Tag Archives: home recording

Recording: The Calm Before The Storm (a Destiny song)

In my recent post on gaming, I posted video with a song I had written at the end. As is my custom, it’s time to tell you about what I did when writing & recording it.

The song, The Calm Before The Storm, is inspired by the video game Destiny. It was written as an entry to a competition for a Destiny podcast that I listen to called Guardian Radio. They have a weekly competition (bounty) for different prizes & when writing a song was one I figured I could have a go at that.

Entering the competition set 2 challenging parameters that I have never had to work with before. First I had just under a week to get it done, I listened to the podcast on the Tuesday & the song was to be submitted by the end of the following Sunday, which also happened to be Mothers Day in the US. Secondly it had to be less than 3 minutes long, including any verbal introduction that you wanted to give it. Challenge accepted!

I wrote the song fairly quickly on the first day, mostly while at work (shh don’t tell anyone), themed around the story of Destiny & also the Guardian grimoire card. The podcast has a feature on their show where they do dramatic readings of the grimoire cards so I thought they would appreciate the nod. I don’t actually recall where the title line came from, obviously it is a well known phrase & is something I had been meaning to be creative with for a good while. Within the context of the song / game, it was a reference to the well known grind in Destiny. Yes you may have finished everything in the game, however don’t get carried away celebrating, because it is always time to go & do it again (and again). It is also a reference to my amazingly inconsistent PvP performances where I can just as easily go 6-16 as I can 16-6, much to my frustration.

With the game being a sci-fi adventure, I felt that the only way to go would be with a prog-rock style of presentation, I mean, what says sci-fi more than prog rock? I had hoped to get a more Dream Theater like vibe going on, but a combo of a lack of time & never having tried to do something prog(ish) before kept it away from that direction.

Fortunately when I was writing I got the idea for the basic melody for the singing so that made the process easier. I put together the chord progression on my acoustic on the Wednesday & then sat on it / rehearsed it for a couple of days. Then it was on to recording. This would be the first time I used my new upgrade to Cubase 7.5, the full version following my experiences with Cubase essentials 5 previously. As with almost all of my music software purchases, I got it on a great discount then didn’t use it for a while. The same went for the Halion Symphonic Orchestra that I bought on a deep discount whim a while back.

One of the things I have struggled with previously when recording is getting the timing right to be able to get a drum track down using EZdrummer. Far and away my favorite addition to the new Cubase is the chord track. This can be used creatively if you want, but for me it was so great to put the chords in place & get them in time right with the song, to allow me to easily see what drum loops would fit. The time saved & frustration levels removed for this little home recording artist was amazing & has me inspired to get back to recording regularly, instead of just wishing I knew how to do it better.

You can use the chord track to then trigger virtual instruments, this allows for a non piano playing person like me to set basic midi tracks much easier & quicker than before. No more googling a chord shape & playing / recording each piece separately. I used the chord track to control 4 separate channels of the Orchestra VST. A violin set, violas, cello & a brass ensemble, the idea being to give the track a movie soundtrack feel through an orchestral backdrop. To add a little variation & used an arpeggiator on the violins & violas, it is barely noticeable in the mix but it does add some nice depth.

Next up were the drums, which I was determined not to fight with & ruin the whole thing. I used a mixed kit of Ayotte & Ludwig pieces from the Rock Solid EZX & as quickly as possible found some fitting, generic rock midid loops to use. If I’d written this closer to the time of recording I would be able to better remember if I had to manipulate the loops much to fit what I was doing, but I honesty don’t remember.

With the drums in place & the orchestra leading the way I took to the acoustic guitar & recorded 2 tracks, one strumming the chords & one playing fingerstyle. To get as big a sound as I could, as quickly as possible, each recording (one take each) was done using 3 channels. I had a direct feed from the guitar’s electronics into the DI and then my 2 mics, one a large diaphragm condenser & one a dynamic, set up a different positions on the guitar to get a nice full sound with as many audio dynamics as possible. These would then be separated out in the mix with panning & balanced to give the best sound.

With this being a time crunch Sunday I went ahead & recorded the vocals next instead of the bass. We had family coming over that I would need to visit with & also I wanted to get anything that required the use of a microphone out of the way before the house got noisy.

Usually when recording vocals I record at least 4 takes & comp the best of them together. There was no time for that this time so a “good enough” take was recorded on 1 track. I tackled each section separately, cutting in with the recording. That way I could get my focus before the verse or chorus to try make sure I at least got a usable track. The same process for the harmony track was also used.

I resisted the temptation to apply any auto correction to the vocals, even though they started a little shaky. I added minimal processing to the vocals, mostly due to the time crunch. Using only the Nasty VCS (channel strip), a vintage compressor from cubase & a little reverb from Room Works.

With the vocals down I didn’t have long before our guests started to arrive. The rest of the recoding would be done in hurried breaks between visiting with family (I know, I’m bad). As always I ran the bass direct to my USB interface and used the Amplitube Ampeg plugin with my favorite preset, Comp Rock. One day I may actually work on bass playing, but for now I basically follow the chord progression and drums fill out the sound.

Finally it was on to the electric guitar parts, always my favorite part of the process, yet the most stressful sometimes as it is the only part I expect myself to be able to do really well with. I recorded 2 tracks of chorus laden clean sound with the Stratocaster, one strumming & one picking the notes. Then to actually give the track the rock feel that I wanted I ran a distorted track with the strat, before switching to the Les Paul tuned to drop D to try & give it some chug. The lead track was a one take hurried affair, but I think it actually fit quite well.

Running out of time before the deadline & also not wanting to neglect my wife & family on Mother’s Day 🙂 The editing process was done quickly & simply. I could have easily spent another week eq’ing, rerecording & editing. There are a couple of vocal parts I really wish I’d touched up, also the EQ on the toms is not quite right to me. However, considering half the challenge for the song was the time frame, I was really please & quite proud of it. Early in the process I realized I was going to have to save often, apparently having reached the limits of what my old laptop could handle, I was getting the blue screen of death every 20 minutes or so. It just about survived the recording session, but it was clear that I needed an upgrade if I am to actually continue with my occasional hobby.

If you were wondering if I had somehow won the contest, err no. Dustin Griffith won with a quite brilliant entry made about the podcast itself, certainly a worthy winner, the song is so good they really had no choice 🙂

Anyway, that’s about it. If you want to listen to the song again the video is here.

 

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In A Mess – a new old song

There are some inescapable facts about music. One of those facts is that every song has a story. Sometimes that story is told through the lyrics, an autobiographical window into someone else’s world, or maybe it’s a fictional world created just for you. Sometimes it is in the music, a mystical tapestry of sonic stimulation that takes you to a place that words cannot. Frequently with commercial music the real story is that someone wants to make money, they have a hook a line & a catchy melody that is carefully placed together and given to someone to sing & play. Regardless of how good the story is, or is not, each song still has a story and so it is with the song I am about to share with you.

 

This is a bit of an odd one, writing this post in November that is, you see I recorded this song mostly in June, tinkered with it a bit in July & then had every intention of writing this post at the beginning of August. Then doubts crept in, it’s no good, it’s not representative of what I can do today, I don’t really like it, why would anyone else, you know, that BS that we all get when we create something. So it has sat, until recently & then I just decided, what the heck, share it, maybe a couple of people will listen, maybe one will like it, it doesn’t matter, the point is to not allow those fears to build back up. The main reason I ever share anything on here is to fight those internal fears that tell me I am no good, even though I know that is a lie.

 

In A Mess - original paperSo the song, it was originally titled “I Need You”, I changed it to “In a Mess”, which is one of the very few things I changed on it, I’m not sure why I changed the name but the new one seems to fit better. I wrote this song on April 19th 1995 (yes 1995, that’s not a typo), the note on the paper states that it was written in 38 minutes, between 10:19 & 10:57pm. That would place me at 18 years old at the time of writing and a little over a year into my guitar playing journey.

The song itself is not, that I recall, autobiographical, it appears to be about someone who is in a relationship that is on the verge of ending, but despite the chaos the person knows that he does not want the relationship to end, because he needs the love of his partner. The real story of the song however is that there was once a young 18 year old kid who wanted nothing more than to be a rock star and every time he tried to write a song it seemed to come out slow & mushy. So this time, equipped with a riff he borrowed from an instructional book & modified somewhat, he was going to write a rock song come what may. The result is pretty much what you hear here.

When I decided that this would be the next song I was going to record one of the parameters I set myself was that I was going to leave it as untouched as possible. The point in recording / sharing this was to do something for that 18 year old, who was to afraid of rejection to ever really share his music, that he was never able to do for himself. Lyrically I left it pretty much alone, a slight edit/delete for a couple of lines that didn’t flow at all, but you can see from the original writing that it is all still here. I resisted changing the key to one that better suited my vocal range, the riff is completely intact, I don’t recall how the solo originally went, but I am please with how it ended up, it seems to fit the song well. I honestly feel that if I had access to a DeLorean & could fire it up to 88 & get back to ’95, my 18 year old self would be thrilled with what I have done with it. That in itself is enough to please my 37 year old self.

When I am recording I have to remind myself that the best I am realistically going to achieve is a decent demo. I don’t have the know how or equipment – yet 😉 to make it sound like I paid big money to visit the warehouse In Vancouver & hire Butch Vig to produce it. That is more than ok, yet sometimes it is frustrating when I just cannot get it to sound the way it should in my mind (I guess that’s why they make the big bucks).

 

in a mess mixer

So anyway, for those who care, here is what I did with the tracks, starting with the guitar (of course). For the main riff you will find 4 separate guitar tracks. 2 each with the bridge pickup of the Les Paul & my HSS strat, yes that is a lot of humbucking! The guitar was recorded running my Boss GT-8 direct to Cubase which is the first time I have done it that way, usually I run it into an amp & mic it up. It is much easier to control the frequencies this way but it does lose a certain je ne sais quoi, I was however happy with the results & will use this method again depending on what the track calls for. The Les Paul was run through a Marshall stack patch that I call my Slash patch. The strat was run through a Soldano SLO-100 patch which has a very different, yet still highly overdriven, sound from the Marshall (digital versions are as close as I will get to them unfortunately), so that is how I came up with the 4 tracks.

in a mess drumsThe drums were as usual created using Ezdrummer. The kit was the main kit from the Rock Solid expansion pack, it has some great sounding rock kits in that one. As always seems to be the case, there was not a preprogrammed midi pattern that would fit my needs, either they provide odd patterns or my tastes are more unique that I realize. Regardless, for the main riff I took the closest thing I could find & then modified it to meet my needs. I think for the chorus & other parts I found something lose enough & then for the fills I merged & edited a few patterns to create something more unique.

In a mess bassThe bass was played through my trusty Ampeg SVT plugin, not I did say player, I might not play bass, but I can play guitar well enough on a bass to get a bass line for a song, lol. However as the bass world is pretty foreign to me I just used a stock pack from the plugin, fortunately al of the provided ones sound & work really well. This particular one, the Dist 810 stack, is based on the SVT-4 Pro amp.

In a Mess vocal plugins

In a Mess reverbThe vocals have a little EQ on them, some compression, a limiter for clipping control & a dash of BBE sonic maximizer & a send to some reverb. No auto-tune, ever, however close I get to signing in tune is what you will get, always, not sure why but that is a house rule in my home studio. I threw a little harmony vocal onto the track right at the end. It is not as tight as I originally intended, but I left it loose as it is because I liked the way it sounded like 2 people singing in a band as In a mess vocal delayopposed to an overdub. A new technique that I had to figure out was automating the delay effect, I wanted it only at certain points & so had to learn the automation of a send effect. It was not that difficult fortunately & I like what it added.

The mix was mostly done in recording, leveling & panning to fit as I go through the process works well for me. Once I had the mix set I exported & then imported into a new track to try and do some mastering. I usually do not bother with this as previously I have had nothing to add at this stage. However thanks to a heavy discount on  Musician’s Friend “stupid deal of the day “ I picked up the BBE Sonic Sweet set of plugins. I tried each of them individually & also different combinations but finally settled on using all 3 in sync with each other. They definitely add some sheen to the track & also enable it to come up close to commercial volume levels without just seeing a solid red warning light from all the clipping.

In a mess master

So there you have it, a new 19 year old song, thank you for reading & if you pressed play, thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed it for what it is 🙂

 

 

Music Update

The thought came to me recently that I have not given much of an update on my music recently. My newer readers (welcome & thank you by the way!) may not even be aware of the musical side of my life. From the outside it may appear that there is not much to share but I have actually been really busy musically, just not in the way that I had anticipated when I first wrote about my intention to record some past songs and share them, in addition to writing new music.

shedding while shreddingThat project initially went fairly well, I recorded a few songs, was slowly learning the process (it’s not as easy to do well as it may sound) and enjoyed sharing them on here.  2013 ended with a renewed commitment to learning to play the guitar better. It’s not that I can’t play well already, but there are some musical ideas that I get in my head that are much more in the Vai or Petrucci territory than the blues rock style that I play. If I am ever to realize these ideas, unfortunately I need to study a lot of theory & practice even more. That all came to pretty much a grinding halt in January when I had a great conversation which resulted in me volunteering to lead worship once a month at a Christian homeless ministry.

Leading worship has been an absolute dream come true, in so many ways. The only down side (if you can call it that) is that most of my musical free time has been dedicated to practicing for worship, not recording music. Not really that big of a deal, more on that later. As I wrote in my first post I was incredibly nervous when I first lead worship. Since then the nerves have gone away and I have slowly been finding my voice and comfort zone.

I hear music well enough to know that I don’t sound bad, I can hear that I am playing and singing mostly in tune yet it is feedback from others that really lets you know if you are doing ok. I have done it 5 times now and every time I have had nothing but positive feedback. It is really, really cool when after leading worship someone tells you they felts the presence of God during worship. One person told me that she felt I should be writing my own worship songs, something I have a great desire to do, yet somehow it has not quite happened yet (I am assuming this is His timing, not mine). I say it has not happened, I do have 1 actual worship song in the works and several songs that while not what you would call corporate worship songs are songs that are directly inspired by my relationship with Jesus & what He has done in my life.

I am not sure exactly where (if anywhere) leading worship will go, it is my intention to enjoy doing it for a good while though. Not only do I get to use my gifts to honor Jesus & hopefully lead others into a worshipful experience. It is also great therapy, the fears that I had of musical rejection are slowly dissipating and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. It can be very intense at times, I’ve found myself shaking afterwards, not from nerves but from what I believe is a real connection with the spirit in the moment, I guess it could just be adrenaline but if it is it is unlike anything else that I have felt before.

The slight regret currently with my music is that it is still a very solitary adventure. Don’t get me wrong, great music, music with real emotion, can be made on your own. It certainly doesn’t take a full band to lead people into worship either; I really enjoy doing it on my own. However music is just better when it is a social event, it would be very exciting to get to lead worship with a band one day, with vocal harmonies an option. What I am going to do about this I have no idea. I have no desire to join a band and play bars etc, and as comfortable as I am getting, I don’t feel anywhere close to confident enough to want to try at my church. The band there is made up of professional musicians, great people, but slightly intimidating, besides, the band is full and they have a network of incredibly talented musicians to fill in for vacations already. Maybe I’ll look at having someone join me every now and then while leading worship at Solomon’s Porch.

Outside of worship it would be fun to make original music with people again. Somehow I need to find some folks who want to meet up only when it’s convenient & make original music together, simply for the pleasure of making music. Why do people always want to turn music into a second job or some commercial adventure? I mean, if someone wants to pay me to make music, I’ll let them, but that will never be why I make music. It is an expression of the soul and even more so, when done right, it is an expression of absolute love & worship to the Father.

As far as recording goes, I have recently been working on 1 song which is as close to being done as I am willing to spend the effort on getting it. It is a song I wrote way back in 1995 when I had been playing guitar for just over a year. The challenge I am having with it is do I want to share it on here or not. The original idea was to share everything, just because. However, while it is as good as I can get it, it’s just not very good, so do I share it anyway? Musically and lyrically it is coming from another place than where I am now, do I want to share that? I don’t know.

I probably shouldn’t care, I should just share it as part of the very slow documentary of me learning to record music, even music that oddly enough I don’t like anymore. I do remember being very proud of it when I wrote it.  I suppose letting my light shine should not just be when I feel I have something good to shine, if I am to encourage others to let their light shine, I should probably share when I make something that is more meh than awesome, in a way that might send a better message than only releasing things I think are really good. I still don’t know.

My next recording project after that song will be a song I wrote at the end of last year, this song I love, it is probably my favorite of any song that I have written. I am toying with the idea of documenting the whole recording process. Maybe that will help me to do it quicker than just messing with bits here and there. Maybe I could get tips while doing it.

As for the actual process of recording, for now the 2 real struggles I have when recording are the drum tracks & vocal Eq. As a guitar player my knowledge and understanding of drums, tempo and structure is just not very good. It is a common guitarist problem unfortunately, we are usually off in our own little world playing by feel instead of rules J It should be easy, it’s not like I am actually playing the drums, I am just selecting the drums set, mixing & panning & then picking the best midi loop from the ezdrummer selection. I suppose I could learn how to actually program the midi well myself so that the struggle to find a part that fits would be easier. I always seem to get close enough (maybe with a little modifying), it just takes ages. Unfortunately the drums are the first thing you need to do with a track & the process is a real momentum killer for me at the moment.

As far as EQ’ing my vocals, it is hard for me to get them to sound the way I think they should. The challenge I have too is that I don’t know what is lack of doing it right verses equipment limitations verses that’s just that way I sound & I need to get over it.

So that’s the year in music so far, I’ve bought some new music to listen to and also, attended a couple of concerts that I failed to write about; The Hendrix Experience was guitar nirvana & Jesus Culture was one of the most powerful evenings of worship that I’ll probably ever be part of. I need to get back to writing about music more often; somehow it keeps me more focused on my favorite pastime.

Song: Everything – reworked

 

This took longer than intended (as usual) but I finally have the reworked version of the song My Everything ready. I came up with this alternative version when I was getting ready to record the original. I’ve become quite a fan of the tv show Live at Dary’s House over the last year & I thought, what would they do with this song. If you’re not familiar with the show, it is Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates fame) & his band & they have famous artists come over to his beautiful house in upstate New York to play each others songs. I’ve never really been a Hall & Oates fan, although I’ve become familiar & fond of their work through the show.  The show is great tv for me, the musicianship & just seeing people have a good time with their music is very enjoyable to me. Thursday nights on Palladia if you’re interested.

keys

So trying to make it a little more upbeat I reworked the chord progression & harmony. I added some keyboard parts, not my forte as you can see, but I wanted to add that depth to give it a little more of that Philly soul sound than guitars alone could allow. There could be more done with the arrangement but my limited experience in full compositions came to the fore. This has taken about 2 months to get to this point, unfortunately that included prolonged periods of down time, not touching the project, various reasons for that but I’m not going into that today.

Everything Remix Tracking

There were more technical challenges with this recording than with anything previous. I pushed the limits of my system pretty hard. I had the mix upto 28 tracks, causing latency issues, jittering & digital distortion problems. It was workable though doing some track freezing (bouncing) & effect bypasses.

Everything Remix Mixer

(I finally figured out how to get the ezdrummer channels on separate tracks – happy days)

It might not sound professional, but some of the things I’ve learnt over the last couple of months helped a lot with polishing this & getting a much better defined mix. I enjoyed the process of reworking my own song, I have to be honest though, I still prefer the original. I actually have a better mix for that now than the one I initially put out, I’d swap it out in Soundcloud but you have to pay for that feature & I’m not that bothered, it sounds better, but not that much 🙂

 

This is the original, more country version

Thanks for reading & even more so for listening.

 

 

My Everything – the video

When I was recording this song I had always planned to try & make a video for it. I don’t know about kids today, but when I was a lad it wasn’t a song if there wasn’t a video for it 😉

Originally I thought I would video myself recording the song & make one of those lo-fi studio videos that I always loved. There were 2 problems with that though, 1 I forgot to video myself for most of it & 2, when singing a song about your wife it doesn’t make that much sense to make a video of just you. So what we have is a few ideas from the initial concept morphing into a slide show remembering some of the many wonderful times over the past 11+ years. It’s not great, but hey, I there is only so much you can do with free windows software & a complete lack of knowledge on film making. That may be my next area of study if I ever get the music recording thing down (slow progress is being made behind the scenes there). As Ive said before, the important thing is to try, you will never try & succeed if you are not willing to try & risk failure.