Monthly Archives: August 2015

Recording: The Calm Before The Storm (a Destiny song)

In my recent post on gaming, I posted video with a song I had written at the end. As is my custom, it’s time to tell you about what I did when writing & recording it.

The song, The Calm Before The Storm, is inspired by the video game Destiny. It was written as an entry to a competition for a Destiny podcast that I listen to called Guardian Radio. They have a weekly competition (bounty) for different prizes & when writing a song was one I figured I could have a go at that.

Entering the competition set 2 challenging parameters that I have never had to work with before. First I had just under a week to get it done, I listened to the podcast on the Tuesday & the song was to be submitted by the end of the following Sunday, which also happened to be Mothers Day in the US. Secondly it had to be less than 3 minutes long, including any verbal introduction that you wanted to give it. Challenge accepted!

I wrote the song fairly quickly on the first day, mostly while at work (shh don’t tell anyone), themed around the story of Destiny & also the Guardian grimoire card. The podcast has a feature on their show where they do dramatic readings of the grimoire cards so I thought they would appreciate the nod. I don’t actually recall where the title line came from, obviously it is a well known phrase & is something I had been meaning to be creative with for a good while. Within the context of the song / game, it was a reference to the well known grind in Destiny. Yes you may have finished everything in the game, however don’t get carried away celebrating, because it is always time to go & do it again (and again). It is also a reference to my amazingly inconsistent PvP performances where I can just as easily go 6-16 as I can 16-6, much to my frustration.

With the game being a sci-fi adventure, I felt that the only way to go would be with a prog-rock style of presentation, I mean, what says sci-fi more than prog rock? I had hoped to get a more Dream Theater like vibe going on, but a combo of a lack of time & never having tried to do something prog(ish) before kept it away from that direction.

Fortunately when I was writing I got the idea for the basic melody for the singing so that made the process easier. I put together the chord progression on my acoustic on the Wednesday & then sat on it / rehearsed it for a couple of days. Then it was on to recording. This would be the first time I used my new upgrade to Cubase 7.5, the full version following my experiences with Cubase essentials 5 previously. As with almost all of my music software purchases, I got it on a great discount then didn’t use it for a while. The same went for the Halion Symphonic Orchestra that I bought on a deep discount whim a while back.

One of the things I have struggled with previously when recording is getting the timing right to be able to get a drum track down using EZdrummer. Far and away my favorite addition to the new Cubase is the chord track. This can be used creatively if you want, but for me it was so great to put the chords in place & get them in time right with the song, to allow me to easily see what drum loops would fit. The time saved & frustration levels removed for this little home recording artist was amazing & has me inspired to get back to recording regularly, instead of just wishing I knew how to do it better.

You can use the chord track to then trigger virtual instruments, this allows for a non piano playing person like me to set basic midi tracks much easier & quicker than before. No more googling a chord shape & playing / recording each piece separately. I used the chord track to control 4 separate channels of the Orchestra VST. A violin set, violas, cello & a brass ensemble, the idea being to give the track a movie soundtrack feel through an orchestral backdrop. To add a little variation & used an arpeggiator on the violins & violas, it is barely noticeable in the mix but it does add some nice depth.

Next up were the drums, which I was determined not to fight with & ruin the whole thing. I used a mixed kit of Ayotte & Ludwig pieces from the Rock Solid EZX & as quickly as possible found some fitting, generic rock midid loops to use. If I’d written this closer to the time of recording I would be able to better remember if I had to manipulate the loops much to fit what I was doing, but I honesty don’t remember.

With the drums in place & the orchestra leading the way I took to the acoustic guitar & recorded 2 tracks, one strumming the chords & one playing fingerstyle. To get as big a sound as I could, as quickly as possible, each recording (one take each) was done using 3 channels. I had a direct feed from the guitar’s electronics into the DI and then my 2 mics, one a large diaphragm condenser & one a dynamic, set up a different positions on the guitar to get a nice full sound with as many audio dynamics as possible. These would then be separated out in the mix with panning & balanced to give the best sound.

With this being a time crunch Sunday I went ahead & recorded the vocals next instead of the bass. We had family coming over that I would need to visit with & also I wanted to get anything that required the use of a microphone out of the way before the house got noisy.

Usually when recording vocals I record at least 4 takes & comp the best of them together. There was no time for that this time so a “good enough” take was recorded on 1 track. I tackled each section separately, cutting in with the recording. That way I could get my focus before the verse or chorus to try make sure I at least got a usable track. The same process for the harmony track was also used.

I resisted the temptation to apply any auto correction to the vocals, even though they started a little shaky. I added minimal processing to the vocals, mostly due to the time crunch. Using only the Nasty VCS (channel strip), a vintage compressor from cubase & a little reverb from Room Works.

With the vocals down I didn’t have long before our guests started to arrive. The rest of the recoding would be done in hurried breaks between visiting with family (I know, I’m bad). As always I ran the bass direct to my USB interface and used the Amplitube Ampeg plugin with my favorite preset, Comp Rock. One day I may actually work on bass playing, but for now I basically follow the chord progression and drums fill out the sound.

Finally it was on to the electric guitar parts, always my favorite part of the process, yet the most stressful sometimes as it is the only part I expect myself to be able to do really well with. I recorded 2 tracks of chorus laden clean sound with the Stratocaster, one strumming & one picking the notes. Then to actually give the track the rock feel that I wanted I ran a distorted track with the strat, before switching to the Les Paul tuned to drop D to try & give it some chug. The lead track was a one take hurried affair, but I think it actually fit quite well.

Running out of time before the deadline & also not wanting to neglect my wife & family on Mother’s Day 🙂 The editing process was done quickly & simply. I could have easily spent another week eq’ing, rerecording & editing. There are a couple of vocal parts I really wish I’d touched up, also the EQ on the toms is not quite right to me. However, considering half the challenge for the song was the time frame, I was really please & quite proud of it. Early in the process I realized I was going to have to save often, apparently having reached the limits of what my old laptop could handle, I was getting the blue screen of death every 20 minutes or so. It just about survived the recording session, but it was clear that I needed an upgrade if I am to actually continue with my occasional hobby.

If you were wondering if I had somehow won the contest, err no. Dustin Griffith won with a quite brilliant entry made about the podcast itself, certainly a worthy winner, the song is so good they really had no choice 🙂

Anyway, that’s about it. If you want to listen to the song again the video is here.

 

An Unusually Quiet Week

This week, I feel like the chairman of the bored
Too quiet, too light, not enough to keep my focus
Files fade into dusty tumble weeds
As emails arrive at an alarmingly manageable pace
Nervous laughter fills the room
Accountants twitch in their chairs, then leave for a paid lunch
The struggles of commerce in a burning world?
Or just an unusually quiet week?

50 Word Story: One Degree From Hades

A weary commuter, high on coffee and low on sleep, allows her auto pilot to take her back to work. The mercury dances, just one degree from hades, overheating an overcrowded highway. Chaos all around, this is no traffic symphony, but a free for all, a cacophony of pending disaster.

 

 

 

Thought I’d give this format a try, it makes for an interesting challenge!

Rediscovered Joy – Video Gaming & Destiny

Of all my interests / hobbies, video games probably consume the most of my free time, yet oddly enough, it’s not a subject I write about very often. Mostly that is because there is a dearth of gaming writers out there, but also because until recently I’d been slowly losing the desire to game. It had got to the point to where I was seriously on the fence about not getting a PS4 & was basically considering retiring my lifelong hobby.

I did decide to get a PS4, primarily because I enjoy gaming with my friends online, but also partly because the chance of getting a next generation console on launch day for the first time ever was just too much for my inner geek to resist. When the PS4 launched it was a significant step up from the PS3 as a gaming machine, but rather lackluster as a home entertainment system, something the PS3 excelled at, for example you could not (& still cannot) pair the PS3 remote control with it to make playing movies easier. The youtube app only recently made its way over too, little things, but initially, it was clear the PS4 was for gaming first & the rest would come. This is not a bad thing, just my observation.

Unfortunately, the first year of the PS4 gaming was a little hit & miss. The new games all looked very impressive, but other than continuing my lifelong love affair with FIFA, non of the games I played managed to capture my attention long term. I’ve still not fully finished any of the launch titles I got. I was starting to wonder if I had wasted my money, made the wrong decision about committing to this new generation of consoles, to the point of considering selling the PS4 & moving on with a gaming free life.

That is until June of last year. When I had the opportunity to play the Destiny alpha public test. I had seen the E3 launch campaign for Destiny the previous year, loved what I saw and had been keeping a distant eye for it’s release day. I don’t recall what I signed up for to get into the alpha but I was very glad I did. Following the alpha I pre-ordered the game, not something I usually do, but I was already hooked & pre-ordering got you into the public Beta which I consumed just as eagerly as the alpha.

I picked up the full game on launch day, I’m not here to write a review per say here, there are more than enough of them out there to satisfy any level of curiosity. What I am going to try and do is put into words what the game has meant to me. The first thing I guess I should say, is that the joy of gaming has been completely restored for me through this game. It may not be the best game ever, but you would be hard pressed for me to find a game that I would say I have ever liked better or enjoyed more. For many different reasons, this game just has my number, the joy of gaming may be borderline addiction once again lol.

11 months after the game launched I still play pretty much daily, I have made a number of new friends through the game, made several questionable decisions about how much sleep I can get away with on a work day, laughed, almost cried and just generally really enjoyed my nights gaming again.

Destiny is a funny game in a way in that it can be very repetitive yet never gets old, for me it is in a way similar to sports games. Yes FIFA is pretty much the same thing over and over, yet there is enough variance in each game, enough of an enjoyable challenge that I will play season after season. Destiny has somehow captured that same magic with its fun and at times intense gameplay. It can be a relaxing evening doing bounties or an adrenaline pumping stress session in the crucible, I can get whatever I want from the game on any given day.

Sadly the gaming clan I was a part of, dmg gaming, did not adopt the game very well, this led to me making the tough decision to call it quits after 6 years with then and sign up with a new crew, which fortunately has a number of fellow ex dmg’ers in it. It was a strange & tough decision to “leave” people who had become real life friends, but in order to get the most out of the game it was what needed to happen & it is a decision I do not regret in the slightest. Taking the step to do that has actually emboldened me to meet people from many different clans & I have discovered that i just really enjoy meeting new people in the gaming world.

The social aspect of the game is quite amazing, I have met a TON of new people & almost all of them have been great company. My new friends in the BYOB clan have been a blast to hang out with, the guys from Dads of Destiny are always there for company or to help if you just ask. The Safe Gamers group is a really cool place where people can hang out & be sure of a positive gaming experience. I’ve even had the privilege of playing a few games with some of the best players in the world from the Invigorate clan, their skill level is off the carts, yet they are totally humble, glad to help a guy like me out & just all around good company either in game or in their streams.

Streams, yes, that’s another thing I have discovered this last year. From twitch to mlg tv, there are folks all over the world at all hours of the day live streaming their gameplay & interacting with their viewers. A year ago I would have told you that was ridiculous & I would have no interest in such a thing, how things change lol. The right streamer, with a game you love can be great entertainment & in some cases very educational. I’ve watched quite a lot of John & Burdi from the Invigorate clan the last couple of months & just watching them has vastly improved my skill level as a gamer. Seeing how things work and opening your eyes to what is possible is a game changer.

The community playing Destiny is by far the best part of the game, it is the best part of any video game I have ever heard of. Want to know more about the lore? Go over to reddit or one of the many Destiny sites and fellow gamers have gathered the intel in easy to read formats, some chronological etc. You could spend days theorizing with other fans if you wanted. Even better, you could head to http://www.astrumterra.com/audiogrimoire.html and enjoy some incredible dramatized reading of the cards, or tune in to the Guardian Radio podcast every week.

One of the great complaints with Destiny is the failure to convey the incredible story particularly well in game. While I agree it could have been done better, I personally do not feel that the way the game is set up would be really conducive to extended story telling cut scenes. The game and its universe does have an incredible story though, this lore can be found through reading the grimoire cards on Bungie’s website (and other sources – see above). Again, this has been a major complaint from many (having to do it outside of the game), however to me, what could be considered a design flaw was actually a work of accidental genius as it has brought the community much closer together as they try to figure everything out.

There are very limited matchmaking systems in the game, again a frustration for some, yet form this has come an incredible array of LFG (looking for group) systems. Clans work together, alliances have been formed & so many real life friendships. My virtual circle is ever increasing, sure occasionally you meet someone you never want to hear from again (easy to accomplish), but you might also meet some really cool people.

Not just in game, but outside of the game the community regularly comes together to help a worth cause. There have been efforts to support fundraisers for Cystic Fibrosis, Operation Supply Drop, St Judes Hospice, the Nepal earthquake and even to do something nice for a kid that was bullied. There have been many more, these are just the ones that I have been involved with in some small way.

There are times when I wonder if I have allowed this game to become too prominent in my life. 2-3 hours every night I spend playing Destiny. However, they are the hours after my family has already retired for the day & if I am being honest, the only other thing I would do with that time is watch tv. Yes I could read a book, or go for a run or do things that people say you should do, instead I do something that i love, that I am passionate about again thanks to Destiny. Those hours are always some of the most enjoyable of every day, time that I spend time in good company doing something I enjoy.

I should I suppose put this in perspective.  I am still enjoying my family time, leading worship at the homeless shelter, making new music, looking forward to another season coaching my kids soccer team, I even write a blog post occasionally 😉 Sometimes i give myself a hard time for playing the game a lot, but I am just fighting the old fight of judging myself for allowing me to be myself if that makes sense. For the first time in my life, I am just embracing this, not ashamed, not trying to hide my love of a video game, I am just having fun playing a game in my spare time with a bunch of different people that i really enjoy, if thats not a good thing, then I have no idea what is. If you follow me on Twitter & don’t care about the game, sorry about that 😉

When I was pondering on whether or not to get a PS4, I wrote the below on my hopes for the next generation of games. Thanks to a company called Bungie & their incredibly talented team, thanks to the amazing community of people that I am  proud to be a part of, I can whole heartedly tell you that all my dreams for this generation of gaming have come true, and I have truly rediscovered the joy of gaming.

Maybe the next generation of games will have some fresh ideas, better co-op, more original themes that involve more than just killing wave after wave of bud guys. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough little boy in me to still enjoy playing war, but it just seems like there should be more to a game than that, especially with the technology available. Maybe the next gen of games will have online modes where the technical flaws in the game don’t make my lack of ability even more frustrating than it already is. “

If you’re on Playstation & want to team up with a semi-responsible grown man who just loves to play Destiny, my PSN ID is LUFCTX 🙂

Want to see some of the game? Here is a video I made, with a song I wrote & recorded, more on that soon…

 

The Problem is Love?

Is the world burning?

Are these the end times?

Look at the news

Look at social media

What has happened?

Where are we heading?

 

Murder, rape, slavery

Terrorism, prison brakes

Pirates, dictators, kingpins

 

Money laundering, tax evasion

Political corruption, corporate corruption

Capitalism, communism, socialism

Fuck-it-all-ism

 

Domestic abuse

Rampant prejudice

Bullying, pedophilea,

 

Common decency? Where is that?

 

Preachers with private jets, telling the world that the biggest problem we have is two people loving each other? really?

People have a right to their own beliefs, just because you do not share them does not give you the right to judge or hate. Especially if you are claiming to do it in the name of Jesus. People claim to be defending the word of God, doing what is right. Did you ever stop to think that if God is really who we claim He is, then how arrogant would that make you, to think that He would need you to defend Him? Share the gospel, not some hate message delivered through false piety.

At times I despair at the world, other times I ignore the world. I wonder sometimes why I write less these days, sometimes it is because to write I need to observe & sometimes this world disgusts me so much that I just want to switch off, to hide in my own little bubble. Then other times I feel like I should rant, because I have the right to my beliefs too. The right to think that each and every person is equal, created with their own path & their own unique beauty. It is not for anyone to judge another, simply to love, help them on their journey if you can. If you cannot comprehend the choices of another, if they are not hurting anyone, just step back & wish them well, they probably don’t need or want your approval anyway.

Peace & love my friends