Expanding The Landscape of TSM


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I have been a bit lax the past week or 2 in my blog posting responsibilities, but I have not been sitting on the couch binge watching Netflix. What I have been doing is getting ready for a 5-Song EP challenge for the month of May, which started 2 days ago. I have also been thinking about TSM and where to go with it, especially seeing as my original motivation was focused on live performance, gear, and how to leverage technology to make live performance easier and better. That has not changed, but what has is that my focus is not just on the live aspects of music performance now. My musical landscape has been changing—expanding, really, and leans more toward the studio and songwriting, recording and production. This really is the starting point for a lot of us. In fact, the lines between studio and live have been blurred, if not all-out erased in some cases. The technology used in the studio today is also used live.

Technology is also bringing the stage to the living room and to a streaming audience. This alone is a deep pool of discussion topics. The environment we live in is drastically different than it was 10 years ago, even 5 years back! As things have changed, I am learning and re-learning what I need to know to make and perform music in today’s world. The fact is that I have not worked on a studio project for about 20 years. That has changed as I have been re-assembling my studio and am starting work on an EP, along with a couple of other recording projects that I am working on. So, I am going to fire up the video camera and start capturing the processes and tools that I use as I work through this project. You will have the opportunity to follow along with me as I go and as I learn all over again.

This will be a fairly rough process that I hope will be of some sort of value to you as I learn—even better, we learn together! It will be a bit messy as I dive into new gear and software, as well as dusting off my vocal and guitar chops (I have not sung lead vox in many years, like 25 long years…) I figure that I am going through this process either way, I might as well capture it and share what I am doing and what I learn. There is no magic plan, just a direction, tossing the proverbial map aside and pulling out the compass as this is all about the journey, not a final destination.

I hope you will find this useful, and if there is anything that you are looking for and that isn’t covered, just drop me a note in the comments below.

Balance


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As musicians, engineers, producers, songwriters—for all of us, it is so easy to geek out on gear. I love gear, and it has been a long time since I have purchased anything significant aside from the occasional plugin (until today, but I will share that in a future post Smile ) The thing about gear is that it’s all shiny, and like my dog, I tend to chase after the next shiny thing that I find. I love diving into gear and figuring out what it can do and what it can’t, and even more importantly how I could use it. The problem is that I chase that shiny thing down a deep rabbit hole, and before I know it I’ve spent all my time focusing on gear when I could have been spending it actually making music. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need to do that. But, if you’re like me, limits need to be put into place.

I also have a tendency to look for just the right app, or combination of apps, to help me be more efficient in the music creation process. But what I have figured out over the years is that there are some things that technology just can’t replace. One of those things for me is my Moleskine notebook and a pen. Over the past couple of days, I have had 3 tunes finally settle in and form in my head out of a ton of different ideas around riffs, melodies, progressions, etc. It is in these moments when an idea comes to me that I need to just get it down and out of my head so it doesn’t get lost. With actual pen and paper, I don’t have to worry about a computer or device crashing, being out of memory or waiting for the thing to boot or the app to start—I just open it up and write. I have been carrying that notebook around with me for the past few days, opening it up, scribbling and editing my ideas as they form into songs with arrangement and structure.

My point is this: find the simplest tool you can to get the job done, then build out from there. A healthy balance of technology and organic tooling (i.e. pen and paper) has allowed me to get more done faster. Technology is awesome, but it can easily distract and take away from the focus of actually making music. A set sheet scribbled down with a Sharpie on a piece of paper can’t crash (unless someone spills their beer on it—even then you can probably still read it) during a gig, and that is arguably one of the most important tools when playing a live set.

As I mentioned above, I just made my first pretty significant purchase in quite some time as I start rebuilding my studio. This piece of tech along with all the other gear are great, and necessary to get things done, but it’s not about the toys—without my notebook and pen, I would not have the type of material to record. It all starts there—from the head, through the pen and onto the paper. Technology is incredible, but there are some things that are timeless and cannot be replaced.

What types of “organic” gear do you rely on in your process? Share in the comments below!

Collaboration Tools


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Chances are if you are someone who is involved with music in any way—a musician, producer, songwriter, engineer—that you are not flying solo 100%. Collaborating, communicating and just keeping things straight can get to be a challenge pretty quick. There are a few tools that I have found to be very useful in collaborating with others, whether they are in town or another part of the world. But it’s not just the tools, but it’s how you use them and getting everyone involved to use them too. The fact is that these are just tools used as part of a process. If the people you are collaborating with do not use the tools, then the usefulness of those tools decreases.

For me and the people I work with, I set up Dropbox to share media files such as MP3’s, DAW files and any images or artwork, Evernote to share lyrics, charts, notes, set sheets, documentation, etc. and Facebook Messenger for conversation. There is nothing magical about these tools in particular, just that they are ones that I use and have found to be invaluable in our workflow. Dropbox, in particular, allows us to collaborate on recording projects, which is our primary focus, while we live spread out between here and Nova Scotia. I can drop a mix into Dropbox for our Canadian bassist and get his bass track back in as much time as it takes him to lay the track down—a thousand miles away!

For text-based files I use Evernote. I use this tool extensively in all areas of my life, including collaborating with the guys. This allows us to craft song lyrics and charts and then share them instantly. Evernote is available on just about every desktop and mobile platform out there, and we all have smartphones which we do most of our interaction with, except for working with DAW files. Both Dropbox and Evernote have sharing capabilities that allow me to share a Dropbox folder or Evernote notebook with the guys. Any time a file or document gets updated, we are notified of the change.

We use Facebook Messenger for messaging, mainly because it seems to flow better and has a better group conversation experience than simple text messaging, especially with a mixture of platforms. Again, there is nothing necessarily magical or irreplaceable about any one of these tools—there are plenty of competing apps out there that do the same basic things. The important thing is that there are tools available, and all of the ones I have described are freely available even though I do pay for additional Dropbox storage, and Evernote Premium for features that I don’t necessarily use in music collaboration.

This is truly the greatest time to be alive as a musician as technology has not simply leveled the playing field and torn down barriers to the average musician, but has introduced so many great apps and platforms that allow us to do what even the “big guys” couldn’t do 20 years ago. There are so many other tools out there that can be used to make our musical lives easier and help reduce the amount of time we spend mucking around with things just to be able to make music, instead of actually making music, which is what it is all about.

What tools are you using to make your musical lives easier, better and more productive? Just drop a line below in the comments and share what is in your toolbox!