Karaf: The Making

Making an album is always a weird, convoluted process.

For some people it might be a week at a studio recording previously rehearsed material, for others it might be sitting in front of a computer computer every night for weeks with a midi keyboard and a bunch of VST, but for this album the process was very different to how I usually work.

It started off as a demo I made back in 2005 using Mod Plug Tracker. I made 5 tracks, all using samples, from pianos to basic kicks and snares, and a few choirs and synths interspersed.

I forgot about it for 3 years, then in 2008 I made a feeble attempt at mastering the tracks to put them on Spotify. I say feeble as I didn’t have much knowledge of audio engineering and production back then.

Then in 2018 I got to work re-releasing all my previous material on Spotify, iTunes, etc. I briefly re-visited and remastered a bunch of albums, but when I got to this one from 2005 (titled 22″ Speed Rail), I listened to it a couple of times and realised it had potential.

It sounded like nothing on the scene at this time. And it brought me back to when I wrote that music; I was a big fan of Linkin Park, RHCP, Limp Bizkit, POD, Papa Roach, Korn, and others at the time, and when I initially laid down those tracks I wanted to make something vaguely electronic, but with strong guitar riffs.

Now, my main tool was Mod Plug Tracker, I had no microphones, and I didn’t have much knowledge of recording guitars; so the end result was something akin to a backing track.

I then exported all the original tracks from each .it file and imported each one into new Ableton Live projects. I spent a couple of hours working on the first one: All the Other Times. I added guitar riffs, added quantization for the backing tracks, added VSTis to widen the sounds, added compression and limiters, and started layering new drum tracks and bass riffs.

I started really enjoying what it was turning into.

And this small project which was intended to be a “re-release of a 13 year old album with some heavier riffs, like I wanted to record it back then” quickly turned into “hey, I can make an album out of this”.

So I went digging through other albums for discarded songs, and video sketches I had made years before, and found a few that sounded similar to the style I was trying to craft into the album.

The base (22″ Speed Rail) was laid down in Mexico in 2005, some of the other sketches were from 2008-2012) recorded in Scotland, and the rest was from 2017.

I decided to make the theme of the album about relocation, about changing over time, the mind, addiction, pain, and recovery. More importantly, it was about friends, and moving on. And most of the lyrics would revolve around these themes.

I grouped all of these tracks and recorded a few drafts for new songs, and worked on them every day for the following 3-4 months.

It was an arduous process, it always is. I went through the usual roller-coaster of “this is crap, I’m throwing it all away”, to “this is the best thing I have ever made”.

Subtle changes to the mix can change everything during the recording process.

At some point in time I had songs with rap lyrics, distorted guitars, funky electronic bass lines, clean pianos. It was a bit chaotic.

So I set out to do something I had not done before: Ask for feedback.

Usually by this stage I just kinda wrap-up, do a half-arsed attempt at mastering, and release it, knowing it’s not what I wanted to do, but it was “good enough, I guess”.

But this time I wanted to make something I was proud of, something I can release and not be afraid to share it with friends or family. Something I can listen back to in a few years and say “Woah”.

So I released a rough alpha version and asked a few friends and colleagues to do an “MR Review”. In the programming world, an MR or PR review is when you write code and make a “pull request” which is a request to merge in your changes to the main code base. Then your peers can review your code and request changes, give props, and make comments.

In a similar way I didn’t just want a music review, I wanted a detailed overview of NTHs (nice-to-haves), PPs (personal preferences), REQs (required changes), and Qs (questions).

I got my feedback after a few days, then took a couple of weeks to make those changes. I then released a beta version and sent it to one more friend who hadn’t listened to the alpha (a musician I greatly respect). He only had 3-4 comments to make which was a blast for me to listen to, I was expecting another massive list of changes.

So I made those changes and decided it was time to chill out for a few weeks and come up with a release plan. As I said earlier, it would have been way too easy to be all excited and just click that publish button. But I wanted to do things properly, whether people listen to it or not, I wanted to make a few interesting ads, release a single, record a video, contact people in the industry, etc.

And this is what led to the release of the album.

It’s always a journey but you don’t start out thinking “I’m going to make an album”, sometimes the start is just a song, or an idea, or an old album that you thought you could improve.

Click here to check it out¬†ūüôā

Thanks to everyone that helped out, as well as those who sent me comments, it inspires me to keep going and record new material.

Until next time!

Why I won’t be paying for Rdio… yet

Edit: Post no longer relevant, Rdio closed its doors in 2015.

After years of using Spotify I decided to give Rdio a chance, as a few friends at work use it and really recommended it.¬†I’ve used¬†the web app, mobile app, and desktop app for a few weeks now, so I thought I’d give¬†a brief rundown on the pros and cons from my point of view.

The other purpose of this list is to function as a set of recommendations for Rdio from a hardcore Spotify user.

Cons of Rdio:

1. Songs take too long to start (sometimes 1 second between songs, it doesn’t do efficient pre-fetching like Spotify does). This happens both on mobile and on the desktop version, even with a good internet connection.

2. Genre stations play completely unrelated stuff (try “dubstep” genre for example).

3. Bad last.fm integration sometimes (too slow to Scrobble) – this is intermittent as sometimes it works great.

4. Lack of plugins (like the awesome “Sounddrop” plugin for Spotify) – Wow, Spotify killed plugins as well

5. Less content available on Rdio (but I suspect they will catch up eventually)

6. Frequent/strange UI glitches (due to flaky connection, etc.) Solution = better/longer local CSS cache:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 14.00.31

7. As a musician I encountered a strange problem in Rdio. I use Distrokid to distribute my music to all popular music platforms; one of the songs in my latest single cuts off at 31 seconds, whilst on all other platforms it does not. Proof (Deezer vs Rdio):

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 22.23.54

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 22.24.52

8. The thing that really annoyed me the most is that they are too quick to pull the plug when a payment doesn’t go through. I changed banks recently and forgot to update my payment details on Rdio. The very moment the payment failed to go through they cut the cord and switched me to a free account. Popular services like Github, Google Apps, Spotify, and many others will give you a bit of leeway. Ultimately this is why I won’t be paying for Rdio, because¬†it’s the small details like this that matter.

Pros of Rdio:

1. More control over playback quality.

2. Nicer/simpler UI.

3. AUTOPLAY… this is the biggest win I think. Similar to Pandora. Finished the album? It just looks for similar stuff and carries on playing music.

4. Artist-based stations are better than on Spotify; the find better related/similar stuff.

Problems that affect both services:

1. Small clicking/spacing between continuous songs. Add option to have continuous playback maybe? An example of this is Madeon’s latest album which have linked songs.

2. Lack of plugins/apps (SoundDrop was cool!)


Both services cost roughly the same. Spotify has content, plugins and speed, whilst Rdio has UI and awesome autoplay. If you are deciding between them I would choose Spotify for now; but I really hope Rdio catches up soon as it is a promising service.

S/Here/There

Hey everyone! I’ve finally decided to post my latest album here. It is a bit experimental (as usual) combining rock, metal, electronica, and new-age. Most of the comments I’ve heard are ‘this is too strange for me’, but I don’t mind ūüôā

Check it out on Spotify:¬†Lemiffe ‚Äď S/Here/There/

Or listen to the first song on SoundCloud:

Enjoy!

Living in the cloud

My hard-drive crashed last Saturday, which kind of pissed me off as I was planning on spending Sunday playing online with one of my mates. So I spent Sunday and Monday formatting and re-installing everything.

To my surprise: I didn’t actually loose anything. I hadn’t realised how much of my data actually lives on the cloud.

It turns out 100% of my data lives “up there”.

Over the years I guess I’ve been slowly migrating without noticing the full extent.

This is the list of services I currently use:

  • Google Chrome (I keep my bookmarks and history synced across devices using my Google account)
  • Steam (I use this to purchase games online, I can re-install every game I bought on the platform on a new PC in less than a day)
  • Github (I host all my projects here, including personal projects on private repos. Yeah, I could use bitbucket as well I guess)
  • Spotify (Online music streaming service. I haven’t downloaded iTunes nor have I accessed Grooveshark in a couple of years)
  • Dropbox (I did quite a few referrals and I got bumped up to 56GB of space. Now I store all my photos, videos and music on Dropbox)
  • Google Drive (Why not just use Dropbox? Well… I find Google Drive convenient for documents, so I use it for all my office-related documents)

And that is how I successfully moved everything to the cloud. Hard-drive crash? No problem. Format, re-install, wait for downloads to complete, and you’re good to go.

If you have used other cloud services in the past that you think I should add to my list of must-haves, please let me know in the comment section below.