For everyone who couldn’t swing it to mexico to catch the first ever show, I’ve cut a little video showing a few raw little bootleg videos from Nai’s camera.
I can say straight out that I didn’t play the best set in the history of time, but for a first one I think I was incredibly lucky. Such a great venue, such great people.
You will notice that there are no beats or synths, just piano/rhodes off the laptop and some guests I managed to talk into playing with me unrehearsed. I do plan to bring more electronic elements in for the next ones, but I’m carefully avoiding being that guy running backing tracks off a laptop. I can’t dance well enough 😉 So those parts will come as I can learn to perform them. Or convince some other humans to.
But there is time for all that later. For now, here it is: the live beginnings from Queretaro, Mexico.
Oh oh also, here are some tunes by Luis Alonso. He is the 16 year old support act, and the kid really really knows what he is doing live. Keep an eye on him, particularly if you are conversant in espanol.
So the first ever Birds in Branches gig happened. It is done. And the earth still spins, gravity still works. All in all a success.
I had a great time, and my new friends in Mexico were wonderful, despite understanding almost nothing I said in my set. Most people would learn Spanish for a gig in mexico, but I forgot all mine in the excitment. Sorry about that (for any of you are google-translating this very sentence). Also, you are chido.
I have some video snippets to cut together and post soon – I planned to put it up fast but we haven’t quite been chilling on couches. The Mexico whirlwind of great fun (did I mention ‘Chasing the Wind’ was cranked in a Mexican club?!) was followed by a similarly-filled Canada version. Involving road trips and surfing on in a giant freshwater lake (in the last few hours anyways).
So obviously I have lots to say, but these are the pearls that make a blog. I’ll roll them out as we go.
In particular, my thoughts about live playing will leak out over time as it all sinks in, but it would be fair to say that I learned a lot in that hour. And I have a lot more to learn. For example, there is a lot to do at once when you’re alone on stage, and it’s surprisingly hard to do anything well. Never considered that before. Will now. New respect for people who play and sing live.
As for us, we are heading to New York tomorrow. Inconveniently, it looks like the worst storm/hurricane in hundreds of years is likely to hit New York once we get there. So I’m praying that we will live to see another Birds in Branches show. If these posts stop soon, assume the worst and cut us a tribute montage? I suggest Phil Collins’ ‘Rain Down’ as soundtrack, but go with what feels right.
This little post is for anyone who has thought to themself:
“sure, great track, but what use is it on the internet? I have an ipod!!!”
Up until today you were at my mercy – as I’m not making the EP take-able until it’s finished, glistening in high quality glory. That’s the cruel perfectionistic way I roll.
But that changed a few hours ago, with a loophole. I got my triple j on, and being in unearthed means you can can download a free 128kbps mp3 version of whatever goes up. ‘Chasing the Wind’ has just gone up. It’s not the tasty quality the release will be at, but it is available this very second.
So do go on and grab it if you desire it.
Those of you who love a tidy itunes like me, I’m hurrying the proper one. I promise. I’m also aware that I’m using a certain photo of myself more than one should ever use a photo. Worry not, cooler photos will come. Uncooler ones too.
Triple j is my staple radio source, and either way I recommend prancing around unearthed for a while. I get lost in there at times. The good kind of lost. Actually, if you get hooked enough to register an account, do drop a review on that birds in branches page. That guy would love it.
Yes indeed, that’s where the first ever birds in branches show is.
Those who know me (which is probably most of you since I haven’t released anything yet) may be a little perplexed. And fair enough. I have never been to Mexico and can’t speak spanish. But my wife Nai is heading over for work, I am joining for fun, and a cluey cafe owner heard some tracks and was keen to roll the dice. How could you turn down an offer to play in Mexico? You couldn’t, that’s how.
It won’t be quite the electronic tapestry of the album, as I can’t take a band or my gear. But I have packed my macbook full of software and my mind full of ideas and confused spanish phrases, and am going to give it a decent go – cafe style. There is a ‘geek aside’* below for the gory details on the laptop rig, for those who love that stuff.
I can’t lie, it is certainly a very exposed way to start. A laptop, borrowed midi keyboard and a mic. But if it does go down in awkward flames, I can always skip the country, right? Right. Either way, it sounds like a cool place full of cool people, I’m real glad to be starting there.
Incidentally we’re also galavanting over to New York for a few days. Maybe I’ll sign up for an open mic in a dive somewhere and call it a North American tour?
*The Geek aside:
“what laptop rig??111?!?!?!!//’???”
Wellll, I bootcamped my macbook air with windows 7 and those charming asio4all drivers.
NI Upright, NI Mark 1, GSi VB3, Poise and Uhe Zebra are happily residing in Reaper. Very similar to the studio rig, but with the Nord Stage, MFB Synth 2, Timefactor and Blofeld replaced with software. After the normal tweaking and hair pulling required to chase down the crackles (Nvidia’s fault this time) it’s happily prancing at 44.1 and 64 samples on the onboard sound. Sounds and plays actually rather great. I was surprised.
I’m not really a ‘laptop on stage’ lover, but it’s great to have a set of tasty sounds hiding away in a thin little piece of aluminium. Lets see how it all ends up…
I am glad to say the least, because this is you hearing the first example of a FULLY FINISHED track from the EP – ‘Chasing the Wind’. This is more like how it’s going to be sounding.
Big thanks to CJ Devillar for being very good at what he does, what with his mixing and his mastering.
Tasty, edible sound don’t you think? That’s right, good sound makes me want to eat it. That can’t be just me. But I digress. The rest of the tracks are fully done and are currently sitting in a cloud ready to me mixed, and my excitement is building, building.
More to tell soon, but first some sleep.
Be assured, I’m still here. Just, perhaps, after a frenzied June, but still kicking.
In fact, it’s my birthday, and I’ve taken the day off work to work on vocals for the 7th and final EP track ‘forwards and faster’. Note the photo proof above. Closer by the day.
In very exciting news, I have ‘robot’ back from my chosen mix and master man CJ Devillar in LA, and it sounds real tasty. Nai (my wife and self appointed hype manager) has agreed to let me post another preview soon, so I’m obediently waiting on getting ‘Chasing the Wind’ back from CJ – it will be a better taster.
A little backstory, attentive readers may note that not so many posts ago I was mixing my own EP. Well, I decided to splurge and try some fresh ears and skills for one track (robot, as I said), and the result was wonderful. Not just in sound quality, but in my ability to listen to it without going into a panicked sweat of uncertainty. So while I’m not sure that I can afford CJ for all tracks, I’ll be selling organs to get him on as many as possible. Even if you don’t know what a mix engineer is, your ears will thank him.
A bunch of people have been asking for a time frame, and since we’re away in August, maybe late September or early October for release. Launch listening party and all if we’re lucky. More on those later.
Back to it. Best birthday ever.
I have noticed how easy it is to become a human disclaimer for something that is in progress. ‘it’s getting there’, ‘slowly but surely’, ‘it’s not finished’, ‘I promise it’s happening, sorry it isn’t faster’. I love the destination, and the transit is embarrassing.
But I may have a lot left to learn, because what if all we have is transit?
This blog is obviously covering my first EP in detail, because of the unknown – will I actually get there? Is it possible for me to release something? We just don’t know yet.
But as of this week I have started the 7th and final song, and it looks like it may just even happen. I face the destination. And here is the oddity, because from this vantage point the destination is not home. Not yet. I don’t want to stop, I want the end to be the beginning of the larger.
I have a glimmer of what this may mean – that all of this is transit, and all the beauty we have for now is in movement. This battle for art is still a tough one, and I am not really winning it. Work is always increasing, my body misses it’s sleep, commitments and needs press harder. But while the battle is uncomfortable, for now it is home. A frustrating, unglamorous and yet wonderfully movement-filled home. This is what I wonder about.
Now from vague philosophy to direct announcement (or ‘helicopter montage to kitchen scene’ if you prefer metaphor), happenings abound.
As I mentioned, I’m working on the last song. Ie, 6 songs pretty much done. Incredible, it feels like it just crept up and suddenly was the case.
Now I say pretty much done, because they are creatively there, but as yet sounding a little less than vivid. As a mix engineer, I currently make a great…… croquet player. And I have played 2 games of croquet ever, and lost both to beginners. I know I play with needless riddles sometimes (short attention span perhaps), so to translate I’m saying I’m bad at mixing. I like it, and will continue to learn, but I am bad.
So I have been wrestling with whether for this EP I might just employ some fresh, experienced ears to set the levels and help me make something that even I can listen to without cringing or regretting the kick drum. This is a large step, because the cost economically will go up infinitely from zero, and that changes things. But I think I might try. More to post when and if this comes off, but signs so far are good, if a little financially intimidating.
As for other clues, I am willing to admit that ideas have germinated for things such as making-of video snapshots, EP launches, and even live shows – but all in good time. Easy. Slow down. Deep breath. 7th song first, that is all for now.
As for the photo, I felt it was fitting – I took it on a work trip away in a strange little town of transit. It is the sort of place you are in because you are passing through – and nearly no other reason. But that night it was a beautiful place to be. It was a beautiful place of transit.
Have you ever been blocked from doing something?
I have dreams where this happens a lot. You know what you want to do, and it’s very possible, but I can’t actually get there. Usually it’s because I am really slow, or the ocean is stealing my possessions. I’m sure both of these scenarios say something about me.
But this last month it has been in real life. I couldn’t possibly explain extent of things that have kept me from the studio of late, and they are becoming increasingly serious. What started with a crazy busy calendar built to (in the last few days) both an aggressive cancer and a stroke in my immediate family. High stakes.
I never thought that I would ever reach the point where the music was the easy bit. But I tell you, it’s way easier working in that chair than it is trying to sit in it. Where will it end? Is it possible for the stakes to go higher still?
I will say this: such drama tends to make things a little more epic, and a little more black and white. Example: either this EP is just too much and I put it on ice for a while (sensible), or it is so very important to me that I strive still amidst the chaos (ridiculous).
Well I put some good hours in today. So while this whole thing started as a bit of fun to test whether I could actually release my own music, it is clear to me only in the battle that this means more to me than I expected. I just will not stop.
So here is a concept. A barrier sign can do a lot to hold you up, until it goes far enough that you are driven to defy it. Then it is just a piece of writing. Once you do defy, things get simpler, because there is then no doubt that the conflict is real, and the battle is on. The conflict is real, and the battle is on.
I can’t lie: it feels ridiculous, but it also feels beautifully simple.
I like to go on youtube, search ‘in the studio’ and watch people make music. Even if I don’t know them or their music, I just love to watch music be made.
I tend to daydream that maybe I could do the same one day.
Well, I thought back over this week. It was mostly far from music. But around the edges I managed to: squeeze into tracks some synth sounds like I have never heard before, find guitar parts for a new song on the trusty tele, practice some acoustic versions, and today a room full of cool people clapped and bumped ramdom objects through a chorus that may take form this coming week.
It’s not a lot and it seems harder than it looks on youtube. But the facts say that I’m doing the very thing I most often dream of doing.
And that, I have suddenly realised, is one of the best things that has ever happened.
Blessed is a word that I think deserves to keep it’s weight, to not be used lightly. But I really think I have been….. blessed.
My wife finally convinced me that reading white text on a dark background fries your retinas. I didn’t want to believe it, but she is simply right.
So I learnt a little CSS to bring the new and improved website outfit, with a few little tweaks to allow the keen beans to spend a little longer here and keep their eyes, should they so choose.
It’s so low friction, right?……right?
What’s that? You say I’m procrastinating again?! I’m not. Shut up.
Entirely unrelatedly, I’m going back to the songs now. Good day, internet.
Well, seeing as I’ve finished four, it seems only fair I put up another to preview.
Here is ‘some day’.
I do hope you enjoy.
If the player above isn’t working for you for any kind of reason, click here to head straight there.
Don’t fear if you’re on your iphone (I had some confused friends last time…), click the link, it should work.
Working on the 5th today, and it’s sounding good already. Ever closer, ever closer 😉
First up, I’m up to mixing my fourth song. That is exciting to type, it’s more than half way. I feel bad for not updating the blog, but that is pretty much all I’ve been doing – adding bits and mixing them together. I’ll have to think harder about how to make that sound more exciting…. How’s ‘creating a sonic world’ – that sounds more epic right?
Second though, mixing is one of the trickiest things I have tried. Ever.
I’ve done bits and pieces before, thrown up the levels and rendered it. But mixing is like painting – that is, if it was nearly impossible to mix paint together without it all turning brown and murky. And if there were 500 different kinds of paintbrushes that need to be applied in the right way for different spots, but always in artistic moderation. There is a lot of chasing your tail, and a lot of feeling shattered when you listen to your mix the next day (or compare it to any good song on the iphone). I like to be moving forwards, and that’s pretty hard for me to take – spending a lot of time on something and loving it, then later realising you were wrong and it’s bad. It stings especially when you’re sleep deprived and have headaches from too much time hunched over computers.
But the allure is strong. It is possible, using the right decisions, to make something that is perfectly balanced, immersive, and really powerfully communicative. It’s just that missing that mark is the norm – so mostly you’re listening to a drab, flat, muffled, boomy, scratchy sound instead. Sometimes all at the same time, and the unknown is why? But maybe not this time, maybe I’ll stumble upon a mix that makes the song live and breathe. Alluring and shattering.
Alright, alright – I admit it, I have high standards. Maybe impossibly high, because the songs and voice are a little vulnerable to release, and I want to be sure they sound great. But no one wants to do a bad job. I want to do a great job.
I did look into getting someone else to mix, but those who do work I like cost real money I don’t have right now. Plus there is a crazy pain-loving part of me that wants to learn how to do it myself. And I do like the crazy pain. It’s just harder than playing music – more brainy, less instinctual. (Actually I hear the best mixing is instinctual too. I will need more practice to turn my brain off, but that sounds like the dream once you can do it.)
Day to day, there is a lot of time tidying things up and learning how eq’s, compressors, verbs and delays can be used to make something better. As opposed to worse. Turns out, those things can really make stuff worse……
Also some procuring of new plugins to do special things and trying different philosophies and techniques. Buying plugins is the drug of making music – addictive, kind of fun, really destructive eventually. In small appropriate doses it is very helpful though. I just found a few compressors that help me get a much more living sound of the drums. The trick is to stop looking now. Must…stop…..looking……
I am getting better as I go, and it’s tough not to go back and mix the first songs again with the new skills. But I am resisting until all the songs are at the first mix stage. Then I will use all my new skills to do the very best I can.
On the list coming up, two more songs, and perhaps an extra surprise.
Other things to consider – the decision about whether I should release another preview…. An imperfectly mixed preview…..?
Also sleep. Not sleeping so much right now, as I’m trying to get up earlier and do some work on the EP before I go to work (as well as after). But how much sleep? I think I need more, but music is more fun than sleeping. Lots more. The only thing is….does this blog post make sense? I can’t tell see, brain is all fluffy.
Ok, enough writing. My mind must now descend back to it’s now regular state of wondering how to sit the kick largely but without pumping the master, finding groove with the bass part of the bass, and also the upper harmonics in a different groove. Then how the voice can be widened and put in it’s space, while keeping the intimacy of the words that play off the feeling of the sounds that blah, blah….blahblahblahblahblah.
This EP is making me nuts.
But, if I’m honest, I do rather like being nuts.
As promised, here is the name and cover art for the first Birds in Branches EP.
Foreground Vice, Background Sky
Both were created and chosen because they feel true to the songs rather than being cool and/or clever, so don’t despair if it all seems a bit random so far. My hope is that it will all connect in the end.
Nearly at mixing for the next two – ‘Robot’ and ‘Some Day’, and I’m pretty darn happy with them.
My new laptop is stealing my OCD. But it’s soooo pretty.
More consecutive hours to mix and make. Time off work being considered.
Updates? We got your updates.
Beachside beats. The photo is of my makeshift studio as I’m roughing out some of the beats for ‘Chasing the Wind’ on our beachside holiday. Note the lonely headland overlooking a wonderful stretch of coastline. Needless to say I spent more time on the surfboard than the laptop….. I’m only human.
New songs? Now? Indeed. Interestingly I stumbled on 1.6 new songs over the last weeks (I wasn’t planning on writing, but it seems some songs decide when they arrive). One is true but uncomfortable, the other (the incomplete one) I really like without reservation. I think they are not for this EP, but I won’t say never. The producer part of my brain thinks this is inconvenient timing and that I should focus on finishing the others first, but that part can shut up.
For the eyes. I already have an EP title and my plan was to take an image from a very talented photographer friend of mine for the cover art. But while away at the coast I caught an image on my iphone for a moment as a storm rolled in and the first few drops fell. It’s a beautiful picture of clouds against the top of a tree, and I felt like it fitted better than anything else could have. So I went straight to amplifying it and have since chopped it to add words and other elements (including a background photo from an old disused roller skating rink I got yesterday). I’m going to go with it for the cover of the EP.
I’ll post the art and title together soon. Very soon.
Updated, just like that. But now for some self-diagnosis-via-blogging. Feel free to stick around for my session on the couch if you want to see some more of my flaws.
While I was going to call this post ‘marching on’, ‘crawling on’ seemed somehow truer. Because of the frustratingly slow pace of things.
And yet now as I read what I just typed I realise how far things have come. Who says it’s slow?
This looks like another interesting mechanism I’m having to face in myself. I feel like this is taking forever, until I think rationally. Then I realise things are going along fine. Odd, right? Why does it feel so slow?
Here are some theories. I have given them all titles because I am in the mood for titles today.
Orbiting Clinical Directives (OCD).
People could listen to my music, or the greatest other music ever made by humans- just as easily. Why oh why choose mine? I need to do the best possible job I can.
This awareness can make me hold on too tight to little things. It’s tough to thread the line though, a bunch of OCD can make something incredible – and then just as quickly suck out all life. I’m learning slowly.
Goodbye Hobby (Horse?).
What’s the biggest difference between playing keyboard all night and making a song? Truthfully, enjoyment.
Playing keyboard for me on my own is relaxing, an escape. I play what I want for as long as I want and the goal is pretty much good feelings.
Making a song is work. For a more wonderful purpose, but a big chunk is menial. Jiggling midi notes around in a sweltering hot room, comping vocals, fixing up volumes, lists, notes, records.
It not glamour, it’s work. Thus it feels slower and more exhausting.
But the satisfaction is many times greater.
OH so many Hats.
I don’t have a producer. Or a art director. Or a mix engineer, a mastering engineer, editor, media consultant, graphic designer, any assistants or bandmates or even session musicians.
This avoids a lot of arguments and it’s way cheaper. But it seems those people actually do things for other artists. Liiiiiiike planning, deadlines, concepts, scheduling, fresh ears, sanity checks, unexpected ideas, meshing tastes, filling space and 7,845 audio adjustments to take something from sounding weak to wonderful. I consider myself versatile, but even if I could muster expertise in all those areas, I would still struggle to bring them forth in the right order at the right times. The skills are truly worlds apart.
Sometimes I’m feeling tweaky and staring at a blank canvas. Other times I’m big picture when I really need to spend a few hours leveling volumes by hand. Yesterday I turned the studio on, wrote a list of exactly I needed to create to finish the next song, and promptly sat down on the other side of the room and worked on the cover art while my warm gear made the room a sauna.
Mismatches make it feel more like the grindstone, and make me feel silly.
La La Land OR ‘avert your eyes from all productive superstars’.
There is some part in me that thinks it should really be a cinch to make music. Write whatever you like, throw a few parts down, sing over the top, done. Hour tops. And if that sounds like trash then I guess I just don’t have talent.
Welcome to my imaginary wonderland where good artists just breathe out great music and nail spine-chilling vocal takes first time.
The result for me is either:
1. Believe that it should be easier and become lazy or give up. Either or.
2. Carry on the hard work but feel lonely and that it won’t be worth it.
This one definitely has the most poison and the least good in it.
It is also the most demonstrably untrue. My favourite artists work, suffer, and pay harrowing costs to create their best. I know that.
But the lie is always being whispered in my ear from different sources, and my frazzled brain can sometimes amble down the path.
Must remember nothing valuable is easy.
Nothing valuable is easy.
Nothing valuable is easy.
Nothing valuable is easy.
I need to write that on my own forehead.
So in the end it’s probably a mix of all these theories.
But fast or slow, glamorous or lonely – I’m committed now. I will release music of my own soon.
Take that, inner sabotage.
Sending out thanks to a lot of generous and encouraging people. Thanks. I didn’t expect the number of hits and kind words from a single Facebook status, you guys are going to make me blush.
Seeing this page seems to have moved from talking to myself to talking to a number of other humans, I have yet more motivation to keep it rolling pretty fast. As if I needed more.
I have a couple of other songs getting close to final tweaks and mixing – closest is a song called ‘Robot’ which features a lot in the Wally video below and is sounding cool. Another is a late entry called ‘Some Day’ that has squeezed its way to the front of the queue because it has a certain sense about it that is a mystery to me – and there is a special part that I am enlisting special help for (vague enough?).
But I have some time at the coast over the next weeks with wife and friends and a few minimal bits of gear, and I’d rather spend that time on the earlier (more creative) phases of making tracks than the polishing of nearly finished ones. Besides, my laptop couldn’t open any of my nearly finished projects, I really put that poor studio computer to hard labour.
Soooooo this means the next song is not about to drop yet, but the EP itself is marching closer by the minute. Faster than ever actually, fueled by interest from people just like (and including) you. Thanks for coming here and doing that.
In celebration of this brave new stage, here is a picture of me yesterday to be taken as a metaphor. A city boy trying to make friends with a tracktor from the 50’s. Incidentally I did get it moving and I did not die. I hope that’s part of the metaphor.
That’s right, it’s true.
I have finished the first song from the upcoming EP, and you yourself can hear it right now. Big moment for me, I’m very glad.
So click yourself away below, I hope you like it.
The ep continues.
In fact it hasn’t stopped, but Mr December stretched time thin enough that I wanted to spend every available minute making tunes. This meant that talking about making tunes (right here) thus got a little shafted. But the battle marches on, and by the day I become increasingly consumed by it.
The most exciting news is that I have an early mix in hand for ‘Where’s My Place’, the first track to be essentially (ie artistically if not technically) done.
Now let’s stop for a second. Allow me to restate the magic word ……done.
That is not something I have said much about music before. It’s a great word, and (half unexpectedly) a true sense of satisfaction and relief comes with it. I expected to be a little paranoid at this point, but no, there is an audio file that captures something I’m rather happy with. This is wonderful and true.
Now that I have celebrated the victory of the moment, let us descend back to the pragmatic world of ‘what now’.
I have decided that the final mix engineer will be me. The reasons for this I will go into in another post – but for now the good news is that without booking a studio and a geek I’ll be able to put this one up (you know, on the internet), and soon. This should hopefully placate the outrage so many of you have expressed to me in various forms of “I went to your site, and there were no songs!! **Angry Roar** etc etc”. Well how dare I do that to you.
It won’t be much longer now – I just need to test my mixtures on selected human experimentees and work through a list of changes. So far I have found that the room acoustics in the studio continue to shroud me with some smoke and mirrors, but I’m already starting to learn the ways by trial and error (largely error). There are another 3 songs coming up towards mixing in the near future, and with practice I remain confident I can make the little songs sing from within my humble little concrete box.
Speaking of that room brings me to the other half of the post, where in full disclosure I talk about how lots of not-fun things have happened in the process too.
A short list would include these examples:
1. December. When the day job and Christmas join forces they manage to steal almost all waking hours. Christmas can be greedy, and that is irony. I have no idea how people with children survive this month, surely you are up against the odds.
2. More than 20 unexpected computer crashes on one day. It eventually turns out my new buddy melodyne and my old buddy reaper kind of hate each other. Not openly, but once they both work up a sweat they will suddenly murder each other, taking our past few hours handiwork with them. I make a lot of backups fortunately, as one crash even corrupted the whole project file past oblivion. It felt at least 4000 degrees celsius in that room, and 5 hours work took a sweat-soaked 13 that day. Oh technology.
3. More untraceable computer crashes. A couple of times a day even now everything I have open just disappears. It’s good that it’s hot in there at this point, because usually I’m too exchausted to throw punches at the monitor. I yell and pace and start that session again. I built and tweaked that computer very carefully as a dedicated studio workhorse, internet free, and it’s been very stable for years. But even when you tell it that, it looks back at me with a calm black screen. My heart has taken to stopping beating when I press save – that’s normal, right?
3. Insomnia. I am not the best sleeper, what musician is? But it seems to me that it’s more of a battle if I’ve got a day off in the studio planned. Turns out going to bed at 4am really eats into you morning productivity. This I am learning.
4. I didn’t change the demos. I have had the luxury of some expert songwriter comments on my initial demos. Well played, great help. I decided to wait until the instruments were done to change the melodies. Poorly played. I have now heard my original ideas so many times it is very hard to change them in my mind. An error. This isn’t too bad for ‘Where’s My Place’ and ‘Robot’, but there were some great tips for ‘Run You Down’ and I’m so confused trying to sing it now. It will take some untangling.
5. Ergonomics. I am an environmental engineer during the day, on a computer. From the evening to the early morning, I am on the the studio computer. Red eyes and strange stomache and neck pains testify that is a lot of hours.
5. Am I over-consumed? My wife has used the term ‘EP widow’ to describe herself recently. There’s a few things in that that we’re sorting, but I too feel a wary sense that my brain is leaving this world more and more for things like midi notes, eq curves and the way drums bounce off words. I don’t mind focussing hard, but I wish to keep my roles as a human being in tact too. And you know, that’s a surprisingly fine line.
So to say that these songs flowed out in a dreamy organic way that was more enjoyable each second would be a lie. I don’t know if people mean it when they say stuff like that, but my road seems messier.
Still, I am going to get all Disney at the end of the post, because I already sense the hard/annoying bits are part of the victory. Like overhangs on the way up a mountain. Literally ridiculous at the time, but later you wouldn’t trade them. Well I hope that, anyway.
Soon you will be able to hear the first part of that mountain, and that’s something.
Here it is for the keen beans.
The video diary covering the small house in the mountains where the EP began. It was shot and edited on the iPhone, so don’t expect Inception – expect instead an unglamorous ‘making of’ that won’t give you it’s 9 minutes back.
But I can assure you it is an accurate and balanced account of a cool and productive trip.
Well it has begun, and I couldn’t be more glad. The photo is my big recording progress sheet with a bunch of boxes with lines through them. Yes indeed.
The general hassle and sweat of moving a studio and the short timeframe in the mountain shack kicked me into motion, and I was actually rather disciplined- long days, alarms to wake up, to-do lists, progress goals. Seriously.
Here’s an interesting fact though: it is still hard.
Even when making an EP is really all I want to be doing and I constantly pine for the chance, given that chance I still have to force myself to actually sit down in the chair and pick a song to open. Not sure why that is, but it is.
But after chaining myself to the desk (well, the pile if furniture and road cases), I’ve done about 60% of 3 tracks. And fixed and finished the demos. So no snippets to post, but you can trust me that things are in motion, and that is such a relief.
I did take a little iPhone video here and there, and I may just compile a little YouTube memoir of me in a small house making sounds. It will be one for the musos probably, as there was no time for hilarious stir-crazy nonsense, just making of. Ok the stir-crazy nonsense did creep in, it just feels lame filming yourself dancing, so I didn’t. Yet.
Now I’m away a bit over the next weeks, so I’ll try and name the EP and start thinking cover art concepts while there are no keyboards handy.
Then I can’t wait to hear with fresh ears what I’ve done. Oh I do hope it’s good.
So here’s an update then:
I’m away recording!
Well, at the moment very exhausted. Packed down the studio and just finished recreating it in it’s new temporary home far far away. See it all in the pic? Look how happy it all is!
Oh so thankfully everything seems to be working and the room even sounds pretty good.
Not sure how the posts will go, I’ve got 3 days and a big list- it’s all go up here. But I will try to take a few videos to make a record of the goings on.
Also, I have 11 songs finished, as was my goal before coming away! Ok the last few demos are unfinished and a little sketchy (in the yuk way), but I’m still calling it a win by the skin of my teeth. Because I decide the wins.
So on the agenda is demo tidying, and parts. Beats, bass, keys first and maybe more vocals if I feel drawn to polishing up a snippet for posting.
But right now, so much sleep.
I have a theory that when you see a band play live, or even hear a track, it’s 75% up to the singer whether you like the sound or not. Of course, I’m talking song-based music, not sample based minimal (where I can only presume it’s the……ok you got me, I don’t own any sample based minimal albums).
I come to this theory because it’s at least 60% the singer to me, and being a keyboard/band/production nerd you would think I would be the lowest of anyone. But there you go, it hangs on the voice.
This is, of course, less than ideal for Birds in Branches. I am very comfy on the keyboard (having been doing since before I could tie shoelaces), but singing notsomuch. In an ideal world I should be getting clever others to guest the vocals, and I do have some rather singeriffic friends. But this is my own project, and I’m finding myself so very opinionated – I want the melody just the way I hear it. That is not the way you can afford to think in a band or a collaboration.
And, besides……I want to be a singer. There, I said it.
I always did. I remember since way back saying I would trade all my skills for a rad voice. Right then I should have hired a teacher and got started – but I thought I was already a lost cause. Too old, or too far gone. I’m 27 now, so way back then I may have been the youngest person ever to decide I was too old to learn to sing.
So I’m going to fight back all that and sing my songs, because that will force me to make myself a singer. And making myself a singer is something I really want to do.
So how is it going so far? Well I haven’t picked a teacher (this is the first thing everyone seems to ask), but I’m starting to decide I don’t want to. I’m not planning to make the opera rounds, I want to sound like me on my songs – so if I can get good advice on not hurting myself and how to practice well, then I’m thinking it is probablly best if the rest is up to me. This decision is also based on talking to some of the best singers I know. Truth told, they all have wildly different stories and advice, and most have less theory and tips than I expected – it seems you just have to do it and work it out.
Thus I’ve spent a few months practicing every day based on a smattering of online lessons, and mostly a ‘speech level singing’ book by Seth Riggs. I nearly breathe that ‘excercises cd’ off my iphone. It is slow work and signs of improvement are subtle and sparse, but I’m off and running and improving. And for all my flaws, once I do finally start something, I am a rather determined and presistent guy who won’t (or can’t) stop. My lovely wife is already a little sick of Seth Riggs and his excercises, but that will get worse before it gets better.
It’s true, I do think that the vocals are still the weakest link, and it’s tough to handle such a slow improvement process when it is is thing holding back the songs most. It’s also a bit of a confidence drain as I do the demos.
But what choice do I have? You play the cards in your hand. And if the freedom from one day liking your own voice is anything like the freedom I got the day I began to like my own keyboard sound then it will be worth it.
And one thing is for sure: when I’m constantly recording and hearing back my own voice, there is no danger I’ll decide I don’t need to practice.
There has been a small pause in my EP progress as I threw myself into the final stage of a long saga of putting together a live install PA. And it was great.
The venue is a church I go to in Redfern – a beautiful/ghastly old 1800’s brick building with 20m ceilings and more hard surfaces than you could yell the word ‘echo’ at. Armed with zero PA install experience, the confidence of the fine folk at that church and…….. Google, I set about the long and scary process of spending much of the savings of a small church on a combination of heavy foam-packed bits that …..should…..work together.
My obsession with quality gear was unabated by the strict budget, and we haggled out the lowest possible prices to get a tasty Presonus digital desk hooked up to fancy latest-tech JBL fixed line array speakers (with sub), and separate sends per foldback wedge. And all the right stuff in between.
The moment of truth was a few days ago, after we hacked and ran and mounted and soldered and powered up. And to my _extreme_ relief, sound. Good, even, tasty, clear sound. This made me very happy.
Now I have not forgotten this is a Birds in Branches blog, believe me and here follow my whim. The satisfaction and relief of installing a tasty sound system was surprisingly similar to that of finishing a song or polishing off a recorded track. It was hard, annoying, fun, boring, exciting, there were more problems than expected, and it was easy to second guess yourself right to the end. But at the end, there it was – sounding something like how you had dreamed it would. Remarkably similar feeling.
So are the tech guys of the world actually artists? I think so. I think sound tech has more ‘art’ to it than I ever assumed.
This does blurs boundaries a little – could the setting up of my studio be considered art, or just what I’ve done with the studio? Perhaps it depends on whether it can be shared. If I setup a studio in public, would that be a creative release ticked off?
Abstract wonderings aside, I did milk the tech-guy effect for all it was worth. Nerdy banter with the strange igor-like character in the back docks of the gear hire section. Nerdy banter with the cable supplier about the physics of directional sub woofers. Ok, nerdy banter with everyone. I’m a nerd.
I also acted uppity about the way my helper coiled cable, got fast food, did things late at night, and put things loudly through the sub woofer that should probably never be put through a sub woofer. I would like to note that these all made a lot of sense as I did them – and I feel I now have a bond with wonderful tech guys I’ve known over the years.
Thankyou, tech artists everywhere.
Who makes the chair – the carpenter or the tools?
Carpenter. Of course.
Who is responsible if the chair is cool?
Carpenter. Of course.
But the tools actually cut the wood….
Yes, but the inspiration, tool selection – all the carpenter.
So we are all agreed. The tools do not create the art themselves.
But not all chairs are just for sitting on. What if you were making a niche chair that would only be purchased by other chair-makers, to learn from towards making their own? In this case it is still the carpenter, but the value isn’t just in the chair. It’s in the understanding of what tools, how it was made and the lessons learned.
Great, fine. But are you even a chair maker then? Sounds more like you are a teacher. Or perhaps a product promoter……
And though I have enjoyed overtyping the word chair, this brings us to music – and in particular the blur of internet era music.
And especially particularly internet era electronic-sounding music.
There will always be pure consumers who don’t make music, just enjoy it (thankfully). But it seems to me that in the synth world at least, most people loving it are also doing it. And the loving and the the doing are linked. Now this is always true for musicians (find me a musician who hates music), but it changes things when the musicians become the majority.
Lets talk prog rock for a moment. If there ever has been a non-musician at a Dream Theater show (or a girl for that matter, but that’s another story)…….why? It’s a technical skill and gear show. Which is fine, I bought an album and I still have it. But you can imagine such a show working just as well (or better) at a music gear trade show, covered in ads and endorsements.
The same thing is happening on youtube, soundcloud etc – I’m searching out product demos and finding artists I like. Artists who apply their art to a particular piece of gear a track at a time, and get a fanbase from people who crave inspiration as to how to use a bit of gear they already own. I had a go myself for fun, and some quick Blofeld sound demos got clicked into the hundreds in hours.
I don’t know what all of this means, to be honest. What artist wants their songs to be equipment promotional material? Kickback free promotional material? And anyway prog is decidedly not cool. No one is pretending it is. So it’s selling out, forget it. Right? Welllllll……
You see if I’m honest I’m starting to want the extra dimension in artists I like too. I want to know what they use, how they work, what exact piece of gear made each of the tastiest noises. And some of these product demo artists are seriously creative. And thus the line blurs within me too. The mystery of not knowing is intriguing and cool, don’t get me wrong. But in the end I want to know. Everything. And knowing makes the listening somehow even sweeter, you can feel some of the story behind it all. Now I am without doubt a music geek, but what if there are a lot of music geek fans? What if it was a music geek fan majority?
I am glad to be able to hit the brakes at this point, because I don’t have a ‘market’, and I firmly believe music itself dies an awkward death if you even think of a market as you create it. All I have to do is make what I like.
But what I would ‘like’ would also involve the making-of back story. It would also involve the how behind the what. This offends a part of me, a utopian artist part. This part wants to believe everything here has it’s genesis in my own genius. But then that is not true. Even in a solo project, I am a collaborator – with friends, with a website host, with hardware and software makers (even if they have already been paid full retail), and (frankly) with the inspiration – which does not really feel like it’s even mine either.
So where are we now? Well if I’m to be truly honest, I have to post un-arty things. Because the process of art is largely, in truth, un-arty. I admit I hesitate because I fear gear posts encourage the gear addiction disease in musicians. Whenever I play live people ALWAYS want to talk about the rig, and it feels like it’s missing the point. And, ok, moreso because it’s uncool for an artist to be gear geeked.
But here begins the journey of the first release – letting go of what you secretly wish you were like, and being straight about what seems to really be.
So, detailed gear posts will be included. Each after a big mouthful of humble pie.
In that spirit, here is a picture of the birds in branches studio, just as it is.
What on earth makes song good?
You know, as opposed to bad?
This is a very critical question at this point in the process of a first ep, and I’m terrified to acknowledge that I simply don’t know.
Oh, I’m very opinionated. I’m tapping into the iPhone on the way home from a show where I watched a band with incredible songs, and a band with songs I couldn’t stay in the room for. I surely do not shy from judgement.
I think answer is both impossible and perplexingly nuanced if you dare to think about it. Little parts if the melody, the rhythm in the bridge, lyrics twisted in a way that feels fresh. You can definitely feel the magic when it’s right. But the scary thing is that the difference is so very subtle that it would be pretty easy to be that second band, with the songs that don’t…..quite……
And not know it.
On some level, who cares, right? Like what you like and go buy a beer during the other band, it’s all good.
But it’s not, because flip the interrogation light around on your own fledgling songs, and that same sense that is normally so certain gets all static-y and scrambled. I’m usually satisfied I know if a song is good by the second verse on the first listen these days. But you can’t see your own stuff clearly. At all. All of my songs to me are some equal combination of lame, wonderful, plain, confusing, and the most honest thing I ever wrote. And pretty hard for me to sing. All at once. I know I mean them and I can sense some magic, but I’m never ever sure whether I’ve under or overcooked them.
So really, how do you know?
I don’t want to stack up hours of careful sound sculpting on a contrived chorus, I want to make the chorus amazing first. But it’s great now. Or maybe it would be wholely great if……
And see that ‘if’ there? That ‘if’ could send a man truly mad.
So I am very grateful and very reliant on the songwriting compass inside my friends (and their honesty in telling me where it points). But I’m also starting to realise that no one going to puff up my confidence in my own songs for me. It is my duty to make them how I like and then just get them done. If it turns out I am the guy with bland songs, then it is my job to not know it, and to carry on regardless. True story.
This will be a hard pill to swallow I think. I really really want to write good songs, but really no one gets to do that. Everyone simply gets the chance to write songs, and see how they go. Damn you, risky leap of faith.
It’s easy to see how someone would get hooked on pleasing an audience, you just want to know where you are.
Well if it is one big contraption running on work and hope, then I will do my darndest to add those two ingredients.
And then do it again and again.