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Archive for the ‘GarageBand’ Category

As some might know, I’ve spent the last year working on my first album, “You Stir My Soul,” which is a collection of contemporary religious songs I wrote for the Catholic Mass. About three weeks ago, I finished the album and submitted it to a digital distribution company to place on iTunes. They indicated that it would take about 8-10 weeks before it was available, but last night, I noticed that it had already become available!

This is a huge milestone in my life! I don’t have any illusions that it will elevate me to superstardom. But I’ve accomplished what has been a lifelong dream for me.

Admittedly, a couple of the songs really aren’t production quality, but I learned a lot about the music production process since then. The ones that have a much clearer sound to them are the songs I recorded later in the process. Oh well, first album, lesson learned.

Check out “You Stir My Soul” on iTunes!

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I wrote this song based upon a passage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus talks about being called into justice and mercy. The passage inspired me to write “We Are Called.” Note that the only amp I used was a Fender Champ 600. Using two different mics, spaced at different distances to provide a little depth. I placed a dynamic mic right in front of the grille cloth, and a ribbon mic off-axis about 10″ away. The result was a very nice tone. The dynamic mic picked up the lows really well, while the ribbon caught the ambient – all this from a 5Watt amp with a 6″ speaker! Ha! You gotta love it.

For the opening lead part, I did “cheat” a bit and used my Hot Rod’s speaker cab for a bit more tonal depth, but still powered with the Champ. I love that little amp! Here’s the song:

Equipment:

Guitars: ES-333, Strat; Piano, Bass

Drum loops were standard GarageBand loops, and everything was mastered in GarageBand. Not bad for demo-quality work.

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healsun-rays.jpgI was conversing with a friend of mine who just received his conditional black belt in Tae Kwon Do this past weekend – very great accomplishment. During the course of our conversation, he said the one missing ingredient in his study of martial arts is developing his “chi.” He believes in chi, but is having a hard time grasping what it is all about. Chi is a Chinese word that describes the natural energy of the universe. For sci-fi folks, it’s the equivalent of the Force in Star Wars. Without going into detail, the development of chi is at the heart of martial arts, though it is downplayed in the US because we live in such an empirical society where everything needs to be explained. In any case, my friend wanted to know more about developing his chi. We’ve had previous conversations about this subject, and I’ve related how I developed my chi over the years, so I showed him some techniques. But that’s really not what this blog entry is about…

During our conversation, I said something that compelled me to think about my guitar playing [actually, I’m surprised I even said it]. It was simply this: “Sometimes, in order to even start a journey, you have to give yourself permission.” For quite a while now, I’ve experienced a bit of a block in regards to improvising, admitting that I can’t do it, or saying that I’m purely a rhythm guitarist. Even the solos in the songs that I’ve recorded are the result of countless takes, where I’ve memorized the lead. That’s not so bad, Brian May talked about doing this on some Queen records back in the day. But for me, I realize now that it was fear that was blocking me; my fear of people thinking I sounded bad.

But something changed in me this past weekend. I wrote a new song for Church and I only had an hour or so to lay down tracks so my band had an idea of how I wanted it to sound when we performed it. So I open GarageBand, picked out a click track, laid down the keyboard and bass parts, then laid down the two rhythm guitar parts, then finally added the vocal parts. Realizing that I wanted a bit of solo at the beginning of the song, I quickly recorded a solo in the first 16 bars of the song. I did a quick mix and master, output the song, and wrote it to a CD.

On the way to Church, I listened to what I recorded, then realized I did every single part in one take each – even the solo. I know it’s not a very sophisticated solo, but it was the first time I just put something down without thinking about it. That really inspired me for the service where we were going to do a couple of songs that would require some instrumental interlude.  To make a long story short, when it was my time to solo, I just – did it. I told myself, “Don’t think about what you’re going to do, you know the fretboard well enough now. Just feel the music.” After Mass, someone came up to me and said they really enjoyed the music, and the way I expressed myself on the guitar. How’s that for affirmation? Admittedly, I was somewhat nervous because all my solos had been fairly calculated in the past – I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it. This time, I was on a bit of shaky ground because the only thing I started out with was the key of the song.

The point to all this is that in giving myself permission to solo, I was able to just do it. Did I make mistakes? Sure I did, but nothing glaring. For the very first time in my life, I was able to just let loose and express a message using my guitar. After Mass, I realized that I could probably have done this for a long time, but my fear of soloing kept me from doing it.

So give yourself permission to pursue your dreams and goals.  Like me, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you can accomplish.

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A couple of years ago, I called Tom Booth, a prolific Catholic songwriter and recording artist. I was seeking advice on the best way to approach putting a demo together of the songs I’d written for Mass. I wanted to know things such as how much I should budget, what players I should bring in – lots of things. He patiently listened to my questions, and at times interjected with some comments, but his final comment really surprised me. He said that in lieu of going into the studio that I should invest in good recording gear and record my demo at home. I was stunned by this. He didn’t say much more than that, nor did he explain his reasoning. But in retrospect, I don’t think he could’ve given me better advice.

 

So, based upon that conversation, I invested in a high-powered PC with tons of RAM and huge hard disk space, purchased a simple 2-input DAW (an MBox 2), installed ProTools LE, got a couple of good mics and cables, and was off to the races. I was jazzed to have a killer setup with tons of horsepower, and with ProTools, I’d be able to transfer the stuff I did at home to a studio’s computer. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, that was just the beginning of a nightmare…

 

I soon found out that you practically need a degree to get down even the most basic operations of ProTools. Yes, it’s powerful, and yes, it’s pretty much the standard, but there’s so much to it with all its internal features – not to mention the plug-ins that come standard with it – I had to spend hours and hours learning how to operate the software before I could become even reasonably productive.

 

That experience turned me off to recording; so much so that I lost my taste for it after recording just a few songs. The thought of laboring over the niggling details of ProTools and trying to understand how all the plug-ins worked with it made me groan with weariness. So I gave it up. After all, all I wanted to do was get my tracks down and output them to a reasonable sound quality – good enough for a demo.

 

Mind you, I’m not dissing ProTools. If I had the time to spend with it, I’d be all over the software, learning the ins and outs. But the problem is, as is the case with many home recording artists, I have to feed my family, so I work during the day. I also have a huge family, so my wife and I have to split up duties carting kids around from place to place on weekends. That leaves precious few hours during the week to get my songs recorded. With my lack of experience with ProTools, and the daunting task of having to learn it, I simply gave up on recording, and concentrated on songwriting. I wrote a ton of songs, and in 2006 kind of hit a groove with my songwriting where I was really liking what I was writing. But the problem with that was that the songs were piling up, and I knew that I had to get them recorded.

 

Up until about 6 months ago, it had been about two years since I had given up on serious recording. I still thought about it, but felt a little trapped by the equipment in which I had invested so much time and money. But luckily, a professional tragedy helped catapult me into recording again. For years, I’ve been somewhat of a poster child for high-tech start-ups. And in early 2007, I joined a tiny start-up that was working in the “Web 2.0” space. It was exciting, I made a very nice salary, and got a good chunk of stock to boot. After two-and-a-half months of being employed there, the company shut down. Our team of 12 employees was brought into a conference room and told by the founder that the company was closed and that we should pack up our things. All the assets would be put for sale, including all our hardware and software. Bummer. But what I got out of it was worth way more than gold.

 

In the company’s fire sale, I was able to get a bunch of equipment; among them were two iMacs that I purchased for my kids. I set them up, and started playing with one of them. In my explorations, I discovered a little program GarageBand. I had heard of it, but had previously dismissed it as yet another Apple “toy-ware” since I had my own full-blown recording solution (we’re all susceptible to our snobby notions sometimes). Well, in my playing, I started putting loops together, and created a song purely from loops. Then I got some valuable input from my blog buddy Ig at igblog who uses an MBox with GarageBand. I hooked up my own MBox, and whammo! I was back in the recording business!

 

Admittedly, GarageBand has its shortcomings, and some invaluable tools that I had in ProTools, such as direct WAV editing aren’t present. But more importantly, it allows me to concentrate on recording, and it has decent enough mastering tools to output decent demo cuts. Bear in mind that this isn’t necessarily a plug for GarageBand, and although I love it, there are some other fine, very easy-to-use packages out there.

 

No matter what package you choose, there some important lessons that I’ve learned in the creation of my own demo that I’d like to share:

 

  • First and foremost, the most important thing is to get your music out there. Whether or not you do it in the studio or in the comfort of your home, time to production is critical. Don’t let technological barriers get in your way like I did. There are always simpler solutions that will help speed up your process.
  • Speaking of technical barriers, and addressing what Tom Booth said to me, in retrospect, I’d give this advice: Get the recording gear that suits your minimum recording needs, but will give you some decent sound quality. After all, you’re recording a demo, so you’re not after finished production-quality recordings, but something that will convey your sound.
  • Once you have a recording solution, you should consider buying some other equipment:
    • buy a couple of decent mics. You don’t need Neumann. I use a Nady RM-200 ribbon mic and a Senheiser 830 stage mic. I use both interchangeably for vocals and instruments. Of course, if you already have good mics, definitely use them.
    • Invest in a decent mic pre-amp. Presonus makes the TUBEPre which is $99. It’s a great little tube pre that will add warmth to the things you mic.
    • If you can swing it, get a little 5 Watt tube amp for recording guitar parts at low volume. It’s amazing what these things sound like when close-mic’d. You can then use your software package to filter and fatten.
    • If you need MIDI, I’ve found it a lot more useful to have at least a 44-key keyboard with semi-weighted or fully-weighted keys. And you don’t need to spend a mint on a controller. You can get a decent controller for less than $200.
  • Most integrated packages like GarageBand or Logic Express have some basic mastering tools to output your recordings. Learn to use them; especially the dynamics processors like a compressor. Mind you, you don’t want too much compression, but you’ll do yourself a huge favor by controlling your peak volumes.
  • Finally, and I know I said this before: Always keep on telling yourself that this ain’t finished product. It’s not supposed to be finished. It’s supposed to convey to the listener what your sound is all about. You can get it close, and you should, but don’t fret over the little imperfections here and there.

    

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I wrote this song about three years ago, and finally got around to doing a recording of it that I liked. My original recording was only a piano and an acoustic guitar, but I always wanted to do more with it, and also arrange it a bit differently than I originally wrote it, which was quite mellow. With this rendition, the tempo is just a little bit faster, and I added bass and acoustic guitars, plus a couple of harmonies. I like it much better. You can listen to it here:

Gathered As One Body

For you liturgical musicians, feel free to download the sheet music here.

The entire recording was done in GarageBand, which I continue to have a love affair with. I still use ProTools, but for spec stuff like this, GB offers me close to production quality – plus it’s so easy to use, it really allows me to be creative.

Instruments: Piano (MIDI), MIDI Drum loop from GarageBand, Bass, Acoustic Guitar.

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This is a cover of John Foley’s original song, “Come to the Water.” My version is in a folk-punk style ala Elliot Smith or Death Cab. http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=81505.

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Talk about putting a product through its paces! My Mac fatally crashed yet again! Yikes! When that happened, I didn’t panic because based upon Boyd Jarvis’ input in my previous article on my Mac crashing, I went down to my local Apple store, and purchased a copy of Disk Warrior. I also talked to a few of the folks about Disk Warrior, and they said that’s the utility to get, so I also wasn’t bothered by spending the $99 I spent on it (it would also come in handy as I have another Mac at home that I purchased used with a corrupted drive).

Anyway, I got home all excited to repair my disk and be up and running. I opened up the box, inserted the disk in the drive, and patiently watched it do its thing. I watched in horror as Disk Warrior report that my drive was so messed up, it couldn’t be fully recovered. Looks like I have a real bad sector on my disk. So with a shrug, I opened up disk utility, re-partitioned my drive; this time making two: One really small one to isolate the bad sectors at the beginning of the drive, and another large partition. But I still wasn’t too worried because I had my data backed up with Time Machine.

To make a long story short, near the end of the installation, Installer asked me if I wanted to transfer information from a variety of sources. One source was Time Machine. Cool! I though to myself, I’ll have my data ready to go and not have to worry about finding it in the vault! That was a plus, though I was dreading having to install my applications again. Was I in for a surprise!

I let out a huge WHOOP when the restoration process not only restored my data, but also restored all my applications!!! I just simply had to let it do its thing! Now I’m back in business. No smell. No mess. No spending hours installing, and I didn’t lose any of the latest songs I recently recorded in GarageBand! YIPEE!!!

Now that I think about it, it’s a bit creepy that my last article turned out to be self-fulfilling prophecy…  Well, at least I know now that with Time Machine, I can replace my drive and get everything back. Talk about being stoked!!!

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Actually, this goes for any Mac user: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE!!! Spend $100 on a decent FireWire drive, and save your life!
I was going to go into the horror story first, but I decided to just come out with the point of this article  instead. About a month ago, my iMac started acting up, running real slow. So I closed all my running programs, and shut down and restarted my machine. To my horror, when the machine tried to boot up, I just got a folder icon with a flashing “?” onscreen. I didn’t panic. I opened my software file cabinet, got my install disks, and ran the disk utility, only to find that my disk was unrepairable. My only option was to reformat the drive and re-install the operating system.

What was the result? Though I had backups of completed GarageBand songs made, I lost ALL my GarageBand project files! That’s hours and hours of work that is simply gone. While I’m happy with the quality of the finished stuff (for demo purposes), I’m in no way happy with the fact that I don’t have the source files in order to make tweaks. After that experience, I saved a bit of money to buy a backup drive, and upgrade OSX to Leopard.

Among Leopards fine virtues is a no-brainer backup utility called “Time Machine.” Just plug in an external drive. Finder will pop-up a Time Machine dialog box asking you if you’d like to use the new drive as a backup. Select “Yes,” and that’s all you have to do! No thinking, no complex setup. Time Machine does it all for you. I won’t go into a lot of technical or usage details about it, though I did learn that you should let Time Machine run its initial imaging overnight. It takes several hours, and if you’re using your machine while it’s running, it’ll take longer. But once it’s done, Time Machine works automagically, continuously checking for changes to existing files and backing up new files – all in the background! With this ease-of-use, you’d be a fool to not go out right away and get a decent drive.

Myself, I got a Maxtor One-Touch III 320GB FireWire drive at my local electronics store for $99.00. It’s a decent drive with middle of the road performance. I didn’t need a 10K rpm drive. I just needed something that would back up my files – especially my GarageBand files! To test this, I created a new GB project and saved it immediately. After that, I opened up Time Machine and was pleasantly relieved to see that the file got backed up immediately! What a wonderful utility.

Even if you don’t have Leopard – get a backup drive anyway. Most drives,  like my One-Touch, come with backup management software. They’re not as easy to use as Time Machine as they require a bit of configuration, but doing regular backups can save you hours or days of work!

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In my latest GarageBand project, I just finished recording a song that I wrote back in 2004, but never managed to record it until now. The song is called “I Will Sing (of Your Salvation).

While the song is very special to me, the recording was actually a bit of an experiment as I wanted to see if I could replace my synthesizer using only vocals. As far as the whole album of which this song is part, I wanted to take a very minimalistic approach to instrumentation to see how full a sound I could achieve with as few instruments as possible.

As always, I welcome your comments!

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All I can say is WOW! GarageBand is absolutely OFF THE HOOK!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going to be using GarageBand to create song foundations for performing live. But to get myself more familiarized with the application, I decided to lay down a groove for a worship song that I wrote to see how easy it would be. I was not at all disappointed. I first auditioned a bunch of drum loops (BTW, I went out and purchased both iLife ’08 and the Rhythm Section Jam Pack today), found a fill, then inserted the loop into a new track. I then found a decent bass line, and dropped that in as well.

Software instruments such as the bass in GarageBand are actually software MIDI instruments. GarageBand makes it so easy to work with software instruments by providing a MIDI grid to adjust note pitches, duration, velocity, etc.. So once I selected a bassline, I could move notes around to fit to my song. Then it was a simple copy/cut/paste affair to get the bass “measures” into their proper places.

Once I had those two things laid down, I recorded my Strat for the rhythm track. Now here is where things got interesting. For my home recording studio, I use a DigiDesign MBox 2. It turns out that DigiDesign provides a Mac driver for the MBox 2 that you can download from their site. So now, I have my trusty MBox 2 hooked up to my iMac through a USB port, and I can switch from guitar to vocals or add some keyboard tracks with ease.

A totally cool new feature in GarageBand is the ability to loop record; that is, selecting a region in a song, then play several takes while looping over the same region. This is an awesome feature that I’ve appreciated in ProTools, but it’s here in GarageBand! With multi-take loop recording, you can dial in a section until you have it perfect. This saves so much time in the recording process because you don’t have to get to a spot, record, then splice the end. You just keep on playing that section over and over again until you’ve got it right. It also allows you to approach a particular phrase in different ways.

I’m really jazzed right now because I’ve finally found a music production tool that is incredibly easy to use. It’s so easy, it’s almost scary.

BTW, I need to put in a plug for GarageBand ’08. If you’re already a GarageBand user, YOU NEED TO GET iLife ’08 now! It is head and shoulders far more powerful and feature complete than the previous versions of the software. For a mere $79.00, it’s a cheap investment.

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