Sunday, November 15, 2009

Discussion Topic

An interesting article (right-click title and open link in a new tab/window to read the article). I've read a little bit about the whole loudness war and am a fan of the movement "TurnMeUp". I strongly believe that the essence of music is not only sound, but also the absence of sound. It's the absence of sound which makes sound [when present] special, just as in without darkness, there would be nothing special about light (and vice versa). My own experience in listening to music, is that I prefer uncompressed, or less compressed music. If I want to hear it loud, I turn up the volume. There is a lot of talk about the loudness war being another attempt to literally "rise above the noise level" of the radio station, as no one wants to be the quiet artist on the radio.

I think that if your prime target audience is people listening to the radio as they are doing something else (i.e. background listening) then this makes sense to a degree. BUT, a song still has to be good right? Being loud is not a trait that people associate as a positive for a song on its own.

This brings me to the second part of the discussion which is the current trend of 'capturing' the impossibly perfect performance. Consumers (yes people who listen to music are also consumers) today demand high quality products. The same way that advertising and marketing bend the truth as far as they can without actually lying to put the product in the best possible light against the competition.

This gets the product through stage one, which is the purchase by the consumer. However, like music, if the product is no good, the consumer will usually figure this out and look for something else which better meets their needs. Perhaps this is why pop music is such a consumable thing in our world today. My personal opinion about the impossibly perfect performance being captured is this: On one hand, I feel that as a documentation process, a recording should be what is intended and nothing less. If a wrong note is played or a beat is dropped then, if it is consequential or detrimental to the song/art, you should try your best to fix this. There does come a point though when (if you are fixing all the mistakes) a recording does start to loose that human feel about it. It's a very intangible, but there is definitely a point when a recording stops being human and starts sounding computerised and cold. I guess you have to decide whether you are creating music/art for the sake of the art or if you are trying to create it to fit in a pre-determined place in which to do so you must follow standard practices.

As the development of modern recording and editing techniques progress, it might seem that REAL musicians are less and less needed. You have programs like Fruity Loops, Logic, Pro Tools and hundreds of other plugins/software instruments etc which make it easy to approximate what a real musician would do. But what they will never be able to do is create, synthesise or simulate that "x" factor and that "vibe" that happens when a group of musicians get together and create music. Warts and all.

I hope that there is a back-lash of people demanding the return of 'real' musicians/artists. Already, there is a movement stirring in the Australian Government which would require artists who plan to lip-sync during a concert to put a disclaimer on their tickets. I think that this would be a great thing as it would really highlight the difference between a musician and a pop-star, pro-tools entertainer to the general public.

I wonder, where can we go from here? Music seems to be reaching the limit of loudness and compression and pop music is so 'perfect' that it all starts to sound the same. I think the real beauty in all art forms is not what is normal or expected, it's the surprise of the unexpected which really gets that "wow" reaction. No human is perfect, why should we demand that anything that we create is.

What's your opinion on the topic? Please leave your comments.

- Andrew

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tim Cannon Producing In a Little More Detail

I thought I might talk in a little more detail about one of the songs on Tim Cannon's album and the changes that have been made to the song during the production process. The song which I think has undergone considerable change is 'High Hopes'. Originally, I considered this song to be a bit of an adult trapped in a childs body with refined melody and lyrics, with harmony that to me, didn't do them justice.
Below is a sample of the original recording made as a demo of the song.

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First thing we set about doing was removing the acoustic guitar and reharmonising the melody to emphasize the emotional rise and fall of the lyrics and melody. We separated the verse and chorus harmonically by making the verses quite static, removing the dominant chords from the demo and creating a rocking harmonic movement (backwards and forwards). The release comes with the chorus. Moving to the key of the relative major the chords have much more movement. We altered a few of the chords to give it more of a dramatic feel. For example, instead of repeating the first two chords of the chorus, we went to the minor iv chord (f minor) and then back to the relative major (c major). To me, this makes the chorus sound like it's heaving like someone taking deep breaths.
Below is a sample of the original band arrangement. It's worth noting that we used the vocals from the original acoustic guitar demo. Because this was not recorded with a click, I had to cut up each phrase and place it on the grid so that I could use sampled drum kits and midi instruments and edit sections much easier. The playing on the demo is very rough but it illustrates some of the changes that I have been talking about.

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Tim was pretty happy with the transformation at this stage, so we decided to workshop "High Hopes" as a band, using this as a reference point. If you listen to the recording below you'll hear the result of the band workshop. Players were: Tim Cannon: Bass, Stewart Taylor: Acoustic Guitar, Mark Leahy: Drums & myself on Piano.

Straight away you can hear that we have done away with the brushes idea from the demo above to give it more of a drive/groove. The tempo of the song is also slightly faster to make sure that it doesn't plod along too much.

Another arrangement change that was made is to this version was the rhythms in the chorus. In the previous version (above), the guitar was strumming in 1/8 notes (quavers), strings were playing 1/4 notes (crotchets) and the piano was playing ever 2 bars. This was re-arranged into the following: Piano to play in 1/8 notes (quavers) and guitar to play in 1/4 notes (crotchets) and no strings. We decided that the aesthetics of the album didn't allow for string ensembles and so arranged the other two instruments (piano and guitar) so that each part would contrast to the verse part. However, this creates an interesting effect because throughout the entire piece, you always have the 1/8th note pulse weather it's in the hi-hats, guitar or piano. This helps to both move the song along and to create intensity.

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So, now that you have had a little insight to some of the decision making process from initial idea/demo to pre-production, you can have a listen to the current album version of "High Hopes". This is unfinished, un-mixed and un-mastered but I hope you can see the progression of the song.

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- Andrew

Thanks to Mindy McAdams for her very helpful tutorial on how to use this flash audio player.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Co-Producing with Elodie Adams

I was recently in the studio co-producing with singer/songwriter Elodie Adams. We recorded three tracks in total to form her first EP. The first track (Staring Game) has an interesting blend of jazz and pop. Instrumentation is Piano, Drums, Bass and Voice. We ended up really going for a sort of swing big band vibe but with only a 4 piece band. I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out and the feel that we were able to achieve.
The second track (If You'd Let Me Love You) is just Piano and Voice. Its quite a long track with quite a free flowing waltz feel. This was quite tricky to record as there was no tempo grid so the right take had to be pretty much perfect. It has a bit of a free section in it where the piano and voice are interacting with each other in a sort of simultaneous call and response fashion.
The third song (Angel) is a slow lilting song which we had to rush due to time restraints.
You can hear the songs at Elodie Adam’s MySpace page or on iTunes. Elodie Adams

- Andrew

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Old News? Battle of the Choirs - Battle Cry

Back in 2008 Channel 7 was running a choir competition called, "Battle of the Choirs". If you search YouTube for "Battle of the Choirs" you should find lots of videos of the weekly competition.

The choir who won the competition was the University of Newcastle Chamber Choir which coincidently I used to sing in back when I was living in Newcastle studying at the Newcastle University Conservatorium.

Through some of my studio contacts, I was asked if I could record the piano/keyboard parts for the album of the winning choir to be co-released with the announcement of the winner of the competition. We recorded the album with PLW in South Melbourne as instruments only with the intent that the choir would record their parts later in Sydney.

It was an interesting experience as I think there were only 2 musicians playing in the studio at any one time because of different availability. It was pretty high pressure stuff with almost no time to record. You can see a snippet of footage of me recording "Playing to Win" with Phil as the engineer below in this YouTube video.


- Andrew

Sunday, September 13, 2009


For a number of months I've been playing with a new band called Shero. We have had a number of gigs at the Espy and Revolver at which we have been well received. Adam Shero Baluch (songwriter and front man) has his debut album under his sleeve and is continuing to write new material for album number two.

I'll be sure to post more info on Shero as it happens, but in the meantime check the Myspace and Facebook pages for upcoming show dates. You can also follow news updates about Shero by clicking on the link to the Shero Facebook page on the left of this site.

- Andrew

The Roaring Years (for now)

Well, Friday 14th August saw The Roaring Years play their final gig in their hometown of Newcastle, NSW. There were over 400+ friends, family and fans who turned up for an emotional farewell.

I've been playing with The Roaring Years (formally Dirty Pink Jeans) for the last two years and before that, I was involved as a session player on their EP "Dance".

Since James and his wife have moved over to Italy to further their respective artistic careers, the band is on an unknown path. We may get together again sometime in the future, we may not. One thing that is certain though is that I have a lot of fond memories with this band and look forward to any time where we can get together again.

- Andrew


A little while ago I recorded some keyboard/piano parts for Kingbayler's up and coming EP, "Bleary Eyed Girls and Boys". They were recording it at one of my favourite little studios (Supersonic Recordings).

The EP is a mixture of styles from Motown inspired pop songs to brooding emotional, almost progressive songs as well as Kingbayler's well established groove/pop songs.

There are six tracks in total and it's obvious to anyone familiar with Kingbayler's earlier material that the boys are definitely broadening their musical scope and experimenting with new ideas.

They tell me that the release date will be late September/October but other than that, I don't have any more details. At the time of writing, Kingbayler's website did not have any of the new songs from "Bleary Eyed Girls and Boys" but I imagine that it will be soon.

UPDATE: The Kingbayler boys have just announced that "Bleary Eyed Girls and Boys" and their 2004 release "Sections" are up on iTunes.  Below is a ling to the iTunes store where you can check 'em out.


- Andrew

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nadene Satch

I've just finished mixing a little EP for good friend of mine, Nadene Satch.

It is mainly guitar and vocals but during the mixing process, organ, synth bass and backing vocals were added.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Check it out on her Myspace page for yourselves!

- Andrew

Monday, June 29, 2009

Composition - At The End of Our Exploring

I've decided to put up an old composition for string ensemble called At The End of All Our Exploring.

I wrote this work during my final year at University when I heard that my Grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn't really know what to say at the time but this six bar choral idea (the first 6 bars of music) just came out of me while sitting at the piano one afternoon.

After the choral idea is stated initially, I start playing with the function of all four voices getting different harmonic changes by altering the function of each part. For example, in the first variation of the choral idea (starting at bar 7), the melody (Violin I) and the bass line (Cello) swap so that the original bass line is now the new melody and vice versa.

I continued experimenting with all different combinations of ideas until I had written out all the possible variations. I then placed them in an order that would give an overall structure to the mood of the piece, focusing particularly on the melody line (Violin I). Once I was satisfied with the structure, I decided that a different idea was needed to momentarily break up the continual repetition (even though it was through variations) of the original 6 bar choral idea. Bar 31 was where I decided it should go which was about half way. It starts off the same as the original theme but then momentarily goes off in another harmonic direction. This then leads into more variations until the last variation of the piece which is the original choral idea in reverse.

The title for this piece is actually taken from a poem by T.S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot -- "Little Gidding" (the last of his Four Quartets)

I was reading through some short poems (I can't really remember why to be honest) and thought that this sentiment was really nice. Then I made the connection that it could also be used to describe the structure of the composition I had just completed, so I decided to title the work with the starting line of the relevant section of the poem.

If you would like to have a look at the score for this piece, please click here.

- Andrew

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Timothy Cannon Updates

Hi All,

Just a quick note to let you know that Tim and I have organized to meet weekly to continue production on the album. We'll be looking at all the fine details of the arrangements, including orchestration, backing vocals, counter melodies etc.

I will add info and hopefully some audio samples as they are available.

- Andrew

Timothy Cannon Album - May 2009

Below are some issues we encountered, considerations we had to make and some of the solutions we found while working on the Tim Cannon album.

There were 10 original tracks chosen for this album and demoed as a band. Over the course of this work-shopping session with the band, some of the songs changes quite substantially in feel, arrangement, chord progressions and keys. Now that we had an idea of how we wanted each track to sound on it's own, the challenge was to somehow marry them together in a cohesive collection of songs and come up with a track order which made sense for the album. After much thought on how to overcome this problem Tim decided on the idea of telling a story with the songs (using the thematic material in the lyrics) gave a solid basis in which to structure the album and allowed us a little more freedom and flexibility when it came to differences between song arrangements. This album structure meant that we needed to add a few new songs to fill in the gaps of the story being told, so Dumping Season was added (denoted by the asterisk being a late addition to the album).

So, we now had a basic over-arching structure for the album, but I had an idea which would allow us to have a little more control over the overall feel of the album. I'd heard one of Tim's songs on his MySpace page. I thought it had a nice floating/dreaming quality which could be used as a segue between different song ideas. Rather than just having the song placed somewhere on the album, I had the vision of making it a re-occuring theme, using it to either transform the mood between songs or make harmonic shifts between 2 songs more interesting, thus, hopefully, marrying the album together. In the above track listing, you can see where we plan to have the inserted in the album as little fragments rather than the whole song.

Once we had this concept in mind, we had to decide where these fragments were going to go in the album. We made the decision to start with a simple fragment of the Tree Song in the key of the first track to set up a melancholy tone. The next time Tree Song comes back is between track 4 (Sleeping Out) & 5 (Satellite). The tracks are in different keys, C major and Eb major respectively. Rather than just jump from C major to Eb major without preparation, we thought we would make the transition with some clever use of harmonic relations. As Sleeping Out (track 4)finishes on a C chord, Tree Song starts in the key of Eb. However, the melody of Tree Song starts on the major 3rd of the key (in this case, a G). G is also the 5th of the last chord of Sleeping Out, thus hopefully making a smooth and interesting harmonic transition between the two keys.It's interesting comparing the harmonic movement of the whole album compared to the musical feel of the album. In terms of song keys, the tonic progression is: G - C - C - C - Eb - Am - A - A - F# - C - F# - D

or written another way:

Album Tracks and their order:

0.5. Pre Song - Tree Song fragment in G
1. Keep It Together [G major]
2. Dumping Season* (Acoustic) [ C major]
3. Feeling [C major]
4. Sleeping Out [C major]
4.5. Tree Song fragment in Eb (main melody starts on a G which is the 5th of the final chord of Sleeping Out)
5. Satellite [Eb major]
----- Common tone of C. Ending to finish on combination of chords like Eb13 / Ab / F / F-, to set up smooth transition to the key of A minor. -----
6. High Hopes [A minor]
7. Coming Home [A major]
8. Tell Me Dan [A major]
9. Finish Line [F# major]
------ At the end of the song, the final harmonic resolution is interrupted by the entry of the drums in the next song. ------
10. Friend of Mine [C major]
11. Silver Lining [F# major]
12. Tree Song* (Hidden Track) in the key of D, melody starts on the F# which is held from the end of Silver Lining.

So we can see a very static a smooth harmonic movement at the beginning of the album which becomes more erratic as the album progresses. In contrast to this, most of the feel change happens at the beginning of the album. Our intent of this was to always having something tying everything together, be it feel, key, or instrumentation.
Another harmonic consideration which I would like to mention is the key of the final (complete) version of Tree Song. I thought it would be very effective to have a subtle link between the end of the album and the beginning of the album, giving the feeling that you (the listener) had departed on a journey and arrived somewhere at the end. Originally, the album started in G major and ended in F# major. If the listener would listen to the album on repeat, i.e. once they finish the album, they start again (as commonly done in car CD players etc) they would get an awkward semi-tone movement (F#-G). To give it a "complete" feel, I added in Tree Song in the key of D major, thus giving a V - I (or perfect cadence) at the conclusion of the album which really gives a harmonic representation of both the end of something, and the start of something. Making this more interesting is that (as mentioned above) the melody of Tree Song starts on the major 3rd, so in the key of D major, the melody starts on an F# which happens to be the tonic note of the previous track (Silver Lining).

Tracking Issues

Finish Line posed a big problem for us when we were tracking as a band. The song had dramatically different tempos for the verses and choruses and also had a tempo ramp up in the bridge section. We had to make some big decisions and live with the consequences as time was against us. Our options were:
1. spend an hour or two creating a tempo map,
2. work out a compromise tempo and adjust the song to remove the tempo changes,
3. forget the click track and rely on each other to make the tempo changes ourselves.

As you may know, a click track enables for easy editing and over-dubbing after the recording phase, so this was a pretty big decision. After talking about it in the group for 5 minutes we decided to go with option number 3 because it's what the song needed. We decided on option 3 over option 1 for 2 reasons: 1) we didn't feel that we had the studio time to spare to do the click tracks, & 2) we were both confident in our ability to perform the tempo changes confidently and to obtain maximum emotional effect of the music. The way we managed to achieve confident tempo changes was assign a person responsible for leading the tempo for each section. After playing through the piece 10 or so time, each band member was both comfortable with following the tempo changes lead by different members of the band we managed to track it successfully with a very good end result.

- Andrew

Monday, May 11, 2009

Co-Producing Singer/Songwriter - Timothy Cannon

This week has seen a fair bit of work going into co-producing the lovely songs of singer/songwriter Timothy Cannon. I've worked on a few of Cannon's songs before (including Silver Lining) but this time I am working with a few other musicians (Stewart Taylor - Bass & Mark Leahy - Drums) which makes for much more possibilities arrangement wise.
The band got together the weekend before going into the studio and sketched out some arrangements to maximize productivity once we get into the studio and time is money.

We are in the studio at the moment recording and it's coming up really well. I wouldn't say it's been smooth sailing all the way, but we are all very happy with how everything is progressing. I will post some interesting thoughts, observations and photos from the recording session soon.

- Andrew

And, last but not least, we couldn't resist a little bit of fun: Mark, the drummer, decided to show off his skills on the piano. Check it out, it's the first time he's ever played!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Roaring Years - Album Being Printed

Good news! The Roaring Years's latest release has gone in for physical production. We should have them within a few weeks.

Our album has been available for purchase through iTunes since December 2008 but we have finally gotten around to getting a physical package together.

We are really happy about the look of it. Thanks to Domenica for her excellent work.

If you want to have a listen to our music you can do so either on our MySpace page or you can find us on The Roaring Years - The Roaring Years

Shaun Wilson - Uber Memoria X

Back in December 2008, I completed the next installment of the compositions done for video artist, Shaun Wilson. This set of compositions were all based on Beethoven's 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement. There were 10 pieces in total ranging from solo piano pieces to small ensembles. More information along with some stills of the video can be found at Shaun Wilson Research Blog: Uber Memoria X

Selected works were on display at the National Centre for Contemporary Art Moscow until late December.

Here are a few examples of some of these as well as some earlier work that I completed for Shaun.

Original music by Andrew Rostas

Viva La Vida Arrangement

I have been commissioned to do an arrangement of Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida' for a small ensemble. The instrumentation is: String ensemble, SA choir, mixed percussion & piano.

I have just heard from Music Sales that I will have the license very soon and hence can start selling the arrangement. The arrangement was intended to be playable by secondary school students so difficulty is intermediate.

UPDATE: I have now received the license. If you would like a sample of the score, send me an email and I'll get back to you ASAP.

If you are interested in purchasing this arrangement, please contact me.

- Andrew

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Music Project 2009

These photos were taken at a Mickyfin recording/workshopping session back in 2006 & 2008. The group still writes and records together occasionally but is now going by a new name, "MC Hotdogs".

Josh, the singer/songwriter is currently studying Medicine in Perth, WA so music is something that fits around everything else.

The workshop session was very much a DIY setup. We recorded it in a lovely open room to get that "Band in a room" sound.

From Mickyfin Test
We then went in to Supersonic Recordings to record the songs properly. A big thanks to Brad from Supersonic Recordings for all his hard work. It's a great little studio!

From Mickyfin Recording Jan 2008

Most recently, we got together (July, 08) to add another 10 or so tracks to the 7 we recorded in January 2008. I am currently going through the files and creating mixes. This is a big learning curve for me and it's going to take a while, but I am really looking forward to the challenge. Perhaps I'll post some samples of the songs up here once I'm happy with them.

Wish me luck!

- Andrew