I wonder how many times that you, my colleagues, go into the studio frustrated before before you even hit ‘record’.
There’s this sound you’re hearing that doesn’t sound quite like anything that you’ve ever heard before, and you’ve already determined that this elusive sound is integral to the overall identity of the tune.
How to get ‘that sound’ is the bane of the writer/composer who chooses to record in a home studio.
In a ‘normal’ circumstance, especially if one can be descriptive with the use of adjectives and onomatopoeia, a producer or an engineer can be great help in assiting in obtaining the particular sound we are trying to achieve. However many of us do not have the luxury of filtering our ideas through the gray matter of another individual. Some of us barely make enough money licensing our tunes to be able to break even or re-equip our studios with the necessary tools that tend to wear out all too quickly. And for those of us whose Muse requires us to strike when the iron is hot, waiting until whenever is not an option. There are also those of us who do not have the time to scroll through hundreds of parameters of digital samples because some of us lose the thread the second that another sound invades our ears. I know, because I happen to be one of these people.
I must admit that I’ve lost untold gorgeous ideas on account of not being able to nail down a sound or tone before having lost it forever to time.
But one day, quite by accident, it occurred to me how, on many of these occasions, to get precisely the sound that I was looking for. For several years, I had been studying a book written by Raymond Rizzo entitled ‘The Voice As An Instrument’. I found this book extremely helpful in learning the secrets behind accessing the chest, throat and head voice. I was desperately trying to figure out what to use to obtain a particular sound for a tune I had written some years earlier. A couple of other associates and I had recorded the tune one day, but we never released the compilation. To my ear, something was still lacking.
While trying to figure out what to do, and in order to keep the sound going on in my head, I’d been making a very good representation of the sound by using a combination of my mouth, teeth, tongue and nose. I won’t attempt to explain how I was achieving this sound, but it suddenly occurred to me to route the mic through an Alesis Nanoverb and literally record my vocalisations. Although I felt like a kid again, making the sound of a dump truck and a train with my mouth for effect, I was immediately pleased with the results, and proceeded to build more tracks in the same fashion, never intending for a moment to actually use the tracks on the finished product. I was monitoring the tracks with my headphones as I was recording them, deciding to top the racket off with one more track by humming through a plastic kazoo. As the work progressed and I panned and mixed, it dawned on me that I attained the perfect sound that I’d heard in my head an wound up using the tracks on the finished tune.
I know it may sound like a completely unconventional idea, and don’t expect anyone to simply take my word for it, so feel free to have a listen here:
I also used a number of other unique approaches to get the other tones, such as close-miking the electric guitar and sending this signal through an old Boss Dimension C footpedal, panning the stereo outs hard left and right. You can even hear my pick clicking on the neck pickup every now and then. I ended up using my trusty ‘goat milk can extension cabinet’ to nail down the guitar melody because it is so responsive to minute changes in my guitar tone.
For those of you who have no idea what I am referring to on this last point, feel free to cruise over to my open Facebook page. Seeing is believing: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=136135006409074&set=pb.100000377256126.-2207520000.1360372282&type=3&theater
The main thing to remember is not to forget that inspiration can come from the strangest places, but those elusive sounds may be as close as your imagination.
Johnny Nowhere is a self-publishing songwriter/composer and soul proprietor of Hell Paving Company (ASCAP)