Tag Archives: ukulele

New Album: The Sacred and Profane

The latest album is ready in digital form (www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com). Aiming for an August release of the physical cd.

This album is about three questions:

What is sacred?
What is profane?
Who decides?
Words and music by Tim Birchard except “Eagle Pass to Torreon”, words by Chris Birchard; and “Hunger”, words by Chris and Tim Birchard.
Thanks to my friends and family who are always supportive.
Special thanks to Glenn Schindler, Jason Gabbard, and Scott Kadera for always being there.
Special thanks to my brother Chris for the collaborations.
Special thanks to David Kairis and Katie Kisiel for way huge support.
And, as always, deepest thanks to Cheryl for unwavering love and support.


Filed under Writing & recording original music

New music update: mid-March check-in

I blinked. Now it’s March.

Since the last check-in a month ago, music has been happening. Here’s the progress update:

Kirtan — We’ve been meeting up with fellow musician friends and exploring new kirtan chants together on a weekly basis. Think acoustic guitar, bass, glockenspeil, djembe, frame drum, and didgeridoo. First public kirtan is scheduled for April 21!

Cheryl’s hymns — That has taken a back burner, as she’s been writing new kirtan chants left and right. But recording her Hymns Volume II is still very achievable for this summer.

My solo album #7 — I now have six songs completed for my forthcoming album, “refer to manual”. Just confirmed this morning that my dear friend Cindy Coleman (Duck Girl Art) will be at the helm for the graphic design work. I’m honored to have her on board. The music has been going extremely well. Instrumentation ranges from simple ukulele, bass and vocal to keyboards, drums, guitar, bass, and a choir of harmony vocals. And while I’m far from labeling myself a bona fide bassist, the time I’m putting in on the 5-string is really starting to bear fruit. Preview here: www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com. (Click on “refer to manual”)

I did have quite a scare while tracking the latest song, “island spice” (which has taken about 20 hours of work so far)… Was so exhausted after a full day of non-stop writing/recording that I absent-mindedly unplugged my Seagate external hard drive from my laptop without going through the proper procedures. After that, my computer refused to recognize it. And the only copy of the song was on that drive. Fortunately, I was able to go into disk utilities and repair the drive. Went to bed with it ‘repairing’ (I hoped). Woke up the next morning to a terrifying message: disk cannot be repaired. My heart sank. But before panicking, I closed the dialog box, and there on the desktop was the drive’s icon. Backed up to a flash drive as well as to the laptop’s hard drive, then shut down and rebooted. And all was well.

Now it’s time to get another external hard drive; I’ve maxed out the capacity of the Seagate, nearly 500 GB. Time for a 2 or 3 TB drive.

Where will we be in mid-April? My objective is to have at least 2 more songs completed for “refer to manual” and to be fully prepared for our kirtan debut on 4/21. These will move me toward my goals of releasing “refer to manual” this summer and performing kirtan publicly.

A life with music is good!


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Day Three: Song Three

Newest song for the new album is called, “radio antenna”.

So far I’m not sure how to categorize this album… instrumentation includes ukulele, bass, voice, and now, jangly, open-tuning acoustic blues guitar.

radio antenna clip

May you create something you love. And may you let it go.

By the way…

In that strange space after recording all day and before re-entering ‘real life’. I always, always struggle with this transitional period. Sometimes it’s an hour… sometimes it’s longer.

Part of me is like, “yeah! Look what you’ve created!” and another part is like… well, I don’t want to give it my energy.

And I can stare at the clock all I want… but what the %$#! does it MEAN that nine hours have passed? Somewhere in there I ate something and went to the restroom. Drank LOTS of coffee. But where am I now?

Walking around in this half-reality, disconnected from anything… I find myself putting on anything at all on the turntable, just to take me OUT of the space I’ve occupied all day long. (J. Geils Band from 1973… or a mid-60’s soundtrack… something that vaguely resembles Grace Slick. Kind of creepy, but with a cool keyboard sound. Just get me out of my own head, please.)

Head out the door? Would be fine except for the whole issue of interacting with other human beings. Not sure if I can handle it at this moment.

Crazy? Genius? Idiot? Whatever.

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Photo Contest: winner’s work becomes album cover art

The new album has 8 songs. Clocks in at around 31 minutes.

I’ve been wrestling with the issue for awhile… “Is 8 songs enough?” “What’s more important, having 40+ minutes and an eclectic blend of musical styles, or 31 minutes of tightly-knit songs that represent a particular style?”

And yesterday I heard about an ’emerging’ trend (across various markets) of releasing albums with 6-8 songs. I did some research, and sure enough, people are rediscovering this idea. (It isn’t new.) Seeing someone else do it made me feel more comfortable with the idea. But at the end of the day, what feels the most authentic is putting out these 8 songs that play so well with one another.

This album features distorted guitars, heavy drums, and ukulele... a new genre I like to call "ukulele love metal" (Photo by Cheryl Birchard)

This album has changed shape more than once. Initially, it began as a collaborative project with my brother, Chris Birchard. Like Trip to Pine, for which he wrote all the words and I took care of the music side of things, this project started with him sending me lyrics.

Thing is, upon sending me a particularly magical poem, he unwittingly provided a central concept for the album, igniting my creative passion in the process. Suddenly, I had a clear vision of the “story” that we were co-writing. And songs started presenting themselves to me. In my sleep. In the shower. At the copy machine at work. It was all I could do to keep up.

Every time I turned around, I was hitting ‘send’ and firing off another completed song to my brother. Soon, we had at more than ten songs to consider. And I’d written about 75 percent of them. He told me that, in all honesty, it made sense to call this album what it had become; my album that he’d contributed to (as opposed to a fully-shared, 50/50 co-written album). I had to admit, he was right.

Now I’ve pared the album back to the 8 songs that tell the main story. I’m still working on finalizing the sequencing (song order). I could either follow the musical flow or the narrative flow. To me, it feels more important that the album flows musically. As a result, the story will be told in a non-linear fashion. When I listen to the album as a whole, I feel really happy; it evokes emotion and creates sonic environments that make me think of watercolors staining the page. So I guess in that respect, this album is already a success.

Still working on identifying the album cover art and finalizing the title. Still leaning toward the idea of “A Place Of My Own” for the title, incorporating some image of decay for the cover. An abandoned gas station or house. A beachfront shack. An old car. Something that harkens back to days long gone.

Can you help me, Gentle Reader? I invite you to summon your Inner Photographer and submit some of your original photos for consideration. If I end up using some of your work for the final product, you will receive photo credit on the back of any printed material (e.g., cd packaging) and on all marketing materials. You’ll also get credit in the liner notes of the cd, if/when hard copies are created. In addition, I’ll send you your choice of a free hard copy of the music on cd or provide you with a free download of the album. For more information, please contact me: tim@timbirchard.com.

Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Why we write and record

A conversation with professional audio engineer and fellow musician, Martin Salomonsen (www.martinsalomonsen.wordpress.com)

Tim Birchard January 25, 2011 at 04:31 #

Hi Martin,
Thanks for checking out my stuff.

My setup is pretty basic:
MacBook (Snow Leopard OS)
Garage Band
Shure SM-57 & 58
M-Audio Firewire Solo
Korg Triton
Loops by BetaMonkey.com
PRS Custom 24 with Seymour Duncan Zebra pickups
Mesa Boogie Mark V combo amp
Audio-Technica “ATH-M50″ headphones
Lanikai ukulele
CA Guitars “Legend”

I’m about to make the jump to Logic Pro, since I love my Mac so much. I know I’m breaking plenty of rules… I don’t own any studio monitors yet, I do both tracking and mixdown with my headphones. And the only album I’ve gotten mastered so far is Songs for The Reverend.

The reasons are simple: space, time, and money. I write and record whenever I have spare time, like vacations, weekends, etc. But I am a full-time educator/counselor, and that takes much of my time and energy.

Also, I’m not rich. But I’ve been hearing music in my head since age 3, and I HATE relying on other people in order to get my music out of my head and down “on tape”, so all my life I’ve wanted to be self-sufficient when it comes to recording.

My gear is simple, but I think it’s effective. I don’t want to spend too much time tweaking and fixing things; I want to focus on the music. Admittedly, there are plenty of times when the technology becomes another tool in the creative process; the canvas affects/influences the brush. And I LOVE that.

But I know that if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, I can end up spending hours/days/weeks just messing with knobs and not have any songs. So I always try to bring it back around to the music.

It took me a solid year (and 96 new songs) to really start feeling comfortable with Garage Band, simple as it is. I’m sure that I’ll spend another year just getting to know Logic Pro, and I’m okay with that.

In the meantime, I’ll keep using my simple tools to the best of my abilities to express the music inside and to make it sound as professional as I possibly can.

By the way, I approached my Audio Production studies from the perspective of a musician wanting his own studio. What about you? Are you an audio engineer first, or a musician first? What are your goals for 20 years from today?


M. Salomonsen January 25, 2011 at 05:03 #

I really like your approach to music and the way you try to make it flow through you. Having been on the “other side of the glass” performing my music for as long as I can remember, I am first and foremost a musician. Much like yourself, I threw myself into audio engineering, due to me wanting to be self contained. In my training I have been fortunate to work on some large industry standard mixing consoles, like the Neve VR Legend, SSL AWS 900+, Midas Venice, Toft ATB Series, D-Command in a 5.1 setup and D-Control broadcast dubbing theater. These are all fantastic consoles to work on and paired with good monitors like Dynaudio, Genelecs, PMC, ATC and the likes, I have already had a taste of how it is to work on professional level as a Studio Audio Engineer. But not all music needs these industry standard concepts to shine; not all music needs Neumann microphones and valve circuitry. . .

Some times the environment the musician plays their music in, is the key factor in getting a good result . As engineers, I firmly believe that we are there to capture “a recording of the event”, much like they did in the old days of Motown. The performance was captures first and foremost. The energy had to be there before it got put to tape….

At the moment I am putting together a mobile studio along with a colleague, where we can go to where the music is and record it there… eg. theaters, stages, churches, halls, or even well, bathrooms, where the musician feels good and can perform…

I will be playing music until I draw my last breath – if I am lucky I might sing my way out as I did my way in to this world. The way I approach my audio studies is as a singer, a musician, a storyteller and the in the end as an engineer.

Hope to hear more from you soon, Tim.

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Sparking new sounds: Baking music at altitude

I grew up hating old-time country music. The sound of a wailing fiddle (not to be confused with a ‘shredding’ fiddle, which was close enough to metal virtuosity to be cool) would make me cringe every time. I wanted ‘heavy’. And that meant an electric guitar, an amp with distortion, drums and bass. And maybe a keyboard, but only if it was done right. (Think Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers”.)

These days, I’m still not much of a fan of country. Or bluegrass, though my respect for those players runs very deep. But I’m realizing that I can incorporate instruments not traditionally thought of as ‘heavy’ to make music that satisfies my sweet tooth.

Recently, it’s been Dave’s Ukulele.

It’s opening doors left and right. It has such a beautiful sound to me, and sits well in the mix alongside steel string guitars. And most importantly, it adds a sweetness to the clean acoustic parts that contrast beautifully with the humbucker/Boogie distortion. (Especially channel 3.)

I’m finding that there truly are no irrelevant instruments. If I open my heart and mind, I can find ways to incorporate accordion, ukulele, keys, kazoo… whatever. And the more instruments I’m able to spend quality time with, the more ideas come through, and the more interesting my music sounds to me. “Ukulele” doesn’t have to mean “Hawaiian”. “Tuba” doesn’t have to mean “polka”.

Truly, the only limitations to my music are those set by the bounds of my own imagination. All I have to do is climb out of the limiting box of my own perception, my own thoughts, my own history, and try things that I haven’t tried before.

Successful baking at high altitude requires strict adherence to a scientific recipe.

Unless we’re baking music.

How do YOU spark new creative ideas? What ‘crazy’ experiments have you conducted in the pursuit of interesting and delicious sounds?

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The songwriting process

I’ve noticed I’m happiest when I’m given a) some lyrics to work with, or b) an assignment… like when someone says, “I need a song to meet these specific needs.”

Then I’m in heaven.

I’ve read advice from “experts” who recommend that the music absolutely MUST come first, then the words should follow to fit the mood of the music. I’ve experienced it both ways, and when I’m working solo, like on Call It Blue, Fancy Shampoo and Dragonfly, sometimes the music does come first. For some songs, the basic chord progression came together and then I went for a hike in the mountains with pencil and paper. A nice two or three hour hike can really help clear the mind and allow fresh ideas to surface. Or sometimes a piece of music will begin to reveal itself to me, and I reach into my drawer full of half-written lyric ideas and poems and just piece things together. It’s amazing to me how often seemingly unrelated writings can end up coming together to work magic.

For collaborations, like Trip to Pine and the current work in progress (both co-written with my brother, Chris Birchard), I find that things just seem to fall into place when he e-mails me a poem. More often than not, I’ll read it and immediately start hearing musical ideas based upon his word choice, the rhythm of his writing, and his phrasing. Which I love, by the way. Sometimes it strikes once and the song is done. Sometimes I let the lyrics set for a week, a month, or longer, before music sprouts. And sometimes I’ll rework a song two, three, or even seven times, trying to find the most natural fit. Sometimes the rewrites work. Sometimes not.

In the case of Songs for The Reverend, I was collaborating, in a sense, with the artist (Chris Chappell, Austin, Texas) that the album celebrates. I read entries from his blogs… I shared e-mail exchanges with him… I studied his artwork. In one case, I even quoted one of his blog posts, turning him into a co-writer of sorts. (All with his blessing, of course.)

Another “chicken/egg” issue is whether to record as I go, or nail down all parts THEN record the finished product. Honestly, very few of my songs are completely finished in my head when I hit the ‘record’ button. Almost always there will be SOME aspect of the song that changes or morphs into something else during the recording process. In this sense, the recording process actually becomes an extension of the writing process. I don’t use my recording studio to simply capture what is already created; I use it to help develop musical ideas. And capture happy accidents.

The canvas affects/impacts/influences the brush.

Really the only exception I can think of, in my process, is when I re-record a song that I’ve previously written to clean it up or make changes to parts that are bugging me. An example is “Airlock”, which first appeared on Fancy Shampoo.

Now that I’ve got the Mesa Boogie Mark V and the PRS Custom 24, I really felt like I could do better than my initial version, in which I relied on my acoustic run through one of GarageBand’s distortion units. There truly is nothing better for me than honest distortion. Honest tone. Honest tubes.

Right now one of my biggest struggles is identifying and acknowledging what sounds to me like a distinct difference in “style” among the songs on the album currently in progress (working title is “A place of my own”.) Two of the songs were recorded a couple of months ago, and they share some commonalities in flavor. The newest three songs, however, were written within the past few weeks, and while each sounds unique to me, there are common threads that run through these latest three. So a challenge for me is figuring out how to think about these songs… do I put them on separate plates and call one ‘dinner’ and one ‘dessert’, or do they all go one the same platter? (We’ll find out.)

So at the end of the day my songwriting process is about as clean and clear as mud. What works one day may not work the next. I do notice, however, that the more I play, the more I write, the more I struggle with chord progressions, the more I go back to the guitar, piano, bass, ukulele, microphone and just about anything else I can get my hands on, the more songs I complete. And the more my style seems to be evolving; the better I understand the need to cut away fat. Basically, the more I do it, the more I feel like I’m approaching my goal of writing “just one good song”.

What is your songwriting process? What works best for you?

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