Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking up


I hope you guys have been rockin' an' shockin', and generally showing folks how cool musicians are.

I've been reading a few books on songwriting and the music industry. One of those, Six Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume, has given me a wayyyyy cool idea.

Mr. B states the following (paraphrased by me):

Melody is vital.

The first melody that you invent might sound blah.

Rewrite it.

By doing this: Say your line is: A B C D E F (The A minor scale, played for six notes.) Notice how it's evenly spaced.

Next, let other notes ring out longer. In this example, 'cause the blog formatting is getting the best of me, we would let the note A ring out, and the rest would be played normally. In the second example, B would ring out, or have the greatest duration, and the rest would be played normally:







D E F-




Try it! It's cool!

OK, so how can we use this for the ultimate goal (word domination?) Like so: We all get stuck in the same boring patterns to shred and kick butt. Try breaking up your typical lines by the method outlined above.


- Josh

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Help! Input needed


I need your help. I'm stumped.

I'm trying to learn to sequence drums, and frankly, it's not going so well. Here's the situation.

I've got Cubase 5 (awesome!), Superior Drummer 2.0, and the Korg padKONTROL midi controller.

I'm having trouble sequencing beats. I can play 'em live on the padKONTROL, but boy, that's a horrible off beat sound. (My fault, not the machine's.) Sequencing in Cubase is incredibly cumbersome.

I can sequence cool beats in Hydrogen, but can't import the midi file properly into Cubase. The Hydrogen sounds are fine for jamming, but just don't cut it compared to Superior Drummer.

SO - does anyone have a favorite sequencer/program? I'm looking for something cheap or free. I don't care about the sounds, I just need to be able to program a song easily to import.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Water

"Life is a waterfall, we drink from the river, then we turn around and put up the walls."
-System of a Down


What's up? I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a buddy. It allowed me to articulate a thought that had been formulating for a while. I hope you can make use of it!

Check it out:

Technique, theory, gear, ear training, and all other wonderful aspects of our field are but means of expressing a concept - be it love, hate, vengeance, or Barney the Purple Dinosaur...

Without that concept to express, all of these tools become empty, soul-less, and turn our art into a craft.

It's as if we build a mega-waterworks. We have gates, locks, valves, waterwheels, meters, and all of it costs a hefty chunk o' change.

So, we build this wonderful apparatus, and are stunned when the waterwheel sits idle.

Why won't it go?

There's no water. "Ain't got no soul, baby!"

The plumbing we've constructed (technique and theory) have allowed the water to do tremendous things - IF there's water.

Puzzled, we decided to study chemistry and hydrodynamics. (I'm hoping that's a field, 'cause I just made that up.) We learn the composition of water, how it flows, what makes it tick.

But this still gets us only to the edge, and not over. We know where the water should be, but it's not there.

We can study the creative process, analyze it to death, buy boutique creativity cabinets, and yet - still be stuck.

That moment of creation - something from nothing - is one of the most magical aspects of any artistic endeavor. And it's certainly not limited to the arts! Any great speaker, mechanic, or inventor knows this. Components assemble themselves into roaring engines, and words leap off the page into history-changing orations.

So try sitting quietly, really feel something, and then really express it. You can always get that hydro-meter NOS vintage tweed super duper aqua mod waterwheel later.

Just for now, try for some soul.

- Josh

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Post #201


Welcome to Post #201! What is it? A VFW?


Wow, I just looked. The Doghouse is 200 posts strong as of this writing! Thanks for reading.
It confirms popular suspicion - I talk a lot.

So, I feel extra-compelled to say something of substance today. Something that is useful, pertinent, and profound.

I got to entertain the cub scouts! That was pretty fun. I even signed a few autographs. I drove by their camp today to drop off some business cards, and one of 'em said "hey, that's the rockstar!"

OK, all joking aside, here's a cool lesson:

I'm a subscriber to EQ magazine. Nope, it's not a fashion for horses (Equine Quarterly.) It's a recording magazine, and it's pretty cool. They're always hollering about mic placement.

The principle is this - not only does it matter what mic you use to record, it matters where it is in the room in relation to the amp. Dead center in front of the speaker cone, touching the grille cloth is the norm. But you can get "room" in the sound by putting it a few feet back, tone down the highs by placing it off-axis of the speaker, add sparkle by putting it in a bucket in the back of a '57 pickup, etc etc. (Just kidding about the last one, but that being said, doing crazy stuff will yield nifty sounds.)

One thing that guitarists often fail to realize is that this applies to live playing as well. For those of us who either a.) aren't blessed to have a ten-foot tall wall of amps, or b.) are snobbish like me, and spend way too much on vintage sounding combos, the amp is usually trying to chew our ankles off.

The amp's on the floor, good people.

Physics will tell us that sound waves will refract (bend) around objects smaller than the wavelength. This can explain why the bass guitar, with it's very long wavelength of the low frequency, will find it's way everywhere in the room. But the guitar, with a higher frequency, has a tendency to be easily blocked.

This, in turn, creates a "beaming" effect from our amps. If you're right in front of it, you'll have to locate your ears - they'll be blasted off. But stand up, and you'll just hear a dull roar.

For starters, get that amp off the ground. If you're playing a gig with a combo amp, try putting it on a chair. Better yet, get an amp stand that tilts the unit back. You'll be able to hear things way better, and so will the crowd.

My good buddy and recording guru Mike has told me many times to listen directly in front of the speaker to hear your tone. Every time I record, I'm taken aback by the harshness of the sound. While it's in part the mics and preamps I'm using, it's also that I'm used to listening from a different perspective. So listen to in at the source!

If the opposite is the problem, and management isn't happy with the earsplitting highs that your JCM six billion mega stack is throwing off - turn the amp so it's facing the wall.

If your bass cab in your home studio is lacking in oomph, put the sucker in the corner. Corners amplify low frequencies, and can be a real headache for acoustic engineers. But for us fellas looking to make cheap speakers sound kickin', give it a shot!

The point is, folks, is experiment, and see what new sounds ya get. I guess you could almost say it's like the ancient practice of Feng Shui - The Chinese Art of Placement. (Sorta like a cosmic interior design - put the picture of Hendrix over the door to ensure the spirit of Rock is always welcome.)

Rock on!

- Josh

Monday, July 6, 2009

Andrea Stolpe is DA MAN!

Well, metaphorically speaking, that is.

Rockers! I hope y'all had a fantastic Fourth of July! For readers not in America, this is a holiday celebrating the independence from British rule. We stick it to the man each year with a patriotic display of Chinese-Made fireworks. These fireworks are music to China's ears, as it's the sound of exploding debt exploding a bit more.

The 5th of July, much less widely celebrated, marks the anniversary of the first draft. I believe there was some grumbling, and the precursor of the modern yo-yo was walked across the tea crates floating in the Boston harbor. Or something like that.

But anyways, I hope it was good for ya, and you got some time to catch up on some reading!

You NEED to Check out Andrea Stolpe's book Popular Lyric Writing - 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling. It rocks!

I've been reading it, and it's helping my songwriting already - and I'm not even done with the book! "Sure, Josh!" you may say..."Finish the book, bro, and then tell us!" Dude, when I'm done reading this worthy tome, I'm gonna be at the top of the charts, and I will have long forgotten about...anyway, I'm just kind of excited about it.

She outlines a great way to get ideas - it's called Destination Writing where you spill out yo' guts on paper (or screen), and then go back to rearrange those thoughts into a song.

Here's something I jotted down today.

Theme: Sunday evening

With a sigh, I signal for 210 south, and reluctantly step on the gas. Echoes of laughter mingle with the muffled roar of the exhaust, and are whisked away to the side of the highway, where they probably still linger, waif-like. I wonder if the ghosts of yesterdays all know each other. If they had a ghost party, I could almost picture it...Brightly dressed sprites of the fall excursions chatting effervescently with the tall spirits in Christmas sweaters, while quite a few dreary wallflowers lurk in the dismal shadows of unmet challenge.

Huh...I am a poetic fool of a guy. Now I gotta make a song out of this! (There's more to this, too.)

Rock on! And try this cool way of writing - you'll like it! And be sure to check out Andrea's website!

- Josh

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Application of Knowledge


What up, bros! (And sisters!)

Here's a riddle for ya:

What renders a Josh wordless, viewless, and makes him sit down for a while?

Trying to write a song!

It's absurd. Here I sit, in my teaching studio, surrounded by a bunch of gear, teaching forty-odd people a week. I can shred. I play gigs. I'll expound on tritone substitution, or the history behind Stevie Ray Vaughan's music.

But write a song that's good? Huh!

Ever since embarking on my solo career, I've been schooled again and again at how much there is to learn. But that's not a bad thing.

Singing - Recording - Microphones - Software - Drum machines - and now, grammar and rhyme schemes.

Did not see that coming. So much to learn. Dangerously easy to lose sight of the goal - application.

The point of all this, folks, is this:

Regardless of your art or craft, spend a little time working on the application of your knowledge.

For musicians, I would enthusiastically say to write songs, in addition to practicing your sweep picking and razzle dazzle arpeggios.

Finishing is the key word here. Finish a song.

How 'bout you poets and potters out there? Well, while I'm a borderline poet with lyrics, and will write a poem once in a great while, I'm not very familiar with the artform. But let's speak hypothetically for a minute...Maybe you're a reclusive writer, and have never polished one of your poems to the perfection that you feel it's worth of. Perhaps writing a poem that you'd share at an open mic would be a fantastic start. Finish it!

Potters! I have no clue. I honestly don't. But I love pottery!

Painters - stop copying the masters for a minute, and create your own painting. To paraphrase J-Dog, "The kingdom of artistic validity is now."

I think it's a blessing and a curse that musicians spend so much time practicing. But remember, without applications, we just become practitioners.

Rock on!
- Josh