It’s been ages since I’ve been blogging or vblogging regularly. Over the course of the last year and a half I’ve started my business Sonic Bloom through which I teach music production with Ableton Live and mix and master other people’s music. Most of the time I did 70+ hours of work per week to get it off the ground. So much to do. In the winter of 2012/13 every day felt like groundhog day. The most boring and tiring version of it.
Now I’m at a point at which I can slow down a little. I feel pretty exhausted and empty right now. Have felt that way for about two months, but it’s gettibg better. After all this madness and such a high output I need some time to breathe, reflect, absorb and sort my head. Hermit style, mostly.
My vocal booth is finally fixed again after it had been broken by Charlie when she was still a kitten.
Currently I’m in a pre-production phase with my music. I have at least 5 song ideas roughly sketched out. Some are missing lyrics which I find crucial for moving forward in the production and arrangement. And I have plenty of musical fragments that could eventually turn into songs.
Overall, the songs so far seem to emphasise beats and bass more, so the next album might turn out more electronic and danceable. I’ve been experimenting a lot with analogue synths and I really like using them for bass lines (my boyfriend has a solid collection). That said, I reckon the new ideas still sound like me. There’ll still be lots of my vocals, field recordings and a wide array of acoustic instruments involved.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon, quite possibly with some soundbites.
The three days on Usedom were great. Got some sun (and quite some freckles), hit the waves and relaxed. Three days without my music to gain some perspective seems a good recipe.
In the last week I’ve gone over the songs that still needed some work. The chart was really helpful to determine what and when. It was also nice to tick off boxes after finishing stuff. Very motivating! First up was ‘Euphoria’ which was nice before, but who wants nice. Much better now. I finished the beats which now feature the sound of an arriving S-Bahn train in the chorus. Sounds like big drums. Refined the sound, put in variations and automated all the beats. Played with tape stops, reversing, shuffling and retriggering the melody I’d made out of an recorded glass harp. Really love the glitchy results. Very electronic sounding, I love it. Put in some small other details after tweaking sounds so much they became something completely new. And then of course mixed the song.
Next up was ‘Zero Tolerance’. Again refined and automated the beats, put in more circuit-bent breaks and noises. Messed around with the brass I’d recorded before, but didn’t like too much. It’s still in there although no one would recognise it as brass. It was so much fun kinda destroying things. It makes sense since the song needs to be gritty. Made some nice glitchy effects. Already have some great ideas how to treat the vocals once they’re done, too. For the last chorus I rocked out on my Les Paul and recorded some distorted guitar parts. And again did the music mix.
Also did some sound polishing on ‘The Tide’. Mainly EQing. ‘Hearts First’ needed some refined beats. Then I added a few more subtle cello bits. I went through all the tracks to make sure everything sits nicely in the mix and is necessary. I adjusted the levels and finished the mix.Last, but not least I made some changes in the brass arrangement for ‘Chaos & Order’ whenever the high notes sounded to bright and squeaky. Then recorded piano sprinkles in the verses to add a bit of extra colour.
Tomorrow I’ll start with more vocals. Finally the weather is right for them. It was so darn hot. If I’d done vocals I’d have gotten a heatstroke because the windows need to be shut for that. No way!
Sleep now, I haven’t gotten too much of that lately.
As promised, here comes the sequel… So what else have I been up to lately…
Last Tuesday was the last hot day for a while and since I hadn’t had much time to enjoy the sun I’d decided to go to a lake to finish the lyrics for ‘The Tide’ there. Found a nice, secluded spot, went swimming – the water was still pretty cold, but lovely and refreshing – and then took out my notebook and pen. I got everything but the last verse. Not sure how to conclude the song, yet. I’ve got a couple of different scenarios and I guess I’m gonna leave that open until I’ve arranged the music. Very happy with what I’ve got so far.
After that I had another appointment with the music producer. I gave him the soul song I wrote for someone else in a rough outlined version so she can sing on top of it. He really liked it. Last time I’d been there he’d given me two songs that needed beats, but I disliked the songs so much that with each listening I felt more like getting sick. Sooo not my cup of tea. This time he’d considered my taste and given me a couple of songs that I really like and that inspired some ideas already during listening for the first time. Also I can try whatever I like. It seems to let me work to my strength means not to put me on a short leash. The music producer agreed that I do the radio edit for ‘Chaos & Order’. I understand that he wants to make the song interesting even to people who have the attention span of a mayfly. That’s fine, but I’d rather do it my way. There are supposed to be two songs on the compilation and I’m gonna write a new song specifically for it.
It’s funny how the music producer treats me now. In the beginning he found my music interesting, but he was slightly reserved. I reckon because he thought it too weird. He seems to play everyone’s music to all kinds of people to see how they react. Well, each time I go there I meet someone new. And the introduction goes like that most of the time: ‘Hi, I’m Madeleine.’ ‘Oh, hi. Love your music!’ This resulted in the music producer calling me his shooting star now, which seems a bit like piling it on too much. But it’s nice realising that you can do your own thing and people aren’t only interested in the same old, same old.
A couple of days ago I sat down and made a plan what’s left to do to finish the album. Time’s running out, it’s coming to a close that I can blissfully make music and nothing else. By the end of July I probably have to seriously start looking for a part time job. The good thing is it appears feasible that I’ll be finished with my 12 songs, preparing all songs for the stage and writing another one for the compilation till then. So the timing is right, but I’ll have to work quite a bit in these weeks. I tried to apply proper time management methods where you calculate how long you think things will take and then multiply that by two for unexpected and unknowable delays. Still I’d love to continue just making music, because the learning curve in the last couple of months has been so steep for me and there are so many more songs left in me. That’s why I only want a part time job. At least then I’ll have quite some time left each week for music. I might even have something already. The music producer asked me if I was interested in doing the event management for the huge gig at the end of the year. If the hourly rate is right, gladly. Well, we’ll see.
Thursday night I took my MD recorder and my new Sony stereo mic and went around Berlin recording all kinds of sounds for my song ‘Euphoria’. I’m really happy with the quality of the recordings I got. The next day I edited all of it and replaced the old sounds with the new ones. The basic rhythm is made of a woman walking in high heels and the clicking noise of a traffic light near where I live. The song starts with an S-Bahn arriving and the amazing thing is when I put the sound in I discovered that the rumbling on the tracks is completely in sync with the tempo of the song. In the refrain there’s gonna be more sounds of the S- and U-Bahn. I still have to refine the sound of the beats and put little details in.
On Saturday I packed up my Mac, my little keyboard and some clothes and went to visit family and friends in my hometown. The first few days I was busy catching up with all of them. I hadn’t seen most of them for months. Especially my brother including his little family. My nephew is very musical and we already played a bit together and we’ll continue this afternoon when he’s coming from kindergarten. It’s a lot of fun seeing him eyes aglow when he tried out playing a keyboard for the first time. And it’s great to get a change of scenery from time to time. I felt like a holiday, but I’ve got no time for it and neither the money – I’m buying the array mbira instead. I feel much more relaxed and ready to keep working and pulling all bits together to get the album finished.
One more thing… lately I’ve worked till early in the morning quite often and ended up being too tired to write the blog. So I thought I’d join twitter, because that way I can keep you posted about what I’m up to in no time. So if you want to know what I’m working on and there’s no update in this blog, you can check here.
Phew, what a writing marathon. Guess I’ve mentioned everything. And now back to rehearsing.
Still on ‘Zero Tolerance’. Recorded the last missing vocals. My voice is still a bit rattled by allergies (darn birch trees), so I guess I’m gonna re-record them at some point. I started working on all the little details. Refined the beats and the brass arrangement. Put in some interesting effects in designated spots and some really weird noises as something like a short intro. And for the first time tried some excessive LFO filtering on the bass line which took me ages to get exactly right. Sounding good now though.
I think I’m gonna spend some more time on it tomorrow and then definitely move on to some other song. Either write a new one or get back to ‘Euphoria’ and see if I manage to come up with a great chorus this time around.
Also I did some rewiring in my studio after getting irritated for the umpteenth time tripping over some cables. Additionally, each time I wanted to set up some other piece of equipment I had to crawl under the desk and unplug something. Now there’s nothing to stumble on and lots of plug-in positions in reach. In the long run it’s gonna save me both time and hassle.
Haven’t really been away, but in the last week I had quite some creative ups and downs. Got stuck on ‘Euphoria’, then realised that the refrain was just not euphoric enough, but by then I was too close to the subject to see what might be right. Also I noticed when I went outside to record sounds of Berlin that either my microphone or the MD recorder is making loads of noise by itself. Quite a drawback, so no way I can make the beats I want for the song. Gotta check which one is being the noisy bugger! And then think of a solution. Preferably one without spending any money. And then after leaving the song alone for a bit get back to it afresh.
On Tuesday and yesterday I met up with the music producer I’d already mentioned. On Monday I recorded vocals for ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Webs’ so that he could get the whole picture. That and the mixing took the whole day and night. I ended up seeing the dawn and going to bed at half 7. I got a real rush throughout the next day with being so overtired and all that.The producer liked my songs and even asked me if I would like to write some songs for other people. I guess it’s a nice challenge since I’ve never tried that. Still I feel I should be cautious… He wants to try some stuff with three of my songs and I don’t want him to rewrite them and make them into something that could be neatly pigeonholed by a big record label, but that doesn’t feel like me anymore. I’m well aware that I’m very protective with my songs, but I’ve spent so much time and energy on them. I just don’t want anyone to mess with them…I guess I’ll have to wait and see what he’s planning to do with them!
Almost three months ago I started working on a song that was untitled back then and seriously doing my head in. It’s a pretty angry song and on Wednesday someone really pissed me off. On the way to my flat I thought that I should preserve the mood and have another go at this song. I cracked it! Finally! I figured out that the bass I had used was slightly out of tune, but since there was distortion on top of it I hadn’t noticed it earlier. So I just loaded up some piano sound and started playing my keyboard and within about five minutes I had the chord progression for the refrain, a vocal melody and lyrics to go with them. I quickly recorded everything and since then everything’s just falling into place. Needless to say that also cheered me up tremendously. The song’s called ‘Zero Tolerance’ now. I still have to write the lyrics for the third verse, but that should be a piece of cake after all the trouble I had with this stubborn song.
I’m just gonna write down the lyrics for the refrain so I don’t get the stupid idea and try to change them again:
zero tolerance from now on
gotta kill what’s killing me
zero tolerance from now on
no more putting up with
no more polite smiles
I then replaced the bass sound. Took me a while to create one that sounded just the way I envisioned it. I also changed the sounds for the beats. Mostly sounds of me hitting stuff. They’re pretty tribal and distorted sounding with a pinch of white noise thrown in. Working very well with the new bass. Had fun arranging some brass fills and fiddling with effects. ‘Zero Tolerance’ really screams for extreme FXing. This song might be something for the dance floor, very fast, driven. At least I have to dance around a lot when I hear it.
P.S.: Finally got a second hand bicycle. Got it on Ebay for just 20€. A red mountainbike. The girl I bought it off turned out to live near me. So if you happen to see a red flash rushing past… might be me 😉
Since a friend is staying at my place before he flies back home I have had less time in my studio because it’s also my living and guestroom. So I opted for not writing, but still making music.
I’m on the new song ‘Celeste’. I use it a bit as a playground to have fun. No rules, no restrictions. Who knows how it’s gonna sound once it’s finished. I’m not even sure if it’s going to get any lyrics. On Wednesday I filled different wine glasses with water, tuned them and then played them as a glass harp. The tuning and then proper microphoning took a lot of time. I’ve used the glass harp in a couple of songs already, because the sound is so lovely (For example in ‘Sunshine Smile’). Today I’ve recorded tons of sounds I made with my mouth and some handclaps that I’ve started arranging into beats. I also had fun manipulating and cutting up audio as something like a bass line. The song itself is still pretty rough, but I’m assembling lots of pieces first to see where it leads me.
I’ve been flat out for a whole week. After just having recovered from a cold I managed to get the flu, too. It came as the whole package: fever, chills, aching all over, extreme weakness… you name it. I sincerely hope that I’m done with being sick for this year. Especially since I’ve basically been coughing now for a month and that’s not exactly good for my vocal chords or my lungs. Definitely no singing yet and then I first have to practise again before I can record any vocals.
While I was sick I seriously started worrying I might not be able to finish the album before I have to get a job again. Panicking doesn’t help though. Just kills all creativity. It’s not that I have a specific deadline, but time is certainly running out. So I used the time to think up ways out in case… and maybe a little pressure might help me become even more productive. At least that’s the way it seemed this weekend.
In the last two days I’ve resumed work on ‘In Unison’. I’ve done 10 hours of work alone yesterday… I’ve had a real blast. It was almost as if it all happened by itself. I’ve automated the panning of the beats so they’re bouncing all over the place. I’ve played around with the flute I recorded and made some additional nice little bits out of it. I also added a flugelhorn as a counterpart to the flute. Had lots of fun creating and tweaking sounds. I start with some sound and in the end I’ve got heaps of great new sound gems. Quite often I don’t really know how I did it afterwards. And last, but not least I did the mix, some more automation to certain sounds, went through all the tracks and sounds seperately and polished everything so that the song shines and sparkles. The only thing that’s still missing is the outro. I guess it’ll come round all by itself once I can sing again.
And to make up for the time of non-blogging a sneak peek of ‘In Unison’:
Still working on ‘In Unison’ and I really like the way it’s going. I spruced up the beats, all done now I guess apart from some panning and effects fun. They’re almost drum’n’bassey except the sounds I used are softer. I also took care of quite a few little details that might not change the overall sound, but add nice touches to the song. The rough mix is done, too. I’m definitely gonna be able to finish the song this weekend (minus final vocals and mix). Might post a snippet of it tomorrow.
Today I got my spanking new external harddrive. I decided to get a Seagate FreeAgent Pro with 500 GB. Should be plenty. It’s nicely quiet and even looks really great. The DVD burner in my desktop has been broken for quite a while. Each time I wanted to backup or burn anything on a CD I had to build up the network between my Windows XP and my Macbook Pro. What a procedure! It took me a bit to figure out how the FreeAgent should be formatted so I can use it for both XP and OS X. No more scooping things from one partition to the next because I’m running low on disk space. Just my musical programmes and plugins take up more 50 GB already. And did I mention that I love getting new gadgets?
I’m gonna have to keep it short tonight. Seriously have to go to bed now. Early appointment tomorrow and apparently I have to walk for almost 40 minutes to get there because of this damn BVG strike. Here’s a picture to prove it:
One hour less to make music. I wonder if I should try to get a refund for my monthly ticket.
More work on ‘Hearts first’. I still don’t know if the beats are good. They’re great on their own and they’ve giving me heaps of ideas for the string arrangement. So even if they don’t make the cut in the end it wasn’t wasted time. I could even use them to make a remix.
Lots of small bits and pieces that I’ve done today still need to be pulled together properly so they make sense. That’ll hopefully happen tomorrow. Maybe a little mp3 snippet then, too.
Took me a while to get going today. I felt like I was coming down with a cold, but no, it’s just my body thinking it’s being attacked by vicious tree pollen. So I’ve been coughing and wheezing. It’s no excuse though. I can’t just do nothing for weeks only because I drag myself around sneezing in the morning. I sure hope my voice gets used to it.
More work on ‘Webs’ today. I’ve sorted out the general arrangement. I had the feeling that something was off when I listened to it for the first time today. As it turns out it was pretty easy to solve. The bass line needed some adjustments and I’ve fiddled around with some effects for the rhodes. Together they already create a beat of some sorts now – sounds like a CD skipping. That’s what happens if you don’t cut a sound at zero. Usually this clicking sound is considered to be bad, but I like it.
My condensator mic got a bit tortured to get a sound for the bass drum. I tried to think of anything one does in the morning that provides a sound for that, but at least I prefer it rather relaxed just after getting up without any banging around. Hence the hitting the mic. Recorded the first attempts to the vocals to see if everything works the way I want it. Also recorded more little bits that will hopefully find their perfect place in time.
I need to find some clocks to record the ticking. I don’t have one that tick-tocks anymore. The grandfather clock at my parents’ would be perfect. Maybe next time I get there. I might ask around who’s got one or go to a shop…
This is the tiny snippet that inspired this song (sounds completely different already though):