One Man Progressive Rock Band

I am making progress on my next single, “She Straightened the Veil over Her Face” and this time I’m making a series of videos to describe what goes into making these songs.

Here are the first couple of the episodes.

 

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What Makes a Recording Timeless

It’s difficult to say what gives a recording a timeless quality.  Some recordings just age well, where years and decades later you can listen and not get distracted by the timestamp of when it was recorded.

But being difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible nor it can’t be pursued at will.  My observation is that if an artist is to put together a recording with these principles in mind, it’ll maximize the chance of the recording being timeless, for it to be relevant and valuable years down the road.

  • Cover the obvious: write great songs, perform them like you mean them.
  • Rely more on creating good and interesting sounds at the source, rather than relying on manipulation at post-production or mixing.
  • Avoid obvious uses of production fads of the time.  (subtle uses are OK)
  • When mixing, mix with the intention to maintain the integrity of each instrument as much as possible.  Again, this means minimal processing and manipulation, and being understated in terms of effects.

Of course these are not iron rules, I am sure all of us can think of timeless recordings that defy one or all of the suggestions.  But any and all recordings do receive the timestamp of the technology at the time of the recording.  Different eras have different capabilities and trends, and staying as neutral as possible and using recording as a simple and honest representation of live, human performance help create the timelessness.  This also applies to primarily electronic music.  There the performance itself may be scripted/programmed/sequenced, but the human element remains in how the sounds/patches are created.  If you want the recording to stand the test of time, don’t use factory presets of your synthesizer or beatbox, manipulate the sound at the source to concoct you own twist of that given sound.  This, and competent arrangements, go a long way toward achieving timelessness.

Recently Bob Yang and I were discussing our Minnasia catalog and I listened to a few of the tracks for the first time in a while.  It struck me that of all the recordings we’ve made so far, the all-acoustic Promised Land session may be the most timeless one.  I am rather conservative and traditionalist when it comes to musical instruments — I believe analog sounds are more interesting than digital.  I just like the honesty of such old-school approach.

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The Higher Purpose of Music

The other day there was a question asked in a group for musicians.

What’s the higher purpose of your music?

Someone like Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book Big Magic I adore, would take issues with that statement.  She encourages creatives to do it simply for the fun of it.  Don’t overburden yourself with missions and purposes.

I get where she’s coming from but I also believe the above question is worth asking.  Or let me rephrase it slightly.

What’s the real reason you make music?

At the heart of every human endeavor is a desire for experience.  We do everything because we believe it leads to certain experiences.  We pay the bills because we seek the experience of confidence that comes from knowing we paid what we owe within the agreed-upon time.  We wash the dishes because we seek the experience of having clean ones ready to plate your next meal.

What’s the experience you seek with musicmaking?

I do it because it is fun, first and foremost.  It’s fun because it’s challenging.  We play games because they present interesting challenges that engage us.  But games are not without frustrations or setbacks, in fact good games are full of them.  I play Clash of Clans with my kids, and I lose all the time, sometimes in a humiliating manner.  I don’t enjoy losing but it’s the challenge that keeps me going back.

To me, music is the most worthy use of my time because it’s challenging.  I recognize that I have some gifts but still music remains perhaps the most difficult things I do.  The experience of accomplishment awaits when I finish writing and recording a song, but that’s a very small portion of the experience I seek.  I enjoy working on creating something that demands everything I got.

And part of that enjoyment does also involve making something that I think is worthwhile.  I can’t picture getting as into building model ships, because I don’t have appreciation of that craft.  I got hooked on rock n roll as a teenager and I still listen to some of the same songs.  I particularly enjoy music that is both vulnerable and heroic.  These songs are like good friends to me, ones who know what I’m going through, and encourage me to carry on.

So I enjoy making music with the aim of creating that experience for myself and others.  And because I am clear on that real reason why I make music, I can, and I do, write songs that do precisely what I set out to do, at least to myself.  It’s still challenging, but the joy of creating drives me to keep going back.  My life feels empty and incomplete without it.

The playlist below has my songs that represent my higher purpose.  Ever since I realized what that higher purpose was, I’ve been able to consistently create music that reflect it.  In fact I was doing that before I realized the reason why.  But with the discovery of my higher purpose my songwriting became more consistent.  I simply work on songs until they meet my requirements.  I can’t even relate to the idea of filler songs.  I realize that no artist sets out to write fillers but when I look at the discrepancy between songs that fill some albums, I can’t help but suspect that the artist fully knew the album has songs that are of lower quality than other standout tracks.  I can honestly say that if I consider a song “finished” and ready to be shared with someone, that means I think highly enough of it to do so.  There is a reason why I make music to begin with, and if the song doesn’t satisfy that reason, then that song is not ready/worthy.

Doing a little soul searching to discover the true motivation that lies beneath your creative endeavor helps you focus your craft.  Many artists meander and write filler songs because they don’t know the real reason why they make music.  It’s not about pigeon holing, nor is it purely driven by the need to come up with branding for your marketing.  It’s about knowing who you are as a creator.  And that knowledge gives you the power you need to become a better creator.

 

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How Pet Shop Boys Pointed Me toward Progressive Rock

The venerable British electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys was one of the first English-speaking musical act that I was exposed to.  “It’s a Sin” was the very first song (I had no idea that it was about rebelling against religious boarding school) that came into my orbit (probably on a mixtape from a friend) and to this day I love that and every other track on the Actually album.

But some time thereafter I got the following album, Introspective.  Clocking in at six songs all seven minutes or longer, this was my first experience with extended pop songs.

I recall being mesmerized at how these songs seemed to breathe.  They were in no rush to to go from one section to the next, and that worked to build up anticipation for what’s come to next.  My favorite moment was the epic cover of “Always on My Mind” (Again, I had no idea it was a cover — or what a “cover” was).  Around 5:25, after a period of slow breakdown that ends in minimal and static beats, an electronic drum fill gives way to the triumphant return of the main melody.  That moment gave me such chills — and it still does.

It was years later that I realized how this album was formative in my pursuit of progressive rock.  There are many schools of prog rock but one of the common characteristics is venturing off of the tried-and-true verse-chorus structure.  And our penchant for longer songs.

I’d like to think of these extended songs like a full-course dinner.  It’s not necessary but when you take the time to engage in and savor the slower but fuller exploration, it feels much more satisfying than a regular 3-minute pop song, which seems like a one-dish, quick meal.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy short songs.  But as a musicmaker I take joy in crafting pieces that stretch out to realize the full potential of the material within.  Climaxes feel bigger if you take time to build anticipation for it.  Punchlines hit harder when it’s reserved to a conclusion of a longer journey.

Below is my latest single “Can You Love a Landmine?”  Even at 10+ minute length, I feel that this song goes by fast, with every section serving a vital role in telling the whole story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I was making it.

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What 2016 Meant to Me

Predictably, the end and beginning of a year is a time of reflection.  A lot can happen in a year.  In my 2016, here are some of the things I went through with my artistic pursuit.

  • I started releasing singles as Aristotle’s Hope.
  • This was the first year in which I was always either writing or recording songs.  Last fall I vowed to do so, and I kept that promise, and I feel secure in maintaining that focus.
  • I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and took this advice to my heart: “just write anything and put it out there with reckless abandon.”
  • I took a pause on various web sites and platforms I was working on and decided to consolidate everything to a single web site.  Which means that my music, personal development, musicianship and guitarist contents all live in one place, even though they all have different audience.  Well, that hasn’t really happened yet but that’s sort of the direction it’s going.  The important part it that I stopped compartmentalizing myself for this or that audience, I’m going to put everything in one bucket and let someone else sort it out.
  • I took a huge step in the fall to work with my business coach Tom Volkar and read Michael Brown’s The Presence Process.  There are so many things I learned and realized during that time, this was a period that will shape the rest of my life.  I gained a deeper understanding of how our mind and emotions work, clarified my mission and values.
  • I had a photo shoot with a gifted photographer Amy Colleen, the output of which I’ll start using more in 2017.

All my years are rich in growth and realizations and this year wasn’t an exception.  Life offers so much depth and room to explore, I keep learning and learning and I’ll never run out of room to grow.  This is a life worth living!  I am really excited about what I’m going to do in 2017.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to all my mail list subscribers, YouTube subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends and likers, Instagram followers, and any and all of you who took the time out of your life to engage with me.  Thank you!  Art is an act of creating experience and it requires a creator and audience for it to become complete.  I view our relationship as that of a true collaboration.  You are the one that gives meaning and purpose to what I do.  I have much more to share in the coming years and I look forward to working with you to make our co-creations worthwhile, impactful, and fulfilling.

Onward!

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