Tuesday, December 26, 2017

New Year is on its way!

Whew, 2017 was one busy year!

I just spent 3 days in Moscow and 2 weeks in Prague, not music related mind you - with that, plus the preparations for the trips, I was unable to do anything musical for the last month or so, but getting back into it now.

Moscow, view from the hotel window
I also managed to pick up a persistent cough, so not sure how that will impact my plans to do some recording over the Christmas vacation, but we shall see! I can still write and work on the instrumental side of things of course, so it won't all come to a complete standstill.

Prague, one of the smaller Christmas market areas
It's a good time to be thinking of plans for 2018, and for me I plan on doing some co-writing rather than write it all myself. I am also contemplating a move in May or thereabouts, and may move to Nashville for a bit, because Nashville. I think it would be fun to live there at least for a year or two!

I am also considering working less on production, arrangement and mixing, and more on just writing - there are so many songs I have in progress and if I stop to play around with them all in detail then that will slow down finishing writing them. After all, everything I create is just a demo or showcase of what the song can be, the plan is always that someone else will pick up on a song and record or perform it.

So what are your plans for the year ahead? Whatever they are, may they come to pass, and here's to it being an awesome year!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Old but very serviceable

Not me, the iPad. It's an iPad 4, which apparently makes it about 7 years old. As much as I dislike how Apple manages their infrastructure, I have to say that this 7 year old device is still enormously capable - great battery life, runs smooth, and as it turns out, a very easy and convenient writing tool!

The guitar sounds in Cubasis are very basic, will see if there's anything optional that can be added there to make those a bit more pleasant, but all the same it's very workable for writing. For practicing guitar solos, I might Bluetooth it over to the GT 40 amp (though I won't be able to record if I do that, but it could be good just for practice).

Thanks to that convenience, I was able to do some writing today, and it will only get easier the more I use this combo of iPad and Cubasis!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Making Writing Easier

The set up for songwriting that I came up with today.

One thing I am always looking to do is make the writing process easier. I do main recordings on my desktop, but I don't like being tied to the desktop while just experimenting and writing - inconvenient!

So far I've been using Evernote to sing or play into on my phone, but it's become inconvenient. It used to be easy to add several recordings to one "note" which kept multiple attempts at pieces of a song in one place, but now I can't see how to do that and I have to create a separate "note" each time which gets cluttered fast.

Besides, I wanted the ability to play and sing separately, so I could have my guitar playing away in my ear while I come up with words, or I could use it to work out soloes and or bass lines without heading to the PC.

I have Cubasis 2 on the iPad, which I like a lot as it is just like Cubase on my desktop. The problem with it was Apple - because they don't let you just browse the files on your iPad, you have to go through some app or another to see them. That meant moving anything OFF the iPad to start building the proper recordings on the desktop seemed to be a pain in the arse.

I was considering buying a mini-digital multitrack recorder, but joy of joys, I just discovered that Steinberg actually do things better than Apple - Cubasis has a wifi server mode, where I can see all the Cubase files on my PC and copy to and from the iPad with ease and abandon!

The raggedy collection of not much yet on the iPad, easily accessed from my desktop.
Enable it in Cubasis, enter the URL it displays into a web browser on the PC, and that's it - and like it says on the tin, it's wifi, so I don't even need to bother with all that cable-y nonsense. Well done Steinberg!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Labouring Away

The blog has languished a bit due to life being pretty chaotic!

I had a long weekend a while back and managed to wrap up the roughs of three more songs - American Now which was the second song I had on the go about my naturalization, On The Tin which is all about addiction and its false promises (I have a great idea for a cover image for that song, just have to find the time to get the stuff I need and snap the photo!), and You Don't Know Jack which is about one specific kind of addiction.

I did do a bit more work on The Spell, restructuring it and writing some new parts for it (bass line, an oboe part), but then things got busy with other things in life. Not least was the apartment flooding - nothing to do with Hurricane Harvey, I was blessed to be too far inland to be affected. This was just from the poor state of the city drainage system, ugh.

As a result, I had to bunch everything up in the apartment, and then live for 4 days with two fans and one dehumidifier running 24/7, which was disruptive to getting any good sleep and of course meant no hope for music with the constant racket!

However no permanent damage to anything (other than a bathmat and some clothing) so I can't complain.

Lots of other things also took up time, including a trip to a conference in Dallas, so there's been little progress on getting new songs wrapped up or written. This was the first sane weekend in a while, and I spent it mostly sleeping to catch up!

Things to look for next - The Spell getting to a point where I can post it, plus I think I will finish up a traditional blues number that I have on the go, There's a Storm a-comin', and I'd love to get back to the instrumental White Blonde & Sunburst and finish that up too. So those are likely what will happen next!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

So what gives?

So here's what I've been up to the last 2 months or so, mostly dealing with lawyers in the U.K. and Spain, and accountants here in the U.S. - nothing music related, just things that have needed attention and have taken up a fair amount of time, thus leaving less time and energy to be working on the songs.

Still, I've been focused on ways to make songwriting easier. I sold my big ol' CyberTwin and have replaced it with two small amps, a Blackstar, and most recently a Fender GT 40.

It's just so much nicer when roughing out a song not to have to plug in to a computer and listen through headphones - no waiting for software to start up, not tied to a particular place in the room, and easier to just dial in sounds.

I'm even contemplating getting a digital multitrack recorder for the same reason. Even with a laptop, by the time I have an interface connected up to it, and I'm tapping the screen or clicking the mouse, it's a lot less immediate than the old cassette based 4 track I started out with, so I may have a look into an inexpensive one of those soon.

See, I have about 70 song fragments that have been hummed or strummed into my phone, and I want to start fleshing those out more and getting them finished. I want to focus more on the writing and completing that, than on arranging and recording - get 'em written, then I can always go back through them at my leisure to polish up the ones that seem to deserve it.

I did have something of a break this last weekend, so I dusted this off (it was, literally, dusty):

Have set to work on a traditional sounding song, something a little Celtic, and that inspired me to get the mando out for the first time in years. Rusty of course :) But I'll get better again! That song is called "The Spell".

And to go along with that, completed the words, chords and structure for "You Don't Know Jack", which is one of my punk-country songs (can't think of a better way of describing them). Then I also have the more singer-songwriter melancholy "On the Tin" which has all the words, just needs a bit of structuring.

I think I should be able to wrap all 3 up in demo form this coming weekend, as well as returning to "American Now" which has been waiting on a re-sing plus having the bass added. So could see 4 songs emerge very soon!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

You can burn

I want to do more writing, and less recording - that is, get rough drafts done rather than trying to polish them up each time! To that end, to save me being tied to the computer whenever I want to play guitar, got myself a Blackstar ID Core 10.

I do have a Fender CyberTwin, but a 100 watt amp in an apartment building doesn't win you any friends. The beauty of the ID Core 10 is that it's a twin speaker amp, even in such a tiny box, and Blackstar's "Super Wide Stereo" really DOES work. Expect a video review sometime!

And nice sweets from Sweetwater - glad they went with sweets and not water, that would have been a whole lot less interesting.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mayday Mayday

So, it's a day past May Day, but ah well. Makes for a good title, and "close enough for jazz" as they say.

Did have a long weekend, unrelated to it being May Day, just booked some time off, which meant a chance to focus on some music! I snapped a couple of photos of the guitars, and started a rough draft of an instrumental piece featuring both Strat and Tele through the same sounds so that the only difference is the guitars (and the pickup selections).

I named it "White Blonde & Sunburst" after the guitars, and that means Blondie has become the Teles name. I plan on finishing up the track sometime, keeping it as an instrumental - may even do a little instrumental EP or something!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Songwriting Mar 19th

Quick update amongst a very busy time all round!

Spent today re-recording guitar parts for the song I am working on, as have decided to raise it a tone as I think I can sing it better there. Got the rest of the lyrics written yesterday, so also did a rough recording of them today. They fit. Hurrah! So will re-record them properly next week.

No bass yet, and not sharing the lyrics or words just yet! Should be able to do that in a week or two I believe. Here's the instruments only sample section, since I haven't shared anything with the Tele on it yet (and this is all Tele!)


Other thing I did yesterday was install all the necessary claptrap to get the Korg Kontrol working - had it for years, but rarely use it. Was handy though for being able to trigger recording in Cubase while I had the .txt file of the lyrics up on screen (after forgetting numerous times and adding "*" to the text document rather than start recording in Cubase).

The only problem is there isn't a clear place that writes out how to get it working - so in case you are wondering (and in case I ever need to remember, ahem), here are the steps:

- Install the Korg nanoKontrol drivets (http://www.korg.com/us/support/download/driver/1/252/1357/ ).

Download the nanoKontrol template for Cubase (http://www.korg.com/us/support/download/software/1/252/1377/ ).

- Hook everything up to the USB, run Cubase, go to Devices -> Device Setup, click the '+' to add a device, choose a Generic Remote.

- Use the Import option for the Generic Remote set up to load the template downloaded earlier.

Not exactly hard, but it just isn't written up step-by-step anyplace - but it is now!

So that was this weekend! Oh, and took a set of arty photos of the Tele as you can tell from them scattered through this post - the light was just right today when I thought about it :)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My mushroom is infected

Along with the Tele and Focusrite Scarlett, I also added the Infected Mushroom Pusher plugin from Waves into the sonic arsenal lately. I know it's designed for EDM, but I find it works very nicely on guitar and rock music mixes - at least, I like the effect!

I've been using it on the "rough notes" with the Telecaster, haven't tried it out with the bass, the Ovation, or the Strat, but will be interested to see what it does there too.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Updates and Upgrades

Couple of weeks back, got my first Tele. Had gone into the store hoping to buy a fairly standard one, but wasn't enthralled by them, weren't doing much different from what the Strat does. Just as I was done and deciding I'd just wait, the salesman put this Limited Edition into my hands, one of the "Magnificent Seven" that they did last year, and that did the trick!

I think it's the vintage pickups on it, gave me the sound I had expected and wanted from a Tele. Have been playing a lot since, as haven't done a lot of that - I find that there's writing, there's recording / mixing, and there's playing, and if you do one, it's at the expense of the others, and that meant my playing had slipped.

So it was time to put on other people's music and play along for practice. The other thing about that is, then I find my brain is full of other people's music and has no space left for its own ideas!

Despite that, when I have a day or two where I don't fire up some tunes to play to, ideas have been trickling in, mostly little fragments so far, but they will turn into something eventually!

Drivers again

So, remember some time back I was struggling with latency, dropouts in monitoring, and occasional CPU dropouts that made Cubase stop recording? Still going on - this dual Xeon machine just is not cut out for audio. With no happy resolution in sight, I decided to replace my Presonus. It had a few other things happening with it too:

- A high-pitched whine all the time, only for me listening, fortunately it never recorded. Not the Presonus's fault, same as the latency issue isn't, it's the shitty motherboard in this workstation, and drawing power from the USB bus was not working well.

- The volume knob for the headphones lost the left channel now and then and needed a "wiggle" to get it back. Old age comes to us all.

- Never did like the layout of the knobs, it saved space, but meant I never instinctively knew which knob was for which input.

- It couldn't run phantom power for my Audio Technica mic without introducing a whole crap-ton of noise (again, crappy motherboard.)

Thus, enter:

A Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 gen 2. Now, I don't need 6 inputs, nor two headphone outs and all that - what I did need was external power, and it did the trick, no more annoying whine, and it can phantom power the mic without noise. Love the layout of the knobs, though it has a larger footprint as a result.

The dropout issues are better due to the latest hardware and drivers - not perfect, because shitty motherboard remember, but I can find settings that don't give a problem in the sample rate, buffer size and Cubase settings.

The key thing here is to get it up and running smoothly so that technical malarkey doesn't get in the way of writing or recording. The less bumps in that process, the less there is to knock me out of the creative flow!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Installing synths....

... is hard work.

Always amazed to find that synths have the most convoluted and unpleasant download and licensing systems of any software I own, so when I change computers the work involved in getting them back up and running again is astronomical.

I don't use synths much in my country-rock side, they are mostly for my instrumental side, except for one song. Decided to bite the bullet and get the synths I need for it reinstalled, since I am remixing everything from the last 2 years - 10 songs down, 4 to go, and 1 more that needs a female session singer!

Anyway, time to get back to those installs..... wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sound drivers, ugh!

Not too long ago, I changed my main computer, and the sound drivers have never been quite the same since. I use ASIO4ALL, and the new machine always has dropouts when I am monitoring what I am recording, or with some settings actual dropouts that make recording stop.

Then some combination that worked in Cubase didn't work with Adobe Premiere, then uninstalling the Audiobox drivers meant no sound from Windows though Cubase worked fine, and disabling the onboard sound devices resulted in a crash on updating NVIDIA drivers and ASIO4ALL freezing when I tried to run Cubase.... sometimes I miss the days of reel-to-reel ;)

Anyway, haven't let it stop me finishing up remixing "Different This Time", which I had thought I liked last time around but ended up making tons of changes to the mix. Next up, finding a session singer for it!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hello, 2017!

The start of a brand new year! Though I don't believe in New Year resolutions, I am planning to do a ew things different this year - for one, keep this blog updated more often.

Amplitube 4

Over the Christmas holidays, I decided to treat myself. Originally, I was just going to snag the '65 Super Reverb plus associated cab, but with that coming in around $50 and the whole Fender 2 collection being $99 or so, I thought it would make more sense to go for the whole collection.

Turned out to be a good choice, as I ended up loving some of the tweed items in the collection even more, especially the '57 Custom Pro and Twin.

I actually upgraded from Amplitube 3 to Amplitube 4 at the same time, and that also proved to be a smart move - I found I was rather partial to the Red Pig cab in combination with the Fender amps, so, I have been going through and replacing some of the sounds in the "Restless Guitar" songs with this new set up

I also found a use for the Acoustic Sun stomp box in there - it claims to make your electric sound like an acoustic, and while I can't say I've found that to be the case, it sure does add a different sound to your electric, and that ended up inspiring a whole new song! So a worthwhile purchase.

Useful Links:
Amplitube 4: http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/amplitube4/
Fender Collection 2: http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/fender2/