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Monday, December 28, 2009

Albums That Defined Our Decade

Right now there's probably a million posts like this: "So & So's Blog's Top Albums of the Decade."

This is one of those posts, lol. This is a critical, exciting time, why not look back on the music that helped shape our experience over the last ten years? BUT, before I go into it, I should explain how our choices were made:

Wes and I took different approaches towards compiling our lists. In addition to his personal enjoyment, Wes also took sales and overall chart performance into consideration before making his choices...he's a numbers guy, what can I say? With my choices, I cheated; I let my iTunes library determine what my favorites were based on number of plays, thus whatever I listened to more was clearly a favorite. Actually, it's a little deeper than that, but I digress. Both of our lists are very personal accounts of our respective tastes, and now we offer it to you, friends, readers, music snobs, etc., to pick apart and scrutinize at your leisure :-)

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!


Wes: Chronic 2001, Dr. Dre
Even though it came out in 1999, people are still trying to catch up.  It was so good, it seems Dre is reluctant to drop Detox because he wants it to be better than this.  Please do...I've been waiting for 9 years already.

TJ:  Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030
This album changed my life.  The combined prowess of Dan The Automator, Del The Funky Homosapien, and Kid Koala yielded a powerfully vivid and imaginative album that was way ahead of its time.  Ten years later, 1020 years before it, and there's still nothing like it.

Key track:  "Things You Can Do"

Wes:  The Blueprint, Jay-Z
September 11, 2001 release date.  "Even Bin Laden couldn't stop him."  The arrival of Kanyeezy.  5 mics, well deserved.

TJ:  Since I Left You, The Avalanches
A group of Australian DJs pieced together over 3,500 vinyl samples to create this masterpiece of an electronic/dance album.  Not only my pick for '01, this album is easily in my top 5 favorite albums of all time; I still have it in rotation.  Like countless other fans, I am patiently waiting for the follow-up.

Key track:  "Close To You"

Wes:  The Lost Tapes, Nas
A return to the man, not the mobster.  One of his best.

TJ:  Dwight Spitz, Count Bass D
After a long hiatus from the music industry, Nashville MC, beatmaker, and multi-instrumentalist Count Bass D re-emerged with this offering- a brilliant, left-of-center album filled with interesting beats and clever word-play that still holds up today ("I see a Grey Goose in the sky, you see Smirnoff Ice." Crazy!).  Spitz is without a doubt an underground classic not to be overlooked.

Wes:  Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 50 Cent
I was torn this year, so it's a tie between this and R.  Kelly's Chocalate Factory.  It was a hard decision, so I gave it to both.  Kellz snapped hard and 50 created an empire.   

TJ:  The Love Below, Andre 3000
Make no mistake, I really liked Speakerboxxx as well, but for someone like me who listens to music from any and every genre, The Love Below was a breath of fresh air in the hip hop realm which at the time was obsessed with its various personas being the hardest/most Scarfaced-out/ballin'-est/most thugged out/biggest chain having-est/most keeping it real-est on the block or club.  I practically wore this disc out, I played it so much.

Honorable Mention:  Chocalate Factory, R. Kelly
I have to agree with Wes, this album was huge that year and deserves its proper due.  It's definitely a definitive Kellz album.

Wes:  Confessions, Usher
I was torn again this year, so I have two.  Usher came with a lifetime classic R&B album.

Wes:  Kamikaze, Twista
I have to put Twista up on this list; Chi-Town Allegiance.  It was great to hear about Broughams and puffing B's on commercial radio lol.

TJ:  Madvillainy, Madvillain
I also was torn for 2004, so I also have two for this year.  First off, if you know me in real life, you know the quickest way to get into a four -hour conversation with me is to bring up Stones Throw or any artist associated with them.  It's a pretty serious obsession, but a healthy one.  The pairing of Madlib and DOOM on an, I mean if you want to talk about a clash of the titans.  Even though DOOM's MM..Food (also released in '04) was a great work in its own right, it was eclipsed by this behemoth of a record that even Rolling Stone tagged as being one of the best of the decade.  If you have not heard this album, it is possible that you have been in a coma for the better part of six years, please get up.

Key Track:  "Rhinestone Cowboy" 

TJ:  Love, Angel, Music, Baby, Gwen Stefani
Okay, I know it's a far cry from metal-masked villains and indie hip-hop, but my iTunes library doesn't lie; I listened to this album ALOT! Can't help it, I've always been a huge No Doubt fan, lol.  Best known for the singles "Rich Girl" and "Hollaback Girl," L.A.M.B. was exactly what it was supposed to be:  a fun, light-hearted pop album sprinkled with bouts of melancholia for good measure.

Key track:  "Luxurious"

Wes:  Late Registration, Kanye West
Respect.  Common's Be is runner up.  Chi-City running things.

TJ:  The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, Quasimoto
The spirit of Madlib's helium-voiced, aardvarkian appearing alter-ego is very much alive on Further Adventures... the follow-up to 2000's The Unseen.  This album is one of the most puzzling, imaginative, and "visual" albums I've ever heard.  Conceptually, it's consistent in its utter lunacy, but when I reach for an album to compare it to, the only thing that comes to mind is Frank Zappa during his days with The Mothers of Invention.

Wes:  Release Therapy, Ludacris
 Not my personal Luda favorite, but the best in '06, "SLAP!"

TJ:  Donuts, J Dilla
The late-great Dilla may have left the earth too soon, but he left a legacy that will live forever in the hearts and minds of music fans everywhere.  Donuts is an album that is so unmistakably "Dilla-fied" that he didn't even have to say a word on it; this collection of instrumentals speaks for itself.  This is another one that never left rotation, another life-changer.

Key track:  "Two Can Win"

Wes:  Double Up, R. Kelly
This album was written for me :D

TJ:  American Gangster, Jay-Z
It would have been easy to name a Jay-Z album every year because I like everything he does, pretty much, but with this album he outdid himself.  With the assist from Diddy and production from newcomers and usual suspects alike, Hov delivered an extremely soulful, organic, and thorough album.

Key track:  "Sweet"  

Wes:  Untitled, Nas
"Sly Fox" is something I can appreciate.

TJ:  808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West
I'm a Kanye fan (I'm from The Go, how could I not be?), and I've liked all of his albums, but truth be told, whenever he came with something, a friend of mine would give me a CD full of leaked tracks months before the release.  These discs would have songs that never made it on any album, and consequently I always ended up liking those better than the actual release (For the record, I still paid for the albums when they came out.).  But this one is different.  I love it when artists challenge themselves, when they step out from their comfort zones to try something new;  that's usually when next levels are reached, boundaries broken, and history gets made.  No exception here, this album is fantastic and continues to grow on me even now.

Wes:  Relapse, Eminem
This one was hard because [this year] there was a lot of material I've been waiting for:  OB4CL2, BP3, 50 Cent, etc.

But Eminem takes the cake for somehow going multiplatinum in 2009 without many big singles.  Plus, repackaging and reselling it again for Christmas is brilliant.

TJ:  Love vs Money, The-Dream
This is a tremendous album.  Seriously.  For many reasons.  I hear faint echoes of its influences:  R Kelly, Prince, Timbaland (to name a few), but it still has its own identity.  What I like best about it is that it fits in that diminishing family of albums that is consistent with its theme and vibe;  conceptually it's a whole piece, not just a collection of songs.  Tremendous...seriously.

Key track:  "Kelly's 12 Play"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wish List for 2010

In 2010, this is what I'd like to see and work on:
1. Passionate expression; Depth in content.
Even if your passion is in capturing video of sexual encounters to screen for your friends (HI ABI CRUZ) please put it into your music. I like when my creative partners know what they are talking about and i can feel it when they spit it.
2. Organized and ready to work
There's nothing like working with people who expect results when they are unprepared. As an engineer, i don't dream about the 179th take of your overdubs. I dream about intense, deep performances that need little editing.
3. People who know that they don't know everything.
Ask questions if you don't know something. If i don't know, I'll say so. Chances are i will have an opinion, though. LOL
4. Ca$h.
No credit in 2010. I'm sure you heard. Yes, we're the bank, but we're not lending either. Bring cash, titles, deeds, platinum, silver or gold.
5. Plan ahead for contingencies.
Sometimes life can throw a curve. Be prepared to change directions. You can still get to your destination even with many detours. Don't sit in traffic jams. Also know that you can build a shortcut. Use your imagination.
6. Don't blame anyone but yourself.
Who else really gives a sh!t about you anyway?
7. Live up to your statements.
Words are important. The boy who cried wolf got eaten alive. Integrity is the key to success. If you cant be trusted with $1000, how can you be trusted with $1,000,000?
8. The Zone.
I hope i can stay here for most of the year. I need to create magic.
9. Recognize and appreciate when someone does something for you.
They didn't have to, and they don't have to do it again. Teamwork is the only way to succeed.
Ever heard of a Fortune 500 sole proprietor? me neither. Favors are an asset.
10. Health.
Mental and physical. In this crazy depreciating world, time is running faster then ever. Spend money on productivity, time is valuable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Less Students - More Entrepreneurs

Back in the spring, Wes made a great comment while we were in a recording session. We were talking to our Production Assistant about the state of the recording industry and he said:

"What we need is less students and more entrepreneurs."

That statement is still in my head. Each year, around 15k fresh-faced graduates leave their college or vocational school, degree in hand, with the hope of landing a dream job behind a mixing console at their favorite recording studio. Sounds attainable, and it should be; you work hard, you make connections with the right people, and voila, you got it. Unfortunately for most aspiring engineers, it's not that simple and there are many external forces at work that have a lot to gain by making them believe that it is.

Check out this article I found today. I'm just going to tell you flat out- it's a lie.

Yes, there is a renewed interest in recording thanks to the advances and increased affordability of digital recording technology. But I don't see a shortage of engineers being such a problem that it creates a demand to the point where "a good engineer can earn a significant amount of money in a short amount of time." No, that just isn't true.

As I said, tens of thousands of people are certified to be engineers; whether through college or vocational programs like the Conservatory Master Recording Program or (gulp) the Music Industry Workshop. The reality is, there are tens of thousands of engineering grads hitting the job market every six months, and only a few hundred actual positions. Some of these grads will land an internship at a studio with the hope of one day attaining a full-time, paying gig that may not materialize until after many years of free service.

Case in point, the PA I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Wes and I have the great opportunity of working with some of the best studios in the city when we need to outsource our services, which isn't uncommon. We have formed great relationships with studio managers and their staff, all of which have a similar structure when it comes to job hierarchy.

Our PA's studio has a chief mixing engineer who commands the majority of the gigs that come in. When the time comes for him to retire or move on to a better gig, there is an assistant engineer who has worked under him and will be his replacement. The PA directly under the assistant engineer will move up to the assistant position. The rest of the PAs will continue working, in most cases for free, until the pecking order changes again. And so on and so on.

This process can take years, and meanwhile our stalwart PA will have to hold down another job, maybe even two or three, to pay the bills until the day comes, if it comes at all, for him/her to move up into the engineer's chair.

I guess there's no harm done if these people choose to be there, and my intent is not to squash someone's dream or discourage them from doing what they want, I just think it's deceitful for organizations to pass off engineering as a lucrative career move in today's job climate. These companies make millions every year in tuition money spent on training programs and recording certification that may not benefit the students in the slightest.

Again, I'm not a dream killer. To anyone interested in a recording career, I suggest the following:

-Read as many books on the subject as you possibly can. You don't need to sit in a classroom to do that.

-Purchase some recording gear that is within your budget and level of ability and practice, practice, practice.

-Don't do it for the money. If you're in it for the paycheck, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Sorry. I don't care to share how many times I've talked with people who have this outlook on the industry: "Well I'm a musician, but I figure being an engineer will be a good fallback job to pay the bills." No. It's just as hard to be a successful engineer as it is a successful artist. With home recording on an unyielding uprise, I'd say it's almost harder.

-Beware of any industry program that promises an easy, "A-to-B" success path towards your field of choice. Doubly so if they're trying to pitch you their program in a music equipment retail store like Guitar Center. There is a purpose and agenda behind that.

-Study other facets of business, music and otherwise, and apply it to what you do. Why be an employee if you could be your own boss? Innovate. Please innovate.

Both Wes and I have had experience with traditional methods of learning how to be an engineer. Him moreso than myself, but the common fact is, we've both learned more about the trade outside of any curriculum than actually in one. Our PA friend undoubtedly knows more about the ins and outs of a mixing console's functions than I do, but I work on a great board whenever I want and occasionally I'm fortunate enough to be paid for it, so... does that qualify me enough to make this point?

Please share any comments, thoughts, and stories you may have on the matter...and next time you're in a recording session, tip your PA; they work incredibly hard for very little.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Bank Blog: Re-Introduction

I haven't blogged in over a year.

We originally started this blog in 2007 with the intent of using it as a forum for us (and any readers) to discuss ideas about music, production, recording, and business. We felt there was a need for that, mostly because at the time the majority of blogs I came across concerning music were written by people who didn't know anything about it beyond their often mis-informed opinions as fans.

I think we did okay for awhile, but at some point the focus of my posts, in between the daily affairs of The Bank and other areas of life, lost their way and became rants about the ills of the music industry that provided a lot of opinion and speculation but offered no real solution. I had become exactly what I was against, so I hung it up. Also, I just did not have the time to commit to it the way I wanted to. As it stands today, I left a few of the old posts to illustrate my point and to remind myself of what NOT to do, but the majority of what was here is now gone.

So now, here we are, 2010 is just around the corner, and today there are almost more blogs out than there are people. It's remarkable how influential blogs have become, especially considering how hardly anyone gets paid for it. Not to say blogs lack value just because they lack proper monetization, I'm just sayin'...This in itself is a discussion I'll get into at a later date.

We've decided to pick this blog back up, to share finds, info, and ideas, as originally intended. Also, we'd like to use it to elaborate and expand on views and opinions we may post elsewhere online, like twitter and other SM sites we have a presence on. This time around, we invite you to be a part of it with us. Please feel free to provide feedback, good and bad because we kinda need that.