Tune A Day June 2017 Update

I thought I’d write a quick update for you on Tune A Day progress (etc). It’s already Day 11 of the challenge, more than a third of the way through, and amazingly I am still going. You can hear the tunes so far via the playlist, above.

I feel more confident of making it to the end of the second week now. That is usually when it suddenly starts to feel like a total uphill struggle, from past years’ experience. This time around, I was quite rusty to begin with, so I had some days in the first week where I really didn’t feel like writing. Added to that, there was the distraction of a UK General Election on Day 8. I normally follow election results online or on the radio overnight, as they come in, so I worked late, when I was already tired, and then caught up on what had been happening in the news whilst I’d been concentrating on writing Tension. (In case you’re wondering the tune was a deliberate reflection of the feeling of being on tenterhooks that I’d had all day.)  With the results going the way they did, with no-one winning outright, I didn’t get to sleep until a little after 6am and the late night messed up my body-clock, which didn’t help me with the next day’s task.  The election has provided some inspiration towards making the tunes as well as being a hindrance, so it balances out.

Last year, someone stuck a referendum on Brexit in the middle of June, but it didn’t affect the Tune-A-Day June challenge because I’d, ahem, given up by then (gasp!), having decided I wanted to write more songs with lyrics. I was finding I was just rushing to write *something* to meet the targets and not making real progress. This time around I’ve only written one song with lyrics so far, but one of the earlier tunes, Day 6, keeps suggesting odd fragments of lyrics to me. I kind of know what it’s about, but haven’t got the words yet. Because I was so rusty, writing instrumentals is good for me, even if I don’t manage to write many songs.

I’m not 100% happy with everything that I’ve made, of course. There hasn’t been time to mix most of the tunes properly, and there are loads of things I would want to change if I had longer to work them out more. But I’m very pleased to have lasted longer than the first week, and I’m delighted with having made so much new music in so little time after a long hiatus.

Looking at the progress so far, I would want to develop at least some of the tunes further. Reviewing the tunes also showed up various really annoying things I hadn’t picked up on earlier, but that’s pretty normal – you always need to take a break and listen again, and that’s not possible with the Tune A Day timescales.

 

TrickJazz Kickstarter: Update

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 03.03.12.pngWith the Kickstarter sitting at 72% of its funding target, and 5 full days to go, I’ve received the news from TrickJazz that the Kickstarter is going to be cancelled, because a new source of funding has emerged which will set the project on a stronger footing going forward.

What happened?

Last month, after the Kickstarter had begun and a significant proportion of its funding had been raised, TrickJazz (aka Christian Facey) took part in a hackathon organised by IATA, and unexpectedly won one of the major prizes, for an idea unconnected to the mobile games Kickstarter. This win has brought him into contact with a group of software engineers, who want to progress both the chillout games and the idea that won the hackathon prize.  This will mean the Kickstarter campaign is now no longer needed to bring the chillout games to market.

The chillout games are still going to be made, and my music and those of the other artists that have been featured will still be included.

The games are actually going to be available sooner than previously, as the team will be able to concentrate fully on these rather than generating Kickstarter rewards. The first game, “Way of the Bubble”, should become available either later this month or early in July, and the games will now be available as free downloads, so anyone can access them.

As soon as I’ve got more news about this and the Dreamwalker game’s release, which is scheduled to have my Sunset Landscape in, I’ll let you know.

The announcement from TrickJazz can be seen on their Kickstarter updates page.

Tune-A-Day-June 2017

Quite possibly against my better judgement, I’ve decided to have another go at the Tune-A-Day-June challenge this year. I don’t honestly expect at this point that I will last above a week, as I have just recovered from a nasty cold and am still getting tired more quickly than normal. But I might just surprise myself and get beyond a fortnight.

The Tune-A-Day-June challenge is basically exactly what it sounds like – the idea is to write a new tune every day throughout the month, publishing the better ones on Soundcloud. My first year at this challenge was a couple of years ago, when my friend Max mentioned it, and I decided to join in. I lasted almost the whole month, with a bit of cheating on a few days where I made two tunes to catch up for the odd lost day. Last year, I managed to keep going for about a fortnight, if I remember right.

The challenge tends to start off OK then begins to feel more and more like an endurance test. I actually did a couple of warm up writing exercises this year, ahead of June, because I was feeling a bit rusty, having spent a lot of time trying to promote my work and not so much time writing of late.

There seems to be a lot of psychology involved, as during the challenge, almost everything you make feels like it is below par, because of the rush to complete something each and every day and the difficulty of maintaining creativity over a sustained period – discipline not really being creativity’s most obvious friend. I don’t have the time to produce more than a working demo of each track – sometimes, I don’t even get that far. It can feel unsatisfying to not reach a finished arrangement or mix.

But, looking back over what I’ve produced during June in the last couple of years, it has been a very useful exercise and pushed me out of my comfort zone. With hindsight, it has given at least the beginnings of several of my album tracks and some that will very likely be included on future albums, so it has been incredibly worthwhile, even if it has felt rather painful at the time. Several of the tracks I made last year have received quite a promising reception on Soundcloud. The most surprising response being to Toil, which I posted rather reluctantly at the time, feeling it wasn’t really good enough to upload.

So, on the basis that it will be good for me, I’ll likely be driving myself a little bit crazy over the next few weeks as I scramble to meet the daily deadline, probably stretching it into the wee small hours before I go to sleep. The first tune of the month, Dystopia, is now up on Soundcloud…. more to come!

Dreamwalker Kickstarter

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 21.12.56.pngToday the TrickJazz Mobile App Kickstarter campaign, um, started. There are three games in the chillout series that are part of this Kickstarter campaign, but Dreamwalker is the game that my tune is going to feature in, on the menu screen. All of the games are aimed at being relaxing for the players and feature chilled out hiphop triphop and jazz music with a beat. One game involves popping on-screen bubbles, another is a colour-changing game where you have to change the colour of a ball at the right moment to match the moving ‘glass portals’. Dreamwalker is all about doing parkour (aka ‘freerunning’ – running and jumping your way through an obstacle course) in a dreamy environment.

TrickJazz have already got a simple game out called Chicken!, but that one is really not about relaxation – it’s more likely to wind you up, in fact… But perhaps that’s where the idea for making relaxation games came from!

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If you’re not familiar with this whole Kickstarter-ing business, the idea is that a lot of people get together and pool resources to make something happen, with the people that contribute normally getting some kind of reward in return – aka Crowdfunding. It’s important to note that, with Kickstarter campaigns, unlike some other Crowdfunding initiatives, it’s all or nothing: the fundraisers have to hit their target amount by the deadline, or the project gets nothing and it’s all been in vain.

In this Kickstarter, the goal is the launch of the three initial games in the TrickJazz games series, and they are looking to raise £10k to get these launched. That sounds like quite a lot, but the aim is that this will be made up of lots of very small pledges from a large number of supporters.  The deadline for reaching the £10k target is on 8 June – the same day as the UK General Election.

If you would like to know more about the game series and the Kickstarter, there’s a page with ALL the details on, including a better description of the games and rewards, and you can also have a look at this video which explains what it’s all about.

 

Oh *$&@, it’s got swearing on it!

This post is purely personal opinion.  I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about why I don’t typically like songs with swearing in. I don’t think I’m a huge snob… I’m not terribly bothered when people use the occasional swear in normal speech. Well, I might be a bit shocked if it was the vicar doing it, I suppose, or my mother. But normally if I hear something when I’m out and about, I’d just think of the swear words as being part of the person’s everyday vocabulary and mentally translate, without considering the words’ literal meaning.

 

I get the argument that art needs to reflect life, and in real life lots of people swear. Most, maybe, in the UK, where I live. It’s not like I never use any swears myself for emphasis either, when I want to make a point and underline how something makes me feel. I’m not ruling out ever using strong words for making a point in my music, even. I just don’t like there to be swears in the music I listen to, as a general rule… it seems unnecessary, usually.

Part of the issue is that listening to music creates a kind of personal space. Swears in music can feel like a violation of that boundary. Another reason is that I pick up language and absorb it like anything. If I surround myself with foul language, it’s bound to seep into my mental vocabulary, even if I don’t verbalise it. I’d prefer for the strongest language to not get in that far, even, and with music I have an abundance of choice about what I can listen to. Why choose something with swears in?

Music, to me, is a beautiful form of art, as well as being a means of expression. I feel that some swear words are particularly ugly, especially the f-bomb. Given the choice, I prefer to listen to something that reflects my idea of beauty… I don’t automatically reach for the off button the instant there is a swear, but will do if there are lots of them in a short space of time.  If a song is littered with swearing, if it is intended for the swearing to help get a message across, in my view, the song loses impact.

Some songs seem to get away with having the odd swear in. I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head, but, like film violence, if it’s not gratuitous, if it makes sense in the context of the story that is being told, or is done in a humorous way, I can stomach it. I was thinking Fairy Tale of New York might be a good example, but when I checked the lyrics, I found the Pogues hovering over the fine line of using strong insults and coarser language without actually swearing. You might disagree and conclude that they cross the line with some words. It’s a close call.

On the other hand, I object somewhat to cleaned-up versions of songs for the radio, if a version that is available to buy is not going to have the expletives deleted, e.g. if it’s going to be the version on the album. I heard and liked the Ce-Lo Green song Forget You on the radio, but was disappointed when I heard that it was a clean version of the song and discovered what the ‘real words’ were. Some people got caught out buying the ‘non-clean’ version on the basis of radio-play, as well, and were even more disappointed than I was, as I understand it from the grapevine.  I’m not sure what Ce-Lo Green did with his album, but I would feel cheated if I bought an album based on liking a cleaned-up single and then the version on the album was a different version of the song I liked, with expletive non-deleted lyrics. It would mean they were a different artist to who I thought they were. It would almost be a betrayal.

Apparently there is already technology available that would allow you to bleep out offending words, when it works.  Apple also have a patent on software with a similar aim. No problems of course with instrumental music…

Niagara & Album Progress

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Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum. (I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, so have no photos of it that I own the copyright for).

Earlier this week, battling a migraine, I tried to take stock of what material I have for Albums 2 & 3 and get myself a bit more organised towards getting these both out of the door.

Album 2 is a ‘fake filmscore’ based on a book that is quite well known in the UK. It needs another track mixing then all tracks mastering, one of the trickier parts of the process for me, that could delay its release. It’s looking like it will be 35 minutes long, unless I have some last-minute inspiration for a further track or add any bonus items. (Either one of those scenarios could happen at this stage – I’m planning to get a significant portion of Album 3 ready before I release Album 2.)

There’s already quite a lot of potential material for Album 3, but the styles are rather mixed, so I could need to prune it back drastically to make it a coherent body of work, and I may, therefore, need to write some more new tunes to make it hold together better. There is a huge amount of work that still needs doing on most of the tracks for Album 3: many are in just the early stages of production and some are currently just a loop of an idea.

When the migraine had subsided, I finalised the lyrics & I put down guide vocals for another new song Thieving Autumn^. This song has been in the writing stage since about September last year. I was really pleased with how the vocals went and may even use them as the final vocals with a few tweaks, if I’m not satisfied with how a ‘proper’ recording goes using a condenser mic.

I’ve been arranging a new song that I’m calling ‘Niagara’ this afternoon, and recording some vocals – it has gone from being just a snippet with the main ideas in to a full demo. It’s not easy to sing this one in tune all the way through (I have failed thus far) so I’ll need to practice it a lot more to get the required level of pitch control in the parts that are going wrong.

I also realised today that I have another couple of songs I forgot to include on my list of potential tracks for Album 3. Ooops! With the work on Niagara today, that brings the total duration of the demo tracks to 1hr . It’s starting to look like I could end up with more than an album’s worth of material. There seem to be a couple of different overall genres which don’t necessarily complement each other. Basically, it’s 70s influence and indie-folk-electronica versus 80s synthwave and its progeny. It’s not clear how it will pan out though (no pun intended) as the draft playlist I created doesn’t clash as violently as it threatened.

^Thieving Autumn was provided as an instrumental exclusive with last month’s email news.  If you’re not yet on the email list, sign up so you don’t miss out! I only send one email out around every month or so. With definite emphasis on the ‘or so’.

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

Digital StillCameraA couple of mornings in the last week, I have had the privilege of hearing the dawn chorus start, and listening to the incredible singing of our local blackbird. (I haven’t actually checked it is definitely a blackbird, as I’ve been listening from the comfort of my bed, but I’m fairly sure…)

It all starts about 6am when the birds in the nearby city centre park start up, and then quickly spreads to the back gardens of our street and the next.

The song has repetition, variations and a call and response like structure, as if he is competing with a rival that is too far away for me to hear from indoors. Or pausing for breath. The song’s structure starts with a simple repeated motif, with the variations becoming more and more complex, his virtuoso performance sounding almost effortless. But singing with his whole being.

And this particular bird has an intonation like the Swedish chef from the Muppets through certain sections of his song. Really, no kidding.