Friday, December 04, 2009

Fun Book!

Just finished the book "Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies" by Stewart Copeland. I Highly recommend the audio version which is read by Stewart himself. It is one of the best books I have heard in a long time. Not only is Stewart very entertaining as a reader of his story but the stories are amazing. You also get a real look inside a reality show (Stewart was the Judge on one) a Super Tour, and life with Pygmies. (yes, Pygmies..) Not to mention his very astute writings and observations about being a film composer. I would recommend book to budding film composers on this basis alone. While this is not the *focus* of the book, it is what he has been doing professionally for the last several years. Yep, this guy has lived a little. Guaranteed Fun!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Working with Legends.

There are 2 (ok, 3) cats I wanna give kudos to. Both of these guys are brilliant producers, musicians, songwriters and they both do things their own way. cue "My Way" Also, they have both established a new sound that pays homage to their influences, while bringing something new and fresh to the table. This is difficult to do. These days more than ever. Oh...and they both have worked with members of Led Zeppelin. Figured it out yet? While Dave Grohl definitely wears all of these adjectives superbly, I am referring to Jack White and Josh Homme. I kind of see these guys as the new torchbearers of Rock and Roll. When you listen to a White Stripe record, it is every bit as innovative as Zep was when they launched. And Jack is just getting started. Take a listen, a good listen to QOTSA Songs for the Deaf and tell me that it is not in the same family of the great concept records. I also think that their recent collaborations with Zep members (Grohl and Homme on Them Crooked Vultures and Jack on the film It Might Get Loud) are not only apropos but a smart career move. It puts them firmly in the company of the very Legends that inspired them to pursue music in the first place. Can you imagine?
I've have also noticed that these guys share the drive and creative breadth that drive them to get involved with many different type of projects. From production to writing to playing on other's projects. They are also both multi-instrumentalists. It seems to me that a major element to their success is a ton of hard work and smart -out of the box- thinking in terms of the industry norms. I suspect they are both very good business men which may mean that they are simply smart enough to surround themselves with the right business minds.
I mean, Jack just opened a recording studio! You would have to be crazy to do that in the current economic state of the music industry. I bet it will do very well. Along with the label too...
I can't wait to see It Might Get Loud. The DVD release date is Dec 22.

Kudos to theses guys and cheers to their continued success and innovation!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures Release (you can hear it Right Now!)

Exclusive for my faithful Bloggers! (all ten of ya...) You can stream the entire TCV release in High Quality from YouTube 8 days before you can actually buy it. Smart marketing IMHO. I would love to see the number as to how many CDs and downloads they sell even though they are essentially giving it away. I mean with a stream catcher....heck what am I saying, it's probably already on the torrent sites. ( I got the email from TCV about 3 hours ago). I am guessing that the type of die-hard fan that already likes QOTSA and Eagles of Death Metal will buy it anyway. While this continues to be an evolving marketing plan (giving your music away and then selling it) groups like Radio Head an others have had pretty good success with it.
Anyhoo...Here is the link, It Rocks.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

French Electronic Duo Air new release- Love 2; Love it or dissapointed?

Hi Guys, I have been looking forward to Air's new release called "Love 2". I am downloading it now...after listening to the previews, I hear alot of similarities to Talkie Walkie and Pocket Symphony and also hear some new textures. It will be fun to see how this one is received.
I will post more impressions soon but would love to hear from any of you that have given it a listen all the way through. If you love it, whaddayalove? Don't like it? I would like to hear about that too. Pretty mixed reviews on itunes...
Here is the itunes link (which has some extra material and a short documentary),7f46376,8065531
Here is the Amazon link for a few less bucks...

What do you think?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hanging with Roger Nichols

I was fortunate to get to sit in on a master class recently with Master audio engineer Roger Nichols. This cat is responsible for some of the finest recordings and mixes of our time. He is truly an "Engineer's- engineer". You may have heard his work with Stevie Wonder or maybe James Taylor. How about Frank Zappa? The Beach Boys? Plácido Domingo? The list goes on and on...
He has won 6 Grammy Awards for his work with Steely Dan alone. These are some of my favorite works of his. Grab a pair of earphones or your favorite HiFi speakers and listen, really listen to the audio beauty that are the Steely Dan recordings. Try "Aja" or "Two Against Nature" for starters... The clarity, the punch, the definition and mood evoking vibe is truly a standard by which all other recordings in this genre can be held to. Studios all over the world pop in a Steely Dan CD to compare their own recordings to see if they are up to par. I do it all the time.
Anyway, he said some cool stuff and I am going to share a few of those things with you, the faithful reader.

Getting Started With a Mix- pull up all the faders- doesn't matter what you start with (he organizes with Drums starting on the Left and started there) get a quick balance of all the instruments and then print it. I am paraphrasing a bit here but he said that often, when someone asks for a quick "demo" mix to listen too for that night that often they come back to that 'quick mix' as their favorite. How fast did he mean? He said " you throw up some faders, quick levels and about half way through the song -Boom- print it". (that really is fast!) A bit of fine tuning may be needed from there but you have your strong base. I interpreted this to mean that many times you should go with your gut and don't over think the mix. Now, as many of you know, this is not the *only* way he has worked in past. Mr Nichols said- "Gaucho took 5 years to make. We would try some stuff and we would say "scrap it" and go on to trying something else"

"The TV Mix" sometimes on Television performances, the artist will perform with all the backing tracks (Background Vocals included) while singing live. Roger likes to use this concept as a mixing tool to gain a fresh perspective on the musical accompaniment. IOW, try muting the vocal and see how the meat and potatoes (the rhythm section, strings etc.) sounds.

Reverb Tuning- Convolution Reverb tails are "In tune" -Digital Reverbs are not Not in tune because of chorusing. Natural reverbs are in In tune.

Spoke highly of the Massey L2007 plug for bus compression.

Basic Elements Mix/verbs etc.. should sound good with 3 elements like Drums, Bass, Piano or Drums, Bass, Guitar. Strip down and listen.
I am going from my notes and memory here but I think he was saying that when you are dealing with a huge complex mix, don't be afraid to break it down listen to only a few elements. If your rhythm section doesn't sound great by itself, back to the drawing board.

Roger shared a ton more stories and tips but you are gonna have to hear him speak yourself to
get them all. He speaks regularly and you can check his site to find out when/where. Check out the Master Class link. (there are also a TON of great articles from the man himself at his site) Even if you have to travel to hear him, it's well worth it!

Partial list of credits from his Wiki
Steely Dan and John Denver, as well as many other major music acts. His client list also includes the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, Crosby Stills & Nash, Al Di Meola, Roy Orbison, Cass Elliot, Plácido Domingo, Gloria Estefan, Diana Ross, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Rickie Lee Jones, Kenny Loggins, Mark Knopfler, Eddie Murphy, Michael McDonald, James Taylor, and Toots Thielemans, to name just a few.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The iphone in the studio?

I recently acquired an iPhone 3G. Before I had my hands on one, I had heard about and seen videos of things like apps that control Protools or others DAWs and thought; that's a gadget, why would anyone want to do use their phone as a control surface?
So, when I received the iPhone, I did not have any expectations of using it as a music tool.
I have been pleasantly surprised!
One of the first tools I bought was Cleartune. This is an excellent tuner that has a transposition feature, temperament options and selectable pitch-pipe wave forms. It has been super handy to have a tuner in my pocket.
Another app along the same lines is SPL Meter by Studio Six Digital. I like the analogue style VU on this one. It has response and weighting options as well calibration and can use an external mic as well.
An app that has really surprised me is Ocarina. If you are a musician and have not seen this one, I am just gonna say "check it out". Either on youtube or download.
Another big surprise (the iPhone is just full of them!) are the synths that are available. Again, you see all the piano apps and think; "gadget". I mean, you can only get an octave on the screen and even then, the keys are tiny, right? Well, even though that is true, I have actually used miniSynth on a session. It just had the sound I needed right at my fingertips ready to go. The latency on this one still needs some work though. What is cool though is that the small screen on the iPhone has inspired some creative interfaces. One of those is Bebot. Instead of virtual keys, you can set the increments and intervals on the screen and slide or press each note. It's pretty darn responsive (it's a phone for crying out loud!) if you like synths, I recommend this one highly. Again, I just used it on a session for MTV. Another creative interface is Bloom. Designed by Producer and Ambient music pioneer Brian Eno- in collaboration with musician/programmer Peter Chilvers.
This is a semi random, ambient music creator. It's hard to describe but the interface is beautifully done and fun to play. If you like Eno's "Music for Airports" this is a must have.
I have a few others, Metronome (cool, old style interface) Chordmaster, iHarmony etc.. but the above are the standouts for me so far. Others may prove useful as time goes on.
Similarly, I didn't really think that I would use the ipod feature much. Dead wrong. It's so easy to download and listen on the go. You have to pay attention to the battery life but, I do that anyway.
I've have realized that the power of the iPhone and all these tools is that they are in your pocket, on one device! Kudos to apple and double kudos to the developers of these fine tools.
So, what is your fav music related app?? Please share!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hi everyone,
I just ran across a heated debate regarding a quote from Moby. Basically, he is saying the day of the "The Album" and making money from music is over.
I posted a reply in the discussion and it is below along with Moby's quote. I would love to hear what you guys think about it.
"There are a lot of musicians who are still desperately trying to pretend that it's 1998 and by having a huge marketing campaign, they somehow believe that they can sell 10 million records. That's delusional. No one sells 10 million records. The days of musicians getting rich off of selling records are done. People can make a living, but the profit motive has been so diminished that now it seems that the only way to approach making music is for the love of it. Anyone who wants to start a band in 2009 because they want to get rich is, quite simply, an idiot. The only people who are getting rich are like Elton John, who go on tour and sell tickets for $500 a pop. The older, established artists can get rich, but new artists have to make music for the love of it because there is no real financial incentive, which I think is actually a really healthy thing."

There was alot of talk about how this is easy for him to say and that he is saying "while I have made it, you little guys just give up on making money" etc..
Also, several commented that "when quality music is being created again, then people will start buying it again" hmmm...interesting...
Also, the buffet analogy: in the past you went to restaurant and had the appetizer and a the main
course from the menu. Everyone had the same few entree choices (the old music industry) Now,
everyone has access to "the buffet" but less of each of the many items available will be consumed.

I threw in a curve ball to the discussion because I think it is important to remember this fundamental concept:

"I just want to add the idea to this conversation that people who create and/or play music have a definable skill and deserve to be paid for it. All other discussions aside, this is what is "right". None of us work for free unless we are working in a charitable capacity. The self fulfilling prophecy is this: if artists can't support themselves, then much of the good music
will disappear. In today's busy (60 hour work-week) world, no one will be willing pick up that guitar and try and see what will come out. All the great players/songwriters/bands mentioned above [which were the Beatles, and the Stones and Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed etc..] were paid/sustained and allowed to have time to create and grow and thrive. This takes time, literally. This whole concept that everyone can just sell their songs on the internet and everything will be great is kind of silly. [I mean, of course you can sell your music but is it a realistic and total answer?] The record industry needs a *major* overhaul-yes. But, we need "the industry" to nurture and support artists so they can do their thing. It should be a partnership.

What do you think?

My main points are these:

1. Yes the record industry is broken and greedy and perhaps this has lead to it's downfall.

2. The industry is scrambling to answer this question and whoever figures it out will be the next David Geffen. 

3. But, the more important point I want to make is that despite the fact that Record companies have made huge megabucks selling CDs for $14.00 and giving the artist $1.00 per CD the artists need record companies. (if you were lucky! remember when MJ -top selling artist in the world- and his sister made a BIG stink trying to get --$2.00-- per CD?) We need them to develop good talent. They are the financial backers that have allowed MANY of the great artists to create their art and support them until they are self supporting. 
I am not defending them. They have absolutely Abused this privilege! And many of us non-business-savvy artists have allowed them too while we took limos to our thousand dollar a night hotel while drinking Dom....night after night. 

The only reason I give a rat's butt about this issue is that I think that I think it is very difficult to have a situation where and artist can really work on and develop 
their talent without substantial financial backing. Look at the history of most all the great records, they had talented Producers (which the record company hired) the best studio musicians (Record Company Paid) if they were not a band (and many times if they were!) The best Studios and recording engineers (RCP) Despite what we all think, we still can't get the sound of a Neve and a great room from our basement. 
The list goes on and on... I guess what I am saying is, many say that there is not as much good music out there, only that there is A TON of music. If this is true...I think this is why. Mozart and Bach had record companies. They were Kings. Their support allowed them to work on their music Every Day and not make sandwiches at Subway which would have taken 9 hours a day away from them focusing on music.

OK, I don't want to be one of those negative complainers that just talks about the problem and leaves the room so, (off the top of my head) here are a few ideas, I would love for you guys to add to them! 
(Side note: even though this original discussion really is about music for media, visual and otherwise, I believe that the Pop Music Industry sets the pace for the rest of us and that if music is free over there then why the heck should I pay for it over there? KWIM?) 

Big Labels have become the enemy. This is bad for everyone. They have forced musicians into a corner and now we all have to go to business school. 
Even though we don't like it, we're the better for it. We gotta team up. You guys get rid of all the unrealistic slime balls in suits and we will try to keep the pot smoking Drummer out of the meetings at the adult table. (I'm a drummer, so I can say that)

Labels have got to get back to DEVELOPING ARTISTS!!! After which, if said artist becomes successful they fully deserve to split the money and make a profit. I mean that's what business is about, right? Making Profit. 
Noticed I used the work "split". Ok, ha ha the joke is on us. You got us good in the 90's when we believed that CDs and artwork and Jewel cases cost $9.00 a piece to make. heh heh good one.

I love my iPhone, my iPod etc.. BUT, I think the lack of a physical product is a huge factor in the cheapening of music. I would like to see the standard become- the buyer receives a physical product AND an mp3 download. There is still plenty of profit for everyone.

Lastly, and I *really* don't like this one...we need better regulation. I really, sincerely hope that someone comes up with better, newer and revolutionary way to allow music creators to make money (other than licensing for advertising which many industry leaders are holding as the new holy grail, yeesh) Please someone come up with a whole other paradigm. But until then, better regulation. We are the frogs in the slowly boiling water. We put our blood sweat and tears into what we do and try to make a buck a song and if someone decides they would rather just take it, there is no one to stop them. It's sad and offensive.
On the fresh idea approach. I like what Radiohead did. They allowed the fans to pay whatever they wanted for "In Rainbows". If I remember correctly, they averaged $9.00 per Album. That is pretty darn good! Of course they did already have a substantial fan base at that point which the Record Company helped them develop...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to instantly record your ideas on your computer.

Sometimes a flash of brilliance pops into our collective heads and when that happens, the person that remembers it and uses it in a creation....wins. What happens alot is that we hear the idea, and we think "Oh, that's a good one. I am going to remember that!" But alas, moments later, not only is the idea gone, the recollection of even having the idea is gone! But worse (for me) is playing an idea it or humming it or whatever and then booting up the software, setting the input, pressing record and then uh...oh wait the input is not plugged in...OK, now press record and VOILA-- the idea is gone.
So, I started looking for an instantly available recorder for my music computer that would with one stroke, be ready to record. Some of you are smarter than me and may have a dedicated mini recorder sitting next to your piano (or guitar or violin, synth etc..) I keep one of those in my car and I have another (a Zoom H2) that is sometimes sitting on the piano and ends up in different places as it is my field recorder too. Also, I have found that these ideas are sometimes usable in a multitude of ways and I really wanted to bypass the need to either transfer it to the computer or re-track it if it happens to be a great take. Many times, that inspired "first take" of an idea has an energy and groove that is hard to replicate.
Back to the search- after looking a bit I found very little in the way of an always ready, instant recorder. I wanted something that would have a small footprint on the CPU and not conflict with other software. After a bit more pondering and fiddling, I realized it that I have software on my machine that is prefect for this application. (and you do too!)
Quicktime has a shortcut in both OSX and Windows that allows you to record a mic input or your DAW input (or anything that makes noise)
In windows it's Control+Shift+N. Press the red button and you are recording.
In OSX its Control+Option+Command+N.
I have my Roland Piano always on with and ready but you could (for instance) have a computer mic or other microphone always plugged and ready so that it will record anything in the room. On most notebook/laptops, the built in mic will serve the same purpose. Instant memo.
I have put Quicktime in my startup group so that it is always available when the machine boots up. On a Mac, go to system/users/startup programs and click the +
Browse for the Quicktime app and add it to the list.
In Windows, you can either tell QT to add an icon to your taskbar and double click then the shortcut (edit/pref/quicktime pref/advanced) or to add it to the bootup:
1. Click Start>Programs, then right click on Startup folder and choose Open.
2. On the Startup window, go to File menu and choose New>Shortcut.
3. Drag the icon to the window or Create a new shortcut (file/new/shortcut) or specify the path and it will startup, everytime you boot.

Remember that QT has to be in the forefront (single click it) for the shortcut to work.

I hope this helps you catch the idea that turns into your next Hit/Score/Sound Design!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Yes, I dismantled a perfectly good Piano but it's OK, I have an extra....

...well, actually it did need some repair and I thought about going that route but realized that I had a much more interesting path I could follow; a giant Zither.
That's right, I said it...a Giant Zither. Some might argue the terminology but that's OK, I just like saying Giant Zither.

In the tradition of John Cage, Arvo Part, (Tabula Rasa) Henry Cowell and more recently Brian Eno and the Aphex Twins I am going to mutilate, alter and otherwise "modify" (my favorite word) the standard method of playing the beloved Pianoforte.

A brief background on Prepared Piano; usually, this term refers to taking a piano (typically a grand or baby grand for ease of access to the strings) and placing various types of"modifiers"directly on or in between the strings themselves. If you have access to horizontally strung piano give it a try, it can produce tones that sound like ethereal bells( Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa is a wonderful example of this ) to weird and wonderful Clunks and discordant Pank!(s)
Nuts, bolts, rubber mutes, paper, tacks on hammers etc.. have all been used.
Anyway, what I am planning on doing is plucking and hammering (ala Cowell) using various tools-including of the original hammers that I kept from (heretofore known as..) "The Dismantling" of the instrument.

In all honesty, I did not know much of Cowell and his "string piano" techniques when I started taking this one apart with visions of striking and plucking. Then later after a bit of googling, I found that Ol' Henry started doing this in the 20s! I must mention Erik Satie here because he was in on the idea too. And since he is French and all, he probably thought of it first...
I tell you, playing an open piano with multiple fingers (as you would a harp) produces some wonderful tones.

One of the cool things is the *lack* of control you have of the overtones that ring all around a given note. Remember- the strings on a fully functioning piano are muted unless you press the sustain pedal on the piano. So, this is like permanent sustain gone crazy.
Which brings me to another cool feature of owning half a piano;
a Reverberator. I have used the open ring of the strings as an ambient
effect several times when recording an instrument or using the room's (concrete garage) ambience on drum tracks. Recently, I was recording snare hits for my sample bank and the extra ring from the open piano strings added a cool extra ring that could be mixed in to taste.

The first thing I needed to do was tune the dang thing. Hmm...I have good ears. Surely I can tune a piano. I mean, other that that pesky "tempered" thing, it's like a giant guitar, right??
Apparently not. But, despite the learning curve, I have picked up a thing or two about piano tuning, and I found some really cool software that can help you tune a piano if you are really brave and have a couple of extra days on your hands. ( to give you idea of my disposable free time, I have been working bit by bit on the tuning it and this blog for about... a year...)
Oh, the software-it's called TuneLab 97. Good stuff. Thank You to the developer.

Next Stop- use the Giant Zither on an upcoming film score!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I miss liner notes

When the heck are we gonna get all of the important info that comes on a hard copy of a music purchase, with an mp3? I mean for cryin' out loud! Am I the only one that wants to know who produced an album? Who played drums? Where was it recorded? Who mastered it? What the heck did that singer say?? Hes gonna bury a chocolate bar? Gonna buy a 'lectric guitar?
We'll never know...
These are the burning questions that keep me up at night after I have visited amazon or itunes for a quick fix.
Sure, some of this info can be found on the net. IF you can avoid the bot sites that come up in google that say RADIO HEAD LYRICS and then proceed to try and take over your computer after you click the link. Even still, it can be difficult to find credits. And dagnabbit, I shouldn't have to go looking. I should get it when I buy the music-Automatically.

There are a couple of places like NoneSuch Records that sell you the CD, and an instant (high quality!) download for 1 price. This rocks IMO. Also, they tend to list many the players and details right there on the front info page.
Amazon and itunes; listen up- Everyone I know that buys music on a regular basis says the same thing, they like CDs but buy mp3s for the quick fix factor. (me too) Why not combine these experiences with either a combo deal or higher quality mp3s (don't even get me started on 128 kbps, it sounds terrible) and more Lyrics, liner notes, artwork etc...
More information is good. Knowledge is power!
[A quick follow up on 10/24/2009]

I have since run across and fairly elegant solution to this issue. Any of you that own Death Cab For Cutie's "Canyon Bridge" may have noticed that track 13 is indeed a complete rundown of the credits as read by professional Voice Over artist Mike West. I suspect that this great idea came from producer Chris Walla.
Also, as you probably know, there are several lyric sites out there. Even still, until we come up with a standard and better multimedia solution, I encourage artists to put their lyrics on their website. Many of those lyric sites are "best guesses" from the site owner and contain inaccuracies...