Friday, August 28, 2009

Planet Gemini Update (More Bad News)

Hello everyone, It seems that everytime I write one of these updates it's to report something bad. Seriously, it's not my intention. In fact I have some really great news that I'm probably going to announce within a week or two that I'm sure a lot of you are going to be quite happy about. But, onto the bad news at hand.

My studio machine fell victim to a virus that was unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced before. This virus took hold of my computer and flashed my Bios so my PC essentially thought that it was the wrong make for the motherboards bios. The result? My computer no longer could find or identify hard drives and it would freeze up on the "Verifying DMI Pool Status" screen. It was something I've never seen before (and btw… I am A+ Certified through Microsoft and have been working on computers for a long long time. The only real solution I saw to the problem was to try to re-flash the bios and set the computer back to it's original settings. Unfortunatley that requires me to remove jumpers and do a ton of jumping through hoops and… well if any of you have ever tried to get information from PC manufacturers like that.. you know it's a hassle that I just don't want to deal with.

So I've ordered a new computer.. it is a HP system that it pretty much top of the line in terms of speed and power. So that means once I clean out all of the crap that is installed in the machine when I get it the thing should last me quite a long time.

So H (you ask) why are you telling us all this? Well, because I am going to be incapacitated for the next couple of weeks in my studio and after losing a ton of my work (from a tragic External HDD crash) I'm just feeling quite beaten down by technology at the moment. I have three projects I'm currently working on and none of which are even close to be started. So what does the future hold for Cauldron of Fuzz VI? Is it the COF that just ISN'T supposed to be released??? I hope not.. I'm going to try my damndest to release a COF this year even if it means that I have to do another EP like release.

My next album? Was well on schedule to be released in December of 2009 but now, I'm sorry to say I'm not 100% sure if it's going to make it. I have so much re-recording to do and I basically lost the last YEAR of work when that USB harddrive died.

I'm going to go now and throw my old computer out the window of a moving vehicle and prepare myself for the new machine and all of the JOYS I will have getting that thing up and ready to go.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Practice Makes Perfec…er… PERMANENT

One of the most common things that I have ran into over my years of recording musicians is that so few people actually know how to practice. This little tidbit qualifies for any instrument, and is so simple and rudimentary that you would think that it seems foolish to write about it. However, you would be surprised how many people have no idea how to practice their instrument.

Let me say this first before we go any further: All of your practicing MUST be done to a source that keeps true time. I highly recommend a metronome. There are tons of free software based metronomes for your computer (which you clearly own if you are reading this).

There is a difference between practicing and playing. If you have 1 hour of guitar time each day to play you need to sit aside 15-30 minutes of that time for actual practice. Now, what does practice mean? Well… the definition of the word is "repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency" however, when I observe guitar players or drummers practicing they are often "noodling" on their instruments. There definitely can be a point made that this will enhance your playing over time. But, if you are looking for actual improvement that you can see, then you need to focus on your goals and work at them. Practice (to me at least) is playing what we can't play until we eventually can. I know that it's not as glamorous to sit down and play a C Major scale to a metronome for 15 minutes as it is to be shredding as fast as you possibly can. But, the challenge is here, and patience is truly a virtue in terms of instrumentation.

So here is my proposal to you; let's try doing 1 month of real practicing and see what it does for your playing…

What do I require?
1. Your instrument
2. 15-30 minutes of your time a day
3. Patience
4. Discipline

Seriously, that's it! Everything you need to be a better musician YOU ALREADY HAVE!

Let's do this!

For guitar & bass let's take the C Major Scale: C D E F G A B C
For drums let's do a simple rudiment: RRLLRRLL RLLRRLLR LLRRLLRR LRRLLRRL

Now, get your metronome and start off at a slower speed. Let's say for the sake of argument 80bpm.
If you can breeze through 80 with no problem raise it to 90. If 90 is too easy then move to 100.. and so on until you find a moment where you are uncomfortable. Once you find that point… you are well on your way to owning your instrument. That is your practice tempo.

Now that you've established what tempo you are struggling at spend 15-30 minutes (The longer you spend the easier it is going to get) mastering that tempo. I don't care if 15 minutes in you feel like it's gotten easier.. FINISH OUT THE WHOLE PRACTICE TIME AT THAT SPEED. Make every note sing, concentrate on your technique. Watch your hands as you are playing. Throw in variables [see below for variables]. Just remember the way you practice is the way you are going to perform. So make it count even if you are just playing to a song on the radio. It's completely natural to shun away from doing this, because we have not trained ourselves to think this way. We are so used to being sporadic in our playing that once we try to introduce structure to it our minds are going to try to default back to our old ways. Finish out that practice session.

The next time you practice take the metronome speed up 10bpm. So if I'm at 180 on Tuesday and I get comfortable with it, Wednesday I will try 190bpm. If I can't keep up with 190 then I will go back to 180 and practice that speed again for that day. Your goal is to always push yourself to get faster, but speed is NOT our number 1 concern here. The major thing that we are trying to achieve is comfort of our instrument and timing. I have seen some guitar players who are very fast but, inaccurate… and inversely I have seen some players who can play the simplest things and make them sound like gold. It's all about technique.

I say that variables are somewhat important in practice. For example, as a drummer you should try leading with your weak hand instead of your strong hand all the time. We are only as good as our weakest link and it's important that we recognize what they are and try to strengthen them. As a guitar player try playing your scale ascending, decending, with all upstrokes, all downstrokes, alternate picking…etc. But, the key here is make sure that you are consistent. Do NOT perform one thing, fail and then go back to the thing you do well. If I can't play a scale using all upstrokes fast I have two choices 1) JUST practice upstrokes until it gets up to speed with my downstrokes or 2) set up a completely separate practice time for upstrokes. So Tuesday I could be playing downstrokes, and Wednesday will be my upstrokes day, and on that day I would go through the same exact procedures that I went through for my downstroke. Find the tempo where your breaking point is and push it as far as you can.

For drummers your variables will be different. Because the fact of the matter remains that you probably want to get your bass drum speed up to par as well (and don't forget the HI HAT PEDAL!!!!!!!!) Let's face facts having a nice double stroke roll is a nice tool to have in the toolbox but, you're going to need to focus on independence and velocity as well. You should be keeping time with your hi-hat pedal while doing these exercises.

I will often set a metronome and do:
But, your variables should also be with things like ghost notes.
So maybe you'll accent more like this
RlK RlK RlKK Rr Ll Rr Ll

You may find that keeping a steady beat with the hi hat is challenging for you. If that's the case… find a speed where you can accomplish it and work up from there. I would rather have proper practice than sloppy practice. Remember… as I said earlier.. HOW YOU PRACTICE IS HOW YOU'LL PERFORM! Practice doesn't make perfect, Practice makes permanent…

The goal of this blog is (above everything else) to encourage you to try something new. We live in an age where all of this information is at your fingertips. You have resources available with just a few clicks of a mouse. Take some time and REALLY practice your instrument if you want results.

I hope this helps some people even if it's just to open your mind to what practicing should be.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Statement on UK Classic Rock Compilation (Please Read)

First of all I would sincerely like to take the time to thank everyone involved who offered me a spot on the Classic Rock Compilation CD#69 and I would jump at the chance to do it again in a heartbeat. For those of you who have found the band because of this "WELCOME!" and this is not a post I'm making to complain in the least bit. However, there are a few things I would like to address. When submitting the song I had asked the gentlemen involved if I should send them the track mastered or unmastered. I was told to send it unmastered and here –in is where the problems stand with the track.

#1. The song was supposed to have a 30 second fade on it. So you could barely hear the blatant thievery of Trouble's song "The Eye". I didn't intend for that to be so prominent in the mix. It was used without permission from the band and it was used basically because I thought the "feel" of the song sounded very much like the Trouble song. So during improvisation I just started singing the verse to "The Eye" and decided to keep it in there and change up the ending riff a little bit to sound like it. It was very much meant to be an Easter Egg of sorts and completely done out of homage and respect and I hope that the folks in Trouble understand that. I very much wanted Trouble fans to BARELY hear that at the end and be like …WOAH! A shout-out to Trouble!!!! Everyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of the Chicago based doom metal band and I consider myself good friends with certain members of the band (past members).

#2. The volume on the mix didn't really match the others on the CD. Again, this is a small thing that mastering could have easily fixed.


All of this really doesn't matter and/or take away from the fact that I think the song is great and I really appreciate the opportunity for it to be heard to all of the Classic Rock subscribers. I would JUMP at the chance to do another and would like to take this time to thank Ken McIntyre for being so helpful and in contacting me. He is a great man who is very professional (especially dealing with someone who likes to keep an heir of "mystery" behind himself) It's really hard to use the name H or HELLION in writing credits and whatnot.. hehe


Thanks again to Classic Rock Magazine and I hope to do it again someday!