Thursday, June 17, 2021

Album Breakdown

The tracklist for Petrichor, my new album (released today!), is as follows:

1.  Shadow Puppets - the only instrumental song on any of my six eponymous albums
2.  Light Pollution - about the things that blind us to an objective reality
3.  Rat Race - about dedicating a life to making money for someone else
4.  Out to Get You - about people who believe in insane conspiracy theories
5.  The Regular - about that guy at the end of the bar who is always there
6.  Haunted - about the memories left behind when a person is gone
7.  Plastic Flowers - about the ever-adaptable American Dream
8.  Petals in the Grass - about the self-destructive nature of insecurity
9.  Dandelion Wine (If Only...) - about making the most of what you've got
10. Holiday - about going stir crazy
11. Wasted - about how bad habits can affect the people we care about

I don't really think of my songs in terms of singles, so if there's one in here that you particularly like, by all means, please promote it. Personally, I like all of them and wouldn't have released these songs if I didn't. I just kind of operate on the assumption that if I like my music, then hopefully other people will, too. (I tend to think of comedy in a similar light, where the first step in crafting a joke or a bit is to make myself laugh.)

In case you're wondering, the album cover of Petrichor came from a picture that my spouse accidentally took of the inside of her pocket. I then played around with it in Photoshop until it looked like an abstract oil painting. On the physical CD (available soon), the back cover is also an accidental photo that she took. 

Basically, I like the idea of finding beauty where you least expect it, so I attempted to transform these "happy little accidents" (to quote the late, great Bob Ross) into art. I should note that my partner is actually a very talented photographer. In fact, Jamie took the cover photo for Better Days as well. I remember that the first thing that I said when I saw it was that it looked like an album cover -- even though it would be another eight years or so before I got around to writing and recording it. 

I have a lot of favorite songs on Petrichor (and Better Days, for that matter). Granted, whenever I make something new, that's usually my favorite thing that I've done, at least until the next one, but I really am quite proud of these songs. I hope that you like them, too. If so, please share my music with others and encourage them to do the same. This is how it spreads. It'll be good to spread something positive for a change, don't you think?

Four Years Ago Today

It just occurred to me that it was exactly four years ago that I released my first three self-produced albums. Weather Patterns; Mechanical Bull; and Good Night, Fahrenheit all made their worldwide streaming debuts on June 17, 2017. 

Personally, I think that I've come a long way in terms of production value since those earlier albums, which I more or less made in the order listed above. In fact, If you start with track one on Weather Patterns and listen all the way through to the last song on Good Night, Fahrenheit, I think you can probably hear at least somewhat of an improvement in my producing skills.

That's the thing about being self-taught and learning as I go. While I think that total immersion is usually the best way to learn something, at least for me, I also have to claim responsibility for the mistakes that I make along the way. I'm still learning through immersion, and I am responsible for every single element on all six of my self-produced albums, including the stuff that sucks. Sorry, but that's just part of the process. 

At the very least, I hope that you can appreciate the songwriting in my earlier work. I don't mean to suggest that the production is terrible, either, just that I think I've gotten a little better at this over the past four years. That said, if you wish to continue the experiment of hearing firsthand the slow and steady evolution of my producing skills, which are still very much a work-in-progress, the other three albums in chronological order are: Better Days (2019), Embers (January 2021), and Petrichor (today!).

Thanks for listening. Truly. You are the reason why these songs exist outside of my porch and my sunroom. 

New Album Now Available!

Petrichor is now live on YouTube, Apple Music and Pandora. It should be available on other services very soon, if not already. You can also listen to the full album here:


Thanks for listening. I hope you like it. If you do, please share it with others. 

As a one-man-band, I am also a one-man-marketing department, so I really do need your help in getting my music out there. If everybody who likes my music shares it with two friends who might also like it, I'd be interested to see how far and wide it can spread.

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Rational Numbers

A while back, I wrote about my minor fixation* with seeing how many people in the world are listening to my music on Spotify at any given time. I'm not really the type of person to hold onto obsessive habits, in part because they also have my attention span to compete with, so I kind of forgot about it... until last night, when I saw that there were fourteen people listening to my music at the same time. I felt like Navin Johnson when he finds his name in the phone book. (If that reference is lost on you, then you really owe it to yourself to watch the 1979 movie The Jerk. Everything else can wait.)

So far, my record (that I've seen, anyway, not that I'm really looking all that often... honest) is sixteen people listening at one time. I realize that this may not seem like much, but it is in fact 1/20 of the number of people who reside in the town where I grew up. When I was playing live shows, I'd be happy if there were sixteen people present who were actually listening to the music. I don't exactly perform in huge venues, mind you. More often than not, I'm competing for people's attention with close-captioned ESPN and/or their phones. Talk about obsessions.

To the best of my knowledge, Spotify is about the only streaming music site that provides the artist with real-time metrics. I love that people in Argentina, Australia and Mauritania can all hear my music, as can anybody who lives just about anywhere else in the world. This truly amazes me. 

If the "listening now" number ever surpasses the population of my hometown, my mind will be thoroughly blown.

Thanks for listening. If you like what I'm doing, please share it.

* possible band name up for grabs

Three Songs

Hello listeners, fans and people who landed here by accident. Welcome to what I do

Now that I'm done working on the new album (available very soon wherever you get your music), I can get back to sharing individual songs and introducing them as if I was performing for a live audience. Not counting when I was rocking out at the local park a few weeks ago, it's been a while. For more on this, see the picture immediately to the left and/or my Spotify pictures--and yes, I really was playing. I had a nine-volt amp clipped to the back of my belt. I got a lot of cheers and at least a few strange looks from passersby. 

I wrote my most recent two albums during quarantine. It kind of changed my approach to composing, since I wasn't as concerned about performing any of these songs acoustically as a solo artist. This is why so many of these songs are built around instruments other than a guitar, which pretty well dominates my other four albums

Back when I was playing live shows on a fairly regular basis, I rarely brought more than one instrument with me--in large part because I rode my bike. I either had an acoustic guitar or an electric strapped to my back, and that was it. 

Whenever possible, I try to keep things simple

As for the songs that I would like to share with you today, two of them come from the soon-to-be-released Petrichor. Once it becomes available on other streaming sites, I will post links on this blog. For now, the links that I provided before are the same low-resolution versions that I uploaded to my ReverbNation page most recently. 

The first song is called Dandelion Wine (If Only...). This is one of four songs that came out of a particularly prolific week. I imagined the entire video to this song while I was writing it. I'll tell you about that some other time. This track started with an almost painfully slow and simple bassline, and then I built the rest of the song around that. By the time I was done with it, the bassline had totally grown on me.

This song is basically about making the most of what you've got, even if it isn't much... kind of like the open room of a rented house where I record all of my music on a ten-year-old laptop through some forty dollar headphones. Whatever you have, you make it work.


The second track is called Rat Race. This song also started with a bassline and came from that same exceptionally productive week. This might be my current favorite song of mine. It's fun to play and it's fun to listen to loudly. It's structured like a pop song in terms of the chorus to verse ratio, although I wouldn't exactly call it a pop song, per se. 

It's about dedicating a life to making money for someone else as an interchangeable cog in the corporate machine... or, if you prefer, it is about rodents running around in mazes at the behest of scientists who are indifferent to their squalid existence. Either way. I also had a video in mind when I wrote this song. Sometimes that's just how my brain works.


Third, I thought I'd share my song Be Civilized, which comes from my 2019 album Better Days. I played this one on acoustic guitar yesterday for the first time in a while. It's a cool song, and it's quite fun to play.  

It's about reminding ourselves that civilization exists because this is what human beings figured out a long time ago is what we need to do in order to survive, and the more civil we are toward one another, the better our civilization seems to function for everyone. So be kind. Embrace empathy. Always consider the greater good. Be honest to others and to yourself. Don't be an asshole. You know, basic stuff. Imagine if everybody did these things.


Once Petrichor goes live on Spotify and other streaming services, I will let you know. Despite having listened to these songs literally hundreds of times over the past few weeks, I'm pretty excited to hear it. 

I hope you are, too.  


Monday, June 14, 2021

Apparitional

I think that my great-great grandfather might have been a vampire. I don't drink blood or anything, and I do show up in mirrors, but only about one in six of those motion-sensor sinks works for me. I have to wave my hands around in front of the faucet like a lunatic, leaping sideways from one to the next until I find one that works. I usually give up on towel dispensers after the third or fourth try and just flap my hands around like a dog's ears until they're dry. For some reason, these things choose to ignore me, like I'm not even there.

Along these same lines, I cannot find a single review or comment anywhere about any of my music. Zero. This is weird, considering that this site gets hundreds of hits per day and my songs have been streamed tens of thousands of times all over the world. I would love to know who is listening and what you think... unless you don't like it, in which case, please hold your criticisms until after you've recorded six original albums on which you play every instrument. Then see if you can appreciate what I'm doing.

Every once in a while, someone buys my one published book, and for that, there actually is one review that exists out there in the web-o-sphere. I strongly suspect that my book was a required text for a graduate seminar and that the reviewer did not actually read more than a few pages of it. She gave it three stars and wrote one sentence about how the title should be different. Thanks for the tip about my already published book. I will file that under U for unhelpful. Also, if the publishers wanted to change the title, they could have.  

Oddly, I have more reviews on RateMyProfessor than I do about any of my music or other writing. So it you're reading this and you like my music and/or writing, then I encourage you to write a review somewhere, if only to prove that I do in fact exist. I'm starting to feel like Bruce Willis in that movie about the kid who sees dead people. I think it was called Die Hard 6: Die Most Harderest.

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Manuscript

It's always weird to finish a big project, until I move onto the next one.

As a way of transitioning back into other forms of writing, I added all of the new songs to my "master lyrics" document. I then printed them and scribbled some notes to remind me how to play these songs, in case I forget. 

Keep in mind, the notes in my songbook were all written by and for a guy who plays almost entirely by ear, so there are things like "Big F" and "Weird D" in there. I know what I'm talking about, but unfortunately, my knowledge of music theory is limited to that which I have picked up over the years, often by playing with trained musicians who were far better than I. 

Even though the new album is officially done, a part of me still feels compelled to work on music--so typing up all of these lyrics and writing notes to myself kind of helps with that, too, while I figure out what's next. Right now, I am leaning toward writing another novel, while I continue to apply for actual paying jobs.  

The document with all of my songs to date kind of looks like a book when the pages are all stuffed into a three-ring binder. It comprises nearly seventeen thousand words in total. Including the title page and the table of contents, it's 106 pages of lyrics to sixty-four songs. If nothing else, I feel like being able to play these songs in any order is probably a good exercise for my brain.  

Of course, if I mess up a verse from time to time when I'm practicing, this is why. It's also a big part of why I practice. When I listen to my own music in the car or whatever, I count it as a partial rehearsal, too, because remembering all of the lyrics really is half the battle. When I sing along with these songs, if I'm doing it right, my voice aligns with the music in such a way that I cannot hear myself. It's a rather odd phenomenon. 

Petrichor will soon be available wherever you get your music. Thank you for listening and for checking out my blog. You're the real rock stars. I'm just a guy who writes words and music, sometimes together. I also like to bake bread, but I've yet to figure out how to work this into my repertoire.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Petrichor

Petrichor is done. Long live Petrichor.

If you're not familiar with the word and haven't yet looked it up, go ahead. I can wait. 

It's really kind of an ugly word for what it is. However, I think it fits the vibe of this album, and I like to introduce new vocabulary words whenever possible. I do teach English, after all. For what it's worth, I also enjoy gently busting rhymes (but only sometimes). 

Petrichor will soon be able to stream or purchase wherever you get your music. Please do, and if you happen to know anybody else as cool as you, please share my songs with that person, too. We should all hang out sometime.


MVPs

I actually rather loathe advertising, so the following is not meant as an endorsement of any of these products at all. That said, if you like what you hear and want to do something similar, I thought I'd share a few of the instruments that were instrumental (and yes, the pun is absolutely intended. I mean, it's right there, like low-hanging fruit, so of course I'm going to grab it. It's perfectly ripe, after all, so I'd hate to see it go to waste) in the making of this album.

Honorable mention goes to my Telecaster for providing the lead part in Plastic Flowers. The neck pickup, which I replaced with a reissue of a 1963 model, is great for getting round, glassy tones. This thing can cut through a wall of sound with laser precision, like a supervillain carving his face into the moon. This guitar is also responsible for one hundred percent of the guitar and bass tracks on my 2019 album Better Days

An additional shout out (pun also intended) goes to my microphone, which has recorded just about every vocal track on all of my six self-produced eponymous albums that I have released in the past four years. It is a MXL-9000 tube mic with a vacuum tube from Latvia, leftover from a Soviet military stockpile at a time when solid-state transistors rendered them mostly obsolete. I get a clean, warm sound out of it, and when I use other mics, I never end up keeping those takes. Besides, if I set the noise gate to -27db or so, I can record vocal tracks in an open room with my kids playing video games close by and the only thing that comes through is my voice, for better or worse. There may also be some Breath of the Wild in there somewhere, if you listen very closely.

Runner-up, or SMVP, goes to the latest guitar in my arsenal, a semi-hollowbody Gretch, which is largely responsible for the week in which I wrote and recorded four of my favorite songs that bear my name, at least for now. A special thanks also goes to this instrument for providing the mid-range guitar riffs in the background of Rat Race. I couldn't have done it without you. It really does make the song, like that C# in Weezer's Say it Ain't So.

Second runner-up, because I almost forgot, goes to my daughter's Casio CTK-6250 keyboard, which provided all of the Rhodes tracks, as well as the upright bass parts (which usually accompany the Rhodes parts). Incidentally, this instrument is also all over the place in Embers, including about fifty percent of Original Miles.

The star of the show, however, is my Danelectro baritone. Every song with a punchy bassline came from that instrument. Prior to this, the only song where I ever used it was Quicksand from Embers, where it pretty much carries the song (and was extremely difficult to mix with my voice, as I recall). 
   
    

Origin Story

I had no intention of writing another album at this time, especially having just released Embers in January of this year. Even now, Original Miles continues to be streamed on Spotify in numbers that none of my other songs have ever seen. I also know that if I wanted to maximize my [insert marketing lingo here], then it would make sense to ride this out for now, only to then promote another song from that same album. 

Mixtape, anyone?

Back in March, I was practicing guitar and came up with a power chord progression that was fun to play. As I was rocking out on acoustic guitar, I starting singing along as if the words were already in my head. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to get a pretty good sense of the song. After that, it was just a matter of writing it, which came together in about an hour. I later went back and revised it slightly. 

For the next few days, I had this new song bouncing around in my head, such that I was literally waking up with the chorus on repeat. It seemed that I had no choice but to record it, if only to exorcise this thing from my brain.

About a month later, I wrote two more songs in the same week, both of which happened to have seven-letter titles that started with H. At that point, I figured that I might as well write another album. If not now, then when? I wanted to capture these songs while I was still excited about them, and it seemed like maybe I had tapped into something. 

Over the next couple of months, I wrote eight more songs. In most cases, I recorded the entire "song skeleton" and then set out to figure out the lyrics. The only difference in this from my usual process is that ordinarily, this phase takes place almost entirely with acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment in real-time. 

This time, I listened to these simple instrumental versions of these songs until I came up with lyrics that fit the feel of the song, as well as the framework that I had already provided. There was one week in particular when I wrote four songs through the use of this process, one right after the other, like it was my job.  

The last two songs that I composed were tracks one and track eleven, respectively. In fact, if you look at my ReverbNation page, the order that they are listed in is the opposite order in which I wrote them. 

In total, this album took about three months to go from song stuck in my head to album with a bunch of tracks that I really like. If I wasn't proud of my work, I wouldn't release it. I hope you like it, too.

Petrichor will soon be available wherever you get your music. For now, you can hear low-resolution versions through the embedded the link below. Thanks for listening. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Groundhog Day

Happy Friday to my fans, friends, listeners and random stumblers upon this site. Once again, I have spent the majority of the day mixing and mastering. The goal has been to get the mixing so close to done that I have to do very little mastering, because that's when it starts to feel processed and artificial, like Velveeta. 

I seek for my music to avoid any comparisons to cheese-like substances. 

Speaking of which, when I was riding my bike yesterday, somebody at the skate park was blasting Kenny G like it was in style. These kids today and their light adult contemporary jazz-like substances.

Petrichor might actually be done, and I think that maybe I really mean it this time. 

Every day, when I sit down to work on this, it's kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. Basically, I start with the raw AIFF files every day, but as I am mastering these tracks, I also refer to notes and such in terms of what worked and what did not on my previous attempts. Then I minimize the process to its essentials. 

I am a scientist, damn it.

To date, I have made at least twenty or so shitty versions of each of these songs, but I think that I have almost polished out everything that I did not like. We'll see how I feel about it tomorrow. Once I can listen to these songs without being compelled to change something, that's when I know it's done. 

When writing, I sometimes export to PDFs for the same reason--so that I can read without the ability to edit. It forces a certain degree of objectivity. 

You can listen to the new songs through the same links as always, and you can find my other five albums wherever you get your music. 

Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog.

 


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

My general rule when it comes to editing is that once I get to a point where my revisions involve going back to a previous version, then it's probably time to walk away. I find that this is true whether discussing music or any other form of writing.

It's kind of like tuning a guitar, where I steadily add tension to the string until it passes the note that I'm trying to reach, then I slowly ease it back into place. It's a good way to get precision, which is kind of important when tuning. 

I mention all of this because for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing a lot of mastering and equalizing, trying to get my newest batch of songs to sound as good as I can through the various speakers that I have at my disposal. Lately, I've been discovering that my early versions sometimes sound better, depending on which speakers I happen to be listening to them through. That never ceases to frustrate me. 

Don't be surprised if these songs once again sound slightly different by the end of the day.


[They do.]

This is the part where I usually audition some of the many versions of each of these songs and figure out if there is one that sounds better than the others on a variety of speakers. Ideally, all of the songs that I end up going with will come from the same batch, too, but that's not always the case.

It's getting close. Pretty soon, I will have completed my sixth full-length album to be released in the past four years. That's sixty-five songs in total (plus a few throwaway tracks that I never published.) My goal is to write at least as many songs as Shakespeare wrote sonnets, because I don't just like to swing for the fences; I'm going for the parking lot down the street. The trick is to lean into it and use the momentum of your own weight. 

Enjoy the music. For now, these songs are exclusively available here. You're that cool. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Equalizer

I don't know if that was the name of a 1980s action movie, but if not, it probably should have been. I can imagine Chuck Norris or Sylvester Stallone on the poster, possibly holding a rocket launcher or a machine gun--basically, an undercover commercial for the NRA and "Big Stick" diplomacy. 

I also wonder if the screenwriter of this hypothetical movie looked up the word "level" in a thesaurus, as in to level a building with a single shot and ended up going with "The Equalizer" in an attempt to appeal to the high-brow crowd, while also in a frenzied rush to get back to his crippling cocaine addiction. 

Once again, I've spent all day equalizing, uploading, listening, etc. I can't even tell you how many different versions of these songs I made today, but it was a lot. 

You can hear the (almost done) new album by following the link in the post below.

It will soon be available to stream or purchase wherever you get your music. 

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Cohesion

Petrichor is nearly done. All but a few of the songs have passed the "car stereo with the windows down" test. At this point, I think it's mostly just a matter of fine-tuning the equalization on the songs.

You can hear the new album in its entirety below. Until I finish it and officially release it, all eleven of these songs are exclusively available here.


Thanks for listening.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Multi-Speaker Challenge

This album feels like it's just about done. It probably isn't... but on my studio monitors and headphones, I think that it sounds pretty good at this point.  

I have now reached the part of the process where I listen to it through as many different sets of speakers as I can and then try to make it sound equally good on all of them. (I'm self-taught at all of this stuff, but this is more or less how I tend to think of mastering.) 



Check it out for yourself. See what you think.

You can hear all eleven of the new songs exclusively on my ReverbNation page: 


You can also find all of the lyrics here.

This album will soon be available to stream or purchase wherever you get your music. 

Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Soon to Drop

I think that the new album is just about done. I expect to wrap it up in the next week or two, but we'll see how it goes.   

In case you're keeping score, this will be my second full-length album to be released this year. (That's prolific, even for me.) Embers just came out in January, and the opening track, Original Miles, has now been streamed over 32,000 times by Spotify listeners all over the world. This amazes me.

Releasing albums as I make them is one of those things that you don't necessarily get with most mainstream artists. To me, one of the advantages of DIY music-making is that I can connect directly with listeners and fans, and I don't need a committee to be in agreement in order to make something happen. Every decision that brought this music into existence was made entirely by me. If you don't like it, then I guess that's on me, too.

As I continue to polish these new songs, I upload them to my ReverbNation page so that I can listen to them on multiple devices without having to enter all of the metadata every time I post a new version. Once I feel like they're done, then I shall officially make them available on streaming services worldwide through a digital distributor.

I usually get some physical CDs, too, which I order from an automated company in Japan for what amounts to about two bucks per disc. They come in a professional-looking cellophane-wrapped jewel case, and they don't charge extra for the UPC symbol.

(I'm not getting paid by these companies; I simply wanted to share how I do it, just in case any of you are looking to do something similar.)   

The opening track on Petrichor (available soon) is the only instrumental track on any of my six eponymous albums that I have released since 2017. Not that it sounds anything like it, but I was thinking specifically about Pixies: Bossanova when I decided to open the album with an instrumental. As I recall, the first track on Nine Inch Nails: Broken is also without words. These were two of my favorite albums when I was first learning to be a musician (although it has been a while since I've heard either).  

Thank you for listening to my music and checking out my blog. If you like what I'm doing, please share it with others who might like it as well. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Dr. Mix-a-Lot (no relation)

I've gotten a lot of reading done this week, mostly while waiting for my ancient laptop to process audio files so that I could listen to them and then go back and make adjustments. It takes about four minutes to export a song, which I have to keep doing until it's more or less where I want it. 

That said, I might finally be done with the mixing, and I'd like to think that I mean it this time. This is the part where I try to be as objective as possible when I listen to it, which isn't always easy. 




For now, you can hear all eleven of the new songs exclusively on my ReverbNation page. I've also provided links to each track individually below, along with a brief description of the song itself: 

01. Shadow Puppets (instrumental)
02. Light Pollution (about how ideologies can be blinding)
03. Rat Race (about being a cog in a corporate machine)
04. Out to Get You (about people who believe in batshit crazy conspiracy theories)
05. The Regular (about that guy end of the bar who seems like a permanent fixture)
06. Haunted (about the memories left behind when a person is gone)
07. Plastic Flowers (about how the American Dream adapts to the American Reality)
08. Petals in the Grass (an ekphrastic song about the first 16mm film that I ever made)
09. Dandelion Wine (If Only...) (about making the most of what you've got)
10. Holiday (about going stir crazy)
11. Wasted (about being consumed by unhealthy habits)

You can also find all of the lyrics here.

Thanks for listening. This album will soon be available to stream or purchase wherever you get your music. As of now, it's still a work-in-progress, but I think it's getting close. As always, thank you for supporting independent art. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Almost

This album is getting close. Once again, I uploaded new versions of all eleven songs to my ReverbNation page. You can find all of the links in an earlier post. These songs are so exclusive that they are only available here. 

Thanks for listening.


Favorite Songs (That I've Written)

My own favorite song that I've written is constantly changing, depending on my mood and how often I've played or listened to it in recent weeks. That said, I thought that I would attempt to pick my favorite songs of each of my five released albums (and my album that shall be released in the very near future).

----------------------------------------------

Favorite track on Petrichor (2021 - coming soon):

    Rat Race

Favorite track on Embers (2021):


Favorite track on Better Days (2019):


Favorite track on Good Night, Fahrenheit (2017):


Favorite track on Mechanical Bull (2017):


Favorite track on Weather Patterns (2017):


----------------------------------------------

With some of these, it was pretty close, as I tend to like all of my songs. That's why I wrote them. In any case, I hope you like these songs, too. Thanks for listening.

I also added all of the new songs to my lyrics page.

If you like what I'm doing, please add my music to your playlists and share it with others. Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Slow and Steady

The new album is steadily coming together. 




You can hear what I hope are final mixes of all eleven new songs at my ReverbNation page, or at the links below:


Thanks for listening.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Conduction

I've been thinking about happiness. What does it mean? How do we achieve it? Can we recognize it when we have it? Here's what I've come up with:

Happiness, to a certain degree, is rooted in purpose. We all like to feel like we are a part of something bigger, as it lends a reason to our existence. No matter who you are, we will all live, die and be forgotten... but this thing that you were a part of might live on much longer. It is our only counter to the mortality that plagues us all. 

I think that on some level, we all want the world to be better off because we were in it, which, of course, can mean a lot of things to different people. That said, I think that one constant in terms of finding happiness simply involves wanting to share whatever happiness you do have. From there, it compounds exponentially. If everyone did that, think about how much better everything would be. If we all shared our happiness, there would be more than enough to go around. 

I think that it all comes down to contributing some kind of positive energy to the world. Energy, of course, can neither be created nor destroyed. Rather, it merely flows through us. When making art, we connect with something intangible. Through dedication to our respective crafts, we try to fashion ourselves into the ideal instruments for capturing this energy and expressing it to others. We do what we can, but it takes practice, and whoever said that practice makes perfect lied. Practice makes better, but no matter what, there is always better. 

Music gives me happiness. When I play an instrument and sing a song, I experience joy. Not always, mind you, but more often than not, I do find the act of playing music to be rather meditative (plus it sometimes has the bonus of feeling a bit like exercise). When I focus only on expressing this positive energy that I am fortunate enough to connect with, I experience a zen-like state. Through this, I find happiness. 

Taking this one step further, when I am able to share this energy with anyone who is willing to listen, I feel like I am contributing something to the world that is bigger than me. I am sharing this energy, which offers another kind of happiness in itself. I believe that it is rooted in one of the most primal instincts that drives us all: the desire to procreate, which, in turn, can lend a person a deeper sense of purpose. 

I speak from my own experience, and I do not mean to suggest that I am always happy--but when people all around the world are listening to these songs that I wrote in my sunroom, it makes me smile. The joy that I experience in playing the music and writing these songs is multiplied by every listener. 

When I create something that surprises me, it feels like I am receiving a gift from the universe, and I see no greater purpose than to share this gift with others. I aim to be a conductor of one, a tiny lightning rod adrift in the Milky Way. 

I believe that the best we can do is to make the world better because we're in it. I also believe that everyone has something positive to contribute, even if you don't know what it is yet or haven't quite got the skill to express it properly. Be patient. Be dedicated to your craft. Understand that there is always more to learn.

Happy Friday. I mean that. Think about what you could do that would make somebody else happy and do that thing. Write a song. Bake a cake. Compliment a stranger (in a non-creepy way). Then see if it doesn't make you happier in the process. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Again, Only Better

That's what you might call my mantra that I recite to myself after just about every take of a recording. When it comes to directing myself, I am far more Kubrickian than I would be to anyone else. 

I've spent much of the day mixing and then doing preliminary masters of each song. This makes it a little easier to tell if the mix is right. My theory is that if it requires a lot of work in the mastering stage, then it probably means that I need to go back and mix something differently and/or re-record the track that's giving me trouble. After I export each new version, I then listen to it and take notes. Wash, rinse, repeat. It is a process. 

The mixing and mastering are somewhat overlapping at this point, but that's just kind of informing me as to what I'll need to do once I'm officially done mixing these songs. In terms of the mastering, I'll basically have to start over once I get there, but at least I'll more or less know what to do. I continue to experiment to see what works and what doesn't. This is the nature of DIY music-making.

The new album is coming together... just as soon as I can stop repeating that mantra. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Perspective

I took yesterday off from working on music so that I could get some other stuff done. My hope is that when I listen to it now, I'll at least have a little bit more objectivity to work with. If this holds true, then I might consider expanding the time that I step away for the sake of gaining even more perspective. We'll see.

On the other hand, I also don't want to lose momentum. Every once in a while, when I step away from a big project for too long, it becomes difficult to reconnect with it in exactly the same way. While I do complete a vast majority of the projects that I take on, I also have a number of screenplays that just kind of fell apart in the second act, as well as a novel that I started writing about ten years ago, which more or less did the same. (I have since learned the value of outlining and found that this helps considerably.) 

If I do it right, though, stepping away from a project for just the right amount of time in order to gain a fresh perspective really can add a whole other dimension to the work. I find that the ability to zoom out like this can also be helpful in separating one's art from one's ego. As with most things, I think that it's about finding the right balance. Sometimes that means knowing when I'm ready for a project and other times that means knowing when a project is ready for me. 

As I move forward with this new album, I will try to put each song under a microscope and fix everything that I am capable of fixing within my relatively limited means. After that, I will officially move on to mastering. In the meantime, I'm still working on finding a dayjob, which in many ways, is kind of like a job in itself. It can be rather time-consuming.

Thank you for supporting independent art. If you like what I'm doing, please share my music with your friends and add my songs to your playlists. You can also purchase them, if you feel so inclined. Presently, I have 54 songs available to stream or download wherever you get your music, and I shall be adding another 11 to that total in the very near future. 

I do it all for listeners like you (and because I love to write songs). Music is meant to be shared. If a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, DIY recording artist makes an album in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? 

Thankfully, people like you are listening.

Monday, May 24, 2021

New Versions

I posted new versions of all eleven of the new songs to my ReverbNation page. I think they're getting closer. You can find all of the links in my previous post. 

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Trail Mix

I did another mixdown of each of the tracks to be included on my forthcoming album. Once I'm happy with the mix, I'll officially move on to mastering these songs. I'm not there yet, but it is steadily coming together. 



Once again, you can hear newly mixed versions of all of the songs at my ReverbNation page, or at the links below:


Thanks for listening.

Friday, May 21, 2021

One of Those Days

Some days, I write music. Other days, I write long-winded blog posts about the challenges of making music with equipment that isn't really up to the challenge... which then digress into an inquiry into the social value of art. 

Thanks for listening to my music and reading my blog(s). Above all else, you are the reason that I do it. 

Simplex

I was about fourteen or so when I wrote and recorded my first song. To be perfectly honest, I don't even remember what instrument I played it on, as this was before I even owned a guitar. The thing that I recall the most vividly was the process through which I recorded it. 

It must have been a very simple riff, because I really knew nothing about guitar at the time. I recall the instrument as having nylon strings. What would take me about ten minutes today took an entire day back then. Of course, I was recording on what was known as a "simplex" sound card that my brother and I installed on the computer that my parents owned. An IBM PS/2, it boasted an incredible 1 MB of RAM and a 20 MB internal hard drive, with a scorching 286 processor. Whereas pretty much all sound cards from the mid-1990s on were referred to as "full duplex," which meant that they could both play and record at the same time, this computer could only do one or the other. I think that this was around 1991. 




I recorded a simple guitar melody that probably consisted of no more than four or five notes in a loop. I was pretty proud of myself, but I wanted to do more with it. We had some program that came with the sound card that we installed, which allowed me to record multiple tracks, even though I couldn't actually hear them while I was recording. This presented somewhat of a dilemma, as well as a challenge. I find that these things commonly overlap. 

While recording, I kept time with my left foot. I did so many takes of that second track that my ankle was probably sore by the end of it. Eventually I got it right, where the notes were all lining up just like I wanted them to. That may have been the first time in my life that I ever saw myself as a musician of any kind, perhaps because even when I was done with it, I could still hear the music in my head. I have no idea what ever happened to that song. It probably exists on a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk in a box somewhere.

Incidentally, the second song that I ever recorded was about five years later. It resided on a Spanish cassette tape that I returned to the college bookstore along with the book that I had used the previous semester. So if there's somebody out there who was ever part way into the audio portion of chapter three, personal pronouns, sorry. I hope you liked my song. I didn't think that I would have to return the tape along with the book, and at the time that I needed it, it was the only cassette that I could find. 

I mention all of this because my current recording process has been reminding a lot of that first song that I ever recorded. 

These days, I record multiple tracks on an old version of GarageBand that came with my laptop, which is now nearly a decade old. This edition of the program has some features that they did away with in subsequent updates. Once I've got all of the basic tracks recorded and I start to add plug-ins for processing and effects, my computer just can't handle it. Disk too slow or system overload. As I get closer to the end of the process, I start to see this error message appear far too frequently. Over the past few weeks, I've seen it literally hundreds of times. No joke

My present solution is to export the mixed down GarageBand files to a stereo audio file, which I then process with a different program. Basically, I do all of the recording and mixing in GarageBand, and then I master the tracks with a program called SoundForge Pro. It also does not get along with my computer all that well, but at least it can play the songs without freezing every second or two, which, obviously, can get kind of annoying.

So in order for me to hear what still needs to be addressed in GarageBand, I need to export it to a different program, take detailed notes, and then go back to GarageBand and try to fix them without being able to play it back as I make these changes--because if I do, it just keeps freezing and giving me that error message. I just have to export it and hope that I did it right, which is why it reminds me of that first song that I ever wrote. That is to say that the trial-to-error ratio kind of sucks.

Obviously, one solution would be to invest in better equipment. I do that to a certain degree, but considering that I make approximately 1/5 of a cent every time that one of my songs plays on a streaming service, it's not like I can justify building a ten thousand dollar studio or something, even if I could afford it. When I do the math, it just doesn't add up. In order for me to make $10,000 as a musician, my songs would have to stream about five million times. So far, that has yet to happen.

Spotify is about the only one of these streaming service for which I see much in terms of metrics, and they tell me that my songs have now been played over 56,000 times. That truly amazes me. However, if you do the math, you might realize that I actually get paid considerably more as an adjunct instructor at a community college, which is really saying something. As much as I would love to have an unlimited budget when it comes to making music, I live in the real world. I have a family and other responsibilities that take priority. 

From my perspective, it seems that our culture sometimes puts value in the wrong places. How many brilliant works of art have been lost to the fact that the people who would have made them simply could not afford the luxury of creating art? Most musicians need day jobs. Most writers get paid shit. 

Allow me to digress even further for a moment. I once wrote an article for the website Cracked. I think I made fifty bucks on it, and they changed pretty much every word. In my opinion, this had the effect of rendering it considerably less funny. This was after I had submitted about twenty or so other pitches for articles, which I later published myself and then just kept going with it. In total, I had probably fifty hours into what amounted to this one article, which works out to about a dollar an hour. For my whole life, I had wanted nothing more than to get paid as a writer, and this is what I got. As you can surely imagine, it was a bit disheartening. 
 
The idea of the starving artist has become somewhat of a punchline in our society, but I don't think I get the joke (and I've even done advanced work in the study of comedy). When people look back at this time and place and wonder what it meant to be alive and what lessons they may glean from our experience, what will they see? What will they they learn from our existence?

Oh, they turned TV into movies and movies into TV, and then streaming services made the whole delineation even blurrier. Popular music? Most of it was made by rich, well-connected people and designed specifically for mass consumption. What about poetry and fine art? Can you name the top ten most popular poets and fine artists alive today? (Don't feel too bad. I can't either.)

Meanwhile, we pay athletes and coaches ridiculous salaries, but about 3/4 of college courses are taught by part-time and non-tenure track instructors. At least primary and secondary teachers tend to make more money and get benefits, but they should be more valued as well. What about social workers? School lunch attendants? Think about how much better off we would all be if we actually put value where it belonged: in the places where it stands to benefit the most people. Imagine if the level of one's income was based on how many people could potentially benefit from what they do. Instead, we have pretty much the opposite: a system that rewards greed and empty distractions.

Michael Jordan is a brilliant basketball player, arguably the best who has ever lived--but think for a moment what a strange and precise collection of genetic gifts and talents he possesses. When it comes down to it, he puts a ball through a hoop really well. Very few people would argue otherwise. But imagine if they made another Space Jam movie, and it took place ten thousand years in the future, when people have no interest in ancient sports and everyone is seven and a half feet tall. Now there's conflict.

My point is that it should be easier for artists to make a living by creating art and that it is we, the members of society-at-large, both today and in the future, who are missing out on all of the art that could have been--all because we assign value to the wrong places. I say this as someone who only vaguely knows what a Kardashian is, and who is so incredibly tired of superhero movies and other franchised garbage. It seems that we have traded the element of surprise, which is such a key component of art, for bland predictability. 

Art should show us what we think we already know in a way that proves us wrong. Often, this requires an unfamiliar perspective, which means that we should be looking for art in places other than where we are told to look by the people who have no interest in ever changing the status quo. That's my two cents, which you now know took ten streaming songs to generate.  

Happy Friday. Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. You're the real rock stars, I'm just a guy who makes music and writes words (sometimes a lot of them). 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

New Guitar Tracks

I re-recorded two of the guitar tracks in Plastic Flowers. The timing was a little off, but I think that I fixed it. Basically, it was a case of recording a song immediately after I wrote it, but before I could really play it all that well. It's not done yet, but I'm hoping to be almost finished recording and mixing on this one. We'll see.

(I also fixed some issues with the drum track.) 

This song is about reimagining the American Dream to adapt to the ever-changing American Reality. You can hear the latest version of it here:

Thanks for listening.  


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Spit Shine

I posted new versions of all eleven tracks from my yet unreleased album to my ReverbNation page today. They might sound a little bass-heavy at this point, but I think they're getting closer. 

In my experience, there tends to be a lot of trial-and-error in DIY music production. Think of these as preliminary masters (so that I can figure out if the mix is right and if I need to re-record anything before I officially master the album).

Thanks for listening. Check back often. As I continue to work on the new album, I will upload the latest versions of these songs and provide the links for them here.  

If you like what I'm doing, please share it and add my songs to your playlists.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Scratch That

In my last post, I said that I was going to walk away from this album for a little while for the sake of gaining a fresh perspective, and so that I could work on some other stuff. So guess what I've been doing.

The "other stuff" mostly just involves reading, which I can do while my ridiculously slow computer processes audio files. I also reasoned that I should probably get these songs as good as it seems like I can before I walk away from them for a few days. 

I already knew of a few issues with each of the songs that needed to be addressed, so that's what I've been doing. Ideally, I am trying to finish up all mixing and re-recording before I move on to the mastering phase, which I like to think that I have almost reached.  



You can hear newly mixed versions of all of the songs at my ReverbNation page, or at the links below:


Now we'll see if I can actually walk away from this project or not. I suspect that I already know the answer. When I've got momentum on a big project, I usually like to keep going with it.

Thanks for listening. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Shifting Gears

I think that I am to a point where the best thing for me to do is to temporarily walk away from the album that I am working on for the sake of gaining a fresh perspective. I think that I'm happy with the tracklist, but the next step is the part where I listen to all of the songs and take detailed notes about what needs to be fixed. At this point, I feel like I am a little too close to the material to be objective. Besides, I've got some other, non-music stuff that I need to work on right now.

So here are a couple of songs off my most recently completed album, Embers (2021). Fun fact: part of the reason that I chose that name is because I decided in September 2020 that I was going to write, record and produce another album; then I wrote most of the songs in November and recorded them in December. (-embers, get it?) There was more behind my reasoning than that, but this is the inside joke to myself that I threw in there for good measure, as I like to do sometimes. (My dissertation/book is riddled with them--but that kind of made sense, since it's about comedy.) 

In any case, here are a few of my favorite songs off the album by that name, which I just released about four months ago. The first is called Mixtape. I came up with the riff/chord progression in the same room as where my daughter was putting together a streaming playlist. Taken together, it made me think about the art of making a proper mixtape, and the many hours that I have spent getting them just right. Shortly thereafter, this song came into existence. 

    I made a mixtape on my radio
    It can be your soundtrack wherever you go
    I hope these songs will remind you of me
    The good times we've had and those yet to be
    Please take this mixtape when you go...

The next song that I would like to share with you today is the closing track on Embers. It is called We Are All That We Need. It's a simple song--just electric piano, bass, drums and vocals (and a few sound effects)--but I'm quite proud of it. Structurally, it's one of my only songs with both a prechorus and a bridge, for whatever that's worth.
    
    Like the water we drink
    And the air that we breathe
    I do believe
    We are all that
    We are all that
    We are all that we need...

Just for fun, here's one more from that same album. This is the song that I wrote about the time that the citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (symbolically) declared their independence from the USSR by holding hands between their capital cities. It's called Black Ribbon Day.

    Two million people strong
    Four hundred miles long
    Of strangers holding hands

If you like what I'm doing, please share it with others who may like it as well. As a one-man-band/DIY recording artist, I am also a one-man marketing and public relations team. That is to say that I need your help in reaching a broader audience. Besides, the less time I have to spend promoting my own work, the more time that I can spend creating it.

Enjoy. Thanks for listening and for supporting independent art. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

There's Always Room for Ebow

I added some more instrumental tracks to Shadow Puppets, including one where I am playing the guitar with an Ebow. You can stream the latest version of it here:


These new songs are all still works-in-progress, but they are steadily coming together. Thanks for listening. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Song Surgery

I spent much of yesterday working on The Regular. I recorded a new bass (baritone) track. I also spent several hours re-recording and playing around with the guitar solo, only to end up scrapping it altogether. I also took out one of the choruses and about five of the backing vocal tracks, which I thought were making the lead vocals sound muddy. 

There was no reason for this song to be almost six minutes long. This took it down to a little over four. It still isn't exactly where I want it to be in terms of the mix and master, but the overall shape of the song itself feels about right now. On the other hand, it's still possible that I may end up re-recording the whole damn thing. 


Thanks for listening, and for taking an interest in the process of making music. I tend to believe that smart people learn from their mistakes, while those who are wise are also capable of learning from the mistakes of others. Unfortunately, DIY music production requires a lot of trial-and-error in order to figure out what works and what doesn't--but at least you can learn from my mistakes. 

If you are interested in this kind of stuff, I encourage you to check back often, as I will continue to post new versions of all these songs until the new album is complete. I also like to share teachable moments from the process whenever possible. 

At this point, I'm also still debating whether or not to take out the opening instrumental track (Shadow Puppets) and/or add another song that I intend to put lyrics to but have not yet done so. 

That is to say that all of this stuff is very much a work-in-progress. Stay tuned for more...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Possible Album Cover

I know that I'm getting a little ahead of myself here--considering that I haven't even finalized the tracklist for the album, let alone finish mastering any of the songs--but I was playing around with a possible album cover this afternoon:


It may very well change as I go forward with this project (the name of which may also be subject to change), but for now, I think that this works.  

The image was a blurry photo that my wife shot. She wasn't sure what it is, but we both thought that it was pretty cool, so I cropped it and played with the colors a bit until this is what it looked like. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Demo Tape

This might be the first draft of an album. I uploaded new versions of everything to my ReverbNation page, all normalized to the same volume levels. 

I intend to keep working on all of them (as well as another song, which may or may not be included on this album), but this is what the first mix of a potential album sounds like:

11. Wasted

Tentatively, I'm calling the new album Petrichor. Thanks for listening. 

Brand New Music

I wrote and recorded the instrumental parts for this one yesterday, and then I wrote lyrics for it today. Exclusively available here, this is version number one of Wasted:


Check back often, as all of these new songs are works-in-progress to be included on my forthcoming album. (As I make new versions, I upload them to my ReverbNation page so that I can listen to them through different devices.)

Thanks for listening. 

First Draft

I cracked another song today. I'm still working on it, but I think it's coming together. 

More to come...

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

New Album is Coming Together

I've got another song that I am working on. I haven't cracked it yet, but I'll keep you posted. For what it's worth, I feel really good about this new batch of songs that I'm developing, which is steadily coaslescing into another album. Once completed, this will make my sixth self-produced full-length album of original music since 2017. Not bad, especially if you consider that making music is just one of the things that I do

Original Miles, from my recent album, Embers (2021) has been streamed on Spotify over 25,000 times now. This amazes me. 

Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. I could not do what I do without you, so if you like what I'm doing, please share it with others. As always, thank you for supporting independent art.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Music So Fresh, It's Steaming

I mean that in a good way, somehow.

I re-recorded vocal tracks on a few songs today. Just for fun, I also uploaded the song that I wrote this morning. For now, it has no lyrics. We shall see what becomes of it. 

I've posted all of the new stuff to my ReverbNation page. You can figure it out from here. I'm done looking at a screen. I'm going to go play piano.

Works-in-Progress

Hello listeners, fans, and people who randomly stumbled upon this site. Welcome to what I do (among other things).  

These are the [ten] songs that I've written since March. These are all works-in-progress, but you can always listen to the latest versions of them at the embedded links below (which connects to my ReverbNation page). 

Until I officially release these songs, you can only listen to them here. They are that exclusive, so please enjoy what I've got so far. Check back often, too, as I will regularly update these songs as I continue to work on them.

 










I also have a song for which I recorded some instrumental tracks this morning, although I'm not entirely sure what to do with it at this point. It's got a cool groove, but so far, I haven't figured out a vocal melody that works. Once I crack it, I'll let you know. 

Thank you for listening and for supporting independent art.