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.
Since 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.
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.
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.
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.
This summer at Trent Radio, I’ve been doing something a little different from my usual fare. The show is called Radio Free Pyongyang, and originally started out as a vehicle for me to play with sound collage, especially with material from some great audio archives like the Conet Project. It’s been pretty fun, but keeping up with finding new archives week after week is a challenge. (The fun kind of challenge!)
This week, however, I was spurred on to try something even more new by two influences. First, Bennett Bedoukian, who I’ve shared a night with on Trent Radio every season since I started this crazy adventure in community radio, has been doing a great program called Interface immediately after mine where he makes all sorts of wonderfully strange sounds with a sampler and some effects processing. Second, at the last No Pussyfooting practice, I was playing around with some long-dormant effects pedals of my own, and with using my iPad for it’s drum-machine-and-synthesizer capabilities.
As such, I combined the two for an experiment of live synthesizer Frippertronics. On the iPad, I used Tabletop with iMini (and a few dalliances into Voxen), run through a Boss Harmonist HR-2 and a Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler, and then direct into the board. Once in the board, I used the “remote” channel as a ~10 second delay, which also – to my pleasant surprise – also reversed the stereo field, giving some fun ping-pong effects.
You can take a listen here, edited only to remove my hesitating introduction and a station ID:
Radio Free Pyongyang broadcasts every Tuesday night this summer, 7:30-8:30pm Eastern through Trent Radio, 92.7FM in Peterborough and streaming online. Who knows? I might do something like this again sometime.
Correction: I stated on air that, of the eight authors of the Gaza Youth’s Manifesto for Change, 7 had received scholarships in America but were denied permission by Israel to leave Gaza to study. In fact, this was the case for only one of the eight authors.