Genesis – Watcher of the Skies intro

Back in October of 2013 I posted a video in which I played along with a MIDI version of the Genesis classic “In The Cage”. The original post is here. I wrote about my love of the band and some personal history, so I won’t clutter this post with a rehash.

Tonight I was playing around with Cubase 7.5 and started diving into the new HALiotron engine in the HALion Sonic 2 VST virtual instrument. The presets leave a lot to be desired, which is often the case, but editing is very straightforward and the plug includes fairly standard Mellotron sounds including flutes, brass, bass clarinet, clarinet, strings, 8 voice choir, and bassoon. I hope they release an expansion pack with more sounds like the bass accordion, cello, violin, and viola samples. But the included samples are a good and popular starting point.

I began with a blank program and loaded the string and brass samples into slots A and B respectively in the Tape Track selector switch. Like the original Mellotron Mk II you can position the switch in between selections and combine the sounds. This is how Tony Banks achieved the iconic timbre of his intro to “Watcher Of The Skies” with Genesis. He also used the bass accordion sound on the other keyboard (the Mellotron Mk II had two keyboards side by side).

Mellotron Mk II

Mellotron Mk II

I added just a hint of reverb and then played the sound from my Minimoog Voyager acting as a MIDI controller. It makes a rather nice controller for such purposes due to the limited number of keys. The Mk II had two 35 note manuals. The Voyager has 44 keys.

I was lazy and just recorded the sound coming from my speakers so what you’re hearing is from the iPhone’s internal microphone. But it still sounds pretty good. The HALiotron has some nice tonal shaping options including attack, decay, velocity as well as control over the filter. You can choose to loop the samples or play with the same 8 second limitation as the real thing. Overall, it’s a nice addition to the HALion VST and I’ve used it a few times already on my upcoming progressive rock album.

Enjoy and please subscribe to my Youtube channel.

Softube Valley People Dyna-mite Plug-in Review

INTRODUCTION:

As the processing capabilities of personal computers increase and the skill of programmers to emulate analog audio qualities in digital form also improve, plug-in companies have rushed to digitally re-create almost every piece of classic gear from the golden era of recording studios. These studio stalwarts exist in several incarnations from various companies, with varying degrees of success. You’ve got your Pultec emulations, your 1176 emulations, your LA2A emulations, Neve, API, and SSL emulations, plate reverb emulations, EQ emulations, microphone preamp emulations… and the list goes on and on.

Plugs plugs plugs plugs Plugs plugs plugs plugs!

Plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs!

One manufacture from that era conspicuously absent so far is Valley People of Nashville. The history of Valley People is quite interesting and you can read more about it on their website. The short version is that an electronics guru named Paul Buff worked with Frank Zappa to build Zappa’s famed PAL studios and designed some proprietary gear in the process. A short time later, Buff officially formed Valley People and put those designs into commercial products including the Gain Brain, Transamp, Kepex, and the Dyna-mite.

My first exposure to Valley People gear was in my friend Glenn Brown’s studio. He had an rack of the now defunct 800 format filled with Kepex and Gain Brain modules. I noticed he liked to use them on drums. But his real secret weapon was a stand-alone stereo Dyna-mite compressor. He no longer has the rack, but he still uses the Dyna-mite frequently as a drum bus parallel compressor, a role in which it absolutely shines.

An original Dyna-mite in a beige plastic case. This is like the one my friend Glenn owns.

An original Dyna-mite in a beige plastic case. This is like the one my friend Glenn owns.

You can still pick up an original Dyna-mite unit on the used market for a reasonable price. We’ll see how long that lasts! Of course the limitations of outboard gear include the lack of recall and the obvious fact that you can only use it on one or two things at a time unless you own a rack of several. Who has space for that?

So I was very excited when I found Softube’s digital version of the Valley People Dyna-mite. If it captures the essence of the real thing, it would not only be cheaper but much more convenient and flexible to own. I just happen to have a real Dyna-mite unit here in my studio, on loan from Glenn, so I thought I’d do a quick comparison between the plug-in version and the real thing. This is not a very scientific endeavor so please excuse any oversights.

CONTROLS / INTERFACE:

First and foremost, the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite plug-in looks like the real deal, with the same controls in the same order, the same LED gain reduction metering, and even the same fonts. It is a prime example of the modern philosophy of skeuomorphism in digital design but in this case it makes perfect sense. Softube intends the plug-in to faithfully capture the real analog unit. Making the plug look the same is the first step.

The first control on the left is for the THRESHOLD which determines the signal level at which the compressor is engaged. Second is a knob for RELEASE which controls how quickly the compressor returns to normal (no compression). The next control DET, the detection circuit, is switchable between INT (internal), DS FM (essentially de-essing), and EXT (external). Next is the 8 LED meter followed by the MODE switch. The three modes are EXP (expansion), OUT (bypass) and LIMIT (limiter). Next is yet another switch labeled DET, this time linked to the MODE and with three choices; AVG (average), PK (peak), and GATE. Essentially this changes the ratio of the compression. Finally a RANGE knob and OUTPUT knob finish out the controls.

This is the dual unit I'll be using for this test.

This is the dual unit I’ll be using for this test. Pay no attention to the LA610 beneath.

It is beyond the scope of this review to describe how all these functions work in conjunction with one another. The original Dyna-mite manual is available at the Softube website if you want to dig in to the technical side of things. In short, you can use the Dyna-mite not only as a compressor but also a gate, fast attack limiter, slow attack limiter, expander, or de-esser, making it quite versatile. The plug-in purports to accurately model all of this, including a “Weird Limiting” mode which is an unintended feature of the original device. From the review on the Sonicscoop site:

If the detector mode is set to LIMIT and the detector type is set to GATE, you end up with a scenario in which any signal above a certain threshold is hard limited. The range and release controls really come into play here. If the range is set too high, you end up hearing nothing except clicking, presumably the attack time of the limiter as it is engaged. Similarly, if the release time is set too long, you also end up with silence, as the compression takes to much time to be released.  However, if your range is set to around 5-6 dB, and the release time around a few ms, you’ll hear some interesting pumping and modulation effects on your source.

Sounds like fun! The manual from Softube goes into great detail about how to use the Dyna-mite and is worth a read through upon purchasing.

COMPARISON:

Ok, so now to the nitty gritty. How accurate is Softube’s emulation? Let’s do some examples. I’ll use the Dyna-mite as a parallel drum bus compressor, since that’s most likely what I’ll be using it for in most circumstances.


Side note: What is parallel compression? It is simply mixing some dry, uncompressed signal in with the compressed signal. For background and examples, this Sound On Sound article is very good:

Parallel Compression – The Real Benefits


Here is a drum sample from my upcoming progressive rock project. The drummer is my friend Kevin DePree playing his DrumCraft acrylic kit. This is a dry sample with no bus compression although there is EQ on the individual mics and some light compression on the kick and snare.

 

Next, let’s use the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite as a parallel bus compressor. Notice I am not matching levels with the dry audio as this is not about how the compressor colors the sound compared to the dry but rather whether the plug-in sounds like the real deal. I will level-match the audio from the plug-in and the real unit.

 

The settings on the plug-in are fairly simple. Threshold and Release are both at 12 o’clock, the detection circuit is set to INT, the MODE and DET switches are set to LIMIT and AVG and the range is also at 12 o’clock. It has a nice, full, and punchy sound. I’m compressing the signal quite hard, reaching about 20 db of gain reduction on the heavy peaks. But when mixed back in with the dry signal, it adds both body and girth to the sound. That’s what parallel compression is about!

Softube Valley People Dyna-mite settings for the above sample.

Softube Valley People Dyna-mite settings for the above sample.

Now let’s see how the real Dyna-mite sounds with similar settings. This was a bit tricky because the unit I have needs to be calibrated. One side requires much more make up gain than the other. This may affect the sound of the actual compression and skew the comparison.

 

And finally, here are both the plug-in and the real unit together, swapped every 10 seconds. The first 10 seconds is the real unit, the next 10 seconds is the plug-in, the next 10 the real unit again, etc.

 

CONCLUSION:

To my ears, the real unit has very slight upper end sparkle and also a “live” quality to the midrange, especially evident on the snare. I’m talking a minuscule amount here, nothing huge. Of course, this could be due to a couple of things; I had to manually align the audio from real unit to the original un-compressed track and while I did it to what appeared to me to be sample accuracy, it could be ever so slightly off which would induce tiny phase issues and thus alter some frequencies. It could also be due to the extra analog to digital and digital to analog conversion required in order to insert the real unit into my system. It could be due to the issue of the output of the first channel on the real unit needing calibration. And finally this particular Valley People unit could be overall a bit out of spec. It did come used off eBay afterall and is over 30 years old.

Valley People was bought by the PMI Group in 2007 and is now making 500 series versions of their most popular designs. A 500 series Dyna-mite is available but at a cost of $599.

Valley People was bought by the PMI Group in 2007 and is now making 500 series versions of their most popular designs. A 500 series Dyna-mite is available but at a cost of $599.

Regardless, the simulation and the real deal are extremely close. The character of the compression is dead on. That little bit of extra sparkle could be added with some EQ. Or perhaps the track doesn’t need it? The flexibility of the plug-in certainly adds to its appeal. It doesn’t use much CPU and can be used as a gate, de-esser, and limiter as well as a compressor. Not to mention you can use it on as many tracks as your computer can handle.

I’ve experimented with the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite on vocals both as compressor and de-esser. As a de-esser it does a good job with that vintage vibe. As a compressor on vocals, not so much. It is better on percussive material, guitars, and keys (especially for that extreme in-your-face compressed piano sound). I think it’s strong point is as a parallel bus compressor on drums. It really shines in that role and is worth the money for that purpose alone. And this is true of both the real unit and the plug-in. Kudos to Softube for the authentic emulation. It emulates with near-perfect accuracy the Dyna-mite’s strengths, character, oddities, and weaknesses.

Softube Valley People Dyna-mite
$219 direct from Softube
$199.99 from Sweetwater

JBL LSR305 Monitor Review

Speakers are a personal thing. I grew up listening to my father’s hi-fi system, of which he was very proud. It consisted of a Sansui AU-5500 integrated amp driving a pair of Pioneer three-way speakers with 12″ woofers. It sounded great for vinyl playback and he even had twin cassette decks for A to B or B to A dubbing as well as taping from the radio or LPs. I made many a mix tape on that system. Although in a two bedroom house with six other siblings, I spent most of my time under headphones.

The Sansui AU-5500 with matching tuner. Vintage Japanese hi-fi is very cool. My brother is using the amp now to power a pair of B&W 602s and it sounds fantastic.

The Sansui AU-5500 with matching tuner. Vintage Japanese hi-fi is very cool. My brother is currently using the amp to power a pair of B&W 602 speakers with satisfying results.

I splurged during college and bought a pair of B&W CDM SE1 bookshelf speakers with matching subwoofer, powered by an Adcom preamplifier and amp. I also bought a nice VPI turntable, which is the only piece of that system I still own. Once my wife and I started our family, a dedicated listening room became a fantasy and a liability. And I needed the money for the little mouths!

I hung on to the B&W sub for awhile as well but eventually traded it for a pair of Mackie HR824 studio monitors in 2008 to replace some Alesis M1 active monitors that I never liked. To be honest, I’ve never cared for the Mackies either but I’ve learned their (many) weaknesses and can whip up a decent mix on them. Still it was a good trade; finally I had a decent monitoring solution for my burgeoning humble home studio setup.

Mackie HR824. They're not bad. They're not very good either, but hey...

Mackie HR824. They’re not bad. They’re not very good either, but hey…

I’ve worked in many studios with a range of different monitors. I’ve used to work every day on a pair of Genelec 1031A monitors at Michigan State University. I have my opinions about a lot of different brands. But one brand I never paid much attention to is JBL, despite having nothing but respect for the company and its lineage.

I attended my first AES show in NYC in October 2013 with my good friend and studio owner / engineer / acoustician / musician Glenn Brown. While I was mainly enamored with the beautiful microphones, the tantalizing mic preamps, the retro tube outboard gear, and especially the Yamaha Nuage system (drool!), I did spend an afternoon listening to all the monitor speakers I could find on the floor. This included the new series from Neumann, the top of line ATC model, the new five-figure Genelecs, the Yamaha HS series, and a bunch I cannot even recall.

On a whim, Glenn and I stopped by the JBL display and they had their brand-new LSR 3-series hooked up. We listened for a bit and were both immediately impressed by the sound. Both the 305 and the larger 308 sounded really good, with a slight edge going to the 305 in terms of the tightness and definition of the mid-range. Even on the noisy AES floor, the speakers made a lasting impression.

I asked the JBL rep about the price of the 305 model and he said the MAP was $399. I said, “Oh, $399 each, that’s not bad at all.” He said, “No, $399 for the pair.” To say I was shocked is an understatement. I put them in the back of my mind for a potential future purchase.

JBL LSR305 speakers

JBL LSR305 speakers

At the moment, I am in the middle of mixing three projects; Greg Nagy’s upcoming release (which I also engineered as well as wrote songs for and performed on), my own progressive rock project, and a cool little EP for a friend’s band featuring Farfisa accordion, drums, and guitar. I thought the time was perfect to revisit the JBL LSR305 monitors, especially since JBL lowered the price to $119 each*. I figured if I didn’t like them in the studio, what did I have to lose? At the very least I could use them on my workbench to play some tunes while I’m fixing pianos and such.

Now I’ve only had them for a few hours but difference between the Mackies and these little JBLs is, to use a common cliche, night and day. The JBLs are about half the size, but the sound they put out is incredibly enveloping, with pinpoint stereo imaging, a detailed mid-range, beautiful high-end, and a tight low-end that’s only limited by the size of the 5″ woofer. No you won’t be able to hear those low sub basses if you’re doing electronic music, but for almost everything else there’s plenty down there. And frequencies are balanced perfectly; the highs revealing and non-fatiguing, the mid-range focused and clear, and the low-end tight and defined. JBL does offer a companion subwoofer, the LSR310s, if your music needs it. That may very well be my next purchase.

The biggest surprise is the stereo imaging. I can now hear (FINALLY!) in exquisite deatil when I move the panning control within Cubase even just 1 notch to the left or right. They also exhibit a sense of depth that makes you feel like you can reach right into the audio.

The feature set is pretty basic. The back has the IEC power connector (cord included), on/off switch, XLR and separate TRS 1/4″ inputs (no combo jacks, hooray!), an input sensitivity switch (-10dBv or +4dBu), master volume, and two contour switches that affect the highs and lows. A nice soft white LED on the front signifies power. That’s it. Right now I’m running mine completely flat (no EQ engaged) and the volume all the way up, controlling the levels from my Yamaha N12 mixer.

The frequency range is listed as 43 Hz to 24 kHz. A quick test with a sine wave generator in Cubase confirmed that they do indeed emit 43 Hz, albeit with a rather steep drop-off in volume.

So are there any negatives? Just one that I’ve noticed so far; they are a bit noisy. An audible low-level white noise hiss is present at all times and does not change regardless of the position of the master volume knobs. It isn’t terribly loud but it’s constant.

Other than that small issue, I love these speakers. I have no idea how JBL is able to make these at such an affordable price. They are easily worth three times the list. If you’re looking for a compact near-field monitor for your home studio, or a second pair of speakers for comparison, just buy them. You won’t be disappointed. Check out the cool speaker comparison widget over at Sonic Sense to hear how they stack up against the big dogs and then give my friends at Sweetwater a call to get a great deal.

Boxed and sitting up on my desk. Good looking little guys, too!

Boxed and sitting up on my desk. Good looking little guys, too!

UPDATE (Nov 3, 2014): I just bought three more LSR305 speakers in order to create a 5.1 mixing environment in my studio. I have removed the Mackies and I’m selling them. I also have the LSR310s subwoofer on order from Sweetwater. I am very happy with the LSR305 speakers. My mixes have improved immensely and I notice details I didn’t notice before. I can’t recommend these little speakers enough.

UPDATE (Dec 3, 2014): The LSR310s subwoofer is the perfect match for the speakers, as one would expect. I was using a friend’s KRK sub with my Mackies and the JBL is far tighter, more defined, and more balanced. I was able to do the first 5.1 mixing for my THEO project and I am thrilled with how they came out. The mixes translated extremely well in the professional mastering studio after mixing on the JBL 5.1 system.

* NOTE: The $119 each price quoted above was a special summer sale via Sweetwater. The normal price is $149 each, though deals can be had.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in review

Most of the music I record does not involve a bassist. Either I am covering the bass with my left hand and/or left foot on the Hammond organ, or I’m using synthesizers. Two projects currently on my plate, however, do feature electric bass. The first is Greg Nagy‘s upcoming third release, tentatively titled I Won’t Give Up. For these sessions, Detroit bassist Joseph Veloz is handling the low-end. The second is my progressive rock project with Gary Davenport on bass duties.

My humble studio is small and I do not own a bass amp. In my studio, I track the bass direct into a Universal Audio LA610 MkII tube preamp with just a hint of compression added on the front end. Joseph uses a nice five-string bass with both passive and active pickups. Gary sends me most of his tracks, recorded at his home direct into his ProTools audio interface. Both methods sound good, but they lack the roundness and fullness that a nice bass amp provides.

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

I considered the option of re-amping the tracks into a bass amp at another studio, but this would cost both time and more importantly money. The budgets for both these projects are small. So I began looking for alternatives.

A lot of companies make guitar amp simulators. Many DAWs even ship with them, including Cubase, which is my DAW of choice. The VST Amp Rack plug-in within Cubase is quite good and I have used it on a variety of instruments like guitar, synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, and even vocals. But like the majority of guitar amp plugs, it doesn’t have any options for bass.

Steinberg's VST Amp Rack plug-in

Steinberg’s VST Amp Rack plug-in

After searching and reading reviews and suggestions, I came across the Swedish company Softube. They offer a plug-in called Bass Amp Room that seemed perfect for my needs. I downloaded the fully functional 20-day demo (iLok required) and began testing.

Immediately upon loading the plug-in the bass guitar tracks improved. And it wasn’t just a small improvement. The plug-in does exactly what it advertises. It takes your direct bass signal and puts it through an amp in a room with a mic in front of it. The results really speak for themselves and the Softube website has plenty of audio examples.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

The plug-in models three different cabinets; an 8 x 10″ cab, a 4 x 10″ cab, and finally a 1 x 12″ cab. The amp controls are very straight-ahead; normal volume, bass, mid, and treble tone controls, and a master volume along with a lo/hi input switch. They even included a direct inject section to mix some of the direct signal into the amp sound. The DI section includes more tone controls and a limiter.

You can bypass the amp simulation or the cabinet simulation. And you can position the virtual mic anywhere you want in front of the cabinets, backing it way off if you’d like or getting it up close and right on the cone.

I do like how the amp model breaks up when pushed. You can achieve some great fuzz bass tones out of the plug-in as well as some beautiful dark crunch.

I can only think of two areas which need improvement: It is odd that they did not model the classic 1 x 15″ cabinet made famous by the Ampeg B15 and James Jamerson. And I would like to see a cabinet with a horn. Perhaps those will be in a future update.

Despite these caveats, I bought the plug-in from Sweetwater Sound, which is just a bit cheaper than direct from Softube. Below is a mix I’ve been working on. This song was recorded in Los Angeles in October of last year. The bass was tracked direct into Nuendo through a Demeter tube bass DI. This is Gary Davenport on bass, myself on organ, Zach Zunis on guitar, and Matt Tecu on drums under the recording band name The Hollars. We hope to have an EP out this year.

I highly recommend Bass Amp Room to anyone needing a solid bass amp tone for their recordings. Check out the other amp models from Softube, too. It is worth demoing their Valley People Dyna-mite compressor plug-in. I had a real Dyna-mite at my studio for a week or so and compared the virtual with the real. They were very, very close (the plug-in had more high-end information). That’s on my shortlist as well.

Thanks for reading.

These Are The Simple Days – Excerpt

For the last three years or so I’ve been working steadily on a collection of songs that can best be described as progressive rock. As touched upon in an earlier post, I grew up listening to bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and others. When I was 16, I recorded an “album” of my own songs on a four-track reel-to-reel, with myself singing and doing all the parts on my trusty Yamaha SY77 (with a bit of acoustic piano thrown in). It was called Satori and included a 30 minute suite dedicated to the poet John Keats.

John Keats

John Keats

Yeah, I was that kid.

The only people that ever heard that “album” were very close friends, my siblings, and my mom and dad. And that’s probably the way it will always be. I don’t know if I can ever release what I’m sure are some real cringe-worthy moments.

I got into jazz a few years after that and spent the next 14 years or so honing my jazz chops with organissimo and others. I focused entirely on Hammond organ and left my synths in the corner, for the most part. When my father passed away in 2008, I was suddenly inspired to dust off the synths (including that same trusty Yamaha SY77!) and start making ambient / electronica music, which is a genre he loved. He made a lot of that kind of music himself. The result was my album ‘In Memorandom‘, which was dedicated to my late parents and random memories from childhood.

Diving back into synths inspired me to eventually re-visit progressive rock. I still love those classic Genesis and Yes albums. But I was disappointed with a lot of modern prog, which seemed to be almost all guitar driven and metal-based. I have nothing against metal and a lot of that stuff is really cool. But where are the keyboard players who can stand with the gods of yore? Who is the new Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman?

Actually, there are a handful of modern guys that could possibly fill those roles. My favorite prog keyboardist, however, is much more underrated and subtle: Tony Banks. His compositions, melodic sense, lyrics, textures, and orchestrations, are all beyond compare. His approach to keyboards has always been a huge influence on me.

Tony Banks of Genesis

Tony Banks of Genesis

So I decided to start writing some material inspired by such an approach; not so much about technicality and flashiness, but melody, textures, and atmospheres. Sure, I play with some fun time signatures, but I try to avoid making them sound trite and instead feel natural. I also focused heavily on melody, both for my vocals and for the supporting parts.

The album is coming along nicely. I hope to release it by the end of the year. Right now, two other fantastic musicians are involved; drummer Kevin DePree and bassist Gary Davenport. Kevin played with my good friend Greg Nagy for several years and is on Greg’s Fell Towards None record. He’s got chops galore but is tasteful and sensitive as well. Gary is the bassist in Janiva Magness’ band, the group I’ve been touring with for the last four years. Gary is a monster player, educated at Berkeley. His first band out of college was a prog band that covered Genesis extensively. In the clip below, listen to his beautiful fretless bass work.

The following clip is just an excerpt from one of the songs. It is called “These Are The Simple Days“. This is just half the solo section. This is the first through-composed solo I’ve ever written. I usually just improvise and that’s that. But I wanted to approach this like Tony Banks, who admitted repeatedly in interviews that he was not an improvisor, and actually compose a solo part.

The song itself is about childhood, specifically about my young daughters’ childhood. It is a plea to enjoy this innocence, which is gone too fast. The section in the clip is in 5/8, though the main tune itself is essentially in 11/8 (and a completely different key center). I’ll post more of the song later. I hope to make an actual music video for this song, as the lyrics are very narrative.

I’m very excited about this project. It is a wide departure for what I’m known for, but it’s just another natural side of me. It’s really a return to my roots in some sense.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll re-release that 30 minute epic ode to Keats. I’ve still got the 1/4″ masters.

Satori - on tape. State of the art, yo!

Satori – on tape. State of the art, yo!

 

UPDATE (March 16, 2015):
THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros was officially released on January 27, 2015 and I posted the finished mastered version of These Are The Simple Days on YouTube. Enjoy!

This album is available from iTunes, Amazon, the Big O Store, and Generation Prog Records.

Why Crowd-Funding is essential in the Internet Age

NOTE: I originally published this on my Facebook page on May 11, 2013 while in the middle of my second Kickstarter campaign for Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton. It was looking quite bleak for that campaign but thankfully, with the support of music-lovers and jazz fans, we pulled through. I wrote this piece in response to many private messages and emails I received from musicians, fans, and friends. The theme running through all the messages was some variant of “Why are you resorting to crowd-funding? Isn’t that begging?”

I thought I would post this piece here to hopefully gain more exposure to the thoughts within and begin a dialogue.

NOTE 2: I’m currently running my fourth crowdfunding campaign for the latest organissimo album entitled “B3tles – A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four”. It is happening here.

—————————————————————————————————————–

As of this writing, my second Kickstarter project is about halfway to the finish line. Unfortunately it is also behind in terms of reaching my funding goals. I realize my last project was only six months ago (the very successful CD “Dedicated” by organissimo) and I also realize that, like last time, I’m asking for quite a tidy sum of money. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m asking for that amount but more importantly why crowd-funding is so important to independent, niche musicians like myself, using my last successful project as an example.

Word Cloud "Crowd Funding"

The Kickstarter for organissimo’s “Dedicated” reached it’s funding goal of $12,000 on October 15th, a full two days ahead of schedule. It finished slightly above the goal at $12,275.  Kickstarter and Amazon (who processed the payments) each took 5% right off the top.  So that left us with $11,047. I tracked and mixed the album myself, spending $274.50 on a suite of plug-ins for my DAW. That is the only money that I personally received from the campaign for my role in the production of the CD. Not only did I perform on the disc, write songs for the disc, engineer the disc in my home studio (with gear that I purchased myself), and spend countless hours fixing and mixing the audio, but I also did all the promotion for the crowdfunding campaign, handled the management of the Kickstarter, updated the websites, contacted the photographer, graphic designer, radio promoter, and mastering engineer, scheduled all those folks to do their thing, processed the payment for all those folks, contacted press people, and generally oversaw every little aspect of making the campaign and then the CD a reality. And I did not pay myself one cent for any of this except for buying those plug-ins in order to be able to mix the audio. I literally spent hours and hours and hours putting this CD together and I did not receive any money except to buy those plug-ins.

Drummer Randy Marsh did not receive any money either. Guitarist Ralph Tope was paid a small severance package when he left the band in order to protect the group’s rights to the music (which ate up the “extra” money I had calculated into the budget).

Indeed, I actually spent hundreds of dollars of my own money on postage, after the post office either lost or delivered half-empty packages to over half the people who purchased the “organissimo box set” as part of the Kickstarter. The budget was so tight that by the time the packages were lost, there was no more money to mail new ones and so I picked up the cost myself. The post office also raised prices on international shipments by 200% and I had to eat those costs as well.

Which brings me to my next crux of the biscuit: Why is crowd-funding so important?

Within one week of organissimo’s Dedicated being released it was available on blogs and torrent sites on the internet for free.

organissimo - Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

organissimo – Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

You can go find it right now with a simple Google search. In fact, you can find every single organissimo album for free with a simple Google search. I hope you don’t, but if you want to, you can.

This is not by choice.

In the digital age, musicians no longer have any control over how their product is distributed. This is why we must receive money up front to record the music.  Waiting until after it is released is foolish and financially ruinous for independent artists like us. And that means we need you, the fans, to step up and help us make it happen. You are vitally important to the process. You are essentially our label. Without you, we have no viable way to record and release music.

The last four organissimo CDs cost about the same to produce as the goal of the Kickstarter: between $10,000 and $12,000.  I was able to curb a lot of that by tracking and mixing Dedicated myself and so we spent the money not used on studio time for promotion. One thing I’ve learned as an independent musician is the importance of promotion. Most musicians don’t like to talk about themselves and their art, but the truth is if you’re not going to promote yourself, who is?  But merely talking about yourself can only take you so far.

The great thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. The horrible thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. Radio stations (especially college stations and those that play Americana, jazz, blues, etc.) are absolutely inundated with hundreds upon hundreds of CDs every month. They simply cannot take the time to listen to them all. The same is true of music writers. You must have a gatekeeper, someone they trust, who they know will only send good stuff, in order for them to take the time to check out your project. You need a trusted radio promoter and a trusted publicist.

Without promotion, Dedicated would’ve done nothing. With radio promotion it was able to hit #5 on the national jazz charts, #2 on the college jazz charts, and has lead to more sales and more opportunities for the band. Promotion is immensely important and that’s why over 30% of the Kickstarter budget for Dedicated was for promotion.

But that promotion doesn’t come cheap.

Before crowdfunding, we would personally go into debt every time we recorded an album. It would literally take years to pay that off. As file sharing becomes easier and more prevalent, it takes longer and longer to pay off that debt. Our first disc took 2 years to pay off. The second 3 years. The third 4 years. The pattern is clear.

THEO - The Game Of Ouroboros

THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros – Successfully crowdfunded in 2015.

And so, to answer the question “Why is crowd-funding so important?” It is important because it is no longer financially feasible to go into debt to produce an album. And that is because of file-sharing. The only way to guarantee that I’ll be able to make an album is to secure financing up front. And that’s where you, the fans, come into play.  If you want the music to be made, you have to support it on the front end. Give me your pledge of support up front and I will produce the music for you to enjoy. That’s my promise to you.

I hope I can count on your support in my musical endeavours. I hope my music and my gear reviews and my advice and expertise when it comes to all things Hammond is valuable to you. Beyond the current crowdfunding campaign (http://bit.ly/2elcnGU) I am currently working on a progressive rock project of all original material (with me singing!) that is reminscent of the 70’s keyboard-centered prog, but not derivative thereof. (UPDATE: This project has been successfully crowdfunded and released as THEO- The Game of Ouroboros.) I also have several project by good friends that I am producing / engineering / consulting on and many many more ideas up in this crazy head of mine. If you know me, you know the music is going to be great regardless. Thank you for reading and thank you for caring about independent artists like myself.

—-Jim Alfredson

KIOS names Dirty Fingers in Top 12 of 2013

KIOS FM in Omaha NE has named my CD, Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton as a Top 12 release in 2013.  I’m thankful and honored.

http://kios.org/post/jazz-junction-top-twelve-2013

Jim Alfredson's Dirty Fingers (BIG O 2419)

Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers (BIG O 2419)

Got your copy yet?  It’s available via the Big O Store, AmazonCDBaby.com, and iTunes.

Hammond XK1c video demo

As a companion to my Hammond XK1c Quick review, here’s a video demo of the XK1c in action. I took one of the tracks from my Tribute To Big John Patton sessions last August and muted the original organ track. I then overdubbed myself playing the XK1c instead. I think it sounds very good! Such demos are important because they demonstrate how the instrument fits into a mix with a band.

I considered connecting the XPK-200L bass pedals to the XK1c and kickin’ a bit of bass, but I decided to just do left hand bass instead.

The XK1c was recorded directly into Cubase 7 from it’s 1/4″ outputs. The onboard Leslie sim is used. I added a bit of the session reverb from the track to help it sit into the “room” with the other instruments.

Enjoy the video and let me know what you think.

Hammond XK1c

Hammond XK1c

New upcoming Greg Nagy release…

I first met Greg Nagy in early 2005. I was doing some freelance video work in Ann Arbor and got a call from Greg that morning asking me about organissimo’s first album Waiting For The Boogaloo Sisters…  Greg complimented the record and specifically wanted to know what I had done to promote it.

“Uh… nothing,” I naively said.

That wasn’t going to fly with Mr. Nagy. He had a bunch of ideas that we eventually applied to the following release, This Is The Place, ideas that helped make that CD very successful on jazz radio and in the press. For that release, we co-founded our own label, Big O Records.

organissimo - This Is The Place (BIG O 2404)

organissimo – This Is The Place (BIG O 2404), released in 2005.  This is the first project Greg and I worked together on.

Before all that, he invited me over to jam and maybe write some songs. On our first get together, we wrote “Won’t Cry”, which is featured on his first solo release Walk That Fine Thin Line. He joined Root Doctor as well and together we produced three CDs for the band. We also produced his sophomore release Fell Towards None and he’s had a hand in every other organissimo release and even my newest solo release A Tribute To Big John Patton.

Root Doctor - Change Our Ways (BIG O 2407)

Root Doctor – Change Our Ways (BIG O 2407), released in 2008. I’m very proud of our work on this one including production, songwriting, arrangements, and more.

Greg Nagy - Fell Toward None (BIG O 2417)

Greg Nagy – Fell Toward None (BIG O 2417), released in 2011. This was a very enjoyable record to make and features one of Greg’s finest performances on my tune “I’ll Know I’m Ready”.

In short, we’ve become really good friends and musical partners.

Greg and I are now working on his third CD. The last 18 months have seen some dramatic changes in his life. The last few years of my life have been dramatically different as well due to my intense touring schedule and being away from my family. All these things are filtering into the songs that Greg and I are writing together. In the spring, we released a single we co-wrote called I Won’t Give Up, which you can hear for free here (Flash required). It is available on iTunes.

So we’re working on a new record together, Greg’s third. We have assembled a stellar cast of musicians to bring it to life. And like my past two projects, we’ve begun a crowd-funding campaign via Kickstarter to finance it. The music industry is in flux. Nobody knows how its all going to shake out. But with crowd-funding, the middlemen are removed from the process and we can connect directly to our fans. You’re not donating to a cause, you’re supporting the creative process. You’re directly participating in the production of new music.

I really believe in this music and I hope you’ll consider being a part of it. My role will be as songwriter, performer (Hammond, Wurlitzer electric piano, piano, Rhodes, etc.), and engineer.

Check out the introduction video above and consider becoming an important part of the process with us.  Thank you!  Here is the direct link to the Kickstarter campaign.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/307717482/greg-nagy-recording-project

Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – Available everywhere!

My new CD, Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton, is available all over the web for your enjoyment. It’s currently enjoying a lot of excitement and airplay from radio stations across the US.

Jim Alfredson's Dirty Fingers (BIG O 2419)

Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers (BIG O 2419)

You can order a physical copy from Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, or direct from the Big O Store, which is my label’s outlet. Note that the Big O Store is the only place you can also purchase the companion DVD, featuring 90 minutes of music including three tracks not on the CD.

If digital downloads are more your thing, it is also available in mp3 format on Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, and more.

Here are some examples from the companion DVD, again only available via the Big O Store.