Food for thought: if we didn’t still make “albums,” we’d never know when the album was done. Sure, the delivery mechanism that spawned the album may be disappearing – “LP’s” in particular are long gone. But perhaps, like so many ubiquitous technologies, the album was a fortuitous coincidence of physical practicality and human scale, happenstance generating some unit of creativity that just makes sense to artist and listener alike.

For Imogen Heap, the beloved artist who’s just finished her latest, it’s cause to literally dance and sing, accompanied by a generative Buddha Box. (We can dance around when we get the album in August.)

Jonathan Coulton in Dublin, with – code monkeys? Photo (CC) crazyjaf.

It’s not the only approach. Geek troubador Jonathan Coulton rose to Interweb fame partly through the creation of his Creative Commons-licensed Thing-a-Week podcast, which fired up his productivity as he released 52 (get it?) tracks in the space of a year. The episodic form helped him build a following and created a new unit of musical output.

From other parts of the online world, we get a little insight from each of these favorite artists. Imogen Heap videoblogs her latest album and talks promise at top, as found via the lads of SonicState.

Jonathan Coulton talks to one of my favorite non-music blogs, Lifehacker, about staying musically productive – and keeping other productivity away from his musical process. He talks about using Google apps and MobileMe as an intelligent cloud he can share with his assistant and PR person.

He also speaks to musical process:

It’s a combination of things. I generally write when I have guitar in my hand, but, capturing ideas is like … I do use the voice recorder app on my iPhone like crazy. I’ve learned that whenever you get one of those little song fragments, out of the ether, it’s like a dream—no matter how much you’re going to remember it, you’re going to forget it, in like five minutes. And I’ve lost too many of those, so wherever I am, I take my phone out, I pretend that I’m making a phone call, so that people don’t think I’m crazy, and I sing into the voice recorder, and then I have it available later on.

If I want to do a more involved quick capture of something, my MacBook has a piece of software on it called Ableton Live. It’s meant for loop-based composition, but it does recording as well. It’s very easy to capture an idea and sort of rough something out, even if you don’t have a bunch of gear handy. You can use the built-in microphone, use your keyboard as a MIDI keyboard. It’s a nice way to put together a quick demo, and capture some ideas about arrangements.

And, comfortingly, he doesn’t have enough time for music, either, and winding up wasting time on latency problems. (Jonathan, we feel your pain. And if you came to this site and didn’t find your answer, well… sorry. I need to put together a better reference for that stuff; open to suggestions!) He dives into finance, career goals, the game Rock Band and “accidental” discovery of music – all fantastic stuff. Thanks to Kevin Purdy for a great interview – who says you need music publications for great music magazines?

Jonathan Coulton on Making Songs and Geeking Out [Lifehacker]

  • I can't emphasize enough how great of an idea it is to obsessively record ideas – I carry my mp3 player (which records) at all times just for this.

    The trick is to remember to load it onto your PC and catalog it and keep up the initial idea!

    Post-its on your monitor, with little check-boxes, work for my ADHD friends 😉

    Latency: oh, how I hate it. I've discovered the disconcerting fact that different ASIO4ALL settings are needed when I have my Tascam FireOne's input on, or off. It works better without an analog input, and doesn't need a "hardware buffer"… even if no channel is active nor recording.

    A fact I can't believe how long it took me to catch onto: the higher the sampling rate, the lower latency you can get *assuming your computer has the CPU power to deal with the higher sampling rate* I'm not talking bit depth here.

    The reason? Higher sampling rate takes more digital "slices" of our analog wave sound world and therefore has more audio in the buffer that it must periodically, um, buffer so lower latency = less frequenctly accessing the buffer…

    OK, so I can't explain it well, but if you have an overclocked i7 like I do, use the highest sampling rate your A/D/A has available that works with your signal chain without glitching. Course, for me that's not saying much given my love of automated, realtime DSP but few misuse their processors like I do.

    Thanks for linking us up to something so interesting to read!

  • Jordan Harris

    LP's are not dead. Are you serious?

  • Jordan Harris


  • Runagate –
    THink of it this way: Buffer size is set at a constant number of samples. At higher sampling rates, the same number of samples is used to represent a shorter bit of audio.

    This means the buffer is then a shorter bit of audio.

    The downside here is if your CPU can't handle it, you'll get more glitching. For various reasons, some systems can handle shorter buffers at lower bit rates and some systems can handle larger buffers at higher bit rates.

    Annoying, yes. But worth time to experiment.

  • LPs are not dead in that people still make and listen to them. But, yes, I can say seriously that the notion that a two-sided vinyl disc is no longer the dominant and exclusive means by which you structure musical output. Nor is a 78, a wax cylinder, an 8-track… and while billions of dollars of CDs get sold, anyone selling music online can format the idea of an album however they like. I mean, that's kinda obvious, right? Part of the reason LPs are making a small comeback is because of this new agnostic approach to format. And it is a relic of another time – it just proves you can buy it anyway.

  • Jordan Harris

    That's absolutely true. They don't structure musical output like they used to. But they're not gone! 🙂 I agree with you that the idea of an album is arbitrary and not entirely necessary in the age of online music sales. But the idea of the album is still dominant. So the LP is still with us in that sense, which of course you already stated. So are they really gone? Even in the dj world, the idea of djing evolved around the media used, LPs. We still see a lot of different interfaces for the art though emulating that format. So while the format is not there, the idea of it still is. It's a very exciting time thought to see new ideas developing about musical interfaces and distribution, though, as reported on CDM. 🙂

  • Imogen, I'd be your boyfriend.

  • Zoopy

    Imogen looks like a demon

  • I'm really looking forward to the new Heap album. I've been following her charming vBlogs for a while now; I love getting glimpses into her creative process.

  • Simon

    I think we need to differentiate between talking about the LP as an album and as a format (i.e. a 12" record)… especially if we're talking about DJing, considering that long-playing records are very rarely used by DJs and never really have been, at least as far as dance music goes.

  • @Simon: absolutely, and that's the point, I think, that format (musically speaking) is now more or less entirely abstracted from different physical media.