Posts Tagged ‘#Midi’

Annette Rogers from jjaR at MSK Studios

Early in 1996 I was introduced to a Cincinnati band called “jjaR”. I met them while they were playing at a popular club called Top Cats. I was really impressed with the band and their original songs. Annette Rogers was the lead vocalist and she commanded the room with her emotional portrayal of each song. The band was intense and dynamic.

March 13th, 1996 we started recording in my home studio. They were troopers. I have a small space for recording with no isolation rooms for drums, vocals, etc. The band wanted a clean demo. They did not want a lot of processing and effects in the mix. A band after my own heart!

jjaR at MSK Studio in 1996

We did two separate sessions. The first session was mixed on March 26th, 1996. I was recording on the Alesis ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) machine for the first project. We only had 8 tracks to work with back then and no computer editing or effects. They were pros. They set up, got settled in and played their songs with obvious passion.

One of their tracks appeared in a collection of bands our local radio station WEBN (102.7FM) published on CD. They were featured on the second annual CD release. Deary Me Presents – Cincinnati Scene II included “Food Chain Of Love” on the 3rd track of the compilation CD. You can still find a copy or two on on-line.

Here are a few tunes from Project 1 for your enjoyment.

jjaR at MSK Studio – Food Chain Of Love
jjaR at MSK Studio – Super Size
jjaR at MSK Studio – Aliens
jjaR at MSK Studio – Misunderstood

On the 30th anniversary of our performance with NRSB at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, I want to share a vintage video of that once and only performance. All original songs by members of this incredible band. I am so glad this was captured by hand-held camera out in the audience! Thanks DR.

Part I

Part II https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCv8NrHglpk&list=PL6nW06rbKPIo97mbrFsrAWed2OUaDvMkF&index=12&t=0s

We were just a bit ahead of our time.

I would like to share another half-baked instrumental piece with you. When you have written over 175 songs you have to try very hard to discover new things. Sometimes we audio engineers can get stuck in a rut too. We use dependable tools and procedures until we slowly lock ourselves into a production-line-song making-engine.

If you are a label, publisher etc., you will appreciate the cookie-cutter assembly line model. You would benefit from the homogeneous funnel that affects all the broadcast music we listen to today. As you can tell from my previous posts, I choose not to be main stream and often try the unusual or untested. But this is where I will stop whining about a music industry that only wants to back the mega mega stars of today. Our favorite musicians from the past would never get a break in today’s world. Long live rock and roll.

This song is in the chopping block stage. For fun, I noodle with varied instruments all the time. Most of it is nonsensical and I archive or delete it. Often there are really good gems in a sea of debris. On occasion, most of what I created sounds good and for some reason I like it. There are parts that work well and others that need to be enhanced or deleted. The software is capable but fairly easy to edit and “copy – Paste”. If you like or dislike a section, please let me know the min/sec in your comments.

This recording was a little unusual in the process side of things. I started with a metronome click track in my computer. I picked up my guitar (always in tune) and set up the computer (always ready to record) and – I am being literal here – found a chord on the guitar. Without regard for key or scale or root, I just kept trying different positions until I liked the sound and voicing of the chord. I started recording just that chord in various styles for a few minutes. Each chord clean and distinct. Then I would play a pattern or arpeggio with the same voicing. Then a few hard hits. Next I stopped recording, found another chord and repeated that process.

Once I had a number of guitar parts that I liked, I arranged them along a measured grid to create a single guitar track. I used chords for different segments of the song to create the chorus and bridges. Once the guitar was assembled I listened to the guitar and recorded MIDI bass guitar, piano and drums using the plug-ins in my software (Cakewalk/Sonar/Bandlab). The drums have a jazzy dynamic feel and I like the way some of this song fits together. I imagine watching for the sunset or sunrise over the hill on a chilly but beautiful day. That’s just me.

I have to fix a lot of things and it is not complete as I cautioned, but I hope you like it. BTW, I call it “134” because that is the tempo! I really have to work on my naming skills.

MSK Yellowstone

MSK Yellowstone

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Photo by MSK Yosemite

Burning Impressions That Last Forever                                 

“Single Desire” was written in a time when I must have had a lot to say.  The year was 1988. Once love has grabbed you it can burn deep.  No matter how you want things to turn out, sometimes you have no control on the direction they take.  You find yourself helpless at the time and unable to avoid mistakes that seem obvious even to you.  Single Desire tries to describe the condition when adoration is not reciprocal.  When you are not loved in return.  Only one thing matters and nothing you can do will make it happen.

When the other person learns that type of control is in their hands, they have power that can turn lovers insane.  He/She can make the helpless romantic into a tool that can be discarded when no longer useful.  There is no cost to them.  Displays of charm and hints of affection can destroy all resistance and common sense in the admirer.

We need to wait until the fire burns out completely before we can stop following and finally walk away.  The problem is there is usually very little left to walk away with.

I tried to give this song a full arrangement as powerful as the lyrics (or the idea behind them) felt to me.  I knew I could not sing it the way it required so I called my  good friend and band-mate Gary Jefferson as I have many times over the years to do the vocal tracks.  My wife Ellen does the chorus ‘response’ vocal parts.  I used my keyboards and MIDI tone generators to do all the instrumental tracks including the drums, strings, brass and bass guitar parts, and invited my buddy Shawn Anderson to come over and lay down the lead guitar tracks. Harlen Lee, another great friend of mine, came in and added additional guitar parts.  I really like the bass guitar line, and think the strings add movement and dramatic accents to the song.

Please give “Single Desire” a few plays to let it sink in and I hope you enjoy.

Written 8-27-1982 by MSK and I recorded it around 4-1983.

The main melodic themes for this song were inspired by my Yamaha DX7 ‘tine’ sound. That sound (or patch) has been used in many professional recordings since the keyboard was introduced.  The guitars and vocals are real-time of course, and everything else was sequenced.

Ann Ellis from my band The Personal Touch does the vocals on this one.  I would play the main piano part and she would sing the lyrics until we got the timing and the feel the way we wanted it.  From that point I sequenced the main piano part.  Every time I play this song I play it as you hear it in this recording, but I play a different last chord.  No two versions have the same ending, and I never know what the last chord will be.  My wife Ellen and I worked on the backing sounds like the strings, brass and pads to make this a full sounding production.  Once I had the basic piano parts and drums done, I don’t think we ever added a dedicated bass line as the song ended up sounding very full.

My buddy Shawn David Anderson plays lead guitar on this one and really drives home with the power and tone I was hoping for.  The lyrics are one of my favorites.  Not necessarily by themselves, but when reflecting on the emotions and events of the time. True multi-track recording capabilities gave me the option to create complex instrumental layers as opposed to the limited recordings I had been able to achieve from a four-track cassette deck!

I even sent this song to be evaluated by professionals.  Among some of the comments it was suggested that the song was too long and that the intro went too long before the vocal lines were introduced.  I have a version that starts when the vocals kick in, but this is my favorite version.  I hope you agree.

Mara – The Making of a Video

I usually did not have to search for new projects.  There were plenty of musicians, bands and performers that did not have a lot of resources – or cash – when starting out.  Working at the local music store chain, I was lucky to know some great players, writers, and musicians of all sorts.  l am attracted to talented people of all kinds.  I often wish listeners of my music would give me the benefit of the doubt that I gave to many of the people I met and came to appreciate.  I realize my songs are not always ‘radio worthy’ or commercially viable, and always hoped someone would look beyond that and realize the songs I offered for what they could be if recorded professionally and marketed on a large scale.  Maybe that day will still come, but back then there were a number of artists that I could help take the next step.

Word got out that I had an understanding of technology and could usually pick things up quickly.  I absorbed owners manuals, dedicated time and when possible drafted other talented people to make projects work.  One of the fun and exciting things I got to do was shoot and edit live musical band performances.  MakeShift Kreations was an early company name I came up with using my initials: M S K.  I believe this was filmed way back in 1988!!!

Using the same video and editing suite from the cable company available for local access channels that I used for my first conceptual video: “Walking Man” I learned how to use multi camera filming and video editing techniques.  In some situations I offered to do videos for friends as this was a new (again, at the time!) medium and was very expensive for most bands.  In Part I, I would like to present the video I made of Mara, a local band with highly talented musicians.  My wife Ellen and I did all the camera, editing and post production work.  These are their original songs performed live over a two-night period. It was a lot of work, but I learned a lot and had a great time.

Please use the following link to see the Mara: Part I video:

https://youtu.be/VwKz1Po4_XM

The Cotton SongGoing With the  Flow                                                                                                                                This is a calming piece based on the string sounds from one of the plug-ins on my recording software program.  Sometimes a new sound or new toy can inspire themes, songs and projects.  This is one of those situations where I am listening to new sounds and noodling on the keyboard to hear the new tones and to see how the patch responds to the keyboard and controllers.  As I was listening to the new sounds, I enjoyed the string sound I was playing with and started recording the noodling I was doing.  I played for about five or six minutes and stopped recording to listen back.

The first section I scrapped and the rest was rather pleasant (sometimes this is a surprise indeed!).  While listening I started hearing harmonies in my head so I started recording on a 2nd track and used the same string sound to add another layer.  After that I stopped.  I like the mood this inspires.  I am not sure why I called it Cotton Song, but I got the feeling of being in the South overlooking plantations.  So it stuck!  I did not change anything and mixed it down to what you hear in this post.  Other versions of noodling or just playing with sounds rarely turn into a solid piece, so I have tons of snippets that have nice themes but to date have never been expanded upon.  One of these days I will listen to other noodling sessions and I might make something out of them.  For this song, have a cup of tea, sit back for a little bit and let your mind and body relax.  Admit it… you could use that right about now!

 

 

In most situations when you want to record a performance, you might not have a lot of time to set up.  The environment might not be perfect, and there are other needs than getting a great recording.   I have tried and been quite successful with a number of techniques.  I will offer a few here for your consideration.

Getting a good mix from the sound board Mono Out or Main Left and Right Outs in a small or medium size venue is very easy to set up, but most likely to be disappointing. The needs of the audience in a live situation can be the exact opposite from the recording engineer’s.  As mentioned in the beginning of this series, LSR is reinforcement.  The sound person will amplify the weaker signals in the House or Mains; vocals – along with a LOT of effects, acoustic guitars, flutes, and even the drums.  They might not need to reinforce the lead or bass guitar as much. So the board mix is heavier on vocals, effects, and keyboard in some cases.  Not a great listen for most people.                                                                                                                                       You can set up a sub-mix if the sound guru gives you access.  If they run Left (Mono) like most venues, you can create your own mix using the Right Mono out.  Using the pan for each channel, keep full signal going to the Left out, and pan toward Center position to send desired amount of signal to the Right out.  You might want to isolate the guitar or bass, add a little toms if they are mike’d, but not heavy in the mix.  You can mix the two outs if you record in stereo and get a great live sound.  This will not give you a perfect stereo field, but most audiences do not remember concerts in stereo.  The sound seems to come from the stage, not left and right cabinets in front of the stage. 

I have also had luck with those portable stereo digital recorders available now for what I think is really cheap for what they do.  You need to set them up correctly and take care of them but they are so easy to set up and you get great sound in various environments.  If you have a SAFE place where you will hear more of the band than the audience (sounds easier than it really is) this is worth a try.

As we moved the song “My Heart is Silent” forward, I wanted to give you an update in the process.  New chord structure keeping some of the vibe from the first version and new vocals and you can see how quickly songs can change from the original concept.  The last version had a female vocalist and this time we hear from a friend of Mack.  His name is Carlos and he has a smooth ballad vocal style. Again, this is the first vocal attempt to give us an idea how the song feels with a male vocalist and more of a structured feel to the verses. 

 We decided to go with a spoken intro for the first verse.  I like the way it opens the song and allows us to build the vocals as the song progresses.  Oddly enough, a lot of the lyrics went back to the original as the song structure fit the words a bit easier.  We also considered doing a male-female duet.  No final decision yet and we are still thinking about back-up vocals to enhance some of the lines from each verse to drive the end of the song as it builds up.   

 I added MIDI string parts after the piano intro.  The drum parts and bass guitar are also all MIDI generated coming from the computer.  I added a low-key rhythm guitar part during the chorus and later verses.  Once we have the vocal parts finalized we may add other instruments as the song progresses toward the end.   

 So what do you think?  Male vocalist, female or duet?   

 What other instruments do you ‘hear’ in the final version?  Saxophone?   Brass? Orchestral?  Lead guitar? 

 Do you like the spoken opening verse rather than jumping straight into the melody? 

 Here is the latest rough mix of “My Heart Is Silent”. 

A Song in the Making Part III

A Song in the Making Part II

A Song in the Making

As Part II of this series I will post the rough version of the heart of the musical components starting with the Piano and basic arrangement of the new song, “My Heart Is Silent”.  © 2016. Click here to read Part I. 

For the Piano we are using an 88 wood weighted keyboard controller.  It is an older Yamaha KX88.  As you will remember from the MIDI series posted earlier (LINK) the KX88 makes no sound at all.  While it has the play and feel of a real piano, it sits on a keyboard stand and I use the MIDI OUT to connect through a router I have straight to the computer.  In future posts I will go into more detail on how the sounds are generated and what I am using to get each sound. We recorded a few passes and because this is MIDI, I had the ability to move pieces around as we focused in on the arrangement.

The piano player listened to a glorified ‘click track’ I created with a MIDI drum controller from my Alesis Control Pad.   It has 8 assignable trigger pads and a cymbal trigger that can be set to trigger sounds from any MIDI device, but again I am going straight to the computer and using internal sounds for the drum parts.  This way we can record the piano part with the correct tempo even though there are no other instruments recorded yet.  This also makes editing easier if everything fits within the measures.  When we rearranged the sections I  ‘cut and paste’ parts from one place to another just the way you would with a Word document.  This makes life much easier for the recording engineer (yours truly).  If this was recorded with a microphone and without the click track it would be awkward to work with.

The KX88 also has sustain and volume controller pedals attached, so to the piano player it acts and feels quite natural.  Mack E. is my partner in creating this new song.  He read the lyrics I wrote to “My Heart Is Silent” and asked if he could take them home and work on the music.  This is a theme he has had in his personal arsenal for a while.  He played a bit with the tune and came up with a melody for the lyrics.  We worked on the arrangement until we were happy with it and here is the rough version of the piano chords.  We will add other instruments and vocals later but for now we have a good foundation for the song so we can build support instruments to fill out the song.