Ho ho ho! We did it!

And by “we” I mean me and a group of my friends. Mostly me and Gavin. Okay, me and Gavin and Euan and James. Okay, a whole bunch of people, including some lovely people who I don’t even know that well, but who got roped in to help us out. Thank you, all of you, for helping us get it done.

And by “it” I mean the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar, a collection of 25 comedy sketches we made for the first 25 days of December 2012. I’ve mentioned it before; it was Project Ho Ho Ho, one of the eleven projects mentioned in the very first post on this blog. Which means it is the first of those projects to be definitively finished. Hooray! If there’s one thing that can make absolutely anything feel worthwhile, it’s scoring a big line through it on your To-Do list.

But before I do that, I want to take a quick look back at it. For all my self-ascribed creativity there aren’t many things I’ve done that have produced a complete, publicly accessible end product, and this is one of even fewer that I’m really quite proud of. It was also quite an intense experience in that Gavin and I spent pretty much a whole month working on and thinking about nothing else but the advent calendar. There was a fair amount of stress about filming during the days and an unfair amount of staying up into the small hours of the morning to get sketches edited in time. But it was worth it. For someone who’s been unemployed for far too long, there is something refreshing and necessary in tearing yourself out of bed at 5am and setting out into the cold pre-dawn to catch a train to Glasgow and help film a guy running around in only boxer shorts and clown make-up.

Which reminds me, here’s a sketch I wrote:

There! Preserved for future generations to enjoy. Something you might have noticed about that was that it was a bit weird. I seem to have trouble writing normal sketches – the sort where someone walks into a shop and has an amusing conversation with someone else – so most of the ideas I came up with for the advent calendar (many of which didn’t get past the ideas stage) were what you might call “gimmicky”. Here’s another example, based on the constant stream of thoughts inside my head in various social situations:

That sketch is one I wasn’t quite sure about when we were making it. I had the idea for a while but didn’t write it until a couple of days before we had to film it. I kept rewriting the ending but couldn’t work out how to make it punchy, and I started to want to shelf the idea until after the advent calendar to give myself more time to do it justice. But we needed all the sketches we could get, and the filming was already partially arranged, so we bit the bullet and went ahead with the best version I had. Ultimately, I think the actors are great and make it work, so I’m glad we did it. It’s easy to keep all your precious ideas locked away, never fully developing them in case they don’t turn out the way you imagine. The advent calendar provided just the right amount of pressure to make us release some of our ideas into the world, regardless of whether they were perfect. I think that’s a valuable thing sometimes, especially in terms of learning to do better next time. And it clears some space on your shelf for new ideas.

Anyway, let me link to a few others not written by me, to show I’m not entirely self-centred:

  • Hilarious Pranks! is probably my favourite of all the sketches, though some would say we went too far with it.
  • This spot-on Masked Magician parody was written by my brother.
  • Jesus: The Teenage Years has been received well by those who don’t mind a bit of light sacrilege.
  • People also seem to like Royal Pregnancy, our most topical sketch – written, filmed and edited overnight after the announcement of the royal baby on the 3rd of December.
  • Though I hesitate to link to it, this terribly vulgar Singing Kettle parody is our most viewed video and one of the few that seems to be continuing to accumulate views. People are disgusting, and clearly I can’t exclude myself from that statement.

And that’s just a scattering of the sketches we made. If you enjoy these, please do go and watch the others (and delve into the older videos on our YouTube channel if you feel like it). One of the most interesting things about this whole project was seeing other people’s reactions to what we did. Even though we weren’t sure of some of them, I’ve heard almost every sketch being singled out by someone as one of the highlights. Which suggests to me not only that we didn’t make too many irredeemably bad sketches, but that we made quite a variety of them to appeal to different tastes. That may be the thing I’m most proud of, and reassured by. 🙂

FLipping expensive

FL Studio playing a loop, as it is wont to do.

I just bought FL Studio. Nothing makes me feel like I’m getting stuff done more than buying a useful and pricey piece of software that I’ll feel guilty if I don’t use. Following similar distinctly first-world logic, my friend Gavin recently bought a Kindle to make himself read more. This method could be the premise for a whole line of self-help books: Guilt Yourself Into… Greater Productivity! Quitting Smoking! Learning Spanish! (The books would themselves be insanely expensive so you felt you had to make good use of them. That’s the first step, you see.)

So far FL seems like it has everything I want, which is basically just a piano roll with lots of possible voices. I’ve been using the hilariously outdated Magix Midi Studio 2004 for a long time, and I’ll probably still use it for initial arrangements since I’m used to the way it works and can compose fast in it, but the standard midi voices it lets you use are pretty much useless for anything approaching a final mix.

For what seems like forever I’ve been searching for a new sequencer with the simplicity of Magix but with more voices, filters and general options. I’ve downloaded dozens of trial versions and dismissed them all for what would sound like petty reasons. I’ve probably tried FL five times before, but it never clicked until yesterday (when I found the metronome button – badum-tsh). Now I’m excited to use it to add oomph to some mixes.

Sonic Triangle, in and around a tree.

Said mixes are for Project Bubble, which is my codename for the new Sonic Triangle EP, due out some time this summer if we get our act together. Sonic Triangle has existed since 2009-ish, and is made up of my friend Heather (singer), my brother James (person who can actually play instruments) and me (main songwriter and mixer). If you don’t know us, we do slightly weird, slightly noisy, prettily melodic pop songs, which you can hear on our website if you’re into that kind of thing.

If I have one regret about our output so far, it’s that it sounds overly keyboardy. Not just electronic – I don’t have a problem with that – but keyboardy. This is no great surprise since our only real instrument is the keyboard, which James plays very well, but something about building a song out of layers and layers of keyboard just makes it sound unsatisfying to me. I feel like we got away with it on our first EP, but it really bothers me on Morning Star in particular. The bass just doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t overpower you, you don’t feel it in all your nerve endings as the song seems to demand. I still intend to go back and mix it again when I feel I can do it justice.

Hopefully FL will help us add a new kind of awesome to our tracks, but I won’t know for sure until I get to grips with it. I also have a doorstop of a book on audio mixing which I should really read at some point. So don’t say you weren’t warned if I end up blogging about synths and reverb and phase and stuff.