Category: Studio Tech

Messin With The Music Part 6 – Jeepster

Welcome to 2020. When this song was written that date was the realm of science fiction. We’d be living on other planets, have flying cars and could teleport. Yeah, well. T. Rex released Jeepster at the end of 1971. The song’s chords and structure are basically ‘blues’ oriented. But throw in a few pounds of ‘glam’ and the song turns more psychedelic. Songs from that era are just so much fun to mess with. I think it’s how ‘loose’ they are. If you listen to the original there’s a drum beat intro, which starts at about 88 bpm. By the time we’re rolling in the first verse, it’s at about 95 bpm and it fluctuates throughout the song. It gives the song personality and makes it feel alive.

We stuck with the Messin’ recording rules to keep the live feel. The overall idea was to have the instruments doing intersecting ‘riffs’ with the vocals sort of floating on top. So instrumentally we have: six string banjo to carry the main riff, played twice for the stereo effect; twelve string guitar; two mandolin parts; fretless bass; five string banjo for fills and acoustic slide guitar. We have two different tracks for the vocal. One vocal track was spawned by our discussion of working on a Prince song in the future (‘how would Prince sing Jeepster?’) So instead of one vocal track being the ‘main’ track, we blended two together. More tracks also allowed better options to pan the tracks for stereo which allows you to hear the separate parts easier (and it’s fun for headphones).

So here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs covering T.Rex’s ‘Jeepster’.

Messin With The Music Part 5 – Novocaine For The Soul

Greetings. We’re back with another tune to be messed with. This time we’re honoring ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ by Eels. This was a fun song to work with. I really enjoy the anthemic, sing along nature of the song. Again, we stayed basically acoustic except for the bass guitar. The song has 12 string guitar, bass, mandolin, six string banjo and a little percussion with tambourine and egg shaker.

To give a wider, stereo feel the 12 string guitar foundation track was played twice and panned hard stereo left and right. I think giving a track a wide stereo sound is important and playing a duplicate instrument track is a great way to do it. The two tracks can be very similar, but will almost never be identical (unless you force that with computer manipulation) so you hear each track distinctly from each channel. We worked the same concept with the vocal tracks, recording the main vocal twice and adding two harmony tracks.

Another thing that made this song interesting was the key. We don’t usually change the song from the original key. Specific keys do give songs a certain feel. Major key versus minor key or in this case having the song in D flat instead of D. In the original song they did this by using capos on the guitars. We ended up down tuning the 12 string guitar a half note and transposing the chords so the guitar could be played in first position for a fuller, richer sound. A capo was used on the 6 string banjo. We also added a second mandolin track that acts as a ‘voice’, along the lines of playing a guitar lead.

We may not have said this before, but all the Messin’ songs are played by Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs. You can find these songs and the band’s original music on our SoundCloud account (we have links on this site). We’re also slowly adding all the band’s songs to our YouTube channel (here’s a link to our YouTube channel): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0vVN4p_KzvLg1DEuUSJoqw

This is the season for sharing. So please share our songs and videos with your friends. Add them to your Facebook feeds. Become a follower of our blog. Email us with questions or comments. We really appreciate your support.

In The Studio – Episode 8

Welcome to Episode 8 in the ‘In The Studio’ series. Today’s topic is how to create mixing options for yourself during the recording process. A couple things to add about the process in the video. In the video the guitar sounds you hear have not been EQ’d on the mixing board. You can magnify the differences in sound by tweaking the EQ on each microphone using the mixing board. You can also add more diversity by adding effects units in the line between the guitar and amp (this will make more sense after you watch the video). As always if you have any questions or ideas, let us know.

Inspiration Point

The idea of an ‘Inspiration Point’ always reminds me of standing on the edge of a canyon and looking down at the beautiful scenery below. Or shouting in to the canyon and hearing an echo come back. Here’s an In The Studio version of our indoor inspiration point (Episode 6):

We also have three new ‘Messin’ With The Music’ songs in production and hope to have something out soon.

The Best Non-Advice

We’ve often shared studio set-ups and ideas on our blog and on YouTube videos. I’ve never considered what we do as ‘giving advice’. ‘Advice’ has a connotation of being an expert at something and passing along that expert knowledge…………yeah, no. We try different things and share the ones that work well for us. The important part for us and anybody who’s recording or writing music is try different things. See what works in your space with your equipment. A small change in mic placement can open a whole new sound.

I recently had the pleasure of working with three young musicians from Ohio. Very talented and very enthusiastic about doing music. Working with people you haven’t recorded with before is always exiting – falls under ‘try different things’. Had a great day recording and the mixing and mastering process worked out pretty well. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And it got me thinking about ‘advice’ again. If someone asks for ‘advice’ about what I think you need to make a good recording:

Tip # 1 (see, still not ‘advice’, just a tip)

Tip # 1 – Record a good song

Tip # 2 – Work with talented people

And there you have it. Pretty simple. I’ve heard good songs with lousy recordings – they’re still good songs. So as an engineer you try to not screw it up. When you mix, highlight the song, no tricks needed. Keep the dynamics when you master. Our recording set-up was even simple. One mic for the vocals and two for the guitar.

So in the spirit of recording good songs with talented people here’s the song we finished that day. The musician is Matthew Bock and the song is ‘Standstill’.

 

I certainly hope to be working more with these guys in the future. I would guess they have a lot of music in the pipeline.

Pictured below at ChurchHouse Studios Matt, Jared, Grant (l to r).

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Ride The Pink Noise

We recently changed the placement set up for monitoring with our Yamaha NS10M Studio monitors. They were placed further away from the listening point and sound panels were placed at equal distances beside and behind the monitors. The idea was to get a wider stereo feel and to equalize the reflection surfaces around the speakers.

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We do use other monitors during the mixing process but I like using the Yamahas for the initial mixing. For quite a while you couldn’t see a picture of a recording studio without seeing a pair of NS10s by the mixing console. Some people love them and some hate them. I like them but you have to know their strengths and weaknesses and use them accordingly. If you’re interested in more of their history, here’s an article from Sound On Sound that has a good discussion of their background:

http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/yamaha-ns10-story

Since the placement was changed, that meant it was time to redo the room tuning for them. Ahhhh yes, the joy of a night of listening to pink noise. So I broke out the real time analyzer and got to work. Make sure that the mic for the analyzer is positioned in the spot where you’ll be sitting – near field monitors have a tight listening field and accuracy matters. The sound from pink noise will fluctuate, so you have to study the levels while it is running then review the peak capture when you turn it off. Here’s the running sound and peak capture when the EQ going in to the monitors is flat:

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NS10Ms tend to be weak at the low end, so the EQ is adjusted accordingly. The process takes a while since when you adjust one frequency it effects the frequencies around it. The final EQ setting looks like this:

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Here’s the running sound afterwards (remember running sound fluctuates, so a snap shot at a particular time will not look flat):

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The final shot of the peak captures gives a good representation of where we ended up:

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I’m pretty comfortable with the flatter EQ at the end of the process. One other tip is to make sure you are hearing equal levels from both speakers so you don’t overload one side when you’re mixing. The real time analyzer should let you get actual equal volumes for both sides. I have some volume hearing loss in one ear – the result of playing in bands for a lot of years (fortunately it is not frequency loss). To check on this take one channel of the song you’re mixing and run it straight down the center of your stereo field while sitting in your perfect center listening spot. If it sounds like it’s coming more from one channel or the other, make the adjustment on the volume of your reference amp. It’s at the end of the sound chain so it equalizes volume for your ears without effecting the balance in your actual mix. I also check the final mix of songs through the Real Time Analyzer so I’m using sight as well as sound to get the frequencies where I want them.

After the NS10 mixing is completed we’ll make any mix adjustments and also do the mastering through the higher end monitors set up in a different listening station. It’s always important to take your time, ‘put the mix down’ and come back to it later for review to get the best results possible. A great song will shine through no matter what, but a great mix will always improve your song.

And because I like to leave a little music for you……..

Father John Misty – “Ballad of The Dying Man”

 

Speaking Of Vocals Follow Up

After I finished writing the last post I sat down to read through it and listened to ‘Heroes’ again. And again. Beyond the beauty of the song itself I was intrigued by a lot of the recording technique in it. I did a little searching on the internet and came across an article on the recording of ‘Heroes’ in Sound On Sound where they cover the recording of different ‘classic’ tracks. I really recommend reading the entire article. It’s not just nuts and bolts tech info; they cover the production of the song and how the recording ideas came about. I won’t rehash the whole article as I’ve attached a link to it. But since we were speaking of vocals the info on them was pretty amazing. The entire vocal part was written and recorded in five hours. The main vocal was recorded on a single track in one take (with a few splice ins here and there). For the main vocal there were three mics: one close, one about 15 feet away and a third at the other end of the very large room they were recording in. The close mic had heavy compression; the other two mics were gated and only opened up as the volume hit a certain level. As the vocal gets louder another mic in the room would open. So towards the end when the vocals are almost ‘shouted’ all three mics have opened up and all the reverb is natural from the room – and all three mics were recorded to the same track. Truly Amazing. Genius always finds a way.

Also check out how Robert Fripp got those high guitar feedback parts (they almost sound like a synth) by measuring the distance he stood from the amp to get the perfect feedback sound on each individual note.

Here’s the link to the Sound On Sound article:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct04/articles/classictracks.htm

Here’s another link to ‘Heroes’ sound you don’t have to go back to the last post to hear it:

 

Speaking Of Vocals

This winter seems like a good time to lock myself in the studio and start to get some work done again. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on song ideas and turning some of them in to song demos. Now it’s time to focus in and work on the production tracks. Which in turn allows me to focus on the recording process from both technical and artistic points of view. As always finding a way to nail the vocal recording process is a high priority.

The first article I’ve attached is a quick and simple overview of some different methods of recording vocals. This really speaks to the performance aspect of recording as compared to the nuts and bolts tech of mics, mic placement, preamps etc.

http://blog.sonicbids.com/full-takes-or-section-by-section-which-vocal-recording-approach-is-better

Personally I like to record takes all the way through. It gives the singer a chance to have the full feel of the song and decide how to vocally connect the song together. But I’ve also worked parts of the song separately, maybe verses separate from chorus or separating vocal parts after an instrumental break. I think it really depends on the song and the vocalist. You have to be open to trying different approaches on different songs.

The next article discusses comping, which is mentioned in the first article (I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘little known’ recording trick) .

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-little-known-recording-trick-that-makes-singers-sound-perfect

I think there are things to consider if you’re going to do a lot of cut and paste comping on a vocal track. If I’m going to put together smaller pieces of the vocal tracks I’d like to get them recorded in the same session. A person’s voice may change slightly from day to day. It’s not like setting up a guitar amp and then leaving the settings stand for another session. That’s not as much of an issue if you’re putting together larger pieces of the song. It’s also not as much of an issue if you’re going to multi-layer several vocal tracks on top of each other. Again, work with the vocalist and see what brings the best out of them. I think we’ll be putting down a lot more vocal tracks then usual in our upcoming sessions for both layering and comping.

Finally, I couldn’t let the passing of David Bowie go by without comment. For many of us music is much more than something we listen to. I grew up from a young age playing music and living music. It informed my life and many life choices. For those of us who grew up in that era, Bowie melded music with life and style. And showed that you could stop on a dime and change styles if you wanted to. Be fearless in your ability and right to change to whatever moved you. I picked the song ‘Heroes’ to put here because it shows the most important part of vocals – emotion. I feel the build in emotion created by the vocals in this song every time I listen to it. If you do it right it’s captured forever.

 

 

 

 

Strings For Spring

Well, spring isn’t here yet (at least in the northeast) but the sun was out today, it was over 40 degrees (whoooo) and daylight savings time has begun. All in all as close to nice weather as it’s been around here for quite some time. Spring turns a young persons fancy to…….acoustic instruments (it also helps bring some of us out of hibernation). Over the winter months we’ve been collecting instruments for the studio to add some variety to our in house recording. Pictured below are some of the items we picked up.

Acoustic Instruments 001

Not that we’ll use everything in a traditional manner. The options are limitless. As are the variety of ways you can mic, amplify or record acoustic instruments. Here’s a video with some ideas for recording banjo.

You can count on us breaking the rules whenever possible (hhmmmm – phase shifter on mandolin?). So much to look forward to.
To add to the acoustic flavor, here’s a video of Trampled By Turtles live on NPR. Can’t you just feel spring in the sound?

Hope the weather heads to spring where ever you are.

A Good Place To Start

Well, I’ve certainly been AWOL the last couple of months. A lot has been going on, some good, some bad, some blah, blah, blah. Thought I’d throw a couple of things up for you to peruse.
First, for anyone who is interested in starting out in recording music there’s a site that shows you the basics of mixing and listening….and you get to play around with Peter Gabriel’s music..and post your own mixes in SoundCloud. I’ve only touched some of the basic parts (pretty hard to pull my butt out of my own studio) but what I’ve seen is pretty interesting.

http://www.playwithyourmusic.org/

On another note, recently spent a night with the legendary Reverend Horton Heat. Totally ass-kicking (and I so want that guitar). Here’s a live video for your enjoyment. Hope to post some pictures from the show soon.