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Guitar finished through end of “Symbolic Dog Blues” July 9, 2009

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That’s right, another instrument is done, all the way through!

The clip below fades in at the third instrumental, where you will hear drums, bass, organ, and guitar through the end.

Excerpt fading in at third instrumental

Still to go are the Kazooka and all voices. Jimbob will take his turn singing, with Brit joining in for an extended duet. Then as Brit picks up the guitar, Jimbob will answer him on the Kazooka, with the usual character banter throughout. The only question is, will I finish it before summer ends? We can always hope.

For any newcomers:

The song you are hearing (assuming you clicked the gray triangle, ahem) is my exercise in learning to mix and produce audio recordings. I am playing all the instruments and doing all character voices and lyrics. The only exception is the drum kit, which I programmed on my computer.

When you hear gaps in the music, as if something is missing, that’s where I will be singing or speaking or playing the kazooka. Particularly at the end, in the gaping pause before the big finish, Brit will say, “Why do we always bury that bone?”

No, this is not your typical song! I am having too much Frank-Zappa-and-Weird-Al-inspired fun! And while I may not be the first person ever to rock out with a distorted kazoo, I’m probably the first you’ve heard of! We can always hope.

Find out more: hear the first two completed verses.

Demo: New Organ Track June 25, 2009

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photo of my keyboard

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately on Symbolic Dog Blues: recording the organ and bass for the third verse.

This brief mp3 features only the third verse, just to demo the organ. Vocals will be done later (singing and dialog), so it is very sparse at this point.

Imagine Jimbob crooning along: “When I was a little dog …” with more banter from Brit.

Organ demo, Symbolic Dog Blues, third verse

What about the first two verses?
Hear them here.

You may notice extra material after the standard twelve-bar verse. That’s where the two of them do an extended reprise of “Now that I’m a big dog …” as a duet. I can’t wait!

Chariots—Theme and Variations, 1986 June 3, 2009

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This recording was my most challenging of the high-school era, though the C-sharp Bach debacle runs a very close second.

It’s just me in my room playing three instruments in turn into my standard dual tape deck & mixer setup. What made it challenging were the three separate passes, the lack of any rhythm track, and making up most of the details as I went.

Chariots of Fire, Theme & Variations, 1986

(Come on admit it, you too thought Chariots of Fire was kind of cool back then.)

The instruments are a toy CASIO keyboard (beefed up with my guitar flanger), my trusty Phoenix Electra electric guitar, and a piano (Yamaha upright, with a $25 Radio Shack mic dangling inside). To keep a steady rhythm, I played the CASIO to a metronome, whose clicks were not recorded on the tape. Then I made a second pass to record the piano. The CASIO’s ethereally flanged tone turned out to be quite good at concealing the rhythm, so to keep the piano steady was a dangerous business! When the CASIO had finally dropped out of the recording, I continued the piano, keeping the tempo as steadily as I could by hand. In the third pass, I added electric guitar.

You’ll note that the CASIO does not return once it drops out. Due to the metronome technique, it can’t! Otherwise, the piano’s tempo would have had to match exactly in order to line up on the tape. Likewise, when the piano drops out, it too is gone for good. The guitar, going last, gets to do whatever it wants.

“Jimmie Jackson” hits the scene, 1984–1985 June 3, 2009

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It was sophomore year of high school. I had not heard Jimmie Hendrix’s guitar-solo version of the Star Spangled Banner, but I liked the idea and wanted to try it. I practiced the main part for about a week, and then the ending is all ad lib. At this time, I was branching out from the mere playing of notes, learning to control things like feedback, string resonance, pick harmonics, and other such effects. (Gosh, can you tell?) 😉

To record just one guitar, all I had to do was plug the amp into the tape deck. Audio buffs will notice the lack of “cabinet” sound, giving the guitar a thinner, squeakier quality than normal. This is because the easiest way to get a line-level output from my amp was to disconnect the speaker and plug the pre-amp straight into the tape, while I listened through headphones and wondered why it sounded “a little different.”

My Jimmie Hendrix tribute, 1984–1985.

“Brand New Day” with Jeff and Mark, 1986 May 24, 2009

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This laid-back, bass-led instrumental was recorded at my house with high-school friends Mark and Jeff. Mark had programmed his Korg synthesizer to play a flute-like pattern, and we all ran with it.

The synth starts us off, then my guitar comes in, followed by Mark on drums and Jeff on bass. Jeff has the lead, while Mark and I provide structure. We are all improvising within a sketchy overall plan, which included keeping the chord changes loose and independent for a carefree feeling. Mark is playing his drums into a single $25 Radio Shack mic, and Jeff and I are playing through $40 stomp-box effects.

Brand New Day, 1986

I have always loved this track. It’s 1986, low tech, low budget, live, straight to tape. There are glitches for sure, but the groove is priceless!

My First Recording Ever May 23, 2009

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Age: 14 (1984)
Musicians: my little brother (Jon, 10), my neighbor (Michael, 14), and me
Instruments: three electric guitars and a 1981 toy CASIO keyboard with drum patterns
Recording method: through a four-channel mixer, live to tape

The big birthday gift (or was it Christmas?) of 1984 was my first “real” electric guitar. Adding it to my $60 starter model, we had two guitars in the house. My brother, Jon, was ten—the same age as my son Jake today—and Jon had logged enough hours on the starter model to play eighth notes on its low E string.

Our neighbor, Michael, had no guitar experience, but by convincing him to cajole his parents into buying a guitar, we had increased our arsenal to three. Add to that our toy 1981 CASIO keyboard with built-in drum patterns (and tiny plastic keys!), and you have enough gear to make some smurf-sized trouble.

I came up with this E-minor / G-major theme that matched our combined lack of experience. Michael had two easy chords (including my trademarked super-easy thumb version of G major). Jon had a three-note bass line, and I doubled Jon or played a “lead” by wandering up and down the pentatonic scale I had recently learned. The CASIO provided the rhythm, but it would only start if you pressed a piano key, thus the “boop” when the drums kick in. We practiced for an hour or two, then made it all the way through with no terrible mistakes, and now it’s an MP3!

Symbolic Dog Blues—Two Verses Completely Complete April 22, 2009

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Not sure what a Kazooka is?
Get the back story,
and even more back story.

Here is the next episode of my Kazooka blues song. This takes us fully through the second verse and second solo, with all parts mixed in. Next, I get to record the third and final verse. I am excited!

Click to play “Symbolic Dog Blues,” two verses complete …

My mixing skills have come a long way! Though a professional could still make key improvements, I am very happy with the sound now. There is just one issue that still bugs me: Jimbob (with the low southern voice) sounds like three different people throughout the song, because I did his dialog in three different sessions. I thought I would be able to match these recordings, using various audio settings, but that continues to elude me. Do I need to learn more, or does all his dialog need to be rerecorded (“dang it!”) in a single session? That is something to ask a professional mixing engineer, whom I will hire when I have finished recording the rest of the song.

For whatever reason, Brit’s dialog—which likewise was done in three different sessions—has mixed together very nicely. I guess that means there is hope.

Who Are These People? …

Several friends have asked me who is doing these voices and playing these instruments. Folks, I am not organized enough to hire a bunch of musicians, on the clock, and tell them what to do and when to do it! I have done all the voice work and played all the instruments myself in my basement, making up most of the details as I go. All of these sounds are live instruments—if you’ll let me call a $1.29 kazoo and a tequila bottle “instruments”—except for the drum kit, which I programmed in software.

On the technology side, all audio is recorded through an Apogee Duet Firewire interface into my MacBook Pro laptop, running Apple’s GarageBand software. GarageBand comes preinstalled on every new Mac. The microphones are a Shure SM57 dynamic and a RØDE NT-1A condenser. I do own a really nice digital keyboard, but I have not used it yet in this song. It may or may not appear in the third verse.

Next …

The third and final verse cranks it up for the finish. I wrote sketchily about those plans here.

Thanks for listening!

My son’s first guitar solo April 14, 2009

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It’s another recording gig with my ten-year-old, Jake!

Lately, he loves to play with iDrum, a drum machine plugin that works with GarageBand on our iMac. He had made a sequence of beats, about forty seconds, and asked me to play bass and guitar tracks to it.

After we had knocked those out, I showed him three notes to play on a child-size four-string guitar. Since the music is all E minor and G major, the same three notes work, over and over, throughout. Jake does not play the guitar, so he spent some time practicing how to hold his fingers down, etc. Then we recorded it through the iMac’s built-in mic. We ended up with two good takes, so we double-tracked it—one take on the left channel and one on the right—for that classic larger-than-life stereo/chorus sound.

I thought that was the end of it, but Jake continued messing around with the effects. He turned on “Scorching Solo,” naturally, and I was surprised at how clear it sounds even with the little built-in mic!

Jake calls this “fanemana,” which rhymes with “Banemana.” He mixed it, so his lead part is kind of loud. At least he doesn’t have a girlfriend, so there were no arguments about “Doubly,” etc. (if you don’t get it, Google “Spinal Tap movie”).

Remember, the lead is basically a big ukulele—played haltingly by a ten-year-old! That’s the part that really makes me chuckle.

Symbolic Dog Blues demo, 2nd Solo April 8, 2009

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Here’s my latest presentable audio. This takes us fully through the second verse, with all vocals mixed, followed by the second instrumental. The character dialog that belongs in the instrumental is muted for now, because I still have a lot of outtakes to sort through.

New to this song? Get up to speed here. You can skip the video, come back, and continue.

Sans dialog, you’ll need to know that the blowing sound and “duck call,” shortly after Brit finishes singing the second verse, is Jimbob trying out the Kazooka. He figures it out quickly and proceeds to compete with the guitar.

We are still doing the shtick with the interrupting guitar, and I think I’ve pulled it off better this time. Still not ideal, but I’m hoping to improve it a little (mixing-wise) with each demo. It will make more sense when the rest of the dialog shows up.

Don’t miss the bass! Use headphones or external speakers.

Next, I have to deal with all those dialog outtakes, and then I get to record the third and final verse. Jimbob will take a turn singing, and then Brit will grab the guitar and jam until he has knocked Jimbob’s socks off. Or something. In any case, despite the slow-grind tempo (60 bpm !!), we will crank it up a notch.

And, I’ll restring the guitar for Brit. The strings you are hearing so far are (I think) the same ones I used to record the Banemana demo of Feb. 2008, and they were already dead then! I actually had to shift the tuning several times to bring various sections of the guitar neck into tune for various passages. It will be worth it, though, when Brit comes on the scene with his shiny new guitar sound.

I can’t wait to be done—will likely be dancing in the streets after the final mix! This song is fun, but after months of the slow grind, it will be nice to have a change.

Audio troubles fixed? Let me know. April 6, 2009

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I still don’t know exactly what was wrong, but I have moved all mp3 files to a different server to see if this helps.

If you had trouble playing certain audio files (if the “Buffering…” message showed forever), please try them again and let me know whether they work.

Sorry about all that. Thanks for your help.