With a new year unfolding I thought it would be a good time to present some more bands that released albums in 2018 that I enjoyed and got the gears in my brain turning.
First, Parquet Courts ‘Wide Awake’. The song reminds me of much of the ‘post-punk’ funk I enjoyed from the 1980’s, like Talking Heads first forays in to that style.
I’d recommend getting the full Wide Awake CD. They play a variety of styles on the album, all of them really well done. Also really enjoyed the song ‘Total Football’. I still buy full CD albums. First, I like hearing the songs in wav format as compared to MP3s. Second, support the bands you like.
Another great album from last year was Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs ‘Clippety Clop’. An album of stripped down covers and traditionals many of them with that old time ‘Southern Gothic’ feel. Like hand pluckin’ an acoustic guitar sittin’ on a tombstone in a cemetery at twilight (and yes, I already know I’m a bit odd). First song is ‘Horses In The Mines’.
They also do a cover of the traditional ‘Two White Horses’. You can find an early version of the song by The Two Poor Boys on YouTube. Here’s the Brokeoffs version:
As I listened to it, it seemed familiar from somewhere else. Beck did a wonderfully spooky rewrite version of it on his Guero album. He kept the basic tag line of the song and wrote his own chords and verses to come up with ‘Farewell Ride’. For years musicians have worked from old traditional songs. Wonderfully done shivers.
‘Till we meet again.
As we work with more acoustic instruments and try different techniques to record, we want to take you all along on the ride with us. Our first installment was in the post ‘Start At The Beginning’ where we worked our way through an acoustic version of Ween’s ‘It’s Gonna Be A Long Night’. In this post we take a similar path with The Cure’s ‘The Lovecats’.
We’re starting our recording journey with the most basic recording steps. Each instrument is recorded with one microphone (sometimes using the same mic and setup for multiple instrument tracks) and we’re recording one take for each instrument (other than vocals where we’ll usually have more than one track). We do some punch ins, but for the most part keep it as ‘live’ sounding as possible. In other words we’re not going to edit or digitally fix every string squeak or change in dynamics. It’s an attempt to see what we get if you go back to a time when studios couldn’t digitally enhance or ‘fix’ every little blip. What you play is what you get. As we go along through the songs we’ll describe the changes and additions to the recording process (adding electric instruments and multiple takes will come in to play in future recordings).
As you listen to ‘The Lovecats’ see if you can pick up the instruments that were tracked: acoustic six string guitar, five string banjo, six string banjo, mandolin, twelve string guitar and fretless bass guitar. Hope you enjoy our version. In the meantime, we’re already working on the next song.
– ‘The Lovecats’ by The Cure:
Just wanted to throw out a few thoughts on some items I think deserve some ink. The kind of wonderful distractions from the ‘real world’ that keep me going.
Always a great pleasure to drop in a new track from The Record Company. For your listening pleasure, ‘Life to Fix’:
An introduction to some of the invaluable staff at ChurchHouse Productions. I’d like you to meet our ‘in-house’ Public Relations staff:
She’s been a wonderful greeter and is a 24/7 studio pup. Bonnie loves to spend time in the mixing room.
And never hesitates to let me know what she thinks of a mix.
I believe the feedback was “I’m outta here…”
Besides being the owner of the famous ‘hound howl’ she’s a fanatical lover of David Lynch movies.
Although the aftermath of her watching a movie puts her in a bit of a ‘Lynchian’ mood (“this bed belongs to me now”).
Love them both and ChurchHouse wouldn’t be the same without them.
Shout out to a wonderful, old fashioned record store in Jim Thorpe, Pa, Soundcheck Records. The kind of place I grew up with and sadly are hard to find in today’s world. Let’s cross our fingers that vinyl and stores like this make a big comeback. If you’re up in Jim Thorpe it’s a must to check out.
We’ll be rolling out another song at the end of September. We’ll keep the title a surprise until then but as with the last song, we sort of broke it down and did some rebuild. Gotta have some fun.
Time has a way of passing us all by. Blink and another year passes. Close your eyes and who knows when you’ll wake up…… I felt that I was in the creative equivalent of neutral for a few years. Lots of ideas, not a lot of execution. So at the end of 2017 we decided to try something new for both the writing and recording process. Americana, bluegrass and ‘old time’ country have added a lot to our listening lists for a while now, so the idea of using more acoustic instruments made sense.
The voicing of the variety of acoustic instruments makes all of them very audible in a song mix. Two acoustic guitars might step on each other, but add mandolin or banjo and they stand out. Hand percussion. Twelve string guitar. Fretless bass. Whatever’s laying around. Oh, we’re not abandoning loud, reverby feedback guitars. Just stirring it all in. You might associate the acoustic instruments with bluegrass music but we’re not looking to work in that style. Or maybe yes. Anything’s possible.
So to learn how the instruments sound together, how to arrange the songs, how to do mic placement, what pre-amps to use, what effects, etc, etc, we decided to re-imagine some cover songs we like. Some of the songs will be quickly recorded, some will have more production. We’ll also be starting to work more with video, both ‘live’ and produced. In the mean time we’re writing and recording new original material. Stick around, it should be interesting.
First song up: ‘It’s Gonna Be A Long Night’ by Ween. Did you ever know one of those “I can drink anyone under the table” types. Ween evidently did. Times 100.
We encourage you to listen to the original versions of the songs we cover. Always good to check songs out, especially if you’ve never heard it before. Hope you enjoy it. Back at you soon.
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.
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:
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:
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:
Here’s the running sound afterwards (remember running sound fluctuates, so a snap shot at a particular time will not look flat):
The final shot of the peak captures gives a good representation of where we ended up:
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”
One of the great things about music is the way it can generate emotions and trigger memories and feelings. I’m particularly drawn to songs that bring out feelings of melancholy. Although melancholy is usually defined as sadness, often with no obvious cause, I also consider the feeling as nostalgic, flooding back memories from days gone by. Do you have any songs you listen to that can bring you to tears? Or bring flashbacks from past experiences? If you really analyze a song that does that for you, is it the chords and notes played? the chord progression? the vocal style? the lyrics? I’ve included three songs I really enjoy that do this for me. Different styles, even different eras, but they wash over me like a river and do what music does best: bring out feelings and memories.
First a song from Kurt Vile, ‘Pretty Pimpin’, that has all the things I love, great finger picking chord progressions, lyrics that make you ponder about your day to day life and a nostalgic feeling of what is my life about and what could it be?
Next a song from Wolf Alice, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. Ever feel different, like an outcast? Personally I strove to be an ‘outcast’ in my younger years. I love the feeling of being part of something that most people don’t connect to. Being part of a tribe. Great shoegaze style guitar in the song. Also love the videos of the these songs. I think they do a great job of matching the visuals to the music.
Finally, a song by The Replacements, ‘Unsatisfied’. This song came out at a time my life was in turmoil and seemed to encapsulate everything I was feeling. If you’re not familiar with The Replacements and the album the song is on, ‘Let It Be’ I highly recommend taking a listen. The entire album is a gem. It was the soundtrack of my life for a few years. Listen to the lyrics and tell me you haven’t felt this way at some point in your life.
As a songwriter I live to compose songs that carry this kind of weight. Hope these songs strike a chord in you. Fell free to share any songs with us that do this for you.
Well another holiday season has gone by. A very busy time of year in both a wonderful way and “I’m ready for the end of the holidays” kind of way. I wanted to get in a post about a band we saw back on November 20, Hoots and Hellmouth. Another band I’d highly recommend seeing if you get the chance. High energy and greatly entertaining, they play a combination of Americana, rock ,country and a bit of folk sound rolled together. Their show held my attention from start to finish. I’ve added some pictures from the show and a video to give you a taste of the show.
I’d also like to add how much I enjoy seeing shows at the Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem. The views of the stage and the sound are amazing. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and the crowds are attentive and enthusiastic. Really look forward to seeing another show there in the near future.
As for ChurchHouse Productions, 2016 ended up being a somewhat slow year for us. A lot of outside distractions, both good and bad kept us out of the studio a lot more than we’d like. But there are a lot of irons in the fire for 2017, recordings being prepped for release, videos being finished and the hope for some collaborations with other artists. 2017 looks to be a strange and unsettling year for America, but sometimes that type of atmosphere produces the best art. Hoping the best for everybody this year.
I had the pleasure of seeing The Steel Wheels at the Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem, PA on September 9th. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. The band is an amazing group of musicians playing riveting and fun Americana. I’ve always loved listening to a variety of different styles of music and have played and recorded a lot of different types over the years. Over the last couple of years Americana and bluegrass has exerted a pull on me the same way punk and post-punk did years ago. The Steel Wheels show had all the points I love in that style. The instrumentation’s sonic mix is wonderful. Each instrument has it’s own voice and blends together like a vocal choir. As a result, the instruments don’t step on each other and can each be heard clearly even when everyone’s playing at full throttle. Standup Bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin is a great mix. No real need for percussion since the style played is so rhythmic. The band also had incredible vocals and harmonies. For someone who is in to recording and sonics I loved that all the vocals were done live on one mic. The sound mix is controlled by the musicians by where they stand in relation to the mic and how much volume they give to their part. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially live. The Steel Wheels nailed it and the result gave you chills in the best possible way.
I’ve added some photos from the show and a few links to videos below. If you ever have a chance to see the band live or buy a CD I highly recommend it.
…and a live performance video…
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:
Here’s another link to ‘Heroes’ sound you don’t have to go back to the last post to hear it:
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.
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) .
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.