How the Sharpton Six Listen to Music

Since roughly 2003, I've been building an iTunes library. From ripped CDs, friends collections, occasional purchases and the less than reputable ways you acquire these sorts of files, I've gotten a really sizable and varied collection. Just under 25,000 songs at last count.

But how do you listen to those these days? With six family members, multiple devices and very little downtime, any possible solution for my family needs to provide the following things:

1. Ubiquitous. - When we're throwing dance parties at home, we use the Apple TV in the living room. When Remy and I are exploring musical history, we use the iMac. When we're out and about, we're on iPads or iPhones. We need created  and curated playlists to be in all of those places and to update frequently and transparently.

2. Obvious. - My wife is very tech savvy and even our twins can make their way around iOS pretty well (for two year olds), but no one but me is interested or intrigued by the vagaries of technology, or the intricacies or UI design. Any app or service we use to listen to music has to be simple enough for the kids and Kelly approved as well.

3. Price Conscious. - Between traditional subscriptions that families have dealt with for decades (utilities and cable packages) and the new "necessaries" like Netflix, and occupational requirements like Buffer and Dropbox Pro, my recurring subscriptions are already pretty high. I'm not particularly interested in adding anymore to that list. I don't paying something for this problem to be solved, but I'm not excited about it.

Between Kelly and me, we've tried pretty much every service available for music: Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Match and Apple Music, even the old faithful YouTube streaming (though not their paid YouTube Red service).

While Kelly really liked Spotify, I've never loved their mobile apps, and I really don't like the ads, or care to pay the monthly subscription to remove them. Apple Music was nice enough during my 3 month trial, but it's confusing cross-breeding with my established library was a con, not a pro. I did maintain my iTunes Match subscription though. This is a lesser known (and older) music subscription from Apple that let's you take your iTunes library and "match" it against the iTunes Store itself. Then get access to those matched songs from anywhere in the cloud just like you had purchased the song though Apple directly. That service is $25/year and means that I don't have to plug anyone's iPad or iPhone into my computer again. Well worth it.

Pandora was delightful when it launched, the novelty of having new interesting music brought to you all the time was amazing. But, these days, if I'm going to let the music find ME, I'd rather do it with an interesting terrestrial radio station, whether traditionally or digitally. Kelly likes to dip into her decades old Pandora stations from time to time, but as a primary music solution, this one is done.

I seriously thought about a YouTube Red subscription, even though I'm not exactly in love with the terms for the creators. The idea of my children never being presented with an ad through all their ridiculous YouTube views alone would make this is a compelling case, add to it the audio only music streaming options and the basically guaranteed continued growth of this service's features, this is one I'll definitely watch with interest. But for now, we're passing on Red.

The surprising answer to our wish to listen to music from anywhere anytime ended up being right under our noses (and already paid for). Amazon Music has been included in your Amazon Prime subscription for several years and even began with an Amazon version of the iTunes Match idea. You can match songs against their Prime library, and then upload any non-matched songs to be available in the same way as the others. It's really quite something.

On top of that function, you've got featured music suggestions based on your own library (think Genius features in iTunes), "radio" channels based on an artist or genre (and curated by your own Thumbs up and Thumbs down), and really interesting offline music features that make extra songs and playlists available on your device automatically so you've got something interesting and unexpected available to listen to in the subway or just on your commute without using your cellular data.

All those features work on the web, on your iPhone/iPad/Fire tablet or Android device. And chances are, if you do any Amazon shopping, you're already paying for this service right now.

As a serious Apple user, who's loved iTunes for years and uses their devices exclusively (but was willing to move on to a better service in Google Photos), I cannot recommend Amazon Music enough. Check it out.

Netflix Noise: The importance of a simple sound

I hadn't noticed it myself, even as an avid viewer of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. I even loved the new season of Arrested Development. But even I had overlooked the fact that Netflix had copied the most ingenious part of HBO's plan of cable world domination.

The HBO "fuzz" has been written about ad nauseum and its effects are absolutely real. I'm a product myself. My grandparents always had HBO when I was growing up as my Papaw was a fight fan. I loved the fuzz and all the things that followed whether it was Fraggle Rock or forbidden late night movies after the grandparents went to sleep. Regardless, I've always been sold on HBO. Buying boxes and boxes of DVD's in the years that I didn't subscribe to the channel directly.

And, in the years since, yes, I've fallen in love with Netflix and their new original series and massive movie collection. But surely they're not quite equals yet?

Maybe not for us, but that all brings us to the Netflix noise and it's genius in their long term plan. My kids watch all the Netflix children's series, as well as lots of great movies from our childhood on the service. And now, before every one of those originals (like the brand new Danger Mouse series which is really amazing for kids or grownups), the kids see the Netflix logo and get a loud and satisfying "dum dum". The Netflix noise. I love it. And, I'm sure, 20 years from now, my sons and daughters will have the same affinity for that noise as I do no for the HBO fuzz. Luckily, they both live happily alongside each other on my Apple TV.


Sweet Sick Days

Over the last month or so, I've had occasion to spend solo time with all four of my kiddos. Most of that time has been because they've been sick. Like today as I've got Eutaw while everyone else is at Church.

We've snuggled, and laughed and not taken our medicine, even when it was snuck into the yogurt! She played mommy to her baby doll for a while then slept beside daddy in the big bed for a while, then woke up and needed to be rocked in the living room for a while.


It stinks for your kids to be sick. Especially at night when they're coughing and wheezing and not sleeping peacefully. It's tough because of lost work time and medicine costs and all of that stuff.


But here's why it's awesome. You get focused love and attention on just one kid at a time. You get to physically and directly and observably serve them. They get to see you sacrificing for them. And you. You get to steal a little of that precious thing called time. The one you don't have remotely enough of. The one that's over too soon.

So, we're stealing time today. Coughing, wheezing, fussy time. In the rocker, or napping, or whatever else she wants. I almost can't wait until the next sick day.

My Favorite Picture of Mom

There are a lot of great photos of my mother. I went back and forth over about 15 this morning before settling on this one. I always come back to this one.

That collar though! Seriously, break this out of the closet. 

First, 'cause that's an amazing suit pops is wearing, but mostly because of the look on Jamie Hodges Sharpton's face. My mom has had that look on her face for most of the last 35 years. Through good times and bad, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer. She does not always agree with him, and her voice is always heard. It's her strength that I'm so glad I inherited, even if it combined with his stubbornness to make me almost impossible to change.


But agree or disagree, Mom has always had that look in her eye for Dad. That's pretty amazing. It's been a wonderful center to hold onto as I brute force my way through the problems of life. No matter how hard the blow, when I clear my head and get up, Mom and Dad are still right where they were. And always behind me.


I owe her thanks for lots of things but first I owe her thanks for this. For that look. And for hanging onto it amidst the storms.


Happy birthday, Mom. Hope you and your Love celebrate it in style, and pretend it's 35 years ago. :)

The Mother of Daughters

Today is a day that people like to pronounce their thankfulness and name its source. I find that I've got countless things to be thankful for. Friends who keep me honest and always make me laugh. A job that pays me fairly and consistently, and allows me to use my talents and pursue my interests. A family that supports me unconditionally and loves me immensely. A healthy body and a sound mind.

But this year I've added to my bounty. First in April when I married my Honeybun. Then last week when she gave me two beautiful daughters. A few weeks early and unbelievably small, but healthy and strong and the most unexpected of blessings.

I didn't want any more kids. And I never imagined that I wanted any girls at all but now that they're here, I can't imagine a world without them. I'm so thankful for my new daughters and the completeness they bring to our family of 6.

But this little post really isn't about the girls. It's about their mother. The titular "Mother of Daughters". That's a play on HBO's Game of Thrones and the "mother of dragons" one because we both love the show, but more because I like one of her other nicknames, and it fits my Honeybun just as well, "my moon and stars".

Kelly is an amazing woman, my best friend, my confidant, companion and my Moon and Stars. She's my rockstar and if anyone had any doubt about her awesomeness, the ease with which she handled the pregnancy and delivery should put it to rest.

As I've already said, I've got so much to be thankful for, but Kelly tops the list. Thank you, Honeybun, for loving me, for leading me and for letting me be the father to our wonderful little family.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

The VUTT, or Why I'm Not Afraid of the Dark

I haven't written much in a while, and for people who enjoy my blog, I'm sorry for that. Honestly, I've been enjoying my summer, trying to set up several projects for launch in the fall, and take a little extra time with family. Then the family goes and gives me something to write about.Yesterday, Honeybun and I had our first ultrasound. We found out we were expecting the Monday night before our wedding (as hilariously detailed in Episode 54 of Two Guys, One Podcast), and we've been ecstatic ever since, researching baby names, filling registries, remaking the house etc. But we'd both been on pins and needles to SEE the kid once and for all. Honeybun talks about "verification". It's not that she doesn't believe she's pregnant (she's showing all the obvious signs, including having felt the baby move in the past few weeks), but just that sometimes she feels crazy because the symptoms and the hormones and the well...if you've ever been pregnant or lived with someone who has, you understand.

So there we were, smiling and starving for a look. When we got more than we'd bargained for when we SAW not one, but two bambinos. Twins, though there are ZERO sets of twins on my side of the family for generations back on either side, and just one set on Honeybun's side of the family. Twins, though Honeybun was on birth control (again, as hilariously detailed in Episode 54!) and I'd said we needed to wait AT LEAST a year or two before adding even one more member to the family. Twins. Oh my.


So what does that kind of information do to you? For Honeybun and I it was astonishment, then elation (holy crap, we'll get to do two kids, but all at once and still retire on time, woohoo!), then a little panic (holy crap, we're going to have to feed four children for most of the next two decades or so!), then a lot of nervousness and fear. As any parent can tell you, the vast UNKNOWN terrible thing is the worst part of being a parent. It sits on your shoulder, weighing you down as you go about your job and the carpool and kickball in the back yard. The vast UNKNOWN terrible thing (or the VUTT as I like to call it) is what replaces the boogeyman and monsters in the closet for grownups. The VUTT is what you read about happening to other people's children in the paper, the million different syndromes, conditions, diagnoses and labels that you fear your unborn child might have that will somehow make his/her way in life just a little harder, when you already know it's plenty hard enough. The VUTT is the bus accident you heard about in the next town over or the school shooting you saw on the news. It's cancer, it's diabetes, it's depression, it's Down's Syndrome it's Parkinson's disease, it's congenital heart failure and male pattern baldness.

It is the terrible secret of our genes and the cruel twist of fate and there is nothing that can be done about it.

The VUTT descended on Honeybun last night, in a full double portion, as befits the news of Twins. She'd feared and dreamed and hoped for our child already, of course, but last night just before we climbed in bed it hit her with all it had. She bent under the force, as I have time and time again. Parents, if you haven't cried a few tears thinking about all the ways you can't possibly hope to protect your kids, then I question your parenting. Or at least your humanity. But my Honeybun surprised me, as she has since the day I met her. She immediately saw the VUTT for what it is. Motivation. Listen to that scary little voice on your shoulder, feel it's weight from time to time, and then carry it for your kids. Make sure it keeps you from ever forgetting a seat belt, or a locked medicine cabinet, let it make you understand how important every moment with your children is, and how few there really are when you add them all up.

We created the boogeyman and monsters under the bed and in the deep woods to keep children in line, and perhaps Someone greater than us gives us the VUTT for the very same reason.

We're scared. And humbled. And excited. And blessed.

And thankful to everyone who's dealt with the VUTT or Twins or blended families or parenting before us. And thankful for the love and support we've already been shown. As Son #1 said about Honeybun and me getting married, "My family is getting bigger with love!"

Amen, kid. Amen.

3 Years Ago on My Blog: To My Youngest Son, on His First Birthday

3 years ago today, I was celebrating Deuce:

You are mischievous, inquisitive, loving and outgoing. Watching your personality develop and see the ways that you and your brother are alike and the ways you are different is absolutely fascinating.

My wishes for him and his brother are still as valid today as then, and my promise to walk through hell for him if I had to is just as valid. But in the past three years, Deuce has gotten stronger, smarter and more entertaining than I could have hoped for. He is a surprise every day, and while he may be more willful and challenging than his older brother, he's also more snuggly and cuddly and that goes a long way to smoothing things out.

Our little family has also gained a Bonus Mom to help wrangle this brood and while she and Deuce have only celebrated their birthdays together for two years now, it feels like it's always been this way. And hopefully it always will be. I'll make the same wish now, that I did 3 years ago.

My littlest man, I love you more than I can say. I wish you the happiest of birthdays, and 200 more behind it.

All of my love,


From My Blog: June 15, 2008 A Letter to My Son

On my first Father's Day, I wrote my son a letter.It was as much about me and my dad as about my son and I. There's some good stuff in there, and it's nice to have it written down since five years later, I'm not much better at remembering to tell my loved ones how much I love them.

My favorite part of this is my wishes for Son #1 and of course now, they extend to Deuce and the upcoming Little Bit.

A great love, a great mind, a great imagination, a great friendship and a great spirit.

Son #1 and Deuce's mother and I may no longer be together, but my desire for my children to find their great love isn't diminished. I'm living proof that Second Act's often have the best parts, and Honeybun is more than I could ask for or deserve as a partner and wife. She's become a great mom too, or "Bonus Mom" as the boys call her sometimes. She's tender, firm, consistent and even better at anticipating their needs and freakouts than I am.

I've been blessed in my life so much with health and opportunity, friendship and love, this one almost feels like too much at times. But as I spend this Father's Day weekend preparing to become a Father all over again, it's Mom's that I'm thinking about most. The boys' mother. My mom. The boys new "Bonus Mom" and the wonderful Mother that my newest child will have when he or she gets here this Christmas.

Happy Father's Day weekend! Make sure you tell Dad how much you love him and miss him this weekend, but don't forget the Mom's that keep it all together.

Handsome and Beautiful: A Modern American Love Story

There's this girl I've been sweet on for a while now. Maybe you've read about her before?It took me a long while to realize exactly what I had in my life with Beautiful. I tried, for a long time, to chase her off. But she stuck with me through thick and thin and with enough time, I realized she was the love of my life. Once that came through, I had to make her my wife.

Before we could do that, she wanted to go where no other girlfriend have ever been with me...the recording studio.

I have a weekly comedy podcast with my best buddy called, Two Guys, One Podcast. This week, I sent my cohost packing and spent the evening with the woman I'm gonna spend the rest of my life with.

I'll give you some disclaimers. Our show is generally explicit. We use foul language and make dirty jokes and that's not for everyone, I understand. Honeybun and I don't exactly put any sailors to shame, but we do use a few "dirty" words and talk openly and honestly about our relationship. Its ups, its downs and its surprising present location.

I'm biased, of course, but I don't think I'm blowing smoke when I say it's a funny, engaging, interesting glimpse into just what its title suggests, "A Modern American Love Story"

So, for your approval and consideration, your entertainment and edification, but mostly because I'm madly in love with this woman and I want everyone to know about it

Episode 46: A Modern American Love Story

It's a bit of a spoiler, but I know the language will put some of you off listening, so here's a little incentive. Starting at about the 1 hour mark, we tell the story of our proposal, and then announce a surprise. Check that out (with VERY few dirty words) if you just want the big story without all the muss!

For every one that was a part of our meeting, dating, engagement or the WEDDING this weekend (that's the surprise in the podcast, you spoil-sport) a big huge 'Thank you!' from One Guy and Honeybun, Handsome and Beautiful, Joel and Kelly.

Haircut or Horrible Afternoon?

Early this week, I picked up Deuce and took him to get caught up on his immunizations. After that we got a treat (for being such big boys), and then I took him to get his haircut (I'd gotten mine cut earlier that day).Wednesday afternoon, Honeybun picked up Son #1 from school and dropped him off with me to get his haircut. Here's there conversation.

Honeybun: Daddy's going to take you to get a haircut, monkey!

Son #1: Um, a haircut...but no shots, right?

Honeybun: No shots, buddy.

Son #1: Cool. HAIRCUT!

I wonder how that conversation would have ended if there'd been shots with the haircut?

The Magic of "Sorry"

Steve Wiens is the one to finally say outloud what any parent of young children has been thinking for a while. The entire article is great, but this is my favorite bit:

Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

I love being a parent who says "sorry". It's a magical word, when there is real feeling behind it. That's the number one thing I'm trying to impart to Deuce right now. He's rambunctious. And impatient. And impetuous. And defiant. And 3 1/2 years old. This mostly means that he occasionally has Hulk-level rage-outs and is not only incapable of explaining the source of his anger, he's incapable of pinpointing the source of his anger. He's just angry. Or sad. Or tired. Or whateverthehellitisthatthisfeelingiscalledgoodGodDaddyWHYDON'TYOUSTOPIT?!?!?!?!?

Being three is really tough. And I know that. So, it's okay that occasionally he just falls out in the floor and needs to be in a room alone for 15 or 20 minutes before he can contain himself long enough to chitchat again. It's okay that he occasionally hits (though he knows he's not supposed to). It's even okay that sometimes he breaks stuff. Because when we've pulled ourselves back together, we face the person we hurt or disrespected, say "I'm sorry" and mean it. Then we really try as hard as we can to do better the next time.

And that's the number one thing I'm trying to teach myself right now. Sorry is just as much (maybe more) for parents as it is for kids. Parents need to help ready their kids for a world full of imperfect leaders by teaching them that even mom's and dad's get stuff wrong. Which is okay. As long as we acknowledge and apologize when we find our error.

Sorry is the most human and the most heavenly thing we do. For ourselves, for others, for God. We fail, we fix, we fail again. It's the only way yet we've figured out how to get better.

No, we don't call it a Tinkle...

No, we don't call it a tinkle. We call it a poke. -- Deuce, (correcting me on the naming of his penis.)

When you raise your kids in a co-parenting situation, as I do with my ex-wife, there are occasional hiccups. We've already crossed the "what do we call our penis'" bridge before and I thought, for Deuce, for now, we had settled on tinkle.

I wasn't in love with it, but it is what it is. Before he's using it for anything else, I'll straighten him out on the terminology.

But last night, as I'm suggesting he shouldn't grab it quite so much unless he needs to use the bathroom, I have apparently missed the name change. Years from now I will explain to him all the many reasons why we don't (thought it may seem an appropriate title) call it a poke. For now, let's just return to the simple, clinical, correct, penis.


I’ve been very proud of what I’ve been doing with Two Guys, One Podcast. But this is the coolest thing I’ve ever worked on.

Made with Paper (for iOS) and put together using iMovie on my Mac. This is Son #1’s debut as a screenwriter, so, be kind.