Archive for experimental

Writing vs. Music: Labels and Publishers

Posted in Rumination with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2010 by scottsplatter

Since making writing a serious focus, I have tried to find parallels between small press publishers and underground record labels. Chances are if you’re reading this it’s because you found the site via my own music or because of something I released on Crionic Mind. I understand underground music and labels pretty well I think, so I keep hoping that familiarity will assist in finding a foothold in the publishing world.

There are similarities in the spirit of both worlds, but the machinations really are pretty different. This will be the first of a couple posts looking at those differences. The more I look into it the greater the differences become.  The soul of the participants share common ground but the approach and relationships are unique.

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Underground music for this discussion refers to experimental music, dark ambient, lesser known metal, punk, industrial etc. Music that is released by small labels that operate out of the corner of the labels owners house. Limited edition releases that end up somewhere near the high/low mark of 1,000 copies,  There are publishing companies that fit this description as well, good ones.

Underground music functions more or less on a barter economy. Labels and distributors trade merchandise more often than not rather than buying from each other at wholesale rates. This allows each to diversify their mail orders while being able to put any real money into releasing new product. Bands or projects are usually paid in product that they can then sell. There are exceptions, but much of the music is obscure enough, and the pressings small enough, that a royalty arrangement is essentially agreeing to do it for free.

If you aren’t familiar with my music and found this through a tag search, there is a discography in the side bar. I never signed a contract, never received a check for any of it. I received product. This worked for me because with running the label I was able to convert my releases into other releases and build a nice mail order catalog (that I will get online again at some point). The bands I did releases for –  I would take care of the artwork and mastering if they wanted, but I paid them in product. No one even raised the issue of money because we all knew how it worked.

I’ve been releasing music since 1995, and recording it longer than that. What did I get out of this model? Reviews, contacts, interviews and friends on every continent but Antarctica. It helped me build a record label that  garnered some amount of respect, had an identity and supported itself. It put me in touch with people who remain friends and inspirations and people who I think might say the same about me. Those things have a value,  but none of them pay my bills. For what I do soundtracks are perhaps the one area that could be lucrative, even then there are a lot of variables.

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I’ve not yet published anything, in fact I have not yet submitted anything, though that time is near.  These impressions are based on the extensive research, market reports, submission guidelines, classes and the advice and comments of those who have.

With publishing, the battle cry is that the money flows to the author. If you publish something you aren’t paid for it’s seen as an invalid writing credit by many. If you self publish, it’s viewed with scorn and can work against you when you submit through the established channels. The editors and publishing houses have determined the chain of worth. It counts if they say it counts.

Print on demand services and e-publishing  have made it easier than ever to self publish, just as affordable home recording software, mp3’s and cdr’s made it easier to make and spread music. The distaste for self publishing comes from the amount of sub par writing that surfaces there. There is so much garbage that the gems are not worth the energy it takes to find them. However, I’ve read books published by reputable houses that contained work I’d have been embarrassed to show anyone. It’s not that published work is better, just that it is more likely to be better.

There is a saying, the hardest book to sell is your second book. Publishers will take a chance on new writers, but once you are published your track record is established. If you aren’t able to sell through your first pressing, your opportunities become more limited. Other publishers have access to the sales numbers for books published by other houses. Not only are your chances diminished with your original publisher if you don’t sell through, they are hurt with prospective publishers. This is with marketing budgets nearly non-existent in the small press world and the responsibility falling to the writer to hustle their work.

Joe Konrath, has a blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing that makes a case for ignoring some of this conventional wisdom and ways to get the money flowing to the author without filtering it through the publishing houses. Paul Jessup had a nice bit of musing on the state of publishing recently on his blog as well. The model is going to change because the tools exist now in such a way that it will have no choice. There will always be garbage on the market, but the time will come when it is the market that determines what is garbage and what is not.

R. Thomas Riley has a post on the Apex Books blog regarding the differences between writing and publishing which I think is a good place to wind this down. This is incomplete, and maybe even ignorant. I wrote it for myself as much as anyone else. Having had success, at least as I measure it, with music and exploring this new parallel underground is an odd thing. There are more rules and more divides. Right now my goal is to write well. I will try to publish. Whether I am successful at that end of it or not I will still try to write well.

To be continued…

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Wonkavision

Posted in Video with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by scottsplatter

so, so great…

sound and fear

Posted in Rumination with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2009 by scottsplatter

Scientific American ran a story about a month ago regarding the brains reaction to “scary music” when paired with visuals and then without visuals. They looked the way music is used to heighten fear in movies and how the brain reacted when watching the scene, and when closing your eyes during the scene. The result was that those who closed their eyes had greater reactions in the emotional centers of their brains than those who didn’t. It was scarier not to see it.

Chalk one up for the imagination.

This was interesting to me with regards to listening habits of dark ambient and experimental music. I’ve always gotten so much more from a release when I dim the lights and just absorb it. It’s a canvas for the imagination. It’s something, probably the primary thing, I always hoped to achieve with Gruntsplatter and some of my other projects. It’s why I rarely use vocals or samples. I didn’t want anything that made the music too concrete.

Everything I have done has a theme or implied story behind it, but I hope that by leaving it abstract the listener has been able to fill in the blanks with their own ideas of what was going on. I’ve gotten some nice emails over the years that have related some of those visions, or from people who have used Gruntsplatter to augment their create processes while painting or writing. It’s about the best compliment I can think of.

I wonder with the way that ingesting music has evolved just how many of the secret stories hidden in atmospheric music will go untapped. Will people continue to turn out the lights and listen attentively or will it all just blend into the background din of life. Even I don’t do it as often as I used to.

Science has now documented the emotional charge the pure sounds can evoke without the distraction of other outside stimulus. Make a point to experience that with some of your favorite dark releases.

Cinder Skin

Posted in Projects, Rumination with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2009 by scottsplatter

It occurred to me I probably haven’t posted about music as much as I should. So, here is a long story that ends with some MP3’s of a demo few heard.

Cinder Skin was the first solo project I did.

I had a project in Michigan called Grinch with my brother in arms, Marty Rytkonen (Worm Gear, Bindrune, Charnel Valley etc…) for a few years. There was no drummer, towards the end Bob Green (now creating Alien Devices) joined up on drum machine. Grinch wasn’t a band really, but it was all we had in Northern Michigan in the late 8o’s. I left Michigan in 1991 headed for San Diego. Once there I tried to get into a couple of band situations. Here’s my favorite of those stories…

This guy would come into the record store I worked at talking up a bunch of  songs he needed bass and vocals for. Bass and vocals were what I did. He assured me the influences of bands like Godflesh, Voivod, Neurosis, Scorn (that I was mentioning to him) had been woven by their deft hands into Obituary, Morbid Angel etc.  style Death Metal. I was skeptical.  His enthusiasm and an actual a drummer eventually convinced me to give it a go.

When I showed up for my first and only practice, the drums were in the bedroom closet, the guitar amp was on one side of the bed, and I set my amp up on the other. I think the mic was plugged into a Peavy Audition. The guitarist and drummer launched into their repertoire enthusiastic that I might be the last piece of the puzzle. Each of the 8 or so songs they played sounded exactly like Bad Religion. Crap.

We practiced a couple tracks and I tried to get some vocals arranged. The call to break out the boom box and record was sounded. The room was too small to record and not have it sound like Incapacitants. So they opened the bedroom window and set the boom box on the hood of the car in the driveway. One of the resident girlfriends was tasked with hitting record when we were ready to bring the hammer down!

I wish I had a copy of that tape but alas the magic captured on that day has been dispersed in the ether.

That was the last straw for me, and I decided to go it alone. I bought a 4 track, sequestered myself in my sweatbox studio apartment, tried to figure out gear I had no idea how to use and started writing. At the same time I also started experimenting with noise and found sounds. This was in 1993 I believe. The first track I recorded (Memory Scars) I used a toolbox,  a plastic pitcher and some other crap from around the house for drums. It sort of works, but I decided I needed to shell out for a drum machine. I bought an Alesis SR-16 from this guy and set to figuring it out. I got a couple of tracks recorded with it before it crapped out on me.

Some of those tracks ended up on the first Gruntsplatter release, and “Irritation Hive” ended up on the Cinder Skin release. While I was trying to save up the cash for a second drum machine I continued to work on the experimental stuff figuring I would mix the noise tracks in with the “regular” tracks. I ended up with more noise tracks and Gruntsplatter was born. The first Gruntsplatter release came out in 1995 and was made up of stuff recorded either originally for Cinder Skin or during the down time between drum machines.

I scraped together the money for a Boss DR-5 which I chose because it some synth sounds. I continued to work on Gruntsplatter but also needed to finish this Cinder Skin project. In 1996, 3 years after it started, it was released on cassette. The original mixes of the tracks sound better than what ended up on the tape. It was mastered by someone whom I found out later mostly worked with church groups on spoken word recordings and aspiring mariachi bands. He muddied it up real good. I made him do it over, the second time was a little better, but at that point he was done with me. These MP3’s were taken from the release, the original masters are in a box somewhere. I tried to re-eq it a bit. So, culled from a 13 year old cassette that sat in a number of dank basements and miserably hot apartments over the years is the Cinder Skin “Sunken” demo.

cinder_sunkenCinder Skin – “Sunken” Demo

1)
Cadaver Man
2) Congeal
3) Memory Scars
4) Introspection
5) Blood Gutter I
6) Irritation Hive

There are some reviews on the Cinder Skin page I linked above. I still have a bunch of these tapes, without covers. They are sitting in my dank basement.

I always intended to come back to do something in this vein with proper equipment.  It never happened. I’m finally going to have a my studio set up again in the next few weeks as the wife and I are moving to some place with more room. It will be the first time I’ve had my full studio set up since I finished “The Aberrant Laboratory” that Gruntsplatter released on Dark Vinyl in 2006.  So who knows…