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Solar Eclipse Bike Ride
August 21, 2017

I took a twenty-mile bike ride during the solar eclipse on Monday. I can't say it was anything spectacular — I didn't need to turn on my bike lights or even take my sunglasses off — but it was interesting to ride in reduced light. I took this photo during the peak of the eclipse when the Sun broke through the clouds. What you're seeing is approximately 17% of the Sun's light.

The Holidays In Music — How Was It Done?
August 9, 2017

Since tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the release of my most recent CD, The Holidays In Music, I thought it would be fun to share a little about the process behind making the album, which includes revealing some intriguing information and explaining why it took hundreds of hours produce.
Most of you have heard the term MIDI, such as when a polka musician says, "I have a MIDI accordion." Since the mid 1980's, many polka bandleaders have used MIDI accordions which can produce the sounds of other instruments, from pianos and vibraphones to trumpets and flutes. The sounds of those instruments are usually stored on a card or a chip inside a sound module. My recording studio used to have several sound modules hooked up to a digital piano. Over the years, I used these modules to add the sounds of many different instruments to my recordings.

Now, let's fast-forward to around the turn of the century, to the propogation of virtual instruments. Instead of storing the sounds of instruments on cards or chips, they're now storable on computer hard drives and accessible as software programs. Since computers can hold a lot more data than a single card or chip, the quality and realism of the sounds of the instruments evolved markedly. Developers of virtual instruments started taking audio samples of real violins, real pianos, real guitars, real choirs, and everything else you could imagine, and creating virtual instrument libraries from them. For musicians and composers using computers in their studios, the era of the MIDI sound module was over.

Fast-forward to today. Computers are wickedly fast and powerful, and virtual instrument libraries have evolved right along with them. Since storage space is no longer an issue, virtual instrument libraries can be many gigabytes in size. The reason a virtual instrument library may be so large in size is because it contains thousands of audio samples of a real instrument playing not just different notes, but many different articulations and volumes for those notes. All of this highly detailed, recorded material results in virtual instruments that sound so real, only experts can tell they're not.

Almost all of the music for television shows and commercials these days is composed with virtual instruments. Blockbuster movies still hire composers who record with real orchestras, but lesser movies will use virtual instruments to create their sound tracks.

The Holidays In Music was created entirely from virtual instruments. Every note of every instrument came off of my studio's computer. The drums, the tuba, the bass guitar, the string sections, the trumpets and saxes — even the accordions — they're all virtual. Only the vocals on this recording were real. If you're thinking to yourself, "No way! That can't be possible because the instruments sounded so real!", welcome to the world of virtual instruments — and thank you for the compliment!

So why did it take sooooo many hours to create the music for The Holidays In Music? Using virtual instruments successfully is not the same as simply playing sounds in a sound module. Virtual instruments are not just banks of instruments like you'd find in a MIDI sound module. Virtual instruments are software programs that offer many in-depth options, allowing you to choose, shape, and manipulate the sounds to create ultra-realistic performances. This requires knowledge of each instrument as well as experience in many aspects of music production (composing, editing, engineering, etc.)

Here's a small taste of the technical expertise required to create just one of the violin tracks in The Love of a Father...

I used a $120 virtual violin library — specifically a sordino patch with the mod wheel mapped to CC11. After performing the parts in real time, I opened up the piano roll mode to edit the notes, their velocities, and their start and end points of the notes to trigger legato transitions where desired. I opened up both the CC11 expression and CC7 volume controller lanes to draw in adjustments to the dynamics. I drew in pitch bends in another lane, and assigned glissandos to a key switch. I then spent a few hours spent editing and making additional tweaks to control details such as bow position, rebowing, vibrato speed and style, and round-robin sample triggering.

One track down — another 182 instrument tracks and 300+ hours to go.

Not all virtual instruments I used were as detailed as the violin above, but every virtual instrument had to be wisely selected, appropriately played, and painstakingly edited to create a realistic performance.
Guitars, mandolins, banjos, and basses have to be edited for hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and fret noises. Brass, woodwinds, and strings have to be edited for articulations (sustain, marcato, staccatissimo, etc.) expression, legato phrasing, and dynamics. This is the main reason the album took roughly 370 hours to create.

Example: To give Hail to the Spirit of Liberty that huge concert band sound, I used over twenty patches/sounds from eight different virtual instrument libraries:

Patch (Sound/Instrument)
Chris Hein
Horns Compact
Trombone Ensemble
Trumpet A & Trumpet C
Concert & Marching Band 2
Baritone Horn Group 2
Euphonium Group 3
Flute Group 2
Piccolo Group 2
Tuba Group 2
Instant Orchestra
Reedy Winds and Attack & Clarinet Winds Attack
Personal Orchestra 4
Basic Orchestra percussion - Triangle
IK Multimedia
Miroslav Philharmonik Orchestra
Bass Drums
Clarinets 2
Clarinets 1 LP
French Horns 1
French Horns Stacc
Piccolo 1
Tuba Stacc
Native Instruments
Battery 3
Marching Band Kit Cymbal
Kontakt Factory Library
Snare Drum
Session Horns Pro
Custom brass trio (x2)

A significant number of hours also went into the songwriting, arranging, auditioning and recording of vocalists, and mixing.

The Holidays In Music was kind of a proving ground for me to discover what I am capable of as a songwriter, vocal producer, and as a virtual instrument composer. I'll be going back to using real instruments on my next recording, but virtual instruments will remain an integral part of my music productions.

Speaking of my next recording, this winter I'll be collaborating with David Austin to create a solid, driving polka album which I estimate will be released in time for the 2018 festival season. After that, I'll be writing and recording a contemporary single that will feature a phenomenally talented vocalist from Illinois. These recordings will be released on CD as well as digital download.

Attention Venues: Book NOW for Oktoberfest 2018
July 25, 2017

With the Oktoberfest season being the busiest time of year for polka bands, I cannot stress enough how important it is that venues book their polka entertainment early — preferably a full year in advance if possible. From mid September through mid October, there are literally more Oktoberfest events going on than there are musicians available to cover them. Every year my email in-box is flooded with last-minute inquiries by venues desperate to find live polka music for their Oktoberfest events. Sometimes we will receive up to ten inquiries for the same day.

If you want to lock in a good band for your Oktoberfest event, book the band a full year in advance. The longer you wait to hire, the more likely you are to end up with an incomplete band, a band of questionable quality, or no band at all. I am going to do something at the risk of receiving a little backlash from my fellow bandleaders, which is to publicly reveal one of the hidden reasons why it's important to book early for Oktoberfest.

Most people assume a band is made up of the same musicians all the time. That is not the case. Almost every musician in the polka music circuit operates as a private contractor, meaning they are free to take any job they want with any bandleader. Musicians typically only work with the same two or three bands, and will take the first job they are offered.
The graphic below shows how the musician hiring fields overlap among bands, ranging from professional to amateur.

During the normal course of the year, bandleaders can almost always hire the same musicians they normally use, but, during the busy Oktoberfest season when all bandleaders are hiring musicians for the same days, the musician pool can run dry. The last hired bandleader will either have to scrape up whatever remaining musicians he can find, or turn the job offer down.

To gaurantee the best live music for your Oktoberfest event, book the band you want early — at least 6-12 months in advance — so that the bandleader can pick all of his regular musicians out of the musician pool before they get hired away by other bandleaders. If you wait until August and September to start hiring bands for September and October, you're really rolling the dice!


I'm adding a paragraph to this article to emphasize the importance of prompt communication and action while hiring bands for your Oktoberfest event.

Every year, I receive multiple inquiries for the same prime dates during the Oktoberfest season. If you are the first venue to inquire of my band's services, I will give you the first opportunity to hire us, however, that window of opportunity can end up being very short – sometimes no more than 24 hours – if other inquiries start coming in from other venues. I can't leave those other venues hanging for too long as I wait to hear back from you. I will always try to grant you as much time as you need to make a decision about hiring us, but during the highly-competitive Oktoberfest hiring season, 24 hours is all I may be able to give until
I begin entertaining the other offers that have come in.

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