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Friday, March 30, 2007

Net Neutrality

The idea behind "net neutrality" is that all traffic on the net should be equal. The access to bandwidth that I have should be the same as anyone else's, be they a small upstart such as myself or a huge megacorporation. Now aside from the fact that my actual bandwidth is limited by my ISP simply due to the fact that I share my server with many other websites, once my packets are enroute to you, my bestest pals on the net, the packets are treated the same as any others, more or less. (A more qualified statement would be that all packets within a given protocol are treated the same.)

What is happening now is that large corporations, such as broadcasters and telecom companies, want to create a "premium" form of net traffic that would favor them, potentially putting small businesses and individuals at a disadvantage, on the "slow track" of the net. Yesterday I read this article on net neutrality.

Independent, lesser-known musicians and smaller record labels have launched a nationwide campaign Tuesday to support the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, which they said is under fire from Internet providers who want to charge a fee to have some Web sites load faster than others.

Of course, the whole idea behind BitWorks Music is that "independent record labels are also on an equal Web footing with major players like Apple Inc.'s iTunes." You can find out more about net neutrality at Save the Internet.

In other news, this article gives some interesting comparisons between different music download models on the net. The conclusion:
Perhaps in the context of online music sales, “innovation” is really providing customers with more choice in the form of compatibility across operating systems and devices, broad file format options, and customer-driven pricing mechanisms. If that is the case, DRM-based stores aren’t the ones doing the innovating.

For the record, BitWorks will never adopt a DRM system. Not only that, but we are offering better quality downloads than most other distributors and 100% artist control over how their work is presented, along with a new dynamic multimedia presentation that is unique in the industry. (Frankly, it kicks serious ass!) Steve Jobs, fuggedaboutit!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Unit Vector

Unit Vector is a band located in the Shenandoah Valley in the foothills of the George Washington National Forest, headed by Photon, an experimental electronic music composer. Photon's music was recently used in a performance at James Madison University choreographed by Roxann Morgan, founder and artistic director of Next Reflex Dance Collective, a new modern dance company in the Washington DC Metro area. Roxann and Photon plan to collaborate further in the future.

The music of Unit Vector has been described as "ambient with an edge", but often it is impossible to categorize.

We are very excited to announce the upcoming release of Unit Vector's new album on BitWorks Music.

Friday, March 23, 2007


The last couple of days have been chock full of music related news. As I may have mentioned before, Slashdot is one of the main sources for "geek news", and it's pretty much required daily surfing for me. But enough background--on with the show!

First up, we have this poll in the Consumerist that ranked the RIAA as the worst company in America for 2007, defeating even Halliburton. The University of Wisconsin has decided to fight back, asking the RIAA to pay for wasting the school's time. If I had a nickel for everyone who has ever wasted my time... Alas, the poor RIAA can't seem to get a break! In this blog, "Recording Industry vs The People", they report that the RIAA has been ordered to turn over its attorneys' billing records in an effort to determine whether the fees are reasonable. I have no idea what the result of this will be, but exposing these guys to the blinding light of public scrutiny is surely going to be bad for them, and entertainment for one and all. But wait! There's more! Here is yet another case involving "a divorced mother of five, [who] was sued in 2005 after MediaSentry, the RIAA's investigative arm, found music in a shared folder under an IP that [the woman's] ISP said was assigned to her account at that time. [She] denied any knowledge of the alleged file-sharing, but the RIAA pressed ahead with the case."

So things may not be going the RIAA's way lately, but surely the music industry has some better news to report! Not so fast. Apparently, CD sales are in the shitter, down 20% in Q1 '07. (Here I have linked to the Slashdot article, as the WSJ link requires login.) But there is a silver lining here: "Diminishing CD sales means that you don't have to sell as many to get on the charts." SWEET! I'm rockin' the top 40 baby!

This is not music news, but it is the creepiest thing I have read in quite a while, about the FBI's misuse of US Patriot Act "national security letters". Oh well, I guess that link puts me on the permanent bad list. Might as well go surf politics at Daily Kos.

Lastly, I know I promised to announce our new BitWorks Music artist this week, but I'm still waiting for him to send me more info about himself. Come on dude, your fans await!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sorry About Dresden, The Nein, Maple Stave

Local 506 is Chapel Hill's 2nd most "famous" venue, next to Cat's Cradle (which is actually next door in Carrboro), the official "world famous" music destination in town. The Cradle is generally the national circut, dudes with a tour bus, or a van with a U-Haul. 506 is the local hangout, dudes in smaller vans and pick-ups, or whatever car is working at the moment. If you want to get the real Chapel Hill "scene", 506 is the place. They often have shows broadcast on local cable, and even have good beer from Carolina Brewery. (..or you can always go for the PBR, but come on guys, life is short.)

I had the chance to catch Maple Stave (homepage, MySpace), The Nein (homepage, MySpace), and Sorry About Dresden (homepage, MySpace) last Friday. SAD have been around for a while, but I had never had a chance to see them until now.

Maple Stave began the evening, and I was dissappointed to only make the last few songs of their set. One thing that stood out in their music was odd time signatures, like 7/8 moving to 3/4, along with the usual rawk. Fun stuff. The crowd screamed for more, but no, we'll have to see them again soon. MS are a power trio of drums, bass, and guitar. Definitely kick-ass drum power drives the music--the sticks were flyin!

Next up were The Nein, with a denser sound (keys/bass, guitar, drums, sax, weird noise specialist, and of course, the vocal madness). The Neiners had the most electronic presense of the 3, the sample and loop manipulations of Dale Flattum adding the extra dimension of extraterrestrial to the mix. One thing that is always an issue at shows is whether or not you can hear the vocals, and a lot of times you can't, especially as the number of instruments increases. Not to diss the efforts of the 506 sound man, but there's no substitute for having your own sound engineer at the panel.

Sorry About Dresden were the superstar headliners. One thing that impressed me right away, because I'm a tuning freak as I mentioned last week, is that they tune between almost every song. If I had to use one word to describe them I would say: alterna-power-pop, though I hate to use the word "pop", because I guess I have to qualify by saying "pop, but not the sucky kind." I read one review that said they draw comparisons to Chapel Hill legends Archers of Loaf. I can definitly hear the resemblance. You might hear 10 seconds and say "Hey, Archers!" but they pretty much have their own sound: duo guitars and vocals, bass, drums. Mostly major key, fairly simple melodies, well played, lyrical, with an energy that can't be denied. Listening to their 2003 release "let it rest", I especially dig the 2nd song, "the approaching dawn" for it's atonal weirdness. As you know, weird makes the aliens happy. I can see these guys spending more time in a tour bus someday.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Thrilling Conclusion

Finally I located an allen wrench that reasonably fit the truss rod. However, the truss rod may have never been adjusted, ever. It didn't want to budge. Well, you know, close enough for rock-n-roll. I left it the way it was.

Next I adjusted the neck tilt along with the screws that bolt the neck to the body. After playing with this for a while, I improved the action somewhat, though I would like to put a shim between the neck and body, as there is a small gap now. I have not played the bass since I did this, but my son isn't complaining so it can't be too bad.

Lastly, intonation. For me this is the most important part, because I have relatively perfect (relative) pitch. There are few things as irritating as tuning your instrument, then playing a note high on the neck and having it be sharp. Fortunately, setting the intonation was easy by adjusting screws on the bridge. A note played on the 12th fret should be exactly the same as playing the open string. A tuner could be used to do this accurately, but your ear will work just as well if you have developed a sense of pitch. I take this for granted, but apparently a lot of musicians don't have this ability. Over the years I have noticed improvement in my tuning abilities, and I can even hum A-440 like a human tuning fork. My point is, you can train yourself to do this, just as you train yourself to remember melodies. You literally hear it inside your head. They say people are born with perfect pitch, and I have met people like this. I have perfect "relative" pitch, meaning I can tell when it sounds like crap. However, I maintain that you can train yourself to have perfect absolute pitch. All you have to do is remember a song with 1 note, in my case, A-440, which is the pitch my tuner/metronome plays, or used to play before it broke. Funny thing is, even though I have had different tuners that play the pitch differently (different electronics/speaker/whatever), I actually remember the sound of my old one.

If you can imagine the sound of 1 note, you can train yourself to imagine an interval or a chord. If you are Beethoven, you can imagine a complete orchestra even if you are deaf.

Now that I have bored you to tears, I would like to welcome new people surfing here for the first time. What you see here is really the beginning. I am in the process of recruiting new artists now, and beginning next week I will be introducing one. The artists that really interest me I affectionately refer to as the "circus freaks" of the music industry. They are the true innovators, the ones willing to eat ramen noodles for the rest of their lives in order to make music that means something.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How To Adust Your Bass

Last night I began the process of adjusting my son's bass. The first thing I did was Google to get a decent overview of the steps and how to perform them. Our kids will never have a sense of how much Google has changed our lives. They don't even have a concept of life before email! Anyway.. This link gave me all the information I needed, but nothing can really prepare you for the intricacies of instrument repair. You might as well just jump right in!

The advantage of having an inexpensive instrument (C has a Hohner copy of the Fender Precision bass) is that you don't really have to worry about damaging your investment. I purchased this bass for $150 back in 1989, when I was planning on teaching a friend to play. Raj was a huge reggae fan, but even simple reggae bass lines can be difficult for a beginner. One mistake I made was to attempt to teach him to play something "interesting" before he had any technique. That effort didn't last very long, but I have had the bass since then.

The first step in the bass adjustment process is to adjust the truss rod, the metal rod inside the neck that counters the string tension. Actually, our first step was to remove the neck completely because we didn't know what we were doing. I recalled some guitars having the truss rod bolt where the neck meets the body. This link from Fender shows that I was not losing my mind. However, this bass' truss rod is adjusted via the bolt at the top of the neck near the tuning pegs. The method described in the reference I used requires a capo on the 1st fret and a feeler gauge like those used to gap spark plugs. If you don't have one of those you can substitute guitar strings with known gauges.

The next step in truss rod adjustment is to locate a wrench that fits the truss rod. Here you must keep in mind the Universal Law of Allen Wrenches: the first set of wrenches you pick up when beginning the adjustment will not be the correct size for the truss rod. The corollary is: when you locate the set that should fit the truss rod, the wrench that fits is most likely missing from the set. You may try various screwdrivers or other tools, but they will probably not work either.

During this process you are very likely to be attacked by your cat who will act as if he has not eaten in weeks. Of course, he will have plenty of dry food, but during the process of bass adjustment, only 9 Lives Chicken and Liver Niblets will do. Neither shredded chicken flavor, nor beef, nor any type of fish will suffice. Don't even think about "Super Supper" or any other meat by-products.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Origins of MP3

Business Week is running an article on "How MP3 Was Born". It's a pretty concise view of how compression standards have evolved, if a bit light on the technical details. For more of that you can always try Wikipedia's MP3 overview, which looks pretty complete, with all the links you could possibly want.

In my day job I work on video compression software, so I have a little different take on how the various standards have evolved. It's kind of like making sausage, or it would be if nobody agreed on what should go into the sausage or how it should be prepared.

It all starts with the Motion Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), which is the organization of all the industry players, university researchers, and government bodies that come together to iron out the standards for how digital video and audio is implemented worldwide. Naturally, each group has its own agenda, and they do their best to ensure that their agenda works its way into the standard one way or another. After endless arguing, technical evaluation, testing, and more arguing, they eventually produce a "standard", which contains the specification for every type of sausage that may ever be produced by anyone for all eternity, or until the next revision of the standard. Meanwhile, companies with deep pockets have already been pushing their own proprietary sausages, and they claim that theirs is the finest sausage ever made. What's amazing is that anything ever gets accomplished at all.

The upshot for manufacturers is that they end up having to support several standards, which is sort of like having to learn to speak 8 languages fluently. Otherwise, they're screwed, and a lot of times they're screwed anyway.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

True Secrets of the Music Industry

Here at BitWorks we rarely reveal the true (and deadly) secrets of the music industry, but today I'm in a pretty good mood, so you're in luck! Behold:

I can neither confirm nor deny any past, present, or future ninja associations, which of course means I am true ninja.

In other news, today's local paper has this story about a pending $12.5M settlement against major broadcasters accused of taking payments for playing and promoting certain artists, a practice known as "payola". "This is the largest collective fine in the history of American broadcasting," said FCC member Jonathan Adelstein.

I long ago abandoned hope for commercial radio in this country. While there are a few bright spots of innovation (and I struggle to name one, sorry), corporate music is by its nature, well, corporate, meaning: profit driven, self serving, exploitive, homogeneous, insipid, boring, and a lot of other things I would rather not print here. Alas, there is hope. You're surfing in it!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pay Homage to the Hosting Gods!

For the past few days I have been debugging some backend code that was previously working, but is no longer. Now, I am a Unix geek from way back, but I am fairly new to the glorious world of shared web hosting. I now share a machine with a bazillion other users like myself (or maybe not so much like myself). I'm sure the fine support team at my web hosting provider consider me a grade A pain in the ass. They have my sympathy, but I am currently experiencing their wrath, whether intentional or not. So, dear surfer, if you are kind enough to purchase an album from us today, or in the next week or so, email notification of your order is kinda broken, though you will be redirected to your download properly after payment. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Def.: Geek