Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tips for Setting up OSX bash files

If you have just installed or upgraded OSX and are interested in setting up your bash environment, here's some quick tips that will enable you to load all of your setup configuration customizations into a login shell or an interactive shell from a single bash startup file.

When a login shell is created (via logging into the console, opening iTerm/xterm or opening a new iTerm tab), bash reads these startup files in this order:

1. /etc/profile
2. /etc/bashrc
3. ~/.bash_profile

HOWEVER, in step #3, bash actually looks for and reads only ONE of the following files - if found - in the following order:

1. ~/.bash_profile
2. ~/.bash_login
3. ~/.profile

If you 'ls' your home directory and find '.profile', it's okay to rename it as '.bash_profile'. I suggest going with '.bash_profile', for no other reason than the fact that .bash_profile is the first file that bash looks for in your home directory.

If you ever create an interactive shell (typically by calling 'bash' from within a login shell), the following files are read in this order:

1. /etc/bashrc
2. ~/.bashrc

So here's the deal. I want to put all of my bash environment customizations in a single file that will be executed whenever a login shell is created or when an interactive shell is created. I could put all that in /etc/bashrc, which executes for all users (not just for the current logged-in user) in both scenarios, but it's better store all bash customizations in my personal home directory. What to do?

The solution is to create ~/.bashrc and load it with your environment customizations. Then, invoke it from within the one user-specific bash file that you know will always be executed when a login shell is created: either ~/.profile or ~/.bash_profile (depending on which one you prefer).

Somewhere in your .bash_profile (or .profile) file - preferably at the bottom (after the paths are exported) - add this line:

source ~/.bashrc

This command invokes ~/.bashrc within the current login shell. Because ~/.bash_profile (or ~/.profile) is always executed when a new login shell is created, your .bashrc customizations will always be loaded into the shell.

And, remember that when you start an interactive shell within a login shell, bash will invoke ~/.bashrc automatically.

For more details and cool customization tips for .bashrc, see http://blog.toddwerth.com/entries/4

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Song A Day 2011 Recording Diary

2/24/2011: Mr. Hanley

Not much to say about this one except that the song is weak and the recording is awful. I recorded this one the weekend before Song A Day started as an emergency filler - just something to post in case I ran out of time or ideas. Probably should have left it on the shelf.

On the positive side of things, it's so bad sounding, it makes the recordings created afterward sound better.

I did record one new song, which is Elvis Costello. It's my response to one of Chris' songs for which the notes in the lyrics describe it as 'me doing Derek doing Elvis Costello. Later, Jonathan did a song about himself doing Derek doing Chris doing Derek doing Elvis Costello.


No recording this day. Too wiped out. I wrote Byron Park, spending considerable time on the lyrics.

2/26/2011 Byron Park

Devoted most of the weekend to recording this ambitious number.

Frustrated with the weak sounding bass guitar, I moved the U87 back so that it was 2 1/2 feet from the speaker cone and set it to a figure-8 pattern. This got me closer to the sound I wanted. I switched the amp's midrange frequency center from 200hz to 800hz, but in retrospect I'm not sure that was a good move.

I played bass with my fingers to get a thicker sound and rolled off the volume knob a bit to reduce some unpleasant distortion picked up by the mic. Can't tell if the graphic EQ stompbox is causing that.

Unfortunately, got a horrible 60hz buzz on the bass track that I couldn't filter out. Oh well.

Used the Les Paul for the lead guitar part. Again, the graphic EQ was the only effect used. Nice guitar tone!

Hunted around for the right Reason strings for the ending section and settled on the regular orchestra strings.

2/27/2011 Caught in a Crowd

A pretty ballad, but sung badly. I should have spent more time working on the vocal, but I was just too wiped out after the marathon sesions for Byron Park.

2/28/2011 Goodbye to Song A Day

Also worked on this during the weekend. The recording went pretty quickly. The usual drum setup wasn't working for me, so I substituted the U87 as an overhead for the SM81 to get more body out of the kit. That worked.

Like an idiot, I accidently deleted the floor tom track while mixing. Thankfully, the drums don't rely on it heavily. But still, pretty dumb move.

Used the same bass setup as for Byron Park, but played with a pick. I regret switching the amp midrange frequency center from 200 to 800 hz, as it sounds better when the track is soloed than when blended in with the other tracks. It's not a bad sound per se, it's just not the frequency center that I gravitate towards. It brings out the characteristic Rickenbacher tone.

The horrible 60 hz hum plagued the bass recording again.

For the rhythm guitar parts, I wanted to get a Chris Greacen wall-of-sound type of production, so I spent time experimenting. The key discovery here was swapping the U87 and Sennheiser 906 mics such that the U87 was aimed at the top speaker. This gave me the proper frequency balance and at long last - after four years of experimentation - I finally achieved the Chris Greacen effect. It's just Les Paul into graphic EQ and into Tremolux, but it sounds big.

Oh, another critical change came about after experimenting with the graphic EQ settings. I lowered the 3kz slider and beefed up 200 and 100hz. I also increased the amp's bass setting to 6.

As a side note, I tried using an overdrive box to see if it could add more harmonic complexity, but all it did was soften the sound and make it mushy.

Used the unplayable Jay Turner guitar for the dueling lead guitars at the end. I love the tone of that guitar, but it would have been easier to have played the solo on a banjo. Any attempt to bend strings above the 12th fret result in a complete fretting-out and subsequent muting of the sound.

And thus endeth Song A Day 2011. I'll post my post mortem soon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Song A Day 2011: 2/24/2011

We're in the home stretch! I'm wiped out. Here are some more notes on the latest recordings.

Halfway Through Song A Day: 2/16/2011

Nothing much to say about this straightforward recording of acoustic guitar and voice. The lyrics worked out to two lines of mention for each of the nine participants. If we had just one more participant - or one less - it wouldn't have worked. Got lucky on that one.

C1: 2/17/2011

My venture into pure Electronica. I did the bulk of sequencing in Reason and added some more tracks in Cubase, with all Reason sounds being merged into Cubase via ReWire.

At this point of the month, I was feeling burned out on writing pop songs and struggling to sing them. This track helped to recharge my batteries.

Could It Be Meat?; 2/18/2011

Another simple, one-off acoustic + vox recording. I wrote this one while sitting in Taco Bell.


I took a break this day. Just too worn out to even think about recording

Long Way to Anaheim: 2/20/2011

I came back full force with this one. Used a nice blend of Miroslov low legato strings and mellotron strings. Still struggling with getting a good bass sound. There's no easy answer to it. I just have to try different things - play with amp settings, graphic EQ stompbox settings, moving mic around (aimed at center of cone or off to the side? closer or further way?) and mixdown effects such as 1176 compression and multi-band compressor, plus EQ.

Here Come the Vegans: 2/21/2011

I absolutely LOVE this song. Just two guitars (Jay Turner and Les Paul into Tremolux through graphic EQ - nothing else) with the usual two mic setup (U87 on bottom speaker and Senheiser 906 on top speaker). Had lots of problems with tuning the Jay Turner. It just cannot be tuned. I noticed that the 906 gets a thin, strident sound and the U87 picks up some muddy, woolly signals. When combined through the multi-band compressor, it usually results in a decent recording. But I'm not satisfied with this approach. Next time, I'll swap mics and see what happens.

For the life of me, I couldn't get a good bass sound. I worked on it for hours, but never achieved what I heard in my head. Used tons of EQ/compression/multi-band, etc to forge a usable sound out of it. Blech.

Had fun singing this one. Finally got a decent vocal performance. I was hoarse the next day after singing the high-pitched la-las at the end.

For the drums, I used the U87 in place of the SM81 for the overhead, simply because I couldn't get enough beef out of the SM81 for this tune. I think it worked ok. The U87 doesn't pick up cymbals as nicely as the SM81, but it captures more of the body of the drum kit. There are some insane drum fills on this one, particularly near the end. I'm proud of the drum performance overall.


Took a break from recording and just worked on remixing Here Come the Vegans. Spent 2+ hours on the remix, but not satisfied with the results.

What Do Ghosts Like to Do? 2/23/2011

I close mic'd the Martin guitar and played fingerstyle. Also sang VERY close into the mic and used a lot of compression. Threw on a spooky organ from Reason and that was it. This one came out very nice and spacious.

Afterward, finalized the mix for Here Come the Vegans and uploaded it. I think it's better than previous efforts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Song A Day 2011 Recording Diary

We're at the end of week number two of Song A Day. I'm already feeling burned out. There has to be an easier way to record my songs.

2/14/2011 Animatronics

Another all-day recording, though a substantial proportion of that was spent writing the song.

While recording the bass, I discovered to my horror that the intonation was completely off on all four strings. Removing the felt strips under the bridge saddles had thrown everything off! So I adjusted the intonation until it was in tune with itself. Nevertheless, when I listen to the final track, it's obvious that the A and D strings aren't in tune with the other instruments.

Boosting 200 hz on the amp and the graphic EQ box helped fill out the sound some more, but it's still not where I want it. The mic picks up a different signal than what the ears hear in the room, and I must adjust the sound in the room to please the mic rather than myself.

I'm fed up with recording bass guitar. Maybe it's time to switch over to using a keyboard for that.

Had problems with the drum recording. There's too much hi hat leakage into the snare mics and the tom mics. What am I doing wrong? The mics are about 4 inches away from each drum. Should they be closer?

The high guitar parts are just me plucking the strings on the acoustic an octave up from the main rhythm part. The result is almost mandolin-like.

2/15/2011 Wind Up

Another full day spent recording - and probably the last one for this year's Song A Day. I was determined to tackle the issues with the drum sounds.

I recorded some takes with the usual mic setup and listened to each track individually. Here's what I heard:

The under snare mic sounds okay, but has too much sloppy rattle in the sound. Leakage from other drums is barely acceptable.

The over snare mic sounds like garbage. There's as much hi hat bleeding into the EV 906 mic as there is snare drum sound, which has a boxy, wimpy sound. That's a problem.

The overhead mic is even worse. It's picking up.... nothing much at all. Just some faint cymbal sounds, the ugliest frequencies from the hi hat, and boxy-sounding, feeble taps on the other drums. I don't get it! I'm hitting the drums good and hard. Why does it sound like I'm playing with my fingertips?

The kick is muddy, dumpy and lacking definition. I've tried moving the mic around - inside the hole and out, but nothing ever seems to make it sound great.

Both tom tracks have way too much cymbal and hi hat bleed to be useful. For some recordings I've resorted to manually cutting up the track to remove everything in the recording when the drums aren't being played.

So now that I had a handle on the problems, I busied myself moving the mics in closer.

The overhead is now a mere 18 inches above the cymbals and aimed between the snare and the kick. This resulted in an immense improvement!

I moved the tom mics to within 1.5 inches of the drums. Likewise, this reduced the ambient bleed and strengthened the tom sound.

The top snare mic was also positioned within an inch of the top head, aimed at the center. This helped the sound a lot, but it's not capturing anything magical either. Still, it's good enough to be EQed (dip around 300hz to remove boxiness, boost at 250 for body, boost at 1k for tone, boost at 3k for clarity).

The under snare mic, on the other hand, did not fare well with the new position. I moved it back down a few inches so that it's about 9 inches from the bottom head.

For the bass recording, I switched to using a heavy pick instead of the softer guitar pick that I had used for the last two weeks. I figured that I need to transfer more energy into the strings with each pluck to give the mic a good signal. I also boosted 200 hz and the treble EQ on the amp some more while backing off on the amp's bass EQ slightly. This yielded the best bass sound I've ever achieved on a Song A Day recording! It's very similar to the Fender Jazz Bass sound on Golden Slumbers by the Beatles on Abby Road. I still had to use a multiband compressor and other plugins to give it the right polish during mixdown, but I'm pleased with it.

I also experimented with adding midrange boost to the vocal tracks, since my vocal recordings tend to sound thin and bright.

This is one of my favorite all-time songs and recordings out of everything I've ever done for Song A Day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Song A Day 2011 Recording Diary

Valhalla 2/6/2011

I've decided to use Reason for most piano parts recorded for this year's Song A Day instead of using the awful Alesis QS6.1. There's more effort involved up front, but the sounds are definitely better.

The main riff is supposed to evoke images of Vikings stomping around. I have no idea why I wrote a song about Norse mythology.

A Knock on the Door 2/7/2011

Slightly creepy ballad with 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' lyrics. I went for maximum dynamics between verses and choruses.

I'm less happy about the bass sound. Looks like I need to work on the recording setup some more.

Autistic 2/8/2011

Simple folk song with an Irish jig feel. It's just one vocal, but I used a doubler effect to make it sound like two. It covers up some of the out-of-tune singing.

Goodbye and Goodnight 2/9/2011

I took the day off work to record this one. It's one of the most elaborate arrangements I've ever attempted, with 10 or more vocal tracks. The guitar solo is a 3-way poly-rhythm, which took considerable time to work out. I really like this one!

Had more problems with the bass sound. Notes aren't playing out clearly - there's a buzzy sound that required a lot of EQ to reduce. I'll spend some time trying to debug when I record another bass track.

Bring on the Dancing Girls 2/10/2011

There's this guy who sings Johnny Cash songs in the tube leading to the Montgomery Street Bart station with a spot-on vocal imitation of Mr. Cash. I wrote this song on the BART ride home and recorded it very quickly. The vocal performance was a single, unedited take. I was surprised that I could even approximate a Johnny Cash type of vocal, but it turned out to be very easy to do. The lyrics are, of course, demented.

I used my ancient Yamaha acoustic for this one. It doesn't sound as nice as the Martin, but it worked for this song.

What Did I Do? 2/11/2011

A quick knock off recording with horrible singing and playing. They can't all be gems.

Maker Faire (Glorious) 2/12/2011

One of the most commercial songs I've ever written. I spent an entire day on this one, polishing the arrangement until it was good enough for Song A Day. The tune and lyrics are a musical pun on Scarborough Faire, with the meaning twisted around to reference the annual nerd-fest known as The Maker Faire. I hope people will look up the word 'Arduino' to see what I'm describing.

The main guitar riff at the beginning is the cheapo, unplayable Jay Turner guitar, straight into the graphic EQ and the Tremolux. I'm convinced that using two mics (U87 and the EV 906) is the ticket to getting a decent recording of electric guitar.

The solo was performed on the Les Paul into a Stamps Drive-O-Matic. I'm happy with how it turned out.

Of all the parts, the arpeggiated guitars (Les Paul into Tremolux) at the end of the song were the most technically challenging to play. It didn't come out as nicely as I heard it in my head before attempting to play it, but I can live with it.

Figured out what was wrong with the bass sounds and learned a lot in the process. I had stuck strips of felt under the bridge saddles to mute the strings slightly. Turns out that was a bad idea, so I removed them.

After a lot of playing and listening to the bass amp, I realized that plucking near the neck was further choking the sound, so I've changed my playing technique to use palm muting behind the bridge, which is rather awkward on a Rickenbacker bass.

The microphone (U87) 'hears' a feeble, tinny, metalic sound that is pretty useless, so I worked a lot on adjusting the amp (SVT) EQ settings and the Danelectro graphic EQ. I ended up switching the amp's midrange frequency from 800 hz to 200 hz. This provides a bit more of the mid-bass thump that is missing from the bass recordings.

Five Percent 2/13/2011

This is an amalgam of early Rick Derringer, Grand Funk Railroad, Cream, Edgar Winter, and others from the golden age of hard rock. I pulled out my ancient Cry Baby wah wah pedal for the lead guitar part. Unfortunately, the capacitors seem to have dried out, so the tone on it is no longer very musical. I'll probably have to replace it.

All guitars were Les Paul into graphic EQ and Tremolux. For the solo, I used the Drive-O-Matic for some extra fuzz. To get some more beef out of the guitars, I aimed the U87 and EV906 at different speakers, but at the same distance to the cones. Each speaker has different frequency response (one is designed to emphasize low mids, the other is more trebly), so this gave me more control of the sound during mixdown.

I struggled with the guitar solo, which came out pretty lousy considering that this song should feature 'hot' lead playing. I just ran out of time to get a decent take. The drum performance was also bad. So's the singing. Despite all that, the overall effect is okay. I'm not proud of how it came out.

I'm now interested in improving the drum sound on future recordings.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Song A Day 2011 - Recording Diary

It's time again for Song A Day. This year I intend to improve a lot of deficiencies in my past recordings. There's still the limitation of having only one day to record each number, so I have to live with first takes and sloppy playing. If I can improve the guitar, drum, bass and vocal sounds, that's good enough for me.

2/1/2011: Welcome to Song A Day

This is a typical kick off song, but I tried to write a good one this time. Past attempts have been pretty weak.

The drum recording setup is similar to that of 2010, with one major improvement. I bought a new preamp, a GA Pre-73, dedicated to the kick drum. Because it has a separate output attenuation control, I can now record the kick without having to deal with the distortion and clipping that I experienced with the GrooveTubes Brick. The new setup is as follows:

Overhead: Shure SM81 into Millenia HV-3B
Under Snare: AKG 414C (the old gray model with a C12 capsule) into Millenia HV-3B
Over Snare: new Sennheiser e906 (highend boost enabled) into FRM RNP
Kick: AKG D112 into GA Pre-73
Rack Tom: Shure SM-57 into FRM RNP
Floor Tom: Sennheiser 421 into GrooveTubes Brick

Having an additional preamp allows me to use a full compliment of mics on the drums. I'm still going for mono (though on occasion I'll pan the toms around a bit), cause I don't have enough mics/stands/preamps for a stereo OH pair. That's okay by me.

Unlike previous Song A Day recordings, I attached the front skin on the kick drum. I also changed out the snare top/botom heads to Evans Hazy 300 on the bottom (was previously a Evans Hazy 200) and Evans Genera HD Dry on the top (was previously a Remo Coated Controlled Sound Reverse Dot). I think it sounds pretty good, but not sure if it's dramatically different from before. We'll see how the mics respond to the changes.

The drum recording for this song came out ok - nothing special. I'm playing a very busy pattern on the toms for this one.

For guitars, I tried using a combo of U87 into HV-3B and the new Sennheiser e906 (in flat mode), with the e906 close to the cab and the U87 farther away. The results were murky and unimpressive, so that experiment didn't work out. I'm still playing the '79 Les Paul Custom into a Tremolux through a Danelectro Fish and Chips graphic EQ for a bit of boost.

I recorded the bass in the usual manner: Rickenbacker into a 70's SVT, using a combo of DI through the GrooveTubes Brick and U87 (aimed at the 10" speaker cab) through the HV-3B. I had spent considerable time placing felt mutes into the bridge saddle pieces and trying to play with a heavy pick near the neck, but the result was as bad as always: indistinct, toneless and wimpy. Got to improve on this in future recordings.

2/2/2011: Charlie Trotter

Simple acoustic ballad. I'm satisfied with the guitar sound, captured via U87 into HV-3B, aimed at the 12th fret from a foot or so away. The small-bodied Martin M3SC is pretty easy to record.

I experimented with singing very close into the mic (all vocals are captured with the U87) and got decent results. Adding a healthy high-end boost during mixdown gives the vocal a nice polish.

2/3/2011: Deadly Virus

Another acoustic ballad, recorded using an identical setup to Charlie Trotter.

2/4/2011: If I Had a Mac

Yet another acoustic ballad, necessary because I'm recording late at night with Amy and Emma fast asleep in their rooms. However, this time I decided to break with tradition and record a live performance; one mic aimed at guitar and voice - captured in the first take. I didn't bother to try another take, as the first one was good enough. I had fun adding wacky effects to this single track recording during mixdown.

2/5/2011: I Lost It

It's Saturday, so I can record something loud and obnoxious. After recording a scratch piano track, I produced the vocal tracks first, including background vox.

Next, I used the U87 and e906 combo on the guitar cab, but this time the two mics were positioned equadistant from the center of the speaker cone, aimed slightly inward. I recorded a rhythm track with the Les Paul and a lead track with the Jay Turner guitar, both into the same Tremolux amp and 2x12 Scumback speaker cab. The results were somewhat better than my attempts on Welcome to Song A Day, but in the end I had to use a multi-band compressor on the stereo guitar bus during mixdown to give them some life. Both guitars need new strings. What else can I do to improve the recorded sounds of distorted, loud rock guitars?

For the drums, I moved the 414C further away from the bottom of the snare to ensure that no capsule overloading or clipping occurs - I think it helped. I moved the kick mic out of the drum shell and aimed it at the mic hole to get more depth in the thump. It definitely helped. The only other change was I used rim shots on all snare hits. Turned out great!

I knew that I had done something right with the drums when I realized that all of the transients were coming through the bus compression, and minimal EQ was used. Usually, I have to create a separate bus just to blend in uncompressed drums (to get transients lost in the main bus compression) and use lots of EQ on individual tracks. This is a first for me.

When it came time to record the bass track, I was determined to get a decent sound - for once! I switched over to the 1x15 cabinet and aimed the U87 at the center cone about 2 feet away. Rather than trying to pick near the neck (which was creating a toneless, blinky sound), I palm muted (difficult on a Rickenbacker) and switched to a softer nylon guitar pick instead of the usual heavy bass pick. Finally, I changed the midrange filter on the SVT head from 3K to 800hz and, for the first time ever, used the Danelectro graphic EQ to dial in the desired tone. I spent considerable time experimenting with different EQ settings on both the stompbox and the amp, but eventually eliminated the nasty plinky sound and achieved both a solid low-end thump and an interesting, bright midrange.

Success! The combination of these changes, plus the fact that I'd recently changed the bass strings to use a much heavier gauge, finally yielded a good sound on 'tape' that needed minimal processing to be loud and clear in the mix.