Thursday, 4 December 2014

After a lesson, the boys light up

Since the "issue" from the other day, I found another couple of hours I could spend with the guitar.  A quick test to see if I could re-record some audio, nah, "tone" won't be back for another week.  So, what have I got to work on?  Hmm...

I've been asked by several people after playing "Reckless" "Do you know any other Australian Crawl?"  I don't.  My mate Jono, when we catch it usually ends in a few beers, maybe a whiskey or two, he sings and I play guitar.  Last session he was super keen for more Crawl, particularly "The Boys Light Up". "I have the whole internet here on my phone, let's look up the chords."  After strumming, with some embellishment, I mentally noted it was a good fingerstyle candidate.

So here I am, "The Boys Light Up"

First challenge was putting the chords into fingerstyle - Bm, G, A.  Pretty much the entire song.  Hey, it's 80's Aussie Pub Rock, keep it simple.  I didn't like the idea of having to do stuff while hanging onto a Bm, so I shifted it down two steps to Am, F, G.  Better, I could work with that.  It is a seriously backbeat song, which made it both challenging and interesting.  I developed a pattern quickly, bass-pick-rest-pick, similar to my current standard, but with a rest instead of body slap.

Harmonica solo at the start.  I pulled apart a midi file I found on the internet for ideas for the whole song, there wasn't much in it but the harmonica solo was pretty clear.  It went easily onto the pattern.  No problems there.  The verses were slightly problematic, 'ole Reyney sings pretty radical (nobody has deciphered some of his lyrics) and the melody was difficult for me to work out.  But it seemed essentially in chords so I just winged it, trying to sing it in my head.

Sadly still, the melody is midrange, which puts it smack bang in the backbeat chord fragments I was going for.  If it was up high you can put it up there out of the way, but in the middle, again, makes it more challenging.  The whole song being down two steps from Bm to Am it also sounded "flat".  Capo on the second fret, ha ha, back to normal, still with open chords, yah!

There are a lot of lyrics in the verse structure, which makes it kinda boring for fingerstyle.  So I aimed for "variation" to not bore the audience too much.  There's a little bridge which follows the verse structure which is signature for the song and very cool, then it is chorus, which is same as verse.

It was just about a wrap!  A nice easy one, bit of interest, very simple phrases to remember.  I was sad to put aside some of the groovy bass and distorted guitar, which didn't immediately fit, but I slipped in a nice bend on the beat before the start of the main phrases which made up a little bit for the loss of the groovy bass.

Not my best work, but an easy three minute song to fit into the repertoire, and it is 80's Aussie Pub Rock, a personal fave.

Here, have a listen to the demo I just recorded:

Never heard the song?  I love this super-early recording where they stuffed up the backbeat for the first 20 seconds, even Reyney looks back "what the heck are you doing?"

Or, much more recently, and this one has cowbell!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Learn a lesson again. And again.

It's a familiar situation.  In all aspects of life.  But we do it to ourselves over and over again.

It started after having recorded footage for a new video on the weekend.  I'd put in a bit of effort - I recorded myself from various angles playing the same song so that I could splice pieces together from each angle.  To make a cool video.  It's a bit of an epic to compile the video as you could imagine, but one of the key issues is that each time you play it you won't play it at exactly the same speed.  One way around that is play to a beat, which makes my playing a bit stiff, the other way is to record a good clean audio track and compile the video carefully so that everything appears to synchronise.  You generally will only vary in speed slightly, so you can make 10-15 seconds worth of video appear to synchronise with the audio.

So I had the footage, which was recorded outdoors so none of the audio was clean enough, I needed the audio track.

One night during the week I had about two hours free to record the audio.  I sat down, set up the microphone and started playing. Take 1.  Take 2.  Take 3.  Take 4.  I wasn't liking any of them.  Change approach - record smaller sections of the song until I get each one bit right at a time, and then piece it together later.  I really dislike doing that, it is much better to get it all in one take.  It sounds more natural and is a lot less audio editing.

Looking back I was actually playing it nicely, I was after perfection, so nice wasn't good enough.  Because I had limited time, I put pressure on myself.  Each take I could feel my arm/hand muscles starting to clamp up - I wasn't relaxed - and each take was getting faster and faster tempo.  That generally happens to me when I'm not relaxed, I play faster.  It's a shame, because I call that a beginners trait, I should know better.  Still haven't got that beginners trait out of me after all these years.

And to top it all off, I am attacking the guitar.  Digging right in, getting a huge sound.  Sure, the guitar sounds full and crisp, but I know "it's not working."

"Whoa, it's like, music, man.  You've gotta let it flow, relax, and like, let it come to you man."  Perhaps I should have started the session with a tasty glass of liquid muscle relaxant.

And then, still playing too fast, too hard, in pieces rather than the full song, I cracked my index fingernail.  Diagonally across, right down to the base.  Cleaned it up with the clippers, basically nothing left.  Picked up the guitar, that crisp sound I get with a bit of fingernail was reduced to a mellow, kinda dull tone.

"Well that sucks."  I pack up guitar, it's all over.  Nothing recorded.  Feel tense and unsatisfied.  It will take about two weeks to grow fingernail out again.  I knew it wasn't working, but I put the pressure on myself to make it work.  And then it didn't work, and worse, resulted in a a setback.

Another lesson learnt.  One that I already knew.  Learn it again!


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Get Back Experiment^3

I'm still practicing The Beatles "Get Back", it's basically ready for recording, but I decided to embrace the fad future and try some 3D video.  So if you are 3D playback equipped (or even if you aren't) have a look at this:

From a 3D point of view there are two main problems - the 3D depth is too deep, it comes across as artificial to me.  On my playback equipment there is also ghosting of the right eye on the left eye, and a little bit the other way around.  The depth problem is related to how I created the 3D, I haven't yet worked out the ghosting problem. I currently suspect it is crosstalk as a result of the over-depth 3D.

How did I do it? Yep, two cameras side by side, recording left eye and right eye.  Then a bit of synchronisation and cropping in VirtualDub.  Then putting them side by side using AVISynth.  Finally synchronising the audio from the microphone in Virtualdub.  YouTube takes the 3840x1080 file (ie two HD videos side by side) and does what it needs to do so you can see it in it's full 3D glory.  There is the problem, two cameras side by side, the spacing should be eye distance.  My two cameras side by side are a bit too wide apart even when touching.  Your eye will resolve it as 3D, but it's a bit weird.  Some thought will be required there.

From an audio point of view, it's rough.  It's cool, but rough.  When I do record it for proper I will ensure the recording is nicer, even if I have to resort to overdubbing/punch in.  Ah, they joys of editing digital audio.

So drop me a line and comment on audio and 3D - did one of the embedded videos work better than the other?


Sunday, 2 November 2014

What's happening November 2014

One again I have signed up for "Movember", it's the only time of the year my family (begrudgingly) puts up with facial hair.  Last year in addition to the Mo, I also got wifey to dye my hair/mo/eyebrows dark brown.  I actually quite liked it...I'll ask her to do that again.  So at the end of the month, when I'm looking fresh out of the '70s, I'll record a video of "Get Back" by The Beatles, in Beatles costume.  I've pretty much nailed what I wanted to do with the song, so it is ready to go.  I was also thinking I'll record it Rooftop Concert style, to break up the monotony of me sitting in a bare room on a chair belting out tunes...

Meanwhile, Shaun Street of after seeing me at his open mic has been discussing getting me on his list of performers for corporate gigs.  Which is pretty cool - it won't be quite as family friendly as the predictable permanent weekly gig I previous had - but seeing as I don't currently have a permanent weekly gig, I like the idea of doing something.

It would seem appearance is important.  "You can't overdress for a corporate gig", so looks like I will need to dust off my suit.  Interestingly, and comically, Shaun mentioned "If you want to wear a hat that's cool, musos wear hats."  I'm sure he didn't mean it but I translated that to "maybe cover up your balding gray head" - ha ha.  I remember for a while there Adam Rafferty was wearing an Ivy Cap in all his videos - he is balder and grayer than me.  But of late, he seems to have embraced his male pattern baldness and his videos are now cap-free.

I do like hats though.  I'm thinking maybe a subtle Trilby.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Open Mic October 2014

It had been a dry spell for gigs, I hadn't been away with work for around four months, so I started looking for a new one.  Just cruising the Internet, to see if there was anything going on nearby.  I was quite pleased to find that a tavern near to where I live was hosting Open Mic nights!  I contacted the organiser and he was happy to fit me into a spot, which I played last night.

What's an Open Mic you say?

Just that - a microphone, that is open to anyone who wants to use it.  Generally they will be set up with all the sound system you need, just bring along your instrument and plug in (and sing if you can...)  They are an excellent first step to getting out there and performing.  Polish up your best pieces, find your nearest open mic, and get down there for a slot.

I've been aware of open mic sessions around my town for a while, but the one that I was thinking of going had put me off, they only allowed original material, no covers.  So I'd never pursued any.  The advantage of the open mic over finding your own regular gig is that everything is there set up for you, just plug in and the organiser will set you up.  You don't have to be a professional musician, it's about having a go.  It's also ad-hoc, get a slot whenever you like that the organiser can fit you in.  The disadvantage is that it isn't paid (ha ha) and you only get a short slot (45 mins in my case) whereas I have about 2-3 hours of material.


I surprised myself at how anxious I was. Being up on a stage with bright hot lights in my face, plugged into a big PA system (biggest I have ever played through) with just a small foldback to know what I was doing.  I butchered a couple of songs ("what is wrong with you stupid fingers!" he thinks to himself) but I relaxed into it and played at least 5 or 6 songs at a good performance level.  When I was flicking and slapping the body I was concerned - the big PA subwoofer was pounding out a thump, reflecting off the back wall straight back at me and it sounded out of balance.  But Shaun (the organiser) assured me that wasn't what the audience was hearing.  I like being able to hear exactly what the audience is hearing, so I can play to that sound.  So I felt out of control.  But sometimes it is good to let go of control and trust in others.

There was maybe 20-30 people in the audience, which I found out afterwards that half of them were regulars on the stage too - a ha, so it's a "scene"!  The location isn't exactly Central Artsville, so it isn't currently attracting avid listeners of amateur musicians.  But you know what - a couple of people in the audience "got" what I was doing, and that is enough for me.

After the performance I spoke to a couple who do regular open mics and other musician get together things, and they gave me more insight into what/where/who.  I also spoke to Shaun for a while about what he does - he's a musician/teacher/manager, does gigs, manages some bands, runs two open nights, fills gig bookings.  He is an amiable chap, obviously loves everything about music and the scene and gets behind everybody in it.  He asked if I had cards/photos/setlist, occasionally he gets asked for my kind of gig - just one bloke playing background instrumental covers of well known and popular music.  That's what I would like to do, from time to time nice little gigs, but I have a busy day job and wifey and kids that I want to spend time with.  It's all about priorities huh?

So overall it was good fun, I enjoyed it.  Will definitely do it again.  I watched some of the other acts, there was a boy on before me singing over backing tracks, wow, I wish I had that sort of confidence, he was hitting Jackson 5 type high notes and all - not my cup of tea, but great job!  A guy on after me was playing heavy distorted guitar covers and singing, with backing instruments, a serious rocker from way back obviously knows what he is doing and was pretty good at it, again, not my cup of tea but great job!  After him was a duo, a chic singing and a bloke on guitar.  All original stuff, man they had put some serious work and effort into it from the looks of things.  And it came across great.  I even remembered one of their songs, "Hindsight", a catchy groovy piece.  Well done!  I bailed out before the final act which would have been good to see, a trio.  Next time.