notes from the shore

Adventures in Home Recording

Control Freak

Recently I posted about my cello issues with My Jesus, I Love Thee. To recap, the problem was that once a note was played, it was static save the looping of the sample. I needed to add some movement to the note while it was playing, much like an actual cello player would. Continue reading

December 31, 2007 Posted by | Hymn CD Project | , | 3 Comments

Save Early, Save Often

I finally found some time Wednesday night to work on my music. I played hooky from church and my wife and kids went, so I had the house (and studio) to myself. I immediately got to work (after doing the dinner dishes and straightening up the living room – after 16 years I know exactly how to get on my wife’s good side). Continue reading

December 14, 2007 Posted by | Hymn CD Project | , , | Leave a comment

Back on Track – Mixdown

Having successfully completed the emergency mix, I’ve been able to get back to moving forward on Praise to the Lord the Almighty. As of this writing, I’m almost complete, but let me catch up on what came before.As of my last writing in this topic, I was layering GPO string sounds to create a fuller section. The first bug to come was in placing the resultant audio tracks into my DAW. For starters, they didn’t line up. That wasn’t a huge problem, and solved per my post on Making Music. Once I had everything into Power Tracks and lined up, then it got interesting. Continue reading

October 18, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | Leave a comment

Sidetracked

As mentioned in my last post, I knew I would be temporarily sidetracked from my ongoing projects. I needed to put together an emergency track for a funeral. It’s a song we’ve played with the band at church several times, but don’t have a useful recording. The gentleman who sings it (Jack) has been on me for several years to produce a backing track for him. The request of this song at an upcoming funeral (end stage cancer) made it happen. Continue reading

October 17, 2007 Posted by | Production Diary | , | 1 Comment

Mix-Down

When the recording was complete, we had 14 different drum hits and one sound effect, each with 10-15 samples of increasing volume, each with 3-4 takes. That’s a lot of samples. The first step in mixing these samples down was to come up with a consistent mix and set of effects. We recorded a series of drum patterns to help with this.

So I sat down at my computer, set the sequence to loop the first eight-bar pattern, and began tweaking and playing. First I listened to each of the mikes seperately. That was very interesting. The overhead mike was very ambient with a lot of highs and definition, but no lows and little sustain. The side mike picked up a lot of hand-slap, what I can only describe as a “papery” sound – not sure if that’s helpfull. The bell mike, of course, was rich and full, but without definition.

All as expected, and all ready for mixing.

I asked for some advice in mixing from the folks at kvraudio forums. If you take a look, you will see that I got little help beyond “dry,” so that’s where I started. The best dry mix I came up with was the bass as 0 dB, the side at -5 dB and overhead at -10 dB. This maximized the tone and minimized the papery swooshy sound that I didn’t like. I also ran the main fader at about 100 (out of 127) to keep the peaks from clipping.

I played with several EQ and compression settings, and ended up with the Kjaerhus Classic Compression on the overhead and side mic. The overhead is set for a threshold of -16 dB and compression of 2.5:1. The side mic is set for a threshold of -8 dB and compression of 4:1.  I tried adding minimal compression to the entire mix, but that killed the bass for some reason. Most likely I don’t know how to use the compressor.

I only left EQ in two places – first on the bass channel rolling off the highs a bit. Then I applied EQ to the entire mix, using subtle changes until I had dialed it in. To help, I started with a flat setting and essentially soloed each slider by taking it all the way up to see what happened.

As I was listening to the overhead soloed, I realized that it would be the perfect place to added a little space and ambiance. I have numerous reverb plug-ins to play with, but the two I use the most right now are the CDReverb that came with Power Tracks, and the Kjaerhus Classic Reverb, which is rapidly becoming my favorite. I used the supplied preset “016 Percussion”, unable to improve on it.

I polled the users at both PG Music Forums and kvraudio forums and in both places, the response was overwhelmingly for providing the dry version. I’ll do that and provide the wet version if the dry one doesn’t take forever to create.

Samples of the rhythms with and without the reverb can be listened to here:

4/4 Rhythm – No Reverb
4/4 Rhythm – Reverb
6/8 Rhythm – No Reverb
6/8 Rhythm – Reverb

Next, Slice and Dice.

March 25, 2007 Posted by | Djembe, Soundfont Editing | , , , | Leave a comment

Djembe Recording Demystified

The first part of creating a brand new soundont is the collection of the raw samples. In this case I wanted to sample an African drum called a djembe. I love the variety of tones that can be achieved from this drum in the hands of a skilled player. I’ve also had terrible luck finding one (a soundfont, that is) that I can use on my music system. Necessity being the mother of invention, I decided that it was time to create a high-quality djembe soundfont for my personal use and possibly for sale.

The first step was getting the personnel together. Two of my closest friends joined me in this activity. My friend Ken is a percussionist who owns a high quality 14″ Paulo Mattioli djembe (specifically, the one on the left). The other is my friend Will, an engineer with plenty of musical credits, himself. He also happens to own higher quality recording equipment than I do, plus I trust his ears and musical sensibility.

We met at Will’s house at 10:00 on Saturday morning and set about arranging the microphones. All three of us had headphones on and Will moved the mics about while Ken played a repeated note. When we settled on a position, we moved the mic stand up to it and locked it into place. Here’s the final set: Djembe Miked Up.

Here are the details: The overhead mic is a Behringer B-5 with the wind screen on. Without it we found that we were getting wind noise when Ken lifted his hand up off the drum head on the harder hits. It is set to a flat response and a reversed polarity.

To the left of the drumhead is a Behringer B-2 Pro. It also has the windscreen and is set to a flat response. Both of these mics were run through a Bluetube two-channel mic preamp.

In the bell of the drum was another B-2 Pro, this one set to omni, and direct to the mixer. Anything above line level was clipping the signal. After we finished recording, Will wondered what would have happened if we flipped the phase, but it was too late. I guess I’ll give that a try in mixdown and see what the results are.

All the signals were simultaneously recorded through a Behringer Eurorack mixer onto a PC-DAW running Power Tracks Pro Audio. Since I also use this software, we were able to burn a CD of the rough samples for later mixing in my own studio. All this took about 1 1/2 hours and we broke for lunch.

Now that we had the mics all set up, we had to decide what we were actually going to sample. Fundamentally, the djembe makes three distinct tones – the bass, the palm and the slap. Each of those has numerous variations depending on whether it is on- or off-hand, muted, or for the slap whether the hand rebounds up or slaps off the side of the drum and continues on down.

We also needed to make these samples at different loudnesses, so that when you hit the key harder to play the sample, not only does the volume increase, but the tone changes in the same way that the tone of the real drum changes when you play it harder. We set up a dB meter next to the drum with the intension of measuring and reproducing the volumes, but that proved unworkable.

What we ended up doing was Ken simply played a series of 11 – 15 hits at steadily increasing volume. We did this in 3 or 4 takes, so we ended up with 33-60 individual samples in one long wave file for each type of hit. Sometimes the hits smoothly increase, sometimes there’s a jump or even a small reversal, but with 3 takes we covered everything we should need, and will probably throw over half of it away as duplications.

After taking samples of all the hits we recorded Ken scraping his hand across the drum head in various ways. Finally, we recorded four drum patterns. These will have a few uses. First, I will use the patterns to mix the samples, and then apply the same mix and effects to all of the samples we took on Saturday. Second, we will try to duplicate these patterns in a sequencer with the mixed samples to see how good a job we did.

Next: Mixdown!

March 21, 2007 Posted by | Djembe, Soundfont Editing | , , , | 1 Comment

Amen

First entry for this song, so here’s the backstory:

Amen

Music and Words by Me (except Chorus – public domain)

Several years ago I was inspired to add verses to the old Chorus of Amen (you know the one – where you sing “Amen 5 times). I subsequently misplaced the sheet I wrote the lyrics on. When I finally rewrote the lyrics, adding a bridge, I saved them electronically several places.

2/22/2007 Created a first-take arrangement in Band-in-a-Box. Used the DrJohn Rock style as it’s the only one that’s even close. Wouldn’t mind adding some of those licks to my own playing. I’ll have to look at the MIDI file and try to learn them. Form of song will need to be adjusted, and the style can’t handle the half-measure chords in the chorus. It’s a start, however.

2/25/2007 Imported the BiaB arrangement into Power Tracks Pro Audio and began basic tweaking. This process is mostly practice at this point, since the arrangement will be changing as I add and subtract some measures here and there. I also started playing with AZR3 tonewheel organ synth. It has built-in percussion, vibrato, overdrive and a great leslie, and NO NAG SCREEN asking for money. This is a super organ simulator and I had fun playing with it today. Right now I’m using a 808 808 008 drawbar setting, recommended for gospel. I’ll adjust as I feel right about it. I don’t care the for organ part generated by BiaB, so I will eventually re-record it, once I learn how to play organ 😉 I also recodred a scratch vocal track, so that my critics can hear where I’m at. I don’t have a mic preamp, yet, so I have to import the track into audacity to pump up the volume and then EQ out the noise. So far, so good.

3/4/2007 Tweaked the form of the song in BiaB and re-imported to PTPA. Doubled the choruses and took a measure out here and there. (1/2 hr)


3/10/2007 Spent most of the time working on the clapfont soundfont. Then added the choir claps to the sequence. After adding the claps decided to go back and pan the claps around the stereo spectrum. Should be cool. Also got the mixer completely up and running this morning. (1/2 hr)


3/19/07     Worked out the tempo for the ending. BiaB doesn’t do ritards, so I had to wipe out the last several bars and rerecord them with the gradually varied tempo. It took quite a few tries to get something that I liked and sounded natural. I think that I’m going to get my drummer from church to give me a huge fill/swell for the ending and see if I can mix it in without making the drum track sound too horribly synthesized. Also going to re-work the clapfont as the results as still less than natural-sounding. I’m off to play with the Hammond until bedtime.

March 20, 2007 Posted by | Amen, Production Diary | , , , | Leave a comment