Sunday, 28 August 2011

...and so I re-recorded the whole section

Well I have finished pass one of phase 2 (and already know things I want to change in pass two). Here is the tale of the changes.

The next section up is a jazz section. The thing I was most unhappy with was the kazoo in the refrain - a little too legato. I tried sticking in some volume edits to get drop-outs to get more edge, it didn't seem to work. I cannot find the kazoo either to re-record so I have added a noise gate with a sharp switch-on. This seems to work. As a side note, I seem to be getting more and more into the post-processing stuff, and yes, the multiband compressor is my current favourite. The other thing I did was process the trumpet solo, sampled solo instruments are are notoriously difficult to make convincing. I did a few minor note edits, but also added a mono-to-stereo to centre it and thicken it and you guessed it, the old MBC. In fact as a result of multiple tweaks the whole section is more alive, and maybe overall too loud right now.

The following section is just classical guitar. I was a little unhappy with some of the timing, there were a few minor hesitancies I was unhappy with, and I was unhappy with the feel of one of the little mini-bits. Also none of it popped very well. The problem with something like this with a nice live instrument is that it's really hard to come in and re-record small bits without them sounding radically different in tone etc, ... and so I re-recorded the whole section. Quite a lot of work, and of course in a phase where I am being generally critical, this led to self-doubt. I have removed the tune I didn't think worked, and replaced it with "the Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, and replaced some general wiffling with "in the bleak mid-winter" I am sure that it is better, and I am also sure there are things still to tweak. Listening back to it as I write now, I know a couple of places where transitions need something better.

The next section is fast and furious showing-off solos. All I did was some processing and changing the very last note - not by re-recording but just by processing. Again I have processed, and again I'm thinking the overall volume might be too loud. Either that or other sections need making louder.

The next section is the free-for-all that evokes chaos. A bit of processing, a bit of volume and sound tweaking and the addition of two glass smashes, a bass drum and a cymbal at a critical point.

The next section is a descending/ascending bassline, almost entirely untouched, an additional glass smash (glass smashes are the new thunderclaps). The biggest thing was a slight tweaking of an electric guitar sound.

And this brings us to the final section. The big thing I wanted to look at was the slide guitar cube that I spent so much time. Basically it was boring. And I was torn between bravely chucking it out and cowardly trying something to rescue it. The thing is, intellectually I'm quite attached to it. And so I changed a background synth sound, and searched for a more foreground synth sound to make an impact. After a lot of playing with synths I settled on a bell-like sound (there is a lot of sound in this section already, and with 8 guitars playing in the middle range, to cut through it needed to be high). After creating a tune with the bell-like sounds and listening back, it sounded sufficiently like a musical box sound for me to embrace that idea and add more notes in a music-box kind of arrangement.

And so there we are, phase 2 pass one track 3 finished. I hope that from now on changes will be more minor. The next thing to do is more listening, and eventually making a new set of notes of changes to be made, then implementing the changes.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

tweaking the trinity

I'm still managing to snatch the occasional half-hour. Actually to be fair, while the toddler is at Nursery or his grandparents, and the baby is asleep, quite a few things can be done. So this is the culmination of several sessions.

So we're into track 3 - the spiritual one. And the first three sections describe the trinity, God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The big thing about section 1 was that the loudest section was too long, and the music in it repeated too often. I also wanted a blank at the start, so I cur two bars that way, and moved some stuff around, and introduced strings (this is a pseudo-orchestral section) and so I added an extra four bars of strings. The strings give a depth that wasn't there before (double-bass). There has also been some tweaking of timing. I've also added the thunder sound effect again (that's three thunderclaps in one album!)

The second section is about God the Son, and features the crucifixion, and resurrection. There was some minor tweaking, some of the reverb on spoken word was really hissy, and I've added some more processing. A flutey sound has had the strong reverb toned down, and slightly humanised.

And in the third section, The Holy Spirit, it was really sloppy. I have gone through in minute detail editing timings of notes, Ukelele and guitar chords, and shaker shaking. Long, slow and hopefully invisible editing. One of the differences between this album and previous ones is my willingness to edit - in minute detail if need be. Oh and I've re-recorded, edited and changed the processing on some slap bass.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

cosmetic changes

Phase 1 round 2 track 2 - listening and making changes.

And the list of what I have done:

  • added a deeper bass sound to the first section. Now it really woofs the woofers
  • changed the transition into the second section a bit, extended a deep bass note, and taken the wok lid down a semitone so it matches the music.
  • changed the reverb for the second section, it is no longer hissy. I have also discovered the "multiband compressor" is really effective at making things have more presence while stopping them clipping. I have done quite a bit of using it on this track and will in future be using this as a general mastering tool.
  • A little bit of piano humanising on the third section, and some changes to the mix, more bass and multiband compressed the organ, brilliantly now under control
  • sections 4 and 5 - no changes
  • section 6, dropped the drone out of the crunchy guitar part so the gaps between stabby chords are more profound, brought the drums up, and used the multiband compressor again, it's now nice and stabby. There is this bit where it comes in where it's started with a frequency-compressed guitar (which sounds like it's being played down a telephone, it's fab). It morphs into a richer guitar sound, and I have subtly changed the curves of how the one fades and the other rises over it, so that the transition is smoother. You would think a straight line fade and straight line rise was what was needed, but in fact a kind of curve down, so that it fades more at the end, and a similar reflected curve for the fade in make a much better transition. I also have done some tightening up of the later part of the section, it was far too loose rhythmically.
  • section 7 is the rhythm section, and I have gone in and tidied up the clapping and the beatboxing - done some EQ-ing and a lot of minute moving of claps etc to make them nearer the beat, without making it too mechanical - it's still human, just much less messy.
  • section 8 has just had a little mixing, oh and a guitar sound changed entirely, the old sound was really annoying me. I would have done a bit more with it, but one of the three projects that make up this section is misbehaving and won't let me export a mix-down. I have no idea how to fix this, but it will need fixing if I'm not going to just use my rough mixdown of this.
  • Even though most of this is actually starting to do mastering rather than musical changes, I didn't do anything to the last section, I know it needs mixing better. I need to leave something to mastering.

Finally, something about my feeble attempts at marketing. In preparation for release of the album I am starting to try and reach out through some progressive rock websites. I've had reasonable success in the past with Prog Archives, and in the last few days have had some contact with the Dutch Progressive Rock Site, a fairly major site. However, after paying for large file hosting and giving the chap a wav file download he went on to say he didn't like it, it wasn't full or complicated enough, it sounds like a one-man show (which it is) but that some one-man shows make it sound like they have a whole orchestra. Obviously I was disappointed, and have been questioning my commitment. Now I'm more questioning my pigeon-holing of this as progressive rock. But if it's not that, what is it? It's certainly not normal rock.

Anyway, I guess I plan to persevere. I know rejection and criticism are all part of exposing your creativity to the outside world (actually apathetic response is the more common reaction). I've kind of said to myself that I need 10 consecutive rejections before I take it too seriously, and a positive reaction resets that. So this is one.

And another last thing, yesterday I had a baby girl. This is nothing to do with the music, but I'm thinking that things might slow down somewhat as a result.

Friday, 12 August 2011

nothing says "electricity" like a fake violin

After several hours of attempting to make an electric piano solo work, I finally gave in. I struggled with this bit first time around, and knew it was sub-standard. I thought I had been having an off-day when I recorded it (after all I cannot be at the peak of creative genius every day). So coming back to it I thought "I can do better than that". Several days later, after lots of trying, frustration and self-doubt I finally did the sensible thing and gave up on the electric piano.

So then the search for a sound started. The section is all about electricity, so I felt the need to find something relatively related to that. Hmm. Synth? Already got some, and looking for a good synth sound different to the first one didn't really produce anything. Electric guitar? Well... there's always that, but maybe I shouldn't rely on guitars ALL the time, right? Electric something else?


I have a sampled violin. Violins, like saxophones and guitars are notoriously hard to sound real from samples. How about embracing the fakeness and using the violin that sounds like an electric violin more than anything?

Bingo! Much happier. Random soloing over first half, and even a tune over the second half.

Now we need the old elapsed time to see if it is good enough, in my relief at getting something halfway decent I might have over-estimated how good it really is. Time, time time....

Then into the next section, and lots of confusion over a trumpet sound, which I still cannot adequately explain. I have a trumpet which is part of a brass part (actually just two trumpets) and then for one bit it breaks out into a trumpet solo. It needs to move from the side to the centre and have a volume boost.

Because it's being played form the sampler with several other sounds, it's not easy to do this on the "channel" because they all come through the same channel. What I am increasingly doing in this situation is spawning another sampler on another channel to give separate control. For some reason (and this is the unfathomable bit) having done that I couldn't make it louder than a whisper. It was really weird. with everything turned up it was pathetic.

So back to having it in the original sampler - you can put automation on the settings in the sampler, so I recorded the changes for that bit, push the trumpet to the middle and boost the volume. Seems OK. Play back the automation: oh! For some reason it applies the automation to ALL of the channels.

Finally a small idea: use insert effects. This only works because at the point of the solo, nothing else in the sampler is being played. Also because you can automate the effects as well, including turning them off and on. One effect to centre the sound (bizarrely the "mono-to-stereo" effect does this) and another to provide a bit of a boost. Sorted.

What else have I done?

Ah yes, elongated the tail of some crowd sounds in some football commentary so that it can fade more gently (just take some crowd sound and loop it for a while), and moved the end of the last section of the first track so that there is a little gap between tracks.

And done the vitally important "get rid of the humming and singing" in the last section. It has been replaced by... flute. And an extra bit of flute added after the guitar accompaniment finishes, as if the flut player had gone "oh I like that tune, let's try it again" after everyone else has gone. And then it fades towards the end, gets added reverb and has a weird stuttery effect applied as it fades into the distance, nicely making it sound like it's breaking up.

And that's phase two, round one track one done. Already listening a bit there are things that will need to be altered.

The plan is that a "round" is a period of listening, followed by making changes through the whole album. I am focusing on real musical changes not changes to level and effect on instruments if I can, that comes in phase 3: mastering. I plan at least 3 rounds in phase 2, but there might be a difficulty in knowing when to stop. I will need to stop sometime.

Man, this album is getting more work than any of the previous ones did - and not just because it is longer!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Phase 2 started - the tweaking

Yes, phase 1 was recording the album. Finished? Oh no, now comes phase 2 - tweaking. In the games industry this is called "beta".

This means I need to listen, and criticise. This can get depressing if I'm not careful, or I can get carried away on wings of "it's brilliant". I need to identify genuine flaws - and then fix them.

I can't remember which film or TV program it was in, but there was a female character describing her method for getting ready to go out. She said that she would quickly turn away from the mirror and back again, and the first thing that caught her eye, she would remove or fix. I need to identify, as best possible, those things which in two year's time will irritate me, and change them NOW.

So so far I have been doing some more humanising of parts, changed where a key change is, added some cymbals, beefed up some bass, completely re-recorded a bass solo, moved a xylophone solo to make it stand out better, edited some timing, swapped an organ out and inserted a recorder instead, completely changed a guitar sound and added a thunderclap.

Which brings me to a few of general principles in this phase:

  1. if something seems only a tiny bit wrong, it needs changing.
  2. if things are too messy, try removing some parts
  3. if something seems weak, try adding something in the background
  4. ping-pong echoes are your friend, they beef up a thin solo
  5. if things sound loose don't be afraid to edit the audio and tighten them up
  6. humanise all MIDI tracks. Unless you don't want to.
  7. don't be afraid to junk entire ideas if they don't seem to work

There is another problem with the tweaking phase - when do you stop? I have no good answer to that. The best thing I know is that it needs elapsed time. Tweak and listen, and it needs a few days of listening before you are sure about changes that need to be done.