Monthly Archives: July 2012

Publishing yourself on the Internet: Part 1

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The ocean is both mind-boggingly vast and seemingly empty in its sheer massive size. I can stare into it for hours and never get tired of this roaring perpetuum mobile, everchanging and yet the same.

The same holds true for the world wide web. While it is quite a fascinating whirl of information to get lost in it is very hard to a) see all of it at the same time and b) make yourself heard over the roaring noise it produces.

I myself produce my very own noises right now and as that process nears completion my mind wanders off to another question: how the hell do I make myself heard? It seems that nobody really has a clue how to manufacture viral although there are folks that charge you ridiculous amounts of money for that promise. My budget (zero) doesn’t allow for that sort of highway-robbery anyway.

Well. I can make use of this blog, facebook, youtube, my contacts, to contact the people, the bands and the labels I know in the hope that it helps. Two problems here: I myself can’t stand those “hear my new song” spammers that bombard you with the same (!) song for months on end. The other problem is that I suck as hard at the business side of music as I enjoy its creative side.

That tells me one thing: if I want to succeed in promoting this I will have to be creative about it. Kickstarter won’t make sense yet, but I’ll go there for the other EPs. Maybe anonymous want to hack google and put my link on their startpage, that would make me a rich man in seconds, but as that won’t happen I’ll have to find something else.

All I have to offer is content. Music and my thoughts on it, some fotos, videos, blogs, all of which I can easily but time-consumingly manufacture at home without a budget.

I am open to every idea, and will let you know any good one that I have in the following days.I have a gig in Switzerland to play now, gotta go,

Love,

J

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Songwriting again, and again.

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I did it again.

I have been fighting with a song for about a year now, went through endless versions none of which actually worked and was about to quit on it yesterday. If a song doesn’t work after a day I usually let it go, because some do after 10 minutes, and i’d rather write five songs a month and chose the best two than waste my time on just one.

So yesterday I threw away four sessions of vocals, three sessions of acoustic guitars, the bass, actually the whole arrangement, and started from scratch. Again.

Usually you record, then you mix, edit some stuff and that’s it. During the mixing and editing I often find parts, chords, words that could have been done better, but you cannot, because you are already mixing it. I have worked on this song for so long now that I know the exact phrasing of every single note, and so I started again and had the guitars, bass and vocals rerecorded in two hours, all of them a lot better than their predecessors.

Dissecting and rearranging again and again can be a sign that you don’t know where to go with a song. Usually that is just a waste of time. But this final time was not because I knew exactly what I wanted.

There is another benefit of not letting go: In my frustration over this one song that just wouldn’t work I wrote TWO new songs in less than two hours each, one last tuesday and the other one monday night. I think they are the best songs I’ve ever written. Both will be on the EP, which hereby extends to 6 songs. One more week to finish them, the other four are pretty much done.

Love,

J

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Reaper Tips and Tricks: Memory issues

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Today I got my Komplete Ultimate Sample Library.

I had been looking forward to get that for quite some time, and until the end of July they have a 50% off -offer, so I went for it. After an hour or so of installing this 200gb-monster I started fooling around with some of the plug-ins, trying to replace some of my older sample libraries (like the cakewalk center that came with my ua-25ex-interface) and suddenly I was in Reaper-Crash-Country.

I must have restarted my computer, my interface and/or my Reaper around 50 times until I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and then I spent an hour researching my problem: Reaper thinks he runs out of memory, tells me that he cannot “allocate” enough of it and crashes. Funny thing was, I could actually set a timer, because soon as I added an effect from Komplete the Memory usage went up and up and up and up and then it hit a brick wall at around 1,4 gb ram and went poof.

As I run Reaper on a 32-bit Windows 7 I do have limited RAM (4GB) but up until now that never was a problem. Until now.

Should you ever run into that problem, you might consider several options:

a) upgrade your system to 64bit and 8gb, that should solve anything. Thorough but problematic.

b) right-click on any fx you want to add, and ‘run as’, and run it as a ‘seperate process’. That way Reaper won’t grow beyond proportion and hit that memory-per-process-brickwall.

c) don’t use fx or sample libraries. like, at all.

d) enable the 3gb-per-process-switch of your Windows. THIS eventually solved my problem for good. My Reaper tops out at 2,8 gb memory usage now, and everything is back to normal.

During that learning curve up there I considered throwing away what was to be the core song of this ep because it just went from bad to worse, and I don’t seem to be able to make it work. So I grudgingly decided to write yet another song. None of the ones I already have fit into the concept of the EP. That song turned out quite well, actually I think its a breakthrough in my songwriting, but it is too early to tell. If, by the end of the week, it still works as well as I think it does now I will have to include 6 songs on the first EP.

Interesting times indeed,

Love,

J

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Reaper Tips and Tricks: Recording Acoustic Guitars

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I just finished recording the fifth and final song of the EP and I finally found my perfect formula for recording them acoustic guitars.

I put one Rode NT5 (pencil style condenser) over my right shoulder, and the NT-1a (large diaphragm condenser) in front of the guitar, as can be seen on the picture above. I have tried every combination of mics and placements, near and far, stereo, mono, dynamic, condenser, you name it, and they never sounded like I heard my guitar. I figured that might be because I hear my guitar from above and not from the front, so I hoped putting a mike close to my ears might solve the problem, and tadaaa, it did. This is not my invention of course, but I recommend trying that to anyone who needs a single acoustic guitar to really stand out in a song.

I had rehearsed that piece for a day and wanted to do it in one take only, to keep it fresh, but when I was done I heard that I have a lot of click on my shoulder mic. That click bleed is a common problem when you record silent passages of a piece, and thank god I read something about that a week ago. My shoulder mic is very close to my right ear (that was the whole point) and my headphones are a lot closer to the mic than the guitar, so I used my in-ear headphones instead, and had no bleed whatsoever.

Some few additional vocals and a little more mixing and the record is done. I never thought I’d see that day… 7 days to go.

Love,

J

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Some Thoughts on Songwriting

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This is a very personal matter, so there are as many approaches to writing a song as there are personalities. I cannot tell anyone how he should do his stuff, but this is how I approach mine:

I always write chronologically.
Most of the songs I write start at the beginning. Once I have an intro that sets the mood, I do the verse, then I try to envision what I would like to hear after the verse and so on until the end. In doing so I follow the emotional curve of a song more like a creative listener, and less like the actual writer. I open my ears and try to hear how it goes on. That works a LOT better than my older approaches of throwing some ideas in roughly the same time and key together in the hope that they will make sense if connected smartly enough.

The other thing I learned about writing songs in this process is that your intuition can mislead you if you don’t know how to read it. I often find it hard to write vocal lines that really work, because not every melody you come up with is actually meant to be sung. Sometimes I mistake a line that might work perfectly in the background, played by some woodwinds, for a vocal melody in a chorus. That took me a long time to understand.

The last epiphany I have to share today is an uplifting thought about the ‘objective quality’ of a song that you write, i.e., the question if it is ‘a good song that people will like.’ today music is offered in such an endlessly pluralistic kaleidoscope of ranges and colours that it doesn’t really matter what you do, somebody will like it anyway. I somehow get the feeling that music was never less limited in style as it is now, with everybody doing their own stuff at home on a low budget. Making a living off of a song or a band is on a different page, but finding someone who appreciates it is not. Horay for pluralism!

Love,

J

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Reaper Tips and Tricks: Mix it in the Fix

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Once upon a time I read that several people who really know their way around a mixing console mix with their microphones. That makes a lot of sense in my philosophy:

1. YOU CAN’T FIX IT IN THE MIX
I try to record my stuff the way I want it to sound later on. You can do a LOT with fx, but you can’t fix everything. I have a vocal track that is just the performance I wanted, but I must have set up the mic the wrong way round and now I have to redo it because there is no way I can make it fit in the mix like this. I tried all kinds of eqs and rooms, to no avail. boohoo.

2. MICROPHONES CAN BE EQs
Today I recorded the verse of a song with a sct-800 through a uad preamp, and the chorus with a rode nt-1a straight into my rme babyface. The latter was a lot brighter, and so the vocals stood out in the chorus and blended in in the verse without any additional eq on the track they share. Horay!

3. PLACEMENT MATTERS
I wrote a song the other day, and I need to record an acoustic guitar for that, and this time I will set up two microphones, each close to one of my ears, because up here my guitar sounds great. Seriously, fuck dogma. I wonder if that will work, but from my experiences in the last weeks everything is possible.

4. YOU CAN FIX IT IN THE MIX
I managed to record some of my guitars all too well. My Furch Jumbo has lots of treble, and 2 Neumann condensers in xy record that treble very accurately. In strum parts that can sound unbearably harsh, and I was afraid I might even have to re-record those guitars one more time, but with a dreadnought and some tube mics to keep the treble at bay… And then I just made a high cut at 15k and pushed 2k by 4 db and the problem was solved. Once more, fuck dogma.

Especially if it’s your own.

Love,

j

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Reaper Tips and Tricks: Mixing it in the box

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After some very tumultous 14-hour days of recording and rerecording and mixing a little I have 4 songs almost done, 3 of them approaching final mixes. On the way I made some discoveries I’d like to share with you:

If the mix is too muddy, you might want to check your vocals or anything else that you sprinkle with reverb. Every reverb changes the frequencies, and I sometimes use a bright reverb instead of an eq to make a track brighter. That being said, some of the bigger reverbs add a LOT of low end. To get that under control have an additional eq at the very end of the FX chain with just a low cut to clean the mix.

If your mix is too loud (yes, that IS possible!) make a huge group of everything that sounds balanced together. Take those tracks and drag them into a new track, making that track a group of all the others. Instead of decreasing the volume of each track seperately, most likely destroying the mix on the way, you can just pull down this internal master fader by 2 db and keep the mix. I usually have the vocals in one group, and the rest of the music in another.

De-essers rock. I had a quite traumatizing experience with those when the singer of the first recording I played was reduced to a lisping gnome by one of those. But yesterday I realized that I can make my vocals much louder and still pleasant if I just de-es them a little.

To any pro this is pretty basic stuff, but I still hope this helps someone out there.

Love,

J

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Reaper Tips and Tricks: Pitch Correction

I learned something today: doing a record alone forces you into schizophrenia.

The fun part is reconciling those different personalities. As a singer, I am strictly against any kind of pitch correction software. As a producer I could sometimes kill myself for ruining an otherwise perfect take with that one flat note that kills the feeling of said take. As a musician, I cannot afford Melodyne. As a songwriter I just want to get the emotional narrative across, no matter what it takes.

Sometimes all it takes to make a vocal take WORK would be a little push upwards of 15 cents of a semitone. That could be done by melodyne or any other pitch-correction software, but the singer in me insisted on getting a chance to do it right without that. And yet, I am not the pitch-perfect Jeff-Buckley-with-balls singer I’d love to be, so a little something I found may come in handy when I mix this next week:

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REAPER is the working environment of my choice, try it if you haven’t yet. Somewhere under day 3 they mention a pitch envelope. You can see how you get that in the picture above: you right-click on a sound item, go to the item properties and click on take envelopes. There you choose ‘Take pitch envelope’, and a mysterious horizontal line appears. Holding shift you can add envelope points and move these around to shift a certain area of the item upwards or downwards pitch-wise.

What I like about it is that it doesn’t sound unnatural, because actually you don’t hear it as it is not automated. I have to find the off-note by ear, wiggle it around, and decide which sounds better. That helps me keep the feel of the take without giving it any of that autotune-stench-of-death. Not that I intend to use it much, or otherwise the singer in me will cry itself to sleep every night.

Love,

J

PS: 1000 views for this blog. horay!

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Shut up, Sisyphus.

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It is said that there are no detours.

While I have to say that I think that might be pseudo-esoteric bullcrap, this saying could be suitably applied to my last two days. Monday was spent recording four hours worth of vocals, none of which I can actually use. But in the process I rewrote the melodies and the lyrics to a point where I could redo all of them in less than an hour yesterday evening. I usually just sing my version of blablabla before I write lyrics, and it is always a very strenous but uplifting process to finally make a song say something lyrically.

Right now I get up, record some stuff before work, get home and record until my lovely wife goes to bed and then I mix until I go to bed. I hardly do any sports right now, which is what usually keeps me sane, but recording this is more important than sanity right now. I am starting to feel a little weird in the whole process but if I manage to keep this up I will be done by the end of next week.

Yesterday night, 5 minutes before our little “watching a series in bed until my girl falls asleep”-routine, I played something on my guitar for a moment. That moment was pretty sweet, I recorded it quickly and proceeded with above-mentioned routine. I do not want to write anything right now, because finishing what I already have takes up so much time. Especially the concluding song of the first EP is troubling me, as I don’t really know how to make the verse work with the chorus… While this train of thought went on, the little guitary idea I had just finished itself in the background. Sometimes my brain does that. This morning I decided to go with the new song, instead of spending a day to finish the old one I will just record this one, because it says what I want to say right now. The setting is pretty intimate, and rather low-fi, so I don’t have to go somewhere else to record the guitar for it.

Just 10 minutes ago I realized that I have a built-in microphone in my office laptop. As things are pretty quiet right now, I quickly programmed the guitar of that song on a midipiano in REAPER and finished the structure of the song, and now I will do the lyrics and some finishing touches on the melody. I sure look like quite the idiot, bent over the laptop in a rather unergonomic position to be as close to the mic as I can. Funs!

By tomorrow night I might have my record finished in terms of arrangement, composition and lyrics. Some more recording and production and then its up to you to tell me if this was worth my time.

Love,

J

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A marathon in a circle.

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I’m going slightly mad.

Yesterday I recorded vocals for ten hours straight, took a well-deserved break, and listened back to the stuff I did. I might not be able to use any of it. This whole project is at a point where I could really do with an outside opinion, or somebody standing beside me giving feedback on the stuff I do in front of the mic. Right now I do 6-8 takes of every track in my bedroom, and then I take that over to the music room where I transfer it to the desktop and listen through all of it, throwing away a lot in the process. I think I will try and do just one good track in my recording room, and work only with that one track. Might save me a lot of time.

I dissected 4 of the 5 songs I have on this EP, rewrote a lot of the lyrics and quite some of the music then I put them back together again keeping but few of the changes, hoping hard that this process makes the songs better. Sometimes I wonder if all that energy I waste right now will make a difference to anyone out there. I have about 30 tracks of vocals for the two songs I work on right now, and I’m afraid I will have to redo all of them. The lyrics, the melodies and the song structures work now, but the performance suffers. At least now I know exactly what I want and how I want it, so the rerecording should be a lot faster.

I just realized that I broke one of the most important rules: I have to seperate writing from recording. All I did yesterday was creative work, and not performing a song.  If only I had more time. Every free minute of every day goes into this, and right now it is geting a little frustrating because I don’t see enough progress and still so much to do… I’d love to be done recording by friday morning, as I will be on the road all weekend again.

And now back to my office job and finishing income tax for last year on the side.

Excuse the whining, everything will be fine by thursday, I know it.

Love,

J

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