Catalina

Upgrading my MacBook Pro, the Catalina upgrade hung up on “Setting up computer…” but as I had already looked into that issue for a buddy of mine the other day, I know that’a a widespread problem so I just rebooted and it everything came up fine.

Was a bit of a bummer that Scrivener 2 didn’t make the cut for Catalina and as it’s a 32-bit app and I’m not paying to upgrade I went through and exported all of my Scrivener projects as text files before the upgrade. This, part of a larger plan to try to narrow down the number of buckets/apps I use for writing/notes/etc. So exporting ten or so projects was a bit tedious but I discovered that I have written A TON of stuff over the past six years or so. Way more than I thought I had. And that’s not counting journal writing which lives in Day One.

Other than the loss of Scrivener, I’m noting mostly positives since upgrading:

  • apps launch so much more quickly under Catalina.
  • sidecar doesn’t work with the last, best MacBook Pro Apple ever made. Not sure it would have changed my life, but would have been cool.
  • the Photos.app is really, really good at picking out your best photos. It’s uncanny. I wish there were some way to say “find all my lousy photos so I can just batch delete them.” But maybe that’ll come. For now, it’s great just to scroll through the days or months view and see what iPhoto thinks are my best photos.
  • Music app is better though since moving my library to the cloud with iTunes Match, I’m noticing some wonkiness with my album covers getting lost. Need to carve out some downtime to clean up my album covers in iTunes. It’ll make browsing what to listen to much more engaging.
  • iCloud account info under system preferences seems to be much better organized now, especially around Family Sharing type information.
  • everything else seems pretty smooth and snappy.

Fingers crossed on this Spotify update for iOS

I’ve been seeing references to the latest beta of Spotify on reddit where users report that Siri support now works with Spotify. This will be great if it works well!

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I have been loving my stereo homepods but am itching for better automation/shortcuts and Siri integration and have been using my iTunes library to play most of the music but it’ll be great to have access to my Spotify playlists.

HomePod with iTunes Match

I’m running stereo HomePods in our living room. Boy what a difference a second HomePod makes!

Doesn’t sound as good as my beloved Vandersteens which got relocated during a recent furniture rearrangement and frankly the Homepods don’t make for great “active listening” because the imaging is way to fuzzy and nebulous but for just hanging out and getting things done, the sound of stereo HomePods is really excellent.

So naturally I wanted to have access to music to be able to yell at the HomePods and ask Siri “play the album Babylon by Bus.” But I am cheap and already subscribe to Spotify so didn’t want to have to subscribe to Apple Music on top of Spotify. So I dug around a bit and ended up springing for the $25/year iTunes Match service which allows me to take my 30k songs from my iTunes library and upload them to iCloud so they’re available on all my devices (iPhone and HomePods in this case).

It took a lot of BS and fiddling to get this solution to work but ultimately it did and now I can ask Siri to play anything that is in my music library without having to airplay it from my Mac or iPhone.

First I had the difficulty of just getting my 30k songs into the cloud. That took about 3 days and 3 attempts at telling iTunes to “update iCloud Music Library.” But after about 3 days all of the tracks had either “matched” or “uploaded” next them. I presume the latter is when iTunes Store doesn’t have access to the track.

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After that, I was able to see all of my music on my iPhone which was pretty cool (tons of live dead shows now!). But still the HomePods would say, “sorry I can’t find that” when I asked them to play something from my library. So I removed them from the “Home” app on my phone and then restarted them. At which point they now seem to be aware of all of the music in my library.

Very cool to be able to say “hey Siri, shuffle some Antonio Carlos Jobim” and have it just work.

Now to make some playlists!

Bose warranty = awesome/great customer service

A big part of the sound of Kül d’Sack (one of the bands I play in) is our Bose L1 paired with the Bose Tonematch mixer.

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The prebaked digital modeling settings for Shure microphones is just great on these Bose devices. The sound quality is uncannily good.

Unfortunately a few gigs back one of the channels on the mixer started exhibiting some static noise. I thought it might have been one of the guitar rigs but over a few weeks the channel noise made it clear that the issue was inside the mixer.

I called Bose, explained the problem and within 90 seconds the customer service rep said he wanted to send me a new unit. I was worried about having to pack mine up and have it repaired. A new unit is much better.

Super-pleased about this whole process and it’s a joy that something that works and sounds so good also has a good company standing behind their product.

Spotify or Apple Music?

I’ve been using Spotify since July, 2011 (when it first became available in the US). It is my go-to streaming service. We’ve had the family plan for years. I use it to work on collaborative playlists with the other musicians with whom I play. I use it when I am learning new songs–being able to hear multiple versions/other artist’s versions of a song is super helpful.

But primarily I use Spotify to discover new music. Spotify’s discovery features are without equal. I’ve become aware of and a fan of more new musicians on Spotify than all the radio or record stores in the world could have ever turned me on to.

From Spotify’s weekly Discover playlist which has an uncanny knack for presenting me with artists I’ve never heard of (though occasionally, too, it is way off base) to its “related” functions that allow you to do really deep dives into obscure genres, Spotify does an amazing job at preventing stagnation in your listening habits.

There are also a bunch of external tools the the Spotify API makes available for discover: Discover Quickly, Smarter Playlists and Organize your Music are all good tools for finding new music.

What this means is that I’m regularly listening to artists who I would have never listened to otherwise. The problem is that Spotify (and, frankly all of the other streaming services) pay these artists squat. That streaming royalties are too low is a given.

But now that Apple seems willing to pay artists more than Spotify, the question is whether or not an unfairly low royalty payment is better than no royalty payment at all? Meaning, if I didn’t discover the artist on Spotify I would never have listened to them at all. I mean, 1% of $1.00 is better than 0% of $10, right?

At issue is the Copyright Royalty Board’s 2018 decision to raise the rate paid to songwriters by 44% over the next five years. Spotify, along with three other streaming services — Amazon, Google and SiriusXM/Pandora — is appealing that decision to the board, a move that has no direct precedent. The four companies have been shellacked with criticism by artists for their action…

Apple, which would also benefit if the rate increase is nullified, is not part of the appeal…

As a sign of how badly the PR war is going, many songwriters are canceling Spotify subscriptions and doing so publicly on social media, where they make sure to note their subscription fees will now be going to Apple Music.

From: Apple Is the Real Winner in Spotify’s Battle Against Songwriters’ Rate Hike

I understand why musicians would want to publicly cancel their Spotify accounts. They are trapped working in an industry that is and always has been horrifically unfair to musicians.

But that said, I’ve been dreading the day that Apple takes off its gloves and reaches into its bottomless pockets in its war with Spotify. I love a lot of Apple’s stuff but, man, Apple Music absolutely sucks. Its interface is shit. Its discovery features are abysmal. I want Spotify to stay around, viable and –importantly–to keep finding new music for me to listen to.

As a musician I’m torn here: go with the company that helps listeners find new music but doesn’t pay those musicians well or go with Apple who pays more but in the end probably pays a smaller universe of musicians because they push the same limited pool of performers to everyone.

For now, I’m sticking with Spotify but will keep exporting my playlists to Apple Music for when Apple drives them out of business.

How not to overthink iOS shortcuts for Day One Journals

I like to keep notes about the gigs I play with my various bands. Sometimes I log very detailed entries about changes we need to make to our gear or sound settings for the next gig, other times it’s just a few quick words so I can remember who came out to see us or what riff I need to work on in a given song for the next gig.

Naturally I use Day One to record this information. Last year I started using an iOS Shortcut that I wrote that prompts me for the type of information I want to record about each gig. The shortcut presented me with a list of questions and then combined all of my responses to those questions into a nicely-formatted Day One journal entry.

day one prompts for gig journal entry

The problem is that I am not a great Shortcuts writer. I’m lazy so I didn’t add any flow control statements to try to save my responses to the prompt questions as I went along. Meaning, after answering 3 or 4 questions and typing them on my iPhone (which is needless to say tedious) I would occasionally forget about my lame programming skills and try to pause the Shortcut while I go over to facebook or somewhere and download a photo from the gig to add to the entry. Nine times out of 10 I would hit “Done” in the Shortcuts app to do this and in the process I would lose all of the responses I had already typed. Frustrating.

This morning I did just that. Again. I hit Done in Shortcuts while answering the gig prompts in order to go get a photo from facebook and lost all of the details I’d already written last night’s gig. Let me be clear this isn’t Shortcuts fault or Day One’s.

day one journal template

Then I realized I’m totally overthinking this whole need to be prompted bit by Shortcuts and instead trashed my old shortcut and just wrote up this little gem which works just fine and doesn’t have the risk of me screwing it up and losing text. Moral of the story: don’t overthink it! Maybe instead of using Shortcuts to prompt you for a long list of questions, just create a template entry in Shortcuts instead.

1994 Fender Blues Deluxe (reissue) Amp For Sale

I’ve lost count of how long I’ve been gigging with this amplifier. At least 10 years. Maybe closer to 15. It’s played hundreds of shows, that’s for sure. And it has never let me down. 

I’m thinking about selling it because I am too old to carry it around any more. It’s not that it’s *that* heavy. It’s just not light and I need something light.

It is cosmetically beat up, for sure. But is sounds amazing and is so much more reliable than any of the crazy expensive amps (Victoria, etc.) that other guitarists I’ve played with use.

According to the fender website this amp was manufactured around September 1994. It’s got a 12” speaker and 40watts of tube power. Read more specs here.

Here are some pictures. If you are interested, drop me an email or DM me @sjwillis on twitter.

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Paradigm PDR subwoofer repair

TL;DR, if your paradigm PDR-10 isn’t powering on automatically, check the fuse. It can be easily accessed by removing the back panel of the subwoofer.

Sunday morning and I had the house to myself for a few hours so decided to listen to my favorite recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Firing up the 3rd and 4th movements really loud always serves to restore my faith in humanity. 

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Anyway, a few bars into the 3rd movement and I knew something was up with my hifi. My Vandersteen’s sounded a bit thin and I noticed that my subwoofer power light wasn’t on. The paradigm pdr-10 that I have is not a great subwoofer but the vandersteens towers that I have are such that they only need a tiny bit of reinforcement in the very bottom end so it works for me. It is supposed to power on automatically once it detects a signal from the receiver but for some reason it wasn’t powering on and I couldn’t get the light on the front to come on. 

I hit pause on the symphony and brought the subwoofer over to my kitchen table where a few screws later I determined that a blown fuse was likely my problem. Unfortunately this was not an easy fuse to source. It is a 1 1/2 amp time delay fuse. My local hardware store, which has EVERYTHING didn’t have it but they did test the fuse I brought in and confirmed it was blown so I knew I was on the right track.

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Ultimately I purchased the replacement part from Amazon and finally got around to hearing the 4th movement in all of its bottom-heavy beauty. 

This is the fuse you want to order:

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Charlie Parr – Jaybird

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I like the hypnotic quality of the instrumental (National resonator guitar) that leads up to the very short lyric part (which is great in its own right). Feels like a combination of atmospheric and folk at the same time. Not that they’re mutually exclusive but listen and you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s a live performance of jaybird on YouTube

If you are a dog person, you will almost certainly dig this track, Dog, off of his more recent release… a soul is a soul is a soul is a soul.

Junip/Jose Gonzalez

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FOTO BY MALIN JOHANSSON.

I’ve been having my mind blown for the past few days by musician Jose Gonzalez. Something about the songwriting on his new album Vestiges & Claws – the way the songs are written around the strengths and limitations of the nylon string acoustic guitar – really drew me in and I ended up going down the rabbit hole and discovering Junip, a band he plays in.

The more I listen to both his solo work and the Junip material, the more I appreciate his guitar playing. From Sweden (born in an Argentinian family), there’s a bit of Nick Drake in his songs.

Start with Line of Fire by Junip on KEXP video: 

Here’s a cut off his solo album that will give you a flavor of his picking technique:

You can find his new album on Beats and Spotify or buy it on iTunes. This one, I’m paying for on iTunes even though I can stream it with my Beats subscription. 

Kat Edmonson

Ella Fitzgerald

Many years ago (just before Kelly and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon if I remember correctly), my friend Rich Morris turned me on to a version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most by Ella Fitzgerald.

My wife and I ended up listening to it repeatedly while driving the road to Hana and it’s always been a great favorite of ours, partially because it’s a great melody and lyric but also because listening to Ella execute the vocal acrobatics required to perform the piece is just a joy.

Anyway, I went searching for it on Beats the other day and couldn’t find Ella doing it but came across this version by Kat Edmonson. I’d never heard of her. At times her voice is just a bit too cutesy for my taste but she tackles this one without accompaniment and it’s a real show of vocal dexterity and control.

Check it out for yourself on the Youtube

She also does The Cure’s Just Like Heaven which I didn’t care for too much though some of her other cuts like Lucky are good matches with her voice.

So, anyway, Kat Edmonson. Might be nice to put that on while you’re making dinner this week.

Note that when digging up the link above for Ella Fitzgerald’s version, I listened to both Ella’s version and Kat’s and boy, no one can compare with Ella.