The other night I was lying awake, trying to clear the monkeys from my head, and it occurred to me that I have posted anything here for quite a while.
I have been experimenting with Propellerhead music software. I’ve had it lying about for some time now, but I never bothered to dig into it – probably because I’d heard that it was mostly being used by techno, dance, dub and rap composers. Frankly the breadth of names and styles in popular music today kind of overwhelms me and I feel like I can’t keep up with each new variant… but that’s beside the point. What is relevant is that whenever I heard someone mention Reason in an interview, their music would – more often than not – turn out to be groove based, with heavy emphasis on loops, synths and arppegiated sounds. I have a couple musician friends who rarely go off the acoustic path and they refer to that groove based sound with a generalist’s sweep of the hand as “ “Electronica” or “Techno”… I guess it’s easier to try and define yourself by what you’re not as opposed to what you are… whatever.. .. But since I don’t really work in those styles I figured – wrongly it turns out – that the Propellerhead software and other sequencer based composition tools such as Ableton Live weren’t going to float my boat. So I was pleasantly surprised when I finally loaded up the Reason/Record combo and started playing around with them. The first thing I noticed was how user friendly and “tactile” much of the interface felt. The second was how good the software sounded. The third was how little power (CPU, RAM and Disk access throughput) the software required. And the fourth was the seamless rewiring into Protools. Lastly, I realized that I could easily integrate the software into the style of music I tend to write without significantly changing what I was doing. Check out both “Leukemia” and “Don’t want what you need”. For Leukemia, I used synths and resamples of existing instruments to help build emotion in specific sections of the song. “Don’t want what you need” was written and recorded entirely in Reason/Record and then rewired into Protools for vocals and mixing. The vocoder like bit at the end was done by taking a bit of the lead vocal, sampling and tweaking in Reason and then flying it back into Ptools during the mix. That Vocal effect is by no means new or groundbreaking.. But up till now it was really hard for me to pull it off, and I can use that same technique in a much less heavy handed way that will really enhance a vocal and instrument blend without sounding “effected”. This first attempt was really just an experiment to see how over top I could take it..
So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about integrating Propellerhead software into my writing. I’m working on another piece that’s about 50/50 between Ptools and Reason/Record. It’s coming along nicely and I can’t wait to share it with you.
So, I’m doing the Facebook check thing this morning and I get a friend’s recommendation to see a show tonight by a guy named Ira Marlow at the Cafe Du Nord, in SF. I’m not going to be able to make the show. But am curious nonetheless and I go dig up his bandcamp page and then just fell over listening to some of his music. I don’t want to wreck it for anyone by saying who/ what his music reminds me of. But I will say the writing is deep and doesn’t wallow in the first person, the playing is restrained and thoughtful and the vocals are real. So I do a bit more digging and find that our paths are not that disimilar in certain respects and that – of course – ups my admiration yet some more. Check him out. He also does comedy as Wade Pivonski. Which is fun as well in its own right. But don’t start there.. start with the new record called “Lucky”.
There is such extraordinary music out there. I can’t get over how many amazing voices are finding their way… How a lone person in a bedroom in a small town/village in fill_in_the_name_here can reach a global audience. Not to bag on the recording/radio industry – without whom I would have had many a lonely childhood night listening to a radio without songs. But now that the creative tools and access to listeners and community have ..ahem… become a bit more level, It is wonderful who we can reach and be touched by. I continue to find artists from all over who move me and remind me how we are all connected; turning together on this great wheel. Here is one such voice. Ethan Okamura is a guy I have had the honor of working with in Victrola Hall of Science and House of Canvas (two Northern California alterna/indie/rock projects that featured some really fantastic players like Bill Shore, Jason Loeks and Frank Maranzino). These days Ethan is playing with This Old Earthquake and doing projects for sync licensing. Check out his music and let me know what you think. If you’re like me and you get the chills, sign up with a Reverb Nation account, “fan” him and spread the word.
BTW: the qualities that really get to me in a songwriter are honesty, integrity and a commitment to cutting to the heart of the music and the meme. If you know anyone who you feel covers that ground and would like to share with me please step up and give me a shout out.
Update from the second record. 10/24/10
So I haven’t even considered using a dynamic mic to track vocals since retiring my four track cassette recorder. I’ve stuck to using tube condensers ever since pretty good sounding – and inexpensive – large diaphragms from Australia, Russia and China became readily available. I’ve been using a Rode NTK – which I love – for years. But getting it to sit right in a loud, busy mix takes some doing and suppressing the ambient room noise when recording quieter pieces has always been a pain. So I was really surprised and delighted to discover the SM7B Dynamic that Damien Rasmussen suggested I try on “Already Need”. We had originally tracked the vocals back in Sept when I was in North Carolina for the first record. But we really weren’t happy with the results on that song and put it in the “for later” pile. I have had it on my to do list all summer. I gave it another shot using the NTK and just wasn’t really happy with that either… Then Damien suggested I try a dynamic…part of the problem was that I was having trouble singing really loud into the condensers – they would either overload or I would have to back so far off the mic that the room would start intruding on the sound…like most musicians who record with improvised setups I don’t have a vocal booth. So he shows up one afternoon with this neato “booth on a stick”… for real.. it’s made by SE and is essentially an insulated semi circular frame that bolts to the mic stand and keeps ambient room noise from sneaking in around the sides and back of the mic.. so that really helped eliminate the room noise leaking into the condensers when I was really driving the Pre’s during wide open songs with plenty of space like “We are the others” or “All I need”, but it didn’t help with the busy, loud songs. So then Damien pulls out this mic that looks like it belonged stuck to Howard Stern’s mouth, said it was a dynamic and suggested I try it on “Already Need”. I said sure, put the box on the floor and forgot all about it.. About a week later, with nothing to show for my efforts using condensers, Damien asks me whether I’ve tried the SM7 yet and to give it a try. So long story shorter…I hooked it up Friday night and… it’s brilliant! Big. Punchy.. Easily handles going from a whisper to a shriek without so much as a burp.. Plus there is practically zero noise floor.. I should have paid closer attention to those articles where Bono talked about using SM57’s on his lead vocals in the studio… So. the upshot is: “Already need” is in the can and ready to be mixed. Yay! …AND. I’ve eaten condenser crow and am really excited to try the dynamic on a big’in new ditty called “Back and Beyond”.
In Texas there are only two sizes…little’ns and Big’ins… I’ll save that story for another post..
If you don’t know Damien Rasmussen, you’re missing out. http://damienrasmussen.com
This is the beginning of the collection. To be sure we will burn fingers, mouths and perhaps a feeling or two. But then what would this be if not hot..