I have recently started getting involved in a few musical collaborations so I thought I’d write a post about my experiences so far. Collaborating with others obviously has great potential for reward, but also has great potential for difficulty too. So far, I must say, I’ve been lucky, but I can definitely see how your luck could run out and there are a few things I wouldn’t leave to chance in the future. Collaborating with people is a minefield, collaborating with people you don’t know doubly so. Although I have collaborated with friends in the past, the particular collaborations I’m focusing on in this post are those with people that you have never met, and as is often the case, people where the offer to work together is the first time you’ve ever heard from them.
That moment of the first offer is an easy opportunity to say no. Saying yes, or even maybe, and then deciding that it probably isn’t going to work out will only make life harder for you. People get their hopes up, they start sending you tracks and eagerly awaiting your contribution to the project. So when do you say yes and when do you say no? Well, here are some of things I would now take into account:
1. Do you have time to get into a collaboration? If you have a backlog of half written songs of your own that you are trying to find the time to record then I would say no. More often than not offers of collaboration revolve around you adding something to a song that someone else has started, not that person helping you finish whatever you might have in your backlog. Just have a good think about what is actually being offered and how it fits in with your other priorities.
2. Okay, so you’ve got the time, and/or you’ve exhausted your own ideas and are looking to collaborate with others to work on brand new material, great. But how much do you know about each other? Rather than jumping straight in, these days I’d be more inclined to have a few email exchanges first, even a Skype chat. Talk about what you expect from a collaboration, exactly how much time you are able to give (are you a full time worker with kids or a student on an eight week summer break?), and what each of you are going to bring to the table.
3. Ideally you should each bring a different but complimentary set of skills to the table. Most of the collaborations I have been in have involved others creating instrumental tracks that I have then layers vocals over the top of. This works pretty well as the instrumentals can be quite complete before the first word is even written, but there are a few less obvious things to think about up front. For example, who controls the final mix? Is the instrumental being given to me to add vocals or am I giving the vocal to my collaborator to add to his or her instrumental? A subtle but important distinction that can make or break the project if not discussed first.
4. Talking about licensing up front is very important too. What license is the finished product going to be released under? Is the instrumental a rework of someone else’s work? (Something that is much more common these days than I realised.) If so, what license was it originally released under. If we end up having different views on what the final product should sound like can we each release our own versions or is the other person just going to revoke your right to use their part at all? My preferred situation would probably be that the instrumental is released under a CC licence before we start. This means that I can take the track and do something over the top that I am personally proud of and then release the track with appropriate attribution to the author of the instrumental. I would of course release that under a comparable CC license allowing further remixes to be made.
5. Musical taste and ability are probably the next things I would look at. One of the main benefits of a collaboration is that it can take you outside of yourself, so meeting someone with a different style to you is generally a good thing. Obviously there are limits, but if you’ve got this far you probably see something in each other’s music. Ability and experience is probably more important. If you are try to communicate a subtle clash in harmony or leaving a space in the frequency spectrum for each other to work with and the other person is still coming to terms with what a chord is, it just isn’t going to work.
6. So far I’ve not worked with anyone that uses the same audio software that I use, and I must admit, there are times that I feel like making this a hard and fast rule when it comes to working together. People spend a lot of time learning the software they prefer so I can understand people not wanting to change, but there must be a lot of people out there who do use the same software as me (Ableton Live in my case,) so why not just team up with those people? It is true that you can bounce mixed down WAV files back and forth but at the end of the day I found that quite limiting.
Well, I’ve finally decided to get my butt into gear and start recording again. I’m beginning with a song called Miracles and I still have a lot to learn about electronic music as I continue to make the transition away from more traditional acoustic instruments.
Last weekend a group of us sailed up the coast to dive the wreck of the HMAS Adelaide, located about 100kms north of Sydney. Officially I think it is called an artificial reef as it was intentionally scuttled about a year ago. The sea conditions were a bit rough (the previous day’s dives had been cancelled) but once down below the surface the visibility was great.
The wreck is in about 35 metres of water and only a couple of hundred metres from the shore. We booked in to do the dives through Terrigal Dive Centre, diving from their boat both times rather than the yacht we sailed up on.
The photo is of Brad inside the wheelhouse. I’m not sure what is funnier, the Top Gun look on his face or the phone still hanging on the bulkhead. If you follow the main mooring line straight down from the boat you start the dive at the wheelhouse and can then head down into the main hull and make your way aft. As the Adelaide was well-prepared for diving before sinking it is a relatively safe wreck dive with openings large enough to swim through visible from just about every internal compartment. All up a dive I would highly recommend!
I finally got around to getting a new turntable to be housemate with the typewriter in Retro Corner. There has already been a lot of talk about the Vinyl Revival so I won’t bore you all with my take on the obvious visceral pleasure of dropping a needle on a record over selecting an mp3 from a menu. What I will talk about though (which is arguably even more boring unless you are facing the same problem), is the preamp required by turntables - even many modern ones.
I must confess that I didn’t really do my homework before purchasing my turntable, a Sherwood PM-9805. I did read the odd review and it generally rated quite well, particularly given its relatively affordable price; indeed my own experience so far has been that it is a well-made turntable, let down only slightly by a very tersely worded user manual. The area I needed to look deeper into was the output signal. Although it is true that some modern turntables now have built in preamplifiers allowing them to be plugged into any line-level input such as the garden-variety “Aux” or “CD” inputs we are all familiar with, the Sherwood does not. It is a traditional turntable and either needs to be plugged into a dedicated “Phono” input or first put through a Phono preamp.
Not too worry, I thought. My plan was always to run the turntable straight into my MOTU 828 audio interface and the two Mic/ Instrument channels on the front have preamplifiers built in. I dug out the cables I needed, plugged everything in and spun up a bit of Credence to mixed results. The preamps were working fine, I could get a good strong signal level out of them, but there was a very bad hum through the sound. Not the warm human crackle that I had turned to vinyl for, a loud and mostly unpleasant drone.
It’s about this point that I started to think a bit harder about what that little spade connector at each end of the cable that came with the turntable might be for. A ground to eliminate hum? Hmmm…
The advice I was given was to try attaching the ground to the PC case and make sure the turntable and PC are plugged into the same power circuit. I didn’t get to far down this track as with an iMac there isn’t an obvious way to attach the ground to the case (slip it under the foot? It’s all-metal after all), and the turntable only has a two pin plug, so it isn’t grounded to the circuit anyway.
On top of this hum problem, records need to have special equalisation applied to bring them back to “normal”. This is called the RIAA curve (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RIAA_equalization) and wasn’t hard to replicate using the MOTU’s parametric equalisation.
While playing around with the settings on the MOTU I noticed that changing the phase of one of the channels (left or right, it didn’t matter) the hum was greatly reduced. Surprisingly, the rest of the sound didn’t seem to suffer too much at all so I finally had things working well enough to enjoy listening to those old records on the shelf.
Despite having things reasonably well sorted out, I ended up doing what any right-thinking man (or woman) would do and just buy a Phono preamp instead of trying to hack things together the hard way. I decided to go nuts and lash out the full $25 on this bad boy http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=AC1662 and so far it has worked a treat. I now use the RCA cable that came with the turntable and I am able to connect the ground lead easily to the obvious spot on the preamp. The sound is good and the two channels on the MOTU with preamps are still free to use with mics and instruments as needed.
So, the moral of the story is that it is possible to get away without a dedicated Phono preamp, but for the sake of saving $25 why make life any harder than it needs to be?
From the Ableton website: “We invite you to enhance your Ableton Live experience with a free download of Retro Synths by Puremagnetik, our most popular Partner Instrument. Retro Synths represents the best of Puremagnetik’s meticulously multi-sampled vintage synthesizer packs, including samples from classics such as the Korg MS-20, Roland D-50 and more. With intelligently selected macros, Retro Synths is immediately playable in Live.
Retro Synths — a $99 value — is now free for all Ableton Live 8 and Suite 8 users. It is also included with any upgrade to or new purchase of Ableton Live 8 or Suite 8 until October 31, 2011.” Just finished installing now, they sound awesome!
Retro Synths — a $99 value — is now free for all Ableton Live 8 and Suite 8 users. It is also included with any upgrade to or new purchase of Ableton Live 8 or Suite 8 until October 31, 2011.”
Just finished installing now, they sound awesome!
A relaxing weekend staying with friends in Enmore included my first (and hopefully not last) trip to Reverse Garbage in Marrickville. In their own words, “Reverse Garbage is a not-for-profit co-operative that sells industrial discards, off-cuts and over-runs to the public for creative and practical uses, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.” There was lots of cool stuff in side, some practical, some just plain desirable.
The first thing to catch my eye was a set of pre-made timber frames that would be perfect for turning into acoustic panels for the new studio, but it wasn’t long before I spotted and fell in love with this yellow Norwood typewriter. It’s really hard to explain but there is something so enjoyable about tapping out a few pages of lyrics on this thing - its highly impractical but it somehow just makes me smile. I guess it’s like comparing vinyl to mp3s. Staccato bursts of inspiration-made-real reverberate around the house, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Sure, computers are quiet, allow you to restructure with the swipe of a mouse, spell check for you and let you send copies around the world in an instant, but typewriters have so much more soul. I wonder if I will be able to find a new ribbon for it?
There are people who would say you shouldn’t mix music and politics, or sports and politics or whatever… I think that’s kinda bullshit. — Adam Clayton
I’ve had the APC20 for a little while now so I’m overdue to write a short post about it. If you’re thinking about getting a control surface for Ableton Live, read on and I’ll tell you how this particular model is working out for me.