Categories
Process

An Old Dog Attempts a New Trick

In life there are two kinds of people.  When enjoying a movie, some people watch every bonus feature and directors commentary that is available.  This is me.  Other people won’t give time for anything extra, not even the bloopers.  This is my wife.  The following post is for the people like me.

When I was younger, I spent some time doing video work for a specific government entity.  Everything we did was structured as a quick setup, boring press conference, then go home.  It was like the news, if the news was only comprised of the really boring parts. There was nothing remotely artistic.  

In the good old days, being a musician required making records.  Now, frequent and regular video posts are far more important than a record.   I know how to tap the little red button on my phone and get a video. I have no idea how to make it look good, sound good, or be remotely entertaining.

I have always wanted to fashion my studio space to look like a stage setup.  The creative process can really benefit from a great vibe. Performing from a stage, even without an audience, can provide an energy to an otherwise mundane performance.  Achieving the look of a stage setup has been a work in progress for a long time.  We had some rolls of this awesome green and tan upholstery collecting dust in the attic, long story.  My mom helped me turn it into stage curtains with her awesome sewing machine skills.  We have a row of lights across a beam in the ceiling which works great as a front of stage.  I thought this would be the perfect spot to start shooting some really compelling videos.

Unfortunately the lighting is terrible.  It makes my bald head look super radiant but not in a good way.  I have also been playing around with some wall treatments to get a softer sound.  This room has a very live sound. This can give recordings a cool character but it’s really harsh when the audio is straight from the phone.  I was trying to run the sound from my mixer to my phone and despite the purchase of several different adapters, I couldn’t make it work.

Adding filters to a video is really cool.  I guess filters are a part of reality for anyone under 30 but it’s another new trick for this old dog.  Back in my day, if we wanted to edit something, we used a razor blade to cut and paste.

I liked the way the studio curtains framed in the video but it just wasn’t working.  We almost achieved the look I wanted. However, it was difficult to move around, the sound was lousy, and all the crap in the background looked bad.  I decided to try turning it all around. The curtains could be a backdrop.  I put some Edison bulbs in the row of lights and it worked great for back lighting the shot.  I had an old desk lamp over my mixer that I turned to aim at me like a spotlight.  The mic on my phone was fine but I really wanted a better sound.  I recorded the video with the phone and the audio with my regular recording setup. I did my best to put it together so my sound matched my mouth.  This requires editing.  I guess I should have anticipated the editing process. It is a standard and necessary part of making anything.  However, given life’s time constraints, this was not a desired extra step.  

I forgot my hat again.  Stupid shiny head…

I probably shouldn’t point it out, but did anybody notice the bad light bulb on the right?  I am pretty satisfied with the lighting in general at this point.  It’s as good as it’s going to get.  I fixed the audio issues and created new ones.  I effected the sound too much and it feels like the sound doesn’t fit the video.  As a performer, it no longer feels like a stage.  I think I have successfully killed the whole idea that I was hoping to achieve.

As my fourth and final example, you would expect this to be my best attempt.  Ironically, I don’t feel that way.  I have this bad habit of ruminating on something until I hate it.  I have trouble letting go of things.  I am learning that it’s more productive to move on quickly when something is not working.  The best I can do is find the courage to just be me and put that out into the world.

Since doing this project, I got a new mixer that is far more compatible with my current technology. This upgrade solved most of my audio issues.

My conclusion regarding this endeavor is that it was a lot of time wasted. I spent a lot of time trying to achieve a very specific look/feel. I could have spent that time creating more stuff that was all close enough. If I had been able to achieve my perfect idea, I might feel like it was all worth it. I think the key is to have the camera rolling as much and as often as possible. Grab the toothpicks and prop up those eyelids. We got a lot of new stuff coming straight for your eyeballs and ear holes. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Don’t forgot to join our mailing list for all Brother Jack news.

Also, if you want to throw some money at me because of the embarrassingly poor quality of my work, here is a virtual tip jar.

Categories
Process

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

I decided to reissue an old album. I had approximately 800 copies of the CD in my basement with no packaging. I was making a lazy decision. I thought it would be easy to put it all together and make something happen. It seemed like such a good idea.

Getting new artwork was the easy part. My friend Tara has been creating most of my artwork for a while. To be honest, on this project she over-delivered. She gave me several amazing options and the most difficult part was narrowing it down to the best choice.

Getting the packaging printed was also easier than I anticipated. I like to use a great local printer. We made enough to get me started. I can print more when my current inventory sells out. It would be awesome, if that was necessary very soon. Manufacturing on an “as-needed” basis is a great option. Technology makes this possible and it is far more cost efficient than the old way. This means I should never end up with hundreds of CD’s in my basement, ever again.

I wanted to put together some behind the scenes material that we could release exclusively as part of our launch experience. Anybody that joins our mailing list via the Princess and the Hero landing page, gets sent the exclusive content. It’s not too late. You can still check out the album launch experience, right here. Coming up with behind the scenes material for a project that we did 16 years ago was really hard. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that this would be a challenge.

I recorded some videos talking about the writing process, the artwork, and how we put it all together. I told some stories and did some alternative versions of some songs. This album is a very integral part of the story of my relationship with Mrs Brother Jack. I wrote the album for her and used it to propose. It is an essential part of the story that we tell about us. However, the specific details were really hard to remember. I am glad that we got it all down before more time passes. We aren’t getting younger.

All of this content had to be stored somewhere and I needed it to be exclusive. YouTube seemed like the most obvious choice. I still have lots to learn on that platform.

The most time consuming part has been figuring out delivery for the content. I had multiple nights with very little sleep, spent learning how to automate emails. I still have much to learn but it feels like an awesome new trick. It’s almost like cheating. The content has been created and all of the emails are set up. With no more work from me, it will deliver to anyone that wants to know more about the Princess and the Hero album, until I turn it off. Once again, you can check it out, here.

This reissue ended up being more work than I expected, by a very large margin. However, I learned how to do several new things that will make my job easier in the future. I guess it was a good idea.

Categories
Process

Digging Into the Back Catalog

Sign up for the album launch experience here.

I have approximately 753 identical CD’s in my basement. They are stored in a cardboard box, shrink wrapped in bundles of 50. They are all my Princess and the Hero album. It was originally released in 2003. I sold a bunch at the time but then sales stalled. My musical career stalled. I stalled. I have a bunch of CD’s leftover. It’s just the CD’s with no packaging.

I have always hated plastic jewel cases. They don’t hold up during shipping. They crack and break and are overall worthless. I started using cardboard cases with my last physical release. They have limitations but they work so much better.

We are reissuing the old CD with new packaging. We have completely overhauled the artwork to coincide with our beliefs about packaging. It looks amazing.

I think I should be making new records and putting all of my energy into new projects. The CD’s in my basement are haunting me. I can’t seem to move on while they are stacked up, yearning to be played. Maybe somebody out there will care enough to buy one and play it and I will be free of my ghosts. Every CD we sell is an exorcism.

We are officially re-releasing the album on May 24, 2019. If CD’s aren’t your thing, I completely understand. Princess and the Hero will be available on most streaming services (free). If you want to support the work that we are doing, consider buying a CD. If you still rock out to weird folk music while cruising down the highway with the windows down, consider buying this CD. If you think the little banjo guy on the cover is cute, consider buying our CD.

We are doing an email based album launch experience to accompany the reissue. I know extra email is annoying. We will do our best to provide entertaining junk in your mailbox. We are going to send a series of emails that will deliver some exclusive, extra content. This will only be available to people that sign up for the album launch experience. We will be sharing about the album process, the story behind the songs, and new versions of some of the old songs. I think you will enjoy it. We are trying to figure out how to make the process of releasing an album relevant. Check it out, this might actually work.

Sign up for the album launch experience here.

Categories
life Process

Something Old Again

All of the details pertaining to the reissue of our old album, Princess and the Hero, were just finalized. If everything goes right with the distributor, it should be available for streaming on May 24, 2019. We are nailing down the details to rerelease a CD version as well. To correspond with the reissue, it felt appropriate to use this old post as this week’s update. This was originally posted on February 8, 2017

I used to be romantic.  We were young, in love, and full of unrealistic expectations.  My muse didn’t require grandiose gestures, but she deserved them.  I headed to the laboratory where I concocted an 18 song album detailing in fictional format my imagined notion of our very real relationship.  It was a manipulative, she will love me or else, fairytale version of the story of us.  There would be a corresponding live performance that would culminate with a public declaration of love.  I bought a ring and planned every detail of this epic proposal.  She didn’t have much of a choice which improved my odds. By the way, she said yes.

Our most recent date night included Grandma watching the kids so we could get our taxes done. Originally 2017, not much has changed since then.

Originally released in 2003, Princess and the Hero, has become a definitive part of our story.  Our favorite song is “Old Vinyl,” it’s about dancing in the living room. 

I recorded an updated version with a new verse that fits our current life situation. This was released as part of the weekly Sound Cloud project from 2017 and can be found on Stomp Your Feet.

Don’t forgot to join our mailing list for all Brother Jack news.

Categories
Process

Late to the Party

I am always late to the party. When something new comes out, there is a group of people defined by the phrase “early adopters.” This is not me. I am afraid of everything new. It might steal my identity or crash or I know nothing about it because I don’t get out much.

I avoided Facebook for a long time and stayed on Myspace longer than the average person. I continue to be uncomfortable with the over-sharing aspect of social media. It feels a little creepy. I don’t want anybody to think I am spying on them.

I went to school for music recording technology. It was at the time when the industry was switching from analog to digital technology. We had an analog tape machine in the corner of the room but we were primarily using ADAT (digital) machines. It was a weird transitionary period in the industry. After college, I spent some time trying to start my own studio/label. It was really discouraging to realize the average high school kid had access to all the technology necessary for making a record and it was often better than what I had. Anybody could make a record. The music world didn’t need me. In the long run, this was a good change but I got depressed and quit music for a while.

I love listening to music on vinyl but I don’t like having mountains of records in my house. Too many little kids running around. I was a CD loyalist for a long time. When I finally got on board with downloading mp3’s, the world was already on to the next thing. In the scope of recorded music, the trend of downloading whole albums lasted about five minutes. Streaming music was already a grumpy teenager by the time I got the birth announcement. The delivery method has changed but music is still music. Although, at this point, I don’t think anybody actively listens to music. All music is background sound for something else. This change bummed me out and I quite music for a couple days.

I am trying to figure out Instagram, this should not be difficult. I can take a photo of myself using my phone. I know how to switch it around to selfie mode. I can make weird duck lips while looking at myself in the mirror. I need to start taking pictures of breakfast. Everyday would include the same photo of a cup of coffee.

Don’t get me started on YouTube.

I have been trying hard to figure out Facebook’s live video system. I think I am getting better at it. So far, it seems to be working and is getting easier. Things are moving in the right direction. I am always late to the party but at least I show up. I would rather be late to the party than miss it altogether. There are not too many people doing an old fashioned video series on this platform. I guess that is what I am trying to do. I am making a consistent weekly show on Facebook. Maybe I am actually early to this party. Keep watching and we will find out.

If you know any other parties that I am late to, let me know?

Categories
Process

Mr. Malarkey

Mrs. Brother Jack is super crafty. I am an “artist” by trade but her artistic abilities are far superior to mine. I have a love of words and I am able to hum a tune, but mostly I am blowing hot air.

Mrs. Brother Jack was working on a project last weekend. She was making Saint Patrick’s Day shirts for the whole family. She recently got a vinyl cutter and has been going nuts making shirts for everybody. It is a pretty cool hobby. She made me a shirt with my new logo and it also said, “Mr. Malarkey.” It looked so cool. I realized that I didn’t know the meaning of the word malarkey. It feels like a common word but I wasn’t sure how to properly use it in a sentence. I bet you don’t know what it means, either.

malarkey: meaningless talk or nonsense

Yup, that’s me. I am Mr. Malarkey.

For our breakfast show, we are running with the Mr. Malarkey theme for the entire month of March. We are telling stories and singing Irish songs. I like this new character. Mrs. Brother Jack is going to make some shirts that we will give away to the first ten people to throw at least $20 in our digital tip jar. This will really help the show and Mr. Malarkey is a fun change.

When you are training to be a world-famous folk music legend, they tell you the most important thing is to be authentic. I guess that I hide behind the mask of Brother Jack. Now, I am hiding behind Brother Jack who is hiding behind Mr. Malarkey. This could get confusing for even the most highly trained Freuaidan analyst. I assure you that Brother Jack and Mr. Malarkey are both authentic versions of myself. This is who I am. I have never felt more authentic as a performer than I did the first time I stumbled into the Brother Jack role. Mr. Malarkey feels like a minor variation of that same theme. He is a little bit sloppier, a little more full of crap, but mostly that’s just another part of me.

Is it weird that I perform in character? Is is possible to be an authentic performer? Isn’t every person almost constantly in character? Do you want a Mr. Malarkey T-shirt?

Categories
Breakfast Process

Rules for Breakfast with Brother Jack

Back in 1943, Woody Guthrie wrote an amazing list of New Year’s resolutions. Make sure you check it out, now. Despite my opinion that New Year’s resolutions never work and are therefore a total waste of time, I still make a point to ponder upon Woody’s “rulin’s” at the start of every new year.

As the year rolled over to 2019, I found myself struggling with the future of my breakfast show. I wanted to continue doing the show, but I didn’t know the best way to approach the details. Taking a cue from one of my hero’s, I wrote the following list of New Year’s resolutions.

Regarding the rules:

  1. The most important thing in life is to show up. Doing a show everyday was tough and time consuming. But, that is not why I have pulled back to weekly episodes. The nature of our fast and disposable culture causes things to be visible for a moment and then gone forever. I want to make work, even on Facebook, that is able to hold up over time. My blue collar approach dictates that I show up everyday to do the work. Showing up every day doesn’t mean that I have to do a show everyday. Weekly shows feel right for now.
  2. I am a songwriter that performs original music and enjoys filling the gaps with cover songs. Doing a daily show created very large gaps that required many cover songs. This helped me to get better at learning and adapting new songs. However, it also took away from my focus on original material. I want to be focusing more on the songs that are important to me.
  3. Repetition doesn’t equal boring. I was obsessed with doing a new song every day. I was worried that repeating songs would make me look lazy, uncreative, unimaginative, and unprofessional. Rule #2 should motivate me to write enough new songs that repetition won’t be a problem. However, if a song can’t be enjoyed twice, it probably shouldn’t be done at all.
  4. This show should be engaging and entertaining. Rule #4 is pretty self-explanatory.
  5. I like breakfast. At this point in life, I rarely consume anything more than black coffee prior to noon. However, breakfast time is still my favorite time of day. Being a morning person makes it tough to be a musician. Playing bar shows late at night is rough. Morning is the perfect time for me to sing a song on the internet.
  6. Mrs. Brother Jack thinks I have a tendency to ramble a bit. If I plan out at least a couple words beforehand, I will do a better job of presenting myself in an engaging and entertaining way.

I hope you enjoy Breakfast with Brother Jack. If you don’t, it is ok. Some people put cream and sugar in their coffee. I won’t make fun of you even though you deserve it. If you like us, thanks. We will do our best to continue getting better. We will continue bringing our weird folk music and story telling to your Saturday mornings. Spend some time with the family or anybody that is around. Talk about your week. Let us be a catalyst for consistently sitting down together. Thanks for your support. Until next time, you all be fantastic.

Categories
Process

Perspective

This post was originally published on April 25, 2018.  I have made a vow to return to regular weekly writing, even if I have to use recycled posts.  I have edited and updated the original post to coincide more with where I am right now.  This feels like a good place to start.  
The twins and I have been having a great argument about the school bus.  When it’s cold out or raining, we often drive the two blocks to the bus stop.  After we say goodbye to their big sister, we have a variation of the exact same conversation.   They inform me that Sister is at school and we should go home and watch cartoons.  Then, one or the other asks, “What color is the bus?”  I reply, “Yellow.”  They both yell, “No, orange!”  I can’t win this argument.  They are very convincing.  The longer I look at the bus, the more orange it looks.   From the beginning of my life, I have been programmed to respond that the school bus is yellow.  Are school buses yellow or orange?  Have buses always been the same color as now or did they change the paint? Is there a crayon in the box called school bus yellow and if so, has it also become more orange?
I have been working on updating my website.  When I started this website, all I needed was a blog page.  It was a way to hold myself accountable, a way to make sure I wasn’t just sitting on the couch.  I haven’t accomplished everything that I set out to do this passed year but I am making progress.  At this point, I need a central hub for all of the thoughts and ideas and projects on which I am working. Once again, it’s about accountability. If I proclaim my intentions to the World Wide Web, maybe I will be more inclined to follow through.  
Back in the good old days, when I was first learning about website building, we walked 13 miles to school everyday, barefoot, and through the snow. Also, all aspects of design focused on how to keep someone on your site for as long as possible. The goal was an infinite loop where bleary-eyed surfers would follow bunny trails of information.  Success meant they followed you around in circles forever. I am sure there was some element of marketing behind this approach but I think mostly it was about building “brand loyalty.” A person’s love for you was directly proportional to the amount of time they invested while lost on your site.  However, just like everything else in this world, things changed.
I have been studying other websites to decide what I need to include and how to make it all work.  If you want to see videos on a musician’s site, you click through to YouTube.  If you want their photo gallery, the link takes you to Instagram. Tour dates are imported from somewhere else.  Everything is external and connected back like a confusing spider web full of dead flies.  
These changes have made building a website much easier in many ways.  You can make a decent site without knowing how to code.  This is good because I have forgotten more about coding than I can remember.  A couple of clicks and what you see is what you get.  It also means I don’t have to make everything perfect before it is up and running.  At any point in time, I can make changes, even big changes, and my slice of the neighborhood is still there. Everything is immediate and there is no down time.  
There are negatives, this old dog has a lot of new tricks to learn.  I have to learn how to integrate Instagram onto my site and then I have to learn how to use Instagram and then somebody needs to teach me how to take a decent selfie.  
I guess it’s all about perspective.  If Facebook is your grandma’s social media preference and Snapchat  is an integral part of your life, then all this new stuff is not new for you.  Is the school bus yellow or orange?  If this is the only color you have ever known, than it’s your normal.  If something isn’t new, you don’t have to change the way you think about it. Changing is the hard part.  Shifting perspective is tough.  Learning new skills can be a challenge but it is easy compared to accepting the idea that the new skills need to be learned.  I guess the bus could be orange.
Check out my website.  I changed the whole thing again.  I am trying to add a store.  You know you want to buy all my fine Brother Jack merchandise.  


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Categories
Process

Tubatastic Christmas

We have been working on a Christmas project. It should have been finished in July in order to do it right. We have less than a week until the deadline for a Christmas release to happen and we are still proceeding as if it is even possible. The worst case scenario is that we don’t make the deadline and have to sit on it till next Christmas. No big deal.

The most recent hurdle has been the tuba. The most important part of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is the tuba. The song needs a tuba. I found a tuba player. One of my oldest musician friends has a son who plays the tuba. This kid used to run around the studio in his diaper back when we were reinventing country rock and drinking lots of beer. Now, he is a teenager and we ate donuts. He did an amazing job and it sounds exactly how I hear it in my head. I was very happy and still completely convinced that this project could happen on time.

The mix sounds great in my studio headphones and on decent speakers. The problem is that a large percentage of people listen to music with their phones or other limited devices. The issue is that most mobile devices don’t play sounds below around 500 Hz. The best part of the tuba happens below that 500 Hz threshold. I am continuously beefing up the mid range to make the tuba more apparent but I don’t want it to stop sounding like a tuba. If I don’t push the low mid range, the tuba disappears. I didn’t know it was possible for a tuba to disappear.

I think I have found a happy medium. I guess life is all about bringing the extremes toward the middle. Today is Election Day, don’t forget to vote. This might not be the best approach for the tuba but it’s all I’ve got. Please promise me one thing. Promise you will listen to this on good speakers. You owe the tuba that much.

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Categories
Process

Self Inflicted Wounds

Statistically speaking, I am approaching the half way point of my life. During my time here, I have quit a lot of stuff. Most of the time, my life becomes better due to the quitting. Some of the things that I quit, I wish I hadn’t. I used to love to run, but I can’t seem to make the time for it anymore. Typically, I am a cold turkey quitter. The thing that I have quit the most number of times is music. I quit again today. I have been planning a short Christmas record. It’s only three songs, it shouldn’t be that hard. Things got overwhelming. So, I decided to pack it up and go home. I will convey all the gory details surrounding the Lost Cause Christmas. But first, I wish to diminish your anxiety and set your minds at ease. Don’t worry, the quitting didn’t stick. I started back up again. I am still Brother Jack.

Here are the promised details of this Christmas fiasco. If you are making a Christmas record and you want it to be ready for Christmas, all recording should be finished in July. That is a pretty standard music industry rule. I’ve never been good with rules. I had some studio issues which I documented extensively in a previous blog post.  I would link to it here but I can’t find it.  I don’t feel like rehashing the whole story.    The one sentence version is as follows: Due to some technological changes beyond my control, my previous studio setup became obsolete.  I put together enough cash to replace my old mixer in early September. I promptly had a session with my drummer and we hashed out necessary parts. After our initial and singular practice, I got too busy to followup. If we start recording on Monday, it will allow three weeks to get all parts recorded, mixed, and mastered. Somewhere along the way, we will need promo photos and album artwork. Also, the giant stack of bureaucratic paperwork won’t take care of itself. Then the whole thing has to be submitted for distribution and it’s all out of my hands. With any luck, it could be posted in time for the holiday season. Any fires that pop up will need to be put out. This whole thing is not very realistic.

I started recording some scratch guitar tracks at the end of last week. The new mixer required new software, for which I had not planned. Of course, it was not free and I did not know how to use it. When I finally got everything functioning, I started again. Over the weekend, I played an awesome fall festival with the band but unfortunately this put my guitar in a state that required a complete overhaul. I got started again. When listening back to my initial recordings, I discovered that my old standard microphone setup sounded terrible with the new mixer’s preamps. I had to experiment with a couple different setups until I found something that worked. The best time for me to work in the studio is during the twins nap time. They decided to take turns going without a nap for three consecutive days. Once I had conquered the failed studio, refurbished the guitar, learned a completely new system, reorganized the room, and got the babies to sleep like angels, we were finally ready to start again. A construction crew showed up to jackhammer the sidewalk right outside the studio. I squeezed out fifteen minutes between the jackhammers and when the monsters woke up. It was long enough to get through the rough tracks. I finally got something accomplished and was feeling relatively happy with the progress. When preparing to do vocals, I found that I had skipped the turnaround between the first chorus and the second verse. This arrangement would not work and there was no way to bring the vocals back in smoothly. I needed to start from scratch, again. When I faced the idea of starting over for the 8th time, I quit music forever. I sat on the porch and watched the birds getting ready for winter. The wind blew and you could feel that it was finally going to be fall. I came back inside, hung out with my family, and pushed this project completely out of mind. All the negative voices shut up. They all left because I had quit. It was a clean slate. My brain was quiet. It was freedom. Through the new found silence, I clearly heard how these songs should sound. If I don’t make this, nobody else will ever hear it. So, I started again.

The moral of the story is that all my problems are self inflicted. If I had started in July, I would still have had the same problems but I would have had more time to figure them out. I wouldn’t have been as stressed because the deadline would be farther away. Maybe the deadline helps make it feel important. I will put in a lot of work and energy and I will convince other people to contribute and give up their time. Against all odds, we will pull it off. We will put it all together and there is a decent chance that no one will notice. I might introduce all this unnecessary drama because I am afraid that is the only way to make it feel important. It’s a safeguard to ensure that, if nobody notices this thing I made, it won’t get me down. Who needs a shrink when you’ve got a blog. If you are thinking of quitting something important and you need someone to talk to, let me know. I don’t have any wisdom to impart but I will try to be a good listener.

*update: We tracked the drums last night and I will setup to record banjo as soon as I post this.

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Also, if you love what we are doing, throw some cash in our virtual tip jar