Happy New Year!

I’ve got off to a bit of a false start to the New Year. Having first got ill between Christmas and New Year, then recovered, I went down properly with whatever nasty virus it was a couple of days after the obligatory late night party with good friends and board games. (I knew something wasn’t quite right when I needed coffee at 11pm to stay awake to see the new year in & get home safely). Apparently there’s a lot of sickness about at the moment – hopefully you’ve avoided it!

False start aside, next week it’s going to be all systems go, with another Sync Songwriting Challenge – this time only 5 days long. If we are producing full tracks in that time, it will be tougher than last time, when we had 8 days, but very rewarding. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.

The last few weeks have been a time to reflect on the ‘wins’ of 2018, and to consider goals for the new year. Obviously, releasing Survival was a major win – even though it feels like much longer than a year ago, it was only last May. I’ve been pleased with how well some of my songs from the album have been received, and with the feedback for Death Blinked First, the new single I put out in October.

The other big musical win for me has been working on my keyboard playing to try to become more proficient, which will give me more options for live performance. (It should also help with recording). I’m not yet at a stage where I would feel confident playing keys in front of an audience, but that is where I want to get to in the next few months – I’ve been using material I pre-prepared so far. I have wanted to be able to play ‘properly’ since I was about 10 years old, and I haven’t ever really cracked it. Earlier attempts have been with a classical approach, learning each hand separately then trying to make them work together, which is where things usually fell apart. This time, I’m approaching it as the guitarist that I am and making it all about the chords, working two-handed from the start to work on songs I already know. The songbooks are the same ones I used when I was learning guitar chords, which show the chord names over the piano part. There has been definite progress! I don’t have any plans to be able to play classical pieces, though. Just to be able to accompany singing with the right chords and improvise around that when the feeling takes me (without hitting any obviously bum notes) would make me very happy. If this approach helps me get to where I can sight-read some easier pieces, even better.

Before the drive to improve on keyboard got started, I took up playing mandolin in about mid October. I’ve had the instrument several years since a friend was cutting back on their collection and I couldn’t resist increasing mine. I had never quite got my head (fingers?) around it or put much time into learning the chords before. This time there’s been more of a purpose. I played this in public for the first couple of times just before Christmas, supporting my church’s service and some carol-singing outside a local supermarket. Sure, I made plenty of mistakes, especially at the open air event – my excuse is that my fingers and brain got a bit frozen. It was good fun, though, in spite of the chill, and we all warmed up afterwards with hot drinks and soup.

My next big musical win for 2018 was all the collaborations. I still have to complete various projects, but the ones that got finished relatively quickly are already out there and available to listen: my Bean Bag Remix of What Good Are the Stars by Manipulant, and synth work/song development on Durdle Door, by Matt Steady. I have a big ongoing project with some remixes for John Clark and several other smaller projects with other indie artists.

Finally, on the personal side, the big win has been the dramatic improvement in Dad’s health since he got out of hospital in February. It’s been great to see him recovering and his determination to get back to normal as far as possible. The icing on the cake was in mid-December, when the GP said he is happy Dad is fit to drive again. We still have some hurdles to jump over, but that milestone really made me feel happy.

So, that’s where things are up to… I’ll maybe post a bit more about some of my goals for 2019 soon, as it feels like there’s more to say, but this post is already a bit long. (It has been a while, after all…)

Stoneygate at Sono | Sonic, Sonophilia Festival 2018. Picture courtesy of Acoustic Nations.

Another Week Flown By

This week’s been a bit quieter than last, but still pretty hectic.

Saturday: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse… Struggling to remember words some of the time. Not sure why it’s so hard. What’s going on?  Make sure I have one song in my set that is mostly instrumental.

Stoneygate at Sono | Sonic, Sonophilia Festival 2018. Picture courtesy of Acoustic Nations.

Sunday : Gig at Sonophilia Festival, Lincoln, on their ‘experimental’ stage, “Sono | Sonic”. Lovely audience; I know about half the people here already. Other acts fantastic, glad I’ve managed to get to see them.  My part of the gig is OK apart from the new song Death Blinked First, which was a failed experiment this time. Will have to approach it slightly differently to make it work, but there was a positive reaction, anyway.

 

 

Monday: Get confirmation that Spotify have got my new track, Death Blinked First, that will come out next Wednesday. That’s good – it means that the new distributor meets the timescales. Migraine starts. Glad it didn’t hit yesterday! Add the new track to BBC Introducing site. There’s a tech issue with the ISRC code* I’ve been issued with for the recording, so I let the distributor know this has happened, in case they’re not already aware there’s a problem. Death Blinked First - Stoneygate, single cover design

Tues: BBC Introducing already listened to my track! Hopeful that might mean I get airplay on their Lincolnshire show this weekend. Start animating the skeleton character in the Death Blinked First artwork for an animated GIF. I think I’ll write a separate article about this, as it is a slightly different method of making ‘video’ without a video camera to what I’ve done before.

Weds: Finish animating the skeleton and work on finalising the lyrics video. Uh-oh, the skeleton animation won’t upload to Twitter, where it is intended for, but goes nicely onto the video. Nice! I hadn’t been sure that would actually work… It uploads to Facebook OK. Hmmm, might be the filesize with Twitter. Will have to think about how to sort that.  Contact various indie radio stations about the new single.

Thursday: Housework and DIY. Clearing out a drain in my back yard, and some rubble from the garden. Only got the tip of the iceberg of rubble but it’s a start. Sanding down some new plaster that needed smoothing off, plus some woodwork that Dad filled holes in when he visited the other week. Might have to go over the plaster with a thin layer to get it really flat before I eventually paint it. Not sure when I’ll fit that one in!

Friday: Slowish day. Pretty tired and the migraine still hasn’t completely gone away.Death Blinked First by Stoneygate - waving skeleton animation. . Update website with latest videos that I have made.  Shrink the skeleton animation to reduce the filesize, and it goes onto Twitter just fine this time. Attend a gig in the evening with the Gruinard Trio and Vacuus Otiosus (hopefully spelled both those right). Suddenly feel really rubbish when I’m home again. Snuggle up listening to the radio (Folk Union on Chelmsford Community Radio – I’m going to be played on there for the first time) and go online to make sure I’m all caught up. Feeling better again for these home comforts… Check my email before I go to sleep and find that the BBC are going to be playing Death Blinked First on their show tomorrow. Hooray, it worked!

 

 

*the audio equivalent of an ISBN number for books

Stoneygate Sleepwalker CD

What a Week!

I can’t believe it’s Friday already (yeah, I know I keep saying that, but seriously, they go really lightning-fast at the moment).

So, in place of my cancelled Tune-A-Day June, I went for an 8 Day Sync Songwriting Challenge, organised by one of the agencies that deals directly with the film, TV and advertising industries, Catch the Moon Music, based in Los Angeles. Getting my work placed in visual media has been very much on my radar for a while, and it’s only a few days since I did a very useful seminar by another songwriter who does a lot of this.  8 days sounds so much more doable than 30 days at the moment!

The challenge is led by Cathy Heller, who started the Catch the Moon Music agency; I’ve been following her podcast for over a year already, because I’d heard about her success getting her own songs into sync placements, so when I saw the challenge, I jumped on the opportunity.  Monday was Day 1, so we’re already half way through.

Unlike the 30 day challenge, where I was trying to get one piece of music together every day, the 8 day challenge is all about getting one song written and ready to pitch for licensing in the timeframe, including research, songwriting, arrangements, recording, mixing and mastering. (They will listen to demo quality pieces at the end, but the full scale challenge task is to get something finished that is ready to use).

It’s taken me a few days to really get into the swing of the course and overcome the unexpected niggles that come with being a whole 8 hours ahead of LA, with course instructions for the day arriving based on LA time.* Once the research phase was done, I had a pretty good idea of where I was heading, though, so I had a bit of a catch up day yesterday where I more or less finished the songwriting part and got started on production and arranging. My submission will be a somewhat upbeat song about having been close to death (yes, really!) –  so it’s new territory in a lot of ways for me. I’ve taken a lot of the inspiration for the song from what happened to Dad last year.

One of the really great things about doing the challenge is the Facebook live videos Cathy has been doing, which give an industry insider perspective and are incredibly inspiring.  Sometimes that’s in a very-gentle-kick-up-the-backside kind of way, to challenge us out of any negative mindset we may be hampering ourselves with, because it’s so easy to slip into ‘I’m not good enough’ mode as a perfectionist musician.

In other news this week, Dad & I had a useful meeting with his PhD supervisor to work out how we go forward, as he is coming to the end of his leave of absence, and I’ve been preparing for him to come and stay for a week as soon as the songwriting challenge is finished. Plus, the Sleepwalker CDs I designed a couple of weeks back have arrived (and been checked) along with my first batch of Survival CDs, in time for my gig at Lincoln’s Sonophilia Festival on 14th October.

Next week, when Dad and I aren’t attacking a few of the smaller jobs that need doing around the house, I’ll be getting my Sonophilia gig ready. Plus, I have to finish the 8 day challenge and readjust my body-clock to UK time! But before that, the challenge’s ‘Monday evening’ live feedback session starts 2am on Tuesday for me. That’s the scary and important session where they tell you what they thought of your song, if you’re one of the lucky ones that get feedback, so it’s worth showing up for if I possibly can.

 

Being Quiet about the Noise

It’s ages since I wrote anything about what I’ve been up to musically. Although I’ve been really quiet, I’ve been pretty busy, apart from when I was decorating a room at Dad’s house.

I thought at the start of the summer that I’d be doing another Tune-A-Day-June, but was feeling really burned out and decided not to go forward with it, because it gets pretty exhausting anyway. Instead, it’s been a summer of collaborations, starting with a single that I worked on with another producer I met on Drooble. That hasn’t come out yet, as there are some admin type things that need sorting out before it’s released, but it’s finished and ready to go when we are.

Then there has been a track I’ve been helping Matt Steady develop for his upcoming album.It’s my return favour for Matt playing pipes on Home to Roost. I’m not sure quite how much of the specific detail I am allowed to reveal here, so I’ll avoid giving too much away, but it started out with me being sent an Uilleann pipe melody – just by itself, apart from a sound effect that ran under it. I figured out some chords for it, added a beat and synths, then it has bounced back and forth a bit ideas-wise, with Matt adding more layers with various instruments, switching the arrangement up, and me commenting on progress. Along the way, quite early on in the process, it turned into two separate tracks, in order to incorporate more of the ideas for where it might go.  It’s looking like I will get a final stab at the track to push the synths further on, once the drummer has recorded real drums to it, now that the structure and arrangement of the piece is so much more fully developed. I’m really looking forward to being able to hear the final version & for it to be released.

Something else that has been happening is the remix I started doing for John Clark. I had a selection of possible tracks for remixing and couldn’t decide which one to go with, and started playing with several different tracks that John had provided the audio for. That indecisiveness meant it has grown into an EP project, with me doing some vocals on the songs, too, as John was quite keen for that to happen. That project is about half-way to two-thirds complete, depending on whether it grows again before it goes out!

There are a few more collaborative projects simmering as well, plus some tracks of my own I was originally hoping to release during the summer before I realised quite how burnt out I was after the album release. It’s looking like I’ll be doing well to get those out as an EP during the autumn at the moment, but let’s see.

 

Survival – New Album!

With Dad doing a lot better and dropping hints that I have my own life to get back to, I’ve felt able to concentrate a lot more on finishing my started music – punctuated by a few medical appointments that I’ve provided transport for and just keeping an eye out to make sure things are as OK as possible.

A couple of days ago, I submitted my second album to the distributor after a very intense few weeks, fixing the odd issue with the mixes and mastering the tracks. The next stage of ‘inspection’ has been done by the distributor and I’m writing this whilst I proof-listen to the tracks in order to give my final permission for them to go ahead and release it EVERYWHERE – i.e. the point of no return. The official release date when it will start becoming available to the general public is this coming Friday, 18th May.

cropped-survival_album_cover_art_3000x3000.jpg

This is the first time that I’ve released a project I mastered completely by myself. I can tell you categorically, having gone through it, that doing your first ‘official’ mastering on a 15-track album is nothing short of stupid!  I had thought I might release a self-mastered EP first, as that’s what I was learning on, but ended up concentrating on the bigger project because I thought I had, ahem, mastered it enough. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Mastering a single track is relatively simple – you don’t need to think about how the sound relates to anything else apart from reference tracks that you’re using as a guide. You just make sure it sounds as good as those, adding a bit of polish, and ensuring that it is at the right volume level.*   With every additional track in a project, however, you are adding a layer of complication, because they all need to sound right together.  That meant that I had significantly more attempts at mastering each track than I would have had if I’d been releasing 15 singles separately.  There was also an element of still being on the uphill part of the learning curve, which would have been fine if I was releasing a 4-track EP, but it made releasing an hour-long album more ‘interesting’ when working to a deadline I’d by now committed to.  Perseverance and overcoming stress is really important for releasing music!

And just to prove it, before I get all the way through proof-listening to the whole album, there is some kind of technical fault – the distributor website suddenly can’t load my audio files. Maybe they have a server down or the site is overloaded at present – tracks I already listened to won’t load either, but the internet hasn’t gone down (this time! it’s been really wonky for a couple of days).  I’ll need to come back later and have another go, by the look of things.  At least it’s fallen over on the most appropriately-named track, Ominous Hopeful!

Error-message-audio

*OK, so it’s a bit more technical than that, but that’s the short version and it all boils down to using your ears and a few meters to get the best possible outcome.

Ghettoblaster

Playlist of the Week (2018/12)

This week’s POTW comes from Russell Suereth. Russ creates spiritual new age music and you can best hear his work via another playlist of his, Enigma and Russell Suereth.

Russ’s Freshly Picked Selections playlist is an eclectic mixed bag, as far as genres are concerned, but the common theme throughout these songs is that Russ has championed unsigned artists.

Disclaimer: there are a few songs in this list with the ‘explicit’ label. If that is likely to cause offence, please do use the skip button when these come up!

 

Ghettoblaster

Playlist of the Week (2018/8)

Today’s POTW, Girls Who Can, is compiled by CeCe Hemmingway, one half of British electronic act Hemmingway.  Based in Chelmsford, Essex, the band have a big, contemporary, sound bridging the gap between electronica and guitar based rock, with David Moriaty’s cutting solos.

It’s worth pointing out that CeCe not only provides the vocals, she’s also a skilled music producer, as you will hear on tracks such as Rise Again. In fact, all the tracks on this playlist are produced by women: let’s hear it for the girls!

Crashing Down (part 2)

 It is about time I updated everyone on how things are going. My Dad is still in hospital: it’s been eight weeks already. He has been moved twice now and is back in the original hospital he started in. The move away was because they thought he would need an operation, but it was decided that wouldn’t be necessary, even though he had been as far as having a probable date for it and going nil-by-mouth on the day. So he’s been moved back nearer to home. It’s only a few miles difference, but the rush hour isn’t as horrific, and visiting hours are better for avoiding the worst traffic, so there’s a little less time pressure. I still haven’t met Hugh Laurie or his glamorous team…

We think Dad will be in hospital over Christmas and New Year now; they have identified the cause of his illness and he’s being monitored pretty closely to make sure the antibiotics are winning. We don’t know if he will fully recover, though, and his state can vary a lot between visits.  I’m the optimist and my Mum’s the pessimist. I’m looking at the good days and thinking that he could be nearly back to normal as soon as this infection is beaten, even if it does take a few more months; Mum’s looking at the bad days and talking about the worst-case outcomes.  Of course, either is possible, but Dad is a pretty determined individual, and given enough hope, he will fight this thing.

Doughty's Oil Mill in Lincoln will feature in the video for Run, by Manipulant, feat Stoneygate.

Sneak preview of the video for Run by Manipulant feat Stoneygate. Extra atmosphere provided by Doughty’s Oil Mill, a Grade II listed building in central Lincoln, UK.

I’ve been really tired myself, and am missing my creative work.  I have taken a few days respite, though, and have been working on a video for Manipulant’s track Run, which I contributed vocals to a few months back. I can’t share it with you yet, as it’s not quite finished, but will do once it’s up on YouTube.  It’s a bit different to the other videos I’ve made so far, because it’s a ‘straight video’ rather than an animation or being made from stills.

Just in case I don’t manage to post again in the next few days, please do have a lovely Christmas and New Year! I’m quite intrigued to find out what Christmas will be like in the hospital. All the wards seem to be making a big effort with decorations.  We are having a family get-together as normal, it will just be a bit different.

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!)

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

I released my cover in May 2018, on the Survival album.

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