Friday Free for all #40: Job Tips, TV, and Music

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What should parents stop teaching their children?

I’ll start with the softball, because this one is way too easy to answer. Parents should stop teaching their children hatred, bigotry, selfishness, bullying, and the idea that anyone “different” than them is somehow inferior.

Because, remember, treating people different from you as “less than” just gives them license to do the same right back.

What tips or tricks have you picked up from your job/jobs?

Oh, so many tricks from so many jobs, and in such a weirdly eclectic array. The first one relies on the fact that most people in upper-level management are dealing with so many things at once that they have really shitty memories for the details.

How to exploit it? If you want to get a policy that you thought of implemented, make them think that it was their idea. , then bring it up that way. Never say, “Hey, I think it would be a big improvement if we did X.”

Instead, when you have the chance, say something like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about what you mentioned about us doing X, and I think it’s a great idea.”

Bingo — you’ll probably be put in charge of writing up how to do X. Congratulations. And yes, this one has worked for me more than a few times.

The other most important office survival skill — especially if you’re in corporate or entertainment — is to learn every last one of your immediate boss’ and their boss’ likes, dislikes, and personal quirks, and then learn how to cater to and gatekeep around them.

This one will insulate you against angry clients inclined to send snarky emails because after you cut them off and make them leave a message when they think they deserve to speak to the Executive Producer, Showrunner, CEO, or Owner right this second, dammit!, you can send a quick email to said management type, leaving the info and explaining that so-and-so was very insistent on speaking immediately but — important part — because you’ve made it your business to learn exactly which few people or organizations are on the “Please, dear god, disturb me” list and which ones aren’t, you can explain exactly that.

I’ve cut off a good number of complainers at the knees this way when they bitched to my boss, who basically told them in diplomatic and polite way to fuck off.

Learned from working in improv: Always be listening. These skills in particular have elevated my customer service and phone skills beyond anything I ever though I was capable of.

The one thing I used to most hate about any job where I had to take calls from clients was, well… taking calls from clients. Now? I treat it like an improv game because, in a lot of ways, we are making up a scene on the spot. It’s made the calls really fun.

Final skill, which really comes from long history with computers (I first met them when I was a wee lad) and my total disdain for Macs and all things Apple is this: Learn and use the keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, unless you’re a graphic artist working mostly with mouse, stylus, or touchpad.

Why? Simple. If you’re dealing with things involving typing in words or entering data or formulae, the fewer times one of your hands leaves the keyboard the better. This is especially useful in Word and Excel.

Learn the shortcut keys to do most everything you need to do, and you’ll save a ton of time. And that is my biggest pro-tip. Well, that, and if you’re an Apple fan… I’m sorry.

What will be the future of TV shows?

This question has been in the queue for a long time, and I’ve resisted answering it because I didn’t really know. However, by this point, I think the writing is on the wall.

The major cable outlets have long since established their streaming services, and even the big three networks have done it with CBS All Access, Peacock, and Disney+ having taken over CBS and the CW, NBC, and ABC/Fox, respectively.

All this leaves are local channels, which are limited to news, local programming, and whatever they can syndicate, and they are probably going to start failing in the next decade as they become less and less relevant.

Meanwhile…the content wars between all of the above streamers is going to become intense, with each one of them trying to bring the content that gets the most subscribers, and for a while, available content on all of the platforms is going to explode.

Off the top of my head, I can think of these paid outlets: Netflix, HBO Now, Showtime, DirectTV Now, Acorn TV, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Hulu, CBS All Access, Peacock (is that paid or free, I forget?) Disney+, and YouTube TV.

That’s twelve streamers, and ain’t no one gonna pay for every one of them, because the cost would be ridiculous.

So we’re going to probably see this. Phase one: An insane ratings battle that will involve these outlets vying for the most alluring content through cast, creators, effects, whatever, and which will lead to a renaissance of creativity akin to the dawn of the silent era in Hollywood.

That’s the one that made California’s first millionaires, and we’ve already seen it happen on social media in the present day. All of the competing streamers are just going to try to gobble up the most popular Insta and TikTok stars in order to gain ratings.

And then, in about five years when they realize that it isn’t working, we’re going to start to see the great mergers, in which one by one the individual streamers finally come together to create one unified streaming service that combines all of their channels, and which will bring back viewers because it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like a la carte would have.

The downside to that is the sudden drop in rabid need for new content, so the door that opened for creators in the 2020s slams shut in the 2030s.

Oh well. Meanwhile, all of those local VHF and UHF bands that haven’t been used for broadcast by air since early in the century are auctioned off by the FCC, and an entirely new social media crops up because of the rise of low-cost home transmitters, so everything that used to television as we knew it becomes the pinnacle of public access cable, also as we used to know it.

This will eventually turned into hipster social media, and create an entirely new and weird wave of entertainment in the 2040s. Enjoy!

How has technology changed the music industry?

The final question is one that, as a musician, I have lived through, and the short answer is, “Oh, so much for the better.” I started studying music very early in my life to the extent that I consider it my second language.

I was well-versed in music theory even before I left elementary school. But… everything was analog. I played keyboards, so it was either an accordion that pumped air via a bellows through a bunch of reeds modulated by keys, or a piano that slapped metal strings with cotton-clad hammers to make them vibrate.

You wanted to record something? Microphone and tape-recorder. That was it.

And then digital started to happen — sort of — but even then it was analog and, anyway, the first synthesizers were way out of reach of what I could have afforded at about 12 years old.

I’ve got a ton of keyboards now, two of them rescued relics that just remind me how different it was in my childhood. One is a Moog Opus III (IIRC), an analog synthesizer that can create some really interesting sounds.

Now, modern day, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, if it’s a synthesizer, how can it be analog?” Well, the answer is simple. The three tone generators that make the sound are controlled by dials and switches, instead of by entering exact digital values.

Digital instruments use computers to set values and transmit data. Analog instruments use rheostats (dials) and toggles (switches) to approximate the same.

The other relic keyboard that I picked up for about 1/10th of its original retail price at a music shop one day is an Ensoniq Mirage, which was the first sampler available to consumers. I actually knew someone in high school who owned one because their parents were richer than fuck, and I do have to say that, up to that point in my life, it did have the most realistic instrument sounds I’d ever heard from a synth.

Modern day, though? It’s kind of digital, kind of not, and falls into that weird hybrid land. For one thing, if you own one you damn well better have two things on hand: A 5-inch floppy disc that at least has the operating system and default samples on it.

More importantly: The manual that gives you all of the codes you need to use in order to sample and save shit, because this puppy works along the lines of “If you want to start recording a sample, enter A0, 46, and press start.” Totally made up, but that’s as basic as it is.

Bonus points: not in stereo and no MIDI out, although I do remember that someone created hardware hacks to make both happen.

Anyway, the reason that this keyboard is both analog and not is that the controls are digital, but the outputs aren’t.

Next, though, came my beloved Roland Junos, of which I own two, and they are just fantastic, except for their tendency to eventually have overly used keys break down. The first one served me well in my “trying to be a musician” days, while the latter worked out when I later wound up being the accompanist for a late-night musical.

The latter also was instrumental (pun intended) when I wrote music for two musicals that never actually happened.

Which brings me back to MIDI, which is the greatest thing ever invented, at least for music. It dates back to, I think, the 80s, but the idea is that it creates a signal that simultaneously can carry data on notes, the all-important ASDR (attack, sustain, decay, release — it’s a music thing), touch velocity, instrument, left/right panning, vibrato, and tempo.

This is an amazing thing, especially since most MIDI devices can transmit all of that into across 256 channels at once.

My lovely Junos were MIDI monsters, but during the pandemic I found a ridiculously cheap ($250)  workstation from Casio that just blew everything else away.

Like the Ensoniq, for example, it samples, but through a much simpler process. It also has a lot more instruments than any of my others, as well as built-in rhythm patterns…  and MIDI.

So, yeah… this cheap babe can help me do everything simply that it took me way too long to do ten or twenty years ago. But, of course, that’s because I haven’t mentioned all of the other msuci programs that make people who have no musical training able to string together shit-loops.

You know — things like Apple’s Garage Band (fuck Apple), or any other app that allows people to just drop in music chunks and mix and match.

I’ve got mixed feelings on those, actually.

On the one hand: Oh, you’re creating. Yay!

On the other hand: Oh, you don’t realize that you’re just throwing shit on the wall. Boo!