Sometimes The Brain Doesn’t Work

IMG_1321

Chalk one up to intuition and taking a leap based on a gut feeling. So far selling Maschine and going for the Teenage Engineering OP-1 seems like it was the right thing to do. I’m not going to go into a full review of the OP-1 right now, but it’s quirky interface and use of audio recording to save your work is right up my alley. It’s much deeper than I expected too, even after reading the manual a couple times.

Whew, deep sigh of relief!

I struggled mightily on the decision to sell Maschine so soon after getting it, especially since it hit the right marks on so many fronts. Still, there came a point where I realized I was rationalizing my decision to keep it with only logical reasons, and lots of them. The fact was, as impressive as it was, I wasn’t excited using it, or even thinking about using it. It took a real effort of will to sit down in front of it, even though I always came away with some really nice sounding results.  Such an unexpected conundrum!

I’m my big believer that making music should be fun first, and I just wasn’t having fun thinking of uses for Maschine. Weird, I know, but there it is.

The OP-1 is almost the exact opposite so far. Way more limiting sound pallete and a completely different workflow, much more focused on how you get your ideas down versus recreating them.  I can’t stop thinking about it. I was up almost all night playing with it, and when I did finally go to bed, I kept thinking of new things I could do with it.  Then I woke up and all I wanted to do was play with it some more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is the best musical instrument ever. There’s a lot of things it can’t do, and it’s definitely not for everyone. It does way more than most people realize, but it’s not a full on modern DAW in a box.  Nor should it be.

But as a fun and unique way of making music, I think it’s brilliant. Probably not something you can use solo, for years on end, but I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how much I depth I can get out of this.  More details soon!

What’s In A Name?

Name

Ah, the joys of trying to find a new artist or DJ name! For many people this is actually a very hard task, as it’s the first time they’ve had to put an identity to their music. Especially when it’s something that might be with you for a very long time if your music is successful. I thought I’d give a few tips on choosing a new artist name, based on some of the things I’ve seen work well over the years (as well some things that didn’t work).

A good artist name can be many things for different people; a globally established brand for their music or DJing, a funny play on words to attract attention, or perhaps it’s just a front they can use to retain some sense of personal privacy. Whatever your reasons for wanting to use a name other than your own (which is certainly a viable option too!), here’s a few key points to keep in mind when coming up with yours.

Originality counts. There’s nothing worse than having an artist name that is the same or similar to other artists already out there. When I first started making music, I used to go by the artist name “rEalm”. It was fitting for the music I made, it was something that spoke to me and seemed just right. Unfortunately, there were so many other people out there using the same or similar name, that it was impossible for me to stand out using it. A quick google search of it would turn up hundreds of results that had nothing to do with me, even with the goofy capital “E” in there.

There’s also a practical side here, in that I found it near impossible to register an easy to remember domain name for my website, not to mention email addresses. I ended up just creating a completely new name from scratch as a result, something that I knew only I would be using. This has made my life so much easier, since I could use a nice and simple website like tarekith.com, or Tarekith at gmail for people to reach me. Anyone searching my name will always get pointed right to my site, useful for promotion.

You don’t have to make up your own name, but it certainly is the best way to make sure no one else is using it!

Keep it simple. A really long name, or something that’s difficult to pronounce or spell correctly, at best just makes it harder for your fans to connect with you. At worst, they’ll end up shortening or abbreviating it for you which sort of ruins the point. Keep it fairly short, ideally 3 syllables or less if you can, and make it easy to pronounce and spell.

Funky spellings and weird abbreviation might seem like it’s helping you stand out, but you run the risk of it looking dated later on (I.E. replacing C’s with K’s, etc). It’s worth pausing and considering if this is something you can live with for 20-30 years possibly before you go this route.

One name or many? There’s two different views on the subject of should you use one name for all your releases, or use different artist names for releases in various genres. Some people like to target different audiences depending on the music they are writing, so using various names helps them focus the release to specific audience.

On the other hand, using the same name for everything means you’re possibly attracting a much bigger following to ALL of the music you’re creating instead of just some of it. Though that might put some people off if they only like a certain style you write now and then. Personally I like being known as an artist who releases music in a wide-range of genres, but that’s a call you’re going to have make on your own.

Who else likes it? Consider how your name looks not only to your fans, but also your peers. Calling yourself DJ Dickfuck might be a good chuckle now, but will other artists want to work with you if you call yourself that? Will you have issues being put on flyers for gigs if you use an offensive name?

Some people just don’t care about this stuff and will use whatever they think is funny. But considering how competitive the music scene is, it seems odd to me to stack the cards against yourself with something a simple as your artist name. Horses for courses I guess!

Finally, don’t stress too much about. The best names usually come in moments of inspiration, just like the music we write. If something comes out of the blue, but it feels right, by all means go with it. You can always change it later too, there’s no rule that the name you pick now you HAVE to use forever either.

Which is good, because at the moment I myself have been giving a lot of thought to possibly changing my artist name. Initially I wanted an artist name to sort of define myself outside of the name my parents gave me, and to give me some layer of anonymity online. It worked great at first, but as I’ve grown my mastering business more and more, my real name (Erik Magrini) is out there more and more.

So for a few months now I’ve been considering just switching and using my real name from now on, and perhaps letting the Tarekith moniker rest for awhile. It’s a tough call though, because after so many years of building up that name as my “brand” if you will, I worry that many people won’t follow the change. Or that ultimately, changing my name again is just going to a waste of time and everyone will still call be Tarekith anyway. 🙂

Lots for me to think about, but hopefully some of my ideas have helped you out in the meantime!

Your Masters Matter

Masters

As usually happens, it all started with a crazy idea. For a while now I had been considering changing all of my copies of the tracks I had written to AIF files, instead of wav files like I had been using for…. well, ever.  The main driver was that I wanted a better way to make sure all the graphics I had created for my releases stayed with the audio files. And as the DJs among you might already know, AIF files support not only embedding artwork, but also meta-data.

And speaking of DJs, I wanted to convert all of my Tarekith DJ and live sets as well. Not just for the artwork aspect, but also because I could then embed the tracklists in the files as well. Just makes it easier to ensure all the relevant info is there when I need it.

And just for fun, I figured I would also do the same for all the MP3 versions of my songs, except I would create 320kbps AACs as the compressed format. I’ve already been releasing all my tracks online as AAC’s over the past year, and so far it hasn’t been an issue for anyone. Why AAC? Read my blog post on the subject here: http://tarekith.com/mastered-for-itunes/

Of course, nothing is ever easy is it?

The plan had been to first create all the different formats I needed from the original wav files, and then bring everything into iTunes to do all the tagging and artwork embedding. But as I started collecting all the current files I had, I realized that somehow things had gotten sloppy over the last 20 years. Sometimes I might have a wav version of a song but no MP3 version (not a problem), other times I might only have an MP3 version of one of my DJ sets, but I didn’t have a wav version saved on my hard drive (problem).

I’m normally really organized when it comes to my own music, but over the last 20 years I’ve written over 130 songs, as well as dozens of live and DJ sets. Somehow a few tracks didn’t get copied to the right folders I guess. I wasn’t too stressed about it though, because I ALWAYS make physical back ups when I finish a track as well, typically to CDR or DVDr.

As I started going through my stacks of CDR backups however, I began to realize that some of the really old ones had hit that point where they were no longer readable. Or maybe I had saved the DAW project files for a song, but no longer owned that DAW (Cubase, Reason, etc). Either way, quite a few of the back ups were either unreadable, or I couldn’t access the data easily which really defeats the purpose.

That’s when the fun started. 🙂

I had to slowly go through every one of my archives and check to see it was readable, then burn a new copy if it was more than 5 years old. In some cases I had to enlist the help of friends with different software to help me get access to DAW projects I couldn’t open on my own. In the end, I was able to create the AIFs and AACs I needed for all of my songs and sets, with only one exception. Luckily that was a crap song I did last minute for a contest years ago, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

Still, a scary reminder that physical media isn’t permanent, and that we need to check our archives every so often to avoid scares like this! I always knew it was going to happen eventually, this is just the first time I had experienced it with some of my own archives. Crisis narrowly averted! 🙂

Once all the new files were created, the next step was to track down all of my artwork for the releases. Pretty easy for the newer stuff, since those were all on my website with the artwork already. But for some of my older tracks, I had to either revisit the CDR back ups, or spend a lot of time hunting around online for the right images. My previous artist name was “rEalm”, so it’s not as simple as you’d think to find some of this stuff via Google!

The last step was to get all the info I wanted to embed in the files. Things like details I might have posted on forums about how I wrote a track, or maybe copying the descriptions from my blog or tracks I had for sale on Beatport and Addictech. Just any information about the song that I, or maybe other people, might find interesting in the future. Maybe.

Last but definitely not least, I had to bring it all into iTunes and get it all organized. I thought a lot on naming conventions, standardized formatting for the info, tags I wanted to use, etc. Just to make sure everything had a consistency to it and would make sense to anyone other than me who happened to look at the info.

The final step was then to burn all of the new master AIF to disc once again as a redundant back up, along with copying them to a couple USB sticks. I still have to re-grid everything in Traktor, but right now I’m burnt out on this project since it took so much longer than I expected. Someday! 🙂

Now, I can see some of you shaking your head at all this. It’s a lot of work, and since I had wav versions of just about everything anyway, why bother? Well, for me this is my legacy. This is showing what 20+ years of hard work did, it’s what I’ll leave behind when I depart this world. More than that though, it reminded me that just because we religiously save and make back ups, it doesn’t mean they will last forever.

Media decays, formats change, tools come and go from our arsenal, things get lost or misplaced, you name it. In short over a lifetime of making music you’re going to generate a lot of it! Take the time now and then to go through some of your old back ups and make sure you can still read them. At the very least, get in the habit of saving a high resolution copy of your masters and keeping them all in one place.

You never know when it might save your ass, and at the very least it’s a good habit to make sure you really have the back ups you think you have!

Ear Career

ErikBabyDJ(your blog author was already hooked on music as a baby)

By far, the question I get asked the most often is “how do I get that professional sound in my tracks?”  It’s interesting, because while I definitely know exactly what people are referring to, and remember wondering the same thing with my own tracks at one time, and I can’t think of the moment when I thought “aha, I’ve done it!”.

Barring any sudden insights or learning some hidden secret, that means it was a more gradual process.   Anyone who’s been writing music for some length of time likely realizes this, but what exactly is it that we have to learn?  Obvious answers are usually that you need to learn your tools better, or study different production techniques so you know how (and when) to apply them to improve your music.

I suppose there’s also the need to improve the tools you use as well, from the instruments used to create the music, to the monitors we use to listen to it.  Certainly the tools we use don’t necessarily define the quality of music we make, but better tools do tend to lend themselves to better results much easier.

Still, I’ve met a lot of producers who managed to hit all of those marks fairly early on in their production careers, and yet they still struggle with getting that “sound” that they’re after.  It’s easy to say the rest comes down to practice (and I’ve done so many times in this blog), but practicing what?

It’s sort of strange considering it’s music we’re talking about, but you really don’t find a lot of people talking about how they trained their ears over time.  And I don’t mean with specific ear training exercises like being able to identify fixed frequencies or EQ points (though that’s definitely good to do!).  Rather I’m talking about the skill of learning to step back from your music and really HEAR what the overall picture sounds like.

It sounds like a simple thing, but if you’ve ever tried to teach someone how to do it, you realize it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Learning to not focus on specific parts of a song we like, or perhaps a section that gave us a lot of trouble while writing it doesn’t come naturally to our ears.  We tend to focus on what we know, or what we were working on most recently rather than the big picture.

But it’s not just the big picture of our own songs we need to listen to, but also how our song works in other environments.  Everyone I know realizes how important it is to listen to your music on other speakers to see how well it translates, but doing so efficiently and accurately takes a long time to learn.  I know early on I would often find myself burning multiple CDs to listen to mix revisions over and over in the same listening environments.  So it’s not just the act of referencing your song elsewhere that’s important, but how easily you can hear flaws this exposes and correct them too.

All of this is a rather long winded way of stating that one of the most useful skills you need to learn as a musician is just the ability to hear things as they really are.  I know that sounds rather nebulous, but I think it’s one of the most important skills successful musicians and producers have learned over the years.  It’s not just learning YOUR speakers in YOUR studio, but learning how things sound elsewhere.  And most importantly, then being able to make the correct correlations that allow you tweak and tune your music to sound even better.

To me, that’s what defines that “professional sound” more than anything else.  It’s not about the tools or techniques per se, but that knowledge of how music works in different environments and becoming good at minimizing any issues that might compromise your message as a result.   We’re attracted to songs that just sound good no matter where you hear them, and that skill more than any other is what tends to separate the “professionals” from those still learning.

While there may not be an easy way to learn that skill other than repetition, it’s definitely something everyone can work towards improving.  It takes practice to learn to stop focusing on one part of a song and step back to hear how everything works together.  Take a few minutes every day that you’re working on a song and try to do it.  Stop for 5 minutes and just listen to the song pretending it’s the first time you heard it.  What sticks out, what works, what doesn’t?

Likewise learning to identify problems in your tracks when you hear them for the first time on a new set of speakers somewhere else takes time too.  Try setting a goal of listening to a song you know well on a new set of speakers or headphones once a week.  How quickly can you spot known problems, what sounds best in your song on the new set up, what sounds worst?

Little games like this are things I find successful musicians do all the time without really realizing it.  Getting into the habit of always being aware of how things sound in your environment, and how you can use that to adjust your own productions is one of the best skills you can learn if you want to get better at getting a nice, polished sound in your tracks.   When you spend the time learning to hear what doesn’t work well, you’re going to be left with only things that do work, and that’s ultimately the sign of a quality production!

Hope you enjoyed the article this week.  Now that my hand is healing and I can type much easier, I’m hoping to start getting these blog posts out more frequently once again.

—————-

I don’t often ask for help, but this is one of those times I’m turning to my readers to help me out if they can.  This month has been slower than normal for the mastering business, and with medical bills from my recent broken hand coming in, the timing couldn’t be worse.   It would be a big help if you could pass on my contact information to anyone you know who might be looking to get something mastered.   Referrals like this are truly the only way I get new customers, so just quick 1 minute email or Facebook post to a friend can help me out more than you know.

Thanks everyone, I appreciate all your help and support over the years, and especially in difficult times like this!

The Tarekith Update

Well I know it’s been a bit light on blog posts here lately, so I thought I’d do sort of a general update on a what’s been happening here in the studio. I’m in sort of a bit of flux in a lot of areas right now, so my apologies if this comes off as a little rambling! 🙂

For starters, I wanted to thank everyone wishing me luck with my shoulder surgery earlier this year. Things have been progressing great, I almost have full range of motion back and the physical therapist has me weight training already. Still fiending to get on the bike, but I know I’m almost halfway there now so trying to be patient 🙂

Taylor814ce-11

My plan while recovering from surgery was to renew my focus on learning guitar, especially with the new Taylor acoustic I bought. Happily that has been going very well, I’ve been practicing almost daily and already starting to notice huge improvements. I’ve ditched the pick all together at this point, and am now focusing a lot on fingerpicking. Not so much traditional fingerpicking, but definitely learning as many techniques as I can to add my own style and feel to it.

Because I’ve been enjoying the guitar so much, I’m starting to consider putting together a new live set using it as my main instrument. Quite a jump from hardware groove boxes! I’m still mentally toying with different options, but in the mean time I decided it was time to start playing around with some dedicated guitar pedals. My Boss Tera Echo is still a dream to play, and I just ordered a TC Hall Of Fame reverb pedal, and an Xotic EP booster to get the Taylor’s signal a little more usable.  Thinking about the TC Flashback x4 as well.

TeraEcho

When I haven’t been working on the guitar, I’ve been thinking about where I want to focus next when it comes to studio and live work. I’m still happy working on the iPad for tracks now and then, but I want get back into more of a hardware workflow too. Not just for writing tracks but for performing them too.

Strangely, for some reason I’ve really been giving serious thought to Maschine Studio. Crazy, I know 🙂 But it looks like the newest software updates have solved a lot of my previous complaints about Maschine. And it’s hard not to appreciate how much more hardware-like the new display will make the controller feel. As much as I love Push and Live, I have to admit the Live library really doesn’t do much for me when it comes to finding sound ideas to use when creating tracks. That was one area I really liked about Maschine when I tried it previously.

But, we’ll see, nothing is decided yet. I still might go with more traditional hardware too 🙂

The mastering business was a bit slower than normal to start the year, but with me being out for surgery anyway it worked out.   Things have ramped up a lot since then though, and 2014 is already looking to be a great year.   And it certainly is fun listening to those Tyler D2x’s every day!  🙂

Last but certainly not least, I  broke my right hand in three places last week.  Yes, right when the shoulder was starting to feel better, I decided it would be a good idea to hit the refrigerator in a rare display of frustration.  Stupid I know, and now I get to pay for it.  Oh well, no guitar for a bit I’m guessing, so I’ve decided to just spend my time focusing on music theory again.   I was doing a little every day as part of my guitar practices anyway, now I can sped more time on it 🙂

Well, that’s about it, and not terribly exciting I’m afraid.  Hopefully the hand heals up fast and I can get back to writing again soon!

Confidence

Of all the interesting quirks I see in musicians, one of the more frequent is people having no confidence in their own music. You might have seen this too, someone posts their track for others to offer feedback on, and then they proceed to point out everything wrong with it and why they don’t like it. Before anyone even had a chance to listen with a fresh mind and decide for themselves, the producer has already skewed their opinion negatively.

Another common example I see in my mastering business is people coming to me and saying things like “I know this isn’t as good as what you usually work on, but could you still master this?”. The surprising thing is that usually these are very good songs too, not nearly as bad as the producer thought!

I think as artists we all have insecurities in what we produce. Will other people get it? Does my lack of experience show? Will it sound good on other playback systems? Of course, just saying be more confident doesn’t work, things aren’t that easy for some people.

I’m lucky in that I also get to work with a lot of musicians who DO have confidence in their music. And I think it’s important to state that I believe there’s a huge difference between confidence and being cocky. I see that too 🙂

One of the things I’ve found that separates the confident producers, is that no matter their skill level, they are aware of how long it takes to truly become a talented musician or producer. They know they are just at one point on that path, and that they still have a lot to learn. Doesn’t matter if they’ve been writing music for one year or twenty years, they know that they are putting their best effort forward all the time.

To me, it seems that confidence for them comes not just from having achieved some success, but being realistic about their skills at any time too. When you know you have an endless journey ahead of you, and take that desperate rush out of the equation, you become more accepting of what you feel your current limitations are.

You can more freely seek help from others and be open to their suggestions. It’s no longer an affront to your belief in your skills if someone offers a critique of your work, because you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. It allows you to remember the positive things you can do, while recognizing the areas you have to focus on next.

The next time you find yourself feeling uncertain about your own music, don’t project that to others. Remember we all have certain things that come easier to us, and that everyone progresses at a different rate. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to push and drive yourself to succeed, but temper that with the realization that this is a LONG process. As long as you are always striving to better your music making, you can be confident than you’re doing the best you can.

Take some pride in how far you’ve come already, and have the confidence to know that your music is just as valid as everyone else’s!

Loudness Wars Part 2

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 12.08.48 PM

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my blog post on winning the loudness wars earlier this week, so I made some examples to put this in perspective. Don’t analyse or anything first, just play the first one and turn up your monitors until it sounds nice and loud like you’d normally listen to your music:

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Deviate01-1770.m4a

Now without touching the volume, play the second one:

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Deviate02-Limited.m4a

Both of these were peak normalized to read -20 LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale), just like they would be in the ITU-R 1770 spec we’re talking about. The actual number doesn’t matter here, just the fact they they are both set to the same LUFS value, and thus should sound the same loudness.

At first listen, not too much different right? So big sigh of relief people, we’re not talking a huge change here. 🙂

However, when you listen a little closer, hopefully you can hear that the second file is a little less punchy, just as loud but not quite the same impact from the sounds. A tiny bit distorted too, a side-effect often times of the volume levels we must master to today.

So there’s definitely an audible difference, but it’s not huge. At least in this example, I’ve heard worse with examples like these.  Like I said, some people won’t care given that it’s not a huge difference. For those that do, likely it means you’re just going to be mixing and mastering the same as before, you just won’t use a peak limiter at the end. That’s it.

Same EQ and colorful compression if you want, but no need to slam it to make it loud, as you can hear it’ll be just as loud as one you do limit. So why bother? Aesthetic reasons perhaps, but it won’t be a knee jerk reaction that you apply to every song as a matter of course like it is now.

Hope that helps!

(Don’t forget to turn your monitors back down 🙂 )

Learning To Listen Again

Inner Portal Studio Upgrades 2014 #2.

Well, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I ordered some new monitors for the studio, Tyler Acoustic D2x’s.  Due to huge snow storms in the US, they took an extra week to get to me, but the wait was worth it.  Last Thursday, 4 big boxes arrived via UPS Freight, the 2 speakers and their stands.  

The freight truck couldn’t make it up my driveway, and the UPS driver was lazy in his own weird way, so we ended up pulling all 4 boxes at once up a long hill on a dolly.  It was sketchy, but soon they were safe inside.

Tyler D2 02

The next step was getting them up to the studio on the third floor, knowing that the large boxes were almost 160lbs each.  Oh, and I did it myself, with the injured shoulder, fun.  🙂  A bit of leverage and using my legs to push from below made it not too difficult, but still a bit intimidating as you don’t want to slip and have one of these come back at you!

Tyler D2 03

The only really difficult part was getting them on the 12 inch stands I had made for them (gets the tweeters at ear level), but by that point I was determined.  Luckily it all worked out, and after a couple hours playing with the positioning of the new D2x’s (as well as the Opals now), it was all working well.   This is obviously a pretty big upgrade for me, so it’s nice to see it all set up in the studio finally:

InnerPortalStudio

 Of course the $6000 question everyone keeps asking me, is how do they sound?

In a word, different.  I know, not very descriptive, but that’s the best way to describe it.  Right away I could tell they had real depth to their imaging, placement of instruments was incredibly precise.  But I knew before I bought these that they would need 200 hrs to break in, something the manufacturer reminded me of a few times in the process of ordering them.

Like most of the reviews of Tyler Acoustics speakers, at first they come across as a little underwhelming.  It’s a big sound, you feel like you’re really IN the music in a way I’ve never experience at this level of clarity.  But the lows were frankly weak, and the highs were frankly dull.  They sounded “good”, but not reference grade mastering monitor good.

Again, all this I expected, and having confirmed it with my own ears, I set about breaking them in.  They’ve been playing non-stop since I got them, so I’m at about 120 hours now.  I have the Hilo set up to switch between the Tyler’s and the Event’s with a button press, so it’s been easy for me to compare the way they sound (in a nice level-matched way) quite simply.  The Opals are a tiny bit closer together than they used to be, but otherwise they are what I know inside and out, having used them exclusively for the last few years.

Right away it was apparent the Beryllium tweeters on the Opals were a lot brighter than the D2’s, the highs were right in your face while the D2’s were much more muted.  It wasn’t bad, but definitely more smooth than I was used to.  Luckly I’m told it’s pretty easy to swap out a resistor on the tweeter crossover to make them a little more present sounding, so I always have that option later depending on how they break in.

The D2’s also have a more prounced low end, it’s not so much louder as just deeper and more physical feeling.   I had always used the way the Opals made my chest feel for deep bass as a guide for how much was too much, and with the D2’s this is much more a whole body affair. 🙂

Still, I know that I have to break them in fully before I draw any conclusions, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  Anytime I’m not listening to music on them and comparing with the Opals, I’m blasting pink noise at 96kHz through them to really get all the speakers working.  After 5 days of non-stop use, they already sound a LOT  better.  The subs are much more apparent, and the tweeters have brightened up a little too.  Still a big difference from the Opals, but I’m only halfway there.

It’s been interesting trying to assimilate this huge change in the way I’m going to be hearing things, while at the same time knowing I have work coming in too!  When you’re used to a playback system so well that you never have to second guess yourself, learning how to hear music all over again is both a fun challenge and a bit stressful too!

But, I’m not complaining 🙂

I’ll post some more of my thoughts on this change in a couple weeks once everything has been broken in and I have some more mastering done on them!

——————

I just wanted to remind people one more time about my video series on Optimizing Sound Quality In Ableton Live too.  Been getting a lot of good feedback on these 4 videos, and I can’t recommend the rest of the Warp Academy stuff enough.  If you’re a Live user, you probably won’t find better deal on Live training:

http://www.warpacademy.com/tutorial-series/210-optimizing-sound-quality-in-live-2/

Thanks everyone, until next time!

A Quiet Time

2013 was an interesting year for me, quite a few things happening that I just wasn’t expecting at all.  I went through a very long and frustrating period of writers block for most of the year, but ended it being very productive.  I ditched my Elektrons and bought a really nice acoustic guitar, but I still love playing with music apps on the iPad too.  I raised my mastering rates and actually started turning clients away for the first time.  I ditched a ton of social media baggage and cut back on the amount of time I spent on forums this year.

Fun stuff.

The biggest  change in 2013 was having shoulder surgery the day after xmas though.  Due to an old snowboard injury, I disocate my left arm every 3-4 years.  It just happens randomly most of the time, and typically starts to heal in a few days.  This past October I however, it happened again while mountain biking on Vancouver’s North Shore, and it didn’t heal.

Best option was to go in there and rebuild everything, which means 6-7 months of rehab and recovery.  No bike riding, no snowboarding, no athletic activities beyond walking.  Ungh, not something I was looking forward to, but things couldn’t stay as they were either.

Luckily the surgery went fine, and now it’s been almost a week and I’m on the mend.  Sore and not able to do much more than type very slowly, I have a feeling the next few months are going to be a long process of getting my strength and flexibility back.  Physical Therapy here I come.  🙂

I can just barely play the upper positions on my guitar still as luck would have it, so at least I have that to focus on and work with.  Using a computer and any sort of normal music keyboard is painful though, so I have a feeling new blog posts might taper off for a bit while I focus on getting back in shape.

Here’s to hoping that things improve quicker than expected though, because I have a lot of new ideas I want to write about this year.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

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!