Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Song: The Play's The Same

Last week I recorded another song for my new album project. "The Play's the Same" is about refusing to grow up. Jethro Tull had an album called "Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll (Too Young To Die)." But how can you be too old to rock 'n' roll? I love Roger's lead guitar parts on this tune. Here's a rough mix (note: I'm using the SoundCloud HTML5 widget below, which works on most recent browsers including non-Flash mobile browsers like the iPhone, but at the moment it may not be working in Firefox - use this link instead):

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Insanely Great Music Apps

Music making apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch keep getting better. In the last few weeks I've gotten several new ones that really raise the bar (all available on iTunes):

Music Studio 2.0 - This seems to be the most full-featured iOS "DAW" right now, integrating audio and MIDI recording like a mini version of Sonar X1 (though still not nearly as full-featured). The audio recording is new in the recent 2.0 version. At about $14, this is one of the more expensive apps I have ever bought, but for what it can do, it's quite a bargain. The MIDI instrument samples are not fantastic quality (file size for one thing - as it is this is a 300+ MB app), but they sound pretty good through headphones, and you can always export the MIDI (and WAV) tracks for further work on PC or Mac-based recording software.

Strumstage - This is the most naturally playable guitar app yet (although iShred and Guitar Studio are close). The key here is that there are only three large "frets" that are used to choose from a palette of seven pre-selected chords (there are pre-defined palettes, plus you can define your own). Since it's easy to finger the chords, you can concentrate on strumming or picking. Take a look at this video to see what I mean. It also has drum and bass backing parts you can choose from a small list (the bass parts key off the chords you are playing). You can spend another couple of dollars and download additional guitars and rhythm kits inside the app.

Animoog - From the makers of classic Moog synthesizers, this app creates some amazing sounds and is almost infinitely controllable. Check out the demo video (makes me wish I had an iPad but it works fine on my new fourth generation iPod Touch). This is a $30 app which I got for 99 cents during its 30 day introductory period. Check out the demo videos on this page.

Ah yes, that new iPod. That has really increased the average cost of these apps. But (rationalization alert!) I had been wanting to get a new iPod Touch for at least a year - higher res display, faster processor, more memory (64 GB), cameras, and especially a built-in microphone. Just being able to record a song idea without having to find and plug in an external microphone is a major advantage. I also bought a new attachment called iRig MIDI which allows me to connect the iPod to a MIDI keyboard or to the MIDI interface on my PC. This works with Music Studio, Animoog, Thumbjam, and many other music apps that support the "Core MIDI" standard on iOS.

Every one of these tools (ok, toys) has at least one song hidden in it, waiting for me to carve it out, like a statue from a block of marble (often the "statue" just looks like a smaller block of marble). I haven't given up on real instruments either. Last week I received a Rover mandolin that I ordered as a Black Friday deal on Amazon for $83 (it was out of stock for two months). It's clearly a starter instrument, but it sounds OK and is surprisingly playable. I've already got two new songs in work based on the five chords I've learned so far.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Songs I Wish I Wrote

As a songwriter, there are many writers I admire and a lot of songs I've heard and said to myself, "I wish I wrote that." I just found a list I started some years ago. I hate top 10 lists, so here's more or less my top 13, excluding Beatles songs of which there are many I wish I wrote (yes, even "Get Back"). Not exactly in order, and I'm sure I've missed some obvious favorites. But I would have been happy to have written any of these songs.When I used to do gigs, my wife thought for years that I wrote "To Make You Feel My Love" and a couple of John Mayer songs. But I owned up and gave credit to Bob and John.
  1. Something So Right (Paul Simon)
  2. More Than You Know (Billy Rose)
  3. Let’s Stay Together (Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., Willie Mitchell)
  4. Your Song (Elton John-Bernie Taupin)
  5. To Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan)
  6. Stop This Train (John Mayer)
  7. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight (James Taylor)
  8. Marie (Randy Newman)
  9. America (Paul Simon)
  10. Wild Horses (Mick Jagger-Keith Richard)
  11. Crazy Love (Van Morrison)
  12. Take It Easy (Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey)
  13. Winning the Battle, Losing the War (Kings of Convenience)
While I aspire to writing the smart love song (see: Paul Simon), I can see I have a soft spot for the sappy love song too. Oh well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You Have To Laugh...

I'm trying to not pay much attention to politics this early in 2012, but the many antics of the Republican presidential candidates are just too much like a car crash - you don't want to look, but you can't help it. There are two guys who spin this stuff with all the decorum and hilarity it deserves: Andy Borowitz with The Borowitz Report, and Matt Bors with his amazing political comics and blog posts. Laughing is better than crying.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year, New Music

Happy new year to all! For me, 2011 was a good year for the most part. I visited my daughter in Paris in March (among many other travels). I learned to land a tail wheel airplane (to be continued come spring, I hope). I made progress in learning to work at a large company (after my small company was acquired in fall of 2010). And I started to get back into songwriting and recording, with a big assist from music apps on my iPod Touch. Music apps allow me to use time on long overseas flights and weekends between countries to get some songwriting done.

Songwriting and recording make me happy, especially when I work on the recording with Roger Lavallee, producer and instrumentalist par excellence. I spent a few hours with Roger at the Tremolo Lounge this past week recording two songs "nearly final" and starting on a third. These are brand new songs, the two nearly-final ones written in December, inspired in part by the Black Keys. As a result these are probably the most rocking tracks I have ever done (thanks be to Roger who played all the instruments - I just sang and made comments on the arrangements, solos, mixes, etc.). You can listen to the (fairly smooth) "rough mixes" on SoundCloud if you like:

2012 will include a LOT of business travel, so I'm glad I've figured out how to write songs and make rough demos with my iPod on the road. 2012 will also include a new album, probably by summer or early fall, with a mix of new and old songs (or maybe all new if my writing streak holds up) and maybe half rock and half acoustic/ countryish/ jazzy/ whatever (i.e., my usual eclectic non-style). I plan to record some songs on my new recording gear at home, but I'll probably end up doing most of it with Roger.

And what about space and astronomy? I hope to find time to read, write, and simulate more in 2012. So many interesting things and so little time!