Extratone

Extratone is an online magazine covering technology, music, culture, and media with an ongoing passion for New Culture and a duty to further its voices.

Music on iOS

Reporting from deep within the iOS cult on essential apps/methods for real-life music people.

As you may or may not be aware, I’ve spent all of my 2021 so far diving real deep into iOS, considering all that has changed since “an iPod, a phone, a personal computer.” I’ve tuned in to the output of explicitly Apple-adjacent publications both old (MacRumors, Apple Insider, 9to5 Mac, etc,) and new (Apple Scoop, MacStories,) which have all metamorphosed in huge, mostly-redeemable ways just as their primary subject has. I have my own pubescent stories of Mac occultism, but I do not consider my relationship with the brand to be an essential part of my identity, as so many do and have. Apple, Inc’s story is spectacular and infinitely-relevant so long as they remain “the most valuable company in the history of the world,” as I so love to describe them. Like many of you, I’m sure, I am often compelled to bring up the humongous contrasts in the historical context of the company – to scream infinitely many variations of the observation that Apple was basically the fucking indie, premium-tier consumer tech manufacturer owned by the Creative Class for the first half+ of their existence, and have somehow maintained that Think Different™ brand narrative as they have definitively become the Big Blue of their time.

From my perspective, the responsibility for the wellbeing of this utterly-delusional, occasionally very dangerous sentiment actually lies fairly squarely on those of us who consider ourselves better than all of that because of our Debian workflows and their ancient command line utilities. (For the record, this is also 100% delusional as things stand in 2021.) One thing I think we can all acknowledge, though, is that Apple’s image has been inextricably bound with musicmaking, throughout, far more than any other even remotely comparable tech company. Naturally, the business still loves to bring this up all the time in big, glossy gestures. The topical example of note would be the only worthwhile content I’ve yet to encounter on Apple TV+: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, which documents the highlights of the young, beloved musician’s prodigious ascension. For what it’s worth, I appreciate some special insights I gained thanks to the film, which I do not actually consider at odds with the truth of its super on-brandness for Apple.

An interesting take I found from 2017 from a new favorite voice on the business end of tech reporting: “How Music Drowns Apple’s Innovation” by The Information’s Jessica Lessin portrays Apple’s relationship with music distribution and the music industry as a sort of compulsive distraction from its ambitions in serving video content, namely. Lessin points out the everpresent reminders of this obsession:

And so it is no wonder that Apple’s first forays into original video content fall under Apple Music. It’s worth noting that the first series the company announced—“Carpool Karaoke” is literally about singing; “Planet of the Apps” features rapper Will.i.am as a judge.

I think I can speak for the majority of my audience when I suggest that the targets of Lessin’s cynicism would be more than welcome, if they were The Whole Truth. Indeed, the most valuable company in all of history retaining an “emotional” attachment to the welfare of music creators might be described as charming or more. As is often the case on The Information, the comments from readers often offer noteworthy insight. In this case, Kevin Swint – who has apparently worked as an executive for both Apple and Samsung, according to his profile on The Information – responded with an important consideration: “…it's possible that Apple's behavior around music has more to do with the company's overall tendency to stick with its past successes a bit too long rather than music really being a core part of its DNA.”

In terms of business, that’s all I have to contribute, and I shall do my best not to evangelize Apple Music (or more likely, disparage Spotify as one of the most destructive cultural forces of our time,) here. However, I would like to respond to a particular Jimmy Iovine quote from the original Apple Music announcement amid the 2015 WWDC Keynote:

There needs to be a place where music can be treated less like digital bits and more like the art it is, with a sense of respect and discovery… and if that place could actually accommodate and support the artists who make the music, not just the top-tier artists, but the kids in their bedrooms too, provide them all with a home and a way to engage with their audiences, that would be pretty great.

Boy, this service Iovine describes sounds an awful lot like Bandcamp, no? The suggestion that Apple should have purchased Bandcamp is a very scary one, from my perspective, but I am reassured by the likelihood that the notion did indeed occur to someone at Apple, Inc. at some point in the past, and was quickly discarded, for whatever reason. I promise not to mention Bandcamp again in this Post, aside from its own two iOS apps: for listeners and for “Artists/Labels” as creator/curator tools.

I’m going to be focusing largely on the iPhone-bound experience, here, though I did borrow my mom’s MacBook Pro for a weekend to explore the state of music on MacOS and (accidentally) played around with Apple Music on The Television (a surprisingly beautiful experience.) On that note, I’ll hurry up and get specific…

Apps

Assuming you’re already an Apple Music user, it’s very possible that you’ve been deprived of the “true” experience on the service provided by the variety of actively-developed but woefully-undercovered app store entries that integrate directly with Apple Music. One of the most glaring discoveries I’ve made so far in my iOS deep dive, this year, has been the absolutely horrific state of Discovery on Apple’s App Store. If you’d thought to search the top charts under the store’s Music category, you wouldn’t find any of the gems I’m going to highlight, here. The credit for exposing me to their existence, in fact, lies with MacStories – a hard-hitting, well-established Apple-adjacent media company piloted by Federico Viticci. At this very moment, their app-centric podcast, App Stories, is in the midst of a special mini-series devoted to Music on iOS/Mac, from which this Post draws upon heavily. For better or worse, they represent the definitive authority on this subject (among many others, naturally,) though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend their various publications be added to the reading lists of any but those most invested in iOS.

MusicHarbor on iPhone

MusicHarbor

There is something uniquely concrete about a purely-chronological feed which we’ve lost in the past 5-10 years in favor of algorithmic curation, generally. The next item in this particular feed, in fact, includes my attempt to explain why Twitter’s hard-chronological Lists feature has sheltered me from the anxiety of the service’s main timeline, now ordered by proprietary (and obscured) formulas. I’d been aware of that dynamic in my own Twitter consumption for years, though. I certainly did not anticipate the impact of the music release equivalent of a chronological timeline as provided by MusicHarbor – an app for iOS and MacOS that acts as a frontend for one’s music library across both Apple Music and Spotify.

It's hard to remember how we (Apple Music) got here without embarking upon some gargantuan A Complete Visual History of Apple Music-like document, but it must be said that Tim Cook's “next chapter in music” has become a sad afterthought. As far as I understand it, the “streaming war” between Apple and Spotify has long since gone definitively to the latter in statistical terms, which I'd suggest to be an overall positive outcome for Apple Music subscribers, generally. The self-perception within the heavy music consumer crowd of “niche,” “underground,” “obscure” cultural minority should – in theory – push those who believe themselves destined to be different away from Spotify into the handy care of Apple, the absolute champion of this particular self-deception. To be honest – though I write this for all listeners, sincerely – I have found myself in a sort of utopian echo chamber of my own design in music culture terms. My days of waiting through 4+ hours of local openers before rap shows are far behind me, and I consume and engage exclusively with music I find personally redeemable.

My Apple Music library has become quite fragmented after I lost my entire physical music collection along with the external drives containing my accumulated digital music library in 2017. Still, after more or less starting anew this past December and casually, deliberately adding digital files back into the accursed, ancient iTunes desktop application and restoring some (outdated) versions of my handful of shared curatorial playlists thanks to SongShift (which we'll glance on later,) MusicHarbor currently lists 1433 artists represented across my Apple Music and (very sparse) Spotify libraries. I know this because of a very simple Siri Shortcut I modified which returns a text list of all Artists in one's MusicHarbor library in Quick Look. (Here is my result as of this moment in GitHub Gist form.) According my App Store receipts, I first downloaded MusicHarbor on March 26 – 20 days ago – which is mentionable because of how much I've accomplished with very minimal time investment in terms of curating my own music library thanks to MusicHarbor. As you'll note in the 3rd of the 4 screenshots embedded above, I was able to delete System of a Down from my library – a single function which alone justifies the app's one-time $5.99 “Unlock Everything” fee, to my sensibility. I've also been able to begin following all the artists represented in a few of my favorite playlists with a handful of taps – a task which would literally require hours in the native Apple Music app of old (when one could actually follow artists, there.) On that note, it's time to cite the primary MacStories article you should read, entitled “How I Keep Track of New Music Releases,” regarding Apple Music's performance as a release tracker:

The ‘New Releases’ section is tucked at the very end of the For You page and laid out as a horizontal carousel that requires a lot of swiping; you can view the ‘New Releases’ page as a grid, which has sections for different weeks, but, in my experience, it only aggregates highlights for new releases from some of my favorite artists. The ‘New Music Mix’ playlist is not terrible, but it often comes loaded with stale data – songs I’ve already listened to multiple times and which shouldn’t qualify as “new” weeks after their original release date. Furthermore, I’ve found notifications for new releases for artists in my library unreliable at best: I occasionally get notifications for new albums, but never for new singles or EPs.

Here, Federico Viticci is riffing off a newsletter issue written by music blogger Jason Tate, in which he describes the service's missing tracking functionality as “the single most frustrating part of Apple Music.” Though these points in the conversation are both almost two years old, MusicHarbor remains the ultimate means of tracking new music releases chronologically on Apple's platforms. Though I am personally just three weeks in, the confidence this app has given me in the certainty of its chronological release feed is quite profound. Its integration with one's calendar to track upcoming releases is a bit much for my own needs, but I know personally enough invested curators for whom it'd be a godsend to mark it no small addition.

MusicHarbor on MacOS

MusicHarbor’s only downside is entirely excusable/understandable, in context: it’s a bit clunky. For the sake of this work, I set up a shared Apple Music playlist so I could further demonstrate all the new music I discovered in MusicHarbor. Adding whole albums to this playlist with a single tap feels powerful because it is – I’ve no idea what sort of developer wizardry is involved in such an action, but the Wait Wheel doesn’t feel like too much to endure. Adding a release to one’s library – the other in-MusicHarbor accumulative function – is a bit quicker. It’s important to remember that this piece of software was/is created and maintained by a single human being, though I would expect nothing but improvement, going forward.

Adding to MusicHarbor Playlist

That’s all I have to report on MusicHarbor, for the moment, but I’ll add further MacStories praise from their 2019 MacStories Selects app rewards:

What makes MusicHarbor special – and, ultimately, the reason why we all use the app here at MacStories – is just how much developer Tanaka understands what someone who wants to know about new music releases is looking for.

Albums for iOS

Albums

On the other end of the spectrum, exploring new digital manifestations of The Music Collection, is Albums, which actually functions as an entire replacement frontend player for Apple Music. Reviewed much more recently by MacStories, it really is best-described as “opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists.” Considering that I installed the app just a week ago and have focused most of my attention on MusicHarbor in that time, I’ll leave most of the commentary to John Voorhees. All I can say, really, is that I see an extremely powerful application, here, for a fairly specific use case: someone who’s listening is largely occupied by albums they already “own” in Apple Music and treasure deeply. The ability to set an individual record’s “Immersive UI Tint” down to the hex (in “Album Settings”) is as in-depth a tool of adoration as I’ve ever seen in a digital music service. Combined with Albums’ presumptuous takeover of actual playback from the Apple Music app, I think I can rightfully say that it was built for the extremely serious music consumer.

My favorite part so far: the app knew well enough to offer me THE ZRO BUTTON. Telling, I think.

The ZRo Button - Albums App

Others

Since it’s already quite clear how much this Post draws from MacStories, I’ll let their review of Soor stand on its own (I couldn’t quite justify spending $6.99 just for review purposes.) In the episode embedded above, they also mention Denim – a playlist cover creator I am not personally all that impressed with. There’s also MusicHarbor’s sibling, MusicSmart, which manages the tricky but essential task of adding the metadata retrieval Apple Music should have included all along. The rest can be found in the episode’s show notes. I’m not done with them, but the rest are what I would differentiate as services

Services

One of the bewilderingly undercovered digital music sharing tools of our kind, Odesli has been my preferred method of sharing tracks/albums/EPs since I first discovered it in 2018. It is not specific to iOS but it is essential for competent music sharing, anywhere, these days, in its magical ability to correctly intersect any given piece of music’s links across all streaming services, known and unknown. To be honest, I thought everybody would be using it by now, but it’s continued to develop with minimal attention aside from Siri Shortcuts developers. Thanks to Odesli’s Public API, dozens of Music-centric Siri Shortcuts have emerged over the past few years, resulting in one of the most useful Siri Shortcuts integrations to be found for real, reasonable human beings. Here’s where Apple-adjacent media and I part ways…

While current common conversation might point you to Federico Viticci’s MusicBot hyper-Shortcut and/or @gianflo6’s 600 action-strong Song.Link Shortcut, I (perhaps expectedly) would point you to my own, 17-action Shortcut which spares you any selections and simply opens the Song.Link URL of the track currently playing in Apple Music (while also copying said URL to the clipboard.) It’s not that MusicBot isn’t massively impressive and still useful, but it represents a class of super/hyper-Shortcuts which (from my perspective) far-overreach beyond the intended use case for Siri Shortcuts and end up immediately bewildering/alienating potential new users. Truthfully – as Federico singularly acknowledges – they are full applications built atop a less-than-ideal platform designed for relatively simple, repeatable automations. I’ll spare you further opining on this idea until another, potential Post, and instead demonstrate my personal solution.

In the clip above, you can see I was working on this very draft when LoneMoon’s “kawAii @F” started playing. Naturally, I was compelled to share it on Twitter, so – without leaving Drafts (my writing app) – I called the type-to-Siri prompt by holding the Sleep/Wake button on my iPhone 12 Pro Max and simply typed “sl” (I renamed my Shortcut for this use,) running the Shortcut, which opened the track’s Song.Link page in Safari – very much an optional step, mostly just to make sure the match is correct – and copied its URL to my clipboard, from which I could share it anywhere. Since the advent of widgets in iOS’ Today View, I’ve also kept a button for this Shortcut in one of four precious slots in a box at the very top. For those willing to play around a bit, it should be fairly straightforward to configure the end bits to your liking, but it should work out of the box for even those least interested in Siri Shortcuts/automation in general.

SongShift Playlist Transfer

SongShift

As I confessed before, it is only thanks to SongShift that I was able to recover anything of my original, prized, deeply-considered Apple Music playlists. The standalone MacStories article on this one is a bit dated, but I don’t see much change in function in that time. For most people, SongShift’s free service is simply the best way to transfer a playlist between music streaming services. If you find yourself genuinely sold by the features offered by SongShift Pro, I suspect you know more about playlist manipulation than I could ever learn you by diving in any deeper.

Lastfm on iOS

Last.fm (I s2g.)

Yup… Believe it or not, Last.fm is still fucking scrobbling after 19 fucking years (almost to the day,) and its iOS app still fucking works. What’s most bizarre about this truth is that I did not encounter mention of Last.fm for years until I started noticing it as an integration option in the settings menus of these premium iOS apps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? I’m not sure, but I suppose I might as well insist you follow my ancient account, if you’re still using it.

https://twitter.com/NeoYokel/status/1383167889583214592

I should also note that not only is the Last.fm iOS app still working, it’s working well, from all appearances, anyway. Though the service no longer includes hosting, itself, it’s apparently still a prime player in the world of playback tracking.

Music Creation

DAWs

What if you actually want to “make” music with your iPhone? We’ve seen iPhone television ads for years featuring amalgamations of musician-looking types playing instruments with cables attached to their handsets, but is the iPhone now a reasonable platform for any sort of serious sound capture? The short answer is no. Who am I to proclaim such an absolute? None other than the motherfucker who’s been messing around with mobile DAWs for 10 whole years. I even “released” an “album” on Bandcamp made exclusively with Apple’s own GarageBand for iOS and inspired by the dangerous life of the contemporary raw milk smuggler. I wouldn’t call it “music,” per se, or an example of what a real electronic producer could pull off in the app, but it does represent its capabilities in the hands of the average user, using mostly default loops.

While Apple does publish an Apple Book entitled “Everyone Can Create Music” about GarageBand on iOS, it is specifically directed at iPad-bound use. Any serious DAW user uses keyboard shortcuts, which I admit I only discovered recently in GarageBand for iOS. The official documentation is – once again – for iPad, specifically, but most of them still work on iPhone.

FL Studio Mobile – the original third-party iOS-bound DAW – is still going, apparently. While I did, indeed purchase the original version on my iPhone 4, I remember absolutely nothing about it, suggesting I was over my head, even then. There’s also Auxy, as covered recently in this App Store Story and Reason Compact. I’ve played around with these more recently – since they’re both available in their most primitive forms as a free download – with little to report.

Capture

Disappointingly, Apple’s own Music Memos – as demonstrated by Chris Welch from The Verge in the embed, above – is currently in the process of being officially sunsetted and is now no longer available for download on the App Store. As that article notes, users are instead directed toward GarageBand or ye olde native Voice Memos to record high quality audio. However, if you want to take advantage of the stereo audio recording capabilities included in iPhones after the 11 Pro, you must either use the native Camera app to capture video (and extract the audio later,) or Dolby On – Dolby’s own iOS app for recording which – if I’m completely honest – will do nothing but utterly frustrate anyone trying to capture the truest digital audio possible.

As part of my iPhone 12 Pro Max Review, I’ve accumulated quite a few audio files in various formats testing its capture abilities and stashed them in this folder on The Psalms’ GitHub Repository. Probably the most relevant of these, though, is embedded just above. If you’ll forgive my pajamas, ridiculous piano faces, and general rustiness with the instrument, it demonstrates the “Audio Zoom” feature found in the iPhone 11 Pro and up, which I’ve found to be unfortunately underdocumented by Apple, itself. I added my own inquiry to this post on the official Developer forums asking about it, but don’t really expect anything back. According to “What is Audio Zoom for smartphones?” published on the site DxOMark:

The main technology behind audio zoom is called beamforming, or spatial filtering. It allows changing an audio recording’s directivity (that is, the sensitivity according to the direction of the sound source) and shape it in any way necessary. In this case, the optimal directivity is a hypercardioid pattern (see illustration below), which enhances sounds coming from the front direction — that is, from the direction in which your camera is pointed — while attenuating sounds from all other directions (your background noise).

My testing has suggested that the best means of recording unfiltered-as-possible stereo audio with an iPhone is to record video at 1x zoom with the native Camera app and extract the audio from the video file. In the Bandcamp track embedded below, I “mounted” my 12 Pro Max right above my old upright’s soundboard and extracted audio directly from the video file with Audacity. It was then amplified slightly, saved to a FLAC file and uploaded directly to Bandcamp. Of course, it’s worth qualifying that – while I have extensive experience with audio – I have neither professional training, nor any professional monitoring equipment.

That said, the biggest objection I’ve heard from audiophiles regarding audio capture and manipulation on handsets, generally, has to do with their hardware’s extremely limited capabilities when compared to any sort of professional desktop soundcard. Given the greater argument I've come to regarding the state of consumer tech as best exemplified by smartphone design – that we've come to expect far too much of single devices, and the resulting jack-of-all-tradeness summing their real-life capabilities has become a severe detriment instead of a feature – I must echo, again, that adding “studio” audio capture, manipulation, and production capabilities to our goddamned cellular phones doesn't help anyone. To any user truly hoping to accomplish these things, I say just go home and boot up your damned desktop.

Mushish - Apple Music Web Player

Other Considerations

The final episode in AppStories' three-part miniseries on music was just published today, though I suspect – for my audience, anyway – that its coverage is mostly out-of-scope on this topic, largely for financial reasons. Apple's first event of the year is scheduled for tomorrow at noon, my time, and is entitled “Spring Loaded,” which – combined with its 4/20 joke date – suggests to me that we'll finally see the release of the APPLE GUN™ alongside iWeed™, but little to nothing in the way of music.

In the midst of my brief research into The Greater History of Apple Music, I discovered the existence of iTunes Ping – which I somehow missed entirely, along with my Twitter friend Jon Male. I also discovered articles from the company's decision to kill its successor “Connect” from Apple Music, which was reportedly “rarely used.” Notably, this removal also took away what little power Artists had over the narrative surrounding their music on the service. I can see the business justification for all of this (barely) except for removing the ability for users to follow artists.

The latest Apple Music feature – a “channel” for music videos – also makes zero sense to me, but the launch of Apple Music on the web absolutely does, especially for Windows and Linux users, who are now officially freed from iTunes (the software) and allowed to use a much more modern Apple Music experience. I prepended “officially,” there, because third-party Apple Music web players have existed as long as the service has allowed the required integration. First, there was Naveed Golafshani's – which is no longer live – but Brychan Bennett-Odlum's Musish is still live and working, as you can see from the screenshot embedded above. Other than the ability to select between two stream bitrates, I can't seen any remaining advantages to using the latter over Apple's own web player, unless you harbor spite toward their handling of the whole thing, which would be entirely understandable, from my perspective.

As someone who grew up in the mp3 era with a first-generation iPod Shuffle and iTunes, living and dying between iTunes Store gift cards, Apple Music still seems like one hell of a magical deal. In effect, it allows access to all of iTunes for a flat monthly fee. Or at least it would had I never become acquainted with professional independent musicians who've published, there, and have to contend with tedious realities like the process by which one can add those beautiful lyrics to Apple Music tracks, and who's only real means of control/engagement on the service has been removed with virtually zero prospects of a replacement. If, indeed, Jessica Lessin was correct about Apple's obsession with music, it has resulted in very little for any class of music makers, and left even its listeners to seek out and find third-party solutions like MusicHarbor to perform even the most basic personalization one expects from a modern music streaming service without even bothering to amend their App Store's discovery process to illuminate them, or even write a fucking App Story. Despite this, one-to-three-person app teams continue to work on new solutions, to these and other problems...

#music #software

Modern VGA Logo Orange

Today, the VGAs celebrate a whole decade of curation.

What?

An annual reflectory awards ceremony examining video games across platforms, continents, and genres wrapped in a feature-length motion graphics flex/sensory assault full of internet jokes.

When?

Feb 27, 2021 at 1900 EST (7PM) See: Every Time & Date Page

Where?

Twitch, YouTube, and Discord (if you’d like to chat)

Essential Links
The VGAs’ super-slick web site for 2020
VGAs Discord
VGAs Twitter
VGAs Steam Group
VGAs YouTube Channel
VGAs Twitch Channel

If you consumed/participated in the live show, consider having a go at this year's Feedback Form.

#juegos

by David Blue

SoundCloud Tile

Last Tuesday, SoundCloud announced the release of onsite, automated mastering in cooperation with Dolby. The service will cost $4.99 per track for non-Pro Unlimited subscribers, who'll receive three free mastered tracks per month and $3.99 per track masters after that. After uploading a new track (less than 10 minutes in length,) users will see a small button labeled “Master Track,” which then takes them to a trimming interface that prompts them to select a 30-second, “high contrast” clip representing the dynamic extremes of the track, which is then locked in as the singular preview for the service. After “listening”/analyzing said clip, the user is brought to the mastering interface and prompted to select between four presets:

Thunder “Make car speakers rumble and club systems shake. This option will push your bass frequencies to the limit.”

Sunroof “Open up your mid and high frequencies and bring some life to your transients. This option is perfect for hip-hop and any other beat-focused genre.”

Aurora “Aiming for something ethereal, light and wavy? This option will infuse even the most experimental tracks with a new burst of color.”

Clear Sky “Brighten your mix, manage your dynamics and reign in your low end with this pop-focused mastering option.”

For a professional analysis of each preset (and extreme hair,) see MixbusTV's video.

I asked a number of music-related Discord servers if they'd tried the feature yet and Business Casual's answered the most comprehensively.

SoundCloud Mastering - Business Casual Discord

The general consensus from musicians and producers seems to be that SoundCloud misinvested its resources into the making of the feature. On the MixbusTV video, YouTube user Nelson Leeroy comments “Lot of uneducated aspiring artists will fall for it.... Sound Cloud should not be allowed to use the word mastering, it's misguiding, it's a scam.” A Twitter search for “SoundCloud Mastering” yields overwhelmingly critical commentary, including “SoundCloud Mastering is jus IG Filters for songs,” which – from what I've seen – I agree with completely.

I reached out to Dolby's media contact email address asking how long the two companies spent working on this service and about any future cooperative projects. Gentry Bennett, who described herself as “the PR lead for this launch,” responded 25 minutes later (prompt AF,) answering “the teams were working together for a couple years on this tool.”

#software #music

by Sierra Bryant

Is your dark sense of humor ruining your job?

Stressed Out

Abstract

In this paper, studies on the use and misuse of humor in fields of work that involve exposure to secondary traumatic stress will be analyzed. This will also look at the past mistakes of other studies in not defining the differences in types of humor in relation to their effects on both professionals and clients. Making the distinction between lighthearted and gallows humor can change the entire meaning of a study. This thesis analyzes and explains the results from multiple studies and also explain why this field requires more research before any solid conclusions can be made.

Keywords

gallows or negative humor, secondary traumatic stress, lighthearted or positive humor, successful humor

Many studies have been done on humor and its uses as a coping mechanism in the workplace. The majority of these studies conclude that humor in the workplace is beneficial. Few of them differentiate between positive and negative humor, though. Because of this there is more than one answer to the question of “is humor in the workplace good or bad?” Professionals in career fields that involve Secondary Traumatic Stress often use forms of humor as coping mechanisms. In this essay, multiple studies that touch on the subject of humor in these types of workplaces will be analyzed. Gallows humor and negative humor will be used interchangeably, as well as lighthearted humor and positive humor and the following topics will be addressed:

  1. Explaining Secondary Traumatic Stress
  2. The distinction between lighthearted, gallows, and successful humor
  3. Positive effects of humor in the workplace
  4. Negative effects of humor in the workplace
  5. Effects of humor on clients
  6. Alternate coping mechanisms
  7. Further research

Through analyzing these topics, it can be concluded that, while successful humor can be a very good coping skill in stressful work environments, gallows humor is not and has even been linked to negative effects on the individual’s physical and psychological wellbeing.

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Professionals who often deal with traumatic events experience a lot of stress. This type of stress, when it is severe, is referred to as Secondary Traumatic Stress. Secondary Traumatic Stress is defined in the Psychiatric Times as, “indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account or narrative of a traumatic event.” This means that individuals who assist others during traumatic events or hear recounts of traumatic events run the risk of developing Secondary Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress, or STS, are similar to the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which occurs in individuals who experience trauma first-hand. Professionals who deal with these kinds of issues include, but are not limited to: police officers, forensic nurses, firefighters, crime scene investigators, surgeons, therapists, and sex crime workers. In these professions, humor is often used to combat this stress or serve as a coping mechanism. The humor used as a coping mechanism in these careers can often be macabre due to the austere nature of their jobs. These professionals experience, secondhand, everything from serious injuries, to death, to the aftermath of sexual assaults and much more. These are not experiences that the average person goes through on a day to day basis. Because of this, it does take a toll on these professionals. This secondhand, or indirect, exposure to trauma can have huge emotional impacts on individuals and many believe humor can be used to combat this. In a study done on 133 human service professionals, ranging in age from 20 to 64, it was found that age, sex, and relationship status did not have much effect on Secondary Traumatic Stress levels. This means that anyone can be susceptible to developing Secondary Traumatic Stress in these career fields.

Different Types of Humor

In most contexts, humor is considered a positive aspect of communication while the darker side goes unmentioned. While humor can be used both in and outside of the workplace to lift spirits, this is not its only use. Humor was seen as an important staff skill by individuals involved in a study on Forensic Nurses, though timing and type were never clarified in the research that was analyzed. Humor can be intended for and perceived in many different ways. Humor can be seen as aggressive, rude, or sarcastic when at the expense of others. When used positively though, humor can be lighthearted and fun. It can also be used to express emotions like anger, frustration, and joy. While defining humor, Boes and Wormer point out that Freud thought of humor as “a coping mechanism that allows society to reduce tension by expressing… obscene impulses in a socially acceptable manner.” This statement implies that at one time gallows humor was believed to be tension-relieving and positive. Gallows humor refers to the dark sense of humor some develop while working in high stress career fields. It can be defined as “humor that makes fun of a life-threatening, disastrous, or terrifying situations.” It is often used only amongst certain groups of workers because others are seen as “outsiders” who would not understand their sense of humor. Craun and Bourke also touch on this, stating that professionals who all work with sudden traumatic deaths feel comfortable using gallows humor amongst themselves but know better than to use it with other workers, such as those involved in clerical work. Because of this, the group that uses gallows humor knows to censor themselves around “outsiders.” Successful humor is defined as a mutually amusing communication. Both gallows and lighthearted humor can fall into this category depending on the situation but just because humor is successful does not mean it is positive.

When is Humor Good in Regards to Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Having a good sense of humor has long been seen as something that decreases depression, anxiety, and stress while increasing immunity to illness and enhancing moods. Positive humor can illicit positive responses, therefore having the potential to improve group processes in the workplace. Mesmer-Magnus, Glew, and Viswesvaran come to the conclusion in their meta-analysis that positive humor can build affinity, reduce burnout, increase workplace cohesion, and enhance coping effectiveness. Through analyzing the results of prior research, they were able to deduce that lighthearted humor was able to increase job performance and satisfaction, as well as, save money that would usually have been spent as a side-effect of employees being burned out. It can also be said from their research that positive humor in the workplace can be linked to better overall physical and mental health. So, it can be said that positive and lighthearted humor do correlate with positive effects. In Craun and Bourke’s qualitative study of 500 sex crime workers, they were able to show that lighthearted humor was used frequently by the Internet Crimes Against Children members through the use of several surveys. The use of lighthearted humor correlated with lower Secondary Traumatic Test scores and had more effect on the scores than social and coworker support.

A type of humor that usually has a positive impact on workers is “play on words” humor. Play on words humor can be considered as a type of lighthearted humor. In a study done on humor used in the emergency room, this type of humor was discussed. This kind of humor can be purposeful, or it can come from a Freudian slip. An example given by Wormer and Boes is of a doctor accidentally saying, “Just eat 'em and street 'em” rather than “Just treat 'em and street 'em.” Another example given was of a nickname made for a surgeon who often wore cowboy boots and was “very aggressive” during his procedures. It was always said out of his ear shot, but his staff called him the “cowboy surgeon.” This kind of humor is harmless and facilitates a sense of community amongst the coworkers in the emergency room.

Tension relieving nonsense was another form of lighthearted humor discussed in Wormer and Boes’ analysis of humor in the emergency room. They called it tension relieving nonsense because this kind of silly humor often results in laughter. Laughing can help relax muscles, relieve tightness, and aid in creating a sense of well-being. Wormer and Boes pass on a story told by a nurse administrator, named Alice Guy, that encompasses tension relieving humor, stating:

Hospital staff members were having a party when word came that a patient was on the roof threatening suicide. Guy was furious at this threat to their fun. Rushing to the roof and speaking without thinking, she ordered, 'Get off that roof! You're interrupting the party.’ The man did. The humor of the story was that despite the fact that others had tried for hours to get the man off the roof, he obeyed the one person who simply spoke her mind – and in doing so went beyond the bounds of good professionalism. This amusing story was shared at the hospital for years after.

There are many positive ways to use humor as a coping mechanism, but this does not mean that all ways of using humor for coping are good.

The Use of Gallows Humor

In their meta-analysis, Boes and Wormer suggest that gallows humor is a way of maintaining sanity in insane conditions; that it is an illogical response to a hopeless situation. This is where the research begins to clash, because while this may be partially true, others believe the results of Craun and Bourke’s study help clarify that even if gallows humor gives you a sense of relief, it is only temporary because in the long run the effects of its use are not positive. Boes and Wormer gave an example of an inmate on death row jokingly turning down a cigarette because he had quit the prior day. This is an example of gallows humor because, generally speaking, people stop smoking for health reasons. They do not want to get cancer, emphysema, or they want to live to see their grandchildren, etc. Because this inmate is on death row though, none of these things apply to them so the inmate is seen as using gallows humor to make light of the fact he may not be alive much longer. Another example they give is about an inmate on death row asking about when they are going to start a weight watchers program. Again, this is gallows humor because realistically, this person will not be alive very long, so their weight is not an actual concern. The humor is just being used as a coping mechanism to make light of the fact the inmate is on death row.

Watson has a similar concept of gallows humor as Freud. Watson is quoted in her qualitative research on gallows humor in the medical field saying, “blanket dismissals of gallows humor as unprofessional misunderstand or undervalue the psychological, social, cognitive, and linguistic ways that joking and laughing work.” Another source states that laughter can be used to help interrupt physiological stress responses because it increases exhalation and it eases muscle tension. Humor though, can exist as a separate entity than laughter and therefore does not correlate. Not to mention that in Craun and Bourke’s study, they found that the use of gallows humor correlated with higher Secondary Traumatic Stress scores and even had a higher effect on the scores than using denial as a coping skill did. Gallows humor was also linked to an increase in alcohol consumption in participants in the past year and reduced psychological wellness. Craun and Bourke point out previous studies imply that the use of gallows humor may be an indication of psychological distress in workers. These studies show that use and increasing use of gallows humor is an indicator that the professional is no longer compassionate enough to fulfil their job properly, as well as, the possibility that it is a red flag indicating that the individual is not coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress well.

Some researchers believe that using gallows humor as a coping mechanism is not a big deal. They believe that professionals in career fields where Secondary Traumatic Stress is experience should use whatever methods necessary to cope. One of these studies makes the claim that “The use of black humor among emergency services professionals would thus be seen as a form of stress release, relieving the professional of intolerable feelings of horror, helplessness, and anger, and this in turn would reduce psychic anxiety.” They also acknowledge, though, that using this kind of humor to cope could end up with adverse effects such as increasing anger. They use the old concept of superiority theory to support these claims. Superiority theory states that using humor at the expense of others helps raise our self-esteem and by blaming victims for the unfortunate things that happen to them. Individuals can convince themselves they would never be in a position to experience the same misfortune. In their examination, they use a quote from Wear and Colleagues to support their stance, citing “students enter the clinical world full of enthusiasm and optimism for what medicine can achieve and are met with obstacles of all sorts, including cynical faculty, uncooperative or unappreciative patients, and their own unanticipated emotional responses to the experience of hospital based medicine. Every day they encounter something that should be otherwise, and humor may be one way of managing the incongruencies.” While it can be seen that humor is important in the workplace as way of managing the day to day events, once again, this quote from this study does not point out what kind of humor they are discussing. The study itself may go into further detail, but what is provided in the examination by Regehr and Rowe does not.

Effects on Work Relationships and Clients

Humor can be used as a tool to bond with people. In the study on forensic nurses, they focused a part of their research on humor as a relational tool. They specified this as the use of humor with patients. The results were split, a good portion of the nurses said they believed humor helped with their patient relations while others stated that the use of humor in general was challenging the institutional order. They also stated that even the most well intended jokes can be misunderstood and taken the wrong way and that this possibility might make it less worth it to employ humor with patients, but correct use of humor could lead to a more relaxed patient. In another study of nurses, it was indicated that those who were experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress were more likely to be impersonal or angry with patients therefore reducing the quality of the patient and care taker interaction as well as colleague to colleague relationships. Another source reported acknowledging that using gallows humor with patients could dehumanize those who the jokes are about.

This open-ended result on the effects of humor on patients is just one of the many reasons more research needs to be done in this field. When patients use gallows humor, it is often seen as giving themselves power in a situation they are otherwise powerless in. While this is definitely one way to explain this phenomenon, it is possible that this could be interpreted in another way. The use of gallows humor as a coping mechanism may be a way of deflecting, preventing full acknowledgment of their emotional state. This room for interpretation is another reason why more research needs to be done in this field that distinguishes between lighthearted and gallows humor.

Alternative Coping Skills

One study that does look into alternative ways for workers to deal with Secondary Traumatic Stress suggests using resilience and mindfulness as an alternative coping mechanism. This study defines resilience as a “buffer which protects individuals from adverse environmental influences and forces” and “the ability to bounce back from adversity, persevere through difficult times, and return to a state of internal equilibrium.” The other suggestion is mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined in their research as “an intentional state of awareness, mindfulness concerns the process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, in a non-judgmental and accepting manner.” Mindfulness is very effective in reducing stress and increasing what Harker, Pidgeon, Klaassen, and King referred to as resilience. Unlike resilience though, mindfulness has an explanation as to how to reach it. Mindfulness can be practiced through multiple techniques which range from quietly meditating to playing active games and are generally done in 5-minute increments in therapeutic settings but can be done for as long as the individual or group needs outside of the therapeutic setting. Increased mindfulness was linked with an increase of psychological well-being and with a decrease in Secondary Traumatic Stress scores. They also found that “research investigating the beneficial effects of increased levels of mindfulness has reported improvements in distress tolerance, emotion regulation skills, and psychological flexibility. In order to conduct their study, they sampled a group of 133 human service professionals – mostly women – and gave them a series of questionnaires. The questionnaires they used were The Professional Quality of Life Scale, The General Well-Being Schedule, The Resilience Factor Inventory, and The Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory. The Quality of Life Scale has two subscales: one the measures exhaustion, frustration, anger, and depression symptoms and the other measures negative feelings brought on by work-related trauma and fear. Anxiety and depressive symptoms are assessed using the General Well-Being Schedule, along with overall psychological well-being. The Resilience Factor Inventory evaluates the individual’s level of resilience with 60 questions and The Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory evaluates the individual’s mindfulness using 14 questions.

The conclusions that these tests came to were that higher levels of resilience and mindfulness correlated with lower levels of Secondary Traumatic Stress. Mindfulness showed less effect on the levels while resilience showed much more. Mindfulness only made up for 1.77% of the variance and resilience made up 8.18% of the variance. The researchers did point out at the end, though, that the study was completely voluntary and therefore may have had skewed data. The way they framed the concern was that the employees who were experiencing the most Secondary Traumatic Stress may have been too emotionally fatigued to participate in the study and that this may have skewed the data. On top of this, they pointed out that self-report data can be unreliable due to the fact that people often show social desirability biases.

Because the symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress are so similar to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, it could be said that treatments geared for PTSD may be effective in treating STS. One of these treatment paths are Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. “Cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs) challenge the way individuals think and behave and are an effective intervention for treatment of PTSD.” One type of CBT is CPT, or Cognitive Processing Therapy. This is a therapy that was originally developed to treat rape victims. In CPT, the traumatic event is revisited in order to facilitate reshaping the negative world views created by the traumatic event. An example given is of someone being raped and developing a view that the world is not safe. In order to combat this the therapist would assist in changing this view from “the world isn’t safe” to “I can learn to protect myself in an unsafe world.” By doing this, the therapist can help lower the distress levels of the patient, as well as avoidance, which is a component of PTSD. CBT involves homework for patients as well to help generalize the skills being taught within the clinical setting.

Another treatment often used for PTSD is Prolonged Exposure Therapy. This is a behavioral therapy that “helps clients safely face frightening experiences and memories by recalling traumatic memories in a controlled fashion.” This process is done gradually in a controlled setting so as to not overwhelm the patient. It is believed that this process can help the patient assess their symptoms and reshape their feelings and thoughts about the event that caused them to develop PTSD. It can also help the patient to slowly begin regular functioning on a day to day basis.

Psychotropic medication can also be beneficial for PTSD patients. Some anti-depressants can help reduce the levels of depression, stemming from the traumatic event, in patients. There are many anti-depressants that are approved by the FDA to assist with PTSD symptoms. Anxiolytics, or antianxiety and antipanic medications, can be used to reduce stress and anxiety levels in individuals who have PTSD according to the Mayo Clinic. There are also medications such as Prazosin, an antihypertensive medication, that is not approved to treat PTSD by the FDA, but the Mayo Clinic believes could help keep nightmares at bay and combat insomnia.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, otherwise known as EMDR, is evidence based when it comes to its effectiveness in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR is a mixture of psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and body-centered therapies. During this treatment, the therapist will use what is called “bilateral stimulation.” This means the client will work to process the traumatic event while the therapist uses “eye movements following hand, tactile or auditory cues.” During this process, the client goes back and forth between thinking of the traumatic event and focusing on the present moment. This is called “dual attention.”

Further Research

While it is true that research has identified positive links between humor and emotional states, very few people have made the distinction between lighthearted and gallows humor. Because of this, studies that primarily focus on positive humor are often used to justify gallows humor in the workplace as well because the distinction was never made between positive and negative humor. The connection Watson makes between gallows humor and laughter earlier in the paper is an example of this, as well as Boes’ and Wormer’s interpretation of what using gallows humor as a patient indicates. The misconception that all humor is connected with laughing and therefore positive is just that, a misconception. This flaw in humor studies means that there is still a significant amount of research needing to be done in this area. Studies should be done to clearly determine what the effects of positive and negative humor are separately. Studies need to be done on professional-client relationships and the use of gallows humor. These studies should focus on groups where only the professional uses gallows, only the patient uses gallows, both use gallows, and then neither use gallows. It may be very difficult to find these relationships naturally but if it could be done, it could be said that this would be a very effective way of gathering data on these types of social relationships. It can also be said that it would be beneficial for professionals who use gallows humor to be evaluated individually to see if there is a correlation with things such as depression and anxiety and the use of gallows humor because very few studies do. Another aspect that would be good to look into is whether or not there is a difference in the effects based on sex and gender. Although one of the studies previously discussed sex alone, the study was almost 80% women and therefore could be biased. Even though many do not believe there are many physiological differences between men and women, the ways life is experienced in our patriarchal society may possibly leave one sex or gender more vulnerable to Secondary Traumatic Stress. In order to get past the self-report data bias, assessments in the future could be conducted using a psychiatrist or other assessment specific professional to administer the questionnaires in a format closer to how mental illnesses are assessed. A lot of these studies focused on correlation. This is an important factor, but future research should focus more on causation and include more factors that could be affecting the results of the experiments. Another beneficial thing to look into would be if certain therapies that show success with PTSD would show the same level of success with individuals experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress. Because PTSD and Secondary Traumatic Stress have very similar symptoms, it is likely that there is some overlap when it comes to coping and treatment after the fact.

While many studies conclude that humor in the workplace is positive, it can be seen from analyzing research that distinguishes between types of humor that gallows humor is not a healthy coping mechanism. In some cases, it can be an indicator that workers are no longer compassionate enough to work in their field and others that the worker is not managing their Secondary Traumatic Stress well. There is not a lot of research into alternative coping mechanisms to replace gallows humor, but it is possible that treatments and skills related to dealing with Post Traumatic Stress could be beneficial for people experiencing STS due to the fact that PTSD and STS share a lot of the same symptoms. This cannot be said with certainty though because there have not been many studies done on this. Mindfulness and resilience were shown to be helpful in handling STS though, and this is a step in the right direction to help professionals who experience indirect trauma on a fairly regular basis. It is important to further this research because a lot of these careers are necessary and helpful to the population even though they have adverse effects on the individuals doing the jobs.

In order to stress the importance of the researching more into the effects, gallows humor has in these professionals, it may be beneficial to explain why it is important to care for the mental health of these workers. Some helping fields get a lot of attention from the public and are more valued because of it, such as firefighters, surgeons, and police officers. If it could be explained why mental health workers are so important or why nurses and sex crime workers are so important, it may bring people’s awareness to them and the issues they face from working such stressful jobs. Many people don’t think about how much of a toll being in helping field takes on you but without these professionals so many people would go uncared for and untreated. Many of these workers are behind the scenes doing jobs most people would not want to do and risking their own physical and psychological well-being for others, and they deserve to have concrete answers as to how they can help protect themselves from the side effects of their jobs.

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#culture

by David Blue

Looking back on the Extratone Reading List

Three Years of Good Reads - The Extratone Reading List

Since the beginning of Extratone, I've done my best to consolidate important reads of my own into our publicly-available reading list channel on Discord, which has also served as a place for others to share their favorite links as well. Using the Discord chat exporter, I've created an HTML file of the channel's entire history as of today (4-6-2020).

I'll be posting some of my all-time favorites from the past few years in this Twitter thread.

by David Blue

C̸ ̵O̷ ̴N̵ ̶T̸ ̵A̵ ̴C̶ ̵T̴ is my best (and only, really) recent contribution of worth and I guarantee you will gain something from listening.

On Apple Music

On SoundCloud

On Spotify. http://bit.ly/dbtouched

On YouTube Music

On Tidal.

On Pandora.

#music

by David Blue

Originally released in 2014 on Visual Disturbances, now reissued for the first time since. Presented to you with 2 bonus tracks, one cut from the original album and one produced shortly after its release.

Preorder Gray Data Deluxxx now on Bandcamp.

#music

by David Blue

Counterfeit record Mannequin Challenge proves to be a lively, heartfelt reflection for cassettehype lovers.

In a surprising turn of events, an anonymous actor uploaded, metatagged, and published a fabulous futuredisco tape this evening on the official Bandcamp page owned by the KEATs-affiliated Groove Guru using stolen credentials. SAINT PEPSI (now Skyler Spence) himself revealed the breach on Twitter just before the end of workday on the coast, disclaiming “SOMEONE HACKED THE SAINT PEPSI BANDCAMP AND PUT UP A NEW ALBUM! NOT ME.”

At press time, it is unknown how long the account's security has remained compromised, nor how long the release will remain live. The investigative process so far has been hindered severely by effects voluminous playback of the work itself has had on staff in our newsroom.

Skyler Spence has been often (quite-cringely) credited by music journalists and bloggers as their introduction to vaporwave, which was hilarious in the moment, yes, but in fact represents one of the first puncture events into mainstream music media discourse for the precious Twitter and generally net-born community of truly boundary-pushing electronic musicians for whom this magazine was created.

Saint Pepsi is in many ways the apotheosis of blog disco, this wave of young musicians poring over the internet for samples of classic smooth electro-funk from 1980-84 to turn, via Ableton, into new works of nostalgic yet somehow future-perfect art. –”New band of the week: Saint Pepsi” | The Guardian

Like its attributed creator, Mannequin Challenge is very special and far more substantial than we've come to expect from the futurefunk sound: it's imbued through and through with real sentiment – and why shouldn't it be? In reflection, the role of cultural ambassadorship is as surreal (read: absurd) as it is spectacular.

If you'd told me that Pepsico had discovered SAINT PEPSI and threatened him with copyright law in the years post-high school when I was first introduced to the like purveyors of the sound, I would've heard it as a hypothetical (and died laughing.) However, the shit did occur in 2015: in a hilarious internet micro-controversy, SAINT PEPSI really was pressured – under the threat of legal action, one assumes – to change his name. (My own little experience confirmed that Pepsi had no patience for contemporary humor.) As an ancient relic of a American brand punished him, though, another no-less-surprising one – none other than GQ Fucking Magazine – would celebrate him as “Pop Music's New Disco Whiz Kid.”

I don't know the whole story, but I'm comfortable declaring in the now: Mannequin Challenge represents a sincerely touching gift for those of us who've been listening. Or that is... It certainly would were it not the product of digital hijacking and therefore completely inattributable, legally, to SAINT PEPSI.


Favorite track: “Mr. Wonderful, pt. 2” (Bonus track requiring download/purchase on Bandcamp)

#music

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