Monday, December 9, 2013

Orchestral Libraries 2: A Review of East West, the Complete Composer's Collection, and other High End Sample Libraries

Ok, so it's been a while since I wrote my buyer's review for some of these libraries. As my most popular article, I feel I owe it to you, the readers, to continue this as a sort of mini series.

For today, I will give a more in-depth review of my East West purchases as well as some insight to the future posts you can expect to see.

Most of you should know, through your own research, what East West is and how they operate. They have two levels of sample library (high and elite), and they often bundle packages, known as the Complete Composer's Collections, together for those who are looking to buy several libraries at a discounted price.

Some of my first serious libraries came from that EW CCC, against my better judgment and the advice of many who came before me, completely and utterly due to the price. As I stated in my buyer's guide, it is the most all-in-one package you could probably find... at least a few years ago. With its ability to customize exactly which libraries you get and how many (above 7) you get, it was very appetizing to me and was perfect for where I was. However, as many of you should know by now, they currently run on the PLAY 4 sampler, while virtually everyone else in the world runs on Kontakt. If it wasn't for Native Instrument's large price tag on that player alone, I would have gone that route and gotten other libraries for it.

So, let's take a look at exactly what I got: Symphonic Choirs, Symphonic Orchestra Platinum, Goliath, Gypsy, Pianos, Ra, Silk, Stormdrum 2 Pro, and Voices of Passion.

Choirs: I rarely use this mainly because I don't like to write many pieces for choir, and when I do, I usually write more ethnic-sounding styles that truly need to be recorded live. I was very intrigued by its word building feature and thought this might be great for any epic choir songs I do decide to write without using an actual epic choir. When people say that the word builder is awesome, that's quite a stretch. Yeah, it's cool to be able to form your own words, but you've got to remember, these words aren't super clear like they would be if you asked a group of real people to sing them. I find it best for creating gibberish that sounds like Latin, honestly. For example, one project that will be released around the turn of the year called for a type of gibberish that I tested with choirs. Because choirs takes up so much memory and processing power and because it didn't really say the words I had created in an understandable manner, I found it to be useless and just recorded a live choir instead. Overall, in comparison to other similar libraries, I'd have to give this a letter grade of B. This is because there aren't too many choir libraries out there, and as I said, I just record live, so I have no reason to try to compare. As just a library, the grade would be lower, perhaps as a C or something in that average range.

Symphonic Orchestra Platinum: This is my most used library. It comes with a full, four section range of mostly traditional orchestral instruments. It is just fine for people who like to compose casually or who are not very skilled, but it also has some real setbacks. First, many of its samples have noise in the background in random notes. That can get annoying really quickly. Second, the master keyswitch files seem to be on a round robin preset that is not the same as some of the standalone articulations. They mostly alternate between two hits, which becomes really obvious in staccato arrangements, especially if you are not following a hard-soft (forte-mezzoforte/piano) pattern. These also take up a fairly large amount of memory and processing, so a lot of computers cannot handle many instances of SO instruments being opened. If you are clever enough, you can use just one instance of PLAY to track many different instruments, but that is a topic for another time. Finally, the samples are very bright, probably due to heavy EQ and processing before packaging them up into the program. So, let's talk about each individual section of SO Platinum.

  • Strings: My most used of the four sections. They are so flippin' bright, but the proper use of EQ can fix that and appease my actual string-playing friends. They do a good job of including articulations and group sizings for different needs, but some groupings clearly took precedence over others. There are 18 violins, 11 violins, 10 viole, 10 celli, and 9 double basses for the largest of orchestral arrangements. It is super annoying that the 18 and 11 violins don't have the same articulations. One of them does not have a pizzicato. I think one might not even have a good staccato or marcato setting. So, if you are hoping to have a true violin 1 section and violin 2 section, this is not the library for you. You'll more than likely have to use two 18 violin sections half of the time or assign certain articulations to the violas or cellos. Next, there is a rather pitiful chamber level of about 4 or so of each instrument. You basically get a legato setting with maybe one or two other articulations (and that's how it is in the brass and winds too). Finally, they offer solo versions of each instrument, and they pick the slack back up by offering a good number of articulations. They also offer full, all-in-one string and entire orchestra sections as additional articulation presets. Harp and harpsichord are also included in this section.
  • Brass: I use this one a lot too. It is very similar to the strings. Being fairly bright, it sometimes has to be EQ'd appropriately on the high end, but sometimes, its brightness can work to your advantage, especially with trombones. Because brass sections don't need to be as large, they come in at 4 trumpets, 6 French horns, and 4 trombones. The articulations for the trumpets are extremely annoying because they are basically spread out over that grouping, the 2 trumpet grouping, and the two versions of a solo trumpet. To cover a wide range of playing techniques, you would probably have to use all four. There are also 3 Wagner tuben, and if you don't know what those are, look 'em up on YouTube or something and then read a book about Richard Wagner. Aside from the larger groupings and the two solo trumpets, it also includes solo versions of a piccolo trumpet, French horn, trombone, and a tuba to round off your low end.
  • Winds: My saddest of sections, which I try to use a lot, but it is clear they did not put as much effort into it. For the top end, you get 3 clarinets, 3 flutes, and 3 oboes with a good number of articulations. However, the solo instruments are superior in this group. Together, the solo bassoon and contrabassoon cover a wide range of beautiful low end articulations, but because of the instrument ranges, and the fact that both don't cover all of the articulations, I often find myself having to switch an arrangement around to make up for it. If they put more into these two instruments alone, the SO project would have been so much better. The three solo flutes are piccolo, regular, and alto, all of which are fairly decent. The solo oboe and english horns are also pretty good. Finally, there is a solo clarinet and a solo bass clarinet.
  • Percussion: This is a fairly decent library. I use it for a wide range of cymbal and gong sounds. I rarely use the actual drums because I like Stormdrum better, but the metals and woods also offer nice selections. The one frustrating thing about this library is that most instruments are triggered by the same MIDI notes. Because you can load multiple different instruments and samples to be triggered as one instrument, they really should have organized it in a way that would allow you to load lots of instruments as a sort of all-in-one percussion player. This is different from using one instance of PLAY to track multiple, but separate instruments. If I want a tambourine and a triangle to load, I need to open two instances anyway because they are both placed in the same 12-note range. C'mon guys, you had 88 choices (not really, but, who's keeping track?). By loading both, if you press C2, for example, whatever sample is on C2 for the triangle and tambo will sound. That's why they shouldn't be placed in the same range. If you are lucky or want to spend a bit of time mixing and matching, you may be able to find a cymbal combination with your triangles or a gong combination with your drums. It comes with lots of other cool metals, like anvils and sleigh bells. The glockenspiel, which I want to use a lot, is a touch disappointing. There is a lot of noise in its louder articulation, and many of the hits sound like they clip. The mellow articulation is basically worthless, since you can never hear it. Lately, I've been going with the celesta or even crotales. In its woods, there are castanets, a marimba, (the tambourines are actually here), a washboard, a xylophone, and more. There's even a Steinway piano, but it was only recorded at the stage mic level. 
Mic'ing is a huge deal with EWSO and the Hollywood Series, so if you only buy gold versions, you are for sure screwed. In gold, you only get stage mics and might as well throw the whole thing away. The close ones are super important to have access to, even if you don't always use them, and the surround (plus the additional two mics in HS) offer even more possibilities. B- is a generous grade for EWSO.

Goliath: This is basically a demo of their other libraries. It pretty much gives you the worst everything else has to offer, plus general MIDI. The only plus about it is that it takes up very little processing and memory. I do use it occasionally to fill in an out there instrument that I can't get anywhere else. For example, I have no other access to saxes right now, and I hate myself every time I use the ones in Goliath. This gets a D, hands down, and should not be considered a high quality library. Next!

Gypsy: Another library that is easy on your computer, this offers a rich solo violin that can easily be overused. It's kind of a hidden gem, but the word is definitely getting out. It also offers some nice classical and acoustic guitars and many instruments in the accordion family. Check it out to discover more. B+

Pianos: This is the mother of resource suckers. The detail and quality is huge though. I don't know that another library could beat this one in quality. They'd probably tie. However, you will experience that lack of realness if you make it sound too pretty. My only concern with this library is that it corrupts a lot, for me at least. I don't know if it is the library or Logic Pro, which I am currently considering leaving. It doesn't matter though because neither Apple nor East West have the greatest customer service (Apple is way worse), and they will both blame each other for any problems. Perhaps it is me. I do like to have a lot of naturalness in my notes by spreading out their actual positions ever so slightly, so rather than triggering 6 notes at exactly the same time, it has to trigger them in a sequence that is almost exactly the same time. Perhaps it can't handle it and that is why the notes come out choppy. I did recently find that if I leave the piano track highlighted when I play back or export, I do seem to have fewer problems. This glitch happens with pianos from any EW library, not just Pianos, so A- for this one. Let's just hope that solution sticks.

Ra: This is like a rushed version of silk. It doesn't offer too many articulations and is pretty studio-ified, but if you need world instruments, this should be a nice little boost to your collection. It doesn't tax your resources and is fairly reliable, though back before I got my whole CCC fixed (from too much corruption) it was one of the libraries that would do a similar thing to pianos with certain instruments. B- seems like a fair grade.

Silk: I really like this library when I use it. I just wish it had more instruments. It focuses specifically on China, India, and the Persian empire. There is a lot more detail and more articulations are included than in Ra, so even if instruments do overlap from Ra's wider, world collection, Silk is pretty much always better. The small Chinese Di Zi seems to randomly turn off. Let's hope that was fixed in my recent endeavor, since I haven't used it in a while. Other than that, the instruments are pretty reliable, and I don't know that you could find better non-Western set of pre-recorded instruments out there. Definitely in the A class along with pianos. You assign the +s and -s as you like.

Stormdrum 2 (Pro): I use this one a ton. They have great drums, so I'm not sure why people don't rave about them as much as some of the other libraries out there, like the Drums of War, by Cinesamples. The variety is pretty good too, as you get a few rock kits, traditional orchestral drums, and a ton of foreign drums, such as the taiko (and many alterations), roman war drums, earthquake combos, etc. The list is quite extensive, so you should look up the complete list on the soundsonline site if you want to know the specifics. One thing I will say is that the metals are just as great as the drums. Plus, they have included sound design material. Some of the drum hits do feel like they clip though, and some of the room ambiences and accidental noises are undesirable, but it is still pretty stable. B+

Voices of Passion: A pretty handy little library if you like solo vocalists. I'm married to one, so I get even better options, but this is great for styles she doesn't sing in. You get an American lady, which for me is useless, since I know enough of them. You get a Bulgarian woman, which sounds almost as much Middle Eastern as she does European, so she can be used in surprisingly more ways that you would have thought possible. However, her EQ is super muffled, so expect to raise the high end and cut the lows dramatically. There are ladies from India and Syria as well, if you want more authentic Middle Eastern or Indian vocal runs. Finally, a singer from Wales rounds out the team. I've never used her in a project, but I'm fairly confident she sounded great when I was fooling around with her vocal abilities. It's not the biggest library, but they are very generous with the amount of recordings they include for each woman. If you are looking for male vocals, this is the wrong library. I'll give this one a B. It's right where it should be for that high quality level library. Only a real person can probably reach that elite grade.

With all that I have, I wish I'd sacrificed Goliath or even the Voices of Passion (or possibly Choirs) for the Ministry of Rock or Fab Four because none of the rock drum kits are good in any of the libraries I have, and I'm often stuck doing them in another program with my secret weapon (though it's not round robin) or recording live, both of which take significantly longer.

So, there you are. If you are considering the CCC, pause. The CCC2 is now out. Get that inste... pause again. Hollywood is better than Symphonic, but the CCC2 only comes with the gold version of Hollywood. Remember what I said about that? My friend just bought it and instantly regretted it. Luckily, the CCC2 Professional is also out. That has the diamond versions with all of the mics, and it comes on a pocket flash drive which is mountains handier than the hunky SATA drive you'd get with the original CCC.

If you can afford the $400 USD for Kontakt or wait until they have a 50% off sale (usually on Black Friday), I'd recommend that, and then you can try to get a discount on the full Komplete if you need more B grade, high quality, instruments. In fact, they may even give you more than EW, but you definitely don't get to pick and choose. Ultimate is not exactly cheap either, but it can be discounted too if you time it right.

I am about to do a special 6 month trial deal with Vienna, so that will be my next review. From there, if I decide not to buy a package deal from them, I will be considering the Albion series. I hope you enjoyed this article and found it to be helpful as you debate for hours over what is the best library to buy.

Be sure to also check out what's going on at www.natecombsmedia.com!

Monday, June 24, 2013

How Do I Get Better at Composing, Mixing, or Producing Music?

Earlier today, I was asked this simple, yet common question. "How do I get better at my music?" The person then went on to say, "I keep putting a lot of time into making my songs, but they all end up sounding the same in their horrible quality." I responded with six simple steps you should follow if you are so lost you don't know where to start, and they can probably benefit a lot of other people as well, so let me go more in-depth for you!

1) Ask questions - OK, check. That is what he was doing. Good! Don't stop. Find musicians you trust and ask them how they have gotten better at their craft, whether it be writing, arranging, mixing, editing, singing, beat-making, composing, mastering, etc.

  • What you shouldn't do during this step - only find famous composers or writers or singers or producers and ask them to critique you and help you get better. Some may have articles or blogs you can read, but you are wasting everyone's time if you only go straight to the top. Especially if your trade is relatively new to you, you probably wouldn't even understand a word they said.
2) Visit forums and do research - Forums are great places to ask those questions, but two things on research to start. First, a lot of musicians tend to get lazy and want to become better or be noticed without doing the extremely hard work of learning their art themselves. That rarely works. Even the famous musicians who are uneducated traditionally still put countless hours into practice, figuring out what they are good at, and building relationships with others in the industry, and so on. Second, if you don't like something or if everything begins to sound the same, why keep doing it? If you don't understand compression, research compressors and compression techniques. If you want more exciting arrangements, research arranging and dynamics. Though there is a lot of junk online from people who know less than you do, there are still great articles and videos out there about anything you want to know. A few places I visited when I first started taking music seriously include, www.soundonsound.com, audio.tutsplus.com, and the forums at www.gearslutz.com. Pensado's Place (http://www.youtube.com/show/pensadosplace) has invaluable mixing information on YouTube.

  • What not to do here - annoy people. Simply put, forums have rules, and they want them to be followed. Make sure you check to see if your question has been asked before creating a new thread, don't be surprised or hurt if no one wants to listen to all of your music, and DO NOT SPAM with unrelated talk or advertising. Follow those simple rules, and most people will be willing to help you out.
3) Get better equipment - So this is probably out of order logically, but if you are making music in one of the old versions of Fruity Loops, have a $50 USB mic, and don't own any non-factory sample libraries, your music isn't going to sound as good as you want, regardless of how good you are. However, if you are not good with what you have, learn it until you outgrow it. Then, upgrade.

  • Don't? - Buy things you don't understand yet, over-upgrade, assume better equipment will fix your problems if you yourself haven't learned what you need to know.
4) TAKE CLASSES - In short, you can't know what you don't know if you don't even know it exists. Words cannot describe how much traditional theory classes will make your writing and arranging more accessible. If you play an instrument, you will probably need help to master it, unless you are a 6 year-old prodigy. Classes are even offered online if you don't live in a great area for music. If you know great musicians, however, see if you can watch them and observe how they do what they do.

  • Hmm - don't limit yourself, but don't overload either. Figure out what you like the best and what you are good at. Put the most time and money into just producing or just composing or just singer/songwriting, and do everything else as a hobby.
5) Be ready to dedicate time and money - I just said upgrade equipment and take classes, didn't I? Perhaps this should have been number 3 ;) Music is incredibly expensive. Make lots of friends. They will let you borrow gear, especially if you have things they would like to borrow in return. There are costs in other places, so be prepared. Eventually, you will have to have a network of connections, and in order to meet people, you can expect a decent amount of travel if you don't live in a good area for conventions and other events.

6) Set specific goals for improvement - this is the best piece of advice for a starting point. When I first started making my own music, I only remade other people's songs to get a feel for the art. Because I had a few beats and ideas from cheap recordings, I then turned them into functioning pieces. By the time I became serious, I knew exactly what goals to set for each project: "Today, I'm going to work on making an orchestral piece with a great percussion arrangement," "Today, I will practice eq-ing the bass better," etc. Then, utilize the above resources to figure out how to accomplish those goals.

All in all, if you do the same thing over and over again, you won't grow, so, while it may be uncomfortable or even frightening, you have to step outside of the boundaries that confine you to mediocrity if you want to succeed in art. Often times, success is spelled R-I-S-K. Take risks. Try new things. Good luck!

If you haven't been there already, be sure to check out my newest website at www.natecombsmedia.com for music demos and more!

Also, a bit of shameless advertising. If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check out my wife, Teshelle Combs, and her newest novel, "Core." It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Joshua Jay Espinosa - Gamer and Aspiring Designer

This past week has been extremely busy for me. Not only did I finish up my first year of my grad studies in composing, completing several great new pieces, I also was contacted by multiple people (seriously, about 5) who asked me if they could use some of my old music in their projects, such as video games they have created, or even if I could compose them custom tracks. One such inquirer was Joshua Espinosa, a young artist who is working hard to make his passion of creating games into a reality. He just released a demo of a game from his "Poet" series, which features my battle theme "Edge of Night." I interviewed him over the weekend, and here is what he had to say:

1) What, if any, musical background do you have?

I am sad to say that my musical background is not a very full one. I always wanted to take up the violin or the piano but my parents weren't able to afford the instruments or lessons. However, I used to have a cute recorder that my school supplied me with. I used to light up the house with that little guy, I did. I also used to sing in the school choir before high school but, now, I simply admire music from the pews. Its an outstanding gift these musicians have--the ability to speak to the soul without a single word.

2) You just released a demo of your game "Poet 2011."  How will this differ from your upcoming game "Poet?"

"Poet 2011" was actually just an assessment of the mechanics of game development. It was a test and that can be seen through its clich├ęs and generality. That being said, the gameplay and story were not something I was completely comfortable with. I collaborated with a friend on the story and borrowed a lot of resources/assets from programmers in order to just focus on putting the pieces together. In the end, however, it just didn't feel like a "Joshua Jay" game. I also don't speak with my old collab partner (Sandra Carla Roffi) as much as I should, so I've decided to leave her characters designs and story ideas so she may use them in any of her independent projects. 
To fully answer the question, "Poet" will feature new characters, a new world, a new story and (hopefully) new gameplay elements. The character of Poet will be returning along with a different rendition of Camus, Snowdude and the Professor (characters seen near the end of the demo). That is about all that is returning, though. Take "Poet 2011" as Poet's training regimen for "Poet". 

3) How had music played a role in your video game experience, both as a player and creator?

Music is the game. You can have a beautifully built game but with a poor soundtrack you'll put your players to sleep.  Similarly, if you have a less than mediocre game and an intense soundtrack, you'll be able to make up for anything you are lacking. As a player, video game music has made my video game experience unforgettably memorable (excuse the redundancy). I'll hear the theremin-like sounds of Animal Crossing and be transported to a simpler time or I'll listen to the intense wails of the distressed choir from that boss battle one spends days beating  and be granted the strength to push myself to the very limits. If composed correctly, video game music stays with the player as their own personal soundtrack for the rest of their life.
The music plays in with my experience as a creator, as well. I admit to going on very long walks and listening to music (mostly pieces from video games) in order to create/cultivate my ideas. As the music plays, all becomes blank, the world melts around me and I am transported to a world in which my characters are guided into their stories by each note. 

4) What are your goals for the future in the gaming industry?

As far as genres are concerned, I intend to not only reanimate the slowly (veeery slowly) dying genre of traditional Role Playing Games, but I also want to bring together the perfect blend of Western RPGs and Japanese traditional RPGs. Although this has been done before, the blended genre is becoming increasingly scarce on the market. 
My overall goal, however, is to bring a studio from the ground up that produces "top shelf" games in order tell my stories and have them be told forever. Hence the name of my blog, "The Immortal Stories". Games, I feel, are one of the best mediums in which one can tell his or her stories because the player is allowed to walk through one's mind. I want people to take a stroll through my mind. I want them to take every symbol that reflects the pains and joys from my life and grow with it...all while engaging in an enjoyable gaming experience.
I know, that's a pretty romanticized and mushy goal for a game developer but it is my ultimate goal, in essence. 

5) Who are some of your game music heroes?

Ah! That's easy. I have what might be deemed as an unhealthy bias to Japanese composers. I want to say that my video game music heroes lie within Nintendo but I am forced to side with the composers under Square Enix. Although they tie in my book, I can actually list my favorite composers under Square Enix off the top of my head, thus, leading me to believe that I favor them a tad bit more.
In no specific order:
1) Yoko Shinomura (Known for her work for Kingdom Hearts)
2) Nobuo Uematsu (Known for his music in the Final Fantasy franchise before 2007)
3) Masashi Hamauzu (Known for his work in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy)
4) Keiichi Okabe (Known for his work in NIER, along with others)
5) Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Not from Square Enix, but composed with others on the Bayonetta soundtrack)

My Thoughts on the Interview

Well, it is never too late to start learning an instrument. If you have a job or can start selling games, save up a bit, and get the instrument that is most interesting. Because violin is pretty hard if you don't know any other instruments, I'd recommend piano. However, advice I can say is very helpful regarding learning new things is that you should first follow your passions. If game design is the main thing, let it be the main thing. If you try to learn too much, you will spread yourself very thin and be less successful at what matters to you. But, hobbies are always a great thing to have... so long as they remain hobbies and don't become equal to the more important things in life.

That is a nice thing you did for your old partner. Too many people out there try to use other people's ideas from past collaborations in new projects, usually taking all of the credit for what was not even theirs.

Music definitely is what makes the game experience, I agree. I am super surprised at how many people know what a theremin is. Good reference! And yes, music that is composed correctly has stayed with me so far, and I doubt it is going anywhere any time soon. That's why I always get so excited when I talk to Grant Kirkhope, creator of all of N64's best music. What he did 15 years ago still floats around in my head all the time.

It's very interesting that you go on walks and listen to music to create characters and scenes. I create or look at characters and scenes to make better music!

Your goals aren't at all over-romanticized. In fact, they are pretty clear and steady. There are lots of people who would love to take what you have to give. The difference between you accomplishing that dream, which is very possible, will probably come down to two things. How hard you worked at it, knowing when to take breaks and care for yourself, and how well you treated those you met along the way. It will not at all be easy, but those of us who live our own dreams instead of someone else's are always the ones who forget that giving up is an option.

All great composers you mentioned, though if you are biased to Japanese composers, you can't leave out Joe Hisaishi, who replaced the Square Enix composers as my favorite composer from Japan. He does a lot of stuff for anime and is probably better known for it, but he works in the video game side of things too.

For access to Joshua's game "Poet 2011," visit his site at : The Immortal Stories (unfortunately, you must be a Windows user to play the demo).

Here is my theme that is used in his battle sequences:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Core by Teshelle Combs

Hello everyone,

Although, not music, my fantastic wife, Teshelle Combs has just released her newest novel, "Core," which already has tons of raving reviews. If you love young adult fiction, dragons, fight clubs, relationships, or mystery in the modern day, you will love this book. Teshelle paints pictures with her words, and she writes at the level of all of your favorite authors. I have composed two pieces for this book. One is simply titled "Core" and can be found in the ribbon at the top of the page or on my YouTube page. The other, "Don't Start Again" features the author herself as the vocalist and is posted below.

A quick side note. As you followers of the original music can see, there have not been as many new posts lately. I am quite busy with musical work these days, and simply cannot seek out musicians to interview. However, I am still accepting work from original artists, and you will still see a new post every once in a while.

If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check it out! It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Dearest Friend: Unique Band

My Dearest Friend is a close-knit band of guys based in Florida that loves to have fun and play music. They are constantly playing gigs and looking to expand their fan base. I chose this particular song because I feel it shows the variety of their style. They interviewed with me, and here is what they had to say:

1) Where did your band originate, and how many members does it currently have?

My Dearest Friend began as a solo acoustic act and later transformed into a five piece. After several changes in line up we ended up as a three piece. James Brinkle on guitar, Brian Young on bass and Andrew Wiggins on drums.

2) You say you have a hard time defining yourself as a band. What have other people said about you?

I suppose a lot of bands have a hard time describing themselves be it out of modesty or true confusion but we have been compared to a wide verity of genres. Vocally some say we have a Muse like sound, I think due to the melodies and falsetto. But we have been said to sound like Mars Volta, Sonic Youth, Cursive, and even sometimes Pixies. All great bands but surprisingly not any of our main influences.

3) As a musician, what are your goals for your band or your future in music?

I think if we could tour the world and not have day jobs anymore we would all be in heaven. Basically our goal is to make enough money to keep doing what we love to do.

4) Who inspires you, and who inspired your band's music?

Growing up I was very inspired by oldies, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Connie Francis, Robert Johnson. But in our teens and the really inspired times for us Andrew was listening to Ska and Hip Hop (he has actually shown me a lot of hip hop I never knew I would be able to like so much) and Brian and I both came from a more hardcore and heavier style when we got into music. We all three constantly show each other new bands and music and I think have grown as a band and maybe even musicians.

5) What advice do you have for those looking to start their own bands?

It's never easy and if it is you may get bored with it. If music is what you love and want to do then don't ever stop. It's a beautiful thing to create.

6) Random thoughts:

Our band does a lot of silly videos and a weekly podcast so if you like what you hear, see if you enjoy what else we have to offer at mydearestfriendmusic.com.

My thoughts on the interview:

That is interesting indeed. Going from solo to a more "standard" size then back to a three piece reminds me of the path I've taken through different bands.

As far as your style, I find that you aren't so undefinable, but rather blend different sounds and ideas to create what is My Dearest Friend. I couldn't really hear the Muse thing, simply because the production is so different and the vocals are back in the mix a bit. I heard a bit of ska, punk, harder interpretations of jazzy rhythms, and, of course, hardcore in your music.

The goal of touring and playing professional music full time is the dream of many, but getting there can often be a quite painful journey. That means nights and nights of practicing, writing, rewriting, getting better, being taught by those better than you, advertising, and all kinds of unexpected encounters. There are some days off where I literally wake up, eat, begin to practice or record, maybe eat again and use the bathroom during short breaks, then look at a clock that tells me it's midnight. However, when you love it, a 12-14 hr day seems like it's not even long enough.

I too have found that studying a wide variety of music helps you to grow as a musician and define your musical goals. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else, but I actually study or have studied the majority of styles of music out there from rock to jazz to hardcore to reggaeton to soca to r&b to country to march to classical to experimental to gospel to solo instruments to video games/film scores and more, regardless of whether or not I like the particular style. Because I started my musical journey alone, on piano and guitar, and, when I got serious as a studio musician/producer, I had to quickly take up bass and drums as well. Again, I wouldn't recommend learning so many instruments at an advanced level, but I am constantly surprised at how much even basic knowledge or playability of one other instrument helps musicians both understand their own instruments better and communicate better with other musicians.

True, music is very difficult for a very long time, but that is when it is the most fun. I didn't push myself as a kid in music, and for like 5 years, I did not get any better at the guitar and bored myself and others playing the exact same things. I didn't really make mistakes on what I played, because I didn't leave my comfort zone, and, as I just discussed with one of my drum students today, mistakes are beautiful. The majority of my best songs come from screwing around with another song until I begin to wander in a new direction or make a mistake that would be an "on purpose" in a completely new song.

Good luck to you all.