News: Year Two

So, March was the last time I posted something here.

What have I been doing? Well, a whole lot of nothing, and a whole lot of everything.

I’ve played a couple of shows, but mostly been trying to keep my head down around the day job to get my next release sorted, and now I’m finished, and I’m happy.

It’s been tough, probably one of the toughest processes I’ve been through. I had planned to release this at the start of the year but just couldn’t get it done. When I thought it was finished I asked for feedback from friends and colleagues. All the feedback was positive, with one home truth: “You can do better”

I agreed whole heartily, and decided to stick at it. It’s frustrating when your brain thinks something is finished, but you heart says no. I was simply being lazy.

I gave it a rest for a week, a month, I think that then turned into 4 months, then came back to it. I started adding new sections, cutting the tracks down in size, deleting whole sections and sounds, re-arranging, re-arranging, re-arranging, recording new parts. Everything.

Throughout this process I had a gig to prepare for, my second headline show. I decided that half of the stuff had to be new material. I was playing in Cardiff with the mindset that everyone who had seen me play had heard it all before. I was glad I chose to do this. The comments were outstanding. Positive vibes all around about the new material, and people really seemed to engage and enjoy it more than previously. This was another push in the right direction.

Life got in the way again, motivation quickly disappeared, procrastination kicked in. The struggle that every creative battles with.

I finally got myself back into it a few weeks ago, nailed it within a few days, and guess what. Today it’s been uploaded. I’ve decided to hold off on it until the 7th Oct, but I wanted to just get it up into the ether ready to be distributed across all the platforms as close together as possible.

One final thing I would like to add. Being a musician is about being a musician. I’m an electronic musician, yet this album is relatively organic. I’ve never been about trying to make new sounds with the fanciest synth out there, in fact I’ve found that often to be tedious. For me it’s about getting an idea ‘down on paper’, and going with it. This whole album is just that. Electronic sounds do feature, but most of it is about me finding a bit of a voice, in both production style and melody creation (something I’ve struggled with for a long time).

This release is truly a stepping stone for myself, and I’m only looking forward to carrying on with writing new material having learned so much from what I’ve just achieved.

So guys, keep an eye out. Year Two is coming.

 

 

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News: 2016

So it’s begun. We’re already 13 days into 2016, and I can’t believe it. Any fellow creative will understand. I look at what I’ve done and I think of all the time that I wasted, it gets me down, I get upset. HOWEVER. 2015 was also packed with a load of stuff that pushed my music making passion forward. You can scroll down and look through sparse blog posts regarding what I got up to. Adding it all up it actually puts a grin on my face. I’m very lucky to have gotten to where I am so far in such a short period of time.

The highlight I’m looking forward to though is this…

MY FIRST HEADLINE SHOW.

To see my name in big on a poster like this is awesome. I’ve stepped into a few bars around Cardiff to have people say they’re coming and looking forward to it, which I hate to say, makes me hella proud of myself 🙂

Blue Box Promotions is run by the legend Adam Whitmore, who I’ve met before at networking events and who also takes part in a lot of other promotion groups around Cardiff. When he first invited me to come and play at Free For All festival I jumped at the chance of kicking the new year off with a festival show. When he asked if I would headline the Friday night, I was ecstatic.

Thanks to all. Lets start 2016 with a bang… After those big flashy things exploded in the sky… Peace x

[Due Update] Writing Music No.1 (2012)

Over the past couple of days I’ve been poking my head around websites with articles related to writing music. I have to say. There aren’t a lot that really give you any help. A lot of them are extremely basic, and I can understand how this might aid people who are literally just starting to write, but what about the people who have been writing for years?

Now, I’m not exactly a pro. My tracks are proof of that, but I have been trying my hand at writing for a long time. I began with my guitar and voice, writing singer/songwriter stuff influenced by people such as John Mayer, Dave Matthews, City and Colour, and more. I did this for quite a few years, from that age of about 15 until I was around 19/20. I still do, and I know that compared to some people those 4/5 years are nothing, but I learnt a lot from doing that. I didn’t have any official training, the only instrument I had to been taught was Drums (and a little bit of piano when I was even younger), but my guitar and voice was simply through self-learning. I didn’t use tabs, I used my ear (a technique that everyone should try). The great thing about using my ears was that I soon realised that most of the guitar tabs you found online were wrong, and that they were simply using the root notes of the chords being played, rather than actually using what the original writer had intended. These are the types of chords you hear being played by buskers on the highstreet as they scream their lungs out thinking that they’re amazing. I tell you what, the ones I actually pay attention to or even give money to, are the ones that either make the song their own, or play the actual chords.

Sidetracking again, but basically, I had those few years of playing guitar, going to open mic nights, playing at my own nights, and even being invited to play at Glastonbury Festival with my band at the time. One thing I discovered though whilst writing my own stuff, the song for my acoustic band, and the songs for my ’emo/screamo’ band at the time, was that you found yourself writing completely different styles, (obviously) but your writing style would be completely different also. Styles, build-ups, structure. They were all different. This brings me back to my opening comments.

I recently posted up a blog about templating creativity, for myself, it’s exactly what I needed to do. I struggle to find the time to actually sit down and write music. Making that template has increased the possibility that I’ll actually get to do so, and the arrangement/structure template I’m using will also aid in that, but I find myself listening to tracks I had written when I first started using Music Software (whilst I was studying at A-Level), and I listen to the MUSIC side of things thinking, ‘How on earth did I come up with that?’.

To be honest, I think that the reason I was writing music back then, that I struggle to write now, was purely down to not having been taught how to write music. You might find that comment funny, but if you look at most of the musicians in the charts, or with their own albums etc being made commercial now, ask them if they went at studied music after college, whether they went and did a degree. I might be talking out of my own ass here, but a lot of the people I’ve read about and met who are making great tracks now, haven’t gone through education, they haven’t been taught how to make music, they’ve simply followed their instincts and done it.

Instinct can be a very important thing when it comes to music, and I think that a lot of us forget about it. We’re often taught ‘when you use this chord, you then have to use this chord’, I remember specifically being asked to analyze a couple of albums whilst studying Music Technology. Those albums were The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, and Marvin Gayes ‘What’s going on?’. Both albums are beautiful. They show a true passion for music, for story telling, a talent for sharing emotion, but also having fun. My tutor at the time started saying things like ‘Now here you can hear how Marvin Gaye has chosen to use these chords, and how he’ used them to represent the lyrics’. That’s a simplified version of what he might say, but we’d then also get questions similar in our exams ‘How have the Black Eyed Peas used chord structures to represent the lyrics’ blah blah blah.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but when I write songs, I don’t sit down and go ‘yeh, I’m going to use these chords cus I think they’ll represent my struggle through my life, and I’m gunna add a minor 13th because when I was 13 years old I got my first chest hair’. It’s ridiculous, the way I would see writing music was simply ‘do I like it or not’. I have to admit, most of the chords I play I don’t even know the names of. I just sit down, fling notes together and see whether it sounds ok, I’ll then maybe change or add other notes to see how it might change the chord, or whether it sounds nicer. I’ll get the feel for a track and then carry on writing it.

I’ve found that throughout my education, although I’ve learnt a lot, which I’m entirely grateful for, I’ve found myself taking a step back musically, you’re sat down and told ‘you need to add this, or you should change this chord, maybe you should use a jazz mode’, instead of just being told, use your instinct. I would actually prefer it if a tutor told me to use my instinct, and then told me that my track was crap than to tell me how to change it, as even though the track might sound better with added input, it probably still sounds crap at the end of the day!

I feel like I’m ranting again. Basically. Use your instincts when writing music. I’ve actually found that the best people to ask about your music, if you want advice, are people who aren’t musicians. This might sound strange, but if you start asking other musicians, all you’ll get is their ideas, their way of thinking, you won’t get the general advice of whether the track is good or not. Musicians might say that a track is good, because they see potential in it, but that’s still the potential through their eyes, not your own, they could have a completely different idea to how that track should sound compared to what you might think, and if you follow what they want, you probably will end up not liking the track, because you haven’t created it.

When you ask non-musicians about your music, they’re going to basically tell you whether or not it will work on the dancefloor, whether or no they would buy it, and they’re advice is going to sound simple, things like ‘it doesn’t sound loud enough here’ or ‘it’s not fast enough’ or ‘it needs vocals’. The latter is the most common one for me, but there’s a reason for that. Most people want vocals in a track to connect with, and it’s a very important part of music. What they will often mean by saying this is that you need a hook. If you go to a gig with people such as Pendulum or Chase & Status, a couple of the bands that really broke into the commercial realm over the past few years, you’ll hear that on the tracks without vocals, the crowd are all singing the melody line as if it was being sung in the original track. This is because this is how they remember the track. A musician will probably remember the drum beat, or the sound of the synth or guitar tone, where as a none musician will cling onto the easiest thing they can, the hook, or the vocals.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on for quite a while, I think this might be the first in a group of ramblings about writing music… Watch this space.

 

[Due Update] Using a Template for Production (2012)

I’ve created a template in Reaper in order to help my workflow in future tracks. So here’s a brief explanation on what I’ve done, why I’ve done it, and how it’s been designed to aid me in my compositions and song writing. First of all, here’s a screen shot of the arrangement view, and I’ll go through exactly what I have available to me when I first open up Reaper.

The Tracks

Ideas Track – This is simply a Piano running in Kontakt. It means that a soon as I open up my project, I can start playing around with melody/harmony ideas. I can record these and copy them into my other tracks however I want.

Drum Bus – This is an accumulation of Battery 3 and some of my favorite samples. I’m currently trialing using Battery, as mentioned in previous posts, I used to use Ableton, and I had similar samples loaded up in a Drum Rack, but seeing as I’ve not invested in the Komplete 8 package, I thought I’d take advantage of using a more advanced sampler.  Battery is sending out the different samples into a number of busses that I’ll briefly talk about later.

Impacts – Here I have a a few audio tracks where I can simply drop samples of ‘impacts’ or ‘explosive’ types of sounds, to layer up the texture of a track.

Synths – Within this group of tracks, I have a few different basic synth patches that I’ve created as defaults that I can then manipulate and change to suit the track I’m writing. Currently, these are simply different versions of Massive, but I’ll soon change them to different synths depending on what I’m writing and what I need them for.

Vox – I have a simple mic set up in the studio, in case I want to lay down some vocal ideas, so these are simply audio tracks hooked up to my soundcard for those purposes.

Air/Sweeps – These are a few audio tracks for me to drop samples of sweeps/swooshes/wwweeeeeee sounds. However you want to describe them. These are often used for build-ups or texture purposes. ‘Air’ (such as wind, vinyl noise etc) can be used to open up a track, and add that room to breath. I can make a track feel more natural/organic, a technique used by a number of different producers.

Effects – This is a group of general effects most commonly used on my productions, and we’ll look at these in further down.

The Mixer

So here’s the mixer… You may have noticed that I’ve colour coded the different groups. This is simply so that it’s easier for me to see what’s where, so that I can quickly find what I need. This also makes it easier if I’m collaborating with people. They can easily look at each main group (the larger fader) and then look at the individual instruments within that track. Obviously whilst working on a track, and can change labels and make a more relevant or detailed connection between the name and the sound. Currently they’re simply things like ‘Sub’, ‘Bass’, ‘Lead’, etc.

On each track I’ve placed a flat EQ to be edited later. I believe you should never use ‘stock’ EQs. What I mean by that is you shouldn’t presume that even if you’re using the same sound/sample, that the EQ should be the same for every track your working on. Each track will have a different feel/sounds that will interact with each other differently, so they will require different EQs for each song your working on.

You may notice that I have then set up sends on different tracks to their most commonly related effect. In general Reverb will be used on most tracks, Delay, Distortion and a Widener will only be used on particular tracks, dependent on the song itself.

I haven’t placed any compressors on any of the tracks apart from a simple Drum Bus compressor. This is purely for the same reason as the EQs. You will not always need to compress a sound, so what’s the need to having it there until you need it?

Structure

You may have noticed this on the arrangement view. I have used regions and markers to help the structure of my compositions. This is something that I have sometimes struggled with in the past. It’s not that I can’t structure my pieces, but this is a simple way of reminding me about it. I’ve used a standard structure found in a lot of electronic music such as Dub-Step or House music. The markers half-way through each region are simply to remind me about introducing something new, and the are colour coded to remind me about the relations between sections etc.

I believe this template is going to help a great deal in my workflow, and in my creative flow. It will help me to sit down, and start with creating the music first, creating the instruments, and then finally producing. Hopefully I won’t get lost in what I should be doing, and this will help me to keep organized in the future a lot more. Below are a couple of video that helped to make me realize a few of these ideas, with thanks to Vespers and Dodge & Fuski. They can seem cheesy, but they’re completely relevant for people in my position and within the industry…