Blissful Oblivion

A funny thing happened as I was editing together Blissful Oblivion – I got excessively bored and decided to add strings. This, I felt, merited the song its own post, so here it is.

Advertisements

Studio works, May 24: No Boundaries, Blissful Oblivion

Today was a No Boundaries day. Back in the Thacher days this was the first one to get properly mixed. I still remember those sessions – I was so green, I had no idea what was going on. When Mr. Haggard introduced me to the idea of a compressor to raise the vocal level, I was like, “Whoa, that exists? I don’t have to jack up the faders all the way up?” Good times.

It was a lot more smooth this time around. I would say No Boundaries was one of the easiest songs to do… second, probably, behind Break My Heart. The fact that it was actually, you know, written beforehand and I knew all the parts definitely helped. I was able to sit down and record all the parts, beginning to end, pretty much in one go, which was a lot better than, say, taking it one part at a time, ten seconds at a time.

Anyway, I imported the bass effects from Make it Right, since I loved the sound of that bass and hadn’t updated the tinny bass of No Boundaries in quite some time. I fiddled with the lead guitar sound a little bit, trying to bring out that classic “metal” quality, and triple tracked the synth in the breakdown. On each chord I wanted the song to have a really punchy feel, which I don’t think is quite coming through. I’ll take an extra look at the kick next time around.

I’m also not sure if I want to keep the “boom, boom, boom” at the end. I don’t know. It just doesn’t really seem to fit. I’ll bounce one version with and one version without.

Overall I love the general sound of this edition. After review I identified only three minor things that needed addressing; the aforementioned two, plus raising the lead guitar level slightly during the solo. Other than that, though, I think this is pretty much done.

Blissful Oblivion
Well, as I mentioned in the last post, I added Tawni’s song to the lineup as a bonus track; I classify it as a “bonus” track because as a piano skeleton, it’s not yet a full composition, but as it is people might still like to listen to it. As I was creating subtitles for all of the songs at 12:00 in the morning, a phrase suddenly popped into my head: Blissful Oblivion. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I called up Tawni right then and there to let her know. “Blissful Oblivion,” I bellowed at her. “That’s the title. It’s got to be.” It just fit so perfectly.

Anyway, the Audio Studio wouldn’t be open until right before I leave for Colorado, save for a two-hour block of time between 3 and 5 PM – right after my session with No Boundaries ended. So I got in there, miked up the piano, turned on the recorder, and started jamming for about 40 minutes. The Sunday following, with the studios being closed because of Memorial Day, I spent the time editing the footage together.

As of the writing of this post, I’m still in that process; I’ll upload everything when I finish.

Mix n Master, May 23: Make it Right, A Full Heart / Just Do Something

Welp, another full day in the studio. As usual it was about 50 degrees when I first stepped out of my room but almost 70 when I returned; how is anybody supposed to be prepared for that?

Ah well.

A Full Heart / Just Do Something
This was, of course, the first song that I started mixing, only to get colossally bored and switch. After finishing Never Say Goodbye, I felt ready to take another crack at it, so I did.

As with the aforementioned song, I lowered the frequencies of the toms, kick and bass, so it seemed less as though the drum kit and bassline was attacking and more like it was acting as pleasant ambiance. (Which was a bit of a shame, given that the bassline is pretty sweet. But ah, I digress.)

I identified two spots in the song that I’ll need to do a few re-takes on vocals, so there was that as well.

You know, it’s funny – for as green as I was the first time I recorded this in 2010, there were a few things I got very, very right. Chief among them was the guitar tone (again, the Cubase vs Pro Tools debate). When I first did it I got the wailing lead dead on, and likewise for the rolling, wet, wide rhythm. This time around, the sound for both of the guitars was just too thin, and if you turned up the gain, then you got the godforsaken buzzing amp noise. Guh. In the end I solved the problem by just heaping on an ungodly amount of delay. Amazing to think of the sounds I created in the past when I didn’t know anything about EQ, compression, delay, doubling, or anything else.

Make it Right
Okay, so this one I was pretty excited to do, because on the surface it seemed almost complete, but I knew there was a lot I could still do with it.

One of the problems I felt existed in the original mix was a matter of “too much of a muchness.” Everything was just… too much. I wanted to cut some things out while still keeping all of that intensity.

First off, I found a new tone for that damn lead guitar. Had to get rid of that annoying buzzing sound and also make the tone at least somewhat distinct from the rest of the song. I didn’t want a typical lead guitar sound; actually, the sound I was looking for was probably more accompanimental in style, just some wallpaper in the background. My original vision for this was a heavily distorted, wet thing, like raindrops melding on a window. In the end I settled on a similar tone to what I’d used for Dark Triad and August Nights, a light, delayed bluesy feel.

Next I directed my attention to the lower instruments. I felt that the problem with the toms had always been that they sounded too machine-gun-like, when they were supposed to be more of a dark crushing sound. So I cut the higher frequencies, boosted the lower ones, and voila.

I experimented with flipping the bass and rhythm guitar, such that the bass was a little bit higher in the mix so you could hear it, and the rhythm guitar was a little lower so that you moreso felt it. That produced a pretty cool effect, which I kept.

I also boosted the strings and lowered the vocals altogether. In previous versions I felt that the vocals had sort of bled over everything, covering it all instead of letting the other instruments shine through.

This was the first mix that I consciously played with the volume of the entire song. I’ll stick with this as the reference point and master all future songs to be the same volume as this one. August Nights in particular, I noticed, was LOUD.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

It’s also occurred to me that Make it Right is probably the best-documented of all the Reason to Dwell songs, as its inception and songwriting is very clearly recorded and there are about eight recorded demos of the thing, dating all the way back to the beginning. I uploaded the very first iteration of the song, when I threw together a MIDI file in Reason to be used in the studio the next day. Check it out.

Random midnight thought

I’ve been home for a few days, away from the studio. This week will be a “wrapping-up” week of sorts, and then housekeeping to follow once I head out to Colorado.

I just had a completely random thought as I was thinking of a few of my songs – I was sort of attaching a tagline to a few of them, such as “a moment in time can be captured so dearly” to Never Say Goodbye, “what would you do if someone loved you” to Make it Right, etc, and then I thought, “What if I gave a subtitle to each song?”

No doubt this is a rather insane thought, but as it’s midnight right now I think it’s rather brilliant. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Anyhow, this is what I came up with:

1. Back With a Bang – Devil’s Spark
2. Dark Triad – Glass Mansion
3. August Nights – End of an Era
4. Reek of Geek – Joy’s Hideout
5. Britannic Angel – No Pond Wide Enough
6. No Boundaries – Raw Will, Stubborn Mind
7. Crush – Lamentation for a Schoolgirl
8. A Full Heart / Just Do Something – Crazy Old You
9. Make it Right – Unholy Tempest
10. Break My Heart – Twins in Sin
11. Never Say Goodbye – A Moment in Time
12. Tawni’s Song (bonus track) – Blissful Oblivion

As you notice, I added Tawni’s Song (listed as “Never to Know” in the “meet the songs” section) as a bonus track, because quite frankly I can’t come up with a particularly good reason to leave it off.

Studio works, May 17 – Dark Triad, Never Say Goodbye, August Nights

So I’ve been in the studio before today, obviously, but I didn’t get bounces of what I did on those days and trying to revert is going to be a pain, so I’ll just update with what I have today.

Dark Triad
Dark Triad is like 99.9% percent done, and personally I love it. At this point it almost serves as a motivational tool for me, because it used to be my weakest link in the songs that I had; now it’s up there with the strongest. When I look at a song like, say, Crush or Britannic Angel and I despair at the work that still needs to happen, I remind myself that it won’t be a lost cause; I’ll take it and make it the best one yet, because that’s what I do.

Having said that, I reviewed the “final mix” of Dark Triad and I think there are still two things I need to do with it: there’s a single cymbal splash right before the breakdown that I accidentally offset by a sixteenth of a beat, so I should fix that; the second thing is that I want to center the vocals right before the breakdown and right after the second chorus. They sounded okay panned-left when it was just them in the earlier demos, but with everything else added I think they need to be front and center.

Never Say Goodbye
A week or so ago I managed to get an hour in the Audio Studio and record a real piano for Never Say Goodbye and Make it Right; today I was able to add the real piano to the rest of the Never Say Goodbye mix. My challenge for the rest of the session was to make the drums and bass less punchy, and more of an ambient wash. Basically, just cut the higher frequencies and boost the lower ones, then reverb the crap out of it all.

This turned out mostly okay, but I might have overdone it a little; at the very least I don’t think I compensated well enough on the higher frequencies with the piano and strings. I reviewed the mix I produced today and I think I’ll have to a) bring down the bass a few decibels and b) boost the higher EQs on the higher instruments.

Dan Rodak (of Pastel Ink fame) actually was passing by the studio as I was starting to mix this song, and I showed him what I had so far; I swear he had a tear in his eye as he listened. At any rate he seemed to like it, which was encouraging. It was a nice surprise to see him around as I figured he’d gone home for the summer (which turned out to be the case, but he lived only about two hours away or so). So much of what I currently do is in a vacuum and to be honest I never really have a sense of what my music actually sounds like to other people. Should probably recruit a couple sounding boards for the future…

August Nights
I produced a mix of August Nights yesterday that I was reasonably happy with after listening to it a few times over; after comparing it with others, though, I concluded that it was the auditory equivalent of admiring a painting through a foggy window. It would have to be redone.

I figured, however, that I didn’t have to over-complicate it. I loved the final mix of Dark Triad, and as the two songs shared similar instruments and a similar feel, I could probably just import the settings from Dark Triad into August Nights, tweak them slightly, and then be good.

So that’s what I did. Gone is the airy delayed lead guitar, although I probably could have kept that version in the verse. This version ended up, I think, the opposite – where the other one was a foggy window separating you from the art, this was an active volcano that you maybe wished did, in fact, have a window separating the two of you. Or maybe I’m being melodramatic. Anyway, I think the guitars are slightly too loud in this one. Maybe. Review is, as ever, pending.

And the rest?
I drew up a to-do list for the rest of the songs. No Boundaries and Reek of Geek shouldn’t need too much done to them. Make it Right shouldn’t either, depending on how long mixing in the piano bit takes. Back With a Bang is mostly done but probably will need a full session to get it just right. A Full Heart / Just Do Something will probably end up taking a lot of Never Say Goodbye’s settings. That just leaves Crush and Britannic Angel, both of which need a few re-takes on vocals and require a bit more time. Really, though – I’m almost done. I can see the finish line. It’s exciting.

Studio works, May 13 – August Nights

After nearly killing myself over the past week to meet Sunday’s deadline, I discovered that the studios were no longer booked out for maintenance the rest of the month. Earlier, I’d emailed Greenspan expressing my concern at the month-long closure of the studios, and he told me to stand by for a group message, as I apparently wasn’t the first to mention it. Well, I never got the group email, but the studios are suddenly open, so I guess the message was a particularly silent one.

Anyway, I took yesterday off as a prescribed “lazy day” where I didn’t concern myself with anything at all. I briefly exited my apartment to head over to my Dale Carnegie class, a mission which I quickly aborted after an unholy tempest unleashed a freakin’ tsunami from the sky, accompanied by a tornado watch and rush-hour traffic.

Today, though, it was back to business as usual, and I began Day One of mixing A Reason to Dwell.

The Process
I’ve been transferring my files from the studio to my computer via a thumb drive, a few at a time. A Full Heart / Just Do Something and August Nights were the songs still on the thumb drive when I arrived at the studio, so I started work on those.

I told myself that, contrary to what I’d done in the past, I’d do it right this time. I’d take the song, remove all effects and anything I’d added to it in the past, start from ground level, and work my way up. I began the process with A Full Heart / Just Do Something.

Thirty minutes later I was bored out of my mind and switched to August Nights. “That was a horrible idea,” I told myself. “This time, you’re just gonna keep what you have and work from there.” Let it be known that although the Slyborg does learn, it may take him a while.

Well, I added some delay to the guitars, cut the amp noise, upped the strings, threw in the background vocals in the final chorus, and trimmed some other things as well. I focused a lot on the introduction – I wanted the intro to really jump out and grab attention, and I wanted a nice, smooth, powerful sound. Earlier versions, I think, were somewhat choppy and tinny.

I think I achieved that, but I managed it by upping the bass a whole bunch, which muddied up the rest of the song. I realized this, too, as I was sitting there listening to it. Of course it sounded nice on the big speakers, but I sat there shaking my head, saying, “Jack, this is the problem you always have – you bring the bass up till it’s a wall of sound and it sounds good in the studio, but the moment you get home it’s all mud.” Again, I turned out to be right. I’ll fix it tomorrow.

Marathon – Sunday, May 11

Well, I mentioned in the last blog post that this Sunday was the last day before the studios would undergo maintenance for the rest of the month, meaning I basically had to record EVERYTHING before then. The studio computers still won’t recognize my external hard drive but they do recognize my thumb drive, so I figured that after I recorded everything I could transfer the entire project onto my computer via the thumb drive, three songs at a time, and then I could mix the songs together elsewhere.

I woke up in the morning, got up into the studio, and didn’t leave until midnight. But dammit, I got done what I needed to.

I’d made a laundry list for the things I needed to do in order to finish recording, which included:
– Complete end guitar solo for Back With a Bang
– Complete end jam for Dark Triad
– Complete vocals on Britannic Angel
– Re-do vocals on A Full Heart / Just Do Something

Done and done. Sort of. I’ll probably re-visit the ending vocals for Britannic Angel and there are still some virtual instruments that I need to add to Dark Triad and Britannic Angel both. And then there’s a larger problem with Crush – after struggling to sing the verse , I figured that maybe it was a few half steps too low again, hovering too close to the death range. Really, though, it’s too late to re-do the whole thing, so I might be stuck with whatever it is I’ve got.

Final phase. This is exciting.

Updates

The past week’s been absolutely insane. In my waking hours I’ve lived in one of two places: the studio and the gym, more often the studio, obviously. Every day I get up early, head down to the studio guitar in hand and try to bang out what needs to be done.

I’ve gotten an insane amount done, to the point where I can’t keep up with posting all of the completed work online – as you see, I haven’t posted anything at all in a while. At some point I’ll sit down and do that, but for now I’m sort of scrambling around. I’m in Holland, away from the studio, until Sunday. Starting Monday until pretty much the rest of May, the EMS A will be undergoing summer maintenance, so I’d better get EVERYTHING I need done by Sunday, and then I can start mixing.

EMS B doesn’t start summer maintenance until a week or so later, but the EMS A computers don’t read my external hard drive. Apparently the hard drive I have requires more power (or something) than the EMS A computers provide. (This doesn’t make any sense, because it works just fine with my laptop. I actually have no idea why the hard drive doesn’t work with the EMS A, this is just a wild guess based on Internet browsing.) My flash drive only holds 4 GB, and the folder with all my stuff in it is about 9 or 10. Basically, I’ve gotta find another way of getting all my files off the EMS A computers so that I can transport them somewhere else where I can finalize everything.

Point is, I’m so very close to finishing all of this, and yet there’s still so very much left to do. Until then, I’ll be pulling long hours at the studio and enduring some rather stressful times.

Studio works, May 2 – Back With a Bang, and Cubase vs Pro Tools

Big day for Back With a Bang. I finally got my guitar in the studio, no broken plugs or lost wallets to stop me this time.

Of course there were hiccups, though, because obviously.

The next few paragraphs will be devoted to ranting. Consider yourself warned.

The way Pro Tools deals with electric guitars is inane. They’ve intentionally rigged it so that if you’re plugged into a virtual amp, you can’t hear the effect until after you’ve finished recording. You can throw the output to an aux and put the virtual amp on that to try and hear it, except that the sound you get isn’t quite how the finished sound will be.

It’s infuriating. What’s the point? The reason I keep reading online is that if they didn’t program it this way, the latency would be way too high and there’d be a delay between when you play and when the sound appears. Okay, yeah, I understand that, but Cubase seems to manage it just fine. The setup Cubase has got, you just plug in, hit the little “speaker” button and off you go. With Pro Tools, it seems, at every turn there are eight extra pointless steps.

Did you know that in Pro Tools you can’t just hit a metronome button and play along to the beat? No, you have to create an ENTIRELY NEW TRACK from which the click sound comes. Want to change the tempo? Well, you’ll have to browse through the toolbar for about thirty minutes before you find it in a completely non-intuitive place.

Look, this whole “not being able to hear the effects while you’re playing” thing is fine if you’re playing bass or singing or what have you, but if you’re playing electric guitar, you have to be able to hear what you’re playing. It’s a completely different instrument otherwise. If I’m playing along and it sounds fine unamplified, but only after it’s recorded do I realize that at some point I accidentally brushed a finger against one of the lower strings and it’s distorted the whole thing out of whack, I NEED TO BE ABLE TO HEAR THAT. The way you play, mute and blend strings varies wildly depending on what’s coming out of the amp, and I have to hear it.

It doesn’t help that my amp has a short circuit somewhere. I don’t know what the exact problem is but it no longer gives me any gain. It’ll make the guitar louder, sure, and it’ll project through the speakers just fine, but there’s no gain and no drive.

All this to say that I haven’t been able to hear myself play properly for the past two years or so. I can’t practice the way I want to and I can’t hear myself in the studio. Not to mention with this particular song, I’ve changed the key and my fingers aren’t used to the new fret placements yet. It’s no wonder, then, that when I finally hear the finished product I’m less than pleased. The sound isn’t right. It’s not clean enough, the levels are all wrong, and you can hear my fingers picking away, the mark of a man long out of practice.

For some reason – just adding insult to injury – the initial setup wasn’t quite right. Even though I had the preamp cranked, there was barely any signal coming in from the guitar. You can’t get a rich, full, meaty guitar sound if your initial sound is just a whimper. I probably spent an hour in the studio just trying to get set up to the point where I could actually play the damn thing. GAAAAHH.

(Reminder: everything I’m complaining about here, I was able to do in about two steps in the Thacher studio, with Cubase. Plug the guitar in, hit the button, and go. The point is, if you’re building a home studio of your own, make it SIMPLE. Also, use Cubase.)

All that being said, I felt pretty good about today. Some of the solo bits on the lead guitar were a bit dicey, i.e. all the parts where I wasn’t just hammering away on power chords and actually needed some precision. I have no clue how I’m gonna be able to pull off Britannic Angel.

But no more on that – happy thoughts, now. The intro sounds CRACKING. There’s always that step when people are making art that something goes suddenly from “meh” to “WHOA!” and you never quite know exactly what changed, you just know that it’s ten times better. So it was here. I put down the guitar tracks, fiddled with the drums a bit to match the 7th that the lead plays, cut some of the excess background noise and suddenly – damn. Crackin’. I ran out of time after this, but when the drums changed briefly in the very beginning I want to have the rhythm guitar do a bit of counterpoint to the lead, instead of staying static.

Now, at this point technically I had to leave the studio. I’d only reserved it until 1 and that was when the next person was coming in… but that was the same person who’d had that slot reserved for the past week and only came in yesterday, so this time around I figured I’d just stick around until someone kicked me out. I cleaned up all the guitar attachments and figured I’d just mix for a bit.

Here’s how far I got when that point came around. I don’t recommend you listen to it, though, it’s all gross and there’s a ton of guitar amp noise, and the intro doesn’t sound cracking just yet. Better to just skip ahead. To encourage you, I won’t even embed the thing.

Version 1: http://youtu.be/rJptHYfjl2k

Alright, so now I decided to mix a few things or another together. I cut all the amp noise that I could (which added tremendously to the quality of the song), fixed the ending bit, added some kick right before the solo, and then took a look at the background vocals. During the bit when they all sing “back with a bang” it never sounded quite right, and as I examined them I realized why. I’d moved the song up six half steps to stick it in a key better suited to my range; but that stuck the lower harmonizations directly in the path of the death range, and my voice kept breaking. Not exactly the smooth suave baritone people like to hear in harmonizations.

As I didn’t have a mike on me at the time, I figured I’d make do. Now I’ve never Autotuned anything before and I’ll never use it on the lead vocals. Technically speaking I still haven’t. But Pro Tools did have a thing called Melodyne, which was basically the same thing, so I figured I’d take advantage. The graphical representation showed exactly what I already knew – as my voice kept breaking, the pitch kept wobbling around, not really approaching center on any one note.

Oh well. You work with what you’ve got.

In the end I never did get kicked out, and I gained an extra two hours. Woo!

Also, I promised two posts ago that I’d upload the original in G minor, so you could appreciate my struggles. Listen to the glorious voice breaks and cringeworthy lack of tone. Yup, I made the right choice.