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 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.

Days in the life of a songwriter 18

Sorry about the slight delay, but am up in Kendal (Lake District) to relax and do some walking. More about that next time. Last weekend I went to see Trollhunter; a little Norwegian movie that is doing quite well due to a clever social media/marketing campaign (apparently). Anyway, I did enjoy it, you might have heard that it’s shot in a similar way to the Blair Witch movie of yore, all true. So lots of shaky cameras and filming through car windows and what not. A third into the movie some trolls appear and rampage through the countryside (at night, obviously), it’s all very tongue in cheek and it could well become a cult movie. We’ll see. It might do some advertising for Norway on the way.

On Wednesday we went to quite an inspirational evening where Wayne Hemingway who co-founded Red Or Dead with his partner talked about brands and how they got started almost 30 years ago. They started with a market stall in Camden because he couldn’t pay the rent after paying for a rehearsal room and his friends (on the dole) couldn’t pay him back. They made something like 118 quid on the first day (1982) when they only needed 8 pounds for the rent each. Anyway, I think almost everyone there was impressed!! The venue was the Book Club in Shoreditch which provided an easy going atmosphere but not a lot of chairs.

Moving on to the music stuff. Well, I wanted to get some brass in on the act again for the week’s Amphibic gig at the Wilmington Arms, so I arranged another song that already had a small trumpet solo, for trombone, horn and trumpet. I came up with something simple and we also worked out something for the piano during a piano rehearsal with Nick, picking up what I had done on the recording already. With hindsight I think I might change it a bit as it sounded a tad low to me at the gig. Imogen worked out a pizzicato bass part on the cello (during cello rehearsal) as there was no ‘arco’ cello part in it. Anyway, we didn’t have drums for the gig but considering the fact that there were 7 of us on stage, I thought it might be best to bring drums back in next time. There was, Sarah Maxwell on horn, Rosie Turton on trombone, Joe Carter on trumpet, Nick Desmond on piano, Imogen Burman on cello and Laura Thompson on violin. I had emailed everyone their parts and we double checked the cues before the gig. It went really well and today there was a review on Spoonfed online already. It was Nick’s 21st birthday and I had got him a chocolate cake plus candles from Waitrose. I lit it downstairs before everyone came down to pick up their instruments from the backstage basement. And we sang.

Right, need to check my bank balance to see whether we can afford a zoom video/sound recorder in order to be able to record our future gigs. There’s a handy one called Q3 I believe. On that note…..more very soon.

Days in the life of a songwriter 16

We had to drop one violin from our (Amphibic) gig at the Distiller’s Arms in Hammersmith as we just couldn’t get the logistics sorted in time. Having said that, I made Piotr play loads of viola and cello parts as well on his violin, it kept him from getting bored and gave us lots of strings. Hakon did a good job on the piano as well, well he had to, his parents had come for a visit from Iceland and so his motivation was even higher than normal. A little tidbit here, Hakon used to train Karate in the same class as Bjørk back home and back in the day. My fairly newly installed (Artec piezo) pickup in my Seagull acoustic did really well and the soundman made me use it without the preamp (as it sounded better). It only cost 17 quid, result!!

Had to get up really early the next day to take some peeps to Stonehenge and Oxford and could have done with tons more sleep, but what can you do? Anyway, got back to my place, had a quick shower and jumped into half decent clothes as I had to join some friends at a birthday party at Bungalow 8 at the St Martin’s Lane Hotel. I didn’t know anything about it, so wasn’t expecting anything really, but if you did expect a high flying super charged VIP’y club you might have felt a tad let down, if you know what I is saying!?

We got up at 1pm the next day, yay! and had a lazy Sunday afternoon, went over to my mate Olaf’s house and after warming up to some Father Ted we saw Los Angeles and something else that I can’t remember now…..ah, where is my cod liver oil?

On Tuesday I had to wait for a group down at the London Eye, it was windy as fluff (that’s a euphemism) and the group was late by an hour and a half…..but Janet the lady who looks after the coaches there, had some gummi bears and Dutch biscuits coated in chocolate on one side. I got the coffee in, so yes I survived.

This brings us smack bang up to date. I’m very excited as I decided to fly to Norway (Bergen) for pretty much a day on Saturday, to see an old mate (William Hut) play a gig in Bergen (Garage) got a good price on Norwegian and here I come. More next week.