Dude, Why The Taylor?

Taylor814ce-09

This recent trip of mine down a 6 string path has thrown a lot of people I know into a loop.  Been getting a lot of emails and messages from other producers largely falling into one of two camps:

– Those who don’t get the sudden fascination with the acoustic guitar of all things, especially not for someone known for many things having to do with electronic music.

– Those who get the shift in focus of my tools, but are curious why I choose exactly what I did out of all the guitars out there.

For those of you in the first camp, what can I say, I’ve always been a guitar player.  My first music dreams were of playing the guitar and it was the first instrument I ever bought.  I went from being a guitar player to being an electronic music producer without realizing it, and the two never really integrated as closely as I would have liked in hindsight.  Without a doubt for a long time the electronic world was my focus, and it still is to this day for obvious reasons.

But these days I feel the need to spend more time with a traditional instrument in my hands too, there’s goals I have on that front that I haven’t even tried to reach in a long time.  It’s time to step back and refocus my attention on a way of expressing musical emotion that I haven’t explored fully yet.  And it’s a chance for me to find a way to bridge these two worlds of mine; the incredibly beautiful world of traditional music making, and the hauntingly bold new sonic landscapes electronic music offers.

For those of you who just want to know why an acoustic guitar, or more specifically why a Taylor acoustic guitar, well…

I have a nice electric already, a one of a kind Parker DF724 Dragonfly. I got it for far less than it’s worth, and it’s just a joy to play.  It’s the first guitar in 20 years that made me think of giving up my Ibanez S540, something I never thought I would do (HA! says the Elektron crowd).

Parker-SetUp

But… it’s not perfect.  There are tiny flaws here and there (really small things admittedly), largely due to the one off nature of it I’m sure (Parker never made a blue DF724 for production, this was a test unit).  But still, as an admitted minimalist when it comes to gear and “stuff” in general, and I want the instruments I own and plan on investing time into to be perfect.

I also like companies who look forward and don’t get stuck in the past way of doing things.  Those who find a blend of the best of the old and new, and in the process create something really unique in this time period.  For a long time I thought my Ovation acoustic would be that, a guitar that used old and new techniques to create a modern day blend of the two.

And while it was impressive when I got it, I knew very quickly that it just didn’t SOUND the way I expected it would.  Too much like the modern way of things, not enough depth and beauty from the past.  Too bright and sharp, not enough warmth and subtlety (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, it was an incredible guitar for $600).

No, for a long time I knew it was going to be a real acoustic guitar that was my instrument of choice.  That would be the path where I would find that blend of old and modern craftsmanship that would create an instrument I could spend a huge chunk of my life learning to play better.

The problem was, even though I loved the guitar, I never really bonded with traditional acoustic guitars.  They were too loud (hehe), to uncomfortable, just plain too old fashioned looking despite the craftsmanship they obviously involved.  So for a long time it was just a plan that percolated in the back of my brain, someday I’d buy a nice guitar that suited me and spend some time relearning that.

And then recently I was watching the (slightly depressing) movie “Musicwood”, about how Sitka Spruce forests are disappearing, and some of the most famous guitar makers like Martin, Taylor, and Gibson use these woods in their best guitars.  I really recommend the movie, it’s an interesting look at a complex issue.

Anyway, it was the first time I had seen a higher end Taylor in awhile, and it struck me by how modern it looked.  The more I looked into Taylor guitars, the more I realized here was a company making beautiful instruments using the best of the modern world while still doing a lot of the more intricate work by hand.  So I tracked a few down at local stores here in Seattle and sat down to play a few to see what I think.  I guess we know how that turned out!

Having owned my 814ce for about a month now, it’s definitely not something I’ve regretted even for an instant.  Not only is it beautiful sounding and feels incredibly natural while I play it, but it’s put together perfectly.  I mean literally.  Every fret, every binding, all the joints and woodwork fits together flawlessly.  I really can’t find a single flaw, no matter how tiny or insignificant.  Truly a testament to how painstakingly these guitars are put together!

Still, I like to tinker and I couldn’t leave it completely stock.  For one, I never was really a big fan of gold hardware on guitars, even though my last couple of guitars had it.  So the first thing I did was swap out the Taylor tuners for some nicer cosmo black Gotoh 510’s (seen in the top pic), along with a cosmo black strap button up front, and replaced the gold truss rod cover screws with black ones as well.  Much more my style, still looks classy but not so blingy!

So, there you have it, a few reasons why I went the route I did recently.  If you listen to some of the new music I’ve posted the last couple of weeks, I think you’ll hear that it’s already being put to good use too!

Tern – Downtempo track

Tern300

Tern – Downtempo – 12-16-2013 <- Right Click to Save or Play

Been on a bit of a roll lately with my current way of writing music, having a good time and just seeing where it takes me.  Here’s another slightly happy one (for me at least), done once again with the iPad and my new acoustic guitar.

Speaking of the guitar, it’s been a real joy to play since I got it, no regrets at all.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly customizing it, to make it a little more my style and a bit more unique.  Swapped the tuners, strap button, and truss rod cover screws from gold to cosmo black from Gotoh.  Less blingy, looks pretty sharp if I do say so.

I also took off the pick guard that came on it, though I debated that one for a bit.  I originally hadn’t wanted one when I was shopping for a guitar, but I had no choice unless I wanted to pay big bucks for a custom guitar.  It looked nice enough for a pick guard I guess, but in the end was just a little too red for my taste.

Easy enough to remove it turns out, and it looks much nicer without it I think.  I’ll post some pics once we get some decent light here in Seattle.  Until then, enjoy the new track!

Play It Right The First Time

Hanon

It’s been a long time since I actively had to study intensely for something, so it’s been a pretty interesting experience as I set out to do just that in order to improve my guitar playing. I’ve always been someone on the look out for new ideas and tricks to try in audio production, but there’s a big difference between reading about new techniques to learn them, and actively practicing something over and over again. Kind of makes me feel like I’m in school to be honest, boo hiss! 🙂

On the plus side, since it has been so long since I set myself a task like this, it’s been a really pleasant surprise to see just how many options are out there for people wanting to learn an instrument (or a DAW, softsynth, etc). Not just the sheer number of people offering things like tutorial videos, the overall quality of them is actually pretty good too. Indeed, it seems like a lot more people these days are trying to make a career out of teaching other people how to play, versus playing themselves! I see a lot of parallels with the electronic music world on this front, there’s probably almost as many “how to use Ableton” videos on YouTube as there are how to play guitar (or bass, drums, etc).

Interesting the way people adapt to find the niche that works best for them when it comes to making a career in music. And that there’s such a market for it as well. But I digress…

One of the more interesting ideas I see over and over again in guitar instruction these days, is the idea of “play it right the first time”. The whole point of any activity in which you repeat something over and over to learn it, is to train your muscles to perform the action as easily as possible, with as little thought as possible. Thus it makes sense to make sure you only ever do that action correctly, so your fingers (in the case of the guitar) aren’t wasting time learning poor fingering techniques or getting used to playing the wrong notes all the time.

Usually this means SLOWING DOWN more than anything, really taking your time to play each and every note right the first time. But it also involves a lot of pre-planning before you even play a single note. Taking the time to look over a music passage and identify the areas that you think will cause you a problem, then mentally figuring out how to make that easier before you do anything else.

Or maybe it means learning shorter passages, to make sure you can remember all the notes. Maybe planning in advance where in a chord progression you might need to adjust your hand position to hit all the notes cleanly. In short, taking the time to plan out HOW you’re going to play something before you actually try and do it.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something I think a lot of producers can benefit from as well.

If there’s areas in audio production you feel you’re lacking in, it’s tempting to just fire up your DAW and start messing around. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (all practice is good I suppose), it doesn’t always set you up to succeed either. At the very least it might just be inefficient and slow.

Sometimes the problems you’re trying to tackle are multi-faceted, and attempting to understand all of those issues at once leads to more confusion. Or worse, lack of proper understanding of what all those facets are actually doing to the sound. Yes you might have made something sound better, but do you understand WHY enough to actually apply that knowledge to future projects?

When you know you have skills that are not your weak point, take the time to sit down and think about everything involved. Try to come up with a plan that works to maximize what exactly you learn about it. Break down your learning goals, understand what you need to achieve these, and make sure you set yourself up with the right tools to do that before you even start.

Some examples:

– You’ve heard a lot about multi-band compression and want to learn to use it in your songs. But do you REALLY know how a single band compressor works first? Does it make more sense to try it on the master buss in your DAW, or on a simpler sound source like drums? Does the source audio you’re using in either case have enough dynamics to make the exercise useful in the first place?

– Your mixes always sound flat and one-dimensional, and you want to learn how to add more space and depth to them. It doesn’t make sense to start throwing all the options into the equation at the same time, like panning, reverb, wideners, etc. Focus on only one of these at a time, and use a project with fewer tracks so you can really hear what you are doing, and how it affects the sound stage. Take the time to listen to how each of these affects the way instruments sound and are placed, not just in your studio, but elsewhere too.

– After years of DJing club music, you want to learn to learn to scratch records. It doesn’t make sense to start trying to mimic a Q-bert routine you find on YouTube. Start with a basic scratch, and study the techniques ahead of time for just that one scratch. Think about where your hands and the faders need to be at each step of the way, visualize it in slow motion, and then do it exactly like that in slow motion until each motion takes place in the right order. Then work on getting faster, and combining it with other scratches you focused on the same way.

Nobody likes practicing. Well, almost nobody. 🙂 So it makes sense to maximize the time you spend actually focusing on learning something new. By having a simple and very clear plan in place ahead of time, you lessen the chance of distractions and getting side-track. Or learning bad techniques because you’re in a hurry and trying to do too much at once. It also makes it easy (and rewarding) to track your progress, because each practice activity is both achievable, and measurable because it’s so specific.

Slow down, visualize each step ahead of time, plan for the aspects will be difficult or easy, then execute what you’re trying to do accordingly.

Being a little more focused in how I approach learning something new (like the guitar) really has helped me a lot in making the most of my practice sessions. I get distracted easily, so frequent shorter sessions work better than all day marathons for me. Having a real plan in place for each practice session just makes it count for so much more. I figure if I’m going to actually spend some of my time solely to work on getting better at something, it makes sense to use that time as best I can. Life’s too short to be wasting any of it 🙂

Hopefully some of these ideas help you too! If you have other examples of how you do something similar, please post them in the comments for others to read. Reminder that all first time posts have to be approved by me (only way to accurately stop the spam), but I’m pretty quick about it.

Thanks!

Why Make It Easy?

Audiobus

More than a few times over the last couple of months I’ve had to stop what I was doing and laugh a little bit at the situations I get myself into. After years of having to deal with computer issues related to music-making, I finally have a problem free set up. No more hardware incompatibilities, chipset issues, lack of driver support, or OS updates that cause all manner of software issues.

My current laptop is more than fast enough to run as many of my biggest CPU-hogging plug-ins as I want, I have more memory than I’ll ever use, and with SSD drives and USB3 external hardware, data transfers and back ups are lightening fast. My preferred DAWs are mature and stable, I know them inside and out, and one of them (Ableton Live) even has a dedicated MIDI Controller that’s not only solidly built, but super intuitive to use.

In short, I have a music set up that’s more or less ideal; fast, portable, stable, and generally a breeze to use day in and day out. Which makes it all the baffling why I’m not using it for writing music much these days!

No, instead of taking the easy route, one that I know very well and can rely on to work exactly as I expect, I’ve decided to make music on an iPad these days. And once again it feels almost like it used to when I first got into computer music. Apps sometimes crash for no reason, there’s memory-usage issues to keep track of, compatibility between apps is still hit or miss, and there’s a real lack of standardization still when it comes to sync and routing between apps. It’s hard to look at my laptop after spending an hour trying to troubleshoot some weird iOS issue and not chuckle a little at the decisions I make sometimes when it comes to my music. Sort of like selling my Elektrons to buy an acoustic guitar. 🙂

To be fair, there’s not THAT many times I run into an issue on the iPad when I’m working on a song. Most of the problems tend to be app specific at this point, and the major apps usually run fairly well. Apps that give me more than a couple problems tend to get deleted until they are more stable. The biggest issues so far involve things like Audiobus or Inter-App Audio being flaky, sometimes it works like you expect, sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

Memory use is the other concern, with even the latest iPads only having 1GB of RAM, and the OS taking about half of that on average. Start opening up more than a few apps that are memory hogs and you’re likely going to discover that iOS closes apps when they take up too much memory making them look like they crashed. Doh!

Oh well, I’ve learned to just move on these days and keep working, trying not to let some small bug slow me down much. The limitations and little problems here and there keep me working fast and lean, and force me to not go overboard when writing songs.  Focus on the core song ideas and trim the fat is the way forward when writing with “limited” resources, so in some ways it’s making me a better songwriter I feel.

Still, it’s hard to ignore that little voice asking “Why not make it easy? Use the laptop, forget these issues and come back to the land of abundant CPU-power and stable music software”. Of course, that would be the easy way, but I just have to remind myself that if it was supposed to be easy, everyone would be doing it 🙂

In Splits & Starts – New Downtempo Track

In Splits & Starts <- Click to download

This is the first track I’ve written since selling my Elektron gear and buying a nice acoustic guitar. Don’t worry though, this is definitely not country music! A bit happier and more playful than my usual downtempo tracks, still lots of interesting twists to keep your ears on their toes. Err… something like that.

Recorded in Auria on an iPad Air, drums are a combination of Beatmaker2 and Alchemy Mobile, the few synth sounds in this track are from Alchemy or Nave. Most of the instrumental sounds are actually my Taylor 814ce acoustic guitar processed with a Boss TeraEcho pedal, or the effects and time-stretching in Auria.

Hopefully this marks a new direction for my music making, looking forward to seeing where this takes me next!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith