The July Album Challenge: Day 1

Happy July! Today being the first day of the month, I decided to allow myself to begin working on my album challenge. I didn’t waste any time getting started.

All of the material being written and recorded for this album is fresh, new material. I’ve committed myself to using only musical ideas developed this month (ie: no recycling of old material). I had made the decision that I wanted to include a decent amount of acoustic piano in the creation of this album.

The only readily available piano I have is the family upright piano located in our living room on the first floor. This creates many challenges:

1. I’m much more limited in terms of the time spent writing/recording with the piano.
2.  It’s an old upright and doesn’t exactly sound amazing but it has some soul to it that makes it special.
3. The room it resides in is a recording nightmare: square, low ceiling. There is some furniture which helps suck up extra sound. I will certainly be close miking the piano for recording when the time comes.

But challenges are good…right?

I set up my trusty Zoom H4 Handheld Recorder and sat down at the piano to start working on ideas. I soon had some material that was quickly developing. I recorded the ideas as they came and then practiced them. Not being a serious pianist, I tend to write the music and then take twice as long to teach myself how to play it.

I recorded the sum of the ideas and then moved down to the basement studio to start fleshing out a bit of a demo of the idea. I tracked some drums, bass and even some electronic elements. I was quite happy with the resulting sounds. I’m very excited about what the next 30 days will bring.

Day 1 | Recording ideas as soon as they surface

Day 1 | Recording ideas as soon as they surface


A New Musical Project

With July just around the corner, a new musical challenge awaits me. I have decided that, in the interest of challenging my musical mind, I will write and record an album in the month of July. My inspiration comes from the RPM Challenge, a music writing challenge in which participants are challenged to write and record an entire album of either 10 tracks or 35 minutes during the month of February.

Since February is much too far away and I’m typically quite busy with school during February, I have decided to take a stab at this for July. I will be stepping out of my comfort zone, both musically and technically. I plan to use some very experimental recording techniques and unconventional sound sources. The result will hopefully be uniquely enjoyable.

I will be posting regular updates on the process. In an effort to bring you closer to the experience. I plan to include a variety of multimedia tidbits within my posts.

An album in one month. Surely it can be done. Am I crazy for taking on the challenge? Of course. Might I fail to meet my goal? It’s certainly possible, but that’s just how it goes. I can see myself benefiting greatly from this challenge. I look forward to sharing my thoughts along the way!

Technology changes too fast! :: Zoom H4n

By the time you’ve finished reading this post, chances are at least one piece of technology has been replaced by something smaller, more powerful and easier to use. As an audio engineer, I experience this stuff on a day to day basis. I may purchase a new pre-amp just to see someone come out with a better version with added functionality only weeks later. 

These occurrences are even more common around this time of the year with the music products industry. It’s been almost a month since the Winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show took place and companies and releasing their new products for the year. 

I experience a love/hate relationship with this trade show; I love checking out all of the new gear that is soon to hit the floor. There are all kinds of amazing improvements being made, particularly in recording and synthesis. But I hate when a piece of gear gets replaced by the “mark II” version or worse, becomes obsolete altogether. 

Today, it’s my Zoom H4 handheld recorder (reviewed here). It seems that Samson Technologies (the parent company for Zoom as well as the amplifier company, Hartke) is releasing the H4n. Now realistically, I knew this would happen at some point. But why now?

The worst part, is that the new version is packed full of all kinds of great new features. Here’s a quick list:

  • Built-in X/Y stereo mics record at either 90° or 120°
  • Four channel simultaneous recording using built-in and external mics
  • Digitally controlled, high-quality mic preamp for improved audio quality
  • Large 1.9-Inch LCD screen and improved user interface for easy operation
  • 24bit/96kHz Linear PCM recording for pristine recording
  • Built-in reference speaker to check recordings
  • Shock resistant rubberized body for improved chassis protection
  • Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) compatible time stamp and track marker
  • Records on SD/SDHC media of up to 32GB for maximum recording time
  • Variable speed playback capability for “phrase training”
  • Stamina mode enables 10 hours of continuous battery life
  • Onboard mid-side matrix decoder for additional miking possibilities
  • Built-in mounting joint for tripod and mic stand mounting
  • USB 2.0 port for faster file transfer
  • Optional remote control (RC4) available


One of my favorites has to be the ability for the H4n to record to up to 32GB cards. That’s a major downfall of the H4. I can only go up to 2GB in card size right now. It hasn’t been horrible, but to not have to switch out cards during a longer session would be wonderful. Another great feature has to be the 4-channel simultaneous recording capability. Now you can record with built-in mics as well as external mics at the same time. This is great when you’re recording direct from a sound board but also want to get the room sound. Also, the H4n has a built-in mount now for attaching it to a stand. Ironically enough, I came across the H4n as I was searching online for the possibility of getting a new cradle for my H4 (I seem to have misplaced it…). 

What does this mean? Well, I’ll likely be selling my H4 and picking up the H4n in the near future. I’m a victim of technological progression. What can I say?


The new H4n by Zoom

The new H4n by Zoom

Kaki King Making of “Dreaming Of Revenge” Videos

I recently discovered this 5-part video on YouTube and thoroughly enjoyed watching it. I’m always a fan of the behind-the-scenes/in-the-studio documentaries and this one certainly is no exception. Check them out:






NPR Broadcast of Radiohead’s 8.28.08 Performance @ Santa Barbara Bowl

I don’t usually write about things that I haven’t completely watched/listened to/done but this is an exception. NPR Music is streaming the entire final concert of Radiohead’s most recent tour in support of In Rainbows. It’s a 2hr 5min broadcast that I’m about halfway through and it’s great. It’s not quite the same quality as a live CD. It seems that the recording was done almost entirely direct from lines out of the mixing board and could use some audience perspective microphones for ambience, but hey, IT’S STREAMING FOR FREE! Check it out:

Radiohead: Live in Concert

Syncopated Elevator Music :: Drum Tracking

I’ve been experimenting with layer composition for a while now and came up with what I thought was a great background loop progression. I recorded all of the parts in the comfort of my basement studio, Subterranean Studios. While I’m not sure if I’m going to keep them, I tracked some drum set over the backing tracks to experiment and have a little fun.

Recording Specs:
Presonus BlueTube Preamps>M-Audio Firwire 1814 Interface>MacBook Pro 17″ 2.16ghz Dual Core>Pro Tools 7.1.1

Mics included:
Shure SM57 (Snare Bottom)
Sennheiser E906 (Snare Top)
SP B1 (High Toms)
Sennheiser MD-421 MKII (Floor Tom)
AKG D112 (Kick)
AKG C1000s (Overhead)

Drum Tracking Video:


Big update!

VYOA Music Day Camp – SUCCESS!
This summer brought another awesome week of teaching at the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association’s Music Day Camp. I was the percussion instructor for the week of music camp with 7th-10th graders. It was a very fun week for the staff as well as the campers. Wonderful music was made throughout the week and it all culminated in a very nicely done concert on Friday afternoon. I look forward to teaching at the camp next summer!

New Bass Amp :: Line 6 Low Down 110

I’ve been searching for a low-cost bass amp to use for my own bass playing as well as recording for a while now. I recently came across the Line 6 Low Down Studio 110. It’s a 75 watt, 10″ speaker combo with four preset tones; Clean; R&B; Rock and Grind. I started out just using the “Clean” tone but have begun experimenting with the other presets and I’m quite impressed. That little amp packs some serious tone! It’s perfect for my needs (and was certainly in my price range – the amp goes for $250 new). I will certainly look forward to getting some serious use out of it.

Leaving for Africa Soon :: T-3 Days and Counting
I will be spending three weeks in Ghana starting on July 4th. I’ll be spending two days with a friend of mine (who is also going to be on the trip) in New York City before we leave. I’ll be flying down to the city early on Wednesday morning and then our group leaves JFK late in evening on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to getting to spend two days hanging out in the city, checking out music and music stores but I’m totally stoked about Ghana! Three weeks is some serious time to spend in a country like Ghana. I feel that I’ve done a decent job of preparing myself for whatever “culture shock” may lay ahead.

My trip is focused around the dance and drumming traditions in Ghana. As a percussionist, this is a dream come true for me. I’ll be studying daily with master drummer Kwasi Dunyo in the village of Dagbamete. The experience will be something unlike any other I have ever received. All the planning, saving, researching and learning leads up to this trip, which is only days away. I’m excited beyond words.

I will return with many pictures, videos and recordings from my time there. I’ll be armed with my trusty Zoom H4 handheld recorder and my simple (but reliable) Canon digital camera.

I’ll post more specifics about the trip tomorrow (after some packing).