worklog

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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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Gee, Mark… you kind of disappeared.

Well, yes, I did in fact.

HI! I hope this finds you all well, happy and thriving, and you had a smashing holiday in whatever way you chose to celebrate.

I took a bit of time before posting this – much has happened, and I wanted to get it all out.

Because this is a blog, and not a newsletter, I’m opting for more information as opposed to less.  That is, at least to me, the nature of a real blog anyway.  Something more than just issues of the moment or “Hey – I’ve got a gig coming up!”

SO….

Since we last “spoke”, I’ve been going through a transformation in the art department… those of you who have been kind enough to follow me for any length of time know about the hell I voluntarily put myself through with the Four For 4 project.

It became a chore I dreaded.  Not good.  It left me nearly devoid of inspiration and motivation, and questioning whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore.

Once that passed, I gently re-inserted myself into the studio to work unfettered by anything remotely resembling pressure or deadlines – and I have actually accomplished a lot.

But there was one piece of the puzzle that was still missing. Or, more accurately – there was something still standing in the way… I thought it was my setup, and in part, it was.

Out of both budget (I’m not rich – far from it), availability (some of the gear I’m using only because it’s what I could get my hands on) and comfort zone, most of the equipment and software I’ve been using is very VERY old and outdated… a Rube Goldberg affair that, while functional, requires 2 very old computers, running simultaneously, along with outboard equipment, multiple monitors, wires galore and more.

Bearing in mind that the studio has always been a vital songwriting canvas for me – with my existing setup, once I get into working on a song, I can’t jump to another song unless I change all the settings to match the new track (and thereby losing the old ones.)  So it came to the point that instead of making music freely, it became more like piloting an old airliner.

For example – the sequencing software I use is over 20 years old and runs on DOS. (Really.) And while I love it, and it’s incredibly fast to work with, there are major drawbacks too numerous to mention. I’ve been looking for a replacement for a very long time. (For those of you who don’t know what sequencing software is – no matter – it’s just a way of recording the way notes are played and what instruments they’re sent to.) Bear in mind that this is not like getting a new word processor – it’s more like replacing an instrument – except that a new instrument would have the same 6 strings or the same layout of keys. When you replace a major piece of software, it means essentially having to learn an entirely new instrument, and how to use all the technology that surrounds it.  I’ve been terrified that making that change would grind the creative process to a complete halt.

I had tentatively settled on using Reaper as a replacement… it initially looked good, and got very high praise from its’ users… plus a couple of friends were using it, and had good reports. Bonus – it works on a laptop, and does both the audio recording and the MIDI sequencing… bye bye old computers and welcome to the 21st century! I bought it, and dove into the manual.

Not so fast…

While Reaper initially looked good, in the end it was so open-ended – maybe in trying to be all things to all people – that it was actually very confusing to use. The simplest tasks in my former system were like trying to find my way out of a maze. It was emblematic of everything I was trying to rid myself of – a complicated structure that was getting in-between myself and my art. Back to the drawing board.

Well – it’s not like I have 80 hours a week to do this, so once again hamstrung, I put it on a back burner, and continued in a very limping-along fashion with my old gear.

But it opened my eyes to something vitally important – it was a metaphor for what had happened to my art. I had become so far removed from loving making music that doing it became more like a duty than a joy!

My father.

As some of you know, my Dad took his own life in 2000. One really important reason for his demise was that at the age of 68, he was scared that if he left his current life behind, what he would face was unknown. I tried to tell him that this was a good thing – that it might be scary not knowing what would happen, but it was far better than knowing what would happen by staying in his current situation.

Well hello Mark. (As my sister Elyse is fond of saying… “take my advice, I’m not using it.”) This was precisely the situation I found myself in with regard to making music… an old system that was safe, but stifling – squeezing the very life out of my art. And there I was right there with it holding it’s hand.

So, after a long time of holding out hope and avoiding the issue as best I could – I forced my own hand. I’ve been dismantling the nervous system of my “studio”, and am starting with a completely different system of working. There were some initial inner voices screaming at me about not knowing how to use new stuff and being crippled without the tools I’ve come to know, etc. etc. – but there was a time when I didn’t know them, either, and made out just fine.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be casting off the detritus. While there’s an aspect of it that’s scary as hell, the prospect of not doing what I so love to do scares me far more – and that’s precisely where I was headed.  I don’t want to end up regretting my choices – especially when it comes to the thing that has touched me more than any other.

I am also writing again… lyrics are flowing more readily than they have in a long time, and while not nearly at 100% there is light where before there was only tunnel.  🙂

A final note – part of me feels the need to apologize for going quiet – but I won’t.  I really needed to get back to basics here – to get this part of my life as healthy as the rest of it – otherwise, there will be no music coming out of here that either you or I want to listen to in the first place!

But I will say that I’m thankful for your patience… not that anyone’s banging down the door, but I do feel an allegiance to those who give the gift of their attention – and want you to know that it is never taken for granted.

So onwards I go.  And am grateful, as always, that you’re here with me.

Love to all, and happiest of New Year’s.

M.