December 24, 2012 4:35 PM

Xmas loot thread / What makes a good challenge?

Killing two birds with one stone here:

1. Let's see your xmas musical loot!

2. What makes a good challenge? I've been enjoying running it but I still don't really have a clear idea of what works and what doesn't.
posted by unSane (31 comments total)

I'm not really expecting much musical loot myself as I've overindulged slightly in the last few months (I bought a Hagstrom Viking Tremar in the summer, and a Korg SV1 in the fall, plus swapped a Korg CX3 for a Highway 1 Tele, and copped a Farfisa Compact for next to nothing. Plus bought an upright piano that I restored). But I must confess I picked up a very battered Roland Jazz Chorus 77 amp yesterday for (again) next to nothing. Mostly for keyboard duties but actually it's a phenomenal clean guitar amp, and goes a great job on the acoustic too.

As for the challenges, I dunno, which is why I'm asking the question. I have a couple of ideas for challenges in the New Yearb which are designed to push people out of the comfort zone -- one's based around 1-take improvisation and the other's intended to compel lyrical free-association, plus January's is currently intended to be 'write a song to replace Happy Birthday', but what do people REALLY like?
posted by unSane at 4:41 PM on December 24, 2012

xmas musical loot!

Nothing here that's exactly xmas loot, but some very recent acquisitions include an amazing old Roland synth (circa 1980) I found in a junk shop here in Tokyo for a STEAL of a price: 20,000 yen, or about 230 US dollars. It's got some great sounds and some really interesting special features, the Roland SH-2000. Amazing that in the internet age, and in Tokyo of all places, you can still sometimes stumble upon a deal like this. And the damn thing is in near-mint condition!

Another very recent acquisition is something my Ghanaian buddy and sometimes collaborator gave me. He brought it back from a trip to Ghana and gave it to me as a gift! I was ecstatic. I've been playing it a bit. t's from the north of Ghana and it's called a kologo. This is the only picture I've got at the moment of mine, and it's just from the back, so you can't tell much about it. But it's one of those grandaddy-of-the-banjo African instruments. Has 2 strings, sounds really mellow. Here's a picture of one from the front.

I also got a kid's marching bass drum, also given to me, by the headmaster of a kindergarten where I played a children's music show recently. It was just sitting there collecting dust, and I asked if he might consider selling it, but he just gave it to me. Yay! It sounds awesome.

And my new chromatic strumstick is a joy. Just got that a couple months ago. Haven't even picked up the diatonic-fretted ones since the chromatic arrived.

I also became a kind of KORG sponsor, or whatever you call it. They laid some gear on me, including the new WaveDrum, the WaveDrum Mini and a couple of the pocket synths (Monotron) that they're making. I've taken part in a couple of public demonstrations of this gear over the last few months. The WaveDrum Mini is especially convenient for easily carrying around to gigs, and I run it through my little pitch shifter to fuck up the sound nice and good. It's a key element of a new electro-acoustic drum kit I've been doing some gigs with lately, which also includes the kid's marching drum that I mentioned above.

So, the Challenge...

I still don't really have a clear idea of what works and what doesn't.

I ran it for quite some time and I gotta say I never exactly got a clear idea of what works and what doesn't! One thing, though, is that there are so many variables... what might've worked a month before or a month later might not seem to work on the month you set it up could simply be because folks that might've responded well to the idea might be too busy to do it on that particular month.

one's based around 1-take improvisation and the other's intended to compel lyrical free-association

Those both sound good to me!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:01 AM on December 26, 2012

I didn't get any gear this year; I got a nice Jaykco strap and that cool David Byrne book. My parents always give me a cheque, which is awesome. The downside is that it sets me on a mad hunt for ONE COOL NEW THING which leads me to many many websites and pro/con reviews and inevitably results in paralyzing fear of making the wrong decision. I know, first world problems.
Anyhow, I think I want to upgrade my microphone. I found what looks like a great deal on Musician's Friend. unSane, you've ordered from them, I think? What do you end up paying in shipping/customs and brokerage fees from the dreaded UPS?
posted by chococat at 12:18 PM on December 27, 2012

Hm, MF have been pretty good for me. I've bought a bunch of stuff over the years. They seem to use the version of UPS that doesn't screw you with brokerage fees. Generally you just pay taxes, which is roughly the equivalent of HST, so you're just out the shipping.

Returns are a total PITA though, because of the 2-way shipping and taxes, so you have to basically eat it if the item is a piece of crap, so I tend to skew towards items that are so cheap it doesn't matter or where I'm reasonably sure it'll work or I can fix it.

I'm particularly leery of restock items because I don't think they check them very carefully and by the time you find out what was wrong with it, it's too late.

I use dealgenius.ca a lot to price out things and actually it's been a while since MF were cheaper than someone local. Long and McQuade have been great on price recently, and there's also my latest crush pashop.com in London who are absolutely fantastic and cheap as all get out. We ordered something for one of the kids from them last Monday afternoon and it arrived Tuesday morning, and was substantially cheaper than anywhere else. I've also used Moog in Montreal, who sometimes have terrific deals.
posted by unSane at 2:48 PM on December 27, 2012

Yeah I'm a little scared about the returns/warranty thing and if it was a $50 savings or something I'd just walk down the street to L&M and have the piece of mind. But I'm looking at an AKG C414 XLII and it's like $1200-$1500 everywhere around here and $798 on Musician's Friend, which is the only way it would be do-able for me.
posted by chococat at 3:17 PM on December 27, 2012

Wow, that's a hell of a mic! With something like that I'm generally more comfortable because (a) it's probably great quality and (b) you can probably get it warrantied by AKG if something goes wrong. And that's a great price.
posted by unSane at 5:31 PM on December 27, 2012

Nevermind, looks like they won't ship to Canada.
posted by chococat at 8:09 PM on December 27, 2012

They will ship returns to Canada, if there are any. (See my point above!)
posted by unSane at 8:18 PM on December 27, 2012

pashop.ca has it for $1100, which is not $800+shipping, but still a good price.
posted by unSane at 8:19 PM on December 27, 2012

There may be a road trip to Buffalo in my future.
posted by chococat at 8:23 PM on December 27, 2012

Years ago I bought a Burns 12-string from MF which wouldn't ship to Canada, so I had them ship to a friend in the US and then scheduled a UPS pick-up from them, which worked fine.
posted by unSane at 4:33 AM on December 28, 2012

but what do people REALLY like?

Would this maybe be a legit question to bring up on MeTalk, to get a few more eyeballs & answers?

Along the same lines, would it be legit to put a "New Challenge is up" announcement post on MeTa whenever a new challenge is posted?

I went poking back thru the archives of the challenges, and about the only thing I could find is that "cover versions" or re-interpretations seem to get a fairly large response, which makes sense because a lot of the work is already done - the song is already written, you don't have to start from scratch.

Not that that should be the only kind of challenge, but it does raise the question that maybe 30 days is a bit tight for a lot of potential participants. I mean, I get that "30 days" is part of the "challenge" of, um, the challenges, but in practical terms maybe a two-month deadline would get some more responses.

Another idea - and maybe I'm stretching a bit here - but I've noticed that Music posts get a boost of attention after podcasts. Maybe you could coordinate New Challenge announcements with the podcast?

Let's see your xmas musical loot!

Also not much in "For Xmas" musical loot, although I retrieved my MIJ Squier Tele from a friend, and I'll probably spend some Xmas bonus dough on a new neck & a new case. Come warmer weather it'll be time for a refinish & general overhaul. Also, now that it's winter I'll be able to get back to some DIY pedal projects.

Otherwise, this year got me a Peavey Classic 20, a re-fret & re-Frankenstein of the Gibson L6S, and new pickups for the Ibanez Flying V.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2012

chococat, if you're looking for deals on higher-end gear, it might be worth looking into contacting pro end-users, like live sound production companies or recording studios. Even if selling gear isn't their main business, they've often got special access to wholesalers, distributors, or manufacturers, and would be willing to make a quick, no-hassle sale.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:14 AM on December 28, 2012

What makes a good challenge?

An old saw of mine, but I think the biggest challenge for MeFiMu is to get away from the novelty shtick that seems to be how it's perceived in the wider MeFi community. You know - silly songs about MeFi and computers and zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Stripping out ancient tracks from the "most favourited ever, ever, ever" lists would be an excellent starting point imho. They do distort things and the reason they keep popping up in the "last seven days" listings is proof positive of that I think. So.....a key challenge for 2013 is a spring clean!! Ain't gonna happen though is it...

Let's see your xmas musical loot!
I acquired far too much unnecessary gear in 2012 - more than I'm prepared to admit to. Santa did however bring me a cool wooden Swanee whistle so I've been impersonating The Clangers over the holiday - at least until my wife threatened to put the whistle in a place where it's not really designed to be played (although not impossible I suspect - Brussels sprouts help).

Next year I need to get rid of at least four guitars (anyone interested??). I will part with my old Marshall JCM 900 2x12 combo. I may acquire a Mesa Boogie LoneStar. I may not. But really what I want to do in 2013 is get more on the ball with Reaper and Native Instruments, upgrade the sound quality of my recordings and try to write a little more - or at least finish a little more -than a managed to this year. I also want to check out other websites for the reasons touched upon under "what makes a good challenge?" so suggestions for that would be most welcome...mp3 unsigned.com is quite a good one with a supportive community, for instance.
posted by MajorDundee at 12:47 PM on December 28, 2012

As far as other communities go, the songwriting forum on Gearslutz is mostly very good. There are some excellent songwriters there and a lot of people really know their stuff.

I don't find Soundcloud that great of a community in and of itself (it's massively dominated by EDM as far as I can see) but everyone seems to have an account there, so if someone encounters you on a forum somewhere they can keep track of you via Soundcloud.

I think MeFiMu is always going to be the equivalent of the kitchen at the MeFi party, sadly.
posted by unSane at 4:13 AM on December 29, 2012

I got a cello.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:14 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

That rocks.
posted by chococat at 9:04 PM on December 29, 2012

Not that that should be the only kind of challenge, but it does raise the question that maybe 30 days is a bit tight for a lot of potential participants. I mean, I get that "30 days" is part of the "challenge" of, um, the challenges, but in practical terms maybe a two-month deadline would get some more responses.

Just in recent memory - the one month extension for the radiohead challenge did not double the number of entries. Only a couple more trickled in. While I get that some people have limited time, longer challenges have to compete with short attention spans.

My theories as to why MeFiMu= kitchen of the party

A: mefimu has some technical limitations that might dissuade people from making it the place where they showcase their work. Soundcloud or Bandcamp both have some advantages for anyone trying to put together an album - multiple tracks, album art, downloads, etc. MeFiMu's setup is based around single tracks. (Except for pyramid termite, who I seem to recall has posted a couple albums)

B: What is the focus here? Other music related boards that I've been a part of tend toward a particular genre of music, or focus on songwriting, or the technical details of production, and then people who are interested in those things comment to get responses from their peers. If I'm reading tapeop and someone posts a song, I can ask "Hey, what mic/pre/compressor is that?" and some sort of discussion will ensue. The Reddit EDMproduction forum is full of people offering various tips, or synth recipes, or what have you, and I've learned some interesting stuff that way, despite the occasional "HOW DO I SKRILLEX" posts.

Whereas here we're not really organized around a style of music making, or a particular kind of software, so there's less talking about the making of and more a "here is a finished thing". And for whatever reason, the comments here don't often turn into a back and forth discussion, the way that they do on the Blue, or MetaTalk.

There was a post a while back where someone said "What do you think about this?" and I didn't know if it would be okay to say "Honestly I find this unlistenable, but I'd be interested in hearing about your process and motivation?" Most of the comments are along the lines of "I like this!", so it's easy enough to assume that if no-one's commenting, no-one likes it. Which brings me to C...

C: Lack of feedback. MeFiMu has no counter for listens that I know of. The only way to know if anyone has listened to your track is if they say so. Feedback is generally around a handful of comments, most often from the core group of active commenters here, who are also generally posting their own stuff. Personally that's not a huge issue for me, but I can see how it would be disheartening, especially for a first-time poster, to feel like their song just falls into the void.
That's one area where I wonder if a technical solution might just help out a bit - a counter showing plays for each track, maybe? Perhaps if we fire up the Cortex-signal and aim it westward, he could weigh in. I don't get the rationale for showing "Most Playlisted", but maybe it's helpful for others, I dunno.

I think the covers work well because they make it OK just to dash off a reinterpretation, they give the listener a degree of familiarity, and they generally get feedback because everyone else involved in the challenge is curious to hear the other entries. I would not be in favor of the challenges being JUST covers, but that format does seem to promote participation.
posted by dubold at 7:41 AM on December 30, 2012

I think MeFiMu is always going to be the equivalent of the kitchen at the MeFi party, sadly.

Not so much the kitchen but the bit out back near the trashcans where the smokers guiltily gather and have sort of "brothers in arms" conversations about studiedly neutral subjects......

I think - and I'm deliberately dropping a brick in the old pond for fun with this one - another thing that would improve things for 2013 would be a blanket ban on fucking ukuleles! They're not charming. Or amusing. Or clever. They're crap!! Stop NOW. You'll feel so much better - no really. Really, really, really. Take up golf or something similar involving matching knitwear and extreme musical avoidance huh?
posted by MajorDundee at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2012

I'm right there with you on the ukuleles, MajorDundee, but you're making me wonder if a good challenge one month might be to do songs using nothing but ukulele, because I bet you could make it sound great and I'd like to hear your signature production and songwriting style on a crazy cool uke track.

And loot? My wife got me an MXR Dyna Comp and an MXR Blue Box. I'm not sure she had much of an idea of what, exactly, those two pedals did until I started trying them out and she started regretting having facilitated my noise-making.
posted by The World Famous at 2:16 PM on January 1, 2013

Those pedals look like tons of fun, The World Famous. That Blue Box is hilariously awesome.

Re: ukuleles, for the most part, I share your crusty frustration with the recent trendiness and absolute saturation of them lately; particularly the truckloads of bedroom ukulele YouTube videos featuring people doing covers of songs...I'm playing this heavy metal song, but on a ukulele! It's kooky and fun! It's just become too bandwagony; the go-to instrument for easy cute.
I do have a soft spot for them, however, so I can't hate on them. The ukulele was my gateway instrument. In grade 5 our music teacher brought out the ukuleles to add to the chorus of recorders we already had going and I took to it instantly, eventually earning the solo in the school performance of Ode to Joy! Then I entered the wonderful world of guitars.
I still have my shitty Chinese uke that my parents bought me for $15 in 1979 and over the past year my daughter started sneaking it up to her room. We could hear her working out chords and practicing songs upstairs and she got pretty good! We bought her a really nice Oscar Schmidt one for her birthday and I hear her singing her heart out up there in her tiny room, irony-free, and it's absolutely beautiful, I just love it. So the cycle continues, I guess.
Also, come on!
posted by chococat at 4:07 PM on January 1, 2013

I think Chococat sort of nails it that irony is the problem. I'd be quite happy for Mefi Music to be an irony-free zone for a year, frankly, and go nuts on the ukes.
posted by unSane at 4:40 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like "Irony-free Zone" as a monthly challenge.
posted by The World Famous at 4:45 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wasn't that sort of covered in this one?
(Points will be deducted for irony...)
posted by chococat at 5:19 PM on January 1, 2013

I'm thinking of it more as a yearly challenge.
posted by unSane at 6:25 PM on January 1, 2013

I got a copy of Beck's Song Reader for Christmas, which is pretty neat as printed matter alone, but also contains a couple of genuinely good songs. I finished playing through them all last night (save the two instrumentals, which I don't have the patience to hack through right now), and I'll probably record a couple. I'd like to get some people together to jam on some of them, but it's hard to find the time.

Also you'll all be happy to know that several of the songs have (mostly gratuitous) ukulele chord charts.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:22 AM on January 2, 2013

lol re TWF's suggestion - no cigar for that one mate. Definitely a challenge to do anything on a ukulele that's not ironic, arch or cutesy-pie so I'll await that one with interest! Actually I'm lying - I'll avoid it like the plague!!

Coming right back at ya, if you really want to go for the uke thing why don't you have a challenge involving forming - for one song only (and may the Lord have mercy on your poor misguided souls) - the MeFi Uke Orchestra? cue heavily reverbed evil cackle......

Enough of my grumpiness already. Look forward to hearing everyone's contributions during 2013. I think there may one or two remixes from me to start with using the NI drums - really does make quite a difference. Comments will be eagerly anticipated.
posted by MajorDundee at 5:23 AM on January 2, 2013

While I get that some people have limited time, longer challenges have to compete with short attention spans.

Yeah, you got a point there.

I see unSane has made the Jan challenge 2 months and/or open-ended, which . . . . um, I hope it wasn't just my input that led to that. I mean, I think there's something definitely both practical and conceptually interesting about having an actual deadline for creating a piece of music. I was just kind of blue-skying ideas to experiment with maybe bumping up some participation in challenges.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:01 PM on January 2, 2013

Eh, well, my thinking was that in all honesty there's no actual sanction for an entry that comes in after the 1 or 2 month limit -- I mean, what would it be disqualified from exactly? So you can see the challenges being open indefinitely in that respect.

On the other hand you're totally right that a deadline works wonders for getting shit done I rely on that in my daily work life and I've started to use it more in songwriting. There's this odd Lille open mic I go to once a month and I'm trying to write a new song each time I go, but it generally doesn't get finished until that morning - work expanding to fill the time available and all.
posted by unSane at 9:02 PM on January 2, 2013

So you can see the challenges being open indefinitely in that respect.

Hear hear! I agree that it's great when people can get something in under the *deadline*, but also think that it'd be fantastic if people just went back and looked at past Challenges from anytime, even waaaaay back in the Stone Age when yours truly was Challengemeister! Cause I tells ya, there's a bunch really cool ideas in the old Challenges that still deserve a try or two. Lotta stuff didn't get the results (in terms of amount) that they should've!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:25 PM on January 2, 2013

there's no actual sanction for an entry that comes in after the 1 or 2 month limit

"50 lashes with a wet noodle!" as my mother used to say.

Speaking of Challenges that mysteriously sank without a trace, I actually thought the collaborative aspect proposed for the "Tubular Bells" challenge was really cool (he said sheepishly, having blown right past that aspect of the challenge himself). Something like that would really benefit from a longer challenge time, I think.

flapjax' idea of redoing "lost" challenges seems a good one. Way back in March '09 there was an Amnesty challenge that looks like it got a pretty good response.

And in the "loot" category, it looks like the Tele neck will have to wait til tax refund time. I was cruising ebay and encountered a Nady tube tremolo/vibrato pedal that I simply Could. Not. Resist. It should show up in the next coupla days, and I'll see what kind of interesting noises I can get out of it.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:35 AM on January 3, 2013

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