This is meant as a central filing cabinets for more thoughts I have on the whole production business, including DIY vs. ‘pro studio’, ‘live vs. loops’ and various ‘how do you do that’ techniques that people ask about from time to time. I want to come back here and flesh these out as time permits.
If you’re looking for a link to the post on playing techniques. It’s here
But First A Sub-Rant On ‘Loops Vs. Real’
I almost never use ‘loops’ or MIDI ‘patterns’. I’m either thrilled or annoyed when people tell me my stuff sounds ‘mechanical’, but a lot of the time I want it to do that so I guess I’m doing OK. The only exception is for moments of intentional ‘sound design’. For example, I’ve become quite a devotee of ‘scratching’ so that sort of thing shows up here and there (eg. ‘Power’ on Beautiful Sounds.) But I never quantise, auto-tune, comp, loop, step-record otherwise ‘patch together’ sounds. If I can’t physically play it, I don’t do it.
Reason #1: I’d feel stupid playing a gig where I couldn’t re-create a part.
Reason #2: It’s cheating. Seriously. As quaint as that may sound in this day and age, there’s something of a ‘dojo’ atmosphere for me. It would be dishonourable to me. There’s something about having to ‘earn’ your notes that makes them better.
Reason #3: It smacks of collage. And collage strikes me as ‘dada’. Which means there’s an element of irony in not knowing what’s real and what’s not. And there’s already too much of that in the world, thank you very much.
How Do You Do That?
Most of my ‘techniques’ that people ask about are taken from what I now call ‘the golden age of recording’… ie. the late 70’s early 80’s, when analog recording reached it’s peak, budgets reached their peak but MIDI and looping hadn’t taken off yet so there was still a lot of emphasis on playing technique in music. A lot of the questions I get today simply wouldn’t get asked twenty years ago. But now, as we all grow old, people are forgetting the ‘how to’ as recording goes more into a ‘sample this’ mode.
The Hand Drum On “For Angela” (Home)
That’s a bodhran, an Irish frame drum played with a little stick.
The Chris Squire Bass Sound
I got this from Dave Meros of Spock’s Beard, who has, in my opinion, the best Rickenbacker bass sound in this history of history. I used it first with a Fender Jazz on ‘Paul’s Story” (Positive)) but it sounds a lot better with a real Rickenbacker as on ‘Suicide In A Hurry’ (Home) and Open Your Eyes (Compartments)). Basically, you run the bass through a guitar amp with all the bass rolled off, then run that through an EQ with the bass totally pumped and the nasty top rolled off. Somewhere in the middle you can compress the crap out of various aspects of the signal to emphasize what you need to.
The ‘Robot Choir’ Sound
I started doing this on ‘What A Wonderful World’ (Superpower) and then went overboard with it on ‘Open Your Eyes Part III’ (Compartments). This is simply me singing each part of the harmonies and then using AutoTune on ‘stun’ setting. Apparently there are gizmos that do that now via MIDI.
The ‘Boingy’ Repeating Pattern In The Background Of “This Time” (Positive)
That’s a berimbau (bow and arrow) from Brazil. The snare and tom sounds are samba parade drums.
The Washing Machine Percussion “Too Far” (Balance)
This is a custom sample library I made by sampling my washing machine into Halion (and then later Kontakt). The kettle drum is the outside frame of the washer and the timbale sounds, the inside of the washtub.
The Wah-Wah Sound On “Teflon” (Home)
That’s FM8 re-creating a DX-7 patch from a Donna Summer record ‘Dinner With Gershwin’. Back then people used the DX-7 for a lot of ‘auto-wah guitar’ type patches because the thing was so touch-sensitive.. the after touch made it easy to dig in and get extra funky.
The Wah-Wah Guitar Solo On ‘Suicide In A Hurry’ (Home)
That’s an auto-wah of some sort. The picking is fast enough that the filter doesn’t have time to open/close with each stroke so it creates a mish mash.
The Swooping Pitches During The Guitar Solo Of ‘I Lost My Mind’ (Home)
That’s the classic AM effect from old radios. It’s easily done with any 2 operator FM synth. I think I used a patch in Reaktor with a slow ADSR envelope tied to the pitch of one operator.
The Flute Sounds on “Home” (Home)
An alto tin whistle and a plastic soprano recorder. Heavily EQd.
Nice Horns On “Open Your Eyes Part II” (Compartments)
Sectional horns are not that hard. Whenever possible, I get out the alto sax and put in one ‘real’ part and that seems to help the ‘realism’. I think the key is to write out an arrangement and play each part as a separate track. Most times you hear sampled horns that sound crap it’s because a keyboard player was playing keyboard if you take my meaning.
The Stuttering Voices on “It’s A Racket” (Beautiful Sounds)
It’s just a tremolo effect pedal. You may recall this as being used a lot by Johnny Marr of The Smiths.
Is The Upward Pitch Bend On ‘Willing’ (Superpower) A Real Guitar?
Yes, it’s simply a Stratocaster with a couple of the tremolo springs removed so it bends ‘up’ as well as down. I don’t necessarily recommend this for general use, but it used to be fairly common.
The Percussion Section On Beautiful Sounds
It’s home made bamboo drums, recorded in one of the bedrooms (..er… ‘tracking rooms’). I talk about how they’re made here.