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: Musician

Time Marches On

It’s been a relatively busy few months, but nothing of singular significance has warranted an update. I made some changes and upgrades to the home studio to include trading in the Apollo Quad 1st generation unit to Vintage King and replaced it with the newest iteration Apollo X 8P unit. This design is somewhat more oriented to patchbay use and so I also got a Switchcraft patchbay and a whole bunch of cabling for the studio. The rearrangement and running of cables took the better part of a few weeks. It’s mostly done now, although I’ve got the odd cable to run here and there.

All of these processes can be sort of slow and iterative based on other demands - work, exercise, etc. I’m still dialed back from full time musician mode because of the elbow, although it’s slowly getting better it still limits the amount of time I can spend playing every day. In the meantime I also traded in my Nikon D5300 to B&H Photo for the newest generation Fuji XT-3 mirrorless camera. I’m still figuring out how to use it, but I can already see the benefits. It’s an amazing camera. Along with this upgrade and the studio changes, I tried to straighten up and organize my various closets and so now I have a camera closet so to speak. I’ve decided to use the extra room with the WinPC as the video room and I’ve got a desk and green screen permanently set up. The closet now houses all my camera gear, and that stash is slowly growing. Every hobby (at least mine) tends have some gear fetishism and acquisition inherent to the process.

I cleaned up the amp closet as well and coiled all the newly extra cables after having changed to mostly snake cables for the patchbay setup. Because of the patchbay I’m now able to split one eight cable snake with four leads going to the vocal closet and four to the amp closet. So, now I have the Royer 122, SM57, and I was able to dust off my Sennheiser e906 dynamic mic and all three are in place for the 65 Amps 112 cab in the closet. I’m still using the default vocal booth setup with the Slate VMS One and SM7. This leaves me two left over leads in the vocal booth and one leftover lead in the amp closet. I also added a 16 channel passthrough to my main desk so I can plug in instrument mics and whatnot as needed. I’ve got one channel dedicated to the DI output from my H&K Grandmeister and I still need to run two outputs to the Matrix GT1000 for output to the Port City OS 212 I have in the main room.

The remainder of the ports are mostly redundant, but it will be nice when I need to mic up instruments or just plug in a vocal mic in the room. The switchbay is essentially ready for use at all times but a couple of the fairly common uses require a patch to be run, for instance the Avantone monitors need a patch cable to be heard. As these are only used to check the occasional mix, that need is fairly uncommon. Tweaks are sure to be necessary as I slowly transition back to a more music heavy mode again. These needs reveal themselves with the use of the gear.

Continuing on with switchbays, I had been holding off for several months as there is a new player in the game with Flock Audio, who are soon to release the first software controlled patchbay. I had wanted to wait until they were released but the release schedule hasn’t been confirmed and they have some fairly draconian return policies. As far as I can tell, you can only return/get a refund if the box is unopened. There doesn’t appear to be an option to return the unit if you decide it’s not what you wanted. For a unit that I think is going to run upwards of $2K, that’s a pretty big leap of faith. I’m going to wait until it’s been out in the wild for several months if not longer and see how the reviews look. It’s a great idea if it stacks up to the hype of Flock Audio. The ability to change routings through software with a few mouse clicks and to have presets saved for various arrangements is quite appealing.

In the meantime I’m glad I decided to go with the typical patchbay setup as it’s really streamlined operations as well as opening up some routing options that weren’t readily available in the past.

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. 

Sup...

Thought I would briefly drop in for a midsummerish update. I'm going into my second week of no homework and I'm getting antsy already. Still waiting to see if Berklee will update and finalize the music composition program curriculum. I've been taking some macprovideo courses (reviewing some theory and trying to dive in a bit deeper with Logic. still lots to learn).

Ye Olde Gloriouspaste Fedexerish Transport Apparatus is bringing forth some sonic splendor later today in the shape of Korg's flagship synth, the Kronos 2. I ordered one of these in April and it's just now being delivered. Somewhere between high demand and manufacturing/shipping shenanigans lies the answer as to why it took three months. No matter, it's in my hands tonight. And sometime in the next 15 or so years I might justify the expense.

I had put off getting a powerful synth workstation for a long time, mostly because I couldn't justify the need (which is still largely the case), but looking forward to the coming semesters at Berklee as well as my goal to dual major in production and composition, I'm pretty confident I'll have many practical exercises and projects by which to utilize and slowly master it. It's been heralded by many professional artists and producers as the best in the industry at the current time. My only small concern is the keybed feel. I have no doubts it's good, I'm just accustomed to the Roland RD700 I've been playing for five years. In all other aspects I'm confident it will exceed my expectations. I can't wait to try all the preprogrammed patches (Baba O'Riley, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Superstition, etc.). There's enough for a keyboardist in a cover band to play about 12 hours continuously without needing to create anything new. I'll have more to say I'm sure, but it will probably take months if not years for me to wrap my head around all it can do. 

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. 

Updates, mostly gearish...

The holidays have come and gone. Things at work have been fairly steady, although a certain unnamed individual's attempt to portray himself as a visionary may have backfired on him. Time will tell. Not a lot new to report on the home front. Aeyong and I struck a deal that means she will go to Korea next year with a bigger expense account as well as helping pay for knee surgery for her mother. We would have done that anyway, but she usually tries to only spend money on the traveling costs and tries to just spend time with family. That is probably what she'll end up doing anyway, but I told her to shop if she wants to. Knowing her, she'll spend money on her family if she spends any. 

I, on the other hand, have chosen a decidedly less altruistic path. I'm going to finally get the biggest (in sheer size and cost) item that I've had on my gear wish list for the past five years or so. Drum roll, please. No pun intended. Still scratching the noggin?

It's drums, I'm getting drums. My ultimate musical goal is writing and recording music for myself. If others ever get any enjoyment from it, great. But ultimately, I undertake this process for my own personal fulfillment alone.  I've always aspired to write the music that has most inspired me, and that generally has been heavily weighted towards bands with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards.  Of those, keys probably open up the sonic landscape the most by virtue of synths and samplers, and If I want to go orchestral or soundtrackish, that's where the keys and synths come in.  That being said, I've always wanted to have a good handle on what I consider the four dominant instruments in popular music. 

I've wanted to learn drums so I could facilitate writing (regardless of the fact you can program drums to sound real or not), so I could improve my sense of rhythm, and just because I love the instrument and I've truly always loved the drummers in my favorite bands. If I were to make a top ten list (the creation of which I generally try to avoid) for guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers, a healthy chunk of the roster would come from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Police, and a few others. Of those just mentioned, Bonzo, Bruford, the Professor, and Stewart Copeland are held in my highest regard. Sorry Nick, I love you and wouldn't exchange you for another, but you're not in the same category as those mentioned.  

There are many others, especially in Jazz - the various PMG alumni (Antonio Sanchez, Paul Wertico, Danny Gottlieb), Jack Dejohnette, Steve Gadd, Billy Higgins, Peter Erskine, etc.  There are too many to count actually. Despite the august nature of those mentioned, I'm sure to avail myself of some less steep summits before commencing skyward.  Zeppelin will probably be a starting point, although it will take years to get to a level at which I won't be embarrassed, much less master the beats o' Bonzo. As with bass, guitar, and keys, I'll definitely put a few "unattainable in the near future" tunes in my practice list. One of my long term goals is to be able to perform and record all parts to certain tunes. While they're not as common, there are a few videos of people performing all the parts to songs out there on YouTube and the like (YYZ comes to mind).  

After negotiating with Aeyong, I talked her into letting me get what I consider the best electronic drums on the market, Roland's TD-30KV-Pro series.

http://www.roland.com/products/en/TD-30KV/

 I'm getting electronic drums for multiple reasons. One, they're relatively quiet compared to acoustic drums, and two, they're very powerful and flexible when it comes to sounds and recording. Not to mention all the percussion and drum samples I have on my computers that I can now trigger with these drums. And I anticipate being able to use these indefinitely without feeling the need to upgrade.  I didn't want to wait any longer since I'm not getting any younger, and I will need several years to really start honing my ability to a level I can use in recording.  

The Ides of March

and Guitardom anniversary number 9. I've made note of this date a few times in the past as it marks the actual day I resumed the mantle of guitar player again. As I've said previously, it was a decision reached after having several months of unencumbered reflection while I was pursuing my MPH at OUHSC. At the time I realized that I still thought like a guitar player, I still consumed guitar oriented music, and I really missed that part of my life although I had essentially put the guitar down for the better part of 15 years. I would say it was one of the biggest mistakes in my life, but my life wasn't exactly empty in those years and alls well that ends well.

It's hard to quantify exactly what has transpired in the last year. This year marks 9 years of steady playing and incremental improvement. I know I'm getting closer to some targets (you never reach "the target" as it's always moving away), and I may actually get to a point in the next year or two that I can say (with a straight face) that I've satisfied myself with the amount of work in a certain direction or on a certain song. My song milestones are the same as they have been for the most part (Eruption, Endless Road, etc.), although I did start working on a project that has lain fallow for the past few months, and I intend to resume.

I began a "Guitar Hero Retrospective" project in the spirit of a project initially done and posted by a guitarist named Ketil Strand. It's essentially a medley of key tunes by the influential guitarists of the modern era (dating back to Django, Charlie Christian, etc.) While I don't know that I'll put together something quite as comprehensive as him, the project was a good way to not only put together a demo I could post for future opportunities, but it would also be a good way to either learn or enhance certain styles that are usually somewhat neglected in my playing.

The biggest determinants for my playing in the past year have been buying a Jazz Bass last winter, putting together a few acoustic numbers to play at my Grandmother Nonie's wake, and then gradually resuming electric, bass, and piano. Once the decision was made to play those songs for Nonie, I only practiced those tunes for the next 6 weeks or so. This fall saw me resume my regularly scheduled programming, with a bit more emphasis on the neglected electrics. In the past I had been trying to play piano in the morning, and then about 30 minutes of bass, followed by 45 minutes of electric, and closing with 45 minutes of acoustic at night.

I'm trying a different approach (as of this week) in which I will probably alternate electric on one night, followed by bass & acoustic the other nights. I feel like I need to get back to focusing more intensely on trying to improve technique, phrasing, etc. and the brief little 45 minute sessions were too superficial. I have also started to learn more parts by ear, moreso by happenstance as opposed to formal planning.

Learning bass lines by ear is quite a bit less challenging than guitar since they're typically monophonic (not counting Geddy and Chris Squire, among others) and the tone is usually cleanish enough that you can discern the notes easier. But I've also spent some time learning a few guitar tunes by ear, and I had started trying to learn some piano pieces by ear, although I set the bar pretty high for my current level of skill. I've really got to make that a regular part of my playing, because I honestly think the key to expressing yourself well on any instrument requires a great ear. I've also got to commit to actually working a bit harder to take all these riffs and bits of songs and forge them into actual tunes I record. I'm guilty of coming up with riffs fairly spontaneously, but stopping short of working them into full songs.

That's what I love about being a musician. There's always going to be something you don't know, and there's always going to be something that will challenge you on multiple levels. Cliche warning: It's the journey, not the destination. It's truly the process of learning, improving, practicing and the like that keeps the truly dedicated coming back. If you don't love the day to day work, you'll never keep it up.

I've got no problem with that...

First Gig

It's been awhile since the last update. There's lots to talk about, but of primary importance is my first "gig" coming up Saturday. Gig is probably being generous as it's just a couple of songs for my Grandmother Nonie's memorial service. Luckily my big sister Debbie and niece Heather will be singing vocals so that can only help me sound better. We'll be doing altered versions of Amazing Grace and Over the Rainbow as arranged by Tommy Emmanuel but adapted for vocals and my technical limitations. We'll also be doing How Great Thou Art at my mother's request, although it will be the Carrie Underwood version. I'll be playing my Maton acoustic through my recently acquired Fishman Aura preamp and Roland AC-33 acoustic amp. I bought the Roland because I thought we would be doing the ceremony outside, as it's capable of running on batteries. Fortunately the venue has moved indoors, so I'm assuming we'll have access to power. I could probably go straight acoustic, but I wanted some extra compression/reverb for the harmonics on OTR. It's been a learning experience as I've discovered the challenge of playing an instrument while trying to listen and respond to a vocalist. This may encourage me to purse an open mic in the future.

Streets - my first(ish) online composition

This isn't really the first song I've written, but it's the first complete tune I've written and attempted to complete in a long time. I wrote it as part of the RPM/FAWM challenge previously discussed. It's of the ambient/electronic variety since I not only love that style, but it's also about the easiest to create on a digital audio workstation.

RPM

February has become a month in which two websites have held an annual challenge of sorts for musicians to write enough new music to fill an album. One website is called FAWM or February Album Writing Month and the other is RPM or Record Production Month. They have slight differences in their stated goals, but the overall intent is the same. This challenge was as good an excuse as any to get me off my ass in the composition department. I don't know if any of the music I write will be of the long term "keeper" variety, but it will help me grow further as a musician