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03 May

The Little Black Egg

Listen: The Little Black Egg

I found this song when I discovered the Nuggets collection had been re-released in the late 90’s. I loved that collection in high school and the later CD edition had twice as many “Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era”. I liked the idea of garage bands creating music for their friends and gaining some popularity. In those days, you could still have a regional hit.

I am not completely happy with the way this one turned out. My goal was to do a more psychedelic/Pink Floyd arrangement. It ended up as a chunky Whiter Shade Of Pale. Not bad, but not what I wanted.

The biggest problem is I am not the right guy to be singing this song. I tried a couple of different ways of singing this one, but I couldn’t quite capture that anxious-teenager-clinging-to-his-insecurities attitude. 35 years ago it would have been a natural.

The reason I share this one- it is the first time I have literally played every instrument. No sequencing, no computer generated parts, no pre-recorded tracks, no loops.  I had to use some tricks and make some adjustments after the fact, but I got it all to work.

Keyboards were the most tricky. I know how to play keys, but I am not good at it. For this song, I played the main organ sound into 3 separate tracks. Left hand chords, right hand chords and melody stuff. This worked out well because when the melody got buried, I was able to double the track with a little distortion to give it a better place in the mix. The clav part was played on one track, but I split it while mixing so I could eq the chords and the double of the bass riff separately.

Drums were tough. I had started with a guitar/voice version, played to a click track, which is not in the final. I had built up the keyboards and bass tracks and had a good sound going. Now I had to play drums along with the pre-existing track.

I don’t have enough i/o to record my drum kit, so I used my electronic kit, stereo out of a Roland TD-8 (borrowed from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church). I played many takes to get the final, and then I had to adjust a couple of notes that didn’t quite line up properly. If you listen to the hi hat, you can hear it pop out of and disappear into the mix. I need to work on my consistency.

I didn’t use the main guitar riff from the original (I didn’t use anything from the record), but the guitar parts are pretty straight forward. I set the guitar solo with some stereo delay to give it some depth.

I tried a bunch of different things with the background vocals. Phasing, flanging, doubling, all of which I rejected. I was trying to get a more psychedelic sound, but the end of the song has so much going on that any vocal tricks seemed to get in the way. A little delay and some reverb worked best.

I am not completely unhappy with the way this one turned out. While I had a clear goal, it took a Connie Willis turn on me, where outside forces start acting, in spite of your best intentions. The ending may not be what you expected, but it turns out to be a happy ending in it’s own way.

Categories: Recordings
09 Apr

Vehicle

Listen: Vehicle

I used to sing this song. Some may remember that I sang it at my wedding with the Dust Bunnies.  At that time, I was singing it in D minor. This version is in Eb minor, like the original recording (by the Ides Of March.) It’s harder to sing a half-step higher. But before I get to that , let me tell you the story.

I took a music production class at Berklee online.  As a midi project, the professor split us into groups to produce a song. I got paired up with a drummer and a keyboard player. I’m sure this was by intention, letting us all work at our strength musically.

The drummer did all the percussion parts, the keyboard player did organ and horn parts. I got the bass, guitar and solo. Neither of them wanted to do the vocals, so I took that as well. After all, I used to sing this song.

It may look like I got off easy, from a midi point of view. First off, I have a midi guitar rig. I was able to do the bass line on guitar as a midi file, which went to our drummer for quantizing. Second, we learned the real point of this group exercise was sharing files. Each had to have the midi setup correctly so we could work together; then there was synchronizing files, especially between midi files and audio files. It took many emails back and forth to get the details right.

So it was as a group that we decided to stick to the original key. I may have been trying to challenge myself, but we all know voices do not get higher as we get older. It was difficult to get an adequate take. Let me rephrase that. I did not get an adequate take. I had to use some creative tuning to make my singing track adequate.

At that time (2008) I did not have auto tune. Pro Tools had utility that allowed you to change pitch of audio. I had to separate the in-tune parts of the bad notes and adjust the out-of-tune parts. Manually.

I had one issue I had to leave in. In the last verse, listen to the word “star”. I call that an audible occlusion. A bit of digital weirdness that you can hear. It is very short, and if I didn’t point it out, most people wouldn’t notice. Still, it bugs me.

I enjoyed the guitar solo. I improvised a bunch of tracks, then created a composite. I learned that composite track and re-recorded it, playing it in one take. I kept the last part of the solo from the original. It has a hook element that sticks in my mind, and it didn’t sound right without it. I like that way it turned out.

I don’t know what happened to the background vocals. They are supposed to echo the words on the choruses. I’m sure they were on the class project, but I no longer have a copy of that bounce. I hate to think I deleted them from the master, but it’s odd that I kept backgrounds on the first chorus, but not on the rest. This isn’t going to be released anywhere, so it wasn’t worth the time to re-record them.

I remixed the old files to add some of my more recent production techniques. The track is pretty good. The vocals are adequate.

I’m not a great singer. I can do a pretty good job on some material, especially it I don’t try to push the high notes. Luckily, this project was about midi setup, sharing files and synchronization.

 

Categories: Recordings
19 Jun

Mobile Line

Listen: Mobile Line

This is a demo recording Mad City Jug Band. It is not quite finished. I need to add some automation to smooth over some rough edges and massage some knotty passages. I may change the reverb and delay settings depending on how the rest of the project sounds.

There were a couple of challenges with this track. It was essentially recorded live. We wanted to get the live feeling of the band. I, being the engineer, had to push the buttons. My parts were added later.

The kazoo was the biggest problem. It was so loud it bled into all the other microphones. There was no way tame it, so we left it out and added it later, too. I added stereo delay to recreate that “this thing fills the whole room” effect.

It took some time to find a balance between the jug and the upright bass. The two instruments play similar parts and in the same range. I used some eq to put some edge on the jug sound and panned the two to opposite sides of the sound field to create some separation.

Overall, we got a strong performance. The energy is there and the vocals are in good tune. I feel the middle frequencies are a little fuzzy, but there is no way to get enough isolation to control that. I do think all the bleed through creates a nice full sound and I don’t hear any phase cancellation, so I can live with fuzzy mids.

Categories: Recordings
21 May

Mr. Gold And Mr. Mudd

Listen: Mr. Gold And Mr. Mudd

I love this song, a poker fantasy by Townes Van Zandt. I no longer have the original record, but I seem to remember the recording having a solo intro and a long solo out, with the story in between.

I always thought that the story had a couple of breaks where solos would fit naturally. I wanted to take advantage of this. And I wanted an excuse to play some guitar solos.

This one was just for fun, so I won’t over-analyze it.

I re-mixed this song. I had put it up on my myspace  page last December,
and I’m glad I took the time to file off some of the rough edges.

Categories: Recordings
26 Feb

Comin’ Down In The Rain

Listen: Comin’ Down In The Rain

This is another ‘practice recording.’ I choose a song I like and pretend I am producing a demo for a client.

This song was written by Buddy Mondlock. He has an MP3 player on his homepage. You can scroll down to “PJ-08 Comin’ Down” to hear his version.

I wanted to use a ‘standard’ 2 guitars, bass and drums format. I chose an acoustic and an electric guitar this time (as opposed to two acoustics). I used Band In A Box to generate both a bass and drum track (using Real Drums), but I wasn’t happy with the results.

I wanted more movement in the drum part- so I kept the BIAB part and added a ride cymbal. I simply set up a cymbal next to my computer, mic’ed it played along with the track. It not only added movement, but gave some nice crispness to the finished track.

For bass part, I wanted some specific descending lines, so I trashed the BIAB part and played bass. I ran Stevo’s old “Thumbs Up” bass direct through my ISA One and got a great big tone. I ended up mixing it back, so it took up less space and eq’ing it so it fit better in the mix.

The acoustic guitar is exactly the part I use playing live. It’s my Lowden, close mic’ed in stereo.

The electric guitar is there to add texture. I used chorus and delay to create some spacey descending lines on the verses and some movement on the choruses. And of course the solo.

I was really happy with the way the solo turned out. I had written the first two lines and pre-determined a long descending line at the end. The rest is improvised. It took 3-4 takes to make it all work together Also, I used the same effects on rhythm and solo parts, with a little overdrive to make the solo stand out.

I’m still happy with the way this one came out. If I ever put out a solo album, I’ll have to get the rights for this one.

Categories: Recordings
25 Feb

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Listen:  You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Band In A Box has a feature called Real Drums. They hired some live players to play beats and variations, added some fills and set it all up so you could scale it, tempo-wise, at least to a degree. The results can be very good, as long as you follow the limitations of the concept.

Here is one song where it worked well. It’s an old Bob Dylan song, recorded by the Byrds. I used the arrangement from my acoustic trio, Summerfly. it gave me a chance to play some slide and sing some harmonies. Both bass and drums are from BIAB. I play rhythm, slide and sing.

So, again, when the goal is to get it down quick and within budget, there are tricks that work.

 

Categories: Recordings