Does This Dialogue Sound Contrived?

That’s because it is.

If you look closely enough, everything sucks.

Analogies fail. Equal temperament is inherently dissonant. Rebecca Romijn wears makeup.

Congratulations! Your keen observational skills have made it impossible to enjoy anything.

Here’s a shocker: Art isn’t How To Tell The Truth Through Mathematics.

Why treat it that way? It’s selected, edited, trimmed, tweaked, re-contextualized. Artists are liars. If you focus on the materials the fantasy is made of, you’ve missed the point.

Don’t stand so close to that painting. Stop being so analytical. Get out of the way and let your subconscious (probably the larger part of yourself) enjoy the show.

“When you’re a child, something as simple as a tree doesn’t make sense. You see it in the distance and it looks small, but as you go closer, it seems to grow — you haven’t got a handle on the rules when you’re a child. We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experienced is a narrowing of the imagination.” -David Lynch

Remember how great movies were when you were eight?

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How To Kill Music

Photo by Sanvean.

When you’re learning how things are made, it’s easy to get caught up in reverse engineering.

A songwriting book can tell you:

  • The chorus should start on a note that is higher than the last note of the verse, preferably a major third above it.
  • Your song title should be no more than seven syllables in length, and should appear in the chorus.
  • The first chorus should occur within 30 seconds.

These are aspects of musical architecture. Tools for the construction process. But they don’t tell you why the house was built on the edge of a waterfall.

Sure, you can replace the heart of music, inspiration, with a mathematical formula. Get out your ruler and copy the patterns. You’ll fool a lot of people. (It worked for Rivers Cuomo.)

But without that Eureka Moment, all you’ve got is a Frankenstein Monster. It’s not actually alive.

Those who think they can outsmart the system will make post-modern, ironic arguments for the validity of disposable pop trash. What they won’t admit to themselves is that they still can’t pull it off themselves.

Unimaginative pot-boilers want the magic so badly, that they forget it’s something that just happens.

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Getting A Creative Gig

Here are five random ideas / principles for getting hired for a creative job / position. I’ve seen these happen a zillion times, and they’ve worked for me, too.

1.) A creative businessman won’t hire you for things you know, but for things you can figure out. Everything changes, and knowledge expires fast. Don’t focus on what you’ve already done. You’re not being hired to do your old job. Your resume is your epitaph.

2.) You don’t need to be the best, you just need to be good enough to achieve specific results. Think about all the well-paid dummies you’ve worked with over the years. Let go of the idealism, because it won’t help you. If true mastery was required, only about three-and-a-half people on the planet would have a job.

3.) Engage the creative executive on his own level. What problems is he having with the company / his team? Find out what The Central Problem is, address it, and you’ll already be working for him.

4.) Technical ability be damned. Having People Skills can be 10x more valuable than Technical Skills. Meaning: it can pay 10x as much. Why? Because it’s 10x harder to find and 10x harder to do. If you can’t creatively solve people problems, you will be a glorified mechanic chained to an assembly line for the rest of your life.

5.) Creative people hire their own weird friends first. Think long-term. Focus on making real, meaningful relationships with successful, creative people. Go to their home planet. Hang out with those who are infected with The Bug, and a creative career will eventually get sneezed on you.

And remember: be creative in your interview. Show them what you can do, right now.

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Rob Wright: How Original Music Happens

Rob Wright is probably my favorite bassist in the world, and the reason I switched to playing bass back in 1995. He even inspired the first appearance of Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk‘s voice on “How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All!

In this video, Rob talks about being old, touring, and how original music happens.

“There’s a great deal of hope for [the music today], because if people keep downloading the way they are, perhaps we’ll put Sony and Polydor and EMI out of business. They’ll go back to making radios and car parts, and whatever else they make. They’re lousy at making music. If people can splinter away from that… and get back to people with Myspace sites, a studio in their basement… they put a video on Myspace and the next thing they know, they have a million hits… that’s the way music should happen. That’s the way original music happens. If that would happen, it would be better for musicians, and people who listen to music. For large corporations, it wouldn’t be good. But fuck them.”

I recommend you listen to his remarkable do-it-yourself rock band, NoMeansNo, who have been recording and touring non-stop for over 30 years.


I’ve met Rob and seen him play a bunch of times, and he’s always an inspiration.

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What Is Good Music?

Eman Laerton and I have spent so much time talking about Bad Music, that we get this question all the time.

This morning, I received a firm request to answer it.

First, I’ll give an Abstract philosophical answer, in two parts:

1.) Good Music combines as many Musical Elements as possible and uses them in a creative way. The Elements of music are generally accepted to be things like Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Tempo, Dynamics, Pitch, Duration, Texture, Form, and Timbre. Music Appreciation 101. I believe that if you throw a bucket of ice water in the face of each of those at tell them to get to work, you have a chance at making Good Music.
2.) Good Music conveys a story or meaning beyond those mere Elements.

I’ve found that’s a pretty Objective way to measure it. You can argue with that all you want, but I don’t think these tools were invented to be abandoned.

Oh, you want a Subjective answer? OK.

Here’s something more Concrete, based on those Abstractions. This is my personal list of favorite rock / pop albums (in no order other than the first entry being where it belongs)…

1.) Steve Vai – Passion & Warfare
2.) System of a Down – Mezmerize / Hypnotize
3.) They Might Be Giants – Flood
4.) Victims Family – White Bread Blues
5.) Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante
6.) Kevin Gilbert – The Shaming of the True
7.) Ani DiFranco – Little Plastic Castles
8.) Devin Townsend – Infinity
9.) Ween – Pure Guava
10.) Nomeansno – Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?

Each of those albums has a “thing” to them that connects the pieces together. I’ve listened to each of them on repeat, feeling as if I’m pulled into a unique creative universe. They have strong character, and don’t sound to me like a bunch of songs were stuck together. They have variety and duality in their Elements. Fast-slow, loud-soft, funny-serious, long-short, big-small, complex-simple. A good album intimidates me and teases me, and I hear new things each time I listen. I get the feeling that there is always more going on that I don’t hear — maybe I’m seeing just a snapshot, or there are deep roots growing below the surface, or the album is talking about me behind my back somewhere. Who knows? It’s Seduction.

There are other candidates that could go on this list, but according to the rules, I could only pick ten that meant the most to me. You might notice that only one of those albums was released in the past 15 years. That’s because music doesn’t mean as much to me as it did when I was in my teens and twenties.

I don’t go out looking for good music anymore. For the past year, I haven’t listened to much of anything other than screenwriting podcasts… and the occasional Classical KUSC. (So please, no more technical-death-fantasy-epic-metal videos.)

When we discover music, we form a relationship with it based on Context — where we are at the time, what we’ve heard previously, what we’re ready to hear. Some music serves a temporary purpose for us, comes and goes. Some music sticks around and deserves contemplation, and it can seem to grow along with us.

As you’re developing as a musician, it’s easy to get caught up in taking things apart and focusing on only the Elements. I’ve been guilty of that, and much of the music I’ve listened to (and thought I really loved) turned out to be just an Exercise. So don’t ever forget what the personal meaning is for you.

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Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk: Understanding Music Through Geometry

Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk: Understanding Music Through Geometry from Carl King.

This is Episode 3 from a low-budget video podcast I created in 2007. I shot it entirely myself on a Canon GL-2 in a bedroom in Culver City, California. As the character Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk (imagined as an evil version of John Tesh) I attempt to explain some of the unusual rhythmic ideas I’ve used in my music for a decade. Tuplets, borrowed rhythms, Pointillism… call it whatever you want, but it’s what I did while no one was listening in 1997.

Five Points of Interest:

1.) At the time this video was made, I was unaware of the animation company called Titmouse. In the video, I was actually referencing an old Sir Millard Mulch skit written by LevelNivelo, from back in 2002, in which “The World’s Greatest Commercial resulted in the extinction of the entire species of Tufted Titmouse.”

2.) That pinky ring can be heard intermittently beeping / screeching against the guitar strings on the Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk album, “Why I Am So Wise, Why I Am So Clever, And Why I Write Such Good Songs.” An old Jim Martin trick.

3.) I’ve never been a warm and empathetic person. I tend to make others nervous. I think I’m borderline Asperger’s. So it amused me greatly to invent this character who over-emphasizes his facial expressions, getting applauded for every pose and phrase that no one would typically laugh at. People want facial expressions from me? Fine, here they are. I love the idea of a parallel universe, where Dr. Zoltan is the greatest comedian ever known. These videos reminded me of those crazy Japanese commercials or game shows, so I had a guy in Japan send me those overdubs. I still laugh at the titles every time they come up.

4.) Making these 3 stupid videos taught me the skills to become a professional video producer for music instructional videos. All of the mistakes I made with that cheap gear helped me develop a workflow for lighting, sound, editing — and I’ve made a lot of money. Had I not struggled for hours through making these stupid videos… wow…

5.) The design of the series was inspired by a scene from V For Vendetta. I was in love with the idea of some renegade broadcasting his unpopular ideas on unsuspecting viewers. Except in my case, I wanted people to be confused… to feel as alienated by my videos as I did by Blink 182. Imagine how upset people would be if Dr. Zoltan saturated their world! “Does this guy think he’s funny?” I wanted revenge. And I succeeded, because this video got hundreds of angry comments / threats of violence on YouTube before I took the series down.

So there it is. Maybe someday I’ll upgrade the production and writing, and release a new series. I could certainly do a lot better now.

If you want to hear what can be done with the abstract musical ideas in this video, you can check out some of my records. You might also want to experience Drum Battle: Dr. Zoltan Vs. Marco Minnemann to hear it taken to a fun extreme.

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First, You’ll Have To Learn How To Suck.

Hollywood is one step ahead.

Do you really believe, that with millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars at their disposal, they’d make a mistake?

New Media is a tool to attract comments, arguments, votes, opinions, complaints, pseudo-experts, and trolls. Hollywood makes us all think we’re participating, empowering us with profiles and blogs and tweets, but we are nothing but living advertisements for their products.

“Comments” are the new applause.

Once upon a time, studios actually had to pay for hype. Now it’s free.

Here’s their dirty trick: They make you feel smarter than them.

In every movie, TV show, and hit song, they embed flaws. Everyone who watches will want to point them out. The creators have openly made it part of the game: “We had no idea what we were doing, from the very beginning.”

Oh, really?

Like a manipulative girlfriend, they keep it just good enough so you think it’s legit, but just bad enough so you’ll keep paying attention. When they green-light a show, they don’t ask if it’s good. They ask if people will argue whether it’s good.

Just try to “go viral” without sucking. It won’t happen.

We are living in a Culture of Critics. “Come on, all you wannabe filmmakers, musicians, and actors out there… attack us.”

If you complain, “I could have written a better finale than that,” they’ve Suckceeded.

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Is This Chord Ugly Enough For You?

“Shine” by “Final Placement” (Original Video) from F.P. Shine on Vimeo.

Every composition needs dissonance.

For ears that crave more adventure, tritones stopped doing their job a hundred years ago.

I-V-I is only one traditional form to express tension and resolution. Frank Zappa said, “You can’t always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.”

The above video is proof of this concept. Your mind goes from consonant to dissonant repeatedly, trying to decide if it’s a joke. (Unfortunately, they updated the song recently, making it more obviously bad, kinda ruining the fun. If you want to watch an expert, Andrew WK is my favorite in that genre of entertainment.)

Just like music, our lives need conflict. Maybe weekdays are the tension, weekends are the resolution. Is that OK? Up to you to decide. If 5 out of 7 meals I ordered were splashed with vomit, I’d try a new restaurant.

I say keep a healthy relationship with conflict. If you try to remove all conflict from your psyche, you’ll be like one of those Actors at a cattle call.

My working definition of an Actor: an person who acts like they’re not conflicted.

Ask those posers in Los Angeles how they’re doing, and the answer is always: “AMAZING! Life is easy, the pilot just got picked up, the record is coming out soon, I just had an incredible salad, none of my brilliant friends is struggling with anything!”

Tell the truth, and those people will call you Negative.

That’s because they’re not the storytellers. They’re just puppets, marketing their genetic superiority. They hide the scratches and dents, fart rainbows, and it pretty much guarantees they will be mid-level tools for the rest of their lives.

The real artists, at the top of the pyramid, are the ones who thrive on conflict. They live under a creative rain cloud of problems, obstacles, disasters. It’s welcome inspiration. Food for creative people.

90% of any good movie is beating up the hero. The greater the struggle, the greater the victory. That’s the ironic arc we pay to watch.

Being boring doesn’t work in show business, and it doesn’t work in real life.

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How Steve Vai Made $3 Million

If you’ve ever met me, you know I can’t resist mentioning Steve Vai at least once a day.

Here’s today’s quota:

Steve is a guy who controls his own destiny. Whether you like his fancy shoes or not, every “break” he’s gotten in the music business has been earned. If he needed to develop a peripheral talent or skill, he didn’t complain, “Man, I just wanna play my guitar.” He did what was necessary to launch and sustain his creative career. Whether that meant transforming into a cartoon version of himself on stage (entertainment), practicing his instrument 12 hours a day (discipline), or learning every aspect involved with independently releasing a record (business), Steve simply made it his job.

“Your raise will become effective when you do.” -Jim Rohn

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Should Bad Music Have A Speed Limit?

There’s nothing wrong with being an athlete, but there’s only so much the human body can do.

It’s bizarre. I don’t know why guitarists are obsessed with going faster and faster. What is it about the guitar that attracts this behavior? It doesn’t happen with other art forms, like writing or painting or sculpture. It certainly doesn’t improve the quality of the musical statement, any more than typing fast will improve the quality of a sentence.

Imagine if actors weren’t concerned with portraying characters, only with talking really fast. It would certainly be a novelty, but how long could you watch that? Wouldn’t it be missing the point, which is telling a great story?

At some point, all fastness conceptually blurs together into a solid stroke. Any attempt to go faster is still just plain-old, generic fast. You will be making the same artistic statement whether you can play 50 notes per second or 100. Once you’ve reached that level, you’re stuck at fast forever. Only about a dozen people can tell the difference between fast, faster, and fastest, so why bother?

Tempo has a limit.

On the other hand, making an artistic statement has no limit.

Hmm. Which one is the better investment of energy?

If guitarists want to be fast at something, they should pick one of the following worthy causes:

  • Identifying musical context.
  • Discovering the concept of musical roles.
  • Figuring out how to stop playing guitar on guitar and learn how to play music on guitar.

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