Archive for October 19th, 2007

The best, undiscovered, indie bands today

This is my own personal list, shown in preference order, of the best bands out there that are still awaiting to get a good contract. I only include bands that are independent, and have fewer than 50,000 “friends” on their myspace page (if that’s an indication of anything). “Band of Horses” would have been in this list too if their just-last-night appearance on Letterman’s show didn’t skyrocket them on myspace/iTunes. They are stars already with their recent second album. I don’t think that their label, SubPop (49% owned by Warner), has seen such a big hit since the days they signed Nirvana.

1. Drist
Of course, I love the Drist. They truly rock. Tyson’s lovely lyrics and Brian’s amazing music just make me wanna move my head up and down all day. I love most of their songs, but possibly my favorites are their “Stripped” cover and “Surfacing”. Its melody hits a nerve with me. Drist became known after two of their songs were included in the “Guitar Hero” video game and since then their albums sell well via CDBaby too (both albums are on the top-15 of their “hard rock” category for years now). The band has shared with me some samples of their new album, and they sound just amazing!

1b. Dolorata
All-women hard rock band, “The Keys” is one of the coolest songs ever.

2. Rantings of Eva
Aaaah… “Bright Side”. What a killer song that is? It sends shivers up and down my spine, as the lyrics mention. These guys can have a huge future if they get a good contract. Kinda like Coldplay. Their new album will be out soon.

3. Midlake
The most well-known band in this list. This is my favorite kind of music: soothing alt.rock, just like Fleetwood Mac. “Roscoe” and “Head Home” are their best songs.

4. Red Letter Agent
I found out about these guys by following a link from “Rantings of Eva’s” myspace page. They sound pretty similar (separated at birth?), and they are just as good. I am looking forward to listen to more of their work. I think their best so far is “A World Awake”.

5. The Coral Sea
I love this kind of music. Soothing music that is. “In This Moment’s Time” and “Ancient Modern People” are their best songs although “Look at Her Face” is popular too. A new album arrives this coming spring (they said)…

6. Faunts
More soothing alt.rock music. Very atmospheric music, it just carries me away, to another place. All their three best songs are given for free by either their site or their label’s site. “Memories of places we’ve never been” is possibly their best. They have a new EP coming out, their label emailed me the other day.

7. Cold Hot Crash
From the Bay Area, great rock music, the local radio plays them quite a bit. My favorite song of their is “They Keep Calling”, although “Dividing Up Circles” is their most well known song.

8. Asobi Seksu
I absolutely love their psychedelic pop-rock sound. The singer’s voice is amazing too. “Thursday” and “Sooner” are their best songs. Many of their songs can be found for a free, legal, download at their site, their label’s site and eMusic.

9. RadioFix
Good hard rock. If you like a mix of classic, alternative and a pinch of country rock, this is for you. “Dogs of Night” is their best song.

10. Nemesea
Evanescence-like music. Most of the songs on their album are good.

11. Wiretree
Indie Pop at its best. Each one of the album‘s songs are catchy.

12. The A-Sides
Another good group. Best song is “Sidewalk Chalk” in my opinion.

13. Starlight Mints
A group that plays more than one kinds of music. Their best is “Inside of Me” and you can download it legally from their label’s site.

14. We Shot the Moon
From the ashes of “Waking Ashland”, just a few months ago, the “We Shot The Moon” were born. I mostly like “The Water’s Edge” song. They are very new, but they are coming to iTunes in a few days (they said).

15. Black Days Down
Hard rock. Sounds a bit like Nickelback. But just better. Hehehe…

16. The West Exit
If you like a mix of Jamiroquai & Sade-like music, this one is for you. Very good music, great talent. Not the kind of music for everyone, but definitely one of the best groups in that musical area. All their songs are free either via their site or Magnatune.

17. Angie Mattson
Kinda like Fiona Apple, but more approachable. Writes her own music, performs it, and she looks stunning too.

And finally, all six bands from this label. They seem to be having signed up the best of the best — and it’s possibly not a coincidence, as while they classify themselves as indie, they are owned by EMI. Many of these small supposedly indie labels are actually owned by the majors, who wait to see which bands have what it takes before they sign them on with a big contract (kinda like sports teams have sub-teams with younger athletes that they then promote to the pro club)! Anyways, it’s too bad that the best band at this label was recently robbed: “in Orlando FL, On Oct 7th, between 11 and 12pm, the Edison Glass van was broken into. They broke through the window and stole all the money we made for the tour, laptops, i-pods, GPS, bags and other personal items. The total loss EG took is estimated $8,000.” Let me just say this: never leave money in the car.

Who said that engineers can’t be artists? Ah, Guy said so.

Hey, this is so cool and I just found out about it by following links. This short film was created for the “48 hour film contest” and written by Baron and Ficus, of Be, Inc. fame. They used to work for Be, Inc. on the Be operating system together with my JBQ, then at Danger (of Sidekick cellphone fame), then I think Ficus moved to Google. Both are very creative individuals, and I love their songs from the time they were in this indie rock band together, the “Cotton Squares” (download their songs here). The whole band was comprised by ex-Be engineers (including kernel engineer Travis, who later went on to Danger, Apple, Palm, Sega and he even wrote his own OS, NewOS).

If you ever used BeOS and you opened a terminal to do an “ls -l”, you would see that the “owner” of the files is not you, but a user called “baron”. That’s the same Baron I am talking about here. BeOS was a single-user somewhat-Posix-compliant OS so the engineers could play funny pranks like that. 😉

Understanding ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Delivery’ video formats

Among newbie videographers it’s a difficult concept to understand the difference between video formats that are meant for “editing work” (intermediate), and for formats that are meant for “sharing and viewing” (delivery). So, here’s a quick rundown.

There are times where you need to do things like the following:
* Transfer your already edited footage from one application to another.
* Transfer your already edited footage from one video project to another.
* Insert an originally 50i/60i footage to a 24p timeline.
* Time-stretch your footage more than 4x (at least on Vegas you need to export and re-import to stretch another 4x).
* You shot your video in uncompressed format and you need to make the file sizes smaller.
* You need a format that’s more suitable for editing.
* Archive your edited footage.

For these usages, you need a “lossless” codec format that doesn’t lose quality during the export. Such codecs are: Cineform, Lagarith, Huffyuv, Intel Cinepack, Apple Intermediate Format, plain uncompressed and lots more. Please note that lossless codecs create huge files. For example, a 15 second HD footage will yield a 300 MB file, and although this sounds too much and it’s slow to decode, it is nothing compared to 3 GBs that the “uncompressed” codec will yield for the same HD footage. The slowness and huge files pay you back with no loss of quality. I would suggest you go with Cineform if your NLE has import/export support for it (Vegas ships with a “medium quality” licensed copy of Cineform), or the open source Lagarith codec (to configure Lagarith to create smaller files you will need to follow steps 9 to 11). If you are exporting to something like FFmpeg, Mencoder or Avidemux2, you will need to use Huffyuv (follow steps 2 and 3 to configure it to create smaller files before its first usage).

The final part you will need to understand is that most of these lossless codecs are saved as “avi” or “mov”. These filetypes are not codec formats, but container formats. They are simply file formats that “hosts” inside them different kinds of codecs. This is why it’s possible to have DivX .avi files, and Cineform or Lagarith .avi files and yet, the same media player that can play one .avi format can’t necessarily play another. Just by looking at the file name you can’t tell which format “lives” inside that .avi or .mov file. You will have to use applications that can read these formats and tell you what’s saved inside. Same goes for .mp4, .mkv, .ogg and other container formats. Apple is saving their Intermediate Format lossless codec files in .mov, but so it does for all the other kinds of codec formats, so you will need to open Quicktime’s “inspector” window to find out how these files were encoded. Other container formats are the open source implementations of .mkv Matroska files and the .ogg files (which can host both Vorbis audio and Theora video — Vorbis is the audio codec, Theora is the video codec, and OGG is the container format that can host them both).

Regarding “end user” viewing formats (also known as “delivery formats”), these are, but not limited to, codecs like h.264, DivX/XViD, WMV, plain mpeg-4, mpeg2, mpeg, Theora, 3GP/h.263, FLV and many more. These are all “lossy” codecs and are meant for distribution and user viewing only. They compress very well (e.g. the 300 MB file we talked about earlier can be compressed down to 10 MBs with one of these babies), but being lossy it means that the quality is not as good as the original footage. This is ok though, as most people don’t notice much, and having small filesizes helps with the delivery and easier playback aspects.

The rule of thumb is that you can export in lossless formats as many times as it is required to do your job, but only export to a lossy “delivery” format ONCE. This way, you minimize the loss of quality on the final render — the one that’s meant to reach your viewership.

My personal preferences that are the best bets for compatibility, are: Lagarith for intermediate format usages between Windows applications, Huffyuv for intermediate format usages when I need to export to Linux-oriented apps, the (unfortunately) lossy .m2t mpeg2 format if I need to export for Mac video applications, and h.264/AAC (inside the .mp4 container) for user distribution on the internet and video playback devices. Of course, if you have the cash, you can buy the full Cineform suite that will allow you to use their “best quality setting” for their codec on both PCs and Macs (not Linux though). However, if you only work with a single operating system, then there are free solutions that perform as well.