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Remix – UT’s “Music”

TerryTerry Pinana (aka Uncle Terry) is one of the most prolific producers I know – this guy literally eats, drinks and breathes music. Reading over his discography is like checking out a list the players in the local music industry. He’s done work with Osunlade, TKzee, KB, Guffy, Gug Shezi, Dantai – the list goes on, and that’s not even touching his work for film and TV. He’s like a musical ninja – you don’t see him, but you feel the effects of his passing.

The track we’re talking about today is something he recorded for his self-titled solo album. Ultimately, it didn’t make the cut (you can only fit so many songs on a 70 minute CD), but the vocal was compelling, and I got a shot at remixing it.

I struggled with this track for a long time. Lyrically, it was uplifting, but in stark contrast to the melody, which was minor key and very dark. It kept dragging me to places I didn’t want to go. In the end, I was inspired by another UT track where he used Melodyne software to completely change the melody of a difficult vocal.

So that’s what I did. I completely tossed the minor key melody and wrote a new tune that went with the lyrical content. Then I used Melodyne to shift the individual notes of the vocal performance to follow my new melody. This is the result. It makes me happy, and I’m hoping it does the same for you.

Music (Mdavisto’s Mix) by mdavisto
Note: I’m experimenting with embedding SoundCloud‘s music player widget because Feedburner’s been stripping my player code out. If you’re reading this via RSS or email, would you mind getting in touch and letting me know if you can see/hear the track above this text? Cheers.

Perfect Backpedal

shipment-of-failSo, a week ago I wrote about this page on The Session getting pulled off Google because of a DMCA complaint lodged against their site. The company in question, who I still won’t link to, has discovered the Streissand Effect.

I received an email from them, as I am sure everyone else who contributed to this effort did, offering a thousand apologies for their actions, and assuring me that it was all a big misunderstanding. Jeremy Keith has since accepted their explanation for events, and although I’m not so sure I do, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

According to their mail, they periodically do a google search for the name of their product plus the term “torrent“.They then submit the resulting list to Google claiming a DMCA violation, as these sites must obviously be hosting illegal copies of their software. So it was a case of attempting to stem piracy, not to remove a site containing many instances of the term “perfect pitch” from the Google index.

As plausible as this explanation is, I have a problem with it. It seems clear that nobody is checking to see if the sites that turn up in the search results are actually infringing or not. For example, by including the phrase “boucherle pitch torrents“, there’s an excellent chance that they will launch a DMCA complaint against me. No one will be checking to see if I’m actually hosting any torrents, or if torrents are even being discussed.

Which brings me to my next point. The page on The Session that was pulled contains the following statement:

The David Lucas Burge one is available as a torrent.

That’s it. In the entirety of the discussion on the page, that’s the whole reference. It doesn’t encourage people to download it, it does not mention where one might find such a torrent, nor does it even debate the relative merits and morality of downloading torrents. It just says, plain and simple, “a torrent exists”. Which is probably a fact.

How is simply discussing torrents an illegal activity? And even if someone did link to a torrent in the comments (which they did not), the jury is still out on whether this constitutes an infringement. If there ever is a ruling to that effect, Google themselves will get sued into the ground. How many references to illegal torrents do you think exist in the Google Cache?

To give an analogy, it’s like the mere act of giving someone directions to a house of ill repute makes you responsible for what goes on there. In this case, no directions were given. Someone merely stated that the house exists. See why this is ridiculous?

Now, it could be – as they argue in their letter – that the employees of this company are merely hideously incompetent, and not actually evil. I am, in fact, inclined to believe that this is true. Which means they’re using the DMCA in an entirely cavalier manner on all sites that contain elements of their key search terms, without first checking to see whether their targets deserve the legal broadside they’re receiving.

But it also means that my original charge against them still sticks: if you accept their explanation as true, the boost they receive in Google rankings is an unintended (yet hugely beneficial) side-effect of their fight against piracy. And the fact that the tone of the discussion on The Session was largely uncomplimentary towards their product didn’t come into it at all.

Regardless, the apology letter is rather marred by a ham-fisted attempt to sell more copies of their training course at the end of the letter – at a discount, of course, because they feel bad about the terrible misunderstanding. Tacky, chaps.

In the interest of fairness, the full letter is quoted below, with links removed. I’m prepared to let them have their say, but not to use my site as a sales platform.

Here at [URL redacted] we made a big mistake.
We instructed Google to block a blog site
[actually, The Session is not a blog] managed by Jeremy Keith, citing that they were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). As per our request, Google did indeed remove this page from their search listings.
We wish to formally apologize to Mr. Keith and his bloggers for this mistake, for which we are deeply regretful.
Please understand that we had no intention whatsoever to suppress the speech on Mr. Keith’s page. Please know that we are ardent supporters and advocates of free speech for everyone.
We recognize this was a careless error, and there is really no excuse for this. Nevertheless, please permit us a moment to explain.
Here’s what happened:
We were actually submitting to Google a list of sites that were illegally distributing copies of our copyrighted intellectual property. We of course have every right to request that Google have these sites removed from their search engine results because we believe these sites violate the DMCA, which prohibits the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials over the internet.
To our shock and horror, an employee of ours mistakenly included Mr. Keith’s site in our list, merely because it made a reference to illegal copies of our course
[not in the way you're implying]. Naturally, this is not grounds for removal of this page at Google. Our intention was only to remove actual pages where the course is being illegally distributed, and not any pages of free speech, such as Mr. Keith’s blog [The Session is not a blog]. This was a misjudgment and error on our employee’s side, and on behalf of our company, we sincerely apologize.
This event has never happened to us before when reporting illegal distribution of our materials. Please rest assured that we will redouble our efforts to ensure this never happens again.
We have requested that Google immediately reinstate this page in their search results, along with our apology to Google as well.
If we have offended any potential musicians who wished to purchase our best-selling, university verified ear training methods, again, we sincerely apologize. To make it up to you, we would invite you to try our courses at a substantial discount not offered to the general public, valid until the end of this month. Please go here to retrieve your special offer with our apologies:
[spam URL redacted]
Again, please accept our sincere regrets for this goof.
Happy blogging, everyone.
Sincerely yours,
Gary Boucherle
[URL redacted]

Perfect Pitch

too-loudI’m posting this because I want to do my bit to help out with a particularly sleazy issue that has just come to my attention.

The American DMCA is a piece of law designed to protect intellectual property, but its increasingly being used by slimeball companies to get a boost in Google rankings: as a search engine optimisation (SEO) technique.

Here’s what you do: do a Google search for your company, and if other companies are ranked higher than you, use the terms of the DMCA to allege a copyright infringement.

Google will de-reference the supposedly offending content for however long the DMCA process takes to run its course, and you’ll probably lose, but in the interim, your real objective will have been achieved: you’re one step higher up the Google rankings. Rinse and repeat: SEO gold.

Today I read a post on Adactio about just such a scummy attempt that is being made against The Session, a website about traditional Irish music. Now, they just happened to have a forum post where people were discussion perfect pitch – being able to detect absolute pitch with just your ears.

It’s a fairly innocuous post, with people chiming in with their own experiences, and arguing about whether perfect pitch even exists based on the fact that the tuning A=440 is pretty arbitrary when you think about it.

But because the page contains the term “perfect pitch” so many times, it’s crawled higher in search engine rankings than the web page of a company (who I will not link to) that offers a course that purports to teach everyone’s ears how to detect perfect pitch. Whether or not they are snakeoil salesmen will not be discussed here. I’m sure you don’t need perfect pitch to detect which company I’m talking about, though.

This company has launched a copyright infringement claim under the DMCA against The Session, causing the page to be dereferenced from Google for the duration … and in so doing, pushing up the company’s search engine ranking.

As an experiment, Jeremy Keith has asked that people post blogs titled “perfect pitch”, just to see what happens. Since I think any company that would genuinely use the DMCA in this way are scum, I’m doing my part.

Remix: Slide’s “January”

Slide1Slide are a difficult band to categorise – kind of a mix between rock and synth elements. Based in Orange County, California, the group includes members of the 80′s alternative group Sincerely Paul.
Their new debut single January is a catchy piece of work, which you can hear on the band’s home page, their MySpace page, or streaming on FaceBook. I like it in particular because not enough bands write in triplets. This is my absolute favourite groove structure, and found natively in both Celtic and African traditional rhythms.
But the song, therefore, presented some unique challenges in remixing – Jim had some very clear ideas about how he wanted it to sound, and it was solid, 4 to the floor club all the way. But a triplet rhythm vocal doth not upon a club beat sit.
Melodyne to the rescue. People (including me) rave about what a natural tuning tool it is, far superior (IMHO) to AutoTune*. But Melodyne’s real gift is the ability to shift timing as well as pitch.
This meant tracking through the entire vocal and nudging it back to square eighths, syllable by syllable.
Melodyne’s results are impressive, particularly in how organic the end result is. If you hadn’t heard the original, it would never occur to you that it had ever been in any other time signature.
Take a listen to the radio edit of the track here:

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Visit the band’s website, they’re offering their debut single as a free download for 30 days after release.
Update: This track just picked up a Platinum Auddy award from uPlaya.com.

*AutoTune is a pet hatred of mine, not because it’s not a good tool – it is – but because of how the hip hop industry has killed it. It’s supposed to nudge an off-pitch singer back on key, but if you turn the knobs all the way to the right, it applies pitch correction so hard that you sound like a robot. Many hip hoppers do this intentionally on their entire vocal performance, as a combined vocal effect and to hide the fact that they cannot sing. The effect is a fad, however, and will (please god) go out of vogue soon, as evidenced by the fact that it has already become an Internet meme (recurring joke) – people are using it to AutoTune cats, political leaders and Carl Sagan. And before you start hating – I love hip hop. I just cannot stand that f***ing sound.

Tutorial: Working with EQ

I’ve added a new tutorial to the Audio Engineering section which aims to demystify EQ. In it, I look at different kinds of EQ available, and how to use them.

In part 4 (coming soon), I’ll be looking at Filters and how they’re different from EQs (hint: they’re not). I’ll cover both how to use filters to clean up sounds, and how to use them to create effects.

Read the new tutorial here.

In unrelated news, District 9 is the most awesome film ever made. Go and see it immediately.

Remix: Newtown’s “I’m OK”

Where's Leroy?

Where's Leroy?

The term “remix”, like the term “R ‘n B”, has taken on different meanings over the years. Back in the day, it meant that if you didn’t like the levels and EQ that your engineer had done, you handed over the reel-to-reel master tape of the song to a different engineer, who would perform a “re-mix”.

Nothing changed about the performance or the arrangement, it was purely a dynamic adjustment of the original recording.

Of course, that’s not what it means today. Today, when a remixer produces their take on a track, the result is usually in a totally different genre and tempo, and only the vocal gives a clue as to what the original recording sounded like. 99% of the time, it’s designed for the club.

Now, Leroy (Newtown‘s keyboardist and 12th dan technological wizard) gave me carte blanche on these remixes, and in the case of I’m OK, I decided to exercise it in an unexpected direction.

Leroy had told me that, of all the songs on the Newtown debut album, this track was probably most suited to a balls-to-the-wall house/dance remix. While I don’t disagree, I tried three different clubby versions and they all sucked.

Actually it’s not so much that they sucked, but more that they didn’t elevate the track; they didn’t add anything new and they all sounded like they were going through the motions.

You see, the original of “I’m OK” is an amazing track. It really shows off what Newtown can do, and it’s a beautiful piece of work. You can hear the original on Newtown’s Facebook page, or listen to a clip of it here:

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The way the chorus works in the original – well, I didn’t feel that a club version was in any way superior.

Now, it just so happens that I’m gearing up for a movie soundtrack job, so I’ve been doing maintenance work on my orchestral templates in between remixing … and in the midst of that, I had an idea. And so this mix happened.

It’s not a club remix. It’s not a groove remix. I suppose, technically, that it’s more of a rearrangement than a remix, and I can’t say whether it’s better than the original or not, but I do feel that this has more integrity as a piece of music than a club mix would.

Take a listen:

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Tutorial: Recording and Monitoring Audio in FL Studio

fl-studio-logoAt the request of Jesus Prieto of USA Indie, I’ve created a new FL Studio tutorial. This one covers how to go about adding your own vocals to an FL project that you’ve created, and how to hear yourself back in your cans as you sing. Read it here.

As always, if you have a question about FL Studio, or audio production in general, you can request a tutorial here.

In completely unrelated news, we’re down a peacock. We acquired a purebreed staffy puppy about five months ago, and she’s turned out to be (apart from totally cute) a stone cold killer.

I let her out at 6AM to do her ablutions, and she scampered off to explore (as she does). Unfortunately, coming across the peahen still asleep was too much of a temptation for her, and she pounced on the poor creature and killed it. She was later discovered eating it on the front lawn.

The remaining peacock seems a bit depressed about the whole thing.

Tutorial: Working With Subgroups

I’ve added a new tutorial in the Audio Engineering section suggested by Vorgan. This follows on from part 1 which covered some basic conceptual stuff.

This tutorial starts to look at more practical approaches, and kicks off by teaching you about subgroups – what they are, why you need them, and how to go about setting them up.

In part 3 of the series (coming soon), we’ll be looking at EQs, how to use them, and how to get the most out of them.

Read the new tutorial here.

FL Tutorial: Setting up a mix with Templates

image01I added a new FL Studio tutorial to the site today, which covers how to use Templates to make your life so much easier. Sure, it’s fun to just start from an empty project and see where you end up, particularly if you’re in an advanced state of refreshment at the time, but you can often create a brilliant sounding mess that has to be organised before you can mix it (the next day, obviously).

Plus, if your style means that you use the same core synths regularly, using templates can save you a ton of time – you open the sequencer and have all your favourite tools pre-loaded. This is particularly useful when you’ve got an idea lurking at the edge of your brain and you need to get it down quick before the mundane task of picking a synth chases the idea back into the depths of your subconsciousness.

Read the tutorial here.

Remix: Newtown’s “Rises”

newtown Newtown are an extremely interesting band from Johannesburg, comprising Pebbles (vox), Ryan (guitars), Amy (bass), LeRoy (sonics, guitars, sundry noodling), Doug (drums) and Ernest (trumpet). It may seem completely odd in this day and age, but this band actually plays real instruments, with extreme competence. Live, even.

This is my first of two remixes that I’m doing for the group, and it’s called Rises. The original is a slow, soulful, jazzy, laidback track, heavy on the brass and guitars. Naturally, I sped everything up by 20bpm, but I also ended up keeping a lot of the live elements of the track, which doesn’t often happen when I remix live material.

However, when you’re dealing with such quality musicianship, it’d be a crime not to use at least some of it. Granted, I chopped the guitars and the brass up and changed their time signatures (REX is a seriously underrated file format), but a lot of the resulting remix is pure Newtown. Wellllll … it’s Newtown, but not as we know it, Jim.

If you’d like to hear more Newtown, check them out on FaceBook, and watch their new music video on Vimeo.

Listen to it here:

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As always, if you’d like to commission a remix of one of your own tracks, get in touch via the Contact page.