Two new releases on the Beauty Is the End front, one, a decidedly dark and textural original, the other, a pensive and beautiful Crosby, Stills & Nash cover.

Cherub Allies” is the sister song to “The Glass Wall,” released earlier this year. Where “The Glass Wall” had its focus turned outwards upon a post-capitalistic, xenophobic, decaying urban wasteland, “Cherub Allies” examines the complex landscapes of inter-personal affairs. I really love the lyrics for both. Clinton wrote both songs, and their lyrics are up at their respective Bandcamp pages (linked above).

“Cherub Allies” was my first foray into drumming entirely with electronic sounds. I’d triggered some 808’s and bass blasts with my soul/hip hop projects, Shubangi and AzudemSK, but that was always in the context of an acoustic performance. For “Cherub Allies,” I plugged my full electronic drumset into the laptop and triggered sounds I sought out with Clinton and my bandmate/hip hop producer, Duuq. Three sections of the song called for three very different sets of sounds, from tight and complementary in the second refrain where my drums enter, to full and boisterous in the bridge thereafter, all leading to a massive acoustic battery seeing us out in the final refrain (those Masshoff Drums samples give me goosebumps).

It was a fun project, and I’m excited to keep exploring the world of sampling. For me, it’s a very 2020/21 experiment, which very accurately describes its context in time. In pre-pandemic times, the songwriting process would often entail (or consist entirely of) band sessions, everyone sweating and breathing into the same practice room air, songs collecting in the middle like clouds in moist air. In that process, the pieces are in place, each musician has his or her equipment and sound, and each works to shape the material using the existing building blocks. The song takes life over the course of the session and with each collective performance, to be recorded when it’s ready.

Now, in a pandemic, it’s in some ways the opposite. Recording comes right away, by necessity; the song is put together piece by piece and sent along to the next musician. The material doesn’t form in the physical space between the band, and isn’t created in the moment, from its existing composite parts. Rather, each person comes at it separately, and can take all the time he or she needs to find the perfect sounds and record the perfect take. Material is king, rather than synergy. (As an aside, it’s easy to get lost here in perfectionism, but then, sometimes that’s exactly what live band sessions lack: The inability to declare it “good enough” and move on.)

The e-drums are therefore, for me, very much a product of their times. I can sit at home, on my own watch, browse sounds, examine MIDI information, cut and recut and recut, and even try different sounds after doing a take. (For this little attic musician, that’s still mindblowing.) I suspect, after the pandemic has loosened its grip on us, I’ll still look upon the e-drums as a Corona hangover.

Anyway. Back to the releases, and to mention another collaboration-from-afar: The music video for “Cherub Allies” is a beautiful bit of visual wizardry by artist Shane LoBuglio. It captures the mood of the piece wonderfully, and I still don’t have any clue how he put it together.

Beauty Is the End’s other recent release is a cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” and Clinton did this one all on his own, down to its beautiful, watercolor music video! (What’s that you say? The shakers on “Helplessly Hoping” sound very nice as well? Well, thank you! That’s the one bit I contributed. When Clinton sent me the track for potential drums, he already had in place the electronic drums you hear in the final cut. I thought it’d crowd the piece too much to add anything more.)

I think it’s beautiful work by Clinton across the board.

One of the prettiest pieces I’ve heard by Clinton is currently in mixing, slated for release by mid-summer, so stay tuned for that. I had to buy a concert percussion sample pack for it, in case that whets any appetites…

As the summer’s coming to a close, I thought I’d post a few more photos, for archiving’s sake, and remark on how fortunate I’ve felt about some things I’ve been able to be a part of.  From beautiful locations to new equipment to tour with friends to three weeks back home, it was a summer with lots of highlights.  Some of these I’ve featured in past posts, but others I still wanted to represent with a photo or two.

First up, largely for Shubangi and partly out of morbid curiosity, I’ve joined the “dark side,” as my buddy Bill Dwyer would probably put it:


I have since purchased two Roland BT-1 percussion bars to run into this thing, as opposed to the triggers.  I’m excited to work with the triggers more, but for now they’re impractical and don’t fit with what I need samples for.  We’ll see when or if that changes.

Here are some pictures from the last Shubangi gigs of the summer.


Borken – That’s Life festival


Setting up in Borken. That’s an old Sonor Sonic Plus kit, made in Germany of all birch. Sounds a lot better than what’s billed as a beginner’s kit ought to.  Crazy hardware as well… look at the floor tom legs, for example.

shubangi heimatzoo fest

Heimatzoo Festival, Grindau bei Schwarmstedt

shubangi heimatzoo

Heimatzoo Festival, Grindau bei Schwarmstedt

shubangi rink fest 2

Rink-Festival, Osnabrueck

shubangi rink fest

Rink-Festival, Osnabrueck

shubangi sessionone hamburg

Session.One at the Kleiner Donner, Hamburg

I was home in Boston for a few weeks as well, enjoying lots of family time which I’d sorely missed, and got to see some old friends, and even play a little music.  I didn’t take many pictures, which I should have, but musically speaking:


Curtis Killian, Clinton Degan, and Hocus Pocus. This pic/jam was in Curtis’s new apartment’s basement, which just happened to come with a RECORDING STUDIO BUILT IN.


Added a few new members to the family


Trying to figure out how to fly overseas with a full drumset. Not recommended

Back in Europe I got to hit the road with my friends from Mr. Kowalsky.  I maintain that nothing gets an audience moving like ska and reggae.  We hit a few cities in Germany, as well as Amsterdam and Paris.  We also shot a little video in Paris, which is guaranteed to make us look ridiculous, so that should be fun.

mr kowalsky breakfastshot

On the tour I got to play two awesome kits: a 1964 (I believe) Gretsch which, as can be expected, just had the sweetest tone…

IMG_20150911_223939 IMG_20150911_224001

And, finally!  A Ludwig Breakbeats!  It sounded so much better than I expected.  Tons of punch to the kick and the toms have a great tone.  I’m still working on my epitome-of-portability suitcase drumset (henceforth known as the Kofferkit), but I’ve gotta put this thing back on my radar for other small gigs that need something a little more “traditional.”  Was super psyched about this one.



Belgian Fries (Or: the Rumors are True)



Noticed some funny usage patterns on my new snare head after the ska/reggae tour

This was a cool one: a wedding at one of the wildest locations I’ve played in.  They rented a second church for their party.  Note the relative size of the drumset on the stage – and the pictures don’t even entirely catch the magnitude of the place!

wedding church

At this wedding I got to work with Phil Kamp, a champ, by the way, for making the above-pictured room sound not just reasonable but better, who brought along this little guy – a KLANG:technologies monitoring station.  This ran to our in-ear monitors and created a 3D mix for us which we could control wirelessly from individual iPads, not only controlling volumes and EQ in our buds, but also actually moving around the other instruments in our mixes with the graphical interface, putting them further to the right, left, above, below, in front, behind… all of this to actually mimic the stage set-up, or mock-up a rehearsal set-up, or whatever we felt like.  It was amazing.


I also got to do some studio work; one session was with the DopeBoyz, who are beat makers and one of whom I study with.  Here we are getting set up.  Hopefully I’ll be able to link to some final products sometime in the near future, but as they post the beats for purchase, occasionally with exclusive rights, a link may be short-lived.  Here’s a short video of the session they put together.

Of course, there was some time to relax.  I’m always looking for a reason to get on the bike, so I was happy to take a short tour up to Osnabrueck and back with my friend Lucky.  (If the authorities are reading this – we had permission to camp! 😉 )



Way overloaded, but in my defense, I was testing my new front rack and panniers

Way overloaded for such a short tour, but in my defense, I was testing my new front rack and panniers, plus I brought the tent!

The new semester just started today, so that’s the next step.  I’ve been working on a song of my own, as well, so I hope to have something to show before long – it would/will be my first personal work posted, so I’m excited about that.  And there are a few acoustic Shubangi gigs coming up soon, Nov 6th and 7th in Koeln and here in Muenster, respectively.

So: onwards!

I’m putting together a suitcase drumset.  Psyched about it.  This should allow me to take acoustic gigs and (very) small venue gigs without sacrificing the presence of a drumset for the sake of a cajon or some similar stand-in.  I’m not ragging on the cajon; I know those good with them can produce a lot of interesting sound.  But Shubangi has a few acoustic shows coming up, and I’d prefer to keep as close to the original drum sound as possible while scaling it back appropriately.  I’ve also recently had a couple sub gigs for Gin and Juice and G & the Boyz; both times we’ve done stripped back acoustic covers and both times I’ve wished I had a proper kit to better replicate the original grooves.

I’ve already had a couple conversations with other musicians about potentially getting out into the street and busking, and this kit would be perfect for that, as well as other guerilla type performance possibilities.

Total cost so far: 45 euros


I’ve bid Boston adieu for the time being and started studying at the University of Münster Musikhochschule in northwest Germany.  Everything’s in German, so that’s been a bit of a trip, but it’s pretty wonderful.  Without getting too deep into it, because that’s not the original point of this post, I’m one of just five drumset students here, which is just worlds away from part of what I didn’t like about Berklee.  I already know everyone in my class and many from the others (in my part of the school, which is pop music performance / music education).  It’s also incredibly cheap.  The scholarship money Berklee gave me was very small in comparison to what my tuition every semester cost, and yet, thanks to German university tuition laws, my per-semester scholarship there was over 8x more than what I have to pay outright per semester to study here.  Less convoluted:  I’m paying less than $300 per semester towards my bachelor’s degree.  Unglaublich.

Anyway, I was just browsing last night and came across this video posted on Reddit in which Bertrand Russell discusses the importance of philosophy.  There was a comment thread discussing the video, and buried therein was the following post regarding searching for knowledge vs. information, or following a quest to understand the “how” and “why” rather than just the what.  You can distill it down to simply being about learning, but I liked the account of the rewards he found, and that it’s an anecdote from a discipline I know little about.

It resonates with me right now as I’m struggling to keep up with my music theory classes, a fight that’s compounded by a little voice in the back of my mind that says, “You don’t really need this stuff, anyway.”  It’s tough sometimes to shake that feeling that you’re just learning something because someone else says you should, but I find this account of finding the drive, and seeing retroactively the worth of pursuing knowledge when it’s later applied, inspirational.  Too often in my study of music, whether under a teacher or on my own, have I sought to simply reach the next level of performance, or, in other words, results, rather than given myself over to really being a student and digging deep into the “how” and “why” as a more comprehensive means to the same end.

And as I trudge through a difficult subject in a difficult, foreign language, I’ll take the inspiration, wherever it may come from.

Anyway, here’s the post.  I’ll just post it unedited as it was originally written.  The last bits are in response to someone having recommended him some places to begin studying philosophy.


“Once you commit to studying philosophy, accompanied by a genuine thirst for knowledge — I must warn you — you are opening up Pandora’s box in the best imaginable way.”

About 3ish years ago I was playing minecraft with some friends, and we decided to try to make a trap to get monster loot. I remember making a trap that ran of a little redstone logic circuit I made. I was surprised when It worked so well, and that my friends didn’t understand it. I thought I wasn’t smart enough to do something like that. This set off a chain reaction. I started to wonder what else I could do.

So I decided to learn programming, scrap by scrap. I was smart, I didn’t have to understand how it worked, I didn’t need knowledge. This is just confusing because somebody else’s fault. People who have knowledge aren’t smart, they only have that knowledge because they couldn’t just figure it out themselves, right?

Then I meet another programmer who started about the same time I did. He could code circles around me. He did so much that I would have never imagined possible. One day I asked him how he got so good. He shrugged and said “I just want to know how it all works.” I thought that that was a silly reason to do anything, I didn’t really take it to heart.

Then one day, I decided to emulate that mindset, to chase ‘knowing how it all works’ for a while, to see what useful things I could learn. So I read. Not a lot mind you, just enough to understand how the language worked. Then when I tried to program again, it was suddenly different. It was like sailor first finds the wind, when a musican first hears the music they’re reading. I was in resonance with both knowledge and cleverness. This was the potential teachers had always said that I wasn’t taking. Code was no longer a chore, It was no longer a thing to be cleaned on occasion and forgotten, It was expression of self, It was the flow of raw and ruthless ideas without a care in the world.

I always thought climbing the mountain of knowledge was a fools errand, until I was high enough upon it to see the view. I had always starving, but I had never realized what had hungered. The little I had read fead my curiosity, but only enough to raise its appetite.

Later on I wrote a little multiplayer game. It was slow and terrible, unplayable even, but my programmer friends were amazed, even the one who could code circles around me.

Then I dove down the rabbit hole. I began to read everything I could about computers. I wrote useless tools that I knew I’d never use. The knowledge I was gaining made everything so clear.

During this time I also played strategy games. Dota and the such. The bits and pieces of math that I had picked up with code began to show the value of themselves with strategy. I had started to see the numbers, the way it fit together. That was the moment I began to understand what math truly was. It wasn’t some group of equations to be memorized, it was patterns. It was the art of thought. Music has sound, Sculpting has shape, math has thought and pattern. The other subjects too, history, literature, art, they were all connected in ways that I had just begun to see.

I began to study math. I struggled, just as I did when I started with code. I studied physics along the way as well.

It started to change everything. I had begun to see. To see. It cannot be fully described until you have experienced it. I no longer drifted along like a numb rag-doll, deaf to all but impulse. The patterns of everything started to appear. Everything began to show its own sort of intense beauty. This was how it felt to be rapt in awe.

Curiosity, which was once just a faint whisper on the tongues of others, has quickly started to become a huge force in my life. It grows and grows the more it knows. Three years ago I had begun to crack open Pandora’s box of curiosity, and now that its open, I can’t imagine closing it, I can only feel excitement in what next I’ll find.

I started to learn math still not to long ago. The idea of it is definitely something that I want to pursue now that I understand what It actually is.However, It still is quite confusing to me. It reminds me much of how I felt when I first tried to learn to code. The part from the video that struck me the most was when he talked about people trying to shape knowledge, rather then allow knowledge to shape them, I realized that that was exactly what I was doing with mathematics. I was cherry-picking the parts with obvious value, and only thinking of them. I had never cared for the foundation because I tried to quickly to reach the bits which I had already found interesting. The entire guiding force behind my curiosity was the off statement of another mind. I didn’t recognize that till I watched the video. I need to learn how to give others the reign of thought and see where they take me. Doing it before has given me so much, and only doing it again now has let me recognize it.

ANYWAYS, thanks for the suggestions.

I’ve posted a couple more songs in the Media page.  They are unfinished Baby Made Rebel tracks, recorded in 2013 and not quite completed before we went on hiatus.  “The Standing” is much further along than “Untitled Single,” as may be apparent from the titles.

“The Standing” started with a drum loop I recorded as part of my Loops Project.  Lance heard it and wrote a tune around it.  We performed it at a few gigs in Boston in 2013, and I wish the recording had been completed and released, but I guess everything ground to a halt when I left for Germany.

“Untitled Single” was recorded right before I left, so naturally that one got a lot less love.  But I love the direction it was headed in and vibe it had going for it, even in so incomplete a form.

Finally, Clinton Degan has been working on mixing the songs we recorded together in late Summer 2013 and emailing us demos, and the songs are sounding incredible.  One of them is a tune an old band of his had turned down, saying it was “impossible” to turn into a full-band song.  For a group of musicians as talented as they were, it should say something about the complexity of the composition that it was denied on that ground.  I’m incredibly proud listening to it, knowing we as a group of musicians achieved something not only impressive, but I think also beautiful, and also proud of Degan for not taking “no” as an answer and guiding the song, along with its companion seven others on this record, to a really impressive product.  I can’t wait to be able to post some.

I threw this up on Facebook a few weeks back and thought I would just post it up here, for posterity and future pep-talk usage.  It got a little more far-reaching than I intended, but so it goes.  I’ll just leave it as-posted.


I was entirely self taught on drums from when I got a crash-ride and snare for Christmas at… what, 13 years old or so?… until spring, 2007. in that time I undoubtedly developed lots of bad technique habits. when I was accepted to Berklee in 2007, I started seeing a local drum teacher to prepare for Berklee. one thing I could never get down was the double stroke roll, which drummers will know is a highly foundational rudiment to one’s playing. my left hand just always wanted to turn over, tighten up, and very deliberately “push” every hit, rather than “dropping” or “throwing.” and I couldn’t even ask it to try controlling a bounce. snowball’s chance in hell.

I didn’t assimilate much at Berklee because I never felt like it was the right place for me. also, I was still playing a lot of my own music while I was there, so I couldn’t (ok, didn’t) take the time out to reshape my technique. but I vividly remember confiding in my first private instructor at Berklee that I just could never get my left hand to play nice re: stick control, and expressed my fear that I had just been doing the wrong thing for too long and would never get past this major handicap. he said very flatly, “that’s possible.” this was a private instructor who was well-respected and -liked, and a totally formidable player in his own right, as one could rightly expect a private Berklee instructor to be. I won’t lie; his reaction crushed me a fair bit.

over the last month or so, though, I’ve finally really buckled down, and for the first time in my life really focused deliberately on just a couple simple exercises: a rotating double stroke roll Bertram Lehmann taught me at Berklee (that I could expand upon if anyone was curious), as well as accenting the upstrokes as he suggested; and, primarily, an introductory stamina exercise by Gary Chaffee that Alex Major turned me on to. and for the first time in my life, I’m started to feel like it’s “clicking,” like my left hand is “getting it.” it’s taken almost shutting off everything else, drums-wise; the last few weeks have been 90% spent on the practice pad. (but that’s coming from a total ADD case when behind the kit.)

and I’m finally beginning to believe my deep-gut reaction that my first instructor’s flatly crushing “it’s possible” was horse shit. his words rang in my mind for a good 6-7 years, and while I chipped away occasionally at my problem by sitting down for 10 minutes here and there to work on double stroke rolls, I always had those defeating words overhead like a gathering dark cloud. but I knew if I just forced myself to focus, I could do it. I just hadn’t taken the practice seriously until now. and it’s amazing what a difference even just a few weeks of focus can make.

so, you know. “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” and all that pocket-sized jazz.

now I reassess things as I consider my future as a drummer, and catch myself every now and then worrying that I’ve just started to focus on that facet of my instrument too late; hell, there are guys who are 10 years younger than me who blow me away at that game. but I remember the words “it’s possible,” and remember that it’s probably horse shit. as long as you’re bettering yourself, “too late” or “never” couldn’t be more irrelevant.

I’ve been spending time trying to finish an old screenplay, and in so doing I’ve read through a book by Brian Murphy called The Root of Wild Madder.  It chronicles the journalist’s dive into the world of Persian carpets, his passion leading him into a world in which he soon feels out of his depth, and his search for a “lodestone,” a kind of North Star by which to navigate his passion for learning more about this mysterious art.  It’s a fascinating read and really has a lot to say about a lot of things, and a lot of what it says about the fine art of Persian carpet weaving works well as broad observation of art at large.

There’s a lot of talk in the book about contradictions, unsolvable mysteries, nebulous mystique – things the author tries repeatedly to pin down and distill into simple, digestible terms, and which his Persian hosts and guides remark are beautiful just for their inherent mystery, and need not be nailed down in more approachable epithets.  In fact, many can’t – take, for example, that the majority of carpets have no signatures or known origins, differentiating them from most or all other art styles, and origins can only be guessed at based on the style of the piece.  The author asks a member of a large carpet trading family, “Doesn’t that frustrate you?” to which the man replies, “Why do you keep coming back to this idea?  No.  On the contrary, it’s the thing that makes carpets fascinating.”

Anyway, this has all been to introduce a quote I really liked about remaining with open heart and mind and being receptive to all possibilities around you.  The quote comes from a carpet vendor featured in the book named Hossein, who owns a large shop in Isfahan and is the source of many amazing insights.  Hossein and the author had been discussing how traditions had been dying and globalization and the internet were sweeping the world.  Was modernization always a bad thing?  Of course not.  “Sitting in the dark because you don’t have electricity isn’t so good.”  But he goes on to say:

“What I’m afraid of is that we lose the sense that the world is a big, mysterious place where all kinds of things are possible.  Being modern is one thing.  But I hope this doesn’t mean losing wonder and awe and a sense that God is watching us.  If that happens, my friend, these kinds of carpets will be no more.  They come from that type of imagination.  What I’m trying to say is that good carpets – or any art, I think – come from people who ask questions about life and try to see things that aren’t there.  People who think they know all the answers and just create things to sell are making nothing but junk.”

I just learned of this amazing Dutch TV film called “Master Class with Mariss Jansons.”

The Latvian maestro takes three young, promising conductors and puts them in front of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to rehearse Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.  Jansons then watches over them as they conduct run-throughs of the pieces, and jumps in on subsequent runs to provide feedback.  Some of the musicians in the orchestra, all masters in their own rights, also sit with the young conductors and describe their performances from their points of view.

The program came up in a conversation with my brother in law when we both decided we didn’t know enough about the world of classical conductors or their art.  “Master Class” in turn provides a really fascinating look into the craft.  As a should-be owner of Classical Music for Dummys, I really had no grasp of what the role of the conductor was aside from providing the tempo, keeping track of meter, and giving simple ques for instrumentalists.

One of the young conductors, a Chinese guy named Yu Lu, said his friends were worried about him going to the Netherlands for the show because he spoke no Dutch and not much English.  He said to them that he was not a bit concerned, for music is an international language.  I recount this because there really was so much more communication between the conductor and the orchestra than I imagined, even having assumed my preconceptions were surely woeful underestimations.  And it was fascinating to see not only verbal tips and suggestions from the conductor between runs, but also the extent to which the conductor physically interpreted the music, contorting his face, wiggling his fingers, snapping his wrists.  Yu Lu was particularly interesting to watch, his physical manifestations of the score being as nuanced and genuine as subtle arching of his eyebrows.  It was even described by Jansons at one point as being an actor – one must, to conduct, not only read the music, hear it and feel it internally, and communicate this verbally with the orchestra, but physically provide not only temporal and rhythmic cues, but also the “emotional sculpture” of the piece, as it were – convey the peaks and the valleys, the tension and the ecstasy.  Everything from sharpness of movements to amount of hunch in the back – it was impressed upon each aspiring leader that everything he did with his body was a message to the orchestra and of total import in achieving what he meant to achieve.

So, although I have nothing to do with classical music, I found there to be universal truth in this, not only in how we communicate music to an audience but how we communicate ideas to each other, musicians or not.  Plus, it’s just super entertaining to see something so abstract and subjective get dissected.

What was also interesting to me, though, and which I won’t harp on too much, was the interaction between the 19 year old Alexander Prior and the orchestra.  He was admonished a few times for being too controlling, too forthright with his opinions, and having too strong a penchant for micromanagement.  Despite his talent and clear vision, it was suggested to him that he was being overbearing and risked souring the relationship with his orchestra.  Classical orchestras are of course a different context than, to give a predictable example, rock bands.  We in conversation at home even likened the former to a religion in ways – you have your composer, who is usually dead and gone, leaving the conductor to be the “priest,” the interpreter and vassal in which the real meaning, the core truth of the message must reside.  In a rock band, things are often more democratic – but not always.  Whatever the format of the band, though, I thought this urged-diplomacy was another universal aspect to music.  The conductor depends on his orchestra just as they do him, and perhaps that’s even more true in an established band that often has less of a hierarchical construct and more of a creative co-dependence.  What we say and how we say it matters; it can be said that even within a system like an orchestra where there is to be one leader among many voices, tone is important.  I’ve thought this obvious, but I’ve had enough interactions to know the message has not made its way into some skulls.  For many it should be a reminder and an interesting parallel.  For some, I must say sadly – but suggest hopefully! – that it may be a lesson in leadership and expression.

Anyway.  I meant to go back and re-watch it to glean what else I meant to talk about, but the internet at home is apparently trying to match the speed of the fresh grass growing outside.  So I recommend it to any and all, musician or not, as a really fascinating and potentially instructive watch.  Find it below in two parts.  And by the way, the beginning contains much Dutch, but English soon takes over.

I found an old song map notebook stuffed into my suitcase that I used early/middle last year for some projects.  The notes are for songs by Shoney Lamar & the Equal RightsMr. KowalskySchool for Robots, and the as-yet untitled Clinton Degan project, scrawled roughly either while writing or learning them with the bands.  They include the usual guides such as “Verse,” “Chorus,” “Intro” and so forth, as well as such made-sense-at-the-time bits as “ratatats,” “Octopussy tag,” “glory section,” “funny kick,” “quietish,” and more.  And apparently I only know how to spell “ritard.”

I know I’ve got some notes from older and other projects kicking around somewhere.  I’ll try to find those and add to the photo set because I think it’s a pretty funny thing to look back on and scratch the ol’ noggin over.


They did this study. They isolated a group of people over time, and they monitored their abilities at crossword puzzles, right, in relation to the general population. And they secretly gave them a day-old crossword, one that had already been answered by thousands of other people, right. And their scores went up dramatically, like 20 percent. So it’s like once the answers are out there, people can pick up on them.”


So I had this project for a year called Band Over Boston.  (Ignore that quote for now; it’s not really important.)

It was a computer set up in the back room of In House Cafe, a little cafe at the corner of Harvard and Commonwealth Aves in Allston.  It had an iTunes playlist loaded full with local Boston (and suburban to Boston) music, and it was always connected to the In House WiFi network.  iTunes was open and the BOB playlist was set to “share over network,” with downloading disabled.

What this meant was that anyone in the cafe with their laptop open (which was generally a lot of people) and iTunes booted would see this playlist called “Band Over Boston” and could go in and browse, library- or jukebox-style, and listen to tons of local music, for free, at will, on their own computer.  I had flyers set up by the cash register advertising it and explaining how to find it; by the end of the project’s run, I was refilling a few dozen flyers about once a week.

The advertisement flyer I used outside of the cafe

As I was a local musician myself, the support and cooperation of the local music scene was
paramount to me, so I did not add anything to the library without permission, and I reached out to countless musicians to see if they wanted to take part.  Shortly after I announced the idea and started putting the word out, I had about 150 bands and musicians not only submitting their music by my request but getting in touch out of the blue, excited about the project.  I also gave some interviews and talked about the idea with press outlets like Northeast Performer Mag, and Boston Band Crush.  The concept (plus some monetization ideas) also won a $1000 business concept competition at Boston University’s School of Management.  Two friends, Joan Cerdas and Patrick Coman, helped with some of the graphic work, design, and blog writing as the project unfolded.

The obvious intent here was to bring local music to a new audience.  Although music is reveling in myriad new ways to deliver music to people outside of the tired major label pipeline, some of the best music I’ve ever heard was in a little bar in front of a little stage with as few as 20 other people next to me in the audience.  I mean, and at the risk of tired simplification, Nirvana was that annoying band in the garage next door to someone at some point.  There’s great music being made right down the street, and I wanted more people to know they didn’t have to spend $80 to get into a big arena to get their socks knocked off by a guy slinging a guitar; they could be standing close enough to have his sweat slung onto them instead (awesome, right?!).

But the idea was not only to bring local music to a new audience, but also to bring a new audience to the cafe and, ultimately, other cafes and WiFi hotspots.  By advertising the project on social media and a few blogs and starting a little music review column (excerpts of which can be found on my music writing page), I spread the word not only about BOB but also its cafe home.  I had a website up with a description of the cafe and an embedded Google map pointing out exactly where it was.  Local music as a draw to a local, independent cafe.  I was soon hearing from people who worked the counter there that new customers had come in and asked about Band Over Boston, as well as musicians visiting the cafe to ask how to submit music.

My next step, in short, was to be to reach out to other cafes to expand the project to new WiFi hosts.  I would then print small logo stickers (something like the beside logo) and have them in a window at each cafe, as well as designated cafe “profile” pages on the BOB website, to visibly tie the project to its physical spaces in a non-intrusive way.

I also wanted to have a proprietary player programmed, so I didn’t have to run it through iTunes but so it could still be visible by iTunes.  I had a deep feature-set planned for the program and a parallel mobile app that would enable easy interaction with the local music scene based on what you listened to and what you gave a “thumbs up” within the player.  Features would have included pointing you towards buying music you liked directly from the musicians, adding you to email lists, and adding your favorite bands’ upcoming shows to your calendar of choice, among a number of other “one-click interactions” with your local scene.  Users could also just browse by what was being listened to or what was hot at the time if they wanted an entirely new experience (there would be a splash page chart), or browse “celebrity playlists” with a local spin – playlists created by local musicians – and other spotlight playlists by locals like cafe workers, politicians, public service workers, educators, etc.  The mobile app could add a plethora of GPS features; after all, we’re talking locality, here!

Not only does all this make a large local music landscape more digestible for the listener, it also provides a new tool to local-level musicians.  Musicians could find new bands they may not be socially or otherwise connected to that are similar enough to share the bill with.  And by checking out other cities’s libraries along a potential tour route, musicians could see what bands and, more broadly, what music was hot where to help them plan.

On the other side of things, I wanted to deepen the relationship between the music and the cafes (or other WiFi hotspots) by creating, with the cooperation of the WiFi host and select bands, certain deals, like “happy hour” specials (buy x between the hours of y and y2 and get album z for half price!), “buzz points” (get a free small coffee if you recommend the cafe or your own local music playlist to x number of friends), pairing deals (a free coffee if you buy a certain album or a certain number of albums), flash sales, recurring free song download periods, etc.

Ultimately, I wanted to take the project beyond Boston, and beyond local music ecosystems and tap into the broader music landscape.  I wanted the program to look at what (inter)national or major-label acts you listened to and suggest local bands based on those, for example.  And there would also be of course a local music library for every major city and its surrounding suburbs, and umbrella features would add a new dimension to traveling (or touring, for musicians) by suggesting local bands in other municipalities to you based on your hometown faves.

So why all the above “wanted to” and “would have” phrasing?  Alas, I was working on BOB when I was playing a lot of music and not making very much money, and I did not have the time or funds to pursue the project to the heights I envisioned.

Why am I writing all this, then, about a dead project?  First off, one of the goals of this website is to serve as a kind of EPK, and this is I think an important part of my musical past.  Also, in part because I believe in the underlying “hive mind” idea behind the quote that opened this little piece (from the movie Waking Life), that once ideas are out there, they’re part of a collective awareness – granted, that’s a little obvious if they’re written up online, but for both these reasons I wanted to put this idea and some of its heretofore un-publicly-discussed future concepts down in a public space.  Similarly and also, because I still think it’s a great idea and maybe, just maybe, someone will see this and start a similar venture in their city, or use some of these ideas and expound upon them to make a truly great tool for pairing people with their local music scenes and their local businesses.  Yes, there were some business elements baked into this idea that I could probably hoard, copyright/patent and pursue, but I want most to see the principles and the core motivations and values for the project reach their full potential, notwithstanding my own personal schedule or ability – and besides, many minds working together are greater than one alone.

So whether I begin the project anew myself, with a partner in one city, in parallel with a partner from another city, or whether someone completely different takes the reins and follows through on this or a completely different platform with the same core values, here’s hoping localization is the way of the future.  Because with an ever-thickening web being spun around us, it’s that much more satisfying to remember and appreciate just where you are.