Category Archives: Track Slayer

Track Slayer is a online play-along mixing tool for musicians and singers

Working With New Composers (And Other Honors)

I had the good fortune to work with 2 new composers in the last month – well, new for me, that is.  Marc Shaiman was honored at a New York Pops concert at Carnegie Hall in the beginning of May, and he had asked me for a new arrangement of a show-stopping song that had appeared in the Martin Short show, Fame Becomes Me. I’ve loved Marc’s music through the years, my favorites being Hairspray and The American President.

Later in May, I scored a new musical, Dog and Pony, with music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker, whom I had only met once before while working together on a show at Radio City. Michael is also brilliant, and a consummate musician. He’s known for his Off-Broadway hit, Alter Boyz, but I bet he’ll soon be known for a lot more. His co-writer is the equally brilliant Rick Elice, and the cast (Heidi Blickenstaff, Beth Leavel, Eric William Morris, Nicole Parker and Jon Patrick Walker) is absolutely sensational, as is the director Roger Rees and the Music Director Adam Wachter.  And there’s no place better to work at than The Old Globe. These two projects were very different, and both turned out well. Interesting that the concert was only one song with a huge orchestra, and the show was the usual 2200 measures of music (15 songs or so), but for a tiny band.

This week, I was also at a rehearsal for the Tony Awards broadcast, with conductor Patrick Vaccariello and Hugh Jackman. With the 24-piece orchestra, they’ll perform Mark Hummel’s and my arrangement of “Steppin’ Out.”

My next 3 shows are already lined up: The Visit (John Kander & Fred Ebb), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Denver Theatre Center) and On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenoweth.

First, though, back to LA for the Emmy Awards. I didn’t win the Drama Desk last night (I had been nominated for my orchestrations for Big Fish, and my co-nominees included the great Jonathan Tunick, Michael Starobin, all losing to Jason Robert Brown – things could be worse!). As for the Emmys, it’s my great fortune to be nominated once again as composer for Nickelodeon’s The Wonder Pets.

But the real excitement for me these days is that TrackSlayer continues its progress in our Beta testing! Our public launch is not far away!

My chat with Sir Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney Take 1 resized 3

Did I say “3 separate guitars?”

At one of the mix sessions this week, Dave Darlington (engineer) and I prepared the stems for “Ticket to Ride.”  I remembered that I referred to “3 separate guitar parts” that would be completely isolated in my recording.  Well, I counted wrong, because there are 4!

Buried under the iconic 12-string ostinato is a rhythm guitar part, which is more easily heard in the coda, but plays throughout. So the complete separation includes:  • Ostinato on the Rickenbacker 360-12, • Rhythm on the Rick 325, • The low A’s on the Strat, and • My favorite part – the McCartney fills on the Epiphone Casino.  Nice to be able to mute any one of them separately and play along.

We also re-inspected the guitar parts to “Taxman.”  Dave pointed out that what I had thought was a volume pedal at the re-entrance of the guitar figure (before the third verse at 1:31) was rather the fader being brought up in the mix, while the guitar was in progress with a hammer from  C to D, therefore the attack of the note is not heard.  Whether intentional or not, it always sounded pleasingly psychadelic to me.

Speaking of “Taxman,” I had the good fortune to work with Sir Paul when he made his Broadway debut  in 2010 (more about that soon!) – I asked Paul about the “Taxman” guitar solo, saying that after all these years,  I still find it difficult to count – though I’ve since learned it very well – Paul’s only explanation as to how he did it was “too many stimulants!” In future posts I’ll tell you lots more about my 4-day episode with the master.IMG_8740 Rick 12 w JimIMG_8618 epiphone

Trackslayer – My Dream Project

In The Beginning

When I was 12 years old, I had been playing piano for 7 years and had taught myself guitar. But my favorite thing to do was to make home recordings of my guitar and voice and play them back while playing and singing harmony.

Fast forward a couple of decades – though I’ve now worked for years as an arranger, orchestrator, and composer, I still love making my own recordings to play and sing to – my virtual band.

A couple of years ago I had the idea that there must be many musicians and singers that want this experience as well.  Karaoke is proof of that, and yet, Karaoke is made pretty much for the lead singer. Why can’t we have recordings that allow us to mute the bass guitar, or the middle vocal, or drums? Or any combination?

So I dreamed up TrackSlayer, a music website for singers, musicians and music lovers, where a user can load a song into an on-screen multi-channel mixer and dial in or out any vocal, any instrument, and play or sing along.

Finding Isolated Tracks

There are thousands of songs that I love.  But I had to start somewhere. My favorite pop songs are the Beatles catalog.  And that catalog still intrigues and delights musicians and singers throughout the world.

I’d love to have the original Beatles recordings and dial out John’s voice and sing with Paul. Or play the Harrison guitar parts myself, or sing the middle background vocal. And I’ve seen that many people are interested in obtaining those isolated tracks.

The problem is that a complete breakdown of these recording does not exist. Their earliest songs were recorded on 2-track. Starting with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, the recordings were 4-track, and that format lasted even through the Sgt. Pepper era.

I’m impressed with the Mogg files (aka the audio files included in the Beatles Rock Band video game), where more of the instruments have been electronically extracted. But there is a compromise of the audio quality, and still there is not a complete separation of all instruments and vocals.

A typical example of the Rock Band Mogg files is “Ticket to Ride,” where all 3 guitars share one track. On “Drive My Car,” all 3 vocals share one track. The good news is that the bass and drums, for instance, might be separate.  The bad news is that the guitars are still grouped together, as are the vocals.

The Dream Is Born

Because a complete breakdown of these recording does not exist, I’ve attempted to do the next best thing – make new recordings of my favorite songs, with complete instrumental and vocal separation.

I teamed up with the best musicians and singers – members of Beatlemania and other tribute bands (Lenie Colacino, Joe Pecorino, Jim Filgate) and studio musicians (Damien Bassman, Charlie Pillow, Alden Banta, David Peel) – and joined with world-class engineer Dave Darlington to re-create some of these songs.  More about our recording sessions to come.

Now, after spending many months working on the project, we’re nearly ready to launch the TrackSlayer BETA Test.  If you’d like to join in this most unique musical experience (there’s still time to sign up) head on over to TrackSlayer.com

Say "cheese"

DSC00356 LH sonic closeIMG_8740 Rick 12 w JimIMG_8841 vocal musicDSC00327 protools 2DSC00353 guitaristsIMG_1082 The Band, posed