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’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).
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.
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.
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.
It appears that the eclectic collective Steaming Mulch has finally spit out a new tune. We never quite know what we’re going to hear, but that makes it all the more interesting. The word is that there are more song partials traveling around the studio at ChurchHouse, so we should hear the next one soon……ish. Their sense of time does not mesh well with the real world. As always your guess is as good as ours as to the origins of the title (go ahead, guess. we’ll wait…………).
In the meantime…
‘Enormous And Turbo Smooth From Diamond To Rose’
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.
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.
I came across a pretty cool page on the internet. Someone has taken old photos from a Beatles recording session at Abbey Road studio, combined them with a few current photos of the same room (not many changes in that studio room – if it ain’t broke, why fix it) and created an immersive walk through environment. I find this interesting on several levels. First, it’s the Beatles in a recording session. You can look around the studio from the point of view of John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin. You pick from one of the five points of view then use the arrows to pan left, right, up and down. There is a zoom in/out function. The tech of the photo environment is great all on it’s own. For any studio hounds, there’s a second bonus. You can view the recording set up they were using at the time. Everyone was in one room. Not a lot of mics being used – it was all about the quality of mics and preamps and the art of mic placement. Check out the simplicity of the drum mics. No stacks of huge amps. At the time this was all being mixed down live and going to two track tape. It was certainly as much art as tech. Imagine the quality of sound in a room that large. I sometimes think that the huge amount of tech available today can be more of a distraction than a help. Seeing the setup in this session gives me a lot of ideas to try in our studio. I hope it gives you some ideas and inspiration.
Now, let’s get in to the time machine…….
Thought we’d throw some tech at you today. Most mixing is done by ear – after all, it is sound and relates most to our sense of hearing. But we’re also used to looking at meters in the studio. Often it’s just to make sure overall levels don’t clip, or to compress and add volume if necessary. You can also look at levels of individual tracks to compare them. Once you’re in the overall mix, how do you compare individual sounds on the meters? Here’s a metering device from Dorrough that gives a better idea of how individual sounds appear on a meter. I also like the street sound example they use. Wish I could afford one of these buggers.
Here’s a song from the band that introduced me to New Orleans funk. For some perspective, Cissy Strut came out in 1969. The Meters backed a lot of great R & B and funk players through out the years. A band that definitely should be better known.
What do The Meters have to do with metering? Nothing. I just like them.
I came across this video of Frank Sinatra recording in the studio. For anyone who has interest in recording and recording technology, there’s a lot to see here. First, the vocalist and a orchestra in the same room while recording? The sound has separation and clarity despite being in the same room – try that one at home. You get a few glances at the mic placement when you see the orchestra and the mic setup for Sinatra. Interesting that he talks about ‘popping’ – there’s no ‘pop screen’ – they went by mic adjustment, singing technique and I would imagine some EQ adjustment in the booth. Again, amazing separation without multitrack or overdubs – right down to two track tape. Sinatra also discusses vocal technique. I don’t know if as much attention is payed to that today. His vocal sound is amazing and looks effortless.
Sinatra may not be your cup of tea, but there’s a lot to be learned watching recording history.