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Make a little progress … April 29, 2009

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It is going slowly, but at least it is going:

Symbolic Dog Blues manuscript, third verse
Click to enlarge in a new window.

Delays, delays April 28, 2009

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Real Life is catching up to me. Several big projects outside the studio are now backed up, and weekends are getting pretty busy, which always happens at the end of our kids’ school year. So, I’ve reluctantly decided to limit studio time to about 25%.

I’ve been writing the final verse of “Symbolic Dog Blues” in little bite-sized sessions, and this morning I should be able to finish enough so that I can set up the rest of the drum track and record the next bit of bass and keyboard, followed by Jimbob’s singing and Brit’s dialog in between. An organ is going to replace the guitar for Jimbob’s verse.

That will take me up to Brit’s guitar solo, which finishes the song, and in which he is expected to Totally Rule. Hopefully by then, these other projects will be toast, and I’ll be back to the studio in earnest.

“Hey, wait a minute,” says Jimbob. “Who’s Ernest?”

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!

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.

Jimbob shows up a day late, dang it! April 1, 2009

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Yesterday’s recording sessions were productive, despite Jimbob’s lack of cooperation.

I got good Kazooka takes for the entire second solo, and I moved on to Brit’s dialog. Matching the tone and accent of Brit’s prior track was tricky, but I think I got there. We’ll see whether I still think so on today’s listen.

Then I gave Jimbob a try. His voice was kind of there and kind of not. I was running out of time for the day, so I started recording massive amounts of takes and retakes without much listening, hoping to get lucky on one good one. The project file is now in utter chaos!!, and I got discouraged last night just thinking about all the effort it will take to get that track under control, to organize all that material and compare all those takes to each other.

In the end, once all the music is in place the whole way through, it may be best to redo all of the voice work, giving each character an entire once-through in one session. That would eliminate the matching problem. No harm in trying, when the time comes.

In any case, Jimbob showed up this morning ready to go, and I was like, “Dude, where were you yesterday??” because Wednesday is when I do all the kid-driving and stay out all day doing computer work, no chance for recording. I’ve told him this! I’ll have to speak to his agent.

Symbolic Dog Blues: guitar and bass done up to Verse Three! March 30, 2009

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No audio to post yet (still needs some mixing), but I got a good several hours in the studio today and finished off guitar and bass through the end of the second solo. The song has only three verses, folks, so we are getting there!

But the further we go, the trickier it gets, because the dialog and Kazooka monkey-business becomes more and more interactive with the other instruments. Today, I had to leave holes for Jimbob’s lines and Kazooka playing, as the second solo is set to degenerate into a war between the guitarist and a very annoyed Jimbob, who will cap it all off by punching the guy out. This will then pave the way for Brit to grab the guitar and “give it a go” in the third verse. Naturally, the British gentleman will totally rule!! So I’ve left the guitar a little tame in the second solo, to give Brit some headroom.

But tomorrow morning, instead of mixing down a demo-so-far, I’ve decided to attempt Jimbob’s voice. Thus tonight, I am about to begin my Trademarked Tequila Technique, and we’ll see whether I wake up with Jimbob’s voice or not. If I do, that’s great, but then no audio for a while longer. If I don’t, at least you’ll get half-baked audio sooner.

Wish me luck!

Symbolic Dog Blues, verse 2: rough audio March 24, 2009

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The shtick: While Brit tries out the microphone, Jimbob becomes increasingly annoyed with the heavy electric guitar, which keeps cutting off his dialog.

Very little mixing, just a rough copy to give you the general idea. Guitar and bass are single takes from my session a couple of Fridays ago.

The new stuff is about 2/3 of the way through.
Click the triangle to start.

This will make more sense if you’ve seen the Kazooka video.

IMG_5383

Known Issues:

  • Bass is barely audible on laptop speakers, though deep and full w/ headphones or stereo.
  • Guitar transition may give impression that Brit has seized the guitar; that’s not the idea (yet).
  • Guitar tone may clash too much with Jimbob, even with the interrupting shtick.
  • Dead strings on guitar not intended to be final, but now I like it.
  • Jimbob’s voice done in a rush, tone and accent may not match verse 1.
  • Jimbob’s track done before guitar and bass; timing was a guess.
  • Brit’s track has mic pops, possibly static from fleece blankets, will need to filter or retake.

Symbolic Dog Blues, verse 2 March 17, 2009

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This song is beginning to rock!

Friday, I recorded bass and electric guitar for the second verse. The bass was instantly a keeper, but I wanted to restring the guitar and do it over. Listening Monday, though, I actually like the dead strings. Intonation is way off, but it ends up sounding kind of like slide work.

The main vocals on this verse were done back in Oct. or Nov., and they’re final. So, there’s only one track—Jimbob’s dialog—that I need to do over, for timing and accent. I will either retake it soon or just post it as a work in progress.

In any case, you will get to hear it a lot sooner than three months.

Look, a Song! A Kazooka! March 15, 2009

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Here is my song “Symbolic Dog Blues,” first verse, featuring … the Kazooka!

The Kazooka is a hard-rock electrified kazoo that I’ve been dreaming of for years, and this song’s only purpose was to experiment with it. That, and to give me a chance to learn some audio engineering skills. So, I kept the music simple. Ultra-simple.

Well, something there is about a kazoo—the song got really silly really fast, and pretty soon I was having ’way too much fun doing character voices. Maybe it’s because my heroes include Weird Al Yankovic and Frank Zappa.

Listen for the solo halfway through. I hummed the whole thing in one take!

By the way, the only reason I made a video is so I could use YouTube for blogging.

Total recording time: eight to ten hours.
Total engineering time afterward: three months!!

Three months??

Folks, I’ve had a lot of training on this audio gear, on designing the circuits and the algorithms. But using the gear to get the sounds you want is another story. Think of building a guitar vs. playing it. As a studio mix-master, I think I am now smarter than a fifth grader, barely!

Next …

The second verse is underway. We lose the acoustic guitar and blues vocalist, and we pick up a heavy electric guitar and bass, while Brit sings. Jimbob gets annoyed with the guitar, because it keeps cutting him off, so that’s fun. In the third verse, Brit will grab the guitar and rock out, much to Jimbob’s amazement. Goodbye, ultra-simple!

Hopefully, the next verse will not take three months!

Update: 2nd verse and solo posted. No three months this time!!