Last year, Apple released an update of their Garageband recording software that included optional integrated music lessons, with video of people like Sting and Sara Bareilles showing you how to play the piano or bass parts to their songs, while synchronized tracks played alongside.
At the time, I thought, okay, this is pretty cool, but what if you approached the same idea from a production standpoint? With so many people learning about music engineering and production on their own, in their bedrooms, a final Garageband or Logic or ProTools file, with all the audio, plugins and automation, would be a fantastic learning template.
Furthermore, with the price of actual music effectively falling to zero, maybe a final production file would be useful as something a musician could actually sell – if you were a fan of a particular band and you also made music, wouldn’t you pay $5 for a multitrack session that you could dive into and see how they did it? I would.
In fact, I started work on one of these files. However, as in so many other endeavors, it seems that Steve Jobs was ahead of me: Apple’s flagship audio recording application Logic Studio 9 comes with three “demo” songs – files which represent the final production versions of tracks by the Killers, Santigold, and Lily Allen. Users can dive in and find out exactly how certain sounds were made, how the overall mix was put together – and of course, produce endless remix variations of their own.
We’re definitely going to see a lot more of this kind of thing now that the technology to create and distribute listener-adjustable music has arrived (as in many other areas, the tech here has definitely lagged behind the vision: I remember reading a Ben Fong Torres column on the future of the music industry in the SF Chronicle in the late ’80s where he predicted that multitrack versions of classic albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s” would soon be made available). The surge in music remix iPhone apps over the last few weeks is another good example. The people formerly known as “the audience” (h/t Dan Gillmor) really want to be part of the creative process, and they’re weighing in with their wallets.
The origins of this track date back a few years to a wintertime field trip that my friend Jeffrey and I took to the coast. A huge storm was thumping Northern California, and we wanted to go see the waves in Pacifica, or Princeton, where we’d heard they were sweeping small dogs and inattentive meter maids out to sea.
We made it to Princeton, where the waves were indeed impressive, pushing boldly up from the shore into the center of town, nosing into businesses and restaurants. On the way back, Jeffrey played me a song by one of his favorite up-and-coming singer/songwriters, and I was really taken by an acoustic guitar loop and repetitive mellotron chord that created a very melancholy atmosphere: I resolved to steal that trick as soon as possible.
The storm kept up for several days, and by the end I was feeling very done with winter, especially as I was crouched over the piano in my unheated music lair one night experimenting with the kind of loops and sounds I’d heard on Jeffrey’s CD. As it got later, and colder, the recurrent drone coming out of my speakers and the deepening night created kind of a trance state, and the first verse of the song came steadily into focus, with the last two lines feeling especially right.
There’s more to the story, but I have to save it until the final version of this track is finished!
R emember Polaroids? Those cool white, rectangular photos that you snapped and then waited around excitedly to see how the picture turned out? I came across a bunch of Polaroids from the sessions for my first album while cleaning my closet the other day, and something about the nature of that whole type of photographic experience struck me.
It was the parallel between taking a Polaroid snapshot and recording a song. Both of those processes are about capturing a moment, giving your time and attention to something while it develops, and then enjoying the finished product.
Okay, it’s not a perfect comparison, but the connection between the two was strong enough that I started daydreaming about how a song could be more like a Polaroid, and hmmm…wouldn’t it be fun to do a whole music project that came into slow focus that way?
Accordingly, let me be the first to tell you about Radio Nowhere’s
new album, titled (wait for it…) Polaroids! Here’s the first recording from the project, a demo of the song “Spring”, which you can listen to or download (for free) right here.
I’ve actually already written an entire new album’s worth of songs, and this time, rather than wait until I’ve got 10 tracks recorded, mixed, mastered, and pressed into CDs before letting you know that there’s new music available, I’m going to be sharing real-time insight into the whole process, from this first scrappy song demo to the final polished (and hopefully super-awesome) recording.
Here’s the plan:
– I’ll record and upload demos of all of the songs, with a new one every couple of weeks.
– Then, I’ll start recording the final versions of all of these songs and uploading those.
– When that’s done, I’ll herd all of the recordings together into two collections – the demos and the final versions – and we’ll have a big party, where my band will play all the new songs and you get to sing along. Sound fun?
If you’d like to get a short email whenever I upload some new music here, just type your email address into that box in the middle of this web page. You can also click on the RSS button to subscribe to this blog’s feed.
I’m really excited about this project, and especially looking forward to getting feedback from and having conversations with you – right here on this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter, or whatever other web deal they invent between now and Thanksgiving. What’s it gonna be like? No clue. But to me it’s already a fascinating experiment, and it’s only going to get more interesting.
I spent the 4th of July weekend safely stashed away in the mountains, happily cut off from radio, the Internets, and even newspapers, and I was (stupidly) very surprised to come back to the flatlands and find that the MJ frenzy continued unabated.
I don’t know what I expected: biggest pop star in the history of the world dies under mysterious and untimely circumstances – probably just a two or three day story at most, right? Since our media is so focused on the arcana of health care reform negotiations, and all.
Anyway, my fellow alpine hedonists and I actually spent a lot of time discussing Michael, and I realized that he was a much more important part of my life than I’d thought. I haven’t really paid attention to his life since about 1985, but he hit supernova status at exactly the right time to take up permanent residence in my little teenybopper mind. I remember rollerskating to “Rock With You”, pretty much every time I ever went rollerskating, and I don’t think I’ve D.J.’d a party in the last 20 years where I didn’t play at least one prime-era MJ song. I guess I miss that Michael Jackson.
I actually wasn’t much of a fan of “Thriller” when it came out, though, and I didn’t warm to it until they released, like, the seventh single, which was “Human Nature”. To me, that song sounded like music from another planet, one where it was always nighttime, and the stars were always out.
So Sunday night, when I was trying to figure out what, if anything, I wanted to say about Michael, “Human Nature” kept coming to mind. If you haven’t heard it in a while, go back and check it out.
And before you, do, check out this version, whipped up yesterday in the Radio Nowhere Labs. I am definitely not anywhere near MJ’s league as a vocalist (or even in his octave), but there are parts of this track that make me think of stars. I haven’t tried rollerskating to it, but you probably could.