Music

Recording day 4

I've done quite a bit of recording today, although in fact I've only recorded one new song.  Now that I'm in full swing, I've been able to go back to some of the songs I recorded earlier in the week and re-record bits that aren't quite the same quality as what I'm up to now.  It's the perfectionist in me.  If I didn't have to work full time, I'd spend all day every day working on this, recording and re-recording until I was absolutely satisfied.  But I don't have that luxury, so I'll have to live with making several takes of everything and then mixing in the best bits in an effort to cobble together something decent.The new song for today was On a hill far away which, contrary to what the title may suggest, is not a rewrite of the old hymn of the same name.  This is a completely new song.  I say completely new, it does draw on a Biblical theme, so I can't exactly claim complete creative copyright on it!  It focuses on the shepherds looking after their sheep, being told by the angels that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  A nice Christmas theme.  But not at all Christmassy in its musical style, you'll be glad to hear.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

Recording day 3

I began today by picking up where I'd left off yesterday with Stranger than fiction, having had to leave it where it was to go and play badminton.  Turns out this song is a lot of fun indeed, with plenty of scope for some quirky and funny moments in the music.  I got a pretty groovy bass riff going, which sounds pretty awesome played on my custom Aria recorded clean so you just get the natural tone of the instrument, which I absolutely love.  I also put in some electric guitar solo riffs too, and some vocal effects (and even a bit of scat singing...).  And once again I recorded the drums by hitting my keyboard and using a software instrument, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  Far better, in fact, than if I had found myself a real drum kit and recorded myself playing that, if only because I could go in and adjust the timing and edit out the mistakes!  It still needs a lot of work to edit it into something decent, but it's a promising start.I spent a fair amount of time on that, so it was a while before I got to start on the second song of the day, which was Too tired.  This song is written from the perspective of someone who has become disillusioned with the church, who has maybe been when they were younger but stopped going in their teens.  It tells a story of how the church doesn't seem to hold anything of interest for them, and that God in general doesn't seem to make much sense, so why bother believing at all.  I guess that's something a lot of people can relate to.  However it then goes on to talk about how empty their life actually is, that something is missing, and finishes with an element of wonder and guilt that despite all the running, God is still there waiting.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

Recording day 2

Today's recording went pretty well.  First up was Come holy fire, which is a song I wrote last year and introduced at camp.  It's a fairly reflective, quiet song, so it was a good opportunity for some ethereal guitar and piano bits.  I even recorded a drum track, which actually sounds pretty decent - playing on a keyboard isn't quite 'natural' in terms of drumming position, but using the Jazz Kit software instrument in Logic actually sounds very realistic in this case, and I was very pleased with the result.  I have yet to quantise the MIDI track, and if I have time later in the week I'll probably re-record a few other bits as well, but this is a good start.The 'ethereal' aspect was provided mainly by the piano, with the sustain pedal held down the whole time.  That adds a very interesting suspended sound to the notes, with them all merging into one another, but it works well in this case.  I also recorded some solo guitar bits too, which with the right settings sounds a bit like the music Marks & Spencer used in their sexy food adverts!(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

Recording day 1

After a brief spat of... erm... what's that thing called... oh yes, work... I popped round to Tesco to pick up a few necessities.  Alongside the loaf of bread and take-away Indian, I also bought a couple of cables.  Not my proudest purchase, I have to admit.  Especially because they'd run out of the usual brand and I had to make do with - brace yourself - Tesco Value.  Yep, a Tesco Value 1.2m phono to phono, and a Tesco Value 1.2m phono to 3.5mm jack.  Oh the professionalism.So after lunch I finished plugging all my rough-shod studio equipment together, warmed up the vocal cords, and started on the recording.  The first song I turned my attention to was Amazing Grace.  Now, I know what you're thinking, Amazing Grace isn't exactly a song I can claim complete authorship for; a certain John Newton is famous for that one.  However, not long ago I wrote a new tune for it, and since the original is well out of copyright, I'm all clear to record my own version.  I had recorded the piano part already, and put in some string parts (though at the moment they're playing through a tinny software instrument until I can find some actual string players), so I just had to add the vocal parts.  I was deliberately keeping it fairly acoustic, so the arrangement was very simple, but it was a good place to start.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

Recording day 0: the setup

A year or several ago, back when I was fresh out of uni (or thereabouts) and going to Orchard Baptist Church, I formed a band called Rooted from the young musicians there, taught them some of the songs I'd written, did a gig, and recorded an album.  That album, In the beginning, is available to listen to for free on our Facebook page, or you can buy a hard copy from me if you ask me nicely.Now I'm about to start my next album.  It's primarily a solo album, as I am currently without a band, although the plan is to get various people at my current church involved in various ways; they can then use the album to help raise money to replace the church roof.  Of course, with a not-quite-6-month-old baby in the house, recording at home becomes somewhat impossible, so very little has been done so far.  Thankfully, my wife came to the rescue with a cunning plan.At the weekend we all went up to Gloucester, stayed overnight with Ellie's Mum, drove to Peterborough on Saturday for a CYFA camp training day, drove back, stayed overnight again, and then after church I drove back to Somerset on my own, leaving wife and child in Gloucester.  They're going to live it up at Grandma's house, while I have the house to myself to record as much of the album as I can before they come back on Sunday.  That sounds like a challenge.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

Going digital

This post could also easily have been entitled "Why I've had nursery rhymes going round and round in my head for the last few days".  But that's a bit of a long title.  And it has nothing to do with television.

At the weekend we found ourselves in Paignton, staying overnight with my parents.  It's not the house I grew up in, but it's a home from home I've learned to love.  'Home', for me, will always be Watcombe Park, in that cosy little 3 bedroom house with the back garden that flooded when it rained and the front garden with the rose bush at the end of the path (but that's another story).  A great many happy memories were generated in that house, from my earliest childhood memories through to leaving home for university.  And now, nearly 25 years on, with a youngun growing fast, I'm conscious that everything we do has an impact in some way, even if he is only 11 weeks old.  Memories are being made, and as a father I have a duty to ensure that they are good memories.

And so, on this somewhat spontaneous visit, I decided it would be a good opportunity to reclaim a few cassette tapes from my youth, to give Samuel something to listen to.  Or, as the case may be, for me to sing along to until such a time as he can join in.

(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Christianity

Where lines are drawn

490822_ipod_videoI love music.  It brightens my working day, it inspires my leisure time, it gives me an outlet for my passion and creativity.  No surprise, then, that I have a fair amount of music.  Not on the scale of some people, admittedly, but that's probably because as a university student I was probably a little more honest than most and thus didn't end up with a secondary hard disk filled with torrents and downloads.When we were at camp just over a week ago my wife gave one of the talks, which was loosely based around the story of King Ahab and the vineyard - Ahab wanted it, the owner refused to sell it, Ahab sulked, his wife had the owner murdered and Ahab claimed the vineyard.  The point of the talk was that sin by association is still sin; God still condemned Ahab for his actions, even though it was Jezebel actually doing the deed.  He didn't object to the sin, and benefited from it, so was held culpable by God.  Ellie used the illustration that "sharing" music is effectively the same thing - sure, someone else has ripped the music off the CD, but we've still accepted the MP3 files and are therefore benefiting from it.  So in God's eyes, as well as the law's, we are guilty.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Christianity

Come holy fire

Here is a downloadable score for 'Come holy fire', a song I wrote fairly recently.  It was used for the first time at a Christian youth camp I was at last week (more on that later), and seemed to go down well, so I'm making it available for people to use at their home churches.  At the moment I hold the copyright and everything, and it's likely to stay that way until a music publisher comes my way!It's a gathering song, speaking of our unity in Christ, so would go well at the beginning of a service.  I particularly like the end of the second verse, which says "trusting not in our own strength but in your power, saved by grace and not by what we've done".  It helps us recognise how awesome God's grace is, how he allows us into his presence despite our many failings, and the chorus invites God to "set our hearts ablaze with passion" to do his work.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
Music

How to restring 25 guitars

Line 6 Variax 300"If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing properly.""If you find a pair of shoes that fits, buy it in every colour.""One biscuit is never enough."All three of those phrases is in some way related to the way I spent yesterday evening.  You see, a couple of years or so ago I was mulling over which electric guitar to buy, and when my wife eventually stepped in and told me which one I'd chosen (she knows my mind better than I do most of the time) I ordered a shiny new Line 6 Variax 300.  What's special about that guitar (and all the others that Line 6 do, in fairness) is electronically model a whole load of real guitars and pack them all into one all-singing-all-dancing guitar, with each guitar selectable from a handy volume-type knob.  The result is that I effectively have 25 guitars instead of just one.Thankfully, restringing only needs doing once, and it takes regular strings too despite its complicated wizardry.  I did a little research and found which strings the guitar had from the factory, and ordered a set on the internet a couple of days ago.  Now, this is where I hang my head in shame and hope there are no 'proper' guitarists reading - this is the first time I've replaced the strings since I bought the guitar, almost two years ago.  Ouch.  Sure, I've not been playing it every day since then, but even so the strings were sure to be corroded and mucky and dead-sounding by now.  And they were.(more…)

By Matthew, ago
A-Z

Time to settle down

G is for Guitar and "Get a life"

Many of you will know that I am a keen musician.  I blame this partly on my parents, who insisted on taking me to a brass band concert before I was even born.  I didn't stand a chance.  Church helps too, there's always music there.  And so it was that I started taking up musical instruments left right and centre, starting with the piano, moving on to cello, and not stopping thereafter.  The list isn't exactly endless, but it's fairly sizeable.  The main problem with this, though, is being able to afford the instruments themselves, which don't come cheap, especially if you want something decent.  So for many years I have had to get by without certain things, in some cases just the accessories, but in some cases the instruments themselves.  I've never owned a saxophone, for instance, much as I'd love to.My first bass guitar was a pink (probably used to be red, but faded in the sun) Squier with a warped neck, which made playing anything but open strings uncomfortable and bone-jarringly out of tune.  Still, for £100 it wasn't bad, considering it came with a whopping 80 watt amp.  The bass was replaced several years ago, thankfully, with a wood body Aria (I'd give the actual model, but since it's a "Research and Development" model I think it's more of a one-off, so comparing it to the mass-produced model that resulted from it might not actually be particularly useful).  The Aria is a dream to play, and has a lovely warm tone to it.  The amp, however, was always pretty ropey, so it wasn't a huge tragedy when it stopped working.  It was something electric, I know that much, and it just played a very loud humming noise while it was turned on.  So I left it turned off, gathering dust in the garage.  Until just before we moved, when I took it to the dump.  Sad, but somehow very therapeutic at the same time.(more…)

By Matthew, ago