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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 3

Strewth, it's fair to say I'm knackered. I had a fairly lousy night's sleep last night and I'm writing this at about 10:30pm, so apologies for any typos or accidental swearing...

So, after day 1, where are we?
Well, loading up the car took a bit longer than expected - I hadn't quite appreciated how much more gear I was taking than for a usual practice - and then there were roadworks slowing all the traffic down on the north side of town. But I arrived at about 9:25 so only ten minutes late.
Unlike our bass player who, it turned out, thought I was giving her a lift like we normally do.
Anyway, eventually we were all in the hall and unloaded.

We did have a lot of stuff, this is just some of the stuff I brought...
But then we are trying to create a complete recording studio so it's not really surprising.

Set up - drums
Most of the morning was then spent setting things up. The drumkit we set up where we'd tested it previously. After further listening we stuck a couple of duvets up on mic stands to reduce some of the wall reflections and thanks to some friends of ours we had a couple of extra mics to play with as well; an sm57 and a Superlux R102 ribbon mic. A few acoustic foam panels were carefully placed to reduce a bit of floor reflection as well and it was sounding quite good.
Actually, the kick was a bit too boomy...
Moving the mic a bit more off centre sorted that.
But the ride was a bit low...
A bit more mic movement of the knee* mic sorted that.

Set up - Bass and guide guitar
We did look at DI'ing the bass but it turns out to have a tube pre-amp section. I've heard bad things about running tube amps without a speaker load so we just took the bass straight into the Tascam's instrument input and did the same with my guide guitar part from the Variax.

Set up - lead guitar
We set up the guitarist's amp in the extra section of the room with a couple of long mic cables and a long guitar lead (he has a buffer in the pedal set) and semi walled it off to cut down on the spill. In the end we needn't have worried about this as by the time we'd got all this sorted his lift turned up and he had to go. We'll be overdubbing his guitar parts tomorrow afternoon.

That took us to lunch time - at which point we discovered another part of the hall had been made available for some tea and coffee for a group of, well, I can't remember what their reason for being there was but there were a few old ladies enjoying a cuppa.
So we had lunch.

After lunch we cracked on with recording, starting with Northshoremen. This is quite a tricky track as, although it has just a few repeated sections, they don't all repeat the same way. And the 1st verse lyrics repeat over the 2nd bridge. And the chorus repeats over the verse chords at the end...
There are also a couple of stops in usual places.
It seemed a good idea at the time.
Anyway, eventually we got there but I had developed some nervousness by now. I'd noticed a fair bit of popping and crackling building up and I was a bit worried about the quality of the recording. Listening back it seemed that it was coming through on my DI guitar line - which was fine as that was just a guide track that we'll be ditching.

Anyway, I bumped the buffer right up and we pressed on with the lead vocals.
Listening back to a first take there was waaaay too much room reverb (partly because I like the sound of the Omni setting of my tube amp for vocals). Fortunately we were prepared for this and another mic stand and duvet was pressed into service. There was still a fair bit of room noise but much more manageable.
Four proper takes and we were good. Though because of the buffer size it needed tweaking for playback.

Rhythm guitar
This was a bit of a mare really. It's the most complex of the parts that I'll be playing and by this point my fingers were getting a bit sore. I've got about 8 takes to work through but I'm pretty confident I have enough to comp a decent take out of. The effect of that big buffer size caused me a bit of a headache in timing as well.

Moving on
At this point we had a bit of a chat about what to do next and decided to give Building for the Flood a run through. It's fundamentally a much simpler song and the bass player and drummer had been hanging around waiting on me for the last couple of hours so were getting a bit restless.
Set up was exactly as before so no changes to anything other than headphone volumes and plugging my DI into a different guitar.
Four runs through that and, listening back tonight, I think we have a completely workable take there.

Overall I think we're a bit behind where I'd have liked to be but we've got the most difficult song in the tank and we're in a good place for tomorrow. I am still concerned around some of the pops and crackles I'm getting but listening back on my main computer now they're almost non-existent on this machine. I think that either my laptop is underpowered or, more likely, poorly configured for this.
I'm really not looking forward to editing that acoustic guitar part but I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Time for bed, adios.

* Because the kick has no hole in the resonant head I've got an Omni mic sitting between the kick and the floor tom (under the ride) that is picking up a bit of the beater sound from the front of the kick.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 2

In the previous entry we took a look at what we're trying to record, where we're doing it and the approach we're taking.
Today we'll have a quick look at what instruments we're recording and what we're recording with.

The Instruments
As mentioned previously, we're a four piece with a fairly conventional line up.
Drums: vintage Carlton kit (60s I think) and a mix of more modern cymbals. Plus there will be various other bits of percussion to be overdubbed in places (shakers, tambourines etc)
Bass: Yamaha RBX 300 bass running through a Trace Elliott AH350SMX head. We're hoping to DI the bass but we have a TE 2x10 cab that we'll mic up if we need to.
Lead guitars: A fender strat, a fret king tele, an epiphone of some kind and it wouldn't surprise me if a couple more come out of the closet for this. Run through a Fender bassman amp and a selection of pedals (see the photo below).
Rhythm guitars: A line 6 acoustic 700 that will mainly be used for DI'ing the guide tracks, a PRS SE semi hollow and a '57 Hofner Club 50 running through a Peavey Valveking 112, and a Cole Clark Fat Lady acoustic. I have a fairly basic pedal board but the key other sound generated from it is the output of the Electroharmonix B-9 organ pedal.
Vocals: I sing lead vocals on all the tracks and a couple of them have one or two sets of backing vox.

Microphones and pre-amps
This is where things really start to get budget...
For the drums we have a set of gear4music own brand mics, designed for live sound they're what we've got so they'll have to do.
I'll be supplementing those with a couple of Studio Spares s1200s on the snare and as a bit of glue/kick attack.
Other mics that will be pressed into use as required are a Subzero tube mic, an sE2200, an sE3300, an Shure SM58, a Shure Beta 87, a couple of other dynamics and an Xaudia ribbon mic.
The main interface will be a Tascam US16x08, this gives me 8 mic pre-amp channels, two instrument channels and 6 line inputs. To make use of those line inputs I'll also be using our mixing desk, a behringer Xenyx x2222usb as a set of pre-amps. I've made up some sniffer cables to go from the insert points on the mixer to the Tascam.
I have an ART valve pre-amp and another small Behringer mixer on hand as well if we need any other pre-amps or phantom power.

The Tascam comes with its own software for controlling input levels and routing. It also has EQ and compression in the software but I'm not intending to do any manipulation on the way in.
I'll be using Reaper as my DAW, I've got it installed as a portable installation on a USB stick with a set of templates made up, so once we've done the recordings I'll be able to import it onto my main machine with no hiccups. Again, I won't be doing any processing on the way in, it's just a glorified tape-recorder.

Other bits and bobs
Headphones galore,
a little HA400 headphone amp,
spare strings,
spare cables,
re-useable cable ties,
all the usual stuff for our live rig,
a Yamaha THX10 in case of, well, something,
extension leads and adaptors,
cable/socket adaptors
a snake,
headphone extension cables,
lots of mic stands
ankle weights (to stabilise mic stands)
and, of course, duvets. You can never have too many duvets.

Right, that'll do for now, I'm off to stick all my cables through the cable tester...

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Band on a budget - the recording process part 1

Tomorrow is Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday I will be attempting to record a few tracks with my band. This is the first time I've tried to record a full band and our first time recording as a four-piece. I'm going to blog about it in the hope that a) it might be interesting reading for anyone else trying to record on a budget, and b) some other people can avoid the mistakes that we will inevitably make.

So here's the low down on what's going on:

The budget
Our budget is £50.
Room hire for two days is £50.
That's that taken care of, moving on...

The songs and the band
We've chosen to try and record 4 songs over the two days. As we've not recorded together before, don't have a dedicated engineer (that'd be me), and I've not recorded a full band before, this seems like a reasonable number to attempt. We have recorded some acoustic stuff as a three piece before but this is a step up for me.
The band is The Southern Wild and the songs are all original numbers. We are all fairly comfortable with our parts and play them live fairly regularly. We've spent the last few rehearsal sessions focusing on these songs but we have had some unavoidable hitches with illness that means we're probably not quite as confident as we'd hoped.
The line up of the band is Drums, Bass, 2 guitars (mix of acoustic and electric), main vocals and 2 backing vocals.

The recording venue
The disadvantage is that we're not recording in a proper studio (see the budget comment above). The advantage is that we're recording in the hall we regularly rehearse in so we've been able to do some pre-work about position of the drums to start us off.
The hall is large, it has a rectangular floor plan about 15m x10m. The ceiling is at two heights, a nice high (4m) section for 2/3rds of the room dropping to 2.5m for the remaining third. This remaining third can be fully or partially walled off by a moveable wooden wall should we need to isolate a bit of spill.
The hall is hard floored and has very little in the way of soft-furnishing to absorb reflected sounds. We're bringing a load of duvets to control things as much as we can but I suspect we'll need to make a bit of a feature of the room's sound rather than try and fight it.
I've attached a couple of photos that show a bit of the room so you can see roughly what we're dealing with:

The approach
The original plan was to try and record the drums, bass (DI'd) and lead guitar together. The plan was that I would play the rhythm guitar part at the same time but as I'm doing lead vocals as well (and trying to keep an eye on the session) I want to overdub my guitar and vocal parts so that I can concentrate on them properly. Backing vocals and additional rhythm and guitar parts would also be over-dubbed.
Unfortunately real life has got in the way again and our guitarist has to be elsewhere for about half of the session, so we're probably going to be over-dubbing those guitar parts as well.
So the new plan is to spend Thursday morning getting set up, focusing on the drum and bass sounds. Thursday afternoon and Friday morning will be recording the core of the songs, main and backing vocal over dubs and my guitar parts. Friday afternoon will be lead guitar parts.
The other positive thing about the venue is that if we need to go back and do some extra stuff we can get back in there easily.

The hardware and software
Ok, this is already quite a long entry so we'll pause it there and come back tomorrow for details about the kit.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

New EP out today - Norfolk Island Sound

It's been six years since I properly released any new music. Today marks the launch of the first of a series of EPs that will, in time, cover that gap.
They're not recorded with a label, just recorded, mjxed and mastered here in my downstairs room. Despite that I'm pretty happy with the overall quality of how they're turning out - and I'm learning and improving every day.
The new EP is available from bandcamp:
or to stream on soundcloud if that's your thing:
or youtube if you're down with the kids: (no videos though I'm afraid).

Sadly it won't be available on Spotify or i-tunes because the rates charged by intermediaries make it likely that I'd lose money on it, and I like you all, but not that much.

So there you have it, the first of four. Next up will probably be the band EP though, recording at the end of this month. It's all go :)