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Overpriced CDs?

The fact that the music industry was much healthier in the preceding decades does not sit well with folks who have adopted the worldview that free music, detatched from the shackles of cold capitalism, sounds better and survives better.

I have recently read a few articles which claim that “the price of CDs was inflated in the 90s.”  Prices may have increased slightly during the 80s and 90s, but at most should be small complaints.  Paying for music is noble; it’s fun, it creates value, and all things considered, it’s always worth it.

Our new culture continues on thin ice.  As we tiptoe into the 21st century stubbornly defending our newfound internet-trumps-all philosophy, we’re forced to  deny the evidence as it yells to us from the shore, desperately waving.  We’re forced to justify certain inconvenient realities.  How exactly did those primitive, apelike beings in the 80s and 90s luck out with such an “overly-healthy” music industry?  The most fantastic and apalling explanation I’ve run across is that CDs were “overpiced” in the 80s and 90s.

I’m confused by this worldview.  Let’s compare even “inflated” album prices to other examples of cultural brain-food: films and video games.

A movie costs twelve to twenty bucks.  It’s hit or miss, and yet we gladly pay it.  Of course we do – films are something of great value to us and our complicated, content-hungry, imaginative brains.  There’s no replay value when you see a film in the theater – show’s over.  Movies on other mediums such as streaming or DVD have varying replay value (I’ve seen The original Tron and Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life uncountable times) but generally once you’ve seen a movie, you’ve seen a movie.

Mainstream video game prices have started to approach sixty bucks or even more.  The experience is also quite a risk, with the quality of games ranging on an enormous spectrum from doo-doo to life-changing.  The replay value is generally much higher than film, but with notable exceptions (Dark Souls, anyone?) I find myself petering out with a new game after a couple days to a few weeks.

When buying CDs was a common activity one would expect to pay around twelve to fifteen bucks (maybe close to twenty in some cases) for an album.  But a great album, as we’ve all experienced, is a gift that keeps on giving.  I have records I can pick up and put on now, even after years and years, and still enjoy like sex and drugs had a baby.  Afer hours and hours with Cake’s Fashion Nugget, miles and miles in the car with Radiohead’s The Bends, years and years with The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, I still can’t get enough.  I’ve spent more time listening to Frank Black’s Teenager Of The Year than the guy probably spent writing the damn thing.  Sometimes the water gets deeper and deeper.  With each new friend I get to experience the album again through new ears.  It’s a magical, spiritual, empowering, theraputic, and social experience unlike any other and it cost me a measly 20 bucks.

The risk with buying an album was lower, too – you generally had sampled a song or two, whether on the radio or elsewhere, or you knew the artist already.  That’s not to say I haven’t bought plenty of stinkers – but again, that’s not some kind of justification for not paying for something.  That’s how art works.  It’s a risk, and you’re paying for the experience. You’re paying for the love of music.  You’re paying to involve yourself in something creative, mysterious, and maybe even challenging.

I don’t want to over-emphasize the specifics of pricing vs. risk and reward though.  With art, those arguments tend to be nebulous.  The point is this:  it confuses me to see people arguing against paying for music when we gladly fork over the cash for any other form of cultural exchange.

I’ve been open to the new methodology of digital music – in fact, I recently read an interview from 2010 where I seemed much more positive and hopeful about this new internet world.

But I am more and more skeptical as the evidence rolls in.  The value of the music industry has been cut in half since 2000, despite more avenues for music than ever.  I see a stronger 1%, taking up more of the airways, not less.  I see a weak, struggling, and dying “middle class” of musicians, not a stronger and more varied one.  Remember genres?  Metal?  Ska?  Everything has conformed into a strange social anthem – a mix of electronic, dance, pop, and commercial rock that sounds repulsive to anyone still awake.

But no one seems to be awake.

The only “controversial” voices in music are people like Dave Grohl – as much as I dig the man, I think that points to the problem – why are the only relevant musical voices left over 40?  Why are the only movers and shakers bands I was listening to when I was 12 years old?  That shouldn’t be the case, folks.

Buying albums is fun.  It’s our vote.  It’s the most fun act of goodwill you can participate in.  It’s rewarding.  And in my opinion, it’s the only way we can sustain a music culture that creates these beautiful collections of songs, from unique, creative artists.  It’s the best way to support teams of musicians, producers and engineers who make truly great albums possible.

Enough!  Enough of this entitled justification of getting what we want for free.  Enough of this idea that albums have become super cheap to make.  It isn’t as true as you think – trust me, if you value my own experience at all.  Also, more important than the costs of production are the costs of sustaining human beings through production, sometimes for a year or more. Buying records needs to become culturally relevant again – how?  I’m not sure.  But it’s the only way to bring back a vibrant universe of varied musicians, a “middle class” if you will – where the focus is a little more on innovation, poetic honestly, artistic integrity.  Not a huge pop star, or a lousy wannabe, but a skilled, committed artist, facilitated by a team of technical experts, creating a sonic world for you to take with you as you go through life – always loving you, always bringing out the hidden magic from the seams.

Lyme – my recent health nightmare.

I’m not sure how many people come by here lately.  I just wanted to inform any fans what I’ve been up to, as I haven’t been keeping everything updated nearly as much as I’ve been wanting to.  In fact, many a musical goal and dream,  and my life in general, has been cut short this year due to one unfortunate factor:  Chronic Lyme disease.  I was diagnosed in February of this year, after seeing about six doctors who shrugged me off.

If you’re anything like me before I caught it myself, you don’t know much about Lyme disease.  You probably know that it’s a tick-borne disease, and can be mild to semi-serious.  What you didn’t probably know, as I didn’t, is that in some individuals Lyme can be completely debilitating.  It can become chronic, recruit co-infections, latch on to the brain and other susceptible tissues, and incapacitate people.  Since starting to notice symptoms a year ago, my world has become quite an uncomfortable place.  I’ve learned more about this insidious disease than I ever wanted to.  I’ve been forced to leave jobs, time spent working on music has been cut in half, I lost my studio and life in New York this month to be under the wing of family, and most of my time has become managing insurance, trying a to find a doctor with some answers, and reaching out to the thousands of sufferers worldwide who share my confusing plight.  So far, the emerging problems have outnumbered the solutions.

Many think ‘aches and pains’ when it comes to Lyme symptoms.  I actually had very few of those symptoms.  For a quick rundown, let me just explain what my symptoms entail day to day at this point.  I often get responses like “well, we’re getting older” or “it might be allergies” when I mention my Lyme infection to folks, even family members, so let me just paint a more detailed picture.  I wake up with the hangover from hell every morning.  It feels like my brain has been out partying without me.  The first thing I notice is strange sounds in my ears.  I have ever-present tinnitus since I got Lyme, extremely scary being a musician.  Frequently one ear or the other will go completely deaf temporarily, even scarier.  Sometimes the noises become louder and sound like a fire burning at close range – imagine having a washing machine strapped to your head.  At times I get strange tickles and pressure in my ears as well.  Headache and meningitis-like neck soreness is an ever-present reality – the headaches range from mild to incapacitating.  My mind takes a couple hours to start working at all in the morning.  I experience dizziness and vision problems as I wake up and walk around, trying to feel semi-normal.  The fatigue is overwhelming and constant.  Many brain processes that I used to take for granted have started to require extreme focus, as neurological Lyme affects the brain’s higher functioning processes.  Reading, for example, has become a difficult chore.  My memory has become all but useless.  Last week, for example, I bought some tea at the grocer, paid for it, and two hours later realized I had left it on the counter at the store.  I experience frequent muscle spasms.  Every fifteen minutes or so, a part of an arm or leg just starts twitching wildly, which gets quite annoying.  My perception of reality has become very weird – with the vision, hearing, and balance problems, I feel like a 90-year old man.  My voice control and vocal tone has changed.  There are other digestive, lymphatic, and sexual symptoms which I will spare you the details of.  At night, I get some relief from the persistent brain fog.  It lifts for a few hours, but then comes the insomnia.  A common symptom for neuro Lyme is difficulty sleeping – and I was already an insomniac.  Now it takes me hours to fall asleep, to a world of vivid nightmares.

I know these are gross and weird to hear about.  Let me just remind you:  I’m 31 years old.  I’m not a health nut by any means, but I did take my health seriously.  I exercised on the regular, I was at least aware of what I ate, and I was never a heavy binge drinker or anything.  From one lousy tick bite, my life has changed, and my dreams of making great music have all seemed to be called into question.  I’m at the peak of my game, with 33 new solo tracks half-recorded, for example (which I think may be my best songs yet!).  I was just starting my professional career, I had just “made it” in life and music, and I was finally feeling like things would be achievable.  I desperately wish I had my energy and mind back again – I hunger and ache to be marketing my bands’ new releases and finishing some of the best work of my life.  It is extremely, overwhelmingly frustrating.

But something is even more disconcerting than the Lyme itself: the surprising lack of awareness or sympathy in our society, the bizarre lack of answers from our modern medical system, the hundreds of sufferers I’ve met from all walks of life, and the unusual conspiracy involving Lyme denialism within the US insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

It’s easy to pass off uncomfortable health issues in our minds when we run across them.  Life is hard enough, and I’ve been there too – we think, ‘oh, this person was unhealthy’, or ‘this person is exaggerating’, or, ‘if I was bitten by a tick I would remove it before there was any issue’, etc.  We tend to justify things in our minds.

But this disease affects an incredible amount of young people.  Healthy, physically active people with few prior health issues.  This year alone, 300,000 – 400,000 cases – that’s right – have been reported, and seeing what I’ve seen of the stigmatization of this disease, it’s certainly an underestimate.  And it turns out that many of the signs for Lyme, such as the ring around the tick bite, are exaggerated (for example, I didn’t have the ring; in as many as 50% of Lyme cases there is no ring present).

I’ve seen teen girls in wheelchairs, denied any immediate hope.  I’ve seen families of suffers, losing jobs, losing marriages.  I’ve seen creative musicians, heard heartbreaking accounts from professional writers, so many people just falling down without any support.  My own family seems a bit confused by the whole thing, and hasn’t yet realized that life has changed drastically for me.  Talking to many victims of the disease, that seems to be the hardest part for everyone:  this strange denial of help and empathy from people we love when we need it the most.

In a world obsessed with Ebola, and ALS, and H1N1, it’s even more strange to see this insidious disease go mostly ignored in the public eye.  Lyme represents a very real epidemic happening right under our noses, at this very moment.  This is exactly why I’ve always been an advocate for science:  these are the kinds of problems that should be learning opportunities for our species, but instead we choose to look the other way.  The stigmatization of Lyme represents a humanitarian blemish on the history of American medicine.

I’ve tried to be as positive as I can.  I start each day with meditation, trying to envision health and get myself in a positive state.  I’ve tried to continue as normal where I can.  But…. so many little issues branch out from this thing.  Its rough as hell, I’m not kidding.  It may have become a little more awkward in our internet culture to speak honestly about the negative things in life:  but this is where I’m at right now.

Ok.  This blog post isn’t exactly well-edited or put together – I just kind of did a stream-of-consciousness. There are so many points I wish I could write about in depth a little more.  But writing is tiring.  Let me just throw a few links your way if you’re interested in having your mind blown – an epidemic exists right below the surface of our society, and isn’t being handled at all.  And if you have any advice or experience with Lyme, please, I’m looking for all the help I can get.  I want to get back on my feet and start making music again!

Great writer Amy Tan paints a picture of her struggle with Lyme

Shadowland of the Mind – some of the strange stigmatization of this infectious disease

Under Our Skin:  A recent must-see documentary on Lyme…watch here online

 

Blinddog

Here’s one of my favorites from the new Cruise Elroy record – Blinddog, in its entirety:

Don’t forget to grab the new full-length album (as well as the two EPs) from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/cruise-elroy/id896523711

CruiseElroy_cover

These are what the covers look like.  I designed the synthesizer for the album cover, with some shading, graphic design, and finishing touches from Jarrett Hirtz.  The two EP covers were done by me.

bonus_AlienOpenMousInvert

Cruise Elroy EP2 (front)

 

Bipolar

CruiseElroy_cover

Here’s a clip from Bipolar, one of the new tracks from the Cruise Elroy album:

Don’t forget to pick up your copy today!  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cruise-elroy/id936934402

The new Cruise Elroy full-length album is out now!

After three years of hard work, the Cruise Elroy album is finally done!  It’s available now on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cruise-elroy/id936934402

CruiseElroy_cover

Here’s a clip of the last track – Anthem For Evolution.

Stay tuned for more album news and clips from the record!

music! ! ! !

Here’s a roundup of all the new tunes you can hear from my projects. Don’t forget to grab your copy of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy for super cheap on iTunes ….or similar. Google Play, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon – these places all have the new music from Cruise Elroy as well!

Here are the recently uploaded songs from Cruise Elroy:

Here are the released tracks from my youthful tongue-in-cheek explosion Future Caveman – the record is finished and will be released soon…

Turn Up The Volume. New Music Is Here!!

Cruise Elroy EP2 (front)My new project Cruise Elroy has now released TWO EPs!  You can get EP1 on iTunes here and EP2 on iTunes here!

EP2 includes our most epic, symphonic song ever – Sisyphus – as well as a song called Killer which is quickly becoming the fan favorite.  It also includes the piano-smashing Amelia and a song called Ghost from the upcoming full-length album.

Each of the EPs have six tracks, and even though we are calling them EPs they’re stuffed full with epic tracks and surprises worthy of a complete album.  Jake Thro, Brett Ripley and me (formerly calling ourselves Chris Merritt or the Chris Merritt Band) have put huge quantities of effort and love into these EPs.  We’ve been working on this band called Cruise Elroy for three or more years now, writing, playing, recording, mixing, remixing, re recording, writing new songs, throwing songs out, remixing, remixing……and…….. remixing!

If you’re sick of safe music, sick of lame music, sick of marketing-disguised-as-music, sick of the one percent having free reign of the popular music industry, and you like what Cruise Elroy is making here, please, grab your copy of these albums on iTunes or Google Play or Amazon to help us in our musical quest.  Or, just listen on Spotify for free, and consider giving us some “likes” or reviews on iTunes! We would appreciate it like…. a lot!!!

I’ve also uploaded many of these songs to YouTube and Vimeo!  Give ‘em a listen!!  Listen again!  Listen thrice!!  And PLEASE – give us some likes and comments, and let other music fans know about us.  We dedicate endless man-hours to try and make something genuine, new, and hopefully delightful.

Comments!  Likes!  Shares!
It’s the result of three years of non-stop work. And it is certified to grow your brain by 6%. Or was it shrink your brain by 6%?

Either way, you’re in for an existential treat!
Chris

It’s here! New music! Listen RIGHT NOW!!

After three years of working on new projects, I’m finally getting to a good place to start sharing them.

insert_coin001Firstly, I’m way late in mentioning this – but my new project Future Caveman has their premier show this weekend in Queens, NY.  The information can be found here, and you can also buy tickets.

Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 9:00 PM.

Queens Theatre (ya know, at the Unisphere, from Men In Black and King Of Queens)
14 United Nations Ave S
Queens, NY 11368

If you’re in the area, you should definitely make this show.  We played a warm-up show at a family picnic and we put the crowd into some kind of stunned paralysis.  I THINK in a good way…. :)

I posted some songs from the new album on YouTube!  FINALLY REVEALED!!!  You can literally listen to them RIGHT NOW if you want.

Piano – http://youtu.be/_s-2EKUK64w

White Light – http://youtu.be/KRL6J4rMVXA

The Game – http://youtu.be/fth8mPIlqSg

Geronimo – http://youtu.be/hTyWqRPmME0

Cruise Elroy, my other new project (which is made up of the members of the former Chris Merritt band) is also releasing music.  It’s our best work yet in my opinion.  It may be some kind of masterpiece.  We’re releasing two EPs before the album, and you can get them NOW on iTunes and Spotify.  Just search “Cruise Elroy” “EP1″ and “EP2″.  I’ll be talking more about Cruise in the coming days, but I want to spread out all this new music so I don’t spoil you guys.  Oh, yeah, and the main reason I’m posting is to get bodies to the Future Caveman show, so, totally come.

Groove

Some quick thoughts on groove.

What is groove?  I’ve spent the last two years dealing with drums.  Sometimes it feels like 90% of the recording process involves minimizing damage from these giant obtrusive gunshot machines.  Drums are nothing but transients, atonal spikes of noise in the beautiful song.  They are difficult to control to say the least.  A guitar takes one microphone (zero if you go direct) and sounds fun no matter what you do to it.  A drumset on the other hand can have up to twelve mics (I’d say my bands average around ten).  Luckily, I work with killer musicians.

Anyway, I’ve thought a lot about groove, and what it is.  In our digital-bias culture, the obvious answer seems quantization.  Pop it in the music machine and get those hits on the exact correct beat.    Most of the time people quantize to the beat or attempt to tighten things by putting them right on an exact grid, the tempo of the song.  But the specific mechanism of groove truly eludes me.  There’s something interesting with time and the brain happening, clearly.  The human mind is a genius at calling out bad rhythm.  We’re pattern recognizers.  We love the snare kick, snare kick, snare kick pattern.  We get the beat, we get the concept, and our brain gets near orgasmic as it extrapolates this rhythm outward in musical imagination.  So groove then is pattern recognition…. but the brain is smart.  Copy and paste a snare and bass to a grid in protools…. listen to the horrible sound that comes out on loop.  The brain immediately knows the difference between something naturally imitated and an exact copy.  It turns out that an exact copy is mostly distracting, and not at all groovy.

So the observations I’ve made so far – groove is human.  This obsession with the click and putting things on a grid is not musical.  This idea that music is ever at a constant tempo…. I think kind of absurd and limiting, actually.  But also useful, I mean, I do it all the time, and sometimes I love that daft punk trance thing you get with perfect electronic precision.  So I’m not coming down all anti-tech, but for real.  I think having this grid system integrate into our entire musical culture mostly just doesn’t even make sense.  I KNOW that if some enterprising pop producer did a record with great musicians and no click track, it would really stick out in our current atmosphere of quantized noise.

But the guys that really groove, ya know.  Lennon could groove with his vocals.  It’s bass and drums often, yeah, but it’s everything.  And there’s hit.  There’s groove in every note, it’s not all just contextual to other notes.  A good drummer like plays one note and it grooves somehow.  What is that “somehow”?  Well, part of it, as I see it, is really getting a great attack on the instrument.  Drummers who groove know how to play to drums EXACTLY together.  It also has to do with waiting for that elusive ONE.  If you can hit that one beat, you can kind of get a little loose and comical in the middle.  Groove also seems to intensify when there is a deviation from the perfect grid.  Someone like Bonham or something knew how to do this to almost a godlike level.  He would push or pull on the tempo to compliment the mood and feeling of the song…. sort of push or pull within the measure, but consistently, with perfect ones, and it creates a very groovy loop feel.  The imperfections become cool and make character if they are consistent.  My first piano teacher always said, if you make a mistake, just do it again.

Anyway.  I couldn’t find much online about this, so if anyone has thoughts or resources on pinning down groove scientifically, please keep me informed!  Thanks!

Szukalski

How did a human being make these things?

Stanislav Szukalski (1893 – 1987).  Find out more about him here!