Stephen Arnold Music

The Most Heard, Least Known Composers In America

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Spotlight On SAM……..Chad Cook

Hey Everyone!

Throughout the year we’ll be highlighting some individuals here at Stephen Arnold Music.  The names and faces behind the music!  As you can imagine, it’s not just late night recording sessions and high profile clients… there’s blood, sweat, and tears that go into every part of our company – from our awesome sales team chasing down leads, to our admin folks answering the phones and drawing up contracts.  Everyone’s got their own story, so we recently sat down with our Creative Director, Chad Cook.  We asked him a few questions, and he was happy enough to let us know.

Our Creative Director Mixing It up!

Our Creative Director Mixing It up!

 What was the first album you bought or remember listening to?

I was obsessed with vinyl records as a toddler and child.  I called them “goo-gahs”.  I had many 45s and full sized records and would take them everywhere with me, including the bathtub, pool, etc.  Needless to say, many of them were not in the greatest of shape when I would try to play them.  I’m told I was writing little songs and melodies on my toy piano from the time I could stand up.  My favorite music and bands at a young age were The Beatles, Donovan, The Monkeys, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings, and ELO.  The earliest albums that I remember playing over and over were The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Donovan’s Barabajagal.  I remember being particularly infatuated with Donovan’s song “Atlantis” and The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”.  A 45 single I remember playing over and over when I was very young was “Put The Lime In The Coconut” by Harry Nilsson.  Some trivia – I met and shook Paul McCartney’s hand in NYC a few years ago.  But that tale is for another time.

 What was your first musical instrument?

Pipe OrganMy first true musical instrument was a black Steinway baby grand piano when I was 9 years old (I still have it).  I took piano lessons for many years, but spent most of my time writing my own songs and was never really interested in playing songs I did not write myself.  Also, my father and uncle donated a pipe organ to our church when I was 8 years old.  The church was near our house, so they would let me come in and play when it was unoccupied.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever and remember many days after school experimenting and playing with that organ.

 

 

 

Today you produce branded music packages for some of the biggest networks in the world. How did you first learn to write / produce or learn music production?

Home Studio - 1987Keyboards and programming songs became a reality when I was in high school in the 1980s, and my passion became writing songs with MIDI and collecting keyboards and sound modules so I could create and produce songs from start to finish.  That led to purchasing 4 and 8 track tape recorders, a mixer, and some microphones so I could record vocals and harmonies.  The first computer I used to program MIDI was an Apple IIe with 128k of memory.  The program I used was called “Texture” and would only allow you to program 8 tracks of MIDI.  Back then, most keyboards were not “multi-timbral” so you only had one or two sounds coming out of each keyboard.  So I literally had around 7-8 keyboards, each being triggered to play an assigned sound through MIDI.  My original collection of keyboards included an Emulator 2 HD, Mirage sampler, Casio CZ1, Korg DW8000, Casio RZ1 drum machine, Roland D-10, Ensoniq ESQ1, and an Oberheim OB-8.

As time went on, multi-timbral sound modules became available so there was no need to have so many actual keyboards to generate all those sounds.  But those days were great because each keyboard had a distinct sound to it, so you would spend time on each instrument finding or programming each sound you needed for each part of the song.  And in the case of the samplers, often creating your own sounds by sampling directly into microphones and then manipulating the sounds with various filters and oscillators.  The most elaborate and powerful tool at the time was my Emulator 2HD which you have all seen in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  It was a very high-end sampler and allowed for getting very creative with my own sounds.  At that time, new wave bands like Depeche Mode, OMD, Tears For Fears, New Order, and The Eurythmics were using the Emulator samplers as a big part of their sound.

Did you ever have a band or perform live?

I formed a band called “New Life” when I was a junior in high school, as I wanted to be able to play some of my songs live.  We played at some clubs in Dallas and at some high school parties and functions.  I had a bass player, guitar player, and a keyboardist.  I would have to bring all of my keyboards and my computer in order to play all the parts that were not being played live (and there were many parts not being played live).  I would set-up each song on the computer with an intro click track and then the band would play their parts as I would perform the vocals.

How’d the gigs go?

I never really liked playing live very much as it was such a hassle to get everything set-up and haul so much equipment around.  I found that what I really liked was the creative process in the studio.  To create something out of nothing, enjoy the moment you finish it, and then move onto the next idea and creation.  I’ve never been one to linger.  It’s go, go, go – onto the next.

 

Guess we have to ask you what your favorite color is and what you do when you’re not here at the studio!

My favorite colors are blue and green, so it’s no wonder I love nature and the outdoors – biking, camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, boating, and skiing.  I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, countries, people, art, and cuisines.  I’m a huge sports fan and, in particular, like football, basketball, and hockey – my favorite teams are all from Dallas, so of course the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks. I love to read, educate myself, and grow as a person.  I love the mountains, but if I had to choose, I would choose the beach, as nothing soothes my spirit more than the ocean.  I am passionate about wine and the art and history of it in different cultures and regions.  I live in McKinney, TX with my wife Michelle and son Keegan.  I love my family, and nothing means more to me.  We live near the wonderful, historic town square and close to the Stephen Arnold Music studios, so life is good.  I’ve enjoyed carrying on my passion of creating and producing music and ideas with Stephen and our great team here at Stephen Arnold Music for over 20 years now and look forward to many more.  There is nothing better than waking up each day knowing that the next project will bring, yet again, the challenge of creating something out of nothing.

Chad with Stephen on the Great Wall Of China (producing a project for CCTV China)

Chad with Stephen on the Great Wall Of China (producing a project for CCTV China)

Music as a language – Victor Wooten & Little Kids Rock

For the past few years Stephen Arnold Music has worked closely with an inspirational organization that has grown close to our heart: Little Kids Rock.

This innovative nonprofit transforms the lives of children by restoring and revitalizing music education in disadvantaged public schools all over the United States.

A bit of background: today millions of American children receive little to no music in their school curriculum. Major budget cuts continue to force school music programs to close, particularly in schools serving low-income communities.

Little Kids Rock partners with public school districts, training teachers with a groundbreaking curriculum. The nonprofit also donates all of the instruments and resources necessary to run the schools’ music programs.

Last Saturday, March 1st, I had a rare opportunity to sit in on one of the Little Kids Rock eight hour training workshops for instructors as they initiated the launching of 60 Dallas Independent School District schools.

That’s right, not six or 16 but 60 DISD schools. For a guy who grew up in Dallas, I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.

It was time consuming, painstaking work lead by Little Kids Rock founder David Wish and music director Scott Burstein. The pair led 25-plus DISD teachers (all of whom graciously donate their time) through a marvelous process on how to teach the curriculum.  The seminar included everything from holding a guitar and a pick to tuning an instrument, to warm up exercises and learning songs (with “one-finger chords”) all the way through songwriting techniques.

Can you imagine the delight of seeing a second or third grader write and perform his or her song?  The one-finger chord process was simply amazing: the very idea of playing The Beatles’ classic “Eleanor Rigby” with just one finger was unforgettable.

Since founded 12 years ago, Little Kids Rock has taught more than 120,000 schoolchildren to play guitar, piano, bass and drums. Currently, there are chapters in 25 cities with over 1,200 dedicated teachers at the helm.

But if you think the best part is the music, the lessons, or even the songs they learn to play, think again. It’s the fact that children with arts instruction are three-times more likely to continue their education and even earn a degree.

This program also gives schoolchildren something to look forward to. It provides confidence and, most importantly, teaches kids how to express themselves, literally transforming their lives. Simply, music is the vehicle that can make a significant difference in their lives.

One of the first things Little Kids Rock does in workshops is to show a video clip of renowned bassist Victor Wooten, a five-time Grammy Award winner who plays with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. In Music as a Language Wooten makes the case for learning music in the same way as we learned our first language, calling for a more natural, less academic approach. He makes the point that, as babies, we weren’t taught our first language or corrected when we made a mistake. We didn’t have to write out our ABCs (read music) before we talked (played music).  We didn’t even know we were beginners and got to ‘jam’ with people much better than us. Wooten draws on his own musical education as an example of how taking this approach can deliver great results.

It’s a powerful message, and to hear it from one of the world’s best players is even more inspiring.

I’d been at the workshop since 9 a.m. and at about 4 p.m. I was exhausted, but energized. But that’s when the real fun began. Little Kids Rock brought four or five students from DISD schools to perform. A pair of guitars, a bass, drums and a singer, all playing original compositions they had learned and perfected through the program. Before Little Kids Rock, not one of these musicians had ever so much as picked up an instrument. It was truly inspirational!

For years when people would ask me, “What comes first, the words or the music?”

I’d always say, “The deadline.”

After the Little Kids Rock workshop in Dallas, I think I’ll modify my stock answer. What comes first, the words or the music?

The kids!

(For more information on Little Kids Rock click here)

Would you work for free? Pro Sports vs Pro Music

Would Peyton Manning or Richard Sherman play football during intermission of a Bruno Mars concert for free?

Because that’s exactly what  Bruno did at their game a couple of weeks ago…

Bruno Mars is at the top of his game.

Bruno Mars and teh Chili Pppes perform at the Super Bowl

His second album, Unorthodox Jukebox, is at the top of the charts (as was his first).

In just three years, five of his songs have reached number one….

Forbes ranked him number one on their 30 under 30 list last year, and Time Magazine named him one of the top 100 most influential people…in the world!

Yet he was paid zilch for his performance that day, in front of 82,000 plus fans!

Granted, it was the Super Bowl, perhaps the most popular sporting event on the planet….but nothing?

I think an argument could be made that Mars is as skilled at his craft as any pro athlete is at theirs…

So it made me think:

The NBA…would Lebron James or Kevin Durant work (b/c that what Mars did – worked) for 30 minutes, for free, at a Justin Timberlake show?

MLB…would Derek Jeter or David Ortiz do a freebie at a Cold Play concert?

The NFL claims exposure was his payment, but does Bruno Mars need the exposure?

If we decided that exposure for one of our singer/songwriters was payment enough because of the popularity of a prime time show, a lawsuit would surely ensue.

Mars seemed to be okay with it, as was Anthony Kiedis and his crew, because of the once in a lifetime opportunity.

What do you think?

Christmas CD Benefitting Little Kids Rock!!

Stephen Arnold with some of the “little kid rockers” at an LKR benefit showcase - Two Old Hippies Guitar Shop in Nashville.

Stephen Arnold with some of the “little kid rockers” at an LKR benefit showcase – Two Old Hippies Guitar Shop in Nashville.

Little Kids receiving guitars at a workshop in Chicacgo.

Little Kids receiving guitars at a workshop in Chicago.

Seasons Greetings, Everyone!

The holidays are here, and this year has a special meaning. I’d like to invite you to help us raise awareness for a great little cause with a very big heart.

It’s Little Kids Rock, a fantastic nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing music education in America. With your help, Little Kids Rock provides free instruments and music lessons to underserved public school kids, coast-to-coast.

Last year we produced a special CD called The Six Strings of Christmas, an album of holiday arrangements performed by our family of studio musicians — those great players we work with every day. They donated their services, and we all donated our time to make it happen, resulting in a collection of 16 great acoustic yuletide classics all played on a six-string… well, with a few 4, 8, and 12 strings thrown in just for fun.

Thanks to the generosity of clients and friends like you, we were able to give $3,000 to Little Kids Rock.

We’re at it again this year, and here’s the best part: just like last year…100% of each $9.99 CD purchase goes directly to Little Kids Rock.

Purchase your copy of The Six Strings Of Christmas here with all proceeds benefitting Little Kids Rock

One of my favorite videos is watching the faces of these kids as they each receive a guitar at this Little Kids Rock workshop.

You can click here to learn more about Little Kids Rock and listen to The Six Strings of Christmas CD by clicking here.

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Thank you so much for you help. Happy Holidays, and thanks for helping Little Kids Rock!

Farewell, Ray Dolby

Go take a look at your DVD/BluRay collection. Go on … we’ll wait.

<twiddles thumbs>

Notice anything in common? They all have some kind of “Dolby” somethingorother, right?

But have you ever wondered, “Just what the heck is ‘Dolby’?!”  Well, that question has a few different answers.

Ray Dolby, who passed away this week at the age of 80, was a multi award-winning engineer whose contributions to the sound of our modern world can’t be overstated.  He is best known for his pioneering noise-reduction system.  What is noise-reduction?  For that matter, some younger readers might even be asking, “What is noise, and why does it need to be reduced?”

For those of us who can remember the days before CDs (and long before the mp3 was even a glint in the milkman’s eye), our first exposure to the Dolby logo was likely on — what was at the time — the most portable method for listening to your favorite music: the Cassette Tape.

Youngsters will never truly understand just how bad these things sounded.  Analog tape is inherently noisy.  There’s actually an audible hiss screaming from the speakers at all times.  Cassettes were just terrible … but they got us music junkies through the day.

While not as bad as the commercial cassette, the multi-track analog tape used in professional recording studios suffers from this same deficiency.  In order to minimize the underlying noise, Ray Dolby invented a system that kind of changed everything.  Ignoring for a moment the highly technical wizardry involved in actually pulling this off, the concept itself was brilliantly simple:

Since the noise on analog tape is consistent and predictable, it’s fairly easy to counteract with a two-step process.  As you’re sending a sound to tape, you first pass it through a circuit that makes it louder in the same frequency range where the tape noise lives.  Any part of the original sound that is similar to the tape noise gets boosted as it’s being recorded.  Upon playback, you pass it through a similar circuit that decreases the volume of that frequency range.

What does this do?  It essentially “turns down” the noise without turning down the sound you actually want to hear, and you end up with a much cleaner and clearer recording.

So what does this have to do with your movies?  Well these days, not so much, actually.  One of the great things about digital recording is that there is no noise inherent in the recording medium.  You can record very quiet sounds without having to worry about that nasty hiss swallowing it up.  Lucky for us, Mr. Dolby didn’t stop at noise reduction.

He and his fellow engineers at Dolby Laboratories created practically everything involved in modern surround sound systems.  From innovative encoding techniques that deliver six (or more) discreet channels from a two-channel signal on a strip of celluloid, to standards and specifications on where you should put all those speakers in your living room, every blockbuster on your shelf owes its sound to the inventive minds of Ray Dolby and his team.

So the next time you hear something behind you and have to pause your movie to see if it was really there, you know who to thank.

Ray Dolby: 1933 – 2003

Anatomy of a Road Worn Guitar

Everyone’s got that dog-eared book that’s barely held together at the binding from so many reads. Or that old holey t-shirt you can’t stop wearing. Or a ratty pair of sneakers you’ve had since high school. They’re comforting and comfortable and loved from overuse.

Instruments are very much the same – they grow with a person over the years in a symbiotic relationship. Dings and scratches mysteriously appear and eventually turn into holes and cracks. But rather than diminishing their sound, or appearance, or even their value – these are battle scars that define the personality of an instrument.

In recent years the ‘Road-worn guitar’ has become a sought-after item. Fender regularly distresses new guitars to give them that old feeling. But you can’t build “Trigger” in a day (Willie Nelson’s beloved classical guitar). It takes years of playing, frustration, and ‘eureka’ moments.

There are LOTS of guitars here at our studio, many dating back decades, even a century or more. And plenty have been played and played and played. But there is at least one guitar here that really shows what the power of playing can do to an instrument.

It’s a 1970 Guild D-40 NT. Serial number 48537. Its fret board is literally gouged out from thousands of hours of playing. Its pick guard not only isn’t there, it was essentially falling apart around the sound hole until a luthier worked his magic. The finish on the back of the neck is visibly worn off, as it is on the back of the body from rubbing against a belt buckle as it was played on stage.

On a personal note, I learned guitar on this Guild and it’s still almost my favorite acoustic to play (my own 2000 Martin D-28 has top honors!)

But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself in these pictures. And if you’ve got your own road-worn guitar we’d love to see it.

Enjoy!

The Legend Lives On…

Four years ago this week Les Paul died at the ripe old age of 94.  It was truly the passing of a legend.  And whether you were born in 1920 or the year 2000, he’s profoundly affected your life, and you might not even know it!

Les continued to perform well into his 90s

Les continued to perform well into his 90s

As a performer and musician, his TV and radio program “The Les Paul & Mary Show” was syndicated into millions of households and made him a star.  Between 1945 and 1955 he notched over 20 top 10 hit songs, including 3 number ones.  His lightning fast guitar licks influenced a generation of rockers, from the Beatles to Billy Gibbons.   Steve Miller actually learned guitar from Les.

And while his influence as a musician is solid, it’s his innovations in how people heard his music that still affects us today.

Les Paul & Mary Ford using some of Les's earliest recording equipment.  They would set up in hotels as they toured the country

Les Paul & Mary Ford using some of Les’s earliest recording equipment. They would set up in hotels as they toured the country

Les didn’t actually invent the solid body electric guitar – Rickenbacker beat him by 8 years in 1932 – but his designs and innovations were integral in the evolution and popularization of it.  The iconic guitar that bears his name – The Gibson Les Paul – was famously played by the likes of Neil Young, Slash, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman and Bob Marley, to name but a few.

His early recordings were the first to utilize Sound on Sound and Multi-track recording, and he’s credited with the development of overdubbing, close-micing, and tape delay & phasing as effects on his recordings.  He essentially created and developed modern recording techniques (take THAT pro-tools!)

TInkering with a more advanced recording console

Tinkering with a more advanced recording console

In an age where digital recording hardware and synthesized sounds can be bought for a few hundred bucks, the idea that a young man would tear apart his folks’ radio, or mount magnetic rods into guitars, or fill a guitar with plaster-of-Paris to stop vibrations; to actually create his own disc cutter assembly from used car parts (his original experiments with Sound on Sound recordings used acetate discs rather than magnetic tape) all in the quest to create or record or amplify his music is literally extraordinary.

So next time you’re tuning up your new axe or listening to the latest top 40 radio hit, take a moment to remember Les Paul.

He was a true renaissance man, and the world is quite a bit louder – and better sounding – thanks to him.

Promax & Station Summit 2013 – See you There!!

SS13_Invite_Card_v4SS13_SeatDrop_BACK_v6A

So once again Promax is upon us and SAM will be there to booze and schmooze with the best in the TV broadcast industry!  We’ve got some new products to roll out – including the industry’s first fully searchable, keyword tagged online delivery for our syndicated packages - and if you’re attending the Station Summit in Las Vegas, then you won’t want to miss our legendary after hours Acoustic Jam Session (now in its 3rd year!)
SAMSS13_300x250_v1

Stephen will be presenting as part of a panel called “Hits and Misses 2013″ in Promax LA.  on Thursday, June 20th (check your conference guide for time and locations). He and other top producers, composers and music supervisors will look at case studies of where music did and did not work in particular projects.  Stephen’s been asked to present as an expert on custom music and sonic branding, which we’re very excited about!  Check him out on this list of Promax speakers here »

And don’t forget to stop by our ‘booth’ on the floor whether you’re at Promax LA or Station Summit where you’ll find 4 guitars on display in museum style displays for 360 views.  3 are from Stephen’s personal collection and featured in the book A Story of Six Strings.  The 4th display will be one of 2 guitars we’re giving away – either a 1930s National TriCone resonator replica (produced by Johnson) or a Neil Young SIGNED Fender Tele.  So stop by, have a chat, drop your card in the box and maybe walk away with an awesome guitar.

Good Luck and hope to see you there, whether LA or Vegas!

For more info on both conferences:

PromaxBDA Station Summit Las Vegas »

PromaxBDA: The Conference Los Angeles »

NAB 2013…done!

On the gambling floor at the Cosmopolitan

On the gambling floor at the Cosmopolitan with PMOL Directors Adam Routh and Patrick Wilson

Paul Gulmans – Music Director, The Netherlands

Noelle Alanis with FOX KVVU On-Air Promotion’s Sergio Rodriguez and Tai Howard

The Palms

Little Elvis at The Palms

We came, we saw, we ruled the Roulette table. NAB 2013 was quite an experience…. from DTS’s 11.1 Surround Sound Headphones to the American Idol judges that seemed to be at every session.  But alas we were not there to purchase the latest technologies or try our hand in a singing competition but rather for a chance to meet clients, colleagues and eat pricey dinners on the company credit card!

Special thanks to all our sub-publishers for sitting down with us – particularly Fred and the lovely Lynn Woods at Red Igloo, Jean at Music for Productions and Paul Gulmans at Music Director who still does NOT eat fish despite us taking him to a seafood restaurant…

Also, station owners Carole and Peter Kozloski from WAGM for a fantastic breakfast,  Adam Routh and Patrick Wilson of PMOL for their lovely bottle of scotch that still hasn’t made it onto the boss’s desk, and of course the On-Air Promotion boys at Las Vegas’s KVVU-TV for showing us around town Tuesday night and introducing us to Corona martinis (very fancy)!

Finally what a great creole meal at Emeril’s with Fox Business’s Ray Lambiase and CNN design guru Jonathan Kemp.

And, of course we met Elvis – he’s much shorter in person!

Until next year, hope to see you there!!!

What was Hi-Tech in 1713?

Remember the video clip of violin master Joshua Bell that went crazy viral some 5 years ago?  Perhaps the most gifted violinist alive, hardly noticed, playing in DC during rush hour at an underground metro station…currently, the Youtube video is at 4 million plus views and counting.

As the below story reads, aside from being a virtuoso, Bell is somewhat of a techie…he’s up on all the latest devices, apps and video games.  But among all of his modern age digital devices, his highest of hi-tech equipment is the violin he used in DC that day– his 1713 Stradivarius violin.  To be clear, 1713 is not the model number…it’s the year the instrument was made.

Here at S.A.M. we work for a man who, like Bell and violins, is passionate about guitars. Not only playing, but collecting, and writing about, and admiring…the curves Bell speaks about in the excerpt below holds true for guitars too:

“You could think of the violin as an incredible piece of technology, perfected in the 17th century. Every little curve has a reason — it acts as a sophisticated speaker system, and no one has been able to improve on the design.”

Read more about Bell’s hi-tech 18th century violin here.

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