“I Miss You” by Shean Cleofas and Lenny Nabor

I remember some time around 2012 when I arranged this song for songwriter Lenny Nabor:

This version of Lenny Nabor’s “I Miss You” was interpreted by Shean Cleofas with arrangement by yours truly. I thought something that sounded like “Everything But the Girl” would suit the song well.

If there would be one thing I’d change in this present recording would be the dynamics. The piano overpowers everything else. I’d also make some changes in the overall mix, should I be given the opportunity to do so. So, Lenny, if you’re reading this, I hope you give me a chance to mix it. I just need a copy of the vocal track.

Apparently, Lenny has plans of working with me again on another song. I’m about to make a sample arrangement of a few bars for that new song. Let’s wait and see (and hear) what would happen next.

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Steve Stine’s Songfire Now Available

Songfire

GuitarZoom, one of my long-term employers, has another very useful course for anybody who’s interested in learning new songs on the guitar in a fast and intelligent way. This new course is called Songfire. Written by GuitarZoom’s guitarist-in-residence and professor of modern guitar at North Dakota State University, Steve Stine, This new course offers a no-nonsense approach that could enable any guitar beginner into hearing how most songs work and then eventually learn them in the process.

Now, for those who think they can become instant virtuoso players with this course, you are mistaken. This course is NOT about gaining virtuoso technique in an instant (it takes years of hard work and practice to gain that). This course is more about being able to play many of the songs you hear and enjoy on your guitar in a fast way. This course is not about being able to play your favorite songs note by note, but it is more about being able to understand the underlying harmonic structure (chord progressions, etc.) based on what you hear. Upon finishing the course, you’d be able to listen actively to many pop and rock songs and be able to play through its chord progression in a matter of minutes.

Okay, maybe some will be disappointed that virtuoso guitarist Steve Stine released a non-virtuoso course. Well, that is not the point of Songfire. Songfire’s intent is to give learners the ability to hear music as a whole and be able to at least play a semblance of it, following along the chord progression WITHOUT reading notation or tab. B ear in mind that seemingly simple, sort of entry-level topics like those in Songfire could easily lead any beginning guitarist to be stimulated into getting deeper into the workings of music, eventually figuring out what most of us would consider virtuoso technique. The positive and pleasurable effects of being to successfully learn a new song can always lead to bigger things, musically speaking.

If you want to get access to the course, just click on the Songfire image above. As usual, sheet music and text by none other than yours truly.

Acoustic Blues Guitar by Steven Dahlberg to be Launched January 30

Acoustic Blues Guitar

Steven Dahlberg is one amazing blues guy. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on the latest GuitarZoom course entitled “Acoustic Blues Guitar”. If you want to go beyond the very ubiquitous Mississippi Delta Blues style, you got to check out this course.

“Acoustic Blues Guitar” is a fingerpicking style course that intends to teach aspiring guitarists performing acoustic blues in a solo fashion. This is the sort of blues that you would hear prior to World War II. Steven teaches a variety of styles as used by blues legends like Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb and others.

This is a four DVD and sheet music package covered by GuitarZoom’s “Learn in 90 days or get your money back” guarantee. As usual sheet music transcriptions have been worked on by yours truly.

All I can say is expand your guitar playing horizons and get into the blues with Steven Dahlberg’s “Acoustic Blues Guitar”

Dealing with Negative Feedback

This week started well but was suddenly book ended with some negative feedback from a client who was a bit difficult to work with. The problem all started when this person, about a month or two ago, all of the sudden hired me on oDesk to sing on a couple of songs. This was surprising for me because I never thought of myself as a great singer nor have I ever advertised myself to be one on oDesk. However, I once worked with him as a composer to write some big band music. He was happy with that one and was rather pleased with the demo vocals in that piece; it must have been the reason why he hired me again. After toiling over songs that were very difficult to sing and trying my best to deliver what he wanted, he decided to trash my feedback score.

It would be fair for him to give me a 1 out of 5 score based on the quality of the actual vocals. Again, I’ve never seen myself as a great singer, and this contract was initiated by the client. I did not actively apply for this job. I even went out of my way to sing harmonies and even fake female vocals to give him a good idea of how his song/s would go. After doing all of this work, this is where things began spiraling down.

The songs were awful and his instructions were equally difficult as well. He asked me to sing without vibrato. It felt very unnatural! When I delivered the rest of my recordings to him, he went ballistic as to how they were so unusable. He also went on to complain about how fake the female vocals were. First off, the contract didn’t specify that I hire a separate female singer, and the fake female vocals I used were intended to just give him ideas. He could have cut them out in the mix if he wanted to. If he wanted a really good female singer, he should have asked me in the first place and gave me a more reasonable budget to work with. Once we had cleared the air about it, I even offered to make the necessary revisions and ramped up my offer by stating that I would even hire singers for him if he were so unhappy with the recordings. But he said that he was pressed for time and he’ll just use the crappy mockup recordings I sent him.

I will not dispute his quality concerns. What I would dispute, however, is my score with regard to communicating and cooperating with him. I tried my hardest to please him and to try and get what he wanted. I even made offers to make any number of revisions if needed. I also have qualms about my rating for deadlines: I was able to submit recordings on time! I sent him a message that I’m disputing the score he gave me; I do not expect a change given how much of an asshole that person is.

So, what have I learned from this experience? A lot of things. Flattering as it may that I never applied for any of his jobs on oDesk and that he actively sought me out, I will never accept any singing jobs from him again. If he still wants to do so, I’ll just hire a bunch of singers to do the grunt work. It was a humbling experience as well. I’m very happy that a majority of the people I worked with gave me glowing reviews. This client even gave me top scores for writing a big band tune. This job was, unfortunately, the exception, a stain on my oDesk record. I suppose I should just stick to composing, being an instrumentalist and performing music transcription. Maybe it’s high time to forget about singing except perhaps for personal and educational purposes. This is further reinforcing the fact that I should seek out a dedicated lead singer for my band (that is if the band would come to life this 2013).

Life has its ups and downs, and this is one of those down moments. The important thing is that I have enough strength to take the lessons learned and become a better person as a result of them.

Being Filipino: An Honor or Something to be Ashamed About?

I just found these definitions of “Filipino” at the Urban Dictionary:

http://filipino.urbanup.com/2315108
http://filipino.urbanup.com/1397824

I find these definitions to be hilarious. These also got me into thinking again of what really is a Filipino. Is it a state of being that I have to be proud about like many Pinoys would be? In a lot of ways I would not be. The damaged retrogressive culture that permeates into mind and soul of the typical Juan is something that I do not desire for myself.

Having vicariously (I say vicariously as I have never traveled outside of the Philippines) seen and experienced other Asian cultures, I would have to agree that Filipinos have little to do with being Asian. F. Sionil Jose even goes to proclaiming that the Filipino is not Asian. Culturally speaking, Filipinos have so much more in common with Latin Americans and the Spanish than with the Japanese, Koreans or even Thais. The sad fact is that Filipinos seem to have inherited everything negative about Spanish culture that keeps Filipino society from moving towards progress. Things like Mañana habit (procrastination), ningas cogon (the inability to finish what was enthusiastically started), advancement through connections rather than skill (Padrino system); the “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) mentality of mediocrity; the abuse of amor propio, delicadeza,and utang na loob (indebtedness); and the grip of Roman Catholicism all get in the way of progress of the Filipino society. Such culture has given way into the chaotic state that the Philippines is. Seems like the Pinoy is a creature and lover of chaos that is easily entertained and driven by emotion rather than the intellect.

If you go study the history of the Philippine Islands closely, you might arrive at the conclusion that the concept of being a Filipino originated from Creoles i.e. people of Spanish descent who were born in the Philippines. There are claims that these Creoles co-mingled with the dominant Tagalog tribe (and perhaps with some wealthy businessmen of Chinese descent), established their own government in defiance of Spain (getting inspiration from the French and American Revolutions), and placed their seat of power in Manila. Other tribes of the island could care less. There is one site in particular that goes to a great depth about this topic called “The Nation of Don Rafael Ibarra” if you’d like to read more about it.

It really appears that three centuries of Spanish rule have made Filipinos dumb to the point that there are claims of the Philippines having a collective IQ of only 87. It doesn’t really surprise me given the fact that during the last presidential elections, the Philippines elected a president based on sentiment rather than competence.

The lack of collective achievement as a people is bothersome. Apparently, this is due to having too much freedom with too little discipline, something that former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said before. Having too little discipline is readily observable in the Philippines; just try driving at EDSA and the streets of Manila and you’ll know what I mean.

One aspect of Filipinos that continues to drive me crazy in this information age is the fact while Filipinos have admirable work ethic as a hardworking people, they do not appear to be smart about it. I am a freelance worker who’s registered at oDesk, and it appears to me that the trend amongst Filipinos is to drive prices down. It is what I call “nagtratrabaho ng palugi” (working at a loss). Granted that labor is supposed to be cheaper in the Philippines, should that mean that the Filipino’s way of competing with the rest of the world is just through low prices rather than competence? I believe that despite our flaws as a society, the Filipino in this global society are worth much more.

Allow me to give an example. I currently work freelance taking on music and audio jobs. Whenever I apply for a job, I occasionally look into profiles of other contractors. I have noticed that some of these other Filipino contractors price themselves at miserably low rates. I see Filipino freelance musicians at oDesk charging as low as $1.00 an hour for composing music or writing a jingle. This is lower than Philippine minimum wage! (around $1.50/hour) A service like writing music should cost much more than that given how taxing and mentally challenging the process is in the first place (plus the potential value of a jingle as intellectual property). How I thought that Filipinos are very proud of the fact that they are musically inclined! Shouldn’t they ask for more given the fact that they’ve got musical and audio production skills that can compete at the international level? Although it’s virtually unavoidable to take cheap jobs in order to gain higher feedback ratings (and higher rates eventually), why should such workers remain at such a miserable hourly rate? I’d assume that they don’t families to support and they’re still living off their parents. If you look into the salary trends in the medical/general transcription sector in oDesk, the rates are even more miserable.

Going back to those Urban Dictionary definitions, I would have to agree with one post that says “A hard working, industrious, and very strong family oriented people, but notoriously useless at organizing anything beyond chaos as a nation of people.” It hits the point right at home. As an example of that, take a look into Filipino fiestas. Many Filipinos would rather incur enormous debt just to host a party and look good in the community during feast days for pagan gods and goddesses, all of which have been draped with a “Christian” veneer as Santo this and that by the Roman Catholic Church. They’d rather keep on having sex and have as many as 10 children just right after hitting middle age despite lacking the financial resources to properly raise such offspring. No wonder that the Philippines has a collective IQ of 87. Is acting stupid a thing to be proud of? Apparently, many proponents of “Filipino pride” think so.

It’s very sad that Filipinos always think of themselves as small, the underdog so to speak that’s incapable of dreaming big. Despite all the negative things about the Filipino culture, I still would like to believe that Filipinos as a people should be capable of achieving greatness. Examples of these are the many Filipinos who have great individual achievements inside and outside of the country, all of which are mostly earned through a disciplined and frugal approach of living. My parents are a good example. Starting from virtually nothing, they worked their way to acquire assets that currently serve as financial security for themselves. I also happen to have an aunt who works two blue collar jobs in Australia, enabling her to invest some of that money into property and enjoy in the Philippines whatever is left over. Former waiter and security guard turned restauranteur Larry Cortez is another. My wife grew up from a below poverty state and is now making great strides up the corporate ladder at the moment. Why is it that such Filipinos are exceptions to the norm rather than the standard?

I would go to say that Juan has to change his way of thinking in order to succeed, to give value to competence and logical thought rather than emotion and mediocrity. I also do hope that some day this statement would true within the Philippines itself rather than just abroad:

“Most Filipinos are upper middle class. Day know how to budget der money and make lots ob sacripices like staying in da Naby por 20 years so day can get a retirement.” (source : http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Filipino&defid=2315108)

It’s unfortunate that this kind of Filipino is more readily observable in the United States, Australia and anywhere else that has become locations for the Filipino Diaspora. Outside of the gated community where I reside, I usually see Filipinos who are living below the poverty line, incapable of budgeting given the fact that many are in debt, unable to make sacrifices because of the addiction to parties and entertainment, and would eventually retire with a huge debt and a mentality of mendicancy. The Philippines is really home to a fractured culture of people who claim to be Asian yet Hispanic in thinking and afflicted by still existing tribal divisions and a plutocracy that doesn’t care at all.

In a lot of ways I would be ashamed to be a Filipino. I often feel that I lack affinity with what a typical Filipino would want. I’m not a fan of Filipino cuisine, and I have no taste whatsoever for the mainstream OPM scene. I hate Pinoy telenovelas and noontime TV shows simply because they promote stupidity, mediocrity and mendicancy. I don’t watch local TV channels. Call it colonial mentality or whatever but if something is excellent, I have great appreciation for it, and for the most part a lot of things found overseas are leagues away from what is found locally in the Philippines.

However, whenever I see and hear about exemplary individuals such as my wife, my parents, composers Angel Matias Peña and Jose Maceda, restauranteur Larry Cortez and others, I appreciate the fact that Filipinos can be capable of breaking away from the typical Filipino slacker mentality.

“Archery” by Pixel Delight Studios, LLC Now Available

About a month ago, I was hired by Pixel Delight Studios, LLC as a sound designer for their latest game available for Android devices. This game is called “Archery – Shoot the Apple”. If you have dreams of shooting arrows towards a hapless individual with an apple on his head, this would fulfill such a wish.

The rules of Archery is simple: shoot an arrow towards an apple placed upon the head of a young man, and do your best to avoid hurting (or killing) said young man. As you advance in level, the distance between the archer and the apple increases.

To download this delightful game (and enjoy some sounds I had created for it), go to http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/archery-pixel-delight-studios-llc/1113938850?ean=2940043936332. It costs only $0.99 to download and be like William Tell.

Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” to be Released on Apple’s AppStore Tomorrow

About a few weeks ago, I was working with Kidoteca, a publisher and developer of iOS and Android apps aimed at children, on a project called the “Magical Music Box”. My job consisted of arrangement and transcription of various pieces of music from standard notation or audio and into a special worksheet that Stanislas Hauptmann (one of the top guys at Kidoteca) and his crew developed. I can’t wait to be able to try out on the iPad and hear for myself the results of my work.

To give more details about my experiences while working on this project, Mr. Hauptmann provided me with a list of various pieces of music that he wanted for the app to run. The challenge for me was to rearrange a variety of music with varying complexity into versions that would work for an instrument with barely 3 octaves in range (C3 to C6). This component of the job is indeed challenging, especially when I had to slim down complex pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act 1 Finale and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 into simple 1-minute pieces with a maximum of just 2 parts. It’s hard to do justice to such classics with those conditions, but I’m guessing I was able to pull that off.

The second challenge of the job was that I had to convert what I hear in my piano and read in the sheet music into Mr. Hauptmann’s specific code. He supplied me with a worksheet that essentially became a vertical step sequencer. I had to input notes according to scientific pitch notation, set a tempo and set a note value per beat. Seems easy on first look. The difficult part, however, was that I had no way of verifying by audio the results of my coding unless Kidoteca renders the worksheets as MP3s. I had to kiss the expectation of working like I do with FLStudio or Sibelius goodbye and instead try my best to accurately write down on the worksheet what I was hearing whenever I sight read or listen to the pieces that are assigned to me.

The third challenge was to curb my urge towards making complex arrangements. Complex arrangements do not work well most of the time when writing for the Magical Music Box as the notes tend to get muddy. There is a great emphasis on making the melody prominent and writing a simple yet driving bass line. There are at times when Mr. Hauptmann and I had a few differences over how the arrangements should go. Fortunately, we were able to settle things and figure out what works.

I also had the opportunity of writing descriptions for the pieces of music I arranged. It’s kind of like writing program notes for a recital except that this time it’s for an iOS app.

It seems to me that things are working out well as we’re going to see the release of Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” tomorrow. I just watched the YouTube promo video and it seems to have a really stunning interface. Of course, the music is *ahem* wonderful as well. Do check out the “Magical Music Box” by Kidoteca at the AppStore and Google Play. Turn your iOS and Android devices into a lullaby station or a mesmerizing kid’s music machine.

P.S. With this music box, you never have to wind it up to start playing plus it’s always at a constant tempo so the music doesn’t die down slowly.