February 13, 2012

FEBRUARY VOCAL RECORDING

In my last post I explained the reasons behind recording without headphones and the science behind it. It seems amongst my peers that this is a very controversial approach. Kevin Gilday told me he didn’t understand how I could get into “the zone” (obviously used ironically) without being cut off from the rest of the world and isolating yourself in that personal space created by wearing headphones. This is true for listening to music but not for performing.

It seems there are some skeptical people out there and I don’t expect them all to understand. I spoke briefly to Dan Hopkinson of Light Parades and he shares my view and even recorded his vocals monitoring from loud speakers too, so I’m glad I’m not alone.

In this video I’m doing a take for the song February, the sound is a bit dodgy but I couldn’t monitor the sound from where I was… and it wasn’t my number one priority. In this set up we actually stuck up a 6ft Baffle in front of the mic to reduce spill even further, once we dialed down the kick and snare, added the room tone/spill track and reversed its phase the spill was basically inaudible.

I spent the whole day recording and hit my stride pretty much on the first take, I felt more comfortable pitching to the music than I am with headphones. With out the added weight and congested feeling I get from obstructing my earholes I was able to fully focus on the music and with the ambient light in the room, it also aided me to find that space in my head when I wrote the lyrics. All in all this technique has helped not only my performance and most importantly for me, my pitching. I’m still not perfect but hey, this is Katerwaul not XFactor!

February 7, 2012

RECORDING VOCALS WITHOUT HEADPHONES

***WARNING*** this is a technical blog where I explain how we’re approaching the vocals on our new record.

The time has come. That part I always fear. The part you try not to think about when you start recording an album. VOCALS.

I’m not a classically trained singer, it was only two years ago I actually learned how to breathe properly and save my vocal chords from near destruction, and over many years of recording I’ve learned one thing… I can only sing when I’m playing guitar. Why is that?

With every recording my main complaints about my voice are “I sound like I have a cold”, “I always sing flat”, “I can’t hear the emotion in that take” and “why do live recordings of my voice sound better than when we multi track.” The answer? Headphones.

I did a little research into this, and as it turns out I am not alone. I’m not the only one in the world having problems singing with headphones on. If you are like me and your engineer/producer tells you any of the following things; “It makes no difference”, “You’re just not used to the sound of your own voice” or “You just need to get used to the recording process” that’s not necessarily true. I’ve been through all this. I’ve gotten used to headphones and the initial “is that what my voice sounds like?” shock factor, but the fact of the matter is that headphones have an effect on my vocals, not just sonically but emotionally too.

I’m going to sound like a pretentious twat right now but feeling is important. If you can’t feel the emotion in what you’re singing then what is the point right? How do you do that when you’re concentrating on the extra weight on your head or how hot your ears are getting. Some people are comfortable with it but I find it hard to connect with my music if I’m not listening to the music through the ambience of my surroundings.

Ok, so that’s the arty farty pretentious reasoning out of the way there are also a few other factors that effect some singers when monitoring from headphones. The main one is breathing. Have you ever noticed that people breathe heavier when they’re listening to a personal stereo? That’s because your ears are connected to your nose and mouth, if you yawn you’ll notice that air passes through your ears. Now cover your ears and breathe, its quite disconcerting without music to distract you isn’t it. Now while covering your ears try singing, its weird huh. Now imagine your voice being fed back to you through a sound desk and into headphones without the ambient resonance of your surroundings… its a totally different ball game, right?

Alright, so now you understand that I, and many others, are not being Diva’s or just plain awkward; how do we solve this problem. Well one way would be to have one earphone on and one off (see band aid video for reference, thank you Sting and Midge Ure) this gives you a blend, another way would be to feed some artificial reverb back to your headphones. These are techniques I’ve used in the past but if I’m honest they’ve always been a compromise.

Now, I think I’ve found the solution. Just don’t use headphones. I asked Sam our engineer and producer if there was anyway we could record vocals without the use of headphones. I was only picking his brains, but this was met with a “I’ll have to research that”. A poilte way of saying “STOP BEING SO FUCKING DIFFICULT!”. However this got us thinking and we’ve found a couple of ways of doing it, and I’ll explain the method that we’re using.

Like recording anything, its not just a case of stick a mic in front of what you want to record, there are issues like phase for instance and what microphone to use in what circumstance to get the desired sound. An engineer will always want the best possible sound at all times and this normally means isolated from other sounds to make the mixing process easy and bypass any phase issues. Recording vocals and monitoring your backing track via loud speakers is not really the best way to isolate your source. But if this gets the best performance from your musician then isn’t that more important? Its a toss up but the best engineers in the world understand this and a happy medium must be found.

What Sam and I are doing is to set up a microphone in a dead room as per usual, thankfully the control room has been modified to minimise reflection. For this technique to work you need to use a microphone that best cancels out noise from behind it, like an SM58 (just go with it) set it up on a stand with your pop shield etc as normal. Now record a vocal take by monitoring sound through your loud speakers. Ok now here is the science part; NO BODY MOVE! You’re going to now record an ambient room tone, playing back the section of the song you just recorded (minus the vocal take). Once that’s done you need to invert the phase on that track. What you’ll notice is that by inverting the phase you’ve artificially created a dead spot in the room where the mic is standing. I’m not going to lie, the science of it all still goes over my head but that’s the basic theory and it works. It DOESN’T completely eradicate  the spill, but what you do hear is a kin to the spill that would normally come from your headphones if you where wearing a pair.

The alternative method is to have your monitors at 90 degree angles equally distanced from each other and the microphone creating an equilateral triangle. Then invert the phase on one of your monitors. This effectively does the same thing without the need to record a room tone, but you need to keep measuring your set up to make sure that everything is equally spaced apart otherwise your null zone becomes void.

Its still a compromise though as using a condenser mic will not work as it picks up too much sound from behind the microphone. SM58s are traditionally used live because so they don’t feedback from the monitors, but they don’t have as good a dynamic range as other studio mics traditionally used for vocal recordings. This is why the picture above has 3 different microphones placed where they are. This was part of our experiment into what microphone to use on the vocals, with this technique. We recorded a few takes and it seems that the AKG set to a hypercardoid setting works the best out of all the mics at our disposal. The Beta58 and the Senheiser (whatever it is) don’t enough hi end clarity for our liking, but the AKG is something that we’ve been using for overheads on the cymbals. Thankfully it has a hypercardoid which give it a tighter area of front we need whilst making use of the microphones characteristics. If you search online you’ll notice other artists that have done this tend to elect the Sure SM7, its the tits but we can’t afford one. Maybe next time.

So there you have it. Katerwaul has been a massive pain in the arse at every turn for the boys at 45/R, but instead of beating us down with engineer high horse bullshit, they’ve embraced the challenge and found a workable solution they’re happy with to make us more comfortable enabling us to get a better performance.

If you try this yourself, let me know how you get on.

February 6, 2012

KATERWAUL SESSIONS CONTINUE

Last week saw us complete the last of our live recording sessions for the new album. Here are some pics taken by Paul from 45/R and a few by me. You’ll know my one’s because they’ve been processed to within an inch of their lives.

January 19, 2012
Katerwaul - February EP
We’re releasing an EP soon, we don’t know when but soon. The details are fairly vague but its being released in the run up to our Album which will be out later in the year. The main track on it will be February but the EP might not be called that, because if this thing is released in March I won’t stand for the “but its not February any more” jokes, but until then that’s what we’ve been calling it at Katerwaul HQ.
I’ve been working on some album artwork and layouts for yet ANOTHER Katerwaul book and if all goes according to plan then we get to ***[EDIT: sorry the big boys at Brave Or Invincible have kindly requested I delete that from the blog]*** which I’m sure you’re all going to agree is gonna be FUCKING ACE!!!
This image of what the EP could/probably will look like will give you a little taste of what the new album art will be like (ie pretty different but totally the same old Tim Courtney shit of paper textures and blurry photography).
Enjoy.

Katerwaul - February EP

We’re releasing an EP soon, we don’t know when but soon. The details are fairly vague but its being released in the run up to our Album which will be out later in the year. The main track on it will be February but the EP might not be called that, because if this thing is released in March I won’t stand for the “but its not February any more” jokes, but until then that’s what we’ve been calling it at Katerwaul HQ.

I’ve been working on some album artwork and layouts for yet ANOTHER Katerwaul book and if all goes according to plan then we get to ***[EDIT: sorry the big boys at Brave Or Invincible have kindly requested I delete that from the blog]*** which I’m sure you’re all going to agree is gonna be FUCKING ACE!!!

This image of what the EP could/probably will look like will give you a little taste of what the new album art will be like (ie pretty different but totally the same old Tim Courtney shit of paper textures and blurry photography).

Enjoy.

November 25, 2011

KATERWAUL 45/R SESSION 2 (SALT AND VINEGAR WITH YOUR CHIPS?)

Last weekend saw Katerwaul pick up where we left off when we started recording our third album. This was going to be an optimistic task considering a) we wanted to tackle three songs recorded entirely live, b) these are the least rehearsed of the songs we were due to record and c) do all this with the added distraction of having Nick and Callum (The Suits) from Brave Or Invincible casting a watchful eye over their future investment.

I had planned on editing together another short video clip from the days recording but this didn’t go to plan for two reasons. 1) With the pressure on to perform and get it right video became less important and 2) we actually got through the recording quicker than planned meaning I didn’t get to set up multiple camera angles, meaning if there was a video it’d be really boring.

We recorded our three songs in record time so I guess you could say having the BOIs there was more of a calming presence than anything.

The first song we tackled was “You Love & I (When The Tyrants Have Won)” (formerly referred to on this blog as “Sunsets Behind A Silhouette”, renamed due to my dislike of a rhyming title). We did maybe four or five takes before we got something we were happy with before moving onto the next one. This track has a free form, rubato time at the start before the drums come in to keep time then crash in for the louder heavy sections. We normally have a habit for loosing where we are in this song. In practice I normally screw up my strumming pattern in the lead up to the drums and Nick occasionally comes in with his cymbal crashes a couple of beats too early (it should be noted now that Graham is almost always flawless). But neither of these problems occurred and it was plain sailing.

The next section is something of a change of style for us, the tone  very much encompasses more of a dance vibe like Fourtet or In Rainbows era Radiohead. We played this section almost perfectly every time. The only thing that annoyed us was we let the adrenaline get the better of us and the takes would sound noticeably too high tempo. Once we’d relaxed and got a couple more takes of that final section it was time to move on to track number two.

Track two was a revelation. “Departures” is a song made up of one guitar riff played in numerous fashions over 6mins. That sounds reeeeeeeally fucking boring described that way but we fashioned a way of making that sound interesting, which is really hard to expain on a tumblr blog so I won’t even try. Basically its all about the dynamic shifts.

Sam let us know he was rolling before we went into what we regard as a 1st run through or a rehearsal. Well we nailed it… that is except the glaring fuck up I made in the first two bars. I thought that since it was the first run through it would go smoothly so it’d be best to just get through the whole song. I didn’t anticipate that we ACTUALLY NAIL THE TUNE FIRST TIME.

We did two more run throughs, but the ghost of the first one haunted us. We walked back into the live room and had a listen back. It cut me deeply to hear that the first take was the best and so perfect, because we had to spend the next hour and a half fixing that 2 bar mistake. On paper, for you pro tools enthusiasts out there, it sounds like an easy fix… well let me tell you it really wasn’t! I went back in a played the first sequence again, but it didn’t sound right. Without the rest of the band in the room and me being overly aware I was performing an over dub, the ambience and levels didn’t match enough to make a cut. So I did it again, and again, and again.

Eventually we got there and we sighed relief as we were all getting a little grump, bored and hungry. Nick Moreton even went out of his way to try and use figure out how to use his mobile as a modem just to stream the the Chelsea v Liverpool game as a way to take his mind off the mundane four chords that were being repeated for the past hour!

After this we made the trip through to Glasgow’s Dennistoun in the East End. We went to a place called Coia’s (pardon the spelling) and Italian eatery across from two tanning salons of the very same franchise fittingly named “Sunset Beach”… in Glasgow’s East End! Why in the hell would there be a need for TWO tanning salons on the same street, let alone ten metres apart? And if that wasn’t the worst part they were both part of the same company??!!! Has that what Scotland has become? Do people out there reeeeally have the need to… I need to stop now.

For those of you who have never been, Coia’s is place that serves amazing food and deserts and even has a great Deli. But the most unique thing about the place is that they serve FREE chips with EVERYTHING. Pizza with FREE chips, Spag Bol with FREE chips, Macaroni Cheese with FREE chips. Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if I ordered chips and got some free chips with that! Did this eatery that has been there for almost 100years just get tired and pissed off with people constantly asking if they got chips with everything, and just factor it into the price and dump it in with every meal? I can’t complain as it was quite a bonus having Spaghetti Carbonara with some really good chippy chips.

After sacking our diets for the day and gorging on pasta AND chips in an unplanned carbohydrate frenzy, (see above) we proceeded with the recording.

I’m not sure wether it was fatigue or the mass amount of crap we’d stuffed into our bodies but the last song seemed like a slog. However by this time last session we’d only accomplished the one track so we could take heart in that knowledge.

"Please Go To What’s Left Of Your Homes" (also a working title) is a long song that has many transitions to it was a daunting task attempting it live. After a few run throughs and a couple of false starts we began to find our stride.

Eventually we’d worked of the food and were back in business and before we knew it we’d finished with over an hour to spare. Considering the last session ran over by an hour or two I’d consider that a success. We even won the seal of approval by the BOIs tweeting; “The new KATERWAUL jams are making my Haggis wet”.

We were absolutely buzzing after that and decided to go to a pub near my flat to talk business, what we had planned for the release, advertising, formats, packaging etc. Instead the only place that was open was a bar that had the world’s worst open mic night. Middle aged men butchering the likes of The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Semi Sonic (?!!) and even Tenacious D (???!!!!) all in a very mid tempo, gruff voiced kinda way. We couldn’t hear ourselves speak so we just sat and drank quietly. Some of us even watched a re-run of the famous Liverpool V AC Milan Champions League final where Liverpool came from 3 behind to lift the trophy.

We did eventually talk business and I can say there are exciting times fast approaching in the new year. So keep your ear to the ground.

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »