Friday, October 30, 2009

A closer look at Richie Sambora and his guitars.

It was the spring of 1987 I think, and I was in my prime. I was working 40 hours a week at a fast food joint, and dating the cutest blonde girl in my home town. Oh the memories of the swimming hole and senior parties.....

My “Burger Boss” pulled his car into work one day and a new sound was soon filling the air. He was pumping out music from a band that sounded rather new and exciting. He let me know that it was a group named Bon Jovi, a name that I had to write down because I would certainly forget it. Who ever they were I liked them instantly.

Flash forward several more months....

I was on my way to Mass, for a sold out show. It was an outdoor venue, and Bon Jovi was headlining. Along with Bon Jovi an old version of a “nobody group” named Extreme was opening if that tells you how long ago it was. Let me just say that the event changed my life, and concerts would soon become who I was. Guitar driven music would become the reason for waking up each and every day.
As the years passed I never forgot about the group from New Jersey that is Bon Jovi, and the “dynamic duo” that is Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi. Richie and Jon would go on to release several solo projects each, and I would then go on to buy them, play them a million times over, and then learn to play every note on them. People would say that I was stuck in the 80's, but I was not. I was sticking with some great writers, awesome performers, and incredible talents.
If you didn't know, Richie Sambora has released some awesome records. They have a "darkness about them", but the solos on them are out of this world. With songs like “Mr. Blues man”, and “Stranger in this town” from the album “Stranger in this town”, they totally hit the spot for all of us guitarists. Richie can play every type of music you ask him to, and can he ever bend a string! However, one of his songs, “Rosie”, stank of the “Bon Bon” stamp from the past. I forgive you Richie.

So, let's talk about his guitars.

This is a good starting place, a video on You Tube where he details his humble beginnings as a music student, his playing with Gibson brand guitars and what happened to his Gibson collection. Over the years Richie has made several guitars famous, and he has had guitar makers ask him to help design and endorse several unique signature guitars. Lets peek into the past, and into guitar history, Richie Sambora style!

Can you think, or hear, the tone that Richie's music would poses if he had stuck with Gibsons? I bet it would just about smell like Santana, with less southern influence though. Be that what it may, Richie was destined for single coil cleanness. As we first met Mr. Sambora, he had a Kramer strapped on his back and that was his first popular endorsement, the Richie Sambora Kramer guitar. The Richie Sambora Kramer had a Floyd Rose bridge (a favorite of Richie), three humbucker pickups, and various phase switches and coil taps to round out the tone.

Richie speaks very highly of the Fender Stratocaster guitars that he owns, and of his Fender endorsement with Fender guitars. Heck, why not, Richie's endorsement models are among the best playing, best looking, and the best sounding Floyd Rose guitars on the market. Crisp, clean, and with bite when you need it.

Who can ever forget the impact that Richie made on the entire world with his Ovation double neck guitar in the “Wanted” video? This (I feel) is what put Bon Jovi on the worlds musical map for good. What a riff, what a song, and what a guitar.
Here is Richie playing his Ovation double neck on “Wanted dead or alive”. However, his acoustical guitar endorsements are not of Ovation fame, but instead of C.F. Martin and Taylor fame. Here is the scoop....

Richie has teamed up with C.F. Martin and Taylor, over the past years, and they have put out a few awesome guitars. The list includes the C.F. Martin MC12-41 RICHIE SAMBORA (a six or twelve string model, and with a cool sunburst fade finish) of which you can purchase one here. Taylor put out the RSSM model, which is an acoustic six string guitar finished with Koa wood for a unique look and tone.

Lastly, who knows what will become of his latest venture? It stunned me to imagine Richie teaming up with such a heavy hitter as ESP Guitars, but he has. The ESP LTD SA2 model. Staying with Richie's love for all things whammy, these guitars are equipped with Floyd Rose tremolos and a locking nut, but that is where the similarities from his past models end. These monsters contain two ESP LH-150 hum bucking pickups. Definitely a throwback to his Gibson playing days of long ago.

Well, just a post to give some credit where credit is due. In this world, we must have two professions in order to make it. Richies are a guitarist and a marketor of himself. This is working for himself, and his guitars are working very well for the rest of us. Feel free to put up any comments that you wish to, and subscribing now, to the Home Recording Weekly blog, will ensure that you never ever miss a post! Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Making drums sound more powerful, part two.

Backtracking just a little, I mentioned a few different ways in which we all like to get drums recorded. I like to either write drums with midi or to simply place (drag and drop) midi lines of drum loops into my music using a drum software like any one of Toontrack's many unique products.

This is just my work flow and you may or may not like using this same method. Let me explain why I like to use midi drums in my songs.

First, and probably most importantly, as a songwriter I like the control that midi drums give me. I can quickly switch the drum sample out with other drum samples in order to find the perfect fitting sound for each song. I can also place these switches at any point in a song, or double different parts. But more on this stuff in a few paragraphs....

Moving on, I like to edit each piece of a drum kit separately (like adding reverb on just a snare). Midi drums allow me to place each piece of the kit onto its own track. I can get confused at times if I place too much midi information onto just one midi track. I also like to play with volume and velocity as I write, and this is easy when each piece is on a separate track. This technique also allows for easy automation of all aspects of a drum kit. Effects parameters, or the effect types themselves most often need automation in order to get the most out of them. Automating effects and parameters like distortion, panning, velocity, wah, reverb, and volume is just easier when each piece of a kit is on its own track..

Lastly, midi information is just so darn easy to work with! I can easily copy and paste the midi information from one part of a song to any other part in a song in a swipe of the mouse. I can automate the pasted parts differently in order to make them sound just a little bit different too. Editing midi is a snap, well, once you get used to writing with midi anyway.

Toontracks Superior Drummer 2.0 actually took this “each piece of a kit gets its own track” technique and ran with it. Their Toontracks Superior Drummer 2.0 software allows for adding track by track effects, or the adding of effects to each piece of a drum kit separately. Toontracks Superior Drummer 2.0 ships with some awesome effects too, and these effects take up very little processing power. Look here, back to an older post, to read more about Toontracks Superior Drummer 2.0.

We all enjoy placing a snappy delay on a kick, a reverb on a snare, and effects like distortion on everything else that we can get away with. Here is one more idea that I would like to share with you all.

What I like to do is to copy a kick line, and paste it onto a new track. Now I can pick a second kick drum sample for this track and now I will have a more interesting and a way more powerful kick drum. Sometimes I will change the drum samples between the verses and the choruses, just for some dynamics. This idea works great on snares also, and please have some fun with this idea. Try adding a sub bass, or even metal strikes as doubled samples.

One thing that I try to do when writing rock and roll drum lines is to decide what a person could actually play. Layering drums and adding sub percussive beats on top of the main beat may be too much for a person to actually play out live. However, it could be done by joining other drummers to the band. If I am using two percussionists for a song idea, then I like to make sure that the midi that I write would and could be played by just two people. However, with rock music I try to keep it real. I stay away from impossible notes and over the top drum lines. Dance music is a different beast all together, and different rules might apply though.

To get a live player vibe, I like to sum the outputs of all the drum kits pieces to a stereo track. Then, I will add a send/return effects loop in order to add some room sized reverb. I like to play the wet track along with the dry track, just to make it sound authentic. Keep the reverb short and life like, as a little reverb goes a long way. Long decays on reverbs can get quite awful sounding, so listen close to what you are placing on your tracks. Make sure the delays don't get too confusing for the listener by making sure they are short too.

Another idea is to only add a send/return reverb loop track to only the hi hats tracks. That way it will sound as if a drum room was used to record the whole drum kit. With the illusion cast, you can then dazzle the listener by adding some cool delays and reverbs to the rest of the kits pieces.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to make drums sound way more powerful, part one.

“Making your drums sound way more powerful in Pro Tools” is a title that a reader brought to my attention. People seem to be searching this topic in my blog quite often. Although I touched upon this a little bit in a post some time ago, and you might want to jump over and re-read that post first, and then please allow me to continue on with this topic.

The bottom line……

Never mind getting the best possible sounding drum kit right off the bat. Work at getting the best possible drum line, or performance that you can write. Try alternate times, switching parts around, and place importance on song dynamics. Building up tension, and then releasing it is the name of the game.

With the drums written, now you can consider the approach that you will use in order to fine tune the drums. The different approaches are vast in number, but in this post I will detail some of the most common.

If you are serious about your music, then you want to get the best sound entering the recording device as you possibly can, and by doing the least amount of work in order to get it. Why we record lame sounds and think we can fix it later in the mix is beyond me. But we all have done it. Think about this time tested chant “crap in, crap out”. That is just what someone said to me once, and it makes a lot of sense.

The term “Powerful drums” brings several different approaches to mind. These approaches may include EQ, volume, velocity, panning, effects, and the like. I suppose I should describe each approach to you, and then let you use them at your own discretion.

There are no two songs that are alike. Each song that you work on will need different ways of editing a drum sound. Learning each trick will add tools to your tool chest of ideas. Then you can use one or all of these ideas and add them to any of your songs that you wish. Learning to know what each idea will bring to your finished song is the key. You will learn just what “trick” a certain song could benefit from, and learn it in no time at all. However, never be afraid to try new things!

If you jumped over to the link that took you over to an older drum post, then you get the idea of panning your drum kits as if the listener is sitting on the drum throne. I will not bore you any longer on that idea. I have always tried to get the panning completed first, no matter what the tone or impact of the individual drum hits sounds like.

The next two ideas up my sleeve are to add EQ and compression, but not necessarily in that order. Compression can shave off some top end, or add some “wallop”. EQ is often added after such tools in order to bring back frequencies that were lost, but not as a rule.

You need to assess your type of drums (drum machine, real drum kit, ToonTrack Drum software, ect.) that are inputting into your audio recorder, in order to come up with a working signal effects routing path. This is just about critical in order to achieve getting your fat and powerful tone. You will develop a routine plan of attack all of your own, depending on where your drums actually come from each time. This will determine the exact protocol for the addition of EQ and Compression, and in just which order you will want to add these effects plus others.

Let me explain a few of the different processes.

Recording a real drum kit with microphones….

You might just be “summing” the microphones into a mixer, and exiting the mixer with a “stereo out” pair. This stereo pair probably then enters your recording device. I would most likely first run the stereo pair into a compressor in order to smooth out the spikes, and to bring in more of the drum kits tone. EQ’ing would come next. Make sure to then go straight into your recording device. Keep in mind that adding too much EQ and/or compression before the recording device can be a bad thing. Go light, as you will not be able to remove it later.

Drum machines straight to your recording device…….

Drum machines most often enter your recording device as a stereo pair, so routing them into the recording device is easy. However, drum machines and their quality of sound differ from unit to unit. Look at exactly what sort of sound is entering the recording device. Are the snares and kicks attacks entering the red line? Do the kit pieces sound good tone wise? Getting this information now will determine the plan of attack.

Most often times, recording your drum machine into your recording device dry will sound o.k., but not stellar. Listen to the drum machines onboard effects, and make a decision about using those effects or your favorite effects elsewhere. You must decide if you record the drum machine “wet” or “dry”. “Wet” is with effects, and “dry” is without. Either way is fine, but once again you can’t “undo” the wet in the recorded drum mix. Read on for more advice.

Recording drum machines “dry” and “wet”.

First, let’s take the recorded “dry” tracks and add some effects to them.

Using either an auxiliary bus approach to add the effects to the dry drum machine tracks, as an aux send return, in parallel, might just work fine. This adds the effected “fix” along with the recorded dry drum machine tracks, and records them together. This method allows us to dial in just the right amount of “fix to the mix” by adjusting how just much “dry versus wet” enters the final recorded track.

The other option, if you are sure just what the drum machine needs “right from the get go”, is to add the effects as they enter your recording device. This can be done by taking the stereo outs from the drum machine, to the recording device, and adding your EQ and Compression as the stereo pair are recorded.

This can be done as a series fix, or a parallel fix. Series is in “out one device and into another”, and parallel is recording all effects “to, and with” the dry signal, just like we did above. The difference is that we will not record the dry drum track.

The best and the safest way to fix “lame-o” drum machine tracks is to record them dry, and then fix them from there. Exactly how you accomplish this is going to become your style.

Software based or Midi drum tracks……

This is the easiest sort of drum track to alter and/or to add effects to, as there are so many different approaches in which to accomplish these chores. Here is how I like to do this.

I like to use a separate midi track for the drum lines, the fills, and the cymbals. This makes getting the separate velocity and volume levels perfect, and for the whole song.

Once your drum lines are written, consider using the drum software itself (the source for the drums) to complete all of the panning, EQ, volume, velocity, automation, and any other fixes that you might deem necessary. This will take care of most of the problems that might pop up in the drum mix. Using one “place” or one area to fix all of the troubles is a great idea. This makes your workflow easier to remember and simple to dial in.

With that finished, listen to what you are left with. What ever is troubling you now needs to be fixed in either one of two ways. You can fix it either before your drum tracks “see” the recording device (or in either series or parallel), or after they “see” the recording device. Let me take that principal further.

Recording the drum tracks with a compressor inline will smooth the transient spikes. If this is what you wished to fix, then do just that. If you like the audio, but think it needs just a touch more “tom tone”, then add your compression along with the dry signal via an aux send/return, and record a stereo pair from that send/return. That way, you will get the original and the compressed all mashed together in one stereo track.

You might need to return to the software in order to adjust some minor EQ fixes, after the compression is added, but don’t freak out, as I mentioned before “that happens”.

Avoid adding effects like delays and reverbs until your drum track is finished (as far as its impact and tone) and recorded. These effects might sound better if they are triggered from just one certain kit piece, or added to the kit as a separate auxiliary send/return track. Besides, adding such effects at each step along the way will cause them to add up, or pile up, linearly, and might just sound terrible! Use the same size reverbs, and apply them as few times as you must. The same is true for EQ fixes by the way.

Drums are often the first instrument recorded. How are you going to know if the effects are going to fit the song that you have started to write? Adding the effects after more and more of the separate parts are written is the way that I like to do things. That way, you are not stuck with a drum line that is too wet.

Stay tuned for part two of this series. I will discuss getting your recorded drums to sound as if they are being played live, sound coherent in the mix, and even sound more impacting over all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Celemony “Melodyne plugin” review

I downloaded the Celemony Melodyne plugin from their website, and after several full days of use I feel compelled to tell you all about it! I can not wait to spread the news about this plugin any longer!

The first thing that crossed my mind after downloading the plugin was that, it was actually up and running on my PC in what seemed like only a couple of minutes. What I mean by that is that Melodyne was downloaded, registered, and open in my DAW, and in full operation! This sort of speed is a first for me. I think that says something about a well designed product. There was not a single downloading or registration “burp, glitch, or hitch” at all what so ever.

The very next thing that I noticed was that I was actually using the Melodyne plugin without reading a single word from the manual. Again, I couldn’t help but to tell myself that with a well designed product comes an easy to use interface. This is definitely the case with the Melodyne plugin from Celemony.

I have since gone back and read the manual. I wanted to learn each and every feature that the Melodyne plugin has. I want to “suck the marrow out of the bone” and then learn how to use the tools in Melodyne to the best of their (and my) ability. I need to understand just what is possible with using the Melodyne plugin. I am smiling from ear to ear right now as I have indeed learned just what it is that I can do with the Melodyne plugin. What is it that I learned about what the Melodyne plugin is capable of? Everything that I hoped and yet so much more!

So, just what is Melodyne?

The Melodyne plugin is audio editing software that operates in a “plugin form”. Melodyne allows the user to edit recorded audio. Using the Melodyne plugin is a fast and easy way to place your off pitch, sour notes perfectly in tune.

But that is just the beginning of its features. I also learned that I could move audio around in time, in pitch, shorten or lengthen each note, and I could even adjust the volume levels of each note too! I am just getting started with the features and the endless possibilities of this powerful tool! One thing is for sure, and that is that I can’t stop tweaking my older material to near perfection. Melodyne is so darn fast and so easy to use that I can’t stop using it!

Let me explain the Melodyne plugin experience in a little more detail.

You use the Melodyne plugin in your DAW, as a tracks’ insert. The Melodyne plugin only works on the audio that you “place”, or load into it. Celemony claims that unaffected (dry) signals work the best, so edit your tracks with the Melodyne plugin first and then add your delays and reverbs. Just so that you all know, I am using a RTAS version of Melodyne in ProTools LE8, and it is working flawlessly.

The process of inputting audio into the Melodyne plugin is simple. Heck, even a caveman could do it!

One thing that became obvious to me is that you need to make sure that you “tell” the Melodyne plugin weather the audio that you are inputting is percussion or melodic in nature. When I started playing with some audio that I had first loaded into the Melodyne plugin, I couldn’t get the advanced editing features to do what I wanted them to. I found out that this was the reason why. I had placed vocal audio into the Melodyne plugin, and I had told it that it was percussion. I learn by making mistakes sometimes, what can I say?

In order to load your own audio into the Melodyne plugin, one need only to place your cursor of your DAW at the beginning of the selection that you want loaded into Melodyne. Then by simply clicking the “play” button in your DAW the loading process starts. When the section of your audio to be loaded has finished, clicking on your DAW’s stop button ends the loading process. The Melodyne plugin is now ready to work for you.

There is a quick pause while Melodyne converts the information into note “blobs”. These “blobs” are what make editing in Melodyne so easy. But the converting happens so fast that if you blink you will never see it happening. In fact, the entire process of loading audio into the Melodyne plugin is fast and easy.

In this above image of the Melodyne plugin in use, you can see the faint outline of the “blob”, just above the “actual blob itself”. Melodyne shows where your sour notes should be by using these simple “blob outlines”. This is a handy feature for tuning notes fast! The amount that your audio is off is shown in the little box at the top. How cool is that?

Moving the notes (blobs) with the pitch tool is as easy as dragging them with your mouse. You can use the auto snap to grid feature, or move the notes freehand style. Holding the Alt. key while moving the notes’ blip will allow for free movement. I found that by reading the “Cents” indicator, and getting it to “zero out” was a great way to place a note perfectly in tune.

The layout of the Melodyne plugin is very easy to take in and just as easy to understand. The beauty of using the Melodyne plugin is that you can go as deep with your editing as you want to. Or, if you are better than me at singing, you can keep your workflow as simple as you need it to be.

This is really a cool thing because sometimes I only need to change one little note here, or one single drum hit there, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time editing the finest little detail about these single notes.

I found out that I could (and did) load up a sour vocal, edit the vocal notes pitch to their correct pitch, and then transfer this edited material back into the DAW in a few minutes flat.

I did this editing without even downloading or reading the manual! So believe me, the Melodyne plugin is very easy to use, and it works and sounds amazingly good.

With the above two images, you can see that selecting and using the amplitude tool makes increasing or decreasing each note’s volume level a breeze. Clicking and dragging the mouse up or down is all you need to do. This is a great way to get a solo or even a vocal to sit evenly in the mix without compressing the snot out of it!

You can even use the Melodyne plugin to alter a notes timing troubles, quantize notes to a grid of time, or extend a note and/or shorten a note! The way in which the software is written does not make these altered notes sound funny at all, but instead they sound perfect. Do not expect to get any robotic sounding vocals from Melodyne, well, unless you want to make them. Even the stretching of a note sounds authentic!

All of these various types of edits (in Melodyne) can be made on a note-by-note basis, or by selection entire groups of notes! The Melodyne plugin separates the audio into regions, and I found it did a damn good job at separating words perfectly!

This “snap to grid” feature is great. Using your “Alt.” key along with the mouse allows exact placement of a note. The interface supplies a numerical readout of positive and negative cent values for each note as you place/move a “blob” on the Melodyne plugin interface. The ability to program in a key and then using the snap to feature made my editing workflow a joy to perform.
Click HERE to jump over to the Celemony website, and give the Melodyne plugin a new home in your studio. Using the Melodyne plugin will shave time from your workflow. I have not used a plugin before that offers such precision adjustments in volume levels, time, and pitch, and all with such speed and ease. Bravo! I give Melodyne the coveted “two guitar pics way up!”

HERE and HERE are some great and informative video demos from Celemony. These will get you “in the know” with speed.

Eric Oliver, on behalf of Expert Village, has also posted some great videos of himself using the Melodyne plugin! Here is the link to just some of them…….

Once more I need to thank you for stopping by. Make sure to either bookmark this blog or subscribe right now. I don’t want you to miss out on any of the exciting news, reviews, and how to’s that I post!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Getting your music heard, part three.

Give what you love most away. If it is good, it will come back to you, ten fold.

Perhaps in today’s existence of fame (and greed), one most often overlooked avenue is donating. There are a host of different people that are always looking for audio. These people need your original material for placement in to their creative works.

Radio, TV, indie films and shorts, and even many tutorial DVD artists are in need of music. Donating some material to these efforts can land you a win/win situation. What is wrong with placing your masterpiece into a radio ad anyway? Imagine hearing your own jingle being played in the background of a used car commercial. Perhaps it is not the most glamorous outcome for your hard work, granted, but the nice act of a single donation will put your foot in the door.

If your donation is chosen, than you will get the almighty credit. Your information will roll in a credit reel somewhere, and someone will see it. Radio stations will ask you for more work. Television broadcast networks will be bidding against each other for your loyalty. Well, maybe I am getting caught up in the hype, here, but you get the idea.

How many of you can actually say “My work can be heard on (place popular radio/television station here)”? I can’t yet say that, but I plan on being able to. Some of my images have popped up in local papers, ads, and campaigns. This was made possible by donating work to some local charities that I believed in. Talk about giving back! A single act of charity can help feed you for the rest of your life, if you play it right!

Speaking of giving things away……

Placing one of your songs or jingles onto a site that supports free downloads for everyone will only help to get your name and your work noticed. Here is just one of the sites that I put new material onto. I let the new works go onto the free digital download domain for a limited time. Then, I either replace the file with a new one, or I start charging a small fee for the original file. You can create quite a buzz by just doing this!

By joining a free digital download site (like Myspace, ITunes, Put it on) you are doing the right thing. However, putting your work one of these sites is only the beginning of the job.

Surfing others sites is next in line. Locating others sites that resemble your own genre should be your next task. Go ahead and place some comments onto their site. Explain to these other folks how much you enjoy their efforts, congratulate them with a nice comment, explain to them just how close your music is to theirs, and most importantly leave links to your site.

The reason that we do all of this messaging is not to just be nice people. We are creating an online personality of sorts. Plus, so many people will read those comments that you left for others that it will stun you. Your own sites’ traffic will increase ten fold.

But just which sites or page profiles do we comment on?

Finding the “closet related musically” and then the most visited and most popular sites to comment on is the key here. Popularity of other sites is critical, but second only to relative genre. People that enjoy one site should appreciate the link to your site that you left. They might even return the favor! But do not send people to your site, from another site, if it is not even close to the same style of writing! You do not want to send listeners on a wild egg hunt. They will remember you.

So what is it that I am going to do with this information?

I am going to find some new and popular sites to upload my work onto. I will supply them for free, but only for a limited time. I will place comments with links back to my stuff onto others sites.

I thought back to an adventure in donating that I took with a local blogger and professional photographer. This friend requested that I record his vocal message for future clients, and then cut and paste his message to flow with background music and a photo slide show that showcases his work. His intent was to use it on his business website. We met and I recorded him talking. After a little cut and paste work, the vocals matched the slide show nicely. I was happy to get the experience doing this sort of venture, and my friend gained a nice opening show on his site. He does very good work, eh?

This very thing is what I am looking to do for others.

I am currently seeking out a couple of local television/video production companies to see if I can donate my time and/or talent to them. I am also seeking some local charities that might just need a slogan, jingle, or soundtrack for an up and coming production. I will write down and/or blog about what I find out, and then I will post it here, on Home Recording Weekly.

Lastly, some success in my search for talent.

Placing an ad on Craigslist has brought me great results, time and time again. From photo to music, people look on Craigslist! With that said, I placed an add looking for a singer or two, and asked for links to their stuff. I wanted to find what I thought might be the best fit for my music genre. Many good folks, looking to take a risk, have responded.

I am pretty certain that out of the group of volunteers two have really attracted my attention. One is a 20 something year old man, the other, a 20 something year old woman. What caught my eye, or ears, were their hook laden music style. They are young and can bring a fresh voice to the table. Well, that is if they like my material. I will continue to post updates, as well as some behind the scenes stuff!

You do not want to miss out on any of these easy to apply ideas and tips. Do yourself the favor and subscribe right now. This will guarantee that you learn all you can about getting your music heard. Bookmarking this blog will also get you closer to your goal. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on keeping on! The world needs to hear you!