Tag Archives: recording studio

State of Emergency

First of all, sorry for being absent everywhere for so long. This was not my intention, but I’ve been going through a string of illnesses and felt it necessary to concentrate on getting better and reflect. Thus, I stayed away from all social media.

As I’m writing this, I’m still recovering from the latest yet unexplained illness. At first I got a very painful intestinal infection, then just as I felt better a common cold which ended in constant vertigo which I still have. So far the doctors haven’t found an explanation. All they know is that my sense of balance on the right side had gone, now it’s better there, but the left side got worse. At least I’m not so dizzy anymore that I walk like the most drunken sailor and I’m no longer nauseous all the time. Thankfully, my hearing is not affected. I still have to take antibiotics and cortisol though.

The week I was in the most pain, my dad had surgery and my grandma died. All this combined really shocked me to the core and made me think about health and life in general. I decided to live extremely healthy, to step it up a few notches (not that I had lived very unhealthily before). I’m eating mostly alkaline foods now (lots of veggies and seeds, no meat, sugar or dairy). I also started doing some light yoga and will integrate it into my daily routine. Once I’m cleared I’ll also go swimming and jogging again. Do everything I can to avoid getting so ill again.

When I first got sick I read Getting Things Done and Making It All Work by David Allen. I have since then started adopting GTD and am making a habit out of it. To make sure nothing slips through the cracks, while working on a relaxed schedule and still getting things done. I think I’ll blog about this some more in a little while as it seems a very useful approach in these hectic times we all live in.

On a positive note, I’ve listened to the rough mixes for the upcoming EP and apart from a few small details I’m very happy with the result. I had planned a late spring release for it… but now it’ll be out in late summer, early autumn. I’m sure you’ll understand that health has to come first and I promise it’ll be worth the wait. I’ve had lots of time to think and I have some really nice ideas that will ease the wait. More about this in time.

Keep your fingers (and possibly also toes) crossed for me that I’ll be back in good shape in no time.

x,
Mads

Deadlines & Lifelines

I’m here at my parents and since there’s nothing much to do here tonight I thought I’d finally catch you up on what I’ve been up to. I don’t want to apologise for not writing for so long… I’ve been busy finishing the album and living my life. If you want to know what I’ve done you can check my Twitter page that I’ve updated regularly.

I’d completely underestimated the amount of time it takes to finish 12 songs. I don’t use a compressor nor a de-esser for the vocals because I can’t afford good ones for now so I have to adjust the levels manually. Neither do I have a DAW controller so I can  only use my mouse for the mix instead of faders. Not having those things admittedly slows down my recording and mixing process. I was stressing myself to get everything done quickly until I got to a point where I didn’t enjoy anymore what I was doing. I made stupid mistakes, my vocals sounded strained. And  then I thought: What am I doing? I’m supposed to savour this experience. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. And how am I supposed make the songs sound great if I don’t enjoy working on them? So I took it down a notch, started calling friends before they forgot I existed and just lived a little. That really helped. Now there’s seven finished songs and I reckon I’ll be able to finish the other five within the next week. Finished are ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’, ‘Zero Tolerance’, ‘Paperheart’, ‘In Unison’, ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ and ‘Webs’. I’m really happy with these songs now.

Once I’m done with all the songs I’ll go and visit some friends, play them the album on their stereos and takes notes of possible weak spots in the mixes. Actually I’ve already started doing that. It’s a good thing to do because everyone’s stereo sounds different and you want to make sure the mix sounds as good as possible on anything from an expensive home system to a car stereo to a cheap boombox. Also two friends of mine are sound engineers and they’ve both happily agreed to listen to my songs and pinpoint me to how I could perfect the sound.

I’ve also found a photographer who’s gonna take the pictures for the album artwork and some press photos. He’s a friend of mine. I’d never seen his pictures until I asked him round to my place, cooked a lovely dinner for the two of us and looked at his portfolio. I’d suspected I’d love his photos by the conversations we had about photography and art. And I really do. I won’t have to pay for the pictures either, but design him a new logo instead. He asked me what I had in mind for the artwork and I realised I hadn’t really thought about that yet. After mulling it over for a couple of days I’ve still only got a fuzzy idea, but I’ve got a few ideas about the clothes I want to wear. I’m gonna design and sew them myself. At least partly. More on that once I’ve got a better concept.

Also I’ve got my lovely array mbira for over a month now and I love it. I guess it’s my favourite instrument. I can already accompany a couple of my songs, but I’ve yet to learn how to play fast intricate patterns and melodies. I’ve decided to add some mbira in ‘A Little’ next week.

I’ll try and add some snippets of the songs over the next few days and also a picture of the mbira. That’s it for now. More soon. Hopefully!

x

M.I.A.

Yep, missing in action. The action being the finishing touches for the album. Sorry for being such a slacker. It’s for the greater good 😉

Drum roll: 6 songs finished. That’s half of the album.

That’s the good news. The bad is… still no time. I’m going for a 3 day weekend trip to Nürnberg. 3 blissful days without a computer. I’ve earned it. 

Proper update coming on Tuesday. Cross my heart and hope to die.

x

Warblings

Been a busy bee singing singing singing. Then listening back and editing. I’m starting to get sick and tired of hearing my voice all the time. One day I love what I’ve recorded, the next I don’t like my voice. Major mood swings. For the next album I have to remember not to record all vocals in one big chunk. Anyway. Still love the end results.

Edited the vocals I’d recorded for ‘Hearts First’ and ‘A Little’. Recorded tons of vocals for ‘In Unison’ which took me two days including editing. Some parts had been pretty sketchy before what the vocals should be like. I changed the backing choir melody which now consists of four different layers. Makes the song sound sorta sacred with a twist. Added a brand new ending, too.

Also got the warblings for ‘Paperheart’, ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’ and almost all for ‘Zero Tolerance’ done. Screamed on top of my lungs for the latter for some effects. I’m surprised that no neighbour came knocking. That leaves ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Webs’ and some missing bits in a few other songs.

One more thing. Last night I got a message that my friend Taylor is gonna pick up my spanking new mbira today and he’s gonna be here with it by the weekend. Maybe even Thursday. I was so excited I found it hard to fall asleep. At the same time I can’t imagine it’s really happening after dreaming about getting one for years now. Taylor’s gonna stay at my place. That’ll make it harder to just work so I better hop to it now and get as much finished till he arrives.

Off to the microphone.

x

Ticking off boxes

Alright, it’s sooo time for an update.

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.

x

All over the charts

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:



Gotta start packing for the trip and then bed.

x

Hermit in a Cave

Yep, that’s me. Busy trying to finish the album. It’s finally time for warblings and I’ve once again locked myself in the studio. And for the cave, well, since I neither have an acoustically treated room nor a vocal booth I’ve built an improvided one made of blankets. It reminds me a lot of what we used to build as children to play in. Just bigger so I can stand upright in it. Did that on Monday. Took me a while to set it up including drilling holes and testing where the best position for the mic is. Works wonders. No darn reflections off the ceiling or the walls anymore. And I must say it’s kinda cosy.

Monday evening I recorded all the vocal bits of ‘A Little’ that make up the ‘instruments’. Nice clean and crisp sound… no annoying background noise either. Edited it and did a rough mix. Yesterday I recorded the main vocals for it and also for ‘Breathing Underwater’. Today for ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ and ‘Hearts First. Most of them for the latter at least. The former needed vocals that are sotto voce. Almost whispered as if you sang a child to sleep. It isn’t called a lullaby for no reason. Works well. Of course, I’ve only recorded the vocals. I still have to cut out the bits in which you hear me walk from the computer to the mic, creaking floorboards and such. Then I have to make sit nicely in the mix, add some subtle effects etc. bla bla. Still a lot of work.

At the weekend I worked some more on ‘The Tide’. It might be finished apart from warblings and final mix. I’ll see. I thought I might be finished with the album by the end of July, but I’m not so sure. I’ve been depriving myself of sleep, not only to have more time for the songs, but also to get a better sleeping pattern for the vocal weeks. I don’t want to annoy my neighbours. So working till dawn just won’t do. Although it’s the best way to be creative. Ah, the quiet hours of the night.

Off having a nice relaxing bath now and then to bed early tonight. More news soon.

x

More loose ends

This week I’ve arranged two songs for other people in the same project as me with the music producer. This time he’d given me great songs that I’d listen to anytime. So it was pretty easy to come up with something. As long as I can be passionate about something I can do it. Today I met up with him and he really loved my arrangements. If the girls who wrote the songs like them as well, they’re gonna be on the compilation like that. What a thought! I’d mentioned in an earlier blog that he’d done a radio edit of ‘Chaos & Order’ that I wasn’t too fond of. On Monday I’d finally gotten around to it and done it myself. The song is originally 5 minutes 30 long, but needed to be 4 minutes tops. I managed to get it down to 3’58” without feeling as if I’d cut out something important. All the parts are still present, some just shortened so people with a short attention span won’t lose interest. He loved it. There’s still a few little details to adjust and he wants to get me a trumpet player to add some nice bits here and there in a professional studio. He might use the song to get sponsors for the compilation, which boiled down to the essential means he thinks it’s one of the most promising songs so far. I also played him ‘The Tide’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’ as possibilities for the second song to go on the compilation. Initially I wanted to write a new song especially for it, but time’s running out. When he heard ‘The Tide’ he said he had whole movies running through his head which is such a huge compliment. I always try to tell stories with the music so that people understand the emotion even if they don’t get the words. I guess my songs are like short films without the pictures, where the score already tells the story and the pictures appear in your mind, everyone having their own personal movies.

When he heard ‘Zero Tolerance’ he instantly went for it. Not too surprising because even my parents favour it. So it’s gonna be song number two on the compilation. Kinda funny since it’s my reckoning with some people who’ve been treating me like shit (pardon my french) to let it all go and move on. A good way of self-therapy, I guess. In the beginning the music producer was like: ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ and after a couple more bars: ‘Really good.’ So that’s settled. I wasn’t too worried about the second song anyway. I already had the feeling it’d work itself out.

I must say I’ve been showered with compliments about my music lately. I’m not gonna let it go to my head, but I have to say it’s great to get some reassurance to go on on my path and after toiling in the studio for half a year. It might be a long way still till I can fund myself with music only and such nice words keep me right on track and working hard for my dream. The music producer said today that he believes I’m gonna be successful and find my niche. Also it looks like I’m gonna be one of a few chosen ones to play at a festival in late September with some big acts he organises. Furthermore he encouraged me to try and get work as a film score composer. Apparently a friend of his who had a new book published this spring is negotiating with some big film company and the music producer will then get the job to compose the score and wants me to collaborate with him on it. Sounds pretty exciting to me. It’s all a bit hush hush at the moment so I have to be so vague. Sorry about that, but I don’t want to trip myself up. More news once it’s official.

If you’re still reading on… either you’re really interested in what I have to say or really bored. Either way, thanks for being so patient. I’m sitting here typing for way more than two hours now.

Last, but not least, on June 28 I happened to come across the live webcast of the concerts of Sigur Rós and Björk that tried to achieve an awareness of environmental issues in Iceland. A good cause and great concerts. Absolutely amazing even through a screen. At the same time I was chatting to an Icelandic girl on the web who apparently is the youngest array mbira player in the world. I got to know her when I was asking around for advice on the purchase of an mbira. She’s been very helpful and since we’ve learned a bit more about each other. She even listened to my music on myspace and thought it was great and would do well in Iceland. So I got my first Icelandic fan while watching the concerts. Funny coincidence! Tomorrow I’m gonna meet up with a friend and we’re gonna plot how to get to the Melt! Festival on Sunday and back the same night. Björk’s playing the only gig in Germany there. After the webcast I really can’t miss that.

This Tuesday I got an email from a friend in London who still owes me saying I should try and get hold of a ticket to the Radiohead concert even though it was already sold out and he’d cover whatever the cost. I snatched the last one on Ebay and went. It was absolutely brilliant. Fantastic lightshow, great performance, the whole package. In fact, it was so good I didn’t mind the rain one bit. Thom Yorke apologised about it and said it was ‘a Radiohead thing’ and thanked all the musicians in Berlin for making ‘such great shit, especially Modeselektor’ who were opening for Radiohead. Thanks, Thom! And also thanks, Jon for giving me one of the best presents ever. Life’s sooo good!

Phew, this is me breaking a record. My longest blog so far. That might teach me to write more often. Four hours straight. Quite tipsy by now. Gonna cook a tasty dinner now and then a bit more of making music.

x

Loose Ends

Alright… where to begin. The longer I don’t write the longer it takes me when I finally do. So I’m sitting here listening to Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ again and sipping a beer.

The days’ve been flying by lately while I was busy tying up loose ends in my songs and preparing for the gig. Last time I’d caught you up on things I’d been working on ‘The Tide’. Apart from some small tweakings it’s done. I managed to write the remaining lyrics and came up with a nice melody. I also recorded some real spanish-sounding handclaps and finished the arrangement. The song’s very dramatic and cinematic, I love it. Here’s a tasty bit of it without vocals:



After that I moved on to ‘Euphoria’, a song that I’ve been working on on and off. Maybe that’s why it’s been causing me a bit of trouble. It never seemed euphoric enough for my liking. And when it already promises that in the title you have to deliver, don’t you? I’m still not completely satisfied with the beats, but something’s giving Ableton Live the hiccups in this song, especially the beats have dropouts. I’ll have to figure that out tomorrow. Other than that I’ve finally solved the puzzle last night. I tried to play the song faster and with 8 BPM more everything just fell into place. It’s funny sometimes. Of course, I had to redo certain parts, but then I got into a working frenzy and added some lovely piano part in the chorus that sounds like sunshiny rain – if you know what I mean, kind of like the equivalent to the sun coming out after a downpour – and some very expressive strings. The last part of the song had been only a rough idea until I’d started rehearsing the song. All of a sudden I had some backing vocals and the melody when I tried out stuff with my looper. Sometimes you just have to give a song some time to work itself out. I guess the rest will be a piece of cake now. I might have to find a new vocal melody for the refrain, but it’ll come. Another morsel (the refrain):



One week before my gig at Mastul I started rehearsing. I’d been asking around for a cellist and even found two. One ended up not having time on that day, but we’re definitely going to try to work together. I think he might be the better fit of the two, because when he plays on his own he uses a looper and a Macbook. So he knows where I’m at with my live setup. The other one that accompanied me for the gig turned out to be a bit of a rocker. What are the odds? I had to thwart him somewhat and our only rehearsal was mainly to talk things over. Even though he’d mostly improvised to my songs it went down well with the audience.

Since the gig was my first feature-length one I had a lot of things to prepare. On the previous Sunday I downloaded some free MIDI translator programmes so I could build macros to both trigger sounds and operate everything in Ableton Live with my MIDI keyboard. After trying out a couple I settled for midiStroke that converts MIDI messages into keystrokes. To termine note and channel numbers from my keyboard I also installed IttyBittyMIDI, a dashboard widget for Mac OS X that monitors MIDI signals on the computer and is programmed by the same guy. After I got that working smoothly I moved on to hooking up my looper to receive MIDIclock from my Mac and that way play in sync. I must say I was surprised how swiftly I got everything to work, because I’d been dreading the usual technical problems.

The rest of the week leading up to the gig I spent relearning my new songs, figuring out how to best play them live. I only have one MIDI keyboard so far that I use for playing stuff live, looping things within Live, triggering sounds and navigating through Live so I don’t have to touch the computer within a song. This has proven pretty tricky, because quite often I need most of the keys already just to play and I have to assign different keys for all kinds of actions in each song. A lot of stuff to remember, requires much thinking ahead while I’m playing and singing and so on. Lately each time I had to rehearse for a gig the weather was freaking hot which doesn’t help concentrating (I kept thinking I want to go swimming). I felt like my head was fuming and my brain melting. Or was it the other way around? Now there’s more equipment on my list to buy: a foot pedal to control my looper and a MIDI controller of some sort.

Anyway, the gig went well. Not that many people there, because it was almost the last hot day and people in Berlin tend to sit outside cafés and enjoy a nice drink instead of being inside. The ones that came loved it though with calls for encores and everything. I even sold some CDs. This time I wasn’t that nervous either. The atmosphere was very homely and cosy, a bit like a living room concert. I played all of my new songs apart from ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Chaos & Order’, a couple of old ones and a cover version of Brain Eno‘s ‘By This River’ with my looper. As the last song I played ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ to which the cellist played exactly what I had composed for the song and after a while when I was singing on top of some looped vocals the sound engineer joined in doing some percussion and another guy started making up another vocal melody. Magic! Each time I do a gig I learn some more. The audience as the indicator of what works well and what needs adjusting. This time I felt like I’d achieved a new landmark in my performance. Sure, there are still some kinks to be worked out, but boy oh boy it’s really going somewhere now. I’m aching for more, totally hooked!

The next day, a Sunday, I spent blissfully hanging out doing absolutely nothing. I reckon I’d earned that and I was exhausted, too. Naturally, the way it always seems to be, there was a lot of cleaning to be done in my flat. I did most of that on Monday and decided to assiduously ignore certain bits for now. So my flat’s clean, but slightly messy. That’s the way it goes when you’re busy and I sure am. It’s going to be a tight schedule till the end of July. Still, I’m loving every single minute of it!

x

Tidying and ‘The Tide’

Another week gone by. It was great visiting friends and family once more even though I have to admit I didn’t get as much done as hoped, but at least as much as expected. Thursday morning I returned to Berlin and spent the next two days rehearsing some more. Unfortunately I had overwritten some files with older versions when I copied them onto my Macbook in a hurry before I left. So I had to redo some preparations. On Saturday I did a somewhat late spring cleaning, cleared out my wardrobe and sifted through most of my things to see what I could sell at the fleamarket on Sunday. I also went to see the German beatbox master with his mates play live at the Fête de la Musique and some guys with their electronic live set. One of them used Ableton Live with a toylike looking selfmade MIDI controller. On Sunday I tried to sell some stuff at the fleamarket, baking ten hours in the sun. To top it all off, the girl I went with told me kinda last minute that she had no space left in the car and I had to haul my stuff there by public transport. Not a nice gesture! Should have cancelled then and there. I felt like being badly hungover on Monday, unable to do anything but trying to get better. Drinking would have been more enjoyable! I still have a stiff neck now and was fighting a persistent headache all day, spending some time on my couch, my neck and shoulders propped up against a hot-water bottle and a wet cloth. I even fell asleep in between and dreamt of how to continue with my song ‘The Tide’.

When I tried out the idea it worked. So it has been a pretty creative day against all odds. I added the vocals for the second verse and refrain and fleshed out the arrangement a bit more. I thought I’d have three verses in this song, the third sung differently, but in my dream it came to me that the little dramatic bridge after the first refrain could be adapted as a c-part. When I sung the only solid lines I have for it everything fell into place. The vocals for the new part are very rhythmical and repetitive over a violin and cello pizzicato run and tribal beats. Once I have the rest of the lyrics I’ll sing them on top in a more drawn-out fashion. The whole part creates a lot of suspense and makes ‘The Tide’ sound even more dramatic. The third and final refrain is pretty quiet with almost only harpsichord and vocals and works neatly as a resolution.

Tomorrow I’ll try to finish the lyrics and refine the arrangement. Hopefully my stiff neck will be gone or at least not giving me a headache anymore. Fingers crossed!

My downstair neighbour just rang at my door. Apparently the music was too loud. Probably because I have the window open. Oops! Sorry. Off to bed then so he doesn’t get permanently pissed off with me. ‘Tis late anyway.

x