All student work should go on the web

Well, it’s official. All of my students are now henceforth required to post all music assignments on SoundCloud.

It solves so many problems! No fumbling with thumb drives, no sharing of huge files, no annoyances with incompatible DAWs. No need to mess with audio-hostile Learning Management Systems. Everyone gets to listen to everyone else’s music. And best of all, the kids get into the habit of exposing their creative work to the blunt indifference of the public at large. Students can comment on and fave each others’ tracks, and so can randos on the web. It really takes the “academic” out of academic work.

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Why is “Let It Go” such a big deal?

Anna posed this question, and I think it’s an excellent one: What is up with “Let It Go” and little girls? Why is this song such a blockbuster among the pre-K set? How did it jump the gap from presentational to participatory music? Is it the movie, or the song itself? In case you never interact with pop culture or little kids, this is the tune in question:

I posted the question on Facebook, and my friends have so many good responses that I’m going to just paste them all in more or less verbatim below.

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Announcing the Peter Gabriel edition of Play With Your Music

You may have noticed a lot of writing about Peter Gabriel on the blog lately. This is because I’ve been hard at work with Alex Ruthmann, the NYU MusEDLab, and the crack team at Peer To Peer University on a brand new online class that uses some of Peter’s eighties classics to teach audio production. We’re delighted to announce that the class is finished and ready to launch.

Play With Your Music - Peter Gabriel edition

Here’s Alex’s video introduction:

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Teaching expressive use of audio effects in the MOOC

This is the fourth in a series of posts documenting the development of Play With Your Music, a music production MOOC jointly presented by P2PU, NYU and MIT. See also the first, second and third posts.

After PWYM participants have tried mixing using just levels and panning, the next step is to include audio effects for additional audio manipulation. As a painless introduction, you can load any track from SoundCloud into our own miniature web-based effects unit, #PWYM Live Effects. Then it’s time to open up some dry stems in Soundation. In addition to mixing and panning, you can now do some creative application of Soundation’s effects. These include:

Filter

Both low-pass and high-pass filters are available, which block high and low frequencies, respectively. Why would you want to do such a thing? There are practical and expressive reasons. The practical one is to keep sounds from fighting each other in the mix. So, for example, my electric guitar has a very bass-heavy sound. If there’s a bassist on the track along with me, together we’re going to sound like mud. By applying a high-pass filter to my guitar, I can stay out of the bassist’s way and still get across most of the information in my sound. Similarly, I’d want to low-pass the bass for the same reason.

A low-pass filter

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Play With Your Music curriculum design – learning to listen

This is the second in a series of posts documenting the development of Play With Your Music, a music production MOOC jointly presented by P2PU, NYU and MIT. Read the first post here.

Alex is fond of the phrase “pedagogies of timbre and space.” By that, he means: ways of studying those aspects of recorded music beyond the notes being played and words being sung. Timbre is the combination of overtones, noise content, attack and decay that makes one instrument sound different from another. Space refers to the environment that the sound exists in, real or simulated. These are the aspects of music that get shaped by recording engineers, producers and DJs. Audio creatives usually don’t have much input into the stuff you see on sheet music. But they end up significantly shaping the end result, because the sonic surface is the main thing that most non-specialist listeners pay attention to (along with the beat.) For many pop and dance styles, the surface texture is the most salient component of the music.

Frequency spectrum of an E9 chord on an electric guitar

The work of audio professionals, be they recording artists, engineers, producers, remixers or DJs, consists mostly of close listening. Making recordings consists of doing a lot of asking yourself: Does this sound good? If not, why not? Is there something missing? Or does something need to be taken out? Is the blend of timbres satisfying? Are the sounds placed well in the stereo field? Are they at the right perceptual distance from the listener? No one is born able to ask these questions, much less to answer them. You have to learn how, and then you have to practice. In a sense, music production software is like the Microsoft Office suite. Before you learn about the fine points of formatting or making equations, you need to learn how to write coherently, how to organize data, how to structure a presentation. So it is with music. There’s no point in learning the nuts and bolts of particular software until you know what you’re listening for and what you want to achieve.

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Designing a music production MOOC

In my capacity as a research assistant to Alex Ruthmann, I’ve been getting to work on a bunch of cool projects. The first one to come to fruition is a MOOC (massively open online course) about music production. It’s called Play With Your Music, and it starts November 1st. The project is spearheaded by the idealistic edupunks at Peer to Peer University, with input from the MIT Media Lab. It’s free and open to anyone with an internet connection.

Play With Your Music

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The Disquiet Junto

Update: see extensive documentation of one of my Junto projects.

A significant chunk of the music I’ve made in the past year has been prompted by a blogger and journalist named Marc Weidenbaum, proprietor of the fine electronic music web zine Disquiet. This is funny, because while I’ve had a number of online exchanges with Marc, we’ve never actually met face to face. Nevertheless, in the age of the internet, this is no obstacle to a creative relationship.

My first contact with Marc came when he wrote up some of my sample genealogies. I started following his blog, which has put me in touch with a lot of new music and musicians. While I’m less interested in the avant-garde than Marc is, he’s a fine advocate for it, and he writes about “normal” music too.

Rather than just commenting on the experimental electronic music scene, Marc has recently taken it upon himself to spur the creation of new work. Continue reading

Why do people watch music videos, especially tweens and teenagers?

I have a bunch of teenaged cousins, and they do the majority of their music listening on YouTube. They even DJ parties with it using playlists. Anytime they have a choice, they’ll always prefer music with some kind of video accompanying it, even if it’s just a still of the album cover.

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My top five SoundCloud tracks

The internet has spoken! These are the tracks of mine that you like the best, in order of listens. It comes as no surprise to me that three of them involve Michael Jackson, and two involve the Beatles.

Wanna Be Startin’ Something megamix by ethanhein

Bitter Sweet Symphony Megamix by ethanhein

Human Nature Megamix by ethanhein

Prudence Never Can Say Goodbye by ethanhein

Na Na Na Na by ethanhein