Downsizing

I have three songs in the works. All of them need lyrics and vocals. Two also need drums.

One of them turned out to be pretty terrible so I shitcanned it and now I have two songs in the works. One only has a single verse of lyrics to complete, which I’m just being completely lazy with, and the other needs a full set of lyrics and drums so near the end of July I recorded the drums.

A few days later, I realized that the drumming for the outro is little off everything else so now I have to redo all of the guitars.

“Wait,” you ask, “why re-record all the guitar parts? Why don’t you just re-record the drums?”

Well, you see, I recorded the drum parts, gave it a quick listen and was happy at the time. Then I sold my drums.

Continue reading “Downsizing”

2023 Books, Part 1

At the end of last year I decided to post about the books I’d read in 2022. In that post I said: “… for 2023, I plan to read even more.”

Six months in and I’ve already surpassed last years count, so why not do two entries for 2023?

As a fun aside our family did the Book Advent Calendar again this year but I bag I chose, for some damn reason, was Popular Thrillers. I first book I unwrapped was The Davinci Code, which I hadn’t read as I’d been led to believe that it was shitty and not worth my time. Undaunted I decided to give it a go…

… only to find that it was shitty and not worth my time. I put it down after three chapters. It’s just so eye-rollingly bad in every way a book can be bad.

The rest of the books that came out of the Popular Thriller Advent Calendar were more of the same: Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and a couple more Pat Browns. I read only one of them and donated the rest.

Anyway, here we go…

Continue reading “2023 Books, Part 1”

Perfection Is The Enemy Of The Good

Well, shit. It’s been three whole months. So much for trying to keep up on this here blog on a regular basis.

Remember this? Well, let’s see how it going.

(Note, I’m not going to comment on each specific topic in that NY post, just some of them with added colour commentary.)

Exercise

“I plan to start moving again. I’m going to get myself a bike and start using it for all the errands that I currently drive for – like going to the store that’s literally less than 5 Km away”

I bought a bike. A nice, basic fitness/city bike. While I’ve never been the worlds biggest Cannondale fan, this bike checked all the boxes for me:

    • Light
    • Rigid fork
    • Single chain ring on the front.
    • Disc brakes
    • Interior cable routing.

The test ride in the store parking lot sold me. This bike is limber and, so far, it does what I ask. I haven’t really pushed it yet due to weather and springtime chores but as we move into May, I will be going farther and farther. I haven’t realy biked anywhere in well over 5 years, so I’m going to ease back into it.

Food and Drink

Uh-huh. This is not going as well as planned. While I have shed a little weight, I’ve spent more time eating useless, carby, packaged food (and take out!) than I should be. Also, have been drinking a little more than I should be.

Music

I haven’t worked on anything since early March. Musically, the new tune I have is done but only has half its lyrics. I need to get back on this in a big way.

Writing (Non Blog)

I’ve picked back up on this. FocusWriter is my app of choice (I did try a few other, Open Source writing apps and found them overly complicated) and I set a daily goal of 500 words. I kept this up for about two weeks, then tapered off a bit. Now I try and find some time in the wee hours of the morning. Or I spend time pecking away at this rather than doomscrolling through the news.

Tech

This is an edited version of what I originally had here. I felt like i jumped the gun on a few things and was very, very reactionary about the computer bit which is stupid because it’s just computer shit. I’m trying to not be whiny about things like technology. I want to take deep breaths, look at my options and move forward. I don’t want to hit a snag and just stamp my feet and yell.

So I’ll put a little tech/computer update here and shitcan the incessant whining.

      • For various reasons, I needed to use Windows, and right around this time Linux started acting up (after a system update).
      • I flattened the computer to Windows swearing to never touch Linux again.
      • I found that I really missed Linux so I tried Ubuntu Studio which I didn’t like.
      • I got Fedora back up and running. I’m on version 38 and things are smooth.
      • I’m still dual booting Windows for when I need it.

And that, as they say, is that.

Another Step Away

Since 2015 or so, I’d been trying to get synths working, mostly for live performances, and found myself frustrated with Kontakt, Ableton, and the like. I’m not knocking either of these programs. I know they’re tried, tested, and true. I know a ton of pros live and breath by them. For me, I just couldn’t get them to click. I found the learning curve steep and the cost high. I never made it past the trial stage.

I turned to Apple’s MainStage which made everything easy. Thanks to this app and my trusty 12-Step, I was able to not only record synth parts for Opium Winter, but also play them live.

An Opium Winter set loaded up in MainStage.

However, as anyone who happens to read this blog knows, my MacBook Air is on its last legs and I’ve mostly moved away from Apple. I had to start looking at alternatives.

When I started moving back to Windows, I gave a few apps an honest try. Gig Performer and Cantabile and Camelot Pro and, again, none of them clicked with me. So while recording on Windows, I’d just fire up my old Mac and run all my synths and keys through MainStage, which was becoming less fun as the computer was showing its age.

Now that I’m pretty entrenched in Linux, I decided to finally take a bit of time and figure out synths outside of MainStage. As it turns out the answer was staring me in the face all this time: Just use a DAW.

While learning recording techniques, I spent so much time dealing with microphone setups and direct inputs that I’d completely overlooked the fact that you can easily setup midi inputs in Reaper and Mixbus 1 , create a track, attach a hardware midi controller to it, load up whatever synth plugin you want, and just go for it. All it took was for me to stop searching for “MainStage alternatives” and start searching for “setting up synths in (insert DAW here)”. I quickly got my answer in an eight minute video from an account I already subscribe to. Needless to say this made me feel not so smart.

Anyway, it is what it is. I tried the steps in the video and it worked as advertised 2. Easy peasy, but how about the synths themselves? Well, if there is one thing open source musicians love it’s synths.

Just check out the list at Linux Music Rocks. Pages and pages and pages of synths. Some are paid, most are free. The hardest part of this experiment is wading through and testing all the various plugins. Some are good (SATURN by Unlimited Records is fun) some are not so good (most anything from Uhhyou plugins crashes both Reaper and Mixbus hard) and others are somewhere in between.

Yet there is one major standout: SURGE XT. This plugin is, for me at this particular moment, the holy grail I’ve been searching for.

SURGE XT Running in Reaper.

There is so much to work with in this plugin that I’ve only made it through maybe half of the presets, which I like to start with just to see what a plugin is capable of. And so far I’m impressed.

I’m still playing around with SURGE XT as well as testing out other instrument plugins and it’s good to have found a native way to get the sounds I want. Admittedly, this is why there were no keys or synths in my last two songs; I wanted to see what I could do with only Linux. And now here. The new track I’m working on has synths created sans MainStage.

I don’t know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to try this out this setup in a live environment, but for recording it’s perfect.


1: TBH, any DAW out there worth its salt can handle midi.

2: No surprise there. Kenny Gioia’s REAPER Mania account is solid gold for anything Reaper. If it can be done, he’s got a tutorial for you.

Gods, Prophets, or Slaves

Dropping another new track: “Gods, Prophets, or Slaves”.

Click here for lyrics.

N. Toone - Gods, Prophets, or Slaves


Song Notes

The bones of this song have been around for at least five years; I’ve been messing around with the main bass groove 1 since early 2017. It’s been through a few variations over the years and last fall I decided that this was the first one I was going to record entirely in Linux.

I scrapped the original takes I’d done in Windows and re-recorded everything in Fedora on Reaper and Mixbus 32c using native plugins. 2

As of the beginning of December last year, all it needed were lyrics and vocal tracks, which were all completed in the past few weeks.

Main plugins used:

      • ToneLib GFX. My god I love this plugin. “Gods, Prophets, or Slaves” was the final test; once I had the guitar tracks laid down, I bought GFX without a second thought.
      • Flying Delay by SuperflyDSP. While it sometimes forgets its settings after you close out a project, this is a great delay, especially for vocal effects.
      • EQ10Q LV2 Plugins. I use the EQ10QM Equalizer on most channels as a compliment to the Mixbus channel strips. I also use it, along with the CS10Q Compressor on my “NYC Compression” bus.

All in all, Linux is pretty solid for recording something from start to finish. While there is not as many options for native plugins as there is for Windows or Mac, it’s a reminder that it’s always better to use what you have rather than spending your time looking for “the perfect plugins”. Remember: it’s not the plugins alone that make the song, or the sound.

So here it is in all its nerdy glory: “Gods, Prophets, or Slaves”.


1: Fun note: The working title of this song was “Spy Hunter” because my main bass groove reminded me of the 8 bit music version of the Peter Gunn Theme from the 1983 arcade game.

Side note: An early version of this tune can be heard in one of the LBL YouTube videos (starting at around 03:35).

2: Tracks were recorded into Reaper, stems exported to Mixbus 32c for the final mix. I record in Reaper as it’s lightweight and easy with the latency. Linux in Reaper is not overly great for mixing simply because  it just does not like LV2 plugins or having ToneLib on more than one track.

For mixing, you just can’t beat Mixbus 32c. Not only is the inline EQ and compression on each channel strip so damn good you could get away with not using plugins, Mixbus just sounds better. While I don’t have “golden ears”, I do hear a pretty big difference between the output of Reaper and Mixbus.

Gods, Prophets, or Slaves – Lyrics

N. Toone - Gods, Prophets, or Slaves

Lyrics and Music by Nicholas Toone. ©2022.

You wave the barkeep down, order a stronger drink;
Two parts aversion, three parts apathy
The colours are dialed low and the communal lip sync
Is written on the social marquee

Where you talk of cowering at supposed beastliness with fleeting hope
As you torch your broken bridge
And hang the crown with its own rope
Then endlessly commiserate about how you can’t cope
The anger comes and goes in waves,
Our choice between gods, prophets, or slaves

The world was promised once, yet no one led the way
Out of childish infinity
It’s the empty space that you refused to fill
Far removed from sensibility

And your avoidance of the harsh realities on which you choke
Stare at your blackened bridge
An watch the crown swing on its rope
Live constantly indifferent, vagabond misanthrope
Vexation comes and goes in waves
Our choice between gods, prophets, or slaves

You think that no one can see
The petty crimes you believe will never amount to anything
You cry out “servile!” but what’s not controversial
Is the saboteur on its knees

Arms raised and begging absolution like the past was but a joke
You can’t just fix the ruined bridge or cut the crown down from its rope
You never seemed to comprehend how slippery was your slope
Cold reason finally crests the wave
We choose to live as gods and prophets…

… but not slaves

Music, Labels, The Internet, And Streaming Services

The other day I shared Benn Jordan’s latest video regarding Spotify and mentioned that I’d post some thoughts. When I started to write this, I went back and re-read two pieces that I keep on hand:

Both of those articles opened a can of worms, especially when you think of them as older companion pieces to the video.

While a lot of people thought (and still think) the music industry was/is evil, no one was really prepared for Big Tech.

Continue reading “Music, Labels, The Internet, And Streaming Services”