Mastering Masterclass

The North Country Winters album is recorded and mixed! It all began when I did an online course with Berklee called Introduction to Music Production. This was the second time I’d attempted the course, but this time I completed it. It was rather a steep learning curve to be sure, but I got there.

Through that course, somehow I was introduced to Joe Gilder and Graham Cochrane’s podcast, Simply Recording. I bombed through their back catalogue and learned absolutely loads.

I used Cubase for my Berklee course but I found it difficult to get to grips with and so I downloaded a trial of Presonus Studio One. It was waaay easier to use.

The natural progression from Simply Recording Podcast was to Dueling Mixes and it was absolutely brilliant for learning Studio One and how to mix. I simply followed Joe’s videos each week and learned a helluva lot.

I signed up for Joe Gilder’s VIP membership over at Home Studio Corner and got some courses there on EQ, compression and editing. In November he announced a 24-hour mixing contest where members were to record, mix and publish a whole song in 24 hours. That was the kick in the pants that I needed to get me off the tutorials and into making music for real. The basic studio was set up in the post office and we recorded Sweet Blue-Eyed Darlin’ with lead vocal, two harmony vocals, guitar lead and rhythm, upright electric bass and fiddle. We didn’t win, but it was a great exercise in learning how to record.

Over the next few months we tracked 12 songs in the post office over weekends and evenings. That finished in Feb 2017 and I spent the next few weeks mixing it as best I could.

The plan was to have the album released for Easter Monday, which, at the time of writing, was two days ago. I decided that I should wait until I’d done Ian Shepherd’s Home Mastering Masterclass before publishing the album, and, since he was starting it again in April, it would tie in nicely time-wise. I’ve signed up for the course now and it starts very soon.

Watch this space!

Can I be a songwriter please?

I listened to Gillian Welch a lot this week, including her song One Little Song. It’s about song writing. I saw Declan Sinnott live and heard him sing a song about songwriting. And I heard a friend of mine playing some songs he’d written himself that were really, really good.

So why the fuck do I struggle so much with it?

When I listen to the likes of The The and Nick Cave, I’m moved to try. They make it sound so easy. And I feel like it could be.

There’s a big ball of pain and fear locked inside me. I used to talk it out when I was drinking, but that’s no longer an option. Probably just as well. Sometimes it went okay, but usually not.

Playing music helps to get the fear out, simply because it puts me in the present. That’s a place I’m seldom in.

My head was buzzing all over the map at the concert last night and not always to good places. I was left wondering at times what have I contributed to the universe lately? There’s so much music I want to learn, songs I want to sing and it just felt over fucking whelming, you know? I find myself thinking that if I could just master this, figure out that, I’d finally have arrived and my self expression would suddenly have a valid artistic outlet. But all that happens is that I get angry at life’s getting in the way and preventing me from following my path, and that’s just wrong. I know that.

By contrast, this morning, I found the tired-with-too-little-sleep me sitting on the bus thinking about how joyful I am that there’s so much out there for me to learn musically and that each half-hour of playing live or twenty minutes of watching a video about thirds and fifths is adding to the whole me. I’m hungry for it, but I still get down that there’s no creativity and that it’s all just copying. And do people really care?

The Tweet I posted earlier was what I was thinking as I stood at the bus stop.

I have to play music for my own enjoyment first and foremost. If others enjoy it too, so much the better.

Watching these fantastic musicians last night had me feeling down that I can’t play those licks or sound that good or write my own stuff and it’s really not like me to think that way. I often hear musicians’, after seeing an amazing player, saying things like ‘I might as well just quit’, but it usually inspires me to go and pick up my guitar and learn the fuck out of it. Maybe I was just tired and low last night.

So how does the sober me get the pain and, yes, sometimes the joy, OUT into words without being explicit about what’s really on my mind? I tried poetry a few months ago and it actually went well, much to my surprise. I started with some of the loose random words and sounds that are constantly in my head and lines just appeared fully formed. I’d heard that that can happen but never really understood. In fact it felt bloody great.

So maybe I’ve just got to sit down and fucking do it; take the headphones off for a bit and see what silence can bring; be alone with the cacophony in my little head and see if I can get some of the noise out into words. Maybe that will make the noise a wee bit quieter and I’ll stop hating the world so much.

Kim Walker SJ

Kim Walker SJ in Adirondack/maple

Kim Walker SJ in Adirondack/maple

In 2005 I played John Thomas’s Nick Walker at Little Brother’s jam in Georgia. It took all of two minutes before I knew I would have to put my name down on Kim’s list. In November 2013 Kim finally tracked me down to tell me that my slot had come.

In February 2015, I booked flights from Glasgow to Boston via London to go and pick the guitar up, and that has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Flying into the USA always makes me excited, I guess because every time I’ve been, it has been to meet friends and play music and, yes, a few times, to pick up a guitar. I took the Amtrak down to Connecticut and it was an amazing journey, filled with excitement as I looked out over snowscapes and coastline, listening to Dark Side of the Moon on my headphones.

Kim picked me up and we drove to his place and, after 10 years of waiting, I got to try my Adirondack spruce and maple SJ. Being tired after the journey, I didn’t get to appreciate fully just how amazing this guitar was, but I could feel its solid build quality and lightness straight away.

After a great night’s sleep and a fantastic breakfast with Kim and Diana, I brought the guitar up to the living room and played it for a solid two hours. It was amazing. I worked on an arrangement of Auld Lang Syne in DADGAD for new year this year and had been worrying that I’d forget my arrangement, so I put the Walker into DADGAD and had the most amazing time figuring it out and getting it back under my fingers.

John Thomas came round to Kim’s for lunch and we had a great time catching up before heading to John’s for the night. There I got to play that Nick Walker guitar that started the whole thing off once again, as well as John’s own SJ from the same batch of maple as mine, and his 1/3 century.

I’m still feeling the joy of that trip and it brings a wee tear to my eye when I consider what amazing friends I’ve made through a common love of acoustic guitars and music. It reduces us all to our bare souls and then we can join together without the social ball-and-chains of rank and fortune and play music together. It’s the most incredible thing.

Audio sample

Ye Banks & Braes as part of the Arran Ceilidh Band CD.

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Photos — Copyright Kim Walker

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My Flickr Gallery of the trip

My Project 365

Back on episode 65 of On Taking Pictures, hosts Bill Wadman and Jeffery Saddoris set a challenge to take ‘an intentional photograph that you feel good about every day’. I took up the challenge and ran with it until it became my project 365. I took my last shot of the project on 24 July, and now that some time has passed, I thought I would put together some thoughts on how it was and what I got from it.

Confidence

The biggest thing I got was probably the most surprising thing, and that is confidence. I’m an introvert by nature, and I’m further along the autistic spectrum than your average bear. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to look people in the eye when engaging with them, but taking pictures has changed that, and it’s amazing! I’ve spent a lot of time over the year processing people’s eyes in photos, and I now find myself making the conscious effort to shift my gaze from mouth to eyes when talking to people, and so I get to see the amazing depth and variety of expression that eyes show about a person.

I’ve also developed the confidence to ask people if it would be okay to take their picture. Not all the time, but certainly more than I used to be able to.

Manual mode

I spent the whole project shooting with my camera in manual mode. I now have a reasonably good foundation of how the trinity of shutter speed, aperture and ISO works and what each of them does not only for exposure, but for a desired look. Before I did the project, I would often forget about ISO!

Interestingly, I never used exposure compensation. It just never occurred to me and, to be honest, I’m still not sure when or why it would be useful when I’ve got the trinity to set my exposure.

And now, having completed the project, I find myself able to get pretty close to the correct exposure before taking my first shot! One of my favourite shots was one that I surprised myself with, because it was the only shot I took that day and I nailed it! I think it was the first and only time of the project that I took only one shot for the whole day and was done.

Flash

I bought a Nikon external flash (SB800) a long time ago, but never really figured out how to use it. I only ever used it in TTL and didn’t like the results, so it pretty much stayed in its case. Then I discovered Zack Arias. It was just before he published the 2.0 of his OneLight lighting videos, so I pre-ordered it to get the discount and watched it twice. It’s one of the most useful tutorials of any kind that I’ve ever seen. Zack’s teaching method is exemplary and it wasn’t long before I was online ordering a light stand and umbrella. I’ve no doubt that I will watch his tutorials again, but I do most definitely need to practice a lot more with the umbrella to figure out placement, flash power, etc. The results I’ve had since learning how to use it properly are night and day.

Selects

Selecting the right image for the shot of the day was one of the most difficult things, but it was something I got better at as time went on. My wife and daughter were very helpful with this!

Processing

It was Lightroom that really got me into photography, which I realise is kind of backward, but its organisation tools really gel with how my mind works. When 1.0 was released, I went through Chris Orwig’s Lynda.com training and I’ve stayed with Lightroom ever since. I’ve installed presets from Trey Ratcliff and Nicolesy and used them a lot to learn Lightroom’s power tools (how about that tone curve?!).

Then there’s Nik. After Google bought them, the price came way down and, after watching Jason Odell’s training for Silver Efex Pro 2.0 , I paid for the suite. Silver Efex is amazing, and once you get your head round the control points, it becomes incredibly powerful. And then there’s Color Efex Pro. There was quite a steep learning curve with that, but the results are outstanding!

As the project progressed, I’d find myself thinking of a Color Efex recipe and having it in mind as I took my shots, and a few times I got some images that were pretty flat unprocessed, but remarkable when my vision became reality. It was one of the most gratifying things about the whole project.

Flickr

I’ve had a pro account for Flickr for a while, but never really used it much. Once I started the project, I became quite a heavy user and got into groups in quite a big way. I started following people whose pictures I liked and that became a huge inspiration. One of the first people I found was Kevin Schmidt; he was kind enough to share some of his LR presets with me and I found his work inspirational.

The JF export to Flickr](http://regex.info/blog/lightroom-goodies/flickr) plugin made posting and managing the album so much easier, using a smart album in LR and posting to Flickr and Facebook.

I’d never had a picture explored on Flickr, but that finally happened for me with my shot of a rainbow over Holy Isle. It was a pano – stitched in Photoshop CC, which I finally bought a license for. I was at work and got some emails from Flickr to say that my picture had been made a favourite. Then a few more, and then a whole flood of them! It was exhilarating! To be fair, it was one of my best shots from the whole project, but still, I felt rather proud. And then, bizarrely, another two of my pictures got Explored within a week of the first.

Landscapes and Portraits; seascapes and cargo ships

I never really considered myself a landscape photographer, but it soon became apparent that I was wasting the gorgeous part of the world where I live if I didn’t get some landscapes and seascapes, so I started shooting from the beach near work in Brodick in the mornings and got some of the shots I’m most proud of.

I also started shooting cargo ships as they sat in Brodick Bay, looking up their shipping info and posting them into groups on Flickr, and it’s something that I started to get really interested in. It gave me a great opportunity to use my 70-400mm VR lens and I got some pretty good results.

Time management

Time management was one of the biggest things to deal with. It wasn’t so much the shooting as the selecting and editing, especially at the beginning when I had to learn what the various presets and plugins did. I never let myself get more than four or five days behind, because I knew that if did, it could be the breaking of the project. I would ideally have liked to be spending the year reading photography books and blogs, doing tutorials and learning how to use the tools properly, but, to be honest, I needed the time for getting the pictures edited and posted. That in itself was a fantastic learning opportunity and I got some really nice edits, even if I couldn’t replicate them!

I’ve learned a little bit about a lot of things so I now have a basic general foundation and it’s really down to practice now going forward.

I thought that the winter months would have been harder than the summer, but June and July were the hardest months because I was so busy with playing music and doing things with the family.

Creativity

My first passion is for music. I play acoustic guitar in different bands and do solo gigs too. I’ve travelled the world attending workshops and seminars and I play in a variety of styles. But I’ve never actually created anything musically and that has always frustrated me. I could learn other people’s arrangements of tunes, play their songs and accompany traditional music on fiddles and pipes and whistles, but it never really scratched that itch. In fact, I found it so frustrating that, for a while, I lost my enthusiasm for it.

Taking pictures really scratched that itch for me and I think that that’s why I feel so proud at having got to the end. It’s one of the most creative things I’ve ever done and the results are there for all to see.

Future

It felt weird the first day that I didn’t take a picture after the end of the project, and then I felt pretty flat. I guess I should’ve expected that, because that’s how I used to feel at the end of my last exam at uni as well.

And now that some time has passed, I find myself missing taking pictures, but, at the same time, it’s a bit of a relief because I’m still extremely busy and am not sure how I would have managed to keep it going into August this year.

Thanks

A HUGE thank you to Bill and Jeffery for not only setting the challenge, but for all they do on the show to keep it real. Seriously guys, you’ve pushed me into doing something of which I am extremely proud!

The G+ group has been amazing for support and feedback, and the weekly challenges have given me ideas when the creative soil was fallow.

Thanks to Zack Arias for putting out that lighting tutorial and getting the DEDPXL assignments going. They’ve been great for giving me ideas and thickening my skin a little.

Thanks to Lorraine and Freya for helping with the selects.

Thanks to Kirsty for being a patient model while I moved around my umbrella and climbed up on ladders to get the shot.

See full 365 album on Flickr here: Project 365 on Flickr

DEDPXL Assignments

DEDPXL Assignments

I discovered Zack Arias of DEDPXL in rather a roundabout way. I was driving to work and saw a friend of mine sitting on a wall in Lamlash with his camera. This is the dude that sold me his D300. I wondered what he was doing and I got the answer when I saw a picture he’d posted to Flickr with the weird tag #DEDPXL.

‘Huh?’ I thought to myself. So I did a bit of digging and soon found my way to Zack’s site where the first assignment video was posted. Always on the lookout for inspiration for my #365, I decided to submit a few pictures for the first assignment. I looked some more into what DEDPXL was all about and pre-ordered the OneLight 2.0 lighting videos. I’ve now been through that course and am the proud owner of a new lightstand and 150cm umbrella and I’m loving it! His teaching methods are exemplary and, for the first time since buying my SB800 around 10 years ago, I have an idea of how to use it! Those videos were incredibly helpful!

Critique

At the end of the first assignment, Zack sat down with his wife Meg and recorded a video critique of the submissions and it was super helpful. It’s incredible to think that a pro with chops like Zack’s would give his time like that at no charge. I was in! Now, I’m not sure what his methods are for choosing which pictures to critique, but none of mine was picked. ‘Fair enough,’ I thought. There are probably thousands of submissions!

Assignment 2

The second assigment was entitled Repetitive Shape: Form / Pattern / Rhythm and I got into it quite early. I submitted a total of six shots, two or three of which I should’ve taken back out the pool because I didn’t really think they were that good, but, stupidly, I left them in. And this time, Zack DID pick one of my shots. Which one? Yep, you guessed it. One of the ones I wish I’d removed.

I watched the long-form video and got a C with some good feedback, but in the short-form video I got a D with the comment that it was ‘kinda boring and sucks’. I felt crushed. I knew the feeling would pass, but I’d had the worst day and had to go and play a gig that night and was kicking myself for not waiting to watch the critique. The long-form critique was actually valuable, and I knew Zack’s comments were on the money, but the shorter critique where I got a D made me sad and angry and all I could think of were the words ‘boring’ and ‘sucks’. Such is human nature I suppose: ten good reviews and one bad one and guess which one you’ll dwell on?

These were my three favourites of my submissions:

Sandbags

I like the sky and the sun flare, but especially the sandbags and the story that they represent. I’m not sure about the stones in the foreground.

Hamilton Terrace

I like the triangles that the roofs make and the way the chimneys go into the triangle of sky. I wasn’t sure about the crop, whether to crop the right-hand edge off and, now that I’m looking at it again, I think I should probably have done that. I remember playing around with the crop before I posted it, so I must’ve chosen not to do that for some reason.

Haymarket Station

I grabbed this one while I was waiting on a train and it’s one of my favourite shots of my #365. I’m not sure how I could’ve made this better, so critique would be useful.

My Lesson

So, what have I learned? Well, firstly, I need to be far more judicious in selecting my submissions. I guess four selects is about right for an assignment, but I have to be sure that they’re keepers. That log truck should never have been in there.

Also, learn to take the criticism. I know it can be a bitter pill to swallow, but I also know that I’m getting incredible value just from the inspiration that I get from the group to get out there and think about my photography. All it’s costing me is time and I would do well to think on that when I consider just how much I’m getting out of it.

Assignment 3

The third assignment, Shadows, has just been set, so it’s time to get back on the horse and think my way into making some great shots that I can be proud of! If I’m proud of them and get a bad grade, well, we’ll see how that goes if it comes to that. But it won’t. Will it?

Death by fewer than 1000 cuts

When I applied to take on Brodick Post Office is 2007, I had envisaged a job where I would be a fundamental part of the community and would be rewarded for all my hard work for one of the most trusted institutions in the land. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since the closure program, Post Office Ltd has been trying to ‘persuade’ independent sub postmasters to change to a new model. Bear in mind that many of us independents have invested a huge amount of money into the business. The package they were offering might have suited a few sub post offices, but for me, the offer was insulting. They had not considered my branch’s location AT ALL, and came up with the offer based on numbers in a computer.

The long and short of it was that they were offering me less money for longer hours. Of course they were spinning it seven ways from Sunday, but that’s what it boils down to. Naturally, I said ‘no thank you’. So now they’re attempting death by stealth.

2013 Pay Cut

Screenshot 2014 05 27 10 26 00

2014 Pay Cut

Screenshot 2014 05 27 10 25 40

I don’t know for how much longer I can hold out. It’s despicable the way we’re being treated for investing our own savings into a British Institution. And don’t even get me started on the antiquated systems, poor products and bad customer service!

Taking on this business when I did, at the age of 36, was one of the worst decisions of my life.

Thankfully I’ve got great staff and some great customers.

On this Day in History – A Photo Project

Screenshot of my Flickr album
I finished my one-year photograph project entitled On This Day in History today. The idea came to me when I couldn’t find any way in Lightroom of viewing all pictures taken on the same date but in different years.

Tags

Screenshot of Lightroom tagsI have a Lightroom catalog going back to 2002, when I got my first digital camera. I rely heavily on Lightroom and have done since it first came out. Amongst all my tags, the most useful ones have been people, places and events, and I’ve used Lightroom to create date folders within year folders. So, how did I do my On This Day tagging? I created a top-level folder into which I put 12 more folders, one for each month of the year. Inside each month folder, I created tags for ddmm, so 10 May would be 1005.

Processing

Now that I had my tagging system set up, I spent some time each day going through my photos for that day’s date in each year, picking out my favourite images for that date and tagging them with the ddmm tag. I processed the pictures with Lightroom mostly, but for the more recent shots taken on my Nikon, sometimes I’d dip into some of the Nik plugins such as Silver Efex or Color Efex. I then gave them a title and wrote a short description and added them to the map in Lightroom, a feature of the software that I’ve really come to enjoy. And finally I set them up for publishing to Flickr with Jeffrey Friedl’s fantastic Export to Flickr plugin.

As I got adept at the process, it was something I really got to look forward to each day and I’d usually have a few days set up in advance. I’d start each day by going straight to the computer and publishing that day’s pictures.

My photos had been sitting on my computer for years, but they had become like the printed photos in shoeboxes, or albums on shelves; rarely did I look at them. So the project was fantastic on an emotional level and now I have a year-long archive of my favourite photos processed, dated, tagged, mapped and, perhaps most importably as all, published. I can now go into my Flickr stream or Lightroom and select pictures all taken on the same date across the years. Since I started the project, I’ve been tagging all my photos with that day’s ddmm tag at the point of import so they’re all done going forward.

AppleTV

I have my AppleTV set up to show my Flickr stream as a screen saver so we have yet another way to enjoy our old pictures and it’s one that the whole family can enjoy. My son (b. 2006) and daughter (b. 2004) both really enjoy seeing pictures of themselves coming up at all ages!

DayOne

Since I was getting so much value out of this project, I also did the same with my journal entries in DayOne. They go back somewhat further than my photos though. My first diary entry is in 1985!

My OTD album is here on Flickr: On This Day in History

Photography

It’s been an amazing weekend for photography. I’m working through Zack Arias’s Onelight v2.0 videos on lighting and have ordered a lightstand, umbrella, cold shoe adapter and umbrella bracket. These videos are really great and I’m gonna start putting my SB800 flash to use. It’s exciting.

On Saturday morning, I caught a post on G+ with a link to an episode of The Grid entitled The Power of the Unsolicited Critique, where they spoke about photographer Regina Pagles and how she felt crushed by an unsolicited critique of her work. It was an interesting episode of a show I’d never seen before and I really enjoyed it, but the best part of it was that I discovered Regina Pagles photography through it. Her work is amazing, but not only that; she also takes time to share her thought processes and technical data. It’s really something.

Regina Pagles

Regina Pagles
Regina Pagles' Flickr

So I was shooting with Hamish on Saturday, grabbing a few shots and figuring out some things with my SB800 flash and getting some pretty decent results, even if I do say so myself!

I was posting some shots from that shoot on Flickr this morning and clicked on Hamish’s tag to get all my images of him, but Flickr now defaults to showing Everyone’s pictures with that tag and I got a page full of Hamish shots where two photographers’ pictures really stood out. And they are amazing! I’ve spent the last half hour looking through their photostreams and it’s made me feel that fluttery feeling inside of disovering art that’s evocative, moving and inpsiring.

Michelle Dupont

Michelle Dupont (mistybliss)
Michelle Dupont's Flickr
Michelle is doing a 365 of portraits of what I assume is her daughter and I’m inspired to do the same thing when my present 365 reaches its conclusion in July (still can’t believe I’ve managed to keep it going this long!). I shall look at Michelle’s and Paul McGee’s and Regina Pagles’ photostreams for inspiration and hope to grow even more as a photographer!

Paul McGee

Paul McGee
Paul McGee's Flickr

What really stands out for me with Paul’s work is his use of lens flare. I would love to learn how to do this, so I’m really pleased that Paul doesn’t strip out his EXIF data! His street shots in Glasgow are AMAZING!

Gig at the Douglas Hotel

Cams practising at home for a gig

I’ve got a solo gig this coming Saturday 25 January at the Douglas Hotel in Brodick, my first solo in gig in over a year.

I generally practice through my PA at home when I’ve got a gig, so that I can get used to the differences of playing amplified. I have a D-Tar Wavelength pick-up in my SCGC Vintage Artist and I couple that with a D-Tar MamaBear preamp and I had never really got my tone dialled until after a recording session a month or so ago, when the sound at the recording session was so bad that I got home and was determined to figure it out or give up on it.

I’ve got the pickup set as:

  • 16: Neutral – No Input Compensation
  • 14: Gypsy Jazz
  • Blend – 11 o’clock, so one hour into wet

It’s really the input selection that makes the biggest difference and that’s where I’d been going wrong all these years!

So, now to prepare for the gig. I managed to squeeze into a corner of the living room with the MamaBear by my side, an SM58 mic and the XLR cables going into my passive Soundcraft mixer. I’ve got one XLR running from the mixer, behind the sofa to an AER AcoustiCube60 and I can leave it set up all week without anything really being in the way. Result!

The tone I’m getting is very good indeed! Both fingerstyle and strumming work well, and the vocals sound great. Even my wife has commented on the good playing, which, I explained, is a direct result of having good sound! If it sounds good, I play well; if I’m constantly worrying about the tone, as a normally do, the playing suffers.

I’m going to see what kind of tone I can get with my Model A tonight. It has a PUTW 54 and UST wired in stereo and I’ve always had trouble getting the balance right. I find that there are too many variables with that set up so, although I prefer that guitar, I find myself using the VA for gigs because of the simple, single-source pickup. I’m now reviewing pickups for my next guitar and reckon I’m going to go with a K&K. I’ve never tried one and they get great write-ups.

Ceilidh Band Accompaniment

Arran Ceilidh Band1

The Arran Ceilidh Band is coming along very nicely indeed. I switched from standard tuning to DADGAD a month or so ago and it’s made a world of difference to the accompaniment.

We’ve been having two practises a week and we’re pretty much ready to start. We have our own website:

http://arranceilidhband.com/

You can also follow us on Twitter @arranceilidh and find us on Facebook

For bookings, the contact info is all on the Ceilidh Band site.