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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Reconstruction: ComingSoon!

My new album!


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 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. 🙂

 


My Experience Recording Vocals and MIDI Keys with Ardour 3 Beta

I spent the weekend getting all my packages up-to-date and trying to familiarize myself with Ardour 3 beta 5*. I then spent the last three days recording MIDI keyboard parts and vocals for my upcoming EP.

I got a lot of my information from a video tutorial I found on Ardour’s website. It was made back when Ardour 3 was still in alpha, but I did find it useful as far as getting proper signal flow between various programs using JACK. Upon opening Ardour 3 beta, I did notice that there were quite a few changes to the program since the video was made, but I would still recommend the tutorial, especially if this is your first time recording using MIDI. Unfortunately, the demonstrator is using a USB connection for his MIDI keyboard (guess he did not have a MIDI cable?) but I was able to translate that into what I would need to do to use a MIDI connection with a little thought.

I found that constantly opening a new session and forcing myself to establish those connections again and again was the best way to solidify the process. Sure, I was slow at first, but now I just open all my programs and connect them with out thinking. In the end I used Ardour 3, JACK, QjackCtl (a JACK GUI) and Qsampler (a Linux Sampler GUI) to record my keyboard parts and vocals.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the changes to the newest version of Ardour. Here are a few of the things that I loved:

  • Having just come from several months of using ProTools 9, then 10, I see that some of my favorite little details from ProTools are now integrated. I love that there is now a “smart tool” that changes your mouse icon into a different tool depending on where you are in the track. It really saves time when you do not have to keep going to the tool bar to change to the select/move object tool or the select/move range tool.
  • If the way QjackCtl is presented is difficult for you to visualize, I really like having the alternate, more graphic interface that is available right in Ardour. Click on the “Window” tab, check the boxes for “Audio Connection Manager” and for “MIDI Connection Manager” and it shows those same JACK connections between hardware and software, but in a different way. In the beginning, I referred to both just to double check that I had everything set up correctly. In the end, I used the QjackCtl interface more, but I like them both.
  • The dialogue window for exporting makes it a no-brainer for those who might not know about sample rates etc. Want to make a CD-ready track? Select the option for CD in the edit window and it automatically sets your parameters to a 44.1kHz, 16bit WAV file. Want to amend that? All the other options are clearly marked and easy to see. You can even add dither at this point. I think it is nice to be able to just click one button and go if you are not trying to do something unusual.
  • One of my favorite little surprises was something so small and yet it is one of the things I was the most excited about. I was trying to edit one of my vocal tracks. I didn’t like how I sang a phrase, so I wanted to replace it with another take. When I went to line up the preferred version in my working track, I placed the new take on top of the old one and it was translucent. It was SO EASY to line up the takes because I could see one wave form through the other. If you are zoomed in, lining them up takes literally a second or two. I love this feature. So simple! So intuitive!

I will be sure to post more of my thoughts as I continue to record additional songs and play more with my MIDI options. I plan to try to program a very simple drum part for one song that will not have a live drummer, and I will mess around with some ambient sounds as well.

*I am currently running Ardour 3.0.0 svn13084 on 64 bit Ubuntu Studio 12.04