Musical borders on the Internet… STILL!!

July 15, 2011

I’m developing a real disdain for the music industry these days. To put it this way, I have been looking for two albums in Canada. However, they are not available without paying really questionable amounts to get them into Canada. However, if I just happen to live in the USA, I can download them off the iTunes store, Amazon, and even the online christian stores.

Isn’t this supposed to be the age of the Internet? Perhaps, there was a business model of whether or not it was feasible to ship physical product around the world. However, in this case, we are talking about an inventory that does not deplete, costs very little to store and absolutely nothing to mass produce. So, why the heck am I restricted from getting these albums in Canada? It makes no business sense? And then the music industry complains of a download problem. If there is a problem, the music industry created it! They’ve attached borders to the Internet and prevented the willing customers from purchasing items from their favorite artists. And all in the name of what? There can’t be money involved, because I am not even allowed to spend it.

It leads me to serious dilemmas here. I could download it from a torrent, but that would be a total wrong move. Gotta love that one: stealing Christian music to praise our king of kings and lord of lords. I could pay the outrageous prices as an “import” which is stupid because I live 90 minutes away from the border. I am not going to move down to the USA for the sake of two albums. I don’t even know how questionable it is to get a friend in the USA to buy and download them them for me and I reimburse them for it. I suppose it’s better than stealing it an I am still paying for it.

If anyone in the music industry is reading this, which I really doubt they are, break down the borders and let the rest of the world experience the joy of music. There are no more fences in the industry. There’s a new inventory model… it’s called no inventory. Embrace it and allow us to purchase what we want where we want. I’m sure it will solve a bunch of these problems that you’ve created. And, your artists will build a more global fanbase. Isn’t that what they would like in the first place?

— Posted from iCandy that doesn’t bear fruit!

Rhythmic Digititis… AKA MIDI Doesn’t Kill Music – People Do!

June 4, 2011

I subscribe to a periodic e-mail from an up and coming project studio engineer, and normally there’s some great stuff. However, there was this one email from him telling how he would never use MIDI drums again because they have that real drummer feeling.

My response to this is that the next person who says something like this to me, I will string them up by their treble clefs until 8th notes start dropping out. The problem is not MIDI. The problem is the person programming the MIDI notes. Recorded MIDI, in and of itself, is nothing more than a snapshot of your performance on it. A sequencing program is to MIDI what a tape recorder is to audio. One of the main differences is that MIDI is just a bunch of numbers and you can associate any sound with it. The other main difference is that you can enter MIDI notes in one at a time, or compose a score and have the computer play it.

So, with all of this freedom with MIDI, what’s the problem?

The problem is that people who often program MIDI notes into a computer are only doing half a job: they’re supplying the note. They’re forgetting the feel of the note. The feel can be in the form of an accent, flam, a grace note, or even a ghost note or roll. It’s these little things that people often forget, and then go on and on about how their drums don’t feel like a drummer or their piano parts sound like they’re being playing by a Borg. Building a piece of music is often like painting a picture. Leonardo Da Vinci would probably have never rushed the Mona Lisa. Sure, he may have been probably able to paint quickly, but that is because he knew his art to a point of what kind of stroke goes where. Same thing for music. People rush through the drums and stuff because they want to record the guitar, which they often spend a lot more care recording. They can pick out the notes or phrases that bother them. Why don’t they take this type of care with MIDI? The main reason is that they are unfamiliar with that part of their art and don’t take the time to get to know it. They believe that because it’s a computer, it’s automatically supposed to know what to do.

I’ve been playing with MIDI for almost 30 years. Prior to that, I was trying to figure out ways to make programmed drum machines sound more realistic, due to the fact that I would probably be relegated to working with them for the rest of my natural born life. Having discovered programs like Apple Logic and FXPansion’s BFD2 helped open a lot of new doors for me. However, it didn’t replace the fact that human feel was necessary if it were to sound like human drummers.

So how does one combat rhythmic digititis?

It’s rather easy. Listen to drummers. Listen to pianists. Listen to brass and wind players. Use your ears to pick up those little nuances. If you’re going to program those types of nuances, make sure that you have sample programs and romplers that will support those nuances. Recently, I’ve been playing with Garritan Jazz & Big Band 3 and discovered how to create trumpet kisses on it. In the right spot, it can play with your mind and emotions and all of a sudden you’ll be thinking “that’s a trumpet”. I have also been analyzing MIDI grooves from various drummers who played them on MIDI drums. Through that, I’ve learned to program my rhythms a few ticks ahead or behind the beat. I’ve also learned to play them with my fingers on my padKontrol. I’ve watched videos of Neil Peart and how he subtly puts in ghost notes. And once you are done recording your instruments, revisit the drums and see how they fit. Don’t be afraid to change things once you have pieced them together. You wouldn’t think twice about changing the guitar.

And if you’re going to say that you’re not a drummer, I’ll tell you to then either find recorded grooves from a drummer, such as Platinum Samples Steve Ferrone or Bobby Jarzombek MIDI grooves. You don’t need to invent your own rhythms for most songs. Maybe certain fills for certain parts can be programmed in, but the rest can be handled by an experienced drummer, even if he is virtual.

There are plenty of ways to make it real in a digital world… stop making excuses as to why it’s not.

The Apple iTunes Conspiracy Theory

April 16, 2011

Last week, I made a rather horrible discovery: I found that my iTunes had its EQ turned on. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, it gets worse… at least to me it does. The EQ settings were set to “Spoken Word”. I’m sure you are asking how this is bad. For me, it is bad in two ways:

The first way is that I already use a graphic EQ in the studio. I have it set to match the characteristics of the room relative to the listening position. Great pains goes into these settings as I am often having to endure both white and pink noise generators for a couple of hours. Not only that, it drives the rest of my family crazy ‘cuz all they hear is a constant noise ranging from a hiss to a jet engine noise. So, you can best believe after all of that setup, I am going to use it heavily to ensure that what I am hearing through those monitors is going to translate to other speakers. An added EQ in the chain will colour everything. It will change what I am listening to and it will ensure that what I am hearing is not correct. So, when I am playing my reference mixes, they are all tainted by iTunes’ EQ. This will affect how I mix, because I want it sonically similar to the references.¬†Because of the EQ setting that it was on, it boosted the mid-range excessively. The problem this creates is that I am now doing funny things with the mid-range in order to make it sound like the references in iTunes. The worst part is that I never listened to my mixes through iTunes on my computer. I just use it to sync to my iPod and listen to it there.

The second way compounds on the first. Because I am not hearing those references properly. I am making misguided mix decisions because I am believing what I am hearing. These mix decisions carry over to other speakers, such as my car, headphones, etc. All of a sudden, things start to really sound weird and I find myself doing unnecessary things to make it sound reasonable when it translates over. This has often resulted in mixes that I felt were either missing something, or had too much of it. All I can say is that the mix is way off.

How did I discover this? Stupidly enough, by playing a raw mix in iTunes. It didn’t sound anywhere near what I had just done. In fact, it was worse… much worse. After shutting the iTunes EQ off (I already ensure Sound Check and Sound Enhancer are disabled) and re-listening to my references for a half hour, I discovered that I had a more solid mix. Everything was right where I wanted it to be. Not only that, it translates rather nicely now.

You’re probably thinking, why all the huff? Why didn’t you just turn it off sooner?

Well, I never turned on iTunes EQ in the first place. And I would never set it to Spoken Word. So, for me, it wouldn’t have dawned on me to look there first. And, like I said, I don’t listen to my mixes through iTunes… I can do a Quick Look and preview it there. Main reason I use iTunes is because it hooks me up to my iPod in a rather brainless way. However, I think that brainless has its pricetag.

I’m almost convinced that Apple turns on the EQ either with an iTunes update or a OS X update. Either one of the two. I’m almost thinking that Apple at times is arrogant enough to believe that it not only knows what we want in our settings, but that they believe they know better than we do. I will be watchdogging my settings on a regular basis. If I find that Apple has touched any of my settings without my permission from this point onward, you can bet that they will be on the receiving end of a 64-bit tongue lashing!

Letting Go

August 23, 2010

After over 35 years of playing guitar, I have made an incredible discovery: if I let go of my guitar while it is hanging on me with a strap, it doesn’t move. Isn’t that neat? Well, to me it is.

Here’s why:

Ever since I have been playing guitar, I have always grabbed the neck so tight, it would make it impossible to not only play faster, but it would also be a pain to shift positions. Thus, I would rarely ever stray from one position when I am playing a lead run. Of course there were exceptions, but they were just that: exceptions. I would wind up with a sore thumb and wrist in many cases. As much as I love to play, I didn’t make it very easy for myself to do so.

Discovering how to let go of the neck, through watching a video by David Kilminster, I found myself doing things that I previously found difficult, if not impossible, for me to play. I have found my fingers lighter and easier to manipulate. I even found moving up and down the neck to be much easier.

When I let go of the guitar, I can do hammer ons and pull-offs a lot quicker and without getting tired. My biggest surprise came when working out an Andy James lick for a song. It was a two handed lick and I found myself executing it rather fluidly.

Amazingly enough, I have never seen any one ever covered this important aspect of shredding. It’s definitely important and should be passed on. There’s probably more people out there in the same situation as I am, and holding on tightly does not mean more control.

— Posted from my iPhone… because I can

Lessons From the Dojo

August 17, 2010

It may have been four years since I have been unable to practice Karate. However, I cannot deny the principles and discipline that I learned from my years of training in the dojo. If only now, I am starting to take those principles and disciplines seriously. While I wish that I would have learned these earlier on in my life, I guess that it is better to be late than not at all. If anything, there’s a bunch of lessons that I have started to apply in various aspects in my life‚Ķ starting with music. Why music? Because, in my mind, I could have been a more disciplined guitarist (and possibly a pianist). If anything, I’ve been somewhat disappointed with my current skills when I listen to the various aspects of my playing. I let them stagnate to the point where I feel that they slid backwards. Others may not hear it, but I certainly do, and it’s undeniable to my own ears. Hence, the need for discipline passed on for centuries of martial arts’ Senseis.
My first discipline that I am applying is by doing these licks slow and even. This is how I used to practice my katas. It helps me feel the technique and trains the muscles to move in the direction and rhythm needed. It also allows the rest of my senses to learn what I am doing. I am training myself to hear as well as feel what I am doing when practicing a lick. I’ve learned the practicing it slow is extremely important. Important to the point where I tried to speed it up and immediately noticed the mistakes. Slowing it down helps me iron out those mistakes and fix them at the root.
Another discipline I have learned was from a book, called “The Classical Man”. It reads: One Kata – Three Years. Basically, this indicates how long it takes to ingrain a kata into the body. It’s a lot more than simply memorizing it. It’s building it so that it is instinct. It’s anchoring into the body through repetition. The same goes with practicing guitar licks. Practicing it over and over, feeling and hearing it, works it into the body. Sure, one can try some shortcuts, but it wouldn’t replace the satisfaction of hearing the lick progress as you feel it in your fingers. To me, that’s part of the joy of playing guitar. Part of experiencing this joy comes from the discipline of learning it until it is a part of you.
And I know that the kind of music that I want to write, it’s going to require discipline. And, the only discipline that I can see that will work for me, is what I learned from the dojo.

Awakening a dragon

August 14, 2010

Okay, I will be the first to admit after watching a bunch of Andy James’ performances on the recently received DVD’s, whether I would be able to ever play half as good as him. After all, his technique is exact and his playing is very melodic. He is a true shredder and a fantastic guitarist. So, for me it is almost understandable why I would feel a little down watching the videos of him playing some of these licks at blistering speed. His playing is how I always wanted to sound. Funny enough, we both drew on the same influences. Only real difference was that I built up some of the technique, but I wasn’t sure where to take it, or how to apply it. Or, at the very least, I didn’t have the discipline.

That all changed this morning.

I decided to stop watching and start learning. I was determined to become the willing and eager student that I once was 20 years ago. I popped in a Quick Licks DVD in the style of one of my first original guitar heroes: Paul Gilbert. I played along with a couple of the breakdowns of some of my favourite licks and that’s when I discovered, after playing them a bunch of times, that I really can do it. I even made another discovery: I figured out how to incorporate these licks into my own playing. They really started working for me. I could hear new songs coming out from then. It was exciting.

I feel like I have awakened a sleeping dragon. Everything felt like it just came together and my guitar playing has gotten a fresh breath of life. I’m really excited and can’t wait to see just how far I can take it. If anything, I did start seeing things come together when I was learning a few Steve Vai licks, again taught my Andy. However, it really starting to take shape.

Admittedly, this is really fueling my passion. It makes me wonder how far I can take it. Who knows what kind of songs that may come out. I guess all I can say is stay tuned.

— Posted from my iPhone… because I can

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