Posts Tagged ‘#cdbaby’

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Hey everyone!  While the question is open and I still hope people continue to post their most influential artists and bands at https://midimike.com/2015/06/29/who-do-you-love-influential-musicianbands/ , I want to thank everyone for participating.  I have listened to a ton of new music.  With some I was familiar with the artist and others I was not aware of at all!  Even the bands I knew of, the suggestions were songs I had not heard before but were probably the best the artist recorded.  I would like to summarize the lists you posted and make a condensed suggestion article once I have listened to each suggestion a few times.   What music and band we like tells a lot about us in many ways.  This is a good community and we share a number of qualities and talents.  We have our own pulse.  A common foundation that is very cool.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dark-energy/id962943592

This is another acoustic guitar song with me as the vocalist.  This is a true story that I took creative license with and made into something more than it was for the effect.   This song really is about me getting a ticket while driving around town.  This was many years ago, so the details are always suspect, but I was driving local roads and might have been distracted but as the traffic ahead of me slowed and then rapidly came to a stop …… I didn’t!  Unfortunately I ran into the car in front of me – at very low speed –  but to fast and to late to stop in time. The police officer gave me a citation for ACD, which I suspect, most of you safe drivers might not know what that is!   Around here that stands for Assured Clear Distance.  It is the driver’s obligation to make sure to have enough distance between you and the vehicles ahead of you to stop in time to avoid doing what I just did.   This was my first accident and it was all new to me.  While I am waiting to get my citation and then reviewing the event afterwards I thought ‘how am I going to explain this?’.  So I came up with a rather funny romantic embellishment and wrote a song about this experience. The song also has an interesting intro and break.  A number of my songs will have unusual time signatures.  For the musicians out there, send me a message if you know what time signature I used.

Reels of Tape”        (c) 1982 MSK 

Reels of tape feel no pain

Watch the movie over again.

Life pours past the flags unfurled

Crack the crystal paralyzed world.

CHORUS: I’ve been told if you live in the future,

You’ll be who you wanna be.

But I ain’t moving to San Francisco

‘Til it drops into the sea.

Careful surgeons with knives of rust

Open wounds of crimson lust.

Forget today and tomorrow.

Leave this song behind, and all it’s sorrow.

CHORUS: I’ve been told if you live in the future,

You’ll be who you wanna be.

But I ain’t moving to San Francisco

‘Til it drops into the sea.

First things first, but think about it twice.

Follow those who take their own advice.

Wasn’t trying any other time.

I’d walk away mumbling a Few Shattered Lines.

CHORUS: I’ve been told if you live in the future,

You’ll be who you wanna be.

But I ain’t moving to San Francisco

‘Til it drops into the sea.

Reels of tape feel no pain

Watch the movie over again.

Life pours past the flags unfurled

Crack the crystal paralyzed world.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dark-energy/id962943592

This is one of the original acoustic tunes that’s featured on my new album “Dark Energy.” You can find it on ITunes or CD Baby under Michael S. Kennedy.

As I continue to dig into past songs it is easy to see one problem I have;  I am not good at naming my songs.  Sometimes I go for the punch line, but the punch line is not even a line in the song!  Sometimes I try to highlight one phrase, but ignoring conventional songwriting wisdom, I do not use a phrase over and over in the chorus and call that the title.  So here is another example where the names have changed over the years.  Originally the title was “A Few Shattered Lines“.  I was reading a letter from a friend of mine at college and I pulled some of his phrases into the lyrics. Below are the results.

Reels of Tape has a deep meaning for me.  I spent a lot of years recording on reel to reel tape decks.  I still have my original 4 track TEAC machine.  The lyrics are more abstract than other songs I have written and for some reason I can still slip back to those times when I hear this song.  I am using my Ovation Balladeer 12 string guitar as my standard writing/recording instrument over the years, and I just love the tone and the progression of the chords.  The twelve strings just sound so full, and when using open tuning, it can make the chords sparkle.  The other quick observation: I don’t get rid of equipment I buy…… I keep it forever!

The lyrics seem to create images that expand beyond the words.  Familiar topics can do that sometimes when looked at with a different point of view or even a change in mood.  I love – Life pours past the flags unfurled, Crack the crystal paralyzed world – and other parts, but I could not really tell you why.  Another phrase that sticks with me is – Forget today and tomorrow, leave this song behind, and all it’s sorrow.  a lot of my lyrics have a rather dark perspective.  But behind them all is a sense of hope and a promise that things will get better and improve.  I am one of the most optimistic people I know!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dark-energy/id962943592

Recording as an acoustic tune, I use one track for the vocals (unless there is a harmony track) and I use another track for the ‘line out’ from the acoustic/electric guitar, and then I use another track for a microphone placed in front of the 12 string (even here, it is important to place the microphone at the ‘sweet spot’  to get the best tone.  Placing a microphone in front of anything without testing will more often disappoint rather than delight.  As in other posts, I have had better success if I literally stick my head up to the instrument and move back and forth until I get the best sound.  Doing this while playing the instrument is not practical, so I place the microphone, record, listen and compare it to other tracks that use a different microphone position.  Once you have the best of the best, you can be pretty safe using it again.  Live situations with full bands and instrumentation is a challenge and I still try to stick my face in there to get an idea what that instrument sounds like but also if it is close to other instruments, speakers, or unwanted noise makers.  Most vocalists will stand in front of the microphone, but even in this case if they lean or tilt one way or the other it can dramatically affect the final tone or sound.  Much of this is tied to the proximity effect and we will get into that later. For the most part I will pan the 12 string guitar line out to hard Left and the microphone for the 12 string hard Right.  Vocals go in the center, unless you have more than one vocalist or lead singer.  I use very few processors like compressors, gates, limiters, and the like.  As long as you start with a solid tone a bit of EQ if needed, bring in some light reverb or delay and the mix is done.

Once we simplify the 12 notes and we are now able to find any Major scale very quickly  (if you only did the exercise to find the other Major scales a few times you would see this is really easy….) and we can continue to explore the Major scales for other Keys.  This is the foundation of the musical theory pyramid.  It is important to understand how we get to the Safe Seven.  No, you do not have to memorize every note in every scale, although ultimately that will help a lot.  For now, try digging in and go over the Major scale for each of the 12 notes a few times.  As you play the new Major scales, sing (or hum!) the Do Re Me song along with the notes you are playing.  (tip for the day; as you hum each scale from the new starting note, you are changing keys!)

When we look back at the Safe Seven article, I showed a simple connection that I will repeat here:

C    D     E     F     G     A     B     C

1     2     3     4     5     6     7     1

There is a lot of math in music and music theory.  But instead of confusing things and making you change from your creative hat to your thinking hat, I find the math connection actually simplifies the confusion.  It allows me to see the connection the various notes have.  Personally, I HEAR and FEEL music more than I THINK it through.  I have friends that can convert and spit out scales, keys and modes as easily as some of us use Pandora, Spotify or I-Tunes to change a song.  I am really amazed at their skills, but that is something I am not all that good at.  But you will see how easy it is to understand the art and the science by following these posts.
If we look at the Safe Seven for each Major scale, we can make an easy conversion (or universal language) for describing note or chord progressions for ANY Major key.  I know, I keep on harping on the Major scales, but the others will be really easy once we have this understood and comfortable with the Mystery of the 12 and the Safe Seven, so let’s keep going.  For those of you new to this blog, I have no formal training and I am self taught.   I can assure you I am no genius.  If I can get this, so can you.  I just hope to make it a bit easier for you if you are just diving in or curious about how this fits together.

Knowing now that we call the first note the Root, and the same note higher or lower on the keyboard are called Octaves, we will begin a simple conversion;  Root = 1.  Each note in the Safe Seven can be represented this way by assigning it a value of 1-7.  We just assigned Root = 1, so moving up is easy.  In the example above, C is the Root so C = 1 and continuing the scale, D = 2, E = 3, F = 4, G = 5, A = 6, B = 7 and the octave is again the Root or 1.   Each Major scale can be represented the same way.  Use the Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half system to find the Safe Seven and then assign each to their corresponding number and we can stop talking about note names!  As we get more into chord structure and progressions, this will also come into perspective.  But let’s not get stretched too far.  Play with these exercises a few times a day and we will build our solid musical foundation quickly.  I will also go into the names of the notes as they change keys and this can be confusing to many until you see the method to the madness.

 https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/touch-down/id962542289

For me, sequencing is fun and very versatile.  I am not the kind of keyboard player that can jump in on any song and just start jamming.  I do better if I can take my time and learn, practice, and improve before practicing with a full band.  A lot of this might be from the lack of confidence in the early days, but in reality I find myself a jack of all trades and master of none.  If I had spent more time on any one instrument, I might have gotten pretty good.  Fortunately – or unfortunately, I have always been interested in so many different things that my chops were not the best.  As a percussionist, I was able to hear what I wanted, but did not play drum kits so my feet and hands were always locked in perfect step!  Sequencing gave me the ability to lay down rough performances on the keyboard (and remember I use the keyboard keys to ‘trigger’ the drum sounds, so I am still playing keys).  Once recorded using MIDI – again I am not recording the sounds but the physical action and movements, I could enter the Edit Mode on the sequencer and make corrections to timing, notes, durations etc. until the piece felt good to me. For the drums, the standard practice is to use the Quantizing feature (I can go into this later as well for future posts) to make sure all beats were perfectly ‘on the grid’.  I have used drum machines and sequencers since they first came out.  The sounds are great but too often the result of overusing the quantize feature makes the drum tracks sound mechanical – unmoving – and even impossible for a real drummer.  I preferred to leave a little slop here and there.  I want emotion in my songs, not perfection.

In “Bassics”, I just enjoyed the new sounds I had and played with this Bass Guitar patch and came up with the basic groove.   I like adding textures and unusual percussion/FX sounds to keep the songs flowing and changing.  Available sounds are so much better now, but I still enjoy bringing out these old tunes.

Much of my early years I had tons of energy.  Like most people my age, I got up early and stayed up through the evening.  Unlike most, I got a bit extreme with this and as I started working I seemed to be able to handle the after hour and evening shifts quite well.   Staying awake for 24 to 48 hours at a time was almost normal.  I obviously was not!  As most of the household was quiet and recharging their internal batteries, I would pull out my 12 string guitar.  In the very late and dark hours, I would reflect on the day(s) past and go over experiences I or friends had.  The fullness of the 12 strings (when I could afford to replace the old strings with new ones…) for me is just an amazingly soothing and inspiring environment.  The guitar noodling started to reflect a mood and the experiences would turn into words, phrases or thoughts that I would repeat and refine until they started to gel into lyrics.

I would use this method over and over.  Alone at night, lights out and everyone quiet or sleeping.  Even now, decades later, this is still my favorite time to reflect and create.  If you can, find your own time and environment that you can settle into quickly.  If you cannot find the time – MAKE it.  It does not have to be hours at a time.  Rarely do we write a masterpiece or complete a painting or poem in an hour or so.  The important thing is to set aside time – even little bits – and noodle, sketch, sing, or even think.  Build your stage for creativity and perform there as often as you can.  The masterpieces will create themselves…

Quiet Nights – An original tune I wrote based on this idea.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dark-energy/id962943592

Oceans of Oil” (@) MSK 1989

You go through life,

And I don’t complain.

Good things die

The rest stays the same.

Politics and money

Garbage is king.

The Liberty Bell

Doesn’t even ring.

Oceans of Oil, tinsel stars

Clouds are dark – the air is sick.

Swarms of people like killer bees

Mother Earth is on her knees.

You believe what you feel is right

And now you are going to make a fight.

You have no idea what we’re going through

If it’s your choice, nothing else will do.

Oceans of Oil, tinsel stars

Clouds are dark – the air is thick.

Swirling with pain and lost emotion

Mother Earth may soon need that abortion.

You believe that what you feel is right.

Clouds are dark.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/retrograde/id962542260

As someone who truly loves the outdoors and nature (for a city guy!) I sometimes think there is no end to the way we have devastated the natural resources we were blessed with.  Environmental tragedy after another, corporate greed and individual apathy seem to be everywhere at once.  This is a disturbing and dark look (from my perspective) at what we are doing to our planet.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/retrograde/id962542260

The music is rich with textures and soundscapes.   One of the tricks I used was on the sound of the ‘toms’ as they repeat, the tuning changes and gets lower and lower.  This is a simple MIDI trick.  there are ways of doing this that can take a bit of time and planning, but what I did was very simple.  As in the past, I use the keyboard to trigger the drum sounds when recording drum tracks.  I recorded the simple beat with the tom sound.  Then when I played it back, I started recording on the same track and used the keyboard ‘pitch bend’ stick to slowly lower the pitch as it played.  That took about two seconds and once that was done during playback the drum toms would sound like they were being de-tuned in real time.  Depending on how quickly the stick was moved, you could change the rate of pitch change.

My wife sings the melody and I add some vocal phrases and back up.  To get her vocals to punch through the mix even though her vocals are smooth, I took a direct out (really it was an insert cable and we will get into that later) and fed her vocals into one channel of a stereo compressor/limiter to compress or ‘squash’ the levels, then I took the out put and ran it into the other (stereo side) side and used the limiter function.  This allowed me to get a good signal by lowering the hot portions of the vocal track, and then pump it up to the point that the limiter would stop extreme levels from getting past a threshold point I set.  I got a very clean vocal signal and smoothed out the peaks and valleys of the volume levels, allowing me to turn up the over all volume in the mix without distortion.

Recently I was asked in comments (The Observer) if a song I posted was recorded at home or in a studio.  I replied but thought I might expand on that a bit and also introduce another version of “The Pleasure Tax”.  As my brother and I got older we kept writing poems that were now almost always designed to be lyrics.  We got better.  Instead of playing the bongos, I played the toy organ I mentioned and everything else from there.  Here is where I get to also blame my parents again.  For Christmas we all got cool toys, but many of mine seemed to be music makers; recorders, tiny piano ‘tinkley’ toys, little ukuleles and eventually guitars with plastic strings and a drum set that was made for a three year old, but you get the point.  So we got better and we played instruments and my brother started playing guitar as well.  We had more toys to create music so when we wanted to record them (I was probably fourteen or fifteen by the time recording was a possibility) we wanted to add the various instruments and record them all together.

Through the years, we met other musicians and became great friend – or as I seem to recall – we met great friends that were also musicians.  Eventually there was a central core of serious song writers.  Sometimes there would be around eight or ten core writing members.  It would seem there was a competition going (and there always was!) to write the coolest or most clever or the most groovy song.  And we would have friends that would stop by and jam once in a while or would write lyrics and were willing to turn them over to a group of people that would fit them , with force if necessary, with a musical arrangement, melody line and harmonies.

The rambling link to all this is when we often played a collection of each other’s songs, we more than likely played with different performers supporting a few core members.   Those were exciting days!  One time you would sing the song and the lead vocalist was not there.  So you let an ‘orbiting member’ do the vocal melody and you sing the harmony part.  Most of us played instruments and sang – especially if we wrote the song as you can guess – so if the lead vocalist also played guitar, we filled in as a ‘core member’.   On one visit or jam session you performed and sang your song all by yourself to the group.  In other visits you were surrounded by full instrumentation and a choir of vocalists!  So here is an example of all that tied into a version of this song by a full band I toured with.  You heard us play live to an audience in Texas when we played the original song “Our Bodies Move” posted earlier.  We also played other original songs and snuck them into our sets.  One of them was “The Pleasure Tax”.  We called ourselves The Personal Touch.  Ric and I were a duo and when we decided to add a female vocalist as recommended by a booking agency they decided to sign us up for out of state gigs.  We got some studio time when signing up and we performed some original tunes and some cover stuff…. done The Personal Touch way.  “TPT” by TPT!

So this is rare original song of mine that was recorded in an actual studio.    We are a trio and there was a studio drummer.   Everything else is The Personal Touch with a very new vocalist.

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