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For regular updates on how the new CD is coming along just click to this site. New info will be added on a weekly/biweekly basis depending on how the recording is progressing.
The process of recording a new CD generally goes through a few stages. They usually are in the following order; pre-production, studio recording/production, mixing, mastering and pressing. Every project is different, but in our case we are looking at 3-6 months for pre-production, 2-3 months for studio recording/production, a month for mixing and a month or two for mastering and pressing. So the entire project could take anywhere from 7-11 months. We hope to have the project done by end of the summer and that you enjoy following our progress.
If you have any questions are feedback I would love to hear from you...just drop me an e-mail and I will respond with my next web-posting.
For the first part of the recording process we want to get all the bugs out of the songs so that they sound pretty close to CD quality prior to going into the recording studio, where time and dollars can easily go through the roof. Yikes!
At this stage, we are doing everything digitally with computers, midi files, and tracking analog sounds (such as acoustic guitar). By keeping things digital along the way, it is easy to go in and re-arrange sections of songs in the computer. We can do all kinds of experimenting with rhythms and sounds. It is a great way to try stuff out and see whether or not it adds something. We really want to focus on getting the rhythms right and want to make sure that all of the instruments are working together so they don't make too much work for the ears.
11/December/05 Well it's been 8 months since I've posted anything on the new album efforts. I've been in a state of disbelief as to how long things are taking. Since my last CD took just over 3 months, I have been unprepared for how long this album is taking. No doubt this is part of the process of creating, producing and finishing original music for sale on a CD.
My sincere apologies to those of you that have been faithfully checking out this page to see our progress! For what it is worth, the album is in my constructive thoughts and practices every day. I am continuously focusing on how to contribute to improving what we have already recorded, making the songs really stand out so that they will be interesting to the listener at any point down the road in the future. I also have a particular creative vision that I want to realize and this vision is sometimes difficult to express and implement.
The major events of the past 6 months have been getting the rhythms to "feel" right. I have been pretty firm in making the rhythms the first priority. This is really hard to achieve without a regularly rehearsing and performing group of individuals in a band and also because we have committed to working with digital instruments and technology for the pre-production. MIDI drums have limitations since they still don't sound and feel "real" to play.
In addition, I think we have put too much emphasis on getting the drummers to to come in and contribute both a part and a performance for each of the songs, but that is a tall order for any drummer to respond to. Although we've had some success with that approach on some of the tunes.
And although we Jamie Kaufmann adding more digital drum tracks to the existing ideas on almost all of the songs, Darren Parris adding bass ideas to 4 tunes, Neil Atkinson contributing MIDI drums and bass lines to the song Look at the Rain, and finally the exploration, exasperation and time investment in getting songs to groove in MIDI, not to mention the dreaded "grey screen of death" and subsequent crashes with the Mac G4.
elieve it or not progress is being made on the album. We are still in the thick of pre-
21/March/05 Believe it or not progress is being made on the album. We are still in the thick of pre-production but are quite satisfied that we have the rhythmic foundation upon which to build the arrangement of the songs.
In the drumming world we had both Elliot Polsky and Guido Thylmann come back in with their drum sticks and drop some great feels on the songs. Elliot helped out with the songs Goodtown, One World and Gone, Gone, Gone, and Look at the Rain. He is such a master of delivering great energy on songs from completely different genres. Guido contributed parts on Just Like the Sun, Look at the Rain and What are the Stars For? His syncopated feels really contributed to the song development.
In many of the songs we took sections from one drum performance and mix-matched it with another performance to get the combination of parts that developed best together. This is been like a Steely Dan project having so many great players come through and then being able work with the most appropriate parts.
In the drumming world we had Dave Spidel who performs regularly with me and a surprise blast from the the Darren Parris come in and contribute parts. Dave also offered some really nice upright bass parts on Remember Me. Yes, for those of you that remember many of the bands performances from the ANZA Club and early Backstage Lounge gigs it was a night closing number that didn't make Aluminum Sea. It sounds great without much accompaniment.
Dave's playing is energetic and groovin', so that works out well with a lot of the songs. Darren's playing is elegant (in a muscular way) yet so solid and really makes the songs stand out. It has been a real treat to have such great players contribute. On one of the tunes, Give Yourself Away, we've been playing with the idea of a fairly straight ahead eighth note bass line that I think intensifies the energy of the song.
We will probably need some more visits from bass players before going much further in order to clean up and solidify some sections in the songs.
Ian has also been working feverishly to get the parts to mesh together so as to make them sound like it all happened in one live band performance...which is no easy achievement. Since players all came in individually at different times they all anticipated and put down parts that ultimately ended up being slightly ahead or behind the beat in some sections and too busy, or not busy enough in others.
The goal is to make the pre-production sound approximate the album sound so that when we go to record the rhythm section will really know where the song is going and where the rhythmic placement is....important stuff that keeps the listener interested and viscerally connected to the songs.
We've also been playing with a VoiceLive TC-Helicon Harmony unit to get some quick harmony ideas into the computer. This is so much faster than trying to get me to match a lead vocal line and harmonize with it since the machine does it quickly digitally. This unit can create 3rds, 5ths, octaves (up or down), parallel leads and so on and is another tool that will help to make sure that vocal harmonies are present where appropriate in the songs. The digital world really offers the creative tools that used to be only accessible to the big studios and the major labels.
Speaking of digital land we have been adding other parts too, such as piano, organ, different hand percussion parts and so on. I also came in and laid down some guitar parts, including parts with a wah pedal to hear how the idea works on some sections of the songs.
Next up will be to prepare the 12 songs so that guitar players have a strong idea as to where their creative ideas are needed as well as some parts that we have worked out ahead of time. After this we will start putting together mixes for the studio drummer to listen to and come in and audition for the album recording.
11/Dec/04 It has been pretty cool getting the mix of styles I draw from to sound cohesive on one album. So far, we have had 5 different drummers, 2 bass players, and a cellist in to the "living room studio" to record pre-production. In particular, Elliot Polsky came in and grooved on the South African (Township Jive feel) song "World Won't Stop". His years of playing with some local fantastic African bands (e.g. Alpha Ya Ya Diallo) really came through. I am really grateful that he made the time to come in and lay down some parts.
Just last week, we rented an Avalon Pre-Amp (737) to warm up the sound of the cello and some acoustic bass parts. Thanks Christie Staudhammer (cello) and Dave Spidel (bass) you guys sounded awesome! We had also hoped to get some quick vocals recorded through the pre-amp to experience how it affects my vocals. The pre-amp really does have the effect of bringing out the presence of the instruments in a very positive way. Unfortunately, I have been struck down with a pretty bad cold, so that experiment will have to wait. We also want to experiment with different pre-amps and microphones to hear what works best with my vocal instrument.
Before getting sick I have also been practicing most days, broadening my range and singing from resonances from the back of my pharynx. If you are not a singer this stuff probably sounds really weird and sketchy to you, but for most of us singers it is a pretty important knowledge and skill. This can be really hard. In spite of myself I am a fairly consistent "throat" singer and I want to move away from that. I do also have some good "nasal resonances" as well.
It is difficult changing away from well entrenched habits. I still struggle with being able to sing any vowel sound at any given pitch with clarity and fearlessly. There is a lot of fear involved in singing new notes using the full resonance of the skull. Even a relatively easy note like a E flat above Middle "C" needs to be sung that way without cracks or hesitations. And I find that difficult as well. Anyways, my point is that for this album I want to access a fuller vocal sound to put my songs out there in the best possible light. There are some songs that I think will benefit from a fuller vocal sound and a bit more power in the upper pitch range.
I have been getting amazing feedback on two songs in particular, "Look at the Rain" and "What are the Stars for?". So we are spending a lot of time getting parts just right and making the songs really come through on CD, even in this early stage of pre-production. We will have had several different drummers and bass players come through before we go on to live studio recording with those songs...every idea and players' contribution could be the difference between a "Oh, that's a nice song" vs. a "Hey, that's an amazing song, I want to hear it again!". I am so lucky that I have been able to play with some of the best live and studio musicians in Vancouver. Without their input a song can never really come to life on record.
Where we are now is that we are only missing pre-production drums on 3 songs as well as related bass parts. Fortunately, the extra time we put into getting good scratch guitar parts and vocals has helped a lot in getting the additional parts to flow well with the development of the song arrangement. In total, we are preparing 13 songs, of which only 10 will go on the CD. I am hopeful that once we get back to work at it in early January we will be able to pick up the pace a bit. For me the main thing is that if the finished CD sounds great and gets my songs to a broader audience then all this time and effort was worth it.
20/Aug/04 Well, it sure has been a while since I have posted any of the stuff that we have done so far on the next CD. The progress has been going slower that I had hoped. But we have definitely plowed our way through pre-production with some exciting results.
We have put down digital drums on all the songs except World Won't Stop and Remember Me. A lot of scratch vocals and guitars have also been done....that was much more difficult that I had imagined. I find that my guitar strumming is uneven, between beats and that it can sound like the guitar player is being a bit lazy in his strumming. It is a mental focus thing. As well as a lot of practice. The effect of the uneven strumming is to make the other instruments sound like they are out. It is really quite something to hear how even a bit of strumming unevenness can affect the overall impact of the song. I would never have that it so noticeable.
I am not quite getting the vocal performances for the pre-pro that I wanted yet...although in the final picture it doesn't make a huge difference. Great pre-pro vocals make it easier for all the other players to get a sense of the music and play off of the lead singers' energy. So I have started going back to my vocal practice CD's at home (when no one else is around!) and working at relaxing and supporting my full range of notes.
Ian has written some really cool horn section parts for Shake the Roof! Guido Thylmann, who played with the band for a few years also came in and really developed a drum part for Shake the Roof! as well. Ian has also put down some cool keyboard arrangement ideas to help develop the songs towards a certain high point and the parts are definitely helping the overall songs a lot.
All we need now are drums for the South African gum-boot dancing/township jive tune World Won't Stop and then we will be pretty close to done with major drum parts for the pre-production anyways. We are preparing the songs so that guitar players can come in have a sense of where the song is going and put some parts down that fit into the contour of the entire song.
15/May/04 Since last writing, we've done some more recording of digital drums, a road trip tour of Alberta and I've written some new material. I had the good fortune of having Jamie Kaufmann come in and offer his creative drumming on two of the songs, "Give Yourself Away" and "Starburst". Jamie played all of the drums on Aluminum Sea. We were having a hard time getting the overall energy of these two songs to feel right, so his contribution and experience really helped the songs feel right. In music "less can be more", but knowing where and when to play less is an art. He managed to find some time and come in a few weeks before leaving town since he is also in the process of moving back to his home town of Lethbridge Alberta to raise his young family. I think that he will really be missed by all the Vancouver projects he's been involved in.
"Give Yourself Away" is the first collaborative song that I have written in a really long time. Ian co-wrote it with me. We were looking at getting an awesome dynamic/rhythmic "arc" to the song. What I mean is, starting at a comfortable lower energy then building on it until some determined high point in the song. This song also has an unusual bridge, because it is written in 13/8 as opposed to being in the more usual 4/4 time signature. This makes it harder to "groove" but at the same time gives a song a distinctive sound and interesting musical signature.
I went on a road trip to Alberta and did three shows with Chad MacQuarrie, Dave Spidel and Shawn Killaly. The four of us had never played together before, let alone rehearsed together so our first performance had some excitement associated with it! This lack of rehearsals seems to happen quite a bit, I really wish it could be different. Unfortunately at the independent level there isn't always the luxury of time, so I have to make the most of the times we can play together.
We started the first night with a very quiet almost empty room. So I decided to make things interesting by handing out a chart of a new song to start the night off with! The new song is called "Look at the Rain". People seem to really respond to it. I think that this is because it has a more straight-ahead Brit-Pop kind of sound and because the melody really seems to stand out. It was great that no one was there to hear it! But I liked the riskiness of it all. By the end of the night, the room filled and we had played it 3 more times, so it started to sound pretty good!
The really cool thing was that we played the song about 7 times over that tour and by the time we got back it was really well rehearsed. So Shawn and Dave were up to coming in and laying down their parts on to our Pro Tools set up a couple of days after we got back. I think that getting the fresh live sound recorded early adds a lot to the overall energy of the song. It looks like "Look at the Rain" is going to make it to the new CD. I am really pleased about that.
5/April/04 It's been an interesting couple of weeks. We've been taking advantage of some free recording time at a local music/recording school. I was able to contact some horn players through musician friends of mine and they kindly came in and played on Goodtown and Gone, Gone, Gone.
I am really looking forward to hearing how some of my songs sound with a horn section. This is a direction I had never thought of going since I have always tended to avoid anything that suggested a pre-conceived arrangement. I like the "jammy"/spontaneous parts of a smaller ensemble. Now I am like a person that has discovered something new and wants to spread the gospel of horn sections for everything! Ian, who is co-producing with me wrote out some great lines for the two songs. He has also been busy writing actual scores (notes on notation paper-awesome!!) for a lot of the songs.
I've been really lucky to have a few of the drummers that have played live with me in the past come in and lay down some digital drum tracks. I can't wait to lay down some guitar and scratch vocals to get a sense of how it is all going. We have had to divert some attention to other jobs and circumstances so progress is slower than I had hoped but probably to be expected. It is my experience that no matter how much you love music and getting something tangible happening it takes a lot of energy out of you. It is my hope that with this new CD it can open some doors for us and maybe do some of the work for me. So it would be fair to say that the pressure is on to make it sound great!
13/March/04 We finally got some one of our regular drummers to come in and checkout the digital drums. It was great to see if our plan to use them solely for the pre-production will work. Well, we could hardly get him away from the kit, so it looks like they are going to work out well. The sounds need a bit of tweaking and we will probably have to trigger some midi sounds from another sound source as well as adjust the sensitivity of the digital drums to the playing of the individual drummer.
I did some more reworking of "Goodtown". I came up with another simpler guitar riff/ostenato played higher on the neck to get the song going right after the weird intro riff. I am using a distorted sound as well which is a bit outside of the African sound, but works. I think it establishes the broader sound that I am going for and conveys a blurring of musical categories.
I got some free recording time in a local music recording studio which is awesome! It forces the process a bit and helps to get something ready for tape. It also offers a chance to "hear" some of our production ideas before going to the recording process. I am going to try and get a horn section in on some of our tunes. I think that they could offer a lot of energy and excitement to some of the high-energy songs.
I had an interesting discussion regarding my FACTOR rant in my last right up. Someone mentioned that it doesn't matter who gets the money as long as the best song wins. Well that sounds all well and good, but my problem is "who decides what a good song is"? When the Board of Directors is made up of the same individuals and groups that receive funding I am quite suspicious of their criteria for what a good song is. It seems to me that this Board would bias towards songs that suit their own particular tastes and investments.
22/February/04 We haven't gotten too much recording done in the past 4 weeks. I've been putting a lot time into other shows and being on the road with the band. March is looking wide open though. Ian (who is co-producing with me) has been wrapping his head around our ProTools music recording software...memorizing every keyboard letter that corresponds to a recording function. Talk about learning how to type all over again!
We got our letter back from FACTOR on whether or not we were approved for an Independent Loan and unfortunately we were not approved. The Loan would have really helped out with the crazy costs of recording, maybe next time.
We were not really all that surprised for a couple of reasons. One is that there is so much great talent in Canada that it would be almost impossible for FACTOR to help out everyone. The other reason is that based on last years' FACTOR Annual Financial Report, FACTOR only approves about 3% of all Independent Loan Applicants (25 out of 625 applicants per year) who basically split $450,000 between them.
This low approval rating is in direct contrast to the 88% (80 approvals out of 91 applicants) approval rating that Canadian record labels get when they apply for the same FACTOR funding (splitting a $2,700,000 pie!)....In addition, the board at FACTOR is made up of companies and individuals that also receive the same funding!
I think that if it is looks like a conflict of interest and acts like a conflict of interest, it probably is a conflict of interest. It is my current thinking that FACTOR is not really a Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent On Record at all, but rather a Fund to Assist Canadian Talent On Record labels. At the end of the day the Canadian taxpayer is footing the bill for this system that is not assisting the greatest demand for assistance such as the Independent Loan Program. Enough already....I love music too much to let anyone else keep me getting it recorded.
Last week we had a lengthy discussion as to how the music might sound on CD...I seem to be getting much more comfortable mixing and arranging the songs with a strong acoustic guitar flavour....but still with that driving rhythmic/drumming intensity from our live show...but maybe with less emphasis on Electric guitars to give it that tension or drive. That poses certain problems for the songs because I basically strum my guitar constantly like a flag in the wind, without changing it up too much.
I will need to come up with different parts or lines for the guitar for each song, or else they will all start to sound pretty monotonous. Definitely a challenge, but I think a more acoustic sound will give the music an instant honest appeal. "Africa on the beach" is what I am thinking for the overall "feel" of the CD.
I also came up with two 2 bar guitar riffs for "Goodtown", which will probably be the lead off song on the CD. One of the riffs is a pretty basic one, all built around a simple picking pattern and root note motion. The other line is a bit more complex since it involves guitar picking or phrasing both on the beat and off the beat (the stress of the first note of each phrase is on the "and of" 4)...I am pretty excited about the new lines. I've also chopped off 4 bars from each of the post-choruses which makes the song shorter and moves it along faster.
22/January/04 The songs are all written and we have performed them live with the band hundreds of times. These past few weeks have seen some significant events towards the production of the next CD. I had the good fortune of using recording facilities for free, during class time at the local music school where we laid down some tracks.
The opportunity to record the parts (ie. drums, bass, vocals, electric guitar, djembe, cello, etc.) separately in a studio allows us to hear what we've been doing so far. The studio records digitally. So, we can take these recorded tracks home and work on them independently on our own time. The students are also going to each do their own mixes of the songs. This way we will also hear what they are picking up on in the songs. I really like having lots of independent feedback, especially at this point of the recording.
Having recorded tracks separately for a number of songs, we are on for a fantastic starting point for the project. It gives us the basic outline of the songs, such as length, tempo, how the melody is working in the song, etc. So far, we have pre-recorded (demo'd) 8 of the 10/11 songs on the CD.
We've also assembled the basic home studio we will be using for pre-production. This is quite a big first step to take! It means a huge time and financial commitment has been made to see the project through to the end of pre-production. The journey begins here, and though we know the end point (a finished CD) I think that there will be a lot unforeseen bends and twists in the road ahead.
In addition to getting the overall rhythm for each song right, we are focusing on the arrangements. We have played the songs so much and there seems to be an abundance of instrument parts for each song. A big part of the pre-production process will be deductive and not additive with respect to these instrument parts. In other words, some of these awesome parts will have to go....maybe even acoustic guitar tracks....oh no, that means me?!?! It also seems that some things that work live don't work in recordings (like long groovy jams) and vice versa.
We made a simple recording of our gig at the Backstage Lounge last Saturday night. The band sounded great! There were also some cool dynamics in the live performance of the songs, which we can definitely draw from.
Feedback. Someone asked me if is wasn't kind of lame to be using digital drums for pre-production since they usually sound so obviously non-real. My response to that is yup, I think that digital drums are definitely another sonic universe from actual drum kits with real drummers playing them. But my purpose in using the digital drum kit is to approximate the sound and feel of the drums for each song as closely as possible. I think that digital drums kits are a big step up from keyboard triggered drum kits and a lot cheaper than using real drummers in studios and having to mic them all etc, each time in an effort to find the best groove for each part of the song. Pretty time and labour intensive. This way the drum sound can be manipulated in a computer for more fine tuning....hopefully it all works out for the finished song. Oh ya, I have had the good fortune of having worked with several fantastic drummers from Vancouver. With the digital drums they each can come in for an afternoon and lay down their distinct interpretation of a song.
Another question was what ia a midi file? Well, not that I am any technical guru with the exact answer, but basically it is means of communicating and storing information for digital sounds in computers. I got this definition of the web: MIDI file (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. A set of instructions for a computer or synthesizer to play a certain musical composition. The MIDI file does not include actual sounds, but information on how to make the sounds. The MIDI instructions include the notes played, length of notes, instruments, volume, rhythm, etc. MIDI files on the Internet can be played with the help of a media player application, such as Crescendo. For example, MIDI files can basically store all the information and instructions quite easily for instruments (using digital sounds) in a symphony.
The first CD Aluminum Sea, is available online from: