Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Unsigned Bands: Black Math (US) and Black Math (South Africa)

By Chris McGinty (AccordingToWhim.com)

The problem with this modern era is that since everybody has a band, and everybody is online (I exaggerate a little), there seem to be a lot of bands who come up with the same name. Today, we will talk about two of them.

Black Math (Chicago, Illinois)

I’ll start with the band I found first, back in late 2011. Black Math is a band from Chicago, and I’m not even too sure if they’re still around. When I found them, they had 1 single, 2 EPs, and 1 full album available to download, so I did. And I listened to them every night for an entire winter. I still listen to them a lot. Their website seemed abandoned, so they may have already been disbanded before I started listening to them. Now it looks like the website is gone.

Black Math has a sound that I’m part of the target audience for. It’s a low-fi, hint of new wave, alternative rock. This is why I listened to them so much. They were wedged right into one of my genres of choice.

This is their Last FM page:

This review has a Mediafire link to download their Counterfeit Unrealities (EP)

There is a lot available on You Tube. We’ll start with a live video they did for a video series on Chicago bands. I’ve listened to a number of the bands that were part of this series, and I might post about some of them another day. Then after the live video, I’ll link everything else I can find, in roughly the order of how much I enjoy the song (note that I enjoy them all a lot).

Black Math – Bottomless Sea

Black Math – Reckless Thoughts

Black Math – High Dive

Black Math – Part of Me

Black Math – Did He Get 2U1st

Black Math – Suck City

As a quick aside, I found pictures of them on Flickr that seemed to be part of a professional shoot, so I contacted the photographer to make sure it was ok to use a picture, since I wasn’t borrowing it from the band’s website. She was super cool, so I want to give her a quick link here.

Check out her blog on the website. She has a lot of great work on there. I particularly liked her photographs of India, linked below. Check out the nighttime shot on the water.

The Devils

Let me take a quick break from the unsigned bands, and point you in the direction of something major label, but underground, that I found out about soon after I started listening to Black Math. It’s the Duran Duran side project known as The Devils. You can tell what kind of listening mood I was in at the time. These were modern recordings of early Duran Duran songs (I mean previously unreleased early) when Stephen Duffy was the lead singer. He and Nick Rhodes got together to record the tracks using old demos as their sound map.

The Devils – Memory Palaces

The Devils – Hawks Do Not Share

The Devils – Big Store

The Devils – Dark Circles

Black Math (South Africa)

There is also a Black Math from South Africa. If I didn’t like them all that much, I would probably just ignore their existence and pretend that there is only one Black Math. But I think they’re quite good. There is a White Stripes song called “Black Math,” and as you hear this group, you’ll presume like I do, that that’s where they got their name.

Black Math – Scandinavian Serenade

Black Math – The Devil Will Eat You

There’s also a White Stripes cover on their You Tube.

And an interview with them here:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Developing Rise of the Rock Star as a group

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

As apart of the 60 day long Rise of the Rock Star Kickstarter project we have been brining you a blog each weekday. Some are focused on the actual Kickstarter and some are random, According To Whim... if you will (just look to the left at the archive to see them all). Today's post is about my experience developing our board game: Rise of the Rock Star with a partner.

When I look at many Kickstarter projects I typically see one person in charge of a whole project. Someone came up with an idea for a game and saw it through development to crowd funding. My experience in this field has always been with my According To Whim co-conspirator: Chris McGinty.

Our group (names According To Whim after Chris' idea for an audio show) took off to become public access TV show and grew encompass anything we did (along with Miguel Cruz from time to time) from movie scripts to books to games.

I can't say its been a path of roses. We argue about stuff. Typically we have a big blowout once per major project and this board game is no exception. We usually get over our differences and find a middle ground and move along. For the most part it helps get things back on track.

Chris is the brains behind the game play in Rise of the Rock Star. He will ask for ideas for cards (because the game has a deep level of card customizability) and I will throw a bunch at him. He then studies them, revises them to fit better and then we play test them. Chris has an unhealthy obsession with Magic The Gathering and its creators and reads lots and lots of articles on game and card design. He is perfectly suited to working out all the details and getting the mechanics of a game right.

I am more focused on the design aspect (art design, not game design). I also focus on the business side of things as well. When we start working on a game I tend to be more interested in how it looks and how it will be presented as opposed to the mechanics. It's not like I don't enjoy doing the gaming side, I just know Chris is better at it.

In a team situation you have to find out who is good at doing what. I suggest you have all team members try all aspects of the project and I am sure you will quickly find out who is better at what tasks. In our situation the parts of game making are all covered by both of us which is useful and I hope will continue to create some great games.

Thanks so much and keep and eye out for the rest of the KickStarter's 60 day project because we will be posting many more blogs. Enjoy!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Interview: Francis Kershaw of Odd Socks - Bristol, UK

By Chris McGinty (AccordingToWhim.com)

In May, I wrote a blog post discussing a couple of unsigned bands I’d been listening to recently. I listen to a lot of groups when I’m searching for obscure music, but very few of them become part of my regular rotation of listening. Odd Socks quickly became part of that rotation.

When I wrote about Odd Socks, I simply said that I didn’t know anything about the project other than that I enjoyed it, and mentioned that I would try to get an interview. And I did.

According To Whim: Tell me a little about you and a little about Odd Socks.

Francis Kershaw: My name's Francis Kershaw but all music I upload is under the name Odd Socks. Initially because I wanted to keep a bit of anonymity from friends and family (I was pretty tentative/shy about the songs I'd written) but now more because someday I see Odd Socks being more than just me, but a band setup with more members contributing to the creative process. I live in Bristol, UK studying at the university so I'm hoping that this year I might do something more with the project, but only if I find the right people.

ATW: What is your course of study?

FK: I study French and Politics at the university.

ATW: Is there any particular reason you chose the name Odd Socks?

FK: Honestly I can't really remember why I picked that name. I feel like there should be some profound story behind why, but in the end, I think it must have been that at the time I thought it sounded cool.

ATW: What is your recording process?

FK: The recording process literally involves nothing more than my guitar and a tiny four-track Boss recording device. Any riff or idea I have goes directly onto the Boss and I go from there in terms of making a song. The main issue I have with it is that I'm actually primarily a drummer. Being unable to record my own drum parts gets very frustrating, since I’m limited to the drum loops provided on the rhythm section of the device, but I do my best with them to make demos that are acceptable.

ATW: So would you play drums in a full band set up, or is that tentative based on who you find to work with?

FK: It's hard to know what role I'd play. Part of me feels far more confident drumming than singing. At the same time, I'm sure I'd get uncomfortable with someone else singing songs that I'd written, so it would really depend on the situation.. Unless I found a front-man who really delivered the tunes better than I ever could, I reckon I'd have to take control of that aspect.

ATW: What motivates you musically?

FK: My main motivations musically, I guess, stem for my obsession with a number of bands, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, and the Strokes, and trying to emulate their sound in a small way. For the moment, I'm not particularly ambitious with the songs I've written, but I try to make stuff that I enjoy listening to myself, so I'll continue along those lines and see where things go.

ATW: Is there anything else you'd like to discuss?

FK: I've been on a bit of a roll with new songs in the past couple of weeks so it’s worth mentioning that I've uploaded four songs recently to Soundcloud, entitled 'Vicious Triangle', 'Broke Man', 'It Would Be Rude' and 'Shock Revelation' and would appreciate any feedback from people who've given them a listen!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Magic: The Gathering: A Solution to the Reserved List Problem

By Chris McGinty (AccordingToWhim.com)

I’ve read the articles of Mark Rosewater for years. He’s my favourite “Magic: The Gathering” writer followed by Mark Gottlieb and Aaron Forsythe. Recently, in regards to Modern Masters, Rosewater made a statement on his blog to look at the history of Chronicles. Chronicles? All I know about Chronicles is that the cards aren’t worth much on the secondhand market, and there seems to be a lot of them.

As it turns out, it was at the core of the creation of the reserved list. It seems that some people spent large amounts of money on cards that were reprinted in Chronicles, while not understanding the concept of investment. This is a topic for another article, but the simple version is that we live in a society where people want sure things with their investments, but collectibles are one of the most inconsistent investments.

One side of the reserved list argument feels that Wizards of the Coast is protecting the feelings of a small percentage of the Magic community while inadvertently punishing everyone who came to the game late. Some Wizards employees have talked about frustration of not being able to reprint some cards that aren’t highly valuable on the secondhand market, but could be useful in current sets. Some fans of Legacy and Vintage feel that the reserved list is slowly killing those formats. Please note that these are not necessarily my opinions.
Theme Deck Idea: Un'reprint'ant Sins
The biggest problem I personally see with the reserved list is that it’s widely considered to be a mistake that possibly a majority of people wish could be taken back. It’s the entity that is Wizards of the Coast that is being held responsible for a promise that was made well over a decade ago. Many of the people that make up that entity now were not part of that promise.

In fact, there was a point where Wizards gave a “fair warning” to people buying the game that there would be no new cards added to the reserved list. If we’re being honest, this was a violation of the reserved list to begin with. Part of the promise was that so many cards would be added to the reserved list each year, but a future generation of Wizards employees realized that was a bad idea, and put a stop to it. The funny thing is that the game survived that decision, as well as the decision to remove some commons and uncommons from the list.
Mirage reserve cards all bought for 2 cents or less. I hope they don't reprint these and lower their value.
My solution is similar to that “fair warning” thinking. I got the idea while reading Aaron Forsythe’s article about Modern Masters. He felt that the mistake of Chronicles was the printing level. Had the print run been smaller, it might not have tanked values of collections so highly. In this way, Wizards decided to make a smaller print run of Modern Masters to help the Modern format while not increasing availability of some cards to the point that they were no longer sought after by secondhand market collectors. So here is my solution:

Step One: Wizards announces that the reserved list will be slowly phased out over the next so many years. This might have to be a long time. A decade. Maybe longer. And in fact, they will have to pick a reasonably long amount of time before the process starts. For purposes of this article let’s pretend they find the best solution to be to start in three years and be done in ten years, and they announce it in December of 2013.

Step Two: Starting in 2017, they remove a number of cards from the reserved list. They continue this process until 2024 going from the least valuable cards (based on the current secondhand market) to the most valuable, and possibly starting with a small number to remove and slowly increasing. The plan should be made public and include what comes off the reserved list when.

Step Three: Once a card is off the reserved list, it cannot be used in a set with mass printing for a number of years, say three. During that time, Wizards can reprint these cards in supplemental sets with low print runs. After the three years, they may reprint as they see fit.

Step Four: Wizards never does anything like the reserved list again.

This would give everyone a reasonable amount of time to be aware that if they buy a Black Lotus or other high price card that in so many years the value will decrease. Meanwhile, collectors and Legacy and Vintage players who don’t want to wait that long to buy certain cards, might still be willing to pay a high price for the cards. A decade is a long time for impulse buyers with disposable incomes. Cards removed from the reserved list would still retain some value as initial print runs would be low.

This would give the secondhand market, and collectors, plenty of time to predict and adjust to the future values of cards, and players of non-rotating formats time to predict and adjust to the future power levels. It would also give the future generations of Wizards employees the freedom to make the game as they feel it should be made. This might not mean that Black Lotus will ever be Standard legal, but that if Wizards felt it should be, it could be.

Long term, I believe this to be a reasonable solution because eventually players will simply not be able to afford to buy the high end cards of the reserve list, so those cards will be relegated to the collector’s market only. When it is a collector’s market, the cards will retain value based on the set they were printed in. A collector will pay more for an Alpha version of a card than they would for a 2024 reprint, much the way a book collector will pay more for a first edition print, but meanwhile casual players can afford to play with older cards.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Army Men! (Post 6 of 6)

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

This is the last post were I close up shop with Army Men I didn't buy. All these dudes were located at one store... Hobby Lobby. Have you guessed why I didn't buy them?

Look at the price on that puppy... $22.99! ARE YOU CRAZY???!!!

That is the price at Hobby Lobby, which is pretty typical. They have become one of those stores that followed Kohl's into the abyss of 'mark it up 200% then have a 50% off sale'. These guys are just waiting for that half-off sale.

Anyway, Hobby Lobby has a wide range of Army Men, first off they have the 'Action Figure Solider Set' from Stevens International (you see above). One of the tubs was open so I grabbed a couple to take some pics...

This German figure looks only so-so. No classic molds here. From what I remember the plastic was softer than many of the Army Men I have checked out. The sculpting isn't horrible but it isn't great either. At the princely price of 21.99 these dudes (which includes a couple of vehicles and flags) come out to almost 11 cents each. Highway robbery!

Here is our G.I. and he is about to lob an apple or something.

On the pegs nearby are the nice Army Men. These are the collector-oriented figures for dioramas and such. Not only Army men but Native Americans, Colonial and Civil War men as well.

These guys I don't really consider Army Men but I thought I'd just mention them since they were close at hand. They run around $9.99 for each package.

 Next up is another package of 'normal' Army Men which could be found down below the nice miniatures. There were also Pirates, Space Men, and Native Americans. There might have been Knights too but I was only focused on the Army Men.

 'Super Army' here by Americana Souvenirs and Gifts seems more cheapness but I couldn't get a good look so I can't really rate these guys. Nothing here makes me say 'Oh yeah, this is the STUFF'!

My final Army Men to look at were on a different isle all together. Once again, they aren't really Army Men in the traditional sense but they are the same scale (1/32) and they look just like Army Men (the package was open... I swear I didn't do it). The are SUPER detailed and come in parts that you have to glue together but at a distance you couldn't tell them apart from real Army Men. AT A DISTANCE.

At a $1.50 per figure these guys would quickly break the bank.

So that's it! I hope you have enjoyed my little trip through the land mine-studded (pun intended) world of Army Men. I just wanted to see what was out there and have a little fun in the process.
Want to buy some Army Men off Amazon? Great! Please go to our site: AccordingToWhim.com and go to Amazon through the link at the top of the page (to help support us and it don't cost you a penny)!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Making the Kickstarter intro video

by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Here is a post about the Kickstarter project we are in the middle of (RockKickStarter.com). During this 60 days we have been posting all sort of blogs about the making of the game (among many other posts). Here is another one of those 'making of' posts... about the intro video we did for our Kickstarter.

I am no expert in any one subject. At my 8-5 job I can do many IT related things. I have had my fingers in many different systems and can support most of them and fix complex issues on others... still, I am no expert in any one of them. This kinda sucks because it limits your career. The same is true of the creative world. I can do some doodling but I am not all that great at it. I can make videos and can (passably) act... barely, but I am no expert in either of them. Finally I can edit videos but once again, I am no expert. When push comes to shove and you have to get something done and don't have the resources to do it, you must jump in and give it your best shot.

One thing you will hear about creating a successful Kickstarter is that you need a snappy intro video. It needs to be short and to the point. It needs to catch the attention and introduce what you are wanting to get made.

I have had the idea for the intro video since Chris and I decided to run the project on Kickstarter. I envisioned a slick video of a rocker plugging into an amp and then strumming on an electric guitar. The camera would then move back rapidly past a crowd of people cheering him on... on his way to becoming a Rock and Roll Legend!

I didn't want to use any one's face or noticeable features, I don't have a crowd of friends to fill in for the audience. I decided it would look cool if the people were all silhouettes and everything had a dark blue/purple glow. How to do it... hummmm.

Like I said I am no expert in video production but I am proficient. I know how to use the most popular effects software out there enough to get by and YouTube is full of tutorials so I decided to try it out.

We have done some green screen work on According to Whim (like this gem, and this one) and I know how to get it to look 'alright' in post.

I setup a green screen (aka a few pieces of green cloth from Hobby Lobby and some poster board) and I had Chris stand there with a guitar and act like he was rockin' out, easy enough as long as I could get him to stay within the boundary of the green screen.

Next Chris and I got on our knees with our backs to the camera and raised our hands up and acted like we were at a concert cheering and such. We even put on hats and I put on my wife's foam Rangers finger and kept 'cheering'. We did this for like three or four minutes.

Fast forward a month later. I got the footage into the program and started working with it. I started with Chris' rockin' but cutting him out (via the green screen) and having his video 'shrink' to simulate the camera moving away from him. Then I placed the footage of Chris and myself and made about ten copies of it. I took the footage and cut it up to show different parts. One part shows the back of us with hats on, one with me and my foam finger, one with Chris jumping up and down... etc. I made sure I never duplicated the same action on the same 'layer' of audience members. I had about six members on each layer including some of the same footage mirrored so you couldn't distinguish that all these people are just Chris and myself over and over again.

I then removed all our details, making us look like black cutouts so you REALLY couldn't tell it was us then rendered 2 different layers of audience members. I then just laid each of the 2 layers (tweaking a bit to make it look more like a real audience and not two people) and simply copied them to produce many layers of audience, some slower, some faster, some a little more to the left, some a little more to the right.

After that I linked those layers to the original layer of the rocker and played with the timing of audience moving past the camera. Viola!

Finally I added some visuals like artistic background, lighting, and other small effects to give it the illusion of a concert. It took a long time and it only lasts for just a couple of seconds but it gives the video the POP I needed. After that footage was some titles and such and Bob's your Uncle!

We ask that you help us make Rise Of The Rock Star a reality and back us on KickStarter. You can back us with as little as $1 (but it would help so much more if you backed us with alot!).
Thanks so much and keep and eye out for the rest of the Kickstarter's 60 day project because we will be posting many more blogs. Enjoy!