Winter is Coming Soon…

Man, it’s been a while. Honestly, I’m just happy I remembered my password.

Things have changed quite a bit for me since my last post. I’ve recently moved downtown into a nice apartment, I’m learning how to be single again, and there are a couple recording projects I’ll be working on, besides my own of course, in the next few months.

I’ve finally found a bass player for my project, Shawn, and he’s picking up the material quite a bit faster than everyone else who’s sat down with me, which is exciting. Still on the lookout for a drummer, as everyone I’ve spoken to so far has not been forthcoming with any promising words of interest. I hope to have a practice/jam spot found in the next couple months, which would greatly add to the appeal of a drummer who’s on the fence about the whole thing, but that’s another bag of grumbles.

On a slightly techy note, I recently re-arranged my home setup to include a keyboard with MIDI input, which will greatly improve the speed at which I can enter note values into another new program I’ve since acquired called Guitar Pro 5. This is a guitar/bass/drum notation software which easily converts everything to tablature! I’m very excited about using this for my purposes. Also, I’ve finally gotten around to hooking my Axe-Fx up to my USB interface with MIDI cables so that I can easily edit presets, download others’ from the internet (awesome), and load them directly onto the unit for use. This will be extremely useful when recording other bands, as I can do a session with the guitarist/bassist, recording a clean signal to the tracks along with a dirty scratch track, and re-amp the sound later when I’m mixing. This will give my recordings much more flexibility when you’re talking about what a band asks their producer to do.

Anyway, I will try to be better about updating this blog for whoever wants to read it, and myself, of course. Thanks for reading, whoever you are.



Getting it Together

Good day, all.

I’m having a hard time with this one, but that’s a common theme with me these days. Mom always said, “Getting started is the hardest part.” So, I’ll just jump right in.

We all know there are more bands out there than we can possibly pay attention to or even know about. But, there are even more musicians out there that aren’t in bands because they realized that unless they’re making 50 Gs/yr on part-time hours, they won’t have much time for practicing, writing, recording, promoting, traveling, and schmoozing. Unless you’ve accepted the prospect of indefinite dollar menu poisonings, weak to non-existent family interactions, a studio apartment, and general unpleasantness, how in the world will one have time to fully realize a vision of total metal destroy annihilation awesome while working full time to support yourself? Most will say, “If you love it, you’ll make the time.” Be realistic, people. The easy way out is to “give up everything” in order to follow/live your dreams. I sincerely believe that with careful organization and utilization of this wonderful 21st century technology, all can be accomplished without sacrificing your health, family, and steady income.

Over the past few years, I have been attempting to collaborate with some buddies of mine on a new metal/progressive/groove project called Becoming the Villain .  If you listen to our demos, you will notice there are drums, bass, left and right guitars, vocals, and key/synth parts. Full band, right? Nope. Of course, anyone who has made their own recordings in the past few years knows that it’s all completely doable by just one person. (Cloudkicker, NIN, Bulb, etc.)

Recently, I’ve become more and more obsessed with making this a true collaborative effort, rather than the tried-and-true method of writing and recording everything and presenting it to others to learn, form a group, and play out. The largest obstacle to fulfilling this obsession has been, of course, that we all have full time jobs and simply can’t spend all our free time worrying about music. Come on, we all have been there: home from work, open bag of potato chips staring you in the face, new season of Breaking Bad posted on Netflix (hurry up, please!). Second obstacle, we don’t live in the same house, as would be the ideal situation for a metal band, nor do we even live in the same county. So, travel and scheduling becomes a nightmare. Enter: technology.

Metal band telecommuting. That’s what it really is.

If all band members/collaborators have the same software/hardware capabilities, mixdowns can be passed between everyone via email/dropbox/whateveryouwant! Isn’t that great? It sure is. Third obstacle, individual initiative. It’s like being on vacation and being asked to send out Christmas cards. I effing HATE Christmas cards. “Getting started is always the hardest part.” Sometimes, my conscience deserves a beating and a medal at the same time.

Why go through all this trouble? Why not just simply get a practice space and hammer things out old school style? True, it’s always good to have that tool available. But, from a writing perspective, I feel that going through the trial-and-error wasting of time standing in a noise-saturated circle of confusion at your practice space can be detrimental to keeping the focus in your composition. In this day and age of frantic metal, it sounds great, but loses tons of listeners due to the curve of comprehension of the average human being. If there are solid ideas recorded and practiced prior to showing up to rehearsal, everything would be 10x more productive and thought through. The end product is that much more PRODUCED than had you not gone through that initial drafting phase of writing. That is what I would like to achieve with this project, ultimately.

Having the same source material in everyone’s hands prior to even seeing their faces allows for accountability of what I like to call PRACTICE! For some, practicing is a scary chore indeed. But, that’s what I started out saying up there ^ in the first place. “Getting started is always the hardest part.” The more you do it, the easier it gets. Trust me, I spent 9 years of my life learning how to practice efficiently. You can play for 6 hours, but if you don’t have a method to your practicing, you are just wasting your time. I like to have 35-45 minute practice sessions with breaks in between. The human mind can only absorb so much and correct its pathways in a given amount of time. Any more than capacity actually serves to detriment your efforts. Not to mention the potential for injury if practicing lasts too long. Practice smart.

Anyway, this is of course, an ideal arrangement. All parts working in unison toward the same goal, and not necessarily needing to go through the hassle of working out a hectic rehearsal schedule. For a modern metal band to function, the essential ingredient is self-motivation, a quality we all can agree upon to be hard to develop and even harder to maintain.

“Keep your nose to the grindstone.” -Your mom

Thanks for reading!


Tech Blog pt.1

As I stated previously in my posts, I want this to be a resource for local musicians in more than one aspect. So, here goes.

We all know there’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to home recording and guitar amplification. So, as promised, I’d like to post up what I’m currently using for my own purposes and get some feedback on what all of you are up to in that area.

It’s taken me years to even begin to understand what it takes to make a decent recording. I’m sure quite a few of us have gone through the CoolEdit Pro phase or the Garage Band phase, and those programs are good for what they are, if not somewhat limited. After the initial period of about 4 years tinkering around with microphones and basically no facilities in respect to an adequate sound room or vocal booth, I decided to go completely digital for practicality.

Let’s talk hardware. If one is on a budget, a computer with a single core processor of at least 2.5 Ghz and 2GB of RAM ought to do the trick, but a setup like that WILL get bogged down quickly when you move past 5 tracks of audio and 1 synth/MIDI, as was my last PC. Currently, I’ve got a quad-core 2Ghz machine with 8Gb of RAM running Windows 7 64-bit operating system. Thus far, I’ve had no problems with Sonar slowing down, and I have very little to no latency (bounce back time) when recording.

Rather than spending millions of dollars on the best Genelec studio monitors on the planet (boy, those would be nice), I am currently using M-Audio Bx5a powered monitors for the whole shabang. These cost me the hefty price of $120. I would recommend these to anyone looking to start their own home recording project. The woofer and the tweeter combined are about 75w for one speaker. They’re not the best in the world, but they’re clear enough to let me know when I’ve made a mistake. The bass response is pretty low, which is typical for monitors with 5 inch woofers, so I added an old computer speaker system with a subwoofer to the lot and slaved out from the headphone jack on my interface.

In 2008, I aquired an M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB interface used from eBay for about $125. A device like this replaces your sound card installed on your computer and gives you inputs and outputs for various formats. This little box has been a lifesaver when it comes to real-time recording and monitoring. It has multiple inputs, most importantly, the dual XLR/ 1/4” jacks on the front. These can be used to plug an instrument or microphone directly into the interface and press the big red button and get an accurate representation of the signal being fed through it. For flexibility, I’m also using a 24 channel mixer in front of the interface. The main left and right outputs of the mixer are being fed directly into the XLR inputs of the interface. So, I can mix a vocal mic, stereo guitar input, bass, and even a drum kit simultaneously, if necessary. But as with most tracking processes, I almost always do things one instrument at a time. Mostly, the mixer makes the whole thing go quicker when I’m switching between instruments, so I recommend using one in front of your digital interface for the computer. Time is money. Well, maybe not in this line of work. HA.

For software at this particular point in time, I’m currently using Sonar Cakewalk X1 Producer Edition for all my recordings from tracking to mastering. I had been introduced to Sonar 6 a couple of years ago, and after spending countless hours learning, I figured the logical next step would be to stay in the same brand for DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation). This new program, X1, is very similar to Apple’s Logic, only it’s designed for PCs, and is, in my opinion, much more configurable, flexible, and logical. I could get into the intricacies of what this program can do, but that is a whole other post. In short, I can add “big studio” quality effects to anything I’ve recorded, there are vast libraries of synthesizers and high-quality acoustic instrument samples.

For tracking drums, I’m using Addictive Drums by XLN Audio. This is a plugin. Basically, a library of pre-recorded sounds fed through a program that interprets and mixes them to your liking. One can produce sounds by drawing in notes or “events” into a grid of MIDI. Yes, the drums are ALL DIGITAL. No drum room, no drums, no drummer, no mics. This one takes quite a bit of time to explain, so I’ll cover that later.

Of course, none of this would be of much use to me if I didn’t have guitars! I’ve got an LTD EC-1000 6 string guitar (vintage black) with active EMG 81/85 pickups, neck-thru construction (no bolt ons) and locking tuners, which are very important to keep a stable tune, especially when bouncing around the stage. Also, to track bass, I’m using a black wood-finish 5 string Warwick Corvette Rockbass.

I’ve gone through 5 different amp setups (that I can remember) since 2004. I’ve tried the solid state, the 100w tube heads, the 50w tube heads, the rack setup (preamp, poweramp, etc), pedals, rack effects, blah blah blah. All of these have their uses and strong points, but for the type of music I am into, none of them ever seemed to cut it.

Finally, I made the investment and did the research to determine what I needed. As of right now, I’m using a rack setup with a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Standard processor as a preamp for all my guitar and bass sounds. This is a completely digital unit that accurately recreates the sound of any tube amplifier or effect you can dream up. I can’t even begin to explain to you how versatile and perfect all the sounds emanating from this unit can be, if set up correctly. I’ll cover this unit in another post. I have no other pedals or units (besides my Shure SLX wireless system) for processing my guitar input. From there, it’s off to the mixer board for direct input to the computer, or to my Mesa 2:50 poweramp for amplification through my Orange 2×12 cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. These speakers are very standard in heavy music these days because they have a tight bass response, detailed mids, and the highs (especially on distortion) are not ear-piercing, but still pronounced. Anyway, most of the time, I do not use the cab for recording, because direct-in sounds just as good or better than using a complicated microphone setup which need extra compressors, gates, EQs, etc to make them sound decent. Not to mention, I have no sound room. Remember, this setup is ideal for a basement/closet studio application.

It is my intention to build a vocal booth in the adjacent room of my basement in order to get the most out of the AKG Perception 200 condenser microphone. For demo purposes, having a mic in the middle of the room is just fine, but for a finished product, one definitely needs the isolation of a sound-proofed vocal booth in order to get the most out of post-production digital effects through your DAW.


So, there’s the setup. Actually learning and using these things is a whole other story. My next blog will most likely be concerning my tracking process and various ways to avoid creating digital music hell with all this wonderful technology at your disposal.

Thanks for getting geeky with me, and feel free to share your setup or ask any questions you have! Thanks!


Climate Control

What is the typical experience/impression one receives when going to a local show these days? And I’m talking about those who are NOT in one of the bands playing said show. While I’m sure it varies from person to person, there are elements we all have in common.

Unless you’re at a hardcore show when the scene kids come out to display their ridiculous dancing skills, the vibe at most local shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending is almost one of tolerance and boredom. Once in a blue moon, I’ll run into a local show where almost everyone in attendance is excited about every band playing, stays for every one, and doesn’t stand in the crowd like a statue. I’m sure you will agree, this lack of excitement for the majority of people is a real bummer when you’ve spent your hard-earned money and taken time out of your schedule to attend a show.

Observation tells me the following chain of events:

1. Get to the show 1-2 hours late, pay cover at the door, miss the first 2 bands. (No presale tix here…)

2. Head straight for the bar, passing the “posers” who are there to enjoy the music, and proceed to ingest large amounts of alcohol, largely ignoring the show in progress, favoring a shouting match with your friends conversing about how much you hate Nickelback. Smoke break.

3. Band #3 is almost done, and you’re finally ready to pay attention to the direct support/headliner band. Sound check. Smoke break.

4. Spent too much time outside smoking, missed the first 3 songs of the band you wanted to see. Get another drink. Band #4 is halfway through its set.

5. Too drunk to care about seeing headliner, buddies and compatriots decide you should all go to the expensive bar around the corner that plays Niki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. Smoke break. Guess you’ll catch this band next time they roll through Des Moines.


I’m sure we’ve all had this happen to us at one point or another. The part I can’t get over is the lack of  foresight. Sure, you did your thing and had a good time. At least you paid to get in, right? You did all these people a favor just by showing up, right?

Wrong. If you claim to support the local music scene and are one of those ^ people, do us a favor and simply do not show up. I believe this kind of activity is actually detrimental to what the bands are trying to do.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who cares if they’re having fun or not, at least these people are paying customers! And, I agree to a certain extent. Bars need occupants, promoters need bodies, and bands need crowds. Cool.

Come at it from the other side. A local band is one of the hardest businesses to grow in this area. How are you to grow your business when your customers are only there to see 1 band (not you)?

Some extra information most people don’t know is how local shows are set up these days on the business end. To build interest and attendance, a popular touring band is selected to come to town with one of their label-mates and is offered a pre-determined bid to roll through town. Where is the money to come from, you ask? Obviously, the promoter who set the thing up pays for it, right? The short answer is yes. The long answer is no.

Something terrible happened about 4 years ago in this area. Local bands popped up everywhere without any discernable fanbase (for good reasons) and decided they wanted to play rockstar. Because of this, we were infected with a concept most people now call “pay-to-play” in which ANY band that convinces the promoter they can sell enough tickets, (or come up with the sum or money that equals a pre-determined number of tickets) gets put on the bill for the show. If the whole amount is not there, the band doesn’t play. So, any ‘ol band can potentially get on a show. Great. No wonder the scenario I laid out above happens to often. Nobody wants to see crap music!

The real problem is, there ARE local bands out there that are totally worth spending your money and time going to see, and it doesn’t happen because people are so used to the openers not amounting to anything.

How do we overcome this problem? I suggest local bands stick together and put on their own shows. You want to play with the big acts? Fine. Build yourself up for a few years, put in your time, and don’t waste it working for someone else. It’s your business, treat it as such, and let those larger acts seek you out rather than the other way around. That way, a greater percentage of the attendees will be there for the WHOLE show, have a great time, and hopefully, spend some dollars on merch, spread the word about how great an atmosphere there was at said show, and create a real music scene, not a fabricated one.

With that being said, there are promoters in this area who have done business in this way, and are very considerate of the difficulties undertaken by the local bands in order to play shows with big namers. And I appreciate the work they’ve done in order to bring great acts to this state. In addition, there have been a few individuals with enough savvy and understanding to put on local shows with local bands and local support. No nationals, no promoters (except themselves), and no flailing-armed scene kids. Those are the shows worth taking your precious vacation days to experience.

Please consider what you’re pouring your money into next time you decide to go out on the town for some loud music with your buddies. Keep it local!


The 5 Ws

Thank you for checking out my brand new blog!!! To better explain the reason I’m starting this blog, I’d like to give you some information about where I came from and my history in a place most people would think it unlikely to find an interesting, diverse, open-minded music scene.

Who am I?

My name is Curtis Morgan. I am 25 years old, originally from tiny Albia, Iowa and am happily married, currently living in the even-tinier town of Madrid, Iowa. My day job is that of a cellphone salesman, however, like many musicians, my real passion is what I do outside of work.

From middle school throughout college, I was very involved in my public school’s music program playing saxophone, piano, and bass guitar later when I joined the jazz program. Shortly afterwards, I became aware of the heavier side of things and acquired a Squire Strat, and a little dinky 10w amp. I was in heaven. I learned System of a Down’s first two albums by ear and played them almost daily. Metallica came afterwards, and many many others. It didn’t take long for me to want to play in a group of like-minded musicians and I jammed with my new friend Chase McDonough after school on the tunes I had recently learned. He was a percussionist, and we had a blast.

The next few years went by too quickly as we had started a band and began (poorly) recording our songs and playing out at local venues, driving around the state having a great time meeting new bands, selling a few shirts, and getting a few plays on MySpace (yes, MySpace). As the college years came around, we still played, but the optimistic, youthful attitude we all had about the band had died out and eventually, everyone went their separate ways.

With almost everyone, life happens. I married Raena, we got the house, the car, the dog, the whole shabang. It’s great, and I hope everyone at some point gets to be as happy as I have been. Love you!

I’ve heard there’s a certain amount of mental instability associated with being a metal musician, and I believe it. No matter how many people say it’s worthless, talentless crap, I beg to differ. And, I’ve never given it up. Always trying to get a better tone, newer gear, better mixes, I have been glued to my basement studio for the last 3 years working on my craft. It’s been a few years since I was truly an active participant in my local music scene, but I believe the break has been a positive one for me and I’m now ready to get back out there.

My new project is called Becoming the Villain (shameless plug)

On the other hand, I’ve noticed quite a few things about this musical enviornment over the past 5 years, good and bad, which I’ve thankfully been able to learn from and through this blog, pass onto you.

What is this blog about?

The ultimate goal of this blog is to start a conversation with my friends and yours about how to better understand and develop this thing we call a music scene, and to overcome the many difficulties associated with being in a heavy band. I’d like to cover topics ranging from gear choices, to getting in touch with new and existing metal, rock, hardcore, and progressive metal groups. From how to market yourself to getting along with your bandmates and making the most out of your collective talents.

Why am I doing this?

I love it. Plain and simple. Any of you who have been in a band, heavy or not, understand how hard it is to keep going sometimes in an enviornment totally devoted to commercialism. Digitally recycled preset beats run through synthesizers, chopped up and spun out into musical oblivion, trompeling over the very soul music’s emotional and physical value. There are virtually zero local publications that have anything relevant to say about Iowa’s heavy music scene. Why? That’s a loaded question I’ll cover later.

Where and when can I get involved in this?

This is possibly the most important part of why the local music scene is in its current shape. The availability and ease of discovering information about shows, new albums, etc. It’s out there, don’t get me wrong, but being scattered about Facebook, the walls of venues and their websites, flyers around town, etc. are not efficient means of advertisement.

The most important thing you can do, believe it or not, is to talk about MUSIC. Not going to shows to impress your friends and get drunk, not posting a video from YouTube to your Facebook that depicts a cat attempting to drink from a kitchen faucet.

Again, thank you for checking out my first blog on the subject. I promise future posts will not be so entirely self-indulgent and will be more objective. Please share!

Keep it heavy.