Slice of Life: Testing Meerkat to Stream a Corner Concert

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Corner concert

I have been curious about the live-streaming video app called Meerkat. It’s pretty simple to use. Download the app. Hit the play and you are live on Twitter and the Web. I guess Twitter itself is nearing a launch of its own app — Periscope, I think it is called — but I wanted to try out Meerkat myself.

So, I figured, maybe I will play and live-stream a song. I have this idea for “corner concerts” — short, one-song streams of playing live for a few minutes, maybe on a regular schedule, and see if anyone cares to listen.

I set up my iPad yesterday, grabbed my guitar and hit the play button and … well … played a song of mine, called Ease Your Mind. It was interesting because for the first part of the song, no one was watching. Little icons pop up in the corner when folks have opened your live-stream video. Then, I started to see a few visitors (in the video, you can can see me look at the screen and smile a bit), so I extended the song an extra verse and chorus before signing off.

Meerkat saves the video to your device, so I uploaded it into YouTube easily enough. I’ll keep tinkering and playing around, and thinking about the possibilities of your mobile device being a live-stream possibility (good for conferences, maybe?).

Thanks for reading. And if you were one of the icons in my stream, much thanks.

Peace (in the stream),
Kevin

 

How They Wrote ‘Uptown Funk’

I like this kind of insight of songwriting … Uptown Funk started with a drum beat by Bruno Mars and the line about Michelle Pfeiffer/White Gold became a lyrical hook … here, Mark Ronson talks through the process of how the song came together collaboratively.

And you no doubt have heard the song:

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

Convergent/Divergent: Two Videos and One Song

I wrote a new song this week called Tell Everyone You Know.

Then I asked Terry Elliott to Zeega it up, as he has done in the past. He did.

Before I saw Terry’s final version, even as he was working on it, I thought to myself, what if I used Mozilla Popcorn Maker to do my own video version. How would my digital work compare to Terry’s? What would he focus on for the visual? I found myself thinking of phones and dancing ..

So what choices did we make?

Where the pieces converged:

  • Obviously, the music. I uploaded the song into Soundcloud so that he could use it in Zeega. Both Zeega and Popcorn have search functions within Soundcloud.

  • There’s a line about holding hands, and I think we both heard that as a visual cue. My hand-holding scene goes a bit longer than his, and he instilled some humor while I went for the emotional scene.

  • We both used mostly animated gifs. Actually, that’s all I used for mine. While Popcorn allows for videos to be edited and used, it seemed like the gif was the way to go. Terry sprinkled some static images in his.

  • Both videos conveyed the theme of the worlds, of coming together to change the the world for the better.

Where the videos diverged:

  • Interestingly, Terry went very political in his, right from the first shot. He tweeted me about it, saying that the song coming out near to MLK Day had him in a political frame of mind. I was moving into another direction, choosing a lighter theme — with the dancing, and the phones. The tone of each piece is different due to those choices.
  • Zeega and Popcorn are similar as video construction tools and yet, not …. particularly from the experience of the viewer. In Popcorn, you (the viewer) follow my editing trail, so I was very careful in where gifs started and ended, trying to sync ideas directly to the music and words. With Zeega, the reader has more agency. You (the viewer) click when you want the image to move on. Terry is thoughtful in the sequencing of images, and there is even a rhythm you can achieve with Zeega, if the viewer plays along.

Now here is where it could interesting, if you want to play along. Both Zeega and Popcorn allow the viewer to remix a project. If you have a Zeega account, you can hit the “reply” button on Terry’s project and it will bring you to a platform to remix his media in a multimedia reply. When you remix a reply, it gets tacked on to the end of the original project, which is interesting and disruptive in itself, right?

remix terry zeega

So:

In Popcorn, with a Mozilla Webmaker account, you can also remix any project. Just find the “remix” button at the top of the screen, click it and begin. So, if you go to my project, you can use your own vision for the song.

kevin popcorn remix

kevin popcorn remix2

Think of it as an invitation. If you do remix, be sure to leave us a note. I’d be honored …

 

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Mark Ronson: The Art of the Sample

I am a big Mark Ronson fan. I love how his music hits up against the modern sound and the classic sound (according to Ronson, in an interview about the recording process  in Tape Op magazine, it is all about the drums.) In this TED talk, Ronson talks about music sampling.

Sampling isn’t about “hijacking nostalgia wholesale,” says Mark Ronson. It’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward.  — from TED site

And I noticed a TED talk playlist on remixing …

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Making Collaborative Audio: Soundtrap

soundtrap for collaboration
The other day, I worked collaboratively with my friends Maha, Simon and Susan to create this birthday audio for our friend, Terry. We don’t live anywhere near each other and in fact, we are all over the globe, so the challenge was how to collaborate on an audio file together.

In the past, I might have asked them all to send audio clips to me, and then I would use Audacity or Garageband to pinch them together.

But this time, in true collaboration, I wanted to have us all working on the same file, online. I chose a site called Soundtrap, and it worked almost like a charm. I added some music that I recorded in the Garageband App, with some vocals, and then the others went in and recorded their tracks. It wasn’t perfect. Soundtrap doesn’t play nice with mobile devices, and it might be Chrome-browser-specific right now. We had to do a few workarounds. (Maha had to send me a wav file that I converted into MP3 before uploading).

However, once it was up and running, Soundtrap was relatively easy to use — you can record with your mic right into the space, or upload MP3 files, or use its loop library to create sounds. It is a neat way to build a song, and I am now trying that out with some folks — laying down a bass and drum track, and let others add in loops. Hmmm.

When we were done, we could download our file as an MP3, which we then shared over at Soundcloud. But, you could also share out a public link from Soundtrap itself. Check out Terry’s song.

All in all, a good site, with some limitations. I am wondering if this would work for the classroom … I suppose if students had email (mine don’t), they could create collaborations or maybe do interviews with others (not just in the classroom, either). Some possibilities …

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Working Out a Song as Media Project

I am not sure if this works, but I took a new version of a new song that I shared out last week (which Terry, and Scott, and Simon all remixed into Zeega media productions) and went into Popcorn Maker to make my own media version. I wanted to move away from distinct, concrete images, and instead, shift into something a little more quirky and visual. You may notice (now that I am telling you) that each section of the song has a visual theme, and believe me, that took a while to sync up!

I recorded the song’s music in Garageband app, and then the vocals were layered in via Audacity, and I think it sounds best with headphones, since you can hear some funky stuff going on in the background where I added piano and some vocal layers.

Thanks for listening!

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

 

Writing About Songs: Flicking the Switch


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

Our drummer, Bob, loves to play music, and he would love to write songs. So, he often sends out reams of lyrics (he’s the king of the double entendre) with hopes that one of us will work some of it into a song. This one — Flicking the Switch — began with a few verses from Bob, as I was working on a funk song for the band (Sofa Kings). In the end, about half the words are Bob’s and half are mine. It’s a love/lust song in which the relationship is clearly heading south, and the narrator is pleading for another chance. (He’s not going to get it.)

Our keyboard player, John, is the lead singer, and I was able to layer in some saxophone in the studio (I used a tenor and soprano) to create a pseudo horn section. Live, this song was a hit. The opening riff gives off the funk and when Bob kicked the beat, it got folks dancing. The studio version is fine but doesn’t quite capture the energy of performance.

Peace (in the funk),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Beacon in the Night


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

There some songs where I hear the lyrics years later and I shake my head in agreement, wondering where in the world those words came from. Beacon in the Night is one of those songs. My friend, Don, is the lead singer on this one and my friend John wrote the music.

The words are all mine and I just love the turn of phrases that are in this one, capturing a real uncertainty of the world. It’s about the idea of finding faith in who you are, and with the person you want to be with, even with the criticism of others around you. The beacon is the idea that there are true lights shining. Finding those lights is what makes life important, and being the beacon for others is at the heart of a full life. I remember this was one of those songs where the words just came, flowed and spilled out, as if I were removed from the act of writing.

Don and I had some arguments over a line — I’m locked and loaded — which he did not want to sing because it sounded too military for him. I really wanted that line in there. Not just for the alliterative element, which is important, but because it symbolized strength and a willingness of the narrator to beat the odds. Don did sing it, reluctantly. I don’t often fight hard over phrases or words. I did on that one, although years later I am not sure why it was so important.

Soundwise, the piano (another John) really adds a layer to the song. It would not be the same without his keyboards because those notes fill in the gaps left by the guitars. On this version, my role is merely backup singer. I don’t think I played an instrument here but the song remains powerful for me, and it is one that I often pull out on my acoustic and play by myself.

Peace (in the light),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Gravitational Pull


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

I’d be remiss not to mention that one of my guitar-playing friends, John Graiff, has also been one of my songwriting partners. He often supplies the riffs, and I then work with those riffs to add lyrics, and then together, we convene, argue and hammer out songs that whatever band we’re in then works on. Gravitational Pull is one of those songs that we wrote together.

Here, the music is almost entirely John. It’s based on a blues pattern, but he has an off-kilter rhythm to it that the drummer latched onto and drove home. I’m not sure where the idea for the song came from but the phrase of “gravitational pull” came early and I realized I could use a science theme to write about romance, as if the person is an object of such admiration and beauty that you just fall into their gravitational force field, whether you are ready or not. You know, love.

This one was always a blast to play live because it has a frantic pace to it. I’m not so sure we (Sofa Kings) nailed this song in the studio as best as we would have liked. It doesn’t always click right to me, as I listen years later. But you can’t help but feel the fun here.

Peace (in the pull),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Katrina Blows In


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp. In these posts, I am trying to shine a light on the writing of the songs – where inspiration comes from and how it manifests itself in music.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that I needed to try to express my anguish (at the devastation) and anger (at political incompetence) through song and out of those mixed feelings emerged Katrina Blows In, which became a standard song for my band, Sofa Kings, for a number of years. My attempt was to catch a feel of New Orleans with the sound and tell a story of survival from someone in the midst of the approaching storm.

There’s also the political element — of how the system failed people in the time of their greatest need, and how we need to rely on each other as much as possible.

“If we all pull together
we might find a way to weather the storm …”

I really like how my bandmates brought their own ideas to this song, shaping it into a full-blown track instead of the dirge-like demo that I had in mind. There’s life in here, just as there was still life in those who made their way out of Katrina, even though their world would never be the same. I was hoping to honor those people as best as I could, from my perch in the Northeast.

In live shows, the opening riff would often bring people to the dance floor, although I am not so sure they were listening to the lyrics. I think they were moved by the beat and the mandolin. I’m playing guitar on this one, and singing the lead. It’s one of those songs that I can listen to, and nod my head, and know that we pulled this one off pretty well.

Peace (in the storm),
Kevin