Tag Archives: music

Is the music dead?

Is the music dead

or simply quiet?

Has inspiration left

or is it just still?

 

Internal conflict

Or lack of interest?

Undigested pain

Or focus lost?

 

The creative soul

Enters dryness

But not darkness

A new frontier

 

 

The wasteland wanderer

Lost in the empty

Is seeking a

jungle of inspiration

 

To hope again

To dream again

To sing again

Maybe even, to write again

 

 

 

When one’s soul connects primarily through music

The silence inside can be deafening

Lack of emotion when listening is so troubling

Yet when you feel, even if only briefly

Hope is offered & the future, seems brighter

 

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Cologne and Cigarettes

Cologne and cigarettes

Each one hiding the other

A masquerade of internal struggle

Conflict of the soul

The creative quandary

 

The philosopher poses life’s questions

The expressions of doubt and hopelessness

That spark songs

The faithful lover, hopes and

Writes of a future unknown

 

Singers of songs

Writer of poems

Giver of hope

Taker of doubt

Why must you smell of cologne and cigarettes?

 

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.

 

2 Years!!!

The craziest thing happened yesterday I got a notification on the WordPress app that my blog IMG_1572has now been up for 2 years. 2 years! From a guy that thought he had nothing to say. It has been quite the ride, a lot has happened in the last 2 years, I have changed a lot & this, my little piece of the internet has been a big part of it. When I started writing here I was coming into a season of awakening. I had gone through a lot of healing in the years leading up to this season and it was now a time to learn what exactly it meant to be me. Through poetry, essays, music & rambling processing my thoughts, emotions & imagination has been wonderfully enjoyable & thraputic.

2 years on, I have healed even more, I’m an ever changing & evolving being. The thing that I most enjoy about today though is I am simply me. I no longer feel a need to try to fit in or pretend I am something other than who I am, I am me, faults & all. One of the challenges at the moment of living in this new place is simply getting used to it. I no longer feel the lingering, lurking threat of depression wanting to return. I no longer expect something to go wrong at any time, I no longer have this underlying anger waiting to surface. I am good, I am loving living life, I am content (in a good way), I am happy. The funny thing is that nothing much has changed externally, yet internally everything has changed, call it a miracle if you like, I am & will always be grateful to Jesus Christ for what He has done in me & where He has brought me to personally.

Unhiddenlight will continue, rest assured (I’m sure you were all worried & stuff) I would imagine it will be much more like year 2 than year 1 though. There will be seasons of much content when I am creatively inspired & lulls when I am not so inspired, or simply too busy.

One of the most enjoyable things I have been able to do in recent memory is coach my daughters soccer team in the fall. Unfortunately that took a lot of time & energy which resulted in a fall off here. Add to that I started playing soccer again in addition to my other extra-curricular activities & my writing has taken a back seat. I probably need to make a commitment to some kind of writing schedule. Not that writing here is mandatory, yet my life & my mind seem to work better when I am exercising my thoughts for something other than work & sports. So lets call that a note to self, plan to write!

Another good thing (to me at least) is that I recently rediscovered the joy of gaming. I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing  Destiny (as expected), I have reconnected with some long time gaming friends though it & made some fun new friends too. One of my favorite hobbies, my “me time” has become truly enjoyable again, it has gone from stale to completely fresh. Instead of something I was just doing to chat with a few friends it has been a nightly event of fun & laughter, the way it should be.

One of my hopes when I first started my blog was that I might start song writing again, that has happened, I penned several songs this last year, some good, some just good practice. Getting around to recording & sharing them is unfortunately once again going painfully slowly. The down / up side of it being a hobby is that I only do it when I am really in the mood. I’m often in the mood to make music, not so much to record it & deal with all the intricacies of making it work as well as possible.

So here we are, my first “real” post in a while, not that my poetry does not count, but you know what I mean, 2 years in, 348 posts, 414 WordPress followers – thank you so much for all your support & for your friendship! I truly appreciate every single one of you!!!

 

Where did the country go?

I remember a time when I was young

I listened to the saddest song on the radio

A country tale that touched the soul

Steel guitar weaving a tapestry of emotion

 

As the drums gently propel us on

A violin haunts the air

To the theme of a guitar strum

 

A simple voice tells the truth

With authentic beauty

And I connect

For those few minutes I share the pain

And my heart is better for it

 

Then, time passes

I turn on the radio again

And wonder

Where did the country go?

 

 

Speaking of good country music, check out the new video from my worship leader & friend from church Crystal Yates. You should go get her EP, it is genuinely the best collection of country music that I have bought this year 🙂

 

In A Mess – a new old song

There are some inescapable facts about music. One of those facts is that every song has a story. Sometimes that story is told through the lyrics, an autobiographical window into someone else’s world, or maybe it’s a fictional world created just for you. Sometimes it is in the music, a mystical tapestry of sonic stimulation that takes you to a place that words cannot. Frequently with commercial music the real story is that someone wants to make money, they have a hook a line & a catchy melody that is carefully placed together and given to someone to sing & play. Regardless of how good the story is, or is not, each song still has a story and so it is with the song I am about to share with you.

 

This is a bit of an odd one, writing this post in November that is, you see I recorded this song mostly in June, tinkered with it a bit in July & then had every intention of writing this post at the beginning of August. Then doubts crept in, it’s no good, it’s not representative of what I can do today, I don’t really like it, why would anyone else, you know, that BS that we all get when we create something. So it has sat, until recently & then I just decided, what the heck, share it, maybe a couple of people will listen, maybe one will like it, it doesn’t matter, the point is to not allow those fears to build back up. The main reason I ever share anything on here is to fight those internal fears that tell me I am no good, even though I know that is a lie.

 

In A Mess - original paperSo the song, it was originally titled “I Need You”, I changed it to “In a Mess”, which is one of the very few things I changed on it, I’m not sure why I changed the name but the new one seems to fit better. I wrote this song on April 19th 1995 (yes 1995, that’s not a typo), the note on the paper states that it was written in 38 minutes, between 10:19 & 10:57pm. That would place me at 18 years old at the time of writing and a little over a year into my guitar playing journey.

The song itself is not, that I recall, autobiographical, it appears to be about someone who is in a relationship that is on the verge of ending, but despite the chaos the person knows that he does not want the relationship to end, because he needs the love of his partner. The real story of the song however is that there was once a young 18 year old kid who wanted nothing more than to be a rock star and every time he tried to write a song it seemed to come out slow & mushy. So this time, equipped with a riff he borrowed from an instructional book & modified somewhat, he was going to write a rock song come what may. The result is pretty much what you hear here.

When I decided that this would be the next song I was going to record one of the parameters I set myself was that I was going to leave it as untouched as possible. The point in recording / sharing this was to do something for that 18 year old, who was to afraid of rejection to ever really share his music, that he was never able to do for himself. Lyrically I left it pretty much alone, a slight edit/delete for a couple of lines that didn’t flow at all, but you can see from the original writing that it is all still here. I resisted changing the key to one that better suited my vocal range, the riff is completely intact, I don’t recall how the solo originally went, but I am please with how it ended up, it seems to fit the song well. I honestly feel that if I had access to a DeLorean & could fire it up to 88 & get back to ’95, my 18 year old self would be thrilled with what I have done with it. That in itself is enough to please my 37 year old self.

When I am recording I have to remind myself that the best I am realistically going to achieve is a decent demo. I don’t have the know how or equipment – yet 😉 to make it sound like I paid big money to visit the warehouse In Vancouver & hire Butch Vig to produce it. That is more than ok, yet sometimes it is frustrating when I just cannot get it to sound the way it should in my mind (I guess that’s why they make the big bucks).

 

in a mess mixer

So anyway, for those who care, here is what I did with the tracks, starting with the guitar (of course). For the main riff you will find 4 separate guitar tracks. 2 each with the bridge pickup of the Les Paul & my HSS strat, yes that is a lot of humbucking! The guitar was recorded running my Boss GT-8 direct to Cubase which is the first time I have done it that way, usually I run it into an amp & mic it up. It is much easier to control the frequencies this way but it does lose a certain je ne sais quoi, I was however happy with the results & will use this method again depending on what the track calls for. The Les Paul was run through a Marshall stack patch that I call my Slash patch. The strat was run through a Soldano SLO-100 patch which has a very different, yet still highly overdriven, sound from the Marshall (digital versions are as close as I will get to them unfortunately), so that is how I came up with the 4 tracks.

in a mess drumsThe drums were as usual created using Ezdrummer. The kit was the main kit from the Rock Solid expansion pack, it has some great sounding rock kits in that one. As always seems to be the case, there was not a preprogrammed midi pattern that would fit my needs, either they provide odd patterns or my tastes are more unique that I realize. Regardless, for the main riff I took the closest thing I could find & then modified it to meet my needs. I think for the chorus & other parts I found something lose enough & then for the fills I merged & edited a few patterns to create something more unique.

In a mess bassThe bass was played through my trusty Ampeg SVT plugin, not I did say player, I might not play bass, but I can play guitar well enough on a bass to get a bass line for a song, lol. However as the bass world is pretty foreign to me I just used a stock pack from the plugin, fortunately al of the provided ones sound & work really well. This particular one, the Dist 810 stack, is based on the SVT-4 Pro amp.

In a Mess vocal plugins

In a Mess reverbThe vocals have a little EQ on them, some compression, a limiter for clipping control & a dash of BBE sonic maximizer & a send to some reverb. No auto-tune, ever, however close I get to signing in tune is what you will get, always, not sure why but that is a house rule in my home studio. I threw a little harmony vocal onto the track right at the end. It is not as tight as I originally intended, but I left it loose as it is because I liked the way it sounded like 2 people singing in a band as In a mess vocal delayopposed to an overdub. A new technique that I had to figure out was automating the delay effect, I wanted it only at certain points & so had to learn the automation of a send effect. It was not that difficult fortunately & I like what it added.

The mix was mostly done in recording, leveling & panning to fit as I go through the process works well for me. Once I had the mix set I exported & then imported into a new track to try and do some mastering. I usually do not bother with this as previously I have had nothing to add at this stage. However thanks to a heavy discount on  Musician’s Friend “stupid deal of the day “ I picked up the BBE Sonic Sweet set of plugins. I tried each of them individually & also different combinations but finally settled on using all 3 in sync with each other. They definitely add some sheen to the track & also enable it to come up close to commercial volume levels without just seeing a solid red warning light from all the clipping.

In a mess master

So there you have it, a new 19 year old song, thank you for reading & if you pressed play, thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed it for what it is 🙂

 

 

Making The Leap

I envy your bravery

The willingness to try

Regardless of the consequences

 

Yet, I wonder if you had become comfortable

Like I have

If you would still have made the leap

 

Or would you freeze

Not to rock the boat

Not to face the risk

 

I wonder and strangely fear

If that will end up

My biggest cross to bear

 

 

 

This one came to me whilst watching the Austin episode of Sonic Highways (if you’re not watching that series you are missing out). The artists were discussing Townes Van Zandt and how he could / should have made a lot more money in his career but he didn’t care, it was never about money for him. He had made his mind up that he was going to but an artist no matter what. I love that attitude, I’d like to think that is the attitude I would have if I had gone down that path for a profession.

Of course the old thought came to me, why didn’t I have that mindset when I was at the right age?  Geography, circumstances, damaged mental goods – these are all true. Would I quit my job today to pursue a music career? Honestly, I don’t think I would, I mean if something crazy were to happen then sure, but to give up the security & the life that I have worked so hard for over the past 20 years to play smoky bars is just not for me. The desire for that life is nowhere near as strong in me today as it was two decades ago when fear & naivety held more control than mere fate. Today I just like to make music for the love of music, there is no pressure that way, other than trying to make myself happy. The only downside is I have to fit it in, instead of it being all day every day.

Yet, I still wonder what if sometimes, don’t we all?