Just keep going until you get to the top

Just Keep Going Until You Get There

Album Progress Update

After a couple of weeks where I was getting a lot of other things done – like researching what to do if Soundcloud suddenly disappears (and actioning what I found out) – I’ve managed to make another dent in the heap of significant things-that-need-doing to finish a second album.

I recorded vocals for Solitude in Numbers and Niagara this evening and did some more work on the mix for Of Space And Time, one of the tracks from Tune-A-Day-June, as well as sorting out a few glaring problems with the backing track for Solitude in Numbers.  I haven’t reviewed the vocal takes for Niagara yet, so I may have to do that song again, but that won’t hurt – it’s a difficult song to sing, so practising it is a good idea. (Note to self: try to write some songs that you find a bit easier to sing… )

I’m not 100% sure that Of Space & Time will actually fit in with the rest of the album, as it’s steadily becoming more and more of a triphop album, but we’ll see. I might have to hold that one over for the next project, depending how weird the mix of tracks seems once I have enough tracks for some to be considered ‘spares’ towards the end.

As ‘No. 1 Fan’ was disappointed that I didn’t include Solitude in Numbers in the Sleepwalker album, I have sent her a mix to see what she thinks. (And to prove I’m really going to include it this time!)  It was one of the first tracks for the first album, and No. 1 Fan had heard my first mixes. I felt pretty bad about leaving it off when I saw her reaction, but it wasn’t in good enough shape to go on Sleepwalker.

Solitude in Numbers is the song that wouldn’t completely behave itself, no matter what I did to it. I hadn’t learned to mix when I put the first version together, which certainly didn’t help. The mood of the initial mix was upbeat and poppy, and although I’m all for sad songs sneakily hidden inside happy tunes, it wasn’t working, even after a remix. So a few months back, I started to record the song again completely from scratch, slowing it down a bit, and making the arrangement incredibly sparse this time, whereas the original version had been crammed with all sorts of unnecessary sounds which only served to make the track more difficult to pull together. At first, the new version sounded too empty, and needed more momentum, but it is now well on its way with what I hope are the right sounds and effects. This time, without the clutter, you can hear the lyrics better, and feel the message behind them. I think this version does the song a lot more justice than my previous attempts.

I’m sorry, but I am going to have to keep it to myself for a while yet, though, as I want as much of the material on the album as possible to be new to listeners when it is released. (There will be a few of the Tune A Day pieces on the album as well, though, and it’s probably not all that hard to guess which ones I’m thinking of using that I’ve not already mentioned in the blog!)

How to Relax

How to Relax - a Spotify playlist by Stoneygate

My ‘how to relax’ playlist is slightly more upbeat than my ‘super-chilled’ one, but it’s full of tunes which are easy to listen to. I’ve included a few East Midlands based indie artists, such as Yakobo and Lynz Crichton, as well as some that are better known.

Which are your favourite tunes for when you want to put your feet up and chill out?

Painted Lady butterfly on buddleia

Covering A Song: Before and After

Something I have been meaning to do for a while is to do a cover song, Stoneygate style. (I play various Suzanne Vega covers on the guitar, but not as ‘Stoneygate’.)  So when a musicians’ Facebook group I’m following asked who would be up for doing some cover song swaps, I decided to give it a go.

The pairings were random, and the group is based in America, so I thought I’d probably be working with somebody State-side. In the event, the random pairing put me with (cue drumroll) Lynz Crichton, a fantastic singer-songwriter based less than an hour away from me! It was a lovely surprise to be paired with someone so close by, with the added bonus of a future meet-up for a coffee. (A Midlands-based Brit also organised the cover song swaps… watch out world, we Midlander musicians are taking over!).

Before

I thought it would be cool to share a little of the process with you. The first thing I did was to listen to Lynz’s EP on bandcamp, check out the lyrics, and sleep on it. I still had an earworm the next day with the song that had stood out, One Fine Day. Having another listen to the EP and reviewing all the lyrics helped confirm my choice.

Once I’d decided on the song, I could map out the structure and chords of Lynz’s original song in my digital audio workstation. I wasn’t sure about a couple of chords, and Lynz also very kindly let me have a chordsheet to check my work against. The key was not very keyboard friendly, as the song was originally written for guitar. That was going to slow me down for writing parts, so I transposed it up a semi-tone, at a very early stage, and checked it was still going to be within my vocal range. I also messed around with the tempo a bit, slowing it down to bring out the song’s full drama.

After that, I could set to work constructing an arrangement around the original song and record a guide vocal as a place-holder. My intention was to make it into a trip-hop version, but my first attempt with the arrangement felt somewhat disco-ey. It wasn’t that I disliked it, it was just that it wasn’t the vision that I’d got for it… I mentioned this to the swap organiser in our Facebook group, and he happened to mention Portishead. That got me back having a quick listen to Glory Box to check up on and confirm my suspicion that my bassline was the main culprit for the song having the wrong feel to it. It was just too bouncy.

I wrote a new bassline, stripping it right back so that it wouldn’t attract so much attention to itself. It was better, but the song now felt like it was missing something to really give it atmosphere. I tried adding some strings at key points in the song where there was space for them, messing up the chords so they felt more jazzy and retro. (This is what has given the song its James Bond overtones.)  Now the song was really coming together. Time for proper vocal takes, some more tweaks and mixing.

After

You can hear a draft mix of my version on Soundcloud:

 

Lynz is covering Silver Bird, by the way, and I’ve heard a draft already, with some awesome vocals. Watch this space!

 

Cinematica: My Filmscore Playlist

This playlist is a bit different as it features a lot of actual filmscore music – most of the tracks have actually been used in films, but I’ve snuck in a few that fit with the filmscore feel, but haven’t been used in film to my knowledge.

What film soundtracks would you recommend?

Super-chilled Music

Super-chilled tunes for the end of the day

I’ve been making a few playlists on Spotify of work by artists that I discover, especially independent artists – we need all the love we can get!  So I’m going to do a series of blog posts so each of these playlists gets their spot in the limelight and you will get the chance to hear and enjoy them too. (In the interests of transparency, I admit I’ve snuck one or two Stoneygate tunes into each list, however nearly all the tracks are from other artists!)

They each cover quite a lot of music – it would be too much for anyone to listen to if I posted them all in one go, but if you’re a music listening super-hero, you’ll be able to see all of them on my Spotify profile.

My Super-Chilled playlist

This list covers acoustic guitar to latin jazz to electronica but the emphasis is firmly on relaxation, and maybe even dropping off to sleep in the process as the list goes on. (Just don’t sleepwalk, OK?)  Let me know your favourite tracks in the comments section!

 

First Game: Way of the Bubble

The Way of the Bubble, Menu Screen

The Way of the Bubble (Beta), Menu Screen

The last few weeks have been a bit intense at times. I signed up for a game music composition course on Udemy in June – maybe not the sanest thing to do during a 30-day composition challenge, but I doubled up and used the homework as Tune-A-Day June tunes, which helped me crack on with it.

It’s the first Udemy course I’ve studied and it is going well. I wanted to write about what I’m learning for Code Like a Girl, because it involves Unity, a very popular game development ‘engine’*.  With the games industry being so buoyant it would be good to encourage more girls to get involved. But I needed to write a long-overdue article first to complete the story about making video using Processing 3 to write basic animations, so I ended up writing two articles quite close together.  The first article is about making the music visualiser used in the Silver Bird video; the second is about what I’ve been up to on the game music course, which teaches you to make your music adapt to what is happening inside a game and trigger music cues based on events occuring. It’s been really interesting so far and I feel like I’m much better prepared for making more music for games.

I’ve also spent some time trying to learn a little more than is covered on Unity by the game music course by looking at Unity tutorials and just playing around with it. (If you read the second recent article for Code Like A Girl, you’ll see I had some fun body-modding the player character and giving his glasses a makeover). I definitely want to learn more about using Unity, as I’d like to create a simple game that I can use for making video footage from.  This will involve learning to code in C#, however, so that will stretch the old grey matter more than a little when I get to grips with it properly. I’ve only really scratched the surface so far.  (Unity can also take Java scripts, but the tutorials look like they concentrate on C#, so I’ll just follow those – the two languages seem very similar from my perspective, anyway).

Unity gives you a fantastic platform to work with for making animations, from what I can see, and you can almost treat it like a filmset once you’re proficient, setting up camera angles, getting the camera to follow a character’s movements, or to zoom in to the action, etc. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in all this learning though. It may be quite a long time before I can make something really decent – if I get that far.

New Game – Way of the Bubble

Meanwhile, I’ve had my first glimpse of the Way of the Bubble game, the first game in the TrickJazz chillout mobile games series, which I already mentioned a few times.  The game I was originally scheduled to be in, Dreamwalker, has been delayed, so they’ve included my tune Sunset Landscape as one of the tunes in Way of the Bubble. The game is now in beta testing, and I’ve had a go at playing it already, which I’m naturally quite excited about.

Footnotes:

*I’m not sure how they started calling these things engines – Unity is a development environment where you pull together and organise all the different elements that go into making a game and test it. It has built in elements, like a ‘physics engine’ so you can apply gravity to your objects and make them bounce back from walls, etc. You can also buy additional items to extend the possibilities, particularly of the graphics elements available.