Days in the life of a songwriter (Fluffy kittens, wool and Songwriting) 36

Okay, here is a quick post before I go to bed. I was at Tommy Darker Music talks last night. Nate Maingard (folk troubadour extraordinaire) explained what he does and he did so with a lot of heart. During the after session, the hanging out phase at the pub below, we did talk about anything under the sun. But for some reason I came to tell him and everyone at that table, how the process of writing songs seems to me. The most fitting analogy, in my case. I am fairly sure that lots of songwriters have different images or theories, when it comes to visualising that process.
I think little Richard once said, that songs are like birds that fly through the air and you just need to catch them. (haven’t double checked it was him though!!)

Let me tell you how I see it. If I have a tiny musical or lyrical idea that I feel has the potential to become a song …. there is a lot of trust and faith involved here …. and I sometimes get that initial feeling wrong. But it’s like finding the end of a piece of yarn (like a fluffy kitten, under the sofa or the cupboard) …. if I am careful with that bit of wool and follow it patiently, it will lead me to the ball of wool (the song). Ta da!!!! (laughs). Simples.

Right I will paste the image of a kitten plus ball of wool here that I just borrowed from the old interweb.




Days in the life of a songwriter (Amphibic) 35

So, there was another installment of Darker Music Talks by Tommy Darker tonight. Anastasia Emmanuel from Indiegogo talked about crowdfunding and she pretty much sold it to me. More about that later. Yours truly also waxed lyrical about cyber gigs at the event tonight and I wanted to gather my thoughts and collect them in this little blog here. I have been playing gigs online for the past year and a bit. I got introduced to this world by my friend Jordan Reyne, a Kiwi singer-songwriter with a slightly darker industrial angle. Anyway, cyber gigs can be good for you, especially if you; would like to find more fans, build a community, create a new (though small) stream of income, and if you want to get better!!

These gigs are divided into two main categories. Webcam based ones and others, using virtual reality platforms. I will talk about the two that I use, which are Second Life and Numubu, but there are more platforms to choose from. Playing gigs on VR (virtual reality) platforms requires the steepest learning curve, so if you want to ease yourself into the world of cyber gigging in a more gentle way, you might want to try the webcam based ones first.

I am assuming you have songs and you know how to perform them. The VR gigs can be done with cover songs but I am also assuming you have your own wares that you can bring to the market. As far as I know, you can’t play covers on the webcam based platforms. Apart from songs, you will need a mic (plus stand), a guitar or keyboard or whatever else you want to accompany yourself with, a small mixer, an interface (USB or Firewire/Thunderbolt soundcard) and a computer. Yes, an internet connection is necessary too. Numubu (webcam based platform) does the streaming for you. So once you are on their web site and clicked a few buttons, their software will pick up your audio and broadcast it to whoever comes to your page and opts into listening to you. It is possible for people to tip you, as long as you say yes to it, which basically means you give it the green light and people can tip you via paypal. Here’s the address to my profile on Numubu: I aim to play there once a week, normally 8pm on Wednesday night. Tell them I said ‘Hi’, if you want to give it a try, you can talk to Cliff Schwartz or Rob Taylor there. It’s super easy for friends, all they need is a browser and a speaker.

The VR gigs mean, you have to learn quite a few things in a short space of time. You need a (free) account in Second Life, where you choose an avatar, then download a piece of software called a viewer (like a 3D browser) and another piece of software called Butt (also free /, which will stream your audio into that virtual world. You need to book someone’s services, in that world, in order for your audio to be streamed to the venue. This is cheap, but has to be done. Roughly between one and two coffees per month. You need to enter their server address into Butt and once you have booked your first gig at a Second Life venue, give them all the right addresses for the stream. Then you just have to make sure you make your avatar appear at that venue, in time for said booked gig, 20 minutes early is not a bad idea. Walk on stage after the previous performer finishes, and kick off once everything is in place. Almost all VR gigs are one hour in length which brings me to a point that gets overlooked by many. Playing online gigs for some time will seriously improve your performance skills, even if you were good, you will get even better!!!

A quick word about online communities. People who populate these online worlds are extremely loyal and it is not uncommon for them to come to 2-3 of your gigs a week!!! They enjoy the intimacy of the chat environment. There is a local chat window, where you can read what people are saying and you can respond via your mic, which is like playing a very intimate club set where you actually hear almost every communication between members of the audience. Once established you can make somewhere between 15-20 pounds per gig. It helps if you have someone to help with booking gigs as you will have lots of venues trying to book you for nothing. They are tips only venues. There are a couple of established good ones that will help you break in and find other gigs, but there are also venues that you might want to avoid. Whatever you make, will be a mixture of fixed fee, plus tips! Second Life uses ‘Lindens’, where 4000 Lindens is roughly 10 squid.

You will make some new and sometimes dear friends in these worlds. You might find friends in Sweden, Brazil, New Zealand, places where your budget, or lack of, would have never allowed you to travel to. But some of the fans you’ll find will start showing up to your real life gigs as well. So yes, a great way to make everything feed into each other. Virtual world gigs, webcam gigs, real life gigs, Youtube, Facebook …. each of these areas can benefit from the others!!!

Keep your eyes peeled for my own label which is coming soon. If you’d like to listen to my songs:    And of course, here:

Please don’t be shy if there is anything you’d like to know!!

Jordan Reyne has written a book called ‘Gigs in Space’ and just had an article published in Sound On Sound magazine with lots of links and info.

Days in the life of a songwriter (Amphibic) 34

Okay, I am moving closer to releasing a song that is mainly intended for Norway, but which I hope, a lot more people will appreciate. Since it’s not long to the release date, I might as well tell you guys a bit about how the sounds in the song got to be where they are. The song is called, ‘Half The Universe (Is Missing)’ and I wrote it as a reaction to the tragedy in Norway on 22.07.11, when a lot of (mainly young) people lost their lives because of one deranged individual. The main idea being, that if you lose someone, no one can fathom your pain, but half your world has gone missing.

Once I had the song and the main structure, I started recording it into my Mac. I used mainly guitars plus a couple of virtual instruments, like a piano. I also used a bass guitar, I keep in my wardrobe and a reed organ that I’m quite fond of. I actually have a couple of these reed organs, basically they work like horizontal accordions, where the air is getting moved by a fan instead of someone squashing the hell out of the thing. I sent the song to Jari Salminen in Finland and asked him to record a marching drum part. If I remember correctly, the marching drum was Joakim Persson’s idea (Swedish bass player). Jari recorded the part and sent it back to me via dropbox. Then, I came up with some nice string parts which I programmed, using samples. Last autumn, I booked Tinnitus Recording studio in Bergen, Norway, so my friends Christine, Ingerlise and Jannicke from Bergen band Ephemera, could weave their magic with some backing vocals. This they did and Bjarte Hoff Ludvigsen, the man who recorded them, sent me the files the next day. In late spring this year I thought we should try and replace the string samples with real strings. So, Antonia Pagulatos came and did the violins and the viola parts, and Celine Barry played the cello part, in my room here. I recorded the cello with my self-made Royer tube mic and a Beyerdynamic M201. I wasn’t quite sure whether we could pull it off, but it worked well. So, I added some more harmony vocals to the main lead vocals and also fitted what Ephemera had done to the mixture. The song also sports an old East German made Glockenspiel which I  found on Ebay for about 6 Pound Sterling once.

I now had the task of mixing this beast of about 60 odd tracks, down to a stereo master. It’s okay if you practise this dark art every day, but if you don’t – it’s quite a tall order. Over the past year I managed to read a few books on the topic as mentioned here, earlier, so I just got into it. Once I got it to where I couldn’t take it much further, (we are talking weeks later!!!) I spoke to a chap called ‘Mike Senior’, who is the author of numerous articles about mixing, writes for Sound on Sound magazine, mixes, aaaand offers mix critiques!!! Well, I used his services, sent him my half baked mix and waited for judgement day. His critique arrived pretty quickly and was quite an in depth sound engineering course. He pointed out where the mix’s tonality was off, where I could use delays and reverbs and so forth. A good 4 pages of tips and guidance on the topic. Well, I spent the following weeks implementing his suggestions and ended up with something pretty close to a commercially mixed oeuvre. So why stop there? I didn’t. I almost forgot one thing, though. The intro. Well, so far, the song had always started with guitar, but my mate Josh von Staudach suggested I come up with something special that would make it possible for the song to be recognised from the word go. So i ‘stole’ some notes from the string outro and created an intro with them which is preceded by a tiny melody consisting of 4 backward guitar notes. Confused? You can hear for yourself soon. George Martin, here we come.

Through a stroke of luck I went to Metropolis Studios in Chiswick last year, where I met Miles Showell. Miles is a mastering engineer and can point to a long list of quality records he has mastered. By the time I contacted him for this song he had re-located to Abbey Road studios in St John’s Wood, London. Well, I sent him the files, they do have an online service and he did his thing. I was then sent the ‘Miles Showell – Abbey Road’ mastered version on my Mac a few days later, proud as Punch!! Now I am working on getting everything together for its release and maybe creating a record label at the same time … watch this space … It will be released under just my name, Neal Hoffmann (plus a little help from his friends).

Pointers for the mix also came from Hakon Sveinsson, Iver Sandøy and Josh von Staudach, thanks!

Days in the life of a songwriter 33

Sooooo, back again. First things first. Tomorrow we’ll be playing a long overdue live set at The Workshop in Shoreditch. They call it The Workshop Hoxton, whatever. I have been told we’ll be in quite a folky setting, which is why we won’t be having any drums, let’s see what it’s like. The Facebook event page is here. And Symptomatic (promoter) have created a flyer which looks like this: The Workshop

The line up will consist of Imogen Burman on cello, Hakon Sveinsson on piano and Joe Carter on trumpet, plus me on vocals and acoustic guitar. In case you’d like to check it out, we’ll be on just after half 9 for a 30 minutes’ set. In case you can’t be bothered to follow the links, The Workshop is at 243 Old Street, London.

Last night I went to a songwriter’s night called the 15 minute club, organised by Laurence Hobbs at All Star Lanes Holborn, it must have been my lucky night, as Yann Destal was the first performer on the night and put in a stand-out performance. He was backed by his Takamine acoustic guitar and a couple of pedals and sometimes, two background singers, that he had brought along from France. I think the other performers were facing a bit of an uphill struggle after him. But Ridley Barbet from Yorkshire managed to play a good set straight after Yann.

Days in the life of a songwriter 32

Where was I? Let’s talk about something I started recently. The kitchen sessions. I did dip my toes a little bit last year, when I recorded myself playing a song (Can You Take Me Home) on an acoustic guitar in a friend’s living room. But the idea is, to turn this into a regular feature, using a little video camera that records the vid plus the audio in decent quality in our kitchen about once every two weeks. The camera is a Zoom Q3 and the only other accessory you need is a tripod. Almost any tripod will do. The first one I did, was a song that talks about Peter Gabriel. It’s called St Peter and it’s up on the old Youtube if you click the link. The guitar is an Alhambra classical guitar which I borrowed from a friend, it’s a lovely guitar but my own classical is making its way here as we speak. Probably crossing France at the moment.

I shall keep it fairly brief today, as I need to get back into mixing my Norwegian project, more about that later. I managed to read a few books on mixing in the past year and if you would like to up your skills in that department I recommend you read these 3. Especially in the order given as each one gets more involved and technical than the one before. The first one I read was The Producer’s Manual by Paul White who is also the editor of Sound on Sound magazine, pretty straightforward with good advice and tips on how to record stuff as well. Then, go on to Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, Mike Senior, who does write articles for Sound On Sound, has a wealth of experience when it comes to mixing, and basically gives you failsafe recipes on how to do it, in a hands on manner. Lastly, there is a book, which, if read first will only confuse you, but if read after the aforementioned ones, will give you a wealth of information about why you actually do things the way you do them and what else you could do and how you could do it in a different way. It’s called Mixing, Concepts, Practices and Tools, by Roey Izhaki, who teaches at SAE amongst other bodies. I’m not making any money from this, just thought I’d tell you which books worked for me. If you know how to monetise this, tell me.

So, about to wrap up for the day, but a friend has asked me to write a few lines about a friend of theirs and their up coming release. The band is called ‘Woodman Stone’ and the new offering from them will be officially released on Monday 25th of March. I believe they hail from Leicester as that’s where they recorded “Someone Else’s Dreams Will Fill Our Home” (but not sure). Their songs spring forth from their dreams and they came up with a bit of a myth concerning their origins, apparently they came into this world in a post apocalyptic post 3rd world war type of scenario, there must be some time warping going on that I’m not entirely aware of. Tom Robinson of 6 music wasn’t put off by this conundrum, but I guess he skipped the reading bit and went straight for the music. Good man. The music is quite a mix of pop styles with an electric indie folk feel. Especially the vocals give it a folk twist for me, as the vocals seem less produced than the instruments. So yes, good songwriting skills well recorded, see whether it’s your cuppa. I’ll add an itunes link here next week.

Days in the life of a songwriter 31

Okay, just sat down for about 10 minutes to see if I could come up with a list of things I would like to talk about. Yes, made a list almost all the way down an A4 sheet.

I don’t think it really matters where I start, so let’s just dive in somewhere. Well, musicians usually do gigs once in a while, or all the time if there is no day job to distract them. Some even manage to do both. Now, if you aren’t famous already, and you aren’t playing covers, chances are you aren’t making a lot of money. You might be losing money! By the time you and a couple of other fools (i.e., the band) have rocked up at the venue, you are a few travelcards down, you will be spending money on drinks and you might have had a couple of rehearsal, which means 30-50 quid per rehearsal and a few more travelcards …… yes, you are right, down again. So let’s say 30 people make it to your gig, that means the venue will give you about 30 pounds, or 40 if they are feeling generous. Well, you can see where this is going. You have just made a loss. (At least that’s how it is in London)

Here’s where a new-ish thing is coming to the rescue. Second Life has been around for a number of years, but for people like me who aren’t into gaming or most things virtual, I didn’t even know it existed. Thanks to my friend Jordan (Reyne), I was introduced to it. She has been playing gigs on there for about 2 years I think. Anyway, she invited me to a special morning, where 3 acts from London performed in succession. First Jordan, then me, then Maxdymz (industrial metal). That was back in September 2012. Since then I pretty much started playing my own gigs by the end of October and now have a couple of regular slots in this virtual world. In case you are in the dark about Second Life or SL for short, it is a virtual world that you can explore using an avatar. You can walk, fly, travel and be teleported to places, a bit like in the old Star Trek. So, if I play a gig, people see my avatar on stage and I see their avatars arrive at the venue. They can use local chat to communicate and they can even tip a muso, using SL’s online currency, Lindens. The audience then listens to me singing into a mic in my room and my guitar plugged into my little mixing desk.

I was hooked up with someone who spends a lot of time in SL. And she agreed to be my online booker (I call her my pimp), which is a total blessing, as it is not easy selling yourself. So, if someone else does it, greatttttt. If anyone wants to book a gig, I’ll say, please get in touch with Secret (Rage) as she has all the dates. Well, you can see, you can play gigs without leaving your room or your pyjamas behind!!! You can’t get rich, but you can make a few bob, to help you out a bit and once you are established, even get a fixed fee from the venues. It’s still all pocket-money, but every little helps and people who like what you do will follow you onto other platforms too, like Facebook and so forth. You are spreading the word.

In order to be able to do this, you need: a microphone, an instrument, a small mixing desk, a decent (external) soundcard, headphones. And you need to find someone on SL to let you stream audio into this virtual world. I pay 1500 Lindens a month for it, which is 3.75 pounds. And you need to download a little program that will stream your audio to that person’s server. There are various small ones around. I use something called BUTT.  Image

You can see my avatar (or avi) doing a gig at a venue called Key West in Second Life above. If there is anything you’d like to know, that I left off, or whatever, leave a comment and I’ll add whatever it is, provided I know the answer.

Managed to update the info on Bandcamp as well, where you can buy all the new songs. Put more stuff on Soundcloud as well, and have started doing kitchen sessions, where I play a song in simple acoustic fashion in our kitchen and put it on Youtube. Right, next blog post soon, and if you have a minute have a look at the updated Amphibic website as well.

Next blog post soon.

Days in the life of a songwriter 30

Well well, it’s been some time …. . Sorry!! So the mic shoot-out video that I did with Felix MacIntosh from Tigersonic studios has finally been uploaded. We were comparing a Neumann U87, an Oktava 319 and 219, as well as an AKG C3000 and AKG 414 to a Royer style modded MXL2001 (mod performed by me) and we threw in an SM58 for good measure. Check out the mic shoot out video here. I’ll be doing a little mic mod post pretty soon.

We also went to the 12 Bar Club on June 7th and played a gig where we tried out some more brass on songs and welcomed Sarah Mann on trombone into the fold. Joe Carter on trumpet also showed off his skills and even threw in a muted trumpet solo. We were impressed. Nick added some new keyboard sounds, there was a touch of electric piano (a rhodes type sound) and even some organ in a song called Lilly. The new sounds came from a module by EMU called Proteus 2000. I used my Seagull acoustic on the night for which I have just ordered a new custom made bone saddle. Sounds kinkier than it is. We were sharing the evening with Jordan Reyne who is an industrial folkster from NZ who did impress everyone with her dark songs and nifty use of her loop pedals.

I have discovered a couple more licensing companies (for Film/TV and ads) and am in the process of offering them some more songs to hopefully bring in some dosh sooner, rather than later.

Apart from that, Jordan is actually working hard at creating a new website for which is supposed to go live fairly soon. Excited!! Yeah!!!

One thing I’m working on at the moment is a song that is close to my heart. It’s a project that is to do with Norway and I am looking forward to some collaborations with some old friends there. I don’t want to say too much at this stage. But will keep you updated here. I am very excited about this and even though I did use the word excited in the last paragraph, I don’t get excited very easily. Honest.