Author Archives: Jason Miles

A Life in Music-Part1

About 25 years ago I was producing a very exciting project called “People”. It was based on a book and was going to be an animated film with an accompanying album with great special guests singing songs based in the movie. We were getting ready to go to California for an extended trip to record with a number of different artists and musicians and decided something fun to do would be if we could take a few days off beforehand and go skiing at Lake Tahoe. Since we hadn’t skied in a while and we knew a personal trainer we wanted to schedule a few sessions just to get limbered up and in shape. So here we were working with this lady, who is excellent, but then she opens her mouth and says, “It must be really exciting for you going to awards shows and concerts and hanging with all these stars you work with.” Well !! We explain to her that’s not part of our life in this business, that we make albums and we are in the studio and are always working and we don’t go to award shows and randomly hang out with music stars. She was truly surprised, but it made me realize that 98% of the people out there have no idea what it’s like to be in the music world and doing what we do. Yes, I have worked with some amazing artists and musicians but we are in the trenches in various scenarios and spend hours and hours perfecting our craft. So here is a little course based on what it’s like to really focus your life and try to make a career in the music and entertainment world.

The first thing to address is money. How are you going to support yourself in one’s quest to build a career and be recognized in this business and world? The late great piano player Don Grolnick said to me in 1974, “Be prepared to go for long periods of time without making money.” That was about as accurate a statement as one could make. The positive thing was that I was still very young and had the energy and the determination to start to make the journey. For five years I basically got very little work. I was just finding myself and meeting some great people along the way who were encouraging me to stay my course because I was in the right direction using electronic keyboards and synthesizer. There came a time, however, after years of scuffling, having my wife go back to substitute teaching and me doing gigs when I could come up with them, when we somehow made it by. The one thing that anybody getting into this has to know is that the arrow doesn’t always point straight up. There are times when it is definitely flat and there are times when it actually goes down and you struggle to try to find answers. How many can really hang in there for years to go and build a career?

One thing I can say is that you definitely need support and encouragement, especially from friends and family. If you are with a partner and they don’t support your journey and passion the relationship can’t work. My wife, who then was my girlfriend, never wavered in her belief of what my ability was and my talent was. I can’t say that about everybody that I knew and that’s why they are no longer together. You have to be a special breed to support that person and believe in them in the hardest business in the world to make it in. What I was happy about was when I started I wasn’t shy about meeting people and putting myself and my beliefs out there.
What I discovered was that I had ideas that others didn’t and I started building on those. I immersed myself in the technology and the music and was always in the middle of the technology that was emerging for electronic musical instruments.

So this struggle had been going on for 10 years, but I still believed in myself as did my wife and we forged on. After years, I finally got the opportunity to work with Miles Davis and I was totally prepared for what was about to be put in front of me. It was those hours and hours of work and dedication that made it so when I was in there, I had confidence in knowing my ability and knowing what I could deliver to them, and to my joy and surprise it worked and Miles Davis got a hit record with “Tutu”. Then came Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and many other musical situations I found myself in the middle of because of my work on synthesizers. The one thing that I was always conscious about was that the highs never last as long as you would like them too. After 15 years of being in Studios and working with so many great people, I couldn’t take it any farther and had to make a change and that change was to become a producer.

That was always a great ambition of mine and I spent years watching great producers like Tommy LiPuma, Marcus Miller (A 10-year collaboration!), Russ Titelman, and others who were great influences on me. I found myself working with the elite producers and top artists but I always said that I was the low man on the totem pole of the upper echelon. Even though I was a part of these great albums and their production teams, I wasn’t going to advance any more in that situation and then after that, I also didn’t realize one thing; just because I was doing multi-platinum work with other artists, didn’t mean that I would be trusted as a producer. I basically had to start from scratch at the bottom and start proving myself as a producer. I was very happy that my friend Arnie Holland, who had Lightyear Entertainment, started to really trust me in making projects for him. Before I was to go and jump into the big time, I did a Jane Fonda workout for him as well as several children’s albums that did really well. I got several awards and he was convinced I was ready to do this major project “People”. It’s a two-year journey to make this album and score (and in a later column I will tell the amazing story of how it all came together) and I wound up with an Emmy nomination for best original song and lyrics in a show.

Even after that, it was still hard getting work as a producer. I took all the opportunities I could to prove myself. Did demos for Artists, produced a track here and there. It wasn’t until my friend Saxophonist Jay Beckenstein encouraged me to try to make an album based on one of our favorite bands that wasn’t around anymore, Weather Report, that I had another shot. Here we go again, making an album and having to shop it around to labels. That, by the way, is not very fun to do, as you are always open to a so-called expert’s opinion. You really have got to develop a very thick skin to take all of the criticism. No matter how much criticism I’ve taken over my career and lifetime, it is still very difficult to get used to and not be emotional about it, because of how close you are to the project and the music.

The post A Life in Music-Part1 appeared first on Headphone Guru.

Original Resource is Headphone Guru https://headphone.guru/a-life-in-music-part1/

So You Think It’s Easy to make an Album of Great music-A History Lesson Pt2

This past couple of weeks backs up my musical premise about recording music in 2020. A new artist Billie Eilish won 4 Grammys with an album that was produced in her brother’s bedroom using $3000 of recording gear. It truly was stunning knowing the history of recorded music and knowing how great albums were made and the time and money it took. . . and now with so many music programs included on computers, anybody can do it. However the one thing everybody leaves out is the actual talent that it takes to be a great artist, musician, producer, etc. You can have the best gear but it’s still about what the artist brings to the table. 

A great production has to start with a great song. When you have the material that inspires all of the musicians and others involved, the elevation of the vibe in the room goes up. I can’t stress enough about looking at songwriting in the long term. Songs are the foundation of our musical society. Many have survived the test of time and will continue to be part of our everyday lives. Songs from the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Carol King, Motown had the special essence a song needs, a great melody and lyric. I believe that we have lost the spirit of songwriting in the way this modern music is because many songs have not been given a chance to really develop and they’re created right there on the computer and many times not even played but cut and pasted. I would sit in the recording studio lounge and listen to cassettes with Luther Vandross, of songs sent to him by great and many times legendary songwriters. 

  Once a decision was made as to what material was going on the record we would get the recording process started. Since my work revolved around electronic keyboards and synthesizers, I’m going to talk about a song that was done with all synthesizers, then overdubs, rather than talk about a traditional song with a traditional rhythm section. The first thing that always was critical, was to make sure that the tempo of the song was correct and everybody was happy with it. Back in the day and using an MPC 60, once you set the time and printed the drums that was it. If you want to change the tempo you had to go back and re-record, which I had to do many times. I’d go through my massive library of drum sounds and start getting a grip on which drums sound the best on the song we were working on. With the MPC, which was a digital recorder with a built-in drum machine, you could really control the whole song from there. There would be separate audio outputs, each with a  different drum sound, which really made it great and engineers loved the isolation of the individual drums so they could create a unique sound. 

My synthesizer rig had many moving parts and it all comes down to the MPC controlling all of the recorded data coming into it from the various synthesizers we were using. Each instrument on its own separate MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) channel. Those sounds had to find a way to tape and get recorded. There would have to be multiple overdubs and recorded passes, so how do you get everything to work together for every pass, so the timing lines up perfect? Enter SMPTE universal time code that enables various pieces of gear to sync with each other in time. Back then, it was a godsend. I had a box made by Roland called the SBX-80, it would read the time code and then translate to midi information, so you could sync it to tape and keep on overdubbing the parts that were in the sequencer (MPC60) still, to constantly get things to sync. It took patience and knowledge. The situation could get out of hand real fast if it was not working correctly.

  The uniqueness that I brought back then was my ability to work with midi synthesizers and create interesting texture that was electronic but also extremely musical. I could stack two or three or four synthesizers together and create a very unique sound and then really make it even more unique by working with the engineer and adding the right EQ and perhaps a nice effect as well. The format was just so open because of all the factors of what you are exactly looking for in the music and again at the end of the day, it’s about how well does all of the parts we’re recording work together. When you have that great song, everything seems to always fall into place.

What was also great, was many of the studios had their own unique character also, that really helped the creative process because of the vibe of the actual recording room. There was always a couch, nice chairs, and a lounge and just enough space to create some space between the people working in the room together which was usually anywhere between 3 to 5 people. As I have mentioned challenges were likely to abound for sure.

Once when we finished recording a whole song, Luther Vandross walked into the room and said that he made a big mistake by not adding another bridge to the song and he wanted to know if there was any way to fix that. The reality was we would have to create a whole other bridge on a separate piece of tape and then when the recording was completed on the new part, cut the tape and splice the 2-inch tape to the new section. To me, that goes through all the makings of a heart attack, because it is a complex thing to do. On this particular song what I also had to do was create a click track so we would be able to re-sync the synthesizer because once you cut the tape you lose the code and the consistency of it. I would create a click track using like a woodblock and just play quarter notes and then sync it to the tape and print the click track. Once we went and spliced the tape together again, we would then go and line up the click that was working and re-print the SMPTE time code.

I always felt the vibe in the Studio was a little tense during critical moments like this, where the whole thing is depending on one thin thread that could screw it up. When it got right and everything was done, it truly was a very exhilarating feeling knowing the challenge that was ahead of you and how it was turning out right now so that nobody would ever know the difference made by the work you did on the song to fix it.

It was my objective when I put together my mobile synthesizer studio, for me to have as much control as possible over what I’m working on and what I’m going to be sending to the tape. I hade a great 32 track homemade mixer made by this character Mo West in Nashville. It had great warm sound and what I would do with that is I would feed all my synthesizers into that mixer and then have one stereo plug feeding the main board in the recording studio and it all got mixed down to that. It really was a great way to work. Slaving tape machines together that could also sync together and create 48 track analog recordings and new digital machines that could record 48 tracks was making the creative process really fun and challenging.

 So here we are now, those past days are over and very few albums are made like we used to. The music has changed. Is it better? Worse? . . . No, it’s different. . . Not the same level of talent involved, but talent on another level of knowing how to work with Beats and other technologies, because that’s what the pop music of today is asking for. So the next time you’re by your laptop and you see that there’s a music program in there you might as well go and give it a try. . . because everybody else is.

The post So You Think It’s Easy to make an Album of Great music-A History Lesson Pt2 appeared first on Headphone Guru.

Original Resource is Headphone Guru https://www.headphone.guru/so-you-think-its-easy-to-make-an-album-of-great-music-a-history-lesson-pt2/

So You Think It’s Easy to make an Album of Great music-A History Lesson Pt2

This past couple of weeks backs up my musical premise about recording music in 2020. A new artist Billie Eilish won 4 Grammys with an album that was produced in her brother’s bedroom using $3000 of recording gear. It truly was stunning knowing the history of recorded music and knowing how great albums were made and the time and money it took. . . and now with so many music programs included on computers, anybody can do it. However the one thing everybody leaves out is the actual talent that it takes to be a great artist, musician, producer, etc. You can have the best gear but it’s still about what the artist brings to the table. 

A great production has to start with a great song. When you have the material that inspires all of the musicians and others involved, the elevation of the vibe in the room goes up. I can’t stress enough about looking at songwriting in the long term. Songs are the foundation of our musical society. Many have survived the test of time and will continue to be part of our everyday lives. Songs from the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Carol King, Motown had the special essence a song needs, a great melody and lyric. I believe that we have lost the spirit of songwriting in the way this modern music is because many songs have not been given a chance to really develop and they’re created right there on the computer and many times not even played but cut and pasted. I would sit in the recording studio lounge and listen to cassettes with Luther Vandross, of songs sent to him by great and many times legendary songwriters. 

  Once a decision was made as to what material was going on the record we would get the recording process started. Since my work revolved around electronic keyboards and synthesizers, I’m going to talk about a song that was done with all synthesizers, then overdubs, rather than talk about a traditional song with a traditional rhythm section. The first thing that always was critical, was to make sure that the tempo of the song was correct and everybody was happy with it. Back in the day and using an MPC 60, once you set the time and printed the drums that was it. If you want to change the tempo you had to go back and re-record, which I had to do many times. I’d go through my massive library of drum sounds and start getting a grip on which drums sound the best on the song we were working on. With the MPC, which was a digital recorder with a built-in drum machine, you could really control the whole song from there. There would be separate audio outputs, each with a  different drum sound, which really made it great and engineers loved the isolation of the individual drums so they could create a unique sound. 

My synthesizer rig had many moving parts and it all comes down to the MPC controlling all of the recorded data coming into it from the various synthesizers we were using. Each instrument on its own separate MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) channel. Those sounds had to find a way to tape and get recorded. There would have to be multiple overdubs and recorded passes, so how do you get everything to work together for every pass, so the timing lines up perfect? Enter SMPTE universal time code that enables various pieces of gear to sync with each other in time. Back then, it was a godsend. I had a box made by Roland called the SBX-80, it would read the time code and then translate to midi information, so you could sync it to tape and keep on overdubbing the parts that were in the sequencer (MPC60) still, to constantly get things to sync. It took patience and knowledge. The situation could get out of hand real fast if it was not working correctly.

  The uniqueness that I brought back then was my ability to work with midi synthesizers and create interesting texture that was electronic but also extremely musical. I could stack two or three or four synthesizers together and create a very unique sound and then really make it even more unique by working with the engineer and adding the right EQ and perhaps a nice effect as well. The format was just so open because of all the factors of what you are exactly looking for in the music and again at the end of the day, it’s about how well does all of the parts we’re recording work together. When you have that great song, everything seems to always fall into place.

What was also great, was many of the studios had their own unique character also, that really helped the creative process because of the vibe of the actual recording room. There was always a couch, nice chairs, and a lounge and just enough space to create some space between the people working in the room together which was usually anywhere between 3 to 5 people. As I have mentioned challenges were likely to abound for sure.

Once when we finished recording a whole song, Luther Vandross walked into the room and said that he made a big mistake by not adding another bridge to the song and he wanted to know if there was any way to fix that. The reality was we would have to create a whole other bridge on a separate piece of tape and then when the recording was completed on the new part, cut the tape and splice the 2-inch tape to the new section. To me, that goes through all the makings of a heart attack, because it is a complex thing to do. On this particular song what I also had to do was create a click track so we would be able to re-sync the synthesizer because once you cut the tape you lose the code and the consistency of it. I would create a click track using like a woodblock and just play quarter notes and then sync it to the tape and print the click track. Once we went and spliced the tape together again, we would then go and line up the click that was working and re-print the SMPTE time code.

I always felt the vibe in the Studio was a little tense during critical moments like this, where the whole thing is depending on one thin thread that could screw it up. When it got right and everything was done, it truly was a very exhilarating feeling knowing the challenge that was ahead of you and how it was turning out right now so that nobody would ever know the difference made by the work you did on the song to fix it.

It was my objective when I put together my mobile synthesizer studio, for me to have as much control as possible over what I’m working on and what I’m going to be sending to the tape. I hade a great 32 track homemade mixer made by this character Mo West in Nashville. It had great warm sound and what I would do with that is I would feed all my synthesizers into that mixer and then have one stereo plug feeding the main board in the recording studio and it all got mixed down to that. It really was a great way to work. Slaving tape machines together that could also sync together and create 48 track analog recordings and new digital machines that could record 48 tracks was making the creative process really fun and challenging.

 So here we are now, those past days are over and very few albums are made like we used to. The music has changed. Is it better? Worse? . . . No, it’s different. . . Not the same level of talent involved, but talent on another level of knowing how to work with Beats and other technologies, because that’s what the pop music of today is asking for. So the next time you’re by your laptop and you see that there’s a music program in there you might as well go and give it a try. . . because everybody else is.

The post So You Think It’s Easy to make an Album of Great music-A History Lesson Pt2 appeared first on Headphone Guru.

Original Resource is Headphone Guru https://headphone.guru/so-you-think-its-easy-to-make-an-album-of-great-music-a-history-lesson-pt2/