For the longest time, Lauren Moore and I have been bandying about the idea of doing an album together. The fact that we are both extremely busy with other stuff, coupled with the fact that we live on opposite sides of the planet has meant that until recently, it’s only been a discussion.
But this year we decided to do FAWM together. It’s an online creativity event where the aim is to write a song every two days during the month of February. We used the structure and pace of the event to provide us with the motivation to get the writing done, with Lauren doing most of the lyrical heavy lifting, and me doing the noises.
It’s been a wild ride. The disparity in our schedules plus the fact that I now have an ankle biter to look after (did I mention I have a kid? I have a kid) meant that I got up at 2:00AM every day to work on this, since that was the only free time I had. It has, however, been one of the most exciting and musically satisfying projects I have worked on in a long time.
With 14 songs now successfully written (and in possession of our first FAWM win), we have begun work on post-production. All of these pieces were produced in a very short time, so there are clearly things we’d like to refine, change, and add to, and we’ll spend the next few weeks (as long as it takes) tweaking and polishing.
Currently, for me some highlights of the work so far (and you can click through to play the songs) include:
You’ll Never Change
A pop music explosion. We didn’t intend for it to come out this dancey, it just headed that way organically. And once it’d started down the path, well, we had to follow.
The Calm Storm and the Dull Shine
Deep, orchestra-infused groove with a lovely vocal delivery, this is, in my opinion, one of the loveliest lyrics Lauren has ever written. I love this track.
Might As Well
We went full synth-pop on this one, with very satisfying results. This track has massive hair, tight leather jeans and shoulder pads.
Possibly the sickest thing I have ever written, in all senses of that word. This track is seriously dark, but so is my sense of humour, which is how it happened.
For a limited time (I think FAWM shuts down at the end of March) you can hear demos of all 14 tracks on my FAWM profile. We will be releasing this album in its final form towards the middle of the year.
Galaxy Class is an American duo based separately in Indiana and Chicago, comprising the compositional talents and devious synth mastery of Emil Hyde, and the vocal silk and sauciness of Lauren Moore.
Alert readers of this bolg will note that Lauren is also the voice behind ‘Verse, and this is not the first time I’ve worked with her. Hopefully it will also not be the last – her vocal talent has been described as “sad honey,” among other things.
This track started life as a doef-doef remix, which informed the basic structure, but something just wasn’t right, and I hit a wall. But then, when all hope seemed lost, I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places: dubstep.
I have a love/hate relationship with dubstep. I realise that it’s very hard to define what dubstep is given the way in which the term has been abused. I am not moved by the robots-fucking-each-other noises that seem to overwhelm the shallow end of the dubstep pool. Nor, having said that, am I against the work of Skrillex, who many hardcore fans would deny was dubstep at all. To me, dubstep is halftempo beats, with reggae influences, and wobbly basses, but it seems that everyone has a different definition, and everyone other than me is right.
Lauren posted an Ellie Goulding track on her Facebook wall, which prompted a discussion on how the dubstep remix was better. So, partly as a joke, I muted the doef-doef drums and replaced them with a half tempo stomp. It … worked. Really well, actually.
So from then on, that was the direction of the track. Honestly, it feels really weird to have dropped a track in this format, but I can’t deny that it sounds good. It’s like the song wanted to be this way all along.
From a technical standpoint, this was built in FL Studio 10, using almost entirely freeware synths. Preset jockeyism annoys me, and I am trying to make a point of building all the synth sounds I use by hand.
The gargantuan bass noise was built using TAL Elek7ro, as were the various zwarps and zorches, although now that I think about it, I may have made one in TAL NoiseMaker. The arpy synth chords were built in Phutura, and the guitar noises were made using the sadly discontinued SpicyGuitar and run through IL Hardcore for effects. Sundry swooshes were built in FL’s 3xOSC synth – basically just white noise with a bandpass filter and an LFO on the cutoff.
I think I am most proud, however, of the sonar-ish noise you hear in the intros and breaks. It’s a pair of barbells that I sampled at the gym in 2004. One day while doing curls at the local gym, I noticed that when the weights clanked together at the top of the movement, they produced a tone that was musical. I asked the manager if I could borrow the weights to sample them. He thought I was mad, but said that while I couldn’t take them home, if I wanted to come in and record them on site, that’d be ok.
So the next morning, they cleared the aerobics studio for me and I set up a portable recorder and a Shure beta57 mic, and clanked the weights together for a while. I think it was a bit of an anticlimax for the onlookers through the glass, but I got what I wanted – a really cool sonar sound for my signature set. So, to the crew at the Virgin Active in Kenilworth Park, Cape Town who humoured me – thanks a lot!
For some reason, Feedburner strips embedded music out, so if you’re receiving this via email, the remix can be found at: http://soundcloud.com/mdavisto/going_under_mdavistos_mix.
The original unmolested version of the song can be found here. And for the entirely nerdy among you, here is a screenshot of what the project looks like.
I’ve noticed this meme doing the rounds at the moment, and I felt compelled to do one for my industry.
School hats on – today I’ve added a new tutorial on how to export stems (or separates) for a remixer. When you’ve decided to get a track remixed, it usually isn’t as simple as just sending your remixer your project data. We prefer getting your recorded material in the form of stems: clean, unprocessed recordings in separate files, with just one sound in each file. Means we can do a lot more with it.
In this article I talk about what a remixer needs from you, and how to go about packaging up your sounds for delivery. I use FL Studio, but I’ve done this in a platform agnostic way. So whether you’re preparing stems for a specific remixer, or making a pack that you’ll upload to the Pirate Bay so you can pretend somebody “leaked it”, this will explain how it’s done.
Read the article here.
2011 was one of the most challenging years of my life to date. I posted very little content to this site, but I have what I think is a legitimate excuse: I spent most of the year project managing the building of our new house.
For the record, I don’t recommend self building – it’s one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time sort of things. The house took two years to progress from a Sketchup drawing to finished architectural plans (thanks Andre Thompson), about three months of material prep, and seven months in the building, running a mere four months over schedule. It still isn’t 100% complete, but we’ve moved in anyway, and it will provide lots of DIY fun for years to come, I’m sure.
It was a challenging process that wrecked my general faith in humanity (all suppliers are bastards), but the end product is … well, it’s even better than I expected, to be honest. And for all it’s incompleteness, check out the space I’m going to be working in from now on.
It’s like a freakin’ space ship. This loft studio faces east, the main window providing an unobstructed view of the Letsitele Valley, and the mountain range beyond. It has an equally splendid view looking north over the Tzaneen dam in the distance. The room is warm and light, and generously proportioned for a project space – about 7 metres by 5. I’m itching to make music in it – just got to get it all set up first. Since this photo was taken, those holes in the wall have been filled up with power outlets and LAN ports (yes, there’s CAT-5 in the walls), and the beginnings of furniture.
So there’s a lot of catching up to do, but this is going to be a great year. I currently have two album projects I’m grinding on – one cinematic, one electronic, plus a musical in the works. Over the next few weeks I’m going be posting new material I’ve worked on for Slide, Lauren Moore, Tumi Lane, Thato Nhlapo, and more, plus some tracks from my own repertoire. I’ve also got new technique articles and FL Studio tutorials to post.
Oh, and I have to build a staircase so you can reach the studio more easily …
I’m feeling immeasurably pleased right now: PheloB gave me a shoutout on XtraLargeTV at his launch party. Feels good, man!
Working in the production side of the industry, you don’t typically expect to be acknowledged publicly by artists – after all, you’re being paid for providing a service, and the focus is supposed to be the product.
So I think that the fact that Phelo took the time to acknowledge me by name in a interview about himself speaks volumes about what a classy guy he is. Thanks Phelo!
If you’re receiving this via email, and the above embedding doesn’t work, you can watch the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sHoBzYU5vI#t=4m40s
If you google Phelo Bala, you’ll typically kick up a lot of links that talk about his siblings and their extensive careers, always framing him in the context of their achievements. You’d be forgiven, then, if you developed the impression that Phelo is a small man standing on the shoulders of giants – that Bala name does carry a huge legacy.
You’d be completely wrong, though, which is why I’m not going to mention those other Balas here (no disrespect guys, you know I love you).
Phelo Bala has a lot going for him. He was born into a uniquely musical family, a gift he has inherited and nurtured. He’s young and full of energy – at the time I write this he is only 20. Some will misjudge him based on this, thinking that his youth translates to inexperience.They’re wrong, too.
Only 20, yes, but he’s been singing in front of audiences for more than half a decade. Although this is his first solo outing, his previous projects mean he already has significant stage time under his belt, not just in local venues around the country, but internationally too. When you go to see him, then, you’re not going to be looking at someone cutting their teeth – Phelo is a class act. His youth does make him easy on the eyes, a fact that neither his label nor his fans will have missed.
Nor, for that matter, are you going to be watching someone lip syncing along on an empty stage to an over-produced backtrack – Phelo does everything live, with real musicians. I am old enough to remember a time when such things were taken for granted; they are now an exceptional rarity.
But along with strong chops, a great, controlled voice and a face for TV, Phelo has also been blessed with talent. He isn’t merely an accomplished performer, he’s a writer too – his debut album, due out later this month, is the product of his own pen. It’s enough to make you sick with jealousy.
He is uniquely poised, then, to take the market by storm, and I have every expectation that he will do just that. You will forgive me, other Balas, for my prediction that if I google you in a few years, I’ll find you being referred to as relatives of Phelo Bala.
Anyway, let me bring it back for a moment to the technical side of things. I was approached a few weeks back to take a run at Look Like A Fool, the first single off Phelo’s new album. The song had already been recorded, with extremely strong vocals and good flow, but Phelo’s producer (dude, this article is about Phelo, shhhhh) felt it needed to go in a different direction.
I have a tendency to go very electronic, but I could hear straight away that this would not be the right approach for this song – it needed to stay as organic as possible. I took the parts into the newly released FL Studio 10 to see what I could get up to. I ended up discarding the drums and most of the existing synths (although I kept most of the actual chord progressions), but the guitar parts worked for me, although not in their original form.
I used FL’s SliceX plugin to do two main things. Firstly, what was most appealing to me about the guitars were the harmonics – so I basically just focussed on those and built a new rhythm around them. In the picture you can see that although the sample is sequentially sliced, the arrangement is anything but.
The other thing I did with SliceX was re-quantise the groove of the mute guitar parts. Not because the guitarist is out – they’re bang on time in fact – but because I wanted more ass-shaking swing in it.
FL Studio 10 has introduced two new plugins for vocal manipulation called Pitcher and Newtone. I view their addition with some scepticism, because Pitcher is an automatic retuner that works exactly like the infamous Autotune plugin – turn the knobs all the way over and you have an instant generic T-Pain vocal. To my ears, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
Pitcher also, however has a neat feature that lets you dictate its output via MIDI: play notes on your keyboard, and your vocal comes out in that melody. I had a lot of fun experimenting with this for the chorus harmonies, although I ended up going with Newtone instead.
Newtone does a similar job, but not in realtime. It lets you get right into the melody and edit what’s there, but in a much more controlled way than Pitcher does. It’s a lot like Melodyne, although its monophonic only (at this stage). So in the end, I cloned the chorus line and used Newtone to create harmony parts (“… so happy … so angry”). It’s all Phelo, and it’s all the same recording, but it ends up sounding like there’s a harmonising choir of him.
This was a great project to work on – I had a lot of fun doing it.
Hailing from Indianapolis, USA, Moore is in fact a very special kind of nerd, in that she’s made her debut release a concept album based on the cult science fiction show Firefly, from everyone’s favourite cult show creator, Joss Whedon. If you haven’t seen the show, well, what is wrong with you? Go buy the box set, now.
Under the band name ‘Verse, Moore’s project is a collection of songs that, without being obvious, tell stories from the paradigm of the show, often speaking with the voices of the characters. The styles vary wildly from song to song, all experimentally electronic, with strong pop flavours, but all held together with Moore’s smooth, expressive vocals.
Whether you’re a Browncoat (a fan of the show), a new recruit (yet to watch) or an ignorant cretinous philistine with no friends and body odour (not a fan of the show), ‘Verse’s debut album is quite extraordinary listening. Her talents lie not only with beautiful delivery, but with lush vocal layering and haunting harmonies.
However, on this remix project, I took the very laidback “They Fall Out Of The Sky” and put it squarely in the club. Moore’s spacey lyric allows this. Bizarrely, that involved slowing the vocal down a little, even though the track is faster and trancier (in a sort of Dutch way).
Production nerds among you will be interested to note that this was made using the FL Studio 9.7 beta (the precursor to FL 10), and utilises the upcoming Newtone and Pitcher plugins. I used Newtone for adjusting the vocal timing (the original is swingier), and Pitcher for shaming my family and my honour by doing Autotune effects.
My take on the upcoming FL Studio version is that the expanded mixer does the same job it ever did, but is easier to view and use now. Clips user? You’ll love it. Blocks user? You’ll whine on the forums. Then you’ll grow up and learn to use clips.
PS: Browncoats will recognise Kaylee’s perspective in this track.
For those who are just encountering LoneRaynger for the first time, he’s a frighteningly talented songwriter, singer, beatboxer and guitar player. Catch some of his work on Facebook, Soundcloud, or YouTube, or follow him on Twitter. At the time of writing, LoneRaynger is currently touring Canada – look out for him in the Vancouver area. He’s keeping a blog of his touring escapades, which shenanigans have included his tour van catching fire (it doesn’t get much more rock ‘n roll than that).
Working with LoneRaynger’s material presents the usual challenge – how do you produce it up to a level of glossiness while still maintaining the organic feel of what he does naturally with his mouth and his guitar? I ended up taking the material a bit further from its organic roots than I originally intended, but I tried as far as possible to keep it grounded in the original performance.
The obvious way to do this was through the rhythm. For the first verse, the beat is 100% LoneRaynger: that’s his beatboxing under there. Thereafter, I open the track up with bigger drums and more synths – but I used SliceX (a beat slicing plugin for FL Studio) to chop up his beatboxing and use elements of it throughout the track. That’s Ray’s mouth-snare you’re hearing driving the track along throughout, as well as his tsp tsp mouth-hihats and periodic mouth-sidesnare action.
In my ongoing effort to actually create synth sounds rather than modify existing ones, I made the bass sound using TAL-BassLine, a very excellent and free synth from Togu Audio Line, and fattened it up using TAL-Tube, also free. The kick and 808-ish hat are generated using Synthmaker, and the morphing pad is hand-filtered for better rhythmic control. Sundry FX were also made using FL’s 3OSC synth.
The end result is a lot more mellow than anything I’ve produced recently, and extremely satisfying.
Check it out. If you like the track, you can purchase it here.
Facebook is a very unique environment. Not only can you scrutinise the minutiae of other people’s lives, but you can watch them installing viruses on their computers in real time. Fascinating.
Now, among my friends, I am “that guy”, the dude you ask when the compootar does that thing again. It gets tiring (and more than a little frustrating) repeating the same stuff over and over again, particularly since it mostly gets ignored the next time some jackass on Facebook purports to show you Who’s Viewing Your Profile, the Shocking Thing Someone Said, or OMG You Have To See This, all of which somehow involve clicking through to an external site.
Since I cannot – and, arguably, should not – prevent people from making mistakes they refuse to learn from, I’ve condensed my standard recovery advice into a short article on how to take care of the problem of unwanted virus and malware infections.
Read it here.