Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pro Tools sound expanding tricks!

I would like to explain the two ways that I most often use sends and retrns to add effects to multiple tracks. I am talking specifically about adding the same effect to multiple tracks. This, in this case, will be the seperate pieces that make up a set of drums, in order to make the drums sound as if they are not written with a computer, but in fact in a studio using real drums and a drummer.

The other day I found myself going through some older songs that I have recorded some time ago, using Reason and Pro Tools. Often times I work fast to get the tracks down before they are forgotten, and add the effects and critical panning later on. In these two examples, the songs were captured in this raw form, and then tweaked as I found the time.
Here, I opened up a song that was started ealier in the month. I was trying to squeeze every nuance of tone that I could get out of each note as well as adding some impact to the instruments. All that these songs needed at this point were some basic effects added using effect “send and return loops” through the use of buss tracks, and some other simple tricks that we all can easily enough perform. It all comes down to some basic routing of the tracks.

The simple efforts and ideas contained in today’s blog post are fast and easy to perform, but sound rich and professional!

First up is a cover tune. I have always wanted to try my hand at recording a song from our past that might sound cool as a modern re-make. The song that I have chosen has been locked away in my mind and reserved for this fate for several decades now.

Why has it taken so long to record it? The answer is that I didn’t want to even start this project until I was sure that it would sound different enough from the original yet also be just recognizable. I did not want to simply lay down tracks that were done decades ago. I wanted this re-make to be as modern and hip sounding as possible, yet remain memorable to the listener.

The song that I have been working on is titled “Miracles”, but it is actually copied from “You sexy thing”, which was written by Hot Chocolate lead singer Errol Brown sometime around 1975. Errol Brown was the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, and they recorded the hit in the United Kingdom.

As just as a piece of trivia for you all, this song was placed on the “B side” of the 45 rpm record because the record company was not sure of its strength as a single. Placed, instead, on the “A side” was a song named “Blue Night”. “You sexy thing” has been re-made by numerous other acts, almost since it’s’ release in 1975. This is probably due to both the killer guitar riff and the racy lyrics (racy for 1975).

I really do love the guitar riff that makes up this songs’ chorus! It is one of the most recognizable guitar parts ever written. My version of “You sexy thing” is titled “Miracles”, and it opens with this very same awesome guitar riff.

I decided that the opening riff needed to be as bold and as powerful as I could get it. I also wanted it to sound as if one band could play the song live, if needed. So, I played, doubled, tripled, and quad rippled the guitar riff using different guitar parts and guitar tones. My re-make contains verses that are purposely simple, and are basically built from two chords being plucked; string by string rather slowly. I decided to include a bridge into this fun version of a classic as well, again using only two chords. After the climatic bridge the song resolves back into that powerful and timeless guitar riff that just lives on and on.

Enough about the song itself; let me tell you what I have done in order to tune it up!

Well, for starters I like my songs to be as realistic to the listener as I can possibly get them. Let’s start with the back bone of a song, which I feel is the percussion. This songs percussion parts were recorded using Reason, all of which I programmed in note by note. This allows me to tune up each piece of the drum kit separately, as I write them. This basically means that I play with all of the settings (in Reason) such as tone, velocity, length, and volume. I do copy and paste arrangements, once a bar or two is completely written. This ensures that the song has a certain feel or continuity to it. Besides, coppying and pasting is the fastest way to write songs.

Each piece of the drum kit gets its own track once it crosses into Pro Tools. I send the kits pieces straight to the Reason patchbay, and then each patch goes out to a single track in Pro Tools. This allows me to adjust each and every nuance of each piece of the drum kit, such as volume and panning, easily and accurately. Plus, I can mute or solo each part of the drum kit too.

I can add an effect to any single piece of the drum kit but adding the effect to just that track. Also, if I decide to add any effects to several of the drum kits pieces, I can simply use an auxiliary track, for an effects “send/return” track. Each piece of the kit can be fine tuned with the exact same effect by adjusting the “busses’ send out” volume level of the separate tracks. But more on that stuff in the paragraphs that follow.
After I feel good about a drum line, and have copied and pasted together enough notes to make up a song , it is time to “make it sound real”. I like to solo the drums pieces and pan them to the left and right of center, as if the listener is actualy sitting on the drum throne. I like the hi-hat cymbals (open and closed) to be placed to my left; in the stereo sound field. I like the snare and the bass kick (or the bass drum) to be more or less in the center of the stereo field. All of this attention to detail really comes together and starts to pop when you set the toms more to the right side of the field. Setting the higher tuned drums close to center right, and the lower tuned ones more and more to the hard right seals the effect together. Cymbals get the same treatment, using a simple minds eye image of your favorite drum kit.

Placing the individual pieces in a realistic stereo sound field makes it a little bit easier to adjust the independent volume levels. This is a simple yet very cool idea, as any thing that we can do in order to make our digital drums sound “more humanistic” is a big plus. Next, if your kit is sounding way too dry, add some effects using a send/return track.

The kick drum track seems to always need some bottom end. I love a thud, followed by some deep bass, with each strike of the kick drum. A slight delay can make the kick fatter, or “thudier”, if you will. Also some slight compression can roll off the impact of the strike, and better pronounce the subtle sustain of the kicks’ note.

In the song “Miracles” I new that the kick drum needed some help. It sounded flat and lame. I decided to use two different methods of effects routing in order to enhance its’ sound. First, I used an all wet path, or in line processing, in order to add a much needed delay. I used an all wet path because the signal needed it to be applied to 100 percent of its sound. In other words, I wanted to change the kick drums sound as a whole.

This image shows the back side (press the "tab" button) of the Redrum insert of Reason. I am showing that I patched the drum instruments pieces individally into the patchbay at the top.

This image is of the same thing, just scrolled up to show the patch bay better. The corresponding numbers of the patchbays inserts are selected on seperate tracks in Pro Tools. The third image, below, better shows the tracks in Pro Tools.

Secondly, I used an effects loop to add some room reverb. The room reverb is also used by all of the remaining pieces of the kit in order to tie them all together, in sound. The loop is not in Pro Tools though, it is located in Reason. I used the Reason mixers send/return to buss in the reverb. I adjusted the amount of reverb coming into Pro Tools in the Reason mixer too, using the “Aux 1” post in each drum pieces channel.

Using an Auxillary track as an effects send and/or return.

Sometimes I like to create a new auxiliary track as a place for the drums’ effect loops. Make sure that you select the new auxiliary tracks’ input from a buss (say buss 2 for example) and assign the buss send on track that has the drum kits’ piece on it. Create the loop and then adjust all of the effects and effects parameters that you desire in this, the auxiliary “effect send/return loop” track. The volume slider found by clicking on the buss send assign, found in the drums piece track, will adjust how much of the drum pieces gets effected. The auxiliary tracks volume level slider adjusts how much effect will be heard.

We often use these effect send and return loop setups for a better sounding, more believable, and easier to adjust way of adding effects. This makes good sense because the kick drum will only be “effected” by a percentage of its' whole. But what does that mean?

Well, in other words, "if you add the effects on the same track as the kick drum, it will be either too wet with the effect signal or too dry, or lacking the effects signal". Using an effects send and return loop allows for only a percentage of the kick drum to be effected. What is also cool is that the dry signal (original un-effected kick drum track) can be adjusted in volume too, and mixed into the song along with the wet signal! Both the “dry" and the "wet” signal can be mixed together, using send/returns loops, and the resulting sound is better and more superior to any other way of adding effects.

Here is an image of an Aux track being used as the effect send and return. The reverb is placed on one track, using a buss assign as its input. Each drum kit track that needs reverb uses a buss send to get the reverb, in a percentage of the reverb. Too much reverb would over power the sound of the song.

The image below better shows the loop, with the reverb dialouge box open, and the send buss tracks circled in red.

I have listened to drums from all sorts of recordings and I have decided that using an effects send/return loop is the best, easiest, and coolest way of adding effects to a drum kit. Well, the parts of the kit that need the extra adjustment that is.

I have mentioned only the kick drum up to now. That is because the kick drum usually needs a different effect than the rest of my kits components. A kick drum usually needs, for example, not only the delay mentioned above, but also some reverb too. This will be the next auxiliary send/return effects loop that we set up. Most of the kits pieces will “tap” into this reverb to some level or another.

I created a new aux tract for this reverb send/return loop. I went with a natural room sounding reverb for this because I wanted the kit to sound as if it was recorded in a studio setting.

I simply assigned a buss “send” from each piece of the drum kit that I wanted to add reverb to, being careful to assign the aux reverb tracks’ input as the same buss number (example: “buss 1”). I could now adjust the level of “send” from each of the kits’ pieces to the reverb loop. The amount of “send level” will reflect how much reverb is added to that piece of the kit. This is also called the “wet signal”.

Once again I can also adjust both the dry and wet levels together, and separately, to get a more natural sounding kit. I “sent” signal from the open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, snare, cymbals, and the kick drum to the reverb effects loop track. The output (volume) of the reverb track “send” loop reflects how much “wet” signal will be heard.

Stay tuned to the “Recording Weekly Blog”, because in the next segment I’ll go over how I used quantization to make the drum tracks feel even more human sounding. I will also touch on how I tuned up the bass tracks and how I got the guitar tracks to come alive.

Now is the time to subscribe to “Recording Weekly” by clicking on the appropriate chicklet located at the top right hand side of this blog. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you could simply add this blog to your favorites. This can be done in one simple click on the “Add to favorites” tab on you browser. Thanks for reading the Recording Weekly blog, and I hope that you enjoy the posts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Taylor “Solid Body Classics” and Taylors new “loaded pickgaurds”.

It seems as if I am posting about guitars lately. Well, that actually is the truth. Why am I posting so much about guitars? I do not know. Perhaps guitar manufacturers are continually pumping out new models in order to keep their brand name on our tongues. It could be that I play guitar as my go to instrument when I write music. It could be that guitars have always been so darn cool looking to us all. Whatever the reason, here is yet another guitar post for those keeping count!

You would think that being well known as the maker of the world’s best quality acoustic guitar would make you content. Taylor guitars are the best American made acoustic guitars on the market. However, they could not rest with just that one title. No, they had to go and enter into the electric guitar market too. Their electric hollow body guitars (the T3 and the T5 series) have all but taken the entire globe by storm, and have added to an already incredible reputation.

Now they are once again showing signs of not being content with being the best in one or two areas in the world of guitars. Taylor has released the Solid Body guitar series.

At first glance you might only see a well made solid body electric guitar. But the best parts of all are in the details! Note the finishes and the tone woods. Look closer at the Classic; it’s the one that has a pick guard. These new models have been designed to cover all of the tonal ranges, in an interestingly new approach. How about changing the types of pickups out in just one easy operation with only a screwdriver? Yes, this is really happening.

Taylor knows that we are not all electrical engineers with a deep enjoyment for soldering. They have come up with a unique way to better find and get the tone that you desire. Instead of a modeling guitar or amp (with an onboard computer doing all of the work) they stuck to the tonal truth. The tone of an electric guitar comes from its’ pickups. Hence their latest idea; loaded pickups! These gifts from heaven are for the classic series of the solid bodied guitars only, since they have pickgaurds and the others don’t. I’m just saying…

Pick gaurds for the classic come in four colors; black pearloid, white pearloid, tortoise shell, and black. The pick up combinations are as follows: 3 single coils, 2 mini HG (high gain) humbuckers, 2 HD (high definition) humbuckers, 2 HG humbuckers, single HG humbuckers in the bridge position, 2 single coil and one HG humbuckers, 1 mini humbuckers in the neck position and one single coil in the bridge position.

Hit the jump to view the various controls (pots for tone and volume, and pickup selector switches) for each pickgaurd configuration. I wish that I had come up with that whole idea! Rerecording musicians please take note, for “that special tone” for every single song is now reachable with just one incredible, well made guitar.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Greatest kept Fender secret has been found out.

Fender guitar fans have a secret organization, for a secret guitar!

I was “just looking” at a local used guitar store the other day when I picked a guitar that I had never heard of before. It was indeed a Fender electric guitar, but I had never seen this exact body style before. It is named the “Lead ii” and what I found shocked me.

I tried out this strange guitar, and was very impressed. It felt like no other guitar had ever felt in my hands. My fingers fell exactly where they needed to be on the neck, and what a nice feel the neck has, too. The neck was thin and maple and what else could a person want? Eric Clapton to have own and love one of these guitars?

Well, I plugged it into an amp, and this baby poured out some vintage Fender twang, but also held signatures of that treble/mid/bass compressed tone that all Fender lovers require. Had I found some lost experimental guitar that has escaped from the Fender companies’ closet collection? Well, a few clicks of the mouse would bring me “into the know”.

It seems that this guitar has a cult following, perhaps like no other guitar has. The first site that I came across was the Fender “Lead 11” fan site. I found all of the information I needed about this awesome guitar in one stop. The site has a very active member’s forum too, and they really help each other out! The posts were something like “Lead ii now on EBay” and “What are these guitars going for”, and everything in between.

I learned that these incredible axes were made for only three years! They started making them in 1979 and stopped in 1982. They were all made in the U.S.A., and they are basically a hybrid of a Stratocaster/Telecaster with some extra cool features tossed in. These babies have phase switches; pick up selector switches, and a smaller string to string distance than any other Fender guitar ever made. It is a shame that they are not in production still, but did I mention a secret?

The secret is that these guitars, (the Fender “Lead 1”, “Lead 2”, and the “Lead 3”) have slipped under the collectors’ radar. These can still be found and purchased on the cheap. The common prices range from 300-900 dollars U.S.; and that includes the original case!

After all of the reading that I did on the Fender Lead ii site, and with all of the new knowledge that I then had, I returned to that used guitar shop days later and I traded my guitar in and left with that Fender Lead 2 guitar.

The smile on my face has not left yet.

By the way, welcome to “The Hit Maker” blog. Feel free to do several things as you enjoy this blog for musicians.
1) Feel free to subscribe to this blog.
2) Feel free to comment on a post anytime you want!
3) Feel free to link to this blog.

Monday, April 13, 2009

10 ways of achieving the most classic tones in your recordings!

1) Ibanez products that stand the test of time
Lets get classic in our tone with the most recorded pedals ever!
Go to pedals
Newest offering from the folks at Ibanez, along with a Steve Vai video

2) Tube Amps that “still got it” after all these years.

Fender all stars
Just Classic

Marshall Offerings
Go to Marshall
Over and out!

3) Microphones for all sessions
SM 58

4) Bass heads
Ampeg classics
Hartke Amps
Fender Amps

5) Guitars that rule to this day.
Les Paul
Paul Reed Smith

6) Tube warmth
a cool You tube video about ART tube amp processors.

7) Effects that simply work.

8) Vocal effects processors
Old faithful
Midi run

9) Drum machines
Back in the day

10)Extra flash for your cash
Just plain Phat

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Vox “Virage” guitars.

Yes, it is real folks. Vox, a trusted leader in some awesome, all tube amps, has developed a kick ass electric guitar! The Virage can be found in either a single or a double cut away, semi-hollow body type.
My first impression was that the Virage guitars appear to be tone monsters, and I’ll explain why.

Take a moment and imagine an electric guitar design that has both rocked and stood the test of time. Think about tone here, and sprinkle it with some vintage flavor. When I did this all I could see was a semi-hollow body/set neck design electric guitar, with two humbuckers and a stop bar tail piece.
Some rather classic guitars like the Les Paul, SG, PRS, and ES-335 come to mind. I know that some of you might be thinking “what about the single coiled cousins like the Strat and the Tele?”. But, for the sake of this article, let’s stay on the semi-hollow body, set neck, and stop bar tail piece path.

This classic “tone giving” set up for electric guitar has remained unchanged for decades. This configuration is two humbuckers in a semi-hollow body with a stop bar tail piece bridge. How many times have you seen this very body type guitar in the videos of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s?

Well, if it isn’t broke why fix it, right? Well, this classic set up for success in tone wasn’t broke, but it may have needed some fine tweaking.

Vox has been making killer tube amps for as long as I can recall, and probably since before I was born too. The tone that comes with an all tube Vox amp has been on more albums than you or I could ever count. They are the choice of so many hard core gig masters and they supply a tone that can hit you in the sternum. Plus, being a Vox, they are known to perform night after night without any troubles.

Well, add “makers of fine electric guitars” to the Vox resume!

The Vox Virage SC (single cut away) and the Virage DC (double cut away) are hot new guitars that are begging for attention. One trip around the Vox web site shows just what these beasts are made of. How about hand carved, set necks? That will keep the sustain going all night.
Two P90 pickups fuel the sound going out to the amps from the Virage guitars from Vox. These are very much like the pickups that I wrote about last time, in this very blog.
The P90 pickups featured in the Vox Virage guitars are “triple coil” pickups. They can be placed into a single coil mode, a humbucking mode, or in a P90 (warm phat single coil) mode. What’s even better is that they are not an active pickup system (needing batteries or an onboard computer to deliver that awful digital noise), but instead they are 100 percent analog pickups, capable of delivering pure madness!

There are two 3-way switches on the Virage guitar bodies that allow for switching between the three different pick up "modes", and between the two pickups themselves. I assume that you can select the neck pick up only, the bridge pick up only, or both of them together, and in whatever mode you want said pick up to be placed in.

I love the contoured bodies of the Virage guitars! They look as if they fit perfectly into your hip, and would be easy to play all evening long, with out any fatigue at all! The informitive images on the Vox site show a side view of the Virage guitar where you can see for yourself exactly what I mean.

Don’t just take all of this from me, instead click here to see what I am ranting on and on about, in video form! A job well done goes out to the good people at Vox. What a nice guitar.