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every now and then, i play on the street. it's pretty fun thing to do.

one of the cool things about it, if you do a fair amount of regular gigs in a year, and record your own music and stuff and practice and take lessons and all that, usually when you open the instrument case, there's a reason for it. so, to just take a banjo and go stand down on the corner and pick for God is really cool. it's not really a money thing, sometimes i don't even put a hat or box or whatever out there, and just play and in the middle of a song when someone is trying to put a dollar somewhere i just shake my head no. sometimes i do put a box out or receptacle of some kind. depends on the mood.

if you have an acoustic instrument, being able to do this is a real blessing. mostly to yourself rather than the public, they don't really care and just walk by or avoid you. mark graham told me about playing the harmonica on the street corner right outside the ferry terminal where i was to pick him up, he said that folks were crossing the street to get away from him. he could be the greatest harmonica player alive right now and one of the best acoustic music songwriters on the planet. but he got in the truck laughing about the whole thing.

i think it's a good idea to dish out some grace to folks. "here's some free art that i've devoted my life to developing, have some with your coffee as you go off to work." i think if you can play a guitar or something [especially the banjo!] pretty good and you stand there and smile, you can bless quite a few people. the blessing may at first seem like a troubling. sometimes you can see it in their eyes, "why is this grown man standing here in the middle of the day playing the #$%^% banjo?! and enjoying it on top of that! he should be killing himself on a dead end job for an ungrateful family like me." or something. not always but you can get that hostile vibe. maybe you would want to pick a better location. the mobility is one of the benefits. but i can't help thinking that i have planted the seed of beauty in someone's mind. sometimes the seed falls on rocks and sometimes it falls on fertile soil. but our job is to cast the seed about.

what i'm trying to suggest to folks via the busking, is to not forget to put your investment in the eternal things, not just the worldly stuff that will surely pass away. so i stand there and play the banjo and laugh.

here are some various observations on the subject of playing in the street:

this doesn't really happen where i personally live [in an area so remote there really isn't a music scene], but in some of the towns i visit, especially ...ahem..."music" towns, there can exist a bit of a collective wail from the folks trying to make a living via the musical arts. what has been revealed to me, is that we get the grace we give out. so, if you want folks to come to your shows or appreciate your art, why not make their day better and just give it away and bless them for it. if we sit around and stew on what we don't get, guess what, we get even less. i would suggest grace, give it away for free and smile and have fun. if your music doesn't bless folks or make them laugh or feel something or otherwise enjoy life more, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board. maybe what you are offering up doesn't taste that good. instead of working on the promo kit, lining up the gig, doing the press release, calling all your friends and all the other hundreds of tasks we can do for a single show, why not just go out on the main drag and start whomping it and see what the reaction is? that way you're just focusing on the music itself rather than the packaging. if you get the music where you want it, you win.
in busking, the hassle factor is zero and if things get weird you quit. there is no club owner to tell you "hey you are supposed to play till so and so time."

recently a friend sent an email about a new acoustic venue that opened up in a town about forty miles from me. so i thought, better investigate this, i'm always on the lookout for a good room to work in. so i read on the venue website in big letters "we don't pay the musicians, the audience's tips are how they get paid." as if this were some kind of philosophy to brag about. and i'm thinking....wow, why would i want to make an appointment to busk? if i want to draw a crowd with my banjo and songs, i can do that out of the back of my truck anytime i want to. and so can you, dear reader. i was just in nashville working some shows and i walked down there on broadway where all those bands play non-stop [they don't even stop to go the restroom, they just keep playing the whole time] working for tips. you can luck out and see some really great players down there sometimes....but man the parking hassle, the indifferent public, the requests for devil went down to georgia, the drunks, the bossy club owners....why bother with this? why not just play in the street! the terms are way better. and the sound is better.
and probably the money is better.

i guess folks think that if you play in the street you are a loser or something. that's what's so cool about the whole thing. you can do whatever you want. there are no expectations.
the reality is if you don't do this you are losing out.
it's one more instance of how conventional wisdom will leave you in the dark.

if a person can throw it down in the street, they will be able to do it in a venue. it will make you much stronger to be able to do a good busk. things to watch out for:
a. singing too loudly.
b. playing too hard, with no technique.
even though these things can be cool, if you get locked into these modalities, you might be sorry later. i just work at the volume at which i prefer to work and let the passerby deal with it or not.
one suggestion, there are some really great street performer amps available, battery powered, really loud, mic inputs, FX all kinds of stuff. and they are cheap. if you don't sing very loud, maybe get one of those. don't wreck your voice. unless you want to. that can sound cool too.

busking is also kind of like skateboarding in that sometimes there are laws against it. best to check on that.

i recall an instance traveling with the bad livers. we arrived at a venue and found the owner quite grumpy and unworkable. we refused to play in the venue and just played on the sidewalk. it was really funny to look inside through the big plate glass window into an empty venue, we had a crowd out front that was buying cds and enjoying the band and tossing money in a violin case. we just played and had fun and it was great. chalk one up for the musicians. we started when we wanted, we stopped when we wanted and the sound was excellent. another time, we were doing a showcase for a label in boston and the power went out. so we just played anyways. it was great. they had candles on the tables and we just picked church picnic style. everybody wins.

i recall being on the road as a sideman for a different band. they were great musicians and had won some awards and had great resumes and stuff. this job we were supposed to do got weird. i suggested "hey why don't we just go and play on the sidewalk!" they looked at me like i was insane haha! instead we went ahead and played a situation where the venue had us nailed financially and the context was all messed up. dude, pack up and take it to the street, it'll be fun. throw the musical knuckleball!

here is an interesting link:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR200704...
in the story a great violinist takes a great violin into the metro in dc and plays some of his most challenging pieces. incognito. what happens?
the article is worth reading if this subject interests you.
here is a quote:
"Actually," Bell said with a laugh, "that's not so bad, considering. That's 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn't have to pay an agent."

i think it would be a better idea to busk than to play in an inhospitable venue. or to do any gig that you don't feel really good about. hey why not do your own concert series at your house? on in some place that you discover?
i've seen some really cool stuff out there in my years of moving around, guys doing some far out stuff.
go play where you are wanted or where there is a good context for it. or just play in the street. no need to keep doing something that isn't working out. maybe God is trying to tell you something.
musicians are creative people, get creative.

i take great solace in knowing that if things get really bad for me, i can stand there and play the banjo and make enough to get something to eat on. or actual foodstuffs, i have been given lots of homemade bread, pies, jams, all kinds of stuff for just standing there playing random banjo stuff. singing my weird songs. man this is a good deal. every musician can partake of this.

Following the Bad Livers reunion at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Danny Barnes was interviewed (via phone) by Bryant Liggett, the program director at KDUR in Durango, Colorado. Listen to the interview here!

here's a whole 'nother way of looking at things.

Overture to the Schillinger System
Henry Cowell (~1941)

The Schillinger System makes a positive approach to the theory of musical composition by offering possibilities for choice and development by the student, instead of the rules hedged round with prohibitions, limitations and exceptions, which have characterized conventional studies.

If a creative musician has something of importance to say, his need for studying the materials with which he must say it is acknowledged as a matter of course. No great composer has ever omitted the study of techniques. Musical theory as traditionally taught, however, has always been a profound disappointment to truly creative individuals. Such men have invariably added to the body of musical theory with researches of their own. Invariably, also, they have not followed the "rules" laid down in conventional text-books with any consistency. If these rules had been based on something inevitable in the nature of music, composers would have had no reason to disregard them.

Actually, musical theory has dealt with no more than a small part of the potential musical materials; its assumptions concerning the science of sound have often been based on misapprehension, and the rules it lays down often reflect the personal taste of a certain theorist, or they may be based on the study of a single composer or of some one historical period. The resulting generalizations are far from being objective, but they are nonetheless imposed upon the student in the form of "rules". Writers on theory have not been scientists, and no scientist has tried to make a complete and co-ordinated system of musical possibilities.

Joseph Schillinger is the single exception: he was superbly competent in the two fields of musical composition and science. His monumental System of Musical Composition represents a lifetime of work in research, co-ordination, and creative discovery. The synthesis he achieved has resulted in an entirely new point of view about the function of theory studies.

In the course of the research which led to the formulation of his system of musical composition, Schillinger took all known facts concerning the nature of musical materials from conventional theory studies, and added to the discoveries and speculations of modern and less conventional theorists such as Schoenberg, Conus and myself. By applying the laws of mathematical logic, he found that he could co-ordinate all of the seemingly diverse factors. He found also that he could open further untried possibilities for the development of new materials. A glance at his Table of Contents will show an extraordinary number of aspects of music here organized for the first time for inclusion in the theoretical approach to the study of composition.

The idea behind the Schillinger System is simple and inevitable: it undertakes the application of mathematical logic to all the materials of music and to their functions, so that the student may know the unifying principles behind these functions, may grasp the method of analyzing and synthesizing any musical materials that he may find anywhere or may discover for himself, and may perceive how to develop new materials as he feels the need for them. Thus the Schillinger System offers possibilities, not limitations; it is a positive, not a negative approach to the choice of musical materials. Because of the universality of the esthetic concepts underlying it, the System applies equally to old and new styles in music and to "popular" and "serious" composition.

Schillinger is sometimes criticized on the basis that his system reduces everything to mathematics and that musical intuition and the subjective side of creativity are neglected. I have never been able to understand this criticism. The currently taught rules of harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration certainly do not suggest to the student materials adapted to his own expressive desires. Instead he is given a small and circumscribed set of materials, already much used, together with a set of prohibitions to apply to them, and then he is asked to express himself only within these limitations. It has been the constant complaint from students of composition that their teachers fail to make clear the distinction between the objective and subjective factors in music. A young composer is constrained, as things are now, to spend several years following rules deduced or assumed from the works of his predecessors, but as soon as his works begin to be heard he is reproached, and rightly so, if they sound like somebody else's. He has not been shown what possibilities there really are in music in any objective, scientific way, nor has he been trained in the manner best calculated to develop an original talent, by exercising his own taste and judgment in choosing from among those possibilities the materials best suited to his musical intention.

Whether or not one agrees with Schillinger's great personal interest in the scientific realities of music, it is nevertheless true that no composer is well equipped to express himself subjectively until he has so profound a knowledge of musical materials and their relationships that, consciously or unconsciously, he seizes on just the right ones to use for whatever he wishes to say in music. He can be trained to do this if he will subject himself to the disciplines inherent in musical materials themselves, as they are set before him by the Schillinger System.

The Danny Barnes model banjo is now available to the public. Barnes and Bishline have been at work on the prototype for two years, and now they've settled in on the math and the components. Listen to Barnes describe the banjo here (click "Banjo Models" and then "Danny Barnes Model").

hey here's a bit of inspiration for you and something to think about all at the same time. an oft mentioned essay from 1958, and one of the primary influences on the folktronic approach.

"Who Cares if You Listen?"
Milton Babbitt, High Fidelity (Feb. 1958)

This article might have been entitled "The Composer as Specialist" or, alternatively, and perhaps less contentiously, "The Composer as Anachronism." For I am concerned with stating an attitude towards the indisputable facts of the status and condition of the composer of what we will, for the moment, designate as "serious," "advanced," contemporary music. This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a "vanity" composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow 'professionals'. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

Towards this condition of musical and societal "isolation," a variety of attitudes has been expressed, usually with the purpose of assigning blame, often to the music itself, occasionally to critics or performers, and very occasionally to the public. But to assign blame is to imply that this isolation is unnecessary and undesirable. It is my contention that, on the contrary, this condition is not only inevitable, but potentially advantageous for the composer and his music. From my point of view, the composer would do well to consider means of realizing, consolidating, and extending the advantages.

The unprecedented divergence between contemporary serious music and its listeners, on the one hand, and traditional music and its following, on the other, is not accidental and- most probably- not transitory. Rather, it is a result of a half-century of revolution in musical thought, a revolution whose nature and consequences can be compared only with, and in many respects are closely analogous to, those of the mid-nineteenth-century evolution in theoretical physics. The immediate and profound effect has been the necessity of the informed musician to reexamine and probe the very foundations of his art. He has been obliged to recognize the possibility, and actuality, of alternatives to what were once regarded as musical absolutes. He lives no longer in a unitary musical universe of "common practice," but in a variety of universes of diverse practice.
This fall from musical innocence is, understandably, as disquieting to some as it is challenging to others, but in any event the process is irreversible; and the music that reflects the full impact of this revolution is, in many significant respects, a truly "new" music, apart from the often highly sophisticated and complex constructive methods of any one composition or group of compositions, the very minimal properties characterizing this body of music are the sources of its "difficulty," "unintelligibility," and- isolation. In indicating the most general of these properties, I shall make reference to no specific works, since I wish to avoid the independent issue of evaluation. The reader is at liberty to supply his own instances; if he cannot (and, granted the condition under discussion, this is a very real possibility) let him be assured that such music does exist.

First. This music employs a tonal vocabulary which is more "efficient" than that of the music of the past, or its derivatives. This is not necessarily a virtue in itself, but it does make possible a greatly increased number or pitch simultaneities, successions, and relationships. his increase in efficiency necessarily reduces the "redundancy" of the language, and as a result the intelligible communication of the work demands increased accuracy from the transmitter (the performer) and activity from the receiver (the listener). Incidentally, it is this circumstance, among many others, that has created the need for purely electronic media of "performance." More importantly for us, it makes ever heavier demands upon the training of the listener's perceptual capacities.
Second. Along with this increase of meaningful pitch materials, the number of functions associated with each component of the musical event also has been multiplied. In the simplest possible terms. Each such "atomic" event is located in a five-dimensional musical space determined by pitch-class, register, dynamic, duration, and timbre. These five components not only together define the single event, but, in the course of a work, the successive values of each component create an individually coherent structure, frequently in parallel with the corresponding structures created by each of the other components. Inability to perceive and remember precisely the values of any of these components results in a dislocation of the event in the work's musical space, an alternation of its relation to a other events in the work, and-thus-a falsification of the composition's total structure. For example, an incorrectly performed or perceived dynamic value results in destruction of the work's dynamic pattern, but also in false identification of other components of the event (of which this dynamic value is a part) with corresponding components of other events so creating incorrect pitch, registral, timbral, and durational associations. It is this high degree of "determinancy" that most strikingly differentiates such music from, for example, a popular song. A popular song is only very partially determined, since it would appear to retain its germane characteristics under considerable alteration of register, rhythmic texture, dynamics, harmonic structure, timbre, and other qualities.

The preliminary differentiation of musical categories by means of this reasonable and usable criterion of "degree of determinacy" offends those who take it to be a definition of qualitative categories, which-of course-it need not always be. Curiously, their demurrers usually take the familiar form of some such "democratic" counterdefinition as: "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music." There is only 'good' and 'bad' music." As a public service, let me offer those who still patiently await the revelation of the criteria of Absolute Good an alternative criterion which possesses, at least, the virtue of immediate and irrefutable applicability: "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music. There is only music whose title begins with the letter 'X,' and music whose title does not."

Third, musical compositions of the kind under discussion possess a high degree of contextuality and autonomy. That is, the structural characteristics of a given work are less representative of a general class of characteristics than they are unique to the individual work itself. Particularly, principles of relatedness, upon which depends immediate coherence of continuity, are more likely to evolve in the course of the work than to be derived from generalized assumptions. Here again greater and new demands are made upon the perceptual and conceptual abilities of the listener.
Fourth, and finally. Although in many fundamental respects this music is "new," it often also represents a vast extension of the methods of other musics, derived from a considered and extensive knowledge of their dynamic principles. For, concomitant with the "revolution in music," perhaps even an integral aspect thereof, has been the development of analytical theory, concerned with the systematic formulation of such principles to the end of greater efficiency, economy, and understanding. Compositions so rooted necessarily ask comparable knowledge and experience from the listener. Like all communication, this music presupposes a suitably equipped receptor. I am aware that "tradition" has it that the lay listener, by virtue of some undefined, transcendental faculty, always is able to arrive at a musical judgment absolute in its wisdom if not always permanent in its validity. I regret my inability to accord this declaration of faith the respect due its advanced age.

Deviation from this tradition is bound to dismiss the contemporary music of which I have been talking into "isolation." Nor do I see how or why the situation should be otherwise. Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields. But to this, a double standard is invoked, with the words music is music," implying also that "music is just music." Why not, then, equate the activities of the radio repairman with those of the theoretical physicist, on the basis of the dictum that "physics is physics." It is not difficult to find statements like the following, from the New York Times of September 8, 1 957: "The scientific level of the conference is so high… that there are in the world only 120 mathematicians specializing in the field who could contribute." Specialized music on the other hand, far from signifying "height" of musical level, has been charged with "decadence," even as evidence of an insidious "conspiracy."
It often has been remarked that only in politics and the "arts" does the layman regard himself as an expert, with the right to have his opinion heard. In the realm of politics he knows that this right, in the form of a vote, is guaranteed by fiat. Comparably, in the realm of public music, the concertgoer is secure in the knowledge that the amenities of concert going protect his firmly stated "I didn't like it" from further scrutiny. Imagine, if you can, a layman chancing upon a lecture on "Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms." At the conclusion, he announces: "I didn't like it," Social conventions being what they are in such circles, someone might dare inquire: "Why not?" Under duress, our layman discloses precise reasons for his failure to enjoy himself; he found the hall chilly, the lecturer's voice unpleasant, and he was suffering the digestive aftermath of a poor dinner. His interlocutor understandably disqualifies these reasons as irrelevant to the content and value of the lecture, and the development of mathematics is left undisturbed. If the concertgoer is at all versed in the ways of musical lifesmanship, he also will offer reasons for his "I didn't like it" - in the form of assertions that the work in question is "inexpressive," "undramatic," "lacking in poetry," etc., etc., tapping that store of vacuous equivalents hallowed by time for: "I don't like it, and I cannot or will not state why." The concertgoer's critical authority is established beyond the possibility of further inquiry. Certainly he is not responsible for the circumstance that musical discourse is a never-never land of semantic confusion, the last resting place of all those verbal and formal fallacies, those hoary dualisms that have been banished from rational discourse. Perhaps he has read, in a widely consulted and respected book on the history of music, the following: "to call him (Tchaikovsky) the 'modern Russian Beethoven' is footless, Beethoven being patently neither modern nor Russian…" Or, the following, by an eminent "nonanalytic" philosopher: "The music of Lourie' is an ontological music... It is born in the singular roots of being, the nearest possible juncture of the soul and the spirit…" How unexceptionable the verbal peccadilloes of the average concertgoer appear beside these masterful models. Or, perhaps, in search of "real" authority, he has acquired his critical vocabulary from the pronouncements of officially "eminent" composers, whose eminence, in turn, is founded largely upon just such assertions as the concertgoer has learned to regurgitate. This cycle is of slight moment in a world where circularity is one of the norms of criticism. Composers (and performers), wittingly or unwittingly assuming the character of "talented children" and "inspired idiots" generally ascribed to them, are singularly adept at the conversion of personal tastes into general principles. Music they do not like is "not music," composers whose music they do not like are "not composers."

In search of what to think and how to say it, the layman may turn to newspapers and magazines. Here he finds conclusive evidence for the proposition that "music is music." The science editor of such publications contents himself with straightforward reporting, usually news of the "factual" sciences; books and articles not intended for popular consumption are not reviewed. Whatever the reason, such matters are left to professional journals. The music critic admits no comparable differentiation. We may feel, with some justice, that music which presents itself in the market place of the concert hall automatically offers itself to public approval or disapproval. We may feel, again with some justice, that to omit the expected criticism of the "advanced" work would be to do the composer an injustice in his assumed quest for, if nothing else, public notice and "professional recognition." The critic, at least to this extent, is himself a victim of the leveling of categories.
Here, then, are some of the factors determining the climate of the public world of music. Perhaps we should not have overlooked those pockets of "power" where prizes, awards, and commissions are dispensed, where music is adjudged guilty, not only without the right to be confronted by its accuser, but without the right to be confronted by the accusations. Or those well-meaning souls who exhort the public "just to listen to more contemporary music," apparently on the theory that familiarity breeds passive acceptance. Or those, often the same well-meaning souls, who remind the composer of his "obligation to the public," while the public's obligation to the composer is fulfilled, manifestly, by mere physical presence in the concert hall or before loudspeaker or- more authoritatively- by committing to memory the numbers of phonograph and amplifier models. Or the intricate social world within this musical world where the salon becomes bazaar, and music itself becomes an ingredient of verbal canapés for cocktail conversation.
I say all this not to present a picture of a virtuous music in a sinful world, but to point up the problems of a special music in an alien and inapposite world. And so, I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public life of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.

But how, it may be asked, will this serve to secure the means of survival or the composer and his music? One answer is that after all such a private life is what the university provides the scholar and the scientist. It is only proper that the university, which-significantly-has provided so many contemporary composers with their professional training and general education, should provide a home for the "complex," "difficult," and "problematical" in music. Indeed, the process has begun; and if it appears to proceed too slowly, I take consolation in the knowledge that in this respect, too, music seems to be in historically retarded parallel with now sacrosanct fields of endeavor. In E. T. Bell's Men of Mathematics, we read: "In the eighteenth century the universities were not the principal centers of research in Europe. They might have become such sooner than they did but for the classical tradition and its understandable hostility to science. Mathematics was close enough to antiquity to be respectable, but physics, being more recent, was suspect. Further, a mathematician in a university of the time would have been expected to put much of his effort on elementary teaching; his research, if any, would have been an unprofitable luxury..." A simple substitution of "musical composition" for "research," of "academic" for "classical," of "music" for "physics," and of "composer" for "mathematician," provides a strikingly accurate picture of the current situation. And as long as the confusion I have described continues to exist, how can the university and its community assume other than that the composer welcomes and courts public competition with the historically certified products of the past, and the commercially certified products of the present?

Perhaps for the same reason, the various institutes of advanced research and the large majority of foundations have disregarded this music's need for means of survival. I do not wish to appear to obscure the obvious differences between musical composition and scholarly research, although it can be contended that these differences are no more fundamental than the differences among the various fields of study. I do question whether these differences, by their nature, justify the denial to music's development of assistance granted these other fields. Immediate "practical" applicability (which may be said to have its musical analogue in "immediate extensibility of a compositional technique") is certainly not a necessary condition for the support of scientific research. And if it be contended that such research is so supported because in the past it has yielded eventual applications, one can counter with, for example, the music of Anton Webern, which during the composer's lifetime was regarded (to the very limited extent that it was regarded at all) as the ultimate in hermetic, specialized, and idiosyncratic composition; today, some dozen years after the composer's death, his complete works have been recorded by a major record company, primarily- I suspect- as a result of the enormous influence this music has had on the postwar, nonpopular, musical world. I doubt that scientific research is any more secure against predictions of ultimate significance than is musical composition. Finally, if it be contended that research, even in its least "practical" phases, contributes to the sum of knowledge in the particular realm, what possibly can contribute more to our knowledge of music than a genuinely original composition?

Granting to music the position accorded other arts and sciences promises the sole substantial means of survival for the music I have been describing. Admittedly, if this music is not supported, the whistling repertory of the man in the street will be little affected, the concert-going activity of the conspicuous consumer of musical culture will be little disturbed. But music will cease to evolve, and, in that important sense, will cease to live.

This coming weekend brings the BAD LIVERS reunion at the Oregon Pickathon!!

Barnes put in a stunning weekend at the Northwest String Summit, where he played with Bill Frisell, Yonder Mountain String Band, members of Leftover Salmon, and apparently just about everyone else! Jambase has a 3-page writeup (w/ pics) of the summit... click to read.

Jambase has a 3-page review with pictures from the NWSS in Oregon, including Barnes' appearances with Yonder Mountain String Band, Bill Frisell, and many others.

Jambase published an in-depth feature on Danny Barnes in July 2008.

kory cook sees thousands of cds a year as assistant music director for kut public radio in austin. i asked him to write a little about what advice he might give for folks sending him music and what he thinks about the whole deal.

here's kory:
When banjo-master, string-wizard, songwriter/composer and all-around cult-hero musician extraordinaire Danny Barnes asked me to compose a piece/blog/article for his site, I was suddenly overtaken with the simple question of where to start. So thanks for pushing my mind to work harder, Danny. You’re always reliable for getting the creative juices-a-flowin.’ Here goes…

What should an artist/musician keep in mind and do to have his or her music be heard on the radio airwaves and introduced to listeners of both non-commercial and commercial radio entities?

Preface:
Since the first known radio broadcast transmission in 1906 (with the exception of satellite and internet radio), many of the greatest musicians and performers alive or dead never had the pleasure of hearing their recorded works played in any consistent rotation on the radio. I counted on one hand how many times the altruistic improvisations of saxophone preacher and jazz legend Albert Ayler have aired on any American radio station in the past year. 1! Meanwhile, countless punk rock and American garage bands that helped fuel rock-n-roll and pop music as we know it today are either deemed too offensive or too loud or too….whatever. Even the otherwise “popular,” oft-offensive genius of classical and rock composer Frank Zappa still has no place in commercial radio. Okay…maybe “Montana” might pop up somewhere on the classic rock FM dial late on a Sunday night, but that’s about it for Frank. He probably wanted it that way though, and that’s a different story.

Radio is driven by ratings and ad sales and plagued by competition without creativity, listener demands, enormous egos, nepotism, extreme disparity with exorbitant salaries vs. people who work for nothing, spin, cheaters, whores, fat white guys, Joe 6-pack, bad breath and a whole slew of other rotten little items that have nothing to do with your beautiful music, so forget about impressing anybody at a radio station and just play. Then record it..cause we wanna hear it!

To avoid the issue of commercial radio and hit records dominating the charts while pushing and shoving out anyone’s chance of being heard on the air, we’ll focus on non-commercial radio as it is in respect to the artist. I happen to be very lucky that I’m part of a radio station (KUT 90.5 FM in Austin, TX) that promotes the musician’s personal, creative endeavors and not so much record or ad sales. Although, as the Assistant Music Director of one of the nation’s leading public radio stations I am partly in the business of selling records. In this ever-changing shift in the economy and technology, it’s simply unavoidable. We keep the music business alive, but many of you have still never heard of public radio. Again, that’s another story. As a musician and radio programmer, I’m aware that artists know there must be a place somewhere for their music to be heard, but your local commercial radio station isn’t hearing it because they’re too busy looking at a selector computer screen with a list of the same 25 artists in heavy rotation.

1. Play what you know:
Play what you know! I don’t mean for you to ignore growing technically on your instrument. But find your roots, think about them and embrace them. I may want to be the next Max Roach on the drum kit, but I’m not black, nor did I grow up listening to jazz. As a matter of fact, I didn’t hear my first jazz recording and fall in the love with the fat, trumpet blast of Dizzy Gillespie until I was 16. By that time, The Kingsmen, The Rascals, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Ramones were already swirling around my head like some cosmic electric hydra monster let loose. So now when I crank out a song with a group of musicians playing and recording music in the vein of what I grew up listening to, the nuance is there and I know I’m where I’m supposed to be creatively. Then as I grow to learn more about other forms, ideas and theories of music, my music grows with it. This may all sound more like instructions on how to approach your art rather than what you bring to a radio station, but the point is that your finished product and the music you ultimately present to a radio station should be a reflection of yourself and your music and not something specifically designed for a radio programmer, hence….

2. Don’t tailor your music for radio:
I hear it on a regular basis. A CD comes in the mail representing a fresh new artist with great pipes, hot looks and some of the best studio musicians in the world behind them. But suddenly, forgetful and predictable lyrics with a formulaic, almost strategic, song structure painfully designed for radio vomits through my speakers. You know who you are. And you may be a star in some circles…for a week or two…with an ethic like that, but your musical integrity has thus been violated and in short, you just wasted your money and everyone’s time.

3. The right producer – maybe it’s you!
Find a producer that likes and understands what you’re doing. An experienced and highly-paid producer/engineer can tweak the knobs, sail the faders and give you something sonically pleasing, but it may not be to your specifications until it’s too late. Or you’ll have what you want, and the next day you’re confused because your recording sounds completely different from when you left the night before. A producer already familiar with your work will work with you and help guide the process of recording. Then mix and master that thing. Spend a few days, a few weeks, or a few months with it. In some instances, a more lo-fi recording may represent a particular artist’s style. So be sure your abstract concept is somehow conveyed through your art, so as not to have your recording dismissed as unfinished or “unmastered” for the airwaves.

Best case scenario: You and/or your band produce a competent recording.
See Thurston Moore: google.com

4. Presentation and follow-up: Album art / Press packet

Album/recording art:
It sounds meaningless in terms of ‘the music,’ but I have 126 CDs stacked on my desk as I write, still waiting to be heard, and you have to grab my senses if I’ve never heard of you. That orange-yellow colored slip cover with the giant cartoon robot eating a slab of vinyl will probably get my attention first before your common name typed onto a white piece of paper complete with arial-font typed track list.

Case in point: Russian Balalaika master and former Red Elvis Zhenya Kolykhanov sent me a CD with the name “ZEEGRASS” lazily emblazoned in red magic marker across the white sleeve. No track list! “What the hell is this?” I asked myself. Then I sat it by my phone and forgot about it for a week. Zhenya called a few days later to ask me if I had heard it yet. “No, but I’ll get to it.” I calmly stated. He said thanks and hung up. 5 minutes later I popped it in the CD player. In an instant I recognized the dexterity, virtuosity and highly original music of Zhenya. I called him back instantly to book him for a live performance in Studio 1A, to which he casually agreed, although it was past his official CD release. Today, I make music with Zhenya when he’s looking for a drummer and Pat Mastellatto can’t make the gig. I often look back on my judgment and initial passing of his material and think if artists just took the time to ponder presentation and the overall impression of what they want their recording to “look” like, it could help get the attention of programmers flooded with reviewing everyone’s creation. And follow-up calls don’t hurt either, obviously. Just don’t do it too often or I’ll never call you back.

Press Packet:
One-sheets droning on with meaningless adjectives, lame/drawn-out descriptions and producer/sideman name-dropping doesn’t impress me. I don’t care if you hired the guys from Radiohead or Tom Waits himself to produce your record. Nor will it turn my head around to learn that you paid Roger McGuinn or local string-king Lloyd Maines to make your record sound better. Your song, if not the entire album, could still lack quality. And for godssakes, if I see another picture of a band grimacing in front of a brick wall or on the hood of a car my teeth’ll start to hurt.

5. Finally, ask yourself what’s missing?

What’s missing in your local clubs or on your local radio dial? What’s the sound that’s being deprived from the ears and minds of your relentlessly energetic children, teenage degenerates, jazz snobs, senior swingers, cowboys, patriots and anyone else capable of enjoying music on any level? Maybe you think there’s a lack of indie-pop bands with distorted keyboards, lyrics about the end of the world and a cheerleader horn section? So do that! Maybe you think there are too many Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan or Beatles wanna-bes still on the radio today. So do something different! Then ask yourself why anyone would want to hear the music that you’re making? Maybe you can’t come up with the answer and would prefer to subject your art to passers-by in a bus station or on the street corner. That’s kind-of-cool too, and not such a bad idea. But questioning your motives will at least begin to help guide you in the right direction of where your music will eventually be heard.

One man’s scrumptious, thick, and hearty gravy is another man’s slop. Remind yourself that music is the universal language, therefore it is understood and appreciated on multiple levels. What I deem as essential to one’s record collection could be considered garbage and a waste of recording tape, even to another self-described music aficionado. Such is the nature of criticism. Just believe in yourself. The music will follow.

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here's a short bio on kory:

Kory Cook lives, works and plays the drums in Austin, TX. He holds two bachelor’s degrees in Broadcast Journalism and English, respectively, from Oklahoma State University. He’s earned a certificate of music performance from the Drummer’s Collective in New York City. He’s recorded and performed with the Sons of Hercules since 1997. He’s also recorded and performed with, Jeff “Monoman” Connelly (DMZ, The Lyres), Jesse Sublett and Jon Dee Graham as the Skunks, Dave Bone and the Troublemakers, Todd Snider and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

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