Monday, November 12, 2012


I've been mentioning MorningStarlett a lot recently.  MorningStarlett is my original band. If I had to describe our style, I'd probably use movies instead of musical terms.  We're like "The Fifth Element" meets "Lord Of The Rings" but in metal band form.  One of our most unique traits is our singer.  Ann Marie Nacchio is our frontwoman, and her range is astounding.  Not only does her pitch range seem endless, but she effortlessly shifts in and out of metal and operatic vocal styles.  It's pretty crazy.

Our album drops on 11/21 and will be available in digital format in most online music stores.  We'll also have physical discs on sale at

We're doing something I've never tried before at our CD release party.  We're playing our whole album live while synced up to a video screen.  It's going to be awesome if it works!

Our CD release party will take place at the Full Cup in Staten Island, NY on 11/21 at 8 PM.

I hope you can make it down there and witness this epic event!


Friday, July 27, 2012

Stuff Music Students Should Know

A couple months back I put up a facebook post intended for my private students about what I expected them all to know.  From time to time I would quiz them on some of the things we'd gone over in the past and a few of them put some of those fundamentals out of their brains for good.  So I made a short list of what they should know at all times.

Since I posted this, a lot of musicians have been asking me to post the list again.  I'll re-post it, but I just want everyone to understand a few things.  This is a list I made for some of my students at this particular phase in their development.  For your own musical development, you may need more than this, or you may not need any of this.  There are plenty of very successful musicians who know none of this and have done wonderfully without it.

Here goes:

Chords:  Know all 12...
Half Diminished
Dominant 7th (plain ol' 7th)
Minor 7th
Major 7th
Minor/maj 7

By all 12 I mean C, C#, D, D#, E  etc....

The more shapes you know, the better.  At the very least, be able to play one type of closed shape for each.

Of course it helps if you know the neck.  Make a chart of the neck and write all the notes on it.  This will be a good reference.  Don't download this chart.  Make it yourself.  Make a bunch of them by hand.  Each time you make one, you'll learn the fretboard better.

Scales: in all 12 keys (easy on guitar)

Pentatonic Minor and Major in all 5 positions.  Let's be honest. We're gonna spend a whole lot of time playing this scale so it would be really helpful to know it all over the neck.

Harmonic Minor

I know I left out some really good scales.  But with these, you'll be able to cover a lot of bases.  It also helps to know these in multiple positions.  I also find it helpful to figure out how to play these scales where they sit on top of the pentatonic position 1.  This way if you panic mid-solo, you can always go back to the comfort zone.

A lot of guys like the 3 note per string scales.  I do too.  Those are great for sequences, but I do find that when first learning a scale a lot of students have trouble improvising with 3 notes per string.

Of course I'm leaving out a whole bunch of important stuff in this list.  Again, please don't take this to be the end-all be-all of lists.  At the very least I hope this is helpful.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Unwritten Rules Of Air Travel

A lot of people have jobs that require them to fly a lot. I realize the last thing anyone wants to hear is someone complain about work, but after a particularly atrocious travel experience, I feel that it's my duty to write about this subject. There are unwritten rules of air travel.  Some would consider these rules to be common sense, but when you put New Yorkers in a confined space for 5+ hours, common sense goes out the window.  If we can't sit in seats for an extended period of time and be civil to each other, how are going to survive the big EMP or the zombie apocalypse? The answer to that question is: We wouldn't. We would eat each other first.

Here are the unwritten (now written) rules of air travel.

1. Middle seat wins.  No matter what.

Nobody likes sitting in the middle seat. If you're unlucky enough to draw the short straw of seating assignments and get stuck in the middle, then the good news is: You get both arm rests.  No matter what.  Window guy has the wall to rest on and Aisle guy can hang over his seat into the aisle as well as come and go as he pleases.  The only small bit of comfort the Middle guy gets is the arm rests.  Don't fight the middle seat person for the arm rests.  That's a total jerk move.

The next set of rules go under the heading: This is a plane seat, not your living room couch.

2.  Your elbows belong at your side, not mine.  (That goes for other body parts as well)

This is a self-explanatory rule.  If you're going to sit in coach, then figure out a way to not jam any of your limbs into your neighbor. I understand that there are also larger people who have to fly, but I'm not talking about that.  In fact all of the larger people I've shared rows with have been very courteous and conscious about the personal space issue.  This rule is addressed to the rude people who just don't care.  Fold your hands on the tray table, cross your arms, sleep like a what you have to do keep your body in your space.

3.  Bring a small pillow and blanket, not your entire bed set.

This is something I've been seeing more frequently.  People bring giant pillows, comforters and even stuffed animals on planes.  I'm not talking about children either.  These are teens and adults doing this.  The problem with this is that there's no way for you to keep all that stuff contained to your seat.  Yes, we would all love to be able to snuggle up all cozy on a plane, but there's simply not enough room for that in coach.  If you must bring all that stuff on with you, then you need to spend the extra money and sit in first class.

3a.  Take your winter coat off.

Just like the previous rule, there's not enough room in coach for a giant bubble jacket or similarly large winter coat.  You need to stow that coat overhead, or even better, leave it in your checked bag.  Jackets are OK, as long as it can stay in your seat and not spill over to your neighbor.

4. Shoes + Socks.  Keep them on.  At all times....please!

If someone is sitting close enough to you to be able to smell your feet, then you need to keep them covered. This is going to be controversial, but I'm going to say it.  Sandals and flip flops should be outlawed at the airport. If you just can't stand the thought of having your feet confined for hours, then bring a pair of slippers and put them on before you get on the plane.  DON'T TAKE YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS OFF ON THE PLANE.  That's gross.  I don't care how nice you think your feet are. 

4a. Feet go on the floor.

I'm glad there are some very flexible people in the world, but this doesn't mean you get to cross your legs on the flight or keep your feet up on the seat.  Keep them on the floor. If you're neighbor is in danger of being poked by your little piggies, then you need to adjust your position.  Keep them on the floor and out of sight if possible.

5.  If you can't keep an activity confined to your space, then that is not something you should do on a plane.

a) Newspaper guys are a big culprit here.  This is not the breakfast table.  There's no room to spread out and have both sides of the paper open.  If you're sleeping, these are the guys who wake you up with every single page turn.  It's completely obnoxious.  I saw one guy who had it down.  He had the paper folded so just the article he was reading was visible.  That is a travel pro right there.  

b) If you have a gigantic laptop that requires your elbows to move back and forth, then leave that in the overhead.

c) Certain video games require large motions.  I'm a gamer. I love video games, but I know not to play motion-based games on a plane.  I'm not talking about Wii or Kinect, but certain iOS games where you have to shake stuff over and over again, should not be played on the plane.

Basically anything that forces you to go out of your space should be saved for after the flight.

6. Food: Do's and Dont's

Ask yourself these questions before purchasing food to bring on board:

a) Does it have a strong smell?

b) Is it messy?

c) Does it require more space than the tray table?

d) Will it be disastrous if I spill or drop this? 

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you should not bring that food on the plane. I had a couple sitting next to me bring a giant plate of buffalo wings on the plane once.  They spent most of the flight with their hands covered in sauce as they sucked the wings down to the bones.  Oh yeah, the bones....  They went in a pile on the tray table next to me.  It was disgusting.  So no buffalo wings.  Tuna is probably not the best choice.  Neither is a pizza pie.  Basically, a sandwich or a wrap is ideal.  Something self contained and easy to clean.  Salads can work too, as long as they don't stink.

7.  Meal time = seat up.

If through some miracle, you get a meal on the plane, bring your seat back all the way up.  If you're reclined all the way, the person behind you will not be able to eat.

8. Your kids....not as cute as you think.

Travelling with children is incredibly difficult.  Most seasoned travelers cut parents a lot of slack. Especially when travelling with infants. If a baby is going to cry, then there's nothing you can do about it.  Most seasoned travelers have noise cancelling headphones to combat this, so it's not a big deal.  However, this doesn't refer to babies.  This is about your little 3 to 10 year old brats who you can't control. If you see the kid kicking the seat in front of him/her or constantly messing with the tray table, then please make an attempt to stop the kid.  I understand that kids get restless, but what irritates me is that most parents to don't even try to control their kids on planes anymore.  I was on a flight recently where there were 3 kids running up and down the aisles for the entire flight. How is this ok?  Have parents given up?  Actually, there was one parent who had an inventive way of settling her child.  They sang songs the whole time!  Everyone on the plane was thrilled with that bright idea.  (this is sarcasm, just in case you weren't sure.)  Everyone understands that kids will be kids, but that doesn't mean the parents shouldn't attempt to keep their kids from kicking, screaming and running around for the entire flight.

8a.  Infant in arms = infant in YOUR arms.

Self-explanatory.  This happened to me only once on a flight.  Usually people are pretty good about this.  There was only one couple who wasn't.  Would you believe that it was the same couple who brought the buffalo wings on board?

9.  Let people sleep.

If your neighbor is sleeping, don't wake them. If a person is sleeping then they're less likely to aggravate you.  Unless their sleeping on your shoulder or you have to use the restroom, I would advise you to let people sleep.  I had a woman sitting next to me, wake me out of a deep sleep to inform me the drink cart was coming.  I know she meant well, but I really wished she hadn't.

10.  Use your inside voice.

Although the plane noise can be pretty loud, the person sitting next to you can still hear you whisper. There's no need to shout your conversation.  If a person is too far from you to hear you whisper, then you can't converse with them.  I've seen couples who both like aisle seats sit across from each other, and then carry on loud conversations across the aisle.  This is pretty rude.  This also applies to pre-takeoff phone conversations.  Everybody has text messaging nowadays.  Use that instead of screaming details about your business into a phone surrounded by strangers who want to put a foot in your mouth.

11.  Standing in the aisles.

Yes, some people start getting cramps and back problems if they sit in one uncomfortable spot for too long.  So they get up for a stretch.  No harm in that.  If you are prone to these kinds of back and joint problems I would suggest that you walk to the back of the plane and hang out in the galley by the restrooms for a bit.  Don't just stand up by your seat.  Aside from blocking traffic, you are doing something far worse.  You are basically sticking your backside in someone's face for an extended period of time.  If you need to stretch, that's fine.  Just be conscious of your surroundings.

12.  Baggage.

They say "one small carry on and one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you."  Since storage space is so precious on a plane, I've become overly conscious of what other people are bring on board.  In this rare case, I actually agree with the flight attendants.  One of your items should be able to fit under the seat.  I see people bringing on 2 big rolling suitcases, or deciding that they don't want to put their small bag under the seats in front of them.  I understand the benefits of legroom, but if you must have that space under the seat in front of you for your legs, then you need to figure out how to bring one less bag onto the plane.

I'm sure there are more rules if I sit here all day and try to recall every miserable plane experience, but these are the big ones.  Basically, it comes down to personal space, common sense and courtesy.  A plane (especially coach class) is shared space.  Try to stay in your assigned space and avoid doing things that disturb others.  Try to cut parents and middle seat passengers some long as their not being completely inconsiderate of everyone else.  If you find that you can't follow the basic rules of air travel, then you need to spend the extra bucks and either sit in first class, or buy an extra empty seat next to you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

MorningStarlett and a chart full of X's

I know I'm not the only guy to do this, but when you make an album (cd, record...whatever) it's helpful to have a checklist.  First on the left column, you list all the songs on your album.  Then on top you list each element of the songs.  So for us it's Drums, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Richie Lead Guitar, Walter Lead Guitar, Synth/FX, Ann Marie Vocals, Background Vocals, and Mix. Then you draw boxes, and you put an X in the box when you finished that particular part.  Well, I've got a chart full of X's.  Except for the Mix column that is. Right now, in terms of tracking, this album is done.  Now I've made rough mixes of everything so we can obsess over minuscule details that no one will hear except us. This is part of our process. Once everyone gives me the OK, I'll start mixing.  Luckily, we recorded a lot of the instruments in the same session.  That means that we did all of the drums for the album in one day on the same drum set.  So now, when we mix, we only have to get a good drum sound once, and then we can make a template and apply that to all the songs.  This saves a massive amount of time.  It doesn't mean every song will have the same drum sound.  It means that we will have a much better starting point as we approach each mix.

I've been gearing up for this by watching a bunch of Pensado's Place episodes.  It's a free podcast on iTunes about mixing.  I highly recommend it if you're an engineer.  Some of the stuff I've learned from there has made my mixes instantly better.

Also, while I'm on the subject of podcasts.  Last week I did a podcast called the Glory Hole.  It's usually a pretty raunchy show in the same genre as Howard Stern or Opie and Anthony.  They decided to do a musical episode and called me to do it.  It was a lot of fun, and you should check it out.  It's Free!

If you listen to this show, there is a sneak preview of the MorningStarlett song, "No One Needs To Know" at the end.  It's a quick mix that I did, but I think it sounds really good.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bohemian Rhapsody

I'm pleased to announce that my Bohemian Rhapsody video has passed 50,000 views.  That's insane!  I think today I will write about my obsession with that song.  Here's where it began....


In 1992 (I think)  I went to the movies with my dad to see "Wayne's World."  When it got to the famous car scene and Bohemian Rhapsody came on, I asked my dad, "What is this?"  He said, "This is Queen."  I remember listening as the song just kept adding more and more layers of awesomeness until it just erupted at the famous headbanging climax.  I was sold. This was officially the best song I'd ever heard and it only took one listen of only half of it to realize that.  After the song was done and 12 year old me's mind had been thoroughly blown, I turned to my father and said in a very serious tone, "Why wasn't I told about this song?!?" He was a bit alarmed by my reaction. I was actually incredibly irritated that I had to go through the first 12 years of my life without hearing the greatest song ever written. My dad and I played music together, he introduced me to Motown and The Beatles. In my very under-developed opinion he was clearly negligent in his responsibilities to me as a musical mentor and a parent by omitting this song from my listening diet. He gave me a slightly puzzled look and said "I don't know. I don't listen to this kind of music." I was flabbergasted! How could you not listen to this?!? This is the only thing I wanted to listen to from that point on.  Bohemian Rhapsody was in first place and everything else started at 4th place. My dad saw that I was not satisfied by his answer. If he knew the song and he knew the band who did it, then why didn't he think to tell me about it sooner?  To shut me up he said, "Ask your uncle, he likes that stuff."

I got home from the movies and called my Uncle Phil.  

"Hi Uncle Phil. Do you have Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen?"  
"I think so."  
"Ok, I'll be right over."

I remember seeing the CD in his wall unit. Queen greatest hits. There it was on the back; "Bohemian Rhapsody."  I went home and put it on my CD player.  Holy shit!  There's a guitar solo in this song!!!  In the movie, they start the song from after the solo.  To my amazement, this song was even better in it's entirety!  If this was the best song I ever heard, then this was clearly the best guitar solo I ever heard.  It had everything.  Beautiful melody, fast runs, perfect tone! I couldn't handle how awesome it was.  I listened to the song non stop.  I didn't even bother to listen to any of the other songs on the CD.  Then something horrible happened.  I realized I was going to have to leave my house at some point and I wouldn't be able to listen to it!  I got fresh batteries and put them in my cassette walkman.  Then I took a 60 minute cassette tape and recorded Bohemian Rhapsody 10 times in a row on each side. I did this so I could keep listening to it without having to rewind.

I remember just walking around my block several times while listening to the song over and over picking out something new every time.  The layers seemed to be endless. I never heard that many vocal tracks.  I never heard that guitar sound. I never heard those chord changes. And that voice!

When I wasn't listening to Bohemian Rhapsody I was trying to play it. MTV began playing the Queen video due to Wayne's World's popularity.  I remember seeing Freddie crossing his hands to grab the high notes in the piano part.  I saw that and went to our upright piano and tried to imitate it.  If I remember correctly I was way off.  But over then next few years I kept refining it.  Changing a voicing here and there.

Fast forward to high school.  I think it might have been senior year.  My music teacher, Lou Mannarino played us a tape of a session that he did.  He was hired as a singer to record a spoof version of Bohemian Rhapsody for some commercial.  All the words were changed to promote some company, but I remember hearing it and feeling like someone hit me over the side of the head with a frying pan.  This is possible?!?!?!?  This can be recreated?!?!?   Holy shit!!!  It was like he gave me the key piece of information I had been missing.  And right then I realized that I would be able to do this song live....with A LOT of help.

I don't remember exactly how I did it, but I went home and began to record the opera section on my analog 16 track.  If I do some digging I may be able to find the mixdown tape somewhere, but I'm pretty sure that I had a lot of wrong harmonies and I can only imagine what the piano part was like.  I probably sequenced it a painstaking pace.  I mixed it down to a DAT tape because CD-R technology was still incredibly cost prohibitive in those days.  There was a school rock concert coming up (I'm pretty sure that Curtis High School in Staten Island was one of the first to do official school rock concerts.)  I told my friends, we're going to do Bohemian Rhapsody at the concert. I got it all planned out. Andy Ascolese will play keyboard.  Chris Kuffner will play bass.  Brendan Pezzoli from the Jazz band will play drums, and that freshman Matt Lindauer will do the guitar parts with me. Our teacher, Lou will sing it.  I've heard him do it on that commercial.  He's great!  When the middle part comes up, we're gonna play to this track that I recorded at home.  So, at the school rock concert, we did Bohemian Rhapsody live, and I remember it felt fucking awesome!

Fast forward to college.  I started a rock cover band called Hit Me With It. Right from day 1, our big song was going to be Bohemian Rhapsody.  We had a great singer named Jason Spoor.  We played the song with my track for a little while but it wasn't really working out.  It was time to re-do it.  I remember Jason coming to my dorm room at Purchase College, and he and I recording that opera section right in the room onto my computer.  People on my floor thought we were nuts. Eventually they realized what we were doing and a few of the music majors passing by would stop in to check it out.

Over the next few years I played that song a lot.  It ALWAYS went over.  When you were losing the crowd, whip out Bohemian Rhapsody and you could save your gig.  I kept toying around with the piano part here and there. It was my favorite thing to play on piano even though I only knew bits and pieces of it. A few years later, Ann Marie decided to do that song for her college recital, and we re-recorded that section yet again, this time with her singing everything.

No matter how many times I heard that song since Wayne's World, I never ever got tired of it.

Back to the present.

By this point I could play all of the piano part with the exception of the opera section.  The B Bb A Bb bit was incredibly difficult for me.  I realized that if I couldn't get that, I couldn't do this project.  I just sat there building up the muscle memory to play that over and over.  Ann Marie was ready to murder me because if you play those three chords over and over again, it's really really obnoxious.  After I felt comfortable enough with the piano part, I decided to start the project.  I set up a tempo map in Pro Tools. This was a pain in the ass.  Queen didn't play to a click on this song.  There are many parts that are Rubato. Pro Tools and Rubato don't mix well. Regardless, I had to tempo map the song out.  I wouldn't be able to do it without a click.  

Recording the piano took the longest by far. I did so many takes. I could have just programmed it in, but it was important to me that I actually play it this time.  After the piano was done, I breathed a sigh of relief.  In my mind the project was mostly done already because the thing I was dreading the most was over and done with.  Luckily for me, the drum part isn't too crazy.  I'm not a good drummer by any stretch of the imagination.  I can play very basic things. I knew I wasn't going to be able to remember every fill like I had done with the other parts so I notated the entire drum part.  Having the music right there in front of me made it a lot easier to deal with, although I think it was less about actually reading it and more about the actual act of transcribing it.  That's the best way to memorize something...write it down.

The bass and guitars were a breeze.  I loved doing the guitars.  It was so much fun trying to get those sounds.  I borrowed my friend, Chris Segalini's Vox AC-30 amp and used my little Brian May amp as a preamp and that got me really close.  I even miked up that little amp for a couple of tracks.

When I got to the lead vocal I kind of hit a wall.  Wait a minute...I can't sing this song.  In every band I've ever been in, I've never sung this song.  Sure, in the car, but not on stage. I didn't even know it I'd be able to do it at all. I hit record and did a rough take just to see if I could. I sang through the whole song and at the end of the take, my voice was completely fried.  I was hoarse and in pain.  I listened back, and to my surprise, I sang the whole thing!  I hit all of the notes.  It didn't sound great, but it was a functional take.  I was satisfied with that.  In my mind, I wouldn't be able to do it again without severely damaging my voice.  I was very proud of the way it sounded as it was.

I showed it to Ann Marie and she told me that it could be a lot better.  She said, "If you going to go crazy re-creating every single articulation in every part, then why wouldn't you treat the vocal the same way?"  She had a point, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to sing like this much more. I took a break from the song at this point. I had no choice. I couldn't sing anymore for the rest of the day anyway.  I listened back to what I did and thought, "she's right.  If I can hit these notes at all, then I should go the extra step and try to match Freddie as closely as my own voice will allow."  I really zeroed in on Freddie's lead vocal.  It was an amazing experience.  With each track that I recorded, I was peeling back the layers of this masterpiece.  I was seeing the wizard behind the curtain but at no point was I ever disappointed it.  Every new detail that I picked up was inspiring.  Examining Freddie's lead vocal was like taking a master class in breath control and how to manage the break between chest voice and head voice. 

In the end, Ann Marie was definitely right.  Doing the vocal over with more attention to detail really made a huge difference. Unfortunately that also killed my voice again so I had to take another break. After that, I started to tackle the background vocals.  This is another area where Freddie kicked my ass.  I believe that the Queen harmony sound comes from the fact that he was able to flawlessly match his performances from take to take.  Every nuance and articulation would be nearly identical from track to track.  The harmonies sounded so lush and smooth as a result of his unique ability to do that.  I did not have this unique ability and instead opted to keep doing it over and over until it matched.   : )

By this time, my computer was ready to explode.  Not only did I have a full band on there with nearly 16 guitar tracks, but I had 28 vocal tracks. I had to do pre-mix bounces of the background vocals. This was pretty cool because that's how Queen did the original.  The only had 24 tracks to work with so they had to bounce.  In the end it made the final mix much much easier.

The final mix was another opportunity to peel back another layer of this song.  Getting the panning and effects as close as I could was an audio-geek's dream come true.

The video part was also challenging.  I had Sony Vegas, which is great, but anytime you do a project with up to 12 separate videos on the screen at the same time, it can really chew up system resources on your computer.  It was really hard to see what was going on while my computer was chugging along trying to keep up with everything.  Although it was tough, doing the video was probably the most fun part.  Video editing is a hobby of mine and it didn't feel like work.

Overall, I'm very happy with the way it came out.  Oh, if you haven't checked it out, here it is:

There are few things I wish I could change, but nothing major.  My video camera has an auto focus that constantly blurs out on me and I was forced to use some of those blurry shots at points.  Also, some of the sync is slightly off as a result of my computer not being able to keep up during the video editing.  Other than those minor issues, I'm very happy with it.  It was a fun project that I was considering for a long time and it made me remember why I fell in love with this band in the first place.