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08/23/2020  — 

Blert - For Obvious Reasons

Blert released For Obvious Reasons with a very small diy distribution waaaaaaay back in the early 00s but today you can stream it everywhere. Give it a listen and for obvious reasons you'll be transported back to the 00s.

This was the band's first experience in a 'real' studio (the supremely generous Mr. Toad's), with a 'real' engineer (the supremely patient Jeff Byrd) and wow - what a learning experience for me. We had been working for months on these songs - as a band, our learning style was to drill (practice) HARD a couple times per week. Eventually everything clicked and we worked out a deal with the owner of Mr. Toad's that involved some studio time in trade. Here's the result!

These songs, this music is definitely the product of a BAND. Everyone contributed something and even though each person's voice/contribution is distinct, the whole thing gels. Ron's beefy yet melodic bass, Neal's rhytimic riddles, My soaring guitars, Dan's crunching guitars set the table. The vocal melodies and the lyrics all sprang from the band.

I wish we pushed this harder when we released it because it might have gone somewhere. I still like to listen to these tunes now and then. But it's honestly more than a great trip down memory lane, there are some sweet moments in there.

If you like this, stay tuned because there was a yet-unfinished follow-up record which has been getting some attention by the band with some help from Tasha. The next Blert record is something you'll want to catch as soon as it arrives. Keep your eyes peeled for 'ALBLUM'.

More soon!

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!

02/14/2008  — 

More Lack of Engineering

After the last post about my lack of audio engineeritude, I came home to find the mic in the same absurd position as I left it after recording ' 2 i5 b3tt3r than 0n3'. As you can see, I wasn't really aiming it at the kit AT ALL...

Better Drum Recording: So I literally dusted off my recording gear and tried to use my standard shortcuts and equipment (D112, Oktava C-12s, SM58) to record 'Doomed From The Start'.

Guitar stuffs: More from recording 'Doomed'. I played the Fender Lead II into the Zvex Nano Amp into the Mesa 4x12. I think that thing is packed with celestions. I'll have to doublecheck tho. I'm using the Zvex instead of the dual rectifier because it sounds nice and because of the late-night recording sessions.

I recorded 'Doomed' with a SM58 about 6 inches away from the speaker.

Vocals went through the Pacific Pro Audio - LD-2UBE and I think I heard what Derek was singing about in his song about the microphone. There's something almost too transparent about the sound. I'll muck around with this a little more.

02/13/2008  — 

Engineering... and lack of

Lots of new stuff to listen to on the 29 songs site, so get started! I won't link directly to songs, just go click on the player.

Bruce: what's your deal? You're getting incredible guitar tones. You're playing all over the place... hitting jan hammer, buckethead, and tbone burnett in the same week.

  • Black carpet fuzz - I loves me some fuzz. What are you using here?
  • Sunshine - really polished, nice build.
  • Smile - what am I listening to here? This sounds great.

Seth: You are cranking winners out at what, like 3 at at time? You'll have 2 years of material to refine by March at this pace.

  • you leaving - very catchy, I sang that one for a few days.
  • In fifths - fun!
  • Something on me - I love the Billy Joel vibe: "I got you right where..."
  • Simply meant... - I especially like the b section.
  • Valentine - nice, quiet, sweet lyrics... oh yeah, it's almost valentine's day isn't it.

Peter: You're in the week 2 doldrums but you can bust through!

  • This thing - you cranked that out on the fly? I love the woodwind arrangements.
  • Long Road - deep & dark.

Derek:

  • Bugs - I know 30 thousand people in india who will stand up in their cubicles and cheer when they hear that song
  • Bird - roolz of course. Props for playing to the ad-lib'd a-capella vocals. Exploit those kids!
  • Anne Hamburger - It's stuck in my mind now too.
  • Microphone - You can have it if you really want it.

Derek & I had a funny chat about engineering voodoo the other day:

Chriz Greacen: one final final factoid...

Derek: k

Chriz Greacen: I'm borrowing a drum kit from tornatore.

Chriz Greacen: it sounds AMAZING.

Chriz Greacen: it's just a really nice sounding kit. something custom

Derek: how do you record vocals?

Derek: where is the mic aimed?

Derek: distance?

Chriz Greacen: http://www.drumsolo.cc/index.html

Chriz Greacen: vocals: mic aimed at my mouth

Chriz Greacen: it's about 2 feet away

Chriz Greacen: I'm standing under a surfboard

Chriz Greacen: which is right at my head level

Chriz Greacen: and right near the mic

Derek: what color surfboard?

Chriz Greacen: I wonder if that has any effect.

Chriz Greacen: it's white

Chriz Greacen: but it's in a big silver bag

Derek: is that the secret?

Chriz Greacen: and it has wax on it.

Chriz Greacen: could be!

Derek: I've tried everything, from aiming the mic at my nostrils, mouth, forhead, pointing up, down and straight on, distant, not so distant, up close, etc

Derek: I can't get any midrange. Just irritating fizzy highs and muddy lows

Chriz Greacen: I'll give you the mic to try if you want.

Chriz Greacen: I just need to get my 'real' studio truly dusted off.

Derek: it's likely my voice, but everything records that way through the mic. Maybe I don't llike my mic.

I'm uniquely unsuited for handling engineering responsibilities of any complexity because of my short attention span, lack of familiarity with the physics of sound, and penchant for shortcuts. I'm not recording engineer, but I played one on the web:

Check out the Clubbo Website for more about the Lazarus project and learn how lazarus keeps rock legends alive.