Sound Advice for Designing a Home Music Studio

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.33.43 AMHow to unleash your inner guitar hero without antagonizing the neighbors

Most musicians will admit to sharing a single core skill necessary for mastering their instrument: control. When it comes to designing spaces for practicing, performing, recording or just jamming, control is equally important to acousticians and architects. We aim to control the sound entering and exiting the studio, the heat and humidity inside and, of course, the acoustics.

While a home music room may not have the demands of a professional recording studio, many spaces can benefit from the sound isolation and acoustic treatment applied to rooms designed for playing music. I’ve designed spaces for music at all scales, from auditorium halls to private listening rooms, and have learned a few basic sound concepts that can dramatically improve the aural environment of any space.

September 11th – We Will Always Remember

American RequiemSeptember 11th, 2001. For many of us, this day is indelibly stamped in our memory. You likely know where you were at the moment you heard the news. Perhaps you can even feel the visceral emotions that hit you when you watched the footage of the horrific events of that day. For many, their lives are marked by before 9/11 and after 9/11.

It was a Tuesday and after I arrived home from a band rehearsal. Yes, we had a rehearsal. It may have been a sign of solidarity against the forces of evil; it may have been so as not to have to think about the atrocity of the day. Either way, I arrived home to watch the news as a Canadian with my Californian-born son. Things were going to be different, of that I was sure. I was concerned for his future, unsure of what would happen, a decision in my heart was made that day.

That weekend, my musical colleague and good friend Laurey and his daughter wrote a song that would eventually be the cornerstone of a work entitled “An American Requiem”. As a way to work though the angst that was brought by dark forces, a musical work was born. I had the privilege to play a part in the recording and presentation at the famed Benaroya Hall in Seattle on the first anniversary of September 11th.  The emotion of that day was highlighted by the fact that less than two weeks earlier, I was sworn as an American citizen. The decision made a year to the day culminated in myself, as the music director leading a prayer on behalf of a hurting people.

For most of my life, music has been an outlet to my feelings and emotions. The healing that it brought during this particular chapter in our history is something exceptional. Working on and performing “An American Requiem” was both cathartic as well as patriotic. We will always remember those whose lives were cut short as well as the lives that were robbed of their loved ones.

Here’s a taste of what we recorded and performed on this anniversary 12 years ago today.


A Look At Music Therapy


Music Review: Dirty Loops

dirty-loops-loopifiedDavid Foster’s music director, Matt Dela Pola, told me about this new band David had discovered (He’s also the Executive Producer on the CD), Dirty Loops. I immediately went to listen, okay, watch and listen… on YouTube since everything Foster is up my alley. Well, these guys are not another Michael Bublé, or Josh Groban. Dirty Loops‘ debut album, Loopified, is on my iPod non-stop. The Swedish trio are most famous for their online covers of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep“. I just got the trio’s own 12-song album, in a word – BRILLIANT!

The style is hard to pin down. The tracks list, when imported to my iTunes, says “Indie Rock”. The reality is, this is true fusion. Pop meets rock, meets funk, meets jazz fusion, meets incredible technique… you get my drift. I am hard pressed to articulate what the style should be labeled as.

Tight would be one way of describing their music. As a brass player, I am amazed at the phrasing Jonah plays on the keyboards. It’s not just the intervals, but the drop offs that sound so much like a brass section. You’ll know what I mean when you listen to “The Way She Walks” and “Roller Coaster”, it’s almost eerie.

Hit Me”, does just that, the tune is a driving, funky groove with a quasi-boy band vibe. “Sexy Girls”, though the weakest song on the disc, lyrically, adds to the same formula- a little techno for good measure. “Sayonara Love” mixes R &B with virtuoso slap-bass that is just plain fun.

Wake Me Up” is a more traditional pop sound until the band start changing the changes. The chord structure gets an almost Fusion Jazz treatment as the melody get lifted differently as the baseline takes creative license. “Die For You” starts out with heavenly vocals lulling the listener into a false sense of peace, the tune turns into a pounding stereo stressing test. If you have a convertible, this is a great top-down tune.

Just when you think you have this band pigeonholed, they hit you with “It Hurts” and poignant ballad about the pain felt when love ends. The melody could be on an Andrea Bocelli album, although these guys find a way to modernize this sound and make you want more. “Crash and Burn Delight” takes the listener on a similar journey of angst. Vocally, there’s a lot there, these guys are legit, and they surprise you with tone and subtlety.

Take on the World” has an almost soundtrack feel and “Roller Coaster” an arrangement of the Justin Bieber song features synth brass, slap bass and astounding solos from all three members of the band. Making Bieber listenable speaks to their creativity for sure!

Accidentally in Love” could have been a Stevie Wonder song with its mix of gospel and Motown.

Where there the band is on the cusp of overplaying in the flat-out sections, they are deft at leaving space when needed. With Dirty Loops, each player is a virtuoso in their own right. Together they have created something that is really special.

I’m looking forward to seeing and listening to the band play in Seattle this November. If the energy is even close to what’s on the CD, I’ll be spent by the end of their show. If you want a “high-energy”, “get you going” disc, this will blow you away!


puc-wifi-midi-interfaceFree your music from tyranny of wires with the PUC, a Wireless MIDI Connection. Designed specifically for iOS devices, the PUC allows you to wirelessly connect any MIDI device such as keyboards, synths, dj controllers, drum machines, floor pedal controllers, plus other gear, wirelessly to your iPad, iPhone or Mac, and easily control your music making apps. It has a low latency system as fast or faster than the wire, and includes the free PUC connector app. 

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Playing an instrument sparks fireworks in the brain [video]

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.11.20 AMOut of work music teachers are a dime a dozen these days as schools cut the “inessential” subject of music, but are we actually leaving out the one class that sparks the brain like no other?

It’s hard to find a person who likes no music at all, though tastes differ drastically, yet it’s the people playing that music who are getting the real buzz according to this animated TED-Ed talk from Anita Collins.

Anatomy of Songs


Happy 4th: The Star Spangled Banner

“Let every nation k4th of Julynow, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

~ John F. Kennedy 


Music Review: Sam Smith ‘In the Lonely Hour’


Sam Smith sings soul songs, but not in the usual way. Where most of this genre’s singers shout, he moans. While anger fires many, Smith focuses on hurt. It’s the sound a wound would make, a cry without defense or deflection. It’s so raw, it isn’t always easy to listen to, yet millions can’t help it. Smith’s debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” shows why.

“Money On My Mind” kicks off the album with a crisp, skittering backbeat and chopped-up backing exhalations. The first official single is a bit of a bait-and-switch: the synthesizers don’t set the tone for the record but do reappear at the very end, and at first listen it’s easy to focus on the blaring chorus and miss the “I don’t have” that sneaks up beforehand.

“Good Thing” begins with swelling strings that spill into a muted guitar line, the second track is the real beginning of the end which, “In the Lonely Hour” is all about.

The first time I saw Smith was when he wowed an audience on “Saturday Night Live.” He killed it with “Stay With Me”judiciously placed tambourines, the song builds to a resounding gospel chorus that would give goose bumps to even the most hardened unromantic heart.

“Leave Your Lover” is gorgeous in its simplicity; guitar, piano & string accompany a heavenly melody floating from falsetto to chest voice and back.

The first turning point of the record, “I’m Not the Only One”is where Smith digs down to the bottom of his range before his voice raises to anger, accusing, “You say I’m crazy, because you don’t think I know what you’ve done.” The violins surging behind the breakdown are so high-pitched they practically sting.

On “I’ve Told You Now” Smith is a master of contrasting volume and affect. The phrases escalate to the explosive emotional climax with restraint so subtle you can hear the guitarist’s fingers on the fret board. Here, Smith goes off into his falsetto like a balloon gone awry before being pulled in just as it’s about to fly away.

“Like I Can” begins with whispered strumming that kindles deep indignation and frustration. Smith’s insistence of his stronger feelings is fueled with a full band, another choir.

Smith recants his anger at one of his most vulnerable points with “Life Support”. Smith’s falsetto blurs words together until they eventually collapse against each other during the song’s breakdown, which mirrors his own.

From the opening guitar notes of “Not In That Way”, it resembles Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” With just the simple melody and Smith’s reluctant honesty, it is one of the record’s finest moments.

Another of Smith’s debuts on “SNL,” “Lay Me Down” has more of a theatrical flair than other songs, blending Broadway musical’s storytelling with Whitney Houston’s vocal acrobatics, and a splash of classy Frank Sinatra strings, supported by a military drum beat.

As implied by its title, “Restart” returns to the record’s upbeat beginning and dials it up a notch. With the bounce of select cuts from “Bad,” Smith moves through uplifting pianos. To drive the point home, he scratches and rewinds his verses. Sonically, if not emotionally, it’s a logical progression from “Lay Me Down,” and at any rate it’s good to see him come back from the brink of wallowing.

Smith sings about his heart beating out of his chest on “Latch”, his throaty wail makes it sound like the organ is being ripped out.

On “Make It To Me” Smith lets loose with the record’s only guitar solo, ending the record on a surprisingly carefree note.

If you get this CD, you’ll discover Sam Smith sings soul songs, but not in the usual way.