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The essential studio accessory 

When I started getting back to music, I knew one thing I really needed to learn was audio engineering… It’s one thing to write songs but another to record them properly and yet another to mix them nicely.

You can get all the best recording gear in the world, build yourself a great sound treated studio, buy the most powerful computer, the best DAW (Digital Audio Workstation if you wonder what that means), but the one thing that you really need is to actually learn how to use all that.

And it takes time, because you need to train your ears. Critical listening is the one essential skill you need beyond the basics of learning how to operate a DAW which is a pretty complex and powerful piece of software. You can learn about EQ, compression, delays, reverbs, but you will get nowhere if you don’t know how to listen critically.

Now as I’ve said elsewhere, one thing you learn as a mixing engineer is to close your eyes, because it’s easy to get tricked by what you see… for example, say you are EQ-ing a track, and you look at the EQ curve, your brain will trick you to hear a change even if you’re actually EQ-ing another track, or even if that track is muted… It happened to me more than once, and it happened to most of the audio engineers I know. So best close your eyes if you want to avoid any false stimuli…

Which is where the essential accessory comes into play! Every studio worthy of this name needs one.. I’m talking about the Lava Lamp!!! Yes, if you look at recording studios, you will see all sorts of gear, mixing console, effects rack, cables, audio monitors, etc… But in the coolest studios, you will also likely see a Lava Lamp.

Personally, I feel that it’s very inducing to creative mixing. Just looking at the lava bubbles blowing up is fascinating and when I’m doing work on a mix and don’t want to close my eyes, I look at it instead of looking at the screen. Plus the light is really cool and not aggressive so you can sustain more time in your little sound bubble with it…

So if you really want to get into audio engineering, think about this essential mixing accessory! Your studio won’t be the same without it! ;-)

Cut or keep? Always a difficult question 

Today I’ve been asked how I work when I arrange a song…

One thing is for sure: for me, it’s a rather long process of refined iterations. I can have many ideas that won’t make the final cut, for a number of reasons. I will often throw a lot of things into a mix then live with it (meaning listen to it intently) for a while and see what sticks… In this extract for example, I had this idea of a building intro with some cool arpeggio and vocal harmonies that I decided to remove in the end, in favor of a simple fade in and shorter intro. 

I liked the idea for a moment, and the harmonies could have sounded good (although here in this version they are a bit flaky), but the intro was starting to get too long and I thought that it was best to get to the meat of the vocal sooner.
At one point I toyed with the idea of making this a bridge, but somehow this was too much of a down point and again I decided against.

It’s always a balancing act… I come from a time where songs of 20+ minutes were not exceptional, and I don’t mind that at all, but you still have to keep the listener’s interest and sometimes cutting things is the way towards that.

Nowadays I tend to favor shorter music and more to the point, and try to make simpler music, by removing things more often than not. Which actually is pretty hard to do, because you get attached to some parts and you have to take a step back and realize what really works and what is just fluff that is not really needed. If something doesn’t make a song better, it better go.

In the end, the final version clocks at around 5 minutes, but I think it works and manages to keep the listener’s attention throughout.
You’ll be the judge:

No Return 

This song on my new “Infinite” EP came from a striking image... Listen here

I was following a physics course on a MOOC (Mass Open Online Course), and one of the session was about some extraordinary insights of Einstein’s theory of Relativity, and the subject of the speed of light as a constant. What I vividly remember was a computer simulation attempting to show the kind of visual distortion that would happen if you were to travel at a speed close to the speed of light (because nothing can go any quicker, even though Star Trek told you so!), and how things would appear to you as you were increasing speed. (The video here is of low quality, unfortunately I couldn’t find a better one, sorry! But hopefully you'll get the idea)

What I liked was how, as you passed a building in that simulation, it was still appearing ahead of you, because of the distortion and the time the light would take to reach you, and also the fact that as you were speeding up, everything in front started to appear brighter and focused on a center point ahead like the end of a tunnel…

And then I remembered how people who had a near death experience often talk about that tunnel and the light in front of them, and how it sounded similar.
Now I’m not a spiritual person, but this made me think that it was somehow strangely related.

From that came the central idea of this song (to be taken literally):

And as you reach the speed of light
You face your past collapsed and bright
Sliding

From there on, to think of a journey with no return, far from the sun, in a “rocket ship firing” naturally followed… It’s a journey we will all take one day, so I hope it will be full of wonders and exciting. I tried to make the sound and the song a possible (if only faint) reflection of this extraordinary adventure.

Early recording of a song I’m working on 

Here are the first 2 verses of a song I’m working on at the moment.

I thought I’d share it here for the curious. 
I rarely do that because I like finished/polished music but I thought this one was fun and already listenable even at this very early stage. You’ll be the judge.

There’s no intro yet, no ending, and I still need to flesh out the arrangement (which could be very simple or awfully complex… depending on what the song asks for). I like this one’s melody and chord progression, so there’s definitely a song here and I will probably work on it in the next few weeks.

Not all my ideas end up as a song. There’s a lot I discard, as I only work on something that I believe is worth the effort. Meaning it has to have a good melody at least, which to me is the main thing, and it needs to keep itself together even stripped bare like that with just an acoustic guitar and a vocal. If it sounds like something that can grow, then I will start working on the arrangement, and spend many many hours on it, adding layers, trying ideas, re-tracking, until it is ready for a mix and master…
Then I share it.

For the record, this one’s lyrical idea was prompted by my recent incursions in the wonderful world of social medias: where there is a lot of nothing being said and exchanged, but sometimes meaningful connections can occur.

I hope that I will be able to count you into the meaningful connections! :)

“THE FACE” 

Every guitar player knows it: As soon as you pick up the instrument for a solo in front of a live audience, you have to make “THE FACE”… at least if you want to be considered a real guitar hero!

This is especially true if the guitar is electric, but even classical or folk players with an acoustic instrument are not entirely exempt. A simple Google search for “guitar face” will show you all sorts of vivid examples in all genres.

It’s pretty hard to pinpoint exactly where and when the fashion started, historians will probably debate this one for many years to come. I suppose it all came, like most of popular music, from the blues. And it makes sense that the suffering of the slaves in the cotton fields somehow translated to the players singing their harrowing plea.

How it came to be adopted by guitar players in particular, and in the rock scene especially, is left open to controversy. I will not adventure a theory myself.

I just know that for the many many years that I studied guitar, I have missed one essential part of my training by not doing it in front of a mirror. I would have perfected my stance and yes, probably made it big!

Boobs and cats 

I gave up to the pressure of the internet: this photo is for you all!

As I was editing a video yesterday for my song “Frozen in Time” (which BTW, you can see on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqOxzrB1YYA), I was looking for evocative public domain clips that would fit the music, and I remembered reading marketing advice somewhere that to really attract an audience nowadays on the internet, particularly on social media, your images and videos should really contain one of the 2 major content elements that drive the internet nowadays: boobs or cats.

Not that I’m not into that, actually I find them both pretty attractive (for different reasons), but I wonder how a juicy pair would fit the intro lyrics of “Floating, weightless… looks like there’s no end to…”, or how much misinterpreted would be the phrase “I can let it go now”?

As to cats, they are cute and all, but do they really belong in a spacey dreamy song which in essence evokes death, cryogeny and a final voyage? “I wonder…” is one of the lyrics.
Yeah, I do wonder!

Does it matter so much that people are “liking” and “following” and “RT-ing” anything you do if it’s not something you’re particularly proud of anyway? And even if I had boobs (I don’t, remember I have a beard!), would I really want to share them to the world? Should I make an alternate version of this video that would appeal to the masses or should I just continue doing my thing, in all its invisible glory? I leave you to ponder with me. :D

How does it feel? 

This song started from a deep sense of isolation and a realization that the world we live in, with all the technological means of ‘connection’ we have, is only making things worse.

It started during a lonely evening, when I took my old faithful acoustic guitar and started strumming and realized one of the string was half a tone flat. I don’t know why but instead of tuning that string properly, I started playing, placing my fingers differently until I realized that using regular fingering was giving some interesting harmonic possibilities.

Almost immediately I had the intro and a groove that I built upon. The verse melody came pretty soon after this, there was no lyrics attached but a sense of melancholic groove and some syllables were forming in my mouth that had to do with “feel” and “real” and it all grew from there.

You can hear an early recording of the guitar alone… the tempo was slower but the groove was already there.

Adding bass and drums was pretty straight-forward because most of the laid-back groove was pretty firmly set by the guitar and the rhythm section only had to go along and accentuate it. 

Invisible 

invisible

I found this wonderful picture by August Muench which showed the shadow of a little girl playing with a balloon, dressed as a fairy, and the shadow of that fairy on the brick wall appealed to me and talked to me in a profound way. The contrast of that shadow on the warm tone of the bricks.

Because most of my music is about absence, memories of the past, childhood, regrets and hopes, emotions and the possibility of something else, time and life… this image resonated with me and I thought about using it to represent a collection of songs that I would have called “Invisible”.

Invisible, because the music I’ve done has been mostly unheard of for years, and because I’m not a social artist, nor a public person. You might well have crossed my shadow in the streets, and not known about my music, and I didn’t know about you and it’s the way it is for most of us anyway.

Photographs speak to me in a similar way that music does.
It is a play with time. A way to capture a moment.
Photography is about freezing time, music is about playing with it.

I love both arts, although I must confess that I’m not a photographer, what I want to do here is to find a way to cross photography and music in a way that would capture time and create emotions. Hopefully you will follow that journey.