Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moved Blog!

Hello Folks, my blog is now at www.shawnpeters.com. Please check me out over there and get your RSS feed on.


Shawn P

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ron Saint Germain, Sebastiao Salgado and the Music Business.

Ron Saint Germain is a rock music legend. He has produced, mixed, or engineered 60 Gold and Platinum albums including four “Diamond Platinum" (10 million +) awards with sales on the better side of a quarter of a billion units. His albums have garnered 18 Grammy nominations with 12 being winners. With 35+ years in music under his belt he has worked with the likes of 311, Muse, Tool, Bad Brains, Breed 77, Mos Def, Living Color, U2, Red Hot Chili Pepers, Soundgarden, The Cure, Creed, Sonic Youth, Kraftwerk, The Cult, Killing Joke, Adam Ant, Lou Reed, Keziah Jones, Kashmir, and many more. I have had the opportunity to work with and befriend Ron Saint Germain and watched his mastery of production and engineering at work. Ron is an audiophile, his ear and attention to the details of music arrangement isn't matched by many, however Ron has a problem. His problem is that he is a master of the process of making music in a time in the music business when the process is no longer very valuable.  You see you will find Ron bragging about the Neve 9098i that he just moved into his basement, or you will hear him describing the DBA scale and the wave vector differences of digital and tape recording. The majority of music consumers listen to MP3 files on iPod headphones. These files are so compressed that only the most genius of audiophiles could possible tell the difference between a recording on the 9098i that costs $150,000 or a protools based home studio set up that has a good mic or preamp compressor. It seems easy to gather that Ron Saint Germain could and maybe should become a dinasour in todays music market. Making music is so much easier than it used to be and many people have access to the technology to make professional sounding music. The problem is this, Ron Saint Germain knows what the hell he is doing and they guy who makes beats on Fruity Loops doesn't . He knows how to tune a guitar for a certain effect and which guitar amp to run it through. He knows how the guitars should be arranged for the highest emotional effect for the song and so that it uplifts instead of clashing with the tone of the singers voice. He knows how to mic the drums to either give you a tight hip hop sound or a roomy Led Zepplin sound depending on what the tune needs. he knows how to arrange vocal performances around musical performances. This is the most simple explanation of his very skilled, very nuanced process that allows him to make great music. The greatness isn't always obvious, it's etherial. Somehow the soul can hear a deep process and for those of us who still love music and recognize it as art, the process is appreciated. 

Sebastiao Salgado is a master photographer from Brazil. He began his professional career as an economist, but after taking pictures on a business trip to Africa he realized that he had found his real passion and talent. Sebastiao's approach to photography is all about process. First of all he (still) shoots film on a Leica 35mm camera and uses a small selection of wide angle lenses. the film that he primarily shoots in a 3500ASA (super fast, super grainy) film that allows him to shoot at pretty much any light level without the use of intrusive flash bulbs. I once read in an interview with Salgado that will visit town or community that he is documenting and live with the people for 30 or 40 days before he starts photography. He likes to become invisible and get very close to his subjects (remember he primarily uses wide angle lenses). He also said in that interview that his photographs are not taken but given to him from his subjects. He rates his 3500 ASA film at 1600 and sometimes 800. In his minds eye he knows what he is trying to achieve in terms of grain structure and depth of field in the negatives that he will receive from the lab weeks after he has shot the images. For Salgado, his film choice, the way he rates it, the lenses that camera that he chooses and the way he interacts with his subjects is a part of his process. Of course Salgado has an incredible eye; but that's only a part of how he creates the outcome of the images that he makes. We must also keep in mind that shooting film limits him to 36 shots per roll on 35mm film. The Leica is a manual focus and manual shutter camera. He has to be selective with what he shoots and he can't roll off 35 shots at the press of a button like you can with digital photography. He doesn't have the luxury of seeing what he has just shot instantly so that he can adjust composition or camera settings; all of that has to be done in his mind. When I was getting my MFA and I was reviewing his work for the first time I used to be baffled at how he was able to make his images look and feel like that. He was a magician to me and no other photographer that I have studied made images quite like his...maybe just as great but not like. He had a signature style that was nearly impossible to reproduce. There is magic in his process. The other day I dusted my Mamiya 7 range finder camera and took in on the road with me. I was contemplating selling all of my film cameras and buying a new digital. After a day of shooting, and guessing the right exposures and being very selective of what I chose to shoot (the Mamiya 7 is a medium format camera which only shoots about 11 exposures per roll) I realized that I enjoyed that process. I can't wait to see the negatives of what I shot, and get into the dark room to interpret them in the print. Now, the film process is ridiculously expensive and isn't really practical anymore, unless you are Sabastiao Salgado and can sell an original print for $10,000, or you are a famous advertisement photographer who has the luxury of huge shooting budgets. Art is never practical. The process that it takes to make great art is always intricate, involved, and time consuming. 

Art contributes to the beauty of the world, it makes living, worth living. I am not bitter; I understand that times change and I am young, but I realize the difference between something that is art and something that is not. I believe that other people do too. I believe that the painstaking process of experiencing something great from someone who has perfected his/her craft is still valuable to people even if they don't realize it in theory. There is an etherial recognition of beauty and greatness. Maybe since the music business can no longer pedal it's wears, it will have to revert back to the days creative great music and sell more of less. Then maybe Ron Saint Germain will get called for work again.

Killer Machines!

Here is a new song that we recorded this year for the new Martin Luther project to be released 2nd Quarter 2009. This is a preview, let me know what you think.


A couple of weeks ago I finished the audio book (because I don't have the attention span to read) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Before going into detail I would like to emphatically recommend this audio book. Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent story teller; so beyond the fact that the major premise that he proposes is profound in it's wise and detailed simplicity, the audio book narrated by him is enormously entertaining. 

Malcolm Gladwell's simple premise is that reasons for the achievement of successful people; leaders and industry superstars are complex and that success may be more based upon historical, cultural, and circumstantial chance than the persons intelligence and hard work. Gladwell states that it is a wrong choice to personalize success and make it exclusively the result of someone's personal attributes. He speaks of the 10,000 hours rule, which essentially says that it takes 10,000 of practice in order to master any certain skill. He uses the example of Bill Gates and Bill Joy; the two bills are by right on the top five list of the most influential men in today's technology world. The story details the fact that these two men being born in the time that they were and by chance going to schools that had access to a type of computer that enabled the first generation of quick computer programming and coming of age on the cusp of a personal computing revolution allowed these men the 10,000 hours necessary to master their fields. Of course, both of these men are also brilliant. But it doesn't change the fact that the computer that they both had access too at the time they did was as rare to the common man as having access to your own satellite in space today.

Why should you read Outliers? For me it allowed an opportunity to look back at my own life and the chances that have been afforded to me to get to where I am. It allowed me to evaluate my talents and to look at them in the context of both ability and opportunity. It's a great wake up call in my mind to seize your life's mission and to personalize your own success and build upon it with more clarity.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


This morning I couldn’t sleep; I woke up at 5 AM and figured I would get to my polling office by 6. To my surprise the line was bananas!! I would guess that more than 800 people on line before me at 6 AM. The lines were so full of black people, it was amazing!!

Okay, I must admit; and I am not sure how I feel about it, but a friend came up to me and let me know that there was another entrance that was designated for handicapped voters that no one is checking. He said that he went right into that entrance and voted. He walked me in and boom, I was in; it took me 20 minutes. I cut the line to vote for Barack Obama; was that shady? Should I feel bad? Nah, I got my vote in and I feel wonderful.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Times

In a time of so much flux, insecurity, and economic depression; I wonder how popular music and entertainment will shift to meet the times. I would like to use urban music to illustrate my ideas. In the late 60's and early 70's, during a time of tremendous political upheaval including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement urban music, was and still is defined primarily by the black male superstars of the day. I make the black male stars distinction not to diminish or exclude the tremendous contribution of our female stars of then and now but to try and make the point that when outsiders analyze urban/ghetto culture it is usually defined by the actions of the male population of that community. I will continue this discussion within that framework. In the late 60's and 70's in America at any given time you could have had 8 to 10 black males, all from primarily impoverished urban communities. These communities suffered many of the same problems of crime, drug and alchohol abuse, single parenthood, and joblessness of poor urban communities of today but the difference of cultural expression of the urban males of then is strikingly different from the expressions of today. In the late 60's and early 70's on any giving week you may have had, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, and Al Green all topping the charts at the same time. If you go back and listen to the message of the music of these products of the urban environment you heard a clear message of redemption and over coming obstacles to become a better loving human being. Granted those times were the times of revolution and free love, it was the time of LSD and Marijuana. If you look at the beginnings of a latest musical genre invention from the urban community, hip hop; it started in the late 70's as an extension of the sentiments of the black men who where influential in the lives of the Black and Puerto Rican men who were fathers of the genre. When did it shift?

In my opinion the greatest shift in urban music after the 70's was the advent of crack cocaine's arrival in the urban community in the early 80's. Crack cocaine took historical urban issues and put them into hyper drive; at the same time crack created a hyper urban economy. So you had hyper violence, hyper materialism, hyper childhood neglect, hyper moral decline, and a hyper rich criminal youth. Not even heroin would take a mother from her child, but crack did. Crack caused urban blight unlike anything else in urban history, in my opinion. It was said that crack was first introduced in Oakland California around 1982; I don't remember crack hitting the east coast hard until around 85, 86. On the east coast, crack culture didn't start entering into the musical lexicon until around 87. The west coast had experienced it's affect for much longer and combined with gang culture it had seeped into the urban music dialogue faster than it did any wear else. I'm showing my age, but I remember when I was a senior in High School in 1988 and I first heard NWA "Fuck the Police," my friends and I couldn't believe it. The use of hyper violent imagery and the free use of the word nigger was completely startling and new to us. 1988 in NY was the year of Public Enemy's largest success and the introduction of the Jungle Brothers and later De La Soul and the Native Tongue movement, it was Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J. It was Rob Bass. Later that year in the fall I started my freshman year of college at Morehouse in Atlanta and NWA and Too Short was blasting through the dorms from our West Coast peers. I also remember that first week a kid from Oakland jokingly called me a nigger; and I remember being almost provoked to violence. In New York at the time if someone called you a nigger that was a huge insult. 20 years later, things are a whole lot different. I find myself using that word all the time now, like a filthy habit that I love but need to break.

10 years ago we were experiencing the height of the benefits of post crack epidemic culture in full bloom with the most hyper violent, materialistic, and misogynistic musical content in urban music history. Now that the crack epidemic is long past and we could possibly be moving towards the end of a hyper gangster black male cultural aesthetic (noticing the skater and rock star aesthetic taking off in the urban community prompted by Lupe Fiasco, Pherrell Williams, and Kanye West and the arrival of Barack Obama as a cultural icon largely promoted in urban fashion), I wonder what the next movement to be created out of the urban community will be. We must acknowledge that we are running into some very interesting financial and political times. I wonder what the urban response will be. Here is an interesting documentary trailer that I found recently that I think brings up some interesting points.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2 Trees

This is a fantastic animation series that my friend Pierre Bennu does. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Visitor

Thank God for Netflix; what a brilliant business model. The way they are able to make data mining associations with your film renting history in order to make suggestions of films that you may like is what makes it such a brilliant sucessful company. Netflix recently suggested the film The Visitor and I took them up on their offer. I finally watched the film this morning and though it was largely predictable it was amazingly charming and visceral. I’m not embarrassed to say that I found myself welling up with tears several times and began to delve into the relationships between the characters and suspending my disbelief very easily.

The Visitor is about Walter Vale, a divorced economics professor from Connecticut who struggles with feelings of lonliness and frustration due to an inactive non-inspired life. A lecture that he is forced to make at NYU brings him back to New York City where he lived with his deceased wife and the apartment that he owns but virtually abandoned in Greenwich Village. When he arrives at his apartment, to his suprise a couple is living there illegally. The couple reacts in absolute fear that they of this instrusion and we learn that they are illegal aliens so they fear that this man will call the police, so they quickly leave the apartment. The couple is Tarek from Syria and Zainab from Senegal; Tarek is a purcussionist and Zainab makes hand made jewlery and vends on the streets on NY. Walter ends up inviting to stay for a few days until they get themselves together. A few days becomes weeks and Walter finds himself staying in NY for a while and involving himself in the lives of these 2 young illegal immagrants. An unfortunate mistake gets Tarek arrested and sent to immagration and Walter is wrapped up in this immagration drama and a new found friendship that changes his life forever. I recommend this simple charming film, its subtle and beautiful.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nigerian Wood

I have only listened to Keziah Jones’ new album Nigerian Wood one full time; but I must say that I am fully enjoying it. I must admit though that the album starts off a little bit slowly for me. Normally artists pack there best songs at the top of the playlist, the first 2 songs of the album are not my favorites. Normally if the first 2 songs of an album aren’t cool I never get to the third song; but I really wanted to dig this project. First of all, Keziah and I in the last 4 years have become friends and second of all for me Keziah’s last album Black Orpheus is a classic LP. I first heard Black Office after taking a meeting at Atlantic Records with an A&R about an artist that I manage. The A&R gave me the record and asked me to get back to him and tell me what I thought. My business partner Jeff and I but it in the car stereo on the way back home and we remember remarking about how great the mix of the album sounded. I learned later that it was mixed and Engineered by Russell Elevado; who also mixed D’Angelo’s Voodoo album.

I first met Keziah Jones in LA in late 2004, a friend of mine tipped me to a solo show that he was having at the Temple Bar. I thought that Black Orpheus was a beautiful sounding and very interesting album before that, but after being blown away by his live show; I mean Keziah is a “bananas” rhythm guitar player and performer. I paid more attention to his music after that show, and after a conversation with he and his manager after that show we kept in touch and we would hang whenever he came through New York.

I would Nigerian Wood a 6.5 out of 10 overall and would suggest that if you haven’t listened to Keziah’s Music before that you start with Black Orpheus. If you are an audiophile and absolutely love music, you will dig the audio tapestries of Nigerian Wood, but don’t expect “typical” or melodic progressions, this is a music lovers album. Stand out songs for me are My Kinda Girl, Pimpin’, Lagos vs New York, and Uninteded Consequenses.