Thursday, December 30, 2004

Mixing, production, beats, and miscellaneous music stuff

First the miscellaneous stuff: if you want to do electronic music on a computer and you have the computer, you need three primary things: an instrument to computer interface, some music production software, and some instruments and/or microphones. A "starter kit" is not that expensive. You can get an interface, instrument (keyboard) and software bundle at M-Audio, as well as mics and even loop libraries. You can do this easily for under $500. Compare this to the cost of a fairly decent guitar/amp or keyboard/amp combo.

All of this assumes that you know how to play, sing and/or program beats, and also that you know how to mix. Because I've gone through the various metamorphoses as 'garageband that no one wants to hear', to 'cover band trying to throw in originals when no-one's looking' as well as the 'all original band no one wants to hire', I have some instruments both analog and digital that have facilitated my re-invention as 'independent recording artist whose self-produced CDs are for sale on the internet'. (Clearly, I am not convinced that no-one wants to hear my music, but this is my issue.)

Mixing is maybe the most fun. What is absolutely the most fun is coming up with a tune over some beats and maybe a bassline or chord progression or drone, then mumbling syllables to the tone that suggest words, then capturing those words and hammering them into lyrics, THEN singing it back and adding in layers, THEN absolUTEly the best is getting your voice to sound like it's really glossy and solid.

That last part is either very easy, if you have a voice like Alicia Keys or the singer from Jimmy Eat World, or not so easy. It is less easy for me, I am still working on it and have posted a couple of tracks with vocals but none that I am completely pleased with. However, I have been working over the last week and think I have found several key pieces and have produced some relatively strong vocal tracks as a result.

Here's what I found to be the key: 1) phantom powered condenser mic, 2) tube pre amp, 3) let the tube warm up, 4) experiment with mic to source placement: you don't necessarily need or want to be hitting the diaphragm head on at point blank range 5) firm but gentle use of compression, 6) judicious use of the "pre" send/return to run effects, and 7) the effects to use are slight 'doubling' delay (10ms< slight <100ms) and appropriate reverb (that it, providing warm ambience, not lost-in-cave-ness). Use 100% wet mix on the effects.

Both dry and wet pre-send go to the master out, or to the same stereo group if you've got a board/virtual deck that can to that.

Also, applying EQ to the "dry compressed only" track only, also a gate if you need to drop the noise, and get it to sound as good and clean as you can. Pulling back on the overall level of the dry track and running the same amount or *just a little more* through the pre-send as you do through the dry track. Both outs are panned to the same location in the mix.

The dry track will anchor the vocal in the mix, and the wet pre-send (which did not get EQ or compression) causes a reinforcement of the nice stuff you did with the EQ, while still presenting the pre-EQ'ed natural voice *as a doubling* due to the slight delay. If you need, slap some compression on the return track to keep the levels steady.

When you're using software that allows quick application of effects into the signal chain, the above is not hard at all.

So the vocals are sounding not bad so far, I will come back in a couple of days after getting away from it to really get a fresh impression.

Also, mixing: center the kick, center the bass, center the vocals, pan one keyboard left, the other right, if you have guitars put them to the right and left of the drums, maybe move the keys out further, if you have ambience or string/drone type stuff wrap that around the back with heavier reverb. If that doesn't suit you, move some stuff around a bit, but don't move the freaking kick or the bass, that's just irritating. Some software allows you to 'set the stage' with the instruments, basically that's what you're doing with levels, panning an reverb.

Once you come up with a quick draft of the image, to get levels the best: *put on headphones*, MONO the headphones, don't turn it up too loud. Then set the levels up, front to back. Click back to stereo-- boom, things should be nice. THEN you can really fine tune the image, maybe you fine you need to add EQ. If so, Rinse, repeat the mono/stero trick if needed.

Speaking of Peter Gabriel, a nice interview with him in Future Music magazine. He is doing mixes in 5.1 for audio DVD, likening the difference between this immersed listening experience and stereo to "having sex as opposed to watching other people have sex". This is par for the course, I'd say this is likely the way the major record companies will start to go more and more, DVD also provides video entertainment as well, which means the gap between indie and major is about to widen once again-- like when indie meant "cassette" and label meant "CD". I could easily see doing DVD audio in 5.1, but video is a whole other endeavor.

Now, ok, so I'm kind of happy with the vocals, happier than I've been in a while. The songs/lyrics are a little 'quirky' but that's kind of where I'm at. There are no real 90s or 00s modern analogues to singer/songwriter/lyricists who have pushed the lyrical envelope like Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, David Bowie, or Lou Reed (or going back a bit further, Jim Morrison.. or further still, Lennon/McCartney, for that matter).

You might say Robert Smith... ok, I'll buy that, but not to the same level as these others. I guess I'm not supposed to say Morrisey in the same sentence, I find the words he uses very good, I find his musical assemblage of them very much too wandering.

I guess as an indie artist I should not liken myself to any precursor and assiduously avoid labels... but anyway, of all of these, I think that to even exhibit a fleeting glimpse of a synthesis of Gabriel and Byrne with tinges of Cure: intellect, passion, a bit of sadness, a bit of mania, a bit of social perspective, a bit of 'critical distancing' and a bit of humor... that would be incredibly cool.

To achieve what Lennon/McCartney did, well, that will likely never happen again and it will definitely not happen to me: an unbelievable breadth of lyrical observation and involvement.

Yeh, ok I didn't mention Bob Dylan as far as lyrics-- didn't want to go that way far back. Also, apparently Bruce Springsteen was the most recent "next Bob Dylan" according to some music press types.

thanks for reading, I'll be posting more frequently now that I'm done with the more intense recording. Don't forget to visit the Utenzil site, as well as other GB artists.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Utenzil CD on!

The CD product notes on look good and the price is good, too.

It is actually the case that CD Baby's price is a little better, much better in the case of the 20% discount for multiple discs. However, Tower also will give free shipping on orders over 20 dollars, so if you are buying an assortment of two or more it works out well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Seasons greetings from Utenzil and Free streaming MP3s

Free MP3 Downloads available at band site

As I mentioned in another post, many of the streaming links in this blog are now not working, but you can hear the sounds of Utenzil at the band site. There are free to share Creative Commons licensed MP3 downloads. Also, the CD (all new tracks) will be available on iTunes as well as individual tracks when they get around to putting it up there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Something funny about the name...

I first wanted to name the project "utensil". I changed that for a number of reasons. One, there was a small indie record label by the same name. Second, it was not unique enough to come up nicely in popular internet search engines. But I still wanted to be able to have it pronounced in a similar way. So, changed the "s" to a "z", stunning creative leap there, right? :-)

But: there are apparently multiple meanings to "tenzil" in some languages, and it's a name in several different areas of the world. It seems to mean "dance" in one context, (U Dance, that's cool) as it appears in the title of a song (maybe some obscurity points gained, where 'modern cool points' are deducted: it was in the title of a song by Abe Schwarz, the "King of Klezmer").

There is also a Turkish word, "tenzil" which means "lowering, reducing", and it is a name there also. In addition (and similarly as well, I guess) there is a tranquilizer brand named "Tenzil".

There are some figures in Near and Central Asian history named "Tenzil", as well as a role-playing-game fantasy superhero from the planet Bismoll named "Tenzil Kem, the Matter-Eater Lad". I don't know the meaning when it's used as a name.

kinda weird.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Some updates and a recap

Update: because you've happened by this blog, you know there is a 20% limited time discount on multiple copy orders of the Utenzil CD at CDBaby!

To recap: the tracks on the CD were composed, performed and recorder over June-September of 2004. During October, the account and barcode set up with the online distributor, CD Baby in addition, the artwork was designed, the CD was mastered and duplicated in limited quantities in October, shipped to the distributor in November.

In December, the distributor has propagated the CD inf0o to Tower Record's online store, and CD Baby also digitally delivered the CD to MusicNet and iTunes.

And now, I'm working on the next release, to be due out in the spring.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

USPS flat rate shipping, that's helpful...

I'm going to send an additional set of CDs to CDBaby so they have some of the CDs with artwork. I have been able to dub these at 24x and they sound great on my car stereo: I have not been able to do this reliably with the other blanks I have.

Amazingly, the US Postal Service has flat rate shipping boxes, $7.70 priority shipping to anywhere in the country no matter what it weighs, as long as it fits in the box. This is helpful.

Something else, which basically breaks all the other links to streaming mp3s in this blog, which is a drag but which I will go back and fix, is that has a new MP3 player, that is Macromedia Flash based. you can try it here, with the Utenzil track 'Tropikonal (Extended Mix)' its kinda cool.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The new CDs with artwork sound good...

I have dubbed a few of the 50 that I got with the artwork, they sound fine. I need to make some more copies, then get working on some more music, and also look into performing live. Haven't heard from this contact, wondering if they are more interested in harder edge goth/industrial.

Also, there is a new MP3 player on, here's what it looks like, it's Macromedia Flash based.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Received my CD cases and blank CDs with artwork today!

These are very nice. The cases come with insert cards and covers inserted, which makes the price much more worth it. I have not yet listened to examples of the CDs that I've burned, but they look great. Also, this means that the magic marker originals (which I got pretty good with decorating) are truly unique and rare.

Utenzil is also available at Tower Records online and has been delivered for digital distribution to the MusicNet service.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I seem to have made a viable contact... how did that happen?

This afternoon, IM'ing with someone about something totally unrelated and I mention that I am selling a CD online and they say "send that link to this person" and this person happens to be a promoter and knows folk of similar if not identical musical taste in the area.

So I will be providing these folks with CDs of my stuff, see how it flies (or not).

Could be interesting. Could get played in a club, real soon. could get me laughed at, roundly and long; might not make any difference at all. *hee*

I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Considering playing live, continued...

So playing live, this is very different from the performance in the home studio followed by mixing/tweaking/production, etc. I've played live before, both free and paid gigs, and not just one nighters but mostly one nighters. I have never been in a band that had a full support crew.

It looks like fun, and mostly it is a really fun thing to do while performing. When things go wrong, it can be weird-- not necessarily "bad", but it can be bad.

Setting up is not all that bad, tearing down can be a real grind.

The best way to get gigs is to know someone who is gigging, particularly someone who is doing multiple shows in your general area. There is a site that enables musicians to network that I've recently signed up for, I need to upload a track and figure out how their exchange system works.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Considering playing live

I think I might like to play somewhere at this point. I've got the software down pretty well, I can load up my various projects and let them go, drop some clips in and activate effects to add some spontaneity and uniqueness.

Seems like that would mean a PA system. I am not nor have I ever been a "DJ", I am "a musician with a laptop, passable vocals and some guitar capability". But I want to try to get the same sound that I get when I play the CD on a nice stereo system. Also, I don't want to lug around a ton of equipment, piled in the pickup, praying that the tarp stays on as it starts to drizzle... my back remembers that experience all too well. But I'm thinking I need triple crossovers and a stack of cabinets to get good sound quality.

Well, went to the music store, and the guy at the pro sound counter easily demonstrated that my notion is quite wrong, by playing the new Utenzil CD through the Bose Personal Amplification System.

I would agree with this reviewer and would not have thought such clean and detailed sound was possible through a PA-type system. It was more akin to what I've heard from a surround sound home theatre system, only capable of many more decibels. I was nothing less than numb stunned, also more satisfied than I would've thought I could be with the way the Utenzil CD sounded.

ok.... well, wonderful, but... it is not inexpensive. The primary pillar speaker unit is 1700 dollars, a sub unit (which the salesguy indicated I would need two of to get the full sound I heard demonstrated) is another 300.

2300 dollars. Hoo boy. If I play out, this is would be the system to adequately and accurately portray the Utenzil sound, and now that I've heard it I could not settle for less. The pillar speaker is designed to readily come apart into convenient sections and easily fit in the trunk of a car.

what can you do... music store salespeople know how to ply their trade. Also, I need to look around for suitable venues, which I may simply not be able to find: this music is weird by design. I'm thinking a bookstore or coffee shop type place where "listening electronica" (as opposed to dance) might be welcome. Also, maybe a dance-type club on an off night might support this activity. This is where it will get difficult: I am introverted, pathetically shy, and I don't have all that much free time. But, I am also not in any great hurry.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Pictures from the "assembly line"

The magic marker artwork CDs are not *that* bad looking, are they? The one in the case is among the original shipment, the others laid out on the vintage Casio CZ 5000 are part of the follow up shipment.