1. Google Alerts
Google Alerts are something truly extraordinary. For the uninitiated, this is how they work: you save a search term with Google, such as “keyboardist wanted.” Everyday Google will send you new webpages that include the term “keyboardist wanted.” I find that as soon as somebody writes it I get it. I have alerts set up for everything relevant to this site – musician, professional musician, cruise ship musician, obama + arts, Broadway – and I get the daily news on those subjects everyday. The emails Google Alerts send me end up being like different sections of the most interesting daily newspaper. Much of the news related subjects I talk about on this site are things I found on Google Alerts.
2. Culture Pundits Art Ads
You may have noticed that we serve ads on this site. The ad revenue goes toward the cost of the site, and if they make money, to the writers for their time. When I was setting up the site this year I looked into many different advertising networks. ValueClick, Adsense, Chitika, Yahoo…there are so many these days! ValueClick had irrelevant, annoying ads. Yahoo seemed like Adsense but not as good. Chitika doesn’t seem to be working for us. Adsense is great, but I kept looking for something even better.
I finally found something that I thought would be great for the site. I found the Culture Pundits ad network through Adify.com. At the top of every single page in this website you see these 728×90 banners. Sometimes they serve ads for art museums, for creative seminars – but when they run out of paying ads like those, they serve artwork. If you click on the artwork banner, you’re taken to a website that talks about the artist and exhibits their work. On one hand we aren’t paid for displaying those ads, but on the other hand I think they add an aesthetic to the site that is sometimes quite striking. Also, as a site that is dedicated to musicians, I think it’s great to support another form of the arts.
Orchestration Lessons on NorthernSounds.com
You know the Rimsky-Korsakov book, Principles of Orchestration, that you had to read in music school? It’s touted as “the” orchestration book in the history of western civilization. The book is great, but it has tons of excerpts as examples and it’s very difficult to look up the recordings, find the exact measures, and study it properly.
NorthernSounds.com has posted the entire Rimsky-Korsakov book online with audio of the excerpts included. It is a MUCH more effective way of learning the material, and if you are interested in that kind of thing I encourage you to check it out.
This is a computer program that has helped me out immensely this year. Some musicians don’t like using technology to help them transcribe, and I completely understand the philosophy. You can’t exercise your ear if you make it easy. But the transcription jobs that I frequently do are on a tight schedule and are often quite difficult – coming from crappy mp3 recordings or worse: YouTube videos. This program allows you to slow down recordings, loop sections and isolate frequencies with the EQ to help you pick out all the notes of an arrangement. I highly recommend it.
5. Audio Hijack
Another program that I found very useful this year. Say you get a job, as I did, to transcribe a song from a YouTube video. If you want to feed the audio into a program like Transcribe! or Logic to manipulate it, you’re going to need to get it in mp3 form. Audio Hijack will record the audio coming from any individual program (like Firefox or Finale), or from your computer system-wide and turn it into an mp3 you can use.
Also, if you have a protected mp4 from iTunes and you need to send a clip to a friend for a gig, you can capture it with Audio Hijack for that purpose.
Naturally, I’m not advocating piracy. These are just things that modern musicians need for work.
See this website? It’s all WordPress. I’d never fooled around with WordPress until this year, when Cam and I decided to make this site. The last blog I kept was maintained with a essentially homemade backend using ASP. What a mess that thing had become! I couldn’t code a thing in ASP and after 5 years of working with it I’d never figure out much of anything. So this time I decided to get with the program and learn PHP, SQL and WordPress. Coming from ASP, this is such a breath of fresh air. It’s so easy to work the backend, there are so many great extensions, and it works so well with the interconnected nature of the internet. I haven’t used the other major platforms, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to. I think WordPress is tops.
7. Sound Music Sound Money
This is a blog written by Doug Ross, who also wrote once for us a few weeks back. I really like his practical, money-managing-for-musicians blog. I wish I knew all that he does about both money and music. It’s a great resource. One of the top websites I’ve found this year.
8. This Is Your Brain on Music
Have you checked out this book? You should check out this book! This will literally change the way that you think about music. Author Daniel Levitin explains how music affects the brain, how practicing changes the brain, and explains literally hundreds of other brain-related facts that are incredibly useful to all musicians. It’s not necessarily written for musicians, but it should be required reading for all of us.
9. Barack Obama
I volunteered for Obama’s campaign in Virginia this year and together we turned the state blue for the first time since the 1960s. It was a historic race, the first one I took real ownership and responsibility for, and it has really changed my perspective on politics and how the world works. I’m a news junkie now, and very interested in how policy in Washington affects musicians and citizens all over the world. It’s influenced the topics I write about on this website, and instilled in me the feeling that ordinary people can make a difference with the right leadership.
10. iTunes Genius Button
Man, I can’t say enough about this little feature on the 2008 release of iTunes. It’s changed the way I listen to my music. I lavished more praise on it several months ago in this article.
So that’s my Best of 2008. I’d also like to say that I’m really grateful for all the readers we’ve had to this site this year and all the gracious bloggers that have linked to us. New Year’s Day will mark this website’s 2 month birthday. We’re very young(!), yet we’ve been welcomed warmly to the scene. I especially want to thank: Heather at About.com, Andrew at Artistshouse.org, Drew at Adaptistration.com, David at KnowtheMusicBiz.com, Alex at ProfessionalNoisemaker.blogspot.com, Derek at Sivers.org, and Jason at shadrickguitar.wordpress.com for all their help, guidance, example and link-love.
Another special note of personal gratitude, of course, to my buddy Cam for starting this site with me and to my girlfriend for putting up with all the late nights of coding and writing. Here’s to a great 2009!