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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://greacen.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!

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.

02/07/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 4,5,6:

I offer a few recordings tonight: Sing the wolf song is to the lyrics that eve wrote me the other day. Apologies in advance if you listen with dogs in earshot. I added a few more tonight since Eve & I were sitting around with the mic on. We recorded "Always on the Sunnyside" which is something she sings at school, you're supposed to tell some kind of joke in the breaks... something I screwed up of course. This led us toward the banana knock-knock, which I also screwed up horribly.

Last night's tune 'i had nothing' was recorded at a rehearsal space with my bandmates (weekly jam-mates?). I basically said, "When I hit record, just start playing." woomp! there it is.

Thanks a bunch for all the notes you've sent me on these things.

Finally, I updated that web page. It's a klunker, but:

  • you can get to everything without digging through directories
  • you can listen to everything through the doodad.
  • the feeds will let you get a ping if there's a new tune.

I think I'm somewhat caught up on the listening now.

Bruce-

  • porches is just getting uploaded now. Really nice. I'll spin this a few more times tomorrow.
  • migrain my brain is severly migrating my brain right now. Please tell me there was some loopation involved in that. The micro hemiola in the hectic part might induce seizures.
  • wallevatoR nice touch here. I like the mood.
  • silence is not too slient with that guitar erupting over there. Neat!
  • thoughts almost takes off in a lee ranaldo direction. I like it. This made a great first impression.

Seth-

  • Thanks for putting that itunes doodad together today, if the RSS thing I responded with won't work to pull in the latestgreatest, let me know and I'll cook up a dynamical version of your xml file.
  • the biggest risk is great. I like the way the energy kind of goes from 0-60 in the prechorus. Also, nice organ moment, I missed that first time around.
  • eve had a comment on decelerating repetition: 'that's not funny' when I played it for her right before bedtime.
  • free from me is so nice. isn't it amazing how just an additional vocal track can kick up a demo recording?
  • Also, sweet & flavorful AND in my right time AND the plan in the same upload pile? wow. send more, what are you waiting for?

Peter-

  • I'm in touch with your blog. I enjoy catching the recording detailz over there. I'm not really making too much of an effort to engineer any of my recordings. I'll start to pay a little more attention to this and put some factoids together.
  • Lyudmila works! Is that a love song about this betty?
  • I enjoyed statement of too. It comes across as very thought-out and deliberate.

Derek-

  • It's been a treat to hear these gems. I mentioned this to you in an IM the other day, but I'll mention it here for the groop: Your recordings are so hi-fi! In a rush, I downloaded bakersfield to my phone while I was on the bart. I listened to it on the .5 inch speaker and wow... I heard all the backup vocals even...
  • down the hole- I love it. It's serious! I don't think I've heard you open up like that before! Beautiful.

02/05/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 3: More To Come

So I flaked out a little tonight. I was under a schedule crunch today... so I dealt with it through some guitar crunch: partial rock, maybe I'll finish off Drums & Vox along with another song on another day. Here's something... zvex nano head in the house! More to Come

A few other notes on the recent gems:

  • Derek- Bakersfield -- makes me want to hop on the 99 and head south. Way to go! Ruby On Rails makes me want to get this java crap out of my life. I think the ROR folks will go nuts about this one.
  • Seth: better or worse -- We were all singing along with this one at breakfast. Amazingly catchy.
  • Peter: I haven't heard Discipline (I lack) yet. I like Malice and Caprice more with each listen.
  • Bruce: Thoughts and Silence -- I haven't spun your tracks yet, but I'll send some notes when I get to it.

02/04/2008  — 

29 Songs: Day 3: If Yes, Then No

Ok, so technically my 2/3 entry arrived on 2/4. But it's there. I was too beat to drop in the rippin' guitar solo in the 3rd verse so please imagine something good.

Website housekeeping note: I moved everyone's ftp directories from /29/you to /29/players/you. I'll delete the other directories soon. This will help with a page that will do automatic updation as the files come in.

Seth + Peter: I too am really digging listening to everyone's songs. I can't express how psyched I am that youses (an EXTREMELY talented bunch) are kookoo enough to try this with me.

This week will be tough! It'll be our first time balancing this with work. Anytime you sit down to write, try writing two. Have a few ideas in your back pocket for those time crunches. Also, no penalties awarded for digging up something a few years old too.

Speaking of a few years old -- when I told eve about this she was interested in helping. She asked me to transcribe a song she wrote which I'll try to put to music on 2/6:

http://29.netscrap.com/29/players/greacen/lyrics.txt

Finally, Michael Tornatore dropped off a drum kit today, a loaner for the month. I didn't have a chance to use it yet but I'll likely switch from recording exclusively on the laptop to start using my 'studio' (finally) which means some elec-trific-o-rock-i-fication in my (and therefore your) near future.

Good luck this week!

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!