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.

What’s in a Name?

For those who wondered – I wanted to address my change of artist name. This upcoming release will be released as Adriane Lake as opposed to my nickname Adri. Why, you may ask, when Adri was a perfectly good name? Well, for several reasons. It was actually a choice I really agonized over. I even went so far as to take an informal poll of all my buddies to ask them which they prefer, but in the end I had to make the choice on my own.

Some of the arguments in favour of the fullname were that it sounds more “mature”, is better suited to someone who is also doing vocals/songwriting, and is pretty decent as far as names go. Some of the arguments for keeping my nickname were that it’s kinda quirky and that’s how people knew my past work. Personally, I happen to find two part names more sticky. Bjork, Madonna and Feist obviously do OK, but whatever you release as, it should be as sticky as possible.

In the end the biggest deciding factor was, well, Google. In this day and age, an Indie is going to be using the internet more than any other media to share their work. For this reason, one should be easy to find. I already feel lost enough in this massive ocean saturated with music, the last thing I need to do is to swim out into it vastness without so much as a safety flare. I should make myself available. If listeners like what I do, they will hopefully try to find me… So while Adri is a very unique name, Adriane Lake is actually vastly more unique to search engines, the iTunes store or any other searchable medium. Adri generates more unrelated results for anybody named “Adrian” or the word “Adrift” – you get the idea. So in the end it made the most sense.

Also, I already had my dot com, which anybody will tell you is kind of lovely.

New Blog

As I sit here and listen to a gorgeous Moby track on Groove Salad, I am pondering what the gist of this blog should be. Those of you who followed me from before will remember that I used to keep a blog, until it seized up and suffered an untimely death during an upgrade. I posted on issues of music, city culture, cats, technology, and various other things that particularly grabbed my interest. At this point, I am starting afresh with a new blog… Hopefully this one is more durable.

That being said, a wise geek friend smartly advised me to separate my artist blog from my other more random musings. He suggested I keep an artist blog and a supplemental blog, or alternately take up microblogging. So it’s with this in mind that I started testing out Twitter to see if I liked it. I had reservations, mainly because it has the word ‘Twit’ in it – but I ended up loving it. So, henceforth, I think I’ll attempt to offer some more newsy, artist-relevant and targeted posts on this site. And for the other other stuff, you know, like for when it’s Caturday or my fingers are just burning to blurt something out at random… Well you’ll find me on Twitter instead where I’ve been hanging out.

Hope this pleases. If you have any requests for stuff you want to read about, I’m all eyes.