Blog, business, Pasadena and local, post production for film and video, sound

Violin Amazingness

Jules Massenet, “Meditation from ‘Thaïs'”

I like to promote things. I’m a producer — a promoter — a big-picture kinda guy. And so when I become friends with an incredible artist, like Buddy Zapata or Lauralee Farrer, I can’t help but want to promote their art in any way I can. And I have skillz. I can take press photographs (see my post on T-Lou). I can shoot video (see the stuff I did of Buddy Zapata). I’m now producing (check out Not That Funny on Facebook). And now I can record live concerts. Laurie Niles is a fellow parent at McKinley School, where my kids go. Laurie is a violinist, a music teacher and educator, and a friend. She runs the crazy-cool website violinist.com, and this past Spring, she agreed to do a concert of violin music in the school auditorium. It was simply amazing. And I got to record it.

I think the live recording sounds pretty good, no, it sounds great. But live was even better. I wish you all could have been there. If you ever get the chance to see her in concert, it’s a treat. And every piece of music was unexpected — none of the “standard” classical fare. Here’s the trio that started the concert (the audio on this video is simply from the Flip camera — sometime I’ll marry up my audio with their video, but it’s not a priority right now):

And it was all that good. The “Meditation from ‘Thaïs'” that you heard at the top of this post was her encore, and it was a beautiful, peaceful way to end a magnificent evening of violin music.

I feel so privileged to be around such awesome talent. It’s fun. It’s challenging to me as an artist. And these people become great friends too, friends that I hope to be promoting and hanging out with and enjoying each others’ company 20 years from now.

So enjoy the music, and enjoy life, and enjoy the friends and family that you get to experience life with.

Blog, business, graphic design, Pasadena and local, post production for film and video, sound

What Hearken Creative did this summer, Part 2

Did I mention we were busy this summer? (By the way, my son is the one in the yellow cap above…playing the nerd. Perfect casting.)(Oh, and the fantastic photos of this summer’s shows were taken by New York-based pro photographer Matthew Murphy. He got some incredible shots.)

The Pasadena Musical Theatre Program is a decades-old training program for kids in Pasadena, CA. But I would call this a kid’s program on steroids, or, better, a pro theatre program that just happens to have kids as its focus. But this summer we held a master class with Megan Hilty of Wicked fame, held a class entitled Pursuing a Career in Musical Theatre, and did a American Idol-style solo competition, in addition to the two main shows that are produced every summer. Ryan Scott Oliver (award-winning musical composer), Cindy Abbott (wonderfully dedicated Pasadena music teacher), and Emily Clark (fabulous musical theatre performer and teacher) have transformed this program into a powerhouse that trains over 125 students every summer.

So what did Hearken Creative do? Well, for starters, I joined the board of the program last summer, because funding for arts has dried up with local school districts and I feel strongly about arts education. So, on our own, we have raised somewhere in the range of $50,000 every summer to make the program happen. In addition, Hearken Creative

  • provided all design services for print media, programs, and press releases,
  • photographed the Megan Hilty master class,
  • filmed the Promise Competition,
  • ran sound for all events, including the master class, meetings and competitions, and
  • sound designed both major shows — the Juniors (4th-6th graders) and the Seniors (7th-12th grade) shows.

Essentially, this was two weeks of wrangling a high school auditorium (that a friend aptly called an “airplane hangar”) into submission, using Hearken Creative-provided equipment, rented equipment, and the high school’s 40-year-old 24-channel mixer, as well as my own 16-channel digital mixer. Twenty wireless body mics, plus choir mics and band sound reinforcement.

And boy, did it sound good! We don’t have the professionally-produced video from KLRN yet, but several people have posted their home videos already. Here’s one:

and my son singing a solo at the Promise Competition:

Gimme Gimme, performed on July 8, 2010 from Loren A. Roberts on Vimeo.

The purpose of the program is twofold: first, arts education is vital to a well-rounded education, and music/dance hits so many of the other disciplines — math, reasoning, spatial relationships — that it seems stupid the schools are cutting performing arts. Secondly, there is an erroneous meme out there that there are no viable career options in performing arts. We aim to change that perception.

By using Hearken Creative’s graphic design skills, our production and sound design skills, as well as our music background and fundraising acumen, we were able to help make this summer’s Pasadena Musical Theatre Program a complete success.

Blog, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound

Buddy Zapata live music video: "Boat Ride"

Buddy Zapata is a good friend, a great collaborator, and one helluva musician. We took a few cameras over to Beantown in Sierra Madre, set up, and let Buddy play for a few hours. It was a magical evening. Not only have we filmed him, but

  • Hearken Creative built the Buddy Zapata website,
  • Mr. Zapata collaborated with Loren A. Roberts on The Fair Trade soundtrack, and
  • we’re now working on some new material for the upcoming Buddy Zapata album.

Pretty cool? Yes, but even more so when your business colleagues become some great friends in the process.

See more Buddy Zapata music clips here!

Blog, business, graphic design, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound, Uncategorized

Auto-Tune & Photoshop: embrace the march of progress

So I’m doing a lot more music recording these days. And one of my favorite tools is a wonderful little program called Auto-Tune, which, if used correctly, does exactly what its name implies: automatically pull a note that is out-of-tune back to perfect pitch. Let’s say there’s one note out of a whole phrase that’s a bit off-pitch: why re-record the whole verse for that one note? I just punch-in the plug for that one note, and we’re back in business. [TIME did an article on Auto-Tune, and the company has its own podcast mp3 so you can hear how the program works.]

I do the same thing with Photoshop a lot right now because I am now selling stock on iStockphoto. They need every photo submitted to be as close to perfect as possible, so I go in and “airbrush” all the little imperfections out, creating (hopefully) a more marketable/usable photo.

But I’m also conflicted. Overuse of Auto-Tune turns out lifeless vocals. And I love to “grunge” up my graphic design work, when the project calls for it. Imperfections are what make things human, and removing all of the human element isn’t always a good thing.

That said, I will never throw the tool out [like these people want to, or here’s Neko Case complaining about Auto-Tune towards the end of the interview, or these studio engineers who are as conflicted about using it as I am). If I can use it when needed but make it practically invisible, and then not use it when we have the time to get it right, then I think everything will be okay.

But taking the time to get things right is another concept that is dying right now — budgets are way too tight to actually try to do something right. So I work overtime even when the client isn’t paying for it, just so that I can be happy with the final result. Unfortunately, that cuts into the time that I’m supposed to be recording…

Blog, post production for film and video, sound

Sounds of the ’80s

If you were making music in the ’80s (I had a 4-track reel-to-reel in my bedroom with one Radio Shack mic, a Roland keyboard, and a Roland drum machine) you will recognize almost all of these sounds immediately. Thanks to Tara Busch on Twitter for pointing me to this wonderful collection of overused sounds.

It’s interesting: even though the sounds/patches/loops are all horribly overused, I find that they still work. Think about Phil Collins’ gated drum sounds (credited to Peter Gabriel for originating the sound): “Take A Look at Me Now” is beautiful pop ballad fodder, and it resonates with people, or else it wouldn’t have been a top-ten hit. So of course people are going to imitate that sound.

Yesterday in the studio we had a discussion about whether it was good to “surprise” people with the songwriting and sounds, or conform to people’s expectations in pop music. Since we are dealing with pop/country/rock, we decided to conform to expectations. We cut a 2/4 measure out of the chorus, opting to stay in 4/4 throughout the whole song. Was that the right decision? I don’t know, but I know what I hear on the radio, and we’re recording both for the joy of music as well as the possibility of making some money; and what makes money is conforming to people’s expectations.