I meditate and channel Mozart, think “music” and suddenly pages of music notes on staffs appear in my head. I write things down frantically before it vanishes all too quickly....

Well, maybe not so much.

By the way, a former Atlanta Symphony conductor once heard my music and, when I asked his opinion, he dryly replied: “Well, you ain’t no Mozart!” Although the veracity of this statement was obvious, it hurt nonetheless.

The way it really works is I just sit down at the piano, pick out a few chords and play all sorts of variations of melodies and rhythms and listen to what I’m playing. Occasionally, snippets jump out at me and I start concentrating on those. Eventually, I have one or two melody lines. I leave it and, later, come back to it. I don’t remember it exactly, so it changes. Later on, away from the piano, I replay the song in my mind and make mental modifications.

When something starts to gel, I will play it over and over. Each time I play it, it evolves, something gets added; something gets subtracted. A good analogy is a painting that is repeatedly painted over until the image is significantly modified from the original.

Over a period of days, weeks or months, an entire song evolves from the process. I play it enough so that it is “set” in my mind. I don’t take the extra time to produce the sheet music, so it is all from memory.

Creating 'Being Instrumental'

Being Instrumental is the first CD effort in which I have added midi background instruments. Prior CDs were solo piano recordings. Here is the method I used for this new direction:

Working with headphones, I open a new program file in Sonar, set the tempo and do a “first take” recording of the piano in my home living room [prior CDs were studio recordings]. Depending on the song, I may also add a drum track background. Occasionally, I rely on some preset drum tracks that have been selected, but most often, I ‘peck out’ the drum parts on the midi keyboard. I may end up with 3 or 4 drum tracks to facilitate adding different percussion sounds.

Using a virtual drum “map,” each key on the midi keyboard is assigned a different drum sound. Modifying the intensity of how each key is struck determines how each drum or cymbal will sound. The recording often requires editing to align the beats and other drum parts more precisely with the tempo [for which I make a “tempo drum track” or a “click track”]. Each strike of a drum or cymbal can be manually edited on graph template in the “piano roll view” of the Sonar software and can be quite labor-intensive.

Pic of Recording Set-up

Then, I audition various “virtual” midi instrument sounds with the piano/drum recording to see what will work well. After recording one sound and listening to it, I may change it to one that works better. The song evolves with adding and subtracting various sounds and background melodies, each assigned to their own separate track. Volume is adjusted for each instrument in the various sections of the song using “volume envelopes.” Multiple sittings are required to get a finished product.

After I get significant portions of the song together, I will record it to a CD so I can listen to it remotely, on my home stereo [I have no studio monitors!] and in my car. I often hear things that were not so apparent using the microphones. I audition the songs with my good friend, Partricia Baughman, who has been kind to spend many hours of supportive, critical listening along with some very constructive criticism.

Once I have a decent mix, I will re-record the piano parts until I get a [relatively] good, error-free recording. I may edit and mix together the piano sections that I like the best, splitting and crossfading the waveforms at key transition points. My piano-playing is the weakest link in the process and it is rare for me to be happy with what I have recorded for an entire song but, occasionally, it happens! I can record the piano for a song many times (I have done it for up to 100 times!!) and end up with only one or two takes that I am “almost happy with!”

Taking It to the Studio

Once the songs are completed, the files for each completed track are converted to 24 bit WAV files and taken to the studio (Allgood Media Services, Atlanta; William Allgood, Engineer). The mixing process involves tweaking the equalization of each instrument (improving the quality and making it sound more “real”), the pan (where each instrument is located relative to the others in a room), the relative volume of each instrument, the “roll-off curve” of each instrument when they stop playing and the reverb (echo quality in the room). The final songs have to have their volumes matched relative to each other in the final mix. The master is then “burned” and sent to the manufacturer.