Posts Tagged ‘#studioengineer’

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!

I’ve admitted in earlier posts that I observe people a lot, and that I get a number of ideas for songs from watching other people;  friends, family, co-workers, I steal from them all!  I can empathize with people as they face challenges and triumphs in life.  I try to understand what it feels like to be in those situations even though I myself might not be directly affected by them.

I also have some rather obvious political points of view.  I can understand why there are those that do not always agree with my positions but in many cases I can still understand theirs.  In this song I basically insult every group I can think of!  As you are more than likely in at least one of these groups I apologize in advance.  In a lot of ways, this song summarizes the items on my Love – Hate list.  I hate things that should work but do not, and I really hate personal and corporate greed.  The song uses a lot of references to things we would hear on the news, although it was written a long time ago.  Unfortunately most of the issues are the same today!

Recording this song took a LONG time.  We did rough mixes here and there changing this or that, but it did not feel right from beginning to end.  Eventually, I think we rearranged some of the chorus/verse structure and it just fell into place.  For some songs this is the agonizing part;  all the components are there and sound good, but the piece as a whole just does not grab you.  I might have even tried changing tempo on this one to get it right.

If this is not the first song I did using my new Alesis ADAT recorder it was one of the first.  I was also transitioning from the Atari computer to a Windows machine, so not everything went smoothly!  I played electric guitar on this one (I have a few guitars and do not know which one was used for each song but my guess this is either my Ibanez or a Yamaha 6 string) and did all the sequencing and drum tracks as described earlier.  My wife does the vocal main lines.  Using the limiter/compressor chain I described from other songs the vocals are recorded so they stay soft and spooky and a little eerie as the lyrics become more and more cynical.  A bunch of family and friends came in and did the voice add-ons.  You can hear both our daughters, my co-writing brother and a few neighbors help out with the spoken parts.  I ‘sing’ the chorus.

The bass line in this one is particularly cool because it is my Oberheim Matrix 6 synth and it has this patch or sound that continues to play an arpeggio (sequence of predetermined notes) as long as you hold a key down.  So the bass lines are done by holding one note for a while but hearing many notes played.  We even got to play with one of the audio samplers from the music store and used it to trigger the ‘broken word’ parts.   Once we got the arrangement right it was just fun to ‘decorate’ the basic tracks and add a little movement to the mix.   Have fun with this one.

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I have shared a number of experiences that have been about loss. Unfortunately, when you get older, you have more experiences watching the achievements of a life’s work and loves dissolve.  There are many types of loss and a personal friend of mine has been going through a very difficult time.  I just needed to share my experience and thoughts. Over these posts I have often mentioned working at local music stores and the benefit of knowing some awesome people. One of the friends I worked with for years and formed a great partnership “co-owning” the music store with all those years ago has had a devastating loss. As social media is …. he found out from friend’s texts and e-mails that while he was traveling, his house burnt down. His job is demanding and a lot of people depend on him to be there. He could not get home and as we all need to do from time to time; he had to rely on his friends and family (many times they are the same thing).  He is still away and has not seen his home other than on the news and through social media.

I would like to let you know that we have successfully completed the ‘search and rescue’ mission.  We got anything we could out of the building during the days of rain with holes in the roof.  It was a scramble with trusted friends.  We hauled ass and a bunch of other things.  Some musical instruments are damaged beyond use or repair and some have hope of restoration or managed to remain untouched by the whole thing!   He is a musician and like me has an insatiable love for art, music, friendship and making the world better than it would be without us in it.  This has got to be devastating.  For me, carrying out each old and precious instrument or piece of gear,  had a deep impact.  Others worked on his art and personal belongings.  I have heard their stories and all have a deep sense of loss.  No one was hurt.  Many things can be replaced.  But as the fire and then the water took their toll, a lot of his life’s work did dissolve.

We are working now on cleaning and saving as much as we can.   As my daughter Alisa, who runs my blog, practically grew up in the music store and all my friends, she has known John Van Eaton almost her entire life.  She is creating a positive use of social media and spreading the word through this and other avenues.  We will have a number of benefits to raise money and support to help him work through this until he is able to come home and the resources he will need once he returns.  I will post more info as details come in and thank you – fellow bloggers – for letting me share this with you.  The sharing allows healing.

 For more details or to contribute to his fund, see below.  MIDIMike

Believe it or not, MTV started off as a media outlet for – VIDEOS!  It was not what it is today.  Music videos were still relatively new and there were not that many out there but they started being produced in numbers once MTV provided an outlet for them. The Chicken or the Egg thing all over again.  I did not own any video equipment, but I was familiar with photography and music, so it was a natural interest for me.  Back then, cable companies were starting to set up monopolies in various cities throughout the US and we were in the Warner Amex territory.  As part of their agreement with the city to provide cable and other services, Warner Amex made some of their equipment and channels available to local citizens. They provided training and allowed non-profit citizens to go through camera and editing training and once completed you could schedule use of their equipment to create content for viewing on their Public Access channels.

I was one of the first (my card was # 000090!!) to sign up for the training classes.  I would borrow their equipment and film bands and live performances, family growing, along with a number of other projects.

My first project was to make a video that introduced the idea and benefits of the Public Access program, (we hoped if we had a complimentary message it would be good for PR and relationships with the people that administered the program, (we were right). and a music video idea we had been working on.  This is by definition low-budget and is dated by equipment and resources available today. But it was a learning experiment and was a lot of fun.  To do a lot of what we did it took a bunch of planning and trial and error.  I had been playing keyboards for a very short time and there are a bunch of mistakes, I was new with the video editing and production, but not this was not bad for the first release.  Usually, I am also the cameraman, but filming my own band required additional operators.  I edited the video from the collection of raw tapes and a live performance of the song.

This video features my younger brother as the narrator and the music is from the duo I was in at the time called, “The Personal Touch.”  The intro theme is a musical piece called “The Big D Jam”.  The video is based on a song the guitar player wrote called “Transaxle“.   We took vague ideas and filmed them all.  Then edited them into something semi-cohesive!  There are a bunch of funny stories that went into the making of Walking Man but I will spare you for now.  The end credits use a song of mine introduced earlier called “The Pleasure Tax“.

As with many of these blasts from the past, there are lots of good memories and a number of painful ones.  Looking at this video again so many years after, I see my youngest brother Chris in his healthy days doing the narrative part introducing the musical video before health problems including throat cancer took their toll.  This is when we thought we would last forever….. there was no end in sight.  We do not last for ever.  For him, the end was so close to the beginning.   We all have our vices, but with legal ones like tobacco and alcohol killing people every day, we all know someone that has been affected by the results. Here is the real message we should be sending; These drugs may not kill you.  You will not lose ten years of your life.  You will survive – and grow old – and suffer – for decades, with a disease that is eating you from the inside out. I am glad I was there to help him a little as he faced the end.  I would have given anything to find another path for him, but he knew where he was going.  It did not stop him and neither could I.

Most of the connectors used for outputs will be 1/4″ male jacks.  These can be for ‘grounded’ (three-wire) or two-wire cables.  To make this part confusing, the cables can be made or changed with adapters to almost any connector type.  For long distances we prefer grounded or three conductor-wire cables as the third wire is used to take common signals from the other two wires, and ‘dump them to ground’.  Common signals would be interference and noise as the plus and negative wires are carrying the signal from the board.  The result is good signal with low noise introduced.  Guitar and keyboard cables typically go shorter distances and typically have a higher or stronger output signal than a microphone for example.  The cables in the snake will use three wire grounded shielded cables even if they are 1/4″ male connectors.

So we might expect to have an XLR connector for the Main Outs to the Main House power amps, but this is not a guarantee.  If 1/4″ jacks are provided it is recommended to use grounded three wire cables.

Most cables will provide a male connector on one end and a similar but female connector on the other end.  Male connectors are often used to connect to In-Puts and Female connectors are often used to connect to the Out-Put.  The male connector of the microphone cable connects to the mixing board In-Put and on the other end the female connector will connect to the microphone out.  Generally speaking there is little advantage plugging an in to an in or an out to another out.   I like to state the obvious LOL!

The mixing board will give us a Main Left and Right out, and probably a Mono Main Out.  These will be connected to the Main or House power amps.  During an event, the amps are usually turned all the way up and the House volume is ultimately controlled by the Main L-R faders on the mixing board.  This is why it is important to turn the Master Volume Faders on the mixing board all the way down whenever connecting or disconnecting equipment or making dramatic changes.

Depending on the board size and configuration you may also have a 1/4″ Direct-Out for many if not all input channels. (this is REALLY cool for recording and a lot of other creative uses…)   These can be really handy for independent channel recording, triggers, audio effects and alternate mixes to name a few.  Basically connect these to external recorder, processor or triggering gear as needed.  I will give some examples as the series expands to other main topics.  You will also have a number of Sends that are used for a variety of tasks and have different names, but with a few configuration details are for the most part the same thing.  Effect Sends, Monitor Sends, Auxiliary Sends, Sub Sends are splitters; they split the signal – keeping the one going to the House or recorder – and allowing you to send a lot or a little of that signal to the Send of your choice using the Send knob. As in the Monitor amps and House amps, the volume knob will ultimately be used to send the proper signal level to the external (and internal) devices or effects.  If you ‘send’ this to a digital delay, it may also have its own input and out put level knobs.

You may also have a two-track input and/or out put.  This is for playing stereo audio devices and for a straight stereo record out option.  Handy to listen to practice tapes, intermission music, PA system tests and other performance related media.

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.

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

I want to give you an idea of perspective on some of the articles I have posted and will continue to post going forward.  This is the first video I have posted and while it is rather BORING, it is so informative at the same time.  I guess I have recorded original tunes since the very late 1960’s.  I recorded everything.  I deleted a lot!  But I recorded everything I could.  I experimented and adjusted and re-did and failed a few more times than I succeeded in the early days to be sure!  I also got into photography and then into video recording.  I practiced the mundane over and over until I got the exposure right, then with video until I could zoom and focus manually.  I joined the photography club in high school and learned to develop and enlarge my own pictures – something I thought was close to magic back in the day!

I shared earlier that I used (and still own!!!) what I think was the first personal computer to come out with built in MIDI ports – The Atari ST!  I used a software program back then to record the MIDI tracks and I could generate SMPTE time code and send a signal from the Atari to sync it up with recording machines (I had the Yamaha 4 track CASSETTE recorder during most of this).  When I talk about old technologies and how we used to record songs (or develop pictures…) It is hard for some to understand the challenges we had and the lo-fi quality of the final mix or product.

I want to use this video as an example of many things I refer to in this blog.  In this video, you will see what I saw when looking at the Atari computer monitor when I was playing or recording tracks.  Keep in mind this is all MIDI equipment available years ago.  The song I posted earlier will now be stripped of all guitars, vocals, effects and additional live sounds you heard on the full mix.  As you watch the video you will hear the sequences being played back live into the VCR input.  I took the monitor video out and connected to video in of the video recorder so this is a straight feed for both.  In the recording software, each “instrument” has a separate track.  Drums are all on one track with additional percussion sounds on different tracks, and as a reminder, each note (as triggered from my DX7 keyboard) represented a different drum/percussion sound coming from a drum machine.  You can hear the metronome from the Atari ticking away in the back ground as it is set to record.  As each track plays you can see the musical notes light up depending on the intensity of the track information.  You can also see the tempo of the song, the names of the tracks and the measures and beats as they click by.

The main piano sound is probably familiar to many of you even if you are quite young. It is the classic Piano Tine sound from the Yamaha DX7 synthesizers.  This video should also give you a sense of quality and resolution available at the time.  It might be difficult to hear the difference in song recording quality today, but we are all familiar with video resolution and HD cameras and large screen TV and computer standards available now.  Just think how this applied to the audio quality back then and then play some really old songs you grew up listening to.   It gives a better appreciation and perspective for some of the classic songs that seem to live forever.

 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.