Musical Insights

August 4, 2010

The TED Conferences (self-described as “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”) are a highly acclaimed series of presentations from the world’s most influential thinkers, innovators, and artists. Brilliant minds speaking about important topics in an approachable way.

I wanted to draw attention to one music-focused talk that I found particularly interesting. Watching the video would probably be one of the better uses of 20 minutes you ever spend in your life, but I wanted to point out some highlights and insights:

Benjamin Zander on music and passion

  • Zander, in a compellingly funny and animated way, attempts to prove that A.) no one is tone deaf, and B.) that classical music is not dead. Both lofty ideas that are convincingly explained.
  • I’m not gonna go on until every single person in this room, downstairs, and in Aspen, and everybody else looking, will come to love and understand classical music.” You may be skeptical at this point, but aside from that: why does this statement matter? He goes on: “You’ll notice there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this is gonna work… it’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream!…. of course I’m not sure they’ll be up to it…’ “
  • He proceeds to play a Chopin prelude and, with some explanation (“This is a B, and this is a C. And the job of the C is to make the B sound sad.”) and one simple seed of an idea, transforms the listener into fully appreciating the piece on an emotional level. He includes comparisons to Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela, birds, Irish street kids, and an Auschwitz survivor along the way.
  • The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound… he depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful. My job was to awaken possibility in other people.”

While music is one of the best ways to tap into emotions and creativity, I also argue that music is another form of philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I chose to study music at a university level, and why I continue to apply musical theory to almost every endeavor I take on. It’s a facet that Zander seems to appreciate as well. Studying and listening to music can unlock and refine a whole array of skills that are as useful in the music world as they are in other disciplines.

  • The sheer art of listening (which is a learned skill, mind you, and requires lots of practice…) is probably the most essential ability one can possess when working with colleagues or holding a leadership position. Studying music teaches you to listen differently, more carefully, and to be perceptive of nuance and subtlety.
  • Playing music with other people makes apparent the necessity for generosity, trust, cooperation, and teamwork. None of these things are ever mentioned when playing a 12-bar blues with some friends, but the best musicians (and leaders) practice all of them at all times.
  • Music theory blends mathematical concepts with imagination, emotion, and creativity. This delicate balance of structural integrity and freedom is a struggle faced by most entrepreneurs and CEO’s the world over. Building an organization, whether it’s a church or school or community or business, requires a successful balance of Policy and Ideas. Procedure and Dreaming. This is something musicians practice daily.

Music-as-Philosophy is a topic best saved for a separate post, but the point is: music appreciation leads to the appreciation of other facets of life. Music is simply a means to an insightful end.


The Business of Wine and Music

December 4, 2009

Check out the latest offering from Crushpad, a San Francisco-based company that lets people create their own barrels of wine. It’s called TinyBottles: 50ml pours of wines that can be purchased for as little as 10% of a full bottle. Here’s the reasoning behind this new wine sampler size. From the Crushpad newsletter:

“In our ruminations on the future of online wine, we started thinking about similar “long tail” industries and how the internet has impacted them.  To me, music is probably the closest to wine – zillions of products, subjective evaluation criteria, and historically controlled by a small number of distributors.  While wine and music started on the internet about the same time, the music industry has completely transformed while wine is just about the same.  There are several reasons for this (and I’m happy to chat about them), but certainly one reason is that, online, consumers are able to listen to songs before they buy them.

The Rise of the Artist.. or, Ayn Rand’s Music Industry

November 15, 2009


This graph is from a recent entry over at the Times Labs Blog called “Do music artists fare better in a world with with illegal file-sharing?

“This is the graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see… The most immediate revelation, of course, is that at some point next year revenues from gigs payable to artists will for the first time overtake revenues accrued by labels from sales of recorded music.

The article’s logic and data parsing looks sound, though its analysis is confined to the UK music industry only. It validates an opinion I’ve held since the beginning of the demise of the music industry: that the demise would favor the artist and frown on the record men.

This will only be the case, however, for artists who were not only releasing a consistent stream of quality product, but whose careers were centered around their ability to perform. The traditional record industry was founded on the premise that artists want to make music and not negotiate deals, find distribution channels, or haggle over merchandise profit margins. And this remains true. Which means the industry in its current state favors the resourceful, talented, motivated artist, and incentivizes the remaining lot of musicians to get their act together and take the reigns of their career.

We lose, of course, the lazy but undeniably brilliant musicians who need the maintenance, guidance, and hand-holding of a great manager or producer to bring their talent to the masses. These gems are the ones we should mourn, if only slightly, as the music world shifts toward an “Atlas Shrugged” reality where the suits can no longer hop a free ride on the talent.

Dreams as Art as Business

October 4, 2009


“Everyone must begin to trust their dreams because out of that trust is born the artist, and the artist is the role model for the entrepreneur we now need.”

– Ernest Hall (entrepreneur and musician) from The Creative Economy: How People Make Money From Ideas


September 20, 2009


I was in a meeting recently with some members of my company’s executive team. It was a brainstorming session regarding the “big picture” roadmap and how we can effectively drive our customers to use the more advanced features and options our product has to offer in order to improve their businesses.

My two cents amounted to this: we need to think more musically.

When you begin learning about melody and harmony as the organizing principles behind the establishment of a key, you begin to realize that notes, in and of themselves, don’t mean anything. A note only begins to make sense when there is another note before and after it. And, in harmonic terms, a note only begins to take on “meaning” when additional notes are added on top of one another. An E played by itself does not suggest anything. It could be a note of any number of millions of melodies, and it could be either the root note or the add9 of any number of chords. It could be the V or the I, the ii or the VII…

Until you give a note context, you have not actually created anything. A note by itself is nice, but it is only when you combine it with certain other notes that you have created something of value. Context creates the music.

Don’t give customers features, give them several features that combine to create a solution. Play them chords.


August 18, 2009


The summer grabbed hold of me in August—interference of the highest degree—so instead of writing about creativity and music I decided to live it for a bit. This Interference may have interrupted my routine and writing schedule, but it also fostered a restless mental energy that I’m finally getting around to scribing.

The Interference led to the following thoughts and discoveries I accumulated during the hiatus. They are scattered but pertinent…

CapoI discovered Capo thanks to Michael over at Daily Exhaust, and lamented never having it a decade ago while learning guitar. Dubbed “a musician’s best friend,” Capo lets you “slow down your favorite songs, so you can hear the notes and learn how they are played.” This is exactly what I sought after while struggling to learn music, but always had to settle for a MIDI-based guitar tablature playback program. Capo lets you change tempo and pitch (!), and incorporates markers to “bookmark” the portion of a tune you’re attempting to learn. You can even export your adjusted track and upload it to your iPod, for portable practice sessions. It’s a bit pricey ($49) but I would have bought it in a heartbeat if it meant bringing down Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Little Wing” to a manageable speed and tuning while learning it in college. I probably could have saved hundreds of hours in frustrated practice sessions…

NYTimes_GraphicI’ve be evaluating and re-evaluating the fate of the music industry these days. It is truly an Industry in Decline, and this NYTimes Op-Ed piece makes this clear. The article is concise and prescient (“…This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.”), but it’s the graphic outlining music sales that is particularly sobering. People just aren’t buying music in physical format anymore. They’re barely buying at all. It makes you wonder if there is an industry for music outside of the live performance space. I’m beginning to doubt it…

As long as you’ve read the Op-Ed piece above, check out the following, also on the NYTimes website: Artists Find Backers as Labels Wane.

GibsonThe Father of the Electric Guitar, Les Paul, passed away on August 13th, 2009 at the age of 94. Despite the minor resurgence that arose in the wake of his death, his contribution to music is still vastly unappreciated and unrecognized. You must realize that this man not only pioneered overdubbing, reverb, and phasing effects, he invented multitrack recording. For those unfamiliar: multi-track recording is recording as we know it today. Those large consoles in recording studios, and Garageband, would not have been possible without Les Paul’s innovations. He also has his name on one of the most popular electric guitars ever: the Gibson Les Paul. Living in New York City, I had the chance of seeing Les Paul play at his legendary weekly gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in Times Square. I never bought a ticket—the price seemed too steep for someone just starting out in such an expensive town—but now it seems like an absolute bargain. There’s a lesson in there I’ll never forget…


I’m gearing up for another ramp-up of QuikCallus marketing, as more and more users are sending positive feedback my way. Looking to bring QuikCallus to the next level in 2010, and I’m laying the groundwork now. Also syncing up with colleagues to launch a new entrepreneurial initiative centered around budding business owners. I’ve been digging the promise of Creative Entrepreneurship these days, and am looking to bring it to the forefront. Exciting things to come…

Guitar_ToolkitThe iPhone has changed my life. For all you guitarists out there: download the Guitar Toolkit. Tuner, metronome, fretboard, and chord dictionary all in one. It’s cheaper, more robust, and more portable than any tuner you could buy in a guitar shop. And at $9.99 you can’t beat the price.


If you aren’t on Twitter yet, get on it. I’m posting there more frequently than BlogSounds, and am always looking for feedback and suggestions from followers. Fire up an account and start following stockyturtle (@stockyturtle). I’ll make it worth your while.

Pick Punch

June 4, 2009


The folks over at Pick Punch are onto something big. This stapler-like device lets you create a guitar pick out of old credit cards, coffee lids, gift cards, etc. It’s an ingenious invention, and a great companion product to my own QuikCallus.

The first production run is this summer, so check out their blog now and be one of the first in line.