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New Release: Meditations of the Spirit in Chinese

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

A Chinese CD, ‘Meditations of the Spirit’, which I collaborated on with Elika Mahony, and produced and engineered has just been released and sold out in less than a month!

All the songs are in Chinese with a few bilingual songs.  The lyrics are from the profound and highly spiritual Baha’i writings, and some compositions are translated versions of songs from Elika’s Fire and Gold album.
The project involved highly talented musicians and artists – the very talented Cheng Lin graciously agreed to sing on the CD and Jin R plays her original beautiful Yang Qin compositions.  Phil Morrison and Keith Williams generously added their gift of talent to the CD too and Siria Rutstein, the youngest of the group, contributes her magical voice to the mix.  Jimmy adds a few of his compositions and Flamenco guitar player, Eric Harper, adds to one of  the tracks.  We also have 2 talented ladies singing in Chinese – Zhao Li and Lily, with Elika Mahony singing one of the songs in Chinese and a part in Arabic on another.

You can find more information about the songs here and can order them on that website.
To make orders in North America and other parts of the world, click here.

Chinese CD cover

We’ve been in discussion with the publisher to do another album like this due to the great response, but that is probably a few years off as this was an exhaustive project.

Stevie Wonder: 1,2,3 Sesame Street Song with talkbox

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

If only learning was this cool, and the music this good for children these days!

Branford Marsalis on the state of musicians

Friday, June 26th, 2009

“All my students are really interested in hearing is how right they are and how good they are, the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B’s to people that don’t deserve them out of the fear that they’ll go to other schools that will give them B’s and those schools will make the money.
We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that.
All they want to hear is how good they are and how talented they are, and most of them aren’t really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.

Today, Stevie Wonder would not get a shot (in the music industry)”

– Jazz legend Branford Marsalis, from the documentary film, ‘Before Music Dies’

Check out the film, it’s a great, honest look at the music industry today.


Before Music Dies documentary

Thanks Sarah Lynn for sharing this film with me.

Is professionally produced music important anymore?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I’ve had no problem getting work as a music producer, even in a recession. I’m working on 6 albums and keep getting calls for more, but then I’m cheap as far as many music producers go with my experience. Most of my clients hire me because I also compose and engineer in my own studio, so I’m a one stop shop.

This regular work has in no way filled me with delusions about the importance of professionally produced music to the general public though. I have found myself asking more and more, what is the point of what I do for artists anymore? Is there a future in professionally produced music? Do the majority of people care?

Before you scoff at this question, peruse these valid issues that have partially led to it, such as:

  • The decline of record labels and shift of the industry into the hands of DIY artists with limited budgets
  • The proliferation of affordable music production equipment and software allowing artists to Do It Themselves at home
  • The popularity of live, reality ‘Idol’ type music shows and Youtube
  • The proliferation of poor quality music formats like 128 kb MP3 files
  • The popularity of poor quality music playback devices like iPods with headphones
  • The question of the value of music in a world of free downloads

One could argue that people are used to professionally produced music, and so they will still demand it, despite the shrinking budgets for artists and music lovers. There is no question that the world is shifting towards enjoying more music than ever before, and that music is increasing in popularity.

But my most significant argument for the rapid decline in value for the music producer is, given the above, can the average person even tell the difference between music with no producer and that which is professionally produced? Will they be disappointed with acoustic versions of songs?

Tests I’ve done have proven the answer is no. Most listeners primarily want to hear the singers voice, and the melodies sung with simple instrumentation, and everything else seems superfluous.

I think a producer contributes significantly not just to the quality of sound of the music, but to:

  • The performance, emotion, and confidence of the performers
  • The arrangement of the song, including lyric phrasing and song structure
  • The melodies and musical instrumentation of the song
  • The accuracy of pitch and timing and sonic quality of the recorded parts
  • The range of tone across the frequency spectrum of the music
  • The mood, feeling and energy of the song

But of course, I’m biased! And as illustrated, these are decreasing in importance to the general listener.
In industries like film, TV, and advertising, these elements have become standard, so there is no question that they will require professionally produced music.
For music in general though, the question remains, given it is proven most people can’t hear the difference, is there a future for the professional music producer?
Will a shift in the importance of the arts and education in society affect the demand for musical perfection only an experienced producer can provide?

recording in bedroom

My current fave song: ‘I Remember’ – Deadmau5

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I’ve added my latest favorite song to the player on the right sidebar of my blog.

This song just send shivers down my spine, the ultimate sign of a great track for me.
Something about the chord progression and dreamy vocals…

For those who may not know, Canadian producer/composer Deadmau5 (‘Deadmouse’) released a song with a similar melody years ago called ‘I Forget’, possibly the inspiration for this song…

The Importance Of Music In Society

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This is my 100th blog post, so I wanted it to be a good one! I’ve been saving this Welcome address to freshman class at Boston Conservatory given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory for just such an occasion. In an age of free downloading when many question the value of music, It is long, but a must read for everyone:

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not
properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very
good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they
imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be
more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s
remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said,
“You’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were
not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And
they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just
weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little
bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and
entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your
kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with
entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a
little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient
Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and
astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study
of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music
was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden
objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside
our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside
us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for
the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940.
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany.
He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a
cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a
place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a
violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these
specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand
prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous
masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why
would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing
music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water,
to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother
with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have
visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people
created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on
survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must
be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope,
without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were
not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit,
an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we
say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached
a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down
at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I
did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on
the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my
hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter?
Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what
happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless.
Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a
piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of
getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I
contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And
then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We
didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we
most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I
saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around
fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America
the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the
Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York
Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first
communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the
beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the
airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that
very night.

>From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part
of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe.
It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our
budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic
need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives,
one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way
for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heartwrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio
for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it
as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a
film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you
know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make
you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our
conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good
therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no
music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some
really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very
predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of
emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the
wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if
the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40
percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of
moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move
around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so
that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you
imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue
but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right
moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly
the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music
stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the
understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of
my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand
concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were
important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it
made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played
for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers,
foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took
place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began,
as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World
War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was
shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the
pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program
notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we
decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out
and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the
front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was
clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair,
square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in
the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to
tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t
the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the
concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk
about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances
in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed
pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had
to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again,
but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in
an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched
my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes
which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords
so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop
away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about
this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this
memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I
didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came
out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost
pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that?
How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between
internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have
ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect,
somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost
friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is
why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class
when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge
your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing
appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would
imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your
emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my
friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and
bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that
is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you
do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell
yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician
isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an
entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue
worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a
spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works
with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come
into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I
expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this
planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of
equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a
military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the
religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war
as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is
to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit
together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.
As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the
ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

– Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at the Boston Conservatory

Music production in Beijing

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I just got back last week from another trip to Beijing, my longest one yet as I had 3 projects to work on and a number of meetings…

I was working with artist Elika Mahony as usual, she has just released a new album on the theme of Love, ‘Birds of Love’ that we were consulting about the promotion for, and developing a limited edition version of. We were also recording new material for an upcoming new age style progressive pop album as well as her instrumental album.

Those alone were very exciting projects and it was amazing to work in person with Elika, she accomplished what I feel are her best vocal performances yet on this trip… But I was also working on a Chinese spiritual CD with some local Chinese artists including Chinese pop music legend, Cheng Lin that I will talk more about in the future.

A new project I was working on there, and one of my most unique and culturally diverse was an ambient instrumental relaxation album for Green T. Living owner, Jin R, who is also a very talented artist and performer of the beautiful Yang Qin, which I think is my new favorite instrument.
There are so many talented artists in China playing traditional instruments in new ways, You can have all the experience in the world, or a degree from a music production school, but finding and working with undiscovered talent like this is one of the most rewarding things for a producer.

Jin R had quite an ambitious and creative concept for her new album, one that would provide a soundtrack for guests of her new bath house. The concept was ‘A journey with a cup of tea’, one that you would take without leaving the relaxing confines of the bath house, so I helped her develop the album so that it went from traditional ancient Chinese roots using such ancient instruments as the Gu Qin (over 2000 years old, to the Yang Qin, to the flute and synthesizer with various sound ambiances and real world elements.

I used a Rode NT-4 stereo mic to capture the natural ambience of some of these instruments.
It’s really quite something, you may have to take a trip to Beijing to get a copy though…

For the first time, brought the mobile equivalent of my entire studio setup to work on these projects, but ran into a few challenges when I forgot that China is on 220 power! Luckily, some of my equipment such as an external hard drive with all my sound libraries, and USB hub with all my software licenses were able to run on 220 without a converter. A very good thing, as I plugged them in without thinking about it in my excitement… Not a good thing for the preamp I wanted to add to Elika’s studio. We got it fixed very quickly there, but it never quite sounded the same.

www.flickr.com/photos/jaromematthew/sets/72157615008213764/

More about the music industry related aspects of my trip are on the Pro Soul Alliance blog.

My latest production: Birds Of Love

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

On this occasion of Valentines day, I would like to express my eternal love for my dear wife Felisha.I would also like to share my latest production, the befitting new CD and book gift set by talented artist, Elika Mahony, Birds Of Love!

Birds of Love is a treasury of uplifting words and spiritually inspiring songs specially created for weddings, anniversaries and for loved ones. I’ve been working on it for over a year with Elika, and it is a truly diverse collection. I also assisted with the development and design of the book of quotes.

The response to Birds of Love so far has been overwhelming. So many people have expressed how it is lovely to have music and a book on quotes on the theme of love and marriage, and what a unique and useful gift it is for their friends getting married.  There is also special limited edition option which comes autographed with a handmade card, I was just in the silk market in Beijing assisting in the selection of some exquisite metallic gold fabric with blue highlights for this book, and it must be seen!

You can hear samples and see photos of the product on Elika’s new website which was developed by Pro Soul, who is also assisting in the promotion and release of the product.

Warner Music Group axed our video

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I blogged recently on Pro Soul Alliance about Warner Music Group removing all their content from youtube rather than earn millions per month in royalties in it’s ever increasing number of one terrible business decision after another.

We’re now a victim of this decision, having received a removal notice from Youtube for Laura and my video ‘Enjoy The Cylons‘ since we did a remake of a Warner track by Depeche Mode. The band of course has no say in the matter as they don’t own their music.

I decided to allow the video to stay on youtube, I would replace the audio with licensed content. Unfortunately, youtube doesn’t let you use your own selection…
We would have gladly paid a royalty to release this video, but Warner is not interested.

The fact that Warner is not only missing huge promotional opportunities for their artists, but throwing away income for them in doing this is a sure sign that it is now a very bad idea to do business with a major record label.

Download my old original Christmas music

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Everyone likes Christmas music during the holidays, so here’s a link to my post from last year with some of the few original Christmas tunes I’ve done over the years:
Some Old Christmas Songs

The difference is, this year, as a Christmas gift, you can download & do whatever you like with them:
www.jarome.com/downloads/

For a limited time only!

We’ve had a lot of snow in Vancouver, and across Canada lately, I posted about ‘The sweet serenity of snow’ last year as well.