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Greg's Blog
Greg's Music
Greg's Art
Greg's Photos
Greg's Links
Greg's Crazy
Greg's Wishlist

Ken Layne
Doctor Frank
Matt Welch
Mere Mortals

This is an archive of a weblog. Start at the bottom with the first post and work your way up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

  The record is now mixed and I'm looking for a place to get it mastered. I have the title and the art concept and am currently working on the paintings to be used in the package.
It's going to be called "The Many Sides of Gregory Vaine." It will hopefully be released in February, though there are many factors involved.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 2:41 PM

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

changing hard drives on the Fostex

I finished up the last of the tracks tonight. Yea!
Above is a picture of the Fostex as I'm changing hard drives.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 10:14 PM

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Me and matt playing music for someone's feet

So I played mixes of the songs for a bunch of people this weekend up in Mammoth, and they seemed to like it. Ken blogged some real nice things. This project has been created in such a vacuum, it's hard to have any perspective on it. Playing it for people is very helpful because I can get their reactions, even if they are non-verbal. Plus I hear it differently when people are there. Plus the mixes always sound different on different stereos. So it's helpful at this stage.
In the end I recorded 16 songs, but the finished product is only going to be 12 songs. "Memory Street" is cut for sure because I never really was satisfied with the words, plus it is the only one which has computer drums on it. "Pause-Record" will be cut because even though it's a good song it just really doesn't fit with the others thematically or musically. Another song called "Your guess is Better Than Mine" is probably going to be cut because while it's pretty good it's just a novelty song, and the novelty song slot is already taken up by "Race Day in the Garden." Plus I'd like to save it and record it again with some kind of gang vocals on the choruses, and changing singers for each verse. The last song I've decided to cut it "Mr. Berry," a song that everyone really liked but which is a bit too melodramatic and again doesn't fit with the mood of the album. I'll probably post the cut songs as MP3's when the record is done.
I also decided to edit out one verse of an as yet untitled song. It was going to be called "Box Full of Pictures," a line from a verse I wrote for it but didn't use, but then I was reminded that Wilco has a song called "Box Full of Letters." The similarity is too much, considering that the line isn't even in the song. Now I'm thinking of calling it Carton of Photos, or Collection of Snaps, or Tonight I'm Dreaming, or Email from Seattle, or Holding You.... Anyway, I hope to be able to edit the verse out on the computer. I wrote it with three verses before the chourus, and it just isn't working that way.

So, with those songs eliminated, the album should have a strong underlying theme and a relatively coherent sound, considering the range of a full-band sound to acoustic/voice folkyness.
I'm very excited to have it finished, but there are a couple more things to do. I am going to re-record the lead vocals on two songs, and record Molli and her sister doing backups on one more song. I could keep futzing with it forever, but I really want to get it done and move on so I'm going to stop myself. The thing about recording this slowly is that there's always one more song brewing that you could wait for. But alas, it'll have to wait for the box set.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 8:53 AM

Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Alas I've begun mixing. I may do a little bit more tracking, fixing stuff here and there and adding some backing vocals, depending on circumstances, but it feels good to be outputting some of this stuff that I've been working on for so long.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 8:59 AM

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

  I know I haven't been updating the studio blog lately, but I have been recording. I figured a bunch of posts along the lines of "I recorded two vocal tracks when I got home from work yesterday" would be kind of boring. But I've been making progress of the slow but steady kind, and in fact the end is in sight. I've been sneaking in an hour here and two hours there, which is much different than how I've recorded before. But it seems to be working. Sean seems to like it:

Sean mit cans

I finished up with the third hard drive worth of songs, except for a couple backup vocals which I'm going to get some help on. That disk had five songs on it, the three difficult ones with finger picking on them, one song I didn't have much hope for but which came out pretty good, and a total re-recording of a song which I'd done on the second disk. I wasn't happy with the arrangement so I did it over.
I've now loaded the songs from the first disk which I was having technical difficulties with on to an entirely new disk. I did lose some parts, but was able to salvage more than I thought I would. These are the songs with drums on them. I now have to do a couple rhythm guitar tracks, lead guitar tracks, and vocals on them. There was one non-drums song on that disk which was a little messed up, so I decided to try to re-do it from scratch. I created a drum loop using Steve's playing and it just may work. Yesterday I recorded the acoustical guitars for that one, so now it needs bass, electric guitar, and vocals.
So there's light at the end of the tunnel. I predict I'll be done tracking in a couple weeks.
I've been doing a lot of vocals at 8 in the morning on the weekends when Molli takes Sean for a walk, which is an interesting time to be recording, or right when I get home from work and they are at the park. In the end I have 16 new songs recorded. I will probably take out a few when I do an official release. It remains to be seen how the acoustic songs will sound next to the electric songs. And who knows, perhaps I'll come up with a couple more.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 11:26 AM

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Me and my backup snorer

Here's a picture of me recording some soft vocals with my collaborator. Sean added some subtle snoring to the tracks.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 9:08 PM

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


In My Room

posted by Greg McIlvaine 9:51 PM

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

  So, I got a lot done recording over the weekend, but not quite as much as I could have due to technological difficulties. The hard drive I was using for the electric songs started doing weird things, cutting out tiny bits of different tracks. I'd put in a larger disk than I'd used before, and it seemed to be running much hotter than normal. Once I noticed this, I spent valuable time backing stuff up, then recorded more, noticed more problems, and backed up again. At that point I switched disks and started in on the acoustic stuff.
The new (actually old) disk seemed to work fine, and I was able to record the bulk of 7 songs on it. A few are done, a few need a couple tracks added/redone, and I think one song needs to be re-done completely due to an unsatisfactory arrangement.
I will load the electric tracks on to a new (old) disk at some point and see if they are salvageable. If not, I still have the drum tracks backed up and could start again from there. It was sort of a bummer, but looking back I did get a lot done.
The good news is that the Taylor sounds awesome recorded. I used a combination of mostly condenser microphone about a foot out with just a touch of the internal pickup to add prescence. It sounds really good and clean, and very dynamic.
In total I worked on 12 out of 15 finished songs, but depending on when I can find time to work on them it is going to take awhile to get the whole thing finished. I did record all three waltzes though.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 2:43 PM

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Recording setup


Budman on the Bass

Gordian Cables

posted by Greg McIlvaine 11:58 AM

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

  I saw the family off last night and then came home and set everything up in the living room while listening to Ken Layne's new CD. Then I worked on miking the Taylor. I settled on a combination of a cheap Octava large diaphragm condenser mic mixed with a little bit of direct input from the pickup. The mic gets a good low end and room sounds plus the sound of the pick on the strings, an the direct input fills out the middle. I tracked a bit with it and then layed down some bass on a song called Memory Street.
I will get into some serious tracking on electric guitars and vocals as soon as I get home from work today. Here's the Taylor:

Look, up in the sky!

Here's something I think might come in handy:

Two roses to remind me

posted by Greg McIlvaine 8:49 AM

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

  Have you noticed how loud CD's are lately? And how they seem uniformly loud, almost like a sheet of white noise sometimes? Here's a very interesting article about the current "louder is better" trend in mastering and why it is wrong and makes music sound bad.
posted by Greg McIlvaine 3:07 PM

Monday, August 25, 2003

  I spent the weekend finalizing some lyrics and practicing. Mostly I was trying to regain my guitar chops by playing along with the bass/drums tracks over and over. This is good in two ways: it's good practice and it makes it so you know the recording of the song inside and out. When the time comes to lay down the rhythm guitar, I know what both guitars (left and right channel) will play, and I have a pretty good idea on what I'm gonna do with the solos. Hey Melanie, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
I listened to Willie Nelson's Spirit and IRS tapes and to Melanie's Live at Carnegie Hall album to get an idea of how a well recorded nylon string guitar should sound. Since the Melanie album is live it didn't apply so much, but it was still fun to listen to. The Willie, on the other hand, gave me something to shoot for. Of course he has his own studio and probably some incredible mics and boards, but still I think it was instructive. The IRS tapes is a great record of just Willie and Trigger (his guitar) in the studio running through a ton of his songs. Spirit is a real stripped down record with just Willie, piano, and some sparse violin and steel string acoustic, and is one of my favorites.
I did mess with the computer again, and I'm getting mysterious pops in the recordings. I've pretty much decided to put it aside for these sessions, unless I can learn anything on the discussion boards today.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 8:45 AM

Friday, August 22, 2003

  Last night I recorded bass tracks for all the songs with drums. I think it came out pretty good but it was late when I finished so I'll have to listen to them again to see if they're OK. At least I came up with some good bass lines so if I have to do it again it should be easier. The Musicmaster
I used my buddy Pete's old Fender Musicmaster bass, which is a short scale economy bass from the 60's with one pickup. His is unfortunately painted green, but other than that and a replaced knob I think it's original. It sounds pretty good and the short scale makes it very easy to play. My white Squire jazz bass is missing - I think I leant it to someone but I can't remember who. I don't know, maybe it was stolen out of the garage. Maybe you know where it is?
Writing bass lines is an interesting science. Sometimes you follow the guitar, sometimes you follow the bass drum, and sometimes you follow the vocal melody. Usually it's some combination of all of the above. A good bass line can really compliment the song and be something people listen to, but a lot of times the bass ends up blending in so that it's ignored. Sometimes that's the best thing for the song. I did one on Just a Kid where during the chorus it follows the vocal melody and departs a bit from the chords. It sounds good now but we'll have to see later with full guitars and vocals.
I also spent some time yesterday recording figerpicked guitar on the computer using the Cubasis multitracking software that came with the soundcard. Fingerpicking is not my strong suit, so I thought that if I recorded it on the computer I could cut and paste and put together a "perfect" track. It went OK, I'm just learning the software so I spent much time figuring out how to actually cut and paste.
This computer cut and paste method is how most recordings are made these days, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I figure it's just another tool and it makes it possible to do certain things very quickly and to create music in a way that was never possible before. On the other hand I find it annoying when I listen to the radio and instead of hearing a guitar line I hear a guitar phrase copied and repeated over and over. I miss the human element.
Molli used to work for a company which made this software called Mixman where it came with a bunch of samples and you had 16 tracks to load with samples which you could turn on and off in real time to create music. It was programmed so that each sample would wait till the beginning of the bar to start rather than when you actually hit the button so you didn't have to be on time and it would still sound perfect. It was a lot of fun, but ever since I used it certain music just reminds me of mixman. All disco, dance, electronic music is like this, and lots of KROQ type music is starting to sound that way.
On the other hand, I've been listening to a lot of Led Zepplin lately. There's a block they play on KLOS right as I'm driving home from work so I get a good assortment, plus I got the new live DVD. Zepplin is one of the most "live" bands ever, even in the studio. Especially Jimmy, probably the sloppiest guitar hero. But they're so great, such an argument for being able to play your instrument and playing together.
As I wrote before, I'm no stickler for hi-fidelity, and I even named one of my bands after "Mystakes." Some of my favorite records are raw and primitive: Dylan's Basement Tapes, Neil's Tonight's the Night, Thee Headcoats, GBV, Deep Purple Made in Japan, plus all the Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, and anything else recorded before 1960. I love the sound of sitting around playing the tune, and I try to capture that energy in my recordings.
Another issue is that it takes a lot of time once you start cutting, pasting, and tweaking with the computer, especially if you're just learning like I am, and I don't have that kind of time. Last night I was thinking, well, it would take me 10 minutes to cut and paste this one together and it might sound weird and not work, or I could just record three more takes in that time and hope I got a good one. (Another good thing about the computer is that there are limitless tracks, so you can just keep going until you get a good one.) You can easily get sucked into the tweaking and trying out different effects, and fixing every little vollume change and performance glitch. The family is leaving for a few days next week and that's when I'm hoping to get a lot of tracking done, so I have to be wary of the learning curve. I don't want to spend my time learning software when I could be laying it down on the Fostex. Plus I kept hearing tiny glitches, and it made me wonder if my setup was OK, or if it was just a playback glitch and the recording was ok, or what?
All this is to say I'm not sure how much I'll be using the computer for the actual recording. I think I will use it more in the future once I learn how to do it better, but for now I'm going to keep it simple. I will definately use it for the mastering though.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 10:16 AM

Thursday, August 21, 2003

  Last night I layed down some scratch (temporary) guitar tracks on the songs with drums. I wanted to get some guitar down so that I could record the bass lines. It's been awhile since I recorded but I definately felt it coming back to me. I've spent a lot of time tracking with the Fostex, going back to Bobby McStone. It's sort of an antique as far as digital recorders go, with no effects and an archaic backup system, but it still works and has good sound quality.
When you play songs over and over like I have started to, you get to know them very well. Especially with live drums, you have to match your playing to the track, and the only way to do this is by doing it over and over. Because these were scratch tracks, I didn't get too picky, but I did notice some things I'll have to keep in mind.

Bass and scratch guitar recording setup

Above is a picture of the setup on my desk for recording bass and scratch guitar. From left to right is the Fostex 8 track, the Art Tube MP pre-amp, the Berhinger mixer, and my pedalboard with the tuner I will use throughout the recordings. Also note the wireless router, Fender amp lunchbox, picture of me holding Sean, disintegrating Sony headphones, Jesus bobblehead, postcards of paintings by Robert Henri and Renoir, and masking tape. Not pictured: Elvis poster.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 11:02 AM

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

  I'm on the verge of another big project, this time a CD. Probably not a full run production, but I'm thinking more of a limited edition of 100 with hand painted covers or something. We'll see.
I have decided to directly copy Doktor Frank and keep a studio journal. I'll be honest and say right here that the purpose of this journal is to make myself look cool and interesting. It also may be useful or inspiring to other musicians, and additionally it will provide a place to gather my thoughts and be a good record that I can look back on when it's all done. This is similar to the journal I kept when I was doing my paintings for the Pursuit of Happiness show.
I've been planning this album for quite a few months and have already started recording it. It's the first song cycle since Bobby McStone with so many songs to think about at the same time. Since then, I've recorded one or a couple few songs at a time, but at this point I have about 14 songs in various stages of completion. The album has a vague theme of remembrance or nostalgia, a looking back but also a looking forward. Some of the songs don't fit that theme at all though. I look at it sort of like The Kinks great Village Green Preservation Society album, which also has a nostalgic theme but contains many songs having nothing to do with that theme.
One thing I've done in preparation which I've never done before is have my guitars professionally set up. This included fret dressing, setting the action (height of the strings off the fretboard,) and most importantly intonation. (intonation means that the guitar is in tune up and down the fretboard, not just at the nut. It is set by increasing or decreasing the lenghth between the bridge saddle and the nut on each string. It's hard to do correctly.) It will be interesting to see how this makes the tracks sound compared to tracks recorded in the past with incorrect intonation. I think it will be a lot better, especially on solos where I'm playing high up on the neck.
I also bought a new soundcard for my computer and may use it to reord some of the mellow songs. I bought the Creative Audigy 2 Platinum with the breakout board so I can connect my mixer/mics/recorder directly to the front of the computer. It came with Cubasis VST recording software, and I've been spending some time the last few nights trying to learn how to use it. I think it will come in handy for some things, but I still have to experiment with it more.
Right before Sean was born I bought a new Taylor nylon string guitar, and I've played it almost every day since then. I love the sound of nylon strings in folk/country music (Willie Nelson and Melanie both use nylon) and always wanted a good one, and this guitar is everything I hoped for. It has great dynamic range (loud/soft) and sounds great plugged in. Now that it's worn in I had John the guitar tech tweak it a little so that it's plays perfectly. I plan to use it a lot on the record.
Because I'm not currently in a band and because most of these songs were written with the Taylor while watching Sean, there are many more or less mellow songs. A lot of them will just be voice and guitar, with some electric guitar, steel string acoustic, half size acoustic (Sean's letting me borrow it,) and lap steel added where appropriate. I did also write a few rockers which will be in there.
My influences lately are running towards Townes Van Zandt for the feelings he evokes with minimal words, John Prine for his funny/sad mix and great wordplay, The Kinks for their songs from character's points of view or about unusual subject matter, Burl Ives for the way he can make a compelling record with just a voice and guitar, Jimmie Rodgers for the emotions he can evoke and the pictures he can paint within a super simple song structure, and the usual suspects such as Hank, Dylan, Neil, and Willie.
The weekend before last I went into the rehearsal studio with Steve to record drum tracks for the rockers:

Steve doing what he does

It was a great session and we layed down tracks for 4 songs in as many hours. I brought in my Fostex digital 8 track and my Behringer mixer and some microphones. I used my two Radio Shack PZM boundry mics panned left and right and placed about ten feet out on the sides of the room to capture the complete drums sound with and emphasis on the cymbals. I placed a mic directly on the snare, bass, tom, and floor tom and mixed those through the mixer. I played clean guitar at a low volume for Steve to follow along, as he was just learning the songs that day. This is the way I've recorded demos for a while now, and I like the results. It would be nice to have a discreet track for each microphone, but the Fostex only records two tracks at a time, so I have to mix it there and can only tweak the EQ later. I'm not a stickler for hi fidelity and I like the energy you get from a live room sound, so it works out pretty good.

Drum recording setup

Steve is an awesome drummer and played great and came up with some good ideas that really helped the songs. I'd given him some very raw guitar/voice demos of 3 of the songs and he was good enough to actually listen to them and come up with some ideas beforehand which helped a lot. We've played toghether for so many years that even though it had been a while it felt real natural and we had a good time.
Of the four songs we recorded, two have finished words, one has words which I may or may not use, and one has three sets of words of which I probably won't use any.
Here is a quick songlist:
Just a Kid - Power pop with drums. This song looks back at decisions made in the past without regret but questioningly, in order to evoke a feeling.
G and T - Garage rocker with drums. This song was directly inspired by an episode of Connections on the Science channel about malaria and quinine and colonialism. It's sung from the Kinks-esqu perspective of a British colonial official in the Carribean during the 1800's.
Fast song in A - Power Pop with drums. No words yet, but it calls for something anthemic.
Flying With Your Feet on the Ground - Neil Youngy boom boom crack guitar solo song with some lyrics at the end, a metaphor for playing music.
Friend's Waltz - Acoustic waltz looking back on a relationship with a friend who is gone. Inspired by a Jimmie Rodgers song called My Old Pal.
Mr. Berry - Acoustic song about a bitter neighbor who gets drunk all the time. Sad.
Whatever Happened to Dave? - Acoustic waltz about the friend from high school who you lost touch with but never forgot.
Castle by the Sea - Acoustic fantasy song about being a king in the middle ages.
Your Guess is Better than Mine - Acoustic waltz with a country feel that is funny/sad.
I Won't let you Down - Acoustic song encouraging a friend to do what's right even though it's painful.
Squirell Song - Acoustic song about dreamers in la-la land.
Race Day in the Garden - A talk/singing folk tune. Pure fantasy. I was thinking of John Prine when I wrote it.
There's a couple more which I need words / music / titles for. And I might record my older song Black Blue and Red because it fits the theme and was never properly recorded.

posted by Greg McIlvaine 10:23 AM



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