Sunday, January 8, 2012

Most Influential Albums: HUM

Yes, this is technically two albums... it isn't a double-album, but for me it might as well have been in the fall of 1998, when I discovered HUM.

The single "Stars" from HUM's previous disk, You'd Prefer an Astronaut, had some airplay on what was just beginning to be dubbed "Modern Rock" radio. I loved "Stars", but the radio personalities in Tulsa never announced who it was. In those days, you couldn't just Shazam your way into knowledge of a cool artist - if someone didn't tell you who made that awesome track blasting your car speakers into oblivion, you just didn't know.

For this reason, when I had time to kill, you could usually find me in a record store listening through all the preview CD kiosks. It took either a very confident or very stupid artist and a label with money to burn to get a CD in one of those headphone-attached CD players welded into the display aisles. The major labels certainly didn't want anyone deciding not to spend their $15 on a CD because they actually got to hear the thing ahead of time. Why, they just might find out the versions of those Poe songs on the radio aren't even ON the stinkin' CD, not to mention her other songs sound like a mental patient found a cheap keyboard and a tape recorder. I did discover a few artists had great albums via those kiosks though. I digress...

HUM's Downward is Heavenward album happened to be in such a kiosk at Blockbuster Music (remember them?) in Tulsa on one of my time-killer excursions. The opening track, "Isle of the Cheetah", has a very long intro. But once I heard Matt Talbot's voice, I knew this was the same band from that single I couldn't trace months before. Nobody sounds like Matt. Nobody. Love his voice or hate it - there's no disputing his uniqueness.

It wasn't just that I found the answer to a music riddle. It wasn't just that these were some stellar musicians playing some cool songs. This was the sound I had been chasing on my own projects for years. Heavy. Super heavy. Spinal damage via your ear canal heavy. But there was no growling, screaming, testosterone overloaded frontman barking about darkness and how he was tougher than death. No fake macho bull to appeal to skinny teenage boys in black t-shirts, just some killer melody lines sung by a guy who was only moderately able to carry a tune. This was space rock of the highest degree.

I had been trying to make music of this sort through a few different bands I was in, but nobody else seemed to get it. HUM was making the albums I wished I could make. So I, of course, bought this album and its predecessor.

Most albums that hit me spend a lot of time on repeat in my CD player (or now, my iPod), and these 2 were no exception. Truly, they drove me to exceed even my normal predisposition for immersing myself in a record. I played these HUM albums constantly. I became certifiably addicted to these disks - I just didn't feel normal unless I was listening to HUM. I never got tired of them, but on rare occasion I desired something softer to fit a different mood I was in, and so I'd spin through Frente's Marvin The Album (a sugary female-fronted Australian pop group my friend Phillip hipped me to) once and then get right back to HUM. This went on for nearly a year.

When I finally recognized how disturbingly fixated I was with these albums, I gave them to a friend for safe keeping to kick my HUM habit back down to a healthy level. If I had ever found like-minded musicians (and a drummer good enough - Bryan St. Pere deserves to be mentioned alongside John Bonham and Dave Grohl as one of the best rock drummers to ever pick up the sticks), I probably would have been very happy playing in a HUM cover band for the rest of my life.

Alas, as with so many of my favorite band's albums, this would be HUM's last. The group was dropped from their label and broke up. I learned that Matt Talbot went on to start his own recording studio in Illinois. So it's no suprise that when it came time for me to produce an album for my then band, Skyblynde, I sought Matt out and booked time at Great Western Record Recorders (now renamed Earth Analog) in Champaign, IL.

That experience is worthy of a blog entry on its own. I returned to Matt's studio to record the drums for the Hello God This is Gregory Hyde album. I've heard few drum tracks from other studios that can compare to the sonic quality of what Matt's live room offers.

I still play these albums often, and each time I wonder to myself, "Why don't I just listen to this every day and ignore everything else on my iPod?" I still have no answer for that question.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Musician Tip #6: Anatomy of a Gig Poster

I've been getting questions about the poster for my upcoming full band show, and it occurred to me that this would make a good blog entry. So here it is. First, the poster:

Now I must give credit where it's due, and this particular design was inspired by Hank III's work with Third Alert Designs. His art is incredible, and I highly recommend you check it out here: Third Alert Designs

Obviously there are major differences in the aesthetic of mine and Hank's work, but that's the point of something being inspired and not ripped off. My cousin, Steve Erwin, an incredible artist, once told me, "All art is either inspired or stolen. The difference being that inspired art is just more ambiguous about where it was stolen from." Great quote, eh?

The things to notice about my poster (as well as many of Hank's):

1) At first glance, you have no freaking clue what this poster is for. Is it a show? Political rally? Anti-Digital Conversion Convention? Neighborhood homeowner's association fed up with the 1970's satellite dishes in that creepy porn-moustache guy's yard? Who knows... this is a good thing. My intent is to peak people's curiosity to actually READ the poster rather than just think, "Another stupid band posing in front of a brick wall trying to get me to go to their show? Pass."

2) There's not much to read. This keeps things simple and easily digestible. Also, the lack of information (What time do they go on? Is there a cover? Is this an all-ages show?) leaves the interested folks with the task of finding out on their own, which usually means contacting the venue, which makes the venue feel confident that there's some buzz about your show.

3) Lastly, it's bold. It will undoubtedly stand out when tacked to a bulletin board, or taped above the club's urinals which are already littered with posters of 40-something guys with skullets in front of a brick wall vying for the same attention. Sometimes bright color overload works for that, sometimes black & white accomplishes it. Contrast and unique imagery does more for you here than anything else.

Got other ideas on what makes a good band poster? Feel free to let me know.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gig Etiquette Pt. 6: "You Know What You Oughta Do?"

The music industry is unique in many ways. Die of a drug overdose as an accountant or even an actor, and it's regarded as a sad, tragic, wasted life - but a musician? You're now a legend and you get your face on T-shirts at Hot Topic! In no other field can failing to produce any evidence of work for the last 14 years (looking at you, Axl) actually enhance excitement and interest about your endeavors. And in no other field does the mass public automatically assume they have full knowledge of exactly what a professional in that field should do; the subject of this blog entry.

As with other similarly themed blog posts I've done, I realize the good folks taking the time to direct me to the Wonka's golden ticket for riches and fame in the music biz only want me to succeed. However, fielding the same impotent advice night after night gets a little tiring. Normally I just smile, nod, and hope that suffices for a reply... in my mind I'm thinking:

"You should be on iTunes"
- I am, but I don't make a ton of money that way, so I sell downloads on my website too.

"You should go on American Idol!"
- (Click here and read this blog)

"You should get your songs on the radio!"
- (Click here and watch the movie on my home page) It takes a million dollars (approx.) and a label or major management to make that happen with any remote hope of success.

"You should make a viral video!"
- Viral is a term to define what happens AFTER the video is made, controlled entirely by the viewing public. That's like saying I should record a hit song, write a #1-selling book, roll nothing but 7's in Vegas, or campaign successfully for the office of President.

"You should get a manager!"
- Really? Personal manager? Tour manager? Do you know one? Any idea how hard that is? You're making it sound very easy.

"You should get an agent!"
- Booking agent? Publicity agent? Secret service agent? Know a good one, or an attorney who can draw up a contract with one?

"Oooh! Yeah, get an entertainment attorney too!"
- You gonna pay for one? I've dealt with a couple. It was kinda like throwing hundreds of dollars into a garbage disposal except it took hours of calling the garbage disposal and leaving messages for it to start grinding my cash into oblivion.

"Well you could pay for one if you played bigger, better paying shows. You should play Summerfest this year!"
- Gee, why didn't I just decide to play Summerfest, pay an attorney to write up contracts for a team of agents & managers, get my songs on the radio, put my CDs in Best Buy and make a viral video?

Let's think of this in another field.

If someone tells you they're thinking of becoming a lawyer, do you immediately respond with, "Ah - you should pass that BAR exam! And win all your cases!"?

How about if you discover the fella next to you on the plane is an aspiring writer? "You should get your book published! Why haven't you got your books in Barnes & Noble? You should get an editor."

An aspiring underwater welder? "You should master hyperbaric metallurgy and arc techniques!"

I really hope I'm not sounding cynical or vicious here, but I think one could understand how this all seems condescending and implies that I'm either so incompetent or grossly uninformed in my chosen field that I've missed the path to success that is so obvious to nearly every layperson I run into.

You know what you oughta do? Ask questions about what you don't know. You'll get a wealth of information from people who are passionate about what they do, and they'll get to talk about a subject they love. It helps everyone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Music 101: Pt. 5 - Knowing the Rules of the Roles

As a professional musician who makes most of my income from live performances, I feel compelled to share some essential information about the roles of performers and venues. This could have qualified for a Musician Tip, but it applies to venue owners as well, and it's good info for the mass public, so here it is as the latest "Music 101" entry. If you know a club or venue owner, please pass this along.

Imagine this scenario: Johnny W. Rockstar (the W. stands for Wannabe) is a small-time, local musician. He gets hired by Bud's Beer Barn to play a solo acoustic show on Friday, then Dick's Dumpy Dive on Saturday. Both are live music venues that serve food & drinks. I know this is starting off like one of those screwy "two trains travelling opposite directions" algebra test questions, but hang with me.

#1: What is Johnny W. Rockstar's role?

Entertainment? Yeah, but as a by-product. His ultimate role: alcohol salesman. Johnny's job is to keep people's butts in the seats (or dancing) and buying more beverages. If he were playing stadiums, his role would change to ticket salesman. Without some cash changing hands, he's gonna be stuck playing "Smoke On The Water" in his parent's basement.

#2: Whose fault is it if nobody comes out to the shows?

Johnny's? Only if both venues NORMALLY have good crowds on those nights. If you've never been to Dick's Dumpy Dive (or already don't like it), the add-on of seeing an artist you've never heard of probably isn't going to inspire you to give it a chance come Friday. If those bars normally bring in 100 people on a weekend night, and only 15 show up when Johnny plays, yep - it's Johnny's fault. Otherwise, THE VENUES ARE RESPONSIBLE. Read on...

#3: Whose fault is it if Bud's is filled to capacity on Friday, but Dick's is empty on Saturday?

It's Dick's fault. Dick will whine that Johnny shouldn't have booked those dates so close together, or that he promoted the Bud's show more. But the truth is Johnny's crowd is choosing to attend at the venue they like most. Bud's probably has better drink specials, better food, cleaner bathrooms, nicer staff, etc.

Why do SO many venue owners think like Dick? Because they're ignorant. They look at gigantic artists and stadiums and think the same logic applies on the small scale. If U2 comes to Chicago to play Soldier Field on a Tuesday night, who is 100% responsible for the turnout? U2 is, of course - nobody would be at Soldier Field on a Tuesday otherwise, and you can't see U2 anywhere else.

But if U2 is coming to Chicago and will play 30 different venues over 30 nights, people will buy tickets based on the venue where they want to see them perform. The Soldier Field, Navy Pier, Allstate Arena, and Grant Park shows might sell out, but there will be tickets to spare on the night they play the parking lot next to the county landfill.

So, for 90% of music venues out there: The venue's role is to bring people out, the artist's role is to keep them there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Musician Tip #5: What I Am Is What I Am...

...are you what you are, or what?

I am a musician. Like all other human beings, musicians come in all shapes and sizes, colors, personalities, tax brackets, and varying degrees of personal hygiene. The constants are a desire to create and possessing the tools of the trade.

If you're a vocalist, your tool is your voice, and you can take your pipes wherever you may roam. The huge upside - they're FREE! But for those of you who either aren't vocalists or lack the rousing, musical bodily functions my grandfather was blessed with, your tool is an external musical instrument. Elementary? Nay, my good sir.

I am astounded by how often I'm approached by well-intentioned attendees at my shows who stumble through a dialog similar to the following:

DUDE: "Great set man - are you looking for a guitarist?"

ME: "Well, I'm always interested to know other musicians. You play guitar?"

DUDE: "Yeah! I love guitar, man. I'm looking for a band to play with, and I think I'd be the perfect guitarist for your songs. I'm thinking about buying this awesome Les Paul at Staff Infection Music."

ME: "So what guitar are you playing now?"

DUDE: "I don't have one. I USED to have this killer Fender Stratocaster that was built by the Archangel Gabriel and given to Jimi Hendrix before he sold it to my dad, but I had to pawn it. It's been a bummer not playing at all for the past 5 years."

ME: (thinking: "You are not a musician. ...and you are a liar. Everybody knows St. Peter built Jimi's guitar.")

Ever have a mechanic shop ask you to bring some tools along so they can fix your car? How about a professional photographer that hasn't owned a camera in the past 3 years? Even beyond those things, music is an art form that sustains musicians - you survive off of it. A drummer I knew who moved into an apartment with thin walls taught himself to play guitar to avoid the constant threats of eviction over the noisy drum kit. Why? He was a musician and was going insane without the cathartic outlet music provided (he kinda went insane anyway, but that's unrelated).

The quality of the tool doesn't even necessarily affect the situation. Some songs that changed the course of popular music were written on department store trinkets. But without at least some sort of instrument to utilize, you are a hobbyist at best and as such shouldn't go around advertising yourself as the next Clapton in the making.

Writers write. Painters paint. Architects design. Actors vote democratic and sleep around a lot. These creations begin within us, but at some point require a physical tool to help communicate the vision to the rest of the world.

Choose your weapon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gig Etiquette Pt. 5 - Storytellers

If you know me to any degree, you're well aware that I can talk for hours upon hours about music, musicians, bands, albums, the music industry, instruments, recording techniques, music history, etc. If you start me up, I'll never stop (thanks, Mick).

However, time and place are important factors. I openly invite anyone and everyone to chat me up before or after a show, and I'm almost always happy to have a quick exchange with fans, friends, or both between songs in a set (if it's a QUICK exchange clocking in well under 5 minutes, not a recitation of Homer's The Iliad) and provided it doesn't happen between every other song I play.

Content is also important.

  • GOOD: You drove here from a state away? That's awesome! You rock, and I'm glad to meet ya.

  • BAD: The girl over there likes me? Thanks, but I'm very happily married. Yes, I am. Yes, I really am. I AM telling the truth. No, I'm not just saying that because your friend looks too nerdy. I didn't say she looked nerdy, you did - I was just repeating you. No, it wouldn't change things if she wasn't wearing those glasses. Please go sit down.

  • GOOD: You recognized the Over the Rhine song I threw in? Glad you enjoyed it, and you have exquisite taste in music, sir (or ma'am).

  • BAD: You saw the Rolling Stones on their last tour? Hmmm... so did 2 million other people. They tour all the time. I'm not sure why you needed to stop the show to tell me that. I haven't played a Stones song all night. Is this a request? I have a Yorkshire Terrier. Is that of interest to you?

    Beyond that, frequency is the final element to be mindful of. I already mentioned the "Oh, he just ended another song... must be time to go talk to him again" issue, but try and keep track of who you've told your story to. You got drunk in Minneapolis and somehow bumped into Prince, got nervous and puked all over him, only to laugh hysterically when you saw it was purple? Awesome story... the first 12 times. Now it's just kinda annoying (and a biohazard now that I think about it).

  • So tell me what's on your mind. But keep it brief, on topic, and timed properly.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Where Ya Been?

    "Hey Gregory, why so long since you've posted a new blog article?"


    New posts coming soon...

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Most Influential Albums: Queen - Flash Gordon Soundtrack

    My first childhood memories are of my brother, Chris, and I teaming up with Todd and Wade (our same-aged next-door neighbors) to battle Darth Vader and the Empire, wage war against the opposing yard with “dirt clods” (handfuls of packed, drying Oklahoma mud), or engaging in our favorite pastime; reenacting Flash Gordon. Not the comic or black-and-white serial from the 1930’s, but the full-on camp of the 1980 film with Sam Jones.

    “Fans” would be too conservative a description. We were rabid, addicted Flash Gordon zealots. If we weren’t watching it (time registers much differently at that age, but it seemed it was on HBO every day), we were turning swing sets into space ships, sand boxes into alien swamp pits, and big wheels into rocket cycles. Offers to ride along on shopping trips were declined, excursions to the park or zoo were bailed on, and quite a few meals were even missed solely for the sake of being able to once again join forces to destroy the evil Mungo minions and their ruthless, alien tyrant of a leader, Ming the Merciless.

    It’s interesting that we never chose one of us to play Ming. He was always just an invisible evil. At that age, too young to yet know all the injustice and cruelty in the real world, Ming was the worst thing my naive, still-forming mind could conjure. Anyone who wanted to kill innocent people and damage the earth MUST be an insane, goatee-sporting alien from light-years away. Everybody on earth was one of the “good guys”, everywhere I could go was safe, and all was right with the world – the “world” being my one little block in Jenks, America. And as for Ming, why worry? We’ve got Flash on our side.

    My dad bought us the Flash Gordon soundtrack, written and performed by Queen, on vinyl (which I still have) and transferred a copy to cassette tape so we could rock out to it in the car. This started a trend which later included the soundtracks for Star Wars and a couple of the Rocky movies. But this is truly the first album I ever owned or remember hearing.

    I always eagerly anticipated a part in the song “Hero” - the thunderous, impacting tom hits when the band comes in full-force. Not having ever seen a drum kit, I thought they had to be hammers hitting metal. My pulse surged every time I heard those bombastic impacts. I felt electrified, exhilarated, and a little frightened all in the same moment. Thus began my love of enormous rock drum sounds.

    The soundtrack is peppered with sound clips from the movie, which is engaging on so many completely different levels. Awkward, annoying, thrilling, laughable, yet inspiring the voice-overs may be, but the music just plain rocks. Queen was killer, and Brian May is a genius. No, really. The guy has an astrophysics PHD. Look it up. His composing and guitar skills are out of this world (pun intended), and a couple of the songs represented here are among Queen's best in my opinion.

    This album is awesome. For sentimental reasons as well as audio content, it will always be a fave of mine.

    Don't own it yet? Listen and buy it here:


    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Musician Tip #4: Community Gear

    As a musician, you will very likely come into a situation where you're playing a show with gear, often owned by the venue or sound company, which is used by other musicians. Your treatment of this equipment is directly related to how much of an inbred ditch pig other musicians consider you to be.

    If you were paying attention in Kindergarten, you understand that you should put things back in their place when you're done with them. You should also take care of other people's things as if they were your own. Though if you are a slobby-slob and, let's face it, as a musician... you probably are, you should treat other people's things as if said people have the ability to psychically flip your nipples inside-out at will.

    So you broke a guitar string and had to do a lightning-fast restring on the spot? That happens. But the sin of leaving your left-over string clippings on the stage is cardinal. You would understand this if you've ever innocently reached down to pick up a cable on a dark stage only to have the needle-sharp end of a high E string stab an inch deep into the skin underneath your fingernail.

    To the gents who feel the need to tighten the joints on an ADJUSTABLE microphone stand to somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 ft-lbs of torque: not a single person is impressed with your strength. It's not terribly difficult to lock those stands up. It is, however, difficult to not be considered a raging twit for ruining the very feature that made that stand an attractive purchase in the first place. Also, the carpal tunnel fairy will be visiting you soon.

    On a somewhat related note, don't touch that button on the mixer marked "phantom power" unless you actually know what it does. There's a 99% chance you're singing/playing into a Shure SM-58 or SM-57, both of which are dynamic mics. Don't know the difference between a dynamic or condenser mic? Leave the phantom power button alone. You can even damage certain types of mics by engaging the phantom power. So unless you want the next act who takes the stage to realize what a total noob you are, no touchy.

    So do everyone (including yourself) a favor and be kind to the equipment on stage. The next guy on stage after you just might be me...

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Most Influential Albums: Stone Temple Pilots - Core

    This was the first CD I ever bought.

    I purchased this album the day Jurassic Park was released in theaters - June 11, 1993. My brother Chris, my buddy Dustin Keith, and I were planning to see that Cretaceous blockbuster flick and had time to kill. Earlier in the day, Chris drove Dustin and I to a guy's house to buy some comic books the fella needed to unload for monetary reasons. I still have those comics, including a copy of X-Men #1 autographed by Jim Lee - and am hoping all the other kid's moms threw their comic mags away while they were off at college so mine will actually be worth something significant one day. But I digress...

    That summer, for a few months previous, my brother and I had been flipping out over this song that would play on the radio as we drove home from church on Wednesday nights. Windows down (the A/C was busted), radio blaring, American-made Ford steel creaking as we hurled ourselves at breakneck speed down I-44 in Tulsa listening to this song. We strongly suspected it was Pearl Jam, but the chorus had no lyrical hook, so it was anyone's guess to what the title was, and it wouldn't have helped guessing since the word "Plush" is never uttered in the song.

    I eventually heard a radio personality (this was the era of the death of the real D.J.'s) announce the name of the group. I think I called a record store and asked if they had the "Stone Tower Captains" album or something along those lines. No dice.

    But on that fateful day when we were killing time at Tulsa's Promenade mall before watching dinosaurs killing Samuel Jackson and eating Newman from Seinfeld, I saw the cover of this album in the CD bin at Camelot Music (a terribly overpriced precursor to FYE and those other vile mall music shops). Stone Temple Pilots... THAT'S what they were called. My brother had recently acquired an archaic CD player from a kid at school, so I opted for the CD instead of the usual cassette tape. It was 1993 - this was the freakin' future, man.

    The album itself doesn't offer up much in the way of surprises, but what it does, it does REALLY well. It's a heavy, rocking collection of grunge-inspired, heroin-fueled angst. The raw, biting attitude is expected, as are the vague, surreal "what does it mean to you?" lyrics. But the band is locked in within nanoseconds of each other, the production quality and sonic clarity are outstanding (Brendan O'Brien, my fave producer, was at the helm), and Scott Weiland's voice never sounded better. My guess is he hadn't yet cocaine-carved his septum into a Grand Canyon diorama. Also, Dean DeLeo's chord usage is a master-lesson in songwriting.

    "Dead and Bloated" kicks off the album. Not just kicks, but drop-kicks with atom bombs strapped to its boots. Groove like that is hard to find. For some reason, most drummers seem to hate Eric Kretz - I have no idea why since he's better than most of the guys in the game. True, he's never flashy, but in the departments of groove and feel, he's over-stocked. Other highlights are the radio staples "Wicked Garden", "Sex Type Thing", the groove-o-saurus "Where The River Goes", and my fave "Crackerman".

    Listening to this CD as often as I did got my mind leaning more creatively towards song structures and chord progressions. It also gave a bit of inspiration to my dying my hair fire-engine red (as Scott's was in the video for "Plush") several years later.

    Don't own it? Listen and buy it here: