13 February 2006

noises from the basement...volume one

so the first project done completely in my home studio is now finished, duplicated, and will soon be available for purchase.

i've been busy working on the poco album - with the objective of having something mixable to give to them when i saw them this past week, which i accomplished. i finished a rough mix of "childs' claim to fame" and gave it to them over a week ago...and so last night, when we played together in phoenixville, they called me up on stage to do the song with them. so i'm assuming that they must've liked it....

anyway, i've been considering this idea - ever since i started this blog, really - of recording some things specifically for the purpose of discussing them here...in terms of how they were recorded, what i did to get specific sounds, things of that nature...and calling it noises from the basement, but it didn't seem like reason enough to actually release something. but as i started thinking about it, i remembered how iain matthews and his series of live alone albums...which are essentially solo acoustic albums that he recorded himself and released as fan club-type deals. and then there are my friends in simon apple who release demos, live tracks, and rarities and such...and i thought, there's a cool way to do this.

so i thought, ok - if i'm going to release stuff that i recorded in the home studio, i'm going to do it warts-and-all, and have them be what they are - demos, unreleased stuff, live tracks - things that would have never seen the light of day otherwise. the only reason for releasing something that had already been on an "official" release would be if the version were drastically different than what was on the album. i wouldn't let myself get completely caught up in making them "perfect"...because if that's the motivation, then the songs belong on an "official" album. these are supposed to be things recorded on a lark, for fun, or songs that made it to the recording stage but wouldn't see the light of day on an official release.

also, i didn't want to create the impression that i was throwing these out into the world to cash in on them...so to that end, i've decided to donate part of what i take in from the sales of these discs to charity...the first benefactor to be the grace oughton cancer foundation.

so...to this end, i'm releasing noises from the basement, volume one through my new label partner, it's about music, within the next week or so. it contains ten songs - three originals that have never been released among covers of songs by artists from shane nicholson to pure prairie league. there are studio tracks interspersed with live tracks, interspersed with demos that predate our mutual angels. on each track on the album, every instrument you hear is played by yours truly - every single one. all vocals as well. that will not be a hard and fast rule moving forward, but it's entirely likely to be the case in almost every instance that isn't a live, full band situation.

i would like to take a minute to talk about it's about music and the job they've done in making this disc available.

i conceived this project as it currently stands roughly two weeks ago. not even that, really. i'd say the middle of the week before last. i called dean sciarra, the president of the label, about their cd-on-demand service and how it worked, and what their turnaround times were - all the usual initial questions. i had already spoken with dean at length about the poco project, and he's shown a great deal of interest in that particular release...and he was more than willing to help with this project, as well. in fact, he went well above and beyond the call of duty to get this project not only ready for release, but ready for release in record time.

how fast?

this fast - he received the artwork on tuesday, the master recording on thursday, and the finished, shrink-wrapped CD's were available for sale at the colonial theatre show on friday night.

i'm not sure i can even speak to what a huge difference that is in the ordeal that i went through with the artwork design and packaging process on mutual angels alone...

i'm looking forward to a long and rewarding relationship with dean sciarra and company in the future...there'll be another noises from the basement volume coming up at years' end, as well as the poco tribute album this spring...and the first album of all-original music in nine years this fall.

and you can probably look forward to lots of rants about what a pain in the ass home recording is in this particular space as i dig deeper into these projects....true to the spirit of this particular journal, there'll be a track by track dissection of the first volume of noises in the not too distant future.

05 February 2006

the first rough mix

went to see the boys from poco last night in lancaster, pa, where they were appearing with america on the Legends Who Lost A Founding Member To God Tour (not the official marketing angle, just my personal nickname).

i thought i'd summon some oft-neglected courage and burn a copy of something to take along with me...alphabetically, the closest to completion was "child's claim to fame", so i dumped that onto discs and gave one to each of the band members after the show. it still has the scratch vocal and the original guitar on it, but it was a decent mix. there's a few things to be added to it yet, but i think it sounds pretty close to what it's going to sound like (minus the harmonies at this point).

paul cotton is back with the band and sounding better than ever.

this friday, i'm opening for poco at the colonial theatre in phoenixville with my band.

there's another project i'm hoping to have finished by then as well...which i'll talk more about a little later....either here or over at the official site.

01 February 2006

snare drums and the men who love them

so what exactly is it with snare drums?

it's funny - you hear them on a record, and you'd think that nothing could be easier to record...i mean, i've been in situations where less-than-desirable sounds originating from the drum itself have been made to sound like the hammer of the gods...so you wouldn't think that it'd be that difficult to coax a decent recorded tone out of the kit in my studio.



well, let's put it this way - it's taken a lot longer than i'd prefer that it take to get this phase of the record on its feet and underway. i do understand now, in a way that perhaps i didn't before, what must go into getting a solid, tight drum sound in the studio.

all i've ever really been privvy to in my time as a musician, in terms of getting the drums from point A to point B in the studio, is the setup, tuning, and miking of the kit. and from everything i've read, these three steps are certainly the most important. but there are two other considerations that i'm finding to be potentially crippling if you don't prepare for them - compression settings and phase issues.

compression is still something of a mystery to me.

(i can hear the pros moaning to themselves now..."ohhhhboy - is this poor bastard ever in for it....")

and yet, it's true...i know the principles behind compression, what its purpose is, all that...but ratios and attack and release times are all greek to me. i know, from listening to the sound as i adjust those particular properties, what result to expect when i adjust a particular parameter...but the mechanics of how it works and what it does is over my head at the moment. i know that the primary function is to keep a signal from exceeding a threshold set by the user, and that if used creatively, it colors the sound a certain way.

there. that's really about it, in terms of what i know. those two things.

now, where this gets interesting in the context of a solo recording environment is when you start trying to put even those two simple principles into practice.

in my own scenario, i have the recording equipment in one room and the drumkit in another. i initially set out to mic the drums using the audix mics that came in my audix six pack that i got from a fellow tape-opper a while back...and for the most part, the kick and the toms sound pretty good, right out of the box. however, the overheads were a little washed out, and i wasn't getting any signal out of one of them...the hi-hats got an SM57 on them, which turned out to be largely unnecessary, save for a little added presence, and i used one of the audix mics on the snare, initially.

now, the snare exhibited this nasty, nasal ringing tone at first - and that's after applying deadener around the rim and taping a rolled up piece of tube sock to the edge of the head.

so, i resorted to the reggie treece treatment, and i got a shop rag and covered the head with it and taped it down.

that got rid of the ring well enough. still, though, even though i could hear the drum in the room and knew that it had plenty of the snares in the overall sound of the drum, and that it wasn't hurting for snap at all...but it sure as hell wasn't translating to tape that way. in fact, it sounded largely like cardboard. like cardboard with no snares on it. it was just this faint thud with zero character....and even with the treble boosted all the way, the snares were almost unintelligible. it really sounded like a tightly tuned high tom.

so the first thing i did was to double-mic the snare...i put an SM57 on it as a companion to the audix mic that was already on it, and ran it into a different channel on the console, and a different track on the ADAT. i got roughly the same result, which surprised me, because i was ready to blame the mic.

i should probably backtrack a bit and interject that i used a test CD that i downloaded from the internet to tune the monitors with a pair of Rane EQ's as a temporary fix to having a somewhat crappy and inaccurate power amp running my monitors - so i've been operating on the assumption that what i'm monitoring through the speakers is significantly more accurate than what i've been accustomed to.

however, what i found last night - after spending some time working on the DAW in the studio and getting a little closer to having it run with some modicum of stability - is that after i imported the tracks into the DAW with samplitude, they seemed to come to life.

what - what, i ask - does this mean?

the preliminary conclusions i can draw, up to this point, are these:

one - the board is doing a decent job of getting the audio from the mic stage to the record stage of the adats, otherwise what i'm hearing from the PC would be a lot more similar to what my monitors are telling me. but there's a seriously audible difference between the two.

two - once the audio has entered the digital realm via the ADAT, i don't have to worry about inconsistencies between the audio after that point in the signal path. what's going into the computer, in other words, is exactly what's coming off the ADAT's and back through the monitoring chain (console inputs, amp, speakers).

three - i've done some of the outtakes from the blake allen album both ways - both by mixing the ADAT's directly to the PC through the console and monitoring through the PC speakers, and by importing the ADAT audio digitally into the PC and mixing it "in the box". in both of those instances, i got what i felt was a pretty accurate representation of the contents of the tracks. so it can't be established - in fact, it can be all but ruled out - that the input stage of the console is where the issue lies.

so...what the hell is it, then?

let's recap.


probably not. i replaced what i believed to be defective monitors with a set of alesis monitor ones from eBay not long after setting up, and i have sufficient reason to believe that there's absolutely nothing wrong with them. i have friends whose opinion i respect who use them shamelessly, so i'm not ready to point at them.

power amp

still my personal favorite target of blame...it's a tascam PA-40 (?) that was a companion piece to a cassette 4-track that i got from a former manager, and it got the job by default when it came time to set this whole rig up. i never would've thought that it would have been a problem to the magnitude that it's become, if it in fact is the root of all this head-scratching. i thought, though, that i'd corrected the misrepresentation issue somewhat when i "calibrated" the speakers a while back.

oddly - as a secondary thought - the other instruments sounded relatively normal, in comparison to the drums.


gaining on the power amp, in terms of positioning on the suspicion scale - is something wired wrong? do i have a problem with a buss? do i have something plugged in backwards? am i monitoring from the wrong output? is it a summing issue?


my head hurts.