“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation” -James Madison

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Check this out

Politics is alternately boring and enraging me lately, and I haven't the foggiest idea how to advise the president on Iran and the Norks, so I'll leave that to more experienced hands and talk about something I know and care about for awhile......

Friends and family know that I spent most of the 90's in one band or another, some more successful than others. Stone's Throw and Flux were progressive rock, Bent was classic rock covers, Southern Drawl was country covers, and the Differents was original stoner blues-rock.

Flux in particular died problematically because we were still in studio at the time of the breakup. Consequently, our two most ambitious (one of which is arguably our best song) remained unfinished for over ten years. They are largely complete, lacking only final guitar tracks, one more egregiously than the other.

Perceptions was 95% done (except for the mix) -- we only lacked the guitar solo and some guitar parts that harmonized with the keyboard in the extended instrumental section.

Crack in the Mirror was less complete -- the guitar parts were only roughed in and mostly needed to be re-recorded properly.

The lead singer for Flux has been pushing the guitarist and myself to finish these tracks for years with little success -- motivating the guitarist (who is one of my nearest and dearest friends) is nigh impossible. Frustrated, the singer went ahead and did a mix of Perceptions by himself on his home system, then set up a myspace page to share it with the world. He's a dear friend and he reads this blog -- it was flat and unexciting. The missing pieces were obvious and the sound hadn't been treated or addressed properly.

I listened to it a few times and thought that I might be able to fill in the missing guitar pieces myself and mix it down with a better sound. After discussing it with him, he delivered to me copies of all the tracks for everything we did (not just these two songs), and I promptly loaded Perceptions onto my ProTools system and got to work.

First of all, I'm a keyboardist. My ProTools experience has been highly surface-oriented, and I have absolutely no formal sound engineering training or education. Everything I've learned has come from lurking in discussion groups for digidesign, reason, kvraudio, etc., and in googling for How-To articles on EQ, compression, reverb, and the like.

This stuff is HARD. I have learned a great deal from all this, and lots of little light bulbs have been going off in my head the last couple of weeks. Panning puts the instrument in a left-right spectrum. EQ puts the instument in a front-back spectrum. Delay can give up-down or front-back. Compression is a mystery from the gods and is truly understood by none save those who have sacrificed their babies to the monkey demon.

The trick is to make all the instruments and vocals be heard without distorting. That means the kick drum and bass get to hog all the low frequencies, and nobody else gets any. EQ. At the same time, the vocals get the mids, but they also have to have some high and some low to avoid sounding like a megaphone. EQ. Guitars just have to be loud. They get some lows (but not too much), some mids, and some highs. Keys get whatever they want because I'm a keyboardist. Snares have to snap, toms have to thump, cymbals have to sizzle, and so on. Everything has to be heard while everything else is playing. Some of that is physical placement through panning, but mostly it is through equalization of audio frequencies by instrument.

Mostly, you listen. A lot. Loudly, quietly, through monitors, through headphones. Solo the kicks. Add the snare. Now solo the left guitar and EQ. Both guitars. Solo kick and one guitar, then the other. Add bass. Solo guitar and re-EQ because you screwed it up so badly before. Drink. Solo kick and vocal. Cry because vocals are even more mysterious than compression. Ignore keys even though you're a keyboardist. Sigh. Try lots of things and save often. But listen to everything with everything else. A lot. Did I mention that it's 4:30 am and you have to be at work at 8? Grumble.....let's listen to this bassline one more time then hit bed. Now it's 6:15!!!!!

For filling in the missing guitar parts, I created a synthy-guitar sound for the harmonized part and then just threw in a fat Deep Purple Hammond B-3 solo (hey, he's had ten years to record his part....).

For all the complaining, this has been an incredibly rewarding learning experience. Working with tracks that were professionally recorded (so the basic sound itself was acceptable) makes things easier -- I didn't have to worry about mic phasing or clipped signals. Learning how to put things in their proper space, then adding effects to heighten the experience and tie the music to the vocal is truly an art and I have an even greater respect for those who do it professionally.

So without further ado, below is the link to my first produced track:

Flux: Perceptions

I hope you enjoy it. It is heavy progressive metal and goes on for about 8 minutes, but I think it is a good song and we performed it well. My production of it is my own and does not reflect any official release of The Band Formerly Known As Flux.


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