Archive for the ‘songs’ Category

I actually wrote this song quite awhile ago – I think Christmas Day, 2006. I did an early recording of it – very bad quality, and as I’ve been working on my demo, realized that I hadn’t re-recorded it. This was a must-have song on my demo.

Anyway, here’s the song: http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=85823

Note that I have instrumentation details on the iCompositions site, but I will say that my Fender Champion 600 is a really great amp for home studio use. For this recording, I didn’t even bother running the amp through my Hot Rod’s speaker cab. I close mic’d the amp using a combination of a Nady RM200 ribbon mic, plus my trusty Sennheiser e835, which really brings out the low-end without being muddy. In my opinion, the 835 and 935 series mics just blow the Shure SM58 and 58Beta away. I’ll be writing a review on the Sennheiser in a bit… In any case, enjoy the song!

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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:


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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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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Listen to the song!

I actually wrote this song a couple of years ago, and have played it live a ton of times since then. Don’t know why I didn’t record it earlier, but I think I was a little scared of the arrangement of the guitars – I needed three to pull it off, with each one doing a different thing. It was a little daunting, especially considering this is a really straight-forward song. It’s loosely based on Saint Paul’s “Faith, Hope, and Love…” passage, but I added a bit more to the message; mainly dealing with putting your full trust in God, and leaving it up to Him to guide your life. Of course, we all have our choices, but why worry when we’ve got Faith, Hope and Love? 🙂

Anyway, give it a listen. Frankly, it’s one of my  favorite songs because it’s loud and rockin’, but in a real fun way!

Equipment Used


  • Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – I’ve got THD Yellow Jackets in the power tube section – very sweet, early distortion.
  • Fender Champion 600 – This is my debut of this cute little amp. I played my ES-335 with it stock for the base rhythm track, and drove the 1 X 12 cabinet on my Hot Rod with it, when playing my Strat for the “counterpoint” rhythm part.


  • Gibson ES-335 – This sounded so very sweet through the Champ, and I haven’t even full broken it in yet!!! That’s a testament to how great that little amp is!
  • Fender Strat – Admittedly, the Champ sounded a little tinny with the Strat, which is what I expected, but driving my 1 X 12 cab on my Hot Rod really did the trick!
  • Epiphone ’58 Korina Explorer Re-issue – Used this with my Hot Rod in the drive channel, which create an ever so sweet distortion with the EL-84’s. Combined with the fact that the Explorer just wants to overdrive naturally, this was a great combination.

All other instruments were MIDI (bass and organ). I used a combination of several GarageBand drum loops to create the drum track.

Note: This was also the very first time, I used extensive volume automation in a song. I’ve avoided it because I felt it was too much work. It is a lot of work! But I wanted to mix down the song without normalization this time because GB normalization can make a song too quiet. And in this case where I was hitting the red zone in gain – it was in a place where I wanted to get a bit of breakup anyway – but it’s so slight, you barely notice it. Once I get into the studio, we’ll be able to master it properly. But for now, it’ll do for a

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Praise the Lord My Soul

I wrote this song in mid-2006, but didn’t get around to recording it until this past week. It’s yet another praise song, but it’s a praise song with a twist. It’s written as a blues/funk piece. One wouldn’t normally equate funk/blues with contemporary Christian music, but all I can say is that’s what I came up with. It’s not that I’m trying to do the unexpected – the song kind of worked itself out like that, and it’s also a sound that I like. That point really hit home after I read an interview in the latest issue of Guitar World last weekend with Lenny Kravitz. The interviewer commented that he crossed different styles in his latest album, and his reply was (paraphrasing), “I write music that I like to hear. If you try to write music that you think people will like, it loses its soul.” That’s kind of the place that I’m coming from with the music I’m recording right now. Most of it really leans towards the blues, but it’s music that I like, and what I’m influenced by, so it provides the context for my songwriting. Anyway, have a listen! I hope you like it!

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I was over at igblog reading about Lindsey Buckingham in Ig’s article, “Lindsey Buckingham, guitar hero? « IG BLOG (life-music-guitar)” and something that Lindsey said in the accompanying video really struck a note with me (paraphrased): “Most song writers will say that song writing isn’t something that they make happen. It’s something that happens to them.” That couldn’t be more true, at least for me. I’ve never been able to explain how I get song ideas. They just come to me and I’m compelled to write them down or record them. I have no control over what my songs will be about, or when the inspiration will come along. It just happens, and to me, that’s the beauty of song writing.

When I actually think about how songs come to me, I get a little unsettled. It’s such a stream-of-consciousness experience. I’ll be reading something, or even listening to some music, or engaged in a conversation, and suddenly a tune will pop in my head. I sort of enter a zone, and everything – lyrics and music – just comes.

If you’re a songwriter, I’d like to hear your experience. Care to share?

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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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New Song: Que Cosa

I wrote this song in my head yesterday while I was driving home from work. Amazing how stuff just gets into your head. I named it “Que Cosa” because of my wife asking me, “What’s wrong?” while I was working out the arrangement. She said I had this concerned expression on my face. Anyway, give it a listen and let me know what you think!


BTW, the drums and bass were all loops in GarageBand, and I used “Rusty,” my beloved ES-335 for the guitars.

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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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