Are We There Yet?

The last week has been intense as is normally the case when the end of a project nears. I got a good sound for the album and am “applying” it to all of the songs. This is the mastering stage but the new EQ/compression setting changes the relationship between the instruments in a very slight manner on some of the songs. So a little mixing happened along with the mastering. This is a luxury I have doing them both myself.

I burned CDs for the guys yesterday of the full album in running order as it is right now. I’m sure there will be a few more little nudges here and there but it’s small stuff now. As I told them last night, I can make it sound different but I can’t make it sound much better. We’re all going to live with the CD for a few days. I’ll gather everyone’s comments then I’ll make the final round of tweaks this weekend. The deadline is Monday morning.

Meanwhile, we’re rehearsing our entire repertoire for our show this coming Tuesday. An intense time made more intense with performances. It’s all good though. We’re all into it and excited.


End in Sight

Another brilliant weekend mixing and mastering. First, I mixed “TFAY” which was the last song to get any post-production work. Lefty and I recorded his vocals earlier in the week. I tried to record myself doing the backing vocals I sometimes sing during practice but it was just silly. I had transposed the song down a step and a half so that Lefty could  sing it more comfortably. So what was I think trying to harmonize over that!? I found a few spots where I could add some low harmonies or not-so-high ones.

Then I took it out for a ride, literally. I made an mp3 and listened in the car and heard a big problem in the overall EQ. I had been cutting a few dbs in the low end to clean up muddiness but there really wasn’t much. The problem was the high-mids were so loud that it creating a nasally pointy kind of sound. Ouch. I had been in front of my studio monitors for so long that I just got used to how they sounded. It wasn’t until I got into the car that I was able to hear that something wasn’t right. I changed the EQ cut and after a few tries it was perfect – beautiful. The song sounded full and punchy down low. I added a bunch of harmonic exciter to the high-end to give it sizzle and that was it. I have THE sound for the album now.

Today, I applied that EQ to three other songs and now they sound amazing. It’s not as simple as just copying and pasting since the new EQ throws the balance of the instruments off a little bit. But that’s just details at this point.

I will have a copy of the album to give the guys at practice on Tuesday. If it’s not the final master it will be damn close.

Weekend: After

Success! I didn’t get every last thing done but I did all of the big items and did them well. “A Different Machine” and “Amber Waves” are now done save for a few suggestions that the guys have sent me (minor stuff).

The one item that I was dreading was opening up “Endless (pt. 2)” to assess what it needed because I remembered being very unhappy with a lot of things in that song. Turns out I just needed to bring in the drum and bass template from “A Different Machine” and it’s pretty much good. I do have to re-cut some of the synth parts in a few spots.

A Different Machine done
The Other Room done, just needs slight remix/master
Amber Waves done
TFAY lots to do incl. record vocals, mix
Boxless done
Endless (pt. 1) needs a quick re-mix/master
Endless (pt. 2) needs new synth bits and a full mix
Mousetrap mostly done as I recal

All in all, a successful weekend. No major crises or aggravations. It’s almost like I know what I’m doing.

Weekend: Before

This is my blog entry before the weekend starts. I laid out a reasonable set of plans and goals for the next two days that, if I succeed, will result in 6 of the 8 songs being done. And by “done” I mean more or less done (there are always last minute tweaks to make all the songs match.

It’s Friday evening and I just spent the last few hours putting the final editing and mixing touches on “Boxless” including a new vocal I recorded earlier in the week. I also did a mastering of the song but my ears are too fried right now (as is my brain) to know if it’s good. I’ll listen to it tomorrow in the car, on my TV, and back in the second bedroom/control room at my house. If that goes well (please please please) then I’ll get going.

It’s also possible that I’ll make a blog entry on Sunday about how all is lost, the album is ruined, and I’m joining the circus.

Week off In Review

My week off from work to focus on the album finished up pretty well. I burned out around Sunday lunchtime which, honestly, is longer than I thought I’d hold out.

Saturday was remarkably productive as I made two almost-final mix/masters and rescued “Boxless” in a big way. I made a handful of tiny tweaks to “Boxless” that make a huge difference. The first was finding the right reverb for the drum kit. Most of the album uses a “drum room” effect but for this tune I gave it a shimmering plate. It adds to the exotic/mysterious vibe. Like I did in the “Starboard” intro, I added a deep Moog bass under the intro and outro synth to give it all some real body. The Moog clashed with two of the percussion hits in the loop so I changed those two hits – so subtle but adds character. And I created the coolest effect that I used in select spots in the song. It’s a long reverb with a phaser on it.

I had been planning on mixing all of the songs first before mastering them but I decided to go back to what I did last year which is mix and master at the same time. What that means is I mix everything as best I can then bring up the standard mastering settings to give it that finishing coat. The main reason for this is that I kept getting feedback from Dan and Ornan that the mixes weren’t sounding boomy or heavy enough. So instead of explaining that mastering would take care of that and ask them to use their imagination I figured I’d just do it. Besides, it helps me as well to have that much clearer of a picture of how the mixing translates to its final sound.

Ornan stopped by with his partner and their dog (Buddy appreciated the company) on Sunday evening so he could hear how things were going. He’s been listening to the mp3s I send around but he only has headphones to listen to them on at the moment. He gave me a few suggestions which will be easy to implement.

The tally at the end of the week is that “The Other Room,” “Endless (pt. 1),” and “Boxless” are 98% done. “Mousetrap” and “A Different Machine” are almost as close. That leaves “Amber Waves,” “Endless (pt. 2),” and “TFAY” with quite a bit to do still.

At the beginning of the week I said to myself that I wanted to have 3 or 4 songs done and a few others really close. I feel really good about having met that goal. (I never expected any song to be 100% done just yet. That happens on the “final pass” which is about 10 days away.

Make Some Eardrums Bleeeeeed!

I’m referencing Spinal tap so you know I’m deep in it now. My week-long vacation is almost up and I think I’ve spent it well. I’m just finishing up a master of “Endless (pt. 1)” and I made a master of “The Other Room” this morning. Dan give “Room” a big thumbs-up; I’m just waiting to hear from the others.

I’ve tried so many different approaches to the rhythm section sound with each one getting closer to “it.” Last night I took some of Ornan’s feedback on what he’d heard so far and incorporated that into yet another drum sound and this time I nailed it. It’s big and boomy but still sharp.

I spent way too much time yesterday on “Boxless” which went well for the first few hours. Then I lost it and instead of stepping away from it like a smart person I kept futzing with it until I broke it. I’ll find it again, of course, but that last hour or two were a waste of time. It was a bit frustrating but it happens.

President’s Week

It’s been an intense week but it was nothing compared to what’s coming this week.

All of the instruments are now recorded for the album. (I’m sure there will be a few minor punch-ins of synth tracks but that’s peanuts.) Dan did his lead vocal for “Endless (pt. 2)” and Lefty has done his for “Mousetrap.” I’m still not sure which of my vocal takes from two weeks ago are worth keeping. I’ll probably review them tomorrow morning and make a plan from there.

The big hump I got over this morning was the drum and bass sound. I’ve always known that the most difficult task would be finding and settling on a sound – THE sound – for the rhythm section. I’m pretty sure I found it this morning while test mixing “Amber Waves.” I have a few small tweaks to make (more high-end on the bass guitar and possibly more room mic for the kit) but once I nail that down a huge worry will be lifted. I figured out how to save all of the levels and effects for the whole kit as a template so I’ll just apply that to the other songs. Bam.

The coming week is going to be big because I took the whole week off of work just to focus on the album. I need to have a few songs done and mixed by the time I go back to work. That’s my goal and I really need to push myself to meet it. When we started recording I was all laid back because we had several extra weeks of padding but those were eaten up by injuries and illnesses.

Tomorrow, Lefty and I get together to record his vocals for “TFAY” and hopefully his other harmony tasks. After I’m done typing this I have to review my to-do list and figure out the best way to spend my morning tomorrow before recording Lefty.

Tuesday is Dan’s day for “A Different Machine” vocals (I think; have to confirm with him). And I need to get Ornan’s rain stick track recorded for “Boxless.”

But wait, there’s something in between. We’re playing a gig tomorrow night. We’re doing a 45-minute set at Nectar’s for Metal Monday. So I’ll be spending much of tomorrow practicing on my own and making sure all of my synth patches are where they need to be. I’ve been noticing some level issues with some songs.

If by the end of the week I get as far as I hope I will put up a preview on YouTube for everyone to check out. Stay tuned!


TFAY & Photos

An exceptionally productive few days just wrapped up. Not only were they productive but we stayed on schedule throughout. Sunday, according to plan, Lefty and I got together to work out synth parts for “TFAY” using his classic Roland D50. It is so old that it has a few dead keys and we needed to MIDI in my Roland AX09 as its controller. He pulled up some sounds and played some stuff that were brilliant; stuff I never would’ve thought to play. Halfway through his tracking Ornan arrived and heard us playing and rushed into the room, “that’s what I’m f%^$# talking about. Yesh!” So, Ornan approved as well. I stepped in and added a few more bits. Now I just have to figure out what Lefty played and how to replicate it on my synth. That’s my weekend.

Dan arrived 15 minutes early at 3:45pm so we got right outside for our much-delayed photo shoot. We’ve been pushing this back for months but we just couldn’t wait any longer. I need a photo for the album cover (back) and we need better promo materials.

I found a good spot behind Lefty’s house and fortunately there was a 3-foot high snow mound that I was able to rest the tripod on so the camera wasn’t looking up our noses. I ran back and forth setting up the shot, starting the timer, then jumping back into the pose. We took a dozen or so pictures and one of them jumped out as the obvious choice. Done.

From there we moved inside and ran through our 45-minute set for next week’s show. Came off without too much trouble. We’re playing seven of the eight tracks from the new album. We’ve played a few of them out before but they’ve all had tweaks since. We had time and energy to spare to we ran through the eighth song from the album. Next week, we need to start running through songs from our first album. Our brains are going to explode.

Monday we kept the momentum and Dan came by to lay down his vocal for “Endless (pt. 2)” which was excellent. We moved on to “A Different Machine” but I clearly ran him into the ground with that first song so he didn’t have much left for a second tune. We’ll get back to it soon.

I also tinkered with some other synth parts for “TFAY.” So many great layers added to that song – too many, actually. I have a nice big block of overdubs from which to sculpt a hit. Again, this weekend coming I’ll start paring that down into something I can actually play.

Mics up

Yesterday started great. Lefty and I got together to continue working on his guitar parts. He wrote a new solo for “A Different Machine” which is perfect. The solo he’d been playing seemed out of place and just uncomfortable. I pushed him to write a whole new one which I knew bugged him. But he came in ready to go and we laid it down in two takes. Just brilliant. The we punched in a few other spots.

The search for an acoustic sound continued. Having spent some time with my acoustic the last week he was ready to try a take on “Endless (pt. 2).”  He sat in his bedroom and we ran cables next door to the control room, I mean his second bedroom. I tried the three different settings on the mic (flat, 150Hz roll-off, 80Hz roll-off). The 80Hz was just right since it just got rid of any low-end rumble without cutting into the guitars natural spectrum. Lefty had to take off before we got anything final down but we made progress.

But I’m kind of pissed at myself. I moved the set up downstairs to his basement to record vocals since the drop ceiling is better for vocal acoustics. I recorded three takes each of “Boxless” and “The Other Room.” My voice was in fine form and I found some interesting and subtle changes that improve on what I had been doing during practice. The I took Buddy, who had been waiting patiently on Lefty’s luxuriously soft couch. Poor Buddy. During the walk it struck me that I never set the microphone back to the flat setting which I prefer for vocal recording. Augh!

After the walk I changed the mic back and did two takes each of those two songs. I think I still nailed them but I don’t know. I’m guessing I had better performances in the earlier takes since I was fresher but the mic setting may have made those takes unusable. I don’t know. I’ll have to wait a day or so to listen back and see if I wasted the whole afternoon or not. I also recorded a few takes of most of “Amber Waves” which also felt really good. Surprising how well I think my voice held up to so many takes in one day.

So, too soon to tell but nerve-wracking all the same.


This was the week we were going to vocals and … Lefty and Dan have colds. Between that and Ornan and Lefty slipping on ice we are DEFINITELY never recording in the winter again.

I’ll still be able to do my vocals on Wednesday assuming I don’t catch what they have. Foolish me is going over to Lefty’s to record his acoustic guitar parts. I’m looking forward to hearing how my Ovation acoustic sounds in his hands through my monitors. I’m optimistic.

I spent the last few days going over the tracks for “The Other Room” and “Boxless” getting them edited, making sure all the best takes of each section are being used. I am continually and increasingly impressed with how great this is sounding. It’s both tight and lively which is the balance I’ve been shooting for.