Friday, February 27, 2009

Song A Day 2/27/2009

We're nearing the end of Song-A-Day 2009, which is a huge relief. I've delivered 19 songs so far, which is a decent amount of output.

2/22/2009 DCA

I tried something different for recording the drums on this one. Rather than using the 414 as drum OH in a modified Glynnn Johns configuration, I used a Shure SM 57 instead. The idea was to increase the amount of snare drum attack and impact by using a dynamic mic rather than a condenser mic (which tends to compress loud transients) and to attenuate the high frequencies of the cymbals. When the OH track is soloed, the sound is typical MS 57, thin and peaky with with a lot of high mids. However, when blended with the U87 mic positioned near the floor tom and aimed across the snare at the rack tom, the overall result is pretty good.

I had left the U87 on the Omni pattern by accident from a previous recording, but I like how it picked up the room sound, which was exaggerated by the drum buss compression. Accidents like this can be very cool.

As another experiment, I minimized the amount of snare drum muffling (used a single moon-gell) to get more tone out of the drum so that the compression would bring it out to create a more powerful snare sound. It worked! Only other weird thing I tried was to remove the rack tom from the kit completely. Why? Laziness and fear. It takes 1 full minute to attach it to the kick drum, and I didn't have a minute to spare.

The two guitar tracks were Les Paul into the Tremolux, cranked to 10 and passed through a THD Hot Plate to reduce the output level. No effects were used, as usual. I aimed the U87 directly at the center cone of the closed back, bottom half of the 2x12 cabinet (loaded with 65 watt Celestions) in Omni mode. I tried using Cardioid as well, and that sounded maybe a bit better to me. I'm not exactly sure whether I ended up using Omni or Cardioid in the final recordings, but the difference between them was very subtle.

I'm not thrilled with the lack of low-mids that I can get out the amp/speaker/guitar combo. I'd like to get more of a meaty, low-mid grind happening, similar to what Chris gets on all of his guitar tracks. With very little time available to experiment, I tried moving the mic around a bit (further back from amp, off-axis to the speaker cone, etc), but ultimately preferred the close mic'ed, center-cone approach. Used some EQ during mixdown to dial in some low mids.

Experimented with the bass recording by using an old Fender Bassman instead of the SVT and mic'ing with the 414 instead of the U87. I used the neck pickup on the Rickenbacker and played with a thin guitar pick. As usual, the felt mutes were carefully adjusted to provide the right balance of pick attack and sustain.

Impressions: The bassman didn't do much for me. I really prefer the clarity and tone of the SVT. The 414 was pretty much a disaster. I positioned it a couple of feet away from the center cone of a speaker in the 4x10 cabinet, but the track was dull, muffled, and weak-sounding. I used a LOT of heavy EQ and compression during mixdown to create a decent bass sound. The DI track was mixed about 50/50 with the amp track.

Vocals were handled the usual way, with the U87. Overall, I'm happy with the mix, the song and the performances.

2/23/2009 Lillian

Straightforward acoustic ballad with a bit of Alesis QS6.1 piano thrown in at the end. Although I tend to use Propellerhead Reason pianos for most recordings, I'll use the Alesis when I'm in a big hurry or if I want the out-of-tune, thick piano sound it provides. Used the U87 for guitars and vocals.

2/24/2009 Bagel

This throwaway piece of garbage features the old Harmony Rocket into the Groovetubes DI and U87 vocals. Nothing else.

2/26/2009 Dig Deep

I really, really like this song, but the recording represents a major step backward in terms of sound quality. Sometimes, things just go wrong and there's no time to fix them.

Although I recorded the acoustic guitars through the U87, for some reason the sound was especially dull and wimpy. For one thing, the strings on the Martin are pretty much dead - not surprising given the heavy use of this guitar all month. Secondly, the mic was positioned a bit further away than my usual set up of 10" -6" from the 12th fret. Also, I aimed the mic more at the guitar body than the spot where the neck joins the body (in hopes of getting more low-end in the recording). This certainly didn't help. In the end, I added gobs of EQ to save the guitars, but they sound horrible.

In my frenzied attempt to finish tracking before 2:00 AM, I threw up the vocal mic with no time spent on positioning to get a good sound. Rather than using the time-tested approach of having the mic at forehead level and aimed slightly downward, I ended up singing more or less directly at the diaphragm. I should know better by now! Results were muddy and wimpy sounding, just like the acoustic guitars. Again, I loaded on pounds of EQ and compression to salvage the vocal tracks. Yech. For Song-A-Day, it hardly matters. Nevertheless, the takeaway lesson is this: always strive to get the best possible sound directly from the mic, with no effects or sweetening. You really can't 'add' clarity to a muddy track.

On the positive side, the bass track turned out great! It's the Rick into the tube DI with 1167 compression and aggressive EQ used for mixdown (added a big midrange peak and a bump around 150hz). It's a bit on the boomy side perhaps, but somehow I just love the sound.

Used the Alesis for piano again.

For guitar parts, I ran the Jay Turner into a Bad Monkey overdrive and the tube DI. The strange 'honky' midrange tone of the intro lick was achieved by selecting a combination of the first and second P90 pickups. Neat sound!

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