Buy Fish Or Learn To Fish

In the life of the home recordist, there are many temptations.  They come to us via emails, websites, magazine ads and reviews.  All selling gear.  Software synths, sound libraries, hardware synths, control surfaces, better preamps, outboard effects, the list goes on.

All of these things are super cool and I'm sure they are great.  But here's my New Year's Resolution.  Learn to use the things I have better.

To that end, I have three recommendations.  In no particular order:
  • there are a bunch of really useful videos by SFLogicNinja that will help you get the most out of Logic.  These are freely available on youtube.
  • another bunch of really useful videos for users of Ableton Live from The Covert Operators.  These videos are not free (subscription service 5 Euros/month) but they are really awesome in that the techniques they show actually inspire creativity.  I've been a subscriber for 4 months and I am very happy.
  • music lessons; stop talking about how you don't play an instrument well or how you're lacking in music theory and fix it!  For my part, I'm gonna finally take guitar lessons.  Watch out world!
Of course having said all that, I'd really like it if Santa brought Kore 2 + Komplete for me :-)


24 Hours, 24 Minutes

On December 13th, I took part in something special.  The community at alonetone set us a challenge.  To produce an album in a day.  The rules were simple, with no prior planning, make 24 minutes of recorded music in 24 hours.  Sleep optional.

For me this would be particularly difficult as I had myriad other things to be doing all of which were beginning to sound like excuses...

I started at 10am and by lunch I had my first track.  I started with some electric piano and a couple of chords.  Then I started looking for some drum sounds which I ran through various beat repeaters/slicers.  Then in a fit of tradition, I added a synth bass.  Not really being happy with it, I took a sample from a talk by Suzanne Jeffrey entitled "What Makes You Working Class".  Time did not permit me to really listen to the talk, I was just looking for a texture...  Having found it, I reversed it and put it through Live's Beat Repeat effect...  The result had the perfect devilish incantation quality...  A bit of arranging and and an un-reverse at the very end.  Hmm, drums sound like crap.  Perfect!  That's the title, "Would You Think Less Of Me... [if I told you I can't program drums to save my life]"

Then the interruptions began.  Take one kid here, take another kid there, do some shopping.  Before I knew it, 5 hours were gone and it's dinner time.  I was screwed but I pressed on.

Still hung up on the electric piano sound and pressed for time, I played around with some chords that have been bouncing around my head since I was a teenager...  Then I grabbed some drum clips I had kicking around to get a groove going.  Then I changed the chords a bit, created a bit of melodic part over top.  Surfing around for samples, I found some vocal samples on a Computer Music DVD (an excellent UK magazine that comes with a DVD full of samples and other goodies).  I sprinkled then in here and there.  Arranged, effected, automated, and generally rushed until I was "done".  I named the track after one of the samples, "Baby".

To this point, I had resisted using my new favourite toy, Elysium.  But it was 8pm.  The pressure was sapping my MoJo.  So I broke it out and created a pattern that I fed into a guitar-ish sound.  I recorded it into a long loop.  I had record quantization on because it doesn't have any MIDI sync ability.  But I failed to press stop at the right time so as the loop recording came around out of sync I got this weird syncopation which actually sounded cool...  Now I fleshed that out with some synth pads, some more choppy synth pads, some drums.  Nice!  But was missing something on the low end.  So I found an arp-y bass synth sound.  Yeah baby yeah.  One I get a good groove going, it's always fun to spend a little bit of time wanking/jamming over top with a lead synth sound.  That wankery gave birth to the lead melody...  The only thing left to do was to arrange it into something resembling a song (a major weakness for me).  Still not satisfied, I slowly brought in an autofilter towards the end of the Elysium part of the track which forms the ending...  I had no idea what to call it and no time to dwell on it so "La La La I Can't Hear You" is what I settled on.  Maybe I was talking to the voices telling me that this whole exercise was nuts.

I was now at 16 minutes and it was 11pm.  I had to be done that night.  I had to be up early...  I was done.  And I said so.  Somebody in the chat room that we had set up for participants told me to just jam for 8+ minutes before giving up.  That was the pep-talk I needed.

So in response to the happy vibe that was La La La, I decided to go dirge-y...  Seem to fit the time of the night and the desperation of the situation (can't believe I just wrote that).  Not much to say here.  Just lay down a couple of chord progressions using a dark pad sound; solo-ed on top.  Sprinkled drums in.  Sprinkled effects.  Generally made noise.  The soloing got a little plaintive so I glommed onto the title "Sorrow".  Dramatic, perhaps but it was 1am and I was done!

This was a great experience for me.  For many reasons that I'm fully able to express.  You'll understand when you try something similar.  To be sure, I'm not totally happy with my results.  I am totally stoked at the process.  I look forward to the next one.  Developing as an artist is no different from developing as an athlete.  It's a journey and in our low attention span, quick to judge world that's easy to forget.

Finally, it is very important to acknowledge that I was not alone.  There were others and their astonishing work is here.  In particular thanks to sudara and sandbags who convinced me to give it a shot.


Speaker Stands

Quick one today...

Got speaker stands (for my studio monitors) last week as a bit of a carrot to force me to clean up my office. I knew that they'd improve things but I had no idea how much. Well, I'm happy to report... HOLY CRAP!

Unbelievable.  My advice to all of you that haven't done do already, get your monitors off your desk!  Your ears will thank you.