07 October 2006

More trumpet.

A long practice session with the old horn, really starting to get the range, endurance, and tone control back. Most of the rest of it (fingering, reading music) is like riding a bike, and it's fairly silly how much I still remember from the old days.

Some guitar work, too.

Borrowed some microphones from a friend at work to experiment with new sounds, and just in time as the MOTU finally arrived -- missing all of the advertised audio cables, but I guess that is par for the course when buying used off of eBay. But wow, what a difference in sound when I plugged the MOTU in -- I guess that's what people are talking about when they say that your A/D converters matter, because it was not much short of an amazing difference.

I still don't understand sampling rates, sample size, and most of the driver settings. But hey, that's what a copious amount of free time is for... [More]

02 October 2006

Dusting off the trumpet.

Practice time today was on the trumpet. Apparently the last time I played it, I thought that I would be picking it back up soon, because I left it half-covered with fingerprints. But that doesn't hurt the sound. Anyway, as I suspected it is mostly my range and endurance which are still the most hurt -- it's actually fairly interesting how much I still remember. Some more practice and I should be back up to snuff enough to get through any bits I come up with for the album. [More]

28 September 2006

Hello, MOTU.

Well, just when I had officially decided to go with the Echo AudioFire4, I won an eBay auction for a used MOTU 828. It's definitely a lot more machine, but it has the footprint to prove it. Anyway, I'm hoping that it comes soon, it just works, and finally I can get all this gear talk behind me and get back to work.

On that front, I did some more playing around with Tracktion, recording a take of "Carousel". Wow! That is some pretty nice, easy to use software. It probably didn't hurt that I think I'm getting the knack of microphone placement and level setting the Mackie mic pres.

On the songwriting front, unfortunately I just can't stop the G-C-Em progression from dominating everything I do. I've been working on a song for a while, just lyrics and melody, and then I realised: uh-oh, this is practically the same song, again, as both "Carousel" and "Best Days". And I've already used the capo trick. So the song I've tentatively entitled "Where You End And I Begin" doesn't really have a place to go right now. [More]

26 September 2006

Tracktion and lack thereof.

I downloaded the demo for Tracktion, the Mackie-distributed PC software for music recording. Since it comes with the Echo AudioFire devices, I wanted to see what I would be getting into. Looks really nice so far, sounds really nice.

I've been learning about analog summing. Very interesting stuff, using my mixer again in the final stages of studio mixdown. A neat idea and I really liked the sounds I was getting when playing with it and the demo of Tracktion.

But none of that made me a better player or singer today.

A cheap used Shure PG-57 is on its way from eBay. I plan to use it for trumpet snippets, maybe try some vocals on it as well. Too much gear talk, not enough music! [More]

Jose, tripping, and progress

First off, José González was absolutely great at Cat's Cradle last Thursday. Death Vessel opened and was quite a unique sound.

Unfortunately not much practice lately, and it shows. We took a trip back to the flatlands of Indiana this weekend, where I yelled myself hoarse at Purdue homecoming. But between seeing the old pines and oaks from "back home" and last week's concerts, there is certainly some inspiration to get back to work.

So finally tonight some progress. I put the "home studio" (I laugh!) back together, and had a chance to "X+Y" record some guitar with my PG81 and AT2020. It actually wasn't a terrible sound, even coming through the Sound Blaster. What was disconcerting, however, was some weird source of timeshifting when I recorded vocals to the guitar track. Some kind of latency is sneaking in there, either from the Sound Blaster itself, the USB bus, or from my sound software. Or, and I hope not, my Mackie -- the scary thing is I don't remember having this issue using the same software and sound card, the only differences were the inputs and the computer itself being the Athlon tower now instead of the Thinkpad. Very disconcerting. [More]

20 September 2006


Just got back from the Lincoln Theatre. Wow. Mason Jennings was just unbelievable live. Unbelievable.

Jennifer O'Connor opened the show, and was impressive in her own right. But from the moment Mason Jennings stepped on stage, until when he and his fellows played their last encore over 90 minutes later, it was just an amazing experience to be there in the Lincoln. Stunningly talented, intimate and powerful music. It makes me both want to get right to recording right away, and at the same time quit the whole thing. [More]

18 September 2006


Ouch. Well, I spent most of Sunday afternoon figuring out how to properly wire my AT2020, Mackie, and sound card. Nothing worked, until finally I remembered that every time I plug in my USB sound card, I have to manually go into the control panel and select the "line in" for recording. I fired up my trusty, simple Acoustic Labs Multitrack Recorder and laid down a few tracks, anxiously awaiting the end result.

To my dismay it didn't sound like much of an improvement over the old Akai DM microphone recordings. Still tinny, still thin, no warmth.

Back to square one, I guess. Have to figure out if it's the sound card, if it's the PC, or what's exactly going on.

I did happen to catch K.T. Tunstall on Austin City Limits, though. Wow. Great live performance. Having spent the last few weeks absorbed in microphones and mixers, it gave me a bit broader appreciation for everything that went into the show. Now I want to figure out what some of her stomp boxes do... [More]

14 September 2006


Well, maybe I was a bit too hasty pronouncing the death of my Martin strings. Tonight they sounded actually quite pleasant. Another night up all night looking at "audio interfaces" that I probably don't even need.

I did hear back from the AT2020 seller. Some jive about "we just print what the manufacturer says" which is, provably, a bunch of hogwash since the box doesn't even match its contents. But hey, what do I know. He promised to look around as see "if they have any extra adapters". Well, I certainly hope so. [More]

13 September 2006


Saturday and Sunday saw a lot of playtime. The strings settled in only slightly, still a very bright, metallic sound. So I'm likely to avoid the Phosphor Bronze and Bronze strings from Martin in the future. The other options are Elixir, with their "nanoweb" coating, and the recommended D'Addario Silk and Steel strings, both of which are supposed to give me a bit of a softer, more mellow sound. That is what I like, so that sounds like a plan for the future for things to try.

Anyway, not much practicing on Monday or Tuesday. Last night I subbed in for a friend's soccer team and scored my first goal in organised soccer. Hopefully tonight I can get back "on the horse".

I did find a taker for the Yamaha mixer, so it's heading out the door. I had a taker for the AT2020, but inspecting the box revealed that the eBay seller either lied directly or made the mistake of forgotting 2 fairly key accessories. So that fell through in fairly spectacular fashion. There is another guy with interest, so maybe I can get those accessories and make the sale yet. Otherwise, it is a highly reviewed microphone, so maybe, just maybe, I'll try it out myself. [More]

07 September 2006


I think the reason I haven't been able to sleep well since I started actually getting recording equipment (out of the blue and way ahead of plan) is inexorably tied to self-defeatism and fear of failure.

As I said in my first post to start this thing, I know I don't have all this talent. But something happens when you step up to a microphone to amplify or record yourself in a critical setting. It doesn't happen to me at all at open mic nights, or just hanging out with friends. But when the power is turned on, the tracker is ready to go, I freeze up. My stomach tightens, and I think: "Wow, you really suck. You are wasting your money." It's fear that if I truly give it my best shot, it will still suck even worse than my self-deprecating disclaimers profess, and that will be disappointing. So, to prevent this, I give myself an out. I don't try as hard. I back off. I engage in self-defeating behaviour like buying things I don't need, to make things overly complex. Like not sleeping.

I've got to get in the mindset that I'm doing this for fun, not for profit, or posterity, or pride. [More]

Help is on the way

On the way home, I emptied the contents of my wallet on some final close-out items from my local music shop. (And I wonder: where am I going to go for gear and guitar tech help now?) A couple of XLR microphone cables and an el-cheapo (as in $10) microphone stand. They had a couple of really interesting-looking microphone stands, really solidly-built boom stands from Germany, but even at closeout they were $50. (For a microphone stand. Yes, really.)

And then reaching home I realized that, once again, I am an idiot.


05 September 2006

Microphone shuffle

Out with the old, in with the new. Luckily I hadn't opened the Shure PG57 yet, because a glance at its online user's guide showed it wasn't recommended for acoustic guitar. (That's saved for the 81.) So, it safely back at its place of purchase, I picked up an Audio-Technica AT2020 from eBay to replace it. So, sometime next week or so, hopefully I'll be able to put together my first home recording of any decent fidelity. Hopefully I won't need to pick up the microphone's shock mount because that would just about double the price. But at some point, I need to pick up some kind of mic stand...

Everything I read about the SM81 makes me very, very interested. But it's still a bit beyond my budget reach, at least for now. [More]

04 September 2006

It's concert time

This fall is just an amazing time to be a fan of "modern folk rock" music (or whatever you want to call it) in Durham, NC, or parts nearby. Even just the upcoming shows you can find on Etix for the area (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh -- are there really no Durham venues at all?) reads like a "who's who" of the genre.

Mason Jennings (mrs. montsamu's favorite) and Jose Gonzalez are the two shows we've decided to get ourselves together to go and see -- and if I had unlimited time I would definitely see a few more. Sufjan Stevens plays the same day as Jose Gonzalez, but unfortunately for me he sold out in minutes. This makes me sad, because he came through a couple of years ago and I made a "mental note" to get tickets, but as things tend to do it got overlooked until it was just too late. Ah well. At least I've managed to catch Alexi Murdoch down here, and a great show with Ben Arthur, Abra Moore, and Vienna Tang that was supposed to also feature Teitur, but he was called away at the last second to play the Prince of Denmark's birthday party or something.

So, without further adieu, my picks for shows to see if you're in the area (bold for the ones we're ticketed to see):
19 September: M Ward; Mason Jennings
20 September: Calexico
21 September: Sufjan Stevens; Jose Gonzalez
22 September: Eric Bachmann and Richard Buckner
3 October: Serena Maneesh (ok, so this is a completely different genre -- sue me.)
13 October: Shawn Colvin
19 October: Amos Lee
22 October: Old Crow Medicine Show
4 November: Carbon Leaf
8 November: Edwin McCain
14 November: Califone

If I weren't heading out of town on the 22nd, I would absolutely catch Bachmann (of Crooked Fingers) and Buckner, who is another one of those artists who I've loved for years, and the last time he came to town I made the mistake of the "mental note, down the drain" trick. [More]

Labour Day weekend is a doozy

Leaving the house on Saturday morning, heading out for some errands, I did not expect to see people wearing breadboards announcing that my treasured local music shop, Pearson Music, was going out of business. On a whim, I headed inside to see what might remain on the shelves. Sadly, no microphones, but they had three Mackie mixers to pick from, all at fairly steep markdown: a DFX-12, a 1202-VLZ Pro, and my eventual choice, a 1402-VLZ Pro.

So, I've been spending some time trying to figure out how to use it. So far, so good.

But unfortunately the upgrade from my previous microphone pre-amp (if a Radio Shack Karaoke Mic Adapter can be named as such) didn't alleviate my issues with the damaged goods that are my Akai DM-13 microphones. And, worse yet, my Dean Markley Acoustical Transducer decided that this would be the day it finally gave up the ghost for good. So I picked up a new microphone, a Shure PG57, but so far I haven't had a chance to take it out of the plastic wrap and put it to any kind of test.

So, quite a weekend. Maybe with the mixer and a new microphone, I'll get my butt in gear and put something together in the next couple of weeks. We'll see how it goes. [More]

31 August 2006


Well, fingerpicking work was severely hampered when I completely jacked up my thumb playing basketball. I got through another go-round of "Carousel" and the piano version of "This Old Road", and some more piano covers.

On my mind: microphones. The 1970s-era Akai microphones I have pick up spoken word and even vocals fairly well, but I've not managed yet to get them to pick up my guitar in anywhere close to acceptable, and the piezoelectric pickup I've had for years just doesn't do it for me either. It probably doesn't help that my pickups and sound card cost $20 each, but hey. I'll get there. Right now there's no point in rushing on any of that because I've certainly still got work to do ironing out and finishing a few of the songs. [More]

30 August 2006

Where do people find the time...

I put another set of song lyrics up, and actually had some time to practice through quite a few tunes on the guitar at home: "Carolina", "Cry", "Catch the Sun", "Best Days", "Anger", a bit of "Crossroads", and the guitar version of "This Old Road". I also played a few of the covers I'd like to record, but after learning a little about mechanical licensing, I definitely could not offer free downloads at any fidelity of my version of a cover, period. And, since it's not terribly likely that anybody would be lining up to pay for one, I'll probably have to stay away from them for now. [More]

29 August 2006

Putting yourself out there

Well, I used Writely to put a few songs worth of lyrics online. It's certainly a much easier and faster way than trying to use Google Pages to edit several pages and get everything "just right". Of course, "just right" certainly doesn't summarize my feeling on the lyrics at all. Standing alone, without music -- wow, they look juvenile and simple. But then again, not may people mistake a lyrics book for poetry.

Maybe it's a good thing I don't have my actual poetry online anymore...

I didn't get much practice in last night, since I was taking in the Jimmy V Volunteer dinner. To my surprise, a very accomplished singer-songwriter, James House, was the evening entertainment. Once home, I did manage to get once more through "Carousel". I'm not sure I'm happy with it but it appears to be getting "set" into a final state. My songs are so limited in chord changes and variety, but at least I threw a capo on for "Carousel" to change the pitch of the drone and hum, even if it's basically the same rythm and chord progression for the most part as "Best Days".

I've got to get with Bud and iron out some kind of agreement for the poem he wrote that I turned into a song, back in 1998 or so. But he's yet another of the friends I've completely lost contact with over the years. (Maybe there's a song idea in there somewhere...) [More]

28 August 2006

Is this thing on?

Against all better judgement, I'm finally getting around to recording some of my songs. I don't think they are particularly good, or that I'm a particularly good musician. But they're my songs, and I think at least a couple of people might enjoy hearing them. In any case, my friends and family will have something more tangible to point to when I ask them why they are pointing and laughing at me.

The main home for things like lyrics, tabliature, and links to downloads will be over at the main montsamu music website, but this blog will keep track of my progress as I put pen to paper, pick to string, fingers to piano, and microphone to input and try to put together something that sounds sort of like a guy and his guitar and piano instead of static or the sound of a cassette tape going round and round. [More]