June Update

Yup, it's been quiet around here. That doesn't mean nothing's happening, but it does indicate a certain lack of progress. See, I'm working on "Into The Shade" which is a track we haven't recorded before, and didn't really have lyrics. What we did have was a great instrumental middle eight, and a rough idea about what the song might sound like.

Since the great reset, I've been working through the tracks on Album #1 sequentially, and now there is no excuse. This track has gotta get done.

One thing: I've written the lyrics and I'm almost happy with them. This is important, because although we all like working on the music and the arrangement, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't sing the words in the same rhythm and key as the music. So, having the lyrics ahead of time? Useful.

Which brings me to now. I tried 100 bpm and the drum track seems too sluggish, so I tried again in 110 and it sounded better. Then I sketched out a full backing track (and yes, spent a little too much time on that infamous middle eight) and burned it on to CD so I could play it repeatedly in the car on the way to work. This lets me sing the lyrics in private and figure out melodies.

I thought it was going to work, but this weekend I tried recording a take and two things became clear that didn't reveal themselves in The Car Sessions: 1) 110 bpm is too fast for the lyric, drums or no; and 2) I have to lower the key by about a fifth.

For now, I've given up on trying to sing in the car. Apparently, I only find out the cold hard reality when the little red light is on. (I mean the one on the sequencer, not the dashboard.) 

Retro-activity

Last weekend I did what I promised myself I wouldn't do, and went back and tweaked a previously "finished" song:

The clavinet in Playing with the Big Boys now shares time with a Rhodes electic piano. 
Both instruments are provided by the superb PianoTeq Play v.3 VST. 

Strange April Update

Time for an update. Since finishing up Solo Flight, I've turned my attention to the next track, "Strange But True". There's not a lot I wanted to change in this piece. As per my usual habit, it's already been re-recorded a couple of times, but in accordance with my master plan, I wanted to replace the electric guitar with the Gibson L6-S, and go over the acoustic guitar tracks to see if there were any glitches I wanted to clean up. Oh, and also I wanted to replace the sampled Doumbek with a "live" recorded track, and the drum loops with XLN Addictive drums, again played "live" on my SPD-20, with sticks.

So, actually quite a lot of work needed doing.

Whilst re-recording the nylon acoustic guitar tracks, I noticed an unexpected problem. Since I've started using Dad's Zoom H2 for recording the Ovation steel, I've realized that I am not happy with the sound of the Godin. I can no longer get a recorded sound that I'm happy with, either from a microphone or from the piezo pickups, or in any combination. I guess my tastes have changed.

Well that brings me to the next post. A new addition to the arsenal comes to the rescue! 

Changes

In a fit of energy I re-arranged the layout of the studio slightly. Keyboard against the wall; desk facing the window. The custom-designed-and-built studio furniture unit is unchanged positionally except for sliding a foot to the right.

Reflections from the window are reduced. Mission accomplished. On the other hand, when I'm working at home in day-job-mode I now have my back to the door which is not great. On the gripping hand, I can look out the window as I daydream work.

January Update

I had some family stuff to deal with over the last couple of months, but I've been enjoying the new A-80 keyboard. A very comfortable play.

I've completed the tracking on Painting Abstracts some months ago, and moved on to finishing up Untitled (which now has a title - more later) and Solo Flight, which is turning out to be pretty epic.

I feel like I'm on target for an August 2012 completion of volume 1.

Weighty New Arrival

Here's something I've wanted for a while. Having lost my eBay virginity recently, it seemed like a no-brainer to bid on this:

It's a Roland A-80 master MIDI controller keyboard, circa 1989-95, with 88 piano-weighted keys and polyphonic aftertouch. Some cosmetic dings from its earlier life in a smoke-free studio, but all in working order.

One of the other nice features of this board is that it offers both sprung pitch-bend stick, and independent (non-spring) pitch and modulation wheels. For some reason (economy?) it is very rare to find both types of controllers in one instrument, yet there are many situations where you need one or the other. It is impossible to do realistic manual vibrato using a wheel (in my opinion), but on the other hand, some software instruments (Garritan Personal Orchestra for example) the mod wheel is used to control volume. The springy pitch/mod joystick is useless for that. (Clavia/Nord gets this right.)

Having lugged it into my room, minor problem: It was 1.5 inches too wide for my custom-built studio desk, but the nice thing about furniture that you've made yourself is that you have no qualms performing a quick mod to provide a work-around. Here it is newly installed:

Can't even see the joins. 

The feel of the keyboard is pretty good. More resistance than I'm used to, and doesn't really feel like a true piano (the escapement mechanism isn't quite the same) but the keys have a nice solidity and thunk to them, and the OS allows various response curves to be selected and a lot of tweaking options.

I've located a copy of the service manual, which is good to have, because the default aftertouch sensitivity on this board is, well, rather insensitive unless you're the Incredible Hulk. Fortunately, there's a hardware mod you can do to adjust this, and I expect at some point I will give it a go.

Best Update Ever?

I was so excited by the feature set and demo videos of Presonus' Studio One v.2.0 that I went onto the online store and ordered the wrong upgrade package.

Fortunately it is now sorted out...

I'm a long-time Cakewalk SONAR user, but earlier this year I took advantage of a $20 license of the "Artist" edition of Studio One 1.6. After reading about the Project Mastering window in the Pro version, I soon upgraded, and have been using Studio One Pro for mastering my CD compilations for the last few months.

v 2.0 of Studio One, announced a couple of days ago, might just be the best update ever. It seems to address pretty much all the concerns I had about potentially switching to the Studio One platform from SONAR, and the upgrade price was very attractive.

Given my dissatisfaction with the development path of Cakewalk SONAR X1, there's nothing to prevent me from switching except perhaps inertia. I have a new project that I'm ready to start... and no excuses for not giving it a whirl in Studio One 2.0.

September 2011

Painting Abstracts is finished. The L6-S and the Telecaster battled it out and finally agreed to share. Tele on rhythm and "spooky" guitar; L6-S on lead, all the way.

I promise I will get back and finish my series on vocal production as soon as I can. I have to attend to other business for a while, though.

Hearing voices (3)

After completing the "comping and correction" stage, I now have five or so mono tracks of vocals ready for the next stage. I like to apply one last destructive edit before applying any FX or panning or mixing: "normalizing". 

Audio Normalization is generally understood as making a collection of audio clips have the same peak value of 0 db. Many audio tools let you do this at the click of a button, but that's not going to be helpful here. I need to do two or three things:

  • ensure that the average level throughout each of the vocal tracks is constant, i.e it sounds like one consistent take;
  • reduce breath sounds and noise between vocal phrases;
  • make all vocal tracks sound the same volume when set at 0db gain.

I do this by adding a Gain Envelope to each clip, boosting and cutting where appropriate, and comparing across each of the five or so tracks:

on average, I'm generally boosting the tracks 3-6 db, and reducing the "intake breath before each line" by 6 db, and silencing anything else. When I solo these tracks, I can actually hear the bleed-through of the backing music from my headphones being picked up by the vocal microphone, so I make sure to replace those sections with silence.

After a final listen to each complete track to check for things I've missed, we get to the destructive part: For each track, I select all clips for an entire verse or chorus, and "bounce to clip". This replaces the audio data with the new version, with the gain envelope applied:

That screenshot is of backing vocal tracks, showing the last phrase of a verse, followed by the chorus (hence the separate clips on each track).

I know it is unfair of me to talk about this process without providing audio samples, but I'm not quite secure enough for that. Even with pitch correction and gain normalization, these "naked" vocals are pretty unimpressive. Perhaps later.

Next: Mixing, routing, and effects.

Hearing Voices (2)

A couple of days ago I thought I was done with "comping" the vocal takes, but on listening to the track all the way through, I became disatisfied with the melodic repetition in the choruses. A simple tweak to the bass in the second line made enough of a difference, working fine with the existing keyboard chords, but unfortunately the vocals clashed.

So I ended up re-recording the lead and backing vocals for that one line of each chorus. 

This morning I finished that task, so it's on to the next stage.