Friday, December 30, 2005

PCS&T CD Update - Eleanor Gerbil

Happy Friday, everyone,

It's been tough to find time for working on the CD over the holidays, what with family and friends visiting, and Evalyn out of school.

Our friend Geoff Garvoille was here from California, and he gave me a CD by "The Fab Four" (a Beatles tribute group) of Christmas songs done in the style of the Beatles. So for example you hear the harmonica introduction to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and the group starts singing "Joy to the World" in Liverpudlian accents. It's hilarious because they are so spot-on with the arrangements.

This immediately brought to mind one of my songs, which was already part of the plan, but this CD got me in the mood to take a swing at it. So I've been spending every available moment working on "Eleanor Gerbil."

My song was originally inspired by a song by the Magpies (a now defunct Canadian children's group) called "Norwegian Hamster." Of course both songs are Beatle sound-alikes. But neither is a parody; that is, they have their own melodies. They each do call to mind their respective Beatles inspirations. Think "Ruttles," if that means anything to you.

To record "Eleanor Gerbil," I started by importing the "Eleanor Rigby" backing track (just the string instruments) from the Beatles Anthology CD into my recording software. Since my song matches "Eleanor Rigby" measure for measure, rhythmically and lyrically, I created a click track to match "Eleanor Rigby."

I used that to record a reference vocal and guitar chords for my song along side "Eleanor Rigby." They sound horrible together, since mine is in a major key and the chords don't match, but going back and forth between the two, I painstakingly deconstructed George Martin's string arrangement from the original and reconstructed it phrase by phrase to fit my own song.

Of course the MIDI instruments I'm working with sound flat and lifeless compared with the vibrant and energetic performance captured on the Beatles recording. So the next step is to record them as digital audio and get to work trying to add some dynamics to make it sound as much like a real string octet as possible. It's tedious, but it's a lot of fun to slowly hear my arrangement come together, sounding more and more Beatlish as I go.

In between working on the arrangement I've been trying to get the lyrics nailed down - there's one line that just doesn't want to settle, but I think I've got it. I'll be ready to record the vocal soon, and then mixing, and then it'll be done. Yee haw!!

Stay tuned, and I might even let you have a listen...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

PCS&T CD Update

I promised regular updates... I was planning to do it on Fridays, but I missed last Friday. I've been down with a cold and not getting a whole lot done.

Besides that, I've been having some software trouble. (You may want to skip this paragraph if you're not a home recording geek!) I spent one afternoon on the phone with a support tech at MOTU trying to figure out why my Digital Performer software wouldn't recognize my MBox interface. The guy was very helpful and patient with me but we never really tracked down the problem. It turns out the trouble lies with the Mbox software. If anyone out there has the same trouble, here's what I found out from Digidesign: you can't let your computer go to sleep while the MBox is connected or DM will lose track of it. If DM does loose track of it, shut the computer down, disconnect the MBox, start up and re-connect the MBox (or something like that.)

Anyway, I have made some progress. I've been working on lyrics to "Dog Books" and "A Pet Like That." I finally tracked down the Dr. Seuss book I wanted to reference in "A Pet Like That"! I've been through every Dr. Seuss in the library trying to find it! I KNEW there was a Seuss with weird pets in it. I had specific images and words in my head, but I couldn't find them in any of the Seuss books I looked at. I've been searching for months! Then we were at Paw Paw and Grandma's house the other day culling out books from Evalyn's stash, and out pops One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and I knew immediately. Sure enough that was the one. Turns out the library puts the easy reader Seuss books on a different shelf, so I had been overlooking it.

I also finished a complete draft of "Dog Books." Lisa thinks it's the weakest song on my list so far! I like it though. I'm anxious to sing it for some kids and find out what they think.

On the recording end, I've been working on Villa Villakula Hula. I put together an "island drums" section using the toms from my drum kit. This was just as I was deciding to sell the kit, so I set up one last recording session, and the moment it was done, the drums went out the door and into the car. I used gating, compression, and EQ to try and make the toms sound more like island-type hand drums, and I'm still trying to decide if I'll use them. The kit, meanwhile is at Daddy O's if anyone wants some drums. They were taking up too much space in the living room to justify keeping it given the rarity with which I actually used them. You can see a photo of the kit on the back of the Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD. I'll miss having it to bang around on but I'll be able to buy an electric guitar with the proceeds.

Do you have a talking bird? If so, let me know! I've been collecting bird recordings for a planned piece tentatively titled "Bird Brains." It will be a sound collage of birds speaking - parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, etc., set to a danceable beat. I won't really know what it'll sound like until I have the bird recordings to work with. I've posted to many bird groups at Yahoo! and I've received clips of five or six birds so far. Some of them are really amazing. Did you know African Grey parrots are considered to be as intelligent as dolphins or chimps? They can be taught to actually communicate with speech. They can ask for what they want and answer questions like "What's different about this?" (the color, size, shape, etc.) The stuff I learn writing songs for kids! That's one of the things I love about this job.

Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Santa's Laugh

My December podcast includes two Santa songs, one for kids, and one for adults, plus a sneak peek at two songs I'm working on for the upcoming CD. Enjoy!

Plus, here's your chance to win a complete set of Monty Harper CDs! My podcasts are getting hundreds of downloads each month, but I have no idea who's listening or what they want to hear. I've posted a survey online to try to find out more about my audience. Fill out the survey for your chance to win a complete set of 5 CDs, worth $70. The drawing will be held January 14, 2006.

Take the survey here:

Go here to listen or download:
Go here to subscribe:
Or subscribe through iTunes here: 266293007

Friday, December 09, 2005

Family Groove

Hey, space cadets,

I wanted to let you know about Will Hale's internet radio program, Family Groove - this month he's featuring, well, me! There are four Monty Harper songs in the half hour show, and the rest of the song selections were inspired by my song topics. It's really fun. Of course the Family Groove show is always really fun, but this month, it's really really fun, at least from my point of view! Check it out:

Update on the new CD

Howdy friends and fans,

I've been negligent at keeping you updated on progress with the new CD. I will endeavor to post more often!

I've been trying out songs with classrooms at Richmond Elementary here in Stillwater, which is where Evalyn goes to Pre-K. I've visited some 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade classrooms. The songs they've heard include "The Cat Came Back," "I Took My Dragon For a Walk," "It's Hard to Love a Reptile," "A Pet Like That," and "Humming Bird Hum." I use a four step process with the kids to make sure that I get helpful feedback from them, and all the songs are stronger due to their input. (If you've listened to my latest podcast, you know how they saved me from inadvertently singing about children with no pants on!)

I've also finished complete drafts of "Villa Villakula Hula," and "Fred's Frog, Flippy." Other songs that are close include "Super Flea," "Paws Claws Scales and Tales," "Dog Books," and "Pet Parade." There are a couple of other ideas floating around as well, but you can almost guess at the final line-up for the CD based on the titles I've already mentioned.

As far as recording goes, I've been working on "Villa Villakula Hula" this week, recording Ukulele and guitar parts and a vocal. If you're familiar with Pippi Longstocking, then you probably guessed it's about her(and her pet horse and monkey) - she lives in a house called Villa Villakula. I've also made a good start at recording "Humming Bird Hum," which is a song I wrote with my daughter Evalyn's help. And of course "The Cat Came Back" and "I Took My Dragon For a Walk" were recorded in Chicago in October - you can read all about that in a previous post.

I plan to have a website up soon where I will post samples of the songs as I finish them, so watch for that. And now, I must go see if I can't get some recording done today! I'm going to start putting together a rhythmic bed for "Paws Claws Scales and Tales" using my Korg Electribe dance music machine - the same hardware I used to put together tracks for "I Go Bananas."

See you next week!