Friday, March 27, 2020

How I recorded a full album's worth of drums in two days

Recently I recorded a full album of drums. I guess these days the "album" is somewhat of a lost art.

Personally, I've always found a full album somewhat elusive. As a music writer I'm well-aware of what tends to occur during music-writing progress, particularly what happens when you aim high, and for a "full album."

An example of the charts I write out and then reference when recording drums for a song

Usually, when you continually fixate on creating a body of work such as an album, you start to lose focus on what's in front of you. My point is, you can only write one song at a time. Anyone's mind can work quite fast, and ideas may emerge at a rapid pace. You've got to adhere to a specific rule: one at a time. Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.

How I deal with any influx of creativity is often a "make or break" moment of music creation. This extends from a mental exercise to actual on-the-spot decision making, and years of habit-forming practice. I've found with music and with painting, you have to be ready in the moment with what decisions to make, because these decisions can impact the life-span of the work. For instance, tuning your drums, or replacing your guitar strings, or being careful when touching the dials on a mixing board, and the settings on a recording device (or not touching them) will impact the results of any recording. In the same way, making sure you have enough paint to finish that painting is just as important as those artful flicks of the wrist that cascade a waterfall of enamel across your masterpiece.

With a multitude of great ideas at your disposal, you may be tempted to spread them thinly over a set of songs, rather than select only the best parts for a singular creation. With this album of drums I went for a different approach.

Once again, I'm left with the clumsiness of a music-theory based description, but I'd like to bypass this (in my opinion) egoistic formalism. Instead, how about a simpler take. The man, in the woods, who hits a stick on a downed tree stump. With a little bit of rhythm (and some imagination) we're basically listening to ACDC's "Back in Black," if we want to be, or perhaps a whimsical Hendrix tune. All it takes is the tree branch.

To record the full album of drums what I did was to create charts based off of songs I like myself. I broke down each song by counting 8-beat measures. I literally counted out loud "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8." Once I hit 8, I would write a number down and circle it. With each new circled number I was marking down song parts, i.e. Verse, chorus, bridge, and so on.

From there I was able to figure out how the songs were structured, and it didn't feel like a chore because I was listening to stuff I actually like a lot. Typically, a 4/4 song would have four consecutive 8-beat measures to round out half of a verse or chorus. 

I went one-at-a-time. I created a chart, then brought it over to the drum set. From there, I studied the piece of paper (on the floor by my hi-hat pedal) while I performed a totally indiscernable-from-the-source-material type of different drum pattern all-together (other than the format guidelines I provided for myself), and voila! I was left with a full set of drum tracks for an album. Wasn't so tough really.

From there, I brought my guitar over and basically just went off-the-cuff. At the end of the day I tracked bass (and scratch guitar) for all 10 songs. After a day, I decided two of my cuts were weak, and shortened the length to 8. Another day passed and I was content with 4 out of the 8. And yet another day, and I was down two 3 out of the original 10. At this point in time I'm now at two tracks that I will likely attempt vocals on. When it came to the guitar, the best results were just totally free-styled (after I made sure I was in-tune). The best part is when you start to realize in the moment you're crushing the take (out of nowhere, because, you're hearing the music for the first time yourself). It's at this moment you have to make sure to exercise a bit of caution, but also flash a bit of a switch-blade of risk as well. If you make it to the end of the tape even after this, you're onto something. - Mike

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Review of Nashville Tennessee's Broadway

I recently spent two long afternoons, and about an hour at night-time dry bar crawling Nashville's Broadway street. Right off the bat, I noticed two defining characteristics of the buzzing scene: women, and honky-tonk.

One side of Nashville's Broadway, the other side has even more bars and restaurants.

Before I describe all of the various ways I enjoyed myself, I'll begin with some unsolicited advice: If you're going to visit this area... and you're older than, say, 25 years old... go during the day time, it's much better. The sun shined down on me and as I walked up and down the street to scope out the scene. At first, I just peered into various bars, but didn't enter any. I had a cup of coffee and took a break on a nearby bench, and then I was ready to enter some of the bars. As I walked up and down the block, I was surrounded by countless beautiful women, many blonde, and with very attractive faces, and all decked out in blue jeans, beige leather or suede boots and jackets with fringe, and often cowboy hats. Needless to say, it's quite a sight.

After I broke the seal, I ventured into almost every bar along the main drag, over the several hours I spent in Nashville's Downtown. Yes, I even went into Kid Rock's ridiculous bar. After all was said and done, I found myself attracted to two places: The first and second floor of Tootsie's and The Bootlegger's Inn. There were various other bars that were also pretty good... The Tin Roof and Second Fiddle, to name a couple.

The main attraction on Broadway is the music. Each bar featured what appeared as working-class guys performing to a mostly thankless crowd, but the part that I couldn't quite ignore was the musical style itself. Each act was very similar, to the point of identical. When some of the bands or performers veered off the path of straight-forward country-folk, it was almost startling, because it just didn't seem to happen very often. Nashville's Broadway is country-folk, mainstream-country, honky-tonk bluegrass, "or die," to use a cliche.

A guy playing acoustic at an empty Bootlegger's Inn (Soundcheck?)

It's difficult to articulate what music sounds like with words. I'll try my best. All of the performances I saw in Nashville were of the same genre of music, let's call it "Country folk honky-tonk." This genre allows for easy-listening and enjoyment. The lyrics are usually cliches like, "We went out until the sun came up," or are alcohol related, "I love drinking whiskey." The actual music underneath is where I begin to take some umbrage. This guy, if you fast-forward 7 minutes or 8 minutes into the video, demonstrates this musical accompaniment style:


The best way I can describe this, is to select a series of open chords on an acoustic guitar. Say, C, D G Em, F...

If you just use these types of chords as underlying music, you can speak-sing almost any lyrics over the top, and you can play a sort of "stock" lead riff over this as well. But this isn't the be-all-end-all of music, there's just so much more you can do. That's my main criticism of the music I saw on Nashville's Broadway. Check out this video of Armor for Sleep playing one of their songs acoustically, to see a style that you will not find on Broadway:


So, to summarize: Is the music on Nashville's Broadway good? It's good enough. It provides the background music for a fun time, and I did see some interesting covers (i.e. a Bluegrass stomp version of Pink Floyd's The Wall), but overall, it's too homogenous of a music scene.

If I could create my own music destination (or utopia), what type of music would I feature? Country-folk is quite honestly a decent bet. You don't get tired of it because it's "easy listening." A bunch of loud and boisterous rock'n'roll bands would become grating after a while, and perhaps an entire block of disco music might dull the senses (or attract too many drug users), so what's left?

Any music that brings people together and promotes positivity is good music. The peak of musical creativity and sophistication are often simplistic, yet artfully crafted melodies and harmonies that excite the listener and bring them to not only a surface-level reaction, but an entire feeling.

I wouldn't be surprised if some musical genius out there could hit the scene on Nashville's Broadway and work within the musical constraints and conjure up a compositional style and delivery that forces the listeners and audience to wonder, "What exactly am I hearing right now?" The best art contains a level of variance and dynamics that is hard to pinpoint. A thoughtful and measured mixture of styles pushes music forward and that's what could bring this musical destination to another level. But hey, the endless stream of women in Cowgirl outfits is just about as good.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Has there ever been a realistic movie about soccer?

I've often seen cinematic depiction of soccer and wondered, "Why is this so unrealistic?"  When it comes to other sports... Basketball, Football, Baseball, Boxing... there are various realistic movies about these sports (whether on the professional, high school, or even recreational level).

Friday Night Lights, Rocky, Bad News Bears, White Men Can't Jump... these are the names that come to mind when asked, "What's the quintessential ______ movie?" Insert sport in the blank.

But what about soccer?  I played it from age 7 until I was in my mid-twenties, at various levels including both on a nationally ranked top 25 NCAA team, and against semi-professional competition, and I can honestly say, when it comes to soccer, there is no realistic movie that's literally ever been made.

The closest we have is... "Ladybugs."

A couple of months back I was feeling particularly inspired, and a sort of divine inspiration hit me. It was upon this cool and sunny day that I decided to pen my own screenplay about soccer. What is the movie I'd want to see?  It is... an original screenplay starring both myself and Tracy Morgan, known as "The United States of Reject." I read my original script into the microphone and posted it on my "Mind of Mike" YouTube channel. Check it out below. - Mike

Classic VHS Review: Interview with a Vampire

I first heard about this movie when Richard Christy (Howard Stern) talked about it on the radio and how he had a "moment" with ano...