EZ Drummer – Indie Folk

There’s nothing like a great drummer and I’m lucky enough to work with one of Canada’s finest, Dave Patel.  But for writing, EZ Drummer has been an amazing tool.  I just picked up the new Indie Folk add-on and it sounds incredible.  I particularly like the Slingerland kit in the 4 mic configuration — truly massive tones.  Getting lots of ideas for the next Sixteen Different Minds record!

StrapKeeper

I love it when a piece of gear does what it says it’ll do.  Yesterday, I came home from teaching and the StrapKeeper I ordered from Tapastring Guitar Care was here.  For those of you who don’t know what a StrapKeeper is, basically, it’s a little add on device that helps keep your strap on your acoustic guitar.  Other than getting the little nylon retainer on the end pin, installation (if you even want to call it that) was a breeze.  With the StrapKeeper on my guitar, I think it would take A LOT to get the strap to fall off.  Terrific solution for not much money!

New Gear

I’ve been updating my studio and I thought I’d write a short post about the hardware and software I’ve picked up.

The biggest change has been the addition of a brand new Mac Mini.  I bought a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16 Gigs of RAM and a one terabyte Fusion Drive.  To say the computer has some serious grunt would be an understatement.  A massive understatement.  I seem to have no real limits now when I use Logic.  I haven’t been able to bring the computer to its knees and that’s a very, very freeing feeling.  Logic is showing eight cores on this quad core chip (which seems odd), but I’m not complaining!

I also updated Pianteq Play to Pianoteq Stage and purchased the Blüthner Model 1 add-on.  I’m not a piano player, but the Blüthner Model 1 is truly inspiring to write with and I’m positive it’ll be on the next few albums I’m working on now.

And lastly, I bought the new Sweetone from Sonimus.  Just a gorgeous, simple and effective eq/filter.  I’ve already used it on some liners for radio stations (i.e. This is Jamie Bonk and you’re listening to X radio station…) and it worked beautifully.  I used the Sonimus Satson and SonEQ plugins extensively on my last solo record (Necessity) and Sweetone is sure to become a go-to plugin for me in the future.

Blue Chip Picks

Just received two new Blue Chip picks in the mail today… A TD 40 and a TP-1R 40.  Basically, they’re backups for Blue Chips I already have.  Yes, I know, Blue Chip picks are INSANELY expensive ($35 each).  So if you’re a player who likes to fling picks into the audience or you regularly lose picks, Blue Chip picks are not for you (unless you happen to be a rock star with a boatload of disposable income that is!).  I almost never lose picks (still have picks from high school) and I can’t think of the last (or the first) time I flung a pick into an audience, so I can kind of rationalize the price.  Cost aside, Blue Chips are hands down the best I’ve ever used — terrific tone, almost indestructible and they stick to my fingers like no other pick.  Love ’em!

The Making of Necessity

NecessityWhen I started writing for my seventh release Necessity I didn’t, like I never do, have a clear idea of where the record would end up — didn’t know what songs would be on the record, didn’t think the album would feature the electric guitar and certainly didn’t anticipate the overall vibe of the album.  But in retrospect, it all seems very obvious.

A few years ago I started going back to my “old” way of writing.  For the most part, I now write everything down on paper.  I have a sketch book (one of those little Moleskine manuscript paper books) that I write down all kinds of ideas — chord progressions, melodies, licks, etc.  I had been writing directly in the computer, but going back to writing on paper just seems to work better for me right now.  A little while ago, I also started documenting ideas into a portable recorder (a Zoom H2N).  So between the manuscript paper and the recorder, I feel I’ve streamlined my writing process.  I know this may not seem like big deal, but this “new” way of working really has helped me to be more creative.

For Necessity, I also changed how I record.  I suppose my current approach is a little (or a lot) more traditional, but it feels very freeing to me.  If you think of 70’s style recording (write a song, record bed tracks, then overdubs, then leads, then mix and finally master) that’s how Necessity was made.

So here was the basic workflow for the record.  After I wrote the tunes, I created bed track templates in Logic Pro 9.  Essentially, I did mockups of the songs using loops from EZdrummer and wrote rough basslines using Spectrasonics Trilian.  Sonya (Mitlewski) played all of the keys with piano/Rhodes/Wurlitzer sounds coming from Modartt Pianoteq Play and pads from Spectrasonics Omnisphere.  I recorded my rhythm guitars using my Seagull Artist Studio CW into two mics and my Godin Freeway SA into a Line 6 HD300.

I then bounced stereo stems of the bed tracks as: drums, bass and harmony (keys and rhythm guitars).  Those stems, along with charts, were sent off to Dave Patel (drums) and Henrik Bridger (bass).  Dave and Henrik then replaced the MIDI loops/parts with their original parts in their respective studios (Dave’s studio is called DaWG Studios and Henrik’s studio is called Château Juliet) and sent their parts back to me.

After I had all of the bed tracks done, I recorded my leads, which were all recorded with my Godin Freeway SA into a Line 6 HD300.  The outputs of the HD300 went into an Apogee Duet and were recorded in Logic.  One of the reasons the album is called Necessity is that I basically HAD to record leads directly.  Right across the street from me there are three 30-50 storey condos being built.  It’s non-stop noise.  Recording the electric directly eliminated any noise “concerns”.  That said, I’m truly happy that I used the electric (rather than an acoustic) for this record!  I think there’s a saying about necessity…

One other recording “change” with Necessity is that I went back to bouncing individual tracks down as audio files.  For instance, all of the MIDI keys were bounced as audio.  When it came time to mix, everything was an audio file. I’m not sure how that affected the sound or feel of the record, but it helped me to focus and continually move forward.  And finally, I mastered the album in iZotope Ozone 5.

So that’s the somewhat techy description of the making of Necessity!  For those who want even MORE tech, check out the list of gear/plugins I used below.

—————-

Apple MacBook – 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo | 4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM

Logic Pro 9

Apogee Duet

Yamaha HS80Ms

Godin Freeway SA

Seagull Artist Studio CW

Line 6 POD HD300

M-Audio Axiom 49

Modartt Pianoteq Play

Spectrasonics Omnisphere

PSP Audioware VintageWarmer, oldTimer, Xenon, EQs, PSP84

Sonimus Satson, SonEQ

TC Electronics M30 Reverb

iZotope Ozone 5

Gear

Here’s a somewhat up-to-date list of the gear I’m currently using…

Guitars

I use and am endorsed by Godin Guitars

  • 2010 Eastman MD515 Mandolin
  • 2010 Seagull Artist Studio CW
  • 2008 Godin Freeway SA
  • 2006 Godin Glissentar
  • 2004 Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA
  • 1997 Takamine CP-132SC
  • 1981 Ibanez AS-200

Studio

  • MacBook
  • 22 Inch Acer Display

Software and plugins

  • Logic Studio
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere
  • Spectrasonics Stylus RMX
  • Spectrasonics Trilian
  • PSP Xenon
  • PSP Audioware Vintage Warmer
  • PSP 84
  • PSP Oldtimer
  • PSP ClassicQ
  • PSP ConsoleQ
  • PSP McQ
  • PSP NobleQ
  • PSP PreQursor
  • PSP RetroQ
  • Sonimus Satson 1.2
  • Sonimus SonEQ
  • u-he Zebra (CM)
  • Nucleus Soundlab MultiBoost Pak
  • Izotope Ozone 4
  • Izotope Alloy
  • IK Multimedia Amplitube 2
  • IK Multimedia Amplitube Jimi Hendrix
  • ManyTone ManyBass
  • Toontrack EZDrummer
  • Toontrack Nashville EZX
  • Toontrack Vintage Rock EZX

Samples 

  • Kirk Hunter Studios – Emerald Symphony Orchestra
  • Spectrasonics Backbeat
  • Spectrasonics Liquid Grooves
  • Spectrasonics Burning Grooves
  • Spectrasonics Retro Funk
  • Spectrasonics Metamorphosis
  • Spectrasonics Bass Legends
  • Spectrasonic Supreme Beats – African/Contemporary
  • Ilio Ethno Techno
  • Ilio Stark Raving Beats
  • Sonic Reality Vintage Timetraveler
  • Best Service Ethno World
  • Best Service Hallelujah
  • Best Service Dance Mega Drum-Kits
  • Zero-G Ambient Volume 1
  • Zero-G Ambient Volume 2
  • East West Orchestra
  • Wizoo Acoustic Drums
  • Beta Monkey Drum Loops

Hardware

  • Apogee Duet
  • M-Audio Axiom 49
  • Line 6 POD HD300
  • Roland GR-20
  • Fishman Spectrum
  • Fishman Aura – Nylon String
  • Tech 21 Blonde
  • Line 6 POD
  • Yamaha HS80M
  • Audio Technica 3035
  • Rode NT1-A

Live

  • Big Namba Studio Backpack
  • SR Technology JAM 150 Plus
  • Tonebone PZ-Pre
  • Fishman Spectrum
  • Fishman Aura – Nylon String
  • Yamaha Magicstomp Acoustic
  • Ernie Ball VP JR.
  • Korg DT-10 Tuner
  • Yamaha MFC1
  • Roland JC-120
  • Shure SM-58
  • Shure SM-57
  • Mackie 1604
  • Mackie SRM150 (2)
  • Yorkville Y112 speakers
  • Yorkville speaker and mic stands
  • Hercules Guitar Stands
  • 
Planet Waves cables

Acoustic Pedalboard (2012)

I don’t think I’ve ever met a guitarist who wasn’t on some kind of a gear quest — on that never ending torturous yet joyous search for a particular piece of gear that you absolutely know will present the perfect tone. Or feel. Or really anything good.  And you will finally be able to calm the dark voices in your head.

Those voices do stop — for a few minutes, maybe an hour or if you’re really lucky a day, but the inevitable rears its ugly head.  You actually do truly without a doubt need the next piece of gear. It matters. Cue the quest redux.

When I talk about those on the quest, I’m not talking about the “others”.  I’m marching right along with everyone else.  Ask my wife about my affliction and she’ll tell it’s in no way a subtle thing.

But I do recognize that too much “stuff” gets in my way — artistically speaking.  Smarter people than myself have labelled it option anxiety and I think that’s a pretty good term.  I started noticing a few years ago that having more plugins (synths, compressors, delays, etc.) wasn’t helping me to write better or more efficiently.  It was slowing me down and sometimes to a crawl.  So I started looking at what really mattered to me, chose the plugins that resonated with me and focused strictly on those.

A little while later, I started applying the same philosophy to my guitar gear.  What didn’t work was out.  Didn’t matter how much I thought a piece of gear was really really cool. What mattered was — does it work for what I do.  How will this new guitar or effect pedal help me to get to the core of my music in a more elegant manner.

So this leads me to my current acoustic pedalboard. It’s a simple affair in my opinion: a Fishman Spectrum into a Tech 21 Boost D.L.A into a Tech 21 R.V.B.  Yes, it’s not an acoustic straight into a nice mic, but for my kind of music that’s not really possible in a live setting.  And I absolutely love playing with delay and reverb. The last piece in this pedalboard puzzle was the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus I added about a week ago.  I suppose it’s weird to buy a pedal to take away sound, but that’s exactly what it did — it took away the noise issues I was having.  Everything sounds a lot cleaner now and for lack of a better term “nicer”.

I’m truly happy with this board and I think it’s going to stay like this for a long while.  It has to — I have no more space for any pedals! Of course, I could always get another board…

Yes, it’s my one year mandoversary — I’ve been playing the mandolin for one year! Well, to be completely accurate it’s been slightly longer than one year, but I didn’t have the time to write this post until today.

A little over a year ago Sonya, my wife, suggested I get a mandolin. She thought it would be a great “challenge” for me. She was right.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on taking up the mandolin. I already had a lot on my plate with guitar, composition, production, engineering and the wall of business stuff I have to do each day. Yes I loved the sound of the instrument, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the time investment into the mando (BTW, that’s the short form for the mandolin). So I decided I would first rent a mando from a local music store. The instrument was, to be kind, horrible. Think of a cardboard box with old dead strings on it. That would have sounded better than the rented mando. But something resonated with me and don’t know exactly what it was. I suppose the short answer is I was bitten by the mando bug.

So I made the leap and bought a fairly nice instrument — an Eastman MD515. Here’s a picture of me on the day I brought the mando home:

And then I started down, what has been (and will continue to be) a very long path of trying to learn the mandolin. It’s a great path to be on — man I love the mando!

For those of you thinking to pick up the mandolin or add it as a second (or third or fourth) instrument, here’s what I’ve learned over the last year:

Time Matters

There really is no substitute for time. You really do have to practice. And practice a lot. My teachers all told me that consistent, sustained practice was the key to progressing on an instrument. And they were right.

I have a certain amount of facility on the guitar and I think that made me think that picking up the mando would be easier than it has been. I feel like my playing has leapt up on the mando over the last few months, but it was definitely frustrating in the beginning. The fact that I play every day for at least an hour has, in my mind, been the most important factor in my progress.

Practice Right

Of course, there’s no one way to learn an instrument, but for me, taking a traditional approach to learning has worked very well. I work on scales, chords and sight reading in addition to learning pieces by Bach, traditional Celtic tunes and improv every day.

Get A Good Instrument and Have It Set Up Properly

The subheading pretty much says it all. A good mandolin, set up nicely plays like butter. To me, it seems like a good set up is more critical on the mando than on the guitar.

Pick The Right Pick

The type of pick you choose to play on the mando is extremely critical. The material and shape of the pick will have a profound affect on the tone you produce. I went through a whole bunch of different picks and found that the Blue Chip TP-1R 40 works best for me.
Well that’s about it! I’m sure I’ve learned more than I’ve written in this post, but I have to get back to practicing!

Chris Thile: Tips on how to crossover from guitar to mandolin

I’ve just started learning the mandolin and came across this great Chris Thile video on crossing over from guitar to mandolin. I think Chris is exactly right about the challenges guitarists face when making the shift from guitar to mandolin. The string spacing is definitely a challenge, but I’m finding the biggest obstacle is the tuning. Going from standard tuning on the guitar to the mandolin’s fifths based tuning is a real brain/finger tester! Still I’m absolutely loving playing the mandolin and I’m sure the instrument is going to end up on some future recording and on stage.