Category: Recording

Album status update 05/06/2017

Still tracking guitars. Rhythm guitars. I’d say probably 1/3rd of my way through them.

Parts have been tricky while I struggled with getting the right tone but now I’ve figured out partly how to address some of the issues (amp settings, pickup choice, pedal use). Part of it has also been arrangement-related, which I sort of have to go back and re-learn/re-visit some techniques that I’ve somehow forgotten.

Some things to try and play with: Mostly note to self:

  • Stabbing 8ths
  • Harder picking
  • Arpeggiated sections – clean or with some dirt
  • Trying out different chord inversions between left and right parts
  • Playing chord inversion at a higher register
  • Adding rotary or modulating effect to these extra parts
  • Using different pick on different part
  • Using different guitar on different part
  • Acoustic guitar to add articulation
  • Varying strumming pattern between phrases or sections of phrases

Keys and synth parts are done. Piano parts will happen later, depending on when I’ll have access to one.

More to come.

Bass recording tips

Just realized today I have roughly 1 more song to write for my record.
So I was doing a bit of homework on tracking bass, which I’ll probably start doing in a couple of week’s time.

I came across this one by Stu Hamm: (Part 1).

Some tips:
– Varying pickups
– Pick vs no pick
– Funny: “If you’re a guitar and/or a mediocre bass player, [thinking] that you’d put in a plugin for Ampeg SVT and you’re going to sound like Billy Sheehan, it’s not (**shakes head**) going to happen.”
– Do not play the strings too hard. Play it with a light touch and even, with a nice controlled attack, so it doesn’t sound too “clacky”. Bass wouldn’t sound bigger or thicker the louder a player plays. He has the bass volume overly loud in the mix, to keep himself in check, making sure he does not overpower the playing to maintain the fat even sound.
– Tuning the bass just a hair flat to sit better with the guitars and make the overall song sound less edgy.

Part 2 is here:, where he talks about arrangement/parts for a tune.

– Recording two takes from start to finish
– For example, one would be with a pick, another would be with fingers.
– Another example, one take would be driving 8s and another would be syncopated.
– Keep on playing even if there are mistakes

NAMM 2017

This was my first NAMM show visit. Ever.

You hear about the madness by everyone, but as Morpheus would say, no one could be told what it is – you have to see it for yourself.

The crazy crowd, the number of vendors (6000 of them, according to the NAMM website) were outstanding.

Show floor

Folks such as RME, who only had rented a small booth at the AES Show in the fall, without any gear set up to promote seemingly a little disinterested, was the complete opposite at the NAMM show – huge rented booth area setup like a lounge with computers set up with the interfaces and headphones to demo. They even had a fake bar setup in the middle.

Walking around the show floor, you’d see random famous musicians/celebrities, long lineups of people waiting to getting an autograph and their picture taken with their heroes. Fans of all genres of music were there. While the large crowds of people remind me of being in the public in cities like Hong Kong, Seoul or New York, everyone one at the NAMM show was there for music. Being immersed in the positive energy was witnessing an active celebration of life.

One would walk through the show floor, through a hall of guitar vendors, thinking you have seen most of what’s available. Continuing the trek, you would find another full hall of guitar-related vendors – adjacent hall, upstairs, downstairs. Pure madness.

One would also find a small number of exotic/ rare/ experimental/ instruments as well. Those, I find, are a lot more interesting to see, because, really, how many guitar delay pedals does a person need?!

Of course seeing Ronan, Diego and Peter is always fun. Talking to Greg and chatting about geeky-recording-stuff was fascinating. He just has a unique perspective and interesting way with words on describing anything that goes into recording/production.

What’s amusing were the number of Chinese knock-off companies. These vendors sell microphone copies that reuse the exact same model names as the original counterparts from the original companies. There’s even a company that’s called “Mickie” – an obvious attempt to immitate “Mackie”. Even the font used in Mickie’s logo is the same as Mackie’s. I’m surprised how these companies aren’t getting sued.


Go upstairs and you’d find more guitars by PRS, Gibson and Fender empires, but you’d also find rooms and rooms of grand pianos. It felt like I was in heaven. From personal experience, being in a retail piano showroom has never been pleasant. In some ways, they are even worse than many guitar retailers. Piano salesmen are always unreasonably pushy, looking for a sale before you even get to try out any instruments. Well, they very much dislike like it when you try out their pianos. For the amount of money spent, a customer can’t even try out the touch or get a sense of the tone of the instruments – not the greatest people on earth.

Side story – One example was the Fazioli company in Vancouver Canada, who decided on their location to be in a retail mall. It was an expensive location and one would assume that their choice of location was to bring brand awareness to the folks that have never heard of them before. However, the store was always empty whenever I passed by. I was in the market of a piano at the time and was doing personal research, walked into the shop at this particular location. The sales person/ store manager was reluctant to allow me to try out their floor model and hardly even half welcoming. Within 2-3 minutes of playing, I noticed through the store window that I was drawing a decent crowd. The store manager, still visibly uncomfortable of the piano being played, ordered me to stop. That’s how they treat a prospective customer, trying out the instruments, giving a free performance and drawing a crowd the store.

Things were very different at NAMM. Fazioli, amongst all other vendors, such as Kawai/Steinway, Young Chang, Schimmel, didn’t care one bit about their grands being played. They were there to be played, as long as you want. No sales person to constantly haggle you. Plus even seeing the abundance of grand pianos just makes things seem like heaven.


Every year during NAMM, artists would perform here in town during the evenings. Saturday night was the X-JAMM event at M3 Live, a venue not far away from the convention center.

This was the lineup:

Andy Timmons
Mike Keneally
Tony MacAlpine
Andy West
Cameron Allen
Teddy Kumpel
Travis Larson Band
Mark Lettieri

I finally got a chance to meet my friend Anthony from Make Weird Music in person. Make Weird Music was one of the sponsors at the event, and Anthony was graciously kind to invite me to the VIP section, which granted me close access to the stage.

Players with ridiculous talent filled the stage.
Andy Timmons’ playing was emotional, had such great tone with ridiculous passages (as always). Mike Keneally and his band was powerful. Bryan Beller was playing new basses after his were stolen recently and Bryan still sounded like bad-ass awesome Bryan. Andy West from Dixie Dregs on stage trading solos with Andy Timmons (who was also in Dixie Dregs before), Mike Keneally, Travis Larson on stage was fun to see. Cameron Allen had some very interesting composition and ridiculous crazy chops. Teddy Kumpel, improvising with his band on stage with fun sounds were extremely fun to see. Looking over my shoulder, I could see Mike Keneally cracking up at the fun quirky parts Teddy was coming up with. The entire crowd seemed to agree as well. Travis Larson Band was great, as I remember them when they opened for The Aristocrats a year or so ago. Jennifer Young from the band’s such an amazing bass player. Mark Lettieri was great and the band’s rhythm section was extremely tight. If I remember correctly, I think Tony MacAlpine played his entire set without stopping at all between songs and managed to end the show before the Anaheim curfew at midnight.

The energy was very positive in the room amongst the audience and the performers. Everyone was having a great time. It’s nice to have like-minded fans of this type of music all in the same place.

Reflection: Admiration for my teachers – Ronan and Pat and fond memories attached to “Normalcy Bias”

My teacher, mentor, mastering engineer and friend…

  • I became aware (and now a fan) of Mike Keneally and his work because of Ronan
  • I got into King Crimson because of Ronan, and eventually got me into Stick Men and Adrian Belew
  • Ronan introduced me to Voivod’s music
  • Ronan introduced me to Bozzio Levin Stevens’ music
  • I became aware of Benny Greb because of Ronan
  • Ronan taught me the all fundamentals I need to know in the world of recording from his recording classes and production seminars
  • Ronan mastered all my records, even on earlier songs where I was still trying to find myself as a writer
  • Ronan inspired me to become a better arranger and performer
  • Ronan was always there to help answer questions whenever I got stuck in my work and even offered me a place to stay during my move, in case I ran into trouble with logistics.
  • For the first several years that I had known Ronan, I would learn something new from him every time I met him in person. I might have been casual conversations, but there would always be something to pick up on.

…like a big brother showing me, helping me and teaching me all these things.

When Pat initially agreed to play drums on my record, it was a really emotional moment for me, but things also felt right, once the excitement started to become relatively more…. stable. Pat had known Ronan for years, as they worked together on so many King Crimson ProjeKCt records (i.e., Crimson under a different name, as he calls it). Pat also worked with Ronan on sessions for other artists, and he played drums on Ronan’s solo record too (, which he had been working on for quite some time now). But when I reached out to Pat, it wasn’t based on Ronan’s suggestion (- it was after listening to a Progtopia podcast where Pat said that he’s available for sessions for unknown artists) and I didn’t mention to Pat about “my affiliation” with Ronan initially, since I didn’t want Pat to feel like he was doing it as a favor. I was a bit shy of mentioning it too. But from the moment he agreed, to even now, things still feel right. There’s some sort of comfort – like a family, in a way, because of how everybody was somewhat connected.

Sure, looking back, there are certain things I wish I could have done better on the record, such as the way I mixed the drums sonically and perhaps giving a bit more room for the drum parts to shine. But I had no idea anyone would even be willing to play drums on my tunes, so it wasn’t something I accounted for when I originally wrote the pieces. What I did learn was that it didn’t really matter, because Pat’s background has been in different genres, and progressive rock is one piece (although a large piece) of who he is as a musician. He could make anything sound interesting while serving the song, while being able to experiment with his “traps-and-buttons” (electronic trigger samples and sound effects). Plus, he just genuinely loves music and loves to play – pretty much anything. One occasion I remembered him pointing out, “you’re rushing” – which I did tend to do. It’s something I have learned from, worked on and have gotten a little better at ever since.

I met him twice when I was in Austin for work, just several months after the project. It was around Christmas time and he was gracious enough to take time out of his day to meet me. First meeting was at a local Italian coffee/espresso place. We exchanged hugs and agreed that we had finally met. First comment he made was playing with Crimson in the past at the local church venue across the street, like the Good vs Evil – very amusing. Second thing he said, “So how did you know Ronan Chris Murphy?” (I had told him that Ronan was mastering the record via email several months ago).

The second meeting was at his house, where he was working on several records. He played me parts of the ToPaRaMa record, pointing out parts he and Tobias were playing. There were sections where they were each playing in different time signatures on top of each other… stuff that’s WAY over my head. He then played parts of the Face record, which he had been working with Markus on for several years. (I’ve just learned recently from the MakeWeirdMusic interview that the record’s has been placed on hold and not to be released for now, which is unfortunate…). But most of the time he was comping drums on his Protools setup in his studio for the record he was working on for the solo artist. He’s quite a ninja on it with his speed. “This works” or “This doesn’t work” was what he was explaining. I know it might be obvious to you reading this, but my thoughts were, “He does the same things that mere mortals like me do – experimenting and just trying out different things to see what works!”. He was listening back to the rough demoed programmed drums part sent to him, analyzing what was being played. It was just really fun and very inspiring watching him work.

Of course we geeked out on his monitors, microphones, preamps, and all the recording-related stuff too.

Later on, he showed me his artwork, how he needed to jump through hoops to get things just right. What really got me to realize is that this man really, really cared about his art. It wasn’t just the music. It was the presentation, the mixes. It was about just getting things done the way he wanted it to be done. So much love and details that go into everything – from the smallest unknowns in the world like myself to drumming legends like himself, when it came to art, it was about dedication, loving it and just getting it done.

Pat introduced me to his wonderful beautiful family as well. His sister was talking to him about things she was doing earlier in the day and his daughter was discussing with him about her plans on an event she had going on with her friends, on whether they were going to rent a limo. She saw my vehicle parked outside their home. “Nice ride,” she said. I said thanks, noting that it wasn’t my vehicle, but a rental my employer provided during my stay in Austin. Not long after, Pat needed to head out to pick up his wife and I was actually running late towards my flight too. He suggested me following his car towards a specific intersection so I wouldn’t get lost on my way, and called me when we got there, making sure I knew where to go.

Only a month later, Pat was in Whittier, CA on a double bill with The Aristocrats at the Calprog show. Of course I drove up from San Diego to catch it! The Aristocrats were playing first and he was sitting on the side of the stage, enjoying the show. Yes, like the rest of us. (Pat’s also a friend of Marco Minnemann, and I remember seeing a copy of the Levin Minnemann Rudess debut record at his home studio). When Stick Men came on, watching him groove and “dance” (move) to his playing was such a treat. His joy and smiles while playing were contagious too, because I couldn’t stop smiling myself either. After the show, Pat, along with members of Stick Men, met and greeted the fans in the foyer. Pat saw me and actually recognized me. I couldn’t believe it. Just before that time, my first ever review (on SomethingElse! Reviews) had been released out, which I was ecstatic about. Pat knew of it because I emailed him, super excited, thanking him for helping me out. After the Calprog show, Pat introduced me to his friends and fans that he was talking to, bringing up the record he did with me, mentioning the review. I was moved (and felt a shy about it). Pat didn’t have to do that, but he was so gracious to mention that. As someone who’s never really been comfortable talking about one’s own work in front of other people, this really meant a lot to me.

While primarily working alone (playing all instruments, writing, mixing), outside of drums and mastering, I would imagine it being quite a different experience than working with band members of your own band. I think these are the reasons that all the types of little moments I described above become even more extra special memories, as they really attach to the records I make.


Review: “Truefire Steve Vai – Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare”

Steve Vai has a new instructional video out with Truefire called Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare. Unlike most of the guitar instructional videos out there where the videos typically show note-for-note ideas and specific techniques, this series of videos here consist mostly of Vai talking about his philosophies and approaches in both his playing and compositions.

Many of his things he talked about could be found in his interviews online, his Alien Guitar Secrets seminar, (which I also attended several years ago,) especially the philosophical-type of talk. That content were to be found in mostly the first half of the video series. But the videos were done really well in that they are well organized and focused without going off too much to a tangent. While the philosophical topics were interesting, I found the videos in the latter half with him breaking down his songs from his record “Passion and Warfare” to be fantastic. That record, of course was an iconic record, not just in guitar playing, but the compositions, the compositions/arrangements of the songs, the engineering and mixing part of it were all so perfect. For him to go over the songs, pointing out his compositional and arrangement methods for each was unbelievable.

Here are a couple of things that I remembered, off the top of my head.

  • All the different sound effects he used, such as:
    • Slapping strings
    • Blowing into the guitar on the side against the strings and pickups to get a flute sound
    • Sounds created by tapping his finger on the unplugged end of a patch cable going into an amp.
    • Hitting the strings with the whammy bar
    • Scraping sounds
    • Sound coming from detaching a whammy bar
    • Strumming the strings from behind the nut
  • Reverse technique:
    • Writing a composed part
    • Transcribing each note of each instrument backwards
    • Playing and recording through the backward transcription along with a click for each instrument
    • Flipping the tape backwards to there’s a recorded effect but with notes of the original un-reversed composition

He would use these sounds or reverse effects and sometimes they would appear in just really small sections of songs, sometimes even as a backdrop, and sometimes as the main parts.

Other things:

  • Consciously writing a song that don’t have a melody as part of his vision
  • Chord substitutions
  • Call and response
  • Duplets, Triplets, Quintuplets, Septuplet (which he had also gone in depth in the past)
  • Getting familiar with time signatures that are in 13 (based on the Frank Zappa song “Thirteen”) and the phrasing of the time signature.
  • Getting familiar with Septupets (it’s actually quite tricky when the tempo’s fast, getting that picking/strumming technique down and locked in)
  • Taking a groove off a song he loved, tweaked it to his liking, changed the tempo and used it in his own song.
  • Using sampled instruments (back when samples just started to sound good)
  • Not using vibrato (very minimal) in the first verse’s melody of the song, and then playing with exaggerating vibrato in the 2nd verse’s melody for contrast.

Still a lot of material for me left to watch, but it’s been quite fun and inspiring watching all this thus-far.

Consulting with Bryan Beller, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled a consulting session with one my favorite musicians, Bryan Beller. Bryan needs no introduction, but he’s played with Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally, Dethklok and of course his own superhuman band, “The Aristocrats”. He has a solo career too, where his own touring band members are the exact same members as the Mike Keneally Band. I’m a huge fanboy, and always found his bass tones ridiculously amazing. I’m not even really a bass player and I’m a fan. Go figure. While some of the conversation topics shall forever remain private, there are other things that I can share here that may be of interest to folks out there.

On how he got his bass tones from the studio, on the latest Joe Satriani record “Shockwave Supernova”, as well as on his own records (solo, Aristocrats).

For the recent Satriani record, he used the A-Designs REDDI. Distortion came from the Sansamp plugin. The recording chain was decided by the staff, rather than him. There was an AMPEG rig in an isolation room, miced up. DI was duplicated, and SansAmp bass-driver plugin was put on one of them.

On his own records (Aristocrats, Solo), he decides on the recording chains. The signal path is not the same as his live rig. On records, they’re typically DI – one clean DI, one dirty DI, blended together. The dirty DI is done using overdrive pedals.

For the song “Oh No” from The Aristocrats “Culture Clash” album, he used a combination of overdrive/distortion pedals – the Dark Glass Electronics B3K overdrive, and the Dunlop M80 distortion DI together. No mic cabs were used.

On whether the Aristocrats albums were mixed In-The-Box (ITB) or Out-of-The-Box (OTB)

First two albums “The Aristocrats” and “Culture Clash” were completely done ITB – i.e., within protools. The third record “Tres Caballeros” was mixed hybrid – i.e., with both protools and the console. I have always been curious about this because I’ve always really enjoyed the sonics (and the songs) of the 2nd record (“Culture Clash”).

If you’ve watched some of Bryan’s DVD extras for his solo records, you would notice that those albums were all mixed ITB as well (AND sounded awesome).

On how he works through writers block

Time. When forced a deadline, you’re just pushed to write. There was one song that he wrote in 6 hours because of this. But he recommends going away and coming back to it.

“Sometimes you need to live through the life experiences to be able to have something to write about.”

On how he keeps himself from repeating himself when coming up with new parts or contributions (on his own records or records for others).

He doesn’t really think about it like that. He just writes whatever works. The parts would always be like “different children from the same parent”.

This is an interesting answer, because I know Mike Keneally has mentioned publicly that he really puts emphasis into not repeating himself. These are very different approaches from two people that have worked so closely together for 20+ years! Fascinating indeed.

On how he approaches his work differently when it is his own project vs supporting another artists

Doesn’t try to approach anything differently. Some artists might want something a bit more basic, and just to play the song as it was written. It’s just whatever that works to serve the song/songwriter.
It’s usually up to the producer to make the balance. For Aristocrats each member produces his own songs. (Typically, each member contributes 3 songs – and their producing styles are quite different.).

On what piece of work he’s most proud of and why

  • “Love Adrenaline” (which happens to be my favorite song he wrote too). Writing process for that: He had a good idea of where he wanted the song to go, and he just ‘chipped away at it’.
  • “Through the Flower” (Aristocrats).
  • Playing-wise, couple of songs from Keneally’s Sluggo album. “Life’s too Small”
  • Proud of “Smuggler’s Corridor” too.
  • He’s more interested in compositions than anything in his playing.
  • Hopefully his playing makes the song better. Otherwise he feels that he’s doing it wrong.
  • Favorite work of his usually are ones that are the better songs and ones that he has an emotional attachment to.

On how he writes

Yes. He grew up playing piano and his writing always comes from it first. The piano is how he visualizes music.

Bonus tidbits if you’re still reading this:

  • I found out that Bryan went to school with Tobias Ralph from The Crimson Projekct (who also played drums on my record)!
  • Bryan finds my music weird. I was a bit surprised to hear that at first, considering some of his past work he’s done, so I’ll more than gladly take it as a compliment (… even if it wasn’t meant to be one!)!

(Continue to Part 2 here)

Scott Henderson’s interview on “Tim and Pete’s Guitar Show”

This is a really great episode where Pete Thorn and Tim Pierce interviews Scott Henderson. By the way – Great, great show hosted by two amazing players in their own right. In this episode, Scott Henderson talks about his tone, recording process, pedals, guitars, playing techniques.

Spoiler alert if you’re short on time to watch the full video:

  • He only owns 57s and single-mics his cabinets.
  • He uses different mic placements (in combination of tone controls) for different parts/sections of the song.
  • He would try to use a different distortion pedal/distortion setting from song to song to get a different timbre.
  • He uses different tone control settings for the different pickups – not just to tame the high-end of particular pickups, but so that when switching between bridge and neck, there’s less of a noticeable tonal difference, which suits his tastes better and what he found to be the case in old records he enjoys.
  • In the mix, he would play with low-shelf attenuation at 5K to get rid of the fizziness/brittle high-end, and would also play with boosting 3-5K as needed.
  • In live he uses a wet-dry setup, but the wet (reverb/delay) amp is placed right next to the dry amp, so it’s pretty much mono from distance, and they’re panned mono live. He would have the presence/highs turned down in the wet amp to directly adjust reverb/delays.
  • He goes into detail of how he picks (more side of the pick than the tip of the pick), use of fingers, where he would pick on the guitar, how he uses the whammy, etc.
  • Some of his things he talked about in how other player’s approach are quite fascinating too.

Video here on Youtube:

Adding width to the main vocal or solo instrument with harmonizers

I don’t always go back to listen to records that I have released, but I do always tend to regret or wish certain things I have done differently in my mixes whenever I do listen back to them. One of the things I wish I had done more in my earlier records was experimenting with the use of harmonizers. I’m not talking about using a harmonizer to play a certain interval of the scale of a particular instrument, but more of the micro pitch (usually measured in percentages) effect that became a common studio trick in the last couple of decades.

What it does is take your vocal or main solo instrument, have one of the right/left channels play the same thing but a couple of percentages sharp, while the other side with a couple of percentages flat. The effect would be so subtle that it make things sound as if the solo instrument/vocal has gone from a small instrument in the middle to something that expanded out towards across the speakers. It’s an effect similar to chorus, but it’s meant to be very subtle widening effect, rather than a chorus effect in any shape or form.

Here’s an explanation by Tony Shepperd (skip to the 2:05 mark)

Here’s an explanation by Andrew Scheps (skip to the 43:45 mark)

While I did some of that in my latest record, I felt that I wasn’t doing it properly (the plugin lacked certain features) and that I was tuning the effect while it was playing in solo, rather than in context of the whole mix. This made the effect a bit too subtle, and something I would need to look into improving on my next mixes.

Taking my most recent acoustic guitar post for example, I felt that I could have done that to make the main instrument sound wider and more natural sounding. I went online and spent a couple of days experimenting with various free (or very low-cost) non-iLOK harmonizer pitch shifting plugins. I found many that could only tune the instrument flat or sharp one way, but not the stereo thing of both sharp and flat. Some would not allow a different percentage between the different channels, or the option to add delay. I even found one that were buggy, where a +5% shift was more than a couple of semitones sharp. I also looked at various free (or low-cost) delay plugins but didn’t find one that could detune in both directions for both left and right channels.

Finally, I found a harmonizer plugin named CMX by StillwellAudio that had the above options available and sounded good. It’s not completely free, but the evaluation copy is free and the company’s philosophy is that they do not cripple evaluation software once a certain trial period is over.

After browsing through the pages, I recalled that I had heard of the company before when my friend Jon from Audiogeekzine/ Reaper Blog/ Home Recording Show had done a video demoing their other plugins.

In Tony Shepperd’s video, he explained automating the effect and only kicking in the effect on certain sections of the song, to give them contrast and listener’s interest. It’s something I should look into experimenting too. Now I just need to write more music… the hard part…

Soundcheck/ cover

Checking to making sure that my updated non-mobile rig is working properly… (which means I now have a semi-mobile counterpart. More on that later…)

Can you guess which cover I just butchered horribly? You can download it here, if so inclined…


**Edit 04/2016 – I’ve decided to remove the clip since the performance and recording’s not as good as I would have preferred.

Ronan’s use of the Flux Bender EQ on my Record “Business Brunch Specials: Uranium Omelet (with GMO-Free Brown Sauce)”

Master engineer Ronan Chris Murphy from Veneto West Mastering​ gave me a mention during this episode of Ronan’s Recording Show​, where he briefly talked about how he used the Flux Bender EQ when mastering my record. It was a very brief mention, but **HUGE** fan-boy moment for me!!!!! Not only because I’m a crazy fan of his show, but because he’s also my mentor and teacher – not to mention that he’s also worked with King Crimson/ProjeKCTs, Mike Keneally, G3 (Satriani, Vai, Fripp), Bozzio-Levin-Stevens…. (Yeah, I know). Start at around 21:00 for the mention, but audio geeks like myself would want to check out the full episode because the EQ unit sounded gorgeous and spectacular, and really did add quite a bit of that awesome analog mojo to the tracks when I experienced it in person.