Mar 1, 2013

Take Me Home, Country Roads

One of the best parts of being a recording artist is that I can pay tribute to amazing musicians who have made an impression on me by covering their songs. Nothing beats creating and breathing life into a new idea that expresses a deep part of yourself, but that doesn’t diminish the joy of playing other people’s music, which can often evolve into a deep and personal expression of yourself as well. My goal when looking for a song to cover is to find lyrics that I connect with, and music that I can change so I can make it my own. One such song that fit the bill for me, as it has with so many others, is “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. 

Recharging in the Redwoods during
one of my West Coast road trips. 
Throughout the last decade I have been nomadic almost as much as I’ve been settled. In one year alone I drove the length of West Coast five times. In fact I usually get a sense of relief, a feeling of home even, when I hit the open road. So naturally a song about, driving, the American landscape and the pursuit of home, spoke to me. So one night, in a recording studio in Mesa Arizona, a friend and I decided to “lay it down on tape”, just for fun. 

It’s funny how things work out, because after driving up and down the coast and around the country so many times I had enough footage to put together a decent road-tripping video. And that video was seen by tens of thousands of people, some of whom were in England looking for a cover version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to feature in a TV commercial. Now, I had no intention on creating a video when I recorded it, or even sharing it really, and I had no intention of selling it when I created the video, but I ended up licensing my recording to the Diabetes Concerts Foundation for use in their 2013 online and TV ad campaign in England, three years after that night of putzing around in Arizona! I think the lesson here is that you can’t know what is going to succeed in art and entertainment, so just do what you are interested in. Those are the projects that have the most appeal, because you like them the best. Or, maybe it’s best to copy formulas, seems to work for the record labels and they are a lot more successful than I am. In any case, I hope you enjoy my version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” featuring Chris Baker on the guitar and backing vocals. 

Check out my recording of Take Me Home, Country Road in the widget below, on Reverbnation, or download it off iTunes!

Thanks for listening,

Feb 12, 2013

Morning Light

Morning Light is the second track off my brand new release, Josh Niehaus Begins. Musically this song began as a very simple guitar riff (the one you hear at the beginning of the song and in the verses), but it quickly grew into a 40+ track recording session. It ended up being one of my more textural and orchestrated songs, overflowing with both organic and electronic sounds. 

Anyone who has created something that they have poured their heart and soul into, whether it’s writing, an invention, a relationship, a child, etc., knows that what may have started out as a simple idea or act can grow out of one’s control. A character can outgrow the book it was born in, an idea can become a multinational corporation, a child will grow to find itself. Even a simple song like my own can wrestle its way to freedom, and leave me hearing things I never heard when I was creating it. I’m not prepared to follow this idea into a value judgement or metaphysical treatise, but I’m glad that this song, Morning Light, wrestled and and evolved to the very end, because that’s what it is about. 

Morning Light tells the story so many of us are familiar with; how quickly a minor incident, careless words and a prior memory that has yet to leave your mind in peace can turn to shouting and leave you wondering how something so simple could’ve become that. Of course now I am talking about struggling with a relationship, but a relationship is an act of creation as well. And for those of us who can learn to fight with it, not against it, even if it takes all night, a reward awaits. After all, what could be greater than struggling as an individual, pouring yourself out and into new entity you are co-creating; something part you and part something more. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth it.  

Thanks for taking the time to read this. It may have been a bit heavy and I’m not sure how much of what I have just said comes through in the song, after all it is a pop/rock love song. So I’m glad I got to share these thoughts and feelings, and I hope you enjoy Morning Light.

Josh Niehaus Begins, available on iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, Spotify. 

Feb 5, 2013

The Last Song

As I work towards my first full length album, I plan on releasing shorter EPs and singles as songs are completed. These releases will eventually become my debut LP; no name yet, but I'm open to suggestions. Traditionally musicians wait until everything is complete to send their album out into the world, but I figure in this digital age of music there is no reason I can't let my fans, friends and family hear what I'm working on as I go. Also, the popularity of specific songs on these shorter releases may help me figure out what to include on the final CD (and hopefully vinyl).

I can't think of a better song to start this whole project off than with The Last Song. Besides the delicious irony of beginning with The Last Song, it is also fitting because it has been with me for about a decade now. Written in the aftermath of the collapse of my first great love, the song is one part sweet and contemplative ballad, and one part angry break-up song. It's got a little something for everyone. It's been with me for a long time, and I feel it's one of the songs that best expresses my "Joshness" (my quiddity, for you hyper-literates), both as an expression of my feelings in the lyrics as well as an expression of the sounds that resonate within me musically. I hope you like it!

Special thanks to singer/songwriter Jacob Brown, who helped me perform this song all those years back while it was still in embryo. Playing with you no doubt helped form the finished product.

Listen to The Last Song on Reverbnation

Jan 31, 2013

Song featured in TV commercial and new EP release!

It’s been a good week for ol’ Josh Niehaus! I received (totally out of the blue) an email from a non-profit company in England that raises money for children with diabetes called Diabetes Concerts Foundation. I had never heard of them before, and they had only just discovered me through an exhaustive online search of the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, which I recorded a version of. It turns out that they have an upcoming advertising campaign called “Take Me Home”, and they couldn’t find the right music for it anywhere. They had almost scrapped the whole idea before they found my version of John Denver’s classic on youtube. It’s hard to believe that a video I uploaded years ago of a song I recorded for a school project is “the most suited music” for an ad campaign of a company 4,700 miles away! But, Google bless them, they have licensed my recording for a TV commercial that is set to appear before “4.5 million viewers a week” in England sometime in 2013! 

I’m hoping this might be the kickstart that every independent artist needs to help move off of the digital shelves and into playlists around the world. I also decided that I would use this occasion to “relaunch” myself, much in the same way Mitt Romney did after already running two years for president. It didn’t work out for him (and it probably shouldn’t be allowed), but I figured that I have come a long way since I recorded and mixed my previous projects. I am proud of how far my recordings have come and this feels like a better place to start from. With that in mind I have taken down my previous projects and I will begin releasing a series of new (and old) music, starting today with my newest EP, Josh Niehaus Begins

Josh Niehaus Begins Album Cover. Photo by Carly Israel. 

I really want to thank everyone who has followed, liked, listened and supported me over the years. I may have a modest following, but it’s enough to encourage me to continue and remain optimistic that great things are still in store. 

Please check out my new EP, Josh Niehaus Begins. It’s available on iTunes @




Stay tuned for an updated music video of Take Me Home, Country Roads, and a TV ad featuring my recording in it soon! 

More info on Diabetes Concerts Foundation check @

Josh Niehaus Begins includes “The Last Song”, “Morning Light”, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. 

Special thanks to Dowell Davis, who played drums on “The Last Song” and “Morning Light”. And to Chris Baker, who played guitar and sang backup vocals on “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. 

Jan 19, 2012

Zanadu (Ode To Seattle)

Growing up in Seattle during the nineties was the best! Well, maybe it would’ve been cooler to be in Paris in 1789 or in Greenwhich Village in 1968. But, if you had to spend your teen years alive during the 1990's, you couldn't hope for a better place to do in it than Seattle. I can already feel the non-Seattle-ites rolling their eyes, and saying, "how can you possibly back that up?" Well, to understand what was so great about Seattle in the 90's, let's take a look at what it emerged out of, my first decade, the 80's; a time when the counter cultural revolution was but a fading memory, and it's place stood an empowered GOP with Reagan at the helm. A time when the airwaves were saturated with synthesizers and drum machines. A time when Eddie Van Halen melted peoples faces with some of the most iconic guitar shredding ever played. In other words, it was a time when the spirit of rock and roll was being suffocated under a nation's desperate plea for order and conservatism. A time when the chaos of rock’s sound was quantized into new-wave dance fluff by primitive computers. And a time when the men and women who yielded rock’s most powerful weapon, the Axe, were all trying to be Van Halen. But luckily the cultural tides shifted as I entered into the 90's, and Seattle was at the center of this movement.

From the muddy banks of the Wishkaw to Puget Sound, the 90’s were ruled by flannel wearing, garage dwelling, skateboard riding junkies from Seattle, whose appearance left but one title; Grunge! Grunge was a genuine form of expression, free from consonant fluff, cheesy synthesizers and overly-reverberated drum kits. Free from ostentation, affectation and record label subordination. It was a tiny movement that housed a few creative geniuses who sounded nothing like the billboard bands of their times, yet astonishingly took over the charts. Of course the labels caught on, as they always do, and began mass-producing Nirvana knock-offs by the mid to late nineties. But there was a time, in my childhood, in my city, were there was a genuine artistic movement that the whole world wanted a piece of. A time when I could ride my skateboard down 'The Ave' to buy comic books at Zanadu, bump into Krist Novoselic at Cellophane Square, see Pearl Jam in concert for free, and attend a community wide vigil for Kurt Cobain; the unofficial poet laureate of our city’s scene.

My song Zanadu is a tribute to growing up in my city during this era. The song ends with a simple notion that all good things must come to an end. Grunge is dead. And although I am left with only memories, the music lives on as a reminder of how lucky I was to grow up within the pages of music history.


Aug 27, 2011

Time for some better pics!

My friend Carly took some picks of me playing (and posing in a couple) for the official "press kit" and they turned out pretty nice! Thanks Carly! 

May 10, 2011

The Way of the Artist/Producer

What's the difference between a music producer and God? God doesn't think He's a music producer! 

Often described as the big picture guy, the person who writes the checks, the one who shows up after weeks of work and tells the bands whether they have a record or not, or, as a high-schooler recently told me, someone who makes beats - a producer is a wide-ranging concept. But seriously folks, what does a producer do?
In the age of independent music, many traditional elements of creating a record have to be scratched in order to meet the budget of an independent artist. After money is set aside for studio time, or home recording equipment, musical accompanists, a mixing engineer, CD duplication, promotional materials... you may not have funds left to throw at a producer. You may also be unsure as to why you would even need a producer, or think that the very concept runs counter to the spirit of independent music. I don’t want to squelch anyone's spirit, but I do  believe that a producer is in fact necessary to make a great album. And, with enough practice and know-how, the independent artist can exit the role of the songwriter to wear the hat of the producer. 
Let me set the stage with a short anecdote and a question. The first time Metallica heard their legendary “Black Album”, they were apparently surprised, and dismayed, to find all of the classical orchestration that producer Bob Rock had added. Nevertheless, Bob Rock was the producer and his vision hit the record stores. The album, simply titled Metallica, has since gone platinum in 12 countries (15x platinum in the US), and helped Metallica crossover into popular music. The question I ask is, would the “Black Album” have done this without Bob Rock; without the vision of an outsider? 
Ok, so what does a producer do? The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, in Tempe Arizona, lists the roles and duties of a producer as:
1. “RULE” over everything. 
2. Manage the Budget. 
3. Select the songs. 
4. Perfect the music. 
5. Referee, counsel, guide, pick up hoagies, do whatever it takes to succeed. 
6. Depending on the Producer, co-write songs, perform on a recording, write the 
orchestral backgrounds, etc. 
A truly independent artist fulfills the majority of these roles already; they already “rule” over everything, manage their own budgets, select their songs, feed themselves, write and perform their own music, and do whatever they can to succeed. Perhaps this list slightly differs from that of the independent artist-cum-producer on the importance of creating hits. But whatever the goal may be, number four on the list (“Perfect the music”), perhaps the vaguest of all duties, is essential to creating a great song!
Perfecting the music, as I see it, is a three-step process. It usually begins with creating the music (although not always; another high-schooler played me something he produced that was someone else’s techno song with goat-noises added on top of it). This step (one) of producing music deals with notes, musical phrases, lyrics, instrumentation; the stuff that you hear when you write a song and try it out with the band (or computer). Next is the recording and mixing phase. This step (two) of producing music deals with capturing the right sounds and performances, editing, balancing frequencies, levels, noise, effects, spacial positioning, etc. It’s possible that a great song and a good mix could be sent off to mastering, cranked way up and be ready to conquer the airwaves. But more often than not it is helpful for an outsider, with fresh ears, to step (three) in and let you know if there is an awkward or lackluster musical phrase or lyric, when a wailing guitar is clearly missing or is too loud, where the rhythm should fall on the beat, how well the vocals match up with the emotionality of the lyrics, if there is a frequency whole that needs to be filled, whether the track should be clean, dynamic and emulate a different time-period, or distorted, smashed with compression and contemporary, etc. In other words, the producer makes sure that the artist and the engineer succeeded in steps one and two so that it all syncs up with the vibe and the idea of the song. Step three is a combination of correcting mistakes and keeping the vision on track. The strength of having an outsider produce your song, is that they have a better chance of noticing mistakes that you've already missed, and helping you find pockets of potential that you were unaware of. In visible terms, the producer might see a different hue to the aura of what’s being produced. 
So, how can one person possibly fulfill both (or all three) roles without losing any of that elusive potential? Well, firstly, they have to be good at producing. It is not a role that every artist can play, which doesn’t take anything away from the artist. An artist must be aware of their own limitations, because as often as not, artist/producing doesn’t work out very well. But if the potential is there for the artist/producer role, the challenge then becomes creating sufficient space between the roles of artist and producer. In the same way that the mixing engineer battles with ear fatigue, and must break to refresh his ears, the artist battles with a mind fatigue of sorts, due to their intensely personal and mental connection to the song and tireless laboring over it, which may hinder the artist from a fresh perspective. 
To quote the Rolling Stones, “Time is on my side”. Time is a key ingredient in creating the space between artist and producer. After you record, mix and master a song, I strongly suggest hanging onto it for a while before committing it to its final resting state. You can still put it up online and listen to it (labeling it with ‘demo’ or ‘premaster’ will give you leeway to fix things later on). In fact, the more feedback you receive and the more times you hear it the more clearly you can see those pockets that you may have missed as your artist-self was finishing up its job. I usually know that I need more time when I am still listening for all of the microscopic changes I want to make (i.e. I’m very much stuck in one way of looking at it). 
Next, listen to music that you wish to emulate! Try and decipher the insights and tricks from other producer’s work, by listening to albums with the sound/feel you are going for. Listen for the EQ emphasis or de-emphasis across the frequency spectrum. Listen for the dynamic range and how the song breathes. Listen for the balance, or lack there of, of organic to synthetic instrumentation. Listen for where the vocals or lead instruments sit in the mix. And listen to lots of it before coming back to your track! 

George Martin with the Beatles.
Lastly, practice makes perfect. In the early years of The Beatles, the band spent four years in Hamburg developing their talents and performing over 1,200 live shows! By the time they returned to England they were polished performers, innovative song-writers and ready to conquer the globe. It took talent, the capacity and hunger to learn from mistakes and from others, and incessant practicing to turn four Liverpudlian boys into the Fab 4. But lets not forget that the Beatles still had George Martin (and later Phil Spector) to keep them on track, to make sense of the genius whirling around the studio, and to keep an uncompromising lookout towards the end goal. With that in mind let me re-ask the Bob Rock question; would the Beatles have succeeded without the help of George Martin? It’s not a question of talent, because the Beatles had no shortcomings there. But they certainly would’ve needed to rely on a skill-set that I’m not sure that they had developed at that time. And why would they? They had George Martin around. (As an aside, all of the Beatles went on to produce later in their careers.) The point is, talent and potential must fuse, in one instance, for music to be perfected. It is possible for an individual to do this, as independent artists are proving every month, but it takes lots of experience, knowledge and talent. The challenges are great and the rewards are greater. So, get inspired by the greats, stay hungry, stick at it and best of luck with juggling hats.