New Demo – Composer – Maddie Marie

Sorry again to have to send you to another site to hear the demo. It’s a long story. WordPress will handle embedding audio for me, but will not allow me to protect my client’s copyright. Please go have a listen and come back and leave comments here.

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New Demo – Dance In The Rain – Maddie Marie

Sorry I’m sending you to another blog but WordPress will not allow me to embed my box.net player into my posts here. They need to fix that or I may move my blog over to Blogspot.

http://tinyurl.com/2euz54p (opens up the page on my Blogspot blog)

Please leave comments here.

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Simplicity Is the New Complexity

I don’t really know what that title means but seemed to make more sense than “Single-Mic Recording Is the New Black”. What I mean to say is this: In our quest to create intricate and complicated mixes, let’s remember that it starts with a great song and a great performance. No amount of studio trickery can cover up a bad song. There’s a rule of thumb in cooking and recording that says, “The fewer the ingredients, the better those ingredients have to be.”

Check out this video by Gungor. They started with a great song and chose to record this acoustic version around a single microphone. Great song + great performance + great mic & placement = great recording.

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The One Thing That May Be Holding You Back

Don't Skip This StepI just started working on a two-song demo for a local songwriter. She is fifteen years old and has a great (albeit young) soulful pop voice and has written a couple of nice tunes. Her dad sent me the “work tapes” via email yesterday. It’s time to record. I’ll just plug in my microphone, ready the track, and hit the red button. Right?

Wrong!

Don’t get me wrong, you certainly could do that. I know I have. However, I want to present to you a better way.

Pre-Production

Pre-production is just what its name implies. It is production-related activities performed prior to laying down any tracks. Skip this step and you may be setting yourself up for a frustrating time. Let’s look at some key steps to pre-production and break them down a bit. Shall we?

Arrangement

Before you record a single track, you better know where the arrangement is going. What is the roadmap? It would be a shame to get through tracking your instruments and figure out that you should have shortened the second chorus or played a different chord progression going into the bridge. Basically, you should have the arrangement finalized and have every chord change charted.

Tempo

How embarrassing and frustrating would it be if I had tracked all the instruments at 80 bpm only to bring in the artist for a vocal session and find that she cannot sing the song that fast? In pre-production, you should spend some time with the trusty metronome to lock in a tempo that is neither too fast nor too slow, but juuuust riiiight.

Sounds Like

Just as you might use a guide track when mixing a song, you can also use a guide track on the front side to help determine what your final song should sound like. For example, when I first heard one of the songs on this project, I thought, “That sounds just like _____.” So, in addition to listening to my client’s work tape, I am spending some time with _____’s recording to determine the style, feel, and…

Instrumentation

The “sounds like” will help determine what instruments are used in the production. After listening to _____, I have determined that one of these songs will have a high-strung acoustic guitar, a clean electric sound, acoustic piano, upright bass, and some train brush patterns on a knock-down drum kit (kick, snare, hat, and possibly a crash cymbal).

Conclusion

If I had just heard the work tape and started recording, I would waste several hours fixing the arrangement and playing around with different sounds. Instead, I have spent some time planning so that when the time comes to hit record, I’ll know when to stop.

Question: Do you pre-produce? If so, what is your process? If not, why not?

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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! – Part II

This is a continuation of my previous post.

A Few ImprovementsMinidisc 4-track

So I had been at this a while, but the concept of recording audio had eluded me. On a later project, I borrowed a Minidisc 4-track (remember those?) and an Electro-Voice ND 767 to record another demo. I recorded the stereo out from my synth and recorded the vocal tracks. It actually turned out okay but had no effects, no compression, no nothing. Looking back, it probably wasn’t that good. I threw away the evidence.

A Dim Light at the End of a Long Tunnel

My experience with the Minidisc was actually preferable to my first foray into computer recording. I had just discovered how to record audio to my computer and I discovered that Cakewalk Pro also had bundled audio effects. The problem was that I was recoThe SoundBlaster Audigy2rding to a stock “interface” (a/k/a Sound Blaster card). Digital clipping is not pretty and I was the king of not pretty.

I decided that if I was going to get serious about home computer-based recording, I needed a better interface. After a lot of research I went to Best Buy and bought a premium SoundBlaster Audigy2 card with a breakout box. It had some hardware input volume control along with several cool i/o options included a MIDI interface.

At this time I also bought my first studio microphone, an MXL 990. It required phantom power so I bought a Behringer Shark. I was not pleased with the strident brittle tone of the recordings so I opted for a tube preamp, one I still use with mods: the ART TubeMP Studio. I liked the fancy meter. I have since replaced the factory tube with a NOS (new old stock) tube but I can’t say I can tell a difference.

During this time I also upgraded my DAW software to Cakewalk Home Studio 2002XL. Cakewalk has a great upgrade program that makes upgrading a no-brainer. It is a little more expensive to get started but the upgrades are super affordable. It was this upgrade that I got my first taste of software synthesizers. I found that I could get far better sounds from the included Roland Virtual Sound Canvas than I could from the Alesis Synth.

I had a great time with this interface/DAW combo and produced many demos and did a fair amount of audio “odd jobs”, including some major label marketing work. It was mostly editing and output work, though. I didn’t really run across any issues with this card until I got my first professional demo singing job.

Snap…Crackle…Pop…M-Audio Delta 44

I’m not talking about the popular breakfast cereal. I am talking about major hardware issues. I had not noticed these issues before, but there was a low-frequency popping sound on my vocal tracks. The bad thing was that they weren’t noticed until after I had turned in a project for a fellow writer/producer. Thankfully he was understanding  and patient as I hurriedly upgraded my DAW and hardware. The DAW I upgraded to the re-branded Cakewalk SONAR HomeStudio 4XL and the M-Audio Delta 44 audio interface. Problems solved.

There you have it! My long, slow crawl into audio recording greatness. Ha! Thanks for reading. In my next post, I will walk you through my current setup and give a little insight into why I use what I use.

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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! – Part I

As I was mixing down a song the other day, I had a good laugh about how far I’ve come in the past two years. That was followed by an even bigger laugh about how far I’ve come in the past ten years.

(How much time do you have?)

The Early Mysteries

In high school and early college I had never really considered programming MIDI. Sequencing always seemed like a mysterious process that was only available on those fancy synthesizers with the 3.5″ floppy drives. The college where I studied commercial music had a synthesis lab but it was always dark and had lots of lights and crazy-looking equipment. It looked like a mad scientist’s garage so I did not go in there. I. Did. Not. Go. In. There.

A Clue to the Puzzle

In 1999 I started playing in a band where the lead singer programmed backing tracks that the band played along with. He broke it down for me to a certain extent but it was still somewhat confusing. I was intrigued though.

Later in ’99 I moved to Nashville for a music business internship. I spent some time in studios and learned a bit more. After a couple of months there, I took the plunge and bought my first recording rig:

  • Alesis QS 8.1
  • Cakewalk Professional 8 (the pre-cursor to Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio, which I still use)
  • Steinberg USB-2 MIDI interface (I had tried to connect the synth to my computer with a serial cable but did not get very good results)
  • Cables, stands, pedals, etc.

Let’s just say that my first efforts at programming/recording were dismal at best. I dabbled for a bit with the multi-timbral synth, learning how to play back multiple patches at once. The sounds weren’t great but I managed to produce a few tracks for my own music as well as for friends and family. I got my first real (yet non-paying) assignment when my uncle wrote a song. I programmed a track for him using only the internal synth sounds. I didn’t even know how to output the project into something that he could play in his car. I ended up borrowing a DAT machine (remember those?) from work and mixing 16 tracks down to a stereo output from my synth and recording a performance track. I thought it would be a good idea to give him a vocal demo as well, so I borrowed a handheld vocal mic from a friend and recorded the tracks on the left channel and recorded a vocal demo on the right channel, making essentially a split-track. I took that DAT back to work and burned a CD. Instant classic!

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Why Am I Doing This?

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog you may be asking, “Who is this guy and why is he writing a blog on home studio demo production?” Don’t worry. You’re not alone. I ask myself the same questions.

I did not go to school to study studio production, although that was a part of my course of study in commercial music. I have always loved music and writing songs. Over time, I have found that I enjoy the recording process just as much.

From two-track cassette recording in high school to my feeble first attempts at MIDI sequencing about ten years ago, my learning curve has been a roller coaster over the last few years and I am constantly looking for ways to improve. I have found over the years that my greatest improvements have been in technique. Sure the technology advances have made the workflow and process more efficient but, as I’ve said before, good technique is more important than good technology to getting good results. I’m happy to share with you the new things I’m learning and show you the simple steps to make quality recordings at home.

I encourage you to comment on the posts and let’s have a conversation about topics that are important to you. Perhaps, over time, we can learn from each other and have some fun and make some good music in the process.

Question: What questions do you have about programming MIDI and recording audio?

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