Behind the Scenes

Stats, Data, and Rock & Roll

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I think Facebook thinks I’m a bot.

William Steffey and I are putting some serious focus on promoting his music this year. Running ads on Instagram is the first part of that. A Facebook business account comes with a lot of data, so surely I can use my statistical background to get us some sort of advantage?

The standard strategy for promoting music would be to figure out what bands and artists William sounds like and then reach out to them. But he doesn’t really sound like anyone. Really! We ran a survey and the answers were all over the place. If you don’t believe me, head on over to Spotify and then leave your opinion in the comments! Please?

For now, we’re targeting an eclectic mix of music fans based on the survey results. And we’re getting lots of feedback about how the group is responding to the ads. Age, gender, location. But nothing about which artist(s) they liked that put them on our list to begin with. As results come in, I want to be ready with some Bayesian estimation tools to narrow down the best audience for our ads.

Bayesian estimation is all about conditional probability. What is the likelihood of A, given that B is true? In this case, to give an example, What is the likelihood that someone who responded favorably to our ad is a fan of David Bowie or U2 or The Killers or – you get the idea.

Most people running Facebook Ads campaigns on a small scale aren’t former actuaries, so they helpfully provide potential audience information in the form of graphs and summaries. I want everything as granular as possible though. I can get there with a bit of data entry work that I’m happy to do, but I think I ran over my limit today. The page is telling me there’s no data available.

Fingers crossed that I can convince tech support of my humanity.


William Steffey Radio

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I realized I’ve been doing Spotify wrong. Instead of listening to the weekly generated playlists and up/down voting things, I’ve been copying them into another playlist to listen to later. Yes, I procrastinate so much that I can procrastinate listening to music! I ended up with a massive playlist that I’d never get around to, but it also lacked the feedback options. Without any feedback, my suggestions are all the mopiest of mopey indie rock.

As of this week, I’ve deleted that playlist and I’ve been sticking to Discover Weekly and Release Radar, voting down any song that seems in danger of putting me into a coma. It still feels a little bit like homework though so, because it’s Friday, I’m going to take advantage of another feature: artist radio.

(Sorry if this post sounds like I’m promoting them. I’m not. I’m not even a paid subscriber.)

Anyway, artist radio. I’ve got to start with William Steffey, right? He’s arguably my favorite artist. I married him. But also, he has such a limited following, I’m very curious how the algorithm will deal with it.

(Look at me embedding things in my page, all fancy.)

Clothes of the Devil is a good song. It’s pretty low energy, considering what I was just complaining about. I’d cal it more somber than mopey though.

Silent Stranger – Battle Axe: Is this a new song? It has an eighties power ballad-ish feel. Not my cup of tea, but I’m keeping an open mind. Bill certainly was influenced by songs like this, so I guess it’s not completely out of place.

Advertisement: 1. Ooh, a scaremongering PSA. That’s a fun change of pace. 2. Safe Auto likening excessive insurance coverage to Autotune. It’s clever. I can’t be that mad at it. 3. Xfinity Home Security? Oh yeah. Exactly what I’d want to have break unexpectedly and have to deal with terrible customer service.

Gush is one of my WS favorites. He shared Romance of the Spaceways with me when we were first dating. “If I gushed and told you everything, would you stand up, run like hell, and hide from me?” Funny how we think musicians are cool when they’re literally telling us all of their insecurities in four minute chunks.

Tony Anderson Orchestra – Dolannes Melodie. Oh, this is delightful. Instrumental, Latinish(?), with that one breathy flute-like instrument I can’t place.

Ok. I’m getting very little work done well I do this. (And my boss just stopped by while I typed that. So, um yeah.) No more blogging today.

Finished Works

Hey, I made some posters!

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I’ve been busy lately, and that includes posters. A friend who is a music publicist put me in touch with Brad Cole, who will be playing a residency at Montrose Saloon next month and I made him some posters and social media graphics:

I’ve made a lot of posters, but I haven’t really worked like this with a client before. Usually, I’m either just adding some text to an already-designed poster or the client knows me well enough that I just have free rein. I don’t actually know the correct design process.

I sent Brad some fairly bland samples to get a feel for the direction that he wanted to go in, but none of them clicked. He sent me back some examples of things he liked and I we sort of agreed that, with the time frame we were under, a stylized photo would be a good middle ground between something unique and something obvious.

Now that I’m working an office job full time, I do a lot of doodling in meetings. And that often means making gradients out of dots with text in the negative space. I did that for this picture, using three colors. A medium tone over the whole image, a darker tone for shadows and a bright tone concentrated around the text. There’s a big difference between idly doodling dots while watching a webinar and filling a page with them when it’s your job!

One neat thing about how I made this is that each Photoshop layer only had one color on it, so it was easy to provide color variations. If you go to Montrose Saloon, you’ll see the poster above as well as one in a silver/yellow color palette.

My other main poster outlet is Nighthawk Tavern‘s monthly Concert Series. This is the thing where I normally just add some text to what’s already there. There wasn’t much of a poster for Sade: Bring Me Home Live though, so I composited a few images, including a disco ball, and I was very happy with the results. The Fela In Concert assignment came up right after I finished Brad’s posters, so I was feeling good about my skills! I took the main image from the original media and then added the side elements inspired by Fela’s super cool suit!



Focusing on the Basics

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I haven’t forgotten that I had a plan to blog about the music I was listening to, but I’ve put that on hold. By which, I mean I completely flaked on it.

The truth is, I started looking into getting hired at the company I’m temping at. Suddenly, I didn’t want the VP walking past my cube and seeing Spotify or WordPress up on my screen. Also, the level of phone calls picked up and that’s not compatible with listening to music.

I’m back now because I heard an Asian Efficiency podcast the other day about planning in 90 day cycles. The timing was good, so I’m going to give that a shot.

The focus of these 90 days will be just getting the very basics under control. Eating vegetables. Brushing my teeth. Cleaning the cat box.

And keeping up with my prescription and doctor’s appointments. Last month, I ran out of SSRI refills and Wags had to call one in. This month, it happened again. Busy at work, I forgot to take a pill Wednesday. When I took one Thursday, I realized it was the last one. I put in for another refill, and the doctor said no! I didn’t find that out until Saturday.

It’s Monday now, and I still don’t have a refill. The withdrawal was really rough. When I started to feel better, I thought I might go the week until my appointment. I was already past the worst part and, to be honest, it makes me uneasy for a chemical to have that much power over me.

Well, this morning gave me a pretty good reminder of why I still need the medicine. One very small thing went wrong and my emotional reaction was disproportionate to the situation.

Maybe tapering off the drugs properly can be a goal for July/August/September. But, for now, I’ll take all the help I can get.

I don’t think I’ll get much done in the way of habits this week though. I’m working at a giant trade show out of town. I’m trying to go through all of my notes and to-do lists and sift out the important things though. Here’s what I have so far:

* Pay overdue doctor bill

* Take a long walk once a week. Would it be weird to pick up trash?

* Stop at the gym on the way home from work (plan for this)

* Eat a variety of vegetables

* One load of laundry every five days

* Scoop one cat box every night; top up with heaping cup of new litter. (Transfer measure to something plastic.)

* Clear email pins – they’re there for a reason

* Breast exam

* Trim nails and other basic maintenance

* Listen to more music, less spoken content?

* Work standing up?

Media Reviews

Beware of Playlist Pranks: MTiM-5

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No blog yesterday. The internet at work seemed dodgy, so I didn’t want to put Spotify on. Also, I was in a bummer of a mood so I probably wouldn’t have liked whatever I listened to. It happens.

I’m feeling better today and I don’t want to miss two in a row, so let’s get started with Paste’s #37 album of 2018.

Preoccupations: New Material

The album cover promised 80’s synth, and 80’s synth is what I’m hearing. It’s hard to judge objectively when it sounds so retro. Maybe if I already knew the band, I’d have more context for what they’re doing. From the Paste review:

“Examinations of creation, destruction and the ways that we often practice the two in vain have regularly been tethered to the Canadian post-punk band’s work—even going back to their days as Viet Cong.”

Should it matter?  I guess nothing exists in a vacuum. I mean, a review of a Michael Bay movie wouldn’t point out that there are a lot of gratuitous explosions. It’s assumed that you have a certain level of familiarity going in. Should there be one review targeted at people familiar with the band and another for people who aren’t? One just for super-fans? One for Republicans and another for Democrats? Point taken, self. I’m going by a review in Paste and that’s a magazine for hip, rock savvy readers, right? And for posers like me who want a shortcut.

I should expand these posts into a full media review site called, “No, I’ve Never Heard of Them.”

I was planning to do a second listen, but it’s just going to confirm that this sounds a lot like the music I wasn’t cool enough to listen to in high school.

Lonnie Holley: MITH

This, on the other hand is not derivative at all. The first track was like beat poetry meets Music From the Hearts of Space. But not quite.

Oh my goodness. This album is two and a half hours long!

No. No, it’s not. I accidentally clicked on a playlist consisting of MITH followed by Norweigan metal. There are apparently pranks on Spotify. Stay safe out there kids!

No second play today; it is a bit much for at work, but I could see listening to it on a rainy Sunday while reading a book.

I’m With Her: See You Around

Um… it’s a little Country. Sorry, Bluegrass. “Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins, Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan and folk songstress Sarah Jarosz began collaborating as I’m With Her back in 2015.” Nice enough, but not for me.

DJ Koze: Knock Knock

So far, it’s okay but a bit backgroundish. Even Paste is calling it a “canvas.” Okay, Track 4 has lyrics. This is better.

This album is all over the place. It will require a second listen. The current track is “Lord Knows,” and I can’t decide if it reminds me of Moby because of that, or if it’s a deliberate Moby nod.

I don’t have time to listen again at work today, so I’ll start with this one tomorrow. My blog, my rules.

Media Reviews

Mixed Bag: MTiM, Part 4

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I’m working on a JotForm today and there are so many crazy widgets available that don’t pertain to my work. I want to check them out though. Don’t be surprised if a JotForm shows up in here in the next few days.

Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet

This is… not any genre of popular music. It’s more like avant-garde classical music. I’m liking it though. I need to give it another listen before I can form any opinions though, because I may have just gone into some delta-wave state while it was on. These tracks are made with a “prepared piano,” in which objects are stuck “between and atop the strings of a piano to alter its sound.” I am all about fixing what’s not broken. No wonder I like this music. I think I’ll suggest it to WS in place of the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack when we’re looking for something instrumental and atmospheric.

Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing

The first six tracks have been – I don’t know, not bro-ey, but something that’s just not clicking with me. The instrumental “Amor Puro” was good. You know what? It’s too country for me. I didn’t want to tar it with the country brush because it’s clearly more latin, but he just said that a woman was waiting with a red dress on and – really? That tired cliche? I’ll keep going, but I don’t anticipate a second listen on this album.

Huh. We’re still talking about red dresses. At least according to Google ngrams.

I almost just hit skip on “Sonica USA,” but I’m apparently not letting myself skip tracks? Rio Navidad is no picnic either. Six tracks to go.

My blog, my rules. I’m done.

Richard Swift: The Hex

This is a posthumous release. I’d better be nicer than I was to Sr. Escovedo!

The first few tracks sound like they’re from the sixties. Which is a cool technical achievement, but kind of distracting as far as being able to tell what I think of them. But that’s what second listens are for.

First of all, this album is flying by. Second of all, the track HZLWD opens with… is it the Poirot music??? Drat my non-musical brain. It’s some British mystery show. To the Googles!

Oof. He was only 41. And HZLWD is something to do with Nancy Sinatra?

Listened again. I like it, but I think I should go back and get to know this artist’s work before getting into it.

Media Reviews

Listening to albums on a Monday: Part 3 of My Taste in Music (MTiM)

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It’s quiet here today. The person I report to and her boss and her boss are all out of the office. That’s not to say I don’t have plenty of work to do. Just that it’s nice to not have to feel sneaky.

Paul Kelly: Nature

So, this is kinda old and folky? Ok. Wasn’t expecting that. Okay. I’m five songs in and it’s not folk, but the singer definitely makes me think of Bob Dylan. The tracks are on the slow side and there’s a lot of repeating the same line twice. That’s one of those things that works great when it works, but gets really old when you’re not digging the song. This is probably a good album, and I’ll read the review r/n to see if I’m missing anything, but I don’t think I’ll give it a second listen.

He’s Australian. And now I’m hearing a similarity to Colin Hay. But, with Colin Hay, you get an occasional clever punchline. This is just too earnest for me.

Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour

Oh, boy. The second track is so poppy that I thought it was the start of a Spotify ad. I’m getting a Sheryl-Crow’s-little-sister vibe. I’m going to read the paragraph. Yes, this is a country to pop crossover. No surprise that it’s leaving me cold. The track “Butterflies” sounds like a catchy pop song from the seventies. Pleasant, but forgettable. And now what’s this Daft-Punky Autotune opening all of a sudden? Ten tracks to go.

Space Cowboy is a play on words. He’s a cowboy who wants his space. Points for that. It has me wondering though? How many actual cowboys are there anymore? Apart from as a nickname or metaphor. I guess they’d fall under this group:

45-2093 Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals
Attend to live farm, ranch, open range or aquacultural animals that may include cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses and other equines, poultry, rabbits, finfish, shellfish, and bees. Attend to animals produced for animal products, such as meat, fur, skins, feathers, eggs, milk, and honey. Duties may include feeding, watering, herding, grazing, milking, castrating, branding, de-beaking, weighing, catching, and loading animals. May maintain records on animals; examine animals to detect diseases and injuries; assist in birth deliveries; and administer medications, vaccinations, or insecticides as appropriate. May clean and maintain animal housing areas. Includes workers who shear wool from sheep and collect eggs in hatcheries.

238,000 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I guess that’s enough cowboys to sing about.

Three tracks to go. I’m looking forward to this album being over. This song, “High Horse” sounds really familiar. I bet they use it in the Spotify ads. It’s not terrible. It just feels like a Spotify ad. I’m adding it to the 2019 playlist on the grounds that I recognized it. That, and I’m feeling curmudgeonly about disliking two albums in a row.

Caroline Rose: LONER

Ok, finally. I feel like I’m listening to something new and interesting.

First time through, I liked it. I didn’t really take any notes. It veered 80’s for a bit, but recovered. “Soul No. 5” was very catchy, then “Smile…” was weird and trippy and then “Bikini” was super catchy in a way that I could see really loving or getting really sick of. (edit: I realize after the fact that it reminds me of “The Keys to Her Ferrari” by Thomas Dolby.) Let’s give the whole album another listen.

Oh, interesting. According to Paste, her previous album, I Am Not Afraid, was roots-rock. I think what I’m liking about this is the speed-pop of it. I’ll have to give that a listen and see if I like it as well.

Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed

So, wait. These are all Bob Dylan covers? That’s crazy. It doesn’t sound at all like Bob Dylan. It’s very good. Not for me though. Everything sounds too much like a feel-good song off the Thelma and Louise soundtrack. I loved that soundtrack, but I don’t think I can make room for something new that sounds like it.

Adrianne Lenker: abysskiss

I’m four songs in. I’m only kind of paying attention. It sounds a bit like someone singing out loud while wearing headphones.

Yeah. I gave this two listens and, just no. Too breathy and insubstantial for me.

Media Reviews

My Taste in Music: Part 2 of a continuing series

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Yesterday, I started listening to Paste’s 50 Best Albums of 2018. Part of this is to improve my Spotify recommendations. Part is to get back in the habit of posting on here.

Flasher: Constant Image

My first impression of this is that it just sounds like music. Like it wasn’t written, but just scooped out of the ether as a thing that exists. Is that a good thing? I’m not put off by that unfamiliarity curve that I usually face with new music, but it also seems like it’s not particularly new or adding anything to the world. I’ll see what the magazine had to say before I give it another listen.

“Immediate pop melodies” is the phrase Paste uses. So, yeah, we’re on the same page. I’m just not as sure it’s a virtue. I gave it another listen and it’s good, but I just don’t need it. It would be good for, say, a bar that needs to freshen up its playlist without scaring the regulars.

Phosphorescent: C’est La Vie

Just a few minutes in, I’m already comparing him to Langhorne Slim. Again, this could be good or bad. Track three and I’m no longer comparing him to Langhorne Slim. This track is reminding me of The Piña Colada song and I’m not mad at it.

I listened twice through and that one track, called New Birth in New England is the only one that really stood out for me.

Intermission – A dozen artists I like a lot.

I’ve mentioned two bands I do like, so maybe I should do a list. I’ll just put it in alphabetical order, and I reserve the right to update it as I remember things I like. My top artists, not including my husband:

  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Andrew Bird
  • Jackson Browne
  • David Byrne
  • Neko Case
  • Elvis Costello
  • Langhorne Slime
  • Long Winters
  • Aimee Mann
  • Mountain Goats
  • The National
  • They Might be Giants
Media Reviews

Figuring out my taste in music (Part 1 of many)

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Apropos of nothing, I’m going to listen my way through Paste Magazine’s 50 Best Albums of 2018. I have to start somewhere and it was a random purchase of Paste (in print) that led to my first hearing of The National, one of my favorite bands. I’ll be doing this at work, so please enjoy the slight frisson of wasting my employer’s time!

Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On

I have some knowledge of Yo La Tengo and I like them. Autumn Sweater and that one song that references Horse With No Name come to mind. This should be a good place to start. I’ve listened once through and nothing is jumping out at me. It’s all a bit dull and whisperey. But it generally takes me a few listens to warm up to anything new, so I have it on repeat.

Okay. I’m not being fair. Third time listening, and two of the first four have a kicky beat so far. Let’s see what the Paste review says… ” low-lit haze… atmospheric climate… throbbing percussion…” Oh, ok. This is meant to be super chill. Trouble is, that’s seldom what I’m in the mood for. That’s on me.

Blood Orange – Negro Swan

I’ve never heard of this artist. That’s exciting for starters. Most of the way through the first listen, I’m enjoying this. The bits of speech at the beginning of some of the tracks are oddly comforting to my podcast>music brain. And one of the voices really reminds me of Tricky. It’s also pretty low key but, after that Yo La Tengo, it’s a downright dance party.

Two listens through and I really like this album. I would go through a third time this afternoon, but I’d rather come back and listen later. (Ooh, maybe I’ll do that on Sundays or something.)

Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere

Looks pretty country from the album cover, but I’m going in with an open mind. Track two is full of good ol’ days nostalgia, which I never like. It’s especially challenging after immersing myself in the struggles of being black and queer with Negro Swan.

I mean, this is good music. It’s miles better than the yay-for-trucks-and-‘Murrica you think of as contemporary country music, but I don’t think I’ll listen to it more than once. That said, I did just put Livin’ Next to Leroy on my 2019 playlist though. A country song about opioid abuse feels very timely.

Those two paragraphs make it sound like I only like bummer topics in my music. Which… is kind of true. I don’t like heavy topics in TV or movies or books, so I think songs are my safe outlet to get sad for 3-5 minutes and then stop. #FunFactsAboutMe And, as I type that, she sings “If you ever get tired of being happy, give me a call” and I’m tempted to put that one on the list.


Finished Works

Grief, only tangentially inspired by Seripop

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This morning I listened to the Move Your DNA podcast, and the guest talked about the idea of the Wall of Grief: when you think about all of the things that need to be fixed – referring to the state of the world, but I’m not sure if that’s always the context – and become paralyzed with overwhelm. (Can overwhelm be used as a noun, or is that just a David Allen thing?)

I was trying to mimic the style of Seripop – candy color, busy layouts, color fills with black offset lines, scribbly homemade patterns, hand drawn text filling up spaces, hard to read and, in their own words, “weird junk.” Then I got hung up on this bailing-the-ocean-with-a-bucket metaphor and lost the thread. This is one I’ll want to revisit if and when I revisit these posters later.

I had work again today. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I’d forgotten how good I am as an employee. The pay on this assignment is not a lot and the task I’m being asked to do is pretty simple, and I can’t help but add more value. While I’m checking if A matches B, I’m proofreading B, looking up things I’m not sure about, suggesting ways that B can be improved, etc. None of this shows in my resume though. That’s the tricky part.

The text spilling out of the bucket are random bits of industry jargon that caught my eye today at the office. I scribbled them on sticky notes, then Adobe-Captured them into vectors.