Tag Archives: Puresolo

My Mentoring Session with Mark Knopfler

I’ve just lived one of my wildest dreams for real: a one-to-one lesson with my hero, Mark Knopfler !!! And I still can’t realise what happened!

How could it be possible??? We’ve got to go back to July 2010 when I discovered a guitar competition while surfing on the net looking for news about Mark’s music. This comp was organised by PureSolo, and I visited their site to know exactly what it was about. PureSolo.com is a website where you can record yourself, voice or instrument, on a large amount of accompaniment tracks using their online program.

Mark Knopfler provided the site with 3 songs, “Sultans Of Swing”, “Calling Elvis” and “Speedway At Nazareth”, the original tracks without the lead guitar! Playing on the original backing tracks with Mark singing, a dream by itself! I used to play on playbacks recorded by other musicians that sound differently. So, that was great to record myself in the shoes of  Mark Knopfler! After a few trials, I realised how brilliant was his guitar playin’ on “Sultans Of Swing” and how precise he was. As soon as you play a note out of rhythm, even a single dead note, it sounds awful!!!

After organising my ideas and training a little bit on the original back tracks, I was ready to record Sultans live from the first note to the last one.

I’m not very familiar with music via computers. I only know how to plug my guitar in an amp. I just have a 6-year-old Dell laptop without knowing how to plug my guitar in! I also have a digital recording studio, a Boss BR-1200 CD, to create and record rough versions of my own songs. I plugged my Shure microphone into the Boss, and then connected the line out of the Boss into the line in of the computer. I don’t know whether the sound card is good or not, but it worked perfectly! Then I plugged my Fender Strat into my Hot Rod Deluxe amp with a delay pedal between, and placed my Shure microphone just in front of the amp. I recorded several versions of Sultans before being quite satisfied. Then a little bit of Room reverb from the PureSolo recording program and that was in.

After a while, like everyone participating to this comp I suppose, I listened sometimes to other entrants and was really impressed by several ones. There are very good guitarists out there and that was so enriching!!! I had the feeling you could guess the personality of people by the way they expressed themselves on those great songs. Unique experience!

And then, on the 6th September, I read congratulation messages posted on my page. I was one of the 5 finalists… My heart started to beat louder and louder! I was thrilled by the idea of being listened to by Mark Knopfler!!!

When my brain finally accepted this idea several days after, I received a mail from John, a co-founder of PureSolo, that I was the winner of that amazing comp!!! What to say… Unbelievable… I needed several weeks to understand what was going on!

After a few email exchanges, we arranged a meeting with Mark Knopfler. He’s a very busy person and his management asked for the days I was available. Every date was OK for me, the sooner, the better!!! Finally, my lesson with Mark was planned on November 9th, travelling to London on the 8th November, and flying back on the 10th November.

Two weeks before the meeting, my plane tickets and my hotel room were booked by the PureSolo team.

The D-day was approaching and I had difficulties not to be too excited! How can you prepare yourself to such a meeting??? I decided to take it easy and not to create useless pressure…

The 8th November, 10h55 local time, Bordeaux, France. I embarked on the plane to London. Then took the Gatwick Express train to the Victoria Station and a taxi to the Royal Garden Hotel, a wonderful 5-star hotel close to Hyde Park and not far away from the famous Royal Albert Hall where Mark played lots of times.

The 9th November, 07h45. As planned, I met David, co-founder of PureSolo.com, at the Starbucks just down the street of my hotel. We ordered 2 coffees and talked together. I was really nervous and he made me feel comfortable and relaxed. Then, we drove to the British Grove studio! I didn’t know how the studio looked like from the street. I only saw few pictures and films from the net or DVDs.

08h30. We arrived half an hour before the lesson. My head was empty and I floated on the pavement like in a dream. We were standing in front of this beautiful red house. You can’t imagine there’s one of the best studio in the world inside if you don’t know the place. We were standing on the other side of the street and took some pictures. A man walked along the street, took his keys out of his pockets and entered the studio. We waited a little bit before ringing the bell. The man welcomed us. We entered the magical place!!!

The walls are white and there’s lot of wooden parts and windows everywhere that make the place really welcoming. We took the stairs and entered a large windowed room with a huge table and lots of chairs around. To the left, an opened-modern-designed kitchen and to the right, a wonderful painting covering the wall, “Four Lambrettas and Three Portraits of Janet Churchman” by John Bratby, the one used on the cover of “Kill To Get Crimson” album. And to the far end of this huge room, there’s a relax place with sofas, a TV and a very modern firehouse. Two chairs were facing each other on a persian carpet with guitars on their stands waiting for us! I made few steps to approach the guitars. Surrounding one of the chairs, there was a MK signature strat plugged in an old vibrolux Fender amp, and a MK signature Martin!!! Another Martin was waiting on its stand close to the chair that I supposed would be mine in a few minutes!

Robyn, the Personal Assistant of Mark, entered the room and welcomed us after being introduced. We chat a little bit together and she made me feel so comfortable as the meeting approached! She informed us that the lesson would long one hour, as Mark had lots of commitments and an appointment at ten. She received a call from Mark that said he was coming. Wow…

David asked me how I felt at the moment. I can’t remember what I answered!


Mark Knopfler, CEO David Kaplan and competition winner, Christophe Leyssard

09h00. Mark entered the room, smiling as he stepped over to greet us, and congratulated me after being introduced. We talked a little bit together before sitting on our chairs and taking our guitars. He really made me feel immediately at ease.

He firstly asked me to play a G chord, that I did all along the fretboard. After awhile, He asked me to play something starting from a G. I improvised a few folk rhythms and arpeggios. He showed me how to simply sound well using Chet Atkin’s finger picking style, using your thumb alternatively on the 3 lower strings to play the 4 beats.

From then on, I had the history of rock music back from the old blues men releasing songs in the first part of the last century. He gave me names of musicians playin’ blues and explained what each of them brought to music, playing licks and rhythm parts at the same time. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Son House, Blind Willie McTell and Blind Blake with his piano-rag style who used rolls with his thumb. And everything became more complicated and sophisticated.

He told me listening to those great guitarists is the first thing to do to develop your own style. That means not to listen to one of their songs one time, but really to explore their guitar playin’ and feel their approach of music.

After, we took our electric guitars and we worked on vibratos, finger by finger and on one string, then several ones at the same time. He made few licks I tried to imitate to gain fluidity in my playing.

He told me that it’s very important to keep on playing acoustic guitars cause it’s more difficult to play them well. Then it’s far more easy to take your electric guitar after and play your stuff. Using a plectrum is also very important to practice cause there are parts where you need to use one. The sound is different and that’s the best amplifier ever. The signal is far better.

Then the lesson was over and Mark had to leave. I learnt more things in one hour than in 20 years of guitar playing.

After the lesson, we were invited to visit the whole studio with the manager of the place, David Steward, who participated to the technical designing of British Grove studio. We spent one hour and a half discovering a real museum. In fact, it has two studios that are really well designed and every detail was thought of. For example, the main recording room in studio 1 is made of a central area surrounded by several little rooms. As the walls are configurable, you can totally open the space to have a huge room, or to partially open them to create isolated recording rooms. Flaps high on the walls can also be extended to modify the sound. That’s incredible to see all that live. As we talked, we could appreciate the comfortable acoustic quality of the place.

Very old machines can be connected to brand new systems, enabling lots of different possibilities of recording. That’s a paradise for musicians. Every where you look, there’s a great machine, sometimes full of history. As far as I remember, there’s an old mixing tube desk used by the Beatles in the 60’s, a custom-made Neve console and a API Legacy to name a few. The control rooms are really large compared to most of other studios and are equipped in a 5.1 configuration with wonderful ATC monitors which can be positioned where you want as they are placed on an ingenious rail device. All this was built and designed with lots of cleverness. We also talked a little bit about the amazing cooling system. The problem is that the air becomes dry. So they developped a technology to control humidity in order to have the perfect air to preserve machines, instruments and, of course, musicians spending hours and hours in the studio. After this amazing visit, we left the place, our heads full of memories.

Well, there’s so much things to say about that morning and I feel really lucky to have had this unique opportunity. Before meeting Mark, after so many years listening to his music, you’ve got thousands of questions to ask and, at the end, you realise you asked none of them. And you also didn’t say things you wanted to say, cause you were so captivated by what was happening and his incredible power of story telling.

Now, I concentrate on rearranging and recording my own songs using all I learnt during that single enriching hour! I’ve just found a new band happy to play music inspired by the very fruitful Mark’s career, trying to explore that wonderful music (http://myspace.com/chrisleysmusic for curious people).

I fell in love with his music and his guitar playing 25 years ago and I realised why when I left the studio with David. The experience I had listening to all the guitarists on the site was just a clue. You can guess who the person is by the way he plays his instrument. And Mark is a great man, a gentleman that have many stories to tell and to share with people!

If you read those last lines, thank you for the time you’ve just spent here… and excuse my french!!!

I’d like to thank all the people who welcomed me at the studio,

Robyn, Mark’s Personal Assistant

Glenn, his guitar tech

David, his studio manager, and thank you to the PureSolo team, especially John, David and Stefanie who mailed me numerous times to make this meeting possible.

Thank you to all the people who posted so nice messages during and after the results of this comp and, of course, thank you to Mark Knopfler!!!

Christophe Leyssard


Calling All Guitarists!

We’re loving the amount of talented guitarists who’ve appeared on the PureSolo site.

In addition to the Mark Knopfler competiton tracks, are you guys aware of the other really great guitar content we’ve also got our hands on?!

Content Update

Along with the new additions of AC/ DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ and Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’ we’ve also got tracks in our Guitar Backing Tracks Store from the following:

  • Satriani
  • Soundgarden
  • Pink Floyd
  • Led Zeppelin
  • System of a Down
  • Rise Against
  • Foo Fighters
  • Muse
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers

… and a whole lotta more!

We love to hear what you think, so if there’s something you’d like to see on our site please get in touch with us!

Aren’t you a lucky lot?!

Welcome Back Kylie

We’re not embarrassed to admit that we think Kylie Minogue‘s great. She’s brilliant.

From her early pop days of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ and ‘Locomotion’, she’s come a long way since her acting part as Charlene in Neighbours with THAT bouffant hair (who didn’t have bad hair in the 80s?!).

Her successful comeback in the noughties with ‘Spinning Around’, after years of being away from the music scene prompted a move from pop to edgier dance-orientated songs. The arrival of her ‘Showgirl: The Homecoming Tour’ proved that being a little bit camp can be cool.

After a string of unsuccessful relationships and her triumphant battle over breast cancer, she’s emerged a fighter.

New Album Released

With her latest album, Aphrodite, released this week having sold more than 30,000 copies on Monday, topping the midweek chart, it looks like the future’s bright for the pint-sized pop princess.

Welcome back Kylie!

Head on over to the Karaoke Store to record your own versions of Kylie’s songs including favourites ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, ‘Wow’, ‘Spinning Around’ and her latest single, ‘All The Lovers’.

Sax.co.uk joins the search party…

We’re very happy to announce that one of our favourite Saxophone retailers is supporting us in our search for tomorrow’s jazz stars with a banner on their homepage and an email to all of their customers letting them know about this amazing opportunity!

Long established sax experts, Sax.co.uk is not only the online place to go for all things sax related, but they also own two stores in the UK with amazing selections at great prices!

Their flagship, and the Worlds’s largest sax store, in Crowborough, East Sussex boasts over 400 saxes in stock and has been described by jazz legend Courtney Pine as “The Saxophone Temple!”.

More recent to the company is London’s largest sax store, located on Denmark Street, London’s “Tin Pan Alley”, has over 150 saxophones in stock and three acoustically treated rooms for trying before buying. Our very own Snake Davis is quoted as referring to the London Store as “The Sweet Shop!”. This equates to 5,000 sq. ft. of pure sax heaven!

So, if you’re looking to hire or buy a sax then these are the guys to go to. All saxophones are personally looked after by a team of sax enthusiasts and are on-hand to assist beginner and expert alike.

For more information please visit www.sax.co.uk or call 01892 662533 (Crowborough Branch) or 020 7836 7172 (London Branch) to talk to a member of their lovely staff!

Ted Cohen Goes The Extra Mile for PureSolo at Midem

How to get the best from your PureSolo recordings

We contacted renowned sound engineer, James Collins, to see if he had any mixing tips he would be willing to share with our PureSolo users. Read on for James’ advice to ensure you’re getting the best from your recordings:

So you’ve selected your favourite Karaoke track from the vast library of downloads available…..you’ve put on your best clothes, combed your hair and done some la la las into the bathroom mirror.

It’s showtime…you tense up…no one is listening…you hit record, start to sing and the magic is happening…….you get to the end and give yourself a bow to the imaginary audience. Coming back to the real world you press the save button and on the next screen you give the take a title and add some reverb to taste…must use the Concert Hall because that sounds expensive…and maybe just turn yourself up a bit more as you sang it soooo well? You save the track and burn yourself a CD to listen to in the car on the way to work later…..

Some time later…

Hmmm……hang on, whats happened? That doesn’t sound so good in the car…all you can hear is your vocal and no backing track…and where did all that reverb come from? sounds like you’re in the Grand Canyon!!!!!


Ok…here are some tips for you to help you get the most from your recordings using PureSolo. Not just for vocal, but for instruments too.


You’ve probably chosen a piece of music you know very well as you can be confident singing/playing over it. That’s great, but remember that doesn’t mean you need to play or sing extra loud over the top of it when you record. Most studio recordings are thrown out if the approach isn’t sympathetic to the backing track, so try and think of how the original track sounded that you know and love. Was the original artist shouting the vocal or singing nicely? Stand up if you can while you perform, a straight back and lungs with maximum air in will help you breathe more easily which will help your performance.

The next thing to think about is the distance you are performing from the microphone. If you’re too close to your laptop mic, turning down the “mic” slider on PureSolo’s recorder will not stop the microphone overloading, it’ll just make your distortion quieter. If you’re too far away from the microphone, you’ll have to sing unnecessarily loud or turn up the “mic” slider on PureSolo’s recorder. The result of which is that you will also turn up the sound of the washing machine in the background. If you have an external mic plugged into your computer, it should be between 3 to 8 inches away from your mouth/instrument. Once you’re comfortable with your distance from the microphone, then adjust the “mic” slider so that the level meter is just below red when it’s the loudest part of your performance. Experiment, do 2 or 3 takes to get this bit right, then you are ready to make the most of the recording.

When you’re mixing your track it can be tempting to want to hear yourself much prouder than the track – but in reality this isn’t how studio recordings are mixed. Ideally you should be able to hear all your words/notes and the backing track equally well and a good gauge on this is to play your mix back with the computer speakers turned down so you can just about hear the vocal. If, at this lower volume, you can hear voice but no backing then the voice is probably too loud. On the other hand if you can hear a lot of backing track but are missing some of your beautifully recorded words/notes, then you can turn yourself up a bit. Most mixing engineers will check the mixes they do in this fashion at some point just to check your relative level against the backing track is correct.


PureSolo allows you to add reverb to your mixes just like the professionals do. Again, overuse of reverb is a common mistake! Certainly with instrumental recording it’s easier and more common to use longer reverbs like the Concert Hall or Club. But, with vocal tracks, shorter reverbs work better for most genres like rock, pop and jazz, so try the Studio or Small Room settings. There are exceptions of course, if you are singing over a classical track then a longer reverb will fit your voice better and help you blend into the track, if it’s a Hip Hop track then using no reverb is often the best thing to do – just like your idols practice. Reverb is all about blending, it’s available to use so you don’t sound like a cardboard cutout on top of a backing track that will itself have been mixed with varying amounts of reverb.

Remember, we are not using tape in an expensive studio where to sing another take you may have to erase an older one. This is you, on your computer, in your own time. Try different takes, try different settings, make yourself sound the best you can and you can and be proud to email/burn/upload your tracks to the whole world using PureSolo.

Have fun!

About James Collins:

James Collins is an experienced music recording and mixing engineer having spent nearly 20 years honing his craft. If you are interested in his credits visit http://www.jcmusic.co.uk