10/30 Worked on the percussion for “Stolen Blessing” and did some editing on the lead vocal for “Blind”. Worked on the key/arrangement for “Mister Nice” and recorded lead vocal. Recorded backing vocals and electric guitars for “Homer” and did a “best for now” mix – will submit to upcoming Great American Song Contest.
Got the final drum track for “One Drink Drunk”. Tweaked drums in Pro Tools - will be adding more harmonies, getting rid of some electric guitars, and then will be done!
The Hootenanny Café radio show was looking for songs with theme MY FAVORITE THINGS, and I didn’t have any, so I wrote a new one. Recorded a rough mix and sent it in; we’ll see if they play it. As promised, it’s a fun song, not another downer. (Update: they played “I Was Born” instead – go figure. FYI, we’ll be the Featured Artist on the show on November 20th.)
Me and my guitar
You say I hold her more than you
You say I love her, yes, it’s true
But not as much as you
Me and my guitar
And maybe some of my favorite books
If I had to choose, however long it took
I would still choose you
These are my favorite things
They’re all my favorite things
You’re one of my favorite things
With me and my guitar
I have no idea why
Barbara doesn’t like being objectified as a ‘favorite thing’. 😄
Then just for fun I recorded another quick demo of “Roadkill Rescue” (mentioned in the previous blog entry), this time with big drums and crunchy electric guitars, the way it was intended, with a cool spaghetti western fill. Maybe I’ll clean it up and submit it to the Funny Music Project (FuMP).
9/21 Recorded my lead vocal for “Homer” and my harmony vocal for “Softer Than Bullets”. Did some listening to “The Word of the Lord” and decided to back off some of the electric guitars and add more acoustic instruments…added a mandolin track. Got a new drum track for “One Drink Drunk” from Studio Pros; now need to do some mixing and figure out what modifications (to balance the drum mix) are needed. And noticed that I never did the backing vocals for the last verse, so will do that soon. And we started adding Barbara’s backing harmony vocal.
I know, I promised that the next song wouldn’t be a downer, but the words and music for the first verse of this new song came to me in a dream, so I had to finish it. Here's the first verse:
Mister Nice, that’s who you are
And that is why you won’t go far
Some men are men, some men are mice
And then there’s you, you’re Mister Nice
So just to balance things out, I wrote the music for these silly lyrics that I had lying around on the back burner for many years:
staring at your headlights when you ran me down
You were like a four-by-four on a highway out of time
You didn’t feel the impact, but God, it really hurt
You headed for the horizon and left me in the dirt
Too late! Too late! Too late!
For a roadkill rescue
Do not resuscitate
Made a quick demo, but I don’t know if I’ll actually do anything with this song…
8/29 I’m not sure why - possibly because we’ve played “Homer” a few times recently – but I decided to finish this other homeless-themed song that I’d started a while ago. It’s from a different perspective – literally – than the previous song. I’d had most of the first verse and bits of the second verse, so I wrote the rest of the verses and, just for fun, two bridges, then the chords and the melody. Recorded a quick demo.
It starts like this:
a pretty nice pattern in the sidewalk grate
In the morning that pattern’s printed on my face
I look up at you and you won’t meet my eye
But I admire your shoes as you walk on by
Pretty nice shoes
Yeah, I know, you ask why did I write this; what could I possibly know about homelessness? Tried to limit myself to just what I observed when I was working on 34th Street. And these lines are addressed to myself:
You couldn’t understand,
even if you tried
How far the fall, how hard the ride
In other news (and on a more cheerful note), we’re working on recording Barbara’s vocals for “Land of Love”, and Cary Brown’s piano for “Truest Kind of Lie” turned out wonderfully. And I just finished re-specifying the drums for “One Drink Drunk”, so hopefully the retake will be just right.
The next song won’t be another
downer, I promise. 😎
6/13 I challenged myself to write, record and mix a new song in one day, to submit to the Hootenanny Café radio show (which, this week, requested songs with the theme “living in the moment”). I had one or two ideas lying around that had come to me in dreams, so I adapted those ideas, wrote some new parts and connected them all in a style inspired by the band 10cc (with some David Bowie influence as well). Got it all done in about seven hours, and it was included in the 6/12 show. It’s a bit rough, but actually it sounds pretty good. Usually it takes me a week to record a single instrument or vocal, so I’m pleased. It’s called “Clock Eats Time”.
Two harmony vocals
Main acoustic guitar
Acoustic guitar chops under chorus
Harpsichord, and finger-picked acoustic guitar to match harpsichord part
Two tracks of harmonized guitar fills in two places
Sent “One Drink Drunk” to Studio Pros to have drums recorded, but I’m not at all happy with the result, and I will send it back to be re-recorded. On the other hand, Cary Brown sent me a finished piano track for “Truest Kind of Lie”, which sounds fantastic. I made a couple of very minor MIDI tweaks, and will get the final file, with a couple of different piano sample sounds, shortly.
3/28 Let’s see, what have I been doing? Recorded a quick demo of “Homer”. Recorded electric guitars, lead vocal and backing vocal for “One Drink Drunk”. Circled back to “Softer Than Bullets” – the last time I worked on this was in February 2020. Not happy with the sound or playing of the acoustic guitar, so I recorded 22 takes of guitar, will have to listen and edit later.
3/12 I’ve been attending a virtual songwriter’s circle, where everyone plays a new song and gets feedback and suggestions. Yesterday I dug up a song I wrote several years ago; had only lyrics. Re-reading it, I remembered that I never wrote the music because (1) it’s depressing, and (2) the way it scans, I would have to leave four beats of silence (i.e. a one measure rest) after each line of the verse, which would drag out a song that already has a lot of words. Plus, my ideal audience for this song would be someone who is familiar with ancient Greece and Homer’s Odyssey, and who works in finance in lower Manhattan.
Anyway, I started messing around with it on piano, and by changing the verses to three-quarter time it reduced the rest to just two beats and had a cool sound. Unfortunately, the chorus (if you can call it that) really wanted to be in 4/4 time, so after a lot of experimentation I came up with an arrangement the keeps switching back and forth between the two time signatures. Also added some new lines, and had to do surgery on the lyrics to make them fit. (I also had to research the NYC subway maps.) Hope it works.
Here are some selected lyrics:
I saw Homer on the
Must have come from out of town
Mumbling in broken English
Blindly wandering around …
And I feel like a
Living in a concrete cave
I know I’ll never be a hero
Money is the only thing I’ll save
3/2 I decided that what “After the Afterlife” needed was a bass part and a more straightforward kick drum, and get rid of the other percussion. The new bass part is done now, will get to the other stuff later.
2/27 Recording round-up: Working with Cary on arrangement and piano sound for “Truest Kind of Lie”. Decided that my vocal on “Lucifer’s Lament” is just not right – too pretty. So I recorded a new lead vocal using more of a character voice, which I think makes more sense for this song, and hopefully focuses more attention on the lyrics. We’ll see how I feel about it when I listen again after some time has passed. Meanwhile, I also worked on simplifying the percussion, which is an interplay of tabla and talking drum (plus other stuff), though I expect to pare it down even more.
Then I listened to “Stolen Blessing” and decided to get rid of all of the percussion except maybe kick drum and sidestick, leaving it as a very stripped-down acoustic guitar based song; I think it sounds much better this way. Listened again to “After the Afterlife” – I had been playing with adding high hat patterns to make the song move more. I don’t think I want to do a lot of that, but I had a couple of other ideas that I sketched in and may record in the near future. All of this while also rehearsing for a couple of virtual open mics last week and this week.
2/16 Over the last couple of days, recorded two acoustic guitars and bass for “One Drink Drunk”. Sounding good! And recorded bass for “Word of the Lord”.
2/14 Happy Valentine’s Day! Spent lots of time in the studio recently.
We decided to come back to “Truest Kind of Lie”. Barbara had done some really nice harmonies on the demo, and we had started to record a proper version to be included on our What’s That Thing? album, but it sounded clunky, especially draggy with the drums, and we had put it aside for a few years. We thought we could easily make it work for the new album by keeping the (new) vocals and the bass, no drums, and having fabulous pianist Cary Brown re-do the keyboards. This turned into a lot of work, though, because it turns out that we had five different versions of the song, all with different vocals, and we had to do a lot of listening to figure out which were the final best vocals – then we discovered that for the final lead vocal we’d only recorded backing vocals for half of the song. So we recorded the rest of the backing vocals. Really hard work arranging the new harmonies, but ultimately very satisfying to hear everything blend together so beautifully. Looking forward to hearing Cary’s piano arrangement!
2/2 Have been working on “Word of the Lord”. Recorded two acoustic guitar parts, then recorded electric guitar solo, then another electric guitar track. Just in case, I saved alternate takes of the electric guitar track so I can double them and pan them hard left and right – or I might just use one if that sounds cleaner. (I see that I mentioned the electric guitar tracks in the previous blog entry.) Then I decided that the second acoustic guitar track was too similar to the first one and so sounded messy, so I recorded a new second acoustic guitar track that’s mostly fills and accent chords. Then just for fun I also recorded some of those parts an octave higher. Also spent some time working on two tracks of acoustic guitar runs for the intro. Still need to record bass and vocals, and organ, but I think I’ve had enough of this song for a while, and will finish it off later.
Meanwhile, we figured out the key for “One Drink Drunk”, so will work on recording that soon.
1/16 Just finished a new song! While texting with our younger daughter, she said that she was “one drink drunk”. Aha! I said – sounds like a song title.
As usual, the song came together in bits and pieces, in this case starting with the chorus and then chorus melody, then verses, then a bridge, which was a struggle. I kept working at one idea over and over but it just wasn’t coming out right. Then I got an new idea, which became the seed of my favorite lines:
A glass of wine was once good enough, maybe a
beer or two
But tonight I’m into the hard stuff - Jim Beam, and losing you
Somehow the moon tonight is sadder than the night before
See what I did there, with the “hard stuff”? Nice when that sort of thing works out. And the moon thing is a anthropomorphism of a waning lunar phase (and a reference to earlier verses).
Recorded a quick demo of the song. It’ll be sung by Barbara, so next step is to figure out her key.
Speaking of keys, we decided to lower the key of “After the Afterlife”, which we’d started recording, but fortunately most of the tracks were synthesizer and I had saved the MIDI so it was possible to transpose all of the parts without needing to replay them. The rest of the tracks are percussion, which are ok, and guitars, which I have to re-record. And re-do the vocals in the new key. Also have been working on the vocal for “Arguing With God”, and Barbara is learning the harmonies for the new “Word of the Lord”, which we started recording and which we’ll play this week in a virtual songwriters’ circle. Recorded electric guitars for this song today.
12/13 I’d been thinking that there are maybe a bit
too many ballad-y/folky/mid-tempo songs slated for the Arguing With God album,
so it needed another song with more of a driving beat, (thinking about "Pump Me
Up" by Elvis Costello and "Dashboard" by Modest Mouse) so I had been playing with
ideas for one called "The Word of the Lord".
Just had a few lyric ideas lying around for a long time, but I finally
got around to finding a verse shape and writing the full lyrics.
Today I went into the studio and figured out the chords and the melody, and recorded a demo of the song. I had been wanting to write a song using what’s been called the Keith Richards tuning – it’s an open G tuning that he used for songs like "Start Me Up", "Brown Sugar", "Gimme Shelter" and "Wild Horses" (DGDGBD) – though my song is in a minor key so I changed the B to Bb.
Here are some of the lyrics:
truly tried to do the things you told me
And I believed your angels’ wings would enfold me
My wife was weak, it was not her fault
Now I weep and kiss a pillar of salt
Lament, repent and hear the word of the Lord!
I think I’ll need to record this as an acoustic-based song (but still hard-driving) so that it fits in as well as contrasts with the songs around it on the album.
Getting set for another round of pandemic recording sessions. 😕
11/28 It's been a long time since I updated this blog! Let's see... you probably know that we
released our latest album, House of Love, in May. With reference to my previous (4/2/2021) blog
entry, I had gotten the new small JBL monitor speakers just in time, because my
usual monitors started crapping out intermittently. And I ended up using the LANDR mixes for
streaming platforms like Spotify, but burned CDs from my home mixes because
they sound clearer, but are at a slightly lower volume level. So if you are an audiophile, get the CD. 😊
After all the work of getting the album out, I needed a break from the studio. And then it was summer, time to hike and paddleboard and do stuff outdoors. Fall has been a time of home repairs and other stuff that kept us busy. We've been playing in virtual open mic nights every so often. We started recording "The Hurt Heart Situation" (see below), but that's unfinished so far.
We wanted to submit "You Can Talk To Me" to the Women of Substance podcast, but had recorded it live with one microphone for the video (see out website) with a bass overdub, and I wanted the sound to be more fleshed out. So I recorded a piano part - a bit tricky because the original performance was not to a click and the timing varies slightly. Also recorded drums and more harmony vocals but ended up not using them. The song was aired on Jon Stein's Hootenanny Café radio show in August, and hopefully will be on the WOS podcast in January.
Jon Stein solicits songs based on themes that he
announces each week. Last week the theme
was "Wildlife Encounters", and I thought that one of my old songs,
"Black Birds", would fit the theme, in a darkly twisted way. It's about someone lying under a tree in a
desert as buzzards gather above him. Fun
stuff. It has a very cool finger-picking
guitar arrangement that I had forgotten and now needed to relearn and
practice. Unlike most of our recordings
it's very simple, just acoustic guitar and my lead vocal, with a hint of
backing vocals by Barbara. Oh, and I
added a very simple harmonica interlude.
Anyway, it's kind of creepy and I thought that Jon wouldn't pick it, but
he did, and it will be on his show in late November. And destined for a future New Middle Class
album... or else maybe a solo album of downer songs to be titled Dark and Darker. 😁
Gearing up to resume work on our Arguing With God album. Another pandemic winter coming up, so may as well put the time to good use.
4/2 Several things to report:
Got a pair of JBL studio monitor speakers, to help with the final mixing (happening now!) of our new album. These are 5” near-field monitors, and are much smaller than our 8” Event monitor speakers. The idea is to switch back and forth between the speakers to make sure that the final mix is not colored by the sound of one particular speaker. We also check our mixes on stereo, computer, car speakers and headphones. So much work, so many decisions!
Subscribed to LANDR, which uses AI (artificial intelligence) to automatically master the final mixes of our songs. We get to choose among several options to pick the best sound for each song. Or maybe the song sounds better without running it through LANDR. So much work, so many decisions!
Finished writing a new song, “The Hurt Heart Situation”, which will feature a Barbara lead vocal. Actually, we plan for her to do lots of harmonies as well. The goal was to write a song in the style of Shelby Lynne. (Check out her albums I Am Shelby Lynne and Love, Shelby.) The lyrics were inspired by the fabulous Irish novelist, Anna Burns (Booker prize winner Milkman). She’s got a really interesting and unique style and way of phrasing things. Here are some of the lyrics of the new song:
I was blindsided by love again
I’m the fool who fell for the Eyes-Closed Kiss
Now there’s a Bad Feeling inside my chest
And another chance missed
Maybe a girl’s entitled to One Mistake
I’ve already made a few
Guess I had another mistake to make
Another Sadness to get used to
Everything was all right
With someone to depend on
Suddenly he’s gone
And I’m in the Hurt Heart Situation
I was unprepared for this kind of pain
Call it the Hurt Heart Situation
Isn’t it a shame, shame, shame?
We’re also working on how to promote the new album, including finishing the video for “Quark”. And there’s cover art to decide on – we have some ideas, but no actual design yet.
So – maybe a March release date? Stay tuned.
5/25 Nowadays I get to spend time in the studio most days. Recording roundup…
- Added electric guitar, synth and organ to “Living in Songland”, and finished up the bass.
- Started working on “Quark”, preliminary drum programming, real tambourine, and created a cool stereo backwards rhythm sound for under the bridge. Trying to decide on the key.
- Did some hard listening to the drum tracks for “It Ain’t What It Ain’t”, in order to request a few changes. Looking to make it simpler – surprise!
- More “Quark”: Tried out lead vocals in four different keys, and decided on one that’s a whole step lower than the original demo. So now I’ve also recorded : two acoustic guitars (intertwining parts, one with drop-D tuning), twin synth solo, Wurlitzer, bass, lead vocal, backing vocals. Settled on a preliminary mix and sent it off to a bunch of fans who are interested in participating in a video of the song.
- “Second Best”: improved sampled drum sounds and overlaid some with actual hi hat and cymbals; also added some drum fills.
- “Living In Songland”: recorded two acoustic guitar parts.
- “Radio”: recorded lead guitar.
- “Lazy Me”: This was originally recorded to be on the What’s That Thing? album, but the part the drummer played was just not right, and though I kept trying to fix the drums by adding additional drum samples it never seemed to work. Revisiting this I see that I need to scrap the original drums altogether, simplify the arrangement and probably slow down the tempo. Got started on this by recording a mandolin intro and not bringing in any drums till later, which brightens up the song. I’m liking it so far! (Later) Working on drum replacement. Couldn’t get any decent sampled sounds for hi hat and ride cymbal so I ended up playing them live, which takes me a lot of tries to get parts that have a good feel and are in time, ‘cause I’m not a drummer. I was able to use samples for the other drums, but will also use the hi/lo/floor toms from the original drum tracks.
4/11 Catching up… I finished electric guitar on “Arguing With God” and recorded bass. Spent a significant amount of time playing with percussion to add. Aside from banging on normal things, I revisited an effect we last used in “Misery Loves Company”: I set up stereo microphones, then quickly swished a drum brush in front of the mics from left to right. That gives a kind of moving whistling effect that will be subtly mixed in. Probably no one but me will hear it.
Well, this virus thing has caused us to change our plans. The original idea was to release the Arguing With God album and then tour the songs live at whatever churches and temples would go for the idea, but social distancing has put a damper on that approach. (Although people may be more willing than ever to argue with God, given the present circumstances.) So Plan B is to gather a bunch of songs where the recordings would not take a huge amount of work to finalize, and release a different album instead. Turns out we have lots of good songs to choose from. Looking forward to actually getting an album finished in a matter of weeks (I hope). Worked today on “Living in Songland” which needs the most work – added drums, now working on new bass to sync in with the drums, and will probably need to re-do the acoustic guitars. Easy.
Finally got around to sending “It Ain’t What It Ain’t” out to have drums recorded professionally at a remote studio. Got a preview back today and I think it’s pretty awesome.
And last week I joined a virtual song circle that required us to bring in a new song, so I found a few lines of unfinished lyrics, revised the rhyme scheme, and finished the words and music. Played it for Barbara and she thought the music was all wrong, and actually I agreed, so the next day I completely re-wrote the music and now we have this song about a cool new dance that atomic physicists will love. E.g.
C’mon, let’s do the Quark
It’s the latest dance craze
Baby, me and you
Dance like the smart kids do
In a subatomic daze
Let’s do the quantum dance
Here at the Physicists’ Ball
Don’t worry, you won’t fall
‘Cause the steps are so small You hardly move at all
…and so on. Once it’s recorded we’ll break out the white lab coat and make a video.
2/1 Finished re-recording “Softer Than Bullets” bass in the new key – glad I did, because it’s now much better. Started working with Barbara on vocals. Also, added piano to “Arguing With God” and continued to work on electric guitar ideas. I’m trying for an arrangement with just a touch of electric guitar, instead mostly synth and percussion. i.e. a bit more 21st century!
1/26 Tried out scratch vocals for “Softer Than Bullets” and sure enough we do want to change the key, so unfortunately I will need to re-record the bass – on which I had worked very hard! Oh, well. I also started re-focusing on “Arguing With God”, working on the percussion tracks, and I started recording electric guitar.
1/21 We thought we were just about ready to add drums to “Softer Than Bullets”, but now maybe we’re thinking about changing the key. (I hate when that happens!) So today I recorded scratch bass and acoustic guitar in the new key; next, Barbara can work on vocals in two keys to see which is better. While I was at it, I worked some more on specifying the drum part, which meant making changes to sampled drum parts and also playing live hi hat and cymbals. When we’re ready, we’ll send a click track and a mix minus drums to a service called StudioPros and one of their professional drummers will record the drum track. But first the drummer will listen to the spec’d drum parts that I recorded in order to get a general idea of what parts to play. The more accurately I specify the drum part, the less likely they will send me back a drum track with parts that I don’t like. This approach worked well for a couple of the songs on our What’s That Thing? album.
1/20/2020 The studio was down for several weeks in December / January due to holidays, house guests and flu, but a bunch of things have been accomplished. Most recently, I recorded two interlocking acoustic guitar parts for “After the Afterlife” and worked on drum parts. Also added a bit of mandolin and a backwards guitar effect. Before that, I finished the acoustic guitars for “Land of Love” and continued tweaking drum parts for “Lucifer’s Lament”.
11/26 Been working on lots of stuff. String arrangement for “Blind”. More work on editing percussion (tabla and talking drum) for “Lucifer’s Lament”… which mostly means getting rid of the hand drums in lots of places. Recorded bass for “Softer Than Bullets”; that took me a week. Just for fun, took a break from this project and edited the banjo track on “No One” that Jerry Oland recorded last year. Then back to the Arguing With God project: I decided that “Land of Love” should have a Steely Dan feel, so I recorded a Fagin-ish electric piano track. Bassist extraordinaire Bill Strohm stopped by and we worked on bass arrangements for “Land of Love” and “Oh, Lord!”; will return to record final tracks at some point in the near future. And today I recorded half of one of the acoustic guitars for “Land of Love”. Haven’t played acoustic in a while so I have no calluses on my fingers, but that didn’t stop me from working for several hours. It needs to be quiet to do recording over open mic, so anytime Barbara is out I dive into the studio for a few hours. Today was particularly annoying because the phone kept ringing in the middle of many takes, mostly telemarketers.
(What happened between April and November???!!!)
[4/27] Working for the past week or so on “Stolen Blessing”. I had a basic acoustic recording of this song, but always felt that it needed drums. This was going to be tricky, partly because I want to keep the acoustic feel (but add rhythmic excitement), and also because the time signature changes – every so often I drop a couple of beats. Because of this, and because I didn’t have a clear idea of what the drums should sound like, I decided to play them myself – a combination of sampled drum hits and live cymbals. My drum kit is in the basement, so I keep bringing this cymbal or that high hat upstairs, and they randomly appear in the hallway as I shuffle them in and out of the studio. And it must be no fun to have to listen to me experimenting and banging on stuff. (I try to do this when no one else is home. 😊 )
This is taking a long time because I keep changing my mind, sometimes adding hits and sometimes removing them, ultimately trying to end up with parts that sound like what an actual drummer would play. I think I’m mostly there now – time to step away from it and listen again later to see what needs to be tweaked.
Also started to sketch in parts for “Land of Love”. Once I get a clear idea of what parts I want I’ll start recording final tracks. I do know that I’ll want a real drummer and real organist on this one!
[4/3] Still more work on “Blind” percussion. The original track was recorded in free time (not to a click) so the tempo varies, making it really tough to add percussion. I was able to do some editing on the guitar and bass to fix some problem spots. Then I made a simple loop of three different sampled conga sounds, then added and moved some of the congas to add variety and make it sound less machine-like. Then I played additional beats by hand on a tubano drum, so that the two parts blend together and make it sound like two drummers playing off of each other. And all of that drumming will end up as a low volume backing track.
So now I think it’s in pretty good shape – added some scratch backing vocals, planning for Barbara to record the actual backing vocals. I was thinking about adding an electric guitar, but that might muck it up. I may experiment with this later, but for now I think I’ll put this aside for a while, work on some other songs, and re-listen in the future to see what needs doing.
[3/29] More work on "Blind". It needed a stronger backbeat under the chorus. Tried some sampled synth percussion sounds, didn't work. But when I hit a small wooden clave that I inherited from our friend Diane's kindergarten classroom with the rubber handle of a snare brush, that sounded pretty good...but not for all four beats of each measure. What other sound went with that? Tried playing a clay jar, talking drum, bass tabla, a kid's tubano and even the ceramic garbage can in my studio, but none of these worked. Then tried a small hand drum I had picked up at an import store (now defunct) in the Jefferson Valley Mall; the head that sounded best was the one that still had the price sticker: $9.99. Combined that with the clave and the high hat and I think it works.
This music stuff is definitely harder than computer programming!
[3/26] Recording round-up: On “Oh, Lord!” I added three keyboard parts: a swirly organ, a more normal organ, and a synth lead section at the end. I had previously sketched out all of these parts and I was surprised at how good the original scratch tracks were, since I played them live. Had to figure out which keyboard sounds I had used originally, since I foolishly forgot to annotate them. The new tracks were done with the help of MIDI automation, which meant I could get them exactly right, but takes me much longer to (re)compose and balance all the parts. Sure wish I’d had piano lessons as a child. :-)
Spent several hours working with Barbara to figure out the best key for her to sing “After the Afterlife” – it’s either B or C, not sure so I had to transpose several keyboard parts into both keys. And I’ve been working on ideas for “Blind”: recorded scratch tracks for a (synth) string trio and organ, and am working on keyboard percussion tracks. I might try playing a real violin for this; I have two, but the neck of the better-sounding one had come off and I had tried re-gluing it a while back (researched a hide-based glue) but when I opened the case I saw that the neck had come mostly unglued. Damn!
[2/18] Spent a couple of sessions recording tabla for “Lucifer’s Lament”. This is the first time I’ve tried to play/record tabla (a present from Siddhartha on a recent trip to India – thank you!) Like most Indian instruments, it takes years to learn how to properly play them. I carefully studied Lesson One on You Tube (Te, Te and Ke), then said screw it and started banging away in my own fashion. Actually (after careful editing) the track came out very nicely, and I’m currently editing a talking drum (present from Raf from African trip) track I had recorded earlier so that the two percussion tracks blend and bounce off of each other – just like I had planned it. So happy! This song, which started life as a simple folky guitar song, is turning out to be a really cool blend of guitar, synth and percussion. Get out your headphones, friends.
[2/10] Back to working on "Lucifer's Lament". Last time I had played with the vocal effects, to suggest a more Lucifer-like sound... used autotune to add beast-like octave vocals below and also octave above, with delay and reverb, so there are whispers of multiple voices (his name is legion!). Today I added some mandolin and programmed kick drum and hi hat. Working on this song is like painting - I keep adding and subtracting splashes of color to create an atmosphere, then I step back to evaluate the mess I made. I think it's coming together - have to think about hand percussion next...
[1/7/2019] Happy New Year! OK, the room was transformed into a guest bedroom for the holidays, but all company is gone now and it has been (mostly) turned back into my recording studio. I started working on programming drums for "Church on Synagogue Street", but got distracted because I want to have a CD of my own songs for the South Florida Folk Festival, and I hated the simple drum loop under the existing recording of "What's the Matter With the Way It Was?"...so I spent the afternoon putting down a new drum track for that song - a combination of kick drum played on my synth plus other sampled drum sounds. Starting to sound much better, will mix tomorrow. But I had saved tons of preliminary tracks that I now have to go through (and will probably get rid of them all).
[Various sessions in December] Worked on final recording of "After the Afterlife". Still not positive what key Barbara will sing it in, so all synth parts are MIDI, and any guitar parts are scratch. And I bought a 12-string acoustic/electric guitar; needs some work so I brought it in to a luthier in Peekskill - looking forward to getting it back and playing around with it.
[11/13] I needed one more new song for our upcoming Arguing With God CD; just wrote it. It's called "After the Afterlife". Here are some of the lyrics:
I wonder what comes next after the afterlife?
Could there be an afterlife after the afterlife?
Will we be supersonic angels with better halos, better wings?
Will we have better things after the afterlife?
Even better things after the afterlife?
And where was God
Before everything started spinning?
Before it all began
Was there a previous beginning?
Could the universe be ending
Or is it really only bending?
If everything keeps expanding
And extending and transcending
Tell me what comes next after the afterlife?
Is there an afterlife after the afterlife?
If we live after we live, then do we die after we die?
Does the answer lie after the afterlife?
Does the answer lie after the afterlife?
The music and arrangement was inspired by The Chainsmokers - it won't quite be modern synth pop like their stuff, but definitely influenced. Started working on a recording, rough sketch.
[10/30] Recording roundup: I think I did a bit more synth recording for "Lucifer's Lament" - it's been a while so I'm not sure what I did when.
We applied for a folk festival singer/songwriter contest, and I decided to revise (mostly the melody and chords) a song called "The Rain" that I had always liked but we never recorded...then recorded that and also re-recorded a song that we used to do back in the Light Horse Harry days, was called "Hobo's Prayer" but that title could change. Recorded Barbara's backing vocals. Both of these songs were given a very simple acoustic treatment. [Update: the judges loved the songs, and I was selected as a finalist in the 2019 South Florida Folk Festival Singer/Songwriter Contest. I'll be performing them at the festival in January.]
And a few days ago my old friend and former bandmate Rick Garcia came up from NYC and recorded some electric guitar and lead guitar solos for "It Ain't What It Ain't" and "Oh, Lord!". We also recorded one of Rick's songs, "Mexican Waltz 3", and it came out really well - you can listen to it here. That's me playing acoustic 12-string.
All of this was preceded by some boring but necessary housekeeping - I went through the recorded "sessions" for several of the songs from the What's That Thing? CD, deleting tons and tons of unused tracks and alternate takes in order to free up space on my computer hard drive.
[10/1] Recorded several lead vocal (Barbara) takes for "Human", will listen to them in the near future to see if we have a winner. And I've been working on fleshing out ideas (recording scratch parts) for "Lucifer's Lament". That song was originally a guitar-based singer-songwriter thing, but I keep removing guitar and adding keyboard/synth and hand percussion to get a combination of both ancient and modern sound.
[9/14] Finished the electric guitar and guitar solo for "Human". I recorded these parts at various times over the summer, just finished editing them. It's been a very busy summer, but I think I can start getting back to work in the studio. (And frankly, any time it was a nice day it just didn't make sense to stay indoors.)
[7/25] Now that "Overly Enthusiastic Love" has been posted on the FuMP site, it's time to submit another funny song. There's a song in our archives, never released, that's extremely silly...so it might be right for FuMP. It's called "(I Have a Hard Time) Getting Along with People"; musically it's got a Thomas Dolby vibe so it just wouldn't fit on a New Middle Class record (even if it wasn't so silly). Anyway, I was able to find the original 8-track audio so I remixed it and sent it off.
Also worked a bit more on a revised approach to "Lucifer's Lament".
[7/16] Our CD release concert was a big success (and a lot of work hauling and setting up equipment!); I'll post more about it on the blog page.
Meanwhile, as part of my ongoing songwriting self-challenge I attempted to write a song (it's called "Human") in the style of Smokey Robinson. Not quite sure if that's exactly who it ended up sounding like, but I think it's somewhere in the ballpark. Started writing it on piano on Thursday, got the chorus, added a verse on Friday, wrote another verse in the shower on Sunday, and finished it off with a bridge and some tweaks today and recorded a quick scratch version. It's intended for Barbara to sing so we need to find her key and then we'll do a legitimate (simple, damn it!) recording. The other motivation for knocking this one off now is that I like to write a brand-new song to play at the Putnam County 4-H Fair, which is in a couple of weeks (7/29). Now we have to learn to play it.
[6/14] "Overly Enthusiastic Love" is going to be on the FuMP site on 7/20, but the version they heard needs to be upgraded - I re-recorded the bass (originally a scratch track), added a slide guitar track and otherwise cleaned up the recording. Still needs a bit of work on the piano and then final mix. Also put together a new ad for upcoming Women of Substance podcasts. Other than that...lots of rehearsal and promotion for our upcoming CD release concert (6/16).
[5/2] Recent news: "Five Foot Four Girl" was released in the 4/27 Women of Substance podcast (#784), and "What's That Thing?" was selected to be in their podcast during the week of June 4th. "Loch Ness Cafe" was posted on 4/27 on the Funny Music Project (FuMP) web site, and we just did an interview with their podcast host; that podcast (episode 411) will be released on or about 5/3...hope we didn't embarrass ourselves too much! On the other hand, it's the FuMP so that probably doesn't matter.
Meanwhile in the studio: Recorded acoustic guitar and some scratch keyboard ideas for "Oh, Lord!" and played with some musical ideas to make "The Choir" slightly less mournful - translated it from piano to guitar. Also, working on material to submit to a music festival song competition, so recorded acoustic versions of "She's Cool" and "Give It Back" (not happy with either of these); recorded a vocal/ guitar/bass version of "Blind", recorded an acoustic folky version of "What's That Thing?", and added a new Barbara vocal to a previously recorded version of "Exactly Where It Hurts". I'll probably post the last two on our web site in the near future.
And in preparation for our upcoming (6/16) CD release concert I figured out how I played "1999.9" - it's in a version of open C tuning, but tuned down another half step. And then figured out the chord positions and bluesy fills. All of which prompted me to pick up a clay jar in T.J. Maxx that can simulate an Udu drum. That should go nicely with my tabla and talking drum.
[4/11] Finished my lead vocal for "Lucifer's Lament" and recorded my lead vocal for "Oh, Lord!". And I think we found a good key for "Arguing With God".
Unfortunately, "Five Foot Four Girl" was not selected to pitch to Reba McEntire; it was one of nine songs under consideration, and only two of those made it through this screening... including the one with a stray dog that shows up in a thunderstorm, and "that dog didn't mind her crooked smile or the braces on her legs". How could our song about a girl and a truck compete with that?
But I just wrote a new song for the Arguing With God project. I was thinking about the expression "preaching to the choir", where the choir represents the most faithful members of the congregation. Here's a somewhat different point of view:
I am neither unfaithful nor devout
I am giving You the benefit of doubt
Let the voices consume me in Your fire
When I’m singing in the choir
I dissolve and disappear into the air
As I yield to the seductiveness of prayer
And the voices, they whisper and conspire
When I’m singing in the choir
Draw me near You as it rises and descends
In the presence of these strangers and friends
The voices are all that I require
Let the voices infuse me and inspire
Let the voices consume me in Your fire
When I'm singing
When I’m singing in the choir
This one's a haunting ballad. Or maybe it's sappy, I can't tell. Let's see what Barbara can make of it.
Hey, all this God stuff is sounding pretty serious. I think I'm gettin' the urge to do something fun.
[3/28] May have an opportunity for radio airplay of an acoustic version of "It Ain't What It Ain't", so finished up my low vocal and recorded harmonies and two acoustic guitar tracks, mixed it and sent it off. Made some demos for Barbara of "Arguing With God" to help her figure out a good key.
I don't think I've mentioned another song I wrote recently, "Oh, Lord!". I finished all the lyrics in a couple of days but was struggling with the chords - I wanted it to be elephant-footed stomping bluesy/gospel-y, with dissonance but also a bit of a pretty chord change thrown in. Finally got that to my satisfaction (the final solution was to just NOT GO TO the resolving chord that I was looking for, and leave it hanging instead). It was a bit long with lots of words and maybe too much repetition of the chorus, so I had to play around with the arrangement; I think I've got it now. Ordered some wind and storm sound effects CDs from the library, and will soon be ready to lay down some final tracks.
Also worked on "Lucifer's Lament" (are you seeing a pattern here?); recorded acoustic guitar and my lead vocal, will need to do some editing on these. Just for fun I added scratch tracks of keyboard and sampled acoustic bass.
And today we heard that "Five Foot Four Girl (In a Ten Foot U-Haul Truck)", from our new What's That Thing? CD, is under consideration for inclusion on Reba McEntire's next album. Who knows, maybe it will actually happen. Crossing my fingers and ordering some KFC.
[3/7] I know what you’re thinking – in the previous post I casually said “so yesterday I wrote most of a new song…” Oh, is it that easy? Do you sit down to write and songs just come out? How does it happen?
I’m glad you asked.
In this case, I already knew the title and subject, Arguing With God. But now what? What do people argue with God about? I guess the big one is, why do bad things happen to good people? But should our protagonist literally be arguing with God? I started out thinking about biblical persons who did that, but that doesn’t connect emotionally here and now. Instead, our protagonist should do what we all do, i.e. rehearse arguments mentally. And who knows, maybe that actually IS the way to talk to God.
Thinking about those biblical arguers, though, led to the line, “I find myself both believer and doubter”, and that crystalized exactly the tone I wanted to set with both the song and the album. The Florida high school shooting was in the news; I was thinking what a nightmare it must have been, "nightmare" suggested its opposite, "daytime", and the ideas for the verse flowed from there:
Keep throwing out the stuff that doesn’t work, and after a while you’re left with stuff that does. It feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle, and someone I don’t see keeps handing me pieces to try. And when it’s done, it always seems to me that it was written by the one who was handing me the pieces, and there was only one way it wanted to come together. Feels like magic.
[3/6] Survived the storm and didn't lose power! (But another storm predicted for tomorrow.)
You would think that I'd be focusing now on promoting the new What's That Thing CD and it's true, I am slowly moving forward on that (waiting for the digital distribution to get out to all of the major players), but I keep thinking about the next CD, which will probably be Arguing With God, a themed collection of songs about, um, arguing with God. I thought it would be a good idea to have an introductory song to set the tone, so yesterday I wrote most of a new song (called "Arguing With God"). I still need to refine the melody a bit, maybe change some chords, work on the bridge and record a rough demo. Stay tuned.
Also, we're getting good feedback on What's That Thing? e.g. "Really enjoying your latest CD! Provocative, catchy and very well performed across the board. Congrats!"
[3/1] Yes, the song level comparison that I was talking about last time did indeed turn out to be way more time-consuming that I'd expected, and the more I listened, the more I heard little things I wanted to change.
BUT... the final tweaks are done, copyrights were filed and everything has been submitted to the distributor, so as soon as they process it we'll actually be announcing the CD release. Hooray!!!
Meanwhile, a song licensing submission deadline came up, so in a mad rush I put together a pretty good sounding recording of "Second Best", which is a song I very recently co-wrote with Rick Garcia, attempting to write a song in early Beatles style. It was tough getting Barbara to record backing vocals since she was itching to finish recording and watch the first episode of the new season of "Survivor". Done and submitted, just before the midnight deadline. (But I'll have to catch up on "Survivor" via DVR.)
And this just in - "Five Foot Four Girl" (from the new CD) was selected to be in an upcoming podcast by Women Of Substance Radio. It'll be aired in April, details to be announced.
Big storm predicted for tomorrow. If I'm not working on the CD, what ever will I do?
[2/21] So where was I? Oh yeah, finishing up the new CD. That's turned out to be a bit more work than I had anticipated. In my previous post I mentioned struggling with the sound of the bass; when all else fails, check the internet. Sure enough, there are lots of videos on this subject and, to make a long story short, turns out that I had never learned how to use a compressor properly. Reviewed and improved the bass on many of the songs.
Next, software experiments to best amplify the songs to near-commercial song volume with minimal distortion (previously, there was clipping and slight distortion). Then I checked again to ensure that all songs were at more or less the same volume level to each other.
That's a challenge - if they were all recorded with the same band at the same time it would have been more straightforward, but not only were the songs recorded bit by bit over several years with different players, but they span a wide range of styles: Motown, rock, blues shuffle, country, contemporary folk and - what do you call "1999.9"? - apocalyptic middle eastern folk blues? And as I compare them all, I can see that a few more tweaks to a couple of songs will make them sound more consistent with each other.
And that's what I'll be doing today. :-)
[1/19] Well, it took a busy, intense couple of weeks but the new CD is finished!* I went through all of the songs and made minor tweaks to the semi-final mixes and created final mixes. But now I have a whole new appreciation for audio engineers who do mastering, because I ended up remixing everything three times, mostly trying to figure out the right level and tone of the bass, which of course sounds different on every sound system I played it on. And thank-you to the several friends who listened to the mixes and gave their feedback. But the final mixes were all at different volume levels, and generally lower-sounding than current commercial recordings, so I had to figure out how to best amplify the tracks given the software at my disposal (i.e. I don't have mastering software). But in the end, I think it sounds pretty good!
* Oh, did you notice the asterisk in the previous paragraph, next to the word "finished"? Well, before we make the official CD release announcement and send it out to be published on iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby and the rest of the world wide web, it seems like a good idea to NOT listen to it for a couple of weeks, then listen with fresh ears and make further tweaks if necessary. So stand by just a little bit longer, world!
Meanwhile, we flew to Fort Lauderdale last weekend to play a set on the main stage at the South Florida Folk Festival. We had a great time, everyone in the Broward County Folk Club was super nice, and we met so many really fine musicians and songwriters. We'll post some pix on our facebook page.
[1/3/2018] Happy New Year! I can't remember exactly what else I did in December, but bottom line is that I finished the semi-final mix of "It's All About You" and did a major remix of "Loch Ness Cafe", so all semi-final mixes are done, then probably started tweaking those mixes. Also had recording session with banjoist Jerry Oland to record old song "No One" from Light Horse Harry days. Then the holidays, family, house guests, boiler leak, flooding, sickness. But starting yesterday I've entered the next phase: going through all of the semi-final mixes, making notes on what should be changed, and starting on the changes. So far I've done tweaks to five mixes.
I should probably also mention that last month Barbara and I designed the folder for the CD package, and it's back from the printer - things are coming together now :-)
[12/16] Finished "You Go First" organ tweaks and recorded a new bass track. Also recorded a new acoustic guitar track but I expect to only use bits of that. Finished a semi-final mix.
Currently working on "It's All About You". I really like Barbara's scratch lead vocal so decided to keep it as final, just needed some tweaks to get the timing to lock in with the drums (which were recorded later). Working on the backing vocals, which were also scratch, need to re-record most of them. That's mostly done. So probably one more day and we'll have a semi-final mix for this one too.
[12/2] On to "(Let's Change) You Go First"... this one has been a challenge because I don't have the individual tracks, only a stereo mix with vocals, two acoustic guitars and (weak) bass, so I can't really change the level of any of these elements (wish I could delete one of the acoustic guitars). We added drums and two electric guitars and some keyboard chimes and it sounds pretty good but the mix is too full of twanging guitars. First I deleted some extra guitars that I had added at some point, then I added an organ part to have a smooth rounded sound to contrast with the jangling guitars. Next I have to tweak the organ for timing and balance, and then I will overdub a new bass part to give it more bottom, and then will mix.
Is this more than you wanted to know? If so, bottom line is that I have a day or two more on this song, then doing vocals for "It's All About You" and then all the songs for the new CD will have been recorded and mixed. Next, final mixing and mastering and we're done! - just in time for our Florida festival gig.
[11/29] Mixed "Beautiful" over the course of three days. The most tedious part - because the sound of the kick drum was just a dull thud I decided to substitute a sampled kick sound. If I had an actual professional studio I could have used the original kick to trigger the new sample sound and the whole thing would have taken a matter of minutes. Instead, I had to copy and paste hundreds of individual kick hits so that they lined up exactly with the original kick hits. Yeah, that took a while. Other than that, the rest of the time was spent getting rid of things and adjusting levels and EQ to make everything as clear as possible. Semi-final mix: check!
[11/23] Working on the mix for "Tenth Commandment". Everything sounded good except the acoustic guitar - no matter what EQ or effect I tried, it just sounded muddy. So I re-recorded the acoustic guitar. Only 42 takes. (Take 32 was the best.) Then I finished the semi-final mix, and it sounds good now. Also, I finished writing one of the new songs I mentioned last time, and recorded a very rough demo. It's called "Rule of Thumb", and is basically a play on words. Lots of thumb references. That's the sort of thing that amuses me.
Meanwhile, we passed the audition and will be playing at the South Florida Folk Festival (Jan 13 & 14 2018), so it's a good thing I have so much mixing done; that means we should be able to have a completed CD to bring with us. 😊
[11/17] Getting a lot done! Barbara was really helpful with weeding and balancing the "Five Foot Four Girl" vocals, and so now we have what I'll call a semi-final mix - meaning that it sounds as good as I can make it now so I'll set it aside for a while, then come back with fresh ears, make whatever minor tweaks are necessary to levels and EQ and do what I can to make it as loud as possible without sacrificing audio quality.
Then I worked on "Doctor Bones". I re-recorded the intro sidestick and mandolin and decided that it needed some extra guitar parts for a fill that happens several times in the song so I recorded a high electric guitar fill and also a high and low electric slide guitar. I also recorded talking drum for the intro but not sure if I'll use it. Then I went on to do a semi-final mix of the song, so that's ready (though I still have to review and delete lots of unused tracks, and make a final decision about that talking drum).
I recorded a demo of an old song, "No One", and sent it to Jerry Oland, who will come over at some point to add banjo. Wrote some new stuff: complete lyrics to one new song, lyrics and almost all the music and recorded a partial demo for another, and started working on a third. So that's all exciting. More on these later.
[11/3] Took some time out from the new CD to work on an entry for the South Florida Folk Festival songwriting contest - a simple version of "What's the Matter with the Way It Was?" Re-recorded the guitar, then added new backing vocal by Barbara and a blues harp solo. Mixed, done, sent. Then on to mixing "Five Foot Four Girl", 24 tracks that need to be balanced and made to sound like they belong in the same song. And deleting whatever makes it sound too cluttered. I tell you, this mixing stuff is hard! (Especially since I saved over three gigabytes of every note I ever recorded for this song, so it's taken days to delete stuff as well.) But I think I'm pretty close now. Though I might have to get rid of some (or all!) of those five tracks of harmony vocals.
[10/25] The rough mix of "Loch Ness Cafe" sounded pretty good, but there were two things that I've always intended to fix: the acoustic guitar (including the opening fill) was always a somewhat sloppy scratch track, and the harmonica solo was enthusiastic but had some notes I didn't like. Over the last two days I re-recorded both of these parts. The new acoustic guitar especially improves the track; it is crisper and has a better sound. The new blues harp also sounds better but is it too clean now? Added delay and that's much better, but I still have to decide which to use, or combine them. But bottom line is that all recording for this song is now done and it's ready for final mix.
[10/7] Finished all recording and editing of parts for "What's That Thing?" and created a rough mix, which I submitted to this year's U.K. Songwriting Contest. I also added cymbals and kick drum to a demo of "Softer Than Bullets" and submitted that too. At this point I'm not sure if the new version is better or worse than the previous version (just vocals, acoustic guitars and bass) but what the hell. When playing the high hat and cymbals I experimented with brushes, drumsticks and two different kinds of chopsticks to see what got the best sound. Chopsticks weren't bad. :-) Just finished adding an electric guitar track (subtle parts to add fill and tone) to "Five Foot Four Girl". Next I need to tweak the piano part, fix some backing vocals, and mix it.
[9/21] Another couple of grueling sessions going over the instrumental tracks for "What's That Thing?" to make sure that everything's exactly on the beat, getting rid of unnecessary stuff and punching in several changes. I think it finally grooves and sounds good! Next, review the backing vocals...
[9/8] Spent another summer hiking and paddleboarding and in general being outdoors instead of in the studio, but now it's studio time again. Wrote a new song, "Radio", sort of country-ish, and recorded bass and lead vocal. But concentrating on final mixes for new CD songs so we can get this thing done. In general I'm reviewing my notes, re-recording little bits here and there that were originally scratch takes, getting the best sounds on all tracks and balancing levels, also trying to get the maximum volume for master mix without compressing too much. And all of the songs have lots of saved additional tracks and alternate takes that I need to listen to and almost always delete. Worked on "10th Commandment" and "Beautiful".
[7/11] That was easy - I sent a mix of "It's All About You" to studiopros.com and they sent me back a stereo mixed drum track in 48 hours. Voila! (Ok, it wasn't quite that simple; I asked them to change a bunch of kick hits and a couple of drum fills, but they turned that around in a couple of days too.) Spent some time working on the mix, getting rid of stuff, which generally makes things sound better. Still need to record final vocals. Also worked a bit on the mixes for "What's That Thing?" and "Doctor Bones".
[5/27] Lots of progress on "It's All About You" - finished bass, two acoustic guitars, electric and lead guitars, organ and piano. Next, need to add drums and final vocals.
[4/17] Spending more time in the studio: Recorded Dan vocal for "If I Ever" and submitted it for a possible sync opportunity. Also tweaked the vocal for the version where I sing the lead myself and mixed that too. Recorded a final version of my high lead vocal for "It Ain't What It Ain't" (there will be a low lead vocal as well, plus some backing vocals). But I spent the most time recording bass for "It's All About You" - the plan is to get it sounding solid and then send out the tracks for a drummer to record remotely. And as I may have mentioned, bass is fun but always a challenge for me because aside from having to be played exactly in time and locking with the drums, as a guitarist I always seem to play parts that are too complicated, so then I need to go back and keep simplifying. That might also be a lesson in life for me. :-)
[3/3] Wrote two more new songs: "It Ain't What It Ain't", written in reaction to the new scary post-election world. I recorded a quick demo of this; it's supposed to sound like The Clash though the demo sounds more like a cross between The Clash and Squeeze. I want to re-record the vocals and replace the acoustic guitars with electric guitars and then I'll put it on our web site. Also, to go in the opposite direction, I wrote "Overly Enthusiastic Love" which is upbeat, very silly, and in the musical style of Dan Pelletier (though he may deny it). Dan came over last weekend and recorded a piano part for this song, and I laid down a bass part for one of his songs ("Grand Apology").
Nashville drummer Steve Goodie recorded drums for "If I Ever". That recording is pretty much done, needs a ride cymbal and I might tweak the vocal a bit, and then need to mix it. Also might record a version with Dan singing the lead vocal, if he can sing it good. :-) And I've been working on mixing "Five Foot Four Girl".
[12/18] Since the last entry we finished (I think) the backing vocals for "Five Foot Four Girl". Also decided that the two acoustic guitars were too messy and so replaced them with a single acoustic guitar. But that was too simple so I added mandolin, which also turned out to be a nice counterbalance to the piano. In fact, it just might be that the whole song is finally done and ready to be mixed... although maybe it needs a little electric guitar in the bridge. Or maybe not. Will do a rough mix and then decide.
[7/10] It turns out that paddleboarding in nice summer weather is more fun than working in the recording studio... so between hanging out at the lake, a trip to Chicago and rehearsing for our upcoming show at the Putnam 4-H Fair, not much recording happening. But I did lay down some backing vocals for "Five Foot Four Girl".
[6/9] Ok, since the last entry I wrote two new songs. The first one, "If I Ever Get Another Chance", is actually about 60% recorded already, which (for me) is pretty impressive. But it's so depressing that I felt a pressing need to write a catchy up-beat song, "It's All About You". For that one I just threw together a quick scratch demo, but I really like the feel of it. If you're wondering why I would write a depressing song, it's not because I'm feeling depressed...the title came to me in a dream, along with the thought that I could sell it for lots of money. Then I woke up.
In addition to the above projects, I'm also in the middle of editing the "Five Foot Four Girl" lead vocal I mentioned last time. Should be finished with that in a day or two, if day job, commute and my swinging social life don't eat up all of my time. (Actually, if the weather's nice I will probably rather be cruisin' the lake on my new stand-up paddleboard than be holed up in my studio.)
[5/22] Finished up a demo recording of "What's the Matter With the Way It Was?", also remixed an old recording of "Wrong Side of the World" and added harp solo to an old live recording of "Loch Ness Cafe" and sent 'em off as an entry to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artists Showcase, where I fully expect to be passed over for the 15th time. But what the hell, maybe someday they'll slip up and let me in. Also, Barbara just sang a few more lead vocal takes for "Five Foot Four Girl", need to listen back and do some editing and then hopefully we will be ready to add the harmonies.
[4/23] But since I haven't been able to get Barbara to do backing vocals on "Lazy Me", moved over to working on "What's That Thing?" Re-recorded the bass, which improved the sound tremendously, added electric piano, then started going through the tracks getting rid of everything that I don't need, to unclutter it. Finished reviewing the acoustic guitars; I think I'm going to have to replace the electric guitar. And we need backing vocals for this too. Meanwhile, I wrote a new song, "What's the Matter With the Way It Was?", and started recording it.
[2/6] "Lazy Me" lead vocals are done, and I've gotten rid of most of the clutter. Just need to finish the backing vocals and mix!
[1/17/2016] Jonathan sent the drum tracks, and after a session of Pro Tools (software) magic the drums sit nicely in the track and sound great. I'll take a little virtual drumming credit as well, since I had fun constructing some tom fills in the bridge from extra sample bits that Jon provided. Now we just need to record final vocals, deferred due to holidays, house guests, sore throat and need to rehearse. Also I've been spending lots of time premixing "Lazy Me", which has grown into a monster with hundreds of tiny bits and alternate takes that I have to finalize and consolidate and get down to 24 tracks. But it's finally starting to come together.
[11/30] Another long stretch of time when for one reason or other I couldn't get into the studio. But I finished tracking instruments (except drums) for "Five Foot Four Girl". Used my new Roland GT-100 guitar effects unit to play electric guitar solo with some nice reverb/delay, added two mandolins, re-recorded the cowbell - that was fun; I ended up playing it halfway up the stairway leading to our upstairs to get the hallway echo effect. Working with Jonathan Mele who will remotely record the drums.
[8/30] Catching up... what have I done? Wrote new song "Exactly Where It Hurts" and recorded a demo in record time - all tracks recorded in no more than three takes, except the electric guitar solo which took maybe 20 minutes or a half hour to get right (using new guitar effects box Roland GT-100). Recorded MIDI piano for "Five Food Four Girl", will need a bit of tweaking to get some of the timing more exact but it's pretty good as is. Circling back and replacing a few spots of the bass where I had gotten too fancy.
[3/29] Finished "Five Foot Four Girl" bass, and working on additional guitar parts.
[2/18/2015] Update: Recorded all of the acoustic and electric guitar fills and solo for "Lazy Me", and currently working on improving the drum track - replacing kick drum and reinforcing the snare. Also started recording "Five Foot Four Girl", finger-picked acoustic guitar.
[12/13] Done with the bass!
[11/22] Working on "Lazy Me" bass - nothing final, just trying to find the right balance of simple and complicated, fingers or pick, etc. I think I've got the first verse and chorus. Only took four or five hours. Oh, and I have most of the lyrics for "Upgirl" - very odd.
[11/20] Working on and off over the last week, finished keyboards. It's all stored in MIDI, so I can go back and tweak in a couple of spots once the rest of the arrangement is final. Then this morning while zoning out in a half-awake half-sleep state some strange phrases came into my head, including "frame your upgirl". What it could mean? I'm thinking of working it into a trippy song with unusual sounds and time signatures.
[11/8 - 11/9] Working on keyboards, including organ and vibes. Also laid down some scratch slide guitar, high hat, working on percussion arrangement.
[11/2] Finished the main acoustic guitar edits. Next will start thinking about keyboards and other pads to fill out and vary the sound palette.
[10/29] A couple of weeks ago I finished the edits for "Lazy Me" kick drum, but now not sure if I will use the tracks. Meanwhile, I recorded the main acoustic guitar part. I thought that would be easy because it's basically what I usually play when we perform the song, but the tempo is fast and there's some intricate picking parts that have to be clean, so it took me most of the day and I have to edit some parts - about halfway done with the edits.
[7/21] Still haven't finished edits to "Lazy Me" drums. (Lazy, I guess.) But I wrote a new song, "Devious Kisses" - inspired by a poster advertising the TV show Devious Maids. (I watched a couple of minutes of the show afterwards...godawful!) Recorded a quick demo of the song, then later recorded another demo in a different key so that Rachel can sing at our 4-H Fair show. Then Barbara and I worked out and recorded some cool-sounding and sort of soulful backing vocals.
Also, Rich Benson dropped by and we recorded a test of of him playing bass on "What's That Thing?". As mentioned below, I had spent a while working out new bass parts for this song because there were technical problems on the original recording, plus I wanted to change up some of the parts. But I didn't like the sound of my Precision bass for this song. Rich's Fender Jazz bass sounds cleaner and I liked a lot of his ideas, so at some point I hope to bring him back to replace the part for real.
[4/10] Various personal issues, general busyness plus tendonitis in my shoulder kept me out of the studio for a while, but recently I spent time working on Gene’s "Lazy Me" drum tracks. First I had to comp together the best parts into a single track. The kick drum sound is somewhat mushy and not clearly defined, so I have been painstakingly adding a sampled kick drum that needs to be lined up manually EXACTLY for each and every hit. A hundred edits later, I am up to the last verse. Not fun - but it does really make a difference (to my ear).
[1/29] Finished recording scratch tracks for "Lazy Me" (had fun playing drums) and sent them off to Gene Lewin, for him to record the real drum tracks.
[1/24/2014] Finished re-recording a few backing vocal bits for "Doctor Bones" and have moved on to final editing and preliminary mixing. In addition to getting the sounds and levels of the tracks right, I also need to simplify the mix as much as possible, which means getting rid of fills here and there that sound cool but are not necessary and which compete with the vocal or other tracks.
Also getting back to "What's That Thing?", which has always sounded cluttered and didn't groove well. Got very useful feedback from Barbara on various parts to get rid of. I'm currently in the process of listening to the bass and drums, then adding the two acoustic guitars and listening to see which of the guitar fills are slightly off rhythm and fixing this, and which fills should be removed. After that, there will be a lot of pruning and shifting on the electric guitar track. And I'm planning on replacing the bass part. But it's already starting to sound much better.
We decided to remove "Ten Rooms in the House of Love" from the CD track list and replace it with "Lazy Me", which needs to be recorded from scratch. The first step will be to get tracks from drummer Gene Lewin - we're very excited to be working with him!
[12/30] So let's see, what have I been doing since the last entry? I finished the bass on "Doctor Bones". The song needed a bit more sparkle so I thought I'd add some harpsichord, to go with the 12-string guitars, but that was too over-the-top, so I added piano and just a few touches of harpsichord. (All keyboard parts played on my Yamaha synth.) Given my limited keyboard skills, the best way for me to work is to record the parts with MIDI, then use Pro Tools to edit the notes until the timing and feel of the part is right. I think I still need to go back and tweak the timing of some sections.
Next, I circled back to the lead guitar. Rick Garcia had laid down a few quick takes at the end of the session where we recorded "Loch Ness Cafe", so I selected the best parts and then worked on getting an electric guitar sound that matched Rick's, so I could add a few more parts that would blend with his. It's always interesting to do this because I learn a lot about how to play guitar by listening to how he plays. Lead guitar is now done - hooray!
Dan Pelletier has released his new CD "My Freakin' Heart", which includes the song "Emily" (see below). I thought that a lot of nice stuff got buried in the mix, so I got the master tracks from Dan to play with. I replaced his keyboard bass with real bass and started working on a remix, to be continued.
Recorded a demo of "Church On Synagogue". The objective was to see how fast I could do this. A couple of hours - not bad (for me).
We also spent a little while in the studio yesterday recording a "liner" - one of those audio snippets like "Hi, this is <your name here> and you're listening to <radio station>". Turns out that an internet radio station (Women of Substance Radio) will be playing "I Was Born" starting next month, and they requested a liner. Barbara worked on her sexy voice.
[10/6] Unbelievable, but I haven't been in the studio in almost three months! Anyway, my notes from last listening said that the bass for "Doctor Bones" is boring, so I spent much of the day working on the choruses, to make them interesting but not distractingly so. A bit more work will be required. Sounds better, though.
[7/10] Finished recording and comping my backing vocal for "Doctor Bones".
[ 6/29] Finished comping the "Doctor Bones" lead vocal and started recording my backing vocals. Also started playing around with ideas for re-doing the bass for "What's That Thing?".
[5/19 - 5/21] Several recording sessions: Barbara & I recorded backing vocals for Dan Pelletier's song "Emily". Barbara added some backing vocals to the chorus of "Beautiful". We re-recorded Barbara's lead vocal for "Doctor Bones". And we started adding backing vocals for "What's That Thing?", which is finally starting to sound properly Motown-ish.
[4/30] After playing the new song a few times I've come to the conclusion that it's just too darn long. Maybe Dylan was able to get away with seven minute songs back in the day, but I'm not Bob Dylan so I should try not to strain people's attention spans. I cut out a verse...still a long song but maybe not quite as painful. For the record, here's the lost verse:
[4/24] I just finished writing a new song, “Church On Synagogue”. In May we’ll be performing in a concert to benefit the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley, which is on Church Street, and I thought it would be fun to come up with a Dylanesque song based on the inverted name/address. (e.g. Dylan wrote “…but he just smoked my eyelid / and punched my cigarette” – heck, I can do better than that!) So this new song is in the general style of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, lots of verses and of course a harmonica break.
For inspiration I looked at my bookshelf and built several lines around selected titles, including This Perfect Day (Ira Levin), Anthem (Ayn Rand), No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy), Moses (Anthony Burgess) and others. One of the big challenges for me was that I didn’t want to write obscure and cryptic lyrics like Dylan, but I also didn’t want to be so specific that it become a story-song. Another challenge was to find chords and melody that were similar to Dylan but not too close a copy to any particular song. And, as often turns out to be the case, even though the song started out as a not-very-serious throwaway, I ended up with a number of lines that I really like, with a good conceptual and/or emotional punch.
Also, our friend Dan Pelletier asked me to add some guitar to a recording of a new and delightfully tuneful song, “Emily”, and I had a great time laying down an acoustic slide guitar solo with two- and three-part harmonies.
[2/18] While looking for three songs for our Free Songs web page, I found an old recording of a song idea called "Unbelievable" and did a quick mix to make it sound a bit better - mostly put effect and EQ on the drum machine and added vocal reverb. I also mixed a few tracks from "Monty's Room" - I'm actually not sure where the original tracks are. The faux pedal steel guitar part sounds nice. I created it by playing my strat with the volume pedal - hit strings with pedal off, then swell the sound, sometimes playing chords and sometimes single notes. Multi-tracking it made it lush and steely.
[through 2/14] Desperately trying to finish mixing and create the video in time for Valentine's Day. Just barely got it done on the day. Most of the mixing time was spent removing piano parts, editing the djembe track and adding talking drum. Then I ended up mixing the hand drums down quite low. I'm quite happy with the way the final mix sounds; I think I'm learning a little something about this audio engineering stuff. Barbara was very helpful with feedback and art curating for the video...which, as usual, took far more time than I had expected.
[2/2 - 2/3] Recorded acoustic guitar (Martin D-35) for "Anatomy of Love".
[the next week] A couple of days comping the various drum takes into one.
[1/19/2013] Drum recording session in our home studio, with Bill Morris. This was the first time I ever tried to record a drum kit live. (In the past I've played drums on recordings, but always recorded each drum separately - combining the twin disadvantages of piecework and amatuer musicianship.) We worked on "Anatomy of Love", which I am (once again) hoping to finish by Valentine's Day. First we recorded Bill on djembe (hand drum), then we recorded the drum kit. I used what's called the "recorderman" technique - see details on the internet - which allow recording of the whole kit with only three or four mics. Major thanks to Emile Menasche for the loan of some nice mics and a tube preamp! I was really pleased with the drum sound - it's amazing how well it turned out.
[10/14] Another month when I didn't get to use the studio at all! Anyway, I started comping the excellent piano and organ parts recorded by Cary Brown back in December 2011 (see below) for "Loch Ness Cafe". These parts really give the song life and make it all hang together. I plan to finish the mix this week and submit to the U.K. Songwriting Contest. The song has been played on BBC Scotland; hope they like it over there across the pond.
(Note: the song was mixed by the deadline and went on to win semifinalist in two categories: Jazz/Blues and Open. Of course, this was not the "final" mix - I still want to re-record the acoustic guitar and maybe the harmonica solo, and simplify some of the parts in the mix. But it's pretty darn close.)
[9/3] Listened back to the recent changes, and the acoustic guitar fills don't really add the sparkle I'm looking for, so will definitely need to play with adding keyboard. I did a rough mix because I think I'll submit this song to the International Songwriting Competition.
[8/20] Has it really been so long since I did work in the studio? Maybe I forgot to keep this log up to date. Anyway, determined to move forward, I figured I'd pick something that was close to completion and finish it up.
The state of "Let's Change" was: I had an old, mixed basic track of vocals, acoustic guitar and bass, and we had recorded additional drums and electric guitars. Bill Philbrick EQ'd the the tracks and we had done a mix, but I wasn't happy with the balance. I thought all I would need to do was change the level of the drums and the sound of the electric guitars, but now that I listen to it again, I see that it needs the rhythm track to be beefed up, and other instruments, probably more acoustic guitar and maybe keyboard, and I might want to add another backing vocal and double the bass.
I added high hat in a couple of spots, which really helped, and I'm working on some acoustic guitar fills.
[4/3] Taking a break from my own stuff; did some work producing "My Bravest Smile", a song by Dan Pelletier. This weekend I recorded bass, guitar and drums, and did a rough mix.
[3/10] Ok, I declare the "Anatomy" bass part finished. I started playing with acoustic guitar for this track, got some ideas, but I can see that in order to play simple parts that don't step on the other tracks I'm going to have to compose it section by section (like I did with the bass). I'll come back to this later; I get tired of working on the same song forever. Started to play with revising the bass on "Truest Kind of Lie", to make the song sound lighter.
[2/2 to 2/14] Continued composing and recording "Anatomy of Love" bass parts, whenever I can find the time. More to do, still working on getting the right feel.
[1/23] Played the new songs last night at the BeanRunner, including "Five Foot Four Girl in a Ten Foot U-Haul Truck" Our friend J. had sent us a change-of-address email; she was down-sizing, and signed it as "Five foot four person in a ten foot U-Haul truck". I replied, "Sounds like a great song title ... but what rhymes with truck"? She responded, "Luck". So I wrote the song, didn't tell her, and we surprised her with it at the concert. And now the story can be told.
[1/16] Finished writing a new song, "Now That I Have You", and recorded a guitar/vocal demo so that Barbara can learn it. (Barbara didn't like the verses, and actually I wasn't too happy with them either, so I re-wrote the words and music, and now we both like them.) We'll be playing at the BeanRunner Cafe on 1/22, and I like to have new songs - which often means a last-minute rush to finish something I've been working on and then teach it and rehearse it. Unfortunately, now Barbara is sick and can barely speak. When we're rehearsing, she has to whisper the lyrics.
[1/10 - 1/15/2012] Sick... watched a lot of TV.
[12/29 - 12/30] Started composing the bass part for "Anatomy of Love". Recorded a new lead vocal for "Truest Kind of Lie" and recorded the lead vocal for "Doctor Bones". We're struggling with demo-itis on "Truest Lie"... the demo version sounded better than the final version, which seemed plodding and heavy. That's why we went back and re-recorded the lead vocal; I think we're on the right track now. Also, thanks to Bill's custom pre-amp, the sound quality is much better, beautiful and clean.
[12/17] Recorded the 2nd acoustic guitar for "Five Foot Four Girl in a Ten Foot U-Haul Truck".
[12/11] Excellent session with keyboardist Cary Brown! We laid down tracks for "Doctor Bones" (organ), "Loch Ness Cafe" (organ and piano) and "Ten Rooms" (organ and piano).
[12/4 - 12/6] Things are moving along again. I finished editing the lead vocal and two acoustic guitar tracks for "Ten Rooms" and started composing the bass part. Also, we're tracking the lead vocal for "Doctor Bones". It's a hard song to sing, and Barbara hasn't performed in a while, so we've been laying down several takes each day, and it keeps getting better, but it's not there yet. It reminds me of something I read about the Beatles' "Abbey Road" sessions: McCartney wanted a knock-your-socks-off screaming vocal for "Oh, Darling!" and he couldn't seem to get it to his satisfaction, so he showed up early to each recording session and laid down a couple of takes. Eventually he got the one he was happy with. Well done, Paul!
Also, Bill Philbrick (who engineered our first CD and co-wrote "She's Cool") was kind enough to loan us a high-end microphone and pre-amp to play with, so we've been doing various recording tests. The pre-amp sounds great so we're trying to squeeze in some real tracking before we have to return the equipment.
[11/7] I wanted to post three more songs from the archives on our Free Songs page; I couldn't find a mix of "I Don't Understand Boys", so I went back to the original tracks (from ADAT) and remixed it - sounds cool! And I was also able to improve a really old recording of "Cowboy Song", but lead vocals, guitar and two fiddles had all been bounced to one track so I couldn't really balance or EQ the song properly.
[10/29 - 10/31] Storm - no power!
[10/27] Final mixing of "Monty's Room" and "Guilty (With An Explanation)", with Rob. Hooray! - it's only been five years (!) since we started mixing these. I think they sound really nice.
[9/25] Finished "Monty" recording. Now I'm preparing the tracks for mixing, doing the final editing and setting levels etc. so I won't have to spend time doing this in Rob Morsberger's studio when we mix in a couple of weeks.
[9/5] More "Monty" faux pedal steel guitar. Finished 3rd verse; still need to do the outro.
[8/30] More work on "Monty" faux pedal steel guitar. It will probably take one more session to complete this part.
[8/13] Finished "Monty" MIDI piano tweaking (which made a big difference). Started working on the final touch: by playing my stratocaster with a volume pedal, sometimes blending two tracks of this, I'm getting a sound that's very close to a pedal steel. It's really sounding nice.
[8/2] Mostly finished "Monty's Room" piano; need to tweak the MIDI file a bit on account of all thumbs.
[7/21] Editing lead vocals for "Ten Rooms" and re-recording piano for "Monty's Room". (The original piano track was recorded a long time ago using a really awful-sounding sample and a non-velocity-sensitive keyboard.) Finished the melody for the new song and started recording a demo.
[7/11] Comp'd the acoustic guitar for "Waiting On You" - there will be two acoustic guitars, one hard left and the other hard right. Met with Rob Morsberger to prepare for final mix of two songs, "Monty's Room" and "Guilty (With an Explanation)". Met with keyboardist Cary Brown to plan piano and organ parts for three songs, "Ten Rooms", "Doctor Bones" and "Fullness of Time". Mostly finished the music for "Five Foot Four Girl in a Ten Foot U-Haul Truck", will need to finalize the melody. Recorded lead vocals for "Ten Rooms".
[6/26] Recorded acoustic guitar for "Waiting On You" (see 5/11 below). The rest of the song is sketched out with scratch tracks. Parts of the song sound to me like Steely Dan meets "Brandy You're a Fine Girl".
[6/16] Finished the lyrics to another new song, "Five Foot Four Girl in a Ten Foot U-Haul Truck"... no music yet.
[5/11/2011] Just finished a new song, inspired by overhearing a guy on 34th street on his cell phone saying, "What the f#ck you doing while I'm standing here waiting on you?" Clearly destined to be a hit. The process was pretty much as usual: I started with some words and an idea of the melody/feel in my head, fleshed out the words and got some feedback from songwriters Joe Giacoio and Dan Pelletier, made a few revisions, ignored some advice, then worked on finalizing the melody and chords.
The music for the bridge was not happening, but I returned to it on a different day and a very nice one came to me. (This is always a challenge, but a bridge that's as tuneful and hooky as the chorus is a delight...as any Beatles fan knows.)
Fired up the studio (had not used it for a while) and started to record scratch tracks, to work out the parts. My goal once again is to try to get this thing tracked without taking forever - good luck! And I believe it's time to put the air conditioner in the studio window.
* * *
Since we came up with the idea of posting songs from our archives, I've been going back through my tapes again, to identify what's been digitized as opposed to what's decaying on reel tapes or cassettes. My current resolution is to spend some time on a regular basis transferring songs from reel tape to the computer.
Does anyone actually want to hear this stuff? I don't know. Maybe my descendents. But someone will have to reconvert the recordings so they play on the quantum computer.