Take This Step Studio Notes

One of the major reasons for starting this blog was to share my studio notes with you. I love sharing the creation process and hearing feedback. Take This Step was released last month with remixes by Pet Duo, Mark Hawkins, Brian Burger and Lenny Dee. You can get the full details of the song including a promo video on it’s original post page: click here. Today let’s get into how I created it. My last album Joyless Pleasure was very autobiographical, song structured, love songed and a real listeners album. For my next album Fire Funmania which will be released later this year I wanted to go back to my roots a bit. The first single Take This Step clears the way. Lyrically it has two themes. You can take the song literally as an indoctrination anthem. Join the army, the troop and fight. You can decide if I am being satirical or not. However, the theme could also be about getting a day job or even being pushed into marriage and society. As a 42 year old trying to conform and be healthy yet keep my art pure surely there’s a reason I was able to make this song. The arrangement shows the nervous tension with 5 parts growing to a peak each higher than each other until the cresendo at the end. I think I’m trying to say yes it’s ok to join but if you do do it strong, properly and aggresively!

Ok so yeah now to the toys. There are several kick drums on the track. I’ve been DJing on my Traktor S4 a bit and you can hear that influence here. As I use NI’s Traktor anytime I put a loop into one of the Sample Decks and it loops more than 2 times is saves the loop on my hard drive for later use. I grabbed 2 of the kicks on Take This Step from this folder. I also created 2 kicks on my Jomox Mbase 01 which is signed by Jürgen Michaelis. The Mbase has a depth you can’t get from samples. There are parts of the song where you hear the underlying kicks booming and that’s the Mbase in action. In sections of the song there is a Boss DM-100 bucket-brigade analog delay on the kicks. You can hear it right away as the song starts. The ride is from my MFB-522. The 522 is like a mini Roland TR-808 and I like it quite a lot. You can get some really clean shimmering rides from it that again most of the time samples can’t match. I used Ableton Live’s built in Auto Filter to cut some of the high’s out from it so it fit well in the song. There are some large long white noise crashes that bring in new sections. Those are from an Ensoniq ESQ-1. I bought a Crystal-X cartridge off eBay that has a few hundred sounds on it and the crash/smash is on there.

The main synth is a Moog Slim Phatty going through Audio Damage’s Vapor diffusion chorus plug-in. In different sections of the song the main synth pattern changes. I used 3 plug-ins each seperately at different times to achieve the different synth patterns: Izotope’s Stutter Edit, PSP’s N20 and Sugar-Bytes Turnado. These are the type of plug-ins that are nearly impossible to replicate in hardware without a serious amount of work. What I usually do is go through the presets, do some editing and then render the same part 5-10 times. Then as the song plays back into the section I swap out the different renderings and choose the one that’s the coolest. It’s that little extra work that makes all the difference. Towards the end of the song there is a build up where the synth starts panning, changing and “lifting”. This was done with Sugar-Bytes Effectrix and automation.

I wanted to keep these vocals clean and commanding. The chain was a Shure SM7b mic through an API 512c micpre. I also used Izotope’s Nectar plug-in. There’s quite a few places where the last song in a verse has some effects on it. Like the synth parts I would render the last word, move it to a blank channel, load several effects on the channel and change presets, edit and render about 5 different versions. I would again listen back to the song with replacing each version and choosing the best one.

I follow my own advice and the faders were all at about half height so the mix came out nice and clean. I added some volume to the master file using Izotope’s Ozone. I didn’t work on this song all day in a succession of days so it’s hard to tell you exactly how long it took to create it. I would guess about a full week or two weeks on and off. For me the most difficult part is always the arrangement. It’s like a puzzle and if you don’t feel inspired or take the time to get it right you can really ruin a song. So this song is a mix of the best hardware and software I have.

The next single which comes out in August is called The Man Master. I shot a music video for it in Berlin, there are remixes by David Carretta, Millimetric and Dupont and there will be a limited edition 7″. Production wise this song is a full analog affair using only analog sequencers and such. More on that when it’s released!

“The Horrorist’ new single is pretty awesome. His new record is going to be the best one yet.” – alexxaugustus (via Twitter)

For more info: iTunes, Amazon and Beatport

Melody Music Maker

I love software that helps with music theory and composition. Off the top of my head a few of titles come to mind such has Harmony Navigator, SoundPrism, Polychord, Songsmith and LaDiDa. I’ve yet to try it yet but Melody Music Maker looks like a nice addition. Nothing beats some piano lessons of course.

“What have Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Ray Charles in common? They could not read scores but nevertheless their songs captured the world. With Melody Music Maker you are walking in the trails of these super talents. You can fully focus on one thing: the melody that you enjoy, without taking care for the notes and theoretical correctness. Colors guide the user through the composition of the song.” – melodymusicmaker.com

For more info: melodymusicmaker.com

via promusicapps

The Work

Read the quote below. I think it’s a true statement. I know this is the way it was for me. I fell in love with music in my teens. It took me years to create music as good as the music I loved. It was worth the years of loops and failures.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. – Ira Glass

photo credit: dub_ee

via nprfreshair

Get the Balance Right

It took me a while but I finally struck a balance between my day job and my music career. Three week day nights and weekends I am in front of knobs, dials, touch screen, API and Ableton. Weekdays as Director of Operations at ENVEN Energy Services I stare at Windows 7 via Bootcamp, Excel tracking sheets, Quickbooks or I am in the field auditing commercial lighting systems in Rockland, Orange and Sullivan Counties. Once and a while live performances as The Horrorist steal a Friday away from ENVEN but since I am a partner in the company it’s a perk I am allowed. Mornings before anything starts thirty minutes goes here to Wire to the Ear and these words. I know balance has found it’s equilibrium because my to do list gets cleared and I am not having those “missing class” nightmares. I admit I struggled to make this work and for a while it cost me some music creating time. The key is I pretend I am far more important than I am. I pretend I am a CEO. I wake up early, eat super healthy and spend 45 minutes on the Elliptical trainer each day. I allow myself one or two planned, scheduled fun short late afternoon meet ups with friends and family per week. I know this all sounds pretentious and needlessly stiff. In between all the positivity there is a blackness. I regularly feel like I am missing something somewhere. I have huge doubts and I feel I’ve become a mouse on a wheel. That said, I am doing my life’s plan and I hope in the end people will have noticed.

“There’s more besides joyrides. Little house in the countryside. Understand, learn to demand, Compromise, sometimes lie. You think you’ve got a hold of it all. You haven’t got a hold at all. When you reach the top, get ready to drop. Prepare yourself for the fall, you’re gonna fall. It’s almost predictable.” – Depeche Mode

For more info: Get the Balance Right, Depeche Mode (iTunes link)

photo credit: Colin Harris

Propellerhead Automation Clip Toolbox

James from Propellerheads shows us another workhorse tip in his latest 52 Reason / Record Tips. These prefab clips with automation data are great time savers.

“Whenever I’m working on music, one thing that I’ve had in my personal bag of tricks is an “automation clip toolbox.” Basically, it’s a palette of controller data curves and waveforms which can be applied to automation lanes like level, pan, filter cutoff, etc. Thanks to the new “stretch clip to tempo” function (Option+Drag for Mac or Control+Drag for Windows) I can resize these automation clips to whatever speed I want. This week I’m giving this toolbox away and showing you how to use it. These clips will breathe new life into an otherwise static pad or provide the creative spark for a new idea entirely. Enjoy!” – James Bernard

File download: http://www.propellerheads.se/stuff/JB34.zip

For more info: propellerheads.se

Inspiro

Inspiro is an iOS App that could help you write song lyrics (among other things). Three modes help you on your creative journey: The Muse, Scenarios and The Daydream Machine. I always have a thesaurus or Masterwriter open and I just added this guy to my tool chest. It’s current in the App store for $3.99: click here

“INSPIRO is more than an idea generator, it’s an “imagination stimulator”. Using dynamic word randomization and an easily customizable vocabulary, this engaging app is always ready with fresh concepts to inspire any creative activity, game or daydream. Lyricists can find the words for their next song. This nifty app may just be the final cure for writer’s block.” – inspiroapp.com

For more info: inspiroapp.com

Every Pop Song is the same 4 Chords

Considering this video from Australian comedy band Axis of Awesome has almost 5 million views most of you have probably seen this. For those musicians who haven’t you have to admit is pretty interesting. It surely explains why everything on the radio sounds the same.

“Australian comedy group ‘Axis Of Awesome’ perform a sketch from the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Footage courtesy of Network Ten Australia. See http://www.axisofawesome.net/ for more details of the comedy trio including Jordan Raskopoulos, Lee Naimo, & Benny Davis.” – random804

For more info: wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_(music)

Ohm Studio in Action

I’d like to try Ohm Studio but I have a strong vision of what I want music to sound like. I bet I’d just erase and replace a lot of what the other person is creating. Then again my friend Gabri who’s a real keyboard genius would be welcome. Is there video or audio chat in Ohm Studio? I guess I could record a vocal of what I want to say to the other person.

“Ohm Studio is a standalone DAW/sequencer that will allow you to make music collaborations with your friends or musical partners from all the world. This video show the Ohm Studio prototype and some of its real-time features in action.” – ohmstudio.com

Join the beta: ohmstudio.com

Ohm Studio

There have been stabs at server side sequencers for collaborative music creation but none have really been nice enough that I would want to use them. I love the French based Ohm Force plug-ins so maybe the newly announced Ohm Studio will be the one to make this needed concept work. Beyond creation there is a online community aspect. Certainly the video above was done right!

Ohm Studio is a standalone real-time collaborative music making application (DAW/sequencer) in addition to a web based collaboration platform and a music driven online cohmunity. Ohm Studio is a real sequencer. A standalone application for Windows or Mac OS X. Midi editing, envelopes, piano roll, audio effects and virtual instruments: exactly what you’re already used to. But now using all that tools with your friends, online. – ohmstudio.com

No word on pricing. A pure guess is there will be a monthly fee. So do you like? Seem interesting?

For more info: ohmstudio.com

The RPM Challenge

For years I’ve been thinking how great it would be to write a song a day or something along those lines. I write a lot of music but it’s in bursts and most of it I would never release. The RPM Challenge is an online get together where you basically record an album in a month. I just came across this and the 2010 challenge is almost over so why blog it? I really enjoyed checking out the site. Somehow it feels like a small music town get together. I also like listening to songs recorded quickly. The less contrived the music is usually the better.

“This is The Challenge – Record an album in 28 days, just because you can. That’s 10 songs or 35 minutes of original material recorded during the month of February. Go ahead… put it to tape. Don’t wait for inspiration – taking action puts you in a position to get inspired. You’ll stumble across ideas you would have never come up with otherwise, and maybe only because you were trying to meet a day’s quota of (song)writing. Show up and get something done, and invest in yourself and each other. Anyone can come up with an excuse to say “no,” so don’t!” – rpmchallenge.com

For more info: rpmchallenge.com