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 24

Haven’t seen the film Self Made yet but will hopefully rectify that this Saturday as it’s showing at the BFI. Managed to see Jari play with Sanai Joe’s group at the Archangel and met a few of Sanai’s friends too. I shot a video of them doing one song on my new Zoom Q3 (audio and video recorder) just to practise a bit. This was after my dentist ‘Tom” had given me a lovely new filling, he replaced an old one. On Thursday I went down to the Imperial College, met up with Ben in Beit Squad and had a little try out session at the Jazz-Rock society’s studio. Jake joined us on violin and it sounded pretty good.

On Saturday we went to a huge bonfire/fireworks display in Maida Vale, courtesy of our mate James whose flat borders this big garden where some pros perform a fantastic show every year. We came with booze, saw the show had a few drinks, met old pals and towards the end I played about 4 songs, as I had wisely brought the old Seagull acoustic along. A songwriter named Lucinda also played a couple of tunes on the very same geetaarrr. Had a great lie-in after that, yeah! Then went down to have a wander round Portobello and ended up in the kitchen and pantry place off Kensington Park Road, great sofas.

I quite like baking bread and I like using wild (slightly different) ingredients. I have this new stuff called Masa Harina, it’s what middle and south Americans use to make tortillas. Anyway, the variety I bought killed off the yeast in my dough (I tested this out on Monday in little test bowls!). Obviously the bread I made using about a quarter of Masa Harina, didn’t move at all. In short it didn’t rise. Now I know better.

Tomorrow I’m going to dip into the World Travel Market, surprise a couple of old faces and maybe meet a few new ones. Got out my Gibson 335 copy (it’s a Vintage VSA 535) a few days ago to run through songs in the set using the little Vox amp. This guitar still blows me away. Maybe I should get in touch with the makers and see whether I can strike a sponsorship deal. Anyway, also got the tap delay out (geek alert), it’s called Head Rush (by Akai) and got back in the swing of using it. You can tap a button with your foot to tell it the pace of the song, so your delay will be in sync. Love it!!! 🙂 Okay, don’t want to freak you out. Invite for the new gig on December first is coming soon.

Almost forgot. Last thing.  Sorted out a profile on Sonicbids where you can submit your music in order to get into festivals. Well, we are on it now and managed to submit to SXSW just before the deadline. Here’s our profile, Amphibic at Sonicbids. We are slowly getting there, when it comes to online presence.