Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nightsound Recording Studios - Best In The Triangle

I never do things the way people want me to. They way society expects me to. So, sue me. I ought just to post a nice review of Nightsound Studios, the amazing studio helping me (Pop Voxx / Geoff Gilson) to get the tunes out of my head, and into something approaching a commercial form. But, in light of some bits and pieces, that doesn't sit well with me.

I do have a review. And I have posted it on Yelp. Please go read it. 'Like' it. Or 'Compliment' it. Whatever it is that Yelp does. Then rate Nightsound five stars. Then, if you have had dealings with Nightsound, tell the world how wonderful they are.

Why? Well, first, 'cos they are - as my review makes clear. But most importantly, because they have suffered what every artistic endeavor is vulnerable to on this wonderful anarchic device we call the open internet - a vengeful troll.

I know about this. I was performing a difficult set on New Year's Eve, when a drunken a-hole came up, mid-song, leaned in, and loudly told me I sounded like shit. People. Fellow artists and arts-lovers don't do this to each other. Not mid-performance.

I don't know who the dickhead reviewer of Nightsound on Yelp is. All I know is that art is not precise. It is a creative process. If something doesn't gel, that's life. Move on, and find something that does gel.

That's what grown-ups do. Children take advantage of Yelp's open reviewing opportunities, and have a scream and a whine. Which is where we come to my not behaving as society expects me to.

I should quietly do my review and move on, myself. But the amazing team at Nightsound are more than engineers and producers. Chris Wimberley, Taylor Herbert, Aubrey Adcock Herbert, Meghan Puryear, Adrianna Villa, Geneva Walata, they have become family. They have given five years of their time, often for no pay, to help me get a sound out of my head, that has sat there, lodged, for thirty years.

But I'm not just talking about what Nightsound have done for me. Last year, Nightsound spent about a hundred hours with Morning Brigade. I have spoken with band members, Peter Vance, Gabriel Reynolds and Nathan Spain. They all love Nightsound.

So too do Henbrain, who recorded with them recently. I partied with Zack Hargett and Erika Libero last Halloween at the Nightsound Studios. BTW, Chris? Are you guys doing a Halloween Party this year?

Skinny Bag Of Sugar regularly provide session musicians to Nightsound. I know. Rob J. DiMauro just laid down brilliant drumming tracks for my six songs. If you don't know them, Skinny Bag are a local 'cover band' (which as descriptions go is like describing Mark Zuckerburg as someone who has a bit of money). Anyways. The musicians in SB are some of the best session musicians you will find outside of LA or New York. I wouldn't be asking them to perform if they weren't. And they wouldn't be making themselves available to Nightsound, if Nightsound wasn't the best.

Does this sound like I'm tagging folks to spread the word? Damn tootey. I'm mad. These are my mates. They are good people. Professional people. Kind people. Creative people. Making a difficult living. Supporting local artists. Help out.

Share this post. Compliment my review. Give Nightsound five stars on Yelp. Write a short review. Support Nightsound. Support local artists and musicians.

Oh. In addition to linking to my review, here it is in full:

"SHORT VERSION: Nightsound Studios provide a range of recording and production services to suit your budget and particular needs. They will tailor their amazing creativity to ensure that you get what you want. If you have an off-the-peg sound, which needs a simple recording package, you will leave happy and with change in your pocket. But their forte is combining the singular talent at their disposal to help nurture local musicians, and develop sounds and styles which may still be nascent in the mind of the creative artist. I know. At times, I have been both of these clients.

LONG VERSION: In 2009, after allowing some tunes to bubble in my head for thirty years, I finally worked up the nerve to attempt to download them onto a demo CD. I approached Nightsound Studios and Chris Wimberley, having met Chris while he was supporting local musicians on our community radio, WCOM.

He and his engineering team were professional, to-the-point, cost-effective, charming, helpful and attentive. They did precisely what I asked. Produced an eight song demo, to my precise specifications. I'm a prima donna. I get like that.

Then Chris and his senior recording engineer sat me down, at their expense, not mine. And told me, bluntly but kindly, that they genuinely saw more potential in my music. And would like to help me discover the sounds they felt I continued to hide within me.

For the next five years, they worked with me. 90% of the time they gave, the advice they shared, the nudging they engaged in, they gave pro bono. They very genuinely wanted me to discover myself. To get myself ready, before committing to the potential they saw in me.

At one point, I was convinced I was ready. Chris was happy to take my money, but still he was not convinced. He suggested I form a band, to test my music with the public. Didn't want to. Play with a solo guitarist. Didn't want to. I can be stubborn. Cf. prima donna. Chris persisted. What about just dragging out the Casio workstation I used to compose, and letting rip with that? Hmm. Ok.

For eighteen months, I performed. Loved it. Found out what the public liked. Developed a finished sound - still only in my head. It's a Casio. Not Taylor Swift's stadium band. And was ready to get back into the studio, to create a more commercial-sounding EP of six of my songs.

Nightsound and I have been working on that these past seven months. We are halfway through. It has been an intense, but focused journey. It continues to be. There is no cookie-cutter approach. This is about coaxing a brand new sound out of a reluctant brain. Mine.

But Nightsound and their wonderful team are up to the task. Dedicated. Professional. Patient. Quick-witted. Creative.

Have there been moments of tension? Of course there have. I would expect nothing less. I didn't hire a building. I hired a team to challenge me. Have they been up to the challenge? Every day.

If you want a team of professional producers and engineers to record a sound you have already clear through performance and recording elsewhere, Nightsound will provide you with the most attentive, cost-effective package in the Triangle area.

If you are someone still growing, still developing, you will not find a better team on the East Coast to challenge, to nurture, to develop your talents. Always with you. Always supporting. Always conscious of the size of your pocket.

Every professional endeavor seeking to support fellow creative artists is going to have the odd relationship that doesn't go quite the way the creative artist would like. That has not been the case with me. But grown-up creative artists (even the prima donna's among us, like me) recognize that creativity is a flavor. It is not like matching paint.

If it don't work out, you move on. Then again, there are some who would not be satisfied if the Archangel Gabriel opened up a recording studio with Pharrell Williams and Paul McCartney. For them, I feel only sadness.

Now, I return to finishing off the second part of my active project with the wonderful Nightsound team ..."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Time To End The UNC Student-Athlete Hypocrisy?

We - I've lived in or near Chapel Hill, NC now for almost ten years, I can say 'We.' We are not some two-bit hokey college, out in the sticks. We are the oldest public university in the United States, and one of its largest. We have made great play of our focus on student-athletes. If our esteemed coaches did not know, they should have done. Period. But that, for me, is not the real issue.

Young people come to our university to train to be doctors. To train to be engineers. To train to be stockbrokers. Take a trip through the hallways of our business departments. Our medical facilities. There is no attempt to pretend that students are being made to study other than their chosen vocation. There is no attempt to hide the fact that the best are being recruited, even while at college, for professional berths after college.

So, why do we feel the need to pretend with our athletes? What is wrong with coming to university to train to be a professional athlete? No-one demands of our medical students that they run the 100 meters once a week. So, why do we demand of our athletes that they engage in activities which have nothing to do with the profession for which they are training, and for which they simply may not have the gifts?

What we end up doing is stigmatizing our athletes. We say to them that sports is not a real career. That they are not as good as the rest of the student body. Pretty much we teach them to cheat at this early age.

Is it not time simply and honestly to recognize that much of our athletic program is a training ground for professional sports? Openly to encourage our athletes to think in this way? To encourage them to be the very best, the very most open and the very most honest athletes and students they can be? Taking pride in their accomplishments, not least their being chosen before graduation to perform with recognized professional sports teams? Allowing them, as we take pride in them, allowing them to take pride in the institution which recognized their gifts on a par with every other student?

Isn't it time just to end the hypocrisy?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Good News

You see. It ain't all one long whine. First, in this week's WSM employee 'Market Messenger,' the folks at corporate have gone to some lengths to produce quite detailed financial figures for the last quarter. Thank you. Well done. An informed workforce is a first step to an engaged workforce, which can meaningfully involve itself in the decision-making which affects the workplace, involvement which is our right under WSM co-op policy.

Secondly, two long-serving members of that workforce, courtesy of the court ruling a week or so ago, which overturned the NC ban on same-sex marriage, got married last week. Wow! It really means something when it becomes that personal. Thank you life. Thank you all those who made this possible. And congratulations, Julie and Catherine.

Pay Raises (Whichever Number It Is) ...

Heard back. Still not Ruffin. The reply included the following:

"Your raises have been:

2007 -- Sept 2.

2008 -- Nov 3. [Great Recession -my observation]

2009 -- No raises for anyone. [GR]

2010 -- Nov 21. [GR]

2011 -- Sept 11.

2012 -- Sept 9.

2013 -- Sept 8.

In determining the date for this year, it was lined up with the beginning of the second quarter. And as Ruffin discussed with everyone in the meetings, WSM keeps working to give raises that are better than the national average (which has been around 2% for the last several years), increase our new hire rate and move up our overall average."

I responded:

"Kind of a mixed bag of tricks. I know we were subject to backwash from the Recession in 2008, 2009, possibly even 2010. What is clear is that before that, and for the three years after, pay raises kicked in at the beginning of September.

While I understand what you say, it is the very premise of what you say with which I disagree. When it comes to Pay and Benefits (and not only these issues), according to co-op policy, it should not merely be Ruffin making those decisions. Those decisions should involve us also.

All employees should be privy to the same financial information, so that, again, in accordance with co-op policy, we may all meaningfully be involved in choosing the priorities and making the decisions that affect us in our workplace.

Where to from here?

Sooner or later, there has to be a discussion about this co-op policy. To me, it is clear. But senior management seems to think it can simply ignore it.

I can either go heavy and specific, and begin with filing a formal complaint that management from my immediate manager, through the chain to Ruffin, are in contravention of co-op policy in making a decision about when pay raises kick in that did not include employees. This will almost certainly end up before the Board.

You can decide to back-date pay to the pay date previous to September 21, that is closest to the beginning of September.

Or you can take a wider view, and decide to engage in the process I suggested at the SV store meeting, and which I have canvassed before. That we now finish the process of 2007, and either hold a full consultation process on setting guidelines for how employees are involved in decision-making, or form a Task Force to the same end.

I think I would like these three points to be specifically addressed to begin with. And thank you for taking the time to research my previous question.

All the best,

[I am pursuing the Chaplin theme with pics. But more up-to-date and seasonal ... ]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pay Reviews (Raises) - Part 3

Well, I've heard back. Not from Ruffin. Yet. I am told employee pay reviews will be taking place real soon. Apparently, managers had their reviews this past week. Clearly, pay reviews are taking place later than usual. No reason given.

I am also informed that pay raises will be back-dated to September 21. Maybe this was always going to happen? If so, wouldn't it have been nice for there to have been a little more communication? Say, at the store meetings? I'm not the only one who has been wondering what was going on. This is our livelihood, people. Of course, it could be that this is actually a victory for employees speaking out.

In any event, I have been with WSM some nine years now. I recall pay raises always kicking in at the beginning of September. I mean, think about it. What is so significant or easy to remember about September 21? Other than the fact that it is the day before I first wrote to Ruffin, asking him where were our pay reviews and raises ... oh.

Well. Further e-mail to Ruffin and the WSM Human Resources Manager:

"Ruffin and Deborah, I would be grateful if you would now please let me have the information I requested about when my pay raises kicked in for the past eight years.

I have already got something of a sense that not everyone feels that the clearly defined co-op policy on including employees in decision-making (defined in Board and Employee Policy, and then detailed in the consultation document of 2007) is a policy that needs to be adhered to. But co-op policy is co-op policy. Frankly, I don't get to choose which one applies to me. Neither should anyone else.

If the back-date for 2014 is not commensurate with previous years, then a decision was made. And employees were not included in that decision about their Pay and Benefits. And that would be in contravention of co-op policy.


[Two caveats. These are my views. I wanted a funny graph. I suspect this exchange about pay raises has some more funny in it yet. So, you got a funny graph.]

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Are Our Pay Reviews (Raises)? - Part 2

So. No response from the WSM General Manager, Ruffin Slater, to my e-mail to him of September 22. And still no pay reviews, or raises - which normally kick-in beginning of September. Yup. Another lunch break e-mail. And please bear in mind, one more time, all of this chasing is done on my time, not WSM's:

"Hey Ruffin,

It may be that you are about to write to me. But I do not yet have a response to my e-mail of September 22.

I do not think it fair for me to have to confront my pay review manager about this as and when. After all, he is not the person who made the relevant decisions. So, I would be grateful if you would respond to this e-mail yourself.

Same question, with a supplement, to avoid drag-out. When will our pay reviews be taking place? And will our pay raises be back-dated to what I believe is the normal date each year fro our pay raises to kick in, namely the beginning of September?

In respect of the latter, if there is some disagreement over the latter claim, I wonder if you would be so good as to ask Deborah to produce for your response the date for the past eight years of my employment on which my pay raise kicked in.

As I am sure you will already understand, if there is no back payment, or it is to a date that is not commensurate with those previous eight years, I am going to claim that a decision was made to change the nature of our pay raises, and since it was made in contravention of the co-op policy demanding that we be included in such decisions, it has no standing, and our pay raises should back-date to the usual kick-in date.

All the best,

POP VOXX Recording Update

Right. Well, as most of you know, I spent this past week having the drumming tracks laid down for my CD of songs. This is actually a bigger deal than at first it appears.

It's not just about having some bloke come in and tap out beats for a couple of hours, and then pop off home. Oh no.

This process began several months ago, when the songs, in the sound I wished them performed, existed only in my head.

First thing we had to do was get them out of my head, and create digital production sequences, where you could hear the drum beat required, in the context of something approximating my sound. Which by the way, I have now decided will be called either DubBeat or EDR (Electronic Dance Rock).

So, I sits down with my two Nightsound Studios producers, Chris Wimberley and Adrianna Villa, and they very, very patiently spend many sessions listening to me change my mind week on week. After which, Adrianna created magic out of Logic.

Once we had the sequences, my recording engineers, Meghan Puryear and Geneva Walata, helped to produce drum guides, so that the poor drummer could wade through my sequences, with some idea of where he was going. Meghan and Geneva also spent a lot of time helping me to experiment with the layered vocal effect I'm going for.

My chosen drummer, Rob J. DiMauro, of Skinny Bag Of Sugar fame, popped in and listened to all of the tracks, asked some sensible questions (can I leave now?), and we were all set for the week of drumming.

Tuesday - set up. Seven hours of carefully arranging two sets of drums (one disco-tuned, the other rock-tuned), a fistful of microphones, and all manner of wires.

Wednesday and Thursday - the actual recording. When the Nightsound team and Rob were stars. And I disgraced myself by being the nanny prima donna.

And. We now have six tracks of the most incredible drumming. For six dance songs that will blow your socks off.

Many thanks to all. For your skill. Your dedication. And your patience. Onto the next step. I think Rob has decided to take a cruise through Hurricane Gonzalo, for peace and quiet. Compared to the little English dictator ...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Invested Employees Make For Good Customer Service‏

Bloody hell. I pick up today's WSM employee 'Market Messenger,' and it's like the last few weeks, with their seeming improvement in employee-inclusion, never even happened. Letter to WSM's General Manager. Sigh:


We made such a good start with our Unit Meetings. Attempting to get employees involved in designing the way forward in our co-op. As is our right under co-op policy. But I see from the latest employee 'Market Messenger' that we just seem to be slipping back to the old ways: advancing management goals, and using our own words against us.

First, the post about customer service. I can't speak for other Unit Meetings. But I got no sense at all from our Unit Meeting in Southern Village that all we wanted to do was offer great customer service slavishly. The very definite message I got was that we would be more likely to offer better customer service if we were more involved in the making of decisions and policy.

It's the Zingerman's point you keep quoting out of context. Happy employees make for happy customer service. True. Now. Make us happy. You partially allude to it in your post. You say: "extraordinary customer service ... is the normal way of relating to customers and each other."

It's a twist, Ruffin, and you know it. We are saying, treat us well, involve us, allow us to be invested (the way we treat each other - which includes the way management treats and involves us), and we will relate to customers in the same way - pro-actively.

You gently lose the point about management involving us in decisions and policy-making (as co-op policy requires), and just hark on about all of us demanding that we work harder. It's disingenuous, Ruffin.

As is the other post about the worker-owner election. For sure, there were more worker-owners voting. There ought to be. We just increased worker-ownership from 100 to 192 in two years. Not least because I campaigned for six years to get you lot to make it easier for workers to become worker-owners. But, you did not mention that turnout dropped dramatically.

I have already written to the Elections Committee to ask them publicly to present figures like turnout. It is not negative; it is educative. But again, if it doesn't fit your narrative of all-is-well control over democratic inclusion (or not), you leave it out.

The message of the two candidates was not 'owner participation.' It was worker inclusion. Byron was more blunt. Demanding a suggestions box in each Unit, and promising to be a forceful advocate for worker rights on the Board of Directors. But even Jon spoke of his pride in a co-op which allowed him and other workers the opportunity to be involved in decision-making.

I may not be able to change the manner in which you use words to present a record of events, a description of goals, and the like, in a slant towards management bias. But what I can do I will continue to do: I will continue to hold you and management in this co-op to the policy which requires that you include all employees in decision-making that affects them.

I know you rarely, if ever, choose to respond to my e-mails. But I can ask. Would you please let me know what are your plans in 2015 for offering employees the opportunity to design the process by which they may be more regularly involved in the decision-making that affects them? I asked for it at our Unit Meeting. You wrote it down. As you know, it is co-op policy both to involve employees in decision-making and to include them in laying down the guidelines for such inclusion.

All the best,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Worker-Owner Director Election Result 2014

Democracy has spoken. Congratulations to Jon. Commiserations to Byron. If you did not vote, you got the result you chose. The turnout was 39%. The turnout for the Scottish Referendum was 86%.

Democracy is democracy. Co-op policy is co-op policy. I campaigned successfully for five years to change co-op policy (finally, in 2011) to make it easier for workers in WSM to become worker-owners, so that they would have the right to vote for Directors on the WSM Board who truly represented them.

As a consequence, since then, out of a total workforce of about 250, worker-ownership has increased from 100 to 192. 74 of those voted in this year's Worker-Owner Director Election.

It is co-op policy that all employees (not just worker-owners) be involved in the major decisions that affect them and their workplace. I have been campaigning for about two years now for this specific policy to be fully implemented within WSM.

That campaign will continue, as I pursue our WSM General Manager and the WSM Board this next year, to set up a process allowing workers to design a system whereby we are all regularly included in major decision-making, in accordance with co-op policy.