Tag Archives: songs

Stock-taking

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?

Webcast

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.

Bass, Minimoog, mbira, glass harp, kalimba, metallophone, tom

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

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

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

Show me yours and I’ll show you mine

Last night a friend of mine came over to play me the last tracks of his now finished album and to listen to my work in progress. He makes sort of latin-style house music and it’s not what I listen to at home, but the tracks sounded good. He really loved my songs and said they were beautiful. What a nice compliment! He’s actually gonna remix one song that he chose for me . It’s called ‘A little’ and is made with handclaps, tongue clicking and loads of my voice. Even the bass is a pitched version of my voice. The fastest song I’ve recorded so far. Took me only eight hours, granted the writing and arrangement part was already done. If you wanna hear it, check my myspace page.

Listening to the songs I’ve (nearly) finished so far, I was quite surprised how different they sound from each other. The new ones are a lot more up-tempo. I’m curious how the rest will turn out. So far I’ve got six, working on two more and some others as rough sketches. It’s always good to play the songs to other people for me. I seem to be more able to actually take a step back and listen to them as if they were someone else’s. I do like them a lot, even the ones I’ve been working on for so long I was getting a bit tired of them. I completely ignored them for a while and now I can enjoy them again.

My friend has got a record deal (or was it two even?) and he wants to work together with me on a Fleetwood Mac cover and another track where I can probably add some nice sounds and noises apart from the vocals. Not sure when this will happen, but he’s still talking about it. I guess they’re supposed to end up on his next EP. Coming out in summer or autumn this year. Might get me some nice exposure. First official release! Fingers crossed!

He’s also planning to hopefully do a live gig at the end of march, still to be confirmed. And he wants me to join him. Yay! It’s gonna be a mix of his musical style and mine I reckon. Even if he doesn’t know it, yet. Some live playing and recording of keys, bass. Loads of live effect tweakings and the likes on his part. And me heaps of layered looped vocals and who knows what. Should be quite interesting. I do hope it’s gonna happen. I’d love to rock on stage again, this time not having to do everything myself. And if people enjoy it we might do this kinda thing more often. We’ll see.

Lots of exciting news for me. Hopefully not ending up as only hot air and not much else. I’ll keep you posted!

x

mads