Art, Politics, and You!

Bandcamp is doing a fundraiser today, Friday, August 4th, and is donating the proceeds to the Transgender Law Center. As part of that effort they are also highlighting trans and gender-nonconforming artists. A musician I follow on Twitter tweeted about this a few days ago:


 

This isn’t the first time a brand has jumped into a “controversial” social issue; in fact, I’d say given the sway of things these days it’s happening more often. My initial thought was that I had no problem with a brand taking a side, or weighing in on a social issue. I had to ask myself if I would feel the same way if Bandcamp had taken a different stance though. If they announced that they agreed with the idea that transgender people should not be allowed to serve in the military, would I have been as understanding? I definitely would have pulled my meager catalogue from their service, but a part of me would have been glad to know at least, so that I could stop giving my money to them.

I honestly think that’s part of the issue some people have with brands having an “opinion”. It’s not necessarily hating companies taking sides; it’s hating when they take a side with which you disagree. It puts you in a position of having to make a decision about what matters most: your ideals or your stuff. I order food delivery A TON. If I found out that Grubhub or Doordash were giving money to gay conversion camps I’d have to stop using their services, and that would suck. If they never voice an opinion, I don’t know have to know whether I’m in bed with the devil or not.

For some people it’s simply a matter of separatism, especially when it comes to artists and creatives. They look to these folks to provide diversion, to help them escape real life, so it can be jarring and unwelcoming when an artist actively brings the outside in. People can get very tight when this happens. We’ve all seen the people who tweets that So-and-So Celebrity should shut up and just sing/dance/act/write—except when they agree with them of course. I’m sure the folks who think J.K. Rowling should shut it are thrilled when Scott Baio weighs in.

The thing is, creatives have been weighing in on issues since…well, since the beginning of creating. A good deal of the time the outside world is what drives the creative process. Not just giant world issues either; the little things in a creative’s life are often a catalyst for our work. Am I depressed? Did someone I love break up with me? Did I lose my job? Am I struggling with my sexuality? Addiction? Hell, did it rain today? I can’t think of any artist who feels like their personal stuff “isn’t relevant” to what they’re creating. The idea that bringing your identity into your art is in some way undesirable is just crazy to me.

So, in case it wasn’t clear, I’m all for companies rallying around the causes they care about. As a consumer I feel in a position to make smarter choices about what business I give my patronage to, which is a plus. The minus is of course that sometimes that means you have to give up a brand (looking at you, New Balance) but you know the song: “You take the good, you take the bad…”. I also think artists channeling their personal lives and experiences into their art is not only acceptable, it’s natural. I would question the quality of any art that seeks to completely distance itself from the real experiences of the creator.

Your turn. What’re your thoughts on brands having “opinions” and taking sides? How do you feel when artists bring their personal lives into their creations?

Communication: A Gig Reflection

I’m going to tell you about a gig I just did. I’m going to refer to the organizer and the venue by pseudonym because my point here is not to shame anyone or try and ruin anyone’s reputation, but a) to illustrate how important communication is in putting on a show and b) to frankly just process this and get it off my chest. I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how…weird the whole thing was.

I met this dude on Twitter who was something of a promoter and all-around indie music supporter. He was really great about retweeting links to my music. Whenever someone asked for new music to check out, he would reply with a list of local, unknown musicians like myself. He was probably the most engaged with my music of anyone else I messed with on Twitter. That’s why when he DM’d me in February asking if I wanted to take part in an anti-bullying benefit show at The Middle East, I was all over it. It was a joint effort with Filthybroke Recordings, who’d put out an anti-bullying compilation.

The first hiccup happened about a month after the initial announcement of the show. The Booker contacted me via DM again to let me know that the date and venue had changed. I wasn’t too thrown by that, since the new date wasn’t until July (and it was March at the time). My bandmates confirmed that they could do the new date, and we were on again.

For months nothing much else happened in regards to this event. Then it was 1 week until the show and I decided to start promoting. (I typically wait until at least 1-2 weeks before a show to promote because it’s my personal belief that any earlier and people will get promotion-fatigue, and are more likely to forget.) I went to The Booker’s Facebook page to get the details about the show for my own promo, and was surprised to find that all the anti-bullying language had been removed, and it now said that it was a benefit for The Venue.

It’s A Benefit, Don’t Worry About It

I was not excited to find out that the whole purpose of this show had changed. A change like this warrants reaching out to the bands and letting us know about it. We should have had an opportunity to decide whether or not we wanted to still participate. The Venue is a not-for-profit performance and art space that is apparently in dire need of money, but bands should have been given a say in whether or not they wanted to freely give their time and money for it. I considered pulling out but with 1 week to go I figured it’d be a shitty move so I stayed on the bill.

The Devil’s in the Details

When I book a show with WEMF I know that as soon as the lineup is confirmed I will get an email. The email will have the lineup, set times, set lengths, load-in time, and details about compensation. There was no such communication from The Booker about this show. Lacking that info I finally reached out to The Booker to get this info. He told me there were no set times, but that one band had requested to play at 9pm. A lineup of 6 (it started off as 10) bands, and no lineup? Never have I played a show with multiple bands that did not have the lineup figured out. I just asked to go on at 9:30 since the set length was 30 minutes.

These 2 things started to make me feel a little nervous about the show. I figured what the hell though. Do it anyway, keep an open mind, it’ll be interesting at least. I was a little miffed about the beneficiary being changed without notice, but I was willing to put that aside. Honestly, it’s not like we draw a huge audience and were missing out on hundreds of dollars. It was just the principle. Again, I wasn’t about to pull out 1 week before the show though. That’s just rude.

6pm Saturday night, me and the guys are loading in our stuff as instructed. The Booker isn’t there yet, but one of the other performers (someone else I knew via Twitter; we’ll call him Act 1) was there. Here’s where things get a little messy. My drummer had been mulling all of this over and getting increasingly annoyed by it. I think there are 2 parts to it: 1 is that he had offered to waive his normal performance fee for me because he thought it was a benefit for something that he cared about, and now it wasn’t, and 2) he really objected to how the whole thing was handled.

Side note:

A few weeks back my company held a big meeting of all the engineers and one of the break-out sessions was about communication, specifically about identifying your style of communication and using that knowledge to more effectively communicate with others. The communication styles were categorized into colors, and mine was blue. One of the traits of “blues” is that we “Avoid issues that might end up in conflict or debate” and are very concerned about how others perceive us.

In the context of this show it meant that I wasn’t willing to make a stink about things because I didn’t want to come across as a bitch, or worse (because I’m Black) have people write me off as An Angry Black Woman. My drummer, however, wanted some answers and asked my permission to get them. I don’t know if I did the right thing here or not. I gave him the go-ahead, because I felt he had the right to inquire about it because it affected his money, and I could tell it was eating at him. I’d offered to pay him after all but he felt like he’d already told me he wouldn’t charge me so he didn’t want to go back on that.

Back to the Devil…

He proceeded to ask Act 1 about the situation. It turned out that Act 1 knew quite a bit about it because he’d been involved to some extent in organizing it. Long story short, there was a personal falling out of some kind between The Label, The Booker, and some 3rd party Promoter. The Booker decided to put on his own show, but felt he couldn’t keep it as an anti-bullying benefit. At that point my drummer is asking questions like, “Why didn’t you guys let people know that?”, “Why didn’t you just change it to a regular show that charges people money?”, “Why didn’t you pick a different charity to donate to?”

He asked the same questions when he finally met The Booker. The answers were about the same with a little more detail, and just getting my drummer more pissed. He told The Booker that he was being disingenuous in not being forthcoming about the changes. He was also upset on behalf of the other performers, especially this band from Nashville that was on tour. They asked for donations for gas, and he ultimately convinced The Venue to give them some money at least.

The feedback that I shared with The Booker was that I thought the communication was poorly handled. He seemed genuinely remorseful about it, like things hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. At the end of talking with him I essentially said, “You know what? It happened, we’re here, it’s about the music, so let’s play and have a good time.” I was ready to move on from it.

 

It’s a Free-For-All

9pm came and instead of the band we’d been expecting to go on, someone else performed. This made me suspicious, so I found The Booker and said, “We’re still good for 9:30, right?” Glad I checked. He’d told Band A that they could go on next. Luckily, Band A was cool and said sure, you can go on at 9:30. Then Band B showed up, pretty persistent about going on at 9:30 because one of their members was sick. I wanted The Booker to handle this scheduling situation, but he just looked uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look like an asshole, so I gave in and let Band B go on at 9:30. Then they were done, and Band A stepped in and went next. We’d gotten pushed back two times.

The thing is, we seemed to be the only ones annoyed by this. The band with the sick dude was like “Things run behind schedule, it happens.” That made me feel like I was being unreasonable in expecting that they would have gone on at their allotted slot of 9pm. Frankly, I don’t even think this was a case of “things running behind schedule.” I think it was a direct result of there not being a schedule. It also seemed that most of the other acts had worked with The Booker before and were accustomed to things being run this way. One of the performers told us of how he actually didn’t get to go on at all one time because they ran out of time. They were all very “chill” about it.

By the time we went on, all of the other bands had left, save for one guy from the group that played before us. He stayed for our first 3 songs and then also left. Luckily there was this nice couple who stayed through the entire thing and seemed to dig it. If not for them, we’d have been playing to an entirely empty room. We tried to make the best of it and played our hearts out like we were in a packed venue. I still felt disappointed in how things had turned out.

We packed up our stuff and started heading out. I told the doorman (who also happens to run The Venue) that we were the last people inside. He seemed surprised and asked, “Isn’t there another band going on after you?” Nope. Yeah, the flyer says it goes until 1am, but here it was 10:30 or so and everything was over. The Booker? He’d left at least an hour and a half ago. We saw him walking away with the Act 1 while the band with the sick dude was setting up. We thought he was just helping the guy load out, but we never saw him again. Ghost.

Lessons

I can’t control how someone runs their shows. I can be more involved and ask questions early. I don’t know when the benefit was changed but if I had been periodically checking the event maybe I’d have caught it sooner. If I had asked about the lineup and scheduling sooner I’d have gotten a sense of the way he runs his shows; I could have made a decision about if that was cool or not for me.

I don’t shoulder all of the blame for this though. Having a scheduled lineup, communicating with the performers about changes, any number of small things like that could have made this better. And leaving before the show was over? I played one other show where the promoter ghosted before everything was done. I haven’t tried to book with her since. I’m sure she’s heart-broken. 🙂

I’m trying very hard not to slag The Booker (or The Venue). His heart is in the right place and he truly cares about his music community. Everyone you talk to tells you what a nice guy he is, and my own interactions with him have been nothing but positive. I’m thinking though that he should get someone else to organize his shows. Or maybe not. This was clearly not our scene. We were the odd ducks here. Maybe that’s why no one else stayed.

Either way, it was a learning experience.

 

-SC

Feedback Is A Good Thing

Last week I returned to the stage for two different performances with two different bands. Thursday night I returned to The Midway Cafe in JP as a pre-Queeraoke act. Saturday night my other band Six Times Seven returned to PA’s Lounge in Somerville for our first show in almost two years! It was almost like I was experiencing what it was like to be a real, working musician—except for the not getting paid much part, and still working a 40+ hour job. Still, it was nice to feel kind’ve busy musically. I also got some really good feedback from the Midway Show, which I’ll get to shortly.

The setlist for the Midway show was the longest yet at 13 songs. I added a number of new ones into the mix including a couple —The Longest Night and This Land — from the RPM Project back in February. It feels like a real accomplishment to be able to pull off ~1hour set.

The Midway Cafe show also had one of our largest audiences to date. One of my co-workers from my new job also surprised me by coming. Turns out he lives a couple of blocks from the Midway so he wandered on over. He’s also a musician; he plays guitar with the band Sidewalk Driver. If you’ve never seen them live, you should. At the very least go to YouTube and look them up. They’re legit, as in they know their stuff and have played some pretty impressive gigs. Of course that means that once I got back to work I put him on the spot and asked his professional opinion of my Midway Cafe show. You know, beyond the niceties of “You guys were good…”. He laid it out and I found his feedback very useful so I thought I’d share it.

  1. Try to get backing vocals on choruses.
  2. Get a bigger amp
  3. You play with both pickups?
  4. Dress for the occasion

 

Try to get backing vocals on choruses.

The first one is interesting because it just so happens that this was the first gig where the drummer, Seth, actually did sing some backing vocals for me. He came up with the idea to double me on the chorus of “This Land” during rehearsal. I liked it and asked that he also double me on the chorus for another tune called “Going Dark” (an unreleased song). That worked out well. I did really like having someone else on vocals, so I’m psyched to do more of that where it fits.

Get a Bigger Amp

The amp I play on is a Mustang III. It’s not a bad amp, louder than my old Princeton reverb. I think I may be the only guitarist in the world who gets told to turn up. I’m pretty certain that my amp was somewhere around 4-5 on the volume setting, so before I go shopping for a new one, I’m going to try actually turning up on my current one.

You Play With Both Pickups

I loved this feedback because it’s absolutely the kind of thing that a guitarist would pick up on. I do in fact most often play using both pickups. It’s kind’ve a safe zone for me. I’m not a shredder, so I shy away from the bridge pickup. However, I feel like the neck pickup alone is more muffled than I like unless I’m going for a clean, bluesy sound. The underlying point that I’m taking from this advice is really about paying attention to my sound. I’m lazy and I don’t really spend much time crafting my guitar tone. I certainly have not invested time in figuring out what sounds best for different songs during live performances. I’ll cycle through settings all day trying to get the right thing when recording, but for performing I don’t give the details as much attention as I should.

Dress For The Occasion

This was probably the most important and interesting feedback. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this as a general rule of thumb. It is however the first time I’ve heard it specifically directed at me. I can no longer pretend that my khaki shorts and t-shirt are part of my “image” and not just me wearing my everyday clothes. He pointed out that it was important to let the audience know that they’re about to see a show, and how you look is part of that. It’s about branding, and uniformity onstage. Me and the dudes look like we could be having a bbq at any given show. I mean, I don’t exactly have a color scheme or anything, but this compels me to put more thought into what we look like for our next show.

Maybe I’ll rock out with some leather chaps and a fringed denim vest, crank my amp to 11, and use that hot bridge pickup! I’m jesting of course. I found the advise very useful, and even better actionable, and I plan to re-evaluate those points as a result.

Til next time,

Stevie

Mission Accomplished: RPM 2017

Third time’s the charm, I guess. I’m very proud to say that this, The Year of My Second Attempt, I completed the RPM Challenge. Jump down to the bottom for the songs without the introduction.

When I tried this last year I made two major mistakes. The first was that I really underestimated how much time it would take (or overestimated how good I am) and didn’t get a jump on it. Like, days started passing and I’d be like, “Hmmm, I should probably get started.” The second—and probably costliest—mistake was trying to get things actually sounding professional with zero skill in engineering. I was literally reading mixing tutorials while attempting to do this, and man there is just not enough time for that nonsense.

This year, I gave myself a good talking to. “Listen, you have to really focus on this being about quantity, not quality. Sure, it’d be awesome if you could churn out professional-grade recordings like some of the other folks doing this, but it’s not happening so deal with it. Also, have a little discipline. Put down the Xbox controller and make music, even if you don’t feel like it. Okay? Okay.”

I started off pretty well I thought. I actually had some song ideas that had been rattling around in my head but hadn’t been put to machine yet. I focused on those first but instead of spending a ton of time trying to get the mix just right (or learning to mix in general) I was spending a ton of time layering and adding and creating parts to get exactly the sound I’d imagined. At the end of 2 weeks I had like 3 songs to show for it. So much for quantity not quality.

Week 3 found me pulling at my hair trying to find inspiration for the remaining songs, and this is truly what the challenge is all about: making music without feeling inspired. Sitting down and forcing inspiration when nothing seems to be there. I looked to all kinds of sources to help get something going. I scrolled through drum loops for an inspirational rhythm; I used chord-generation websites to try and break out of my standard progressions; I started off with a bass line to try and shake things up. That’s how I got the remainder of the songs, and it was at that point that I was starting to work on songs that frankly, I didn’t even like.

The final weekend came. Music was all done, but I only had lyrics and melody for one song and my creativity was loooowwww. My favorite studio to record vocals was booked solid for weeks so I wound up slouched over in a closet with a mic for vox. Saturday and Sunday was essentially me on the floor in the doorway of that closet, pen and pad in hand, listening to a song, trying to come up with lyrics and a melody, jumping up to record those vocals as soon as I had something, and then moving on to the next tune. Monday I “mixed”—it’s really generous to call it that— with a little EQ, a little compression, a lot of level adjustments, and that’s it.

My thoughts on the overall project: I’m glad I did it. I feel accomplished, and I’m proud of myself for seeing it through. I regret that it became a chore though. I was working on songs that I just didn’t like, the kind of tunes that I would have simply discarded if I weren’t on a deadline, and that felt crappy. I found myself exclaiming, many times (to the amusement of my wife): “God, I fucking hate this song!” I’m also not psyched about the production value. The vocals are pitchy in places, guitar is sloppy (and sometimes poorly tuned) in others. In the end I came away with 5-6 songs that I think I can do something with, and the rest are throwaways, hence the title of the collection: “Love Like Hate”.

The Songs

56 Bars: one of the last-minute desperation songs. I started with a drum loop that I liked, then the intro guitar riff came out, and finally the chord progression. The lyrics were pieced together from an old song I’d written in high school. That song had a decidedly different tone to it in that it was poppy and upbeat and fast. It’s an okay tune I guess. High vocals were out of my range.

Alone: the chords for this came courtesy of one of those chord-generation sites. This was another last-minute song, written in its entirety over the last few days of the challenge. Lyrically I was trying to tell a story in a way I typically don’t, so I hacked these together Sunday. I;m not a fan.

Black Girl Magic: this one was done early on, and was one that I’d already had an idea for how I wanted it to go. It was conceived out of a conversation that I’d had with my wife about something our daughter had said. I plan to write a separate post about that because it’s a larger issue that I want to speak on in more depth than I care to go into here. It’s one of the songs I love, especially because of its message.

Another Song About Being Dumped: this might be one of the last ones I did, and you can tell from the title that I had kinda given up by then, lol. This is one of the ones I absolutely hate! I hate the lyrics (some of which were culled from college-era songs I’d written), I hate the way the vocals came out, and I hate the faux 70s soul rock vibe of the chorus, like I’m channeling Ace or something.

I Can’t Be Sober For This: what a departure! My daughter was inspiration for this as well, as the “duh duh” portion was something she’d made up and walked around the house singing. It was catchy and my wife and I found ourselves randomly singing it, so I decided to make it into a full song. I wanted it to be fun, what I jokingly called a “club banger”. I’d love to get someone who actually knows about mixing/producing this kind of music to fix it up.

Eirene: I love this song. It’s my favorite of them all. I love the message, I love the chorus vocals, I love the vibe. It’s a keeper that I plan to clean up and make part of my stable. I sing it all the time.

It Waits: another end-of-the-line tune that I wound up hating. You should’ve heard the first incarnation of my foray into “metal”. Anyway, the verses are fine instrumentally but the vocals are so dramatic I roll my eyes every time I hear it. I also really struggled with the lyrics (for the half an hour I tried to write them). I was inspired to write a song about war based on this quote I heard on the Stuff To Blow Your Mind podcast:

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Just For Tonight: I hate this one too. It’s bluesy in a way that’s simply not me, and I vocally don’t carry it off well.

The Longest Night: I was lukewarm on this one until I finished it. It’s an old song. The lyrics were written during winter break my freshman year at Wesleyan University. I was away from my girlfriend (who was also my first girlfriend ever!) for the first time, and I was a Grade A Clinger. I wanted to talk to her on the phone every day, and simply could not imagine how I would survive winter break without her. She wasn’t quite as distraught about the separation, being a mature, experienced individual. It was a sign of things to come I guess. Anyway, the guitar parts I added beyond the basic chord progression, the drums, and the bass line were all created during this challenge and it really changed the feel of the song and made it more layered and sophisticated I think. I love it.

This Land: I was given inspiration for this song by a Facebook comment someone made about how I should write some sort of take on the “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.” So I did. Although it’s definitely a little heavy on the 90s-grunge Shirley Manson vibe, I dig it and think I can work with it, so it’s a keeper.

Long post over. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Year of Living Sort’vely

I made up a word.

Way back in February of this year I made a post about all the things I wanted to accomplish this year. It is now December, and time to take stock.

penguifall

My list went something like:

  • improve guitar-playing
  • attend more local shows
  • get played on Vanyaland
  • get written up locally
  • lose weight
  • record an EP
  • create YouTube content

I’ll go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: the whole breast cancer thing derailed my plans a bit (in fact, I think I’m a little superstitious now about making goal lists). I pretty much couldn’t/didn’t want to leave my house after the various surgeries, and I was afraid of where my songwriting would take me if I tried to do it while I was recovering. My head was not in a good place. Even now, writing about it here, I’m fighting against pretending it didn’t happen. I’m a very head-in-the-sand kind’ve person.

headinsand

Did I accomplish anything on my list? Well, yes and no. I lost weight (~30lbs). That was a direct result of trying to take some control back after my diagnosis in April. I stopped drinking as much, started eating more healthily, and exercising. I started the guitar improvement initiative. I bought Rocksmith—don’t laugh! It’s actually a very good tool for re-learning some of the basics that tend to get sloppy over time, and helping me to identify areas in which I need improvement. Also, it’s a lot of fun to play along with songs I like. The arcade games section of the game is also very fun and very useful for improving fundamentals.

Lastly, while I didn’t actually finish recording an EP, I got a good start on it and released a single recently. It took a while for me to get back into actually doing music and feeling normal enough (mentally) to put time and energy into it. I’ve even played a couple of shows this fall!

Now I turn my eyes to 2017, and what I hope to be a better year for me personally. My only goal for 2017: Live. And I don’t mean just the obvious. Of course I want to be alive, but I mean also living. Spending more time with my wife and daughter, holding them close, and being more present. Musically I suppose it means just making music that I like and sharing it as I see fit and not worrying so much about what kind of reviews it gets (if it even gets reviews) or if I make money from it. It means being honest with myself about what I want out of making music and why.

So, goodbye 2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass. 2017…let’s be good to each other, mm’kay?

Recording the DIY Way

As a DIY musician with all kinds of Grown-Up responsibilities like a mortgage and a child and college debt, I find it hard to justify spending large sums of money on recording music. I literally make $0 off of what I do, so I can’t even write it off as an investment (although I do tell myself that whenever it comes time to spend). It’s a labor of love, pure and simple. I often find myself trying to find new (cheaper) ways to get my music out there while still maintaining some quality. I mean yeah, I could plug into my laptop and just drop raw tracks onto SoundCloud like so much DIY rain, but who wants to listen to that? And I want people to listen, so…

I’ve gone through a few iterations of the “home studio” concept: recording everything at home with really shitty programmed drums and totally uninformed, half-assed attempts at mixing; recording all but drums and paying a remote drummer to send me wav files, and then sending those stems to someone else to mix; and bringing just the recorded drum files to a real studio and recording everything there to the drums. My reasoning there was that it took longer to mic and record drums than anything else so if I already had drums I could save a lot of time and get more bang for my studio buck.

I now find myself back in my home, in my “home studio” if you will, with a new combo. I discovered the Loop Loft which has allowed me to get decent-sounding drums that fit most of the types of rhythms I’ve needed to use. I also found a way to hook up my old Rock Band drum set to Ableton, allowing me to do a more realistic drum pattern if I can’t find a match in my samples. It’s not flawless, but in a pinch it’s handy since I really do suck at finger drumming. giggity

I updated my audio interface from an M-Audio something-or-other (like $30 at Borders years ago) to a PreSonus and yes, it does make a difference. I record all string instruments as usual. However I now record vocals in a professional studio.

My little private recording space for vox.

My little private space for vox.

I know, it seems like none of my solutions are able to leave out paying money and going into a studio at some point. The thing is, living in a condo with thin walls makes it very hard for me to get vocal tracks down. I’m not so much worried about disturbing anyone as I am of embarrassing myself. I’m too self-conscious about it to let it out and belt the way I need to sometimes. I found a studio that would let me record for 4 hours for $50. I signed up for a 4-hour block and got lead and backing vocals down for 3 songs! I was even writing and changing lyrics to like 2 of them in the process! Part of the reason I can save so much is that I bring in all my own stuff: mic, stand, interface, computer. I’m literally just renting a room for 4 hours. I also shelled out for a good condenser mic. Again, the difference between it and SnowBall I was using is impressive.

After everything is recorded comes the mixing. I invested in actual studio monitors so that I could mix with headphones and without. Again, huge difference. The differences I can hear between the two are kind’ve amazing. I’ve moved on from Ableton’s built-in EQ3 plugin and started using the MEqualizer from Melda Productions, which is a treat. I might have to buy the full version once I have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I’m on my way with that; one of my Twitter pals, Olav, was super nice and gave me a little tutorial via FB messaging which I’ve been using as my primary reference.

The new recording setup. Behold the Curious George lunchbox.

The new setup. Behold the Curious George lunchbox.

So what does all of this mean? Well, one of my 2016 goals was to release an EP. I have no illusions that I’m about to release a masterpiece; while I’m sure there are folks out there who could take my setup and make an album indiscernible from a professional release, I don’t have that talent. However, I’ve decided to use what I have to make an EP of demos. I’m going to call it “Hardly Mixed, Never Mastered”. It’ll be free. I have plans in the works to release a professionally tracked/mixed/mastered EP with a local studio that I’ve been in talks with, but until then I’m gonna share my homemade version of these tracks.

Stay tuned!

 

You’ll Understand When You’re Older

heartA couple of weekends ago the Mrs. and I went to The Xfinity Center to see Heart, Joan Jett, and Cheap Trick—listed not in order of performance but in order of importance to me. In fact, the order of performance was exactly opposite. Anyway, this was an old school rock adventure for us. We had both seen Heart during their Red Velvet Car a couple of years ago, and had also seen Joan Jett do a short set at Atlanta Pride many years back, so we were looking forward to seeing them again, but we’ve never seen Cheap Trick. Admittedly, I wasn’t very familiar with Cheap Trick’s catalog—at least I thought I wasn’t. Turns out they have a gang of songs that I “know”.

Needless to say it was an excellent show! These folks are all professionals, they’ve pretty much perfected their stage show over the decades that they’ve been performing, so there was no disappointment there. All 3 bands had new material out, but they mostly stuck with playing their oldies. It’s gotta be challenging, you know, being a band with a strong catalog and trying to bring new material to the table during a show like this. Every time anyone played a new song you could see the wave as people started to sit down, waiting for the next song that they know. I mean, in all fairness to the crowd some of their musical styles don’t translate well to today’s music. We tried to listen to the new Cheap Trick on the way to the show and it was hard. Joan Jett played a tune called “TMI” that kinda had me like “Huh?”.

One of the things that kind of struck me as I was listening to them play some of their earlier tunes—I’m talking 70s era—was how there was a time when I didn’t like these older songs. I was introduced to Heart via 1985’s self-titled Heart album. Check out this cover:


heartalbum

Yeesh. I LOVED this album. After I was done devouring it I decided to go out and get some of their older stuff with zero idea of what I was getting into. I had no idea that the Heart I had found was a fairly new beast. I wound up getting Dog and Butterfly, and I was like, “WTF is this? What’s with all of this acoustic shit?” I tossed that sucker aside quickly and went back to listening to “What About Love”.

Somewhere down the line though I picked that album back up and gave it another listen and found myself starting to appreciate the songs. One by one they kind’ve grew on me. I think I simply wasn’t ready for them, you know? I don’t know how old I was when I gave that album another listen, but it started out with me listening to “Lighter Touch” on repeat, and then I grew to appreciate the title track, and before I knew it I was listening to almost the entire album. I wonder what changed for me? Like, what made my musical tastes evolve to the point where something that I was fairly dismissive of before turned into a favorite? It wasn’t like I’d stopped liking that mainstream brand of rock music. I adored 1990’s Brigade (maybe more than Heart), but I was also digging this classic rock vibe.

I find that this has happened to me a lot over the years—that I’ll really not dig on some piece of music, but find myself years later appreciating it. So, my question to you is: What song did you start off hating and wound up loving? Leave your answers in the comments!

-Stevie

 

 

Update

Well, I find it a little ironic that I’m posting this after my most recent post, “Is There Such A Thing As Too Personal?”, but it is what it is.

I’ve been pretty absent online and musically over the last few months save for a few pre-scheduled posts. I wish I could say it was because I’ve been super-busy making awesome music and doing cool gigs and such, but it’s not. In April I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’ve been reeling from the implications and trying to deal with it ever since.

I’m mid-discovery. I had a mastectomy this month, and am now awaiting test results to determine whether or not I need chemo and such. I don’t know what the immediate landscape is. I plan (hope) to be back at it by August, rehearsing the awesome songs I wrote B.C. and gigging in the fall, but who knows. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening around me in the music community as well that I want to get involved with again. Angelle Wood of Boston Emissions has hosted two awesome forums, The State of Live Music and The State of Live Music: Venue and Artist Relationships. I was able to attend the first; the second was too close after my surgery. There’s also an anti-gun violence event being put on by JJ Gonson of ONCE and a bunch of other folks that I wanted to volunteer for in some capacity (there’s a bigger story there that I won’t get into). I was also in the works with a local recording studio to run a crowdfunding campaign to record an EP.

Anyway, you get the drift. I was kind’ve on a roll, and I hope to catch that fire again at a later time. Until then I’m kind’ve laying low until I get a better idea of how my life is going to be in the immediate future (and maybe kind’ve how long my life is gonna be in general). I’ll update this when something musical happens (or dire I guess), but until that time know that this is why there’s so much quiet from me.

Ramblings aside, thanks to everyone who’s supported me, bought my music, or hell, even just listened to it. I hope I can give you more.

Good health and lots of love to you all,

Stevie