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New Orleans kicked my ass

So here’s part 2 of my Louisiana trip.

New Orleans kicked my ass… in the best way possible.  And most of the ass kicking was done by women.  🙂

As some of you know who follow me on Facebook, or on this blog, I’ve had the good fortune to start playing out live with a great cover band, Mister Kick.  Great energy, great songs, great audiences (when they actually come)… it has played a pretty large part in revitalizing music for me…. getting back to the joy of it.  But I’d be lying if I said that it’s all fun and games.  Hard to find great venues… hard to get people to come out… hard to get any money, etc. etc.  – we still do it because we love it… and when people DO make it out, they seem to love it too.

But what I saw in NOLA… well… let’s just say that after seeing the performers I saw – I was almost embarrassed.   They worked so damn hard, played and sang so well, and just exuded joy around what they were doing.

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Paige Rees of L’Angelus

It actually started my first night in Baton Rouge.  There was a band playing at the opening night called L’Angelus – four siblings from a musical family that were just phenomenal.  But the bass player, Paige Rees, was one of the most amazing live performers I’ve seen to date… not just because she’s a great player and singer, though she is… and not because she works hard at it, which she clearly does… but because there wasn’t one moment where she wasn’t just radiating pure joy around the music – she just looked like she could bust right out of her shoes with joy.

I’m not exactly a spring chicken… I’ve seen a lot… but her performance just floored me.  I made a point of telling her so afterwards too, while trying not to be a complete idiot about it.

Here’s just a little clip of them from a NAMM show. It doesn’t really do them justice, but it’ll give you an idea.

Fast forward three days to NOLA.

I stayed with friends originally from NY, who were kind enough to put me up in some fine accommodations behind their RV in an RV park near the airport. And for three days, I went back to the French Quarter over and over again. The first night, I was only there briefly – but in that short time, I was treated to one of those groups of young men and women who gather on a street corner at dusk and kick out some the sweetest music you ever heard – and everywhere I went, there was music.

Nancy “Lil’ Red” Gros

Nancy “Lil’ Red” Gros

The following night, I went back to the Quarter and spent the whole evening.  What I was treated to totally changed my perspective on making music.

Starting with Lil’ Red and Big Bad…every single act I saw – and there were a bunch – worked incredibly hard, made music so joyfully, and insisted on getting it back from the audience… and they did, every time.  The bands insisted on pointing out the tip jar – often.  And just as often, the audience would come up and fill it.

Nancy “Lil’ Red” Gros is easily one of the hardest working performers I’ve ever seen.  She never stopped moving, or interacting with the audience, or being in joy with the music… all while singing her ASS off – no breaks – for about 2.5 hours.  Just brilliant.  And to top it off, the band not only took the audience seriously while onstage, but offstage, they took the time to stop and talk with any audience member who wanted.  I mean, for like 45 minutes.

I saw this repeated over and over and over, everywhere I went.  Up here in New York – a Monday night gig would by it’s very nature be a losing proposition.  But there in the Quarter, every club, from the big ones to the little corner pubs, had live music playing and people there listening – and supporting the music with their attention and their wallets.

It made me realize two really important things:

1. I wasn’t working nearly hard enough as a live musician – and I wasn’t getting in joy around it either.

2. Us northerners are going to have to stop complaining about the lack of audience and the lack of places to play.  If we want great live shows, we’re going to have to make them great live shows – and go out to see and support them too.  And venues are going to have to support this ecosystem as well – otherwise, we’ll be stuck with this “Gee I wish things were better around here for live gigs” mentality and situation… which would just suck.

But the icing on the cake for the trip…

MM & Elaine Tuttle

MM & Elaine Tuttle

Since about 2009, I’ve had an online friend named Elaine Tuttle – a kickass singer in her own right, and a hoot and a half of a being across the board.  But we’ve never actually met in person, even though we’re both in New York.  It’s just never happened.

Well, lo and behold… I’m there on Facebook on Tuesday morning… and I see a post from her saying that she’s in goddamned New Orleans.   Not knowing whether or not this was an old post… I messaged her:

  • Hey… TELL me you’re not in NOLA.
  • Ok, but I am. Why, are you??

Unbelievable.

So that night, we met up in the Quarter… yep – took traveling 1/4 of the way across the country to finally meet up.

And the kicker?  While we were there, she got up on stage with a local band, and proceeded to whoop ass all over the place.  Here was a fellow New Yorker doing all the stuff I’ve been talking about here.

I managed to get up on stage for a jam with the Smoky Greenwell band that Monday night… and I told the audience in between songs just how much NOLA had taught me in that short time – and that I’d be bringing it back home with me. Well… 15 days after I got back to New York, I had a gig at Harmony Music in Woodstock.  I had those NOLA lessons burned into me big time – and the gig was the best one I have ever had.

Yep – New Orleans (and Lil’ Red, Smoky Greenwell, Elaine Tuttle and a whole bunch of others) firmly kicked my ass.  And I’m eternally grateful.

Here are some random shots from Nola:

 

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Baton Rouge

(I just swung through both Baton Rouge and New Orleans on a 5-day trip.  I was going to Baton Rouge for the PreSonus annual PresonuSphere user conference, and because I have former NY friends who live in New Orleans half the year, and because I’ve never been to NOLA, I couldn’t pass up the chance.  This is the first of two posts about the trip – by far the more technical of the two.)

presonusphere_logo02I just returned from PreSonus Audio Electronics annual PresonuSphere user conference in Baton Rouge.

PreSonus put on a GREAT event.  The opening night jambalaya dinner, with incredible live music on a rooftop looking over the Mississippi river was beautiful – and what a thrill it was to meet up with all these folks I had only known virtually… cemented more than a few friendships, too. (more on the music in the next post)

There were, as with any conference like this, sessions that didn’t apply to me, so I didn’t attend.  But some highlights of a few that I did attend:

The opening and closing panels. 
These were both moderated by Craig Anderton – who is a legend in the industry, and asked great questions both times.  The panels were made up of the top execs from PreSonus and, in the case of the closer, included some of the folks who presented sessions as well.  The first one focused more on what PreSonus was up to, but the closing one was wide-ranging, and delved into everything including live vs. recorded music, the state of music and the industry, appreciation of music and a whole bunch more.

I’m proud to say that I was the first one to stand for the ovation at the end.  PreSonus makes awesome products, and it’s clear from not just the awesome conference, but my discussions with them at the conference, how much they care about their users.  More importantly, it’s clear that they are all about empowering folks to do great things with what they make.

Plus – they changed the way I make music.  For that alone, they get an ovation. 🙂

Joe Gilder – Why I switched from Pro Tools to Studio One
Joe Gilder is the man behind HomeStudioCorner.com, and he has a great podcast, and videos too. – http://www.youtube.com/homestudiocorner

While the subject wasn’t important to me, as I’m already a Studio One devotee, Joe knows the program inside out, and so I knew I’d learn something along the way.  I was right.  I got a whole boatload of little tips on using Studio One that you just don’t automatically get from reading the manual.  Plus, Joe’s entertaining as all get-out, and one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet.  We became buddies during the conference, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be working together down the line a little.

Craig Anderton – Mastering in Studio One
As much as I learned about mastering in this session, I learned more about mixing beforehand.  Craig took tracks from the audience, and mastered them on the fly.  This was great, because you got to hear vastly-sonically different tracks whipped into shape.  AND… the last one he did was my rough mix of “In Love Again”.  Too cool… and another really great guy to boot.

There were a few other sessions that I dipped in and out of, but don’t need to write about.

There was a separate area for folks to check out various PreSonus (and others’) products – which did result in my meeting with Nimbit folks for a LONG time – they gave me a VERY thorough run-through of what they’ve got going – and what’s in the pipeline, and I’m pretty sure that all the MM releases in 2014 will be through Nimbit.

And the other attendees…what a great bunch of folks.  So friendly, so open, and so much talent there – felt like family.

I’m already committed to being there next year.

Lastly – the folks in Baton Rouge couldn’t have been nicer.

Stay tuned for the New Orleans post, where I got my musical ass kicked in the best ways possible, and ran into a friend – from New York!

Thanks as always for being here.

Here are some pics from BR.

 

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What I’m working on now…

There’s a great quote from Trent Reznor in the latest SPIN magazine:

“The way I work is that up to the last second stuff looks like shit, and at the last minute it comes together.”

I’m not a huge NIN fan, but I have always been a fan of what he’s accomplished. As someone who goes into a room alone, and tries to come out with finished recorded works, I know what a challenge it is… creation on it’s own is enough of a challenge, let alone creating and being a technician and a producer all at once. Not complaining, mind you… I love the process.

That having been said – one of the things that helped me get New Eye done was the album cover. Really. And the cover happened by sheer accident. I got a Photoshop plugin that did flames, so I started testing it out, and got this image…. I thought to myself “Wow, that’d make a really interesting album cover.” So I printed it out and slid it into a blank CD case. Well, that CD case sat on my coffee table, or in my studio for the entire time I was working on New Eye… it helped me maintain the idea of this finished thing, in the midst of a mess.

Fast forward 6 years… if you know anything about what I’ve been doing, you know that I decided to break my music up into separate albums this time… New Eye was a lovable hodgepodge of styles, but not everything appealed to everyone. Now I have no desire to appeal to everyone – really. But I do have some very different musical sides, so I thought that rather than cram them all into another album, I’d divide them up into Rock and Roll, Pop and Instrumental. And I’ve got two of the covers done already.

But the covers aren’t quite enough this time.

What IS working: in the software I use to write and record now, there’s a “Project” option, which lets you import songs you’re working on into an album – drag the order around, put in crossfades, etc. And when you’ve been doing work on a song, and then go back to a “project” – the project can see that you’ve changed the song, and will automatically update the song in the project at your will.

What this is giving me is a sonic version of the album cover… by hearing songs next to each other, I can feel the albums coming together. And honestly, it’s been really surprising how, for a long time, it’s felt like a mess… and now it feels like it’s coming together. 🙂

So far, I’ve got 5 or 6 solid tracks for each of the albums – there’s still final mixing and fixes to do on those, but that’s a really great start – and they sound good together, which is even better. And at the same time, I’ve got 3 or 4 for each that I’m still fleshing out in the studio. Not exactly the last minute, but it IS all coming together.

Best of all? I’m loving working on music again.

Blessed, and very, very grateful.

Thanks for reading.

mmsig

p.s. – thanks so much to everyone for the lovely little buzz around The Other New Eye. And you folks pushed me into the top 400 worldwide at Reverbnation – just plain holy smokes. 🙂

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An old new way of working…

I promised a more thorough update – well, here it is. For those of you who have watched me struggle with moving forward in the studio – you’ll find a great deal of joy in it.

In my previous post about workflow, the studio, art etc., I talked about the need for something that didn’t get in the way of making art.

Over there on the right is the result of the work I’ve been doing.  One single system that now officially takes the place of all the songwriting/sequencing/recording/mixing gear I was using before.

I happened upon the solution totally by chance.

It started like this… I had to replace my audio interface.  (I had to start somewhere in casting off the weight, and that was as good a place as any. )  After a bunch of research, I settled on a Presonus Firestudio Project.  Very reasonably priced, but with good reviews and a really decent feature set – and it looked to be compatible with all the major software packages folks are using.   (Including Reaper – which I still wasn’t at all sold on.)

But at that moment, something snuck up on me, tapped me on the figurative shoulder and said “pssssst… look over here.”  No kidding.  It was under the details, on the sales page for the interface, over at Sweetwater.    It said, basically,  “…..comes with Studio One Artist software.”

Hmmmm.

Went to the Presonus site and looked at the page for Studio One.  (At this point, I was more than a little skeptical… I’ve had folks trying to sell me on their audio/sequencing software for longer than some of you have been using computers.  No, really.)  There was a downloadable demo…

Here’s where I cut to the chase.

Studio One is just brilliant.  It is so incredibly sensible and intuitive that I was making music – I mean really making music – within an hour of installing it.  The workflow, from sketching out a song, to virtual instruments, to routing of audio and effects, is just effortless.

Hence the title of this post – an old-new way of working.  See – using a tape recorder is simple.   Wanna record?  Hit record.  The more layers of crap that get in between you and your creative process, the worse off you are.  Well, Studio One is just like hitting record.  There’s a sensibility to it that is just plain beautiful.

Within 2 weeks, I upgraded to the pro version – and as a result, that workflow now extends straight through mastering and final CD authoring. (not that I’m going to take mastering on, as it’s a whole black art unto itself… but Studio One not only provides a perfect environment for creativity… it also gives you the tools to bring it all home to a master when you’re done. )

Now I’m not saying that there’s no learning curve.  The deeper you go – the more delicious stuff you find.  But what I AM saying is that the curve isn’t a climb up Mt. Everest when you start out.   And the simplicity inherent in that does NOT mean consumer-grade crap.  This is 100% pro from start to finish.  (It’s no wonder – the team that created it is responsible for a whole bunch of  stuff, including Cubase and Nuendo.) If you’re a recording musician – go download a demo.  Really.

In the end – this is all tech talk.  And, despite where things have taken me – I’m not a techy at heart.  I’m a songwriter and artist, looking for a process of working that, umm, works… that doesn’t get in the way.

Quite by accident, I found it.  I’m incredibly grateful to the folks at Presonus for giving virtual birth to this gem.  It has jumpstarted my process in a way I could not have foreseen – and the recordings that are coming out of here, even at this early stage, are warmer and more professional than anything I’ve ever done.

Can’t wait to share ’em with you.

So starting tomorrow, a little Presonus logo will be prominent on this site, and on the site for the weekly NYC radio show I produce as well.  I’ve already recorded three episodes with Studio One and the Firestudio, and they came through with flying colors.  When you see those logos here, or there, you’ll know why.

Because Studio One just plain kicks ass… and at least the next three albums that come out of here will do so because of it.  Which brings a very long search to an end.

Nice.

Thanks, as always, for your kind attention.

Love,

m.

 

Find Mark on Facebook.

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Saying farewell to a friend…

So my brilliant buddy Dennis Winge is leaving the area – we’ve played together a bunch.  He’s an amazing guitarist – and an incredibly sweet man.  Here’s a little snippet of our last musical jaunt together.