The debut EP from Focus Fox was released today. My brother-in-law Daniel Nelson is the brain child behind this five track modern folk rock/alt-country gem.
Dan’s songwriting has found a strong footing here. This short album seems to continue on from where Jeff Buckley abruptly left off. His intricate and lush guitar work accompanies his clear and sometimes vibrato-shaken voice. Lyrics are delivered directly, pulling no punches, but never feeling forced.
I had the honor of laying down some BGVs on track 2.
Apple’s GarageBand makes it relatively easy to sketch out an audio demo, but it does have some severe, intentionally-crippled limitations.
One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of built-in support for exporting MIDI data.
Performances are stored inside the session file in some sort of MIDI fashion, but Apple doesn’t give users an easy way to get that information out. Major bummer. *looks west towards Cupertino, squints eyes, shakes fist in air, mutters under breath*
However, a nice guy named Lars Kobbe has put together a workaround/hack that extracts MIDI data from the reluctant clutches of GarageBand. You can download his GB2MIDI Apple droplet script from his site: MIDI-Export in Apples Garageband. Here’s the direct download: GB2MIDI.ZIP
The article is in German, but instructions in English are found near the bottom of the article (just before the comments section). Getting the MIDI data out involves several steps. Here’s my summary of the process.
How to Extract MIDI Data from GarageBand
Join (Command-J) regions of a track you want to export
Convert that region to a loop via Edit > Add to Loop Library (NOTE: In GarageBand 10.1.0 this menu item is now located under File > Add Region to Loop Library )
Find the newly created loop file (an .AIF with MIDI data hidden inside it) in the folder: Macintosh HD (or whatever your system drive is named)/Users/(your home folder)/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
or the abbreviated: ~/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
Drop that .AIF file on Lars’ GB2MIDI droplet
Grab the freshly extracted .MID file, which should appear in the same folder where the .AIF loop was. If not, see the comment section below.
Import the .MID file into a respectable DAW (basically almost anything other than GarageBand).
Make next hit record.
That last step is optional, but I say go for it. 😉 Let me know if this helped you.
If you’re having trouble locating the loop file, it may be because your Library and/or Users folders are hidden, as later OS X versions have been wont to do.
To unhide the Library folder, open the Terminal application, which is found in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder. At the prompt type the following: chflags nohidden ~/Library/
To unhide the Users folder, type this into Terminal: sudo chflags nohidden /Users
Then enter your administrator password.
Look for the newly unhidden Users folder in your hard drive’s root folder. It should look something like this:
After running “sudo chflags no hidden /Users” you should see the Users folder (highlighted in red in the image above) appear under the root folder of your hard drive (often named “Macintosh HD” by default).
This GarageBand MIDI article has regularly been one of the most popular posts on my site. That means there are a lot of people using GarageBand and discovering its unfortunate MIDI limitations. The best bit of advice I can give to any musician or audio engineer still using GarageBand is STOP. I know that may sound harsh, but GarageBand is intentionally made to be consumer-grade software. If you’re serious about recording, take the time to investigate other DAWs. Find an alternative solution. There are many to choose from and nearly every one of them is less limited than GarageBand. They range from super affordable to “professionally priced.” Here’s a list to get you started. (Some links are affiliated.)
Sometime last year, my friend Autumn Ashley asked if I’d help her complete her next EP. She ran a Kickstarter to raise funds and anyone who contributed got the album early. On Friday, Autumn Ashley’s BATTLEGROUNDS album was finally made available for everyone.
BATTLEGROUNDS by Autumn Ashley
When Autumn first contacted me about BATTLEGROUNDS, she had all the songs written, rough demos recorded, and a handful of local arrangers putting together the individual song scores. She asked if I’d help engineer the recording sessions. As we got into it she asked if I’d also play some instruments and design the artwork.
A few months later, I headed out to Autumn’s place in Connecticut for a week of turning demos and scores into album-ready recorded audio. We tracked friends new and old playing a variety of orchestral instruments in a few different locations.
Pianist Tim Lillis performing nocturnally, on a piano I tuned with a drum key
It was a great learning experience.
Autumn and Scott at the helm while Nate Brown, arranger for the title track “Battlegrounds,” confirms proper execution of his score
I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And that’s why I really appreciate the people that pre-ordered the album and the people that are about to buy the album on iTunes. For a few bucks, you’ll get 5 bloodsweatandtears songs plus you’ll be supporting indie music and local (if you live in Connecticut) artists!
Setting up microphones for recording Autumn Ashley playing acoustic guitar
For the record, at the time the error occurred I was running OS 10.8.4 and Pro Tools 9.0.6 on a Mac Book Pro with an iLok 2.
I had to force quit Pro Tools. Then I unplugged my iLok 2 and plugged it into a different USB jack. Presto. Working again. Not sure what caused it, nor if switching USB jacks was actually the fix, but I did get it working again after doing so. Hope this helps somebody.
I confirmed again that switching which USB jack the iLok 2 was plugged into made the difference. I would think that this is a problem with that particular USB jack, but all other USB devices work just fine plugged in there. Hmm…
Hey friends! I’m really excited to announce the debut of the official music video for my song “O Sweet Grace” from All Is Sideways. Here it is!
About the Video
This video would not be possible without the enormous help and generosity of a team of my friends and family. Only through their giving of time, effort, and expertise did this project come together. Below is a little bit about each of them. Thanks, team!
Katie and Scott pause for a serious photo between takes.
This duet song and video features Katie Nelson, a singer/songwriter/recording artist that played on a handful of the songs from my album All Is Sideways. She actually helped me write the song, though she doesn’t take any credit for it. Katie has several albums out and I’m producing her next album about queens throughout history. The music is a bit of departure from what she has done in the past, and I’m really excited for everyone to hear it. I’ll post when it drops.
Dan Madison of High Decibel Media, wearing his Steadicam on the set of the “O Sweet Grace” music video shoot.
Many, many thanks to Dan Madison of High Decibel Media. He first approached me about making a music video and had this song in mind. I too had this song in mind for a music video, so of course, I said yes. Dan and I have worked on a few projects together, but never in this capacity. Dan wore many hats as the producer, camera operator, and editor. If you need a video made, I highly recommend Dan. He has a new recording studio too in the Indianapolis area, so if you’re looking to record in the Midwest, contact him. He has a new website coming later this year.
Christopher Whonsetler taking photographs during a break from lighting the set.
If you’ve followed me on social media and elsewhere, you’ve probably already seen some of Christopher’s work. Chris (or Whonphoto as many know him), is my cousin and the photographer for many of my official promotional photos. He runs his photography business out of Indianapolis, but has and will travel just about anywhere. Chris took some photos on the set and ran the lighting. If you have an adventure and need a photographer, I guarantee Chris is up for it.
Matt, cueing audio while hiding on the floor behind a booth.
On short notice and with about 5 minutes of training, my brother Matt jumped in to help cue audio playback on the set so Katie and I could lip sync to the prerecorded audio. We shot in slow mo, so the audio had to be sped up. Matt cued the audio from his iPhone through a BIG JAMBOX, which worked really well. Matt does a lot of creative work, but not usually in the arts. He co-founded a construction company called Emergent Investments in the Indianapolis area. They do really amazing work, which you can see on their Facebook page and in the featured image of the Angie’s List app.
Since Eric was the “behind the scenes” photographer, so this is the only photo I have of him from the video shoot. In between takes, I caught him chowing down on some biscuits and gravy.
My brother Eric is an artist/graphic designer/developer and amateur photographer. He volunteered to help out on set and shoot some behind the scenes photos and video. He caught a lot of great moments (and some embarrassing ones) over the course of the 2 very long and very late nights we shot the music video. I’ll be posting more of his work later in a behind the scenes post. Eric works at Angie’s List as the lead iOS developer, does some freelance web design, and runs neck and neck with me for frequency of crazy ideas per day.
Tim helping out on set and simultaneously auditioning for rugged male model.
Tim is a good friend and nearly like another brother. He also works in the design/web industry and does amateur photography. Tim volunteered to lend his hands and creative mind on set while shooting behind the scenes. I was really glad to have Tim’s eagle eyes keeping track of the details—especially when late in the game when we were all tired and not thinking straight. If you need someone who can fill any role to round out your creative team, get yourself some Tim. You’ll be glad you did.
Eat any time of day or night in Fountain Square at Peppy Grill.
A special thanks goes out to Peppy Grill in Fountain Square. The fine folks that work there were kind enough to let us shoot part of our music video in their restaurant. Thanks to Betty, Michelle, Joe, and Mike for taking care of us, giving Katie way too much coffee, and helping to make the shoot a great memory!
A Final Note
Thanks to you, the friends and fans that share my music. Here are the links to the video on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, or your network of choice. Let me know what you think of the video!
PACE has changed how their customers interface with their infamous iLok. The iLok is a DRM dongle, that many software manufacturers use to manage licensing. Formerly, all licenses were managed (mostly just fine) through the ilok.com website, which is now an insufferable “support” site. The new, prematurely launched system PACE requires users to install the iLok License Manager application on their computer.
Ok, no big deal, right?
I recently purchased several plugins to use in my audio production. I’d love to use these great new plugins, but I can’t because the PACE application is horrible.
In order to use the plugins, I need an iLok 2, which has to have the licenses on it, which must be loaded onto the iLok only by using the iLok License Manager, which won’t even allow me to sign in. This is the error I get.
The session you were using is no longer valid. Press OK to establish a new session.
Pressing OK makes the error go away, but it comes right back when I click “Sign In.” The iLok support site doesn’t list this problem as a issue I can submit a support ticket for. So that’s it. I can’t sign in.
If this were a football game, PACE fumbled at kickoff, bungled the whole first half, refuse to answer any questions at half time, and amazingly the fumbled ball is still loose in the second half.
I think this screen grab from the iLok.com website says perfectly what many digital audio workers are thinking.
A funny thing happened with some of the content on this page. I can’t tell the story just yet, but I bet it’s going to be a good laugh when it’s all over. Interweb lulz.
As promised…a funny story. After poking around my site stats and hits, I discovered someone was hot linking me.
If you’re not familiar with hot linking, it’s like stealing cable TV from a neighbor, except it hurts the neighbor instead of the cable company. I had a bandwidth leech!
Anyway, a very popular, well-respected pro audio plug-in development company (who will remain unnamed, because it ended well) was using an image from my site on their support page. It was the photograph I took of two iLoks, which is featured at the top of this very blog post.
I knew I could do something funny with the hot link and maybe get a free plug-in out of it. So I created this new image to replace the one they were linking to on my server.
The names of people and plug-ins are blurred out to protect both the guilty and the innocent.
This meant that the above image would now show up on their site. Zing!
I had formatted it to look nearly identical to their artist endorsements in hopes that it might ride under the radar, remaining visible on their support page for as long as possible. For a short while this unofficial endorsement was live on their site.
Long story short…I uploaded the image and went to bed.
Surprisingly, less than 12 hours later I received an email from one of the company’s developers. He basically said, “well played,” thanked me for not goatse-ing them (If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it.), and let me pick out a free plug-in. Woohoo!
Moral of the story: Hot linking costs everyone something.
Side note: The very same iLok 2 that’s in the picture featured in this debacle must have a desire to make me famous/infamous. It is the very same iLok I photographed to use in the satirical movie poster THE SNOWDEN ULTIMATUM, which was featured in Forbes and lots of other places. There’s something strange about that iLok.
A smart guy named Helmut Haas discovered a bunch of cool things about the way our human brains decode the sounds we hear to determine the direction of where those sounds originate.
Back in 1949, Mr. Haas found that early reflections of sounds help our brains decipher where the sounds came from. We can tell a noise came from the left not simply because we hear it in our left ear, but also because the sound bounces off a wall to our right and hits our right ear a very short time after it hit our left ear. Almost instantaneously, the brain detects the short time between the two signals and tells us, “Hey, that sound you just heard came from your left. Better turn your head to see what it was!” This happens so quickly that we don’t really even think about it. We just “know” it came from the left.
Haas also recognized that early reflections are basically copies of the initial sound that are delayed slightly. He started messing with people’s heads. He pointed speakers at them and firing sounds with very short delay differences. Then he asked the test subjects which direction the sound seemed to come from.
His conclusion: Not only is it fun to play with sounds, but also 40 ms (milliseconds) is some kind of magic point for our brains. If an echo is more than 40 ms after the initial sound, then we hear the sounds as separate instances. But if the delays happen within 40 ms or less of each other, then we perceive them together as merely directionality cues of a single sound.
For example, if a sound hits our right ear and the same sound hits our left ear 0.3 ms later, we don’t hear two sounds, we only hear one sound coming from approximately our 1 o’clock position.
Engineers have implemented the Haas effect as an alternative to panning. Most of the time panning works just fine, but it does have limits.
Sometimes panning leaves the location of the audio feeling indeterminate, smeared, mono, or one dimensional. This is why a lot of engineers skip the pan knob altogether and mix LCR.
To effectively localize a track in a stereo field using the Haas effect, engineers have to do a couple things. They duplicate the track, pan the two tracks hard left and right, and then apply a delay to only one of the sides. The delay is applied to the side opposite of the side from which the sound is intended to perceived as originating.
Typical delay times for this technique are increments of 0.1 ms from 0.1 to 0.7 ms. This yields linear movement across the stereo field. You can think of it like this chart shows.
Example: Want the sound to come from 9 o’clock on the left? Delay the right side by about 0.4 or 0.5 ms.
After researching the Haas Effect, I decided I wanted to try it out in a mix. Since the settings must be very exact, setting it up correctly can be a bit confusing. Presets to the rescue!
I made these presets for the stock Digidesign Mod Delay II plug-in. These presets only work for this specific plug-in and Pro Tools. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll make more presets for other DAWs in the future.
Download this ZIP file, unzip it, and drop the folder and included presets in the Mod Delay II folder in the Plug-in Settings folder. On a Mac it’s probably located at Library / Application Support / Digidesign / Plug-In Settings / Mod Delay II, but may be in a different location on your system.
Setting up the tracks
Insert an instance of the Mod Delay II (mono/stereo) plug-in on the mono track you want to Haas-ify. Select the preset you want. No need to duplicate tracks. Bingo.
Understanding how to use the Haas effect properly means you need to understand and pay attention to things like stereo-to-mono compatibility and comb filtering, as well as other stereo field mixing techniques. As with all effects, have fun but be careful not to over do it. Experiment and do your homework. Then let me know if you find learn or discover anything cool. Here’s a cool video that got me thinking about the Haas effect.This video no longer available.
Ever get this error? Can’t open your session, right? Not only is it a major workflow stopper, but the double punctuation typo at the end is annoying as well.
Luckily, the solution is quite simple.
This is the quick fix that works for me and my particular setup of hardware/software. Your mileage may vary.
Quit Pro Tools
Restart Pro Tools
Open the session that wouldn’t open before
Get back to work
The IT mantra “Have you tried turning if off and on again?” waves the problem away like a magic wand, but why is this problem happening in the first place?
The last time this error occurred for me, I noticed that it was after I had ejected my audio hard drive, removed my iLok, and left Pro Tools open, but put my machine to sleep before Pro Tools could issue the panic message: “Hey! Where’s your iLok, buddy?! That’s it! We’re shutting this whole thing down.” Then when I went to reopen the last session I was working on, boom, the error in question occured.
I’m guessing that between the time I ejected everything and the time I plugged it all back in and tried to fire it up again, Pro Tools had switched its default sample rate from whatever my Mbox 2 Pro says it was to whatever my MacBook Pro thinks it should be. Then when I try to open a session with a particular sample rate that doesn’t jive with what the current rate is, Pro Tools freaks out because it thought it knew what was right, but doesn’t even know anymore, man.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually know how or why the error is occurring. These are just my slightly educated stabs in the dark. If you know anything more about this error, why it happens, and, most importantly, why there’s a typo in it, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
I love when good things happen to my friends. Recently, my friend Dave Wilton, who writes and performs under the name A Boy & His Kite, had his song “Cover Your Tracks” selected to be included in the upcoming The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2 movie. The soundtrack is out now (available on iTunes) and his full album (which is sure to be amazing) will be out soon November 20th.
Dave is a very talented songwriter, musician, engineer, and producer. He’s also one of the nicest guys I know. So if anyone deserves the attention that a Twilight soundtrack attracts, it’s certainly Dave. He makes incredibly beautiful and complex music. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.
We met through his brother Dan, bassist and one of the three singers/songwriters in Rudisill. Dave was a tremendous help and positive influence over us as we were getting started as a band. He helped guide a few of our recording sessions, bestowed some of his songwriting and musical wisdom with us, and even lent us his gorgeous Tele a few times. (Side note: Dave, I’m going to steal that guitar from you someday. Just FYI. 😉 ).
I’m really excited for Dave and hope everyone can pick up his record when it comes out. Make sure to follow Dave / A Boy & His Kite for all the latest news about his music! If you can, help spread the word about his music too!
Mixing audio is not easy. I’m no expert, but something just struck me…
Maybe making a great mix simply comes down to listening to a song a thousand times and removing all the little things that annoy you until there’s nothing left to dislike. Hopefully the subtraction leaves you with enough material to reveal the goodness of the song. I bet great mixing engineers can get there in fewer than a 1000 listens. Maybe there’s more to it. Just a thought.
Sound is basically waves of pressure changes. The exact definition is more complicated, but essentially we perceive sound because our ears decode the frequencies of oscillating movement of particles in gases, liquids, and solids. There are many ways to generate sound waves, such as plucking guitar strings so they vibrate, or hitting a membrane like a drum head.
A long time ago, people discovered that sound could also be made by blowing air through a pipe with a opening on the side, thus inventing the whistle. They also found that a range of tones could be produced by assembling a group of whistles with varying lengths and diameters. Then they attached a controller (called a keyboard or manual) so that one person could “play” this collection of pipes. Their invention is what we now know as the pipe organ.
At the start, pipe organs had only one timbre – a basic whistle sound, but over the next several hundred years, smart inventors and musicians made improvements in the technology. They found ways to emulate lots of other instruments, like brass, woodwinds, percussion, and even human voices. Their hope was to fully replicate those real life instruments.
As features were added, pipe organs evolved into enormous, elaborate, and expensive installations, increasingly more complicated to play and maintain. While these pipe organs were truly amazing inventions, capable of creating complex and beautiful music, they were actually quite poor emulations of the real life instruments they were intended to replace.
Still, we humans are adaptable and we fell in love with the sound of pipe organs, learning to appreciate the instrument for what it was, not what it wasn’t.
Eventually, we discovered electricity and began to harness its power to create electromechanical instruments. Creative minds developed things like vacuum tubes, tone wheels, and transistors. Companies like Hammond and Wurlitzer implemented tone wheels to generate sounds approximating a pipe organ.
However, similar to the pipe organ, this new technology was a brilliant invention that poorly emulated its predecessor. These new organs were affordable alternatives to pipe organs, so in spite of being a bad imitation they became popular with smaller houses of worship. Traveling musicians took advantage of the portability of these smaller organs too, making their sound common in popular jazz, blues, and rock music.
Once again, our ears grew accustomed to the sound of the imitation, developing an affinity for the quirks of its particular aesthetic.
As the march of progress continued, electronics became smaller and more powerful. Engineers found ways to replace the delicate mechanical parts in electric organs, which were subject to wear and tear, with completely electronic sound generators. Lightweight, all electronic keyboard synthesizers used a variety of methods in attempts to replicate the sounds of their heavier electromechanical ancestors.
But just like before, history would repeat itself. The new emulators were incredible technological achievements that fell short of their goal of replacing the old technology. Though they lacked the ability to fully replicate the previous generation, they possessed attributes that eventually found an audience of connoisseurs that valued them not just in spite of their glitches, but because of their unique properties.
Today, we synthesize the sounds of the old technologies with computers and keyboard MIDI controllers. While initially computers could only crudely imitate the old masters, DSP technology is progressing rapidly. CPU speed and available RAM are no longer the main limitation factors. As the computational power ceiling continues to rise higher and higher, software programmers are able to provide increasingly nuanced emulators that can easily fool the listener into believing that the software is actually the real thing.
At this point, if you’re still reading, then you probably can see how this history correlates to the plot of the film Inception. Each new technological breakthrough has been like a deeper dream state, where the simulation moves further and further away from reality.
→ Pipe organs
→ → Electric organs
→ → → Keyboards
→ → → → Software
However, just like in the film, while each level becomes more strange and abstract, the deepest level — Limbo — actually approaches something most like the real thing or maybe even better. Today’s emulators delve into such detail and are able to control even the most minute aspects of the sound, that it won’t be long before they easily eclipse the believability of the old technology. In fact, we may already be there.
A few years ago (when the emulators weren’t half as good as they are now), a friend of mine (who has very good ears) dropped by the studio to hear a song I was working on. When the B3 organ kicked in during the chorus, he declared, “That organ sounds great. There’s nothing like the real thing!” Muwhahaha! The smoke and mirrors of software emulation had worked.
Inspiration for This Article
This idea of how keyboard technology relates to Inception came about through a discussion with my friend Hoss. Over the weekend we were working on the keyboard parts for our band Rudisill’s next album Take To Flight. In between takes of an organ part we marveled at the realization that the software he was using was an emulation of an emulation of an emulation — a truly strange scenario.
Follow Rudisill to hear about the new album when it is released later.
One of the first lessons in the long, ugly self-education process of teaching yourself to play guitar is how to tune your instrument. When you’re learning something new you’re bound to make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes lead to new discoveries.
My early mistakes while trying to wrangle my guitar into tune accidentally opened the door to exploring alternate or alternative tunings. After realizing that EADGBE or “standard” tuning is not the only way to tune a guitar, I intentionally began playing around with tunings, discovering things like DADGBD (Double Drop D) and EADF♯BE.
Since then, I’ve read about Nick Drake, who some consider to be the godfather of alternate tunings, and learned that you can’t really play Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin tunes faithfully or easily in standard tuning.
Armed with that knowledge and even more curiosity, I’ve added to my repertoire more tunings like DACGAD, CGAGCE, DGDGBD, DADDAD, and even DDDGDD (thanks to Ben Albright). But perhaps the most interesting tuning I’ve discovered is one I made up.
One day I was thinking about how the B string in standard tuning stands alone. Standard tuning is based on intervals of fourths (or 2½ steps), so the pitch for each string can be found by fretting the next lower pitched string at the fifth fret. For example, fretting the low E string at the fifth fret sounds the note A, which is the note of the next higher string. And the A string can be fretted at the fifth fret to give a D. This works for all of the strings on the guitar except the B string. To find the pitch of the B string the G string must be fretted on the fourth fret, which produces a major third.
This break in the pattern bothered me. Sure, standard tuning is a solid, time-tested system with many good reasons for why it is the way it is, but I wondered what would happen if I used the fourth fret to tune all the way across.
What came out of that little experiment is a weird tuning that I often use: FAC♯FAA. I call it my two-step tuning, not because it’s good for songs with a two step feel, but because each string is two steps higher than the previous string.
Feel free to use this tuning, but don’t blame me for broken strings. 😉
Like standard tuning, I allowed one string to be an exception to the rule. If I had continued the pattern across, the high E should have been another C♯, but it proved difficult to make chord shapes this way. I thought I’d drop the string to A instead. This created a nice unison effect, but the string was too loose and easily fell out of tune. So I replaced the high E string with a string of the same gauge as the B string. And taa-daa! A new tuning!
But sadly, I could’t write much of anything with it.
An open strum produced an augmented triad, an interesting, but somewhat unsettling chord (take a major chord and sharp the fifth i.e. C-E-G♯). Plucking each string in succession revealed a tritonic scale of major thirds, which is not a scale Western ears (mine included) are accustomed to hearing in musical contexts. When all the notes of a scale are equidistant to each other, it becomes very difficult to determine the key. The scale is the same no matter where you start. John Coltrane used this peculiar aspect of major thirds to create a disorienting progression of chords now known as Coltrane changes.
None of the familiar chord shapes and scale patterns of standard tuning carried over to this new tuning either. My brain was flummoxed by its’ own invention. Having created something interesting, but not knowing what to do with it, I set it aside.
Sometime later I worked a summer as a truck driver for a fireworks company. I decided to take my guitar on the road with me to see if I could crack this tuning’s code. My truck route took me near where my friend Brian Fetter lived. Instead of sitting in a hotel, I was able to hang out with him for the evening. It was at his apartment that this tuning produced its’ first tune, a song called “If Ever In Doubt.”
For a long time, that was the only song that I could find in that tuning. I often referred to it as my “If Ever In Doubt” tuning. Over time the tuning and I became more comfortable with each other. A handful of songs have come to life through it. My latest album All Is Sideways features several of these songs (including the title track).
Reasons to Try Alternate Tunings
Create unique vibes standard tuning can’t make
Drone-like effects with open strings
Strange chords can be played with easier fingerings
Forces you to think about the sound and not resort the familiarity of what you know and muscle memory
What began ages ago as mere inklings of thought, vague notions of concept, and a few sparse melodies has now — at long last! — become a physical reality. The audio is mastered, the artwork polished, and the replication of my album has begun.
In a few short weeks All Is Sideways will be available in a variety of digital formats from the gamut of major online digital retailers, but those that preorder a CD will receive the album first (and signed too).
If you have followed the progress of this album, you know what a long, troublesome, and strange process it has been. The project began with a chance encounter with Jared Ribble in Nashville years ago while on tour. As time wore on and the tour meandered about the country, more chance encounters with musical friends (new and old) led to the creation of key components of the album. All Is Sideways features dozens of players in as many places playing all sorts of instruments. In as much as America is a melting pot, so too is this album a sonic stone soup. The individual tracks may seem too disparate to make an album, but one thing rings true for these songs:
They are part of me.
Time and again I’ve nearly given up believing that I’d ever finish this project. Attempting to make an album, one with your heart and soul embedded in the ones and zeros, can nearly break an artist. That goal is even more difficult when you’re a lone vagabond. You end up questioning everything — every note, phrase, idea, inclination — and not being sure of any of the answers you come up with. I found myself in a cyclical pattern of creating things, building layers, finding problems, giving up hope, discovering clarity, trying again, learning more than I wanted to know, rethinking my songs and myself, driving long silent hours on the road, questioning my purpose and plans, and eventually coming to terms (I think…) with the process. Album making is like psychotherapy, but the lines of professionalism and privacy get messed up because you’re both the patient and practitioner. It’s a head game and your results get published. Humbling.
So you can imagine why, even after all this time that I’ve had to work on the album, I feel a bit reluctant releasing it into the wild. While I’ve been really eager to get this album out there to you, my friends and family, part of me doesn’t feel ready. But as my friend (and engineer for most of the album) Lynn Graber often says:
“An album is never done. Eventually you just have to let it go.”
He’s right. I’ll never be finished with these songs. Every time I play them, listen to them, or think about them, I discover something new — a note to work on, a finer nuance to express, a deeper meaning of a lyric, a greater understanding of myself. I supposed that’s a place of growth or maturity or something else profound. In that regard, the songs may never be done and that’s probably a good thing.
Finished or not, the perfect moment will never come, so I’m letting the album go. Here it is: the button that lets me know that you want to hear what I’ve made for you. 😉
Our best efforts to judge objectively are often ruined by our subjectivity when rating works of art. iTunes gives us the ability to assign stars to every song in our libraries, but, man, is it hard to know how to use them well. There is great irony in the fact that recorded audio files are simply zeroes and ones, yet it is very difficult to rate those songs on a simple scale of zero to five stars.
Below is a breakdown of how I rate the songs in my iTunes Library. I’m approaching this from the viewpoint of a songwriter and producer, so I’m interested to hear how you rate your library.
Songs in my iTunes Library that have zero stars are tunes I have yet to rate. Unless I’m focusing on the task, I find it easy to get lost in the music and forget to click on those little stars. Sadly, a large percentage of my library is still unrated. I’ll get to it… someday.
A one star song merely proves that it is possible to record audio, but beyond that I find almost no redeeming quality. If I rate a song with one star, it has very little value to me. I hate these songs. Why do I keep them in my library? Different reasons, I guess. If a song is part of album, I don’t get rid of it because I hate incomplete sets. Sometimes I keep terrible songs around as a reminder of what not to do.
Songs I don’t like but that still have some redeeming value to them get two stars. It might be the crappiest song ever, but was recorded well. Or it might be a great song that was recorded terribly. Maybe it is an entirely mediocre song, but I can’t honestly say that I hate it. Whatever reason, I rarely listen to 2-star songs.
Three-stars are good songs that meet all my requirements for acceptable music. These are listenable and usually enjoyable, but they are not the first songs I run to when I need to listen to music. These are songs by artists I appreciate, but don’t consider my favorites. They might also be the rare less-likable songs of my favorite artists.
Four-star songs are great. They are above average and I consider them more enjoyable than most songs. However, I wouldn’t die for them. If the house is burning and I can take only the best with me, these songs would sadly be left behind. I’d miss them too. If you are an artist that makes a lot of 4-star songs and the occasional 5-star keeper, then you’re probably one of my favorite artists.
These five-star beauties make up my “deserted island” playlist. These are the rare audio gems that I could listen to over and over and never get tired of them. They are songs that define me. To get five stars a song has to score well in nearly all of these areas: songwriting, musicianship, philosophy, story, timelessness, inspiration, intellectualism, and enjoyability.
Some Examples of 5-star Songs in My iTunes Library
“Oh King” – Mark Mathis
“When It Don’t Come Easy” – Patty Griffin
“Since I’ve Been Loving You (Live)” – Led Zeppelin
“Hurt” – Johnny Cash
“God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise” – Ray LaMontagne
“None Of Us Are Free” – Solomon Burke
“Nude” – Radiohead
“Only A Man” – Jonny Lang
“Come All You Weary” – Thrice
“Been Here Before” – Jeremy Enigk
“The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us” – Sufjan Stevens
It’s an interesting concept. The wars between analog and digital rage on because they are systems separated by technologies that both have pros and cons. As technology progresses, what new pros and cons will we have to debate against older systems? Initially I answered with the following:
Realizing there’s much more to this debate than just a tweet, I thought I’d talk more about it here.
We Need Better Words to Describe How We’ll Make Music in the Future
In my original tweet, I used the phrase “Cerebral vs. Digital” to describe the future debate I imagine will happen. Maybe my choice of opposites wasn’t perfect. Better words can probably be found. This concept of diametrics I have in mind could be expressed in a variety of ways.
Cerebral vs. Physical
Solitary vs. Collaborative
Internal vs. External
Each of those word combinations is describing the same contrast of ideas. But how to best describe it?
The New System of Mind Music
In the (maybe not so distant) future, musicians will have the ability to directly output music from their heads. Technology will be developed that will allow artists to simply think/imagine/hear the music in his/her head and output this as audio and/or notation. This cerebrally generated “audio feed” could be routed (maybe even wirelessly) to a recording device to be documented, distributed, and sold. Theoretically, this process could happen as a live performance. The signal could be routed to a sound system for a concert, to an internet connection for worldwide streaming, or even directly injected (almost telepathically) into the head of a “listener” outfitted with the proper “receiver” device.
The possibilities are fantastic. Composers could direct an entire imaginary orchestra as they hear it in their minds. Dancers could dance to their own music in real time. Musicians could play exactly what they intend to play. Singers could sing in whatever voices they can imagine. Handicapped artists suddenly would be unrestricted by their handicaps.
This technological breakthrough in music will follow a path familiar to video games. With the Wii, Nintendo brought wireless motion-sensing accelerometer action to everyday people. The developers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band banked a lot of cash by making it really easy to “play” popular music without having to learn an instrument. Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox removed the need for a controller, allowing the person to become the controller. I don’t know who will create the first mind-controlled music technology, but somebody’s going to do it.
Cool meant something totally different back then. Don’t judge.
As with any change, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Unfortunately, music will experience yet another Regrettable Period in which we have to learn how to use this new technology properly. I predict some gross and unsavory abuse of the technology, much like the ubiquity of terrible synthesizers in the 1980s or prevalence of auto-tuned vocals since Cher started believing in life after love. But some lucky artist is going to enjoy the honor of being known as the one that mastered this wonderful new system, thus becoming the “Grand Master Flash of whatever-this-thing-may-become-known-as.” Someone will figure out how to use it right, but it might take some time. In the meantime, wear earplugs.
Why We’ll Argue About This
At first, this newfangled gadgetry will be heralded as the end of “real” music and musicianship. The critics will say it’s too easy and not authentic music. Traditional composers and invested players will complain that no one has to learn how to write or play anymore. And much in the same way that digital was derided as a poor substitute for analog, purists will say that this cerebral form loses something in the process. Those arguments all might be right, but there may be a bigger issue lurking.
Trapped “In The Box”
When the process of making music becomes entirely internalized it will be really great because of it’s purity and singularity of thought, but will it simultaneously suffer from lack of external influences? When digital recording became popular, the question was often asked by one artist or engineer to another: “Was this all done ‘in the box?’” – meaning: was the audio signal created, mixed, and mastered on the same computer? Early on, music created entirely in this fashion lacked the beneficial effects that analog systems inherently imparted upon the audio signal. Today, the line has been blurred by better technology, so it’s harder to tell if something was recorded analog or digital. Only engineers with “golden ears” can hear the difference (even then I suspect shenanigans). At any rate, the question still remains: What benefits will be lost due to the signal remaining “in the box” of your head?
Potential Musical Influences
People – The comradery, inspiration, ideas, criticism, differing views, and friction found when people work together often makes for better music. Being alone can lead to dead ends and boring or bad music. Collaboration can make beautiful things.
Hardware – Though they are inanimate objects, the instruments and devices used to make music come with their own inspirations, challenges, rewards, frustrations to overcome, and occasional good glitches. Sometimes a piece of gear has to be conquered and relinquishes its magic upon defeat.
Criticism – The critic is the archenemy of the artist, but every good story needs a villain. Without judgement, no work is ever as best as it can be. Words are often revealed for their folly only after they’ve left the head.
Movement – Music and movement are very strongly related. When making music, movement is both part of the instigation of sound, but also a reaction to the sound being created. Performance and dance are like cousins. So if movement is not necessary for the creation of music, what effect will that have on the final product?
Good Things Will Happen
A lot of things can go wrong in this new system, but a lot of things can go right too. Eventually we’ll work out the kinks. We’ll figure out the typical pitfalls. We’ll master this medium like we have with all the others. One day amazing music will be generated using nothing but musicians’ brains. I’m hedging a bet it will be the direct output of some ridiculously young Mozart’s mind that will blow us all away. Perhaps this new interface will teach us something about how our brains work. Maybe it will allow us to communicate more precisely on ever deeper levels. What if it develops into a new universal language? Hmm.
The audio device buffer underflowed. If this occurs frequently, try decreasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel or remove other devices from the audio firewire bus. (-6085)
Occasionally this error pops up in Pro Tools, usually after I return from a meal in the middle of a long recording or mixing session. The session file will only playback audio for 1 second or less and then the error message pops up. Apparently, Pro Tools 9 is a workaholic and doesn’t like taking lunch breaks, at least when running on the particular combination of MacBook Pro, Mbox 2 Pro, and Western Digitalhard drive that I’m using.
Following the directions to decrease the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel doesn’t seem to help. In fact, not only does decreasing the buffer size seems contrary to the suggested way to solve a buffer underrun, but it then sometimes throws this error message:
A CPU overload occured. If this happens often, try increasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine Dialog, or removing some plug-ins. (-6101)
I’ve tried a lot of things and the problem seems to be related to the hard drive and firewire ports. Here’s how I fix it.
Save and Close the session.
Quit Pro Tools.
Eject the hard drive used for recording audio.
Unplug the audio hard drive and Mbox 2 Pro (or the audio interface you’re using).
Wait 10 seconds.
Reconnect the audio hard drive and audio interface.
Restart Pro Tools.
Reopen the session and press Play.
If the session plays back without stopping, then it worked. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you, which reminds me of a “Deep Thought” by Jack Handey.
If you ever crawl inside an old hollow log and go to sleep, and while you’re in there some guys come and seal up both ends and then put it on a truck and take it to another city, boy, I don’t know what to tell you.
Hopefully this solution worked for you. Let me know if you’ve had the same problem, what hardware you are running and if this solved the problem.
Download the Album Now My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button. Rate the Album and Write a Review Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. […]
My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button.
Rate the Album and Write a Review
Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. If you have a little time, please give the album 5 stars and leave your kindest words. Thanks!
Down of the left hand side of the page, there’s a little link that says “Alert Me.” Click that and iTunes will notify you of any new tracks I upload as soon as they become available on iTunes.
Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program. If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed […]
Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.
If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed me to jump around from my Mbox 2 Pro, Mbox 2 Micro, and MacBook Pro’s built-in sound card. This has been really handy while trying to finish up my album on the road. But, apparently, all that hardware hopping can cause the playback engine to get stuck in some funky states that don’t so work –if at all. See my previous post “FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value” for a similar issue.
Obviously, the problem has something to do with the playback engine. Since the error dialog only offers an ‘OK’ button, which closes Pro Tools, there doesn’t seem to be a way to work around the problem. There is not even a way to know what hardware Pro Tools is expecting.
I found a simple solution via this Sweetwater forum. The answer given there details how to get Pro Tools running on a PC, but I found that it worked for Macs too and without having to install any drivers. The fix is kind of like booting Pro Tools in safe mode. Simply hold the ‘N’ key while starting up Pro Tools. This will bypass the normal start up sequence and open up the Playback Engine window. Now you can select the correct playback engine and continue using Pro Tools.
In my situation, Pro Tools was looking for the last connected device (my Mbox 2 Pro), but since it wasn’t available it opted for the next available option: my MacBook Pro’s line input, which doesn’t make a very good playback engine.
Let me know if this fix worked for you.
This problem may have been fixed in the Pro Tools 9.0.2 update that came out yesterday, though I’ve not been able look through the 9.0.2 Readme file in detail or to test this out on the updated software. I’ll update this page when I find out more.
…at least not in a permanently defined state. It is always changing depending on context. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for guitar tone and the guy who is showing you exactly how to get “perfect” tone is either demonstrating his idea of a good sound for a very particular context or selling you something. Let the buyer beware!
I’ve seen a zildjillion YouTube videos and magazine articles in which an “expert” outlines in very fine detail the “preferred” gear or “professional” way to play/mic/mix. They have shown me how to dial in that Clapton tone, place ribbon mics like Eno, mix a hit song like the Lord-Alge brothers, mod my guitar and amp like SRV, and even dress like a rockstar. In each circumstance I think, “Yes, that might just work. I could sound like that, if I do everything else exactly the same way as Mr. Famous Rockstarpants.”
They have it right. It truly is the small stuff that matters. In fact, all these tiny details matter so much and there is such a vast quantity of them, that replicating such performances is nearly inconceivable. Every part of the signal chain plays a role – from player to instrument to amp to room to microphone to preamp and all the cables, power supplies, recording/storage media, surfaces, and recording/mixing/mastering engineers in between. Even weather, location, and moods can make a difference.
Needless to say, it’s nearly impossible to replicate that one sound by that one artist on that one record. So many factors are involved in the making of a sound, that in many cases the original artist that recorded it might not be able to make that precise sound again, even when given identical circumstances. (I’d like to point out that perhaps the very reason we enjoy certain sounds is because a beautiful moment was captured – something unique that will never happen again – and trying to recreate it verbatim would somehow make it less amazing. Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t very pretty, was he? I digress.)
“We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.” – quote attributed to B. B. King
And The Good News
Proper tone (the right tone at the right time) can be bought. You can pay for it with practice and critical listening. Good equipment is nice, but not necessary, as Jack White demonstrates so well in It Might Get Loud.
After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. […]
After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. I found several items relating to Windows and Pro Tools 8, but nothing for a Mac running Pro Tools 9. After messing around a bit I figured out the problem was with my playback engine. Here’s how I solved it. Let me know if it works for you too.
Open the Playback Engine dialog under the Setup menu item.
From the menu bar select Setup > Playback Engine… to open the Playback Engine dialog window.
The fix is easy. Simply select the right playback engine. Your options may differ based on your setup.
In my case, I usually would edit with my Mbox 2 Micro, but since Pro Tools 9 gives us so many more options for hardware compatibility, I selected Built-in Output. I was able to edit some vocal takes using my Macbook Pro’s speakers instead of pulling out my headphones. Nice!
I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear. Audio Frequency Test Tones Don’t worry if you […]
I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear.
Audio Frequency Test Tones
Don’t worry if you can’t hear some of the higher pitched test tones. The problem may not be your failing ears. It could be the inability of your speakers, headphones, or soundcard to reproduce the higher tones.
The Problem When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to […]
When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to even out loud and soft sections. When working ideally, you shouldn’t hear the effect at all, the volume will just be more even.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that the built-in one-size-fits-all setting doesn’t always work the greatest for the many different audio tracks found in modern movies. Often, you can hear the audio “pumping” as the compression kicks in and out. Sometimes the volume will be nicely audible for onscreen dialogue, but suddenly gets squashed by a loud noise like a gunshot or explosion. If you’re like me, you want to shut this off. Why even watch an action flick if all the combustion is suppressed?
Disable automatic audio compression on the Mac DVD Player application.
Open the DVD Player (Applications > DVD Player) and open up the ‘Preferences’ panel (DVD Player > Preferences). If you have a DVD playing, you’ll have to stop playback (not just pause) before you can change output settings. In the ‘Preferences’ panel, click the ‘Disc Setup’ tab. Under ‘Audio’ make sure the ‘Disable Dolby dynamic range compression’ is checked. This will shut off the automatic volume changes and pass your audio program on through unaffected. Now you can enjoy those explosions in their full dynamic glory!