Monday, June 29, 2020

The World of Recording - Part II

The World of Recording - Part II

After I got to visit a professional recording studio for the first time I…didn’t really do anything about it! Getting a glimpse of mixing was great, but having the equipment to do so and the hands on part of it was still beyond me. Fortunately, I still got to be a part of actually creating an album. In the Summer of ’08, a friend and bandmate in high school had a couple of microphones and the hookups needed to be able to have our band record a whole album (called See You Soon from The Mango Garden…look for the follow up between 2022-2029). It was a ton of fun, and those sessions may have really spurred my “One Take Frank” mentality when it comes to recording.

Allegedly when Frank Sinatra would record, we would commonly nail it in one take. The amount of practicing, rehearsing, and studying of the material needed to do that is incredible. And those sessions in my friend’s basement had a similar style. I would practice for hours and hours at home, learning the changes and trying to hear and feel out what would sound best. When it came time to record, I wanted to knock the take out of the park first time around.

It didn’t always work that way. But, there were occasions where it would be my turn to record and I would be able to move right on to the next song. Though it’s maybe technically more efficient if you get a great take right off the bat, but I found out a good rule of thumb a little over a decade after See You Soon: It’s always a good idea to have at least two takes. There will generally be that much more of a comfortability with playing the song, especially knowing you can contrast and compare. Better yet, if you can double up on a solo note for note, it has a bigger sound going on and an effect heard on the likes of “Money” by Pink Floyd.

After getting to record See You Soon with The Garden, I didn’t record anything else for a long time (over a decade later, check out my band’s debut album here). All throughout college I was in a half a dozen bands or so. Though the projects got time on stage, there was no project I ever went into a record studio with, or no project where we set out to make an album. The closest thing I came to that was having our sound “recorded” when we were live on a friend’s radio show. Better make the take good! The mentality wasn’t to go in and lay down tracks to pitch, it was just to go in and have fun (and it was, taking place in a room completely surrounded with vinyl records a big window to the control room so you could see and joke with the DJ). Though CDs were made of the performance, it’d didn’t really feel like an album, maybe some sort of studio-live hybrid, but that wasn’t the point of playing that night. 

Bizarrely enough, the next time I entered a professional studio to record was when I was studying abroad in India. It was right after our program ended there and 4 of us from the 9 in our group hopped in rickshaws and made the journey to a studio (that's us up top!). It ended up being owned an operated by a tabla player we got to see perform months earlier. It was a session put together by a producer and great lyricist Jackson Whalen. Trevor Ring and I were the main ones on analog instruments so we practiced some parts ahead of time to go with the beat that Jackson made. Rubina Beg came in to provide a great lyrical melody for the chorus and I mirrored and harmonized with that line on guitar. I forgot how great it felt to hear, see, and be a part of creating music to be mixed and mastered into a tangible recording. It immediately became something I wanted to do when I got back to the States.

All these years later, check out songs off the debut album from my band Alpha Pegasi by clicking here

Monday, June 22, 2020

The World of Recording - Part I

The World of Recording - Part 1

My first time in a professional recording studio was a purely passive experience, but it was so great to just be a sponge in that space. It took place at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield, NH. Pulling into the driveway, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. All I knew is that this time would miraculously be credited towards my high school senior project of making an album (Click here to check out my band’s debut single). I called the studio to ask them if it would be alright to come by and shadow a recording or mixing session at the studio and they agreed. When the date arrived, I made out to a part of the state I had never been to before. When I got there and opened the doors, I stepped into a world I’d never even dreamed of.

Seemingly any and every instrument, amplifier, and microphone you could ever want were all living in this one, beautiful, acoustically-rich room. Up to that point in time, I really only tried to focus on being a good guitar player. I was just beginning to sing and play bass but I never even thought of being able to play piano, drums, organ, or synth. Yet here were all these instruments in the same room. It was pretty mind boggling to be shown Fender instruments in great shape from the 60’s and 70’s, a gorgeous grand piano, and gleaming drum set with seemingly a dozen microphones set up all around it.

Being only four or so years into playing guitar, I didn’t understand the music industry, how records were made, and I’m not too sure if I even knew that mixing and mastering was a thing. Being pretty very naive about the recording process, I kind of thought you would just go into a studio, get a good take, then get the music out there. Apparently there's a lot more to it than that! Getting a great take is a desired result, but even with one there is still a lot of work to be done to make that particular instrument sound the best it can. The wise men running the boards told me that sound sits on a frequency spectrum and it's measured in Hertz (HZ). Bass sits much lower frequency on the spectrum than an electric guitar. Accordingly, when some of the higher frequencies/HZ are shaved off from the bass and more emphasis is placed on the lower frequencies it naturally produces, the result is a rich, full tone. 

It was like someone had pulled back the curtain to what my eyes couldn’t process. I was seeing sound for the first time in my life. That day at Rocking Horse I was mainly involved in the mixing portion of an a cappella project. In a more peaceful, quiet, and woodsy area of the country with a modern-cabin like feel to the studio itself, I could see why musicians would want to go there to best capture and release their sound. It was interesting to hear strictly vocals with no instruments, yet with every single voice on record, there was a little to take away here and a little more to add there. After a couple hours of soaking up as much as I could, I thanked those that let me sit in on the session and left. As I made my way home, I continued savoring the thought of all of those beautiful instruments, learning about the art of a good mix, and seeing sound for the first time.

The debut single from my band Alpha Pegasi was just released on 6/20/20! Listen to it by Clicking Here

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Summertime (Doin' TIme)

Summertime (Doin’ Time)

Summertime, and the living’s easy…

The lyrics in the verses definitely do not match that statement. When I first heard the song “Doin’ Time” (the original of the “Summertime” version most people know) I felt the lyrics were super conflicted between the chorus and verses. I was in high school circa 2007, at the heart of my Summer of Sublime. It felt like essentially every time I hung out with my best friend Liam “Big Lee” McCarthy, we would end up listening to and/or jamming on some Sublime songs. Both being singers, songwriters, and guitar players in our teenage and rebellious phase, we drew a lot of inspiration from Sublime’s leader Bradley Nowell. So when I heard the lyrics in the verses of “Doin’ Time,” I felt bad for Bradley.

The three verses reflect an agonizing relationship between him and a woman who seems to be doing everything she can to cause Brad pain. She’s running around having sex with a lot of other people, so much so that he doesn’t even get to do so with her. It makes him feel like he’s going through one of the worst experiences anyone can go through: being stuck in jail or prison (really don’t recommend going there, avoid it at all costs). This woman is driving him so mad, he feels like he wants to drown her…yet the chorus cooly proclaims…

Summertime, and the living’s easy

That didn’t match up at all with the tumultuous relationship that he described he was going through. I always thought those sets of lyrics in the verses and chorus seemed in direct contrast with each other, and I let that opinion lie for about 13 years. Then I heard Lana Del Ray’s version of it. I respect Lana as a musician that has made it and turned her dreams into realities in the music and entertainment industries. That being said, I was a bit dismayed at her cover of “Doin’ Time.” She barely changed anything! She even still sang “Bradley’s on the microphone…” Lana, your name and Bradley’s have the same syllables! Her version could easily have been spun into a version more about her relationships, her city, and her life. But it wasn’t. Rather than complain about it, I did something about it.

Lana’s version gave me that final kick I needed to alter the lyrics in a way that matched up with the chorus. I did my best to completely flip the lyrics on their head. Instead of describing a relationship that was a negative influence on the narrator, I wanted to create something as close to the exact opposite of that as I could. In that sense I flipped the script of a sad story into a love song. The goal was to produce lyrical content that described a really beautiful, passionate, and loving relationship for the verses. For the chorus instead of singing about “The LBC” of Long Beach California, I rewrote them to apply to the city where I live in at this time of writing: Denver, Colorado. With that in mind, I wanted the content and context for the music video to be shots taken from one of my favorite sections of the city: RiNo. 

The strip of the River North district on Larimer Street from about 25th to 36th is one of my favorite parts of Den. Huge murals, graffiti, and a ton of street art covers basically every building down there. Just in that section of the city there has to be about a dozen craft breweries. Also, a borderline sanctuary for me is housed down there. RocketSpace is an hourly rehearsal studio that has allowed me to practice parts for various instruments and songs at full volume (something not allowed in a 1 bedroom apartment). I first practiced “Doin’ Time ” on the kit they have set up in the upstairs drum room. From Room #7 and the 5 piece kit up there, the song grew musically.

I’m changing the lyrics, why not the music too? I ended up adding a reggae feel to the verses, a Pink Floyd like approach to the chords in the chorus, added a bit of a drum and bass feature, and a ska section with a short solo before going into the last chorus. 

The single dropped today on the Summer Solstice! Click Here to give it a listen


  • 2 GUITARS (1 electric and 1 acoustic)
  • 1 KEYBOARD TRACK (with a Vibraphone setting)
  • TOTAL=8 tracks recorded in 2 hours

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Art of Jamming

BLOG POST: The Art of a Tasty Jam

I love jamming and improvising sooooooo much. When you are really in the heart of jamming, everyone is speaking with and listening to each other at the exact same time. It’s an incredible way to simultaneously express yourself and communicate with others, both with those you’re making music with and those in the audience. One of my favorite things about making music in the moment is that it’s almost entirely dependent on the atmosphere and energy of those in the room. Whether playing with friends, rehearsing for a show, or playing to a packed house, the environment the music and the state of the people that make it is made in such is a huge factor as to where it goes (Click this link to hear one of my favorite jams from my band). 

If it’s hot as balls while outside at a music festival like Summer Camp, hearing a more chill groove is great because give the body a chance to do just that, while still keeping it moving. On the other hand, if you’ve been waiting outside for hours and hours in freezing temperatures to see the first Oysterhead show in about a decade, you are ready to get loud and get down, with 10,000 other people feeling similarly. Sometimes the jam during a slow song might blast off and soar through the roof at a completely different tempo and key than the one you started in because everyone in the audience is going bananas and only wants the energy to get that much higher than it already is. On the other hand, if the band has really been playing with fire with roaring energy for half an hour, a reggae or dub feel in the middle of a banger gives such a great breather to relax and recharge to have that much energy for the rest of the show.

And then there's the lights! Along with the front-of-house engineer making sure everything sounds as good as it can, a band's lighting designer is the one who really makes the music come alive. An LD is an integral part of a really good jam band. Being able to literally color whatever sounds are coming through the speakers adds a whole new dimension to a show. Being able to do so in real time as the band ventures into unknown territory and paint the picture as it's happening requires so much skill and such a profound understanding of the group's music. A lighting designer can play such an integral role that they can be deemed members of the band. Chris Kuroda, the LD for Phish, is often referred to as "CK5" or the fifth member of the band (like Billy Preston being the 5th Beatle). A really good light show enhances whatever the emotion of the song is. Whether bathing the entire audience in bright white light at the peak of a jam, or a deep red cloaking the band during a heavy rock and roll section, lights and the person behind them really help the music come alive.

A great jam band and lighting designer alike know how to showcase different styles and feels that emerge in any given song or section of improvisation. With jamming, everyone involved in creating the sound and color of that night's event has to listen to each other incredibly well. Though I love being able to shred and really let loose on the guitar, one of my favorite things to do in life is to lay back, listen, and get a groove going off of what other people are playing. As such, the jam tends to have a more simplistic nature on my end. Rather than the spotlight-shining-nature of a solo, jamming is more about being able to build off of what the group has to say. When you play more texture-rich than constantly changing chords, it's easier for others to have their say say provides more of a backdrop than a focal point. When someone lays down a more simplistic than complicated riff, it's easier to match up with and better yet harmonize with that person. When your more focused on listening and hear the bassist and drummer locked in on a groove, it’s easier to emulate that a similar rhythmic pattern on your instrument. When you can lock in on rhythms and melodies that are completely improvised, suddenly you are songwriting on the spot. And when a great jam like that happens, it's indescribably fun to be a part of.

Click this link to listen to a jam from my band Alpha Pegasi, and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Music: The Most Powerful Language?

Is there a language more powerful than music?

You can easily make an argument that music is the most understandable and universal language on the planet. It’s felt and heard even before birth with the rhythm from the heartbeat of our mother. A single band or musician can bring together thousands even millions of people to form a community centered around music. The emotion, energy, and feeling music gives to people goes well beyond words of written or spoken language. It can instantly put us in a good mood and make us feel that much better about where we are at any point in time. Being able to bring out a good mood in myself and everyone who listens to the music I create is a key component of the music I make (Click here for a sample!).  At the same time when times get tough, we can turn to a certain song or artist that expresses the emotions we are feeling to get powerful reminder that we are not alone in feeling the way we feel. 

Everyone experiences emotions and music is an ultimate conduit to expressing the emotions that come with being human. In addition, everyone can feel and even make music. Everyone can dance. Everyone can sing. With practice, everyone can play an instrument. Although food and water are the substances we need to survive, music is soul food that keeps our spirits alive. Music at it’s core is a language without words, a language that transcends words. Perhaps the most I ever felt this powerful truth was shortly after I landed thousands of miles away from the shores of my home country.

What was in many ways the best semester of my college career was not spent in a college, institution, or anything close to it. I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in India for 4 solid months. A group of 9 of us made the plunge to an area none of us had ever been to called Auroville. Recognized by the Indian government as its own entity, Auroville is a place like none other. It is both part of, though independent of, the country of India. As Auroville’s core is focused on all-things sustainability and spirituality, it was the perfect setting to do just that. One of the most distinguishing features of Auroville is called the Matrimandir (pictured above). Meditating inside this giant, silent, golden ball provided incredibly profound experiences time after time. I was lucky that it was so close to where I got to live. The home base for our study abroad group was a sort of tropical-weather-paradise of a place called Verite, French for “Truth” the open airs, gardens, and showers made up our “campus” for the next few months.

Palm trees and greenery were everywhere you looked. It was nearly an entirely self-sufficient arrangement. Water usage was completely recycled and filtered on site. What was grown in the gardens was put on our plates in the morning, along with other food from farms in the area. There were four main buildings at Verite. There was a dining area where we enjoyed most of our meals. The “quiet zone” was a sweet space to relax and it contained a pool where small fish would nibble on and clean dead skin from your feet (talk about tickling!). A big round room also served as “Town Hall,” with yoga classes, sound healing sessions, and various lectures held on site. There was also another completely circular shelter that formed the Common Area close to our living spaces. Here was a place for anyone and everyone who was staying on that site. Fortunately for me there were a few musicians in the abroad group that year. On top of jamming on various rooftops, we also played a lot in the Common Area.

One night, Trevor, Ty, Tim, and I decided to jam there. During our stay, we actually got booked to play while abroad. Our band name was “The OM Collective,” OM being short for Overseas Musicians. Cute, I know. On one particular evening, already there were a guy and a girl who we’d never seen before. A lot of different people from a lot of different countries stayed in Verite to. We nodded to each other, got our guitars and drums and started to play. The other two in the room got up and left without a word. Everyone’s a critic! Much to our surprise the guy came back with a beautifully carved, dark grain flute. Oh! So that’s where you were going. Over the past couple of days before that night, we would hear these gorgeous melodies ringing in the air throughout Veritie. This was the guy that was making them.

Before we started playing I asked, “What key should we play in?” The response came back in a language I couldn’t understand. This guy didn’t speak a lick of English, neither did the woman there, and none of us knew their language. Regardless, he began to play. B minor it is. We eased our way into it and within a good 5 minutes we were trading solos. Trevor, Flute Man, myself, Tim, Ty; all of us having our own say while collectively keeping the conversation going. 

That first jam we had with him was probably a good 15 minutes. Once it came to a close, it was all smiles from everyone. We even laughed at just how amazing that was. You don’t need words to understand happiness. We felt it and shared it individually and collectively. That was one of my favorite experiences ever making music. I’ve gotten the chance to play Main Stages at music festivals. I’ve played hundreds of shows at venues throughout New England and have begun to play live recently out West after moving to Colorado. But of all the raging house parties, all of the bars, all of the venues, all of the festivals, that one jam with Flute Man in India solidified the power of music as a universal language more than any other experience I’ve had.

Click this link to hear of the first single from my band Alpha Pegasi! I would love to know what you think of it in the comments below.