Category: Studio Tech

Messin With The Music Part 12 – Shout

For today’s post we’re Messin with another song for you. This time we’re taking on ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears. The song first came out in 1984 on Tears For Fears second album, Songs From The Big Chair. It became one of the most popular and recognizable songs of that era of music. One of the best fist in the air, sing along choruses you’ll find. As I’ve said before we always pick songs we like to cover. I don’t think you can do an interesting cover unless you have some type of love for the song you’re working with. But you also have to be able to do something different and interesting with the tune. For ERP I don’t see the point of trying to do a note for note copy of a song. Who wants to do a ‘not as good’ exact copy of a song you love.

For ‘Shout’ it was easy to do something different. The song has a pretty ‘electronic’ sound to it, along with the drive from a full drum kit. So turning it acoustic gave it us a lot of choices. The basic foundation of the song was built on twelve string acoustic guitar. We did two tracks of that and panned them to opposite stereo channels. The other thing that gives these guitars some push and pull is that they are not completely identical throughout the song. If you’re wondering about how song arrangements are created, this technique is something to keep in mind. Before there were large multi track studios, you had to really think about how to place tracks in the song. If you listen to some Hendrix songs you’ll hear drums in one channel only and guitar or bass only in the opposite channel.

So for ‘Shout’ we used the two takes of twelve string guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass. There’s also some acoustic slide guitar and a second mandolin in the instrumental parts. For rhythm we used tambourine, washboard, wood block (the wood version of ‘More Cowbell’), egg shaker and a rattler that sounds a bit rain stick. We did four tracks of vocals, two for the verse and two for the chorus. The point is to highlight the vocals and lyrics. This was a one mic recording. We used the new ribbon mic for everything (see In The Studio – Microphone Basics). I’m pretty happy with the results.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears:

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears


Follow The Chain

When we did our last video for In The Studio we discussed the basics of microphones. Part of that discussion was that microphones were one of the entry points for inputting and capturing sound in your system. Today I thought we’d do a post discussing two of the next steps of ‘the chain’ (really two possible options for the next step of sound capture). My usual next step for capturing sound from a microphone would be to run them in to an outboard microphone pre-amp and then in to an outboard compressor. This is my personal choice as my mixing boards have inboard mic-pre-amps and compressors that could also be used. Again, we’re going to discuss this in relatively non-technical terms so anyone can have a basic idea of what the equipment does. I’m also not recommending specific brands or models. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and that’s a whole separate discussion.

Let’s start with the mic pre-amps. The simple explanation of a mic pre-amp is that it increases the signal from the microphone so that you have enough signal volume to get a good sounding recording. Let’s look at the pre-amp below:

This is a two channel unit so we’re only looking at one side. First, it has a button to activate phantom power. As we discussed with microphones, condenser mics put out less voltage than dynamic mics, so we need to use phantom power to add that voltage. If you use a separate phantom power unit in line before the pre-amp, you won’t need to activate this. The pre-amp has a dial where you will determine the volume added to the signal going in to the unit (Input) and a dial for adding volume to the signal leaving the unit (Output). The amount of power added to the input is measured by the LED lights at the bottom right and the output power is measured by the needle display in the upper right. You also have a button labeled ‘Gain’ where you can boost the input signal by another 20 decibels. You have a button to reverse the signal phase (if you want to know about signal phase, dig in our archives for the video on recording a snare and phase cancellation). The ‘HPF’ button is a high pass filter. You can use this to ‘roll off’ at a certain frequency – we’ll save a deeper explanation for another time.

This mic pre-amp is a little more high end and allows you to be a bit more specific in adding signal to certain frequencies. These are the toggle switches and dials to the right in the photo. Other than that, the mic-pre works in the same fashion.

After the mic pre-amp, the signal is sent to a compressor. The basic function of a compressor is to regulate the volume peaks of the signal before it moves to the next step. This can keep the signal from ‘clipping’ and adding audible ‘pops’ to the track if a volume peak is too loud. Let’s take a look at one and go through it’s options.

Going left to right. ‘Threshold’ determines at what volume the compressor takes hold of the signal. The ‘Ratio’ determines what the unit does with the volume once it reaches the Threshold. If you select a Ratio of 4:1 it means that once the volume level hits the Threshold, the compressor will allow the output to increase by 1 decibel for every 4 decibels of actual volume. The ‘Attack’ determines how quickly the compressor applies the Ratio and ‘Release’ determines how quickly it stops applying the Ratio when the signal drops below the Threshold. When you apply compression to a signal, you will reduce the overall top volume. The Output dial allows you to make up for this by increasing the overall output from the unit. Finally, this unit also has a ‘Gate’. The Gate allows you to select how much volume is needed to allow the signal to pass through. For instance, when you are recording a vocal, you don’t want anything from the mic to pass through when the vocalist is not singing. You would be picking up unwanted background noise. The Gate shuts off the signal when there is not enough volume going in to the mic. The ‘Rate’ dial allows you to adjust how quickly the gate takes effect.

The compressor in this photo also has a limiter (far right), which means that beyond applying the Ratio, you can set the compressor to cut off the output signal totally at a certain level.

Above and beyond controlling the signal level, mic pre-amps and compressors are used to add color, depth and tone to the signal you are putting through them. Mic pre-amps can use tubes or solid state circuits to accomplish their goal. They can run from affordable to incredibly expensive. Each type will add their own flavor to the sound you are recording. Compressors have been used as an effect to give certain sonic qualities to an instrument – you can find lots of info about using heavy compression on snare and kick drums to achieve a specific sound. Compression can be added at many stages of the recording process. You can add compression to tracks already recorded in the software. You will usually add compression to the final mix to even out the overall volume of the music.

We’ll continue to move through the recording chain in future posts. As always, let us know if you have questions or comments.

In The Studio Ep 12 – Microphone Basics

This episode of In The Studio describes the basics of microphone functions and the different types of microphones. As with most episodes of In The Studio, I’ve tried to keep this from being overly technical. Since there are literally thousands of YouTube videos and blogs that are made for tech heads, I wanted to put out content for people who may not be deep in to the subject, but are interested in how recording studios work. So this video is set up like a conversation between me and you. This video is straight from the camera without editing software. As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions – discussion is always welcome.

Messin With The Music Part 10 – How Many More Times

Welcome to another entry in our Messin With The Music series. The recording of this song comes with an interesting history. ‘How Many More Times’ is a Led Zeppelin classic from their first album. It is also the first song we actually recorded for the series. Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs, like most bands, has gone through a number of band member changes. We had spent a lot of years always trying to have a full band together that was capable of playing live. Each time someone would leave or a new musician came in it’s practically like starting over. We had electronically released our ‘Celebrity Prostitution’ EP, staying with a garage rock, punk blues sound. This time we decided to just work on our own and concentrate on recording. The question became – what style of music should we do? On many sites or internet radio when you post a song you’re asked to pick a style of music it represents – usually from a drop down list. It’s difficult to categorize yourself. I’d much rather let someone else make that call. We’ve never stuck to a very specific style, although I guess you could put it generically under ‘rock’. So, just for fun, we decided to create a category and try to fit some music in to it. Thus was born Dark Americana Shoegaze. We wanted to work on figuring out instrumentation, arrangements and recording. We thought the best way to do this was to start by covering songs (although we do have a number of originals in various stages of completion). That way we could concentrate on aspects other than writing the song – and we’d get to play songs we already really liked.

We didn’t have any pre-conceived recording methods yet, other than keeping a ‘live’ feel – no autotune, no quantizing of drums or other instruments, no cut and paste of parts. With that in mind we got to work on ‘How Many More Times’. There was a lot of structural change to do. We certainly couldn’t copy Led Zeppelin’s eight minute and twenty eight second version. So we cut it down to a number of shortened verses, did a short piece to represent the long instrumental in the middle and another section for ‘The Hunter’. To keep the Dark Americana Shoegaze idea some verses are electric guitar based, some acoustic instrument based and some a combination. The vocal tracks tie all the different parts together. To get a big, full sound most of the instruments and vocals were multi tracked with multiple mics. If you listen you can hear a number of different electric guitar sounds, two bass lines and multiple banjo and mandolin tracks at different parts of the song. We stacked a lot of vocal tracks. When we finished recording we were looking at forty eight tracks. This was going to take a while to mix and master. We decided we wanted to get a song out quickly so we picked another song – ‘It’s Gonna Be A Long Night’ by Ween and moved to what became our more standard method to put it out quicker – one mic, one track for most instruments. That went well so we picked another song, then another, then another. ‘How Many More Times’ went on the back burner. When the pandemic put our recording on pause it seemed like a good time to finally put this song together. I will say that this is probably the ‘strangest’ cover we’ll ever put out, so it may be a ‘love/hate’ experience for listeners. Might do another Led Zeppelin tune in a bit more straight forward fashion in the future. It was certainly an interesting experience mixing it. So here it is. Hope you enjoy it. As always we encourage comments, feedback and suggestions.

In The Studio Ep 11 – ChurchHouse Studio Tour

It’s been a while since we did an In The Studio episode. We had some live performance ideas started, but as with much of our lives, that’s temporarily on hold. So I thought we might do some more episodes that simplify studio tech as we did with micing the snare drum. A good place to start would be with a quick overview of the studio. You’ll have to excuse some of the noise in the video – it’s literally live with me picking up the camera and moving around, no post recording editing. You know us – we love running it ‘live’. If you have any questions, comments or topics you’d like to see discussed in future episodes, let us know. So let’s get started……….

Below are some photos referenced in the video. This will give you an idea of how the main control room setup is changeable depending on the task. First two photos are of different mixing/mastering station setups.

Mixing/Mastering Setup 1
Mixing/Mastering Setup 2

A couple of photos of setups using the movable sound panels – Vocal booth and amp separation.

Vocal Booth
Amp Separation

And finally a couple of photos of setups in the big room. All the mic signal goes back to the main control room in to the patch bay shown in the video.

Drum recording session
Full band session

Messin With The Music Part 9 – Seven Nation Army

We’re back with another ‘messed’ song for your enjoyment. There’s a bit of a story with this one. ‘Seven Nation Army’ was actually recorded before most of the other songs that have been posted. Recording these covers did start with one idea we have maintained with all the songs – recording the tracks straight through to keep it having a more ‘live’ feel. With this song we did what we often do with our own studio songs – record multiple tracks of each instrument for a more ‘full’ sound. So most of the instruments on ‘Seven Nation Army’ were tracked several times (although each separate track is recorded straight through). We also used multiple mics on the acoustic instruments, adding even more tracks.

This tune has twelve string guitar, mandolin, banjo and six string guitar. The percussion is the floor tom from our drum kit and a shaker. Each instrument was tracked several times (except the percussion). Two more mandolin parts were added in the one instrumental section as a ‘lead’ instrument. When we finished recording I realized it would take a while to mix correctly so we decided to record another song without all the multi tracking and multiple mics. And when we finished that song we thought of another, then another……… So it took quite a while to get back to mixing ‘Seven Nation Army’.

As we continue messin’ with songs I’m sure more electric instrumentation while come in to play along with a bunch of other ideas. As always, hit us up with comments and questions if you have any. Hope you enjoy.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’:

Messin With The Music Part 8 – Everything That Rises Must Converge

We’re back with another messed with tune for you. This song is from the band Shriekback from the 1985 album ‘Oil And Gold’. They were another early influence band for me. What first drew me in were the great funky bass parts from Dave Allen, formally bass player for Gang Of Four. They also do some wonderfully spooky atmospheric songs with very spare instrumentation. I’d suggest listening through the whole Oil And Gold album if you have the chance.

Another part that draws me in comes from the song title. The concept was first put forth by French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who felt there could be common ground between philosophy, science and religion. It’s a concept we could really use in these times. To quote de Chradin: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”

Finally from a technical standpoint, the Messin ‘live feel’ protocols remain. The song centers on the bass line (including the challenge of playing it straight through the entire song) and the vocals. We have two vocal tracks that sometimes combine and sometimes harmonize. Bubbling in the background is banjo, mandolin, six string guitar and twelve string guitar. We added some shaker and a percussive combination of a mini tambourine combined with washboard (you’ll hear it best right at the end of the song). This was another recording in which stereo placement of each instrument was very important to the final sound. Listen carefully and you should be able to find all the pieces.

As always, hope you enjoy it and questions and comments are welcome. It’s a little tougher with all of us having to work remotely from each other. Please stay safe in these difficult times.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’

In The Studio Ep 10 – Recording Snare Drums And Phase Cancellation

As you scroll through the internet you’ll find lots of videos, blogs, web sites, etc that present info on studio recording. There are a lot of great ones, some very high end studios and some very experienced, knowledgeable people. I’ve watched and read a lot of them myself. So I sat down and gave some thought as to what our place in this vast info universe would be. I’d like our videos and info to make you feel comfortable and at home. As if one of our friends walked in and asked “I always wondered how you……….”. That’s why we do mostly single take videos and record ‘live set up’ songs whenever possible.

This video gives some basic tips on recording the snare drum and the concept of phase cancellation. As you watch the video keep in mind that phase cancellation can happen with anything you record. It’s something to always keep in mind as you do mic placement or mixing. Keep your ears open and your eyes on your sound waves. And always follow the first rule – experiment, try different set ups and compare.

If you have any “I’ve always wondered…..” questions or situations, feel free to leave a comment/question or send us an email. We’re always up for a good ‘conversation’.

March 2020 Grapevine

Welcome back to the Grapevine. This has been one of the strangest (or most frightening) months I’ve experienced in a long time. People hoarding toilet paper? Seriously bizarre. Since it’s best to stay in and avoid contact with people – OK, I do that a bit anyway – it’s a good time to sit back and catch some music. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that are totally new to me. Here’s some songs that I’ve really enjoyed. A tip for discovering on your own: if you hear one of these you like, check out the other videos picked up by the algorithm. I’ve come across some great stuff that way.

First Up: House And Land – ‘Across The Field’

Talk about breaking a song down to it’s basics. This song starts with guitar and vocals (not even fretting with the left hand in the beginning). A violin carries what is basically another vocal line in the background. The drummer is working soft rhythms with felt mallets. Doesn’t seem like much. But the feeling from their version of Appalachian folk music is strong. Towards the middle of the song the guitar chords expand and the violin takes over the melody line. Changes in tempo (imagine that! – no quantizing) really add to the mood. Also love the recording in the kitchen video. If you want to really feel this, take a walk through a dark pine forest by yourself with this in your earbuds. You’ll hear the ghosts.

Next Up: Blackwater Holylight – ‘Lullabye’

While you’re walking through that dark pine forest, add this song to your list. Maybe our theme for this month is ‘spooky’. Quite appropriate. Vocals are at an instrumental level here. They blend in to the overall shoegaze feel. The sound builds as it progresses. Vocals are added over the wash of fuzzed out guitar. The drums add to this build, increasing as the song goes along. Great layering and mixing on the vocal harmonies. The sound is almost visual. Lean back against one of those pine trees and watch the ghosts float by.

Finally: Seratones – ”Gotta Get To know Ya’

Wouldn’t be a ‘Grapevine’ without a change of pace (can’t stay spooky forever). Give me a tight drum rhythm and funky bassline – I’m in heaven. I really enjoyed strapping on a bass and jamming along to this. With a rhythm this funky you could probably read a chocolate cake recipe (mmmmmm…..chocolate) over the groove and it would still make you want to dance. But Seratones put an ass-kicking vocal on top just to add to the bang. They were even nice enough to put a wonderful fuzzy lead guitar line in at about a minute and a half. If I could change this song in any way? Make it longer please!

Retro: Budgie – ‘Breaking All The House Rules’

….and coming in from left field – Budgie with ‘Breaking All The House Rules’. Budgie is one of the lesser known and much under appreciated lights of 1970’s British metal. A three piece band with a bass playing vocalist singing in the high end range. Sound familiar Rush fans? Sort of like Rush heading in to blues garage rock instead of prog. This song starts and builds on one of my all time favorite guitar riffs. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cranked this up and played along. This song contains one of Budgie’s specialties – a great extended middle section before heading back to the first riff. Why weren’t they more well known? Hard to say. Could be because a lot of their songs hit the six or seven minute mark – not really radio friendly. Who needs radio anyway. Punch up the volume and bang along!

Messin With The Music Part 7 – Dead Flowers

There’s so many Rolling Stones songs I’d love to tackle and mess with. We decided to start with ‘Dead Flowers’ from the Sticky Fingers album. The song checked off a couple of boxes for us. People have heard it, but it’s not one of their real famous commercially played songs. It was also one of their ventures in to ‘country’ or ‘country rock’ music. Since we’re doing a lot of acoustic work on the ‘Messin’ songs, that actually made it a bit more of a challenge to change. Although it was recorded with electric rock instrumentation, the country sound gave it a bit of an acoustic feel. And our point in doing these recordings is to do something a little different, not a straight on cover version.

So here’s what we did for our version of the song. We actually picked up the tempo to help enhance the changes. For this song the instruments are single tracked except for the vocals. The instrumentation is 12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, banjo and mandolin. Some of the instruments are playing repeating riffs and some are more straight forward chords. We didn’t add any direct percussion instruments to it, so to fill in the bottom end a fretless bass was added with multiple effects on it. It almost sounds like a keyboard or didgeridoo rolling underneath the other instruments. A second mandolin and banjo part were added in the third verse where the guitar solo was in the original. Where the instruments were panned in the stereo mix was real important. You might see an In The Studio video on stereo field in the near future.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play The Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Dead Flowers’