Well it’s been a tough few days but I am at this very second uploading the Constant Change is Here to Stay package to my Dropbox account where I’ll be hosting the download. This week I’ve been ironing out a few problems with the digital mixes and getting them mastered, which is quick and easy to do thanks to plugins like iZotope Ozone (although this is obviously no substitute for paying for a proper mastering engineer). The AnalogueOldVintage versions are unmastered as I didn’t have the hardware needed, so they will be noticeably quieter and should be turned up..
The files are organised into folders ready to be imported into your computer’s music player and there is a README file with important information about the package and how to provide feedback.
As soon as the file’s uploaded I’ll post the link here!
The day after my last post I went away with my band, All The Fires, on a 6-date mini-tour, so apologies for the gap in progress. However, I’m very proud to announce that the second version of the EP, the one that’s caused me so much trouble over the past few weeks, is finally complete. The wonderful Cally Gibson popped back on Thursday evening to redo one of her parts that had too much crackle to handle and I was ready to go..
I started again with the mixes as wasn’t happy with the ones I’d done previously, so have been working on them since getting back and it’s been a very different process to that which I’m used to. Many little things meant I had to rewind and start again, like a channel playing up, forgetting to mute/unmute something or simply spotting an issue with the balance of instruments, effects or EQ. Having to do everything by hand, even end fades as I decided it was a necessity for the PC to record the audio but should not be allowed to alter it in any way, made the task of mixing feel more like a performance in itself which I had not expected. Some faders sat where they were but moved up and down and I did this all from memory and my knowledge of the songs which I found really enjoyable, especially when I got it all right and knew I’d nailed the mix! Worried about the level of the bass, I mixed on both headphones (beyerdynamic DT250s) and monitors (Tannoy Reveal 6Ds) before finally testing on my hifi. Once happy with a mix I moved on to the next track, knowing that was it and there would be no future tweaking. This isn’t a limitation I’ve ever had to deal with before and I found it extremely hard to get over it and commit to the first mix, but once through the first few I started to trust myself a little more and finished the final track last night. No editing of the audio will take place, not even tidying up the starts/finishes or normalising the levels. For ease of distribution they will be converted to 320 kbps MP3s, as will the DigitalNewModern versions, but I feel they’re as organic and genuine as I could ever have managed and that’s something I’m very happy about.
Today I’ve been putting the Constant Change is Here to Stay package together which includes simple artwork for each version, a README file with all relevant information and a short online questionnaire courtesy of QuickSurveys. This is the artwork which is varied slightly for each version. Tomorrow I’ll be working on finishing the DigitalNewModern mixes and adding them to the package, which I intend to distribute as widely as possible.
Well it’s been a pretty eventful week so far. I spent Monday getting the desk and Fostex set up near my monitors then wired the available compressors (SM Pro Audio TC02, dbx 266XL and SoundTech ST200CL) as inserts on the tracks I felt required compression (namely drums, bass, viola and vocals). It took a while to get these configured how I wanted but it was great to be using real hardware and not just clicking a mouse and I really felt I had control over how the compressors behaved. I had a big scare when I got to the viola channel as there was nothing on it and I couldn’t figure out why. This problem proved to be another trick of the Fostex’s who, after being left off for half an hour, decided the audio was actually there after all, although the channel is prone to dropping out randomly. I flipped the machine over, took the bottom plate off and made sure the input cards were comfortably seated, but the channel is still causing problems.
On Tuesday I started work on the first track but after about an hour disaster struck; I’d all of a sudden lost all the top end on all of my guitars. I did some troubleshooting before deciding it wasn’t something I’d done, so contacted the owner. He told me this was typical of the heads needing a clean but didn’t have the specific solution (Isopropyl alcohol) required for the job. I rang the local chemist but was told they didn’t stock it and would need to order it in which would take 48 hours! Now getting worried I emailed a few of my lecturers to see if any of them had any and thanks to the combined efforts of Carey Davies, Joel Hut, David Prior and Adam Loveday-Edwards I was able to locate a can of Isopropyl alcohol. Now armed with the right tools I flipped the Fostex over once more and cleaned everything in the tape path, just to be safe. This was the first time I’d ever cleaned a tape machine so I don’t know what a normal amount of dirt is, but it seemed like a lot..
With the heads nice and clean I fired the Fostex up and everything was back to normal, panic over and many thanks to all involved🙂 I’ve been working through the tracks today and have finished 3 of the 6, though with constant channel and cable issues it’s been pretty challenging..
A stressful week so far but the battle rages on!
Another week later and recording is finally finished! As planned I spent most of last week going back to the digital versions and recording vocals line by line in Pro Tools. In comparison I found this method quite sterile and certainly much less liberating regarding flow and energy when singing. But the results, which are technically much stronger, don’t lie and it’s clear to me that being able to drop in at any point, even halfway through a sentence with a tough segment, wields takes which would otherwise be unachievable. These couldn’t then be called live performances and would be impossible to replicate in a single take, but the unique inconsistencies present when performing live are what adds the sonic character and singularity which people interpret individually.
The main creative benefit I found when working digitally was how quickly I could listen back to what I’d done and, with the addition of plugins, how easy it was to hear how the vocal might sound when processed. With the analogue versions I’ll only hear the final sound of the takes when mixing which doesn’t inspire confidence in the same way. Although I found the experiences equally satisfying when completing a satisfactory take there will always be a feeling of dishonesty at the back of my mind in relation to the perfection (especially when auto-tuned) of the digital versions.
I finished recording vocals last Thursday and returned to the analogue versions on Friday morning as needed to get them off the Fostex in order to play them to my PIC supervisor in the afternoon. After working with the digital versions all week I was hit by a wave of panic as tuning and timing issues became crystal clear on the first listen. I spent the morning recording rough mono mixes into Pro Tools which I found quite demoralising and again felt self doubt creeping in, but after a great listening session with my supervisor who was very impressed with my work and offered kind words of wisdom and encouragement, I felt better about what I’d accomplished and I hope once they’re mixed the analogue versions will stand up on their own when people listen to them alongside the digital. Time will tell..
On Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of the recording the beautiful viola playing of Cally Gibson, a local musician and illustrator. I printed out the parts using Pro Tools’ ‘Send to Sibelius…’ function as writing the parts out by hand would’ve been a pointless exercise and I was low on time. Gibson is the only person other than myself to play on any of the tracks and it was thoroughly refreshing to be working with another person. I realised what a tight bubble I’d created by being the only person involved up until this point and with the pressure off I really enjoyed the session. The sheet music I’d printed off was basic and didn’t include dynamics as I wanted Gibson to naturally interpret these for herself, which she did incredibly well and often played the parts exactly as I’d originally heard them in my head. From working with MIDI and samples I’d forgotten my original intentions and found hearing them played properly with emotion and depth a wonderful and rewarding experience.
Unfortunately the output of the channel I had set aside for the viola was much lower than the others which I’d not noticed when testing, so I’ll need to brutally EQ the track as dialling in the amount of gain needed brings out a lot of hiss. In other bad news the final channel I saved to record piano to is in an even worse state; a similar output level to the viola’s but with a crackle no EQ could fix. Piano was always going to be the most problematic element and as there are only a few parts on the digital versions which are mainly to add ambience, I don’t think the analogue versions will suffer too much without them. This will be an interesting question to ask in my survey!
It’s now time for me to start mixing the analogue tracks which I hope to have finished by Thursday..
10 days ago I started recording the vocals for this version and what a struggle it’s been. The whole of Friday the 16th was spent trying to put down a single complete vocal, which I was simply unable to do. Unlike recording other instruments I found my voice, which is not used to singing lead, quite weak and as I got further through a take nerves would grow which didn’t help. Doubt crept in with the disappointment and frustration of the day but after some sleep and deliberation I decided I’d allow the vocals to be recorded in stages. This goes against my initial limitations but I saw no other way to proceed and stages have been minimal, generally 2 or 3 for each track. Even allowing myself this leeway it’s been a challenging task but yesterday afternoon I finally had all lead vocals recorded and I’m really happy with how they’re sounding after the immense effort it’s been. I’m also happy to announce that today I finished all backing vocals, which was less of a mission but still testing at times! I found that 2 channels on the Fostex I previously thought were OK have slight issues, one of which I was planning to record backing vocals to, but I’ve been able to record to unused channels. It was close, so a bit of a worry, but I have 2 working channels left for piano and strings, just about..
With all vocals for this version complete I plan to spend the next couple of days going back to the first version to make a start on vocals there, printing out string parts and coming up with a plan for recording piano. I have a listening session with my PIC supervisor on Friday and am hoping to have initial mixes of all tracks for then. Exciting🙂
As planned today’s dish of the day was tambourine. I made a late start due to working at The Jake’s last night but eventually got all tambourine parts recorded, though it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park! I’m now convinced that the main culprit of heating up the room is the Fostex. I’ve been checking it regularly and it really does get hot, so when taking breaks today I made sure it was turned off to give it a chance to cool down.
Recording was made harder by the tambourine itself, which is designed to be mounted on a hi-hat stand, not held in a hand. When recording to PC it only takes a couple of attempts to get a perfect couple of bars which I can copy and paste, but laying down parts the length of the entire song is a very different matter. As you’ll see from the photo, grasping where the handle would usually be isn’t that comfortable, but after playing solidly for a minute or so (even single hits) is genuinely painful and I started getting a blister on my right hand so decided to put on a glove. This helped but it was still unpleasant to play and not conducive to good performances, not an issue I had foreseen..
Yesterday I finished off the last of the drum takes and also redid a couple which I wasn’t happy with the amount of room ambience on. As the Cascade ribbon has a figure-of-8 polar pattern I placed an acoustic panel behind it to stop it picking up reflections coming from the back of the room. This helped a lot and I got a cleaner drum sound on the tracks I thought would benefit from it. I started to think that I may have made the wrong decision with which instrument to start with, as not putting the acoustic guitar down to a click meant the drums were tricky at times, but all things considered they’ve come out well. Once I was satisfied I had adequate drum takes I moved the Fostex, desk and preamp back into the studio.
It was time to move onto bass so I set up the amp and guitar I’d been lent by another generous friend (the same guitar used in the previous version, a Fender Precision), positioning the mic about a foot in front of the amp. I then set about constructing a fort around the setup to isolate the mic and stop the bass bouncing around all over the place. I can’t say it wasn’t fun..
Not long after starting work on the bass parts I realised this would be a similar day to that of recording electric guitar. The sun was blazing and with the room in its airtight state it soon got pretty toasty. I did find one way to make operation of the Fostex more bearable which was to sit next to it and use my toes to start, stop and rewind! I also noticed for the first time just how hot the Fostex gets after a while. I’d never bothered touching the top after it’d been on but the thing was like a radiator. The Allen & Heath isn’t as bad but still gets a little warm and also contributes to the temperature of the room. I made sure to take breaks to air the room when getting too warm, but it was still a challenging day with my penchant for perfection.
Again working with single takes has been hugely satisfying (when the performance goes well) and I really felt I got into the flow of the songs today. Tomorrow I intend to record tambourine and, as my voice is recovered, some vocals.