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What is Overkill?

What is Overkill?

I’ve had unexperienced players come up to me before and say things such as, “Did you really need two amps just for a club gig?,” or something similar. The answer is yes, and the reasons are various.

What type of music are you playing?

When going to a gig with a setlist covering many different types of genres, it helps to have an amp which can keep up with the demands. Using a small practice amp will only get you lost in the live mix, and can end up sounding muddy and weak. You wouldn’t use a solid state Fender Frontman, which is something one may learn over time. Of course, if playing with an acoustic drummer, you would have to increase their on stage volume in order to hear themselves regardless of amp wattage. I’m not advising three full Marshall stacks, however, I am condemning amplifiers designed to be used as bedroom practice enhancers, and nothing more.

Clean Headroom

Using an amp that has a bit more clean headroom (15-45W) will give you a much more articulate, controllable tone. Easy for the sound guy to hear and mix, as well as making your band sound tighter, and more to the point, well-versed no matter the genre.

Dynamics

When you drive an amp to the point of breakup, and beyond, touch dynamics become less and possible, leaving you with a fizzy, noisy, hard to control ball-of-mud tone that cannot sway and lean musically with the rest of the band.

Control

In having an amplifier over 15W or so, one begins to hear themselves for how they actually sound. There is no room to hide sonically the higher the wattage of an amplifier goes. All your technique and playing details are there, however, so are your mistakes. This reason in particular may be why many novice players don’t particularly like playing through louder amplifiers.

Quality of Repitition

The best way of keeping a predictable tone to what you are used to recording with, writing with, gigging with, etc, is by trying to use the exact same setup if and when you can. No one knows your guitar rig and how to make it perform at its best it better than you.

Do You Want to Sound Good?

If the answer is yes, refer to the previous reasons I’ve given as to why using what are technically classified as “low-wattage” amplifiers. Volume knobs go past 2, so use them as the were designed to be used! While yes, it may be a hassle carrying a pedalboard, amplifiers, and guitars to gigs, if you want to sound good, in most cases that may be the cost. I know from experience that this pays off; getting offers from serious musicians while members who weren’t as prepared are overlooked.

One must dress for the job they want.

Open Call 2015 – 22 and UNDER

This may become a thing.. more details later.

333sound

9781628920437

We’ve spent the last year putting together a textbook for writing about music called simply, How To Write About Music. In the book you’ll find examples of music writing, writing prompts and, perhaps most uniquely and practically important, real life advice from working music journalists and editors. Now that the book is out, my co-editor Marc Woodworth and I sometimes worry that we’ve launched our guide into the world with only an extremely positive message and perhaps too few caveats about how hard it is to become a successful music writer: we’ve told you how: now go forth and be a music writer! To balance things out, the forty successful writers we interviewed for the book frequently describe how being a music writer can be a serious hustle. It requires talent, humility and persistence and, as Casey Jarman says in the book, “patience, empathy, a sense of humor, a mean streak…

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Digging for Greatness: What Happened to the Era of Great Guitar Players?

It is well recognized that the days of gun-slinging guitar players such as Jimi Hendrix, and Leslie West are well over. The countless rock shows filled with the fluff and theatrics of burning guitars, four hour long guitar solos, and the ear-shattering volume of Marshall amplifiers three stories high have all retired, along with those who originally performed this way. However, what happened to The Greats?

No, we haven’t lost these awe-inspiring heroes of old such as Jimmy Page or Stevie Ray Vaughan to the sands of time, but where are the creative geniuses destined to follow in their footsteps? The answer is more complex than one might think. The qualities one must have to become a Great would follow along the lines of an innovator, a developer of a new approach, skillful in playing at any genre, speed, or creative setting, and has a tone all their own. A master in the same way that Picasso was a master artisan, pioneering the French impressionist period. Today, a bit if digging is needed to find anything close to players of this caliber.

To begin with the understanding of why such a strange phenomena of the extinction of Great has occurred, the musical equipment used by today’s industry must first be understood and scrutinized. Digital and easy to replicate equipment such as effect pedals, amplifiers, and other such tonal shaping tools have been glorified and over-exaggerated before being drafted into the newest versions of any major recording equipment/software. To get one’s hands on the tone of their “idols” is a matter of downloading an App, rather than slaving away in a hot garage over a single guitar, a single amplifier. Sure, this way is more comfortable, but what or where is the creativity?

Although such new technology is an absolute Godsend to those such as I who record and write on a weekly basis, it must work hand in hand with creativity and genius, in order to reproduce anything greater than what was created in the first place. That being said, the creative force which drives any musician worth his or her salt is diminished the moment the individual does not have to think for themselves; putting their brain on auto-pilot whilst software works out a melody for them. This in turn removes the ideas of music theory from them; not knowing why certain chord changes work together, or even why scales are made up in the manner in which they are laid out, only that because it sounds “right” to them, that it goes together. Now in a way, this is not a bad thing. After all, that is the basic institution of ear-training is it not? But something like a brilliant software like Garageband can have its limitations on the human psyche before the spirit of songwriting a skill starts to diminish.

The Greats of olde began learning to play guitar in a time when such recording and writing techniques were in their infancy. Reel-to-reel, 4-Track, and other such magnetic tape-based recording devices were primarily all there were to offer in a recording sense no matter your level of proficiency or fame. Not only were recording techniques shrewd by today’s standards, but the way these musicians learned to play is a giant determining factor to their greatness. Often growing up poor, many of The Greats grew up with nothing to do or play with, other than maybe a beat up old guitar. It probably didn’t play well, and it may not have even had strings, however these musicians at a young age began to innovate the way they played guitar based on the restrictions they had naturally placed upon themselves as young players.

Today, even cheap guitars can easily be made to play fantastically well, but as a teacher, I personally warn against having your guitars adjusted to playing too nicely for the first few years of learning. Otherwise you spoil your hands, giving them nothing to build resistance and muscle tone/memory upon. Of course, this is merely a way to familiarize oneself with making precision movements over the fretboard, etc under any playing circumstance, strengthening the hands and forcing one to spend copious amounts of time fine tuning one’s own personal technique. I’ve told many people who assume because they are buying breathtakingly expensive equipment who think they’ll have a perfect tone that “you’re doing it all backwards”. You struggle, fight it, learn it, bond with it. Spend thousands of hours and hundreds of dollars rather than thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours perfecting one’s own personal sound. After all, some of the most iconic music of the 20th century was written and recorded on surprisingly cheap and sometimes hard to play equipment.

The next aspect of said conundrum involves the discipline with playing at such a high level of expertise. The musicians which you see recording the most timeless music with the most elegant and complex styles are the ones who have absolutely dedicated their lives to the instrument, not surprisingly the song. Once one has mastered the instrument, and type of genre of music or complexity of song is remarkably achievable with a relatively small matter of practice in comparison to the thousands upon thousands of hours locked away in a quiet room repeating the mantra of scales and chordings, over and over again. in the same way that a Buddhist monk meditates to the point of Nirvana, a musician must play to the point of perfection on his instrument; until it has become little more than the extension of one’s body.

Glen Hansard's "Horse"

Of course in a world where we as a people are collectively more and more busy with our day to day lives, much of the time tha could have been spent is used for our careers, education, etc. This makes and effort of concentration and learning that much more difficult, with only a few finding the time between life and sleep to actually do any learning. This is why it is to one’s best advantage that he or she begins the process of learning guitar as early in life as possible, building a strong foundation to build with as the musician grows older, and more busy. As always with any art form-turned hobby, here are those who believe that playing twenty to thirty minutes a day, not to mention the same musical pieces and warm-ups will become exponentially better. This is sadly quite the opposite. If everyone was able to sit down on their lunch break and learn as such, there would be much fewer accounts and lawyers graduating with degrees, but rather touring to sold out theaters.

Dedication is, before anything else, the deciding factor on the proficiency of any given musician. Bar none.

This still is not all that is required of an individual to truly become one of The Greats. The quality and personality of one’s tone is crucial to being heard differently by an audience. The biggest problem I have seen in recent years is the crutch of the pedalboard. Guitarists in particular have be slowly increasing the size of their pedalboards for years, but what does that matter? That creates left-brained thinkers and innovators, right? Well yes and no. Yes to whosoever is using their effects not to drown out their mistakes or the fact that they are in all honesty, awful at guitar, but only to color the sound or palate, or use the effects to all together aid in the melody that he or her the musician has created. No to whosoever is using them, believes they are “pushing the boundaries”, but are doing nothing more than following the current trends of every other player with an Instagram or Flickr account. These pedalboards usually consist of a few low gain overdrives, a volume pedal (as if hand dynamics have gone extinct), a delay or two, and a reverb. Every last person sounds exactly the same as the others. Same guitars. Same amplifiers. No talent. No dedication. This is how musicians believe they are changing the way they approach music. They couldn’t be more wrong.

If you love effects as much has I do, use them properly. Use them for the reason they were invented to be used; to make one sound like no one else on the airwaves to date. Change the order of effects, use them for things that don’t make sense (like a Fuzz pedal for an overdrive). Yes, it will be experimental, and no, one will not always like what one hears, but if one can combine the quality of their musicianship with their drive to sound like oneself, one’s voice will be heard. I myself had a similar problem up until recently, when I realized this every problem. As most people who build equipment setups this way, my cleans were too squeaky, my drives too grainy, my guitar too thin, and my delay too “Edge-ish”. So I did the best thing there was for me to do. I removed my pedalboard, changed my amp settings, and adjusted my guitar. For 6 weeks I forced myself to play nothing other than the ideas that came out of my head, making me incredibly vulnerable.

I was vulnerable in a beautiful way. I began to experiment, and learn as if I had just picked up the guitar for the first time in years. I began learning Middle Eastern guitar techniques and Indian guitar, Japanese scales and South American chord voicings. I reinvented the wheel, and that is how a Great comes to fruition. I am not stating such things in order to brag and worship myself, but rather to inform that even I after fourteen years of playing, am learning at an alarming rate, and if I can, why can’t those stuck in this observational rut of being musically dead do exactly the same. The answer is they can. The problem is no one has told them so. But what is genius and divine inspiration if one has to be told to do so? It is nothing more than the catalyst for the same reason we have to problem with uninteresting players flooding the market for those who can actually play today. Everything they learn comes from somewhere else, not themselves.

 

An Intro, Explanation, and Coda.

It is absolutely obvious, and painfully clear that the September debut of the freshmen album, Acadia did not happen. As with any project, circumstances over the course of 8 months change drastically; drastically altering the progress of such an already slow burning project. Before I delve any further into the complexities of why the album has yet to be released, let us reflect on the past events which critically crippled its progress.

In the winter of 2011, I was struggling. I was at what has so far been the top of my personal musical expertise, and more than able to understand by that point in time, that a personal album project would be eminent. This idea was sparked by the moving of my absolute closest friend and only confidant in the world at the time: A musician, who like myself was at the top of his game at a very young age. We learned how to play together, and most of all, we learned how to play virtuosically together. Once I understood that this move would undoubtably tear us apart (which it among other things did), I felt my internal clock of creation begin to tick. I only had months left with him truly, and therefore began to write the beginnings of the Acadia album. Of course at the time it was named The Bitter Cold, and our musical project The Northern Arcade, yet the musical principle of what we were doing then, and what I still do today were all the same. I put me and him out in front musically of the album, making it instrumental in order to accent his virtuosic bass skills, as well as my own personal abilities on guitar.

Recording sessions went well all through the summer of 2011, ending in August of that year. We parted ways, and I was left with a mass of material, none of which was finished to continue working on until he would be able to continue another session at his small home studio at another time. Except this never happened. Due to complex legal issues between me and an affiliation with which he is a large part of, we never were able to continue our friendship, much less an entire musical project like Acadia. Crushed and depraved of the only musical inspiration I personally had at the time, I left the project. I let it collect dust in the corner of both closets and computers for nearly a year, no longer caring what became of my only sonic legacy. It was with the introduction of another great musician that I truly began to musically explore again. Christopher Scott was a man I knew much and yet at the same time nothing about. I knew he was from Durham, North Carolina, and was well known in the local music community, but my knowledgeability at the time extended no further. It was not until I was invited to play under his instruction that I began to understand his genius. Christopher is not a virtuoso, nor is he a musical maverick, however he is an incredible leader both musically and spiritually, subconsciously making me play to the best of my abilities at the time of our first show together.

While our friendship began to blossom, I was beginning to write music for the first time in nearly two years. After failed attempts to revitalize my old album now dubbed Acadia, I realized I could not do this alone. Christopher had somehow ignited in me the ideas that I had buried and forgotten, giving me a fresh and new canvas in order to paint my only sonic masterpiece onto. The theme of the album became dark, yet revealing; The Libretto about a man finding himself through the dreariness of his meaningless life. Perhaps this was me. Me reawakening my soul after the crushing blow of losing not only my closest friend, but the death of several others, the front row view of my parents’ sicknesses, and the crawling away of almost everyone who had anything to do with me. However, this blog is meant to remain in the frame of musical ideas, not personal to an extent.

The demos were recorded late at night, by myself. Every guitar track, every bass and drum track, everything was all of my own doing. After nearly a year of careful writing, I came to Christopher, as my musical partner to help record the new project. Old ideas were scrapped, and the Acadia album has come alive again. Being that I want this piece of music to be as masterful as personally possible, it will take quite some time to record it in full. Once a week, me and Christopher sit down together and rework parts of each song, one song a session, in order to make it a beautiful, lush, and seamless as possible. Once all ten tracks are covered, we will then begin to record in the same way that we edited the album together.

Perhaps this is self-induced therapy, or perhaps this is the manic ravings of a mad musician, but at whatever rate you view this particular blog post at, you the reader will now know why it is imperative to me to finish what I started going on 3 years ago now, and that this mere hour long piece of music was intended to be the swan song of my old beloved life as a young man. Take care, and have a blessed Christmas season.

• Jonathan Morgan Price

Cleanliness is not Nessesarily Next to Godliness

soapWhat I believed to be the foundation in my constantly expanding sonic dialogue has been shaken, crumbled, and rebuilt. I had thought for years that to gain the perfect tone in your playing, you must start out with a perfectly clean fundamental tone. I did and still do believe to an extent that the high gain screeching of the 70’s and 80’s rock guitar gods was a barbaric and primitive style of expression, reserved for those who didn’t have the knowledge nor the patience to truly sculpt their own sound. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule: There is the soulful blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Ballsy-but-clean Led Zeppelin, and the classic and natural sound of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, but the list is much shorter than most people perceive it to be. The genre “Classic Rock” is anything but; filled with the he-man garbage of many a one hit wonder, but on occasion the music industry gets it right with bands like those listed above, and it is these bands that have inspired my next move artistically.

For those of you who know me, I am an aficionado of fuzz effects. The type of gain that is an almost 180 degree turn from the distorted Marshalls of classic rockdom. Thick and low gain, becoming lower and lower in fidelity with a thumping low end driving the amplifiers tubes into oblivion. Unlike regular distortion, fuzz gives you a more tangible feel for the gain stage of your signal. More cutthroat than the hardest distortion in some cases, and yet it can be more dynamic depending on the effect. The fuzz then is an extremely dynamic instrument, yet… yet this wasn’t working for me anymore.

Yes, fuzz does and will always have a place in my heart and on my board, but the difference between my clean sound and fuzz is just too drastic. To transfer from a smooth silky ala “Bon Iver” style verse to a heavier chorus using fuzz almost changes the attitude of the song, even at lower gain settings. Moving on from fuzz, I decided to try the extreme low gain types of boosts/overdrives. I’ve had and still use a Blackeye Effects Palmetto, a JHS Morning Glory V3 overdrive, and a DMB Cosmic Crunch among other low gain alternatives and still the difference between the two types of distortion couldn’t be spanned by a suspension bridge.

This is where I currently reside. I understand that I need a middle ground alternative to bridge the gap between crazy low and gritty high gain, without the thin snarly classic rock sound. After much deliberation and several hours of asking around and trying out, I have narrowed it down to two options. With both amps still set on a fairly clean setting, a JHS Angry Charlie or a boutique type of Klon Clone would both have enough gain to push the delays, amps, octave effects, and reverb just enough to squeeze every last drop of tone out of my rig.

My previously distorted ideas of distortion have been wiped clean, realizing that given enough searching and tweaking, I can make it work to better my own sound. Adding a rumble underneath the dark, rolling repeats of a Dbucket-style delay, or to push a smooth plate reverb just enough to lengthen the decay and boost its mix. This is how I will utilize the distortion effect to my own advantage, and how I will apply it to change the style of my music.

Into the Light

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Setting the Mood

The remoteness and rugged beauty of Acadia was the inspiration for the sound of the album. Rugged; beautiful; melancholy. The complexity of transposing a physical space for a sonic one is quiet difficult, yet with enough meditation and attention to detail of each track, it can be done.

I wanted the album to flow from track to track, not like that of new albums formatted to fit single after single until a ten to twelve song “album” is complete. Acadia has been written to flow. The tracks themselves tell a story of the search for personal understanding in an empty and desolate landscape such as the Acadian wilderness without the utterance of a single word. Each track produces the emotional processes of thought of the unknown man (Who can be interjected as yourself) as he treks through the wilderness. In some ways, it is a story not unlike that of the Exodus led by Moses, or the frostbitten musher leading the pack of Alaska’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race. By the time Acadia crescendos to a powerful final act and soon thereafter end, the mental journey as well as the sonic pleasure of those hearing it emerge as a well-rounded and beautifully sculpted idea which quietly exits the audible stage that your mind has developed in the hour the album is played.

The Tracklist

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Saltwater

– The introductory track gently pulls you into the world that our unknown man resides. Perhaps arriving by boat, or even by foot, the misty hidden world he chooses to isolate himself on slowly steps into view. The song of the track itself deep and somewhat muffled; giving your ear the air of something tucked away by the fog. This world is completely alien to anything you know, almost as if blanketed in a cloak of monochromatic greyness.

Out of Acadia

– Out of Acadia establishes the insoluble security of dry land. The jagged rocky shore acting as a barrier between where our man with no identity has come from, and where he wants to be. The track is much more clear, almost sharp sounding like that of the craggy mystic shore of which you just arrived. 

Lost Pt.1

– Out of determination to understand yourself, our character begins to wander into the vast wilderness, unable to prevent any type of harm that may come to our man who walks into the bleak abyss empty handed, only to find himself abandoned to the mercy of the island, and lost beyond hope. His personal journey has now began, as he has nowhere to be; nowhere to go. The feel and sound of this track in particular is meant to feel heavy and dark, giving the listener the feeling of a burden like that of Mr. Unknown.

Dirty

– Locked into this small world of nothing and everything, you begin to rely on the things you cannot trust; yourself and the strange new land you now lay on. Being more scared than reflective, he falls to the ground, tired, hopeless, dirty. This song in particular is written in a minor key, to put pressure on the emotional psyche of you the listener, and delve into the depression of our man who is looking for any possible way out of this darkness.

The Storm and the Sea

– The ground you lay upon is no longer ground. You are in a dream, upon the tilting desk of a thrashed sailing ship, far out at sea. The waves overwhelm the boat, plummeting you into the dark cold sea at the dusk of a stormy day. Just as Mr. Unknown breathes his last, there is an incredibly powerful drum of thunder, which lays the sea flat in its wake. Starting as a whisper, the man becomes quickly overwhelmed with the infinite knowledge of a greater entity. The man does not know if it is in fact God, or deep self discovery that is fueling this wave of awareness which is feeding him now, but nevertheless understands what he has to do. The man now realizes that in order to regain self-purpose, he needs to remove anything in his own life that distracts him from personal growth. All the people, the jobs, the media, the stress of day to day monotonous life must be eliminated for him to truly become his own person. This will make him happy; this will make him whole. The track is a mini story set within the tale to add drama and depth to the storyline of the dream, as well as the entire album.

Lights

– You have awoken. From your dream. From your old life, on a grassy desolate plateau on an overcast morning. In the hazy distance, you, our man sees two single lights on either side of the horizon. The one behind you represents the old life you can still return to: The one even farther away in front of you represents where you want to be. You begin walking one step at a time in the direction of your future, shedding off the problems of your past as you go. This is still a struggle, yet you have seen what life would and will be like if you could only keep walking. The sound of Lights is almost that of a distress call from either light on the horizon to follow them. This creates the idea of choice between the two distinct calls, and which to follow in the end.

Lost Pt.2

– Our man is running now, working harder than ever towards the light on the distant horizon, miles and miles away. He becomes Lost once again, frantic to find his way out of the wilderness that is Acadia. Stumbling and weak-kneed, he is walking with everything in him towards what in his mind he knows to be true. With the same feel as Lost Pt.1, this second addition to these pair of songs but with a slightly more uplifting feel, showing the overcoming power of Mr. Unknown’s determination.

Palisades

– There is a cliff. A cliff towering infinitely taller than the beach below of which the sea crashes over, stretching out to the distant white light. Unsure of what to do, he sits. He takes in the beauty of the island which has caused him so much pain, and so much hurt. The ground, the towering rocks that were once his weakness would now become his strength. He must begin to climb. Palisades takes in the full spectrum of beauty that our man observes during his meditation on the cliff. In building intensity towards the end signifies the building up of nerve and initiative to climb down the infinite cliff; the final test.

Electric

– Spurred on by the insatiable drive for a better life, he begins to climb down, the energy electric flowing through his body. This climb is long, and tiring, but the listener cannot give up now. The Unknown Man cannot give up now. If he lets go, everything he worked for would be for nothing, everything he wants will never come to pass, and Acadia will win as easily as it had invited him in. He does not waver. He does not stop. Absolutely drained of every last ounce of energy, his feet touch the rocky sand of the beach. This track sounds desperate, at nerve’s end and tired.

Remnant

– You have nothing left in you but the weakness left behind from the most tiring journey you have ever endured, but you are proud. You, the unknown man stand at the foot of the vast expanse of ocean, looking towards the light that glows not so far off through the haze. You are happy and have made peace with yourself, perfectly content with whatever type of confrontation whether physically, mentally, or spiritually possible. With the comfort of a new soul and the remnant of your old self left far behind in the wilderness of the island, the man with a smile begins to swim. The sound of the final song is comforting, soft, warm, and theatrical, a sweet and somewhat untold ending to the story of the Unknown Man.