Top 5 Songs With Weird Time Signatures

I love odd time signatures. They’re a great way to take a conventional music form and shake it up a bit, shift the audience out of their comfortable listening. I’ve used them on several of my own tracks, usually tucked into parts of songs to break up the groome. See if you can spot the time changes in these pieces:

And, for the sake of heading a few objections off at the pass: yes, I’ve heard Dream Theater. No, I don’t think they’re awesome. It’s not enough to chart out a series of random time changes and play them back like a computer chomping down on a punch card (if you’re under the age of 40 and don’t know what a punch card is, look it up, you’ll laugh). Music needs to swing, regardless of the meter.

With that said, here are my top five songs in weird time signatures:

7/4 – “Money” – Pink Floyd

Probably the top-charting song of all time that no one even noticed was in a non-standard meter.  Legend has it that Roger Waters recorded the initial sound recordings in his garden shed and cut them up into 7 equal lengths of audio tape, then taped them into a continuous loop which was fed through a tape machine and around a mic stand; pretty ingenious. The effects were played back to the band during initial tracking, making “Money” one of the first songs recorded to a “click” track.

I love that the song goes back to 4/4 for the guitar solo. It’s a decision that speaks to the use of time as a tool to achieve a particular end, rather than being a shtick around which to build pieces. It balances out the oddness of the main body of the piece with pure rock-n-roll, enhanced by cutting all the effects when they return to the main riff in the bridge, and then bringing all the lush reverbs and delays back in with the 4/4 beat to round out the bridge.

5/4 – “My Wave” – Sound Garden

A quintessentially Sound Garden piece. The band claims that they did not intentionally write in different meters and, given how their odd-time pieces feel, I totally believe it. I didn’t realize this song wasn’t in 4/4 until I tried to play it and kept getting tripped up.

Matt Cameron is, of course, legendary for his mind-bending ability to move in and out of different meters without “winking at the camera” as it were. The time sense that he rocked out in Soundgarden followed him to his new gig with Pearl Jam.

Honorable mention to “The Day I Tried to Live” in 15/4, usually counted as a bar of 7/4 followed by two bars of 4/4.

7/4 – “Solsbury Hill” – Peter Gabriel

Another song in 7/4. Each chorus is punctuated at the end with two bars of 4/4 which enhances the lyrics greatly as Gabriel intones “they’ve come to take me home!”

9/8 – “Blue Rondo à la Turk” – Dave Brubek Quartet

Most people would probably put “Take Five” in this slot, and I get why. It’s the piece on Time Out that really drove home the concept of the album, namely that jazz could be played in meters other than four with a swing. But, I’ve always thought that “Take Five” sounded a little forced, like Brubek was trying to prove it could be done.

“Blue Rondo,” on the other hand, sounds utterly playful. Where “Five” can be grinding, “Blue Rondo” shows Brubek and saxophonist Paul Desmond playing with the odd 2-2-2-3 break down of 9/8 and work in traditional 4/4 solos, giving the piece the feeling of having classical movements.

10/4 – “Everything in its Right Place” – Radiohead

Radiohead are certainly no strangers to weird time signatures, but “Everything in its Right Place” stands alone by combining a strange meter with an EDM groove, and making it work. EDM is notorious for its use of standard preferences in DAW software, meaning much of it is produced in the key of C, most of it is at 120 beats per minute, and damn near all of it is in 4/4. Kid A broke the mold in many ways, and from the first beat in “Everything in its Right Place” you knew you were hearing something totally new, no small feat in the already fragmented music scene of 2000.

A discussion of Radiohead weird time signatures would be incomplete without mentioning “Pyramid Song.” This is basically an exercise in polyrhythm. It’s a repeating pattern of 16 beats and there are many theories as to how those 16 beats should be broken up ranging from a repeating 8-note patterns of 3-3-2 to a repeating 16-note pattern of 5-4-4-3.  I find that the easiest way to count it is two bars of 5/4 followed by two bars of 3/4. However it’s actually metered out, it is a singular display of virtuosity that Tom Yorke can sing and keep that time straight in his head at the same time.




Rudy Giuliani Murder Statistic Utterly Lacks Context

My recent sorties into the FBI death statistics turned out to be quite fortuitous. On November 23rd’s Meet the Press, Rudy Giuliani responded to a question regarding the racial make-up of police forces across the country with a jarring statistic, “Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks.” This precipitated a heated exchange with MSNBC contributor Michael Dyson in which Giuliani uttered, “white officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other,” to which Dyson responded with comment on the “defensive mechanism of white supremacy at work in your mind, sir.” Even for cable news, this was an unusually personal, hostile, and nakedly racist exchange.

Giuliani is in many ways the architect of the modern American police force. During his first term in office, he and commissioner Bill Bratton whole-heartedly embraced James Q. Wilson’s “broken-windows” theory that small infractions that were visible to the public, e.g. broken windows, created a sense of lawlessness that encouraged additional crime in the city. The result was a crack-down on graffiti (particularly on city-owned property like subway cars), marijuana possession, panhandling, etc., as well as the “stop-and-frisk” strategy, which was viewed by many in the city as little more than racially motivated police harrassment. Statistics tend to support this view, as the overwhelming majority of citizens subjected to stop & frisk were minorities despite the fact that a higher percentage of whites who were stopped were in possession of firearms and illegal drugs.

Crime plummeted during the Giuliani administration, and there is little doubt that policing had an effect. However, crimes rates were falling rapidly at a national level during this period including in areas with no change in policing strategy, making it difficult to separate the effects of local policing from the lower overall crime rate. John Donohue and Steven Levitt (of Freakanomics fame) published a paper in 2001 in which they chalked most of the drop in crime to legalization of abortion in 1973, the thinking being that since 18-24 year old men are most likely to commit crimes, the reduction of unwanted children in this demographic in 1992 kicked of a dramatic reduction in crime.

The fact that we are living in the era of the lowest crime rates in the history of the US seems incredibly anachronistic when juxtaposed against the events in Fergusen. This contrast raises a set of uncomfortable questions; if crime is at an all-time low, and the drop in crime rate can be explained through mechanisms other than policing, then why are we incarcerating almost 3% of our population and why do our police look like the Waffen SS?

With that in mind, let’s look at Giuliani’s remark. It was in response to a question regarding the racial make-up of police forces. He said that in New York they put a lot of energy into diversifying the police force and that, like many human endeavors, that effort was well-intentioned but imperfect. Fair enough. He then dropped the statistic, ostensibly to provide a wider view of the issue and to criticize the media for focusing too much attention on a white officer killing a black citizen, “Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the bizarre equivalence presented here between a street-crime murder and a law-enforcement officer killing a civilian. Let’s instead zero in on the statistic itself and see if it holds up. This is the murder data for 2013 as provided by the FBI:

Screenshot 2014-11-25 17.58.37

It’s a little dense, but the verdict is that Giuliani’s statement was close to accurate (90% instead of 93%) but wildly devoid of context. 83% of whites murdered in the US are murdered by other whites and white offenders outnumber black offenders 3005 to 2491. Supporters of heavy policing will often note that a disproportionate number of homicides are committed by black offenders. Granted, but that seems like a pretty flimsy argument for the necessity of a military-style police presence in black areas, particularly when you’re using statistics that could just as easily apply to white neighborhoods.

I  should also note that 2/3 of murders in the US are committed using a firearm, and of those almost 3/4 are with handguns. To Mr. Giuliani’s credit, he has advocated for gun control throughout his career, though he did backslide on this front somewhat during his presidential run. Interestingly, he arguing that different rules might be necessary in urban and rural settings in order to both combat crime and preserve the 2nd amendment rights of rural Americans. Different rules for different people depending on where they live: I’m sensing a pattern here.

Giuliani’s comment on Meet the Press offered a rare window into the actual thinking of policy makers in this country. It paints a picture of African American communities as dens of murderous young men that must by pacified via the full force of the legal system. Meet violence with violence. The blacks cannot govern themselves. We need white officers to wade into the maelstrom and establish order through whatever means necessary. And if they resist, lock ‘em up. “White officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.” This is the paternalistic, racist mindset that has led us to this impasse.

Imagine for a moment the resources necessary to equip all these cops with military equipment; automatic rifles, mine-resistant humvees, bayonets (bayonets?), drones, etc. It adds up to about $5 billion. Now imagine the amount of money spent on incarcerating every knucklehead on a drug conviction in the country; it comes out to about $31,000 per knucklehead per year. There are around 3.5 million people being held for nonviolent crime in the US. The most recent figure I could find for the total cost of federal, state and local lock-ups is a $74 billion in 2007. That’s billion, with a B.

Taking these numbers at face value, it isn’t hard to conceive of pulling $30 billion dollars or so out of the criminal justice system and putting it into education instead. At $30B, that’s an extra $600 for every kid in the US school system annually. Imagine the difference that would make in a community like Fergusen.

The scenes from Fergusen have been one travesty after another; fully armed and armored police officers harassing and detaining journalists without charge; a man on top of armored vehicles scanning unarmed citizen with a scoped rifle; a prosecutor essentially acting as defense council to a police officer who killed a civilian; a group representing the police making vague threats that they would rescind their protecting in response to a peaceful protest by professional athletes. Taken out of context, this sounds like another country.

Military style policing isn’t working. It has never worked and it never will work. It sets police departments in direct opposition to the communities that they are supposed to protect and it creates a occupation atmosphere that makes it difficult for American citizens to go about their daily lives. We, the people, need to be clear with our government how we want our police forces to function. Step one should be to establish exactly under what circumstances an officer may use deadly force.  More on that next week.

General Policy

Ebola Perspective

The recent ebola outbreak has people terrified and it isn’t difficult to understand why; this is a brutal hemorrhagic virus with no known cure. As of now, the treatment is basically an IV for rehydration and sometimes blood coagulant, though it’s not clear if that helps much.

However, some of my countrymen are in desperate need of perspective.  As of Nov. 20, 2014, there have been 10 cases of ebola in the US. Of those, only 2 were actually contracted here and both of those were health workers caring for the ill.  Encouragingly, there have only been 2 deaths, a fact which appears to signal a much higher survival rate in the US than for those in west Africa. This is a disease that requires direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who is symptomatic of the disease, and despite what Hollywood films like Outbreak would have you believe, the odds of this virus evolving into an airborne form is extremely unlikely; about as likely as pigs evolving wings.

2 deaths is, of course, an incredibly small number compared to most causes of death. This got me digging a little bit and I stumbled across the CDC and FBI’s death statistics for the US.

Screenshot 2014-11-19 22.38.58

Full disclosure: the most complete data set I could find was for 2011, so the comparison isn’t technically perfect, but I think it gets the point across.  The lighting and shark attack statistics are averages from other sources; the CDC, apparently, does not keep track of shark attacks.

These numbers are pretty stable from year to year.  Anything more than a 2% change in any category is quite unusual (accept for lighting and shark attacks, of course), so I think it’s safe to draw some fairly broad conclusions from this data.

One thing that immediately jumps out at me is that the things we fear the most are not nearly as likely to kill us as we think. On my local news radio this morning, the anchor described two recent deaths; a burglary homicide and a man who died in an accident involving a road salt conveyor belt.  Both tragedies to be sure, but the anchor might also have mention that this week in the greater Harford area there were likely 46 deaths by heart disease, 44 by cancer, 6 by diabetes, 4 flu deaths, 3 suicides (2 of which were by handguns), 3 motor vehicle deaths, and zero deaths from lightning strikes, shark attacks and deadly viruses from the lands of the Heart of Darkness.

Given how much space homicides occupy in our national consciousness, it’s surprising how few of them there are in comparison to other causes of death. This underlies our whole relationship public health policy; it is largely based on fear. There are people who are genuinely terrified of a west African virus that’s killed two people yet refuse to get vaccinated for a virus that kills over 50,000 people annually in the United States.

This isn’t news; we humans have a very difficult time assessing risk in the modern world. We’re genetically hardwired to fear the things that were a genuine threat to our furry ancestors; poisonous spiders, snakes, people with possibly infectious disease, strange creatures from the deep, and large carnivours prowling just beyond the firelight. This evolutionary preoccupation short-curcuits our ability to spot even more dangerous things in the modern world and so we move through a world full of apparent paradoxes. Walking home from the bar is more dangerous than flying in an airplane. Driving a car is far more deadly than a shark. Not getting a flu shot is a much bigger risk than the shot itself. The cheeseburger in your hand is more dangerous than the spider you saw in your garage yesterday. Your child is much more likely to die in your neighbor’s swimming pool than from the handgun he keeps under his mattress. We can find this data, and we may know these things intellectually, but we don’t feel them, and that’s what gets us into trouble.

There’s a lot to suss out here, so I’m going to write a few more posts in the future looking at what we can glean from this data about preventable deaths, the future of driverless cars, and America’s tortured relationship with guns. In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with some things that you should be worrying about instead of ebola.

Several of the leading causes of death are completely preventable: Heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory infection are caused mainly by high blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine use, drug abuse, stress, and cheeseburgers. Cancer is often inexplicable, but it is also clearly caused by smoking, exposure to toxins such as asbestos, and cheeseburgers. Diabetes is caused by sugar & carbohydrate consumption. Influenza is caused by not getting a flu shot, you dope! Kidney disease has many of the same causes as heart disease and stroke. Motor vehicle accidents are sometimes caused by driving like an idiot. Suicide is caused by killing yourself.


“Mr. Lahey, I need a cheeseburger!” Randy’s Canadian, so we’ll cut him some slack.

I don’t mean to be glib, but really, this isn’t hard. If you want to live a long time, the best thing to do is to focus on the things that will actually kill you. With that in mind, here is Keller’s list for living a long healthy life:

  1. Eat well: eat lots of fruits and vegetables and lay off the meat, dairy, sugar, and heavy starches.
  2. Don’t use tobacco products.
  3. Exercise: it doesn’t take much; getting your heart rate up for 15 minutes a day will do a world of good. And if you still want to be able to get off the toilet by yourself when your in your late 60’s, start doing a few squats a day now.
  4. Don’t use illegal drugs.
  5. Seek medical care: get regular medical and dental checkups, do what your doctor tells you, and get a flu shot you dope!
  6. Ease up on the alcohol and caffeine.
  7. Don’t drive like an idiot and don’t drive drunk.
  8. Keep a consistent, healthy sleep cycle.
  9. I wouldn’t recommend owning a gun, but if you must, store them properly. As in, lock both the gun(s) and the ammunition, in separate locations.
  10. Don’t kill yourself.

If this seems like a pretty similar list to every other stupid top-10-ways-to-live-longer news story, that’s because it is. This isn’t rocket science; these things seem obvious because they are. But people are worrying about stupid bullshit like ebola instead of how many doughnuts they’re stuffing in their craw, and we know this to be true because over a million people are dying every year of completely preventable causes that have nothing to do with dangerous viruses from Africa.

Note also that stress is a contributing factor in several of the leading causes of death, such as heart disease and stroke. So, if you’ve been to Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia recently and you feel like you have a fever, get your ass to a hospital. If not, then chill out!


Additional Output Resolutions for Mac VGA Connection

Ever since OS X Mavericks came out, I’ve been having a hard time connecting my Mac to external monitors and projectors. In previous versions there were dozens of output resolution options in System Preferences, but in Mavericks there are only two or three by default. This can cause major problems if you are connecting to a video system that has a video switcher or Crestron control system in between the computer and the projector, because the OS sees the intermediary device and may think that the the system is a native 1024×768 resolution system, when in reality it is a 1280×768 system. Now you are projecting with black columns on either side of your image: not professional.

The solution? The option button. Connect your machine to the projection system and go to System Preferences > Displays and then ⌥ Scaled. The original, exhaustive list of resolutions will appear as well as the ability to select refresh rates other than 60Hz.

Screenshot 2014-11-06 16.14.55You’re welcome.


Abolish Paper Money, Save the Postal Service?

Imagine a scenario in which you need over $5000 in cash and in which you are not doing anything illicit or trying to hide something from the government. It’s pretty hard. Almost any legitimate transaction these days can be done electronically. So why do we have paper currency anymore at all?

Essentially, the answer is that it’s a habit that we haven’t broken yet. The average US citizen has about $100 in cash on them at any given time (which I seems high given how many people I know don’t carry cash at all), and yet there’s enough currency in circulation for every person in the country to have over $2000 in hand. The remaining $1900/person is stashed in foreign banks or in the hands of illegal organizations that do their business strictly via cash transactions.

Cash money

Most drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, blood-sport gambling, money laundering, violent robberies, and other illicit activity is fueled by cash. Imagine how much safer a convenience store clerk would be if there simply were no money for someone to steal at gun-point. I suppose the would-be villain could hold the place up for beer and potato chips, but that seems far less likely. Imagine also how much more difficult it would be for drug cartels to hide large-scale transactions if they had to transfer the money between banks. Large denominations such as the $100 bill, and even more so the €500 note, allow crooks to move millions of dollars around in suitcases and duffle bags.

Like most ideas, I think this one can be taken too literally. Some argue that street crime in toto could be eliminated via the abolition of paper money, which is patently untrue, but there is broad agreement that the elimination of paper money would result in a dramatic reduction in crime.

There is one very good argument for paper money, however, and that is that there are many areas of this country that are underserved by the banking industry. Just as it can be difficult for low-income Americans to find fresh produce (so called “food deserts”), there are also huge swaths of the country that the conventional banking industry has determined as unprofitable. Banks refuse to open branches in these areas, creating “banking deserts” where residents become more vulnerable to predatory pay-day lenders and check-cashers that move in to fill the void. For people in these banking deserts, cash is the only practical way of doing business. This is a cross-party, cross-demographic problem, as banking deserts occur both in poor inner cities as well as rural communities.

There is one institution that has access to almost all of these areas. This is an entity that we are all familiar, which already handles many basic financial transactions like money orders, and has a precedent for providing basic banking services to the entire country. That’s right; let’s turn the USPS into a bank.

Why the hell not? Post offices could offer basic banking services like prepaid cards, checking accounts and savings accounts to the millions of Americans who do not have access to the mainstream banking system. They have a well-trained work force, a glut of underutilized square footage and access to nearly every community in the United States. The USPS also provided savings accounts for over 50 years until 1967, so there is a strong precedent for it taking on this role again. Not to mention that this would also offer a funding method for the postal system, something congress has been wrestling with for years.

The USPS Office of Inspector General is on board, the postal workers union is on board; the only people standing in the way is Congress.

So let’s review: abolish paper money and add banking services to the USPS. This would dramatically lower crime, turn the USPS from a semi-public agency in near-constant existential crisis into a money-making department, and simultaneously bring low-cost banking services to almost 70 million people who are currently at risk of predatory lending by non-traditional, private lenders.

And the best evidence that this will work: Darrell Issa thinks it’s a bad idea.


5 Signs You’ve Lost an Argument

Every now and then I find myself arguing a point that is clearly hopeless. It happens to the best of us, right?

Here are 5 signs you’ve lost an argument:

“If he’s so famous, how come I’ve never heard of him?”

Putting your ignorance forward as evidence is just plain stupid. If you don’t know what you’re talking about then leave the conversation to those who do.

You’ve Just Compared Someone to Hitler

This is an example of an ad hominem, whereby the actual topic under discussion is dropped in favor of attacking your opponent. For example: “You like art, huh? You know who else liked art? The Nazis, that’s who!”

Stick to the point.

You Can’t State Your Position in Less Than 1000 Words

You might also call this the filibuster technique. This is a common for refuge for those who misguidedly believe that a point’s length correlated with its correctness.

You know your friend that posts War-&-Peace-length treatise on Facebook? Next time he pull that stunt, just write back, “Please summarize.”

You’re the Loudest Person in the Room

Raising your voice is rarely a good idea and it’s usually a sure-fire sign that you’re getting backed into a corner. Stay calm and, if you feel like your point is wavering, retire in good order. People will respect you more for it.

“Your Mother” is Your Only Comeback

Perhaps this goes without saying, but if you’re only retort is a personal attack then you’re argument is in the tank, humorous though it may be. The best “your mother” comeback ever is found in John Stewart’s faux textbook, America:

“Have you no scruples, sir?”

“I believe I left them on your mother’s nightstand.”


5 Tips for Great DSLR Video

So you have your brand-new Canon 7D, Nikon D7100, or other DLSR camera. You’ve taken some photos, you’re getting the hang of it; now you want to shoot some DSLR video.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that the workflow they use for photography will translate into great video, but there are some major differences between the two mediums. Here are 5 tips for DSLR video that will get you off and running quickly.

Use Support

With still photography, you can often get away with handheld shots because the shutter speed is so fast that you don’t notice the shaking of the shooter. Unfortunately, you can’t get away with this in video. No matter how calm you are, no matter how low your heart rate, your involuntary body movements will translate to video. This shaking becomes even more evident as you use longer lenses.

If you want a still shot, use a tripod. If you want to be more mobile, you can use a monopod, a shoulder-mounted rig, or a counterbalanced hand-held rig, also called a stabilizer system.  The hand-held rig is the most fluid of the three, but it gets very heavy because of the counterweights. You can also use a cage if you don’t mind a little more camera shake.

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with any movement on a DSLR camera is a very unpleasant effect called rolling shutter. This is a hangover from using still photography technology to shoot video (many camcorders do not have this problem, or at least not as severely). It is caused by different parts of the image being captured at different times. Because of this, panning too quickly which causes the image to distort diagonally. Often times, it’s subtle enough to not really notice it, but shake the camera left and right and you’ll quickly see your footage turn to a warbling, jello-looking mess. It’s easier to show than explain, so I’ll let the guys over at take over from here:

Exposure, the DSLR Way

With photography, you first set your ISO and then set your shutter speed and your f-stop.  Video adds frame rate to the mix. Frame rate is how many images per second your camera will take.

The first rule is USE 24 FRAMES PER SECOND. Unless you have a compelling technical reason to do otherwise, you should always shoot at 24FPS. It just looks better. Trust me.

Rule number two is the shutter speed should be equal to twice the value of the frame rate (or as close to it as your camera will allow). You’re shooting at 24FPS,  so your shutter speed should be 1/5oth of a second. In practice, most cameras will only let you get as close as 1/48th, which is close enough.

The third rule is that you want to shoot with as wide an f-stop as possible in order to get the shortest possible depth-of-field. The short depth-of-field is one of the main characteristics of DSLR footage that differentiates it from camcorder video. It gives your video that classic “film” look. So, try to shoot around a 2.8 f-stop if at all possible.

All that’s left is the ISO which is now your main setting for controlling your exposure.  You want to shoot with the lowest possible ISO you can and still get a decent exposure. Many photographers find the transition to controlling exposure a little disconcerting, not least of which because it’s harder to access on still cameras than shutter and f-stop. Write it on your hand if you need to, “adjust exposure with ISO.”

Neutral Density Filter One problematic scenario is when you have too much light. You’re shooting outside on a sunny day, you have your ISO set to 100, and your f-stop & shutter speed where they should be, but your exposure is totally blown out. You can go with a higher f-stop, but then you’re loosing the shallow depth-of-field that was part of the whole point of shooting video with a DSLR in the first place. You can up the shutter speed, but then you’re getting that Saving Private Ryan look. What’s girl to do?

The answer is a variable neutral density filter. It’s made by combining tso polarizing filters which, when rotated against each other, will either allow light to pass or will attenuate it. It attaches to the front of your lens and it lets you infinitely dial down the light coming into the lens by rotating one of the polarizing filters. It’s like sunglasses for your lens. This is a very cheap and easy way to give your video the “professional” look.

Audio Matters

One of the key differences between professional and amateur video is the sound quality. We tend to tune out a lot of the ambient noise around us in our daily lives, but when you play it back on video it’s difficult to ignore.

Luckily, several mic manufacturers have developed convenient shotgun microphones that plug directly into the hot shoe of the camera and sound pretty darn good for the price. Shotgun mics use side phase ports to cancel out much of the ambient noise in a shooting environment.

Some have even built these shoe-mount mics with recorders built into them, so you can record both to the camera and have a backup audio recording right on the mic in case one signal clips. Or, you can slate several cameras together and have a continuous recording to sync all the video files into a seamless multi-cam edit.

Shure VP83

Again, this is a very cheap and simple way to boost the quality of your video.

Use Movement

The most obvious difference between still photography and “motion pictures” is, well, motion. There are a few easy camera moves that you can do with the support platforms listed above such as a pan &/or tilt (tripod), faux steady cam (any support that doesn’t touch the ground), but dolly and tracking shots remain elusive.

DollyTracking shots are the smooth shots you seen in movies where the camera follows the action but doesn’t have that tell-tale steady cam shake. These are usually achieved by laying tracks on the ground and building a platform on which to place the camera (and often the camera op, director of cinematography and sometimes even the director).  Needless to say, this can be quite an undertaking and is usually beyond the capability of a lone DSLR shooter.

However, you can achieve similar result by using a slider. A slider is a small rail with a carriage that slides smoothly along it. You attach the camera to the carriage and, voila!, you can now take smooth motion shots. Some sliders have a thread that you can use to attach it to a tripod, which makes for a more-or-less portable dolly shot rig.

My go to rig for location shooting is a slider on a tripod with a fluid head mounted to the carriage and the camera mounted to that. With this configuration, I can do still, pan, tilt, tracking, and dolly shots all from a rig that I can pick up and move fairly quickly. And when I need to do a handheld shot, I simply release the quick release from the fluid head and attach the camera to a handheld solution I have on standby. Easy peasy!

Slider on Tripod

Lenses Abound

Your first lens should be a versatile, utilitarian lens. A 24mm-70mm zoom lens is usually a good place to start. I would also recommend buying a single, solid lens instead of stretching to buy several cheaper/lesser quality lenses. A good lens will last you forever and you’ll be glad you went with quality in the long run.

After that, the sky is the limit.

Don’t be afraid of the after-market for lenses. Most brand-name lenses are very well made, and as long as they’ve been kept relatively clean and the glass is scratch free, then there isn’t too much risk in buying a used lens.

You should also take care of your own lenses; always shoot with at least a UV filter to protect the glass (you should have a dedicated UV filter for each lens), keep your lenses in protective bags when not in use, and make sure to clean them every once and a while. A well-made, well-kept lens will literally last multiple lifetimes. I’m still using lenses my father and step-father used in the late 60’s and they look fantastic.


There are also a whole host of adapters for different attachment types. Don’t be afraid to get a few adapters and mix and match different brands of lenses. You don’t need to worry about autofocus (because it doesn’t work in video mode on most DSLRs). Get on eBay and go nuts.

Final Thoughts on DSLR Video

It’s a brave new world. The lines between videography and cinematography are blurring rapidly. You can now make films with a simple DSLR camera that would have required a 16mm behemoth film camera 15 years ago.

Mastering video is the same process as most other things: learn the rules, master them, then break them, repeat steps. There is literally no end to the process, which is what makes it so fun and so rewarding.


Top 5 Second Acts

Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy Second Acts

Fugitive Sounds just published another article of mine about “second acts” by musicians. Here’s a snippet from the artice:

I’ve been thinking lately about artists whose careers span multiple successful—or at least influential—bands. It’s a somewhat tortured conceit, I admit, but my idea here is to list the five best musicians who have been integral members of multiple successful bands, and to list these artists in the order of the quality of the second band to which they contributed their talents. The notion is to chronicle artists whose careers have had a successful “second act,” if you will.

To read the rest of the article, head over to Fugitive Sounds.


Top 5 Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts, so I thought I’d share a few that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. Here are my top 5 podcasts, as of March, 2014:

Top 5 Podcasts

Freakonomics Podcast


I don’t think I’m exagerating when I say this podcast has changed the way I look at the world. The podcast is a spin-off of the book by the same name, written by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, and covers most of the material in the books plus a host of other interesting topics. Every wonder why drug dealers live with their moms despite being in such a lucrative trade? Ever wonder if businesses that are run by families, i.e. inhereted CEO’s, outperform other businesses? I hadn’t either, but the topics are utterly fascinating, none-the-less.

Stuff You Should Know PodcastStuff You Should Know

Part of the How Stuff Works suite, Stuff You Should Know is a series of explanations of seemingly random topics by Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark.  They have a very amusing rapport, and the topics they cover are quite interesting. I wouldn’t call their work authoritative, and I don’t think they would disagree with me on this point, but they do give a very good cursory overview of a lot of things you never thought you wanted to know, but you did. Crystal skulls, for example: totally fascinating. Who knew?

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History PodcastDan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This one is not for the feint of heart. Some of these podcasts stretch into multiple-hour lectures, but Carlin’s story-telling and use of both primary sources and opposing viewpoints from various historians offers a very unique, and at times captivating, approach to history. He is absurdly self-effacing, constantly saying he’s a “fan of history, not a historian,” which is patently obsurd given the amount of research this guy has done into the subject matter he covers. Give yourself some time to sit with one or two of his podcasts; some of you will no-doubt be turned off by his style, the rest of you will burn through his archives faster than you thought possible. I highly recommend his series on the Mongol Empire as a starter.

99 Percent Invisible Podcast

99% Invisible

Produced by Roman Mars of KALW in San Francisco, 99% examines the stories behind the designs of things that we typically take for granted; hence, the name. From the Chrysler Building, to slot machines, to currency, to bridges, to tunnels under the Berlin Wall, you learn how the things around us came to be, how we shape them, and they us.

Frontline PodcastFRONTLINE

I rarely have time to sit and watch PBS for an hour, but I find I can totally handle listening to a Frontline episode while I fold the laundry. Even though this is produced for television, it translates remarkably well to an audio-only format. If you have any interest in being an informed citizen, this podcast is a good place to start. And, if you like Frontline as a podcast, you’ll probably like 60 Minutes as well.

Honorable mention

NPR: Planet Money Podcast – Similar to Freakonomics but not quite as rigorous.

On the Media – Also a good place for you citizens to sharpen you “informedness.”

The New Yorker: Poetry, The New Yorker: Fiction, The New Yorker:Politics – Fox News watchers beware; you will, not, like, this.

60 Minutes – As with Frontline, translates surprisingly well to an audio format.

Here’s The Thing With Alec Baldwin – Now canceled, but with quite a few archived episodes worth checking out. I could care less about half the people he interviews, but a few of his interviews are genuinely fascinating and some are gut-busting funny.

DecodeDC – A little preachy at times, but one of the few honest assessments of how our government is functioning these days. Prepare to be depressed; it’s even worse than you thought.

Intelligence Squared U.S. by NPR – Oxford-style debating about the issues of the day. A rare moment of civil discourse. Drink it in.

StarTalk Radio – A little rambling, but it’s worth it to hear a real astro-physicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson, take on science-fiction ideas as genuine possibilities in the not-so-distant future. Really fun stuff and, at times, just a little awe-inspiring.

Music Production Writing

New Fugitive Sounds Article – 5 Ways Musicians Can Improve Recordings

Fugitive Sounds is publishing my article on how musicians can make better recordings on Saturday morning.  You can read the article over at Fugitive Sounds (this link will not be live until Sat, Feb 22 at 5am).

The elevator pitch for the article is that musicians can make much better use of their time and resources in recording sessions by preempting many of the issues that derail sessions; equipment failures, confusion regarding composition or arrangements, who is in charge, etc. In the article, I discuss 5 simple measure musicians can take to ensure that they get the most our of their studio time.

Many thanks to Dave Stillman over at Fugitive Sounds for agreeing to publish me again, especially after the backlash that was wrought on the site after my decidedly grumpy Pro Tools 11 article.