January 2017 Album Update!!

Much time has past since my last update, and much has changed since then. Time for another peek into my twisted music-making process!

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The latest update with the new album is this: I scrapped three of the 10 pieces, and am beginning to write one more piece to fill in that space. Yes this will push the release back by a few months, but also yes it will be a much better result because I’m taking my time with it and not letting anything slip by. However: all of the pieces are finally named, including this new one and the album itself. More on that later.

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Some more good news is that everything else is pretty much finished! Cello session is scheduled for this coming Saturday (weather permitting) and I’m really excited to work with this person! The mixing and editing process has been long but productive, and I’m absolutely thrilled with how it sounds both as a percussionist and an audio engineer. I was also given some great mix advice from family & friends that has really helped to make everything much more clear and fit together like a puzzle. I even had the privilege to hear these mixes on some really nice monitors, too! There is one piece in particular that is sounding INCREDIBLE! It really raises the bar for the other ones, so I’m putting extra attention into making sure that every section of every piece is up to those same standards. I’m confident at this point that it will come across that way to the listener too!

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The latest thing to be added was a few layers of kalimba on two of the pieces, which REALLY filled out the space in the mixes and goes well with the Hang, marimba, and vibes that have already been recorded. It went so well that I might see if it’ll fit with another piece or two. I’ve been recording with the Catania 12-note board kalimbas exclusively for their warm, full, resonant tone (and ease of re-tuning!). Sad to hear that the guy who makes these wonderful instruments recently closed up shop and retired, but my three kalimbas (different tunings) are still in great shape and should last many more years to come!

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I’m also very excited to say that I recently started to make play-through videos of each of these pieces. The first video is almost finished, and might actually be the first full piece that I debut(!!!). I’m sure this will be another long and crazy process, but I have some really great help with it (thank you, Jen <3), and it’ll be a great addition to the album to have this visual aspect of it too. Hopefully it will even open some doors to discussions on technique, instrumentation, etc. Look for those videos on Facebook and a brand new YouTube channel soon! Until then, you can check out a preview of this first video HERE!

 

August 2016 Album Update

Get ready for more frequent album updates, because things are really getting close over here!! All 10 tracks are written, and are anywhere from 85-100% recorded! We just had an incredible marimba recording session with my good friend Anthony DiBartolo. Having a real five octave marimba on the album really fills up the mix, especially with Anthony’s dynamic playing giving it a lot of color and dimension.

So again – what’s left?!

Thank you for asking. We’ll be finishing up the violin sessions soon (wow Julie Myers really adds a lot of motion to these tracks too!), then moving on to cello, and of course a few more percussion & drum set sessions thrown in there too (plus a surprise guest solo or two!!). There’s always more fun rhythms to try out!

Then it’s onto the mix. These sessions are HUGE – tons of layers and different sounds that need to all play well with each other. I’ve started mixing a few of the tracks – just some simple editing and getting some levels and automations programmed in, trying out different EQ’s, yada yada, but I’ve been really impressed with the mixes so far. It’s a daunting task to bring forth a whole album like this from scratch, and then to see it at this stage almost complete. There are many possibilities are far as where the mix could go. I don’t want this to sound like a rock or metal album, because it’s not that. It’s also not a jazz album; It’s somewhere between a few genres. My wife calls it, “jazzy percussion prog,” which I kinda like the sound of 🙂 so I’ll keep that in mind while mixing.

All of the tracks are named, but there’s no album artwork yet. More decisions…

Just a quick update for now – MUCH MORE will be posted as we approach the release date and more of the tracks are finalized. I’m also looking to do some play-throughs and other videos soon as well. Not sure I say this enough, but I REALLY appreciate everyone’s support with this whole album-making process, and I think everyone will enjoy this music as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.

I will post these tracks as soon as they are ready. The question is … are you ready?

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Merry Album Update, Everyone!

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Awhile back I mentioned about making another solo album, but not much has been officially said about it since then. I’m sitting here now listening to the playback of nine pieces totaling over an hour of new material. I’ve been chipping away at drum set and percussion recordings over the past two years for this, and it’s really coming together nicely. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with some different kinds of instruments on this album, most notably the Hang (similar to an inverted steel drum played with your hands). It has a very enchanting and recognizable sound, and really helps to lock in some of the compositions and bridge the gap between the melodic and percussive sounds on this album. I’ve also been working a lot with gongs if you couldn’t tell by now; using different types of mallets/brushes on them, and bringing out their percussive and melodic natures as well. I’ll say this: for a percussion-centric album, it’s extremely diverse!

What to expect?

This album is the next evolution in my musical journey. In my opinion, the compositions are better, the recording quality has greatly improved, and the performance is at a new level compared to anything I’ve done before. There’s a new level of groove on these tracks, which makes them easier to “get into.” A lot of these pieces are very challenging and fun to play. I also don’t think I “overplayed” on any of it, yet there are still some pretty intense/in-your-face moments. The use of contrast is huge, to enhance the musicality of the pieces. There is also no shortage of complex harmonies, rhythms, and lengthy compositions. It has a very earthy, organic feel as with most of my music, due to instrument choice and overall sonic qualities, but like I said before, it gets intense at times – believe that! It’s not metal, it’s not “tribal”, and it’s not like anything I’ve done before. It should really be a fun experience and will make you want to turn it up and really feel it!

So what’s left?

In short: recording the Marimba, Vibraphone, Violins and Cello (maybe a little guitar & piano as well??). There has been a lot of recording and re-recording that went on throughout the writing and recording stages. I got a hold of a better cajon for one track, so I completely redid it with that one. Shaker track not sitting 100%? Throw it on the list and redo that sucker! It’s been great having a laid-back recording schedule so I can really focus on the pieces and try things out/experiment in the studio. I’ve been mixing as I go along, so while nothing is 100% “finished” and “ready to share” at this point, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of the nine pieces, some closer than others. The final mixing will be done when everything has been recorded and no more redo’s are in store. Then it’s off to mastering and then out to you all! It’s just that simple (I wish). That being said, I am extremely proud of how everything so far is sounding, especially the drum set. Great tones all around!

However, there is no album name yet, no track names to share, nor an album cover at this point. How am I supposed to put names to instrumental pieces? Inside jokes about the tracks maybe? We’ll see soon enough! Also, another thing that will be different from my previous albums: I plan on doing a bit of marketing with this and hopefully making a video or two for it and playing some shows to support the album release with the help of some incredibly talented friends of mine! I had originally set a goal of the end of 2015 to release this album, but that’s not looking too likely right now – maybe summer 2016 if you’re good. I am looking forward to sharing these tracks THE ABSOLUTE SECOND they’re ready.

Large Drum Sets vs. Small Drum Sets

All “size matters” jokes aside, there is a lot to be said on this subject. I think there is a different mindset that comes from playing large, small, or “alternative” drum sets. And PLEASE keep in mind that the modern drum set is only about 100 years old anyway, so the “standard” drum sets that we see today could very well change within the next few years if we keep our minds open. My prediction is that we’ll soon start to see more “multi-percussion” set ups rather than the regular ol’ 5-piece preconfigured kits that are sold so frequently and not questioned today.

Back to the topic at hand, growing up I always knew I was a Large Drum Set person. To clarify, I’m talking about 6+ piece kits vs 4- or 5-piece kits. And even on a 5-pc, putting the rack toms off to the side of the bass drum rather than right over it scores some points with me (I call that an “extended 4-piece” kit). I learned a lot from watching Mike Portnoy, Simon Phillips, Neil Peart, etc., and adapted my playing style to incorporate that in there because it was flashy and exciting. But at some point I felt that I needed to reinforce the basics – not just rudiments in this case because they should be a standard practice for all drummers, but HOW to play on a Small Drum Set – to lay back and focus on the simplicity of The Groove. Obviously there can be some VERY impressive ideas expressed on a Small Drum Set like THIS, while many Big Drum Set players can become stuck in their ways or sound “contained,” despite their intimidating setups.

So where is the middle ground? I find that once you find Your Sound, you can really develop it further by experimenting with alternative drum setups. For me, I set up my Large Drum Set with symmetry and geometric patterns in mind. I think this keeps it fresh and lets me explore more possibilities than I would be able to do on a standard out-of-the-box 5-piece kit. It also allows me to see fills and patterns as shapes and to work within a certain shape or start there and expand upon it.

Coming from the Large Drum Set background, whenever I get a chance to play on a Small Drum Set (I’m talking 4-piece), I feel that I can sit back, relax, and just PLAY. I also find that the less “stuff” I have around me, the more I LISTEN to the other players or even myself. I’ve taken this approach back to the Large Drum Set, and have seen my compositions become more focused and less about hitting everything on the kit in each measure. And so when I do go for that 6″ tom or effects cymbal, it has more “meaning” than it would otherwise.

I’ll leave you with this:

Hang Drum Recording Technique (NOW WITH AUDIO!!)

I recently had the bright idea to compose a piece for hang drum (official name “Hang”), marimba, vibraphone, bells, drum set, and percussion that turned out to be nine and a half minutes long. This will undoubtedly be a monster of a piece to record, but I had to start somewhere. I started with the Hang because that was the backbone of the whole piece (more on the musical aspects of the piece later). I hadn’t recorded a hang drum before, so before starting the session I did a quick search for hang drum recording techniques online and found one picture that made no sense at all, and not much else that was very helpful (doesn’t mean it’s not out there). I figured I would go by a few basic mic’ing principles that I picked up in college:

First, “You’re not mic’ing the instrument – you’re mic’ing the air around the instrument.”

Now, this sounds MUCH more esoteric than it actually is. It’s really a great concept to keep in mind when mic’ing anything. Sound is vibrations in the air which are picked up by the mics, so that’s what you want the mics to capture (based on your mic’s pickup pattern), and not the instrument itself. 

Second, “Q: How do I mic this thing? A: How do you listen to it?”

Disclaimer: That Q&A doesn’t apply in every situation, but in this case it did help to weed out a few mic positions and save some time. Getting back to the strange method I saw in my short research on this topic, there were two large diaphragm condensers on the player’s right and left, facing each other and pointed down toward the instrument at about a 45 degree angle (spaced pair, maybe?). There was also a third mic in this same position in front of the player. Phasing issues aside, referring back to the second bold point above: unless you have very spaced out ears (we’re talking 3-4 feet) with a third ear extending out from your forehead, chances are that’s not how you would listen to the instrument. You most likely have two ears, which makes it worthwhile to go with a plain and simple stereo mic’ing technique. I set up two AKG C214’s right next to each other, facing out at about 35 degree angles, 8-10 inches directly above* the center note of the Hang. Since the 214’s have a cardioid pickup pattern, this mic position allows for full coverage of the instrument’s nine notes. When panned about half-right and half-left, it gives a very real representation of the Hang through the MOTU 8Pre Interface.

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*I also saw another picture where someone had one mic out in front of the instrument pointed down at a 45 degree angle, about a foot and half or two feet in front of and above it. The issue with that is the Hang is a circular instrument with notes all around it, so mic’ing it from any one side will produce louder results from the notes closest to the mic, while the notes farthest from it might not pick up as well (think of how the sound waves will spread similar to the Sun’s light and heat affecting planets closer or further away from it).

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That’s why I figured that a stereo pair right above the center note would be best, and to my relief, it didn’t really need any further processing from there. It had just enough of the “proximity effect” to sound full, articulate, and “beefy” without sounding too bassy or muddy, and the instrument itself is very resonant, so any artificial reverb just clouded it up. When all of the other instruments are added in, I’ll re-examine the Hang tracks for further processing, but for solo purposes, this is the setup I’ll be sticking with – very pleased with the results, and can’t wait to share when the track is complete! I would love to hear your experiences recording the Hang or any other instrument that gave you a challenge!

Here’s a little something that I improv’d on the Hang with this mic placement. I enabled free downloading for this track on soundcloud.

The Dark Arts of Percussion

Q: What is The Dark Arts of Percussion, and should I report you for being a part of it?

      A: No, calm down.

 

The Dark Arts of Percussion is a new series of albums by Jeff Willet Music. First in the series we have “The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove,” an album recorded only with three Wind Gongs, a gong beater named “King Gong,” and a simple straw brush. It is a meditative album, meant to be listened straight through the six tracks, and focuses on the harmonic content of these wonderful gongs that create a beautiful soundscape that relaxes the mind to a state of deeper thought. The tracks are not named so as to not steer your thoughts in any way while experiencing the sounds contained therein, but rather left unnamed to leave the musical journey up to your own imagination. Much time was spent crafting the sound and the mix of the album to represent what it would be like to hear this performed live as far as stereo imaging as well as careful and precise EQ’ing. These gongs are also special because of where they are from. They were hand-selected in the Wuhan Province of China for Steve Weiss Music before the major brands could get to them. Steve Weiss himself was given the nickname of “King Gong” by Frank Zappa many years ago, and has been a landmark in the Gong and Percussion communities ever since. You can download the album the price of your choice HERE.

 

The second album in The Dark Arts of Percussion series is still in the works but promises to be much bigger, with more large-scale, percussion-focused arrangements, featuring both melodic and rhythmic percussion instruments from all over the world. Not exactly tribal, not exactly jazz/fusion, but a contemporary blend of multiple genres to let the instruments speak as they wish. Writing, rehearsing, and recording for this album will take place throughout in 2015. More details about the what/where/when/why/who’s of this album will be released shortly.


Even though The Dark Arts of Percussion is primarily a studio project, live performances are not out of the question! Please email jeffwilletmusic@gmail.com for more info.

Custom Drums

As I sit here listening to some new kalimba tracks I’m working on, I’d like to bring to the attention of all of the drummers & percussionists who read this that there is a golden opportunity to get your hands on the fully custom drum set of your dreams! Steve Weiss Music now offers custom drums in four brands – Gretsch, Yamaha, Pearl, and Ludwig – all with some pretty sweet options, click around through them all!

When you build your own custom drum set, you have complete control over things like wood type, drum & hardware finish, bearing edges, and obviously the sizes of the drums and the configuration. Too much to choose from? They’ll even help you along the way to make sure you’re getting what you want from it if you call or fill out the short form on their page. ***You are no longer limited to the standard 4 and 5-piece drum sets that you see at music stores!*** If you’ve ever said anything like, “well that one’s nice, but I’d like a bigger bass drum size with those same toms,” or “that finish would jump out better with black or gold hardware,” then … make it happen! There are some wild and crazy possibilities with this – the conventional idea of what a drum set is could soon become obsolete if this really takes off!

I’m actually bringing you all this great news as a custom drum set owner myself – below is a picture of what I came up with – it’s unique, not sold like this in stores, but it is possible to get something similar (or completely different!) through SWM’s new custom drums builder:

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My custom drum set

22″ x 18″ bass drum (birch) – 8″ x 7″, 10″ x 8″ , 12″ x 9″, 13″ x 11″, 14″ x 12″ toms (birch) – 6.5″ x 14″ metal snare – but the Sabian Cymbals bring it all to life!