Wednesday, December 30

Happy (almost) New Year!

I hope all two people reading have had a very merry Christmas (or whatever, but at this point I think that everyone who knows that this blog exists is some form of Christian guitarist) and is getting stoked for the New Year. I know for me, it's definitely time for 2009 to shove off and make some room for the the long-expected twenty-ten.

Did I mention that one thing I'm particularly excited about is that we can finally start referring to the year as twenty-_____? It's so futuristic!

How am I celebrating? Passion Conference in Hot-lanta. And I am ever so stoked. As much as I love the greats of Christian rock, I've never heard anyone (aside from Matt Maher, who is awesome) live. And boy, is this one going to be stacked. Along with perrinials Charlie Hall, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and David Crowder*Band are going to be Fee, Kristin Stanfill and HILLSONG-FREAKING-UNITED! Which is a fact that I just learned, literally, three days ago. My face will be sufficiently rocked.

It's going to be a great way to kick off what may go down as being my most important year so far, as I'm going to be playing almost weekly with a guy who's been a great mentor to me, musically and spiritually, Adam Bitter. I've also been thinking more and more that the 9-5 just isn't for me, that music's where I'm called, rich or poor, and that I need to embrace it, get the fear, and just live God's calling for me. At the very least, a job in the music industry would be way more interesting than a job in the IT industry.

So I'm not big on resolutions, but sometimes you need to give yourself permission to dream. I'm a musician, first and foremost, and I'm going to start acting like it. Permission granted.

Tuesday, December 15

New Gear: Studio Projects B1

Having already found an interesting little mic that colors acoustic guitar in a really flattering way (MXL 991), I was searching for a nice, even microphone for vocals so that I could use ProTools to scratch out some demos and eventually get myself out into the world, just like the hundreds of other artists on the internets. Admittedly, this is a bit like using a flamethrower to clear the snow off of your driveway, but I wanted scalability, and dagnabit, I got it! After some good advice, I started looking really seriously at the Studio Projects B1.

In my mind, the first thing I needed to decide was whether I wanted a good dynamic microphone, which could easily come with me on gigs or fill other live-sound needs (and would subsequently maintain some kind of constant between recordings and live sound), or a good condenser or ribbon (or tube, or any other variant) mic that was more fragile but better suited to controlled, studio use. To this day, I'm not sure that the choice I made is the same one I would make again, because for someone who is going to be playing out a lot more, that consistency would be really nice. But either way, I settled upon the B1, which is a Large Diaphram Condenser.

The differences in technology between condensers and dynamics is a topic in and of itself, but in an extremely simplified explanation, dynamic microphones are less sensitive, can take higher sound levels without distorting (where distortion, unlike in a tube amp, is a bad thing) and can also generally handle a lot more physical abuse; getting dropped, stepped on, not explode under Phantom power, etc. A condenser mic is more sensitive, which leads to more accurate sound (but can also lead to more background noise in a noisy environment) and is what Phantom power was designed for. Hence, while a good studio will have every kind of microphone you could imagine, you tend to see really nice condensers in a studio setting, whereas you would almost never use one live, or at least, not in a vocal application. But as with anything else in music, rules were made to be broken! (which can sometimes lead to broken microphones!)

As with everything I've bought while still being in making-some-money-but-primarily-paying-down-student-loans mode, I got a pretty good deal on this one, though even at the standard street price of about $100, this mic (supposedly) holds it's own against other similar microphones priced 10 times higher. I can't really comment on that myself, having only this and two other microphones in my microphone closet, but I will say that I got way more than I thought in terms of accessories. I think that this must be one of the newest versions. Some features include two different pads (-10 and -20 dB), two high-pass filters (75 hz and 150 hz), a shock-mount, a sweet wooden box to house the microphone, and a windscreen for when I'm recording, umm, bird-calls in the wild. I think virtually all of these were absent in v1, so I definitely profited from waiting a bit.

As for the sound? I need to play with it a lot more, but it seems pretty even, frequency wise. I did do a bit of recording on a tune I wrote a while ago called "Fair Warning", which I put up on my very own MySpace. Yay! The acoustic is done with the MXL 991 (12th fret, 45 degrees towards the soundhole), the vocals with the B1. And I don't have a pop filter, so I was being a bit...cautious, vocally. But I threw it into ProTools, jammed the obligatory reverb and eq on there (and a bit of compression on the vocals), and there you have it. And ignore the lyrics. They're quasi-temporary. Unless you love them. Then they're super-permanent!

My overall rating? Definitely worth the price, if you need something that can jam on vocals and acoustic (though I haven't tried it yet, but a lot of people have claimed to like it). And honestly, for $100, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better.

Saturday, December 12

Drink Spotlight: The Sidecar

You know, bartending really isn't all that difficult. You see books with hundreds or thousands of drinks (most of which are utter dreck), and you think, man, I could never be a bartender, how could I ever memorize all those drinks? The short answer is that, if you know 10 specific drinks, then you can cover literally 99.9% of the drinks that your common frat boy or sorority girl will order. But for a more interesting answer, once you understand drink families, you've got it made.

What are drink families? Put simply, when you do research the hundreds of different drinks out there, you'll find that they start to look similar to one another. That's no accident; people's tastes may have changed a bit in the past 100+ years, but a good drink is, above all, balanced. Not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong, not too weak. So when you're looking to make a drink that walks that fine line so well, you'll find that some ratios just work. The Sidecar is one such example.

Never heard of a Sidecar? For shame! The story goes that there was a particularly fat captain in WWI who frequented the Ritz Hotel bar in Paris, and did so more often than not in the sidecar of a motorcycle. Whether this actually occurred, or where specifically the drink was created, is up for debate, as is most cocktail history. Somehow stories told in bars aren't always 100% accurate...

But even if you've never heard of a sidecar, you've no doubt enjoyed it's most famous cousin, the Margarita. How close of cousins?

This family, which I've heard called the "daisy" family before, goes like this:

2 parts spirit
1 part sweet liqueur
1 part citrus juice

Which combines very, very well to properly balance the sweet, the sour, and the spirit. As such, the Sidecar is quite simply:

The Sidecar:
  • 2 oz. brandy (or Cognac)
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1-2 dashes simple syrup
Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

As you can see, it's not exactly as described. I've opted to add in a small amount of simple syrup to bring the sweetness a bit more forward for modern tastes. It is still a perfectly delicious cocktail without, but the bit of extra sweetness really carries the flavors. And Brandy in the winter time is just right. Definitely top 5.

If you're wondering just how close of a cousin the Margarita is (at least, as the cocktail was originally invented), you simply swap the lemon juice for lime juice, and the brandy for tequila. Then use the salt rim, the lime wedge, all that. The point being, you know the Margarita will be balanced because the fundamental ratio remains the same, ensuring that your drink will be just right! And if the drink families intrigues you, look for the next few Drink Spotlights, which will each feature an iconic drink from each family.

Saturday, December 5

Glen Hansard

That's right. Glen stepped away from the mic, unplugged his guitar, and just went with it.

So I was at a Swell Season concert last night. And, by at, I mean I was standing in the front row, piano side, the entire night. These videos were shot by a friend I was with who was standing right next to me, so that should give you some idea. For those of you who don't know the Swell Season, rent Once. If the above video (of my favorite song) didn't already, that movie, or at least the soundtrack, will change the way you think about passion in music.

I almost never bought the ticket. But then, I was at the show for three and a half hours, so I guess it was worth it... These guys are incredible, and if they ever come to your town, go.

A few more clips (unfortunately not the whole songs....):

Friday, December 4

Now officially a cool blog!

Seems I've been called out....

Well, maybe not so much, but Karl just posted some nonsense about this here blog here, claiming something about writing good gear reviews. So I guess to not make him a liar, perhaps I should, you know, write a gear review.

And I will! On the advice of some guys I trust, I got a Studio Projects B1 condenser mic for some vocal work, and it's pretty sweet. But patience, it will be up in a few days.

First, a little honesty. While I may purport to be an incredible electric guitarist with "tone for days", the fact is that I've never actually played electric guitar before. In public. All that has changed! A friend of mine is in charge of music for a small parish in a poorer area of St. Louis, and he called me up asking if I wanted to play with him for something called XLT, a sweet Adoration-fest put on by the Archdiocese. And by "called me up", I of course mean "Facebook-ed me", because, come on. It's the 21st century. And I'm scared of phones.

So I took my Blues Jr., my G&L (this was a worship event, after all...) and my sweet pedal board and made the trek. How was it?

In a word, humbling.

I hacked my way through intros to From the Inside Out and Your Grace is Enough and Let God Arise (which was actually a lot of fun...I love distortion!) all while putting on my best "Oh, what? You were looking for the electric guitarist? That would be THIS GUY" face, and I played with delays and volume swells like it was going out of style. And I considered turning on my tremolo pedal until I realized that a tap tempo is almost more important for tremolo than it is for delay...But the point is, I realized that I need to practice, but also that electric guitar freaking rocks!

I also realized that I really, really want to get tons of gear to make me better, but I'm resisting that urge. But I do want a second delay. I would love to get a Timeline because, well, it's the best delay there is, but to be completely honest, I need something smaller and with presets. So I'm also seriously considering the new M9 by Line 6. Why? Because I really like the simple functionality of Line 6's Dl4, and by all accounts, the M9 is basically a DL4 plus about a hundred other pedals, but the same size. And I'm not crazy about any of the 'drives that I've ever heard from Line 6, but at the same time, I'm basically considering the M9 as a super DL4, so it's going to just be another pedal on my pedal board (handling a lot of delay and modulation), rather than a whole pedal board in and of itself. And modeling makes me really nervous. It still does. But I think if the guys like Jack Parker (David Crowder*Band) and Daniel Carson (Chris Tomlin) use or have used the DL4, I really can't complain about their tone. Don't even get me started on Lincoln Brewster.