Tag Archives: drums

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.

Reality Checks

That SM57 and the ensuing microphone shuffling seems to have made a world of difference.  Using the SCM800s as overheads has given a lot more body to the drums – especially the toms, and *not* using a condenser on the snare gave me a lot more headroom in getting a good signal to tape.  I imagine that anyone who actually knows what they’re doing in this regard may read this and say, “well yeah, duh” but this is me stumbling in the dark, arms outstretched, wrecking my shins on the coffee table.

Every Thursday night for the past 3 weeks, Kevin and I have been recording, and I’ve rushed home to dump the drum tracks onto my computer so I can mix them together and marvel at my own prowess (ok, actually Kevin’s ability).  I’ve got a pair of E-MU PM5 monitor speakers that I love (when they’re working), and I can make mixes sound pretty good and they generally translate well to other sources.  I noticed immediately that the drums sounded way better than the previous recordings, so I feel pretty good about my purchase.  I did a couple of quick drum mixes using my presets, and was pleased with the results.  I also put down a couple of rough bass tracks and made quick mixes of those.  You can check those out here:

Reliable rough drums and bass

Concrete Flea rough drums and bass

I listened to these at work this morning, and I was very disappointed.  The sound on my monitors at home was full and beefy, but it’s tinny and weak here.  The speakers I have on my computer at work are nowhere near the quality of my studio monitors, but still, there shouldn’t be this much of a discrepancy.  I’m prone to having overpowering low end in my productions (give me a break, I’m a bassist!), so I think I may have erred on the side of too little low end.

I’ve done a LOT of tweaking with the sound, and I’ve tried to think ahead about where other instruments I’m planning should fit in the mix, and I’ve adjusted my drum mixes accordingly.  I realized that I should probably just stick with the rough drums straight out of the recorder, and wait until I get all the other instruments together to start carving out sonic space for everything.  That point was driven home to me this morning, when my friend James suggested that my tweaks were “way too complicated.”  Yes, he’s right, I’m spending too much time right now when I know good and well that I’m just making trouble for myself down the road.  I’m an inherently lazy person, so I should have come to this conclusion way before now.

So, this means that any future rough mixes I post here will be *really* rough.  Also, it should mean that I don’t worry too much about where everything is going to fit in the mix until I have something to worry about.

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Still, it’s pretty fun playing around with just the bass and drums.  I’ve just got to resist the urge to tweak unnecessarily – it’s ultimately a waste of time, and that’s a commodity in short supply these days.

Laying Foundations

I wanted to make a Biblical reference here about building your house upon the rock, but there’s nothing like a little blasphemy to really work the jinx.  It’s an apt metaphor though, because the more solid your foundation, the more stable everything you pile on top will be.  In the case of  most of these songs, the foundation is the drums.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve played with some really amazing drummers.  Kevin Lawrence is going to be handling the drums on this album.

Kevin has been playing drums since he was 3, though I imagine he was beating on the rails of his crib in perfect 4/4 time prior to that.  His parents are both musicians, so he grew up in an environment that fostered his gift, and it shows.  We’ve played together for years now, and I’m still amazed at the things he’s able to do, and the relative ease with which he does them.  I am very glad he’s a part of this project.

We’ve been practicing the songs live, to get the feel right, and we’ve started tracking drums.  So far, we’ve just done some preliminary recording tests to see how everything is going to sound.  I’m a little limited in what I’m able to do based on the equipment I have at my disposal, but I’m making do with what I have.  Frankly, I’m not sure I have the skill to handle much more than what I have anyway.

The heart of my drum recording setup is a Fostex MR-8HD I’ve borrowed from my friend, James.  I’m able to record 4 simultaneous tracks with this, and the sound quality is very good, all things considered.  I’m using a couple of Nady CM90s as overheads, a Nady SCM800 on the snare, and a Realistic dynamic mic on the kick drum.  I’ve experimented the most with the kick.  I normally put the mic inside the kick drum, pointed towards the beater pad, but I think I like how it’s sounding when I move the mic out of the drum about a foot away, pointed back through the sound hole towards the beater pad.  I’m getting a little more of the breathy “poom” sound of the kick.  I was just getting the “thud” with the mic inside the drum.

Hooray for onomatopoeia!!

I was a little concerned initially about using a condenser mic on the snare, but I didn’t have a whole lot of choice, as that’s all I have.  I tried to borrow a Shure SM57, but my personal music store, James, had fried his on a previous misadventure with phantom power.  Apparently you plug in dynamic mics *before* you turn on the phantom power.  The scm800 has performed pretty well, though it still comes close to pegging the meter on the recorder, even with the gain turned all the way down.  The sound I’m getting is pretty good, so I’m just rolling with it.

If I had another mic to use on the snare, I’d use the scm800s as overheads, because that seems to be where the bulk of my sound is coming from – the overheads.  I’m using the kick and snare mics to isolate and shape the sounds of those two drums, so not much else comes from them once I start using the eq after the fact.

Right now, we haven’t done any “final” takes of any of the songs.  We’re still testing.  Here are a couple of work in progress test recordings.

Reliable – You can hear me playing guitar in the background – bleeding through the overheads.  Again, we knew these weren’t going to be usable takes, so I just played along.  When Kevin is tracking, he does it solo – without a click track even.   It’s frightening, really.  This is from our first night of recording with the MR-8HD.

032305 – This is a song that’s not yet finished, and we were just looping a couple of parts for practice, and to learn what’s currently there.  Also, the part Kevin is playing doesn’t actually work with the bass line I’ve got written for this, so it’s going to need to be changed.  I’m preserving it here because it’s ridiculous in its awesomeness.  This is from our second session with the MR-8HD.For a chance to win more Personalised Hoodies from PML, just like this post and share it on your facebook page!

Preproduction Junction, what’s your function?

Preproduction probably officially started several years ago when I first started writing and demoing these songs.  For this context, preproduction started sometime in late 2008.  I had been in a band that came to an end, and I was working on another project – Metroid Metal Live – that seemed like it would be a one-time event.  (That’s turned out to not be true, but more on that at another time).  I wanted to have something lined up to take advantage of the momentum from the Metroid Metal Live show in January 2009, so that’s where the idea for a “solo” project originated.

There have been a number of former bandmates I’ve kept in contact with over the years, and there’s always been discussion of doing long-distance recording, but nothing ever came of it.  This seemed like a perfect fit for this, so I started talking to these guys again, and without exception, they were into it.

Through my previous band, Life on the Blue Dot, and Metroid Metal Live, I had access to an absolutely amazing drummer, Kevin Lawrence.  He was keen on having a project beyond MMLive, and I would have been a fool to turn him down.  We’d been practicing every week for MMLive, so after that, we just picked up and started practicing the songs I’d selected for this album without, if you’ll pardon the pun, missing a beat.

I’ve noticed in the past that songs improve immensely AFTER they’ve been recorded.  When you’re tracking each instrument individually, you have a chance to figure out what does and doesn’t work, and can adjust accordingly.  Sometimes you don’t notice those tiny details when you’re rocking out at full volume.  I did some basic open-room recordings with Kevin, and they’ve proven to be very useful.  For instance, this recording of Concrete Flea felt good while we were playing it, but when I listened to it later, I realized it was WAY too fast for other parts I had planned (particularly the melody) to work effectively.  So, we adjusted, and in subsequent practices we’ve worked to slow it down.

Also, listening to these recordings has reinforced my belief that I have no business playing guitar on this album.

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