Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Ultimate Tempo Map - Remixing The Legendary Choir Anúna

The Ultimate Tempo Map - Remixing The Legendary Choir Anúna

The last time we were in Dublin, Eímear introduced me to her old friend Michael McGlynn, founder and composer for the magnificent Irish choir, Anúna (old, not in age, of course - they have just known each other a long time).

For those of you who aren't aware, the music Michael performs with Anúna, their unique sonority, and his wholly original compositions are simply stunning.  The first time Eímear played their recordings for me, I felt an instant connection.

Here's their website:  Check it out for yourself:  Anúna Website 

As often happens in Ireland, over a few lovely drinks at one of Dublin's great new restaurants, a plan was hatched:  As I am often called upon to make "Trailer Versions"of existing music - after it's been licensed for a film - wouldn't it be fun to create a few "Trailer Remixes" of Anúna's recordings?  Just for the laugh, and maybe a future license?

To my pleasure, Michael agreed and I set to work determining which cues from his vast recordings would be appropriate (10+ CDs and counting).

For my first attempt, I chose Michael's composition, "Dúlaman."  Here's the choir's version:

So how does one even start to create such a remix?  You need a tempo map!

Let's consider how Anúna performs and records:  
  • No click track (no two beats are the same)
  • One take
  • No overdubs
  • Straight to two track mix
Their long-time intrepid engineer, Brian Masterson, has a unique series of techniques he uses to capture the depth of the choir, with little or no bells and whistles - It just "is."

Hmmm... this isn't going to be easy...

Create a Tempo and Meter Map

Before I can add a single element to a remix, I need to have a tempo and meter map that exactly matches the recording down to the sample.  

There are countless programs out there that can interpret recordings and do an adequate job of tempo mapping when the song is the latest Bieber crooning, but when music gets really rubato, or, as it is in the case of Dúlaman, the tempo is around 190, no two beats are the same, and the meter changes just about every bar, they fail miserably.  The tempo map has to be created manually - a bar, or even a beat at a time.

Having started this type of work long before the technology existed to do it for me, I developed three methods that I use to match tempo to existing recordings, one of which I used on Dúlaman.  They are:
  1. "Tap Tempo" in Digital Performer, then manually drag the beats against the timeline
  2. "Hack and Slash Locked Audio" in Logic.
  3. "Identify Beats" in ProTools, then manually drag tempos against the timeline
I used "Identify Beats" in ProTools, as it is the best method when the music is truly complicated.

"Identify Beats" in ProTools

In this technique, after I have dictated the desired meter, 7/8, and basic tempo 1/4 = 190, I use a combination of the "Tab to Transient" command and the "Identify Beats" command to have ProTools interpret the exact tempo and create my tempo map.  

I then listen to the click against the track to see if it feels right and adjust the identified beats by dragging them in the timeline.  Here it is, step by step:

Enable "Tab to Transient"

To enable "Tab to Transient," I click on the icon, second from the left at the bottom of the tool selector so that it is highlighted as below.

Many of you know, when this icon is enabled, every time you press the "Tab" key on your computer, the curser will find the next impact transient within the audio file where you have placed the cursor (in theory - it isn't a perfect technique!).

Tab to the First Transient, and Slice the Audio

As in the image below, after I have established the basic tempo (1/4th note 190) and the basic meter (7/8) I then tab to the first transient, the first note of the song.

Side note:  ProTools timelines hate working in anything other than 1/4 note clicks!  Even though I could hear this song was a combination of 1/8 note meters, I would never tempo map that way.

Align the Audio to the Timeline

Slicing the audio file at the selected transient (by using either Command E, or the "Alpha B" keystroke), I then align the audio file with the downbeat of bar 1.

OK - a moment of personal admission of stupidity:  I struggled for ages with the first bar because I had not interpreted the meter correctly.  Usually, I can transcribe just about anything, but this was kicking my behind a bit so I cheated.  I Googled the sheet music and found it online (buy it here).

Here's the real notation for the first bar.  There's a pickup note!
Identify Beats and Lock them to the Timeline

Now that it is clear the first note is actually beat 7 of bar 1, I move the audio accordingly.  I then park the cursor at the beginning of the audio file and press "Command I."  Notice, the add Bar/Beat Marker opens preloaded with the correct position, 1/7/000.  

Pressing "OK" locks this moment to the timeline (provided the track is locked to Samples, not Ticks).

Tab to Next Identifiable Beat

I then tab through the transients (by pressing "Tab") until I reach the next easily identifiable beat, usually the downbeat of a bar.  In this case, I have tabbed to what I hear is the downbeat of bar three.

Pressing "Command I," the identify beat window opens again.  

Notice, when the window opens, it indicates the current position of the cursor, in this case 2/6/311, and the current meter, 7/8.

I then type in the desired location, 3/1/000, and the desired meter, 6/8 and press OK.

Notice how the tempo and meter line now indicate the changing tempo and meter.

Lather, Rince, Repeat

We repeat this process, over and over again, for every bar, until we get to the end of the piece and the timeline looks something like the one below.  Notice all the tempo and meter changes.

Export the "Tempo Map" for Logic

As my students know, I use ProTools for all my audio editing, mixing, recording, and delivery, but I actually do all my sequencing in Logic (I also use Sibelius for printing).

In order to translate all this work to Logic, I first create a "dummy midi track"in ProTools consisting of quarter notes, that runs the length of the song.  I then export this track from ProTools as a single track midi file.

I then open the midi file in Logic, and as you see below, all the tempo and meter changes are there.

Export the Audio File for Logic

Finally, I select the edited audio region in the ProTools audio bin, and I export the audio region as a single audio file.

Remember - we have trimmed the audio file to the exact moment that occurs at bar one, beat seven.  As long as we place this audio file in the same position in Logic, the tempo map should line up for the entire song - at least it should.

Now the fun begins, actually creating my arrangement.  I'll save that for another blog, in the meantime, here's the remix I created.  Enjoy!
Listen to:  CSG Remix of Anúna's Dúlaman by Michael McGlynn

And of course, please check out the rest of Anúna's magnificent catalog through the links below.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Try to Find Balance...

Latigo Point, 3-4', South, South West 
What does this have to do with composing music?

Those who know me, know that a close 3rd after my love for my family and music, is my passion for surfing.  

I woke up this morning to a beautiful West, South West Swell - the first in weeks.  I am allowing myself just 1/2 an hour to write about it this morning before paddling out.  Let me know if you find any egregious typos as I am so excited to get into the water that I am not even going to edit what I write.  Fingers are flying in anticipation!

When Eímear and I moved to our little Malibu apartment (2007), we had no idea we were moving into a community of creative surf addicts off a semi private world class break, we just wanted to see what it was like to live in a shoebox on the beach.

The day we moved in, I met my friend Darren while sitting in the hot tub - yes, very Malibu.  After our introductions he asked the question, "Are you are you here year round?"  After determining I was not a transient, he asked, "Do you surf?"  

replied, "I tried to when I was in college, but was never able to really get the hang of it."

Darren took this as a challenge, declaring, "Well, you can't live here unless you surf."  With that he forced me to paddle out with him the next morning.  He put me on a board he calls "Caltrans" because it's as big as a bus.  He waited for the perfect moment; pushed me into the wave; I caught it, stood up; and was hooked!

Although I have not been surfing in weeks due to travel and weather, ever since that day Darren forced me into the water, I have done my best to surf every day, if just for 1/2 an hour.  It's my only real exercise program.

I truly believe surfing has saved my life.

Composing for films and TV shows has increasingly become a profession of the walking dead.  This is what happens when you take wonderfully creative people, who love the art of creating music so much that they will forgo just about everything in their life just for the privilege of getting paid to compose music.  They sacrifice their health and sanity against ridiculous deadlines and shrinking budgets.

Don't get me wrong, I believe it is absolutely a privilege to get paid to create music.  I cherish that every day!  I dream about music at night.  I am haunted by the themes I have yet to write.

But I won't die for it anymore...

On October 27, 1975, we lost a great talent in Oliver Nelson.  Nelson, at the time had a dream gig composing and orchestrating for the hit show, "The Six Million Dollar Man."  As is often the case, according to legend, because of the production schedule, Oliver had to work 36 hours straight and then conduct the recording session.  He died that night - at just 43 years old.

I also remember the day I heard that Miles Goodman had died -  August 16th, 1996.  He was one of my favorite composers.

The day before he died, I remember seeing him on the cover of one of the music magazines being lauded for both his film work and his new found career as an award winning Jazz composer/producer.  At 46 years old, he was on top of the world - 40+ films, TV, and absolutely everything to look forward to...

I remember looking at his photo on the cover and saying to myself, "Man, if I could only have a career like that..."

With all due respect to his great talent, I no longer want Miles' career - not at that cost.

I could go on, and on about the friends and talents that we have lost prematurely to the "film-score reaper," but I only have 5 minutes left to blog, and a huge set just came in - shaking the sand.  Dude!  It's looking Gnarley!

So to all my composing students and friends out there, I implore you to find something that you love, that gets you out of your chair and makes your body move.  The music can wait.

Here's a little surf/music video I made celebrating my friends and my new found passion:

And this is how I talk...


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beware of Duplicating Your Titles, A Cautionary Tale

I learned an interesting lesson about performance royalties and publishing last week that I want to share with my friends and students.  The lesson is:

Make certain your cues have unique names!


When I say your titles need to be "unique," I don't mean that they have to be completely original   - which would be impossible - just make sure you have never used the title before.

Let me explain.

Way back in the 90's, I wrote the theme and music for an NBC series called, "The Jeff Foxworthy Show."  Just for fun, here's that theme:

There were 24 episodes and countless cues on that show.  I had a blast exercising my "redneck muscle" like only a jew from Chicago, with no previous country music experience, can exercise.

For the sake of this story, you also need to know that for every cue I composed for the show, I had a split publishing deal with the producers, Brillstein - Grey Entertainment.  Therefore, the cue sheets all listed both my publishing company and their company as publisher to the music.

Flash forward to this last BMI Statement, where I see that one of my recent library cues was licensed to a program called "NFL on Fox."  The cue was called "Eve of Battle" - a quasi generic title that I have actually used a few times - to my own detriment, I have learned.

Turns out, while I was composing for "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," I also named one of the anonymous cues in one of the scenes, "Eve of Battle" - and promptly, I forgot about that.

So what happens?

The new "Eve of Battle" appears on "NFL on Fox," and despite the fact that the cue sheet properly credits only my publishing company with ownership, the computer system at BMI sees:

  • The title, "Eve of Battle"
  • My name as composer 
  • My publishing company as publisher
  • The system assumes that it should add Brillstein-Grey Entertainment to the cue sheet as an additional publisher.
From BMI's point of view, this action of adding Brillstein-Grey to my cue makes perfect sense.  Imagine how many times a song with a specific songwriter and publisher split gets listed on a cue sheet, and either a writer or publisher is left off by accident.  Of course BMI has software that looks for this and corrects the error - even if there isn't really an error.

I had now created a real mess for myself.  In an effort to clear things up, I sent a few e-mails and had a phone call with the ever vigilant Ray Yee of BMI.  Upon explaining my error, he told me how to fix the problem:

First, register a new title for the cue with the correct publishing credit.
Next, contact the producer of "NFL on Fox" and tell them of the new title.
Finally:  Beg the producer to use the new title in the future - hoping they use it again, and again, and again...

And what of the "One that got away?"  The cue that already aired and was paid incorrectly?

Well, I could insist on having a corrected cue sheet filed with the new title and the correct publishing split,  but the truth is, the amount of money lost was completely insignificant when compared to the value of the relationship with the producer, and the time it would take to have someone create the updated sheet.  In his case, I decided to just let it go.