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.

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