Monday, February 20, 2017

Every Kitty Dance Meow - the liner notes



Seattle, Washington, Feb 20 2017



In 2014-2015, while finishing our fourth album, DJSE was busy producing house music and teaching EDM production workshops on the side as part of a house music collective he was working with at the time.  After we released Seen and Unseen, He shared them with Snake who was excited to put our CCR spin on them.  We envisioned a club-focused album – less quirky and experimental, more targeted to dancers and party people.  This is that project.

At first we though it would be quick to produce and release an EDM album – EDM’s simple, right?.  Instead, this turned out to be a massive project. The challenge was how to make recognizable, danceable house music, while still using our signature blend of electronic and acoustic sounds, pulling in sampled found objects and unique instruments. We hope the result, Every Kitty Dance Meow, strikes that balance.  Some of the tracks, such as Exhale and Signs, are house AF. Other tracks, such as Primroses (a boil of Snake’s daughter’s room), or Velvet Saga (a trancey journey which starts out a placid 80bpm and escalates quickly to a blistering 160), explore the edges of the genre.

Throughout the album, we’ve used vocal samples chopped and recombined in ways that seem to act like audio Rorschach blots (DJSE calls them “Mondegreen machines”).  Everyone seems to hear different words.  We’d love to hear what you think they mean – hit us up on Twitter at @ccrseattle and let us know!

We’re indebted to the guidance and advice of Mark (DJ Zube) Zuber, who listened and provided suggestions that helped us tune the album to the needs of DJs.  Zube’s epic “Meow Mix” recapitulates  the album as a DJ set, and is being released as Disc 2 of Every Kitty Dance Meow.

Most important: Every Kitty Dance Meow is first and foremost an album of dance music, so

Get up on your feet!

Don’t stop.  

You’re free.



-Ed (DJSE) Essey, Nick (Snake) Dallett
Cats Cradle Robbers

Trivia

The album cover for Every Kitty Dance Meow was designed and executed by Snake as an homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  The album title is an homage to C&C Music Factory’s seminal dance hit “Gonna make you sweat.”

The album was released for presale on iTunes on February 12, which is Ed Essey Sr.’s birthday, DJSE’s father.  The album was released worldwide on February 20th, which is Kent Dallett’s birthday, Snake’s father.

With no further ado, the tracks:

 

Balayage and a Mocha (121 bpm | 04:57)


DJSE's earliest piece of released EDM, Balayage and a Mocha got it’s start on a day when his wife was getting her hair done. DJSE surprised her at the salon with a mocha. Afterwards, he went home and wrote the main body of the track while watching a sunset and drinking a glass of wine.  In keeping with this languid, pampered beginning, the track was always chill, and the first version was downtempo (per the first version on splice.com, the original was created at 110 beats per minute).

Snake enjoyed DJSE’s initial foray, and could hear a dynamic moving guitar line to go with the chill chords. He added the intricate “deedly deedly” line, played on classical guitar.

When we started out to create a collection of house tracks, we debated leaving Balayage as a chill, downtempo piece, but after some experiments we decided to boost the tempo to 121 beats per minute, bringing it into the standard house range.  DJSE altered the sound design of the electronic instruments, and Snake doubled his original guitar lines using U-He’s Zebralette and Ableton’s fantastic grand piano pack to build an intricate and interlocking melody that we think is reminiscent of Mannheim Steamroller or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

We need to give thanks here to Radio Xenu and DJ Pip, who engaged during the Christmas holiday to debut Balayage and a Mocha as a special Christmas 2016 surprise for fans.  Balayage was the second single to come out, following March’s release of Mikle High Clubbin’.

CDG (136 bpm | 05:28)

Inspired by DJSE’s inflight authorship of Mile High Clubbin’, Snake wrote the original version of CDG while flying home from Paris, France in August 2016.  The title refers to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, and Snake further riffed on this by writing a simple melody using only the notes C#, D#, and G# in various octaves. 

Snake and DJSE passed the project back and forth, adding layers and new pieces, including Snake playing the Lindsey fretless guitar.  “I nailed that last one,” Snake said after one take.  Naturally, DJSE grabbed that quote and chopped it into syllables to use as an additional instrument.

Exhale (123 bpm | 05:43)

DJSE's first deep house track was written during a family trip to Florida, and was one of the first tracks to gel into a coherent composition. The vocals, obtained through a free sample pack from Black Octopus and sung by the artist Siren, are intimate and compelling. This is the most true-to-genre deep house track that we've produced, and one of the few tracks that we chose not to enhance with acoustic instruments.

Feelin' Nice (98 bpm |05:22)

In 2014 and early 2015, DJSE tapped into a community at work that was interested in electronic music, and pulled the group together to form a collective.  One long weekend while preparing to lead a workshop for the group in creating EDM using Ableton Live, he put together several Ableton projects to demonstrate various aspects of EDM production. This set of projects included the seeds that grew into Feelin’ Nice, as well as Join Up!, Out There, Signs, and Velvet Saga.  Feelin’ Nice was designed to be a slower, downtempo track in the style of Miguel Migs.

Snake played wine glasses (i.e. glass harmonica) on this piece to bring a more organic acoustic sound. The glass harmonica sound, heavily processed, produces the descending riffs you can hear in the first half of the piece.

At one point in the development of this track, Snake added a soulful saxophone line that gave a bluesy lounge feel to the groove. We ultimately felt that we wanted the track to feel more “up”, so we replaced this with the horn section that plays call-and-response with the piano in the final version.

Join Up! (120bpm | 04:40)

DJSE created the core of this track for a u-He Bazille sound design contest. Originally called Join the Club, it was intended to be a progressive house piece. After the contest, DJSE retooled the track to use native Ableton instruments so that he could more easily share the track with his collective. 

DJSE and Snake reimagined the track significantly over a period of several months while working on this album.  The final piece is reminiscent of an anime or video game anthem, inspiring the name change to Join Up!

The distinctive sound of Join Up! owes a lot to the Omnisphere plugin from Spectrasonics, which we pulled in late in development to shape the overall sound design.

Mile High Clubbin' (123bpm | 06:14)


MHC was originally written by DJSE on a flight from Florida to Seattle. Break beat moments in this track were inspired by the infamous Amen Break, which led to the Palm Beach Break pattern that this song was eventually built around. Lofty pads, airplane samples, and a soaring lead help to shape the “mile high” feel. 

This was the first track that we worked on together for the album.  Snake pulled in some of the samples that we recorded for Honeydew Waltz (A Quirky Time for Something New, track 13) to add an acoustic aspect to the electronic matrix. Snake chose some samples specifically to produce the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), so don’t be surprised to feel a ticklish feeling at the base of your neck starting at around 01:04.

Mile High Clubbin’ was the first track from the album to be released as a single. We owe thanks to DJ Pip and Radio Xenu for debuting this track and keeping it in frequent rotation for several months starting in March 2016.

The Mydas Beat (feat. Sean Fairchild) (120bpm | 04:00)

When we started to get serious about making an EDM album, Snake was determined to contribute one or more house remixes of tracks from our previous albums.  The Mydas beat, a thumping remix of 2011’s Mydas Touch (Abewsing the Mews, track 11) seemed like a good candidate.  Sean Fairchild’s  funk bass provides a solid anchor for Snake’s vocal explorations.  It’s all wood, man… it’s all wood. As always, DJSE and Snake worked together to craft the initial seed into the final polished track.  We need to give a shout-out to DJ Zube as well for providing valuable input on this track.  He’s indicated that it’s one of his favorites, and he’s already been heard trotting out an early version for at least one Seattle-area gig recently.

Out There (123bpm | 06:08)

A dramatic moment in this song asks us to ponder: "Is there something out there?" DJSE was working through some advanced technique tutorials by talented producer AK (check out his YouTube channel here) when he created the initial seed for Out There. He took those techniques a step further to create some sickly harmonized, randomized vocal chops to create tension.  Combined with a detuned melodic element, the track moves between melodic and dissonant moments.  The vocal break that starts at 4:29 is one of the hottest “dance floor moments” of the album.

Signs (123bpm | 07:44)


This was a piece that DJSE prepared for his first EDM workshop: Create a Deep House track in 90 minutes. This was originally created using only patches found in the Ableton Live free demo, with the addition of a free demo download of Cory Friesenhan vocal samples. The original version of this track was created in less than 30min.  With Snake’s extended arrangement, a newly written bridge, and continued reworking by DJSE and Snake, Signs evolved into a solid deep house thumper.

Things to listen for in this track include the tennis game that starts about a minute in, and Snake’s neighbors, whose drunken singing and laughter, recorded through the hedge during one of their summer parties, provides atmosphere at the opening.

The Sun is Always Shining (123 bpm | 04:19)



Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way introduces the idea of the “artist’s date.”  (See the concept described on Cameron’s website).  For an artists’ date on March 9, 2016, DJSE gave himself 30 minutes to draw a picture based on the theme "The Sun is Always Shining."  He then laid the drawing out on a grid, and interpreted it as a loop in Ableton Live. The piece was lovely and mesmerizing, and we speculated that we could build an EDM track around it.  Snake finally took the original audio output of the track, and used it as the start of an EDM remix that expanded and amplified the original using EDM tropes.

You can hear DJSE’s original artist’s date on our Soundcloud page.

The title comes from a mantra reminding us that even on the darkest nights and cloudiest days, the sun is always shining, even when we cannot see it.

In keeping with the desire to mix EDM with our signature sounds, we use the 2xtar to provide unique accents throughout the track.

Primroses (feat. P-Rose) (134bpm | 04:26)

Each album we release contains a “boil.” As defined in our “Honeydew Waltz” music video, to “boil” a location is “to create music using sounds sampled from the referenced location or object.”  Since we typically boil a room in Snake’s house, we call this “REAL house music.”

So far, we’ve produced and released 5 boils: one on each album.  (Boiling the Ocean was the very first boil we produced, and is where the term boil originated.)

Album
Track
Room
Abewsing the Mews
Salumba Parte
Master Bedroom
Jack in the Bucket
Boiling the Ocean
Kitchen
A Quirky Time for Something New
Honeydew Waltz
Shed
Seen and Unseen
The Dry Sound of Atonement
Laundry Room
Every Kitty Dance Meow
Primroses
Daughter’s Bedroom

Snake’s daughter P-Rose specially requested that we sample objects in her bedroom, which we did in the fall of 2014 – everything from toy musical instruments to a “Love Story” music box, to a “Dignitet” curtain wire from IKEA.  While we were at it, we sampled P-Rose and one of her friends, interviewing them about the process.  In the interview, P-Rose admits about her room “Mom says it looks like a tornado hit it.  It’s my protective layer of dirt.” 

Originally written as a pop-rock track, DJSE converted Primroses to a house track during a late night planning session for the collective.  Since then it has been refined repeatedly, passing back and forth between Snake and DJSE until it reached its final form.

The Best Medicine (feat. Ed Essey Sr.) (102bpm | 05:46)

The seed for The Best Medicine was written by DJSE on another trip to Florida to spend Christmas with family. He was fortunate to find an Ableton Push, a Zoom H6 field recorder, and several great software plugins under the tree, and he put them to good use sampling family members visiting the local nature preserve and playing with his baby niece. Later, Ed Essey Sr. added a guitar line that fit wonderfully into this track.  Most of the sampled and chopped vocals are of various family members laughing, hence the title.

Velvet Saga (80bpm | 04:05)

The original version of Velvet Saga, conceived by DJSE as a slower, calmer piece for his wife, stayed at a sedate 80bpm.  While working on the arrangement, Snake added a doubletime section to bring the energy up, and this led to the final form of the track with its transitions from calm to driving.  The final version reminds us of an epic fantasy plot with quests, battles, and serene moments.

Every Kitty Dance Meow – the Meow Mix (feat. DJ Zube) (120-160bpm | 51:15)



Throughout the production of Every Kitty Dance Meow, we consulted with DJs and other producers to ensure that we wound up with a product that was unique but that would fit in a set with music by other producers. Nobody was more engaged and helpful than DJ Zube. By the time we were starting to think about the endgame of the project, we had hit on the idea of having Zube produce a set using only tracks from the album, and releasing it in tandem with the individual tracks.  This 51-minute set is a continuous mix of the album by Zube. To create the set, he live-mixed the album twice in Serato, and we then spliced together the best pieces to create the final mix. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Available soon - Every Kitty Dance Meow

We are proud to announce, at long last, the release of our 5th album of electronic music - Every Kitty Dance Meow.

Every Kitty Dance Meow will be available for preorder on iTunes on February 12th, and generally available for purchase and download on February 20th from most digital music marketplaces worldwide.

Every Kitty Dance Meow consists of 13 House, Deep House, and Downtempo dance tracks.  In addition to the individual tracks, the album includes a bonus second disc by Seattle’s DJ Zube, playing a live continuous mix of the full album, and bringing his own unique and creative perspective to the album.

We've sent out a promotional download of Every Kitty Dance Meow to all of our favorite radio stations, including Radio Xenu, Rocker's Dive, and Open The Door, all of whom play our music frequently.  Please let your favorite station know that you want to hear Every Kitty Dance Meow, and have them reach out to us for a free download.



Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Spotify Fan Insights is telling us (and not telling us) about our meteoric rise to fame

Spotify, the controversial music streaming service, put some new tools into the hands of artists recently, unveiling their new Fan Insights tool (https://artists.spotify.com/faninsights/).  Timing was good for us, as we started tracking our Spotify monthly listenership as a key metric in 2015.

If you're not familiar with the monthly listening stat, you can find it on the artist profile page for any artist you listen to.  It's right here in the spotify UI. (If you're not seeing it, you might need to install the latest version of Spotify).



When we started tracking, our monthly listenership was in the mid 30s, but starting Christmas 2015 it started to climb steadily.  When we got access to the beta of Fan Insights last week, the pattern became clear.


For comparison purposes, we added our friend Toronto-based singer-songwriter Suzanne Jarvie to the chart.  You can see that our listenership is pretty well matched prior to December.

(By the way, if you haven't heard Suzanne's debut album Spiral Road, you really need to. It's available anyplace you can buy or stream digital music, and if you're old-fashioned, you can even buy it on Compact Disc)

When we compare ourselves with other electronic artists we admire, the picture is a little more humbling, but it gives us something to aspire to.  We're coming for you, FSOL! ;-)



What is Fan Insights telling us?

The new toolset is giving us all kinds of insight into our listeners.  For example, we now know that about half of our listeners are over 45, and nearly all of them are men.  We have a good picture of geographic distribution:


What don't we know?

Of course, a little bit of information only whets our appetite.  There are a lot of things we can only guess at.  Having access to a breakdown of listenership by song would be a great start:  we'll get that data once we have songs that are getting over 1000 plays a month.  For now, we are left with questions we can't answer:
  • What caused the sudden climb in listenership at Christmas?
  • Why are the UK and the US Midwest our top markets?
  • Why is our home region of Seattle and Pacific Northwest not represented in the top 50?
  • Why is the overwhelmingly Indonesian crowd that follows us on Facebook not represented on Spotify?
  • How well does Spotify map to our plays and popularity on other streaming services?
  • Does the uptick in plays have any correlation to our own marketing efforts?
We can venture a few guesses.  For instance, getting regular play on Rocker's Dive Radio has increased our visibility internationally.  Rocker's Dive has a footprint in the UK, so that might be a direct cause.  Making it onto Radio Xenu's 2015 top 40 with our single Laudanum Escapade is a likely booster in the Midwest (you can hear our triumphant moment here).  Once we climb into that all important 1000-play bracket, Fan Insights will be able to tell us more. 

Until then, we're enjoying seeing the numbers climb.  If you're a Spotify artist, check out Fan Insights and let us know what you see!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Producer Lee Christian discusses his remix of Laudanum Escapade

British producer Lee Christian recently released a new remix of Laudanum Escapade, the first single from our Spring 2015 album Seen and Unseen.  We caught up with Lee online and asked him about his process.  You can hear his remix at  https://soundcloud.com/leesmilex/cats-cradle-robbers-laudanum-escapade-feel-no-pain-remix-by-lee-christian.

 

Tell us how you approached this remix

i was super excited to do the remix because i had heard CCR chat about how they get their sounds [through improvisation and sampling]. When remixing and sampling, my thing is taking [sounds] and making them as unrecognisable as possible. There's loads of the song in there but almost none of it is as it was.

As i started putting [this remix] together i decided to focus on that one word [“Laudanum”] and the tiny snippet that sounded almost African or tribal:  i grew up in South Africa for a very formative 5 years so am quite drawn to that vibe. I pitched [that word] down and very hypnotic - this ended up informing most of the song - and many parts that would not fit the foggy dub vibe i wrote over the top were jettisoned. i added some beats and effected and cut them up.  [I pushed the limits of the music’s adherence to rhythm to imply] the delirium that the subject of the song is in - the very brink of consciousness and order, before coming back into a more familiar, secure rhythm. This… is there to guide u though her drugged state.

There are serene moments (the acoustic picked guitar passage and the end section with the layered voices) that indicate she has reached some type of nirvana. i wanted the dub vibe to ring heavy and foggy so there are tons of different types of effects to increase this vibe.


Talk some about the artistic influences behind your remix

Tricky - the maverick of the neighbouring trip hop/bristol scene [was one of the two biggest influences on the track]. [He creates] unique music that can be much braver than some of the most talented musos out there … never really diluting himself for mass acceptance. [The other main influence was] Adrian Sherwood's on-u-sound label - home to Tackhead, Dub Syndicate, Gary Clail, Mark Stewart (another local-ish guy) and most importantly for this mix, Skip McDonald's Little Axe. [Little Axe and on-u-sound] make a blues dub hybrid that has had me entranced since i saw Doug Wimbish playing for them live on tv making sounds u would not believe came from a bass! These guys were the houseband for Sugar Hill records so are true veterans of music yet still make some of the most unusual inventive music going. [Check out] Tricky's Maxinquaye and Little Axe's The Wolf That House Built.

What inspired you to start creating musically?

i picked up shitty guitars and keyboards not far off from being toys when i was a teen in South Africa. i guess [I was] inspired by Prince (who i've been a fan of since i was a little kid) but also in a strange way hindered by Prince (and only seeing jazz combos live in bars with my dad) in that i could not see myself becoming a virtuoso, so lost confidence.

Later [I was inspired by] Nirvana (revealing that a good song can be just a few chords and a melody) and seeing bands in youth centres [after moving back to England] (showing me that anyone can have a go)… i tried harder [making] demos on a 4 track tape recorder. That was also when i formed my first band [after] seeing Living Colour in Cambridge. i decided to be the singer because i was really unpopular. [I had] nothing to lose and plenty to gain in terms of attention from the opposite sex as a lead singer of a rock band. [As the singer] i could just about write on a few instruments (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming) and not commit to one! even though i was not very good at singing, i had a lot of energy and a need/ability to do something different.

i just finally started releasing solo music in earnest over the last few years, after being offered a track on a BBC Children In Need Radiohead covers compilation. i did 'talk show host' and was pleased with its reception.  Smilex was originally going to be just me recording and then a dance rock hybrid Iive but after seeing a lot of people doing that and finding great players for a more traditional rock line up and visceral live show , i decided to tap into the adrenaline alternative rock gave me since the grunge era and be a power quartet. The bonus remix on Smilex's first ever EP 'beg for it' (13 years or so ago now!) is actually the original version of that song. 

 

Is music your only artistic outlet?  

i started back on writing and directing [films] after becoming more involved with making videos. i made my first short Never Walk Alone and released it for a pound a copy download with a monies to survivors trust (a victim support charity for rape and abuse). i'm in the thick of developing several scripts for feature length and shorts, even a web series. i like to work in a lot of different mediums and genres so my forays into film will be as diverse as my music is with any luck. i also dj & compere now and then and have had radio shows for the last 12 years or so - i'm currently between shows but have a hand in 'The Beatdown with Bobbee Browne' (a new comedy podcast) and am starting talks about a new show at the moment so watch this space!

i predominantly do radio shows to share good music the mainstream missed or forgot, to get use out of my extensive library of music, but it's hard to find a station as diverse as my tastes or who does not mind swearing (editing swearwords out is time consuming and not playing swearing really limits the good rebel music one can play) or who does not use a playlist. within music itself i have worked in just about every capacity one can imagine.

What’s up next for Lee Christian?

i have 7 or so albums in various stages of completion so there should be more of those soon. Other than that, more remixes, guest spots for vanilla wafa, death of hi-fi, tiger Mendoza… [plus] various acting/directing/writing pursuits. i hope to be working on new material (and of course, promotional materials) for Smilex and the Prohibition Smokers' Club (my jazz/blues/soul/folk/pop collective) over the next few months for release next year too! so just keep looking at my Facebook or twitter for info on all that as it pops up, i guess!

It's getting harder and harder for original music to get heard since scared labels are loathe to invest in anything risky… so i truly appreciate everybody that supports me (both by buying music and promoting it) in these hard times for the arts.
I wish music was reinstated to its previous position as an influential, meaningful part of people's lives, it has been reduced to background noise that no-one likes but no-one complains about. vote with your cash - it's hard earned and those that ask u to part with it should be working just as hard to deserve it.

Thanks again to Lee for the richly dark remix – please take some time to check out his projects online.  Here’s a few links:





Monday, June 22, 2015

Remote musical collaboration: Part I – the what, why, and how of remote collab


The move from analog to digital music recording and production is certainly one of the most fundamental things to happen to music.  We’ve moved from a world where multitrack recording required a significant infrastructure investment, to fitting an entire studio on a laptop (and increasingly, a tablet or a phone).  We now have an entire generation of musicians for whom nonlinear editing systems are the norm, rather than some futuristic technology running on a dedicated desktop system at that studio you can’t quite afford to record at.

So what’s next?  Well, once you have the ability for music to be encapsulated in digital files and loaded in a Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), you lower the barrier to collaboration.  However, until recently, collaboration has required carrying or mailing music on a portable hard drive or other physical media, long copy times, and sometimes hours of trolling through hard drives looking for a particular version of a file that got corrupted along the way.  Chances are that if you’re a digital musician, you have people in your town, a town across the country, or another country an ocean away that you would like to share the music making process with.  How do you get started and what should you think about?  Read on!

NOTE: We work in Ableton Live, so we’ll be referencing specific commands and functionality that apply to Ableton, though the principles we’re discussing apply to any DAW.

Our story

For Cats Cradle Robbers, we got into remote collaboration in a roundabout, organic way.  We didn’t have a clear vision for what we wanted out of the process at first.  For us music was something we worked on in person, and huddling over one laptop “pair programming” was the only thing that made sense to us.  At that time, we were learning how to create together, coming up with methodologies, musical forms, and ways of communicating. 

As we worked together, it started to make more sense to introduce some division of labor.  Snake would ask DJSE to copy a project onto a portable hard drive so that he could work on a project offline.  Typically, DJSE was doing the bulk of the sound design and recording, and Snake would work on the broad structure of a track to shape an arrangement, taking the raw samples and turning them into something musically coherent.  It made the best use of our individual skills at the time.

However, copying large projects was time consuming and error-prone.  Files would go missing, especially before we discovered “Collect all and save,” or we’d copy more files than needed, including and ultimately duplicating portions of factory packs.  It was a mess!

So, we thought about harnessing the power of the Internet.  Here are some of the things we tried over the years:

Solution
Pros
Cons
Emailing .als files with changes
Simple - .als files are small, and as long as your changes are confined to the .als, it works fine.
Doesn’t work if you’ve cropped, reversed or frozen files, added new samples, and unless you are working with identical hard drive layouts, always results in having to scan for missing media files.
Real-time collaboration using videoconferencing (Skype, Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Join.me + Phone)
Good for interactive communication and show-n-tell sessions.
Doesn’t fit well with remote recording of new audio tracks (for Totally Frigid, which we started out during a Skype session, Snake was recording guitar tracks and emailing the files to DJSE for inclusion: it was a painful process)
File-sharing services (Dropbox, OneDrive)
Fine for small projects
Our projects can get to 3gb or more in size – requires long transfer times and paid Dropbox accounts on both ends to share in both directions.
Version control systems (we tried Github)
Works well for file copy of small to medium projects
We ran up against disk quota limitations when trying to use Github.  We made do by stripping out factory packs, but that was a very hands-on process.  Git is not fond of handling large files (something they are up front about).  Also, the benefits of Git for diffing and merging text files don’t work for .als, so for this purpose it is basically a glorified FTP service.
Private FTP
Can handle arbitrarily large transfers, completely under your control.  Like copying to a hard drive, but you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.
Like copying to a hard drive, only slower.

The mote in thine eye

One key need of collaborators who are separated in space and time is a way to discuss and agree on changes that need to be made, and to track those changes to completion.  Coming from a software background, we see this as equivalent to the process of filing, triaging, and fixing bugs in software.  It’s also similar to the process in theater in which a director gives “notes”.  In fact, we refer to these annotations as “motes” (short for Music Notes), and it’s a key part of our process:  one of us renders our latest version of a shared track, and both collaborators provide their “motes” or comments on what they like and what they would like to change.  

There are several aspects of this that are important: 

  •          The music has to be posted someplace where everyone can hear it
  •          There has to be a way to communicate the motes
  •          There has to be a way to track the status of the motes


While we have yet to find a system that fills all off these requirements, we’ve managed to make do, using SoundCloud or Splice to annotate precise points in the music that we want to call attention to, and tracking progress against those comments in e-mail and using online documents (typically OneNote and Excel Online with documents saved in a shared OneDrive folder).  Nobody has yet provided a way to combine annotations with issue tracking in a way that would satisfy all facets of our workflow.


Soundcloud annotations provide a way of anchoring motes to specific moments in the track.


Online Community meets Collab Software

Only in the last handful of years has software started to catch up to the need that we’ve been filling using a series of stopgaps.  Here’s a survey of a few that we’ve tried and a few newcomers that we haven’t. 

Splice


DJSE found the crew from Splice at SxSW this year, and the Splice software has become an integral part of our production toolkit.   While their DAW support is limited so far (Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, and GarageBand), we’ve found that their approach to project collaboration matches the way we work to a tee.  We used Splice to build our latest album Seen and Unseen, and we were pleased to be featured in their blog when we released Laudanum Escapade for remixing on their site.
The features in Splice that we find most useful are:

  •           Version tracking (every save in Ableton is tracked as a version, and you choose which versions are flagged as important.  Every version can be annotated and have a separate audio preview)
  •           Unlimited storage (with the sample-heavy tracks that we build, our projects can grow to as large as 6gb!)
  •           The DNA player: a visualization of the Ableton project structure that allows annotation on each track

The powerful and versatile Splice DNA player, showing track-specific annotations



While Splice works for both Mac (DJSE’s platform of choice) and Windows (like Snake’s Windows 8 system), the Mac client seems more robust.  The Windows client can be a resource hog when uploading changes, and the Splice window can’t be minimized when activated.  We’ve also found that the version tree can get confused when working with multiple versions of the same project on one computer.  Still, Splice is the closest match to our requirements, and we’re happily using it today.  We’ve found the Splice team professional and receptive to feedback, so who knows, perhaps we’ll have everything we need within a few versions.

Blend


The Blend.io project list

Before we got onto Splice, we tried out blend.io, another collaboration site.  Like Splice, Blend works with standard DAWs – they handily beat Splice in the number of DAWs supported – and both systems allow working with raw stems.  Blend supports versioning as well, though versioning in Blend is not so granular:  a new version is created only when pulling the project explicitly.

Blend seems like a good choice when your main goal is to share music with the community – their system encourages sharing and collaborating publicly.  However, if you are looking to collaborate privately, their hard limit of 3 private projects is a buzzkill.  Also, their version tracking is confusing – it can be difficult to understand which version of a project you’re looking at.  Finally, Blend uses Dropbox for storage and sync, which limits the size of your projects.  If you go over the 2gb space limit in the basic account, then all collaborators using that project need to pony up for the pro account.  Even with small projects, Dropbox’s file locking will block you from saving while files are uploading.  If you save frequently, this quickly becomes an annoyance.

Blend offers no way to annotate the project or the audio directly, so you’ll need another method to track your feedback.

DAWs that come with collaboration build in

Ohm Studio and Soundtrap are taking a from-the-ground-up approach to online collaboration by creating new DAWs that support all of the online collaboration features you need.  While we haven’t spent much time playing with these tools, the marketing materials and into videos seem compelling and for entry-level musicians, this seems like a great option for starting out. Only time will tell whether these tools evolve into something with the complexity and power of Ableton Live or ProTools.  Building a DAW to meet the needs of professional producers is a daunting prospect.  Ohm Studio, a client side DAW, seems closer to that track.  Soundtrap is an online-only tool and seems more oriented to beginning producers who want a quick and easy solution to build loops using prebuilt pieces.

Of course, we can all hope that Ableton and ProTools come up with their own built-in collaboration system, either alone or in collaboration with Splice or another partner who can handle the storage and service layer of the system.  In the meantime, we can count on companies like Blend and Splice to work hard to bridge the gaps.

Doing it in Real time

Where all of the systems mentioned so far shine is in their ability to enable asynchronous collaboration.  But what about synchrony?  Is it possible to link musicians in physically distant locations and work out the complexities of latency so that they can record new tracks in real time? 
While we’ve tried some limited experiments, we haven’t found it necessary to move beyond asynchronous collaboration.  I’ll defer to SoundOnSound for a discussion of the state of the art as of about a year ago:    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar14/articles/remote-collaboration.htm .

Into the future

With demanding day jobs and evolving families (DJSE is in the throes of discovering the joy of fatherhood as Snake types this article), our music is increasingly dependent on software to make everything faster and easier.  Cats Cradle Robbers’ next release will be largely built in the cloud, by two busy dudes who are trying hard to snatch bits of free time when they can.  Splice and other online tools will be a big part of that process.

DJSE and DJ1Z

Next up…


So you have a project and one or more collaborators.  Some of you are on PC, some on Mac.  One of you has a cool new plugin that the others can’t afford.  How do you put it all together?  Stay tuned for our next article!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Gets You Dancing?

Hello to all of our fans! Your response to our new album Seen and Unseen has been incredible. Thank you. We want to hear from you as we prepare for our next album, where we will apply our unique style to various forms of EDM. We want to know...

***What gets you dancing?***



DJSE answered:
"I'm a huge fan of Deep House, Progressive House, Breakbeats, and Broken beats.  And outside of EDM, I love dancing to Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha, and Tango.  I was a latin DJ for years, after all..."

Snake answered:
"I love to zone out when I dance and explore inner space, so anything that has a dark, throbbing beat and a trancey feel with repetitive figures and long filter sweeps really hit the spot.  Drum and Bass and Trance are obvious examples."

What's YOUR answer?


***What gets you dancing?***

Reply below or tweet with the hashtag #MyDanceBeat

Friday, April 17, 2015

Remix Contest: Laudanum Escapade feat. Eliza Heery

As featured on the Splice.com blog:  Laudanum Escapade Interview Session - Cats Cradle Robbers

The first single on our new album is fully available for remixing - both the Ableton Set and Stems.  Dig in there, tear it apart, and do awesome things with the pieces.

Remix Contest: Any tracks submitted to us by May 31, 2015 have the chance to be featured on one of our upcoming albums.

Laudanum Escapade is about a bored housewife experiencing a luxuriant state induced by self-medication and finding wonder in the everyday moments of the world around her. This track is part of Cats Cradle Robbers' recently released fourth album Seen and Unseen that covers a range of experiences of the spirit, ranging from trance-like states, ecstatic visions, and sacred texts.

We're really excited to hear what the Splice community can do with the funky basslines, groovy beat, delicious vocals, and wild animal samples. New to Splice?  It's awesome and free!  Just sign up and get remixing.

We will feature our favorite remixes on a future album.

Full project and stems on Splice:

Original track on SoundCloud: