Monday, June 21, 2004

Restructuring, outsourcing, re-engineering, downsizing, subcontracting and forming alliances with friends ... and enemies.

As employees we make our own career and in reality can not expect the same kind of support employees did in our fathers' time. Employers have made a radical shift over the last two decades, and I'm not sure that it is for the better.

I do strongly feel that there is an engine driving this. It's a philosophical, political, and economic force, and as such driven by opinion, luck, and whimsey as much as business sense.

The force is determined by who gets the organization's revenue. This revenue is a dynamic amount fixed by the good old fashioned balance sheet. In the past (and with fewer and fewer examples these days, the US Military is one), revenues were distributed to employees, with the company head rarely directly getting more than 7 times the average employee. This resulted in stable companies in times of great societal change.

As FDR is credited with creating the middle class, Ronald Reagan is credited with creating an investor class. As corporate CEOs and CFOs found themselves in the position of both employee and investor, the tide quickly shifted away from stable companies with stable mutually loyal workforces (driving a stable economy) to dynamic companies with employees considered necessary parasites and the first expense to be cut. The result has been an undeniable widening of the gap between rich and poor, a huge societal experiment pretty much forcing married couples to form two-income families, and a perpetually un-stable employed-class.

Is this good or bad? Well, it just *is*, and again as you say, employees must deal with it, and this isn't something we are taught in school.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

What's Up With Customer Service?

Ooh, don't get me started!

At home, I'm faced with a Canon digital camera that was $349 375 days
ago, I can buy today for $199, and Canon wants $115 to fix a software
problem that seems to be well known...Canon's choice will be: fix this camera under warranty, or return it un-repaired for my doorstop collection; I will then sell my Canon scanner and printer on eBay, along with the $200+ of accessories I bought for my Canon camera, and recommend actively that all my friends, family, acquaintences, etc. never buy a Canon product.

Oooh, cable TV. I called Comcast to upgrade my cable so I could receive the Lakers'
playoff games on TNT, only available on a cable tier that costs an
extra $29/mo above the one I currently pay for. 10 days later, the
upgrade finally pops on, after four one-hour phone calls where they
denied any guilt, and there is one playoff game left on TNT. Then, at
the start of that last playoff game, the cable service to my
neighborhood goes off, nuking my cable TV, High Speed Internet
service, and my VOIP telephone service. They have credited me about $1 so far...

One recent weekend, I drove to an audio production facility to lend a replacement unit of one
of our products so they could continue an important project while we
fixed their out-of-warranty unit, simply because it was the right thing to do.

I have to admit, we as consumers (both of mass-market consumer
products and mission-critical pro-audio products) have voted with our
pocketbooks to put ourselves into this position. Tantalized with lower
and lower prices (hysterically low if you consider historical prices
comparing today's gear with gear of 15-20 years ago), we buy into
*newer and better* products at ever decreasing prices while expecting
customer service from the manufacturer to meet our expectations based
on past products that were sold at healthy markups from manufacturing
costs. This trend has served to democratize the recording industry,
for example (I won't say it has improved the quality of recorded
output), but at the same time, it has trivialized the results that can be obtained by few people using the best gear.

Maybe the next cycle will serve to bring back some of the value to
consumer products as well as professional audio products. By building in enough profit to the
manufacturer or distributor to facilitate a return to a properly high
level of support, we might all benefit from a real improvement in the
quality of audio delivery. And we might create a few consumers in the US by giving them well-paying jobs.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Ray Charles "We Only Play One Kind of Music..."

"...the good kind."

I had the pleasure of doing some work for Mr. Charles last year. I supplied him with a nice piece of expensive recording gear, and this required that I interact with Mr. Charles and visit him numerous times. Each visit left me with a cool memory.

On one visit Ray gave me a large check, something like what I take home in a year. The production of the check was business like but seemed ceremonial. The presentation was what stuck with me: he put the check in one of my hands, shook the other, made as if looking me right in the eye, and he said "thank you" and moved on. Reputation as a cheap bastard aside, this is a man who knows the value of his hard work.

Another time, as I brought the system to his historic-landmark studio, he helped his engineer go through every box, making sure everything was included. He fished around in one box, came up with something, walked up to me, and waved a computer mouse right in my face. "D, why the hell are you selling Ray Charles a mouse?" Of course, he knew full well why, and, although it took me a beat, in a few seconds, we both broke out laughing.

Another time during a short visit, I said that I had to excuse myself, but my girlfriend was waiting for me - we had a date. Everyone in the room lit up. Ray came over to me and said "D, all of us have to agree that there is only one thing more important than business - p****!" No one had to tell me that I had hit upon Ray's second favorite subject.

My offhand question of what kind of music he had been recording here lately made him a little cranky, but after a breath he answered with this blog title.

I've worked with a lot of idols, famous and infamous, but no one who carried himself like Ray, or presented himself as honestly as he did.

Like all of us, in the end Ray lived exactly as long as he lived (not to little or too long), but I am grateful for his time here during my time.

Play on, Brother Ray.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

the music that fixes an image

....Spring, 1976. Driving non-stop alone from Indiana to Boston. No tape player in-dash, no radio stations except for fire 'n' brimstone preachers. My mono cassette machine and a backpack full of cassettes beside me.

Dawn hits on this drive somewhere in Pennsylvania. Just as my energy was waning and I figured I wasn't going to get saved that night, I reached into the backpack and pulled out a tape without looking. Popped it in without looking.

It was music I'd never heard. Synth arppegio running up from nowhere, a woman moaning, sound effects...and just when the first drum hit of Breathe smacks, I turn a corner and the first light breaks around a hill to a scene of my highway flowing infinitely between the hill and a river.

I'll never forget the image, and I see it every time I play Dark Side of the Moon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Pirates, Stereo, Mad Cows, and The Power of Words

In a time before personal computers and AIDS, I was told to come in after class by my English teacher in high school. She wanted to talk to me about some words I had used in class. These didn't include the F word, the S word, or any on George Carlin's list. They included pissed (as in "pissed off") and bitch (as in "bitched out").

She was probably in her forties, and probably considered herself hip to these kids, but was undoubtedly raised in a time when there was little wiggle room in school on the concept of "proper" language. She wanted me to say "ticked off" instead of "pissed off", and my concept was that words were free and shouldn't be constrained, while I pointed out that I kept myself from using the F word and the S word in school, because I was smart enough to know the rules and consequences on cursing. I considered her attitude prissy and closed, but I made the choice to follow the herd...

The media in general (I'm not demonizing the media, but I probably will be throwing the good in with the bad, in this case),

is using some words that are just plain wrong. They are taking the easy way out, not thinking this through, and probably in some cases (I'm not singling out Fox News) choosing words to sensationalize a concept.


Pirates. To pirate something was to steal something, derive income from it, and deprive income from it to the previous owner.

People who pirated were called pirates. The word pirate is from
Middle English (from Old French, from Latin prta, from Greek peirts, from peirn), to attempt, from peira, trial. It's generally accepted that the term was applied to criminals-at-sea because to live, they would attempt or try anything, presumably anything out of the accepted ethical and moral ways to live their lives. Current usage of pirate for someone who trades a file on the internet came by way of pirate radio stations, famously operating from waters off British shores, that didn't submit to government fees and regulations; pirate was a cute way to refer to these stations. These stations made no profit, but played music that the BBC wouldn't play, and besides infringing on legally assigned radio frequencies, caused little trouble.

Now, people who have an MP3 image of a music recording on their hard drive are called pirates. Where's the profit to this sharer? Where's the deprivation of potential profit or deprivation of use for the owner (let's assume that the potential marketing value of this availability is at least equal to the potential for loss). People selling mixtapes or bootlegging copies of other peoples' property to sell at flea markets or on the streets of Shanghai are certainly pirates. To call these people pirates provides the media with a way to stir peoples' emotions and give their audience a hook to remember this attractive issue from one relevant story to the next. To call them infringers (if this file sitting on their hard drive is indeed a copy of the copyright holder's intellectual property, or if this file is indeed a performance, both of which would be an infringement of the copyright holder's exclusive rights), would be more accurate wouldn't be as sexy. To call them file traders would be even less sexy, but if the file is sitting on their hard drive, are they even trading it?


The definition of Stereo: A combining form meaning solid, hard, firm, as in stereochemistry, stereography.

Origin: Gr. Stereos solid. See Stare to gaze. From the Greek "stereos" meaning "solid" - having three dimensions.

Two-channel, 5.1, 10.2, etc., are all examples of stereo audio. Our purpose and intent is to present music and sounds so that they appear as a solid audio image to the listener. Two channels have been in common use for half a century, but this limitation to two speaker was chosen mostly for marketing reasons: the consumer audio companies recognized the appeal of stereo sound, but chose to believe that people would only be willing to accept the addition of one other speaker (and amplifier channel) in their living rooms. Stereo sound had first been presented, in theaters, using three channels across the front. The three-channel stereo approach persisted in theater settings and in professional music production, and is thankfully finding its way to homes.

Six-speaker (or more) systems will of course never be accepted or applicable in every listening situation, but peoples' willingness to install these speaker systems in their homes for movie presentations has shown that there is a substantial market for music presented in better stereo than two channels can provide.

It's time to take back the word "stereo" and apply it any time a solid sonic-image presentation is desired, and not limit this word's usage to two-channel.


Mad Cow! The chance of getting Mad Cow disease is less than being struck by lightning six thousand times in your life. The media, needing something to talk about and again to hook people into coming back for more thrills tomorrow (same bat time, same bat channel), call this bug Mad Cow instead of BSE, the abbreviation of the real name of the disease. People get rabies every year and die; people put things up their rear end and die, yet nobody gets Mad Cow, and we could choose to completely avoid the issue by not eating beef if we wanted, and we still hear stories about Mad Cow every day.

The power of words ebbs and flows. Whether it is with great thought or casual indifference, the words we choose affect the impact and clear communication of our ideas. When we speak of the presentation of ideas we have to care to choose our words wisely. It is unwise in the popular media to choose inflammatory words which distort the impact of the described condition.

My high school English teacher should be proud of how I observe the power of words, and their effect on us.