Tag Archives: writing process

Q&A about “dots and dashes”

1) How did this album come about?
Like many independent musicians, I’ve been at this for awhile, saving, investing in new gear as I’ve been able, and writing/recording whenever the opportunity arises. In this case, I knew I had some vacation time coming up, and I just cleared my calendar, put my head down, and put in the hours in the studio. Got up early, made coffee, and went in to see what the writing/recording gods had in store. For me, no matter how exhausting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating the creative process can be, it’s always worth it in the end.

2) Tell us about your gear.
I run a PRS Custom 24 through a Mesa Boogie Mark V combo. The PRS is stock, except for the addition of a Tremol-No system I had installed, because I really wish it was a hardtail. But other than that, I love my PRS. It’s a ’96, and it plays like a dream. I also have an original CA (Composite Acoustics) Guitars “Legend” acoustic, from before the company was bought by Peavey.

My preamp is a FocusRite Saffire Pro 40, and I’m running Logic. I’ve basically been doing what I can to copy my heroes… Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore are two musicians I really look up to, so I’ve taken bits and pieces from their studios and gone with that. I’m very happy with the results.

3) I understand you got an endorsement deal with CA Guitars for the Legend?
Yes, that’s true. I was doing some work with Lance Keltner at his studio in Austin back in the early 90’s. He was on the phone with the guys from CA Guitars that particular morning, so I had to wait awhile. Of course, there I was, sitting in the studio of one of my heroes, playing his acoustic while he was in the other room. I was happy as could be. I would have gladly sat there all day.

I guess he was impressed that I didn’t cop an attitude… but honestly, how could I have? I was grinning from ear to ear, looking around, taking mental notes, and just trying to soak in the whole vibe while it lasted. He was incredibly down to earth, friendly, and patient. One thing led to another, and the CA Guitars folks were interested in supporting the arts-based diversity work I was doing at the time.

4) Let’s talk about the album. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09… what inspired that, and what was your writing process for that song?
Well, I never actually planned to write a song that was so long. It just sort of unfolded. I guess I had a lot of pent-up creative energy, and I’ve just been bursting at the seams for the chance to have the time and space to focus completely on writing and recording.

This particular song just kept happening in little sections. I was sitting on the couch with my acoustic and a little hand-held digital voice recorder, capturing ideas. The night before, while walking into the dining room to eat supper, I had a brainstorm, and I told my wife I’d be just a few minutes while I jotted down some ideas. Next thing I knew, I’d written all the lyrics to “dots and dashes”, and it was an hour later. Thankfully, as a musician herself, she’s very understanding. She knows what it’s like when inspiration strikes.

So I was reading through the lyrics and just goofing around with different ideas and recording them in little bits and pieces as they came out. I would read a phrase from the lyrics and matching music would present itself. Later, I pieced it all together, recording it in sections since the instrumentation was so different between certain sections.

5) That song alone jumps from genre to genre, and everything from blues rock to prog metal to jazz is found on this album. When people ask you what genre of music you play, what do you tell them?

I’ve given up trying to fit myself into a box. When I first got some decent recording equipment and started getting serious about writing and recording, I was just in heaven, exploring all kinds of sounds and not worrying about genres or marketing or anything. Then, as I started to get a few albums done, I heard people tell me that in order to market myself properly, I had to have a target audience, choose a genre and stick with it, etc. And I tried to do that. But as time went on, I felt like I was trying to squeeze myself into a smaller and smaller box.

Finally, with this album, I just decided to forget all that and go back to what I love doing, which is writing and recording and exploring the endless world of sound. That’s why you’ll find so many different styles of music on this album. Things have come full circle, and I’m digging deep and setting aside the inner critic that likes to say, “Uh oh, you shouldn’t do that… it won’t be well received.” Maybe not. But I’m happy.

The biggest catch-22 I’ve run into is figuring out who I’m writing for. I’ve heard musicians getting criticized for being self-indulgent in their writing, like having obscure lyrics, or stories that aren’t readily understood by everyone. Steely Dan, one of my favorite bands, is a great example. On the other hand, you can write something very accessible and that can be seen as pandering to your audience. After awhile, I finally realized that no matter WHAT I did, there was no way to please everyone. So now I write what I love and roll with it.

6) I see that some of the songs on this album are brand new, and others are from 2004. How did that come about?
I have quite a back log of songs I’ve written over the past decade, but back then my equipment was comparatively crude, and the recordings I have from back then reflect that. Initially when I started this album, I set out to write new material and only record that. Then a dear friend happened to ask me about re-recording an old song from back in the day that he loved. I decided to go for it, just to see how it would sound, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. At that point I realized that I have a lot of really good songs that could finally receive the proper treatment they’ve deserved all this time. Bringing those songs back to life has been enormously rewarding.

7) Do you have fun recording?
Like Jim Matheos said in a recent interview, “‘fun’ is a strong word.” Writing and recording can be a very rewarding and satisfying journey, but it’s certainly not without its frustrations. Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever made has been the result of days, weeks, sometimes months of effort to get things just right.

8) How long does it take you to record a song, once it’s written?
I’ve been following this pretty closely over the past six years, and the average for me is about two hours worth of recording time for each minute of music. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09, and I can tell you that, yes, it did, quite literally, take me 32 to 35 hours to record and mix that song. Basically, four or five days straight of nothing but working on that song, for 8-10 hours at a time. Draining, but very satisfying in the end.

9) What is your dream?
I’m living my dream. I’m writing and recording my own music, on my own terms. I’m surrounded by people I love, I have food, clothing, and shelter… I have everything I need. Compared to so many people in the world who struggle just to eat every day, I’m the richest man in the world.

10) Any advice for musicians just getting started, or looking for their “big break”?
Just do what you love, and do it for the joy of it. Another one of my heroes, producer Ken Scott, says that if you do it for the money and you don’t get the money, you’ll be unhappy. But if you love what you’re doing, you’ll be happy either way. I agree with him. Whether I’m cutting a guitar solo or cutting the grass, if I’m doing it for the joy of it, then I’ve already won.

Check out “dots and dashes” and all of Tim’s music for free at www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com

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New videos for “A Place Of My Own”

Happy to report that the mastered songs are now at DiscMakers. They estimate that the final, packaged units will arrive at my doorstep by July 20, 2011. Digital downloads are available at http://www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com or at http://www.reverbnation.com/timbirchard. Physical cd’s can be ordered by e-mailing me directly: tim@timbirchard.com.

In the meantime, I’ve been creating very basic videos for each of the songs on the album. They are designed to serve more as a vehicle for the music than as a stand-alone video. I’m not a videographer. (Not yet.)

Cheryl and I are also laying tracks for a new kirtan cd that we’re recording. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtan) We’re recording 8 original chants that we’ve written over the past three years. I’ve just finished tracking bass, and now it’s time for me to do the foundation tracks (drums, guitar, vocals) for one of the songs that I lead on. Once Cheryl is done with all of her basic tracks, then I’ll work on adding all the other parts and shaping the entire thing into something magical that we can both be proud of.

I’m so grateful to have the resources available for creating music that makes my heart sing.

Whether it’s pop rock, metal, or chanting sanskrit, I’m a musical creature. I believe we all are. Whether we have a heartbeat or not.

Wishing you a rewarding day!

T

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Mastering patience

Hey Friends,

This weekend was an exciting one — yesterday I received the final, mastered songs back from the studio. Scott Smith and Lacey Black did an amazing job. In fact, they sound SO good that when I got home and started listening to the first song, I started crying. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but it’s true. It just blew me out of the water.

I followed Scott and Lacey’s advice and listened to every single song with a “fine-tooth ear” to make absolutely certain that the product I send to DiscMakers is truly ready. And it’s a good thing I did… On one of the songs, I heard a little ‘click’ sound that is not supposed to be there. I went back to the original file that I’d submitted to Scott and Lacey– sure enough, there it was. I’d missed it.

So while 7 of the 8 songs are ready to be sent to DiscMakers, that one song needs some love and care. I plan to isolate the offending track, clean it up, then do a fresh mixdown. I’ll then submit the fresh file to Scott and Lacey for mastering and have them place it in the appropriate sequence location on the album. THEN it’ll be ready to send to DiscMakers.

Fact is, not so long ago I would have felt a sense of urgency and frustration about such an unexpected wrinkle. I may have even chosen to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there (‘magical thinking’). But I know the cold reality — if I were to ignore it, every single time I listened to the final cd, I’d be listening for one thing: that ‘click’. Better to fix it now and get it right so the final product is exactly the way I want it.

Approximate time frame for mastering this final song again will hopefully be the week following the 4th of July weekend. We’ll see what Scott and Lacey’s schedules look like. In the meantime, I’ve posted the mastered songs up for free review at www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, I thank every one of you who helped to make this possible!

I’ll keep you posted as things unfold.

All the best,

Tim

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Progress update: A Place Of My Own

Hey Friends,

Just a quick update to let you know that all mixdowns have been finished. Fundraising efforts through Kickstarter.com were wildly successful. Final mixes were delivered to Scooter’s Place for mastering last week. All album art files have been uploaded to Discmakers.com.

Once the songs are mastered, a physical disc (and backup) will get shipped to Discmakers, and the final order for duplication/packaging will be placed. Then, 5-7 days later, they should arrive on my doorstep. That’s when I’ll get to start mailing them out to the generous financial backers listed above!

Again, thanks to everyone involved in making this happen!

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A Place Of My Own — delivered to the studio for mastering!

Hey Friends,

Just a quick update to let you know that after some last-minute tweaking of one of the songs (“Away!”), I got in touch with my friends at Scooter’s Place and dropped off the audio files this morning.

My hero, Scott Smith, and his assistant, Lacey Black (who has her own record label, has multiple cd’s out and can’t be older than 25!!) are pretty booked for the next month, but they’re going to master a song at a time as they get the chance over the next 3-4 weeks.

Scott mastered “Songs for The Reverend” for me back in ’07, and he’s simply brilliant. So I have 110% faith in his abilities to hear what I’ve done and make the songs shine, sparkle, and rock even bigger than they already do.

We may be looking at mid-June before I have the final cd’s in hand and ready to ship out to you. In the meantime, please know how much I appreciate your support. You’re my heroes!

All the best, Tim

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A Place Of My Own: 112% Funded!

I’m humbled by everyone’s generosity, love, and support…

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A vinyl road to the past

I’m not going to lie. I love vinyl.

And not necessarily for the ‘cool’ value of excusing myself from some deep dinner discussion with friends to flip the LP.

Well, okay. Maybe a little bit.

But there’s something else at work here, too. At least two different things that I can tease apart. Or maybe three.

First… there’s history.

Today I picked up Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” and Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue” at Southwest Sounds on Main. (*They just expanded their vinyl section. I highly recommend you check it out. Everything from used Stones and Bowie to vintage Clash. I’m pretty psyched.)

Thing is, this Queen album takes me back. Back beyond my 30’s. Back beyond my 20’s. Beyond my awkward teen zit years. I’m talking all the way back to being 9 or 10 years old. My stepdad Wayne had this LP… and on Saturday mornings we’d build tents with the blankets and the couch and dining room chairs, and this album was in tight rotation with “News of the World” as the backdrop for those mornings. It was freezing cold outside on those miserably damp, icy, snow-covered, Rowley, Iowa mornings. I figured every other ten year-old kid was listening to the same stuff. That every other family stopped whatever they were doing for just a moment to choose the next LP to play. I figured every other kid with a pulse cared as much about music.

Second… there’s virtuosity.

The musicianship on both albums is incredible. Sometimes I witness excellent musicianship and I’m immediately inspired to play. (See the movie Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.) Other times, displays of incredible musicianship just make me shake my head and hang my guitar up for the evening. Both of these albums blow me away through the beauty of their simplicity AND complexity. Words are failing me. Best way to describe it is simply to go put one of these albums on. Sit quietly. Listen. Fasten your safety belt.

Third… there’s masterful assembly of the amazing parts into a complete album.

Dropping the needle on this 180-gram piece of wax transported me back through time. It also transported me into another world, changing the very environment / mood in my living room, in my mind, in my heart, with the sound scapes it painted in the air. It truly IS one of the perfect albums of all time. I truly don’t care if you agree, dear reader. It’s simply the Truth, with a capital “T”. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I may be one of billions of anonymous voices in the night. But plenty of famous people agree. Just check out “The Making Of… A Night At The Opera” on Netflix. The lengths they went to in order to capture the perfect album… I bow in humility. On one knee.

The reason it feels like a knife cutting slowly into my heart and then ever-so-gently being twisted is not only because the album serves as a zoom lens into my own past.

In addition, the sheer beauty of the sounds that jump out of the speakers simply make my jaw drop.

As a recording musician, I know how many takes it can …. um… take… to get something ‘right’. I know how it feels to think, “this is as good as it gets” and then to push forward even farther. But how many takes did it take to get this album? (You can yell “Metallica’s black album” all day long… I know it took a year and a half, and I know it is another amazing album… but what kind of technology did Queen have to work with in ’75, compared to the early 90’s? There’s no comparison. Get out of my face. Besides, Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets are the best two Metallica  albums anyway. But that’s a story for another blog entry.)

Miles Davis — Kind Of Blue.

Top-selling jazz album of All Freaking Time. Seriously. I don’t want to sound melodramatic. But as I sat on the couch this evening, sun streaming in the window, at the end of a pretty frantic week, listening to the last track on side two “Flamenco Sketches”… (not to be confused with the Miles Davis album entitled “Sketches Of Spain”, which I absolutely hate) tears rolled down my cheeks. There is no more perfect piece of music than that song. At the end of that album.

I’ve tried making mix cd’s and including just one or two songs from Kind Of Blue. Can’t be done. You either listen to the entire album all the way through, in order, or you get up and walk out the door, down the block, and disappear into the darkness and don’t come back until you’ve had a chance to sober up.

Okay. To be fair, I’m okay with listening to just one Side at a time. (Admittedly, I listened to Side Two this evening probably eleven times before interrupting.) But certainly, no less.

To be clear, I’m purchasing vinyl (new and used) to ENJOY. To Play. On my cheap-assed turntable. I am not buying vinyl to ‘collect’ it, in hopes of increasing value or returned investment or whatever. I plan to play the living daylights out of my records (just like my guitars!) until they can’t be played any more.

I’m only here for a moment. And there’s gorgeous music here in the world. On pretty black vinyl. (Sometimes it looks so delicious I just want to lick it.) It is GOING to get scratched. Coffee and wine WILL get spilled on the glorious gatefold cover of A Night At The Opera. (And we don’t even have kids.)

Just like I’m going to die.

It’s simply going to happen. So forget about keeping it in ‘mint’ (or ‘mint-minus’) condition. I don’t care about that. I care about being able to put the needle on it and having it go round and round and being able to turn up the volume and simply letting it wash over my heart and my soul. I care about cleaning my ears so I can hear every tiny nuance, including the scratchy clicks and pops of the vinyl medium.

I’m also not a walking compendium of musical factoids. I don’t know what Miles Davis ate for breakfast on the morning he headed into the studio to start recording Kind Of Blue. I don’t know if Freddie Mercury brushed his teeth before tracking “The Prophet’s Song” (though I’ll bet he did). Some people pride themselves on that kind of mastery over minutae. Cool. Go for it. That’s not me.

I care about living, breathing music. I want to write it. I want to record it. I want to bathe in it. If it’s living, it salivates, sweats, and pulsates. It emanates passion and vibrancy, just like those heroes who laid down those tracks in ’75. In ’59. Before I was even born.

I am not a white glove-wearing collector. I don’t care to own a $60,000 turntable. I don’t have an awesome record collection, nor do I strive to catalog my records alphabetically, chronologically, or autobiographically.

I’d rather drop the needle and wallow in the music than put down plastic protectors on the couch and carefully observe.

I’m going to die. But the music never will.

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