Lose a little, gain a lot

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things aren't working out. For whatever reason, I could not get the drum, bass, and acoustic guitar tracks to gel. I got tired of tweaking to no effect, and decided it was time to shake things up.

  • Mute the drums and the Chapman Stick.
  • Activate the click track.
  • And break out the Carvin BK5 and lay down an alternative bass track.

In my head I'd always heard the bass lines played on a Stick, and almost instantly, the feel of the piece changed, but in a good way. The change in feel is inevitable: a normal bass guitar lends itself to a completely different vibe than the Stick, but suddenly I was thinking of alternative cool riffs and laying them down in places where, before, magic was missing. This was a good thing. Sure, that one particular riff that kinda wanted to be a Stick riff didn't sound so cool anymore, but this was offset by all sorts of good stuff coming in elsewhere.

Once I had a good, clean, complete take, I moved to the acoustic guitar, and re-did any part where it wasn't locked in to the new bass line. Yeah. 

Now it's back to the drums for the same treatment. There's some places that need tidying up, and the second half of the track never had anything more than guide drums on it anyway. So... it's progress. I wish it was faster, but at least I'm happy with the results.

Here's a teaser:

256kbps MP3

Time Locking

Chapman Stick is all recorded.

The timing was getting a little sloppy with all the "guide" tracks, so I went back and created click track that was locked into the acoustic guitar, because that's a track I'm least likely to want to re-do... then recorded the Stick bass to the timing of the click.

Now, of course, I need to tweak the drums into line, and re-do a couple of places where I need to complement bass flourishes. Progress is good.

Tracking in July

Yes, it's tracking time. "Into The Shade" has crystalized at 110 bpm after all, and the key signature resolved down a 4th from E to B.

For various guitar-related reasons, the middle-8 bridge section really wanted to stay in D (originally the same root as the choruses). I've compromised: it stayed in D. So now we have a nice little key signature change from the second chorus in C into the bridge in D, and then we stay up a 4th for the last verse and outro in E. This actually works really well, and makes the piece more interesting harmonically.

A side-effect of dropping the main body of the song by a 4th is dealing with the finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Obvious in hind-sight: Switching to Lute Tuning means that I can play with exactly the same fingering, one string down, and in the appropriate key. Also, it gives me an extra string at the top for added embellishment.

I've also learned my lesson: The first serious track recording has been the acoustic guitar followed by the vocals. So next up: lock in those drums and bass (Chapman Stick).

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.