Holiday Shopping Spree

Through co-hosting the Songwriter’s Cafe Meetup and Song Talk Radio, I get to meet many singer-songwriters in and around Toronto. Some of them have written original Christmas songs, including Carmen Toth’s This Christmas I’m Giving You Love and Melanie Peterson’s Santa’s Sleigh. Themes of peace and love tend to come up, as is typical of many holiday songs.

Of course, I try to be different. So, I wrote a song embracing consumerism and throwing playful jabs at the status quo of creative types. This is not to say I find typical holiday themes trite or tedious, but I do commend singer-songwriters who put their own special twist on these themes. In fact, it’s a tricky business writing a good original holiday song instead of playing cover versions of well established songs. Carmen and Melanie have done a great job with songs and performances that are sweet, thoughtful, and festive. It’s clear to me that I was inspired by these singer-songwriters to write this song.

Writing and recording the song

I wrote the lyrics over my lunch break one day, and the piano part after work. I did a quick demo recording and presented the song at the December Songwriter’s Meetup. A main critique of my song was that the holiday aspect wasn’t clear until the end of the chorus. I took the suggestions and revised the first chorus lyrics, and wrote a new holiday-esque musical introduction with glockenspiel section. I also took a more deliberate approach to my melody, thanks to some suggestions from my singer-songwriter friend Melanie Peterson.

I recorded a final version, and then set to work creating a video. I spent about two hours at the Toronto Eaton Centre, listening to my recording on repeat and shooting footage of shoppers, interesting sale signage, and the latest big-screen TV’s at Best Buy.

During a Beige Shelter rehearsal, I asked our bassist Tom Kuczynski to record me playing the keyboard and singing the song. Tom’s also a talented photographer and videographer. I then edited together a quick video.

All in all, this was a quick and fun writing and recording process, with a push to get it done before Christmas. It’s amazing what you can pull off when you have a hard deadline to meet.

Lyrics

Your new greeting card
Peace and love for the holidays
I say good fortune for all
And dollars to spend on sales

You wrote that song
The evils of materialism
Give away half your guitars
To the needy and poor musicians

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Always preaching moderation
Credit cards gotta stay at home
Support your local economy
Don’t be a consumer drone

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Get what you want
Not what you need
You’d better like
What you got!

I only wanna spend
Christmas with you
Binge watching on Netflix
On my brand new
75-inch, L.E.D., 4K HD, and 3D
Smart TV with 1000 watt, 5.1 surround sound

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Beige Shelter show at Lee’s Palace

As part of the band Beige Shelter (drums, percussion), we played our biggest show yet at the historic Lee’s Palace. The crowd was receptive, enthusiastic and supportive. Of course, since this was a “real” concert venue, the stage lights made it almost impossible to see anyone in the audience. But we know what we heard.

The Beige Shelter line up is: Adi Aman (songs, guitar, uke, vocals), Neel Modi (drums, percussion), Tom Kuczynski (bass guitar), and Karan Sabharwal (lead guitar).

I’m thankful to be playing with such talented musicians and Adi’s songs are passionate, heartfelt, and even spiritual. This is music in fine form.

Beige Shelter performing at Lee's Palace - L to R: Karan, Tom, Adi and Neel
Beige Shelter performing at Lee’s Palace – L to R: Karan, Tom, Adi and Neel

We also performed a well known hit from the 80’s:

Is Canada Delivering On The Promises Of Medicare – Presentation

I worked closely with Tony Dagnone, the former CEO of London Health Sciences Centre, on his presentation for the 2016 CHES Conference. Tony wanted to see some creative “whiteboard” illustrations to bring some visual interest to his narrative. For these animations, I used a combination of stock drawings and my own illustrations.

Most of the time, whiteboard animated videos include a recorded voice-over narration. For Tony’s presentation, I had to time the animations to his live narrative and split the animations to insert into Power Point. This way, an animation would finish before Tony would finish his taking point and remain on the final frame of the video, and he could finish talking before proceeding to the next slide / animation. We also worked collaboratively on streamlining his narrative text.

For some of the slides, a simple photograph sufficed. For others, we needed charts and graphs. Between the several types of media, Tony’s presentation had a great variety and dynamic.

The presentation was very well received, and Tony was complimented on the visual interest of his presentation.

This video is an excerpt of some of the “whiteboard” animations I completed, with my own reading of Tony’s narration.

LHSC Emergency Department Transformation Slideshow

For the London Health Sciences Centre’s important renovations to the Emergency Departments at their two main campus hospitals, I suggested doing a special “before & after” slideshow, where images of the spaces before the renovations are transformed into the new spaces by laying in elements such as floors, walls, and ceilings.

I worked closely with the Project Manager to ensure the photos I took were from the same exact locations during the before and after photoshoots. I carefully split the elements in Photoshop, put together the slides in Power Point, and put it to music in Sony Vegas Movie Studio.

Jam session: I Never Write Her a Song

The latest Song Talk Radio backup band jam session was for my own song, I Never Write Her a Song. We rehearsed for a couple of hours, and then performed about three takes for the video recording. Thanks to the guys who put their hearts and souls into the performance, especially David St Bernard who took on the vocal part with great verve! Phil (bass) also took us through an exercise to ensure all four instrumentalists knew each other’s parts well, and worked together to create a unified groove.

David St Bernard – vocals
Neel Modi – piano, songwriter
Joe Romasanta – guitar
Phil Emery – bass
Gary Duke – drums
Bruce Harrott – consultant

I captured the room audio, and the vocal audio to separate tracks so I could mix them in post-production to get the best sound quality and ensure the vocal sat nicely above the mix.

Janice Ho & Friends – Dance Without Judgement

The Song Talk Radio Backup Band, consisting of Phil Emery on bass, Bruce Harrott on acoustic guitar, and myself on drums, along with Eric Sorenson on guitar, and Alon Rodovinsky on guitar and backup vocals, accompanied Janice Ho on her soulful song, Dance Without Judgement, in an energetic arrangement. I got to channel my inner Phil Collins on the fill at the end of the second chorus :). Great fun and great performances from Janice and the band.

I recorded the audio and video, and captured Janice’s vocal as a separate recording, to mix it together in post production. I accomplished this by taking a send from the room mixer, and ensuring her mic channel was the only input going to it. The send ran into my Focusrite interface to be recorded in Sonar.  In addition to this, I setup my Zoom H2N recorder in the front of the room, near the camera to capture the drums and guitar amps.  My Nikon D7000 was setup on a tripod to capture the video.  I didn’t use the audio recording from it, as the Zoom captures a much warmer tone, and I could manually adjust the gain on the Zoom.

In post production, I first got the audio mix completed in Sonar. EQ moves on the Zoom recording consisted of a high-pass filter, scooping out some of the muddy low to mid-range stuff, and a hi-frequency shelf to cut down the cymbals a bit. Then with Janice’s isolated vocal, a deeper high-pass filter and a high-frequency shelf to increase intelligibility and shine. Gentle compression on each track, gentle compression on the master, some multi-band compression, and finally a limiter to chop off the peaks, gelled the sound together. After that, a simple sync with the video track and I was done.

Janice talked about this song and two others on her guest spot on Song Talk Radio.

Ana Morales – Lullaby jam session

Last Sunday, myself with my partners from Song Talk Radio, guitarist and singer Alon Rodovinski, got together to jam on Ana Morales’ beautiful song, Lullaby. Ana presented the song on an episode of Song Talk Radio in January, and we decided to record a jam of the song. Phil and Bruce took on bass and rhythm guitar, while I played drums. Alon joined us to play lead guitar and backup singing. He also had the wonderful idea to introduce a modulation in the last verse, making it sound more a bridge,  with a different arrangement from my drumming and Bruce resting.

All in all, it was a fun day and we hope to do more jams!

ONPHA Awards videos

I was responsible for selecting photographs and videos to reflect the award winner narrative.  This often required some creative use of stock photos to fill gaps as a result of too few or irrelevant photos from the award winner.

See the complete list of award videos (2008 to 2013).

The Weekend to End Women’s Cancer Recital

I was asked by my friend Kira Braun to record and photograph her “Weekend to End Women’s Cancer” fundraising recital. Kira performed with several of her friends and her teacher on some classical and contemporary tunes. It was a fantastic show, and the talent on stage absolutely top-notch.

My wonderful partner Hema was volun-told 🙂 to handle video while I took photos and recorded the audio on my Zoom recorder, which resulted in better audio quality than the camcorder. I then synced the audio and video and uploaded 13 videos to youTube.

The final performance was the highlight for me, and certainly they saved the most fun song for last!

Toronto Zombiewalk 2012

I’d never heard of the annual Zombiewalk, but what a feast for a photographer! While the zombies are busy shambling around and eating brains, they’re also very eager to have their photos taken. This is rightly so, since the creativity they put into their makeup and costumes is remarkable.

I took a tip from the photographer’s meetup I was part of and underexposed each photo to give them a creepier look. I also put them through HDR (high dynamic range) photo processing, even though that’s intended for combining bracketed exposures, to give the final photos a grittier effect.

My favourites include the girl with the different coloured eyes, the surgeon zombie, and the pregnant nun with the zombie baby (sick, I know, but that’s kinda the point, so, well done).

I also made a little video: