"Queen of Somewhere... A beautifully produced, lushly detailed sound banquet built around Julianna McDuffie’s nuanced lyrics, which explore themes of discovery, loss and longing... McDuffie delivers her songs in a rich and compelling, closely miked voice, at a measured pace that largely tracks the rhythm of the heartbeat. She is not shy to explore sound in the service of her voice, and listeners who appreciate attention to aural detail will find a lot to like here—vocal treatments spiral and eddy, trailing their way though a sonic landscape that is recorded with a fine sense of spatial possibility..."

-iTunes Review, by edgemitchell

March 25, 2015

"Never Expected Glow"

Ooh! I almost forgot... quick update on the Busstop18 track I was working on last week.

It's finished! And it's oh, so chill.

Swedish Producer jTa (Busstop 18 on Soundcloud) approached me a few weeks ago about this - and I knew immediately that I could write something appropriate to the melody and feel. I'm often inspired by titles and moods as they come to me, and this one was already titled "Never Expected Glow" (which I found charming in it's slightly not-traditional English semantics). So, I kept it, and wrote the rest of my lyric around it.

The only thing I knew about this song was that it "was inspired by a child".  OK.  I can do that.  I know that feeling. I have children. No problem. Wrote my lyric, recorded it, sent it off, he mixed it we critiqued it, he mixed it again...

And after he released it, he told me the story. This wasn't just about a child. This was about a little girl born with a hole in her heart. And somehow, what I'd written made sense.

But the beauty, here, is that it didn't surprise me in the slightest.

You see, my own son is a heart patient with Hypoplastic Left-Heart Syndrome. By the time he was two and half years old he'd had three open-heart surgeries. I KNOW what it's like to to worry over the hospital bed and wonder what the future will bring. I know the heartache when things look bleak, and I know the joy when all goes well.

I also how it feels to have 12 years distance between then and now. After all this time, I sometimes stop in my tracks and just look at my son in complete and utter wonder.  He's an amazing kid, even when you remove the medical miracles that brought us here.

So, it was Kismet that jTa asked me to do this. And Kismet that I did.

Never Expected Glow

Where did you come from?
Where do we go from here?
When all is said and done
Will you still be there?

I wasn't expecting
Where this would go
I wasn't looking for
This unexpected glow

How much longer
How much farther
How many days
How many years?

Where did you come from?
Where do we go from here?
When all is said and done
Will you still be there?

Ribbon Mic/Condenser Mic Comparisons

Earlier this week, I posted about my DIY Ribbon Microphone that I made while attending a workshop conducted by Austin Microphones.

Of course, the best way to know how it sounds is to compare it to a known microphone... in this case, my constantly-in-use Audio Technica 2050 Switchable Patterned Condenser.

For the test, I recorded both the Austin Model 1 Ribbon and the AT2050 Condenser simultaneously, with the mics positioned side by side, as close as possible. I made sure to switch the AT2050 from my normal cardiod pattern to the figure 8 setting, in effort to more closely mimic the physics of the Ribbon mic (which picks up sound from the front and rear).  I then positioned my pop filter evenly between the two.  It looked something like this:

L: Austin Model 1 Ribbon Microphone
R: Audio Technica AT2050

As I do not have a treated studio room (or a vocal booth), and my go-to reflection filter or Kaotica Eyeball will fit on only one mic stand at a time, I decided to embrace the natural ambiance of my house, which I've never tried before.  I will be doing so again.

The samples below are clearly noted as being recorded in either my front room (Cathedral Ceilings) or in my downstairs bathroom (Untreated Small Room).  I was surprised at how manageable and even-toned the bathroom sounded.  Don't knock 'til you've tried it, I guess.

I was planning to just use my normal recording space, but the neighbors were having some landscaping done, and there were power saws.... So, I tried the bathroom.  You may hear the landscaping crew in the background of the Cathedral Ceilings recordings. These are not pristine, but they do show the differences quite well.

It was not at all surprising to find that the ribbon (fitted with a .8 micron ribbon) was a little quieter overall, or that the tone it delivers is a bit more rounded, more full in the low-mid range, a little muted, and sensitive to sibilance and popping.  I expected all of those things.  In contrast, the AT2050 is a more sensitive to higher frequencies, and has a tendency to feel a little brittle or "tinny" on the high end.

The condenser is also "louder" and it took some time to get the levels nicely balanced between the two mics for the purposes of this comparison. In truth, I had the ribbon cranked to 10 on my audio interface... I think I'll be looking for a Cloudlifter at some point, but it's not at all a deal-breaker.

However, I am quite pleased with the effect, and will find many uses for it.  It has a nice, warm tone, and it is reminiscent of vintage technology (which of course, it is).

The following samples are dry, have no fx, no eq, no leveling and no compression.  They were sung a cappella and without the benefit of backing tracks.

I would love to know what you think! Please leave comments below!

March 23, 2015

DIY Ribbon Microphone Badassery

Austin Microphones Model 1 AUSTIN OTA-1

Yesterday I had opportunity to do something I never in a million years thought that I would do. I made my very own microphone.  With my very own hands.

And. It. Was. Awesome.

I have been wanting a Ribbon microphone for a while now.  In my mind, a Ribbon mic always brings a warm, vintage feel... but it's just the sort of thing that ends up on the "later/maybe/if" list when software demands to be upgraded, or the studio needs a new desk because the old one fell down around my ears...  So, I'd mostly ignored my Ribbon mic wishes, and only occasionally threw wistful glances their way.

I have a nice mic. I actually really LIKE my mic (for the record, my go-to mic is a pattern-switchable AT2050 condenser).  I'd love to try out a Neumann or a higher end Blue, and I really like the looks of the Violet Atomic, but I can't afford a Neumann/Blue and the Violet doesn't seem to be available in the US (also, I've never actually HEARD it)... and, really, I'd rather try a Ribbon, anyway.

Last month, I was wandering through Craigslist when I saw a listing for a "DIY Ribbon Mic Workshop", lead locally by San Diego's own Austin Microphones.  I was immediately and completely smitten by the very idea that I could MAKE one for myself.

In truth, I'm the kind of girl who would rather make things than buy things, and to be perfectly honest, it was the "BUILD" part that pushed me over the edge to Ribbonland. Keeping it 100.

I might have immediately purchased a kit or downloaded plans for the extremely reasonable price of $10... except... oh, wow... it looked pretty involved... and I was a little nervous to do all (read: any) of the electronics soldering on my own. So, a workshop was the *perfect* thing.  I figured that if I screwed up the components, someone could help me more easily at a workshop than at home.

I needn't have worried.

As it turned out, this was a very mechanical build, and Rick Wilkinson from Austin Microphones bent over backwards to not only be certain we were easily able to complete our build, but also to make sure that we were having a good time.

And we were having a great time. There were 11 of us in attendance; most were recording students, with varying levels of experience and expertise, and I was super impressed to NOT be the only female in the room-- in fact, there were FIVE of us (including Betsey, who was helping Rick conduct the workshop), and the girls were possibly even more enthusiastic than the guys.

The workshop was hosted at CSU San Marcos by CSUSM/San Diego City College professor, Bob Kostlan, who kept us entertained with a little Aphex Twin and some of his friends' Bandcamp offerings on the overhead monitors. So we were set.

Kit unboxed.

To begin our build, Rick provided each of us with an Austin Model 1 Ribbon Mic kit, and we started by gluing our magnets to Austin's proprietary truss.  It's worth mentioning that the truss consists of a series of open areas and joining fingers, which allows for more airflow around the ribbon than a conventional truss (see below images).  I really liked the thinking behind the design.

We then separated into groups of three or four, and each group went to a station for soldering the truss, forming and soldering the brass screen, or cutting and crimping the ribbon.  My group started with the soldering station, and we wired up our trusses pretty quickly.  Here's mine, glued and soldered, still with a clear spacer and minus the ribbon:

Magnets glued to truss, electronics soldered, spacer in place. Note
the "fingers" and open spaces between the truss and the magnets.

I surprised myself at how quickly I was able to solder (note to self, that "cold heat" soldering iron you bought is absolute junk, and its no wonder you didn't think you could do it.  Right tools for the job = super important).  Also, I only burned myself once. 

When it was time to build my screen, I challenged myself to do the absolute neatest soldering that I possibly could, knowing that I would be forever annoyed if I knew it was messy-- even though all the seams are cleverly hidden in the tube, every time I stepped up to sing, I would just *know* it was a mess inside... and yes, I know how crazy that sounds. Perfectionism is HARD, y'all.

Clockwise, L-R:  Soldering the electronics to the truss,
forming and soldering the screen,  view of both stations. 

Once the truss was completed, the screen was soldered and the XLR connection to the transformer was wrapped in fiber and inserted into the body tube, it was time to cut, crimp and install the Ribbon.

Included in the kit for this workshop was a 1.8 micron sheet of ribbon material, but I had a little conversation with Rick about my voice and we both concluded that a thinner material would help manage my higher frequencies.  He had brought along a sheet of .8 micron material, but noted that if cutting, crimping and floating the .8 micron ribbon was too difficult-- and it almost was-- then I could go ahead and use the 1.8 sheet included in my kit.

But, I managed.  Somehow.  OH, SO TRICKY. Don't breathe when working with this stuff, or it all just wafts away...

Clockwise, L-R:  Completed XLR connector and connector plate ready for 
soldering to the OTA-1 transformer; All parts ready for final assembly (note 
the straight seams on my brass screen!),  and the nearly impossible task of 
"floating" a .8 micron ribbon into place (ribbon shown is one of several 
practice ribbons... this float lost some crimp, and I had to try again. 
And again, and again. Oh my.

In floating the ribbon onto the truss-- it's so thin, you are quite LITERALLY floating the ribbon into position-- the ribbon is held in place by a sandwich of truss material, and secured in place with tiny screws.  My biggest difficulty in the entire build was managing the teeniest, tiniest nuts I've ever seen... I broke several of my precious ribbons just by knocking the tiny nuts off of the tiny screws as I tried to attach them.  I finally learned to slide the nuts onto a toothpick, place the toothpick tip to the top of the screw, and carefully slide the nut down the toothpick and into position.  

Patience is a virtue, but not one of mine....  And just as I was about to throw in the towel, Rick suggested I tack the connection in place and test it before I tried again.

It worked.

Oh, wow!  It worked!

A little more soldering to complete the connections, tucking the wires into the screen, finessing the screen into place, a final sound check, and Blammo.

I have a new Ribbon mic.

I have already picked up another mic stand, and have ordered a new shock mount.  I'll need to line the  grip of the shock mount with sticky-backed foam, as this mic is an odd diameter (38mm).  But that will work, and I can't WAIT to put it through some testing.

Stay tuned.  Will post some audio samples as soon as I can.

March 18, 2015

Department of TMI... Anatomical Division

About a month ago, I did something awful to my back. It was purely muscular, thank heavens, but it was excruciating. I'm still not sure what (exactly) I did-- I woke up in agony one morning, with a very tense, site-specific pain, as if one particular muscle was a clenched fist that wouldn't open.  As the day wore on, I ended up compensating for the pain by using other muscles, which lead to my entire back in spasms.  I couldn't stretch it out, couldn't relax, and ended up living on painkillers and muscle relaxers for a few weeks.  Eventually, I started feeling better, and my Doctor prescribed some Physical Therapy to make sure it didn't happen again.  I felt bad even going to PT, since I was better, right? Why waste their time?  But I went, anyway.

This morning, I had my second PT appointment, and my Therapist surprised me by talking about my abdominal muscles. It never occurred to me that this might be part of the problem.

As it turns out, it's not at all uncommon for women who have children (I have two) to have difficulties with their "transverse abdominis", or TrA.

According to the literature she gave me, "Mid or low back pain, abdominal injury/surgery and/or excessive lengthening due to pregnancy or poor posture can cause a delay or absence in the anticipatory contraction of the transverse abdominis." She noted that it's an entirely different set of muscles than is usually referred to when people talk about their "strengthening their core", but that the function of the TrA is to stabilize the back and pelvis BEFORE arm and leg movement.  In fact, she has some very visibly strong clients (classic six-packs) who have problems with TrA - because gym-style crunches don't affect it.

Bottom line, I need to retrain my TrA to stabilize everything else.

And here's where it gets musically interesting--- My Therapist then started talking about my diaphragm and showing me diagrams as to where it is located, how it works, etc... and I had to stop her and laugh, because of COURSE I know where my diaphragm is.  I explained how I've had years and years of voice lessons, and that breathing exercises were just a normal part of the routine.  But I wanted to be sure that the way I knew how to breathe for singing was the right way to complete her suggested exercises. Her face brightened and she said, "You know the Alexander Method?" Yep.  Sure do. Alex and I are old pals.

So, she showed me what she wanted me to do to retrain the TrA structure, and I got it right on the first try. She was very surprised, and told me that most people take at least a week to even LOCATE the diaphragm and feel it and know that it's there. But, not me.  I can control it like nobody's business, thanks to a very focused vocal coach.

As I was leaving, she told me that I was going to do great with this, and that I'll be much stronger all around and have even better control of my vocals in the end. Can't go wrong with that.

So this is a reminder to myself... it's not just a voice thing.  It's not just a breathing thing.  Its a whole-body thing.  I get so wrapped up in just wanting to SING-- to emote, to feel the music running up and down my spine-- that I forget I need to take time to support that singing and exercise the infrastructure in other ways.

It's important.  And I'm going to try to be better.

March 17, 2015

This week in Juliannaland...

Couple of things happening here in the studio this week.

I've just added a new song to Soundcloud that is my entry to Moon Echo Audio's demo contest for their latest Reason Refill, "Hazewave".

I like Hazewave a LOT, actually, and this was a super fun project.  Making the most of Reason's Audiomatic RE (which has always been a favorite of mine), Hazewave truly brings the LoFi and grit to a production. If you're looking for a James Bond-ish running bass line or a spectacularly tarnished shimmer of strings, Bob's your Uncle. Done.

For the contest, all music must be comprised solely of Hazewave instruments, but Producers are free to add drums - and also vocals, because I checked with Moon Echo, personally. ;) 

I liked my experiment with Hazewave so much that I fully intend to round it out into a full-on song. There was a 3-minute limit for the contest, but I really want to take this a little farther.  Here's my entry:

Also flowing through the mic this week, a new project with a Producer from ReasonTalk.  We may be working a few things into an EP if all goes well.

And next up... this afternoon I'm singing for Sweden again, but not my usual Producer.  This time, it's Soundcloud user Busstop18.

Maybe someday I'll write about how an Ohio girl got so involved with all of these Swedish Producers...

March 10, 2015

Lunesis - "Forever"

I start this journey with a friend.  And it's payment of a sort for him being the kind of stand up dude that keeps a forum running when the officially sanctioned forum decides that we've come to an end. Lunesis grabbed the reigns and started a brand new forum so the old forum members could all still discuss our common interest.  Over 800 people followed him over. It was pretty impressive.

I'll just be upfront, here, and confess that his voice makes me swoon. Yeah. So, there's that.

But he's much more than just a swoon-worthy voice.  His productions are always straight up ear-candy; highly evolved and with crazy attention to detail in his effects.  "Forever" is certainly no exception.

The synths here are ridiculously fat, almost to the point of bursting, like some honey-filled balloon. With a sweet string melody floating just above the synths, and plucking as the song develops, there's much to listen for, and each time I uncover another layer.

Lunesis has created a smooth-loping gait feeling, that neatly and sweetly propels the song. It's punctuated with some very mellow, yet wholly crisp percussive snaps (?) claps (?)--- somewhere in between a snap and a clap, which I find oddly fascinating--- and I know he's done some real tweaking here to find the perfect sounds.

"I get this feeling when I'm walking along 
It takes me over and feels so strong 
I dream about it every single night 

He has the sort of voice that I would happily go swimming in, and here, he deepens the pool for me, heavily and selectively fx'ing the word "Forever" with an echo verb that pulls me fast toward drowning, until a merciful echo release brings me back to my senses, though, it's almost a pity to come back out of the water.

There's nothing overdone here, nothing forced, nothing dissonant - Just a balm for the soul in an excellently crafted piece of synth pop.

Follow Lunesis on Soundcloud

March 9, 2015

Oooh! The bots have found me!


Now... I must listen to Shuffler and see if I/we turn up! 

Why I'm doing this....

This blog originally started as a very specific means to an end.  I wanted to have my music available to Shuffler.fm-- a music service that finds and streams new music embedded in music blogs-- but, alas, no one was blogging about me, much less embedding any of my songs.

So I am blogging for myself.

As  I was designing and creating this blog, it occurred to me that I have SO MANY musician friends that could use the same outlet for their music, that I felt like I could very easily include them. 

And so I am.

I belong to several software forums and have been making and producing music for a long enough time to have acquired some in-real-life friends in the process.  There are many, many musicians on these forums whose work I greatly admire, but who will never be heard in mainstream media for a plethora of reasons; A lack of marketing and the time to effectively promote themselves, the inability to play live shows and gain a following, etc, etc, etc.

So I have decided that this blog isn't just about me. It's about them, too.

It's about giving us all a platform for reviews, a place to showcase some of our work, and somewhere to post videos.  Because it's a terrible thing to pour your heart and soul into something only to find that you have no audience. Songs need to be heard. We need to be heard. We deserve this.

And that's all there is to it.

I called this blog "The Queen of Somewhere" for two reasons.  1.) It's what more than a few people called me following the release of my LP, "The King and Queen of Nowhere", and 2.) We all need to feel like we belong somewhere.

And here we are.

(This post cross-posted as a Page for posterity)

March 7, 2015

It's all Thom Yorke's fault.

Long story short, I released an album in November. I have only a very small (but much appreciated) following, so I knew that I wouldn't be selling the thing like hotcakes. I knew I would never make much money off the release, in fact, I knew that I would LOSE money on it, I knew it wasn't going to be the next big thing, and yet I worked though it, spent months arranging and mixing, figured out what needed to be done with distribution, how to get it on iTunes and everywhere else it needed to be so that people could find me, learned all the different ways I needed to be signed up with PRO X and Aggregate Z... and I did it. I finished it, I distributed it, real people out in the world bought it, a few nice people reviewed it, and I was proud of myself.

And then, 17 weeks after my album's release, I hit the first major snag in my plan.

I wanted to be on Pandora. I wanted to be on Pandora so very badly. Understand that I am a heavy Pandora user who has discovered oh-so-many new things using the service, and I'm a big fan of the way they categorize musical elements to create personalized stations. Honestly, I think the whole "Musical Genome Project" thing works very well. I like that about Pandora.

So, I (of course) thought that being on Pandora would offer me exposure to people who would otherwise never hear of me-- because the sad truth is that I spend my days and nights at home with my children, and not out playing the clubs, shilling merch and my music. I make music while my kids are at school, and ONLY while my kids are a school, since my living room is also my studio, and, bottom line, 8 and 12 year olds can make a hell of a racket (also, I don't like them hearing me sing lyrics that may be taken the wrong way, given artistic liberties and any truth bending I may or may not be doing with any particular song.... not to give away any major musical secrets or anything).

I knew my LP was strong enough to be on Pandora... I produced it well, I sent it to an Actual Engineering Legend for mastering, and I got a few very nice reviews from people whose opinions I trust implicitly... but... it turns out that I was wrong about thinking I was good enough for Pandora.

After 17 loooong weeks of waiting, when it was only supposed to be 6-8 weeks, I might add, Pandora denied me entrance to the club.

Now... Just to get this bit out of the way... as an independent artist I have a true love-hate relationship with Pandora and Spotify (I *am* on Spotify as an artist, though, and as a listener, I do pay for the Premium Service. I'd also be super-happy to pay even more for Premium if it meant that artists would be compensated better than they are now, just so you know. Truth). See, Thom Yorke of Radiohead is one of my absolute idols, and I know what he thinks about Spotify and Pandora. And, in my opinion, he's right about it all, generally speaking.

However, I am not Thom Yorke. I am a 41 year-old suburban mother of two that Thom Yorke will never even lay ears on. And, as much as I would love to sing just one song with him, (me, the slightly overweight, middle-aged backing singer, hunched over a mic in some dark corner of the stage), I know that this will never happen. Thom Yorke is right about Pandora and Spotify, but I can't afford to be right. If anyone is ever going to hear me - and I am driven by the need to be heard, not by money, obviously - I need exposure.

But Pandora said, no.  And, I'm sort of really, really bummed about it all and sort of giving them the finger and also sort of rejoicing because I didn't have to make Thom Yorke think any less of me... you know... just in case he DOES ever lay ears on me...

Still, it was a painful experience to say the least.

Enter Shuffler.fm.

The day after the great Pandora-made-me-cry debacle, my husband was fiddling with one of our Sonos players (I heart my Sonos Players, btw), looking for something new. Neither of us had ever clicked on "Shuffler.fm" before, and we didn't really know what it was. However, when I saw a category called "LoFi", I was like, SO THERE, dude. Clicked it. Put it on. Haven't turned it off, since.

A quick flurry of hands-a-googling and I find out that Shuffler actually digs through music blogs for music that no one has ever heard of.

Wait... What? Because that's pretty much ex-ACT-ly what I need. Eureka!  Watson come here, I need you!

I immediately signed up for Shuffler and started researching how it works.  I found out that I needed to have my music actually embedded in a blog (not just on my Bandcamp site, or on Soundcloud), and the blog validated by their little botty-bots for my music to appear on the site.  I also needed to have it nicely catalogued and tagged on Last.fm (hey! I already have that!).

Ok.  I've blogged before, I can very easily do it again (seriously, look how long this post is, already).  Let's just see if we can get on Shuffler, then, hmmm?

And so here we are. A music blog. MY music blog. Full of MY music, because ain't nobody else going to put it up there.

And yet.... and yet... OMG, I have so many musician friends in the very same boat.

As I was creating and designing this site, I kept going back to the idea that *I* could be my own damn music blogger, and I could even do the same for my friends. Maybe even let it grow into something bigger, who knows?

I certainly have the experience. Tom Yorke may not know who I am, but my whole life has revolved around music... from singing in community theater as a little kid, to being that weird girl in black who didn't listen to what every one else was listening to in high school, to performing Puccini at the state level of Ohio's Jr. Miss Scholarship program (and WINNING the talent portion of the program, thankyouverrrrymuch), to AAA Baseball games and singing the National Anthem, to hosting my own New Music and Techno radio shows in college, to working at the record store in the mall for a hundred and fifty thousand years or so, to singing my own lullabies to my kids, to learning how in the HELL to use all this crazy digital audio software, learning how to mix, how to create, how to write, how to record, how to produce... and eventually even navigating the exceedingly treacherous waters of music distribution.

And, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm having a little trouble with the validation code from Shuffler, but the ball is rolling, and as soon as someone from Shuffler answers my emails, I'm on my way.

Hells yes, I can do this.  The question is: WHO ELSE wants in? We can review music, we can talk about products, software and sound design, we can make videos, network, DO STUFF...

Honest to Pete, I am sick and tired of waiting for someone else to help me.

*Side note: I do have a rather lengthy email written to Mr. Yorke about all of this somewhere on my cloud... but, I've never sent it. Maybe some day I will. Maybe someday I'll post THAT, because, why not?  It's my damn blog.

New Atlantis Audio

I've always used a lot of New Atlantis Audio sound design refills in Reason. I love Theo's crazy attention to detail in the creation process, his ability to hear the extraordinary and turn it into something new, interesting and ridiculously inspiring. Much of my LP has bits from his "Floe" refill, and I'm sure "Beast" is on there, too. I use his sounds as a starting point so often, that I forget they are even in the final product. They are like room dressing for me. You may not really notice it every time you walk in, but you are most comfortable in your own room.

So, it was especially nice to get this review from NAA... I subscribe to his email list serve (don't want to miss out on a deal), and a few months ago, he sent out a message that he was stuck inside a coffee shop for a few hours, and was requesting some listening material for the duration. I send him a link to a few songs, expecting that he'd get a million tracks, and that likely, he'd never hear mine.

But, he did.

And in his next email campaign letter, he wrote blurbs about four of the people who submitted.

I was one of them. Here's what he said:

"I'm rarely stoked on music that's heavy on vocals, but Julianna's voice is just too freakin' great to ignore. Not only can she ​sing like a mofo, she can produce the hell out of a track! And no matter how experimental she gets with super interesting fx processing and sounds, somehow she always manages to magically wrap it all up into a totally coherent, focused, and super Pro package. Very impressive."

New Atlantis Audio... currently working on a new project. I'll be watching.