Drought Breaker video shoot

Yesterday was an exciting Silverbeetle milestone day for me. We shot my first music video for my first song ‘Drought Breaker’!

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and had a basic look and feel in mind and no budget 😉 So this was always going to be a DIY project. I’ve got a nice DSLR camera with a nice prime lense which gets some great results, I just need to be creative with one camera and multiple takes to build a ‘multi-camera’ looking video.

I’d have been happy to film myself but framing myself in the lense is very hard trial and error work. I’ve noted a friend of mine in the local area who is always posting beautiful photos of the Yarra Valley. He’s obviously got a good eye so I reached out to him to see if he’d mind assisting me  do the shoot.

Luckily he was keen, and even suggested a shooting location. On top of that he arranged permission to do the shoot AND brought in a videographer friend of his who happened to be doing a shoot that day in the same location. Talk about fate… and a bit of good luck 😉

So this meant it was game on time, I had less than a week to prepare. We moved into our new house at the end of 2015 which meant I’ve not had any real time to play guitar for a good six months or so with all of the duties required to set up a new home. I immediately started getting my fingers moving again and practicing the song. As my guitar is the vocal instrument I really need to nail the miming to the studio take so I matched the performance spot on take after take.

And then there’s the issue of performing and looking good on camera. I’ve not performed live in MANY years so I set up a tripod and recorded myself performing the song. This was a great help to review my performance, see what was lacking and see what looked dumb. I then took the next step and did the same thing but in front of my wife. I asked her to yell out feedback as I went and I got some good tips.  She noted my feet were stuck in the one place and I need to look up more and in general just move.

I did one more round of rehearsal the following night but that was it, I had no more time before the Sunday shoot so I just kept reviewing the videos and making mental notes when possible.

While on my daily commute I surfed YouTube, checking out different music videos for inspiration. I took notes and screen grabs so I could show the guys who were doing the filming so they could see what I had in my mind. It didn’t take long for me to have a lot of notes and ideas down which was great. After a while I thought I should check how long we’re going to have to actually do the shoot. The answer was one hour. Not long at all for a music video but since there’s only one person in the video and the song is 3-4 minutes long we should be able to pull it off… in theory.

I began to think what could I do to streamline the shoot, what shots do I really need. I wanted the song to build and the verses would have a little bit different look to the choruses. So it made sense to shoot Verse 1, 2 and 3 (which is the solo section) in a row, then shoot the three choruses followed by the breakdown section.

Rather than mess around with the iPod on the shoot I thought it’d be a good idea to output the takes in order so we can just let it play and bang out each take. From rehearsing I noticed I needed a few takes to really warm up into the performance so I set up a file with Verse 1 – take 1 then 2 and 3, Verse 2 – take 1 then 2 and 3, Verse 3 – take 1 then 2 and 3. Each had a vocal cue with a short gap then a 2 bar click count in. The gap in between allowed time for the guys to make any adjustments before launching into the next take.

The process worked really well on the day! I gave the guys my thoughts and showed the pictures but said just do what looks good. I also told them not to be afraid of going out of focus etc, in editing this can add some interesting effects. I was surprised how out of focus some music videos are. They did some filming for another project before our shoot so I walked around the premises to find the locations I wanted to shoot and also took some time to shot some random shots of trees, the sky, the road etc that can be used as b-roll in the video. There two sections in the song where I’m not playing so I needed to make sure I had something to put in during these sections.

We set up my camera on a tripod and then we had two hand held cameras going. So three cameras, three takes per section… we have nine cameras now to choose from for editing! All of this in an hour!

We didn’t quite get the warm sunny glow I was hoping for (but it is winter here after all) but the overcast weather worked well for the shoot – if it gets too bright things can blow out a bit. We didn’t use any other lighting or reflectors or anything, just good ol’ mother nature’s light. After doing a quick review of the clips later that night I was very happy with the footage we got. The boys got excited during filming and really moved around getting lots of interesting angles. I’m sure I can piece together something pretty cool!

One step closer… the mix is done!

The past couple of days have been very exciting and a huge milestone for me. I got the mix for my debut song ‘Drought Breaker’ back from the studio in New York!

I literally broke out into a sweat when I sat down to have my first listen. This song is the culmination of 8 years (very part time) research and work to create a professional song at home. To finally hand it over to someone else and say it’s finished is a huge thing to do but I must say all the hard work and patience has paid off. I’m so happy with this mix! I only had a couple minor tweak requests to get it to exactly where I wanted it.

To add to the great feeling of accomplishment Roman who mixed the song posted this compliment on Facebook:

Roman Klun comment on Facebook: Felt like I was mixing Joe Satriani... awesome track!
Roman Klun comment on Facebook

Now I need to seriously plan how to release this song!! The song still needs to be mastered and I will make a video (or two) for it too. I need to make some time to finish my website as well as work out how to actually release the song too!

My initial research suggest I need to join APRA AMCOS in Australia to manage the rights (royalties). I’ll most likely release my song through CD Baby. I like that there’s no annual charge – just a onetime fee per song (or album).

If anyone out there has tips or advice I’m all ears! Please leave a comment below.

Make sure you’ve joined my mailing list so I can let you know when a release date has been locked in 🙂

Song number two

Now that my first song has been sent off to mix I can FINALLY move onto the next song.

That song is called ‘Big Boots’. It’s a big stomping fun instrumental rock guitar song. The drums were recorded earlier this year by John O’Reilly Jr at Boom Crash Drums. Bass has also been completed by my buddy Nick Diiorio  from Crazy Town.

All the main melodies are written and are sounding great. I improvised the ‘solo section’ and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got there. Yesterday I started transcribing the solo and re-writing anything that I think can be improved. I love that the solo is based on my improvisation, there’s an excitement and edge that I don’t think can be replicated in a 100% composed solo.

The only other instrument left to be recorded is an organ part. When I got the B3 Organ part from Todd Phipps for Drought Breaker I was so inspired that I sat down and wrote this song with the organ part in mind.  I never intended the organ to be a part of Drought Breaker but now I want that sound as a core part of my ‘band sound’, I just love it!

It’s amazing how raucous the organ can sound. Drought Breaker had the organ sitting back in the mix which was a shame but the mix can’t have everything at the front all of the time, something had to give. It was such a cool part so I’m excited  that it can be nice and forward in this new song.

There’s less layers in this song too which gives all of the instruments more space to breathe – less is more as they say! There’s only a single guitar part which carries the rhythm and lead duties, it’s a lot of fun to play! Steve Vai fans can think Alien Love Secrets as far as this stripped down instrumentation approach.

The Drought is over…

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’ll be turning one of those big milestone numbers… oh the horror! For me it’s turning into new years resolution time, a chance for new beginnings. The planets have aligned and I’ve been finally been able to clear out some baggage that has been haunting me for a while and it feels great!

My first song ‘Drought Breaker’ has been hanging around for a long long time. I’ve been treating it as my learning project and benchmark for future tracks so I’ve taken the time to get it right. Lately I’ve felt I’ve been really close to wrapping it up once and for all and I mentioned to a friend I should get this out of my hands before that big birthday…

I pushed and pushed the mix as far as I could. The other day I even re-amped the guitars AGAIN. I found there were some funky frequencies coming through and I was trying to do too much with eq to fix it so I turned to the source to fix it. I used the acoustic panels to tame some of the room sound as I mentioned in my previous post and simply turned the SM57 slightly off axis, everything else was the same.

After re-amping and dropping the new version into my mix I realised that this was a better take, I had previously re-amped the wrong track! It definitely pays to take a moment to keep your tracks organised, luckily I picked this up now.

So with those changes I have a mix I’m pretty happy with and I’ve finally run out of ideas to improve it… it’s time to move on 🙂

I’m so excited to announce that Roman Klun will be mixing this song! He is a 2x Grammy Nominee and Oscar winner who has worked with the likes of Anthrax, Tony Levin, Sarah Mclachlan and Steve Gadd to name just a few. This will most definitely be the final piece of the puzzle and set the benchmark for the songs to come. I can’t tell you how excited I am to hear what he does, how close I got to a professional mix 😉

I sent my mix to Roman last week and I must say it was a little scary! I respect him and his work so much and have tried so hard to create a professional product, end to end. I was so happy to get the following feedback:

“The track sounds great – nice composition and performances!”

So great to hear those words after all of this time working on this song.

I’ll be preparing exporting the tracks tomorrow and getting my studio time booked in.
I can’t wait to finally share this track with you 🙂

Improving my recorded guitar tone

Apologies for the lack of activity lately, things have been insane again but I have managed to squeeze in a bit of rock time here and there… I need it for my sanity!

Tracking of Drought Breaker is complete and I’ve been working on mixing it. I must say I’ve managed to create the best mix I’ve ever done. The mix stood up pretty well to reference tracks but then I took it into the car… the mix wasn’t right.

After that deflating moment I returned to ‘my studio’ and sure enough I could now hear the issue I heard in the car. Then the same scenario (but not as bad) with headphones. With some tweaking it was sounding pretty good on the different speakers.

But the more I listened the more the lead guitar tone bothered me. It just sounded a bit boxy and eq just wasn’t fixing it. I couldn’t consider this track complete without at least attempting to rectify the issue.

My studio is a small spare bedroom which I’ve applied acoustic treatment to. The room sounds pretty good I must say, light years ahead of the original bare room but listening to the lead tracks I can hear the room sound in the mics.

I have a couple spare acoustic panels so I thought I’d try and do an experiment. I set up the mics again re-amped and recorded a sample passage with and without acoustic panels standing in front of the speaker cabinet.

Acoustic panels in front of guitar amp

What was interesting was both takes sounded better than what I had before. When I originally recorded the leads I had the amp loud… too loud. This time I didn’t have the amp up any way near as loud, the volume was obviously too much for the small room to absorb so the lower volume helped!

The acoustic panels seemed to help as well, so with the two improvements combined I was getting a much better recorded guitar tone before I even reached for eq!

I’m excited to get a moment to work the new tracks into the mix… hopefully I’ll stop finding things that need improving 😉

My first musical influence

I’ve always been a music fan. I don’t know where it came from in my gene pool but it’s 100% a part of me.

My mum was blown away when we were at the shops and we walked past a record store. I pointed to a record and said “Look Mum, Rod Stewart!”. I was a young young kid at that point and she had no idea I had any interest or was aware of music. She was floored!

I also remember watching some music show on TV, I THINK it was Solid Gold. Rod Stewart was on and I just loved it. But we had to go out so I couldn’t watch it all. We had a Beta Video Cassette Recorder, I had no idea how to work the thing but I switched it to the right channel and left the power on so I could watch it later. Of course pressing record would’ve been helpful 😉

I for the longest time had no idea what song it was that I loved of his. I think it was Young Turks which came out in 1981 but the timeline doesn’t work out right if Rod Stewart was really my first musical impression as I discovered Kiss sometime over 1979/1980… *shrug*

Regardless, this song Young Turks still lights me up. It’s pretty poppy sounding with the electric drums and synths but his voice is killer and that chorus is just amazing, full of emotion.

It’s interesting to see now that the great Carmine Appice was a writer on this one. Carmine played drums on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album which is one of my all time favourite albums.

Photo © George Rose Photography

Re-Amping process for ‘Drought Breaker’

Last weekend I managed to squeeze a bit of time in to do some re-amping on ‘Drought Breaker’. You may be asking yourself what is re-amping? Essentially it’s a two stage process that results in your computer playing the pre-recorded original sound that came directly out of your guitar through to your guitar amplifier. It’ll sound as if you were playing it live right there.

Here’s a short video from this session where the computer is playing my previously recorded performance through my amplifier:

Benefits of re-amping

There are multiple benefits for doing this. A huge benefit for me is being able to record multiple takes at a quiet or even silent volume (with headphones). Once you have you have the final track that you’re happy with you can then turn up that amp and record your ‘perfect’ track. This way you can pick a time to turn your amp up when the neighbours are out.

Another benefit is it allows you to experiment with amp settings or pedals to find the right tone. This is awesome if you’re recording on your own, you can have both hands free, have the guitar part looping and dial in the right sound for the final performance.

Once you have the right tone coming out of your amp you can then experiment with mic placement to capture the right tone to your track. Again you’re hands are free to nudge mics, record test takes to listen back to and even re-record the same performance again at any time down the track.

Another advantage is comping your guitar tracks together (cutting together a single take from the best bits of multiple performances). It’s much easier to work with a clean DI signal where you can see the peaks.

How to re-amp

First you run a guitar cable from your guitar directly to your audio interface. You may need to use a DI box between the guitar and interface, in my case I use the instrument input on my interface which is an RME Fireface UC. The idea is you’re recording just the unaffected pure guitar signal (a DI track).

The next step is to play back the DI track through an output of my interface that will run to the guitar amp. To do this we need to have a re-amp box between the interface and the amp to get the correct impedance.

That’s essentially it, sounds easy – right?

Set-up problems

Well I had a few problems setting this rig up however now it’s set up it works amazingly well.

I’ll keep this short but hopefully it might help someone out there. The first issue was my old audio interface didn’t have a +4 dBu output, the old M-Audio Firewire 410 just didn’t have enough output for this purpose.

Once I had my new audio interface the second issue I had was running a TRS cable out of my audio interface into the Little Labs Red Eye. I was led to believe this would be OK but it didn’t work in my case. I wound up trying a TRS to XLR with the XLR connected to the Line Level In on the Little Labs Red Eye.

Prior to that I was checking settings on the software side (make sure you have +4db output set correctly), I checked I was sending a direct mono signal with no plug-ins interfering… you really need to examine every piece of your chain to make sure you’re getting the purest signal from your guitar, to the computer and from the computer to your amp.

What’s next for ‘Drought Breaker’

I still have some more re-amping to do. I need to get the right tone for the intro and record that section and then re-amp and record the clean ‘funk’ guitar part. Then… it’s onto mixing 🙂

Flash photography – A little help from a friend

In my last blog post I attempted a self-portrait so I could have some images to promote myself as a musician. Not only did I receive a great response I also received an offer of help from an old Adelaide work colleague/friend Julian Savio who now lives in Melbourne (where I moved to). He has his own photography gear as well as access to some extra gear through his work. He wanted to practice flash photography and suggested we do a shoot together.

This offer was amazing and so appreciated, a great chance for me to go beyond what I could do on my own and for him to get some real world practice – WIN WIN! Last Saturday we booked in a time to head out for our first shoot together. It turned out to be the perfect day, nice and still and clear.

Julian had a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera, Canon 35mm f1.4 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses and a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT with Softbox. He picked out a spot he stumbled upon when trying (unsuccessfully) to get a short cut to the train station. It turned out to be a great location with several different shoot options just a stone’s throw from each other. We started against a wall covered in graffiti, the colour options were awesome!

Setting up the flash box ready for the shoot
Julian setting up the flash box ready for the shoot.

The thing I struggled with the most in the shoot was posing correctly for the camera. I’d have things like my legs/feet pointing at an odd angle that essentially became distracting. Perhaps I’m too self-critical but there seems to be a fine line between looking ‘kinda cool’ and looking ‘try-hard’. I tried having sunglasses on for a few shots but it felt a bit too rock star star for my shy personality. Looking back now at the shots there are definitely a few that we did with the sunnies that I’d love to re-shoot without them. We both learnt from the shoot and are very keen to get back out there soon to try again.

The last location we stumbled upon and shot as an afterthought turned out to be one of our favourites. It was a simple alley way between two buildings, one side was a simple rough concrete and the other side was brick with a bit of a rustic feel. I was feeling a bit tired at this point and I can see that in the photos. By this point we had also ran out of battery juice for the lightbox which were no longer firing so it’ll be exciting to really see what we can get out of this location.

Overall we got more than enough for my needs which is fantastic and I’m sure we’ll be able to make some improvements in the next shoot.

As for the all important music, I’m still chipping away. I believe the tracks are really finished this time for ‘Drought Breaker’. All I need to do now is re-amp the final guitar tracks when the neighbours are out 😉

Shooting myself

Making your own music is all well and good but the trick is getting people to hear your music. I haven’t played live in a long long time and have no plans to at present, I’m just enjoying the creative process. So building a fan base will be a tough journey for me, even tougher considering my style of music.

Image has always gone hand in hand with music. I have not had a real online presence for my music, in fact I haven’t even shared any music just yet. That day is coming but for the time being I’m trying to get all my ducks in a row, the songs are well underway, I’ve got a Facebook page set up that had an unprofessional cover photo, this website/blog which has had zero effort in terms of design. I simply have not had good photos to promote myself and like it or not branding and marketing are an important part of being a musician.

Recently I had a photo shoot with an amazing pet photographer. My wife and I got some beautiful photos taken with our much loved dogs José and Coco. It was amazing to see the results and this was all accomplished outside with available light only (and of course a lot of talent). I have loved photography since taking lessons in high school. In the back of my mind I thought I could probably pull off some decent photos of myself considering I have no budget for promoting my music… it’ll be DIY all the way for me!

So on the weekend I bit the bullet and grabbed my Nikon D3200 DSLR, tripod, guitar stand and a guitar and headed out to our tiny back yard to shoot myself.

I was on my own for this shoot so I had to somehow set up the camera, get myself in focus and fire off some shots and pray that I was actually in the shot and in focus and have the correct exposure settings etc. Luckily my camera has a timer and can take multiple shots at the same time. So that way I could at least move around a little bit hoping that I’m sitting correctly in the frame.

To get my focus I popped the guitar on the guitar stand and set focus on it. I then set the timer off, grabbed the guitar, got the guitar stand out of shot and tried to get myself into some sort of position that would hopefully work. I was struggling a little bit to get the depth of field ‘blur’ effect that I wanted in the tight space I had with the lens that I have. I was using manual focus too, in hindsight I should have tried auto or continuous focus. I was also not shooting at the best time of day for lighting, I was trying to keep my head away from the direct sunlight which just kept coming at me.

With a bit of tweaking I actually got a few half decent shots! They are FAR from perfect, the focus was a little bit off but for use on websites they’ll at least get me started and encourage me to get out there and get better shots. The one I used in this post is far from ideal but I’ll save the best shot for the header of my website which I’ll hopefully get online soon (as always time permitting!).

I’ll definitely be getting out to different locations to try and get some variation in my photos. Getting that golden hour of sunlight on a nice day heading into sunset is the ideal time to shoot. I will hopefully be dragging someone else along next time to assist with getting the focus right and hopefully guide ‘my pose’. One of my shots looked a bit too ‘blue steel’ for my liking 😉

It’s such a weird thing to be taking photos of myself, I’m overall a shy person but know I need to do this so I can present myself in a professional manner and have people take me seriously and hopefully lead to them taking the time to have a listen to my (forthcoming) music.

In other news I think I have settled on a new logo too which I’ll unveil soon… it’s exciting to see things continue to move along. 🙂

New drums for the new year

Well it’s been a while since my last blog post. The insanity of pre-Christmas, Christmas and New Years is out of the way now and I can see some breathing space in site. Fingers crossed I get some more time to work on my tunes!

But there has been a positive start to the new year. I’ve once again taken up the services of the amazing John O’Reily Jnr at Boom Crash Drum Tracks to record drums for my second song “Big Boots”.

This one is a big driving rock guitar instrumental that I wrote probably a year or so ago. This song came together pretty easily, I didn’t force it or over think it and the results are great.

I gave John what was basically a scratch track – I recorded while I wrote it and improvised parts. It wasn’t awful but there were definitely some sloppy parts in there but I felt it was strong enough for him to play to and the structure of the song was solid so I was confident there wouldn’t be any more changes in that department.

I sent John my demo with a click track and my programmed drummed removed as well as my full demo (drums included) for his reference. His first take nailed 80% of the tune, the 20% being the choruses which he tackled in a different way to how I perceived it.

I hadn’t really taken the time to analyse what I’d written but it turns out that I had a 4/4 groove in the chorus but was playing a ¾ riff over the top! Odd but it really works. John was hearing ¾ of my guitar and emphasised this rhythm. It was interesting to hear it like this and a bit odd to my ears at first but after a few listens I got it but I still liked my original version. I thought a bit about these two options and though it’d be awesome to run with the 4/4 version for the first two choruses and then ¾ version for the last chorus. This really helped move the song and build some excitement at the end of the song – the perfect compromise! I just wouldn’t have gotten this result by me working alone with a ‘drum machine’.

With two more tiny punch-ins we were done! It was such a fun and easy process. All re-takes were for creative reasons, technically everything was spot on.

I’m looking forward to getting the multi-tracks shortly and moving onto the next step! In fact, they’ve just arrived in my email box – good times!! This song will be HUGE!

I highly recommend you check out John for drums for your session!