My name is Kareem Powell and – as you can guess – I’m the guy behind this. So… What is the Sunstrike Files all about?
Like many musicians around the world, my livelihood has been put “on hold” due in large part to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Being the caregiver to my 77-year-old mother, playing out publicly in crowds is just too risky… particularly as we near the winter months where more activities are going indoors and the infections are surging.
THAT SAID… The world is still a beautiful place, even if we can’t go out and see it. There are billions of people out there creating amazing art, whether you are talking music, photography, painting, etc. I’m fortunate enough to know more than a few and decided “Well… We’re still creating art. Our stories still need to be told. Why not just have a site dedicated to doing just that?”
And so… “USA Election Eve”, I bought the domain name and set up the media channels. While everyone is watching tonight’s insanity, I’ll be working to put these different parts together and start lining up friends to start bragging about.
Now… As awesome as Facebook and other forms of social media are, the ONLY way we’re going to reliably keep in touch is if you sign up for The Sunstrike Files mailing list.
And who knows… Are you doing anything cool? Drop me a line. It’s time to get some art out there.
If you haven’t checked out my first stab at creating multi-track videos, it’s an original setting for Psalm 27. I kept it short and sweet just to give it a shot. Though my vocals are weak, I actually was pleased with how it came out.
The second one was a little more challenging than I had originally planned, but the idea came to me about 4 AM when I was trying to sleep, so I went and sketched it out. (I sketched #3 immediately after it. Yeah, I got no sleep.) It’s a setting of Amazing Grace, but not the melody you’re used to. I wanted to play with some harmonies in there. Originally, I wrote it in C because I was going to hit up one of my friends to help me out, but I decided not to get ahead of myself. (Second stab at this. Let me get used to messing around with videos of myself for now.) SO… I transposed it down to G. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty, but I can sometimes get a G out.
One thing when it comes to transposing songs is that the further you get away from the “original” key, the more likely you are going to have to revoice the “accompaniment” – or the background vocals – and depending on where the notes wind up, you may at times even have to tweak the harmonies. Even when I play a piano part and change keys, I make adjustments like that to stay within the area of the piano that works best for the song. It’s exactly the same when you are arranging for voices. You write for who you have and your particular circumstance.
I used the exact same process as I mentioned in the previous entry, but I ended up using a Jazz Waltz drum groove to keep the tempo this time. (I used an Afro-Cuban one on the last one. It beats dealing with a metronome click BY A MILE.) The Finale track was helpful as a reference track to line everything up. Then, I just yanked it before rendering the video. I’m aggravated a bit at this one note I didn’t catch when I recorded the parts, but I made a rule that I would not get bogged down with any more than two takes.
Anyway… Here it is. My second Multi-Track Video. Amazing Grace.
So… One of my “projects” for 2021 is learning how to do multi-track videos.
There are a number of reasons the idea came to mind, particularly in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic that has killed 406 Million Americans in the last ten months. If you haven’t checked, virtual ensembles – bands, choirs, etc. – have EXPLODED during that time. The people who already knew how to do this had a leg up on everyone else.
Though I’m primarily a pianist and music director, I also happen to love arranging. Pulling together the people to learn the arrangements – much less during an uncontrolled pandemic – is a bit of a challenge. Straight out: That is often one of those areas that either 1.) you need good friends to help you pull it together or 2.) you gather people who might not be as experienced, but haven’t been told they can’t do it. The time you waste trying to convince people in-between the two that it is possible and you know what you’re doing is better spent actually doing it with people who will actually try it.
Rule of thumb: Professionals can do it easily, just expect to pay them or trade favors. Amateurs are receptive to coaching. It’s that spectrum in-between where you tend to get the most resistance, because it is actually a referendum on whether they consider you “worthy” enough to lead them, much less coach them. (And it will likely have nothing to do with your actual skill or talent.) Work with people who will work with you and don’t waste time with the rest, because they’ll just get in your way jockeying for position.
Anyway… Before I actually work with people on this thing I’ve never actually done, I decided to maybe figure out a bit more about what I’m doing. Keep things simple. Particularly when your equipment is a cell phone, a tablet, a video editing program that is 12 years old, and a computer with memory problems that will throw the blue screen of death if you look at it the wrong way. I decided to just stick with one performer – aka ME – and one instrument – aka my B- voice – and keep the distance between me and the cell phone about the same. Keep in mind, I know nothing about either video or sound editing beyond what I’ve stumbled into. There are people better than me who can pull this stuff.
So I began by writing out a quick arrangement. Since I’m at the Book of Psalms, I took a line from Psalm 27 (The Lord Is My Light) and the first melody that came to mind and just spun harmony from that. (I’m not sure, but I’m suspicious that first line may be the Avengers theme. I haven’t watched the movies in a while.) Then I scored the arrangement in Finale – which is the ONLY current software on my computer – and added an Afro-Cuban drum groove. (The Metronome Click was driving me up the wall.) Then, I printed out the vocals and then exported the sound file as a WAV. The sound file is extremely important if you want to keep everything together. Once I emailed the sound file to my tablet, I was ready to start recording.
For recording, I used a set of over-ear headphones. It’s important to hear yourself if you’re doing vocals, especially if you’re not using a microphone. I know there are a lot of people who jam buds in their ears, but that drives me up the wall. I paired my headphones to my tablet and then used my phone to actually do the recording. Because I wasn’t in the mood to spend a lot of time on it, I went with two takes for each part, singing along with the track I made in Finale. My tone was crap, but there’s nothing wrong with my ear at all. Once I had my videos, this was the part I was the most nervous about.
My video editor is 12 years old. It’s Adobe Premier 10 and – as I mentioned before – my desktop has memory issues. Dealing with updated versions may have made things simpler, but I don’t have the income to dedicate to that right now, particularly with something I’m just learning how to do. Since my videos were short, I hoped that would get them through. Straight out: If you want to learn how to actually use a video editing program, do what I did: get on YouTube. Fortunately, there was a video of someone actually using Adobe Premier Elements 9 and what he did worked for me. Since I knew how it was supposed to sound – aka… D’UH, I’m a music director and that is what I do – the most tedious part was actually getting the videos to line up. Fortunately, the sound file I exported from Finale made that fairly easy. Using that as a reference, I just had to get used to bumping the individual parts backwards and forwards one at a time with the track and then checking to see if they lined up with each other. I expect that as I practice this more, I’ll get better at it.
So… Here’s my first stab at doing this. I’ll probably mess around with vocals some more until I get the hang of it and then maybe start expanding outward from there. Got any suggestions that I could try? Drop me a reply.
I assume that if you made it to this website, this is something that you want to know yourself! Put simply: There are a lot of artists and people out in this world doing cool things and having awesome adventures. I decided that there needed to be a platform which could tell and share their stories.
So… I made one! This is basically what Sunstrike Files is about.
The video below gets a little bit more into detail about it.