DMCA-Free Rock: Volume Three

Yes, I have released two other volumes and, no, I didn’t create posts for them. I really should go back and do just that. For now, let’s just settle on the fact that DMCA-Free Rock: Volume Three is still fresh on my mind.

I originally set out to record 13 or 14 songs for this volume to match the length of the previous two. A streamer with a healthy, regular audience who happens to use my music from time to time said I should put out more. It was a goodhearted comment, one I don’t think he realizes pushed me to change my mind. I was seven or eight songs in and was feeling the uphill battle of having to write double that amount and it was absolutely daunting. No, it was more than that…it was defeating. I made the decision to release 10 songs instead of 13-14. The weight began to lift and here we are, releasing music before the end of May.

I’ve been working on this DMCA-free project since September. For the majority of that time, I’ve worked on music almost every day in some capacity, whether it’s writing, fleshing out a song, practicing parts, recording, or balancing things as I mixed things down. September through May…that’s eight months of straight music. I haven’t done that since I was 19 or 20. It wore on me…I felt burned out in April and took time off from streaming AND mostly writing. Interestingly, one of the songs I’m proudest of came about in April, so it wasn’t completely wasted.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks listening to these songs on two different car radios, multiple headphones, the studio monitor speakers I have at my desk, my crappy work speakers, and pretty much every other source I could think of. I’ve been tweaking things and setting up new versions in a Google Drive folder for a select few to listen to.

I did my final mixing, released them yesterday on May 26th only to realize that the bass was CRAZY loud in three songs, and remixed them this afternoon, May 27th. I just reuploaded them to Distrokid and they should be live by the end of this month.

I’m going to go through each track, tell a little bit of a story about it, and provide a little behind the scenes information that’s rattling around in my brain. So, without further ado…

All the Feels

Back in November of 2020, I bought some drum MIDI packs through the Toontrack website. One of these MIDI packs was Pop Punk and I immediately knew that I’d write a song using one of those. I have to admit that Blink 182, and particularly Enema of the State, is a guilty pleasure of mine. One wouldn’t imagine a rocker enjoying the likes of 90’s grunge icons Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and many others to be a secret fan of pop punk, but here I am. “All the Feels” is this 90s rocker’s love letter to bands like Blink 182, Bowling for Soup, a little bit of old school The Offspring, and similar bands. I used tried and true chord progressions and what I feel is a catchy guitar hook throughout the song. The intonation of the A string on the ’92 Tele that I used for the lead guitar is every so slightly off. If your ear is used to listening for stuff like that, it’s going to sound every so slightly off.

I also tried something new for this song that I’d end up doing on a few other songs. Normally, I record guitar parts through three amps and mic those amps with four microphones. I use a Sennheiser e906 and either an MXL R144 or Royer R10 (made the switch on “Once in Twenty Five Years”) on my Fender Princeton with a 12″ Eminence Cannabis Rex speaker, a Shure SM57 on a 1978 Fender Vibro Champ, and a Sennheiser e609 on an Egnater Tweaker 15 head/cab. This time around, I doubled up the guitar where I recorded one take using the e906 and SM57 and a second take with the R144/R10 and e609. I did my best to play them as similarly as possible. It makes for a bigger, thicker distorted guitar sound. I then put the mics for each separate take in the left and right channels while I put the lead guitar just to the left and right of the middle.

I still have a lot to learn about recording, mixing, and mastering, but I think this song was the first step in making the next big improvement in those skills.

You Should’ve Been There

I’ve had the basics of the chorus of little walk down in the chorus of this song for a while. It was something that felt kind of Pearl Jam-ish (it reminds me a little of their song Breath) but I simply couldn’t find a way to incorporate it into a song with vocals. Previously the walk down was done in between the triads in the left channel, but for this song, I ended up separating them out.

The chorus of this song has three distinct guitar parts: the traditional power chords in the right channel in an E – D  – Db minor – B progression, the walk down in the middle, and then triads that essentially make up E – D – Db minor that end in a B power chord. These triads aren’t ground breaking at all, but I should make a TikTok video of how to play those because I think they’re pretty cool. I think there’s an interesting dynamic of going from two guitars to a three guitar chorus and bridge.

Speaking of the verses, they came together quite quickly after some time of not being able to structure a song around the original riff I had. I really like the differing tremolos on the chords. For being a tiny 5w amp with an 8″ speaker, the tremolo in the ’78 Vibro Champ outshines the tremolo in the Princeton Reverb, but combine them together? It sounds really cool to my ears, especially when they aren’t lined up exactly in time with the BPM of the song. It fits but I feel like it’s butting up against and fighting the tempo of the song. Then you get this big drum fill with snare hits to lead into the big distortion of the chorus.

I also really like the solo in this song. It’s simple without a lot of speed to it but it just fit the song. The first time I recorded it, I added these pauses in that just disrupted the flow of it. I hit the notes just fine but it kind of lurched in places I didn’t want it to. I ended up recording it again and still felt it was missing something. I used my Amplitube 5 plugin to lay down a harmony solo part that really makes it stick out once the song leaves the bridge.

I’m proud of this song. I felt like I’ve finally written a competent rocker tune.

Through the Stardust Sea

Someone told me that this sounded like a good song to get high to. Having never been high myself, I’ll take their word for it. Growing up, I listened to a band called Starflyer 59. Their first three albums were a big influence on the way I structure songs, especially the first and third albums. This song was definitely inspired by the spacey effects they used. It’s a simple song with every section consisting of two chords, though I think there’s one quick part with three. I just wanted a droning rhythm guitar  and I think I got that. Adding the slow phaser effect added this really dimension to the atmosphere of the song. When I’m listening to this, except when I’m driving in the car, I just close my eyes and let the song set me adrift.

Once in Twenty Five Years

The title comes from the fact that it’s been 25 years since I last used a wah pedal in a recording. In fact, I’ve only owned a couple of wah pedals over the years before buying the one I own and use now. I never even used either way I’d previously owned. I’m simply not good with the timing of the effect. The last time I used it was my sophomore or junior year of high school in a band I was in called Nailbox. My friend, Tim, had a Tascam 4-track recorder (I think it was a Tascam 424) that we tracked a song on. By pure “even a broken clock is right twice a day” chance, I laid down a perfect take using the wah pedal. It was SO cool to 16 year old me. I was never able to recreate that and so I gave up on the wah. “It’s a lead guitarist’s tool”.

I’ll get more to the wah in a sec. The rhythm guitar came out of the frustration that started to build during the writing of this album. I simply couldn’t come up with songs I thought were cool. I banged out the E – D – B – C progression out of frustration but it immediately felt right. The chorus followed pretty quickly after and that’s when I heard the lead part in my head, wah part and all. I think it sounds very cool…another rocker tune.

Then came the solos. Yeah. Remember how I said I’m not good with the timing of the effect? The first solo took me 49 takes, and even with that I still messed up. The wah covers it up. The second solo? That took 46. The best part? Earlier up in the post I described the mic setup I use. I forget to set the separate tracks to record the different mics. I have four tracks of the same mic on the same amp. You see, part of double tracking guitars, or at least using four different sonic signatures to mix parts, is to make the guitar sound fuller…bigger if you will. An increase in volume happens but because each track occupies a slightly different space, it works. Four tracks of the same sonic signature? It just sounds louder…and very different than four sonic signatures.

Yeah…I didn’t want to lose out on 95 takes when it might take me just as many to get things right. I even forgot how to play the part and had to relearn the parts. I’ve spent more time trying to change and shape the tone of the four tracks than I did on any other entire song. It’s OK as it is, but I’m not happy with it. That unhappiness isn’t enough for me to rerecord it though. Did I mention it took me 95 takes?!?!?

I do think it was cool that I was able to get some legitimate feedback in the song. I record at lower-than-normal volumes and rarely get to the volume needed for feedback, but I was able to use my Wampler Ego Compressor pedal with the wah pedal to induce it. I really love how it builds into the lead part in the chorus

Translucent Subdivide

This is another song where I’ve had a part swimming around in my head for a few  years without being able to find a place for it. I’ve always felt the rhythm guitar always had a cool, old-music feel to it. Once again, just like the guitar part in “You Should’ve Been There”, I could never come up with a chorus part to attach to it, but one immediately came to mind when I set up the drums for this song.

I also thought it was cool to do the three-note bass walk up at the beginning of the song. It’s not a very original part and, in fact, I use it in another song of my called “Soulwatcher” that’s never seen a proper recording. I repeat that leading up to every part of the song, but it gets lost in the mix a bit. I was tempted to redo the part using a different setting on the bass amp I use, but decided to add some mid-EQ and I think it brought it out a bit more. I also repeat it with the guitar at the very end of the little solo at the end of the song.

I really enjoyed being able to bring it back to the rhythm guitar part at the end and then slow it down at the end, which is reminiscent of what I did on “Spin” and “So Far” from both DMCA-Free Rock: Volume One and Cold the Winter’s Skylines and the Horizon EP.

From Beyond the Stars

I haven’t ever read an HP Lovecraft book, but ever since playing the Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG back during my school days (it wasn’t all that successful of a run), I’ve been, at the very least, entertained by the idea of these enormous and powerful space creatures falling to Earth and corrupting mankind. I once purchased some Cthulhu markers for D&D, and I overpaid for a glow-in-the-dark Funko Pop! version of Cthulhu. On DMCA-Free Rock: Volume One I named a song “From Space to the Depths”. In reality, the first seven songs on each of the first volumes were supposed to originally be one album, so I continue my naming a song to reference Cthulhu with DMCA-Free Rock: Volume Three‘s “From Beyond the Stars”

This song was actually recorded twice with the first version’s take being the one with a bit more intensity. I used a guitar pedal by Keeley called the SuperMOD Workstation. I has the ability to turn on two different types of modulation effects at once. I went for a phaser (the effect at the beginning of the song “Lightning Crashes” by Live) and rotary effect (one of the effects on the higher pitched guitar in Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”). It sounded pretty cool until the chorus. The single notes I played for the rhythm guitar got lost between the effect and the second guitar part. I even rerecorded the chorus without that effect but it wasn’t effective. In fact, it was a bit jarring.

I ended up recording the song over again and using a plugin on two of the four guitar tracks to add a rotary effect. It actually sound pretty close to what I originally captured the first time, but without being overwhelming.

The pre-chorus to this song is actually kind of interesting. The chord structures are G – Gb minor – Em – D – C – B7 but I don’t play chords. I wanted the notes to be higher in pitch but playing barre chords didn’t sound right at all. There wasn’t enough…I dunno…”space”…between the notes. I realized I had to play the individual notes I wanted to play but had to both find what I wanted to play AND figure out how to play it well enough to record it. If there’s one thing the second version of this song has that was better than the first is the pre-chorus.

I did something in this song I’ve found myself doing quite a bit lately. I play a minor or major chord in one part of the song and then turn around and play the opposite in another section. Here, the verses go C – Bm – Em7 but in the pre-chorus I play a B7. It’s a subtle difference and one harder to pick out because I’m not playing the actual chord, but the major chord just sounded better to my ears there.

The chorus is a part I’ve had around since 2008 or 2009. I originally played it on the A string but moved it to the E string because it fit this song well and I’ve never been able to work it into one of the songs intended for Cold the Winter.

The Original

Years and years ago, back in the earliest days of my using kcwm as a user name, I was a member of the Creed message board. A member there named Kristina Marri, whose user name I do not remember, had a collection of poetry she’d written and was hoping for someone to help her put music to it. She sent me a song called either “My Way” or “The Original (My Way)”  and I put the music for this song to it…at least kinda. The thicker, heavy guitars and parts of the second guitar you hear in the left channel were one guitar part. The reason I include her name is in the event she ever Googles herself she might see this. While the music always is mine, I’d want her to know that the song that music she helped inspire so many years ago finally saw the light of day. I don’t remember much of the vocals I wrote for the song, but I definitely kept the music around.

There’s a pause in the drums for the verses where the first chord change occurs that was naturally in the drum MINI pack I chose and that was a happy coincidence because I’d always put a bit of a pause there in the guitar part. As I worked out the drums and guitar, I realized two things: I’d have to separate out the guitar part I’d originally written between two guitars and the drums I was choosing were not working. Once I’d written a first pass of the song, I sent it to a friend who sent back some critiques that only confirmed my thought that I was going to have to manually adjust A LOT of the drums.

I took a break from streaming and writing music for the majority of April. This song was the reason why. Programming/writing drums is the reason I haven’t even worked on new music for the Cold the Winter. It stresses me out…A LOT. That being said, I think the suggestions my friend made and taking control of the drums in this ended up making a better song.

Here’s the most interesting thing about this song, and the next three as well…I didn’t use a single guitar amp or pedal. Every single guitar part comes from the a guitar plug-in called STL ToneHub. The guitar part itself is recorded and captured by plugging my guitar directly into the audio interface. Studio One 4 took that signal and applied the guitar plug-in to the clean signal and distorted it. You might say “OK, and that means…”. Let me explain.

A distortion pedal, like the Wampler Sovereign or Lovepedal Purple Plexi Plus I own, naturally compresses the guitar signal a little bit. It kind of smoothens out the dynamics of what I play. Guitarists can use it to hide some sloppy technique, and I’m guilty of that. It’s a little bit of a cheat. Recording your guitar direct and distorting it after the fact? It doesn’t quite work the same way. It reflected the flaws in my playing…exposed the things I’d ignored and hidden…made me a little too self-conscious. My wife couldn’t hear it but other musicians can.

The song has four guitar parts in it, but I made one of them almost invisible in the mix. It’s definitely there in the right channel but it’s hard to hear. I wasn’t paying attention when I EQ’d it and the rhythm guitar that sits in that channel overpowers it. Lessons learned.

Correct Measures

Oh, man. Buckle up.

Remember when I described the flaws in my playing. Apparently, playing straight rhythm on three different guitar tracks exactly the same, especially at a slower BPM, is beyond me. There’s a line in the Ben Folds song “Rockin’ the Suburbs” where the line “Some producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks” and this applies here. Individually, you can hear where I used a setting in Studio One to fix the rhythm errors I made, but, fortunately, you can’t hear it when everything is going. The title speaks to the fact that I had to do this for three of the four parts in the song.

Once again, I employed STL ToneHub here for every guitar track. I wanted to write a song that had a chromatic walk down. The guitar part in the middle of the track’s panning does a chromatic walk down that goes B5 – Bb aug (no3) – A5 – Ab aug (no3). You can see a diagram of the “aug (no3)” chord in the image.

I first learned of this mystical “aug (no3)” chord when I learned how to play “Hold on Loosely” by .38 Special. Out of all the parts of and whole songs I’ve learned, I’ve not seen it used all that much until I thought it was the way one of the first songs on Foo Fighter’s Wasting Light album was played, but apparently I might be wrong about that. Either way, it kept it fresh in my brain and I find myself leaning on it over the last couple of years. It just has cool sound to it, especially as a note to be resolved into a traditional power chord.

The bridge of this song is probably my favorite part I’ve ever put together for a song. There’s just something about it…the way the three guitar parts move together and the third harmonizes with the others. It simply feels complete to me, as in I can’t think of anything else to add to it. I can generally always hear something missing in a number of songs but not this one.

Of all the songs I’ve written for Volumes One through Three, this is my favorite. In fact, “Corrective Measures” is one of my top 3 songs I’ve ever written. The only thing I’d love to see done with this song is to have a better, clearer, and more defined mix. This might be one of those songs I go back and work on rerecording at some point in the future.

Live in Five

I generally try to work in some kind of gamer or streaming reference into a song title, with “Lost It All in Factory” being the previous reference to Escape From Tarkov, which I recently uninstalled. “Live in Five” is a reference to a streamer’s Starting Soon scene that frequently have some kind of countdown until the streamer goes live. Now that I think about it, a five minute song might have been better served because a streamer could simply play this song as a warm up to their actual stream. Missed opportunity.

I experienced some pretty significant burn out in April of 2021 because I’d effectively worked on music in some capacity almost every day from September of 2020. Sometimes it was 30 minutes to an hour and others it was for the 2-3 hours I’d stream and then some after that. This included recording, writing, practice, etc. During that month, I wrote “Corrective Measures” and that was it, and even that was a bit of a grueling process. Once it was done, I took the last two weeks or so of April off and, towards the end of time, I wrote this song.

Unlike any other song on DMCA-Free Rock: Volume Three, “Live in Five” was written very quickly. I tossed some drums together and the lead riff came out in less than 5 minutes, and the chorus happened just as fast, though a C – A – E – G chord progression isn’t exactly complicated. The bridge itself would eventually come together quickly as well, alternating between an E9 and an E7(#9). So, all in all, it took about 20 minutes to write the parts of the songs, and some of that was practicing through the part to get the note progression right.

It wasn’t until recording started that that the opening chord worked itself in. The drums you hear were the original drums I put in place for me to count down to starting the song. It was going to start with the little drum fill but I thought hitting the chord and having the other guitars do some walk ups would sound cool. Easy adjustment.

The chorus consists of harmonizing guitar parts, something that I featured more on this album than any other I’ve worked on. Interestingly, the middle guitar used to feature straight notes being being picked, but it interfered with the flow of the second and third guitar parts so I changed it to sustained power chords. Fortunately, the guitars and drums help keep that part of the song driving.

With the bridge featuring the rhythm guitar dancing between the two chords, I thought it’d be cool to have a bit of chaos with the other two guitars and bass. Nothing plays the same thing. It’s all just a bit of controlled improv because I improvised each part and roughly approximated what I initially wrote. Of course, the third guitar had a little bit of something to build off of from the second guitar. It’s messy and almost falls apart, but it works.

Too Cold

Back in 2004, my friend John and I were working up some songs to try and put together another band. While I’ve told the story to others, as this is “permanent” I’ll suffice it to say that he’d excused himself for a few minutes, and while he was gone I’d started playing the primary chord progression you hear in the right channel. I suddenly hear his voice from another room shout out “KEEP PLAYING THAT” and so I did. He came in and immediately began singing a melodic cover of “Ice Ice Baby”. We then hit the chorus and one of us added the melody you hear in the middle channel of the song.

As those things go, the project fell apart and I’ve sat on that song for a long time, never sure how to proceed because it’s difficult for me to write lyrics when I already have lyrics in my head. The melody has degraded in my memory a bit too but what you hear in the middle channel is the gist of it, further simplified and modified to fit where I’ve added or changed what I couldn’t remember. The bridge is completely new as we never got that far in writing or arranging the song. Too Cold” is the first song I’ve released with a guitar part that resembles a typical vocal line.

I will say, it took three versions of this song before I landed on the version I released. I simply could NOT align the guitars together and when I got to the choruses, it’s like I didn’t even attempt to listen to the drums at all. It was so incredibly sloppy. It’s still not perfect, but it’s close enough that I don’t notice anything too glaring while I’m driving around and listening to the song. What? Yeah, I listen to my own songs when I’m driving in the car.

________________________________________________________________

Thanks for going along with me on that long and winding journey. I could probably add more thoughts to the songs but what you see above is what initially came to mind, so I figured it was best to stick to that. Plus, I’m at something like 4500 words and that’s a long post in the days of minute long TikToks, 6-second vines, etc.

I’d say “get off my lawn” but you’re absolutely welcome on it any time!

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.