Tag Archives: indie

15 Hymns: Do You Hear What I Hear

My friends, I can’t tell you how wonderful this little experiment has been. I love the music, and I love that you all buy into these kinds of ideas. Thank you all for being a little bit of sanity in the midst of the Christmas madness.

The Dailies sent this in last night, to cap off the 15 Hymns run. Have a merry Christmas everyone, and I’ll see you all on the other side.


photo by orange beard

The Dailies Wrap-Up: Awards Show

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Academy of Indie Recording Arts and Sciences, Burbank Division, is proud to announce the winners of this year’s “Billy Preston Awards for Excellence In Custom Recording”. Our congratulations to all of the nominees, and remember, even if you didn’t win, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

The award for Best Opening Lyric goes to “We flipped the switch” from the song Unplug. It drops right with the band, and drags you into the tune. Like, immediately.

The award for Heroic Accommodation of the Recording Process by a Musician goes to Rosy. Midway through the first day, Chris pulled Rosy into the control room to listen to a serious problem with the drum sound – the snare microphone was picking up a ton of hi-hat. This was going to be a problem in the mix, because it meant that you couldn’t raise the level of the snare without also raising the volume of the hat. The solution? They raised up the hi-hat stand by about 6 inches, to get more distance between the snare and the hat. This is a heroic sort of accommodation by a drummer – everything they do when they play the drums is about repetitive mechanics, and those mechanics are aimed at fixed positions. The snare always goes here, the ride always goes here, the hi hat always goes here. Changing one of those things has the potential to throw the whole groove seriously out of whack. It would be the equivalent of saying to a keyboardist, “Look, to make this thing work, we’re going to raise all of the black keys by 2 inches – other than that, everything should be kosher.” The result of the change was a massive drum sound with great isolation, and Rosy managed to still make the groove grind. Very pro.

The Exxon-Valdez Award for Mid-course Correction goes to Chad for the song As I Am. On Friday, Corey started tracking this song as an acoustic guitar piece. There were two problems with this: the first is that this was actually a piano song. When we first heard it, it was on piano, Chad has performed it a half-dozen times on piano, the chords and arrangement were written on piano. It just soars on piano. So, of course, Corey was doing his best (which is a very, very good best) to wrestle the piece to the ground on acoustic guitar, and it just wasn’t working. The second problem was this – the piece breathes in and out, the tempo pushes and pulls, and there are pauses and starts that all have to feel right. Chad had all of the details of how this should go locked away in his head, with no good way to communicate all of it to Corey, or anyone else. The result was a frustrating process, and when they finally put the cap on it Friday evening, we all sort of shrugged and said, “Good enough”. You have to realize how defeated that feeling was. On every other song, when we finished, the whole band vibe was, “Yes! Dude – that’s a song!” For us to finish with a “good enough” was a massive failure. So, Saturday morning, Chad walked in and said, “Here’s the deal – we’re going to redo the tune, it’s going to be a piano song, and I’m going to play the piano part.” And we all said, “Took you long enough.” You’ll get to hear the final product on the record. Good call, Chad.

The “Almost Famous” Award for Best Homage to 70’s Anthem Rock goes to Wake Us, which would have been at home on any Queen record. 1st Runner-Up goes to Everything Must Go for it’s copious borrowing of Led Zepplin-esque guitar lines. The only reason it didn’t win is because 6/8 is a better time signature for anthem rock.

Special Recognition in the category of The Right Gear is The Right Gear goes to Rob Strickland’s Alembic Bass. No frontin’ on the P Bass, but man, you can really hear what the extra 2k buys.

As part of our on-going effort to reach out to our fundamentalist brethren, this year features a new award, Best Use of Orthodox Theology in a Song That Still Manages to Be Relevant. It goes, unequivocally, to As I Am, which makes it a surprise triple-category winner: in addition to this award, and the afore-mentioned “Exxon-Valdez” award, it also takes home The Steven Curtis Chapman “I Will Be There” Award for Song You Will Hear At Every Wedding For The Next 20 Years. This award comes with a cash prize.

The award for Song That Fell Into Place So Quickly We Almost Feel Guilty For Taking Your Money To Play It, But We’ll Get Over It And Cash The Check Anyway goes to Run. Seriously. This tune could not have gone down more easily. From the first time we heard the demo, Corey and I just looked at each other and said, “Oh dude, I know how to do this.” It makes me think that, on the next record, Chad should wait to let us hear each demo 20 minutes before we go to push record on the tune.

The Elizabeth Taylor Award For Prima-Donna Hissy Fit Over An Easily Fixable Part goes to Michael Lee, for his temper tantrum over his own inability to play 8th notes in time on Loved. Dude, get over yourself. Stick’s just gonna find the best 4 bar phrase and loop it anyway.

We are proud to announce that the winner of this year’s MTV2 “Headbanger’s Ball” Award for Extreme Rock is Corey Witt for his work on Everything Must Go. Two clips from that piece were submitted to the judges for consideration – the arena rock lead line from the chorus, and the “If you shut your eyes and listen, Dan Huff sounds like Lenny Kravitz looks” solo from the last pre-chorus. Chad, what’s the official band position on leather pants?

Every year, the judges try to make their best guess as to which songs will be commercially successful. We are proud to announce that our pick for this year’s Point of Grace Memorial Award for Direct to Radio Release is the song God Of My Future. This song also picks up the coveted DC Talk “Between You And Me” Fan Outrage Award For Song That Makes People Buy The Record, Then They Realize That The Record Sounds Nothing Like The Single. This song comes with a cash prize, which must be returned within 30 days for store credit only.

As always, the award for Best B3 Sample That Was Left On The Final Track, Because We Ran Out Of Time with the Real B3 will not be publicly announced, but you are more than welcome to take your best guess.

It gives us all great pleasure to present Chris Steffen with the FXpansion BFD Sample Replacer Empty Threat Award. There is a piece of software called BFD that is essentially a drum sampler. It sounds amazing, and in a great little coincidence, all of the samples were recorded at El Dorado, where we tracked the record. We spoke very highly of the flexibility and accuracy of the sampler, which Chris took as something of a challenge. He wanted to make sure that we had no reason to replace any of his drum sounds with samples from the software, so he proceeded to do his best imitation of a drum mic’ing savant for the entire week. The result was a sound that was beefy, articulated, deep, and punchy, which are words that we all throw around because language has no good words for sound. Basically, he rocked our socks off. Chris wins all technical awards for this record. He was smoking. Get it? (hint: he smokes (i.e. cigarettes)).

The “Rookie Of The Year” Most Improved Award goes to Chad Reisser, who at the beginning of the week, did a very convincing imitation of a bass player, and by the end of the week, was an actual bass player. Of course, I would hesitate to call him for actual gigs until he gets his rig up to a pro level. And by that I mean, “buys an Alembic bass that plays like Rob’s”.

Erica Reisser wins the coveted Terminator 2 Super Morphing Vocal Performance. Listen to Loved. Then listen to Wake Us. It’s the same person, I swear.

In order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, I recused myself from the voting for the next award. Nonetheless, the committee choose to award The Michael Lee “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” Award to … Michael Lee. I have a dirty little confession to make. I am not a B3 player. I love the whirly dervish in all of her majestic beauty, I know the history, the lore, I’m a devotee of the mythos, and Lord knows I’ve played tons of synth B3, B3 virtual instruments, modeled reissues, and all manner of imitations. My time behind the wheel of the Queen herself though has been, shall we say, limited. Almost non-existent. This caused me some unspoken anxiety as the week progressed, and it became apparent that the week was going to finish up with an extended 4 hour session of me sitting at the console of the mighty B, going from tune to tune, playing all of the parts, with the rest of the band sitting in the control room paying very close attention to what I was laying down. I even had a kid on the line waiting by the phone who is an actual B3 player, in case I had to tap out and let him cover the parts. However, the Michael Lee Career Motto has always been “fake it ‘til you make it”. By the time the Saturday tracking session ended, I was in my element. Everything settled into place. The thing I thought I could do, but had never really done (at least not under that kind of pressure), I ended up delivering on. I am now a B3 player. I survived the gauntlet. Corey, I’m going to need some new business cards.

Finally, the award committee thought it would be appropriate to create a new category this year, for Best Imitation of a Second Engineer by an Intern. It was a tight race, but we finally decided to give the award to Sterling. I would highly recommend that Sterling log on here and give some love to the engineering school that he’s going to right now, because they set him up to win. He has that rarest, and most useful of traits in a person working their way into this industry – a teachable attitude. He noticed that Chris was using Empirical Labs Distressors to compress a wide range of different signals, and didn’t know a lot about them. On his break, he grabbed the manual, and setup his own little study hall. He was taking down notes on the B3 mic’ing that Christ had setup, and couldn’t remember the name of the room mics that were hoisted up in the corner, so he asked me if I knew (AKG C12s). It was more important to him to learn the answer than to risk being embarrassed by not knowing the answer. Dude. All I can say is hang on to that. It will take you very, very far. Also, Chris knows his stuff. You should get to know his stuff.

Congratulations to all of the winners, and thanks to the Academy for their ongoing support of Indie Custom Recording in Burbank. As Billy Preston always says, “So long, and thanks for all the memories.”

The Dailies – Day 4a – Why Mike is Here.

Lemme tell you why Mike’s here.

Last night we launch into a track called “Loved.” Loved is the track on which the defecation might hit the oscillation, and we all know it. It’s in 12/8 time. The signature piano phrase is an endless cascade of triplets in the right hand of the piano. It’s not a slow song, the click beats 96 bpm to death.
The drums have been tweaked, guitar tones are dialed, the bass is… turned on… and we start woodshedding the tune. Something’s off. The piano at El Dorado is a stunner, but it’s gone out of tune on just one note. A. The song is in the key of A. The song repeats a technically difficult ostinato over about 60% of the song. With that A used somewhere in the chord.

It’s not good, is what I’m saying.

Erica was the first to say it. Rosy seconded. Mike agreed. I emerged from my usual bass tracking fog of “For The Love of All Things Holy Do Not Rush This Freakin’ Part” haze and agreed.

The APU nerds had united. The piano had gone out of tune. On just one note. Chris, the engineer, was unconvinced. Are you sure it’s not the guitar? Yes. Because Corey has an honorary APU music nerd degree, that’s why. ‘Cause we just switched guitars. We know. It’s out of tune. We clear out the live room and listen to the track. It’s out. No doubt. The string played by itself is phasing.

Mike hops behind the instrument and figures out which of the actual three strings that the hammer strikes is out of tune. Guys? He says. Listen. He plays the note once. Phasing. He plays the note again, this time muting the middle string. In tune. “It’s that one.”

“Can you fix it?” I ask.

Spoken response – No.

Unspoken subtext – No, and are you retarded? Yeah, I know! I’ll pull my piano tuning kit out of my man-purse and get right on that.

I don’t remember who called it, but I think Mike and I both decided that the show needed to go on. This is not a problem that is going to get fixed in the next ten minutes, and we have tracks to get. Mike jumps on the borrowed Nord Stage piano. The piano sample contained therein is a stunner. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. But it’s still a fakie.

Mike lays in a stunt track, meaning it’s intentionally going to get replaced later, while Corey, Rosy, and I get our parts in place. Mike makes it work. After three passes we get one that we like. We take one more. Mike is frustrated. The part’s hard, and having to play it on a synth isn’t giving him any help whatsoever.

To be fair to Chris, who rocks with unholy rokkness, he tells me later that a few weeks ago, a BIG name producer with a BIG name band and said the same thing, but they brought a piano tuner all the way out and it turned out to be the guitar. Rob, the owner, is a piano player. He’ll hear it in a heartbeat and get it fixed. We don’t need it until tomorrow, anyways…
Drums are comped, meaning the best parts are grabbed from the two passes, guitars are overdubbed where they mismatch, I replay my flubs, and all of a sudden it starts to sound quite sublime. I will have to go into another post about this, perhaps later today, or tomorrow… but the guitar tones are… just… unspeak… warm… distorrtion… getting…. aaaaahhhhhh.
Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a song. During this hour or so, Mike has taken a walk. He’s not needed, and ge gets some air. And perhaps a beverage. All I’m saying is this. Just as we’re finishing up, he comes in and goes…

Chris… can I have a go at the piano? Gimme a dreamy quarter note delay on the piano.

I’m (Chad here) exhausted and ear-fried, and decide I’m gonna let him get his idea out. I return a few minutes later to hear… it. The piano part, revoiced to avoid that note… with a glorious ambient delay washing over us. Mike’s killing the part. It ducks and weaves… it pushes and pulls.

Now it’s really a song.

See… I play piano, I really do. I’ve done it every week for seven years. I could, with enough time and clever editing, I could have figured out that part. And it would have been… ok. Adequate.

But Mike really really plays the piano. Mike knows all the ins and outs. He knows where the cracks and the canyons are. It’s just not a hobby.
That’s why Mike is here.

The Dailies: Day 2

Just jumping online while we swap out snare drums.

I forget how much of a magnifying glass the studio process is. There are things about your gear that you just live with most of the time, because they aren’t that critical for live playing. Then, when you shine a big old $10,000 mic and two big speakers on it, all of the sudden it becomes a critical problem. Case in point – right now Chris and Rosy are trying to chase down an issue with the snare drum ringing out a little too much. Doesn’t seem like a big problem, but 3 minutes and 280 snare strokes later, it’s the kind of thing that will set your teeth on edge.

The same thing is true of my playing, sometimes. I get away with some sloppy things because the energy of live playing lets me push through it. Now, going into the control room, and listening to what I played isolated out against the drums exposes things that would never get caught live.

Time to woodshed some more.

30 dropframe

I won’t be active here much in the next few weeks. Remember this? It’s now this:

30 dropframe

I’m doing a record of my own songs this summer, and opening up as much of the process as possible to anyone who wants the voyeuristic thrill of watching somebody create an album. Stick, I know you, in particular, would love to know how records actually get produced. You can watch streaming video from the studio, subscribe to podcasts of the songs in process, with daily updated mixes.

The thing that will be hard for me, but I think interesting for other people, will be letting people see how much of the proccess is just plain ugly. Quick sketches of half-broken ideas, themes that aren’t quite thought through, pushed into demo form, then reworked, and reworked, until they emerge as the things we all listen to and love. Being, as I think most creative people are, inherently insecure about what I do, I usually wait until something is finished, polished, mixed, and shrinkwrapped before I even acknowledge that I had a hand in it. I want to preserve the idea of the inscrutible artistic muse, the illusion that inspiration strikes, and what emerges is just the song of the heavens echoing down through us. I’d rather not acknowledge the part of creativity that’s just plain mundane craftwork, from sometimes ugly raw material to finished product.

I think that’s a copout. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from the object of our work. If our hands are muddy, then we own the thing, and good or bad, it’s ours. On the other hand, if it was sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus, then we get to remain the amanuensis, and the criticisms don’t really belong to us.

Not this time. I’m in this thing. Good or bad, ugly or beautiful, my hands will be muddy all over it.

So, the website is 30dropframe.com. Come check it out. It’ll either be spectacular, or a complete tragedy. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch.

Indie: I’m over it. (A manifesto.)

I have a couple friends who are indie-philes. Music, film, books…if you’ve never heard of it, they love it. On one hand, it’s great: they’ve pointed me toward some truly stellar artists whose work I now immensely enjoy. On the other hand, it’s a bit annoying: the minute a band or movie or book starts to see some popular success, these friends of mine reject it as derivative, has-been crap. And if for some reason an artist or their work skips the indie phase altogether and shoots straight to the top of any bestseller list, my friends ignore it entirely. (“It never existed to me.”)

This nifty little quirk didn’t bug me too much until a couple weeks ago when one of my friends came over to hang out with Ash, and I happened to be watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Ash was in the shower, so this friend — let’s call him Donnie — plopped down on the couch and asked me what I was watching. “Why, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” I replied. “Wasn’t it great?”

Donnie rolled his eyes and shifted in his seat and said, “Didn’t see it. And I haven’t read any of the books. Anything that’s THAT popular is bound to be sh*t.”

I threw a pillow at his head and yelled, “You’re a snob! And on top of that, you’re robbing yourself of joy! Get a frickin’ life, you cool-obsessed schlub!”

So call me a populist. I’m over the indie thing. Give me my Kelly Clarkson and my MI:3 and my Danielle Steel (okay, not really). If I like it, I like it. My preferences will be dictated neither by the unwashed masses nor the epicurean connessieurs.*

*Donnie, if you’re reading this…I love you, man.

Why You’re Not My Favorite Student

Yes, I do have favorites, and no, you’re not one of them. This is why:

1) You ask bad questions. You ask questions designed to make you look smart, not to advance your understanding. You ask questions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, simply to let other students know that you’ve already mastered these petty concepts, and are ready for something more challenging. You use big words that you learned just this morning, because you think it projects intelligence. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a pretentious jack-ass. I’m not smiling because I think you’re smart; I’m smiling because you just used that word wrong.

2) You are lazy. You ask me things that you could find by reading the syllabus. You turn in assignments with spelling errors. You leave out those segments of the project that are designed to make my life easier. You do this because you survey the world with lazy arrogance, and assume that the 3 minutes it would take you to format the project correctly are more valuable than the extra hour it takes me to grade 60 projects that ignore the formatting. You email me to ask for special treatment to accommodate your uniquely difficult circumstances, which look amazingly similar to the difficult circumstances of every other first year student at a University.

3) Your knowledge is bounded by your bigotry. I get it. You’re indie. You hate everything that reeks of formalism and conformity. You like bands with names like “The Decemberists” and “A3”, but you will immediately stop liking them as soon as you hear that I know they exist. Every time I give you an assignment like writing 4 part choral harmony, or programming a funk drum part, you have to protect your indie cred by informing the entire class that this type of music sucks, and that you don’t need to learn how to do this, because your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb. Two things: first, the fact that you think Coltrane sucks does not, in fact, make Coltrane suck. It makes you a narcissist with a myopic range of cultural influences, which is basically the exact opposite of people I like. The second thing is this. Your parents are spending $30,000 a year to send you to this school, where you chose to study music in a formalized setting, from people who make their living in this industry, and where a significant portion of your education will come from imitating the artistic masters who came before you. I don’t know what indie cred is, but I’m pretty sure that you lost all of it when you chose this path. Wanna be indie? Drop out, move to Silverlake, rent a room from a cross-dressing coffee shop owner, work at an organic grocery co-op in NoHo for minimum wage, and practice your instrument 9 hours a day. If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don’t just wear the clothes.

4) You only care about your grade in the last two weeks of the class. Here’s the thing. If you don’t care about grades, and just want to drift in and out of class to absorb the knowledge when it suits your whim, I can respect that. I honestly don’t mind it. But if that’s your mode, don’t come to me two weeks before the final and ask what you can do to raise your grade up from an “F” to a “B”, so that you won’t lose your scholarship. The answer is nothing. There’s nothing you can do. I’m not going to grade 15 projects that you turn in on the last day of the semester for late credit, and there aren’t enough points in the final to move your grade that much. I do sometimes allow students extra-credit assignments, but I reserve it for students who have worked their asses off all semester long, and need 1 or 2 percentage points to bump up to the next grade. I like students like that. I don’t like students like you. If getting an “F” in my class means you lose your scholarship, there’s a damn good chance that you shouldn’t be here on scholarship.

5) You assume that your approval is important to me. It isn’t. I don’t need your approval, or encouragement, I don’t need to be hip in your eyes, I don’t live or die by how you rank me on www.ratemyprofessor.com. I couldn’t care less what you think of me: I have friends for that. When your response to my policies, assignments, teaching method, whatever, is “that’s so uncool”, I silently laugh inside at the idea that you think I might care. I’m 30. I teach at a University. I’m a dad. I listen to Jazz. I’ve played keyboards on songs for Radio Disney. I’m the opposite of cool. And guess what? I’m at peace with it. My job isn’t to make you like me. In fact, sometimes my job goes better when you don’t like me. Sometimes, there are students who get that, and they respect it, and we end up being friends after they graduate. I think that’s cool.

Please, be assured that none of this will affect how I teach you. I’m quite adept at swallowing my own bile and doing unpleasant tasks. I also realize that sometimes, my least favorite students end up maturing nicely, and actually become decent human beings. Here’s to hope.

Until then, please stop IM’ing me at 2:30 in the morning to ask when the next project is due. It’s due tomorrow. And no, you can’t turn it in late.