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 Tag: Berklee

Back to school

Back at the books tomorrow after a very long break. 2018 was a strange trip for many reasons. Drama on many levels, mostly external. A repetitive strain injury shifted my music focus for several months and its effects still linger, albeit not as limiting as before.

I’ve decided to accept that “Christmas Armistice” will not reach its final form for a long time. I think I have a path forward for a much improved version in the near future, but I’m putting my idealized version on the back burner as further study in new disciplines is required.

Ironically, the performance videos were once the “heavy lifting” part of these projects, but that’s now the easier component. It’s all the post production tasks that require an elevation of my skill set. My problem is that once I achieve one step in a project, my mind starts wandering and I get all these ideas that require a whole new set of skills.

 

Letter From Home Practice

I’m trying to slowly get back into the groove after the previously discussed elbow issue. This is an excerpt of me practicing Letter From Home (Jason Vieaux arrangement of the Pat Metheny song). It’s recorded with a Fuji XT-3 using the onboard mic, so the sound is a bit inferior and noisy compared to my usual condensers. The final version will be with a good condenser mic or two and I’m thinking I’ll use this as my audition for the Berklee Online guitar program.

NGD not without problems, and putting Spring 2018 to bed (finally)...

In a strange turn of events, my original 335 is currently enroute back to Sweetwater, with a replacement to be sent next week. There were several issues when I received it - a strange rubbery sawdust like material was all over the inside of the case, there were several QC oversights with the guitar itself -  smudges, marks, and sloppy painting along edges. The main issues were all cosmetic, but it was a strange state in which to receive the guitar and indicated problems at both the Gibson Memphis factory as well as at Sweetwater. 

Sweetwater endeavored to correct the issues with a replacement, so now I'm just waiting for them to send the new one. They notified me of a couple small cosmetic issues, but nothing affecting playability or tone. These issues weren't a big deal for me, just the indication that the whole process had been rushed or incomplete with the original guitar. I'm not precious about an instrument's appearance. I don't go out of my way to break them in, but I don't get upset when dents, scratches, and other wear occurs. It's part of the natural playing process. However, I do expect a new guitar to look new when I first receive it. 

I finally got my grades for the Spring 2018 semester, an A in the guitar course and I managed to eek out an A minus in the ear training course. I think my final assignment encouraged him to curve my grade a bit, because I was expecting no better than a B given the work I never bothered correcting, even though he gave me the opportunity. I think the complexity of my final project convinced him that even though I sort of avoided his specific approach with solfege and conducting, I have still managed to develop my ear quite a bit. In the case of harmonic ear training it was beyond the scope of his course. He indicated it was more consistent with the final assignments in the 300 level harmonic ear training course. So, there's that. 

I do plan to continue on with my ear training, it's clearly integral to good musicianship and composition. But, I'll approach it at my own pace and prioritize according to my goals and needs. 

Feels good man...

Perhaps in another episode of premature fowl tabulation, I'm just sayin' that it feels good to get back into the regular swing of things where I can wake up each day and prioritize my schedule based on my personal wants and needs, especially in the area of musicianship. I haven't received feedback on either of my final assignments, but I'm relatively confident I should be good for this semester. I received my grade for my final sight singing test, and although I didn't smoke it by any means, I was satisfied with the 86 I received.

This should ensure no worse than a B in that course, and although it screws up my lifetime 4.0 with Berklee (as well as being my first B since 1996), I'm not sweating it because as said before, this course was fairly contrary to my current musical goals.  Full disclosure, I had been phoning it in on the solfege and conducting portion since about the third week. I was basically faking that portion just to receive credit for the course knowing that if I did ever put an effort into those skills it would be further down the road. There were many assignments where I had the opportunity to raise the grade if it was less than an A but I never cared enough to bother. 

Despite this, I am endeavoring to forge ahead with ear training and I intend to make it a regular part of my practice schedule. I definitely learned something during this course and I want to capitalize on that instead of letting it atrophy like I did after the first ear training course. The big difference is that I can go at my pace, and at least for the time being I won't have to focus on the solfege and conducting like before. 

In other news, it feels great to get back into a regular practice schedule. It's not only part of my development as a musician, it's been an integral part of my mental health and well being these many years and I was sorely missing it. A short term goal is to work on audition for the Berklee Online Guitar Program. I think I've settled on "The Spirit of Radio" for the electric piece and "Letter From Home" for the acoustic portion. We only have to submit one example but I thought I would perform each of these and then put it up for a vote on social media (assuming anyone would bother to listen & comment). 

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. 

The Edge of Summer

The sun has been shining, the grass is green, and summer is in the air. We're still in that magical window when it's nice to be outside for most of the day without fear of withering from the heat. The press of the last few months is just about to see its release. I've got a long weekend and then I take my board exam next Tuesday. I feel pretty confident about my readiness, but I'll still crack the books daily til Tuesday. 

The transition to fee basis at work has essentially completed and my schedule has normalized itself for the most part. It's really nice to have a three day workweek at the most. It's funny how quickly that became the norm for me. The default schedule should be three days for three weeks and then a week off. I'm working half as much and bringing home more than double my Federal pay (with consideration for no increase to my pension and no 401K matching).  It's really the perfect work scenario for me and my capabilities. I can complete exams more thoroughly and faster than any of the people I have worked with so far. I'm sure there are others like me out there, but we all have a fairly unique skill set that gives us distinct advantage over other examiners. Nearly thirty years of continual Federal service including the twenty three years of active duty has definitely paid off in my current job.

I haven't really been able to settle in and take advantage yet because the last few months were occupied with the end of the Berklee semester and then the beginning preparations for the board exam. Thankfully, the board schedule is transitioning to a ten year cycle after this.  My goal is that by the time I take the next board, we'll have paid off this house, built or bought our house in the country and I'll be well ensconced in my bespoken home studio.  That mostly depends on a steady state for my current work situation. I'm relatively confident that the C&P program in general won't go anywhere soon, and I'm mostly optimistic that the role of the examiner will stay the same as well. The prevalence of laziness, incompetence, and ambivalence in the Federal service actually plays to my advantage. There's no shortage of work for me, and this allows me to maximize my time/salary in a way that's really unmatched anywhere else in the job market that I know of. 

Busy Busy Busyerington...

It's almost surprising I have found a few minutes to quickly update the blog.  It's been a very busy couple of months since I posted last. Between work, school and trying to practice I've been essentially moving non stop from wake until sleep every day. Ironically, the days I thought I would still get some good practice time (weekend) are often the days I don't find any time to practice. I've been saving my weekly assignments that are project based until the weekend, and these end up eating up big chunks of the day. My best practice days have ended up being Mon-Thu. I haven't been able to maintain my previous 3 hours a day by any stretch. 2.5 hours is a great day because it generally means I got 30 minutes on everything. 

I've had a few weeks where the scope of the work just overwhelmed my practice schedule in general. That combined with a few fix up projects in my studio (mainly installing acoustic treatment) wiped out a few weekends and several weekdays as well. Aeyong has been gone to Korea the last five weeks, so taking care of all the household stuff has really kept me moving at full speed. She comes home tomorrow, and it will be great to have her back. I essentially have 2 weeks left this semester and then the next day we start the spring semester. 

A big development has been the creation of the Music Composition for Film, Television, and Games degree track and I'm orienting towards pursuit of a dual degree with that and production. I will be busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest for the next four years. All that being said, the past two months have been fantastic for my development as a musician. I finally shared my original work with friends and classmates, as well as a brief cover of a Coldplay tune "Amsterdam" that featured me singing and playing all the instruments. 

I couldn't foresee a time when I was going to be ready to do that before, and now I've done it and it was no big deal at all. I've only had a few friends take the time to listen to it, but I've gotten positive feedback from all of them including one who I've respected for years as a musician. It's a small validation, but a really big deal for me. I've known I had something, but I always wondered if it would be enough for others to consider it worthy of the effort. Now I know that it is. Enough laurel resting, I've got work to do. 

2015 arrives

This year and the three to follow promise to be a very challenging but ultimately rewarding period of time in my development as a musician. The week after next I begin my Bachelor of Professional Studies in Music Production through Berklee Online. I have decided to take an optimistically large first bite by enrolling in five classes.

If my personal and professional life are still intact at the end of the semester I will probably continue this policy depending on whether I deplete my GI Bill authorizations or not. The way the VA calculates annual limits is a bit nebulous. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be a semester limit so if I'm running low on funds I can either take fewer classes in the other semesters or just pay the difference.

It's hard to predict what aspects will be the most challenging. Because I've been interested and have read up on many of these topics over the years I don't worry as much about the comprehension of the material so much as the amount of actual coursework. This combined with working full time could mean I'm back in the PA school mode of constant study/homework in my non work waking hours. If it's necessary then that's what I'll do. 

I tried to select a mixture of technical and artistic courses so I'm not too bogged down in one type of thinking. I decided to take the Math for Musicians course and get it out of the way. I missed the testing out by one question, although I would have missed more if it wasn't multiple choice. I haven't had Algebra, Geometry or most of what was on that test since the early 80's. I have my doubts about the applicability of everything in that course, but I know there will be some benefit when it comes to understanding electrical and acoustic theory in later courses. Not to mention that basic sound theory is based on math in large part (frequencies, octaves, etc.). 

Not that I post frequently to begin with, but I wonder if will have enough free time to post much going forward. Although the amount of post worthy material is likely to increase exponentially in this program.

Peeps...

Greetings from the great electronic wasteland to my audience of one. Things continue to progress towards the pending music production degree with Berklee. I've gotten approved and enrolled in five courses for the first semester. I've mixed a couple production courses (Pro Tools 101, Music Production Analysis) in with a few hopefully easier courses (Developing Your Artistry, Guitar Chords), and what is the least appealing, non musical but still mandatory (for me) course, Math for Musicians. I was one answer shy of testing out of the Math requirement, but it was mostly Algebra, Geometry and other math topics I've literally not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago. Apparently the math is considered integral to courses like Acoustics and others that may actually use math. I'm assuming it can't hurt, and I want to just get it out of the way now. The guitar chords course shouldn't be overwhelming although I'm sure I'll learn something. I managed to score well enough on the theory test to skip ahead to the 200 level courses. 

I got the full version of Pro Tools, and at this point I still prefer Logic, but I'm getting accustomed to how Pro Tools works as well. There are many similarities. Logic is just a better organized, intuitive, simple yet powerful DAW. Given the choice, I'll probably still use Logic, but Pro Tools is so ingrained in the professional community and Berklee has gone all in with AVID, so there's no avoiding it. I also upgraded some of my studio. I got Focal Alpha 80 monitors, a Blue Microphones Baby Bottle, an SE Electronics Vocal Shroud/Acoustic Isolator, and made a big upgrade by getting an analog preamp, the UAD 4-710D which is essentially a four channel mic preamp with dual transistor/tube capability.

I've got the Baby Bottle, my SM58, and the e906 and SM57 in the amp iso box hooked in right now. I haven't been using the iso box because I've just got the Port City OS 212 in my main room (it's a bit too large for the box). Eventually I'm going to get a 1x12 to keep in the iso box permanently and then the e906 and SM57 will get more use. I'll eventually get a Royer 121 to combine with the 57, but that's probably a few years away. The 4-710D is a great piece of kit, which is true for all the UAD stuff I own. I find I like the blend of the transistor/tube more than either one isolated. There are several UAD plugins I still plan on purchasing, but I need to space those out. My next big studio upgrade will be acoustic treatment for the main mixing room and the vocal closet, along with ARC room correction software to get it calibrated. That may be a Christmas present, or I may wait until next year. 

I still have a few textbooks to buy for the first semester, and I know down the road there will probably be some software purchases specifically for certain classes. I think the East West Symphonic VST  is required for something down the line.  I want to upgrade to Komplete 10, but it's not a high priority right now. I've been trying hard to maintain a daily practice schedule which remains (and will remain) a challenge with the five disciplines. I'm sure I will have to scale back quite a bit once school starts. The trade off is I will be learning other valuable music and production related skills and techniques (not looking at you, math). I'm going to find a way to at least maintain my chops if I can't improve them as much. If I have to practice in shorter sessions on alternate days, that's what I'll end up doing. 

Accepted

I got an acceptance email from Berklee the week before last, and the official letter yesterday. I start in January 2015. This is great news, and I anticipate this will be one of my most significant milestones not just in music, but in life itself. Music is one of the great joys of my life, so the opportunity to learn and grow as a musician and producer is a dream fulfilled. Now back to our regularly scheduled gear & sundry related ramblings.

I was going to buy the academic version of Pro Tools, but have decided to go with the full version since the academic is generally not upgradeable. After the most recent round of gear purchases, I will wait until late October early Novemberish before upgrading. My learning and practice plan has remained essentially unchanged. The greatest challenge is effective time management.  With trying to regularly practice 5 separate disciplines (voice, drums, keyboards, bass, guitar), a good day of practice generally runs at a minimum of 3 hours, and a really good day may run 5+hours. I have days where I only practice for 1-2 hours and feel like I'm slacking. My available time for practice will most likely be cut short once I start school since I assume most of my assignments won't be specifically tied to a certain instrument. I'll probably have to adapt to striving for 30 minutes 5 times a week on each instrument. 

I may plateau a bit for the four years of school, but I anticipate I'll grow so much as a musician and producer in general that it will have a lasting positive impact on all of my instruments. 

Bloggery bloggington

Time for another infrequent update. What's happened since last I committed electrons to this dark, forgotten corner of the internet?  Of most significance is that I have applied for the Berklee College of Music (Online) Bachelor of Music Production degree, with an anticipated start date of January 2015. I'm not sure why I didn't previously make the connection between this course and my still valid (but eventually expiring) GI Bill benefits. I had looked at individual courses within Berklee and some other online colleges, but for whatever reason I didn't realize that there was actually a Bachelor's program in a Music related field that I was actually interested in that would be eligible for the GI Bill.

I won't know if I'm accepted until next month, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Firstly, since I have a reliable means of paying for the degree, and secondly, my academic records while not perfect, (I made a couple of Bs in PA school) are pretty competitive (3.8 cumulative GPA with two master's degrees).  What I don't have is any significant professional or academic music experience, but I'm hoping that since there aren't any specific prerequisites in those areas, that I will make up for in my enthusiasm for music. In my personal statement I related my lifelong love of music, my rekindled musicianship of 10+ years, my multi-instrumentalism and love for all things music production related. 

The course curriculum reads like all of my online self learning activities for the past 10 years. Looking through the entire course requirements and syllabi, I was amazed at how every course was something I was either interested in learning, or something I actually had already studied on my own. My dream scenario would be to channel this knowledge into a musical occupation that could pay the bills, but that isn't the only end goal. I know that regardless of whether I continue to need to work full or part time in healthcare, that the knowledge and experience I gain from this course will make me a better musician and I can't put a price on how valuable that is for me. 

My realistic goal is to continue improving my home studio as much as possible (without making structural changes to our current home), and eventually buying a home on a one acre lot and building a music studio from the ground up. I hope that with time and experience I can begin to attract clients and gain work through word of mouth and advertising. This is a path that some full time (and highly regarded) professional studio owners have followed. The other nice thing about owning/running a studio is that age isn't the limiting factor that it may be for musical artists that are just starting out. I will continue to be a musician, and hope that this knowledge and experience with facilitate opening new doors for me in that area as well. I just never get tired or bored with music at large. I may briefly run out of steam when I've been practicing a certain instrument, but that's easily remedied by picking up a different one, or studying an aspect of production, etc. 

It's hard to express how exciting these possibilities are for me. It's also nice to at least consider that it may be possible to earn a living equivalent to our current standard of living. Success as a musical artist can be a much more fickle target. I know plenty of world class artists who have their dedicated fan base but are otherwise ignored by the public at large. Success in music is often not directly correlated to talent and hard work (a small caveat in that the really hard working musicians who understand that they must do more than just write/record songs, often find a way to succeed through touring, videos & other merchandising).  

The true "If I win the lottery" (in a music sense) would be to build up a successful studio/operation as well as create my own music that might actually garner enough interest to release albums and even tour, if only on a small, regional level. Neither one of these is necessary for me to be happy in music, because I'm already there and I'm not making a penny doing it (quite the contrary, I spend quite a few pennies doing it). The greatest satisfaction would be in having the freedom to only need to "work" in music, and to have my own business that I can dictate the schedule, etc. I am confident that if I'm accepted to Berklee that I will be able to eventually build a free standing professional (albeit, not in the league of the Power Station or equivalent) studio and with the knowledge and experience gained in school I'll be able to record my own as well as others music in the best possible format. Maybe it will only be on nights/weekends when I have the time away from my regular job or maybe it will grow to a full time operation. I'm on board for the long haul either way...