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.