Sunday, February 28, 2010

Let the Children Dance!

As previously promised this track will be something completely different. First off, we're going for a disco feel... well, at least some of the time. I played around with some sounds (Thor and Subtractor, specifically) and created a kind of wicked combi. Here's a link to that. For anyone who hasn't played around with creating their own combinators yet - you should. It's really fun, you learn a lot, and once you get to programming your knobs it really opens up the breadth and depth of the concept.

Back to what makes this completely different. We're going for an odd time signature - 5/4 (that's 5 quarter-notes per measure for anyone who doesn't read music). For a little history, read up on Dave Brubeck's non-standard time signature masterpiece "Take Five" (from the cleverly titled album "Time Out"). In addition to 5/4 and a slight disco feel we might add vocals this time - we'll see about that. One thing at a time.

The bass sound is another one from Propellerhead's Electric Bass ReFill. This one is called "Chili Magic", which I can only assume is a reference to my all-time favorite bassist, Flea. As a bassist who's listened to a lot of Chili Peppers over the years I can say that they have captured his tone fairly decently. I'd like it to have a little more crispiness, but I'll take what I can get.

One other thing that makes this track different is the key. We're going for Eb Major. Not a standard rock'n'roll key. It is a half-step higher than the saddest of all keys, but major, not minor.

We're going to try fewer guitars this time and, if we can help it, avoid distortion on them (gasp!). I know it will be tough, but just say NO! to that distortion pedal. I'm starting the guitars on the chorus with a default Record patch called "Bottled Message". As the name implies, it is very The Police.

Time is limited these days so I'll stop here for now. Here's your link to the first pass demo.

Next time: totally sweet synth strings... Disco will never die!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed....

Well, after much work and deliberation it would seem that this track, 303, has gone as far as it's going to go. I believe I'm going to have to let it lie and move on to something new. Now, for anyone out there who reads this and wants to add to it, or try and complete it--I'm all in. I love collaboration, so whether you are across the street or across the world, come one, come all and try your hand at making it into something new and beautiful.

Here's a link to the final wav file. It's a little bit bigger (52 MB), but I didn't want to skimp on quality this time. There is some nice riffy guitarness at the end, thrown in along with real bass guitar and "real" (sampled) drums for a little more authenticity. The final mix has Record's mixing board compressor applied and the "Hard Rock" mastering preset in Record just to finish it out a little more.

Thanks for following along on this first project. We'll try something COMPLETELY different for the next one.

Send me suggestions and requests!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Keep Running Until You Hit a Wall

303 is still a work in progress. At this point it is starting to feel like I should leave it alone. That maybe it's not going to go anywhere better than where it is right now.

I started recording guitars and was going for a multi-layered counterpoint type vibe, but instead am getting more of a hot-mess. I did stumble on and save a pretty sweet preset that makes a clean guitar turn into a horn-like sound. Think overdriven french horn. If you play in the lower register on the guitar it's like a baritone. Here's a link to that combinator patch. Enjoy.

Sometimes when I get stuck I will go for my homemade deck of Oblique Strategies cards. The card I pulled was "Is there something missing?" What I try to do after pulling the card is look at the answer/question from every angle. The first for me is someone asking you "Did you forget something? Is there a glaringly obvious omission here?" Well, yes, there is (so it seems). I felt like a vocal track might be the way to go. That crashed and burned. The next way to see it (for me) goes "Is there something missing? Do you really need anything else?" And maybe the answer is no and yes. The psychological need for a lead instrument/voice might be the wrong instinct. Maybe it just needs another section - a C section, or maybe A' (that's pronounced 'A prime' in case you're wondering). I'll keep working at it and will update once there's real progress.

Side Note: those of you with sharp ears you might notice that drums have had EQ applied and there has been an attempt to add space via the use of panning, a room reverb bus, and some level automation. Hopefully this makes it more listenable. Comments are always appreciated.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Begin at the Middle

This piece I'm currently working on, 303, is nothing to write home about. Pun not intended, but I guess it is something to write a blog about. I'm pretty terrible with names and the name is taken from the bass patch that I'm using - Fender 303. It comes from this bundle of sounds. I'm a bassist "professionally" (whatever that means) so I'm relatively picky when it comes to my bass sounds. I have to say that these sounds are pretty damn good. Rarely, when recording, will I write/play a keyboard bass part then not record a real part later. I find that it's usually not an issue with these sounds. Unless it's a "feel" thing and I just can't get the groove I want I'll often stick with the default patches, not changing them much outside of given parameters.

303 really started with the drums. Usually they're my go-to when I don't have anything else happening creatively. I've been a fan of jungle & drum'n'bass for many a-year and nothing gets my creativity going like a nice jungle beat. This song has very little to do w/that genre, but drums rule is my point. In looking for inspiration I started w/a basic beat, just kick & snare, tempo 110 BPM. I then began perusing through Redrum the kits that come with Reason. I ended up settling on the "Hardcore Kit 01". All the instrument names end with "_TRENT" which I can only assume it's a reference to Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor. This makes me happy - and the kit most definitely sounds like a good NIN kit.

The Fender 303 bass sound is not one I normally go for, but sometimes you have to try other flavors to see what you like. The E Minor riff that's driving the A section has definitely been done before, but it is, again, a good building point. Here lately I've really gotten into recording live guitar, so I'm hoping I'll get some great riffy parts laid down tomorrow, maybe a big ol' wall of sound.

At the beginning of the B section I've unintentionally used some instrument sounds that are very similar to sounds that could have been used in the NIN link above. Let me just say that it was completely unintentional. We are all influenced by other people and this is just a case of "This would probably sound interesting juxtaposed against what came before it." You'll just have to take my word for it that it's really a coincidence. I have an idea of how to transition back to industrial drums + guitar from the african tuned percussion, but it will have to wait until I have time to work at it. Here's a link to what is done so far.


I can't stop making music. As hard as I may try it just won't ever happen. Time continues to move forward and I continue to make music and it continues to sit on my hard drive. I've got a small pile of it now. Some garbage, some gems, some things that need to be turned inside to find out what they're worth. What ever the state said music is in it needs to breathe. It needs to leave the house and get into peoples ears, hearts, minds, and souls.

Long ago I stopped worrying about trying to make money by creating music. Instead, now, I just want to share. Money doesn't drive me to do this. If it did I'd have given up music my second year of college and changed majors. The act of creation is a reward in itself. Anyone who ever painted a picture, created a sculpture, or penned a sonnet can tell you that. There is an indefinable pleasure derived from "When I came here there was nothing. Now I have built a wall. Soon there will be more walls and later there will be a house." It feels like I've built a lot of houses, but no one ever moved in. Maybe if I swing the doors wide enough people will come to live here and call it a home for a little while.

I'll stop with the over-indulgent metaphors and move on to something more solid. In addition to using this blog as an outlet to put my music out into the world I'll also be using it as a simultaneous teaching & learning tool. Over the last year I've become addicted to two pieces of software: Propellerhead's Reason 4.0 & Record. They are, quite simply, hands down, the best music creation programs I've ever used. (Here's a list of others I've used at one time or another: Pro tools, Jeskola Buzz, FL Studio, Sonar, Nuendo, Garageband, Ableton, Sibelius, Finale, Logic, Cubase.) I can already hear a 1,000 people offended by the fact that I'd put any recording software above the Holiest of Holies a.k.a.: Digidesign's Pro tools. I've used Pro tools on many occasions and if you have umpteen third party plug-ins it is GREAT. If you don't it's pretty dull. That aside, I've never opened up a new Pro Tools session and excitedly thought "I wonder what I will create!" It does not inspire. It's a tool, and a pretty vanilla one at that. Reason & Record have the opposite effect on me. Every time I open either program I'm struck by the depth and breadth of what can be created. After getting some knowledge under my belt, especially about Reason 4.0, each session became an exploration into a world of sound that holds infinite surprises.

Later on down the road I'll most likely go on and on about how I love both programs oh-so-much so I'll spare you the gushing til later. Right now, I'll get on to the rest of what this is about. You know that I love Reason & Record and anyone who has used them can testify to the fact that they can be intimidating at times. Reason in particular has a reputation for scaring folks away. When I first saw Reason 2.0 years ago I opened a demo, messed with it for 10 minutes, and said "Not for me" then didn't give it a second thought. I'll quickly say that it's not for everyone, especially if someone who's a bit of a n00b is considering delving into the strange and oft-confusing world of synth-modeling, hyper-sampling, and sequencing dots & loops. But if you are willing to learn, there are ample rewards waiting for you. That's where I hope this blog will help.

In addition to presenting works in various states of completion I'll be walking readers through how I created sounds, sometimes why I did what I did, and will also give away presets I use and/or create for various machines in Reason/Record. That way, if you like a sound, you will also have it at your fingertips. That's not even mentioning a free download of a new track every time there's a new post.

Lastly, for myself, this will give me an opportunity to explore the volumes of sounds that are free downloads for registered Reason users. I have no idea how many individual patches I actually have, but at some point during this project I'll begin cataloging and tracking them as I go.

I've rambled for awhile now, so rather than go into how to create anything I'll end this first post with a link to a free track that was created exclusively using Reason 4.0. It's a brief track, but was my first experiment while learning from this book so it seems appropriate as a first work to share. I hope you enjoy. Here's the link again.