Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Inspiration: Where Do You Find It?

I've always been fascinated by the idea of where exactly the idea for a song begins. I've had the great fortune to speak to many great songwriters over the years and have often asked if such-and-such a composition can be traced back to its origins – and frustratingly, the answer is usually the same: no one knows!

I'll give you an example; when I interviewed Pink Floyd's David Gilmour for Guitarist magazine a few years ago, I asked him about 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and he told me that the song began with the band jamming in a rehearsal studio and the famous four note 'chime' just 'falling out of my guitar...'. Apparently something in those four notes reminded Roger Waters of their fallen son, Syd Barrett and a piece of prog history began to form then and there.

Singer-songwriter James Taylor insists that he is merely a conduit for his songs and that they come from somewhere outside him, whilst other people I've spoken to will go from the mundane 'it started with a collision of two chords and then the hard work began to turn that idea into a whole piece' to the mystical 'I literally woke up one morning with the melody complete in my head. I don't know how it got there...'

Possibly the most humorous comment was from Peter Frampton, talking about one particularly inspired day of songwriting: 'I wrote 'Show Me The Way' in the morning and 'Baby I Love Your Way' just as the sun was setting... I'm still trying to work out what I had for breakfast!'

For my own part, I've just returned from a week in Cornwall and naturally I took a guitar with me (I'm finishing some pieces for my new album and so I can't afford to be sans guitar for too long at present). One morning a whole middle section of a composition I've been working on just happened; I just played it, whole and complete like I'd known it all my life – and I'll be darned if I can put into words what kind of cerebral process brought it into being. One thing I suspect was that with views from our rented cottage like this one...

Photobucket's actually hard not to be inspired!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Studio Log: Day Two – Making The Video...

It might seem a bit of an odd thing to do: making a video of a track before the actual recording sessions for the album itself have actually started. But my rationale was two fold:

1) Why not?
2) Never underestimate the power of You Tube

So off to the studio this morning in order to sit on a stool in front of a hi-def video camera to shoot some footage for a new composition of mine called 'Unseen Sunlight'.

Now, for the technically-minded, the video was shot 'live'; that is to say that I was actually playing and not miming to a backing track as is the norm in a lot of promotional videos you see online. It's a case of 'what you see is what you get' with this video. So this means that we didn't record the audio via the camera, rather it was picked up by two mics and the direct signal from my Headway FEQ pick-up inside the Fylde Falstff guitar and sent off to a hard disk via some unfathomable electronics. Video and audio will be synced by some more studio magic in the mixing suite later on.

The two mics serve an obvious purpose – stereo audio; but we also include some of the direct feed from the piezo in the mix so that the bass 'speaks' faster. Bass frequencies are notoriously lazy and tend not to do too much until you're about six feet away from the guitar. You can get around this by a little ambient miking – that is having another pair of stereo mics further away in the studio, but if you're shooting a video and space is limited then it's better not to invite the added possibility of outside noise creeping in to the mix. The piezo signal is immediate as it comes straight from the strings' passage across the bridge and so, when it's mixed back to the mic signal, voila! Instant good, solid bass.

I'm sometimes asked how to cope with 'red light fever' – the condition where something you can play in your sleep suddenly becomes like climbing Everest on stilts when someone shouts "We're rolling!". If I knew a sure-fire way of overcoming it, I'd speak up, but I find that you just have to try to focus on the music and 'blank out' the fact that you're in the somewhat artificial environs of a recording studio.

In any case, after a couple of takes to 'settle in and find my muse' (ahem) we had a video. And when it's mixed, cut and edited (and they've put all the special effects in that I asked for) it'll be up on You Tube as a trailer for things to come.