Posts Tagged ‘#itunes’

I don’t mind acknowledging that I am different than a lot of the people I know and hear about.

I am PERFECTLY OK with this.  I know my music and lyrics are not the typical main-stream songs blasted everywhere.  I will not appear on any searches.  Growing up and watching all the Westerns and TV shows, I never – not even once – wanted to be the cowboy or the soldier.  I identified with the ‘good guys’ as most kids do, but to me the cowboys and soldiers were not the only good guys.  I identified more with the American Indians living with nature rather than conquering.

I am not sure what exactly inspired this song when I started it.  I often think about music videos and how that could help explain through images some of the themes in this musical piece.  Possibly the new toys that could make sounds that added less traditional Western culture ideas and more ethnic and international instruments.  I also like contrapuntal rhythms and themes, so you will hear a lot in these pieces.

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

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.

“QUIET NIGHTS” (c) 1976 MSK

INTRO: Quiet Nights, I sit without lights,

Then what I play, accompanies me.

Accompanies me.

I’m a man of refined habits,

But not refined too much.

I’m searching for the spirit

While I find the touch.

Locked inside no prison

But can not call your name.

Outside your rock tree garden

Where silent lovers came.

Mourning come and shed no tears

For those they should have saved

While rocks beneath the water

Become tombstones for the grave.

INTRO: Quiet Nights, I sit without lights,

Then what I play, accompanies me.

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

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.

SCN_0001

Having written songs with my older brother from the beginning, I often bounce ideas at him to see what comes back.  I remember (and take all of this with a grain of salt as I am not the best at chronology or details!) going up to him and saying something like… “I have this idea for a song and not sure where it goes, but I keep thinking get out of here leave me alone take it away, and that they want to charge us for anything.  Soon they will sell us air and water”.  Below is the result.  I called it The Pleasure Tax, and it is more relative today.  And yes, they do sell us air and water now!

I am very picky about tuning and tones used.  Putting new strings on your guitar was sometimes a luxury.  When I finally did it is like turning on a light bulb in a dim room.  Yes, you could see before but now you can even read!  Music can be like that.  Things are not inspiring or do not sound very good and you change the strings (or reed, drum head, pads) and BAM!  You want to go out and play it hard!

The tax is still out there, so be careful when you want to relax.?

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

“THE PLEASURE TAX”  © 1981

Music by Michael S Kennedy          Lyrics by Michael S and Charles D Kennedy

Intro:

Take it away………… The Pleasure Tax  4x

Verse 1

Take it out, or take it home.

Take it back, it hasn’t grown

Take it away or leave it alone.

Say what you want, or hang up the phone.

Chorus

Put new strings on your damn guitar.

Make it simple, but play it hard.

He says he likes it I don’t know why.

We don’t understand but we’ll give it a try.

Verse 2

Hit the road or face the facts.

There’s something that your system lacks.

The very next time you go to relax,

You’ll go down from the Pleasure Tax

We all try to rationalize situations we are not sure of.   We attempt to explain why things happen – or things that happen to us.  We try to understand the world around us.  When I worked at the instrument music store, I rationalized that I got the job because I was a previous customer and that I could program and understand the new digital MIDI keyboards hitting the market.  Very quickly (months, I believe) I was given my own satellite store to manage.  I opened three more chain stores in a few short years.  In reality, I probably bought more in equipment than I got paid to work there!  Almost kidding, but I understood a lot of the toys and had played with a bunch of them, but to get a room full of toys all day long and then get paid to learn all I could about them, well, I won’t get into religion here but that was heaven on Earth.  I would have done it for free.  And do you know how I rationalized being a SALES MAN? (I am pretty anti-establishment from way back………..) I tried to listen to where the customer was coming from and what they needed.  From there I would teach them what I knew about gear that would help get them to the next level.   Everyone needs to get to the next level.  That is what I am doing today.  It is what you are doing right now.

And sometimes we need to explain to ourselves why.   Why do I need to buy that new toy?  Why do they like me?  Why does the sun always shine where I am?  Why aren’t things working as I planned.  Why don’t they understand me?   What did I do right or wrong?  This has bugged me all my life and I hope it does not get to you.  Working in the music store(s) I sold gear to a lot of bands. Some people were regulars.  Always something needed, some new gear.  One of the bands told me that their sound man was on vacation and they needed someone to run sound for them.  It SEEEEEEMED logical to ask me, I knew about the mixing boards and PA systems.  But I had never run sound before ( truth in advertising alert – – – I did run sound for one other band prior to this but that is a funny story I wanted to share with you later.  So I did it once before  ….. technically  …….) What would you do?  These are good customers and by now good friends too.  If I run sound and really suck, the friendship and the work relationships are out the window.  I let them know I do not have a lot of experience but if they don’t have anyone else I would be glad to help.  They decide to go with me for the vacation gigs.  I run through the checklist a thousand times in my head.  I set the stage and house equipment up methodically, I run through the gain staging like riding a bike, I get the monitors working and run CD audio through the mains to test them.  Time to start.   Big crowd.   Lots of people and friends.  As you can imagine I am rapidly cycling through excitement, concern, confusion, fear, panic, and jazzed up one after the other.  The band starts playing and they are soooooo good I just relax.  I think even I can make these guys sound good!  I was lucky.  From what I remember the event was fine.

Their sound man decided to move onto other things and when he came back from vacation I was asked to take his place.  Again I had to rationalize;  well, they only like me cause I can get them a deal at the store. Well, they like me because I can set up the equipment pretty fast.   Well, it went over well because they are really tight and have great equipment.   You have probably done that a bunch of times as well.  It was hard for me to accept all the way down to the point of knowing that they noticed and appreciated the mix.  Their fans did too but most importantly, so did the band wives!  Never forget the power of the spouse!  So now for the first time, I am involved with a real band.  I am the regular sound guy.  The Band understands the power of the PA, and they determine that the sound guy gets equal cut…… as if he is as important to the overall sound as the individual band members were.  Amazing concept and it worked so well over the years.  I could not rationalize my way out of deserving that one; we worked as a team and the band always sounded great.

All this from knowing how to program a digital keyboard.