Music in the Digital Age

As we all know, these days a lot of music gets ‘consumed’ by downloading music from online stores or streaming music from your favorite music service. Judging by the current industry numbers, it certainly looks like the CD/record/album will be a thing of the past pretty soon (at least for the main stream music consumer). And if you listen to some industry insiders, downloads might follow suit pretty soon – being completely replaced by music streaming services.

There are a couple of issues with this trend we should all be concerned about:

1) Seems like the ‘consumer’ has finally completely given up on trying to listen to music in the quality it was supposed to be listened to. On one end, recording studios try to get better and better quality (by constantly ramping up the resolution music is recorded with) only to be ‘dumbed’ down when it gets converted into downloadable and/or streamable file sizes.

2) Sustainability for the creators of music (writers, singers, musicians, producers, engineers, etc) is taking a huge hit as their songs are not creating enough revenue anymore to justify future investments. Most local artists record and release their work backed by their own funds and are having a hard time breaking even as it currently is. With streaming becoming the primary way of music distribution, a lot of local and national artist will not be able to break even anymore. This will most likely lead to less music being recorded, less songs being needed, less work for studios, producers, engineers, musicians and so forth. Expect the streets to musical success to be lined with a whole lot more broken dreams and destroyed souls. If this trend continues, the creation of music (and art as a whole) will be limited to the fortunate few that were either able to create their fortune in the past or have limitless funding from outside sources (which has nothing to do with their talent and/or creativity).

3) Nobody gets to read liner notes anymore – lyrics to the songs, stories, credits and thank you’s are apparently close to extinction. Some albums we download today will still have PDF booklets that most people probably don’t even notice but once you get into the streaming world all that is gone.

Personally, I think it is only fair to give the songwriters, session musicians, producers, engineers, studios, photographers, etc credit for their creative work on songs they have been a part of. For me it has always been exciting to read the liner notes on any album I purchased to find out who was playing/singing/working on it.

A lot of people in the music industry used to get new client work from artists reading somebody else’s liner notes (who wrote the tune, produced, played, sang on it). I guess this ‘referral by proxy’ will be a thing of the past pretty soon.

I honestly also enjoyed the artwork of a lot of albums in the past – there were some awesome photographers and graphic artists creating album covers that left lasting impressions. I guess we’ll send all these creative professionals into retirement, because we won’t need awesome cover art anymore for a little icon on your streaming devices screen.


This is not about one artist or one career, this is about the health of the whole industry (as if it has been very healthy lately). Make no mistake about it – even the ‘big boys/girls’ are feeling the effects:
– if you can hire your favorite A-Team musician online to play on your next album you know he/she is feeling it, because they wouldn’t even had time to think about that during the 80’s and 90’s.
– if one of the biggest recording artists in the world shuts down his own company to sign up with one of the major music distributors, you know they’re feeling it (even though this happened for the right reasons).
– if one of the most popular Rock bands decides NOT to record a new album, because they don’t want to loose money, you know they’re definitely feeling it.

For years, Garth Brooks has been very vocal about trying to protect songwriters and the concept of ‘albums’ as a whole instead of selling song-by-song. Every wonder why? Because not every song is/can be a hit song but carries the same amount of effort and the same production price tag as the next one on the album. How many times have you listened to one of your favorite artist’s records and discovered a ‘hidden gem’ after many many years? Circumstances change and all of a sudden well crafted songs/lyrics take on completely different meanings. If we had only gotten the hit single off that album; we would have never even heard that gem …. think about it.

And as for the writers, not every song can be a hit song – even some of the most successful songwriters will tell you that they are still working on perfecting their craft and are still looking for THAT perfect song. If we only buy the hit singles, we take away the funding for the writers of all the remaining songs – and does anyone really believe that the hits are always the best songs on an album?


I don’t live in a dream world where everybody buys all the music they listen to and I am not against streaming services at all (as a matter of fact, I use streaming a lot of times to have background music and/or listen to songs I have to learn for my job) BUT I do make it a point to buy CDs of my favorite music even though I might already have the MP3s on all my devices. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Aaron Watson’s “Underdog”, Mark Chesnutt’s “Tradition Lives”, Mo Pitney’s “Behind This Guitar”, Reba McEntire’s “Sing It Now”, Don Henley’s “Cass County” or Toto’s “Toto XIV” – I bought them all.

The moral of the story: Support your favorite artist(s) by buying a hardcopy (!!) of their music at their shows or on their website(s) – spend the money to get their latest CD and a t-shirt and know that you’ve contributed to keeping them in business and enable them to create more music in the future.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what their name is …. they’re all in the same boat, from your local favorite to international superstar.

How much is your favorite singer/song worth to you? Hopefully more than the cup of coffee you had this morning ….

To all of you that support your favorite artists – THANKS for keeping music and artists alive and creating.

DiB

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of Music is the greatest treasure in the World.” – Martin Luther

A Walk Down Memory Lane

2015 started out looking like many years before and all seemed well. Throughout the year everything was rolling with the flow and life seemed fine until August 27th …

The day started with a recording session with some of Houston’s finest country pickers and ended with the devastating news that my musical brother Joe DeLeon had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer … BOOM …

The shockwave rumbled through the Texas music scene like a freight train, his many friends in Texas and Nashville, TN were shocked by the news and the outpouring of love and help was tremendous.

Joe DeLeon on his famous "burnt cheese" DW drumkit

Joe DeLeon on his famous “burnt cheese” DW drumkit


A Walk Down Memory Lane

The year is 2002 and a bass player who had just moved to Houston, TX from his native Germany a few years earlier visited Blanco’s, a Houston honky-tonk known for quality live music, because people in the local music scene repeatedly told him to go watch a band called “The Tearjerkers” when he asked them for the name of the hottest band in town. They were backing up a local singer by the name of Carl Manchaca that night and sounded absolutely amazing. The band lineup that night consisted of Kenny Jackson (guitar), Allen Huff (keys), Kenny King (bass) and Joe DeLeon (drums).

I was particularly impressed with the way Joe, Kenny & Allen played as a strong rhythm section – unaware that night that these were the same guys that had been the backbone for Country Star Doug Supernaw throughout his heyday. Little did I know that some of these exceptional musicians would become my friends and collaborators on many occasions and one in particular would become my friend, partner and right arm for the next decade.

Clay Farmer and his long-time band: Brian Thomas, Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco.

Clay Farmer and his long-time band: Brian Thomas, Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco.

A couple of months after seeing The Tearjerkers I had joined the band of singer/songwriter Clay Farmer and we needed a drummer to play with us. Our friend Paul Chris recommended a drummer and we were all set. I got to the gig and started playing without having a chance to get introduced to the fill-in drummer and two songs into the set he said to me “… we need to talk” before I could say the same thing to him. We did have a talk after the show and decided that we needed to work together permanently – the conversation ended with Joe’s famous words “… I think I may have found me a new Kenny King …”. Since I knew about his long-time friendship and musical history with Kenny I took that as a huge compliment. Throughout our musical journey Joe would keep reminding me how “… much you and Kenny play/are alike …”. Kenny had made some changes in his professional life that kept him from playing music as much as he wanted to which left the door open for me to team up with “Uncle Joe” full-time at the end of the year.

Throughout our journey Joe and I would always remember “that gig” and the fact that we “clicked” right away. It is one thing to become friends with a musician but sometimes there is a connection that is so deep yet so hard to describe to non-musicians. Every musician interprets ‘time’ a certain and unique way which (hopefully) culminates in what is generally called a ‘groove’. I am not exactly sure what controls our sense of time but I can tell you that there are differences (mostly of minute nature) between different players and if you find somebody who is on the same wave length as you are, you better hold on to her/him. That is exactly what happened between Joe and I – the ‘groove’ was there from the first song we played in 2002 until the last song we played together in 2015. I tried to explain many different ways when attempting to tell people what made Joe so special as a drummer but the closest I could ever get is this: we may not have had perfect time but our hearts were so in sync that we interpreted time the same way all the time. What I mean by that is that although we may not have been in perfect time all the time we would speed up and/or slow down together without talking to each other (and on recording sessions a lot of time without even seeing each other as the drummer is usually located in a separate drum booth). After a couple of sessions of playing with each other it was so obvious to me where he wanted the ‘groove’ to be and what he would play next that I could read his mind and vice versa. We would play diamonds (musician’s terminology for a break) together that were not notated on the number chart and that we had not talked about just because we both felt they had to be there at the exact same time. Throughout our sessions we would never musically step on each other – I could almost always anticipate what he would play and he would always know what I was going to do. It is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever experienced playing music ….. and we both took it for granted until it stopped.

"Bass Face" with brother Joe DeLeon behind me

“Bass Face” with brother Joe DeLeon behind Texas Artist Todd Fritsch @ The Hideout, Houston Rodeo

Occasionally we would look at each other, pat ourselves on the back and commend ourselves to the tune of “… we still got it brother …” when a recoding session or live show went particularly well but overall we always expected good results and never thought that this would ever end. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of half the things that set him apart until he was not there anymore. For 13 years I could count on one hand (maybe two) the gigs/sessions that I played with other drummers than Joe DeLeon and on August 27th 2015 everything came to a screeching halt. We had finished a recording session that day and Joe told me that he wasn’t feeling well at all (which nobody would have been able to tell judging by his performance) and would finally go to the doctor to see what was going on. Hours later he texted me the dreaded news – and we still did not think that this would have been the last time we ever played together. At the end of September Joe texted me that he was planning on coming back to play with us again at the end of November. On October 30th 2015 those plans were finally crushed.


When I got Joe’s famous ‘burnt cheese’ DW drum kit out of the band trailer to return them to his family, I got this really weird feeling that these drums would be silenced forever and to this day I would give anything to hear him play them just one more time.

A year later it still feels like I am playing ‘handicapped’, like there is just something missing – playing music will never be the same. It is a lot harder to get the same confidence and find the same ‘zone’ to play in that used to be so easy to find and was created almost automatically and instantly. I miss knowing what is going to happen right next to me before it actually happens; I miss Joe’s big smile when either one of us would mess up; I miss the post-gig/post-session briefings; I miss the Starbucks runs as much as I miss his late-night story time at Whataburger but more than anything I miss my friend. I miss the guy that would share all of his knowledge and nudge things in the direction he wanted them to go (many times without anybody else noticing). I miss his blue Chevy pickup truck that most people would consider a clunker but he thought would “….. only need a tuneup…” to get him to where he needed to go. Just ask anybody in the Houston Music scene and you will find that “Old Blue” might just be the most famous vehicle around 😉

Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco at Foundry Church. Cypress TX

Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco as part of the Worship Team at Foundry Church, Cypress TX, Christmas 2015

Joe never missed a gig and was never late; I have played many shows with him where one or both us were not feeling well but we always went on and got it done because “….. that’s what we do !”. I have never met somebody that didn’t like Joe because on top of being a top notch drummer he was also a very caring and open person that would talk to anybody and would try to help his fellow musicians as much as he could. Loyalty was also a big thing with Joe DeLeon; if he told you he would play he would be there to play – no matter what else would come up. If he committed to a project, he would be supporting it come hell or high water – even if more lucrative opportunities came along. A man of his word, no doubt about it.
Joe’s last words to me were “… I love you Rob … and sorry about the band …” – go figure !

I have been blessed to be able to play with some of the best drummers in Texas (including Joe’s best friends Walter Cross and Paul Chris) and I love working with both of them but all three of us know that I will never connect with anybody like I did with Joe DeLeon, and that has absolutely nothing to do with them and/or their exceptional abilities.


Going through this past year made it very clear how painful it must have been for one of my all-time favorite bands, TOTO, to first lose their world-class drummer Jeff Porcaro and then their bass player Mike Porcaro. I read the Facebook posts by Milton Sledge (drummer of the famous “G-Men” team that recorded all of Garth Brooks’ music) about his friend and bass player Mike Chapman (also of the “G-Men” team) who passed away a few weeks ago and I know what he’s going through and how much he misses him. When I recently watched one of my favorite all-time movies, “Top Gun”, again I couldn’t help but feel like Maverick trying to throw Goose’s dog tags over the side of the ship into the sea but I just couldn’t let go of the tags …..

On a positive note, it warmed my heart to see the outpouring of love for Joe at the benefits that were held for him last year and I was tremendously thankful to the Country Music Association of Texas to bestow their “Drummer of the Year” award on Joe DeLeon before he left us. I had the honor of accompanying Joe’s daughter Zoe to the awards ceremony and we were able to bring the award to the hospital that same night; there was not a dry eye in the room when we put the trophy in Joe’s hands. The award will from now on be called the “Joe DeLeon Drummer Award” in his honor and be given out to his fellow drummers all over the state. One of Joe’s best friends, fellow drummer Paul Chris (who is currently working with Jody Booth) just deservedly received the Joe DeLeon Drummer Award for 2017 – I know he treasures this Award more than a lot of people realize.

I have so many great memories of and with my friend and I can listen to him anytime I want (according to my personal records we have played together on a little over 500 songs in the studio); I still have his phone number, emails and text messages in my phone. After Joe’s passing I wrestled with the decision to continue or retire but when all is said and done I realize that Joe would have definitely wanted me to continue, after all “….. that’s what we do !”


Very grateful for the continued support from everybody but especially my family (Amy & Austin Billasch, Kathi Buchwald, Heike Rohner, Stefan & Doris Poesch); my musical brothers and sisters (Darwin Macon, Danny Klotz, Ronnie Dobbs, Walter Cross, Paul Chris, Bobby Terry, Jason Rooks, Shane Barnhill, Allen Huff, Billy Hillman, Todd Fritsch, Kenny Grohman, Todd Parsons, Dixie & Skeeter Trahan, Cooper Wade, Junior Gordon, Marty Wolf, Joe Anslik) and most definitely The Foundry church family Joe and I shared for 7 years (especially Pastor Ray & Jacqueline Hughes, Jessica Stephenson, Robert Ashley, Pam & Gary Nelson, Kerry & Paul Babb, Tquan Moore, Kimberly Hanks, Becky Fredrickson, Randy Wall, Joe Busa, just to name a few … lol).

And as for you “JoJo” ….

Joe DeLeon & Robert DiBlanco in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Joe DeLeon & Robert DiBlanco in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

So long my friend, until we meet again. Thanks for always being you and taking a chance on that german bass player in 2002. You have changed my life forever and touched those of countless others. Lots of awesome memories of you will remain and I will carry them with me for the rest of my life.

The latest edition to my bass arsenal arrived just in time to play today’s church service and will be named “JoJo” in your honor. We will open and close both services with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” just like we did when you left us a year ago.

Like I always told you : “Proud to be your wingman, brother …”

“Our love doesn’t end here, it’s forever on the wings of time”
(from the song “Wings Of Time” by Toto)

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Auto-Tuned

Since its interception in 1997 no other effect has been used and overused as much as Auto-Tune (except for maybe compression, but that’s a whole other story). Nowadays you will hardly ever find a recording session or any release that doesn’t take ‘advantage’ of the Auto-Tune technology. A lot of singers these days rely so heavily on this effect that it becomes part of their ‘sound’ and the listeners have become so used to hearing the typical Auto-Tune sound that they don’t even realize it any more.

At a Martina McBride concert a few years ago I got a chance to talk to the FOH engineer after the show and asked him why he used Auto_Tune on her vocals and he told me that audiences nowadays are so used to ‘that sound’ that it was requested of him to use it on multiple songs throughout the show. We both agreed that a singer of Martina’s caliber really doesn’t need it but he had to do it anyways.

Reviewing the last George Strait show on his Farewell Tour I was floored by how much the Auto-Tune was overused and audible throughout the whole show. It become really annoying to me when i.e. Vince Gill’s vocal runs were completely destroyed by Auto-Tune technology.
I couldn’t help but think of the days when artists would actually sing and work on their craft (I remembered shows of Diamond Rio and Restless Heart back in the day – no Auto-Tune, just pristine vocals !).

I realize that we will probably never get rid of Auto-Tune and that in certain circumstances it can be a valid and appropriate tool (when used in a subtle manner) but I am seriously getting tired of people letting a computer do their singing for them. Im my humble opinion: if you can’t sing, you may want to look for a different job. Apart from that, I don’t mind hearing little imperfections during a live show …. it’s a LIVE show, if you want to hear the song in perfection go buy the recording and enjoy it.

My hat’s off to all the artists out there, big league or not, that keep singing their songs to the best of their abilities, stay true to themselves and keep Auto-Tune locked up in the recording studio.

“Just because we have all the technology tools doesn’t mean we have to use them (all the time) !”

Cheers, let’s make some music ….
DiB

Remembering Jeff Porcaro

Remembering Jeff Porcaro (04/01/1954-08/05/1992)

jeff-porcaro-thumb(Photo Credit : unknown photographer (from Drumlessons.com)

Today would be Jeff Porcaro’s 60th birthday and I was going through YouTube to find some more info on him. Jeff has and will always be one of my absolute favorite drummers of all time. His groove is undeniable and the world of music is a better place for him leaving us his body of work to study and enjoy. There is a ‘lightness’ in his snare and hi-hat playing that nobody to this day has ever been able to re-produce or copy.

“Arguably the most highly regarded studio drummer in rock from the mid-’70s to the early ’90s”, Jeff was a member of Steely Dan and super group Toto and played on countless recordings of some of the world’s best known artists.

To this day there are still a lot of rumors and discussions about the cause of his death and I for one don’t really care what the real reason was (although I tend to believe Steve Lukather), I am just deeply saddened that it happened and we lost this incredible musician 22 years ago. From everything I have ever heard he was also a great human being which only adds to his legacy. Drummers all around the world have been and will be influenced by Jeff Porcaro’s work.

When I started to get really serious about playing bass, Toto albums were my food for inspiration and there was always something new to learn from the Masters. I’d like to think that my meter training was done in part by Jeff Porcaro because I jammed to his drumming a lot. Unfortunately I never got to meet him but I have always felt a strange connection to the way he played. On my attempt to learn how to play the drums, “Rosanna” was one of the first tunes I wanted to play.

My thoughts today are with the whole Porcaro family (especially Jeff’s brother Mike who is battling ALS a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Jeff’s extended Toto family (Steve Lukather, David Paich, David Hungate, Bobby Kimball, the late Fergie Frederiksen, Joseph Williams, Jean-Michael Byron, Greg Phillinganes, Simon Phillips, Keith Carlock, Shannon Forrest, Nathan East and Leland Sklar).

Jeff Porcaro will live on forever …… in countless drummers and admirers around the world !

“Our Love Doesn’t End Here, It Lives Forever On The Wings Of Time”
(inscription on Jeff’s tombstone)

April 1st, 2014 – Robert DiBlanco


Here are some cool links that I found relating to Jeff Porcaro:

Drumlessons.com – Who is Jeff Porcaro
Musician’s Institute in the 80’s
The Jeff Porcaro Half-Time Shuffle (Rosanna)
Mushanga – Jeff Porcaro
Jeff Porcaro Interview (1990)
Jeff Porcaro Interview (1988)
Toto Interview (1988)
Steve Lukather on Jeff Porcaro
Mike Porcaro talks about his brother Jeff
Toto talks bout Jeff Porcaro (Nov 1992)
Jim Keltner’s thoughts on Jeff Porcaro
Michael Thompson on Jeff Porcaro
John Robinson on Jeff Porcaro
Bill Schnee on Jeff Porcaro
In the studio with Toto
WikiPedia: Jeff Porcaro
A fan’s Jeff Porcaro Blog
A Jeff Porcaro Tribute Movie
Jeff Porcaro (1954-1992)

Special Thanks to Leland Sklar for keeping the memory of his groove buddy alive and in all of our minds 😉