Just a few days left! This will probs be my last post until after the deadline – just wanted to check in a bit with my progress since last time, no in-depth look at my approach this time, just a quick rundown of what I’ve accomplished.

iPad as a synth workstation

Things have moved very quickly in the last four days. Immediately after finishing tracking the vocals, I made a push to lay down a bass part on everything. With the simple drum beats I put together for the scratch takes, at that point I had acceptable, if very minimal, recordings for each of the songs. I got that done, more or less, by Thursday night, and it wasn’t really anything terribly exciting: I used the same approach as for guitars and vocals, tracking about 5 takes for each song and then, when needed, putting together an edit from those. For the most part, I was able to run one take for the majority of a song, just slicing in the odd passage here and there.

After that, it was on to tracking synth and keys parts. I’m not quite finished with that, but I’d say I’m about 95% of the way there. 8 of my ten songs are fully tracked, I think, and two more have everything arranged and just need to be layered a bit more richly.

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Two microphones, side by sideSince my previous post, I’ve made some great progress with this project. Last week, I laid down all of the rhythm guitar parts, and I’m pretty happy with them. I mostly tracked electric guitars, with a few absolutely great-sounding acoustic guitar parts as well.

After taking this past weekend off to participate in Ptbo Game Jam 02 (a ton of fun, but why oh why did it have to be the same month as the RPM Challenge?) I put in a solid day on Monday, and finished tracking all of the lead vocal takes for my 10 songs. In my mind, those two are the hard parts: there’s still plenty to do, but most of it’s either going to be sequenced, or just less taxing on me as a performer, so the challenges on the horizon are going to be more about creative decision making rather than hard musicianship.

I have to admit: I find very little joy in tracking vocals. I’m no stranger to singing – I’ve been doing it on stage and in the studio for over 10 years – but while I’m confident enough in front of a microphone I’m, objectively speaking, not a great singer. I long ago made peace with how my recorded voice sounds, but all the same this is the part of the recording process that I find the most taxing, and the time when I feel the most vulnerable, for lack of a better word.

I have a decent idea, from past experience, about how to produce my vocal parts so they sound good, and by the end of this last phase of this project, I got into a pretty solid routine for approaching laying down the takes, so for the rest of this post I’ll go over that in more detail.

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It’s growing at an exponential rate…

Oh lawd, we’re past the half-way mark, aren’t we? After my last post, I’ve been knee-deep in tracking “keeper” takes, mostly of guitars so far. I’m trying to hold myself to a higher standard than for the scratch takes, which means it’s slow going at times, but the project is shaping up nicely. A pleasant surprise has been that, as I dig into the nitty-gritty of capturing decent performances, I’m finding what I recorded earlier is decent enough to still be useful – more often than not, as one voice of a doubled part.

On Sunday, Mike (at Leadfoot) was decent enough to lend me a few microphones that are much nicer and versatile than what I was working with previously. I don’t really have the time to obsess about mic techniques, but it’s opened up a lot of possibilities. More on that later, maybe.

For this post, I’m going to delve into something more on the technical side: digital gain staging, and how I use it to keep my DAW sessions organized.

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Tracking the guide takes for “Pretty Saro”

Whew – as I write this, it’s about half way through what I hope to be my work day on Feb. 11th, and I’ve just put the final scratch track to bed. I’ve got bounces of all 10 tracks queued up in REAPER for some critical listening, to make some notes before I get into tracking “for real.” That leaves me with 17 days and change, to arrange the songs, record all the parts, do the mixes and put together a final master. I like those odds.

Today, I’m going to write about my approach for recording scratch takes, what I hope to do with them, and why I thought it was a good idea to spend the first third of the RPM Challenge recording parts that I more or less intend to abandon.

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Since the start of February, I’ve been spending just about as much time and energy as I can muster working on a project for the Trent Radio RPM Challenge. If you’re not familiar, the RPM Challenge is an exercise in rapid music production, where participants aim to make a full-length album of new music, start to finish, in the month of February.

I’m no newbie when it comes to music production, but apart from a few tracks here and there, all the recordings I’ve made have been group efforts – most significantly, with someone else (usually Michael Grundy at Leadfoot Studio) sitting in the engineer’s chair doing all of the heavy lifting on the tech side.

My main goal for this month, then, is to test drive both the home recording setup I’ve put together, and an approach for working on my solo projects. For the rest of February, I’ll be blogging about my progress, the techniques I’m developing, and the challenges along the way.

For now, I’ll briefly outline the project I’m envisioning, and the equipment & software I’m using.

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(This was originally written on ludumdare.com in the aftermath of Ludum Dare 34, December 21, 2015.)

After writing up my post-mortem for Xtreme Crop Duster Simulator ’82, I had a comment from pkenney asking about how the two-camera setup I created in Unity worked, and how I used Unity’s built-in shaders to achieve the graphical style of the game. A lot of the positive feedback I’ve received about the game makes reference to the graphical style, so I was already mulling the idea of a post about exactly that – the comment spurred me to actually write it up.

Lots of text and graphics to follow, which likely isn’t be applicable outside of Unity and may only be of interest to people keen on this sort of graphical style, so the real meat of the article follows the break. But as a teaser:

Before and after

The challenge, which I had run into in previous Ludum Dares, is that square pixels are a relatively recent innovation. The Commodore 64’s multicolor low-resolution mode which I emulated in this game had a resolution of 160×200, displayed on a 4:3 television. This means that the pixels, once rendered, are 1.6 times as wide as they are tall – not a nice ratio to deal with. In my LD32 entry, Red Threat, I handwaved the problem away by drawing the sprites with 2:1 pixels, and scaling the whole thing up 2x to 640×400. It worked, but the effect was graphics that were noticeably stretched if you’re familiar with the real hardware.

This time around, I wanted to do better.

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