Thursday, January 22, 2009

Song A Day: 2/5/2009

We're 5 days into the Song-A-Day project hosted at

I wrote down some snippets of lyric ideas last month as part of preparation for this project, but I've far less prepared this year than I was for last year's event.

My plan is to spend minimal time on production, which means that there will be more badly recorded sounds and out-of-tune/inept instrumental/vocal performances than usual. I cringe at every little mistake I hear (especially vocals), but I've decided to accept each and every clam. Song-A-Day is (to me) about cranking out content very quickly, thus bypassing my internal quality control filters that usually prevent me from writing anything at all. Song performances only serve to deliver what matters: half-conceived music and lyrics.

Also, even if a song cries out for an arrangement with drums and electric guitars through a cranked amp, it's unlikely to happen. I may go for more elaborate productions on a song or two before the project comes to an end... time will tell.

I've learned a few engineering techniques that are being put into practice this month. For example, I should never sing directly into the U87. Instead, the mic should be positioned above my nose and angled down slightly, without using the hi-pass filter. I have to adjust the low-end boost (proximity effect) by standing closer/further from the mic.

The U87 adds a slightly harsh-sounding presence boost to vocals that isn't as nice as the high-end sheen imparted to recordings captured by the SM81. On the other hand, the U87 offers superior low-mids and midrange than the SM81. After years of experimenting with both mics, I'm still trying to figure out which types of vocals are served best by either mic.

I'll use the 414C for some tracks as well, just to see how it stacks up against the others. My 414 is pretty old and crusty. Unlike modern 414s, it houses a C12 capsule instead of the standard 414 capsule and doesn't provide a hi-pass filter.

I spent considerable time last year learning how to interpret the frequency response of my Event 20/20-BAS powered monitors in terms of how tracks mixed on them translate to typical stereo speakers. The training has begun to pay off, because the first 4 recordings I've completed this week sounded about right on my Logitech 3-way computer speakers. Compare this to last year's song-a-day event, when I was continually frustrated by tracks that sounded good on the Event monitors while collapsing into a mushy, boomy, muddy mess on the Logitech speakers or a car stereo.

2/1/2009: Song A Day

This is my launch song for this month-long project. Recording notes: 2 acoustic guitar tracks were recorded with a combination of SM81 aimed at the 12th fret and a U87 aimed at top of the guitar body (angled inward slightly toward the sound hole). Used the U87 for vocals. Plugged the bass directly into the Groovetubes mic preamp/DI and played using fingers through the bridge pickup. I'm planning to use DI'd bass for most of these recordings, even though this produces lifeless bass tracks.

2/2/2009: Jury Duty

Tried a different songwriting process for this one. I recorded myself singing and playing guitar 'live' with absolutely no lyric or chord/melody ideas worked out beforehand. I wrote down the improvised lyrics and recorded one more 'live' performance of singing/playing - just one take and without the aid of a click track. I added the bass track immediately afterward, again committing to a single take. I'll probably use these techniques on future song-a-day recordings, though I don't particularly enjoy listening to the results.

Guitar was recorded DI through a Guyatone TZ2 fuzz box. Bass was recorded DI through a Bad Monkey overdrive. I spent no time trying to get usable sounds - or even to tune the instruments.

2/3/2009: Where is Walt

Stuck to the usual writing/recording process this time. This one's about the Disney company's transition of leadership from Card Walker to Michael Eisner. As an experiment, I used the SM81 for recording guitar and vocals.

2/4/2009: Disneyland

Yet another song about Disneyland. I didn't have the time to record an interesting arrangement, so it's pretty sparse - just piano and bass. Vocals were recorded with the U87.

I went for a 1960's kind of plucky bass sound, which is difficult to achieve when going direct rather than miking up a bass amp. The trick is to apply the Rickenbacher 4003's felt mutes and to pick aggressively but cleanly between the neck and the neck pickup, then add heavy compression and EQ.