Category Archives: blog

“It Just Calms Me”

He picked me up in a Chevy Equinox from O’Hare. Seemed like he could be a recent college grad. Young with long hair. Serious Cubs jacket. Serious, legit Cubs jacket.

I was heading to Bolingbrook, a solid 45-minute drive. Pondering this distance, I became curious about the music my Uber driver would choose to play. I don’t know, maybe it’s the musician in me. I often wonder about these sorts of details.

Can I predict it? Will it be Pop/EDM? Maybe Pop Country? Or maybe Classic Rock? I had already scoped out the audio situation in the Equinox and noticed we would be confined to terrestrial radio. I didn’t have much hope for something unique.

Then the channel scan began.

First, Pop/EDM… There’s no way he’s going to stop with the first choice. Could his long hair be a sign that he’s looking for classic rock? Maybe holding out for something indie? 

Next, more Pop… He’s really throwing me off with the Cubs jacket. I mean it’s serious – leather, embroidered patches, everything. Clearly a sports guy, right? Does he even care that much about the channel scan? 

Then, Pop Country… Am I actually trying to judge someone’s musical preference based on how they look and what they are wearing? Wait, do I do this often? 

Classical…

He pauses. I sense some ambivalence.

“Is it OK with you if we listen to classical music?” he asks, as though he needs to ask my permission.

“Sure,” I say, pleasantly surprised.

“Do you play an instrument?” I ask, as though it’s a pre-requisite.

“No,” he says. “It just calms me.”

“I know what you mean,” I respond. “Thank you.”

 

David Bowie Engagement Recap

I remember the night I learned it all was happening.

I was riding an Uber from Hoboken back into the city. I had just played a solo acoustic show at Northern Soul. It was the day we learned of Prince’s passing. I was sharing the Uber with Jaime de Jesus, mastermind of ALEO Productions and also the man who not only booked me for the night but also ran the soundboard.

He said, “Hey man, I’m putting together a tribute for David Bowie. It’s going to be on the waterfront. We’ll have the Manhattan skyline in the background. The sun will be going down. It’s going to be extraordinary. You should be part of it.”

How couldn’t I?

“Oh… And instead of doing the thing where I have a core backing band and then swap out the singers, I’m going to open it up. I want to feature everyone… the full breadth of this music community.”

It was then that I knew this man had to be insane. Not only is he trying to put together a tribute to a brilliant and musically-challenging artist, but he’s also trying to organize the entire music community? Just thinking about getting a rehearsal scheduled made my head spin, let alone how we were going to orchestrate the changes during the performance. Each drummer will have to use the same exact setup… there’s no time to make adjustments when we would be constantly swapping!

But wow, did it happen. The community pulled together and more than 35 musicians paid tribute to the music of David Bowie in front of the most beautiful skyline there is. It was an amazing display of community, artistry, and camaraderie. I felt proud to be part of something so special.

Here is the final song of the evening, “Young Americans,” where the role of backing vocals was assigned to EVERYONE. So here we are. Everyone involved in the performance on stage at once. Enjoying the moment.

If the embed doesn’t appear above, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH53Bl85Ikg

And here are some more pics from the night, courtesy of Capacity Images.

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Recording Process for Banding Together 2015

Last year, I wrote about the recording process for Banding Together 2014 and how it evolved from 2012-2014. In 2015, the process took another step forward. Here’s how.

In 2012, I put a stereo field mic on my dining room table, sat in a chair, and let it happen. In 2013, I learned a bit about mic placement and I stood up to get some more energy on the recording. In 2014, I abandoned the stereo field mic approach and instead used two mics. This gave me better control over the balance between the voice and guitar.

As I set up to record Banding Together 2015, I started with the same approach as 2014. And then at the last minute, just before hitting record, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that same stereo field mic I had used in 2012 and 2013. I had a thought!

Though I liked the sound of the 2014 recording, everything sounded “up close.” As the listener, I didn’t get the sense I was in the room. There was no ambience, no space, no room sound. So at the last minute, I grabbed the stereo mic, placed it on the other side of the room, and hit record. I didn’t expect to use it in the final recording at all, but I thought it would be a nice experiment. I had changed my approach each year since 2012. It just didn’t feel right to take the same exact approach.

Well… what was just an experiment turned into a revelation.

I was shock when, after having finished recording my performance, I dropped the stereo field mic’s audio into the mix. It made it sound so much bigger! There was a bit of space between the source of the sound and the mic. The room acted as a natural mixing board, blending the sounds of my acoustic guitar and my voice in a natural way. Combining this sound source with the close up sources made the overall recording sound fatter and larger. It sounded like you were there in the room with me. Which was exactly what I was going for!

Having that room sound alongside the closer mics on my voice and guitar really gave me the best of both worlds. I had the detail and presence I needed from the close ups and I also had the room and a sense of space from the room mic.

And of course, after all this, I made a connection I probably should’ve made from the beginning.

It’s a lot like recording drums! The close up mics are for the detail, but the drums don’t sound complete until you hear what they sound like in the room. The room is essential!

Just like anything you are trying to capture acoustically, the room can make all the difference.

P.S. If you’re interested in listening to the final recording, it’s available on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else. Check it out here.

Recording It Live

My latest album – Banding Together 2015 – is a live album. Not live in the sense that it was recorded at a show or even in front of a live audience (other than my cats). It’s live in the sense that the performance is live. I played my guitar and sang each song from the beginning to the end. And that’s what you hear on the album.

But why do it live? Why not record to a click track and multi-track the guitar and vocal separately? Recording software makes it easy. Plus, it produces a nice “studio sound.”

In this particular case, live was a requirement. The Banding Together webathon had to be performed live because that was the nature of the event. But even if that requirement wasn’t there, would I have done it differently? Would I have multi-tracked?

I don’t think so. Not that I wouldn’t ever record that way, but there’s something special to me about being able to hear a singer/songwriter perform songs in the most intimate setting. I don’t believe you can truly capture that sound unless it’s recorded as a live performance.

When the performance is recorded live – even if it’s captured in a studio – it feels like you’re in the room with the musician. That’s what the early Bob Dylan records – like The Freewheeling Bob Dylan – make me feel. That’s what Damien Rice’s first record makes me feel. It’s the best part about stripped-down, live-performance recordings. They allow us to hear the music as written.

It’s the reason MTV’s Unplugged was so popular, right? We’re able to hear if the song stands on its own. We can focus on the melody, lyrics, chord changes, and intent of the songwriter. We’re not distracted by studio effects or instrumentation.

We want to feel the natural ebb and flow of the music as expressed through the dynamics of the performer. It’s not often we hear true dynamics in today’s recordings. The effect of dynamics is often achieved by adding or subtracting instruments, but rarely does the overall loudness change.

Yet if you’re listening to one person play in front of you live, the player’s dynamics come through so clearly. This is something I wanted to capture in Banding Together 2015. I want you to feel like I sat down on your couch and sang you my songs with all my heart.

I hope that feeling comes through when you listen to it.

What Is an Album?

Must it exist physically as polycarbonate, vinyl, tape, drive, or cloud storage? Must it spin?

Must it be made in a studio? (What is the definition of a studio?)

Must it include a producer? An engineer?

Must it be multi-tracked? Click-tracked?

Must it contain real instruments? (What is the definition of a real instrument?)

Must it have a human element? (Is there a line between what is human and what is hardware and software?)

Must it play for a minimum duration?

Must it have an audience?

Must it be owned?

Must it be purchased?

Must it be streamed?

Must it be promotional?

Must it tell a story?

There are very few “musts” for an album anymore. That notion can be both scary and liberating.

All I know is this. An album (or record) is one medium on which music can be captured and communicated. Like any piece of art, it is created using tools of the artist’s choosing to make a statement.

Banding Together 2015

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be performing as part of Banding Together, a webathon to benefit the Spondylitis Association of America. October 16-19th.

This year marks my fourth year of playing this webathon as a solo acoustic artist.

Lazlo is the man behind this benefit. He is someone who works tirelessly in service of independent artists. His internet radio station Blowupradio is one of the longest-running stations on the web. Long before you could stream Pandora on your iPhone, long before iPhones even existed, you could stream his radio station over the Internet.

This benefit is a personal one for him, as his wife suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis. In his spirit of giving, Lazlo will be giving a ton of his time and all donations to the Spondylitis Association of America.

How do you donate?
Throughout the webathon there will be a link on blowupradio.com to donate to the SAA.

What do you get for donating?
Besides the release of positive endorphins from donating to a worthy cause? Everyone who donates will receive a compilation album to download. It includes special tracks from artists performing during the webathon. I’m adding a live performance of my song “A New Start” to this compilation. It will not be available anywhere else. The recording was captured this past year at Espresso Joe’s coffee house during one of Lazlo’s Guitar Pull events.

How do you learn more?
The official press release and schedule of performances is here: http://blowupradio.tripod.com/newsletters/2015/spondypr.html

What else do you need to know?
More posts about this will be forthcoming. In the meantime, feel free to stream and download my performances from the three previous years.

My Favorite Daydream

I’m releasing a new piece of instrumental music today. “My Favorite Daydream” is available via Bandcamp to stream and download.

Daydreams can carry a stigma. Minds that daydream can be considered weak, wandering, and even wasteful. If you are a daydreamer you are not someone who is grounded in reality.

Yet there is a certain power in daydreams.

It gives your mind a chance to unwind. A chance to release the tension that comes as a result of concentration, in an age where we are pulled in many directions and always expected to be “on.” An age where our FOMO is urging us to fill our schedules to capacity.

This piece celebrates daydreams. (And is also a reminder to myself that I need to have them more often.)

The music is like a daydream in that it moves along at its own pace and combines instruments that wouldn’t normally come together. When I listen to it, I hear movement, a sense of adventure, and also a little bit of sadness. Layers of conflicting emotions. The mind unwinding in its own way.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Let it lead you to many of your own non-wasteful daydreams.

Listen below or here, if you don’t see the embedded player. Download your own copy by naming your price here.

Writing Is Rewriting

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Draft of new song, “Walking On”

I’m working on a new song.

As I do, I am keeping in mind the advice of writer Steven Pressfield. He says that your only job on the first draft is to cover the canvas. Get your ideas on the page, no matter how sloppy. Don’t lose momentum. Don’t second guess or rewrite when you’re in the idea-capturing phase.

I’m finding that it works quite well. It keeps my mind in “creation mode,” knowing it doesn’t have to switch over to “editing mode” until later. In the past, I would try to be in both modes at once. I would work on one verse until I was satisfied and then try to move on to the next one. Usually by the time I got to the next one, my mental energy was too low to make any further progress on the song.

I’m finding it refreshing to work this way, using the first draft to simply cover the canvas.

Here are a few takeaways from the experience:

  1. It’s much easier to react to words that are already on the page than it is to create them out of thin air. Getting the first draft done quickly is key.
  2. It’s extremely difficult to write a line that’s absolute crap and leave it on the page without editing it immediately.
  3. The act of reacting, revising, tweaking, and rewriting the words on the page actually uncovers new inspiration that wasn’t present when the initial idea for the song was had.

Writing is rewriting. Spending the time to work and rework leads to further inspiration.

Photography Show!

I am so excited to be exhibiting my photography throughout the month of November at Espresso Joe’s in Keyport, NJ. This is a first for me! I’ve always loved taking photographs, but I’ve never exhibited them before.

I’m exhibiting 23 photographs. Every one of them is a first printing. Professionally printed, framed, and ready for your viewing eyes. They’ll also be available for purchase, just in case you have a blank spot on your wall or are in need of a unique holiday gift.

The exhibit starts on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the photos in their frames!

Photo Oct 26, 5 02 45 PM Photo Oct 26, 5 02 23 PM

Music too?

Yes! To coincide with the photography show, I’ll also be playing a solo acoustic show at Espresso Joe’s on November 14th, 7pm.

This will be one not to miss. The Wag will also perform.

Friday, November 14th  
solo acoustic performance and photography show!
Espresso Joe’s
50 West Front Street
Keyport, NJ
7pm
FREE

Live Recording at Home – An Evolution

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This year – for the third year in a row – I recorded my upcoming performance for the BlowUpRadio Spondylitis Benefit Webathon live from my apartment.

The process of recording this performance has evolved over the years. And I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Year 1

The first year, I had just purchased a great little field microphone made by Zoom and thought this might be a perfect opportunity to try it. I didn’t give much thought to mic placement. I just placed it on a table. Then I sat in a chair and began singing/playing.

I was actually quite pleased with the sound of the mic. The only trick was getting the right acoustic balance between the voice and the guitar. The guitar was a bit too loud when I played with a pick. So I decided to strum with my fingers instead. That seemed to fix the issue.

My friend Joe Egan who runs Missile Silo Studios in NJ did some awesome post-processing work on the recording to clean up the EQ and boost the levels.

Overall, I was pleased with the result. I also released it as a live digital record.

Year 2

I used the Zoom mic again, but this time I wanted to focus on two improvements.

  1. Capture more energy in my performance
  2. Achieve a better balance between the guitar and voice

To capture more energy in my performance, I decided to stand up while playing. It worked quite well, actually!

The second improvement was based on the fact that in Year 1, Joe had to do a bit of studio magic to bring out the frequencies that needed to be heard. So in Year 2, I wanted to capture a better overall signal directly from the source. To do this, I put the mic on a stand and worked on finding the right placement. I wound up putting it just below chest level and about a foot away from where I was playing. I angled it slightly upwards to capture more vocal. This helped achieve a better guitar/voice balance.

Again, I sent the recording to Joe. He actually commented about how much better it sounded right from the start. Yes!

I released this one as a live digital record, too.

This year

Though I was happy with the results from the previous two years, I wanted to try and push things to the next level. This year, I wanted to make something that sounded closer to a studio recording. I still wanted to record each song as a live take – no overdubs, no edits. But I wanted more control over the balance of the guitar and voice. I wanted to be able to achieve better isolation so that each instrument would come through with more clarity and impact on the recording.

So this year, I relieved the Zoom of its duties and opted for a two-microphone approach. I wound up with the mics pictured here – an SM57 on the voice and a large diaphragm condenser mic on the guitar.

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Arriving at this setup was actually a lot trickier than I imagined.

The tricky part was not the mic placement. It was deciding which mics to use. I started with the large condenser mic on the voice and another smaller condenser mic on the guitar. The large condenser is my best mic in terms of capturing the clearest audio and the largest range of frequencies.

The result? The voice sounded good, but there was no isolation. The acoustic guitar was coming through the vocal mic loud and clear. I wasn’t achieving my goal.

Then I thought of a story about Bono, of all people.

I had heard that Bono would sing through an SM58 mic in the studio. These are mic’s that vocalists use during live shows, but not so often in the studio. The mic works nicely during a live concert because it actually ignores most of the sound around it. It only pays attention to the sound directly in front of it.

Bono liked to use this mic in the studio because it meant he didn’t have to wear headphones. The engineers could emulate the feeling of being in a live concert by playing the instrument tracks over the studio speakers. Then Bono would sing his vocal takes from inside the control room with the music playing around him. Just like he was at a live show. This would’ve been an impossible recording situation had he been trying to use a large condenser mic for his vocal, as many engineers do.

By using the SM58, Bono was able to harness the energy of a live performance. Plus, the producers had enough isolation on the vocal track to do all the post processing and mixing to produce a great sounding studio album. And after listening to U2’s Joshua Tree, can you really argue with the result? Bono sings his heart out and it sounds great.

Thinking about this story made me realize something. My problem – too much sound from the guitar being captured by the vocal mic – was the same problem that U2’s engineers solved when they handed Bono an SM58. The mic captured only the sound that was directly in front of it, Bono’s voice.

This gave me an idea. I own a SM57. It’s practically the same mic as the SM58 (just add a pop filter!). So I thought, Why not try the SM57 mic on the vocal? I still really liked the idea of using the large condenser mic in some way, so I put that mic on the guitar instead of the voice. I angled it just slightly downward so that it didn’t pick up too much of the vocal.

Bingo. The mic swap made all the difference! The SM57 did its job. It ignored the guitar and captured my voice nicely. The large condenser mic sounded really nice on the guitar, too. It filled up the rest of the space in the recording with a good balance of low, middle, and high end.

Once again, I sent the raw tracks off to Joe for mixing and level-boosting at his awesome studio, Missile Silo Studios. I’m so excited about the result. It’s the best-sounding one yet!

You can hear the finished recording when it airs this weekend as part of blowupradio.com’s Spondylitis Benefit Webathon.

You have four opportunities to listen. The set will air on the following websites virtual stages at the following times:

40FootHoleStudio.com Stage:

Saturday 10/18 @ 1:10pm

Sunday 10/19 @ 1:10am

Blowupradio.com Stage:

Monday 10/20 @ 4:20pm

Monday 10/20 @ 10:20pm

 Hope you are able to tune in!