Eureka moment

I was trying to figure out the intro to Back With a Bang. What was it lacking? I listened to the 2010 demo of Down With the Boys (which is what BWB was known as back then) and suddenly I had the answer.

It’s just a common thread in life, isn’t it. For all you hear about “third time’s the charm,” or how you live and you learn and eventually you get better at things, sometimes you just have it right the first time. I tried to get all fancy when I went to re-record the song and I didn’t have to. I had it right.

This is how the intro to Back With a Bang is supposed to sound, plus or minus a few mixing things. Everything’s there, the sexy slap-bass, the buildup, the bombastic explosion into the main riff, the devil’s twinkle-in-the-eye.

For everything that I did cringeworthingly wrong four years ago, for every ten bits of mud and inaudible moments of obscurity, there was one thing that I got bang-on.

Studio works, April 30: Back With a Bang, take two

Welp, all I can say is, yes, changing the key was the right move, even though it killed me to do it. Yes, it took me four years to realize this. George Costanza ain’t got nothing on me.

I said yesterday that I’d post both versions for comparison; I figured I’d have more time than I booked, however, because the dude after me seems to book on a “might-need” basis and didn’t show up after me the last four days; of course this was the one day he showed up on time, so I was only able to get the most recent version. Wasn’t even able to pretty it up.

I’ll have to re-learn the guitar bits for C# minor, which could be a potential annoyance. The intro… I don’t know. I’ve been trying for four years to find the right combination of power and ambiance. Probably the kick just needs to be more of the “boom” sort and less of the “tight” sort. Who knows. I’ll play around with it.

Didn’t quite finish all the harmonizations, but I’ll punch those in later. With all the takes I managed so far I think I’ve got what I need.

Tomorrow brings May, which means I have to enter “Oh shit” mode and start pushing towards completion. Which is… an empowering thought, of sorts. Not like I’ve been working towards this for four years or anything.

In other, somewhat strange blogging news, I’ve actually accumulated a nice number of follows, which was a nice surprise. However, I know literally none of them, which is… strange. Also I’m apparently getting stalked by someone in Morocco, which is even stranger. This must be what fame feels like.

Studio works, April 29: Back With a Bang, and a realization

Welp, today was a big vocal day for Back With a Bang. This was… good, in a lot of ways, and a bit more in that I came to a very important realization. More on that later.

I felt great heading into the studio. My warmup was on point and as I started belting out the verses, everything just meshed. Great energy all around. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I yowled into the mike, which only helped. Hadn’t felt this good in ages.

Which only made the realization all the more stark. See, Back With a Bang is in the completely wrong key for me. It’s in G minor and the strong note – where I sing the “back” in “back with a bang” – is an Eb, or exactly where my voice breaks. For four years I’ve struggled with hitting that note with the right amount of power and I simply cannot.

I’ve always known it was in the wrong key, and yet the song was too near and dear to my heart to change it. I was just too stubborn. Yet this time, with me feeling as good as I ever had vocally and still not coming anywhere close to hitting the note, I realized there was no more getting around the fact. The key had to be changed.

I shifted everything up to C# minor. That way most of the guitar riffs will remain the same on the fretboard, just shifted over a string. In the last 20 minutes of studio time I began laying down some of the vocal track for the new key and wouldn’t you know it – first time’s the charm. Who takes four years to realize something’s not working? This guy right here. I am Slyborg, hear me roar.

I’ll have the audio for the session tomorrow – for both versions of the song, so you can hear exactly how much I was struggling in the original key. I just ran out of time in the chaos of switching keys to export what I’d done. (Although I dropped by the studio about thirty minutes later and the guy scheduled after me hadn’t shown up, as he hadn’t the previous three days. Tomorrow I might just stay in the studio until somebody kicks me out.)

Oh, and the guitar strings I was set to buy today? Well, I was headed out the door to go get them when I realized that my wallet was not in my pocket. It had dropped out somewhere between the Courtyards and the studio. Fate just doesn’t want me to record guitar, it seems.

Studio works, April 28 – Make it Right

Absent a guitar, I decided to finish the vocals for Make It Right. This mostly worked out, except that I didn’t quite finish – maybe 95% or so. I could have finished, yeah, but I had to catch up on Game of Thrones and everything, and… well, anyway, there was a lot to do. Turns out that sextuple-tracking can take a while.

On a related note, remind me to book some voice lessons at some point. Then maybe I won’t have to triple track the lead every time. Professional singers shouldn’t have to, yeah, but as I’m not, I need all the help I can get.

No real surprises this time around. In the final chorus, I decided to have the backing singers sing something different, instead of doubling and tripling the lead. It turns out that all the verses stacked together fit perfectly into the final chorus, so that’s what they’re singing. I’m not sure yet if it came out the way I wanted it to, though. Oh well, April’s not quite over yet.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law (n)
The facetious proposition that if something can go wrong, it will.

As I sat there today contemplating life and death, I was in a rather good mood, actually. I had spent most of the morning doing some spring cleaning, and my apartment was finally nice and orderly after a few weeks of frantic shabbiness.

“Why, this is fantastic,” I said to myself. “I feel accomplished and the day’s barely started yet. Now I’m gonna start working on music and that’s gonna go just as well, I’m sure.”

I took out my guitar, beaming as I attached the swanky new strap to it. I’d spend the day playing through every single one of my songs until I had them down pat, then record everything tomorrow. I was going to be productive like I hadn’t been in ages. Oh, I’d fallen a bit behind, sure, but I was back on track. What an excellent feeling it was, knowing that no more obstacles stood in your way.

As I started playing Dark Triad, I realized that the guitar was tuned a half step down and Dark Triad was in standard; I nodded and began turning the knobs. Then I thought, “Well, my guitar needs a good cleaning anyway, so if I’m gonna be fiddling with the strings, why not go all the way and clean the fretboard too?”

What a fantastic idea, to be sure. Look at me, being all domestic and careful with my belongings. I laughed to myself as I began loosening the strings. “You know, it’s funny,” I said to nobody in particular, “I remember one time I did this and one of the strings just snapped as I was loosening it. Completely out of nowhere!”

I smiled and kept working. “Good times,” I continued, still in a good mood, “although it’d be nice if that didn’t happen this time around. Not something I particularly need at the moment-”

At this point, probably because fate had heard me talking about this topic, the string snapped. No extras. Store’s not open on Sunday, won’t be able to get there before I have to be in the studio tomorrow. Crap.

I smiled perkily into thin air, realizing that this sort of thing could only happen to me. “Oh Murphy,” I said, again to nobody in particular, “you do so spoil me.”


Scheduling thinkums

Obviously at the end of the year, with final projects looming for many students, there’s a desperate crush of studio time. Case in point: the studio was booked solid this weekend, leaving me to attempt to work from home. I’ll be back in the studio tomorrow, this time with a fresh guitar cord, which will hopefully help more than one thing.

There’s another thing, though – after term ends, obviously the studio is nothing but free, except for a period from May 12 through May 24 where the studio’s booked out for “summer maintenance.” Which, like… shit. Hopefully they won’t actually be in the studio all that time so I can catch a few days of work, because otherwise I’ll be in some trouble. On the other hand maybe this will actually force me to spend my hours in the studio wisely and also my time out of the studio wisely. But at this late stage, I really don’t want to roll the dice on that.

Various Things

My first day of freedom from classes, and I spent it… waking up at 8:00 AM to go into the studio. When people tell me I’m crazy, maybe they have a point after all.

Anyway, the day was a lazy one. I spent a good couple hours on MGoBlog instead of Pro Tools lamenting, with all of my maize-and-blue cyber friends, the loss of Mitch McGary to the NBA. I did manage to get one or two things done, however…

Because I figured that any song worth having a bagpipe can’t go wrong with including even more bagpipe, I wrote the solo bit to trade off between the guitar and bagpipe. When we return to the verse and chorus, instead of the bagpipe going silent like it usually does, it plays a nice little line of its own (and doubles the theme when appropriate).

When writing this I literally just set a loop, hit the play button, and began improvising over everything. Once I had a rough sketch formed, I then spent about ten takes refining it, and then about ten more trying to actually record it. It’s amazing how picky I can get with takes – cutting one off near the beginning, for instance, just because the tone wasn’t quite what I was looking for – until I’m suddenly not anymore. I’ve got to find that balance at some point.

I also decided to include some handclaps in the final verse. I’d attempted this before with Pastel Ink and pretty much failed because I tried to do some fancy doubling with just one handclap sound; this time around I realized that I could just record myself clapping over and over again. Duh. Yesterday with the backwards mic, today with the “if you want to sound like there’s more people, record more tracks”…

Yesterday I took a trip around Central Campus to find a guitar shop; I ended up walking around for 45 minutes without finding anything. I later checked Google maps and found that I had walked literally right by one, so I headed over there today, only to discover that it had closed down last year (which I’d known), and had been replaced (which I also knew) by an outfit that repaired guitars, not one that sold them. (This part I didn’t know). Meanwhile it’s like 40 degrees and raining outside, perfect walking weather…

All this to say that eventually I stumbled upon Ann Arbor Music Center, otherwise known as the “Rock Band School.” How cool is that? They give all kinds of lessons and, best of all, they sold guitar amp cords and guitar straps. Right next to a tattoo parlor, too. I wish I’d discovered this corner three years ago.

Now that I’m able to record guitar again I’ll be doing that with increased frequency now. And now I’ve got a strap too, which I’ve needed ever since mine mysteriously vanished one day at Thacher.

I finally finished the lyrics to Make it Right. The hardest part of being an artist is working through the writer’s block and I managed to do that today.

For every song I include a lengthy writeup of what it is, what it means, and what I want it to say. It’s a stream-of-consciousness thing. Lots of times I’ll be able to pick lyrics out of what I’ve written. I don’t think there’s a single song for which that isn’t true. (Except Reek of Geek and Britannic Angel, which were made up literally on the spot).

In this case that helped the writer’s block as I was able to fall back on my notes, think to myself “Okay, this is the story as I’ve told it so far, what is there still to do?” and then find words to fit. Finding the words, obviously, can be tricky, and lots of times you find that you include far too many of them. One shining example is the second verse from the breakdown, where I posed the question “What if they were less than perfect?” The followup question is something along the lines of “Would you not particularly care and accept them for exactly who they are, meanwhile accepting that you yourself are not perfect and that’s just the world we live in,” which would never fit in a song. I had a hell of a time trying to shorten that to “Would you join sins and see it through?”

And sometimes you can overthink it. Why do we make music? Because it pleases us in some way. So it has to sound good. Sure, not everyone’s idea of good is the same, but on some level it just does – it has to sound good. If a lyric doesn’t make much sense if you think about it but it sounds good, then that overrules 90% of all objections. Conversely, if a lyric says everything you want it to and is perfect, but it doesn’t fit with the tenor of the song and consequently it doesn’t sound good – well, you’ve got to change it.

I’m getting philosophical but luckily, writing a thousand words is a fantastic warmup for more lyric writing. So I’ll try to tackle the final verse of Britannic Angel and finish the lyric sheets for this damn album. I’ll update if I’m successful in that. If not, you can probably assume I got distracted by Age of Empires or something.

Studio works, April 24 – Britannic Angel and some other stuff

Final week of classes and exams for Michigan. As of writing this post I’m officially done. Unfortunately (luckily) for me, I’ve still got a month of Dale Carnegie to go, so I’m tied to Ann Arbor for the next 40 days with nothing occupying my time other than Monday evenings.

In other words, I’ll have nothing but time to finish this blasted album once and for all. If I don’t get it done by the end of May, it’ll never get done. I’ll head back to school and get my computer science degree like a good little boy.

But anyway, I digress. And I’ll digress for a bit further for a bit, because I haven’t updated the blog for a few days and there is Stuff to talk about, such as…

The Audio Studio
I’ve only recently gotten certified in the Audio Studio at Michigan. Never bothered to do it before because the EMS A served literally every one of my needs. Sure, the EMS B and Audio Studio have console boards twice the size of A’s. But I do all my mixing in the box, in Pro Tools. Boom, $900,000 of irrelevance.

That being said, I decided before I left Ann Arbor that I should at least check it out (and as a techie I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least have access to all studios). So I did, and I got in there early Monday.

It’s a beautiful space, it really is. I’ll take some pictures next time so you get a sense of the scope of the thing. The electronic music studios are just one room but the Audio Studio is three, with various accompanying closets. Recording myself in it was weird: I’d sit in the control room, hit the record button, sprint to the adjoining room, and start playing.

Oh, right. The recording. So the one advantage the Audio Studio does have over the EMS A is that it has a real live piano, which, like… thank god, because the one in the EMS A was starting to murder me.

I plugged myself in and starting jigging around for about 30 minutes or so, and then in the final few minutes recorded a version of Never Say Goodbye. I’ll upload both. Funny fact – the first 30-minute playaround turned out to be exactly 1667 seconds long. Read into that what you will.

I’ve uploaded the 1667 jig, mistakes and all, and the NSG demo as well, also with mistakes. You can hear me coming into the record room from the control room at the beginning, as well as swearing intermittently. Sonorus got off easy this time, luckily.

Because I cannot contain myself whenever I’m around a piano, I threw in a surprise at the end of the Never Say Goodbye piano recording. Rather forgot about it until I realized the thing was twice as long as it should’ve been.

1667 Playaround:

Never Say Goodbye:

Anyway, that was Monday. Today it was back to business, in the “lesser” but rather more accessible

Electronic Music Studio A
So yeah, I worked on Britannic Angel today. I finished more of the skeleton and then headed over to do vocals. This one’s always been strangely weird to sing – not that any of the notes are particularly hard, it’s just getting the attitude and inflection right. Many times while recording vocals for this one I’ve found myself slurring the words badly, and not giving it that devil’s-grin quality that it begs. Working on it, though…

Another fun fact about the vocals – nothing was scripted ahead of time. I literally didn’t have any words written for it the first time I stepped in front of the mic, and just started spewing out whatever came into my head. This is also why in the second verse the background vocals don’t quite match with the lead vocals in some parts – it’s because instead of me singing anything intelligible, it’s me going “merf schmerf hum ho,” as a result of me not being able to think of anything.

The levels in this one are annoying me a lot. It’d help if I were a better singer, but I’m not, so I really need all the help I can get.

Which reminds me – at some point I was getting really irritated that the vocals weren’t coming through cleanly and I started swearing at the mic until I realized that the reason everything sounded so soft was because I was singing into the wrong goddamned side of the microphone. Ladies and gentlemen… Jack Sligh.

Here’s what I ended up with. I took the annoying fake-guitar sound out, so there’s that. Lots of work to go on this one.

Studio works, April 18 2014: Dark Triad, Britannic Angel

Somehow, in the wake of Empty Mug and all the work that’s gone into that, half of April has gone by. I wanted to get everything pretty much done on A Reason to Dwell with only mixing and possible retakes to do, but now there’s only two weeks left. I’ll have to double-time it if I’m to meet that goal.

What this means is finishing writing the final two songs, Dark Triad and Britannic Angel. (I also have to write the rest of the lyrics for Make it Right, but… eh.) I finished the drums for Dark Triad, which is… helpful. I want the final section to trade off solos between the lead guitar, keyboards, and rhythm guitar. We’ll see how that goes, but the drums at least are done. I chopped off another couple measures to make the sound a bit more square.

Snippet starts right after the second chorus and before the breakdown, as I didn’t change anything before that point.

Britannic Angel… I have a pretty clear sense of where I want the piece to go, but recording a version of that is frustratingly difficult. As it is, I barely got beyond the second chorus today. I’m trying to modulate the bridge into a higher key, run with that for a short solo mirroring the chorus melody, go back to the verse with a simplified drum line + hand claps, then right before getting into the “you, my Britannic Angel, well you’ve got me” bit, cut everything off and break it down even more.

Like I said… it doesn’t translate very well onto the page and it sure as hell doesn’t translate very well into words. Hopefully I’ll be able to nail it down tomorrow.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with so far.