Meet Eyal Amir: Musician, composer, Cubase user
By Stefan Trowbridge, June 30, 2014
A few years ago Eyal dropped by our booth at the Musikmesse trade show in Germany. Equipped with an iPad, his contagious enthusiasm and a winning smile, Eyal proposed a collaboration with Steinberg and presented several of his latest renditioned covers that he'd uploaded to YouTube — one could tell at once that Eyal's passion of music and talent extend far beyond the expected. That's how I met Eyal Amir for the first time.
Studio setup highlights
When did you begin to play keyboard and discover your love for composition? What do you consider your musical influences?
I started playing music seriously at around the age of 16–17, which is rather late for a musician. Up until then I was just a die-hard music fan — I was constantly listening to albums, reading about them online and writing in music-related forums, so writing music was just a natural development of my interest. In fact, it was my discovery of progressive rock and other “artistic” genres I dived into because of it that inspired me to experiment with writing my own tunes. I was intrigued by the concept of compositions that had their own little musical world, and weren’t necessarily pop songs or dance beats.
Writing was definitely the big thing for me. Even to this day, I consider the playing and performing side to be secondary to my love for creating, producing and arranging, although I have learned to love that side a little more over time.
You can definitely say that the classic progressive rock from the ’70s has been (and still is) very influential on my musical direction. Bands like Gentle Giant, Yes, Jethro Tull, ELP, King Crimson, UK and others were the foundations that I used to base my musical language on. To that I will obviously add some more contemporary progressive bands such as Dream Theater, Echolyn and others. But my world has grown since then, and I have a big place in my heart for classic rock — I’m a huge Beatles fan, as well as Queen, Deep Purple and others, some classical and modern classical music such as Bela Bartok and Steve Reich, and more recently jazz/fusion artists like Pat Metheny and Chick Corea.
How do go about the compositional process? Do you come up with a hook and take it from there? Do you arrange the other voices around the melody?
Well, it depends. I definitely think that the melody is the key for everything. I don’t necessarily go for something catchy or a hook, but for something that will dictate and organize everything around it in a way that will express an emotion. Sometimes it will be just the melody on its own, and sometimes I will create it around a bass line or a bass/drums groove. As time goes by I keep realizing how crucial it is for the bass to function not only as the lowest part of the harmony, but as an independent voice that will interact with the melody. So many times I will take that into considerations in the very first stage.
The second thing I will try to do is to take the basic idea that I have and start exploring its options. Cubase has actually been a vital part in my compositional development because of that. In the past I used to write in a notation software and then bring it into Cubase just for the production process, but the whole workflow of that software allowed me to be a little more inventive with my ideas. For example: writing in the piano roll window allows very easily to experiment with moving parts and start them in different places in time, make loops that have different lengths or just muting certain notes and moving ideas between the different instruments. I will constantly twist and change an idea until it feels natural to me.
I also write the songs in a linear fashion, so I hear the music as phrases or grooves that don’t always fall within a specific time signature. I just let the part flow until it feels right for it to end… and then I start a new bar. Many times I only realize what the time signature is when I finish writing, and by then the song might have lots of twists and turns that may seem complicated, but for my state of mind at the writing moment, they make total sense.
Tell us a little about RnL Project and the YouTube buzz you created around the band’s music, performing renditions of popular songs?
Well, Project RnL started as a duo, consisting of myself and vocalist Ray Livnat. Ray and I were working together for several years before forming RnL, and we really wanted to push our own boundaries and create something that will represent the highest level of work and artistic integrity that we could make. We also knew that we had to involve video with it, although none of us had had experience in that field before. We loved the idea of doing our own interpretations of pop songs. We realized that if we take a well-known song as a core and start interpreting it our own way, it frees us from the usual worries of writing our own music and lets us tune into what we want to say artistically.
So, our versions of those popular songs such as Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” Blur’s “Song 2,” Hanson’s “MMMBop” and others are actually our own pieces — they only use the melody of the song and some particular elements that we liked about it, but we completely restructure it from the ground up, creating new harmonies, grooves, changing the time signatures and just do whatever we can until we feel that the song sounds like we wrote it. We never think of a cover as merely a performance — that would be boring to us.
Since we started, the videos started gaining a lot of steam on YouTube (I think they have around 2 million views by now, not counting the ones on my personal channel). It was actually quite remarkable to see them gaining so many hits in such a short amount of time, especially for this kind of very unconventional music, and the feedback we’ve been receiving from the fans has been amazing. It also reinforced my feeling that the more you put your heart and soul into what you do, it will project just as well to the audience. Usually as a starting musician you get to meet so many people in the industry that are telling you that you have to focus on “what sells,” and the success of those videos helped me realize that there will always be people who appreciate art when it’s sincere.
First, Project RnL was a studio entity that just consisted of me and Ray, and we brought other musicians we loved as guests for the different tracks we were recording. But a few months ago, we actually decided to reinvent it as a full live band, one that will actually be able to perform that music in front of a live audience. It took us a while, but we’ve found the perfect players for that: Alon Tamir (guitar), Or Lubianiker (bass) and Dekel Dvir (drums). All the guys have been very involved in what we do now, and we feel like our new lineup is even more organic and powerful than ever, so you can expect a lot of new things from us in the near future!
iPads frequently show up in your videos. What exactly do you like about it?
I love using new technology for making music. I’m always inspired by new ways and means that will get me to approach the writing, playing or mixing stage differently. The iPad was a natural evolvement of my love for that. I originally bought the very first one just to surf the web and read books, but once I discovered music apps it seemed obvious for me that the touch screen and the interaction with a graphic interface make a great layout for musical instruments and working tools, and the mobility of it meant that I could take those tools with me and create wherever I am, which is really important for my life, since I always find myself making music somewhere else in the world and with a different set of musicians or instruments.
The cool thing about it is that while some apps are just a copy of older hardware devices or software, some of them bring a whole new way of interacting with your tools. For example, apps like Geo Synthesizer (which is a synth/MIDI controller) are nothing like any instrument that’s out there, and it forces you not only to play differently, but also to think differently and become more creative.
Have you tried Cubasis?
Yes! I like Cubasis a lot. It’s by far the most extensive sequencer out there for mobile devices. I’m mostly using it to sketch ideas while on the road, on the subway or just on my bed when I’m too tired to walk up to the computer and power up the full version of Cubase. I love the fact that it lets you go deep into MIDI sequencing, not just recording live tracks. I also like that you can use it to integrate audio and MIDI into one project and actually process the audio or route the MIDI into different iPad apps. That kind of versatility is what eventually gets me to come back to it over and over again.
A few years ago you moved from Tel Aviv to NYC. Why the decision?
Tel Aviv is a wonderful city for art, and there are some awesome musicians here, but at some point it became clear to me that the nature of the music I’ve been creating is not local, it’s global. The fans who have been reaching out to me following the videos were located in different countries, and I’ve felt the need to be where I can be more accessible: to fans, to other musicians and to music industry people. New York seemed to be a way better portal for pursuing my musical and career ambitions than Tel Aviv for all of that. I visited NY when Ray and I were performing there in 2010, and just walking around the city made me realize that this is the place for me.
With whom have you been teaming up whilst away from home? I’ve noticed collaborations with many artists, first and foremost with Jordan Rudess.
That’s true, I love collaborating [smiles]. There’s something about having great people by your side that drives you to get more out of yourself. Working with someone like Jordan Rudess, for example, is wonderful because not only he is a great musician, he is a source of inspiration that I constantly draw from. So when I go to find musical partners, I always look for people, who will be different, bold, have their own statement and bring my work into new territory (rather than just be sidemen).
Some of my favorite people to work with in the US have been Ruslan Sirota (piano player for the Stanley Clarke Band), brilliant jazz singer Tammy Scheffer, drummer Ariel Shafir, lyricist/vocalist Bryan Scary, vocalist Richard Saunders, bass player Jonathan Levy (Izabo) and many others, all of whom are artists I admire and feel proud I could share a video screen with.
Are there other projects of yours you’d like to share with us?
Definitely [smiles]. In addition to my personal/band projects, which obviously are always my top priority, I am an instructor for the online educational websites MacProVideo.com and AskVideo.com, where I have created many courses on my writing, arranging and production methods — all are done in Cubase by the way. I was a keynote speaker at last year’s MacWorld Expo (working with Berklee College Of Music VP David Mash) and teach at Rimon School Of Music (the Israeli Berklee affiliate).
Also, I’ve mixed and played in the Gag Quartet video “The Internet Medley” that went extremely viral and currently has 27 million views.
Some other recent projects that I have done include production/mixing work for the artists Vultress, Bilgo&Co and Chen Yamin. I’m also working on the new EP for Tammy Scheffer’s new jazz/rock trio with Panagiotis Andreou and Ronen Itzik and finished a new children’s music project with Yoni Rechter (one of Israel’s most acclaimed composers/songwriters).
You can always find me involved in technology-related projects. I’ve worked quite a bit with Jordan Rudess’ app company Wizdom Music, and also regularly visit music trade shows. Most recently was the winter NAMM show where I played for Two Notes Engineering.
And Cubase always plays a part of in what you do?
Yes, always. Cubase is a huge part of my musical life, since it combines everything I do: composing, deep MIDI work and audio tracking, editing and mixing. I’ve been using it since around 2004, but Cubase has actually developed so much in the last few years, and I can’t even imagine now working without some of the feature that were introduced in the past decade that I’ve been using it, such as MixConsole, VariAudio and Groove Agent ONE. It’s my go-to tool for every step of the way. It might sound funny, but after all these years I’ve created a special bond with Cubase, just like I have with my Nord keyboard. It’s an instrument I speak through.
Visit Eyal Amir at www.youtube.com/EyalAmirMusic.