Festivals and Streaming: Coachella And The Death Of Dealing With Sweaty People In A Field

Festivals.  Let’s talk about them.

On the one hand, it’s the Costco/Music Mall/Best Buy of shows.  Every band you’ve heard anything about on many stages across a vast landscape.  Sets are truncated (sometimes severely due to scheduling,) and the first few songs always sound terrible due to lack of sound checks.  Food and water are impossible to obtain, you will either bake in the sun, or be covered in mud from hours of torrential downpours.  Your fellow attendees will be hallucinating, screaming, passing out, and just generally being all up in your space, and you will get no rest, because the partying goes all night, and the hot sun will wake you up at the crack of dawn.

On the other hand….You get to see every band you’ve heard anything about in one location, and maybe a few of those will be pretty good!  That’s about all I have for positives…I’m not one for endless groups of people for days on end.

In my younger days, I was a festival enthusiast.  These mostly existed in what one might call the “Jamband” scene.  The Gathering Of The Vibes in Bridgeport CT was a prime example.  A few years in a row, it was a utopian experience.  Easy parking and transportation, not a massive crowd, good lineup, friendly people.  As it gained popularity, it literally became a shit show.  That’s literal…during a storm which included tornado warnings, porta-potties overflowed on a massive scale.  It was also pretty much a farmers market for sketchy drug dealers, who heard there would be some hippies in town.  Not good vibes.

What, you don't want to hang with these people?

Years later, at my final festival as an attendee, I went to the Phish IT event in Maine.  The drive was 12 hrs from New York, then 12 hours once we got to the location, on the mile long road leading to the festival entrance.  It was a not so fond farewell to a music I was not longer in love with.

Some Dudes Wheeling My Drums

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with the band Depedro, in Winnipeg Canada. The other side of the coin looked completely different.  As a performer, you were driven with your gear to stages by golf cart, people carried equipment for you (photo above,) you were fed great meals at any time of day, shade and seats were readily available.  We saw tons of great music, made great friends, played Beatles songs in the hotel ballroom at all hours of the night….the complete opposite experience.

Well, this weekend, we discovered the middle ground.  And not surprisingly, it appeared like a desert oasis thanks to technology.  Streaming.  It’s pretty much the answer to everything (media related anyway,) and festivals have become Youtube enthusiasts.  I’ve tried to access some streaming events in the past to some dismay – probably due to wonky internet connections…but it seems to be making some progress! Coachella, the hipster paradise and its own desert oasis to some, decided to stream nearly the entire festival.

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Sunday night, after a day of biking, a trip to Smorgasburg in DUMBO, and  an obligatory visit to 16 Handles, we retired home to the comfort of our livingroom to watch Father John Misty do his evening set at Coachella.  There were a few hickups in the stream, and the sound was a little weird during the first few songs….but would it have been much better in a windy desert?  No one was standing in front of me, no drunk idiot looking up the lyrics on their phone to sing along (which happened at a previous FJM show) no line for beverages…..all in all, pretty good!

FJM via Brooklyn Vegan
FJM via Brooklyn Vegan

Yes, you can call it COUCH-ella.  The Office already did that a few years back in a surprisingly well timed joke! Give it a little time.  The picture looks great, there are no commercial interruptions, and the sound mix gets better as the performance continues.  I’m sure as bandwidth becomes less of an issue we’ll move to higher resolution, but I’m not complaining.  If they decide to charge a bit for it, that’s fine.  If the quality increases, its totally worth it.

Yes, nothing can replace the live experience.  But As I get a little older, the experience as a whole is what’s important.  The band needs to be great, but I just can’t deal with all the other shit that goes along with it.  Hundreds of people holding up  iPhones for entire songs.  Drunk pushy people.  The Talkers.  It’s endless.  I’ll venture out if its a favorite band at the right venue, but you just never know.  Even the Village Vanguard attracts “Bro Dudes On Date Night” from time to time.

Somehow I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  As I said, I’ll pay to stream shows, I don’t care.  As long as musicians can all be in the same room playing together, Music will continue.  Just the thought of having to rush to get tickets when anything goes on sale, only to be defeated by The Bots, then have to worry about a shitty experience even if you do get in….it’s just too much to take.  I sound old, and I’m pretty OK with that.

The Sea Was Angry That Day, My Friends – Ultimate Ears, Shure, and Sandwiches.

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Technology must be upset with yesterday’s post. In the afternoon we lost all phones and internet at the studio, so we follow local tradition and curse Time Warner. This morning, upon arrival, nothing is working, computers will not start, still no phone, no internet. We all leave to do what we can from home, then return for the afternoon sessions. I’m not complaining, I had a delicious chicken sandwich from the local deli and went to Cafe Pedlar. Is there really any meal better than an amazing chicken sandwich? If there is, I don’t want to know about it. That’s a lie, I totally do. This must have been a magic sandwich, because lo and behold, when I return, it was all working. For some reason an intern set up our phone and internet service…I’m going to blame him. We don’t have a great history with interns. One had to get a talkin’ to because of his flatulence…..but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve been in headphone limbo for a bit. For years, I used the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi’s, first the Pro 5’s, then when those were lost, the Pro 10’s. They sounded wonderful, and likely saved my ears. You could wear them as in ear monitors, they blocked out enough sound to use live or in studio. For everyday commuting, they were perfect. Subway’s are surprisingly loud, its best not to kill your ears when cranking your white earbuds. And I’m just not going to wear some giant studio headphones out and about. They weigh a ton, have too much cable, and don’t really isolate that well. The problem is though, the cable dies every few months, and its $20 to replace. Its like a monthly headphone usage fee. I easily spent the price of the headphones on cables. After some twitter back and forth….they sent me a replacement once, which died in 2 months. After some more customer service ping pong, they claimed to be sending another…which was over 6 weeks ago, they’re back ordered and whatnot. Wait….After checking the website….it looks like that model is discontinued??? If those cables are permanently gone, get ready for some angry tweetin’ (wow, is that the best form of intimidation our generation has?)

These are not real problems. They’re just headphones. But there are so many headphones out there, maybe we can waste a little less time getting new ones. Headphones are also important. In the city, that’s how we listen to the majority of our music or podcasts, no car stereos. Why make it sound all tinny and shit, we all spend enough time commuting.

I’m a big supporter of smaller manufacturers. Most have fantastic customer service. Some that I have had personal experience with are Mastery Bridge, Swart Amps, Analogman, Peterson Tuners, the list goes on. This applies to clothing, home furnishings…whathaveyou.  If a smaller company doesn’t have great service, who wants to deal with that shit. But most of these companies fall into the luxury goods set – the parts they need are not manufactured in mass overseas, and they deal in very small quantities. Something like esoteric headphones, using proprietary parts they have to manufacture in mass….that’s a problem when the cable you need is back ordered. Or what if they no longer make replacements? Go try and find a cable for your DIGI001….have a good time.

The conclusion is, I had to switch to the Shure SE215. They make a similar model, it was well reviewed by friends and the internet in general, and they probably make FAR more of them. There are still issues with the cable, for some reason these headphone cables die quicker than anything else, but they probably produce a lot more of them to have on hand. Also, for the first time in my purchasing history of any product, I bought an extra warranty – through B&H for $20, anything is covered for 2 years. Sometimes you have to support the larger guy. I don’t like it, you don’t like it….we love the underdog. But the underdog can’t always pull it off. Man, that’s depressing. I might eat another chicken sandwich to feel better.

Side Note: I’ll bet Grado could have pulled it off – either making a cable that didn’t die constantly or being able to replace it readily….but they only make one in ear model, and its quite expensive. I do have their SR-80 open headphones, and recommend them to everyone with ears.

We Have The Technology

The email arrived this morning…..

Introducing Pro Tools 11!

Thank you Avid, for your rapid advancement of technology, soon to make all previous versions obsolete and incompatible.  If you are not in the audio world, Pro Tools is the software used to record nearly every album made, mix the sound in almost all films, most radio and TV shows, and so on.  It’s pretty popular.

Avid, first known for their digital video editing software, is the massive death star of the audio world.  They recently laid off 20% of their staff and installed a new CEO.  Sonic Scoop detailed it very well Here and Here.  Their customer service is notoriously unhelpful, and their website is a mess.  New versions are expensive, and working out the hardware/software/OS combinations will shave years off your life.

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This is not about editing software though. This worries me about technology as a whole.  My inner Jewish 80 year old is just dying to come out.

Updated versions improve our lives, but also make previous versions obsolete.  If the software updates are free…we eventually buy new hardware to support it, and Simba is held from the mountain top, because the Circle Of Life is complete.  You think thats why apple called it OSX Lion?

They say we’re in the Wild West, technologically speaking.  This is a common theory, but what does the future hold?  Will there be some giant unified platform we all use to communicate, network-socially, buy stuff, consume media, and create content of our choosing?  Or will it become further fragmented, each application refusing to support other platforms, until we’re all basically slinging 1’s and 0’s at each other with a makeshift slingshot, until the new version of that slingshot is released, and it no longer flings the previously issued 1’s and 0’s?

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It shows up everywhere.  How many people held onto IOS 5 because of the Apple Maps debacle?  I did!  I want some shit that works!  New stuff seems to have the opposite effect on me.  I’m researching cameras, and I totally want this Fujufilm X100S….but the S is the updated one!  What happens if they release an even better X100STUV???  So I just hold out.

I end up feeling like an out of date traditionalist.  I don’t feel the need to apologize though.  Since becoming an avid (no pun intended) Spotify user, I’ve heard a lot of new music.  The platform is fantastic, and I don’t mind spending $10 a month for the mobile use alone.  But most of the stuff I’ve heard is just mediocre.  It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t grab me.  Especially when in one click, you can hear ANY other song.

The Father John Misty album has brought me joy since I heard it in the early fall.  It’s a beautiful album start to finish, maybe like 4% filler 96% killer.  But I wonder what will happen next.  Will his next release hold up?  I hate that I even think that way about it, but I do.  I do look forward to it though.

Where does that difference come from?  With technology, I just want something that works.  With music, I don’t have time for anything that is not the perfect sound for the moment.  Yes, there are different expectations – One helps you accomplish simple and important tasks in life, while the other is purely entertainment, but we’re probably not that far from a convergence.

I want everything to be fantastic and amazing all the time.  Yes, I do.

Taiwan!

Wait a minute, what happened?  Where am I?  How did I get here?

All common questions, but let’s forget about those for now.  We’re back in action.

I just returned from a brief jaunt to Taiwan for the wedding of Web Master Eric Tarn, and it was a lovely time.  Let’s call it our wedding party world tour, since technically we formed a band that went through a lineup change and played 2 nights.  The performances consisted of one song one night, and 2 songs the next, and I sat in with a strange miscellaneous European dude, in Taiwan looking for a bride, who just wanted to play rockabilly tunes, but let’s not get caught up in the details.

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It’s a wonder what jet lag and watery Taiwan Beer can do to a group of out of towners! There’s a strange little ex-pat music scene, where international business people go to play classic rock jams at all hours of the evening on a Wednesday.  Very strange.  It felt like we were in a Terry Gilliam movie at times, and that’s pretty much where I want to be cinematic-ally when having a surreal travel experience.

Taiwan+Beer

In what may have been the greatest wedding band decision of all time, a local Taiwanese Ska Band was hired for the reception, and it was fantastic.  Some old R&B covers, some traditional swing songs, all fantastic.  We even drank enough Taiwan Beer to get up and play a few numbers

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Note Mr Tarn looking extra McCartney-like in his grey 3 piece suit and Hofner bass.  Was it any good?  I have no idea!  But it was a great time.   That’s all for now.  Workin on some new ideas.