I’m sitting on my couch, listening to the state of the songs I have so far. This is the second attempt at writing a catch up post, but the last was swallowed by WordPress for iOs. Again. Anyway…
As the year nears its end, I feel like it’s time to take stock, look and listen back of where I got this year. I didn’t quite get as far as I wanted, but I love the new songs. Moving into a new place has been part of that, but it’s taken up some time as well. Right now I have 8 songs in various stages: ‘Audacity’, ‘Live & Learn’, ‘Too Soon’, ‘In Time’ and ‘Patchwork’ more or less roughly mixed, ‘Together’ and ‘Afterglow’ as rough demos and last, but not least ‘Aurelia’ somewhere in between. So about halfway there. Not too shabby!
Compared to ‘Minutia’ there are more live instruments on the new songs that give it a sort of live feel. I got more instruments since finishing the last album and my boyfriend, whose studio is next to mine, has even more. Working in tech support at Ableton has me staring at Live without making music. This made me crave the tactile feel of tines, strings, keys and so on. As an act of deviance against all the MIDI, editing and goggling the screen, I guess.
In the last few days I’ve made a list of all the things that need to be done before a release besides the music. I had set a deadline for mid February ages ago, but it’s dawned on me that it has become pretty much impossible or I’d have to rush things too much. So I’ve decided to instead release an EP in mid May and the album in late August or so. This way the wait is not too long. Sound good?
If you want to have a listen to the progress on the songs of my sophomore album… I’m doing a fortnightly webcast and the previous videos are available to watch. Wanna hear the songs emerge? Or watch live from now on? The next one is on New Year’s Day at 9 pm CET, then Sunday every other week.
There are always people asking what sound is what somewhere in my songs. So how about a little making of blog post for each new song here? For now written, maybe later as little video blogs. Enough, let’s dive right in:
I don’t think I have to say anything about the subject matter. We’ve all been there and even though I don’t spell it out in the lyrics I think it’s quite obvious.
The piano part of In Time has been around for quite some time. Whenever I have time for it I just sit down and play and when something nice emerges I quickly record the idea (yes, I have quite lot of those sketches and hopefully some of them will turn into fully fleshed out songs in the (near) future). I also already had a vocal melody (they usually come all by themselves), but if I don’t have matching lyrics songs tend to be tough to work out. It’s synergetic thing for me.
The dark – or as a friend called them – psycho sounds at the beginning and end (in between as well) and the cello-like bits are me playing my Epiphone Les Paul (electric guitar) with a violin bow, partly pitched down an octave (don’t have a bass which would have been better). All the small ‘electronic’ sounds are actually made from array mbira or piano. Then of course there’s the mbira. I didn’t use it much on Minutia, because by the time I had the money together and got it, most songs were already more or less finished. You can expect quite a lot more mbira on the next EP or album from me though. I just adore this instrument. The darker sounding beats are made by stomping on my wooden floorboards. The ones that sound like brushes are eggbeaters on a canvas bag filled with paper strips, very closely micced.
So apart from the piano (I don’t own one yet) everything on In Time is made with real instruments or field recordings. I’m planning to re-record the piano parts once I have enough new songs with piano passages and found a good one to record them on. An idea I’m having for the next release is using no MIDI instruments on it as the real thing always sounds warmer. If a song asks for a full orchestra though I won’t be able to make that happen. We’ll see.
I don’t know when I’ll have the next release finished. If I do it the usual way – release it as one body of work – I seriously doubt it will come out this year. A possibility I’m toying with is to do a subsciption-based release. Different packages starting from 10€. Subscribers would get a new song each month. Even then I’d have to have a few finished before the whole thing could start as it takes me about 2 weeks from start to finish for a song and there’s always so much else to do as it’s just me. What do you think (comments here are welcome as are tweets or emails)?
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.
After writing last time I gave myself a four day break from my music. Spent the days cleaning and tidying up my flat (couldn’t stand the mess anymore), clothes shopping (it’s sale after all) and visiting my grandparents for the first time in ages. Taking time off helped getting some distance to see more clearly what still needs more work. So I’m going to do the same thing for three days again starting tomorrow. I’ll have a nice little holiday at Usedom together with a friend. Getting away from the heat of the city seems a good idea already. Might be the only holiday this year for me.
I haven’t been only lazy though. On Monday I started recording the vocals for ‘Paperheart’, just to realise that the song needed to swing. Made the song so much better, especially when I speeded it up a tad. Of course, that meant that I could throw the vocals in the bin. I also had to readjust the beats, but I’m very happy with the way the song turned out. Here’s a little bit of it (by the way, all the beats are made of paper):
On Tuesday I’d planned to record the vocals again, but the guy from the hostel opposite got his power tools out and kept being a noisy bugger until today. So noisy in fact that the sawing and what not kept bleeding into the mic recordings. Gotta be flexible, I told myself and finally got around to recording all the piano parts for the songs. Namely ‘Paperheart’, ‘Breathing Underwater’, ‘Hearts First’, ‘Zero Tolerance’ and ‘Euphoria’. Makes such a big difference it’s incredible. It’s as if the songs have finally come alive. I think I know now what ‘Hearts First’ still needs and it is less then I thought.
I must admit I haven’t recorded any vocals this week in the end. The way ‘Paperheart’ seemingly worked itself out was just to tempting. Although I at least edited the vocals for ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ today. I really love the choir created by layering my vocals on top of each other. I checked all the songs in detail. Muting and soloing tracks. After while I sorta lost track of what I’d already done and what not. Last night I started drawing up a big chart to have the progress of each song in black and white and did bits and pieces here and there – everything that didn’t take that long. Quite a few boxes already ticked off. Good feeling. I guess the chart is also gonna be a good motivation tool to make it through the finish line with the album. I can almost see it by now.
I have finally decided on an mbira which I will get in only three weeks. Very excited. Patrick, who’s doing the customer service, is such a nice guy, extremely helpful. He’s sent me a picture of the mbira I’m gonna get. Still a bit unfinished. Looking lovely though. It’s made from African Sapele. Here’s the pic:
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 😉
Sorry for staying away without any further notice… I had a horrible experience last friday and it took me a while to regain my footing. Hence no music making and no blogging. It wasn’t my intention to vanish like that, but I needed the time.
I’m happy to say though that I’m back making music. Still working on ‘Hearts first’. Things are starting to fall into place. I always had the feeling that something was not quite right and whenever I played the final part I did it faster than the rest. Slowing it down seemed wrong somehow so I tried adjusting everything else. And voilà, much better. So the song is a bit faster now. Also I finally have the string arrangement for the beginning and the end. There are still a few kinks to be straightened out, but I’m getting there. Once I’ve recorded the piano the mixing and checking if anything else is missing will be much easier. A real piano sounds way better and I reckon the sound can carry a lot more than the fake one now which sounds a bit thin.
I also rehearsed playing the piano part to a click track with headphones on today. I arranged to record the piano on thursday at a friend’s and till then I have to be used to it. It’s probably gonna take enough time to set up the mics already. I’m not used to playing various pianos and they can feel quite different from each other. Also starting writing lyrics for a new song. Just fragments so far, but no pressure yet.
Last, but not least another long awaited sound snippet of said ‘Hearts first’. It’s the very beginning of the song and just a teensy appetiser:
Had a bit of an undecisive day yesterday when I had no clue if the arrangement for ‘Hearts first’ was any good, especially the beats. So I didn’t make all that much progress – adding things and deleting them again.
Today I wrote and recorded a new ending for ‘Hearts first’. The indecisiveness completely gone. There’s still quite a bit to do to finish the song, but I’m gonna play at Grüner Salon tomorrow night at VoicesUp so I started rehearsing the songs I will play. ‘Hearts first’ amongst them. I’m gonna perform it on the grand piano, sing and sometimes tap a rhythm on the piano. Maybe even integrate the looper. More rehearsing tomorrow and then more work on music on friday.
Got a really late start today after coming home from the party in the early hours of morning.
I’ve got the second verse and refrain working now and recorded some nice reverberated backing vocals for the refrain. I have the feeling that ‘Hearts first’ wants to be very pure, basically piano and vocals only. Everything I tried today seemed to just clog the song. So I guess I’m gonna ask someone who has a good piano if I can record it. Preferably with the sound of the hammers hitting the strings so that it sounds very close up and intimate. At the moment ‘Hearts first’ feels like the closing song for the album.
My computer was seriously throwing a fit today. What’s different? I’ve got no idea. Slowing and then freezing even though nothing I had opened needed too much CPU. And to top it all off the building site next door was as noisy as it hasn’t been for weeks if not months. So between all that I tried to start with a song fragment called ‘Endless’ which I might have messed up royally. Maybe it was only me becoming more and more annoyed. Started getting restless because I felt like I was going backwards rather than making any progress. Skipped through all the ideas I’d already jutted down. Nothing happened but me becoming more and more frustrated. So I decided to leave the house for a bit and calm down.
When I came back I started playing the piano and suddenly out of the blue I had a nice chord progression and vocals to go along with for both verse and refrain. I quickly set up everything and hit the record button. I’m so relieved that the piano playing recipe still works. It’s quite funny how you can try for hours to come up with something and then in the last 10 minutes when you’re so close to giving up finally something emerges. And even though the productive phase today was pretty short I’m happy with the result and feel like I’ve achieved something. The working title is ‘Hearts first’. More about that tomorrow.
Now I’m gonna go to a little party I’ve been invited to, have some fun and catch up with friends.