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.

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