Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Xmas 2012

Christmas is a time for giving, sharing and buying. While the shelves of commerce are stocked with CDs of Xmas music, there are other musicians who use the season as a chance to freely give away their work.
This past week, at Star Maker Machine, contributing bloggers have been posting “Holiday Horrors” – the topic title says enough. However, not all about the holiday must needs be horrible.  Personally, once a year, I don’t mind re-visiting Christmas classics. And, from time to time, I run across a new interpretation of an old song. They often both bring back fond memories of family and December 25th at the same time that they provoke new emotions on account of their novel approach to a classic tune.
Over at Star Maker, I posted one song from a large collection of Cigar Box Christmas songs, but there are many more where that came from. As I said there, some of the music is not so good – but there are a few that are worth sharing. In general, the quality of the cigar box music leaves much to be desired (out of tune and amateurish). But not all. For example:
Here are two takes on “Twas the Night Before” from Denys Lord from the Cigar Box Collection
Some time ago, I brought up the issue of mashups: DJ-mixed and adjusted songs that offer a new perspective on a well-known song. Although they include bits and pieces of copyrighted material, DJ mashups appear exempt from take-down notices in that they fall within fair use guidelines: not sold commercially, using limited segments, new interpretation of old material. What better time of year to take another look?
I offer up Yultide Led Zeppelin – a mix of classic Led Zeppelin and strains of Yule. From "A Bootie Christmas".

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bela Fleck

Whereas, over the months since this blog went online, I have focused on websites that offered up legal free music, this time around I am going to mix things up and focus on a specific musician. In keeping with the mission of this blog, it is, of course, a musician who permits a large quantity of his work to go online, creative-commons free.

Bela Fleck. Not a very common name. He takes his name from the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and he plays the banjo. Since age 15 or so. And he does it rather well. In fact, Bela is aclaimed as the most innovative banjo player in America and boasts a collection of Grammy nominations and awards.

His name is most often associated with that of the group he co-founded in '88 with Victor Wooten and others - eponymously named "Bela Fleck and the Flecktones", but he has played with a number of other names you've likely heard mentioned, including Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, Jean-Luc Ponty & Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea and Toumani Diabate. You can also find him at Youtube playing with Earl Sruggs as well as Steve Martin! As you'll note from this list, he covers a diverse set of genres: the man does ethnic, jazz, classical, folk/bluegrass and more. His personal website is belafleck.com and you can find the flecktones at flecktones.com

So ... why does such an accomplished musician give his music away? In the FAQ section of the Flecktones website, they are fairly clear about their policy:if you catch them in concert, audio taping is OK if it doesnt hinder anything, but video taping is not allowed. As a result, you can find a large collection of Flecktones recordings at archive.org, among other online sources.

Here is the youtube clip with Steve Martin:


And here is the clip with Earl Scruggs:


My favorite piece, however, is Sunset Road, and although there are a plethora of versions at the Internet Archive, my favorite is the one below. Regardless of the version, I like the build up in the song: the climax with the impossibly fast banjo picking merely proves the man's unique gift. In particular, it is the section that starts at about 5'30" - the crescendo and then the release/come down after the solo seem to me to be perfection in style. Seems to have been recorded at the Molson Center in Montreal in 2002.

Sunset Road

Note: after the fact, it occurs to me that many files hosted at YouTube are not necessarily legal. In fact, in this case, where the Flecktones specifically say that sound recordings are OK but video is not, it calls into question how and from where the above video links stay online. Seems to me that this is not a discsussion for this time and place, but since this blog aims to provide "legal free music", it is an issue that needs to be raised.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A 2006 interview posted on the GarageSpin web site spells out part of the story behind my choice this week. Disillusioned with the path and procedures of mp3.com, part-time/amateur musician and programmer Gideon Marken decided to take action. He gathered input from other mp3.com users that informed his plans for a replacement that would better serve musicians' needs. Thus was born artistserver.com.

The service still appears to be very much a one-man project. Musicians are able to upload tracks, mark them as Creative Commons/free or copyrighted, build dedicated sections to promote their bands/music, collect "tips" etc. Users are able to download or stream selections and buy selected tracks or tip musicians that offer free downloads.

Although Marken's project has been in service for nearly 10 years in one form or another (as ArtistServer since 2005), the site offers somewhere in the range of 15,000 songs. It appears that Marken is soon set to launch version 2.0 of the service.

The music available here comes in many, many genres: some with many more selections, some with considerably fewer: Country/Bluegrass lists only 3 songs; Jazz/Fusion has 49. The quality is ... mixed. There is plenty that is good - and some that is considerably weaker. This is fitting for the stated goal of the site: the site aims to provide a resource for musicians, and musicians are responsible for what they post.

You can find music by the acclaimed Dutch group Klimt ! String Quartet (in the Jazz genre) that is (as AllMusic notes) "a delightful release combining experiment and entertainment in a way at which the Dutch seem to excel."

Klimt! String Quartet: Kiss The Guitar Player

You can also pick up your own free copy of music by "chongjohn57", a musician you'll also find at Jamendo (last post) and SoundCloud (another previous post). Here's a link to I Got You.

ChongJohn57: I Got You

I think you'll find it worth your time to do your own deeper digging into ArtistServer

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Continuing my look at sources for legal free music from the Intertubes, this week: two bands from Germany and one from NY –all courtesy of Jamendo.com. Jamendo claims to be the #1 online site for Creative Commons music. The service goes back to about 2005. The music they provide is available for download in mp3 and Ogg Vorbis formats, and they also stream music for continuous listening via various radio channels: Rock, Jazz, Pop, World, Classical, HipHop … Some of the tracks are professional and must be purchased, but most are free for the taking – even without registering. (More often than not, I back out when I find that I need to register/provide an email address. How about you?)

Wikipedia says that more than 45,000 albums – *not* individual tracks - had been uploaded as of 2011. The service is based out of Luxembourg. Considering EU laws and policies protecting people as well as businesses (no, a business is not a person), the TOS for Jamendo may have a more solid standing related to your rights to your music than some US-based services.

I am not aware of any policy the service employs towards vetting the input/user uploads. They do say they gather/vet the best for their radio channels, but even my random sampling of genres/files available for download has netted some quality music. My experience with the quality of the sounds from some other sites that offer free music has not been nearly as positive. If I had a business and needed continuous free, streamed music, I would seriously consider broadcasting their radio channels as ambience music throughout my store. (I see after I wrote this that they have a section labeled “background music for your shop or business!)

A small random sampling of downloads this week mostly focused on pop/rock to get you started:

Ella Blooma, a band out of Dresden, Germany, tells us on the MySpace page (they also have a Facebook) that their music is pop (“Ella Blooma machen Popmusik). The song is

Christopher Squier is an indie musician out of Buffalo, NY. The track from his EP “Flowers Beneath the Ashes” is on the list of most listened to tunes at Jamendo:

Trick Seventeen, another German band continuing my rock/pop focus this post, with a rocking number from their “We Own The Night” album called

Privacy notice: I have both MySpace and Facebook logins. As much as we have heard about the decline of MySpace, I have to admit that accessing band info via MySpace is a lot less painful/invasive than via Facebook . Many of these bands have accounts at both, but MySpace allows you to check them out without logging in to your account.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SXSW 2012

SXSW is now on my “Bucket List”: it is 10,000 miles away from here and at a “bad” time of the year, so it will take some effort to get there. SXSW  stands for South by Southwest and it's an annual festival held in Austin, TX in the spring.
When I went digging for information, I was surprised to learn that SXSW was much older, better known and more established than I was aware. (This is a state of affairs that I run into more and more - seems it gets harder and harder to stay tuned in.) I learned that 2012 was the 26th SXSW. It is a week-long (longer now) media festival (primarily music and film) that has grown from an attendance of hundreds to tens of thousands over the years. I understand that the SXSW organizers have recently gravitated towards providing more offerings as well (more and more, digital media, of course) including an extension specifically dedicated to education (SXSWedu).
In my continuing search for free musical downloads, I was delighted to see that you can get free legal copies of some of the music recorded at SWSX. The copy of the music files I found/am aware of is at spinner.com - this appears to be a sub-site of aol.com and was a link from the SXSW.com website. There are sub-sections of spinner.com labeled "SXSW 2012 Free Songs" (online and available for other years as well - try a Google search for <SXSW Music download YEAR>). The site also has a "Free MP3 of the Day" section.
Being somewhat skeptical about TOS for media files, I tried to drill down a bit deeper: under what conditions can I (you) use them? Typical of online resources, the best info I could find says [... you can download some content but don't exceed the rights granted to you.. unless you are authorized ... ]  Nowhere does it say yea. Nowhere does it say nay. But of course, it does say that they can change the rules when they see fit – it’s kind of hard to begrudge them when it is a freebie. Since I am going to provide you with a link to the larger zipped files that contain the music, let's assume we're "free and legal". However, to spare you the extra hassle of downloading their large files (100MB), extracting the individual files, and searching for something you like, I have unzipped and am posting a very limited selection of my choosing this week. Do go get the full zipped files if you like. Actually, if you like it, head to the bands' websites and buy a song or an album or two. That's what it's all about.
I know from previous forays online that several of the bands are amenable/glad to have other folks spread the word, sharing their music-at least for some of their work. You can visit the official websites for this week's choices below, where they provide download options for some of their tunes.
there is so much available ere and my selections here are so limited that I will aim to return with another selected collection at a later date. If you proceed on your own, most of what you’ll get if you download the full set is going to be worth your time.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah [ Statues] [Website]
Jennifer O’Connor [Here With Me] [Website]
William Elliott Whitmore [Hope For You] [Website] - [also see SMM]

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I recently ran across a piece at Wired.com that I had missed when it came out. The news was that IUMA was back. That prompted me to go digging through my CD/DVD archives. What I found was two CDs dated 2002. (As a result, I now know that CDs last at least 10 years as an archive media.)

IUMA was an early musicians’ website that offered unsigned musicians a route to making their music available to a wider audience. The IUMA acronym is the short form of Internet Underground Music Archive and it began in  ‘93. The Wired article said that  IUMA had gone through several owners but had ended up – most recently – at archive.org. Excellent news! As you should/may well know, media at archive.org is either Public Domain or Creative Commons.

Back in ’02, I had collected and backed up my IUMA files because I thought  they were good. If you take a look at the “browse” option at archive.org’s IUMA section, you’ll see that the collection  includes some off-the-wall band names – you’d be right to think twice before digging deeper: Pulled Groin, Gear Box Enterainment (sic), Pukey and the Vomets – the names themselves are astounding, and there are many 100s of them.

In the “Browse” listing, you’ll see only a single (1) for most bands, but if you proceed, you’ll see that most bands’ links include more than one song. Some bands’ archives extend to 100s of MB of mp3s. I haven’t been through them all, so my posting here is based on my CD archives (and I checked: most of them are among those that have been transferred from IUMA to archive.org.) The collection is so large/extensive, that I will sort/select and comment more at a later date.

Because my own musical tastes are eclectic, the selection I highlight here is also “mixed”. I think you’ll find it worth your time. I will confess before you proceed, that my “bent” at that time appears to have been more country/folk than my overall taste leans to.
Bruce Adams: My Heart Is Like The Sun (appears to not be online at archive.org yet).
Andy Rau Band: The Jackson County
Bob Irwin Jazz Guitar: Desafinado
Hair of the Dog: The Old Black Rum
Again these are all from my 2002 archived CDs and with the exception of the Bruce Adams file, are all still online @ archive/IUMA

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Next Assignment - Heroes

About a month ago I said that I would be back with an update to my "Creative Arts" student music clips. It took us a month to get here because the students were working on several different kinds of medias all related to the topic of "Heroes".

We/They used Pivot (the free stick figure animation program) to create gif animations of heroes (soccer players, flying superheroes, etc). They used Microsoft's free PhotoStory  to create hero collage movies (if you already own their software, it's free).

And for the project files showcased here, they/we use Audacity (also free) - with which I chopped up the original,mp3 sound tracks into pieces which the students used to create MTV-style video clips that I later re-combined in Movie Maker.

Two of the files below come from SoundCloud and they are among the many files there that are available for download. The other comes from archive.org

Note that these are all wmv video files, not mp3 audio.

The Hero offerings are:

We Dont Need Another Hero/Tina Turner (Sarah May Lin)

Be Your Hero/Iglesias (Michelle Anderson)

Time Loves a Hero/Little Feat (Live)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Robert One Man Johnson

I consider myself blessed to call Robert "One Man" Johnson a friend. If I remember it right, way back in about 1985, I ended up volunteering to provide the music for an official gathering evening - but I was nowhere near competent/experienced enough on a stage to provide an evening's entertainment to an audience. However I managed it, I had the fortuitous sense and chance to have invited RJ to join me. The man ended up saving the day (night) by playing the whole gig by himself more or less.

We worked sort of side by side as English teachers for several years starting soon after. Both of us used our guitars and our singing as educational "tools" in the classroom. Over the years, we drifted our own ways: him to Dubai or some other Arab lands, and from there to China and environs; me, always the same: right here, going on 30+ years now.

The "One Man" appelation comes from the fact that he plays the guitar, sings, blows a mean harp hung around his neck, stomps a high hat with one foot and a "foot piano" he built and invented with the other foot - all at the same time. He also writes a lot of his own songs, some of them picked up by some big names. You can check him out and learn more at his website Housedogmusic.

A couple of years back, as part of my advisory duties, I found the need to come up with a "known" musician for a festival my students were putting on, and Robert both came to mind and to my rescue, flying in all the way from farthest Asia for a one hour show. He was gracious enough to invite me to join him on stage during his show.

Robert comes to mind at this point in time because he has a version of Catfish Blues, and I used a different version of that song over at SMM this week, and while I love his song Sen ve Ben (the video link where we play together above), I best like Thin on Top.

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Sen ve Ben

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Thin on Top

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Catfish Blues

To pick up more of his music for yourself, try CDBaby

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


FMA, the FreeMusicArchive is a project of WFMU. One of the top rated radio stations in the US, WFMU has recieved recognition from Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Billboard, the Village Voice and more. As part of their philosophy that "radio has always offered public free access" to music, the FMA project provides free legal audio files and is inspired by the Creative Commons and open source movements.

Using grant money from the New York State Music Fund, FMA went online in 2009. The current archive of music includes close to 50,000 "podsafe" songs in a variety of genres covering more than a century's worth of culture. For example, if you browse the "Blues" section, you'll find songs originally recorded more than 100 years ago on cylinders that have been cleaned and archived by the University of California, Santa Barbara as well as contributions from current artists as recently as 2012.

Although not everything they present is Creative Commons, you can rest assured that it is all legal for your personal use. Because the collection is curated and any new additions are by invitation only, what you get is screened for quality. You'll also find informative text such as bios and links to relevant other resources as well as occasional links to "tip" the artists via PayPal.

Selection 1 this time around is a song by Big Bill Broonzy, most likely the 1941 recording. Credited as one of the authors of Key to the Highway, his musical career spanned about 40 years, from the 1920s until his death in 1958. Baby Please Don't Go, credited to Big Joe Williams, has - according to Allmusic - been released more than 1,000 times.
Big Bill Broonzy: Baby Please Don't Go

Selection 2 is a ~1909 recording of Gondolier and Temptation Rag played by Albert Benzler and Fred van Eps. Benzler was a studio musician for the Edison Company. Van Eps likewise worked (playing banjo) for the Edison Company.
Albert Benzler & Fred van Eps: Gondolier & Temptation Rag

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Assignment

This past year I came up with an assignment for my students wherein they had to create a topic-based video clip that was one part of a longer song. I myself later combined the student segments to finalize the full song.

As part of my instructional focus, I want my students to be sensitive to copyright issues, so I have been providing them with only one segment of a copyrighted song that (barely) remains within the fair use limits of %10 of the original. Their task, then, is to produce a video clip that matches the musical timing of the original segment with images of their choice related to the lyrics (preferably Creative Commons tagged images). I then adjust their work to fit a Creative Commons audio version of the same song.

Here are two samples from our unit based on "Future". Each features a Creative Commons (CC) soundtrack, and although all images are not specifically credited/listed, that was a part of the assumption/rubric behind the task. Note that they are WMV files of 16 and 25MB (may take some time to aquire)

When I'm 64
Space Oddity

The next in the series, which the students have just started on, based on the theme of "Hero", we will begin working on a version of Little Feat's (they give their live music away at archive.org) Time Loves a Hero. Because the original audio is CC, my tasks should be easier - don't have to work on matching the timing of a separate version to the original's. For the above two, I had to find nearly exact-timing CC versions (from beatles ukelele project and soundcloud, respectively, credited in the videos, I believe)

Check back later to see the results for Hero...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Extended Arrangement

Genesis: The Cinema Show (Selling England By The Pound)

A rigorous definition of the musical form "suite" usually spells out 4 separate movements. In many ways related to the "medley", the suite often includes tempo changes (fast - slow - fast again....) whereas the medley can combine two or more songs of the same tempo. By definition, the suite would be a difficult format for rock groups focused on the 3-minute radio airplay format; however, a select few groups have managed to successfully and commercially pull of the feat of the extended composition that allows for this kind of variation and extended arrangement.

Genesis is rightly credited with more than one musical "suites". Rather than looking for Genesis pieces that are labelled as "suites:, I take a look here at an extended play Genesis song that incorporates numerous switches of tempo but is not ID'ed as a "suite" per se.

Genesis' 1973 album Selling England By The Pound corresponds to the height of their career. At this point in time, the band still included the combined creative talents of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins as well as Steve Hackett, Tony Banks and Mark Rutherford. Exactly half of the songs on the album well exceed the standard 3-miniute pop-radio play limit. Several of them segue from one into the next - as if part of a suite.

My choice here, The Cinema Show, showcases several distinct sections, if not a full suite. Starting out with a keyboard and vocal section, at about the 2 minute mark, the rhythm/tempo switches to a slightly more "pumping" style as the drums and bass kick in for about a minute. Again. at about 4:30, the keyboard and vocal section moves uptempo with the return of the drums, bass and guitar. At about 6:50, the druming doubles in time and then song enters a vigorous section with a well executed time signature change as the song heads through a vigorous section ending with a reduced accompanimnet and leads into the next song on the album: Aisle of Plenty.

The album is best listened to in its entirety. [buy the album]

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Remembering Earl Scruggs

Two sites are likely to provide the bulk (but definitely not all) of the material driving this blog. They are free and legal places to get some great music:


Both offer up [legally free] free music. Many - but not all - of the songs in each repository are available for download. Some are only there for online listening/streaming. |In either case, the musicians concerned are on board and are among those that believe that music should belong to the people.

Certainly, other resouces are likely to appear over time, both through your input and as a result of my own research. However, the above should provide more than enough to get us started.

To get started, I offer up some banjo music. I'll call it an homage to Earl Scruggs, who passed away March 28, 2012. Another master of the banjo, Bela Fleck, paid tribute to Earl Scruggs both by attending the funeral, and then later including a solo banjo medley at his April 1st Omaha concert with the Flecktones.

In the Omaha concert Bela Fleck apparently included a medley of Scruggs tunes (I was miles away, so I rely on media reports). I would assume that he included The Balad of Jed Clampett - probably Mr Scrugg's best known piece. To me, this week's first file/recording from a concert in 2000 at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans tells it all: for the first minute or so, Fleck "jazzes" it up -various free-form interpretations of Beverly Hillbillies. He hits a final off key (but not really) chord that is followed by a brief but seriously authentic rendition of the recognizable tune.

The second song in this posting is a duet featuring Bela Fleck and Earl Scruggs together. The short version file linked here has been extracted from a 3 hour Scruggs-related recording of the March 30, 2012 "Out Of The Woods" radio show on WSCS out of Colby Sawyer College in New Hampshire. The DJ tells us the recording is from Tales from the Acoustic Planet The Bluegrass Sessions v.2 and it's called Foggy Mountain Special.

Bela Fleck: Balad of Jed Clampett (Live New Orleans, May 2000)
[Original copy at archive.org]

Bela Fleck/Earl Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Special
[Full Radio Show @ archive.org]