Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Results Are In!

While I still have a few days until the deadline, I realized that I'm not really going to get good opportunities to work on the song between now and then, so I might as well post it. It may not be perfect (I can say with certainty it's not), but it'll have to do. So, here it is:

The Law Did Rise

Creative Commons License

Well, there you have it. Yes, I wrote a zombie song. I can't say exactly why; I'm sure it came from a variety of influences. Yes, its plot also contains several holes (how a single zombie takes out an entire group of bandits and townspeople, I can't answer). This song is rough around the edges, but it has achieved its goal by getting my creative juices flowing, showing me where I need work, and forcing me to educate myself a bit more on the process of recording. Feel free to share your thoughts on how it turned out. And to all those who are sick and tired of zombies or feel that I have dishonored zombie lore, all I can say is I'm sorry and I will try not to let it happen again. No guarantees, though.

As I decide what's coming next (I already have a few ideas brewing, it's just a matter of picking one), I'll spend the next week or so sharing what went into creating this song, what tools I used, and what I learned as I took it from a rough sketch to an actual song.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Inside Scoop on Challenge #1 - With Audio!

UPDATE: It appears that in some cases people were having issues with the audio player. In addition to trying a different one, I've also included a direct link to the MP3. Hopefully that covers everyone.

Alright, I promised that I'd give you some details on my progress, so I'll share a little of how the song has come to be.

I had to figure out how the hell I was going to use my name without it winding up sounding narcissistic on one end of the spectrum, apathetic on the other.  The idea came to me to make the song center around an Old West marshal (whose last name, as it so happened to be, was Brown).  By turning my name into something wasn't my name and making it another person entirely, I've been able to approach the song with enthusiasm without coming off as vain.  Hopefully.  In the song, the marshal is recruited by some townsfolk whose town has been overrun by bandits.  Unfortunately, things don't go quite according to plan.  I'm going to leave it at that; I'll leave it to the final recording to paint the whole picture.

But I also indicated last time that I might provide a sample of the tune, and here it is.  It hasn't had any sort of proper mix down, and I left the vocals out (for a variety of reasons, not the least of which they need work).

Click to download
Creative Commons License

So there it is.  You may have noticed the little banner below the tune.  This is the license with which I will be releasing everything on this blog; it wasn't really necessary for this clip, but I thought I'd get in the habit of using it.  It basically means that:
  1. You are free to do whatever you like with it, provided that
  2. You don't try and pass it off as your own,
  3. It isn't going to be used for commercial purposes (i.e. no using it in money-making ventures), and
  4. If you create anything using it, you have to share it like I'm sharing this.
Given the theme, it's not terribly surprising it ended up with kind of a western feel.  I've never been a huge fan of country music, and it's definitely the first country-ish song I've performed, written, or recorded.  That said, I enjoy some of the darker stuff by Johnny Cash, and I've always felt "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (a song at one point recorded by Cash) has excellent melodies and vivid, supernatural lyrics.  So I guess that came through.

I've got a little over a week until the deadline, which hopefully gives me enough time to clean stuff up and get a decently mixed version out.  I may post something informational in between, but if not, see you in a week or so with the results of Challenge #1!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Challenge Progresses, and Other Developments

Well, it's been a week since I officially accepted Jay's proposition to write a "Marshall Brown" song, as he put it.  It's actually gone a lot better than I expected so far.  The song is fully written and rough versions of the guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are recorded.    Now that I have an unpolished but complete set of tracks to work from, it's just a matter of getting clean, polished versions of everything, mixing it down to the final cut, and figuring out somewhere I can upload it to so that I can share it with you.

While I do have a fair bit of time before the deadline I set, I still expect the end result to sound very amateurish.  Partially this will be my own musicianship (especially the vocals, which I'm really going to have to work at improving), but also my inexperience at recording and engineering.  I've already learned a couple things so far; hopefully anyone interested in the topic will find these enlightening:
  1.  Don't record vocals without a compressor on the input.  I found a couple articles on home recording suggesting this, and it really does make a world of difference.  The same applies to bass.
  2. If your song is structured to leave a bit of space at the end of the chorus before going into the verse, take the time to make sure you've got the right amount.  In recording the vocals, I kept wanting to leave a couple more bars than I had recorded thus far.  As a result, I'm going to have to go back and re-record several parts to add those extra bars in.
I'll share a bit more on the song later (including how I figured out how create a song using my own name without sounding like an idiot), but now I'll take a second to talk about one of my other efforts, which is finding people to play with.  I've started with two approaches so far.

The first is posting on artists/musicians sections of Kijiji and Craigslist, trying to find people with similar musical tastes and goals.  I've had about a half-dozen response so far.  I've already met up at a local jam with a guitarist who got in touch with me, and he seems like he might be an alright candidate, if only for songwriting collaboration.

Which leads me to the second approach I'm trying, attending jams.  I always find jams somewhat tricky, as you need to find songs that both you and the host musicians know or be able to very quickly learn something they know.  If you don't have the most tolerant host and trip all over yourself, it's a good way to make yourself a less-than-favorite attendee in the future.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  I conclusion, I need to start learning some tunes.

Hopefully I'll find a bit more time this weekend to continue recording my first song for the project, and I'll give you the inside scoop on it and maybe - maybe - even a sneak peek.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The First Challenge (AKA It's on like Donkey Kong)

As I hinted at right at the end of my last post, a challenge has been presented.  It comes as a result of one of the comments made to my introductory post written by an old colleague, Jay Konduros.

Jay interviewed and hired me for my first job out of university, and is one of the nicest people you'll meet.  He also seemed to be greatly amused by the sound of my name; there are times when I wonder if it was a determining factor in me getting the job.  I remember many mornings sitting at my desk hearing the sound of footsteps approaching, followed by a sing-song, slightly operatic pronouncement of my name as he continued on towards his own office or other destination.

So Jay's suggestion that I write a "Marshall Brown" song should be no great surprise to me.  Would it feel awkward to write a song with my own name as its prominent feature?  Definitely.  Would it be difficult to write such as song without it sounding hackneyed, pompous, or just generally asinine?  Very.  Am I going to make the attempt anyway?  You betcha.

So there it is; I am going to write, record, and share with you a song based on my name.   Hopefully I manage to come up with something that won't scar you all for life.  I'm going to set the deadline as the end of month.  It may end up arriving sooner as I've already managed to get some ideas down for it, but given my other commitments and inexperience at recording, engineering, and mastering, I'm only going to guarantee something by 11:59 PM, January 31st.

Keep watching for more details on what I come up with, as well as other activities for The Uncomfortable Project.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Laying down some rules

In order for this project to work I'm going to have to lay down some rules for myself; otherwise it's far too easy to end up off-mission or letting it fizzle out.  The list of rules will likely grow as the project progresses, but here are some to start.

The first rule of The Uncomfortable Project is that you do talk about The Uncomfortable Project.  I've never been very comfortable with self-promotion, but if my goal for this project is to create and share music with as many people as I can, than the only way to do that is to let people know about it, keep them up to date on it, and encourage them to share it with anyone who might find it interesting.  I certainly hope I don't annoy the hell out of anyone, but I can't let fear of that stop me.

The second rule is that I won't back down from a challenge.  This doesn't mean I have to accept every single thing that someone proposes or opportunity that presents itself.  In some cases it may be unrealistic, impose burden on people other than myself, or simply doesn't fit the overall goal of the project.  But it does mean I do have to take an attitude of taking them on when I can, and that once I've done so I'm committed.

Which leads to the third rule, which is that I will have deadlines.  Certain things will be beyond my control, but if I say I'm going to produce something by a given date, everyone following me will find it before or on that date.  Deadlines aren't set in stone, of course; if extenuating circumstances appear, I need to be able to revise the plan without screams of "cheater!"  But the day can't just slip by with no results or a last-minute excuse of "I changed my mind", "I'll get to it later", or "It's not ready".  If it isn't ready, I'm forced to share what I do have, and let the potential embarrassment be a lesson to smarten up.

I think those three are good enough to get started.  Rule #2 has already reared its ugly head, so stay tuned...

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Introduction

Welcome to The Uncomfortable Project.  While the summary below the title gives you a pretty good hint of what this blog is going to be about, let me take a second to expand on it.

Back when I first started playing guitar, everything was new and exciting... and scary!  I had no idea what I was doing.  As I tried to form basic chords and simple riffs, my fingers felt like gnarled claws, incapable of any kind of grace or rhythm.  My brain was devoid of musical ideas as I stared at the fretboard much like a writer stares at a blank page, begging words to magically appear.  After getting to the point where I actually felt somewhat competent I was presented with two new challenges: taking over the students of my outgoing guitar teacher, and joining a band - several, actually - with musicians who were far better than myself.  It again forced me to pull myself together and have a lot of fun in the process.

Lately, my musical endeavors have been little more than playing my guitar in the basement.  I find myself falling back to the same riffs and licks.  When I do sit and try to write and/or record a song, I don't really feel true stirrings of creativity, because there's simply no need for me to be.  I'm not a good singer, but it doesn't really matter when there's no audience.  I'm in my comfort zone... and comfortable is boring.

So, it's time for me to get uncomfortable.  I'm going to find other musicians to play with, which should hopefully force me to get my skills together.  I'm going to force myself to sing (well), something I've always been very self-conscious of.  I'm going to force myself to write songs, perform them, and share them with as many people as I can.  And if no one is interested in hearing them, I'm going to keep at it until I'm worth listening to.

This blog is where I'm going to share my experiences and thoughts during the process, which is also outside my comfort zone.  I've never started a blog because I've always hidden behind the excuse that no one would find what I had to say interesting.  If I can't find at least one thing a week to share on this blog that at least one person would find interesting, then perhaps I need to shake things up and get more interesting!

I'm going to leave things here, as this is already turning into a long first post.  In the next week or so, I'll share a bit more about what sort of pressure I'm going to put on myself, what my plan is, and what steps I've taken so far.  In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on what you think of this project.