Sunday, 11 May 2008

A Question Of Balance

A conversation earlier today with my good friend, Martin Lennon, sparked my brain momentarily out of its current sleep-deprived state (who the hell was it said that 18-month-olds' sleeping patterns improve with age?), and set me pondering (as I'm unfortunately prone to do, especially when something needs to be done).

So I'd like to ask anyone who's reading this a couple of serious questions:

1) Are you happy?

2) If so, why? Alternatively, if not, what are you doing/what do you think you personally can/need to do, in order to become happy?

All comments, anonymous or otherwise, gratefully received.

I hope this doesn't sound overly-personal and intrusive - I'm genuinely trying to come to a better understanding of how other people view the notion of being 'happy', or how that can be achieved. One of the things Martin & I touched on was the problem of distinguishing the subtle boundaries between factors affecting us that are entirely outwith our personal control; those that may have arisen unwittingly, or unforeseeably, from decisions or actions we took in the past (which seemed like the best possible at the time); and those where an opportunity for 'happiness' is within an individual's grasp, if only they were prepared to suffer the necessary short-term consequences in order to attain it.

We also spouted a fair bit of blather and nonsense, it must be said, but then that's probably what we do's a survival strategy born of many years of "function-band-stress" necessity.

For myself, I can't honestly give any answers right now. Too much uncertainty, too many variables, and, as mentioned above, currently nowhere near enough processing power available...dab hand with the old quick-sidestep-plausible-excuse, me.

Seriously though, if people could take the time to respond, that'd be great - even those who've been sadly misdirected by the all-powerful Google and its ilk. My current favourite search entry that's found it's way here: "how to make a biscuit tin banjo", from someone based in Luton, England. (In fact, adding 'England' there was entirely superfluous, since there's only one "Luton" in the whole world - quite possibly one more than the world actually needs, but that's another debate entirely.)

Hopefully there'll be something more amusing next time round...

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Been a while, hasn't it? Still, I thought I'd make up for my posting inconsistencies by having a shot at the "earliest gratuitous mention of Christmas in a supposedly music-orientated blog" record. But more on that later...

Recently, I decided to spread my online self even thinner by creating an "Andy Gilmour - Musician" (I've tried saying it to myself in a sonorous, deeply dramatic voice, but it still fails to sound remotely cool) page over at BumTome...oops, I mean ArsePamphlet... no, hang on, oh that's right, FaceBook. The stuff I've put on it is practically identical, I'm afraid, to that on my MySpace offering (sorry, nothing shiny and new as yet...yes, I'm ridiculously slow & useless, yes, I should get up off my arse and try harder, yes,yes, I know...sheesh!), but I have to say, although a lot of the features available are practically identical, ButtScroll still isn't as easy to modify and generally make spiffy for the budding on-line musical phenomenon as MyArse.

There's also a bit of a difference in the audience/membership of the sites, judging by which artists are most popular (in terms of 'fans') on each. Here's a "Top 20" comparison chart - (rounded) 'fan' numbers will have changed by the time anyone reads this, but the rankings should be pretty much the same:

FaceBook................................ MySpace
Daft Punk (167,000) .....................Tila Tequila (3.053million)
2 Linkin Park (155k).........................T.I. (1.989m)
3 Justin Timberlake (149k).............Fall Out Boy (1.823m)
4 Dave Matthews Band (148k)........Kate Voegele (1.493m)
5 Chris Brown (143k)........................Panic At The Disco (1.398m)
6 Pink Floyd (134k)...........................Rihanna (1.344m)
7 Avril Lavigne (124k)......................50 cent (1.150m)
8 Radiohead (122k)............................Avril Lavigne (1.117m)
9 Amy Winehouse (116k).................Sherwood (1.113m)
10 Coldplay (108k)............................Linkin Park (1.108m)
11 Foo Fighters (106k).....................Chris Brown (1.105m)
12 Jonas Brothers (106k).................Justin Timberlake (1.052m)
13 Evanescence (104k).....................Diddy (1.041m)
14 Red Hot Chili Peppers (96k).......Fergie (1.040m)
15 Miley Cyrus (85k)........................My Chemical Romance (1.037m)
16 Jack Johnson (82k).......................Eminem (1.008m)
17 Bob Marley (82k)..........................AFI (968k)
18 Beyoncé (79k)................................Beyoncé (932k)
19 Madonna (75k)..............................Metallica (844k)
20 Pearl Jam (74k).............................Paramore (799k)

(apologies for my lack of clever html table-coding abilities - the original tabulation worked fine on the MySpace blog)

Apart from Beyoncé's weirdly identical chart placing, even a cursory glance at the names on each list suggests two things: AssVolume members are, on average, slightly older, but no less susceptible to trite pop pap. Also, if you want to become popular on either site, having perky breasts and/or a hefty marketing budget clearly doesn't hurt.

Personally, I have no bleedin' idea what people see in Justin Timberlake - thin reedy voice, mediocre beat-boxing, he's been trained since infancy to be as bland as (in)humanly possible (Disney, 'N Sync), and with the peachfuzz 'beard' he resembles nothing so much as a 12-year old in a bad nativity play - or, indeed, the whiny, angst-lite (tm), genetically-modified Bratz-doll that is Avril Lavigne, but that's just me... (Oh, and don't get me started on the likes of Linkin Park...)

Anyway, dragging myself away from a futile rant about the nature of the music marketplace, and back to the original topic (sort of).

Wondering what to get the bass player in your life next Christmas? Looking for that special gift, the one that says "I love your bottom-end" like no other? Well, I might just have the solution...

Once upon a time, I'd have simply said "Buy them a Behringer DI100". In fact, I'd still recommend that every - seriously, every - musician should have one of these little life-savers in their gig bags. Singers - want to gain infinite kudos from your fellow band members, the ones who are oh-so-envious because all you usually have to do is cart around a microphone, an oh-so-heavy collapsible stand and (maybe) an XLR cable? (See, you don't just get all the attention during the gig, you also have the least to pack up afterwards, meaning more schmoozing time. We're jealous - and that's not good for band morale. Really not).

Next time someone's treasured piece of vital stage gear fails dramatically in the middle of a song, just whip out your freshly-purchased Behringer box-o'-wonders, and they'll love you. No, they will. There's been a few times my trusty little (and very cheap!) D.I. has saved collective backsides when (very expensive) amplifiers and/or multi-effects processors have died at extremely awkward moments. Yes, it won't sound exactly the same, but if it's a case of the show not going on... oh, and you can never rely on the P.A. guy/venue having sufficient/spare D.I. boxes. That's making an assumption, that is.

For a bass player, however, I've finally found something even better. Save up your pennies, and treat them to a Hartke Bass Attack pre-amp! (Assuming they don't have one already, that is. If they do, well, you're stuffed. Sorry.)

I finally got my hands on one of these fantastic stomp-boxes about a month ago (I know, they've been on the market for years - I'm a bit behind the times), and I can't begin to describe adequately just how bloody good it is. So I won't. All I'll say is that if you own a medium-quality, reasonably cheap bass, and you've been wondering about spending a significant wodge of cash on an upgrade, then don't. Save yourself the financial agony, buy the Hartke unit instead - you'll be amazed. This clever piece of kit (did I mention it can be phantom powered?) can take an average bass, and make it sound like the high-end, unattainable lust-instrument of your dreams!

No, seriously, I thought that, (after 18 years of playing), I'd got a reasonably decent bass sound from my gear, but within half-an-hour of plugging into the Bass Attack I realised just how wrong I had been.

"Ok", you might say, "It's a really cool item, but it's a bit more than I really want to spend. Tell me, Andy, how might I afford one, so as to make my beloved bass player happier than John McCain watching the Democrats' nomination struggle?"

Ah, 'tis a hard path, but a simple one, I'm afraid. Abstemiousness. Self-denial. Giving up something you like, in order to get something you really want. We've almost all got obvious little fripperies, luxuries, sources of not-strictly-necesary expenditure we could cut back on if we try hard enough. It could be smoking less, or choosing not to use the car for short journeys that we could easily make on foot instead (any Americans reading this?)...for me, it was chocolate. I like the good stuff, which means, unfortunately, also the more expensive stuff. But to help my personal budget along, it's had to go. I wouldn't say it hasn't been hard, at right now, where I've got a severe dose of the 'Man-Flu', and the mental image of biting into a bar of Green & Black's finest just fills my...oh, sorry. Went off a bit there. Sorry. Won't happen again.

Being, again, quite serious, something as small (and sickly, frankly) as a "Mars Bar" can cost anything from about 36p upwards a time. If you bought one such sugary snack a day, then you'd have paid the price of the Bass Attack pre-amp in 167 days! (Based on the lowest price I could find on-line, including delivery, but you might be able to get it for less - I only paid £50 for mine - ex-demo, no box or instructions, but including power supply.) And there are, at time of writing, 235 days still to go until Christmas '08 is upon us! So you'd have enough change for wrapping-paper and a card.

Bass Attack VXL pre-amp from Hartke - because we're worth it.