Fly on the Wall (Film)

My wife, Rachel, found this fantastic video of a live orchestral film scoring session on YouTube. It’s a 2.5 hour film done @ Air Studios in London, England. Very inspiring to see how things are done at this level of professionalism, expertise and excellence.

Thanks to Christian Henson and Spitfire audio for making this available for all of us to see. Very cool, indeed!

Is This Thing Live?

I had been wanting to get more familiar with Ableton Live for quite a while and the 2019 Spring Concert was the perfect opportunity to do just that. While I love Logic Pro X for writing and production, I was intrigued by the idea of the scene based approach Live has for performance and wanted to see what I could do with it. 

Fortunately I found this excellent tutorial on Groove3: It got me up to speed really quickly and before I knew it I was putting together the entire concert in Live.

I found Live to be a pretty straight forward (but deep) and well thought out application. It’s feels “fluid” in it’s workflow and very robust. I am looking forward to using it more in the future, particularly for coordinating music with visuals. Thanks Ableton!  

Take Away(s)

There were a number of things that I took away from the 2019 Spring Concert, but perhaps the biggest thing I learned was the importance of rehearsing with the full system set up for more than one day. I think the ideal amount of time would have been about a week.

I did rehearse every day over the last month and a half, but always sitting down, without microphones/PA and playing at lower volume levels. Also, it wasn’t until the day before the concert that I had Ableton Live completely configured (audio files, MIDI mappings, sound patches, virtual instruments, etc). Up until then I was practicing with Logic Pro X – the app that I did all the production in.

Other things that I learned:

  • Really need to use chains in Live to switch between virtual instruments as selecting the desired track via MIDI mapping for MIDI controller focus wasn’t always reliable.
  • Use audio stems instead of “minus 1” tracks next time. Would be nice to have more isolation of tracks in the future (particularly synth basses and drums).
  • Should coordinate visuals better. This time was more like a proof of concept. Going forward I’d like to have them tailored to each song in Final Cut Pro and then triggered in Live, which could take a considerable amount of time to do. Need to allot for that. Perhaps 2 weeks or more?
  • Would be great to have extra time with everything set up to get extra footage for song videos (e.g. multiple passes of each song during the rehearsals, close ups of the gear/lighting, abstract images, etc.)
  • Clip for one of mics I planned on using was missing. Ended up using a condenser mic with a mic pre, which sounded totally different.
  • Both mic stands kept drifting downward when positioned over the keyboard. Need to repair or replace them.
  • Performing with mic stand positions (especially when singing while playing keyboards) was awkward at times.
  • Disable notifications on my laptop!

Most importantly, having the extra time to rehearse will make it easier for me to get into the flow of the music.

Things that worked:

  • Practicing the songs regularly was a win for being prepared musically.
  • Using Ableton Live worked pretty much the way that I hoped it would.
  • The equipment set up and layout of the room was really good.
  • The contour of the concert provided a nice variety of styles.
  • Visuals added a lot of depth and dimension to the feeling of the space.
  • Using Guitar Rig for performance worked really well for maintaining balance of volume between instruments (vs using an external guitar amp).

Here’s a beautiful painting of the layout of the room that my wife made. I think it’s fantastic!

Road Maps

I’m a true believer in “starting with the end in mind” as it can make all the difference in whether a project is completed or not. So when it came time to identify what I wanted to do for the 2019 Spring Concert I had a brainstorming session with my whiteboard:

For those that can’t read my scribbles, here’s what it says:

Spring Concert 2019
Location: Home Living Room
Duration: 30 – 60 Minutes
Theme: Spring, new life, budding, becoming, cycles
Genres: Acoustic and electric

Select Songs, Determine: length/arrangements/instrumentation/melodies/lyrics

Scratch Tracks, Determine tempos & keys, drums/percussion, bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals

Mixing (template?)

Photos/videos (fractal generators?)

Prep for live performance:
Bounce tracks to RC 500 or to use in Ableton Live?
Determine live rig
Determine visual projection system & how to sync to music

Looking back I pretty much did everything listed on the board. Granted I ended up creating various spreadsheets to go into greater detail:

I also created an outline of how I would like the contour of the concert/album to be:

Here’s the translation:

Contour of Concert (Songs/Album)
• String Piece ( string quartet -> symphony)
• African Drums Piece
• Spacey Lead Guitar Piece (using the Dark Side and Freqout pedals) <- use “Thaw” for the inspiration and title?
• Piano Piece
• Electronic Piece (“Crushing Minimalism”?)
• Acoustic Guitar Piece (“Tempest”)
• Tibetan Bell and Bowl (perhaps to begin and end with or to use in the middle

All of which ended up being what I did for the concert and album. The String piece became “Enchantment”, the African Drums piece became part of the middle section in “Signs of Life”, the Spacey Lead Guitar piece became “The Thaw”, the Piano piece became “Frost”, the Electronic piece became “Signs of Life”, the Acoustic Guitar piece is “Tempest” and I used the Tibetan Bowl for the beginning of the concert.

Best Laid Plans…

One of the things that I was hoping to do during the first quarter of this year was to continue my studies while making an album (and preparing to perform said album) for our 2019 Spring Equinox Concert. I estimated all the timelines needed for studies, pre-production, production, editing, mixing, concert prep and setup. I thought I had a reasonable plan.

I had a good run for most of the quarter, maintaining a daily study schedule of ~4 hours a day with ~4-5 hours of production/prep all throughout January and February. It felt really good to be making progress in so many areas on a daily basis.

That was until the beginning of March when I realized that I had exceeded the amount of time that I had allotted for pre-production and production. I was supposed to be editing and mixing when a majority of the songs were nowhere near being ready. I had a strong feeling that I could get everything done if I abandoned the study regimen.

So that’s what I did. Throughout March, I focused 100% on the production/editing/mixing of the songs with some concert prep along the way. This went on until the _very_ early morning of the Spring Equinox (3/23). I met my deadline, all the songs were finished but at the cost of not meeting my goals for other areas of development.

Looking to the future, I hope to return to my days of studies _and_ production. This time allowing more leeway for production either in the number of songs or as to when I expect them to be done. Perhaps I will spread things out over two quarters. One being dedicated to writing and pre-production of the songs with a concert of the stripped down/basic versions. The other being focused on production/editing/mixing and concert of the fully arranged songs. As of now this approach seems reasonable, then again I thought the plan for this past quarter was reasonable… We’ll have to try and see what happens!

Spring Concert 2019

Well, the first quarter of 2019 has come to a close. Before it was over we had our first ever house concert – the “2019 Spring Equinox Concert”. All in all it was a great night with a bunch of firsts.

It was the first time that I:
– performed all new material, written for a specific event
– used Ableton Live for performance
– coordinated visuals (lights and video) to go with the music
– played keyboards live
– used my Gretsch White Falcon for performance

I’m planning on writing some additional blog entries covering the various aspects of what went into the past three months. A lot happened. Some of it according to plan, other parts not so much. I’ll be highlighting what I thought worked and what could have been better. That being said I think the first quarter of 2019 was a very rich and fruitful one. It was full of learning, creativity and growth. Looking forward to the next one.