Progressive Rock Artist seeks Audience

Month: February 2013

Future Imperfect

After the album was released, I moved my notes about each song into a dedicated page which you may find here:

Fruit of the Steel Tree : Future Imperfect

Alternatively, follow the album link in the main menu above on this page.

Notes on vocal processing technique

I don’t consider this track to have weird vocals or anything but after listening to it, Eldest Brother asked me what I’d done to my voice. So here’s the process:

First, I recorded 6 or 7 takes of the vocals. I use a nice cardoid condenser microphone with a pop screen but no additional FX, accepting the natural reverberation of my studio room.

I cut the tracks into separate clips for each contiguous lyric phrase, and selected the best to construct a single best take for each verse, and two best takes for the choruses. Not surprisingly, usually I ended up selecting from take 2 or take 3. 

After assembling the vocal tracks, I use the Tools menu in SONAR to run Adobe Audition 1.5 as an external wave editor, and clean up each clip – removing any obvious spikes and reducing “breath” sounds, not to eliminate but just to reduce them a bit. This step could have been done using a compressor FX during the recording, but I’ve tried doing that, and I prefer to do it manually. (I probably just don’t know what I’m doing with the compressor parameters.) 

At this point I cheated very slightly and used a pitch correction tool to fix the worst vocal glitches. It was usually just two or three slightly flat notes per verse. The tool in SONAR is called V-Vocal and although it has an ‘auto-tune’ mode, I don’t use it. I fix the flat notes manually, basically just moving them enough so that you no longer notice the flatness, rather than making them perfect. Subtle is best for this sort of thing. It’s easy to inadvertently introduce noticeable pitch artifacts so I always listen carefully to keep it natural.

For the choruses I panned the two takes 25% left and right for a “double-tracked” sound. 

The verses are the single take, panned center. I also made a duplicate of the verse vocal track, and applied a “Guitar Amp Distortion” FX plugin to it and reduced the volume, so what you hear in each verse is the natural tone plus just a hint of the distorted version, giving the verses a slight gritty edge.

I have separate busses for the vocal reverb and vocal delay effects, and I use buss send envelopes on the vocal tracks so that I can be precise about what parts of the track have reverb and delay applied. That’s why only certain words in the phrase are accented with echo delay, and only certain parts of certain words get reverb’d. The effect is to make the lyric flow and sound good without drowning it.

Finally, and most obviously, in this track I have duplicated certain select phrases from the chorus and placed them into a separate track, using the Pentagon I virtual synth as an FX plugin to get the vocoder effect (the technique is explained here). I’ve used a custom saw wave patch for this, one with a wide frequency range that works well with the vocoder.

 

Drums are done… and the bass I think

Well, that trick worked, mostly. I copied the nice, tight drum track from the 120bpm project into the original, 135bpm project, and started re-recording the bass, locking in to the new timing.

Here’s a teaser, from the end of the guitar solo where everything is getting quite excitable:

Just listening to this, I can hear some places where the drum velocity levels should be tweaked a bit. The toms are a bit loud and brash, and could do with a little less reverb.

Still… it’s much better. Now to adjust all the other instruments to fit!

Breaking the Block

It’s February, already. Dammit.

I’ve been stuck on the drums in Future Imperfect for ages, succeeding only in making tiny incremental advances. Not working. 

I’m not a drummer, but when I flail wildly with the sticks on the old rubber pads, sometimes great stuff happens that couldn’t have been done on the step programming/pressing the keys on the synth technique. And I’m greedy. I want the coolness, all the way.

But this incremental thing isn’t working. There’s some drum fills and hi-hat stuff that I can’t do at 135bpm.

Therefore, I’m trying something slightly different. I’ve copied the entire project’s timeline and dropped the time signature to 120 bpm, and I’ve got a simple guide click track that follows all the 4/4 : 7/8 changes with beat hints, and I’ve replaced the new bass track (which rocks, by the way, no problem playing that in time) with a cloned MIDI version and dropped that into the new project – instant 120bpm guide bass to play along with (I know, I could stretch the original audio track using tools like Audition or even the built-in tech in SONAR, whatever it’s called, to get it to 120bpm, but this quantized MIDI bass track is working better for me, so there.)

If it breaks the block, it’ll be worth it.Now I’m trying to record the drums again, but at 120 bpm instead of 135. When I’m done, I’ll just copy the MIDI notes back into the original project, and hopefully we’ll have an excellent drum track, at the right tempo, that meshes with the existing bass audio and other instruments.

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