Remember that cool thing I alluded to in last weeks post (HERE)…I finished it! I made a lyric video for one of my songs. I figured I’d been talking about working in the studio for forever that I should have SOMETHING to show for it. So I grabbed one of the songs from my upcoming EP and created one of those semi-fancy, shmancy vids for the YouTubes.

Just in case anyone wants to know, I wrote, played, sang, recorded, mixed, and mastered this tune. The only instruments that weren’t played, but instead were programmed, were the drums and the piano parts. I used software from my friends at Toontrack…Superior Drummer 3 for the drums and EZ Keys for the piano parts.

I hope you enjoy it…

When you can see the finish line after months of writing, recording, and producing music for an EP, what do you do? You decide to upgrade the studio that’s what you do. I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to finish this project or anything :-\

So, yes…I decided to add some upgrades to the studio. I now have what is called a ‘hybrid studio’. What that means is that I have analogue gear along with my digital gear and they play nicely together. Prior to this upgrade it was all digital, and with these new toys I’ll have the best of both worlds as I continue to work towards completing and releasing four of my songs to the universe.

I’ve been pondering as to why I decided to do all this extra work right now, when I should’ve been solely focused on finalizing the EP. BUT if all goes according to plan…and yes, there is a plan if you can believe it. I just might have something cool to announce this coming week. FINGERS CROSSED!!!

For the record, I despise tinkering! Like…LOATHE it! And it can be ANY kind of tinkering, but a lot of what I tinker with is music equipment related. So I recently purchased a couple of upgrades to the studio; an ART Pro MPA-II Mic Preamp and an ART Pro VLA-II Compressor. I got a killer deal on them and while they weren’t exactly ‘necessary’ to my setup, they sure look cool (and that’s really all that matters, right?). All kidding aside, this preamp and compressor are gonna make things sound better and I’m excited to get them up and running. This is where the tinkering comes in…did I mention that I HATE tinkering?

I’ll have to clear out some space in my main gear rack and take the existing gear, relocate it to another rack, install the new pieces, and re-wire everything. All of this is just a major pain in the butt because it requires all 6’2″ of my to crawl under a my studio desk and squeeze behind a rack so that I can re-connect everything. My plan after getting everything in place was to sing one of my songs today to keep this EP train moving. As I go to duck under the desk…at full, confident speed mind you…I slam the top of my head against this protruding clamp that is holding a microphone stand in place. OUCH!!! Well…that’s not exactly all I said, and let’s just say that I expressed myself with the utmost fervor, and at the top of my lungs.

I checked my head for blood…no blood, but a nice goose egg was forming. While I am happy that I released the anger of knocking myself silly, the unforeseen side effect to said release was that my throat felt a little funny. Hmmm…I sure it will be fine. I finish tinkering…man do I abhor tinkering…and pick up a guitar to run through the song a couple of times before I record some vocals. Let’s just say that stepping on a cats tail sounded better, and it hurt. So it’s hot tea with honey and lemon for me as I let the ol vocal chords recover. So the lesson for the day…next time, try to see the big picture before you scream bloody murder after crushing your skull while tinkering in the studio. Did I mention that I detest tinkering?

In this week’s blog post, I’m actually going to share an article I wrote for work…that dreaded, corporate 9-5 that allows me to put food on the table, keep a roof over my head, and most importantly guitars in the studio! 🙂 I think the article is timely as we continually see people being downright ugly to each other in social media and in public. I would love to see this change for the better…so here we go:

A Candle’s Flame and the Power of Support
Written by Daron Mack
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While browsing the Internet the other day, I saw a meme that caught my attention. It read:

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

As we all know, the Internet can be a vicious place nowadays, but this particular post made me pause and consider what I’d just read. I closed my eyes and visualized the scenario of lighting a thousand candles with the flame of just one, and it made sense. The flame of the first candle would continue to burn even after ‘giving’ part of itself to another candle. I wondered if this analogy was something that someone made up, or perhaps it had roots in an established philosophy.

I started keying in pieces of the quote, hoping to find the origins of this beautiful concept. Before long, I landed on a site with a curiously funny name (fakebuddhaquotes.com) and began reading. The quote comes from a Japanese book on Buddhism called “The Teaching of Buddha”, and was actually derived from a much longer, yet equally lovely passage, which reads:

“An act to make another happy inspires the other to make still another happy, and so happiness is aroused and abounds. Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. Those who seek Enlightenment must be careful of each of their steps. No matter how high one’s aspiration may be, it must be attained step by step. The steps of the path to Enlightenment must be taken in our everyday life.”

I began thinking of ways that I could incorporate this concept into my daily life, and I found that it was surprisingly easy. Every time I had the opportunity to offer support or encouragement to a family member, friend, co-worker, acquaintance, etc., I took a moment to offer praise or recognition for whatever this person had done or was sharing with me. If someone just needed to vent, I willingly offered my attention, let them get something off their chest, and offered encouragement with regard to their current situation. And guess what…it didn’t hurt one bit. As a matter of fact, I found that I felt better about life in general and my place in it. My light hadn’t dimmed at all.

In today’s highly charged and polarizing atmosphere, it’s easy to get caught up in the wave of emotion that has become a part of our culture. If we step outside of this environment and see each other for what we are, human beings, it’s easy to find moments where a little bit of our own light could help light a candle that is struggling to shine.

Over the last few years, I found myself paying more and more attention to the news and to current events. I was in the know on pretty much everything that was going on in the world from politics, to wars, to he said, she said, etc. I had either heard the story or knew the ins and outs of what went on behind the scenes. I felt that it was important to know what was going on around me, and it gave me a sense of pride to be able to have conversations with nearly anyone, because I was paying so much attention to the news of the day. And it was good…until it wasn’t.

I found that I was getting angry very easily. I was becoming sad. And as I grew more and more despondent, I started to kind of pull away. There is a folksy, indie band that I like called Lowen and Navarro, and they have a lovely song called “The Opposite Of Everything” and this is where I was. I’d gotten caught up in the bullshit of the world and it was having a detrimental effect on me. I didn’t get caught up in silly arguments on social media, but I did have disagreements with family members and over what…a difference of opinion? Ridiculous.

So I stopped. I stopped watching. I stopped reading. I stopped listening. At first, it was kinda hard. I felt disconnected somehow. I had thoughts that I was missing out on valuable information. Turns out I was missing out…I was missing out on the vitriol, the pathetic grasping at straws, and ludicrous leaps in logic in order to prove a point or attempt to “win” an argument. Clarity of thought was gone. Critical thinking was non-existent.

I think my light is slowly but surely returning. I didn’t realize how dim it had become, but I’m glad that I realized it before I’d lost sight of who I was. This isn’t an ostrich with his head buried in the sand kind of thing…it’s self-preservation, and I’m ok with that.

That’s a Harry Potter reference for those who may not know what Nargles are.

Anyway…for some ridiculous reason (unless the Nargles are truly behind it) THREE of my four EP song files have somehow become corrupted. I stared at my studio screen is disbelief as each one tries its hardest to open up in Cubase (my DAW of choice), but eventually crashes the program. Needless to say, I’m pissed…then I’m devastated…then I’m in denial…and whatever the other things that you are supposed to experience during stages of grief.

After my initial wallowing in self-pity, which didn’t last very long BTW, I let my analytical brain take over and start figuring out what the ever loving ‘F’ could’ve happened. I’m a responsible tech guy. I back up files, I scan for viruses, and my studio computer rarely touches the internet except for downloading software updates and the like. Something has made it so that my music files aren’t playing nice and I’m determined to find out.

I set out to it, searching the internet for users who have experienced the same thing that I have. I read forum posts of musicians from all over the world who have shared in my grief of working on something so hard, only to see it act like a little bitch when it’s time to get to work! Technology giveth and technology taketh…this is the mantra of my techy brethren, and yet I shall not be deterred. I tried a few things, but to no avail. Then I tried opening the song on my laptop…huzzah…it actually opened. All is not lost, however I REALLY don’t want to finish this EP on my laptop. I start researching the likeliest candidates for trouble (for my musician buddies, look to your VST plugins if things get wonky) and I take them off of the tracks that I have recorded. I save the song under a new name, throw it on a jump drive and head back out to the studio.

Lo and behold…the song opens up!!! I notice that things are a little out of place, not sure why but this is an easy fix. I start re-arranging tracks, re-sizing windows, and getting things back to normal, re-save, and breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve dodged a bullet and I know it. Tonight I offer thanks to the music gods for not smiting me…I honor you with my songs!

So my goal of releasing my EP this spring has come and gone. And ya know what…I’m ok with it. I kinda had that permission tucked in the back of my head just in case life got in the way…and it did. From sickness, to stress, to slight burnout, to attention being drawn to other musical ideas, life had quite the hand to play in this EP poker game.

I think the lesson here is that it’s ok to allow yourself some grace. Not reaching my goal really only had effect one person…me. If the stakes had been higher, like maybe someone was counting on me, or perhaps my livelihood was on the line, then I would have undoubtedly achieved what I set out to. This was not the case, so I gave myself a break. So spring becomes summer.

By the end of this summer is the new goal, and for this one…I’ll need to be more accountable. I’ve already missed the first goal and we don’t want this to become a pattern, so back to the grind it is. All that’s left is singing (well, then the post production, mixing and mastering) and I’m ready to get to work. No more slacking off, cuz I don’t want this little guy yelling at me…he’s got a bit of a temper!!!

At a routine doctor visit last Tuesday, I casually mentioned that I had a sore throat. Two swabs, a nice, guttural gag sound, and 5 minutes later I’m diagnosed with strep throat…YAY! Ever tried to sing with strep…it doesn’t really work. Another thing came up during my visit…my blood pressure was elevated to a range that I’m just not used to. Sure, being sick and the prescription antibiotics weren’t going to help said blood pressure, but the next couple of days proved to be a little concerning.

Work, that thing that pays for all the goodies that allow me to make music has been really stressful lately. Crazy deadlines and tons of stuff to get done. I even worked a 10 hour shift with a fever after my diagnosis. That’s was a REALLY stupid thing to do and I think it exacerbated every, especially the blood pressure thing. At one point, it got so high that my spousal unit, Kels, suggested that we go to the ER. I didn’t want to be hasty so we put some calming essential oils in the diffuser and started working on getting those numbers down. They eventually returned to and elevated, but not emergent state.

So what’s the take away here? Chill the eff out!!! Slow down!!! The 9-5 grind just isn’t worth getting sick over. I oftentimes forget this, cuz you know…I’m 10 for tall and bulletproof!!! *whispers…no I’m not* So music update this week, just a reminder that there are more important things in life than the 9-5, and I need to just slow the hell down!

I’m at that point with the EP…all that’s left, except for post production, mixing, and mastering, is to sing the songs I’ve recorded. I thought I had one in the can a few weeks ago, but it turned out I’d set up a compressor incorrectly and I was clipping my vocal…a BIG no, no. Scrapping nearly the entire take was painful to say the least, but it was necessary. If you write a song with a vocal, that IS the focus and it really should sound its very best…thus the scrapping.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a guitar player first and a singer second. I can play a guitar solo in front of eleventy billion people and not bat an eye. As for singing…I certainly can do it, but I’m a little less comfortable do so. I really let my head play games with me when it comes to my voice. I’ve lived a relatively clean life, no smoking, no heavy drinking, and I like to get my beauty sleep 🙂 With all that in mind, my voice is squeaky clean…which given the right context is ok, but if you think of successful rock or pop singers, there is typically some kind of ‘texture’ to their singing voice. I have to ‘try’ to add texture to mine and I worry that it might sound like I’m faking it. Then of course if I let my clean pipes shine, then I worry that it’s too clean and thus not very interesting. Like I said, I let my head get in the way. :-\

So we land on the lesson that I have told several creative people over and over. And sadly, I don’t seem to listen to myself when it comes to this advice. What is this advice? Art is subjective…some people will love you and what you do while some people will hate it. That’s just the nature of the beast. Beauty truly lies within the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, I need to just sing my songs and let the chips fall where they may. I’m an artist and as such I NEED to do art, and I need to realize that while it would be amazing if one of my songs touched someone in a profound way, or maybe lifted their spirits when they were blue. But I’m not actually writing songs for someone else. I’m writing songs for myself as this is a part of me that I need to express.

And there it is. I’ve gotta get over myself and just do what I do. I’m off…off to have some face to face time with a mirror and drill this ‘art is subjective’ thing into my head once and for all…wish me luck! 😀

The reason for this blog is to not only chronicle the things that happen in the studio as I work on this EP, but it also serves as a space for me to get some of that inner dialogue out so it doesn’t fester. With that said, I’ve mentioned my recent lack of motivation to do any work on the music that I’ve recorded. For whatever reason I just couldn’t/didn’t get anything done. It’s left me both a little concerned about actually finishing by the end of spring (probably ain’t gonna happen now) and curious as to why I’ve been feeling this way. Honestly, I still haven’t figured it out but rather than waste more time (for now anyways), I put on my big boy panties and fired up the studio today. And guess what…

Something clicked! Before I knew it, I’d finished recording an outro guitar solo to one song and the main guitar solo for another…and I was happy. I’m lucky that the deadlines I’ve set for myself don’t have some big record company behind them (well…actually that might not be so bad…hehe) adding pressure not only from myself, but from the corporate machine as well. I’m a bit of a hypocrite. When I’m supporting other creatives who may be struggling, I insist that they don’t force their art and that things will come when the time is right. For whatever reason, I struggle to allow myself the same amount of grace and I wind up beating myself up sometimes.

Today I stopped trying to force it and just allowed things to happen…and they did. Those guitar parts came when they were supposed to and not one second earlier. I’m hoping that I can look at what happened today, internalize it, cut myself some slack, and let the music flow when it’s supposed to.