Shrink Wrapped & Ready To Go

I’ve decided that when the album eventually appears for sale I am going to give any money it makes to charity. It might not be a lot but I hope it’s something. Specifially I will give half to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and half to Prostate Cancer UK.

Those who know me will know why Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research is close to my heart, they really are an incredible charity. Prostate Cancer UK was supported by my Uncle Clive, who was always massively encouraging and positive when we talked about my music. It was also entirely his fault that I ended up on a stage in Cuba rapping Wild Wild West (a moment that, believe it or not, directly led to me starting this album project) so the donation to them will be in his memory. I hope that the work I’ve put into the album will go on to make some money for these two charities. I will set up some way to keep track of what the album has raised.

As for the album itself, it has been distributed and I’m just waiting for it to go live now. It should appear on Amazon (CD and MP3) and also iTunes and Google Play (MP3 only). The CD will be £8 but I’m not sure about the MP3 version price as the sites set that themselves. I’ve had the CD’s professionally produced so this isn’t something I’ve just burnt on my computer, they are even shrink wrapped, oh yes, shrink wrapped.

frontcover

I will update this site when I have a definite release date but whilst we wait, I’ve been told (by one person) that the snippets I uploaded comparing the original demos to the finished version were quite interesting. So here is one from track four on the album ‘Chasing Shadows’. I think it’s quite a good one to show how songs develop, as the original demo was recorded on acoustic guitar, but it developed into a piano based number which has the same lyrics and melody but a COMPLETELY different feel to it..

So here is the original rough demo, acoustic guitar and some slightly jaunty drums.

I did quite like it initially but after a few listens it felt like there wasn’t really any emotion in there, it was a bit empty, so I tried it on the piano. I definitely have my own style on piano. Give me the music for ‘Celebrate’ by Kool and the Gang and it will come out haunting and eerie! It had exactly that effect on this song.

When recording time came it was my cousin Martin who played the piano part, since his technique does not involve holding down the sustain pedal down with a door wedge.

So here is the final album version, which had become considerably less jaunty and a lot more gentle but I think it has a much better feel to it.

So there you go. I hope most people can see the merit of the final version over the original despite it’s less jolly nature, if not let me know and I will travel back to 2011 and smack myself around the face a few times.

A life of its own

My album is finally getting mastered. There was a bit of a false start when I paid £177 to a studio that apparently closed two years ago, but after a fine piece of investigationing (yes, wordpress, I know this is not a word but I like it and I am stubborn) I managed to track down the non-studio owner and reclaim my mastering money, excellent investigationing.

So now I have found a new, very enthusiastic and talented mastering person, who has told me that “You just need to release it now, set it free, and let it have a life of its’ own!”. I like this.

As I stand on the verge of doing so though, I wonder if this is how my parents felt when I left home and went off for a life of my own. Actually, I’m probably a bad example, I reckon my album is at least capable of boiling a potato (thanks to my mate Dave for teaching me ten years ago that you have to chop it up before putting it in the water, yes, seriously).

Whilst I sit at home, hoping that my album is making the most of its potential after years of nurturing, will it actually be eating kebabs and stealing shopping trolleys? Whilst I hope that it’s getting noticed by the people who matter (record companies) will it actually be drinking absinthe and spending its time trying to chat up the latest Pixie Lott album?

Will I get a phone call, “oh yeah, that money you gave me for promotional work, I spent it, on fish fingers mostly”.

If that’s the case, I may have to wait about 5 years before my album grows up and actually starts putting some effort in, and given the speed at which I produce music these days, I will probably be at least halfway through my next album by then.

Anyway, I’m sure I had a point when I started this. The album goes off for mastering next week and so we are creeping, veeeeeeery slowly towards it being finished. Hold yourselves back people (mum), not long to wait now.

Here’s another sneaky preview as I prepare to set my album free into the world.

Eat My Poll

OH GOD I AM STILL WORKING ON THIS BLOODY ALBUM!

Shall I leave it there for today? Nah, I suppose I should provide a little more info. When I chose the name ‘The Neverending Album’ for this blog it was meant to be a slightly amusing title based on the fact I never finish anything, 18 months on and it is MOCKING ME!

Right, that’s got that off my chest. As it happens we are actually making progress, but it’s not the type of progress that is anyway interesting to write about, I will try though.

Last week I emailed Scott with the latest mix of Belong and he replied to say he liked it but thought the bass was getting too loud towards the end and could do with a 1db cut so I replied and said I couldn’t really hear what he meant and so we both re-listened to it 73 and times and eventually NO IT’S JUST TOO BORING!!!!!

Let’s just say it’s nearly there. The tracks are mixed and we are discussing the order. I still don’t have definite artwork but have a couple of possibilities.

My attention is starting to turn towards what to do with the ‘release’ of the album, and this is where it gets polltastic. I’ve already decided to donate most of whatever pathetic profit I make to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, but I don’t know how much to ask for. On the one hand, I’ve spent 18 months recording this, a huge amount of effort has gone in from numerous friendly musicians, and I want to get as much as I can for the charity…. On the other hand, it is just me, and realistically are people going to pay the same amount as they would for a Bryan Adams, Bonjovi or Meatloaf album?

So, poll 1…

Poll 2 is how I should go about marketing it… I mean, I could do some sort of launch event, but that has the potential to be me, Laura and my Mum sat alone in a pub somewhere. Now don’t get me wrong I’m sure we would have a lovely evening, but we might just struggle to hit whatever bar spend we’d agreed with the pub (though I’m sure if I got mum onto the Baileys we’d have a shot).

So, Poll 2.

As always, thanks for reading.

James

In pursuit of perfection (and a mop mark free floor)

The final stages of mixing this album remind me somewhat of working at McDonalds back in my college days…

“That floor needs mopping”

“But I just mopped it”

“Oh, well do it again, it isn’t perfectly clean”

“Where isn’t it perfectly clean?”

“I’m not sure but I can just tell it isn’t”

5 minutes later

“I’ve re-mopped it”

“You’ve left a mop mark”

“what?”

“You’ve made a mop mark, there in the corner. People can see it has been mopped.”

“Of course they can, they just saw me mop it”

“I know, but it needs to be better finished”

2 Minutes later

“I’ve mopped up the mop mark.”

“I know, well done, but now it looks uneven because the rest of the floor has already dried. You will have to start again.”

Ok, so was probably a slightly more enthusiastic employee than that. You don’t get your gold star for “cleaning and mopping and stuff like that” by talking back to the boss. Now, I’ve forgotten what point I was making. Hang on…..

Oh YES! It’s like mixing an album. I’m not painting Scott as the perfectionist boss, at least his suggestions all make sense, but it’s similar in that every time you change something, it creates a new problem, sometimes creating one that you can’t quite put your finger on. I turn the bass down -2db, suddenly the reverb on the vocal sounds a little heavy, reduce the amount of reverb but now the vocal sounds a bit thin, adjust the eq on the vocal but now the bloody bass sounds too loud again!

You really could go on forever with it, it’s definitely the part of the whole process I find hardest. We have however slogged away and at last have 5 tracks pretty much finished, and it feels as though we are closing in on the others.

It really is hard to get a perspective on songs when you’ve been working on them for so long. One thing that has helped is revisiting the original demo tracks I recorded and comparing to where they are now. I’ve put together a little comparison track…

The track below starts out as the original demo for Faces to Hide, which is essentially in the style of most of my music before this album. Programmed drums, strings from a keyboard, both lead and backing vocals my own, guitar recorded at home. It starts as the old demo and then switches back and forth with the current mix, hopefully it’s pretty easy to tell where the demo switches with the final track.

Apart from emailing back and forth with Scott, trying to get these mixes sorted, I’ve started to think about artwork and also how I’m going to release the album, so we really are getting closer, slowly.

A liking for Recycling

You know it’s been too long since you updated your blog, when your password no longer works. You know it’s REALLY been to long when you realise that’s because you’re trying to sign into blogspot.com instead of WordPress.

Having finally found my way here, a quick update. 5 songs are mixed and just need a small amount of tweaking, 4 songs are recorded and partially mixed but not ‘properly’ mixed yet, and 1 song is being reworked.

The song being reworked was called ‘Beliefs’. It’s sometimes hard to admit that a song just isn’t working out, especially after putting so much time into it. In this case, it wasn’t that hard. Every time I listened to it I wanted to go back in time and punch myself in the face, I hated the verse, I hated the chorus. It wasn’t actually bad, it was just so decidedly average in every single way that I could feel my brain melting with mediocrity as I listened. It was the ‘Ford Escort’ of songs, not fast, not slow, not angry, not happy, not sad, not making a point, not anything, just….ok.

But, there were a few things I liked, and which could possibly be salvaged. The drums were quite cool, and it would be a shame to waste the violin. So I set about recycling the track.

I started with this… This is the instrumental part of the old chorus (which as I said, is ok).

I cut out the bits I did like, the drums and violin, in fact I took just the first half of the violin, then I looped it.

and then simply started playing over the top, and the start of a new song was born from the ashes.

The next job was to build it up a bit, bass, more guitars etc…

But it’s still missing something, what happens if I apply some heavy reverb and some distortion to the drum loop?

No distortion –

Distortion –

Ooooooh. So now we have…

Maybe for a bit of variation later on I could add more strings. But none of the originals work with the new melody except for the small bit I have. How does it sound backwards?

and with the original violin too? Quite good actually (I nearly wrote nice, but realise I can never again use that to describe something in a positive way).

So before you know it, the start of a quite cool sounding new track.

I’ve built the track up a bit further, it has some new lyrics now, but having gone that far with the ‘recycling’ I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be much improved if I could get Harry to put a new drum track together, rather than relying on the loops. The resulting ‘recycled song’ will be a bit like Trigger’s broom (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbha4XclSMU), it’s the same song but it’s just had new drums, new guitar parts, new vocals, different chords, the melody is different, the lyrics have changed, BUT….there is a 2 second violin loop from the original.

So I have Harry booked in for March 20th, and once that’s recorded I really am nearly there, and you will be the first to know about it, provided I can find my way back to this blog.

James

Join the Caravan, of James

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I would really like to see four versions of James performing an acapella version of one of his tracks”, and let’s be honest who hasn’t, you’re in the right place…

Laura and I recently watched a film called Julie & Julia (obviously I wanted to watch something more manly, like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ but this was Laura’s choice), which had been written based on a succesful blog. It was the first film ever to be adapted from a blog.

I did briefly wonder whether my blog could be similarly adapted. Unfortunately, I concluded it would require a huge amount of artistic licence to make it film-worthy. I can’t really picture a decent trailer even… “THE NEVERENDING ALBUM. The story of a man, sitting in a room, picking up a guitar, breaking a string, changing the string, doing some singing, deleting the singing, doing the singing again, deleting the singing, emailing Scott, doing the singing again…” You see where I’m going with that.

I guess something could be made of having to drive to Trowbridge to pick up Harry, maybe it could be a race against time for some reason, or perhaps I could be chased by the headmaster of the school I work at, in a Ferrari, angry that I’m not paying for using the studio (not that I’m supposed to, but that could be added too).

Nope, it would be a crap film.

The only thing it would have going for it is the potential for a good, old fashioned montage. This could revolve around my singing. I’m currently finishing off the vocals for the album and the singing lessons I had a year ago are finally paying off.

The montage could start with me struggling to hit a note, and getting frustrated, looking up to the sky and screaming “NOOOOOOOOO”. Then the music could kick in (something along the lines of ‘You’re the Best’ from the original Karate Kid film). Over this music I would be shown doing chin ups whilst singing scales, standing in the crane position whilst practicing my breathing, improving my singing posture by some obsure method like tying a zebra to the back of my head to help me keep my chin up. Then the end shot where I’m suddenly singing like Charlotte Church.

Nope. It would still be a crap film.

Oh well. Onto the reason for the title of the post. As I said, my singing lessons are finally paying off. I took a number of things from those lessons… A greater understanding of how sounds are physically produced, a better idea of my strengths and limitations (and how to gear my writing around them), but most of all I took confidence. Lizzie (my singing teacher) simply gave me a lot more confidence in the voice I already had, and gave me the belief that if I practiced I was a decent singer. For that alone, the lessons were worth every penny. Some of the technical stuff she tought me has perhaps not stuck, I’ve found it incredibly hard to change singing habits ingrained over 15 years, but the confidence has stuck (mostly), and for me to no longer be completely riddled with doubt over my singing is just brilliant.

To demonstrate this point, I have recorded an acapella version of a song (a bit like the Housemartins, although not quite as cheerful, hence the slightly obscure post title) and uploaded it to youtube. Just over a year ago I would NEVER have had the confidence to do this.

I know I’m still never going to win x-factor (although I do appear to have the wavy hand motions you need to be succesful), but for the first time ever really, I’m almost comfortable with it.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!

(In case the video doesn’t work, here’s the link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP9wqV_Dvq4)

Screw you, doubt.

So, I’ve mostly been recording vocals recently. As such I haven’t updated the blog, as all it would be is a less than endearing outpouring of self-doubt.

I spent 5 hours recording vocals on Saturday, and didn’t like any of it. So as a big (well, medium sized at least) “screw you” to the lack of confidence which rather pathetically follows me around, here is a video of me doing some singing.

Look out for what I think is rather unfortunately me dancing like my Dad during the instrumental bits. Also, I’ve never noticed before but I do appear to rub my nose on the pop shield an awful lot, lucky it’s my own personal nose-rubbed pop shield.

I left that effect on the video purely because it makes it look as though I have no eyes, which I like, for some reason.

All we hear is….. Radial Fractures

So, it appears that I angered the gods of bass. Having openly mocked the suggestion that not warming up to play could cause serious injury, they apparently took matters into their own hands because a week later I broke my arm. Admittedly, I didn’t break it actually playing bass, but it is clear to me that the ‘bass gods’ went and had a quiet word with the ‘clumsy lanky idiot playing football gods’ and arranged for me to injure myself. So, bass gods, I apologise.

My stupid arm has prevented me from doing much recording of my own. That hasn’t stopped me roping in a number of unsuspecting musicians, Caroline (violin/viola), Martin (piano) and Claire (viola). These recording sessions have followed a fairly common pattern.

Firstly I send the musician in question a recording of me playing the part badly (on a keyboard) and a score. They look over the score and mistake it for one that’s been written by somebody who knows what they’re doing. Assuming that as it looks like a proper score it will bear some relation to the part they’ve heard, they put it to one side. They turn up for the recording session and we start to record only to find out that my scores are in fact (in no particular order) in the wrong key, missing some pages, in the wrong time signature, only physically possible to play if you have 6 hands etc etc. We then spend some time working out what to do before the musician in question eventually bails me out with their general musical talent.

You would think that somebody who has written and recorded music for about 15 years would be able to respond to the question “are these meant to be quavers?” with something other than “sorry are you talking about crisps?”, but alas, I am entirely reliant on my computer for producing anything vaguely resembling a score.

Anyway, all three of them were absolutely brilliant and I am massively grateful for them giving up their time to help me out. Here are some pictures of Martin and Caroline in the studio, I completely forgot to take any of Claire so have created an artist’s impression. I might try to get a job doing those courtroom drawings next, as long as nobody turns up with a viola I would probably be fine.

As with the drums previously, the effect of replacing the synthesized or sampled versions of these instruments with the real thing can really help bring a track to life.

Here is a section of ‘Faces to Hide’ with synthesized strings.

and here is the version with the real thing, a massive improvement I hope you will agree 

It’s even more obvious in a quieter song….

Here is a snippet from ‘Chasing Shadows’ with me playing the piano (I say playing, it really consists of mashing the keys in the hope the right notes come out), and with synthesized strings.

and here is the same song now, with Martin playing the piano part and some viola from Claire

It should go without saying that I’m much, much happier with the newer versions of these songs. Chasing Shadows in particular has been transformed by having somebody who can play the piano with some sort of subtlety.

Next up, cello and backing vocals this week, then just my vocals to do before the real work starts when I have to mix it.

Cheers for reading.

The Ace of Bass

I’ve not updated the blog for a while, that doesn’t mean that I’m not making progress it just means the progress I am making is too mind numbingly boring to write about, nonetheless I shall try (and there’s an opening sentence that’s GUARANTEED to raise my readership figures).

Mostly I’ve been recording bass guitar parts. I’ve also been working with a violinist but I’m going to save that for the next post and instead thrill you with bass guitar information only.

I’m trying to be methodical as I work my way through, which goes against the grain somewhat. In what is either very organised or very sad (probably both), I’ve created a nice wall chart (essentially an excuse to get my colouring pens out).

A yellow box means ‘this song needs this instrument’, a black line through the yellow box means it’s done. So as you can see I’m getting there. Progress is slow but steady and each black line through a yellow box takes me slightly closer to finishing the album which I’ve now worked on for 9 months.

Having dazzled you with my exciting chart I will now move back to the bass guitar. I used to love playing bass in my school band, but these days I find recording it a pretty torturous affair. The drums and bass guitar hold everything together, if they are rhythmically a bit sloppy the whole song sounds loose and basically a bit crap. If they are together and on the money, it can make the whole recording sound much tighter. I am a decent bass player, but prone to lapses of concentration which can make the whole process a little frustrating.

Out of interest I looked up the following article to see how many of the criteria of a ‘good bassist’ I meet http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Bass

Well it’s not a bad start, I do actually own a bass AND I have somewhere to practice, 2-0 to me. But then it all starts going a bit wrong … I’ve never had a bass guitar book, or a teacher, I don’t know what all the notes are called, I haven’t researched music theory, what the hell is a triad? I don’t think I’ve ever played a scale on the bass, in fact I’ve never played anything on bass that I didn’t write myself, I’ve never played music written for other instruments, and is there really such a thing as a bass pick (plectrum)? I just use my guitar plectrum to play.

But it’s not just the fact that I use a guitar plectrum, apparently even using an official bass one is something to be ashamed of… “For people who play with picks, people who use their fingers may ridicule you!” Wow, what kind of evil bastard musicians do these people hang around with? Should any fellow bass players be thinking of ridiculing me for this, I would like to point out that your bass playing will most likely go rapidly downhill once I poke you in the eye with a guitar plectrum 🙂

This also frightens me quite a bit… “Always ALWAYS warm up before playing. Failing to do so may result in permanent hand injuries!”

Right. Well today I’m going to the studio to record some more bass, acoustic guitar and piano, I guess I’d better run there in order to warm up and avoid any bass related hand maiming, wish me luck.

Plectrum-tastic

The Harry Effect

So having talked at length last month about Harry the drummer, I am going to risk inflating his ego slightly further.

Harry appears to have had a strange effect on my songwriting. I was in the studio on Monday trying to get a guitar part recorded, it wasn’t going very well and I kept forgetting it and arse-ing it up. Then, out of nowhere, a thought that has never occured to me before. “I should write it down”.

I don’t write anything down, I never have. I come up with a song, I record a rough version and then when it comes to playing it again I listen to it and work out what I did first time around. I know that doesn’t sound very productive, and that’s because it really isn’t. So Harry turning up with sheets of hand-written notes was something of an eye opener and this idea appears to have since been lurking in my head waiting for me to be a bit useless, it didn’t have to wait too long.

So to you it may look like a sheet of badly written notes, but to me it is quite an epiphony. Part of the problem is probably that I’ve always been quite good at playing things ‘from ear’ so I’ve kind of relied on that rather than thinking “how can I make this as easy for myself as possible”. The fact that it took a drummer to make me realise this speaks volumes!

I also took my new found organisation to another level when recording the piano for ‘Enforcers’. I’m not much of a piano player, but rather than do my usual, with failed attempt after failed attempt to play a part (resulting in me wanting only to set fire to the piano), I turned up with coloured stickers to mark out the keys for each chord in the piece. Again, this may look fairly obvious but it has never occured to me before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other area on which Harry has had an effect is my bank balance. Before he arrived I had recorded the school drum kit as a test, which is a pretty decent kit. However, Harry turned up with his special ‘DW’ kit and comparing the two recordings I suddenly remembered how important it is to invest in quality instruments. So therefore it is entirely his fault that I bought a new guitar on Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the songs, I spent two days in the studio over the bank holiday and the songs are starting to build up nicely. It’s encouraging to occasionally go back and hear how the songs were a couple of months back, and then listen to the current versions.

Here is a clip from ‘Enforcers’ 6 weeks ago – Drum machine drums, synthesized piano, acoustic guitar…

…and here is a clip from it now (still nowhere near finished but coming along) – Real drums, real piano, other parts added.

Thanks as always for reading. Please send the link to anybody you think might be interested!

James

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