Sunday, October 31, 2010

not Nearly So Easy

As I sit in my little home studio, recording the demo songs for my new album... flipping to the football games to watch Brett Favre break his jaw (I'm almost positive, poor guy), and watching the George Bushes driving in a golf cart during "God Bless America" for the World Series... I've come to a conclusion. This recording stuff, it sure is not nearly as easy as I keep thinking that it is. Seriously, all I'm really doing is putting together the raw acoustic guitar, lead vocals, and sometimes a lead piece. The concept is for me to be able to listen, make changes to lyrics (already happened for two songs), decide on bass and lead ideas (one song is hopefully getting a muted trumpet solo), and figuring out any harmonies or changes in vocal patterns. It's just raw. It's for my big bass man to listen to and come up with his bass parts. So that Drummer Dave can have a listen and see if he wants to add percussion anywhere.

It has to be right, though. The songs have to sound like themselves. I try to cut down on extraneous string hits, vocal flubs, missed chords, or anything else that you might get if you were rushing through. I've been playing the songs over and over, trying to have them down in my sleep, but still I make a miss here and there - happens every so often with songs I've played for a decade. Any time I do it on the recording, however, I stop, kill the track, and start over. There is no mixing, no tweaking, but the songs have to be right.

And then, sometimes, the software doesn't cooperate. I'm using a slightly older program, on a slightly older laptop, because of the fact that the songs don't need to be perfect, and that I won't be mixing them. I know the program fairly well, and it's easy enough to use - especially when you do it all by yourself. MS Windows, however, despite being on Windows XP (the PERFECT operating system), will randomly decide to update or load something... which interrupted the recording mid-stream. Earlier tonight, while recording "Almost Right" I found that it managed to cut the first 10 seconds of the guitar track, and then intermittently skip a second, or half second, here and there. Argh! No wonder people spend so much time in the studio, eight hours at a time!

That said... two more demos to go. Then we get to vote on thirteen for nine spots (one song, "Grams", is being brought over for certain). I'll be asking you, my "loyal fans" to help me choose the best songs. Hopefully it doesn't take me a dog's age to finish this part.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Your Call Is Important To Us

My latest aspiration is to have my music start appearing as "hold music" for various companies. Have you noticed that hold music can really vary across the spectrum of companies? Many times a day, every work day, I spend time on conference calls. When I'm not the call owner, I sit on "music hold" for a minute, up to fifteen or twenty when the person is running horribly late. The conference company that we use internally has some sort of soft jazz running. Of course, unlike a credit card company, we have the exact same song that repeats over and over and over. While I'm not certain, I believe they used this as a method of torture in the movie Platoon.

Now, you can usually match the music up with the company that you are calling. For instance, if you have rock n roll, it tends to be some place that you can buy "cool" things from. When I've called sporting good stores, music stores, or a handful of e-commerce companies, this tends to be the case. Financial institutions tend to lean more toward classical music or soft jazz. What always kills me, however, is when you call a credit union or law office and get alternative metal or classic rock. For some reason, I remember my credit union doing something like this while I lived in Texas. It's been a number of years since I lived in Austin, so this could have long since changed.

When I was in college, a very close friend of mine worked for 1-800-Flowers.com and we would talk every so often. The deal was that, if he got a call, he would have to put me on hold for a while. That was probably a dozen years ago. To this day, I can still whistle that hold music... and have done so while in his home. You know what that means? Hold music has incredible staying power. I want my music to be on-hold music.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Close to the Music

Tonight I was talking with a musician that I have a great deal of respect for. He actually raised an interesting idea to me this evening. You see, he is in the process of recording an album of his own, and has been looking for high quality production people to make sure everything comes out right. My father gave him a copy of my first album, Lighting the Dark. This gent actually liked it a lot, praised me as a song writer and a singer, speaking "from song writer to song writer" - this praise is just unbelievably amazing in my eyes, and I still feel a bit unworthy of it. That, of course, is for another story.

After listening to my album, he couldn't wait to talk to me tonight. We discussed the writing, the recording, the mixing... and then the mastering. Making the music radio ready. He remarked that someone mastering the music just can't be close to it... needs to be a fresh set of ears. That is a complete reversal from my initial thoughts: that the person who knows the music best can help it sound best to other ears.

When I got my CDs duplicated, I used DiscMakers, a company that specializes in high quality replication. Seriously, the CD came out beautifully, from the art to the label to the sound quality itself. I always assumed that the sound was great too, but I had been involved all along the recording process. DiscMakers didn't do the mastering. Turns out, however, they have something called SoundLab which can do the mastering for you. Fresh ears. Experienced ears. And that left me thinking... maybe the mixing should be done by the guy that I know the best, trust the best, and knows my musical style the best (my brother). Assuming he'll help me. But maybe it's time to take the mastering out to the professionals. After all, I want the sound to be fantastic. Hopefully, since you're reading this, you do too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Expectations

Every so often, I just fall in love with playing a song. Sometimes, as was the case when I first figured out Rocky Mountain Way, it was just a new song that I had always loved and was shocked to realize I could play it. Other times, however, there is a song that I played in the past and took somewhat for granted. This, dear friends and music fans, is one of those times.

To call it correctly, I have really fallen back in love with No Expectations. It's an old Rolling Stones song that doesn't get a lot of love. No fancy riffs or driving beats or even lovable implications. No Expectations is smooth and simple and really just a basic blues song. It's the type of song, as I will paraphrase the movie Crossroads (if you haven't seen the end of this movie before, click on the video for the sickest guitar duel ever)... No Expectations is just the story of a good man feeling bad. It has some clever lines in it, to be sure, but it's just mellow.

I happen to like mellow. Especially since I need to try and cut back my enthusiastic style of performance until I heal up. I've been playing this bad boy in both E and G. It sounds good either way, although when I sing it, I seem to be channeling a little more Black Crowes. Such is life. It's just a great song, and one that I think I'll be adding to the repertoire for a while. The funny thing is, it's not the best version. A little homework, boys and girls: go to Google and look up Bill Perry's version of No Expectations. Come on, I can't spoon feed you all the links, now can I?

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Edge

My songs have had a tendency to be inspired by women I've loved (or liked), younger cousins and lost loved ones. Even the songs written about women have tended to be a tad more tame; I focused on poetic and romantic.

A former band-mate, Mr. Mike DiMartino (who, as we used to say, "IS rock n roll") was, is, and always will be a massive Van Halen fan. He didn't have a huge issue with most of the songs that I wrote, but he really wanted me to try and do something more in the VH line of thinking. VH songs were more about sex and drinking and wild times and getting laid, and oh yeah, gratuitous images of sexy women. Even in the Sammy years (my preferred portion, truth told), the sex was just under the layers of the music. DiMar always wanted me to write something like that. He appreciated that I wrote a "drinking song" but it was still too upbeat - he wanted it a little more raw.

The man and I don't play together anymore, and we may not have always seen eye to eye (nope, not a short joke if you're reading this, Mikey) but I finally decided to give in a little. Now, it's not raw David Lee Roth, it doesn't have the punch of Eddie's guitar, and it has a little more AC/DC influence than VanHagar... but I've got something that will be going on the new album with a little more edge... a little racier, if you will. Go ahead and pop on over to the music page of TinyBlueMusic.com and download the demo version of "Jingle My Bells" and let me know what you think. The final cut promises to be a little more raw, and a little heavier.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Broke Down and Busted

The name of my father's band - Broke Down and Busted - and not the Todd Rungdren Song seemed like a good title here. Yes, your favorite tiny blue musician has injured himself. What I've learned is that the foot ceases to function when you tear the Achilles tendon. Not certain that I'm overly pleased with this obvious failure in plan, but there is little I can do about it at the moment. The problem seems to come more from my apparent loss of musical mojo. You'd think that'd be spending this chair-bound time blogging or recording or writing new tunes or, at the very least, practicing my guitar! Yet, all I have done for the last few days is watch the clock, awaiting the next moment that I can take a pain killer and relieve the knifing sensation coming from the back of my leg. The only thing I take solace in is that I'm using half the possible dosage.

Note for those who might be screaming what my closest family and friends are: "Don't be a hero, take your pain medicine!" Trust me, I'm not trying to be a hero by any stretch. I just don't like the cloudy sensation that these pills give my head. I realize that I'm a musician, and that statement makes all of the "sex drugs and rock and roll" purists wretch a little. Can't help it.

Still, I also can't help but wonder if that's where the mojo stealing is coming from. Today I'm going to try and extend the gaps between my painkiller consumption. Hopefully, the side effect will be that I do, in fact, feel the urge and ability to sit down and record one of the demos for the new album - I only have three to go for crying out loud! The alternative, of course, is that I start screaming.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Making headway

Tonight I was sitting here lamenting that I managed to injure my Achilles tendon - perfect timing since my parents decided just last night to lend my the exercise bike that dad wasn't using anymore. Got to use it yesterday (great for watching football on while not getting fatter) and this morning before work... and here I'm thinking, "damn, I can't exercise tonight, what do I do?"

So, of course, I shut off the TV, booted up the recording software, and recorded song #8 of the demos for the new album. A few of the songs are already up on TinyBlueMusic.com if you haven't heard. More will soon join them. I'll even, eventually, do a series on what these songs are about (most likely... we'll see). I should probably actually do that for Lighting the Dark since people keep asking about various songs. Since so many of them were written over such vast time frames (and since I can't really remember what the hell I wrote "Added Impulse" about, seeing as the original name was "Fired Up" I might have some trouble with that part. No, I was neither drunk nor high, since I do neither... but this is getting away from me).

None of that is the point. Well, some of it was. The point, really, is that I shut off the TV and motivated to focus on the music tonight. That's what I've been trying to do lately - focus on the music. The song that I just laid down, "Reluctant Hero" actually sounds a little differently now than when I first wrote it. It actually has some Hendrix influence in it, since I've played and listened to a lot more Jimi in the last year. I hear a little something else in it - might be Black Crowes (or might be that I've listened to them a lot lately), but I kept hearing Chris Robinson in my head while I was playing the guitar part and mouthing the lyrics. (Side note: awesome interview with the Crowes friend man). So we'll have to see what you think when I put it all available for listening. And then again when I do the final versions for the album. I actually toyed with leads at the end of this one, so it could be MIGHTY different when it's done.