Abysmal Rejoicing

I’m not going to be so bold as to say Valentine’s is one of the most musically productive times of the year. In addition to lovesick lovers, there’s also FAWM. You can’t always wait for inspiration to strike, but there’s something about the strong emotions caused by love that just… triggers something.

Use that inspiration when it occurs. But don’t limit yourself to spontaneous inspiration. Here’s three ways you can use your emotions to make music.

Channel Your Emotions

When something emotionally intense hits you, the only thing to do is to release it. Yes, you can bottle it and stuff it and all that other socially-acceptable nonsense, but I’m pretty sure you understand that emotions need to be shown. Even if it’s in the safety of your room with a guitar or piano, let it out.

You have artistic inclinations for a reason. Let ’em loose. Don’t hold back. Do something ridiculous to express the depths of your heart.

It’s good for you. It’s also good for your productivity and creativity.

Create Your Emotions

Your emotions are triggered by external events, but you can also manipulate your feelings. Contrary to popular advice to follow your heart, you should actually be leading your heart, because you get to choose your actions, thoughts, and yes, feelings.

Emotional manipulation usually boils down to abuse. Don’t do that to yourself – when you read “create your emotions,” you should get the sense of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for creative purposes. Again, you control your actions and thoughts, which determines your emotional state.

Creating music can’t just happen when you’re inspired. Otherwise you’ll never hone your skills to the point where you want them, and you’ll never make enough bad music to recognize it for what it is.

So if you’re not inspired, make up some intense emotion. Create your own emotionally intense release.

Speak on Behalf of the Voiceless

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that if you’re reading this, you’re quite privileged. You have access to a computer. Probably also to clean water, 3 meals a day, and a bed at night.

You lucky bastard.

Whereas creating your own emotions asks you to put yourself in hypothetical and imaginary circumstances to generate the emotional inspiration to creation, this is asking you to look at the injustices around you and use music to speak to the gap. Your one voice as a lucky bastard is much more likely to be heard than the hundreds of thousands of voices of the less fortunate. 

This is a challenge to invest in something wrong with our world. Let dying children break your heart. Let the gunshots of blind faith boil your blood. Let the survival of one more person fill your soul with boundless joy.

Get up and speak so that someone may be heard. You are more than just an individual. You belong to the family of the human race.

Is there something I missed that is guaranteed to inspire you to write? Sound out in the comments! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!


91 Things to Boost Your Creativity (aka 91 ridiculous ways to kill time)

Sometimes your creativity kicker just stops kicking. When your mind is empty and you’re pounding your head against a wall of uninspired bulldust, it might be time to take a break and give yourself permission to do something else. While you might have a couple ideas of something else that you know you want to do, here’s 91 other things you can do to stop choking your creative mind:

  1. Build something awesome
  2. Turn off your phone and go for a long, long walk
  3. See how many dogs in your neighborhood you can get barking at once
  4. Go for a color walk and try to find an object in every color inside or outside of your home
    Bonus points: Make sure your colored objects are something naturally occurring, like a plant or animal
  5. Challenge a random pedestrian to a dance-off
  6. Challenge a driver at a stop light to a dance-off
  7. Learn a new instrument like the drums, guitar, or piano (no affiliate)
  8. Teach yourself a new skill
  9. Teach someone else a new skill
  10. Prepare a GTFO bag
  11. Work on your everyday carry EDC kit
  12. Learn how to and practice walking like a ninja
  13. Show up at your friend’s house without telling anyone
    Bonus points: Make it a friend that lives at least 3 hours away from you
  14. Track down a friend you haven’t had contact with in years
  15. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in the past 12 months
  16. Call your Mother / Father / Sister / Brother
  17. Call your Grandma / Grandpa
    Bonus points: show up at your grandparents’ house without telling them
  18. Ask your family for their favorite stories about other family members
  19. Ask your parents for hilarious stories about yourself/your siblings as toddlers/children
  20. Start a rhyming text battle with someone
  21. Start a rhyming battle with a random stranger
  22. Give someone $20-$50 without them noticing (don’t forget to use your ninja skills)
  23. Ask homeless people to tell you their best stories
  24. Go through your closet and donate crap you don’t need
  25. Go through your house and donate crap you never use
    Bonus points: Try to sell some of these things to neighbors and/or strangers
  26. Play bigger and better
  27. Set up a Fiverr or Etsy account
  28. Create a 5-20 page children’s storybook, including illustrations
  29. Go to the library and try to find the most ridiculous book cover ever
  30. Go to the bookstore and try to find the most and least expensive book in the store
    Bonus points: Try to haggle with a manager to increase the price of the least expensive book, and / or lower the price of the most expensive book
  31. Read up on the latest psychological discoveries
  32. Sell your body to science
  33. Take a nap and DO NOT SET A TIMER
  34. Write a motivational speech for someone you know is having a hard time
  35. Research the details of a religion you’re not familiar with
  36. Rewrite 7 alternate endings for your favorite book series / TV show / movie / video game
    Bonus points: Tell someone who hasn’t gotten to the end of the story your alternate ending. When they see / read the real ending, you will get to laugh and laugh and laugh…
  37. Go to your local university’s free speech zone and ask students to tell you the most interesting thing they learned that day
  38. Make a plan to build a new habit
  39. Replay a game from your childhood
  40. Start a blog or Youtube channel
  41. Make a stop motion animated video
  42. Write a 3-5 page script and send it in to your local News Station
    Bonus points: Challenge them to actually use the script in their newscast
  43. Offer to babysit for a friend so they can have an epic date night
  44. Plan and run an epic date night for your friends who don’t have kids
    Bonus points: Set up the date between two of your friends who aren’t dating
  45. Go door-to-door and collect donations for a charity
  46. Call your mayor and ask him about the city’s plans for prosperity in the event of a nuclear fallout
  47. Download a free-to-play Steam game and play uninterrupted for at least 30 minutes
  48. Talk like a pirate for the rest of the day…
  49. … after making a customized paper pirate hat
  50. Learn a new language
  51. Make a friend from a foreign country
  52. Research and listen to music from a foreign country
    Bonus points: Ask your new foreign friend for their favorite band
  53. Listen to music from a genre that you can’t stand for at least an hour
  54. Try to write a song in a genre you can’t stand
  55. Learn some really long words
  56. Ask a guy to teach you some manly skill (like changing your oil)
  57. Ask a girl to teach you some womanly skill (like folding bedsheets)
  58. Play your instrument upside down
  59. Invent a new board game
  60. Invent a new card game
  61. Invent a cardboard game
  62. Build a snowman
    Bonus points: Build a snowman without any snow
  63. Read a comic book
  64. Write / draw a short comic
  65. Write / draw a satire
  66. Do a drawing tutorial
  67. Watch a kid’s movie and consider its political meaning
  68. Daydream about the perfect kids movie
  69. Daydream about the perfect video game
  70. Investigate career paths that you could take with your hobbies
  71. Plan a global adventure
  72. Take the lyrics of 2-12 songs and mash 3-7 word phrases into one song
    Bonus points: Mash genres together (aka metal mashed with dubstep, pop, and country)
  73. Take the characters of one story and imagine what would happen if you plopped them into another story
  74. Imagine how your favorite story would have been different if the villain was the hero and vice versa
  75. Learn a martial art
  76. Research a single year in history
  77. Browse random articles on Wikipedia
  78. Create alter egos for yourself and your family / friends
  79. Read a self-help book for something you don’t need help with
  80. Make a thank you / birthday card from scratch
  81. Create a scavenger hunt for someone
  82. Make a plushie for yourself, and a matching one for a friend
    Bonus points: Personalize the plushies so they reflect your personalities
  83. Genre-mash movies (Western + Superhero + Mecha)
  84. Watch an anime
  85. Write uninterrupted in a journal
  86. Make paper airplanes and see how far you can get one to fly
  87. Make the most delicious paleo (insert any other diet) meal you can with items already in your fridge / kitchen
  88. Sign up for a free trial of a game (Runescape, World of Warcraft; something of the like)
  89. Go to the park and see if you can Disney Princess a squirrel into your hand
  90. Play on a kid’s playground (when kids aren’t on it, of course)
  91. Come up with a list of 91 things to do with your best friend / significant other / brother / whoever

That’s it. 91 ways to beat your creative block and come up with awesome ideas. Have any more suggestions? Let ’em rip in the comments!

It’s What You Do That Matters

Dreams are great. Without desire, you’d never go anywhere, do anything, or strive to become something more than yourself.

But here’s the thing – and I don’t want to harp this point too much – without work, dreams are nothing. They’re just wishes that your heart makes. And if you’ve had any experience wishing on stars, you know that you won’t get your wish unless someone puts in the hours.

By all means, dream on, dreamer. Just remember that it doesn’t matter how big, all-encompassing or thorough your dream is if you don’t do anything about it. Because in the end, it’s what you do that matters.

What Have You Done This Year?

So you probably had some interesting, humongous, awesome dreams a month ago. What have you done about them? How much closer are you today than you were yesterday?

It doesn’t matter how small that difference is. If you took a single, tiny tiptoe closer to your dreams, you’re doing it right. Tiptoe a little closer today. And a little closer tomorrow.

It also doesn’t matter if you haven’t taken a single step closer to your dreams. Today can be the day that you finally start walking.

Do Something That Matters

… to you. I don’t care how busy your day is, or how small that “something” is. We all have to start somewhere – just do something.

You’ve only got one life to live. Please, don’t squander it doing something useless and ultimately meaningless. Create 8 bars of new music. Listen to a new band. Listen to your favorite song on repeat – it doesn’t matter what you want to do, only that it matters.

It doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s what you do that matters. Today’s your day. It’s on.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

How to Make MIDI Strings Sound More Realistic

Unless you’re paying $200 for MIDI sounds, chances are good that your free MIDI sounds are… awful. This is especially true of strings – violins, violas, cellos, double bass; if it can be played with a bow and was free, the MIDI version doesn’t sound that great.

That being said, there are ways to help make your MIDI strings sound a little bit less pathetic and a little more realistic in your mix. This guide won’t make your stock Garageband strings sound like a real violinist actually played them, but it (hopefully) will make your stock sounds a little more bearable.

On Velocity and Quantization

Just like with MIDI drums, to make your MIDI strings sound most realistic, you shouldn’t just keep all your notes’ velocities at the same level. (In Garageband I think the preset is 98.) Varying your velocities within about plus/minus 15 steps is a safe place to keep it so that you get variation, but it still maintains a similar intensity.

The key to improving the realism of your MIDI string sounds is to humanize them – so you change the velocity, and you change the quantization. You don’t want to quantize your notes so that they begin right on the beat – about 80-95% is a good place to stay.

One of the hard things with strings and quantization is that the samples don’t always start playing right at the beginning of your MIDI note. To just keep your strings in time with all the other instruments, you may have to pull their start time a little bit back from the beat you want them to play on.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.25 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.47 AMIn the first picture the notes are all aligned right with the beat. But if the sound doesn’t start right away, it can make your strings sound sloppy. Like the second picture, try pulling your notes back so that the sound starts right on the beat to help keep your recording tight.

Use Different Instruments and Split Up Tracks

If you can find some decent free MIDI sounds of each individual instrument in your string section (check out resources for some links!), you’re already light years ahead of Garageband’s stock. Use a different MIDI instrument for each of your instruments – violin, viola, cello, and double bass are the standard string section.

Even if you’re just got some stock “Orchestral Strings” instrument, try to have a unique track for each of those instruments, and keep notes that would fit for each instrument unique to that track. Just because you don’t have a specific MIDI sound for each instrument doesn’t mean you can split them up that way! Here’s a very generalized range that you can use to guide your track splits:

  • Violins can start as low as G3, and go as high as the spectrum allows
  • Violas can start as low as G1 and go to about D5
  • Cellos start as low as C2 and go as high as A4
  • Double basses are anything lower than G1

Those notes are by no means scientific or definite – they’re just a starter’s guide. I tend to have each instrument playing 3 octaves, with their lowest octave playing in the same range the instrument that’s lower than them, and their highest octave playing in the same range as the instrument higher than them.

For example: Violin would play C4-C6, Viola would play C3-C5, Cello would play C2-C4, Double bass would play C0-C2.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.53.03 AMThe tiny little letters on the keys on the left help me determine where to keep my notes.

Layer Your Sounds

If you’ve got computer power to spare, one of the simplest ways to make a strings track sound more realistic is to layer sounds. Play duplicate tracks (same notes) with different instruments.

For example, say you’ve got a violin part, and you’re using an instrument that has just the violin. To give it more oomph, you can copy/paste the notes into a new track, and use the Smart Strings instrument. Bam! Sound improved.

Modulation and Mixing

One of the awesome things about Garageband’s Smart Strings is that by turning on the modulation, you can change the kinds of sounds that play. You can get staccato, pizzicato, and legato all out of one track instead of needing to have different MIDI tracks specifically for the different ways to play.

Play with the modulation on your different instruments to see if you can get any extra sounds out of your MIDI.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.57.12 AMA short little guide for playing the Smart Strings with Musical Typing:

  • 3 is legato – smooth, blends together, good for long notes
  • 4 is a staccato – short, jerky notes played by the bow, this is a shafting sound
  • 5 is another staccato – same as above, slightly different technique
  • 6 is a pizzicato – short, plucked notes
  • 7 is another legato – same as 3, more or less
  • 8 is another staccato – similar to 4 and 5

Mixing is the last key thing you can do to get your strings to sound more realistic. First off, do your panning well. Give each of your MIDI strings its place in the stereo field.

Finally, feel free to EQ those suckers. It’ll help clean up the sound, at the very least!

These are the things I have found take my crappy sounding strings and make them more palatable and authentic. The vice of MIDI (it sounds terrible compared to the real thing) is also its blessing – it’s a different sound than you’ll get from a real instrument. Use that to whatever ends you will.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Permission to Dream Big: Granted

Maybe it’s just me, but the culture of us average people tends to drag dreamers from their visions in the clouds back down to earth. If you say you’re going to be a millionaire in five years, they scoff at you. If you say you’re going to be a musician, movie actor, or author, the average person smiles on the outside and rolls their eyes on the inside.

Even if that’s not your common reaction, you’ve probably been told before to tear down your dreams, be realistic and lower your expectations. And there’s a time and place for that – if you’re waiting for a perfect guy or gal, you should probably open your eyes and look at the great one right in front of you.

But low expectations breed low results, and that’s awfully dull throughout most of life. So here’s an alternative:

Instead of quashing your dream, plan out how you’re going to make them happen and then start working.

Dreams don’t fail for lack of vision, dreams fail for lack of planning and hard work.

Three Paths to Success

I’ve found three camps that people fall into when it comes to actually doing something with your life.

  1. Do something small that you are guaranteed to succeed at. Then try something bigger, and work your way to the big stuff. Eventually, you reach your original impossible dreams.
  2. Do something so ridiculously big that you aren’t sure you’ll actually be able to do it. Get as far as you can – it’ll probably be further than you think – and even if you fail, you’ll still have achieved more than you would have sitting at home in camp 1 or camp 3. (Probably.)
  3. Try to come up with a foolproof way to do something perfectly the first time. You’ll be lucky if you do anything at all.

You’ll notice that the camps that actually manage to reach their goals are the ones that involve actually doing something, whether they fail or not. (Hopefully you’ve also noticed my taint of sarcasm. I’m going to try and drop it now.)

Instead of giving up on the dreams that matter to you, do something to realize them. If you want to end world hunger, you don’t have to go to Africa and feed a whole country – carry an extra $10 in your pocket when you go out, and buy someone a meal if it looks like they could use one. (Alternately, for $10 a month you can feed one child for a month. For transparency: the link goes to a religious charity.)

I know a random voice from the Internet doesn’t have much authority in your life, but because it might be the only voice that you hear say this…

Dream big. Work hard. You may have boundaries, may have limits, but you can overcome many things before you get stopped for good in the cold ground.

Rock hard! \m/ If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

5 Reasons Why You Need to Play With Other Musicians

Music is intrinsically very soul baring. There’s just something about the sounds we make that impacts us at a core level. For this reason (among many others), many musicians prefer to play alone or have never gathered up the courage to look for other musicians to play with.

I am like this – being alone for a day with my guitar is one of the happiest days I can think of – but there is so much value in sharing the craft of music with other creators that it’s almost a crime to only create solo. Here are 5 reasons you should be playing (and recording) with other people.

1. You Improve as a Musician

Playing with other musicians forces you to play differently than when you’re by yourself. You have to keep time differently, have to follow, have to be able to keep the song going even when others make mistakes, have to be able to quickly recover from making mistakes, and have to get along well with people.

This not only improves you as a musician, but significantly increases your rate of improvement, especially in comparison with your rate of improvement playing solo.

If you really want to become better at something, it’s a mistake to be the most accomplished person in the room. Play with people who are at a higher level than you, and you will naturally become better.

2. You Get Good Feedback

Whether you play with a performing band or just hang out and jam with other musically talented people, you get great advice and insight on your technique, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Be open to critique – if it stings, it’s probably spot on.

That being said, you’ll also hear a lot of biased nonsense (true bassists don’t use picks, anyone?). It’s well worth sifting through the nonsense to find the nuggets of gold.

If you are courageous enough to share your songs and/or recordings, you get some of the best critique on your music from fellow musicians. They listen for things that normal listeners don’t hear. Plus, they can share ideas on how to make the song better.

Collaborating on songs is one of the best ways to sharpen up musically. You get to hear new ways of songwriting, and get to share your processes. Plus, you get to hang out with some pretty cool people at the same time!

3. You Learn to Follow Cues While Improvising

Improvising is the #1 skill you need in order to play well with other musicians. The best way to learn how to improvise well is to play with other musicians, especially ones who are better than you (see point 1).

Improvising well translates well to any other aspect of music, from composing to playing live to recording. Learning to see cues and recognize signals makes you more suited to playing in various styles and genres.

If you compose songs on your own, you’ll learn a lot about song structure and how the different parts of a band work together to create a unified, beautiful whole.

4. You Learn How to Create Cues While Improvising

Not only do you learn how to follow while playing with other musicians, but you learn how to lead. Even if you’re not a drummer, even if you’re not a bassist, you learn how to guide whatever you’re playing. This also helps you understand song structure and social dynamics in composition and playing.

Once you learn how to lead and follow in improvisation, it’s easy to transition the knowledge into your own compositions. And don’t just think that improvising is only for jazz and blues musicians – improvisation is important for every instrument, every genre, and every level of experience.

Even if you picked up your instrument yesterday, you can improvise, and it’s important that you do so that you learn your weaknesses, strengths, and what you do and don’t like about your playing. Playing with other musicians, at its core, shows you what you need to practice on your own.

5. It’s Fun!

You probably got into music because you realized how much fun it is to create the sounds in your head. You know what else is fun? Hanging out with your friends.

Combining the two is the best reason to play with other musicians – because you get to meet people and create meaningful relationships through the craft of music! If you need any more reasons to play with other musicians, you might want to just use music as your personal diary: a way to express and experience the world…

…and try to find someone to play with every once in a while. ^^

It doesn’t matter how small your town is – there is always a way to play with other musicians! Keep your eyes on the lookout for other players, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself as a musician if the topic comes up. Religious institutions, schools, and other social clubs are a great place to find musicians to play with.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Limits =/= Boundaries (and vice versa)

Over the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time pushing my limits in recording. If you listen to some of my stuff, you’ll notice it’s nowhere near studio quality. But to me, that’s not what’s most important.

The most important thing to me is that I can see growth from where I was to where I am. And as long as growth is happening, then I’m doing it right. Maybe I’m not using EQ “right,” maybe I’m not doing mic placement “right,” but as long as I’m trying to better each new song sonically, I’m on the right path to getting to studio quality.

Paddling Upriver

Life is a process, not a destination. You are always moving forwards or backwards, depending on your perspective and what your goals are.

You should always be pushing your limits in areas that you want to move forward in, because that’s the only way growth happens. If you stay where you are, in your comfort zone, then you’re going to stagnate and die. Living creatures operate on this principle too – if they don’t change and adapt, then they die out.

The best way I’ve heard to understand this idea is to pretend life is a river, and your goal is upriver. You have to paddle against the flow of the water to get to your goals. If you paddle hard enough, then you move forward towards your goal. Any time you’re not spent paddling, the river is taking you back to where you were.

Doing something is like paddling at pace with the river. You’re not moving backward, but you’re not necessarily moving forward either. If you want to move forward you have to be pushing your limits, finding ways to overcome the obstacles around you.

Limits are not Boundaries

I feel that it’s worth making this distinction for your benefit. Too many people look at their limits as boundaries: something that they can’t move, can’t change, can’t get past.

But your limits are not boundaries. Limits are only permanent if you don’t push against them. When you’re trying something new and paddling upriver, what you’re doing is breaking whatever permanence your limits had.

A good example of this in recording terminology is your digital audio workstation DAW. Garageband may not have the capacity that Logic, Pro Tools, or Cubase has, but that doesn’t mean it can’t produce music that is just as good as music made in Logic, Pro Tools, or Cubase. Because it’s a free, dumbed-down version of Logic it’s assumed that it can’t produce anything good.

That’s a limit that people push all the time – just check out Sunshine Superman or Daniel Hemingway’s work with Garageband. If you gave a beginner a $30,000 studio, their mixes and songs would still sound amateur. *90% of the time it’s not about what your tools are capable of, but what you do with those capabilities that makes the difference.

Boundaries are not Limits

With all that being said, there are boundaries that people mistake for limits. Like a beaver dam in the river of life, you just won’t be able to get some places with the tools that you have.

Boundaries are not meant to be pushed, shoved, or changed unless they are precipitated by something drastic. Take relationships as an example – you can push the limits of a relationship and still be friends, but if you cross boundaries then 9 times out of 10* you will lose a friend. That doesn’t mean that boundaries can’t change – if your girlfriend/boyfriend says no sex before marriage, then the marriage precipitates the boundary change to having sex.

From an artistic perspective, there is no such thing as a boundary. From a technical perspective, there are tons of boundaries, but they’re a lot further out than you might expect. Some examples include:

  • The number of tracks you use in a song. There are settings that limit how many tracks you can use, and while you can turn those limits off, there may come a point where your computer physically cannot compute a certain number of tracks.
  • The frequency performance from your mics. Inexpensive microphones can be used to get great sounds, but what they cut in the price makes a physical difference in the spectrum of frequencies they can pick up. For example, my AT2020 USB physically cannot record frequencies above 20K.
  • The sound quality you get from your headphones/speakers. The headphone jack on my computer is physically damaged, so the signal that comes in my right headphone is significantly weaker than the signal in my left ear. Plus, the materials in your headphones/speakers can only physically do so much.

Push your limits until you hit boundaries. When you hit boundaries in recording, it usually signals that you either a) need to change your technique and explore new limits or b) that you need to upgrade your gear.

The example with my headphone jack on my computer is a great example of this – a) I’ve started mixing by using the headphone port on my UX1, which plays the signal evenly to my right and left speaker and b) I’m saving up my moolah and hope to get a new laptop in the fall.

It’s also a good example of doing what you can with what you have. It doesn’t matter what challenge you are facing, there is always something you can still be doing to reach your goals!

* I make statistics up 87% of the time, so don’t take my numbers too seriously, please. Also, all links are to websites/resources that I use personally. No affiliate links.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!