebook account I was thinking how different social media was in the late 2000s, that first decade of the new Millennium. Less ad driven perhaps. More creative and personal? Here’s a post I found in my neophyte days of social media. A lot of the sentiments here are still true about how I like to think about music. I did eventually find about forty copies of that first Jane Siberry record in a record store on Roncesvalles. Originally posted Tue (June 16th 2009) at 8:55am.

1. Randy Newman, Faust (1995)
This album ruined my ability to distinguish good music from bad music. I decided upon hearing this album that I had to either like it, because I liked Randy Newman, and it was obviously important to him, or else I had to be disappointed in an idol. I decided to become a lover, not a hater.

2. Elvis Costello, Goodbye Cruel World (1984, reissued with bonus material in 1995)
The man at the record store tried to dissuade me from buying this album. He didn’t understand I was on a completionist mission. Worth every second of the saxophone solos in “Not the Only Flame in Town” for the live bonus track “You Worthless Thing” on the Ryko copy. This album is a strong argument against the sanctity of the album versus the mp3 (context is everything), but then, clearly, endurance is my specialty.

3. Corey Hart, Boy in the Box (1985)
This was purchased for me in an attempt to give me some of my own music to listen to, rather than simply listening to my mother’s musical collection, as I edged towards teen-aged rebellion. Those who know me well will know that I never really got over Corey Hart’s fall from cool dude to adult-contemporary has-been. The threat of nuclear war was a character defining theme of my childhood, and “Komrade Kiev” still gives me chills.

4. 7 seconds, New Wind (1987)
I used to rewind “Man Enough to Care” and listen to it over again. I always had a soft spot for the pop side of hard core and punk. I only ever had this album on cassette and I think it belonged to Casey Wike, who said he didn’t want it back when I told him about it a few years ago. I’ve got to get my tape deck fixed.

5. Spirit of the West, Save This House (1990)
When did I realize I no longer liked Spirit of the West? At first it was just that I was no longer interested in the sound, then there was that terrible concert with The Mahones in Halifax in 1994 or 1995… But I don’t think I actually grew to hate their sound until the mid-1990s at the earliest. There is no way I could endure listening to this album now. And yet I really did care about the discrimination suffered by the Joneses. Was “Last To Know” really 6 min. 27 sec. long? How did anybody ever sit through that? Amazing. I must have been a completely different being. Thank goodness all the cells in my body have been replaced by new ones now.

6. Northern Pikes, Secrets of the Alibi (1988)
Now this band I’d almost completely forgotten about until I was researching The Band Name Book for my uncle Noel. When I came across their website and saw they had some new songs, and realized instantly how cool they still were, and remembered how awesome they had been, I realized that the only thing that stopped me from listening to The Northern Pikes now was the changeover from cassette to CD (see note number 4, last sentence). I wonder how many bands got lost in this shuffle. The bass lines are inspired. Eighties pop driven by a good time groove, from the last era where rock and roll was still a dance genre.

7. The Doors, Waiting for the Sun (1967)
I tried to bring this to a grade seven dance and the teacher kindly suggested that, while he might like it, most likely none of my peers would. It was not deemed appropriate music for my generation. Maybe I wanted to play “Spanish Caravan” instead of “Hello, I Love You”. It hadn’t really occurred to me that there was a distinction between music for my generation and my parent’s music. My mother had pretty good taste in music. She was listening to Billy Idol, Elvis Costello and The Pretenders, so how was I supposed to know that The Doors, The Eagles and Bob Seger were not contemporary? Funny thing is that I was never that into the Doors or Pink Floyd after grade seven. I suppose a resurgence of interest is about due, but there is something so goofy about Jim Morrison. Maybe it’s all about the organ.

8. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)
My first real introduction to the Rolling Stones. It was this and Hot Rocks, but I liked this album and the pictures of the vintage lingerie on the cover. I thought “Far Away Eyes” was just how country sounded. I didn’t know until years later that “Just My Imagination” was not a Rolling Stones song.

9. Bob Marley & the Wailers, Live (1975)
Nothing embarrassing about this one really, as far as live records go, but it doesn’t hold up as well as the regular albums. Some people would disagree. I used to think the lyric was “my fear is my only courage, so I’ve got to push on through”. Good lyric, but not the right one. Emilie Coyle was the one who knew better. It wasn’t until I bought Natty Dread that I heard the studio version of “No Woman, No Cry” and realized that Bob Marley & the Wailers was an R&B group.

10. Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Live at Berkeley (1977)
This was my first record. It sure ain’t the Modern Lovers that recorded “I’m Straight” and “Roadrunner” but I still feel like a grooving eight year old dancing fool when I hear “I’m a Little Airplane Now”. The album sounds innocent enough, but it is clearly all about turning your children into wild unmanageable free thinkers. Parents with toddlers be warned–they could turn out something like me if you purchase this record.

11. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Zuma (1975)
My favourite album of all time. Released the year of my birth. I have probably listened to this album more than a thousand times. 90% of those times would have been between the ages of 13 and 15. It defined me. It hurts me to turn this album off without listening all the way through. It doesn’t belong on this list, except that maybe it isn’t the album for which Neil Young is best known. It absolutely should be. If people are making lists of the perfect albums–Led Zeppelin (four), INXS (Kick), Sex Pistols (Never Mind…)–you know, flawless from start to finish, then Zuma should be on that list.

12. Lou Reed, Magic and Loss (1992)
I used to play this in Macondo Books when I was Sunday Simon (I think Greg Denton took over that role, minus the alliteration) because it had the right vibe for Sundays. I went with J. Wallace and Malcolm Sutton to see Lou Reed in Toronto and he was very cool for an old guy who couldn’t really sing very well and kept screwing up his songs that he was reading from a music stand. Maybe his eyes were bad. Rob Wasserman was all over Lou’s stuff in those days and that bass sound just didn’t have lasting appeal for me in retrospect. We were pretty into New York as an album too. I liked the story aspects of this album… mortality as an open wound. Anger over death and how powerless it makes us.

13. Jackson Browne, Lawyers in Love (1983)
I guess I wasn’t the only completionist in the family, because although Running on Empty or maybe Late for the Sky got top-billing in the home, I definitely heard a lot of 1980s Jackson Browne growing up. I didn’t even realize how many people don’t like Jackson Browne until I started trying to sneak a few tracks onto mixed CDs at the Victory Cafe. I guess I just have to learn to keep the real gems at home for my own listening pleasure. Maybe it was all my mother’s indoctrination, but I still think Jackson Browne is one of the most consistently excellent living song writers. The debate at the bar was between Bruce Springstein versus Jackson Browne and I had to be honest, the boss seems one dimensional to me in comparison.

14. Jane Siberry, self titled (1981)
If ever there was an album that was close to home, this was it. What great songwriting. There’s something too in that cross-over from folk to synthesizers that may never really come back around again in the great recycling of genres. This album makes me wanna open up my heart real big until I can’t get through doors. It probably helps knowing most of the lovely people involved in putting it together. I’m pretty sure I’ve been down “The Strange Well” and yes “Writers are a Funny Breed”. Anybody want to sell me their vinyl copy?

15. Eurythmics, Revenge (1986)
Probably the fourth best Eurythmics album, it is still better than any of the solo efforts since. This was the year I saw the Eurythmics on tour. I had a little pin with a lowercase “e” on it. Might have been the first time I was a fan of anything in the commercial sense of fandom. I really wanted their product more than just their music. Oh, Annie “Why” indeed and wherefore did everything go so wrong between us?

The importance of documenting your local music community

In recent decades, Vancouver has found itself the a unique position of simultaneously being North America’s most livable city while also earning a reputation as the No Fun City. Some might point to this as the inevitable result of a city which opts for highly curated, government approved, and often privately sponsored events while stifling organic community growth. This can be seen as at-odds with a city which formerly produced a generation of famous musicians in the 1990’s who grew up in such organic communities as are being closed in modern years.

Growing up in Vancouver, I was not aware that I was witness to an ongoing narrative of the complex relationship between musicians and government. In the mid 2000’s, I was embedded in an expansive and inclusive music scene which permeated Vancouver and existed thanks to generous venue owners and musicians who would open their basements or apartments to DIY music shows. These gathering were focal points for youth to meet and established long-lasting communities. However, city officials became increasingly focused on mitigating what they saw as a hazardous and unregulated space. In response, the city introduced a series of bylaws to specifically curtail DIY venue spaces. Such bylaws include requirements for specific stage-heights and even prohibiting non-licensed dancing as a way to swiftly shut down music performances under the guise of bylaw non-compliance.

These actions were seen as an unprecedented threat to the fabric of these communities. A poignant series of mini-concerts where scheduled entitled “Dancing in our Debt.” These performances emphasized the tensions between the capitalist markets of Vancouver as being at odds with local organic communities. These performances occurred late at night in the lobbies of 24-hour ATMs of large banks. The shows would normally not last more than twenty minutes. Here is an example of one such event: https://flic.kr/p/6ianbu

During this time, my friends and I created a documentary which attempted to interview some of the people involved in these ongoing disputes. The documentary can be found here: https://youtu.be/jsc3mrfKq7M

Reflecting back, it is clear that the documentation itself holds a great deal of power and accountability for explaining why Vancouver is perceived the way it is today, as a city which penalizes organic DIY spaces and where only the most copacetic events may take place.

Basement Tapes Day – Toronto

The Toronto team will be checking in at 4:30 EST (1:30 PST). If you want to join the Zoom, here’s the registration link to the attendee RSVP page: https://forms.gle/Tk6n41hoeV5VH7jk7

The Toronto team will be playing a mystery reel live and also launching the first of an ongoing series of posts about home-recorded audio. Keep checking back for further updates.

Have you been sitting on a bunch of old sound recordings that you don’t have the playback equipment for? On October 17th, we will be sponsoring an event to listen to, digitize, and document these recordings in conjunction with the second annual Basement Tapes Day, an event started in conjunction with UCLA’s student chapter of the ARSC at the 14th annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar in 2019. We are currently part of an international team looking to sponsor coordinated events in Montreal, Boston, Chapel Hill and Washington for 2020.

What kind of thing? Take these 1990s high school dance promos, for example. What strange audio artefacts do you have hanging around the garage? We would especially like to find some old audio on reel to reel, DAT or anything that may have been saved on old ZIP drives or in weird formats, to showcase some of the array of audio hidden on old formats that may be hanging around your home. Send us an email at info@tinimusiccoop.org if you have something or want to be involved.

Indie music distribution question, Part One

This is the anonymized discussion from a Facebook post regarding the question of musical distribution. I see this conversation as an example of a useful service that could be provided by a resource hub like TINI in reviewing various platforms and online services for musicians and members. But this is just a sample. There are further issues to sort out here. We will weigh in on Part Two soon.

The low down:

Original question:

“Indie music distribution question… any advice? Cdbaby? Pro publishing $29 or standard distribution $10! Is pro publishing worth it?”

Comments

Musician A They take more of a cut of your publishing than if you go through the various rights agencies.

Musician B No. Not worth it unless you have large sales. CD baby may still be OK. Indie pool kicked me off for not making enough money.

Question poster!! Good to know!! I shall anticipate such things from a previous release.

Musician C If you are registered with a national publishing rights agency, I recommend sticking with them and just doing the standard CD Baby distribution.

Question poster Thanks for these takes.🙏 my hunches have been confirmed.

Musician D Distrokid

Musician B Bandcamp + bandcamp merch then when people buy CDs mail it to them yourself? Depends what scale. SOCAN. Distrokid gets you on iTunes + Amazon but costs $100 a year. (Dont pay for their YouTube add ons).

Question poster $100 a year? That’s crazy talk!

Musician B Oh wait you’re right its $20 USD now. My bill is $75/year USD so I must have addons I forgot about. So don’t choose any addons…

Musician E Bandcamp or Bandcamp.

Musician F Just trying indie pool for the first time since always using cdbaby in the past. No set up fee!

Musician G I use Ditto Music. Gets you on all the biggies for $20/year and they don’t take a cut. 🤷‍♂️ https://www.dittomusic.com/

Musician A And doing bandcamp as well.

Original poster Thanks A. Just an FYI B above mentioned that indiepool cut her off for not making enough money. I don’t have more info. Also my last album I did with them they are great but for digital distribution that album never appeared on YouTube. If that’s ok with you. Just wanted to give a heads up. I never contacted them about it maybe I should. I love bandcamp and use them as well.

Imagining a Information Network for Musicians

So, let’s imagine this is the kind of place I might outline a kind of personal vision for an information network co-operative for musicians. Why might such a thing be useful? What could it be? Maybe this is the blog equivalent of a five year strategic plan for an organization.

One thing I want to see again is events. Something that really saddens me about concert going in the 2020s, is the prevalence of multi-mediated concert experiences. I would love to see a series of snapshots of music going audiences at independent rock or small venue concerts in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s up until the present. One thing you wouldn’t see in the first half of that chronology is cellphones. Why is this so disruptive? Well, first off, the recording of a concert is a vastly different experience than the hearing of a live musical performance. It’s the same difference as documenting something versus being documented. I suspect this is why many people do not particularly like live recordings in comparison with studio recordings. I would be interested in attending an event that maybe could demonstrate or call attention to the historical intrusion of cellphones into public spaces. Perhaps the audience could be engaged in the intrusion or illustrate the effect by posting twenty different recordings of the same event? That would be an interesting kind of documentary live experience showcase of the effect of technology. I’ve also seen interesting theatrical performances that documented certain singers or moments in history that worked in various ways. Tom Paxton did a concert of Steve Goodman and Stan Rogers songs that was mixed with his personal reflections on their work in the 1990s that was like that. Bob Wiseman’s Libelous show was impressive in this narrative construction and reflection sense. An oral history of one’s personal songwriting experiences mingled with the songs could be interesting. When people perform classic albums live, that too can be a kind of documentary performance. Also, I want to plan some documentary concerts because it would be nice to get out of the house. So that’s something I want to see happen with TINI.

Secondly, I would like to see something cooperative happen with shared expertise in the independent music community. I would like to see spaces where innovative approaches in independent cultural production could take place. Ultimately if you build it, then people will come. And it isn’t necessarily one physical space. There are already venues and organizations all over the city that foster creative social collaboration. It would be nice to pool resources so people can learn from what has worked elsewhere and share that knowledge base. One way TINI might contribute something new to this conversation is if we are able to develop a membership/ credit exchange for volunteer work and mutual aid that allows people to contribute to the network with their skills, learn from each other and pay back into the ongoing production of new member’s productions with useful credits, workshops and exchanges. Perhaps we could create an alternative currency (let’s call it the ‘TINI token’) that could be swapped for services and could accumulated by volunteer hours, so that goodwill exchanges are kept in the community and are not reliant on always being one to one reciprocal exchanges but can be paid forward into the TINI market, a place where we can all watch this goodwill grow into a beautiful well of shared experience from which we may all draw nourishment and karmic riches.

Anyway, this is down the road. To get there we need to build the network. So we are starting with some resources and examples. We need a membership structure. We probably need to do some fundraising and plan out some special projects. Got any ideas? Let me hear them. I’m all ears. How can I help make them happen?

The Band is King, The King is Dead

Or The Band is Dead, Long Live the Band

I love a good rock and roll band that has been well rehearsed, seasoned on the road, the unity of the ensemble forged by friendships, rivalries or something in between. Creative differences leading to implosions or surprising legacies of collaborative output. All that stuff is golden. But usually for about and album or two, maybe just a single. Then, even if it works for a while, there is the letdown, the slow period where the chemistry is off, the revival period where everything is just a repackaged version of something that was better the first time around. Sometimes the pinnacle is just one song, one show, maybe it never even happened in a time and place where it was recorded or anybody was even there to listen.

When considering the band in the context of the rehearsal space it seems to me the two are not very well suited to long term leasing commitments. It is in fact just such expenses that can cause bands to implode, especially at the transition stage into something that could be economically viable. Still having a place to make music is an extremely useful thing for any fledgling musical ensemble. One solution is to ban the band. There is no band, only individual players, tunes and the community in which the musical activity occurs. Another is to say the band may come and go as it wishes but the space belongs to its users. I think this model sees collaboration as something that can occur between many different participants, sometimes in a way that is locked in to a certain core group of people, other times maybe built around a network of collaborators and interchangeable parts. How can the space facilitate a practical, natural musical experience that is reflective of the way musicians actually interact?

What is the collective art experience? Who is the band playing for? Themselves? The community? How is the experience of music changing and how should artists respond?

In any city of over 100,000 people how many outstanding musicians will there be who can be said to be part of a community? If, as a model, this group adopted the attitude and composure of a mutual support society, or a co-operative, instead of fracturing itself into the neurotic and exclusionary mindset of bands, they could choose to collaborate, or not, under many more varied circumstances, some not even including playing together, without feeling like they were hurting each other’s feelings any time some member of the community wanted to play a solo gig or create a sound outside of the confines of the nuclear band. Also they would be better situated to exchange information that would be mutually beneficial, without having to feel like they were traitors to some cultural niche or team, which the band, cult or genre might dictate under the conventional norms of musical production. So many other things cause problems for bands that are secondary to the music. Money, romantic engagements, external influencers, unscrupulous agents, unsanitary venues, bad food, drugs and alcohol, the weather, roommates, micro-decisions about whether things should be acoustic or electric and when and how loud… the list goes on. Community oriented music is as natural as the fact that a certain set number of music venues in a given geographical area will dictate the options for performing and viewing live music in that area. Now that my band days are likely behind me, I want to try making music in a community space.