Shareware Music Machine
Sunday, August 31, 2003
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:
Here's something I think might come in handy:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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