Sunday, 4 October 2015

Ten Song September

Social media is full of people doing challenges. Sometimes these are for charity or to promote some cause, but some are just a form of motivation to achieve a personal goal. Some of my friends on Tsu were doing some for September and I decided to do a musical one to get me playing more guitar. I've done a few music videos before, but I have been wanting to do them more often.

My target was to do at least ten of these during the month. I wasn't going to worry too much about production quality as I'm concentrating more on just playing these days.

About a Girl is a song I've played a lot at pub sessions, so it was an easy one to kick things off. Recorded in the bedroom on my phone as my kids take over the study these days.

Another personal goal has been to write my own songs. I've had a few ideas, but never seem to get around to developing them. I wrote a post on Tsu a while back that ended with the line "I came for the money, but stayed for the people". That seemed to resonate with people and I was inspired to try writing a song around it. It quickly evolved into The Tsu Song. I used a fairly standard set of chords to keep it simple and got it recorded. That took longer than planned as I kept messing up. Even this take went wrong, hence the cussing at the end.

Skullcrusher Mountain is a song by the great Jonathan Coulton that I enjoy playing. This was a spur of the moment recording as I wanted to get another one done that day after having issues doing another. Another bedroom phone recording.

There are lots of on-line guitar tutorials around these days. They are a great way to get you playing something new. I like this series on Premier Guitar. They have a neat web player than show the music as it plays the backing track. I'd just been to see Foo Fighters, so this seemed appropriate. I had tried it before.

Sometimes I'll be listening to music and think 'I could play that!' Holiday by Green Day was one such song. It is fairly easy, but I looked up some tab anyway to speed things up. My daughter plays bass and had played this, so we decided to do it together.

I was sharing my posts about this challenge with some fellow Tsuvians. I put out a call for requests and someone asked for some Billy Joel. Still Rock and Roll to me is an old favourite of mine. It didn't take long to learn.

A lot of my early guitar experience was having classical lessons. I don't play it much these days, but I still try it now and again. I find it a completely different challenge to playing rock. This is a piece called Alman from my old Grade 5 book.

On a trip into London I decided to treat myself to some new effects pedal. I don't have very many and want to learn how to use them properly. I got an overdrive and a wah. I decided to jam a little demo to show them off.

Many years ago, before we had a web full of cool free guitar lessons I used to buy guitar magazines. Some of these came with a CD of backing tracks. One of those was for the Paul Weller song Sunflower. I'd tried it a few times, but never recorded it before. I used my new overdrive on this.

The final song of the month was Porcupine Tree's Lazarus. This was done the day I saw the band's Steven Wilson play an amazing show at the Royal Albert Hall. He did this song, but much better of course. He also played another, Open Car, that I've also covered.

I consider this challenge to be a success. I had hoped to do more new songs, but limited time prevented that. However, I did write my first song! I'm thinking I should do another challenge that will involve writing more songs.

For October I'm challenging myself to just learn some more classic riffs to expand my musical vocabulary. There are certain tunes that every guitarist ought to be able to play, but that I just have never learned. I don't know if I will record these. We shall see.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Tsu are you?

This is not a post about my music, but I wanted to write about this topic and it's my blog :)

I've played around with various social sites over the years. Some, such as and Multiply, don't exist any more. Eventually I got onto Facebook and Twitter, although I'm not a big user of either. My favoured site for some time has been Google+. This is due to a combination of the features and the people on there. There are lots of cool tech and music folk there. It also integrates with other Google services I use.

Social is obviously big money. Facebook are making billions and spending them on any new companies that might compete. Google don't seem to be directly making money from Google+ as it doesn't have any ads (yet), but they have other income.

There have been various sites that promise to share what they earn with their users. One of the latest is tsū. They say they will take 10% of the profit and share the rest amongst users. Somehow they work out who deserves what (perhaps based on views, likes etc). There's a pyramid aspect as the person who recruited a user gets a portion of that user's income too, over multiple generations in diminishing amounts. Basically each level gets a third of the previous level. This guide explains it all far better than I can.

So, there is an incentive to build a big network of new users. Some people have thousands, but mine is more modest. I've managed to recruit 155 people who have another 92 children of their own.

That seems fairly good, but it's not enough to earn me much money. I get a few cents per day from some combination of what I post and what my network makes for me. Other people are earning several dollars per day. You need to build up $100 before you can get paid, and that will take me years. The best I can really hope is that I make enough to donate to one of the charities on the site. You can send some of your money to any user who enables that feature.

I'm really just playing around with the site to see how it works. There are not many famous people on there. There are a few bands, sports-persons and celebrities, but not many really big names and few of them are of interest to me. I have still found a number of interesting people to follow, including some cool musicians. You can see them in my following list there. Unfortunately it's one of those sites you can't really explore until you sign up. That's always annoying, but seems to be common.

I think that the site is missing a few things. If you follow hundreds of people then it's difficult to handle the feed as there's no way to group people. The only privacy levels are friends only or public. And of course it's overrun by people who are desperately just trying to make money by spamming every post in sight. I get loads of friend requests that I just decline as I have no interest in those people or in just boosting my numbers. I'm mostly posting links that I would also post on Google+ with some of my photos that I'm happy to be public. There is not really enough compelling content to keep me coming back unless something changes soon and I have nothing better to do.

How did I build my network? Of course I posted my link on those sites I generally use and got a few people that way, but I don't like to spam my friends. I found tsumatic which is a place to post your link, but I don't think that has done much for me. I also found tsuforum as a place to discuss the site. There's a sort of competition running there where the people with the most posts each day get new sign-ups. I have no idea how they do it, but most of mine seem to come from places like Morocco.

In conclusion, it's an interesting site with some potential. Don't go there expecting to make loads of money unless you have the potential to recruit loads of people and can use it all day. It's fun, but not essential.

If you want to play then please use my link as that will give me a small boost in earnings that may keep me visiting. I don't expect to retire on that.

Monday, 17 November 2014

It's not about the gear

Guitarists love gear. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a common condition. Lots of people are on the quest for Ultimate Tone (whatever that may be). They talk about it on podcasts and have endless debates on forums. I personally have fairly limited experience of different gear. I've owned 2 electric guitars and sold one of them years ago. I've had a few cheap amplifiers, but am now fairly happy with my Roland Cube 80x and Belcat 20r valve amp. I've not had many effects pedals, but my Zoom G3X is doing the job for me now and giving me some experience of what I actually need.

Would I like more gear? Of course I would, but do I need it? I feel I have to justify any purchases, so most of what I have bought in the last few years has been to allow me to play in a band situation. Previously I played almost entirely at home and wasn't even recording. I'm hoping the current band will play some gigs next year. Come that day I could probably justify having another guitar as a back up and to give some more tonal options. I'll go into detail on that nearer the time.

So, why do people obsess so much over gear? We would all like to be better players, but it's easy to blame playing issues on the gear. The way I think of it is that most of our guitar heroes who grew up in the 50s and 60s had to learn with guitars and other equipment that we would consider pretty bad. In many cases they had to build it themselves or modify what they could find. Even when they could afford something better the options were limited and quality was probably a lot more variable than now. They just had to get on with it and made lots of amazing music.

Now you have the choice of hundreds of different guitars with huge ranges from each major manufacturer, thousands of effects pedals etc and at prices from pocket money to eye-watering. It's probably fairly hard to find anything being sold that is really bad as competition and mass production methods mean that quality is consistent. We are spoiled for choice and I think the excess of options leads to confusion and stress over making the wrong choice. Those are general problems in modern society. 1st world problems.

I could buy lots of cheap gear, but I'd rather save up for something special and I feel that I need to be a better player to justify having the good stuff. I believe that what I have is probably good enough for the performing and recording I want to do and I plan to invest time and money in playing. Having a family means there are other priorities when it comes to the budget.

I was actually thinking of starting a podcast that talks more about playing than gear. The much missed Six String Bliss had a good mix in that respect. I may look around for someone who would be up for co-hosting a show, but I'd like to have interviews with players of all levels. I've no experience of this sort of recording, but I have a few friends I could ask for advice.

All opinions are very welcome.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Life vs guitar

By now most people have heard of the 10,000 hour theory that you need that much practice at anything to achieve success (or something like that). Malcolm Gladwell cites +The Beatles as an example as they put in a lot of time in Hamburg before they made it big. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have done the hours and still not made it as they didn't get lucky or perhaps they didn't practice the right things.

I've been playing guitar on and off for nearly 40 years and I'm not sure I've played for 10,000 hours yet. That equates to about 40 minutes per day, but I've had long periods where I didn't play much or just didn't progress much. I would play the same old songs rather than learning new ones. Back then you had to get books or magazines if you were not learning by ear. Now you can find a lesson for just about any song on-line. That's a facility I'm making a lot of use of.

These days I play for several hours a week rather than watching television as my evening relaxation. The obstacle to that is that I have two teenage children who also want to use the study/studio for playing music or games. I have to grab some time once they have been sent to bed and at weekends when they are all out doing stuff. I'm not logging my time, but wonder if I will ever get to 10,000 hours, if that even matters. I'm trying to apply myself to improving my playing using the lessons on the +ArtistWorks Paul Gilbert Rock Guitar course. I reckon that has done a lot of my technique since I started in January. I've had a dozen video responses from Paul where he has picked up on various issues to keep me on the right course. I'll get to see him on stage next month when Mr. Big play in London.

I've still playing with the blues/rock band. I have been doing the singing, but we have agreed that we need someone with a better voice. We're in the process of auditioning people. We need to find someone whose ambitions are compatible with ours as well as having the talent. We only really aspire to playing a few pub gigs each year. Ideally we want someone who also plays guitar to fill out some of the songs that need it. I'd still like to at least do backing vocals and maybe sing a couple of songs. I'm getting more confidence at playing lead guitar. I'm trying to learn a few of the original solos to start with, but will look to do my own variations. With luck we could gig early next year, if not before. We need a few more songs in the set first and to get them 'polished'.

On top of this I'd like to do more recording at home. I've had some technical issues with this lately, but I've tried doing a fresh Linux Mint install at the weekend that seems to be working better so far. My daughter wants to record a rock violin piece, so we'll aim to do that soon. Stay tuned...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Radio Guitar

I may have mentioned that I listen to a lot of podcasts on my long drive to work. I listened to the radio in the past, but got bored with that. I went through burning podcasts to CD to playing them from my phone once I had a way to plug it in. I listen to shows about music, science, technology, comedy and other assorted shows that take my interest.

Since the demise of the mighty +Six-String Bliss: The Guitar Podcast I have sought ways to fill the guitar-shaped hole. Some of the community members have been inspired to start their own shows, so I listen to:

None of these could be called regular, but the guys are doing them for fun when they have the time.

There are also a few others that I've found:
There are probably more. A few I've listened to are no longer active, but you may be able to find archives out there. There's probably enough to keep you busy for years.

I only just learned about the one from GAK. Will check it out soon.

Update 25/11/14: I've also started listening to the show from Wampler Pedals. They tend to ramble off-topic, but it's fun. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Still got the blues

I've been keeping fairly busy musically. The band I mentioned a while back is starting to get somewhere. I'd played a few times with the bassist, but last week we had a rehearsal session at a local studio with a drummer. That really makes a difference and I found myself really going for it on the solos. The new tube amp was sounding great. I used a few effects on my Zoom G3X for variety. We're building a set list of covers. I thought we needed another guitar to fill the sound on some of them and we may have someone joining us next time. Stay tuned. We need to come up with a band name. We're a bunch of older guys playing blues, classic rock and southern boogie. Could probably come up with some pun on that.

I'm still doing the +ArtistWorks course, but need to get back to working through the lessons and submitting some videos. I ought to find some areas of my soloing to get suggestions on. I also have some extra learning material after winning a competition by +Licklibrary - Online Guitar Lessons. I now have DVDs for the styles of Billy Gibbons and Gary Moore. I've started on the former and am incorporating it already. I'm playing most evenings. I need to learn more songs for the band as well as developing my general playing. It's good to have a focus now as I was lacking direction between bands.

The new PC is mostly working fine. I've had some audio issues. The sample rate for the interface does not always get properly initialised, so audio ends up playing too slow. I had a workaround until it seemed to sort itself. I think there may have been a driver update. Unfortunately the problem came back this week. I've not being doing any recording lately, but I'll need to get this fixed somehow.

To try and get the PC nearer to silent I purchased a NoFan CR-80EH fanless cooler. It's an interesting design that should work on my 65W CPU, but when I got it installed I found that the temperature was going over the specified maximum, even with no load. I could only check this from the BIOS anyway. I also had some issues installing it. I had some contact with the manufacturers in Korea, but they couldn't come up with any answers, so I've sent it back. I'll probably get something else with a quiet fan. The AMD cooler is just loud enough to be annoying.

When I do get to some recording I have a new set of plug-ins from Linux DSP. They were on special offer for a while and I couldn't resist. I'm still learning to use things like EQ and compression, but these come with detailed manuals that I need to read.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Bigger and better

A while back I blogged about my PC. It has served me well for about seven years, but has been showing signs of age lately. There's some hardware issue that causes it to lock up at times and it seemed to struggle with modern web video, e.g. HD Youtube or G+ video hangouts. Things have moved on a lot since I built it, so I finally pulled the trigger on a new build.

I've gone with AMD processors in the past and sort of know what to expect from them, so I went with the A8 6500. The price is reasonable and it's a 65W chip which should run a little cooler than some of the others. I've used nVidia graphics that came on the previous motherboards, but this processor incorporates Radeon graphics that should be supported on Linux.

Motherboard is a Gigabyte GA-F2A88X-D3H (eh?). I wanted a couple of PCI slots for my old cards. This seemed to have all the connections I need, but won't support any old IDE drives. I didn't order an optical drive as I was thinking of re-using my old one, but it won't work with this. It's not expensive to but a new one, a big change since I paid about £150 for a DVD/CD-RW combo drive many moons ago.

I've gone for 8GB of memory for now. It's from Crucial, who have a good reputation. I've never had memory with heatsinks on before. I don't plan to overclock, but I want everything to be stable.

Storage is via a 120GB Kingston SSD for the operating system and a 2TB Seagate for data.

I paid more than previously for a case to try and keep the noise down. The Cooler Master Silencio 550 has foam on the sides and a door on the front to contain the noise. Power is from a Be Quiet L8 350W PSU.

All the parts came from, who I have used in the past and have no problems with.

It was pretty easy to put together. It's easier in a large case. I like the screw-less drive mountings. It's a shame nobody has come up with a simpler way to wire up the case switches and lights. There was a moment of drama when a glass lampshade above the dining table dropped into the open PC. Luckily it didn't break, but it gave me a shock. It's a new light, but it looks like the glue failed on that shade. Something else to get fixed.

I installed my old M-Audio Delta 66 audio interface and my Freeview TV card.

Installing Kubuntu Linux from a flash drive did not take long. Everything is working nicely. Linux hardware support is really good these days. It's probably easier than Windows. I have an issue with the sound distorting that I still need to investigate.

So is this PC really quiet? It's certainly quieter than the old one, but not silent. I used the standard AMD CPU cooler and I can hear that. It may be annoying enough to replace, but I don't really hear anything else. I've run a few tests on the things that were stressing the old machine and this one has plenty of spare capacity.I'm hoping it will last me a good few years. I still need to set up the recording apps. I'll be using the KXStudio suite again.

I need to copy files over from the old machine. I tried it over the network using both Samba and SSH/FTP, but both were incredibly slow. What I could do is to just mount the old drive. That should be the quickest way. I intend to keep the old PC as a spare in the study. My kids use the computer a lot for schoolwork.