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Wednesday 8 November 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 18

Righty ho, well, our guitarist came over a couple of weeks ago and we completely re-did the guitar part(s) for Words.
Took about two hours to get the sound we were after, the core part done, and then the more complex bit of recording the solo whilst he came up with the parts - but that doesn't seem unreasonable.
I must fess up at this point and say I made a mistake with one of the recorded parts whereby I duplicated the two channels I'd set up but didn't notice that in doing so Reaper doesn't automatically set the inputs the same as the duplicated channels. So instead of my two new channels recording mics 1 and 2, I had two copies of mic 1. Because both channels were recording fine, and the bit we were recording was tonally different to the stuff we'd already tracked, I didn't notice until later.
Fortunately the mic that was recorded was the main one for that particular part.
Anyway, I mixed it all up and came up with this:
That I was reasonably happy with until I posted it to be reviewed on the Sound on Sound forum.
I am no longer happy with it.

Feedback I need to work on:
There's a harshness around 2kHz, especially at the end section.
The electric guitar is a bit too loud (I'd thought this myself on a re-listen).
The acoustic is too thin, lacks lower mids (I had thought about this as well but was willing to trade it off against things going too muddy).
The distortion on the vocals at the end is too much.
Needs a bit more reverb to make the whole thing sit together.
With the exception of the bass and vox, everything is too compressed. It's a mush.
The guitar solo disappears too much in mono. Might be worth separating that out of the rest of the guitar work and bringing it a bit more central.
Vocal levels need to vary more, to breath with the song a bit.
Low mids are bit empty (see comment about avoiding mud above).
Vocals are a bit dry.
Vocals are a bit thin and, linked to that, a bit too loud. Could probably do with a bit more de-essing as well.
Are the backing vocals in or out? Need a decision on that.

The frustrating thing is that, with the exception of the reverb and vocal thinness comments, I think that deep down i knew most of that anyway. I'd just convinced myself that was good enough - or at least, as good as I could get it.

So now the question is whether to try and rescue it from there or start again.
Decisions, decisions...

Sunday 15 October 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 17

Ok, not been a lot of progress recently for various reasons but I shall be doing a little more recording this afternoon and our guitarist is coming over in a couple of weeks to put down some more of his tracks. This will hopefully allow me to finish Words and get on with the rest of the stuff.

In the meantime, have a shufti at some more photos from the session that our drummer has just passed across.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 16

Just a quick update from me this time. I've done more work on Words (despite saying I was parking it for a bit, meh) and it's shaping up reasonably well. The latest version is here:
I've had some feedback from my listening group that I'll need to factor in:
Vocals too loud.
Drums a bit boomy in the 100 - 150Hz zone and a bit dull overall.
Bit of a glitch in the bass part at the opening of the bridge.
Oomph drops off a bit too early after the peak when it comes out of the bridge.
All of these are workable.

The challenge now is how long it's taken me to get to this point.

So this afternoon I'm going to try and blitz Shadowbones and see how quickly I can work it up to a first cut.

Monday 28 August 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 14

Well I have been doing quite a bit more work on Words and it now sounds like this:
Still needs plenty doing to it, e.g. all the main stems will need some volume automation to bring out (and down) different bits throughout the song, the piano bits will probably need some decluttering, it still needs a couple more bits of ear candy - some kind of back vocals bits and some rhythmic bits.
Aside from all that there's a bit of in-band debate about the synth part and whether it is required or not, and this comes down to what we want the end product to sound like.
I shall be parking this one for a bit now though as I've got a bit too close to it for any objective analysis. I think it's shaping up the right way but a bit of distance is required before any next steps.

So now I just have to choose what to work on next...

Sunday 13 August 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 13

I managed to pull a muscle in my back yesterday so instead of being out and about making the most of the good weather I have been sitting here fiddling with knobs- Finbar Saunders eat your heart out.

I've been working on Words still to try and get a bit more separation in the instruments, a bit more lift to the drums and get the vocals a bit more consistent.

Here's where I've got to so far:

Next step will be to work on the bass sound a bit to help it cut through (add a bit of amp simulation to start with I think) and then look at compressing the drums a bit to get a bit more control on them.

Then it's probably going to be a case of parking this one whilst we consider production and other instruments.

Sunday 6 August 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 12

Well that was a pain in the arse but it's now done.
Sorted out the guitar parts for Words over the last days or so. Took the 23 takes of the main rhythm guitar part and comped them down to a best section then did some tweaking to line everything up nicely to the drums.
When I was doing the recording I also recorded some supplementary chord work that I've also been sorting the timing out for so dull job done but I think it's shaping up quite well.
Fixed a little error on the main vocal as well by substituting a previous take.
Next job is to lob a High Pass Filter (HPF) across all the channels apart from the kick and bass and do a little EQ and light compression on the acoustic guitars.
After that we're waiting on the other guitar parts and then I need to get everyone over to have a listen and agree a production approach - personally I think a bit of piano would work very nicely so I'll have to see if someone fancies giving it a go.

In the meantime I'll start having a look at the guitars for Northshoremen.

Here's a little screen shot of what I've been working on the recently:

[EDIT] and here's quick render of how it's sounding so far:

Monday 31 July 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 11

Thank you to everyone who's been reading along, especially if you've been emphathising with the guitar tracking issues, so far it has been every bit as challenging as I was expecting.

Sadly however now it all slows down...

I'm back at work tomorrow, so from now on we'll be looking at occasional weekend time and snatched evenings here and there.
We are in a bit of a pause period anyway though, I have one more bit of recording to do (some organ sounds via my guitar pedal) and then it's tidying up the guitar parts and sending all the stems over to the guitarist for him to record his parts. All of which is pretty dull and mechanical really.
The interesting bit really starts again when we've pulled all that lot together, got some basic 'faders-up' mixes for everyone to listen to, and start thinking about how we want to produce the songs.

All of which will have to wait to for a bit, as, dear reader, will you.

Thanks for staying with me this far, I'll be updating again with each bit of progress along the way but it will be far more intermittent.

Because this is the internet, here's a picture of a cat:

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 10

Today was every bit as frustrating as I expected it to be.

It actually started out quite well, I fished the Tascam interface out of the garage along with some more mic stands and cables and set up a rig to try some alternative guitar mic positions.
This was messy...

but if it got me a decent guitar sound then I'd consider it worthwhile.

After further experimentation I ended up with a set up like this:
Two small diaphragm capacitor mics, one pointed around the 12th fret (but low down and pointing slightly up and in) and one pointing at the bottom half of the body behind the bridge (this one about horizontal).
Nothing really surprising there but I have made a couple of tweaks from previous occasions trying this, firstly I've brought the mics in a bit from 12" to about 8", and secondly I've used Omni capsules. This has given me the extra presence of close miking but using the omnis means that they're still capturing a broad swathe of the guitar sound.
Plus a DI from the pick up just in case.
Having tried it with strumming, picking, slappy type stuff and a bit of blues, this will now be my starting set-up for this guitar in this room in future.

And that's where the positive part of the day stopped.

Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to nail the part for Northshoremen. This is quite a tricky part for me and, unlike vocals or some lead parts, it needs to flow all the way through the track. I tried recording the whole thing in one pass but after 7 or 8 tries decided a new strategy was required. So I worked through each section of the song in turn (overlapping the previous sections) until I had a reasonable take of the whole thing.
I have, however, ended up with 29 bloody takes! I'm going to need a spreadsheet to work out the best bits for sticking together.
Bloody horrible and sorting it out will be no more fun.

I rounded off the day trying to rerecord the acoustic parts for Building for the Flood - having listened to the existing parts again I decided I wasn't happy with them.
This went slightly better but as these two songs share very similar chords my fingertips were mush from the first half of the afternoon and I was struggling to fret things properly later on.
I think I have some workable takes though.

Tonight I'm going to head to the pub-quiz and then tomorrow I'll try and tackle Words - this promises to be just as much fun as Northshoremen...
I should really just write some songs I can actually play...

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Band on budget - the recording process part 9

Well, that's the vocals done. Pretty happy with what I've got over the last couple of days even if it has taken longer than I'd have liked. Not for technical reasons this time, just because I was knackered this morning and didn't get going 'til lunch time and because of the competition recording yesterday afternoon (which went quite well I think, and I now own a shiny new mic, see below:
We'll give that a spin at the next band practice methinks).

As for the actual vocal recording, that's largely been hassle free. Just a case of setting up to try and minimise room noise, getting the mics aligned to minimise phase issues and then setting levels. Very much stuff I've done before lots of times, the only difference being using the Art pre-amp to try and add a bit of colour - to be frank, I'm not sure it's made a great deal of difference but I'll have a more analytical listen later. There's certainly nothing I'm unhappy with there.

Next up is recording my acoustic guitar parts.
Arguably this should be pretty straightforward as well but there are a couple of complications:
1) a couple of the parts are quite complex, particularly Northshoremen, and
2) I've never really been happy with the recorded sound I've got to date.

So for the rest of this afternoon I'm going to experiment with some different mics and placements to see if I can get something better. I'm pretty certain I should be able to. I can't believe that it's an issue with the kit - no matter how budget my set up, I'm sure it's capable of what I'm looking for.

Right, enough prevaricating, let's crack on.

Monday 24 July 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 8

Today, I shall be mostly recording vocals...*

My view for the next few hours is largely going to look like this:
On the left is a subzero tube microphone, it's an AKG clone at a fraction of the price but I've been very happy with it since I bought it, especially on my vocals.
On the right is a classic lollipop ribbon mic made by Stew at Xaudia. I don't normally tend to double mic vocals for my more acoustic/folky stuff but the band tracks are a bit more rocky so I thought I'd experiment with something.
The ribbon mic is going into one of these:
This (the box on the top) is a little tube pre-amp and I've cranked it as high as I can to try and drive the tube a bit. On the louder sections it's just beginning to distort a bit and I'm hoping a bit of judicious mixing with the other mic will give things a bit of edge in places.
Of course I'm keeping any distortion in the analogue part of the chain, overall levels going into Reaper are peaking at around -10dB so there's plenty of headroom.

Both mics are about 12 inches from my mouth and angled down from roughly eye-height. This deals with any proximity effect from the valve mic (I have it set in cardioid as I slightly prefer the sound), stops any plosives bothering the ribbon mic (could get expensive) and also keeps the vocals from sounding to bright and nasal.

So far I've recorded the vocals for Shadowbones and Words and I'm now taking a bit of a break for some lunch.
I do have another recording date this afternoon as well, it's my recorded session for the JBL competition I entered a couple of months ago, so I might not do much more this afternoon so I can keep my voice fairly fresh.

That does mean the room is going to look like this for the next couple of days:
Which isn't hugely convenient, but is necessary.
For those of you who are new to this, you may be asking, as a friend of mine has, "what's with all the duvets?"
The answer is that it's basic, but effective**, acoustic treatment for the room. The duvets act as sound baffles and stop the microphones picking up unwanted reflected sounds. Basically, I just want the sound of the vocals, not the vocals plus the boxy-sounding room. This is a side-effect of putting the microphones a decent distance away from the source but it's worth the trade-off in my opinion.

What has become clear is that I'm going to have to do a lot more manipulation of the tracks on these mixes. With a lot of my stuff to date, the vocal lines haven't been hugely dynamic, and a bit of parallel compression and some automation has been enough to keep things in control.
That's not going to be the case with this set of tracks, I'll be doing a lot more multing and grouping of tracks to get things in shape.

Right, the timer has just pinged for lunch...

* If you're of a certain age and from the UK you will have read that line in a very specific accent.
** Sound On Sound magazine did a test a while back looking at different commercial absorbers and their benchmark as a duvet:

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 7

It's been a while since the last post as real life has got back in the way, as it usually does, but I now have a bit of time off so I'm hoping to make some progress over the next couple of weeks.

First off is listening back through what we've got, confirming the best takes and applying any fixes where we've got issues on the recording.
We've got a few pops and crackles in places that will take a bit of surgical correction but most of it doesn't look too bad (I think there's a function to do multiple simultaneous edits in Reaper - need to check how that works precisely) but there's one chunk that is concerning me a bit more. The best pass of Denmark Street has an extensive chunk of crackling on the bass line and I'm not sure we're going to be able to rescue it. I'll have a quick look at the other takes but I think the best solution is to re-record it. Fortunately we just DI'd the bass so this should be pretty straightforward.

Further lessons for next time: I mentioned previously that my note-taking hadn't been as comprehensive as I would have liked. Thing to do next time is just leave the mics open after a take and get everyone's opinion straightaway. That way, at the end of each take, I'd have comments like, "that was the best one" or "nope, I screwed that up in the middle" etc.

My mixing set-up
Like everything else in this little escapade my mixing set-up is also at the budget end of things, however I've been able to make a few tweaks along the way to speed up the process. From input to output the set-up is roughly like this:

Focusrite 8i6 interface - as well as the Tascam that we used for recording I have this focusrite permanently connected at home. It's a good little unit that allows me to put in overdubs and run separate outputs for headphones, my Yamaha THX10 (that I use for small-speaker-monitoring) and my main monitors.

DAW and template
Having recorded in Reaper it would be crazy to mix in anything else (not that I have anything else other than a really old CubaseSX) but here's where we get into the templates that I mentioned in an earlier post. My standard project template has 40 tracks set-up, 32 of these are set up as standard audio tracks and have ReaEQ and a focusrite compressor in the first two slots of the inserts. The other 8 are labelled as bus tracks for Vox, drums, bass, two guitars, candy, blank and the dummy master.
The candy one is for any little extra bits of ear-candy in a track, the blank one gets used either for extra instruments in band work or parallel compression if I'm doing more acoustic stuff.
I have the template set up like this so that I can use the couple of bits of hardware that you can see on the desk.
I also have the Sonarworks reference 3 plugin on the master channel - this little bit of code is designed to take the measured frequency response of your headphones and then apply an EQ correction to make them as flat as possible.

The Behringer BCR2000 (bottom right with all the knobs) has been configured to work as a basic transport control and channel strip. By linking it to the ReaEQ and the compressor using midi commands I'm able to have hands on control of a 6-band EQ (frequency, gain and Q-factor for each band) and the compressor controls (threshold, ratio, attack, release, input and output gain). It also has a few other things set up: track mute and solo, track FX bypass, record prime, EQ bypass, compressor bypass, track volume and pan, master volume and pan, master FX bypass (for use when switching between headphones and speakers), master mono and the basic transport controls. For complex reasons this only works on the first 32 channels - hence the template.
The Korg nanocontrol (with the sliders, mid-right) then controls my 8 bus tracks. It's set up with volume, pan, mute, solo and track select for each bus track, plus a few more useful transport controls (the cycle button and marker set and steps being the most useful).
This took ages to set up but between them it gives me a much more tactile control and has speeded up my workflow considerably.

The output from the focusrite goes in three directions:
Headphones - I generally use a set of Beyerdynamic DT990 pros (the 250 ohm versions) which are driven just fine from the focusrite headphone socket.
Grot-box monitoring - I have my Yamaha THX10 guitar amp set up as a small-speaker monitor for checking how things will translate to things like portable speakers or radios.
Main monitoring - the main output goes to a Musical Fidelity E100 amplifier and from there to a set of Dynaudio Audience 50 speakers. This is Hi-Fi gear rather than studio gear so it can be a bit more flattering and bit less revealing that I'd like, but it is good kit and it's not the weakest link in the chain.

The room
Which brings my nicely to the room I mix in. It's a nice shape and size (13'x10'x8') but it has no acoustic treatment at all. I've never tried to measure it but I doubt it has particularly good properties in any aspect. Hence I do most of my mixing on headphones.

So there you go, that's what my world is going to look like for the next few days!

Saturday 1 July 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 5

End of stage 1

Well our two days of holiday and hall time are up and I've had a night to think about things so here's a few pros, cons and lessons learnt for next time.

Taking a couple of hours to work out where best to put the drums on a previous night was time well spent.
The hall only cost £50 between the four of us so even if I've made a complete pigs ear of things and we end up ditching all of it we're only down £12.50 each.
Everything worked. We had no dodgy cables, faulty kit (pops and crackles aside), dead batteries, not even a broken string.
We all had fun (despite my getting a bit stressed on a couple of occasions).
Taking the time to pack everything away properly at the end means that unloading and sorting the stuff when I got home was a very simple task.
Brief aside - the band is great at this; everyone pitches in and helps with everything, no-one is ever standing around twiddling their thumbs whilst there is stuff to be lugged or set up. Not all bands are like this - end aside.
I'm glad I never found a buyer for my little mixer - I'll be keeping that now.

I could have done with some inline supressors or pads. I did buy a couple of DI boxes last year but I was just thinking about live use at the time so the ones I bought, whilst very good, don't have pads.
It took me too long to try and come up with a solution for our bass player's monitor mix, and then it didn't work all the time.*
Everything took a bit longer than expected. Not a lot longer, but enough to mean that we've ended up with significantly less content that I'd hoped for.
Either my laptop isn't powerful enough, or it's not configured well enough, or I'm hitting transfer limits somewhere but it caused some real headaches and I'm still not sure that all the tracks are free from artefacts.

I'd set up templates for the tracks on Reaper, but that was based on my mixing template. I need to create a recording variant of that for next time.
Engineering and performing is difficult work, some stuff got missed along the way, primarily any note-taking. Having an extra person on the second day helped a lot (particularly as he got up to speed with the software (we were using cubase last time)) but there's still things that I could have done better if I only had one hat on. I need to factor in more time for this.
Only get out the stuff you need at the time. At the start of day 1 I spent some time setting up my usual amp and pedal rig which then proceeded to get under my feet and cause a ground loop and got taken away a couple of hours later, unused. It didn't get used until the afternoon of day 2.
Don't get too stressed. As song-writer, singer, rhythm guitarist and recording engineer I felt that I had a lot going on and at times I let myself get too stressed. Had I been more relaxed I think we could have had a better session, I could have come up with a monitor-mix solution for the bass player for example. I hope I'll know better next time.

Next steps
First thing is to work through all the tracks and check that I've got all the best takes marked up and we're consistent across the whole mix. Then there's a big piece of work to go through and check all the tracks for pops and crackles, line up the timings of the tracks hit by the latency and generally get things into something resembling a fit state for mixing.
Once that's done I need to record my missing parts and then send some stems to the guitarist for him to add his bits.
Then we'll do a faders-up mix and see if everyone's happy with what we've got and what kind of production approach we want to take.

Since I've started on this, I'll keep blogging throughout the process, but on Monday real life starts again so updates will become much more sporadic.

* I have now figured out a solution that would have worked just fine. Which is rather irritating.

Band on a budget - the recording process part 4

Well that's day 2 finished. I didn't blog last night because I was knackered and went for a beer, but here's the brain dump from day 2.

The plan
We intended to record the drums and bass for the remaining two songs, then do overdubs for main vocals, rhythm guitar and possibly backing vocals. When our guitarist returned we would then overdub his guitar parts.
Plans schmans....

Denmark Street
After resetting up the few bits and bobs we took home overnight we were ready to go. We were joined yesterday by a friend of mine who's helped us out before to help press buttons and twiddle knobs. He's not an audio engineer but he has done a fair bit of live light and sound stuff in his past and helped out when we did our acoustic recording a while back.
Unfortunately we ran into some problems early on that took a while to sort out.
Denmark Street is the most rocky / punky of the four tracks we'd planned to record and as a result our drummer was playing louder than he did the day before. This caused two problems, one was that a couple of the drum mics were peaking, the other was that our bassist was struggling to hear herself.
Unfortunately I don't own any pads or in-line attenuators. Having never recorded live drums before this has never been a problem, I shall know better next time.
Anyway, as it was the overheads that were clipping the solution was simply to move them higher up. This brought them nicely down to the level of the knee mic and snare but the kit was running hotter than I would have liked.
I'm not sure if Reaper has a way of attenuating incoming signals for such an eventuality but I didn't have time to trawl the manual (which I've never found particularly easy to use) so we've just had to run with it. I'm going to slap a true peak meter on once I've loaded them onto my main computer and see what we've got to deal with.
Anyway, key lesson (other then having some attenuators) is to understand your DAW software completely. Homework for me there.

All about the bass
The second problem was a bit trickier. Our bass player has a long history of playing live in some fairly big venues which means we have a great bass player, but sadly her hearing is no longer what it should be. Our headphones were running off the headphone socket on the Tascam, monitoring the incoming signal and it just wasn't loud enough for her compared to the drums. Unfortunately just cranking the bass signal wasn't an option as it was already running hotter than I would have liked so I had to get my thinking cap on. Sticking a compressor pedal in the way helped a bit but still wasn't cutting the mustard. Which is a peculiar expression if you think about it.

Pops and crackles part 2
I had a lousy night's sleep on Thursday night because I was still trying to engineer the session in my head, but one of the things I had been thinking about was the issues with buffer sizes and artefacts and how that was affecting the limited overdubs we'd done. Whilst pondering on this it occurred to me that, although I had done the obvious things like setting the laptop to high power; switching off the wifi; setting the quiet hours; etc, I hadn't turned off the anti-virus.
I had also been thinking that there must be a way to make use of the other outputs from the back of the Tascam (we were only using 1&2 to listen to the stereo mix) and the little behringer mixer I had kicking around to create a separate headphone mix.
I'd turned the anti-virus off first thing and sure enough this meant we could bring the buffer down to 256 samples without creating pops and crackles - and this in turn meant that the latency was brought down to something that wasn't causing problems.
So rigged up the small mixer to take a mix signal into one pair of channels and the bass signal (routed in Reaper to outputs 3&4) to another channel so that we could give our bassist the ability to add her own signal on top of the mix.
I may have declared that I was a genius at this point.
Except now we weren't getting sound from anything at all.
And it was lunchtime.
Bollox, time for a break.

Back to bassics
A short walk, a bite to eat, fresh air and coffee can do wonders.
A quick check of the audio device properties indicated that, somehow, I'd been running the whole show do far without using the correct asio driver. Fixing that gave us our output back and our independent bass output, which in turn gave us a happy bass player and, finally, a decent couple of takes of Denmark Street.

Revert to plan A.
Having been cheered up by this solution and finally making some progress we had a bit of pause to restock. We were expecting our guitarist back any time now but no-one had heard from him so we weren't sure when exactly. We were still debating what to do next (backing vocals, guitar overdubs or get started on track 4) when he arrived, effectively ending the discussion.
With all four of us there, and a friend to push the buttons, we gave him a few minutes to get settles then went straight into recording Shadowbones.

Of wins and losses
Sadly adding another three inputs was just enough to tip the balance back to causing pops and crackles again. Pushing the buffer up to 512 samples sorted the noise but meant the latency was too great for our bass player's separate headphone mix solution to work properly. Shadowbones being a quieter song we were able to return to our previous approach but it's still bugging me that I couldn't make this work.
On the positive side we were obviously hitting our stride on the musical side of things. I'd been worried about this track as it has a few stops and complications to the arrangement (including three different tempos) but as it happened we got it down in three takes.
This, of course, just emphasised how frustrating it was that we hadn't had the guitarist in place for the full session.

Next up was filling in the main guitar parts for the previous three tracks. Denmark Street went fairly smoothly, Northshoremen a bit less so. Our guitarist hadn't had a lot of sleep on Thursday night and wasn't feeling at his best, he really wasn't happy with his playing and didn't think it was going to get any better. It really didn't sound bad to the rest of us but plainly a replan was required.

Time for plan C, or maybe D
It was now around 4pm. Whilst we could make noise at the hall until 10 there were already a few signs of fatigue (and boredom) setting in and none of us wanted to go that late so it was time for another band meeting.
The outcome of which was that since a) the guitarist was confident he could record his own parts at his place, b) I could record my bits at mine, and c) we could do the backing vocals in an evening session back at the hall one night, we should make the most of the set-up and record a fifth song.
For no good reason this really stressed me out for a bit.
I've been fairly stressed all week about this, not in a bad way really, just in an anxious-that-it-go-well kind of way but the sudden change of plan made me really quite tense.
I can't remember exactly what I did but I think I disappeared to check some cabling or something similar whilst I rejected any reasons not to make the most of the situation. After all, we already had a load of stuff in the bag, it wasn't costing us a lot of money, why not?

5 for the price of 4
Everything was already set up from recording Shadowbones so a quick bit of work brought up a blank template on Reaper and we were good to go. Fortunately the extra track that we chose to do was the one I would have chosen if it had been all down to me so I relaxed a bit and, after a couple of false starts (not all mine!), we had three decent takes of Words in the bag.

Finishing up
This is already a long entry so I'll put a bit of a summary in the next post once I've had chance to have a proper listen to everything.
But just for fun, here's a little clip of our guitarist getting into the groove...

Thursday 29 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 3

Strewth, it's fair to say I'm knackered. I had a fairly lousy night's sleep last night and I'm writing this at about 10:30pm, so apologies for any typos or accidental swearing...

So, after day 1, where are we?
Well, loading up the car took a bit longer than expected - I hadn't quite appreciated how much more gear I was taking than for a usual practice - and then there were roadworks slowing all the traffic down on the north side of town. But I arrived at about 9:25 so only ten minutes late.
Unlike our bass player who, it turned out, thought I was giving her a lift like we normally do.
Anyway, eventually we were all in the hall and unloaded.

We did have a lot of stuff, this is just some of the stuff I brought...
But then we are trying to create a complete recording studio so it's not really surprising.

Set up - drums
Most of the morning was then spent setting things up. The drumkit we set up where we'd tested it previously. After further listening we stuck a couple of duvets up on mic stands to reduce some of the wall reflections and thanks to some friends of ours we had a couple of extra mics to play with as well; an sm57 and a Superlux R102 ribbon mic. A few acoustic foam panels were carefully placed to reduce a bit of floor reflection as well and it was sounding quite good.
Actually, the kick was a bit too boomy...
Moving the mic a bit more off centre sorted that.
But the ride was a bit low...
A bit more mic movement of the knee* mic sorted that.

Set up - Bass and guide guitar
We did look at DI'ing the bass but it turns out to have a tube pre-amp section. I've heard bad things about running tube amps without a speaker load so we just took the bass straight into the Tascam's instrument input and did the same with my guide guitar part from the Variax.

Set up - lead guitar
We set up the guitarist's amp in the extra section of the room with a couple of long mic cables and a long guitar lead (he has a buffer in the pedal set) and semi walled it off to cut down on the spill. In the end we needn't have worried about this as by the time we'd got all this sorted his lift turned up and he had to go. We'll be overdubbing his guitar parts tomorrow afternoon.

That took us to lunch time - at which point we discovered another part of the hall had been made available for some tea and coffee for a group of, well, I can't remember what their reason for being there was but there were a few old ladies enjoying a cuppa.
So we had lunch.

After lunch we cracked on with recording, starting with Northshoremen. This is quite a tricky track as, although it has just a few repeated sections, they don't all repeat the same way. And the 1st verse lyrics repeat over the 2nd bridge. And the chorus repeats over the verse chords at the end...
There are also a couple of stops in usual places.
It seemed a good idea at the time.
Anyway, eventually we got there but I had developed some nervousness by now. I'd noticed a fair bit of popping and crackling building up and I was a bit worried about the quality of the recording. Listening back it seemed that it was coming through on my DI guitar line - which was fine as that was just a guide track that we'll be ditching.

Anyway, I bumped the buffer right up and we pressed on with the lead vocals.
Listening back to a first take there was waaaay too much room reverb (partly because I like the sound of the Omni setting of my tube amp for vocals). Fortunately we were prepared for this and another mic stand and duvet was pressed into service. There was still a fair bit of room noise but much more manageable.
Four proper takes and we were good. Though because of the buffer size it needed tweaking for playback.

Rhythm guitar
This was a bit of a mare really. It's the most complex of the parts that I'll be playing and by this point my fingers were getting a bit sore. I've got about 8 takes to work through but I'm pretty confident I have enough to comp a decent take out of. The effect of that big buffer size caused me a bit of a headache in timing as well.

Moving on
At this point we had a bit of a chat about what to do next and decided to give Building for the Flood a run through. It's fundamentally a much simpler song and the bass player and drummer had been hanging around waiting on me for the last couple of hours so were getting a bit restless.
Set up was exactly as before so no changes to anything other than headphone volumes and plugging my DI into a different guitar.
Four runs through that and, listening back tonight, I think we have a completely workable take there.

Overall I think we're a bit behind where I'd have liked to be but we've got the most difficult song in the tank and we're in a good place for tomorrow. I am still concerned around some of the pops and crackles I'm getting but listening back on my main computer now they're almost non-existent on this machine. I think that either my laptop is underpowered or, more likely, poorly configured for this.
I'm really not looking forward to editing that acoustic guitar part but I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Time for bed, adios.

* Because the kick has no hole in the resonant head I've got an Omni mic sitting between the kick and the floor tom (under the ride) that is picking up a bit of the beater sound from the front of the kick.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 2

In the previous entry we took a look at what we're trying to record, where we're doing it and the approach we're taking.
Today we'll have a quick look at what instruments we're recording and what we're recording with.

The Instruments
As mentioned previously, we're a four piece with a fairly conventional line up.
Drums: vintage Carlton kit (60s I think) and a mix of more modern cymbals. Plus there will be various other bits of percussion to be overdubbed in places (shakers, tambourines etc)
Bass: Yamaha RBX 300 bass running through a Trace Elliott AH350SMX head. We're hoping to DI the bass but we have a TE 2x10 cab that we'll mic up if we need to.
Lead guitars: A fender strat, a fret king tele, an epiphone of some kind and it wouldn't surprise me if a couple more come out of the closet for this. Run through a Fender bassman amp and a selection of pedals (see the photo below).
Rhythm guitars: A line 6 acoustic 700 that will mainly be used for DI'ing the guide tracks, a PRS SE semi hollow and a '57 Hofner Club 50 running through a Peavey Valveking 112, and a Cole Clark Fat Lady acoustic. I have a fairly basic pedal board but the key other sound generated from it is the output of the Electroharmonix B-9 organ pedal.
Vocals: I sing lead vocals on all the tracks and a couple of them have one or two sets of backing vox.

Microphones and pre-amps
This is where things really start to get budget...
For the drums we have a set of gear4music own brand mics, designed for live sound they're what we've got so they'll have to do.
I'll be supplementing those with a couple of Studio Spares s1200s on the snare and as a bit of glue/kick attack.
Other mics that will be pressed into use as required are a Subzero tube mic, an sE2200, an sE3300, an Shure SM58, a Shure Beta 87, a couple of other dynamics and an Xaudia ribbon mic.
The main interface will be a Tascam US16x08, this gives me 8 mic pre-amp channels, two instrument channels and 6 line inputs. To make use of those line inputs I'll also be using our mixing desk, a behringer Xenyx x2222usb as a set of pre-amps. I've made up some sniffer cables to go from the insert points on the mixer to the Tascam.
I have an ART valve pre-amp and another small Behringer mixer on hand as well if we need any other pre-amps or phantom power.

The Tascam comes with its own software for controlling input levels and routing. It also has EQ and compression in the software but I'm not intending to do any manipulation on the way in.
I'll be using Reaper as my DAW, I've got it installed as a portable installation on a USB stick with a set of templates made up, so once we've done the recordings I'll be able to import it onto my main machine with no hiccups. Again, I won't be doing any processing on the way in, it's just a glorified tape-recorder.

Other bits and bobs
Headphones galore,
a little HA400 headphone amp,
spare strings,
spare cables,
re-useable cable ties,
all the usual stuff for our live rig,
a Yamaha THX10 in case of, well, something,
extension leads and adaptors,
cable/socket adaptors
a snake,
headphone extension cables,
lots of mic stands
ankle weights (to stabilise mic stands)
and, of course, duvets. You can never have too many duvets.

Right, that'll do for now, I'm off to stick all my cables through the cable tester...

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 1

Tomorrow is Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday I will be attempting to record a few tracks with my band. This is the first time I've tried to record a full band and our first time recording as a four-piece. I'm going to blog about it in the hope that a) it might be interesting reading for anyone else trying to record on a budget, and b) some other people can avoid the mistakes that we will inevitably make.

So here's the low down on what's going on:

The budget
Our budget is £50.
Room hire for two days is £50.
That's that taken care of, moving on...

The songs and the band
We've chosen to try and record 4 songs over the two days. As we've not recorded together before, don't have a dedicated engineer (that'd be me), and I've not recorded a full band before, this seems like a reasonable number to attempt. We have recorded some acoustic stuff as a three piece before but this is a step up for me.
The band is The Southern Wild and the songs are all original numbers. We are all fairly comfortable with our parts and play them live fairly regularly. We've spent the last few rehearsal sessions focusing on these songs but we have had some unavoidable hitches with illness that means we're probably not quite as confident as we'd hoped.
The line up of the band is Drums, Bass, 2 guitars (mix of acoustic and electric), main vocals and 2 backing vocals.

The recording venue
The disadvantage is that we're not recording in a proper studio (see the budget comment above). The advantage is that we're recording in the hall we regularly rehearse in so we've been able to do some pre-work about position of the drums to start us off.
The hall is large, it has a rectangular floor plan about 15m x10m. The ceiling is at two heights, a nice high (4m) section for 2/3rds of the room dropping to 2.5m for the remaining third. This remaining third can be fully or partially walled off by a moveable wooden wall should we need to isolate a bit of spill.
The hall is hard floored and has very little in the way of soft-furnishing to absorb reflected sounds. We're bringing a load of duvets to control things as much as we can but I suspect we'll need to make a bit of a feature of the room's sound rather than try and fight it.
I've attached a couple of photos that show a bit of the room so you can see roughly what we're dealing with:

The approach
The original plan was to try and record the drums, bass (DI'd) and lead guitar together. The plan was that I would play the rhythm guitar part at the same time but as I'm doing lead vocals as well (and trying to keep an eye on the session) I want to overdub my guitar and vocal parts so that I can concentrate on them properly. Backing vocals and additional rhythm and guitar parts would also be over-dubbed.
Unfortunately real life has got in the way again and our guitarist has to be elsewhere for about half of the session, so we're probably going to be over-dubbing those guitar parts as well.
So the new plan is to spend Thursday morning getting set up, focusing on the drum and bass sounds. Thursday afternoon and Friday morning will be recording the core of the songs, main and backing vocal over dubs and my guitar parts. Friday afternoon will be lead guitar parts.
The other positive thing about the venue is that if we need to go back and do some extra stuff we can get back in there easily.

The hardware and software
Ok, this is already quite a long entry so we'll pause it there and come back tomorrow for details about the kit.

Sunday 11 June 2017

New EP out today - Norfolk Island Sound

It's been six years since I properly released any new music. Today marks the launch of the first of a series of EPs that will, in time, cover that gap.
They're not recorded with a label, just recorded, mjxed and mastered here in my downstairs room. Despite that I'm pretty happy with the overall quality of how they're turning out - and I'm learning and improving every day.
The new EP is available from bandcamp:
or to stream on soundcloud if that's your thing:
or youtube if you're down with the kids: (no videos though I'm afraid).

Sadly it won't be available on Spotify or i-tunes because the rates charged by intermediaries make it likely that I'd lose money on it, and I like you all, but not that much.

So there you have it, the first of four. Next up will probably be the band EP though, recording at the end of this month. It's all go :)

Saturday 13 May 2017

Use your vote!

Nah, I'm not talking about the general election for once, I've entered a song-writing competition. It's the usual please-go-to-a-page-and-vote thing, so please can you go this page and vote for me
And we can all help JBL with their marketing, I mean, maybe I'll have a chance of winning...
Thank y'all!

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Still writing...

Just in case anyone does stumble across this site...
As well as the band stuff ( I am still writing solo stuff as well. Most of it gets published on youtube as I write it and then soundcloud as it gets more worked up.
I'm currently planning on pulling finished versions into a series of EPs that will be available to download from Bandcamp.
The first of these is not far off ready and will be called A Norfolk Island Sound.
Stay well