| ► Short
Eclipse Bike Ride
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.
Holidays In Music — How Was It Done?
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.
storing the sounds of instruments on cards or chips, they're now
storable on computer hard drives and accessible as software programs.
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
but lesser movies will use virtual instruments to create their sound
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
— 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
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
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
to trigger legato transitions where desired. I opened up both the CC11
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
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
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
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:
A & Trumpet C
& Marching Band 2
Horn Group 2
Winds and Attack & Clarinet
Orchestra percussion - Triangle
Band Kit Cymbal
brass trio (x2)
A significant number of hours also went into the
songwriting, arranging, auditioning and recording of vocalists, and
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
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.
Venues: Book NOW for Oktoberfest
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
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
graphic below shows how the musician hiring fields overlap among bands,
ranging from professional to amateur.
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.
gaurantee the best live music for your Oktoberfest event, book
the band you want early — at least 6-12 months in advance — so
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,
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
Every year, I receive multiple inquiries for the same prime dates
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
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
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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