Every now and then certain pieces of writing crop up which so deeply capture the zeitgeist that it seems mandatory to read them. They get passed around, referenced, and debated so much that you know you would be missing out on something essential were you to not read them. In recent memory these would include the short story Cat Person, the article The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence, and any of the many modern “Girl” thrillers (Gone Girl, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, etc…).

This is not one of those.

In fact, I feel proud to say that I may have accomplished the complete opposite of those works.  I’ve written something so useless, so out of touch with the current age, that even if one million people were to read it, I’d wager that not a single one would come away with any relevant tidbit to bring up at a dinner party.

I feel proud of this feat because it is in perfect alignment with the Oscar Wilde school of thought (a school I’m certainly enrolled in)—art is useless. And thus, without further ado, I give you: The Top Ten Greatest Foreigner Songs Ranked.

First, the criteria.

Clarity — Every great Foreigner song is absolutely unambiguous. This manifests in two ways. The first is musical clarity. You will know within 10 seconds of a Foreigner song what you’re in for, and more often than not the thing that you’re in for is rocking. The second is lyrical clarity to the point of redundancy. I’ll give you a quick example of this from the song Juke Box Hero:

Was a one way ticket,

only one way to go.

Just in case you didn’t know how one way tickets work.

Escalation — Another hallmark of any great Foreigner song is a certain ratio. During the verse, you should be at 80 percent rocking, and during the chorus you need to rocket the rocking on up to 120 percent. You may be saying, Lucas, this is just how songs work. No! Great Foreigner songs blow past the normal limits of rocking on the chorus. Like Vin Diesel’s car, Foreigner has a NOS switch attached to their songs that they flip on every time a chorus rolls around.

Tightness — You might be attempted to just equate Foreigner with all other Dad Rock. And while all Foreigner Rock is Dad Rock, not all Dad Rock is Foreigner Rock. What sets Foreigner apart is the tightness of the groove. Take for instance, flagship Dad Rock song “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” This song is every bit as Foreigner-esque in its clarity and escalation. But it doesn’t quite have the same tightness of groove does it? The guitar chords are a little rushed, and the groove is just a little bit looser. You can’t get away with that looseness in a great foreigner song. We need the groove to be as tight as a python’s goodnight hug.

And with that three-tiered criteria in mind, let’s get into the ranking.

10. Cold as Ice — Some of you might be surprised to find your favorite Foreigner song so low on this list. While it scores very high on tightness and clarity, it gets docked for escalation. You know everything you need to know about this song within the 1 second of this song. That single piano riff says everything that needs to be said about the song, and frankly if the song ended at 12 seconds, right after he says “you’re as cold as ice,” it might have ended up higher on this list. Unfortunately, while the chorus of this song groovy, it actually is a very rare case of de-escalation in a foreigner song. Instead of hitting the NOS, it’s like Vin Diesel decided to have a nice picnic at a rest stop during his drive.

9. Double Vision — This song comes out real hot with some tight, clear, rocking and maintains it throughout the song. It escalates enough during the chorus so you feel impulsively compelled to bob your head. And while the message of this song is very clear, they would have scored off the charts if this song were simply and elegantly titled “Let’s Do Some Cocaine.”

8. Urgent — This song almost lost some points for lack of clarity, because the opening riff sounds like a 1990s alternative rock song. But by 10 seconds in we’re very clearly placed within the tight, early 80s groove of the rest of the song. This song also also boasts some of the most crystal clear, redundant lyrics of all time. Take for instance the first three lines:

You’re not shy, you get around

You wanna fly, don’t want your feet on the ground

You stay up, you won’t come down

The second phrase in every one of these lines serves as clarification of the first, because Foreigner doesn’t want you wasting needless brain energy on interpreting the lyrics. They’re hear to facilitate rocking, not get an A in poetry class, nerds!

7. Head Games — The intro to this song blows the doors down in a way that none of the previous do, the groove is extra tight, and lead singer Lou Gramm goes from shouting the lyrics in the verse to triple shouting them in the chorus. This has all the hallmarks of a great foreigner song.

6. Take Me Home Tonight — Now at this point you’re probably thinking one of two things. 1. I didn’t know that Foreigner wrote Take Me Home Tonight, or 2. I know that Foreigner definitely did not write Take Me Home Tonight. And yes, group number two, you are right. Take Me Home tonight was definitely performed by Eddie Money. But here’s the thing, nowhere in my criteria does it say that a great Foreigner song has to be by Foreigner. A Foreigner song is a set of ideals, and this song embodies those ideals as good as any. Listen and tell me I’m wrong.

5. Rock You Like A Hurricane — See above entry for Take Me Home Tonight.

4. Dirty White Boy — While this was not as big of a hit as other Foreigner songs, it captures the clarity, escalation, and tightness more than most. This song above any other definitely scores the clarity prize. Watch any moment from the video to this song. Look at the band. Try to come up with three words that would apply to all of the members of the band. Dirty. White. Boy.

3. Feels Like the First Time — It’s no coincidence that Hollywood has latched on to this song (see Magic Mike, I, Tonya, Ancorman 2, and Pitch Perfect). Its tightness, its clarity, and its escalation make it a perfect storytelling device whether you’re using it literally or ironically. But here’s the thing Hollywood, so does every other Foreigner song! Use them.

2. The Boys Are Back In Town — “Guess who just got back today!” is the boisterous first line to this near perfect Foreigner song. I’m gonna guess… the boys?

1. Hot Blooded — 10/10 on clarity. 10/10 on escalation. 10/10 on tightness. This is without a doubt the greatest Foreigner song.

Some brief notes on why your favorite song by Foreigner is not on this list:

Juke Box Hero — There’s too much of a journey in this song. I don’t know what the hell this song is about until the chorus.

I Wanna Know What Love Is — This is may be the greatest song by Foreigner, but it is not on the list of greatest Foreigner songs because it represents the only time in the Foreigner universe when the singer is unsure of himself. He’s vulnerable. He admits to not knowing. He wants to know. It isn’t clear. This is a recipe for a great song, but not a recipe for a great Foreigner song.

Starrider — Is this really your favorite song by foreigner?

And finally, apropos of nothing, here are two tracks I wrote that sound nothing like foreigner. One track I spent about two weeks on, and another other I spent about four hours on. I like the one I spent four hours on more. Both include bird sounds.

April 26 — The Noble Loon

May 3 — Spring Callin’

“All sorts of kids playing basketball yesterday. I play basketball. There’s no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn’t exist. You can’t stay six feet away from a person playing basketball… you can, but then you’re a lousy basketball player and you’re gonna lose.”

These words were spoken early today by my state’s forthright and fearless leader Andrew Cuomo. 

He was appropriately chastising me and my fellow city dwellers for doing a pretty terrible job of avoiding dense crowds and activities that spread the virus. And he did it in a way that really hit home for me. Because if you know me, you probably know that basketball is one of the few things that I truly, selflessly love in this world. I wish I loved music as much as I love basketball, because I’d probably be a better musician if I did.

A case in point is that I spent about half an hour today thinking about why Michael Jordan stuck his tongue out whenever he was about to do something spectacular on the court. Seriously, why did he do that? The best basketball player in the history of the game would just inexplicably stick his whole tongue out in the middle of an especially intense moment. It was as if he had some basic biological connection to basketball—like dunking on Patrick Ewing was the mother’s milk he needed to survive and he was sticking out his tongue to suckle at that life giving tit.

Yes I just said that! Yes that paragraph escalated quickly! No you won’t be able to watch Michael Jordan highlights the same way anymore!

Anyway, I devoted a good deal of brain energy today to thinking about Michael Jordan’s tongue, and I haven’t played guitar at all today, so you can see where my priorities lie. That’s all to say that I appreciate Andrew Cuomo for using basketball as an example in his Covid-19 press conference today. Yet it is truly an insult to injury that in this scary, sad, uncertain moment, I (and countless others) cannot turn to one of my favorite methods of distraction and self-soothing.

Because there’s an old proverb that goes a little something like this: Ball is life. Unfortunately that truism is temporarily false.

So what do we do? What do we do when we can’t do anything fun except stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies?

Well, we stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies.

First things first, if you haven’t seen Jaws, go watch Jaws. Secondly, watch it again. Thirdly, call me and let’s talk about Jaws. I mean this.

Fourthly… I’d like to highly recommend the movie Heat. Normally I wouldn’t recommend watching a near 3 hour movie, but these are certainly unusual times, and I have at least 10 quick-fire reasons to watch this movie. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. This is the archetypal cops and robbers movie—you’ll see shades of Heat in nearly every bank/heist movie made after this movie.
  2. The only true Val Kilmer is a Val Kilmer with a ponytail.
  3. Although it isn’t overtly shown in the movie, Al Pacino was allegedly acting as if his character (the brilliant detective Vincent Hannah) was high on cocaine the whole time. And it is fun to watch Al Pacino pretend to be high on cocaine.
  4. Whoa! Natalie Portman at like age 14 or something.
  5. Have fun applying or arguing with the core philosophy of successful bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert Deniro): “you want to be making moves on the street, have no attachments, allow nothing to be in your life you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.”
  6. You can try building your own cosmic yin-yang metaphor around Neil and Vincent’s relationship. Or maybe I just built it for you.
  7. Excellent cameos galore: Tone Loc, Henry Rollins, Hank Azaria…
  8. You get to listen to Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan’s very fun Rewatchables podcast about it afterwards!
  9. Enjoy harkening back to the days of the payphone.
  10. Visit gritty Los Angeles from the comfort of your own couch.

Oh hey, I also recorded a song this week. I figured out I could run a cable from my room to my back patio, so this one was mostly recorded in the open air (as you’ll hear). Also Tiny is the name of our house cat. That sentence will make sense if you make it to the end of the song.

Spring Lockdown — March 22, 2020

As we all navigate this extraordinary new normal of life amidst a pandemic, it is natural to ask ourselves and others “what the hell do we do?” I think there are two important ways of answering this question. The first involves the logistics of what we need to do in order to help quell the spread of this virus. And the second answer involves what we need to do in order to keep our spirits high and nourish our souls while some of our favorite pastimes momentarily disappear (sports, concerts, raucous nights at the bar, etc…).

To begin to address the second answer to the question of “what the hell do we do?” I’ll simply say this: reach out and continue to connect to the people you love (even if you can’t do that physically). And continue to do the things you love at whatever capacity you can.

I for instance, currently do not have access to the amazing studio at Man Made Music where I work, because we are taking the very responsible route of working from home during this time. However, that is not going to stop me from completing the ridiculous resolution that I made at the beginning of this year. I’m going to keep recording and producing music every week from my tiny bedroom! See! Check out these tracks! Boo ya!

Ivan – March 8, 2020

Night Shift – March 15, 2020

And to answer the far more difficult and urgent question of what the hell do we do to stop the spread of this virus, I want to kick it to my very talented, educated, and intelligent cousin Sarah. She is currently completing her Master’s in epidemiology at Columbia and has been sharing an incredibly useful, straight-forward, informative letter with her friends and family about the current situation with this coronavirus. I asked her if I could publish it here and she said of course. Here are her words:

Hello all,

As we navigate these unfamiliar waters together, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to share my insight with friends and family, or really anyone that is willing to listen. Hopefully this information can aid in your decision making in the upcoming weeks, or at least equip you with the knowledge to filter through the abundance of misinformation that is circulating. I can substantiate the following advice with two years of infectious disease epidemiology training, and if that does not reassure you I have confirmed my own uncertainties with my professor, a leading virologist in the field. The world has not experienced a pandemic of this magnitude since the Spanish Influenza, 100 years ago, and it will require a learning curve. This is a fluid situation, and much is subject to change as we learn new information, but here is what I know right now…

The virus has been officially named SARS-CoV-2. You will start to hear this more often. It is NOT the same virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002, but they are related. They are both severe acute respiratory viruses in the family Coronaviridae.

The virus has an incubation period of 5 days, on average, but it has been observed up to 14 days in some. This is the period from exposure to onset of symptoms.

The infectious period is believed to begin before the appearance of symptoms. This is an unfortunate property, as it inherently adds an element of complication to control. For this reason, quarantine and social distancing is an integral part of limiting spread. Our movement is no longer just our business- whether we are concerned for our own health or not, we have to be cognizant of how we can serve as a vector to vulnerable individuals if we have been unknowingly exposed.

What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms? Unless you need to seek medical attention, you should stay home and self-quarantine. If you have roommates, it would be wise for them to stay home as well, because they have most likely been exposed.

Should I get tested if I have symptoms? Yes, if tests are available in your area. However, we have yet to see a mass dissemination of testing kits, a critical fault of our early response. DO call your health care provider and ask about testing in your area, DO NOT frantically turn up at urgent care facilities asking for a test, they will almost certainly not have them. The administration just announced that google will launch a website where you can list your symptoms, and if consistent with clinical signs, you will be pointed towards the nearest testing facility. Drive through testing facilities are setting up as we speak. Be on the lookout for this site.

 Should I limit my contact with older or immunosuppressed family members? I cannot answer that for you, but I will tell you what I would do. If I was flying, or coming from an area with any confirmed cases, I would distance myself from vulnerable individuals. Five to six days of distance if you are aiming for the average time it takes to develop symptoms, 14 days if you want to be on the absolute safe side. This one is TOUGH. It negates our primal instinct to seek the proximity of loved ones in times of crisis, but the nature of the situation demands this. You can take comfort in knowing it is only temporary.

Who is vulnerable? The elderly (65+ years of age by definition) or anyone with comorbid conditions that could result in immunosuppression. However, ‘elderly’, is a very relative term, not a one size fits all kind of situation. Chronological age does not always reflect biological age- I know many people in their sixties that are very healthy (shout out mom and dad) and likely at minimal risk. The virus does not abide by our social constructs of age, who you designate as vulnerable is up to your discretion.

What’s up with that 2.5% case fatality rate? This an average, observed value, it is not an intrinsic property of the virus. It is highly variable and more than anything reflective of the population demographics and health care capacity in any one area. In China, the average fatality rate was 0.2% or less for those age 40 or younger. The average is still relatively low for those below 70+ years of age. I personally believe these values are gross overestimates, given the inevitability of underreporting. These values are NOT cause for mass panic, but they are higher than many of the infections we regularly encounter, and we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable.

How long can it remain on surfaces? This virus can remain infectious outside of the body for days at a time, especially on hard surfaces. All the hype behind maximum handwashing and minimal face-touching is absolutely true. Soap and water is actually better at breaking down this virus than ethanol-based sanitizers, but hand sanitizer is better than nothing.

Should I wear a mask? No, if you are a healthy individual from a low risk group. There is a severe shortage of masks for healthcare workers worldwide, leave them for the people that truly need them.

Can we expect to see seasonality? This virus does not have a confirmed seasonality, but SARS-1 demonstrated seasonal preference similar to that of influenza, so it is reasonable to suspect the same of this virus. Seasonality is not entirely understood, but it is suggested that in cold, dry, climates virus particles can travel farther through the air and become more efficiently aerosolized. In warm, humid climates, our respiratory particles become weighed down and cannot remain suspended in the air as long.

Why are kids at a lesser risk? Kids are still getting infected, but they are displaying milder cases on average. To put it simply, viruses elicit an immune response which stimulates a pro inflammatory response. This occurs in the lungs during acute respiratory infections, and it can cause severe damage when the response is prolonged or exacerbated. Children have underdeveloped immune systems, so the idea is that their lessened immune response may actually be protective against this virus.

If I get infected, can I get infected again?  I spoke extensively with my professor about this, because I personally have encountered many rumors of people getting re-infected. If you get infected, you should NOT get infected again. This is why vaccines work. Speaking of which…

Will there be a vaccine? It is very likely we will see a vaccine for this virus, but probably not during this outbreak. However, when one emerges it can hopefully aid in suppressing future outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2.

How long will this last? No one can say for sure, but I assure you this is not going away as soon as Trump will have you believe. To give you some perspective, let’s calculate the herd immunity. The reproductive number for this virus (R0) is believed to be between 2 and 3.5. This means that at best, the epidemic will die out once 50% of the population becomes immune (either via vaccination, infection, or genetic insusceptibility). At worst, 71% of the population will require immunity to stifle the spread. This number is not static- meaning we can reduce these values through concerted control measures, and hopefully the seasons will be on our side.

Herd Immunity =

Do we have the medical capacity to manage this outbreak? Yes, IF we implement sufficient control measures. It is estimated that roughly 10% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in hospitalization *I cannot attest to the accuracy of this value. If we spread the cases out over a longer period of time, we have the hospital capacity to manage. If all the cases surge at the beginning, we will NOT have the staff, space, or resources to provide care for everyone. TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN EPIDEMIC INTERVENTIONS. Restrictions on travel, events, activities, etc. are unfavorable, but they will be critically important in preventing us from surpassing this threshold.

How do I prepare? Limit non-essential travel and social interaction. If you choose to partake in these activities, you must be willing to under-go quarantine if need be (and not just if you become a case but if you are exposed to a case), and maintain a heightened awareness of your presence around vulnerable people. Maintain enough resources around your house to last 2 weeks in case you need to self-quarantine. At this point, you risk being stuck anywhere you travel, take this into consideration when planning.

This is yet another symptom of an unbalanced planet. I will be the first to admit that I underestimated the progression of this outbreak, but I did so in anticipation of a response from our leaders than never materialized. Things are going to change for everyone, not forever, but they will get worse before they get better. If you have not felt the presence of the epidemic in your respective areas, you will very soon. This letter is not intended to incite panic, but to promote awareness as you go about your lives. I believe knowledge is one of the strongest armors, and we must be mindful not to let fear impede logic. This will subside in a few months, but it will require some personal sacrifice and collective effort. Don’t forget to thank your friends, family, or acquaintances that work in healthcare, because this burden may fall the heaviest upon them. Remember, you are not alone in your confusion, anxiety, and loss of normality. Be an advocate of your own health, and others.

Feel free to email me for additional guidance or answers that were not presented here. smunro122@gmail.com

Stay Sterile,

Sarah Munro

I recorded some of my music this week. While this might seem like no real surprise, considering, ya know, I’m a musician, it actually feels like a pretty large feat. While I do indeed have a musical day job that I love, the truth is that nowhere in my current job description are the words “writes and records original music.”

However those are words that I need to be part of my life in order to feel complete. These are activities that have been dear to me since I was about 15 years old, and yet the further away from 15 I get, the harder it is to find the time and courage to do them. 

But luckily we’ve just crossed the threshold of a new year (a new decade even!) and I’m a man who gets motivated by ridiculously ambitious resolutions. So here goes.

Lucas Murray’s bold 2020 resolution:

I will write, record, and release a piece of music every week.

Lucas Murray’s very important addendum to his 2020 resolution:

The music can be absolutely any length or quality-level, and I’m also allowed up to 4 weeks off.

This feels exciting, daunting, and easy all at once. The ease comes from there being no true standards set on the quality of the music. The difficulty comes from the sheer number of necessary works, as well as the ability to let go of my own internal standards. The excitement comes from thinking about a year in which I created 48 pieces art for art’s sake. L’art pour l’art! 

Here’s the first — See you next week!

I contradict myself a lot in this blog. I doubt anyone has noticed or cared about it. I’ve noticed, but I don’t care about it. You see, I’m of the Emersonian mindset. He once wrote that…

Ok, wait—before I quote Emerson, I just have to say that I’m completely distracted right now. I’m journaling a draft of this blog post in Central Park, sitting on the rocks by The Lake, and there are a group of rowdy, shirtless teens across the pond who are cheering loudly every time someone rows a boat by them. All of these poor, pond-ridden tourists are limply rowing by at a snail’s pace while these teenagers cheer them on like its the Olympics. It is incredible. I want to go join them, but that would not be cool. I’m not a teen anymore, even though sometimes I still feel like one…

And I’m going to pretend that was a smooth segue into the topic of teens—the source of my blog’s most recent contradiction. The contradiction occurred when I made this statement a few weeks ago:

“The difference between 19 year old me, and me now, is I’m right and he’s wrong. I’ll go out on a limb and say unless you’ve developed a drug habit, this is true in almost any discrepancy between one’s 19 year old self, and one’s 30 year old self.”

That was a pretty good line. And I suppose I stand by it. But the problem is that literally one week prior I was sincerely arguing that we all need to be acting more like freshmen in college. Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, Lucas…you can’t have it both ways, bro.

Except yes I can. You see, I’m of the Emersonian mindset. He once wrote that…

Wait! Hold the phone—you know what? I don’t have to quote Emerson to justify my contradictions. I can contradict myself because this is a hobby-blog—a hoblogby, if you will—and I can do whatever the hell I want. Proof: click this LINK! See? I can do whatever I want.

Yet, there is something even more important than my inalienable right to hoblogby-freedom that allows me to be so confident in my contradictions and rogue hyperlinks. It is the idea that something doesn’t have to be factual to be true. You can contradict yourself and still be telling the truth both times. Please note that this reasoning will not hold up in a court of law, and my lawyer friends do not appreciate me invoking their profession for clickbait purposes. However, I’m not a lawyer. I’m an artist, and this reasoning will hold up in the court of good art.

May it please the Court (of Good Art) to submit for the record, exhibit A:

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”

-Pablo Picasso

Woooohooooohooooooooh, that’s a strong argument for the defense. I rest my case.

Now before I go on and celebrate my recent court victory, I just want to note that you can use quotes by Picasso in the Court of Good Art, but the same cannot be said about the Court of Good Behavior.

And now for the celebration. Woop woop! We did it! We won! Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty, and that’s all y’all need to know!

Anyway, having freed itself from the need for facts and consistency, art becomes both easier and more difficult than that other great search for truth: Science. It is easier because the initial bar for creating art is very low. Look, here’s some art. That was really easy to make and bad art is still art. However, the bar for creating good art is much harder to find.

Conversely, in science the initial bar is much harder to clear. There is a more vigorous and demanding method to follow. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? However, once you are conducting replicable experiments with accurate measurements, you’ve pretty much hit your mark for doing good science. Interestingly enough, if you are conducting bad science (i.e. not following the scientific method), that’s not actually science! It’s actually closer to bad art. So congratulations! You’re an artist!

I actually used to think I wanted to be a scientist—an astrophysicist, to be precise. But I realize now that I was more interested in the spiritual and aesthetic implications of certain theories of the universe than I was in actually doing a bunch of advanced calculus. Like, the multiverse? Great premise for a science fiction film. Or like, the big bang+big crunch? That’s just the universe breathing in and out. I know—like, far out, man.

It is pretty clear to me now that I was way more interested in being a bad artist than a good scientist. So I’m happy I chose the path I did. Rather than constantly trying to fit a scientific peg into an artsy hole, I’m free to just arrange those pegs into a model of a pterodactyl, string some rubber-bands across that hole, and start strummin’ a pterodactyl tune. Or, like I said earlier, I can do whatever the hell I want!

Now, I recognize that I still haven’t really talked about what it takes to make good art. And I don’t necessarily think that doing whatever the hell you want is always the right path to get you there. Frankly, there is no one right path. However, I do believe that in art (and in life), ridding yourself of useless hang-ups is vitally important if you are going to find a path that is right for you. So if fear of contradiction happens to be your personal impediment, congratulations my child—you are free. Please imagine me making some vaguely religious gesture with my hands as you read that last sentence.

Postscript:

Did I really have an Emerson quote to share? Well I had one in mind, but I actually could’t find it. But here’s one by Walt Whitman that basically says the same thing:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large. I contain multitudes.)”

Hi my name is Lucas and I’m a music producer. Don’t believe me just watch. 

If you made it :08s in to that video you probably you heard me give a nice little soundbite. You see, Philadelphians are clamoring for my nice little soundbites, because I recently co-produced the new music for Philadelphia’s oldest news radio station (one of the oldest news radio stations in the world in fact), KYW Newsradio 1060. In fact if you turn your internet radio dial right now to this station, you’ll probably hear some music I produced within five minutes of listening— I’m talking headlines, I’m talking weather, I’m talking sports, I’m talking traffic… you got a news segment? I can produce the music for it! Or more accurately, we (at Man Made Music) can produce the music for it.

Quick sidenote: If you made it to :54s in that video you heard me give a not-so-nice soundbite. I mean the sentiment is nice, but the delivery? Oof. I don’t like it. Basically I was just riffing, and I came across this phrase “This piece has got soul to it, because Philadelphia has soul!” And I guess I didn’t say it cleanly, or clearly enough the first time, so they made me say it again, and then I got all self-conscious, and it felt like I was acting, and frankly, I’m a bad actor. So I delivered it all weird and self-consciously. But they kept it in anyway. Look people, don’t make me repeat myself. I’m good at improvising and saying things spontaneously, but I am not good at delivering lines. Maybe I should take some acting classes? That sounds fun…


Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I’m a music producer! But what the heck is a music producer? Well, broadly speaking, a music producer is someone who helps facilitate the creation of recorded music. This helping facilitate can encompass a wide range of different activities. It can be a primarily directorial role — with a producer coaching singers and musicians during the recording process to achieve their best performances. It can also be more of a project manager position —  with the producer planning and budgeting for the entire process of writing, hiring musicians, recording, mixing, mastering, registering, and releasing music. A producer may also be the writer or co-writer of a piece of music. In fact Webster’s dictionary defines a producer as… just kidding.

It is a big catch-all term, and there are as many different approaches to it as there are producers. You might be a Rick Rubin, who, among other things, acts in part as a meditation coach for the artists he is producing. Or you might be a Timbaland, who, among other things, creates tracks from scratch for artists to sing or rap over. Or you might be a Lucas Murray, who, among other things, flies by the seat of his pants, communicates with composers, sends emails to clients, arranges recording sessions, books musicians, records guitar parts, edits the music, and ultimately gives clunky soundbites to Philadelphia radio stations. That’s how you know the project is coming to a close— when you’re in that clunky soundbite stage.

Here’s a soundbite (or textbite?) for all you armchair philosophers out there: You can’t possibly know what era you are living in. This is true in any field. Its up to historians to define your era long after you and all your friends have died (easy on the looming mortality talk Lucas! Jeez!). Beethoven wasn’t writing his fifth symphony, all smug, thinking to himself “I truly am ushering in the romantic era.” But music historians often point to that symphony as the inflection point for a new era in music (or was it Beethoven’s 3rd? It’s been a while since I took a music history class. Look it up, dear readers, because you have a lazy writer who doesn’t care to fact check himself). The point is, I don’t know what musical age we are living in, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on this being the age of the producer.

This is a vain proclamation. Its pretty convenient that right when I become a music producer I take to my blog and tell my tens of readers that we’re living in the age of the producer, isn’t it? If someone had asked 19 year old Lucas what era we are living in, he’d probably be all like “the age of guitar, man!” Luckily no one ever asked me that. Plus the difference between 19 year old me, and me now, is I’m right and he’s wrong. I’ll go out on a limb and say unless you’ve developed a drug habit, this is true in almost any discrepancy between one’s 19 year old self, and one’s 30 year old self.

Quick side-note: I’ll look forward to my 50 year old self treating my 30 year old self with this same flippant dismissal.

Anyway, instead of just dunking on him and walking away, let me go back in time and try to prove to little 19 year old me that this is the age of the producer. Ok, so, 19 year old Lucas (I’m going to call you young Luc— obviously that’s pronounced “Luke” — read it that way). Young Luc, I’m going to ask you to do something you’ve probably never intentionally done in your life. I want you to listen to the Spice Girls’ hit song “Wannabe.” Now I know everyone overdosed on this song back in the late 90s, but they did so for good reason. This song is pure ear candy from front to back and take my word for it that it still sounds great in 2019. But why? The melody, harmony, and form are good, but there’s nothing revolutionary there. The incredibly energetic performance from the girls in this song also shouldn’t be understated. But the special sauce is the production. It is the result of people paying attention at all levels (from performance, to recording, to mixing to mastering) to the sound of the sounds.

Let me get a little professorial on you young Luc. Pull up a chair.

For almost the entire musical history of mankind, how music sounded boiled down to some pretty simple questions:

  • who is playing it?
  • what instruments are they using?
  • what piece of music are they playing?
  • where are they playing it?

Correct me if I’m missing something, but that’s pretty much it. Then with the invention and continued advancement of recording technology, the influences on the sound of music have expanded exponentially. In addition to the questions above, we now must ask: what kind of microphones we’re using, are we recording digitally or analog, are we replacing or augmenting any sounds, do we use auto-tune, how are we going to equalize this, how much compression do we use on each instrument, are we using any samples, how much and what kind of reverb do we use, are we adding effects and which ones, does this need any editing, etc… etc… etc… Oh and who is going to do all of this? Well, young luc, the producer is the one who is going to at least need to have a vision for all of this, if not outright do it herself.

Now I’m not ready to say that production is unequivocally the most important influence in making a song great. Called me old-fashioned, but I still believe you need to write a good song (ya know, one with a good melody, good harmony, good form, good groove, and good lyrics). However, I believe that most if not all of the musical elements that are new in our era, fall broadly under the domain and responsibility of the producer. And that is why this is the Age of the Producer. What do you think about that young Luc?

He’s speechless.

We had a wild party yesterday. When inviting my friends to this party, I told them to show up anytime between 3pm and 3am. They thought I was joking. Even I thought I was joking. Apparently I was not joking. By my clock our first guests arrived at 3:05 in the afternoon and the brave and final few left at 3:45am.  Over the course of those 12-plus hours, we hosted roughly 45 people. Friendships were formed, romances blossomed, animals were grilled, guacamole was made, beers were consumed, vodka drinks were invented, disco was danced, and the cops were called… twice.

I shall not name names, but some of my friends also got a citation for drinking on the train on their way home (it was a small fine, and the cops even let them finish their beers for some reason). So that’s a total of three cop encounters, all stemming from the same party. This all may sound like pretty juvenile or degenerate behavior, and I suppose it may be. However, the revelers at last night’s party (myself included) were neither juvenile nor degenerate by any outward, superficial measure. These are managers at huge financial institutions, marketers at social media companies, editors at literary magazines, producers at music studios, and even a state senator. These are people who at least appear to have their shit together.

This is emblematic of a very Manhattan phenomenon. People here are somehow the most adult, responsible, competent, capable, powerful people while simultaneously the most free-wheeling, indulgent, pleasure-seeking, silly people. New York encourages this dichotomy — its in the city’s DNA. This place wasn’t settled by those prudish pilgrims after all. This is New Amsterdam baby! The Dutch came here because they thought it looked like a fine place to make some dang money. And unlike those austere, wet-noodle pilgrims, once they got a little money in their pockets, the Dutch weren’t afraid to spend it on a little bit of fun! And thus, bars, arts, and parties proliferate here to this day.

Now, that’s surely a gross and possibly inaccurate oversimplification of the history and sociology of this place, but I hope you didn’t come to this alleged music blog for any history lessons. No, I hope you came and are here now because you want me to get to the point. The point is, there are only two rules here in New York:

  1. Be good at your job.
  2. Try to have a real good time.

It’s a simple set of rules, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to follow. Because no matter how good you are at your job, it often feels like there’s always going to be someone that is better at it than you (and probably someone younger, and better looking to boot). I came here two and a half years ago thinking I was going to be a performer. I showed up to get a masters in jazz performance at NYU, but I’ll be honest, I looked around and heard my “competition” and pretty well threw out the idea that I was going to be a jazz musician by the end of my first semester. I did finish the program, and I do now have a master’s in jazz performance, so yes, if we are counting chickens, I am a master of jazz (eat your heart out Coltrane). However, I quickly shifted my focus at NYU to film-scoring and music production classes, and most fatefully, in my final semester, I got an internship a lovely little company called Man Made Music.

I think it took me about a week of interning to decide that I really wanted to get a job there. The musical work being produced was amazing, the space was incredible, and the people were all so competent and cool. So I showed up early every morning, stayed late if I was needed, and remained bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and willing to do anything and everything that was asked of me. As it turns out, it was the right fit at the right time, and I was offered a job there last July. I remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work there, and I’m not just saying that because my supervisor might be reading this right now (waddup Amy).

For a number of reasons (lack of qualification being chief among them), jazz musician just didn’t feel like the right job for me. And while the waves of imposter syndrome often come a-crashing, I do feel like Producer at Man Made Music is the right job for me. I now need only follow the rules:

  1. Be good at your job.
  2. Try to have a real good time.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in for next week’s blog entry: What the hell is a producer?