Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ruling by Fiat

I've decided that what we're going to do with Tyrannosaurus Mouse is simply split everything four ways. Like communism but with a Mouse.

We're splitting songwriting credit equally, we're splitting merchandizing rights equally, we're splitting publishing equally.

Note that there was no vote, I simply decided I was King and that was my first dictat.

It's not that there hasn't been a lot of discussion about how we should split things. There has. But sometimes it's less oppressive for someone to take hierarchical control of a particular issue. This was one of those times. And I was the one to do it.

Note too that should I attempt to make a move by (for instance) adding violins to the mix of any Tyrannosaurus Mouse songs, there will be revolution and my kingly throne will be upended. So this isn't actually the case of one person making all the decisions (as much as I make a joke about that). It's just that this is the sort of decision which needed to be made that way.

And I can't tell you how much happier I've been since I made that decision.

What decisions will I not be making? How about "Which takes of which songs for which sections will we be using?" Yeah, I'm waiting on Ethan, Lou, and Arie, on that one. In the meantime I'm only working on songs we only have one take of...

Friday, September 24, 2010

How Will We Be Live?

I want Tyrannosaurus Mouse to look like this.
So now that we've recorded basic tracks for our album, we're talking about playing live. I have all kinds of ideas about what we should do when we play live. Most of those ideas have the band looking at me, scratching their heads, and then subtly trying to change the subject. But I keep pushing for nude dancers and a psychedelic light show while we wear groovy mixtures of jackets from the 17th through the 19th Centuries (but with paisleys.)
My thinking is that we have to play in a theater because a club just won't accommodate our dancers or our light show.
In looking at theaters, The Triad came up. That venue looks pretty groovy. They seat 130. I imagine we really need to get 130 people in there in order to break even.

How are we going to get 130 people in? We'll have dancers and a psychedelic light show. But how will anyone know about that beforehand? That's something we'll have to work on.
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Next weekend in the New York Burlesque Festival. I think that when Tyrannosaurus Mouse plays live we need a fan dance during our "Arabesque". And we need psychedelic lights projected on our dancers at other times. Have I mentioned this?
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Carvin gives away a $500 gift certificate every month if you sign up.
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Here's a groovy interview with my friend and mastering engineer Alan Douches in Tape Op magazine.
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Here's the Problem with Being a Rockstar

Everyone I've know who'd become what I would describe as "successful" as a musician (had a major label recording contract, etc.) had been unbelievably miserable while doing it. I have an old friend who was with a nationally-known act (that was pretty big in North Jersey just 'cause they were a "Jersey Band" but they had a big following across the country) and they were on CBS Records. Their first album sold a hundred thousand CD's back in the early 90's. They toured with Sarah McLachlan. The president of CBS flew them to Hawaii in his jet.
And my friend, who was a guitar player in the band, just hated every moment of it.
He hated the feeling that he "owed" the record company over a quarter-million-dollars* and basically the band ended up all hating one another (everyone hated the singer). So they did another album which didn't do nearly as well as the first one and they all broke up.

My friend went back to playing acoustic guitar in coffeehouses on weekends and became vastly happier.

And that would be just one example except that everyone I've ever heard of who has a record deal was miserable while they had it. My friend Raphael Rudd worked with Pete Townshend of The Who and even played with the band Renaissance (remember them?) and he'd tell me stories of all these big stars he knew, or knew through other people and they all. Every. Last. One. All of them. Were miserable. I mean like the guys in The Police? All hated one another and would argue about publishing points in rehearsals. Really? Dudes -- you're in The Police. You have cool tunes. You're rock stars. Just... get along!

So that's what I don't want. I'm really enjoying Tyrannosaurus Mouse. I love the guys in the band. I love the music. I love the sound we get. I love going out to eat with the guys after rehearsing. It all feels really good. And it would be nice to make a little money from the Mouse. But if it involves losing some (or all) of those things I love then I'd rather get a job as a mailman** and keep Tyrannosaurus Mouse fun.
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*He didn't owe the money in any kind of literal fashion, it's just that you don't make royalties from record sales until you'd "recouped" monies put up-front by the label. For some reason my friend took that really personally.

**I used to be in a band where almost all the guys were mailmen. My brother is a mailman. I'm sorry "letter carrier". In any case, the default job of "mailman" has always seemed funny to me because I just happened to know so many people who've done/who do it and were/are musicians. I'm probably too old to start with the Post Office though.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mouse Coats

Nice tails for a uniform.
Would this piping be annoying with a guitar?
These images are from this UK store, Sutlers. I suspect that the tails I want are simply not going to be available on a military jacket. And the things like the nice collar I want won't be available on a civilian jacket. Plus, you know I need epaulets. Right? Everybody needs those.

Maybe I need to start looking at 19th-Century Russian military. Or maybe I need to find a cutter/draper who will actually make one of these things for me!

Indeed, my friend Vinny Marano has a tie (which he insisted on giving to me but I'm taking it only as a "lend") which has the perfect paisley material for a psychedelic jacket. Now to find a few yards of this material...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's All My Fault

But it needs paisleys.
I take the blame for Bandcamp changing their "free download" policy. Basically it's because I've been using Bandcamp to upload rehearsals and recordings for the other guys to hear. Actually, the policy change doesn't affect us because we only have a few downloads anyway (and I suspect that the very few times one of the other members of Tyrannosaurus Mouse actually listens to one of our rehearsals -- ahem -- they're streaming it anyway.)

The Bandcamp policy is way more than fair.  And honestly it's the best service for audiophile recordings too. You upload in full-resolution (typically 44.1kHz 16-bit but you can go higher if you like) and downloads can be in lossless FLAC format. So even classical guys should be happy.

But that's not what's important right now. You can get this French Napoleonic officer's jacket for only 600 British pounds.

But what is underneath?
Other options abound. This is more of a fantasy "pirate" coat for 255 Euros.  The cuffs look a bit big for playing guitar though.

In general there are nice cutaway coats here but they all have regular lapels and I'm specifically looking for a "Mandarin"-type collar.

Brown here , but comes in other colors.
All the best coats are made in the UK seemingly. This one is relatively inexpensive at $271 Euros (but has no collar). 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Mouse in the Studio (with Pictures!)

Here are pictures of Tyrannosaurus Mouse in the studio. We're at Trax East in fabulous South River New Jersey, our favorite studio.

I think all these pictures were taken by Liz Rosenblatt other than the picture of Eric, me, and Eric (which was taken by Ethan Rosenblatt).
Action pic with Ethan Rosenblatt, Andrew Bellware, Arie Uyterlinde
Lou Clark on drums with Ethan Rosenblatt on bass.

Eric Rachel, Andrew Bellware, and Eric (through the glass.)

Ethan Rosenblatt with Eric Rachel at the Neotek console.
I really love recording with Eric Rachel. His studio has always felt like "home" to me. He's such a terrific guy and a great engineer.
If you want to hear what we're up to just check us out on Bandcamp where we hide nothing. Not even the worst takes.

Our 2nd Session in the Studio

Our second session at Trax East had us in record for about 80 minutes. And basically I paid for the session with my old Fender Twin Reverb. And a couple JDV direct boxes. I'm glad I traded the Twin for studio time with Eric Rachel because although I don't use it, it was the first amp I had and I've owned it for 30 years. Now that I think about it I can't believe I've been carrying that thing for 30 years but that's another story.

Emotionally it's easier that a friend has it rather than selling it on EBay or Craigslist or something. I could have probably got more money for it otherwise but it'll be fun to see it at Trax East and honestly, the amp is all stock -- stock tubes, stock transformers, even one stock speaker (the other speaker is missing).

Tyrannosaurus Mouse. We do very silly things. We can get fundamentally lost in the middle of a song -- like "are we going to a verse or a chorus here?" lost. But we can end a song stopping on a dime.

This is largely because we are the most loosy-goosey about our song structures (as much as we try -- you should see the paperwork we generate in order to try to all literally be on the same page -- we still manage to mess it up.) And the same joke still applies: "We can't even play the song the same way ONCE!"

Still, we're very happy with the quality of the work. This is what we recorded:
  1. Road Song v1
  2. Road Song v2
  3. One Last Drink v1
  4. One Last Drink 04 rough 05L (Yes, it has a weird name, just stick with it)
  5. Mouseverture v1
  6. Jabberwocky v1
  7. Am Thing
  8. Mouseverture Ending
  9. Road Song v3
  10. Jabberwocky v2
  11. One Last Drink v2
  12. One Last Drink v3
I felt we were a bit more comfortable and possibly a bit stronger as players this time 'round. I felt like Lou really led the band which I feel is really what the drummer should be doing in a rock band anyway. Now I'm just waiting on notes about what versions/takes/parts of what songs we'll be doing and I'll start editing it all together.

    My Tyrannosaurus Mouse Dream

    There are some things I'd like to try on this Tyrannosaurus Mouse album.

    1. I'd like to make it a "16-track" album. I'd like to pretend we only have 16 tracks to work with and make the record work with bounced-together elements. Now, that doesn't mean I won't do 5 tracks of vocals before comping them to one track, because I will. And it also doesn't mean that we'll "checkerboard" tracks because that's just impractical. If we had, say, electric guitar on the verses and acoustic on the chorus I'm just not going to put them on the same track because we'd have to go to way too much trouble to re-EQ and set new levels and compression between choruses and verses. But the basic fantasy is there -- I want to see if we can make this a 16-track mix. That might be extraordinarily difficult with the drums but I'm willing to try! 
    2. I want to make different sections of the song have very different sounds and really play with the textures. The fact is that there's a really cheap and easy way to make different sections of a song sound very different -- bring up and down the room microphones. 
    3. Vocals. I'm going to do vocals right this time. For 30 years I've been singing in rock bands. And I've typically gone for kind of a smooth sound. But going a bit unhinged is better. My old partner, Raphael Rudd, pointed out to me once that every famous singer had an instantly recognizable voice. Whether you liked them or not it was easy to pick out Bono or Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, et al (can you tell we were working together in the mid-80's? ;-) And another story is when my friend Alan Douches was working with the Whirling Dervishes -- a cool New Jersey rock band -- and they did a cover of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch". The cover is pretty brilliant and the vocals are completely unhinged (and very unique). And that song became their biggest hit. What does this mean for me? Somewhere between Jethro Tull and the Doors is where my voice sort of naturally sits (I'm a baritone, albeit not a terribly strong one, but I can sing out of the side of my mouth so there you have it.)
    I'm not saying that all these things are going to happen come hell or high water. I'm just saying they're directions I'd like to try. And who know what the rest of the band will think? They're very good about telling me what they think (I think) and they have good and tasteful opinions so we tend to get good advice.

    Dog rocking out via.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    The Word on the Street

    Bands selling less than 100K or 150K units are being dropped by independent labels because the labels just can't make any money from them. Plus, contracts are now "all in" -- meaning that the label gets a piece of touring as well as merchandise revenue. Otherwise the labels will just go broke.

    It's a cruel cruel world out there.

    Tyrannosaurus Mouse Future

    We had our second recording session yesterday at Trax East. I'd say it went even more swimmingly than the first. Probably because we were a little more used to recording with one another.

    Odd thing on the guitar front: I'm playing my custom "Blattocaster" with Seymour Duncan pickups and the amps keep having some ugly breakup -- like "solid state" overload (in Ethan's words). So after sussing out everything I turned down my guitar. Fairly substantially too. It's weird to think that passive pickups could be that hot and cause that much trouble. I played with the Lil' Dawg Mutt and with Ethan's '65 Princeton Reverb. They both went through some Shep "1073" preamps and the Princeton had a Royer ribbon and the Mutt's 10" Weber had a Sennheiser 441.

    Sally Rand's agent says she's "unavailable". I'll try to get her home number.
    But that's not what the band's big discussion was about. It was all about how we're going to play live. I think that Tyrannosaurus Mouse is essentially a burlesque circus. Somewhere between the fan dance at the end of The Right Stuff and a 19th Century conjurer's show. Theatrical. Giant inflatable rabbits. You know what I'm talking about.
    We're gonna need a lot of feathers, that's for sure.
    Mostly we need a proscenium stage. I asked Ethan how much the Met was for a nightly rental. He said something about how included in the price is at least 130 Local 1 stage hands so I guess we're going to have to demur from that.

    So we find a stage in New York with a proscenium that's somehow cheap. We figure out how we can quickly hang a tasteful backdrop and possibly a scrim for back lighting or front lighting someone upstage. The other trick is figuring how to light all of this in one day.

    Lastly projections. We can certainly come up with suitable psychedelic images for projection but projectors haven't improved as much as I'd have liked in the last 10 years. Certainly not for the price. Because we'll want to splash the dancer(s) with light.

    Ethan and Liz suggested The Triad in New York City as a venue. We'll have to check them out.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    A Power Trio Rehearsal

    But we didn't record anything. Even though we wrote a new song. Ha! Of course. And we didn't record it do I have to try to "sense memory" it if we're going to remember it for Sunday.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    More along the liking front

    I like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

    Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros "Home" from Edward Sharpe on Vimeo.

    This recording has a delightful sense of "space" to it. That's one thing I've always liked about the band Yes. Pink Floyd does a good job of changing up the sound they make too. But with Home they manage to make a big raucous song with a lot of "air" in the middle. The vocals aren't super up-front, but they're loud and fun.


    Polydor, in its infinite wisdom, decided to disable embedding on this La Roux video "Bulletproof". It does sort of remind me of "Home."

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    What is Currently Blowing My Mind

    Every Alice on Earth does their cover of Rio. With Ziggy, the cat.
    They are, apparently, the best band on earth. I don't know what their relationship is to Chance Shirley. I... I don't think I want to know.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    A Solution

    Lou came by for a visit in the Pandora Machine studio today and he found a solution to our big rock number.


    If you're looking at this post in a news reader you won't see the exciting Noteflight notation.

    The inquiring mind might recognize that the "B" section here starts similar to the way the middle jams work in "One Last Drink". But then the bottom 8 bars have something new to offer. 

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Guitar Recording

    So my new thing is to use really lousy microphone technique when recording guitar in my studio. I have a choice between SM57s and a nice pair of AKG 460's. Heck, I could also use some Rode NT1a's or my AKG C12a (which is a large-diaphragm tube mic older than me.) And I could have them actually face the speaker, or the cabinet, or something other than the floor.
    <a href="http://tyrannosaurusmouse.bandcamp.com/track/waverly">Waverly by Tyrannosaurus Mouse</a>
    But I don't.
    I have a new way of recording which so far is my favorite. And it's the cheapest and dirtiest way to record I know of (well, considering that the signal is going through Neve preamps and an Apogee converter it's "cheap").
    All this came about because I was having some trouble with some unpleasant - sounding breakup in my recording system. So dutifully I was tracing the problem -- first by using different mics, then different mic cable, etc. etc. -- (it turned out to be my lovely Brent Averil Neve 1202 preamps twisting the knobs back-and-forth to get the carbon off of them seemed to clear it up.)
    I just have raw jacks hanging off the speaker.
    A detail of wrong.
    But when I was experimenting with microphones (hoping I wasn't having a problem with my 460s) I realized I didn't have a good shock mount for my SM57's.

    I remembered a sound guy at a bar (who was actually a pretty good and experienced sound guy) when I was playing with the incredibly loud KGBeats just draping a 57 over a guitar cabinet with the cable looped through the handle.
    That's a low-down cheap, dirty, sleazy, trick.* But you know what? It works sometimes. And since on-axis mics on guitar amps frequently don't sound great anyway, it's a reasonable way to go.
    So that's what I did.
    Right this minute it's my favorite electric guitar sound (that I can make here in my studio.) If you're so inclined or are really really bored, click on the Bandcamp link above to listen to the mellophonic sounds of the off-axis microphone for a minute and-a-half.

    Note that this is an odd speaker cabinet with one 10" and one 12" driver inside the enclosure (making the microphone not only not pointing at either speaker but also... well... not pointing at either speaker.)

    I'm playing my Les Paul through my Lil' Dawg Mutt (high gain channel 1, EQ slightly rolled back, volume 1 at about 2:30, volume 2 dimed) into my Weber 10". The Apogee Mini-Me A/D converter has a bit of analog compression on it. The pedal is my MXR Carbon Copy analog delay and that's it baby. All I did was trim the top and fade out the end.

    Note too that this is a mono recording.

    *Sounds like my dates.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    The lady doth protest too much.

    I just finished Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner on Ethan's recommendation. It has a good story about the New York City volume wars on the radio, and an interesting bit about the mastering compression in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication (it was so compressed it tended to sound quieter on the radio than other songs).
    There are times digital is clearly worse.

    Perfecting Sound is otherwise an interesting book with fun anecdotes about the history of recording, marred by the author's seeming need to be hip in what constitutes good audio and bad. His anti-digital stance is just... silly. He wears his prejudices on his sleeve. Digital = bad. Music from the late 70's and all through the 80's = bad. Punk = good. SSL consoles = bad. Etc. OK, I get it.

    Milner gives a lot of time to anti-digital audio crusaders. Like all ideologues, they're universally morons. Ideologues are incapable of having sophisticated independent thought -- by definition, somebody's already done their thinking for them. The problem is that with the differences between analog and digital systems there are people in the world who have lots of very interesting things to say about digital audio, analog recording, compression, mastering, and the like. He just didn't interview any of them. Instead he interviewed blowhards like Bob Katz. Heck, if we wanted an arrogant and obnoxious guy who actually knew something he could have talked to Stephen St. Croix (who had an interesting idea about the noise around notes in an analog system and how that differentiates analog from digital).*

    _________________

    In the late 70's Sony started selling the first practical digital recorder. Here's Millner's take on that:

    "Herbert von Karajan, Hitler's favorite conductor and a friend of Sony cofounder Akio Morita, pronounced it the best-sounding audio device he had ever heard."

    Oh gimme a break Millner. Your point against digital audio is so weak you have to bring Hitler into it? Nice. How about all the other classical guys who fell in love with digital because it eliminated wow and flutter (which makes violins sound like gooey mush)? I'm sure you could have found at least one Holocaust survivor who was pro-digital. Meh.

    And now seriously -- when your lead witness in the anti-digital brigades is some quack psychiatrist who has a "test" which shows that people listening to music from digital sources makes they physically weaker but can't do a double-blind study to prove it? Um? Really? This is where any rational person calls bullshit. Millner, maybe you should re-think your prejudices.

    And that's too bad because there's a lot of very interesting things to talk about. How radio evolved. The anti-compression/pro-digital world of 90's classical music, the conservatism of music directors and the evolution of the big radio networks -- all of these things and how they affected sound recording could be very interesting.

    What's another thing to get short shrift in the book? Music for film. Anybody who does music-for-picture would say "well duh" but for the longest time film was way ahead of music technically. There's a passing mention about how Fantasia had a multi-track recording made of it back in 1940. That's a big freakin' deal. The "music" world couldn't do that for another 30 years. After that, sure, film spent all its time up 'till the 2000's to catch up with music but that's the way it goes.

    To finish up, Milner takes what must be the ultimate in hipster attitudes in proposing that the best recording system for the human voice is the Edison wax cylinder. You'd think that every recording studio in Williamsburg would run out to get one if that were true. Or, if Milner could convince them it were true. I'm just waiting for the next wave of hipper-than-thou groups: "We only record on Edison wax cylinders, man."

    __________________

    All of which is too bad because he has some interesting things to say about the Lomax recordings of Leadbelly and the history of recording.
    __________________
    *Although St. Croix died in '06.

    Radio Reddit

    It's true kids, this is the way it used to go down.
    In my journey to figure out what we're going to do once we actually have an album I've been looking at different things. Today I discovered Radio Reddit.

    SonicScoop is  "NYC's music and sound creation connection". It would be nice to have an actual community of such minded people. (The Jam is something like that. Heck, Theatresource used to be much like that -- a real community -- and it may yet be again one.)

    What is Tyrannosaurus Mouse going to do once we've completed this album? Is Lou going to stand on the corner with Arie saying to passers-by "Hey man, you did old school progressive rock? This one's gotta mouse on the cover. Check it out!"

    I say somebody gets us a gig to play on Saturday Night Live. That's what I say.

    Theaters

    I'm convinced that we have to perform Tyrannosaurus Mouse live in a theater. Shockingly, I started a theater so that my band Prague Spring could perform live (we only did two sets of concerts at Theatresource with Prague Spring though.)
    Sleeping cats are appropriate for all posts.
    One issue with Tyrannosaurus Mouse is that we're just way too loud for Theatresource. The neighbors will set the place ablaze if we were to play there. The other thing is that I really want a proscenium stage. I want it to look like a theater.
    What's keeping us (in my mind) from performing in a club (which would be vastly cheaper) is the fact that I feel the show should involve naked dancers with groovy psychedelic lights painting their bodies. I suspect that's just out-and-out illegal in New York City anymore.

    Here's a couple theaters my friend Vinnie Marano suggested looking at:

    Connelly Theater

    13th Street Repertory Company