All posts by Dan

Milestone reached!

Drum tracking is finished!  After a couple of redos, Kevin has finished recording all the drums.  I’ve recorded bass for all the tracks.  Well, at the very least, they’re scratch tracks.  I reserve the right to re-record bass as I see fit.

Right now, it looks like a running time of 45:39, but that’s not allowing for fade-outs or interstitial oddities.  My goal was to have an album that clocks in at around 45 minutes, so I’m pretty pleased.   The shortest song is 2:51 and, surprisingly, the longest song is only 4:48.  I’m no stranger to epic prog rock long songs, but I’ve tried to keep a focus on tighter songwriting for this, to not let it get away from me.  I’ve written 9+ minute songs without blinking, and I didn’t want that this time around.  I guess this is my version of a pop album.  It could possibly pass as a punk album.  It’s certainly not a pop-punk album.

I still have only one fully tracked song, but James has a rough draft for a song that sounds great so far.  When he’s done, that’ll be two songs done.  There’s one other that could probably be considered done, but I feel like I want to add another part to it.  Everything I’ve attempted hasn’t worked out, so I may just choose to leave it as is.

I can’t wait for this album to be done so I can listen to it.

Back in business

My new monitors arrived (along with all the free stuff in the package deal I got), so I’m stereophonic once again.  And it’s a good thing too because I just got some more tracks in, and I’ve been excited to hear them in the proper context.  I got a new batch from Grant, which are great, and I got some from my friend, Julian Martlew.  Julian is probably the person I would most describe as my mentor.  He was certainly the first person I ever played with, and he took me under his wing and set me on the path.

It was the first day of my sophomore year in college.  I’d started playing bass just a scant few weeks before, during the summer break.  I was moving into a new dorm, and as I stepped into the hall, bags in hand, there was Julian, sitting in his room (first on the left by the front door) rocking out.  I don’t remember what he was playing, but it was loud.  He kept it up the whole time, and the last thing I carried in past his door was my bass.  He stopped playing and followed me into my room, guitar and little Gorilla amp in hand and said, “Hi, I’m Julian, let’s play!”  Of course, I was scared out of my mind, because I’d never played outside my bedroom before.  Long story short, a couple of months later, he’s putting a band together, and they ask if another guy in the dorm can borrow my equipment since I was the only one around with a bass and amp.  I said no, so they asked me to play.  YAY DEFAULT!  I had to get up to speed in a hurry, and in less than 3 months after I first started playing bass, I was in my first band, and I never looked back.  If that hadn’t been such a great experience, I probably wouldn’t have kept it up all these years, so I have Julian to thank for a lot of that.

When we met, he was all about a weird blend of Bob Marley and the Scorpions with a liberal dash of the Blues.  Now, he plays Americana unironically.  At least it seemed unironic when I saw him on a sideman gig recently.  He’s lending his lap steel prowess to my little effort here, and so far it sounds great.

Back on track

Upon further review, it seems that the monitor that blew is actually not the one I just had repaired – it was the replacement I’d gotten for the first one that died.  So, that makes 3 dead monitors in the span of two years.  Not a good track record.  I’ve got a new set on the way (from a different manufacturer), thanks in no small part to finally receiving my state income tax return.

Drum tracking is almost finished.  There’s only one more song to record, and two more to re-record.  That includes the addition of another song to the mix – Corporate Rock – which we recorded last night.   Like most of the others, I wrote the music and James wrote lyrics, but I actually brought this song to Blue Dot, my old band, and we played it a few times live and recorded a version for our album that has yet to see the light of day.  As such, I wasn’t planning on including it, but James talked me into it.  I wasn’t totally pleased with the Blue Dot recording, so I’m glad to have another shot at this, and I think the complaints I had have been addressed.  If not, it’s my own fault.

We also finally recorded Sunday Best.  It was one I thought might wind up being the hardest, and in some ways it has been, but I think all the work that Kevin and I have done on it has paid off.  I’m pretty excited about this one.  I’ve been listening to the bass and drums mix all morning.

Technical difficulties

I’m so pissed right now.  My studio monitor that I just had repaired died again.  So, either I have to get another pair, or my album is going to be mono.

Hopefully, it’s just a fuse that’s blown, and nothing to go crazy about.  What are the chances of that?  Right, slim to none.

I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and get a new pair.  I’ll DEFININTELY be staying away from E-MU products.  Now, where did I put my Musician’s Friend credit card?

Doghouse

Sadly, the title isn’t a reference to my upright bass.  As I noted previously, I’ve got one song done now, and a couple more in the queue, so I’ve been mixing in earnest.  This is proving to be the most time-consuming part of the process.  Again, anyone who knows what they’re doing is probably saying, “well, duh” right about now.

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I usually have about an hour to myself each morning that I’ve been using for working on music, but a number of factors have contributed to the erosion of this time, so I’ve been making that up in the evenings.  This is typically a bad thing because in the mornings, I have to leave to go to work at a specific time, so I’m forced to stop at some point.  When I do this at night, I’m limited only by my ability to keep my eyes open.  Also, I can’t mix at low volume, or at least the volume appropriate for a house full of sleeping people.

So yeah, doghouse.  I finally put together a mix I like last night after a couple of hours of tweaking, and I got up to find my wife in the living room.  She’d taken a long nap earlier in the evening when I took the kids to the store with me, so I asked, “did that nap keep you from being able to sleep now?”  She said, “well, that and stupid organ music.”

Oops.

One down…

I finally broke down and got a keyboard to add a couple of parts to some songs because my brief foray into midi was a nightmare, and now I have one completely tracked song.

I’ve been playing around with mixing and mastering this song, just to see what I can do, and so far I’m pretty frustrated with the results.  The problem is, it sounds pretty good without anything done to it, but I feel like it could be better, but anything I do to it doesn’t really improve it.  I guess that’s a good problem to have, but it really just seems like a matter of I don’t know what I’m doing.  But, I guess that’s the point.  It’s a learning process.

Vegetables first, THEN dessert

Most of the songs for this album were written before I started, but I’ve gotten to a point where I’m having to finish a couple of songs that were basically works in progress when I decided to include them.  The cool part is, I’m able to write them with specific people in mind, so I’m not limited by what I’m capable of doing.  I really like the writing process, and working so much on the other songs has kind of put me in that frame of mind anyway since I’ve been open to changing things along the way.

Of course, what this means is, all the easy stuff is done, and I’m getting into the harder songs, and the songs that require more work.  That’s ok, because I planned it so I would be easing myself into it.  I’m not the only one working though, James has had to come up with some new lyrics for a song that didn’t have any previously.  Luckily, I ran into a spot of weirdness today, and that served as fodder for a song idea.  I’ll save you the long version and simply say I nearly got into a fight with a Jehovah’s Witness today, naked.  By that, I mean I was naked.  The Jehovah’s Witness was well dressed, as you might expect.

In other news, I’ve pulled a few more musicians into the fold and doled out some parts for them.  I’m eagerly awaiting their submissions, because I know they’ll be great.  The aforementioned song I’m rewriting and extending is because of one of them in particular, my friend Pledger Fretwell.  Yes, that’s his real name, so it only follows that he can play guitar like a fiend.  Right now, I’ve got him playing on two of the songs (so far), and they are probably the two most dissimilar songs on the album.  That’s fine though, because he’s up to it – his style is very unconventional so it’s fun to put him in different situations.  He and I played together in my very first band back in ’91.  Before he took up the guitar, he was a bassist – a classically trained double-bassist.  Any time he had anything to say on the subject of bass, I listened.  He’s also a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge.  He’s a total jazz head, and he’s slumming by playing on my rock album, but it’s not the first time.  Hopefully, he’ll bring all that with him.

I know just enough theory to be able to communicate ideas to other musicians.  He forgets this sometimes and talks completely over my head, but that’s ok.  I still listen now like I did back then.  Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot from playing with him over the years, and I’m very glad to have him as a friend.  I certainly wouldn’t want him as an enemy.  In addition to being a top knotch musician, he’s also kind of a badass and could beat the crap out of me without breaking a sweat.

Just Keeps Rolling Along

Got guitar tracks for one and a half songs tonight, sent those off to collect vocals, and prepared another song to receive guitars.  I need to start pulling in some of my other musicians now for some icing on these cakes.

I’m pretty sure my college friends suddenly don’t have a lot going on this weekend.

Also, my sync issue with Audition seems to have been fixed!  I was able to pull in all the new sounds without a problem.  Hooray for James and his 6am forays into the inner regions of Audition settings!

Mulligan!

Drum tracks have been recorded for 5 of the songs so far, and I’ve recorded bass for each of them.  Usually, I’m able to gauge how well the song will turn out by this point by how it feels during the bass recording process.  When Kevin is tracking, I usually play along silently to get a feel for the performance also.  Since I’m not very good at guitar, I generally use that as my standard – if I can play the song on guitar at the tempo and feel Kevin is playing, then that’s a good start.  I’ve been playing along with bass though, so I’m able to play comfortably at faster tempos, and that has led to a couple of takes that are faster than they should be.  A lot of the other parts don’t work as well at different tempos, so it’s a balancing act between playing what feels best when it’s just bass and drums, and keeping in mind all the other stuff that’s going to get heaped on top.

Kevin isn’t playing to a click track, which is a something I’ve normally done when recording this way.  The demos for the songs with real drums were all played to a click track.  Usually, it’s an annoyingly loud click in one stereo channel, and a rough bass and/or guitar in the other – then you can listen through headphones while you’re playing to follow along.  Kevin chooses not to work this way, and that’s fine, but it places extra responsibility on me to make sure he isn’t getting carried away.  He’s perfectly capable of playing every one of these songs at ridiculous tempos, and they would sound fine until the other parts started getting layered in.

Long story short…we re-recorded one of the songs last night.  I think it’ll work out a lot better now.

We also started working on a couple of the remaining songs.  I’ve saved the harder songs for last, and I question that judgement from time to time, but then I look at the 5 songs we’ve now finished drums for, and the one that is almost complete, and wonder if I’d have that much done if one of these other songs were first. Probably not.  We’re coming down the home stretch for drums though, and that’s very exciting.

Kevin and I have a bit to keep us busy once he’s done with his part on this album, so we press on.

Crisis Averted?

As I mentioned previously, I started having issues with tracks not lining up properly when I received them from other folks.  This morning, I was listening to the vocal mix with James before work, and he noticed that my status bar in Adobe Audition showed “16-bit mixing.”  He said that the default is 32-bit for “premixing” and that may be the problem – everyone else is rendering their tracks in 32-bit, and mine are 16.  Apparently, he’s had issues with this in the past, and he’s had to take some rather drastic steps to fix it (ie, reinstall his operating system).  I vaguely remember changing some settings – particularly to specify that I wanted to record in mono by default.  Sure enough, the option for premixing was set to 16 bit.  I changed it, restarted Audition, created a new session, imported all the audio – including the original guitar tracks that hadn’t lined up previously, and everything was exactly the same – wrong.  I’ve already edited the guitar tracks so they line up, so that’s no biggie.

I’m going to re-render my reference mixes for Grant though, since he’s only finished one song.  If he’s done another in the meantime, I know what I need to do to edit the file to get them to fit – it’s just sticking an extra tenth of a second (give or take a millisecond) at the beginning of  the file.  I delete that much, and it lines up fine.

The rough part is lining up the many, many vocal tracks for this first song.  James is really good at harmonizing, and I’ve told him I want him to go crazy with it.  He has, and it’s great.

Hopefully, this won’t be an issue again.