Music Background

Ron One Person Band


Ron Plachno One Person Band Music

My Start in Music

I began playing a musical instrument at age 5 - an accordion - a musical instrument popular in those days. I had five years or so of accordion lessons - and I recall my Mom had to take an evening job to pay for it. What a sweet Mom. And yes I really mean that.  I recall her going to her night job and some days Dad and I would meet her for coffee break. 

And then I took clarinet and two years of clarinet lessons and then alto sax and then tenor sax with one more year of lessons. During that time I played in a number of bands, first an accordion band, a grammar school band and two different high school bands.

After eight years of lessons I then taught myself guitar, bass guitar, organ and then keyboards. Keyboards or organ are really not so different than an accordion. On both the right hand plays the melody and the left hand mostly plays chords, or variations of chords. From there I played guitar or bass guitar in a number of nameless bands some of which played for dances, and no, I do not remember how many dances. Often, someone would just grab a few of us for a dance they had gotten a contract for - or at least a verbal promise.

After that I got into a more serious four piece guitar band and for one year we played at large dances, a one night stand in Old Town Chicago, tried out once for a tour group, and a few other places. After a time we acquired an agent, joined the Chicago Musicians Union, and were booked for about a year into a lounge where at times we played five to eight hours a night, at least five nights a week. I quit that band when I graduated as an engineer, and actually took a cut in pay from band work to become a starting electronics engineer.

When the factory workers in our plant wanted a talent show for a picnic, I took on being the so called leader for that, but in truth we had a team of maybe 12 volunteers with different jobs - each of whom controlled their own area.  The team was great.  When I realized that many in the inner city have great voices, mostly from singing in churches they said, but they could not afford musical instruments, I put together a back up band.  I was the band leader and switched between keyboard and playing rhythm guitar.  However, several in the band were good and it was a good time and we backed up 6 or 7 singer acts or so.  The lead guitar player I thought was quite good and he also clearly had band experience since he was great, better than I was, for watching band problems and covering for them.  Yes, a band should be a team, and this guy was good at helping ensure it was a team.  The talent show, and hence our band, played for several thousand people that day, some of whom actually sat down listened and watched.

But it seems once music and even being in a band gets into your blood, at least for me it was hard to stop. It was not perhaps surprising that since I could not be around a band, I would do one person band stuff - of 5 to 15 parts or so that gave me the same kick. I used midi and a computer and a keyboard to layer a number of band sounds onto a computer midi file that becomes the back up band. Midi can have many sounds, at least 128 if not more and include multiple styles of drums, basses, guitars, pianos, organs, saxes, trumpets, trombones, string ensembles and far more. So nothing was limiting here. And then of course as I fed that composition into a multi track audio recorder I could then add live guitar or vocals or more. And then... one has a song... a one person band song.

I would never call myself a pro at any of this, since I mostly do "covers" and simple music. But even that takes some knowledge that I acquired along the way. One must learn the math or at least logic of how songs go together, with what rules with which places to try first for backup parts. I recently am finishing a book "Becoming a One Person Band" to share what I learned. I am not an egotist and I believe many could do what I do and did. I hold nothing back from the book - at least nothing on purpose.

Home Recording Studios

I had two. Why two? The first went obsolete. That happens The first was together in about 1991 or 1992 and I did a number of songs between those dates and about the year 2000 when that recording studio went out of date. I have a number of recorded songs from that era and some might be shown on this same site.

But missing the old home recording studio, I bought a few inexpensive pieces recently to get the system back into operation. Of course anything relating to computers goes out of date, but also multi track recorders are better, smarter and less expensive now. So about mid 2013 I had my new recording studio put together. It is about 80% of the old studio and 20% new. Of course my musical instruments, my two guitars and my two keyboards never go out of date. And also many of the electronics I have also never went out of date. So I had a good starting point to redo my studio.

How Good Is It?

I am certainly not an egotist. I do not write songs. (Well except for one instrumental song somewhere today in the Library of Congress for a video game I was doing.)  I do orchestration however, and plan and do multiple parts to a song, most of it without sheet music. And how? Well, I cover much of that in the book I am finishing, but basically music while being creative also must follow some rules. And similar to a CSI technique, a person can figure out the patterns, and also the "rules" that this song must follow. Yes, of course, some creative things break the rules, but most popular music does follow patterns. As for my vocals, well, what I can say. They are not as bad as when I started ... ha ha. If these mp3 songs seem amateurish, you should see the stuff I "left on the cutting room floor".

Compared to others?

To whom? I really seldom run into anyone who both does "one person bands" and also approaches it the same way.  Yes, there have been one person bands before.  Perhaps the most colorful was the Dick Van Dyke one person band in the movie Mary Poppins.  If you think I am going to say one word against Dick's performance, you would be wrong.  I would instead say "colorful, good voice, and quite entertaining".  The dude clearly had a lot of energy as well.   Perhaps I should go on the same diet plan.

The system I use for my home recording studio is a combination of "midi" and of direct audio recording.  This gives me a great deal of options that some sounds can be done either way:  midi or live audio.  This allows me to be able also to do as many as 30 separate recording tracks with doing nothing fancy at all.  If I add some fancy techniques, the sky is the limit.  But 30 tracks is enough to amuse me.

As for "what is midi?", well "midi" stands for musical instrument digital interface.  It is a "plan" for how to do music rather than the music audio itself.  It is a modern equivalent of how player pianos work or how music boxes work and function.  In those two last cases audio is not stored.  What is stored is what notes should be played, and for how long, and when.  Playing a keyboard into midi, the "plan" is saved.  Of course in our modern day, we are much more complicated than player pianos were many years ago.  Midi also stores what musical instrument of 128 or more to use, what notes to play - where do they start, how long are they?  They store the "velocity" the attack of the notes such as hitting the keys harder on a piano, they store your requested volume and volume changes during the piece, as well as the settings for reverb, tremolo and more.  They store the panning - the amount of music from that particular instrument to go to the left channel and the remainder to the right channel - and you can even change panning during a number to simulate a musician walking across a stage.  It also does pitch bend, aftertouch, and more that I likely forgot here.  It is very much a complete plan for how to do music.  And then after editing the midi, editing it more, and editing it still further, then when done I send the midi data into a "sound canvas" to convert it to audio - and then add other audio such as vocals or live guitars to it in a multi channel audio recorder.

As for other people, I find some who only use midi and I find some who only use audio recording.  I use both.  I love having that option.

But there are others - other people

I can see their blogs, I can see the expensive equipment that they buy.  I would imagine that this is a very small group of people, but that many of the others are in it to supply background music to others for pay.  Me?  I do it for amusement, and also for learning.

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