The Making of Album Art – Almost Alive

Somewhere in my head, I had the inspiration of a classic rock album which featured 70’s-era handwritten artwork set upon a simple dark background. In my memory, it was simple, yet epic. Just by looking at the artwork, you knew that listening to the album would be an experience you would keep with you forever. It is also apparently, illusive, since a solid hour of frantic Googling produced no results congruent to my recollections. This is disappointing for the purposes of writing this column. (I wanted to show you what I thought I remembered), but of no matter to how the creative process actually played out.

Early on, I realized the double A’s of the title could be something that was mined for a design element. When I happened upon the idea of joining them together, I placed some text into Google SketchUp, extruded, rotated and manipulated, and got something like you see above.

I saw something that reminded me of the old RKO radio antenna. This seemed appropriate. I fooled around with a podium, and embossing the title to the art, but neither felt right.

I wanted the “antenna” to have a grander scale – as if you were standing at its base while its immensity towered over you. I started formulating how to make that happen, and of course, realized that first of all, I’d need the post nearest to us to extend farther down. I made this change, and was about to make an adjustment to the perspective of the top part of the structure, but stopped in my tracks when I saw the cross in the design for the first time.

I’m not going to say the angels sang and the text got back lit like Roma Downey in Touched by an Angel, but it was weird.

I am not going to overstate this. I’m not going to say the angels sang and the text got back lit like Roma Downey in Touched by an Angel, but it was weird. It wasn’t something I had planned. So, “unexpected,” may be the most correct word.

Truth be told, this is not even a very overt Christian album. It was written as a concert for a secular audience. Are there themes and concepts here and there which point to Christ? Yes. I do think it is subtle, though. Much like I believe this cross to be. I don’t know, maybe it’s the first thing you saw!

I initially wanted the background to be solid white. But, it just didn’t seem finished. I thought maybe adding a faux canvas texture could help. Looking through some media generators, I saw a gauze setting. Oh, yes! Gauze fits the Almost Alive theme quite nicely. I tried it out. It gave me the result you see above. Not bad, but it still seemed a tad amateurish. Plus, part of me said it was a shortcut to use a computer-generated background.

I decided to make my own gauze bandage background. Luckily, I had to only reach into my sock basket a few feet away to snag what I was looking for! The stool was nearby, too. It also occurred to me, doing this would give me an additional design element I could use on the other album art panels, as well. A rolled-up bandage can be artsy if the lighting and composition are just right. 🙂

So, that’s about it. I really wanted to find a spot for my stylized “G,” but nothing I tried worked. Maybe it will make the cut for the next project!

Almost Alive CD Cover
The completed work.

Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.

What a bar of soap tells me about Millennials – Musings from the shower

So the guys and gals at /r/showerthoughts would be proud of me. There I was, reaching for a bar of soap, when I remembered a peculiar news article I had read earlier in the week. Apparently, Millennials find soap “icky.”

So, there I am, feeling like an old man, when I start to wonder if maybe the younger generation is on to something…

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Oh, I have used the shower gels and the fancy bath washes, and during dark times, applied shampoo as a catch-all. (We’ve all been there – don’t lie.) These work perfectly fine for when you aren’t actually dirty. It’s even okay after a sweaty workout. What it is incapable of doing, however, is cleaning the dirt, oil and grime you get when doing actual work. And, God forbid you get into poison ivy. Good luck getting that off with your smelly lavender flower goo.

Then I realized. Millennials don’t own yards. The Gen X’ers screwed up the housing market. But, even if we didn’t, they wouldn’t want them anyway. They don’t repair cars, they own bikes and use Uber. They don’t need soap. And they don’t live alone. Most Millennials live at least 3 to an apartment, sometimes more. A communal bar of soap is apparently where the line of acceptable hygiene is now drawn.

Community is a big part of today’s younger generation.

Community is a big part of today’s younger generation. I see it in the lives of all of the art students I’ve been blessed to work with these last few years. They seem to collaborate and work together without the political positioning and back-biting more common among my seasoned peers. There is a remarkable deference and a willingness to compromise that fuels productivity and progress.

Personally, I grew up in an era that championed rugged-individualism and a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality. A time where the prevailing attitude was, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” I don’t ask for help often. Almost never. This has been beneficial in the sense of all I have been blessed to learn and grow proficient in, even if it was merely due to necessity. But, sometimes I have to wonder if forgoing the magical gift of teamwork and the amazing multiplicative powers it possesses was truly the wise choice.

There is a downside, however, and it is in the burden of groupthink.

There is a downside to this fledgling community of young people, however, and it is in the burden of groupthink. Gen X’ers dealt with conflict physically, or in heated debate. Because of our bloated egos, we could better co-exist while holding conflicting views. We all knew, if worse came worst, there was available outlets to relieve the pressure. The ‘zero-tolerance for violence’ policies and, albeit noble attempts to curb student bullying in our school systems within the last few years have left our young adults ill-equipped to deal with meaningful conflict. “Safe Spaces,” “Micro-Aggressions,” and “Trigger Words,” are all examples of the attempts being made to rectify this inadequacy.

But, the most damning problem is not in the feeble handling of the conflicts after they have occurred, it is in the way students are conditioned at an early age to never voice any opinion outside of the cultural norm. We may pat ourselves on the back and call this a good thing when overtly racist or sexist opinions perhaps common to their home lives are squelched in the public domain. Indeed, the ‘cultural norm’ of the younger generation is much less racist and sexist than the ones before it. This IS obviously a good thing. And, it’s understandable how voicing a derogatory comment toward a minority group would become taboo. But the line for what is taboo and what is not is constantly encroaching.

Not only has this line moved into arguably ridiculous territory, it has driven dissenting voices dangerously underground. For example, an Iowa college is considering changing the angry growl of its mascot to display more “welcoming, nurturing, calm, accepting and happy messages” with its countenance. They are legitimately worried that “his angry grimace is traumatizing students.” It is one thing for unpopular opinions to die a slow death in the open debates of town square, it is another to be ostracized for ever even holding an unwelcome opinion. These “outcasts” often find each other and cultivate a hatred of the people who rejected them and all of the things they stand for.

Despite being over-the-top in acceptance, Millennials seem irrationally intolerant of conservative values.

Despite being over-the-top in acceptance for all matter of lifestyle choices, religious beliefs, body types, racial identities, etc., Millennials seem to be irrationally intolerant of people who espouse conservative values. There seems to be a reluctance to even entertain the idea that any conservative may actually be motivated by an altruistic belief system. So, when confronted with a conflicting opinion, you often get this:

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This is not helpful. It is not my intent to make fun of her appearance, as other less kind individuals have done. I am only pointing out the rampant inability we currently have addressing conflicting views in a rational way. When ideas are unilaterally dismissed with name-calling, violence, or irrational reactions as demonstrated here, I assume one has no valid counter argument. Your strength of like-minded numbers is meaningless to a rugged individualist, such as myself. I’m happy to be the lone voice of dissent. Remember, I didn’t need you, anyway.

But, that view isn’t healthy either. We DO need each other, and we DO need to attempt to understand people’s motivations before lashing out and writing them off as bigots. For example, I believe the rise of “Blacks Only” safe spaces in college campuses are a bad thing. Not because I feel offended that I am not invited as a White person, but because in my heart-of-hearts, I sincerely believe improved race relations can’t happen with any sort of segregation. It was criminally wrong when Whites did that involuntarily to Blacks years ago, and I believe it is wrong in the sense of being a bad idea when Blacks voluntarily impose that upon themselves now.

If I made a comment about not supporting “Blacks Only” signs without being given the opportunity to explain my humanistic motivations, it may be possible to conclude I am racist, and label me as such. If simply establishing “Black Only” signs is your only goal, you may even label me as racist to win political points, despite all evidence to the contrary. These types of things happen everyday. For the record, I am not a racist. I want all of us to live intertwined lives of harmony, just as Dr. King envisioned. So, let’s try to give everyone a little more benefit of the doubt before “getting triggered.”

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So, Millennials, I humbly ask, next time you pass a bar of soap in the grocery store, think of the Gen X’ers fondly. Most of us are pretty all right. Many of us are more conservative than you, but that’s because we see the world from a slightly more jaded viewpoint. The best of us admire and appreciate your idealistic worldview and see your worth. You are our children, after all. We love you and believe in you! Now, get on with your pretty-smelling bath gel selves!


Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.

The Loudness Wars Are Over?

A video from 2006, during some of the darkest years of the Loudness War. This is a nice explanation of what the cost is for a little extra volume.

I have done a bit of research myself, comparing unadulterated FLAC files from Bon Jovi’s 1986 release, Living on a Prayer, and the 2013 hit, Because We Can. (I believe the use of the audio constitutes Fair Use, as only a short sample is used, and this is an example for educational purposes.)

Here is a screen shot of the two tracks combined into one file after volume matching:

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As you can see, the 1986 clip has spikes and valleys indicating its wide dynamic range. The 2013 version looks like a sausage. Normally, the 2013 would be crammed all the way to the very top and bottom of the window, but I have reduced it so the two songs would seem to be the same volume. It is important to compare songs at the same volume, because as little as half of a db can influence someone into thinking it is “better.” Ultimately, however, we all own a volume knob and can listen to music at whatever volume we wish, so a volume-matched comparison is most fair.

How do we measure perceived loudness? Not with the value of the peaks, but with something called its RMS value. Simplified, the RMS reading is the average volume of the selection. Here is the two sections isolated and measured:

bonjovicomparison_2 bonjovicomparison_3

It may be hard to read, but trust me, both read -18.4db.

This link will take you to the clip and you can hear the difference for yourself. It is short, about 34 seconds long.

Almost Alive CD Cover

I wanted my 3rd release, Almost Alive, to sound more like the 1986 way of doing things, and less like the 2013 way, no matter what the current industry standard is. I think time will be kind to this decision, and to the numerous producers who are fighting back against the urge to go louder.

Here is a screenshot of a short passage from the first single of my new album.

almostalive_hideaway_waveformAs you can see, each snare hit is clearly visible. It makes for a less-fatiguing listening experience – which means you can listen to it OVER and OVER again! Win, win!

Things have improved, many audio players are automatically volume-matching songs now, which helps take away the incentive from mastering engineers to squash their work. But, we lost a couple decades of good music to this ridiculous industry-wide practice and we are just now recovering from it. Hopefully, the trend continues in the direction for the good guys.

If you haven’t signed up yet for a free, advance copy of Almost Alive, do so RIGHT NOW on my homepage and hear the beauty of increased dynamic range for yourself!

Jesus Saves, and so should you!

If you are like me and produce high volumes of data, backing it all up can be a chore. I used to schedule out a few days a year to verify everything was getting properly put to DVD-R media, but now-a-days, I’d probably need 20 DVDs or so to do each project. That’s where cloud storage comes in, and I am surprised how many professionals I talk to that have no backup solutions in place.

Don’t find yourself with a non-bootable drive full of your most important files! I was with one particular company, had some technical problems, customer service was unresponsive…Anyways, in searching for a new company, I found this deal with iDrive for 75% off your first year for 1TB of storage. After that, the price is still really good.

I’ll let you know if I have any problems with them, but I am optimistic. I’m uploading my first backup as we speak.

So, remember to save your files. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. And that includes hard drives!!!cartoon-computer-16729065


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