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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Planning Ahead

Looks like the next chance I'll get to record something is Thursday evening, and even then it might be a short window. I guess I need to plan what I want to achieve ahead of time.

If I get the chance, I'll record the rhythm guitar for a "whole" song. If I go acoustic that'd be something like "Lessons Learned" (Ray Lamontagne) or "Proud Mary" (Creedence). If I don't have that much time, maybe I'll just have a go at single tracking, double tracking and double tracking with different voicings/inversions to compare the different results. If I go electric then I'll probably pull out "Outside Woman Blues". My only problem with the latter is that the drum parts are actually quite tricky, and I might have to add them in afterwards, which'd be harder (I'm guessing) than having them upfront.

Other than that, not much to record. Ears are still ringing from seeing Placebo last night. Fantastic gig. Lots of energy. Only lightly clipped by beer from one flying pint... Gee, I hope it was beer!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Double Tracking

I'm starting to be very glad that I started this new blog, as it's leading to some pretty cool discoveries. Before this I was pretty complacent about recording, resigned to the "fact" that whatever I taped was the best I could hope for. Now, with a little bit of research, I'm finding all new ways of improving my finished recording at zero cost.

After sorting out my "noise" problem in Reaper (which turned out to be a combination of DC offset and mic hiss), last night I had a go at a) recording my acoustic in our downstairs toilet and b) double-tracking.

Recording in a small, tiled room really added brightness to the sound. Unfortunately, the toilet is REALLY SMALL, which meant that I had to hold the guitar shotgun stylee and, as the extractor fan comes on with the light, I had to play in the dark. Nevertheless, I definitely found that the tonality of the recording was improved. Step 2 is probably to try and stretch cables to the upstairs bathroom...

And then there's double-tracking. Apparently, recording acoustic parts twice then panning each take left and right is quite de rigeur in the pro recording industry. The subtle (or in my case massive) differences between takes really adds depth and interest to the rhythm section. Ding! Eureka moment! Today I've been reading up more on the technique and someone suggested not only double-tracking, but using different chord voicings etc on each part. A simple way of doing this would be to use a capo, for example, if you play a C in the regular open position, try capoing the guitar at the 3rd and using an A-shape or at the 5th with a G-shape etc. Worth trying out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Language Of Music

Ok, so obviously I'm on a bit of a recording kick and I've been doing some research into recording and mixing techniques. I've been using YouTube as a major resource, as it seems to be the repository of everything musical. A few days ago I came across a number of clips taken from a documentary entitled "Tom Dowd and the Language of Music". In case you didn't know, Mr Dowd was a legend in the field of music recording and production, his career spanning from the single mic days of the 40s through to the multitrack DAWs of today. He recorded many major talents, ranging from from John Coltrane to the Allman Brothers.

The clips piqued my interest, so I grabbed a DVD of the show off eBay for a few quid. Whilst it didn't give much technical information on the actual recording process, it was interesting to learn about the history of technical advancement and first hand anecdotes from such luminaries as Eric Clapton and Ray Charles as well as Mr Dowd himself.

I'm not going to claim that I'm a massive fan of all Tom Dowd's work. In particular, I've never been crazy about the way he recorded the Allman Brothers. Of all their albums, my favourite from a production perspective is their first, self-titled offering (produced, I believe, by Adrian Barber). In fairness, though, that may be more down to the band themselves. As Dickey Betts says, himself, in one interview segment, the Allmans liked to record songs as a performance. Had they chosen to record each part separately, they could have got a much cleaner, more commercial sound. And, of course, you can't exactly fault the taping of the Fillmore East shows!

Of particular interest to me was Tom's work on the Layla album, which I've always loved for it's simple yet moving sound. I won't claim that I actually learned much from the show, but it was very cool to watch Mr D twiddle knobs and push faders on the original cuts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

DC Offset

Okay, so today I'm feeling like a bit of a maroon. I think I've sussed what my "problem" is when recording my acoustic via Reaper.

Last night I recorded a section of heavy air (ok, that was a bad Grateful Dead reference)... actually, I recorded a few seconds with the microphone turned off. Even though I wasn't actually recording anything, I still saw what looked like noise on the waveform. I zoomed in. It wasn't noise, it was a constant zero offset. Recording for real I got some hiss but it was superimposed over the offset. What I'd been doing to remove the hiss was to heavy-handedly cut with filters to remove both the actual noise and the offset. A bit of googling came up with the phenomenon of "DC offset". I should have recognised this from my physics O-level rather than assuming I was seeing noise. By the looks of it, Goldwave automatically removes DC offset, which is why it doesn't show on the waveform. Now I need to either figure out how to remove DC offset within Reaper (I'm 99% sure there'll be a way) or I need to just open each track in Goldwave, remove the offset then save back to Reaper. Just a few clicks and bingo.

DC offset to one side (ha-ha), I obviously still get some hiss when mic-ing, which is mostly an issue with a low signal to noise ratio. That's where ReaFIR comes in.

ReaFIR is a Reaper VST plug-in which does a number of things, one of which is noise reduction. It's pretty simple to use. You record a few seconds of "silence" (hiss) before or after playing. You then use ReaFIR in "subtract" mode to sample the noise and remove those specific frequencies. Obviously you're likely to kill some of the good signal, too, but you can choose how much noise reduction you want to get the right balance of cleanup vs sonic joy. Goldwave has a similar "clipboard noise print" noise reduction feature, but ReaFIR's a bit more controllable.

So, I think I now have the know-how to record clean signals!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Boo Hiss

Last night I had a sneaky tinker with the mic/Reaper hiss problem I have. Quick recap: recording using my Sony condenser mic through other digital recording applications I get a nice clean, bright signal with no noise. Recording through Reaper, the sound quality is noticably degraded, with quite a lot of hiss. I tried pressing most of the buttons I could think of in the DAW but to no avail. I'm the first to admit that I DO NOT UNDERSTAND much of what goes on in Reaper. I'm still a novice user, really.

Having done a bit more internet research I think I've come up with two more things I can try. First off, to try and fix the problem at the source (again), I'm going to have a go at varying the sample rate. Apparently, it the mic and DAW's sampling rates are out of whack, this can cause a degredation in sound quality.

I'm hoping that option works (but I'm not hopeful). It makes sense that this is a potential cause, but...

If I can't fix the source then I'm going to have a go at using ReaFIR, a VST plug-in which supposedly includes a good noise-reduction tool. If that works then at least I'll be able to record something acoustically. Ironically, recording Red isn't so much as a problem, as the signal to noise ratio is very signal heavy when you rock out!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bad Recording

So, I had a brief go at recording my acoustic last night.

As it's a simple, yet lovely tune I decided to use "Lesson Learned" by Ray Lamontagne. If you've not heard then I strongly suggest YouTubing/LastFM-ing it. Ray's songs are all very simple but really well written. The guy has a way with words, that's for sure.

Anywho. The track starts out about as simple as can be. It's just a bit of a strum on Am, C & F with and a little melody line over the top. I thought it'd be easy to get a decent sound. It wasn't.

The first problem, and, I guess, the fundamental one, was that I couldn't get a decent dry recording. For whatever reason, there was loads of noise and way too much low end. Interestingly, I used the exact same techniques (mic placement etc) that I had in the past. The main difference was that instead of recording using Goldwave, I used Reaper. Switching back to Goldwave I got a much cleaner signal, BUT, there's no way I'm going back to recording outside a DAW, so... I guess I need to tinker with my configuration. The two programs clearly use different audio drivers. Goldwave works alongside anything, whereas if you run any other audio prog (even YouTube via IE), the sound output from Reaper cuts out.

On top of that, I made the rookie error of trying to compensate with effects, ending up with an artificial sounding strum-a-long and heavy-handed reverb on the melody.

Still, this blog isn't about getting it right every time, so, here's what I got, warts and all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Under The Covers

So, I'm thinking to record a couple of covers, one acoustic, one electric. I deliberately selected tracks which are light on instrumentation, so that I could try my hand at recording tracks which need as little processing as possible. I'm hoping to do some vox over the top, too. Watch this space!

On the current shortlist in the acoustic category are:
"Let's Stay Together" (Al Green)
"Lessons Learned" (Ray Lamontagne)

And for electric:
"Outside Woman Blues" (Cream)
Plus anything by the Black Keys, for example "Thickfreakness"!

There are a few other songs in the extended shortlist, but for now I'll keep it simple.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I've started to read up a bit on mixing. Back before I discovered Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), specifically "Reaper", I used to record all tracks to separate audio files then layer them up as I went along. This meant that as soon as I'd combined two sources, for example drums and rhythm guitar, that part of the mix was set in stone. For obvious reasons, I never really stood a chance of getting a good mix.

Now that I have Reaper, I can record all the tracks independently then add effects, EQ, compress etc on the fly. Even so, my first few attempts at mixing haven't been exactly stellar. From what I've been reading, I need to consider the following options, amongst others:

1) Look at individual tracks and figure out how to EQ them so as to leave "frequency holes" for the other tracks. Basically, if you have two tracks which are biassed heavily towards the same frequencies then they're going to overlap and you won't get separation between them. I was watching some vids on mixing on YouTube and it really surprised me how tinny some guitar tracks sounded in isolation, but which sounded great when in the mix. I guess selective EQ of parts of tracks is another thing to consider.

2) Don't get too precious about hearing every nuance of the rhythm section. It's all very well to record beautiful strummy stuff but sometimes it's the screaming guitars that need to take centre stage. Another tip on the rhythm side was to record the backing in two takes and to pan each take left/right accordingly, giving a fuller sound.

3) Volume. Use volume envelopes to push back sections that need to be tamed

4) Panning. Possibly the simplest way to gain separation in a stereo mix. Obviously doesn't work so well with mono!

5) Reverb. Perhaps not the most subtle of tools, but one way to make instruments sit better in the mix.

All the above are untested, with the exception of panning. I need to have a play! It might be interesting to record a track then see how different it sounds once I've tweaked it.

In other news, I've been having a bit of a direction crisis. Initially I'd thought that maybe I should stick to recording stuff I could play with a band. Currently, I don't want to be in a band with two guitarists, BUT, I actually want to lay down some melodic tracks with both lead and rhythm. For now I'm not going to limit myself, so watch this space.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One Way Noodle

Decided to make a start on the recording front. Took the main riff from the Allman Brothers' (and those before them) "One Way Out" and screwed around for a bit.

Lead is just Red straight into my Blackstar combo with a few of the magic buttons pressed. Bass is the clean channel, Red again, with an octave pitch-shift plug-in. Drums courtesy of EZ Drummer.

It's all just plug-and-play, really!

So, here it is, the inaugural noise from "Recording Red"!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mobile Recording

I've included a list of what I consider "serious" equipment over on the sidebar. What I haven't given, however, is a run-down of stuff I find useful (or hope to find useful) for taking musical "notes", recording ideas and so on.

Followers of my old blog, "the Fillmore Five Project", will know that in a pinch, when in need of a drum machine during rehearsals, I've used my iPhone as a sub. In terms of Apps, I've used iSequence, Instant Drummer and iDrum interchangeably. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Overall, as a plug-and-play solution, I'd say that Instant Drummer has been the most user friendly.

The other piece of kit that's been invaluable during rehearsals has been my Tascam DR-1 personal digital recorder. You just click record, set it down and Bob's your uncle, it records your session. Well, as long as you remember to check the batteries, that is [cough].

Historically, on sunny days (in London!?!) I'd pack up one of my electrics and take myself out to a park for a jam, using a VOX Classic Rock Amplug. That was okay for solo w**king in public but wasn't much use as a songwriting tool.

A few weeks ago I saw an advert for the AmpliTube app and iRig guitar connector and I decided to treat myself. The concept is a hardware/software solution that lets you plug your guitar into your iPhone via an adapter then rock out using virtual amp modellers and stomp boxes. Like the Amplug, it's fun and cool but it's not that useful in the real world as there's no facility to record.

And then I had a "Eureka" moment. Back when I first got my iPhone I forked out for an app called MultiTrack, a decently featured DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The potential to record and manipulate multiple channel on the go was what attracted me. The big problem, however, was getting the signal into the iPhone. Apple's clever little baby comes with a neat "is it a headphone or is it a line-in" socket. Unfortunately, it's wired up strangely, meaning that you can't just plug any old mic into it. Because of this, MultiTrack was pretty much useless to me.

Then I realised that with the iRig adapter, I could now access the input to the iPhone and hence use MultiTrack! I had a brief play, using my electro-acoustic and Bingo! It worked.

Granted the quality isn't great, but as a songwriting or portable demo-making tool it has potential. For more on MultiTrack, check out Harmonic Dog's website, here.