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Social Media Free 11 Years Strong
December 5, 2022


Do you remember when I was an avid social media user? I was once on MySpace (and AOL before that) but it was in the late 2000s that some of you might remember seeing me as a regular on Facebook. In September of 2011, I deleted my Facebook account. By the end of the year, I was completely done with social media.

I quit social media for two reasons: privacy and health.

Privacy

Social media services gather enormous volumes of data about their users. They know everything about you: what you say, what your interests are, who your friends are, who you communicate with, where you go, what businesses you frequent, etc. The more you use it, the more they learn about you. They then compile, store, and sell that information.

This data collection is intentionally unobtrusive. Even though it's roughly the equivalent of being followed everywhere by a complete stranger who stands over your shoulder and documents everything about your life, it's actually a silent, invisible process running in the background. The only indicator a social media service is gathering any data about you at all is found in the tiny print of their privacy policy.

People care about their privacy, but most only care to an extent. For them, the thrill of using social media outweighs any privacy concerns, so they turn a blind eye to the data collection and storage. My guess is that 99.99% of social media users have never read a privacy policy.

Health

Most people use social media as a tool, but oftentimes it's the user that becomes the tool. Before I quit Facebook, I realized that most of the time I spent on it was wasted. Did I really need to learn that someone I haven't seen for five years had surgery on his foot? No. Did I really need to know what my neighbor had for lunch an hour ago? No. Likewise, I was certian none of these people needed or wanted to know the details of my life. Facebook was a fun way to pass time, but from a practical point of view, I realized it was not enriching my life.

When I quit, I lost contact with a lot of friends, but all I lost was the arbitrary contact. I didn't lose any of the necessary contact. My family and friends still reached me just fine in person, over the phone, and through email. I took the time I had freed up and used it to benefit my life offline.

Social media is convenient way to keep up with family and friends, but for people with personality disorders, it can become an addiction. Studies have shown that likes and comments trigger a dopamine rush, which makes social media especially addictive to people with lowered self-esteem. Do you know someone who posts a lot of selfies? It doesn't take a psychologist to figure out what's going on.

People with narcissistic personality disorder combined with low self-esteem make social media a necessary crutch in their lives. They are so afraid of being judged that they avoid people in real life and instead present a fabricated, exalted version of themselves online. In real life they may have a track record of being egocentric, intolerant, and unempathetic, but on social media they can portray themselves as caring, loving, and compassionate. They do this to generate positive feedback, even if it's from complete strangers, because positive feedback is the only kind they are emotionally able to handle.


If I ever do return to social media, it will need to be paid service — I would rather pay for privacy with my money than pay for a free service with my privacy. Until then, I'm perfectly happy using my website to convey everything I want to share.
This news page gets a lot of hits every day. I find that a surprising considering the world today is dominated by social media, but maybe it's because I'm a musician still delivering information the old fashioned way — instead of cramming your news feed full of filler, I'm selectively creating content for you to come read whenever it's convenient for you.

As long as that works for you, it will work for me, too.

 


 

Are Virtual Instrument Libraries Overpriced? I Say Whine Not
November 21, 2022

Note: This is an industry-specific topic that may not appeal to the general public.

Every now and then, in a music forum somewhere on the internet, you'll find a musician whining: "Why does Developer ABC charge $500 for their virtual instrument library when Developer XYZ sells their library of the same instrument for $250? If any developer charges more than $250, they're obviously greedy. If ABC wants my business, they'll have to cut their price in half."

These complaints all scream the same thing: "I have very little experience as a VI composer, absolutely no experience in business, and I'm completely clueless about economics... but I'm going to tell everyone in this industry things should be done anyway."

If you'll please indulge me, here's my response to all the like-minded whiners:

Not all products are created equal. If I wanted to create, say, a symphonic string ensemble library, there are unlimited ways I could go about it. I could create it from free samples found on the internet. I could also hire an orchestra, rent a movie scoring stage, hire a team of recording engineers and scripters, record ten times as many samples as other libraries for ultra-deep sampling, etc. The first option would cost me nothing, whereas the second option would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you're not experienced enough to hear, appreciate, and understand the time, money, and effort that went into that second library, you have no business telling me that my retail price for that library is too high.

That $500 library exists for a reason — the basic economics of supply and demand. If one string ensemble library offers two dynamic layers and the other library offers four or five, you may not hear or care about the difference, but a discerning composer will, and they'll be willing to pay the higher cost to cover the expense of creating such a library. How can you possibly suggest a library is overpriced if it is actively and successfully selling at that price?

You're not a virtual instrument industry expert. You've never sat on the board of a large developer. You've never researched, financed, developed, marketed, and sold a virtual instrument library. Your only experience with virtual instrument libraries is that of a consumer. So, while your outspoken complaints about retail prices might make you a hero among some of your fellow cash-strapped, inexperienced peers, if you're going to set foot in a forum full of industry experts and start suggesting they're overpricing their products, don't expect the same hero's welcome. You're just going to be passed off as a troll.

My personal belief is that these complaints are borne from a sense of entitlement. All young, budding bedroom music composers wish they could have the same tools as professional composers, but few can afford them. This is normal. We all start out as poor musicians, and it can take us years, even decades, to work up to the level of being able to afford higher priced tools of our trade. That's how the world works. But entitled kids today want the high-priced tools NOW. Instead of learning from the tools they have available to them, they'd rather waste their time making spiteful comments about the tools they wish they had.

I started out in the recording business as a young person working a minimum wage job. A lot of my equipment was borrowed. As the years went by, I took out loans and invested in better equipment. Through the years since, I worked hard and have become able to purchase the tools I need to do what I want to do. It clearly wasn't an overnight process.

If you cannot afford the virtual instruments you want today, stop whining about how expensive they are and focus your time and energy on developing your skills with what you already have. The experience you'll gain learning how to make cheaper libraries sound their best will benefit you much more than you realize. My first productions forced me to find ways of squeezing realism out of the basic libraries I could afford at that time. The money I made from those productions, along with the skills I developed using those libraries, were then invested into the more comprehensive, more expensive libraries I use today.

There's nothing wrong with having and sharing an opinion about the price of a particular product, but the quickest way to making a complete jackass of yourself is to claim you know what's best for an entire industry when you have absolutely no experience in that industry to support your opinion.

 




Polka Paradise CDs Couldn't Escape USPS Hell
November 2, 2022


 
[Note: I'm going to keep the names of the people and places out of this article so that they don't come up in search engines, but they're probably not too difficult to figure out.]
 

Toward the end of September, a polka artist asked me to ship a box of "Escape to Polka Paradise" CDs to the hotel where she was staying in Minot, North Dakota. She needed them by 5pm, October 1, because that's when her bus was departing for Georgia on the next leg of her tour. I promptly shipped off a box of 92 CDs.

Right before her bus left the hotel, she called the front desk one last time and inquired about the package. The gentleman at the desk said no packages had arrived for her, so she left Minot without the CDs. As she was leaving North Dakota, she contacted me to tell me the CDs never arrived.

I got home later that night and checked the tracking number on the package of CDs. The number confirmed the package arrived at her hotel that morning. I called the hotel and the same gentleman reiterated the CD package never arrived, but when I told him it DID arrive, he immediately found it and apologized. I asked him to send it back to me, which he said he'd take care of right away.

On October 12, after still not having received the CDs, I contacted the hotel to find out what the status was but couldn't get a hold of the gentleman who was to have mailed them back to me. Over the next week, I tried to get a hold of him, but was unsuccessful. On October 18, I escalated the issue to the hotel manager. The manager found the box of CDs still sitting there. She apologized and said she'd have their regional manager take care of sending back the CDs right away.

I tried for a week to get a tracking number from the hotel, but they never returned my calls. Finally on October 21, the hotel manager called to say the CDs were shipped back using "Return to Sender". The original tracking number worked on the return, so I was able to watch the progress of the return — and what a ride those CDs took!

On October 18, the package was processed for return shipping. It arrived in Milwaukee on October 25. But then then the post office sent it to Minot, ND again and brought it back to Milwaukee, finally delivering it on November 2... postage due!

The box look like it had been through a war. When I opened it up, the contents were a disaster. Of the 92 CDs I sent, over three dozen were missing. Of the remaining CDs, over two dozen were too damaged to sell. The CDs were loose in the box. Almost all of the air bubble padding was missing.

When I pack wholesale CDs for shipping, ask any retailer and they'll tell you I pack them extremely well. I have a huge supply of bubble wrap, air pillows, and foam peanuts, and I use them liberally. For USPS to destroy a box of my CDs, they'd have to exercise some excessively negligent handling. It looks as though the box was tossed from such a great height that the CDs literally burst through the bottom of the box. I think postal workers probably then picked up what CDs they could salvage, tossed them into the box as-is, and swept of the rest of the broken jewel cases, scratched CDs, and packing material into a garbage heap.

Needless to say, I'm not thrilled. Everyone but me screwed up, and so far it's all come out of my pocket. That doesn't sit too well with me. I'm going to seek full shipping reimbursement from the hotel, and I'll be going after the post office for the destroyed and missing merchandise. If you are wondering whether or not I insured the package, I did not. There was no risk of porch piracy, and I pack CDs well enough to survive the roughest ground or air travel. I did not, however, ship these CDs with the expectation they'd be dropped from a three-story building, or that they'd get hauled to North Dakota twice and back to Wisconsin twice.

Those of you who know me best know that I am not a pushover when it comes to customer service. I've spent many years on both sides of the customer service counter. I know how to handle and solve problems like these, so as a customer, I expect to be treated as fairly and properly as I would treat a customer in my same situation.

I'll be posting updates on this debacle in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

-- UPDATE --

As of November 22, I have not heard back from the president of the company that owns the hotel. I'll allow a little more time for the letter to make its way through proper channels, but if I do not receive a response within 30 days, I will then take the opportunity to make public the names of the hotel, management personnel involved, and the company president who ignored my claim, and use various review platforms to share my experience.





What's the Best...?
October 16, 2022


I belong to several internet discussion forums related to music production, and if there's one question that keeps coming up in every forum, it's "What's the best...?" What's the best microphone for... what's the best preamp for... what's the best virtual instrument library for... what's the best audio cable for... what's the best reverb plugin for... etc. If I earned a nickel for every question posted that starts with "What's the best," I could retire from music.

There's a perfectly good reason why these questions are so common.

Unlike going to school to become a doctor, lawyer, or architect, music production is something most people get into as a hobby with no formal training. Without any idea of what it takes to be a music producer or engineer, they buy a few pieces of gear to get started and learn as they go along. While there's nothing wrong with that, people who start this way don't know what they don't know, so they tend to put far more importance on gear than knowledge. They often latch onto the common misconception that when it comes to music hardware and software, there is a definitive best this and a best that, and if they can only discover what these best tools are and buy them, they'll sound like a pro.

So they jump on the internet and ask questions like, "What's the best mic for recording vocals?" or "What's the best string ensemble library for film composing?" hoping to be graced by the industry's elusive keys to success. But then reality sets in when a hundred people respond with a hundred different answers.

The fact that every answer is different has a very profound meaning — there are no bests. There are only choices, and in order to choose wisely, one needs knowledge. It's a humbling revelation for young producers and engineers. The stars in their eyes start to dim as they realize no particular piece of software or hardware on earth is going to put them ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, the retail music industry preys on these inexperienced, wide-eyed music creators. Manufacturers advertise that if you want to give your music a professional edge, their product is the shortcut. And it doesn't help that the internet is flooded with self-proclaimed "experts" who puff up their chests and parrot what they read in those advertisements. But the cold, hard truth is that $200,000 worth of gear in the hands of an inexperienced music creator won't hold a candle to what an experienced creator can do with $2,000 worth of gear.

When I work with artists who record remotely in their own studios, I'm not nearly as concerned about the gear they use as I am about whether or not they know how to use that gear. If they have an acoustically-treated recording space, know how to place mics, and know how to set input and output levels, then the fact that they're using a $350 mic instead of a $3,500 mic is largely inconsequential.

If you're new to music production, don't let the hyped product advertising and internet forum cork sniffers steer you into investing over and beyond your needs. Whether it's a microphone or software plugin, focus on learning how to get the best sound possible with what you already have. At some point your hearing may become refined to where a gear upgrade is warranted, but don't upgrade your gear because others say it will make you sound better — wait until you have gained the knowledge to understand how and why it will.





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