Friday, April 10, 2015

An Open Letter to My MLA

I have never written to my elected representative before. Ok...I did once. I was in Toronto and wrote one to The Hon. Bob Rae. I heard nothing back. Quelle Supreeeze.

Alas, this is different....


To: Suzanne Lohnes- Croft, MLA  and Mark Furey, MLA

I write to you to voice my disgust over the cutting of the Film and TV tax credit in yesterday’s budget.

Clearly there is a great deal of shock and incredulity in the industry. The abrupt and severe nature of this change at such a crucial time is breathtaking.

I need to emphasize that the complaints being voiced are not simply those of a group of whining socialists upset at losing their government handout. Already the bigger players have made their intentions to leave very clear: DHX, Trailer Park Boys, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. They are the big fish. But It is the small ones, of which I am one of many, who will be seriously impacted and perhaps destroyed.

Your government- indeed, all Nova Scotia governments- pay lip service to “regional development” and finding ways to keep skilled young people in the province. Your budget manages to thoroughly dispel that notion, and would be comical if the consequences were not so dire. Indeed, it would be hard to inflict more damage on these two areas if you tried.

I moved here (Lunenburg) 4 years ago from Toronto. I love this place. While some of my work (audio and music for film and TV) is international, I have been gradually building my local business.  The astonishing number of creative people and businesses here presented a wonderful opportunity. That changed yesterday. As it stands I will personally lose about $30,000 of local (NS) business. That’s just this year. My clients, equally devastated and blind-sided, have put their productions on hold or cancelled them. That $30,000 gone is money I will not be paying tax on. Nor will I be hiring young assistants (to whom I pay good wages) to help me with this work. They won’t be paying tax on it here either. Indeed, they will likely leave the province of their birth and move and work and pay taxes in Ontario or BC. It is not an overstatement to say it’s another generation gone from a place that badly needs skilled young people to contribute. I taught many aspiring people when I was an instructor at the Centre for Arts and Technology in Halifax (now the DaVinci Scool of Arts and Technology). There, too, is more potential collateral damage: why would young people choose to stay and educate themselves here when there are no job opportunities in the local industry?

I understand difficult decisions need to be made come budget time. And even though I am usually a fiscal conservative and generally don’t think government should meddle in the economy I know you often do and often must. However, if you are to meddle, your meddling must be beneficial. In that light, then, I don’t think your government has any concept of the scope of consequences that will ensue from this budget. From carpenters, to audio engineers, set designers to retailers to restaurants and tour operators to car rental companies to film and TV post production houses; it’s truly not just the film and TV industry but tourism and the trades as well. So many jobs-good paying ones- and opportunities will be lost. Numbers are often bandied about, but it’s clear that $25 million in tax breaks has a huge positive echo effect on the economy overall- in rural areas as well has Halifax.

In contrast, your government had no trouble giving RBC- a multi-billion dollar earning corporation- a $22 million dollar tax incentive to create 125 low-level jobs. In the Halifax area. That decision was clearly not impacted and RBC were never in danger of losing this subsidy, were they?  125 minimum wage jobs for $22 million is OK. But $25 million for an entire industry and its many associated spinoffs that generates 5 or 10 times that amount is somehow “unaffordable”. It’s really quite difficult to fathom.

I have often voted Liberal an both the federal and provincial level. I am aghast that anyone who considers themselves a Liberal (or a liberal) would take these actions against an entire industry so swiftly and so thoughtlessly. If this goes through as proposed, I predict you will experience very negative repercussions in the next election. And for eviscerating a thriving industry you would deserve no less.


David Findlay

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Cell Phone is Satan

I hate my cell phone. I have had quite a few over the last 17 years and this one is the worst. By far. It’s also a little bit too big and doesn’t quite fit in the hand easily. I am pretty good with technological things as I work with them every day. But unless I spend 20 hours a day on it like most millenials, it is destined to piss me off forever.

And it does the most clever things of any other I have owned: Blackberry, iPhone (just an old-fashioned 3), various Samsungs and flip phones. It is a Sony Xperia android. Oh yes, it’s sexy. It has all sorts of cool apps. Hearing tests (not something I enjoy when the news ain’t good), tempo tap (very useful in my line of work), Shazam (a great way to play “name that tune”), online banking (about as much fun as the hearing test), various viewers and things that go “boing”. It is a smart phone. I preferred my stupid phones.

It has so many applications, I can’t keep track of them all. I also cannot stop it from randomly opening Skype, iTunes, Tetris, Face Time…usually all at once while it spontaneously phones New Zealand. It does this whether I am there or not- sometimes while in my pocket. The New Zealand girls really like me and their accents are cute. But even if I think I closed everything, the next time I look at it, there are 15 apps open and it’s sending course-correction signals to Voyageur 2.

Then there is texting. I know I have a preference for words like “fuck”, “douchebag” and “smegma”, but my phone knows what’s better for me. Yes, Nanny. I tried to text “SOCAN” (something with which I have a recurring relationship) today and it took me about 8 tries. By the time it would do it, it was the day after tomorrow. And though it’s very creative making up words and putting them in a sentence, the humor is lost on me when I need to send a quick message to my wife.

For example: In place of “Do you want me to pick up some wine?” (another recurring relationship…) it will send “Dwight packs wieners”. With all due respect to Dwight, I could stop the grapes and ferment them faster than sending a message. It’s a good thing Janine is smarter than the phone. She knows enough to tell Dwight to “pick up 2 bottles…” Maybe it has something to do with his wieners.

And then there is the phone part. Try calling someone who has just texted you. It offers you a browser.

No thanks, just dial that number.


No….just call THIS number (thumping on glass)

Open address book (wait 7 minutes for that to open)

Noooo! Just call the number you stupid bastard. (back to square one….pressing on number of text…)

You mean you want to call this number?

Yes, fuckface. Now do it!

Using phone or text?


Once, or always?

Always!! You cretin. (this will be an issue next time you want to text)

Phone finally rings…call proceeds.

Of course, the light goes off after 5 seconds. If you press the wrong button- not the one on the side- you will disconnect yourself. You can change the setting…but if you keep it on too long will stay on so long your full charge will last about 45 minutes. After an over night sitting (untouched except by the ghosts of the house) I will check the phone and see 12 new icons open at the top. As if magic fingers turned everything on. Maybe it gets lonely and wants to entertain itself.

Oh, and it randomly turns the ringer completely off. Especially after I have charged it. Nice feature.

Yes kids: 2 more years on the contract….

Other than that, it’s great. I Love it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Still Hanging In

I have written before on the art of "hanging in". It's one of those things that tends to separate the successful from the not-so-successful. I recently saw this pie chart of Facebook. Clearly, my music degree(s) were a complete waste of money, if this chart has any validity.

Yes, a music degree can help you to teach (done that, and still do), perform (did that too- though, to be honest, I am not crazy about doing too much of it... though I do), compose ( the last 4 months I have composed about 5 hours of music. Not for free, either). And if all goes as planned I should be able to avoid the die in poverty thing. (A certain financial institution almost made that happen, but I managed to dodge that bullet thankyouverymuch. I hope their penises fall off spontaneously.)

So here I am still at it. And that, dahlings, is the key to whatever success I enjoy. I am a stubborn bastard.

I am approaching my "Freedom 55" birthday. That term, for you non-Canucks, comes from an advertisement a number of years ago promising Financial Freedom to do whatever you wanted to do without that pesky requirement of actually working for a living. You invest so wisely (with London Life- who knew insurance was that sexy!) that you are playing shuffleboard in some resort, your Depends never leaking and your Polydent sticking fast to your gums. Indeed, you can now live the next 35 years doing absolutely nothing of value and live your days in a constant state of vacation!

I'd rather shoot myself.

You see, when I win the lottery (I am expecting to do so in the next week or heard it here first) I am not going going to quit anything. I am going to do exactly what I am currently doing. Though I might have a couple of pieces of new gear. Freedom 55 was likely a myth in 1989, and it still is today. And I already had the pleasure of telling the aforementioned financial institution to shove their bank up their ass- one branch at a time. I was, however,  much more genteel about it. I have too much fucking class to do otherwise. It was better than retiring. Or almost.

And as I have told a number of my friends and colleagues of the musical persuasion: why would you want to retire? And retire from what? Might be different if you were a dentist. Or a Claims Adjustor. Or a proctologist. How many of them might be inspired to become musicians once they change careers? Indeed, one should do what one has always wanted to do before you are too dead to do it.

I was contemplating this great wisdom last week when I got a call from my old friend Dutch Robinson. He has written and recorded a new song in tribute to the late Pete Seeger entitled, "I'm Glad I Knew You". Dutch and I go way back- 33 years to be precise- when I recorded him for the first time.

Those were interesting days. (Geek alert coming....) Dutch and I were among the first people to record using  Linn Drums. We set them up in the control room and everyone eyed this mysterious box suspiciously. You could record a song without a drummer and still have kinda "real-sounding" drums. As an added bonus, this machine would not try and sleep with your girlfriend, would not get shit-faced before a gig and would only play fills you had programmed.

Anyway, my fave Dutch Robinson story is about a session we were doing quite late at night. There were a lot of people in the control room- none of whom I knew. Some were a little, uh, scary-looking. I, with my head down ignoring the more bizarre goings-on was recording a sax part when I  accidentally erased part of his lead vocal.

Yes, kids, there was no CONTROL-Z in those days. It was gone. For good. I thought I was a dead was I going to tell Dutch, to stand up to this seasoned, experienced industry professional (who is about a foot taller than me...) and inform him of what I have done.

So I did. " I am really sorry...but...aww...I mean....I...uh...erased part of your vocal...I am, like...soooo fucking sorry..."

He shrugged and smiled. "Don't worry about it. I'll juss' go do it again."

And he did. Perfectly. One take. As usual.

So, yes, I have been a huge fan of this man ever since. A real class-act.

So, last week he asked me to mix "I'm Glad I Knew You" for him. It will be an honour and a thrill to work together again after all this time.

He is 68 years old. Still writing, recording and performing. He's singing and mentoring young artists- even in the Hip-Hop world. Yes, young people making music hanging on to his every word and benefiting from his incredible experience. He will be on tour with DRUM this summer before heading to tour the UK and Europe in the fall to support his new album.

So much for Freedom 55. So much for retiring, so much for quitting. I told him yesterday how much I admire that- his work and creative schedule is something we should all be doing. That's what "hanging-in" is all about.

Indeed, he will do what he loves until he can't anymore. He has always and will continue to "hang in". And so will I. There really isn't another option.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Geek Alert

I am a geek. It’s official. Not that there was ever any doubt.This is a post for geeky folk. If you are not one, I will write one next week that is way more sexy. Promise.
I am, and always have been, very into groovy audio gear. I had no difficulty memorizing microphone models- and can still identify almost anything. I got practice and a young nipper with all the audio equipment I bought in the 70’s. Ask me anything about the SX-series Pioneer receivers. I spent hours reading and memorizing the specs.
Part of being into audio and recording is gear. Toys. Anyone into it is automatically a gear slut. It's inevitable. You take great delight in discussing microphone pre-amps and compressors. It’s very tedious for the non-audio-inclined. But to the audio geek, it’s like porn. Better, even. And being old enough to remember the good ol' days, I can even go on about Old Gear. Tape machines. Tape. Dolby-A units, which I am sure I could still align. If there is a more useless skill to have, I'd like to know what it is.
Anyway, I was discussing such matters with my friend and colleague Tony Murphy, who had just bought himself  a groovy new pre-amp for Christmas. It’s a Chinese-made version of the delicious, vintage Neve 1073. If you have ever used one of those, it’s hard to forget the experience. Sort of like your first government audit. There are software emulations like the one made by UA (I have that, naturally) but the Neve hardware is hard to come by. And if you do, you’ll need a 2nd mortgage on the house to buy it. But it's worth it. I know your wife will agree.
Tony’s new toy piece of equipment was about $300. The price was still on the box. Not bad. Amid much tire- kicking, he asked me if I wanted to take it home and give it a spin. After careful deliberation about 1 second I said, “Ya. Sure.”
I compared it briefly with my Focusrite 428 and my tube-driven Drawmer 1960. The mic: a Neumann TLM- 103. Not getting to use it in a full session, I still tried the combinations recording some caterwauling vocals and some staggeringly inept guitar.
The results? Well, as I said to Tony, the Focusrite was more transparent. So was the Drawmer. But the 1073 knockoff was not bad either- “record-y”, as you might say. A little furry, but plenty of gain and remarkably low noise. Sometime you want a little “warmth”. Wish I could have used it on a snare drum. And doesn't every studio need some variety and choice in equipment? Of course it does.
Considering the price differential (The Focusrite and Drawmer are both about 11 times the price…) it stood up quite well. The same guy who designed this is also putting out a U67 knockoff (yes, I know there are a bunch of those already…but this might be a good one) also for about $300. I will be making room on my corporate Visa for it. You can never have too many microphones. Or compressors. Or signal processors. Or software.
Here is a picture of the beast in question. It’s pretty:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Being There

Among the other groovy things I have been doing lately, I have been teaching again.

I have always rather enjoyed it, and for me it is a way of giving back. In my current part-time teaching gig I have to opportunity to work with young adults who are aspiring audio engineers, producers, film- makers or musicians. I have taught a bunch of courses ranging from Location Audio to Film Scoring to Career Management.

It’s wonderful that I no longer have to deal with classroom discipline problems. ‘Johnny’ can tell me to “fuck off” if he wishes- he is paying quite handsomely for the privilege. But when said ‘Johnny’ is looking for a job in a very competitive, but surprisingly closely-knit, industry he may ultimately question the wisdom of his words. Nor do I take it personally when someone nods off in the middle of a lecture on the difference between publishing royalties and mechanicals. Indeed, for those of us who have endured the teaching profession in a public high school, my current gig would seem like a panacea.

Work not handed in? That’s a zero. No, I don’t mind if you leave early. No, I don’t really mind if you miss class. Again. No, it doesn’t matter why you didn’t hand in your work. You had anthrax? Damn shame. Fallen arches? Your girlfriend’s uterus fell out? That must suck. You got lost because you had to drive a friend to another friend’s house and you lost track of the time and your car wouldn’t start and once you got it going you were hungry so you stopped at McDonalds and there was a huge line at the drive-thru and by the time you got my Happy Meal class was almost over anyways, so you figured….

No probs, man. I have become so very…Zen about it all. Just don’t ask me for a reference next year when you graduate.

One of my preaching teaching topics is how I got to score a TV series a number of years ago. I was given an episode to score. So I did it. Quickly. It was maybe five minutes of music to write. I got it Monday morning, delivered a draft Monday afternoon, spoke with the producers Monday night, fixed and re-delivered by noon on Tuesday. It was approved, and on the air that Friday. I was offered another episode right away. Bada Bing.

Unbeknownst to me, two other guys were given the same episode to score. Apparently after 2 weeks, neither of them had handed anything in. They were probably  “not into it” or were having trouble deciding which snare drum sound to use. Nonetheless, it reinforced something I have always believed: You don’t necessarily have to be fabulously good (though it helps); but you do have to be THERE.

This has become a kind of mantra for me: The most important part of success is showing up. Since so many- perhaps most- don’t, it certainly cuts down on the competition.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Things I Do For Money

Now that I have posted 2 (TWO) blogs in the same week, regular readers of this space (all 3 of you) will be expecting a plague of frogs and locusts. If that occurs, remember that locusts are a good source of protein. Nom nom nom nom.

I am posting again to show what I did before my Christmas vacation: I got to be Einstein.

I had a music client 30 years ago who called me "Einstein" because He thought I was smart. (If you can fool the people......) Or maybe it was because he thought I made him sound like Lionel Ritchie.

Indeed, impersonating people, things, accents, lamps, etc has been a specialty of mine as long as I can remember. And I have often found myself in trouble because of this specialty. I recall a certain Phys-Ed teacher in high school (whom I dubbed "War Eagle" because of his macho posturing and his uncanny resemblance to a wrestler of the same name). He also had a very particular cadence to his speech pattern. Maybe we musicians are just naturally good at picking up on these things. It stands to reason.

So one day I happened to do my War Eagle impersonation in gym glass (I was about 15) while he was yammering on about something or other while holding a volleyball under his arm. As I turned to my fellow student and uttered (sotto voce, I may add) my witty impersonation, War Eagle launched said volley ball at my head. As my glasses smashed against my face and fell to the floor in pieces, I was reminded of something Steve Martin would say a few years later, "Comedy is not pretty."

Which brings me to last fall, when I was asked to do an Einstein impersonation for the Hebrew University. Naturally I agreed. My acting career has never quite panned out as I expected, so I am open to any job that doesn't involve nudity. And I think Robert DeNiro was busy that week.

Here is the English Version.

The accent was a bit of a challenge- I listened to recordings of man himself, who had a throaty voice and rather quaint lilt to his speech. One has to watch doing these kinds of accents, because a quaint Viennese lilt can turn into a spluttering, rabid Hitler very easily. At least for me. And then, to add to the fun (and this is Canada) I had to do a French version. For that, I became a method actor (not really...I just felt like saying that) and reached back into my 40 years as as Quebecker, used to hearing Europeans speaking French with their native accents. I am not sure I got it quite right, but it's not bad. If I do say so myself.

Here is the French Version.

So there you have it.  It must have been worth it because my wife saw part of it on TV last night. Maybe I should have bought a better mustache.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Look at ALL the Groovy Stuff I've Been Doing!

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One of the commonalities between teaching students and writing resum├ęs is that you are forced to come to terms with all the stuff you have done in your professional life.

I have recently been collecting YouTube videos of corporate work I have done in the past few years as part of my “corporate communications portfolio”. You never know how much stuff you have done until you go looking through it all.

As for teaching, I have a great number of funny- and no-so-funny stories of my about-35 years (35 years?? ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…thump) doing this stuff. I was relaying some of the amusing ones last week: the heroin-addicted director who fired me from scoring his film after hearing (on a dreadful, knackered sound system that reproduced nothing below 200 Hz) the first 8 minutes I had worked on. And how I was re-hired 2 days before the film went to Post because, through the drug-addled brains of those responsible, no one had thought about asking anyone else to do the job.  Or the time I hadn’t been paid for my work after 22 months- I called Blockbuster (they of late, lamented fame) and asked them to remove the movie from their shelves- I had not been paid; they were in violation of copyright for a music score I had not granted rights to. When the Producer heard about my call to Blockbuster, he threatened to kill me and burn my house down. Nice fella.

On a more benign note, years ago I had a client who was (and presumably still is) very, very wealthy. Yet every time he wrote out a cheque for my services, his eyes would well up with tears. It guess it’s tough parting with those whom you love most.

Or, as a producer, the fines I had to repeatedly pay ACTRA for late payment- they demand their money in 13 days while my client (a bank) took 90 days to pay me. You have to love being a bank to a bank!

Speaking of banks, I wrote a signature “branding” tune for a bank to be used every time an employee’s computer boots up or shuts down. (Those of you who take the Toronto GO Train, know which bank I am referring to…) over 10 years later, I am pretty sure it’s still being used. Clearly I did not charge nearly enough for it! But nevertheless…in a previous blog, I mentioned that last summer I was financially sodomized by a bank. (Yes it was that one!) While coughing up most of my retirement savings to keep from being pushed into bankruptcy, I did get a bit of a charge out of knowing that the Chief Sodomizer gets to hear my finger work twice a day for as long as he is in the employ of that bank- even when he leaves the Department  of Financially Sodomizing Non-Delinquent Clients. I wonder if they will give him a cake. Or some cufflinks.

It does take a couple of years to ramp-up business when you re-locate. I have done as much pimping of my wares as I can. One thing that I notice about blogs is how blatantly they are used as marketing tools. I suppose this is no different. I have posted the link to the Lunenburg Waterfront Walk, which I recorded and produced and look to do more this year as they whole town goes Wi-Fi. (yes that was a Marketing/ Pimping Alert. Sorry for the inconvenience). We did it in 3 languages. Speaking or recording in foreign languages...The hardest language I ever had to record for a voice-over was Tamil. I was totally at the mercy of the voice talent who was a delightful woman who helped me shepherd all those phrases into the correct spots (I have visions of people listening to voice-overs rolling on the floor as they hear, "belly bum bum poop..." as translations to a Very Serious Topic. Maybe it's because I am not above doing such a thing myself.)

I will be ramping up “spring singer/songwriter specials” in the studio. It's fabulous alliteration, I know. Stay tuned. I am especially motivated these days. And every time I get in that studio I get all silly and tell my console and every piece of my equipment how much I love them. All of them. And, truthfully, with me and my so-well-loved gear there have been some good things going on here lately.

Premier Darrel Dexter in the studio earlier this month
MORE Upcoming Marketing/ Pimping Alerts:  I had Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter in here recording a podcast for the Bluenose Operahouse Radio Network earlier this month. Any guy who remembers bands like Mashmakan, and know all the names of the members of April Wine is good with me. He really was a delightful fellow. I was wondering if there was any security around the place. My wife, Janine, said there was a suspicious looking guy outside wearing a baseball cap but was sporting an ear piece. I am a little disappointed there were no helicopters flying overhead. But they would have messed up the recording. I guess my security clearance is better than I think.

Bob Ardern is up for Instrumental Album of the Year on the Zone Music Reporter Awards. I co-produced, played on and recorded some of that CD and am very pleased with how well it turned out. I have quite a few CD’s that will be released shortly that have been recorded here and I think the place is getting a reputation for being a great place to create. And I have good gear. And God knows I am charming beyond all measure. Just ask me. I will even play on your CD as part of the package. Just like I did for the bank. Only better.

Seriously, though, I do find great similarity between being a teacher and recording/ producing music. In both situations you are helping someone realize their potential and using your skill, knowledge and tact to come up with something good. And being the age I am (AHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….thump) I realize more and more how valuable that is.

So with all that’s going on this spring (2 films I am scoring- more pimpage to come...) I am hoping I will be “entrenched” here. Not like I am going anywhere…