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Sunday, March 30, 2008

What's the joke?

Just a small entry...

The poll currently featured on the Blog contains a practical joke.
Can anyone guess what it is ?

I am out of money, so no prices can be won...sorry :(

A chat between Ray and Sean

Ray and I got together via Skype today and had a chat. We are both prog musicians and avid fans of the genre. Despite nearly 5000 miles (7000+ km for my European friends!) we have a lot in common in terms of your experiences as independent musicians. We didn't have any planned topics, we just let it roll. This became a wide ranging discussion and I'm sure we'll have more chats in the future. Enjoy!

Hi Ray!
I'm actually awake on a Sunday morning (yawn) sort of

Good morning Sean :)

Guten... uh... sorry don't know the word for afternoon

if it's too early for your brain, we can delay the thing of course.

No, not at all. I'm usually up my 9 on weekends
I have my (coffee)

heh, we say guten Tag in the afternoon.

Ha, of course

I forgot about the change of daylight saving time here, so it's an hour later now than I intended, but it's ok. :)

I think I'm the only person in my circle of friends who didn't take German classes in high school or college
Long German heritage in Wisconsin

np. My english is good enough (hopefully). ;)

I'm sure your english is fine. Well, where do start? What are you up to, musically, these days?

Well, it's a strange process I'm in at the moment. I'm kinda recovering from my doom activities. Didn't think that one year in another territory would cause so many oddities.

What kind of oddities?

With all that slow playing my fingers slowed down, gotta practice to bring that back. And also, I kinda lost my own musical style quite a lot, which I had before I concentrated so much on Extorian. Simply, the progressiveness is out of my brain at the moment

Thats understandable. But it sounds like you were willing to really devote yourself to Extorian and, for better or worse, make sure you were giving it your best

It's equal what I'm into, I always want to give my best. Nothing I can do against it. But, hey I don't complain, I've learned a lot in Extorian. playing at a slow pace is quite a challenge.

Do you have any ideas about what you'd like to move to next?

Oh yes, I'm back into writing for a prog metal project, which I started before Extorian came into the musical part of my life. That remained sleeping during the time in Extorian. Currently I'm sorting all ideas, riffs and melodies that I have in my brain, and I'm testing out what kind of arrangements would be best. I.e. I intend to add lots of orchestral sounds to it.
Modern computer technology is quite a great help for such things.

Sounds very cool! Will you be doing this all by yourself?
And I agree, I'd never be where I am without a home studio that can sound good

No, that'd be impossible, I'm no genius. There are 3 musicians who are eagerly awaiting to hear some soundbits. But ,oh my, I'm not so far at the moment.
So you record all the music you release yourself at home?

Yes. I have a small setup here and there is another at Strange Land's practice space. We recorded everything ourselves for Blaming Season and for Catharsis, which is finally in the mixing stage
We have considered going to a studio to do drums. A good room can make a difference there. But we get good sounds with what we have. We also have someone else do our mastering. Its good to have fresh ears at that point.

I see. So you guys are pretty smart regarding recording thechnique. Very Cool. I agree that at least the drums need a special treatment.
What can we expect from Catharsis? Which way are you going on the new record? Your solo effort is quite different to Strange Land, and I see that you got quite some repertoire at hand, with your writing.

Its been a learning process. I do all the engineering in the studio, and all the mixing. After every project is done I find things I wish I had done differently. But at some point you have to say "This is the best I can do right now" and you release it. Whatever you think you should have done better you save for the next project.

Ha, yeah, it's the same in the movie business. If you want to do it entirely perfect, it will never be finished. I don't think there is one album out there in the world where the producer said "Hey that's it. The perfect album".

Sure, and always many of the things I think are wrong I am the only one who notices since I'm so close to the project.
So, Catharsis...
One reviewer from Sea of Tranquility commented on our drummer difficulty when reviewing Blaming Season. He said that he hoped with Brad back in the band we would bridge the more progressive sound of Anomaly and the heavier sound of Blaming Season. And I think that's what we have done.
We have our first real epic on this one (a requirement for prog bands right? :D )
And a lot of variety, which we've been criticized for for some reason.

Hahaha! Indeed! Ad an epic to your album and you'll be called a prog band!
According to variety:
To my ears Strange Land somehow is in the Rush / Kings X camp of the genre. Have you added some writing that exceeds the known bandwidth of SL?
(Why ever can they criticize a band for variety? Oh my...)

Well, no influence gets disregarded. I agree, I think Rush, Kings X, Fates Warning and a little Zero Hour are our main prog influences
But we are also influenced by Living Colour, Megadeth, Helloween, Saigon Kick... jazz, classical... the list goes on. One of the songs on Catharsis has a latin sounding bridge with congas and flamenco guitar.
I think we throw people off by reminding them of Kings X on one song and Fates Warning the next. But we write to please ourselves and letting all of our influences and experiences show through make us happy

Ah so you don't "brand" SL, meaning you don't throw ideas or songs to the trash because it doesn't sound like SL.

Not very often, but there have been a few songs tossed out. Usually to be used elsewhere, like a solo project. Our writing process: one of us will write at home and bring things into practice. Usually pretty complete. So, for myself, I might decide a riff doesn't fit when I'm writing at home, so it never makes it to the band. Sometimes when we're writing or arranging together we'll scrap a riff that we're trying to put into a song and it just wont fit. We love complexity but we want to balance it with melody and listenable songs. And some songs have gone unfinished for a long time. We've never really tossed anything out. There are songs from Anomaly that we don't play anymore though.

I see, that's quite the usual process. And well, if a song isn't pushing the audience at live shows, well, why play them. That would be self destructive. They still turn out fine on the home stereo, I bet.
Being a totally independent band, what do you guys think about the "internet kills music" campaign of the industry?

Without the internet we would not have made it this far. Its the best tool independent artists have ever had. We've reached fans and friends in places that would have been impossible before. The local music scene here isn't great so we need to reach a wider audience outside our local area. Its kinda the 'long tail' idea at work. That said, I do hope people stop stealing music someday. Just because you can get something for free doesn't make it right.
What are your thoughts on it?

well i think I have more than just one thought. first of all, yes the net is great for spreading the world.
About stealing music, well there are many who simply save money by downloading music from the web, and I wished they'd be as honest as me and pay the artists for doing their work.
on the other hand I've seen a couple of people learning to know bands and artists that way they've had never heard of otherwise, and lately buy the cd afterwards. So if you see it that way it is still a good opportunity to spread one's tastes.
One thing is for sure, it won't be stopped, no matter what efforts will be done. And, by the way, when we were young, we lent the vinyl from friends and recoded them to cassettes, because we hadn't have the money to purchase all the fine music. So, in my case, I stole tons of music as a teenager...

yeah... I had lots of tapes too. But there's a scale to it. Me taping one copy just seems different than posting a file containing a band's entire catalog so thousands of people can download it.
And although the internet and home recording have been helpful it hasn't gotten any easier. I often say that the good thing about home recording is that anyone can record their music on a budget now. The bad thing is that everyone does. Succeeding in the music business is about standing out in the crowd. And the the crowd is massive.

Well, actually, the common guy doesn't post the files, he's just having his computer insecure an in common doesn't know that the world can look into his file system. If they knew that simply their entire library is reachable through peer to peer systems, they'd simply stop that. Of course there are some who definitely want to have their music files available for everyone, but in one way or the other that has always been.

Yeah, I decided to give my last solo cd away for free on my site just to see if I got more exposure, its been a mixed bag. Lots of downloads but no one has felt like making any donations. But I'm willing, for some projects, just to go for exposure

Standing out in the crowd, that has always been a must. Back in the days when you needed a label for recording your music, there was no other way, but today the mass of bands has grown quite much, and the ones that had been refused then, just remained unrecognized. That's different today.
Oh, I must confess, I downloaded your album as well, listened to it and forgot about it. (that's one reason I dislike having my music library on the computer) I intended to make a donation, but it went out of my memory. I'll make that up, I promise.

Ha, no worries

But it is the same with Extorian, It seems the entire world knows the band, but there aren't many who purchase the cd.

Hard to get people to part with their beer money

I don't make music to get rich anyway, the world would be just a bit darker if I hadn't the opportunity to do so. Would just be nice if people did honor our efforts a bit more.

I agree with you there, Ray. Having to handle 'art' as 'product' makes it hard for people to appreciate it for its own sake.

As a teenager I wanted to be a rock star, of course, but I'm grown adult and see the world in a more realistic point of view now. ;)

On the business side, I'd be happy if the band paid for itself. But music is like air for me so I couldn't stop if I wanted to. I'll keep doing it as long as it brings me happiness in one form or another.
Well, should we wrap this up? Plenty here for a blog post! We should do it again, too.

Yeah, I think it is done for the moment. also I'd like to catch some sunrays on this first sunny day since a couple of weeks.

I'm jealous you have sun

And I enjoyed the chat! It was quite great! See ya! (wave)

Take care Ray

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The 4th

Family reasons has kept me from participating lately. Or maybe you could say that my life has progressed to a new level, which has limited my time quite a bit: The 22nd of March I had the 4th addition to my family, a baby boy.

Hopefully I will find time soon, but until then.....Prog ON !!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why do people in common ignore bands from their own country?

I got a dear friend in Brasil, Andrè, better known as Arcaneiro at progulus. We began to help each other out in filling leaks in our local markets by sending cds each other from local bands that aren't distributed on the other end.

In his latest e-mail he came up with a topic that bothers me since years. That's what he wrote:

"... was just having a discussion with some guys on a brazilian community about prog-metal.
One guy asked: "what do you think of the brazilian prog-metal bands???" Since the prog-metal isn't a very known thing here, there are quite few bands and so on...
Most of the guys answered something like this: "all the bands I've hard aren't good!!! They are only about the technic and don't have any feeling!!! Not like DT, that have passion on what they make!!!"

I stopped and said: "WTF?!?!!?"
I know most of our bands ain't a top notch thing or revolutionary, but I know they have some quality, something that makes them interesting at least! They lack a couple of things indeed, like investment, interest, creativity... but, having only technic??? Some, may I say, even lack that!!! But even so, I can't understand that!!! One of the most criticized bands was Khallice... do I have different abnormal ears??? do we listen to it in a different way???

So, what I really wanted to ask you is, over Germany, do you have many of those ungrateful stupids too? Probably, the prog-metal scenario over there is different, but wanted to know how it is.... are there many independent bands over there??? Ppl also only care about the big shot bands or they have a consciousness about their home made music??? Also, how most react to a new unknown independent band from outside???"

Firstly, to answer your questions, Andrè,
- Yes, you do have abnormal ears. Otherwise you wouldn't listen to prog. :D

- Yes, you do listen to music in a different way, You don't just accept what the media industy suggests and go with it. You are always on the hunt for something new to widen your tastes.

- And yes, it is the same situation over here. Exactly the same.

We have so many great prog bands in Germany, progulus counts 78 german bands. These are prog and fusion bands only. If you consider that there may be even more good bands in other genres, you get quite an imagination in how many german bands made it to record their own cd.
And all of them have a normal day job, and make their music just for the fun of doing it.

Fact is that the general music fan doesn't even listen to them before critisizing. A german prog metal fan accuses a local band of imitating Dreamtheater, only because they play prog metal. A band can come from almost everwhere in the world, they don't need to be any special, they'll have their fans over here. If the band is from Germany, they don't seem to be worth a listen at all.

So the situation is here is quite the same as in Brasil. A band must have success abroad first, then the local people will be proud about the band that came from their country. There's no support from your local people here, bands must spread the world for gaining succes, then they'll be loved here. Scorpions is probably the best example for this.
Due to some conversations of ameriproggers at the progulus chat I watched, I think it is even the same in the US.

Why is that? For what reason are people so against bands from their own country? What makes a local band shrink in the fans' looks. This phenomenon isn't any similar to the Hollywood syndrome in the movie business. Fans don't just look at one place like, say, New York, they take every good music from all over the globe, but not from the place they live. Are we ashamed of the music from the next guy?
How can a band ever gain momentum if the local fans simply ignore them? Not just that, they bash local bands.

I think it's time for a worldwide "support-your-band-next-door" campaign.
Oh, but then everbody would accuse me propagating to ignore foreign bands. Definately I don't. As Andrè said, we need to bring a national music conciousness to our people's minds. But how?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My thoughts about guitar gear

At my last gig many people came to me, asking questions about my gear, amplification, sound, and so on. After this being such a important topic for the folks, I decided to put my opinion about it here. Would be nice if you'd add yours as well, Sean.

First of all, I find the almost religious "must have company XY" idea ridiculous.
I need a Mesa Boogie because Petrucci plays them. - Well, Alex Lifeson uses Hughes & Kettner, so shouldn't I start over with that company then? - No! Petrucci is the best guitarist, he's right! - Nah Alex is the sound genious! ...
How often have I heard such debates, but in the end it never helped them guys to find a good solution.

There is no 'ulimate' amp or cabinet for a specific genre in my opinion. The more important point is that one should have an idea about how his / her instrument shall sound.
There is no need to pay § 3.000 + for the perfect Engl amplification, and in the most cases it doesn't make any sense to throw away all the money for having the great label in one's stage background.
In the end, if you do it the total other way round, people are curious because they hear a very fine guitar tone and see a top and cabinet they've never seen before, you saved lots of money and, at some times, are the topic of the evening (therefore, you playing must be well too, of course).

So, how did I assemble my gear?

The most important thing is that you must be aware of the fact that you are handling electronic stuff; it helps to gain little knowlegde about that, and you gotta be open minded.

Spend good money for the little things, like cables. Purchasing the expensive cables really is worth the price. Buying the instrument cables you see in the studios is a very big improvement in sound, it helps more than anything else. Cheap cables damp a lot of the frequencies your guitar sends out, no good, make sure everything gets through.
Unless you're running over the the stage on and on, avoid fm transmitters. The quality of them is limitted by the fm specifications, and they add noise, unwanted frequencies and interferences. And the good ones really cost some money.
Don't use old cables. They lose quality. I'd say don't use a cable longer than 2 years. you step on them, accidentally put a cabinet on them and then push the it, etc; things that happen to cables. They get damaged.

Next are cabinets.
Do not purchase one. That is a total waste of money!
I like the sound of Engl cabinets, but I'd be the total fool if I bought one. I looked inside one and checked what speakers they use. It's the speakers that make the tone, not the wooden box.
It got myself two of those and built the wooden box myself. Amount of money I saved: 600 € (At a power of 120 Watts)

Amplification and tonal control:
This one's a bit tricky. The combination I chose is indeed weird. It is a mixture of up-to-date-processor-techonlogy and the good-old-valve-world.
Here it comes to the point, where the musician needs a vision.

I have a very old bass top that was crafted in the early 70's, a Dynachord Bass King T, with the power of 40 watt rms. Sounds ridiculous, eh?
I can tell you, this thing is awesome!!!! I never had the oportunity to use its full power. (indeed, I'd be deaf if I ever had tried to!)
They still trade them at e-bay for 300 to 400 euro, so get one! It is good old simple but powerful and fine sounding analog technology, run by 2 EL34 valves.
The people in the audience all wonder what kind of top that is, with only 3 dials on it. Hehe

3 dials? WTF???

yeah, modern technology! The rest is in the effects processor.
The modern ones all have the option of amp / preamp / speaker simulation.
Here it is the point where your vision has to kick in.
Get a mid price processor you can handle. The better ones have a valve added, which is quite helpful, because the valve eliminates the digital sampling artefacts. You definately can hear the difference (when using good cables).
But, well, there's need for your creativity. If you use the factory default sounds, you won't be happy. (If they suite you, you don't have a vision for your guitar tone...)
Shamelessly turn the knobs, learn their functions and create a sound (or many) that blasts you through the window. Don't be afraid, the cable will bring you back to the ground. :D

There's one thing you gotta maintain on stage: no cell phones closer than 2 meters to your top...