Published January 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

Read the other articles in this series:

  1. And So it Begins
  2. Going Pro
  3. Partners in Crime

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I am not an audio person. Or at least I don’t think of myself as being one. I took to visual work very naturally, but doing audio work has always made me feel at least a little out of my depth. Don’t get me wrong—I have a decent ear. But messing with all of this stuff was, at least at one point, pretty far outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, that didn’t stop me from doing it anyway.

Like the previous post in this series, I wanted to actually detail what it is I use in the process of making my music. In this case, we’re talking about the finished recordings of the actual music itself, so in this installment, it’s all about the hard- and software.

If I wanted to be really specific, I’d start babbling about my computer’s guts—the type and amount of RAM I’m using, my processor, my motherboard, blah blah blah. But I don’t know that my system contains anything super special, so instead, I’ll start by talking about my software.

While attending college, I learned audio engineering using Cakewalk Sonar, so that’s what I use in my own studio (though I have Producer 8.5, not any of the more recent versions). It’s not the most user-friendly program in existence, but it has some nifty features, and it more than gets the job done.

Interfacing between my software and my microphones, I have a MOTU UltraLite mk3 interface. The UltraLite doesn’t have very many inputs, but I’m a small studio, so I’ve yet to need more than two inputs at once.

And as for microphones, I have three that I use regularly. They are RØDE‘s NT1-A microphone, which is my primary vocal mic; Shure‘s Beta 52A kick drum mic, which I primarily use for micing the bottom of my djembe; and AKG Acoustics‘ D88S dynamic microphone, which I use for various and sundry things. Lately I’ve been using it to record my bodhran.

To hear what’s playing on the computer as I’m recording, I have a pair of Samson SR850 Professional Studio Reference Headphones. They’re pretty comfy, though they’re a bit large for me. My old pair of studio headphones fits better, but since it tends to make rattling and creaking noises, I rarely use them anymore. I don’t need them messing up the work I’m doing.

I conduct all mixing through a pair of Yamaha HS80M active studio speakers. I never mix through headphones, because I don’t feel that’s a very accurate method of mixing.

And once a song is recorded and mixed to my satisfaction, I will export it from Sonar and open it in Sound Forge to master it.

And there you have it. This week I’ve discussed my songwriting process, the work I do when I’m actually recording a song, what happens once a song is recorded, and the various tools I use to do it all. I hope it’s been as interesting to read as it was fun to write about.

On Monday you’ll get an introductory look at “[untitled]“, the second album in the studio’s current dual album project. Then throughout February and March, I’ll share more details on each track, all leading up to the album’s release date in mid-April. There may or may not be other posts interspersed with the “Meet ‘[untitled]‘” series, but for the next nine weeks, you will be treated to a minimum of one update a week concerning the current project. I hope you enjoy getting to know this new album, pre-release! “[untitled]” is a very personal project for me, and I’m really excited to finally get it out there.

Published January 25th, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

I typically like the main vocal parts in the songs I mix to be a bit more pronounced than the other instruments. There is definitely a balance I work toward—I don’t want the vocal to overpower the accompaniment, but it’s very important for me that every word be audible. The music I work on tends to be more lyric-driven than instrument-driven.

It’s also very important to me for all of the vocal parts to be in balance with each other. Given my issues with singing harmonies, I figure that if the vocal harmonies are so loud that I can sing with them, then the mix isn’t right.

I also like my percussion to be audible without being obtrusive. This can be especially tricky when dealing with things like tambourines and sleigh bells, which are very loud and very treble. They cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter, and I prefer them to be seasoning rather than the main course.

So when mixing any given track, I have numerous balls to juggle. This is exacerbated by the fact that I am a first soprano who likes to write songs that are in the second soprano or even alto range. I can hit the notes—just not loudly. My best volume comes out on the higher notes because that’s where my natural range is. So for the main vocal parts that have some lower notes, I work to make those lower notes stand out better without sounding weird. This is where one of my favorite tools comes in handy.

Write automation is a function in my recording software that plays with the dynamics of the tracks I’m working with. It’s actually possible to automate all sorts of things, but mostly I use it to automate volume. Maybe a vocal needs to be a bit louder on this phrase, or an instrument needs to be a bit quieter for two beats or so because it’s overpowering everything else in just one spot, but sounds great in the mix throughout the rest of the song. The idea is not to remove all the natural dynamics of the various instruments involved, but rather to get them to play nice together so that they are pleasing to listen to, and mix well with one another.

While in the midst of mixing, I will also run other processes over various parts of a song. The guitar recording gets cloned—meaning that there are now two instances in my file of the same guitar track—and one panned mostly to the left, and one panned mostly to the right. The main vocal stays at dead center unless I have reason to do otherwise, and everything else is panned to varying degrees of left, right, and center as necessary. For this part I mostly just do what I think sounds best.

I will also put a compression effect on some parts of the song. Compression helps things cut up through the mix and become more audible. This is especially useful for the main vocal recordings.

I may also EQ things if I want to bring out the higher or lower end of something. And for at least the main vocal, I’ll add some reverb to give it that polished studio sound. (I have no idea why this is the standard, but it does indeed seem to sound better that way. But a little reverb goes a long way.)

The trick with all of this, of course—all the cut-ins, all the write automation, and all the effects—is to make it sound natural. These tools and gizmos don’t do me any good if they make the finished product sound like anything other than a cohesive whole. And I try very hard to stay away from things like…*shudder*…pitch correction. I absolutely never use it on a main vocal recording, but I will use it on back-up harmonies if it’s necessary and not too extreme. Otherwise, if it takes a hundred takes to get something right, then it takes a hundred takes.

Once the song is mixed and sounds the way I want it to, I will play through the whole thing just to make sure that the Master bus isn’t clipping anywhere. Sound is additive, so the more parts you have playing simultaneously in a song, the louder it will be coming through the main output (or Master bus). If the Master is clipping anywhere, I’ll decrease the overall volume of the song by decreasing the volume of the Master. It might make things a bit quieter, but I’m about to fix that in a minute anyway.

Now it’s time to export the final mix, and switch software.

The second piece of software I use is handy as a mastering program. “Mastering” means different things from engineer to engineer, but for mean it means the following:

The first thing I do is shorten the amount of silence at the beginning of the track to be one second in length. Aside from helping to keep songs on an album from being spaced too close together, this gives CD players time to buffer the track. Then I will go to the end of the track and fade out the tail end as necessary, and possibly add a bit more silence if necessary.

Next it’s time to run a noise reduction filter on the track. This gets rid of aural detritus that is not necessarily noticeable until it’s removed. Removing it increases the overall quality of the track.

Next I will EQ the entire mix together, as opposed to the individual tracks that make up the mix. This is just sort of a final touch sort of tweak, and is not something I do unless I can produce a better quality recording with it. (In other words, if it ain’t necessary, it ain’t happenin’.)

And finally, I’ll run it through another filter that, in the program I use, is known as Wave Hammer. This is where I increase the overall volume of the song, which I mentioned a bit ago as “fixing” the decreasing of the overall volume of the song in the other piece of software. The way this works is that the Wave Hammer process first compresses the peaks in the song to create a more average volume level, and then maximizes and raises the overall volume of the track. So I end up with a fuller-sounding track.

Once every track on an album has gone through this process, I listen through all of them to check for a couple of things. First, I want to see if their volume is consistent from track to track. It’s annoying to have to keep changing the volume of a finished product because the tracks aren’t consistent. And second, I will listen to the silences between the tracks to see if they’re too long or too short. If they’re not right, I’ll alter them until they are, which is simply a matter of adding or subtracting silence in my mastering software.

And that’s the amount of work that goes into each and every song I record. It takes no small amount of time, and sometimes the process makes me want to tear my hair out, but overall I’m very happy that I know how to do this—to a standard that is entirely my own. I’m sure there are things I do that would drive a mainstream professional batty. But I know what works for me, and I know what sound I’m after, so that’s what counts.

Hopefully this was interesting to someone! Tomorrow I will post the long-time-coming end to the “How I Learned to Bard” series of posts, and then next week I’ll go back to posting only once a week, introducing each track on “[untitled]” in turn.

Published January 24th, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

A song has been written, chorded, and practiced, and is now ready to be recorded. I start with rhythm guitar.

Both of Sean’s guitars are acoustic/electric guitars, which means I can plug them directly into my sound system. I used to also mic the sound hole of the guitar with a separate microphone, but I find that the tonality is much cleaner if I just use the sound produced by the guitar’s line in. So we plug the guitar in, get the software set up, and start recording.

We normally have to do multiple takes of the guitar. This is normal. Thankfully, since we are living in a digital age, the entire recording process is much easier. We start with a full take of the guitar. Barring any horrible mistakes, Sean will play the entire song through once. Then we listen to what we’ve got thus far and identify the areas we want to fix. (I will also keep a notepad and pen handy while we’re doing the initial take and write down the measure numbers of problem spots in the recording.) Once we’ve determined what needs to be re-done, we do what are called cut-ins.

Rather than have Sean play through the entirety of the guitar part again, I will start him a few measures before a part that I had to cut out. I press record, he plays along with what he’s already done, plays through the spot of silence where the bad part was cut out, and then I generally keep him going a few measures into the other side of the hole. He knows not to stop playing until I cut the recording, and I know not to cut the recording for series of holes that are really close together.

Once the cut-in recording is done, I have to massage the ends of the previous take and the new take together. It’s usually much easier than it sounds, because the software I use is pretty nifty. (More on that later—yes, I’m actually going to do the last “All this Crazy Audio Nonsense” post finally!) And that’s part of the reason why I have Sean play over some of what he’s already done. It makes things easier to splice the takes together. Also, if we were to just start the guitar right at the beginning of the hole, there would be an awkward bit of silence between cuts.

After finalizing the guitar recording, I record the main vocal part. This track often ends up being Swiss cheese, too, because sometimes it takes me numerous tries to get things the way I want them to be. When doing cut-ins for the vocal parts, I once again record over part of what I’ve already done. I’ve found that the breaths between phrases are much less awkward if they’re natural, and in order for them to sound natural to my ears, I have to sing at least part of the phrase before and the phrase after the one that I’m replacing.

Once the main vocal part is finalized, I will add the percussion. I know that this is especially backwards from the way that many recording engineers do things. They will often start with the percussion, but since I record the guitar with a metronome, it doesn’t much matter to me to do things in this order.

And once I’m happy with the percussion tracks, I will begin bringing in the outside musicians. They may be vocalists for harmony parts—my brain latches onto the melody of a song so stubbornly that I have a really difficult time singing harmony with something, and I have to have something to sing along with—or play other instruments like cello, harp, or bass guitar. I don’t generally have an order to which I’ll record these parts. They pretty much get done in whatever sequence is most convenient for the people performing the parts.

Recording a song in the studio is most definitely a multi-day process. Even if I didn’t need to bring in outside musicians, and Sean and I were able to perform all of the parts of a song ourselves (like some really fantastically awesome musicians I know of), we get burned out fairly quickly when working on audio projects. Most recording sessions last somewhere between three to four hours, depending on the work being done. At some point, all the sounds sort of bleed together and I just need to walk away and work on something else for a while.

But once all of the parts are recorded, it’s time to start tweaking them and shaping them into the finished track.

Published January 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

So now that I have the final drafts of the lyrics and melody for a new song, it’s time to talk to a guitarist. Usually I work with Sean or our friend Cern, with the occasional SOS sent up to my sister (who is sort of a musical genius) if I need something wrestled into submission at light speed.

We start with a sample recording of the pertinent parts of the song: One repetition of the verse melody, one repetition of the chorus melody, and one repetition of the middle eight melody, if the song has a middle eight (or a chorus, for that matter). This sample recording is ideally nice and slow so that the person working on the chords can hear what the heck I’m singing. I’ll also send them the lyrics for them to make notes on.

From there the process involves some sort of voodoo that frequently reaches over my head. As I said, I don’t really know much about music theory, and I know even less about playing guitar. I can learn songs by wrote all damn day, but ask me to pick a melody (or chords) out on a tonal instrument, and I’m flummoxed. I’m sure I could come to understand it with instruction. But currently, a fair amount of it is a bit beyond me.

But the guitarist will figure out what key it’s in, and from there we’ll both decide what chords sound best with the song. Sean and I arrange an intro and an outro as necessary, as well as the bits between whatever verse/chorus combination is going on, and a bridge if the song has a bridge.

And then it’s time to practice. And I mean practice. I like to practice, and frequently. For one, it gets me used to singing the song, and it gets Sean used to playing the song. And for two, it lets me get to know the song. I think about my phrasing and diction, I think about where I’m taking my breaths, I think about volume and other dynamics, I think about the emotions I’m putting behind my performance. All of this is very important for live performance, of course, and it’s also very important for studio recording, as well.

As when I’m singing live, I don’t want to just be a vocalist singing into a microphone. I want to be a performer engaging my audience. That’s a little harder to do when you’re not physically in front of people, but it’s also very important to consider that, unlike a live performance, a formal recording will (hopefully) be listened to over and over and over again, so it needs to be fun to listen to. It won’t be if I sound bored.

There really isn’t a precedent for how much time there is for us between learning a new song and going into the studio to record it. Most of the things we’ve recorded to date are songs we’ve had in our repertoire for a while and have had many, upon many, upon many chances to practice. I think the shortest period of time between learning and recording was for “Surviving through the Game”, and that was because of a pressing deadline. I typically find it useful to have more time to learn a song before making a recording of it.

One of the things we try to do as often as possible when practicing a song for recording is to practice the song in question with whatever metronome settings we’ll be using when we start laying down the tracks. The speed at which we perform a song differs from concert to concert when we play live—we’ll play slower or faster as the mood of the performance dictates. But in the studio, regularity is pretty important, especially if there will be other instruments included on the track.

As far as my methods for the making of an actual recording, that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Published January 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

This week I’m starting a new series in between “Meet ‘Faces in the Fog’” and “Meet ‘[untitled]‘”. It occurred to me that I’ve never gone into great detail about the process of writing and recording a song, and that said information may be of interest to someone out there. There are lots of ways to complete this process, and in this four-part series, I’ll be discussing how I do it. This series will update daily, unlike the other series posted on this blog, so if you want to just skip to the “[untitled]” content, check back on January 27th.

For me, every song begins with an idea. It might be a character, one or two words, a phrase, a setting, or an entire story arch that hits me at once, that serves as inspiration for a song. Once I’ve found something to write about, one of two things will happen next:

  1. All of the lyrics tumble out of my head all at once, with or without a tune
  2. I have to tease the lyrics out into the world over the course of days, weeks, months, or years (yes, I’ve had songs that took me that long to write), and they again either come with a tune, or I have to spend more time pondering that part of the puzzle

A very small number of my songs fall into that first category. “Hush and Shush” was one of those. The chorus—lyrics and melody—came to me pretty easily at work one day. I was toying around with it when I got home, and then while I was taking a shower, the last eight lines of the third verse came to me. The rest of the song followed shortly thereafter. Spitting out a song like that is its own unique type of craziness, and one that I very much enjoy.

But most of the songs I write come out piecemeal. I’ll get an idea, jot down some lyrics, maybe record a snippet of a tune idea, and then run out of inspiration for a time and have to move on to something else. This used to feel like a failure—I thought that if I couldn’t get the entirety of a song out at once, that that was a bad thing. (Also, I tend to get excited about new things I’ve written and want to share them immediately—it can be pretty agonizing to have to wait for an idea to fully formulate.) Now, though, I just recognize it as part of the process. The songs will come out when they want to, and in the case of some of my ideas, only when I’ve had enough experience with whatever it is I’m writing about.

So maybe I’ll take a week or a few months to write the lyrics for a song. If I didn’t have any ideas for a tune when I began writing the words, then I have to figure out something for that. I once thought it was impossible for me to write good melodies. Thankfully I now know that’s not true, although it can still be a little rough sometimes. I actually know very little about music theory, so my songwriting technique essentially equates to, “Sing things to myself until something good comes out”. It’s a bit slapdash, I suppose, but it seems to work reasonably well nevertheless.

Now it’s time for the fun bit. In the case of songs written in pieces, I am, of course, not writing the lyrics with the melody in mind. This usually requires tweaking the lyrics somewhere down the line, which isn’t a problem. The part that’s really awkward is getting my brain to properly wrap the tune around each verse in turn so that the song is consistent throughout. I’ve found that this is easier to do when I’m singing with a guitar or other accompaniment.

Which is a nice segue into tomorrow’s post, which will deal with putting chords to a new song.

Published October 12th, 2013 at 12:34 pm EST/EDT

Hey, folks! This is just to warn you that with work steadily progressing on the dual album project, I’ve decided that some things need to change on this blog. Mostly this will involve my going through the back entries and changing things that shouldn’t affect anyone but me, but one big thing that’s going to happen is that I intend to change how this blog is located in my server-side organization. Instead of being part of the firesongproductions.com domain, it’s going to be moved under the dragonscalestudios.com domain. This will affect any links and bookmarks. I doubt this will matter to anyone but me, but I wanted to put the warning out there just in case.

And maybe one of these years I’ll finally get around to updating the design of this damn thing…

Published August 5th, 2013 at 7:06 pm EST/EDT

Whew. The Lyrics Dump Promotion is finally over. Well, ok, almost. Seven of the nine songs are recorded and released. Soon it will be time for a brea—

Nerts to that, time for the next project.

I mentioned that my next project would actually be TWO albums, and that is still very much the plan. Now that I’ve gotten a few kinks worked out, it’s time for the big reveal—what albums I’m going to be doing next, and what songs will be on them. The first one involves some old, familiar friends.

Album Name: Faces in the Fog

Track List

  1. Cold September Ground
  2. Kiss Me, Jak Frost
  3. The Garden
  4. Fall from Grace
  5. Runaway
  6. The Stallion and the Rose: The Choice
  7. By Blood
  8. Wet Velvet
  9. Jack the Ripper
  10. Stepping Stones
  11. The Stallion and the Rose: The Debt
  12. The Singing of Dragons
  13. 9 Lives
  14. Departure
  15. Hush and Shush
  16. A Flame that Burns in Darkness
  17. Gray One
  18. A Long Walk
  19. Faerie Dreams

If you’re noticing that a lot of that first one looks familiar, there’s a good reason for that. See, I made “Cold September Ground” sorta backwards. I made it before I knew what I was doing, for one, and I made it before I knew if anyone would really be interested in it. Well, people are. In fact, by my standards, people are pretty damn interested (you’ve all given me cause to keep making music, so I consider that pretty damn interested). There are things I wanted to do the first time around that I wasn’t able to do partially because of a lack of experience, but also because of a lack of time. CSG was a student project. I had to have it finished by a certain date in order to graduate from college. Now that I’m all graduated ‘n stuff, I wanted to take another crack at it. I didn’t do as well on it as I could have, and it’s actually made me kinda sad.

The CSG content will not be remixes. They will be entirely new recordings. What’s more, most of them will also have extra things thrown into the arrangements, if I have my way. For example: I originally wanted a violin part in “Jack the Ripper”. That wasn’t possible the first time around. Another example: The lead accompaniment in “9 Lives” was intended to be a chiptune. That also wasn’t possible. This time around, I can add in all that nifty stuff that didn’t make it into the final cuts the first time.

The reason why this album will be called “Faces in the Fog” and not something like “Cold September Ground Version 2.0″ is because of six additional tracks at the end that are essentially an EP. These are all new, though we’ve been doing “Hush and Shush” at Wax Chaotic concerts for some time. They still fit the theme of the original album, though, so I think they’ll work in nicely.

This redux/EP combo is actually the reason why I intend to do two albums at the same time. I’d feel kinda shitty if my next effort was essentially my first effort, just with some extra stuff thrown in (even if it’s lots of extra stuff, as I intend it to be). But I’d really like to get this one done. I do hope you all will bear with me.

Now for the next one.

Album Name: [untitled]

Track List

  1. Cracked
  2. Weekend Job
  3. Pixie Smile
  4. Wild Hair Time
  5. Buttons
  6. Lost Girls
  7. Hand-Me-Downs
  8. Coat of Scars
  9. Partners in Crime
  10. In a Hundred Different Ways
  11. Break Out
  12. Getting Lost
  13. Tapestry of Me
  14. [untitled]

This one is a heckuva lot different from the other one. Its theme is, “Where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going”. It’s a lot more personal, and it’s something I need to get out. You’ll note that some of these songs were actually part of the Lyrics Dump Promotion, but there’s plenty of new content where those came from.

It has been suggested that I shouldn’t call this album “[untitled]” and simply leave it at that, that I should instead conceive a more descriptive name for it. But “[untitled]” is its name. The title track is the only one that fits into the category “Where I’m going”, and those of you familiar with the song will already be aware that it is one gigantic question mark. It is not more defined because I was not more defined when I wrote it, and this entire album is a much more personal and specific reflection of me than most of my other work. It is about history and questions and laughter and no few scars. It is me, laid open, picked apart by poetry, and threaded through melody. It is a journey through the Self. And I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Please note that with the exception of the CSG tracks, which I wish to keep in their original order, the track order of the EP and of “[untitled]” is still subject to change. I’ve put a lot of thought into the songs themselves, though, and so I feel pretty confident that this is what will be on each album. But I must confess that at least half of the material on “[untitled]” hasn’t been written yet. The ideas are clear enough in my mind that I could put names to them, but I’m still working on detailing the specifics.

Sean and I are going to be laying down the initial tracks for things around our practice and performance schedule, and we’re going to start in September. I’m hoping to have both of these albums ready to print no later but hopefully far earlier than the fall or winter of 2014. I’m still trying to decide what—if anything—I want to do in regards to crowdfunding for these projects, but given another announcement you’ll find a paragraph or two below, I’m thinking crowdfunding is likely going to happen. You’ll definitely hear about it if it does.

Because of this project, our tour for next year will be starting later than it normally does. Usually we take a break starting at the beginning of December and then head back out at the beginning of February. In 2014, our tour won’t begin until mid-April. The reason for this is that our day jobs don’t leave us with much time and energy during the week. That means that the weekends are our primary windows for recording, but that’s also when most of our shows are (SF cons especially). By adding an extra couple of months to our break, we hope to make a serious dent in the to-do list for these albums before we again set foot on the road.

And speaking of the tour…

We have decided that we want to release a Wax Chaotic album. It is intended to be a compilation of live performances from our 2014 tour, and we mean to call it “Vagabonds”. We don’t know yet what will be on it, but it seemed like a fun project to work on. (Don’t be afraid to weigh in—if there’s a song you’d like to hear on the album, let us know!).

If all goes well, it will be released either very late in 2014 or very early in 2015. So there’s three albums we’ve got on our to-do list for the next year and a half. We are nothing if not ambitious.

Now allow me to elaborate on what I mean by “if all goes well”.

One of the Super Secret Things we’ve been working on in the background is a fundraising project for our tour next year. The campaign is due to launch September 1st. If you’ve seen us this year doggedly getting video of our performances or asking you if we can record your feedback, this project is the reason why. We’re still keeping lots of the details under our hats for now, but since we have so many events in August, we figured it couldn’t hurt to start promoting our fundraising campaign now.

We’re doing this because the road is no longer whispering or muttering our names. It is practically screaming them. We want to be out in the world, seeing new places and making music for people. I know that for me personally, it is something that practically consumes my every waking thought. It follows me in my sleep, and it keeps me up at night. But in order to be as active next year as I want us to be, we’re going to need help. Thus, we’re having the fundraising campaign.

And I’m probably biased, but some of the backer rewards we’ve decided on are pretty awesome. We’re doing things like custom songwriting, “Wax Chaotic” branded thumb drives with unreleased studio versions of new songs, the chance to participate in a studio version of one of the new songs, artwork, autographed photos, autographed and handwritten lyrics sheets…the list goes on. The point is, we’re wracking our brains to think up all sorts of cool things we can to give you folks in exchange for your getting us out further from home next year.

We’ve been working since May or June of this year to start confirming shows for next year, and slowly they are beginning to cement themselves on the calendar. We even have a few of them to announce when the fundraiser actually launches. In the meanwhile, if anyone out there reading hosts house concerts or is in charge of programming for an SF con, Pagan festival, or other such event, please drop us a line.

Keep an eye here or on Facebook for more details upon the launch of this campaign.

But so that essentially means that Dragon Scale Studios will be producing three albums over the course of the next year and a half or so. And I’m pretty damn stoked about it! I hope you’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates as we’re able to share more information with you. We are so excited about everything that it’s impossible to describe. And you make it happen. You’re kinda awesome, huh?

Published November 22nd, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

It’s been an…interesting year. I’ve gone through a couple of major life changes, and not all of them were pleasant. But even in the midst of a shit storm, I do try to give some mind to what’s good in my life. Lately I’ve found myself really thinking about it—it’s the month for it, after all, at least here in the US—and I wanted to share those thoughts.

I don’t normally do this. I’m actually pretty cynical about Thanksgiving for a lot of reasons. But I owe a lot of amazing people a tremendous amount of thanks, so this year, here’s a list of what I’m thankful for. And being that this is a music blog, you’ll probably notice a theme.

I’m thankful for my band mates, for putting up with my idiosyncrasies, and for being there to share both the good and the bad times.

I’m thankful for the friends who are always ready and willing to share music. Any music. You guys, and the community we build around the music, are more important to me than I will ever be able to express.

I’m thankful for the friends who are willing to let me share my music, and who get excited about new pieces.

I’m thankful for the friend who asked, in an endearing, semi-silly, yet totally serious tone I can only imagine her mother uses, when she’d be seeing my name on the ballot for a Pegasus award.

I’m thankful for the friend who said she’d have voted for a song of mine if it had been on the ballot this year. (That seriously is such an honor that it almost made me cry.)

I’m thankful for the friend who gallivants around the Midwest on buses so she can see me at conventions.

I’m thankful for the friend who believed that something about me and how I look at music is cool enough that he convinced a bunch of really sweet people that it was a good idea to send me to Canada next year.

I’m thankful for the friend who brought us soup.

I’m thankful for the two friends whose generosity is always especially surprising.

I’m thankful for the doctor who diagnosed and then treated my GERD, and at whose direction my hernia was diagnosed. I’m thankful that I know that there are other health professionals who are ready and willing to help me get rid of both of those problems (and here’s hoping my insurance will approve things again).

I’m thankful for Kickstarter, and I’m more thankful for the generous people who made pledges for “Cold September Ground” and not only helped all this wonderful, terrifying, humbling craziness happen, but enabled me to graduate from college in grandiose style.

I’m thankful for all the new people—all the new listeners, all the convention programming people who’d never heard of us, all the new friends interested in what I’m doing with my life—who’ve joined the party.

I’m thankful for all the convention programming people in general, and also thankful for all of the sound crews who’ve done shows for us this past year and change.

I’m thankful for the friend who is a sound guy and always down for doing a gig.

I’m thankful for the joy I get from music even despite all the other shit that tries to get in the way.

And I’m thankful that I have people who believe in me even when I don’t believe very much in myself.

There are somewhere around 365 days in any given year. I am thankful for all of the above and more every day. Today I wanted to express my thanks, in no uncertain terms, for all I have and for all you all have given me. There are so many things that I am thankful for that I could never list everything. The above is just a small sampling. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. And happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it.

Published November 6th, 2012 at 5:56 pm EST/EDT

Hi, folks! I know there might be some people reading here who aren’t on Wax Chaotic’s mailing list, so I wanted to let those in question know that our upcoming appearance at Starbase Indy has been CANCELLED.

If you were looking forward to seeing us there, fear not. Our talented friends at Archer Productions of Indianapolis are hooking us up with an end-of-year hurrah house concert at what is essentially the last minute. Needless to say, we can’t thank them enough.

So come help us bid a fond farewell to our 2012 tour. We hope to see you there!

Published July 8th, 2012 at 4:03 pm EST/EDT

I’m going to interrupt the chorus of crickets that’s taken over this blog to give you guys a bit of an update.

I got a full-time job at the end of March. It’s my first full-time job, and it’s taken quite a bit to get adjusted to it. But it’s a necessary thing if I want to be able to do things like pay off student loans and finance all of this craziness to which I have become accustomed. The bad part is that means that I don’t have nearly as much time for things that I’d like to have time for, including posting here. So I haven’t been able to do things like continue the How to Bard Series (but hopefully I’ll be able to get back to that soon). However. Although I haven’t been doing much with the blog lately, I have been doing a lot behind the scenes.

In addition to the new job, I’ve been working on some freelance graphic design projects. I was fortunate enough to be hired to work on the layout design for All In Good Time, Jen Midkiff’s first solo album. There’s another project in the works that I’m very excited to see in print. And I have the odd website here and there that’s also in production. (On that note, Wax Chaotic’s website is now live!)

And of course there’s been plenty of musical mischief going on. Soon there will be videos on YouTube of Wax Chaotic’s recent performance at InConJunction. We have another house concert coming up on July 14th, another convention concert at MuseCon, and we’re working on other house concerts for the year—and even some gigs for next year. On top of that, voting for the Lyrics Dump Promotion opens a week from tomorrow, and depending on how that goes, recording will begin soon afterward.

So I wanted to let everyone know that yes, I’m still here, yes, I’m still plotting and scheming with scansion and rhyme as my primary tools for deviance, and that the full-time job is why I’ve been so quiet. I miss posting here. I hope I’ll be able to do more of it more regularly sometime soon. In the meantime, thanks for being here to read this even though I’ve hardly published anything since March.

Published April 18th, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

So far in the “How to Bard” series I’ve been talking a lot about the philosophical side of music. This time I thought I’d turn my attention to the things that are more tangible. Instruments are pretty durn tangible.

Physical instruments—guitars, flutes, violins, et cetera—have always seemed to me to have definite and individual personalities. I tend to personify them, like I think a lot of musicians do. The Pagan side of me does believe they have their own spirit or energy, which is how I feel about a lot of other inanimate objects. So I suppose that’s why I tend to think of my instruments as being my partners rather than mere tools.

This is my bodhran. Her name is Star. She is an 18″ tunable bodhran with a natural skin head and black finish.

I am also building a small army of tippers.

“Bodhran” is a word that comes to us from the Celts, so the spelling is quite counterintuitive. It is pronounced “BOU-ron”. As if you were talking to your friend Ron and exclaiming, “Wow!” Aren’t silent letters fun?

I have had Star for around a year and a half at this point. My interest in the bodhran was piqued first by Brenda Sutton, who was kind enough to give me some tips on playing and maintenance, and then by my cohort Gabrielle Aumei when she brought her own bodhran back from Colorado. I hadn’t really done much with percussion since leaving orchestra at the end of 6th grade, but playing this drum has revealed to me a part of myself I didn’t know was missing.

I bought Star from Amazon, in addition to a case that is quite handy. If you’re interested, here is the bodhran and here is the case.

Star is my go-to physical instrument in most cases. And no, I will never have enough tippers.

Next I decided I needed to procure a djembe. Djembes are awesome, and I largely blame Debbie Gates and Sally Childs-Helton for making me want one. I was able to save up and get one last year. Allow me to introduce Bigboom.

That’s not thunder you hear.

Bigboom has thus far been featured on “Stepping Stones” and the “Stallion” songs. He is a 24″ tall djembe with a 13″ diameter natural head. He was carved from a single piece of wood and I bought him from World Wide Drums. Unfortunately they no longer appear to carry this particular drum, but they have lots of other nifty things to look at if you’re so inclined.

Bigboom is the reason I hope to have a kick mic for my studio soon. My other mics just can’t quite capture the low end of this drum’s range, which gets pretty far down there.

I’m still a little under confident with this drum. Despite the fact that I’m a great typist and I can sew without stabbing myself too horribly (usually), I’m not always able to coordinate both hands to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it when it comes to playing this drum. So I’m still honing my skills with this bad boy, and of course having a good time doing it.

Various percussion
What percussionist’s bag of tricks is complete without a bunch of other random noisemakers? None, of course. I’ve got quite a few random noisemakers that I think are rather nifty. Here’s a group shot of all of my extra percussion things.

I have a birthday coming up…

The cowbell and the tambourine attach to any mic stand or mic stand type of thing so that I can hit them with various objects, such as the timpani mallets that are probably wishing I’d left the store without them. I thought this was a nifty rig because, while I have a non-mounted tambourine, I wanted something that I could really control. This rig is great for producing more complex rhythms with a tambourine. It also makes it easier to control when the tambourine stops. I bought this to use on a new single that will be coming out at the end of April, and it’s already one of my favorite things.

And now to identify everything else. I have two egg shakers, which are technically my husband’s, but which I usually play instead. I have a wooden frog that my thoughtful in-laws bought me for Christmas (along with some of the tippers pictured above—and which missed this round of photos). The sleigh bells I bought for “Kiss Me, Jak Frost” and will hopefully find another chance to use at some point. And in the meantime, hey, I have sleigh bells! I also have zills, various lengths of copper pipes that make fun noises, and last but not least, yes, that is an anvil. I bought it for a single I hope to be releasing this summer and I found it, of all places, at JoAnn. It was in with their beading stuff. And it’s cute and hey, I have an anvil.

And lastly, for the peep show I promised you all…

Voice has been my primary instrument since I was twelve or thirteen. I’ve already talked a lot about it, so this time I’m not going to say very much. I will instead leave you with this.

I swear.

Making the phone call to ask my doctor for this photo was probably one of the weirdest calls I’ve ever made.

And so that’s pretty much it for this installment. This entry was a little random and probably kind of pointless, but I had fun with it anyway.

Next time I’ll be discussing the technological side of my music-making, with which I have decidedly limited experience compared to many other musicians. Then again, I’ve only been in this for about a year now. Either way, I hope you’ll come back as I continue to explore the physical part of how I do what I do.

Published April 11th, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

In keeping with the habit I’ve cultivated of posting a con review after going to a con, here are my thoughts on MARCON. This one’s going to be a wee bit different from all the other ones I’ve posted, though.

Like all the others I’ve written about so far, however, this was a first-time convention experience. I’d never been to MARCON before, though I’d heard really great things about it from various friends and had always wanted to go some year (especially last year when Leslie Fish was the Music Guest of Honor…sigh).

Unlike all the other conventions I’ve reviewed, I saw very little of this one. The reason for this is that we vended at this con, which meant that I spent most of the weekend behind a table. Sean was with me—Ally stayed in Indy that weekend because of Easter commitments to her church—and our neighbors didn’t mind if we made a bit of music in our booth space. We also got to talk to some new people, and I got to see a couple of Ohio friends I don’t see very often.

MARCON does a couple of really nifty things that I haven’t seen at any other conventions. Number one, because we were dealers, we got to partake in snacky things. Every so often, people with trollies would make a circuit of the dealer’s room and offer us soda. As someone who doesn’t regularly drink soda, I wish they had had water on the trolley as well, but as someone who was in the mood for soda at the time, it worked out all right anyway. And they did have water in the corner of the room where they kept the soda when it wasn’t being distributed on trollies. They also had baked goods in that same corner that were there for the dealers to munch on.

The other thing I thought was nifty was the green room they had set up for panelists. There were seating areas for talking and relaxing, a special check-in table so panelists didn’t have to wait in a long line (vendors had a special check-in line, too), and oh yeah, more snacky things.

The convention staff were helpful and friendly, which is always a major plus. The hotel staffperson who helped us unload our car was very professional and helpful. And overall it was a good weekend.

But as always, there are downsides. Probably my biggest gripe is that we had to pay $8.00 a day to park. Of course, that’s not the convention’s fault and they have no control over it—and actually, $8.00 a day was the event rate, so being conventioneers meant we got to pay less.

The garage was also really confusing and the ceilings are low enough that I don’t recommend unloading anything out of a hatchback. Again, not the convention’s fault.

So there’s the con review for MARCON, such as it is. If we go back next year—which we might not due to it being on Easter weekend and Ally having prior commitments that weekend—I hope to be able to experience more of the programming.

As it was I sat for a bit in open filk, which was fun. It was good to see Peter Alway again, even if I didn’t get to talk to him much, and hear his dulcimer piece “May Damsels’ Dance”.

And of course there was our concert, made slightly weird by the fact that it was just Sean and myself. Not bad-weird, just different-weird. It was a lot of fun nonetheless. Our audience seemed into it. Three of our listeners even bought copies of “Cold September Ground” after the fact.

Oh, and I will have a v-blog of the weekend up at some point. But first I need to have the time to edit it. …yeah.

Thanks again to the friends who put us up for the weekend. You were a tremendous help, and it was fabulous to see you again.

Next stop: Penguicon

Published March 28th, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

As promised, here’s another installment in the series “My Experiences with Learning How to Bard”. This week’s topics will be much more philosophical than last week’s. Keep an eye out for future installments as well, as I’ve already got some neat ideas planned.

Last week I ended by talking about how you shouldn’t let other people discourage you from being a musician by telling you you’re not “good enough”. My main argument was basically, “Being ‘good enough’ is not necessarily the point”. I wanted to continue on that train of thought by saying that any perceived lack of musical talent doesn’t mean you’re not a bard (or a minstrel or rocker or rapper or whatever suits your fancy). If it’s important to you, never let your music escape you.

The reason I keep ranting about this is because, at least in the US, we have developed this mentality that if you’re not a good enough musician to be a professional musician, then you shouldn’t be a musician at all. I find that to be a horrible way of looking at something that is so intrinsic to our humanity that it’s one of the most universally valued things across all times and cultures. In this country, we package and cultivate musical talent until it becomes a sterile, soulless representation of what everyone has inside them and we encourage the philosophy of That’s How It Should Be.

But music doesn’t have to be “pretty”. Music doesn’t have to be “good”. Music only has to be whatever you want it to be, especially if it’s your music. If you need a flawlessly executed aria, then that’s what you need. If you need to just make primal sounds for your own brand of catharsis, that’s ok, too. And yes, over-processed, vapid pop music has its place, as well. As I said, it’s about you getting/creating what you need at the time.

So experience music however it is you need to experience it. And don’t feel like you have to exhibit your music publicly in order to qualify as a musician. As long as you get something out of it, that’s really all that matters. I’ve said that I primarily view music as a vehicle for storytelling. But writing this I realize I can lump a few more concepts into that category—healing, for one.

In addition to the above, I would also like to encourage anyone reading to be bold enough to be independent. And not only with music, though that’s the only thing I’m going to touch on in this particular blog entry.

For a very long time, it’s been the case that, for most people, if you wanted to be a professional musician and actually be able to, you know, eat on a regular basis, that you had to get signed to a label. From where I’m sitting, getting signed to a label had and still has three primary benefits for an artist: Legal protection, which I won’t get into here, promotion, and recording.

All three of these services are very expensive and require many man hours and resources. In Ye Olde Times, they were prohibitively expensive for small-timers and independents. And not only did you have to have access to things like recording equipment, you had to have access to someone who knew how to use it, too.

A lot has changed. A lot. Of course, there’s still plenty of stuff that’s the same, but one of the biggest differences between then and now is that now you don’t have to be signed to a label in order to make a living from music.

For me, this particular light bulb went on when I started seeing SJ Tucker in concert. She breezes through Indianapolis every once in a while, puts on a heck of a show, and then heads off for her next gig somewhere in another state. And she does this full-time. She has almost a dozen professionally produced albums and various singles for sale on her website. Of course, she also vends at her shows, as well. She plays at conventions, she plays at festivals, she pops in to someone’s house for a day or two and rocks the shit out of things. And she’s able to make a living at this because over the course of the somewhere-around-seven years she’s been doing this, she and others have worked tirelessly to promote her and her music.

It wouldn’t be fair to say she does it all herself because I know there are many awesome people who join in the fun. But she sure as shit isn’t able to do this because a big label is financing everything for her. She is a musical entrepreneur, and she is one of many of them out there who is leading the way for the rest of us dreamers.

So there’s a precedent. It’s possible. You want to be an independent musician? You can actually make a living at it these days. So many things are so much more accessible now than they were even ten years ago—hell, I have a pretty decent recording studio in one of the spare bedrooms of my house and I paid for it by saving up money while I was a student in college. It’s not fancy and it’s pretty small, but it suits my needs. And with the internet, the promotional possibilities are staggeringly greater than they were in, say, the 1970s. Musicians don’t need labels anymore. Quite frankly, I think the labels need us a lot more than we need them.

So there’s your bit of whatever this qualifies as for this installment. My next topic will be my various instruments. That entry will be posted the week after next, as next week is the next Lyrics Dump post.

I’m really looking forward to the next installment in this series. I’m planning to show off a picture of one of my body parts that only a select few people have ever seen.

Until then, proceed with the kicking of life’s ass.

Published March 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

The path of music has been a long one for me and is joyfully growing ever longer. Even when I wasn’t actively performing or writing, music was a big part of my life and had been since I was a child. I thought, therefore, that it might be interesting to write about some ideas I’ve had and observations I’ve made along the way. Thanks to Sean for inspiring some of the content of this blog entry. And as I think of new ideas to discuss, this may turn into a series.

First I’d like to start with a topic that’s less philosophical and more technical. I’ve been working on my singing technique since I was twelve or thirteen, which is more or less when I became interested in filk. Actually, I believe it was my interest in filk that really spurred my desire to become a better singer. There was something about filk that made me instantly passionate about it, and because of that passion I developed an urge be a filker myself. And I’ve never been one to do something halfway. When I decide to do things, I always mean to do them well.

So I joined choir in seventh grade. I was in choir again in eighth, and then in a different choir in ninth once I moved on to high school. As anyone who’s been in a choir can (I assume) attest, part of the general instruction given by the choir director is how to improve your singing technique. The director is trying to make you sound good for whatever concert is coming up, so they’re always listening for things that need polishing. My high school choir director was particularly adamant about this sort of thing, and so I definitely picked up quite a bit during that period.

At the same time as I was attending choir in school, I was also voraciously devouring as much filk as I could get my hands on. I was listening to it and memorizing it and then singing it on my own. There were no bardic circles I could join in Ohio, but that didn’t stop me from filking. And I was performing these songs on my own, I was doing my best to imitate the tone, timbre, and technique of the artists who were performing them in the recordings I had. Once I started doing that, it was only a matter of time before I began examining the stylistic choices the artists made during their performances and deciding that it would be fun to play around with other options. This is how I started to develop my own unique voice.

What’s the point of this trip down memory lane? The point is that if someone insists that you can’t be a good singer without years of formal training that you should laugh at them. It’s quite true that my method of learning will not work for everyone—but then neither will the method of learning that adamant proponents of formal lessons prefer. I just wanted to illustrate that if you want to be a singer and you can’t afford formal lessons that you don’t necessarily need them. Find a singer whose technique you admire and then imitate them. Your own voice will come to you in time.

And for the record, I have actually had some formal one-on-one vocal lessons with a voice teacher. I took one semester of these lessongs in college after I had already been singing on my own for years. I’m not sure how much I took away from that experience, but it was fun at least.

Also, I would like to point out that while I do have my own standards for my personal vocal ability, one of the reasons why I claim to be a good vocalist is because that’s what other people tell me I am. Let me state that if you are an aspiring vocalist, exterior validation is not a necessity. In my case I enjoy it because it’s nice to get feedback from people so that I know I’m on the right track. And in some cases it’s also amusing and incredibly flattering. One of the gentlemen who listened to some of “Cold September Ground” on Capstone night asked me how much formal training I had. When I told him I’d had only a semester’s worth, his eyebrows when up quite quickly.

So, why music? Or more specifically, why filk?

If there’s one thing I’ve been for my entire life, it’s a storyteller. As a child, games where I could put myself into another world as another being, often as another species, and act out that character’s story were always my favorite. I’ve been formally writing down narratives since I was eight (thankfully, my grammar and spelling have improved since then). And I’ve always loved to participate in others’ stories by reading them. I was one of those eight/nine year-olds who had their own library of books that they were actively adding to.

To me, music is a means to tell a story. It doesn’t matter what the genre, style, or instrumentation is. Music is about storytelling. So finding that I could actually do it—because for the longest time I was wondering if I was tone deaf—was like finding a puzzle piece I hadn’t realized I was missing. I can never stop being a musician. And that’s one of the many reasons why I’m constantly so ecstatic about getting to perform as part of Wax Chaotic.

So what if you feel the same way about music that I do—it’s as much a part of who you are as your arm or your genes—but you don’t think you’re any good at it? Or even worse, you’ve actually been told that you’re not good at it?

Important note: Everyone has their own standards for “good” and you can’t please everybody.

But say someone at some point told you you’re a bad musician and it’s discouraged you. What then? Give it up?

No. Fuck that. Fuck everything about that. Music is part of who you are—literally, actually. Anything that moves produces a vibration, including things like electrons. As you are comprised of things like electrons, you are quite literally made of music. So don’t give it up.

Maybe you’ll never be as wildly popular as, say, the Beatles because you lack a talent and that lack is holding you back from the bright lights and fame. But is that really what music is about? I’ve detailed what the purpose of music is for me, and everyone has their own views on the subject. Honestly I wish this blog had a bigger following so I could get some reader input on those other views. But so you might never be famous. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be a musician. You can still express whatever needs expressing through the vehicle of music. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise because you’re not “good enough”. Being “good enough” is not necessarily the point.

I have more thoughts to delve into, but I think I’ve rambled enough for this entry. So it looks like there will be a part two after all. Until then, I will leave you with this. Watch it and absorb it.

And remember the power of “unless”.

TEDxUW – Larry Smith – Why you will fail to have a great career

Published March 14th, 2012 at 9:00 am EST/EDT

Wow, it’s been quiet around here lately. Let’s fix that, shall we?

Since this blog and the entire Dragon Scale Studios website were created as part of the “Cold September Ground” project and that project is now completed, I thought it might be interesting to discuss what I’ve been up to these last few months. And perhaps more intriguing would be what I have planned for myself and for Dragon Scale Studios.

First off, if you’re here and the formatting seems a little wonky, I beg your indulgence. There are some styling things I need to take care of, and in the process of doing so things might get a bit messy around here.

After the album’s release on December 1st 2011, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I had an oh-shit moment and frantically scurried around getting everything read for Capstones. I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into anything much beyond those two dates, although I was keeping Wax Chaotic commitments in the back of my mind. So finally after Capstones, the tension broke a bit and I could relax and enjoy the holidays.

Since then I have been…being. It’s an existence with the potential for much more relaxation built into it. The last two months have had their stressful moments, but despite them I’ve been able to de-stress and get more and more of my brain back. And as my brain has started to come back, I’ve been working on things.

My first priority was to get the Kickstarter rewards out finally. And so I did. Way behind when I originally wanted to, but they say late is better than never. I took some photos of them to share!

Which reminds me. I still have some trinket boxes that need to be sent out and I haven’t been able to reach their intended recipients in order to get the addresses needed to ship them. If you’re reading this and you donated at any of the levels where the trinket box was a reward and you have NOT gotten your trinket box, please contact me! I want to get your goodies to you.

Other than that, I am currently in the midst of three freelance projects, two websites and one layout design. I am thoroughly enjoying them and I’m happy that I’m able to take them on. I was doing some freelance work during school but I was never able to take on as many projects as I wanted to because, well, school. I’m excited to release these projects into the world, and I hope that such will be possible soon.

I am also looking for a full-time job that will allow me to utilize the skills I learned in school. Because guess what? I am now officially a college graduate! I have my diploma and everything. And I will be participating in Commencement exercises this May. I’m pretty damn excited. And I keep getting thrown for a loop because at times it doesn’t feel like I graduated from high school almost seven years ago.

And I’m writing. Oh, am I writing. I’m mostly writing music, although I’m also working on some prose. One of the things I’ve been working on is actually a song commission for a friend’s Capstone project. She’s working on a video game and wanted me to create the theme song for it. This is my first song commission, and I’ve been having a blast. My Wax Chaotic partners in crime have been helping me with it and it sort of rocks. I’m very proud of this song. And I’m also pleased to announce that I will be releasing it as a single at the end of April once Capstones are over.

So, freelance projects, job hunting, music, fiction…

Not gonna lie. There’s be some time spent gaming. Skyrim, as you might recall, came out a few days after I sent my album off to the printer. I didn’t get as sucked into it as I was expecting to, amazingly enough—I chalk that up to the fact that I had other things, namely more music, that I wanted to work on—but I’ve been enjoying it.

And part of my work on more music has been scheduling concerts for Wax Chaotic. I intend to go more in depth about band-related things in another post, so for right now I’ll just say that I am indescribably excited about the people I get to work with and about the things I get to do with them.

So that about covers what I’ve been up to. Now it’s time for what I intend to do in the future.

As for myself, I intend to continue writing and creating. Over the course of the last year or so I’ve found two pieces of myself that were missing. I am a percussionist. And I am a performer. These parts of myself that have gotten next to no attention over the years and it is wonderful to finally be nurturing them.

I am also once again nurturing the part of me that loves to write lyrically. And I’m surprising myself. I’ve never really thought of myself as someone able to write music, yet now I’m doing it. Cautiously, carefully, and trying not to take anything for granted, but I’m doing it. And not only that, but people are enjoying my music. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring and a whole lot of other emotions that I have trouble putting into words. However, I can definitely, emphatically state that it’s fucking fun.

Also on my to-do list is finding a decent day job that will allow me to support myself and my family by doing things I love to do. I intend to continue taking on freelance design projects whenever I’m able. I intend to continue using my design talents to promote Wax Chaotic and our interests.

I do not, surprisingly enough, intend to sew. Sewing has been a major part of my life for years now. It’s a skill that, if employed in the right capacity, I still wouldn’t mind using to make my living. But sewing for my wedding seriously burned me out. It’s taken me some time to admit that to myself because I didn’t want it to be true. Unfortunately, however, what I want and what’s actually the reality are pretty different in this instance. And so it’s time for a break. The only sewing projects I intend to work on for the foreseeable future are existing commissions and Kickstarter corsets.

The other reason I’m going on a sewing hiatus is that I am finally fed up with the commercial pattern industry, specifically McCall’s, Simplicity, and Butterick. These companies produce barely any patterns for individuals my size and they don’t produce any costume patterns in my size. At least none that I’ve found and trust me, I’ve looked. Being that my interest in sewing is almost exclusively costuming-related, this presents a major hurdle for me.

But there’s one more reason that I need a break. And this last one’s a doozy.

For this we go back a few years. When I was a junior in high school, I began having problems with acid reflux. I self-medicated with over the counter acid reducers for years and they seemed to be managing the problem quite well. Then in 2009, my reflux began to get progressively worse and it’s been getting worse ever since. Last spring I had that cough for four and a half months that interfered with working on the album and took a toll on my sanity. (That is not hyperbole, either.) That was acid related. So my doctor sent me in for an upper endoscopy in November.

It turns out that I have a hiatal hernia. I layman’s terms, it means my stomach is protruding up through my diaphragm through the hole that the esophagus normally passes through, but through which the stomach isn’t supposed to go.

Yeah. Slight problem.

This means that corsets are a BIG no-no for me right now. Which means that I don’t want to spend any time making any more for myself if I don’t know when—or even if—I’ll be able to wear them again.

And actually that last reason for my sewing hiatus leads into the next thing I intend to do.

I’m quite tired of having a hernia, as you can probably imagine. It doesn’t actively hurt the way I’ve heard abdominal hernias do, so for that I’m quite thankful. As you’ve seen, however, it’s causing a lot of other problems. So I’ve made an appointment to talk to a surgeon about fixing the cause of those problems.

With that, I think this entry has gotten long enough. There’s my update. If you’ve cared to read it, I appreciate it. The next few blog entries I have planned will be more about the music, so if that’s mostly what you’re interested in, keep an eye out. You’ll get heads ups about them via Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time, remember to kick ass and take names. Someone has to, after all, and it might as well be you.

Published February 15th, 2012 at 10:00 am EST/EDT

This weekend was Capricon 2012 up in Wheeling, IL. It was also the start of Wax Chaotic’s 2012 road tour. I could not have asked for a better start to things.

This was my first Capricon, and also the first time I’d ever been to a four-day convention. I was surprised at the size of the convention and impressed at how smoothly things seemed to be running. I really didn’t attend many panels that weren’t music related, but just wandering around in the hallway I got the impression by all the signage and whatnot that Capricon is a well-oiled machine. That’s something that I always enjoy seeing as a convention attendee.

Most of what I did over the course of the weekend had to do with the music programming. Those in charge put together one heck of a program, which included concerts in the Capricon Café, open filk, other, longer concerts, and a (toast and) jam session on Sunday in the café. I’d like to thank everyone involved for not only putting together a great music program for the weekend, but also giving my bandmates and I a friendly, well-organized environment to get this year’s tour off to a good start. All three of us had an absolute blast. Special thanks go to Debbie Gates, one of those in charge, for inviting us to play in the café and giving us a way to justify coming to this awesome convention.

The other parts of the con that I participated in were pretty much just the consuite and the dealers’ room. I would enjoy having a wider selection of food to choose from next year, and also having more things that are less nibbly and more filling. But like the rest of the convention, the staffers in the consuite did an excellent job of organizing and then working that part of the con.

The dealers’ room had a lot of steampunk vendors. A lot. I almost want to say it had a bit too many steampunk vendors, but all of them had nifty things for sale and there was still a pretty wide variety of products that they were offering. But I know many conventions try to include a wide variety of dealers in their dealers’ rooms, so I suppose it seemed a little strange that there were so many steampunk vendors. There were also, I should note, at least two book vendors, one of whom appeared to deal exclusively or at least primarily in out of print editions, t-shirt vendors, toy vendors, game vendors, an artist with a really nifty display and some cool work, and a music vendor. Honestly, the music vendor got most of my monetary attention. This whole attending-multiple-conventions-a-year thing might be dangerous for my bank account–but I’m sure Roper won’t mind.

Aside from that, I attended a panel on hair braiding. That was fun and informative, even if everyone was a little not-quite-awake-yet.

I’m hoping we’ll be invited back to perform at Capricon next year. Either way, I’d like to go back for another four days of awesomeness.

Published January 3rd, 2012 at 10:31 pm EST/EDT

Fine salutations at the dawn of another year, everyone! I hope that your holidays went as well as you could have wished them to. I’ve been enjoying the time to relax with my friends and family, but the wheel rolls ever onward. As such, it’s time to start looking ahead to what 2012 will bring. And if you’re a Mailing List subscriber, this information will seem slightly familiar.

Right now I would love your input. If you’ve been to any of my non-convention shows with my band, Wax Chaotic, you know that we like to raffle things off at them. It’s a chance for you to win prizes and it’s fun for us, too. Well this year we’re adding some new things to the raffle list and I need your help.

I would like to raffle off cards that will entitle the lucky winner to a free download of a track from “Cold September Ground”, but I want to know which of the album’s thirteen tracks are the most popular before I go generating a bunch of codes. So if you would be so kind as to go vote for your favorite track on the Facebook poll, I would greatly appreciate it. It will only take a moment, and you’ll be helping me out a great deal. You can find the poll here.

If you want to listen to the full tracks, they are available on my Bandcamp page. The player on the DSS website is not secure, so the samples there are no longer the full tracks.

I would really appreciate some input here, so please vote. It won’t take much of your time to share your opinion (although I suppose if you’re like my sister it might take you a minute or two to narrow down which one to vote for). Either way, thanks for helping out.

And lastly, keep an eye on the DSS Schedule page for upcoming Wax Chaotic performances! We’ll be bringing more live music your way starting in February.

Published December 13th, 2011 at 4:20 pm EST/EDT

No, the two really aren’t related, but they happened on the same weekend. Therefore, they get blogged about in the same entry.

First off, Friday the 9th was the day of Capstone presentations. There were several other students aside from me who presented that evening. I was unfortunately unable to get around to see any of the other projects, so I hope things went well for everyone.

For those who don’t know, the way this worked is that I set up in my presentation space and attendees wandered around from room to room to look at all of the projects. It was an evening largely comprised of talking to people, some of whom I knew and some I didn’t, answering questions. It was much more fun than I’m making it sound.

Then at around 7pm, Sean, Ally, Ashley, and I headed downstairs into the auditorium to perform some songs from the album. The audience was wonderful and, as always, I had a lot of fun being on stage in front of people and singing my heart out. My friends Beth and Michael were kind enough to take video of the performance, which you can view on my new YouTube channel:
       Wet Velvet
       Fall from Grace
       9 Lives

And of course I have to thank the School of Informatics tech crew, who were, as always, wonderfully helpful.

Unfortunately, neither Crystal nor Gabrielle were able to make it that evening. Crystal was sick and Gabrielle is off kicking life’s ass on the road. (She has a really nifty blog over here.) But I was fortunate enough to have the help of my wonderfully talented husband Sean and my wonderfully talented friends Ally and Ashley. They stepped in pretty late in the game so that the show could go on, and I can’t thank them enough for it. And incidentally, you may recognize Ally’s name from the credits for flute on “The Garden” and vocal arrangements on “The Singing of Dragons”.

After that there was delicious, delicious pasta at Some Guys.

Honestly, I wish the day and evening could have lasted longer.

But time stands still for no (wo)man, and so the following day it was time to head down to Star Base Indy. Star Base Indy is a local science-fiction/Star Trek themed convention held on the eastern side of town. I’m familiar with the hotel from InConJunction, which is held in July, so it was a little odd being in the hotel when it was only thirty degrees outside.

This was my first year attending SBI. There wasn’t really much in the way of programming that interested me, but it was still fun to hang out and talk to people and to see all the creative costumes that the congoers had to offer. And there were many of them. I’ve never seen so many Klingons in my life (and it was awesome).

Despite not attending any of the programming, I can say that the program head did an amazing job. You may remember this woman from such other endeavors as “Kiss Me, Jak Frost”. So I may be a little biased. But nevertheless, it doesn’t change my opinion. Also, from a panelist’s perspective, Judy was wonderful to work with.

Crystal managed to kick the bug that had been bothering her, and on Saturday evening, she and I moderated open filk. I gather there hasn’t been much filking at SBI in past years, so the panel wasn’t very well attended. But Crys and I had fun and those who attended seemed to enjoy themselves. Plus another of my friends of whom I don’t see enough stopped by, and I got to hang out with her afterward.

The next morning, it was time for Wax Chaotic to take command of the bridge—er, stage. Well, both, really. They had constructed a really nifty set on the stage in main programming, and it resembled the bridge of the Enterprise. Well, sort of the Enterprises. I got the impression that it was an amalgamation of a few of them. Either way, it was pretty damn nifty to perform on the bridge of a star ship.

What wasn’t as nifty was that our concert was a ten am on Sunday, but I don’t hold that against madam Judy. She had a lot of balls to juggle, and that time slot was where the one with the Wax Chaotic label just happened to come down. I do hope that in the future we will be able to secure time slots that aren’t so early, however. Even if I do enjoy having an excuse to sleep in late for a couple of days after the convention is over.

Despite the unfortunate hour, the concert was a lot of fun. I saw toe tapping amongst the audience members, which is something that’s always really awesome for a musician to see. The lovely program head even took time out her busy schedule to come see us. And as an added bonus, the—well, I don’t remember what his official title was, but Rob Pyatt gave us an awesome introduction.

I hope to return to SBI again in the future and perform again. I don’t know that I will be going back next year, however, as I heard they are moving back to their accustomed time of Thanksgiving weekend, and, well…by that point in the year my sanity might benefit more from the atmosphere at ChamBanaCon. But we’ll see. Either way, I wish the SBI folks all the best and hope that anyone reading who’s into sci-fi will consider giving this convention some patronage. I think you’ll really enjoy all it has to offer you.

Published November 29th, 2011 at 4:09 pm EST/EDT

This year was my first year attending ChamBanaCon, a little relax-a-con located in central Illinois. The idea is that you go to the convention and spend the whole weekend…relaxing. I had heard about it last year, but being in the middle of school and post-Thanksgiving stupor, plus not having enough money to go meant that I had to miss out. This year, however, Wax Chaotic was invited to perform by the lovely conchair, Brenda Sutton, and it’s hard to say no to the conchair. Especially when she’s Brenda. So I got to experience my first relax-a-con, and let me tell you, folks, I needed it.

ChamBanaCon had your usual convention attractions—panels, dealers room, consuite, room parties, banquet, filking, games, and variegated silliness all throughout the weekend. I thought I’d post a review of the con as I’ve been trying to do whilst touring with Wax Chaotic (I totally forgot to write one for OVFF, so I’ll do so now in two words: It. Rocked.) to try to encourage new people to attend next year’s con. Here, then, is my review of ChamBanaCon broken up by subject and listed in no particular order.

There really isn’t much I can say about this facet of the con, as I only went to one panel. That panel, however, was awesome. We had a NASA scientist talk to us and show us things. He even showed us some photographs—actual photographs—of the landscapes of Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Several of them were even taken, like, on the planet, as opposed to from orbit. I didn’t know they had photos like that, so I thought it was particularly mind-blowing. I gather that the rest of the panels were enjoyable, but as I said, I didn’t go to any of them.

Consuite and gaming
The consuite and the games room were one and the same, which I thought was fabulous. Sitting at a table Friday evening, munching foodz and drinking soda whilst playing a card game and intermittently carrying on conversations with total strangers, I suddenly realized why I felt instantly and totally at ease. See, I’ve been going to Regional Gatherings held by Mensa groups since I was quite young. These RGs, as Mensans call them, are engineered to be what ChamBanaCon is—it’s a weekend where you go and hang out with your friends, some of whom you only see once a year at that event, and catch up, be silly, relax, play games, and maybe take in a panel or two if the mood strikes you. I don’t quite get that feeling at other cons because they just aren’t as low-key, so it was nice to find a con where I did. This in and of itself is enough of a reason for me to want to go back next year even if I didn’t know that the guests would include Tanya Huff, Michael Longcor, and the Passavoys.

Phread and crew did a wonderful job of always making sure there were enough drinks and noms to keep a peckish congoer going, too. They even provided some crock-pot meal-like items, though I remember the selection being a bit slim for breakfast. There was, however, always coffee.

While we’re on the subject of food, this seems like a good thing to talk about next. We did not go to the banquet. Instead, we went out to Miko Restaurant, a local teppanyaki/sushi/sit-down-and-eat-delicious-food place. The portions were generous, expertly prepared, and reasonably priced, and also just frickin’ gorgeous to sit there and stare at, the staff were friendly and went out of their way to be helpful, the building and atmosphere were comfortable and very conducive to eating and enjoying the company of friends, and the entire experience was overall fabulous. I would seriously drive two hours, which is about how far away they are from my house, just to enjoy another meal at Miko. We went there not once, but twice, and I want to eat there as often as possible during next year’s ChamBanaCon. If you enjoy Asian cuisine and live within a reasonable distance to Miko (note: To me that is apparently within two hours’ drive) go there, and go there often. Noms.

Room parties
The only one I was aware of was thrown by Barfleet, and I did not go. I went swimming at midnight instead. However, I gather it was fairly small, but pretty rockin’. Party on, dudes.

Dealers room
There were corsets and awesome little glass figurines and a Smith and books and games and various wonders to behold. I was sadly unable to spend any money there this year. But it was an awesome arrangement full of lots of vendors with some really neat stuff. I hope to be able to do more than window shop next year.

Art show
I did not go to this either—actually, I spent the majority of my weekend hanging out in the consuite playing games with my adventuring party—but I gather that it was less than well attended. Since I think art shows were awesome, I thought I would mention the less-than-optimal attendance so that the situation can hopefully be rectified next year. I mean, come on. One of the artists had a robot burlesque piece (that a member of my party swiftly snapped up). Awesome? I think so.

I only went to this for a little bit on Friday night. I’ve never been a big fan of attending chaos filks, which seems to be the way that Midwesterners prefer to do things, and I’ve finally decided that if it’s going to be chaos, I’d really rather just not go. It’s nothing against any of the attendees, at least not at this convention. The time I spent there Friday night was pleasant and enjoyable, and full of filky goodness. I just don’t work that well in chaos filk, so I elected to stay away on Saturday night and play games and go swimming and then go play more games and then go pass out instead. I do gather, however, that the open filk experience at ChamBanaCon was an enjoyable one, so don’t let the fact that I personally do not enjoy chaos filk in general lead you to believe that this con mistreats filkers in any way.

Since they’re music-related, the two concerts I attended are getting filed under this section. The first concert I attended, I attended because I was in it with Wax Chaotic. Our audience was great, and apparently not shy about giving feedback. My bandmates reported being told throughout the course of the weekend that our music was enjoyable. This is, of course, always nice to hear. I also had a lot of fun performing this concert (due largely to the epic win created by my bandmates, of course), even though not having a sound system was a little weird. The room was small enough and the acoustics such that it didn’t matter, however. It was actually fun being able to belt things without having to worry about putting strain on the audience’s ears or the sound tech’s nerves.

I also attended Tom Smith‘s concert, but I shouldn’t need to write at any length about what sort of experience that was (hint: Awesome).

Variegated silliness
There were giant, plush bananas standing to greet you as you entered the consuite. ‘Nuff said.

Hotel facilities
This hotel seemed to have one or two minor foibles—the skylight over the pool had a leak, which was made apparent by the rain that started on Saturday, and the toilet in our room had an internal leak that meant it was dripping and refilling pretty regularly—but everyone has their off days and I don’t feel a need to hold either of those two things against the hotel. The staff were friendly, the beds comfortable, the public restrooms very convenient to the con space, and the building itself very clean and well-kept. It was also right off the freeway and within walking distance of a gas station, which was very convenient on Saturday morning when I had to procure some Pepto Bismol for my sick husband. My overall experience at this hotel leads me to look forward to coming back there for ChamBanaCon 42.

So, my overall review.

ChamBanaCon is awesome. Go there next year. Bring friends. Join us.

And remember to always know where your towel is.

Published October 27th, 2011 at 2:53 pm EST/EDT

So, it’s been a while since I last posted. I’ve been busy! The album is very near completion, and I’ve been working on it like a madwoman these last few weeks. My self-imposed deadline for having all of the project’s various components off to the printer is November 10th. So here’s hoping.

In the meantime, I wanted to plug the next milestone for “Cold September Ground”. You might remember that the website says pre-orders for the album begin on November 1st. This is indeed the case! That’s not that far away, so mark your calendars. And remember that the first one hundred pre-orders come with a free* limited edition 11″ / 17″ poster!

And as a reminder, the release date for the album is December 1st. Backers who contributed to the Early Bird package and up will get free digital downloads of every track on the album starting November 24th. I’ll be contacting you with more information regarding that.

And lastly, I am in the process of working on another long-term project. The Muses have been speaking to me, and so I’ve been writing some new songs over the course of the last ever. Some of you have already heard one or two of them in sets with my band, Wax Chaotic. The rest of the songs are still largely in the works at the moment, and I intend to really bend my will to them once I graduate and have my brain back.

What does this mean for you? Well, I like to show off my music, and so I’ve come up with a plan. Over the course of the next few months, keep an eye out for blog entries tagged “Lyrics Dump”. I’ll be sharing the lyrics of new songs as I get them ready to be published. Then sometime during the summer of 2012, voting will open. You can think of the voting like pre-ordering. Each vote will cost $1. Each song that gets at least ten votes will be recorded and made available for download. As I said, voting is like pre-ordering, so voters will be automatically entitled to download whatever song(s) they voted for. After that, each track will be available for digital purchase for $1.

If I were the only person who would be involved in this project, I’d just say to hell with it and just go ahead and record the singles to offer for sale. But since I’m going to have to involve other musicians—transcriptionists, accompanists, vocalists, et cetera—I would like to know that I have a way to compensate them for their time before they dedicate it to the project.

I’m going to try and work more of the non-CSG songs into sets with Wax Chaotic, so keep an eye out for our shows. The next scheduled one, by the by, is at Chambanacon on Thanksgiving weekend. We hope to see you there!

It’s hard to believe that my printer deadline is right around the corner. I’m so excited to show everyone all the hard work that’s gone into this album, and I hope you’ll get as much enjoyment out of it as my friends and I have over the course of the last year. And don’t forget if you’re local to the Indianapolis area to come check out the School of Informatics Capstones, where I and lots of other awesome people will be presenting our Capstone projects. We’ll be in the IT Building at 535 W. Michigan Street on Friday, December 9th from 4 to 8pm. It’s going to be one heck of an evening.

Until next time, signing off.

*Unfortunately there is some fine print here. The poster is free, but I’ll need you to pay for shipping. Sorry, folks!