I’m currently putting finishing touches on the last of the songs for “Unearthly” and wanted to post a couple of them here before they go off to mastering in the next week or so. In the song sequence, these two close out the album/EP which releases on December 30th. Again, mastered demos here; there will be some differences in the final mastered versions as always. Brian Hazard at Resonance Mastering will be doing the mastering once again.
The 6-song EP will be available for friends and fans of Nights on Venus before the 30th with at least 3 songs available as free downloads. Check back for details as we get closer to the release date.
The tempo has picked up this last month or so as we move into the holiday season and start to close out 2015. Happy Thanksgiving! to everyone and I hope you have an awesome day tomorrow with friends and family. May your holiday be completely free of any political discussions with the fam; if not, there’s always Adele.
The forecast here for tomorrow is calling for about 3-5 inches o’ snow (now updated to 5-10 inches), which is always welcome this early in the season… until it’s not (usually near the end of April). Here are a few pictures from recent hikes this month near Golden…
The track list and sequencing has been finalized… 6 new songs, and they are:
Porn Stars Stole My Subaru
All Become One
Past the Tipping Point
We Move Off Together
I’ll be finishing up pre-mastering on “Lightning Trees” next and plan on putting up the mastered demo version by the end of this month.
Today in Golden we are getting some much-needed rain. Except for only two or three days of some kind of rain, it has been bone dry in the Front Range since the 3rd week of July (as the pics below taken yesterday in the high country will attest to). For the last few years the seasons have been shifting to later in the year by about a month here in Colorado but with rain and snow forecast for this week we now appear to be fully into autumn (and it’s about time!). Cooler weather ahead… yay!
Nights on Venus began its 6th year of existence on the 8th this month, we celebrated my 59th birthday this past weekend, and Erin’s birthday is coming up next Sunday, the 25th. We love October! Pics of this weekend’s hike up Mt. Flora (13,132 ft.) on the Continental Divide follow…
It’s that time of year again here in Colorado… that time when fall has come and we head to the high country to view the annual extravaganza of the aspen leaves turning bright yellow, gold, and orange against a backdrop of the dark green of the evergreens and purplish mountains and a deep blue cloudless sky. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you know it’s a yearly thing we do. We’ve finally reached fall – favorite time of the year – and the temperatures are also finally getting cooler as we head toward winter. This year Erin and I combined our customary drives with a lot more hiking – last week Chief Mountain, this week on the other side of the divide, on the Western Slope.
Eventually you leave the aspens after about the first mile-and-a-quarter of the trail. The Lenawee Trail itself is steep for the first 2.25 miles, then levels off a little bit after that to its crest at about 12,850 feet on a saddle on the backside of the A-Basin Ski Area off of US Hwy. 6, down from Loveland Pass toward Keystone. We didn’t go all the way to the top this time… maybe next time. Coming down it seemed surprisingly warm for this time of year and there was no snow on the surrounding mountains; it has been very dry for the last month-and-a-half. As ski season is supposed to begin in 3 weeks at A-Basin and Loveland, I would imagine the snow-making machines will be working overtime from now through then.
Nights on Venus News:
Currently finishing up on the song “Lightning Trees” which makes 4 songs complete with more in the queue for Unearthly; I’m thinking this EP/album will be either 6 or 8 songs to be released at the end of 2015 or early 2016. Here is a mastered demo from the forthcoming album, the song, “All Become One”… another song to follow in the coming weeks.
This week’s hike was fairly close to home: Chief Mountain on Squaw Pass Road (CO Hwy. 103) between Evergreen and Echo Lake. It’s a good short hike, 2 miles out and back, 4 miles total, through Subalpine forest that takes you to a summit at timberline with fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding area. As it is fall now and the aspen leaves are turning their vibrant yellows and the Squaw Pass Road is the route we usually take on the fall leaf tour, it seemed like an ideal way to get some hiking in, combining it with the drive through the high country.
Well first off it’s a perfect day for hiking. It’s a little hazy back toward Denver but not too bad – otherwise a beautiful blue, cloudless sky. The Chief Mountain trail starts off at an elevation of 10,700 feet and you’re hiking to the summit at 11,709 feet. Erin and I are on the trail a little after 7:30; it’s a nice brisk 37 degrees and by the time we’re back down it’ll be about 50.
Although the trail is uphill all the way – after all, you are hiking up a mountain – it’s a gentle uphill, and if you’ve hiked at all you know what I mean. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles which can be easily done in an hour to an hour-and-a-half with a little bit of bouldering at the very end.
So we spend about half-an-hour on the summit, eat some snacks and just soak it all in. A few people join us on the summit – it’s still early in the day and there are not a whole lot of hikers on this trail which is heavily used during the summer months. It’s just good to be up here and enjoy the quiet and peace… and of course, the views. No mountain goats today – they’re elsewhere.
To reach the Chief Mountain trail, take I-70 west out of Denver and exit on Evergreen Parkway (Exit 252). Go approximately 3 miles to CO Hwy. 103 and take a right. This is the Squaw Pass Road. Go approximately 9 miles up Hwy. 103 and when you reach the Echo Mountain Ski Area you’ll see a long shoulder on the right side of the road. The trailhead begins a little to the east of where the ski lift and the parking area on the shoulder is.
Coming from Idaho Springs, take CO Hwy. 103 to the south, go past Echo Lake approximately 4.5 miles and you’ll see the shoulder above the Echo Mountain ski lift on the left side of the road.
As always in the high country, get there early, take plenty of water, and dress in layers. And now, a little fall color…
We drive into Idaho Springs after our morning hike and have beer and lunch (in that order) at Tommyknockers on Miner Street. Get there early too – the place is packed by 12:30 even now that tourist season is over. The Pumpkin Ale is available, now that it’s fall and in the season, and their Imperial Nut Brown Ale is excellent as are all their offerings.
Work progresses on the next Nights on Venus EP/album Unearthly. Until then…
If you’re involved in music creation/production, promoting your own music, have your music on iTunes, Apple Music, SoundCloud and other streaming platforms, and maintain a social media presence, you’ve probably been seeing a fair amount of ads in your news feed for LANDR, an online music mastering service. LANDR is a subscription service that bills itself as “Professional Audio Mastering (at a fraction of the cost of studio mastering)” where you can “Master tracks. Instantly.”
I had planned to take a test drive just to see what the results would be – which I did, with a new partially-unfinished song – and write a review here in the blog, but thanks to Mr. Ian Shepherd and his video, now I don’t have to! He’s already done that and I think his review and recommendations are totally spot on. If you’ve been considering using LANDR, please watch and, most importantly, listen to the video below:
Granted, the video is from a year ago and several commenters have said that LANDR has updated and improved their algorithm and software, but I think his initial reservations and concerns do hold true, plus I’ll add a few of my own here.
Mastering recorded music is an art form in and of itself… And for that you need human ears and a certain sensibility, sensitivity that is never going to be replaced by a computer program or algorithm, no matter how sophisticated or customizable that program becomes (A.I. notwithstanding… but even then it’s artificial intelligence). Particularly, as Ian says in the video, when it comes to mastering songs in relation to the other songs that will comprise an entire album. That’s huge and that can’t be done by a computer.
The old adage “You get what you pay for” applies here… Meaning you should never skimp on presenting your music in its best possible light. While you will get instant results with LANDR, those will not necessarily be the best in the long run. For that you need a true music mastering professional, especially if they are a musician themselves. Words and phrases like “instant” and “at a fraction of the cost” may sound enticing but resist the instant gratification factor and the need to try to cut costs. Your music deserves to be great for the long haul… right? Always, always, always buy the best quality you can afford; this applies equally as well to your instruments and recording software/studio time as much as mastering.
The point of using any technology is to enhance what you’re trying to express creatively, not be subservient to it… Yeah, I’ve been saying this one since the Yamaha DX7 keyboard came out… i.e., back in the 80’s, but it applies here. Technology should always be used judiciously to create/achieve certain effects, not applied arbitrarily or as an end in itself (autotune immediately comes to mind). That involves creative decision-making… by a human bein’ with a soul and a heartbeat (and a great set of ears). Ideally, if we use a certain technology, we should humanize it. One size fits all doesn’t cut it, nor do customizable templates. I agree with Ian here as well – the very rudimentary home mastering I did on my song I felt was better than the best automated mastered version of it on LANDR, but then I am biased because I’ve lived with my ears for 58 years, I’m kind of attached to ’em, and I tend to trust ’em. And yes, it really is all about the sound.
You can’t automate “art”… and audio mastering is an art. Meaning it’s inexact, imprecise, and subjective. And as such it’s “perfect” (there’s a reason the Navajo leave a flaw or two in their woven rugs).
Not everything needs to be loud… a.k.a. the loudness wars and the battle for the listener’s attention (see Donald Trump)…
Now, having said all this, where LANDR can be useful:
Because you do get instant results, it can be helpful in generating ideas for your mix that you might not have considered. You may hear something that can be highlighted that will make your mix better. Also, you can pinpoint any flaws in the mix, anything that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb (e.g…. cymbals!), and also identify any instruments/vocals that may have been recorded too hot where you’re getting some distortion that may not have been immediately apparent in the mix.
Because of the speed and convenience of it, you could record something at a live show, do the quick and dirty online mastering on it, and make it immediately available to fans or for listening and critiquing at your next band rehearsal. I could also see situations where you have a possible last-minute gig come up and need to shoot something over to a venue quickly. It happens.
Really though, every benefit I can think of with LANDR has to do with speed and convenience, not the actual sound. I think LANDR can be a useful tool in getting your music eventually where you want it to go and I think they do provide a good service, but let’s be clear: it is not true professional audio mastering. I personally would never use it on a finished album. For that you need a true mastering professional with a great set of ears.
A hike Erin and I took last month in the high country… the Mohawk Lakes Trail up to Continental Falls, south of Breckenridge in the Mosquito Range. Always one of my faves, this hike has everything – forest, waterfalls, mine ruins, and high mountain lakes obviously. But today we’re only hiking up to the lower falls – 6 miles out and back. So we get an early start and we’re at the trailhead by 8:00. The air is cool and very humid when we get there. It’s been a very rainy year and that’s always good here in Colorado.
Starting from the Spruce Creek Trailhead, it’s 2 miles of well-marked, well-maintained trail through pine and spruce forest, starting at about 10,400 feet and gradually, gently ascending to the Mohawk Lakes Trailhead. So this is the easy part of the hike. If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can drive up to the Mohawk Lakes Trailhead and start from there, otherwise you’ll be hiking through the forest alongside Spruce Creek.
Over the years this has become a more well-known and popular hike so if solitude in the forest is your thing, you’ll definitely want to start early – the earlier the better. I hadn’t been on the first part of the trail since 2003 and it receives a lot more traffic now. Also, pay attention to the tree roots that criss-cross the trail lest you take an unexpected tumble (as a few hikers did that morning).
When you get to the Mohawk Lakes Trailhead, there the real hike begins. The trail is steep for the next mile and only levels off when you approach the first set of mine/mill ruins and Lower Continental Falls at about 11,500 feet. This was our destination today.
The trail to Lower and Upper Mohawk Lakes continues to the left after you reach the cabin which is relatively intact from the 19th century and still used as a shelter for hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers, particularly during the winter months. There is a guest book here so sign on in and say ‘hi’!
After spending some time at the lower falls, Erin and I make our descent back down the Mohawk Lakes Trail, then veer off onto the 4WD forest road as it’s not quite as lengthy and time-consuming as the hike back through the forest on the Spruce Creek Trail. It’s midday so it’s about a 4-hour hike, out and back, to Lower Continental Falls. Despite the abundance of mosquitoes after a rainy spring and early summer, it’s still a great hike.
We drive back to Colorado Hwy. 9 and head north through Breckenridge up to Frisco and stop in at a favorite watering hole I’ve been coming to since the 90’s, the Backcountry Brewery, for lunch and a couple of seasonal beers from their brewery – the customary celebratory pints at a local microbrew afterwards. The Golden Maiboch is especially good.
To get to the trailhead for this hike… Through Breckenridge, drive 1 mile south on CO Hwy. 9 to the small town of Blue River and take a right on Crown Dr. Follow Crown Dr. – it becomes Spruce Creek Rd. and follow the signs to the trailhead parking lot. Coming up from Fairplay on Hwy. 9, take a left on Spruce Creek Rd. (Forest Road 800) and follow it to the left to the trailhead parking lot.
First off, there is the title…Santos. Meaning ‘Saints’. The idea for the title came from watching Bill Murray’s most recent movie St. Vincent earlier this year, when I was fishing around for a title for the EP based on the songs I had recorded at that point. The whole idea of “saints among us”, so the EP has kind of a quasi-religious tone to it – though I prefer the terms, mystical/spiritual – from the get-go.
The image for the cover is the stained glass from St. George’s Hall of “St. George Slaying the Dragon”, taken by my mom on her last trip to the UK. When I had the title, I thought the image was a good fit; much of my mom’s side of the family is either from Scotland or the Liverpool area before they came over to the U.S. I scanned the image, then took it into Photoshop where it “cleaned up” rather nicely.
The songs themselves…
The Owl and the Lynx: Written and recorded at the end of 2014, early 2015. The chorus vocals here are virtual vocals, synthesized, and they carry the song. The visual I get here is a video, like something that would’ve come from the 1970’s – you have an owl in flight and they’re very graceful when they fly and swoop down upon their unsuspecting prey, usually at night, and the owl has this friend, Mr. Lynx, and you see the lynx running and being stealthy and all, and they strike up this partnership, like detectives on a cop show because this is a video made to look like it was from the 1970’s and cop shows were very popular back then (e.g., Starsky & Hutch), and so there’s a lot of flying around and the lynx is always running after something when we see him, and it’s all suggestive of something happening but nothing much really happens. But it’s so 70’s cool…
Well, that was the idea anyway. It’s actually kind of a dark song. Which is appropriate ’cause owls can see and hunt in the dark. They’re night birds. In Native American symbolism, owl can see that which others cannot… and there’s a lot of darkness out there right now, my friends. Likewise, the lynx is an animal you won’t see very often – they stay hidden much of the time and in Native American symbolism, they are the keeper of secrets. Symbolically, both owl and lynx have to do with discernment, seeing what is true and separating from what is false, especially important in these days of information (and disinformation) and distraction overload.
For All the Afterthoughts: This song was originally written and recorded way back in October, 2010, just after Nights on Venus made its debut (coming up on 5 years now), but it was never completed. This happens a lot. I have a ton of those songs which I could work on from now until 2030 (spoiler alert). For one reason or another some songs don’t come together initially as you’d like – or sometimes not at all – so you put them on the backburner. To be completed another time. But I always liked this song so I would revisit it at various times, work on it, record different parts for it. At the time, I put this one aside and wrote and recorded “The Clouds Form on the Left” which, by contrast, finished up in just a few days. I love those songs – they practically write themselves. But “Afterthoughts” stayed in my mind as kind of a… well, an afterthought.
In its first incarnation, “Afterthoughts” was very, very slow tempo-wise, around the 85-88 BPM-mark… as was most everything on that first album. Things proceeded at a glacial pace. A lot of this slow tempo came, in part, from a band I was listening to a lot only 1-2 years earlier, Spokane. Check out their song “Proud Graduates” and you’ll see what I mean. Very good, moody band – I always liked their songs. But the tempo on “Afterthoughts’ was the first thing that needed to change; it was too slow for the song and needed to be faster. I re-recorded it at a faster tempo but It wasn’t until the middle section came together late in 2014 that “Afterthoughts” became alive again. Totally by accident.
“Things turn out better by accident sometimes. But you can’t organize accidents.” – Jeff Beck, from the book Zen Guitar, Philip Toshio Sudo
Very true. I totally subscribe to this because it has been my experience, whether working in music or visual art. The book Zen Guitar itself is one of my favorites and I turn to it often for inspiration. The quotes alone – from artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page to Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, and Jerry Garcia – are worth the cost and it’s applicable to any other instruments and other arts across the board. I’ve been meaning to write a review of this book but just haven’t gotten around to it. I find it invaluable and it is highly recommended.
The first and most important thing to know about “Afterthoughts” is that it’s not about “thinking” at all. It’s about the feeling one senses of being an afterthought to other people that you may be close to – for instance, in relationship with a significant other or even in your own family on a personal level or also an “afterthought” on a larger, societal level… as in the idea that “some people count, and others don’t”, an idea which is very prevalent in America today – and I’m sure elsewhere (and probably always has been).
Substitute the word “underdogs” or better yet, “disenfranchised” for afterthoughts and you’ll see what I’m getting at here. I think for most of us, we’ve all been there at some point and if you’ve been there, you know that feeling and it’s not a good one. In fact, it sucks. So this song is for everybody who’s ever felt that way at one time or another, whatever the reason. Eventually you cut out that toxicity (from others) in your life, if able and necessary, and ultimately find your own way because that’s what is required. You become a trailblazer… for yourself and your own life. It doesn’t matter what anybody else or society thinks [about you]. That the song ends on a positive note is a testament to this and hopefully I’ve conveyed this musically.
And then you begin a journey…
The Fool’s Journey: Written and recorded in January, 2015. A.K.A. the Hero’s Journey. If you would be your authentic self, then of necessity you take this journey. And it’s definitely a journey worth taking. The road less traveled… off the beaten path. Really it’s the only path worth taking. What… you’re going to be satisfied by corporate culture which insists on hegemony and conformity? If you have any degree of self-awareness, then no, probably not. And the thing is, once you begin this journey toward greater self-awareness and [unfettered, unattached] awareness itself, you really can’t go back. The ‘Fool’ sets out on his/her journey with youthful exuberance, blissfully unaware of the pitfalls ahead. Usually as you step off a cliff. And the hardest thing to be in society, any society, is to be your own person, truly an individual. The Individualist. It’s the most rewarding journey anyone can ever take.
A lot of digital delay and echo on one of the guitar parts here – it’s a wonderful thing.
Terra Incognita: Written and recorded in February, 2015. Terra Incognita means “unknown territory” and I think this is where we arrive once we shake things up and take the journey toward becoming a true individual, outside the dictates of our upbringing and of society. I think it also describes where we are on a planetary level right now – humanity – as our world continues to change and we often don’t recognize it as the world that we used to know. I think this will continue to hold true in the years to come, and yes, I’m talking about climate change here but also all the sociopolitical and economic changes that are bound to follow and are inevitable as a result. Constant change. Personally I’d rather come from a place of peace rather than fear.
It wasn’t until I had finished recording that I realized where the ending, the chord change, came from. That is an ending in traditional hymn structure (Episcopal/Anglican tradition). That is “the Amen”. Talk about upbringing…
So these are some of the thoughts that were running through my head as I was working and listening. Individual results may vary.
Eventually the Santos EP will be piggy-backed onto the full-length album, its predecessor, Perspective and released on CD – yes, well after the fact I know – probably in early 2016. Next up is the 2nd EP for this year, entitled Unearthly, which is scheduled for a December release date… unless it becomes a full-length album which it very well may.