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Light Fire Down – the last ever session

Yesterday I recorded one last acoustic song for Light Fire Down. We recorded at my house for a change, and I stuck Rich in my DIY guitar/vocal booth in the spare bedroom of my house. We tracked with Rich’s Ibanez acoustic which was mic’ed with an NT2000 and Sontronics STC-1. Rich’s acoustic sounds pretty middley, and the acoustic itself doesn’t have a whole lot of low end. I was initially running both mics through my A-Designs Pacifica, but just found I couldn’t get the low end I needed, so ended up putting the NT2000 through my Great River ME-1NV and cranking the input a fair bit. For vocals I had Rich sing through the NT2000 which went through my A-Designs Pacifica; the Pacifica is a really awesome mic pre on a lot of sources, and having Rich’s vocals go through it just sounded great.

I’ve also been using my NT2000 a lot more recently, as I find my KSM32 doesn’t really provide an up-front vocal sound. It’s kind of sat in retirement for a while as I’ve been using my KSM32s a lot more, but I’ve realised it’s an incredibly versatile and useful mic. Overall the session went great, and I think the acoustic track is a good send off for an otherwise brilliant third EP. By far the best-sounding material I’ve heard from them.

The band have since gone their separate ways, which I’m gutted about, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia when I think about the past three years. Recording these guys really put me on the local engineer map, and I’ve grown as an engineer like they’ve grown as songwriters. I think you can hear a real progression in production and songwriting from the ‘Lighthouse’ EP up to this latest release. Max has started a new band, and I hope the others follow suit and continue with some musical endeavours.

Kutna Hora – Live Session

Back in early-mid June, I recorded new local band, Kutna Hora, live in a Village Hall close to my house (the same venue where I recorded drums for Summer Drive Home, TATE and Conchairto.

Recording live is always fun, but also precarious at the same time. Everything has to be more-or-less perfect when you hit the record button, as there’s little room for error. The band need to be comfortable that they can play the song live, and the mic positioning in relation to where the instruments have been placed in the room is so important. The guys are quite influenced by Sonic Youth and Joy Division, so this gave me a basis for how it should be recorded and mixed.

For the first time ever, I tried out a tip (which I can’t remember where I heard it from), where I picked up Ian’s (drummer) floor tom and started walking around the room to hear where it sounded best. From there, I let him set up the rest of his kit, and placed amps in relation to where the drums were in the room. I walked around each amp to hear where the biggest null point was, which turned out to be the side of the amps.

I used figure 8 mics where I could, as they generally have the best off-axis rejection. I used a mono overhead placed more towards the shells than the cymbals to pick up a good representation of the kit, the mic used was an NT2000 in figure 8. Unlike other sessions I’ve done, this mic was about 80% of the drum sound. Mics around the kit were generally a standard array; 57 snare and hi tom, 421 mid and floor tom, Heil PR40 kick in, KSM32 kick out (and also KSM32 as a room mic).

For bass, I took a direct signal and also mic’ed with an AKG D112. Andy’s bass tone was pretty boomy through his Trace Elliot, partly due to the 15″ speaker, and also due to the EQ settings he had set on the amp. During the mix, the mic recording was mainly for the beefy low end to fill out the bottom, and the DI for the string note. I’ve realised that the D112’s cardioid pickup pattern is pretty loose and picks up a lot of bleed, so during the mix this caused some issues with colouring the drum sound which I had to address. In the end I sidechained the snare signal to a multiband compressor on bass and ducked the offending frequency.

Guitars were pretty easy, generally. Fred played through his Hiwatt through an Orange 1×12 and Jay played through a vintage Orange head and 4×12 cab. I initially used Cascade Fathead IIs for both amps, but found it sounded horrible on Fred’s 1×12 so I swapped it out for a 57. For Jay’s 4×12, I still used the Fathead II.

Surprisingly, the Fathead II got quite a bit of bleed from the drums even though its null was facing them, and it was also blocked off partially by Fred’s 1×12 which was propped up on his Marshall 1922 cab. During mix time, I again sidechained the snare to the a multiband compressor on Jay’s guitar.

For vocals, we tracked them separately, as it would’ve been impossible to record vocals live with everything else, as Andy’s vocals are soft and more-or-less spoken word. Andy uses effects when doing his vocals live, and to keep with the band’s sound, I decided to track through his vocal effects pedal. I put him in a small hallway which we padded out with drum bags and a roll of scrap carpet which Ian uses for a drum mat.

Vocals were recorded through an SM58 for the effected vocal, but I took a safety vocal just in case with an SM7B. Vocals went through both channels of my newly-acquired A-Designs Pacifica, which really brought the vocals up front. In the end, the 58 was fine for the mix, so I ended up keeping it and scrapping the SM7B track. Great session overall.

Conchairto radio play

Conchairto got some radio play tonight on Weymouth’s own AIR 107.2. We’re unfortunately not a band anymore, but Billy put some feelers out while we were still together back in November (or something) to see if we could get some air time, and they scheduled us in for today.

I mastered this EP to go against the grain of the typical ‘Loudness Wars’ levels, and the EP has a dynamic range value of about 10dB (around 8dB on the loudest points), I think. Preserving the dynamics means that I retain all the punch and clarity, which has served me well when radio squash our EP so that it has a dynamic range of 5dB! You can hear in some places the slow release time of the limiter as it recovers from the loudest parts of our songs, particularly on the outro of “Weathered Skin” where Max is doing some snare rolls.

Have a listen to the wavey audio of the broadcast that I pinched below.

So, where’s this Conchairto EP?

So, to the very few people that probably read this blog, you may have read my previous posts that I’m in a side project band called Conchairto. You may be wondering where our EP that I’ve written about is. Well, it’s now fully recorded and mixed, and just needs to be mastered. This EP has taken way longer than expected; partly due to life commitments, and partly due to putting it off.

We started recording this EP back in April, and life commitments have since got in the way for me. Juggling a full-time job with its own commitments, social life and this EP has been quite the task. With the other band members, it’s been a case of recording their parts, and that’s it. For me, it’s been a case of recording everyone in the band, recording my parts, mixing and editing everything, and then mastering it all. What should have taken about a few months to record and release has taken almost 9 months.

Having said all this though, the finish line is in sight, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved with this EP. I think people are going to like what we’ve come out with. With Christmas fast approaching, we’ll most likely have the EP released in January.

On this day

Everyday I check my ‘On This Day’ tab on Facebook to reminisce on old times. Today marks the 4th anniversary of recording an old local band, Diss, at university. I even wrote a blog post or two about it which you can read HERE and HERE. We recorded 10 tracks in two days in true Punk Rock fashion. Prior to the two sessions we did, I was forever posting statuses on Facebook asking if any bands from home wanted free recording in one of uni’s studios, as it was for an assignment I had to do. A friend of mine, Carl, gave me a call and I told him the details. He found me a band that needed some recordings, and I was put in contact with, what is now, Ash and Dan from Light Fire Down.

They travelled from home on the train with nothing but the clothes they were wearing (and some spares) and their guitars. They stayed at the Premier Inn right next to uni, and I remember Ash having his spare clothes wedged into the front zip pocket of his soft gig bag. Dan was hungover and had another beer before the session in the SU. We recorded it all live besides guitar overdubs and vocals. First day was dedicated to instruments, and second day was vocals. After the second session, I think me, Pete and Dexter went back to Dexter’s accommodation and ordered Domino’s and drank beer until 2am… and had lectures the next morning. Man, I miss uni life.

Sessions like this were awesome to experiment with and try out things that I’d read but never put into practice. We decided to mic overheads in a recorderman array, had an MD421 in the kick with my DIY subkick I’d just made outside. We even recorded gang vocals using mid/side. Guitars were recorded through a Peavey Valve King with a 57 and 421, bass was straight DI.

I find it kind of funny that recording a band that didn’t really go anywhere or do anything turned out to the main factor for recording Light Fire Down’s two EPs because Ash and Dan liked the work I had done for them with Diss. You always hear “never say no to an opportunity because it can lead to better things” or something similar, but this really did happen with Diss. I was given the chance to make a good impression and that band have since hired me again because they liked my work.

Conchairto vocal sessions

So it’s been a really long time since I last wrote a blog post (July, I see). The Conchairto project took a backseat for a few months because of life. This past month, I’ve had the entire house to myself, and have been able to practice vocal warmups without being mocked. I initially laid down vocals for a track called “Vultures”, but I wasn’t happy with them. The best takes I got were whilst I was sat down, which isn’t really the best way to sing. So, I took a step back from the project for a while, and spent about a month going through a vocal warmup routine and sticking to it.

I went back to the project a couple of weeks ago to record, what I thought was, the hardest track on the EP, “Weathered Skin”… I was kinda dreading singing it, as the second verse is pretty high despite having some shouty bits. After spending a couple of hours getting the takes and being completely satisfied. One song is completely finished.

Vocal chain so far has been pretty simple. Shure SM7B > UA Apollo. Depending on Billy’s voice for “Dark Cloud”, I’m most likely either going to use the SM7B, or a KSM32 through the Apollo.

Conchairto project update

I suppose I should write a post about what’s going on with my project band, Conchairto, as I’ve not written anything about it since the drum session I did way back in April. Things are coming along really well for the 3-track EP. We recorded guitar DI tracks round mine through my Audient ASP008 via ADAT into my Apollo. I decided to go the ADAT route, as I thought it might provide a cleaner signal, as it’s purely digital (besides the guitar and instrument cable), rather than using cables that I soldered which fluctuate in continuity when you measure them with a multimeter… perhaps it’s all just voodoo and me being too pedantic, but I thought I’d give it a whirl.

We also did bass round mine as well. As my brother was too worried about lending me his highway one P-bass despite living in the same house, Billy managed to blag one from his friend, Danny, who helped us out (cheers, Danny)! Bass went into a Sansamp bass driver DI into my Hairball Audio Bronze pre… the results were truly ridiculous; incredibly deep tone that just filled out the bottom end like someone who’d just eaten an all-you-can-eat buffet… the Sansamp was definitely a great purchase!

Once we’d tracked all guitar parts, we booked studio time at our local studio, HIBIKI, which used to be Fuzzy Music Studios, a studio I interned at way back in 2009 (ah the good old days). I took down all my own gear and just used their rooms so I could record insanely loud guitars without upsetting the neighbours. Despite having all the guitar tracks recorded and comped, we were still rushed for time, as it took me an age to figure out the UA Apollo’s PT mode (I’m now using Studio One 3.1 as a result). We must’ve spent about six hours in the studio re-amping guitars, and in the end, I ended up scrapping the recordings we did for two out of the three songs and just recorded them at home… not to mention having a band rehearse in the room next to us later on in the session and the sound just bleeding through the walls. The recordings that have made it onto the final EP are all the guitar tones for “Vultures” and Billy’s clean parts for “Weathered Skin”, the rest of it was done at my house over a couple of Saturdays when my brother worked his weekend shift so I could use his room to put my guitar cab in… he was none the wiser.

So all that’s left to do is vocals. I’ve had this past week off work, but I’ve been sorting out more guitar parts and bouncing down files from Pro Tools so that I can import them and mix completely in Studio One. I have next week off, so I’m going to get two songs done then whilst Billy finishes writing lyrics for his song “Dark Cloud”. The EP is very near completion, and I’m extremely proud of it considering it’s just a side project.

Side note; I’ve been mixing in Studio One for about a week now, and the good things I mentioned in my initial review have just been bolstered by having more experience working with it. I’ve got a full session’s worth of plugins running at 128 samples, and Studio One hasn’t even given me an error message, let alone crash considering I’m running an insane amount of plugins. Using outboard gear with Studio One is an absolute breeze as well, and the fact you can adjust the phase of the effected signal with a plugin which displays the waveform is incredible. Major props to the developers at PreSonus for making such a stable piece of software.

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