Author: johnnywestmusic

i was born a leafless tree in a field of soccer balls. communicating was difficult, but we devised our own methods.

All’s well that ends with the eradication of glitches.

You’re probably getting sick of hearing about my video-related travails by now, but in the interest of being thorough I’m going to tell you how it all turned out.

When last we met, I’d just finished rendering every segment of a one-hundred-and-fifty-three-minute-long homemade documentary from scratch as a bunch of HD WMV files. After converting them to MP4s, I found there were still moments where the sound stuttered. Even though they were all 1920×1080 files, some segments featured video content that had a different aspect ratio within those dimensions (mainly MiniDV footage and some of the public domain stuff), and HandBrake decided to recognize the aspect ratio of that footage instead of the aspect ratio everything was rendered at. Since the characteristics of the individual files no longer matched, it became impossible to join them together and create one large file.

I took my higher-quality joined-together WMV file and tried re-encoding that as an MP4. I got fourteen glitches for my trouble. They didn’t show up in the same places they appeared in my original file, but they were still there.

I was running out of ideas when I thought of Bob at Unique Video Systems. That guy has been immersed in all things video for decades. If anyone was going to have a fresh take on the situation, it was him.

For the first time, I got someone on the horn who was willing to talk to me for more than ten seconds and prepared to offer advice beyond “just convert your file to an MP4” (which was the whole crux of my problem). He asked me some questions about Vegas, offered some suggestions, and said he knew someone who once taught the program at St. Clair College and might be able to lend some additional insight.

After talking to a guy at a computer place who told me I was wasting my time and I should give up on the whole thing — and this was the response I got when I offered to pay him to help me troubleshoot the problem — it was encouraging to have a conversation that imparted a different message.

One thing Bob suggested was checking to see if Vegas would let me make an AVCHD file. It did. Sort of. A ten-second test clip rendered just fine. Anything much longer than that and the program would crash on me. In a repeat of what happened ten years ago when I was first teaching myself how to use Vegas, I tried MOV files. They looked good but sounded like crap. I tried MPEG files. They sounded good but looked like crap. I didn’t try AVI files. An uncompressed AVI of this thing would have been impossible to work with. The file size would have been ridiculous.

I brought Bob my WMV file and asked if he could take a shot at making an MP4 out of it. Maybe he would have better luck than me. His system rendered an MP4 that was free of audio glitches…and in their place were a whole slew of visual glitches. Better still, the sound drifted way out of sync.

He told me this was a common problem, and the only way around it might be to go back to the timeline and re-edit the whole thing so each piece of video footage was an MP4 at the source. That wouldn’t just entail re-rendering the segments I stitched together to make a larger file. It would involve re-editing every single element I used to edit those segments, rebuilding the whole film from the ground up. If that was what it was going to take to lick this thing, I was prepared to cut my losses and walk around with a scowl on my face for the rest of my life. I’m stubborn, and I don’t like to give up on anything, but after a month of pounding away at this problem and getting nowhere I was ready to move on.

The only idea I had left was to try importing my Vegas files into a newer version of the program in the hope that I would then have access to better MP4 rendering settings. I downloaded a free trial version of Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 17. No way was I going to pay five hundred bucks for the Pro version if I had to buy it, and I thought it would be best to stick with the same lower-tier version I was already working with for maximum compatibility. A pile of other programs came bundled with the free download. When I tried to download the new version of Vegas on its own, the download helper crashed. When I tried to download everything in one go, I’d get all the programs I didn’t have any use for, and then Vegas would fail.

It was starting to look pretty hopeless. I’d tried everything I could think of and I was right back where I started. I couldn’t make an MP4 file at the source that didn’t look like crap, and I couldn’t convert my nice-looking WMV files to MP4s without something going wrong with the sound.

I always use the “Make Movie” menu to render my videos with Vegas. There’s a separate menu called “Render As”. I always assumed it was the same thing given a different name. I took another look at it for something to do. Guess what? Clicking on “Custom…” in the “Render As” menu lets you tweak a bunch of settings you don’t have access to in the “Make Movie” menu.

Now I know why all my MP4 files kept coming out looking like this:

The video bitrate is fixed at well under 2 Mbps even for the MP4 templates that claim to offer better resolution. That’s just mean. I bumped it up to 10 Mbps. The clouds parted. Birds started singing Puccini’s “Turandot”. I pulled it back down to 6 Mbps, which was right around where my HD WMV files were living, and didn’t notice any difference in quality. Then I created my own template tailored to the precise specifications Vimeo lists in their “Video Compression Guidelines”.

In case there’s anyone else out there who’s still using the buggy, maddening mess that is Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0, if you’ve ever run into a similar problem these are the parameters that will set you free.

Save as type: Sony AVC (*.mp4; *m2ts; *avc)

Video rendering quality: Best

Video format: AVC
Frame size: High definition (1920×1080)
Profile: High
Entropy coding: CAVLC
Frame rate: 29.970 (NTSC)
Field order: (whatever looks best to you)
Pixel aspect ratio: 1.0000
Bitrate (bps): 6,000,000

Audio format: AAC
Sample rate (Hz): 48,000
Bitrate (bps): 320,000

Format: MP4 file format (.mp4)

This produces an H.264/AAC-compliant MP4 file that will hump the leg of Vimeo, YouTube, or any other video hosting website all day long. No glitches. No re-encoding necessary. You can raise the bitrate as high as you’d like. I set mine at 6 Mbps to keep the file sizes reasonable.

Not that my trouble ended there.

I had to re-render each segment of my video from scratch. Again. Vegas got even testier now that I was making MP4s that didn’t look like hot death. It was almost as if the program wanted to punish me for forcing it to do my bidding. Some of my segments had to be split into two or three even smaller segments in order to get them to render, and even then it was a crapshoot. Sometimes Vegas would crash at an arbitrary stage of the rendering process and I would have to trick it into getting over the hump the second or third time through. Sometimes no amount of trickery did any good. One bit of footage that had never been an issue before now wouldn’t render in black and white. Vegas decided it didn’t like a few of my still images anymore. When I replaced those images with video footage that ate up far more memory and processing power, it was fine. It made no sense.

My final concern was joining all the files together. There were now almost thirty of them, and I had to get creative with where some of the transition points were. Would Avidemux connect all those files so the seams between them didn’t show at all? Would the resulting Frankenstein file upload to Vimeo without incident?

Yes. Oh yes.

So now I have a version of this thing on Vimeo that’s stutter-free. A quick recap of what it took to get here:

  • Tried to edit the film as one unbroken thing but Vegas wouldn’t let me, so I broke it up into sixteen segments
  • Stitched those segments together with Steeper
  • Uploaded my final WMV file to Vimeo and found the sound stuttered in unexpected places
  • Spent the next week or two uploading the file over and over again, even re-editing a few parts to try and eradicate the glitches, only to learn my WMV file was being re-encoded as an MP4 and that was the source of the problem
  • Spent a few days re-rendering every segment of video in MP4 form, which was a complete waste of time because those MP4s came out looking like they were run through a cheese grater
  • Spent a few days re-re-rendering every segment of video as higher quality WMV files with an aim toward converting each individual segment into an MP4 file and then joining them all together
  • HandBrake decided the files had different aspect ratios even though they didn’t, making the joining process impossible
  • Joined my higher-quality WMV files together with Steeper and tried uploading that file to Vimeo in the hope that it wouldn’t suffer from so many glitches (my hope was in vain; the glitches just showed up in different places)
  • Tried making WMV files using different video and audio codecs (again, once they were converted into MP4s the glitches were still there…all they did was move around to keep things interesting)
  • Tried other video formats like MOV and MPEG, with no useful results
  • Tried downloading a newer version of Vegas; the download failed
  • Got someone with more advanced tools to try re-encoding my WMV file as an MP4; the audio stuttering disappeared, but it was replaced with even worse visual glitches
  • Stumbled onto access to a level of customization I didn’t think this scaled-down version of Vegas allowed, which allowed me to make the kind of files Vimeo wanted in the first place
  • Spent a few days re-re-re-rendering everything as MP4s and was forced to break things up into even smaller segments
  • Joined all the smaller files into one large file with Avidemux
  • Uploaded that file to Vimeo
  • Slept for fifteen years

One thing Bob said to me was, “There is a solution. It’s just probably incredibly tedious.” Man, was he ever right. I’ve had my issues with video editing before, but they were nothing compared to this.

I’m stuck halfway between relief and exasperation. This whole thing could have been avoided if this stupid version of Vegas had a single menu for video rendering that allowed the user to adjust all the parameters in one place. But that would have been easy. And as I’ve said before, apparently nothing that has any connection to YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK can be easy.

There was no way to keep my final MP4 file under the 5 GB upload limit imposed by my Vimeo Plus account. I had to upgrade to Vimeo Pro. I’m not thrilled about paying four times the amount it was costing me before to host some videos on a website, but paying Wistia twenty times that amount for the ability to upload no more than ten videos wasn’t gonna fly. I like you, Wistia, but not that much. At least there’s no ceiling on how many videos I can host on Vimeo, so long as I don’t exceed my shiny new 20 GB weekly limit.

In the thick of it all, I figured out just how compromised our internet speed was. I thought things were running slow because my computer was getting older. That wasn’t the problem. This was the problem: we were paying for 25 Mbps, and we were getting 5 Mbps, if that. Our upload speed was about 0.6 Mbps.

That’s…not good. At that speed, uploading my master MP4 file to Vimeo would have taken twenty-four hours. Maybe longer.

Johnny Smith worked his magic and got a Bell tech to come out to the house last week. He upgraded us from our degraded old copper cabling to a new fiber optic setup. Now the upload and download speeds both top 50 Mbps — and that’s using the wireless router. The file that would have taken a whole day to upload took about twenty minutes. Files that used to take half an hour to upload to the WordPress server now take ten seconds. I’m still getting used to the speed difference.

Another good thing to come out of this debacle: my homemade documentary looks a bit better now. It topped out at 480p when I had to work within the limitations of my Vimeo Plus account. Now it goes up to 1080. The MP4 looks a little different from the WMV files I’m used to. It’s sharper, and the colours seem to pop a little more. It took me a day or two to adjust to the change. Now I don’t think I’ll ever make another WMV file. I’ve gone back and replaced most of the videos I’ve uploaded to Vimeo over the years with new and improved MP4 versions, and I’ve done the same with a handful of videos here. The difference in quality is not subtle.

I kind of wish I’d figured all of this out a long time ago. Could have saved myself a whole lot of unnecessary anguish. And I still don’t understand why these specific WMV files gave me so much trouble after a decade of hassle-free uploading. But a happy ending is a happy ending no matter how you happen to get there.

The saga continues.

I guess I owe Vimeo an apology. Come to find out the problem with the video wasn’t their doing after all.

Sorry Vimeo. (Your bedside manner still kind of stinks, though.)

It’s pretty funny to me that the only really human response I was able to get from anyone didn’t come from either of the websites I’ve spent years paying for, but from someone affiliated with a site I’ve never given a dime. A dude named Falcon (is that a great name or what?) told me — again — that my best bet would probably be to re-encode my video as an MP4 file, but he said HandBrake would probably take care of that without any noticeable dip in quality.

He was right. And after converting my WMV file into an MP4, I discovered those same stuttering issues were present in the very same spots they showed up on Vimeo.

I thought if I re-encoded each video segment from scratch on Vegas and made them all MP4s I could just stitch those files together to make one big MP4 file and we’d all live happily ever after. I spent two days doing that, only to learn Vegas is incapable of spitting out a reasonable-looking MP4 file. It doesn’t matter how high you set the resolution. The results are unusable. So that was a complete waste of time.

Then I thought Steeper was the culprit. Maybe when it joined all those smaller WMV files together it created a larger file that wasn’t very agreeable to the MPEG-4 codec. If I used HandBrake to re-encode each individual WMV file and then joined all those MP4s together with a program like Avidemux, I assumed I would have a single glitch-free MP4 ready to upload to Vimeo, or Wistia, or wherever I wanted to put it. So I started re-rendering each segment from scratch again — this time as higher quality WMV files to minimize whatever small amount of degradation the re-encoding stage might introduce. The first time around I rendered everything at 640×480 to keep the file sizes down. This time I opted for a frame rate of 1280×720 and doubled the video and audio quality.

It was going pretty well. The occasional stutter was still showing up even in the smaller individual files after I converted them into MP4s, but there weren’t nearly as many of them, and they were pretty unobtrusive. Just when I thought I’d turned a corner, HandBrake decided a few 1280×720 videos weren’t 1280×720 at all because some of the Mini-DV and public domain footage didn’t satisfy those dimensions. There was no way to work around that, which made fusing those MP4 files together impossible, since their aspect ratios no longer matched.

All this for something only twelve people will ever see.

Back to the drawing board again, then. I thought I found another potential solution in the JWPlayer (those are my initials, for crying out loud!). It sounded like just what I needed. You pay ten bucks a month for a bunch of server space and an embeddable player, and they support WMV files. Beautiful. All I need is to be able to upload this file somewhere that will allow me to connect it with an embeddable player, and if I can somehow bypass the re-encoding stage this stuttering issue will no longer exist.

I did a little more reading and found out they re-encode anything you send them as an MP4. Of course they do. For the low price of $2,400 a year you can pay them for “customized video solutions”, but I’m not willing to go that far.

It doesn’t help that no one will tell me what a timestamp overlap is or how to fix it. The best I’ve been able to get in the way of constructive advice is the very useful information that WMV is a shitty format and I should use something else. IT’S ALMOST AS IF I CAN’T RENDER TO ANY OTHER FORMAT AND I’M STUCK WITH THIS ONE.

I would be happy to pay someone to take my WMV file, perform some technological wizardry, and make it into an MP4 file that isn’t buggy. No one seems to have any interest in offering any serious assistance. So I persist, coming up with one idea after another, and each idea leads nowhere.

If I knew this was going to happen, I would have set Sony Vegas on fire, pissed on its charred remains, bought Final Cut Pro, learned how to use it, and saved myself a whole lot of grief. I’d go ahead and do that now if I thought I could re-edit the whole thing from the ground up and render the results as a nice-looking MP4. But I refuse to believe there isn’t some way to pivot around this. If two pieces of something are overlapping, you should be able to pull them apart so they line up the way they’re supposed to. And if there’s nothing wrong with your original file(s), the re-encoding process shouldn’t be fraught with so much difficulty.

One thing’s for sure — however it plays out, I won’t be working on anything video-related for a good long time after this.

It’s always something.

There are two reasons my DIY documentary hasn’t gone live on the blog yet. The first is pretty innocuous. I underestimated how long it would take me to put together the giant blog post that’s supposed to accompany the video content. I’m still working on it here and there. The second reason is a good deal more frustrating, and part of the reason I haven’t finished the blog post yet. Distractions: they’re what’s for brunch.

I started using Vimeo to host some of my videos a few years ago. The maximum file size I’m allowed to upload here is about one gigabyte, which is a little strange since I’m paying for 38 GB of storage space. I’ve been able to work around this for the most part, but back when I still hung around Facebook there were times when I wanted to embed a video over there without having to link to a blog post. Vimeo allowed me to do that. When they removed the functionality of the embeddable video player for users with basic accounts, I upgraded to a Plus account and got on with my business. Then Facebook stopped supporting Vimeo’s player and I couldn’t embed anything there anymore.

It didn’t bother me a whole lot. I grew to like Vimeo. It was fast, it was easy, and it didn’t blink at files the WordPress server didn’t want to play ball with. The weekly 5 GB upload limit wasn’t very generous, but it was far more than I would ever need. Even the re-encoding process was pretty invisible.

My feelings for Vimeo have soured over the last week or two. It’s not me. It’s them. I’ve been trying and failing to upload a version of this documentary that isn’t glitchy. If I upload a shorter segment, everything’s fine. When I upload the whole thing, the video and sound stutter in some places. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to happen if your internet connection wasn’t able to handle the video you were trying to watch and it kept buffering. But buffering isn’t the issue here.

I re-edited a segment or two where the stuttering was really noticeable, thinking maybe there was too much visual information in those parts for Vimeo to handle. It didn’t make any difference. I updated my MacBook’s operating system — something I’ve resisted doing for years — and made sure my browser was up to date. I made sure no other programs were open during the uploading process and there was nothing else hogging any of the browser’s resources. I must have tried uploading the same video seven or eight different times. It kept stuttering in the same places. It didn’t help that I could only do this so many times in a week, since you’re only allowed to replace an existing video with a new file once or twice before it starts to count toward your weekly limit.

The size of the file I’m working with is a hair over 3 GB. It takes almost twelve hours to upload. I can’t close my browser or allow my computer to slip into sleep mode at any point throughout that twelve-hour period. A whole day disappears every time I try to fix a problem I didn’t create. As a point of comparison, it took me about four hours to back up more than 450 GB of stuff from my MacBook’s hard drive when I updated my macOS to High Sierra (and that’s as far as I’m willing to go, because too many programs I rely on are no longer supported by Mojave).

I couldn’t figure it out. I’ve asked Vimeo to deal with a ton of WMV files before this. I never had a problem with any of them. One of those files was about half the size of this one. It took six or seven hours to upload (oh, the joys of having a slow internet connection), but there was none of this stuttering junk when it was done. My original file plays all the way through without any issues on a 2009 Acer laptop that runs like a slug and should be dead by now. It’s also glitch-free on my MacBook, which is no spring chicken itself. It isn’t 4K or HD. It’s not a huge or complex file. And yet Vimeo can’t seem to handle it.

I had to pester Vimeo Support to get them to acknowledge me, and what I got was little more than a brush off. I was told the issue was a timestamp overlap, which I assume was created at the re-encoding stage. I was told to try uploading an MP4 file instead. And that was it. I don’t know what causes a timestamp overlap or how you fix it, but I know I didn’t create it, and when you pay for the privilege of receiving assistance in a situation like this only to get a curt “change your file format and stop wasting my time” when you ask for help, well…let’s just say I won’t be recommending you to any of my friends after this, Vimeo.

I tried appealing to WordPress. I explained the situation. I’ve never needed to upload a file this large before. I’ll never need to do it again. All I want is to be able to host this file somewhere so I can embed it in a blog post. I told them I would be willing to pay for some temporary WordPress superpowers that would allow me to upload a larger file. After paying for this blog’s server space for twelve years running, I thought I might have built up enough goodwill for them to give me a pass this one time.

The response I got was a little more detailed than what I was able to squeeze out of Vimeo, but it wasn’t any more helpful. The guy who wrote back told me there was no way to get around the maximum upload file size. He said WMV wasn’t a great format anyway and I should consider re-encoding my video as an MP4 file and splitting it into two or three parts.

Here’s the problem with that. I tried making MP4 files when I was editing this film. Sony Vegas crashed on me every time. The only format I could get it to spit out with any reliability was WMV. Could I take my WMV file and re-encode it as an MP4? Sure, if I wanted it to look like it was filmed with a piece of charcoal. The quality wouldn’t just take one hit — it would be degraded a second time when whatever hosting service I uploaded it to re-encoded it again. It isn’t a slick, professional film, but I’m not prepared to live with that level of visual atrophy.

Nothing connected to this album can be straightforward. It’s almost comical.

I found a website called Wistia that allowed me to upload my file for free. It took another twelve hours, but I thought I might fare better over there. No dice. There must be something in the file that doesn’t respond well to being reprocessed as an MP4 (which is what every video hosting site on the planet does no matter what kind of file you give them). I don’t know what it is. The stuttering didn’t seem quite as bad over there, and there are things about Wistia that appeal to me. The quality of their 360p streaming video is as good or better than Vimeo’s 480p. You’re allowed to get into quite a bit of customization, too. You can insert chapter markers into your video, for example — something Vimeo doesn’t allow you to do unless you pony up the dough for a Pro account.

I sent them a message asking if they could do anything to compensate for the timestamp overlaps on their end. I told them I was prepared to migrate over to Wistia and sign up for a paid account if they were willing to help me out. We’ll see what kind of response I get.

Don’t think the absurdity of all of this is lost on me. I know I’ve put a lot of time and energy into trying to solve a problem no one else would care about. The stuttering hasn’t bothered the small group of people I’ve shared the video with so far, and I’ve been getting some pretty incredible feedback. But it isn’t about how small the issue is. I put a lot of work into this thing. I’m not okay with the idea of presenting it in a compromised form. I want it to play from beginning to end without getting buggy.

Spending a few hundred dollars a month for a video hosting service that’s geared toward commercial businesses isn’t an option. YouTube isn’t an option either. They’ll hammer the video quality into oblivion. Dailymotion won’t let me sign up for an account because of some glitch in their website. There are other sites out there like Vidyard, but I doubt their server would handle my file any better than Vimeo’s has, and I’d have to pay for a year’s subscription if I wanted to give them a try.

With all the advances that have been made in computer technology, you’d think by now it would be the easiest thing in the world to upload uncompressed video to the internet and stream it at the speed of light, regardless of the format. But no. That would be too simple.

Whatever response I get from Wistia, I might have found a solution. And you’re going to laugh. Because all of the sudden, for no apparent reason, Vegas is letting me render MP4 files. I don’t know what changed. Maybe clearing some debris off of the Acer laptop’s hard drive shook something loose. I’ve had to break one or two of the individual segments into even smaller pieces in order to get them to render, but there are enough existing transitions in the film for me to do that pretty seamlessly, and MPEG StreamClip should allow me to glue all those pieces together without any transcoding.

If that works, and if the gaps between the joined files are as nonexistent as they were when I did the same thing with Steeper, I might be in business. Logic would dictate that Vimeo shouldn’t introduce any stuttering into a file that’s already in their preferred format.

So far I’ve been able to render about two-thirds of the segments I need without any serious trouble. There doesn’t appear to be any discernible difference in quality from the WMV files I was working with before, and the file sizes are about the same. It’s probably going to take me the better part of tomorrow to finish all of this, and then it’ll take another day to upload the results, but with a little luck I just might have a version of this video I can share without gritting my teeth by the end of the week.

It’s a long walk to make for some peace of mind, but I’ve come this far. I’m far too stubborn to give up now. And hey, this debacle got me to update my operating system to something a little less archaic. Everything seems to run a little smoother now. Microsoft Word doesn’t freeze up on me anymore! Getting the computer out of sleep mode in the morning takes ten seconds instead of ten minutes! Rejoice!

A few other quick things that have nothing to do with any of this:

YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK is at #7 on the CJAM charts right now. It’s lived inside the top twenty for eleven weeks in a row now, and in that time it’s hit #1 more than once. CJAM has been very good to me for a very long time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one of my albums get this kind of extended consistent airplay. It’s nuts. Thanks, as always, to everyone who’s playing my noise, whoever you might be.

You’ll be shocked — shocked! — to learn none of the DJs I sent the album to outside of Windsor have acknowledged the gesture in any way. At least I only wasted three copies. That’s better than wasting thirty, right?

Steeper and steeper.

I’ve finished this film-like thing that digs into the making of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK (and a whole lot of other things too). For a minute there I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say that.

A few days ago, when I was getting deep into the home stretch, I tried to join a bunch of WMV files with Steeper so I could see how things were shaping up. While everything worked fine when there were seven or eight things I was trying to glue together, it didn’t go so well now that I had twelve of them. The command-line interface would show the joining process progressing without a hitch until the very end. Then it would hang on “indexing output file” forever. If I tried to save the file at this stage, the program would freeze up. If I tried to save the file at some earlier point in the process, the same thing would happen. If I was lucky I’d come away with a file that was partially playable but incomplete.

When a program freezes up on me and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to unfreeze, my impulse has always been to force it to close so I can get on with my life. Johnny Smith suggested leaving it alone and waiting to see what would happen. It took five or ten minutes, but eventually the indexing process finished. So then I tried saving, thinking the indexing couldn’t happen until Steeper knew where to put the file. The program froze up on me again.

I thought I’d try one more time and let it freeze during the saving process. Maybe if I didn’t force the program to quit I’d get lucky and it would take pity on me and unfreeze at some point. And wouldn’t you know it — that’s just what happened.

The output file I was asking Steeper to deal with was much larger by now than it was when I was putting together rough assemblies a week or two ago. What was once a few hundred megabytes had grown to a few gigs. It makes sense that it would take a little longer to index and save all that information. I could have saved myself a bit of anxiety if I’d allowed that simple idea to make its way into my head.

Maybe it’s a good lesson to learn about impatience creating the illusion of a problem when there isn’t one.

As I like to say, all’s well that ends with sixteen files joined together as one. I spent a good chunk of yesterday combing through the whole thing and making a few last-minute changes. It’s funny what you miss when your head is buried in something so involved. Most of the time it was a messy edit here and there, but in one case I forgot to insert a bit of text letting the viewer know who a musician was. Pretty glad I caught that little oversight before it was too late.

I’m supposed to be finished by now. I’ve been working on this every day for the past few weeks. I was doing preliminary editing work on some of the musical segments as far back as 2014. And still I can’t escape the feeling that the end has snuck up on me a little. It’s going to be strange to wrap my head around not having any more editing to do.

In a lot of ways this little homemade documentary completes the work done on YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. The two things are meant to live together and illuminate each other. There’s a ton of music on the album that isn’t represented in the film, but that’s because it wasn’t feasible to film every piece of music I recorded, and I wanted to be able to put together a final assembly that was less than ten hours long (which I managed to do!). I also wanted the film to emphasize the work that involved other singers and musicians. I think that’s the most interesting stuff to watch, even if it might create the impression that the album was less of a solitary mission than it really was. I can set up a camera and film myself constructing songs on my own any time. Bringing other people into my music like this isn’t likely to happen again. I’m glad I was able to document some of that as it happened.

I couldn’t fit in everything I wanted to. I had an embarrassment of raw material to work with — more than fifty hours of self-shot footage, fifteen hours of archival footage filmed by a handful of friends over the years, hundreds if not thousands of photographs, and I made use of twenty-seven different public domain films ranging from experimental animation to unintentionally hilarious educational films, vintage cartoons, and even a cigarette commercial from the 1940s. I had to make countless small and large decisions about what to show, how much of it to show, how to cut it, and where to put it.

It took well over a thousand edits to suture all those choices. I know this because I counted them.

One of the things I enjoyed most about constructing this thing was working out what music to use and how to employ it. Even when the music isn’t the focus, there’s very little narration that doesn’t have music behind it. With only a few exceptions, everything you hear is period-correct. When I’m talking about the early cassette recordings, almost all the music on the soundtrack is sourced from those recordings. Same deal when I’m talking about Papa Ghostface, GWD, and any number of solo adventures. I knew I’d recorded a lot of instrumental pieces, but it was pretty neat to discover I had access to any mood I wanted without having to reach outside of my own catalogue. I managed to incorporate more than sixty songs, from one of the first things I ever recorded in 1994 to some piano noodling I recorded last week. I even got to pull out a handful of things that haven’t been released in any official form.

It was a challenge to shape all of this into something with some amount of rhythm and cohesion. It was also great fun, and more emotional and cathartic than I thought it would be. I’ve never put so much thought or work into any video-related thing I’ve done, and I think it shows in the final assembly. It ain’t a high-definition experience, and it won’t be screened at any film festivals, but if I start to feel self-conscious about that I remember the Daniel Lanois film Here Is What Is. Some of the footage in that documentary looks like it was filmed with a potato. It doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

Just as there’s a lot of music that’s specific to the album, the film touches on a number of things that aren’t SLEEPWALK-related. In a way it serves as the last word on what I do and why I do it the way I do. I wasn’t expecting to dig into all of that. It just happened. One thing I was expecting: you get to see my expanding waistline in all its glory, along with vivid evidence of Maximum Beardage (2017-2019) and Maximum Beardage Jr. (2014-2015). The relative gauntness of my face in a few bits I filmed breaking down some song elements at the mixer over the last week or two is pretty striking. I don’t miss carrying that spare tire around, either.

You know you’ve lost more than a bit of weight when you can wear a sweatshirt that hasn’t fit you since 2008.

Here’s how old this hoodie is — it’s from a time when CJAM was still situated at 91.5 on the FM dial. Pretty freaky.

And here’s something else that’s freaky. YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK has a total running time of two hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty-five seconds. Its video accomplice? Two hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty-one seconds. They’re within four seconds of being the exact same length. That’s a margin so thin it almost doesn’t exist. And it’s pure coincidence.

Once I figured that out, I was tempted to make a few fades or transitions a little longer so the length of the video would match the length of the album stroke for stroke. But it felt a little too cheeky.

Working on this video project has been engrossing, and I’ve been surprised almost every step of the way. I’m a little sad it’s over now. One of the most amusing surprises came from my eleven-year-old Acer laptop, of all things.

The S key stopped working years ago. I was able to squeeze a bit more life out of it by ripping off the plastic key cover and pressing down on the sensor, but that only worked for a few weeks, and then it was dead. After that, whenever I needed an S I had to copy it from an existing document or a file and then paste it where I wanted it to be. This is the computer I use for duplicating CDs too, so you can imagine what a treat it was when I had to input the song information for SLEEPWALK. I found the only way to avoid losing my mind was to copy and paste a lowercase and uppercase S next to each other so I’d have easy access to whichever one was necessary at a given time.

While I was messing with all of this video stuff, the laptop started coming out of sleep mode on its own at random times. A single letter kept repeating over and over again in the field for my login password, as if an invisible finger was pressing down on it. It wouldn’t stop until I hit the backspace. It was the letter S.

This happened maybe half a dozen times. Then it didn’t happen anymore, and the S key started working again. I guess it wanted to announce its rebirth to me.

I have to hand it to this laptop. I’ve asked an awful lot of it over the past few weeks, and I’ve worked it hard. Aside from Vegas crashing on me a few times, it’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since I stopped trying to edit it as one big project and broke it up into smaller pieces. Acer the Aceman took everything I threw at him and held up just fine. If anything, he seems to run a little better now. Try figuring that out.

It’ll be at least a few days before the video shows up here. I need to add some more content to the blog post it’s going to be attached to. But it’s a-comin’. I’m going to try to have that all squared away by Monday at the latest.

Hello in there.

John Prine beat cancer twice, but he couldn’t fight off the coronavirus and the pneumonia it brought with it. He was seventy-three.

I have a bad habit of not discovering the work of some of my favourite artists until long after they’re gone. It’s happened with Nick Drake, Laura Nyro, Tim Buckley, and too many others to mention. I got lucky with John Prine and had the chance to appreciate him while he was still here.

For a long time I knew his name without knowing his music. I didn’t know anything about him. All I had to go on was his amiable, weathered face with its mop of hair that looked like it just fell out of bed along with the rest of him. One day I saw this pop up on my YouTube sidebar and thought, “Why not?” I clicked on it. Within a few minutes I’d become a fan.

John could make you laugh one minute and rip your heart out the next. A blessed few writers have that gift. I think it comes from a deep reservoir of empathy and an understanding of human nature in all its awful and wonderful contradictions. Harry Nilsson had it. Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett have it. Rickie Lee Jones has it. Tom Waits too. Springsteen has it, sometimes, when he feels like dusting it off. Not many others do.

John had it right from the start. He released his debut album in 1971. Some of the songs on it: “Sam Stone”. “Angel from Montgomery”. “Paradise”. “Hello in There”. “Six O’Clock News”. “Donald and Lydia”. “Far from Me”.

How you can write songs like that, full of the weight of living, when you’re only twenty-four years old is beyond me. The words only grew more resonant as he and his voice grew older. You could say he aged into the songs he wrote as a young man.

If there’s some comfort to take from something like this, it’s the knowledge that he’s probably somewhere smoking a nine-mile-long cigarette right now, grinning with abandon. Trying to write your own epitaph is a fool’s errand most of the time, but you’d be hard-pressed to write one for John Prine that’s any better than the last song on the last album he made.

La modifica.

My hope to get all that video-related business taken care of by the end of the week was pretty optimistic — and, as I’m realizing now, not very realistic. I think I underestimated how much work was involved. Or maybe I wanted to believe the editing process would be a little more straightforward than I knew it was really going to be. Bouncing back and forth between two different computers doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to save files on one flash drive or another on my MacBook, only to transfer those files to the external hard drive plugged into the crusty old Acer laptop so I can work with them in Sony Vegas.

It’s a little complicated. But it’s fun. I’ve been eating, drinking, sleeping, and even dreaming this homemade documentary over the last week or so. There’s no turning back now.

I’m enjoying the process of piecing things together. There’s a lot of narration, because there’s a lot that needs to be said, but I’m trying to take a “show don’t tell” approach as much as I can. For example, I could talk for a long time about how I felt I came into my own as a guitarist and found a way to speak through the instrument for the first time when I was an angry teenager with a short-lived band. I think it’s more effective to drop a fiery guitar solo from a live performance in the appropriate place and let the music do the talking.

There are some things I can’t touch on if I want a final assembly that’s less than ten hours long. But that’s what the forthcoming album-specific blog post is for. This film — if I can call it that — is more about putting the album in its proper context within the full arc of my artistic life and stuffing in as much behind-the-scenes footage as I can while I’m at it.

Working with a voiceover track instead of speaking to the camera has been a new experience for me. I’m used to treating public domain film content in a very specific way, using it to break up the rhythm of my monologue while commenting on what’s being said in an absurd or irreverent way. Now it’s become a different tool, serving as a visual counterpart to the words when I don’t have appropriate footage of my own to lean on or I want to mix things up a little. I’ve never been so thankful for the existence of the Internet Archive and the abundance of material that’s fallen into the public domain for one reason or another.

I had a bit of a scare the other day when I was trying to stitch a few segments together with Steeper. I kept getting all these messages telling me the program couldn’t find something called “delete.exe”, and everything went wonky on me. “Great,” I thought. “I find a simple solution to a problem, and now I have to find a work-around for the solution itself.”

After a number of failed attempts to join four or five files, I took a look at the different elements of Steeper I downloaded. There was something I’d forgotten to click on. It was “delete.exe” — the part of the program that allows you to overwrite old joined files. I downloaded it, tried again, and the issue was resolved.

Note to self: when a program comes in a few different downloadable parts/executions, it might be a good idea to grab all of them before trying to run the thing.

Being forced to break everything into chapters has been even more of a blessing than I thought it was. Making a change or fixing a rough edit is much easier when you’re dealing with smaller sections as opposed to one big chunk. It’s much less overwhelming when you don’t see the whole pile of work in front of you. And it helps to maintain a sense of structure, which was something I was concerned about having never done anything on this scale before.

I’ve got about an hour of footage assembled now, and I’m still far from finished. I’m getting there, though. Every day I either get another segment finished or I put a good dent in one or two of them. Today I should be able to finish three. That feels pretty good.

Broadcasting from home.

The deeper I dig, the spookier the unintentionally prescient elements of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK get. There’s a bit I wrote but didn’t use for “Don’t Let the Preamble Ramble” that reads:

Distance is its own undoing.
All systems set to self-implode.

I don’t even know what to say about that.

On a lighter note, I’ll be talking to Brady at CJAM (through the phone) about music-related things around 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Friday. Feel free to tune in to 99.1 on the FM dial (or grab the live stream) if you’re interested in listening. Should be fun. And I think we could all could use a little fun right now.

Subsonic city.

Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d live long enough to witness: people selling single rolls of toilet paper on eBay, with everyone outbidding one another in an effort to snag a bit of precious bum Kleenex, driving the cost into oblivion.

Everyone’s been hoarding supplies in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. I understand it, even if I think it’s a little selfish to take more than you need, leaving nothing for the next person. I know it’s about fear, self-preservation, and trying to prepare in the event of a government-enforced lockdown or the need to self-quarantine. As for the soulless cretins who have seized the opportunity to profit off of this pandemic, buying up as much hand sanitizer and toilet paper as they can and then selling it back to the people they’ve deprived at exorbitant prices, well…leave it to a global crisis to bring out both the best and worst humanity has to offer.

In this skittish new world of self-isolation and social distancing, I find myself in a pretty strange position. I get to stand back and marvel at how much has changed while recognizing how little my own life has been impacted. My heart goes out to those who are struggling without the human contact they’re accustomed to. For me it’s been business as usual. Few people cared enough to engage with me in any meaningful way when there wasn’t any reason to keep their distance. It’s not as if my social life has taken a hit.

As far as the music is concerned, the work I was getting recording other artists had already dried up, and I’ve been looking forward to operating in solitude for the rest of my days after what I went through making the most recent album. So nothing has changed there either.

With CJAM being closed to the public until further notice, I assumed my days of charting were over. I assumed wrong. A number of DJs have found a way to go on producing new content without access to the station, and after hanging around the top ten for a few weeks I somehow find myself back at #1.

You have to understand — even with every live event being cancelled for the foreseeable future, it’s a pretty busy time for local music right now. There are a number of new albums that have just been released by people who (unlike me) are a significant part of this city’s music scene. They’re active on social media. They put a concerted effort into calling attention to their work. They’re a part of the club. I’m not. I deactivated my Facebook page a while back and never said anything there about my new album. Even if I did, no one would have cared. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram. I don’t promote what I do in any way, outside of maintaining a blog doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m about as close as you can get to being invisible without turning into Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man. Throw the world’s current preoccupation with the coronavirus into the mix, and I would expect my music to be the last thing on anyone’s mind right now. So to hit #1 at a time like this might be the most surprising and meaningful chart entry of my life, all things considered. I have no idea who’s been playing me at CJAM. Thank you, whoever you may be.

I was able to get copies of the album to most of the people I wanted to share it with back when we were living in more carefree times and canned tuna wasn’t so hard to come by. I think there are only two packages I haven’t sent out yet — one for a friend in Montreal and another for a producer of adult films in California.

You think I’m kidding.

I sure picked a good time to get healthy and fortify my immune system. And I think Windsor is one of the safer cities a person could hope to live in right now. Most civilians and businesses appear to be taking the necessary protective measures, and we don’t have an orange-coloured hairpiece adding to everyone’s unease by spouting a bunch of contradictory hot air that has no basis in reality.

I don’t envy you if you live on the other side of the border. But here’s something sure to put a smile on your face: a Portland strip club has reacted to the pandemic by diversifying their business and offering a topless food delivery service.

What’s a little spooky to me is what a timely album YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK has suddenly become. I look at some of the song titles now and see this:

Cure for the Uncommon Cold
My Inflamed Lung
Buying Time at the End of the World
When the Bottom Drops Out

Then I look at some of the lyrics. The first words in the very first song are, “What you call a trench I call a home, if home is where the hope you had eats itself alive to keep from starving.” In “Lullaby for Unborn Child” an expectant mother struggles to find language to encapsulate all the death and destruction she’s seen. “Vector” ends with a phrase that becomes a mantra: “For the first time in a long time, I’m talking to myself.” The key line in “Your Dishrag Soul” is, “So much to see, so much to back away from now.” Before that: “Don’t trust the air.”

The first verse in “The Stillness of Us” goes:

All rise in fragility,
and hope for something nourishing
our bodies can metabolize —
nutrients from the government.
We break bread with the weaker ones.
There’s a stillness in the heart
that dissipates as it gathers strength
and turns the mind against itself.

“Dark and weird” has always kind of been what I do. But that’s a whole lot of unintended symmetry right there. It’s almost disconcerting.

You might be wondering, “Whatever happened to the homemade documentary-thing that was supposed to act as a companion piece to the album?” I should have finished editing it a few weeks ago. I’ve had more than enough time to get it done. I’ve just been lazy.

If you want to know the truth, I’ve also been a little intimidated. Making a video progress report that’s twenty or thirty minutes long is one thing. This is a much more ambitious undertaking, incorporating almost twenty years worth of self-shot footage, a wide variety of public domain films, voiceover material, archival footage that was shot by others, text, music, and photographs. The final runtime is probably going to be somewhere between two and three hours.

I’ve started to chip away at it in earnest. I’ve been making good progress. But I wasn’t prepared for the trouble my video editing program has been giving me.

I’ve been running Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0 on an Acer laptop since 2010. Ten years ago the laptop and the program were both new. Today it’s a minor miracle the laptop still functions, and the latest iteration of Vegas is eight versions removed from what I have. Running Final Cut Pro on my Macbook would probably make me never want to touch Vegas again, but I’ve been using the program long enough to get comfortable with it. It’s always done the job for me.

The problem now is the amount of media I’m working with. Apparently Vegas can only accommodate so many items on the editing screen at a time before it says, “No mas,” and crashes. I’ve never tried to do anything this crazy before, so I wasn’t aware of that quirk. I made the decision early on to shun the usual “talking to the camera” approach for the most part, presenting the bulk of what I want to say as narration. It’s freed me up to get a lot more creative with the visual side of things. It’s also the main reason Vegas has been on the fritz. The number of clips I’m working with has gone through the roof.

There’s one thing I’ve got going for me. I was going to break everything down into segments even before Vegas went goofy on me. Given the trouble I was having, I thought I could edit each segment as a standalone piece and use MPEG Streamclip to combine them all into the larger thing they’re supposed to be without any re-encoding.

To make this work, I would need to render the videos as MP4 or MOV files. Vegas has decided to crash every time I try to do that. MPEG Streamclip won’t recognize the WMV files I usually favour. I thought I’d work around that by rendering each segment as a massive uncompressed AVI file. Then I would stitch them all together in Vegas. Every time I tried to make an AVI file, Vegas would freeze up about halfway through and never finish the rendering process.

I’m nothing if not stubborn. I managed to find a program called Steeper. It’s an outgrowth of the commandline utility ASFCut. It allows you to combine WMV files into one all-encompassing file with no additional compression.

Beef be braised. Saints be praised.

As irritating as this technical hiccup has been, it’s a blessing in disguise. Rendering the video as a single project was going to take about twelve hours. Now I’m able to separate it into smaller pieces that only take half an hour or forty-five minutes to finalize.

It’s been fun to see things start to come together. The first few segments are finished now. The early passages need a fair bit of exposition to fill in some blanks and provide some backstory. Once that’s out of the way I’ll be able to let the visual content do more of the talking for me. Then I won’t need to have as many video clips on the go at once and Vegas should unclench its bowels a little.

My goal is to have the whole thing finished by the end of next week. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Good things are bound to happen with Elliott riding shotgun.

The plan is to tie the video in with a giant blog post that breaks down every song on the album. The rough draft is at about sixteen thousand words right now, and it’s nowhere near finished. It’ll probably end up being the longest thing I’ve ever written here. I’ve come to enjoy digging into every aspect of an album’s making instead of just trying to provide an overview.

A lot of musicians have been holding live streaming events as a way of staying connected to their fans. I don’t have the equipment or the technical know-how to do something like that. Consider this humble homemade documentary my contribution to the “keep ’em busy with art” movement. I doubt anyone will have the interest or stamina to sit through the whole thing, but hopefully those who do will find something of value in it.

The Real McCoy.

To me living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live. Therefore, just as I can’t predict what kinds of experiences I’m going to have, I can’t predict the directions in which my music will go. I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel.

— McCoy Tyner

Erroneous hunches.

My hunch was wrong. YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK is now sitting at #1 on the CJAM charts. Many thanks to Brady, Carley, Ron, Jim, and anyone else who might have given it a spin when I wasn’t looking.

I usually get a generous amount of airplay when I have something new to share, but it’s not something I expect or take for granted. It’s always a heartening feeling when people I have good feelings for respond to something I’ve done in a positive way. And I don’t think seeing yourself on the charts ever stops feeling good.

I’m always curious to hear which songs the DJs are going to gravitate toward. This time — and I don’t remember hearing this happen with any other album I’ve made — one specific song was played at least three times in succession, on three different shows, on three different days. You never really know what’s going to grab people. That’s part of the fun. In this case I blame Kelly Grace, who has a featured vocal spot on the song that got so much action early on. There’s something uniquely beautiful about the sound of her voice. “Quiet power” is the only way I can think of to describe what comes across when she sings.

In a part of the house I guess you’d call our living room (we’re alive, and we relax in there, so I think it meets the criteria) we have this old radio that used to belong to my Bubi. It’s probably sixty or seventy years old by now. It’s powered by tubes. It doesn’t look too imposing, but music comes roaring out of its mono speaker with a power that belies its size. I’ve been around this radio for most of my life. I still can’t get over how rich and full it sounds.

Last week, Brady devoted a segment of his show Music From Planet Earth to a whole chunk of songs from the first disc of the album. Pause with me for a moment to admire this great art Greg Maxwell made for the show’s Facebook page.

Gotta say I’m a little envious of the dude performing in that image. I’ve always wanted fans with tentacles and antennae.

I listened to Brady’s show on Bubi’s radio. The sound of my own songs coming through that mono speaker almost parted my hair. And there were no audible phase issues! Hooray! That was a treat in itself, but what was really fascinating was getting to hear five or six songs out of sequence, arranged in a way that was unfamiliar to me.

Something that simple allowed me to step back and listen with some small amount of objectivity for the first time. Since I’ve finished this album, the main thing I’ve felt is relief that the whole ordeal is over. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish, but it’s been difficult to untangle the music from everything that went into making it. It felt pretty great to be able to forget about all of that and just enjoy the songs.

Was it an easy album to make? Not hardly. But as much as I might grumble about the frustrations and indignities I had to endure along the way, I think the juice was worth the pulp. It’s beginning to dawn on me just how proud I am of this one. You never want any statement to be your last, and I intend to make a lot more music, but if I got flattened by cartwheeling bears tomorrow I’d feel pretty good about going out on a note like this.

There have always been two impulses inside of me standing in direct opposition to each other, struggling for supremacy. There’s the desire to share my music and connect with people. And there’s the desire to keep it to myself and operate in total obscurity.

At one point I told myself I wasn’t going to give anyone a copy of this album when it was finished. I changed my mind. Already some of the contributing musicians have ignored my messages. I could go on harassing them until I get their attention for a few seconds, but having to beg someone to accept a free copy of something they played a part in is a bit too much for me. All it does is prove how little they cared to begin with. They never had any skin in the game.

Of the thirty-four singers, musicians, and visual artists who contributed to the album, there are at least fifteen I can’t share it with because they won’t acknowledge me. If I’m not in a great frame of mind, this is the sort of thing that makes me want to wall myself off from the rest of the world and start living up to the “reclusive” label I used to get tagged with by idiot writers who had no interest in learning anything about who I really was.

But the battle between those two oppositional impulses rages on. Hot on the heels of that latest disappointment, I gave some serious thought to sending the album out to a bunch of different radio stations.

Every now and then, one well-meaning friend or another has told me I should consider sending my music to different campus/community radio stations outside of Windsor. Other local artists have done this and had some amount of success. Why not me?

Tempted as I’ve sometimes been to give it a shot, the only way I’ve ever felt I could offer someone a decent introduction to my music was by giving them a stack of my last six or eight albums. If I sent a package that size to a radio station’s music director, I think they would roll their eyes and chuck the CDs straight into the “rejected music” bin.

I wouldn’t hold it against them. That’s a lot of music to dump on anyone.

One radio station playing my noise has always been more than enough for me. I have a relationship with CJAM that spans almost twenty years. I think it means something to the people there when I give them a new album and a handwritten note. It means something to me when they play my music. I know it’s a personal choice they’ve made — not something they’ve been instructed to do. My music would mean nothing to a music director who’s never heard of me or a host of DJs in another city.

I know it sounds like I’ve got the whole thing backwards. Local support is often taken as a given. You’re supposed to have some desire to expand your reach and gain new listeners outside of your own city. I’ve heard the expression “hometown heroes” used to belittle artists who don’t have any interest in building their brand.

My brain doesn’t work that way. I don’t have a brand. I make music. I share it with the people I care about. That’s about as far as the promotional game goes for me.

I’ve always wondered, though…would any music director or DJ at a station outside of Windsor have any interest in the noises I make? If I’ve ever had an album I could let stand on its own as a showcase for what I’m capable of, this is the one. I’ve learned I could send my packages through CJAM, eliminating shipping expenses and increasing my chances of being taken seriously. Why not give it a try? At least I’d be able to say I put myself out there. I’ve cracked the !earshot Top 200 a few times on the strength of CJAM’s support alone. You never know. If I scared up a bit of airplay at a few other stations, I might be able to make a real run at the Top 50. It would almost be worth doing just to piss a few people off.

I’ve given all of this a lot of consideration over the last few weeks. The more considering I’ve done, the less appealing the idea has become.

There’s a protocol you’re meant to follow when sending your music to a radio station. Along with a copy of your album, you need to include something called a one-sheet. This is a single-page overview of your music, usually geared toward whatever your current album is. You provide a brief bio and praise yourself in the third person. Maybe you include a few quotes from local journalists to make yourself sound important. You offer a list of three or four suggested tracks, since no one is going to take the time to listen to your album all the way through. You specify what genre your music falls into. You include a RIYL (Recommended If You Like) subsection, noting what your music sounds like or who your influences are.

There are some music directors who are receptive to a more unique or less formal approach. But ask anyone how to run a successful radio mailing campaign and they’ll tell you the one-sheet is a must. It’s all most people have the time to read, and it gives them the information they need in a form that’s easy to digest.

There’s no polite way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: I think one-sheets are bullshit. I think they should be renamed “one-shits”. I understand why artists make them and why radio stations request them, but this idea that some semblance of who you are and what you do can be condensed onto a single piece of paper is absurd to me. It’s impersonal. It’s reductive. It’s worthless. It’s like handing someone a business card on your first date and assuming they now have a good understanding of what you’re all about based on that little laminated piece of nothing.

I’ve never made a one-sheet. I’ve tried once or twice just to see if I could do it. I can’t. It’s an affront to everything I believe in. Even trying to put together a parody of a one-sheet for the purpose of this post felt like a colossal waste of time. I lasted all of three minutes before throwing in the towel.

I don’t know what genre I fit into. I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. If I tell you I’m a progressive alternative folk artist, I fail on two fronts — it’s not really what I am at all, and contorting myself to fit inside that box doesn’t begin to capture how my music sounds, what it does, or where it goes. If I invent my own genre like “kaleidoscopic anti-pop” or “homespun sonic archery”, I come off as being pretentious. There’s no way for you to know I’m slapping those words together with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Singling out a few choice tracks? Ha! There are no singles on the album. It’s an album. And writing about myself in the third person always makes me feel kind of ridiculous.

(Note: if you’re an artist who’s made a one-sheet as part of a radio mailing campaign or a music director who finds them helpful, I’m not criticizing you. My disdain is reserved for the one-sheet itself. It’s the concept of the thing I object to.)

I’ve also learned a number of stations no longer accept physical albums. They’ll only consider digital submissions.

I refuse to digitize this album. Forget about losing the precise spacing I programmed between the songs to create the rhythm of the listening experience. I won’t separate the music from the lyrics and the artwork. I didn’t work to make this a meaningful tactile experience so I could turn around and flatten it out into a one-dimensional online magazine.

After mulling it over, I decided I can live without solving the mystery of what would happen if I sent my music to different radio stations across Canada. At best, I’d gain nothing but some bragging rights, and I’d deplete my already limited supplies. At worst, I’d deplete those supplies for nothing.

Here’s what I did instead. I sent copies of the album to three specific DJs who have shows on CJSW (Calgary), CBFX (Montreal), and KEXP (Seattle). I wrote each of them a handwritten letter. I did it because I like what they do and my gut tells me they might be open-minded enough to get something out of the music. I’m bypassing the music directors of these stations altogether, making it clear I’m not after any airplay or attention, and kicking an inherently impersonal undertaking in the ribs with everything I’ve got until it passes out from the pain.

Believe it or not, this is how I first gained some traction at CJAM. I tried to get the attention of two different music directors in 2002 and 2003. Or maybe they were station managers. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. The first guy wouldn’t give me the time of day. The second guy was nice enough but didn’t do anything. He was gone within a few months. I was later told he was incompetent and nothing ever got done on his watch.

After respecting the chain of command and getting nowhere, I found a few shows I liked, with DJs who had eclectic enough taste that I thought they might at least be willing to listen to a song or two instead of dismissing me out of hand. I dropped a few CDs and letters in their mail slots. Most of them ignored me, but one person started playing my music. Because of her I got the attention of the station manager and the music director, my albums made it into the on-air library, and the rest is lobster ravioli.

Today I’m not trying to get anyone to notice me. I don’t expect any of those three people to play anything of mine on their shows. I don’t expect any of them to even acknowledge me. But if just one of them happens to find something of value in the music and they take the time to convey that to me, it’ll mean more than any amount of airplay in another city ever would.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying hearing myself on the radio right here at home. Who could ask for anything more?

A little bird told me Brady is going to be playing some selections from the second disc of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK on his show this Friday. If you’re expecting a copy of the album but haven’t received it yet, you can get a bit of a preview of what’s on the way by listening to Music From Planet Earth on CJAM tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. If you’re so inclined, you can stream the live feed here (or peruse the MP3 archives later on).

Unrelated, but kind of fun:

A few days ago I was listening to the 2003 CD remaster of Synchronicity by The Police. I pulled out the lyric booklet for a read-through. When I got to “Walking in Your Footsteps”, I did a double-take. There’s a glaring typo in the chorus. It reads, “Walking in YOU footsteps.” The R is nowhere to be found.

What’s incredible to me is that this wasn’t missed once or twice. It was missed five times in succession in the same song. There isn’t a single error-free iteration of the phrase in the body text.

These typos don’t exist in the lyric sheet that came with the vinyl record or the original CD. So someone fell asleep at the wheel when they were putting the reissue together. This was a major label project with (I assume) some serious money behind it.

After seeing that, I feel a whole lot better about the two minor typos I missed in the initial run of SLEEPWALK booklets. I guess we all miss a letter, a word, or a bit of punctuation sooner or later.