Archives for posts with tag: recording

I’ve started recording my second record. It’s going to be an interesting time to be doing it because it’ll be framed within my dramatically monikered “Blue Blue Satellite Manifesto”, which dictates that my musical endeavors must be about:

  • Creativity – the joy of plucking elements out of thin air and assembling them with auditory artistic cohesion
  • Expression – interpreting the ups and downs of life into a personal soundtrack
  • Enjoyment – allowing myself to be swept away with music’s sonic power of elevation

I used to believe in the idealistic trope that “it’s all about the music.” But after album #1 and not quite having conquered the world with it, I’ve decided a more accurate adage is: “it’s all about selling your music” or “it’s all about the music that will bring people in to drink” or “it’s all about Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming, Tumblring, YouTubing, Vine-ing, Cat Video-ing your music” or simply: “it’s not all about the music.” So the Manifesto is my attempt to re-focus my musical goals onto the magic which got me into music in the first place. Which will probably see me ceasing to do certain things that are standard practice in music, but simply don’t adhere to my Manifesto.

Maybe this is just a highfalutin way to say I’ve given up. Or that I’m jaded. Or that I’m lazy. Or that I don’t have what it takes. Or that I’m hoping some record executive will be impressed by my radical thinking and sign me because I’m clearly an iconoclastic polymath…

But here’s the immutable fact: I’m working with Gallery Studio‘s Dean Watson again and we’ve so far recorded two songs. They’re not mixed or mastered yet, nobody has heard them and I’ve made no money off of them. Just two people, in a basement, creating music from my songwriting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Blue Blue Satellite
Iconoclast. Polymath. Thesaurus user.

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The idea of Melancholia(Receding), the final track of The Learning Days, was borrowed from Coldplay. I loved their instrumental intro to the album Viva La Vida. They then quickly followed up that record with their Jay-Z-tainted Prospekt March EP and opened that disc with the same instrumental intro except turned into a full 4-minute song with words and everything. My reaction at the time? “Chris Martin you genius bastard.” Not only did he surprise his listeners by making a good thing even better, it was also a really effective way to link the LP to the EP.

And so, to Chris Martin’s genius bastard, I became a thieving bastard and used the concept for my own record. And hopefully if you’ve heard my album, and you heard it start to finish, and you heard it before reading this blog, and you never heard Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor I & II, you will have thought “huh, he’s closing the album with the same song that …..whaaaaaaaaa?”

“We have lift off”

Quick fact: The working title of Melancholia (Receding) was Message in a Rocket.

The track ties together the on-again off-again space theme seen in my performance name, cover art, title of this track and the sound clip that I used without permission from the Apollo 11 launch (forgive me NASA). Dean had the brilliant idea to fade it out into the heavy reverb to give it that dreamy feel before the lyrics kick in.

I wrote the song during the production of the CD so there was a part of me that was writing the song for the album and I think I made a very conscious decision to end the song, and thus the record, with the word “hallelujah”. Just to give it a hint of spiritual poignancy and to give a nod to one of the wise old men of folk music…to whose music I don’t actually listen.

2013 Juno winner for Best Songwriter. (Not pictured – 2013 Juno applicant for Best Songwriter (me) )

Boni!

If you’ve read all the parts of this track-by-track blog series, I’m sorry to hear that. Unless you’ve enjoyed them, then thank you. I wrote previously that I’d maybe put a little bonus feature here for the loyal readers, or those who cheated and just dropped in on this last one. Well too bad, you’re not getting a bonus feature….you’re getting three!

  1. An early raw iPod recording of Melancholia(Receding) with me doing a bit of scatting and a bit of freestyling to figure out the melody. Listen now.
  2. Video of Dean Watson(producer), Anders Drerup(pedal steel) and I in the studio figuring out the pedal steel part for (Never) Let It Go. The final take of the video is what we went with. Watch now.
  3. A NEW song that will probably be on the next album(target date 2014?). It’s just a guitar-and-voice demo for now but I actually think it stands up pretty good as is. Listen now.

Blue Blue Satellite

For the life of me, I can’t remember why I wanted Thieves to have the little intro in the form of Things Stolen. Regardless, it’s there and its lyrics can actually be sung to the tune of Green Day’s Good Riddance(Time of Your Life) because in one of my earliest attempts at songwriting I always felt that song lacked a verse and I took it upon myself to write it. So the 20-second track is really just an inside reference Easter egg that only I would ever get. Classy.

The whooshing sound at the end of the track is actually a car going by outside since we were recording in the more open and un-soundproof upstairs church space. It worked out nicely since its timing at the end helps transition into Thieves….which now helps me transition to, well, Thieves.

“Gutter Folk”

Thieves wouldn’t be what it is today without one Jeremy Owen, a local Ottawa troubadour and inventor of “Gutter Folk”. His arresting songs are visceral and raw and he’s a cool cat to watch live. Even though I wrote Thieves back in Toronto, I never really got it and sort of wrote it off. But Jeremy got it and really re-introduced me to the song. Not only did he get the song, but he did so in an unfathomable way: I played it at an open mic night where I got through the first verse, hopelessly forgot the second and promptly abandoned ship and stopped the song. Before I could start the painful process of wiping the embarrassing performance from my mind, Jeremy approached me and said he loved the 30 seconds I didn’t screw up, wanted a copy of the demo and actually covered it at a subsequent show. And it’s from his performance that prompted the metamorphosis of the song from an uninspired 3/4-time affair to a soul-baring tapestry of woe captured in song. Thank you Jeremy.

2 am: a good time to start mixing

The other amusing story occurred during the mixing process. Thieves was the last song producer Dean and I worked on. And it was my last day in the studio, going on 2am and we hadn’t touched Thieves yet. Grudgingly and grumpily digging in for what seemed like an inevitable all-nighter, we first gave the track a quick listen. Dean almost lost his shit when, at the second verse, all the instruments came in already beautifully mixed. We had both forgotten that we had worked on the track previously and A LOT of the legwork was already done, meaning we’d probably be able to get home at a very reasonable 3am, play some xbox, get a good 3 hours sleep and f*** the dog at the day job the next morn fresh as a daisy.

These are the stories of Thieves. You’ve read them. You can’t un-read them.

Blue Blue Satellite.

There’s very little that can be said about Sister Rachel that hasn’t already been said. So I’ll keep it short and on the topic of the production of the track rather than re-tread the now ponderous story of Sara Melson‘s involvement on the track, which, if you’ve spoken to me for more than 30 seconds, you’ll have heard…and have wished you had those 30 seconds back.

Being the poppiest track I’ve written, it’s ironic that it was actually the track I had a lot of trouble with in the studio. I played every part on that track and I struggled particularly on the drums. It was late, I was tired, I was getting frustrated at not being able to find my groove on the drum part. That’s especially problematic considering I don’t play drums. Still, I persevered and producer Dean guided me through it and eventually I found my second wind and started having fun with it and churned out a pretty acceptable song.

The intro synth beat is from my original Casio VL-1. It literally belongs in a museum and for the record I’m using the Rock-2 preset(the Rock-1 preset was already in use).

With dignity

Without dignity

Without dignity

LIVE VERSIONS

Sister Rachel is a tricky song to capture live without a band so I’ve had to re-invent it several times. Here are the incarnations I’ve done at shows:

Blue Blue Satellite

Next on our track-by-track tour of The Learning Days…. “Blues’ll Always Be the Blues”.

This is probably the strongest song I’ve ever written. It weighs in at an accessibly bite-sized 2:52, it’s got a nice, moving pace and melody to it while still keeping it wistful, the verses and choruses are tight and succinct without losing any lyrical impact and Anders Drerup’s work on the pedal steel just crushes it…particularly on the solo. Producer Dean Watson also made some great suggestions to Blue Rodeo-ify the track once the solo comes in and I love the pause of anticipatory bliss at 1:48 just before the track really opens up.

“Like stones a-skippin’ on the water / we bounce along but eventually we falter / pick yourselves up sons and daughters”

This is probably one of the best lines I’ve written. Yes, “water/falter/daughter” are far from perfect rhymes but the analogy was truly inspired and is spot-on apt. I feel masterful lyricism needs at least four elements in perfect balance: something that sounds poetic, fits thematically, isn’t predictable by the listener and of course, rhymes. That’s why “girl/world” couplets are such a pet peeve to me; that rhyme is so prevalent in songwriting, it loses much of its poetry and it’s highly predictable so you’re already down 50% in Blue Blue Satellite’s 4 Steps to Lyrical Perfection. And that’s why I humbly submit that the above lyric is a gem because the four elements are at least 81.2% represented.

Now before my head explodes from self-congratulatory arrogance and I start humblebragging that this song made it to the semi-finals of the 2012 Unsigned Only competition and was covered twice in public by two Ottawa area artists, I will leave you with a link to listen to my untouchable brilliance for free: Best. Song. Ever……Ever.

Your move, Gallagher.

Blue Blue Satellite

If you bought a copy of my newly released debut record, “The Learning Days”, you’ll see a little name in the credits and hear a big voice on the record: Sara Melson.

Although not a household name, Sara is an exceptional L.A.-based songwriter and singer who has had some notable success including having a song on Grey’s Anatomy and singing backup for Moby on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Moby and Sara

Pictured: Moby, Sara, other white clad singers. Not pictured: Jay Leno, Jay Leno's chin.

This blog post will be less about how I got her to sing on my record, but more about what her being on the record means to me.

So let’s begin. And we will begin with…

Neil Halstead, my bearded musical raison d’être:

Neil Halstead

Full beard = extra realness

My bread and butter as a musician is fingerstyle guitar and finding beauty in the melancholy. And I learned how to do both from Neil’s songs. Specifically, this song and this song respectively.

Now then. Neil has a band called Mojave 3 and in 2006, their lovely bassist and co-vocalist, Rachel Goswell, fell ill and couldn’t tour in support of their new album. So as a young Blue Blue Satellite sat and listened to his favorite band on the highly influential Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show, I was saddened to not hear Rachel Goswell, but was gladdened to hear a more than capable replacement.

KCRW

Click to enlarge. Witty captions ensue.

The DJ said it was “Sarah Nelson”. After some intense research on internet search portal Google(Google, the verb, had yet to be invented), I realized that it was Sara, no “h”, and Melson, not “n”. Sara Melson. It didn’t take her long to gain me as a fan because her gift of melody, her bold, brave lyricism and her killer wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing voice made becoming a fan a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Mojave 3 had posted a blog about their bass player’s health woes:

Mojave 3 blog

Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace...and Tom. (Click to enlarge and read).

Did you catch that? Let’s take a closer look…

Two magical words

Capitalize the "s" and you've got yerself a song!

That’s right…it was this blog post and those two words, “Sister Rachel”, that inspired me to write my poppiest song to date: “Sister Rachel”. It has since been a mainstay in my setlists and always manages to be quite a crowd pleaser. And when Sara Melson graciously agreed to provide some vocals on my record, there was no doubt in my mind: it had to be on “Sister Rachel”. And it couldn’t have worked out better…the way the second verse comes in, the key and vocal range, the harmonies…it’s like Sara’s vocals had found their way home. Every time I listen to that track, I break into a big dopey grin when her vocals enter.

So in summary, here’s serendipity Blue Blue Satellite style: Sara sings on “Sister Rachel” which was inspired by Rachel Goswell of my musical heroes Mojave 3, whom Sara stood in for when Rachel fell ill while Mojave 3 blogged about their “sister Rachel” which inspired me to write my song “Sister Rachel” which Sara sings on.

Too convoluted? Ok then, I’ll put it in the form of  a lame poem:

I love Sara Melson
I love Mojave 3
Sara sang with Mojave
and now she sang with me.

Blue Blue Satellite

p.s. despite her cool success, it ain’t easy being a full time musician in L.A. and Sara needs help to raise funds for her next album…lend a hand here. Tell her Blue Blue Satellite sent ya…

Recording in a real studio was very enjoyable mostly because I got to experience what I’ve seen in movies, TV and magazines: Talking to the producer through soundproof glass over headphones, singing into a “plosive screen”, being surrounded by mounds of equipment for which I’d have a hard time finding the ‘on’ switch…

But it was enjoyable also because it brought out different aspects of me as a performer I never expected. Namely, the aspect of being a singer. Oh, I’m still a crappy singer but I was very proud of how few takes it took me to get a pretty acceptable performance. Sometimes we even settled on a “scratch track”(a placeholder take) as the final take. There is the theory, of course, that since my singing is weak to begin with, it doesn’t take that much effort to reach that bottom rung of the singing ladder. Nonetheless I also enjoyed doing the singing takes much more than anything else. When playing the instruments, I was very conscious about technique and precision. But with the singing, I felt very free and liberated to just pour as much mood and emotion as I could into the vocal performance.

That being said, whoever invented vocal correction technology is a life-saving genius.

Blue Blue Satellite

So my studio time has ended. We didn’t quite finish everything up so I’m going to have to go back in to record one last track. Then comes the editing, mixing, mastering and the most important part: running the entire record through the T-Pain Super AutoTune 5000™.

But I can tell you the tracks that we recorded, thus officially revealing the tracklist for The Learning Days:

(in alphabetical order)
1. (Never) Let It Go
2. 30
3. Against the Northern Sky
4. Blues’ll Always Be the Blues
5. Do You Remember Me?
6. Don’t Cry (Tonight)
7. The Fair’s in Town Tonight
8. The Learning Days
9. Science and Progress
10. Sister Rachel (a.k.a.: “Inter-racial”)
11. Thieves

Going to take a little travel hiatus but it’s going to be nothing but The Learning Days, The Learning Days, The Learning Days once I’m back and hopefully the record will be finished just in time to cheer y’all out of the winter blues(…or drive you deeper into them, depending on which tracks you listen to).

Blue Blue Satellite

On Friday, a professional musician came in to the studio and played pedal steel on a few of my songs. Just hearing a professional touch playing an instrument I adore on a song that I wrote was an unforgettable moment. Goosebumps, chills, tears…bodily functions were at peak flow. And although that last sentence has a powerful lack of eloquence and subtlety, I can assure you that Anders Drerup’s touch on a handful of my songs was as eloquent and subtle as a Shakespearean ninja(i.e. very eloquent, very subtle).

And let’s not forget a few days prior when Tim Watson stopped by to add some drums to a track as well. I just watched the video footage I shot and as it started I thought to myself, “Weird, I don’t remember listening to a kickass rock song in the studio”…then it dawned on me that it was my song with Tim beating the hell out of the skins for the track. A monster on the kit making a monster out of the song…and again, let me assure you, that is a good thing.

I blogged awhile back that I’d probably cheap out and muddle through all the instruments myself in order to save a couple of bucks. Am I glad I didn’t, and that I got these two gentlemen in because once you have the real deal on the tracks it just kicks it up several notches. I can’t wait to hear it all mixed and mastered… It. will. be. EPIC.

Blue Blue Satellite

I’m a songwriter. I’m not a guitarist, I’m not a drummer, I’m not a keyboardist, I’m not a bassist.

The good news: As I head into the studio in September there are such things as “session musicians” who will play all those instruments for you on your record!

The bad news: I’m too cheap to pay for session musicians.

But that’s actually still good news because I’m something of a multi-instrumentalist which means I’m familiar with the mechanics of several instruments despite sucking at them individually. The good news being, for the tracks that will have a fuller production I’ll be forced to come up with creative ways to record these instruments without betraying the fact that I’m actually quite lousy at them. And the way I’ll do this is to use them in non-traditional ways(i.e. cheat) that can only give the songs a fresher, unique, less-is-more feel to them…

So it’s win-win: I save money and you, the potential listener, will get a feast for your ears! But be forewarned for what you’re in for…I emailed my producer today asking if his studio had an accordion, melodica or Moog I could tinker with…which should be extra interesting seeing as I don’t know what a Moog is…

Blue Blue Satellite