Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On a shoestring project part 18

  The turkey (or ham in my case) was had. Santa came once again, and the silly season is starting to wind down. I hope you all had a good one, I most certainly did:-)
  Now you know I have given you some snippets of my equipment. But I thought to break the basics down a bit. So what would you need to record a CD at home? Well there are few minimum requirements. First of all, as much as I love analogue, if you are on a budget digital is the way to go. To record and mix an album on an equipment does require lot more hardware: tape machine, studio desk, compressors, reverb units... This list could be endless. Don't take me wrong, I would love to take the band in to a great analogue studio and record this album there. But as we all know, that would not be cheap... probably thousand s of miles away from my shoestring budget. But I do know from over a decade of studio work, that we can achieve great results on digital. And actually, the analogue equipment need to be very high standard before it beats the digital. So lets not get in to the ever so popular debate between the analogue and digital. My point is, today the digital is cheaper, full stop.
  First and foremost you will need a computer. Mac or PC? (oh I can hear the warriors from both camp itching for a fight...) Again not an argument I really want to get in to in this blog, but let me just say this much: I tried both for recording over the years, and at the moment the difference is so small I would recommend to use what ever you're most familiar with. The hype over Mac has worn bit thin on me. I mean if Apple can release a simple mobile device with so many bugs and faults (something Microsoft was always blamed of), what makes their computers so much better? I am used to windows, and my Cubase runs smooth even on Vista (note to self: stop getting in the middle of age old arguments...). If you fancy your self on a beach somewhere, producing a track with a thin as credit card mac book, with barely a half an USB port, good luck! Then most of the advice I'll be sharing on this blog is probably no good to you, we are talking about making an album on a shoestring budget after all... I do think, for pure processing power for your hard earned money, PC would be my preference. Mine is an Acer aspire, with 2GHz Intel Pentium processor, 3GB ram and an 160GB hard drive. It has four USB connections. And yes it is a laptop, just in case I want to go to that same beach with my friend on his mac book;-). I would not worry about any fancy sound card. You will be more than likely bypassing it anyway with a USB audio interface. Just make sure you have ample supply of ram, big enough processor, I would recommend the 2GHz, and some storage. Now this you can expand with external hard drive and I would recommend this. Keep in mind that audio recording files are not small, and will fill up your computer pretty fast. To maintain a good working computer for recording does require regular house cleaning and maintenance. Recording software saves everything, even if you delete a take in the software, its still on your hard drive. I'll give more detailed advice on this subject later date. But if you think that an average CD is lets say 700mb for 80mins of music. This is a stereo signal, so two mono tracks. Now lets count that you would have Drums recorded on 6 tracks, (and I'm being very sparing here) Bass on 1 track, Electric guitar doubled 2tracks, Vocal and few backing vocals 3 tracks. So even that is already 12 tracks, and I know you will have lots more. So for that alone you are talking about 4.2 Gigabytes of hard drive space. It's also good to back up your lovingly crafted recordings. If you can get a completely silent computer, great! I would love to hear about it. But as long as it's not an jet engine, you can work around this. Good heavy blanket on top of the computer during recording can work wonders, just remember to air it between the takes, the noise it makes is the cooling fan that stops the computer over heating and if it does, it will not be a happy camper...
  There still are lots of recording software that are made either for PC or Mac, so this could be one deciding point. Also on PC, go for a reliable make. Macs are all built by Apple, but PCs are built by hundreds of different companies. So yeah, go for a make you trust.
  So that's the first part, the computer done. Next week we'll go through how you actually get the signal in to the computer. But for now, enjoy the end of your holidays. Have cracking start to the new year and I will talk to you next week:-)

Glory to the World - Single - J.P. Kallio

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On a shoestring project part 17

  By God I don't believe Christmas is almost here! Oh how time flies. Anyway, here is a little Christmas video for you guys. Hope you like it, I had fun making it:-) It's also another way to come up with an video, without big budget. Obviously this kind of cartoon won't suit every song, but I think it works here pretty nice. Glory to the world by jpkallio!
  The site of all this snow in Dublin makes me think of winters back home. Actually you know, I partly financed my first valve amp by shoveling snow for a whole winter. It was a Laney Pro-Tube Lead AOR Series 50 watt 1x12 combo. Loud, heavy (I could just about carry it my self) and built like a tank. I had to part from it when I moved over to Ireland. Still miss it...
  I'm going to go back to basics here for a little while. Lets talk about band practice. I never had a big budget to hire professional full time musicians for this project. And I can tell you, that in my mind this has been a good thing. Don't get me wrong, these guys are very professional in their manner of working and playing. What I mean is they have full time jobs, and I need to allow for this in the schedule of the project. So we have been rehearsing on average once a week for almost three months. I find it is great thing to give the band members creative freedom. It just makes the whole project more ours than just mine. And it is a great motivational tool as well. I know my self, if I was to step in to project, where I was just to play what I was told to, I might do it, but there better be a nice paycheck at the end of the day. But when I have creative investment in any project, it becomes partly mine, and I know you will get better performance out of me. This has been very much the case with the guys. And it all comes down to the same thing again, you need to have great team around you! And I could not be happier at the moment:-)
  I try to make demo recordings of the songs before I bring them to the rehearsal, so the guys can get familiar with them. Then we break the songs down to parts and work out each part individually. Then we glue it all together and make sure all the parts ease smoothly to next one. Then we let the song to brew until the next rehearsal. Usually by then all of us have some new arrangement ideas to try out. And usually after couple of rehearsals the song gets its final shape. Then it's all down to playing it through enough times that it is committed to muscle memory (meaning your fingers know what to do and where to go with out thinking, meaning some one drags you up in the middle of the night and puts an instrument in your hand and you can play it without thinking twice).
  In the past working with Sliotar I found playing songs live in front of audience for few weeks does add extra depth to them, and tightens them up nicely. But then again when you have played a piece of music about hundred time, it is little more difficult to change something in the recording stage. So now I try to find the nice balance in rehearsing enough to get the recording done smoothly, but with out the tracks going stale from over playing. This also is something, that I think every band have their own way and I know even in the past, when I worked in different bands (and there has been many...) every one of them had unique way of practising. But still having some structure instead of just playing through songs is what separates weekend players from pros.
  It's also good tip for guitar practise as well, break things down. For me the guitar is a never ending learning curve. And I still try to practice or play every day. What I do is take something I want to work on, weather it is a difficult chord change, a solo lick, rhythmic pattern or a scale, I practice it through with metronome for a five minute set. Then move on to something else, and I might come back to it later. So if one of your new years resolutions is to learn to play guitar, try this. Also I am more than happy to give any tips on this as well, just Email me at:
  Speaking of new years resolutions, do you have any? Unfortunately for me, part of being a guitar player is a constant search for tone. I know there are musicians who buy an high quality instrument, amp and maybe some pedals, and they are happy with this. All I can say to that is: good for you. Even when I am happy with my tone, there's always room for improvement. So once again part of my new years resolution is a shopping list... But hey, that's part of the game. As long as you find a good balance between the technology and a skill.
  Now I must head out to do some last minute Christmas shopping, and try to avoid the guitar shops;-) As always, would love to hear your comments and feedback. Have a great holiday every one:-) And more to come straight after Christmas.

Glory to the World - Single - J.P. Kallio

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On a shoestring project part 16

  Once again I have come to a conclusion that there is some thing new to learn around every corner. The week 15 brought out my first single (Big thank you to every one who purchased the track!). Apart from being able to offer a track for purchase, I wanted to test the waters with promotion. I have kept it pretty basic still, all the social media sites and contacting individual radio shows at national and some local radio stations. But anyone who knows even a bit how radio works in Ireland knows I might as well be throwing rocks to the see and hoping to catch a fish... It is very much a business driven media, and that’s just the way it has been and probably will be in the future. And as of right now, I don't really have much of business value in their eyes. But this is exactly what I needed to find out for the actual album release. I am becoming to understand (well... more like accept what I already knew...), that I might need to spend some money on PR somewhere along the line. This is an area where I have no past experience, so again it will take lots of research, filtering through the net and lots of coffee! For some of you this might be an obvious one, but still needs to be mentioned: Hot Press Yearbook, the yellow pages of Irish music industry. This is good starting point, but at the same time I am pretty sure there are lots more out there that haven't listed them selves here. Also especially when the album will be coming out, in Ireland I will be targeting a niche market. There is a healthy hard rock / indie scene in Ireland, but it would not get much main stream radio time. When in other parts of Europe it would be completely different situation. What good PR Company has and I don't, is a relationship with the media. If they put forward a track, it actually has a chance to get played, or even in my wildest dreams end up on the play list.
  In the old model of the music business, a record company would spend as much on the PR as they did actually on the recording of an album. But in my case, being on a shoestring budget, I really need to get value for every single euro I spend. So my task will be to find suitable PR companies and ask quotes and what they can offer, and I am sure I will skip few beats when I get the quotes... Put I need to make a bit of a point here. I will not be looking for a company to promise me an ex-amount of friends and visits on Facebook, YouTube, MySpace etc. I can do that myself. What I need is good old fashioned publicity; believe it or not it still has its value.
  On the other hand, we are trying to brace the new model of music industry. And this is all about thinking outside the box. So maybe I should come up with some kind of incentive for people to download the “Glory to the world”. Free lolly pop with every download? Actually I do make a mean chocolate chip cookies ;-). So if you have any ideas on suitable or even just funny incentive I would love to hear them. Also from my past experience, one of the best forms of promotion still is a Live show. And we will be planning some concerts in the New Year :-)
  Oh yeah, and let me go back to the Zoom R16 for a second. I have tested it in the rehearsals few times, and it sounds great. But last week I brought it in and I used the built in stereo microphone in the unit and recorded some tracks, and I must say I was impressed! I brought the tracks home and uploaded them to Cubase LE 5, which is going to be my main recording software for now on for the project. The vocals were bit muddy, so I just doubled them and I ended up with really nice rehearsal demos.

And here is a bit of a song writing story. I was meeting the guys in town last Thursday to head for the rehearsals. Just before I got the “Outside the house in 2mins” call from the guys I was listening some tracks on YouTube, and I heard a chord from a song, it was the opening chord of a song and as soon as I heard that first chord, inspiration hit me. I paused the YouTube, picked up the guitar and song just spilled out. I wrote two verses and a chorus on the computer. But even I had to head for the rehearsals I did not want to loose the inspiration, so I took a picture of the lyrics on the computer screen, grabbed my equipment and ran out of the house. While still waiting outside the house I finished the lyrics on my phone. On a coffee break in the rehearsals I transferred the lyrics from the phone to a piece of paper, and went through the song few times with the guys, and at the end of the rehearsal we recorded a rough demo of the song. Now you can't really get hotter off the press than that :-)
  So where are we at? We have 13 songs that just need some committing to muscle memory. I think few more, and then we choose 11 for the Album and 4 for the EP :-). I am hoping to start tracking some drums next week, but we'll see how we get on. Christmas will put a break in to things for few weeks, but that’s ok. It's good to take the demos and just listen to them for a week or so with out playing them. Sometimes when you are in the middle of it, it's good to get some distance and look at things from different perspective.
So that's the ramblings for this week, thanks once again for taking the time to read this. And hope to see you here next week :-)

Glory to the World - Single - J.P. Kallio

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On a shoestring project part 15

I'm just back from a two week tour with Sliotar and it feels great to be back at home. But what a few weeks it has been in Ireland... While I was on the road, the economy collapsed and the country froze and got berried in snow. Now being a Finn, I have been through all of this in my life time. So what to do? Hide in a bed and hope world will look better tomorrow? No! Get up and keep going. That’s life; there are ups and downs, good times and tough times. Finland was berried neck deep in recession when I finally flunked out of school, and all I could think to do was play my guitar and get out and play gigs. And actually I haven't really stopped since then.

So as I already have mentioned in the past few weeks, today is the launch of my first download single :-) This is a track I first wrote quite few years back, but it got berried under lots of other songs and projects. But I dug it out last August, and basically rewrote it. It somehow seems more relevant today than when I first wrote it. The single is an acoustic version of the track; the electric version will be on the album.

The track was recorded here at my home. On the track you have Acoustic guitar, Bass, Vocals and some light percussion. It was all recorded very organically; the only real studio trick indulgence I allowed to myself was spreading the acoustic with two sources. I placed a Shure beta 57 A around about where the Guitars neck meets the body. And I have Takamine TRI-AX sound hole pick up (Basically same as L.R. Baggs M1) that is an magnetic pickup that picks the string vibration, and also the vibrations from the top of the guitar. It is a wonderful pickup that I have been using for a quite some time now, after years of searching “The Sound”. So I also recorded this, and panned them on either side. This is one of the basic studio tricks used lot on guitars and drum overheads. It will make the guitar stereo, make it sound fuller and give it more presence. I wanted the Bass to sound mellow for the acoustic version, so we run the bass through my Fender blues junior amp and miced it with the beta 57A as well. The percussion was added with some home made shakers (Beer cans filled with rice and couscous). We recorded the track about two months ago over few days and first I had no plans of releasing it, but it ended sounding so nice that I thought it would have been a shame to let it just stay as a demo. So I spent few days of mixing it. Little bit of compression to even things out, even though all the takes were pretty even, and some tasty reverb to add some space. As I have mentioned in the past blogs, I try to keep the eq to minimum, but as I recorded the vocals on the Beta 57 A as well, my voice needed bit of a low cut around 200hrz. And it is always good to make sure the bass and the guitar will not end up on top of each others. But everything was recorded very naturally, so there was not too much need for processing.

As to the song it self, “Glory to the world”. If you feel every Christmas that the panic sets in weeks before, the city comes just unbearable, the money flies out of your pocket and it all just some how does not make sense, this is the soundtrack for you! Bit of a laugh, but at the sometime an underlying message of: let’s just stop and think for a second what we are doing.

With the help of AWAL I got the single distributed to all the major download stores and it is available on iTunes from today! And the price is only €0.99. All the profits will be used for the “On a shoestring” project and you will be supporting an independent artist :-)It is also available from other sites, for a list go to

Now it is full steam a head. I need to catch up on some missed rehearsal time and start the actual Album recording; this is what we have been building up to. My home studio is more or less set and ready, song structures are rehearsed, even though I do like to leave some room for changes during recording. And I am sure I will write more songs during the recording as well. But yeah, all set. And I will do my best to document all aspects of this process in the coming months. I will have my mobile phone with its camera with me all along the process and also Tomasz Jastrzebski (The Bass player) will be taking photos, he is an up and coming photographer and his interest is very much in the music. As being a part of this project he has offered to take all necessary photos for the album and for the blog, but he is also looking to take photos for other artists. You can contact him through his web site

So that’s all for this week, keep yourselves warm and if you want to make my day, go and download my new single:-)
Glory to the World - Single - J.P. Kallio

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On a shoestring project part 14

Hi you all again. As you know I have been writing a short kind of first impressions on my new recording equipment in the past few weeks. This week is the last one, and it is the AKG Perception 220 large diaphragm microphone. It comes in a nice hard case, well padded in foam. In the case we have an AKG catalogue, user manual and a warranty card. There is a very sturdy shockmount and some spare elastic bands for it, and the microphone it self. This is very well built microphone. It has a bit of weight, the casing is all metal. It has two switches; one is a -20db pad for loud sound sources, and a low bass cut. Both are features I am sure I will be using a lot. The main purpose of this microphone for me will be recording vocals, but according to the manufacturer it is good for, percussion, drums, acoustic guitar... But hey, they would say that anyway. Time will tell. I can compare this to three other microphones that I have used in the past, the Behringer B1, Studio Projects B1 ( Some one told me in the past that both microphones are made in same factory and basically the same microphone, but I am not sure about this at all), and the all so popular Rode NT-1. Straight ahead I can tell you that the AKG is built much sturdier than any of the above, the Studio Projects is well built, but not anywhere near as heavy as the AKG, I can say the same from the Behringer. The old version of Rode NT-1 always seemed surprisingly light to me. The Studio Projects has served me well in the past, but I never found the frequency response very even on it. I always found tweaking the EQ more than I would like, even after trying loads of mic positions. As to the Behringer, a friend of mine actually managed to damage one of them. And this was not by bouncing it off the floor or anything like that. Irish wooden flute played close to it and the diaphragm just got jammed on one side and would not vibrate anymore. But hey, that’s what you get when a pub owner decides to buy equipment for live music with out asking any experts advice; you can't beat the good old SM 58 in a pub environment. The Rode is a nice microphone for the money, and for a while there it really was the best thing in its price region.
I set up my new microphone, and plugged in through Zoom R16 in to Cubase. It was time for a test recording. And I must say I was really pleased with what I heard. I have funny frequency range in my voice. It sounds like there is not too much low frequency, but when you record it there is a sneaky muddy bottom (and yes, I am still talking about sound here!). With the AKG I had the low pad on, and if you are recording vocals in a normal home environment I would recommend this as most of the frequencies that low are just background notice. To my delight I could actually leave the EQ flat. A good friend of mine who is a brilliant sound engineer, with about 30 years of high end professional studio experience, had a theory that EQ actually distorts the original wave form. Now my knowledge on the subject is not good enough to say weather this is accurate, but I do find it better to try to get as good sound with microphone positioning and selection, rather than relying on heavy EQ. So to my voice this microphone worked great. Next I placed in front of my trusted Blues junior amp, plugged in a guitar and strummed few chords. This was actually very nice sound. I have been using my Beta 57 almost religiously on guitar amp, but the AKG will definitely get used here again. In the manual it also said that with the -20db pad you can even please the microphone inside a bass drum... I think I would be bit hesitant the first time I would try this. But hey, if it says so in the manual ;-)
So the next trick was to bring the Zoom r16 to the rehearsal room and record a demo of the whole band. Then I brought the recording home and replaced the vocals with the AKG. To my delight the sound sits very well in the mix. It sounds very natural. For any one who has done any basic recording knows that it can be really hard to get the vocals to sit in the mix. They can sound like they are in another space or something, just does not sound natural. Usually a large diaphragm condenser microphone is a good start to try to fix this problem. You will notice a big difference between that and your trusted SM 58. And The AKG is a step up from this again. And now that I have bit more time to try out my new equipment, I can say I am really happy and confident to get started on the actual album recording :-)
And to finish off, just a quick reminder of the single that will be coming out next Wednesday the 8th of December. If you download it, you will be helping the “On a shoestring” project, and supporting an independent musician. Oh yeah, and you get a cracking track as well ;-)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On a shoestring project part 13

  Christmas is heading our way with unstoppable determination, but I feel like mine came last week :-). I will go through here what will be the heart of my home recording set up, Zoom R16.
  First things first, credit where credit is due, I purchased mine in dear old Dublin in the good old Goodwins music shop. I mentioned them before, and probably will in the future as well. Every musician in Europe knows of the German super store Thomann, they have been a music shop for a long time, but they came about six or seven years ago and took over the market. They had a great website while most other shops were still only thinking about it. They bought everything in large quantities, often they have bigger stock of particular product than the suppliers have. So they became the cheapest place in Europe to buy musical equipment, and as the delivery was free if you spent over certain amount, it was a good deal. But times are changing. The Goodwins music shop on Capel Street sold me the Zoom R16 cheaper than the Thomann:-). Now that is what I like. Also again their customer service was just brilliant. I went in the morning and the Zoom was out of stock. They ordered it straight away and got to pick it up the same afternoon.
  I have here in front of me a brand new R16 still in its box. I open the box and my first impression is the size of the unit. It is roughly about the size of a laptop. It is well built, I must say. I think the only worry I would have would be the actual faders, if I was to transport it without a proper case (and with the size of the unit, I can see me bringing it with me quite often). It comes with a power supply, but can also be powered with AA batteries or in interface mode it can be powered by the USB cable. There is a dissent length USB cable and a 1G memory card. Also you get Cubase LE 5 with it, very capable recording software. I have worked a lot with Cubase in the past, so I'm pretty sure this one will be put to use. The set up and syncing of Cubase and the Zoom took a while, and the registration of the Cubase took me a few goes, nothing like bit of patience and persistence would not sort out ;-)
The basic operations of the unit are well explained in the manual and easy to learn. In fact, I was up doing a test recording in less than half an hour. The unit has two built in microphones, eight microphone inputs, two with phantom power. I am sure in the next month or so, I will be testing this little bad boy to its limits, and I will keep coming back to it as we move along. But I am really impressed, the quick test recording gave me a rough idea of the microphone preamps, and I really liked what I heard. I mean, it is not an Avalon or Neve, but it is better than lot of dedicated mic pre units I have tried for more money than what I paid for this whole unit. All of the controls have nice feel to them and I am really looking forward to getting down to some real work with this unit.
  In next weeks blog I will still go through my initial impression of the AKG Perception 220 condenser microphone, and that will be the last of the reviews before we will actually get in to some serious recording.
As you know I have mentioned on the side few times about the Christmas single. Here is bit more info. The track is and Acoustic version of one of the album tracks “Glory to the world”. It will be available at iTunes and all the major online retailers as a download only and will be coming out on the 8th of December. Closer to it I will set up all the links on my website. The lyrics are bit tongue in cheekbut hopefully it'll stop you to think for a while before maxing out your credit card this Christmas :-)
  Also as we have been rehearsing the songs for the album, there have been more tracks than we want on the actual album. As a result I will put out a free download EP as soon as we have the tracks ready, at the moment looks like January. You will be able to get your hands on the EP by signing up to my Email list and if you already have, you will be the first to get it :-). Then of course we have the Album coming out later in the spring, and this will be available as a physical CD as well.
  For now, thanks for dropping by. Leave comments and I will talk to you all more next week :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On a shoestring project part 12

  The day has come :-) I took the plunge and committed to the purchase of some recording equipment. And here I will give you a small rundown of what I got and what it is like. First: I changed my mind on a last minute about my Studio speakers. The Esi near 05 was hard to come by in any shops in Dublin, and as I have not used these companies’ products in the past, I would at least like to see them in real life before ordering them online. There were some M-Audio speakers in the Music maker in Dublin. Friend of mine in Denmark has an older pair of M-Audio speakers in his home recording set up, and while I was visiting him, I was very impressed with them. So the new M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 was the way I decided to go. They gave me a great deal, they matched Thomanns prices :-).
  I took my knife and carefully sliced the box open. And in it I found another box. So the anticipation builds up again, and second time I run my blade along the tape. I am greeted with two booklets, M-Audios Overdub volume 1, a guide to studio monitors and a Glossy user guide. The speakers are resting between two polystyrene trays. Between them is a bag full of leads and a power lead. I knew from reviews of these speakers that one of them is the power speaker and the other is a slave. So I detect the one with more connections on the back, and lift it up. It is heavy for its size, I like that. There is a foam pads with one sticky side at the bottom of the box. They look like you can attach them to the bottom of the speaker for avoiding scratches and for a little separation from the table, again a nice extra. I lift the other slave the box, and to my surprise this one is heavy as well. In the bag full of leads I find a stereo mini jack to phono lead, not any mind blowing quality, but still pretty sturdy. Some good quality speaker cable to connect the two speakers together and for some reason here is also a stereo mini jack to stereo mini jack lead. I assume it is for the auxiliary in connection on front of the power speaker. Also on front of the speaker you can find a volume control and a phones input -nice extra. The speakers have 4” woofer and a 1” tweeter. Also at the back you have a bass reflex port. At the back of the master speaker we have TRS and line inputs, bass boost switch, power switch, fuse and an AC selector (Leave this alone!).
  So I connect the speakers together, connect the power lead, and as I am still waiting for the Zoom R16 unit, I connect the speakers directly to my laptop. At this point it is good idea to play some music that you know really well through the speakers and get used to what they sound through the speakers. And today I feel like Foo Fighters “The Pretender”. Lets Rock!
Wow! The sound is big! I can't turn the speaker past half way in my small room. This just proves that my choice to go for a bit smaller speakers was the right one. There is no point to get massive speakers if you are mixing in a small room. The bottom end is massive, but I noticed that the bass boost was switched on, so I flip it off and presto. The detail is great; I can really hear the whole stereo spectrum in front of me very clearly. Also the top is clear. Everything seems surprisingly well balanced even before I spent any time positioning these correctly. So far I am very happy with my purchase. I will let you know more on the performance after I get some serious work done on these.
  As mentioned I still need to elevate the speakers to my ear level on my desk, and make sure they are equal distance from where I sit while doing my mixes. This will take some trial and error, I'm sure. Also I need to be extra careful in my small room that the speakers don't reflect of the walls. So lots of testing, moving, listening, and repeating the three before ;-)
  I also got an AKG Perception 220 microphone and the Zoom R16 and I will go through these as well in the next few weeks. Let me just say, this experience has restored my faith in local music shops, the service was great and they matched the big online monsters prices. And if something happened to be faulty, the stores are just up the road.
  To my delight my submission to AWAL (digital distribution company) was accepted few days a go. So it looks like I will have the Christmas single out in December, but more on that later. So far AWAL have proved to be great. Fast and efficient, but still very approachable and down to earth.
Now I have one favour to ask: Those of you who have not done so yet, please do sign up to my Emailing list by clicking here :-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On a shoestring project part 11

  The winter is really making its self known here, temperature dropping near zero and floods bashing the coast line. Also the winter bug is running wild all around me, we had to cancel last weeks rehearsals as some of the musicians were out of action. This just made me realize how much I have grown to love the project. When I got the call in the morning, my heart sank. But everyone is back in form, and we made up some time :-)
  The past week I was focused on research and song writing. I noticed I am writing songs more for the project now. It's like I have two song writing hats, and when the first few lines of the song came to my head, I get a feeling straight away if the song will be a song for my solo project or for Sliotar. I can't even say why or how but I just know... Anyway, as you know Sliotar keeps me busy on weekends and now we are talking to do some recording with Sliotar as well. So it will be busy few weeks a head of me. I might be wearing one hat in the morning and another in the afternoon.
  Its funny how in the beginning of this project I had an acoustic guitar and few songs, but as soon as we had the first rehearsal, I just knew the album was going to be very much a rock album. Now the rebel in me (yeah there is one in there...) is trying to see how far I can push the boat. But at the same time, as I mentioned last week, I want this to be very much an album that works as a unit, not only as individual songs.
  The research I've been doing this week has been about sound. I am working out a plan for the recording and this includes also what I want everything to sound like. So I am listening to lots of music and analyzing every instrument, also reading a lot about the big engineer’s tricks of the trade. These are all little things (actually pretty big things for me) that will speed up the actual recording process, and leave more time for the actual performance. Also my small office space will be where I'll be tracking most of the vocals and guitars ( I already feel sorry for my neighbours while I try to squeeze most out of my Fender Blues junior), and editing and mixing. Drums and Bass probably will be done in the rehearsal rooms, but we'll see). I have looked in to a little bit of DIY acoustic treatment and how to make the most of my limited space. As I'll be locked up there for days, week’s even months, making it a good sounding room and a pleasant environment to work in will be detrimental. My office really is a small box room, roughly about 1.5m by 3m, concrete walls, tile floor and probably too much stuff... and a pile of guitars. And even before I have got my studio monitors, I can see lots of reflection problems. I am not an expert on the subject, but as hiring a professional to acoustically treat my room, would blow a huge hole in my pretty much non existent budget. So once again I am left with the simple task of research, read and learn. And here is what I need to watch out for. If the sound from the speakers reflects from walls, this can exaggerate frequencies, or even worst cases cancel them out. If you have two guitar amps, and a delay pedal, set the repeat on very fast. When you strike a chord, you hear the direct signal and the delay signal only milliseconds later from the second amp, and you have massive sound. Now basically the same thing happens with the studio speakers, except the second signal is the reflection from the wall. On the guitar, this can be good thing, but while mixing track, not so good! And as to the cancellation, let’s break it down. If you have a guitar amp with an open back cabinet, put it against a wall and play a chord. Now move the amp away from the wall little at a time and play the chord again. Eventually you will hit a spot when the signal from the front of the speaker mixes with the reflection of the signal from the back of the amp that bounces back from the wall. And what you are faced without of face signal (Could not resist...). What this basically is the wave forms from the two signals are opposite and the result of a sound weakening, and in most extreme case disappearing (This is the theory behind noise cancelling headphones). So what I need to do is eliminate these reflections in my office. This is my simple explanation to a very complex subject, the way I understand it. If you want to learn more about the subject, there is loads of great free info on the net. I can recommend also a great recording magazine Sound on sound, and they also have loads of articles online.
  I know the past few weeks have been bit heavy on technical info, but all this is very important when you want to record a professional quality CD on a shoestring budget. So let me finish this one with some thing that really has cheered me up in the past few weeks. I stumbled upon a few good men, who do go to extremes with their time and hard work, who believe in the songs I have written and the music we play together. They get out of their beds 7.30 am on their days off, to head for the rehearsals. They rehearse four hours in the morning before going to work an eight hour shifts. Tomek and Sebastian, you guys rock!
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On a shoestring project part 10

   I survived the Halloween weekend, hope it was ok for you guys as well. Once again it is upwards and onwards. I am getting closer and closer to the start of the actual recording of the album. Rehearsals have been going great, the songs are taking their shape, but more so I can hear an album. I think sometimes people forget this, I have made this mistake in the past... When rock music started to become more and more available in LP format, artists started making albums. Now when home recording has become so accessible for most people ( what used to be a price of a studio for one day, now you can buy a basic home recording equipment), The market has been exaggerated by millions of CD's or download albums ( Not a bad thing in my humble opinion, makes every one work harder to stand out). I did the mistake once thinking more is better. An album that had 14 tracks and a running time of over an hour. I must say, listening back to the album is hard work. Don't get me wrong, individual tracks are good, lots of great moments. But as an album it is little bit disjointed and too long. The standard running time of LP was 45 min. And I still think that best albums are around about this length. Also the collection of songs need to work as a unit, making a good album is little bit like making a film. Set of scenes that put together makes sense, keeps you interested and leaves you wanting more. This is very much what I want to achieve. And dare I say this loud? It would be nice to be able to release it as LP as well some day...
   As the idea of this project is to achieve a professional quality CD with a minimum budget, the home recording rout was always the first option. But let’s look in to this for a minute. The direction that the music has taken in the past few months is pretty solid rock album, drums, bass, electric guitar and vocals. And lot of the tracks would benefit from really classic sounds. I have considered in the past few weeks whether or not I should try to get to a professional recording studio for some, if not all of the recording. But this would blow the budget well out of portions (and possibly bankrupt me). I don't think I would benefit from spending my money on mediocre or budget studio, but the top studios still have some of the "toys" that create that exquisite in the sound. So what would they have? Well... Good studio would have great sounding acoustically treated rooms (never under estimate acoustics!), they would have a selection of microphones that I could not even dream of, and I once had the pleasure to record my own voice for one track with AKG C12. This is probably my favourite vocal microphone; at least I haven't got my hands on a better one yet. This I must say was magic... The detail was just out of this world, it was warm, clear, listening back felt like being in the room during the performance. But this microphone comes with a big price tag... in Thomann it is currently going for €3599... The other great industry standard is Neuman U87, Neuman certainly knows how to make rery nice microphones! The next thing in the signal change would be the microphone pre amp, maybe some nice Neve, Avalon or TL Audio. The smoothest compressors in the world, maybe a good old fashioned analogue tape machine. Selection of studio monitors, and of course an experienced engineer that could take all the stress of recording out of my hands... But as mentioned above, this would come at a big price... Even with the dreaded “R” word hanging over our heads, the studios of this standard would be charging anywhere from €500 up to €2000 a day... And let’s face it, if I had that kind of money to throw around, this blog would not be about recording an album on a shoestring budget.
   So I have a laptop, nothing fancy but OK, Acer aspire 5738Z, I have a Shure beta 57 a, a very good industry standard microphone, I have matched pair of Octava MK 012 small diaphragm condensers and I have access to pair of Shure SM 58. I also have friends who could possibly borrow me more microphones for a short term. I've been doing lots of research in the past few months on recording equipment, trying to figure out what would be most suitable for my needs and what would be the best value for money, without compromising on quality. And this is what I have in mind: I would need enough inputs to record drums, and hopefully something to spare. So minimum eight, and I would need XLR microphone inputs, and at least few with phantom power. And a silent operation would be a bonus. So the winner at the moment is Zoom R16 (follow the link for manufacturer’s site) It works as individual unit, as an interface for computer and also as a controller for your recording software. I think it is a genius of a device, and the feedback and reviews have been great. But obviously I will not know for sure until I get my hands on one. In Thomann they are priced at the moment at €345, Waltons in Dublin are selling it for €385, and for my friends in the states side Sweetwater are selling it for $399. But there is a great little store here in Dublin called the Goodwins, on Capel Street. I have bought lots of equipment from them over the years, and their service is brilliant! About year an half ago I bought a guitar amp from them and it had a problem in the valve sockets, and they ordered a replacement straight away and gave me another amp while I waited for the replacement. And I do like supporting a local shop especially if they try to compete with the internet giants. The list price in Goodwins is €359, and I am sure they can negotiate few Euros anyway, and if there is any trouble, the shop is with in walking distance from me, and I don't need to be posting stuff back to Germany while the project gets delayed by weeks, if not even months. Also I need some sort of studio speakers for mixing. And I have my eyes on ESI Near05 active speakers, in Thoman for €175 for a pair. I haven't found anything in Dublin to compete with them at the moment, but I am also keeping my eyes on Gumtree for second hand studio speakers around that price. Also I would like to get an large diaphragm vocal mic, and as the C12 is out of question, AKG has a budget range of microphones that are supposed to be great value for money. So the microphone in question is AKG Perception 120, and again in Thomann for €85 which I think is a bargain. If I was to invest more money on it, I would recommend looking in to Neuman TLM 102 (€555 in Thomann), Or TLM 103 (There is a second hand one on Gumtree at the moment for €500, a bargain!)
Anyway, that’s enough of window shopping for now; Let me know your thoughts and suggestions on my shopping list. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On a shoestring project part 9

I can't seem to be able to navigate through the maze of music business with out finding behind every corner something new to learn. Stuff I thought I have done, and know how to do. But things change and in music business they change fast. So as I mentioned before, I am hoping to get a download single out for Christmas. This is one of my tracks that are on my MySpace page and on the Reverbnation player, Glory to the world. And instead of just using one of the album tracks, I recorded an acoustic version of the song. I did my research on who I would like to use as my digital distributor, and I settled for AWAL. They don't charge a setup fee as lots of other companies do, instead they charge 15%. This to me is reasonable, and I also got good reports on them actually pushing your tracks (sure as they only get money if you sell). So I have the track, have my artwork set up, Press release, bio, all the necessary track info. But I need an ISRC code... So what is it and where do I get one... And this is all fine, but the clock is ticking and time is running out...

Ok so let’s calm down. And what do we do when we are stuck? Turn to our dear friend Mr Google. ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It is a number code used to identify a track so that if the track gets played in Radio, TV, background music in a Restaurant, shops etc. They know who the artist is and can distribute royalty payments. This is what it looks like:
ISRC FR - Z03 - 98 - 00212
The first part is to identify that it is an ISRC code, the FR is country code, the Z03 is registrant code (Record Company, producer...) the 98 stands for the year, and the rest is designation code.
I know it can look scary and daunting, but it is there to serve the artist. In Ireland this code is provided by PPI (Phonographic Performance Ireland) and their web site is
I have made a big effort in the past year and a bit to get to know the music business much better, but this was something that had been done by some one else in the past. This code is now compulsory for download tracks iTunes etc. So I emailed PPI and to my delight, they got back to me almost instantly. I gave them my track info and personal details, and I should have the code tomorrow. AWAL can do this for you as well, but I do believe you are better off being in charge of your own royalties. I know we all would love to be just the artist who creates the music and performs it, but times have changed. We need to be as much a business man (or a woman), as original and inventive artist. Also I personally find that time management has become very important issue. And keeping things organized is important, list your Social media sites on spread sheet, with pass words and so on. I use Open Office, very powerful free software. The work load at this stage is huge, and I can only imagine it getting bigger the further I get on with this project. But that’s why you need to love it, and that’s goes with everything in life. I often get inspiration and encouragement from completely outside music, from people who do what ever they do with love and passion.
Now I talked little bit about the social media sites, and I have started compiling the link list. But I still feel like I am only scratching the surface, so bare with me on this one.
Also on the recording front, I came across recording software that I must say; so far I am very impressed. This is called Reaper and you can get free 30 day full trial of the program, and if you like it, the licence for personal or small business use is only $40, roughly about €29. You can find this at (don’t worry, I am not on commission here)
Now I must warn you, the editing method is bit different, and it took me few days to get my head around it. But I can see the logic behind it and once you get speed this can really be fast way of working. Also the effect plugging that come with it, are pretty impressive.
So that’s this week info load. If there is any aspect you would like me to tackle here let me know. Also I do love comments and feedback :-) Hope you're all having a good autumn and keep your selves warm.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On a shoestring project part 8

 This week I had a real musical revelation. Sometimes you take a song and you have an idea how it is going to work, play it with acoustic guitar and with a big content smile on your face pat your self in the back. Head for the rehearsals and try it out with the band, and it sounds like s**t! This is not bey get other people to help make this vision in to reality. I am different, I need that musical interaction, where different musicians bring their offerings and turn it in to one. And in this situation band forms its own identity, its own sound. Sometimes this can take long time, but in my case I was lucky enough to find a few good guys and in the third time we played together I could hear a sound, very definite sound, and a direction. The problem was that some of my innocent songs just did not work in their simple forms. But to me this was a great problem to have.
I was never a big fan of the virtual guitar amps and pods and so on, I like real valve amp, real feedback. But with the Line6 UX1 you get the Pod farm, and I found a brilliant use for this. I must say, before I go any further, the amp modelling has come light years since I last played with it. So what I did was dial in few amps and just started messing around. And soon enough I seemed to come up with sounds that inspired me to sing the songs that needed reworking, and presto! I had tracks that really pleased me and I could hear the rest of the band in them. So the next rehearsal will show if they will stand up to the rest of the tracks. I must say I am getting really exited the way the rehearsals have been going and how the music sounds. And I must warn you, the acoustic tracks I have posted so far are very different to the full band sound ;-)
I also had a real eye opening week on promotional front. Those of you, who know me, know that I do most of the promotional work and bookings for Sliotar, and have been doing this for quite some time. And it has been a learning curve, but I can safely say I know one or two things about promoting an act, booking tours and getting exposure online. But Sliotar still falls in to pretty small category of folk music, which is my expertise and as I have been looking in to much wider music market lately, the endless amount of resources and information has been flooding in. Outside of actually working on the music, I have been very busy reading most of my waking hours. And a thing I've come to realise; in music business and online marketing things change at a lightning speed. So don't bother to go to your local book shop to buy an online marketing book, most likely if it is printed on paper, it is already old information. You need to be online for the up to date stuff. So what did I come across this week? Few sites that I used in the past, but did not utilise to the best, so my own project is a perfect chance to see what I can get out of these sites. There are the usual ones that you must have as we talked about before: Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Reverbnation. Lastfm was one that I have used in the past and will keep using in the future, also iLike is a good one. But had you heard about IndabaMusic, Flotones, Musocity, Midomi, Sellaband, Ping...? There are so many, and as an independent artist, you need to link your site to as many of these as possible and I have only scratched a surface! I am thinking of compiling a kind of ongoing list of sites to be posted on this blog, so if you know any, just email them to me, or leave here as a comment for every one to see. I'm sure I'm still missing loads.
But as you can see, with this big list of web sites, the work load keeps getting bigger. So we need to look in to how to find time for all this. Any artist, if they want to make a serious go of it, needs to have team to help them out, just like the bigger acts. But obviously this is not cheap if you hire professionals... So in the beginning you are relying on friends and family. And this is something I haven't put to practise yet. So it would be easy for me to just write about this, but that would not be the point of this blog. We need to test it out, see if it really can be done. Some of my friends will hear from me soon, as I'll be looking for a good group of people to help me on my quest. And if you want to be part of it, let me know :-)
One more thing; there is a little tip, kind of secret weapon if you like, that I do use all the time. And this is probably one of the most important tools I have used in the past, and you should too. In the music business, be nice! And I mean genuinely nice, no fake smiles. If people contact you, get back to them. If people want to talk to you, spare some of your precious time for them. Help out your fellow musicians in anyway you can. Reply to MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, twitter... wall posts. There are enough music lovers out there to be shared between all of us. You will always come across some resistance, not every one wants you to succeed. Don't let this discourage you, just smile and keep going :-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On a shoestring project part 7

I had a great weekend playing with Sliotar in the Porterhouse :-) I’m still recovering from it while writing this. Also last weeks rehearsal has kept a big smile on my face. I am bringing the video camera with me and hopefully soon I have enough material to put something together to give you a flavor of whats going on. I am also thinking of the first concert, but going a head of things here a bit...
  When I first thought of recording an album, I had a handful of songs that I had written over the years, most of them I have recorded before with other bands, but thought of making different versions of them. Since then there has just been a steady stream of songs pouring out of me, few of them I have posted on my website an on my YouTube channel. But there is a lot more to come ;-) And these songs have replaced almost all of the old songs.
But this week the songwriter in me has gone on strike... I tried to sit down and write something, and nothing comes out. It is frustrating, but nothing that hasn't happened before. This is something every songwriter goes through time to time and every one has their own way of dealing with it. Mine is persistence, push through it! Keep writing until something comes out. But also get some space, go for a walk, refresh your mind. And that is definitely my plan today :-) Dublin has always been very inspirational place for me, and something as simple as walking down an empty street, where you haven't been in a while can do wonders to your mind. Me and school were never really the best of friends... And pretty much everything I do is self thought. But I do believe in searching out for good information, and there is one resource that has been great for me in the past few years. I follow a blog on song writing . Lot of this stuff is something I do know already, but it is refreshing to hear it from some one else's perspective. And very often I find old tricks that I forgot about and time to time, just brand new stuff. The site has a also a paid resources, that I have no experience, but also lots of good free stuff, and that’s what we like ;-)
  I have been busy demoing songs, and let’s talk about this for a while. What I do is a rough version of the song, record the guitar and vocals. Then I play with it, I try different guitar sounds, different tempos, and most importantly, I work on the vocals. I would consider myself being pretty fluent guitar player, but human voice is a tricky thing. I like to sing through the songs several times, and listen back and work out the parts that work, what needs improving and so forth. Even with the best singers I've ever worked with, the vocals took the longest to record. Sure if you are very talented singer, you can capture the melody, but it is the emotion that takes time. Put the emotional meaning in to the words, and learn to do it again and again. This is why I find the demos very useful tool. By the time you go to record the final version, you know what works and what does not, this pre work at demo stage will save you lots of time and even money later on.
  This is also a good time to pay a little attention to your microphone technique. In the ideal surroundings, sound proofed and acoustically optimal room I would record vocals on a large diaphragm microphone, about 15 to 20cm distance and a pop shield between. But the way any microphone works, the louder you need to turn it, the more background noise it will also pick. So I have my own compromise. I position the microphone little bit on the side, like where your cheek meets your lips and about 5cm away and a pop shield between the singer and the microphone. This is just a simple gadget that stops the surge of air that some strong consonants produce, and when this surge hits the diaphragm, it produces big pop. You can get pop shields cheap enough, les than €15 in Thomann, but all it really is, is a piece of nylon fabric (Stockings) put on a frame (Metal coat hanger will do). And here is the health tip of the week, ask your girlfriends (or boyfriends) permission before you utilize their old stockings, might just keep you alive;-). There are also cheaper foam covers for dynamic and some condenser microphones, but I find you will loose a small bit of clarity with these. By recording this little bit closer, you can turn the gain down a bit, and the noise from the surroundings (neighbours dogs) won’t be as much of an issue. Also this should eliminate little bit of a bad sounding room acoustics, but if it still sounds like you are singing in box, hang few blankets behind the microphone and behind the singer. This should do the trick. Also as a singer, it is good to learn to pronounce letter S and K bit softer. Another good trick is to learn to open your jaw when you sing vowels. This will project the words better. It is easy to do on A, I, O. E and U are bit trickier, but with little bit of practice, you will notice nice improvement. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to recording vocals, but just few tips to get used to at this stage, and we will continue on more detail later on in the project.
  And let’s finish this week’s blog with some good news. I had a moment ;-) Not a big deal in the grander scheme of things, but for me this was a great little moment. My first YouTube video broke the magical 100 views! Yippee :-) So thank you all for checking it out, you made my day.