The inevitable side effect of rediscovering an easy way to listen to new music is the rediscovery of my love to create new music.
I’ve been largely stagnant as a musician since around 2000, for various reasons. It’s an extremely time-consuming hobby, at least the way I approach it. Which reminds me, Bhagpuss made me chuckle recently when he wrote:
Hobbies settle people. They make life not just bearable but worth looking forward to. It matters that they don't matter - that's the point. If you don't get that then you may (or may not) count yourself lucky. Many, many people don't have a genuine hobby. They don't want one. They don't need one. They feel fulfilled and satisified by doing the practical, purposeful things they need to do.
I agree with that completely with the exception of the word “hobby.” I’m not sure I would describe gaming as a “hobby” for me per se. What Bhagpuss describes sounds more like a “pastime” or “activity” or “meditation” or “play” or “just chillin’.” Anything but a “hobby.” I approach the things I would describe as “hobbies” exactly the same as I would a job, it’s just that I don’t get any money for doing it. My “hobbies” matter a lot to me. More than most jobs I’ve had. :)
When I put on my hobby musician hat I function somewhat like a producer. I write songs, I arrange them, I program sequencers and computers, I sing and play guitars and drums and bass and keyboards and whatever else I need to play, I assemble and mix and engineer the tracks in REAPER, and in the end I make a song file. I’m usually bursting with pride over this amazing combination of art and science I made all by myself, and then subsequently crushed into a fine paste when I discover nobody cares in the slightest.
In the old days I burned songs onto CDs to make “albums.” I couldn’t afford to send them off to be “mastered” and then make batches to sell, because you had to buy like a thousand CDs at a time. These days, I don’t really know what you’re supposed to do with original songs. Upload them to YouTube I guess.
Incidentally, here’s a SHOCKING BOMBSHELL REVEAL that I never mentioned about my Steam Backlog Bonanza: You can hear some of the product of my musical labors at the start of each of my streams. Those were all songs I recorded in the 90s with varying levels of intensity. I used them because I knew I owned the copyrights. :)
It takes a lot of time and energy to record music, so these days I tend to gravitate toward easier hobbies. I don’t have nearly as much gear as I used to. My guitar skills are very rusty, and my old Stratocaster has a lot of problems. One of the pickups is actually covered with literal rust. I desperately need a new electric guitar, but that’s a healthy $1500+ investment for a good one so that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
But one thing I can do is load up REAPER and play with audio projects on my PC. REAPER is what they call a “digital audio workstation.” It’s everything that an expensive music studio contained up through the 90s, except it’s a software application that runs on your PC. You can record tracks, edit them, and mix them however you like. And not just the gargantuan 24 tracks available to Queen on Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, but hundreds of tracks. (Subject to CPU and hard drive performance and the limits of good taste.)
It turns out my REAPER skills are a bit rusty, too. I stumbled upon some REAPER tutorial videos by Kenny Gioia, which are really succinct and informative. They are also very entertaining, because Kenny Gioia’s voice sounds a lot like Christopher Walken. Imagine Christopher Walken teaching a class on digital recording techniques, and that’s what these videos are like.
That one I embedded there was particularly useful to me, because I’ve been looking for an easy way to trigger samples in REAPER like a drum machine for years. I always assumed I needed to buy some fancy VSTi plugin to do it, but it turns out I don’t.
It made me want to run to my PC and do something with REAPER. But it’s not super convenient for me to record music right now. I don’t have space for it, I don’t have microphones setup, I don’t have any MIDI gear anymore. I have to do a lot with VST instrument plugins, and I don’t have very many of them (the good ones are expensive).
There is also the minor problem that I don’t happen to have any songs in my head ready to record. It’s been a long time since I sat down to write a song. Actually I usually write the music first, so there’s a long list of things I have to setup before I can even start to work on lyrics. I mean, I can pick up a guitar and bang out a song about my cat in a few minutes, but unless I can record it, nobody but me and the cat are ever going to hear it, and how does that help my ego? :)
Anyway, I started working on some remixes. I don’t remember if I ever wrote about this, but a couple of months ago I downloaded Cakewalk by BandLab. It used to be called SONAR, but the Cakewalk company went out of business, then (thankfully) somebody bought the software and re-released it for free (as long as you make an account and hand over your email address to be sold to a million different advertisers). Check it out if you’re looking to record music. (REAPER is far better, though, and it’s also “free” in the sense that it has an unlimited trial period.)
SONAR is what I used in the 90s to record most of my music. I still have that version of the software on a CD, but it barely runs on a modern PC. But with the new Cakewalk by BandLab, I’ve been able to import my old, old CD backups of music projects from the 90s and actually play them again. But most importantly, I can export the individual audio tracks so I can load them into REAPER.
But I can’t just pop out a new mix of my old songs, because most of my MIDI gear is gone, and I never recorded audio copies of the MIDI parts because I was a big old dummy stupid-head. I have to rebuild all of the drum and synth tracks with more modern tools.
Thankfully one VSTi plugin I did buy a few years ago is a software version of the Roland SC-88 Sound Canvas, the very tone generator I used for years, so I can salvage some MIDI parts. A while back I also found a collection of drum samples from the Boss DR-660, which was my workhorse drum machine for over a decade. If only I could find something to replicate the sounds of a Yamaha SY-77.
As an experiment, I’ve been working on remixing an instrumental piece called “Goodbye For Now.” You can hear part of it at the beginning of the Tree of Savior stream. The one on the stream is the 1998 version, which is a remix of the 1994 version, which is a re-recording of the 1993 version. The full 1998 version is on my SoundCloud page. It’s one of my favorites, for a wide variety of reasons, from sentimental to technical.
Say, you could follow me on SoundCloud while you’re there, and maybe inspire me to practice and write more music, possibly even start to reverse the psychological scarring of 30 years of audience indifference. There’s some other original stuff on there, and some Christmas hymns I’ve recently re-edited. That Christmas music, incidentally, was recorded in 2000, which was the absolute peak of my home studio recording quality, when I had the best equipment, and when my recording skills were at their best.
But I digress. I could talk about recording music all day, the microphone placements, the equalizer settings, the compressors, the sidechains, the reverbs, all the editing techniques. I just learned how to do that EDM pulsing synth effect! I go way, way down a rabbit hole with that kind of stuff.
The 2019 Goodbye For Now remix is going well, except I’m discovering that some of the guitars I recorded in 1994 are out of tune! What a nightmare. And I can’t find a nice string synth pad to replace the 1998 version.
Anyway. Working with REAPER is really fun. I keep forgetting about this, but music is very therapeutic and meditative to me. Just the sound of music is very calming to me (just as the sound of noise and cacophony is unsettling to me). But it’s also very purposeful hehe. Makes me wish people still bought music instead of merchandise.
This might turn into another series of posts. The Return Of The Musician. The Saga Of That One Song. Something like that. This is the kind of variety of post topics you can expect, by the way, if I ever get all my blogs merged into one place. I’m starting early.
Hrm. Now I need to come up with a generic “this is a post about music” picture. Ah ha! I already had a screenshot of REAPER in the media library! :)
UPDATE: I just want to drop this video in here so I remember it. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to manage loudness in song mixes, and this video explains the concept of the “LUFS level” which is exactly the information I’ve needed all along.