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01/02/2023  — 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Black Market Music

The flipping of the calendar is an obvious time for retrospection and brief trips down memory lane. I've tried journaling and writing but I don't really have the discipline or habits to keep that going. The mechanics of picking up a pen or putting hands on keyboard doesn't always work for me (evidence: the lack of action on this blog).

I like to keep track of the happenings in my life through photographs - the time and geo stamps are especially helpful in the storytelling. Lately I've been shooting a little video too. It's been sweet to revisit moments of life, to hear a voice or sound, to see someone's gesture that prompts a small flood of memories.

Every once and a while I stumble across someone else's video on YouTube that brings me right back to a moment, a place, a person. Here's one that happened recently...

The video below is two and a half minutes of someone's rando walkthrough of Black Market Music in West Hollywood probably in the late 90s or early 00s. There's not much to the video - it's poor VHS quality, shaky, no narration, awful sound, blurry, bad color. Totally charming.

We see a random view from the street (72 and sunny in west Hollywood), piles of amplifiers, guitars hanging everywhere, people chit-chatting (even eating lunch), racks of gear, display cases full of pedals and effects. It's a mess. It's full of action. If you know anything about music gear it's just a disgustingly opulent - absolutely ridiculous.

Black Market Music specialized in used gear and was thriving at this point. The music industry was at its absolute apex (file sharing was JUST starting - we hadn't yet heard Lars whining about Napster). Mega bands and labels were making piles of money with their recordings and tours. And if the major label music biz was a gold mine, Black Market Music was a major purveyor of second- hand shovels for all the miners.

I had the chance to walk through the shop right around that point in time when I went to LA with Steve Bell & Seth Freeman for a Little John show. I'm pretty sure it was Steve who led us to the shop. He was a master of material things - he helped me buy my bass amp and taught me about microphones, effects, amplifiers, tubes, drums. He was way over the horizon as far as his awareness and understanding of all kinds of gear.

At that point I didn't really know squat about Marshall amps or Gibson guitars. I probably didn't own a guitar amp. I had a Fender Lead II guitar and a Music Man bass, maybe that Ampeg Amp that Steve helped me buy. But I was solidly in Peavey Solid State-land as far as my understanding of amps went. I remember the smell of the place - musty, kinda sweaty, definitely dusty. I remember seeing piles of gear that had spray-paint logos from Van Halen and hair metal bands - gently used gear from tours or big shows. I remember seeing OLD guitars - like don't touch it old. Things that went for $5k (something like $12k today).

I remember a pile of Magnatone amps - I had just been introduced to Magnatone by Joe Gore who played a slide guitar through his to show me how it sounded - naturally overdriven full and juicy and perfect. They were hard to find, probably not in production at that point (though they've recently come back to life) - unobtanium, a unicorn. And here on the floor at Black Market were like 10 of them.

I remember things that were obviously used by pros - oh there's Alex Van Halen's drum cases, those are Tom Petty's amps, that's one of ELP's keyboard rack system. I'm sure there were even better examples that just went over my head.

It's one of the parts of life that I've come to appreciate lately - there are topics and subjects we can learn about that have infinite complexity. The more we learn, the more we see yet to be learned. The amount you could learn blooms and grows and goes and goes. Steve Bell was great at learning all of the stuff. He inspired me to do the same.

Through Steve and much later some of my YooToobers (Johan Segeborn, Kyle Bull, Pete Thorn, Warren Huart, the Guitologist (before he went nuts), Hermansson to name a few) I've learned just enough to realize how much gold was in that room. Looking through today's eyes, this scene is just bonkers.

Couple of droolworthy call outs worth mentioning: That droopy strat thing at 00:38, the hummingbirds hanging in the background next to the hofner bass at 00:42, the red tolex Marshall PA with two (pa) cabinets at 02:20, the pile of JCM800s at 01:03, the spread of snare drums at 01:09, the mountain of 4-hole plexis or JMPs at 01:48, the heap of old EHX pedals at 02:36, the tonebenders and similar pedals at 02:00. Gibson Jumbos sprinkled throughout. Marshall 8x10s tucked into the scenery... Park, Hiwatt... Stuff you just don't see around many places.

Go watch it:

Couple parting thoughts: who's that guy sitting on the Orange cab? Maybe one of the Eels? Some of my friends have told me of their star-sightings at BMM (maybe I'll post a part 2?). Did they let just any band put their show flyer or 8x10 glossy on that bulletin board by the door. There's another walkthrough from another date that shows more purple tolex and more of the keyboard and combo-amp stock.

02/23/2009  — 

Song-A-Day Notes From The Studio

Seth and Derek (among others) asked for some details on how I recorded a few songs this year. I've been pretty happy with the guitar sounds overall. The big improvement from last year seems to be the mic. I'll tell you everything about what I do. Maybe it'll help you find that killer something.

This is my recipe for rock guitars:

Ingredients:

  • Guitar: Fender Lead II (1980) with a really kooky humbucker pickup (I think it's a Bill Lawrence, but possibly a dimebucker?) in the bridge position. Someone really took a lot of time modding this guitar before I bought it. This pickup is special though, haven't found many that sound like it.
  • Amp: ZVex Nano Amp. A .5 (!) watt tube head which should get most of the credit for the sound. It's really an amazing piece of gear that produces controlled overdriven mayhem at a reasonable volume. Zack, my wife, children, and neighbors thank you.
  • Cabinet: Closed-back Mesa 4x12 (with celestions, I think) (yes, the cab for the dual rectifier)
  • Mic: Pacific Pro Audio LD2ube Large Capsule Condenser (multipattern)
  • A->D: Aardvark Q10 a really handy piece of gear. I'm using its built-in preamps. Aardvark went out of business a few years back unfortunately. This thing is still going strong for me.
  • Multitracking: I have an old version of Nuendo 1.53 (the latest is 4) as my main multi-tracking application.
  • Several effects: Waves RCL is the main compressor I'll use. I set up some really simple, standard reverb as a sendd effect too.
  • 1 Dirty Secret Ingredient: That Evil Multiband thing that comes with Nuendo. This may be the thing that takes a decent sound from the guitar/amp/speaker and makes it really sing on a recording (perverting it and possibly ruining it at the same time).

For the basic "loud" sound here's what I'll do:

The Performance

Set the guitar to use the humbucker pickup only. Volume and tone wide open (11). Believe it or not, someone fitted my guitar with an XLR output. I don't use it, just the regular 1/4" jack.

Set the ZVEX amp to brighness: middle, thickness: normal. Volume knob is about 3/4s+. There's only 1 knob on this amp I get it into the distortion space, but not all the way up. The amp is relatively quiet, the sound is a little mid-rangey, but it sounds good in the room.

Mic the guitars pretty close. About 4-6 inches away from the cabinet's grill. I'm using a large cap condenser for this. I've been leaving the mic in the omni position lately. The sound is a little more open. That proximity effect wasn't doing anything to help the sound IMO.

At this volume, I trim the Aardvark's preamp to "6.5" (not sure if this is a db level or something specific to the Q10) so there's a strong signal and still a fair amount of headroom.

Play with heart and desire -- and fat fingers. I'm not a great guitarrist, but I think pick technique plays a small part here. I'm working toward my ideal guitar sound which is distorted, but clear, with lots of bright overtones. Most of my favorite punk albums had some combination of this. I've learned to get some of those overtones by sticking my finger onto the vibrating strings as I pick. Do you really want to know about this? Just ask and I'll ramble on and on about it...

I'll usually double the main part of the song, then add one more color track, often with a different distortion and pickup setting.

The Mix

2 main (heavy) guitars panned hard right/left. Usually with no EQ.

1 guitar up the middle, usually cleaner (distortion-wise). Might use a little EQ to fill a gap in the wall of sound. Posssibly with a bit more of the send- verb too.

Group all the guitars. Use light compression with the RCL on the group. Might shelf the bass a little (I'm monitoring with NS-10s and I've found that if I can hear the bass at all there will likely be a problem on other systems.). I'll usually add a touch of room verb as a send effect.

Here are the compressor specifics:

  • RCL's 'electro' setting
  • attack: 20.0
  • release: 20.0
  • threshold -11.9
  • ratio: 2.57
  • gain: 4.0

The overall mix is important too of course. The drum sounds are reasonably loud, but offer some space. The bass has a few EQ notches (where? I'll check) to carve out space. I haven't been too happy about the vocal sounds on the full-band songs this year, so no help in this dept.

Here's the Dirty Little Secret: Bus compression is the evil Multiband thing. Yeah, there it is. It's out. What are the settings here? Hard to tell what all these mean. I'm basically choosing the "FM" preset and trying to dial it back just a bit.

Actually, now that I look closely to a randomly picked mix, it looks like I'm just using the default 'FM Radio' setting for 'Trouble Sleeping'.

That's about it. Here's a guitar-only mix for Trouble Sleeping: http://gr eacen.com/media/greacenzone/20090222_guitar_mix.mp3

You can hear slight variations on this on a bunch of this year's songs:

  • Up In The Attic
  • Drive North
  • Even in Winter (I used the less-distorted guitars in the panned position on this one, reversed the model)
  • Master of the Mall
  • Wafflepalooza
  • Put Down That Bag Of Rocks
  • Bring it Back
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Istanbul
  • 2wo
Plus a few more that will likely come before we cross the finish line.

Go Listen!

01/19/2009  — 

GoFish Becomes Betawave

GoFish just morphed to betawave. Links in the twitterfountain below:

09/22/2008  — 

Seth Adds To His Music Store

I met Seth Freeman in Boston just before I moved out to California. We eventually reformed recorded and played as Little John in San Francisco for a few years. Seth's most recent move was to LA to pursue a career as a soundtrack composer. Seth was also a big contributor to the 29 Songs project we banged out in February.

Seth just tossed a pile of acoustic recordings onto snocap. Some of these turned up on Little John records. Take a peek in the Songs, Volume 1 section:

The Snocap service (founded by Napster's founder Shawn Fanning among others) connects musicians with the marketplace. Seth's store is a perfect example of how an artist can market, distribute, and sell work directly to consumers.

Check out Seth's site: http://sethfreemanmusic.com/ and the obligatory Myspace page.

06/05/2008  — 

Matt Freeman to GoFish

So according to AdAge, Matt Freeman is moving to GoFish. Good news, indeed!

I was surprised to learn that he also plays a rippin' bass solo:

Let's hear it for Matt Freeman!

02/07/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 4,5,6:

02/05/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 3: More To Come

02/04/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 3: If Yes, Then No

02/02/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 2: On The Other Side

02/01/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 1: Took To The Air

01/31/2008  — 

29 Songs Starts!