Out now – new single and video: “This Man’s Eyes”

I wrote this song for my wife Amy back in ’99 when we were dating. Then I sang it at our wedding. It’s an upbeat, feel-good rock’n’roll love song. Over the years I made some demo recordings of it. But now, recording technology has come so much further, has have my multi-instrumental skills. So it seemed the right time to try again and record what I’ve heard in my head all these years. And I’m delighted with the result. I hope you will be as well!

Here’s the YouTube video:

The single is on my Bandcamp, page (embedded below), Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and wherever you listen to streaming music.

As with all my new music, I offer it to my mailing list before it’s launched to the general public. If you want to get my next single before it’s released, sign up below.

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Online Benefit Concert for Ukraine Crisis Relief

Originally performed Sat Feb 26, 2022 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

Here’s a replay of the benefit concert.

As you watch this replay, here’s how you can still help Ukraine in its time of need.

Go to my Global Giving page and donate any amount. This link will also be available above the chat section of the concert page.

I gave this online concert at Live Streamer Cafe to benefit Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion. Global Giving, a Charity Navigator approved organization, will provide for the basic human needs of these innocent people.

“Salt and Sand” album covered in Morris NewsBee

by Brett Friedelsohn, Jan 21, 2022

Brett interviewed me for local Morris County newspaper Morris NewsBee about my new album “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind,” my origins as a musician and as my childhood hometown of Morristown figured into the story. PDF embedded below.

Reprinted with the permission of the Morris NewsBee/New Jersey Hills Media

Subscribers to Morris NewsBee can read the article here.

Album Launch and Online Concert Friday Feb. 4

7:30 PM Eastern-US – Online concert to mark the album launch

Join me on Live Streamer Cafe on Friday evening at 7:30 Eastern-US. I’ll perform the new album in track order. Kris Pride will open the show with her heartfelt ukulele-based folk/rock songs.

For the album launch concert: Attendees will not be on camera – only the performers will appear on screen. Attendees will be able to interact in the chat section and will be able to select animated “compliments” out of a menu. Once I complete my performance of my album, I may have time to take a few requests.

Please arrive at Live Streamer Cafe a few minutes before showtime if you haven’t yet created your free user account.

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New album “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind” available on Bandcamp and all streaming platforms

You can now listen right here and purchase your digital download of “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind” below. You’ll receive a PDF of the album’s complete lyric book with your purchase.

20% of album purchases by midnight tonight (morning of 2/5) will go to National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).

The album is on YouTube as a playlist with videos of every song on the album in order.

The record is also on Apple Music, Amazon Music and all other streaming platforms. Check your favorite streaming app for “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind.”

The Making of Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind

Part 1: From Ideas to Radio-Ready Tracks

How I produced a full-length rock album at home during a pandemic

The creation of a complete rock album in which you play nearly all the parts and do all the engineering and mixing is a true labor of love. It takes strong inspiration and belief that the album needs to exist to put in all those hours.

I proceeded anyway, knowing that if I’m lucky, a decent number of people will listen to the songs through a streaming service. A much smaller number will purchase downloads of the tracks. It takes conviction to move forward knowing that the release will need to be all-digital because getting physical product manufactured in 2022 doesn’t make sense financially.

It All Begins with Lyrics

I write my songs around a premise. A song idea becomes a title, usually the chorus with a strong musical hook. Then all the other lyrics tell the story summed up by that central premise. As I’m coming up with lyrics, I’m sounding out the rhythm of those words in my head. This will lead to improvising a melody over a chord structure. Melody follows soon after the lyrics.

I like to type my lyrics into a note taking or word processing app, because I do a lot of editing. Being able to drag lines or pairs of lines to different parts of the verse helps me visualize and find the right order for the parts of my song. Being able to quickly replace words and phrases helps me cut lines down to the minimum number of syllables needed to tell my song’s story and sing it in a way that’s comfortable for me to vocalize and for you to listen to.

A Quick Demo

Once I know roughly how the song will go, I use the voice memo recorder app on my phone to get a quick recording of my vocal and guitar (or ukulele – or piano). Later, I can refer back to it for melody, chords and tempo.

Laying the Foundation

This artist then cracks open the Macbook and launches Logic Pro X. I then load a template containing empty tracks set up for a typical rock band arrangement. I’ll add these layers one-at-a-time.

To help me hold down the song’s rhythm I add Logic’s automatic “Drummer” track. This feature conveniently adds a basic drumbeat at your song’s chosen tempo. It has a relatively natural feel, a big improvement from the canned-sounding drum machines I used to use. My foundational tracks are the instrument I wrote the song on. So, if I wrote the song on acoustic guitar, I’ll record that first, using the “drummer” track to guide me.

I then add a guide vocal. This is not usually the final vocal you hear on the record. It’s a reference so I know where we are in the song and where the vocal comes in and out of the picture.

I use the “Drummer” track temporarily until I record all the melodic instruments – guitar, keyboard and bass. Finally I hop on the drum kit and play the beat alongside the automatic drummer and all the other instruments I’ve recorded. This keeps me in time more effectively than the click track alone. The click can get buried under the prerecorded tracks and what I’m currently recording.

The Icing on the Cake

With the instruments in place, I mute the automatic drummer track and add the final vocal, backing vocals and any instrumental embellishments I’m hearing in my head. This is a phase of the project where I feel extra inspired. This is where I hear the finishing touches of the recording coming together.

Short, Focused Sessions

My recording sessions are fairly short, as I begin them after helping my daughter to bed. I must remain mindful not to stay up too late when there’s work in the morning. The time limit keeps me focused on the task at hand. It forces me to use the available time wisely or walk away from a session empty-handed.

As I finish a session for the night, I export a rough mix that I can listen to on my phone. I enjoy playing my previous night’s work for my wife over breakfast the next morning – then listening again in my car on my way to work. Hearing the tracks in different environments and over different speakers helps. It gives me my first clues about how the tracks will fit together volume and stereo position-wise in the final mix.

Mix It Up

If I feel like the ongoing rough mix is really close to how I want the final mix to sound, I’ll use the existing levels as my starting point. I’ll take some notes and make some decisions over how I might want volumes to change over the course of the song. When mixing a record, it’s important to make sure the volume of at least one track changes at some point in the song. Perhaps I’d time a little boost in volume on the guitar going into the chorus. At the end of recording a part for the song, I may let the final chord ring longer than needed, knowing I can gradually lower the volume of the track in the mixing stage to fade it out gracefully.

If I’m not feeling like my rough mix is working, I’ll bring all the volumes of all the tracks down to the bottom (we don’t call it zero, we call it negative infinity! Zero can actually be a really loud level depending on how the track was recorded!) Then I’ll raise the volumes of the tracks a little so they balance with each other. I steer clear of an overall volume that would distort (clip) when exported for a final mix. I tend to go by the advice to have the loudest peaks on combined volume register at -3db, so there’s room to raise volume in the mastering process.

In Full Effect

In mixing, we don’t just set volumes. We also apply sound effects to the tracks that could benefit from them. I use a bit of reverb (natural room echo) to the vocals and drums. I’ll apply some compression (conditional volume control) to even out tracks (like drums) that tend to fluctuate wildly in volume. Not all of these effects require much manual tinkering. Logic lets me apply “library” settings to my tracks. I can select my vocal track and apply the setting “warm vocal.” The software will then apply typical effects at typical levels and I can then modify that to my liking. This takes a lot of guesswork out of the process.

Finally, I’ll apply a subtle reverb to the master stereo output (the one “track” that represents the mix of all the tracks overall). This gives the whole recording a sense of spaciousness and a bit of a sparkle.

Master Class

Mastering is the process where the final mix is made louder relative to the volume setting on the listener’s device. This makes your track roughly the same volume as the tracks of the most popular artists in your genre. This prevents listeners having to constantly fiddle with their volume control. In raising the volume, the mastering engineer must preserve the clarity of the mix.

Back when I had larger budgets for my records, I’d hire a mastering engineer to meticulously go through each final mix and decide on volume compression, frequency equalization and any overall effects. These mastering engineers had just the right speakers and just the right acoustical spaces to make my tracks radio ready.

It was the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) based automated mastering that made it possible for me to efficiently create radio-ready records at home. To master the album “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind” I used CloudBounce. I pay one subscription fee for the year and can master all the tracks I need. I can also upload a mix, receive the master, and hear what’s working and what’s not. Then I can re-mix, re-upload and get a new master.

To be continued…

Be on the lookout for Part 2 where I introduce you to the various instruments and equipment I use.

Two Generations of Van Halen Influence

On Eddie Van Halen’s birthday I reflect upon the enormous influence he had on my life. I play guitar because of him.

A Middle School Keyboard Acolyte

I was a 13 year old kid resisting practicing the scales and classical pieces my piano teacher lined up for me. Rock and pop music on MTV beckoned me to the Casio electronic keyboard. Why spend my time on Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” when there’s Van Halen’s “Jump” to master? After all, when I played that opening riff in the electronics department at Macy’s I could draw a crowd!

Eddie Van Halen on keyboard playing "Jump."

Plot Twist for a High School Musician

Eddie Van Halen on guitar on the 5150 tour, 1986

Fast forward 2 years. I won my high school talent show’s special acts category with an original instrumental I composed and played on my synthesizer. The prize: A gift certificate to Alwilk Records. With that gift certificate I bought “5150,” Van Halen’s new album, their first with Sammy Hagar. I loved those keyboards on “Why Can’t This Be Love.” I thought of Eddie as a keyboardist mostly. I played that album over and over. When a radio ad announced Van Halen was coming to New Jersey Meadowlands I was all in. I went to the concert with my dad & my friend. My first real introduction to Eddie Van Halen as a guitar wizard was in-person. It made a huge impression on me.

After the concert I retrieved my rarely-touched electric guitar out of the closet and bought a Guitar magazine, which had sheet music for various songs each month. I bought the copy with Van Halen’s cover of “You Really Got Me” transcribed in it. I got to work learning to be a guitarist under the master’s influence.

My friends and I formed a garage band called “Lost and Found.” We covered three of Van Halen’s big hits from “5150:” “Dreams,” “Love Walks In” and “Why Can’t This Be Love?” We also began writing our own songs.

Evolution of a Guitarist

I’d eventually develop to where I could play a crude rendition of “Eruption” while accommodating many other influences into my playing – David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, BB King, and Eric Clapton. I’d come to rely more on melody and expression than dazzling speed and wild sonic innovation, as much as I loved all that.

It was years later when I formed a rock band for kids and families, Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam, when I felt comfortable enough deliberately giving a real nod to Eddie’s playing style on my solo for “Jungle Gym Jamming,” an upbeat punk rock fueled romp. This video is cued up right to the guitar solo at 2:20.

On my current solo album, “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind” I took another opportunity to salute Eddie – this time after he had passed on. The song “Run With My Troubles” serves as a declaration that when I’m feeling stress I can exercise to deal with it. I wanted the solo to clearly reflect Eddie’s influence on me. The second phrase (3:06) contains a finger tapping run. The right hand plays a pedal tone while the fingers left hand form a melody against it. This echoes a moment in Eddie’s masterful guitar solo on “Van Halen: Live Without a Net”.

This video clip is cued up to the solo at 2:57

Van Halen: The Next Generation

As if Eddie’s influence wasn’t enough, a second generation of Van Halen came along and inspired me in a new way. His son Wolfgang had just launched his long-anticipated project Mammoth WVH. In the studio, Wolfgang writes, plays and sings absolutely everything you hear. Then he takes a band on the road – ace musicians who replicate perfectly everything he had recorded.

This struck me during this period of pandemic where I was physically cut off from my Jungle Gym Jam bandmates. My drummer Ross had left his drum kit in the house. Drums remained the one instrument I’d never learned to play. On previous full solo albums I pre-programmed drum beats, dragging notes onto a grid one-at-a time.

Hearing Wolfgang’s first few tracks moved me to try learning the drums with some YouTube tutorials. After all, I’ve had drumbeats in my head most of my life – I just lacked the physicality of playing. I learned basic drumming competence pretty quickly, though I’ll be the first to admit, my drummer friends who have their 10 thousand hours at the kit, can play far more imaginatively and with more precision and stamina than me. I have so much respect for drummers who are devoted to their craft.

Jason Didner on drums, wearing a Van Halen T-shirt

So, if Eddie made me a guitarist, Wolfgang made me a true multi-instrumentalist, urging me on to learn the drums and play a full solo record, playing all the parts.

May His Memory Be a Blessing

Seeing Eddie play his guitar onstage with such ferocity and joy left a lasting impression on me and altered the course of my development as a musician and as a person. As a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, I welcome a diverse array of musical influences into my artistry: Van Halen, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Otis Redding and Elvis Costello, to name a few.

Eddie Van Halen on guitar at the Hollywood Bowl in 2015. This would turn out to be Van Halen's final concert.

My life is better for Eddie’s presence in it. May his memory remain ever a blessing. May it bring out the best in those of us who love music. His birthday marks a good day for this thought.