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Overuse Of the Word ‘I’ Reaching Epidemic Proportions Worldwide

Having received more than a few inquiries from my Facebook friends and ReverbNation associates about my intermittent activity on the Internet, the following explanation is offered. As most everyone knows, these sites are capable of consuming huge hunks of time and it is with this knowledge that I have made a conscious decision to avoid the computer in order to devote all of my energy to songwriting, recording, and turning wrenches. Therefore, for the past month or so, I’ve been immersed in recording, guitar repair, and cylinder head work.

Inasmuch as the songwriting portion goes, there is, what I like to refer to as ‘passive’ songwriting. That is to say that I don’t ‘try to write’. It has become my modus operandi to simply let the music and songs come to me as they will, and the process works out rather well. Once in the ‘recording mode’, the songs just begin to filter down, and all that is left for me to do is to get onto tape what I hear in my head. That may sound somewhat esoteric and arcane, but this is simply the best way to describe it.

If I try to write, everything tends to turn out sounding redundant and contrived. This I hate. Once the process begins, however, it is something that is quite constant, and I find it more conservative in regard to total time spent to give myself over to it completely until such time that it ceases of its own accord, thus my absence from the Internet sites is duly noted and addressed.

I do like to post a blog on occasion when a subject comes to mind. It helps me keep up appearances.

A bit more on writing to those who may be interested.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was reading a piece I’d written earlier.

“You’ve used the word ‘I’ too many times,” he observed. It was humble pie directly to the face. My own advice had come back to haunt me.

“True,” I conceded, “but I was writing about me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you can always reword a sentence to avoid overuse. You used it six times in one sentence.”

He was right. I was identified with my subject matter and there had been a strong emotional attachment, which explained everything.

For many years now, it has been a practice of mine never to write a song in first person. To my way of thinking, this leads to no good. It also is the best way to develop writer’s block, create boring subject matter and come across as being self absorbed. When one writes in this fashion, the possibilities are immediately limited to ones’ own experiences. I don’t intend to speak for anyone else, but life has been pretty boring insofar as writing songs about me goes.

At best, all first person writing is good for is a couple of sappy love songs, and few more blues songs after the relationship has gone kaput.

Now, we all can name songs which have been written about courtship, and then there’s a couple of wedding tunes, but can anyone name a ‘We’ve Been Married Twenty Years’ song? Not too many ‘Honey, I’m Picking Up a Gallon of Milk and a Newspaper, See You at Six’, or ‘Meatloaf Serenade’ songs out there, are there?

Sure, there are songs full of promise, and tunes such as ‘I Love You More Today Than Yesterday’, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Dude was married when he wrote that.

This isn’t to reflect badly on marriage, it’s just that there’s such a limited amount of material there.

Unless you want to count that stupid ‘Pina Colada’ song by that guy whose name I don’t even remember.

Oh yeah. Rupert Holmes. What a dillweed.

Damn it.

Now that nonsense will be playing in my head all day long and I won’t get any work done. Sheesh. I hate that freaking song.

See why I stay off of the computer when I’m trying to write and compose?

Recording Mythology, Pt. 46 / Twenty Years After Hell Froze Over

 

New Years Eve.

 

I didn’t have anything to do.

 

I refuse to give the police state more leverage against me, so I didn’t get on the road at all, nor did I set off any fireworks.

 

The county that we live in has outlawed fireworks, restricting our ability to celebrate freedom from oppression. Right. Naturally, thousands of normal folks are forced to become ‘outlaw for a night’ and take the scenic thirty minute drive just over the county line where mobile firework stands appear and disappear within a week. Needless to say, the skies around here burn on the holidays.

 

The dude down the road must spend a fortune on thunderous nuclear warheads which he patriotically detonates with fierce defiance every July 4 and New Year, so we just watch his money explode instead.

 

I quit drinking.

 

I no longer allow the government to tax my pleasure. It had become apparent that they, as well as big alcohol, profited far too much from addiction, depression, and violence, and I despise crony capitalism. I still miss a good glass of wine, but my CFS had gotten in the way anyhow.

 

As far as pot goes, I used to enjoy it when it was a inspiring buzz rather than a useless stone. The new stuff sucks. And once the government gets a taste of the revenue they can obtain in taxing the stoners in Colorado, we’ll see who “won”.

 

Coffee is my drug of choice now. French Roast.

 

To be completely honest, I had no yearly resolutions to make. I work on big things in a nine year cycle, so this was a typical night for me.

 

I decided to settle in and review a concert documentary which I’d stumbled across a few days before.

 

Jeez,” I thought aloud when I came across the DVD, “twenty years have already passed since this concert was recorded!? Where has the time gone?”

 

Believe it or not, 2014 marks two decades since hell reputedly froze over.

 

The Eagles formed innocently enough back in 1973 when Glenn Frey and Don Henley sat down to try and write a few songs together. Things coalesced, and the band got really big, really quickly.

 

In the ten years that followed, there were minor personnel changes. There was the addition of Don Felder, later the departure of Bernie Leadon, the addition of Joe Walsh, and finally the departure of bassist Randy Meisner whose shoes were filled as well as could be expected by singer/bassist Tim Schmitt.

 

The perfection that such an act expects from themselves and one another takes a toll over the years and as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In many ways it had gotten to where they were competing only with themselves. By 1980 the fellows couldn’t stand to look at each other so they parted ways.

 

The friction was supposedly the worst between the two who had started it all. When asked if the band would ever perform together again, a frustrated Henley replied, “Yeah…when hell freezes over.”

 

Tough odds to overcome. 

 

But hell froze over fourteen years later. The members last comprising the band were carefully reunited with the assistance of Irving Azoff, everybody shook hands, and rehearsals quietly began.

 

If only everything could be done so expertly.

 

Now, I was always impressed, above all else, with the quality of the songwriting of the members, thus was a fan of the band off the bat, so my objectivity in this respect may be drawn into question, but few acts have garnered my monitary support throughout their entire existence, and the Eagles were no exception.

 

There was one album which I didn’t buy due to my severe distaste for all things cowboy.

 

Never caring to stand out, I certainly never have gone out of my way to fit in.

 

The explosion of the urban cowboy fad in the mid seventies was too much for me. I heaped scorn on anybody who wore boots, and especially a hat. Pure Prarie League, Michael Murphy, Marshall Tucker, and many other acts that ‘went cowboy’ received the butt of my ire. To this day, I do not own a copy of the Eagles ‘Desperado’ album, so that should prove something.

 

Finally, the band hit their stride in bucking trend and playing to their strengths. Dead-splat in the middle of the disco era, the Eagles were writing gems like Hotel California.

 

The performances presented in this reunion concert were absolutely spot on.

 

Most of the best songs throughout the band’s tenure were there, and the absence of Meisner was held in silent respect by their not attempting to perform any of the tunes which he’d penned and sang. A sensible move. Schmitt did a couple of his own memorable songs instead. He’s a fantastic bassist, and also sings as good a high harmony as anyone, but there’s only one Meisner.

 

This is a sticking point for me: I’ll always remember Tim as being a member of the band Poco. He wasn’t in the Eagles long enough to replace the image I have of Meisner in the lineup. To be honest, it took me a while to get comfortable with Walsh as a member of the band. He’ll always be part of the James Gang to me.

 

The guys claimed to be nervous their first time out before an audience in so long, but once on stage, the professionalism which they’d honed from previous years and countless tours came back in a performance which melded the five into one, and it all appeared so effortless.

 

When the band began the opening chords to songs such as ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘Wasted Time’, I held my breath. These fellows were really putting themselves to the test, but they delivered with astounding accuracy. This was no half-assed concert put on on in an attempt to make some fast money. It was obvious that the band was hell-bent on proving, not only their durability, but their merit, and they did it with colors flying.

 

Professionalism at this level is something to behold, and nothing short of mesmerising.

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 45/ Ghosts In The Machine

Recently, I was at a client’s home tuning the family console piano when he asked me if I’d like to take a look at his latest acquisition.

This fellow is in the habit of acquiring some pretty interesting stuff from time to time, so of course I told him that I’d be glad to have a gander at his new toy, at which point he held up a finger and slipped away, reappearing momentarily with an old acoustic guitar case. He popped the latches, opened the case and extracted an old Martin.

“Oh! An old 00-18!” I enthused.

He peered into the soundhole, “Ahh….yes, indeed it is. Reputedly a 1961. Here, tell me what you think about it,” he said as he passed it to me while I still sat at the piano bench.

As I began to chord the instrument and play, my smile slowly melted. I held the guitar out and looked at it in disbelief. All it wanted me to do was play The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” on it.*

“Where did you get this guitar?” I asked him. “This is awful. This guitar has hardly been played.”

“Why do you say that? What do you mean?” he asked with a confused look.

“As you are well aware, these instruments are made of several types of wood from different trees. Well, it’s only through continued playing that the seperate pieces of wood become familiarised with one another, and that the instrument becomes whole, and learns to talk. I don’t mean to get all esoteric with you, but these things open up as they are allowed to resonate. They have to be played before they can learn to talk.”

“This guitar isn’t familiar with itself at all,” I said, staring at it, “It doesn’t speak music; it doesn’t even recognise it’s own voice. This is a terribly sad guitar. It has spent nearly it’s entire existence in this coffin of a case,” I continued, waving at the case in disgust. “The worst kind of afterlife for a living tree, is to be killed, and then turned into an instrument that is never allowed to breathe, let alone speak. This poor guitar only knows a couple of songs.” I said.

My client stood there with his arms folded looking somewhat incredulous.

“So where did you get it?” I asked, handing it back to him.

“Well, I can’t believe that you can tell all that just by holding it and looking at it, but you are correct indeed,” he said, “it has hardly ever been played.”

He went on to tell me the story behind the 00-18. It was a tale that is repeated far too many times: Some well meaning parents invest in a really nice guitar to present to their only child on his 13th birthday. The kid plays around on it until it becomes apparent how much work is going to have to be invested in becoming proficient on the instrument, at which time the guitar goes back into the case and into the closet, never to be pulled out except when the owner moves from place to place, or someone wishes to see it.

If android phones had been invented back in the 60s, a lot of the guitars made at the time would still be like new, but luckily, most kids weren’t as lazy back then as they are now.

Most like-new old guitars (or ‘closet classics’ as Fender likes to call their clones), are really a mixed blessing when you find one, and almost every one that I’ve ever played hits me on a visceral level in the same way.

Guitars that are destined to become pretty but miserable trophy wives for some wanna-be guitar player are sad instruments once they’re discovered and unchained. They can’t rock and they can’t play the blues. They haven’t been taught any language by their owners.

They sound like Buddy Holly’s Stratocaster did, new and virgin.

It’s weird, but the first thing that most players will do is play some lick from the appropriate generation when they first pick up one of these instruments. It is as if that is all that the instrument knows how to do. It is the only language. The musician merely responds; he is generally unaware that he is attempting to communicate with the instrument.

There is no soul, no mojo, no voodoo. Only the ghosts of dead trees.

It may only be my imagination, but when there are ghosts in these instruments, I hear their stories, they talk to me.

My client had obtained this particular Martin via the original owner in lieu of losses contracted through the same. He was hoping to recoup some of those losses in the sale of the guitar.

He told me that he had already received several offers of varying amounts, but none that quite suited his expectations.

“Why not give it to one of the girls?” I asked him, knowing that both of his daughters played.

“Oh, it’s too nice for that; it would just get banged around at coffee houses and stuff. I’d like to see someone get it who would really take care of it.”

“Dude,” I replied with a bit of exasperation in my voice, “this damn guitar has been ‘taken care of’ its entire existence. What it needs, is to be played for a change. Why not forget about top-dollar this time.” I suggested, “Do this guitar and your karma a favour instead and let the player who you believe will give it the best voice have it. This instrument deserves a home and a loving pair of hands. You owe that much to it.”

That’s how I feel, and that is my advice to anyone who has such an instrument tucked safely away inside some closet: Play it or sell it to someone who will.

 

 

* The song was originally an old Blue Ridge Mountain folk tune called “Tom Dula” which ingeminated a true story. I have been unable to determine who the songwriter was.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 36 / Train the Brain and the Hands Will Follow

Why didn’t I just listen to my mother?

I tried to play guitar for eleven years in a wasteland of stupidity. Learning the hard way only taught me one thing: that I shouldn’t have wasted a lot of time learning the hard way. But as they say, experience is the best teacher.

At the age of thirteen, I wanted to play the bass guitar. My mom, sensing temporary infatuation, said, “We already have a piano. If you want to learn music, you should take lessons and practice, and then once you learn music we can see about a bass guitar.” Shucks. I didn’t want to learn music, I wanted to play the freaking bass.

A few years later, I scored a very cheaply constructed acoustic guitar. In the Nowhere family tradition, I opted to teach myself rather than locate an instructor who would tolerate my guerilla hard-headedness. I slammed around on the damned thing in total darkness for a couple of years. Finally, a kind-hearted soul showed me how to actually tune it. I had to relearn how to play real chords. An additional diffculty to be sure, but I persevered, despite terribly sore fingertips. Over the next three years, I learned how figure out several simple major chord tunes.

In the interim, I landed a gig singing in a local band. The guitarist showed me some minor chords and a whole new world was opened to me. Spurred onward by this revelation, I finally bought a chord book began writing a few songs. I obtained a better guitar. ‘There,’ I thought, ‘I’m set’.

I continued to learn chords until somewhere along the line, I ceased to add new knowledge, assuming that I’d ‘learned’ how to play. Codswallop.

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Sir Issac Newton overlooked one very important law in the science of Physics. Science sometimes tends to overlook the obvious, in its undying search for exactitude. There exists, however, the law of Accident. As my grandfather used to say, ‘Even a blind pig will find an acorn every now and then’. This aptly explains the law of Accident. a much later version of the law appeared in the slang form of ‘Shit Happens’, and it’s true.

I happened to discover Practice completely by accident. I knew, well into my first decade of playing, that there was something missing, yet I knew not what this ‘something’ was, nor how or where to find it. A teacher would have been invaluable, but I eschewed convention, and paid dearly for my bêtise over a period of several years. I kept assuming that something else would occur, and that one morning I would awake to some startling, and newly acquired skill.

That something came, but in a wholly different form than I was expecting. And it took several years to develop.

I was reading an article that Triumph guitarist Rik Emmett had written for Guitar Player magazine, in which he was describing practice. His article seemed to centre around something that was foreign to me. Rik expressed a great deal of reverence on this particular subject, and my interest was piqued. Within the month, the article had prompted me to purchase a book entitled Harmony by Walter Piston. Another article in the same magazine, written by Howard Roberts, prompted me to construct ‘box scale’ charts, and fervent searches at antique stores rewarded me with a killer Seth Thomas metronome, constructed of solid mahogany.

After acquiring the basic devices, I obtained a footrest, a music stand, and a new nylon string guitar. I grew my fingernails out and began to Practice. Later, I was introduced to Robert Fripp’s excellent and insightful Guitar Craft lessons, and continued my practice in ernest. One may wonder why I suddenly decided to practice using a classical guitar. I became aware that all of my old habits must mercilessly be destroyed. Beginning anew was not merely symbolic, it was Reality, and a new approach only made sense.

After a prolonged period of time, after which new habits had become ingrained in my head as well as my fingers, I did away with the classical guitar, the footrest, and the fingernails, all of which were perceived as stepping stones to a new way of thinking, rather than becoming the goal.

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The actor Hugh Laurie once stated that music was his religion, and I’m hip to his analogy. Practice, as I’d sensed from Emmett’s article, must be approached with reverence. For instance (and according to Robert Fripp), one must be able to ‘do’ nothing before one can expect oneself to accomplish anything. This may at once sound oxymoronic, but I can assure you that truer words have never been uttered nor written.

I had failed to realise that in music, as in every other persuit, there exists an unseen Octave of Progression. After having learned a handful of chords, I had expected the rest of the Octave to complete itself. Only after beginning to Practice did I discover that I had remained in the C note of my Octave of Progression, succeeding only in chasing my tail.

The beginning of every natural progression starts with the note, or Force, of C Major, and there is no other way. This is a very important point to understand, and has been taught among the learned since antiquity, but the cause has never been expounded on. ‘Why not start at A?’ one may be tempted to ask. Because A and B forces already exist.

C represents the beginning of something new. Imagine A as the father and B as the mother. C is thus the child. This C is also known in some arcane schools as the Neutralising Factor. None of the whys and wherefores are important, only to realise this is a big thing, because it gives us a place to start.

Practice is also represented by C, so before Practice, two other qualities must be present: Intense Desire, represented by A, and Patience, represented by the B force. Practice, along with the necessary Attention (a prerequisite, and self-inflected ‘shock’ of self-conscience), brings on a certain type of friction, resulting in the formation of the next note in our Octave, the D force, which becomes Discipline. This note offers, in and of itself, a new branch of knowledge.

In music, the A force represents Tempo, or Time, B represents Pitch, and C represents Feel. Together, these three qualities are akin to what the Holy Trinity represents in religion. Even God represented Himself as Three Forces: The Alpha, and the Omega, of course, but the third force was the unobseved and ignored ‘everything’ in between, the Octave of Progression. This is the real meat. It doesn’t matter from where this knowledge originates; it would be of no use to our senses. It is enough to realise that it will become more or less apparent after an extended period of time, during which one must attempt to ‘do’. Suffice it to say that if we wish to persue music, we must first develop the aforementioned Intense Desire which must become what may be called our Centre of Gravity, afterward, no other activity will displace practice and then music as paramount. I’ll expound on this centre of gravity at a later date.

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When we intend to Practice, we want to sit quietly with our instrument of choice in our practice space for ten or fifteen minutes first, and use this time to centre ourselves and reflect on that which we are about to participate in. This act has been carried out by countless disciples of music since time immemorial. It pays to bear this in mind. Next, we tune our instrument; in this we will be tuning ourselves. Then, when we are ready, we start our metronome, and begin the session. During this period, we must not allow anything to sway our focus or otherwise interrupt us. As Mr. Fripp stated, The quality of our Attention is reflected in the quality of our Practice.

As I stated earlier, Practice is an art unto itself. Attention must be paid to every detail: No part of our plucking hand should never touch the top of the guitar in order to anchor our hand down as a point of reference. We must learn to instinctively know where the strings lie beneath our floating hand. When using a plectrum, our picking strokes should begin on the downstroke and progress in an alternating up and down style. Regarding to our fretting hand, we should ascend one finger at a time, leaving the fingers on the string until all four fingers have been applied, then we should release the string, ascending or descending to the next string in the same manner. Within a given scale pattern, the same finger should be used in the corresponding position whether ascending or descending with our fingers, or in the strings we are plucking. We should not allow our fingers to bounce around aimlessly to first one fret and then the other: we are attempting to establish order out of chaos. Of primary concern is the peculiar runaway pinkie syndrome. The amount of control we are capable of exercising over ourselves can be measured by how much control we are capable of exercising over our little finger, especially as our fingers are in the descending mode. Odds are, our pinkie is want to fly about wildly. We want to restrict our movements to as little as possible, but as much as necessary. Order and Control is what we are undertaking to instill. The devil is in the details, as they say, thus we shall attempt to give ourselves hell.

If you are new to this approach, and you think that the above sounds demanding, actually I haven’t even scratched the surface. Next time I’ll go farther into this underappreciated facet of the craft. It will change everything that you think you already know about yourself. You’ll be a better person on account of it, though. Maybe even a better musician.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 31/Passive vs Active Listening

To my way of thinking, there is a trade-off in being a musician, or at least, a person who dabbles in it on a permanent basis, and that is that one cannot listen to music in the ‘old’ way any more, that way being passive. I haven’t been able to sit down and simply listen to the music in over thirty years, because I’m always listening to the recording. I listen to the work of the producer before I even enter the realm of the songwriter and the musician. Nine times out of ten, I’ll have some comment on the mix, then the songwriting, then the tone of the guitar, the programme compression, and, as Alan Redmond would say, blah, blah, blah, and so on and so forth.

I didn’t used to be like this.

I can remember when I listened to music for the shear fun of it. I bought Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Crocodile Rock on a 45 rpm single as a young teen and I played the hell out of it and just drank it up. I never thought about all of that other crap. But by the time the first Queen album was released (the best record that they ever produced), I was a changed man. I’d become an active listener. I sat late at night with headphones, scrutinising the album one track (and one channel) at a time. I didn’t know what these guys were doing, or where the post-production picked up or where the pre-production left off, but I actually disected the record by ear. I’d mutter, “By God, one day I’m gonna figure out how to do that.”

I don’t know why I was so keen on recorded sound, but I had been that way since I was a kid and had gotten hold of my parents portable cassette recorder. I recorded all kinds of stuff: birds, passing cars, crickets at night, farts, and telephone conversations, but it had never occurred to me, until hearing to The Dark Side of the Moon, that one could actually use those sound in order to augment recorded music.

I was twenty-one years old before I’d scored my first Magnavox stereo reel to reel tape machine. It had not one but two tape speeds: 1 7/8 ips and 3 3/4 ips. Luxury. I was ecstatic. I sat the microphones up and played my guitar as I sang. I was horrified upon playback, because the results were awful. This was not the way music was supposed to sound; but what was I doing wrong? I was hopelessly behind the curve. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there, as Jerry Reed would say.

Little did I know that the goofy little omnidirectional mikes were picking up all of the early room reflections, and that that particular room had a terrible reverberation at around 500 Hz. I found an old book at the library that dealt with professional studio recording. It must’ve been published in the fifties, because all of the producers looked like Robert Wagner in the television show Father Knows Best, and the engineers actually had lab coats on. The book actually gave sound advice (yep, pun intended) and soon, I’d familiarised myself with words such as comb filtering, phase cancellation, flanging and stereo panning. I’d also learned that the environment that music was recorded in was important. I realised that my ears ignored a lot of the extraneous noise that went on around me, but that the microphones were not as selective, and heard everything equally well…and transfer those noises to the tape, where they were suddenly very apparent.

As an active listener, all of the carefree hours of music listening are behind us, and music hearing becomes a very serious and troublesome, yet many times rewarding, quality. Troublesome because we can hear the problem areas, but don’t know what the hell to do in order to address them, rewarding when we finally arrive at the solution and enjoy improved sonic quality of our recordings.

As I pointed out in Recording Mythology, Pt. 30, the tape format presents a unique set of problems on account of the uh…un-flat response curve of the medium, but noise can happen in both digital and analogue formats. Pops occur whenever a high-current appliance, such as a refrigerator or central heating and cooling unit switches on or off, flourescent lighting causes a motor-boating effect, floating grounds inject a 60 or 120 cycle hum (depending on where you live) into the signal, fan motors on rack mounted amplifiers can cause audible whooshing noises, running water through home plumbing, not to mention the crew of roofers two doors down, sirens, birds, car horns, cats, ad infinitum. You get the picture. Suddenly, everything that you never paid attention to is audible.

One can spend a lot of money on room treatment in order to address the issue, but that won’t always do the trick, or sometimes it simply isn’t an option. Sometimes the landlord is reluctant to allow us to permanently glue foam tiles to every wall and install a drop ceiling. Sometimes the unwilling party is a spouse or a parent. Sometimes we just don’t have the damned money.

Well, there are two simple things that most of us can do that will go a long way towards curing these woes. First, if you are using an omnidirectional mic, and you aren’t trying to record a choir and aren’t interested what the rest of the room has to say, you can get a cardioid microphone. These mics have a relatively tight pick-up pattern, and rather than ‘hearing’ sounds from 180° around, the angle is reserved primarily to what is directly in front of the mic, and all other sounds are greatly and effectively rejected. But not completely. The next piece of equipment to compliment the set up is a stereo compressor/gate. Yes, compressor slash gate. You have neither and need both, so why not get them in the same unit?

I won’t go into how to set up the compressor/gate, because the settings will be different in each instance, nor will I try to convince you that the process is easy, because it isn’t. If you’re serious about achieving good quality home recordings, you’ll buy the equipment, read the freaking instructions, and finally figure out how to obtain great results, but it will take a while. On the plus side, both pieces of equipment can be had at prices starting at about a hundred bucks apiece. And you can take them with you when you move, and the compressor/gate can then be re-calibrated.

Foam tiles become someone else’s problem.

Next time I’ll discuss another approach to taming room resonances with items referred to as baffles, or gobos. Until then….thataway, Mister Sulu.

Recording Mythology, pt. 10 / Before The Recording Begins

 Today I’m going to discuss more concerning the recording of the acoustic guitar. I get a lot of complaints from some folks that they just can’t seem to get a good acoustic sound. It seems that it would be easy enough to simply stick the microphone up in front of the instrument and start banging away, but the results are usually less than ideal. In my experience in discussing the process with other guitarists, they almost always admit to owning one guitar which, although sounding terrible live, records better than their other, more expensive instruments. I’ll admit that I’ve determined that a full-bodied guitar presents a far greater challenge to mic than one which has a more narrow frequency range.

One thing which I’ve decided simply does not work for me is recording with a pickup system. I’ve never heard a pickup system which sounded anything close to a natural acoustic tone. Also I use outboard effects such as chorus, phase shifting, and flanging sparingly. This sort of ear candy is fine when adding fullness to a lone acoustic but turns into mud quicker than anything when doubled or recorded along with other instruments. My rule of thumb generally follows that if I can hear the effected sound over the natural sound, I’ve dialed in too much effect. Reverberation is fine in small doses when ambience is desired, but a little can go a long way.

Up until now, I’ve been talking about the acoustic guitar as a singularly recorded instrument. If, however, the acoustic is used as a rhythm section as complimenting other instruments, including, but not limited to electric guitar, bass and keyboards, our EQing takes on a different shape in that it becomes tighter in the frequency range that we want it to occupy. This is generally where home recordists begin to have problems. What works perfectly well in one instance will sound horrid in another, so we won’t ever be able to simply adjust the EQ and then leave it.

I’m aware that, as every artist approaches the craft of songwriting differently, they may feel comfortable recording tracks in an order which may be confusing to someone else. The system that I utilise depends on which instrument everything else centres itself around in the mix in my head. It is uncertain as to how well each individual may be able to hear a finished version of a tune in one’s imagination, but the long and the short of it is that if you can’t approximate the completed tune in your head, you’ll never be able to get it recorded to your satisfaction. This requires that we make mental or physical notes pertaining to the specific instruments and number of tracks that we envision. We may have to amend our notes later but we must begin with some sort of plan in order to map out our destination. After getting a solid fix on the general sound of the tune, I ask myself things such as: How many rhythm tracks do I plan on having? Will there be two acoustics or one acoustic and one electric guitar comprising the rhythm section? Will there be percussion? How many vocal tracks, if any? Everything depends on everything else and there will be a certain synergistic meshing if all things are anticipated properly. If not, we may instead wind up with mish-mash.

It is worth pointing out that every instrument has a specific frequency range, and you must play the EQ to that particular instruments’ favor. I have a copy of The Harvard Dictionary of Music and would suggest that everyone own a copy. In addition, everyone needs a copy of the Carnagie Note Frequency Chart for reference. If you know the fundamental tones, it will be a simple enough task to figure the first and second overtones or whichever ones you want to play around with. I’ve found that EQing is akin to playing an instrument in it’s own right.

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Before I begin any recording, the tempo is arrived at first, tested and agreed upon. I can’t begin to tell how many times I was sure that a tempo was right until I set the metronome and began playing, only to realise that it was one or two bpm too slow. The next thing that I ascertain is the key. It may sound great in my head, but more times than not, I discover that my ability to sing in the particular key is going to be the most difficult part. Sometimes I can transpose, but other times I realise that this approach completely changes the mood of the tune. Serious considerations must then be made concerning the trade-off.

After these items are sorted out, I record a click track. I cannot over-emphasise using a click track. I never allow myself to think that my timing is good enough to record without one. It’s hard enough to keep the tracks tight as they stack up and the click will keep a over-zealous player in check. Everybody has the tendency to speed up when they play.

Now, if the acoustic is going to print first, but we’ve decided that we’ll have three other instruments in the mix, we’ll want to cut the EQ on the acoustic drastically in the bottom end. It isn’t unusual for me to scoop out everything below 300 or 400 Hz. I’ll dial in some 1.7 kHz for presence, kill everything above 7kHz and then record about a minute of the tune. As I listen back through the monitors, if I find that I need a bit more shimmer, I’ll pull up 10 or 12.5 kHz. It depends on the guitar I’m using. If I’m using silk and steel strings I’ll need to EQ the track differently than if I’m using a brand-new ( and squeaky) set of phosphor-bronze. I’m just giving these frequencies as guidelines, they are not intended to be hard and fast rules to adhere to. After the track is recorded, it will sound quite thin when played back alone, but when you lay down the bass track (yet another EQ juggling act) and throw on an electric with a bit of a boost in the 700 or 800 Hz range, you’ll get a good idea how hard shelving helps the instruments stand apart from one another, and how that acoustic will sound as natural as it should when coupled with the other tracks. This will all take several hours of practice and trial and error EQing, but you’ll soon begin to get an idea of how this type of pre-production greatly improves the sound quality of the finished product.

I’ll get into shelving around vocals next time. If you are a vocalist and you’ve already fiddled around with the EQing of your vocals, you already have some idea of the resonant range of your voice, and in the end, everything else revolves around this.

Johnny Nowhere is a home recording songwriter and composer with several years of trial and error experience.