Best Albums of 2011

My buddy Fidgital for years has put out his annual list of best albums of 2011. This is the best-of roundup I look forward to most of all each year. Granted, by then he’s already turned me on to most of the releases, but I always find a couple new surprises to cherish.

He usually also makes a great best song DJ mix to mark the new year. This year is possibly his best ever! Listen here:

Be sure to check out his last.fm Journal entry detailing all his picks! 🙂

Best Wishes for the New Year

Wishing everyone a prosperous, fabulous and harmonious new year. 2010 is here!

My personal wishes for the new year:

  • To help reignite the Northwest Electronica scene
  • Give more solo music performances
  • To fully harness the power of my latest analogue synth
  • Jam even more new music on my iPod
  • World peace, and of course, more cowbell.

Fireworks Over Vancouver

Blowing up my Musical World

Growing up was an all you can eat buffet of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. As such, the few non-classical recordings in the house fascinated me the most. We only had a handful, which made the bizarre kinetic 5/4 swing of Brubeck’s “Take 5” and the exotic Beatles quite otherwordly and enchanting. At that age I had no idea that I’d write music one day: I assumed that most music was a serious orchestral business. Nice, safe, phrases repeated over and over, nearly always landing on the tonic. Rarely any non-Italian lyrics, definitely no drumkit.

One year I asked my Santa for a walkman and he was generous that year. It blew up my musical world. Suddenly three minute confections of synths, orch hits, grinding guitars, dance moves and shakin’ beats were getting piped into my headphones. I would hide in my bed past my bedtime and surf the FM channels. I would wait the agonizing 5 minutes before the next song, my eyes bleary with sleeplessness, just in case the next song was one I would love. I soaked in the lyrics, the style, scandalized by the sex, excited by the bass, fascinated by the hooks.

I bought tapes and played the singles over and over again, rewinding the tapes until the ribbon was loose and warbled and the pitches started to slacken. But still, then, I had no idea I would one day tackle making my own creations.

Later, as a teen, I accompanied an amazingly talented electronica group into the studio. They had a real cult following online, before anybody know what ‘online’ was. As the night progressed into an all nighter, someone realized I was getting very bored and offering me a Juno-106 synth and a pair of headphones to play with. Something shifted in me that night… while playing with the knobs, listening to the buzzing squelching and changing timbre… I feel in love.

That was the first spark I had in what would later become a long and torrid love-affair with synthesizers. In a way, that would also lead to opening up the world of music creation that would eventually lead to sequencers, drum machines, samplers and ultimately songwriting / composition.

I think I probably got a late start in music, compared to what I would have liked. Even though I’d written love poems to my piano and sung myself to sleep as a child, I didn’t realize I was musical. It took a fascination with synths and other tools to get me to cross to the other side. My love for them allowed me to experiment and explore music more deeply. It allowed me to finally discover who I am.

Sometimes when I tell people I make electronic music, they often react with a face I recognize. It’s usually a mixture of curiosity, awe, confusion, and if you look carefully – a smidge of disdain sometimes. Like somehow those tools take away the hard work, the creativity. To be honest, I can’t really get on board with that point of view. Those machines really helped to unlock my creativity. The artistic choices you can make are virtually infinite, which in some ways makes things a bit harder. They also require an awful lot of skill, patience and hard work to operate properly. Lastly, and this is the most important to me, they free the mere mortal, the complete newbie, to try writing music. For this, I owe synths a debt of gratitude.

For this I will always be glad.

On Producing Your Own Vocals

First of all, let me just say that it is never recommended.

The truth is, the producer hat and the vocalist hat are essentially at odds with each other. Just because you can do each one separately, doesn’t mean it will go smoothly when you try to do them together. The producer is the critical ear, the filter. Your producer brain wants to say no, do it better, that is not good enough. The producer brain is quite discerning. Then there is the performing brain — that is the part that must stay open. The performing brain must be supported, encouraged. There are no mistakes. The performance requires feelings, openness, vulnerabilty and safety.

Can you see how those things are nearly opposite? Stay too accepting, and you’ll never get that good take. Stay too critical, and you’ll never get that good take.

So, with this in mind, I am going to try to disclose some of my conclusions after sweating it out like crazy:

  1. Record first, edit later. Don’t think about editing on recording day, one hat at a time.
  2. Get ‘present’ – that stands to reason for any performance task. Be accepting. Too much desire for a perfect take almost guarantees a lack of results.
  3. Try taking on different characters. Who are you? Can you be someone else? This can help you get unstuck and give you some juice.
  4. Learn how to tell when you have enough good takes. Cover your bases, but don’t treat your voice like a sweatshop. You can always do pickups later.
  5. Pretend you are editing someone else’s voice. This is not you. Someone else hired you to do their hit song, and they happen to sound an awful lot like you.
  6. Learn to hear for microscopic details in a performance: breaths, little scoops, funny clicks or warbles. They will seem huge after 300 listens.
  7. Use autotune, don’t abuse it (unless you really want to.) It’s a great tool, which you can use to massage sneaky little words like “the” or “a” which people generally sing less accurately.
  8. Remember that a recorded performance is very different than a live performance. So don’t be shy about take looping.
  9. Don’t be afraid to screw up. In your home studio, time is free. Do it, and re-do it. Your morale may falter, but none of the time is wasted.
  10. Pat yourself on the back. Nobody else in the room to do it, and besides, no one is looking so you won’t look funny.

Morning Glow Officially Unleashed

Wow! Today is the day. On this lovely Tuesday “Morning Glow” is finally released. After all the toiling, false starts and take after re-take – I am pleased to finally offer my latest album for sale. It’s available through most of the major download retailers such as the iTunes store, Amazon.com and eMusic. If you want a hardcopy of the CD, you can also mail order it through IndiePool or mail order it through Amazon.ca.

Finally, if you want to get it brought into your local CD shop you should be able to special order it through HMV.

If you like it, don’t keep it to yourself! Indie DIY artists such as myself really rely on word-of-mouth to generate sales. Also, anybody feeling keen on it are encouraged to review it in online shops such as iTunes. Every little bit helps! 🙂