Archive for November, 2009

Week 12, On the Rise

This week’s song is called On the Rise

You’ll notice above that I’m finally making good on a request – to make the songs listenable from an iPhone. I know that it’s been a long time coming, and I appreciate your patience. I have the four most recent songs up now, and I’ll keep trying to add older songs as I have time. I would highly recommend listening while your phone is on a wifi connection – the quality of the audio gets pretty low otherwise.

I’m really happy about this one. It’s a good old rock song. The guitar is tuned to drop-D and the amps are turned to 11… well not really. I actually had to keep the amp pretty quiet because my kid was sleeping. How’s that for the rock n’ roll lifestyle? The mean guitar tone that you hear is a result of running my Dean Evo guitar through the Tonebone tube distortion pedal which is made by Radial, and then through the Orange Crush 30R. I initially wrote the song with just the verse and chorus parts, but once I dialed up that crunchy guitar sound, I couldn’t help fooling around with it until I came up with the riff for the bridge/solo part that the song opens and ends with.

I recorded the two guitar tracks and the bass track in one sitting using an Audix dynamic mic into the custom break-out cable for the iPhone, and tracked into Harmonicdog’s  MultiTrack iPhone app. I’m working around MultiTrack’s lack of a metronome (I’ve been assured that it’s in an update just around the corner) by settling on a speed before I start recording a song, and then I make a simple dummy drum track in Propellerhead’s Reason software and then upload it into MultiTrack. That’s a little bit more involved than just setting up a metronome in the app, but it’s worked well enough so far.

The drums and vocals were recorded directly into Reaper on my laptop. This was the first time that I recorded the vocals using anything other than the iPhone. I used my Rode NTK tube mic. Of the mics that I own, it’s my favorite for vocals. The vocals are pretty up front in this mix. I think you can get a good sense of the Rode’s character. The drums were recorded with the same four-mic setup that I’ve used in previous weeks.

I ended up not using the iPhone for vocals and drums on this track for no other reason than convenience. That’s really been the reason I’ve used the iPhone so often on songs – because it’s quick to set up and easy to use. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my little studio room this week frantically trying to make deadlines for a video game soundtrack that my friend David Bernabo and I have been working on. We’ve been slowly putting together a production studio called Woolslayer and Main, where to-date we’ve composed a soundtrack for a Wii Ware game called Critter Round-up and a song for a Delaware TV commercial spoofing the Ghost Busters theme song, called Couch Busters. Right now we’re working on songs for a game by Epicenter Studios – the same folks who were kind enough to hire us for Critter Round-up. I think it’s going to be an awesome game, but unfortunately I’m not allowed to tell you a thing about it. You’ll have to stay tuned. It would’ve been silly for me to ditch the studio in favor of the iPhone when the studio was already up and running, and I was all up in it.

I hope you enjoy the song. There’s not much more to say about it. It’s rock.

I have another short week ahead of me – I’ll be traveling back out to Philly for Thanksgiving with the in-laws. It’s going to be really tight getting songs up on time over the holidays, so I may revert to acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple weeks. I have to make sure to give myself plenty of time to work on the video game because, well, they’re paying us. I’m sure you understand. Thanks for all of the comments. I’m glad to hear from you. Feel free to keep sending in questions about iPhone recording. I’m happy to talk shop.

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Monday, November 23rd, 2009 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Week 11, Minimum Style

The eleventh song is called Minimum Style.

This song was written while fooling around with my two-year-old’s toy guitar, pictured below. Also in the picture is my Orange Crush 30R, which I’ve used for just about all of the guitar and bass tracks so far.

my kid's toy guitar

my kid's toy guitar

I recorded the toy guitar part while sitting in on my bathroom floor and using the Blue Mikey. The tile in the bathroom made for a nice punchy reverb to couple with the guitar. It’s my first time recording in the bathroom and that was done because my kid was playing downstairs and if he had heard me playing the guitar he probably would’ve wanted to go upstairs and play the drums.

Sometimes I get a pretty small window of opportunity to get a take down and I can’t be picky. I think that was particularly true with this song knowing that I was working with a short week. Looking ahead at the calendar I have the holidays, traveling to Colorado, coming up on a deadline for a video game soundtrack (more on this another week), and a very important University of Pittsburgh football game in a couple of weeks. So I expect that I’ll need to keep things simple for the next couple of songs. Of course when I set out to keep things simple I end up using seven guitar tracks. Go figure.

Anyway, back to the song. So there’s toy guitar throughout, then the rest of the guitar tracks were recorded on my baritone guitar. One take is clean, more bass-like, and plays through most of the song after the intro. The other two are dirty, more guitar-like tracks, and just play through the last bit of the song where it opens up. I love the baritone and wish I could use it more often. Well, good thing I have 31 songs left to write. The baritone was recorded using the custom break-out cable through the Orange as usual. I added vocals using the Blue Mikey (I think – it’s been a while now and everything is running together). Oh yeah, and I felt compelled to add whistling in the beginning for some reason, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and I think that it came out fine, but every time I hear the beginning of the song now I can’t help but think that I’m listening to Guns and Roses’ “Patience”…not that there’s anything wrong with that. And I suppose hearkening back to G n’ R isn’t an unprecedented move for me – there are probably a few people out there who can recall that my old band Hovland would evey once in a while drop a cover of “Mr. Brownstone”.

Tim Midgett of Bottomless Pit

Tim Midgett of Bottomless Pit

Andy Cohen of Bottomless Pit

Andy Cohen of Bottomless Pit

I added drums with the usual four mic setup the day before the tour while I had my studio setup to work on the video game. The drums were recorded in Reaper and everything else was recorded using the iPhone into MultiTrack.

Everything ended up working out pretty well. My friend Chris said that this song could have been a bit longer, and since he mentioned it I think he’s probably right. But I managed to pull the song together before heading out on tour with The Karl Hendricks Trio, and that has to count for something. We had a great time, played some good shows in Columbus and Bloomington with The Kyle Sowashes, and then capped off the tour with a killer show in Chicago opening for Bottomless Pit. It was a great crowd, all the bands really nailed their sets, and I got to see a bunch of old Pittsburgh friends who have moved out to Chicago over the years.

Here are a couple of dark photos (thanks flashless iPhone) of Bottomless Pit from the show at the Hideout in Chicago. These guys are seriously one of the best-sounding bands that I’ve ever heard live, and on a recording for that matter. I’m truly honored to share a stage with them. You should all be making plans to pick up their two records on your next vinyl shopping trip.

Thanks again to Kyle and the rest of the Sowashes for setting up the tour and for good company along the way. Thanks to everyone for coming out, and thanks to everyone here for continuing to listen.

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Monday, November 16th, 2009 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Week 10, The Early Years

The tenth song is called The Early Years.

This song marks an interesting chapter in my adventure into high-tech lo-fi recording. This project has required me to establish some rules of operation to survive the weekly deadline. One of them is that when I sit down to record something, I better get a recording and be ready to live with it. I discovered the downside to that rule for this week’s song. When I tracked the guitars and bass in Sonoma Wire Works’  FourTrack app, I ended up setting the metronome to a tempo that I later couldn’t live with – it was a little too slow to bring out the intensity that I was going for. Feeling confident that there was an easy high-tech fix rather than just re-recording everything, I imported the tracks into Reaper, sped up the playback a nudge, and then rendered the mixdown to a stereo track that I then uploaded into the  MultiTrack app.

Easy fix, right? Not so fast (pun only slightly intended). The problem that occurred to me, only after getting this far and leaving myself a day or so left to work on the song, was that when I imported the vocal and drum tracks back into Reaper, having been recorded at the adjusted pitch and speed, they wouldn’t match up with the original tracks and would be subject to the same playback speed adjustment and be sped up twice. Since I’m not out to make chipmunk-core (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I had to figure out a way to get out of this jam without starting over. Thank goodness for Reaper. I’ve focused mostly on the iPhone apps so far, but I have to put a solid plug in here for Reaper. The software comes with the ability to adjust just about anything that you could possibly think of. To the benefit of my song, that includes the ability to change the rate of speed for any track in your project with or without adjusting the pitch. That was all that I needed. I just brought the playback speed setting back to zero and adjusted the original bass and guitar tracks up to the faster rate of speed (1.086 to be exact). That left me with a little more work to do to get the tracks aligned properly and I was set.

With all of that said, I think the song ended up sounding pretty good. Sure, I would probably go back and re-record a lot of it, but that’s the fun of this project. There’s no time to go back and mess with things because I have another song to do.

The song is just a quick little rock number. There are two identical guitar tracks, a third guitar track for the solo, a bass track, a drum track, and one vocal track. The guitar and bass tracks were recorded as usual with the custom break-out cable. For the drums, I wanted to keep it really simple and give the Blue Mikey another test on live drums. This time I located the Mikey above the kit and out in front only about two or three feet. This resulted in some clipping, but I worked with it for this song and beefed up the drums using a simulated tube compressor plug-in on the back end. You can hear what I’m talking about around the 1:10 minute mark where the music fades out and the drums are left with a weird little fill before the guitar solo comes in. I was having a lot of fun with the fill and the solo for this song, I hope that comes through, but I don’t imagine that Yngwie Malmsteen and Neil Peart will be very impressed. I recorded the vocals using the iPhone mic, and I purposely clipped the mic and got a nice little bit of distortion on the vocals.

This is the week that I’m going on a quick tour with The Karl Hendricks Trio. We’ll be playing Thursday the 12th in Columbus, OH at the Treehouse; Friday the 13th at the Bishop Bar in Bloomington, IN; and on Saturday the 14th at the Hideout in Chicago, IL with Bottomless Pit (ex Silkworm and Seam). We have the distinct pleasure playing all of these shows with the great Columbus band, The Kyle Sowashes. It remains to be seen if I’ll find a way to get next week’s song ready before the trip or how it will come together, but somehow I’ll get a song up at some point next week.

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Monday, November 9th, 2009 Uncategorized 2 Comments

Week 9, Solace

The ninth song is called Solace.

Officially the longest song so far – it also has the fewest lyrics coming in at three lines.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Seam lately, and though this song probably sounds a little bit more like a Bedhead or The New Year song, I would attribute it to my recent Seam obsession. If you’re not already a fan of Seam, Bedhead, or The New Year, then I would recommend checking them out. Seam and Bedhead have been defunct for a good while, but The New Year is still alive, well, and cutting records.

Speaking of Seam, I have a couple degrees of separation from Seam’s last drummer, Chris Manfrin. Chris is my wife’s second cousin, and happens to be the current drummer in Bottomless Pit. Bottomless Pit is the completely amazing band of former Silkworm frontmen Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett. Chris and I have crossed paths as Bottomless Pit and the Karl Hedricks Trio have played several shows together here in Pittsburgh and on the road. The reason I bring it up is because the Trio will be playing a show with Bottomless Pit in Chicago in a couple of weeks at the Hideout on November 14. We’ll also be playing in Bloomington, IN on the 13th, Columbus, OH on the 12th, and right here in Pittsburgh this Thursday. The Kyle Sowashes, another fantastic band, are kind enough to play all of these shows with us (and book them, thanks Kyle). I hope to catch up with some of my Pittsburgh friends at Howler’s for this week’s show, and would love to see anyone else who is in reasonable proximity to the other shows.

Enough about that stuff, here’s the deal with the song:

It gets pretty huge-sounding thanks to seven guitar tracks. The vocal tracks and the three main guitar tracks were recorded into the iPhone using the Blue Mikey. I really wanted to capture the clean tone of my Fender Twin – you can hear that the Mikey captured the Twin + Telecaster sound pretty well as illustrated in the first section of the song. I added a couple more guitar tracks using my Rode NTK tube condenser straight into the laptop since I already had everything set up to record the drums. The next day I added a couple more guitar tracks and the bass track using the custom break-out cable (from Week 2) to mic my Orange practice amp. I wanted a nice full drum sound for this song, so I went back to the four mic arrangement from weeks 4 through 7 but with the Rode NTK out in front of the drum set. I like how they ended up sounding, and for once I’m not miserable about my performance (I don’t fancy myself a drummer). I also managed to work in another DopplerPad track. I created a 16-beat loop which I wanted to sit lightly in the mix and then imported it into Reaper. The loop plays throughout the song, but you can only really hear it during the first and last sections. DopplerPad is really a great iPhone app. I’m looking forward to what they have planned for the next update. I used the fantastic MultiTrack iPhone app again to record everything with the exception of the drums and a couple guitar tracks.

Anyway, that’s about it for this week. Don’t forget to come out and see Bottomless Pit, The Kyle Sowashes, and The Karl Hendricks Trio on our tiny whirlwind tour (which is about the right size for us dudes with kids).

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Monday, November 2nd, 2009 Uncategorized 8 Comments

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