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The Baptist Death Ray

I can record music again!

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Hm... less about the "faith" portion of "arts & faith," but I know there are musicians who sit around here so I figure there will be some folks who grok this.

I've been trying to piece together my home studio for YEARS, and in January I finally did it. And since then I've been focusing on making mixes work "better" -- I really don't have an ear for mixing down my work properly (I'm going to have to actually spend money for someone else to do that for me, I'm afraid) but I find I'm getting better.

It doesn't help that my studio setup is pretty basic -- computer running SONAR v4 (can't afford v5 yet, I bought SONAR when I had a lot more money to spend and have been relying on the upgrade prices ever sicne), a really lousy mixing board (the only good thing about it is that it has phantom power for my microphone) and an acceptable but not really stellar microphone. Recording guitar tracks is really a nightmarish experience, since I have to rely on plugging the guitar in directly to a little preamp which then goes directly into the mixing board, then add affects like distortion afterward from SONAR (trying to mic my amp in that small room is an exercise in futility -- you just can't get a decent sound out of it. My next step is to get one of those $100-$200 guitar effects boxes and use that instead of the preamp, which won't be much better but it WILL allow me to put in some basic distortion sounds when I'm recording the track, instead of afterwards.)

So... not the best recording setup, but it works for solo work. If I actually had a band it would be useless.

Recording in my little studio is an interesting experience... the limitations involved have forced me to veer from what I tend to gravitate towards, sound-wise (Big Black mixed with early punk) and get a more industrial edge to it. On my Artistlaunch Page I have a mix of stuff I've recorded at a proper studio and stuff I've recorded in my own studio... and it's interesting to compare them.

Well, it's interesting to me. I can't speak for you lot.

"Broken Again" and "Pharisee" are older recordings (about 10 or 11 years old, in fact) that I did in an honest-to-God studio... and they aren't particularly great recordings but they have some things about them that I think sound better, mix-wise, than the other stuff I have up there. Next is "Nightmare Age" which was done some six years later when I was finally starting to do some things right in the home studio (took me six years to get there, sheesh... it's actually not a bad recording in some respects, but then it's also a really simple song.) Then "Silence Me," which is when I decided that the best way to improve the sound quality of the songs was to make them a little more industrial, because it allowed me to record fewer instruments live (fewer live instruments seems to translate to "less muddiness in the overall mix"). Then "Kill My Neighbor," which I wrestled with for two years trying to get the vocals and the bass right (it's still not right, but it's the best I've done yet, and I don't know how to make it better until I get a space where it is practical to actually mic my amps. Plugging the bass directly into the mixing board makes it sound a LOT thinner). And finally "Five Steps to the New World Order," which is a pretty odd duck compared to what I usually do (it's alot more "dancey") which actually took me about 4 months, making it the shortest amount of time I've ever spent in my home studio working on a track.

Which is funny, because when I was in a REAL studio, it'd usually take me about half an hour to record a song and it would be good enough. I guess paying $X/hour makes me less picky.

But the POINT is, despite the lousiness of the equipment (other than SONAR, which is a pretty solid program, but that doesn't really matter when all the stuff connected to it is sub-par) it's actually possible to DO things.

DO things! I mean... I can't begin to describe how incredibly frustrating it was to NOT be able to record... or when trying, to not even get anywhere CLOSE to the result I was aiming for...

Anyway... that's more than anyone wanted to know about me and my music, but the whole thing has left me in a pretty good mood... so I'm feeling chatty.

Edited by The Baptist Death Ray

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Congrats BDR! Get crackin'!

I can relate to your frustration. 2004 was a dark year for me, as I had to begin selling off my gear piece by piece to pay bills. My '72 Fender Twin, my archtop, vintage series Rickenbacker... all gone. I felt like I was selling away family members. This past Sept. we were finally in a position where I could go out and begin the process ofreplenishing my quiver. What a feeling! ::w00t::

With my new setup ( the vintage lawsuit Ibanez, a modified Carvin Belair- which has the warmest, most earthy clean sound i have ever heard) I have a voracious appetite to play and write again. In fact, two weeks ago I added a couple niche pieces to my effects lineup, most notably the Boss rc-30xl Loop Station, which has got me tinkering and jamming like a kid again. I am currently working on a creative non-musical project, in the final revision phase... Once it's cleared from my desk, I'm itching to start recording again as well. I have a few demos and samples I've kicked around with Adobe Audition... Mostly improvisational/livetronica stuff... Lo-fi samples and ambient, rainy day progressions underneath some melodic noodling.

Recording guitar tracks is really a nightmarish experience, since I have to rely on plugging the guitar in directly to a little preamp which then goes directly into the mixing board, then add affects like distortion afterward from SONAR (trying to mic my amp in that small room is an exercise in futility -- you just can't get a decent sound out of it. My next step is to get one of those $100-$200 guitar effects boxes and use that instead of the preamp, which won't be much better but it WILL allow me to put in some basic distortion sounds when I'm recording the track, instead of afterwards.)
Yes, that is a nightmare. How 'bout just getting a decent used amp? My experience with the amp modelers ( I actually have the POD modeler, which a sympathetic friend flat-out gave me last year) going direct into a board is that they usually sound thin and rather flimsy. I'm sorry, but there's nothing like a set of warm tubes driving a 12" speaker. I've found you can get a pretty robust sound from a modest tube amp and a pair of shure mics. Put your effects on the front end too, instead of using the software after effects and I think you'll meet with a lot less hair-pulling.

Keep on!!!

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We (my band) just bought a hard drive recorder thing - it's called HD24 ADAT machine. I don't know much about it, but it does mean that we can record live gigs, or practices, which is good. It means that if we have a great jamming session we can salvage any worthwhile bits from it, and hold on to them.

And Coltrane - I like the sound of your RC20. Every now and again I nearly buy one, but then decide I can't afford it.

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And since then I've been focusing on making mixes work "better" -- I really don't have an ear for mixing down my work properly (I'm going to have to actually spend money for someone else to do that for me, I'm afraid) but I find I'm getting better.

Congratulations! I too know the ecstasy of being able to record at home. I taught guitar lessons for about two years before I could get enough money to start buying stuff. I'll offer some advice on mixing, I'm not sure how much you know about it already, so I apologize if this is redundant.

1. Be sure to get good levels on all your tracks when recording. It's terrible to realize that one track is as high as you can get it and you still need more.

2. Go into mixing with a plan. If you want the vocals to be up front, get a good level on that first and then build everything else around it. If you want something else to stand out then set your levels on that first and so on.

3. Pan. I can't say enough about the importance of the stereo field. Whatever you want to be primary can be central and pan other elements to the side. Experiment with this and listen to the difference in the overall sound of the piece. Sometimes you don't need a lot, other times you may take two guitar tracks and pan them hard left and right leaving the middle wide open.

4. EQ. Adjusting the EQ is a sticky and problematic place if you know enough to be dangerous. There are plenty of articles online about it. All I'll say is practice subtractive EQ, meaning if you need more bass, then pull the treble down, if you need more high end, then pull the bass down. What you don't want to do is keep adding more and more until you eventually just end up with an Equalized mess.

5. Get some decent nearfield monitors. I use Event Electronics TR8 monitors. They're on the lower end of the price range but they're still pretty good. This is really an important part of mixing if you want to get a decent mix.

I've recorded and mixed a couple of albums (not my own) with Sonar and I really like the program.

My next step is to get one of those $100-$200 guitar effects boxes and use that instead of the preamp, which won't be much better but it WILL allow me to put in some basic distortion sounds when I'm recording the track, instead of afterwards.)

I've been using the Tech 21 TriAC pedal with my guitar rig and I love it! The guy at the music store told me that he gets a lot of people recording direct with this unit because it sounds so good. There's also another unit, the SansAmp GT2 that offers more tweaking options such as mic placement and wiring. I think either of these will give you a great sound if you can't use your amp.

Have fun!

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I can relate to your frustration. 2004 was a dark year for me, as I had to begin selling off my gear piece by piece to pay bills. My '72 Fender Twin, my archtop, vintage series Rickenbacker... all gone. I felt like I was selling away family members. This past Sept. we were finally in a position where I could go out and begin the process ofreplenishing my quiver. What a feeling!

Ouch. I'm glad you were able to restock... I'd hate to have to sell my guitar (not that I'd get much for it... I can't afford good ones...)

Yes, that is a nightmare. How 'bout just getting a decent used amp? My experience with the amp modelers ( I actually have the POD modeler, which a sympathetic friend flat-out gave me last year) going direct into a board is that they usually sound thin and rather flimsy. I'm sorry, but there's nothing like a set of warm tubes driving a 12" speaker. I've found you can get a pretty robust sound from a modest tube amp and a pair of shure mics. Put your effects on the front end too, instead of using the software after effects and I think you'll meet with a lot less hair-pulling.

Well I have an amp that I like just fine... the problem is that the room is too small to get a good sound out of it... everything bounces off everything else. This can be mitigated if I ever get enough money to buy some of those sound baffles to put around the amp, but I can't do that yet.

A secondary but still important problem is that the house in general is not well soundproofed, and when I work in there Mrs. Death Ray can usually hear what I'm doing... so I have to mindful of that. An amp modeller might not be the best solution in terms of sound, but it might be the best overall solution with that in mind. I already have to hold off on recording vocals until she is out of the house, I don't want to have to do that for guitar tracks, too...

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And Coltrane - I like the sound of your RC20. Every now and again I nearly buy one, but then decide I can't afford it.

Yeah, i've owned a couple loopers ( i also have an Akai Headrush) but the Boss is amazing. Besides having a buttload of looping mins and the option for saving and storing up to 11 loops, it QUANTIZES, which for performing live is an indispensible feature!!! (Its also the only looper that I know which does this except the Oberheim Echoplex, which costs a small fortune) I actually used it live for the first time this past Sunday at church and was able to loop a rythym track in perfect sync and get down to noodling. I also looped a one and half minute instrumental verse/chorus for our communion service, which will allow me to play the melody and add some volume swells for effect. Its a blast.

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3. Pan. I can't say enough about the importance of the stereo field. Whatever you want to be primary can be central and pan other elements to the side. Experiment with this and listen to the difference in the overall sound of the piece. Sometimes you don't need a lot, other times you may take two guitar tracks and pan them hard left and right leaving the middle wide open.

I've been trying to pay more attention to this, but I've found that pan settings can sound good in one kind of environment (like wearing headphones) and very strange in others (like running through speakers, or a car stereo).

5. Get some decent nearfield monitors. I use Event Electronics TR8 monitors. They're on the lower end of the price range but they're still pretty good. This is really an important part of mixing if you want to get a decent mix.

This, I think, has been my biggest problem. I'm just now getting to the point where I can mix down music that sounds pretty decent (to me) playing from my computer, and playing through my ipod. I have less luck getting it to sound good through a car stereo, and even less when it's converted to a lo-fi streaming mp3 on ArtistLaunch.

On the other hand, it's not like I'm recording any hi fidelity stuff to begin with. If it sounded too good I'd lose street credibility, right? :)

I've been using the Tech 21 TriAC pedal with my guitar rig and I love it!

Hey... I can afford that! (When I get my tax return, anyway.)

Thanks for the tips.

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5. Get some decent nearfield monitors. I use Event Electronics TR8 monitors. They're on the lower end of the price range but they're still pretty good. This is really an important part of mixing if you want to get a decent mix.

This, I think, has been my biggest problem. I'm just now getting to the point where I can mix down music that sounds pretty decent (to me) playing from my computer, and playing through my ipod. I have less luck getting it to sound good through a car stereo, and even less when it's converted to a lo-fi streaming mp3 on ArtistLaunch.

Yeah, you may get lucky without them, but I found it's kind of hit or miss if you don't have a good set of monitors to use as a reference. Even mixing with headphones can be tricky because the sound isn't interacting with the room.

On the other hand, it's not like I'm recording any hi fidelity stuff to begin with. If it sounded too good I'd lose street credibility, right? :)

:lol:

Hey... I can afford that! (When I get my tax return, anyway.)

Thanks for the tips.

Always happy to help! I would highly recommend TapeOp Magazine. It's my favorite recording/engineering/producer magazine and it's a free subscription. You can't go wrong! It's the only recording mag I've read that made me excited to do it rather than frustrated because I couldn't afford all of the equipment.

Edited by MichaelRay

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