Travis Briggs - YABIWU

Yet Another Blog I Won't Update

Some bands/songs/albums seem unattainable. Like, I could never make something that good no matter what. Weezer's Blue Album comes immediately to mind. Not to mention the elite pantheon of something like The Dark Side Of The Moon.

But other albums, some of my favorites, I sometimes think “Yeah, I could do that”. I'm talking Green Day Insomniac or Fall Out Boy From Under The Cork Tree.

The latter was produced by Neal Avron who co-produced Everclear's So Much For The Afterglow which remains one of the best albums in the universe. He also produced some New Found Glory albums, a Weezer album, and Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots, the latter of which I love for its eclectic style (it has ukulele prominently on several songs, despite the main hits being more like hip hop songs). I think I have a new producer crush.

I think to myself – if I had the money, the producer, the studio and.....hmmm....the bandmates probably – I could make a record like this.

So the real first thing I'm missing is the band, to be realistic. I would definitely need a drummer. Probably need a bassist too, which would put me in “punk rock trio” territory. But I'm not a good enough guitarist to carry everything myself, so we would need either a lead guitarist or a keyboard player to round things out.

That's a lot of people to pay in a world where musicians make on average less and less each year.

Maybe the question isn't “Could I make this record if I had all the resources in the world?” but “Could I write this record in my recording studio/kitchen today?” I think that's a more salient question to ask. I may not be able to play any drum parts, most bass lines, and barely any lead guitar parts. But could I “fake it 'till I make it” with what I have, and at least write the songs that would be on Insomniac 2.

One idea I have is that for my punk numbers, I need to record multiple guitars. Even if they're playing the same chords, I could play the chords up on the neck a bit, with a different rhythm, with a different guitar timbre and different overdrive effects etc. Just to give some variation to the tunes. I think this would help a lot.

Another idea is that I should embrace my electronic music production/chiptune skills, and try to make a record, like Blurryface, which works despite being ridiculously eclectic. So far I've added lots of shiny synths to punk rock tracks and called it my “signature sound”. But I bet I can go past that.

Also I will say it here to immortalize it for all time. It's not New Found Glory's “lyrics” per se that I don't like about them. It's not their “melodies” either really, those are fine. It's more of the lack of prosody. There's no vocal hooks, lines that set each other up, that work like a poem, lyrically, unfolding and revealing a catchy whole. It just sounds like a bunch of rhythmic whining. But I love the music, always have.

Which makes me think, I haven't always given much credit to lyricism in music. I know, intellectually, that most people can think of only the words to a song, sometimes the rhythm, sometimes the melody. People think of lyrics first. Yet I've always thought lyrics aren't that important and I've let it show in my songwriting. I need to reverse that thinking, and put big, shiny, lyrical hooks front and center in the next songs that I write.


So who wants to start a band? As always I'm Travis Briggs, of travisbriggs.com fame. If you'd like to comment on this post you can do so on Mastodon (@audiodude@toot.cafe) or Twitter (@audiodude) or send me an email at audiodude@gmail.com.

You might have heard of the so-called Seinfeld Strategy for sticking to something and building a habit.

You don't have to click all those links, I'm of course going to explain it. Basically, you buy a big wall calendar and every day you do the thing you're supposed to do (practice an instrument, write in your journal, work on a YouTube video), you get to put a big red X through that day. After a few days to a week, you have a “chain” of unbroken X's. Supposedly, you will find that the desire to procrastinate, the perceived pain of working on your project, is overcome simply by your desire to “not break The Chain”.

I bring this up solely because 2 weeks ago I realized I had blogged about once a week for a few weeks. I felt pretty good about that! Then I blogged again last week. Then this week: well, I didn't think I had anything to blog about.

But I didn't want to break “The Chain” even though I don't have a real or even virtual calendar where I'm keeping track of it. So I decided to write this small post explaining what The Chain is.

I'd love to commit to The Chain, and I'm not sure what's stopping me. I think it's not the effort or time it takes to write blog posts. I'm completely onboard with offering that much. I think it's the fact that I've tried to consistently blog before, and it always ends in so many tears. The added fact that I will have broken The Chain makes me feel like it will be harder to then, once again like so many times before, resume blogging to any degree.

Actually if I could commit to only writing ¼ of my blog posts about blogging itself, that would be an improvement. Maybe when I feel like The Chain is being strained (Don't Strain The Chain, Gang), I could just cop out and blog about blogging.

I have to also take this opportunity to point out that the name of this blog is YABIWU — Yet Another Blog I Won't Update. Am I proving myself wrong? Probably only temporarily.


So has anyone successfully used The Chain? As always I'm Travis Briggs, of travisbriggs.com fame. If you'd like to comment on this post you can do so on Mastodon (@audiodude@toot.cafe) or Twitter (@audiodude) or send me an email at audiodude@gmail.com.

I fully believe I will need to write hundreds of songs in order to come up with my next great release. I mentioned as much at the end of my last post. I also believe that there are no “shortcuts” to this process, that I can't write ten songs and get lucky and two of them are great. I guess that's possible, but that's not really what the process represents.

It wouldn't be entirely fair to say I have writer's block. Like I mentioned in another recent post, when I set out to just write whatever comes to mind and free myself from “editor's mind”, I can produce plenty of interesting sounds and song structures. I'm not struggling to get started, or to put notes “down on paper”. I don't think I'm stuck in the 8 bar loop trap. I know how to finish songs or at least when a demo version is “done enough”.

I can play a few instruments and sing well enough, I know how to use my DAW pretty well, certainly well enough that it doesn't actively impede my progress.

I'm not married to any specific genre, though I feel more at ease creating guitar-driven rock songs than any EDM pieces. But it's not a matter of getting sick of the genre I'm writing in, or feeling like I have no new ideas in that space. The alternate is also true: I don't feel necessarily compelled to create some breakthrough new sound that no one's ever heard before.

I feel like what I'm lacking is focus. I don't have anything to focus my songwriting/music production ability. No prism to shine the light through. Sure, I'd love to write a 10-12 track album that's coherent and well laid out. My favorite thing to listen to is albums. But something like that seems so distant and difficult that it's hard to motivate myself to pursue it.

When I finish a song, I publish it on my song demos website and toot about it on Mastodon (sometimes I also tweet it). There's no real satisfaction or gratification other than just saying “yes, I made a song today”. I know of a couple of people that sometimes listen to songs I put out there, but usually they don't give me any direct feedback or encouragement.

It feels like every new song just gets thrown on the pile and forgotten as soon as it's rendered. Then maybe I decide to put out a release, like the Radio Machine EP and I go digging through this pile to try to find something salvageable.

I know I can't depend on external encouragement or engagement to drive my songwriting. I understand, at least intellectually, that the drive to write songs has to come completely from me. I need to want to write these songs, and want it badly enough that I can overcome creative and technical obstacles. I need to be excited for my own reasons.

And right now, frankly, I'm not.


What do you think, am I being too hard on myself? As always I'm Travis Briggs, of travisbriggs.com fame. If you'd like to comment on this post you can do so on Mastodon (@audiodude@toot.cafe) or Twitter (@audiodude) or send me an email at audiodude@gmail.com

Today I sent a cold email to someone who has 90k subscribers on YouTube, asking if they could maybe give me music production lessons. On the one hand, I don't expect a response, even at all. On the other hand, this person did put their (an?) email address in the description of a YouTube video so maybe they're open to being contacted. Maybe?

Anyways, at the bottom of the email, I linked my demo song website, songs.travisbriggs.com. I then of course visited this website and tried to imagine what the person would see or click on when they got there. One thing that popped into my head is that they might literally click on the newest song and listen for 5 seconds, thinking “This is probably Travis's latest and greatest song”.

That's when I started feeling mortified.

Right now the newest song on my demo website is a sloppy punk track called “Goodbyes” (link). If you listen to 5 seconds of it, you probably think, “Wow this guy is great at making awful noise, but I wouldn't call it music!”. It's certainly my latest track, but it's far from being my greatest.

Now there's a whole discussion around the difference between the demos on this site and the songs which I had made into my Danger Third Rail EP. Not only did I select my best material for the EP, but I meticulously re-recorded the parts. They also got professionally mixed and mastered. So I think those tracks in particular are going to sound the best out of the wide range of material I've published, and be the greatest. They're a far cry from being the latest though.

So at this point I'm thinking about progression over time. Am I getting better at making music? Not even a specific genre of music, not “Am I getting better at writing music?” or “Am I getting better at performing/mixing/mastering/whatever music?”. Basically, can you look at the musical artifacts I've created, the songs I've created, over time and see that yes, the quality is increasing?

I think that I can't honestly answer that question. Not because I'm afraid the answer might be no — though I am afraid of that! — but because the demo songs website is not really set up to produce that kind of an answer.

The fact is, my methodology and my ethos of creating music has shifted and evolved over the years, as you might well expect it to. I've gone from releasing songs once in a blue moon, to frantically releasing them once a week or once a day, back to producing songs maybe once a month. I've gone from not finishing projects and not saving the unfinished parts, to saving all the unfinished parts, to trying to finish things in one session even if it means sacrificing quality.

Really, I've decided that I believe in the 100:10:1 rule, where out of 100 songs, 10 will be good and 1 will be great, so it doesn't matter if the initial demo of a song sounds amazing or not. If there's a good idea there, I'll revisit it, re-record some of the parts, tweak the arrangement, send it to my drummer in the UK, and have it professionally mixed and mastered. If there's only a so-so idea there, well, at least I recorded a demo and a few people listened to it.

Honestly, I fully believe that I will need to write close to 500 songs before I can come up with another 5 song EP. I'm not sure I even have it in me to approach such a task. If you're listening to songs.travisbriggs.com, you're simply along for the process.


As always I'm Travis Briggs, of travisbriggs.com fame. If you'd like to comment on this post you can do so on Mastodon (@audiodude@toot.cafe) or Twitter (@audiodude) or send me an email at audiodude@gmail.com

I'm tutoring two separate students in Ableton Live and Digital Music Production now. It's very rewarding to talk through all the things I've learned in my two decades (!) of making music digitally, and especially to see their eyes light up (over video chat) when something that I'm explaining finally clicks.

One of my students was having trouble with writer's block of sorts, so I gave him what I called the Make Something Terrible Challenge. I came up with it on the spot, so the details were scant, but it basically amounted to “Give yourself permission to create, and actively attempt to create, something truly terrible”.

I think this is actually pretty common advice for people experiencing writer's block, at least the first part. Don't just “write anything”, give yourself permission to create something truly terrible. But I think I cranked up the intensity when I started talking about actively creating terribleness.

Now of course, I could run fingernails on a chalkboard and point a microphone at it, or mumble incoherently into a microphone for 12 minutes, or all sorts of other things that barely constitute music. But I think the spirit of the challenge is to work in the medium or genre that you're already working in.

I told the student that I would try it too, to reassure him. I tried it tonight and I'm here to report on the results.

Firstly, I won't make you listen to what I came up with, mostly because I don't want this blog post just to be a vehicle for pushing some demo music that I spent 40 minutes on.

When I started creating the electronic music track for my #MSTC I thought I was winning. “This is bad!” I thought, “This really sucks!” I was doing well, at least at first.

But as I tweaked a knob here and added an effect there, purely by habit, I started to lose the thread. I realized about 30 minutes in that I had created something that sounded shockingly similar to my non-terribly intended tracks.

This is an existential crisis, you see. Either I'm unable to give myself permission to make terrible music, or all my music is actually terrible.

Of course, it worked perfectly as a way to get out of writer's block. I didn't spend any time pondering what I should make, because “the first thing that pops into my head” was bound to be Something Terrible™. I breezed right past the point where I might normally say, “This sucks, I'm quitting-dont-save”, because of course, I was making Terribleness. And I wound up in an uncanny valley of not-so-terrible, purely by accident.

The exercise raised two questions in me:

  1. Could I actually make something terrible if I tried harder? (Inspiration to try again)
  2. What if all those times I had rage quit the music process, I had hung on a bit longer?

I'll certainly be pondering this the next time I fire up Live.

When I wrote that post about making a computer game, I seem to have left out one of the major projects I've been working on for the past year or so, which is Q Poker.

Q Poker is envisioned as an online poker site, with play money (coins), that hosts games other than Texas Hold'em. The first game I've been implementing is Razz (7 card stud lowball) and you can see some of the in progress results in this screenshot:

Screenshot of online poker game

So far, the things I've got working are:

  • Backend game logic, in Python, where you can start and finish Hands (of Razz). — Includes check/bet/raise/fold logic for all players.
  • Logic in Python for a “Table” which is where the hands get played out.
  • Asynchronous logic in Python for sending game updates to the client, when things of interest happen. For example, the web client doesn't have to “poll” the game state, it receives socketio events when someone performs an action.
  • ReactJS frontend app which responds to and displays the Table state changes from the backend.
  • Frontend allows users to take actions, communicates with backend.

Things I still need to work on include:

  • Proper registration system with emailing, password reset, etc.
  • Proper accounting of User bankrolls, aka debits when sitting down at a table and credits when standing up. (This kind of scares the crap out of me but at least it's not real money!)
  • Timer for player actions.
  • Disconnect handling. User sits out N hands, then gets kicked from the table (for what value of N?)
  • Ability to create (private?) tables and invite friends to them
  • Landing page

With all that in place, I think I could actually maybe go to an open beta and see if anyone wants to play. Actually what I was really thinking was that I could program some kind of bots that players could play against. I've got bots now, but they just make a random action out of the available options which is really frustrating and not a good experience.

I've studied some of the techniques of the Pluribus poker bot that came out this time last year. I even paid for access to the paper they published. Sadly, like many results in science nowadays, it doesn't seem like the results are fully reproducible just from what's in the paper, but maybe I'm just too dumb to understand it (fully possible!).

I've actually got a basic implementation of counterfactual regret minimization (CFR), the algorithm used by Pluribus, implemented for toy game theory examples like Kuhn Poker. I'm having a hard time generalizing it to Razz though.

If I could get it working, I think it might be fun for players to start a table with 1 or 2 friends and 1 or 2 bots. The point is that there is literally NOWHERE to play Razz online (and in general nowhere to play it live either, even before COVID), so there must be at least some pent up demand for something like this.

If things go well with Razz, I'd like to implement other “mixed” games, like Omaha 8, Pineapple/Crazy Pineapple, Big O, and maybe some of the weirder games we've played in the Reno Atlantis mixed game, like Drawmaha.

This isn't something that I've started and shelved. I'm actively working on it. In fact, I just spent the past week implementing Table/Hand persistence for the backend, so that it can load a table when a user takes an action, then persist the changes to the table.

If you'd like to discuss this post: I'm Travis Briggs — @audiodude on Twitter and Github, @audiodude@toot.cafe on Mastodon, and audiodude@gmail.com

I've always wanted to program a computer game. I can program pretty well, so it can't be all that hard right? I know that many people pursue gamedev the way I pursue music production: in fits and starts, as a hobby, never particularly successfully. Since I already have a pursuit like that, why would I want to add gamedev to the list? Am I a masochist?

I've actually used pygame successfully on a few occasions. One of them was just learning game dev, I made a game where you caught a dot with a paddle. I called it Butterfly Catcher and it's still available on Github. The other “game” I made with pygame was actually a game loop for a full sized skee-ball like drinking game called Whiskeyball.

For a long time, I had the idea of an “API-only” game. I registered the domain scriptslash.com and had the bare bones of registration and a bit of a tutorial up there. The idea is that the game engine is just implemented as a bunch of API endpoints, and you make HTTP requests to interact with it. So you end up having a script that does the hacking and slashing.

In fact, now that I think of it, this idea is over 10 years old! The main impetus for it was the thought that if you're writing scripts that interact with REST APIs to play a game, it will look to anyone who walks behind your desk at your programming job like you are working (and not playing a game).

As part of this, I actually implemented the so called “2 legged” OAuth scenario, which is not widely used, but basically lets you sign an individual API request with your API key, so that you don't have to have any login mechanism, or cookies or persistent state. I thought it was pretty clever. I even released a Ruby “API client” which just basically imported the right libraries and signed the request, so you could focus on what parameters you wanted to send.

The problem with Scriptslash was that there was never really a “game” there. I had all the ideas for the technical infrastructure, but no ideas for what the gameplay would be like. I even re-wrote the engine, which was originally in Node.js, in Python Flask, porting my two-legged OAuth implementation. Does this sound familiar? How many people have you heard of that develop intricate game engines but there's never really a game there?

Later, I had an idea for a multiplayer game I was calling “Space Base Race Game”. You can read the document I wrote about it if you're interested. It was kind of hopelessly complex for what it was trying to do, and I never really had a firm grasp on what the “graphics” if any would look like. The basic idea behind the game is the multi-armed bandit. Given a row of slot machines, do you pull the one that seems to pay a dollar 75% of the time, or do you play a new one in search of a larger reward? I think this exploration of reward spaces can lead to fun gameplay, because the user has to choose between exploiting a known resource or exploring.

Of course, why not pair Space Base Race Game with Scriptslash and have it be the game for that engine?

I'm not sure why I never did that, to be honest. Part of me had soured on the whole Scriptslash idea. I realized that for any game, a player is going to be a real live human being somewhere, and that they're going to want to see the output of the game. Yes they might at first be satisfied to read the output in the logs of their “script”. But eventually they're going to want to see output in real time, and provide input in real time. This is starting to sound like a real Game Client that needs to be developed, possibly with graphics. And I didn't want to do that.

Most recently, I had the idea for “Factorio but as a MUD”, which sounds as brilliant as it sounds horrifying to me (and of course is in the grand tradition of “Twitter for dogs” type startup ideas). I've got 200 hours plus played in Factorio, which is by far the most time I've put into a game in probably the past decade.

The idea hasn't really gone anywhere, though. I downloaded the Evennia MUD engine which is both written in Python and claims to be widely extensible. But I already sort of gave up, after getting the MUD running, because I realized how much work it would be to rip out all of the existing MUD systems (ie “examine cup”) and replace them with Factorio like things. Or maybe I just didn't have the idea fully formed in my head enough. Maybe I should write another Google doc.

At some point in this journey I picked up the excellent Mazes for Programmers which was a lot of fun to work through. This originally gave me ideas for Scriptslash, while that was still a thing. The examples in that book have stayed with me, and they're part of the lingering “background radiation” around actually making a video game. But the question is, will I ever do it? And if not, the larger question is, what's stopping me?

I've also played more than my fair share of “clicker” and “idle” games, more than anyone should probably ever play. So I've got ideas down that road too. I had an idea for a game called “Super Progress Bar Pro”, which is basically exactly what it says on the tin.

So my ideal game that I'd like to make is Factorio, but a MUD, but a clicker, but API driven.

Maybe I just need to answer some basic questions and go from there:

  • Single player or multiplayer?
  • Graphics or text based?
  • Story based or mechanics-driven?
  • Clicker/idle mechanics or actual gameplay?

Anyways if you have any ideas, or want to collaborate, or just want to comment on this blog post, I'm Travis Briggs — @audiodude on Twitter and Github, @audiodude@toot.cafe on Mastodon, and audiodude@gmail.com

I never really blogged much when it was popular, in the 2000s. And I continue to not really blog much to this day, so not much has changed in that regard. But I've always had this desire to blog. It's like my vague desire to use a Zettelkasten, even though I don't have much of anything to take notes about.

Nowadays, I've discovered the Gemini protocol which claims to not be trying to replace Gopher or the Web, but seems to strike an interesting middle ground between them. It's kind of an improved Gopher with more modernized semantics.

I actually have created one of the first 50 Gemini sites in existence, gemini://gem.bestalbumsintheuniverse.com. This is the Gemini version of my bestalbumsintheuniverse.com project, the goal of which is exactly what it says on the tin. I feel a bit of pride about this, that “hipster” feeling of I knew about it before it was cool. But there's also another feeling, that of getting to see what Gemini turns into eventually, to watch its evolution from near the beginning.

All this leads back to blogging because a lot of the people who run Gemini spaces like to write blogs. Or really they like to write phlogs, which are Gopher Logs (blog being a Web Log). And some of them write Gemini logs as well. It's a whole small universe of people giving status updates and the like, and it's pretty interesting to just do a random walk across some of the pages and see what you find.

I want to contribute to this, of course, but as I've lamented in my previous blogs about blogging, I just don't have that much to talk about on a weekly basis without it getting very personal and mundane.

The following is the email I sent to iwant@hey.com to convince them to give me an invite.

===

Hey,

I don't go to the gym, and I don't eat healthy. I don't call my mom nearly as often as I should. But one thing I do is keep a meticulously manicured email inbox. It's inspired by, but not quite equivalent to, Inbox Zero.

This system works great, but there is something of a flaw. It's not a flaw in the inbox system. Actually, it turns out 80% of the email I get is not only crap, but crap from mailing lists and such that I can easily unsubscribe from anytime. About five years ago, I realized this. I resolved that the very next email I got from some dumb email list that I don't read, like GAP or iTunes or something, I would immediately unsubscribe. I did this for a few weeks.

Pretty soon, as you'd expect, the garbage (not quite junk, not quite spam) emails stopped. Entirely. I stared into the gaping void of a pristine email inbox and did I feel triumph? Did I feel joy? No, I felt dread. More than anything I felt lonely. I realized that some amount of my self worth was tied to the subtle, subconscious idea that I was a real person, with feelings (and at least a credit card) who, in some capacity, was worth emailing. Even if it was an ad or some dumb newsletter I didn't really want, someone out there cared enough to send it to me. In the isolated, alienated, cyberjunk dystopian present that we live in, that mattered to me.

So I went back and resubscribed to the newsletters (or at least, stopped unsubscribing to new ones). And I felt better. It's kind of like those vacuum cleaners with fake noise added so that people believe they're working (look it up on YouTube).

It's not a flaw in the inbox system. No, it never was. The flaw is the frailty of human emotion and the failings of constant attention seeking.

I’d like to try Hey, because I’d like to maybe finally come to grips with those feelings, that flaw.

Thanks, -Travis

There have been some posts on Hacker News lately about various systems for GTD (getting things done), both endorsing and adjacent to the official GTD method. There have been productivity apps, note taking and bookmarking browser extensions, and more. All of it promises a way forward for organizing all of the tasks in your life and making sure they get completed effectively and in a timely fashion.

This is not necessarily a post about why I think it's all bullshit, or why I'm a serial procrastinator and none of this will ever work for me, or even why I might prefer whatever ad hoc method I have for getting things done over these meticulously manicured systems. It's not any of that. The point of this post is to admit something about why these systems kind of miss the point for me completely.

I don't have anything to get done.

I mean, I have a full time job, and through various methods that I've learned over the years, including keeping a tidy inbox, I manage to get most things done most of the time, for things at work.

But otherwise, I can't help but wonder what everyone is filling up these todo list apps with. Because I don't have a list of tasks that demand my attention in my free time. Certainly none with any specific deadlines. Sure, I'm working on an open source project for Wikipedia. I could always be writing music. I could update my list of the best albums in the universe which I did recently convert to be served concurrently as a Gemini site.

So yeah, I have the odd side project here and there that I could be working on. But none of it has any urgency or deadlines, so why bother organizing it into GTD task boards?

Thinking cynically, I can't help but imagine that all of these todo apps are filled with people's aspirational goals and dreams that quite frankly will never happen. Maybe they've taken the first step by writing down that they want to write a short story, or start a blog, or start selling things on eBay, or whatever. But is it going to happen? All the same mechanisms are at work that keep you from doing those things whether they're written down in a trendy app or not. Lack of motivation, enthusiasm, know-how, mentorship, etc.

I guess I just try not to buy into the Protestant work ethic thing, that hard work and “accomplishments” define our existence. And if my goal is to play some video games or even sit quietly on the couch and do nothing, do I really need a GTD app to write that down in?