Friday, September 30, 2011

Post Mortem

So, here is my personal post-mortem of the first Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert.

My biggest worry about this show was that I wouldn't have fun. This has been a problem for me in the past -- where I've been so stressed out that I'm just trying to hold it together for the duration of the set and all I want to do is get it over with. If that had happened it would have sucked.
I have a memory of playing with Pavlov and the Drooling Dogs in Stanhope, New Jersey in 1985? '86? .. or wait. Maybe not. Wasn't there a venue up in Dover or somewhere? It was a huge place. Anyway, I remember playing there once and thinking "I spend all month gearing up for how awesome this is to play live, and now that I'm here I'm miserable just hoping the band won't fall apart. I'm going to enjoy myself instead." It worked and I enjoyed the rest of the set.

So that's what I did with T-mouse too. By the time we went up to play I was done with stressing over the sound system and the projections and whether we'd get stills taken and if the lights would dip down properly, and just enjoy myself. So that's the number one thing. I had a good time. Other than that, here are my thoughts:

1. Costumes worked great
Everyone, even the initially resistant band, agrees on that. They look great.
2. Guitar volume is hard to control
I've gotten myself set up such that my guitars are very responsive. Which means that the volume controls on the guitars do a lot. But setting the volumes can be very tricky because just a little bit of turning goes a long way. And it can be incredibly difficult to see exactly where the volume is turned to, so you basically have to play and listen. In a live situation that can be difficult. I almost wish the volume controls were stepping potentiometers (which would make volume swells impossible but that's just how things are). Anyway, that's something I have to figure out.
3. The video projector is mighty dim
This might be because the lamp is going. And/or it may be that we had the stage lights up for shooting video. In any case it would be nice to have a projector which could put out a whole lot of light as well as spread it over a short distance. That sounds like it'll cost money. We don't have money. So it'll have to wait.
4. It's hard to keep the volume under about 80dB SPL
The guitar amps, as you can even see from the picture above, are turned way down (the volumes are the last two knobs on the right). And the guitars really start to sing when they're up just a bit louder.
5. Why hasn't Ethan been playing electric stand-up bass all this time?
It sounds awesome. Infinite sustain. Plus as an added bonus Ethan plays fretless with a lot of taste (which is unusual for a bass player. ;-)
6. The keyboards are a good situation with the laptops
We're using laptops to generate the sounds (electric piano and Hammond). Look down below somewhere for the formulae. They sound fantastic. We might look into getting something other than a bass amp for the keyboards though.
I don't know what's going to happen with volume control. Right now Arie is using one volume pedal. Will he use two? Who knows?
7. I need a guitar stand.
I managed to knock over the Les Paul during the first song because it was leaning against my guitar cabinet. Not my best moment. Right up until we were about to play I was going to play the entire show on my Blattocaster but then Greg Bartus said "You're not going to play your Les Paul?" and so I had to have the Les Paul there too. But to switch guitars I will ultimately need a guitar stand. And, let's face it, a guitar tech too. Gimme one.

More things from my notebook

Here's some more stuff where this blog is my internet notebook.
The Studio is a rehearsal studio in Manhattan.

John Marshall Media is the company of my ol' buddy John Cheary. You know the last time I saw John? I believe it was the blackout of 2003. I had just gotten off an elevator. No, that's not right. The blackout happened just before I got on an elevator.

Harrison Consoles makes the Mixbuss -- a DAW for only $149.

The SIX Rights (not 5)

This is my new favorite picture of me.
Payola doesn't make very much sense to me. The economics aren't right. Firstwise, a record company can indeed pay a radio station to play their songs -- I believe the only restriction is that they have to announce "This hour brought to you by Arista Records" or whatever. The illegal part is when someone pays a disk jockey or program director directly to play their songs. But the bigger issue is that the advertising revenue on radio stations is vastly higher than any "payola" they might receive. Here's a fairly out-of-date list of stations in New York.*
My point is that if you paid a radio station (say) $30,000 to play your song (through an "independent promoter) and they lost enough listeners to lose just a fraction of their advertising revenue, it wouldn't be financially viable for them. If you're bringing in $1400 for a 30-second spot, that's a lot of change to be hanging on adding some song nobody wants to actually hear.
+++++
Hey -- I've been saying all along that there are 5 rights associated with the creation of a new piece of music. Nowadays it's actually 6. Tunecore has an ideological commitment to telling you this. Because now it's all about the digital rights, baby.

* Admittedly, NYC has the worst radio in the US outside of Los Angeles.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Live Pictures More

More from our man David Frey.
Andrew Bellware (guitar) and Lou Clark (drums).
The dashing Arie Uyterlinde in his three-corner hat (keyboards).


Ethan Rosenblatt on the upright electric bass.

Lou Clark.

More Lou Clark!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Video

This is us, just playing the first half of the Mouseverture.

And yup the second two chords I play are wrong. But I'd made the deliberate decision by the second part of the first bar to not care about any of that and just have fun.

Yup, there's more

This picture was actually stitched together in Gimp using a stitching-together script called Pandora. The whole band (taken by David Frey). That's Andrew Bellware, Lou Clark, Ethan Rosenblatt, and Arie Uyterlinde.
Shortly thereafter yes, I did knock over the Les Paul behind me. It suffered no damage however. At least none I would admit to myself. ;-)

Tyrannosaurus Live Mouse

David Frey took these pictures. First -- the empty stage before the show.

And here with the rock added. Andrew Bellware, Lou Clark, Ethan Rosenblatt, and Arie Uyterlinde.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Options


One Last Rehearsal

So last night we rehearsed at Theatresource for our Tuesday show. We were... stunningly bad. That's to be expected, of course, of the last rehearsal before a show.
The projection didn't work at all. Why? Well, as it turns out QLab decided to unpatch the video outputs when I swapped in a projector. I should have seen that coming. But I didn't and I was too frazzled to troubleshoot it, get the sound system working, and my guitar rig working.
Right here is where I would put a picture of us rehearsing, looking very groovy. But the guys refused to put on their costumes for the dress rehearsal.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New Order

A still from Tyrannosaurus Mouse starring Melissa Riker.

  1. Mouseverture
  2. Mercury
  3. Narwal Song
  4. Arabesque
  5. Jabberwocky
  6. Ice Maiden
  7. One Last Drink
  8. Reprise
This looks to seem to be the order of the songs we're playing on Tuesday the 27th at 7:30pm at Manhattan Theatre Source.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I updated the keyboards to Mouseverture. I can't say that this is the definitive version, but it replicates the version Arie played on an earlier chorus. So we'll see. Note that this is the un-limited version of the song.
But that's not what's important right now.
What is important is the song order and what we do in-between songs.
1. Preshow video
2. Announcement
3. Mouseverture video
  • Mouseverture
  • Mercury
4. Mercury video
  • One Last Drink
  • Ice Maiden
  • Arabesque
  • Jabberwocky
  • Narwal Song

I'm incredibly disappointed we don't have a fan dance. I feel like I've really let everyone down. What I do have is some psychedelic video and a pre-recorded announcement.

Monday, September 19, 2011

At least she didn't name and publish the post.

My brother Dave says we remind him of "It's a Beautiful Day".
We have a lot of thanks to give out for this show.
Ron Sharpe of Tale of Two Cities
Scott Hirshon, my old childhood friend, for the loan of recording gear.
Vincent Marano, without whom we wouldn't be playing tonight.
I should not leave my blog edit window open when my sister is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Re-Complifying

At this point I have to figure out what is too complicated about the upcoming Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert. Because honestly, rather than dealing with technical issues I ought to be practicing guitar.
The following are strictly my own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of anybody else in the band. I'm just thinking out loud here.
A still of the Tyrannosaurus Mouse psychedelic video.
  • YES Video projection is all but a no-brainer. Meaning we can do it. The video isn't synced to anything. 
  • NO Recording. This is actually fairly a big pain to deal with. I would love to dump trying to make a recording. We could do a recording at Ethan's house instead. I suspect I'm the only one who has this opinion.
  • YES Audio playback. We have to use Qlab. Firstwise we have the wonderful announcement. Also there are some places where we could, er, have a guitar part just come in from Qlab. That is, if I learn to play the guitar leads in those places.
  • NO Footswitch triggering of audio playback. I would love to have a USB footswitch in order to trigger Qlab. There aren't a lot of USB foot switches out there with software for Macs. There are options to take a regular sustain-pedal - type switch and turn them into MIDI (for which you'd have to have a MIDI interface, which I do, but don't want to deal with). Actually, there are a number of options like USB to 1/8" jack interfaces although it does end up being a tad Franken-cable-y when you do so. I think we might just have someone else trigger the "GO" button on Qlab this time. No fancy-pants triggering. That's my vote for this particular show.
  • YES Costumes. That seems to be mostly taken care of. Arie is the only one for whom we do not yet have a jacket but I hope to solve that over this weekend. And of course Lou can't wear a jacket while playing so I'm going to try to get him into a nice 19th-Century vest we had on Solar Vengeance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Experience



My experience making this album was very enlightening. I learned a lot of things. I learned -- and re-learned -- many things.
Recording
Firstwise a good, nay, a great drummer is key. Having a drummer who makes his drums sound great is important. Drums are a strange instrument. It's intuitive, for instance, to think of something like a violin as needing a better player in order to make the violin sound better. But a drummer is just hitting things with sticks. Everybody's hit things with sticks since they were two. But for whatever reason, goodness gracious, get yourself a drummer who hits things musically. It's stunningly hard to do.
But once you have a good drummer, life gets very very easy. No, really. If you're really fighting all day long with mic placement and trying to get that right sound (from an engineer's perspective), you probably have a crappy drummer. If, like us, you have a drummer who makes the drums just sing, then it's easy to get a recording down and a mix.
My old guitar teacher, Dean Powell, said to me that great - sounding records were made by "Good instruments played by good players." So this thing about drums can just be extrapolated to all the other members of the band.
Here's another thing that really works out for me. When I wonder about my guitar sound, I just look at the bass player. Ethan will clue me in to the direction I should go in. Frequently one is listening to oneself so much that one gets completely lost. "Does this sound good or not?" It's really helpful to have players say "Yeah, that's not too distorted in that part, but you could lose some of the upper mids" or whatever.
Arie, as really the best guitar player in the band, will also have a lot to offer.
I learned a long time ago that recording using great mic preamps solves a lot of your troubles. You have a problem with the way something sounds? Put it through something expensive (as Alan Douches says). And a mic preamp is a great way to start.
Indeed, when you have

  • good music being played by
  • good musicians on
  • good instruments going through a
  • good mic preamp

You're in good shape. I don't even care about the microphone at that point. You're in good shape. (Recording with a good microphone and using a good A/D converter is better though.)
With this album we were going for "traditional" rock and roll sounds. The keyboards were as exotic as distorted electric piano and Hammond organ with a Leslie. There's a reason people like those tones -- they're very usable. They mix well with the guitars.
The guitars went through very old-school amplifiers. Not too distorted. In fact, some of my favorite singing lead sounds are very not distorted. They're clean but have a nice "bloom" to them.
As always, the vocals were compressed to within an inch of their lives. Plus I put fancy-pants analog-simulated delays put on them. And don't think I didn't autotune my vocals because I sure did.
Mixing
Then we went to Trax East and we didn't spend time micro-managing and fiddling with the mixes. Thankfully. We just brought up the faders on the "poor-man's Neve" Neotek console and sure enough -- 90% of the mix was there. Because of all the work getting ourselves to that place, mixing on the Neotek involved almost no EQ work and fader riding.
The other thing that made the mix process easier is that Eric's monitors are phenomenal. They are very transparent. They'll tell you exactly what needs to happen -- if the guitar is too loud or the bass is too muddy. You won't be touching the wrong fader because you're confused about whether the keyboards are making the bass too muddy or whatever -- you know what's happening in the mix.
So we mixed quietly (monitors turned down) and quickly. That was kind of awesome.
Well, can we mix our own records without going to another studio to do it? Probably. Should we? Absolutely not.

Songkick

So, I signed up with Songkick. So that we could promote the Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert.
In the meantime, check out this new DAW by Harrison (yes, that Harrison.) At $159 and it works on Linux and Mac (soon to be PC) it's an excellent deal.
I would love to have my guitar amp controls be more adjustable. It's hard to do with only two hands. Now, what I really need is a babysitter -- someone to do all the guitar tech work and change all my settings and hand me guitars in-between songs. So check out the Tone in Progress 3rd Hand. This looks to me as though it could control a guitar amp -- if the amp were sitting on the floor down there with your pedals.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Announcement

When we perform, we need to be announced, no?
Well we will be.
James Michael Armstrong announces the Mouse.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Live!

That's right, Tyrannosaurus Mouse will be playing live!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011
at
177 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10011

With
A Benefit for Theatresource
Tickets only $10

There's even a Facebook Event for it!

I Don't Want To Be The Fat Mouse

We had our first rehearsal in over a year last night. Not surprisingly, we sucked. I doubt, however, that any of us think we aren't going to be good (or at least as good as we get) when we do our show on the 28th Tuesday September 27th.

We played in Ethan's living room. We were relatively quiet. Ethan played his electric upright, which has some amazing sustain. I played on a couple small amps of Ethan's. Lou has this little Tama cocktail kit which he played with those quiet drum sticks. Arie has a Korg we borrowed from Tale of Two Cities running into some software on his laptop (see post below).

We were quiet enough for me to sing without a PA. I did not, of course, sing well. But it did make sense. And we didn't have to wear earplugs.

Lou drew caricatures of us as mice. I was, unfortunately, the fat mouse. They're excellent caricatures. They're mice, playing bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums. The guitar - playing mouse is the fattest. I don't want to be the fat mouse. I could lose weight. Or I could ask Lou to draw me thinner. Guess which one I did.

This is a damp koala.
Various plans have gone in various directions. The plan to mix the entire album in one day? That one worked. The plan to bring three amplifiers (two cabinets) to Ethan's house in order to practice with exactly the same gear I'll be using for the show? Not so much.
I could get real comfortable playing at reasonable volumes though. That's especially nice.

Coolness

The Delicate Cutters are cool. Their record company, Skybucket Records, is cool. I'm really enjoying this album.
+++++
I can't figure out how to intelligently record Electric Sheep. Neither, apparently, can anyone else. CamStudio seems to be my best bet. But I'm making uncompressed .avi's only to have to transcode them to ProRes files (at least I think that's what I'm going to do.)
+++++
I saw Azania Steady last week. She has an amazing voice. Plus, bonus points! She's Maduka's sister!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Mixing Day

We mixed from noon to 8pm on Sunday (including getting some delicious Mexican food) with the amazing Eric Rachel at Trax East Studios.
That's right, we mixed the entire album in one 8-hour day.
What did I learn from the experience? These things:

  • We had the whole band present for the mix. Honestly, I'd never done that before. It was nice having other people's opinions on things. Plus, with our band it meant that we didn't take a lot of time discussing things, we just did them and by-and-large, agreed.
  • I have been way over-exposed to the whole album for the past year. I have somewhere near no distance. I was thinking "just let Eric mix the record". Indeed, Eric did just mix a few songs. But you really can't tell which ones we all had hands on, and which he just did himself.
  • Ethan had a fairly strong hand in mixing the record. This was awesome. Remember that he had come in at some point in the last few months in order to make selects and decisions regarding his bass tracks. This was relatively early in the process (after we'd recorded, but before mixing). But in the final mix he had a number of ideas with the levels and EQ of the drums (mostly snare and kick) and levels. 
  • I was worried about too heavily "effecting" the guitars, vocals, and keyboards. Nobody complained about there being too much compression on any of them. And the effects on the guitars and vocals were very heavy. We added no additional compression to the vocals in the mix. I'm happy that my decisions did not result in egregious yukkityness once we got to mixing.
  • Ethan has a strong "Ask the drummer what he thinks of the sound"-type ethos regarding the mix. This is counter to the way I usually think, which is to get a consensus about sounds from everyone or get the opinion of a neutral third party. I'm not saying that one way is better than the other, it's just interesting and informative. By and large, Ethan prevailed. For instance: if Arie hated a keyboard part, Ethan's attitude was "If Arie hates it, we should delete it."
  • I made one big error. A huge section of the keyboard tracks for the Mouseverture was out of sync. But, in my defense, it was out of sync for about six months and nobody in the band noticed it. What we had to do is mix the song both with and without the keyboards. Then I went back and fixed the edit and re-exported just the keyboard track. I think I have fixed them to the band's liking. We'll find out. 
  • We used very little in the way of outboard effects in the final mix. Which doesn't mean there aren't a lot of effects in the tracks But all of the delays and reverb on guitar, vocals, and keyboards were composited into the final mixing tracks from within Samplitude. This included a fair bit of compression.
  • I hadn't pre-compressed the bass at all. But we did add software-based "1176"-type compression to the bass in the final mix. It was very light.
  • The kick and the snare went through (what else?) a couple DBX 160's. I believe that no other specific compression was used for the drums. The rest of the drums just saw the master mix compressor(s).
  • The guitars got a little bit of software 1176's. 
  • We fired up Eric's Lexicon 480 -- mostly because I wanted to fire it up. A tiny bit of snare and sometimes keyboards went and got a bit wet with some reverb. 
  • Eric has a great trick -- he rolls off two mixes simultaneously. One mix just has a SSL-clone compressor on it, the other mix has the SSL-clone and an analog PL2 peak limiter and a software multiband (Waves L3? maybe?) When we take the mix to mastering we just use the lesser-compressed mix. But for listening, of course, everyone likes the super-limited and compressed mix.
Here are the mixes with all the multitude of compressors. They aren't yet mastered, but honestly they sound pretty close to the way they will when mastered. 

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Mouseverture

Mercury

One Last Drink

Ice Maiden

Arabesque


Jabberwocky

Narwal Song

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lobsterscope!

From Soma Magazine:

"One night, I got drunk with Chance [Shirley, the band’s drummer] and Brian [Moon, the band’s bass player] and started arguing about The Replacements. Chance said we should start a band and we did.”
+++++
So today Ethan, when I wrote to him about the psychedelic videos I'm making, casually mentioned Lobsterscope. Lobsterscope!

What could be more awesome than lobsterscope?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mix like it's 66

I went to high school with Tim Brown. Now he's a DJ on Worldcast Radio. He's DJTEI1013.
MsTickle Arts -- burlesque!
++++
Today I am cleaning tracks for our big mixing session on Sunday. That's right we're going to mix the entire Tyrannosaurus Mouse album in one day. We're going to mix like it's 1966. Or, as Lou pointed out, "Mix like 66".
I just discovered a pretty egregious error in one of my guitar tracks. I'm glad I caught it. Obviously I was playing with compression on a sub-mix buss for the lead guitars and I'd squashed them into some fairly unpleasant distortion -- and ran the sub-mix of that guitar off as a finished, ready-to-be-mixed track. Egads!

Robot Christmas video concepts

So I came up with a little ditty called Robot Christmas . And it amuses me. The first verse is about evil robots. They are waiting for t...