A side effect of my work on singing has been discovering what tools I need to sound decent. I started with a very good USB microphone a few years ago and then graduated to an inexpensive, 8-channel USB mixer board that I could use with some decent XLR mics I had lying around. When I got my current job, I went out and bought a top-of-the-line Shure SM7B microphone and paired it with my mixer, which got me even closer to the professional sound I wanted. Then I found a used digital sound card, an 8-channel Firewire-based M-Audio 2626 and bought it cheap.
Now, Firewire is essentially an abandoned technology now that Apple no longer ships systems with it, but it is still alive and well in Linux. I took one of my old desktop PCs out of storage, added a hard drive, installed Ubuntu Studio on it, and now have a digital audio workstation (DAW), for dirt cheap! Ubuntu Studio comes with a huge number of audio and video production tools and plugins. It works just fine with this very old M-Audio 2626, too.
My audio tool of choice for editing was once Audacity, but Ubuntu Studio comes with the open-source, ProTools-like DAW called Ardour. I’ve learned how to do some amazing things with manipulating audio using Ardour, simply by diving in and trying different things. I’m sure there is at last 200% more I can be doing with it when I fully understand its capabilities.
Over the past few days and nights, I’ve spent my free time using Ardour to recreate one of my favorite songs, R.E.M.’s These Days. I’ve often looked for old-school karaoke tracks for R.E.M. but there are few that aren’t the hits everyone’s heard a million times already. I did some Google searches to see if anyone’s done this themselves and hit pay dirt when I found a musician named Clive Butler. Clive posted several of his R.E.M. covers to Blogger from 2011-2018 and I thought I’d start with those. Then last week, I discovered he has fresh versions on his very own YouTube channel so I downloaded his version of These Days. Continue reading →
As I mentioned previously, I’d taken my singing much more seriously over the last few years, practicing for hours each week to improve my technique. At the end of last year, I got good enough to post a few audio clips and videos on a bandmate-finding website called BandMix. It took about a week before a few bands reached out to me, interested to talk to me about fronting their bands. I said yes to one which was a new Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band but we never rehearsed because of a surge in COVID at the time. I wound up leaving the band and it kind of broke up soon afterward. Then I got interest from a Beatles tribute band, too, but didn’t think the music was varied or interesting enough. Finally, a musician reached out who was interested in the same music I was – and it was across the gamut of styles. My interest was piqued!
In Beaufort, NC, tagging along on one of Kelly’s work trips at the end of December, I got a call from Chuck, the drummer, who proceeded to talk my ear off on all the stuff the band planned to play. A week later, I showed up at the practice space at Kit’s home and sang a few songs for him. He didn’t say much but his ear-to-ear grin told me all I needed to know. Thus, I became the frontman for DNR.
DNR is composed of veteran musicians, many with a decade or more experience playing in bands. As for me, this is my very first band. At our early rehearsals, held almost every Saturday morning, I found myself being stared at by my bandmates, waiting for me to take charge and get us playing. It took me a few beats (ha!) to learn how to actually lead a band, but basically I faked it until I figured out what I was doing. I never considered before how cool and powerful it feels to set this band (or any band) in motion. It’s not something I pondered when I was singing solo to karaoke tracks!
So we rehearsed and rehearsed, picked an interesting setlist, and missed various practices here and there due to vacations, COVID cases, and what have you. Finally, after months of hard work rehearsing, we held our first gig over the Memorial Day weekend: a surprise birthday party for Chuck’s wife, Claudia. There were about two dozen people in attendance and friendly faces at that, but re-watching the video I took I appreciate more and more how heartfelt the applause is that we earned. Continue reading →
I’ve always loved to sing, I have moments of greatness even, and I’m known never to pass up an opportunity to crank up a karaoke machine. We spent New Years Eve 2019 at Panama City Beach, Florida, for a short few days. The bar across the street from our condominium had karaoke nights and I wasn’t going to miss another chance to perform. This is the same place I sang with my extended family a year earlier. It was raining that night and the wait was long but we got in for food and drinks and then made our way over to the karaoke area where many of us belted out tunes for mainly our own enjoyment and that of anyone else who cared to care.
Earlier in the fall of 2019, Kelly and I had made a trip to Nashville where we stopped into a karaoke bar near downtown. I performed a few songs and did okay but flubbed a few, too. It made me feel that if I was going to do this I needed to do it right. This thought began to grow in my mind.
Fast forward to January 2020 or so. I am searching Spotify for a particular song and notice that a karaoke version appeared in the search results. Suddenly I realize there is a huge library of karaoke music on Spotify: everything I need other than the lyrics. Well, lyric sites are plentiful on the Internet, so that wasn’t a problem. I had a PA speaker and microphone I could use. All of a sudden everything clicked! Continue reading →
A retired music teacher friend, Ruth Johnsen, needed help setting up a virtual performance by her music students. Because I was eager to learn a new video editor and because it’s really impossible to say no to Ruth, I stepped up and took it on. For the past few weeks, videos from each musician has been filtering over to me and I’ve been learning all I can about stitching them together. Fortunately, the occasional karaoke videos I’ve created have given me a little insight into the best way to get this done. Here’s my recipe for successfully recording musical parts for a virtual performance.
Consistency is key. The video clips I was given all look and sound different. That’s to be expected from so many musicians and no way to use identical hardware and software. There are some aspects that can be easily standardized, such as:
Video orientation. Have everyone use either portrait or landscape mode. It will look much better. Purists insist on landscape but portrait can work, too. Whichever you choose, it’s best if everyone uses it.
Distance. Be consistent with camera distance. If your phone or camera is too close, you will overwhelm the microphone; too far and you won’t be heard at all. You’ll also make work for the video editor as she has to scale or crop the video to make everyone look consistent. Continue reading →
After a public performance or two over our New Years trip I thought I’d take my singing more seriously. I quickly realized the huge library of karaoke songs on Spotify and that could use this and some Googled lyrics to turn a PA speaker into a karaoke machine. I’ve posted two of my songs to YouTube already (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” By Elvis Costello and “Pink Cadillac” By Bruce Springsteen) and have gotten positive feedback. It feels good to be able to try something new, share it with the world, and get feedback on it.
It’s been a good lesson on how I sing, too. I sang in chorus in middle school and sang in my church’s youth choir around that time, too. I’ve been singing along to my favorite music whenever I’m alone at home or in the car. Once my colleagues caught me singing in the server room when I thought the roar of machines was drowning me out! Rarely did I sing for an audience before.
I have learned that singing with the goal of sounding the best is new to me. I realized that many of the songs I’ve been singing along to, ones that I’ve enjoyed singing, are not necessarily songs fit for my vocal range or style. When I’ve tried to do karaoke versions of these songs I quickly realized the ways in which my voice came up short. You know what? I have learned to be fine with this. I can’t nail every song but there are still hundreds or even thousands where my voice fits just fine. My list of karaoke songs is now well into the hundreds and I can easily organize a hefty, interesting set list to cover any performances. Continue reading →
This is a fantastic oral history of the greatest Super Bowl Halftime show ever, the 2007 show performed by Prince, of course.
Coplin: I would be watching the monitors and trying to factor my own opinion about the show, but no matter what you see in the television truck, you have no sort of sense of what people at home are experiencing. And I remember just my phone started blowing up. Like, “OMG, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I just had all these people, friends, colleagues, people in the business, just really losing their minds on my texts. And that’s when I knew that this thing was really maybe even better than we thought it was gonna be.
Nathan Vasher (Bears cornerback): The last two or three minutes, I peeked out of the tunnel. I didn’t want to go all the way out there, but for two or three minutes I got to witness greatness. I haven’t experienced that greatness again.
Neil Peart, legendary Rush drummer, died on Friday from brain cancer at the age of 67. I’ve seen Rush in concert a few times and enjoyed most of their music. I especially enjoyed their “Rush: Behind the Lighted Stage” documentary.
In spite of their misfit nature ad limited radio airplay, Rush sold a ton of albums.
Here’s a great piece by the New Yorker about Neil and Rush. Rest in peace, Neil.
Neil Peart, the lyricist and virtuosic drummer of the Canadian progressive-rock band Rush, died on Tuesday, in Santa Monica, California. He was sixty-seven, and had been fighting brain cancer for several years. Rush formed in Toronto, in 1968 (Peart joined in 1974), and released nineteen studio albums, ten of which have sold more than a million copies in the U.S. According to Billboard, Rush presently ranks third, behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band. Continue reading →
On January 29, 2016, Prince summoned me to his home, Paisley Park, to tell me about a book he wanted to write. He was looking for a collaborator. Paisley Park is in Chanhassen, Minnesota, about forty minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Prince treasured the privacy it afforded him. He once said, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that Minnesota is “so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Sure enough, when I landed, there was an entrenched layer of snow on the ground, and hardly anyone in sight.
Prince’s driver, Kim Pratt, picked me up at the airport in a black Cadillac Escalade. She was wearing a plastic diamond the size of a Ring Pop on her finger. “Sometimes you gotta femme it up,” she said. She dropped me off at the Country Inn & Suites, an unremarkable chain hotel in Chanhassen that served as a de-facto substation for Paisley. I was “on call” until further notice. A member of Prince’s team later told me that, over the years, Prince had paid for enough rooms there to have bought the place four times over.
My agent had put me up for the job but hadn’t refrained from telling me the obvious: at twenty-nine, I was extremely unlikely to get it. In my hotel room, I turned the television on. I turned the television off. I had a mint tea. I felt that I was joining a long and august line of people who’d been made to wait by Prince, people who had sat in rooms in this same hotel, maybe in this very room, quietly freaking out just as I was quietly freaking out.
This is astonishing. As an IT guy, I have been responsible for backups. How Universal could be so careless with priceless audio tapes just boggles my mind.
Eleven years ago this month, a fire ripped through a part of Universal Studios Hollywood.
At the time, the company said that the blaze had destroyed the theme park’s “King Kong” attraction and a video vault that contained only copies of old works.
But, according to an article published on Tuesday by The New York Times Magazine, the fire also tore through an archive housing treasured audio recordings, amounting to what the piece described as “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”
I joined up with a Facebook group called Rivendell Open Source Radio Automation Users as a place to trade tips on using Rivendell. A question that comes up frequently is how Rivendell can be run in the cloud. Since I’ve been doing this for eight years or so I have a pretty good understanding of the challenges. I’ve mentioned some of it before but thought I’d go into more detail of my current setup.
I’m running Rivendell 2.19.2, the current version, and presently I’m not actually running it in the cloud though I could easily change this in a few moments. The magic that makes this happen is containerization. I have created my own Docker instance which installs everything I need. This container can be fired up virtually anywhere and it will just work.
Here’s a summery of my setup. In my container, I install CentOS 7. Then I pull in Rivendell from Paravel’s repos with a “yum install rivendell” command. Rivendell needs the JACK audio subsystem to run so I install Jack2 from the CentOS repos, too. To this I add darkice as an encoder, JackEQ for some graphical faders/mixers, a LADSPA-based amplifier module to boost gain, and of course Icecast2 to send the stream to the world.
Now, one of the problems with a CentOS-based setup is that CentOS tends to have fewer of the cool audio tools than distributions like Debian and Ubuntu have. These Debian-based distros are not officially supported with Paravel packages so you either have to hunt for your own Rivendell dpkgs or you build your own. I’ve found a few of these dpkgs mentioned on the Rivendell Developer’s mailing list but I’ve not had the time to make sure they’re up to date and meet my personal needs. Thus, for my personal setup you’ll find a few parts which I have compiled myself, rather than install from a package. A project for me to take on in my Copious Free Time is to create an entirely repo-based Docker container but I’m not there yet.
Rivendell needs a MySQL/MariaDB database to store its data. I rely on a non-containerized instance of MariaDB in my setup because I already use the database for other projects and didn’t want to create an instance solely for Rivendell.