It must have been late December or early January this year when I received a text message from Samantha Kenny, one of my former students at Guitar Center Studios (Danbury, CT), where I taught piano, guitar and bass (and got amazing discounts!) from 2012-2018. Samantha stopped taking piano lessons with me after graduating high school when she became a student at The New School in New York City. It was great to see her again when she came to hear me perform some unusual, experimental music in Brooklyn with Audible Abstraction in September 2018.
Anyway, as I was preparing my syllabi and course content for the Spring 2019 semester at Hostos Community College (Bronx, NY), Samantha reached out to say hello and let me know she was around if I needed help with anything. Perfect timing! For my Production 1 class at Hostos I needed to record a guest soloist for a mixing project at the very beginning of the semester, so I asked Samantha if she wanted to record something in the class for the students to mix. She is not only a pianist, but also a very talented singer/songwriter with a contemporary style. For the recording, she considered playing acoustic guitar and singing, like what she does on her very popular Samantha Michelle YouTube channel. The other option was to sing to a prerecorded track that I would create for her and that’s what we ended up doing. Samantha sent me three YouTube videos of songs she was interested in recording. I never heard any of them before but my Production class was familiar with all of them! The one I thought was the most manageable for me to do was “Rather Be With You” by Sinead Harnett from her 2016 EP. I don’t remember what the other songs were.
I got to work by quickly transcribing all of the parts I heard on the recording by ear and wrote everything down on a couple of sheets of blank manuscript paper. There were so many parts (drums, synthesizers, sound effects, background vocals, etc.) and I knew it would be impossible to recreate it exactly – this would take way too long – so I decided to just capture the essence of what I heard, while still being somewhat detailed.
When creating the track, I decided to limit myself as much as possible to using the instruments that come with Pro Tools so that my students would have access to what I did. After creating all of my parts, everything was recorded as audio tracks for the students to mix and the Instrument and MIDI tracks were hidden. For curious students, those tracks could be unhidden and analyzed inside the session. Normally I use a lot of third party instrument software within Pro Tools (or Digital Performer, Logic Pro, etc.) and don’t use the default Pro Tools instrument plug-ins that much so this was an educational experience for me too. A couple of times during the semester, I opened up the session in class and showed how I created the sounds for each part.
I used Boom for the drums (kick, snare, rim, clap and hi hat; no toms or cymbals). I needed a shaker loop but couldn’t find one in Xpand!2 or anywhere else in Pro Tools that I liked for this song, so I found one in Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. However, in Xpand!2 I found very good bongo and triangle samples, layered two sounds together to create the wind effect, and layered three sounds together to create the organ-ish electric piano sound. Toward the end of the song, right before the last chorus, I used iZotope Vinyl on the electric piano track to do the spin down. This incredibly cool plug-in does not come with ProTools but can be downloaded for free from the iZotope website. For the main bass part, I combined two sounds in Structure Free, and for the short synth bass gesture that happens occasionally I created a buzzy sounding patch using Vacuum.
For my version I had three synth pads. The first was created in Xpand!2 by layering two sounds, the second was created in Xpand!2 by layering three sounds, and the third was created in Structure Free by layering three sounds. Sometimes with all of the patch combining I also modified various parameters (filter cutoff, resonance, etc.) and effects within the instruments to help design the final sounds.
Since I wasn’t sure if Samantha would be singing any background vocals, I decided to recreate two of the many background vocal parts with synthesizer sounds. I layered two sounds together in Xpand!2 for the repeating crescendo part (“then I realized, then I realized”), and for the main “You…” chorus hook I couldn’t find what I needed in Pro Tools so I used a “female ooh” sound from Spectrasonics Omnisphere.
The Sinead Harnett track has an extremely vibey feel and I found this challenging to recreate quickly. If I spent more time and messed around with different quantize settings and got into nuanced velocity and duration details, I may have been able to pull it off. Instead of obsessing with any of that, I just opted to record the parts as I wrote them in my transcription and use basic quantize settings to tighten up the performance. Because of this, my track sounds a bit straighter and maybe stiffer in comparison to the original.
On February 5, 2019, Samantha came to Hostos! Oje Paloma (the ultimate lab assistant!) setup a number of microphones and I discussed their differences in frequency response and other features with the class. Samantha sang into all of them – Neumann U87, Neumann TLM103 and AKG C414 XLS; the Bock 195 was having issues so we didn’t get to hear that one for the shootout. By vote, the class chose the AKG, so that’s what we used, with a Grace Design m501 preamp and one side of a Universal Audio 2-1176 compressor. Samantha sang a few takes of the lead vocal to my track and she did a fantastic job! She didn’t get to record a lot of background vocal parts so it was good that I had the synthesizer vocal parts in the track. All of the students made their own mixes and we listened to them in class the following week.
I wanted to make my own mix but I was only able to work on this sporadically at home over time in between sessions for clients. To finalize the arrangement, I recorded my super talented 14 year old daughter Maya singing a bunch of the background vocal parts. She doubled the synthesizer vocal parts and also sang some (not all – so many!) of the other parts that we heard on the Sinead Harnett recording. In less than an hour Maya added a number of very substantial harmony parts (Harmony is her middle name!) that made a big difference.
I didn’t limit myself to only Pro Tools plug-ins for my mixing and mastering. I also used my usual palette of effects from Focusrite, Native Instruments and Waves.
In my last blog post, my recent intern Jacob wrote, “Barry is the most organized person I have ever met in my life. He has every minute of his day on a schedule and he follows it strictly.” Every minute might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true that I work hard on having an efficient schedule. Everything in music production and having a home studio requires organization and self-discipline; I am constantly juggling clients and am often the main point of contact between them and the other professionals working on their products. If you’re self-employed, you know you don’t have much of a choice but to get organized.
Keeping Track of a Self-Employed Schedule
My Apple calendar is probably what Jacob noticed first. I wouldn’t have any idea what to do without it. Like anyone’s calendar, mine has recurring items with necessary info attached: students that I always see on the same day, gigs on Saturday nights, the start, end and breaks of the semester of all three schools I teach at. A lot of the reminders are ones I don’t need (drive the kids to camp!) but it’s nice to see them all in there, so I know what my day looks like. I also mix in regular one-time entries to keep track of personal items, like grocery lists and scheduled services. This is the skeleton of my week. The rest of the tasks come from two places: my email inbox or my long, long list of goals I keep on my computer. When I get an email about a project, I can look at my calendar and see exactly when I have time to work on it. I respond immediately, add the item to the calendar and delete the email. My inbox is impeccably clean. I used to keep old calendar items for a record of what I’d done, but now I just don’t want to know.
There is one item on my calendar that’s always moving: to-do. There’s a shortlist inside of all the things I should do right away, or soon, and every day it comes with me to collect more items. I populate it with some of the more pressing tasks from OmniOutliner, a note-taking program that uses expandable lists to nest items and make your impossible organization a little neater at a glance. I put all my goals in there, in categories like Composition, Health, House, “Eventually,” Money, Website and Wife. When I notice I have some extra time and my calendar to-do block is looking a little thin, I comb through Omni-Outliner and find activities I want to tackle.
Filling my OmniOutliner with goals is the only way I can keep track of the endless things I could be doing. I try to set longer term goals for six months or even five years to keep it populated, but setting those loose deadlines also breaks the list up into something more digestible. A lot of my longer term goals are about getting more physically organized and digitizing old systems; as organized as your schedule is, you’re still going to waste time if you can’t find the tools you need to work. I’ve been organizing the garage, making it easier to find tools and scrap wood. That might sound like it’s out of my scope as a producer, but there’s a lot of equipment in a home studio and sometimes you have to get creative with storing it and setting it up. I’ve also been converting old cassettes into WAV files, and an assistant recently helped me do something I thought I might never get around to: scanning more than 1,000 pages of sheet music into my iPad. Now every time I go to a gig, I don’t have to spend time searching for charts, compiling them into a to-go binder and then replacing them when I get home. It also cleared up shelf space and decluttered the studio.
It’s easier said than done, but having an assistant is an irreplaceable organizational tool. Everyone has tedious projects, whether it’s organizing the garage, filing, building improvements or scheduling. It may not be worth your time to stop producing content in order to organize, but removing even small inefficiencies multiplies your productive time. And being organized about your goals means setting yourself up for clear communication, so when you finally do hire someone to tackle those super-annoying, tedious tasks you never want to think about trying yourself, you know exactly what you need them to do.
Communicating Your Needs
Even if you’re not hiring an assistant, in the music business you need to be ready to explain your vision to the people making it real. Structure and education are essential parts of executing an artistic project, but many people are afraid of learning too much. They think controlling the process makes them less creative. That’s wrong. When you know about music, or art, or any field you’re working in, you understand how elements are working together and hopefully, how to ask to make the right changes.
Creative adversity can make you stronger—we’ve all heard the stories of quirky playing styles derived from not really understanding an instrument—but an unconventional start is very different from avoiding self-improvement.
As a producer, the more I know, the more helpful I can be. My job is often just knowing things. Even so, I do my best work with artists who can communicate their needs. We spend less time on stylistic trial and error, and on fixing mistakes. I’ve noticed the best singers are usually the ones who can read sheet music; they have amazing breath control, and can sing long notes consistently. I think it would be a stretch to say just reading music gives you those abilities, but the more focused practice you have outside the studio and off the stage, the more well-rounded you’ll be as an artist. That’s always a good thing.
Holding Yourself Accountable
It’s tempting to look at your to-do list and say, “I just don’t feel like it.” I don’t get tired of being disciplined, though, I get tired of not being disciplined. I know everything is easier for me when I have a plan, and all my plans are designed to fit together. Even so, it does take energy to be the voice in your own head keeping you honest and on track.
One of my favorite techniques is mentioned all the time in self-help books (a genre I love): consistency. When I was working on my Master’s degree, my composition lessons involved a book called How to Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. It wasn’t about music composition, but it was about being consistent. The idea is to put aside time, say, every morning, and tell everyone to leave you alone to get some work done. Choosing a project and getting little bits done every day will keep you on track or even ahead of schedule. If you write 10 measures a day, by the end of the year you’ll have over 3,000 measures. They probably won’t all be good, but there’s bound to be something worthwhile in there. As Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way writes to her mystical creative source, “Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.”
When setting goals for daily improvement, I try to be realistic about how much I can keep up with. If I really get into one good habit, then I can add another, but I want to be sure I can maintain each one without sacrifices. I used to ask people to help hold me accountable, but now I just use an app called HabitShare that tracks your commitment by displaying daily streaks. The idea is to connect with friends, but it helps me just to see my own progress, simplified.
Becoming A More Organized Person
Organization and discipline comes naturally to some of us. Many prefer to “wing it.” No matter who you are, at some point you’ll be confronted with a complex situation, and you’ll have to come up with a way to tackle it. The only way through is to be mindful: think about what’s realistic for you and what best helps the people you’re working with. After trying something, make note of what worked, what didn’t and why. It’s great to take advice from people who seem to have more organized careers, but in the end what’s important is what’s sustainable for you. Just remember that creativity thrives with structure, and you’re only doing yourself a major favor.
Sound like me? This blog post was written by Brianna Caleri (Barry’s assistant) after an informational interview on the subject and years of absorbing Barry’s ideas and tone.
[Cover photo by Markus Gjengaar, courtesy of Unsplash.]
My interns continue to make me proud; Jake Santiago sent in these thoughtful insights about his time at the studio. Hopefully mentors and mentees reading along can learn from each other’s experiences. Having interns always reminds me of the importance of being organized, and of students following their inquisition to improve their careers.
Questions by former intern & assistant Brianna Caleri.
Why did you choose to pursue this internship?
I chose to pursue an internship with Barry because of recommendation from one of his other students. We go to the same University and he did his internship with Barry and said he might be able to help me set it up. I am very grateful to Barry for taking me in. Music has been a part of me since the very beginning of my life. All my family members are musicians–some professional, some just as a hobby–so it’s been around me my whole life. I had a teacher in high school who during a parent teacher conference told my mother and I that I could be something if I went to school and seriously learned. That tiny belief that’s what drove me to this career.
What are three things you learned with Barry, and how did they make you a better musician and collaborator?
1. Organization: Barry is the most organized person I have ever met in my life. He has every minute of his day on a schedule and he follows it strictly. That’s how he gets all his projects done in record time.
2. When and when not to make changes. I saw a bunch of people in and out of Barry’s studio and sometimes they’d like suggestions and sometimes they had their own vision, and that was that. I learned when to say something or when not to.
3. My mixing has definitely improved due to Barry. Every song I tried to ask as many questions as I could to further understand not how he was doing something, but why. I think that’s always been my struggle: not how to do something but when to do something.
Has the internship made you confident musician or otherwise changed your outlook?
I think the knowledge I gained during the internship definitely made me more confident overall. I have a better understanding of concepts I had no real idea about before. I sat and participated in recording sessions, which also gave me experience in that department. I think with the internship and my classes at school, I really evolved from where I was.
What are your goals going forward?
My goals moving forward are to work in a studio as an assistant engineer and then a senior engineer, open my own studio, keep pursuing my artistry, and keep growing in my art and be the best I can possibly be.
What would you tell someone who wants to pursue a similar experience?
I would tell them to go for it and find something that ultimately works for them. There’s always going to be a reason not to do something but if you truly love music or art or have a passion, just go for it. Give it your all, your 100%. Barry is a great Engineer, he’s a nice guy, and you will learn something if you ask questions, stay engaged, and take notes. Thanks again, Barry.
High schooler Andres Virola has been taking private lessons with me for the past three years, and he’s come a long way. His school orchestra recently performed a piece that he composed electronically, adapted for strings, trumpet, piano and percussion, “Doomed Paladin.”
In his spoken introduction, Andres explains that the programmatic piece details a knight’s final fight with vigor and pride, rather than defeat. We can hear a careful balance in the piece between the groups, which often shift in and out of the foreground, and alternate between giving each other space in a patchwork texture, and working homogeneously for the piece’s most triumphant moments. Ascending motifs in the higher strings create an atmosphere of anticipation and determination, while the lower strings play a more mysterious melody. Seizing the melody, the trumpets and militant polyrhythmic drums create an imperial setting for the knight’s emotional battle. The piano emerges from time to time playing rhythmic chords and providing hopeful momentum. The piece ends as austerely as it began, resolving in a peaceful swell of strings.
“Doomed Paladin” is a piece that takes pride to write and execute, and Andres did well arranging it for orchestra. Playing it live with other musicians for an audience gives the knight’s triumph the weight of a supportive community, and highlights the emotional theatricality of a medieval legend. In his speech, Andres also takes a moment to thank those who made the piece possible, encouraging me once again that our support for our students, peers and friends makes all the difference.
A couple weeks ago I got an unexpected, but encouraging email, and I wanted to share the message with you all.
“Good afternoon Barry, I just wanted to shoot you a quick email to say thanks. I’m a youth mentor, and one of my mentees…is an extremely talented tuba player. We meet biweekly and go over everything from current homework and projects to his life goals, dreams, aspirations, struggles, etc. He had a project due this week on Music Theory and your [student resources] page…was a great help to him so we wanted to let you know how much he appreciated it.
[My high school student has] started exploring his options in terms of where his musical passion and talent can take him for college. Together we found this really helpful guide on “Scholarships and Financial Resources for Future Musicians” at https://couponfollow.com/research/future-musicians-guide. [He] actually suggested that I pass it along to you as a way of saying thank you. He thought it would be a great addition to your resources and that perhaps it could help to encourage another young aspiring musician that there are real options out there for them.
Thank you so much again. If you do decide to add [his] suggestion we meet again next Tuesday and I’d love to let him know – I know he’d be thrilled. I’ve found that a little recognition and support can do wonders for a child’s self confidence.”
I originally made my student resources list so that my private instruction students could find the materials I was talking about in class. I know it takes a lot of work to find reliable study materials, so I also wanted to make the compilation available to clients whose projects I work on, or even those who happened to find my website through a Google search.
Everyone can benefit from learning more about music. I try to make sure my clients understand what we’re doing in their projects, and why. I have had several interns, and hundreds of students. I think it’s important to grow as artists with purpose, and that purpose can often come from supportive community members.
I appreciate the author of this email reaching out and expressing an interest in the resources available on my site. Knowing that people are listening and engaging is important for creatives in creating more content. I want to give this particular young student that kind of validation and encouragement, in the hopes that he will continue engaging with other artists and seeing tangible progress in his education.
We can all offer support to someone, no matter how long they’ve been in the business or how much they know. For that reason, I’ve added a career support section to the student resources page, for sharing tips for creatives starting to build a network and a career. I hope seeing this bit of affirmation gives some of you the energy to go out and spread your own affirmations to others. Always feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments and article suggestions, and if you haven’t checked the student resources page yet, you now have one more reason.
A recent client, Penni Warner, bravely stepped into a new creative role to record for the first time. With her newfound confidence, she writes to share some tips on making the transition yourself, and making the best of it.
1. Ask questions
I met Barry about a year and a half ago through a friend whose music he’d produced. At first I was very intimidated. I was calling New York from Missouri, and this was my first time recording anything, so I was not sure how the process would go. The first time we spoke on the phone, Barry allowed me to ask every question I had. I could tell that he was genuinely interested in helping me make my project just the way I wanted it. And he was always kind when I asked the same question more than once.
2. Find the human connection
Barry did much more than produce my project. In a way, he became a mentor to me. He created an experience that was hands-on for me, even though it was long-distance. We both worked from home; I was able to record at a studio in Missouri, and he hired musicians and recorded them in his home studio. So that I didn’t feel too far away, I sat in on those sessions via FaceTime. I call Barry “the people’s producer” because he is so committed to making the experience meaningful for everyone involved.
3. Stand up for your ideas
I would call Barry often, asking to change things again and again! I remember apologizing, but he assured me that it was his job to see the project through exactly how I wanted it. He didn’t want me to hear something I didn’t like and regret not speaking up. Despite my lack of confidence, he walked me through each step of the process. By being so encouraging, Barry created a truly inspired work. Not only did he produce my project, he brought a creativity out of me that had gone dormant for a very long time.
There is so much to say about Barry that I have not mentioned, but most important is his wonderful personality and dedication, and it was a real pleasure to work with him. I look forward to our next project and I would never dream of going to anyone else. Find someone who understands you, who you enjoy working with. It’s worth it.
Hi, all. Brianna here! If you’ve been keeping up for a few years (congratulations, and thanks for sticking around), you might remember me as one of Barry’s several high school interns. I’m back for some help around the studio now, including some construction projects and a brand new website! Let’s catch up…
After my internship in 2013, I left you with this post talking about a few weeks in the life of a music producer. Soon after, Barry talked me into trying The Artist’s Way. One of the star performers in Barry’s ever-expanding list of book recommendations, The Artist’s Way really set me up to pursue a more productive and purposeful creative life. To kick off that life, I settled on a Music major at Northeastern University with a concentration in Music History and Analysis. I grew to love it, and the freedom it allowed me to be cerebral. While there, I worked at a custom guitar shop in Texas (and learned how it feels to work on something you truly love for almost no money at all), the maker of a digital audio workstation in Boston (and learned how brutal startups can be), and a Boston-based branding agency (and finally found the validation of writing for appreciative clients). I wrote for the school’s culture magazine, reviewing shows and redistributing tidbits of music history. Sometimes I sent Barry emails with laundry lists of creative endeavors and frustrations, and heard about his own busy schedule in schools and the studio. When I graduated, I went through The Artist’s Way again, this time with friends I made in college. And when I came back after graduating, Barry had a long list of projects ready for me to tackle.
My guitar, hand made with lots of help from Moniker Guitars.
Playing with the Northeastern Concert Band.
Attending Summer NAMM in Nashville.
I like to take on the tedious first, and we did have a game plan. We thought we’d start clearing room in the studio — both mental and physical. We’d clear a long list of things Barry had been wanting to do, but didn’t have time to streamline himself. We’d fill the free space later, and invite more work in as we got more done. Our plan still is to keep plugging away and using the energy of the work accomplished to propel us forward into wider-reaching projects and ideas.
We started with the mammoth pile of sheet music that started accumulating . . . well, when there were still mammoths around. We wanted to sort through the well-over 2,500 titles and match them to files already in Barry’s iPad, for a more portable library for private event gigs. The dullest story in the world, which I won’t tell you, ends with us taking photos of unique copies for the iPad, saving a few to find later, if we need them, and deciding a whole lot of music wasn’t worth saving at all. It’s dull to recount, but was a really great way to get back into studio work. I had time to think about things I usually put off, and more than enough time to listen to new music. I realized how many standards I’m still not familiar with. I remembered that Shaggy exists. And Barry opened up shelves of space for new inspiration to live on.
Since I can’t get enough of artist brain activities (repetitive or neutral tasks that give you time to exercise the creative, childlike part of your brain), I also started a toy-chest restoration project. Barry had a wooden chest he’d painted years ago for his kids — it’d been gathering dust in the garage for years more. He gave me creative control and several cans of paint leftover from his technicolor home renovation. We painted the framework black for a little bit of an edge, the side panels lime and electric blue, and left a happy surprise of fuchsia on the entire inside, like a velvet lining. Now there’s a fun way to store clutter in the form of gig bags. And if Barry ever leaves music for a different kind of live performance, he can always start pulling rabbits out of it.
But he’s committed for now, so we decided it was about time to repurpose one more thing: a heavy glass table, 3’ x 5’, from his sister’s apartment in the 80s. It was his kitchen table at the University of Miami, then his Mom’s, then his again, before his wife finally banished it from the house. Barry’s vision was a floor-to-ceiling wooden frame around the glass tabletop, as a sort of semi-soundproof recording “booth” that could be pushed around to modify the space. In a day, we put together a formidable wall in glass and pine to match the rest of the studio, and settled on some knotty pine plywood on hinges to create a trifold that would enclose the performance space against the corner of the room. On each plywood wall, we hung a fabric-wrapped absorption panel. Because there’s only one layer of material on each wall, it’s really only halfway to being truly soundproof, but it greatly reduces any white noise coming from the computers, air conditioning, or house inhabitants. I tried to get the kids to yell at me through it, but I’m a worse influence than they’re ready for. We’ll do a more vigorous test when they’re both teenagers.
Once the physical space was cleared and remodeled, we started thinking in earnest about the Bigger Picture, starting with Barry’s website. The site then was functional, but outdated and complicated. We wanted bring Barry more into focus as an accessible working producer, eager to solve problems for musicians. Barry’s priority was to emphasize how he can help — mine was to put it out there in a clean and modern way.
Since we wanted to keep a lot of the same information while revamping the style, we archived the entire old website for reference. I told Barry I would like to dramatically streamline the experience, ideally, delivering the full story without even leaving the home page. We searched for WordPress themes that would make a long scroll though the homepage intuitive and engaging. After a little poking around design blogs, we decided to narrow our search to themes based on parallax scrolling, in other words, scrolling past background images to create a sense of layers and responsiveness. We chose the theme HashOne, which also features fun animations that make the experience feel like a series of events, instead of skimming a static page.
Pulling text from the old website, editing or reframing it, and writing new sections entirely, we created a wireframe, or a roadmap to what the entire finished website should look like. We trimmed a lot of fat. What do people really want to learn? What are they willing to ask more questions about?
The new website starts by shouting Barry’s name, and displaying slides to call attention to studio news. The next section introduces him and his goals with a personal message, and links to a page of specific credentials that someone further down the pipeline might want to see. We’ve “hidden” them from the home page so they don’t interrupt the discovery process with too many details. Next on the home page, visitors can choose categories of music samples and read blogs about the process. After they’ve listened, they move on down to a services section, where they can click through to a more detailed grid. But we kept the descriptions simple, because we would still rather hear from people and have productive conversations than try to over-explain a process that can change a lot from client to client. The composition section directs curious clickers to the Credentials page, where they can see a discography, and the music education section brings them to a new page dedicated just to private instruction and student resources. There’s even a student-made music video, like an easter egg, when you click to expand music education on the home page. To wrap it up, like a series of footnotes, are testimonials, blog updates, and a succinct contact section. Anything the reader wants to know, by then, can spark a conversation over email or social media.
I’m sticking around for now, and some of our next to-dos involve populating the blog and starting a mailing list. We have lots of other ideas that we’ll start testing out on you, including music videos and maybe even instructional content. If you read ALL THAT (and even if you didn’t) I want to hear from you! Email us about what you want to see on the blog or in a newsletter, or leave a comment below.
Secrets grew from an unfinished flute melody, a dramatic life change and an unexpected pregnancy. The drama it unfolded from informed its mysterious tone and careful use of suspense. Audible Abstraction is a new music trio that looks to redefine the chamber music experience.
Keep reading for the original blog.
One of the first pieces Audible Abstraction played as an ensemble in our workshopping phase was “Secrets,” a stirring composition by Barry. It was clear from the beginning that it held a good story. Barry revealed all the details eventually, but as a good story-teller should, he kept us in suspense. He started with its compositional origins:
“While producing Karin Marcello’s album Vision in 2010, I offered to compose a modern piece for flute and harp. The resulting composition, ‘Tarot,’ ended up on the album. Before I pinned down my ideas for ‘Tarot’, a number of incomplete starting points emerged. One of these became ‘Secrets’ a couple of years later.
Inspired by ‘The Garden of Adonis,’ a beautiful work for flute and harp by Alan Hovhaness, I created a 3 measure modal harp ostinato featuring mostly 5-note groupings of descending pitches; this idea now repeats throughout most of ‘Secrets.’ Still, there was only an incomplete flute line accompanying the harp, and as a whole the composition needed more. While rehearsing with a local composer’s collective quartet a few years later (with a flautist, harpist and percussionist), I decided to complete the composition and added a soprano sax part and a percussion part.”
Now, this is not yet the end of the story—compositionally or narratively. I am no harpist, and even though The Queen’s Cartoonists has him play an occasional auxiliary part, Greg is no percussionist. Barry then told us the tale that narrates this composition:
“At the time of writing ‘Secrets,’ a dear friend was persistently on my mind. She was dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and consequently her decision to move back to Italy. I was one of the only people who knew and was sworn to secrecy. Through this emotional experience, an extremely dramatic composition unfolded; through-composed flute and saxophone lines flow with and against the repetitive harp ostinato. Unfortunately, the original quartet never performed and eventually stopped meeting. However, several more years later, when Nicole Brancato asked me to join her new trio, I decided to resurrect ‘Secrets’ and orchestrate it for this project. The part for harp easily transitioned to piano, the optional percussion part was dropped, and I rearranged the flute part for trumpet, thinking this might be a more effective partner with the saxophone.”
I was thrilled that Barry reworked this impassioned piece for Audible Abstraction. It is a challenging work to put together as an ensemble—each performer must be in perfect sync with one another and listening with the utmost intention. However, it is an absolutely captivating piece to experience, both as a performer—working from within to express its depths— and as an audience member—following along in the remarkable journey.
The following songs, in diverse styles, were all written and recorded for churches from Queens, NY (The Church Before The Seat of Christ and The Church of New Hymn), using their original lyrics. Each song is pieced together in a streamlined process that often includes the remote recording of vocals in addition to MIDI programming, live instruments and vocals recorded in Barry’s home studio. New projects are added often. Scroll down to hear the most recent songs.
1. I’ve Finally Beheld God (featuring Donna Cori Gibson)
2. God Silently Provides For Everyone (featuring Donna Cori Gibson)
3. A Lament for a Tragic World (featuring Victoria Faiella)
4. God Paid All the Price to Save Mankind (featuring Billy Ayres)
5. Repentance (featuring Billy Ayres)
6. Counting God’s Grace Makes My Tears Flow (featuring Donna Cori Gibson)
7. God Wishes for More People to Gain His Salvation (featuring Rick Salucci)
8. Peter Knew God Best (featuring Jennifer Grace)
9. Awaiting God’s Good News (featuring Billy Ayres)
10. What God Wants Is Man’s True Heart (featuring Jennifer Grace)
11. God Has Worked Till Now, Why Does Not Man Understand? (featuring Billy Ayres)
12. Created by You, Belonging to You (featuring Erica Leigh)
13. Praise for God From the Descendants of Moab (featuring Erica Leigh)
14. God’s Love Brings Us Close Together (featuring Evan McCulloch)
15. What Have You Given to God in Return? (featuring Jessica Lynn)
16. The Truth of the Aftermath of Man’s Corruption by Satan (featuring Erica Leigh)
17. Yearning for God (featuring Emily Bindiger)
18. Why Doesn’t Man Use His Spirit to Touch God? (featuring Donna Cori Gibson)
19. You Must Treasure the Blessings of Today (featuring Erica Leigh)
20. Searching for Intimates (featuring Jennifer Grace)
21. The Life of Man Is Entirely Under God’s Sovereignty (featuring Erica Leigh)
22. The Substance of Christ Is God (featuring Donna Cori Gibson and Billy Ayres)
23. God Loves Man With Wounds (featuring Donna Cori Gibson)
24. I Cannot Be Without God’s Chastisement and Judgment (featuring Erica Leigh)
25. The Heartbreaking Thing (featuring Erica Leigh)
“Two Minute Catharsis” is an exploration of how “outside” notes can fit naturally “into” a jazz composition. The listener, even without a formal understanding of jazz, should feel which phrases don’t fit in, and experience a renewed sense of balance when the harmonies return to stability. The saxophone “sings” a melody in haiku form.
Keep reading for the original blog.
Two Minute Catharsis is a composition for Soprano Saxophone and Omnisphere drone.
The drone consists of two sounds from Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2: Dawning and Distant Dreams. I simply held a C for around two minutes. These sounds have more than one note though; an ethereal, suspended chord sounds from them.
The melodies are mostly in the C aeolian mode and since the soprano sax is a Bb instrument I had to play in D aeolian. For an emotional contrast, in certain spots I play notes very much outside of the aeolian mode, and this creates quite a bit of tension as the drone accompaniment underneath never changes. Returning back to aeolian provides some release. These melodies were all derived literally from a series of haiku (3 lines each with 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables). I tried to make the sax lines sing the words. However, if you were to ask me who wrote them and what the words are, I would not disclose… THIS will forever remain a secret… a mystery.
“Conceived by Aristotle as the cleansing effect of emotional release that tragic drama has on its audience, catharsis stems from a Greek verb meaning “to purify, purge.” Today, it can be used to describe any emotional release, including a good long laugh or cry that is followed by a sense of balance and freshness afterwards.”
“Resurgence” is a ten-minute master’s thesis compiled from a long list of unfinished ideas. Over the years, themes stacked up inspired by everyday events like a cat visiting, and running away. This post-tonal piece is currently a MIDI realization, and includes a score to follow along, if the listener chooses.
Twenty five years after I graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Music in Music Engineering Technology, I decided it was time for another degree! In 2013, I started Graduate Studies in Composition at CUNY Hunter College and received a Master of Arts in Music (composition) in 2015. This was something I always wanted to do since graduating from University of Miami, but first I chose to take several years of private composition lessons in the 1990s with Angelo Musolino and Peter Robles, and then some composition classes (1998-1999) at the Juilliard School with Stanley Wolfe, and a film music class (2000) at NYU. It wasn’t until I started teaching Digital Music classes at CUNY Hostos Community College in 2012 that I decided to pursue graduate studies, thinking that this might help me with my composing, teaching and new academic career.
My master’s thesis, Resurgence, is a ten minute work for orchestra. All of the themes were from my “pile” of unfinished ideas that I organized and developed to form this larger work. Some of the themes go back to when I used to live in Greenlawn, NY (Long Island) in the 1990s. The atonal section at 7:35 was originally inspired by a cat that used to visit my house (in Greenlawn) all of the time but would always run away from me. I would put out food on the porch and he would eat it, but he would never go near me! I created some fearful sounding music inspired by this cat and wrote “Scaredy Cat” on the top of the page; it then went into the “pile” to be long forgotten until the writing of this piece around twenty years later. I was so excited to resurrect it and all of the other long lost ideas. However, it was the most fun to fully develop the “Scaredy Cat” theme in particular, especially because of its history; I tried to make it as scary and dissonant as possible. Anyone who knows me knows I love cats. There are three cats living with me right now…
At the time of writing and orchestrating Resurgence I created a MIDI realization so that I could play it for my composition teacher (and thesis sponsor), Shafer Mahoney, and my post-tonal music theory teacher (and second reader), Philip Ewell. After hearing my first completed version, Shafer Mahoney suggested I add some more music to the ending which I did, but I didn’t get around to updating the audio until now, two years later.
Eventually, I hope to have an actual orchestra record this music. I’ve had the experience of replacing MIDI realizations of my orchestral arrangements with live orchestra before for albums I’ve produced, with overseas companies in Prague and Macedonia, and it always sounds a zillion times more emotional, real and beautiful, as the music was intended to sound. But until that happens with this music (it could cost at least $5000), this is the only existing aural representation of the score for anyone who is interested in hearing it.
As a senior at North Salem High School, I’m enrolled in a class that entails finding an internship for forty hours, in whatever field you want, and creating a project to solve a problem specific to the student’s mentor or profession. I called Barry and he surprised me by already knowing exactly what he wanted to work on: promoting a new project idea centered around families recording together, something he had been doing annually with his own family. My project became finding a family to record and going through the whole process – selling, scheduling, preparing, recording, editing, mixing, mastering – to really see what recording is like. During most of the forty hours, when I wasn’t working on the project, I would act as his “shadow” and experience what it’s like to work in music production. I planned to minor in music at the University of Vermont, where I could feel as though I was utilizing my ability as a flautist while majoring in something else that allowed me to maintain some sense of job security for the future.
On the first official day of the internship, we took the train in to the city to go to the famous Avatar Studios. When we got there, we had to be buzzed in. We went up in a giant elevator, had all the instruments checked in, and arrived in a dimly lit hallway with no windows and an orange glow. I expected it to feel claustrophobic, but it was the opposite. In a soundproofed maze of pine, burlap, and warm light of Studio B, you can’t feel time pass.
Barry introduced me to all the musicians in the project, and one of his students from Hostos Community College, Rue, who, like me, was along for the ride. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, but it was great to have Rue there to talk to me while everyone else was working. He explained some of the technical aspects if I asked. I was just glad to have someone to talk to so I didn’t have to sit there alone and feel like an intruder.
Of course, the most important part of the experience was seeing everyone play. The pianist, guitarist, and percussionist were in the live section of the studio, and Barry played the bass from behind the SSL console in the control room. It was incredible to see four people play so easily together. I was baffled by how nonchalant everything was. Everyone just cracked their knuckles and played a song nearly perfectly. Then Barry would throw out a bit of advice for the next time around, some tiny piece of information that he had saved in the back of his head, and they’d just go again. I have a hard time believing he actually said this, but I wrote down “John, I love how you did that C7 sharp 11 flat 9…”
I started feeling emotional watching everyone play. I wanted to be every person working that day. I always knew I loved music, and I wanted to pursue it in some way. But I was hesitant. It’s a little risky. I’d been ignoring it, using my intentions to pursue a music minor to trick myself into feeling like I wouldn’t be missing out, while I wasn’t really taking any real steps toward a future in music. On the train home, Barry told me I should consider a music major, and I knew he was right. A total transformation in less than twelve hours.
A few days later, we’re at Barry’s house, mixing a different project. We’re using Pro Tools. We used some of the plugins to modify some guitar tracks someone sent for a song Barry had been working on. We also rearranged and tuned some vocal tracks sent by the background vocalist. We had a list of requests and directions from the singer/songwriter, which was very useful to have for organization, and something so simple that I never would have thought of. In addition, we mixed the tracks we recorded at Avatar. I have a much better understanding of the mixing tools now (the knobs and sliders) since we had to adjust them all over again when the files were transferred from the Avatar studio to his own. We just had to decide which tracks we like the best, which meant listening to most of them at least once through, on their own, piece by piece. You would think you’d get tired of hearing the same song over and over, but when you’re really concentrating on the structure, it’s never an issue.
Four days later, the task was to prepare tracks for vocals on a more hip-hop based album, so despite Barry’s usual aversion to “fake instruments”, he decided that a synthetic instrumental track would compliment the project well. We used a program called Digital Performer, and Stylus RMX to find and modify samples of different instruments and pre-recorded beats. We did a little sound shopping to see which samples sounded best in the context of the song. It was interesting to see all the little pieces coming together, and building on top of each other, all as a result of some keystrokes and clicking and dragging.
When we were sending the new tracks to the artist, I asked Barry about his computer desktop photo (a picture of a very nice room) which prompted an enthusiastic detailing of his future house and an impromptu speech about visualization and creative processes. He told me that if you have something in your mind for long enough, it will grow until you can’t hold it anymore, and it will burst out of you into reality. He told me about his bookshelf, which he built on a whim one day because he had always seen it there, under the stairs, in his head, which is as good as it really being there. He told me that the only way to accomplish something is to remove all self doubt. It was amazing to hear him say all of this just based on his own experiences, and was actually incredibly moving. I wish I could recount this with some degree of eloquence, so it could carry the power it deserves. Regardless of my ability to relay this, everything he said stuck with me. I had heard most of those theories before, separately from each other, but hearing them together with so much conviction behind them created a kind of resonance for me that changed the way I thought about creativity. It’s hard to say what the most valuable part of the whole internship was, but this change of spirit is very high on the list. So thank you.
For the next session, we focused primarily on making the vocal charts for the background singers (hip hop project). The artist knew what he wanted in terms of harmonies, so Barry just had to put them into Finale (like Microsoft Word for composers). He added a bar of Persian vocals as a cheeky reference to the lyrics and I was very excited that I could identify the mode he was using as a harmonic minor (a nice change from me appearing to know nothing about music).
At this point, I had found a group of people to record a song for my OPTIONS Class project: the seniors that had been in the musical at my school. I told Barry that they would do it, and he suggested creating an arrangement and assigning parts, since most of them probably know how to read, or can at least listen and replicate what they heard. This wasn’t the original goal of the project, but it’ll be interesting. I’ll keep looking for families to record, but now there’s no pressure to get anybody within the next few weeks.
About a week later, I was supposed to take the train in to the Bronx to Hostos where Barry teaches a Sound Design class. I ended up being sick, so it wasn’t the best idea to go in and…breathe on people. They’re recording an acappella group for backup on some of the songs. Rue texted me asking if I had Skype, so he just carried me around for a while on his phone. I ended up watching for an hour or two, even though I couldn’t hear or see a lot of what was going on. I heard most of what they recorded, though, and the harmonies they added were incredible. They were crisp, clear, and resonating even through the poor sound quality of Skype. I was glad to be able to watch, instead of brooding on my own with a box of tissues. Rue saves the day, again.
Next, we’re back at Avatar, in Studio W this time. This one has a tiny room for recording – I tried to take a picture of the mic, backed up for a wider angle, and ran into the wall — and a larger one for mixing. It’s very small, but it was just what we needed.
Barry refuses to let me be idle in the college major selecting process. We were on the train for ten minutes before he had his iphone out researching Northeastern’s music department (After a week of deliberation and tears, I decided to enroll at Northeastern, where the opportunities for a musician are greater). It’s hard to know which majors I would like because I don’t even know what I would really like doing, but it was so good to have someone who’s getting me to think about it. My parents want me to take it easy with the music ambitions, so if no one was pushing me, it’d be hard to figure anything out on my own. I know I shouldn’t need him to keep me on track, but I’m glad he does.
Back at Barry’s studio, I was able to contribute by playing a “featured flute interlude” for the Avatar project. It was the easiest thing I’ve played in years, probably, but I was so nervous I had to sit down. This doesn’t usually happen to me. I think it was the difference between playing for a bunch of people who’ve never touched an instrument in their lives and someone who, at the very least, I didn’t want to be disappointed. I thought it was awful at first, but he insists it was good. After hearing the final production, I have to admit, it was pretty good.
Finally, on May 11th, we recorded my project with a few members of the North Salem theatre group. I brought my camera and recorded everything, which I would later sync with the audio. SEE VIDEO AT THE BOTTOM.
We started with everyone singing at once: the last verse and the subsequent double chorus. Barry grabbed his electric guitar and played some chords to keep everyone on key. He just asked me to sing it for reference and he played along with it. I don’t think he even knew the song. I have no idea how he does that.
Dan and Natalie sang through the whole song individually and then had to leave. Cate and Irene did the same thing and Barry asked if I was going to sing. I wasn’t planning on being in it at all, but the three encouraged me to try it, so I was back behind the microphone for the second time in 24 hours. I somehow confused myself into ad-libbing over the group parts, so we recorded a second part where I did it on purpose, and featured my part over the others.
I tried to feed the harmonies to Cate and Irene but there was too much confusion to get enough for the whole song, so after they left I punched in all the harmonies over again so we knew we’d have something good for all the phrases.
People tell me all the time that I have a good voice, and I agree with them, but I don’t trust them. It’s hard to explain. Barry surprised me by telling me that he likes my voice, and he thinks I should make an album. I’m not going to do that, but something about hearing that was surreal and overwhelming. Sometimes I think he’s too nice to me, but I know he’s being genuine, so I guess I’ll just have to start accepting that.
Three days later, Barry had a session with a singer, Keren, to do background vocals on the album we recorded the first day, so I went over to meet her and watch. I didn’t need any more hours for my class, but I like coming and seeing what’s going on – it’s always something different. I hope to be able to see more over the summer, as well.
Keren was amazing. She was sitting there with a box of tissues and she still sang better than mostly any other person I’ve ever heard sing in real life. I always meet talented people here. The artist was there over Skype. He was happy to see me and he liked my flute solos.
Halfway through the session Barry and I went to get his kids, Maya and Noah, at the bus. When we got back, everyone sat at the kitchen table and ate watermelon with spoons. I think it’s cool that Barry’s job can be so casual. It’s one of the things that made the experience so unique. You wouldn’t get that at a studio away from home.
An email to Barry, after seeing the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra (conducted by Barry’s friend Adam, which he highly recommended I see):
I don’t really know what to say. I’ve never seen an orchestra before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I’ve never heard such clear sounds coming from any instrument.
They were all so good. I kept forgetting I was watching people my age — and younger.
It’s hard to come up with words for this because, as you know, you have to see it to understand it, so how does one quantify it in an email?
I have to be honest, I didn’t really believe you when you said it would be inspirational. I thought it’d just be sad. Rue told me almost the same thing as we were waiting for it to start. I don’t know how he felt afterwards, but you were right, of course. It was weirdly refreshing to see a live orchestra…it almost made me wish I hadn’t quit band. Almost. It made me excited to play in college, in whatever groups I might join. It was a lot of fun just to watch, I think I was smiling to myself a little too much.
I’ve been over a few more times. I met a trumpet and flugelhorn player who recorded for the first album. I also met an amazing violinist.
I met more talented musicians in 40 hours (okay, a few more than that) with Barry than I had in my whole life. It was so inspiring to see all these people being great at what they do. And, of course, just knowing Barry was the most important part. I never considered a person could do so many things. Seeing so many possibilities is encouraging. I have a new sense of direction and openness. I was surprised that I liked it so much; it was always not only interesting, but fun to see what he does.
This all started in 2005. I thought it would be fun to record my father singing a few songs in my recording studio. Although not a professional singer, he has the sound and feel of crooners like Billy Eckstine and Frank Sinatra, the singers of his era. I recorded my dad singing a number of old standards and added some music accompaniment after.
After hearing these recordings, my father-in-law wanted to get in on the act too! It then became an annual Father’s Day tradition to record them both singing together, and adding the music accompaniment after…
Once In A While
In 2008, my brother-in-laws, wanted to become part of the group and then they were also singing on the Father’s Day recordings for the next few years! The first time I recorded them all, they sang live with a piano accompanist (Tom Nazziola) that followed them and then I added a bass part after. A very different recording process.
The Summer Wind
In 2011, I had a new idea. I suggested including the rest of the family (whoever was interested) for the recording. My father-in-law (the official song chooser) chose “Georgia On My Mind” and they all sang “Noah On My Mind” (for my son Noah) instead. I found a great sounding karaoke track and had everyone individually sing the song once through in it’s entirety to the track. A few day’s later I chose the best moments and assembled a very nice vocal arrangement, trying to feature everyone equally. Somehow I was able to create a couple of beautiful moments of overlap and harmony in editing. Last but not least, I overdubbed my wife and kids singing and talking in spots.
Noah On My Mind
Please visit my Family Recordings Service page if you are interested in doing something like this with your family or friends. It’s a lot of fun to do!
I sometimes get complimented on certain aspects of my music production work, like how I arranged or mixed a song, or how I edited something or played an instrument a certain way… But I’m beginning to notice that a number of people are even more appreciative of me because I simply acknowledge them by responding to their emails and phone calls! Apparently, this is a big deal that I do this! A rare behavior someone said recently! What is going on out there? There seems to be a “no reply at all” syndrome going around… I’ve been noticing this a little myself as well. What is most surprising to me, is when I call someone to HIRE them, to pay them MONEY, especially after they stated that they would like me to hire them, and then they do not respond, EVER! OK, no problem, I’ll call someone else.
Recently, some work came in because the person who was called first did not respond, even after numerous attempts to get their attention. I responded right away and so I got the gig. Maybe there should be a tagline on my website: Barry Hartglass Music Composition & Production – I respond to EVERY email and phone call right away! Maybe if I added that I’d have so much work that I wouldn’t be able to respond to everyone’s emails and phone calls…
Perhaps some people are just too busy or overwhelmed with things that they are unable to respond to every email or phone call that comes their way. The problem is that the sender of the message might get insulted when they are not acknowledged, even though it might just be a misunderstanding or something else altogether. They are assuming that they are being ignored whether or not this is actually true. And this is why they appreciate it so much that I actually respond, consistently. It usually only takes me a moment to respond so it’s really no big deal to me. I never thought this was a special feature of mine that I should mention, let alone write an entire blog about, but apparently it is.
I have decided to not take it personally when I am not responded to and I suggest you do the same. You don’t always know the reason why there is no response. It could be technical. Maybe they simply didn’t get the messages. This is very possible and this has happened to me. Or maybe something is going on in their life and they just can’t deal with every little message. Also very possible. Or maybe they are really inundated with messages and never even saw or heard your message. I know some people who are very popular or even somewhat famous and I can only imagine the number of messages they are receiving all day every day. However, there are others like this that always respond no matter what, so it is also very possible, that you are simply being ignored for some reason. You may never know the reason so just forget about it. It doesn’t matter. Let it go.
If you would like to be responded to though, you can always send me an email or call me, even if you don’t know me. Go ahead. It is my personal policy to ALWAYS respond right away. I promise to respond as fast as possible. If you don’t hear from me in 24 hours, then something is wrong. Try again. This has happened before. I’ve been sent emails that never got here, and once someone said they called and left messages that I never received. ??? So try again. I will reply no matter what it is about – personal or business. And not only will I reply, but if you happen to ask me 5 questions, for example, I will respond to EACH one – not just 1 or 2 of your questions, but ALL 5 of them. I will also try to be as clear as possible in my correspondence. I know how frustrating it can be when you don’t understand what someone is talking about. Clarity is important to me.
Or, if you don’t want to email or call me, then I suggest listening to “No Reply At All” by Genesis. You’ll feel better. It’s a fun song and video even though the lyrics are not necessarily so happy… I’ve always liked this song and the clever arrangement. Every instrument has a cool part.
A few years ago, I produced Annie Karto‘s CD, “Refuge,” which featured Annie’s “Song For Immaculee.” This song was inspired by Immaculee Ilibagiza‘s incredible book, “Left to Tell.” Annie has since become friends with Immaculee and there is a VIDEO of Annie singing her song live, with Immaculee in the audience. The emotional hug at the end of the video is a very touching moment. Because of this new friendship, I had the honor of meeting Immaculee and also producing a new CD for her as well. The CD is called “Let Your Will Be Done” and I am very proud to add this title to my Discography. Reading Immaculee’s remarkable story is life changing in her books “Left To Tell” and also “Led By Faith.” These books should be required reading for the entire world!
Immaculee, who loves to sing, liked the work I did on Annie’s “Refuge” CD and asked me to help her create this special new CD. Her 12 minute song, “Let Your Will Be Done” is a very simple, but beautiful song. Since it is supposed to be a meditation, it repeats the same verse and chorus melody many times. My concept was to have the musical arrangement gradually develop over the length of the song to keep it building and interesting throughout. First, I created a basic track with music for one verse and one chorus. Among other things, I used some sounds from Spectrasonics‘ “Heart of Africa” sample CDs, Volume 1 & Volume 2, and also “Symphony of Voices.”
Immaculee came to my studio and sang all of her many verses and a couple of choruses over my basic track. It was interesting recording her. Here in my studio, singing into my microphone was the inspiring woman from those life changing books I read. Immaculee miraculously survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide by hiding in a tiny bathroom for 91 days with 7 other women, and now tells her amazing story to large audiences all over the world. But I tried not to think about all of that. Like on all vocal recording sessions, I was focused on making sure her performance was the best it could be – in tune, in time and with clear, understandable English, making the most of her beautiful Rwandan accent and rich singing tone.
The next step for me, on another day, was to edit Immaculee’s singing and create a developing music arrangement that was emotional, inspiring and interesting to listen to over the course of 12 minutes! I did this by slowly building up the instrumentation and singing and then starting over again small and building it up again. To do this I arranged a piano part that starts the song and gradually added in elements from my previously created basic track and adding some new sounds as well. Immaculee asked me to include some type of “high pitched” instrument. I showed her some of the instruments I had and she seemed to like everything! I decided to use my soprano saxophone and this instrument became a very important and featured element in the arrangement, especially during the interludes in between sung sections and at the end where the chorus repeats numerous times. I improvised melodies on the soprano saxophone throughout much of the song. During some of the interludes I used Gregorian Chant samples (from “Symphony of Voices”) of men singing “Amen.” I thought that was not only a beautiful and lyrical musical addition but it was also fitting to sing “Amen” in response to all of Immaculee’s simple but profound lyrics. To build up the arrangement some more I sang along with Immaculee on later choruses and sang in harmony with some of her phrases in the later verses.
This was a fun project for me. I don’t think I ever featured my soprano saxophone as much as I did on this recording. And I almost never sing! I love incorporating world music elements in my arrangements and this was a perfect opportunity to use some of my African sounds. When I finished recording and mixing the song, Immaculee’s only comment in an email was, “I love it.”
Immaculee mentioned recording an album of Rwandan music sometime in the future, and I hope that I get to do that with her as it was a great experience for me to work with her on this CD. Wayne Dyer, in his foreword to Immaculee’s NY Times bestseller,”Left to Tell,” wrote: “Her story will touch you deeply.” That is most certainly true. On this CD, there are 3 tracks. Immaculee first tells her story and how her song came to be. Then there is the song, and then there is a meditation prayer. The story and the meditation have an instrumental version of the song playing in the background.
Unfortunately, five years after I wrote this blog post, Immaculee’s CD seems to have been discontinued. For anyone who would like to hear my production of Immaculee’s “Let Your Will Be Done” song, it is now included here:
Everyone always loves this story, so I thought I would post it here. My sister, Caryn Hartglass, recently wrote about it on her facebook page:
Here’s the story about my dad, Harold Hartglass who was a great bowler in his younger days, bowling 3 nights a week. He competed in the 1968 Pro Am Madison Square Garden National Championship. Later all his bowling shirts, including the one from Madison Square Garden, were donated to a neighbor collecting clothes to send to Poland. Somehow it got into the hands of rock star Freddie Mercury and it was reportedly one of his favorites. We found it via an accidental google search around my dad’s 75th birthday when it was hanging in the Hard Rock Cafe in Shanghai. Now it hangs in Bahrain. Unfortunately, Freddie Mercury is no longer with us, but my dad, now 84, recently joined a new league and bowled a 217!
In honor of his 84th birthday, which was on February 2nd, we are all going bowling today with my dad!
I should also mention, that like Freddie Mercury, my dad also sings… Well, not really like Freddie Mercury, but maybe more like Billy Eckstine or Frank Sinatra. I recorded dad singing a few times in my studio and then my father-in-law wanted to get in on the act too. It became a Father’s Day tradition to record “The Grandfathers” singing together. Soon after, my brother-in-laws, became part of the group and they were singing on the Father’s Day recordings also. Last year, I included almost the whole family singing together on a recording on Father’s Day… A very musical family!
Take a listen to the recording that started it all – my dad singing the classic song, “All The Things You Are.” He starts off by saying “This is for you Sugar.” Sugar, of course, is what he calls my mom… He ends by saying “Well,” which is his tribute to Billy Eckstine. Upon first hearing this recording, my friend Claudia Martin (one of my favorite singers!), wrote “Who needs Sinatra?” Of course, my dad loved that.
In my last blog, Everybody Else Is Wrong, I had a quote from Abraham-Hicks, a Dr. Seuss story and a Todd Rundgren/Utopia song. Everybody Else Is Right has nothing to do with any of that even though the title sounds similar…
The other day, someone was complaining to me that their client made them make a lot of changes to a project, and in his opinion, those changes made the project worse. Of course, he made the changes anyway and the client was then happy! And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
When I am providing any kind of creative service, like producing a recording or composing custom music for a marketing video, for example, the client (singer/songwriter, musician, video producer, advertising executive, etc.) is always right, even if they are wrong! And of course, there is really no such thing as wrong. With creative projects, everything is entirely subjective.
In the end, it is their project and they have to love it. It’s all about what they want, whether good or bad in my opinion. It’s never about what I want. However, if someone wants me to change something after I’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating a certain result, usually based on what they asked me to do, if I think their revision request might make the project worse, I will explain my point of view one time. And if they still want me to change things than I will do my best to see things their way and try to make it work. Ultimately there is no right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse, only preferences and opinions.
Using whatever skills, abilities, instruments and equipment I have, I will do my best to achieve the desired result. I will try to figure out what the client wants in order to make them happy with their project. When it’s all over, they have to live with it while I move on to the next project… Sometimes, many years later, a client could still be selling, and even performing with, a recording that I produced for them. It became a significant part of their life. So what they want matters the most.
Different things are important to different people. For instance, with my arrangements or mixing, some people love everything right away and don’t ask for any changes at all. I do what I do and then it’s done. Easy. But some people are very particular. They have something very specific in mind and will ask me to redo things, sometimes several times, until I get it right. And the tiniest, most microscopic details can be of major importance to some people. But that’s OK. Let’s get it right, whatever that is. At a certain point though it is time for me to mention one of my favorite quotes from Julia Cameron‘s wonderful book “The Artist’s Way“:
A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places. – Paul Gardener
Sooner or later, we all have to let it go and call it done otherwise we will keep finding things to change forever! Next!!
Some singers I work with sing one or two takes and that’s it. Good enough for them. Done! Some even ask me NOT to fix anything and to leave it raw, as is. If something is a little out of tune, late or early, so be it. They want it to sound honest and natural. In complete contrast to that, some singers are seeking the ultimate perfection in their performance and require many takes, editing, tuning, tweaking, expression scaling, vibrato modifying, and then, after all of that, rerecording everything, and then going through the whole editing process all over again! A lot of this may seem obsessive and ridiculous while it’s happening, but in the end, it’s good that we went through this tedious process. All artists have a vision and I’m here to help them achieve it. They may be planning on manufacturing thousands of CDs that contain their performance and their music and so it needs to be the best it can be. I will do it their way, whatever that is. Everybody else is right.
Physical man gets into an uncomfortable place when he concludes, “I and those like me have come to the right decisions, and everybody that’s living outside of these right decisions is wrong.” And then he spends his life pushing against all those “wrong” decisions and cutting himself off from the Life Force that would help him have joy in his, what he concludes to be, right decisions. There is no one right path. There are endless paths, and the differences in the paths are what make them more and more, and more, perfect. The same old path no longer serves. — Abraham
This reminded me of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories, The Zax, a typically silly Seuss rhyme, but also profound in it’s lesson about pride and compromise.
When I was younger, I used to listen to every Todd Rundgren and Utopia record over and over after my friend Kim turned me onto them in high school. One of my favorite songs was “Everybody Else Is Wrong” by Utopia from their Deface the Music album (1980). The title and the sound of it, a sort of comical homage to The Beatles, always made me laugh. If you don’t like this song, you are WRONG and I will spend my life pushing against you!
Over the years, I’ve produced and arranged numerous recordings for songwriters with various levels of music training. Sometimes I am presented with songs that are very complete with lyrics, melody and chords. I am initially given a lyric sheet that may have chord symbols over the words, and maybe a demo recording so I can learn the melody, or the melody will be sung to me in person or over the phone. Whenever I start an arrangement, I always write out the melody and chords using music notation as a first step. I like having a sheet I can refer to. Notated music is my language.
But sometimes I am presented with songs that are not as complete. The songwriter may have minimal or no “academic” music background and therefore, does not know how to harmonize their melody by adding chords to it. They sing their melody to me in person or over the phone and tell me what the lyrics are or send them to me. In this scenario, it is up to me to “create” the chords. It is usually obvious to me what the chords should be after hearing the melody, but sometimes, if it is not so obvious, I’ll present a few choices to the songwriter. In either case, I never consider myself a co-writer by simply adding chords to existing words and melody. I’m just the arranger.
There have been times though, when a songwriter has added words and melody to a music arrangement or chord progression that I created first. I have a lot of unfinished ideas in my music “pile” that I look through from time to time when someone wants to collaborate with me. In this case, I am considered a co-writer because the new melody was created using the music that I started. In a scenario like this, I usually have a lot to say about the new melody and help to refine it. At this point, there is no question that I am a co-writer as I am actively involved with crafting the melody in addition to the chords. I may have something to say about the lyrics too, but I am more of a composer than a lyricist.
With some of my arrangements, I have practically rewritten entire songs to make them into what the songwriter really intended. Even if I am offered writing credit for this I do not accept it. As explained above, if I did not write the words or melody, I am not the songwriter, just the arranger.
There have also been times when I have composed original sections of music as long introductions to a song or significant interludes and did not take writing credit. In this type of situation, if a new melody was introduced by me, I could technically be considered a co-writer. But in most cases, I don’t make a big deal out of it and I’m happy to contribute whatever I can in the arrangement to make the song the best it can be.
When producing CDs involving previously recorded music (cover songs), if I am put in charge of “copyright clearance,” I always try to find the copyright owners in order to pay them their mechanical license royalties, no matter how small. The first place I look is on the Songfile on the Harry Fox Agency website. But sometimes, if songs have been previously recorded but not published, it is unlikely that they will appear there. In this case I will do research on the internet, make phone calls and do whatever I can in order to track down the copyright owner! Sometimes this requires significant detective work. Once I find them, I send them their royalty check along with the appropriate legal document: Notice of Intention to Obtain Compulsory License for Making and Distributing Sound Recordings.
People generally appreciate it when you track them down in order to give them money! One time after I paid an unpublished songwriter, a few months went by and he did not cash his royalty check. When I called him to find out why, he said he wanted to keep the check so he could show it to other producers he knew to teach them how things are supposed to be done!
Awhile ago, I produced a CD every year for a school where the students would include an alma mater song. They would sing about their school, sung to the tune of a very popular song. Changing lyrics for a recording requires the permission of a publisher and so I always wrote a letter requesting permission. Here’s an informative site: Copyright: Changing Lyrics
In my role as the producer of a music recording, I always do my best to respect another’s copyright.
I’ve always had pretty good relative pitch and consider this an important skill to have if you are a musician or a singer. When I’m learning to play a song or composing, I try to use my ear only (not an instrument) and write down what I hear with a pencil using music notation. Once you know what the first note is, if you have good relative pitch you should be able to tell what the next note is and the note after that also, by recognizing the intervals between the notes. If you have very good relative pitch, you should also be able to recognize the sound of combinations of notes, or chords, as well. If you can’t identify these things by ear, then you must guess by noodling on your instrument until you find the note or chord that sounds the same as on the recording you are learning or what you hear in your head, if composing. It takes much longer if you have to guess so it is advisable to learn the sounds of intervals and chords! I highly recommend the The Relative Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse by David L. Burge. He drills you until you really know each interval or chord. You only move on to whatever is next in the course after you’ve mastered what came before it. So take your time and get the sounds into your ear.
If you are learning a song, how do you figure out what the first note is? I usually try to guess that and sometimes I’m right but not always. I don’t have perfect pitch, so I’ll play the beginning of a recording that I know how to play and then I’ll have that first note in my ear. Or, I’ll walk over to guitar or bass hanging on the wall in my studio and pluck a note. I’ll find the interval between that note and the first note I’m trying to hear in the song I’m learning and then I know what it is because of relative pitch. Several years ago I was working on the The Perfect Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse, also by David L. Burge, and experienced some success with it, but I was more interested in strengthening my relative pitch, which to me is more practical, so I focused more on that instead.
Having good relative pitch is useful for not only learning songs and composing, but also for improvising and singing. Background vocalists, in particular, benefit from having good relative pitch so they can hear the lines they need to sing in the middle of the music. Whenever I record Donna Cori Gibson singing her background vocal parts it is interesting to see how she notates them. Even though she can read and write music notation, her vocal arrangements usually consist of numbers written over the lyrics. These numbers refer to the 7 scale degrees of the key. For example, in the key of C major, the notes are C D E F G A B. C is 1, D is 2 and so on. Donna sings her numbers. She is able to hear and sing the intervals from one note to another even with everything else going on in the music. This is very good relative pitch…
Shortly after I graduated from college, I started working with Mike Costanzo at his recording studio in midtown Manhattan, MPC Productions. Mike, a very talented producer, engineer and musician, is a very good friend of mine from high school, and it was great to be working with him at his studio. I learned a lot, especially about house music, which I had never heard of before working at MPC. I thought, “We are in an apartment building in the city and there was no house so why is this called house music?”
Anyway, at the beginning of one session that I was engineering, one of the faders on the mixing console did not seem to be working. I shouted to Mike who was in the office down the hall, “Hey Mike, how come there’s no signal on channel 1?” Mike immediately shouted back, “1 is 7!” Apparently, something happened to the channel earlier and Mike had to switch a wire to go to another channel to get things working on a previous session. It’s a good thing he was there to tell me this otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to figure it out. To do this day, “1 is 7” is one of those unforgettable phrases that Mike and I still use with each other. There is something really funny about it to me…
One of the reasons that I like working at commercial recording studios is that they all provide a staff assistant engineer who knows not only how to use all of the equipment, but also knows if anything is broken or if there are any “1 is 7” types of technical things going on that only someone on staff would know about. Some of the studios I’ve worked at in recent years (many have since closed or became another company) with great, very helpful assistants (and/or owners) include:
I was doing a live mix for Tom Nazziola and The BQE Project at a theater in Manhattan. BQE was performing Tom’s brilliant score to the classic film, Frankenstein. A few weeks before the event, Tom sent me the list of the equipment that the theater had and said that there will be no one there to assist me. OK, no problem. Doing a live mix is simple and involves much less equipment than recording in a studio. No problem. However, the mixer that was listed was an older Yamaha digital mixer that I never used before. I asked some engineering friends about it. One said not to worry about it and I’ll be able to figure it out and another said that I should definitely download the manual and learn about it… I didn’t have much time to read the 150+ page manual and I figured since there was no assistant, the mixer probably wasn’t too complicated.
I decided to get there really early the day of the event and I brought all of my own mics and mic cables. I remember reading Don Aslett’s book, “How To Have a 48 Hour Day” and he talked a lot about the magic of EARLY. Really good advice, especially for this day!
The first thing I did was look in the very small and very cluttered control room in the back of the theater. Wires and other things were tangled up everywhere and the digital mixing console I was concerned about on the equipment list was not there! There was a very simple, easy to use, small mixer instead. Good. Sigh of relief. But where do I plug in my mics? I looked around for awhile and eventually found an input panel on the wall to the side of the stage in a dark area. But the musicians were set up all the way on the other side. My 30′ cables were not long enough to reach the input panel so I had to go through the tangled pile of miscellaneous cables in the control room in search of more mic cables to extend the length of my mic cables. Eventually, I found enough extra cables. It’s good that I got there really early!
I got there right before the group was about to rehearse and set up my 5 mics and all the cables.
Audio Technica AT4047/SV over the drums/percussion
AKG C414B-ULS in front of the double bass
AKG C414B ULS in front of the cello
AKG C451B over the violin
AKG C451B pointing at the back of the upright piano
The guitar amp didn’t need a mic…
During the rehearsal, while testing my mics, I wasn’t getting any signal from some of them. Uh oh! Once again, good thing I got there early! Did I say that enough yet? Time to troubleshoot the problem! Whenever I do that, I start from the beginning of the signal chain. In this case, the mics. Some of the mics were definitely working, so I plugged the mics that seemed to not be working into the cables of the definitely working mics. All 5 mics were good. The next thing to check was the cables. I plugged the cables that seemed to not be working into the inputs that had cables that were definitely working. All of the cables were good. At this point, a lot of time went by and I still haven’t figured out the problem. There was no way for me to test the input panel or the wires in the wall/ceiling that went up to the control room and into the mixer. So I decided to test the mixer by plugging directly into it, bypassing the input panel. Maybe there were some bad channels. I connected a bunch of cables together making a very long cable and ran it from the stage up to the control room. I tested each channel by plugging the cable into every channel, one at a time. All of the channels on the mixer worked fine. And then, a very clear vision appeared in my mind, I saw and heard Mike Costanzo in his old office at MPC Productions from years ago. And of course, he said:
1 is 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I looked behind the mixer and noticed that the wires that were connected to the mixer had tiny, and very faded out stickers with numbers on them, numbers that were apparently corresponding with the mixer channels. I assumed that all of the wires would be plugged into the correct channels. But I was wrong! Wire 1 went to mixer channel 1. Wire 2 went to mixer channel 2. But wire 13 went to mixer channel 3 and wire 14 went to mixer channel 4… Aha! Someone switched the wires and didn’t put them back, or at least leave a note anywhere for the next person (me). Or maybe there was a note somewhere buried in the clutter everywhere. If it was there, I didn’t see it. Luckily, I figured this out. I found the wires with numbers 3 and 4. I plugged wire 3 into mixer channel 3 and wire 4 into mixer channel 4, tested the mics and everything was finally working. I was able to mix both shows that night with no problems.
Thanks Mike! I’m going to put on some house music, in my house…
More often than not, when someone calls me in a panic to save their studio in the middle of a session, the solution is simple. But sometimes problems are more complicated. If I can’t figure out what’s going on over the phone, I may need to visit their studio in person. Once I’m there I can usually figure out what happened. In some situations it may be best to call a software company’s technical support line. Below are a few solutions to typical home studio computer problems. Since I use a Mac, some of this may not apply to PCs. A lot of it will though…
Restart the computer
Simply quitting the program being used and restarting the computer solves most problems! That’s it. End of phone call. Session resumes. So if something strange is going on and you don’t know what’s wrong, try that first. It also might be a good idea to restart in safe mode. Safe mode is intended to fix most, if not all problems within an operating system. After restarting in safe mode, restart again the normal way and then see if your software is working better now.
If restarting the computer does not solve the problem, than perhaps something got corrupted… One way to find out is to delete preferences files. A corrupt preferences file can cause a program to behave erratically. It can, for example, cause crashes when the program opens or when a document needs to be saved. Deleting a preferences file can thus be used to troubleshoot an application. Over the years, “trash the preferences” has been the advice that I typically got from tech support people over the phone.
A full hard drive slows down your computer. Leave some room on it. It’s a good idea to always leave at least 10-15% free on your hard drives to avoid problems like fragmentation or even drive failure! Always monitor how much available space you have on your hard drives.
Know where you save things
It’s important to be organized and know where your stuff is. Applications go in the applications folder, documents go in the documents folder, etc. And put all files related to whatever project you are working on in the same folder. Right? I’ve seen computer desktops and external drives with loads of random files and folders everywhere. I’ve also seen some people not being mindful when saving new sessions. In a mad rush, they click OK without even looking where their file is being saved. No wonder why everything is all over the place and why there is confusion and frustration when I show up to solve the problem… Take your time and pay attention to what you are doing. Don’t hit OK or click on anything if you don’t know what’s going on. Slow down! Make sure things get saved where you want them to be saved… Perhaps now would be a good time to take a few minutes and organize your desktop. Copy files and folders to where they should be and get rid of anything you don’t need anymore. This frees up space and unclutters your life a little. Just a suggestion…
Backup your data
There is no better computer advice then this: BACKUP YOUR DATA!!!!!!!!!! Even though this is so obvious, a lot of people do not regularly backup files. You should always have at least one backup of your files. More is better. You never know what might happen. Hard drives fail. Not only do I backup EVERY project I’m working on to multiple drives, my computer also automatically backs up files for me using Time Machine. Very important!
Call Technical Support
Sometimes a computer problem is just user error. Maybe you did something by accident or you don’t understand how to do something with the software you are using. Call technical support. Below are a few websites and phone numbers for companies that have helped me solve computer related problems over the years.
“Float” is a word that’s used a lot in yoga when discussing alignment and controlled movement. Written to accompany a set of Kundalini Yoga workouts, this piece settles into a deep, dark “floating” space with drones, slow melodies, and lots of delay. Bill, one of the instructors, says this track gets him particularly “high” during meditation.
After composing all of the music for their 2005 TV series, “Guru2Go” (15 episodes on Discovery’s FitTV), I was asked to compose the music for the Spirit Trainers’ yoga DVD a year later. To create the Companion Music CD, I selected my favorite compositions from the DVD, extending a few of them, and then re-mastering all of the recordings. I was asked to make up titles for the compositions for the CD. To do this, I tried to find interesting words said by Bill Donnelly or Jeff Bader (the Spirit Trainers) during their instructions for each yoga pose that my music accompanied.
The DVD features 3 Kundalini Yoga workouts. In Set 3, “7 Chakra Workout,” one of the poses taught is “Neck Turns.” The instructions go something like this:
On an inhale, let the head gently turn to the left. and then exhale, letting it turn all the way around to the right… Let the head float on the top of the spine… Keeping the breath steady as if you are saying “No” to anything you no longer need in your life. This is a great exercise to do when we want to say “No” to our addictions; “No” to old habits that no longer serve us; “No” to any unhealthy relationships that are in our lives. As you are doing this wonderful neck stretch, say “No thank you” to the old patterns that no longer serve you.
“Float” seemed a good way to describe the music so it became the title of my composition. The music was composed to go with the video. I created it while watching the video. The style of the music is based on what I was writing for the Guru2Go shows.
It is interesting how your music really goes deep. Particularly in “Float,” the sounds seem to really engage the brain and penetrate deeply – I always get really “high” when I do the meditations where I have used this track.
For more info about the Spirit Trainers, please visit their website: Spirit Trainers
A “venus lock” is a mudra in which the fingers interlock and the hands fold. Written to accompany a set of Kundalini Yoga workouts, this piece uses synthetic sounds to create a light, compelling groove. The melodies are exotic and free-flowing, but the drum loops and non-traditional instrumentation keeps it modern and “practical.”
After composing all of the music for their 2005 TV series, “Guru2Go” (15 episodes on Discovery’s FitTV), I was asked to compose the music for the Spirit Trainers’ yoga DVD a year later. To create the Companion Music CD, I selected my favorite compositions from the DVD, extending a few of them, and then re-mastering all of the recordings. I was asked to make up titles for the compositions for the CD. To do this, I tried to find interesting words said by Bill Donnelly or Jeff Bader (the Spirit Trainers) during their instructions for each yoga pose that my music accompanied.
The DVD features 3 Kundalini Yoga workouts. In Set 2, “Strengthen and Energize,” one of the poses taught is “Half Plank Pose.” The instructions go something like this:
Bring your elbows underneath your shoulders and then interlace your fingers in Venus Lock. Come up into half plank, a great posture for strengthening the torso, the navel center… Cross your hands, curl your toes under and lift yourself up. Work to make sure your body is as straight as a plank.
Clearly, “Venus Lock” is the most interesting sounding set of words and so they became the title of my composition. The music was composed to go with the video. I created it while watching the video. The style of the music is based on what I was writing for the Guru2Go shows.
This rendition of “Songbird” is a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song, closer to the style of Eva Cassidy’s version. This version combines the piano from the original and folk genre of Cassidy’s cover. The result is a light folk rendition with intense emotional depth and a little smoothness from soft cymbals and soprano saxophone.
Keep reading for the original blog.
The tenth track on my SoundCloud Playlist is “Songbird” by Annie Karto. This song is from Annie’s CD, “Refuge” released in 2009 and was dedicated to her husband, David Karto. “Songbird” was written by Christine McVie and was featured on Fleetwood Mac‘s “Rumours” album in 1977. This song was later covered by Eva Cassidy and my arrangement for Annie is more like that version. The main accompaniment instruments on Annie’s version are classical guitar, piano and double bass. Like with much of Annie’s music, I tried to create a very light, folk-like sound. This is usually the perfect kind of background for Annie’s always sincere and spiritual vocal performance. The classical guitar was played by Peter Calo and I played the piano and double bass. John Arrucci improvised on cymbals throughout, creating a magical atmosphere. The background vocals were sung by Kati Mac. At 1:24 into the song, the music opens up with a cymbal swelling into my soprano sax solo. During this solo section, I introduced some percussion programming with modified loops from Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX and also a Spectrasonics’ Atmosphere pad. After the sax solo, the music returns to the original instruments.
Here is some technical information about the recording:
“Song for Immaculee,” was inspired by Immaculee Illibagiza and her book Left To Tell, about surviving the Rwandan genocide. The track is full of sampled African instruments and voices, and melodies informed by performances by African ensembles. The haunting music expresses sadness, but embodies an uplifting spirit.
This song is from Annie’s CD, “Refuge” released in 2009, and was inspired by the book, Left to Tell by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Illibagiza. Immaculee’s book recounts her experience during the atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for many months.
“Refuge” was the third of four CDs that I’ve produced for Annie. Around 10 or so years ago, Annie met Donna Cori Gibson at a Catholic music event, and because of my work with Donna’s music, I started producing Annie’s albums too. Since Annie lives in Florida, whenever we begin one of her CDs, there are usually a number of phone calls that involve Annie singing her new songs to me. I write down the melodies and any chords that Annie has in mind and then we discuss the instruments that might be involved in each arrangement.
For “Song For Immaculee,” Annie wanted there to be some African elements in the music because of what her song was about. Up to this point, I only had minimal experience with African music and didn’t have any authentic sounds or instruments to use, except for maybe an udu drum, so I started to research what was available. I ended up purchasing Spectrasonics’ “Heart of Africa” sample CDs, Volume 1 & Volume 2 and Native Instrument’s Kontakt sampler to play them in. “Heart of Africa” Volume 1 is described as “An unprecedented sonic expedition into the rich musical heritage of Africa… a fascinating compilation of strange & wonderful instruments, voices, and performances that evoke deep images & primitive emotions.” Volume 2 features “rare performances recorded live at a two week tribal competition in Kenya. Authentic choir and vocal shouts, chants and polyrhythmic percussion ensemble grooves from the Maasai, Kikuyu, Meru, Pokot, and Nandi peoples. A collection of powerfully primal and untamed tribal ensemble phrases and SFX…” These are amazing sounds and I’ve used them on every project I’ve worked on since!
When I first got the “Heart of Africa” CDs, I spent a few days exploring all of the different sounds in this incredible collection and began to program a track using as many African percussion sounds as I could for this song. Inspired by some of the African singing/chanting also included in the collection, I decided to incorporate some of these sounds into the end of Annie’s song to really bring the listener to Africa. There were a few that I tried to fit into my arrangement, but only one set of samples worked perfectly with the particular tempo and key I was dealing with. At 4:41 into the song, you can hear an African man singing followed by a group of people responding. I kept going with this call and response until the song faded out. To musically connect this African singing into the rest of the song, I used the melody that the African man sang in the string arrangement. Listen to the opening cello phrase in the song’s introduction. The cello is basically playing what the African man sang. This theme happens again in the violin at 1:30 and again in the cello at 2:46. Using this melody in the strings foreshadows the African vocals at the end of the song, so when they finally appear it somehow sounds like what they are singing belongs, musically. At least, that was my intention… Abe Appleman played the violin and Dave Eggar played the cello.
I also used some African ooh, oh and ahh samples in the background vocal arrangement and these were doubled by Victoria Faiella and Donna Cori Gibson. In the mix, there is more of an emphasis on the always very emotional and haunting sounding Victoria at 0:20 and 2:49. And the background vocals at 3:43 and after are mostly emphasizing stacks of Donna. Donna is great at singing multiple parts and doubling herself to create a very big sound. I recorded all of the instruments and vocals in my studio except for Donna’s parts which were recorded by Ken Fordyce at Mirror Sound in Seattle near where Donna lives. Whenever I send vocal parts to Donna to record I know that when I get the audio files, they will always be perfect…
In addition to programming the African sounds, I also played electric bass and synthesizers. To have some traditional and authentic live African percussion added to what I programmed, John Arrucci improvised parts with his Frikywa (grello bell) and Talking Drum. Peter Calo finger picked the acoustic guitars – Annie is first and foremost a folk music singer/songwriter, like a Joan Baez. The uplifting flute solo was performed by Eric Eaton.
“Tarot” is an original composition for Karen Marcello on flute, with Karen Lindquist on harp. This piece plays with phrasing, where the two instruments avoid attacking notes at the same time. Karen is a psychic, who reads the Tarot. The music attempts an exotic, mysterious and ancient Egyptian atmosphere.
“Tarot” is an original composition of mine for flute and harp, written for Karin Marcello, for her “Vision” CD, released in 2010. Karin is a flutist and composer from Long Island. As mentioned in my previous blog about “Danza de las Hachas,” all of the flute and harp music for Karin’s CD was recorded at BiCoastal Music and edited, mixed and mastered in my studio. The harp was performed by Karen Lindquist.
When we were deciding what pieces to include on the CD, Karin and I set out to create an interesting mix of music from Baroque to Contemporary for the following combinations:
flute and piano
flute and harp
flute and chamber orchestra
To balance things out, I offered to compose a contemporary piece for flute and harp, and if Karin liked it, she could include it on her CD. Obviously, she liked “Tarot” and it was not only included on her CD, but she has also performed it live numerous times since.
Before I started composing “Tarot,” to get some ideas of what I might do, I analyzed some flute/harp pieces by Alan Hovhaness. I like his music a lot, but I wasn’t able to compose anything similar that I liked, so I decided instead to try a new approach and focus on creating a very personalized piece for Karin. In addition to being a classical flutist, Karin is also a Psychic, Reiki Master, Sound Healer, and fourth generation Channeller and Medium. The use of tarot cards are an important part of her work and so I tried to create a piece around that theme, going for an exotic, mysterious and ancient Egyptian-ish kind of atmosphere.
To achieve the effect I wanted, I tried something different. I got out my soprano sax and improvised some exotic phrases while sitting cross legged like a snake charmer on the couch in my living room. I wrote down everything that I played and after a few minutes I had a lot of interesting material to work with. I entered all my saxophone phrases into Finale and starting sculpting a composition around them. While playing around with this material, I came up with a unique concept – the flute and harp not attacking a note at the same time! This became kind of a fun game and a big part of what the composition is about. At a certain point I became less strict with this approach and then, finally, at 2:54, the harp plays a simple repeating, flowing accompaniment pattern under the flute melody. This contrast acts as a welcome relief from all that came before. After a brief solo flute section, I return to the original game of the flute and harp not attacking a note at the same time again, and the piece ends.
The harp pedals are tuned as follows:
D C# Bb / E F# G A
The pedals remain that way for the entire piece except at the end when a single high Eb is required in the harp part. This harp tuning gives the piece it’s exotic flavor as does the occasional use of flutter-tonguing in the flute part.
Using this particular harp tuning, I was able to have the main “tonality” of the piece center around a G lydian b3 mode (G A Bb C# D E F#). This is the 4th mode of the D harmonic major scale (D E F# G A Bb C#). The flute plays other notes outside of this scale and this gives the harmony some motion. The D harmonic major sound happens during the repeating, flowing harp accompaniment pattern mentioned above – the harp plays D A F# A Bb A F# A twelve times in a row.
Fellow composer and close friend, Tom Nazziola once commented on the piece:
Finally checked out Tarot. I really like this one. It shows a different side of you – a little darker, more middle eastern, perhaps even Egyptian sounding. It has a very introspective feeling and the main theme (Arabic in nature) keeps rearing its head in the flute under different harmonic underbeds from the harp which also provides many interesting rhythmic variations. I like how the harp very subtly takes over the motif from the flute. The flute solo passage is also effective and allows for the harp to sound like a new color whenever it re-enters. Very nice piece!!
“Tarot” has also been performed a couple of times by the Legacy Duo – Emily Mitchell (harp) & Margaret Swinchoski (flute).
“Danza de las Hachas” is the third of four movements from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Fantasia para un gentilhombre,” a concerto for guitar and orchestra. This piece was arranged for Karen Marcello on the flute, with a twenty-piece chamber orchestra by orchestra.net in Prague, recorded in New York over video conference.
This recording was included on Karin Marcello’s “Vision” CD, released in 2010. Karin is a flutist and composer from Long Island.
“Danza de las Hachas” is the third of four movements from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Fantasia para un gentilhombre,” a concerto for guitar and orchestra. Rodrigo’s orchestration was for piccolo, flute, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, guitar and strings. Karin asked me to arrange this piece for flute and chamber orchestra for her CD. We chose orchestra.net (Prague) as the orchestra recording company. I had to choose the instruments for a 20 piece chamber orchestra that would be able to play pieces by Bach, Mozart and Chopin, in addition to Rodrigo. All of the pieces required strings – 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, and bass(es). We were using the original scores to the Mozart and Bach pieces, so, in addition to the strings, we needed 2 oboes and 2 french horns for Mozart and a harpsichord for Bach. For my new arrangements of the Chopin and Rodrigo pieces I wanted to use as many of the available musicians as possible, so I included the oboes and horns for Chopin and Rodrigo and the piano for Rodrigo. The harpsichord player played piano.
The following instruments were included in the ensemble for the recording session:
1 keyboard (harpsicord/piano)
5 1st violins
4 2nd violins
For my arrangement, the strings played basically what Rodrigo wrote for the strings, and I orchestrated the flute (Karin), oboes, horns and piano to cover what the other instruments played.
In order to prepare for our session with orchestra.net, I had to upload pdf files of the scores and parts for all the pieces, to their server. They printed everything out over there. During the recording session, I was on the phone with Steve Salani (founder of orchestra.net, in California) and also the conductor, Adam Klemens (in Prague) and was able to talk to them in between takes. I saw and heard the orchestra playing on my computer. Karin was here in my studio with me and my neighbor, Tim Ouimette, came by to check out the session as well. The next day, I downloaded the audio files from the orchestra.net server and then I edited and mixed the orchestra tracks in my studio.
At a later date, Karin and I went to BiCoastal Music, a beautiful recording studio in Ossining, NY, to add her flute parts to the orchestra tracks. Except for the orchestra, we recorded the entire CD there. One session was for flute and piano, another session was for flute and harp, and the third session was to record a few solo flute pieces and to overdub Karin’s flute parts to the orchestra tracks that were recorded in Prague. I chose BiCoastal Music primarily because of the recital hall-like acoustics of the live room, and the Steinway D piano. Around the same time we were recording there, musicians from the New York Philharmonic were also recording a chamber music CD…
Once all of the parts were recorded, I edited, mixed and mastered the album in my studio.
Batik is an eclectic jazz/world/fusion group featuring Dave Anthony, Tom Nazziola, Tim Ouimette, John Roggie and Barry Hartglass. “Vudu” features udu fills throughout the recording. This piece is an example of modal jazz, with six modes that repeat throughout, a 7/8 time signature and a very mysterious mood. “Vudu” was composed by Barry Hartglass.
As mentioned in my last blog about John Roggie’s “Lizarb,” Batik is an eclectic jazz/world/fusion group featuring Dave Anthony, Tom Nazziola, Tim Ouimette, John Roggie and myself. “Vudu” was composed by me, and is the title track on Batik’s debut CD, “Vudu” released in 2009. “Vudu” is spelled the way it is, instead of “Voodoo,” because my original intention was to feature several udu drums on the recording. This didn’t work out, but there are some featured udu fills throughout the recording.
“Vudu” was recorded live in my studio (Barry Hartglass Digital) with only a few overdubbed parts added later. Instead of drums, Dave played a bass cajon with his foot as the bass drum part and a dumbek with his hands, creating a mysterious, tribal kind of sound to the rhythm. Tom played rainstick, shaker, windchimes, finger cymbals, cymbal, congas, bongos, woodblock, and of course, udu. Tom’s distinctive use of colorful percussion sounds like these is a significant part of the Batik sound. The marimba sound is actually a sample that I played. Tom re-recorded the same part on a real marimba, and I assumed that we would use that instead, but there was something about the sound of the sample that I used that worked better on this piece. It sounded more primitive or tribal somehow. It is a rare occasion when I prefer a sample to a real instrument!
I played fretless bass on this recording and it is a featured instrument playing the first melody statement and the first improvised solo. Tim played trumpet with a harmon mute for the intro, interludes and the second melody statement. We played the melody together after the solos. John played a beautiful synthesizer pad sound from Spectrasonics Atmosphere and of course, piano throughout and for the second improvised solo.
“Vudu” was composed in 7/4 time but was actually written as 3/4 to 4/4 throughout.
“Vudu” is a modal jazz composition. The 6 modes that repeat throughout include:
G aeolian (6th mode of Bb major) – This is the main “tonality” of the piece.
A phrygian b4 (3rd mode of F harmonic major)
Bb phrygian natural 6 (2nd mode of Ab melodic minor)
Batik is an eclectic jazz/world/fusion group featuring Dave Anthony, Tom Nazziola, Tim Ouimette, John Roggie and Barry Hartglass. “Lizarb,” Brazil spelled backwards, features a few Brazilian sounds and percussion instruments with some retro funk and electronic sounds. The form is interactive, improvised, and unconventional. “Lizarb” was composed by John Roggie.
Batik is an eclectic jazz/world/fusion group featuring Dave Anthony, Tom Nazziola, Tim Ouimette, John Roggie and myself. “Lizarb,” composed by John Roggie, is the first track on our debut CD, “Vudu” released in 2009. “Lizarb,” in case you haven’t figured it out, is actually Brazil spelled backwards. “Lizarb” features a few Brazilian sounds and percussion instruments in addition to some wild retro funk, electronic sounds, highly interactive improvising and an unconventional form.
Like much of the music on John’s “PumpDigSwirl” CDs, “Lizarb” was originally created as a very slick, all electronic music track with synthesizers and samples. When the composition was presented to Batik, we all learned parts from John’s recording and it evolved from there. The bulk of the Batik recording was recorded live in my studio (Barry Hartglass Digital), and then we overdubbed more parts later.
The introduction starts with an unusual sample of some women (Brazilian?) singing. I have no idea what they are singing or what language they are singing in. Portuguese? After the singing, Dave recorded some extra percussion (2 Kanjira parts, a Fish Drum, a Berimbau, and a Cuica), at his home studio (Beat Juice Studio). The rainstick and latin percussion from there on were played by Tom and the drums were played by Dave, all part of the initial live recording.
The main “theme” that happens from around 0:38 – 1:57 features a stack of trumpets in harmony. Tim played 3 (sometimes 4) trumpets with a harmon mute and 1 loud open trumpet. I doubled the main melody with a single soprano sax part and this helped to smooth out the tone of the trumpet stack. This melody and sound combination was a new addition to John’s original concept. All of the other parts (drums, percussion, wurly, synths and bass) were based on his original track.
After a short wurly interlude that includes sounds from the introduction, there is a trippy, “out” trumpet solo with a harmon mute over a new combination of parts and sounds heard earlier. This is followed by Tom’s vocal loop and John’s wurly solo, in a new key and with sort of a samba feel. There was a wild synth solo after this that was edited out in order to shorten the recording down to just over 8 minutes.
After the wurly solo, a 5 note riff is introduced (G# B C# E# F#) which was not part of John’s original version but spontaneously added during one of our first rehearsals. This section becomes the trumpet solo. Listen carefully to the interaction of the ensemble here. This is some of Batik’s best jamming on the CD and a great example of the unique chemistry of the group.
The unusual ending is another new combination of some of the previous sounds.
“Goodnight My Hero” was born from a moody piano sketch that Victoria Faiella was drawn to. Time passed and Victoria came up with some ideas that didn’t stick. And then, tragically, unexpectedly — her father passed away. Translating loss to art, beautifully melodies and lyrics came forth, set to an emotional string arrangement.
Victoria and I have written a number of songs together over the years. At one point we decided to see if I had anything in my “pile” of unfinished compositions that might be a good starting point for a new song. I went through what I had and chose a few things to play for her on the piano over the phone. When she heard me play a certain moody piano sketch, she immediately said “I want that one!” So I recorded what I had and sent it to her to see what she could come up with. Time passed… Victoria came up with some ideas but she wasn’t that excited by any of it yet. And then, tragically, her father passed away unexpectedly. Some time after this happened, it became apparent that we would be writing our song about her father. Although it was very difficult for Victoria, beautifully melodies and lyrics came forth. We tweaked everything over the phone and I created a new piano part for the bridge. We finished the song and recorded a demo of it with piano and vocal at my studio. It was a very beautiful and emotional song and I was very proud of Victoria for allowing herself to translate her loss into art.
We re-recorded “Goodnight My Hero” for Victoria’s Wild Butterfly CD and I added a very emotional string arrangement. This may be my favorite recording on the album.
First I recorded Victoria singing with Jason Crosby accompanying her on the great Steinway D piano at Systems Two Recording Studio. We recorded all of the piano songs for the CD that day.
We came back to Systems Two on another day to record all of the songs that had string quartet, including “War Pigs.”
See the string quartet recording part of “Goodnight My Hero” on a facebook video.
Victoria Faiella’s version of War Pigs taps into middle eastern themes and instrumentations. These changes reflected the song’s lasting relevance when it was recorded in 2011, and expressed Faiella’s sorrow around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Black Sabbath intro was replaced with floating middle eastern melodies.
Keep reading for the original blog.
The third track on my SoundCloud Playlist is “War Pigs” by Victoria Faiella.
This can also be heard on YouTube:
In her feature on Limelight’s now extinct Song Clearance website, Victoria explained why we included a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on her Wild Butterfly CD:
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were weighing heavily on my heart & mind. Like so many people, I too was often debating the issues with family and friends. One morning as I was having a cup of coffee getting ready to start my day I found myself singing the timeless Black Sabbath song War Pigs. I was profoundly struck and saddened by how relevant the lyrics still are to this day… so many years later. I knew that I wanted to include one cover on the newest CD that I was getting ready to record and believed it was going to be a top contender. After discussing the option of covering the song with my producer Barry Hartglass we knew we wanted to somehow reinvent it and modernize it in a way that reflected the timeliness of the lyrics and still fit in cohesively with the rest of the material on the CD. The end result is a Middle-eastern styled version of the song, stripped down to voice, a string quartet, fiddle, world percussion and some Middle-eastern instruments – the Persian Santur, Duduk & Zourna being most noteworthy. Changing the original line, “In the fields are bodies burning” to “In the desert bodies burning” further drives home the point and undoubtedly refers to our modern day world issues.
The idea of “Middle-eastern styled arrangement with string quartet” was definitely a unique concept and to me this justified the creation of yet another version of this song, as several remakes have already been recorded.
The first thing I did was transcribe all of the parts from the original Black Sabbath version and then considered what sections and parts would be used and how I would transform them to work with our concept.
I decided not to use Black Sabbath’s intro and created a new intro instead. I took the guitar riff from 5:44 on Black Sabbath’s version and had a Persian Santur sound play that part. I looped it in the intro for 16 measures. The Persian Santur samples I used in my Kontakt sampler were created by Precisionsound. Also, for the intro, I found and modified a couple of cool drum and percussion loops from Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX and elsewhere. And there are some Gong sound effects too… Originally there was a dumbek loop in there too, and this was ultimately replaced when Dave Anthony recorded all of the live percussion later.
I copied the form from Black Sabbath’s version from 0:52 – 4:19 and programmed some temporary drums. During the solo section, I added a sitar drone from the virtual instrument, East West Quantum Leap Ra. Instead of using Black Sabbath’s sections from 5:44 on, I used my intro sounds again for the ending. At this point, the form for my arrangement was mapped out.
I recorded Jason Crosby doing his fiddle solos in my studio while he was also here for organ overdubs on some of the other songs for the CD. If you look at the first page of the fiddle chart that I created, you’ll see that we originally only intended to have fiddle in the intro (and the ending) and in the solo section. For the solo section, I transcribed the first part and the end of the Black Sabbath electric guitar solo, and so Jason played those notes. but he improvised his own thing in between. For the last measure of his solo I wrote “go wild” and he did! For his improvising throughout, you may notice that in the chart it says E Phrygian #3. What is that? An E Phrygian mode is the third mode of a C Major scale. In other words, if you played a C Major scale (CDEFGAB) but started from the third note (E) it is called E Phrygian: EFGABCD. E Phrygian #3, however, is EFG#ABCD. G became G#. Any melody you improvise with this particular scale will sound middle-eastern.
Anyway, once we heard how great Jason sounded on this song, we thought that he should also play in between the verses too where there would eventually be the string quartet. But I didn’t have anything for him to play along with yet in those sections except some percussion. But this was not a problem for Jason as he is an exceptional talent. Clearly a virtuoso musician. He played brilliant solos without any pitch reference. I played a few chords on the piano against his recorded solos to see how he did and everything he played was perfectly in tune and always the right notes. Amazing!
The next thing to do was for me to arrange the string quartet parts. We knew we were going to do a lot with a string quartet on this CD. A traditional string quartet consists of a first violin, a second violin, a viola and a cello. But because I arranged Victoria’s song “Atala” years ago with a quartet consisting of violin, viola, cello and bass, and wanted to re-record “Atala” and also “Atala-cize” several of her songs with this specific ensemble, that was going to be the string quartet for the album. And it worked out especially well having the bass in the quartet for “War Pigs” instead of a second violin. During and in between the vocal sections, the strings are basically playing the Black Sabbath guitar and bass parts with some additonal harmonies added. In the intro, the strings are playing new lines that I created, using the Phrygian #3 mode of course, and also a phrase from the solo section. They are intentionally sliding from note to note which, to me, gives their part sort of a Hebraic or Arabic flavor. Versatile, contemporary musicians were required for this CD! Not only was it was important that the string players play in a beautiful classical style for some of the songs, but they also needed to convincingly rock out on “War Pigs.”
A perfect ensemble was assembled:
Antoine Silverman – Violin
Jonathan Dinklage – Viola
Dave Eggar – Cello
Gregg August – Double Bass
To further exaggerate the Middle-east sound, I added a duduk and a zourna part. Both sounds are from the virtual instrument, East West Quantum Leap Ra. The duduk plays for the first time at 0:43 right after the intro and before Victoria first starts singing. The zourna plays for the first time at 1:58 right before Victoria sings about “Politicians.” You may not realize this, but the zourna part I played is actually taken from Black Sabbath’s electric guitar theme (in the E Aeolian mode) towards the end of their recording. Specifically, at 6:35. E Aeolian is the sixth mode of G Major. In other words, if you played a G Major scale (GABCDEF#) but started from the sixth note (E) it is called E Aeolian: EF#GABCD. I took their E Aeolian theme and converted it to E Phrygian #3 to go with the Middle-eastern vibe established throughout. Every F# became F and every G became G#.
It was time for live drums and percussion. Dave Anthony came to my studio and I recorded him playing drums.
Victoria choked the crash cymbal hits to make it easier for Dave concentrate on the hi hats!
Dave also played a lot of world percussion instruments – dumbek (replacing my loop), djembes, tabla, bayan, riq and frame drum (while Victoria played Indian bells).
The goal of “In Mary’s Arms” was to put the listener at the “foot of the cross” in Jerusalem, in a cinematic style. This piece features solo duduk (a double reed instrument from Armenia, and in this case, a virtual one), and strings by the FAMES orchestra in Macedonia, recorded remotely through a video conference.
“In Mary’s Arms” is from Donna’s CD, The Way of the Cross. In my blog about her song “She Was There,” I presented some background information and details about the CD. “In Mary’s Arms” is about the thirteenth station, where Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross. This may be Donna’s most moving song ever.
The instruments in the final arrangement include:
Synthesizer Drone & Wind
String Orchestra (12 First Violins, 10 Second Violins, 8 Violas, 6 Cellos, 4 Basses)
The first minute of the recording functions as kind of a dramatic prelude to the song, setting the scene. The goal was to put the listener at the “foot of the cross” in Jerusalem. The music I created here sounds like movie music.
The low synthesizer drone is simply one note sustaining and was created using 2 sounds from Spectrasonic’s Atmosphere. If you listen you will also hear some wind sound effects.
The exotic solo instrument featured in the opening prelude playing over the drone is a double reed instrument from Armenia called a duduk:
The sound of the duduk, if not the instrument itself, has become known to a large audience through its use in popular film soundtracks. Starting with Peter Gabriel‘s score for Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ, the duduk’s archaic and mournful sound has been employed in a variety of genres to depict such moods.
The duduk sound I used is from a wonderful collection of world and ethnic sounds included in the virtual instrument, East West Quantum Leap Ra.
As the drone fades out, the basses from the orchestra fade in. At this point when the strings start, we are now hearing the introduction to the actual song. The introduction features some musical phrases from Donna’s song. Like on Andrea Bocelli’s song “Time to Say Goodbye,” there are pizzicato (plucked) strings on the chorus. I used counterpoint and harmonic tension in the strings throughout to enhance the drama… The FAMES orchestra did a beautiful job performing this arrangement.
The cymbal swells that help transition the sections were performed by Dave Anthony and were recorded in my studio while he was here doing drum tracks on 3 other songs for the CD.
“She Was There,” about Jesus meeting his mother, features a forty-piece string section played by FAMES in Macedonia, and recorded over video conference. This piece was built around a one-man “percussion ensemble” to keep things organic before programming drums. Donna Cori Gibson arranged and sang all of her own vocal parts.
I met Donna at the University of Miami School of Music my first semester there. Ever since then, we have created a lot of music together. I must have worked on more songs for Donna than for anyone else! She is one of the most talented singers and songwriters I’ve ever met. You can read her story here: About Donna.
Over the years, I’ve produced a lot of religious (Jewish, Christian, etc.) and spiritual music. It doesn’t matter whether or not I am a follower of the particular artist’s belief system or not, but it does matter that I understand what they are trying to say so I can help them to say it with the most meaning and impact. This is always my goal.
Donna’s most recent CD, The Way of the Cross, is a very EMOTIONAL collection of Catholic songs. There is a song for each Station of the Cross. The song “She Was There” is about the fourth station, when Jesus meets his mother – extremely heart-rending, poignant stuff!
The instruments in the final arrangement include:
Drums & Percussion
String Orchestra (12 First Violins, 10 Second Violins, 8 Violas, 6 Cellos, 4 Basses)
Donna arranged and sang all of the background vocals.
When I initially started work on this song, I was under the assumption that the music was supposed to sound like a more modern version of what we did a few years earlier on the Prayers of the Great Saints CD. I created a rough track for Donna to sing to, as she was flying to NY to sing the first few songs at my studio. I programmed a basic music track using Digital Performer software with a temporary electric piano sound, a fretless bass sound, a synthesizer pad and some slick drums and percussion loops from Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX program. Donna asked me to turn off the drums and then she sang her lead and background vocals. She wanted me to create a more organic and acoustic sounding track around her vocals. This CD was going to be different than Prayers of the Great Saints!
The first thing I did to create a more organic sound, was record loops of myself playing most of the percussion instruments I had here: Bell, Cymbal, Dumbek, Egg, Frame Drum, Mini Bongos, Triangle, Udu & Wind Chimes. For awhile, this “percussion ensemble” functioned as the “drums” as I created other parts. These percussion instruments are still in the final version, and if you listen carefully you may be able to hear some of them. If I turned off the percussion, you would miss it’s contribution to the feel and sound of the final drums. Much later on in the process, I ended up programming an actual “drum set” track using Toontrack’s EZdrummer program. For 3 songs on the CD, we replaced my drum programming with Dave Anthony playing live drums, but on this song and a few others, Donna decided that my drum programming was what she wanted. This was the first CD that I used EZdrummer on. I like this program a lot. It comes with useful sounds, beats and fills performed by great drummers, and everything can easily be assembled and customized for each song. The sounds of the drums and the amount of room sound can be adjusted as well.
I was able to keep some of my original synthesizer pad part that I recorded using a sound from Spectrasonic’s Atmosphere. It is very subtle but you might be able to hear it when it comes in after the first chorus. I usually record a synth pad early on in the arrangement process so that there is something playing chords all the way through the song. This is useful if I need to play instruments that might potentially sound out of tune, like bass or guitar, without me playing to a pitch reference. In the end, sometimes I keep the pad in, and sometimes I don’t. Here’s a good definition of a synth pad from Wikipedia:
A synth pad is a sustained chord or tone generated by a synthesizer, often employed for background harmony and atmosphere in much the same fashion that a string section is often used in acoustic music. Typically, a synth pad plays many whole or half notes, sometimes holding the same note while a lead voice sings or plays an entire musical phrase.
The piano on this song is a featured instrument. I played the part using the Steinway D piano from East West Quantum Leap Pianos. Since selling my 5’8″ Yamaha G2 grand piano, I’ve been doing piano parts in my studio with this software and it’s been working out for me. I chose these sounds after doing extensive “research.” I like having the sound of a 9′ Steinway D concert piano. I can hear the length of the long bass strings and I never had that with my 5’8″ piano, although I did love that piano! Also, since I’m now programming my piano parts, I am able to change the part easily at different stages of the arranging process. I don’t need to set up mics anymore or have the piano tuner come over every time I need to make a change to a part. However, sometimes a real piano is required and there are some great pianos that I’ve recorded at various commercial studios throughout the tri-state area.
Staying with my original concept, I chose to play fretless bass on this song. When I want the bass to be more nondescript, rock or funk sounding, I’ll use my fretted electric bass. But sometimes I want the bass to have more of a lyrical voice with personality and this is when I reach for the fretless, like on this song. You can hear me sliding around the neck and playing somewhat noticeable fills throughout.
On some of Donna’s past CDs, I’ve created orchestral arrangements and programmed the parts with sounds from Peter Siedlaczek’s Advanced Orchestra. There was a lot of this on A Traditional Christmas. Since then, I’ve also been using orchestral sounds from Vienna Symphonic Library and East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra. Some people may not be able to tell the difference between these sounds, if programmed well, and a real orchestra. Regardless, for the highly emotional and dramatic requirements of the music on this CD, I knew that at the very least, the strings needed to be performed by live musicians, and lots of them! I’m so pleased that this was able to happen on this project as it really made a big difference. Some of the songs featured a string quartet and others like this one featured a 40 piece string orchestra. We decided to hire FAMES from Macedonia to perform and record the strings. After writing the arrangements, using pencil and paper, I programmed my orchestra sounds as best as I could so that Donna could hear what it was going to sound like. Once she signed off on all of my arrangements, I meticulously entered every note from my hand written scores into the computer using Finale music notation software. After proofreading everything several times, I created pdf files of all the scores and parts and uploaded them to FAMES’ server along with Pro Tools files containing stereo music and vocal tracks and a click track, for the orchestra to play along to. On the day of the orchestra session, which was a week after the string quartet session, they recorded the string arrangement for “She Was There.” I was able to hear and see the orchestra and talk with Oleg, the conductor, and Laurent, the manager, all through my computer. Amazing! FAMES did a beautiful job playing this music. The next day I downloaded the Pro Tools files from FAMES and then I edited and mixed the live string tracks, replacing the programmed string sounds. The human element completely created a whole other level of emotion and feeling that was not there before! The impact of Donna’s message started coming to life in a big way.
Originally, my arrangement was scored for solo violin with the orchestra. At the string quartet session a week before the orchestra session, Oleg recorded the solo violin part to this song. It was beautiful, but after some time passed we decided to try a viola instead to see if it might fit the song even better. When Abe Appleman came over to record some violin and viola parts for the CD, he recorded the same violin solo for “She Was There” but with his viola. The darker sound of the viola was richer and more sorrowful and so we went with that instead.
All of Donna’s vocals were recorded in my studio. We chose to use record all of the vocals with an Audio-Technica AT4047/SV microphone. As always, Donna beautifully arranged and sang all of the background vocal parts.
Very often, people ask me a lot of questions about my work as a Producer, Composer, Arranger, Engineer and Musician. How do you do this? How do you do that? Questions come up about:
music theory & composition
audio engineering (tracking & mixing)
using various music software programs
recording in commercial studios
hiring overseas orchestras
My goal in this blog is to provide some interesting, informative and useful content that will answer many questions and also present new concepts, techniques and solutions. On this site I will be sharing creative as well as technical information.
To start, I’ll be talking in detail about the 12 recordings on my SoundCloud Playlist. These are selected recordings from 6 CD projects I produced in the last 5 years. This playlist features many different styles of music so there is a lot to talk about!