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.
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.
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.
I’m writing this post on a bit of a whim. Over this weekend, I’ve been listening back to old projects that I’ve worked on from 2013-present, and one thing sets apart the recordings I really like compared to the recordings that don’t sound that great, and that is a good drummer. I’ve realised that you can have all the mics, pres and outboard in the world, but if you don’t have the most fundamental part for getting a great drum recording, then you may as well not bother. What makes a good drummer? Well, first and foremost, you need a drummer that can actually stay in time with the track/click. Just as importantly, you need a drummer that can make the drums “sing”; by that I mean making the drums resonate in a certain way, hitting the stick consistently in the same area (unless otherwise done so for effect – rim shots, for example), creating dynamics in the performance. For most modern genres of music, you need a drummer that can hit the drums (not cymbals) HARD. Forceful input from the drummer will create a forceful output and drums that “sing” in the mix. A great performance is absolutely essential. I find this to be most apparent with toms, but all drum shells need to be hit hard. If a drummer doesn’t put enough force hitting toms, they’ll sound wimpy in the mix – guaranteed. Secondly, you need good sounding drums. Don’t come to a session with 10-year-old drum heads covered in duct tape and are out of tune from sitting in a garage for years. What’s the point? Pointing a mic at horrible-sounding drums isn’t going to make them sound like a million bucks. If you have a good drummer with a well-maintained kit, you will absolutely get a great drum recording if you keep phase relationships in mind. What I’ve realised over the years is that a great performance in a great song mixes itself. It makes the mix engineer’s job a million times easier as they can focus on enhancing a great performance rather than fixing problems.
I’ve recently downloaded the demo of Studio One 3.0 and have been mixing some drums to get somewhat of a feel of it, before deciding whether I commit to buy or not. You may have seen (many blog posts ago) that I added screenshots of Studio One 2.0 when I used to use it. As I work in education as a Music Technician, I got this software for free directly from PreSonus. I found that Studio One 2.0 wasn’t as reliable as Pro Tools 11 when I was using it for a session (ironically, everyone else seemed to say the opposite), so I went back to Pro Tools after using Studio One for one project.
Why I may switch DAW
Since Avid have announced that Pro Tools is becoming a subscription-based service with Pro Tools 12, I thought that now is the best time to jump ship to another DAW which won’t alienate its customers/users with ridiculous marketing strategies, I.E announcing Pro Tools 12 and having the promo video just listing everything about cloud collaboration. When I used Studio One 2.0, I found the GUI to be quite lacklustre and uninspiring; it looked cheap and old. That was the biggest thing that caught my attention with Studio One 3.0 – the GUI.
The Look of Studio One 3.0
Whilst other features of Studio One 3.0 seem cool (the scratch pad and various VSTis and effects), it was the GUI that I was most interested in. Using the demo of Studio One 3.0 inspires me to work; the capability to change the background colours to my liking is also a huge feature that I’ve not seen in other DAWs. The ability to resize faders for higher resolution is also another great feature which I’ll definitely be using a lot when automating or fine-tuning fader adjustments during mixing.
I’m also a guy that wants to use quantizing to tighten up a drum performance when needed, but often find that quantizing does more harm than good (flam artefacts, beats not aligning to the grid properly, etc). Although I don’t think the quantizing algorithm has changed in this version of Studio One (besides their elastique pro 3), I’ve found that quantizing drums in Studio One is so much easier than what it is in Pro Tools. Having to work in 4-8 bar loops in Pro Tools is a very time-consuming process and, in my experience, rarely did the job correctly. In Studio One, I managed to quantize a whole 3 minute song worth of drums and the drums were mostly correct to the grid with barely any flam artefacts. Having said this, I have found that the crossfade and merge events feature much to be desired, as the crossfades will often fade on a transient, and the merge events function doesn’t fill in gaps that the quantizing didn’t clear up. This is a feature that Pro Tools has had in Beat Detective for many years, and I think if Studio One incorporated a “fill gaps and crossfade” feature, quantizing in Studio One 3.0 would be an absolute breeze compared to other DAWs.
The real ‘proof in the pudding’ for me will be if I can record 16 tracks simultaneously without any errors. This is something that I found happened a lot in Studio One 2.0, which is why I went back to using Pro Tools 11. So if I can record 48kHz, 24bit audio (or higher) onto my 2011 Macbook Pro with an i5, 4gb ram and a 250gb hard drive without drop outs, I will use Studio One 3.0 as my primary DAW from now on. Having said this, my first impressions of Studio One 3.0 are good ones, and I’m sure with the incremental updates that will be released, my personal issues with this DAW could be rectified along with other people’s user feedback.
On Monday, I recorded drums for an upcoming (and currently unnamed) project that I’m a part of. We’ve written three songs over the course of about a month, two of which were written anyway from previous projects that we’d been in. I suppose we’re reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World and The American Scene, but these three songs are quite different from one another, as we’re trying to hone in our sound. The band comprises of myself, Max from Light Fire Down and Billy who I’ve known for about a couple of years. We’re still searching for a bassist, but for this EP we’re going to record the parts ourselves and put it out there for any potential bassists to hear.
The drum session went pretty well. It was nice to take as long as I wanted with mic placement and choosing what mics to place on a source without a band getting panicky that I’m eating into their tight budget. We recorded in the back room of the village hall where I recorded Summer Drive Home and Tate, as it’s the best room I’ve found locally that sounds incredible for drums, and it’s super super cheap to hire for a day.
Mics were mainly going into my new Audient ASP008 which was fed into my Universal Audio Apollo via ADAT; the rest of the mics went into pretty coloured pres like my Warm Audios for toms and my newly built Hairball Audio Bronze 500 series pre for the outer kick mic. I tried a couple of different things, but it was my usual go-to array of mics on the sources:
- SM57 inner kick
- NT2000 outer kick
- SM57 top and bottom snare
- SM57 hi tom
- MD421 floor tom
- SM7B hi-hat
- KSM32s overheads
- Fathead II room
This was the first session I had with this setup where I recorded drums, and I’m seriously impressed with how it’s sounding. Everything was right; the room we recorded in was insane, the kit we used sounded incredible and had heads that were pretty new, the mics I was using were all of good quality, and the mic pres and conversion were also pretty high end. I also experimented with some Auralex foam (pictured) that I’d borrowed from work to cut down on some room reflections getting into the close mics, which worked a little bit. I wanted to hang some duvets on the side walls, but there was no way we could’ve held them up. I also used these Studiospares knock-offs of the Primacoustic crash guard for the top snare and hi tom mics which helped a little bit with bleed, but also seemed to give a more focused sound to each drum.
I’ve since comped drums and I’m going to quantize them before we record DI guitar tracks to be reamped at a local studio. Looking forward to the end product of this product!
Today is the day that my buds in Light Fire Down release their new EP that we recorded for digital and physical release. We recorded this EP way back in May/June last year, and the guys have finally put it out for your listening pleasure. I’m extremely happy how this EP turned out, songwriting wise and production. I think we all kicked it up a notch with this one!
I’m also proud of the result considering the circumstances we were faced with. I recorded this whole EP when I would finish work at 5pm each day. We only had four hour windows to get each instrument tracked, and were constantly racing the clock. Not to mention having guitar lessons taking place above us each session, where I’d reluctantly tell them to be quieter or move to another room. We even had a guy walk into the drum session mid-take, and had the door slam behind him. We were basically battling the clock and everyone else every session. It was a nightmare. Having said that, the added pressure made us more focused and work harder.
Despite the added pressures, these sessions were a lot of fun. With us being so absorbed by the recording process, the laughs we had made it more sane for us (that, and having pizza brought to the sessions). Anyway, you can stream the whole EP below.