Category: Music Tech

From The Vault

Every once in a while I go back in to the older hard drives in the studio system. Sometimes I’m looking for a specific track or photo. Sometimes I’m just trying to remember what was on that particular drive. When I returned home from traveling I took one of these jaunts down memory lane on one of the external hard drives to see what was there (in the future I’m thinking about also checking on material on the stored DATs which contain material from when we mostly recorded on ADAT tape and mixed down to DAT). When you work in a studio you find that almost every recording experience is different. Some bands (or individuals) will want to include you on the entire project, from concept through completion. They’ll let you know what they’re doing and when and how they’re releasing the music. Others will complete the recording project and move on. So there are a lot of bands that I really have no idea what happened either to the band or the recording after the studio work was completed. The particular hard drive I was checking on had some material that was recorded at least a decade ago. So when this music was completed, some in the mid 2000’s, the posting of content on the internet was not a given.

I remember the session for the recordings I’m posting today. The band wanted to play as a collective in one room which always has more technical pitfalls to work through. We do have the large room space to accomplish this. You need to mic everything very carefully and use the right mics to keep bleed through to a minimum so you have some separation to work with when you’re mixing. The other issue is if one individual makes an error, the whole band has to play the song through again. It’s live music – no overdubs or punch ins. It’s especially challenging if the singer wants to remain in the same room. For the vocals on these songs I decided to try something new. The vocalist had to be facing the band using a very narrow band directional mic. I then set up a large sheet of plexiglass between the mic and the band to cut down on sound hitting the mic. Worked out pretty well.

The name of the band was Eastern Accordion Ensemble. The two songs below are ‘C P Martini’ and ‘Action’. I guess you would put them stylistically in to the ‘punk rock’ category – although at this point that moniker is about as specific as saying ‘rock music’. The sessions were a lot of fun and I thought the music deserved to get a little space in the vast internet universe. If anyone has info on the band or the songs, please fire off an email or comment to us, it would be interesting to know where this went. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Eastern Accordion Ensemble – ‘C P Martini’

Eastern Accordion Ensemble – ‘Action’

October 2021 Grapevine

October is a month in eastern Pa where we often spend an inordinate amount of time living under gray skies. Early fall can be like that around here. Weather like that can suck the inspiration right out of you. Sometimes we get lucky and have a relatively sunny season. If not, you have to look for and take your inspiration where you can find it. My first bit of luck was being able to travel out of the area and spend time hiking in amazingly beautiful places. Now I’m trying to get inspiration from getting back to work on making music and finding new music to listen to. I think we have a nice little variety pack of tunes this month that gave me some new ideas and hopefully will provide you with something you enjoy or a band you might want to take a deeper dive in to exploring.

First Up: Shannon And The Clams – ‘Midnight Wine’

This song is a real interesting mix of styles and sounds. The foundation of the song is held down by the rhythm section. The drums and bass guitar keep a relatively simple beat and are pretty much down the center of the mix. This allows the rest of the instruments and vocals to go off on tangents whenever needed. One interesting add is the main beat of the snare drum is filled out most of the time by a tambourine. This gives the snare an extra bit of high end snap and allows it to be a prominent time keeper in the mix without actually making it louder. I’ve talked about micing the snare from below to get the extra snare ‘snap’ and this mix delivers the same results. The keyboard and guitar sounds are placed in the sides of the mix. During the vocals they keep a quieter presence, all fuzzed out and not very distinct, but they add little flourishes here and there to keep it interesting without having a large amount of chord changes. When the instruments are brought to the front, it’s a psychedelic buzzfest. I think the vocals are great. The two separate vocals are mixed together so tightly it actually sounds like a single vocal. Your singers have to have a very complimentary sound to pull this off and they certainly do that here. They also add a great Americana sounding twang to the tune which fits the lyrics perfectly.

Next Up: The Felice Bothers – ‘To Do List’

The thing I like most about this song is how the overall makeup of the song at first tricked me in to enjoying it at one level: a great sounding Americana/Country flow. The instruments have a nice clean mix – crisp drums, foundational bass, clean piano and acoustic guitar filling in the available space. The vocals are out front in the mix. The vocal style fits the feel and the clean vocal recording and placement puts them in front. After hearing it the first time through I listened to it a second time. That’s when I started to pay more attention to the lyrics. It is, as the title suggests, a ‘to do’ list. But it’s a hilariously odd to do list, where the strangest words are used to create rhymes . Just in the beginning we get ‘change all the bloody gauze’, ‘buy a spinach colored dinner jacket’ and ‘defy all natural laws’. These observations are mixed in with some more aspirational ideas like ‘bring flowers to the sick’ and ‘find out what’s killing the bees’. The back and forth between altruistic ideas and whacky ones keeps the song in a great state of imbalance and really makes you pay attention to what is being sung. It’s neat trick if you think about how many songs you like where you’re not actually sure what the full lyrics are. Just to add a little spice they throw in a little off kilter lead guitar at the 2:30 mark and from 3:30 to the end. The off kilter guitar is a great match for the lyrics.

Finally: Sault – ‘London Gangs’

We’re ending with something completely different from the first two songs. ‘London Gangs’ by Sault takes me back to the period of post-punk dance tunes. I could definitely see this being played in a dark, basement dance club at high volume. It shows how much can be done with a simple repetitive rhythm core. It’s mostly a simple clean drum track and an equally simple fuzzed out bass track. They add in a heavily reverbed and delayed sung/spoken vocal. It’s not really higher in the mix than the instruments, but it still stands out because the instrumentation is so spare. There’s some little side sound add ins like guitar or vocals made to sound like an instrument. Every once in a while you’ll have a total beat drop out which reinforces the beat when it comes back in. The interesting part is: it sounds so simple. It should be easy to throw together. But it isn’t (trust me, I’ve tried). It takes just the right combination of rhythms, instrumentation and sonic qualities to make it work. Therein lies the challenge and the fun.

Retro: Steely Dan – ‘Black Friday’

For me there’s never a bad time to throw in a little Steely Dan as the ‘Retro’ pick. I could probably do it almost every month and not come up with a song I didn’t really like. This song is from the 1975 album ‘Katy Lied’. I came across it again in a mix of tunes I was listening to online and actually played it a couple of times in a row. I know the band isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I liked their mix of jazz/rock from the first album on. Another big draw for me was the quality of the guitar players they used and the amazing riffs and solos these players created. This solo is actually done by Walter Becker, one half of the true Steely Dan band duo. He was nominally listed as their bass player in the beginning, but the duo was really about composition and arrangement more than just their presence as players. And who couldn’t love a fun song about crashing the stock market?

Do It With Style

We returned this week from our latest National Parks adventure. There’s nothing better than watching the sunrise from an amazing mountain trail to clear your head and give you all the inspiration you could possibly ask for. We’ll continue to work on the Messin’ With The Music series. There are a lot of irons in the fire as far as new original compositions go. I’m often inspired to start writing a song when I hear a certain style of music that catches my attention. I find it doesn’t usually work if you try to carbon copy a style or song. The style is a starting point for the composition. Over the course of putting all the pieces together it should pick up your personality with different timing, chords, instruments and technique.

I think the following songs will provide an example of how a basic song style can underpin a variety of different compositions. The songs are all blues informed guitar music. But the style of the blues incorporated here is a bit more specific than the vast variety that falls under the ‘blues’ moniker. I’m not sure what specific name to give it. I’ve heard it referred to as ‘delta blues’, ‘hill country blues’ or ‘talking blues’ – and I’m sure some musicologist somewhere could give you a correct and exact definition. For me there are several important components. First, the interplay of the guitar and the vocal. The guitar line often matches the melody of the vocal, sometimes note for note as they are played together. Second, the guitar, especially between the vocals, tends to be riff oriented rather than chord based. Finally there is an overall looseness to the playing style that rolls in and out of the song’s basic timing. When you listen to the three songs that are included here, don’t get hung up on the differences in recording style or sonics. Listen for the overall similarities and how each musician takes the style and makes it their own. I picked songs that have a wide span of years between them to accent the recording differences and show how long this style of music has been popular.

First we have ‘Spoonful Blues’ played by Charley Patton. This song is dated as 1929. The songs that have been preserved from this era don’t usually have the sonic quality that you will hear in recordings made as technology advanced. It was probably recorded live in a hotel room somewhere using the technology of the time, a very basic tape recorder or possibly cut directly to vinyl. So the song is just vocal and guitar played at the same time. Again, pick up on the underpinnings – the interplay between the guitar and vocal, the guitar riff and the overall looseness of the song. All the pieces are there. Although this style had already been around for a while, recordings of this era were the first attempt to capture the music and would be important touchstones for musicians who came later.

Next we have a song that couldn’t be more different in terms of recording and guitar sonics. I would imagine most of you have heard ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ by Jimi Hendrix at some point. The song was recorded in 1968. An amazing display of virtuosity and the possibilities of what could be done with a guitar sonically using electronics. Listen closely. Despite the vast sonic differences the underpinnings are all still there. The guitar and vocal match. The repeating guitar riff between vocals. The looseness of the playing. Another piece is that the guitar and vocal are very prominent in the mix compared to the bass and drums. It’s a great interpretation of the musical style.

To finish our run I’m adding one of our favorites, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. This song ‘Clap You Hands’ was recorded in 2010. In some ways it’s a stylistic middle ground between the two previous tunes. His guitar playing style goes back more towards earlier Delta Blues sounds. He even favors vintage guitars in this case playing an electric/acoustic. The recording quality advancements are easy to hear. The sound is clear and there is a lot of separation between the instruments. The drums and washboard are given a more prominent place in the mix which add drive to the sound. But as in all these examples the basics are there. A basic riff between the vocal parts that carries through the song. The guitar and vocal matches in the verses and choruses. The loose playing style especially with the slide parts. A wonderful update of a classic style.

If you get too hung up on musical styles and trying to come up with a style that’s totally ‘original’, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. When musicians are asked to describe their music you’ll hear every crazy genre and subgenre name you could think of. We all want to be ‘original’. But you can take any style that already exists and add your own personality to it to make it original. Sometimes the best thing is not to over think it. Have fun, hit ‘Record’ and let it fly.

September 2021 Grapevine

I’ve always liked the month of September. We’re heading in to fall which is probably my favorite season. It’s also when my wife and I often take our travel vacations. We’ll usually be heading to some National Parks for hiking and photography. That’s where we’ll be while you’re reading this. I can’t tell you how renewing it is to get out on a trail and see some of the most amazing sights you can imagine. And after the last two years we can definitely use the life affirming renewal that only nature can give you. The best music can give me the same type of feeling. If you can make a connection with the music you are listening to it can release all types of emotions. It can be fulfilling, cathartic or just make you feel relaxed and happy. This is why I continue to seek out new music rather than staying static and just listening to the music I grew up with when I was younger. My purpose in presenting the Grapevine is to share new music I’ve come across (as well as some older gems) with other people in the hope that you’ll hear a song that touches something inside you. In that spirit let’s get to this month’s songs.

First Up: Swim School – ‘Let Me Inside Your Head’

This song is from Swim School’s first EP ‘Making Sense Of It All’. One reason I wanted to get it out to other people is the band is new on the scene and this album is self released. I love the DIY spirit of any band that takes matters in to their own hands and is bold enough to do it own their own without the influence and push of a record label. The song has the feeling of shoegaze while still putting the vocals out front so you can pick up on the lyrics. On cool trick they do is in the recording of the drums. The first part of the song has the drums more in the background and recorded with some buzzy distortion. At the 57 second mark there’s a short break beat and the drums come back crisper and more up front in the mix. They do another sonic change up with the vocals. In the beginning of the song they are sung softer with an intimate up front feel. At about 1:45 we get another break beat and the vocals become much more forceful with more reverb added. At 2:35 they make another change and drop out most everything but vocals before building up to the end to the song. These little changes keeps the sound fresh rather than having full on drone through the whole thing. You can also pick up all the instruments as separate pieces through out the song. Great recording technique and song structure for a new band.

Next Up: Gruff Rhys – ‘Hiking In Lightning’

First, the hiking title alone fits my September. The first lyric line is ‘hiking In lightning is exhilarating and frightening’. We once got caught in a thunderstorm hiking in Yellowstone National Park. Being out alone on a trail when the storm hit was quite a rush, though most experiences like that are cooler in hindsight. At the time you’re just saying ‘S#&%!’. Back to the song – I really like the drum sound, especially the snare. When I record a snare drum I usually put a mic on both the top and bottom of the snare (we did an In The Studio post on this once). The bottom mic really picks up the rattling sound of the snares themselves which I hear in this song. The snare here stays as a constant driving force throughout the majority of the song. There is a fuzzy drone guitar that fills in a lot of space. It also matches the melodic line of the vocal. Every once in a while the bass puts a note or two up front. There’s an instrumental drop out in the chorus which adds a second voice to enlarge the vocal sound. They finally break up the forward drive towards the end of the song with the drums being allowed to do a much more complicated pattern to close out the song. It’s a good combination of forward driving music with laid back style vocals. Great tune.

Finally: Tom Morello And Serj Tankian – ‘Natural’s Not In It’

This is a cover of a song by Gang Of Four. It’s from an album of covers that marked the 40th anniversary of Gang Of Four’s album Entertainment! which came out in 1979. Gang Of Four is one of my favorite bands, especially from that era of music. The music was angular, sharp and very political. I would mostly go with an original version over a cover, but this really caught my ear. They definitely kept the basic feel of the song, hard driving and pushing forward. I don’t think a cover that radically changed the song by smoothing it out or slowing it down would have worked. But the additions they bring to the song really work. The guitar is absolutely blazing. Morello adds his own style and personality to it, with some great deviations from the original guitar which kept the same choppy beat through the song. Tankian does the same with the vocals. GOF vocals were mostly sung in short choppy phrases, but Tankian adds to it. You can really hear this starting at the 2:00 minute mark of the song where they cut loose. This a wonderful push the gas peddle down to the floor cover.

Retro: James Taylor – ‘Country Road’

There’s songs that really bring emotion and lend themselves to certain situations and feelings. This song by James Taylor really presents how I feel when I’m out on a mountain trail. Since we’re heading out to the trails, I wanted to put this in the September Grapevine. I think James Taylor was one of the musicians at the top of the pack with the ‘singer/songwriters’ of that era. Incredible voice, stellar guitar player and amazing songs. This song is from the 1970 album ‘Sweet Baby James’. This entire album will be with me on the trail. Just three of the songs on this album, ‘Country Road’, ‘Sweet Baby James’ and ‘Fire and Rain’ would be more great songs than most musicians could put out in an entire career. I’ve heard these songs for many years and still feel the emotion wash over me every time I hear them. That’s the real power of music at it’s finest.

Hiking a trail in Glacier National Park a few years ago. My kind of country road.

Messin With The Music Part 17 – ‘Song 2’

‘Song 2’ was originally released in 1997 on Blur’s fifth album, titled ‘Blur’. There’s lots of interesting stories that go along with the song. At first it was just a slower acoustic piece Damon Albarn was messing around with and the now famous ‘woo-hoo’ was whistled. Their guitarist Graham Coxon suggested speeding it up and crushing the volume really loud. They then asked their record company to release it as a single, more or less just to mess with the record company executives as the song was pretty much a total departure from all the songs they had been successful with previously. The band was surprised by the fact that the record company released it and the amount of success the song had. I think one reason it was successful was by that time many people had become accustomed to the ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ style. Numerous bands like Pixies had used this style before and Nirvana took it to a whole new level of public recognition. The name ‘Song 2’ was just a place holder name as it was the second track on the album. The band decided it would be fun to just keep that as the title.

We decided to cover this because, first, we’ve always loved the song (pretty much a requirement if we’re going to mess with it). Second, it presented a challenge to record it acoustically. How do you do the loud part to make it different than the verses? Blur crushes the chorus guitar part, but even more so the bass part, with huge mounds of distortion. This gives the original song a massive change in volume and dynamics. And another challenge is the chords in the verses and choruses are pretty much the same, so the dynamic change has to done using different instruments. For the verses we went with mandolins – the left and right channels are separate mandolin parts. The chords are the same, but the fingering is a bit different. There’s also a single string played on twelve string guitar in the verse. The mandolin parts go throughout the entire song, but when the chorus starts we added chords on twelve string guitar, six string guitar and a bass part (no distortion of course). Throughout the song percussion is simply a Indian hand drum for the bass and a wood block for the snare. We multi tracked all the vocals and put a lot of reverb and delay on them – the vocals on the original song are pretty straight forward.

Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs covering Blur’s ‘Song 2’:

August 2021 Grapevine

It’s time for some summer listening. I like to listen to a lot of music while I’m driving, especially new albums I’ve bought (I still love albums on CD). And even in the summer when I’m listening I like to go ‘windows up’ – wind noise takes away from me hearing everything I want to, especially if it’s something I’m hearing for the first time. Yeah, it’s a bit odd but I’ve never felt the need to worry about my odd behavior. So the theme for this month’s music can be headed under the idea of ‘critical listening’. The idea for this month’s selections and discussion is try to listen to all the different parts of the song. Usually if you’re listening to a song you take in the overall sound. Most people will pick up on the main parts of a song – the vocal, a lead instrument break. Maybe it has a great drum beat. But often it’s the little pieces that you don’t consciously listen to that make a song stick with you. That’s why the arrangement and the mix are so important. And it’s why the arrangement writing and the recording process are such an art. The best sounding songs treat all their parts as equally important as the main parts. You can listen to some songs and hear that the little things were considered ‘throw away’. Those songs may hit you because of a great vocal, but I don’t think they’ll stay with you as long. At least they don’t for me. So here we go……..

First Up: John Hiatt With The Jerry Douglas Band – ‘Long Black Electric Cadillac’

Here’s a great way to start. John Hiatt has been around for a while. His songs have been recorded by countless musicians and he’s known as one of the best song writers around. He teams on this song with Jerry Douglas, another musician in great demand, best known for his dobro resonator and lap steel playing. First, let your ears cruise through the overall song. Great vocal sitting on top and the lyrics are a lot of fun. The song is arranged to highlight the vocal. Now let’s pick apart the rest of the song. Hone in on the double bass. You can hear it keep a steady bottom end, sitting on the bass roots of each chord. This sound stays in the center of the mix. – (I should probably add here that you might miss a lot of this if you’re just listening on your phone or tablet without headphones. Things get lost – especially bass tones). Hiatt is keeping the main strum going on six string acoustic. There’s an electric guitar and violin that hold down regular rhythm parts and come in occasionally with sweet little lead riffs. In the recording arrangement these are panned pretty hard to the left and right side of the mix. Jerry Douglas’s amazing slide work on the resonator often acts as a call and response to the vocal, so it tends to sit relatively in the center of the mix. With everyone doing their part, the rhythm of the entire song just chugs along. And that’s the important and difficult part in putting an arrangement together – everyone has to do their part. All the players have to keep the rhythm going. Even the vocal has a rhythm to it. Catch the nice little break at the 2:12 mark. If the musicians do it right, what do you have? Awesome.

Next Up: Mdou Moctor – ‘Ya Habibti’

I’ve included a Mdou Moctor tune in a Grapevine before. I just bought this album and got to listen to it front to back on a drive. Tuareg guitar music, sometimes called desert blues, presents a whole different type of rhythm. If you haven’t heard it before, the feel is bit more exotic than most music you’ll hear on American radio. Even though Moctor is known for his amazing guitar work, the musical arrangement is more drum based. The instrumental lineup would be familiar – kit drums, bass, rhythm guitar and lead guitar. The rhythms and scales played give the music it’s different feel. The drums and rhythm guitar stay on a pattern that drives the song along. The bass is not as prominent, but listen closely and you can pick it out. The bass and the guitar sounds usually keep to higher end frequencies, so you don’t have as deep a bottom end. Another sound that drives this song is traditional rhythm instruments as well as handclaps that are added in. You can hear them panned to left and right along with multiple layers of vocals that give the recording width and fills in the stereo sound. Take some time and listen carefully. See if you pick out the string sound on the rhythm guitar and some of the tom fills on the kit drums (hear some nice tom fills at the 3:07 mark). On this song Moctor keeps his guitar playing to quick, repeating passes. If you look online you can find some live performances where the guitar work absolutely shreds. I’d love to have this album on a long drive on an empty two lane road out in the desert.

Finally: Black Midi – ‘Dethroned’

We’re moving on to something with a very different feel. How would you describe the music of ‘Dethroned’ by Black Midi? I’m not sure there’s a perfect description and my take on descriptions is ‘why bother’. In the beginning of the song the drums have a very prominent presence in the mix. They set the tone for what is to come. The beat is not really straight forward, but if you listen you can hear how they work around a count. A guitar comes in when the vocals do and that guitar in the beginning keeps a very straight count. It’s placed slightly to one side of the mix. Vocals have a big presence, but they mute that slightly by drowning them in reverb. By the minute and a half mark the bass is in adding a deep background and the guitar sound is starting to expand. Listen to the repeating riff the bass is playing. It’s probably the most straight forward line in the first half of the song and really keeps the guitar and drums grounded. At the 2:30 mark the drums and guitar turn to more simplistic lines. By three minutes a second guitar line is added and the guitars spread out in the stereo mix to left and right side. By the 4:00 minute mark things get a bit chaotic. The guitars have now taken over prominence in the mix with the drums dropping back a bit. The song rolls to the end in this fashion. I put this song in because it’s a great example of how a band can chart out a song arrangement from beginning to end and how the prominence and stereo placement of each instrument in the mix determines the song’s journey. If they had kept one sound and placement of instruments throughout the song it would not be nearly as interesting and engaging.

Retro: Alice Cooper Band – ‘School’s Out’

There can be a lot of reasons a song remains memorable. In rock songs one reason can be an unforgettable guitar riff. (That’s one reason I still love listening to Led Zeppelin – riff rock at it’s finest.) The guitar riff in ‘School’s Out’ has to be one of the most memorable of all time. Just play the first 20 seconds of this song and most people will immediately name the song, before a single vocal line. But like a lot of music from that era the other part of the recording that pulls me in is the clarity and placement of each instrument. Listen to the prominence of the bass line in this recording. It’s really another great riff that weaves around and enhances the guitar line. The main guitar is placed in right side stereo and the rhythm guitar, playing lower fuzz tone chords is on the left side. The drums are really crisp. And the vocal sits on top, nice and clear so you can take in the lyrics. In the lead guitar part of the song, they put a guitar playing the original riff in the right side stereo and the rhythm guitar in the left channel while the lead takes a vocal space in the middle of the track. It’s a fine line keeping the instruments in a higher crisp frequency without pushing them too far up where the sound just becomes annoying. Recorded and mixed correctly, this song becomes a classic. Without the correct mix and arrangement the song could end up in the bargain bin. Another point to remember is that in 1972 when this came out, most people heard songs for the first time on the radio. The frequencies and clarity were really important to cut through on radio. Sit back and enjoy this classic summer song.

Messin’ With The Music Part 16 – ‘Hash Pipe’

‘Hash Pipe’ was released in 2001 on Weezer’s third album titled ‘Weezer’ but usually referred to as ‘The Green Album’ (since they’ve used ‘Weezer’ as the title of several albums). I’ve always liked the straight forward, hit you on the head with a hammer nature of the main riff. When it came out I was also fascinated that it was a radio single considering the title and the nature of the lyrics. It’s interesting that when I went to the the official video to relearn the song the video now says ‘revised’ and they’ve totally cut out the lyric line in the song with the words ‘hash pipe’. Not bleeped out words – the musical line is totally removed! Ummmm- OK.

Part of the reason we do the cover songs is to work on the recording process and song arrangement so we can apply what we learn to our own songs. Song arrangement is a process people don’t usually consciously think about when they listen to music, but it’s a very important part of making any song have a distinct sound and feel. For instance in ‘Hash Pipe’ even though we used acoustic instruments and don’t have a drum kit to drive the beat, the acoustic version we did sounds a bit denser to me. That’s a result of using a variety of instruments playing more arpeggiated parts. So while the original may have more straight forward power drive, an acoustic version may sound softer but still a bit ‘thicker’. That’s all part of the learning process. This version has two six string acoustic guitars, a twelve string acoustic, banjo, bass, wood block, shaker and tambourine and several tracks of vocals. The lead riff is done with mandolin and a six string banjo.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe’:

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Countdown’ – Live In The Studio

There’s a lot of good things about having your own studio to record in. You can work on anything you want, anytime you want. You can take your time recording your own music and not have to worry about how much money you’re spending, giving you the ability to experiment. We’ve been having a lot of fun working on cover songs and have been able to create them at our own pace. We’ve also been able to create videos of us playing our own music live. Since the band consists of the two of us, playing in the studio gives us the ability to record some tracks ahead of time then play the other parts live along with the recording for the video. The song in this video, ‘Countdown’ was recorded for our EP ‘Celebrity Prostitution’ (it’s available to buy as a digital download on CD Baby and other places – you can check it out on the Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds label website). Because the original recording was made in ChurchHouse Studio, we’re able to use parts of it for a live video rendition. The original EP version had multiple tracks of vocals and guitar. For this video we stripped all of that off and just kept the bass and drum tracks. So what you see in the video is literally what you would hear from us playing out live. There’s no overdubs or punch ins on the vocal and guitar tracks. Just turn on the video and let it rip. We did the video on a simple GoPro recorder which gives you that ‘fish eye’ wide view along the edges. We had a lot of fun recording this way.

Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs playing ‘Countdown’, live in ChurchHouse Studio:

In The Studio Ep 15 – Be Professional, Be Prepared

When you have a musician coming in to the studio to work, you want them to have the best experience they can. Your job is to make the recording process as transparent or invisible as possible for them. This allows them to totally concentrate on their playing and creativity without having to worry about the technical aspects of the recording process. I recently had a friend come in to start working on a new song. Time is a precious commodity so we wanted to complete as many tracks as possible in one session. He wanted to see if we could complete the guitar, bass and vocal tracks in one session. We’ve worked together before and he’s an amazing musician, so I knew he’d hold up his end and have his track ideas ready to go. My job is to have the studio prepared to move seamlessly from one track to another. Here’s some basic preparation steps that will allow you to do that in the studio.

1) Decide what equipment you’re going to use. One of my goals is to give the musician multiple sonic options whenever possible. In this case that applies mostly to the guitar sound. If the musician has a particular amp or effect pedal of their own that they want to use, I try to get it in to the studio before they get there so I can have it miced and pathed. In this case we were using all in house studio equipment and decided to use stomp box FX pedals instead of rack mounted FX units. This photo shows the overall floor pedal setup.

2) Set up the effect path. The guitar signal is split at the stereo chorus pedal (the pink pedal). One line goes to a delay pedal, a flanger and a distortion pedal to an amplifier. The other line goes to a phase shift pedal and then in to a POD direct in amp emulator. This allows for a variety of guitar sounds to be recorded in one pass, both amped and direct in. The order of the pedals does make a difference in the overall sound. You can try several configurations to get what you want.

The output from the distortion pedal goes to an amplifier set up in another room. Although this large room is great for natural reverb, in this case the amp is just close miced with an SM57.

The bass guitar goes to a ten band EQ pedal. You can see it in the upper right picture of all the floor pedals. I love this pedal for bass, whether recording or live. It allows you to really dial in a specific EQ as well as boosting the signal if necessary. Two other items will go in to the patch bay. One is the drum machine seen in the upper left of the pedal picture to use for a click track. For vocals we have a Neumann mic going in to the patch bay.

3) Set up the signal path through your patch bay. This is where you run your incoming signals in to the rack mounted units then in to your mixing boards. I have paper diagrams of all the patch bays connections – when you have a lot of connections you don’t want to make any mistakes.

For this session all the inputs except the drum machine will run in to rack mount pre-amps and compressors/noise gates. Although the mixing boards have pre-amps and compression for each channel, I like using the higher quality outboard units. For me they’re also easier to fine tune.

4) Set up the signal path through the mixing boards. Decide what channels in the mixing board each signal is going to. I’d advise coming up with a logical system that works for you. I tend to set up multiple recording tracks by instrument the same way for most sessions. This makes my life a lot easier as ‘muscle memory’ will kick in if you’re trying to move quickly to make an adjustment during a recording take.

This is also where you select where each track will go in to your recording software. On a digital mixing board you should have a page that defines where the signal will be sent to. Again, try to maintain a consistent logic as you do this setup.

You can now set up the tracks in your recording software. You’ll want to keep the same order whenever possible. I usually have tracks that go left to right on the mixing board go top to bottom in the recording software.

5) OK, here’s where the organization part really needs to kick in. I like to create a chart for everything in the recording path. With this many transitions and connections, there’s a pretty good chance you could have some type of failure in one of the pathways during the session. The last thing you want to do is have to start guessing where a problem is while you’re trying to record. I don’t want to have the musicians standing around waiting while I’m trying to make a fix. It just feels less professional to me. And it could put a stall on the musician who was on a roll. Inspiration is like lightning in a bottle. When you catch it you want to keep it.

6) Test every pathway. I go one path at a time and test all the connections from the instrument all the way in to the recording software. I work to get a good strong signal level at each stop. Make sure the effects pedals work. Get a good strong signal in the pre-amps, compressors, mixing boards and software. Get basic settings ready in the pre-amps and compressors. That way when you’re recording the changes will be tweaks rather than ‘where the hells the signal?’. This is when you can change out a cable if it’s causing a problem.

All of this does take time. And nothing is perfect. You’ll probably hit some small glitch in any session you do. But when you get to run a smooth recording session it will all be worth it. In the session I was referencing in the beginning we completed the click track, four guitar tracks, the bass and three vocal tracks in a three hour period. And the session was a lot of fun. You can’t ask for much more than that. Now – go out there and create!

Messin With The Music – Part 15 – ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’

For Part 15 of our Messin’ With The Music’ series we decided to tackle ‘Lawyers’ Guns And Money’ by Warren Zevon. The song comes from Zevon’s 1978 album ‘Excitable Boy’. This was a huge album for Zevon and contained many of the songs people know from him – ‘Excitable Boy’, ‘Werewolves Of London’, ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ as well as ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’. There’s a lot of ways you can describe Zevon’s songwriting, but one part of his music that I always enjoy is the entertainment value of the lyrics. First, his vocal style makes the lyrics pretty easy to hear and understand. Many of the song lyrics are built as stories: some humor, some fun, some just out and out strange. He may be an acquired taste for some people, but you’ll absolutely recognize who it is when you hear them on the radio. Another cool thing about this album is the amazing amount of well known musicians who participated in the recording besides the ‘main band’: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jeff Porcaro, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Waddy Wachtel, Jennifer Warnes, Danny Kortchmar to name a few. Some of those names might not be as familiar, but if you look them up you’ll see how many well known songs and albums they’ve played on. Zevon was definitely a well respected musician among his peers.

For our version the main instrument holding down the song is a twelve string guitar. We recorded it twice and panned the tracks hard left and right. For these acoustic versions this is a common way we start the songs as it builds a good stereo field and makes the song sound full. If you had drums and electric guitars, they would usually handle that part of the recording. There is a six string guitar and a six string banjo. Besides the chords during the vocals, they play riffs in between the vocal parts, sort of mirroring the guitar that plays on the original song after the second verse. We also added mandolin and bass parts. There are duo vocals on this song – we actually sang both live in the same room at the same time. That was a lot of fun. We’d usually add some percussion, but with the banjo and guitar playing riffs, it seemed pretty full and more percussion wasn’t necessary.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Warren Zevon’s ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’: