A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Dues To Pay

Don Brautigam didn’t get the Metallica “Master Of Puppets” or the Motley Crue “Dr Feelgood” cover design gig because he just graduated from drawing school or he had the digital tools at home to create art. Brautigam had spent 15 years doing book covers, sci-fi art and album covers for over artists. He got recognition for his Stephen King book cover design in 1980. He was paying his dues every single day.

Twisted Sister didn’t just write a multi-platinum album out of the blue. It was a long hard road, with some great live moments and record label rejection. While they had the US Tri-State scene covered, to the rest of the world they were unknown. As far as the person in Australia was concerned, they laboured in obscurity. But they kept on doing the great work for a lot of years before most people heard them.

Dream Theater’s “Images And Words” was seven years in the making from when the band got together in 85. All of those choices made in the past led to this album. And once you add the years of individual practice and listening before Dream Theater formed, you can see that “Images and Words” didn’t just write itself.

John Sykes didn’t just come out of the blue and join Whitesnake and then go on to co-write one of the best albums from 1987. His journey involved local bands in the UK, then Tygers of Pang Tang, Thin Lizzy and finally Whitesnake. David Coverdale started off with local bands in the UK, then Deep Purple and finally Whitesnake. The accumulation of years paying their dues led to a perfect synergy/chemistry which resulted in the 1987 album.

Recently I got into the instrumental music of Andy James. A great melodic guitarist and what a shredder. When you look at his past, you can see a high work ethic, writing, recording, touring, doing transcriptions, magazine work, sessions and what not. I am sure, many nights/months passed labouring in obscurity, but he kept on doing great work, years before most people realised and recognised his work.

Hate em or love em, but Five Finger Death Punch is no accident. They are a good example that it takes years, over a decade to find the right formula that works, to keep on working on the music, the message in the lyrics and taking chances. The band members themselves have roots that go back to the early 90’s.

The past is the forerunner to the future and any success that might follow. That rocket ship to success that MTV sold everyone, no longer exists. No one will ever be as big as they’d dreamed they’d be. If an artist is lucky, they will have established a following that pays their bills.

And today, the past is even more important. We live in an era where people don’t realize how hard it is to rise above the noise and connect with people. We do it socially, but artistically it’s difficult. And our past stories and experiences are there to build connections. The right or wrong choices we made in the past, shape who we are today.

But the world moves so fast.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Don Brautigam

The album cover is a forgotten art form, but man, it was an important one. Once upon a time, the look of an album covers would be the deciding vote if a person outlaid the money. It carried the brand of the band. It was the first thing that spoke to the music buyer. And as time has gone on, the artists who created some of the iconic covers are never mentioned.

Ask anyone who created the “Master Of Puppets” or “Dr Feelgood” cover and I bet ya, they can’t answer it. But both albums have an iconic status in the history of music. I had to refer to the actual album credits. If anyone answered Don Brautigam, then they really know their cover artists. While the album covers are brilliant, it’s worth noting that Brautigam worked as an artist for 15 years prior to the Metallica job.

  • If you’ve seen any Stephen King book covers like “The Stand”, “Cujo”, “Salem’s Lot”, “The Dead Zone”, “Different Seasons”, “Night Shift” and “Firestarter”, that’s Brautigam’s work.
  • If you’ve seen any Dean Koontz book covers like “Dragon Tears”, that’s also Brautigam’s work.
  • If you’ve seen any Anthrax album covers like “Among the Living”, “State of Euphoria” and “Persistence of Time” that’s also Brautigam’s work.
  • If you’ve seen any Metallica album covers like “Master Of Puppets” and the self-titled “Black” album, well, that’s also Brautigam’s work.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for “Dr Feelgood” from Motley Crue, that’s also Brautigam’s work.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for Testament‘s “The Ritual”, well, you guessed it, that’s Brautigam.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for Frehley’s Comet first album. Brautigam.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for AC/DC’s “The Razor Edge”, well that’s Brautigam’s work as well.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for “The Dark” from Metal Church, that’s Brautigam.
  • If you’ve seen the cover for “Rockit” from Chuck Berry, that’s also Brautigam.
  • If you’ve seen any James Brown album covers like “The Payback” or “Reality”, that’s Brautigam.

 

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Dollars And Cents

Everyone today knows “Charles Goodyear” as the inventor of vulcanised rubber. But what they don’t know is that he spent his whole life on struggle street, in and out of prison because of his money problems and six of his twelve children died because he couldn’t support them.

And when he perfected his vulcanised rubber, he couldn’t take out a patent because another scientist called Thomas Hancock took out a patent eight weeks earlier. You see, Hancock had gotten a hold of a sample of Goodyear’s final product and reverse engineered it. Goodyear tried the courts, however the judge couldn’t understand how Hancock could have reverse engineered the invention and awarded all rights and royalties to Hancock.

It wasn’t until his journals were read by others that the following was found: “Life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents.”

The Goodyear name would be recognised many years later. His achievements are world-changing but he never got paid for it while he was alive.

Hancock thought he won. He cheated a little bit and got his way. 

Culture is built by people losing in the short-term only to win in the long-term. That loss right now, builds a connection, solidifies a reputation and creates trust. And those three things are more valuable than the one victory early on.

Remember a time when writers created their works, while working other jobs. And a lot of those great writers still kept those other jobs.

F. Scott Fitzgerald gave the world “The Great Gatsby” while he also worked in advertising.

William Faulkner worked as a postal worker and during that time he wrote “The Sound And The Fury”, a book that was largely forgotten upon its release and only made famous when a book Faulkner wrote many years later for a decent pay check became popular, which in turn brought interest into his earlier works. After his postal gig he worked as a night manager in a power plant. Writing between the hours of midnight and 4am, he also produced “As I Lay Dying”. Both books are in the Top 100 Literacy Classics.

Ken Kesey wrote “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. The story about CIA sponsored mind control came about because Kesey worked as a cleaner in a mental hospital and for some extra cash he volunteered to be in a CIA sponsored mind control study which was promoted as something different to its participants. Those experiences formed the words of his novel.

JRR Tolkien worked as a Professor at Oxford while he wrote “Lord Of The Rings”. George Orwell worked for the BBC as a propagandist, which gave him the inspiration for his 1984 work.

After Dream Theater recorded their debut album, the label went bust. While they tried to get a new deal, they kept on writing songs and they had to get jobs to support themselves. During this period of work and jam, they wrote enough quality material to give the world “Images And Words”, their breakthrough album and the one that would give them a career.

Led Zeppelin’s debut album was funded by Jimmy Page and their manager Peter Grant. Once completed, it was shopped around to labels and rejected, until Atlantic US picked it up. On its release it wasn’t successful, but as we all know by now, time has a funny way of changing people’s views.

There is no easy way to cut through the noise and be heard. Paying your dues has been there from day one. Michelangelo was portrayed as being blessed to paint. The fact that he was paying his dues from the age of 7 by mixing paint, cleaning paint brushes and learning brush techniques working with a master should never be forgotten.

Convert six people instead of trying to convert 60 people. Start small and build. AC/DC were booked to open up a basement gig for Paul Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler in the U.S. Kossoff unfortunately died on his way to the gig, but AC/DC still took the stage and put on their normal act to six people. After a few songs, the six people bolted to the nearest payphone to call their friends. Within an hour the club was at capacity and history was made.

Tell your story and be truthful. Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and “The Unforgiven” are two of their most popular songs and it’s James opening up about a relationship breakdown and his upbringing with religious parents. There is a reason why “Kick Start My Heart” is iconic. It references Nikki’s almost fatal overdose. The story you want to tell can be political like “Peace Sells” and “And Justice For All” or inspirational like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or a call to arms like “SMF” and “We Will Rock You”.

Keep creating and recording. Al Kooper, produced the self-titled debut from Lynyrd Skynyrd. It just came out and it wasn’t really setting any sales charts on fire. “Free Bird” was still months away from becoming the boss of FM radio. Ronnie Van Zant called Kooper and told him the band had written a new song and they wanted to come in and record it ASAP. The song was “Sweet Home Alabama” and it sat in the vaults for a year before it was released on album number 2.

In the pre-internet era of scarcity, less music got made and even less got properly promoted. The history of music is littered with good bands or good musicians that didn’t quite make it or never even got a chance to make a record. And these days, every town has thousands of bands who are recording themselves and releasing their music themselves. And it’s all dollars and cents until you have that iconic hit that breaks on through.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Release Radar Recap

Gemini by The Night Flight Orchestra

What a classic rock song from my favourite supergroup of metal heads. It’s so catchy. If you haven’t seen the animated film clip, head over to YouTube and check it out. 

The album “Amber Galactic” is out so expect a review to come.

House On Fire by Rise Against

A good listen but not as good as the first single release “The Violence” and the politically charged lyrics, “The bombs are getting closer everyday, That can never happen here we used to say, have these wars come to our doorstep?”..

Blister by Hell Or Highwater

 Another solid track from Atreyu’s drummer Brandon Saller’s other project who takes vocal and guitar duties. Really impressed with this band. 

Chasing Dragons by Adrenaline Mob

Great band. Enough said.

American Dreams by Papa Roach

This is similar to what Papa Roach became famous for. Nu Metal with a dose of Pop.

Halfway Right by Linkin Park

Next…

While You Wait by Dead Letter Circus

Nice acoustic guitars and a Tool/Perfect Circle style vocal delivery makes for a pretty good song.

Choose Your Fate by Warrant

Actually the song is the best one so far from the release but they need to call the project something else guys. It didn’t work for Sabbath without Ozzy, Lizzy with Phil and it will not work for Warrant with Jani.

Indestructible by Harem Scarem

Not as solid as the other tracks released on my radar so far from Harem Scarem but still a good listen.

Something Else by Seether

This band has some great tracks, some good tracks and some tracks that don’t resonate with me. This one falls into the good listening tracks.

Oh Lord by In This Moment

I guess I am a fan of the melodic version of the band and the albums, “The Dream” and “A Star Crossed Wasteland”.

Ever After by Andy James

He’s been around for a while but to me he is one of the new breed of guitar heroes doing the rounds. You can put words to his guitar melodies and have some super catchy syncopated metal songs happening.

God Of Temptation by The Unity

Don’t’ know much about the band, but it’s a pretty good listen.

Stargazer by Seven Kingdoms

Power Metal. Just not in the mood for it. Next

Love Is The Remedy by Jorn

It’s got a tasty riff. For those that don’t know, Jorn is the Norwegian singer that can sound like Dio, Dickinson, Tate or Coverdale on a whim. And all of those vocal influences make him unique. There are some good songs, but this one is a miss.

Still Standing Up by The Ferrymen

The fantasy cover of a masked man ferrying skeletons is hit and miss, but musically, this band is good. Again I know nothing of them, except I have heard three songs over the last three weeks on my Release Radar playlist and saved each song.

Ashes by dEMOTIONAL

Again I know nothing about this band, however each song I have heard on the Release Radar is a good listen, so I will be following up on them.

Days Of Self Destruction by CKY

They have a cool cover in red and shades of black making out dragons. The song is a miss.

Will You Want Me by 7 Days Away

The cover is black with some shades of grey making out the band logo and name. Does it remind you of some other “black” album covers?

I got into this band via illegal downloads. And when I came across them in Spotify, I clicked follow. I’m glad I did.

Skin – Kove Remix by Rag’n’Bone Man

Elton John reckons Rag’n’Bone man has the best new music out there. If you haven’t heard “Human” then you should. It’s a hit and it’s getting there slowly, as all good music does its converting people like me into it. This song is “Skin” and the Kove remix is garbage. Hear the original. Accept no substitute.

New Slaves by Vitamin String Quartet

My kids love the Vitamin String Quartet, especially their take on rock and metal bands. The Iron Maiden tribute brings back memories. For this song, it’s a NO from me.

Clouded Minds by JD Miller

Next.

Endless Roads by Liv Sin

Sister Sin was good. Liv Sin is also good. The music is excellent and rooted in that Euro Melodic Metal sound. Also check out “Endless Roads” and “The Beast Inside”.

Runaway by Bai Bang

Next. Just a bit too clichéd and poppy for me.

I’m Alive by Art Nation

It’s a good listen with a big chorus.

Wolves Reign by Wolfpakk

Musically the song is good. It just needed that Bruce Dickinson style vocal delivery.

Meet My Maker by Life Of Agony

It’s groovy and a good listen.

Blood Sick by Wednesday 13

Skip.

Genesis by Aethere

Next.

Prologue (Deep Sleep) by Lonely Robot

 The end.

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Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Piracy

Cassette’s and MP3’s

When people think about albums, they usually think about a product like Vinyl or Compact Disc. These days, it’s more access and less product, so the album viewpoint for my children is totally different with my viewpoint.

And while the mp3 is blamed by the record labels from bringing down the recording business which the labels called the music business, there was another technology out that changed the way we access and share music.

Say hello to the mighty compact cassette.

It allowed me to make demo after demo, mix tape after mix tape and it allowed me to copy a lot of albums from people who either had the original album or had a copy of the album from someone else who either had the original or had a copy. You get my drift. It could be an endless copying cycle.

It was first introduced in 1963 by Phillips for dictation purposes and due to their convenience and portability, by the 1980’s pre-recorded cassettes were out-selling vinyl LP’s.

Phillips also decided to give away the rights for free, instead of making money from licensing. This meant there was no incentive for other companies to create a competing format. Instead they could focus on making it sound better. That’s why you had TDK, Phillips, BASF, Sony, Phillips and many more companies making cassette tapes.

This led to cars coming with cassette players, and homes getting equipped with cassette recorders which would morph to portable cassette players and finally, the Sony Walkman.

Of course, the record labels as usual screamed loud and hard to their politician friends to pass new laws and stop this new sharing culture.

Remember their headline, “Home taping is killing music.” See how they used the term “music” instead of “record labels”. A more accurate and truthful headline would be, “Home Taping is Spreading Music to the Masses” or “Home Taping Is Spreading Music And This Leads To Increased Sales Later On”.

The local sharing culture that the Cassette tape created continued with CD-R’s and then it spread into a worldwide culture with the mp3 and Napster. And the record label machine just changed the “Home Taping” with “Piracy” and still kept pumping millions of dollars to politicians to pass the laws the labels had written.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Prog Music And Disconnected From Fates Warning

In the Year 2000, the mainstream was ruled by Nu-Metal bands and progressive music was really at opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one side, you had the Dream Theater style of progressive music. This involved a lot of time changes, with the focus on high-octane technical musical workouts and each song exhibited a smorgasbord of riffs.

In this period, Dream Theater was also rebuilding their brand into something that matters. After breaking through with “Images and Words” in the early 90’s, they kept on moving into a more “record label” pressured sound, which alienated their fan base and even the band members themselves. Mike Portnoy expressed his disgust that John Petrucci was sent by the label to work with song doctor Desmond Child on the song “You Not Me”.

But the creative arts history is littered by artists tricked into taking the wrong path by label executives who chased dollars instead of career longevity. Bigger is merely bigger. “If it’s better”, is a debate for another day.

In the end, the best way to re-build their brand was to stand for something, instead of standing for everything. That meant that Dream Theater stood up for progressive music instead of standing up for progressive music that could have commercial appeal with the hope that it crosses over into the mainstream. And they reset their career with “Scenes From A Memory”.

On the other side of the progressive music spectrum, you had the Tool style of progressive music. This involved time changes, but the focus was on groove and atmospherics, with each song building on a unique riff or bass line or drum pattern. Tool always stood by their brand and never wavered from it.

In between you had Porcupine Tree, merging Tool like aggression with Pink Floyd like atmospherics and on the extreme end you had Meshuggah with their focus on groovy, technical polyrhythms.

The missing link is Fates Warning.

Fates Warning released an album called “Disconnected” in 2000. With “Disconnected”, Jim Matheos merged the Tool and Porcupine Tree progressive elements with the Dream Theater progressive elements and put them through the Fates Warning blender. It’s a fusion of all the best progressive elements at the time into a cohesive piece of work that can be listened to over and over again from start to finish.

With so much access these days, it’s only natural that albums are overlooked, especially albums that didn’t really set the commercial charts on fire. Hell, the press behind the album was even a whisper.

But the album sticks with me, in the same way that each lick and melody from “Images and Words” by Dream Theater sticks. In other words, both of those albums made progressive music sound simple on the ear. Other people might have the view that progressive music is about doing something different (like not following the verse – chorus structure) and pushing musical boundaries (like time signatures, exotic scales and different musical styles). I would add that making something technical sound simple to the ear should also be part of the definition.

Metallica did it with each album up to “…And Justice For All”. They got technical with each release, but it still sounded simple to the ear. Rush are the original kings of pushing the technicality with each release, until they reset their career with “Signals”. Dream Theater nailed it with “Images And Words”. Fates Warning nailed it with “Disconnected”. Tool nailed it with “Lateralus”.

Who is going to nail it next?

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

The History Of Music

What if you put out new music and no one cared?

Getting people to pay attention is your main priority. Who cares if they do not pay for music? They will eventually.

If you’re a middle of the road artist that was around in the pre-internet era, making money on streaming payments will not be as good as it was on sales pre-Napster. But, in saying that, you are competing with all the superstars in the history of music for people’s attention. There are no more gatekeepers deciding what music should be in print and what music should be out of print.

If you make money from recordings, is not really relevant, because most of the money is in touring, merchandise and sponsorships. And it always will be, because human experiences will always get people to pay. So you know that streaming fan who hears your music on YouTube. Well they could be the fan that shells $500 on a VIP ticket. And you could have thousands of those fans waiting for the human experience to roll into town.

But if you do want to make money from streaming music, then stay independent and don’t sign to a label. Especially, if you own your copyrights, Spotify pays pretty good, provided people are listening. And the more people who embrace streaming, the greater the pool of money to divide. Remember when AC/DC refused to have their music on iTunes and even streaming services? Now they’re on all of them. Holding out for big dollars from recorded sales is a detriment in the long run, especially when YouTube and pirate sites have their catalogue for free.

But false narratives thrive in the music business like Spotify doesn’t pay enough, that it should give more of its revenues to artists. But Spotify already pays 70% of its revenues to rights holders. The enemy is obscurity.

Malcolm Gladwell said in “Outliers,” timing is everything. All the hours of practice to be proficient at your art, will give you expertise, but it will not make you famous. Twisted Sister played the club circuit for 10 plus years and they put in their 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. It didn’t stop every label in the country from rejecting them. But no one could see the opportunities MTV would bring to rock and metal music. And Twisted Sister was there to make the most of the opportunity. Timing is important and so is change.

And change is everywhere. Bands used to have places to play live. By the time those bands got heard by a larger audience, they had already played thousands of gigs and were good. Then between 1983 to 1991, hard rock bands got signed by the hundreds. Musicians jumped from band to band to band to band in order to get the timing right and get signed. And artists who thought that hard rock and metal got too commercial branched out and played a more abrasive style. Thrash, Techno-Thrash and Death metal bands started springing up all over the place. This rise in the creative arts also led to many new record labels to capitalise on these new scenes. In the process the metal community fractured even further.

Remember when the first Metal Massacre album came out it in 1982, it had bands that played rock and metal on it. Ratt and Steeler held the flag for hard rock and Cirith Unglo and Metallica held up the flag for some of the different styles coming through. In between was the standard metal bands. It was a unity. But by the time, Metal Massacre 7 came out in 1986, hard rock ceased to be on it. It was more of the extreme styles of metal.

Everyone went into their own bubble, trying to promote their own scene and dishing the other scene. Some artists made money and some didn’t. Meanwhile the record labels rolled in it because the economy was good and people had money. But everything changes. And the kids of those 80’s music consumers see music as infinite, while we saw it as a rarity. While I used to decide which albums to buy for my $20, my kids can stream the history of music for less.

And that is your competition. The history of music versus your new release.

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