Haven / Equals in Inferno

I just released 2 new songs: Haven and Equals in Inferno. And yes, what you heard is true. The rock style is back. If you want to compare these songs to something I’ve release before, the closest match would be my 2014 album, Eunoia?. These sound like a follow up to that LP more than any release since. And there’s a good reason for that.
 
Both Haven and Equals in Inferno were written in 2016. Truthfully, I don’t have much documentation of that period. But allow me to give some background context the best I can. Amicolage was created over two years of intense work between 2014 and 2016. Then, the Peplival EP followed in a quick, cathartic burst. After these two instrumental efforts, I shifted gears back to the Eunoia? style: rock songs built to feature vocals. My song writing and mixing had improved since the Eunoia? sessions and I looked to apply those lessons to another full length rock LP.
 
My 2016-2017 writing and recording sessions were especially focused on mastering guitar recording techniques. Time to go beyond just putting a mic in front of my amp and pressing play. I experimented with multiple mics and multiple amps to achieve a fuller, smoother sound. Later, I got an ABY selector pedal, which allowed me to send my guitar signal to two amps at once. Then I could record two different sounds of the same take, instead of having to play each take twice in order to layer sounds. If you’ve never recorded or mixed guitar, you might be thinking “so what?” Listen to the thick, distorted guitars in the chorus of Equals in Inferno. Then, listen to the clarity of the guitar solo that follows. Compare that to anything from Eunoia? That’s what.
 
The guitar tones I achieved were big, clear, and satisfying to the ear. New songs piled up. But lyrics didn’t. At first, I wasn’t concerned. It’s normal for me to write the songs first and the lyrics later. I didn’t notice that perhaps, I was just writing more songs to put off writing lyrics. Over time though, it sunk in. I wanted words in these songs for the sake of having words in songs. Because they’re more accessible to the listener that way. Not because I had something to say. Not because I enjoyed writing lyrics or singing.
 
By 2018, I was writing instrumental electronic music almost exclusively. It wasn’t an intentional switch. In fact, it occurred almost without me noticing. When I write music, I just follow what I enjoy making and hearing. In hindsight, it’s not surprise I drifted far from the rock style the moment it began feeling like a chore. Still, it’s a little sad to look back on. Those were some of my best rock songs to date. My best guitar riffs. My best recording techniques and instrument tones. The culmination of all the efforts to improve my rock music production to that point.
 
And now? All of those songs are sitting in a folder. Abandoned. No lyrics. No vocals. They weren’t written to be instrumentals, so they feel naked and incomplete without them. I haven’t written lyrics or sang since. So realistically, as much as I like them, it’s hard to imagine their fate changing in the future.
 
The exceptions are Haven and Equals in Inferno. These songs were completed before my change of heart set in. And may up being the only lasting examples of my work from this period.
 
P.S.
These two points are important but somewhat conflicting to the above narrative.
 
  1. Haven was written and recorded at the very beginning of the focused exploration and improvement period above, and therefore missed out on a lot of the later advancements. It still sounds good, but sadly even this song barely exemplifies the sounds I later achieved.
  2. Although I make no promises, I’m making a concerted effort to salvage more work from this period. I would like to fill in this gap in my recording chronology. The question remains: how? Since now, it’s not a matter of simply picking up where I left off, given that I’m several years removed from the headspace that birthed those songs.

Disquiet Junto Project 0476: IAH Forecast

  • Post category:Rando Bin

Beyond the Fog

The Assignment:
Here’s your next single’s cover (pictured above). Now record it.

The result:
First and most important objective: capture the essence of the fog. The result: the dense chord sound around :32. Then the melody came to be. An introspective rumination.

The longer you stare at the tireless highway, the more the cars become a blur. Memories descend over your mind like morning fog rolls into the city. Conversations and laughter drift up from other balconies, but soon fade. Spacing out has become an accidental deep focus session. The cars from yesterday are back today. And will be back tomorrow.

But you’ve slipped out an exit. One nobody noticed. The cars shrink smaller. Rushing by in slow motion. Like toys controlled by your mind. You want to relinquish control but you can’t. There’s something controlling you. Something you can’t see. Even from this raised vantage. “The fog will lift when I’m ready to see beyond,” you suppose. 

This song exists because of an inspiring prompt courtesy of the Disquiet Junto music community project.

Learn More about Disquiet Junto

More on this 476th weekly Disquiet Junto project at: https://disquiet.com/0476/

The image that is the source of this project is by Robert Boyd (www.thegreatgodpanisdead.com) and has been used with his permission.

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0476-iah-forecast/

Future Ages March Upon the Countryside

Listen on Spotify | Bandcamp | Apple Music

Megalotron got a serious makeover since last we saw him. But Villabellus is not ready for his close up! What use does a small town have for such a monstrosity?

Like it or not though, Megalotron has arrived. And he even brought friends. Creating an event after which nothing will be the same. The old, simple way of life is now inaccessible. Reassigned to the ephemeral realm of memories.  

So now I invite you to listen along to this developing saga. Grab your headphones and tune in, as Future Ages March Upon the Countryside. 

Megalotron is born!

The world we know has split in two. One is simple, quaint, familiar. Each day a sunrise and some honest work. Later, a few laughs on the back porch at sunset. A see-you-tomorrow type world. For some, this is still the only world that exists. 

Elsewhere, unmarked buildings pop up overnight like moonflowers. In a lightspeed world of noise and traffic, being inconspicuous is the best defense.  And enforcing a secret security clearance is the best insurance. Labyrithine hallways lead to impossible laboratories. Utterly undisturbed, the rate of innovation curves ever upward. But what can become of such a place? A world within a world, unchecked by the decency of daylight. A place where finishing touches are just now being applied to Prototype 7c: Megalotron.

Revenge of the Kicked [Demo]

  • Post category:Demos

Anyone that’s played Super Mario Bros. will recognize a familiar sound in this song. Except it’s not what you think. Check out the pitched percussion track that comes in at 1:00. Distorted, midrange blips played in threes. At 1:14, the higher pitched notes of this track sound like a Koopa getting kicked by Mario. For those not caught up on their 1980s gaming, you can hear the sound I’m referring to here.

The sound in the song isn’t a Koopa sample though. It’s actually a TR-808 conga sound pitched out of it’s usual range and bathed in distortion. Nonetheless, this song sounds like the Koopas have been kicked one too many times and have returned with some heavy duty reinforcements…

So there you have it – a musical instrument that sounds like a non-musical sample. Unlike my last song, which featured a non-musical sample that sounded like a musical instrument. 

Good Vibrations [Midnight Demo]

  • Post category:Demos

Let’s see if this one doesn’t wiggle your mind a little bit. Listen closely to the bass. Especially at the very beginning. Or at the end, when it’s playing by itself. What does it sound like? Here’s a hint: It’s not a musical instrument. Or at least it wasn’t until the sound sample was dropped into this song and played on a keyboard. 

Do you think this song sounds a bit villainous? Akin to something like MF Czar? Different style of course, but a similar darkness? Maybe it’s just me. 

Anyway, this song is still a work in progress. If and when it gets released, you might have to identify it under a different name. 

Here’s Why Your Spotify Wrapped Stats are Wrong

  • Post category:Rando Bin

Spotify Wrapped: Your Top Songs of the Year
Or are they?

Sharing your Spotify Wrapped results is fun. But it also leads to some questions. Is this really the song I listened to the most? How is this artist I’ve been binging *not* in my top 5?
 
But it must be right. Isn’t Spotify wrapped a report of my year’s listening activity? Well yes. And no. Let me explain.
 

Here’s my top 5 on Spotify

And here’s my top 5 from Last.fm

Similar, yes, but wouldn’t you expect them to be identical? So what’s the difference? 

Here's the Issue

Spotify isn’t super transparent about its tracking. But on Last.Fm I can watch every track stream in real time. 

So we can trust Last.fm is an accurate baseline. Therefore, I looked to Spotify’s tracking methods to discover a reason for the discrepancy. And voila: this moderator post on the Spotify Community board reveals the answer.

What date range does Wrapped cover?

January 1st to October 31st, 2019.
Any listening after this won’t be included. This gives our teams enough time to assemble everything.

In other words, the songs you play in November and December are not counted in your Year Wrapped stats. Now we can see why people are sometimes surprised by Spotify’s top picks. The songs you’ve been listening to lately, those in most recent memory, aren’t considered at all. 

It also makes sense that there’s a cutoff date. Spotify has to prepare the data and create the slideshow. And of course any listening that happens after the Year Wrapped is released won’t count. But then why do it at the beginning of December? Why not make it a New Year’s tradition? Also, why does it take 2 months to prepare data that Last.fm tracks in real time? I can go there any day of the year and get an up to date report of my listening history for any date range I want. I’m sure there are perfectly reasonable answers to these questions, I just don’t know what they are. Feel free to enlighten me!

Right now you may be thinking, okay big deal. Your top artists and songs were almost identical anyway. True, but mostly just by chance. In November and December of 2019, I listened to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, according to Last.fm. Too late for 2019 Wrapped and too early for 2020 Wrapped, so RHCP didn’t appear on my Spotify lists at all. But check it out – they’re actually in my Top 5 Artists over the last year!  

And just for fun, let’s see my top 5 songs over the past full year: 

Now, 3 out of the top 5 songs are different than what Spotify displayed. How much do you think your top 5 would change if all your plays were counted?

Bonus Reason

If you only listen to music on Spotify, this reason won’t affect you. But there’s a lot of good music on other platforms that’s not on Spotify at all. If your listening habits also include listening on places like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, etc then your results will be even more skewed. Obviously, none of those songs will appear in your Spotify Wrapped. But Last.fm tracks listening from all of those places too. If one of your favorite albums is only on Bandcamp, those songs could easily be in your real top 5. Unbeknownst to you and anyone who only sees the Spotify Wrapped post you share at the end of the year. 

Recapping What We've Learned

  1. Your Year Wrapped from Spotify isn’t as accurate as you think
  2. Mostly because it’s based only on listening data from Jan-Oct. Songs played in Nov-Dec don’t count towards anything. 
  3. Last.fm tracks all your listening all the time. You can use their charts to see your “real” stats for comparison. 

5 Uses for Multiband Compression (Without Ruining your Mix)

MC comp

How it Starts

Every multiband compression tutorial starts the same way. “The first time I tried multiband compression, it completely ruined my mix. It sounded awful!” 

They don’t even tell you what was bad about it. The message is simply: beware of multiband compression, the great mix killer.
 
You know, as opposed to all those other audio tools that only make your mix better. Take a saturation plugin for example. Slap it on your mix buss, turn the distortion to 11 and viola! You definitely did not just ruin your mix. Had you tried that with multiband compression, all your hard work would be in shambles.
 
Okay so here’s what I’m saying. Multiband compression is an audio tool, just like all the other audio tools. Which is to say there’s a time and place to use it. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.
 
But if you do need it and you don’t use it because you’re intimidated by it? Well then you’re not doing yourself any favors.
 
So when does multiband compression come in handy? Let’s see a few examples.
 

When to Use Multiband Compression 

Example 1 – De-Essing Sibilant Vocals 

I’m not even going to explain this because you already know how valuable a vocal de-esser can be. And yes a de-esser is an example of multiband compression. Because it only compresses select frequencies rather than the whole signal. So multiband is already less evil than we thought!
 

Example 2 – Scooping mud out of a flabby bass sound 

Synth bass patches are notorious for too much sauce in the low mids. They muddy up the whole mix. Using multiband compression, you can rebalance the sound a bit.
 
Maybe the signal under 100hz is inconsistent, so smoothing out the subs and boosting them a couple dB will give it a more proper weight. Maybe in the 800-1200 range there’s a big drop off in signal. But if you can pull that up a little bit, there’s suddenly more clarity. Instead of having a big hump in the frequency spectrum around 250hz, the sound is more balanced now. And will hopefully sit better in the mix. That’s the goal after all.
 

Example 3 – Slap bass that POPS 

Compressing slap bass is tricky. Similar to the previous example, there’s important frequencies far apart in the spectrum.
 
The low thump is vital to preserve, and the high pops equally so. And in this case especially, you want don’t want to lose the dynamics of the performance. So say you dial in a regular compressor to accentuate the hi popping notes. You find that as a result, you’ve completely squashed the low notes. They were louder after all, and were more greatly affected by the compressor. If only there was a way to have separate compressor settings – one set appropriate for the high notes, and another appropriate for the low notes. Oh right, that’s the very definition of multiband compression.
 

Example 4 – Unruly Multi-Layer Synth Patches 

Imagine a layered, full spectrum synth patch. The kind that sounds like a whole song in one note. These often don’t need any compression at all. But lets say there’s a high fluttering layer with a nice twinkle. But whenever it gets to a certain note, a resonant peak jumps out and pierces your ears. Meanwhile, you don’t have a bass line in this song. It’s an ambient track and you were hoping the low layer of this synth patch would suffice for the bass. But now it’s sounding weak in the mix.
 
Multiband compression time. Treat the piercing highs with a similar approach you would for de-essing. Narrow in on the problem frequency. Set the compressor threshold so it turns that down without affecting the rest of the sound. Use the compressor’s low band to squeeze and raise the bass frequencies, filling in the hole you noticed in the mix.
 

Example 5 – An underweight kick drum sample 

Okay, usually for this I would just layer in another kick sample with more sub frequencies. But lets say that’s not an option. Using a multiband compressor, you can access those sub bass frequencies and thicken them up. Just like in the previous examples.
 

Bonus tip!

Now you have a bass heavy electronic song. There’s a monumental bass riff and 10 ton kick drum to boot. Here’s a classic case for side chain compression on the bass, lowering it’s volume whenever the kick hits. But this bass riff is monumental! Full spectrum, the meat of the song! We don’t want to hear the high frequencies being sucked out by the kick drum. The riff is supposed to be tearing our faces off, not hiding from every down beat.
 
Enter Multiband Side-Chain Compression. You’re goddamn right I went there.
 
Put the multiband compressor on the bass. Side chain the kick to the low frequency band only. Now only the sub frequencies of the bass duck out for the kick drum. This fixes the problem and leaves the rest alone. A much more transparent solution than the usual alternative.

Ps. If you don’t know how to use a compressor and you try to use a multiband compressor, you will multiply your mistakes. Don’t ruin your mix!

But really, don’t be afraid to practice and improve your skills. The only way to make a great mix is to make many many bad ones first. 

Song Sifting: Eyen

  • Post category:Song Sifting
Song: Eyen
Artist: Plaid
Album: Double Figure
Year: 2001

Eyen unfolds like a journey, a car ride lets say. The chord progression is our car. An 8 bar loop that repeats throughout. It’s not changing. It’s not stopping. Nice and reliable. You can relax your focus and enjoy the views passing by out the window. And what’s going on out there? Every 8 bars or so, we encounter some new instrumentation.

An acoustic guitar provides the chords. After 8 bars, a distant synth pad percolates up from beneath the surface. Momentum builds when the bass creeps in. The first minute of this song is a clinic in building anticipation. An electric guitar emerges, outlining the chord progression. The bass, still repeating a single note, switches from a double pulse to a full eighth note beating. Then, it changes again, adopting a funkier rhythm. Then viola, drums appear; just the release we’ve been waiting for.

So the first minute is spent collecting all of the foundational elements. Almost like packing the car. Once we have the drums, it’s full speed ahead. Drive ahead 8 bars and we find a whistling flute melody. Eight more bars and it’s passed, relegated to the background as a new electric guitar layer comes into focus. Now that you get the idea, you’ll see the rest of the song develops in this fashion.

With one aspect of the song so constant, you expect to find an extra focus on variation elsewhere. We see this with the revolving top layers. But it occurs on a more subtle level as well. Take the hi hats for example. They are quite low in the mix, and sometimes difficult to hear. But zoom in on them and you’ll notice they’re alive. Always moving from the left ear, to the right, and back. Such details reveal the level of care and craft taken in the composition.

Now lets consider the bass. Often in electronic music, you get simple, repetitive bass parts. Utilitarian. The synth line that comes in at 2:09 is like this. Just a straight eighth note rhythm. Now rewind to 1:00. Listen to all the character in that bass. It really jams. There’s a nice fill going into 1:39 and for the next 30 seconds, the bass goes wild! Completely unexpected in a song like this. But a welcomed surprise. After 2:09, there’s so much layering above it that it settles back into a straight rhythm so as not to clash. Relegated to the background, but not before some fun.

Eyen is satisfying in its simplicity. The chord progression is peaceful, even hopeful, with the way it turns upward at the end of each cycle. There’s anticipation with each upturn, to see what will appear next. We get complacent. Yes, what we hear now will soon pass. But something new is coming to replace it, and it’s always just as nice. Until it’s not. At 3:12 a change occurs. Unexpected and irreversible. The journey has lead us far from where we began.

Try this at home:

1. How many different top layers can you craft that fit your foundation? Better question. How do you tie them together so they flow seamlessly from one to the next. Like views out a car window, not junk out of a grab bag. Make more than you need and only keep the best.
2. Attention to detail: Where can you add subtle variations that add life to the mix? Remember, these aren’t necessarily focal points and shouldn’t be stealing attention from whatever is.
3. Anticipation requires two key components. Ask “What am I building toward?” and “How long until it arrives?” Command the tension and release dynamic. Otherwise, you’re just meandering.

P.S. If you’re new to Song Sifting, here’s what it’s all about

Song Sifting: Rev8617

  • Post category:Song Sifting
Song: Rev8617
Artist: Skee Mask
Album: Compro
Year: 2018

Rev8617 opens with a low-pass filter engaged. Only the heavy sub bass elements push through. Soon, a synth line fizzles into awareness. Skittering hi hats follow. The drums are choppy and fluid at once. Fast, but not frantic. Instead, fluttering and laid back. To me, it sounds like a drum break as been sliced to oblivion. Perhaps by using a tremolo effect. Then he added a big bass drum and crisp, rim hit snare to provide a foundation. Otherwise, the beat would be too fragile to hold together.

The main synth line has a similar fragility. The notes evolve constantly, as if changed by the act of our hearing them. The whole song is based off this one motif. And yet, it never plays back the same way twice. It’s center panned, which leaves room spatial effects to the left and right. Listen between the instruments. Hear the space they inhabit. The richness of that space is what sets this song apart.

The reverb is lush and immersive. A delay effect propels each note outward. Each echo morphs it’s way through the space. Sometimes swirling, sometimes reversing midway and bouncing back. The result is an organic atmosphere, where the instruments are living, breathing entities.

Here’s an example of the space itself evolving: At 1:12, the end of the melody line reverses. From underneath, a flanging effect comes in. The echos sound like they’re passing through thin tubes. The drums stop to let you hear the new texture. Hear the note at 1:20? It sounds like a droplet of water. It’s the only moment in the song that sounds that way. So this is what I mean. The track is 3:44 long and is based on one 4 second motif. But you never hear it the same way twice.

The last 40 seconds mirror the songs beginning. To start, we heard the lumbering bass make a close approach. Now, the sounds are thin and distant. Skee Mask gracefully completes the circle.

Try this at home:
1. Experiment with tremolo effect on a drum break. Does this recreate the fluttering effect or lead somewhere else entirely?
2. Try using multiple delays on a lead line. Use automation to trade off between them.
3. Embrace minimalism. How many different ways can you express one motif?

P.S.  Here’s what I mean by Song Sifting, in case it wasn’t clear

So, that's all for now...

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