Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Song A Day 2/18/02

2/08/09: I Am the Man

Wrote this one while ice skating in Dublin, CA. It's an homage to Seth's Peace on Earth video and song that was making the rounds on Facebook (and elsewhere). That song made me realize that it's okay to say what you're thinking in a lyric, even if it exposes your political/philosophical views to a hostile world. Now everyone's going to think that I'm a tax-and-spend, bleeding-heart liberal who is naive enough to believe in things such as 'we are all one' and 'love is the answer'. On the other hand, I'm very much a lost soul who stumbles blindly through life, with little interest in anything other than E-ticket rides at Disneyland and a properly-cooked steak. I'm no activist.

Anyway, I'm trying to write songs that are completely out of my comfort zone in terms of lyrics, so tackling this kind of subject matter was very difficult - painful, even. I have a fear of what I call the 'Neil Pert Lyric Syndrome', where horrible, unmentionable words such as 'society' are used in lyrics without a sense of irony. It's especially egregious if the singer didn't write the lyrics; otherwise, the 'Niel Young' effect may mitigate the this effect, whereupon the singer is considered to be so sincere that we forgive forays into self-righteousness and usage of words like 'society'. In any case, I applied what I call the 'John Lennon' effect, where a sardonic tone makes any words or sentiment acceptable, regardless of whether the lyricist and the singer are one and the same.

I used the U87 for recording everything. This is one of my very first attempts at recording a lead vocal that is not doubled throughout. I'm becoming interested in the idea of 'naked' singing, which eschews the usual production sweetening effects of doubling and heavy processing. So what if I'm a lousy singer. I'll get better.

2/12/09: Taxonomy

Wrote this piece of nonsense while serving jury duty, including the arrangement. Recording was straight-forward; a couple of acoustic guitar tracks and some vocals. Used the U87 for everything.

2/13/09: Hawaii

This was an improv with Emma singing and yours truly strumming a ukulele. Her performance was brilliant; I absolutely love the lyrics (especially the punch line at the end), though I was startled by the line about 'fancy drinks', which is an odd thing for a 6-year-old to sing about.

For this recording I used the U87 in an omni pattern. Later on I added some light kicks on the kick drum - picked up by the U87 in the omni pattern.

2/14/09: Monkeys and Clowns

This is an old-school 'Beanpole' type of track. I was still feeling uncomfortable with the process of writing lyrics for I am the Man, so I thought about other subjects and words that are unacceptable for most song writers. And this is the result.

The weird vocals following the first verse are intended to imitate the one instrument that I associate with both monkeys and clowns: a pipe organ. I picture an organ grinder with a giant handlebar mustache, cranking away at the organ strapped around his neck while a clown juggles a few rhesus monkeys before a few disinterested tourists at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

2/15/09: All You Can Eat Buffet

I slaved over this one for the entirety of a 3-day weekend, save for a few hours that I spent producing tracks for my very talented singer-songwriter-playwright friend John Hamilton on Sunday. I wanted to go for a full production on this one, so I went nuts with the tracking.

There's a basic harmonic/structural concept behind this song. It has two parts: A and B. Part A has choruses that never properly resolve before moving on to the next verse or bridge. This is because Part B does nothing other than resolve the chord sequence introduced in Part A over and over again. Given some more time to master the track, I would fade out Part B, which would further reinforce the chord resolution concept.

Drums: used the modified Glynn Johns mic setup (4 mics) as usual, but left the floor tom mic (U87) in an omni pattern rather than cardioid. The new Remo Blackdot head has improved the snare sound tremendously, though I want to get more of the percussive impact of stick hitting drum that what I'm currently getting with the two overheads and the under-snare mic. It's all still too mushy. I'll add a 57 as a top-snare mic the next time I record drums. I worked on the drum tuning for hours and it was well worth the time spent, particulary the kick. Adding a new Evans EQ Pad kick drum muffler (plus a pillow) seems to help too. I think the new wooden 'stage' has improved the overall mic response to higher frequencies as well.

Used the Les Paul through Tremolux setup again, but the results were kinda lousy. To hide the intonation problems, I slapped a flanger/chorus plugin over the guitar tracks. I used a multi-band compressor with a lot of low-mid boost to provide a bit of meatiness to the tone.

Note: I spoke with Chris to find out his secret sauce for capturing such thick, meaty, powerful guitar tracks. Next time I record rock guitar parts, set the U87 on omni mode (to minimize proximity effect) and aim at the closed-back bottom half of the speaker cabinet rather than the open-backed top half. This should add some beefy low-mids to the sound. Also, Chris uses a low wattage ZVex tube amp. Because output is so low, the mic diaphragm is able to capture all of the impact and detail of the waveform without distortion. I'll just turn down the volume on the THD Hotplate unit that I've borrowed from Peter.

Bass came out pretty good. Split the signal at the tube DI (Groovetubes Brick) into the SVT, and positioned the U87 in front of the 4x10 speaker cab. I tend to prefer this cab to the 1x15, simply because the bigger speaker pumps out too much sub-lows for my purposes. For a change, I used the bridge pickup on the Rickenbacker 4003 to get a plucker sound. It's not thin-sounding ... especially when blended with the DI signal. I've finally overcome my fear of the Rickenbacker's bridge pickup.

For vocals, I positioned the U87 about 3 feet away from my mouth and sang upward into the diaphragm. I'm beginning to understand how to use this mic for my vocals. In a nutshell: never use the bass rolloff switch, control low-end response by moving further or closer from the mic, and aim the mic down at my nose rather than parallel with my face (improves clarity). Usually sounds good with the UAD Fairchild 670 compressor plugin with the Release switch set to position #2. Sometimes I may add a bit of hi-mids or lower-treble with the Pultec plugin - depending on my UAD cpu 'budget' for a particular project. At last, I'm starting to like the U87.

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