Posts Tagged ‘#performance’

Greg Stern

MSK Studio

Part of the challenge in writing songs is how difficult it might be to convey a particular feeling or message to studio musicians.  All players should be heading in the same direction, playing the same tune, moving at the same tempo and so on.  Creating soundscapes must be a lot like painting.  Drawing the lines and forms are one thing, but which color is best?  There are so many available yet each one conveys a unique mood or feeling.  Sounds can be like that.  We asked a guitar player/friend of ours to come up with guitar tracks for a project I was working on.   This was for a cable TV project looking for sound tracks for an automotive enthusiast series.  We wanted to give the guitar parts a bit of mood setting so we asked him to create tracks that would generate the feeling of …

an engine or racing car, crunchy, powerful

drive – movement – acceleration, fast, fluid

Using basically no more than the above “instructions” he gathered toys and used the word imagery to shape the sound and the playing style for these tracks.  We used the same list to come up with the basic tracks for the song.  This song is an adaptation of a song I wrote a long time ago and we called it The Big D Jam.  I originally composed this song using the Arp Odyssey synthesizer.  I programmed a pretty cool sounding bass patch and came up with the bass line and skeleton of the song.  This song in its original version was performed when I was with The Personal Touch years ago.  If it was a rockin’ crowd we would let Ric Ahlers jam a bit on the solo parts.  I put some simple lyrics to it and it was a really fun song to play out.  Recently I pulled it out of the song closet and re-wrote the chorus.  I also used new software plug-ins from my computer for all the sounds.  This was amazing for me because I have all this fancy gear with cool sounds and I am not using them at all.  In this post, I wanted to give you an idea how the song progressed. The new sounds are just amazingly clear and natural.  I will post in the near future the complete mix with vocals and effects.  When the sounds and the performance match the request or target, the song seems like it was made to order.

Some of you may notice right away that this song is a little different.  The beat is not the same as many other songs.  I enjoy playing in different time signatures.  Not too weird, but I like different beats and even tempo changes if done right.  This song is played in 3/4 time rather than the more traditional 4/4 time. It gives it more of a waltz kind of feel to the measures.  This is a straight forward recording with me and my Ovation 12 string guitar.  There is a hint of a long reverb.

Castles     To me, this is a rather sad song.  I have seen many relationships that should last forever crumble in front of me.  People that were dedicated and adored each other turned to bitter enemies.  Mutual friends and family stuck with unpleasant decisions.  Broken hearts and lives.  Sometimes there are innocent and guilty, but not as often as you would think.  The rooms themselves seem to whisper a sad tale.  Even the pictures are affected by the loneliness and help tell the tragic but all too familiar tale.  Using common excuses as cliche’s the chorus sums it up fairly well while the verses bounce from past to present.

This is not about the relationships that start out with lies or Jekyll/Hyde waiting for you.  This is more about someone wanting to mold you.  Over powering or just with  persistence.  These extreme situations would quickly spin out of control.  Some that begin with love turn vicious.  And as a reminder these are people that professed they loved each other not long ago.  I don’t know how that is possible, frankly.   Best wishes to you if you have ever had to deal with this situation.

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!

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Our banner designed by Marty Gillaspy

“Chase The Dream”

When one of the bands I worked with collapsed under the pressures of day to day life, it was quickly resurrected in a new form.  Most of Euphoria members did not want to stop playing so we regrouped with a new guitar player to replace one of the founding members and became The Chase.  We played out with about ten different names for a few months – Scenic Route was another favorite of mine – until we settled on The Chase.  These guys were great.  We had a solid rhythm section, a great lead singer and back up vocals that were tight and an amazing lead guitar player that could feel everything he played. We could play cover songs no other bands would play live.  We also threw in originals from time to time.  The banner was hung one each side of the stage vertically as seen in one of the photos below, and horizontally behind the drum set.  It was pretty eye-catching and a lot of people complimented it.

I am an archivist.  I record everything.  Audio recordings of practice sessions and live performances. Video of many performances and photos of major events.  Before YouTube I posted a number of them on our cable TV Local Access channels using their video editing suite.  I had my fingers in everything.  Some of the projects got finished, but a lot of the raw tapes have only been viewed by me and a select group of people.

I just put together a new video that uses a lot of this vintage raw video and some of the photographs from the time period.  The medium is so old that the quality suffers, but it does a good job of representing the events of the time.  We played in many clubs and outdoor events and I will create future videos to highlight more venues.   For this video I used an original instrumental song that Nick Robinson was working on and our new band, The Chase, made it our own.  There is no video of the song as we only played it out a few times.  Nicky has since re-joined Euphoria when it regrouped a few years ago and is still playing out with some amazing players.

Please check out my latest YouTube post (and other videos while you are there) of his original tune: “Chasing The Dream”.  Enjoy!

Chase The Dream

 

 

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.

There have been many memorable events in my life to date and many more to come.  It might not be apparent at the time the impact any one of them would have at the time.  I have never been diagnosed or treated professionally but I find myself dealing with depression from time to time.  It is impossible to know what triggers those feelings and more difficult to see your way out. On one of those times I could not break the cycle.  I had no motivation or inspiration.  In fact, I did not care at all.  About anything.  I had been through similar situations before so for weeks I kept telling myself it would pass in its own time.  I would get through this one as well.  But that was the only positive thought I had.  Life not worth living.  Nothing made me happy or sad. I forced myself through motions and obligations by shear routine.   I seemed like this would go on forever.  It felt unbearable even though most of my friends had no idea what I was dealing with.

I had tickets to see an amazing show under any circumstances, so I went to see Cirque du Soleil.  It is funny how this affected me.  I watched human beings do what seemed impossible even if you could think of the skills in the first place.  Art and amazing physical prowess seamlessly blended together to tell a story with few words.  Strength and perfection only achieved with years and years of unrelenting practice and sacrifice.  It again showed me the potential of mankind.  Dedication, creativity, trust, respect were all required to make this amazing performance happen.  I realized watching each scene that we are incredible beings when we try. That night I started trying again.  I saw the end of the funk that was created by myself – for myself.  I could see again the beauty of life and the result of hard work when things seem impossible.

History sometimes repeats itself. Funny to think of this after my recent event at a concert to see my musical mentor and hero – Peter Gabriel, performing on tour with Sting.  It is so refreshing to know there are others in the world that struggle to be good.  That work every day to promote peace love and all that corny stuff I could not live without.  In their music and through their lives they can impact so many.  I thought I would never be able to see Gabriel perform.  I have come close, but things did not work out. They almost did not work out this time either.  Of all the artists/people in the world, his music, words and projects affect me like no other person on this earth.  I am who I am with his unknowing help and guidance.  I struggle to be better knowing it is possible.

I grew up listening to Genesis and following his solo career.  I am not obsessed and do not own everything he has.  I do not know every detail of his personal life or career.  But I do think I ‘know the man’.  I understand him as a man and not an idol.  We are growing old together.

Sting was also amazing and sang a number of Peter’s songs, and performing his own tunes and some from the days of The Police.  For me, it was precious, unforgettable and one of the greatest musical experiences I have had.

While performing with my last cover band, Crash Landing, we played local clubs, festivals and private parties.  In this picture of a live set up, you will see a fairly standard rock/blues/country/alternative/jazz band stage arrangement;  drums center rear, Lead Vocalist center front.  Keys (and/or rhythm guitar) on the left as you look at the stage and the lead guitar player on the right.  In smaller clubs the keyboards get crunched back in the corner next to the drummer……  no sour grapes here!  Bass player close to the drummer. (either side doesn’t really matter)  In reality, most bands will not practice in this configuration, but this is the way most of us play out live and we are quite used to it.  In our case, Crash Landing has a number of vocalists.  All but the drummer sings in this band.  The bass player takes front stage position and sings a number of lead vocals.  So does the guitar player.  You can see where the microphone stands are placed for the vocalists.  Close up pictures later in this series will show other microphone positions for the instruments.  These are good places to start.  If you have limited time or setting up for a number of bands in an evening, you go with the standard format and shape the sound from the board as much as possible.  Knowing or having experience doing the quick set-up successfully a few times you will see the standard configuration and mic placements work well for the vast majority of performances.

We can also see the positioning of the vocal stage monitors across the front of the stage.  There are various thoughts on how to set these up but the differences can seem minor.  For this many vocalists across the front, this spacing and direction worked fairly well.  The drummer and/or other non-vocalists might also need monitors.  (it would not be unusual for the keyboard player requiring a monitor to hear the keyboards and a vocal mix if they sing)  This stage size gives players room to breath AND hear.  When inside on a smaller stage, everything seems to collide and jumble.  Outside you can hear yourself play much better (depending on the sound engineer, of course) and at times you might actually struggle just a little to hear the other players!  Take two steps closer to them and they are plenty loud.  This should be an easier situation for a sound engineer.  If I had to do a first gig in my life as a practice run, I would want to do an outdoors gig.

Crash Landing

Thinking about a recent post where we shared our first concert experiences, I was reminded about my first concert to see The Grateful Dead. I was fairly young and the environment was overwhelming and exciting.

We used to play one of their songs called “Mr. Charlie”. The Grateful Dead are off beat by nature and this is one of their songs most people have not heard.  I recorded this cover song a couple years ago and decided to pull it out of the ‘deep-freeze’ and post it for the fun of it.

When I was in cover bands, we were pretty much forced to play main stream or currently airing songs.  I would suggest the unknown songs often but understood when we played only a few.  This one never got the approval either, but the core group used to warm up on this one and I just like the flavor of the song.

Credits to The Grateful Dead.  This is my Ovation 12 String guitar and I do a little harmony.  Hope you have a little fun with this as well.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated so far in my “Who Do You Love” post.  There were some very interesting lessons as I collected and listened to the recommended songs  that have influenced us over the years.  I say us intentionally.  You are the best group of people I have never worked with!!  LOL.  I mean that in a kind way.  It is easier for some people to develop good relationships with some one they work with or “serve” with.  The bonds can last a life time.  We do not have that work platform, but the friendships made here are also very strong.

I was equally surprised by two things:  1) I knew a lot of these songs and bands and 2) I didn’t     know a lot of these bands and songs!!  It took me a long time to go through them all.  But there are some gems in here.  Many are the best of their category – NOT necessarily the most popular or the one with the most airplay.  I encourage you to look deeper into comments as I will not list them all here again, but I want to point out a number of them that caught my ear.   A lot of your suggestions were passionate and you can tell there is a lot of history and emotional connections in the lists. Here are just a few – but again not a complete list of the gems you suggested. Please continue to post your musical influences.  I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from your suggestions.  I hope others get a kick out of these too!  IN NO ORDER WHATSOEVER

Active Child – what a range the vocalist has.  Unusual set of musical toys, and lyrical   themes and vocal textures blend into a unique soundscape.  They create a house and invite you in.  Well worth the visit.

Switchfoot –  “Hello Hurricane”, This is a clean sounding song. Well recorded and mixed. Driving beats and vocal power that can be smooth and open.  Good blends in harmonies.  Good energy and I like the ay the song builds at a slow pace.

Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands.   Here is another great blending artist.  Nice harmonies and the background music surprises with different arrangements and instrumentation.  Very good dynamics.  Addictive style that is pleasant and easy to relate to.

Bat for Lashes – Laura is a great example of this artist’s prowess.  She quickly sets up the mood and the tone and then lays the lyrics on you with vocals that seem to have more control than humanly possible and enough emotion to cause global warming.

For raw power with a message it is hard to beat La Dispute.  Combining a number of styles into a passionate assortment of lyric driven songs.  A speaking style not trying to be rap that works very well for this group.  Great driving music for a long trip.

I have to mention this because it was cool from an historical point:

https://ahigherrevelation.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/triple-js-20-years-of-hottest-100-countdown-what-did-i-vote-for/

I was really fascinated to check out Barclay James Harvest.  These guys are right up my ancient alley and I have never heard of them.  I know this might not be the most popular suggestion the community has suggested, but they cover all the progressive territory of other bands I am familiar with.  Some of the video clips from around 1979 are out there and worth an evening or two.

I had heard Ed Sheeran before, but wasn’t that familiar with his works.  Nice variety, works on a good image – that is a good guy image and it comes of very well for him. He tries to add variety and the songs are great.  It was definitely worth my time digging more into his songs and videos.  Great voice.  Solid music and production.

Kate Nash – Nicest Thing.  I can see why this is a favorite.  The style is intentionally out there and it has the sneaky ability to pull you in instead.  When you can make comfortable and eerie blend perfectly you have a great emotional landscape play in.   She calls this her territory and of course the lyrics pull you right into the main theme. Good call.

City & Color – As Much As I Ever Could is another great example of a band that has it all. The vocals are outstanding and his control is impressive.  Lyrics are fine and fit the ballad style of this song.  Band dynamics are worked out by what seems to be magic. Harmonies kick in and punch it for added tension and for me the keyboards are a great touch.

Dave Koz’s tunes are cool jams and the performers are all top notch.  You don’t have to be a genius to get into their grooves as well.  Slick mix production.  If it is time to sit back and enjoy, take in a few of these live performances and watch the players do some cool stuff.

Ian Carr’s Nucleus – Roots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-Cu5TJm0GI This is a great progressive jazz.  Maybe an acquired taste for some but worth checking out for the chops and creative jamming.
Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul – I Need You: https://youtu.be/U7uJ_zddoSs This is another great jam band with solid grooves and guys that know their axe.  Percussion to die for and the organ player is pretty top notch.  Great live musical fun.

The Hep Stars got by me completely somehow.  You can hear a lot of influences that were dominant at the time.  Good vocal blend and the recordings are actually pretty good. They captured the times and the look and ran with it.  For a blast from the past this is a good history lesson.

 The Raconteurs are a great groove band with a heavy guitar sound.  The vocals and the harmonies are well worth the price of admission. For a lively rocking jam, this is a great place to start soaking up some new tunes.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu9hj_kMm48

This video stands on its own, but the vocals have to be heard to be believed from The Temper Trap.  Great name too.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMuuc_pqx2s is a great song with a vision.

 Lana Del Rey is one of those artists you have to sample more than one song to get a feel of the true talent.  Maybe listening a few times would help, but once you cross over she has a powerful musical presence.  Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_1aF54DO60 for the unfamiliar.

Manic Street Preachers have a great Brit rock/POP sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nusymqINrSc is a fun video to start with.  Good clean style, great vocals and they are not afraid of dynamics.  They also love a song with a theme or message, so good for a fun musical cruise.

Acoustic Alchemy are worth noting for a band that has chops and a smooth modern jazz style.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVtQHpwv9sE is a good example of their live performances.  Fun jams and precision licks from a talented group and for a nice addition try a “Shelter Island Drive”.

Notables: 

Ashestoangels

Sufjan Stevens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asCLMdrWuA0 for eye candy.

From The National, try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-Tod1_tZdU to set the tone for the evening.  A vocal and visual treat.

Amaia Montero – Quiero Ser and I have no idea what she is singing, but I can understand why it was recommended’

Thank you again.  I really enjoyed this project and thank all that participated and to all the thought put into it, even if you did not post your list!

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You may think this funny, but my first real concert was a Grateful Dead concert.  I was seventeen or eighteen at the time.  I had seen bands perform at parks or other small events, but this was my first concert.  The thing I remember most to this day were the huge balloons that the audience and band members would smack back and forth the entire evening.  I was not that familiar with their music but I had heard references (“It’s not for lack of bread, like the Grateful Dead; dying”, from the musical play Hair, which I also saw!) but had not really heard much of their music before.

The second thing that I noticed was how communal the audience was.  It is unlike other concerts.  Everyone was friendly and happy to be there.  It was a different group of people.  They enjoyed the music, enjoyed the event and everyone got along.  I wish more of the concerts I have seen had audiences that resembled The Grateful Dead fans.

What was your first concert? What do you remember about it?