Archive for January, 2010

Custom Reaper Theme

Posted in Creative Tools with tags , , on January 31, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

Hi all,

Thanks for checking back. I haven’t posted in about a week, as I’ve been busy recording with Mitch, as well as working on a custom GUI interface for my Audio program Reaper.

The tune we’re working on is an old one from 2002 called “Marigold”. It’s not complete yet (I need to get rid of the scratch track vocals), but it’s got a good vibe to it. Very lazy, like a good Summer’s day.

Now the Reaper GUI theme I’m working on is based on the color scheme and sliders from the old TG mixing desks from the 60’s. I wasn’t too concerned about scanning, and using stuff without changing it too much because I’m not profiting off of someone else’s trademarked/copyrighted work. It’s strictly for my own amusement and love of quality Old School workmanship. So don’t sue me, EMI.

🙂

I’ll leave you with a screenshot of “British Console”:

Learning to Play the Guitar

Posted in Guitars with tags , , on January 23, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

I made the decision to start playing guitar back in 2000. It wasn’t my first time picking up the instrument, but after years of trying I promised myself I wouldn’t give up this time.

I remember buying Guitar for Dummies, and The “First Stage” Guitar Book. I played every day for hours at a time. My fingers hurt for the first 6 months, I couldn’t barre any chords, and I couldn’t play anybody’s tunes (and I still can’t).

Even though I was miserable and frustrated, I never lost my focus- I knew that if I kept at it something would eventually click.  And I was right. As I got over each stumbling block and learning curve I was able to start writing and playing the sounds I heard in my head.

Formal lessons never worked for me, I remain self taught to this day, and I’m happy as a rhythm player. My unorthodox approach has helped me to concentrate on simple (effective) chords, along with song structure, melody and recording techniques. I leave the solos for more capable people like my (lead) guitarist Mitch.

In any event, it’s been about 10 years since I picked up the guitar, and it’s been a very rewarding experience. It’s helped me write music that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to write if I stuck solely with the drums and piano.

Free Audio Plug-ins, Dynamics, Analog vs. Digital Recordings, and More

Posted in Recording Basics with tags , , , , on January 23, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

I’m so glad the weekend is here. That means more time with the Mrs., more time with our dogs, and of course more time in the studio! It’s also the perfect time to share some more tips & tricks to get your music sounding as great as it should be.

Vocals

The right microphone is always a key factor in getting a good vocal sound. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, just get yourself an SM58 from Shure. A lot of people like to record their vocal tracks dry, and I’m going to argue against that. By singing along to your tune with effects added to the vocals you get a better idea of just how it all sits together. A good vocalist will also use the effect (be it echo, chorus, etc.) to shape and enhance his or her performance.

You’re also going to want to do the following to your vocal track:

  1. Vocals should be tracked using a nice warm tube pre-amp (there’s more on warmth and analog gear below).
  2. Add compression before the EQ. Compression smooths out the sound, and by adding the EQ after you can bring some of the highs back into play.
  3. Any good plugin with decent presets will roll off and tame your lows, mids and highs. However, never settle with just a preset, unless it’s one you’ve created & tested yourself. Take the time to tailor the EQ to the voice and performance, and add a deeser if you need to.

Automatic Double Tracking is covered in this post.

Analog Gear

There’s a very good reason why all of the big and small name music hardware & software companies have jumped on the analog sim bandwagon. Analog (and vintage) gear can give your music a warm, and enhanced sound. My first home studio consisted of a Tascam Porta One, a few cheap mics from Radio Shack and a Roland TR-505 & Juno 106. I eventually traded or sold all my analog/tape-based gear to make room for my DAW, but I sacrificed real warmth and saturation for gains in stability, flexibility and ease of use. A lot of professionals might agree with that statement.

The technical limitations and imperfections of old school studios and gear set the standard of the quality of the recorded sounds that we expect to hear on our home-based recordings. For some (myself included) a digital recording can’t compare to one completed in an analog studio because you simply cannot naturally overdrive and saturate a digital recording. You will need plug-ins written specifically to replicate that sound in order to achieve that. My final results aren’t meant to be about cleanliness, or accuracy, but about trying to capture a quality or a vibe. Simply put: Grunge. Analog gear makes the audio sound more interesting because it distorts the audio in a pleasing way.

By the way, there are two plug-ins that can help your recordings sound better by simulating the warmth and saturation of analog tape. They’re good and they’re FREE:

  1. Ferox Tape Simulator is arguably the best sounding free tape sim out there. Lately I’ve been loving MAGNETIC.
  2. Cakewalk FX2 package includes controls for tape hiss, saturation, and tape speed. It also sounds great on drums.

Add Real Reverb

Place a speaker in a concrete, wood or tiled room of your home. Mic it up so you pick up the room sound. Send your instrument tracks to the speaker and record the results. That’s how they used to do it in the 1960’s for bands like The Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, etc..

EQ: Cut or Add

EQ is possibly more important than volume. If you want a louder drum kit, increase the treble, not the volume, to help it cut through the mix. More bass for your face? Cut the highs.

Compression

Used properly, compression creates headroom by balancing out the dynamic levels between loud and soft spots in your audio, making them less extreme.  Compression can make your sound and mixes more coherent and consistent sounding.

MODERN MUSIC IS COMPRESSED AND MIXED SO THAT EVERYTHING IS VERY LOUD, WHICH  IS AS ONE-DIMENSIONAL (AND ANNOYING) AS ALWAYS TYPING IN BOLD CAPS. Depending on the song and the type of music you write, include both loud and soft. You get the picture?

Mono or Stereo Mixing?

I’ve read this in almost every music forum: Mix in mono first, then switch to stereo when you’ve got something decent. Mixing in mono forces you to think about EQ over track volume, and it’s a very hard process to get right. Also, avoid those marathon mixing sessions and take breaks. Nothing helps a mix like well-rested ears.

Automation

Play those faders. As you begin mixing your music, keep moving the faders up and down slightly. You bring a little extra motion to your mix through this (subtle) manipulation of levels. Modern  software,  can automate these subtle changes for you:  Draw points on the volume or FX channel, and then raise and lower certain portions of the track to simulate the fader play.

Your Final Mix is Not a Master

Embrace the fact that only a pro mastering engineer can work magic. Read that again, please. Mastering software like Ozone is fine, but it takes years to learn how to use it properly.

Now go make some music…

Elliott Smith

Posted in R.I.P. Rock Stars with tags , , on January 21, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

Elliott was a fantastic musician, cut from that great old-school Folk/Rock & Roll cloth and a time when people actually learned how to write their own songs and play their instruments well.

He was a solid guitarist with a great finger-picking style, and he was also adept at piano, bass guitar, and drums. Smith had a distinctive “thin” vocal style and used multiple tracks to create layered vocals with interesting sonic textures and lush harmonies.

It is widely accepted that Elliott was depressed, and overly fond of alcohol and drugs, but I didn’t embrace his music because of that. I just got off on the fact that he was talented. Pure and simple.

In the end, Elliott’s demons caught up with him, and he died at the young age of 34.

I rarely play or record cover tunes, but I had a lot of fun with Elliott’s tune “A Passing Feeling”. I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to download it.

A Passing Feeling

The Buddha Rats® is the property of Andrew Gold. Reg. USPTO.

Collaborate and Make Music with Friends Online

Posted in How To's with tags , , , on January 20, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

Are you looking to play, rehearse and record music remotely with like-minded people from around the world? With a good computer, and a high-speed internet connection you too can connect with other musicians, vocalists, songwriters, and exchange ideas all from the comfort of your Home Studio.

Online Music Collaboration means no expensive recording studio costs, or time constraints. Sure, nothing is better than hanging out and playing, writing and jamming together in a relaxing room or studio but with a little time, patience and focus it is possible to make some great long distance music. This post will explore the things you’ll need to get an Online Music Collaboration up and running.

Platform

  • By using the same software, you are ensuring cross-platform compatibility between Macs and PC’s. Any software will do (we happen to use Reaper).

Consistency

  • Play in time. Always use the metronome when recording your parts.  Remember that editing, and arranging is a lot easier when it all syncs up. Trust me on this one.
  • Keep your project organized. Know where you are saving your recorded audio & MIDI files, and keep the song’s audio in its own clearly labeled folder which ties back to the project name.
  • Your friends might not have the same plug-ins as you (if they do, then ignore this entry). That means  if you’re a guitarist using an Amp Sim, or a keyboard player with the latest/greatest synth vsti, be sure to render your MIDI or audio to a new track with the sound or effect embedded.

Production values

  • Try and focus on the performances first.  “Scratch tracks” are perfectly acceptable and often times the rough takes turn out to be the keepers!
  • Crafting and perfecting the production process is different for everyone.  It’s important to be aware of what works and what doesn’t. Keep it simple, play for the song, and when in doubt, leave it out.

Sending Files

  • Set up an on-line FTP account to send your projects back and forth. I use Google Drive, because it can accommodate large files, there’s more than enough storage space to keep files available indefinitely, and a central Dropbox for all files can be created.
  • Nothing kills creativity more than opening up a project that’s been sent to you, only to discover your friend forgot to include the audio he/she recorded. Don’t forget to send your audio along with the project file.

Thanks for stopping by. If I’ve forgotten anything, feel free to post a comment. Happy music-making, and good luck getting your long-distance collaboration up and running.

Low Now

Posted in Music with tags , , , on January 18, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

Mitch and I hadn’t played or recorded together in 10 years when I approached him with this song. It’s not that we had a falling out or anything, we simply lived in different states, and I was still getting my studio together.

By 2005 I was good to go again, and when Mitch came back to NY for a bit, we spent the weekend drinking, jamming and recording.

I had the basic tracks worked out with bass, drums and guitar. Mitch wisely re-recorded the rhythm git tracks in addition to adding the solo. I laid the vocal track down at 3am, and mixed it the next day. I’d probably do it a lot differently today (since I have better EQ’s and compressors) but it’s still a good tune.

Low Now

Written, and recorded by The Buddha Rats®. Copyright 2003 Drew Gold. World Rights Reserved. Use without permission is theft and leads to physical & financial pain, so make sure you ask first.

The Buddha Rats® is the property of Andrew Gold. Reg. USPTO.

Feeling Dry? Get Wet With Reverb!

Posted in How To's, Reverb with tags , , on January 10, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

Lets face it: Reverb (and compression) are the industrial strength glues that keep it all together. Reverb helps establish space and distance, and defines the musical soundscape & relationship between all the interacting elements in your tunes. Most if not all of the reverb plugs I use either have settings and sliders for adding headroom, and the best ones simply sound like I’m adding air into the mix.

How many types of reverbs are there? A lot:  Plates, Halls, Rooms, Chambers, Springs, and (my favorite) Convolution. Any decently powered computer (PC or MAC) can take advantage of these reverb simulators, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get one that will make your music sound great.

I’ve found the best reverb plug-ins to be IK’s Classik Studio Reverb, Timeworks 4080L, Silverspike R2 (which has a lot of great sound enhancers built in), TC Electronic (their Vss3 is outstanding), and my absolute favorite LiquidSonics Reverberate LE.

BTW, if you end up using Reverberate, show your appreciation and donate what you can to his Charity of choice, which is Cancer Research (a very good cause). Here’s the link.

Before I started using Reverberate LE, plate reverb was a must on my vocal tracks and master chain. Plate reverb plugs simulate the sound of the instrument being bounced around on a metal plate. A lot of my favorite rock recordings from the 1960’s, etc.  used plate reverbs, and echo chambers to enhance the sound.

Now, the thing that I absolutely love about Convolution reverb, and the use of Impulse Responses is that this type of reverb sounds the most real. You simply have to hear it to believe it, but I guarantee that once you apply a bit of convolution reverb into your mix nothing else will do. This type of reverb takes advantage of IR’s (Impulse Responses). These IR’s are a snapshot of  a room’s reverb characteristics. Essentially you are adding the qualities of a real space into your mix, and this is the best kind of DAW reverb around.

For the best IR’s on the market today go to Singaltonoize.com. There are hundreds of beautifully recorded IR’s for all your needs. Stuff like:
Quantec
Lexicon
PCM 70
H5000
H3000
Vss3
(these sound gorgeous!)

These IR’s sound great. It’s like mixing air into your tracks (which I talked about earlier). Seriously, they kick ass, and a lot of time and care was put into making them available to the public.

BTW, it’s all Donationware, and you can pay what you wish, so there’s no excuse to give nothing. If you use them, send 50 cents, or a dollar, or more… whatever you can so he can feel good about releasing more IR’s to the public. I’m not affiliated with the site, and I did send him $.

As a final reminder: Unless you are going for a particular over-the-top effect, don’t use too much reverb. Too much of a good thing will make your tracks sound muddy and unprofessional. You only want to add enough to unflatten your final mix.

Have fun.