Saturday, October 18, 2014

Following My Muse

I've been in love with music for a long, long time.  I enjoy learning about it, listening to it, writing it, and of course performing it.

I love the friendships, laughter and deep kinship I experience with fellow musicians.

Music can serve as a refuge (the word "escape" sounds a bit negative, though it may very well be).

Music opens up many conversations and causes me to think about the natural world in different ways - there are so many mysteries and things still unknown.  Perhaps music and all that goes into it (and from it) is helping to contribute to human kind's understanding and perspectives.

There's a responsibility being a musician - one must be prepared, show up on time of course, and play the gig in front of them.  In any creative endeavor, there's a mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and a fair share of disappointment - all of which test our will to continue creating.  But continue to create, we must.

Most of my favorite musicians and artists are what you might call "elders" - they are men and women who have been around.  In the youth-centric media market it's easy to lose sight of the fact that there remains a wealth of deep wisdom and artistry in the work of these elders - those who have lived through success, failure, re-invention, and are still pushing boundaries and creating and performing.  Yes, I keep an eye and ear open to the new trend, the new thing, the new "it" - but with all that is new we must also devote our attentions, at least equally, to those who have traveled and those who continue their creative travels.

So here I am - after all these songs and years, finally making my first music video - a real do-it-yer-selfer for sure.  But I did it - and I'm not boasting, just sayin'.  Part of the muse we all follow requires that we be vulnerable; that we share a part of ourselves and our work.

In his poem Bluebird, Charles Bukowski - a prolific poet and author who explored many wonderfully dark aspects of the human condition - seems to speak of himself; that sweet part of him that, if revealed, might blow his cover.  Pretty cool way of doing just that!  Night after night - following his muse.  And thank goodness for that.

Following the muse - it's a choice.  To follow her may be folly, but to ignore her would be ignorant.

To follow one's muse is to pay homage to all we are; to all we were; to all we are to be; to all we have learned; to all we have loved; to all we have dreamed; to all who have believed in us; to all who would deny us but no longer can - because we followed our muse;  to times past and times still to come - when, if we're fortunate, the muse will still beckon.

Rob Birdwell

Monday, September 15, 2014

Musings and Gigs for Fall 2014

Fall is fast approaching - here's a quick list of some of the gigs I have coming up:

  • September 27 - Private gig with LMNO - see you if you're in on this!
  • September 30 - Early Bird Jazz Band at Linus Pauling Middle School will start up our early morning sessions!  I direct this before-school program and it's a lot of fun!
  • October 17 - The Svens at Imagine Coffee! 7:30pm
  • October 18 - Creighton Lindsay Band plays 2 Towns Cider @  2pm
  • October 24 - Sideways Portal Sandbox plays The Magic Barrel @ Whiteside Theater
And more coming soon - check my calendar for the latest.

And what will I be musically busy with this Fall?

  • Practicing lots of course!  I enjoy performing but it all starts with preparation!
  • Writing new tunes - got lots of them brewing and I'm excited about the next batches!
  • Teaching an online Jazz History course at OSU - this always inspires me as I learn lots too!
I'm definitely missing not conducting another Halloween with Harry concert with the OSU Symphony..  We had three great seasons of Harry & the music of John Williams and they were all very magical - a great run...but alas, not this season.

More Music Videos for Blue Macabre?

My plan was (and remains) to find new or compelling ways to share my music.  I've dabbled with making a few fairly humble videos so far.  I "orchestrated" my own pseudo "framework" so that I could easily script out lyric videos.  Both Swimming Upstream and Nobody's Business leverage this framework.  I can use this framework to do some simple animations/motion, lighting and display the lyrics in time with the music.  Used in combination with traditional video editing tools, there are some neat things that can be done.  I'd like to take a slightly bigger step this fall and produce a more "real" music video for my song, My Muse.  Again, I'll keep you posted.  And if you would like to help me produce it, don't hesitate to contact me! 

Rob Birdwell and his Ridiculous One-Man Band

Okay, so this isn't really even really a thing yet.  But something I've been dabbling with for a while.  I've got a lot of tunes (old, new and in-the-making) that would be fun to perform live.  And I doubt I'd be completely solo - would like to mix it up with some special guests/friends, stories, readings and of course, original songs.  I'm aiming for something mid-November...we'll see as to the when and where...I need a bit of time to re-learn how to play/perform my own songs!

Oh - did I mention I have a new CD of original songs out?

Blue Macabre is released and available just about everywhere!  I will almost always have CDs and/or download cards with me at gigs...just ask and we'll begin the negotiation.  I warn you, I'm a complete sucker and you'll likely get the best of me.

This time of year always feels like such a transition - a new beginning with every season.  Much to look forward to.  Much to be grateful for.  

Here's to a happy and safe autumn to you all!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Download Song - My Muse from Blue Macabre

Download the complete track to "My Muse" here

My Muse is the 3rd track from my forthcoming CD release, Blue Macabre.  It features me playing on everything: lead and backing vocals, keys & synths, flugelhorn and percussion.  A moody minor groove, the song is about losing and finding one's creative muse:

my muse is hard to find
can hardly call her mine
where she goes I never know
playful as the breeze
she walks away with ease
to love her is to let her go...

  • Or if you simple want to listen to an excerpt, you can also catch that here.

"My Muse" words and music © 2014 Rob Birdwell / - all rights reserved.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Blue Macabre - new songs by Rob Birdwell releasing on 9/1/2014

I'll be releasing a new CD on September 1, 2014 (on CDBaby). This is exactly the album I wanted to make - new and original songs that I love to sing; songs with horns (just about every track features my horn work either on trumpet, flugelhorn, tenor sax and for the first time even a little trombone); the songs all have deep meaning for me and I'm glad to finally be sharing them in this collection.

It's a "solo" CD release for me but it was not a completely lonewolf production.  Some dear friends offered up their extraordinary talents and I am grateful for their fantastic contributions: Creighton Lindsay (guitar), Nick Rivard (guitar), Dave Storrs (percussion/drums) and Dave Leslie (piano).  Additional thanks go out to Jed Irvine and Dave Storrs for their suggestions for mixing and mastering.

blue macabre

  1. how many times
  2. swimming upstream
  3. my muse
  4. nobody’s business
  5. long way to go
  6. harry and the mannequin
  7. where u at
  8. them bones
  9. beautiful moments
  10. love the most
  11. swimming upstream (unplugged mix)


Rob Birdwell: lead and backing vocals, piano & synths, trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, tenor sax, trombone, bass, drums, melodica, percussion

Creighton Lindsay plays guitar on Swimming Upstream
Nick Rivard plays guitar on Nobody’s Business
Dave Storrs plays drums and percussion on Them Bones
Dave Leslie plays piano on Beautiful Moments

All songs written, arranged, mixed, and produced by Rob Birdwell
Copyright © Rob Birdwell

Monday, June 09, 2014

Swimming Upstream

It's always interesting when a song I wrote shares the same title with some other tune, book or movie.  My song "Swimming Upstream" shares the same title as this movie of the same name - well, since I love swimming (and swimming-related stories) looks like I'll need to watch this film!

And last night while watching the Tony Awards (and dang if I don't wish I could somehow see every single one of the musicals and plays they honored), I witnessed a fantastic song and dance production of the classic number, 'Tain't Nobody's Business" (a song written in 1920 by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins and adapted for the Woody Allen musical, Bullets Over Broadway) which shares a similar enough title to my own tune, "Nobody's Business", that I have to admit I was relieved to hear I hadn't subconsciously ripped off any aspect of that tune.

Still, with the authorship of our respective tunes nearly 100 years apart, it was interesting that the sentiments were similar (starting with the title and diverging from there), even though the lyric, style and approach of our respective tunes were completely different.  I'll post more on my song Nobody's Business another day; but for now, here's my song, Swimming Upstream which shouldn't be confused with the Geoffrey Rush movie Swimming Upstream - but, hey, 'tain't nobody's business if you do! ;)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Beautiful Moments

A new recording and video featuring Dave Leslie on piano and myself, Rob Birdwell, on vocals.  Recorded "live" at Dave's studio near Portland, Oregon - enjoy!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Rob Birdwell performs new songs via Concert Window Webcast on March 15

I'll be performing new songs via webcast from my home studio on Saturday, March 15 @ 5pm (west coast time).  

Who:  Rob Birdwell
When:  Saturday, March 15, 2014
Time:  5:00 pm (PDT) / 8:00 pm (EDT)
Webcast Link: or click here!

The webcast will not be taped – it's offered in real time. I hope you can join me!

Most of the songs I'll perform will be from my forthcoming release entitled Blue Macabre (April 2014).

Performance Tune List:

  • How Many Times
  • Swimming Upstream
  • Beautiful Moments
  • My Muse
  • Them Bones
  • Song of Eliza
  • Nobody's Business
  • Harry and the Mannequin
  • Love the Most
  • ....and more!
The webcast concert is free (but donations are appreciated of course).  I've enjoyed listening to other artists/performers in this type of setting and have found this online format to be very enjoyable, interesting, and certainly convenient.  

Wherever you are in the world, you can tune in!  All you need is to click my webcast link at 5 pm  (west coast time, or  8 pm for east coast folks)!  Send me some real-time comments during the show - some great possibilities and I'm looking forward to sharing my latest batch of tunes! 


Rob Birdwell

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Backing up Music Projects

Let's face it, hard drives fail and files get deleted.  As Forrest Gump once said, "Shit Happens."

Imagine, if you will, that the device you are reading this blog post on - particularly if it's a laptop or desktop - suddenly melts down or is completely pulverized (and of course you are perfectly unharmed!).  Replacing the hardware probably won't be too expensive - chances are it was due for replacing anyway.  But what of the creative files that existed on that device?  What of those?  Are you certain they are backed up?  You may say, as I did, "Yes, absolutely - I have Carbonite and it's backing up all my files.  If this device fails, I can restore all my creative projects."  You may be right - but only partially right. True, your photos, documents and various other files may indeed be backed up.

But being partially right, at least when it comes to backups, may mean you're totally screwed.  

I recently discovered - and fortunately sooner, rather than later - that certain Abelton Live project files (which consist of WAV audio and other associated files within a project folder structure) were not being backed up.  Some of them were - but the truth is that if my laptop crashed right now (and without a manual backup) my next CD project (of which I've spent considerable time on over the last year or so) would be completely lost!

Here's the good, bad and utterly ugly truth of Carbonite's backup software (on Windows at least) when it comes to backing up Abelton Live projects:

The following is a sub-directory with several of my Abelton Live projects- as you can see, the "green dot" is Carbonite's way of providing visual feedback that my project is being backed up - so far that seems good:

But here's the "bad" - if we look into the sub-folders of this particular project, we see two folders ("Abelton Project Info" and "Samples)" that have a Carbonite "green dot" signifying that they are backed up.  There's a "Desktop.ini file which is insignificant and no big loss if it's not backed up.  However - and this gets ugly fast folks - the actual Abelton Project file (in this case the file with the .ALS file extension) is NOT being backed up!  Attention music creators:  this is the frickin' project file.  It's the file that Abelton Live needs to open to load the project in order to render the MIDI and associative WAV/audio data.  This alone is very ugly - but, unfortunately, it gets even worse!

The logical step is to simply say, "Oh, I see.  Carbonite doesn't automatically backup this file so I have to manually tell it to do so."  If I right click on the .ALS project file and click "Properties" and then click the "Carbonite" tab, something like the following dialog appears.  First of all, you'll note that the "Back up" check box is grayed out.  That's bad - or ugly, I'm not sure which.  It doesn't matter because the other check box with the label "Back up files of this type (within folders selected for backup)" does not retain my check setting.  And that's just darn-right annoying:

Oh dear reader - if you've suffered this far into my ranting post you're probably thinking, "Well at least the WAV files are being backed up - right?"  No - they are not.  If my hard drive crashed this second - and I did not have an alternative backup plan (which I do) - this project (and all of my other ones) would be lost to the giant bit bucket!

As we saw previously, the "Samples" folder (which stores the WAV audio data associated with the project would appear to be backed up.  After all, it has the trusty Carbonite "green dot" on the folder.  But the software is deceptive in the worst of ways.  If we navigate into the "Samples" folder there will be a "Recorded" folder, and it too will have the Carbonite "green dot" - but within that file are the WAV audio files, which are.....evil dissonant chord here....NOT being backed up!  Nor, apparently, will Carbonite allow them to be:

Again, any attempts to override Carbonite's settings to force the WAV files to be backed up proved unsuccessful (for me at least).

In short, there's only a perception that Abelton Live projects are being backed up by Carbonite.  The reality is that any restore of the actual backup (from Carbonite at least) would produce a mere skeleton of the projects folders - nothing of substance would have been backed up.  All that work - gone forever!

But fortunately not for me, and hopefully not for you either now that we both know.

One very simple solution is to back your music projects (AbeltonCarbonite, Finale, or a host of other different music apps that we, as music creators, use to create and produce our music with) to a separate backup device.  Here's where the antiquated, but highly efficient, DOS-style "batch file" can help out, at least until a more robust and comprehensive "cloud" solution can supersede Carbonite:

You'll need to substitute your own "rob\music" directory (and possibly even the "C:" drive) reference, as well as the "J:\backup\rob-music" with your own corresponding "source to target" drive/folders.  The XCOPY command with the /Y /R /D /E parameter flags are sufficient to backup all sub-directories that have changed since they were last backed up.  And of course, the *.* ensures that ALL files, without exception, are backed up to your target drive.  The XCOPY backup approach is far from perfect.  But you can implement it, freely, in a matter of a couple minutes.  This technique is not ideal when folders and/or files change names - you'll find your backup will have extra copies of files.  But at least they will be backed up and that's a small price to pay.

We've all seen the Carbonite ads - I like this one, about the guy that manages to get his backup started in a matter of minutes and is then able to frolic the rest of his day away while Carbonite does all the work.

But I can't help imagine that he's a musician/producer.  His partner is, in my imagination, a musician as well and together they have a group and big dreams. Later that month they will both discover that all of their new recording projects (including her vocals and his banjo solos) were completely lost due to the fact that he never actually verified that their critical DAW project files were being backed up!  So much for the great Carbonite value proposition.  For $59 a year, backup your stuff.  Rest easy.  Then realize later - much too late - that the stuff you thought was backed up was, in fact, not.

Is it possible that there's a Carbonite config file I can dig into to override the settings?  Maybe.  However, options, as far as I can tell, to force Carbonite to backup files not automatically backed (like Abelton Live projects) do not appear to be available.

I believe this to be a major flaw in the Carbonite software.  In my particular case, the Abelton Live project files are not being completely backed up.  I suspect, however, that there are numerous other creative files produced by artists, writers, and filmmakers that are not being backed up, yet the perception and false sense of security that they are persists.

There are clearly internal business rules in Carbonite's software layer at work here - the lack of options to override these internal rules is also, in my view, a major flaw.  I have considered the possibility that these  rules are intentional; perhaps to lower the volume of files being backed up to their data warehouse storage sites.

I've reported the issue to Carbonite support and, to their credit, they did get back to me - it was an automated reply directing me to setup an appointment to speak with someone directly.  I haven't done this yet - maybe I will, maybe I won't.  It's a drag to have to operate like that.  Why can't the written word and some screen shots convey the issue?  Why must they connect into my system to diagnose this?  It seems funky to me.

Anyway, that's pretty much my rant for this month - it's a bit technical but definitely related to music - but not just music.  It had to be said.

As creative people, we have to take care of business and make sure our hard work isn't inadvertently lost.  Everyone needs a backup plan!  And every once in a while it's a good idea to make sure that plan is working as advertised.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Ventures in Video

Recently I've been learning a bit more about video editing.  In the past I've dabbled with (and continue to use) Adobe Premiere Elements, but recently gave Corel Video Studio a go and am very pleased with what I've been able to do with it so far.  I'm mostly an audio guy, so the tricks and workflow of video production are not native to me. I clearly have a long way to go and much to learn, but it's been pretty fun and I'll keep at it as long as there's always some music in the mix!

Here are two recent offerings:

Coming Home - my first attempt at an actual "lyric" video.  I also explored some other effects and played with motion.  (And of course I always have to qualify that the song itself is a work of fictional fantasy.  I haven't been to any of these places!)

Season of Change - this one was really interesting to do put together.  Not from any technical reason - I simply enjoyed the routine of taking a picture of this tree - a Pin Oak - every day for a few weeks.  I had a vague idea of the musical mood I wanted to convey.  On new year's eve I simply recorded the trumpet part in a single take, to my own pre-recorded piano track.  At the last minute I decided against flugelhorn and opted for the muted trumpet.  That fit the mood I was after.  Yes, it's just a tree losing its leaves over a period of time.  Nothing particularly spectacular.  But for me it was part of a process - a healing thing - and it helped in some small way.

Some other projects I'm working on:
  • A collection of new tunes to release (Spring 2014) - got a couple more to finish recording, but it's something I've been working on for a couple years now.  I always hate it when people say "this is some of my best work" - but in this case that's exactly what I feel inside.  I won't say more other than it's been a quite labor of love...
  • On March 15 I'm planning on performing some of the material from my new release live on Concert Window from my home studio.  The CD release will follow sometime in the Spring, so this will be a sort of pre-release showcase - and yet another new fun thing to try out! Other performances to follow...
  • Working on lots of new music with a group called The Lubians.  I can't begin to describe what an amazing group this is.  Much more to come on that when the time is right and definitely looking forward to performing live with this great group of friends...
  • I'm co-producing a new podcast with teacher and musician Bob Madar.  We're exploring the intersection of music, science and art.  We're currently deep into the production of our first season of episodes - going very well and something sort of new for both of us.
  • Several months ago I wrote a mini framework for creating lyric videos using nothing but HTML5 and jQuery.  It's really quite simple and sort of elegant.  Just the sort of tool the budding songwriter like myself needs!  It won't replace "real" video production tools, but for what it is, it will be a handy little tool to reach for in the tool box.
  • My Early Bird Jazz Band continues to be a source of joy and inspiration.  I lead this group twice a week and the kids are fantastic.  This year we're playing the NAMS Jazz Festival and looking forward to witnessing their musical growth.
  • Last October was another successful Halloween with Harry Potter concert - my third consecutive year guest conducting.  It was probably one of the smoothest so far.  Just learned that I'm to guest conduct again this February for the Children's concert - so the Harry Potter spell clearly still has me under it's power.  But any chance to be part of the Corvallis-OSU Symphony is a good one.
  • Gigs, gigs, gigs...The Svens, Creighton Lindsay, Dave Storrs & Friends (The Lubians and Sandbox), The Van Meyers, and others if you can believe it - dang I'm a lucky guy!
  • On May 2 I have the honor to join in with Halie Loren and band at the Majestic Theatre - looking forward to that!
Well, that's a smattering of what's going on.  I made a promise to myself that I'd blog a bit more.  I hope to at least double the number of posts I wrote last year - whew, only one more to go! :)