Category Archives: recording
God, I’ve been so busy lately. Anyway…
Basics of Harmony! Ready? Go!
It’s actually quite simple.
Let’s say you’re singing a very, VERY simple melody. You’re playing a C chord on the piano in steady quarter-note pulses. And you’re singing a simple melody, that you want to practice harmonizing (say, along with your phone, after you record a voice memo or demo or whatever).
You’re playing C… you’re singing a C note, in this rhythm:
One and…. (rest on 2) and threeeeee…. (hold through 4)
Let’s say the lyrics are this… “thinking, of you…. thinking, of you”
The best way to harmonize this line is in THIRDS. What’s a 3rd? Well, it’s a distance between two notes. Often, the root note of a chord (such as C, in a C chord), up to E (in a C chord, that’s the 3rd).
So, you demo’d your simple song… and you sang “thinking, of you” in this rhythm: 1 + (2) + 3 (4).
Now you’re singing along to your idea… but this time, you’re singing an E note (above your original melody), with the same lyrics.
It’s literally that simple.
In ALL catchy music, vocals are most commonly harmonized by a 3rd (up from the original melody). You can also harmonize DOWN a 3rd (such as singing an A note while the lead vocal sings a C). This isn’t always a good choice, in a major key, because it creates minor harmony, or possibly a country thing (between the vocals and piano, you’re singing and playing a C6 chord, which is very oldschool country).
Less common are 5ths, because as you sing 5th harmony.. you create what is sometimes weird-sounding, called “parallel 5ths” (it’s a classical rule you don’t always want to break). Another good harmony is up a 6th. Or 4ths/suspensions.
I’ll try to find some audio examples of this on YouTube, for a future post… or an addition to this post.
Vocal harmony is friggin’ awesome.
Go listen to the cranberries “Dreams”, and “Linger”. And then Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal”. And furthermore, anything Jacob Collier does on YouTube (that dude is out of this world insane…. I have no friggin’ idea what he’s harmonizing, most times I watch his videos). But, if you’re looking for pretty and simple— how about also checking out Band Of Horses’ “Marry Song”, or anything by the indie slowcore band Low.
Stay tuned for the next post… I’ll post audio examples and YouTube vids.
I played a big part in developing and popularizing this cool MIDI-based software, that allows you to quickly do a lot of cool MIDI stuff. I last talked about it a few years ago, as there was a big update to version 2.5. Now, RC has been updated to version 3.1, with a new user interface, and many more features. I invite all of you (especially those of you who love MIDI composition) to check out the demo. It’s worth your time.
A little history:
RapidComposer was created by Attila Mezei, a Hungarian software developer. When RapidComposer began, it had a very rough start, because it crashed so much. But I discovered it, and saw its potential, so I emailed Attila, and offered to help him work a lot of the bugs out, and do a tutorial series on it, as well as help him develop phrases and new soundfonts which I created from scratch. I did all of this for version 2.5, and in exchange, Attila gave me a license for the full version of the software. RC 3.0 was released in spring 2016, and offered a lot more than 2.5.
Six years after RC debuted, its fanbase grew exponentially, and I am really happy for Mr. Mezei. He truly has created something amazing that no other software developer has done yet, and with so many features.
Check out some of the videos created by a very helpful member named “Yellukhan”:
Now, this guy uses RapidComposer, but with realistic virtual instruments from Kontakt and such… the built-in sounds when you download RapidComposer are soundfonts (created by Attila, and myself). They may not be very realistic, as you get the best sounds when RapidComposer is controlling virtual instruments such as Omnisphere, EZKeys, or any realistic Kontakt library (found in Native Instruments’ “KOMPLETE” series). But it’s pretty impressive, what RapidComposer can do… if you take the time with it. So again, check it out and let me know what you think! Comment below… especially if you’re a MIDI geek!
1. Get it done. Don’t make everything perfect.
Write all the time, and stop striving to reinvent the wheel. You’ll never write “In My Life” or “Fix You”. Neither will I. They’ve already been written. Just write. A lot. Daily. Slow and fast songs. Silly stupid songs. Serious ones. Get it done, and stop giving a damn what people think.
2. Get opinions from those you care about.
You made a 5-song digital EP? Awesome. Check in with friends. Send mp3s via email. “What do you think of the EP? Which song is your favorite? Am I onto something, here?”
Low-sung verses. Higher-sung choruses. Slow guitar strums with a fast beat. Or the opposite. Piano songs. Acoustic songs. Mix it up. Maybe a song entirely with bass guitar, sax, and drums (the band Morphine made a career of a similar sound).
4. Forget what you know.
Know a lot about music theory? Who cares? Forget about it, when you write. Detune your guitar into some weird altered tuning so you are forced to try new shapes with your fingers. Go into a sound in your keyboard that makes little sense. Don’t always run to the grand piano preset. Throw an effect pedal in between your keyboard and computer, and see what comes about. Experiment with a loop pedal. Take chances!
5. “I’m not as good as…”
Never compare yourself to others. Friends of mine are insanely talented. INSANELY. Their keyboard skills make me want to quit playing keys. Their singing voices are insanely trained. So what? I am not a trained singer, but I can sing, and harmonize. I can play basic piano stuff, but I cannot play difficult passages or songs. I can’t shred a blues solo, and my fingerpicking is capable, but nothing spectacular. Doesn’t matter. I focus on my strengths. Do the same for yourself.
6. Focus on the end result, the goal, the reason you do this.
Stop dissecting every step along the way when you’re writing and recording. “Too much string noise when my finger scraped the strings, there”… or “my voice cracked a little, in that part”…. “my harmony sounds a little weird, but ok…” Who cares?! Roll with it. Then listen to the song when it’s done, then make new decisions and choices. I wrote a song years ago. Recorded it in late 2014. It was cool, but I decided I hated it when listening to it again, last week. I changed the keyboard parts, and sped up the song while retaining the same key (thank you, computers). Now I love the song, and it’s infinitely better. Took two years to tweak it. Needed to give it a rest… listen, and then all the “here’s how I need to change it” brainstorming came out, within one listen of the song. I’ll release it soon… hopefully. End goal, right?
7. Be YOU.
Be yourself. Always. Stop singing like John Mayer or Ben Howard. Sing like YOU. I taught myself to sing listening to Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Ben Lee and Jimmy Eat World a lot in the late 90s. My voice is similar to theirs, and I love that. My songwriting style is similar, in some ways, too. It’s simple. It sounds like me. I can’t do Sigur Ros, and I can’t do Jason Mraz. I can’t do Bon Iver unless I’m playing with my vocal harmonizer pedal and lots of reverb. I fuck around, and roll with whatever sounds good to me. I love so many singers (and TONS of female singers, too) but I can’t do them. I can only do me.
8. Minimalist. Simplicity.
I saw an acoustic singer-songwriter a month ago. Too many fancy chords, rhythms, fancy-pants nonsense. His shit was forgettable. Then a few days later, I saw another dude. Lots of G and Cadd9 chords with a capo. His lyrics, delivery, and vibe of the song spoke to me way more intensely than the first guy.
Matthew Sweet wrote “Sick Of Myself” in 10 minutes. He thought it was a stupid song. Turned out to be one of his biggest hits, and he never regretted putting it on his 1995 album, “100% Fun.”
Jason Mraz… most of his really easy shit… A Beautiful Mess, I Won’t Give Up… SIMPLE AS HELL. And perfect. John Mayer’s “Gravity”? NO ONE CAN ARGUE HOW FUCKIN’ GREAT THAT SONG IS. Simple, and perfect. People like shit that they can just vibe to. They don’t need masturbatory musicianship. They want something that speaks to their souls. Make music like that, and change the world.
I can do shit solo. And often do. But I also come up with some great shit, working with people. Don’t be afraid to. It’s important.
10. Rest. Think. Watch TV. Read. Kill it, but chill, too.
Rest. Rest. Rest. REST. Stop working so hard. Hell, just yesterday, I killed it with my friend Mike. We tracked three new hip-hop songs to beats we threw together in a few hours. We shot a video session for YouTube. We shot video as he tracked vocals, so we can have material for YouTube. We ate food and talked about nutrition and working out. We took a break and hung out. But in 8 hours, we did a LOT, and killed it. Today, I plan on doing the same. But first, I needed four hours to chill, blog, and help all of YOU. Then I’m going to hit the studio hard and work on shit. It’s 5pm. I have til about midnight. I’ll get it all done, and I’ll take a break in between. Don’t forget to fucking REST. Seriously. Ok? Cool. Get to work. Or chill.
Have a tip to share? COMMENT!!! 🙂
From Soundfly…. I recently discovered this course while researching some material for my 9th annual songwriting/recording summercamp at the school I teach at in the Philly ‘burbs, and I think this course is really, really helpful for recording a demo at home and on the cheap…… ALL instruments, too. The entire course is two and a half hours, and well worth your time.
Do check it out, and check out more of what Soundfly.com has to offer… all of their courses are long and useful, not just this one. Really dope site.
What do I mean by this?
Stuff everyone knows, but what no one does: stop buying shit. Stop assuming the next piece of gear will make your recordings more professional and completely make your songwriting a thousand times better.
I think back to 2002-2004. I bought SO much shit.
I got a steal on a Novation Nova IIx synthesizer in late 2002. It was $999 from Sam Ash. Retailed at the time about $2500. I have no idea why it was so cheap… maybe a closeout or something. But I bought it. I loved it. I used it for a cool pad sound in the Beauty’s Confusion song “Blue Deluge”, in the chorus. And that’s all I used it for.
A thousand dollars for a cool patch sound, and an arpeggiator that was extremely fun to fool around with. The patches were all insanely fun. It was a great analog-modeling synth.
Luckily, I was able to sell it for about $1250 after getting bored with it, a few months later.
I also remember, a few months before picking up the Nova IIx, I bought an E-Mu Proteus 2000 rackmount for $800 from Sam Ash. I even bought a $200 “super-realistic strings” chip upgrade, that allowed the rackmount to add a bunch of sounds to it. $1000 for sounds that ultimately sounded pretty damn dated, a few years later.
The rackmount soon grew to be a pain in the butt, so I sold it at a loss, and instead, bought the E-Mu Proteus Keys, which was the “keyboard” version of the Proteus 2000:
This keyboard moved with me to the Philadelphia area, in 2004. I sold it about a year later, for around $300 (with the $200 string chip).
You want to hear the best part? Several years ago, E-Mu released the Proteux VX virtual instrument for free, with all the sounds from the Proteus 2000. A mere 65MB download. And it sounds exactly like the hardware.
In late 2002, I also bought a used Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (had to drive three hours to pick it up). It cost only $450. I sold it about a year later for exactly the same price (someone drove two hours to pick it up). I loved that thing. They now sell for $1500 used. Should have hung onto that one. But I’ve found that cheap or free virtual rhodes instrument VSTs/plugins sound as good as the real thing.
I bought a Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer five separate times in my life, and sold it five separate times. First one I got for only $300 (broken joystick/pitch bend). Sold for $400. The others, I bought for slightly more and sold for slightly more about 6 months to a year later. Last one I bought in 2011 cost me only $650 (locally through craigslist). Turned around and sold it for $900 five months later (also through craigslist). I’ve found the TAL U-No62 virtual synth, and its big brother, TAL U-NO-LX sound EXACTLY like the real thing. The first thing is free. The big brother’s only $40 or so. Get a cool midi keyboard that has assignable knobs, buttons and sliders, and you can control every parameter of the virtual version, and hot damn, it almost feels like and plays like the real thing.
I have a habit of doing this a lot. Oftentimes it’s just to make ends meet and pay bills. Sometimes it’s all about checking out gear and messing with it, and then parting ways with it with someone more excited and/or experienced.
Since I play everything, I’m prone to buying a wider variety of gear. But…
These days, my studio is so damn stripped-down, it’s ridiculous. I own a handful of gear, but only the shit I truly, truly need.
In the early 2000s, I collected synths, almost… Juno-60, Casio CZ-1000, Roland Juno-1 and Juno-2, Proteus Keys PK-6, Kawai K4, Roland D-50…. what the hell was the point? None of that shit was helping me finish songs.
I owned one microphone (one) from early 2003 to 2009. An AKG C2000B. I still use it. Past few years, I’ve bought more and more mics. They’re always useful.
Keyboard-wise? An M-Audio Oxygen 61, to control ALL of my virtual synths (most of which are freeware/great-sounding). The other keyboard I own is a Yamaha P-60 digital piano (weighted keys). I teach on it and love the feel of it. I’ve owned the same one since 2005.
Drums? I have a Pacific CX kit I play out with (white marine pearl). Got it on trade. I record all my acoustic drum stuff with a Sonor Safari bop kit. My cymbals are cheap, but awesome-sounding Paiste 404 crashes and a ride, and New Beat hi-hats by Zildjian. I own a second Sonor Safari, that I converted into an electronic/triggered kit on the cheap.
Guitars? Not many. A couple acoustics (Martin and Yamaha). I have an Agile Les Paul clone ($300 with custom Seymor Duncan pickups), and a Gibson SG Special. I used to own a Fender strat, which I miss. I have a Fender jazz bass for all my bass needs. I have a modest pedalboard with relatively cheap pedals. I have a Vox practice amp, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb ’68 reissue, for live use.
I have your typical “must-haves” for any home studio in 2015/2016– a good USB audio interface, studio monitors, dual flat-panel widescreen displays, mic stands, different mics, a harmonizer, cheap mic preamp, and a midi drum pad (Maschine MK2)… and that M-Audio Oxygen 61.
Anything else is just not necessary.
Trim the fat. Utilize negative space in your home studio. Basically everything you need to record good music can be found “in the box” (on your computer). All of my effects (reverb, delay, compression, etc)… all “in the box” (mostly the stock plugins included with Reaper 4 and Reaper 5). The less options, the better.
It took me like 15 years to realize I didn’t need most of the shit I bought. Don’t be stupid like me. Research, and buy only what you need. Even if you’re a multi-instrumentalist…. you don’t need much.
via SoundOnSound magazine…. this is without a doubt, the best article I’ve ever read on vocal recording in a home studio, from start to finish. Seriously, this is it:
This is a FANTASTIC, easy-to-follow video, on how to make high-quality acoustic panels for your home studio, on the cheap. One of the best videos I’ve found, to date.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqZPhfxSaTk&w=400]
This entry will probably raise the price of all this stuff I’m about to mention, but here goes, anyway…
CAD M179 mic
Sells new for about $120. I have read that pro engineers LOVE this mic and it is extremely versatile. Haven’t used it, but no one has a bad thing to say about this mic.
MCA SP-1 mic
Sells new for about $60. Apparently it is one of the most-used inexpensive mics in studio situations. From lead vocals to drum overheads, the SP-1 is a go-to mic.
Can be found new for only $180, or used for $125. Need 8 more channels for your home studio, via ADAT/optical? Nothing can be found cheaper. It has 8 XLR ins and 8 XLR outs (but you don’t need the outs if you’re using the optical connection for the 8 additional inputs). It’s relatively quiet, as long as you don’t push the gain too hot (sounds like ass at near-max gain). A lot of audio interfaces come with optical inputs these days, including the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
Sells new for only $69. A 2-input USB audio interface with phantom power? And by Focusrite? There isn’t a better deal out there, if you’re getting into home recording. Good friend of mine calls it the “cute little hamburger”. It rules.
Best condenser mic for the price, in my opinion. $95. It sounds great on female or male vocals, and acoustic guitars, too!
And, the best CHEAP ones…..
I hate and have hated looking for VST plugins. When I first discovered them in the early 2000s, I was addicted to finding the best free ones. Occasionally I get addicted still today, searching for newer stuff I may have missed. Let me give you a list of the absolute best… and, in the interest of saving time, I’m not going to include a screenshot of each. Just trust me when I say, these are the best free ones, and the best cheap ones. If I didn’t include a link, just google it, you’ll easily find where to download them.
FREE Grand Piano
PianoOne (by Yichi Wang). Download from http://www.supremepiano.com. It needs a little tweaking of the “release” fader (bump it up from minimum, just a little beyond it) and enjoy the wonderful (and quite realistic) piano sounds you get from it.
mda Piano (by Maxim Digital Audio). Extremely lightweight. Very nice. http://mda.smartelectronix.com/ Make sure you click the “VST Synths” link at the top (hard to read).
FREE Electric Piano (Rhodes and Wurlies)
Lazysnake (by Andreas Ersson). Destroys most others. Has wah, tremolo, overdrive, etc. Sick-sounding Rhodes and not-quite-Rhodes. They always sit in a mix perfectly. Extremely useful plugin.
Legacy Collection by GSi/Soundfonts.it. MrRay73 and MrRay73 version II are GREAT Rhodes emulators, as well as Mr Tramp, fur Wurlitzer 200 piano sounds. Also included in the collection is a great Hammond B3 emulator called Organized Trio. When you first insert the plugins, they nag you to donate, but there are no sound limitations. You just have to wait a few seconds to edit the parameters, but they work, and they work great. Download at http://www.genuinesoundware.com/?a=showproduct&b=37
Synth1 (by Ichiro Toda). This is one of the first, and the best. The presets and banks (made by users for over a decade) can be difficult to install/add, but this thing is so programmable and so damn good-sounding, it’s a shame to pass it up. Also has a step arpeggiator built-in. Sick. Gives Nord Leads a run for their money, no doubt. http://www.geocities.jp/daichi1969/softsynth/#down
ANYTHING and EVERYTHING from Togu Audio Line (TAL). Specifically the TAL UNO-62 (a perfect Juno-60), and Noizemaker, which is so insanely useful, I can’t even get into it. Plus, nearly all parameters are MIDI-learnable (if you have a nice midi controller with lots of knobs/faders). Download all their completely free plugins (for Mac AND PC!) here—- http://kunz.corrupt.ch/Products
Aethereal (by Psychic Modulation) – ambient/pad heaven. Gives Atmosphere a run for its money, and then some. The demo is limited to two notes polyphony, and one audio output, but it’s worth it, believe me. And the price is right for the full version. Lots of great presets. http://www.psychicmodulation.com/aethereal.html
Crystal (by Green Oak) – mentioned EVERYWHERE online. A must-download. http://www.greenoak.com/crystal/dnld.html
This is a tough one. There aren’t many good ones at all. I’d recommend using a free sampler such as ShortCircuit. You can load your own wav samples of drum one-shots, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of, once you do. There are tutorials on YouTube on how to use it. Stick with version 1.1.1, and stay away from ShortCircuit2, as it’s very unstable and crashes constantly. http://www.vemberaudio.se/shortcircuit.php
Kirnu (by Arto Vaarala). This is one of the most easy-to-use, beautiful-looking, and powerful arpeggiators, PERIOD! Throw it before your favorite synth plugin in your DAW, and have tons of fun. http://www.kirnuarp.com/kirnu1/index.html
CHEAP, amazing stuff
For drums / sampling / hip-hop production
Poise (www.onesmallclue.com). Windows-only (but hopefully Mac, soon!) Who the hell needs an MPC anymore, or even Native Instruments’ Maschine? (I love Maschine, for the record)… but, if you’re on an insanely tight budget, all you need is Poise and an Akai MPD18. Poise is $49. The MPD18 is $99 new. Watch tutorial videos I made, on YouTube, to see how freakin’ awesome it is. I can never live without this amazing plugin.
CTHULHU by Xfer Records. It’s like Kirnu, but 1000 times more powerful, fun, and intuitive. If you like arpeggiators…. you NEED this. Comes with a shit-ton of classical chord sequences, that you can arpeggiate, or create your own (playing songs essentially with one key at a time). INSANELY awesome. Only $39. http://www.xferrecords.com/products/cthulhu
Also, when you subscribe to (or buy a physical copy of) Computer Music magazine, you get the “CM COLLECTION.” LOTS of great stuff, in there, too. That magazine introduced me to the absolute power of recording with a computer, when I first bought an issue in early 2000. The technology has moved so fast, though. So new issues can be intimidating… however, they always include a chapter (in EVERY ISSUE) called CM Basics or whatever, and they cover everything you need to know, if you’re new to this.
What are some of YOUR favorites?