Mark Holbrook: High Flying Man

This is a self-interview created by Mark Holbrook for the Macjammers Blog (an alternative MJ blog he started while I was on Rain Bather hiatus). Upon his request, I am going to transfer his interviews into the main blog’s Artist Spotlight over the next few weeks. Thank you, Mark, for filling the void so well. For comments attached to the original blog, please go here.

As Tobin once did… This will be an interview with myself.

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Mark Holbrook. I post on MacJams under the user name MarkHolbrook. I chose to use my real name rather than an alias on MacJams because I find aliases confusing. I want to call people by their first name (once I get to know them) but with an alias hiding the information it is tough sometimes to remember who is who. I have nothing to hide so I use my name directly.

I’m 51 years old (about to be 52 sigh…). I live in Fort Collins, CO but was raised in the Southern CA area. I’ve lived in Southern CA, Bangkok, Thailand, Oklahoma, Seattle and now finally in Colorado.

I have a loving wife and a 12 year old adopted son Ryan. Ryan has begun to pickup the guitar and is really into composing and recording. He will be posting his works under the MacJams user name RyanHolbrook. You can listen to Ryan’s first posted composition, Wall of Fire. Not bad for 12 years old!

I’m a software engineer, usually known as a nerd, however I’m not really very nerdy. Well I don’t think so at least. I wasn’t always a nerd! I used to be a professional pilot. Between the years of 1977 and 1983 I flew professionally as first a certified flight instructor then as a charter pilot later I worked for a small commuter airline called Apollo Airways. I spent some time working as a Corporate pilot for a company out of San Diego. After amassing almost 5500 in flight hours and running into a fairly bad air economy I dropped out of the professional pilot business.

The aircraft I’ve flown range from the small Cessa 150′s up through a Lear 35 (I only have a few hours in that beast however). I also hold a rotor craft (helicopter) rating. For those of you that are pilots my exact certificate includes: ATP multi-engine land, Commercial single engine sea and rotorcraft. I have a type rating for a Convair 880 and for Boeing 747. Kind of a joke. The Convair I flew across country and in the process the FAA guy that was with us just issued me a type. I did the B747 type when I was working with Flying Tigers years ago although I’ve never been in the cockpit of the real thing. I have 15 takeoffs and landings in the sim! So that makes me legal to fly one… sort of! I don’t fly much these days as keeping the family going and having time for music sort of takes pretty much all I have.

In my current job which I’ve been at for 20 years I write software for bio-medical devices. My software usually runs robots around, moves pumps, measures things etc. It is a rewarding kind of work because after you have designed and written the code you can actually see it do something.

I use a Mac to work under but I must produce software for the Windows world so I use a wonderful product called VMWare Fusion which lets me run Windows as a process on my Mac. You might be wondering why I use a Mac? I just feel they are superior and the ability to have virtual PCs and as many of them as I like is extremely powerful for my work. Macs are much less prone to the virus infections that inundate many PCs.

Tell us a little more about your computer background. Do you think it helps with music?

Well I’ve been fascinated with machines of all types since I was child. Early on I showed my father (much to his dismay) that I could completely disassemble his tube stereo and put it back together and it would actually work.

In 8th grade I took Fortran programming which was offered for the first time. This ALMOST turned me off of computing forever. We had to write our programs on Fortan layout sheets then they would take them over to the university, punch the cards and a week later we would get back a paper print out of our program running. It was horrible. One misplaced comma and you got back a ream of paper. The one week wait and the inability for us to ever visit and see the computer made it really no fun at all.

So I kind of stopped thinking about computing machines. I became a football player instead. My knees wish I had stayed with computing. In my senior year of high school I got invited to attend college level physics. I had shown some promise in it. So I went out and attended this basic “physics 101″ class at the U.

On the first day of class the instructor walked in, said, my name is So and So, and passed out little slips of paper that said: Login: xyz11 password: zz223 etc to everyone in class. He then proceeded to tell us that these were our computer logins to the engineering department system. In this class ALL assignments will be turned in as computer simulations. All papers will be typeset on the computer.

We all sat there in shock. But when class was over a sea of students flooded the computer lab and tried their logins. They had some really wonderful simulator programs even back in that day and age which while not graphic at all could fully simulate the physics of things like pendulums and falling objects.

About 1/2 of the class dropped. I stayed on and slugged through it. I found myself spending many late nights at the 24 U computer lab and unfortunately many of those nights were spent playing the very first online version of star trek! I must have killed quite a few trees during that time as somethings the CRT based terminals were taken so I’d go run star trek on the paper terminal. Many reams later my ship would be destroyed. Well at least it was recycled paper.

Anyway that class sparked my interest in computers again. When the Apple II became available I marched right out and bought one. I programmed my first program on it in 6502 assembly language. I found I had a knack for programming and it led me pretty much to where I am today.

I actually hold a degree in Electrical Engineering but I don’t practice it much. I’m too busy writing software. I do dabble with home electronics projects and at times I’ll do a new board for a work project but usually they have a dedicated EE do it because I can knock out the software faster than I can make a new board these days! Over my career I’ve worked in assembly, C, C++, Pascal, Fortran, Basic and many other lessor known language varieties.

How did you get started in music?

My story is probably just like many peoples. I listened to all the bands on the radio and I eyed guitars and drum sets at an early age. My sister who is three years older than me was seriously into the Beatles. So was I of course and I wanted to be George Harrison. I didn’t have a clue what lead guitar was or why I thought he was special except that his guitar was much cooler than the other guys! My sister of course liked Ringo Starr (didn’t just about every girl?)

In 1967 while still in Bangkok, Thailand (my father worked with the Thai military as an advisor). I met a friend from England that went to school with and went over to his home and he had an electric guitar. I was fascinated. What also blew me away was that he could play Beatles songs and they sounded good! Well I was hooked. I marched right home and informed my parents I wanted to learn to play guitar. Next thing I know I’m holding this accoustic guitar and taking a lashing from a classical guitar teacher for my bad posture and incorrect finger positions. No no no… not at all what I had been thinking! Needless to say I flunked out. I wanted to be George Harrison and that didn’t seem anything like George Harrison to me!

In 1968 we traveled back to America and resided in Santa Barbara where my fathers company was located. I did jobs that summer and earned up a whopping $75 and I said to my Dad, “I’m going to buy an electric guitar!” I guess he was so happy I wanted to play guitar again that he shuffled me into the car and we drove down to Bennetts music in town. This was mostly a piano, violin kinda store but they had two electric guitars on the floor. One was a Fender Telecaster. The other was a Stratocaster. They had the Telecaster on sale so we bought it. I think we paid $95 for it and then my father bought me a small tube fender amplifier that had the old spring style reverb in it. If you shook the amp while it was on it make this amazing crashing sound as the springs hit each other.

I started guitar lessons with a guy that also played electric and was recommended by Bennetts. We hit it off pretty well and that week I started to learn my first song. “House of the rising sun.” I played that Telecaster it seemed 24 hours a day until my fingers often bleed.

I knew all the bar chords, all the open chords and I could pretty much play what was on the radio by ear. I still didn’t have a clue about lead guitar, notes or sheet music. In 6th grade some other boys had formed a band. They had a guitarist named Peter, a bass player named Jeff and a drummer named Hutch. They called themselves “ButerScotch LTD” (Note the single T… everyone had to have something unique about their name).

The 6th grade music teacher knew my guitar teacher and one day was talking about having the school perform and sing “Sound of Silence”. My instructor said, well Mark can certainly play the guitar part. So the 6th grade teacher asked me to play guitar for the whole school assembly.

I remember that day well as the teacher had setup my Telecaster and amp and put on a capo but he put it on wrong and of course when I started to pick one of the strings didn’t work so I had to stop and adjust the capo. Lesson one… Always check your own equipment!!!

The guys in ButerScotch LTD heard me play and the next day asked me to join their band. I was thrilled. We used to practice on the weekends at Hutch’s house and we knew two songs pretty well. I can’t remember what they were but I seem to remember this flavor of bubble gum and Monkees! We even played at Susie Dodson’s birthday party! She was the most popular girl in school.

For the first time I was George Harrison. I was the best guitar player in ButerScotch LTD (which is not saying much) and I had to learn to provide accents to the guitar that Peter was playing. We even played for the entire school (my first on stage appearance). I guess you’d say I was a lead guitarist at that point but I still really didn’t know what that meant.

Sadly I have no recordings of those days and the next year my folks moved to a new house across town that put me into a different junior high school and the band sort of fell apart. Over the next few years I played sometimes at school for music class and usually some one would ask me to play something from the radio and it seemed I always could figure stuff out.

In high school I joined the jazz band and began to really learn what music was about. I could not read music, I played mostly by ear. I knew chords and stuff. But being the only guitar player the instructor gave me a lot of help on what to do. I sort of learned to read music during my first year in the jazz band.

In the second year two new students arrived in high school. One was a guitarist named Jason and the other was a drummer named Mike Rainy. Jason was amazing! He didn’t know a single chord but if you hummed or whistled a melody once, he could pick it out and play it perfectly on the guitar. Obviously he quickly took over the lead guitar place I had struggled to hold. I took second seat and backed him up with chords.

Tom Rainy however made the jazz band! That year we won several competitions because of our amazing drumming. Tom had a way of making us tight and the instructor put in lots of intricate drum solo works which Tom mastered in seconds. To my knowledge after a couple of years of college Tom went down to LA and began a career as a studio drummer. He was that good.

I have no idea what happened to Jason guitar man. I did see him in one local band a few years later. As good as ever… Still didn’t know a single chord but man could that guy play!

Just after I graduated from high school I met and then formed a band with several friends that lived fairly close by. We called ourselves “Average Garage Band” which was a total take off on Average White Band. We didn’t play that kind of music but did all the popular tunes like “Smoke on the water”, etc.

But we were all electrically inclined and recording was something we were very interested in. We started with a 4 track reel to reel and an old mixer we bought off a pro-band. Some of the words from these early analog efforts are in my Artist page. The band consisted of:

Myself – Guitar, keyboard, Roger – guitar, Wade – lead guitar, Colon – vocals, Mike – Drums, Paul/Jeff on bass.

We played a few parties and even performed at the “Ice Patch” which was a skating rink in Santa Barbara. That was hilarious trying to get the band equipment across the ice to this small corner where we had to play! Terrible acoustics in that place but it was fun. We got paid $75 for that gig! Wow!!!

We continued to record on better equipment (Tascam 8 track) but at one point college got in the way and time got short. The band kind of fell apart in about 1980 or so. I’m still in touch with the band members but none are as active in music as myself except the drummer Mike. He still plays with a band in the CA area.

Since those days I’ve just played music for fun and unfortunately I have not done much of it so this past 8 months have been the immersion technique to get myself back up to speed.

Were your parents supportive of your interest in music?

Absolutely! No one else in my immediate family could play a thing other than the recorder. My father made guitar playing easy for me. He made sure I had lessons and just about anything I needed. In many ways my father was my biggest fan. He used to sit for hours and just listen to me play nothing at all.

His favorite kind of music was classical and ballads. I grew up to Limelighters, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Camelot, Hall of the Mountain King. Often I had to play many of those songs on request from my father who would sing at the top of his lungs as I played.

During the time I started to get into recording with my band mates my father became ill and spent many periods in and out of the hospital. I decided to honor his support of my music by recording a few of his favorites. I recorded, “Cats in the cradle”, by Harry Chapin, “Mr Bojangles”, by Nitty Gritty Dirt band, and “Fennario”, by Joan Baez. I’ve lost the recordings of Cats and Bojangles but I still have the Fennario recording. You can listen to it here: Fennario

During the periods of my fathers declining heath he kept losing his copy of these songs I had done for him and would often ask me to give him a new copy. I’d come over and put them on his computer or on a tape for his stereo. A few months would go by and he’d ask for them again. At the time I thought is was a royal pain that I had to keep doing this for him. But in retrospect he was my biggest fan and I should have been thrilled that he had an interest in the music I’d done for him.

During his last stay in the hospital he asked if there was some way I could put Fennario on a tape recorder and bring it to him in the hospital to listen to. I told him sure but for some reason I never found the time to do it. After his death I regretted that very very much. I wish I could go back in time and I’d probably bring my guitar up to his room and do a live version for him.

A word of advise for those of you with parents still alive: They are a royal pain at times, they ask for things and sometimes catch you when you really don’t feel like you have the time to do it for them. Make the time. When they are gone you will be glad you did.

You mentioned that you were part of the high school jazz band yet in your artist catalog there really isn’t any jazz. Do you not like jazz? Is there a reason you are not recording any?

Well frankly I really don’t know jazz all that well. Our “jazz band” in high school played some jazz but we mostly played popular tunes. Those tend to go off much better when playing for audiences unless you are in a jazz night club and at 16 I think we were a little young to be frequenting the smokey backroom jazz clubs of SoCal.

I like jazz just fine but its not my favorite and frankly I don’t really have it coursing though my system which is probably why I don’t write any.

You did some analog recording… what brought you into recording on the computer?

Well first off I’m a computer kind of guy… I work with them all day long and so it sort of makes a perfect marriage. But in 1995 or so my boss who was also a professional musician in the SoCal coast area bought a MIDI setup and when he showed it to me I said, I gotta have it! So I bought the same gear. I had a Mac IIci at the time and used a program called Studio Vision.

MIDI was cool but as much as I played with that setup I simply was frustrated by the inability to record my guitar or vocals. I bought an expensive sound card that plugged into the Mac IIci which allowed simultaneous recording of two analog tracks. But still there were few if any effects so things sounded dry. To get effects I had to play the analog out one channel, through a reverb unit and record it back into the second channel… It was kind of pain.

I kind of got out of that setup when we adopted our son Ryan. He was 2 and 1/2 at the time so the time for music pretty much disappeared. My Mac IIci also died and I was left with only windows PCs.

When and how did you get back into recording digital music?

In 2004 I purchased a G4 based MacBook. I was so tired of all the problems with my Windows based laptops but for my work I really needed a notebook. The Mac was cool… It came with this thing called GarageBand. I didn’t pay it much mind but one day while I was bored I opened it up and drug loops around and created my very first GarageBand song: Piano thoughts

I thought it was kind of cool but not enough to push me into really starting to use the program. As the year wore on I would open GarageBand and sort of look at it but not really do anything with it. Then one day about 9 months ago I decided to see what other people where doing with GarageBand. I was curious just how much power this little program had.

My primary interest was to see if it was possible with GB to use the internet to work with other musicians. I have an aviation friend that lives up in Wenatchee, WA and he has some serious musical talent. I was searching for a way that he and I could write music together without having to travel. So I did a search and one of the first sites that popped up was MacJams. I spent about 3 hours looking through MJ just amazed that people where making music of the caliber we see all the time on MJ. I mean since I joined I think I’ve bought 3 songs off of iTunes… The stuff on MacJams is simply phenomenal.

Well I was hooked. I joined instantly. Since I didn’t have anything new to post I posted some of our old band analog recordings. You can see most of them at the bottom of my artist page.

I went out and bought an audio interface and got my old keyboard out but unfortunately in one of our moves several of the keys had been busted. So I bought an m-audio keystation 61. I was simply amazed at how easy it was to create music in GarageBand.

I think I did two songs in GB but then decided I wanted more power so I bought Logic Express. I’m now using Logic Pro/Studio. Not that I need all that horse power but like on Tool-Time “More Power” is always fun!!!

My current setup is an Intel based MacMini, a Tascam FireOne audio interface, the keystation, a Mic and a Gibson Les Paul Robot guitar. Some day I’d like to replace the MacMini with a Mac Pro but that is a ways off.

Gibson Les Paul Robot!? What is that?

Well long story made short… When I was playing in Average Garage Band in roughly 1977 I was using my Telecaster at first but it was getting old. I had a job so one day I went out and bought this knock off Les Paul that I saw at a music store in town. I think I paid $150 for it. It played like crap, would not stay in tune, and just general had crappy sound and felt terrible to play.

I was a frequent patron of Jensen Music to get strings, picks, mic stands etc. I would eye the expense stuff on the wall but never dared to touch. One day the owner asked me I wanted to play one of the Les Pauls on the wall… I was like OH YEAH! He brought it down and plugged it in for me and it was like eating peanut butter and honey… So smooth so sweet! That was the smartest sales tactic this guy could have used! I had to have it. But they were like $1250 or something at the time. So he pulled me aside and said I have this one that is slightly damaged (oh oh beware…) and he showed me how the rubber on the racks had discolored the finish on the neck. He’d give it to me for a reduced price with case of $750. I said sold! I gave him what I had that day which amounted to like $50 and over the next couple of weeks I sent everything I had into that guitar.

It took about 2 months but by selling some stuff and working hard I walked out of the store one day as the proud new owner of a Gibson Les Paul Custom. It was berry burst color. Very unique and different and man oh man did this guitar play sweet. I loved it. I was the envy of our lead guitarist Wade. He wanted that guitar so bad it wasn’t funny.

When our band broke up and I moved up to Seattle with my first wife we were broke. I wasn’t playing the Paul very much and one day in like 1983 my wife said, “We should sell that thing… we really need the money.” I was young, stupid, broke and so after some badgering I said ok. She said she had a guy at the restaurant where she worked that wanted to buy it. So I said, ok. I trusted her. She took the guitar and sold it to the guy and I never saw a cent of the money!

I found out later that she was heavy into cocaine (no wonder we could barely make rent). She told me she sold the guitar for $250 which was about what a bag of snuff cost her back then. The really sad thing is that I was going under the notion that most things depreciate in value. But it turns out that Les Paul Customs go UP! In fact I saw the very same guitar sell on eBay about 5 years ago for almost $4400!!!

I have been sick ever since. It played so beautifully and I sold it on a whim for a dime that I never saw. My current wife has heard this story a thousand times and has usually said, “someday we will get you a new Les Paul”.

Well recently guitar center had a special deal where I could get $500 of any Gibson and 12 months no interest on it. So I walked in (with her permission) and bought the Les Paul Robot.

The Robot is a Les Paul that has a built in automatic tuning system. Thats right. It tunes itself automatically. Did I need a self tuning guitar!? Heck no… But I’m a gadget guy and after playing guitar for years one thing has always bugged me is when a guitar is out of tune. This guitar makes playing fun. It is ALWAYS in tune. I’ll bet if we ever jam like… I’ll be in tune before you are!

The Robots are not selling as well as Gibson would have hoped I think. The prices on new ones are dropping (yes unfortunately I could get a new one now for less than I bought this one just a few months ago… but thats life in technology right?). I believe one day Gibson will cease to offer the Robot and I hope once again that the value of this guitar will go up like the value of my custom did.

Here is Gibson’s page on the Robots if you are interested: Gibson Robot

What kinds of music interest you?

Gosh… I think I like it all… even some rap and hip-hop if it is done well! I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that I don’t really have to like the piece but if I can see some real techical ability in it, then I’m impressed. I especially love to see how other musicians are using unique and different sounds.

The same friend I mentioned above from Wenatchee, WA used to have a small clip taped to the shelf above his computer. It was a quote from Beethwoven. It read:

“Music should strike fire into the heart of man and bring a tear to the eye of woman.”

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about that quote and I came to understand that this is what I love about music. Music truly does invoke emotion in myself and I love creating sounds that inflict emotion into others.

I come from a rock-ballad background so I tend to favor songs with bass, guitar, drums, vocals, and keyboards. But I do listen to almost everything. I’ve become extremely interested in cinematic soundtracks although I really don’t have a clue how to do those things. I’m going to try and learn though.

Most of all I’m finding working with other MacJammers to be the most fun of all. I love to either give another my piece and see what they can do with it or I love taking someone elses piece and giving it my own touches.

So do you think MacJams is a good place for collaborations?

Absolutely! I mean the internet, the ability to exchange MP3s, GB files with other MacJammers has resulted in some totally amazing collaborations!

I was heavily involved in DavisAmerica‘s BigFinish project. This was a project where one man (DavisAmerica) orchestrated roughly 22 other MacJammers to create sort of a rock opera. What amazes me about the project is that I’ve never met any of these people in person yet when you listen to the music it sounds like we recorded it in a big studio all together. It is tight and well put together. Each artist added their own special touches to the music as well. It was pretty amazing! For all the work that went into this project it really didn’t receive the reception on MacJams that it deserved. I think this is because currently MacJams is setup so that only one song currently shows from an artist if more than one are posted in a short period of time and also there is enough traffic that sometimes new songs scroll to the second page very quickly. This saddens me somewhat because even if you don’t like the style of music in BigFinish the simple fact that it contained works from so many different people around the world should invoke some interest.

There are many other amazing collaborations here. I mean you can write a song and lay down a guitar part and lets say you are not the best keyboard player so you post a quick note and someone will offer to lay down a keyboard track for you. You can then get a vocalist… The only thing is that we all have other jobs so sometimes you gotta wait until the other artist can get to your piece. But it is like having a HUGE virtual band!

Do you think MacJams needs some improvement?

First off, nothing is perfect and MacJams is a pretty wonderful place exactly as it is today. But yes there are some improvements that I really hope will someday come true.

Some of the things I’d love to see is to have some ways to feature songs/Artists that are somewhat unknown. Right now if you are one of the popular few you could record a track of yourself belching into the mic and probably it would receive a large number of fans and hits. But on the flip side if you are new or fairly unknown and you laydown an absolutely killer great track and put a lot of work into mixing and creating a great sound and you post it, if you happen to hit a busy day your song is off to page two or three in a matter of hours.

I believe that many MacJammers look no further than their favorite artists and the first page. So I wish there was a way that “unhit” or “missed” songs were like prominently displayed somehow on the main page. It might even be cool to have some small rewards for visiting and commenting on low popularity songs. What kind of reward I don’t know… But I feel we need to motivate people to look a little deeper somehow.

Right now our chat window is filled with “pimp” posts where people are pinging their latest works just trying to get people to listen. I’ve done this myself. It is getting to the point where people kind of ignore the pimp posts in chat and go on about their business.

Once in a while someone will make a forum post directing traffic to an unhit song. But even those scroll out of the main window pretty fast unless they get lots of replies.

I’d also love to see a section of the main screen devoted to a particular artist for a week. Perhaps a random pick. Your icon, and a list of your music and a short blerb on who you are is displayed for all to see for a week or so.

This is partly why I’ve decided to pickup a little where Tobin left off. I believe their are many artists on MacJams that deserve a little more attention than we are giving them.

I would also like to see it be made a whole lot easier to comment on songs. Right now you have to hit two buttons, one below your comment the other in a popup window. I would like to see it done more like blogs where you simply type in what you want and submit and you are off and running.

I personally would also like to see the play buttons removed from the main music page. This was a recent addition and I think it causes CPU usage to go up and personally I believe it keeps people from dropping in on a song. Now they can get a quick listen and move on. This makes it easy to not comment or favorite a song.

I’d rather see a very visible PREVIOUS and NEXT link in each song page. Hitting next would take you numerically to the next song in the list. Previous would obviously take you back. That would promote the idea of listening to recently posted music. Combined with an easier comment submission system it would pretty cool. You click on the top song, you comment, then hit next and move down the list as your time permits.

I’m also personally concerned about the lack of presence by MacJams officials. For a while we had Tobin who moderated, mined the database, created artist interviews, helped with questions. I don’t know why he left except to pursue more music/media making which is great but in his absence there as been no one. I have heard the name Simon and Miguel but never seen a single post or even a link on how to send them info. It is like MacJams has been left to flounder and figure itself out. That worries me and it may be this lack of attention that has caused some MacJammers to have parallel accounts on other sites like iComposition etc.

Getting back to music, what is your current musical aspiration?

I have quite a few actually. Probably the most important one for me is to really get my guitar chops back up to speed. I enjoy playing it so much I want to learn everything about it. I want to learn to play lead.

I also want to learn to read music better. I recently purchased a program called Progression from Notion Music which ties score writing to the guitar. You can enter music either into the score using notes, or into tablature, or even by pressing on an image of a guitar keyboard. I’m hoping this program will make a good companion in my goal to read music and be able to play it on the guitar. Progression has the ability to export the score as MIDI or even audio as well so it can become a new instrument in a song quite easily.

I also have a desire to learn orchestration and cinematic soundtracks. Some of the stuff I’ve heard on MacJams is amazing. One of my favorites is Parichayaka. I would haven’t even known he existed if he hadn’t popped into the chat window one day (this is one of my main gripes about MacJams… how to find artists!) I went to his artist page and have been blown away ever since. I want to learn to do music like he does.

It all boils down to the fact that I enjoy creating music and I want my music to invoke emotion and make myself and others feel good/sad/upbeat or whatever the intention of the piece is. I want to increase my guitar skill so that perhaps I could play with a local band again. I enjoyed live performing.

What is keeping you from joining a band right now? Sometimes learning as you go is the best way.

That’s very true. Right now it is time. Between work, working on a run down house that we need to remodel, activities for my 12 year old son and just about everything else I couldn’t see where I’d find the time for band practice and/or performances. Frankly I think I’m looking at this sometime in the future when things calm down.

How do you go about creating music? What is your process that you follow?

Ha! Well if I had a process I’d tell you. Right now all of my music creation comes from riffs played either on the guitar or the keyboard. These get played over and over until I feel something sort of coming out of it. Then I turn my attention to filling it out and adding lyrics/vocals.

My latest song “Everything to lose” was a classic example of this. I was just noodling around on my new Robot Les Paul and I came across this Gm based blues pattern and I loved how it sounded. So for a week or so I’d pickup the guitar and just practice it.

One day I fired up Logic and recorded it the riff. I sat down with TextEdit and made up some lyrics based on how I felt that day. I had been singing a melody which just came to me as I played the pattern. I then organized the lyrics and breaks and re-recorded the guitar work to fit the song.

I then added drums, bass and did vocal cuts. I think from start to finish I completed the basics of the tune in a single day. But that was after LOTS of practice had sort of solidified the sound I wanted. I sent out version 1 of the tune to a few MacJams friends to see what they thought and I got a resounding YES… make this happen response.

So I set about cleaning it up, adding solo parts and other works from fellow MacJammers and that took about another week to complete. So this song sort of came out of nowhere.

That is how most of my songs seem to come to life. But I want to learn the “other way”. I want to learn how to have a tune in my head (of which there are many) and be able to lay down the score and make it into a piece of music. I’ve started on this process. I have a piece in the works which is coming completely from things I’m hearing in my head. It will be quite a while before it is finished because this process is very slow for me.

Do you have a specific recording process you follow?

Unfortunately no. Sometimes I lay down the guitar first, most often that is the case. Then I go about adding bass, drums etc. I do spend a lot of time getting the sounds of each right. That is where EQ, echo, delays etc all come into play.

Sometimes I will take a drum loop and lay it down as a timing guide. Later that drum loop is yanked out and I put in the real drums. Until my last song I was using looped drums and drums from Drums On Demand.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with looped or sampled drums. But after listening to the amazing music of Vic Holman I realized that drums can add a lot of character to your song. So I have decided that from this point on I will laboriously lay down my drums either with the pencil editor or by playing them on the MIDI keyboard.

This is going to be tough as I know next to nothing about drumming. So I will listen and try a few ideas and see what happens. In my last song Everything to lose I did my own drums by hand and I really liked how they came out.

Obviously if I had access to a real drummer and a place to record him I would prefer that. I have been extremely interested in these synthesized drum kits where you have the cymbals, drums, kicks all hitting these rubber pads. You can lay them out exactly like a real drum set. If I thought I could play I’d get one of those. They interest me because you can directly output the drum data as MIDI into Logic. So you could record a real drummer, in real time with your song. That would be very cool. But these kits don’t come cheap either. The entry level one I looked at was around $750. So for now I’ll use the pencil, ultra beat and a few other tools to make my own drums.

What about mixing/mastering?

Well frankly I do it all myself so far. I really can’t say I “master” anything. It is more like I mix it until it sounds good in my headphones. I bought a fairly expensive set of reference headphones. These are very flat from 20Hz up to 20kHz. I use these as the first reference. I work to get my song to sound good in these phones. Next I burn a CD and go play it in the stereo or in the car. I also put it on my iPod. I try to listen and make sure it sounds pretty good everywhere I play it.

That is pretty much what I do for “mastering”. For mixing I try to simply make sure that the instruments/vocals that I want to hear can be clearly heard in the mix. I spend a lot of time on EQ of each instrument. MacJams artist Ziti, who is a professional musician recommended a plug in tool called ChannelStrip. It was fairly expensive for Logic, (the GarageBand version is quite reasonable at around $89), but I bought a copy anyway. I’ve found it has some great features. The EQ is superior to the EQ in Logic and the compressor has quite a few more options. So I find myself putting ChannelStrip on just about every track. Usually I have to bounce many of the “finished” tracks to an AIFF, mute and freeze the track then bring the AIFF in just to keep my poor MacMini from undergoing heart failure due to high CPU load. That is another motivation to get a Mac Pro… Some day.

I’m no pro and to me mixing/mastering is personal thing anyway. If I was trying to sell my music for profit I’d probably have a pro do the final mix/master. But for hobby music I try to get it to sound good.

What are your musical inspirations?

Wow… that is a tough one. I don’t listen much to commercial music anymore since joining MacJams. So I’d have to say that the stuff being done on MacJams is my inspiration. There are so many great artists doing amazing stuff on MJ that I just can’t believe it.

I’m really shocked that people in charge of major motion pictures don’t come cruising through looking for sound tracks and artists to do short segments in their upcoming movies. I’m sure there are many reasons like unions, royalties etc. Perhaps these people are worried about working with an amateur. Whatever, there is some great music here and I could totally see much of it as the background to a major film or even on the radio. I keep thinking that someday Disney Pictures will cruise in and make Magnatone an offer she can’t refuse!

I should also say that Apple, GarageBand and Logic are a big inspiration to me. The ease with which a simple hacker like myself can construct music these days is mind blowing. Apple has really made home recording a reality. I know there are PC tools that can do it and some say they do it better. But in my experience the Mac just makes it easy.

The cool thing for me is I have a MacBook Pro 17″ that I have to carry on business trips. I have Logic, Progression and most of my plugins all loaded and functioning on this notebook. So in the hotel room I usually have a headset on and I’m working away on some new creation or editing something in preparation for a post.

Are there artists on MacJams that you would recommend that a newcomer listen to?

Very much so. If you have any doubts about what can be done in GarageBand listen to Parichayaka. Others I know of that write amazing music are Magnatone, Kassia, Futzpucker.

One of the nicest, most outgoing people on MacJams is Drakonis. It was him that initially made me feel so welcome here. Drak calls himself a composer rather than a performer. And he certainly does some amazing compositions.

Another mega-talent is DavisAmerica. He recently finished a huge project posted under the user BigFinish. DavisAmerica will also make just about anyone feel that they have a friend on MacJams. For a great MacJams lady with an amazing voice visit Gail60.

Without a doubt there is Mr. Feter. He is probably one of the most positive forces here on MacJams. Always first it seems with a postivie upbeat comment on your song. Other great MacJammers include: Micheal Wark, Roxylee, Lavalamp, Vic Holman, Michael2, apocafunk, Eckleiste, CraizeeMusic, EEFliess, Skean, Composerclark, Lengold and Mystified.

In the professional department we have SpringClock and Ziti.

I’m sure I’ve left quite a few GREAT Macjammers off the list… Frankly there are just too many to remember but that should get someone started. As a tip to newcomers to MacJams:

Use the artist pages and favorites.

For example if you go into Vic Holmans page and listen to his music. Scroll down and look at his favorites and see what other artists he likes. Also look at his fans. When you see that favorites or fans lists click on some of the names and you will go right to that artists page. That is one thing nice about MacJams… When you see an artist name is just about ANY window, if you click on it you will go to that persons artist page. It is a great way to find out about new artists or artists you didn’t know about.

Do you have any final comments you’d like to share?

I’d like to say that MacJams is a wonderful place. It has provided many artists with a place to showcase their music and interact with other musicians in a creative environment. I think however we all need to remember that music is a personal and somewhat ego related thing for most of us. When we work hard on a song but no one listens our feelings kind of get hurt.

So I’d like to ask fellow MacJammers to put a little more effort into searching around, listening and commenting on songs from artists you don’t know. Not only will you bring a little happiness to the artist you might very well surprise yourself and find something you really like.

Try to remember respect when posting in the forums. Because MacJams is a gathering place we tend to talk about anything an everything. Respect the other MacJammers opinion even if you know it is wrong. We are all here for the same reason. Lets respect each other, get along and make great music.

Please recommend three of your own songs that you’d like people to listen to:

Everything to lose – My latest and probably best work to date.

Friendship and Faith – Features Gail60. A fun coffee house song.

Cascading colors – A song written and performed by our lead guitarist Wade. This is older material but it was almost purchased by several big name artists. The song is beautiful.
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55 Responses to “Mark Holbrook: High Flying Man”

  1. Drakonis Says:

    Excellent introduction to who the real guy is hiding behind that “Mark Holbrook” name. A lot of startling similarities between us, except that you actually learned to play an instrument! I appreciated hearing the heartbreaking tale of the sale of your guitar, and the fun tale of rediscovering computers via line-printer Star Trek games. Very nice of you to mention Jack’s amazing-and-under-noticed “Big Finish” project, and thank you for starting up these interviews again, and being such a cool guy! Thanks also to Tobin for doing prior interviews and pulling these into the MJ-Blog-fold!
    ttfn,
    Drakonis

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