Friday, November 30, 2012

Analog to Digital

One of the few studios in NYC with a Daking console in it is The Maid's Room.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.
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Getting back to the notion of recording I've come up with this signal flow chart.
I'm not entirely sure this makes sense to anyone but me.

The key to this chart is using just gear that I have (or have access to). It's for recording a quartet which is all together in a room. The bleed will be... well it'll be enormous between instruments. There will be no isolation, no ability to fix single notes. We'll be able to fix sections by editing. But if I play a wrong note we'll have to cut in from another portion of the song where I don't mess up.
I think it's perfectly possible for the Samanas to make a very groovy space-rock record which will sound pretty darn good this way.
This is me. Thinking that.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Samana Recording

Greg recorded the rehearsal last night using a Fostex portable recorder and a pair of Shure SM58's.

To me this recording is shockingly good. The 58's were a spaced pair pointed almost straight down on either side of the kick drum (and slightly away from the drums). The bass amp was directly in-between the centerline between the mics, about five feet away. The two guitar amps were on either side.
Greg Bartus and Andrew Bellware recording City Samanas.

Samanaing!

Tonight I played with the City Samanas at their groovy rehearsal time-share space at Smith and 9th in Brooklyn.
I realize these pictures look as though I took some grainy pictures of each of the CS and then composited my ridiculous face on top.
Dave Wolfe and Andrew Bellware.
In fact, it sure doesn't look like I'm playing in any of these pictures. And, of course, I'm not. Because I'm taking pictures. Sheesh.
We had loads of fun. You know, two chords (because after all, who can remember three chords, amirite?) Big, lush, ambient stuff.
Andrew Bellware with Greg Bartus.
I played the SG through the Marshall 800 at the studio (and I used my MXR analog delay).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

All Your 80's Are Belong To Us

Hello? You know what's just straight-up nuts?
Just (seemingly) a few years ago it cost a hundred thousand dollars to get a Fairlight CMI.
And now it's a freakin' app on iTunes. Yeah, it'll work on iPads and iPods. An App.
App.

Even better is that for an additional seventy bucks you can get this keyboard from Akai -- the SynthStation25 -- and dock your iPod Touch in it. So a Fairlight. For less than a hundred bucks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Records, Giants, Fishbowls

Erika Records is a vinyl manufacturing joint out in California.
As of right this minute the notion of straight-ahead stealing riffs from the oeuvre of Gentle Giant seems like a good idea.

This is what 5.1 meters look like when they actually work in Samplitude.
There was a Tyrannosaurus Mouse discussion the other day about how you don't see "fishbowl" baffles around drummers on TV so much these days. And it occurred to me that the reason was the prevalence of in-ear-monitors for singers. The singer's ability to hear themselves = they aren't as concerned about the drum volume onstage so drummers don't have to be surrounded by plexiglass.
Of course, then immediately afterward on Saturday Night Live the band Maroon 5 uses a fishbowl.
Now, they also used IEM's. And they're also one of the best sounding acts on SNL I've heard in a while. The mix was really quite good. I'm not really into Maroon 5 myself but ya gotta admit they sounded pretty good.

More Thinking Out Loud About Drums

It occurs to me, in my own little way, that there's a very amusing notion about recording drums with just a couple microphones. Like maybe four microphones -- two overhead and two in the room. Yes, no separate mic for the kick. And during the course of a song one could fade back and forth between the overheads and the room mics just to create and dynamic change of the acoustical space.
I mean, it's a matter of having a drum kit that sounds great, in a room that sounds great, played by a great drummer, right? Once you have all those things together all you have to do is put a couple mics in front (or above) and record away.
One thing I'd like to do is get away from Neve preamps on drums. I know, I'm a huge fan of Neve. But for drums... my feeling is that they're just too big and pilloughy. I think something with a bit more snap to them like say API preamps might be more like what the doctor ordered.
Maybe close overheads with API's and distant mics with something thicker and tube-ish? There is merit to that.
Making the room mics responsible for the sound of the kick would mean you'd have to have a whole lot of faith in the sound of your kick. I'm thinking that it might be worthwhile to spend all of one's time tuning the drums and not the microphones.
Sigh. Now I wish I'd never sold my API's. Well, the Neves I got to replace them are more useful to me in everyday life though.
And, as I'd already determined, it's easier to go somewhere else to record drums anyway.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Earvana

All my life I've been unhappy with the D chord on a guitar. I'm talking about the chord that's the first one you learn, the one that's a triangle of fingers with an open D string. You know the one.
Thing is, that chord is always out of tune.
Enough so that on recordings sometimes I'll tune the guitar just for the D chord and then punch in on the chord where I need it. Which is, you know, not optimal. I just want the chord to sound in tune. (The other chord which consistently bugs me is an Eb major as a double-barre.)
The problem is that guitars have frets. And the frets are all an equal distance from the nut and the bridge. But the strings are different sizes. And therefore the neck of the guitar is just an average of in-tune-ness. [And that's in relationship even-temperment, which is as good as we could ever pray to get on a guitar.]
So I got my Gibson SG and it sounds great but I didn't like the intonation and I decided it was time to put an Earvana compensated nut on it. I'm too much a fraidy cat to pop the nut off my own guitar so I took it to Matt at 30th Street Guitars here in NYC and had him install the nut and set up the guitar. As always, Matt did an amazing job of setup. (As a side note, he did a different thing to the nut of my Les Paul -- putting a little piece of bone on the G string, which sounds really dirty but really helps with the intonation.)
The installation and setup was $110, more than worth it. The guitar came new with a pretty darn good setup but it's even better now.
A note on the recording: the SG was plugged directly into my Lil' Dawg Amp "Mutt", which then fed a 12" Celestion Alnico Blue. The microphone was an AKG C12a (backed off a couple feet because it really couldn't take the guitar amp levels and I wouldn't have used it except that all my other mics are away right now because of the session we did the other night) into a Neve 1272 preamp and an Apogee Mini-me converter. There is only the slightest bit of compression on the 2-mix buss and other than that there are no effects.
My conclusion?
I've been waiting for this freaking thing my entire life. Yes, it sounds vastly better. The nuts are only $35 for crying out loud.
This is not entirely a proper A/B test (because I was not as careful about the tuning as I was with the Earvana test and there is some delay on the guitar so it's an unfair test) but here's the same guitar from before the installation of the Earvana:

Yeah, this makes a big difference. I don't really know why there's such a prejudice against these nuts. I mean, everybody should use them. That's my take away.
Will I replace the nut on my Les Paul (even though it's been specially modified?) Yes, eventually. Will I replace the nut on my Blattocaster which has the specially made bone nut that Ethan made? Um. Yy... yes. Eventually. (I mean, it's really cool that Ethan cut that himself and installed it and it sounds great it's just that... yeah...)
So that's where I'm at with the Earvana nut.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Drums and Venues

Recording drums is a major pain. Any other individual instrument I can do a perfectly reasonable job of recording here in my studio.
But drums are a very big deal and hard to get right. And the fact is that on a normal album you spend a relatively minimal amount of time actually recording the drums as compared to overdubbing vocals and (for Pete's sake) mixing.
Also, since the advent of the drum machine the number of studios and rooms which are any good for drums has plummeted.
Recording at Stan's the other day has made me think briefly about how Tyrannosaurus Mouse might record drums, if we were to record drums.
A kick and two room mics are all you need, right fellas? Right? Actually and for serious I cannot tell you how awesome a kick and an overhead can sound. With a nice kit and a good room that's all you need. Right?
Who am I trying to convince here?
The fact is that buying the multi-channel converters and preamps and microphones just to record drums doesn't make much sense when you can spend the whole day in a studio which already has that gear (and a good drum set) is just $600 or so.
+++++
This Danny Thompson work looks like the inside liner to an album to me.

WPRB in Princeton has a list of venues in NYC and Philadelphia and between. It's a tad out-of-date but has a lot of venues on it.

The Mouse Goes Back to the Studio

 Last night we recorded an "acoustic" version of the Mouseverture. We went to Stanley John Mitchell's studio in his house in Brooklyn.
 We recorded all in one room (the room with the piano, which Arie is sitting at but that you cannot see in these pictures. We experimented with a number of different ways of recording the 40-seconds of music we were trying to get, including playing in 6/8 and playing (I hope you're sitting down) quieter.
We recorded onto a Roland VS1680. This means we'll have to get the tracks off of it. Which will be a tad exciting. We suspect two tracks at a time rolled off onto a CD or another computer but we don't know yet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On seminal British 1970s prog rock band Gentle Giant

There's a band out of Stanford, teachers actually, called Glass Wave. They put out one CD. They do a very groovy thing. They sound like an older-fashioned early prog rock act. One difference is that they have a female vocalist, Christy Wampole. Yeah, they kind of do an It's a Beautiful Day thing.
This is a podcast with the guitar player of Glass Wave, talking about Gentle Giant.

Glass Wave is basically the West Coast version of Tyrannosaurus Mouse. But with a better guitar player and singer.

I love Wampole's sound. What's funny about this record is that although it feels like '68-'72 somewhere I can't actually come up with an analogous singer. Not Savage Rose, or Renaissance. She does an interesting thing where she sounds very close (miked) but kicks in her vibrato late in held notes. Hmm... I guess if there were one artist she sounds the most like it would be Donovan.

The guitar sounds are old-fashioned-ish and sound fantastic.

It's okay if I have a crush on the singer, right?*

*True story: Tommy Rowen put that op-ed up on Facebook before I'd even heard of Glass Wave.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Groove it.

Groovy. Here's an article on Nat Cassidy's new opera. It's coming to the Kennedy Center.

E Flat

So I just cannot get an Eb major chord to sound in tune on any guitar. I never have.
Over the years it's bugged me so much that I've either avoided music which has an Eb (forcing a transposition to another key), or re-tuned for the Eb chord and punching in and out on that chord while recording.
My Les Paul has a tiny sliver of bone on the G string that was put on there by Matt at 30th Street. But tomorrow I'm going to go beg him to put my Earvana nut on my new SG. I have two reasons to want that, first of all my issues with D chords and Eb chords in general and then also the fact that my SG feels more irksome than either my LP or the Blattocaster.
Wish me luck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Tyrannical Things for Today

The Legion Bar is a venue in Brooklyn.
So is Spike Hill.
I got one of these Standard Leather Guitar Mounts from Guitar Ideas. It's tres groovy. I got turned onto these kinds of mounts from Mandolin Brothers, because that's how they hang their guitars. The only guitars it won't work with are those which have the tuners all on one side of the headstock. But as we all know those kinds of guitars are completely irrelevant anyway.

I don't quite understand what this opera is that Nat Cassidy is working on but it has something to do with Dunsany's Charon, which is fairly high on the awesome scale.
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I think I know the answer to the question of what we're going to do as far as any sort of organized promotion of Tyrannosaurus Mouse, et al. We're just going to use Taxi. We'll submit for whatever we're eligible for and suchly. There. It'll cost about $500 for the year including the costs of delivering things and so forth. All done like that.

So that and CDBaby. That's our promotional plan. Taxi, CDBaby. There ya go.
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The Sweatshop is another rehearsal studio in Williamsburg. Their website is pretty obnoxious though.

Bandcamp lets you upload 24-bit files! Tell me that isn't the sexiest thing you've heard all day.
Here’s what you can upload:
  • lossless WAV, AIFF and FLAC files
  • 16 and 24-bit samples
  • 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192kHz sample rates
  • stereo and mono

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Eventually I'll Get This Right

We rehearsed as a power trio (bass, drums, guitar) last night. This notion of rehearsing things as a power trio before we add in Arie on keys has some degree of merit in that we can get the rhythm section tight before adding keyboard parts.
If you're not actually in Tyrannosaurus Mouse you'll find the following very boring. But here's a link to the recordings from the rehearsal.

You really really do not want to listen to this. It really is just a raw rehearsal where we're trying to figure out what we're doing and playing 3-minute songs for 15 minutes. And listening to me try to figure out "Alphabet City" is right painful.
So, things we've agreed upon:
1. We're making an album called "Love Songs for the Apocalypse".
(I suppose it could be "Love Songs of the Apocalypse" if someone decides or wants.)
2. When we play louder, the three of us (Ethan, Lou, and I) play better. We each suffer from the same fault in that we spend a lot of effort listening to the other players in the band. I know, in most bands this wouldn't be a "fault" but rather "Thank goodness someone is actually listening." But the three of us do it so much that we tend to play tentatively if we're playing quietly.
If we play really loudly though we all play with more authority.
All of the material we played at this rehearsal was being made up on the spot. We had zero notion of what the structures were going to be for anything we played. We frequently had no idea what chords we were going to play. So seriously, sometimes Ethan or I would shout out chords to one another. Sometimes he and I would just guess correctly. Most of the time we guessed wrongly. But I'll tell ya, it's really hard to improvise a harmonic structure in an ensemble situation and ever get it right. So yay for us.

3. We can't rehearse in Greenpoint until the gas shortage is over because Ethan can't get fuel for his car.
4. My new SG sounds fantastic. Now, it is getting my Earvana nut on it (you'll notice I throw it way out of tune by the end of each song). Other than that it's a fantastic guitar. Fantastic. Even Ethan thought it had a great neck, and he's very persnickety about his guitars.
That's the SG through an MXR analog delay and a Vox AC30. The bass is Ethan's Music Man fretless. Lou is playing the Tama kit there in Room C.
5. I really like Looming rehearsal studios. Their place is about the best value in Brooklyn.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cavallo

Groove to my buddy Mike Kessell's band, Cavallo.

They're a heavy rock-instrumental outfit and I dig them. They recorded this album at Studio G in Brooklyn.
I ordered it on vinyl. Because vinyl is cool.

Thou rank unchin-snouted varlot

Or: Loudness Part II

Remember this Sound on Sound article about loudness?

Here's the "unofficial" dynamic range database. Note that "dynamic range" is exactly, er, not what the issue is.
Lou likes elephants.

The EBU measure of loudness range is a measure of the ‘three-second window, gated K-weighted RMS variability’ of audio content.

Keep that in mind.

At all times.

The really really weird thing is that applying a limiter can effectively increase the dynamic range of a signal. That is it'll increase the RMS dynamic range, not the peak dynamic range.
Which is a really interesting way to think about it.

Via.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Promotion

So then, when we release "TM01" (that's the code for the first Tyrannosaurus Mouse album), what shall we do with it? UPDATE: so far we have buy-in from half the band on the name "eponymouse" for our first album. I think our second album should be "disambiguation".
OK, so what do we do this this record?

We can do some radio promotion with it. I've done such things back in the early 90's. I spent quite a bit of cash on some albums that never quite charted on CMJ.
Peter Hay over at Twin Vision says that you have to think at least $1000 for a regional release and $2000 in order to promote a national release. I like Peter Hay. He's a real nice guy. Known for being honest. And although he never got any of my records to chart, they did get a buncha airplay.

Sonic Bids -- they cost $6.99/month. It's a... actually I have no idea what it is.

Oasis CD has a kind of cool thing where they have a sampler CD which goes out to radio stations. To get that though you have to replicate a CD. I estimate the cost of 300 CD's to be about $860 with jewel cases, barcodes, and their radio promotion program. (Note that replicating CD's with Oasis includes CDBaby which would otherwise cost $50/year.) Basically this would mean taking one song and putting it on their compilation CD. Nobody is directly "pushing" the song though, so it would be a matter of radio stations just wanting to play it (unlikely).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Loudness Part I

I have both a professional interest, and a Tyrannosaurus Mouse interest, in measures of loudness and dynamic range.
For the Pandora Machine we oftentimes struggle, or at least wonder, about the relative levels of signals and just how loud we should make our movies. Mostly this involves what level we should be setting the dialog at.
If I were to criticize my Pandora Machine mixes I'd say that I do mix them quite hot. I slam the dialog into limiters and then make the backgrounds too loud. I doubt I'm going to stop slamming the dialog into limiters -- after all dialog is king and making it absolutely the freaking clearest thing you've ever heard in your life is way in my best interest. But I could be a bit more delicate with backgrounds.
I'm trying to figure out if a blue strap is really appropriate.
For music my interest has a different direction. Ethan and I had talked about how we'd like this Tyrannosaurus Mouse album to sound like an older record -- have have an older record's "dynamic range".
We did a number of things to make the album sound more old-fashioned (meaning: late 60's/early 70's). We recorded 24-bit/44.1kHz in order to retain what we might call "depth" but with a bit of the graininess on the top end one might expect from recording in an analog format.
We also did not kittywhump the heck out of the 2-mix buss with a limiter. The mix went through some light SSL-style limiting and that was that.

  • Now just remember that at first glance, or first listen, louder always sounds better. That's just a rule. The question is what happens when you've been listening for a while. 

[Let me sidetrack note for a bit. Early 70's were known for pretty dry drum sounds. I suspect that was a way to make the drums really loud because at the time it was perhaps a bit easier to make louder. This is just a theory of mine. It could be totally wrong. Honestly I'm more a fan of the wetter drum sounds like on Genesis' ABACAB or The Police or such.]

As it turns out, actually measuring "loudness" is a minefield of angry rattlesnakes. It's really freaking hard to do. This Sound on Sound article by Emmanuel Deruty explains much. And the conclusions are... interesting.
Now, we're all of the belief there has been a loudness war that went on in the 1990's and 2000's. Right? Brick wall limiters have been making popular music too loud. That's just a fact, right?
It turns out:
[C]ontrarily to what one can often read on the Internet, the loudness war did not cause any reduction in level variability. There is as much level variability now as there was in the ’70s or ’80s.
OK. So that's counter-intuitive. I mean, it doesn't sound right at all, does it?
In the end, it’s all about style. Reduced crest factor values bring a ‘compact’ aspect to the sound; Waves describe it as a “heavily in-your-face signal that rocks the house” on their MaxxBCL page. It may be suited to your kind of music, or it may not.
That article is very enlightening. And honestly I have to read it a number of more times to really understand what's going on. But that'll be next time. Maybe.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Testing the SG

Playing my SG today. The pickups are freaking loud. They're about as hot as the humbuckers in my Les Paul. I recorded a bit of things to be able to hear the difference between the neck and bridge pickup. I started out more happy with the bridge but eventually I learned a bit about rolling back the neck to make it sweeter. Yeah, the guitar goes wildly out of tune there in the middle.
The instrument plays really well. The amps I have respond very differently from the way they respond to other guitars. And that's just the truth of it.
I think it's interesting the way a particular instrument will lead you to play it in a particular way. Your feel and technique will change and adapt to (say) this particular guitar.
The clean stuff has a very nice chime to it. And it can certainly go into that hairy distortion of complete freak out.
I recorded into my Mutt with the 12" Celestion Alnico Blue. An AKG 460 microphone was a couple feet from the cabinet. I added some delay (you know, to be more like Live at Leeds) and some compression (but not much, most of that is just the sound of the whole thing). The volume pots are rolled back on the guitar (except for that one obvious place). And the Mutt was far from dimed -- it's at about 2 o'clock. Channels jumped.

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...