Voice care: 8 ways to take care of your throat when you’re a singer

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Voice care: 8 ways to take care of your voice when you're a singer • CharlotteBax.nl

Man, it’s flu time again! I sort of half escaped it this year (just got a sore throat and a runny nose for 3 days), but my S.O. really had a bad time quite recently!

If there’s one thing you absolutely don’t want as a singer than it’s illnesses related to your throat and lungs. Voice care is very important. You may only feel bad for a few days, but it can have effect on your voice for a very long time.

I know some people who can sing “through” it: my vocal teacher has this great story about her final exams, and I once did a major audition whil suffering from a nasty case of pneumonia. But best to avoid such things altogether!

Today, I give you 9 ways to care for your voice.

1 – Tea with honey

Even if you’re not a singer, drinking is important anyway. It is the best way to help your body clean itself on the inside. Also, you don’t want to get dehydrated (duh). Drinking tea is my favourite way to stay hydrated: there’s tons of options! I prefer grean tea and rooibos with a sponnful of honey.

Honey is the best stuff ever! All honey is said to be anti-microbial, but there are some studies that actually prove it for Manuka honey (= tea tree). And because I’m a total tea and honey snob, of course I have to buy the Manuka honey nowadays in stead of the cheapest brand available 😉

2 – Ginger-honey-lemon-drink

The holy trinity of sore throat remedies: ginger, lemon and honey. I usually put 2-3 slices of lemon, twice as much ginger and a generous blob of honey in a tea pot and pour hot water on it. Enough for 3-4 cups.

3 – Liquorice

In the Netherlands liquorice is kind of a thing. You can’t walt past the sweets department in a Dutch supermarket without noticing the shelves and shelves full of different brands and varieties of liquorice. I totally love that stuff. Just sucking on a piece and letting it melt slowly in your mouth will create a protective layer of sugar and saliva in your throat.

Be aware to grab the sweet liquorice variety and not the salty! There’s even special honey liquorice. Win win.

4 – Stepsils / Strepfen

My favourite throat medicine. Strepsils are a well-known brand here in the Netherlands for fighting sore throats. They also have a more heavy-duty pastille: Strepfen. This is basically Strepsils combined with ibuprofen painkillers. Best invention ever. Make sure you don’t overdose though.


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5 – Fisherman’s Friends

Not just Fisheerman’s Friends, they’re also singer’s friends! Very minty menthol sweets. These are my favourites when my nose and sinuses are all clogged up. The freshness opens it up and makes it possible to breathe at least properly.

6 – Fireman / brandy

This on is a little tricky, especially when talking voice care. Alcohol is not really healthy, especially when you’re ill. It lowers your immune system a little extra. Not the best idea. However, when you feel a sore throat coming up, a shot of Fireman or brandy can really make you feel better.

Fireman is basically Fisherman’s Friends in fluid form. It helps to open up your sinuses. And alcohol kills bacteria (hand sanitizer, hospital soap, you get the idea). Just remember to keep it to a minimum.

7 – Steaming

Pour some hot water in a bowl, add some chamomile tea and breathe in the steam. It helps to unclog your sinuses and also feels great when your throat feels raw from coughing.

8 – A hot eucalyptus shower

Basically steaming, too, but a bit easier. When using eucalyptus shower gel, it’s a lot easier to breathe and you feel very refreshed afterwards.

What is your favourite way to care for your voice when sick? Share your experience in the comment section below!

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How to up your virtual orchestration game in 6 easy steps

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How to up your virtual orchestration game in 6 easy steps • CharlotteBax.nl

As a composer or songwriter, there’s no way you haven’t ever worked with MIDI or virtual instruments. Sure, you can produce some music with just your voice and a piano or guitar, or record some other musicians (and that’s perfectly fine!), but eventually you want more. You want strings, exotic instruments or maybe even a whole orchestra.

Problem is, people are expensive. Every person has an hourly rate for their work and an orchestra can easily be made up of 60 people or more! And then I’m note even talking about finding a recording studio big enough…

So, people invented MIDI. People invented awesome virtual instruments which, if used correctly, can sound like the real deal. But how on earth do you create a virtual orchestration that sounds like the real thing?

This is my plan of attack!

6 steps to upping your virtual orchestration game • CharlotteBax.nl

1 – Create your arrangement

Firstly, you need some music to start with. Choose your instruments and write your parts down in the piano roll window. You can do this by clicking with a mouse, or by playing on a MIDI keyboard, or by importing MIDI fils rendered by Finale or… Whatever suits your style and workflow.

I use the virtual instruments from the East West Composer Cloud. They sound wonderful and you have tons of different instruments at your fingertips for a reasonable monthly fee. Comes in quite handy if you can’t pay a few hundred dollars per package. ~ €30 per month is really affordable for even students.

2 – Add keyswitches

Whenever possible, I add the master keyswitch instrument to my track, and not just legato or staccato or whatever. This way, I can change the expression of every note in a part very easily by just placing a keyswitch note just before it. When you sing or play a melody, it’s never entirely legato, or staccato. There are tons of options: portato, with or without sordino, pizzicato, slides, trills, with or without vibrato, soft or hard attacks… Anything is possible!

3 – Set the velocity

Velocity is basically the speed with which you start a note. For example on a piano: if you slowly press a key, it will give a soft tone, quickly or more aggressively pressing a key results in a harsher tone.

For my way of virtual orchestration, I do this in two rounds: firstly, I set the general velocity for every section. When I’m done, I’m on to the details: accented notes, crescendos and decrescendos.


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4 – Humanize

Logic has this great function called “Humanize”: it lets you select a part (or all) of your notes and humanize them: displacing them a little, making them a little longer and shorter or softer or harder using a random algorithm, combined with some parameters you set yourself. No human ver plays everything perfectly straight like a robot, so neither should your virtual orchestration sound like one.

5 – Tempo

Just like not every note is played the same, neither is the tempo always exactly the same. The beginning and end of every musical phrase are a little slower, and at its peak it’s always a little faster. It takes some time, but add little, almost unnoticeable tempo changes in your song.

6 – Volume

This is largely coherent with velocity. When you have soft or loud parts, sometimes just low and high velocitis don’t cut it. A crescendo or descrescendo needs to actually sound like one. Use small volume changes to enhance the effect of your velocity changes.

 

That’s it! Now get to work yourself! Let me know if you have any questions, or just post a link to your music if this blogpost helped you a great deal! You can do that in the comment section below or on social media. I’d love to hear from you!


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Coming out story: I’m a spooniepreneur

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Coming out story: I'm a spooniepreneur • CharlotteBax.nl

As you may know by now, I’m a graduated musician and entrepreneur: or, as I’d like to call it, a musicpreneur. I’m trying my hardest to earn a living by creating music: by writing songs, selling music, writing custom scores for people, by blogging about music creation and trying to get other people to make music.

But what most of you don’t know, is that I’m also a spooniepreneur. (I don’t know who started this <anything>preneur thing on the internet, but let’s keep it!) I’m a Spoonie with her own business. I suffer from chronic fatigue and pain almost every day for some years now.

Previously, I could manage quite well (and I still can most of the days) – just sleeping in a bit longer, I didn’t have much classes during college, and as an entrepreneur I can choose my own office hours. But every year I notice I get a bit worse, and I can’t pretend anymore that nothing is wrong with me. It affects me in every aspect of my life, so a little while ago, I started to call myself a Spoonie.

What on earth is a Spoonie?

A spoonie is basically anyone with decreased energy levels due to chronic pain or fatigue who identifies with the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. This could be because they have a chronic illness or a disability, but also maybe because they had an accident. Or maybe they aren’t diagnosed (yet). They don’t necessarily look sick, but they sure feel like it!

In short, the Spoon Theory is a method to explain to a healthy person how it is to live with a chronic, energy draining condition. It measures energy in spoons. Healthy people seem to have an infinite supply of spoons – they can do anything they want. A Spoonie’s spoons are limited. And every activity costs a spoon. Not only things like going to school, work, or the supermarket, but also the thing you never think about, such as showering, brushing your hair, putting on clothes, or even getting out of bed when you’re sore and stiff! And when you run out of spoons… You’re done for the day. I sometimes overestimate myself and then I need a reeeeeally long nap in the afternoon. Or I overfilled my weekend with social activities and need a few days to recover.

I’m not going into detail now, but please read the Spoon Theory on Christine’s website. It is a very compelling story and you really get to understand how it is to live with a chronic condition.

   Read the full Spoon Theory

How does Spoonie life affect business?

First things first: all Spoonies are different. I have less spoons than healthy people, but I know very well that I have more spoons than a lot of other Spoonies. But still, I don’t have enough energy to work 40 hours a week. Usually, I can do 3-6 hours of energy consuming tasks a day, and I have to divide that between making music and doing household chores such as laundry or cleaning my bathroom or getting groceries.

When you’re low on energy, getting focused is a lot harder (as if ADHD wasn’t making it hard enough). It takes quite some energy to get into the zone, and when you’re distracted… You have to get into the zone all over again. On some days that means I just do my email and write one phrase of music. More is impossible that moment. But there are other days that are really great – when I overhauled my website I did it in 2 days working 8 and 10 hours. Mind you – afterwards I needed recover time.

This means a lot of things take longer to do for a spooniepreneur. But I feel really blessed to live in the 21st century. There are a lot of possibilities I wouldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago. But there ar also some downsides to modern life.

The upsides and downsides of modern society for a spooniepreneur

UPSIDE – Working from home

I can work from anywhere. Including home. Even my bed! Though I really prefer to sit on a chair at my desk. Feels better. Working from home means I don’t have to worry about 9 to 5 hours (I feel much more productive between 13:00 and 20:00), and I don’t have to spend energy looking neat and representative if I don’t feel like it.

I have a home studio, and everything I need can be ordered online. I don’t have to go to specialized shops on the other side of the friggin’ country to get a microphone or a synth or a new laptop. Stuff gets delivered at home. I love that.

UPSIDE – Working online & passive income

Isn’t it great? I can do what I love, work at my own pace, put it online and almost certainly there is someone in the world who likes it enough to pay for it. Isn’t that amazing? I would never have dreamed about that 10 years ago! With the internet, it has become much easier to earn passive income. Even when I can’t do regular jobs because I can’t work that much hours, I can focus my energy on creating something I’m proud of, and make multiple people happy with it. I can work. I can earn money. It’s not a fulltime income yet, but it’s a start!

DOWNSIDE – 24/7 Availability

With mobile phones, smartphones, social media and wireless internet, people can reach out to to anytime, anywhere. This seems nice – you can easily make a call if you’re late for dinner, you know exactly what the newest developments in your work area are, what news there is and what your friends are doing right now.

But we’ve come to expect that everyone is also available  anytime, anywhere. We get frustrated or anxious when someone doesn’t read your message or reply right away. It is becoming more and more difficult to get some off time and totally relax and recharge. And you might not notice it, but all of that also demands a lot of energy, and we don’t get the time to restore. Kind of bizarre, if you think of it?!

UPSIDE – Entrepreneurship allowance

I don’t know if this applies to the entire Netherlands, but in my city, I can get a special entrepreneurship allowance from a foundation called the ROZ. They complement your business profits by giving you a monthly allowance (max 3 years) so you reach minimum wage. When you start earning more, you get less allowance. This way they make sure you can start up your business worry-free moneywise. You can pay your rent and buy some food and if you’re doing it right, you’re left with a little money to invest in your business.

For me this means I can take the time I need for my startup, with is really nice and reassuring. I don’t have to worry about not being able to pay my rent, which is a hug relief.

DOWNSIDE – Feminism

In general, feminism is a good thing. Equal rights, women can vote, women can make decision about their own bodies and we can choose whichever job we like. But I think feminism has become too extreme. Nowadays, you must study, you must have a job, you must have a successful career, you must combine work with kids and a lot of friends and god knows what else.

But what if you just want to be a stay at home mom? Or not even a mom, but just stay at home and just do what you love, without necessarily wanting to make a fulltime salary? What if you actually like that? People look down on you. You “contribute to the suppression of women”.

Even if you don’t have the mental or physical energy for all of it, society demands it all. It has become the standard. It is not a choice anymore. Sometimes I ask myself if there would be less people with fatigue and stress related conditions if society was less hectic and demanding…

Are you a spooniepreneur? What bumps in the road do you encounter? How do you deal with it? I love to read your experiences in the comment section below!


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4 different apps to style your sheet music

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4 different apps to style your sheet music • CharlotteBax.nl

As a music creator, chances are big that you have to write some sheet music once in a while – whether you are selling the stuff or need it for studio musicians helping you out – a clear score and parts are essential.

But how do you produce a neat piece of sheet, huh? Old-fashioned pen and paper is nice for sketch scoring, but in most cases not suitable for creating a really beautiful set of sheet music. Unless you have fabulous handwriting of course. And the “scores” automatically produced by digital audio workstations such as Logic and Cubase simple hurt your eyes.

Anyway, for those of us who want a neat, typeset score, there are different options to choose from. Today I’ll show you all the sheet music software I’m acquainted with and give you the pros and cons. Then choose what works best for you!

1 – Finale

Available in two different versions: Notepad (free!) and Printmusic (more advanced and thus not so free). I’ve worked with Finale for quite some years and must say it’s rally easy to use and you get a decent score. However, it is difficult to align similar items sometimes, such as crescendo and decrescendo signs. Furthermore I think the default settings look a bit big and childish. Anyway, you can put notes in bars by just clicking, so anyone could actually crate something decent with this software. If you’re just starting out, Finale Notepad is great.

   Go to the Finale website

2 – Sibelius

I haven’t used this specific sheet music software myself, but have seen it countless times. Friends used it as a alternative for Finale. Just like Finale, Sibelius work with a simple point and click principle. If you want something weird – I mean, modern -, chances are you can write it down better or easier compare to Finale. Also, it is optimized for the Microsoft Surface Pro and your final result looks just a tad more elegant than Finale.

   Go to the Sibelius website

3 – Staffpad

Seriously guys, this thing is on my wishlist. It’s a Surface Pro based kind of sheet music software which lets you create elegant scores in a few seconds. Just like Sibelius, it combines the ease of writing with the neatness of a typeset score. Big pro is that it’s a lot cheaper than Sibelius.

   Go to the Staffpad website

4 – Lilypond

This is what I use right now: in my eyes the best open source sheet music software available. Lilypond lets you customize basically everything and you can do anything you want – even writing really weird stuff such as different time signatures simulaneously. (Let that sink in. Your soprano can do a 4/4 and your alto a 3/4 and Lilypond can just do that. I couldn’t figure that one out in Finale…) There’s one big downside: you have to code. It’s a Latex related kind of coding and it’s not really difficult (ad lets you do a boat load of complex stuff), but it takes a lot more time than just writing it down or the point and click based software.

   Go to the Lilypond website

What’s your pick? If you use anything not listed, please tell me more in the comment section below!

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DIY: A song plus a song is… another song!

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DIY: A song plus a song is another song • CharlotteBax.nl

There are countless different ways to write a song.

Some people just have parts of the melody, lyrics or accompaniment pop up in their head, and just have to glue them together. But what if you have to write a song and you can’t come up with something?

Today I’m going to tell you about on of my favourite ways to write a song: by combining two songs. And to make it happen in such a way, that nobody will notice you actually used old material to create something totally new!

As an example, I will show you how I’ve written “Dream On” all the way back in 2011.

1 – Choose two songs

First, of course, you need two songs to begin with. They can be your own, they can be someone else’s, it doesn’t really matter. I picked “Orinoco Flow” by Enya and “Now We Are Free” from the Gladiator soundtrack. Why? Because I like them. They make me happy. It can be that simple.

2 – What is it that appeals to you?

Now listen carefully. What you you love about those two songs? It can be anything, ranging from lyrics to chords to vocal style to structure to… virtually anything actually.

In Orinoco Flow I really loved the rhythm, in Now We Are Free the chord progression (or at least the to notes) stuck in my head.

Write these things down on paper, it makes the next steps so much easier.

3 – Time to combine!

Now – you really didn’t see this coming – it’s time to combine! There must be some way to fit these two seemingly unrelated parts of music together to create something entirely new.

For me it was quite easy: I played the Gladiator chord progression with the Enya rhythm. And it worked! I had something new that sounded great and it made me happy!

4 – Add something from yourself

Of course this is only the beginning. The real work starts right now!

Now you have your basis, you can go all out making it entirely your own. You can add a melody, you can add a bass line, arrange it using your signature instrument combination or whatever suits your needs.

5 – Now finish that song!

By now your had should be overflowing with ideas to finish that song. Maybe your created part is a verse or a chorus. Maybe you’re ready to add some lyrics. Write down every idea that sprouts from the combination of your chosen songs and make something beautiful!

Does this method make you a fake? No. Is it plagiarism? No – only if you make something that’s almost the same as the original, or if you take really large parts (for example I take a Nightwish song and only replace the melody). Plagiarism isn’t much fun anyway. You want to create something that’s totally you, right? You just happen to be inspired by certain small parts of other songs.

For your reference, this was my result, and does it sound anything like Enya or Gladiator? I bet not.

Are you trying this songwriting method? Let me know and post a link to your results in the comment section!

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