Monday, September 29, 2014

Feed-a-Smile/Lavender Field (09.27.14)

Any reader of this blog is aware that I've had the pleasure of playing events for the Feed-a-Smile charity at the Lavender Field in Second Life many times since its inception. While I do a good number of charitable benefit shows, there's something special about Feed-a-Smile. Unlike most big organizations, Feed-a-Smile is a small charity that is run by an SL resident, Brique Topaz, and the funds raised go directly to the beneficiaries with no middlemen involved. Brique is the chairwoman for Live and Learn in Kenya, and her mission is simple: funds raised at Second Life events help feed and provide an education environment for kids in Nakuru, Kenya.

Photos by Kat.

It had been far too long since I had the time available to do any sort of benefit show in SL, and I was happy to see that not only me but a couple of my fellow artists from Maali Beck Entertainment -- Taunter Goodnight and Lyndon Heart -- were also scheduled to play. I enjoy weekend shows at the noon hour, which is when I was slated toplay. I can wake up leisurely, enjoy coffee and breakfast, and have plenty of time to get ready and then perform while still having most of the day left to enjoy. I must admit, Saturday's show started slow. Really slow! My first tune was done for four people, and the one thing you want at a fundraising show is people (since they're where the funds come from). But as often is the case, folks gradually meandered in, and I think the day was a success for Brique and Feed-a-Smile (which is all that matters, obviously). Beyond that, I ended up having a good time, and the show itself went just fine. Mission accomplished.

Feed-a-Smile/Lavender Field set list...
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Waking Light (Beck)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Take Me To The River (Al Green)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)

Thanks to all who helped support this worthwhile cause... you all rock, especially Brique!

Key West (09.26.14)

Playing at Key West in Second Life is always a good thing. Playing there sandwiched in between two of SL's very best and most popular performers is even better. And doing it on a Friday evening when everyone seems to be in a great mood? Well, it's hard to imagine any live performance scenario in a virtual world that's better than that. On Friday night, I had the enviable spot of performing directly after Max Kleene, and right before the duo of Mulder Watts and Voodoo Shilton. I'll just say this: I peeked at the map during my show, and saw there were 67 people gathered around my stage, which is honestly about as good as it gets for me in SL, crowd-wise. Plus, before and after my own show, I got to enjoy some of SL's finest players, which was fun in and of itself.

I've mentioned many times before, though: the size of the crowd is not the most important thing. I prioritize a) doing a good show and b) having a good time, whether there are three people or 93 people in my audience. Fortunately, the mood was upbeat and everyone seemed to be having a good time, self included.

Photos below courtesy of Thea Dee. Thanks Thea!

Key West set list...
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
September Gurls (Big Star)
Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Joe Jackson)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Ghost In You (Psychedelic Furs)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Golden Years (David Bowie)
What I Got (Sublime)

Big thanks to all the folks who came out to Key West to rock with me on Friday night, including the following who helped support my show!
LunaelindaBranwen Resident, Voodoo Shilton, Rick Wake, RedHawk Coba, KatnissFlecha Resident, Bronsin Resident, Shannyn Fall, SingerGirl Mode, Richy Nervous, Sesh Kamachi, heavenlei Lexenstar, Rusty Seisenbacher, PhoenixStarr Teardrop, RoxxyyRoller Resident, TheDove Rhode, TheaDee Resident, Christine Haiku, Nancy Lei, Carol Greenwood, my always-great manager Maali Beck, Key West hostess Coreopsis Bluebird, and most of all Key West's lovely proprietor Liz Harley!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

La-di-dah, di-da-di-da, 'Tis Autumn!

My favorite time of year deserves a little song. By the way, check out the gorgeous sounding Martin Tiple being played here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

SL Neil Young Archives (09.20.14)

In 1785, the great Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote a poem called "To a Mouse" which contained the famous couplet: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" which is paraphrased in modern English as "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry". As you're probably aware, in 1937 writer John Steinbeck then used this line as inspiration for his classic American novel "Of Mice and Men". You might be wondering what any of this has to do with my live music performance yesterday at the Neil Young Archives of Second Life, but that shall soon be made clear, dear reader. But first, some more postulating and general dilly-dallying.

I'm really fortunate that in the nearly eight years I've been performing live music in SL, roughly 97% of my shows have gone as planned. No, that doesn't mean there weren't some technical glitches or scheduling screw-ups or other weirdness from time to time. Those things happen, and they're no big deal. I mean that out of thousands of shows, only a few times have I been scheduled to perform somewhere, and then had the person who arranged for me to play simply not be there when I arrive to play. Again, considering how many shows I've done, I'm extremely lucky to almost always be working with venue owners and managers who stick with their commitments and can always be counted on to do their part of the equation... creating a nice-looking place, and assisting in the promotion and hosting of the show. And most of all, heh heh, being there when they've booked you for a show.

Photos by Kat.

Perhaps it's specifically because I tend to work with the very best venue owners and manager of SL, from Liz Harley at Key West to Christine Haiku at the Islands of New England to Barbie and Luis at Templemore and so many others, that I've developed an expectation of excellent communications like I get through those people. However, yesterday I was scheduled to perform at a place, and the long story short...

1. There was no listing of the event in Second Life.
2. When I tried to contact the venue owner/manager before the show, they were nowhere to be found.
3. When I looked for the venue, the entire sim was gone off the SL map.
4. When I saw that the owner had seemingly opened another place, I found it, and saw that I was indeed listed on their marquee to perform at that day and time.
5. And yet, no one was there at all.

So, again, perhaps I'm spoiled by all the people who run SL venues the right way. It's actually a little shocking to see someone completely blow off their end of an agreement. And still, two days later, I still haven't heard from this venue owner. I'm obviously hoping that the person didn't have some kind of emergency that precluded them from telling me about the venue change and so on and so forth. However, along with some other odd behavior, I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be choosing to perform at their venue again any time soon regardless.

Let's move on to the positive. When it finally became apparent that the other venue wasn't going to come through, Kat suggested that we use one of our own parcels in SL to do a show, since I'd taken the time to prepare a set list, set up my gear, and warm up. We alerted my in-world group that I'd be performing at our own SL Neil Young Archives, and we quickly zipped over there and I started playing. Amazingly, we actually did grab a few of our pals who'd planned to go to the show at the other spot, and the show turned out fine. Still, it's difficult not being annoyed at the lack of communication from the place that booked me, and I'll certainly be attempting to follow up on that situation, as you'd imagine.

SL Neil Young Archives set list...
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
My My Hey Hey (Neil Young)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
The Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
My Heart (Neil Young)

Big thanks to all who found my show after the venue change, and even more thanks to those who helped support it!
Nancy Lei, Triana Caldera, OriginalHarold Resident, dls Falconer, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, and my great manager Maali Beck!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hesperia of Templemore (09.14.14)

With the recent unveiling of my band They Stole My Crayon's song and lyric video for "Things Under Trees", perhaps I've been in a mood for dreamy, ethereal music lately. Or, equally possible, the coming of Fall has me in a mood for more introspective songs (even though we're in our typical late summer heat wave here in Southern California). In any case, when I put my set list together for today's show at Hesperia of Templemore in Second Life, I found that I was leaning toward the more serious, writerly kind of tunes, so today's show ended up having a "dream theme" which went very well.

Photos by Kat.

I also found myself needing to add some new stuff to my repertoire, so I did, with four songs that I'd previously not played before. Adding to the fun, my set at Templemore was wedged in between two SL musicians whose vibe and performance goes very well with my own: FrankLee Anatra and Lyndon Heart. The show then falling on a Sunday afternoon made it perfect for the songs I ended up choosing.

Hesperia of Templemore set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*September Gurls (Big Star)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Polly (Nirvana)
Always Tomrrow (Zak Claxton)
*The Ghost In You (Psychedelic Furs)
Furry Sings the Blues (Joni Mitchell)
*Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)
*Sleeper In The Valley (Laura Veirs)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
*Improvised Templemore Song (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Many thanks to everyone who came and saw me at Templemore, especially the following who supported my show!
Lyxz Delicioso, Christine Haiku, Diana Renoir, Triana Caldera, Tesla Kuhn, Aubreya Joszpe, TheaDee Resident, Cicadetta Stillwater, FrankLee Anatra, Naga Flow, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my manager Maali Beck, and most of all Templemore co-owner Luis Lockjaw and hostess Bee Blackrain!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Islands of New England (09.04.14)

With things being crazy busy around here, I haven't done many live shows in Second life (or anywhere else for that matter) recently. My workload skyrocketed (not complaining, but it adds time and stress to my life), and my son started high school, and I've been very focused on working on and recording music with my band They Stole My Crayon. You may have noticed that we rather unexpectedly unveiled our first full song last week, and then put out an accompanying lyric video over the weekend. So, there's plenty of stuff going on, including music; just not as many live shows as I used to do. I've purposefully kept my live performance schedule pretty light, and my wonderful manager Maali Beck never, ever pushes me to book more shows. She understands that like many people, I wear a lot of hats in life, and can't always devote as much time as we'd both like to doing everything I'd like to do.

However, around the start of last week, Maali pinged me to see if I'd be up for a Thursday night show. My first thought was, "No way, too busy," until I saw that it was at The Islands of New England. At that point, I immediately said yes. As I've mentioned many times, the IONE is managed by my friend Christine Haiku, and we always seem to have a great time when I play there. At certain places in SL, I feel like it's important that I focus on being as good a serious musician and singer as possible, putting on a show that highlights my skills as a performer. At the IONE, though, it's much more like gathering in a place with friends and just having a great time. Perhaps the best parts of my shows there are the moments in between tunes when my randomly insane brain takes over my mouth, and even I am occasionally shocked by what comes out of it. The end result is that we spend a lot of time laughing, both me and the audience, and that's a great way to spend an hour on a Thursday night, I believe.

All photos by Kat.

One more thing: as I've noted before, it's always a pleasure when some of my personal favorite performers in SL happen to be onstage before me. It inspires me and puts me in the mood to do a great show. This time, it was none other than Bat Masters who left me with a silly grin on my face as I took the stage.

Islands of New England set list...
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Things Under Trees (they Stole My Crayon)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
This Afternoon )Zak Claxton)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Leggy Blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
Waking Light (Beck)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Wakin On A Pretty Day (Kurt Vile)
*Improvised New England song (Zak Claxton)

Many thanks to all who came out to my show, especially the following who helped support it!
Bigfoot Hendrassen, Diana Renoir, TheaDee Resident, Triana Caldera, Sesh Kamachi, Leira Vaughan, BAT8997 Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, the lovely Maali Beck, and IONE manager and great friend Christine Haiku!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

New "Things Under Trees" lyric video from They Stole My Crayon

I thought you might like a little "behind the scenes" from the making of They Stole My Crayon's first official video... which is really just a lyric video until we decide to do actual videos, but that's another story. First, here's the video:

As I've written about, we finished a pre-release mix of "Things Under Trees" a week ago, over Labor Day weekend. Yesterday (Saturday September 6), Christina and I decided to see if we could whip together a cool lyric video that would be easy to do but still captured the eerie vibe of the song. We headed just up the street to Dominguez Park here in lovely Redondo Beach, CA, which has a variety of nice, big trees (which, for pretty obvious reasons, would be essential to the creation of the video). Christina and I both filmed, which took a total of maybe 15 minutes. I think we already knew what we had in mind, so capturing the footage was straightforward.

Christina captures some footage from a ground-level position. She also had the excellent idea to get some high-resolution slow-motion shots of the trees in the wind which came out fantastic.

I could have used a simple font for the lyrics on the video, but decided to handwrite them instead. I wrote out each line of the song in a drawing application on my iPad called Paper. Then I brought those into Photoshop on the Mac and turned them into "green screen" images so that the writing would be opaque with the backgrounds invisible.

Here's one way to do interesting titles for your videos... turn your page into a chroma-key green screen and throw them in.

Finally, I put the footage and lyrics art together with the song in iMovie -- yes, you can push iMovie to do more than edit your family vacation videos -- then some editing to make things interesting, and that was that. The whole process was done in half a day. We're all happy with the way it came out, and it's exciting having some actual music and imagery out there that we can show to people, finally.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

They Stole My Crayon "Things Under Trees"

As promised, here's the very first song that my band They Stole My Crayon is unveiling to the world, "Things Under Trees". They Stole My Crayon is Bunny Knutson, Christina Lee, and me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Weekend in Crayonland

We're now a day past Labor Day, meaning that summer is over according to folklore. A scientific side note: summer is "over" at the autumnal equinox, which is still a few weeks out. Also, September is one of the hottest months of the year in Southern California, so despite the supposed end of the season, I'm still in shorts and a t-shirt here. It certainly doesn't feel like fall just yet in the greater LA area.

But I had two great reasons to be very happy over this Labor Day weekend. First and foremost, last week I finished a work project that had caused me to work every day for weeks on end, including the weekends, so I finally had some time to catch up on my leisure. As a result, I spent almost the entire three days working on music for my alternative rock band, They Stole My Crayon. We had a specific reason to get some musical work accomplished (beyond the concept of actually finishing up this damn album and getting it out). Without being too specific about it, I'll just say that Kat pointed out an opportunity for our music to be featured somewhere that we enjoy, as well as being good for getting some increased exposure for The Crayon in the time frame before we wrap up the album. Also, we seemed to have the perfect song for the somewhat spooky setting in which we're hoping to be featured; the tune "Things Under Trees" seems to work very well in that context.

We hadn't touched "Things Under Trees" since April 2013. While we've been writing and working on many other tunes, that song kind of sat there. No particular reason; it's just that the song reached a point of being a good demo, and there was little need to push it past that level until we were ready to revise/re-record parts for the actual album. That is, until this possible opportunity came along. And, as I said, I had three whole days with no other big responsibilities (a huge luxury for me). It was time to make some music!

Getting Real
When we write songs, there are zero limitations on what we can and can't use. I've recorded a demo using a 5-gallon empty Sparkletts water bottle for a drum. It was handy and worked fine. You should never let a lack of the perfect equipment stop you from writing a song or capturing an idea. Sometimes, the stuff you use for the demo actually sounds good, and makes it through to the final recording. But often, it's just a placeholder until you can use the sounds that you really want. The original "Things Under Trees" demo was done by Bunny, based on a set of lyrics by Kat. At the time, my contribution was an arrangement of backing vocals. In any case, we did that demo in April 2013, and the demo's guitar and bass parts were done with computer-based samples. We knew all along that we'd want to replace those with real instrument performances. The funny thing is that the original samples sounded fine. But they also sounded too perfect; each virtual "strum" was the same as all the others, and the rhythmic feel was 100% perfect, meaning that it felt robotic and lacking in humanity. It turns out that whether people know it or not, they prefer the imperfections that only a human can give to a musical performance.

So, I started by taking the bass part Bunny had composed, and playing the same thing note-for-note on a real bass. It was a slight challenge in that the part had never been played on an actual fretted instrument before, but once I got the part locked in, it went well. I did the same thing for the acoustic guitar part. At the end, the piece was way more organic feeling, and my hopes were high.

Bunny Is God
It's so hard for three grown people with work and family responsibilities to spend time doing non-essential activities (like recording music), and even harder is coordinating all three schedules to do it together. It was, therefore, extremely fortunate that Bunny could jump in at this stage. His original "scratch" vocals ("scratch" meaning something you record just to get the idea down rather than intend it for final listening) had been done by singing into the built-in microphone on his computer... hardly the ideal sound for a professional record. He not only re-did every one of his vocal parts over Sunday night, but proceeded to take our stuff and do a mix of it on Monday night. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When we work remotely, the FTP server becomes invaluable. We'll be doing tracks here at the beach while Bunny works some 30 miles away up in the Valley. Then we post our respective work so that the other party can listen and give input, and eventually combine to make a (hopefully) cohesive song.

There are many reasons why the "old way" of recording to analog tape is preferable. However, there is absolutely no possible way we could do that based on the limitations of time and money we have for this band. Instead, we use the current industry standard digital audio workstation (DAW) software like Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic, and then output each track as a high-resolution WAV file that can be mixed afterwards.

Once we had Bunny's vocals, it was time for Kat and I to re-do our backing vocals. Why? Two reasons. First, our original version was done quickly, and we were still learning the song while we recorded... hardly the way to put your best foot forward, musically speaking. Second, once Bunny had re-done his lead vocal, we needed the background voices to align perfectly with the newer version. These are details that matter, if you want a good-sounding record.

By Monday night, we'd wrapped up all the recording, and I sent Bunny the stems (individual tracks of various sources like vocals and drums and guitars and so on). While the album is being mixed by our friend, the talented Canadian engineer Spencer Crewe, we wanted to wrap up this version very quickly for the previously-mentioned opportunity. Also, Spencer and his wife Jackie just had their first child, and the last thing I'm going to do is ask a brand new dad to drop everything he's doing to work on my music. Instead, Bunny took the tracks that I delivered late last night, and went into a professional studio with a nice monitoring system to do the mix. We honestly didn't expect him to do that; he often goes above and beyond the call of duty, and we're happy to have a guy of his talent and commitment in our band.

What's Next?
We haven't heard Bunny's mix yet; I think he still has a few things he wants to tweak. But it seems as if we are indeed going to get "Things Under Trees" submitted in time for the opportunity that I mentioned. The best news is that even if it doesn't get selected, we still made huge progress on a really good, unique tune that had been lingering. If that's the worst thing that happens, we're very lucky people.