Last night I went to a local coffee shop (that now serves beer. Yeah!) to see Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, two singer-songwriters from Los Angeles. It was a truly blissful show. Kenneth played a parlor style all Mahogany Martin and Joey had a sunburst dreadnaught Gibson. One would sing a song while the other harmonized and then they would switch. Kenneth played some of the most sublime, tasteful leads I have heard in some time. Think David Rawlings. It was a rock-solid 45 minutes and the place was pin drop silent. Even their deadpan stage banter was perfection. A truly inspiring show. Catch them if you can.
Last night I accepted Garageband as my personal Lord and Savior. It has been just under two weeks since the goods arrived and I have foresaken everything else I used to proselytize about. Bear in mind that I’m sure there are other great religions out there: Reason, Cubase, Nuendo, Pro Tools, Logic, Etc. but Garageband got to me first so for the time being I’ll be tithing to them.
There is one thing I am having an issue with though. When I record I like to take notes about, among other things, what recording levels I use so that I can re-record at the same level down the road if need be. So far, with the Apogee Duet, I have been unable to figure out how to get any sort of numerical reading of the recording level. There is just a knob with LED dots. The dots will tell you the range you need to be in, but that is not precise enough for me. I want to know the exact level so I can write it down and duplicate it later. I am running into a problem right now whereas I am trying to duplicate a vocal track that I have already recorded and I cannot find the sweet spot that I found the first time. If I knew the specifics of the original recording level, I would be able to set it precisely the second time around.
I have other gripes rising to the surface which I will address as they become more annoying. But of now I am still marveling at the fact that I finally found a program that helps me understand how someone can be a total computer geek. Last Friday night I went downtown to meet some friends and go see Jackie Greene. when I got there, I turned around and came home. Why? Because holing up with garageband sounded like way more fun. Scary. The antisocial behavior is already setting in.
Well, I had a chance to put in some very productive time the other day. Daytime. The kids were at school. Nothing like being able to do some recording in the daytime when I have energy and can get lost in it. And I got a lot of things accomplished. I messed around with editing a lot. On my old machine, if I played a lousy guitar track I would have to play it over and over again until I got it just right. On the one hand this helped my guitar playing and on the other hand it was a long, tedious process. Now, i realize that I can play a guitar track, flub it, and then spend the next 20 minutes cutting and pasting the shit out of it to make it work. Maybe not exactly a time saver, but it’s pretty cool.
I really feel like I have come full circle in my attitude. I am having fun with the editing process. Whereas before I scoffed at it as a distraction from the creative process, I now realize that it is part and parcel of the creative process. For example, in the song I am working on I was trying to formulate a chorus/bridge but to no avail. At one point, I considered scrapping what I had and starting over completely. I’m sure this would have worked out had I done it. I would have come up with something. But instead I chose to perservere and test different ideas. It led me to create a blissful little sonic nugget in the chorus that I am very proud of. The irony is that it kind of makes the rest of the song sound somewhat motononous, whereas previously the chorus was the weak link. But the reason I was able to create this sonic gold nugget was because I feel like Garageband allows me to implement ideas quickly and efficiently. If they don’t work I can scrap them. Or maybe I can keep them around until I find a way to fit them in if I head down another pathway. My sonic nugget occurred because I started playing with vocal layering and the next thing I knew i had a really nice vocal section with four layers. It’s only about 3 seconds long, but it was enough of a portal to a brave new world that it thrilled me. It was not something I ever would have created on the Boss Br1180 because A) there are not enought tracks on the Boss to expiriment in such a way and B) I feel like the GIGANTIC screen I get to work with on Garageband gives me both sonic AND visual ideas for the song, whereas with the Boss I was limited to only sonic ideas.
It has been 11 days since I received my computer and interface. I almost have a song completed. Nothing amazing, but definitely a song that never would have been possible without the ability to make it come alive through Garageband. It is something I can play on the acousitc guitar, but it is a pretty boring song to play live and solo on the acoustic guitar. But the recording makes it so much more interesting.
I have some mounting criticisms about the program and my interface, but I am far too smitten right now with the possibilities to dwell on the negative. Oh the possibilities!!!!
It has been one week since the arrival of the computer and the interface. The initial euphoria has melted away and now I am faced with the task of making some sort of constructive art with this fancy new set up. So far, I have about 2 minutes of fairly mediocre music. I asked my wife to come into my lair the other night so I could play it for her. She sort of shrugged and gave me this look that I translated to “you mean to tell me that you spent all that money and you’ve been down here for hours upon hours and THAT is what you created?” I hurriedly demonstrated to her how much I had slaved over that measly two minutes of audio; the background organ, the syncopated drum, the ethereal phaser guitar track, the…You know, so much goddamn thought and effort!!!
Oh well. Honestly, she is right. Its pretty boring. But now I am on a mission to finish this FIRST SONG on Garageband, so now I need to come up with a chorus or something.
I must say though that on the night I called her in, I had a personal revelation. I hooked up the song to my PA and played it loud. And to me, it was a reminder of what I love about recording. There is something about putting in the hard work to piece together a song so that, somewhere down the road, you can press “play” and the song pouring out of the speaker is YOUR creation. The problem is getting to that point. And having it sound good. Up to then it is hard hard work that may very well lead to a terribly forgettable snippet of audio. Or euphoria! . And its like this damn computer program is mocking me, taunting me, saying, “well, you spent the money, you have all the fancy tools and the loops and the instruments and the microphones and the songs and every little bell and whistle at your disposal, so get on with it instead of procrastinating by writing some lame blog entry.”
Well the wife is gone to a baby shower this weekend and I had the boys all day save for 3 hours when a babysitter gave me a reprieve. So when she got here I absconded to my studio and laid down synthetic piano tracks. Speaking of synthetic piano tracks, i find myself making a lot of them and it makes me realize that I MUST get a keyboard. A real one. Not a typing keyboard. Granted, the typing kind can do wonders with Garageband, but I want the real thing. Previously, I never had a hankering for a keyboard, but I think one of the great things about computer based recording like this is it shows you what is possible with other instruments. Even the amp and stomp box simulators are great in that they are already helping me understand what types of real stomp boxes I want. Currently I only own a distortion pedal. Now I want a delay pedal and a compressor and a phaser and….
I am really enjoying the gigantic screen on my 27″ iMac and i must say that bigger is better when it comes to music programs. It is a delightful workspace. Right now i am creating a song that I built off of a riff. It is a no expectiations kind of song that I am using to test out the program. I am realizing both my limitations and the programs limitations at the same time. I feel like at some point down the road I will eat my words about Pro Tools, since I am already noticing some editing weaknesses with Garageband. When I originally took Pro Tools on I don’t think I was ready to go down this road of learning computer based recording and now I think I am. If you are going to learn a program you have to use it and use it and use it. I never did that with Pro Tools. And when I say “computer based” recording, waht I am speaking of is the workstation moe than anything. The Boss BR11800 is a computer, but it is controlled by knobs and buttons and sliders, so it is a very tactile experience. Garageband, on the other hand, exists in the virtual world. It’s like you are watching television and interacting with it. There are knobs but they are one dimensional and are controlled by a mouse. The upside with Garageband or any other such program is that there is so much editing you can do. The downside is that there is so much editing you can do.
I feel like Garageband is allowing me to create a song in a more freeform way since the songs are more easily built from scratch. With my Boss, I had to sketch out the whole song before beginning it. With Garageband you can lay down an interesting riff and then just see where it takes you since you can cut and past and loop and do so many other non-linear things. The flip side is that there are infinite possibilities with Garageband. Jack White once said something like you should only need four tracks to make a great song. And at one time I believed him. But that was back when I was in a wanna be White Stripes 2 piece punk rock band with my wife well before the dawn of the procreation era and the extinction of free time. Now, with my one little precious hour of me time per night, making music by clicking a mouse and pecking on a keyboard is as punk rock as it’s gonna get.
So two nights ago night I delved into Garageband. My Apogee Duet interface had not yet shown up so I had to plug in directly into the computer. I realized pretty quickly why one needs an interface. Sound quality is crap, levels are crap. So now I am thrilled that the interface is coming. It actually came today but I was at work so Fed Ex took it back until tomorrow. Heartbreak. Actaully, there was a package on the doorstep when i got home and I was sure it was for me, but it ended up being ANOTHER package for my wife. From Anthropologie. I have to start ordering more things online. The presents are always for her.
Anyways, back to last night. Before getting started on the computer, I had to take a little trip to the Cal Poly dorms to check out a chair that I had seen on Craigslist. My setup is that the iMac is on a higher table, so i need more of a barstool. i was using my drum throne, but it was at the absolute tippy top of its height abilities and it was a miserable thing to use. After all, most drummers drum sitting down. So I found a great hydraulic drafting chair for $40 and I took Diego (my oldest son) with me to pick it up. It was really strange going into a dorm room. It was a dreadful place.
So I came back, got Diego to bed and sat at the computer in my cool new chair. The first thing i did was plug in my electric guitar and mess around a bit with the amp simulator. Then i recorded a riff. I have been chomping at the bit to actually use garageband. For the last week or so I have been watching garageband tutorials on Lynda.com I highly recommend the site. For $25 you can get unlimited monthly tutorials on this and many many other programs. I signed up for the premium rate of $37.50 which allows you to download tutorials, but when I tried to do that there was a glitch and it never worked. Also, now that I have Garageband i can create my own tutorials, so i recommend sticking with the $25 monthly membership. So I watched the whole 4 hours of the garageband series and it was immensely helpful. However, the point comes where it does not matter how many tutorials you watch. You won’t learn anything else until you actually USE the program.
So I laid down a guitar riff and then I spent some time editing it to align it with the correct timing of the metronome and then i took one good measure of the riff and looped it. I was able to do a lot very quickly since I had watched the tutorials. i then laid down a synthetic drum track and a synthetic piano track. This made me IMMEDIATELY want to run out and buy a keyboard. The garageband virtual keyboard is fine for getting an idea across, but I can already see that I need the real thing. I have no idea what to get. This is another consumeristic conundrum. I have never had a keyboard, so expectations are low. Still, do I get one with 32 keys, 49 keys, 66 keys, 88 keys? Who knows. and how much do I spend? Do I get the cheap M-Audio setup for $100. I’m trying to repeat the mantra that it is not about the gear. i made some great music on the Boss with a crappy guitar, a crappy microphone, and one crappy snare drum. After all, Yo Soy El Rey De Lo-Fi.
Anyways, the built in keyboard was good enough to get an idea across until my next splurge. So after the synthetic piano and drum parts, i added a little gutar solo on the top. But when i went in to record that, the recording level was so low that it was a flatline. i could not find any frequency bumps. i assume this is because I recorded directly into the computer without an interface. I suppose i will find out when i use the interface which arrived today. More on that next.
I had to go home for lunch today just so I could behold the interface I had been anxiously awaiting, which had finally arrived. The Apogee Duet is a beautiful piece of industrial design. Clean and simple with a single knob that kind of makes you feel like you could control the world with it. Of course, I haven’t even plugged the damn thing in yet so I am getting ahead of myself. I might hate it. It might be all style and no substance. A hottie with air between her ears. But I just have this feeling that she is good looking AND complex. She is definitely more exciting than the dull, plastic M-box, which was neither style nor substance. The Apogee jsut looks like it does amazing things. Now lets see if it acutally does. But first it’s a parent teacher conference tonight, then farmers market with the kids. Maybe they will be asleep by 9 and I will have 45 minutes of energy to play around with it before I fall into bed exhausted.