Deep Thoughts

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15 Rules for the Music Business 

Everyone has rules eh?  Or are there no rules?  What say you?  Anyways, these are 15 things I've learned from my 25 years as a full-time music professional.  I'm keen to hear your take:

15. Never talk to an A&R person before the gig. 

They will never stay for a whole show if you do. 

14. If you hear the same specific criticism about your music from a variety of sources you might want to take a look at that part of your craft and re-evaluate it. 

13. Surround yourself with musicians who are better than you and people who are smarter.  You should be the weakest link in the chain. 

12. If someone tells you, “We’re really not trying to mess with this part of your music….” Then that’s exactly what they are doing.   (This is the same things as when someone is saying “it’s not about the money” when it really is.) 

11. Never trust the judgment of someone who gets their music for free or doesn’t buy a lot of records.  They are out of touch (this applies most to “suits” or “mooks”). 

10. Show up on time, play in time and in tune. 

Anything else is less than professional.   Early is on time. 

On time is late.   Late is unacceptable. 

9. Do your freakin' homework! If someone gives you a CD to study for a session make sure you know if like YOU wrote it. Learn how to make charts.  There's nothing that slows a session down than someone who didn't do their homework and is "looking for parts" to play on a song. 

8. Be a good hang.  Be courteous, polite and helpful.  Be personable and clean.  No-one wants to be around a scruffy, smelly person and they sure won't want to work with you again.  Get along with people and be open to collaboration.  It makes better music. 

7. Anything more than an 8-10 hour session is usually wasting time, effort and killing your team.  The law of diminishing returns.  Get some sleep and start anew. 

6. THERE ARE NO SHORTS IN ROCK N' ROLL.  I'm not kidding.  Only Jimmy Buffett can wear shorts on stage and I'm not even really sure he should.  Maybe only Angus Young (because it's a costume).  They are lackadaisical, too casual, look goofy and you won’t be taken seriously.  I don’t care how hot it is. 

5. It's all about relationships.  Be careful about burning bridges in the music biz 'cause you'll find you see the same people around year after year just with different jobs.  A great entertainment giant once told me as I was complaining about an unruly agent, "Ed, if I only did business with the people I like I'd lose 75% of my business".  They need you and you need them.  It's strictly business Sonny.  It's not personal.  Be polite, fair and professional and people will notice and want to help you. 

4. Know how to work with a budget and within a corporate structure.  If you come in on time, under budget and produce good results you'll instill confidence and get more work with bigger clients.  Learn how to work within the layers of a large organization such as a record label.  Make them look good. 

3. If you wanna' get involved and make something happen in the industry when you're just starting out hang around the creative folks, ie: other musicians, writers, fledgling producers, promoters.  They're the ones who will likely make things happen later on and you’ll see them down the road.  It all starts with a song and/or a concept. 

2. Diversify.  If you're a guitar player learn another instrument.  If you're a writer learn how to engineer.  Learn about producing.  If you're a drummer learn how to score for horns and strings.  Learn the business end too (ie: finance, promotion, PR, etc.).  There are so many facets to the music business.  Branch out and learn a little outside your natural skills.  This will help you later to stay alive despite trends and cycles in the industry. 

1. Be stubborn as hell.  Don't take no for an answer (You'll hear it a lot).  Work harder than everyone else but be wise enough to know when someone else is more talented and work with them.  Find your niche and try to always stay fresh. 

Now, go kick ass!


Thoughts on Cecil Taylor 

I guess I should start at the beginning: Lo those many years ago, when I first picked up an instrument, my main desire and goal in life was jazz and to one day be good enough to play on a Steely Dan record.  Yup, you read that correctly.  All of my closest music pals from my high school felt the same way.  How we figured it was that only the best cats played on Dan records so that's what we aspired to.  We had a lot to learn obviously (even though I still revere them today we will soon see I evolved).  Anyway, I'm still not "good enough" to play with that band but two of the reasons are pop music and songwriting intervened and then eventually I was exposed to Cecil Taylor.  When I first heard Cecil's music I realized what it must feel like to fly a 747 jet solo.  It was breathless, unfettered, unchained to any modern convention and completely, utterly free, propelling at 600 miles an hour.  The only way I can describe to my own experience was the way I felt when I played hockey.  I could skate away from anyone and dare them to catch me and the rink was the one place not even my father could touch me and the wind was always in my face to remind me I was alive.

Cecil taught me there's no one way to be brilliant and to forge your own path.  Rarely doing something the same way twice (unless it was absolutely the only way to do it right).  Breaking boundaries, charting new territory, exploring the unexplored or unimagined.  Pushing yourself beyond what you previously thought capable.  Going your own way.  Cecil always went his own way.  And he was absolutely uncompromising.  An important lesson to hold.  Always keep pushing.

He frequently collaborated but many will say he did his best work solo.  It's hard to argue with this and his catalog is so vast and diverse but when he did choose to collaborate it was always with the best musicians on the planet.  I mean, they were the only ones who could keep up with him!  He was an experimenter, a ground-breaker, and innovator and most certainly a certifiable genius. So while he received the Kyoto Prize, the MacArthur fellowship, the Jazz Pioneer award, NEA grants and many other accolades there weren't enough.  It's just not possible.  He was quite possibly the most unique musician this country has ever produced and while he doesn't need a monument to his greatness in my opinion (and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't care) more importantly we better not ever forget that a giant, a true monumental behemoth, once walked among us and made the rest of us gasp, go "wow" and only hope to one day reach those unimaginable heights while simultaneously taking our collective breaths away.

So when some, many actually, of my mainstream music friends ask me (often) why I would throw away a seemingly successful pop/singer-songwriter/producing career back in 2011 and pursue almost exclusively free improvisation I simply answer "Cecil Taylor".  I'll never reach the top of that mountain but Cecil singularly showed me how.

As I said on Facebook the day he died, "I can't think of another single musician who affected me, inspired me or taught me more with their music than Cecil Taylor did. You can say he's totally free now but he always was." #RIP #CecilTaylor

Terry Kath: Alive Again  

Music has always been a soothing force in my life, from childhood until now. Even in the darkest depths of despair and even drug addiction the only thing that would calm me down was music. It can put me to sleep instantly or jolt me awake and nothing jolted me more awake than the guitar stylings of Mr. Terry Kath. The first time I heard his lightning bolt guitar playing I was hooked and it was exactly then that I decided to become a professional musician. Nobody played with more passion, more soul, more pizzazz than Terry. He could wake the dead with his guitar playing or put you to bed but either way make you feel good about it. He had a knack to always play the right thing for a song, without showing off for the sake of showing off, yet just slay you with his choices. His phrasing, his attack, the sting he put into every note. He sounded like no-one else but made you want to sound just like him. Of course, that's impossible as I've learned, but that's a great thing. Because the world needs to remember and recognize what a monster this guy was. When you hear great music, there is a phenomenon where you actually lean forward in your seat; to get closer to the music as it's happening or maybe to listen harder. Either way, nobody did that and does that, to me still like Terry Kath. It's astounding listening to the recordings he did some 40 to 50 years ago that sound so incredibly fresh, vibrant, stunning...ALIVE. And let's not forget about his singing. The guy was one of the most soulful and expressive cats ever. Color My World? I mean, c'mon. Do the millions of people who have graduated or been married to that song even realize why they're moved? He didn't even write that one! THAT'S how emotive and soulful Terry was. Every song he played, every song he sang, every solo he took was a call to arms, a siren, a statement that his life--your life--depended on him delivering. And he always did. I hear there's a documentary made by his daughter about him and I hope it sees the light of day very soon so the entire world.  Not to just a few obsessives like myself, but so all can see, feel and hear how great he was and remember him in the upper echelon of guitar gods where he so rightly belongs. For me he'll always be #1. And that's high cotton my friends because #2-10 are the Beck's, Hendrixes et al you already know (and some maybe you don't as well). Heck, my mouse pad for my computer is an image of Terry!! But you need to know Terry too if you already don't. Listen to this live version of the classic Chicago nugget "25 or 6 to 4" you've heard endlessly on Classic Rock Radio all these years and focus on the solo and try not to be blown away. Then do more searches on YouTube to check out more of Terry. The real crime is there's not more of this out there for us to absorb, enjoy and wonder at but it's time the wider world at large knew what we know. Dig and peace: Chicago 25 or 6 to 4 live at Tanglewood 1970

Gear update: A game-changing device-the RME Fireface 802  

I've produced a lot of records. I've written a lot of songs and been fortunate to work with some tremendous artists. I've also used a great deal of recording gear in the last 25 years trying to get "that sound". Some are great, some less so (see my last blog post!) but no piece of gear has surpassed my expectations as much as the RME Fireface 802 recording interface. Here’s why: 

You'll see and read a lot online about this piece of gear and that and "what it can do for you" but the folks at RME have taken their task extremely seriously. The Fireface 802 is the most user-friendly piece of equipment I have ever used. First off, the sound of the unit is superb. The preamps are clear and accurate and the converters are among the best I've heard, especially at this price point but not exclusive to price. Listening to mixes I did on a similar competitor's interface right before buying the Fireface 802 I heard new detail and dimension I hadn't heard previously. Not hyped, not exaggerated but exactly what I thought I had recorded and worked so hard on to get right. Further, the I/O of this unit is spectacular. There are so many configurable options that it should serve just about any recording situation, whether at home, a project studio or larger facility. In fact, it's going on the road with me from now on no matter where I work. It's that great and easy to use. Which brings me to the most fabulous part of this machine: the TotalMix software. Obviously a great deal of thought and consideration went into the design of this software.  To my mind it puts to shame nearly everything else on the market.

As PC users like myself can attest, with the advent of Pro Tools 11 and onward you have to turn off the Windows sound capability to use and monitor Pro Tools properly which means you can no longer listen to iTunes, YouTube or anything else on your system unless you import it into Pro Tools. A real PITA. However, because the TotalMix becomes your monitoring system this is no longer an issue. Plus, it virtually eliminates latency by monitoring via TotalMix and not your Pro Tools session. The TotalMix defaults to 1024 samples in Pro Tools at start up and using the software allows you to never have a crash by overloading CPU at lower sample times and record at that rate with practically zero latency. Genius! You also can set up separate headphone mixes, talkback (!!!), more than one output monitor channel and on and on. When I first installed the unit and the software popped up (after installing the latest drivers from the RME site) I immediately groaned "Oh no, another learning curve..." but no! Even a child can do it. It took me all of ten minutes to install and get the Fireface 802 going with my computer and start working in a session. It's so simple really and dare I say, LOGICAL! Yes!!! Oh yeah, and they even have an app that can control the TotalMix. Amazing! And better yet the customer support is among the best I have experienced in my career. Truly. They even have extremely sensible YouTube tutorials for those that can't deal with manuals (But RTFM!!! ). Their UK distributor Synthax for instance is a well-known and respected outfit who take their customers seriously. This is a machine for PROFESSIONALS. Very, very impressive. If you're on the verge of buying an interface or wobbling on which unit to get please take a look at the RME line of products. You won't be disappointed. This device has solved all my problems. My job is much easier now. 

PS-It works great with Macs too! 

Ed Pettersen 

London, UK 

Feb. 13, 2017

Gear experiences: Who to buy from and who not to  

I've been mulling this post over for quite some time. I'm not here to sell gear. I've stopped making demos of new gear I get or stuff I own because it's not my business. However, musicians spend a ton of money trying to get "the sound in our heads" and find new colors and approaches to best help us translate our art. So I thought I'd post about a few outstanding experiences I've had in the gear world and a few horrendous ones. 

First, the good ones. 

The companies that I've had the absolute best experiences dealing with and actually truly support musicians completely are Barefoot Pedals, Pigtronix, Trutone and Evidence cable. All four have outstanding customer support and back their products fully and completely. 

Donner Rusk at Bearfoot is a total mensch and he and Bjorn Juhl makes some of the most distinct, diverse and useful guitar pedals on the planet. They truly love music and musicians and they live for this stuff. The pleasure it gives them to hear musicians using their work is fun to watch. Huge props boys. Keep up the great work. 

Pigtronix similarly makes really complex, useful, ground-breaking and unique devices and my experience with them has been superb. They listen, update their products when possible and take care of stuff if and when it breaks down (c'mon, everything does once in a while). Fantastic. Cheers to David Koltai and crew. 

Trutone. What can I say about Trutone. They are the pinnacle of product and musician support. I went to Europe and ran into a case of needing special cables to make a certain pedal work. They shipped them out right away to me. For free. They wouldn't even accept shipping. Good god. Also, when I had some One Spot power supplies fail after a few years I sent them back to them AND THEY SENT ME 3 NEW ONES. FREE. Holy Christmas!! Talk about customer support. These folks deserve and award. A+++++ 

And speaking of awards, besides having world-class, award-winning cable technology Evidence Audio is there for you 100%. Why? When I had one of their cables started to fail (it still worked but the plug got a little wonky) they told me to send it in, sent me a new one right away within two days, and fixed the old one for free and sent that to me as well!! What?!?!? Customer service? What's that you say??? Well, there you go. First class all the way and first class human beings to boot. Later, when I considered that the I/O cable of my custom pedal board was darkening my tone vs. straight in the pedals I called them to talk about it. Three days later 20 feet of their highest quality cable showed up, again for free. Sheesh. A guy could get used to this!!! Amazing. 

So, support Evidence Audio, Truetone products (their pedals are great too), Pigtronix and and Bearfoot Pedals. I know I'm leaving some folks I think very highly of out but these are the four most outstanding examples so I hope my other comrades will forgive me. 

Now, for the bad and the ugly. 

I really can't recommend that you buy from Vintage King. Yeah, I know, they have the "cool factor" and they do a lot to cultivate that. I also genuinely like their sales people but their customer support is the pits. THE PITS. I bought a UA Apollo Twin interface from them last year (I had bought a few fairly high priced pedals before this so I had some experience with them). It never worked right. First off, the power supply was wonky and intermittent. They told me to contact UA (more on them later). They didn't respond right away and I thought I got it working so time goes by. However, the interface isn't really working properly. Something is amiss. By now I'm living in London. It turns out UA tells me the machine was a re-box and was registered to someone else. Vintage King says no. Still no new power supply. Eventually, after weeks and weeks of back and forth and losing a ton of expensive production time I had to let pass by, UA de-registers my unit, assigns it to me and sends me a new power supply. This whole time Vintage King is USELESS. I mean, truly worthless. They couldn't have been less help except they made me run circles around myself chasing the issue and interfacing with UA and....I'm out of breath. One of the worst experiences of my professional career. Never again Vintage King. It's funny too because a friend who owns a studio in Norway asked me to get them a new Pro Tools rig complete with 32 channels, etc. and it was gonna' cost over $25,000. Sorry Vintage King. You lose that sale. 

Now, let's get back to UA. 

Let me start by saying I really do like their products, in theory, and their plug ins are fantastic. Their customer support? Not so much. Here's why: 

Every time I had a problem, for almost three months by the way it was intermittent or I was shut down completely, it would take them 2-3 days, sometimes more, to get back to me. For full-time professionals that is unacceptable. So I deduce they are not a company for professionals but instead hobbyists. But I digress. This whole issue with my machine, from power supply to wrong registration, could have been solved in a week not three months. Ah, but that's not the worst offense. Dig this: When Windows 10 had the big update last August or September the machine stopped working altogether. What? What gives? So I do some checking on the web and find I'm not alone. So I go to the UA website and they have a post "whatever you do don't do the automatic new Windows 10 update".. OHHHHHHHHHHHHH, now you tell us! Could I have checked the UA website before the update (even though my computer does it automatically...). Could I have stopped it? Sure. But UA sends me marketing emails every dang day or at least every other day and they have your email when you register their product for you to access their customer support and web store but they can't send out an email warning of this issue? C'mon. I was born at night but it wasn't last night. The pits. I sold the machine the next day. Bye, bye UA. never more. I don't care how good people claim your product is. 

And one last gear purchasing caveat today for my friends in Europe or the UK: Don't buy from Thomann. They have the absolute slowest and worst return policy of any site I've ever bought from and if you know me you know I've bought a ton of gear. I had a problem with a brand new pedal and it took 2 months to replace and that was only after I got the manufacturer themselves to intervene. Trust me, there's tons of other, better, more friendly web stores to buy from with great return policies. Guitar Guitar in the UK is my first choice for instance. They have a no questions asked return policy and one day shipping. A+. There are plenty of others as well but avoid Thomann. It isn't worth the time or frustration. 

So there you have it friends. Big Ed's rant on gear but please share your stories as well. It's our money and time after all. 


My Janet Reno 

My Janet Reno 

As the eulogies roll in you'll be hearing a lot, kind and unkind, about my dear Aunt Janet in the coming weeks but please let me tell you about the person, not the public figure, that I knew and what she meant to me. 

There was no more honest, incorruptible, moral, strong, solid and fair human being that ever lived. That is not hyperbole, just a straight fact. There was no grey area with her. Life, and right or wrong, was black and white. When we learned in school how our government should work and how our representatives should behave and how the world should be I can honestly say that she more than any other person or public figure I ever met completely and utterly embodied that spirit and meant it with every fiber of her being. 

We grew very close over the last several years especially after working on the Song of America project which I'm so happy to say made her very proud. She considered it one of her finer achievements which is really saying something.  We would often sit on the porch of the modest house her mother built pondering the peacocks that wandered the "Reno ranch" as the family called it and shoot the breeze about politics, music, nature, human nature, comedy (she enjoyed the Daily Show, Mr. Colbert and Carlos Mencia) and the vagaries of life. She was a spiritual person who believed in a higher power and the power of the human spirit. She loved old folk songs, especially "Red River Valley" which I would sing for her over and over again. I was fortunate enough to say my goodbyes to her last Christmas when we had become aware the twilight was coming and sing to her several songs she loved including "Little Drummer Boy" which put a twinkle in her eye. 

I learned a great deal from Aunt Janet and she had a profound effect on me, how I dealt with life and business, and I know she made me a far, far better person from the first day we met. I think she had that effect on a lot of people witnessed by the stream of old friends, colleagues and some folks she only met or dealt with briefly who came by in the last year to tell her how much she meant to them and how she affected their lives. 

One time while promoting the Song of America together we had done a string of interviews one day and her Parkinson's was getting to her. She asked if I could cancel the last TV crew for another day. I told her that they were probably already on their way but I could call tell them and say we ran late with the last interview. The entertainment business is slippery, they'd understand. She looked at me with that trademark cold, deep, distant stare and said, "Ed, there's no slippery with the truth". Understood. She toughed it out and did the interview. 

We'd often drive her around on her time off, which was rare as she was a workaholic, and if the speed limit was 55 and I went even 56 she would turn and just look at me. One time while she was Attorney General we went for ice cream with the FBI detail in tow about a half-hour from her apartment in Washington. The kid behind the counter got a little flustered and when we got back home we realized none of us had paid for it. we went back to the ice cream shop. The manager told us not to worry that it was on him but she said, "No, I got this". As usual, it was the right thing to do. 

That's a phrase you'll hear a lot over the next few days and weeks, “the right thing to do”. She always told us, and her people at the Justice Department, to not do what was popular, not do what gets us ahead, not do what's expected of you but always, always, do what's right. That's the main thing I, and many others who were fortunate enough to get close to her, will remember to our last breath. I have grown to carry it with me every day. 

So to those people who have criticized her in the past and I'm sure will criticize her in death I say I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry for your misplaced anger and your lack of understanding of our system and your lack of compassion for your fellow man. I'm sorry you needed a target to vent and I'm sorry you chose the wrong person. But know this; she didn't hate you nor anyone and she was your Attorney General, she was your guardian and she believed in all that is good and right in this world and would fight for it for everyone despite whether they liked her or not. 

Thank you Aunt Janet, for your service, your humility, your dedication, your determination and your commitment. The world is a better place because you were in it. And I'll miss you very, very much.

My top 5 guitar effect pedals  

Okay, so I get asked about guitar pedals all the time because I guess I'm known as an aficionado and purveyor of all things wild and wacky in effects. Yeah, I own a lot of guitar pedals. To me they are like colors of paint. Use them too much and they kill the landscape but used properly, intelligently and sparingly they can bring life to a performance and quite possibly inspire new sounds, compositions and direction. So here are my top five all-time in no particular order (it's impossible to pick a favorite child): 

1. Eventide H9 Max. An incredible piece of gear, especially with the software app that allows you ton tailor sounds to your needs and sequence them in playlists in your unit to correspond with how you use it in the studio or live performance. Brilliance incarnate. My only wish is that they get longer delay times in their delay algorithms. 

2. Pigtronix Echolution 2 Deluxe. Quite possibly the most diverse, best sounding and complete delay on the market again with a wonderful, thoughtfully designed app to tailor your presets. Fantastic and great people to boot. 

3 .Paul Trombetta Designs Mk 1+8v, Velocitine and Rotobone. How could you pick between these three? Paul is a true genius visionary of fuzz and his circuits are unique, intuitive, responsive, unpredictable (until you get to know them) and inspiring. Sure, there's a long waiting list but it's well worth it. 

4. Catalinbread Heliotrope and Adineko. The Heliotrope is a ring mod/synthy/fuzz/distortion unit that sounds unlike anything else I've ever played. I can't tell you how many times it's inspired me to create something new. The Adineko is a new addition to my arsenal but it's a unique oil can delay that has it's own special character. It can go from sort slap to multiple repeats, left-right panning, reverb, oscillation at the slight turn of a knob yet is simple and intuitive. A whole lot in a small package. Check it out. 

5. Pettyjohn Electronics Iron Overdrive. Simply the best and most versatile overdrive pedal I've played. Great tone control, tasty drive, multiple clipping choices, CLEAN BLEND, and sturdy construction. I was planning on developing my own overdrive with clean blend especially for slide guitar but possibly the Iron has put paid to that journey. 

Honorable Mention: 

Monsterpiece Fuzzes. They could easily go to up top on the list, and maybe should, because I use them on every session. Literally, in some fashion whether it's the PNP fuzz, the DZT or the Angry Dick 2000. Must haves and very affordable. 
Dawner Price Boonar delay. The best Echorec delay pedal I've heard with switchable heads. Sweet. 
Bearfoot Sea Blue EQ, Pink Purple Fuzz, Model G OD and Pale Green Compressor. Real working musician tools that sound fantastic and are smartly designed. I couldn't work without them. A+++ 

So there you go kids. Those are my faves but not at all a comprehensive list of everything I use regularly and moves me. What inspires you? Lemme' know. Cheers!

Improv and Me 

I've never openly discussed this, because I didn't think it needed to be, but recently since I moved to London I've met and bonded with an incredible group of like-minded free improvisers; free in spirit, mind and most importantly expression of their craft and they have asked me a few times why someone who has had a good career in the mainstream music business would so doggedly and determinedly pursue such a small, isolated and distinct segment of music. First of all, I'm an endlessly curious boy and I'm always looking to learn something new and challenge myself.  But mostly I think it all goes back to high school. You see, my high school actually had the audacity to have an electronic music department that spurred my initial passion and set the wheels in motion. Further, I wasn't the only one in my group fascinated by the experiments of guitarist Robert Fripp and his tape loop endeavors. Add a healthy dose of prog rock and jazz and you're a goner. At least I was. 

So though I've been immersed in the "commercial" music biz for these last 25 years and I'm extremely happy with my path there was something missing. So back in 2010 while I was waiting for the book proofs of "I Curse the River of Time" which ended up taking almost 9 months, I decided to fill my days with reconnecting with the passions of my youth. They were calling me (and had been for some time actually). You can hear snatches of it if you listen closely enough to a couple of my records from that time. I started chasing my dream as they say and had the crazy determination to start cold calling some truly wonderful and accomplished jazz, avant-garde, free jazz and free improvisers and threw myself in. It was quite easy actually. Almost everybody said yes (only one didn't) and I've made true friends for life in Cooper Moore, Thollem McDonas, Tracy Silverman, the great Giuseppi Logan, Jeff Lederer, Frode Gjerstad, Jessica Lurie and many others. It has been the most fulfilling time of my life and there's no going back. 

I don't want to play the same thing anymore. Hell, I don't even ever want to play the same thing twice. Why? What's the purpose of repeating yourself except for someone else's gratification or consumption? I want to explore new horizons with each new sound, touch, tone, space, time...I want to be surprised every time I touch an instrument, electronic device or a piece of wood. 

I know even some of my Nashville friends think I'm nuts but I'm the happiest I've ever been since moving to London and the scene here is second to none. Really strong and vital. Besides, I have 5 singer-songwriter/band albums in the can. They will come out in good time so I'm not completely abandoning anything but now it's time for me and my soul. It will make me a better person and musician. I hope some of you will enjoy the process and come along for the ride. Cheers!

Last Thoughts on Record Store Day 2014  

Yeah, I stood in line.  Again.  I missed last year because I was in Norway but scored some of my choices via some wonderful, goofy, committed friends who stood in line for me but this year I got up at 5am to get over to Grimey’s New and Pre-loved Records to gamble on getting what I wanted.  The line was around the corner already, some camping out since the night before, but when it condensed around 8am I realized I was approximately number 45 in line.  Not bad but in 2012 I was #36 in line at the Great Escape here in Nashville and a good deal of what I wanted was gone (or they didn’t get it which I’ll touch on later). 

The first thing that struck me while waiting is that it was pretty cool that folks are still willing to get up that early (or sleep out) to buy limited edition vinyl releases.  However, in 2011 and 2012 the line was much longer that early.  This year the line didn’t start to get long until about 9:30, a half hour before they opened their doors.  Were people getting burned out on RSD?  Were they simply over waiting in line?  Did they think enough would be there for them when they got in the store? 
As for being burnt out I think the answer is a bit yes.  However, though stores seem better equipped for demand now (including Great Escape) some choice titles were gone soon after I got in the door (indeed, I scored the only copy of School of Seven Bells’ “Put Your Sad Down” EP in Nashville apparently, or at least the only one Grimey’s got) so waiting in line is nonetheless important. 

The second thing that struck me while I was in line is the complete lack of community.  I wasn’t expecting to be chatty but several people around me had their ear buds in and weren’t interested one bit in engaging at all, even looking you in the eye (what is this, New York?), or discussing what records we were interested in.  Are we too cool now?  I did make a new friend with my buddy Jose who was just behind me in line and had recently retired from the military.  Jose knew his stuff having seen a lot of live shows at festivals while stationed in Europe and he epitomized for me the reason we are all doing this.  A music nerd just like me and proud of it but luckily not in the industry and not too cool to hang. 

It took us roughly 40-45 minutes once the doors opened for us to get in ourselves and yes a few things were gone already like the Phil and Dave Alvin record.  Grimey’s was one of four stores outside of Third Man Records to get the new Neil Young (which I was privy to from the night before since I stumbled on a blog that reported it was out already on Third Man’s web site) but Grimey’s did not receive one copy of the Live at Newport 1963 album I wanted.  Luck of the draw. 

In addition to the Neil Young I did score both Wes Montgomey 10” records, the amazing Donnie Hathaway live double album, the Rough Guide to African Blues, Gil Scott-Heron, Hank Williams’ 10” Garden Spot Program 1950, the aforementioned School of Seven Bells, about ten singles (7 of which were for my buddy in Norway) and the truly horrendous Bruce Springsteen EP, “American Beauty”.  Bruce has really jumped the shark for me I’m afraid.  His new album is crap, I mean, really crap (and it ain’t Tom Morello’s fault) and this RSD release is an obvious and insulting money grab from an artist I used to respect.  But hey, it’s my fault really.  Why did I expect an EP of outtakes from a garbage album to be any good?  But I digress…the score of the day for me was the beautifully executed Jason Molina/Songs: Ohia box which I had seen online at eBay the night before for $160. (!) and as a huge Molina fan was terrified I couldn’t afford.  Ended up being $67. Which is another problem with RSD: shills and hacks.  Supposedly mom and pop independent stores are supposed to be getting these releases exclusively and that may be true but obviously some without any scruples are listing them ahead of time (and after RSD) on sites like eBay at inflated prices.  Paul Weller himself bristled at this practice and it will eventually, along with apathy and big labels co-opting it, ruin RSD. 

I did head over to Great Escape to see if I could find a few things I didn’t get at Grimey’s and I was surprised to find the Gram Parsons (#82 out of 2000!!), Steve Earle, Jaco Pastorius (plus poster which Grimey’s was out of when I got in), a few more singles for my buddy but not the Harry Dean Stanton which neither Great Escape nor Grimey’s received AT ALL.  However, I found out later in the afternoon that venerable Ernest Tubb on lower Broadway had ONE COPY left out of 9 they receieved.  I’ll be right there!!  My buddy was thrilled when I emailed him.  Part of the issue with getting releases is that some stores deal with middle men and some get their stash directly from their distributors who are active in RSD.  To their credit though Great Escape sells only used records and CD’s they were better prepared for demand this year so I imagine it’s getting a bit easier for stores to get the RSD exclusives. 

All tolled I spent over $400. and spent it gladly.  This RSD to me had the most fertile crop of releases, at least for my taste, since the emergence of RSD and I’m not buying these records to collect.  They are to listen to and I spent the next few days listening gleefully.  Every release was a winner except the Springsteen which I suppose I can melt into a popcorn tray or something.  Sheesh. 

I am afraid however we need to be vigilant so that RSD doesn’t get overexposed, if it hasn’t already, and doesn’t get ruined by eBay hawkers (there was someone on line in front of us at Grimey’s who had three other people at other stores in line themselves and they were coordinating via phone and discussing how much they could get once they list on eBay, etc.) and remains truly special as far as releases.  If it’s exclusive to special releases, found recordings, long out of print rare recordings, special art pieces, unique collaborations and the like that’s a good start.  The Songs: Ohia box is a perfect example of everything RSD should be; a beautiful art piece with extra touches like 45rpm single spindle and deluxe booklet along with 9 45’s of rare recordings.  Also, let’s not let the big boys take it over like they do everything else and if they do let’s do something else.  After all, isn’t that what hipsters and snobs do best?   But most of all let’s keep it a community of exciting discovery and enthusiasm which is how we all got started in this game and not be so cool that we can’t bother to take our ear buds out of our cheap electronic devices and share.  Now, I’m gonna’ go back to my pile of vinyl and refurbished Dual 704 turntable I bought on RSD from Richard at Vintage Hi Fi and spin baby, spin.

The Skin Game 

The Skin Game 

For musicians, there is nothing more important than our creativity and our ideas. It is our lifeblood. Even if the wider audience never embraces us, we know “I did this,” and can point to our accomplishments with pride. Take away anything and everything you like from me in this business and in this world (save my amazing wonderful wife), but not my songs, my ideas. My songs are part of me. My creativity is the one thing that is uniquely mine that I can hold on to through all the ups and downs. 

In the past I’ve been very impatient with musicians who threaten to quit the music business because they were too sensitive for it--they were delicate flowers, and demanded an outpouring of support to stay. They were lucky to be making music! But recently, I’ve seen another side of this. An experience in the last few months in this sphere was the most crushing in my life and precipitated a crisis in my sobriety and my will to continue on. 

One of the very first songs I ever wrote was cut by celebrated blues artist Bettye LaVette on her Grammy-nominated comeback record in 2007. It was a dream come true. I was invited to the record release party in New York City, and when she sang my song and graciously had the spotlight turned on me in the audience to announce me as the songwriter, I had tears in my eyes. 

The song was one that I wrote very early in my career and recorded for my first album. I left it off the album at the last minute because I wasn’t quite happy with it, but I still have an early master of the album with the song on it. The version that Bettye ended up recording is a co-write with another Nashville songwriter, but much of the original content is intact from when I first wrote it. I had ended up working with my co-writer when I was looking to get my foot in the door in the Nashville publishing world. A publisher whom I knew casually suggested I write with one his writers because, in his words, “she was in a rut” and he thought we’d make a good team. I like to think that I give credit where credit is due, and when Bettye came to Nashville I invited my co-writer to the show and introduced her to Bettye and Bettye’s husband as the co-writer on our song. 

Fast forward five years later, when Bettye’s biography is published. A fantastic account of Bettye’s amazing journey to survive and finally thrive in the cutthroat music industry, it deservedly hit the New York Times' bestseller list and earned rave reviews. However, when I read my copy and got to page 224, I was shocked to find this: “After weeks or deliberating it came down to ten songs [for her 2007 The Scene of the Crime album] including…'I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now' co-written by the brilliant Kim McLean.” I had been made to disappear. 

I was heartbroken when I read that. Bettye knew full well I wrote the song, I was the one who personally brought her the song in the first place and she had singled me out at its release! I talked it out with Bettye and it became obvious that my co-writer had been courting Bettye and her husband. It seems my co-writer had snowed them with her past credits and maybe even talked about her contributions to our song to the point that it prompted Bettye and her husband to ask this question: “Sometimes a co-write is a co-write if someone is just in the room with you, how was it with you and Ed?” And according to Bettye, Kim’s answer was a shrug and a “Well, you know how it is.” Anyone who reads that book may not believe me when I say that was my song. And that was the crushing blow that finally broke me. 

I’ve done some incredibly stupid things in my time and I’m extremely sorry to anyone I may have hurt or offended or caused to worry. But one thing my friends attest to is that I have heart, loyalty, and integrity. These are the things my parents didn’t fail to instill in me. They are traits that were the most important to them. I know, that’s asking a lot from the entertainment business. 


As musicians and people we need to be better than this. In my mind what’s wrong with the music business is not illegal downloading, though that certainly and positively sucks. It’s that we have been given this beautiful and magical grace of God in our lives, the rhythm of life and language everyone on this planet can feel and understand regardless of background, and we’ve turned it into a skin game. Taken it for granted, made it disposable and maybe gotten lazy. We’re not used-car salesmen. We all need to cherish the creation a lot more and respect it with all our hearts and souls. It’s not something to be taken lightly. 

Next time you hear a great idea or hear a wonderful tune, please give credit. Have a kind word, congratulate folks, be happy for them. Share the love, for we are not here forever--no one gets out of here alive, and I dare think we all got into this business because music makes our lives a little bit better. This applies equally to the musicians and to those of us who just love music. I believe music makes our lives a lot better. Richer. Let’s not let music, or its creators, slip away from us so easily. 

Thanks for listening. I wish you love and peace. Support your local musicians! 

P.S.I guess I already wrote and recorded a song with my Norwegian band The Black Country that's perfect for this situation: 

There's People Out There