Monday, May 22, 2017

Rendering issues.

I thought I have completed two new cover songs but for some reason the drum loops are going completely out of sync when I render them into a stereo track.

Recording Screen Shot
What's rendering you ask?  Is it applying plaster to a wall?  Is it yielding?  Is it making something appear three dimensional?  I am actually a little curios to see what happens with the SEO for this post.  Maybe someone interesting in the art of plastering will find their way here?

In this case, rendering is part of the recording process.  In a digital format, each instrument is given a separate track (see the photo of the Recording Screen Shot).  I mix and master the tracks so they sound good.  Once that is done the tracks are "rendered from the multiple digital tracks down to one stereo track, suitable for videos, cd's, mp3's.

Drums have been a long-time challenge for me.  A drum kit is loud and hard to mic.  I find drum machines give my songs that "home made" sound.  Even if it is home made, it doesn't have to sound that way.  In 2004 I ditched the drum machines for a set of V-Drums and they were a huge improvement.  I'm not a very good drummer so my beats were pretty basic.  The other problem was that it took me a long time to record really basic drums.

Enter drum loops: Professionally recorded drums by professional drummers.  I bought several gigs of loops for very few dollars.  Drag and drop a few loops into a song, set the  tempo to match and boom!  I have drums better than my wildest dreams.  The first time I tried them they were awesome and took a mere 30 minutes.  See my cover of Possum Dixon's 'In Buildings' in the video below:

This weekend I finished a video for my next cover song, rendered the audio an...the drums were out of sync.  Confused, I listened to the non-rendered recording.  Sounds good so I rendered it again.  The drums start in sync but then it go from a 124 tempo to a 125 tempo when the verse breaks into the chorus.  Three hours later, I stripped all the loop tracks and re-did them from scratch.  Everything sounds good, render the project and they are out of sync.  

Problem solving time.  "Is there something I am doing wrong or did I embed something into the digital time code that's sending it out of whack or other?"  Luckily, I have that second tune ready to go.  Drum loops all line up, render it down and... they go out of sync about 25 seconds in.  Okay, I have my answer.  It's not an embedded time code.  Now what? 

Fast forward another two hours and this Scooby Doo mystery is still unsolved.  My latest guess is that the loops are playing through media explorer and something in that isn't staying in sync when I render the track.  I thought I could just convert the loops to wav tracks and drag and drop them into an audio track.  This won't work because they are at 125 beats per minute (BPM) and my track is 124 BPM.  Try stretching them to fit.  Doesn't sound right.  I'll eventually figure this out but the V-Drums sitting in a Tupperware bin may again see the light of day soon.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Show Notes: Being heckled at the Houston Pizza Lounge March 26, 2017

I just played a gig where I was heckled by a really drunk patron.

The local Houston Pizza lounge had booked Sean Hogan in to play an acoustic day show.  He had an evening gig at another club that night so they were looking for a few locals to round out the day.  I hadn't been there for an afternoon gig before so wasn't sure what the set-up was, what kind of songs to play and what kind of music the crowd was into.  In the days prior to the gig, I was completely stressed out about playing there.

My stress amplified after seeing my name on a Facebook feed about rumored guests for the day.  The other guests, they were a little, okay let's be truthful, quite a bit more polished than myself.  They also all happened to play Country Western.  I ran through a bunch of songs but couldn't land on anything that would fit in.  Ultimately, I decided that I would go as a spectator and the guitar stayed home.

The lounge was about 3/4 full so my wife and I grabbed chairs at the bar and ordered drinks.  The crowd, for the most part, was plastered.  We watched a couple of locals play a few tunes and then without warning, I heard my name called.  I guess when I said "I might play" and showed up, they figured I was going to play.  I politely declined but then the liquored up crowd started chanting "Greg, Greg, Greg..." so what the hell, I'm no wilting flower.  I borrowed a guitar and hit the stage.

Without having anything in my catalog that fit in to the Lounge's vibe I just shrugged and opened with my song, 'Devil Woman.'  I was introducing the song by telling a story about how I wrote this song and this really drunk guy in the front right out front yells at me, "I know where your going with this, I fuckin' seen you before you know!"  Obviously a big fan so I smiled and nodded at the guy and continued with my story.  Not a man of patience, he yelled at me again "Hey!  Just play the fuckin' song!"  The crowd agreed with him so I did.  I skipped most of the banter for my second song and rolled on through.  My number one fan gave me a thumbs up and staggered outside making a smoking gesture, or was it a 'fuck you?'  No matter. Overall the crowd was really noisy and inattentive but there were four people who listened intently so I mostly played to them.

Perhaps this is karma since I had been here before, albeit I was the plastered heckler.  Twenty plus years ago this Pizza lounge was a Country Rock bar called "The Changing Winds."  Me and my little asshole buddy (who will go unnamed) wandered in, three sheets to the wind you may say.  The bar was pretty much empty so we staggered to the front row where we proceeded to mercilessly yell "Black Flag!" at the very-not-Black Flag band on stage.  Plus we clapped along out of time trying to throw them off.

Fast forward in time and its fitting that a country rock crowd were able to heckle a lo-fi alternative post punk acoustic singer-storyteller act years later.

After my two song set the crowd gave me a decent applause.  Sean Hogan met me off stage and said "you did alright, a little shy on stage but alright."  I thanked him for letting me use his guitar and tied back into a few beers.  My wife said that I was all guitar and she really couldn't hear my vocals so this may have been the rationale for the shy comment.  The vocal / guitar mix was really good in the monitors and all the other acts sounded fine when they played so I'm not really sure what happened.

Overall, this was a lot of fun.  This gig was way out of my element and it was like walking on a high wire.  Actually, the whole event had a circus like feel to it.  The heckler was fun, the shit faced crowd was fun, and playing in a small room where I was really close to the crowd was scary and fun.  I think I also paid back a debt.  I hope that in some distant place, the lead singer from that Country Rock band smiled.  He was not sure why he felt so satisfied but deep inside he felt that the Universe righted a long forgotten wrong.

I'll give myself a 2 out of 5 stars, mostly for getting up there when I was completely unprepared.  I blew too many chords, improvised several lyrics and the song selection was definitely not right for the crowd.  I did get an invite for the May sessions so I must have been okay.  Or they want to give it to me again...


1. Devil Woman (Original)
2. It's a Shame About Ray (Lemonheads)

Audience: Estimated 25 persons

Friday, February 17, 2017

Show Notes: Feb 09 / 2017

I haven't played live for awhile.  Work, kids and other events / commitments tend to take a priority over my failed music career.
I'm not sure what got into me but 30 minutes prior to an open mic I decided I was going to play and packed my gear.  My wife and I dropped my daughter and her friends off at their youth group and headed down town.  I was booked in to play play at 8:30.
The sets were running behind so I asked the host if I could switch a couple of time slots so my wife would be able to see me play since the youth group pick-up was 9:00 p.m.  The other performers were kind enough to oblige.  With the switch, I was up at 8:45 and headed to the green room to get ready.

Usually I do a a fair amount of pre-planning two weeks before playing.  This includes picking the songs I`m going to play, making sure that songs in same key do not follow each other, mix up the tempo and decide on a good opener and closer (as well as an encore set for bigger gigs), rehearse them and write out a set-list.  I also like to make a high level plan regarding my stage banter.  I've evolved into a singer - storyteller and I like to talk a little bit about the songs I'm playing.  If they are a cover, what they mean to me or how I discovered them.  If it's an original, the story behind them.   If I do not have a plan I tend to ramble on, kind of like I`m doing now.
With 5 minutes to spare, I picked three songs, tuned my guitar and completed my warm-up routine.  When I heard my name I grabbed my cheat sheets, a bottle of water and headed out to the stage.

Photo: I took a photo of Matthew Liebenberg's photo
 that was published in The Prairie Post

1. It's a Shame About Ray (Lemonheads)
2. 52 Stations (Robyn Hitchcock)
3. Devil Woman (original)

Audience: Estimated 50-60 persons

For 'It's a Shame About Ray' I told a long story about when I met Yann Martel and he made fun of my shirt (true story) but then I veered off into a few more imaginary encounters with Yann that I made up on the spot.  The story made no sense to the song and I really went on far too long.  I then blew the opening lead riff and went way off key when I sang the first chorus.  After that the song went pretty smooth.

I did not learn anything from my bad banter on the previous song and found that it can actually get worse.  I started out alright by thanking the other bands for switching with me.  Would have been a good place to stop but then I added in the the un-rock and roll evening my wife and I were having arranging my set time around my kids youth group then went into a long story about a time I played here with my former band and managed to even drop the f-bomb while meandering on about nothing.  The worst part was I knew I was going on and on and I just couldn't seem to stop.  I had no idea how to turn this sinking ship around so I launched straight into Robyn Hitchcock's '52 Stations.'

For my third and final song I stopped the banter bleeding and simply introduced 'Devil Woman' as "this is a song I wrote."  I then noticed that I brought out the cheat sheet for a different song.  There is no turning back after a song's introduced so I played it through and made up any lyrics I couldn't remember.  I improvised the guitar licks at the end, said a quick "thank-you" and booked it off the stage.  My wife left to get the kids but I stayed to watch the other acts and chatted with a few musicians.

When I watched the video later that evening the banter was awful but I was relieved that I played way better than I thought I did.  I covered well on a few chords that I blew.   No one knows the words to 'Devil Woman' so it wasn't obvious that I made up 20% of the lines and they still rhymed.  The lead guitar lines I improvised were pretty devilish as well I must say.  It wasn't a great show but it wasn't horrible.  I would say it was "okay" and playing an okay gig is way better than not playing a gig at all.  I'll give myself a 2.5 out of 5 star rating on this.