Monday, 10 April 2017

Ready, Fire, Aim

I came across an earlier recording and though that is not right – I'd better investigate... One of my earlier efforts, so how I do the recording and mixing had since evolved. In spite of its relative success, I thought it better to apply a little more TLC and make a better job of it!

The song is 'It's Alright With Me' (from 2011)… here a newer version is presented - new vocals and a more balanced mix. I have used the same video, which apart from one bit where the phrasing is slightly different, requiring an editing tweak, the rest of it syncs as it should. (I’d found trying to match the original vocal was counter-productive, so did a fresh unguided take.)

It's Alright With Me

A decent video, with its Spring-time theme, made outdoors in a natural setting – just me, a tripod and a CD player. Shame its isn't HD - I was using a borrowed cassette-based camcorder at the time. Would be hard to recapture the moment…

Ready, Fire, Aim
Sometimes it is more import to 'get on with it' rather than vacillate whilst awaiting perfection or the right moment. Not for the first time, I have revisited an earlier recording that with hindsight and some better experience I could improve. Often when you are absorbed in a creative project, it can be so long and tortuous that you just want to get it done – and sign it off! You listen to something so often you don't hear it properly or you let things go. Early on I had an over-reliance and trust in the headphone mix rather than the ambient mix. It is all a learning curve.

Starting out it is a little hit and miss, and you have to learn techniques, such as separating elements in the recording (MIDI, Vocals, Guitar to facilitate mixing or applying effects); I'm more adept at layering of vocals, so multi-tracking which gives a richer vocal texture isn't so obvious! Vocal plosives too can be an issue if you are not careful!

When you are recording someone else those things get picked up in the moment; recording yourself can be more of a challenge. There is a tendency to over-record and pick the best bits later. Though too much choice isn't always a good thing!

Musical Therapy
The song - 'It's Alright With Me' – was written a long time ago, one of my journeys into musical therapy. A couple of years where "life is what happens when you are busy making other plans" (thanks John). Some great things going on, but a lot of turmoil and insecurity. For a then 22 year old a pretty impressive journey of self-awareness.

The song had been around for many years just waiting for a recording opportunity. With a little talent, some musical ability and a computer set-up, it is amazing what you can do.

Pleased to get it done in a form that I had in my head. Its initial release garnered some praise, particularly from someone involved in mental health, who was using it to help people; for someone doing music that was a big thing – connecting on that level. It is a place I go musically and 'It's Alright With Me' does have some siblings and cousins. One is one of my first compositions, Look On The Bright Side, a few others are in the pipeline…

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Under A Spell

A lot of the music I am working on has been around a long time – though part of the reason is the time it takes me to complete projects! – however, when something brand new comes along and falls quickly into place, it is both welcome and a pleasant surprise.

There is always music on the go, recently I have been giving my 14-year old nephew, and Justin Bieber fan, a recording experience, and I'm hopeful something will come of this. We came up with one new song together, and dusted off an old 'Boys Talk' song; both have potential, and benefit from a fresh voice and some contemporary youthfulness.

New Song
'Under A Spell', started off with me setting out to re-record a song I had; brought into Cubase, I did a bassline, then suddenly I was singing something else over it! Things to say... The 'magic' was happening… an idea… the bass, a melody to play with, some strings… then it turned out I could 'play' a saxophone. The verses evolved, and a middle 8 added. Finally, I brought in some percussion. Within a few weeks (very quick for me), a brand new song was created. A jazzy feel; something a bit different. My tale of inescapable, bewitchment; a bitter-sweet romance told in just over two-minutes.

In my other life I am do community engagement, part of which involved me organising some entertainment for a 'Yarn Bombing Festival' to 'bring the community together'. Whilst not formally on the programme, there was always the possibility that I would do a turn, and amongst the Beatles songs, I do like to at least throw in a couple my own humble efforts… I did a backing track from my recording, and was able to try out the song at this event.

Under A Spell

The video is of the very first performance of the song – needing the lyrics, the words still not fully embedded in my head. It was an awful day weather-wise, blustery… there were hardly any people about, so not much thought about the presentation, just me on stage 'getting up to sing'. My talented nephew, Luke, who earlier had made his singing début, helping by holding the music stand in the wind. Later embarrassed that he got some ribbing from his mates at school for the dancing when the video was put on Facebook with him tagged (I explained: "You were only getting into the music!" Reassuring him that he would soon be the talk of the playground for his talent at singing.) Not sure what do with myself during the sax solo, I'm doing a bit of 'dad dancing', but what the heck!

One comment I got on the day, which as a songwriter means a lot… (talking about a past relationship) "You said exactly how I feel." That is the magic of music – you capture moments and feelings, and if you get it right, they resonate.

I performed the song again the next day, looking a bit smarter, but the camera batteries failed, so this video without any airs or pretensions will have to do for now.

The audio track is the studio version overdubbed onto the video, in case you are missing the sound of the wind!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

You Made Me Feel Better

I was looking back at the writing of the latest YouTube effort – You Make Me Feel Better (blog post 5 April 16) – very much a journey. It came out of a new friendship and musical coming together. Not long out of university; a long way from home, a new job, finding my feet… At work I’d heard of this guy who did music – something I wanted to do. So one day, I plucked up the courage to ask this then stranger for help to 'properly' record some of my songs, next bringing in a tape of some recorded on cassette. Fortunately, he was both interested and nice enough to help.

Mike Meade had been in gigging bands, had experience of recording and had a circle of musical friends. He gave me some tapes of his; demo recordings with his band and on his own. Really good music; some of it very poppy (Stripes) and some of it very clever – him weaving little stories with synthesiser, drum-machine and multi-tracked vocals on a 4-track – often with a theatrical quality.

Recording at Jester's
We shared a passion for music; a love of The Beatles (me being from Liverpool helped), and of vocal harmonies. A couple of hired in 4-track weekends to record a few demos, turned into a few budget studio recordings (one a week-long session requiring a bank loan). We gelled, and in forming a musical partnership and friendship, hung out together, laughed, joked, talked and bounced ideas off each other. Musically, I was very green at the time, no experience of being in a band, but had had music in my life - making up songs for a few years and a little live singing entertaining tourists on the Isle of Man. We soon had this idea of being a 'modern Everly Brothers' with synths and electric guitars.

It was quite an exciting time; things were happening amongst Mike's circle of friends – some in charting bands – then there was his friend, Clive, who not only had a presence and a charisma, but was coming out with record-quality, radio-friendly music. Another friend Tony, a guitarist/producer we would work with, was in a 'happening' underground band – The Sons of Valentino... I was honoured, if a little overawed, about being in such talented company.

John and Paul
In the tradition of Paul going to John's to write, we did a bit of that... Mike coming over with his keyboard and us jamming seeing what we came up with, sometimes having a tape machine to catch those ideas. It was fun, occasionally magical, and we fed off each other. There was a healthy competition, so if one of us had an idea, we would both be invested in it. I think because I was the lesser musician, needing some approbation, once we had the song idea, I would like to take it and to finish it off if we were stuck; also the words sometimes need an individual focus as in writing from experience or the heart.

A sea shanty
Looking through my songs folder, there are lyrics in Mike’s hand, which suggests he had the original idea (meeting someone who 'made him feel better'). I have a recollection of us trying to write this song, building on that "You Make Me Feel Better"... we were in my room in that shared house in Hounslow, my girlfriend at the time, a nurse, was there – a song for her? - it was up tempo, and had the chorus (same line repeated), we tried some verses (on the theme of a new love to lessen the hurt of a previous love). The middle 8 ("I'm never down...") was conceived. Looking at the sheets of lyrics, there are several attempts at writing verses, however that incarnation was never finished.

A year or so later and living in Slough, having learned how to play a bit on the keyboard, I revisited it experimenting with my new keyboard skills – slower because I couldn't play fast! – coming up with some new verses; the chorus and middle 8 remained. Still the same idea of a new love to get over an old one, but now more wishful thinking – romanticised. Scribbled on the sheet of paper where I’d been writing the lyrics was: "I want to feel like this".

Mike and I did have a run-through once with the new lyric and feel, by this time we were on different paths. The music hadn't taken off. For me, a song to play now and again if having a jam. I always thought it was quite a nice song with a positive, hopeful message, As it happened, all those years later, it became the one to start the ball rolling on YouTube, even if just me on a guitar. Knowing it was 'to do' project, I worked on it, creating the music and building up the vocal textures – eventually it was done. Pleasing to have been able to shoot the video on my beloved Isle of Man.

You Make Me Feel Better

You Make Me Feel Better - filmed on location on the Isle of Man

There is still more to come from those early days – songs to dust down and put on show. For me, unfinished business; more about getting it done than any particular aspiration. The answer to the question: why can I do this? Generally, 'Music Makes Me Feel Better'. So I do. And it is good to have music in your life.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

You Make Me Feel Better

Whilst I continue to be busy with the music, I have been quiet on here. A quick review of activity suggests I should do some belated updates – the new songs, the revisited projects (I don't always get it right), what I have been up to, and how I approach the music; maybe a little about my other work to give some context. The cross most striving musicians have to bear is that people don't take you seriously – the expectation that you should be doing something more productive! Saying it is "who I am" met with a glazed look. As I say, a gift and a curse…

Full Circle - You Make Me Feel Better

10th April 2010, I uploaded the first YouTube video, me strumming the guitar singing the said song filmed and edited by my brother, Kevan – a start! The video going on to get over 2,000 hits (by some way my most ‘popular’ video). It wasn't the plan to have such a simple track, wanting to produce fuller music backing for my online music. It is a bit frustrating that this version and video continues to out-perform the more accomplished songs and videos that followed!

Six years later, I have finally got a proper version of 'You Make Me Feel Better' recorded, and was fortunate to be able to make a nice video to go with it – on location! In the meantime a couple of dozen other musical projects have come and gone… I had started work on the track in 2013 getting down basic drums and chords, putting down some 'guide' vocals; soon it becomes one of many other songs I'm working on and falls down the pecking order. In the summer of 2014 I was able to make a rough demo that could be used play whilst singing to camera and videoing some footage whilst in the Isle of Man.

Groudle Glen - filming 'You Make Me Feel Better' for video
Groudle Glen - filming for video
The Isle of Man has always been a big part of my life, and after a long hiatus, it was the death of an important figure that brought me back, and into the bosom of some dear friends. So it was a joy to be there; to have a place to stay, and the loan of a car to get round the island. And a mission to film at least one video.

Two days of filming: the first up at the Point of Ayre at the northern tip of the island with a crew (Danny on camera, Barbara with the portable speaker for playback); I then decided to get some extra footage taking the tripod and filming in the beautiful and serene Groudle Glen, and then around Laxey (another glen, the tram station, and at the harbour and on the beach). The song wasn't finished, but at least I had some footage in the can for a YouTube video.

Time went by and the need to focus on one song. The meat of the backing was done a while back, in recent weeks I focused on the guitar parts (these projects tend to be organic), recording some new parts which seemed to fit. I have a confession, the outro was meant to be a guitar solo, which in the end became a keyboard part. (Guitars and recording is another story!). After much effort – and so much effort goes into these musical projects – I was able to do a mix and I had something to use for making the video.

You Make Me Feel Better

You Make Me Feel Better - filmed on location on the Isle of Man

I spent a day reviewing all of the footage I had – lot of it! And the next day I was able to make that all important start, and get some momentum. There was a nice opening shot – me singing on a bridge in Groudle Glen – it soon became obvious that the two days footage wouldn't work together (continuity), though I may use the footage for a second video.

It took 2-3 days to do the edit with Sony Vegas. When I film, I will have an idea of progressing the song as I settle at different locations, with enough footage for the cutaways (for transitions, and to hide the bits that I don’t want you to see). When you start there is always the concern that there is enough good, usable footage to get to the end. It is then a couple of days of watching the video to check for errors, tweaking it. Lip syncing is often a challenge – AVCHD files taxing the processor, such that I have to monitor in low quality!

A final music mix, then the final HD render. As I prepare for the upload, I write some words to accompany the new video. Then it is live… I post the link on my Facebook account and do some tweets.

There is one edit error spotted! A minor fix I’d missed during the making of the video, which I only saw again when I’d uploaded it! Always the way… annoying in that you want it to be a good as it can be. I’ll leave if for now.

Chris Buckley filming for 'You Make Me Feel Better' at Laxey MER Station (2014)
Filming at Laxey MER Station (unused)
Pleased with the outcome of both song and video. I resisted the temptation to incorporate touristy elements promoting my beloved Isle of Man (the tram station shots for example), better to be a bit more generic. Decent song, and video looks good, nice flow to it.

Positive reaction and a vast improvement on the initial, basic, stop-gap offering from 2010, which annoyingly was the follow on video offered by YouTube! (I've now unlisted it; there is also an advisory note on the original pointing to the new video). It would be nice if the new 'proper' video did as well; however, the views on the newer videos are very low (so low I don’t think even my family are watching them!). Disappointing given the effort that goes into them, but hey-ho! No point beating myself up about it. Qué será será. Most important thing for me is to get the songs done.

I’ll do a further blog about the song itself next time…[here.]

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Back to Business

Though not exactly on the radar I've continued to be busy with the music, though I can't say I've been in the fast lane. It would be different with a band of able musicians to get things recorded and come up with ideas – also still not winning the Lottery means I can't just throw money at it!

I have a list of songs totted up that I’d written there's over 60 – I start scraping the barrel a bit after 40/45! Then there are the bits of songs and many-an-idea quickly recorded onto a tape or phone for later… what has been encouraging is that I am coming up with new stuff, and I'm able to finish off the part-written songs where maybe they need a middle eight or something. Still very much a solo mission, so it does take time. If I can get half of them done I’ll die happy.

Most recent new song was 'Valentine'. I had a bit of an idea for it many years ago, just singing over some chords on guitar, and I came across it doing some 4-track backing up. This year with a little romantic interest I made it the next project taking that germ of an idea and turning it into a proper song and recording; starting it the week before (Valentine's Day) there was little chance of me getting it done. However, a few weeks later it was done and a home-made video done – mainly to have a record of me singing it.


A lot of heart went into it. And I think it is quite universal – the words that a man might want to say to his true love and soul-mate. As for me, looks like my little dalliance with love was a bit misplaced (I'm sure there'll be a song about that). So, at this moment mixed feelings about 'Valentine.' Still a decent effort, and one I hope will be around for future Valentine Days

Will write later some more about recent projects: one cover 'Chains' - previously done by the Beatles (very different); a quirky, new song from the archive tapes done for the first time 'I Got No Bed'; a better mix I think of political commentary ‘Wake Up’, and a new mix and slightly changed version of the 2011 song about life's frustrations 'Stop The World' (feedback is good on this – "catchy".)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Beavering Away

Beavering away on the music as ever, so a little update (nothing new since Lover Boy). I must have a least a dozen projects on the go… there are a couple of re-workings of previously uploaded, earlier efforts: definitive, more complete versions of 'Gillian' and my very first upload 'You Make Me Feel Better.' There are a few from the Boys Talk days – two studio recordings from back in the day, and a couple of re-recordings. The question is how to present them? I have been thwarted in my plans for one of them; a good song, well-recorded about watching people and body language - a duet - I wanted a couple of hipper, younger guys to play Mike and me, miming to the track in order to have something visual to put out. I had people in mind: one is willing, the other too self-conscious! So it's back to the drawing board on that one.

One of the pending re-visited songs I played at a party to people who wouldn't have heard it for over a decade and they still remembered it and could sing along! For me that was a 'moment' – encouraging; the song must have 'something'. I'm not averse to letting others sing it, so I hope to get my nephew James up to have a go - besides being younger and more handsome than me, he sings well and does have a certain charisma and presence when performing. It will be interesting hearing it done by someone else.

In another revisited recording, an earlier song – 'Just In Case' - has me singing it differently, changing the melody making it a little more contemporary which I like - another one to finish off! There is the Spanish version of 'I Told You So' which I translated when Mike and I did the studio recording – that recording a bit dated now - the current version sounds impressive with me singing and harmonising in Spanish! I'm quite proud of that, feels like an achievement.

There’s a pretty good 'January' song about self-belief. Also, a new song about meeting up with an ex and realising perhaps you were a bit hasty in dumping her all those years ago! The video filmed on the Isle of Man before the song (music) has been finished!

I have of course missed the deadline for my Christmas song – again! Annoyed at myself over this. Not particularly jolly, a sad one about loss and separation - Christmas for a lot of people is often a time of reflection. I've had it for years, and last year almost had it done, then I played with it vocally, completely changing the melody. It has something – maybe next year.

All in all, so much on the go. My difficulty seems to be finishing them off! Whether it's because I'm very much a one-man band, sometimes losing focus and motivation, I don't know. It should be easier than I make it! Past experience tells me that sometimes having a foil to work with/off does help with creativity and moving things along.

I have so much time for all these musicians having a go, trying to make it happen, following their dreams. Some of the off-the-radar music I hear is ridiculously good. That is a double-edged sword sometimes, when you then become more aware of your place in the musical universe. I had a quite a lot of interest from ReverbNation recently propelling me up the local charts reaching the Top 10 - material to come would be much more worthy of this attention - still, it is nice to be appreciated, especially by other musicians.

Of course, life throws other pressures at you. I really need to generate some income to allow me to carry on and do the music. Savings are disappearing rapidly; the time I gave myself now in extended injury time. The next couple of months will be interesting!

Before I upload new material - hopefully very soon - here are a couple of rough and ready videos from a fundraising party I did last year. The first is cousin, Danny Thomas, and me singing my song 'Just In Case'. The second is me, Danny and brother Kevan doing an impromptu three-part harmony covering The Beatles song 'This Boy'.

Just In Case (Live at The Trevrann)

This Boy (Live at The Trevrann)

Friday, 15 November 2013

Lover Boy, Yeah Right!

I'm always fascinated by the stories behind songs; the inspiration and how it came to be. Both as a fan of music and musicians, and as a creator: I often find myself dipping into books, TV or radio documentaries or the online depositories of insight such as blogs, music magazines, Wikipedia or websites like Songfacts. Whilst I do write a bit each time I finish and upload a new song and video, the blog gives me a chance to expand on that if I'm of a mind...

QY10 home studio music synthesiser
My latest offering is a song I'd had for a while and first demoed on 4-track using a new at the time video-tape sized sequencer – a Yamaha QY10 – which was the first time I'd had access to such sounds (decent drums, bass, pianos). You could programme patterns, put them together and the results were quite passable. For Lover Boy I had the stereo multi-instrument synth parts on two tracks, and played guitar (arpeggio for verse, strummed for the rest), bounced to make the backing track before using the two available tracks for vocals (main and a harmony). I’d always liked the result: dramatic drums, 60s feel to the guitar and a harmony on the chorus that lifted the song. In time, with computer music I would have access to more tracks and thus more possibilities... hence revisiting it now.

Music is my therapy
The song itself was born of a relationship – no surprise there! There were high hopes, some on-off moments, but in the end it didn't work out. Incompatibilities, old romantic wounds unhealed, career uncertainties as I veered from the path of normalcy with a leap of faith into new business venture. So a period of some turmoil and change - in hindsight quite pivotal - and a fruitful time for musical inspiration. 'Lover Boy' being about that not nice place to be with the girl moving on, the boy licking his wounds and thoughts of 'shoulda-woulda-coulda'. We'd met through an event-driven social group, so in the end it was awkward - and painful; 'walking away' would be my way of dealing with it.

I can picture the moment of inspiration: angry, hurt, feeling sorry for myself, sat on my bed, guitar in hand, I just played a chord run of D/A Suspended 2nd (Dsus2/A) to C/G Suspended 2nd (Csus2/G) - for me unusual chords giving a new sound - as the line "I'm feeling hung up and I don't know why" came to mind, followed by the colourful image of "emotional wreckage". As a composition, it came quickly and I made a natural progression to G then to F for the chorus; Am to G for the post-chorus "someone catch me as I fall." The fingers finding the chords; the voice inside my head finding the melody. Within a couple of days the song was written (quick!), and so as not to forget it, I taped a run-through on cassette. The very first line is a subconscious lift from George Harrison's dissonant chorded Revolver song 'I Want To Tell You.' Aware of that, in the new recording I would change the line to: "I'm feeling hung up, there's a reason why", which actually makes more sense! There was a space left for a solo. I had a dramatic musical 'stop!' which was easy enough to do with the QY10, this leading into a reprise of the intro to get to the repeated choruses to end the song.

In re-visiting Lover Boy I took the 4-track instrumental backing from the 90s, and using my Cubase music sequencing/recording software, I was able to add more guitar and fresh vocals, extending the end to add the "watch out Lover Boy" warnings that I'd had but not been able to record first time round. The space left for the instrumental break was filled by the new guitar solo that I’d come up with; as a one-man band these days, needs must, and I have a go. The result isn't too shabby!

Recording can be a slog!
During the recording process I seemed to get very bogged down with the new guitar parts; the multi-tracking of vocals and guitar would also test the processing power of the computer. All a bit frustrating. In the end, taking a stereo vocal mix and creating a new file, I started the guitar parts afresh, and got the finished version of Lover Boy done during October (2013). After so much time a relief to get it done! Toyed with the idea of putting it up on iTunes to generate some income. It's not perfect, so I wasn't sure. When I can get a home demo to sound like a professional recording… maybe then.

Doing the video
With a certain self-imposed pressure felt due to the lack of finished songs in my 'year of music' and many works-in-progress in the wings, I needed to sign it off. Whilst there is a story to be told, for quickness and practicality, it is just me with a static camcorder set-up with three perspectives and some guitar close-ups for cutaways, all against a red cloth background for consistency. Filmed and edited over a week using Sony Vegas, and then uploaded to YouTube.
Lover Boy

I'm pretty happy with the song; one of my more polished efforts. The reaction has been positive.

As for the girl, we lost touch a long time ago. The hurt passed. Musically I'm grateful for some decent songs, with a couple from that period still to do. Do think it must be quite something to be a muse...