The Food Of Life, aka Music
It’s odd that I – I, who require people to explain things like Skype and Instagram and electricity to me on a regular basis, I who still own a Walkman but won’t have a microwave in my house – it is profoundly odd that I should begin this endeavor with something as out-of-character as technological advice. After all, when I started performing people still brought their music to gigs on cassette tapes.
And yet, here we are in 2012 still rolling (and twirling) along – and somehow, half of you strippers out there still don’t know what “dpi” means, or how to get you music to a DJ in a playable fashion. Well if I can learn, then so can you.
So let’s start with one of the basics of almost every performance: music. Gone are the days of cassette tapes – hell, I can’t actually remember the last time I even brought CD’s to a gig; now 95% of the time producers require digital files sent in advance. Sure, this means you actually have to pick out your act for any given show ahead of time; but it also means that there’s no more scratched and skipping CD’s; no “Wait, stop, it’s track 4 not track 6! Can I start over?”; and no two performers showing up to the gig with the same song. Believe me, this is all a huge improvement.
Part of being a professional burlesque performer in 2012 (and for the sake of this column: if you are receiving payment in exchange for your performance, you are a professional) therefore involves getting your music and stage information to producers by their deadline, and in a format they can use.
Chances are, you’re not the only performer in the show. A producer (or stage manager, or DJ, or sound op) is dealing with 3 to 40 acts on any given night – and all their music and cues. That producer knows that in order to organize those 3 to 40 performances, she has to have music and information by a specific date; so by not sending your music when she needs it you’re making her job that much harder. (And remember, her job is ultimately to create a great show where you and all the performers look fabulous and have all the tech support you need.) I cannot calculate the amount of time I’ve spent frantically calling and texting and messaging performers two hours before a show to extract music and cues from them, when I should have had it days before.
A professional producer (or her stage manager) will send an email to performers well before the show requesting their music; their cue (ie, When should the music start?); if they have any set-up; if their act is messy or requires special cleanup; if they need a microphone or special lighting (if available); and often the name of any plus-one for the guest list. Replying “Here’s my song! See you Thursday xoxo” with music attached is not enough - you’re being asked these questions for a reason, and that reason is to make the show run smoothly and to give you the support that your act needs. Read the whole email, answer all the questions and provide all the required information. Even if your act has no music, no setup, no cleanup, no microphone, and you don’t have a plus-one, please say so – that way the producer knows you’ve actually read the whole email. If you don’t reply “Yes, I need a microphone” or “My setup takes 35 minutes and requires a crane and a team of elephants” then don’t expect to get to the venue on the night of the show and have a microphone or pachyderm parking waiting.
Bluntly put: if a producer asks for your music and stage information by a certain date, send her the music and all of your information by that date. Do not make her chase you down, check in, text you, call you or harass you for it. You are a professional, this is part of your job, so do your job.
“Oops, I forgot to send my music! My bad! I’ll bring a CD to the show tonight.”
The reason so many shows have gone CD-free is partially for the convenience of organizing music ahead of time – but it’s also because very few venues have CD players any more. And most of the time sound ops are running shows off of iPads, iPods or computers … which don’t have CD drives. So that’s usually not an option.
“I have an iPod. Can’t you just switch over to that for my act?”
Music digitization has been a deitysend to our industry: with a dressing room full of iPods and so much music floating around in the aether, it’s rare that a legitimate mid-show music crisis can’t be solved with a minimum of awkwardness any more. But most venue sound systems (and at least here in NYC “sound system” frequently means “iPad plugged in behind the bar and run by the kitten who’s squatting next to the beer taps or maybe the bartender hits play when he’s not making a Manhattan”) aren’t set up for multiple inputs (“lots of different things plugged in at the same time”); so plugging in your iPod means unplugging the computer that the rest of the music is on. Which often results in frozen screens, truly horrid feedback, automatically-restarted programs, and crazy random shifts in volume – all of which in turn makes the show (and your performance) that much less smooth and professional-looking.
“Okay, I think the song is on my phone, so if the kitten can just hand that to the DJ -"
Stripper, please. That’s just eight kinds of trouble waiting to happen. No.
Let’s talk about file formats.
On average, for every show I produce about 20% of the music I receive is unplayable. This is not a comment on my performers’ taste, but a problem with their file formats. Drag a song onto your desktop right now (or if you have a PC then, I don’t know - go write a punchcard program or run DOS or whatever you have to do to move a file on those horrible machines). Now look at the file name. It will probably have the name of the song, maybe with your own notation (“HarlemNocturne_Nasty”) then a period, then some numbers and letters (.mp3, .m4p, .AIFF).
These little buggers are the key. They tell us what format the song is in, and therefore if it can be sent off as-is or if it first needs to be converted like a heathen in the face of missionary zeal.
Mp3 is your best friend. It can be dropped into iTunes on any computer, burned onto a CD, or played right off a desktop. We like mp3’s – no, we love those bitches. Everything in life should be an mp3.
While not your best friend, m4a is a really solid acquaintance. You’ve known each other for years and you don’t hang out often, but when you do run into each other it’s really nice. M4a files can be played on pretty much any computer and therefore shouldn’t be a problem, though occasionally you’ll run into an older system or program that can’t open them. Not as worry-free as an mp3, but you can reasonably send m4a files and expect them to work fine.
The bitch who ruined your prom is the m4p. These are protected files (Mnemonic! “P” for “Protected!”) and they will not play on anyone else’s computer. If you buy a song off of iTunes, it is most likely an m4p and will not play on anyone else’s computer. Do not send people m4p files as this will cause them to curse you and your progeny in vile and offensive language. BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT PLAY ON ANYONE ELSE’S COMPUTER. (This is so you can't illegally share purchased music, by the way.)
(Once you get outside of these “m” files, you’re on rocky ground: .AIFF and .WAV files are huge, take up a massive amount of space, and take hours to up- and download; and anything that requires a specific program to open or play can obviously be problematic. Best not to send any of these to people. You can easily convert non-protected files like AIFF’s to mp3’s in iTunes; just look up how-to in the help section.)
So what’s a stripper to do with these protected files – especially when so many of us head over to iTunes when we’re looking for new music? There’s two choices: send the song as an iTunes gift (that’s the legal option) or convert the file to an mp3 (which is illegal and you should never do this).
Sending a track as an iTunes gift basically means you’re buying the song for someone else; you pay for it, and they’re able to play that protected m4p file on their computer. iTunes gives you the option to "Gift This Song" in the pulldown menu right next to the "Buy" button. (Yes, a producer can just buy the song herself, from her own iTunes account, and I have done this on many occasions when I just can’t get people to send me a playable file. And yes, it’s only a dollar. But think how warm and fuzzy my feelings are towards those few performers who have thoughtfully re-purchased the song themselves. Here’s a hint: really warm. And super fuzzy.)
The other illegal option is to illegally convert the file to a sharable mp3, which is illegal. Ahem. If you do have a computer with a CD drive, then the process is thus:
- Go into iTunes and burn the song onto a blank CD.
- Eject the CD, then stick it back into the computer.
- When iTunes asks if you want to import this CD, say yes; the song will be imported as an mp3.
- You’ll now have 2 versions of the song in iTunes, so just make sure the one you send people is actually the mp3 version.
- This is illegal and you should not do this.
If you don’t have a CD drive, then there are various “legal” (their word) m4p conversion sites and softwares on the interwebs … I’ve not used any of them myself yet as I still have a CD burner on my Commodore 64, but that’s what Google was invented for. (Well, that and LOLcats.)
This file-conversion might seem like an epic pain in your shapely ass, and it does take a good few minutes. But you only have to do it once (and then you have a playable file you can send off for other gigs); the producer or DJ who gets six unplayable files from performers for one show has a butt-ton of work to do. Which makes her very cranky.
One other tip: if, like me, you have an email account that whines and stomps its little feet and throws a tantrum when asked to send large attachments, consider free filesharing sites and services like YouSendIt (only the sender – you – needs to have an account) and Dropbox (both the sender and the receiver need accounts for this one).
Oh and hey - producers, please make sure a file is actually unplayable and you’re not just being dumb before you bitch at a performer; and performers, when a producer says a file is protected, corrupted, or otherwise unplayable, please don’t argue with her. Just work together to make the music play and everyone will win. And, more importantly, everyone will get naked.