Andrulian's blog

Creating sounds | Making music | supporting fellow musicians | reflections in time

Proper music vs the music industry — March 20, 2013

Proper music vs the music industry

I’ve never understood why a lot, and I mean seriously an awful lot of people, only listen to chart and/or pop music. There’s an attitude of “I haven’t heard of them, they must be rubbish”.  The problem with such a narrow viewpoint is that it is a circular argument.  They will never will hear anything new unless it pops up in the charts or on mainstream radio.  So usually anything beyond their extremely limited outlook is dismissed before its even been listened to.

It’s because I’m a musician and song writer that I don’t have this attitude. I love music and will listen to pretty much anything.    I appreciate when someone has taken the time and effort to produce a song and if it sounds a bit unpolished then it’s usually all the better for it.  Granted, I may not always like what is produced but to me it’s like the difference between home made food and a processed ready meal.

Music industry.  Now that’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one.  But that’s who I blame.

You see music should be personal, you need to give at least a bit of yourself to creating or playing it.  Whether expressing your thoughts or mood or maybe even using lyrics as a way of vocalising something you find hard to talk about, like a child who talks through a puppet.

So when there is an ‘industry’ churning out the same regurgitated sounds, looks and songs I am not compelled to buy into it.  To me it is mostly bland and pointless, only a way for them to make them money.

I’ve recently read a book by J M R Higgs called KLF – Chaos, Magic, Music, Money.  I would highly recommend it, although it’s not a biography of the KLF as such, more about what influenced them and drove them.  It certainly covers a lot of seemingly unrelated topics yet somehow links them together. I don’t want to spoil it too much but it is very interesting read, even if parts are hard to get your head around.  Since reading it, I am starting to see more and more why The KLF had the attitude that popular culture was thrust upon them, they didn’t want it so they should be able to do what they want with it.  Which is why they sampled huge chunks of songs and promptly ended up in trouble for copyright infringement.

It’s also got me thinking about the expression ‘selling your soul to the devil’. It has always been associated with the music industry and dates back to the days of Robert Johnson before the term ‘music industry’ was even thought of.  To me this really means that you can become very popular and wealthy in the ‘music industry’ but the price you pay is that you lose touch with the spiritual side of music, i.e. having little or no input into the writing or production process and being styled and told how to act however they see fit.

And maybe that’s the crux of the issue.  I’m often in trouble for saying I only like proper music but have never been able to define the term in any meaningful way.  I would suggest that to me ‘proper music’ has that personal element and some intelligence to it and is not mass produced using a tried and tested formula and/or computer programs with little human input.

Having said all that, there’s one point that can’t be denied.  The most annoying thing of all.  Sometimes you have to buy a ready meal because it is really appealing at that point in time, even though you know you should have something home made instead.

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My Studio — March 13, 2013

My Studio

Sometimes, people say one thing and mean another.  This post is no different.

Although it’s titled ‘my studio’, I don’t actually have one.  Given money and space I definitely would have one with guitars, amps, synths, effects, mics and so on.  But I don’t and am not likely to anytime soon.  There is a compromise though, and your outlay will be minimal.

After experimenting with the 4 track, I never really got into computer music afterwards.  Partly because I was a purist and wanted to play all the instruments, partly because I couldn’t afford the right type of gear / software and partly because I was mainly into acoustic music at the time so didn’t feel the need.

So when I started using Caustic 2 on my phone and wanted to create my own sounds I had no gear (apart from a very old tie-clip microphone) and a bit of a problem – or so it would seem.  Actually, I didn’t have a problem at all.  There are loads of VSTs around, many of which are free and surprisingly good.  I started using a VST host but realised it was very limited as it only loaded one VST at a time so you could load a synth but no effects.  Still, it got me started.

I guess I was lucky with Ableton Live Lite as I got it free through Soundcloud.  However, if you look around there are several low cost alternatives to software such as Ableton and FL Studio.  I certainly can’t afford either of those.   Software such as MU Lab, Reaper, Cantabile and Podium offer free or low cost alternatives and yes, they may not be as fully featured but they do an excellent job for a fraction of the cost.

Once I started using Ableton Live Lite, I realised that the laptop keyboard just wasn’t up to the job.  I started looking at midi keyboards but couldn’t choose between a full size one or a smaller one.  In the end I went for the Axiom M-Audio Oxygen 25 because I don’t have that much space and secondly I don’t plan on playing a keyboard for the foreseeable future, I mainly need to input notes and chords for sequencing.  I haven’t fully configured it yet, although to be honest it doesn’t have enough dials for most of the VSTs that I use.  One thing to be wary of is that Windows 7 has done something rather odd with midi – I don’t think they’ve fully implemented it – which means some old gear doesn’t seem to work even with a USB to midi convertor which would appear not to work on Windows 7 in any case.

I have used a number of VSTs, both instruments and effects.  Whilst it’s true that some are much better than others, and some have sounds effectively limited to the presets, many are ideal for me as a bedroom musician.  The big trade off is that you don’t have a physical piece of hardware and I certainly miss adjusting knobs and dials and having to do all that on the screen with a mouse.

Charlatan was the first synth I used because it is easy to learn but also requires quite a bit of fine tuning to get some really good sounds so you can’t be lazy and rely on presets.  Others I’ve used include  Tyrell N6, TAL Noisemaker, Laserblade S Pro, Motion, Protoplasm, Rez 3, String Theory, The Tiger, Substance, Ultraswamp, Astralis Orgone, Hoar, Miffi, P8, SerenityFree, Sonitarium, Fabfilter 1, Wollo Drone, Wollo Fmera and Xakt.

Effects include Density Mk III, BootEQ MkII, NastyDLA MkII, dblue Glitch, Rescue AE, Tessla Pro and Thrillseeker XTC.

That’s a lot of free sounds, many can be found at http://bedroomproducersblog.com/  In the UK, Computer Music magazine is also great as it contains a load of instruments, effects, software and tutorials to get you going.  Some of the software is a ‘CM’ version (i.e. slightly cut down version) of commercially available software.

The other free software I find invaluable is Audacity.  I use this to tidy up sounds and resample for use back in Caustic.  Now this might seem a really long winded way to do it.  I create the sound and effect in Ableton, record an octave or two or three as required, export as a wav, load into audacity, chop into individual notes, tidy up and then load the individual notes into Caustic and create PCM files.  (Once created, you can simply load them again in future).  I do this because I always have my phone with me and find it’s quick and easy to write songs in Caustic.  Who knows, one day I may start using Ableton to its full potential.

So really, with a laptop and minimal outlay on software and a midi keyboard there’s enough other free software out there to start making music without spending a fortune.

Circle of Fifths and Fourths — March 6, 2013

Circle of Fifths and Fourths

Following on from music theory primer and intervals, this post is about the circle of fifths / fourths.

I’ve said previously that we can move through all the keys systematically and this is how we do it.

If we think of the keys as a circle, then the circle of fifths moves us clockwise around the circle adding one sharp note into the Key for each successive step round the circle, starting with the Key of C major.

Conversely, the circle of fourths moves us anti-clockwise around the circle adding one flat note into the Key for each successive step round the circle.  This is shown on the diagram below.

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This is what is meant by harmonic context when deciding whether we call a note sharp or flat. As the pattern is circular, most books will say once you moved 7 steps through the circle of fifths it’s easier to think in terms of flats and similarly when you’ve moved 7 steps through the circle of fourths it’s easier to think in terms of sharps.  There is also a point where the Keys overlap and these are the Keys of B, F#/Gb and C#/Db.  Whether you call these sharp or flat depends on how you use them, more often it’s a case of whichever way is easier to write them.

Don’t worry about these too much, I’ve included the whole circle to show you how it works and realistically, you are probably only likely to use the first 4 Keys in either direction anyway.

I always think in terms of sharps for the circle of fifths and flats for the circle of fourths mainly because I’ve written these out longhand so many times I’ve lost count and found it easier to stick with sharps for circle of fifths and flats for circle of fourths because to me it’s less confusing than switching part way through.

The process for following the circle of fifths is as follows.  Start with the Key of C major.

C D E F G A B C

Take the note at the fifth position as your new root note.  Sharpen the note at the fourth position and write it in the seventh position (x just indicates a space for now)

G x x x x x F# G

Then take the notes in the sixth, seventh, first, second and third positions and write them in that order starting at the second position of the new scale:

G A B C D E F# G

We now repeat this process.  Take the note at the fifth position as your new root.  Sharpen the note at the fourth position and write it in the seventh position (x just indicates a space for now)

D x x x x x C# D

Then take the notes in the sixth, seventh, first, second and third positions and write them in that order starting at the second position of the new scale:

D E F# G A B C# D

…and so on.  You can check you’ve doing it right because there will always be the same major scale intervals of Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone and the starting note for each successive Key is given on the diagram above.

The process for the circle of fourths is as follows.  Start with the Key of C major:

C D E F G A B C

Take the note at the fourth position as your new root.  Flatten the note at the seventh position and write it in the fourth position (x just indicates a space for now)

F x x Bb x x x F

Then take the notes in the fifth, sixth, first, second and third positions and write them in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh positions of the new scale:

F G A Bb C D E F

We now repeat this process.  Take the note at the fourth position as your new root.  Flatten the note at the seventh position and write it in the fourth position (x just indicates a space for now)

Bb x x Eb x x x Bb

Then take the notes in the fifth, sixth, first, second and third positions and write them in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh positions of the new scale:

Bb C D Eb F G

…and so on.  You can check you’ve doing it right because there will always be the same major scale intervals of Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone and the starting note is given on the diagram above.

I’ve written these out longhand in the tables below, indicating the chords in each Key.  I think that it is worth writing the circle of Keys out longhand to start with.  It takes some time but helps you become familiar with the different major scales and therefore the major Keys and the chords they contain.  Over time you’ll start to remember some of them which can really help provide new avenues for improvisation, songwriting and ultimately (well, hopefully a bit at least) ear training.

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Next time…… Chord construction