Why I Buy Music



When you buy a movie on iTunes, it’s yours forever, until such a time as when Apple maybe loses the rights to distribute it, and then it will disappear from your library without a trace. This is what happened to Anders G. da Silva, who goes by @drandersgs on Twitter, and who tweeted about losing three movies bought on the iTunes Store …

Update 9/17/2018 2:50PM: By way of explanation, an Apple PR representative sent me this link, which explains that the reason da Silva can’t access the movies he paid real dollars for is that they are stuck on a different region of the iTunes Store (Canada vs. Australia); to access the movies, he simply needs to relinquish his Australian iTunes Store subscriptions and credits, obtain a Canadian billing address and a Canadian credit card, switch back over to the store, hope the movies are still available, redownload them in a secure location and locally store them when Apple claims you don’t need to do this, and then undo all of the settings so he can go back to his new native iTunes Store of Australia. Apple, appearing to have finally realized some elements of this are absolutely ridiculous, is “promising to send him a workaround.”

I care about the music I love far too much to entrust a tech company to maintain my ability to listen to it in perpetuity. Maybe you do, too.

Snare Doctoring

I recorded h&s drums at the library’s studio across two sessions, and I didn’t love the snare sound from the first session.  (Matt loaned me a few snares for the second session, which sounded fantastic.)

The plan had been to mix in a sample of a good snare hit along with the original track, but a couple weeks ago I realized I could try another technique; re-amping the snare.  The advantage here is that a re-amped snare will have the same soft-to-loud dynamics and variations among individual hits as the original, where the sample is the same every time (and can therefore sound a bit artificial).

Here’s what it looks like:

Amp: VHT Special 6 Ultra, snare: Ludwig Vistalite 13×9″ tom, adapted for snares with custom hardware by Matt Pluff, top mic: Peavey 520i, bottom mic: EV RE320, room mic: MXL R144 (and note: I’m out of mic stands!)

The signal path:

  1. In the computer I’ve solo’d the snare track, and used a gate plugin set so only the snare hits come through (hi-hat and other bleed from the original drum performance is muted)
  2. That signal runs to the amp
  3. When the amp plays the snare hits, they excite the drum, almost like striking it with a stick
  4. The three mics are recorded as each song plays through, and I’ll mix them in with the original drum sounds

Short of going back in time and getting a better snare sound, this technique is working pretty well – the snare sounds from the first library drum session are drastically improved, and even the ones from the second session are benefitting a touch – and I’ve learned some things about it:

  • (Obviously, in retrospect) the amplified version of the original snare sound bleeds into the mics along with the live drum resonance.  Finding the right level of the amp to excite the drum but not dominate what the mics pick up takes some tweaking
  • The drum is very responsive to EQ changes in the original snare track.  Experimentation is encouraged
  • (There was a third thing but I got sidetracked on Blue Dream‘s and Primal Rite‘s bandcamp pages…)

Long story short, if you find yourself in need of a different snare sound after a recording is done, try this one cool trick!

Another Wild MS-20 Patch

For another Night Mode 90s cover, to be revealed upon release!

I went monophonic this time, and again with an oscillating HPF drone and a ESP feedback drone.  The ESP drone goes through the Small Stone, through an alligator-clipped voltage divider pot (to cut the level back a touch) and into the EXT SIGNAL IN.

The output goes through the VFE Triumvirate (in bypass; it’s only there as an 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter) to the EHX PitchFork (used for the intro), Boss RC-20 (grabs a loop in the intro for playback at the end), DOD Gunslinger (distortion; you’ll hear where it enters :-), and my custom build of the 1776 Effects MultiPlex delay.  The MultiPlex’s Space Echo mode is key to the feel of the piece, with a long pre-delay (quarter note) followed by shorter (eighth note) repeats.

In the course of setting up this patch I discovered a variation on the Gattobus paraphonic patch that I will definitely use in the future :-)

It’s been a lot of fun to build entire soundscapes and sonic narratives out of nothing but one instrument, one take, and one note at a time.

The Most Important Parts of a Recording

As Mixing For Dumb Idiots expands (most recently with a page on composition, and there’s more to come), writing it has helped me clarify what I think the most important elements of recordings are.  I’ll talk about my top three here.  I recommend spending a good amount of your time and energy on these, especially if you’re starting to make your own recordings (HAI CORY).

#1 – The composition itself; its melodies, chords, rhythms, lyrics, and so on.  This could go without saying, and I can’t help you much here (see MFDI), except that I think of recording’s arrangement as an element of the composition and that we can talk about.

The best raw musical material in the world can end up an interesting failure if the arrangement doesn’t present it in a dynamic way (almost like telling a good story).  In what order are ideas (hooks, verses, choruses, bridges, solos) introduced?  What elements repeat, and for how long?  How many and which instruments are used?  Does the introduction attention-grabbing?  Is the ending satisfying?

Great answers to these questions will elevate any material.  Poor answers will undermine even the greatest melodies.  The good news is that I can give you the questions in a blog post (I can’t do the same with writing melodies, chords, and the rest) and you can start applying them right away like people with years of experience; just experiment with different answers on your material until you find ones you like.  Shorten and lengthen a verse.  Instead of opening with the chord progression four times, start with an acapella verse vocal.  Use a piano instead of a guitar.  Use household objects instead of drums.

#2 – The vocal performance.  Is it compelling?  (Note; not technically or conventionally “good.”)  Does it draw and hold attention?  The vocal is most listeners’ way into the song, and it’s a make-or-break element.

Record the best vocal performance possible, whatever it takes.  That might mean catering to the artists’ preferences for space, time of day, substances available, and so on, or it might mean pushing the artist enough to create some healthy, constructive stress.  Whatever compromises are made in terms of mic technique or other technical aspects of the recording will be more than made up for if it improves the artist’s performance.

#3 – Match the recording fidelity with the conventional goodness of the performances.

Let me explain.

Low-fidelity (4-track tape, for example) recordings sound conventionally “right” no matter how professional and tight or mistake-filled and loose the performances are.  The highest-fidelity recordings only sound “right” if the performances are also error-free and precise.

Does that make sense?  Try this:

Plan and execute your recording project’s fidelity and level of performance to end up in the starry area of wonder and happiness!

The Cool Drugs EP was a bit in the zone of deathy frustration, and was hard to mix as a result.  That’s the experience that drove this home for me, and now I hear it in everything.  High-fidelity, loose-performance recordings can be awkward for me to listen to.

I can’t stress enough that matching these aspects of recording continues to challenge me.  In today’s recording world, where affordable, high-fidelity digital interfaces are the default for most of us, especially when we’re starting out, hearing our shortcomings in perfect detail can be really frustrating.  Never underestimate the power of background noise, bleed, tape hiss, analog distortion, and all the rest of it to present less-than-Steely-Dan level performances in a context that flatters them.

Wildest. Patch. Ever.

Check this out; I’m getting pseudo-4-voice paraphony from a two-oscillator monosynth!

The patch includes Gattobus’ 2-voice paraphonic patch, an oscillating high-pass filter, and feedback oscillation from the external signal processor (ESP).  The ESP drone is going through tremolo and flanger pedals, and the entire output is going through a delay pedal.

I’ve used it to record a cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “Come In Alone,” live, in one take/pass. That means no overdubbing, editing, or trickey; I set up the patch and played everything you hear.  MFR email friends can log in to download a rough master of the song at the link below for the next 7 days. Become a MFR email list friend here!