Archive for the ‘recording’ Category

an unexpected audio production rabbit hole

This tweet sent me down an unexpected audio production rabbit hole:

R. Derek Black – 6 May 2021:
I think I love every one of the like 15 different versions of the song Valerie I’ve ever heard

I went to listen to the Amy Winehouse version first, and look for some of the others, but I saw on Wikipedia that Steve Winwood co-wrote it originally, and listened to the ’87 version that was a hit, but also…

…someone had posted the original 1982 release, from his third album according to Wikipedia, and listening to it, I’m like…

…how the fuck did this get released as a single by a major label in 1982?

It’s not the song! It is a good song. But the production is garbage.

And I’m not talking, like, artistic garbage. I’m talking about “basic mistakes in recording by first-time artists working in a bedroom” garbage. “Oops, hit the mic stand there and it’s really loud, oh well we’ll just compress it out” levels of “let’s record a demo” bullshit.

(There are also questionable artistic decisions, particularly the synth someone set on “saxophone” – but it’s ’82, I’ll cut them that slack.)

But… jeez. Even the vocal track is recorded badly. Plosives, hand noise, all sorts of crap, all clearly audible in the single.

And if there was a thing called dynamic range in ’82, that engineer hadn’t heard of it. It’s like the loudness wars, but kinda weirdly… quiet.

They smoothed over most of the recording fuckery in the ’87 remix. There’s a nasty plosive on a B that they couldn’t completely fix despite their best efforts. But it’s a nice salvage job. Plus, a better saxlike synth, unburying the guitar, restoring dynamic range – good work.

Shame about all the heavy gate reverb on the drums, though.

But, well, it was still the 80s. What do you expect? xD

oh hello

Been a while, eh?

Doing some work in the studio lately with Leannan Sidhe recording vocals for her solo project. I also rebuilt some physical infrastructure around the sound baffling that gave me back… well, not a tremendous amount of space, but enough that I could create an actual separate for the recording engineer, which, in this case, means me! I had to composite a photo from parts, but this gives you the idea.

It’s a small space? But it’s really nice, and it’s also nice to be able to face the person you’re recording – it’s just way easier to signal them if something is up. I don’t have a chair for that location, but I can lean against some of the corner sound baffles and it’s surprisingly comfortable.

edge cases of the apple ios ecosystem: musicians

So the new iPhone is out, and as predicted, it does away with the standard, unencumbered, unrestricted-by-patent 3.5mm audio connector. You can read about the release on BuzzFeed’s pretty decent writeup if you like. And this matters, even if you have an older phone, or an Android phone, because Apple is the kind of 10,000-pound-gorilla that can shape markets in this area. Even if you’re not an Apple user, this throws expectations around for the future.

There is an adaptor – really, a mini-interface-card disguised as a cable adaptor – to let you use 3.5mm devices with the lightning port. It has to contain a D/A converter and a small amplifier. One will be included with the new phones, and it costs $9 and doesn’t make your cable weird – it’s not some big block like the previous 30-pin to Lighting interface, and it’s not $30.

I have concerns about how good a job a $9-retail D/A converter and amp unit is doing to do at rendering quality audio. It will be very tempting to make it deliver “meh” quality output, and push people to new gear. That’s short-sighted, but let’s not pretend that stops anyone.

Countering that concern is the fact that at least at one point, Apple required a specific D/A converter for the Lightning audio standard: this one. I have no idea whether that’s still a requirement. But if it is, I’m willing to assume a baseline of competence for it – anything else would’ve been suicidal for the spec right out the gate.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about whether the new interface is built for digital rights management (DRM) as the long goal. I genuinely don’t think so, because it doesn’t really add much capability they don’t already have. Sooner or later, you have to go to analogue, and unless they want to remove the capability to connect to high-end audio equipment – and Bluetooth does not cut it for audiophiles, or necessarily even mid-philes – there has to be a way to hook up to standard, not-Apple gear.

You can’t get around that. Lest people forget, an Apple-provided solution for this already exists in the form of the dock – shown on the iPhone 7 front page, too. It’s not going away. And the reason it won’t go away is that while audiophiles are not a big market, they are exactly the kind of lifestyle market Apple wants and needs in order to support its brand, and more importantly, its markup. That’s not tech; that’s image management. Even without Steve, Apple knows its image.

Similarly, they can’t cut off concert musicians and DJs from plain old analogue output. There are too many audio pros out there using phones now, and while that market isn’t actually large, it’s a market Apple still invokes in image, and it’s too perceived as cool for Apple to throw overboard without throwing another serious wrench into its branding.

And frankly, with the recording industry betting what’s left of the farm on streaming, they don’t really don’t seem to care much about DRM on plain audio anymore. The RIAA destroyed the value of owning music, so from their point of view, who cares? Music is the billboard, not the product. I just really can’t see this as “HDMI for audio.”

So from a consumer standpoint, mostly I see “Apple has made your headphone cable annoying.” Even that’s assuming you’ve got your own headset and aren’t using the one Apple included, which most people do and will continue to do.

Now, this does get more complicated for musicians and DJs. Even if the included little cable adaptor is good – and let’s say it is straight up great – then you can’t trivially run the new devices on power and interface directly to performance gear anymore. That’s a headache. “Oh shit, I forgot to charge my phone” becomes a critical failure. Best case is you get a new device for that – and the dock is not suitable, you need something you can’t knock over or drop – which means one more damn thing to buy and carry around and/or lose.

Let’s also say you’re using some sort of audio software on the phone, and it doesn’t have a way to save files that you can transfer to other devices. (Even the software I have which does this doesn’t do it easily or well, it’s kind of a pain in the ass and I don’t do it. I use the headphone jack.) And a lot of software – like 8-bit emulator sequencers, and like Animoog, which I have actually used on multiple released tracks – just doesn’t do it. So that just got more annoying on newer hardware too. Another dock or another cable or another whatever. It’s one more step.

But, interestingly, not on the iPad. So far, I’ve heard no rumours that the iPad will drop the 3.5mm connector. And the iPad – particularly the iPad Pro – has very un-phonelike things like a keyboard case and special connector, and art stylus/pencil, and so on.

So what I’m thinking – particularly with the Pro – is that Apple is seeing a differentiation opportunity between “phone” and “pad,” and that they’re pushing “iPhone” to “purely consumption device,” paralleling their attempt to push “iPad” towards “creation device.” That’s not the actual usage out there – lots of people use the iPhone to make things – but it’s coherent market segmentation, and marketroids love their market segmentation.

Also, the iPad isn’t nearly as space-constrained as the iPhone. It’s just not comparable. On the iPhone, replacing that jack space with bigger battery and camera means vastly improved camera and about an hour extra battery life. On the iPad, it’s not a big enough percentage of space to care.

If the next generation of iPad keeps the 3.5mm analogue headphone jack – while adding support for the new Apple wireless headphone specs, of course – I’ll take that to be pretty solid supporting evidence. We’ll see.

late night recording

Up late last night in the Lair’s main studio, recording Kathryn Tewson on backing vocals for “We’re Not Friends.” She’s been singing since she was 14, and you may have heard her on things like Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, or the live performance of Lord of the Rings this year, she’s done some work for television, and she’s a member of both the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Opus 7. So while it’s rare for a supervillain to admit it, I am feeling seriously outclassed here. XD

She’s put a post up about the session on Facebook. I was really surprised that with all the work she’s done, she’s never worked with a close microphone before! But as someone from an overwhelmingly classical background (and enthusiastically of that school), it’s just not something they do. Her “bloom point” is something like 12 feet away? Which sounds like a beam origination point for some sort of superweapon but is actually where has various harmonics come together in a classical environment.

bloom point

I don’t see the difference, really.

By the way, close-mic being a new thing for her? You can’t tell from the recordings. I mean damn. And, for the record, she’s a joy to work with, so if you need somebody, go hire her.

Two more people left to record, both this week. SCHEDULE, MINIONS, SCHEDULE!

recording today

Recording today, no time to type much. I don’t write particularly topical music, because I guess I hate success? But I have a highly topical song and I want to get it out there.

Those who know what I mean when I say “this is another Mary Kaye and the Cosmetics song” will, um, know what I mean by that? Sure. That works. The rest of you will have to wait.

And honestly, I can write some difficult changes even into four chords, I’m just saying, and I don’t even know why. This is why it’s not out already. I’ve been practicing it for days.

Oh, separately, yesterday, I fixed the leaky valves in that barely-post-war not-yet-East-Germany-made Cajun accordian that I’ve had hanging around for a couple of years. Tim Walker – one of the GoHs at this past Rainbowcon, and who actually plays various kind of squeezeboxes for real – looked it over and gave me some tips. One disassembly and set of adjustments later, no more extraneous tones. Thanks, Tim!

The inside of this thing is amazingly clean, by the by, it’s like it got shipped off from the factory last week. DID I TAKE PHOTOS NO I DID NOT TAKE PHOTOS BECAUSE I DON’T EVEN KNOW. It’s approximately 70 years old, but you sure as hell wouldn’t know it from looking at it, not even on the inside.

Anyway, enough accordion, time for a more electric kind of loud. Let’s see if I can get some good takes today. Rrrarrrr.

3d printed working gear cube

Check this printed toy out. It doesn’t look like all that much for the first minute but the thing actually moves.

Recorded “scratch tracks” for “Supervillain For I Love You” yesterday, prep work for the big show at Conflikt in January. It’s basically so the other people who will be in the band for that show can learn it.

Also comped the bass tracks for “Thirteen.” This time bass tracks doesn’t mean multiple bass lines, tho’ you certainly know I’ve done that before. This time, it means one “dry” (no-effects) track and one “wet” (effects) track, which I then mix together in a ratio.

Normally the “wet” and “dry” are in one track, generated live via plugins. But in this case it’s actually two separate performances, because the effects I’m using – a really crunchy bass amp, an overdrive box, a little bit of old-school chorusing – are all external to my computer. So I’m treating the recording of that external-effected performance as an effect in and of itself, putting it in a separate recording track, and mixing with the “dry” bass guitar recording.

One neat side-benefit is that since once they’re both in the DAW they’re basically just two recordings, I can edit how long it takes each individual note’s instance of the “effect” to show up. It’s kind of like being able to set the pre-delay on a per note basis. I’m not doing much of that because in practice it’d be weird to do so, but there are a couple of places where it makes aural sense to loosen and tighten up the crunch timing. So hey, extra work, but bonus nonetheless!

Best part of this bass line tho’ is – well, there are two things. One: first recording of the Godin A5 Fretless that Anna got me for Bassmas last year. Two: crunky as fuck. Okay, so, three. Three things. Three: So goddamn deep. I am using all of this fifth string. Seriously, this entire bass line is being played on the bottom two strings of a five.

aw yeah. deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep bassing.

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

i may be taking "shredding" too literally

I grabbed this sign out of an office remodel a while ago – hey, Seattleites, guess where! – and added it to my studio door at the Lair last week:

I may be taking it a little too literally. These are picks after a couple of takes each of “Thirteen” today:

How many of these things am I gonna have to make to record this song?

I may have to upgrade my picks. I may need something a little more ruggedised, maybe something a bit more metal, like these:

Seriously, are those shiny or what? They’re from the GuitarPickCollection Etsy store. I’m not affiliated, the lead dev on Ardour just pointed me at them today and they are very, very pretty. He has a couple and reports they’re really smoothly polished, and are actually playable.

I think they’re kind of amazing. Not something I’d actually want to use; reviews of other metal picks say they’re great for lead work, but I need more flex than these would have. Even so, they’re amazing to look at.

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album. If you’re with the academy, thank you for listening, and for your consideration.

recording session today

Roses and Ruin is a Leannan Sidhe album project. It’s akin to Cracksman Betty in that it’s single-day efforts, with only light production.

Unlike Cracksman Betty, it wasn’t ever wrapped up. And Leannan Sidhe is coming over today to record the first new track for the project since… I don’t even know. Quite a while!

It should be fun. It’s my first recording session in, like, five months. How the hell did that happen? Oh, right, releasing a major album, that’s right. It’s apparently time to get back on that pony.

Which… okay, long-time fans might just remember a song I’ve performed about four times ever called “Getting Away with It.” It’s this massive sprawling monster, probably a bit self-indulgent, crazily complex, all that. It was supposed to be on Dick Tracy Must Die, but I couldn’t get it to work like I knew it should.

Eventually I pretty much gave up on it, and it sat, half-forgotten, in the back of my lyrics books, my personal Don Quixote.

Then somebody asked me to play it after reading the lyrics at a Leannan Sidhe rehearsal. I had to struggle to remember how it even went, and I got the rhythm totally wrong in the verses, or did I, because in getting it so wrong, I think I see how I can get it to work.

I’m just glad I don’t have to work with Charlton Heston to find out.

Anyway, best get this posted. No rest for the wicked, after all. MINIONS! SET UP THE MICS!

studio time again

Vocals recording today! Possibly mine, certainly Shanti of Leannan Sidhe, who is guesting in chorus on one song and has a co-starring role in another.

Plus we have some more Awesomebombs dropping in from afar via Dropbox from Collaborator To Be Named Soon, No Really, Somebody You’ve Heard Of. Well, most of you. hee hee hee hee hee 😀

It’s really good to be getting back to proper music work. I’ve been doing mostly kitchen renovation/restoration/kind of a mix for weeks. Here, have some pictures from the most recent work. There’re a couple of “before” shots in there too, so you can get some idea of how far it’s come since the first of the month. And the end is in sight. That’s pretty important at this point. Yeah.

Oh! And and and! A new gig announcement – I’ll be playing a joint show with Leannan Sidhe at The Dreaming in the University District on August 23rd. I don’t have the time yet but it’ll be on the shows page as soon as I do. It’ll be a free show and it’s on a Saturday and it’s a comic book store so c’mon out! SUPERVILLAINY!

I may have to hold the store hostage. That may have to be a thing. I’m just saying. 😀

a friday of followups

Is anybody else getting like eight million pieces of breast pump spam? I sure am. Akismet isn’t aware of this campaign yet, either, because it’s all going into the moderation queue. Most of it is normal, but a subset of it has informed me about a fetish I had not previously thought to contemplate, and which I will contemplate as little as possible in the future.

Saturday we have Sarah Kellington of Pinniped coming in to lend us her fiddle talents on one of our tracks – weather permitting, of course, which it may well not. Mixing and engineering work is moving along nicely; Ellen Eades (whose Facebook page appears to be unlinkable) was in for another round of recording on Tuesday, and I’ve been doing the pleasantly-simple comping and edits on that.

I had another follow-up with the surgeon, it went well; thankfully, that’s all I have to say about that this time. Even if all goes well, I won’t have proper vision back for three months, but it’s better than going blind. At least I’m getting work done!

If you missed it, I posted a final hint post for the Mystery Instrument, here.

Finally, the only new thing I’ve seen today on the petition-to-SFWA flap is Kate Paulk rewriting history so fast the TARDIS can’t keep up. There’s nothing really new in it, but there it is for you. There are several other trackbacks at the Radish Review post that reported it first, if you’re really interested in following what are hopefully the last trailings of this gruesome farce.

eta: If you’re new to this controversy, An Embarrassing Stumble Towards Irrelevancy and A Horrible Group of People should give you some background; plus, there are many links in comments. The followup post is What is Being Lost, posted Monday, 17 February 2014.

eta2: Jim Hines just posted what he hopes is his wrap-up piece on this mess. He tries to explain what the people signing it had to have thought. I cannot get there from here; you have to actively ignore far too much of what actually happened, and give far too few damns about the racism and sexism permeating the petition, the petitioner’s history of awfulness, and the insistent (and, again, horrible) rewriting of history. There is a petition that could’ve been written which would have me believing all of this; hell, there might’ve been one I could support. But not this one, not this way, not this path. I don’t like saying it, but for me, if you signed that thing – and stand by it – those bridges are still pretty damn burned.

eta3: Damn, this thing is the gift that just keeps on giving, isn’t it? What is Being Lost, wherein I take several shots but then attempt to be serious and constructive, because honestly, this is just sad now.

Return top

The Music