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Recording in Mexico: A Tour of the Estate


View from our balcony

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We are living in a palace in the jungle. My stay here has largely been quiet and peaceful, with spurts of adventure and debouchery from time to time. Huge thunderstorms arrive most days, bringing a welcome respite from the heat.

Please, let me show you around.

KLEPTISH = ETHAN = KLEPTISH. This is happening.

You can like Kleptish on Facebook, and RSVP to the album release concert September 12th.


It’s impossible to stay in a place like this without frequent bursts of gratitude:

  • for my dear friend and bandmate Jessica Doles. She was given the opportunity to housesit this retreat house, and was gracious enough to share her little slice of paradise with us.
  • for my dear friend and creative partner Stephen Shumaker, who’s been here these past two weeks. His support and help with our various creative projects has been immeasurable.
  • for the flexibility to devote July and August to my album project.
  • for the opportunity to learn so much about recording and my creative process every day. Which brings me to:

Lessons, Challenges

I have effectively removed myself from nearly all of the distractions and commitments from back home. So the old excuse, “I can’t create, I’m too busy” no longer applies. As expected, a whole new crop of internal creative roadblocks and challenges has popped up, and I continue to struggle with them every day.

Goals vs. Play

My creative partners and I use an elaborate system of daily, weekly, and long-term goal-setting, including rewards and punishments. While it’s helpful to channel my energies towards these milestones, there have been plenty of instances in which I’ve set overly ambitious goals and then crumbled into frustration when continued labors fail to produce, say, a completed track.

One item that was missing in those situations was play, good old-fashioned jamming out on synthesizers or a guitar, without any expectations that the sounds I’m making turn into anything final. And, as it happens, good, juicy, usable bits often result from such periods of play. I continue to experiment to find a winning ratio of play to focused effort.

The Many Hats of an Electronic Musician

In this excellent lesson from DJ Vespers, he notes that, in the past, a band would select their instruments, go to the studio, where a recording engineer would record their performances. The recordings would then be passed on to a mixing engineer, and then to a mastering engineer. Electronic musicians, however, generally perform every one of these steps themselves. A key, therefore, to avoid getting stuck or losing focus, is to execute each of these steps in order, without bouncing around.

The steps are:

  • Select your palette of sounds and instruments
  • Record layers of these instruments for various sections of the song (verse, chorus, etc.)
  • Arrange these recordings. For instance, starting the song with sparse instrumentation and then adding most of the instruments for the chorus or drop
  • Mix and master the track

This was exactly the advice I needed, since I would often find myself getting bogged down in the details of mixing before the song had been recorded or arranged. I successfully used this system while converting this acoustic track
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Thanks for following along with the journey to the album! On Thursday, it’s back to the states, and more recording in Berkeley and San Francisco.


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Notes From The Monastery

Phase II of album preparation complete: building mastery over the mind through meditation. (If you missed Phase I: The Plan, it’s here.)

Two years ago, I attended a Vipassana meditation course. Students spend 10 days without speaking and sit in meditation for 12 hours each day. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it inspired a lifelong, life-changing practice of introspection, non-attachment, and gratitude. If you’re reading this and you’re curious, do drop me a line–I highly recommend it, and it’s free.

Don’t take my word for it: Macklemore is a big fan of Vipassana and has attended multiple courses. That’s our teacher sampled at the beginning.

This time, I returned to serve a 10 day course, so I was part of the team that ran the kitchen. (Workers are allowed to talk.) We had a dream-team of servers–kind, bright, warmhearted people with fascinating stories from Nepal, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and Wales, all of whom have been practicing for longer than I have. We also had World Poetry Slam champion Buddy Wakefield, who toured with my hero Ani DiFranco.


Our team

I helped prep food, but most of my time was spent washing dishes. My experiment: determine which angles of dish-holding result in being sprayed directly in the face.

Preliminary results: most angles.

Preliminary results: most angles.

Server Schedule


We generally worked five hours and meditated five hours each day. I think that the mix of working and meditating will help me integrate the practice into everyday life.



So you know how songs get stuck in your head? I’ve noticed that I have a self-soothing tendency to sing songs (aloud or in my head) when I’m stressed. It’s not unlike other self-soothing tics I’ve observed in autistic kids I’ve worked with. So when left to meditate for hours on end, the songs just kept coming.

The following songs got at least 20 plays in Ethan-brain, often just a single verse or chorus on repeat. It’s not always a pleasurable experience.

  • Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
  • The Last Resort – The Eagles
  • Camptown Races – Traditional (This was a song on a Disney cassette tape I listened to on repeat at age three)
  • Die Young – Ke$ha (This one was stuck in my head when, in sitting, I gained perception of my pulse in my lips and fingertips, because the chorus is, “I feel your heart beat to the beat of the drum”)
  • Only – Nicki Minaj (Filthy)
  • Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers (Theme song)
  • Girl – Caroline Henderson
  • Don’t Want You Back – Jessica Doles
  • Silver Bells – Traditional Christmas song
  • Little Drummer Boy – The Worst Christmas Song

Epiphany (one of several)

Guess who

On day three, my solo-artist name and persona came to me. Stay tuned!

Next steps

So I returned to civilization with a more focused mind, recommitted to my meditation practice, and I’ve got a good feeling that that clarity will help me through the challenging album work ahead. Thus far, I’m 5 for 7 on meditating for an hour in the morning. This past week, I’ve spent around 40 hours in the studio with Tiger Tiger, Accici, and Wes Swing . . . some amazing music in the works. And on July 22nd, I depart for Mexico and work on my album begins in earnest.

Thanks for following along with my summer journey!

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Summer Album Adventure

I went through a breakup this spring. Such moments are a great opportunity to shake things up and take a look at unrelated areas of life that have gone unquestioned. To that end, I had the following thought:

You spend a lot of time in a supportive musical role, helping others bring their music to life. What if you carved out some time to find out what your music sounds like?

And so, my mission was born: record my first EP.


My mobile recording rig at The Penthouse

What I know so far:

The album will be electronic (synthesizers, drum machines, etc.) and many layers of vocals. It would be easier for me to create a folk album, but I think that my electronic sound palate will allow me to bring something more unique into the world.

I’ll be aiming to have six songs written by the end of July, so that I can select the best four. Perhaps I will be industrious and put out more than four, but four is the minimum goal.

The tools in my tool kit:

Reason 8: The most intuitive, modular, and musician-friendly digital audio workstation around. It’s been my native language since I picked up version 1 at age 13. So many synthesizers at my fingertips . . .

Studying the teachings of Pat Pattison (check out his free songwriting course)

A hard deadline: I hereby commit to release whatever tracks I have by September the 1st, 2015.

View from the house in Mexico

View from the house in Mexico


Exotic locales: the bulk of the recording and mixing of this album will take place in a retreat house in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and an apartment in North Beach, San Francisco.  I have a whole lot of gratitude for my friends Jessica and Jae, who have granted me the opportunity to create in such spaces.


Creative compatriots: While the bulk of this album project will be done by me alone, I will be creating alongside several other dear friends as part of an intentional “art-in”. We will help each other stay on track, set meaningful goals, and check in on progress.



That’s the plan! Ready, set, go!

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Roots Round Two

Craving some Stark Classics? Check out more of Ethan’s throwback tunes!

DISCLAIMER: Stark Classics are for novelty use only. They are not representative of Ethan’s current musical superpowers, and were made under the influence of large amounts of angst and synthesizers.

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Red Rubber Ball, 2010

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Apologize, 2011.

Want to meet the man behind the music? Book your free consultation today!

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It’s All Been Done #ChordProgressions

Did you know that all of your favorite songs are built on a dozen or so chord progressions that keep getting recycled? It’s true! Visit this amazing website and punch in one of my favorites: C, G, Am F.

I, for one, don’t despair about this. I celebrate it, and seek to find the richness in lyrics, instrumentation, and sonic textures.

Need a more rocking explanation? Let The Axis of Awesome tell the tale:

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