strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Music

The Ratio of Response to Effort

As a creator it's always interesting to see the ratio of response to original material versus forwarded/shared material from other sources. I've heard about this from other creators as well, this phenomenon is described below by "Music Is Win" creator Tyler Larson. He is much more likely to get views/response/feedback for cover songs or some of the less serious, even incidental stuff he posts compared to something original that he toiled at for months or longer.

It just reinforces the idea that it's the work that's the joy, not the finished product and certainly not people's reaction to it. I linger on the very fringes of social media so I'm probably not comparable, but my most watched video by far is a sloppy cover of a zep tune recorded on a cheap webcam years ago. Part of that is the unpredictable nature of sharing and/or the way youtube will suggest or link videos. I could make more of an effort to share/"advertise" my videos, but my best efforts are still directed towards improving my craft. I should note that I realize a better song is going to get more views, so I'm not surprised that more people would be inclined to click on my cover of "Rock & Roll" than on my latest weirdly titled prog demo. 

Riff Rocker Untitled

Resumed working on a long dormant riff that I've actually had for many years. I put together a basic structure of the song several months ago (I think). I'm not sure when I got the time to patch together this very rough cut but the arrangement was pretty close to how I intend to keep it. I laid down several passes at the various parts on the Les Paul. I think I understand how many bands prefer to demo songs while on tour before they hit the studio to record them. Just messing around with the song for a few days has brought new ideas, plus it's helped the performance with the extra practice. 

Yesterday, my intent was just to get all the rhythm guitar parts finished and then maybe double track those with my Strat. I got sidetracked during the solo part and went ahead and started making some passes at that. I built on a solo idea I'd had started when I put together the first rough cut. I like the structure okay, but I need to practice it and I'll probably make a few tweaks to it before it's done. I played it on my Les paul, but I may try it on the various guitars to see if I have a preference.

After I've got a decent rough demo of the guitars I'll work on the bassline. Perhaps counterintuitive to how many songs are put together, but this song was written on the guitar so I decided to work on that first. I'm going to try and write and perform on the actual bass guitar this time. The last song was all written in midi and I never played the bass on it. This song is essentially just guitars, bass and drums. I'm leaning towards writing vocal melodies and lyrics and that will be the next big effort. 

WBU is finished, on to the next song...

I posted a lyric video of my recently a̶b̶a̶n̶d̶o̶n̶e̶d̶  completed song, Widow Black Unweeping. I decided to leave it as is, and although the mixing/mastering could probably use another set of ears I'm leaving it for now so I can focus on new music. I'm wondering if I'll eventually revisit some of these tunes in the future and re-record them from scratch. Possible, but not sure I want to go to that much additional work. I need to just keeping churning out new songs because I'm learning the process for all steps, not just the core of songwriting. Considering the end result, this song took entirely too long. I've heard Steven Wilson remark that if he can't finish a song in one day, he loses interest. That's an oversimplification since he's not talking about a completed song ready for release, but I imagine his demos still sound pretty amazing.

I'm going to strive to streamline my process. I decided during the last song that I want to try the writing/recording on Studio One and then send it to Pro Tools for mixing and mastering. Part of this was frustration with the Pro Tools interface and monitor management. Ironically, I've settled into a decent workaround for those issues that doesn't take too much effort so it may not be as critical. I'm still going to give it a go for the next tune and weigh the pros and cons after. I'm a fan of Studio Ones monitor management and that it can be altered for each song. There are still so many DAWs out there I haven't tried. I've wondered if Ableton Live, Cubase and a few of the other major players would offer me something I'm missing. My feeling is no, but the grass is greener, yada, yada, yada. I tried Reaper and it just wasn't working for me. Granted, I didn't put much effort into learning it. I really did like Logic and Final Cut on the mac, and if Apple releases a compelling desktop next year, I'll definitely consider using them again. Luckily PT and Studio One are cross platform so I could continue using those. 

Crimson musings

I finally got to see the legendary King Crimson led by the steady hand of the venerable Robert Fripp in Dallas this past Saturday. I waxed a bit poetic on el facebook:

A theater unto itself, a King Crimson concert is a humbling display of power, precision, and passion. At times subtle and delicate, but unfailingly relentless and implacable all the while. I sat in bewilderment, my attention passing quickly from musician to instrument and back again, barely able to keep up with their performances.

Moving from joy to sadness, from confusion to clarity, from gobsmacked to gleeful, I was blown away by this night. These world class musicians were a sight to behold and brought a wondrous spiritual rhapsody, of a kind I've never quite witnessed before. Thank you, gentlemen, thank you indeed.

Set 1:
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Cirkus
Neurotica
Fallen Angel
Epitaph
Discipline
Red
Islands
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

Set 2:
Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising
Easy Money
Indiscipline
The ConstruKction of Light (Part I)
Lizard
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Meltdown
Radical Action II
Level Five
Starless

Encore:
21st Century Schizoid Man

It was truly one of the most powerful shows I've ever attended, and judging from the audience response (a standing ovation after nearly every song) they felt the same way. I managed to sneak my way into Tony Levin's blog post about the show as seen in these photos. 

 

 

Revisions and Additions

I've had a few days away from "Widow Black Unweeping" (the song formerly known as Languid Licking Lollipop) and I've decided to revamp the vocals and some of the rhythmic elements. I'd say the proposed changes dials it back to about 80% complete because I'm not planning any other big changes. There are parts where the vocals and the rhythm seem to work against each other and some of that is predicated by how wordy the song is. I'll try and simplify some of the rhythms in the more wordy sections and see if that helps. If not I may trim down the lyrics as well. 

The vocal melodies in both the verses and choruses are just not powerful enough (from an emotional standpoint, but that could probably also be said about the delivery). I need to work on some sort of slamming chorus that really notches up the energy level and it's probably going to overshadow what was the original riff idea. That riff is okay on its own, but it doesn't seem to work as the main energy of the chorus. The verse melodies might not need as much of an overhaul, but they need some work because I don't sound comfortable singing them and they need a little more emotional energy. 

As I've stated in the past, I really learn the best lessons by first doing things wrong or at least inefficiently. Before I invested any time into production and mixing, I should have really focused on core song structure and made sure that it was connecting emotionally. I'll have to develop a workflow for more efficiently demoing tracks before I invest too much time in recording and producing them. It seemed to work out okay with Rascal's Refrain, but maybe it was just a better song and maybe I just got lucky. 

I've also begun work on another tune that had been lying dormant for several years. It was also born of a riff, and I had previously put together an entire song structure minus lyrics/vocals. I'm still thinking I want it to have vocals, but I'm not sure what they're going to be about. Instead of working exclusively on one track,  I want to mix it up a bit so things seem more fresh when I come back to them. I'll still likely finish WBU first, but I want to give myself breaks from the monotony of one song. 

A new domain, a new semester and Father John Misty

Sauntering into October, and fall can't be more welcome. The news cycle is a continuous barrage of gloom, doom and cheeto in chief's continuous upstaging of the last unbelievably stupid and callous comment or decision he made. It's impossible to process in real time, so I disconnect. Luckily I've had some great music by which to achieve this, including one of the better shows in a long time, Father John Misty at The Bomb Factory. I went with a group of friends including the brothers Garrett who originally turned me on to him. He's an old soul, wrapped in beautiful nihilism laden with gallows humor in a sumptuous sonic feast. Some of the best new music I've heard in years. No rest for the weary music fan as I begin pre-loading for prog titans King Crimson in a few weeks. 

I'm hoping for an email from a domain registrar to offer my long sought after domain for pyramidgrid.com. I've been trying for a few years since the name occurred to me and it's about to come available. I'm not sure how the current registrar got my information, but I received an email indicating it would be up for sale soon, so I'm trying to complete the purchase. This will be my ostensibly prog group name/page, not sure exactly how I'm going divide up my songs as an artist at present since I don't have enough of a catalog of songs to really worry about it yet. A concern for another day. 

I just started the fall semester at Berklee last week and it's already proving fruitful. I'm taking a harmony class as well as acoustic guitar techniques. We jumped right into alternate tunings the first week and it's proven inspirational for composition. Our first assignment was to post an original song using the tunings and I had already jotted down a basic idea while noodling. It's a short song in open D tuning that I plan on developing further in the future. A good week. 

Nut Cutter

Nut Cutter

 

Chorus
When you pull up on those jeans and they're bulging at the seams
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you’re cruising at the mall and your jeans are way too small
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Verse
When your Wranglers are too tight
And your crotch a bulbous fright
Why you need a belt god only knows

Peacocks spread their feathers wide
Up that crack the jeans will ride
Feathered hair, concert tees and camel toes

Chorus
When you're walking through your school and exposing all your tools
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you're sitting there in class with a bulging pelvic mass
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Bridge
Alex Lifeson wrapped in silk
Ivory slacks flowed like milk
His samite streams forked below the belt

Derek Small in more than name
Form fitting jeans revealed his shame
Until a cucumber would save the day

Chorus

When your kibbles and bits are giving people fits
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When your one eyed trouser snake triggers the shakes
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When you go to the show with a raging camel toe
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
It's really not that nice to wear a denim vice
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When your splitting at the seams and the girls start to scream
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you show your wedding tackle and the ladies start to cackle
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Not quite the end of summer

August is winding down, but we're still stuck in the middle of the sweltering season. Here in the south that typically runs year round with a few months break that we affectionately refer to as "Winter" but can include temps in the 70s and even 80s. At some point in my lifetime, this is probably going to just change to Summer Light as we will have done away with any temperatures remotely resembling winter. 

I got the 65 Amps cabinet and installed it in my now nominal amp iso room (closet). I don't have the setup totally settled just yet. I'm putting an iso pad like I have for my subwoofer in the home theater to minimize the low end. I'm debating whether to place a few of my bass traps in there as well.  I need to engage in some cable management for that room as well as where I have the amp head in my control room. I gave the setup a few run throughs and my basic impression is that it sounds wonderful. I just very basically placed the two microphones and haven't taken the time to adjust their positions to find the best sound. I'm getting a Dynamount system to make this process much easier. 

The Dynamount is a "robot" controlled mounting system for microphones that allows you to move the microphone through 2 or 3 axes depending on the model. You can mount it horizontally or vertically and this gives the choice of horizontal, vertical or proximity as well as rotation. I'm probably going to go with the proximity option (you have to choose between having the robot system flat or vertical and this determines if you'll get the vertical or proximity option).  My 65 Amps cabinet is a 1x12 so I'm pretty sure I'll get more tonal variety out of proximity than vertical. Right now I've just gotten the one system and I plan to use it for the Royer 122. I'll likely add a second system in the future.  

https://dynamount.com/ 

 

Checking In...

No huge developments since the last post. I'm at the end of my week off, and we're going to see Australian Pink Floyd tonight. I willingly skipped Fleet Foxes last night. A combination of feeling a bit worn out and being ambivalent on the band, especially considering the likely indie crowd at the Bomb Factory. The last show with a similar demographic I saw there (Sigur Ros) was about 30% people who apparently just wanted an air conditioned spot off the street to get drunk and run their mouths. Not a great combination for concert enjoyment. 

I've made a bit more progress on Languid Licking Lollipop. I'm trying to deliberately set aside time at the beginning of my practice day to work on the song. I've had a recurring issue lately with fatigue and headaches which although not severe, has been just enough to suck away my creative will and shorten my practice days. I'm trying to prioritize those days so I can at least get some work done before calling it quits. I know myself well enough that if I'm not feeling well, I'm not likely to have a productive practice or writing session. 

I'm still figuring out workflow both from a physical/studio space standpoint as well as how I approach song construction. I've made some changes to the vocal booth to facilitate using the computer while I'm tracking vocals. I put my little M Audio midi controller (25 key) in there so I can sketch out melodies as I work on a song. I'm not that competent of a vocalist and writer of vocal melodies that I can just go in an wing a vocal and have it sound good. I usually hear the basic outline of the melody in my head, but it takes a few iterations of trying to sing it and then figuring out the actual melody on the keyboard so I can record a basic midi version as a pitch reference. I've also taken to using Melodyne for the same reason. I laid down some scratch vocals and then pitch corrected them to use as a training tool. It also allows me to experiment with moving the melody around to get an idea of how it will sound. 

I used Melodyne on Rascal's Refrain to figure out harmonies and I think I will continue to do that. I also had a small eureka moment (I'm setting the bar very low here) when I remembered I still have the TC Helicon vocal processor which will automatically create harmonies and other cool vocal effects. I'm not sure whether it will be good enough to use for final takes, but this will allow to quickly record harmonies and other effects to a separate track which will give me more options during mixing. I needed some more TRS cables to run from the Helicon to the UAD Apollo, so I'm waiting on those. 

Speaking of waiting, my 65 Amps cabinet was finally delivered to Sweetwater and was supposed to come this Monday. As luck would have it, it's showing as out for delivery by FedEx today, so I'm now waiting for the truck to show up since it requires a signature. The last time we had a signature delivery was also a concert night and I think we missed the driver by less than thirty minutes. There's a good chance this will happen again if he comes after 6pm. Once I do get the cabinet, it's going in my amp ISO closet where I've already run the cables for the Royer 122 and SM 57. I had bought a bookshelf several weeks ago and that's where I'll put the Hughes & Kettner amp head. This will give me another tonal option as well as hopefully providing a bit of a buffer for the loud electric guitar noise. 

Making Time for Writing

Time management is a challenge for us all I suppose. Even with a significantly reduced work schedule, it's not uncommon that I feel the weight of competing demands on my available time. I've had a long history (going back 13+ years since I resumed guitar) of practicing most days (typically a minimum of six days a week, with a rare break usually because of some other significant commitments).  For the longest time I was content with this schedule as I was just trying to get better at my instrument. 

As the years have passed I've added instruments (piano, bass, drums, vocals) and so practice time has gotten increasingly precious. Since starting at Berklee I also have the competing needs of schoolwork. This can occasionally be all encompassing when it's a big project. I've usually reconciled with lost practice time in this case because I'm still learning something of value towards my ultimate goal of becoming a better musician, songwriter, producer, etc. 

I've now had the taste of "finishing" a complete song. This is ultimately what it's all about for me, the ability to create something that only I can create. I've always been a creative person and it's in these moments of creativity that I get truly lost and can't measure the passage of time. However, the work of songwriting through to the finished song can also involve much of the technical and this can become tedious at times. 

On to the point. I've given myself a goal of trying to "finish" a song a week. Considering my total output up to this point, that's very lofty I know. I don't mean ready for public consumption, necessarily, but at least to rough demo form where the song structure has been finished and I've recorded working versions of the various parts. Experience is the best teacher I've found, and if I want to get better at songwriting I need to keep doing it as a regular part of my schedule. 

My desire is just keeping cracking at it and I'm confident with time that I'll be able to streamline more of the technical and focus more on the creative. I often refer back to a quote I heard from Brad Paisley that he attributed to a Nashville songwriter (can't remember the name but he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame), and that is "the first two hundred don't count."  While that may seem extreme, it's an absolute truth that if you write two hundred songs, number two hundred and one will likely be significantly better than your first. 

My plan going forward is to start treating songwriting like I treat my practice or even a job. I can spontaneously come up with ideas on a regular basis, but to finish a song requires some elbow grease. I'm hoping that by making it a required part of my daily schedule that I can start moving that song count towards the goal of two hundred and more. 

Learning NEW MATERIAL

A repeating theme I've learned over the years of practicing is that learning new material is one of the most rewarding aspects to musicianship. This is especially true if it's something I'm learning by ear. One of the biggest challenges has been to sound out harmonically complex piano music. I'm guilty of always looking for a sheet music version of something but there are still several tunes or at least versions of tunes I love that have never been offered as sheet music. This is especially true on live arrangements by artists like Rick Wakeman and other improvisers. 

I'm trying to make it a regular part of my practice to incorporate learning new material by ear, at least on piano and guitar. These skills only improve through repetition, and although it's very incremental and almost impossible to discern at times, I do notice a gradual improvement. I suppose this would be ostensibly for the ultimate goal of becoming a better and more rounded musician, but I've also always felt immediate satisfaction for even the smallest bits of a new song I'm learning. Learning a new song for me feels like tapping into the mystical, almost. It's the muggle equivalent of learning a new spell. 

Learning from Mistakes

It's really the most effective way, in my experience. The errors of the past are the things that stick in your memory and typically bring about the most change. This particular episode was my very simple and ostensibly easy Guitar Scales assignment 3 this week. I thought I'd be clever and convert the sheet music over to Sibelius and then import that into Guitar Pro so I could practice along with it before recording myself playing the assignment. 

The problem was that I didn't proofread it, probably because I was in a hurry and it's a pretty simple piece of music that I honestly didn't think Sibelius (via Photoscore) would screw up. Well, I was wrong. Got a B- on the assignment because I played it wrong - the imported version got several note values and positions wrong. I'm not sure what the instructor really thought, as he just commented that I had played the wrong note values. It almost sounded like he thought I had just performed them out of time. Regardless, the grade was fair because I failed to play what was on the sheet. I can just imagine the tone of a professor in a more rigid program a la Julliard or the resident Berklee classes. 

I frankly think he was diplomatic about the whole thing. I'm going to re-record it and submit, although I'm not sure he'll change my grade. I'll explain that it was my error for not proofreading and see how far that gets me. Lesson learned - never assume these technical tools can't make mistakes. Which, I normally don't, but when you're in a hurry it's easy to make stupid errors like this. 

Hans Zimmer

 

We had a great time and really enjoyed Hans Zimmer last night at Verizon. We managed to get front row seats through the regular ticket sales (without any VIP upgrade nonsense) and it was nice to have an unobstructed view of the entire show. I'm not sure of the exact number, but there were probably about fifty musicians and choir on stage. The primary players included Guthrie Govan on lead guitar right in front of us, so that was quite cool. He had several solos. There were about fifteen "lead" players who were featured at various points and they were all amazing. The Gladiator medley was a highlight, but really the entire show was phenomenal. So cool to see film soundtrack music live, a pretty unique experience for us. Aeyong really enjoyed the show as well, which is always a bonus considering how many shows we see that are more my taste than hers. In the past few years, I've deliberately only bought her a ticket if I think she will enjoy the show. There are several shows that I know will probably be a negative experience for her (gen adm standing, really heavy music a la Opeth, etc.). It's great when I feel like we both equally enjoyed a show, and this was one of those. The set list is an approximation I think. It's taken from a recent show, and I'm not well versed in Han's music to the point I'm fully confident in its accuracy. It's pretty close to what they played though. 

 

 

Driving

Discombobulate

Rescue Me / Zoosters Breakout

Roll Tide

160 BPM

The Wheat

The Battle

Now We Are Free

Chevaliers de Sangreal

Circle of Life Intro

King of Pride Rock

This Land

Circle of Life Reprise

Jack Sparrow

Marry Me

He's a Pirate

Intermission

You're So Cool

Rain Man Theme

Thunderbird

What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?

Is She With You?

The Electro Suite

Journey to the Line

Why So Serious / Like a Dog Chasing Cars / Why Do We Fall?

Fear Will Find You / The Fire Rises / Gotham's Reckoning

Aurora

Day One

No Time for Caution

Stay

Encore - Inception Medley

Half Remembered Dream

Dream Is Collapsing

Mombasa

Time

Languid Licking Lollipop

A work in progress. Again born of a riff that I think heard while running one day years ago. This will sort of fall somewhere between EDM/metal unless the song leads elsewhere, as it sometimes does.

The lyrics are deliberately alliterative and chosen as much for prosody as relevance. The genesis was finding phrases to fit the rhythm, nothing more grandiose than that. The grandiosity always comes later. As JRR said, the tale grew in the telling. A bit pretentious (understatement of the week) in its execution, but I don't care because I'm in this for my own entertainment. Not to be taken too seriously is all I'm saying.

Here's what I have so far, edits are likely. I don't have a name for the tune yet, although I may go with the title of this post. This will make slightly more sense when put to music, and the structure of the song is mostly complete, although that will likely also undergo further development as I record it. 

__________________________

Languid Licking Lollipop💃

Him

Intro

surreptitious schemer
chuckle chortle chatter
lambskin latent lupine
tickle tailored tatter

Verse 1

slipping slinking foot pads
drowned out by the noise
bacchanalia ballyhoo
garish girls brainless boys

stare slowly sweeping
focus coalesce
sneaking snicker sweetlings
aggress and possess

Chorus 1

languid licking lollipop
brashly braying bebop
furtive glance commence dance
sugar sweet soda pop

Her

Pre Verse (intro 2)

maiden meekly modest
demur delicate
duplicitous drapery
simulated celibate

Verse 2

dark path descending
concealed crimson cape
purity pretending
trace hint of lace

stare slowly sweeping
chance opportunity
cocksure closer creeping
ensare with impunity

Chorus 2

red riding randy
deadly deeds dandy
silken thighs conceal surprise
covet carnal candy

Verse 3

raven black hair
world weary eyes
aristocratic air
admirable prize

cocksure closer creeping
comely coquette
paradoxical prey
concealed crimson corset

Chorus 3

beastly bilking milkshake
craving carnal cupcake
bombshell sweetmeat sells
no foot on the heartbrake

Verse 4

too late the tell
madness in her eyes
wariness awoken
wolf in sheep's disguise

cocksure captured sleeping
now fully ensnared
widow black unweeping
victory declared

Bridge

tickle tailgate truncate
primitive the primate
monopolize the mandate
prognosticate prevaricate
consecrate and consummate
intoxicate then copulate
obfuscate and confiscate
propagate then dominate

Verse 5

dark fate befallen
sadness in her eyes
another foe defeated
sixpence none the wise

sowing precedes reaping
longer grows a list
widow black unweeping
silhouette fades to mist

Chorus 4

languid licking lollipop
lupine transform lambchop
game of chance blame romance
sugar sweet soda pop

languid licking lollipop
rock until the ball drops
hidden strings deadly sting
sugar sweet soda pop

__________________________________________

The rest of these are leftovers that I liked but couldn't find a specific use. They work with the music but otherwise don't make particular sense in the narrative. Not that the previous lyrics made a lot of sense either.

mango bongo dingo
the postman’s name was Ringo
he leashed a pink flamingo
mango bongo dingo

freaking leaking tweaking
flying through a window
sneaking creaking squeaking
cagey clever widow

Mabel was quite able
to clean up her table
her mink coat was sable
her thoughts unstable

powdered feathered scattered
thoughts are all akimbo
glassy trinkets shattered
slipping tripping limbo

speculations fabrications
plots run amok
machinations conflagrations
design or dumb luck

brazen battered hardcore
choking cloaking bedsore
thunder crashes nevermore
brazen battered hardcore

kilgore bangalore manticore
he knocked upon the wrong door
they nailed his head into the floor
kilgore bangalore manticore

Rascal's Refrain Reprise

So, I "finished" this version of the tune. I started to work on a video with After Effects but quickly became mired since I don't know the program yet. I decided to throw together a basic lyric video and post that to Youtube and share on Facebook. I'll start watching some AE tutorials here shortly once I finish this semester's homework and finally get around to filing my taxes. I plan on revisiting the tune in the future. There are definitely things I want to add as well as things I'll likely re-do, mainly the guitar solo. I'll probably let it gel for now and start working on another tune. I think some time away will give me a better perspective on the tune. I plan on restructuring the ramped up intro and adding some small electric guitar accents to the later verses. I also still wanted to double track with my Les Paul or something different from my strat just to add some more color. 

 

Rascal's Refrain

I'm taking a class called Recording and Producing in the Home Studio this semester. The course centers around developing a song from scratch until it's ostensibly ready for commercial release. I chose a song that had come from a guitar riff and chord progression several years ago. I had come up with it while noodling (as you do) and fairly quickly had an idea of what the song might be about. I never got around to developing it because I didn't think I was ready and then when I eventually learned about this course I decided to save it for that. In the past several weeks I've created a rough draft of the tune and it's gone through a series of re-writes based on the instructor's feedback. So far the response has been pretty positive and he's made some good suggestions.

I had penned scratch lyrics to this a few years ago and then once or twice I had re-visited them for a bit. I've come up with nearly the finalized version, although changes to the song arrangement are still possible and that might necessitate more editing to the lyrics. I posted the lyrics to Facebook and got some positive comments from a few friends. This was nice as they are part of what the song is about. It's a nostalgic nod to the high school and pre-Army years in which I spent all of my free time listening to music, partying, and trying to attend as many live shows as possible. Not much has changed. Here's the current version of the lyrics as of today:

 

Rascal's Refrain

Smoke filled Pontiac traveling east
Fleeing the suburbs, evading police
Another world in that little car
No haze could obscure a sky full of stars

David’s hunky dory when London calls
We’re Miles ahead when Wichita Falls
Kate’s running uphill hounds in tow
After work we'll catch a show

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
then fall to the ground

Clearview, Arcadia, Bronco Bowl
Seeing every band, our only goal
Smoky clubs and raucous crowds
Take heed now, it might get loud

Pat & Ornette on New Year’s Eve
A Caravan of Dreams departs the scene
Stumbled down an alley, fell in a hole
Late for work with blood on my clothes

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
Then fall to the ground

Skippy’s was just one mistake
Out of many they made

Vagabonds and wastrels
Derelicts distasteful

Blackout driving
Devils walking with a grin
Their feats will astound, no one in this town

Raise your glass
To yesteryear's past, dead and gone

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

Back to music centric posting...

I finally posted my Life On Mars cover video (version 3.5) to youtube and shared it on facebook. I decided to just post it as is in the weekend before I resumed my studies at Berklee. I knew I wouldn't have the luxury of time once classes got rolling. At the time I had a few run throughs of the mix, but planned on re-visiting the audio mix at the end of the semester. That's still the plan as of now. I've already learned a lot in the past few weeks so I'm confident I can obtain a much better result at that point. 

I'm not happy with the musical performances, but they do represent what I was able to create given a short window of time. I performed most of the parts on individual days (I think I performed both the drums and bass on the same day?) and then worked on the audio mix and video edits on subsequent days. My approach for videos has been to keep performing entire takes until I get one that is acceptable and stopping there. I'll have to figure out tactics for punch in type approaches for video. Recording myself performing the music on video/audio is a complicated process and that's when I'm capturing complete live takes. If I were to attempt to capture punch ins like I can do with audio, that would add just another layer of complexity that I'm not really ready to take on for a cover video. I might consider this for my own music in the future, but then I would likely not try to present the performance as a continuous unedited take. 

The response was generally positive from some close friends. I think the ones who actually took the time to comment were doing out of friendship as much as their actual enjoyment of the performance. I still appreciated it though, my overall ego is fairly bullet proof but my artist ego is a delicate flower at times. The musicians and musicophiles from whom I was hoping for feedback gave it the standard facebook "like" but didn't comment. I'm assuming that's their diplomatic way of telling me I need to keep working on my craft. And I appreciate that. My ears are good enough to know my version isn't going to make it on any top 100 Bowie Covers lists, for that matter it wouldn't make it on a top 100 Life On Mars covers list. But it's a work in progress and this represents a moment in time. A few short years ago I wouldn't have been capable of putting together, and I would have been lacking in the confidence to share it with anyone. 

Midsummer(ish) Update

Work continues on the Life On Mars cover video. I actually had a "complete" version of all the music, and was relatively happy with it. But, in one of many learning points during this project, I gave a listen to the original (which I should have been doing more often) and realized my intro was just too fast of a tempo. I had tried various ways to approach the order in which I laid down tracks. I think drums first is still probably the best way, although in this tune they don't come in for the first minute. After learning that I really couldn't keep track of the drums while trying to play with the original, I tried using a midi version of the song with which I could include a click track and that seems the best approach. 

There are multiple ways to approach this sort of incremental song construction. Due to problems with latency, it was important for me to keep the recording setup between the drums and my DAW as simple and uncluttered as possible. Latency is a killer with drums and percussion if you're trying to record in time. I managed to get a version down that was close enough for my satisfaction. I did end up making some minor timing corrections, mainly for the occasional rushed kick drum on the "and" of 4.  

Probably the single biggest challenge of this project is that I'm recording to video.  Making corrections to timing mistakes and the occasional clam note is easy in a DAW, but trying to get that synced up to video becomes exponentially harder. There are ways around this with creative video editing, but it was important to me that the foundation of the video was going to be good performances on all the parts as the baseline. Although I'm mainly doing this for my own entertainment (and internet points, because, internet points), I have felt this might serve as a sort of audition tape that I could use as needed for bands, further academic endeavors, etc. 

My approach has been to keep attempting complete takes until I get one that's close to "perfect" (my version, not Rick Wakeman's). I then stop recording and know that I will use the last takes. In some cases this might be the 10th+ take overall. 

Once I looked at the rough draft of the video performances and had worked on the mix (I was on version 14 or so), I realized I just wasn't going to be satisfied with my version if it didn't have the same vibe as the original. I never desired or expected to make a perfect note for note rendition that would sound exactly like the original, but I felt like my version was too rushed and too produced sounding. It was lacking the dynamics and character of the original, and that's kind of the whole point. 

I resigned myself to have another go at the intro, as that was the biggest problem and I managed to have a "decent" go at the piano part yesterday. Although it was useable, I was suffering my version of a hangover after drinking four beers the previous day, and I wasn't giving myself the best opportunity for a good take. I also realized that my approach to the green screen needed some work. I've learned a small amount about videography, and one thing I've gathered is that your green screen needs to be as flat and "invisible" as possible and it needs to be lit appropriately. 

Looking at my various takes, there was a variety of lighting and screen real estate occupied by my green screen backdrops. I think for my project, the best approach will be one where the green screen completely occupies the background. There may be future projects where I have the green screen as a sort of object in the background that doesn't necessarily fill up the screen. 

All that being said, I need to re-shoot the entire thing so that I can have a consistent lighting and size for my green screen. I am learning to never see an individual performance as too precious. This is a growing process as I learn to accept not every take will be perfect, but become willing to keep trying until I get as close as I'm capable. I know when I've done my best, and that's usually when I'm just practicing or playing without the "red light".  The good thing is that I've learned to get over red light syndrome because you can always make another attempt. Part of the comfort level comes from really knowing the part well and having confidence that you can play it right. 

Tying in to that was finally settling on an arrangement from which I would build the song and giving myself time to practice it. I think I've decided on just playing the intro piano part independently without a rigid timekeeper and then locking in with the drums at the first chorus when they initially come in. I may tweak this as I discovered that the intro was fairly close to 113.5 beats per minute, but then it increases to 128 at the first chorus. It sort of slows down again at the end of the guitar interlude, but returns to that during the rest of the song. My dissatisfaction with the piano performance largely stemmed from timing and feel issues related to trying to play to a metronome/backing track when I had been accustomed to playing it more freely. 

Dealing with this tempo change has been instructive and it gives me some experience for the future as this issue will come up again. I'm definitely convinced that you need to ensure you practice the piece exactly the way you intend to record it. This seems obvious, but in this case I had been playing the piano part for so long that I didn't think this would be much different. And it wasn't really, but it was different enough that my playing become too mechanical and lost the vibe.

As mentioned, I'm also planning on tweaking the camera setup. My plan now is to use my GoPro and iPhone cameras so I have at least two angles of each performance. This just adds another layer of complexity, but I always enjoy performance videos with multiple angles (if done well) more than just the simple straight ahead shots. The GoPro is ideally suited for "neck cam" on the guitar and bass, and I'll also be able to get some alternate overhead shots as well as a shot of kick drum performance (this will be used sparingly, but I like this angle on drum vids).  

The ostensibly biggest obstacle in this project (famous last words) is getting the piano and drum performances down solid. These are the two that I tend to make the most mistakes (albeit few/small) compared to the vocals, guitar and bass. I find repeating takes of those performances is less arduous and time consuming than piano and drums. My plan is to approach it in this order - drums, piano, bass, vocals and guitar. My main reason to redo the bass & guitar is because I want the additional camera angles and I need to fix the way I use the green screen. I also need to help Aeyong install a window blind for our little half moon accent window which is still letting too much natural light in which can illuminate behind the screen and that's a problem.

Another impetus to repeating the entire process is that I've purchased my next equipment upgrade, which is the Slate Virtual Microphone System. This is comprised of a large diaphragm condenser microphone, preamp and a software based modeling system that models microphone, preamp, and compressor (as desired).  This system was announced a few years ago, but it's just now hitting the market. I've heard all positive reviews so far, but I don't know that it's hit enough of a market saturation to be certain.

Based on the microphone alone and considering its price point ($1K), it's a good upgrade from  Blue Baby Bottle (which is still a great mic) and should fill a niche for several years. Philosophically this system is the microphone equivalent of the AxeFx. As the technology has progressed over the years, modeling has narrowed the gap with analog gear, and most listeners don't know the difference. I've always embraced technology and I while I love analog gear, I also love the digital stuff for the flexibility, variety and power it provides. The three microphones it models (at onset, more will be added later) would be way beyond the wallets of all but the most successful (rich) producers. It models the Telefunken 251, Neumann U47 and Sony C800G microphones. Bought on the market (especially for classic versions), this three mic locker would likely run upwards of $50K.  Of the reviews I've seen so far, people are having a difficult time telling the difference between the original and modeled versions. I'm not sure how much I buy that, but for the price and what's a decent sounding (extremely flat) microphone it's more than worth it. It will be interesting to try this new mic out on the vocals for this project. 

There are more aspects to the video project to come, to include filming our dogs in various costumes against the green screen and the subsequent film editing and use of effects. These are all essentially new skill sets I will develop as part of this project. I'm always going to focus on music first, but an occasional video project is fun and a way to keep it interesting for the short modern attention spans (including mine). 

Sniffwhistles and snarkbottoms...

Don't ask, it just seemed appropriate. We're in the latter half of May, so just checking in. Not a lot new to report. I've taken this semester and intend to take next semester off from Berklee. A combination of feeling like I was falling behind on some areas I wanted to explore (in musicianship and writing in general), combined with a feeling that one of the courses I was taking still needed some work (Music Compo & Theory) sparked the decision. I've got enough eligibility remaining in my GI Bill (9 years) that I can afford to slow the pace a bit. I've grown a lot by taking up drums, bass, and vocals but I've made a decision to at least try and dive deeper into guitar and keys, which I consider my most important instruments. I'm trying to work more on fundamentals, theory, and improvisation, especially on the guitar. 

I've also started separating practice and composition, so that I try to focus on each on alternating days. I've also accepted that some days I just don't have the mental and/or physical energy to make any progress. I just give it a pass when those days happen.  I've made some decent progress with this new approach (considering I hadn't really written anything since the compo class). I've got one song that's almost fully written, and several that I've made progress on.  I've been trying to compose structures and rough arrangements when I have time at work, as I can essentially accomplish this on my laptop alone. I'm also slowly learning how to incorporate some of my theoretical knowledge in helping me structure these songs. I tend to get inspiration in a random fashion, sometimes as a melody, sometimes as a rhythm. It doesn't tend to come theoretically intact (although rules are totally made to be broken, they can help), unless it's a really simple tune in C. I'm trying to hone those skills so I can naturally fit something in a major or minor key without having to look it up. I'll learn more about this is future compo classes, but thus far we were writing to film cues and not necessarily in the way I would write a song for myself. 

I also started recording my cover of "Life On Mars" by David Bowie. I've been working on the piano part for years now. Rick Wakeman's playing is often deceptively simple sounding but ends up being a technical challenge when you try to reproduce it close to his version. It reminds me of Tommy Emmanuel's guitar parts in a sense. They both play songs & parts that are ostensibly fairly easy sounding as a listener, but they both have such manual dexterity and facility on their respective instruments so that "easy" sounding chords and fingerings are anything but. The biggest challenge for me was that I had been playing "Life On Mars" as just a solo piano piece without any reference point, and this meant I was playing it too fast for vocals to keep up. I had to start playing it with the song so that I would pause long enough for the vocals to fit. 

And when I say cover, I'm making a video of myself covering all the parts. The most important lesson I've learned in recording a video, is that you really need to ensure you can play the part without significant (noticeable) mistakes, because it's a huge pain in the ass to try and fix mistakes after the fact. This is true for audio, but exponentially worse with video. I performed a couple takes and got one that I was okay with, if not over the moon. I think I'll probably re-record the piano once I've recorded all the other parts. My biggest complaint with my performance is that I was following/reacting to the recording and this makes it sound a bit robotic and flat. "Life On Mars" is a good object lesson in recording a full band cover version because it has a variety of tempos and the various parts don't all come in at once. 

The drum track is pretty simple, especially for any capable recording or touring drummer. That being said, my recently intermittent practice schedule combined with my intermittent within intermittent practicing of the drum part meant my first attempt was pretty awful. It was mainly the kick drum parts, as there is this repeating lead in beat that's on the and of 4 (I think) and it's offset from an open hi-hat to the extent that I feel like I have to rock back and forth. I think I need to get a drum stool that raises higher because there are times when I think my knee angle is a bit too acute (I think it's typically around 100 degrees flexion, and 80-90 would probably be a bit more mechanically advantageous). I have started practicing drums daily since then with an emphasis on that song and it's improved quite a bit. I feel like I might give it another go this weekend. After all that, I think the bass, guitar, and maybe the vocals won't be too difficult. There are a couple of high parts "Sailors, fighting in the dance hall" for one, that I'll probably need to make several passes at. My normal approach would be to record multiple passes of each line, but I'm not sure how well that will work with recording a video. I'm more likely to try singing it straight through several times and picking the best single take.  I'll likely gain some more knowledge on the recording of vocals since this will be one of my first times trying to layer vocals as well as adding harmonies. The other nice aspect is that this will also be an object lesson both in song recording, but especially in combining multiple recordings into one music video. 

On the homefront the biggest events have been a hailstorm in March that will result in us replacing a big portion of the roof and several windows. With a 2% deductible, that means we're going to be out about $10K of our own cash. We were lucky that we inherited that amount from my mother's 401K when she passed. And when it rains it pours (no pun intended), because our previously reliable (not counting bulbs) front projector seems to be dying on us. The picture dimmed considerably and when I replaced the bulb it didn't make any difference. We made the choice just to replace it, and ended up choosing a JVC that can display 4K, although it's not a native 4K to the unit. It basically upscales/doubles the image faster than the eye can see, so it will accept 4K signals and it will make 1080p signals appear to be 4K. True 4K projectors are still prohibitively expensive, so we're hoping to get at least five years out of this one (the previous one almost made it that long), and by then 4K prices should have dropped to more reasonable levels. 

At the end of March we traveled to Toronto to see David Gilmour at Air Canada Center and then to Chicago a few days later where I flew solo for his show at the United Center. He exceeded all my expectations. My only complaint is that the time flew by so fast and the next thing I knew the show was over. I really hope he films a show or two from this tour, perhaps the planned shows from Pompeii this summer. His most recent album is probably his best, and his set list was probably more than half Pink Floyd tunes. He played Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Time, arguably my top two choices to see live so everything else was icing on the cake. 

Joe Jackson Live, Dallas 2015

It was great to see Joe Jackson live again, for the first time in nearly 30 years. It was even more enjoyable to see a show with my old friend, Matt Garrett with whom I've seen some legendary concerts. Joe and his touring band: Graham Maby (bass), Teddy Kumpel (guitar), and Doug Yowell (drums) were fantastic and capable of covering a broad range of Joe's catalog and covers (Scary Monsters!) with their freakish musicianship and solid vocal skills as well. 

Joe (and his fans) aren't getting any younger, but for most of the gig you could close your eyes and it would be 1986 all over again. His piano playing has always been stellar and that combined with his beautiful grand piano and the always great sound at The Majestic Theatre made it sublime. We suffered a slight embarrassment of riches in that we were so close to the stage and had a bit of a proximity imbalance with the mix. Doug Yowell's deceptively diminutive frame belied a powerhouse player who literally beat the skins off his kit. That's not to say he wasn't subtle and nuanced when needed. Doug and the band join a long roster of amazing musicians that Joe seems to attract magnetically. 

Graham Maby doesn't need my description or endorsement. He's a legend in the Joe canon, and deservedly so. Teddy Kumpel was a previously unknown player to me but he adeptly covered a broad range of not only guitar tones but several other instruments during the performance (often covering brass, string and even vocal parts). Joe's set progressed in an additive fashion, with just Joe on piano and vocals for the first few songs and Graham joining for "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" followed by Doug Yowell, and finally Teddy Kumpel. They ended the set the same way, which is such a Joe thing to do. He's always had the aesthetic symmetry to his art, demonstrated in the global resonance of Big World, recently mirrored in the four "City" EPs that make the new album. The devil is always in the details and Joe's music has always had multiple layers to discover over progressive listenings. Supposedly some private New York gigs were recorded for television, hopefully these will surface at some point. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Maby
http://www.teddyjam.com
http://www.guitarmoderne.com/artists/spotlight-teddy-kumpel#more-2828
http://fret-king.com/black-label/elise.html#.VhpfYBNVhHx
https://dougyowell.wordpress.com/

 

  1. It's Different for Girls 

  2. Home Town 

  3. Be My Number Two 

  4. Girl  (The Beatles cover)

  5. Fast Forward 

  6. Is She Really Going Out With Him? 

  7. Real Men 

  8. You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want) 

  9. A Little Smile 

  10. Kings of the City 

  11. Poor Thing 

  12. Love at First Light 

  13. Another World 

  14. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)  (David Bowie cover)

  15. Sunday Papers 

  16. Keep on Dreaming 

  17. Ode to Joy 

  18. Steppin' Out 

  19. Encore:
  20. See No Evil 

  21. One More Time 

  22. A Slow Song