Category: Composition

Album status update 05/06/2017

Still tracking guitars. Rhythm guitars. I’d say probably 1/3rd of my way through them.

Parts have been tricky while I struggled with getting the right tone but now I’ve figured out partly how to address some of the issues (amp settings, pickup choice, pedal use). Part of it has also been arrangement-related, which I sort of have to go back and re-learn/re-visit some techniques that I’ve somehow forgotten.

Some things to try and play with: Mostly note to self:

  • Stabbing 8ths
  • Harder picking
  • Arpeggiated sections – clean or with some dirt
  • Trying out different chord inversions between left and right parts
  • Playing chord inversion at a higher register
  • Adding rotary or modulating effect to these extra parts
  • Using different pick on different part
  • Using different guitar on different part
  • Acoustic guitar to add articulation
  • Varying strumming pattern between phrases or sections of phrases

Keys and synth parts are done. Piano parts will happen later, depending on when I’ll have access to one.

More to come.

Album status update 04/16/2017

Finally finished tracking bass. Some of these parts have really been quite challenging to play right (and sound right).
For those who have been following my updates, my approach of this record has been thoroughly composed and orchestrated, in a way. Most of the parts were written without ever playing the parts over on their respective instruments beforehand. One of the strategies I’ve been using on this record was realizing that one of my favorite bands, don’t rely on the heaviest-sounding guitar and bass, but their overall music is probably most heavy (in my mind) due to the way their songs are written and arranged – the harmonic choices, and instruments that don’t get in each other’s way. My approach is that if I can get things sounding heavy and *somewhat* presentable with virtual instruments, when they’re translated into real instruments, I would get a multiplier effect. I’d also be able to tweak the compositions, rhythmically and harmonically. I had never written out complete scores of my music before, but doing it this time, I get to visually identify places where I should have played a an F instead of a B, for example. I’d also get to tweak a melody to my liking and not think too much about how it would be played on the guitar and other instruments and be constrained tendencies of repeating myself due to physical memory tendencies.

I always feel a major limitation in my abilities to play my instruments. Neither bass or guitar were my first instruments and I don’t get to practice or play as much. Approaching the compositions this way, I get to decouple my limited abilities on these instruments and have a more direct line between what I’m hearing in my head and what I’d want in the song.

My approach this time resulted in written parts that wouldn’t have been natural to play. Having said that, I don’t intentionally try to make the parts difficult to execute, but the parts do require learning and are not as obvious as some of the straight-ahead “rock” songs that I have done in the past. This is because the harmonization is dense and if you look at the bass parts independently, there are times when the notes being played are not repeated by the other instruments. The lines by themselves do not make any sense why they would work in the song, or any song, but in context, everything would sound right (to my ears). It was really fun writing these parts and seeing when things come together.

In one of the songs, I was trying to experiment with different tunings on the bass to see if it would make things easier to play. After many attempts in finally recording the part, I realized that a 5-string (which I do not own) in standard tuning would have made things straightforward. Oh well…

But this makes the experience fun, until getting frustrated with the overall progress, because of the urge to release the project as soon as possible.

In a really odd way, I feel that I’m hiring myself as multiple studio musicians, learning and playing all the material. Once in a while, I would imagine the scenario having real studio musicians, if this wasn’t a self-funded independent record, and would realize that this record would have been really expensive to make if that were the case.

…But I do enjoy pretending to be a real bass player (and a guitar player) at the privacy of my studio!

Looking at the guitar parts now and I have some more learning and exploration to do.

Bass recording tips

Just realized today I have roughly 1 more song to write for my record.
So I was doing a bit of homework on tracking bass, which I’ll probably start doing in a couple of week’s time.

I came across this one by Stu Hamm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJaCuQHkYGs (Part 1).

Some tips:
– Varying pickups
– Pick vs no pick
– Funny: “If you’re a guitar and/or a mediocre bass player, [thinking] that you’d put in a plugin for Ampeg SVT and you’re going to sound like Billy Sheehan, it’s not (**shakes head**) going to happen.”
– Do not play the strings too hard. Play it with a light touch and even, with a nice controlled attack, so it doesn’t sound too “clacky”. Bass wouldn’t sound bigger or thicker the louder a player plays. He has the bass volume overly loud in the mix, to keep himself in check, making sure he does not overpower the playing to maintain the fat even sound.
– Tuning the bass just a hair flat to sit better with the guitars and make the overall song sound less edgy.

Part 2 is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYCjZfqFX1A, where he talks about arrangement/parts for a tune.

– Recording two takes from start to finish
– For example, one would be with a pick, another would be with fingers.
– Another example, one take would be driving 8s and another would be syncopated.
– Keep on playing even if there are mistakes

Everything Music – Rick Beato

Rick Beato has a number of really cool videos on everything that’s music-related posted on Youtube (hence the appropriately named channel title “Everything Music“). You can find videos where he talks things ranging from music theory (such as complex poly-chordal/modal harmony) to studio/recording-related topics.

I think what he says here sums up why all this effort makes this worthwhile.

Starting at the 12:00 mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7SLr5MPkKw&t=12m0s

You can’t describe all of human experience using 4 chords, just like you can’t learn a language using 4 words.

I’m just searching to get the feeling that I had when I was a kid and hearing a Dsus4 resolve to a Dmaj. Now it takes hearing a Cmaj-over-Ab go to Gmaj-over-F#. Six months from now, it may take a cluster resolving to another cluster.

I’m going to keep searching for that feeling, because I think that’s what music is about. It’s about trying to explain the emotional and spiritual condition of human existence.

Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto Interview on Efekto TV (Mexico TV Station)

Came across this interview with Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto today:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdBDGZGH4Io

Interesting quotes by Pat:

[Interviewer]: Why did you make a huge jump from pop/ pop rock to progressive music, that is a complicate genre?

Well, I don’t quite view it like that. I just view it as music. It’s pop music, jazz music. It’s electronic music, world music, it’s all music. Mr. Mister, Hall & Oats, many, many things I did. Pointer Sisters, The Rembrandts, who had the big TV song – but I still like progressive music. I like arty music, so even as a little boy, I listened to [King] Crimson, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and these bands, so that’s always an underlying influence of who I am as a person.

[Interviewer]: King Crimson, the most important band of progressive rock – you’re like the survivors of that genre.

Yeah, King Crimson is active again now for the last 2 and a half years. Very different band now, 7 people in the band and 3 drummers. So I hope we come to play in Mexico perhaps next year with King Crimson.

[Interviewer]: How can you define the current sound of King Crimson now?

I think King Crimson is its own genre. People say it sounds like King Crimson when they talk about Primus or other bands, so King Crimson is its own genre.

[Interviewer]: Why make [an improvised] song so long, because they last even more than 5 or 20 minutes?

We don’t try to make a song any particular length. When you’re working up a piece of music, the music tells you how long it needs to be. As you rehearse it, you’d go, “This just feels too long,” or “it feels like it needs to go longer.” You just have a feeling as a musician.

Review: “Truefire Steve Vai – Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare”

Steve Vai has a new instructional video out with Truefire called Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare. Unlike most of the guitar instructional videos out there where the videos typically show note-for-note ideas and specific techniques, this series of videos here consist mostly of Vai talking about his philosophies and approaches in both his playing and compositions.

Many of his things he talked about could be found in his interviews online, his Alien Guitar Secrets seminar, (which I also attended several years ago,) especially the philosophical-type of talk. That content were to be found in mostly the first half of the video series. But the videos were done really well in that they are well organized and focused without going off too much to a tangent. While the philosophical topics were interesting, I found the videos in the latter half with him breaking down his songs from his record “Passion and Warfare” to be fantastic. That record, of course was an iconic record, not just in guitar playing, but the compositions, the compositions/arrangements of the songs, the engineering and mixing part of it were all so perfect. For him to go over the songs, pointing out his compositional and arrangement methods for each was unbelievable.

Here are a couple of things that I remembered, off the top of my head.

  • All the different sound effects he used, such as:
    • Slapping strings
    • Blowing into the guitar on the side against the strings and pickups to get a flute sound
    • Sounds created by tapping his finger on the unplugged end of a patch cable going into an amp.
    • Hitting the strings with the whammy bar
    • Scraping sounds
    • Sound coming from detaching a whammy bar
    • Strumming the strings from behind the nut
  • Reverse technique:
    • Writing a composed part
    • Transcribing each note of each instrument backwards
    • Playing and recording through the backward transcription along with a click for each instrument
    • Flipping the tape backwards to there’s a recorded effect but with notes of the original un-reversed composition

He would use these sounds or reverse effects and sometimes they would appear in just really small sections of songs, sometimes even as a backdrop, and sometimes as the main parts.

Other things:

  • Consciously writing a song that don’t have a melody as part of his vision
  • Chord substitutions
  • Call and response
  • Duplets, Triplets, Quintuplets, Septuplet (which he had also gone in depth in the past)
  • Getting familiar with time signatures that are in 13 (based on the Frank Zappa song “Thirteen”) and the phrasing of the time signature.
  • Getting familiar with Septupets (it’s actually quite tricky when the tempo’s fast, getting that picking/strumming technique down and locked in)
  • Taking a groove off a song he loved, tweaked it to his liking, changed the tempo and used it in his own song.
  • Using sampled instruments (back when samples just started to sound good)
  • Not using vibrato (very minimal) in the first verse’s melody of the song, and then playing with exaggerating vibrato in the 2nd verse’s melody for contrast.

Still a lot of material for me left to watch, but it’s been quite fun and inspiring watching all this thus-far.

Transcription for MakeWeirdMusic.com

Screen capture of video by Anthony Garone (MakeWeirdMusic.com), interviewing Teddy Kumpel.

History and Background

I became a fan of MakeWeirdMusic.com ever since I first watched the site’s video interviews with Mike Keneally and Steve Vai. The interviews revolve around the musician’s upbringing, their philosophies in their work – be it compositions or performance, and various interesting things they have done in their careers, (that you may or may not know about,) to get to where they are. If you ever watched the video interviews, you can really tell the amount of dedication and effort that go into each one of them. The interviews are always conducted in a way that the guest is always relaxed and feels comfortable sharing what “makes them tick” in the most honest and detailed manner. The video, lighting, multiple-camera editing/ captures, transcriptions, preparations, logistics and website management that all go into each interview really show the love that site-owner Anthony Garone puts in. (Anthony also interned at Steve Vai’s studio growing up and is quite an awesome composer in his own right.)

From Anthony’s website:

What is “Weird Music?”

“Weird music” doesn’t have to be unenjoyable, but it should be interesting! Radiohead is very popular and very weird. Dirty Loops does virtuosic covers of Justin Bieber and Britney Spears music. Avishai Cohen makes music that even my wife can enjoy. Being “weird” should indicate an effort to go against the grain a little bit and express your individuality.

How I got involved

I reached out to Anthony couple of weeks ago asking if there’s anything I could do to help out. I got to help transcribe the Teddy Kumpel interview, which you can check out here. If you prefer to watch the video, you can find that here too. It was a really fun interview to listen to and there were some really cool quotes. Teddy’s response to the final question where Anthony asks about being “weird” and finding one’s own voice was fantastic.

Hopefully I’ll get to continue to help the site in the future. Anthony’s always looking for more help (be it labor, finance, sponsor support, publicity, or anything else you can think of). So if you enjoy the content as much as I do, reach out to him. But most importantly, please help spread the word about the website!!

 

 

Consulting with Bryan Beller, Part 2

(In case you missed it, you can find part 1 here.)

On the topic of promotion

One thing I mentioned to Bryan was my discomfort about self-promotion. It’s something that I just very much dislike doing, but I wanted to hear his genuine thoughts about it.

Nobody owes you their time.
Nobody owes you a thing.
You’ve got to go get it. Every time.
You’ve got to go out and tell people about you, because nobody’s going to advocate for you more than you are going to advocate for yourself.

If you think that you’re for whatever reason not worthy of shouting from the rooftops about what it is that you’re doing, then that’s what other people are going to think too.

Part of it is crafting materials that you’re proud of.

– Bryan Beller

Other cool clinic/consulting interviews of Beller can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-GY6aY1mKc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr-xVodrpgo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwlYXqKnPyk

More Cool Interviews with Legends by MakeWeirdMusic.com, Plus my personal rant on my decision to gravitate towards writing weirder music

Here’s my newest favorite show/site MakeWeirdMusic.com, one that features interviews with unique legendary musicians with genuine talent, uniqueness, musicianship (be it composition-wise and/or playing techniques) – musicians playing in genres that aren’t exactly perceived as ‘mainstream’, and might be considered as ‘weird’ by the general public.

Their recent interview with Steve Vai was another spectacular one, particular the first portions of it when he said that if you need to ask/question yourself why you’re making music, then don’t do it, and that you need to write as if you don’t have any expectations of anyone ever going hear the music, if your ultimate goal is to be true to yourself and sounding unique.

[Rant Alert]

This resonated with me because that’s the way I started to look at things after my first album myself. While I was proud that I was able to release a record on my own and I did some experimentation with playing styles that I wasn’t yet comfortable with, there were a number of pop-ish songs that I was not entirely genuine to myself, because I was constantly second guessing and wasn’t sure whether or not an audience would like my writing. When it was time to make the second record, I figured that be hell with it. Who knows who will ever listen to my music out there and if I don’t have work that I could stand behind and be fully proud of, then it’s not worth the financial budgets, months and years of blood, sweat and tears (and other sacrifices) to make my records. Unlike artists that fully depend their surviving finances on creating music that serves the liking of their audience, I have the advantage of having a day job that would supplement that portion. That advantage does matter… especially since I don’t really have an audience, don’t have my own band and have the ability to play all the different instruments in a live setting (there are ways around that, but you get my point), or have the same number of hours in a day to practice/play and get better on my craft. It takes me longer to mix (or write for) a record since I’m only able to fully immerse during my days off work, and rate of my releasing records and incoming generated from those don’t really justify the recording gear that I get and session players that I hire. It’s almost impossible to come up with something that’s truthfully 100% unique and sounding musical at the same time. As I remember my favorite bassist Bryan Beller has said many times that we’re all sums of what we listen to – and I fully agree. But coming out with something that’s truthful to yourself isn’t exactly easy and does take a bit of effort, but the results are so, so, *SO* worth it when everything just clicks and the ideas that you have built on sound the most exiting and genuine at the same time. It’s like having coming up with the coolest cross-over move in basketball or craziest thread-the-needle-unexpected-assist. I get asked all the time by doubters why I even bother making records. I think I have my answer right there.

[/Rant Alert]

Ranting aside, if you’re still reading… do check out MakeWeirdMusic.com’s interview with Steve Vai.

In case you have missed the one with Mike Keneally, which I think was the best interview with any I have watched ever (and I watch TONS of interviews of my favorite artists.. total fanboy/junkie) – you can check it out here. The site has video/audio/stream/download options available.

Offtopic: I also found this video of Mr. Keneally on youtube playing a number of Zappa songs. You can generally find many of the youtube videos of him, but many are rough bootleg quality and don’t always exactly sound or show the real genius in that man. I feel this one here really shows a cool glimpse of that. That’s just on the guitar, and he’s equally outrageous on the piano too.