Category: Studio gear

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko8SrhSXjnU

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)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFmXyla_c2E#t=2m5s

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLnHlWpdIDk#t=43m45s

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…

Goodbye Old Studio! Farewell San Diego!

For the last 2 or so years, I had been contemplating a move away from San Diego, for a variety of personal reasons. As soon as I finished my “Business Specials” record, I was very much focusing on relocation to the Greater Los Angeles area. No writing, no promo work of the new record, no playing/practicing – just the move. I can now say that I’m in the very latter part of the transition and onto the next phase of my life.

I made all 3 of my records in San Diego, and learned the fundamentals of recording during this period. First record was done in my apartment, and the latter two were in the living room of my later home and had world class drummers in them. Obviously these were never things that I had planned for when I first moved to the home, but I am eternally grateful how these things have worked out.

studio

Original studio…

Empty studio

Empty studio… lifeless… dark… odd empty feeling…

The comfort and abundance of this home studio space is something I’m really missing already, but I’m now living closer to my friends, mentor, music teachers, professional music studios, like-minded people, all the activities/conventions/shows that are available in this area – heck, even the cool used gear market! Food options are much better should I need to grab a quick bite while working on my music. This is going to be an exciting time, and a much, MUCH needed boost!

 

 

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.

 

The Aristocrats Live in San Diego, Tres Caballeros Tour (August 28, 2015)

Please scroll down for pictures…

I don’t remember the exact set list, but these are the songs that were played as far as I could remember (in no specific order, other than the first 3 songs):

  • Stupid 7
  • Jack’s Back
  • Texas Crazypants
  • Pig’s Day Off
  • Smuggler s Corridor
  • Pressure Relief
  • The Kentucky Meat Shower
  • Louisville Stomp
  • Desert Tornado (with Marco Minnemann Drum Solo)
  • Blues Fuckers

As you can see, most of the songs were from the latest record, and the only songs that they didn’t play that night from the record were “ZZ Top” and “Through the Flower”. ZZ Top did get played played live from previous shows on this tour from what I have seen on Youtube. I was actually hoping to hear what Marco Minnemann explain the counting intro at the beginning of the song before the intro… (though I think I have an idea…), but I guess I’ll just have to wait for another day.

(Or maybe those were played! I’ve been losing my memory as of late…)

The band was tight as always and watching/listening up close to how Bryan Beller harmonizes things was incredible. The songs have indeed evolved a bit from the record, which made it really fun to watch. Marco Minnemann’s drum extended solo towards the end of Desert Tornado was such a treat to watch. Of course, Guthrie Govan was in God-Mode the entire show – well the entire band was. It is almost a given whenever these three special entities are up on stage together.

Security guys at UCSD asked everyone to leave soon after the show (around 11:15), which meant we couldn’t wait to meet the band members. That was a first because we were always able to thank them at the Brick by Brick venue, at all the Keneally shows in UCSD, as well as the Calprog show (double bill with Stick Men) last year up in Whittier, CA. The security guys were quite keen to wrap things up so they could go home probably. One thing that I don’t see everyday was that when security asked everyone to leave, one fan pleaded if he could talk to Marco Minnemann, seeing him leaving through the other door. The fan was denied, then cursed at security and tried to force his way through and around the guy anyway. Security got really upset, yelled at the guy and kicked him out….

…AT A ROCK FUSION/ INSTRUMENTAL SHOW!

Man, and I thought I was a crazy passionate fan myself… I’d probably not do that… But given that these guys are the best in the world at what they do, it’s good to see my heroes getting this type of attention….! (I guess)

 

Pat Mastelotto’s Drums, Microphones and Studio Setup

Might be a little long overdue posting this, but here are some snapshots showing Pat Mastelotto’s drum kit setup, microphone placements and studio he had while tracking for my 2nd album back in 2013. Sorry about the blurriness – I believe Pat took these with his camera phone at the time.

Click on picture for larger view.

Microphones used

There were 2 overheads, 2 kicks (in and out), snare (top and bottom), hi-hat, toms, single room mic. The ride might have been mic-ed as well, but I do not remember exactly. The overheads were Earthworks (although I’m not sure what the model was).

Preamps

I believe he was using an API preamp

Which mics I used and which ones I did not

During mixing, I didn’t use the snare bottoms, kick (out), hi-hats. Things sounded much more focused and better that way. So it was mainly the overheads, kick, snare and the room. The toms were not played much, but I would un-mute those microphones whenever they were played. Every thing sounded excellent when they came in, and I all needed to do was enhance what I had with some processing.

$300 Dollar Home Studio Budget Breakdown

Recently there’s been a lot of discussions/debate on the interwebs on whether or not a home studio could be built with $300. While I agree on both fronts that gear does matter, while minimal budget gear should not prevent you from creating and recording music, the more important question is what would one really spend that $300 on?

I remember when I first started out, the audio interface and the microphone alone had cost just about that much, but there’s a lot more variety of options at lower costs with better quality available now (such as with audio interfaces and headphones).

Let’s ballpark it in numbers. Keep in mind that one may need to hunt in the used market to keep within budget.

  • DAW: Reaper ($60)
  • Microphone: SM57 ($70 Used)
  • Mic Cable: XLR ($15 Used)
  • Audio Interface (USB-interface): $100
  • Headphones: $40-60
  • Mic stand: ($15 Used)

Total: $300-320

You may decide to get a used pair of monitors for $100 instead, but that would also require purchasing of 2 more cables for that. (Headphones come with cables) – adding more to what’s already over $300.

The great thing about this list is that Reaper’s a great DAW for a great price and contains far too many features than some of the DAWs costing 8-10 times more. Its stock plugins are very useable. SM57 is a classic used in most electric guitars and snare drums for the last couple of decades. Most of the gear on the list would come at a one-time cost but chances are, that you would likely not need to upgrade those in the future.

This whole list assumes that the person already contains all the instruments needed for recording, and not need to make any additional purchases. Otherwise there’s no way to meet that $300 mark.

While there’s a lot of quality gear that don’t come expensive, there’s also a lot of poor quality things out there (<$99 audio interfaces, <$100 made-in-Asia condenser microphones) that one needs to look out for. While a bit of a stretch indeed, it’s not entirely impossible.

On the subject of gear vs technique – my dear friend Ronan explains it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPLqA7jEF1