Tag: 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.

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…

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.

 

Mike Keneally Interview with SweetWater

Here’s an excellent 40+ minute  Mike Keneally interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgyNco_JISQ

He talks about his work, his upbringing, as well as his philosophy. 40+ minutes long.

Here’s an excerpt:

…especially nowadays where it becomes increasingly unlikely that anyone even at levels that appear to be successful. You’ll see bands that are touring all the time and are making records and people like the records and you’d think , “Oh, they must be doing ok,” and then you find out that they’re struggling, you know…. It’s just not easy.

There’s no shame in saying that I’m working 9-5 –  I’ve got this gig that subsidizes my life…. and then when I get home at night, I’ll get on the computer and work on music for a couple of hours, and maybe on the weekends, I’ll go out with my buddies and play in a bar or something.

Somebody will say that to me, “I’m not really a musician. I only play on weekends or anything. I’m only able to work on the computer once in a while and stuff, because I’ve got this gig.” …and I’d go, “That’s great! That’s really cool.” You’re not struggling, and you’re not panicked about the fact that music isn’t paying for your life. You have a thing that pays for your life, and then you’re able to do music for the best reasons to do music – because you love it.

They ain’t nothing wrong with someone that has a 9-5 gig and just does music when they can. The challenge of course is just making the time and having the energy, and that’s just something we all need to go through at any level – Just got to prioritize.

– Mike Keneally

 

As a very good friend of mine says, “Mike Keneally is a national treasure!

Best. Line. Ever.

 

ModernDrummer: Progressive Drumming Essentials

ModernDrummer: Progressive Drumming Essentials. The videos on the site go into the basics of odd time signature, polyrhythms and polyrhythmic grooves. The actual article in print form (from the magazine) shows everything in charts to make things easier to dissect and follow along if you’re interested, but the videos themselves are very, very cool in their own right.

Part1: http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2015/05/video-lesson-progressive-drumming-essentials-part-1-understanding-odd-time-signatures/

Part2: http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2015/06/video-lesson-progressive-drumming-essentials-part-2-demystifying-polyrhythms/

Part3: http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2015/07/video-lesson-progressive-drumming-essentials-part-3-polyrhythmic-grooves/

Mike Portnoy’s Perspective on Odd Time Signatures and Groove

Just recently came across this Mike Portnoy interview on Drum Talk TV. Very cool interview where he talked about odd time signatures and groove.

From around the 10:33 mark:

I spend so much time playing odd time signatures and a lot of people ask me about that, and these are 2 schools of thought.

There are people who play odd time signatures that know exactly what playing in 15/8 is and playing in 19/16 is – There are people that technically know that stuff. Then there are people like in Soundgarden that play in 7 or 5 all the time but I would probably venture to guess they don’t even realize it, because they’re playing by the way it sounds, or the way it feels, and there’s something to be said for both. Now I”m at the point where I could feel pretty much any time signature. I don’t have to count it out. I can recognize it, just from the feel and the sound of it. But it’s also nice when you can count it and you do understand it. Because once you understand it, you can dig a little deeper and you can start breaking up the phrasings into different combinations and things like that – which is something I’ve always done. I think in the early days, the most important is to sound and feel right, you know, rather than it being a mathematical equation on a piece of paper.

I think when it comes to groove, first and foremost, to me, is it’s always about the kick and snare. Everything else is just icing on the cake and back in my old Dream Theater days, I used to think more about the icing on the cake, and I would spend a tremendous amount of time with the nuances. As time went on, as I grew older and as my tastes changed I realize those nuances are nice, but at the end of the day it’s about being the anchor and the groove and what is a kick and snare doing and a lot of times now, if I’m writing with the winery dogs, like the first album and as well as the new album that we’re currently making, we wrote both albums at Richie Kotzen’s house and he has a drum kit there that is literally kick, snare, ride and hi hat, and that’s it. No toms, no splashes, or chinas or anything. Kick, snare, ride, hi-hat and I’ve written now two Winery Dog albums, you know, writing the songs on a kit like that. Because at the end of the day, that’s what the groove is. Kick, snare, and then either the hi-hat or the ride. A good song, and a good groove and a good drum beat and a good performance is based around that. Everything else is icing on the cake. The icing is nice, but you’ve got to have a good cake first.

 

 

This is eye opening for me. I think as a non-drummer, it simplifies the writing process for me greatly. Knowing that I can set the foundation of what I’m looking for in my demos with just the kick and snares (even for odd time), I can ball park the feel of it with just those two in my programming, and let the real drummers do their thing when it’s time for the real thing. I can move on and concentrate on the parts for the other instruments. I’ve been doing that more so without knowing it, mainly because of my limited knowledge of drums, but it turns out that the strategy was valid!

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.

Phase Trick on Multi-Mic sources

One thing about phase is that whenever you have multi-mic on a single source, there would be a phase relationship between what’s been recorded by each of those microphones. When the combination of these signals have phase problems, you would hear things sounding hollow, lack of focus and specific frequencies sounding missing.

In a case where there’s a drum kit that is mic-ed with spaced-pair overheads, 1 mic on kick, 1 mic on snare, sometimes you would need to hit the phase button on the kick/ snare to see which sound you would prefer. Often times, the difference is dramatic, but sometimes it isn’t (where the engaged/not-engaged sound equally bad).

I’m going to talk about the latter case.

What to do when the phase button isn’t making much of a difference and neither settings sound good

When mixing my record, one scenario I ran into was where the snare’s phase setting, in relation to the overheads didn’t really make a difference, and didn’t sound particularly good. Then it occurred to me that every time I EQ a signal – any signal, the EQ itself is already changing the phase response of whatever it’s processing. If I change any settings, let’s say – even simply by nudging an already-existing high-pass-filter acting on the signal, by maybe 10 Hz higher or lower than my original 100Hz setting (or vary the Q) – whatever change in setting, then that itself is changing the phase response than what it was before. Changing the phase response of one signal (my snare) would change the phase relationship of that against my other signal(s) (overheads, kick).

Nudging EQ settings to change the phase response and the phase relationship with other signals

I did just that – nudged a subtle EQ setting of my snare, THEN go back-and-forth with the snare phase button. The difference between when the phase button is engaged or vice versa was then quite a bit more dramatic before. The ‘better’ version did in fact sound a lot better than before I did all this.

Of course, when you sweep the EQ setting, you may be already be able to find a spot where things overall just sound better, without hitting that phase button – but the point of this post is to mention that a nudge in an existing EQ setting every so slightly may be all that you need.

To summarize:

  • Apply equalization changes a phase response of a signal.
  • Changing equalization settings would change the phase response and its relationship with other signals.
  • Making a slight equalization settings change could help create a bigger difference between whether the phase button is engaged or not.

 

Discussion on Digital Recording Levels

The general thinking of many people (including myself when I first started out), is that they would want to record tracks with the maximum number of bits/ resolution without clipping. In reality, the Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADC) are mixed-signal components that have optimum range of operation. In the hotter ranges towards digital zero 0db, there is actually a slight bit more degradation introduced to the sound than in the lower level ranges. Provided that audio is recorded with 24-bits, you would actually have a 144db of dynamic range. That’s enough to capture the difference of volume of a sleeping baby vs a roaring jet engine.

With hot levels, you could always risk of momentarily going above 0 (digital clipping). While the meters of the DAW or hardware metering may not show, the reality is that the meter itself may not be fast enough to catch the quick transients (for things like drums, for example). It is rather better to record with conservative levels than having the chance of ruining that perfect take. If you’re going to record all hot, then find the need to reduce the levels of every channel in your DAW (which mathematically subtracts from each recorded track) that feeds the master bus, where it all sums back together, then what’s really the point of having the hot levels in the first place?

While I’m not here to say one should aim for the opposite extreme of recording with the lowest levels as possible, because of noise floors, but having a peak of -12db in the DAW meters (when the volume fader is unaltered and set to 0) should be a good target to aim for.

$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