Acknowledgements for the Reconstruction EP

There were too many things to say to squeeze them onto a single insert page on a CD, so I am taking advantage of the space I have on this blog to list my acknowledgements and also to talk about the process of recording this album.

I will start with the acknowledgements to spare those who might not be interested in the technical details, though those details are cool, I swear! 😉

  • This album would not exist if it were not for the help and patience of my dear husband, and for the most laid-back (and super fantastic, seriously solidly sleeping) baby.
  • I want to thank my musician father for his feedback on songs when I thought the auditory “vision” was going astray. I love that we have music and songwriting in common.
  • I appreciate the graphic design advice given to me by my step-dad. This was rather tricky since he is not connected to the Internet and I had to describe to him, over the phone, what I wanted to accomplish on the album cover. Luckily he is a great (retired) designer, as well as a musician, so he gets it.
  • I am ever so grateful to my friend Jen Boone for helping with the photo shoot for the album cover. She is the first friend I made when we recently moved to Louisiana and we’ve not known each other very long. However, she was quick to lend a hand when I wanted to drive to an unfamiliar area of town to do a series of self portraits in front of an abandoned building. The word “abandoned” inspired a “YOU WANT TO GO ALONE AND TAKE THE BABY WHERE?” when I told my husband what I wanted to do. Jen was happy to babysit during the shoot, and to give me feedback on when the wind was blowing my dress just right. 🙂
  • And YOU. If you are reading this, it might be because you bought the album and saw the link to my blog. Thank you! Supporting musicians is what allows them to keep making more music. ❤

Other liner notes:

  • “Dusk to Dawn” originally appeared on my 2010 album The Soundtrack to Your Demise. Because that album is very different from the rest of my music, I thought it might be nice to attempt a dreamy piano version of the rhythmic, beat-heavy, and synth-driven original. I’m really happy with the piano arrangement.
  • The song title, “The Medium,” refers to a concept in the Legends of Muirwood series by Jeff Wheeler. Though this song is in fact about that concept, it is also about my general spiritual beliefs.
  • “Make Him Mine” is directly inspired by The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (written by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s passing.) If you’ve read the first three (of 14) books, you know whose point of view I am taking. It’s not spoiler-y, just in case you are avoiding spoilers.

Now for the technical stuff:

  • I am so very pleased to say that this album was recorded using entirely open source (FREE) software. I used Ardour 3 as my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and used Yoshimi and Qsampler for my MIDI sound fonts. I ran all these programs using 64-bit Ubuntu Studio 13.10, a Linux-based operating system (again, all free.)
  • For the beautiful grand piano sound, I used the open source Maestro Concert Grand piano sound font provided by Mats Helgesson.
  • I did not have any guest musicians appear on this album. I like to think I am rather resourceful at getting my keyboard (via MIDI) to sound as much like other instruments as possible. I try not to push those boundaries too hard though; I am still a piano player at heart.
  • My keyboard, an old Casio Privia, has a huge selection of drum presets, and it is amazing what a lot of time, patience, and clever editing can do to make boring, repetitive drum tracks a whole lot more interesting. For the record, in hindsight, it may have taken the same amount of time to just hire someone to play drums and record them. I ran into a few snags that had me searching dozens of presets for just the right boom/crash combo with a cymbal that was not too long and not too short. Painful.
  • If you are still reading this, you may enjoy some of my previous blogs about setting up my studio and using MIDI in Ardour. I also wrote a post on the specs of Ardour (though my blog post was written for the previous version of Ardour, it is still good for the basics.)

 

 

 

 

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A Look Into the Madness of a Mixing Musician?

Am I the only one who goes through tons of pieces of paper like this while mixing a CD? Am I just that OCD about it being as perfect as I can make it?

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New Music Update

I’ve been working on new music everyday while the kiddo naps. I’ve been writing, recording, and editing the mix, which takes the most time of all three. After a month and a half of doing this 5-6 days a week, 2 hours a day, my five new songs have these percentages of being complete: 99%, 97%, 70%, 40%, and 1% (1% = stream of consciousness lyrical ideas in my notebook.)

I’m aiming to have an EP of new songs ready for Cleveland ConCoction at the end of May. Though I’ve been working on stuff every day, and doing some serious time management (ie. writing lyrics while waiting for the baby to fall asleep)I still have so much to do!

I need to keep plug plug plugging along. 🙂

 

 

 


Setting Up a Linux-Based Recording Studio (Chapter 3)

It’s been a while since I posted about recording in Ardour. Well, it’s been a while since I recorded, but I have been working on new music daily for the last month.

It took a couple of days, but I’m flying through all the connections at start-up now. (I use QSampler for my MIDI sound fonts in addition to analog instrument tracks.)

The reason for posting today though, is because it seems I have found my computer’s limit. She’s not a new machine, and she’s feeling the strain. It turns out that 15 tracks, of which 8 have one plug-in each, and one that has two plug-ins, are more than she can take. Playback is stuttering. It exports just fine, but when I go back to listen, make notes and edit, I have to mute or bypass the reverb on at least 5 tracks. Okay, so I like lots of harmonies. DON’T JUDGE ME. 😉

Before recording in Ardour on a Linux computer, it was common for my songs to have 15-25 tracks on average. I really like a full, complex sound. The last CD I put out, and the first to be recorded on this computer in Ardour, was very basic: vocals, piano, drums and bass. I wanted the album to sound the way my songs sound when performed live. The songs had 5-6 tracks at the most, so I never even considered what my computer could handle.

Looks like there might be a hardware upgrade in my near future. I will keep you posted.


“Momentarily Distracted” Behind the Scenes Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, I released an EP back in October, but was too busy preparing for and experiencing the birth of my first child to post about the making of the album.

I had a lot of emotional baggage I wanted to dump before I needed to be a rock for this helpless little bundle, and I really feel that producing this CD was effective in doing that. I previously blogged about some of the CD’s darker content, but never got around to explaining some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the CD.

When it came to the album art, I decided that I wanted to make it myself. I was once very active with sketching and doodling and I liked to paint once in a while. It has been a while though, and I was unsure of what I was going to be able to accomplish. I had a vision, but could I pull it off? I think I did!

Wet canvases. I actually had five paintings to choose from. The one on the upper right did not make the cut.

Wet canvases. I actually had five paintings to choose from. The one on the upper right did not make the cut.

I needed four images: the cover, the inside cover, the back cover and the CD itself. The image featured in the photo above was used for the back cover. The front cover ended up being an experimental mixed-media piece. I like how it came out.

The Final Cover Art for Momentarily Distracted.

The Final Cover Art for “Momentarily Distracted.”

If you would like to listen to some of this new music, I have clips of  two of the songs: “Momentarily Distracted” and “Wrong” on my website. If you like what you hear, visit the site’s store and pick up the full EP! 🙂


“Momentarily Distracted” Behind the Scenes Part 1

My music career has taken a brief pause these last couple of months as I have been adjusting to being a new mom. It has been exhausting, but I am so in love with this little boy. He is starting to coo now and I just cannot get enough of it! And yes, I have been recording him!

I knew being a first-time mommy was going to be all-consuming, so I made sure to bust my butt to get some new music out before the baby was born.

If you are not already aware, I released a five song EP in October  called Momentarily Distracted. It was a unique experience for me in both recording and song-writing. It was the first time I used Ardour 3 as my sole DAW (digital audio workstation.) Learning how to use Ardour has been a huge part of this blog and I am quite proud that I was able to navigate it with relative ease after a short adjustment period. It was also the first CD I put out under just “Mandala” rather than one of my other projects.

As I have done in the past, I collaborated with a couple of musicians to fill out the sound on a few songs. I wear many hats, but I am not the best bass player and I am certainly no drummer. I love that with today’s resources and technology, you no longer need to be in the same city, or even the same state in order to collaborate with other musicians. While I reside in the Washington DC area, the drummer lives in Massachusetts and the bass player lives in Florida. Both guys are really into recording equipment and I knew they would be able to provide me with high quality recordings to edit and mix into my own.

It had been a couple of years since I used outside musicians, and that was long before I converted my studio to a Linux-based system. I knew I might have to do things a little differently. The only issue I really had with these songs was that both the drummer and the bass player recorded their tracks with a 44.1 sample rate, whereas I was using 88.2 kHz. (My previous DAW only allowed my to record in 44.1, so it was not an issue.) I did some searching and found a blog that explained “time stretching” in Ardour. Time stretching is when an algorithm is used to force a recording to play at another speed without changing the pitch of the track. It seemed like the perfect solution, but I was not able to get it to work. It would get through about 99% of the render before crashing the session no matter how many times I tried it.

I was on a tight schedule and needed a quick solution. I ended up just creating a final mix in 44.1 kHz. I imported the bass and drum tracks and made sure I had all my vocal and MIDI keyboard tracks exactly as I wanted them before exporting them from 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz and importing them to this “final” version. I still maintained my higher bit rate when converting. The two musicians had nearly final versions of my parts to perform along to, so everything synched up perfectly.

If you would like to listen to some of this new music, I have clips  of “Momentarily Distracted” and “Wrong” on my website. If you like what you hear, you can purchase the full EP in my store. 🙂

 


The ProTools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This past week was quite a stressful one for me. In addition to all the tests and projects that come with the end of a school term, I had to complete the ProTools Proficiency Test.

This test is designed to make sure students are competent with the DAW software and know signal flow before they are allowed into the school’s studios. It is timed (10 minutes) and in front of a panel of faculty.

I am proud to say that I finished in 9 minutes, completed all the tasks, and passed with a 92% The faculty graded each task on a points-based system evaluating several things including the use of short-cut keys, organization, and the ability to comprehensively answer questions while keeping on task.

If you are interested, here is a summary of the exam from the syllabus:

Pro Tools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This exam is the Mid-Program Assessment for the Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Production.  All students must pass this exam before they can take any advanced courses beyond AU200.  Failure to pass the PTPT will result in a failing grade in AU200 regardless of other assignments, quizzes, and/or projects.

In front of a jury of at least three Audio Production Instructors each student must complete the following tasks within ten minutes.

  1. Set up a new Pro Tools session in the correct format and in the correct place on the Hard Drive.
  2. Import the track provided using the workspace window.
  3. Program a drum beat using Reason that is appropriate for the track provided.
  4. Record two vocal takes into a playlist and edit the two takes together on a compilation playlist.
  5. Insert 1 type of dynamic processing and apply appropriately.
  6. Set up a time based effect and apply appropriately.
  7. Write appropriate automation.
  8. Perform all the necessary steps to create a Redbook CD.

[also: proper breakdown of equipment, though that part is not timed]**

 

** I added this part because it was on my evaluation sheet, but not listed in the syllabus.

 

Now that the PTPT is behind me, and I am no longer focused on knowing all the ProTools short-cuts, I am free to play around with Ardour. Already, I have tried using ProTools short-cuts in Ardour and have made some really wacky things happen. For example I made my Ardour session completely disappear with no distinguishable way to recover it other than shutting down and restarting the computer.

Since one of the points of this blog was to document my experiences with Ardour, I hope to be able to post more often about it now that no longer have to worry about failing the PTPT due to incorrect short-cuts. Imagine if I made my session disappear during the exam!?!

Today, I am using Ardour to record the vocals for my final project in AU200 (the PTPT class) but the final project must be mixed in ProTools since that is the focus of the class. Still, it logs a few hours on my open source DAW and gets me that much more comfortable with it.