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Picking up where I left off yesterday…
In between my unsuccessful attempts at making more racket with my guitar (well, I was successful in making a racket, just not any worth saving), I decided I’d also have a go at doing some more vocals, specifically on A New Hope (since TV Zombie was done recently and I’m fairly happy with how that turned out, and none of the other songs are far enough along yet to warrant adding vocals).
So I dug out my (relatively) new Beyer Soundstar MkII (aka M400 – apparently a poor man’s Shure SM7, but of course I don’t have a SM7 to compare, being a poor man :P) and stuck it on a stand with my shitty pop-shield.
Beyerdynamic Soundstar II & ghetto pop-shield
Then I hooked it up to my ART tube-MP and set it up for a fair bit of tube gain (yum :cool:), set up some tracks and started firing away.
Having a few beers helped (good ol’ Tuborg ;)), as it usually does when I need to roar my head off in a quiet room (also, cranking the hell out of the headphone mix helps too).
singer's gotta drink...
Since I already had the room mics scattered around the place, I decided to take recordings from them too, for a bit of ambience (hey, if it sounds shitty, then I don’t need to use it, do I? :)).
Once I’d gotten a couple of passes through the song (I like to double track), and an overdub on a few parts where my voice had broken (if you listen to the old demos, you’ll hear that happen a lot, but I never bothered fixing it before), I sat down to see how well all the work I’d done so far would gel together in a mix…

Oh, before I sign off, here’s one last EXTREME CLOSE-UP! Wooooaaaoooohhhhh…
EXTREME CLOSE-UP!

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So a few weeks ago I finally went back to work! As I keep saying, we/I’ve been kinda letting this slide for far too long now – originally when we had our first session back in June last year (!), I figured we’d be all wrapped up by September and have a release ready before the end of the year. How wrong I was…
Anyway, we were discussing it again recently and we figured the only way to get this thing done at all is to give ourselves a deadline so we’ll have something to aim for. We have yet to pick a date, but even the mention of the word deadline was enough to kick me into gear ๐Ÿ˜ฏ
So where to start… I decided the most important thing to get out of the way first was the new guide tracks, since I wanted to have all the drum tracks laid down before getting Dan or Senior out to do their parts. I won’t bore you too much with the details on this – basically, I programmed drum tracks in EZDrummer (following some dodgy recordings from the practice room) and recorded bass and guitars direct (using Ampeg SVX and Guitar Rig 3 plugins respectively), then put some lackluster vocals on top (I wasn’t gonna fuck up my throat just for the demos :roll:). I reckon “Mommy’s Got a Virus” is fairly spot on, but “Dark Passenger” still needs a little tweaking because of all the tempo changes and whatnot…
…But last weekend I decided to ignore that and revisit the older songs and start putting replacing the old guitar and vocal tracks with new ones – you know, actual recording! Of course, having been inactive for such a long time, the garage was after filling up with a fair amount of clutter, so I had to spend a few hours cleaning it up to make enough room for my gear with enough space for me to rock out while I’m recording (very important, don’t y’know).

OK, it’s not perfect, but at least it’s possible to walk from one end to the other without tripping over something now ๐Ÿ™‚
Anyway, once I’d gotten the place tidy enough, I threw a few mics on the cab and did a few test runs to see which mic I’d use for the recording session (you’d think I’d have a go-to guitar mic at this stage, but no… it’s a constant search for the best mic for the job, especially since I modded my amp recently so it doesn’t sound quite the same as it used to anymore). Now, I’m sure right here would be a great place to put a photo of my cab with 3 or 4 mics pointing at it, but naturally I forgot to take any photos of this selection process. D’oh!
Well, after listening to the results of my little shootout, I decided to go for the Sennheiser MD417 for the close-mic’ing of the cab, and I also used both my Karma Silver Bullets as room mics: one just a few feet away from the amp and the other one in the far corner (where it picked up a fair amount of bass frequencies, illustrating my need for some acoustic treatment – a project for another day…).
You can actually see the MD417 and one of the Silver Bullets in the previous pic, but here’s a close-up anyway, just for the hell of it:
Guitar setup
Everyone likes gear pr0n, right? ๐Ÿ˜›
Onward, to the recording session (several hours later)… Starting with “A New Hope” (cos, y’know, it’s super easy), I quickly ran through 2 tracks, including an updated intro which makes the song sound way more pop-punk – I’ll leave it up to the listener to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. After a quick EQ tweak, it was already sounding pretty good. I’m not sure if it was the guitar settings or the mic positioning, but the sound was quite treble heavy, but I’m not too worried cos I figure Senior’s Dual Rec will provide plenty of low end growl (as will the bass, obviously).
Next, I opened up the “Shut Up And Eat Your Freedom” project. I was still working on the drums on this one – it was the last song we recorded the drums for last June, and certain parts of the song kept slipping away from us, so it was recorded in several parts, with the intention of editing it all together at a later date. However, while that worked reasonably well with “TV Zombie”, by the time we’d gotten to “Shut Up…”, the drums (and therefore the mics) were after moving all over the place, so when I tried to comp the various recording together, the sound kept changing, especially in the kick drum as the mic moved further from the beater head. After spending at least an hour working on it, I tried to record a guitar track on it, but the timing kept slipping, no matter how much I tried to tighten up the tracks (well, I could have gotten them tighter, but then there’s be some obvious silent gaps in the overheads). I think as far as this song is concerned we may need to consider re-tracking the drums ๐Ÿ˜ฅ
Once I’d gotten tired of working on “Shut Up…”, I tweaked the settings on the amp a little and had a go at “TV Zombie”. It went reasonably well to start, but I had turned up the amp a little too much without compensating in the headphones, so when the end kicked in, my timing got away from me a little, and second time around, there were a few too many fuck-ups happening. ๐Ÿ˜ก
Frustrated as all hell, I looked at the time: 4:00 a.m. – I decided it was time for bed…

aka fuck you myspace…
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OK, so it seems I haven’t updated this blog in forever. You’d almost think that nothing has been happening… you might be right :p
As far as the recording goes, it’s still moving along at roughly the same pace (almost as fast as evolution…), although with gigs fairly thin on the ground at the moment, and the imminent arrival of yet another SG baby (i.e. another break coming up :)), we should have more time to get out to my house and lay some tracks down. I’ve already got some of the guide tracks ready for the last two songs that we’ll be doing, but more on that later…
The main reason I felt I should post this, though, is because I’ve made quite a few changes to the site itself. I’m sure anyone that uses myspace as a band page will have noticed in recent times that it seems to have gone down the toilet altogether, and many people have decided to jump ship. For ourselves, we’re gonna leave the myspace page as it is, but I doubt I’ll be updating it much anymore since it’s such a fucking chore. Besides, we’re also on facebook, reverbnation, youtube, breaking tunes, and, just recently, twitter (links to which can all be found on the left there…).
In spite of all those places we can be found, I wanted a full site that I could customise myself (even though I’m a bit shit at it…) with a bit more freedom than other places.
To that end, I’ve started adding more pages to this site. Since wordpress is a blog site though, the main page is still gonna be this recording diary, with the other sections available from links along the top (and bottom) of the page. Of course, once the recording is finished, maybe I’ll just use the blog page as a news feed or something…
So far, the only page I’ve added is the Gig Listings (the Bio page has been there all along), but I’m gonna try get a Photos page too, and a Discography (when we actually have a discography worth mentioning :p) and whatever else I can think of…
I also rejigged the bar on the left there – you might notice the addition of a twitter feed (the main reason I signed up for twitter, actually) that shows the last five twitter updates.
I also changed the track listing in the player on the sidebar – track 1 is now the newest version of TV Zombie, i.e. the final mix that ended up on the Cork Rock City compilation (if you haven’t downloaded it yet, you should – download it for free now!).
I think that’s about it for now… I mean, if anyone cares, I picked up a set of monitors for the studio (behringer Truths to be precise) so hopefully that’ll improve my mixing chops. I also just ordered some components that should arrive tomorrow to tinker with my amp a little (I play a Valveking head: I intend to try out the Mesa mod and add a bias pot). There, that should keep studio & guitar nerds happy ๐Ÿ˜€
Catch ya later

TV Zombie – Cork Rock City

Posted: October 17, 2010 in Recording

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OK, so after my last post, one of the kind folks over at forum.recordingreview.com pointed out that I’d obviously focused so much on getting some click in my kick track that I ended up cutting out all the meat, so I decided to go back to the drawing board. But not yet, because in the meantime I started working instead on TV Zombie ๐Ÿ™‚

You may remember that we’d recorded this one in sections, so the first job was to edit these sections together with no timing problems and no pops or clicks between each part. This took a couple of hours. phew…

With that finished, I started working on a rough mix. This was after I’d upgraded to Cubase 5, so I was eager to play with some of the new toys that came with it. The EQ and Compressor plugins come with plenty of presets (yeah, I know, but, well…) for all number of situations, so I started with these and then tweaked them a little depending on which drum track I was working on. I was able to get a pretty good sounding mix in about half an hour this way.

Next day, I happened to get an email from Mike at drop-d magazine (also of Homeless Productions) telling me that they’re putting together a compilation of Cork acts called Cork Rock City, and asking if we’d like to submit a song for it. I figured, since I’d been updating TV Zombie lately, I’d give them my fresh mix with the new drum tracks. This way, they’d have a different version from the old demos on our bandcamp, but it would also be different from the EP version, since I haven’t added any other new tracks yet, so it’ll be a one-off special ๐Ÿ™‚ But then I thought, maybe I’ll update it a bit more, since it still sounds fairly close to the old version. So I decided to record some new vocals – I’ve never been happy with the fact that I fluffed a few of the lines when I recorded the original, or that I use the same chorus twice.

So, roll around last friday night (15 Oct 2010): wife and kids in bed, I had a few hours before the baby’d be up for her feed, so I got down to business. I grabbed myself a drink and headed out to the garage.

No beer this time - I was on water for my throat.

I set up my trusty Beyer M88 (instead of my Studio Projects B1 which is what I used on all the old stuff) and my brand new ART Tube Mic Pre. This presented a problem of it’s own, since I’ve never used an external preamp with my Alesis IO26: I wasn’t quite sure how to hook it all up. I ended up using the XLR output from the ART into the XLR input on the IO26, which meant I was still using the IO26 preamp also.

Mic preamp setup

I later learned that the best way to do it is to use an insert cable (of which I have none :p) to bypass the IO26 preamps. Oh well, we live and learn… It ended up sounding fine anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

I also put up a blanket on a mic stand behind the mic to tame some of the reflections from my hard walls – I’ve noticed before that I got a lot of room sound in my vocal recordings, although I was hoping that the fact I was using a dynamic instead of a condenser would help in that regard this time. I also used a pop shield since the proximity effect on the M88 is pretty huge.

Mic, popshield & "acoustic material" :p

Once all this was set up, I added 6 tracks into the Cubase project and got to work. I used 6 because I like to double track, and I also prefer to sing in parts to save my voice – so there’s 2 tracks of verses, 2 of choruses and 2 of bridges. Then there was nothing to do but start screaming ๐Ÿ™‚

mid-shout

Once I’d gotten all the tracks done (incidentally, I wrote new lyrics for the 1st chorus to better reflect the theme of the preceding verse) I sat down to get started on mixing, but was soon alerted to screams from the ย bedroom – time to go feed her highness :p

Next day, I decided the song needed a little something extra to differentiate it from the demo a bit more. I went looking for some samples on youtube ๐Ÿ™‚ It wasn’t too long before I found exactly what I was looking for: a long rant on the evils of TV. Perfect! I downloaded it, brought it out to the garage and started chopping it up to scatter around the song. I figured a quick intro, and then I filled the long outro with a few quotes.

After that, it was a matter of a couple of hours to massage the vocal tracks a little (EQ, compression, delay etc.) to fit in with the rest of the song, then I added in an extra delay track with some fairly big echoes on it, and automated it so it only kicked in in several places (like the final “open your mind” for example).

The first mix that I exported was at about 4am, so naturally it was a bit off – the crazy delay was a bit too crazy and the vocals were a bit high in the mix. The latter is fairly typical when I’ve been working on a particular element – notice how the drums are a bit louder than necessary in the version earlier in this post. So I just headed back out today to bring things back under control a little. Hopefully this is the keeper, look out for it on the Cork Rock City comp when it comes out on November 1st…

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Well, it’s been about 2 months now, and I’ve done fuck all! Yay for me! Until last week that is – I finally got back out into the garage to listen back to the work we did on the first drumming session (yup, that’s the kind of glacial pace we’re dealing with here – at this rate the EP might come out some time in 2012, just before the world ends…). Quick note: if you’re not a recording nerd, this may bore you – you have been warned :p
I figured since A New Hope had gone so well that I’d start there. It was a simple matter to line up the 3rd take (remember how that was the best one?) with the rest of the song and choose one of the intro rolls to stick onto the front. BANG! Editing done! Time to mix…
…And so mix I did, even though we’ll be replacing all the other tracks eventually, so I’ll probably have to remix the drums when there’s new frequencies to battle, I still wanted to hear what kind of potential the live drums have.
Starting with the kick, I still liked the nice thwack sound I got with the m88 microphone, but somehow in the context of the full mix, it seemed to lose some of it’s attack. In fact, at low volumes, it didn’t cut through the song at all, so I had to go in and EQ the fuck out of it ๐Ÿ™‚
Using my Morcky IIEQ Plugin (it’s a free one that I got somewhere long ago) I put in a slight hump around 90Hz, pulled out loads of 250Hz – 500Hz, then a pretty massive dose of around 5kHz and 10kHz and rolled off everything above 15kHz.

Kick EQ settings
Kick EQ settings

I then added a compressor to get the attack to shine through a bit more (for this I tried one of the Antress Modern plugins), as well as sending it to a parallel compressor (Kjaerhus Classic comp) that was set up to smash the hell out of anything that came through it.

Kick compressor settings

parallel compression settings

There, much better ๐Ÿ˜€
Next I tackled the snare tracks (I had a top and bottom to work with). For the bottom, I simply Hi-passed it, and sent a little bit of it to a reverb send. Not too much obviously…
The top took a bit more work, since I was gonna be using that for my main snare sound. Thankfully Eoin’s snare has a nice crack to it, so it was gonna cut through no matter what I did ๐Ÿ™‚ I ended up just EQing it a little with a Nyquist EQ plugin (notice how I can’t stick to one single plug for a given task – I’m still trying to figure out which one I like best… :p), compressed it slightly to even out the peaks a little, and sent it to the parallel compression bus.

Snare EQ settings

I then took a listen to the overheads, and thought they sounded pretty damn good – so much so that most of the sound is actually gonna be coming from them. The only thing you can’t really hear in them is the kick, but the rest of the kit is fairly well represented. All I needed to EQ here was a bit of the room’s boxy sound, then I ran it to the parallel compressor.
Also, just for kicks, I ran the whole drum bus to the parallel compressor – as you can see, it’s something I’ve only looked into recently, so I’m going a bit mad with it. Chances are when it comes time to do a real mix of the song, I’ll go a bit easier on it (when I’m less of a n00b).

Anyway, here’s what I’ve managed to come up with so far. Compare it with the version on the player in the sidebar – I for one prefer the sound of the real drums, but maybe that’s just cos there’s more work gone into it :p

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OK, on to the meat – this is the main reason I started this blog: to discuss the recording of our first EP.

Most people reading this have probably heard all our demo tracks by now (all the stuff up on myspace and bandcamp – if you haven’t heard it, you’re probably here by accident ๐Ÿ™‚ ), but you may not be aware that the majority of those tracks (all of them except Floyd the Barber, in fact) are just demo versions of our songs: stuff I just put together at home on my DAW. In essence, it’s all fake, and doesn’t represent us as a band. The instruments were all done by myself, and I programmed the drums. This is why they have never been put on CD for sale – they are available as a free download, and that’s how they’ll stay (until we delete them perhaps ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Anyway, I digress…

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to get cracking on this idea. For the EP, we decided we’re going to re-record 3 of the old songs, which meant I could just open up the old project files and record Eoin’s drumming over them, then remove the midi drums. Easy-peasy, eh? Then we’ll probably add one of our new songs, which we’ll be starting from scratch – not so easy…

Naturally, we opted to start with the easy songs. So on the 19th of June, 2010 I got Eoin to come out to my house (hidden in the foothills of the Cork & Kerry Mountains :p) to get started. We spent a good few hours on Saturday evening setting up the kit and microphones, checking to make sure we were getting a good signal, and a good sound for each mic (I’d already spent some time on Friday night adding in the extra tracks I would need on each Cubase project).

We started with the kick mic. When we recorded Floyd the Barber back in October last year, I used a kick mic that I got with a drum mic set, but I don’t know if it was the mic itself or the way I positioned it, but I couldn’t get a decent sound from it – I ended up processing the hell out of it in the mix and still don’t like it. This time, I used a more recent acquisition: a Beyerdynamic m88. This is what I use for vocals at practice, but I’d heard it can be pretty good as a kick mic since it has a huge proximity effect (look it up :p). sure enough, we tried it out and had a nice meaty ‘thwack’ from the kick.

beyer m88 inside the kick drum

Next, for the snare I used a Beyerdynamic m201 on the top and an Eagle G158J (from my cheapo drum mic set) dynamic on the bottom. The 201 gives a nice crack (well, it picks up the nice crack from the way Eoin hits it ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Just for kicks, we tried sticking the 201 into the hole on the side of his snare to see what it might pick up – horrible sound! Nothing useful, unless you’re doing some strange electronic song. It sounded more fake than my fake software drums ๐Ÿ™‚ Back to the top of the beater side it went!

beyer m201 on the snare (also, note the dampener)

The tom mics, I was less worried about – I used the cheap G158Js on them last time around (I should have mentioned that the recording of Floyd was kind ofย  a practice run for this endeavour ๐Ÿ™‚ ), and they worked out fine, soย  I used them again. They’re handy because they’ve got clips on them to mount them to the drums, which is good, because as of yet I haven’t got a lot of mic stands.

We spent a bit of time getting the overheads sorted out – last time we didn’t really have much of a scientific approach, and the stereo image ended up being slightly skewed to the left. It wasn’t too bad – all it took to fix was a little volume and panning adjustment in the mix. This time though, I wanted to get it right at the tracking stage. We started out with the 2 mics (again from the G158J set – battery-powered electret condensers) above the centre of the kit in an XY formation for the least phase problems (lots of reflections in the garage), but when we listened back, the image was very narrow, even when the mics were panned 100% each way. So we went back to trying a spaced pair system. Eventually we got them sorted out, and sounding pretty good if I may say so myself.

spaced pair overheads

Once we were set up and everything was working the way it was supposed to (after having to repair on of my cheap mics – one of the XLR pins tried to disappear into the shaft! Grrrr!), we decided it was time to get to work (this meant removing our ‘drum tech’ from the room, since it was well past his bedtime!)

We started out with TV Zombie, since it’s a nice slow song, and after a few runs through it (and a couple of cans of Tuborg ๐Ÿ™‚ ), Eoin found his stride and we started to power through it. We recorded a couple of passes of the entire song, then we started working section by section to give us plenty of options at mix time – if there’s any mistakes, we can just edit in a part from another take. Horrifying, isn’t it?! :p Well, I guess that’s just how recording works these days… ๐Ÿ™‚

after spending an hour or so on that song, we figured it time to break for the night to start again fresh the next day.

creative juice

Next day was much easier – everything was still set up from the night before, so we were able to just get cracking right away. We checked what we’d got from the night before for TV Zombie (it’s always a good idea to re-check what you’ve worked on with a fresh pair of ears), and, happy enough, moved onto Shut Up And Eat Your Freedom.

This one took a bit of work to get right – maybe it was just the time of day, but for the first few passes we couldn’t get the flow. I realised during this process that the guitar tracks for the demo version have some terrible timing issues, so for Eoin to use them as a guide track was throwing the song all over the place. No problem – I fired up guitar rig, plugged my guitar straight in and recorded a fresh pair of scratch guitar tracks ๐Ÿ™‚ The going went much smoother after that.

Next we tried A New Hope (aka No We Can’t aka NObama). We flew through it – no recording part by part here: 4 passes, one after the other. After recording the 3rd pass, we knew it was the keeper, but went for a 4th anyway. Then we just added a few different versions of the intro to choose from at mix time.

And that was it – all done. time for more beers \m/

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…well, maybe. I’m not sure I’m gonna be much of a blogger to be honest, but since we just started recording an EP (finally!), I figured I might try and keep some sort of recording diary type thing. I don’t know if this will be of any interest to anyone, but I’ll try to keep updating our progress. Knowing us, this will go slow…

Also, since we’re recording it in my garage, I’ll also be sure to include all sorts of recording nerd talk about mic choice, placement and all that bollox.

Hope you enjoy :p

Tony