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02/23/2009  — 

Song-A-Day Notes From The Studio

Seth and Derek (among others) asked for some details on how I recorded a few songs this year. I've been pretty happy with the guitar sounds overall. The big improvement from last year seems to be the mic. I'll tell you everything about what I do. Maybe it'll help you find that killer something.

This is my recipe for rock guitars:

Ingredients:

  • Guitar: Fender Lead II (1980) with a really kooky humbucker pickup (I think it's a Bill Lawrence, but possibly a dimebucker?) in the bridge position. Someone really took a lot of time modding this guitar before I bought it. This pickup is special though, haven't found many that sound like it.
  • Amp: ZVex Nano Amp. A .5 (!) watt tube head which should get most of the credit for the sound. It's really an amazing piece of gear that produces controlled overdriven mayhem at a reasonable volume. Zack, my wife, children, and neighbors thank you.
  • Cabinet: Closed-back Mesa 4x12 (with celestions, I think) (yes, the cab for the dual rectifier)
  • Mic: Pacific Pro Audio LD2ube Large Capsule Condenser (multipattern)
  • A->D: Aardvark Q10 a really handy piece of gear. I'm using its built-in preamps. Aardvark went out of business a few years back unfortunately. This thing is still going strong for me.
  • Multitracking: I have an old version of Nuendo 1.53 (the latest is 4) as my main multi-tracking application.
  • Several effects: Waves RCL is the main compressor I'll use. I set up some really simple, standard reverb as a sendd effect too.
  • 1 Dirty Secret Ingredient: That Evil Multiband thing that comes with Nuendo. This may be the thing that takes a decent sound from the guitar/amp/speaker and makes it really sing on a recording (perverting it and possibly ruining it at the same time).

For the basic "loud" sound here's what I'll do:

The Performance

Set the guitar to use the humbucker pickup only. Volume and tone wide open (11). Believe it or not, someone fitted my guitar with an XLR output. I don't use it, just the regular 1/4" jack.

Set the ZVEX amp to brighness: middle, thickness: normal. Volume knob is about 3/4s+. There's only 1 knob on this amp I get it into the distortion space, but not all the way up. The amp is relatively quiet, the sound is a little mid-rangey, but it sounds good in the room.

Mic the guitars pretty close. About 4-6 inches away from the cabinet's grill. I'm using a large cap condenser for this. I've been leaving the mic in the omni position lately. The sound is a little more open. That proximity effect wasn't doing anything to help the sound IMO.

At this volume, I trim the Aardvark's preamp to "6.5" (not sure if this is a db level or something specific to the Q10) so there's a strong signal and still a fair amount of headroom.

Play with heart and desire -- and fat fingers. I'm not a great guitarrist, but I think pick technique plays a small part here. I'm working toward my ideal guitar sound which is distorted, but clear, with lots of bright overtones. Most of my favorite punk albums had some combination of this. I've learned to get some of those overtones by sticking my finger onto the vibrating strings as I pick. Do you really want to know about this? Just ask and I'll ramble on and on about it...

I'll usually double the main part of the song, then add one more color track, often with a different distortion and pickup setting.

The Mix

2 main (heavy) guitars panned hard right/left. Usually with no EQ.

1 guitar up the middle, usually cleaner (distortion-wise). Might use a little EQ to fill a gap in the wall of sound. Posssibly with a bit more of the send-verb too.

Group all the guitars. Use light compression with the RCL on the group. Might shelf the bass a little (I'm monitoring with NS-10s and I've found that if I can hear the bass at all there will likely be a problem on other systems.). I'll usually add a touch of room verb as a send effect.

Here are the compressor specifics:

  • RCL's 'electro' setting
  • attack: 20.0
  • release: 20.0
  • threshold -11.9
  • ratio: 2.57
  • gain: 4.0

The overall mix is important too of course. The drum sounds are reasonably loud, but offer some space. The bass has a few EQ notches (where? I'll check) to carve out space. I haven't been too happy about the vocal sounds on the full-band songs this year, so no help in this dept.

Here's the Dirty Little Secret: Bus compression is the evil Multiband thing. Yeah, there it is. It's out. What are the settings here? Hard to tell what all these mean. I'm basically choosing the "FM" preset and trying to dial it back just a bit.

Actually, now that I look closely to a randomly picked mix, it looks like I'm just using the default 'FM Radio' setting for 'Trouble Sleeping'.

That's about it. Here's a guitar-only mix for Trouble Sleeping: http://greacen.com/media/greacenzone/20090222_guitar_mix.mp3

You can hear slight variations on this on a bunch of this year's songs:

  • Up In The Attic
  • Drive North
  • Even in Winter (I used the less-distorted guitars in the panned position on this one, reversed the model)
  • Master of the Mall
  • Wafflepalooza
  • Put Down That Bag Of Rocks
  • Bring it Back
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Istanbul
  • 2wo
Plus a few more that will likely come before we cross the finish line.

Go Listen!

01/17/2009  — 

Song-A-Day Shopping List

Just a few weeks left before we start the 2009 Song-A-Day festivities (a.k.a. 29 Songs). Looks like I really need to clean out the garage and the website before this gets going.

Maybe I can pick up a few things to help things along this year too. Here's a shopping list I jotted-down on the BART one night this week:

  • batteries! Mostly for the tuner, but I'll play around with different sounds a bit more this year.
  • strings for the acoustic guitar.
  • sm57: snare sounds have been lame. Maybe this'll help? Maybe properly tuning my snare will help more.
  • midi controller: I'd love to play with one of these.
  • Another samson mic to record in stereo (from the road).
  • a proper mic stand for the kick drum. I lost mine somewhere along the way.
  • A piano. I meant to get one at some point in '08, mostly for the girls. I used to play a little, would love to have one in the family.

What am I forgetting?

If you have any interest at all in joining the fray, please shoot me a note. As you can see this is a great excuse to go out and buy some gear. Your spouse will surely agree.

03/04/2008  — 

29 done...

Maybe I should toss these into my last post about the get-together. Just a few mire words on this before I return to posts about vertical ad networks, qa and the like.

I didn't really make it to 29 songs as planned, but I'm ok with it. I have at least 10 (ok, maybe 6) decent songs to refine which is way more than what I had at the start of the month.

I uploaded a bunch of tunes from the wrap party to the 29 site (finally). I have stereo versions of the full band experience. Email me if you're desperate to hear those recordings (then please turn yourself in to the kookoo police).

Soon I'll lock down the files that make up the 29.netscrap.com site. Derek's comment about keeping the record of the month in tact is right on. I'll move those things somewhere else. The site will continue to work of course. In fact, it needs a few changes.... Gotta have better control of the player:

  • play in order (as opposed to random)
  • play a single artist if you want
  • play a single song if you want
  • make it easy to embed all of these into other internets.

So what's next? I'll be spending some make-up time with the fam (and work) in the meantime. I also need to rehab my leg which was bonked one recent Saturday when I should have been finishing some songs. After that? I learned that I like recording tunes and I need to keep rolling with this. I learned that my main blockage with songwriting is more in the commitment department than the execution (except maybe the verboligization that accompanies the rock guitar). Even if it's just a slow simmer of experimentation, I need music to be happening. Maybe some 29'ers will get together to jam. Maybe we'll get to collaborate in each others studio to help get Greenberg's recordings recordings LOUDER... I DEFINITELY need to thaw out and finish a few blert songs that haven't been heard by many. Maybe I need to launch http://52.netscrap.com to be home of our new song-a-week lifestyle.

Who's in?

02/28/2008  — 

Song-a-day almost done!

We're almost done. I just have a few more things to upload. The whole 29 songs/days crew came over on Wednesday to listen & play some tunes (and wake up the neighbors). I'll upload those songs soon.

I REALLY had a great time chatting about music struggles & successes with folks. Couple of things I learned:

  • Peter's gear (sweet tube amps + scumbacks + vintage prs) sounds as good in person as his blog claims.
  • My If You Ever is really in 7! Even though I played drums for this I hadn't counted it out.
  • Seth rocks on bass!
  • Bruce really plays all that stuff! It's amazing!
  • The Chorus from Derek's Warriors was based on the exact way the actor delivered the line in the movie (repeated in the bizarrely authentic Warriors video game).
  • Peter puts a LOT of thought into his tunes. They still rock.
  • A few folks noticed my bird on some of my recordings. Bruce claims that he buried some sounds in a bunch of his recordings. Listen with headphones.
  • Seth's been focusing his songwriting on soundtracks, he got his pop-song-hat back on just for this month.

Here's everything so far.

Take a listen!

02/25/2008  — 

I can see the light!

We're getting near the end of February and the 29 Songs project. We're planning on having a get-together this week to listen to or play a few songs in my garage. Email me if you want to come by. Wow, what have you missed?

  • Creeps Out - is a ditty about a guy I saw on the bart. He looked like the usual nerd commuter until he started blathering about some nonsense. This promptly made everyone around him get up, move to the other end of the car, and call the cops.
  • love - so everyone else was doing it, banging out these love songs. Now, if you know me (and if you're reading this you probably do) you know that the verbal arts do not come easily. I am but a brown belt in verbissitude. Anyway, I always loved the direct allular intensity of Decendents' "ALL", so I borrowed it. That and the 'one love' from Bob.
  • digberg - is a pet name for Ginger. I put the rhythm together on the bart ride home, recorded the noise around it and fell asleep before I could deal with anything lyrical.
  • the day - well. This isn't really a ballad, but that's what I was shooting for. I completely stole some harmonic thing that I used to play on piano. What was that stuff? I'll find out.
  • that girl with brown hair - more lyrical help from Eve. We were playing with polly pockets. Eve's a little aggressive about determining the rules of our doll playing. Tonight, I had to be 2 girls who saw her girl, didn't know who it was, and had to figure it out. Eve gave me some clues, "She looks like she's been to Spain and France."
  • break it down - More from the rockpile. What was I thinking? Dunno. I started writing this on the bass, I was thinking about Jawbox. The rest falls a little flat, but it's fun. I made the lyrics up on the fly and just recorded with a SM58 because I was too lazy to set up the condenser mic. The rest of the Engineering (and playing for that matter) is all Greacen formula. Have I spelled this out? Should I?
  • nu - (not to be confused with nude you up) It's a riff I was playing on the acoustic guitar for a few days. Boy I wish I could keep a consistent tempo when I toss these out. I think I poured on the distortion a little too thick on this take, but it was fun. I gave myself 2 minutes to write something down lyrically, which seems to have helped the sitchmo. Used the SM58 again due to lazyness.

Why all the rock, Chris? In all, I think I'm taking a slight (I like creeps out) quality nosedive, but what I lack in quality (and variety for that matter) I'm trying to make up for with VOLUME. Also, that kinda comes easy to me. The wall of sound comes easier than writing a clever or pretty lyric.

Peter brought up a great idea about trying to get these tunes into the hands of similarly masochistic filmmakers for a 31 films in march marathon. Who do we talk to about that?

02/19/2008  — 

Still playing catchup

02/14/2008  — 

More Lack of Engineering

02/13/2008  — 

Engineering... and lack of