Archive for September 12th, 2010

Writing music: my new hobby

Videography will remain my hobby, but I’m now ready to take on a new hobby too: learning to play, and (most importantly for me) compose music. So yesterday, I bought the Casio CTK-3000 keyboard (got a bundle at Amazon).

The problem is that I’m 37 years old. I can’t learn brand new things easily anymore. In fact, I never could. Truly and deeply learning was always a struggle for me, because of focusing/learning problems (ADHD). So naturally, I feel that I have a mountain in front of me learning play music.

Thankfully, just earlier today, I found this free application: Synthesia. It’s a game like Guitar Hero, but it’s for the PC/Mac, for the piano, and it supports MIDI controllers. There’s no easier way to learn to play by ear! There are thousands of .mid files around, for free, so this can make learning very easy.

In the past year I noticed how good my husband became by playing these GuitarHero-type games on his PS3 and XBoX360. His instrument of choice is drums, and within a year, by playing only 4-5 hours a month, he’s already pretty fast with it. This doesn’t mean that he knows how to play real drums, but it is obvious to me that this kind of visual “game-like” training works, and it will surely work for my purpose too.

My ultimate goal is to compose my own music. I’m not interested in playing/performing music, I just want to write original music, and share it with everyone. But in order to write music, you must know how to play it too (when composing it). I’m not going to use loops and ready-made melodies, you see. To help me with composition, I’m eying Ableton Live for the PC, an $800 piece of software. I will cross that bridge when I get there, when I feel I’m ready for something like it. I tried the free Rosegarden and Ardour on my Linux laptop, but they were pretty chaotic — and buggy.

I have very specific ideas of what kind of music I want to write. I want to write chillwave, but not the kind that exists today (which echoes ’80s new wave music). I want to write chillwave that echoes jazz. Basically, that would be reverbed electronic music, that has jazz overtones, instead of the nostalgic summer melodies chillwave has today.

I know little about jazz, and I only started to listen to it recently. I’m planning of buying 4-5 more jazz albums (the classics), and stop there. I don’t want to know a lot about jazz, because I don’t want to get influenced by it. Instead, I want to give the impression of jazz to my music (chillwave is modern impressionism, for those who don’t know). I want to convey how jazz sounds to the NON initiated! But through the distorted glass that is chillwave.

Difficult to explain. All I can say though is that it won’t be real jazz. There won’t be improvisation, or solo exchanges between a number of musicians on stage — as Jazz requires. What it will be, for sure, is chillwave: [jazzy] bedroom pop. Hopefully, it will overall sound fresh.

For now, I also bought this book: “Music Theory for Computer Musicians”. At some point in the future, this would be needed knowledge to go further in my quest. Playing by ear, and mastering a piece of software, only gets you so far.

Our entertainment plans for this year

The Problem

We’re tired of paying $90 per month to Comcast for cable TV we don’t actually watch much (this whole Summer we had the cable box out of power completely — nothing interesting to watch on it)! This price does not include sports, HBO and other premium channels! Just the basic cable stuff, but with HDTV and a DVR rental box. In my opinion, that’s just too expensive. We never watch more than about 15 channels for example (e.g. FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, CW, SyFy, Food Channel, Discovery, PBS, Science, NatGeo, History, Fuse, CNN, Travel), but Comcast insists on adding more useless TV channels that no one is really watching, just to compete “in numbers” with other providers. It’s ridiculous really.

The Idea

So we’ve decided with JBQ to go with the following, when these are ready for prime-time:

1. Use our existing $10 Netflix account (2 discs at any time, unlimited streaming), and stream movies via our PS3.

2. Go with Hulu Plus for $10, when it’s out for the PS3 too.

3. When our current AppleTV dies, we will go with streaming RDIO or MOG for our music listening, for $10.

Overall, that’s $20 per month instead of $90 for TV, and only $10 for music instead of $100-$150 (I currently spend way too much money buying music).

The following idea does it for us, even if we lose “live” TV and basic sports. In fact, we believe that if more people go the way we will, “live” TV will eventually reach Hulu Plus anyway, at least the big TV networks will follow (Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC, and possibly CW). Live TV for these basic channels will just be a matter of demand, and it might happen within a single year.

Shortcomings

However, not everything is full of roses at the moment. We’ll be early adopters, so there’s things missing from a full TV/music experience for us. For example:

– Netflix only has about 1000 titles for streaming. The Hollywood studios don’t allow Netflix to add a lot more. But Netflix definitely has its eyes fixated towards movie/show streaming. It knows it’s the future. So it’ll happen. The studios will eventually succumb on the demand.

– Hulu Plus doesn’t have everything found on TV yet. Not live TV either. But that will come too if it proves to be a success.

– No subtitles yet on either Hulu Plus or Netflix. Sometimes I do need it, late at night, when everyone’s sleeping and I must lower the volume.

– As I explained the other day on my blog post about how much I hate the new second generation AppleTV, we like local music playback. We like the appliance experience, not having to turn ON PCs on a different room of the house in order to listen to music in our living room. But we know, there will be a time that our first generation AppleTV (which currently does it the way we want it to regarding music) will die. And that would be the time when we will have to move to something else. RDIO or MOG fit that bill. We will lose our iTunes smart playlists and all our song ratings, but at least we will gain unlimited music streaming, without having to separately own the music pieces — and that’s an acceptable compromise. All we now require from RDIO or MOG, is a GoogleTV application. We can then hook-up our future GoogleTV device to our amplifier/speakers, and use the Android’s or Apple iOS’ RDIO/MOG client to control the GoogleTV’s RDIO/MOG client. And that would be an excellent living room experience.

– RDIO/MOG don’t have as much music yet as iTunes/Amazon do. Hopefully this will change soon, and they will also allow “true” indies without distribution to upload their music too (e.g. the Bandcamp crowd).

– Sure, there will be a few times that internet will be down, so we won’t be able to stream shit. For these times, we already have some DVDs and CDs in our local library to enjoy. Not a biggie for a few hours, since everything would be On-Demand, so we won’t really “miss” a show. We’d just have to watch it a bit later on. We can live with that.

Obstacles

The only TRUE obstacle I see in the whole idea is Comcast. See, without Netflix, we were using about 50 GB of bandwidth per month. With my July’s and August’s Netflix streaming, I’ve observed this number going to 100 GB. I expect that with Hulu Plus and RDIO/MOG that number will go to 200 GB, no doubt. Comcast’s internet bandwidth consumption limit is 250 GB per month. Our entertainment habits will result to be too close to that number. There might be a month that we will be dangerously close. I’m not comfortable with that.

Not to mention that if Comcast notices that a lot of people are leaving their cable TV service and are going with Netflix/Hulu Plus, they might decide to beat us where it hurts: limiting the monthly internet bandwidth for “Home” accounts even more, at maybe, around 100 GB. That number would be too small to fit entertainment. It’s enough for heavy, but “normal”, internet usage, but not for streaming HD content.

So Comcast still holds a card in its hands. How it will play that card, in conjunction to any new net neutrality laws that might happen in the meantime, it can define a lot of things for the future of home entertainment. So I personally see a major war between cable TV and streaming companies in the next 2 years or so. In fact, the cable TV companies might find an ally in that war: their nemesis, the satellite TV companies!