Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Some thoughts from working on old tracks

So recently I've been working on some material that I largely wrote in 2013, some metal tracks. I have two of the tracks out already and what i'm doing currently is recording the vocals and mixing the tracks together. What is interesting is that from the time they were written to the point when I recently started working on them, I had lost a large amount of the initial drive I had when I wrote them. Working on them again it has come back and i've been able to more easily write the lyrics and vocal lines than I would have if i'd just dove straight into them back then. The moral here is that sometimes music, even digital music, can be left to mature. This is because music is an expression of the self and the self matures over time. Obviously you can take this too far and end up constantly reworking things and never finishing them, i'm not proposing that. A close friend I knew had been working on the same album for close to a decade without ever finishing it or putting it out and the net effect was largely detrimental to his health. Doing and finishing certainly breed productivity and improvement but sometimes you do need to let things cool for a bit while you figure out what to do with them. I have been working on other tracks in the meantime and for the most part the tracks I did back then were in a good enough state that not too much work was required. I think that is possibly the key, its often that final finishing touch that can be difficult to see from the outset, even if the rest of the process went very smoothly.

As an aside the tracks can be found at https://soundcloud.com/pipoano/sets/scenes-of-violence

Monday, 2 May 2016

Getting geeky about speaker placement

Its a good thing !

So recently i'm sitting in front of my speakers, working away on a track and I notice that one seems slightly closer than the other. I'm hearing a tiny phase issue, just some washiness so I decide to get out the measuring tape and investigate. I'm not wrong. One is not only closer to the back wall but its also slightly pointing at an angle compared to the other. I can only assume that at some point I must have nudged it just a slight amount, caught it walking by. Why is this important? Well it's important because the distance your speakers are from each other, the wall and you can make a massive difference to what's known as the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where you can hear the mix translated most clearly, every frequency in it's place and nothing over-exaggerated or over-hyped. For most speakers this is a fairly small point (Think Sheldon from the big bang theory trying to locate the perfect spot in the cinema) and as such can be basically nuked out of existence by a few inches difference in speaker location.

It amazes me how much I still come across people who will agonise over speakers and which to buy etc only to get them home and proceed to best guess where to put them in the room and never measure them and adjust until they are at the right location. I spent a small fortune on my studio monitors but I also spent a long time assessing where to put them, how to angle them and measuring out distances on a plan and replicating these distances in the room. Quite simply, getting geeky about your speakers could mean the difference between great speakers sounding great and great speakers sounding like a bad hifi.

As an example, I didn't use to be so picky about speaker location. At one point I moved into a cottage in the countryside and proceeded to pick out the main living room area as my chosen studio location. I promptly set up my gear slap bang in the centre of the room and to my horror couldn't hear any bass whatsoever. I had epic speakers and bass heavy music, why couldn't I hear anything? In short, I was sitting right in the middle of the null point of the room. I experimented by moving my desk (Then on wheels) around and eventually decided on both a different room and an off centre position. The moral of the story, when it comes to speakers, is to read a little and think a lot. You'll thank yourself later.

For those not so keen on reading lots of articles I would say some quick tips are as follows:

1.) There should be a triangle formed between yourself and the speakers. The sides of the triangle should have the same length.

2.) Don't sit with your head in the centre of any dimension of the room. If you sit in the absolute centre of the room, expect to hear no bass, triangle or otherwise.

3.) Imagine a mirror on any surface you see. If you also see a speaker in the imaginary mirror, your speaker will reflect sound off that surface. Invest in acoustic treatment. I don't have thousands of pounds worth of the stuff, you don't need a lot either. Just be careful and plan where you are going to put it.

4.) What are the speakers sitting on? If it vibrates then you just created an issue that might distort the sound.

5.) Avoid putting speakers right next a wall. Especially in corners. Bass will build up and frustration with your weak sounding mixes will follow. As an aside I did get very good results, at one point, from putting a mattress directly behind my monitors. The room I was working in had a terrible shape and I had to make do. Sometimes thinking outside the box can help with less than optimal conditions.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Why I don't make fun of people praying

I shall start this post by putting forth that I don't subscribe to any organised religion. I consider myself an atheist but I enjoy reading into specific religions and taking from them what I consider useful or beneficial. That said, I do think they can do harm when people swallow wholesale the doctrine of one case or the other but i'm not here to argue the case for or against religion as a whole, not today anyway.

With regards to Christianity, I used to think that prayer was a totally futile endeavour. I didn't believe in god so I didn't see why people would get any benefit from conversing with him. Then I discovered meditation. I practice meditation pretty much daily and for me it has a hugely positive effect. I don't think this has anything to do with spirituality or mysticism, for me its purely scientific. Focusing your mind creates neural pathways for concentration. The more you meditate, the more you strengthen these pathways. For me its purely a chemical process. I also believe focusing on breathing helps regulate it and breathing through the nose instead of the mouth has proven medical advantages as the air is basically filtered through the nasal passageways. So anyway, how does this relate to prayer. Well consider what prayer is. The subject sits, tries to block out all other thoughts and repeats a saying or phrase. Whether they believe that anyone is listening is not the point. Many feel that their life improves afterwards and attribute this to god listening. I attribute it to the fact that they are implementing a daily, strictly adhered to, mindfulness practice in their life. They are, for all intents and purposes, meditating.

As a final note, I genuinely believe that most religion stems from a common point. As such the idea that meditation crops up in the Christian faith, albeit through a subtle means, is not surprising to me.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The psychology of asking the right question

The human brain is a really weird, dysfunctional, thing. Often we know the answers to questions but we can't pull them out of our brain for love nor money. The key, sometimes, is actually asking a different question.

When i'm working on a track i'll sometimes find it difficult to know what the track needs. I can listen to it and not really understand where to go when I ask "What is the track needing?". Instead what I now try to do is instead ask "Is the track actually done?". If the answer is no then I start finding it easier to point out what makes the track not yet done. Its a shift from thinking about what my next step is to thinking back from my end-point and looking at what the scope of the gap is. For me it works and I can answer the second question much easier than the first. As an aside I also find that thinking in this way actually allows me to work for longer periods of time on a track without getting distracted. This simple loop of assessing whether the track is done often sparks my desire to immediately do the action I come up with there and then, making the move towards the finished track.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Learning when to speak up

I have a bit of a problem in social situations. Basically, I can't hold my tongue. An idea comes into my head or a thought and i'm generally inclined to just throw it out there without really thinking. As such I often end up having that feeling afterwards of "why didn't I just keep my mouth shut". I think there is a skill to knowing when to speak and when not to and its a seriously difficult thing to master. I don't really have the trick to it or even a method for determining it but it does seem like something I should make an effort to work on. As such I will be trying to engage a 2 second rule.

Generally speaking there isn't much that's so important that you can't wait 2 seconds to say it. Particularly to people you don't know that well. It should hopefully negate some of that initial "Oh god, why didn't I stop and think before I spoke" based on the premiss that I generally have that feeling pretty quickly after I say something dumb or inappropriate.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Patience.

Sometimes you just need to do nothing and let things play out. This might seem trite, easy to say and generally a bit self-righteous but I think there is some truth in it. As humans our first reaction to everything that we do or that goes wrong is to try to fix it or complete it as soon as possible. We often take action, as a result of this, that can make situations worse because its either rushed or wasn't needed in the first place.

I'm the first to admit, I worry about everything. When something goes wrong, i'm really bad at giving myself the space and time to think before I act. I know this about myself but for some reason I still do it. I still take that rash course of action, I still try to act immediately. Well recently i'm getting better at giving things the time they need to just play out and often they just work out. I think the key to this is that we live in a giant system of interacting parts and elements. Its all to easy to think that we are playing a video game in life and that our actions are the only actors in the world we live in. This simply isn't true. There are a huge range of things that not only can we not change immediately but that we can't actually even change at all. For me it all comes back to one particular quote.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Assessing Rich and Poor (What do we gain from money?)

One thing that has been striking me lately is how people see other people, and in particular how they see other people's wealth. I hear people discussing people with a big house, maybe a couple of nice cars and they describe these people as rich. To me this is a bit strange though as very often these people are lacking in what I would describe as the best quality of a "rich" person's life. That quality is the ability to not have to work for a living and instead having the freedom to choose how to spend their time. Free time is the greatest asset of a rich person's existence in my opinion and very often the people living in the nice houses with the nice cars are having to work all the hours under the sun to obtain them. To me these people are actually suffering from a poverty, a poverty of time as opposed to wealth and the weirdest thing to me, a lot of the time its self-inflicted. They often do this to themselves !

One of the arguments I come across, against this sentiment, is that these people have a different value set, that they value these things, these possessions, more than the free time. To me this doesn't wash though, as I often hear these people complaining about how miserable they are and how much they wish they had more free time. Don't get me wrong, I realise that for a lot of people they would love to do what I do and work part-time but they can't for a whole host of reasons. This post is aimed at those people that choose that destructive, money-driven, lifestyle but then complain about it.

I guess it all comes down to your definition of success. To me success is being happy and happiness for me just isn't about how much money I have in my bank account or my job title. I work part-time and at present I probably have more free cash on any given month than i've ever had in my entire life.  I guess that's probably of a factor that I grew up, until a reasonable age, with very little. We didn't have money and I was never really aware of that fact. To me it was just our reality and I didn't question it. That being said, to a lot of people the fact that I don't work the extra days in the week, and earn more money, is strange. For me the time is just more important and having been able to negotiate a part-time job that works for me is an achievement, one i'm deeply proud of.

The final element of this that I'd like to deal with is the assertion that part-time workers are in someway lazy. Now if you're still with me at this point and understand my point about choosing what to do with your time then you probably already get that I don't believe that, but let's deal with it anyway. I work 3 days a week, currently. In my time off I often do other things like spend time with my family, see my friends and get lots of rest. I also, however, work on music, videos, fix up the house, write blogs like this one, work on free projects etc. In short, I do a hell of a lot of extra, what other people would call, work. The difference is, I don't get paid for this work so its completely on my own terms. The problem, for me, with paid work is often that when someone pays you they assume they own you completely for that time. Choosing how to spend some of my time, and sacrificing some money for that, is a good way to alleviate some of the feeling that i'm trapped in that loop of work and money.