Monthly Archives: June 2012

Choices, choices.

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Hey everyone,

the gituars are done, and I am quite surprised at how much better the songs work. In between I wondered if there is a point in rerecording all my demos, because better sound quality doesn’t make better songs. But a better guitar performance that captures the energy I want the song to have clarifies the emotional narrative of a song, and that’s what it’s all about.

Now I am collecting lyrics and finishing the vocal arrangements I will record over the next weeks, and that forces me to make some choices.

Right now Id just love to record all possible variations and publish them and let the audience pick their versions (slow&depressing industrial or uptempo-hillbillyblues?) but I don’t think that will work… who knows, maybe that is the idea of the century that saves the music business, but somehow I feel I have to make those choices and pick what works best.

A song is never finished. Somehow there is always something you could dissect and rearrange but there is no guarantee that version 19 is any better than version 1. Writing music is easy, learning when to stop is not.

First vocal takes on monday, joy an happiness to all,

J

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First Session Done

Friends don’t suck. In fact, they make me not want to puke on a regular basis.

My new interface didn’t arrive in time for my first recording session, so I had to borrow a friend’s macbook (hey des!) in order to use another friend’s mac-only apogee duet (hey felix!) for yet another friend’s microphones (hey flo!) that were recorded through a preamp that is not mine (hey dude!), and it all went well. The guitars are done, as is the acoustic bass.

The breaks from recording were used to contemplate the universe as such, and recording in general with the other guys that work in that studio, and that was quite insightful and entertaining. I can really identify with their approach to recording, as there is no room for dogma. When I asked one of them for help with positioning the microphones he just told me to listen hard.  If it sounds good, go for it. That is what I do all day for this whole DIY-recording-thing: If I listen hard enough, and trust my underdeveloped instincts, I can make up for a lot of my lack of experience and knowledge. Horay!

Good equipment makes that a lot easier. But I had another revelation today. I was sitting there recording my guitars and wondering whether these new recordings will be better or worse than my demos. The performance and the sound quality will be a lot better, sure, but will anyone hear that difference? Will the new recording have more or less emotional impact? It is great to have a signal chain that you can rely on to sound good, but what if the product just sounds good? Who cares about good sound? I have to work hard at not losing myself in technicalities and frequencies and resolutions. The emotional content translates perfectly even if you record with your iphone as the performance is what counts, not the signal chain it goes through. I can borrow all the gear in the world and still miss out on that, so I’d better focus.

This has been a long day, and I am dead tired right now, so I will just leave it at that and go on modding my sct800-mic tomorrow, and do my first vocal soundchecks and start returning all the borrowed stuff to my friends, who don’t suck at all.

All the best, love,

J

My Pie In The Sky Business Plan

I joined my first band in 1997. That evolved into a real band with rehearsals, gigs, recordings and no money at all.

But at the start, me and my best friends were happy playing Metallica all day. The band grew, but we didn’t get far, as we had no idea about what we were doing back then. Got tricked into a bullshit deal by a parasite-publisher, played 10 gigs a year and then it somehow just stopped. Tried other bands, loved it all, never got anywhere with it. 5 years ago, just as I was about to finish my M.A., I realized that I have to try and become a professional musician, because I enjoy music so much. At my peak I played in 7 bands, rehearsed or played almost every evening in cover bands, startups, solo-stuff, everything. Somehow along the way I managed to ‘establish’ myself as an instrumentalist, songwriter, musician and even a tiny little bit as a ‘producer’ in the sense of guiding and mixing some recordings for other bands. I did work as a stage hand for three years that taught me quite a lot about that crazy business, but also enough to leave it after three years.

Well. I guess that makes me a musician. But I have been a musician long before I did it to earn money, ever since Tom Waits enlightened my passion for music as a kid, thanks to the eclectic taste of my dad. If you take a look over at Wikipedia, a professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee.

I currently play in 4 bands, two of which are rare cover gigs just for the money. The other two are pop outfits, where I accompany a singer/songwriter on bass and vocals. These gigs generate an average of 100 bucks per gig, from promo shows that don’t pay shit to festival gigs that pay decently, just from playing music live. The point is, although that is a lot for a self-taught dude, it is not enough to make a decent living out of it, especially because up to now I had to invest a lot of the money back into the music in order to keep my gear up to a professional standard. Gigs are starting to pay a little better, which is great.

Thanks to the internet there is pretty close to zero money in royalties and cd sales (might amount to a small three-digit amount in a GOOD year, and that is for a band that has serious airplay and sold around 10.000 cds) so all I have to go on right now are live shows. Now the problem of this setup is that I can hardly play more shows without giving up my part-time office job, as my calendar is crammed in five dimensions to get those 120 gigs plus rehearsals going. It would take a serious leap of faith in this current situation to rely on the music business alone. I could hope for better shows, a hit single, a major break-through, whatever, but you cannot force that. All you can do is be patient and go on with all you have.

There is another option: I could leave the road and set up a business on the side of that road, writing and producing music for myself and other artists, step off the stage and into the background. There is brilliant article over at the trichordist that describes just that. It might be a little late for that, but the all-devouring internet opens some roads and closes others, we’ll see where that one goes. Right now I just keep throwing cakes against the wall in the hope that anything sticks, and that I don’t run out of breath.

In this setup I started yet another band, the one I will start recording tomorrow, and it feels great for many reasons. One of the biggest is that I gave myself a year for this just to build it up. Starting on the first day August I will record and release an EP every three months. There will be four or five of these. Once the final EP is released I will have to reassess where that got me. But until then I don’t have to worry about budget (there is none), or things like paying musicians, rental cars, hotels (there are none). All I have to do is focus on writing these songs and arraying them with decent soundscapes.

Enter Alexander Pope, coughing nervously:

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
God make us foolish for our struggle.

Exeunt omnes.

lllove,

J

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All Set Go

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Yesterday I finalized my signal chain for the recordings I will do tomorrow, in a sonically ‘dead’ room in a friend’s studio, to keep the unbeloved room reverb out of the mics. I might go for a XY-stereo-recording, as I am not sure if I really understood fake stereo and what that implies mic-placement-wise

The chain:

Furch/Stonebridge guitar G23SM -> Rode/Neumann mics -> Universal Audio LA 610 Preamp -> RME Babyface AD conversion -> Reaper mix + fake ‘master’ -> Genelec 8020 monitors

I tried to stay true to Jeremy Larsen’s post concering the signal chain. As up until yesterday I only had the AD-converters of my Cakewalk UA-25 I knew I had to upgrade those, but a mac is just not affordable yet, so the converter-gurus of apogee are not an option. I ordered the RME babyface yesterday as I can work cross-platform with that one, so I can still mix it on my big computer (Win 7). This is what I consider the minimum setup for doing this, all in all the chain costs around 5000, but neither the preamps nor the mics are mine. Friends really rock.

Now I just have to finish modding one of my own microphones (found this on gearslutz: replacing the tube on my SCT800 + adjusting the grille, I feel like MacGyver…) and then I can go off into the studio and record the shit ouf it. As was to be expected, the technicalities of my signal chain, work (gigs and office job) and real life in general (income tax!) left no space at all for finishing the actual MUSIC I want to record, but I think I will just fill the holes on the spot.

22 hours to go until I start my soundcheck. Horay!

Love,

J

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The Internet Is Your Friend, Part I

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As I mentioned in earlier posts, the internet does not kill people, people do. The web is a weapon, depending on which side you are, and I want to share some of its funkier aspects today.

I have no idea how people solved problems before the internet was up, but nowadays I just google my problem and hope that something shows up. Doing that has returned some great results, and I’d love to share some with you.

1. Jeremy Larson

This dude is a self-taught engineer/producer who is also a great musician writing about his approach to recording in a highly enlightening manner over at his blog at his website. One of the most interesting posts is the one below, where he talks about the pecking order of the signal chain you use recording your own stuff. I always thought a decent microphone is enough, but experience tells me that there is more to it, and this post gives a brilliant step-by-step instruction how to pimp your signal chain as a self-recording artist:

http://jeremylarsonmusic.com/what-to-buy-and-when-to-buy-it/

2. Sonic Idiot

Fellow wordpress bloggers at sonic idiot have something along the same lines, and some great articles on converters:
http://sonicidiot.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/the-secret-of-great-home-recordings/

3. Gearslutz

And finally, the one forum where all the geeks meet, gearslutz. Like any forum, you have wiseasses and trolls, but also some very interesting lengthy stuff on all kinds of gear, recording techniques and so forth. The link below leads to some interviews with seasoned engineers shedding some light on age-old questions, and a Q&A-session with the designer of reaper, my DAW of choice!

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/expert-question-answer-archives-read-only-archive-not-open-new-posts/

Always happy to learn new stuff, so if you have some great links, just put them in a comment.

Love,

J

EDIT: This is not as technical, but still very important: fellow blogger thetrichordist shares great insights into how the internet changes our business, and what we can do about it. must read!

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Some wise words…

well, at least I am not alone with my endeavour. hihi.

The Trichordist

by Maia Davies
(re-posted by permission, copyright in the author)

Artist and Repertoire. How relevant are the tried & true industry opinions on an artist’s choice of material? Nowadays, we will find most artists and bands penning their own songs and sound. But in pining for the prize of popularity, many start considering shifting their creative focus in order to fit in more. Can’t play it on top40 radio.  Too commercial for college radio. Can’t put pedal steel on a pop record. Can’t be political in a country song. These are phrases we know to be tossed around so liberally, we seem as an industry to dismiss their implications, ones especially relevant in today’s changing context. I played with the mighty ensemble Broken Social Scene this last weekend at Ontario’s Northern Lights Festival, and here is what I have learned from them.

A rich creative collective, they have engineered a…

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Manners Maketh Man

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Things are on the sunny side.

I just fixed next thursday for my recording session in my friend’s studio. I gave up on recording this at home, although I will stick to my plan of engineering and recording it myself. My first recordings sound okay, but they won’t make people tear their faces off in ecstasy, and this time I want to do it right. I just don’t want to ‘fix it in the mix’, but record everything the way it should actually sound, notwithstanding the fact that all I go on right now is the naïve hope that good mics, a good room and great preamps are enough.

Once that is done, I only have to do record some more bass and the vocals. And the vocals will be the most interesting part of this whole undertaking.

I never liked my voice. That is quite a drawback if you like singing as much as I do. I never liked the way I sound, because I just wasn’t equipped with a beautiful standard singing voice and my voice changes a lot depending on the register I sing in. I always saw that as a problem.

Yesterday a friend told me I remind him of Sting when I sing.

Once I was done laughing I actually understood what he meant. Sting also doesn’t have a standard voice, and he does some things that don’t sound all that sweet but that is not the point. That is what makes his voice so special, and the same is true for mine. Not that I am comparing myself to this man, of course, whose autobiography is an absolute must read. Poetic, wise, funny.

But that is a different story, and for now I will have to finalize the guitar arrangements in my head, so I can do it all in one day. I really enjoy this whole thing 🙂

love,

J

Up The Mountain, Or The Universe Don’t Give a Flying Fuck

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I have a terrible theory.

The Laws of Physics know where I live. I realized that yesterday when a most mysterious thing known as a comb filter entered my improvised studio and fucked up most of what I recorded. He was joined by another villain named Crappy Room, who dropped by and ruined the rest of the recordings.

There is no no end to what I don’t know, and this is my most recent discovery: the universe doesn’t care too much if you paid attention in your physics class, because it just applies those laws relentlessly, even in the most artsy fartsy of circumstances: I mispositioned (does that word even exist?) my microphones so that what one recorded interferes with what the other does in a bad way. When those two signals play at the same time I apparently have a comb filter, which makes both microphones sound crappy. But that could be fixed by meticulously repositioning the tracks. The real problem is Crappy Room.

My kitchen sounds like shit. This crappy mini-reverb that is on everything I record will get louder and louder the more I compress and saturate my material, and so I have to go somewhere else to record this. Unfortunately my appartment is crammed and there is hardly any other space where I could go, except for the sleeping room… that would totally eliminate the possibility of me recording late at night, as my wife is tolerant but not deaf, but I’ll have to try that one… In there, almost all surfaces are made from wood, and those reflections sound a LOT better than my refrigerator. If that doesn’t work out I might have to accept the offer of a good friend to use one of the rooms of his studio for this (thanks flo!) which I’d love to try anyway… we’ll see.

So I think I will throw away another set of guitar tracks and do it all again, I just wonder when I can do that, time is in short supply… maybe tomorrow I can fit it in.

Who would have thought that in order to release my solo record I would have to read up on what happens when two all too similar waves collide… the Mountains and Valleys my music consists of when translated into the real world are picky, but at least by the time I have figured out the engineering aspects of this I will have recorded every guitar a thousand times, so in the end it is for the best of this record. Horaaay!

Much Love,

J

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Scio Non Scio

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The more you know, the less you know. The more I read up on recording, the more I find out that I don’t know shit about what I am doing here. Thank god I’m stubborn enough to hope that if I just trust my ears, and think a lot before I press the record button, it will not suck too hard.

In the metal bands I played in we used to record something and then we tried to make it sound good. That took months, and we were never really happy with it, because by the time we were finished everything was compressed and eq’ed to death. Nowadays I try to record something that sounds exactly the way I want, so I just have to take care of details afterwards. I just don’t know enough to ‘fix it in the mix’. What I am good at is listening if a mic or a room sound right, and so I have to take care of that more. To a professional engineer this is entry level bullshit, but for me this actually quite a revelation.

I try to approach recording like taking a picture of a painting. It can take months to finish said painting, but once that is done, all you have to chose is a good camera and a good perspective. I hope I am right about this.

I can’t wait until I can finally start mixing! Waaaah!

Love,

J

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Pissing Into The Ocean, or How To Embrace The Internet

Hey everyone,

I just read a very interesting article over at the trichordist concerning how the music business changed and how far off the general opinion on this is from what we, the  musicians, live with every day. Well written and informative.

But to be honest, I am sick of it. I am sick of reading comments by trolls who don’t know shit about the realities of this business, but I am also sick of complaining about the greedy downloaders. The audience changed a lot since 2000, and the path to making a living off of music narrowed to a pretty thin line that forces some of the best musicians I know to downgrade music to a hobby. But for now, I am sick of hearing both sides scream at each other.

Andrew Dubber is a very smart person who published a great e-book on coming to grips with the possibilites and pitfalls of the internet. This ebook (you can download it for free, or pay as much as you like, support!) opened my eyes to some mistakes I made over the years, and really helped me accept the internet for what it is: an almost omnipotent tool. A dangerous one at that, and a tool that suddenly EVERYBODY uses. As a musician you have to learn how to use it to your own advantage or die trying.

The main reason why I do everything on my own is that I could never afford to do it otherwise. I have to learn to record and produce and blog and distribute my own songs, because the old system where the artist just took care of the art, and the labels took care of the business is dead. At least if you don’t want to pay for making your own music. The internet took away most of our income, but it handed us new ways to produce and distribute music in exchange. It was never this cheap to produce your own music on your laptop. Apart from my investments in recording gear (laptop, preamp, mic, programs, cables around 2000$) and my instruments I have no additional costs if I do it on my own.

Some of the new tools I use:

Bandcamp allows me to release the music for free, and in amazing sound quality: 24bit/96khz (horay!!)
Studio time, engineer, musicians, mastering, label code, pressing the cds, pressing royalties of 1 $ per cd, printing the booklet, yada yada, comes down to somewhere between 10.000 and 30.000 bucks, and that is for a small production.

– WordPress and Facebook help me document this process, and they cost nothing (except for my data of course…)
I am an idiot when it comes to HTML, let alone CSS or whatever the current language of choice is. A webpage that looks half as good as this blog (I slightly  tweaked a template called CHUNK) would cost me 1000-2000 bucks.

– Thanks to REAPER, I can produce my own music for a license that cost me 40 bucks.
Logic is getting cheaper all the time, but ten years ago I had to use a cracked version of logic 4 because it was either pirating this or not making any music at all. Nowadays I pay for every licence I use, because what’s the point complaining if you don’t…

– The internet holds LOADS of free vst-plugins that make production on zero budget doable.

– An app called camera awesome allows me to filter and edit my photos that make this blog a little more fun to look at, and it cost me 2 bucks. Another 1000 bucks saved on photoshop.

The internet forces me to minimize my budget, so I have less to spend on the tools I use, and that is bad for the producers of great plugins, editing software, mastering software and so on. Also, even if I give my best, I cannot claim to be anywhere as good as a professional in any of these crafts. But that is what the internet forces me do.

I have a lot more responsibility that way, and a lot of additional stuff I have to be good at, but I have absolute control over everything, and all I have to invest is a LOT of my time, and a lot of energy. It would have been easier for me the the old way, and I am sure that with a budget of 15.000 the recording would sound better, but the experiences I make along the way make me a better artist, and make this whole experience so much more ME that I think it is worth it.

For now I have given up on measuring success by the profit I make. Your attention is all I have for now. Thanks a million for it.

Love,

J

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