Archive | November, 2009

Playing KISS FM Jingle Ball in a Week

28 Nov

Earlier today I was sitting with Debbie at her house in San Diego watching ‘Gran Torino’ when I got a missed call from Dru Decaro. Dru is someone I know from L.A. originally from playing in Ladyfox together. Not only is he a great guitar player, performer and front man, he’s a street smart yet ethical cat who can socialize with the best of them and hustle all day. He’s also in a band called DNA that’s worth checking out.

So he’s been doing some work at the studio of a heavy hitting young DJ named DJ Skee who apparently has big ties to KIIS FM. KIIS FM is a huge local radio station that plays pop, RnB and hip hop in a teeny bopping mix. It’s the home of Ryan Seacrist and Rick Dees. (or at least it USED to be Rick Dees home. Don’t know if he’s still doing his thing). KIIS has a huge holiday concert every year called the Jingle Ball. This year it’s at the Nokia Theater downtown and DJ Skee will be playing the afterparty.

Check It Out:

So after seeing Dru’s missed call, but before calling him back, I get an E-mail on my Blackberry subject line: ‘SKTX Live’. I open it and it’s a 52 minute setlist of 36 or so songs ranging from Lady Gaga, to Michael Jackson to Jay-Z to Bon Jovi to Daft Punk to Pitbull back to Daft Punk back to Lady Gaga with many other stops in between. With only this crazy set list to go on, I call Dru back and get filled in: He tells me that DJ Skee needs a live band to play with him as he merges live performers with a DJ in this fresh live concept he has, which will be debuting at the KIIS FM Jingle Ball at Club Nokia next Saturday. It would be Dru, our friend Carter Wallace on bass, an unknown drummer and me on keys. We’d have to learn this entire crazy set list for a Tuesday rehearsal (ie in 3 days) at some amazing studio on the Miracle Mile. We’ll probably have to have about 3 rehearsals if not more.

But….it pays absolutely nothing. What the heck? KIIS FM is making money OBVIOUSLY. This is KIIS FM we’re talking about. Is all that $ going to Taylor Swift (who’s headlining)? Can’t somebody chip us off at least a bill or two?

It’s a super valid question, but I’m not going to let that be a real point of contention. I am not in a position to negotiate here, and if I wanted I could just turn it down. The gig should be so frikin cool that it won’t matter. But it’s a drag to burn a week of evenings and MANY hours programming and practicing for zero $. We shall see how this turns out, but in my opinion this time the coolness outweighs the monetary burden. Sometimes as a musician if you really love your craft and performing and cool opportunities, you have to take it in the wallet. Great connections could be formed; future gigs could have the groundwork laid, and great music will be made.

I’ll post more about rehearsals and developments as they happen, but suffice to say, for now, I have my work cut out for me!


Going to a Gig in Long Beach in a Couple Minutes

25 Nov

And I’m not really feeling it. I’d rather stay home after a long day of work or drive down to SD and be with my girlfriend. Having to lug all my stuff into a club, sit around and do nothing for an hour or so, hustle up, get on, play, get off, load back into the car, and drive back across that bridge isn’t sounding very appealing right now.

The band is good and it has little to do with them. It’s just the hassle of a late night all by myself the night before a holiday that has me scowling.

But you know what’s going to happen? Once I take a shower, get dressed for the gig and get loaded in, I’ll be pretty psyched. So often the key to having a good time on these things is staying positive, and even though it sounds like I’m anything but that right now, it’s not hard to do, at least with my homies Glen and Sean in the band. Glen is a creative and solid drummer with an urban sensibility informed by reggae and tempered with L.A. studio restraint. That sounds like a mouthful, but it’s an accurate description. It’s also a great combo. Seriously, it’s Jeff Porcaro meets Sublime, Marley and hip hop. So tonight will actually be fun, and that crew knows how to kind of explore a little bit and switch things up. With them you know that even if the main artist messes up or isn’t happening, there is 0 chance of a train wreck because it’s not in this crew’s DNA to make that happen.

You know what? I’m already feeling better about it!

I wrote a nice, thought provoking Blog post

24 Nov

And it didn’t post, and there is no sign of it anywhere. Dang. It’s too late to rewrite it. Maybe I’ll rewrite it in the morning but I’m tired and I can barely keep my eyes open right now, so I’m headed to bed.

Bed time

Case In Point

23 Nov

I wrote this cue this afternoon. It’s in a style called ‘Dramedy’, and this isn’t the final mix. With a good amount of luck, I might be able to get some of this in a big show. Can’t say more at the moment. Anyway this cue is probably 80% finished. The percussion needs groovifying, some stuff needs gentle quantization, and there’s just more work to be done. But you get the idea.

For this song I had to launch a couple instances of Kontakt for the violins and cellos, and as the project stands, it’s pretty much maxing out my processing power.

CPU's peaking!

If I wanted to and anything else to this project, I really wouldn’t be able to without freezing some tracks or bouncing some down, which is possible but then makes editing the frozen tracks a big pain.

Captain, we need more power!


23 Nov

Computers are expensive.

Can't live without it

But in order to run lots of tracks and plug ins, you need one with serious processing and RAM capabilities. If you’re running Logic, that has to be the mac pro (above). It’s the only way to go. It costs $3,000 though. Three grr!

All the music I’ve made up to this point has been on my Macbook, which was lovingly given to me as a starter computer for pursing music on the computer, and this little workhorse has earned its keep.


This computer is about 2 and 1/2 years old, which may seem young. But this isn’t an apples to apples comparison. Even a brand new macbook isn’t equipped to handle heavy audio production. Dual Core processing with 2GB of RAM just isn’t enough if you want to go deeper. I have scraped by with workarounds and eschewing heavily sample laden stuff until now, but if I want to start doing a little bit of scoring, then I’m going to have to take the plunge. It should be a glorious, liberating plunge. But I don’t want to go in the hole for $4,000, so I have to find the money somehow. And I’m moving into uncertain circumstances in San Diego in the near future. $4,000, I thought you said $3,000? Well I need a better sample library as well, and probably a UAD card also.

People that I talk to doing what I do scratch their heads in amazement over the fact that I’m doing all of my work on an old Macbook. It’s been great. but I may have to pull the trigger very soon on something mightier. Especially if a promising lead with an old friend with great industry connections pans out…

The Fruits of This Week

19 Nov

After yesterday I was ready to set my piano on fire because nothing seemed to be going terribly well. Then when I came home and tried to frantically mix the stuff in 30 min as well as taking my roommate to the airport, the results went from bad to worse. There were a handful of notes that just dominated the whole sound in the bass, and they were messing everything up. And yet I had to submit it by noon, so I didn’t really have time to zero in and salvage it much. I faced all sorts of creative decisions that needed to be made quickly: do I compress it? If so, how much? how much reverb is good? Do I limit it to push the volume? how much of the ambient mic do I bring it? How should I EQ these 3 mics? Boring but crucial questions. So when I gave the songs a last pass right before rushing off to work, they seemed harsh, brittle and yet boomy; all horrible adjectives for music.

So I gave them another listen this morning and it turns out, they are not that horrible. They are not that great either, but I think these songs may make the mark for ‘inspirational songs’. If it seems like there isn’t enough development and they are boring pieces, that’s kind of the point. Picture these as a background during some montage about social anxiety disorder medication.

(P.S., I know the second one sounds kind of like ‘Firm Foundation’ that old CCM song. Well, it happens)

And here is the Dancehall track I was working on Monday. I think it’s okay, but for some reason the bass isn’t pumping like I thought it would. I need to take a look at my subwoofer.

Battling a Piano All Morning

18 Nov

That’s what I’ve been doing as I recorded all these supposedly easy ‘Inspirational Solo Piano’ pieces. But all it did was show how shot my technique is. It may not be hard to play a 4 note ostinato over and over, but it may be a REAL challenge to do it with the right balance and so that it doesn’t rush at all. Man there is so much to playing this instrument. Even in the simplest song there is so much control you need to exert over the piano, it’s humbling, sobering, frustrating. It can ruin your week, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to actually record and you’re under the gun. And as I write this, I’m out of time again and have to RUSH off to work. Having to hurry to finish up what you’re trying to do to run off to work is the ultimate buzz kill. Not to knock anyone at work, but nobody at work cares or really knows about what I’m trying to do in the hours I’m not at work. They don’t understand that you had to wait for your tracks to bounce down and upload or you had to take your roommate to the airport, or that you’re rushing home to work on music until the second you have to come back again the next day. I wouldn’t expect it any other way, that’s the way it is in life: you handle your business and don’t bring baggage into the work place if you can help it. You show up to work and do a good job at work and apply your mind there. I just the music WAS my full time work.

Up Early

17 Nov

I woke up dreaming about finding water. I’d crack open a bottle of water in my dream and drink it, only to find that I was still thirsty. When I woke up I had the driest mouth I’ve had since coming out of my surgery 11 years ago!

I Need to finish this blasted Dancehall track with headphones before heading off to work at 10 AM today. I was shooting for 2 Dancehall tracks, but it looks like I’m only going to be able to get one done.

My huge issue right now is that my car’s iPod connection is damaged, so I only get one channel in the car (the right side) off the iPod, so it’s pretty useless for testing mixes. I have to burn CDs to play in the car, and I hate chewing through CDrs like that, as well as wasting them!

A Monday of Music, More on Paul Smith

17 Nov

Today I worked on pieces for two different listings. At my house in Lomita, soul suckingly situated between a sheet metal shop and a Korean Barbershop, I worked on a Dancehall/reggaeton track. That may seem unusual for those who know me, but the ugly reality is that I probably have more experience tracking that kind of stuff than anything else because of all the hours I’ve logged in Mark Mohr’s studio doing Christafari cuts. I’ve been on every Christafari/Avionblackman/’Imisi/Solomon Jabby album since 2003, playing and creating reggae and dancehall. So now I got a crack at one all my own: a simple instrumental track between 1 and 3 minutes in length.

Then I took a trip over to my mom’s where my piano resides, and continued to pound out light new agey solo piano stuff for a listing that’s asking for ‘inspirational instrumentals’. I started writing some of this on Friday, then continued last night after church, and actually kind of came up with one while playing AT church last night during a time when I was playing background stuff.

These two worlds are obviously very different, and that makes it fun. Whenenver I’m over the inspirational piano stuff, I can go dig in to a bunch of heavy dancehall stuff and vice versa.

Then later on today I headed down to Huntington Beach for Tom Kubis’s big band. I asked him about Paul Smith and he knows him well, and worked with him for years in Steve Allen’s band. He had lots of amazing stories which I may recount later.

He also gave me a compliment on a fill I did before Benny came in with a sax solo. Freaking sweet!!!!

Paul Smith’s House

14 Nov

This Fall my employer Sandra Clay (owner of A-muse music) told Eitan and I that Paul Smith was playing a concert in November at his home and asked us if she’d like her to buy tickets for us all. Two months later I found myself seated in a room he clearly used for performance and practice, with probably 80 chairs setup facing two pianos on a makeshift bandstand. The crowd was mostly Palos Verdes silver tops, and at 28, I was the second youngest person in the house. Annette Smith announced the band, and brought them up one by one: Alex Smith, Paul’s grandson and a classmate of mine from High School on drums; the bass player who was older and who’s name escapes me, and finally Paul Smith, about 6’4″, who lumbered up to the smaller of the two pianos with a bandage on his head and pretty much instantly began the first tune.

Paul Smith at his home, November 13 2009

I immediately noticed that he didn’t dominate the instrument like he once did from a purely technical side, but all his musical instincts and abilities were still there. This was Ella Fitzgerald’s piano player for about 25 years. Reading more about him afterward, I found out that he was born in 1922, which makes him 87! In light of that, this man performed incredibly. He had a feathery touch wherever he wanted to. He played epic intros on lots of the songs, including 2 choruses of ‘Over the Rainbow’ brilliantly reharmonized, and he accompanied his daughter on a couple songs and he shined in what he chose to play behind her. Accompanying is after all how he put food on his table.

So it was a good night of music, despite the fact that his guest artists detracted from the main performance. Alex introduced me to him afterward, and I got to shake that huge mitt of his. Check out this video of him accompanying Ella. Go straight to minute 2:40 to hear him unload. 87 years young! And I was in his house drinking his punch.