How to perform music together virtually

Musicians together virtually


A retired music teacher friend, Ruth Johnsen, needed help setting up a virtual performance by her music students. Because I was eager to learn a new video editor and because it’s really impossible to say no to Ruth, I stepped up and took it on. For the past few weeks, videos from each musician has been filtering over to me and I’ve been learning all I can about stitching them together. Fortunately, the occasional karaoke videos I’ve created have given me a little insight into the best way to get this done. Here’s my recipe for successfully recording musical parts for a virtual performance.

Consistency is key. The video clips I was given all look and sound different. That’s to be expected from so many musicians and no way to use identical hardware and software. There are some aspects that can be easily standardized, such as:

Video orientation. Have everyone use either portrait or landscape mode. It will look much better. Purists insist on landscape but portrait can work, too. Whichever you choose, it’s best if everyone uses it.

Distance.
Be consistent with camera distance. If your phone or camera is too close, you will overwhelm the microphone; too far and you won’t be heard at all. You’ll also make work for the video editor as she has to scale or crop the video to make everyone look consistent.
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Karaoke is my quarantine creative outlet

After a public performance or two over our New Years trip I thought I’d take my singing more seriously. I quickly realized the huge library of karaoke songs on Spotify and that could use this and some Googled lyrics to turn a PA speaker into a karaoke machine. I’ve posted two of my songs to YouTube already (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” By Elvis Costello and “Pink Cadillac” By Bruce Springsteen) and have gotten positive feedback. It feels good to be able to try something new, share it with the world, and get feedback on it.

It’s been a good lesson on how I sing, too. I sang in chorus in middle school and sang in my church’s youth choir around that time, too. I’ve been singing along to my favorite music whenever I’m alone at home or in the car. Once my colleagues caught me singing in the server room when I thought the roar of machines was drowning me out! Rarely did I sing for an audience before.

I have learned that singing with the goal of sounding the best is new to me. I realized that many of the songs I’ve been singing along to, ones that I’ve enjoyed singing, are not necessarily songs fit for my vocal range or style. When I’ve tried to do karaoke versions of these songs I quickly realized the ways in which my voice came up short. You know what? I have learned to be fine with this. I can’t nail every song but there are still hundreds or even thousands where my voice fits just fine. My list of karaoke songs is now well into the hundreds and I can easily organize a hefty, interesting set list to cover any performances.
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The Oral History of Prince’s Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show – The Ringer

This is a fantastic oral history of the greatest Super Bowl Halftime show ever, the 2007 show performed by Prince, of course.

Coplin: I would be watching the monitors and trying to factor my own opinion about the show, but no matter what you see in the television truck, you have no sort of sense of what people at home are experiencing. And I remember just my phone started blowing up. Like, “OMG, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I just had all these people, friends, colleagues, people in the business, just really losing their minds on my texts. And that’s when I knew that this thing was really maybe even better than we thought it was gonna be.

Nathan Vasher (Bears cornerback): The last two or three minutes, I peeked out of the tunnel. I didn’t want to go all the way out there, but for two or three minutes I got to witness greatness. I haven’t experienced that greatness again.

Source: The Oral History of Prince’s Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show – The Ringer

The Misfit Awesomeness of Neil Peart and Rush | The New Yorker

Neil Peart, legendary Rush drummer, died on Friday from brain cancer at the age of 67. I’ve seen Rush in concert a few times and enjoyed most of their music. I especially enjoyed their “Rush: Behind the Lighted Stage” documentary.

In spite of their misfit nature ad limited radio airplay, Rush sold a ton of albums.

Here’s a great piece by the New Yorker about Neil and Rush. Rest in peace, Neil.

Neil Peart, the lyricist and virtuosic drummer of the Canadian progressive-rock band Rush, died on Tuesday, in Santa Monica, California. He was sixty-seven, and had been fighting brain cancer for several years. Rush formed in Toronto, in 1968 (Peart joined in 1974), and released nineteen studio albums, ten of which have sold more than a million copies in the U.S. According to Billboard, Rush presently ranks third, behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band.
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The Book of Prince | The New Yorker

On January 29, 2016, Prince summoned me to his home, Paisley Park, to tell me about a book he wanted to write. He was looking for a collaborator. Paisley Park is in Chanhassen, Minnesota, about forty minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Prince treasured the privacy it afforded him. He once said, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that Minnesota is “so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Sure enough, when I landed, there was an entrenched layer of snow on the ground, and hardly anyone in sight.

Prince’s driver, Kim Pratt, picked me up at the airport in a black Cadillac Escalade. She was wearing a plastic diamond the size of a Ring Pop on her finger. “Sometimes you gotta femme it up,” she said. She dropped me off at the Country Inn & Suites, an unremarkable chain hotel in Chanhassen that served as a de-facto substation for Paisley. I was “on call” until further notice. A member of Prince’s team later told me that, over the years, Prince had paid for enough rooms there to have bought the place four times over.

My agent had put me up for the job but hadn’t refrained from telling me the obvious: at twenty-nine, I was extremely unlikely to get it. In my hotel room, I turned the television on. I turned the television off. I had a mint tea. I felt that I was joining a long and august line of people who’d been made to wait by Prince, people who had sat in rooms in this same hotel, maybe in this very room, quietly freaking out just as I was quietly freaking out.

Source: The Book of Prince | The New Yorker

Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and Thousands More Lost in Fire – The New York Times

This is astonishing. As an IT guy, I have been responsible for backups. How Universal could be so careless with priceless audio tapes just boggles my mind.

Eleven years ago this month, a fire ripped through a part of Universal Studios Hollywood.

At the time, the company said that the blaze had destroyed the theme park’s “King Kong” attraction and a video vault that contained only copies of old works.

But, according to an article published on Tuesday by The New York Times Magazine, the fire also tore through an archive housing treasured audio recordings, amounting to what the piece described as “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

Source: Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and Thousands More Lost in Fire – The New York Times

Rivendell in the cloud

I joined up with a Facebook group called Rivendell Open Source Radio Automation Users as a place to trade tips on using Rivendell. A question that comes up frequently is how Rivendell can be run in the cloud. Since I’ve been doing this for eight years or so I have a pretty good understanding of the challenges. I’ve mentioned some of it before but thought I’d go into more detail of my current setup.

I’m running Rivendell 2.19.2, the current version, and presently I’m not actually running it in the cloud though I could easily change this in a few moments. The magic that makes this happen is containerization. I have created my own Docker instance which installs everything I need. This container can be fired up virtually anywhere and it will just work.

Here’s a summery of my setup. In my container, I install CentOS 7. Then I pull in Rivendell from Paravel’s repos with a “yum install rivendell” command. Rivendell needs the JACK audio subsystem to run so I install Jack2 from the CentOS repos, too. To this I add darkice as an encoder, JackEQ for some graphical faders/mixers, a LADSPA-based amplifier module to boost gain, and of course Icecast2 to send the stream to the world.

Now, one of the problems with a CentOS-based setup is that CentOS tends to have fewer of the cool audio tools than distributions like Debian and Ubuntu have. These Debian-based distros are not officially supported with Paravel packages so you either have to hunt for your own Rivendell dpkgs or you build your own. I’ve found a few of these dpkgs mentioned on the Rivendell Developer’s mailing list but I’ve not had the time to make sure they’re up to date and meet my personal needs. Thus, for my personal setup you’ll find a few parts which I have compiled myself, rather than install from a package. A project for me to take on in my Copious Free Time is to create an entirely repo-based Docker container but I’m not there yet.

Rivendell needs a MySQL/MariaDB database to store its data. I rely on a non-containerized instance of MariaDB in my setup because I already use the database for other projects and didn’t want to create an instance solely for Rivendell.

So here’s how it all works.
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Incredible Footage of Rage Against the Machine Performing at Berkeley Square in November 1992

On November 7, 1992, a really passionate Rage Against the Machine performed an incredible show at Berkeley Square in Berkeley, California. This powerful set included some of their now iconic songs such as “Bombtrack”, “Fistful Of Steel”, “Wake Up”, “Settle For Nothing” , “Killing In The Name”, “Bullet In The Head” and “Freedom”.

Commenter Mike4Metal was at this show and shared his excitement about seeing the band that night.

I was there that night!! The organization opened up that night, no one knew who rage was at this time, their debut was not out yet!! They surprised us all that night!!! I feel lucky to have witnessed their first Bay Area gig!!! Now they are legendary!!!

Earlier that year, the band performed an equally incredible show at Zed Records in Long Beach.

via reddit

Source: Incredible Footage of Rage Against the Machine Performing at Berkeley Square in November 1992

An Oral History of “We Built This City,” the Worst Song of All Time | GQ

I found this amusing. The members of Starship discuss “We Built This City,” arguably the worst song of all time.

Thomas: Bernie didn’t say “mambo,” he said “mamba,” which is a snake. Marconi created the radio. Maybe Bernie meant to say “mambo.” Maybe it means: If you don’t like this music, some really angry snakes are gonna come out of the speakers.

Thomas: At one point I did start to sing “mambo,” to try and be more grammatically correct, and after a while I thought, “Fuck it,” and went back to “mamba.”

Source: An Oral History of “We Built This City,” the Worst Song of All Time | GQ

Tom Petty’s Biographer on the Story He Didn’t Tell – Rolling Stone

I still miss Tom Petty.

I was standing in my kitchen when I heard about Tom Petty’s death. The message came from a friend who had worked at WBCN in Boston. WBCN — that’s where, at age 12, I heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first single, “Breakdown.” Tell me this isn’t true. That was the message from my friend. I’m not sure how the constellations of thought come together, but they form quickly. Just that fast, I knew Tom Petty had died. And then the street outside my window looked different.I’d thought about what this day might be like. Petty had been in the room with me (and so many of us) for more than 40 years. I could chart my life in relation to his releases. Early on, around the time of the first albums, I had the feeling that Petty was giving me better direction than the adults who came and went, mostly went, in my life. Even the losers. That alone helped.

Source: Tom Petty’s Biographer on the Story He Didn’t Tell – Rolling Stone