Thursday, 29 October 2009

Giving In To McMusic?

I just thought I'd air something that's been bugging me for a couple of weeks...

Reading how a daily newspaper dubbed one of the starlets in that dodgy firmament called 'pop music' as being 'brave' because she sang one verse of her new single (and mimed to the rest) live on TV recently was enough to induce a diva-sized rant from me and several of my brothers in arms. But this was just a single incident; surely the insidious practice of allowing artists to mime in a so-called 'live' situation has gone far enough?

I have friends who have turned up to gigs where they have been booked to support some of pop's finest only to find that there are absolutely no facilities which would allow them to plug in and play. In other words, miming is dangerously near to being accepted as the norm, in pop circles at least. What's more, the public (bless 'em) don't seem to feel in the slightest short changed by the fact that they have bought a concert ticket – not cheap, by anyone's standards – in order to listen to a pre-recorded performance.

And the Musicians' Union are sorta being quiet about it, too. Sure, they make the occasional growling noise, but never seem to actually bite.

I guess all this self-righteous indignation on my part comes from the fact that I know loads of people who put in many hours practising and working incredibly hard to gain their chops in order to go in front of an audience and play. They overcome nervousness and fear – stage fright, if you will – in order to do the job they love and wouldn't dream of taking the easy avenue by resorting to the artifice of let's pretend.

I don't see a resolution on the horizon, either; not while people are prepared to accept McMusic instead of true artistry...

OK. Rant over.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Another Day, Then...

Yesterday was another day spent at the recording studios for my new album – and it turned out to be a bit of an epiphany...

Let's begin at the beginning. I was booked into 'The Holmestead' (as it is called) to record a track with the working title 'Lullaby' with my producer and engineer Martin Holmes at the controls. For this I had taken the guitar that the tune had been written on, a Yamaha LLX500C. Now this is the guitar that I used to record my previous CD 'Nocturnal' in full, with the exception of one track where I used an Admira classical guitar. In other words, I had the fullest confidence in it to do a fine job.

After the usual span of time we always spend faffing about with microphones and making sure that I am 'studio-proof' which means that I have to empty my pockets of everything that might jingle or jangle and show up on mic and I also have to take off my watch because the wristband makes the occasional noise as I move my hand. (Add to this the fact that I have to remember not to wear anything with zips, buttons or rivets and it's a little like going through airport security! But it's all in the name of art...)

After the traditional inaugural mug of tea, we set about going for the first take and I think we both sensed that something wasn't quite 'right'. The last time I was over at the studio we recorded a video of another track (see blog entry below) and it had been easy; after about four takes we had it in the can. But 'Lullaby' was proving a bit difficult to get down. I knew it was an awkward piece to play in certain sections – I have this nasty habit of writing things that stretch my technique a little, but that's how you progress, isn't it?

After one of those takes where just about everything that can go wrong actually did, we decided to adjourn for coffee and a chat. I said that it shouldn't happen that you can record a track in a problem-free single take despite the added pressure of knowing that the whole thing was going down on video like we did with 'Unseen Sunlight' and yet have trouble with the next piece where silly little glitches were showing up all over the place.

Now, I know that it's a bad workman who blames his tools, but the only real difference between this and the previous session was the guitar I was using. For the video I used a Fylde Falstaff – surely it can't make that much difference? Or can it? We decided to do some checks and sure enough, when we compared the sound of the two guitars, there's no doubt that the Fylde sounds much better than the LLX – in fact I think both Martin and I were both a little shocked by how much difference there was. Even listening back to a raw, unmixed take that I did a while ago, the Fylde sounded like vintage Rioja and there was no way we were going to be able to achieve that necessary consistency of sound without using it exclusively for the rest of the sessions.

I think the thing we both previously noticed as being 'wrong' was simply the fact that there was something lacking in the quality of sound and it was affecting my performance. In the act of struggling so hard to get a good sound out of the Yamaha, I was losing my 'vision' of the piece as a whole and making stupid rookie mistakes as a result.

So we decided to throw in the towel and cancel the session with the intention of using the Fylde when we resume recording. It means I have to re-learn around six pieces on a different guitar – which doesn't sound like too much of a big deal, but the Fylde has a wider fretboard and so all the pieces will need a little re-orienteering. Then we should be good to go and I think the album will sound 100% better as a result. The proof, of course, will be what happens at the next session...

Watch this space!

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Silver Screen...

As a sort of sequel to September's 'Making The Video' blog, I thought I'd follow through and actually provide a link to the finished article.

Now it has to be said that anything you upload to You Tube has to go through a process of compression imposed by the site itself which has the effect of mashing the quality of both audio and picture. The video itself was shot in hi-def and the audio recorded at DVD resolution – 24bit 96dB – and consequently a humungous size. But by the time it's been through the masher, it's a relatively small file, but a lot of the original finesse has been somewhat pished away!

Of course I'm being defensive! Anyway, here's the video to 'Unseen Sunlight' – enjoy!