Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where are the Flying Cars? A tribute to the Pinheads drummer Marcus "Mr. Fusion" Daiton

It’s October 21, 2015, the day the Doc, Marty, and Jennifer arrive in the future from 1985, but where are the flying cars?

Back to the Future 2 seemed to promise us all kinds of interesting technological gadgetry, such as hoverboards, robot trash cans, electronic dog walkers, etc.  On the other hand, the “real” 2015 doesn’t seem to be coming through with many of these promises.  However, as Doc Emmett Brown told Marty and Jennifer in the third film, “Your future hasn’t been written yet.”  These are wise words, and they explain exactly why we don’t have all of these amazing technological inventions in our version of 2015.
Marty McFly in front of a flying DeLorean.
Marty McFly in front of a flying DeLorean in the "future."

Let’s examine the evidence.  In Back to the Future 2, upon returning to 1985, Doc and Marty discovered that the timeline had skewed on a tangent because of Biff Tannen’s alteration of events in 1955 (i.e. giving his younger self a copy of Grey’s Sports Almanac).  Furthermore, we know that certain events that occurred in 1885 had an impact on 1985, such as the renaming of Clayton Ravine to Eastwood Ravine.  These more salient changes were directly related to actions taken by Doc and Marty, but what about changes that were more indirectly attributed to their actions?
This is where things get a bit more precarious.  Through travelling forward and backward through time, Marty is able to learn that his quick temper (particularly when someone calls him “chicken”) is detrimental to his own goals in life.  So when Needles challenges him to a race in 1985, Marty avoids the accident he was destined to have with the Rolls-Royce in the original timeline, where Marty is badly injured and gives up on his music career.
Eastwood Ravine from Back to the Future 3.
After Clara Clayton is rescued from falling into the ravine, it's name is changed to Eastwood Ravine, since the locomotive that Marty and Doc hijacked plummeted into it.

Marty was an excellent guitarist, as evidenced by his audition for the school dance, and in his performance of Johnny B. Goode in 1955.  His band, The Pinheads, were on their way to rock star status, but Marty’s accident with the Rolls-Royce, in all its consequences, prevented this from ever happening.  But, Marty’s future was not yet written.  He made a different decision, and avoided the collision with the Rolls-Royce.  Consequently, The Pinheads took the world by storm and became one of the best-known rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s.
Marty McFly and the Pinheads at the Battle of the Bands.
The Pinheads unsuccessful audition for the Battle of the Bands (they were too darn loud).

This is all fine and good, but what about the flying cars?  Well, this is where the “butterfly effect” comes in, where one life affects another and another until it resonates throughout the entire world.  Only briefly seen in the first film is the drummer for The Pinheads, Marcus Daiton.  Marcus was a young man with genius level intelligence, but he lacked self-confidence and motivation, causing him to be depressed through much of high school.  To make matters worse, Principal Strickland constantly berated him for being a “slacker” and not applying himself more in school.  Because he couldn’t handle the pressures to succeed, Marcus would retreat to his garage and practice his drumset for hours on end.
Mr. Strickland tells Marty McFly he is a slacker.
Principal Strickland explaining to Marty McFly the ways in which he is a slacker.

In the timeline as it currently exists, Marty avoided the accident with the Rolls-Royce, and The Pinheads enjoy great success, but the band has a major falling out in the 1990s when ego drives the lead singer/guitarist Marty McFly to insist that the band be renamed “Marty McFly and the Pinheads.”  This infuriated the keyboardist, Cameron Passman, and bass guitarist, Kirby Forsyth.  Marcus Daiton did his best to stay out of the argument, but as he was already struggling with a drug problem, the tense atmosphere surrounding him led to a relapse and he overdosed on heroin in 1994.  The Pinheads tried to keep things going for a few more years with different drummers, but finally the band dissolved in 1998.
Needles in Back to the Future 3.
Needles, challenging Marty to a drag race with his new 4x4.

In the original timeline, however, Marty injures himself in the collision with the Rolls-Royce in 1985 and The Pinheads dissolve later during the same year.  They never achieved fame, and each went their separate ways after high school. The drummer Marcus Daiton was particularly affected by what happened to Marty.  Marcus realized that Marty’s cavalier rockstar mentality is exactly what led to his accident with the Rolls-Royce and the subsequent demise of his music career dreams.  This prompted Marcus to begin applying himself in school, where he fell in love with mathematics and science.  He became the most improved student during his junior year in high school, and went on to earn a full scholarship to MIT in the physics program.  However, Marcus’s anxiety and depression made school difficult for him, and although he achieved some success in assisting professors with their research projects, he was unable to complete the program and dropped out during his sophomore year.
Doc Brown feeding Mr. Fusion
Doc Brown empties the McFly's trash can into Mr. Fusion to refuel his DeLorean.

Marcus moved back to Hill Valley and got a job as a research assistant in a small technology company just outside of the city.  Surrounded by scientists with PhDs, Marcus wasn’t quite sure that he fit in at first, but once the other researchers saw his amazing intellect and creativity, Marcus was able to move up within the company.  Eventually, Marcus began researching heavily in the field of nuclear physics.  In 2007, he made a major breakthrough by creating a simple device that could take ordinary household trash and consume it to produce usable energy without generating any pollution.  As the only non-PhD  Sr. research scientist on the team, Marcus Daiton was affectionately dubbed “Mr. Fusion,” and his invention would be branded with the same moniker.  The introduction of Mr. Fusion on the market in 2009 led to a deluge of new inventions using this new clean power source, including such things as flying cars, hoverboards, and self-tying shoes.
The Pinheads drummer
Marcus Daiton, Pinheads drummer, Mr. Fusion that was not-to-be

The unfortunate conclusion to this story is that a clean-burning “Mr. Fusion” type device still remains somewhere in the future.  Here’s to the Marcus “Mr. Fusion” Daiton that never was, but long live rock and roll!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How to Sell Your Sheet Music on

I have just recently begun selling my own sheet music, as well as MP3s, on

It is a great website with tons of sheet music.  I have recently signed up for the Digitial Print Publishing program to sell some of my sheet music online and have already made my first sale.  I was a little nervous about signing up, because I didn't entirely understand the process, so I wanted to alleviate any concerns for other composers that might be interested in looking into this.

All in all, I found this process to be very simple.  You can sign up at (this particular link will list me as the referrer, so I would appreciate your using it, if you find the information on this blog useful).  Signing up is entirely free.  After signing up, you can upload sheet music as a PDF and may also submit a sample audio MP3.  After uploading, you will be asked to provide a general description of the piece and certain information about instrumentation and copyright information.  Once this information has been submitted there is a 7-10 business day processing period, after which (if everything is found to be acceptable) your music will appear for sale on the website.

Also, you can simply sell audio MP3s.  The only drawback I see to selling MP3s through this site is that they sell for $1.99, which is considerably higher than the typical $0.99 MP3s found on iTunes.  The advantage to selling MP3s through this site is that there is no setup/registration fee as is generally found on other MP3 sales sites.

The Dashboard on your Digital Print Publishing account page will show your sales for the month.  You receive payment on a monthly basis when your sales have reached your payment threshold (which can be set to $20 as the minimum amount).  You may remove your PDFs or MP3s at any time, and may change them at any time, although the latter will require another 7-10 business day waiting period.

If you have any other questions, please post them in the comments section.  If you are ready to get started selling your sheet music PDFs or MP3s at SheetMusicPlus, then click here:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tips for creating the best and most useful chord and lyric charts

Many times I've played with groups that set a chord/lyric sheet in front of me.  Many of them or poorly transcribed, and if they are found on the internet, the may be littered with inaccurate chords or other mistakes.  Actually, the best way to learn popular songs, in my opinion, is to figure them out by ear, but in some situations, it is necessary to play a song from a sheet even if you don't know it very well.  For this reason, a clearly transcribed chord/lyric chart is essential.

Here is a step by step explanation of how I put together a very clear chord/lyric sheet:

1) Use "Courier" font or any font that uses the exact same size block for each character. This way it will be easier to exactly align chords with syllables.  Also, if you need to adjust the size of the text, it won't ruin your alignment.

2) At the top of the sheet, notate the style, time signature, and tempo. This can save a lot of trouble in a rehearsal or performance situation where someone is sight-reading the chart.  For example, "Swing, 4/4, quarter note = 132."

3) Transcribe the lyrics precisely as heard in the recording.  Typically, it is best to copy and paste repeated sections, rather than simply saying to "jump back to the refrain" or "jump to the pre-chorus." When performing from a lead sheet, it can get really confusing to try to follow a form that is not presented linearly. Put a space between stanzas and refrains, etc, to make it visually easier to see where sections begin and end.

4) Type in the chord symbols directly above the exact syllable where they occur in the text. This will ensure that all of the musicians change chords at the same time.  If the first chord of the line occurs just before the first syllable of text, space the text over in order to indicate this.  It is also very helpful to put vertical bars "|" to indicate where each measure occurs, as some chords may last two bars or more, whereas chords may also change twice or more in the same measure.  Repeated sections may be indicated with repeat bars, using vertical bars and colons.
||: Cm F7 | Bb     | Gm C7 | FMaj7   :||

5) Tempo changes or significant dynamic changes should also be shown in the chart. The more specific you can be, the more likely all the musicians will perform it the same way. These are often indicated in italics.
p    mp    mf    f    ff    crescendo    decrescendo    rit.    molto rit.

6) Adjust margins and text size (remember to use Courier font) as necessary and use page breaks to make sure that a line of chords has not been separated from its corresponding line of lyrics.  In fact, I personally like to make sure that page breaks only occur between sections, such as between a verse and chorus.

 Final note - the more specific you can be with the chord/text alignment, chord length, dynamics, tempo, and tempo changes, the more likely a group of musicians will be able to execute the chord changes in sync with each other.  Of course, it is best to use your ears and actually listen to the music many times to internalize the changes.  However, even if you have a good internal understanding of a piece, it can be very confusing to play from a poorly transcribed lead sheet that belies what you are hearing in your head.  Anything you can do to make a chord chart make better visual sense is worth saving trouble in a rehearsal or performance.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Marvin Gaye "Blurred Lines" Ruling Leads to Rash of Infringement Suits

A jury in Los Angeles ruled Tuesday that musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. must pay $4.7 million dollars for copyright infringement with their song "Blurred Lines," which was found to borrow from Marvin Gaye's 1977 hit "Got to Give It Up."  This is a significant ruling, which has set a new precedent in copyright infringement proceedings - that even the slightest similarity between two songs can be used as evidence of infringement.  This has quite predictably led to a deluge of similar lawsuits.

The W.C. Handy estate was the first to jump on the bandwagon.  The family of Handy, who is considered to be the "father of the Blues," is now suing every musical artist that has ever used the 12-bar blues form or the blues scale.  Defendants in the case include these individuals or their estates: Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bessie Smith, the Rolling Stones, and many others, including just about anyone who has ever picked up a guitar.

Also throwing down the gauntlet are the descendants of Adolphe Sax.  Sax, who lived from 1814-1894 was a Belgian musical instrument designer who invented the saxophone.  Although their lawsuit covers a multitude of saxophonists, the primary defendant is Kenny G, who the Sax family claim has not only received millions of dollars in compensation for his use of their ancestor's invention, but has furthermore "given the soprano sax a really bad rap."

It has also been reported this morning that the descendants of Guido d'Arezzo have filed suit against the Rodgers & Hammerstein Library over alleged copyright infringement in the musical The Sound of Music.  The 1959 musical, which won multiple Tony Awards including Best Musical, is perhaps best known for the von Trapp Family Singers singing the song "Do-Re-Mi."  Guido d'Arezzo, who lived c. 991-c.1033 was a Medieval music theorist who invented the musical staff and a system of pitch solmization known as solf├Ęge, where the notes of the scale are sung as do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do.  The d'Arezzo family claims that the song "Do-Re-Mi" is blatant infringement of their ancestor's solmization system.

"We are feeling very hopeful about the lawsuit," states descendant Giuseppe d'Arezzo, "If this works out, we are looking into suing everyone that has every printed music on a staff.  Those five sacred lines are clearly the sole property of my great, great, great, great, great, great... grandfather."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sam Smith on Petty Plagiarism

The 2015 Grammy Awards were fraught with controversy, from Kanye's stage rush balk (followed by a backstage bawl) to Sam Smith's song of the year Grammy for "Stay With Me," which allegedly borrows from Tom Petty's 1989 song "I Won't Back Down," in that they use exactly the same melody.

Sam Smith and his lawyer claim that they were not familiar with Tom Petty or his hit song, "I Won't Back Down," and argue that the earlier artist who, as they claim, "no one has actually ever heard of," is simply engaged in a bit of "petty larceny," trying to collect on royalties from the success of "Stay With Me."

Some have argued that there is no possible way Sam Smith has not heard "I Won't Back Down," considering its acclaim, but Smith counters that although there are pressures from all around, he maintains a firm stance, saying, "In a world that keeps on pushing me around, I'll stand my ground."

Smith and his lawyer have, however, acknowledged the similarity between the two songs and since Petty's number preceded Smith's, they have agreed to an undisclosed settlement.  Sam Smith is, however, perturbed with Tom Petty's apparent gold-digging and says that he will not stand for this sort of behavior in the future.  When asked if he had anything he wanted to say to Petty, Smith replied, "Hey! Don't come around here no more - whatever you're looking for..."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A few words on working with an audition accompanist

I have accompanied numerous musical theatre auditions, and whereas I am understanding of the fact that actors may or may not be musically knowledgable, there are a number of pitfalls that could be avoided with some forethought.

First, realize that even though the audition accompanist should be a good sight reader, there is still the possibility for error, particularly if there are logistical hurdles making the job harder for the accompanist.  Make sure that your sheet music is clearly marked with a beginning and ending point, and that any cuts are very clearly marked.  Avoid excerpting the piece in such a way that the composer has to follow first and second endings or DS al Coda markings, which could be missed in a sight reading.

As for the physical score, it is best to prepare individual sheets so that the pianist doesn't have to worry about page turns.  I have had a few auditions that could have gone better if the book didn't keep falling shut on me.  It is best to make clear photocopies for the accompanist, making sure that none of the piano part is cut off.  Even though you are looking at the vocal part, the pianist may have a difficult time guessing what to play if the piano part is cut off - this has happened to me very often.  Finally, tape your photocopies with the appropriate clear markings on pieces of card stock so that they don't fall over while the accompanist is reading them.  If possible, you could even print the music directly on the card stock.

Then, make sure that any information such as tempo, style, and dynamic markings, that may have been cut off from your excerpt are copied to the appropriate places in the music.  For example, if your excerpt begins on page 2, make sure to write the tempo marking from page 1 at the beginning of your excerpt.

Make sure to practice your excerpt with a pianist so that you know what the musical introduction winds like and to make sure you can follow the accompaniment throughout.  When at the audition, take a moment to explain anything to the accompanist that might be a cause for confusion, such as a change of tempo or meter.

Finally, make sure to thank the accompanist!  It will be appreciated!

If you have any other questions about preparing a musical audition excerpt, leave a comment!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Double your staples!

I was rehearsing my middle school musical today and some of the cast members were missing pages. Oops.  Last year I provided the cast members with bradded folders, but this year I tried to save a tiny amount of money by simply stapling scripts together and this is what happens.  Well, I printed new scripts and now I have stapled them from both the front and back to minimize the number of lost pages.  Of course, bradded folders are better - and the plastic kind are much sturdier than the paper/cardboard kind.  Furthermore, you can use a heavier paper type for a sturdier script.  But, if you are going the low-budget route, double-stapling is a pretty good bet.  If you have other ideas, please leave a comment!

P.S. - I promise most of my posts will be more interesting than this, lol, but I do feel like even a simple idea like this can save rehearsal time.  An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Welcome to the Samuel Stokes Music Blog

Welcome to my new blog!  This is blog is meant to serve as a companion to my website and also to be a general location for me to express my thoughts about music composition, education, performance, and humor.  I hope you will subscribe, so I can keep you informed of updates.

Thanks for visiting!