Time for another addition of ‘Messin With The Music’. Last post we spoke of our love for dark, swampy ‘Southern Gothic’ styles of music. So as we were thinking of what to ‘mess with’ next I naturally thought of one of our all time favorite bands, The Gun Club. We’ve visited them before – you can find our cover of ‘Ghost On The Highway’ on our SoundCloud site. The recording of this one has followed our same Messin’ philosophy – minimal takes, minimal mics, recording tracks straight through. The difference was this song was begging for electric guitar, lots of crunchy distortion and tons of reverb. We kept it minimal with bass, hand percussion and vocals (you’ll also hear a howlin’ surprise visit from Bonnie and Samantha).
We’re already working on the next tune in the series and it’s another bit of a sharp turn. For now, turn down the lights, crank up the volume and enjoy The Gun Club’s ‘Death Party’.
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.
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).
I stumbled across this song from a book I read called Stillhouse Lake, by Rachel Caine – good read and the music she lists at the end is awesome. So check it out.
This is one of the titles I particularly liked – and of course, the lyrics are way cool – the beat is catchy.
Lo Fidelity All Stars – Battleflag (came out around 2008, um, where have I been?)
So on to serious business… I have a great surprise coming out next week from the studio. Got to work with a really great guy and had a great time recording with him.
Until next week, hit play and turn it up!
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.
Might be a little late for this train, BUT…
This is off their above-titled release, but I gotta say the whole CD is good listening. CD photography is cool and the design was done by the drummer Marc Cazorla and the mix was done by the bassist Alex Stiff. Hard work, good rewards. So on that note (see what I did there?)… you can laugh now. Turn it up, I dare you not to start bobbing your head- seriously.
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.