Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On a shoestring project part 26

  Week 26, that’s six months! And I'm only getting warmed up ;-) This week was full of recording and I probably can't fit it all in to this weeks blog, but lets try.
  After the drums was time for the bass. This is probably one of the most under estimated instrument, but one of the most important in rock music. You hear about great bands, great singers and guitarists, but it is the drums and bass that drive the band. In modern rock music it has become more and more fashionable to mix the bas pretty high, a development that I welcome with open arms and are very willing to embrace. But recording bass can be tricky, well not so much the recording as the mixing. A bass balance in the frequency range between the kick drum and the electric guitar and it is so easy for it to get lost there. So you mister guitar hero, back off from the bottom end! Make some room for the bass and a good bass player will make your guitar sound bigger, trust me on this one. In the best bands every one knows their place and will try to stay out of every ones way. The result is a sound bigger than life.
  As to the actual recording of the bass, I know you have your bigger than life Ashdown head and Ampeg cabs with 4x10 and 1x15, and this all sounds great to me live. But if you are doing recording on a budget, I'll promise you recording the bass straight in as a line signal will save you time and headache. At least if you decide to record the map, put the bass through D.I. And record the direct line as well. The problem of recording bass amp is that you will get loads of muddy bass that will just sound messy in the mix.
So we decided to track Tomek’s new Thunderbird straight. The bass sounds great, and Tomek plays with heavy fingers and lots of attack (bit like me on guitar ;-)) so the sound was naturally aggressive, just what we were looking for. Most of the tracks were recorded in one afternoon, but as always it is good to take the tracks home and allow time for some touch ups, which we did on another afternoon. At the recording stage just keeps an eye on the levels, hot enough, but not peaking. I do like to compress the bass a little on mix, just to even it out a bit. But be careful not to squeeze out all the dynamics. Now the following is only my preference and not a set in stone bass settings by any means. Every bass is different, and every bass player plays differently. I try to cut below 100 Hz, sometimes even up to 150 Hz. Then boost between 150-250 Hz cut out a bit wider sweep around 400 Hz. And I like to add some string attack around 1000 Hz.
And this is how I get a great punchy rock sound out of a Thunderbird bass played by Tomek. If it was a different bass in hands of someone else, these settings might be different. Experiment, use your ears, have fun with it :-). Keep the kick drum and bass guitar tight together. This will keep the lower frequency range tidy.
  I also ended up recording few guitars again, as sometimes it is hard to get the sound to sit with the bass. As I mentioned earlier you need to leave room for the bass, and not to grab all the frequencies with guitar. This time I brought my Blackstar amp out of the closet ;-) and micked it up in the middle of the room with two microphones and threw a blanket over the microphone stands that made like a small tent. The two mice thing, I'm a big fan of it, but if you have only one microphone, put a bit of very short delay, and pan the guitar one side and the delay other, and you have your stereo sound and bit more beef. Sorry to all my vegetarian friends, but I like beef!
  I also did bunch of vocals and backing vocals, but I'll do a blog of it’s own soon. And then the mad part of the job, editing and mixing started. Take my word for this; you will spend as much time on mixing as you do on recording! And if you don't, go back and give it another go, I bet you missed something. I did few long 12hour days, but as a rule, I think after 8hours your ears really need a break. And when you finally think you are finished, take a few days break from it and then come back to it again. You can kind of get wrapped up in the mix, and if you are too deep in it, it's time to take some distance from the project.
  That’s quite lot of stuff again. The good news is, we are getting there and the EP should be out soon, so you actually get to hear all these techniques in practice :-) But for now, have a good week and we'll be back for more next week.

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On a shoestring project part 25

  This week we saw some solid progress. After moving in to our new rehearsal room, Sebastian getting used to his new drum kit, setting it up and tuning it to his liking, it was time to lay down some tracks. As you might know from past blogs, I had recorded guide tracks ready. So me and Sebastian locked us in to the rehearsal room for few days with my recording equipment.

  Thing about recording drums is that it is probably one of the most interesting instruments to record from sound engineers point of view, but one of the toughest to get right as well. Having that many sound sources it is really hard to capture everything evenly. So why not just put a microphone on everything and have done with it? Well go a head, and if you don't know what you are doing, I bet what you get is a bag full of out of phase signals, and a drum kit that just sounds thin and weak. Now here is a bit of a secret for you, try this out. If you record drums, limit your self first to, let’s say four microphones. Two overheads snare and kick. Try to position both overheads in equal distance from the kick and snare, to avoid phasing problems. But if you want to try some thing else, by all means. Just have a good listen to both microphones individually and together. If they sound good individually, but weak together, the chances are you have an out of phase mics. Try moving one of them at a time and listen again, and repeat this until you get desired sound. Snare microphone aiming at the center of the drum from the side as close to it, but out of the drummers way. Also try to get the angle to the drum right. You don't want to be facing the skin from an 90 degree angle. I actually try to get as much of the actual impact of the drum, so couple of inches above the drum facing the middle sounds good to me.

But mess around, try out different set ups. This is how you learn. Any sound engineering course can only teach you the technical stuff, but in the end it's your own ears and experiments that teach you the most! For the kick drum, insert the microphone in it if you are after that rock punch, move it around and listen where it sounds the best. It has become very fashionable to have two microphones on the bass drum, one inside near the skin and another outside some distance from the drum. But I still believe in the old school way. The sound of rock drums have moved more towards natural drum sound (No more gated and overly reverbed 80s drum sounds, or white washed jeans...) and to me the best sound still is the old school jazz way, snare and kick for a bit of a definition and good over all sound from the over heads. Seriously, next time you record drums, I challenge you to try this instead the 16 microphones and bigger than life tom sounds.
So we had the sound sorted. Next thing is the drummer. When you take on the role of sound engineer (even as a musician) It is very important to make sure the musician is comfortable, that they can hear everything OK. First day we had a small head phone issue, but by the second day we got this sorted and Sebastian laid down track after track like a pro that he is. We had a small issue with booming toms, but as we needed a tight sound for the track anyway, nothing that a bit of fabric could not fix;-).

 And when you are recording, there is a constant battle between technically perfect take and the “feel”. Personally, yeah I like to hear instruments in tune, and reasonably in time, but it is the takes where you can hear the musician really getting in to it, when it almost has a live feel to it, thats what I am after, and thats what gets me in any good recording. I have recently been listening to a band called the Thousand Watt Stare. They are still recording their first album, but they have few tracks on their Myspace page. This is a great example of some tracks that just have amazing “feel” to them.
  Oh yeah, and let me just say this: I spent two days listening Sebastian play the tracks through, just the drums. And this is another reason every one in a band should do some recording. When you play together, you do hear them, but you don't get to appreciate the finer points of them until you hear them on their own. Now I know much better what he plays on the tracks, and this will improve my playing in the band. Also let me just say this without blowing our own trumpet, Sebastian is a sonic genius on the drums ;-)
  Next we are recording the bass and as I write this I am waiting Tomek to arrive and get started on recording on his brand new Thunderbird! (Photo) This is a real rocker. But more on the bass next week :-)

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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On a shoestring project part 24

  If I would tell you that this blog is about “the state of the music business”, You would probably scream. “Not again! We have heard enough about the non existent record sales, illegal downloads etc”. But bear with me for a second here. Let me talk about another side of it all. Lately I have been thinking about music a lot. Well, being a musician you would expect it anyway, but lately it has been much more. And of course big part of it has to do with this project. I have been listening music, all kinds of music. Lots of it, some great stuff, some not so great... And it got me thinking what has happened musically and sonically in the music business in the past 20 years. I remember not too long after I started to use my first Cubase, a DJ friend of mine told me it was great software, that you could make music with it, without actually knowing anything about music. His way of thinking really was a sign of where music was going. Things had come long way in popular music since Elvis recorded “That’s all right” in 1954, in the legendary sun studios, live and on to a single track. Now we were talking about virtual synths... And already in the 80's popular music became sonically polished. Drum tracks would go through gates to separate them and get rid of spill. All the natural ambiance of the instrument was taken away, for some reason it was considered a bad thing. Guitar amps got bigger, and soon rock bands would have a wall of Marshalls and bang! Ten years later we have a guitar amp modelling that fits in to your gig bag. And in 1997 Antares brings out Auto-Tune... So the record companies were armed with a tool that could fix a vocal performance. If a note was out of tune, it would pull it back in tune. This was another milestone for manufactured pop.
  But with all this technology came also the digital download. And it was just too easy to spread online. Music piracy became rampant, record companies went on a war path. In the past few months I started to think, maybe the record companies were not the only ones being taken for a fool, and maybe the industry heads had bigger part of the blame. I mean, popular music has always been a mixed bag. Artists come and go, and manufactured pop has been there since the beginning of rock music. But did they just take it that bit too far? Did they take the audience for a granted? Did they insult the Joe publics intelligence? Did they for a while think they could sale almost anything?
  Then we have bands that might be signed to a major label, but have always done their own thing. Lets take Iron Maiden here as an example, an institution in heavy rock. Not to every ones taste, but that’s not the point here ( I do quite like them). The point is: over 85million records sold with out hardly any mainstream media support. Their latest album “The Final frontier”, released 2010 reached #1 in 38 countries!
  Let’s dig bit deeper, so you say CD is dead? Not in the world of rockers. In 2010 Rock, alternative and heavy metal music sold estimated 188 million CD albums. And according to SoundScan rock music had a 27% slice of the download sales pie. And it has always been a known fact that merchandise sales in this field has been and still is extremely strong. So could it be possible that the mainstream music market and media is looking in the wrong direction with their overly polished pop stars with their perfectly auto tuned voices? What do you think? Oh yeah, and the DJ friend of mine? He got a day job and quit music.

 Anyhow, what have we been up to? As mentioned in last weeks blog, this week we moved to a new rehearsal room. And may I say, it is a great room :-) Mark in the Volt studios really takes a good care of us. The room is still bit bare, so if you have any posters to spare, send them in;-) More guitar tracks have been recorded in my home studio/office and Sebastian is taking some time off his work to record some drums :-). We are also working on a design of a logo, that Tomek’s brother drawing very hard at the moment. The first sketches look great, and we'll get the final version up soon. I also got an interesting offer from an old friend of mine that I need to look into a bit more, before I make it public, but thought to just tease you a bit ;-). Anyway, that’s all for now, and I'll talk to you more next week. Keep on rocking!

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

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On a shoestring project part 23

  It is Sunday night (more like Monday morning) and I'm just back from the Porterhouse, where I was playing with Sliotar. The Temple bar trad festival was on this weekend, and It was great to see the place buzzing again after January. As I am sure any musician knows, It is almost impossible to fall a sleep after a concert. Your pumped full of adrenalin, ears are ringing and the brain is buzzing. The world around you slows down and falls a sleep, but you are still wide a wake. Fingers might be sore, body might be tired, but the mind is wide a wake. But some times this can be a creative time. Many of my song lyrics have been written in the middle of the night, or even a blog;-). I do live in the center of Dublin, and it can sometimes get bit noisy here, but Sunday nights the town stops much earlier. There is something magical when the city goes quiet and the week finally comes to an end. I always feel somehow hopeful on Monday mornings. I am not a big sleeper, and I am up most weekdays around half six. And Monday is always when I make a plan for the week. If you are your own boss, you do need to have certain amount of discipline, but also positive attitude is very important. And you need to start to see the positive side of Monday mornings.
  Past week has been a very busy one for me, and next one is going to be that as well. I have got some good solid guitar tracks down, and can't wait to get the drums going. And as I mentioned in last weeks Blog about my new Telecaster and the Blackstar amp, I thought I could share with you a sound snippet here again. So the Blackstar got my "closet treatment". I place it at the bottom of a closet facing upwards, position Shure beta 57 on the cone of the speaker, and Akg perception 220 about a meter away from the speaker. And once again we split them to left and right, just to beef up things. So this is an intro from a song called “Right out of here”
New tele sample by jpkallio
The file once again is hosted by, and how ever they compress the files, the sound quality is just so much better than myspace!

  This week we are moving rehearsal room, which should be the last puzzle in place for the recording. The Volt studios have been great to us, and I am glad to be staying there. And also we are looking in to possible venues in Dublin at the moment for our first concert. We are looking for somewhere intimate enough, but at the same time big enough that a rock band can make some noise in. We have few ideas about the promotion as well. These days you really need to think out side the box. Obviously all these social media tools are very powerful and can't be ignored, and if you know me at all, you know I never would. But still there is place for an old fashioned posters and flyers. I personally see music as a bit of a cross over art form, especially for independent artists, and it does help if you have a good eye for graphics. And if you don't, find some one who does. The music should speak for it self, but good visual graphic is a powerful tool and it can draw people in to the music, whether it is a CD cover, gig poster or flyer.
  And actually, I just got an perfect opportunity to try out some of these ideas in action. I've have the great pleasure to play this Thursday, the 3rd of February 2011 with some great musicians in a group called the Barbers & Butchers  in bar here in Dublin called The Old Storehouse. The music is Irish traditional tunes mixed with folk and contemporary songs. As a musician you need to spread your wings wide, to make the ends meet. And the fellow musicians in this group are such high level, that it will most certainly be a great night of music. If you are around, come along. It is free in and the music starts at 9pm. And for this concert, we will put up some posters, as well as a social media campaign that is already in full swing:-). These kind of things are great opportunities to try out what works and what does not. If with every concert you try to do some promotion, soon enough you'll get good and fast at it. I'm still bit slow;-)
  This is a good example how everything in music business is somehow linked, and also how it is a constant learning curve. To be honest with you, still every day I learn something new, and come across something new I need to learn. If you are in a similar situation and there is anything special you would like me to cover in this blog, don't hesitate to contact me.
  But for now, enough of my sleep deprived ramblings. I'm off to bed, and will continue next week:-)

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