How I Met TriPops, Part 2

Ah good!  You stayed tuned for the next installment, which covers the “we” and “us” mentioned previously.  The first installment revealed a brief glimpse of how I got started in my desire to record music; a long-deferred dream.  Initial attempts brought only major frustration until I found Trimordial Studio Las Vegas, where owner, Roy Rendahl, a master sound engineer and more, opened up a whole new world of endless possibilities for me. Fast forward to my next meeting with Roy, when he introduced me to the “we can do all that”part of this dynamic “micro”studio, TriPops Music Production and his longtime business partner (another musical “savant”), Ale Oliver.

Chuk Peña with Alex Oliver of TriPops Music Production at Trimordial Studio Las Vegas.
Chuk Peña and Alex Oliver

Turns out, Alex moved to Las Vegas some years ago from Los Angeles where he was a teacher.  He needed to sort of “chill out” from the daily “grind” of living in a megalopolis and all the garbage that accompanies that kind of environment.  However, to my good fortune, it turned out that Alex was born into a full-blown music family full of “session musicians.”  In the event you may not be familiar with that term, these are the unsung guys and gals that make the”stars” sound so fabulous on their albums.  Yeah—even Bob Dylan!  If you ever have the chance to rent or buy the documentary movie, “Wrecking Crew,” you’ll fully nderstand what I’m talking about. And TriPops, like those session musicians I just mentioned, obviously were (and still are) the unsung heroes for many “wannabes” like Chuk Peña, as evidenced by the albums of past and current clients adorning their studio.

Well, getting back to Alex, it wasn’t long into our threesome conversation that I realized I had found a true “diamond in the rough.”  When I stated that Roy was a master sound engineer, and more, it soon became apparent that Alex was Roy on the other half of the recording cycle.  Like, I mean, aside from all the fabulous recording equipment available to “play” with, Alex can play umpteen instruments, create arrangements, get you to sing far beyond your wildest dreams.  The best, and worst of all, he’ll make constructive critiques of your recording performances until you’re not sure if you want to cry, pack it up and go home, or dig in deeper and find your inner star power!  And, his sidekick, Roy is no different!  I remember one Saturday doing 4 different takes of my guitar/vocal tracks for a new song I wrote, after which they looked at each other, then me, and “gently” said, “Chuk, you need to go home and practice some more!”  And, that’s why TriPops Music Production is such a “find!”  They simply invest their time and energy making you the best you can be! And, they do it all on their nickel because their business model is to defer taking money from a client until they and the client are 110 percent satisfied with the finished product!  And, they always remind me,”Chuk, remember, you are the producer; we are here to only serve you!” That’s when the Chuk just has to crack-up.

So, where’s this going? What’s it really all about? Simply this—back in the winter of 2015, a very naive “wannabe” recording artist, by happenstance, met two highly experienced “micro” recording specialists to help record his first cover song, “Chelsea Hotel” (written and recorded by Leonard Cohen). Thirty plus songs and almost 4 years later, we no longer are simply vendor-client, but the best of friends! Hell, I don’t even mind being sent home anymore!  And, despite several awards and a YouTube following, I find myself still “crafting” my skills.

Hmm, that gives me an idea.  Maybe next time I’ll share the joys and frustrations of learning to play my guitar in the Travis Picking style, or even slide guitar.

How I Met TriPops, Part 1

Ya know, for an amateur recording artist, I’ve been blessed with the fortune of having a simply stellar production, recording, and graphics crew continually by my side—TriPops Music Production and Trimordial Studio Las Vegas.  At this point, they are sort of “family” and an extended “appendage” of my strumming/picking and vocal arm, if you know what I mean.  Given that, and what I’ve been able to achieve since I started recording with them sometime back in 2015, I felt that they needed a rightfully deserved tribute from me—just one of many who pass through their doors.  

Chuk Peña recording with TriPops Music Production at Trimordial Studio Las Vegas.
Chuk Peña

You know how we have the standard big breweries and zillions of outrageous “micro” breweries? It’s the same in the recording industry. And, for my money, TriPops Music Production is one of those “micro” production/recording studios that is a standout from the crowd!  I have too much to say on the subject for a single blog, so here comes the first installment—meeting Roy Rendahl, Certified Audio Engineer extraordinaire (not to mention one helluva bass guitarist!).

Let’s jump back in time a bit, before Roy, so you’ll understand how I got here.  I think it was during the winter of 2015, I had a bug up my ass to record a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” and finally get my music out there by whatever means available to me—maybe YouTube, or Facebook, or a even a Chuk Peña website, etc. Completely ignorant of what it takes to develop a decent recording, I contacted a highly successful recording studio in Nashville, thinking this was a piece of cake, and summarily got my comeuppance!  My thought was, record your guitar and vocal and get it to them, and they will turn your cover into a masterpiece—for a fee of course!  Nashville style!  WRONG!

This young savvy guy in Nashville says to me, “No Chuk. We don’t work that way (I’m sure in his head, he was probably adding ‘you dumb dolt’)!  You need to go to a local Las Vegas recording studio first, and record your guitar to what is known as a click track. Next, while listening to your guitar track via a nice quality pair of headphones, sing the lyrics. Then, have the recording studio send us the recorded tracks and we will make you warble like a canary with a full band sound to boot!” 

What the f**k is a click track,” I asked.  The young man was patient and explained how the speed of all songs is measured by the number of beats that occur in the space of a minute. Beats Per Minute or BPM is how that measurement is notated. A click track is like a metronome in your ear that helps you record your instrument or vocal in time to the desired BPM.  You want to do a cover, we need you to record the song at the same BPM Leonard Cohen did.  Ok, given the tutorial, I thought this was going to be a “slam dunk,” so I got on the Internet looking for recording studios here in Vegas. My thinking was that a big, prestigious studio wasn’t going to be interested in such a “micro” job as this, so I focused on smaller venues.  One studio website that popped up was “Trimordial Studio.” In addition to recording, they created and hosted websites, plus did graphics and video production, etc.  I liked the name so I called and got Roy Rendahl, the owner. Explaining my needs for a click track recording of “Chelsea Hotel,” he said he could easily accommodate me. On top of that, I found out that Roy was from Winona, Minnesota (a little town near Rochester), whereas I had moved to Las Vegas from Minneapolis, MN.  A match made in heaven, right?  Let’s see!  Thinking this was going to be a no-brainer, I booked an hour with Roy one afternoon, and came prepared to hit the ground running!

Chuk Peña with Roy Rendahl of TriPops Music Production at Trimordial Studio Las Vegas.
Chuk Peña and Roy Rendahl

Well, to cut to the chase, and much to my chagrin, I might have spent 2-3 hours with Roy, and damned if I could NOT play my guitar to a click track.  It became very apparent that click tracks and I were literally like fire and ice.  I was frustrated to no end, at which point I said to Roy, “Ya know, I can play my guitar and sing this song fabulously, but I do it my way, meaning the beats per minute don’t matter to me as long as the finished product sounds great. So why can’t we just record my guitar the way I feel it, forget the whole BPM mess, then record my vocal to my guitar track? What’s wrong with that?”  To which the Master Audio Engineer said, “We can!  Regardless of what recording speed is the ‘right feel’ for you, using a metronome or click track just makes the rest of the recording process much easier, but we can work around that.”

Oh man, I felt this dark cloud of frustration fade into the air—it was Nirvana!!!  But, then I told him those guys in Nashville wouldn’t work with that kind of recording—they needed my guitar and vocal to be in their idea of perfect timing in order to add more instruments or vocals, then mixing, mastering, etc. to do justice to the song.  To which Roy calmly said, “We can do all that; and you don’t pay us a penny until you are 110% satisfied.”  I was blown away!

And that’s how I met Roy Rendahl!  As to the “who” of the aforementioned “we” and “us,” stay tuned for my next installment…

What Can I Do With A Degree in Music?

I began thinking about this question several weeks ago because 1) my son Chris asked me the question, and 2) one of our dear friends, whose daughter graduated from Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (LVA) as a Vocal Major and a straight A student on the academic side auditioned and was accepted into the Berklee College of Music. Her name is Hannah and she will graduate in December.  I told Chris to ask his private teacher, Lynzii O’Connor that question because my answer would be limited, and she provided this great “wheel” graphic as an answer.

Getting back to Hannah, 6 months after she entered Berklee, she declared that she would not continue her quest to become a “professional vocal performer” because she had seen, in just 6 months, enough talented vocal majors to understand that as good a vocalist as she is, in her mind, she didn’t stand a chance in hell of making it! So, she set her goal to focus on the “business” side of music (Berklee and all these major Music schools teach the business side of music too). Hannah has now focused her sights on becoming a booking agent.  She posted a really nice piece about her decision on her Facebook page, starting off with the statement that performers (whether single or groups) need to get onto Spotify and from there, how important it is to be booked into the right gig venues that match with your music and performance techniques.

Chris asked me the question because he already knows how hard it is to make it in JAZZ.  He is now seeing the level of competition he is facing daily, just at LVA.  He’s also sees how much his LVA JAZZ band role models practice compared to him.  For instance, Lynzii’s third year LVA student Ian, a Tenor saxophonist (who made it into Jazz Band 3 his Sophomore year and is Chris’s “idol” and “role model”) practices 4 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And, he told Chris how he divides his daily 4 hour practice sessions up.  Another one of Lynzii’s LVA Jazz Band 3 students, Stone (Baritone sax), told Chris he doesn’t practice much during the school week, but practices virtually all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  These 2 are headed for the big Music schools with Lynzii’s help.  They also have the overall grades!  They have the “passion” for their instrument. Chris? As good as he is, he is struggling to find that “passion” for one’s instrument that drives you to practice almost unconsciously, without having to think about it!  Passion leads you to Commitment, which further leads you to continuous and consistent Practice.  That in turn takes you, over time, to a “near perfect” saxophonist.  However, what distinguishes one Tenor saxophonist from another, in JAZZ, is “improvisation techniques.”

So, what can one do with a music degree? Many wonderful things, as long as they figure out what they want from it, and have the drive and passion to go after it!

Origins of “A Country Without A Country”

Crumpled USA flag
Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

The content of this blog was original shared on my Chuk Peña Music Facebook page on May 28, 2019, and now that I have access to my blog again, I share it here, as well. All figure and information was current in May.

The idea for my song, “A Country Without A Country,” came to me while watching a segment of CNN back in March of this year. These are some of the thoughts that helped me create the song.

There was a time in this f**d up country, when we had true leaders and true politicians, who, despite their party or differences, KNEW HOW TO GET THINGS DONE!!! Worked for the common good of all Americans. Party was party, but when it came down to “doing the right thing” (thank you Spike Lee), it was done! These politicians of yore had respect for one another, despite their differences, yet fell in line to pass various pieces of legislation thru the years because, in part, they saw something bigger than themselves.

Then, several years ago, something unimaginable happened. An unknown “plague” came one night, invaded every square inch of our political environment, and to put it bluntly, infused Congress with a “political paralysis” the world has never seen. Neither political party knew how to communicate with each other. We were forced to enter wars that made no sense. The country fell into one of its deepest recessions. The banking industry came within inches of collapsing. The country’s first Black President was “nailed to the cross” in so many ways. The diversity, racism, and bigotry that always existed simply spread like a metastatic cancer to the point where today in America, we may be more divided than ever, in so many ways — politically, morally, and more. To add to all that misery, the “electoral college,” not the populous, put a pathological lying tyrant divisive racist businessman, with zilch political experience nor true business savvy into the White House due to his appeal to the same masses who think like he does. A man who has already told over 10,000 lies and his party and illiterate followers hang on every word that comes out of his mouth and still can’t get enough! A man who emphasizes his brilliance, yet has threatened every academic institution with a lawsuit if they release his grades or SAT/PCT scores. A man who has isolated the greatest country on earth from all of its global allies while extending olive branches to the world’s worst enemies.

AND, now what? The 2020 elections are virtually upon us and both the Democratic and Republican parties are totally broken to the point that there isn’t one Democratic Presidential candidate worth voting for as a result of age, political views, inexperience — you name it! As apposed to earlier years, the Democratic party is totally splintered into socialists, centrists, and conservatives with not one Presidential candidate having any “political currency.” Even the great Joe Biden may not be the candidate to unite the Democratic party and garnish enough votes to win in 2020.

On the Republican side, there is only one challenger to Trump, and all the good Republicans have left and are leaving the party, while what remains are Republicans who don’t dare challenge Trump on anything, with the exception of one who has called for impeachment!

A country without a country, seemingly in an ever downward spiral from what it once was. So divided, tattered, and torn that yesterday, I saw tears streaming down the faces of the stalwart leaders carved for eternity into the ever so firm stone of Mt. Rushmore, and the face of Abraham Lincoln sitting so very solemnly at the Lincoln Memorial.

A country built on the backs of migrants from every country on this planet, which now wants to build walls to keep human beings wanting a better life from the tyranny and despair they face daily from heeding the call from our Lady Statute of Liberty… “bring me your tired, your poor…”

Introducing Chuk Peña

Prime Chuk is the blog for “Chuk Peña, Recording Artist,” a singer-songwriter-musician in Las Vegas, Nevada, US. The music is comprised of covers and originals in several genres including folk ballads, light blues, and soft rock, with over 30 songs recorded and currently found on YouTube. This blog is yet another extension of my voice beyond the music.

Why Prime?  Because Chuk is “A Cut Above the Rest”