Friday, 5 July 2019

Technology

My friend Iain Shaw asked me about the recording process. I think this post may contain more detail than he was looking for, but it felt good to express it all. Thanks for asking, amigo!

Everything was recorded in Reaper - it is a really good value full function piece of recording software, even though I don't use it as much more than an 8 track. (REAPER)

Most of the guitars were recorded using Amp Simulators - previous experiments with miking live amps was not positive, partly because I don't know much about the technology of doing that so the results were variable, partly because it is not always conducive to family life, and also because doing it all in Reaper gave me a much wider range of sounds to play with. 

I used a lot of Amplitube 3 - their Marshalls and Fender Twins are very good, very straightforward. (and are included in the core product, which I think is free.) Yesterday I bought the Fender add-on pack which is marvellous for me - '59 Bassman, Champ, Vibro-King, more Twin Reverbs, etc. I will be using that for "Even More Guitars" if there is enough interest in this one.

I also used Bias FX - that is a bit of a timepit, because there is so much tweaking available with bi-amping and so on. I spent a few hours playing with that to set up a selection of AC30 type things and also to try their various tremolo setups - I could then pick those up when I needed them. The classic way to lose the vibe and feel of a guitar track is to stop playing for a bit to find out what that amp would sound like through a 4x10 instead, and then maybe in a bigger room with these Neumann mikes .... no, the Sennheisers .... a bit further away ....ah, no, wait, how about in an amp enclosure .... with a plate reverb ... ooh, that's interesting ..... and then by the time I have chased that sound rabbit down the sound hole I have forgotten what I was trying to play.

The bass parts pretty much all went through the Bass Professor software - wonderful free download which adds oomph.  ( PROFESSOR) I bought a Sire Marcus Miller Jazz bass last year and re-did most of the previously-recorded bass parts with that - lovely pre-amp, loads of signal and very adjustable and responsive

The core of the drums were from the Loop Loft - Joey Waronker, Simon Phillips, Matt Chamberlain, Omar Hakim, I also used some of Drums on Demand  (Volumes 1, 2 6 and 9)
There are one or two tracks where I programmed the drum tracks (at least in part) and I added some percussion on quite a few - an extra hi-hat, a tambourine, crash cymbals to accent. etc. 

I also added some keyboards - a great Fender Rhodes simulator (Waves Electric88) which was about £50  and a Hammond (https://syntheway.com/master_hammond_b3.htm ) which was a similar price. I have a wee 2 octave Korg keyboard which is enough for me. They were recorded as MIDI tracks which I had to tweak a bit for individual note attack and timings - for MIDI editing, the Piano Roll in Reaper is often quicker than me learning to play the keyboard part right. 

I recorded the basic tracks nearly all built round a guitar idea - usually with a particular sound set up (e.g. driven Fender Twin with a slow shimmer). The idea and the sound are closely related, because the genesis of a lot of the tracks was me playing around with a guitar sound and seeing where that went. 

I would hunt through the drum tracks to find something helpful to the recording - sometimes just the simplest beat, other times I found exactly the right thing on first dig. 

Then I would record the main guitar for several goes round - sometimes the first was a keeper, sometimes I would listen back and realise I needed to adjust it. I didn't do much  tweaking of the guitar parts in Reaper - it is much quicker for me to take a breath and play the guitar part right than it is for me to guddle notes around in Reaper. Once I had enough to construct the main track around, I would save that, listen back to it, check the construction overall - then build up what other sounds would go with that - a contrasting guitar ? a descending bassline ? a big clanging souped up Marshall ?? 

In the main I worked on one track at a time, but there are some that I came back to and re-worked, generally if I only had time to record the main part to lay that down for later investigation

I re-mixed everything for the CD - my initial mixes are for me to have a record of the idea, in the moment, rather than for wider consumption. So the guitars are often too loud, there are holes in the mix and there are sometimes wee clunky bits that I don't mind at that stage but need to be tidied up for regular listening. Also, I find that my ears can get tired out if I am listening too closely for too long, so it is better for me to do an initial rough mix as part of the recording stage and then go back round it in a day or two so I can hear it with fresh ears 

I had a long list of at least 40 that I gathered and listened to to sift out which ones were the keepers. There are at least another 20 that I recorded as sketches or bits which ended up as useful things for me to do (sometimes I learned things, sometimes I just expressed whatever I needed to express at the time and that was plenty). 

Once I had those 40 ish I went through them, and I guess about half of them made it to the re-mix/re-master stage as I polished them (as little as possible). There was one track which got cut from the final running order - although I was fond of it, and liked the vibe, it didn't add anything more than the other similar tracks that were already there. 

Lastly - if anyone reading this has questions about the recording process, I'd be delighted to share my (limited) knowledge - ask away!


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