Travis Briggs - YABIWU

Yet Another Blog I Won't Update

I'm not sure if I'm actually depressed. I've been clinically depressed in the past and this doesn't feel quite exactly like that. I may just be “pandemic weary”.

I'm ricocheting back and forth between dread at being logged in to work, to extreme boredom when I'm not. I recall a time, once, when maybe I had interests and activities to look forward to pursuing. I even remember what they were, as the ghosts of these projects still exist on my computer or in my notes. A lot of the time I just feel tired, mentally mostly. It doesn't feel like it's worth it to do anything, even as I struggle with a lack of anything to do.

I'll sit down at my computer, which is full of promise. I'll have some vague idea that I'll find something entertaining there. Or something informative. Or some hobby to dabble in. But less than 5 minutes after sitting down and checking my email once again (still nothing but ads), I realize that it's an empty shell. The computer has nothing to offer me, because nothing external can ease the internal angst I'm feeling.

I marvel at my wife's ability to click another YouTube video. Usually after managing to watch a YouTube video, the last thing I'd want to do is sit through another. In my imagination, she's just going through the motions, lost as I am, eyes glazed over as the video plays on her screen. I might not be too far from the truth.

What is to be done with these feelings? I think the first thing is to document them, which I'm attempting to do here. Unfortunately, that's as far as I've gotten and I have no idea what the second step is.

At some point in the past year, I upgraded my version of Reason from version 10 to version 11.

At some point in the past two months, I tried to open an old music project that I had written two or more years ago.

It was a catastrophe.


Without getting too technical, I had structured all of my projects, going back maybe 10 years, as an Ableton Live main project (for recording audio and using audio plugins) that potentially depended on a Reason sub project for using drums and synthesizers from that program. Through a technology known as ReWire, the two programs stayed perfectly in sync and I could easily share audio and MIDI between them.

The key here is that Ableton Live was the “host”, with the main recording controls and tempo, and Reason was the “guest”, simply making its instruments and sounds available. For a decade, my default project in Ableton included a track that was used solely for getting sound back from Reason, armed and ready to go.

In version 11 of the Reason “suite”, they made a bold choice: offer Reason as a VST plugin. This was pretty revolutionary, because it allowed users to do exactly what I was doing, but without having to run the Reason application at all. And you could have an almost unlimited number of these virtual Reason “racks” in your Ableton project, each merrily doing its own thing.

It was also revolutionary because it killed ReWire.

ReWire as a protocol still exists, and there are probably examples of programs that use it that you can run today. But Reason doesn't use it. And because of that none of my projects, spanning a 10 year period, can be “run” on the new version of Reason.

Oh sure, Reason Studios (the new moniker for Propellerheads SE, who make the software) has done a meticulous job of ensuring backwards compatibility for their own .reason file format. You can open very, very old .reason files, maybe even from version 1, I don't know for sure.

The problem isn't that I can't open the Reason file.

And Ableton, too, has made substantial investment in backwards compatibility. They warn you when you open an old file, that it might be converted, etc, but it's usually no problem.

The problem isn't that I can't open the Ableton file.

The problem is that they no longer communicate. The Reason file, with my drums and synthesizers. The Ableton file with my voice takes and guitar tracks. They just sit there, dumb, each ready to play half my song out of sync with each other. As my friend Sagar would say, “Why don't you just hit play at the same time?” Facepalm.

Reason Studios, for their part, doesn't offer downloads of old versions of their software. Maybe they would throw a DMG my way if I explained my issues, maybe not, I haven't tried contacting them.


Okay, I've got files on my computer, backed up to Dropbox, of songs I wrote and played around with 24 odd years ago, when I was in middle school. I know the programs that wrote these files don't exist anymore (they were on the pre-OS X, MacOS 8 operating system, not even MacOS 9!). I guess I keep them around for sentimental reasons.

Of course, I also have .reason files from 18 odd years ago when I was in college and making music solely with Reason (a copy of which may or may not have -cough- “fallen off a truck”). I can still open those!

I guess I didn't expect my music files to constitute such ephemera, based on the above. I guess I didn't expect to one day “upgrade” my rig and lose access to 10 years of music projects. Yes, as digital musicians we know that upgrades are risky. That's why I've been on OS X 10.14 Mojave until only 2 months ago (oddly it was losing access to these projects that made me say “eff it” and upgrade my OS). Based on some of what I read, I might never upgrade to Big Sur or beyond (because many of my plugins are old and won't get updated to run on M1 hardware). It makes me wonder if I should just have a dedicated music making computer that's not even connected to the internet and never receives updates. But that's kind of a luxury I don't have. Okay, end rant.

I think the point is that I should have expected this to happen. Every piece of digital everything is ephemera. Just look at how quickly link rot takes over the web (it's impressive that the linked New Yorker article from 2015 still exists, but is that even its original URL?). Ask anyone my age where their digital photos from college or before are, now that they've lost that phone 10 years ago, or the hard drive on that laptop crashed. I get it.

I haven't posted about this before because I feel a “Burning Man” style need to just let my art disappear into the desert sky. To metaphorically burn the last 10 years of music creation, most of which I was never going to meaningfully revisit anyway, and use the ashes as fertilizer for something new. That's probably the healthiest thing to do. The best ideas are ahead of me, not behind me. I am an overflowing font of endless creativity. Etc.

I don't feel the need to warn anyone that this might happen to them. The versions of the software are old enough now that if it was going to happen, it's likely already happened. I also don't mean to whine or complain publicly, though a bit of that seems to be helping. And I'm not here to tell everyone to “back up all your files in 5 different formats and 6 different timezones” or whatever.

This is more a eulogy for my lost files. Goodbye old songs. May you live on in MP3 format on songs.travisbriggs.com and Soundcloud. And by writing this, may I get some peace and closure.


What do you think, did I mess this up badly? 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've read Stephen King's book On Writing, and it's pretty interesting. I think you could almost boil King's advice down to a Nike-esque “just do it”, but there's one nuance to what he suggests that definitely sticks with me. That to be a writer, you have to be a reader.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

I certainly “have time” to read. But I also don't invest much time at all in it. I don't choose reading as a preferred activity. In fact, it took me almost two years to finish James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes (book one of The Expanse novels). Most of that time was spent, of course, not reading. So according to King's logic, I can't be a writer.

I also think this extends to to other media. I write on this blog endlessly about my aspirations to write and produce original music. But do I spend enough time listening to new and original music (reading)? I certainly listen to plenty of music throughout the week, but most of it is stuff that I've heard before, put on in the background to help me get through a coding session.

I'm not sure I can, by force of will, make myself into someone who critically listens to tons and tons of music. It certainly seems like, when you read the biographies of most successful musicians, they are steeped heavily in the music of their times, the times before, and perhaps their “scene”.

It seems similar to the observation that the most intelligent among us are generally the most “intellectually curious”. But you can't really force the latter in order to make inroads on the former, can you?

Or maybe all of this is just a big excuse to not write music, or write blog posts, or write anything. Maybe I want an “out” so that I don't have to be creative, so that I don't constantly feel like I'm failing at my creative calling.


Am I nuts, am I going around in circles? 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 wrote last year about how I was planning on giving up on New Year's resolutions. Well I did. And nothing really changed one way or another. In that post I wrote, “Today is New Year's Day”, which is one way of looking at it. The apparent corollary of that is that “New Year's Day doesn't exist”, which is the essential position I took last year.

I'm only going to acknowledge in passing the difficulties of 2020. It was a tough year for everybody. The idea that things are just going to get better overnight when the calendar changes is magical thinking at best. Yet people want to have hope, because the opposite is likely despair.

At some point in about August of 2020 I decided to start taking music lessons, for mixing and mastering and Ableton Live production. The idea is that I will be learning how to do these things for my own music, so that I can release professional sounding versions of my songs (not demos or anything on Soundcloud) without breaking the bank to pay someone to do these things for me.

If I were to have a New Year's resolution, a secret one, this year, it would be to finish my album and get it out there. But it has nothing to do with the calendar changing, it's just something that I want to do anyways.

And there are other things I want to do anyways, like be a good husband to Abby, generally get things done at work and be a good co-worker, and find things to fill my time in general so that I'm not bored and restless. But these are continuous goals, not something that I wasn't doing yesterday and that I'm suddenly going to start doing today. These are things I continuously strive for.

Happy New Year's everyone! Whether you believe in resolutions or not, I hope that you have a year filled with meaningful relationships and accomplishing your goals.


So what's your resolution, if you have one? 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.

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