Now, about that CD project….

… which has practically become the stuff of urban legends. I half-expect to see non-reputable newsfeeds begin regular reports of CD box sightings in/around certain geographic areas. In an effort to de-fuse any such rumors, here’s the final version of the cover art:

balance

I do hope everyone realizes I am joking about the news reports. I am not quite that important in the eyes of the general public and, most certainly, won’t be engaging in Twitter battles with other music celebs (or with a certain presidential candidate…..).

Here’s the update on Balance:

The technical issues have been conquered. Early-on, I was encountering all sorts of electrical interference on the recorded tracks. During sound-checking everything would sound perfect – I’d doff the headphones (which I preferred not to wear while playing) and record for an hour or more. Upon reviewing the tracks afterward (days/weeks…. more about that later) I’d hear either news radio broadcasts or twinkly static that resembled electronic mosquitoes. In either case, filtering, which can eliminate power hum and the like, didn’t solve the problem – the noise was too loud and tweaking removed far too much guitar sound. The source of the interference was my electrical lines picking up the signals from no fewer than nine towers that stand within a half-mile radius of my home. I could a) re-wire my entire house; b) install a highly-insulated A/C circuit just for studio use; or c) get off the grid. The third option cost far less than the first two….. Of course, I utilize condenser mics which require phantom power and, essentially, need to be plugged in. It just so happened that TASCAM was offering a factory rebate on their DR-40 recorder – 4-track recording, battery-powered, with phantom power. The unit records 24bit/48K resolution and, as it happened, was on sale through an online retailer.Need I say more?

The new setup features four mics with the DR-40 with the option of a fifth with my DR-1. As I currently do not have a dedicated studio room where mics can be left in place, I face the issue of having the sound just a bit different for each session. A one-inch difference in mic placement can alter the bass response, affect the midrange…. when an A/B comparison is made between tracks you can hear subtle tonal contrasts. That’s not a bad thing, I’ve come to realize, as there is plenty of tonal variation possible with 4 or 5 mics. In fact, my original goal with the multi-mic setup was to capture as much sound and tonal character as possible then mix the signals to achieve the sound I want. I’ve always ascribed to the theory that having more sound/tone than you need allows you to remove what doesn’t work – if you come up short, tonally, adding/boosting frequencies usually yields lackluster results (at least for me).

The guitar takes a deserved break.

Thus far, I’ve refrained from doing a lot of plug-in processing other than compression/limiting. I want the natural sound of the LaPatrie guitar on the recording – it sounds great and the recording is, after all, a solo acoustic guitar album. I have been able to mix and position the individual mic tracks to create a full, rich sound that conveys the dynamics and the texture of the guitar. I do add reverb (Timeworks) and use Steinberg software for mastering – I do have a favorite reverb setting (which I do tweak for each track) but the mastering is accomplished on a  track-by-track basis. I look to fill the sound out just a  bit while getting the overall mix ‘tight’. I do leave a good deal of dynamic range in the finished product. Essentially, I want to like the sound.

Of course, first and foremost, the playing has to ‘cut it’. I have to like what I played and believe it’s a strong musical performance. This is where I must utilize the most challenging aspect of my recording process: patience. 

I will tell you all about that next time…..

Matt

 

I’ve Got This…

Elkins22a

On May 6th I performed a solo concert at the Dover Public Library in DE for their In Harmony series.

Now this is certainly nothing new – I’ve been featured in library settings and, in fact, I enjoy these performances as the audiences are attentive and open-minded when presented with music that is unique and not the usual fare. In this case, I encountered and managed to overcome bad weather, traffic and detours and play what turned out to be a very satisfying concert (for me and the listeners).

One of the aspects of performing that I have recently been highly focused upon is my determination to connect with listeners. I don’t mean engaging in silly antics or playing down to the audience – I want my music to convey my deepest feelings and touch everyone who is sitting there as I play. I may sound somewhat over the top with that statement, but as an instrumental artist this is something I consider to be an essential part of what I do. My mentor Daisaku Ikeda states “There is probably nothing that speaks as directly to the human heart as music…. It needs no words… Music has the power to cut across all barriers and make our hearts respond mutually to it.” I endeavor to apply this in every performance.

This particular date was a true test. As I inched through what was essentially an endless traffic jam from Philadelphia to Dover and found myself driving down the exit ramp to the library at the exact time I was supposed to be playing my first notes, I deepened my determination to make this situation work and turn poison into medicine.

As I entered the rather large performance space wearing my raincoat and wheeling an amplifier behind me, I heard “Alright everyone, Matt Richards is here! He made it!” and the sixty or so people sitting calmly in rows of chairs applauded. I had to hit the carpet running so I decided to forgo the soundcheck and meticulous setup that was originally planned and engage the audience in a light-hearted account of my traveling dilemma while I doffed the raincoat and quickly plugged in and powered up. Within five minutes I was seated and playing my first notes. I recall thinking, for just a moment, that this wasn’t the best way to begin a performance. Then I played three improvised notes, felt them resonate and began my first tune. While it sounds somewhat silly and cliched, I literally thought to myself “No worries – I got this!” and into the music I went.

My contact at Godin Guitars often says “It’s all good!” and, in fact, it was. I felt I accomplished exactly what I determined to do – engage the listeners and communicate my life through the music. The technical details weren’t an issue. The nerve-wracking drive was behind me. I felt exhilarated throughout the performance and had quite a number of people come up to me afterward to buy CDs, sign onto my emailing list and talk about the music.

Fortunately,the drive back was uneventful, though still a bit wet.  It took the normal 80 or so minutes, which seemed to go rather quickly. I was truly exhausted upon my return home, but felt I had not only performed well, but had proven to myself that my determination was important and valuable no matter what circumstances I faced.

The next day I received an email of appreciation from the librarian who coordinated the event. “Despite the stressful traveling conditions you proved yourself to be a true professional. Your performance was excellent and the audience loved you.”

It’s called Actual Proof.

See you soon.

Matt

When you have too many flavors…..

Lapat111

This is most definitely a guitar geek posting

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A student recently asked why I have only two nylon strings on my LaPatrie classical guitar rather than the 3 nylon/ 3 metal setup common to most classical-style guitars. I explained that the flatwound metal G string affords better intonation on my guitar (which was explained to me by my repair-person Jack Romano and proved to be coorrect). Of course, in true guitar-geek fashion, I then explained that I also replace the remaining two nylon strings with ‘carbon’ trebles. By the time I revealed that last fact, she was deep in thought, examining her own classical guitar.

“Where can I tell my mother to get those strings?” she asked.

Of course, I then needed to explain how she didn’t really need to string her guitar in the same manner as I did because…….”Well….. your guitar doesn’t need to use these strings… it sounds really great as it is (despite the fact that it’s a $200 student model and mine isn’t)….. and…… the G string alone costs $8!

Of course, she listened and considered my explanation, finally nodding in agreement and continuing with her lesson. I later considered that exchange and also considered my obsession with trying different strings in different combinations. Had I fallen into the Baskin-Robbins syndrome, having too many ‘flavors’ when it came to string options and wanting to try them all?

Well…… of course, I never swapped out strings with my steel-string acoustic – it was a whole set and nothing less. But classical guitars have options….

Snapshot - 2

Okay – here’s the way things unfolded:

I acquired the LaPatrie classical more than 5 years ago as an interim instrument until the factory made more Multiacs. I needed it for a duo project with flutist Katherine Barbato. As it turns out, I never ordered the multiac and have adopted the LaPatrie as my primary solo guitar. When I first received it I wanted more treble punch than the standard sylon strings offered. I tried ‘titanium’ trebles (not actually metal, but composite of materials). They were more pronounced in volume and brighter in tone and worked great until one day I recorded with my TASCAM DR-1 and heard the brash twang (well, not exactly twanging-ly brash, but it seemed that way at the time). I switched back to standard nylons – the guitar was balanced and even (Lulo Reinhardt thought so, too) but I felt they still lacked something.

Carbon trebles came into my life and for about three years were perfect. (By the way, many classical strings are sold in separate treble and bass sets so it makes the obsessive selection much easier.) They suited my needs quite well until one day…………..

While reviewing tracks for my upcoming release Balance I kept hearing a thinness in the treble strings. From frets 7 through 11 the E string plinked and the B string did something similar (but slightly less). Jack recommended humidifying the guitar even though the weather had begun to warm. It worked… up to a point. Even though the resonance was back I still noticed thinness in those trebles. Then I did something daring….

I put standard nylon B and E strings on.

They sound and feel perfect! Warm and resonant, these were the strings that I had abandoned years ago.

Okay the question is: Did the guitar actually mature and change during the past five+ years and my swapping-out string types provided the best balance for a period of time? OR am I still a guitar geek and just delighted in being different and overly-detailed about my string selection?

I definitely pick the first option……. there was a difference and I have George Lowden on my side: “Matt, the guitars definitely open up as you play them. The tone changes as the sound goes through the wood.”

While I am pleased with the simplicity of ordering complete sets without the added cost of specialty trebles, I will stick with the flatwound metal G string. It does intonate better….. really…..

LaPatrie4

 

I’m getting even better in the studio….

… and I am very pleased.

I have detailed some of the experiences I’ve had while recording (and in some cases attempting to record) my latest album project balance. While I have refined my setup and technical skills for recording, I actually took on the challenge to return to a previously recorded duo version of an original piece and track a new guitar part to replace the original one.

Lapat111

My composition How Many Times Will We Say Goodbye? was featured in demos for a duo in which I performed with vocalist JayKatz . We had decided to work together several weeks beforehand and needed recorded music to demonstrate the music we were creating together. She and her husband had assembled a recording studio in their home (essentially a personal studio, suited for one or two people, maximum), and she was anxious to get some experience producing product.

Crossposter1b

We recorded all of the tracks live, without overdubs. We went through a few tunes, staying at one or two takes each. Very simple approach, one track for her voice, one for the guitar. I then took the raw files and pulled them into my studio setup. My studio is physically wherever I set it up in my house.

We were both pleased with five of the tunes and I proceeded to mix and master the tracks. No overdubs — the take either worked or it didn’t. I did notice in several spots there was some extraneous noise, barely audible on most speakers I previewed on, but these were demos, not to be released for sale. (We did agree that for a release we’d do a completely different session.) I minimized the offending noise for the most part and produced a very professional master.

Recently, I have been submitting the song for repertoire consideration to a number of female vocalists — I considered the track to be fine sonically. However, I had minor issues with my playing and I had included a guitar solo on the original, of course, as it represented our duo. However, I considered the fact that it was the song that should be the focus of a submission, the lyrics, the melody, etc. and not the capability of the guitarist. I decided to edit the solo out and present only the structured part of the tune. When I returned to the track I immediately heard a scratchy presence that, though very subtle, drove me crazy. I pulled up the original takes and attempted to filter the track — no luck. I ended up with a massive impact on the track itself. So the next option: re-record the guitar track from scratch.

Easier said than done…. When two individuals perform as a duo and really connect there are natural tendencies to speed up and slow down. This isn’t a bad thing and it is part of the special magic that makes for fantastic performances and recordings. Here I was, attempting to go back and recreate the guitar part that fit together so beautifully, realizing that we were, indeed, altering tempo subtly in several spots.After two less-than-successful tries I decided to sit down with Jay’s solo vocal track and listen to and internalize the way things stretched or shrank, tempo-wise, and where the accents and musical interactions actually took place. I also wanted to use an acoustic guitar this time.

Third time was the charm! I focused entirely on her voice, her breathing, her phrasing, and got it right. To top it off, I used an AKG D8000M dynamic mic to record the guitar – I was picking up some sort of radio interference with the condenser mics. What a wide-open sound!

I did a bit of EQing and, of course, mixed and balanced things. I liked it. And here it is:

 

Playing live and recording…

…. are, from my perspective, very different situations that require somewhat different mindsets.

I’ve always been aware of this to some extent – however, while recording my upcoming release balance I seem to have gained a better grasp of this fact. Has it made this whole project go smoothly? The simple answer is no.

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Mock-up of the CD cover

I had the opportunity to perform regularly during the Summer of 2015, heading up my two series Solo Guitar on a Saturday Morning and Solo Guitar on a Sunday Morning. While I believe, without a doubt, that I qualify as a seasoned performer, the settings of both series afforded me the chance to work at delivering a quality performance in what many would consider less-than-desirable situations. These were both open-air markets with a broad range of attendees, from infants to seniors, who weren’t all attending to see/hear me. I made it a point on each and every date to zero in and perform at the highest level, even if the crowd was less than enthusiastic in response. I have always maintained that when quality music is performed with technical finesse and sincerity it will communicate no matter what. And, based on my experience, that assumption is correct. With my very first note I would strive to interact with the music, go deeply into whatever I was playing and mine the possibilities without worrying that it would be ‘beyond’ any listener. I gained new listeners and a sparkling reputation as a result.

Live at Ambler Farmers' Market

Ambler Farmers’ Market, Spring 2015

However, when I am sitting in my living room (which I’ve temporarily modified for recording), in front of several microphones with no external connections to the outside world, pushing the music the same way as I did on those early mornings yielded less-than-satisfactory results on the recordings. It’s a change in my attitude and focus that makes the difference between tracks that sound as if I wrestled the guitar to squeeze out something approaching music instead of engaging in the imaginative exploration of musical possibilities.

StudioToGo Early studio set-up

Let me be clear – I’m not pulling back in my efforts to create something highly musical and immediately unique. I’m still pushing into the song form, exploring ideas spontaneously. (I am not attempting to water-down the music to suit a market.) Things seem to work better and the resulting performance quality is satisfying to me – it communicates as well if not, in many cases, even better than the powerhouse approach that works in the great outdoors.

I still have the penchant to second-guess the results, especially if I listen to the tracks within 24 to 48 hours after recording. I want to fix everything -squeaks, finger noise, a buzzed note. This was the pitfall for my first two CD releases – I remixed and re-edited and cut and pasted well beyond what should have been done. Time and money were easily disposed of during the post-production. Then, after all that, when Larry Coryell listened to the first album he commented “You didn’t use many first or second takes did you?” Of course, I was proud of the countless hours spent in the studio to achieve the final product and I proudly told him “No – I did a lot of production afterward”. Then Larry says “In the future you should trust your early takes more and rely less on fixing it later.”

Larry’s words were on my mind throughout the recording process for balance. Especially with a solo guitar recording, tweaking the daylights out of the finished product literally tweaks the soul and substance out of it. There are small rough edges here and there, buzzes, scrapes, imperfect notes – but I’ve finally managed to step back and listen to the music I’ve created rather than the details inside it.

I feel better and the music sounds great.

I don’t use a musical template…

… when I arrange solo guitar pieces or when I compose and score music. While I do have a well-developed knowledge of music theory I don’t necessarily take the technical path to harmony and structure when creating music. I do experiment until I hear what I want.

Snapshot22

This doesn’t mean that I haphazardly stick notes atop one another over and over until something takes shape. Theory does have an important function as my foundation. It’s similar to writing a story – you need knowledge of a language, its vocabulary, its grammar, to write an original piece of fiction. Your characters may speak in slang, or have unique speech mannerisms that are part of the narrative – you can make this happen by understanding the workings of the language. Simple and complex sentences can alter the flow and feeling of sections of the story. By understanding the language you can fashion the components of the story to make it realistic and interesting.

The same thing applies to composing and arranging. Having a thorough knowledge of how the music fits together allows me to imagine possibilities while composing in terms of voicings, counterpoint, rhythm and phrasing. While I do experiment with what I include and how/where it’s included, I can usually achieve what I’m after in a piece after a couple of attempts.

SoundForge

I do credit my awareness of music theory to having had the opportunity to study with Dr. Donald Reinhart while in high school. ‘Doc’ was a very capable arranger and didn’t hesitate to throw the 17- and 18-year-olds in his class into the deep end when it came to arranging dense harmonies. Quite honestly, I was musically immature at the time, and thought playing barre chords on guitar was an advanced technique. While I can’t actually quote any hard and fast concepts that Doc conveyed throughout the year, I actually gained a very basic understanding of the possibilities in chord inversions and rhythmic structures that does remain with me to this very day. One aspect that remains with me is my aversion to playing guitar chords that contain octaves – I always try moving the octave to another note that will add more color and substance to the voicing.

My first guitar instructor Tom Giacabetti similarly overwhelmed me with chord inversions but also included a system that allowed me to build altered chords (#9, b5, etc.) from major7, minor7 and dom7 4-note voicings – as with Doc, I learned the process of building these voicings and worked with all the possibilities. Some were immediately useful to me, others sounded horrendously awkward – as I matured musically they all made sense.

Snapshot - 2

Here’s a video clip of a recent performance of my arrangement of the Lennon & McCartney tune All My Loving: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHwJj5njMcA&list=PL035F657F1E000CF0&index=1. While the melody remains the same as my original chart (G major) the chord structure winds around and resolves to E minor.

While I haven’t placed any music in video or film yet, I do have selections to stream. One of my compositions Magnificent is on Soundcloud:  https://soundcloud.com/matt-richards-65/graciously?in=matt-richards-65/sets/compositions-soundtracks. There’s also a very different piece, Her Dark Heart: https://soundcloud.com/matt-richards-65/her-dark-heart?in=matt-richards-65/sets/compositions-soundtracks.

I’ll be back with more soon….

It’s a new year….

… so I best get back into the rhythm of writing and posting regularly.

In actuality, I’ve been immersing myself in work, both musical and personal, meaning I’m holing up in my own world following a creative surge of energy. That energy has often been directed to composing and recording musical material for possible features in film, television and other audio/visual markets. I do post samples on a ReverbNation page specifically for my ensemble compositions: https://www.reverbnation.com/mattrichmusic.

I’m getting much better at composing on demand – in fact, I composed then engineered a piece in two hours for a low-budget horror film. Though I haven’t heard anything back from the producers, I am pleased with Her Dark Heart – I did overstep my original intention and added some embellishments featuring the melody being twisted and turned in and around itself before the piece begins. Check it out here:  https://www.reverbnation.com/mattrichmusic/song/24944158-her-dark-heart. Without the intro it feels SciFi-like- I’ll keep it in rotation for inquiries.

The oft-rumored much-delayed CD project Balance is underway for real this time. I am, as usual, highly critical of my recorded work and while the many technical gremlins seem to be dashed for the time-being, my critical ear for the final product is a real challenge for me. In addition to wanting every note to be perfect, I’ve also found out that the many live solo dates throughout the Summer offered the wonderful opportunity to develop the pieces further. While, in and of itself, this is a good thing, I now go back and listen to tracks from earlier in the year and discover I am performing them very differently now. When I review those recorded versions I find I must listen with the mindset that they are perfectly good versions of the tunes – I must struggle to not re-record newer renditions or else I end up in an endless loop of recycling myself. Each time I play the songs there are differences – I’m slowly accepting that and, unless there are serious problems with the performance, I need to recognize that the earlier versions are fine and will work perfectly on the release.

I am happy to say the cover art now exists in a new, much-improved version:

Balancecvr

The first cover featured the photo of the dancer/gymnast from my former arts school with her arms outstretched (which brought the title Balance to mind). However, when I showed my wife the cover she immediately asked where I’d gotten a photo of a nude woman dancing and if I really wanted to put that on a CD cover. In fact, my PhotoShop manipulations had altered the photo and gave the appearance that the woman was, in fact, not wearing a leotard for her routine. I did attempt to correct this, but my efforts looked very much like I was covering up a naked lady in a photo. I perused my collection of photos taken while on the road and found the intriguing one above – it may still be tweaked before the release, but it’s pretty close to the way I want it to look now (and I don’t feel the need to paint fake sleeves on any part of it).

There has also been some familial adjustments following my mother’s passing – nothing serious or debilitating. The feeling in our small family circle is somewhat different. A few loose ends are being tied up, as well.

Getting back to blogging for the New Year. I promise.

Happy 2016!

Matt