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.

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