How old are your ears?

While this may not be super accurate, I actually did better than I expected. Despite playing approximately 800 shows standing next to drummers, and mixing too loud, maybe I don’t have as much damage as a I thought. How about you?

Live from Alpine Red – Stephen Chopek – “Looking for a Sign”

My good friend Stephen Chopek was here a few weekends ago in the middle of his first solo tour. He was kind enough to shoot a video at the studio. Stephen has a unique twist on lyrics, and a rock solid strumming hand. Check it out!

Listen to Stephen’s album, See Through, on Bandcamp or buy it on iTunes.

Luke Brindley album review, ‘Our Year I’ and ‘Our Year II’

J100Wonderful review of Luke Brindley’s new CDs in the Washington Post, including:

For several months, Brindley has been on a creative tear, composing tuneful folk-pop songs and releasing one cut a week on his Web site, Brindleymusic.com. Cherry-picked, remixed and re-recorded, the songs on his new CDs swiftly reaffirm Brindley’s vocal strengths, songcraft and bedrock optimism.

and

Both CDs boast a crisp sound that helps showcase the often shimmering combination of Brindley’s voice and guitars.

Read the full review here and check out my posts from the recording sessions here at Alpine Red.

Buy it now from iTunes.

Find What You Love

“Find what you love and let it kill you” – Charles Bukowski

Over the weekend, I randomly decided I wanted learn how to use Microsoft Excel. After 2 hours of watching tutorials on YouTube, I was making a pivot table on the recording gear I want to buy, how much it will all cost, when I should buy it (based on another chart I made of things I’m selling), and in a way that will remove items when I switch its status to “purchased.” For most people, this isn’t complicated. The point is I went from having never used a program to being able to make that in 2 hours.

It’s powerful to realize that you can learn anything you want.

People often say to me that they wish they could play a musical instrument. They say, “I always wanted to play guitar, but I just don’t have a musical bone in my body.” YOU CAN! I always respond with, “While you may never be the next Jimi Hendrix, I guarantee you can learn a few chords.” And you know what you can do with a few chords? Play along to the majority of songs ever written. Learn 4 or 5 chords and then play along to a song. It is really that simple. It might take 2 hours, or 2 weeks, but it can be done. And with the tools on the Internet, it’s easier than ever to access the information needed to learn.

dgachordsFor me starting out, I learned “Free Fallin”. I think I was 13, and my Dad made me a deal; play one song all the way through, and he would buy me a guitar. “Free Fallen” has 3 chords, so I knew it would be the easiest way to get what I wanted. I guess I was both driven, and lazy at the same time. I learned 3 chords, and I got a guitar. How hard could that be? A 13 year old figured it out without the Internet and no prior musical knowledge. A chord book, a CD player, and little bit of time.

In the article “Find what you love and let it kill you”, pianist James Rhodes writes, “We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity.”

This is a great read for musicians. But what I found more interesting was how I think it is a great read for everyone. Like the author, I have been asked those same questions about following my “passion,” and I have met too many people who don’t seem to have that part of their lives fulfilled.

What would you do with your time if you won the lottery? Not only should you do that thing as much as possible, it’s also important to KNOW what it is. And what it isn’t. I know I watch TV too much and I check Facebook too often. But, there is time for you to pursue what you love if make time for it.

I can’t say anything in this article better than it was written. If you’re wondering what your life is “about,” give this a read and see what you wish you were doing with your free time. And then… you know… start making the time to do it.

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2013/apr/26/james-rhodes-blog-find-what-you-love

Brindley – Week 7 – Breakdown of “Can You Feel My Love”

After last week’s stripped down acoustic track, Luke and I wanted to take a stab at recording a song with no acoustic guitar. I was excited to experiment with different instrumentation to provide a more ambient backing track. This song a week thing is a great way to explore new sounds without being confined to a palette like on a full album.

Since this song is all about the words and the chord progression stays the same throughout, I knew I wanted to make the music change drastically from verse to chorus. The traditional approach is for the chorus to get bigger. For this song, we did the opposite: we made the chorus the quieter parts of the song. The lyrics feel like they’re building, and getting more intense, and yet that chorus lyric is such a simple question. So, I wanted everything to dry up, and make the chorus the most intimate part. Kind of like if you were actually asking someone “Can You Feel My Love?” when you’re both alone.

First off, we decided to make the piano the main replacement for the acoustic. I have some good samples, but I’ve always liked layering instruments that are playing close to, but not exactly, the same thing. So, I put down a basic piano part with one of my favorite Reason Refills, and then recorded a pass on my real piano. Then, I panned those slightly off from one another (reason more left, real more right)

To add some ambience, I thought it would be a good time to try some electric guitar. There hasn’t been any yet on this project. (Can you believe it?) Generally, I’m not a big fan of recording electric guitar because my brain doesn’t work that way, but I do love it when adding spacey sounds. My go-to tools for that are my Gretsch Country Classic, Fender Deluxe Reverb, and a few key pedals. I’m a Strymon pedal junkie. I have the comp, Blue Sky, and el Capistan, and I use them every time. Here’s what’s going on:

–The “pad” sound that starts the song, and lives throughout, is actually 3 different guitar recordings. I use my Boss giga delay for 2 things: Edge guitar parts (because you can dial in the exact BPM), and making a hanging pad. Unlike other delays I’ve found the giga delay has a setting where putting the feedback to 100% won’t oscillate out of control. Whatever you send to it, just hangs forever! So, I’ll slowly swell notes into the delay (that work well in the key) until I’ve built a chord pad that sounds almost like an organ. In this case, I did this process 3 separate times, and blended in different amounts of my Strymon pedals for each. Pretty cool.

–I also put down two more straight-ahead electric guitars. On the right, is the giga delay “edge” setting. On the left, is just following along with the chords with a TON of long Blue Sky verb, and some Strymon el Capistan (lots of tape age dialed in, roughly timed with the 8th note of the song). The Strymon pedals are amazing for adding a lot of space to the guitar. They are seriously my favorite guitar gear in my studio.

Go visit Strymon’s website and watch the videos. You’ll be hooked.

–DRUMS! I’ve talked a lot about drums in these Brindley posts. What I did this week isn’t too far off from past songs. There are two kick/tom tracks, a snare/tom track, a cymbal swell track, and a basic ride/cymbal track. It makes a cool sea of drums! But, one thing that is adding a lot to the “vibe” is the UAD Echoplex on one of the kick/tom takes.  I bought that plug-in almost a year ago, and only now fell in love with it. On a take with “4 on the floor” kick, and muted tom (sweatshirt over the head) on the upbeats, I added the Echoplex across the drum buss after the rest of my normal treatment. Set the repeats to happen a few times, and panned the echo to the left. It’s hard to hear, but it was a fun element to add!

–The vocal is pretty straightforward. I didn’t want to cover it up too much with effects, and the background tracks had plenty of vibe. After all…regardless of how excited I am about the production, it’s still all about the words. And of course, Luke’s vocal!

The result still sounds like Brindley, but with a bit of twist.

Check out “Can You Feel My Love” at Brindleymusic.com

Any questions, or thoughts, shoot me a message at chip@alpinered.com

Sitting in with old friends…

So far in 2013, I haven’t played any shows. Even though we’re only 6 weeks in, that is probably a first for me since I left college. But when The Alternate Routes asked me to fill in on bass for a show this week, I had to say yes! Even though I’m trying to tour less and focus my efforts this year on my studio, it’s always fun to play with old friends.

Tim and Eric found me at Berklee, and my seven years being a member of the Alternate Routes played a huge role in what I’ve been up to since. The producers we worked with inspired me to start building my own studio, and I got some street cred as a player from that time on the road. I played about 600 shows with them! We opened up for Stephen Kellogg a ton, and that is part of the connection that led me to my last two years of touring with the Sixers. Bringing my personal show count to around 800…

It’s strange that someone from Virginia has spent so much time in Connecticut. Between The Alternate Routes and Stephen Kellogg, it’s been a second home. I also mixed my album, and my project with The B-Film Extras, at a studio just a few houses down from where I lived with Tim back in the day. There is a lot of music talent in that state.

So I’ll head back up there tomorrow, like I have so many times before. As the song says, “It’s a 6 hour drive…” If you’re anywhere near Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT on Thursday, come on by. I’ll be there! Now I just have to remember those tunes….

Brindley — Week 6 — Breakdown of “Heaven”

This week Luke and I decided to leave “Heaven” as a stripped down song with just his acoustic and vocal. As I mentioned in my last post, Luke has a great setup at home for recording the two things he does the most, acoustic guitar and vocals. This allowed him to take his time, and hone in on getting a great performance. And, he nailed it!

There’s a quote about how the act of observation changes the observed. (If you google it, there is a bunch of information about quantum physics and I just want to find the flippin’ quote—I give up.) Sometimes working with a producer in person can drive you to the next level. But sometimes having the equipment in the comfort of your own home gives you the ability to go into your most quiet place and record what could have never been shared otherwise. I’ve found that with Luke; we’ve all been able to hear that honest, heartfelt material as a result of him recording in that space. A lot of the vocals on Hidden Wholeness, and every vocal on this Brindley project, have been captured this way.

Many artists need some coaching, or some singing guidance, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But I know with Luke, if he has the time to get it right on his own, he knows when it’s done. In his case, recording alone is a great way to remove all barriers between his songwriting and getting it captured.

Then it’s my turn to try and take it to the next level. Since there was only an acoustic, and vocal, to deal with, I wanted to try some new things out to make the most of the minimal instrumentation. That means UAD plugins. They are killer!

Here’s a little breakdown of what’s happening:

Acoustic

—To start there is a little light EQ, some RenAxx, and the UAD Studer. Just fixing some issues and tightening it up a bit without getting too crazy.

—Sent the acst through an aux, with a ridiculously long hall using D-Verb. I tucked that in pretty low, and added some heavy post verb EQ. Don’t write off the old plug-ins! I set up a 12.5 sec decay, and I haven’t found many verbs that can do that. Post EQ can help fix the “digital” sound of the plug-in and D-Verb can be very useful!

—Sent the acst through the UAD EMT140 plate. Set it to the “master plate” preset and mixed pretty hot.

—Once I was happy with this combination, I sent them all (acoustic, and verbs) to a new Aux so I could start treating it as one thing.

—On the acoustic Aux, I added the UAD Harrison EQ, Massey CT5, and UAD 1176. (I later added a few RenEQ’s to tame any issues I had with the final mix). I am loving the CT5! I just set it to grab more than I would normally be cool with, and ride the wet/dry mix down to about 50%. It ends up being a pretty smooth, but very taming, compressor. Then, I let the UAD 1176 take care of anything else that might be slipping through the cracks.

Vocal

—In my template, I have a light EQ/Comp set up that I usually tweak to get the vocal to a normal place. Kind of what you would do if you were tracking with EQ, and compression.

—I went back to my new friend, Radiator, for the vocal. I am cranking it, and there are times when you can really hear it get gritty. Gotta do it!

—Since it is such a sparse track, I set up a Vocal FX send, and added a lot of de-essing. I didn’t want any s’s pinging around in my verbs! If you don’t know how to do this, here’s a quick walk through:

-If your vocal is mono, create a mono aux track.

-Copy all of your fx sends, from your vocal track, to this new aux track.

-Create a new send from your vocal track (say bus 35, for example)

-Set the input of the mono aux track to Bus 35.

-Set the output of the mono aux track to “No Output”

-From here, you can add any compression, EQ, or de-essers to the aux track.

-This will affect what content is being sent to your effects, without messing with your dry vocal sound.

—For the FX, I had a very short UAD EMT140 plate, and crazy long UAD EMT250 plate. But, the main effect you’re hearing is the UAD Echoplex. Normally, I set it to fully wet, but I forgot! And, as I turned it up to hear what was happening, I really dug it. It’s a little phasey, and almost sounds like a doubled vocal. Super cool! Sometimes it’s good to run with mistakes.

—For the final Vocal treatment, I used the UAD Studer, UAD LA2A, UAD1176, and UAD Neve1073. I sound like a freakin’ UAD salesmen. But since I can’t afford a hundred thousand dollars worth of gear, UAD really is a great way to improve the sound of your tracks, at a reasonable price. The presets are all a great starting point for people who need a little help. I generally start there and move the settings around to taste. Here’s a pic of a few of the plug-ins I ended up using:

Plug-ins

It’s important to trust your own vision. You’re going to find the most success by doing that, and writing what you love. Having a small studio setup at home will give you the time, and freedom, to bring it to life. Then, if you need more, there are always other studios that can help you take it the rest of the way.

Listen to “Heaven

Check out the rest of the Brindley Project:

www.brindleymusic.com

Spaces and Workflow Part 3

My first experience in a home studio was working with Jay Joyce, on the first Alternate Routes album, Good and Reckless and True. This “home studio” had all the gear of a “pro studio”, but it just happened to be in a house. It was awesome! I noticed how Jay had things set up to move quickly. All instruments, and microphones, were just a few short steps away from being ready to record. Nothing stood between the music and the record. I know many “pro studios” put all the gear away each day for the safety of the equipment, as well as the changing of the clientele. These two approaches help the productivity of each studio setup. Putting everything away allows for the fewest number of equipment-related issues when resetting for another artist. Leaving all the equipment set up, and ready to go, allows the band to move quickly through the different instruments and capitalize on time sensitive creativity. The two big things I learned from recording with Jay was that I wanted to build a home studio of my own, and have it set up to work fast.

Since I do a lot of tracking by myself, I’ve been building my collection of gear to support quick recording. I rarely track a full band live, but I leave my microphones set up on the drums, piano, and guitars all the time. For me, this helps to record any of the instruments I have by myself. I have preamps and compressors set to my playing, and I have templates in ProTools with most of things I normally do in a song. Here is more detail on the things that have really sped up my recording process.

-I have a home network. This allows me to use my laptop, through screen sharing, to control my studio computer. When I have to track drums by myself, it’s as simple as making those tracks in Pro Tools, and bringing my laptop over to the drum set. In a couple of minutes, I can be recording a drum track without having someone in the control room, or running back and forth.

-I have all my microphones set up going to my preamps, and compressors, all the time. My kick mic is always going to channel 5 on my snake, which is normalled to one of my API preamps, which is patched to a distressor. I only have 2 distressors, so if I want to track something different with it, I’ll start by plugging the mic into the snake, and use the same chain. If more change is needed, I’ll repatch the distressor. The small percentage of time I want to try something different, I always make sure to move them back to my “normal” setup when I’m done.

-I also have a template in Pro Tools, with a close approximation of what I normally do to certain tracks. This prevents me from having to repeat the same steps every time (making new tracks, assigning inputs, adding plug-ins that I use). If you find yourself repeating steps, spend a minute to make a template. It will save you soooo much time!

-I bought a second 192 I/O for future expansion. As I get more preamps, I’ll be able to have all of my mics hooked up all the time, so I almost never need switching. My stereo Avantone CK-40 is always on the piano, my Coles 4038’s are always the drum overheads. My SM7, or Lawson47, is always ready to go as a vocal mic. I have a few more pieces of gear to acquire before this is fully realized, but it’s the goal to optimize my workflow here at Alpine Red.

-I have 4 acoustics. A “dark” Martin D28, a “bright” Taylor w/fresh strings, a 12 string, and my old Takamine strung up Nashville style. Since I don’t really mess around with open tunings, this allows me to track acoustics quickly in most of the needed applications.

-I have a bookshelf where I keep all of my percussion. For the shakers, and tambourines, that I use most often, I leave them in the most noticeable place so I can always get to them quickly.

-I leave most of my commonly used drum sticks, (broomsticks, brushes, timpani mallets, etc), on a table right next to the hi-hat.

-MIDI… I have a small midi controller under my desk and my Roland keyboard (with 88 weighted keys) is sending MIDI into the computer as well. I can audition a sound with the little guy, and move to the full keyboard as soon as I’m ready to start. After being in a studio last week that had a controller on the desk, above the keyboard, I might actually try that, too. You can always examine your situation to find improvements in your workflow!

-I have pens and pads all over the place. But, I also have a mug for pens in the control room. Whenever things get too messy, I put them all back there.

- I have 4 guitar stands (that hold 5 each), in the control room. All of my guitars are there full time, with room for artists to put their own guitars. This keeps all the instruments accessible to capture an idea.

-I have a comfy chair (in reference to the original article in part 1). I started having some back problems after a few months of regular time in the studio, and assumed it was from years of loading in/out of clubs. I bought a really nice office chair, and it went away. If you’re gonna spend 8 hours a day sitting at the studio desk this is an important investment!

-TWO COFFEE POTS! I can make coffee, and bring it downstairs, so I don’t have to keep going up to the kitchen. More coffee can also be made for anyone else who wants it. I love coffee…

All of these things combined, have saved me a lot of time over the years, and allowed me to strictly focus on performing, and creating, music in the studio.

For those of you who are songwriters, you can also get a lot out of a simpler setup. I know from working on this Brindley project, that Luke has a great recording scene at home that fulfills all of his needs. And it’s always ready to start working! He has a Neumann 184 for his acoustic guitar, and a SM58 for his vocals. Those two mics are on stands, and ready to record in Garageband with his Apogee duet. He can be recording just as fast as his computer can turn on. With today’s technology it’s super easy to get someone with a more elaborate studio to help finish a recording that you’ve started on your own. For example, Luke recorded this week’s song in his space before sending it over to me for some mixing. Check it out here!

Whether it be a recording studio, a songwriting space, or practice room, it’s important to keep this area organized, and efficient, to help you reach your goal.

With a great workspace and definitive goals, all that is left is the fun part… making music!