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 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 15

went to see Tonic Fold play at St Paul’s Covent Garden and was quite impressed by the pieces and a lot of the arrangements. They had a string octet, double bass (and electric), guitar, 4 singers and Shane, who writes the stuff, on piano. The next day I met up with Nick Desmond to rehearse (he’s on piano) and then we played a gig at the Stag in Hampstead through the people at Earmusic. We also had Imogen with us on cello who did some bass parts as well, pizzicato style. Simba who did the sound was hampered a bit by the ‘almost non existent’ PA. He had to hook up the desk to a myriad of tiny speakers all around the outdoor area….I was not amused. We managed to pull off a good gig, but had to dig in a bit. Did get some complimentary food though which is a rare thing in London.

Got an email on the Monday telling me that there was a review of our tracks in Sound on Sound magazine (recording and studio mag for the uninitiated). So I went out and bought it and was pleased with the content! Click on the link and scroll down. Then I created a profile on Amazing Radio (see link on the right) and also started compiling a list of podcasts that I will submit music to soon. The next day I collected music supervisors on Twitter and wrote lyrics for a song idea I had last year. Was pleased as punch with me-self after that….it always feels good to get another song under your belt! It’s about an old friend who has completely dropped off the radar and no one knows what’s become of him, since you asked.

On the Wednesday I wanted to see an age old Myspace ‘friend’ play in Camden but went to the wrong venue, aaaahhh. I went to Proud Camden, she played at the Cuban bar. What can I say… Found and copied the lyrics and the chords for ‘Are you lonesome tonight’ famous through Elvis, he didn’t write it of course, the song is from around 1928. Reason was that I was going to accompany Des, Frank’s uncle at a birthday party Saturday just gone, where I also played a small set, that according to Frank, “went down a storm!”

We went back to the Stag on Sunday to see the Yuya play, but got there too late. We had a quick chat with the female part of the duo and will try and catch them soon. Played a gig with them not long ago at the Luxe in Spitalfields and loved them. We still managed to stuff ourselves with a great lamb burger though.

Right this pretty much bring us up to date. We are playing a gig this Friday 02.09.11 at the Distillers in Hammersmith which is why I’m meeting up with Hakon for a piano rehearsal tomorrow and we’ll be having Piotr and Morgan on violin as well. So………laters, I’d say.

Days in the life of a songwriter 13

Had better add something here before I’ll have to write a novel to catch up. So yes, went to Romford recently and caught the tail end of Paul White’s (SOS magazine) seminar on vocal recording and processing. What I heard was good as all of us recording geeks could have guessed before. Anyway, I stuck around and took a pic of an Indian family with the man (with their camera in case you are wondering) and then got to speak to him for a few minutes. He also took a CD off me which he promised to listen to on his way back……. Oh, the taxi driver who took me there from the station said he’d had a pleasant day so far; but the blue lights hadn’t started flashing yet and the ambulances weren’t racing around yet as it was only half 3!!! This was over a week before the riots and the looting. So if you’d like to go to Romford, you’ve been warned.

I have mentioned Ariel’s Cyber PR company a couple of times (see link on the right) and managed to speak to her via email last week where she told me she will be coming to London for a talk at PRS headquarters soon. My mate Ash also booked me for a little festival gig this Saturday at the Cultural Olympiad in a park in Mitcham. Might put a link on facebook tonight. I think I’ll be on early, he wants me there for 1pm.

As we are back in business (internet-wise) I managed to get us a ReverbNation page which seems to be very handy. I’m very impressed with all the features and promotional options available. Check it out when you have a minute. I keep adding content there at the mo, so do come back later as well. I even got an account on FlickR but have only posted two pics so far, but the idea is to take pictures of all the gear we use. After that there will be loads of pics from live gigs too.

Last week Friday we went to the secret pub for dinner which was lovely. I can’t tell you where it is. It wouldn’t be the secret pub anymore, would it?

Also went Rollerblading through Hyde Park and past Buck House on the way down to the old Thames where we jumped into our shoes and went across the river to the vintage festival at the South Bank. We loved it and one dress was bought in the process. Rollerbladed all the way to Chelsea from there got home and fell asleep for 2 hours……

A few days later I saw Gary Glitter at terminal 5 (Heathrow) and actually took two ubercrappy pics of him with me old Nokia. Basically, you can hardly see him in them. JLS were around at the same time but I managed to miss them on account of being too busy or maybe I was having a coffee. A new Youtube account was created as well, see link on the right and I have so far managed to put up three vids. A live clip from the Water Rats (Maybe Arizona), How the World Works from the last EP (with footage from the M4) and the old Dear Caffeine video that helped us get our first deal. It has some lovely images from Dungeness and also East London’s old coffee shops.

Right, I’m off. See ya.