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Mixing on a Console for the First Time

22 February 2015 in Images, [blog]

A couple months ago Drew and I went in together on a late 1970s Soundtracs FME mixing console, based on Duane’s recommendation.  We scored a good deal on eBay, carefully dragged the 225-pound unit (console + road case) down to the basement, and this past Monday I got to work with it for the first time.

FME1

First I tested each channel with one signal, listening and compensating for any differences among them. These circuits are 35+ years old, and have drifted a bit; to get each channel to sound the same I used preamp gain settings as much as 11 dB apart, EQ adjustments of -1.5 dB to +3 dB, and levels as much 4.5 dB apart. That took all morning, and while we’ll tweak it as we continue to use the board, those settings will be a foundation we can start mixes from in the future.

FME3

Then I actually mixed a five-song project for upcoming release on MFR. I’d already gotten the mixes to a state I was happy with in ProTools, so I was just routing those tracks through the console and back into ProTools in stereo, making fine adjustments.

FME4

Mixing on the Soundtracs was brilliant; revelatory, really.  Even at levels below clipping, the preamps subtly compress and add harmonics in a beautiful way.  The EQ was the best part, though.  In ProTools, I’ll spend weeks on a mix agonizing over tiny changes in EQ, trying to get things to sound their best.  On the console it’s simple and natural to turn up the level, sweep the frequency for the range I want to affect, and bring the level back down until I’ve achieved what I want to hear.

FME2

It wasn’t cheap, but even so this piece of gear was well worth it for us, and offers good bang-for-buck in that it will substantially improve every mix we do (think: new Mars Lights LP, new Dark Satelliets LP, Cory’s solo project, and more) from now on.  And it’s fun to use.

As a bonus, here are some pics of Drew pole-dancing in Wichita Friday night, then deciding to sit on the floor and enjoy the music, at the Mars Lights / Vehicles / Admirals show.

2015-02-20Drew2 2015-02-20Drew

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Albums That Never Were by soniclovenoize

31 January 2015 in [blog]

Pete Townshend’s episode of Behind The Music introduced me to The Who’s Lifehouse project, the ambitious post-Tommy rock opera that fell apart and was never released. Some of its best songs ended up on Who’s Next, including “Baba O’Riley,” “Getting In Tune,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Off and on I’ve worked on a playlist of Lifehouse as it might have been, cobbling it together from Who’s Next, Odds & Sods, Who Are You, and various b-sides and bonus tracks. It’s pretty fun to listen to.

Having done things of this sort*, I was predisposed favorably toward the brilliant Albums That Never Were blog (discovered this morning via The AV Club). In soniclovenoize’s own words:

because i have too much time on my hands, i waste it by reconstructing famous unreleased albums. here are some of them. enjoy.

I’ve only been able to scan the blog so far, but I’m already looking forward to:

  • Weezer’s Songs From The Black Hole
  • Smashing Pumpkins’ Glass and The Machines of God
  • The Clash’s Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg
  • Neil Young’s Chrome Dreams
  • and of course, soniclovenoize’s version of Lifehouse

Not only are these lost albums reconstructed with careful attention to audio quality and source material, there are extensive notes and background reading on each one.  I’m amped about this find, and will thoroughly enjoy exploring the blog; thanks, soniclovenoize!

* See also re-arranging Springsteen’s Live 1975-85, Ken Burns’ Jazz box set, and Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label into chronological order, enjoying Radiohead’s 01 10, reversing The Roots’ Undun, etc.

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Just A Sec by Fally Afani of I Heart Local Music

24 January 2015 in [blog]

Congratulations to Fally, who was featured by Buzzfeed this past week for her year-in-the-life video “Just a Sec.”  It’s no surprise that the creator of I Heart Local Music saw a ton of shows in 2014 along with hanging out with her family, driving around Lawrence, and more.

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Mars Lights recordBar Setlist Links

17 January 2015 in [blog]

After our show the other week Megan asked for direct links to the songs we played in the set.  In sequence, if you missed it, or want to relive it:

Radio Edit – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/radio-edit

Straight Shots – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/straight-talking-straight-shots

Nukular – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/nukular-ft-s-morris

Ghost You Out – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/ghost-you-out

No Witnesses – (unreleased; already recorded for the next LP. This is a heavy, kind of 90s-sounding one that Drew sings, and has a huge weird guitar solo, but the chorus is kind of quieter.)

Nein – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/nein

All Tied Up – http://marslights.bandcamp.com/track/all-tied-up-ft-t-scahill

Stars Above – (unreleased; slotted for the next next LP. This has a kind of stompy Zeppelin main riff, and I sing/shout lyrics derived from the plot of Alien)

Stangray – (unreleased; already recorded for the next LP. Starts and ends with this kind of circular guitar lead of Drew’s, catchy with a half-time chorus inbetween the circular leads.)

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Derek Jennings, “Bummertown” EP

21 December 2014 in [blog]

This past week Cory alerted me that Derek Jennings’ (known as D-Rockets on MFR) excellent EP “Bummertown” was available on iTunes.  I’d known it was streaming on Bandcamp but didn’t know it was for sale, so I snagged it immediately and I encourage you to check it out below and do the same.

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Freewheelin’

14 December 2014 in [blog]

I’m hardly, but it’s the title of the Truckfighters song that’s on right now.  If you like early Queens of the Stone Age, check out Truckfighters; debut Gravity embedded below, more at Fuzzorama Records Bandcamp page.

Keeping it short; my Mac (the personal one, not the studio PC) had a huge, weird, unexpected node problem Friday night and I’ve spent a bunch of time recovering from that.  At this point it looks like I have everything, but it’s going to take a bunch of time to get it all back where it belongs, including my iTunes library (gigantic), Thunderbird (email, plus it functions as my to-do list), GIMP (MFR artwork), and more.

I’ve started recording instrumental leads for Cory’s long-awaited solo jawn; two tracks of keys and one of harmonica (!) are down.  That leaves four leads, probably all electric guitar and assorted effects, background vocals, and whatever little guitar texture bits are needed after the other stuff is in place.  It’s a lot of fun to do, and going to sound really, really cool.

Mars Lights EP release is scheduled for January 13.  We just finished mastering, and figure everyone’s busy for the next couple weeks.

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Ventura Mix Set-up

6 December 2014 in [blog]

I still have a lot to learn about mixing.  Ventura is probably my best mix so far, though, and besides simply having more experience I attribute that to using a reverb set-up that I learned from Bobby Owsinski’s blog.

Here’s a diagram of the mix:

VenturaMixSetup

  • Outputs
    • Kick and bass tracks go directly to the master output/buss
    • All other tracks are output to a stereo aux track with a simple high pass filter, set very low (I think it was 44 or 46 Hz on Ventura; you could certainly go up into the 70s or even higher, I was being conservative), to clear out those useless sub-bass frequencies on non-kick/bass sounds
  • Sends
  • Reverb
    • The three EQ auxes output to a stereo aux with the actual reverb effect on it, set 100% wet, which outputs to the master output/buss.  So this applies the same reverb sound to all the tracks, resulting in a natural-sounding reverb and putting everything in the same room sonically
    • I like to set a timed pre-delay on the reverb, such as a 16th or 32nd note, for clarity
    • The post-fader track sends usually work for me at unity gain (i.e. following the track fader), but some – bass, kick, maybe vocals, maybe other drum mics – may need to be pulled down to avoid jumping out as too wet
    • This is a matter of taste, but I liked this method of creating reverb across a whole song much more than either 1) using reverb in mastering or 2) setting reverb track-by-track (i.e. one reverb on the snare, another on the vocals, etc.).  I tend to like natural-sounding, dry-ish production, though, so your mileage may vary

Questions?  Hit me in the comments!

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mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 4

29 November 2014 in [blog]

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.  (Part 1Part 2Part 3 – Part 4)

My Blood My Bones

Original by Bike:

  • I love Bike so much and wanted to make sure they were covered for mr|ten, so I ended up taking it on with Cory.  It was hard to find a song that seemed cover-able; Bike’s stuff is pretty unique to Bike.
  • Originally we were going to punk this up, but no rhythm felt like it worked.  Then I started playing with the delay pedal :-)
  • The simplicity of this recording is unusual for Bike; typically there are many more layers of drums, synths, etc.

Sneaky Sneaky Snakes:

  • Note some lyric changes, if you like
  • We re-created what I could fathom of the time signature changes in the introduction, but play it straight in four after the vocals enter.
  • We recorded this as a field test for future Sneaky Sneaky Snakes recordings to a 4-track tape machine that can only take 2 tracks at a time.  Track one is drums; kick (RE320) and overhead (NT1) mics mixed down to one channel.  Track two is guitar; amp mic (e609) and bass synth DI mixed down to one channel.  Track three is the lead vocal (which went through overdrive and delay pedals), and track four is a barely-audible low octave and double at the end.  It turned out OK, I think, and I learned how to do it better in the future.
  • Cory played an unbelievably steady drum track (no edits!), and it’s even more impressive when you know he hasn’t played drums much.  This is his first recorded and released drum track, I think.
  • My voice ended up sounding closer to Nate’s than I would have guessed.

International Sign for Goodbye

D-Rockets’ original:

  • Just a regular old slice of typical melodic brilliance from Derek.
  • More overdubs than you might realize at first; the chorus has both an acoustic guitar arpeggio and electric slide guitar, used perfectly.  Harmonica, of course, and it plays underneath the vocals on a few parts.
  • Nate asked for some recommendations, and I sent them, but didn’t think of this; he found it and chose it on his own.

Cover by Bike:

  • I heard an early mix that was just Nate’s voice and rhythm guitar, and had a moment of vertigo, unable to imagine how that Bike sound would emerge from what I was hearing.  With the addition of the second voice, really subtle guitar arpeggio, and simple synth – bam! – it was there, like magic.
  • This was the last cover to be sent in for mr|ten, I think.
  • Nate hadn’t released any music in a long time, and I couldn’t be happier that he did this for us.

After the Countdown

Once more from h&s’ signs.comets:

  • I’ve always liked the call-and-response vocals, especially the first verse, that put Scott and I on equal footing in front of the mic.
  • There were some specific dynamic things I either liked and wanted to re-create, or wanted another shot at, for the cover.  These include “I’ve never walked in darkness…” before the second verse, the “Listen for the countdown / Any second / Now…” pause, and the ending.
  • The craziness at the end is three separate drum takes.  Nothing like rock & roll excess :-)
  • This sort of sounds better than it has any right to, given how I remember recording it…  eesh.  Learned a lot since summer 2003 in that un-air conditioned Sunday School room.

Sally Ride’s cover:

  • Rob had the idea for this cover.  The concept was that I’d do the basic track and post it for others to add their own voices and instruments, and we’d have a giant, weird, asynchronous collaboration.  People ran out of time for that, so it sounds a little empty, but still works.  That’s what all the space in the arrangement is there for, though.
  • I practiced up and did the drum track and two main guitar tracks in one day, at Drew’s, in about six hours.  Gear and mics were already set up for Mars Lights.  It’s the only time I can think of putting myself in that much of a pressure recording situation, and I’m pretty proud of pulling it off.
  • So happy Scott reprised his vocal role!
  • The drum parts bite what I loved about Scott’s orginals, with some tweaks to make them mine and better track the guitar rhythms.
  • The guitar parts break out what had been one guitar part into separate rhythm/root and arpeggio/chord parts.
  • I’m pleased with the guitar tone; this is what the electric howie&scott tones were always like in my head, but I didn’t have the gear or knowledge yet to make them.  It’s a heavier, fuller sort of Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World sound.  The two tones used different pickups, different EQ settings on my ES-345, different pedals (one was just a boost into my amp, the other was the Apocalypse, I think), and because of all of that they sit together in the mix with hardly any EQ.  I don’t say this often, but I feel like I nailed those two tones.
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Two Sentences About Every Band I Saw At Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest

15 November 2014 in [blog]

howieAustinWeb

(Not counting comments about gear…)

Friday

Peelander-Z – This punk “band” is a series of audience participation bits (barely) strung together with approximately three songs spread across a 40-minute set.  Brilliant.

Pallbearer – With a reputation as more of a studio band, they held up live (except for the backing vocals).  Looking forward to seeing them again in KC in December.

Mineral – These guys are taking a well-deserved reunion victory lap.  It was a big crowd for a 3 PM slot, and we ate it up.

This was the beginning of what seemed to me to be a high number of bands playing through Marshall JCMs and sounding pretty pedestrian and one-dimensional in terms of guitar tone.  Over email Drew pointed out that JCMs are plentiful and affordable, and while that’s true, I also heard plenty of guitarists rocking things like Twins, Stereo Choruses, and 6505s that meet those criteria and sound better.

Run The Jewels – The sense of joy emanating from the stage and reflected back from the crowd was palpable.  Killer Mike is a treasure of humanity.

Sun Kil Moon – Just OK.  Mark has moments of brilliance for sure, but for me, those are separated by extended bouts of tedium.

Death From Above 1979 – They blasted through a ton of songs, and we loved it.  Turn up the bass, though!

Judas Priest – Still.  Bringing.  It.  You forget how many hits they’ve had until they’re lined up, one after another after another.

alt-J – CA enjoyed them thoroughly.  To me they kind of noodle around without ever making much of a point (maybe that’s the point?), so I went back for the end of Judas Priest.

Saturday

Glassjaw – There’s always time for some solid New Jersey hardcore.  Maybe now I will finally be able to remember consistently which band is Glassjaw and which is Jawbreaker.

METZ – Fun, loud, and loose.  Nailed it.

The amps started to improve here, and continued throughout the festival.  The mixes were better on Saturday and Sunday, too; Friday was kick-heavy, as is all too common, but the weekend featured really nice mixes.

Fred Armisen – We got tied up in the crowd in the middle of the day and didn’t see much for an hour or two, other than a couple of covers by Fred and his band from what was mostly the comedy stage.  Sounded good, though.

The New Pornographers – Perfect, they could have played the rest of the night and I’d have been thrilled.  Shut up and take my money, my ears, and my heart, voice of Neko Case!

Both Carl and the bassist were playing through Orange cabs!  Amazingly, for all the heavy stuff we heard, NPs were the only band I saw rocking Orange on stage.  Not Pallbearer, not Deafheaven; The New Pornographers.

Nas – Illmatic in its entirety was brilliant, of course, but the rest of his set made the case that the rest of his catalog is underrated and probably due for a critical revision.  See him if you can.

Cass McCombs – No offense to Cass, but after a long two days and almost dying on the way to Austin this was nice to nap through as we waited for Dinosaur Jr. at ACL Live.  Did he put out a second record?

Meat Puppets – I was not as up to speed on my Meat Puppets as you might think headed in; they felt like the Grateful Dead filtered through ’90s sensibilities.  CA enjoyed them, out of nowhere.

Dinosaur Jr. – The sound check on J’s amps was louder than most bands.  Great to see them in a relatively small, impeccably tuned room.

Sunday

Pissed Jeans – These dudes made fun of their own fans crowd-surfing to their music.  Made fun of themselves, too; awesome.

Deafheaven – Sunbather, which everyone loved, never clicked with me but seeing them perform it did.  CA got into them, too, to my surprise.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Freddie, admittedly, had a lot of substances in his system.  He was still rapping like nobody’s business, and Madlib is a minimalist genius, but we cut this kind of short to squeeze in dinner.

Yo La Tengo – Probably should have rolled with Freddie & Madlib longer.  They can be great, but this set was mostly a 20-minute krautrock freakout, and not in the good way.

Failure – A real highlight for me.  They might have sounded better than on record, even, in a set heavy on Fantastic Planet cuts.

No amps on stage (but a cool Electrical Guitar Company aluminum guitar); they must have been using Axe-Fx or a Kemper profiling amp or something.  Sounded great, though there was some switching trouble.  I’m not sure how many shows they’ve played, so they may still be getting used to the gear.  They didn’t play any new songs, which surprised me.

Neutral Milk Hotel – Jeff & Co. presided over a hi-fi (yes, clearer than the albums) sing-a-long weirdo jamboree, and converted CA to fandom in the process.  I’m so happy to have seen them.

A Tribute to the Stooges featuring J Mascis – We hoofed across Austin in a hurry, only to find a reasonable line rendered impossible due to a guest list that took up 95% of the club’s capacity.  Disappointing, but I listened to three songs through the window, and even that was pretty rad.

J’s solos were nuts.  I don’t imagine he hauled his whole rig into the club, but his tone was right there, unmistakable.

Monday – Though not part of the festival, I will here mention the excellent electric bike tour we experienced courtesy of Rocket Electrics.  Their bikes look and work like regular bikes, but have a battery that will take you up to 20 miles at 20 mph, which is handy for hills and acceleration.  We took the music tour led by Johnny Austin, had a great time visiting some historic Austin music sites, and wrapped up with a rooftop concert.  I opened it with “Coast & Plains” (hence the photo above, courtesy of Johnny); we highly recommend the tour if you’re in town.

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Ventura Outtakes

8 November 2014 in [blog]

As promised, here is the gag reel from the Ventura background vocal recording session in Kansas City.

Mostly, it’s Drew being belligerent (AKA it’s fantastic).