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 ;-)