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Okie dokie.... I am not feeling well today, but I tried to dig into this Retro synth so that I could learn what wavetable synthesis is. I did not have a lot of fun, which at first I blamed on wavetable synthesis 'cause, you know, what a bastard, but later when I started to understand it better and actually have a little fun, I recognized that I just feel crappy altogether. I shouldn't have gotten the fish. Didn't Striker teach me anything when I was a kid? ("A hospital? What is it?") Ghetto fish. Pulled a knife on my 胃 and there's about to be a bacterial showdown. Maybe. Oh, sorry. Peut-être. French group tomorrow. I better get in character. ハク〜〜〜
First things first. I consider the Retro synth to be a journeyman synth on our little Let's-Finally-Get-to-Know-Synths! tour. Most of what it involves are things that we have already learned through the previous synths. Although, in this synth we are using graphical representations of envelopes instead of ADSR sliders, so that's cool. There are a few other minor new bells and whistles, but I'm not going to get into them as they're pretty obvious all in all when you use it.
TBH, this synth is not really selling me. It took a lot of poking and prodding to find it interesting. But it has one big perk: It's a 16-voice, two oscillator synth, containing the following 4 engines:
1) analog - classic sounds (leads, pads, basses)
2) sync - aggressive sounds (leads and basses)
3) wavetable - variety of synth and simulated natural sounds
4) FM - recommended for bells, electric piano, clavinet, and spiky bass sounds
We've gone over "analog" subtractive synths, and we've done an FM. There are two new ones here.
What makes the sync engine interesting is its singular "Sync" knob. This knob changes the starting point of both oscillators. Fini.
Now the wavetable engine... that's what we're here for. So wavetable synthesis takes an audio clip and chops it up into, in this case, 100 "tables" in a sort of circle. Each table in my understanding is a wave cycle or period sliced from that audio sample. Now these are obviously too small in respect to your original sample, so you're not going to get anything remotely like what you put in. Instead, these cycle slices are going to be used in lieu of the general sine/triangle/sawtooth/square/etc. waves that we've been using in the other synths. When you load up a wavetable, it puts in on both oscillator controls, here called Shape. Moving through the oscillator controls chooses different tables, one at a time. So, moving through these you can try to find a new and interesting waveform to generate your core sound with or mix two different waves.
And that's pretty neat, I guess. There were some cool sounds here and there from it. But where it gets really interesting is when you use that shape modulation knob to route either the LFO or the envelope into the shape "oscillators". What happens then is that the tables/cycles being played will change over time, giving interesting movements. So I had a little fun with that for a while. I even tried creating my own tables from audio files. There's plenty of room to experiment. Anyway, like I said, I'm not feeling well, so let's wrap this up. Note that you can slow down the movement through tables, so as to not get such an exaggerated effect as these.
Examples of using the envelope to morph through the tables being chosen for oscillation:
In this last one, I just hung on a couple notes while I manually shifted one of the shape knobs, getting it to choose different tables/cycles as an experiment:
And here's the synth. It's on the table engine mode, so you can't see Analog, Sync, or FM. Suffice it to say, with the exception of FM, their controls are not so different. Of course, the fundamentals of what they're doing are quite different, however.
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“Too Small To Save" was written & arranged in 2008….recorded & mixed in early 2009.
- The original recorded tracks were remixed in 2014.
- That 2014 version is the one you’re hearing now.
My songs typically evolve from….
- a chord progression
- a riff/pattern
- a section of melody
- a central theme
In this case, it was 2 of those elements combined.
1. A guitar progression (riff/pattern)
2. A central theme, which was also served as the title (hook)
In songwriting, it’s essential for the subject matter to blend with the musical feel. In other words, one should complement the other. In my humble opinion, that is the case here.
This particular lyric hit pretty close to home. It was loosely based on my wife’s employer, who shall remain nameless.
The lyrical message was inspired-by…and based-upon changing conditions following the financial collapse of 2008.
Simply put, none of those changes benefited the employees & most didn’t bode well for the financial future of the company.
Much to my surprise, the company survived. The employees however, were a different story. Most of what they lost was never returned.
The financial recovery that followed did little to benefit them.
The title “Too Small To Save” was applicable to both employer & employee. At the time this song was written, both fit the description…seeming doomed to failure.
As you may have guessed, the title was also a tongue & cheek play on that infamous 2008 headline - “Too Big To Fail”.
While banks & auto manufacturers were too big to fail, small companies & employees were “Too Small To Save”. Essentially, the yin & yang of monetary policy.
Structurally, the lyric is brief…with a generous dose of repetition. The message is heavily reliant on imagery & metaphors, which is not typical of my lyrics.
Because the subject matter was both current & dismal, I chose an artsy lyrical format.
Too small…too small to save
Just another business crushed by the wave
One more tiny fish…too small to save
A victim…of the economy
No golden parachute waits for me
Almost 80 years business don’t count these days
No friends in high places…too small to save
Last call…for 401Ks
Get ‘em while you can…they’re fadin’ away
It’s closin’ time cause we’re…too small to save
Copyright 2008- Tom Hoffman
Introduction / Verse-Refrain / Instrumental Verse-Refrain (guitar solo) / Bridge / Verse-Refrain / Ending
Musically, the song was built around a single guitar progression. It’s the one you hear being played throughout the intro & verse-refrain sections.
Key of Aminor….BPM 100
Genre-wise, I’d have to call it blues-rock.
The arrangement is guitar-based, utilizing 3 separate mono tracks. My Gibson SG was used for two of those.
The 3rd was a mixture of Strat & SG…with Strat being chosen for the bridge section. Its’ single coil pickups were useful in creating thinner sounding guitar textures.
- One of those 3 tracks contains intermittent lead guitar.
- The other 2 are the primaries, heard throughout the song.
- The verse/refrain sections consist of 1 guitar playing the primary progression, while a 2nd guitar plays 3-note power chords (I-V-octave).
- The bridge was intended to have a unique feel, so both guitar parts change dramatically. The SG picks single notes within standard open chord forms, while the Strat strums triads (3-note chord forms…I-III-V).
The core drum track was creating using a Boss DR-670 drum machine.
After 13 years of recording with "real drums", I converted to the Boss unit in 2007.
Being a drummer, I had mixed feelings about using synthetic drums. But the additional control, flexibility & convenience of the machine method sold me on the change.
Suffice to say that recording live drums in a single-person home studio setup is a tedious process! Regardless, the marching snare used for the bridge section was an actual drum.
Since machine decay makes crash cymbals sound VERY artificial, all crashes were overdubbed onto separate tracks, using actual cymbals.
Final Production Notes
The recording, editing & mixing were done on a PortaStudio 2488….a 24 track Tascam deck.
(*Tascam is on the right, between the keyboard & the rack-mounts)
- Drums, Guitars, Bass Guitar – Tom Hoffman
- Vocals – Tom Hoffman
*This article is taken from a YouTube playlist series of the same name.
For anyone interested, I've pasted in a link to the video version, which includes the song in it's entirety.
(FYI - the audio begins around the 15 second mark.)
"About Me" Muse Member pg.
I'm a big fan of Melodyne (and hyped that ARA is coming to Reaper).
It's so much more than a pitch tool. Here's a video on Sound design (it gets more interesting after the part on vocals - you could skip to 1:48 if you choose to).
Just spent a lovely evening of beer and laughter in the company of an old commercial west-coast arranger. Not that old. Fred is actually a handful of years my junior. But certainly old-skool. With craft expertise and professional fluency in generous abundance. And his models for organising the musical universe are those he learned from Dick Grove
The Dick Grove School of Music in the San Fernando Valley was, through the ‘70s and ‘80s, Southern California’s leading trade school for instrumentalists and singers planning to work in Hollywood studio and entertainment scenes. Students include Michael Jackson, Linda Ronstadt, a whole legion of west-coast professional jobbing lesser-knowns like my co-writing partner, Pat Coleman, for instance…..
Dick Grove’s own comprehensive system of music education incorporated the old Schillinger system which formed the basis of curricula at Berklee – I once encouraged Alistair to choose one of their free courses for fun and unrealistic challenge – and the Fred Stride system is grown from Grove’s. That’s the vague lineage of a style of thinking, as I understand it, which became the muso lingua franca.
A couple of years back I spent half-a-dozen hours a week for a handful of months studying theory under Fred’s tutelage. A very high-intensity privilege. Then another handful of months sub-editing his un-published pedagogic texts. And all full of the stuff (finally!) that I wish I had known about fifty years ago. If only …
Right now though, in my dotage (or “though in my dotage”), I have gathered together a collection of songs as last-gasp performance vehicles for my decrepit self and rhythm section with small horn-section of trumpet (doubling flugelhorn), tenor sax (doubling soprano), and trombone. But my progress in writing the arrangements has been slow and tentative. So I asked Fred for help – and he made me a magnificent and unexpected offer.
Fred said we should treat the performance in entirety.
My job first, he told me, is to organise two sets. Paying attention to keys & tempos, grooves & styles, continuity & contrast, tension & release, he asks me to make a detailed sketch of their emotional contour. And then, when I bring him the lead-sheets, we can sit down together at his piano and construct complete written arrangements for a satisfyingly coherent evening of entertainment.
I am excited.
This is my first blog entry on the nuances of a song.
Have you ever noticed that a lot of songs have a Sweet Spot? What I mean by sweet spot is - a small musical or lyrical passage that we can't get enough of hearing. I don't mean a "hook" which is repeated for us, but a special place in the song that hits us emotionally.
Maybe it's where a new instrument comes in, maybe it's a James Brown "Uuuuh", maybe a stop, a slow down, a speed up.
I used to listen to a particular jazz number on my car stereo that had a snare hit, all by itself, that led into a new section of the song. I would listen to that hit, then back it up a few seconds, and do this repeatedly just to experience that one snare hit over and over. Often people talk of the "climax" happening 7/8 of the way through a song, and maybe that is a sweet spot for many, but I quite often pick a different spot than that for my sweet spot.
Regardless of what you decide your song's lyrical/musical arrangement will be, I think it will be a better song if it has a Sweet Spot.
I think we can all agree that a song is meant to be a marriage between words and music. Some marriages work better than others for all kinds of reasons.
There are emotional resonances between the music and the words, for example. Some songs are very strong in terms of the music and weaker lyrically and some work the other way round.
I don’t plan on talking about every aspect of putting words to music (or music to words) in this post. I just want to talk about rhythm.
Does meter matter?
I say it does, but I want to try and say why – because I see lyricists often claim that the music can somehow cater for poor meter. I think it can sometimes appear that way if the lyricist doesn’t understand what is happening musically.
This will probably be a long post and may sound over-analytical at times. However, many people do all of this intuitively. It only becomes necessary to go into this level of detail in order to explain it. However, if you don’t do it intuitively, it needs to be understood.
This is especially important if you don’t write your own music (or if you have a problem writing lyrics for your music).
Some of what I say may be controversial (but I hope not). Others may want to chip in and explain if I get things wrong, particularly on the music side.
I wrote this fairly quickly this evening, so may need to edit it as time goes by.
1. Language has a natural rhythm
When we speak, there is a natural rhythm in every sentence that comes out of our mouths. This comes about in two ways. The first is that we stress certain syllables in each word. Take the word “syllable”. We stress the “Syll”, so it becomes “SYLLable”.
“There is a house in New Orleans” = “There IS a HOUSE in NEW OrLEANS”. Imagine clapping on each stressed syllable. You would have 4 hand-claps in that phrase and there would be a rhythm.
The second way we provide rhythm is by varying the speed. We pause. We run words together. We draw out syllables.
It’s kind of musical, isn’t it? Music has rhythm and pacing (via note lengths and pauses).
2. Songs are a form of communication and words should sound natural when sung
I don’t think this is controversial. I don’t mean that every word has to be conversational (that’s a different argument). I simply mean that we shouldn’t be stressing syllables that shouldn’t be stressed - we want to pronounce words properly. Sometimes people don't do that in songs – and it normally sounds bad (and it happens because of bad meter).
Let’s take “Yesterday” as an example of how to do it right - then screw it up!
The second verse starts with:
I ‘m not half the man I used to be
Sing it – in your head.
Now, using the same melody, sing this:
Bill and me,
Watched the movie Catastrophe Three
Tricky, isn’t it? Without a lot of messing around, the word “catastrophe” sounds all wrong.
We don’t want to put singers in that position … do we?
3. Music has a determined rhythm
Any piece of music has a determined rhythm – it has a time signature.
A piece of music in 4/4 (common time), for example, has 4 beats to a bar. However, these beats are not equal. The first beat is known as the down-beat and is the strongest. The third beat is not quite as strong, but is stronger than beats 2 and 4.
BOM – bom – Da – bom
A piece of music in 3/4 time (waltz time) will have 3 beats to a bar and will sound like “ONE two three, ONE two three” – with the heaviest beat on the “ONE”.
6/8 is like two 3/4 bars tied into one and will have the heaviest beats on the first and fourth beats.
A song may contain multiple time signatures but, if they do, they change in a structured way that follows musical patterns.
4. The time signature lends itself to certain places for the stresses
Think back to when we clapped hands to “There IS a HOUSE in NEW OrLEANS”. The ideal place to position our stresses is on the heaviest beats. That is what is done in the song.
Here’s the sheet music:
Notice where the stresses fall in relation to the bar. In this version, it is in 4/4. There are other versions of the song out there in 2/4, 3/4 and 6/8 but the same rule applies in each one.
5. A song is a series of patterns
If just writing lyrics and one has no musical background, that can be hard to think about. The good news is that you probably don’t need to – as long as you maintain and replicate patterns properly.
A song can be seen as a series of repeating patterns. The most obvious patterns are the patterns for a verse or a chorus.
The chorus will be the same in both words and music (usually). So, the chorus should look after itself. Write it once and repeat it and the same music will work every time.
The verses must also follow the same pattern as each other because they will be set to the same music as each other.
When we write our first verse, we set a template for every other verse to follow.
Let’s look at “Yesterday” again.
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be,
There's a shadow hanging over me,
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.
Line 1 in each verse matches. Line 2 in each verse matches. Line 3 in each verse matches. How do they match? The stresses appear in the same place!
That’s an important point. Counting syllables is useless. Count stresses.
Yes, line 1 in each verse has 12 syllables, line 2 has 9 syllables in each verse and line 3 has 8 syllables in each verse. Often that will be the case.
However … it is the stresses that matter and they need to match.
6. The stresses in a pattern must match whenever that pattern is repeated
Remember the “catastrophe” version? “Bill and me watched the movie Catastrophe Three” also has 12 syllables – but it doesn’t work. The stresses have to match or the singer will have a problem.
So, stress-matching is extremely helpful, musically – and can be a major problem if attention isn’t paid to it.
It’s not just the verse, either. There can be patterns inside verses where rhythms are repeated and there can be pre-choruses and so on. The important thing is the matching of stresses when a pattern is repeated. This is so that the singer can sing the words as they should be pronounced naturally, without undue difficulty, every time the pattern is repeated.
7. Phrasing can alter things to a degree
Ah, but what about phrasing? Throw in a pause here or there and things can be made to work, surely?
Well, to a degree.
For example, a lyrical line will often not be sung beginning on beat 1. If you look at the sheet music for The House of The Rising Sun, the line “There is a house in New Orleans” doesn’t start on the first beat. There is an unstressed syllable there before the first, stressed syllable (“IS”) – it’s called anacrusis and is sometimes used in poetry too.
Sometimes, the first stressed syllable is sung just before the downbeat. In these cases, it usually starts in beat 4 and is a tied note leading into the next bar. It serves to emphasise that syllable even stronger.
Equally, sometimes a line may start on the second (or even third) beat. That slight delay can introduce a degree of uncertainty to the delivery. Ideally, this will be deliberately designed by the lyricist because that uncertainty (or ennui or whatever) is desirable for prosody. It’s used in “Yesterday”, in fact.
Note that stresses still fall in the "right" places.
You could also shorten lines and let the music play without words. You’d normally do this for a specific effect, I would suggest. What you can’t do is squeeze in extra words (except for comic effect). Actually, this isn't an absolute truth, but care must be taken.
In extremis, a singer may be able to introduce a slight pause, mid-line and get back on track. It’s not ideal unless, again, it is deliberate – because, for example, it follows the natural pace of what is being said (a natural hesitation).
While I have focused on stresses, I did mention pacing in point 1 as well. It is also helpful to the singer to try and replicate pacing whenever patterns are repeated.
8. To summarise
Replicating the patterns of stresses (and, to a lesser degree, pacing) is hugely helpful when putting music to words. Music is maths to a large degree and this discipline makes life much easier. I am of the opinion that it is the lyricist’s JOB to do that.
The great thing is, if you don’t write music, your lyrics will contain a noticeable rhythm if you pay attention to this stuff. They will read musically and be more likely to attract collaborators, if that is what you want.
Yes, some flexing is possible. However, it should only ever be deliberate and NOT because the lyricist wanted to get another word in or couldn’t think of a way around matching the pattern.
It should be done knowing and designing the musical delivery and should not leave a problem to be solved during musical composition.