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July 13, 2017

Unsigned Only song contest entry

Just found out that Dad Joke Blues did not make the cut for UO this year. To be fair, this was a long shot entry in the Folk Singer-Songwriter category so it's not really surprising ... still entereed in two other contests with hopefully more appropriate categories. :-)

Annoying nonetheless ... so here's a re-post of the song:

Posted by Hughie at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 7, 2017

Alive and Alone distribution

Right! Album is in the can. As happy as I am prepared to fight for with the performances, mixing and mastering. Artwork done, based on the Tetrafasi artwork:

Alive and Lone Cover_Outer_1500.pngNote that this is simply the first panel of the Tetrafasi artwork, with the name of the album, "Alive and Alone", and a note that it's the first phase of Tetrafasi. Thats not an accident nor lazy - I always intended the artwork, like the music, to link this way. It's part of what Dr Huge teaches: "your art is more than your music".

This project, and the people it touches - both the songs themselves and the workshops that I aim to create from them - are part of my life's work and thus essential to defining me as an artist. They are all interlinked and are all designed together as part of a grander vision. Guess what the art on the next one will be?? :-)

Anyhoo, now it's time to think about how to release this album. There are many companies that distribute independent music and they are all do a good job, apparently. Many articles have been written about the various pros and cons of Tunecore, ReverbNation, Distrokid, etc, I always use CDBaby without question - here's why:

  • CDBaby is the only company that shares the risk of your release with you.

That's it - and it is vital to not only your success but to the entire ethos that underpins the Independent art world. The biggest barrier to artists succeeding in their business is the risk they take when paying to produce and market their music. Finding a company (or any group) that is willing to share that risk, and thereby reduce it, is invaluable ... unless you have the backing of a record company that is willing to do it for you.

But what does this look like? What do I mean "share your risk"?

Well, unlike companies that chanrge a flat fee for service, CDBaby shares only in your profits. You make money, they make money. You get nothing, they get nothing. There's a great example of the difference in digital distribution services. The key thing you need to understand is the concept of a Product Life Cycle, and the fact that each of your CD releases has one. EVERY CD release has one - Emimem's, Beyonce's, Coldplay's, Gaga's, ... every CD release starts with no sales, rises to a peak, and then falls away again. Sometimes, the peak arrives in a week or two, sometimes it takes six months to arrive ... (some, like mine, never peak) ... but the fall away again is inevitable.

So, what does this mean for Indies? Well, it means that at first your digital distribution costs will be bigger than your income from sales ... and then you should make something from sales ... but your album will probably spend eternity costing you money! The graph looks like this:

CD product-life-cycle - flat fee.pngOn the other hand, if you choose the CDBaby approach, you will ALWAYS make something from your release - even is it's 91% of bugger-all. Yes, at your peak CDBaby will cost you more than the flat fee will ... assuming you make that much ... but over the following 20 years, it will cost a hell of a lot less. The graph looks like this:

CD product-life-cycle - percent.pngNow, I have no problem whatsoever paying someone who's done a great service for me - especially if they have made nothing in all the time that I've made nothing. That's called a true partnership - you win, I win. The companies that charge a flat fee are saying that they want to get paid no matter what happens to you - they don't care whether you succeed or fail! That's perfectly legitimate business, but it's not sharing your risk and it's not helping you in all the time that your releases don't make their minimum.

I'll take the sharing approach every time ... and I'm happy to give back when it finally works for me.

Posted by Hughie at 1:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 5, 2017

Mixing Alive and Alone - Day 2: Mastering

Hmmmm ... not as bad as it could have been in the cold light of day. Pretty happy with most of the tracks. Suzie and I listened to the whole album at bedtime and I noticed three thigns I wanted to correct:

  1. The stomp box in "Forever Mine" is too loud and not deep and boomy enough.
  2. The stomp box in "Whikey and History" is too quiet.
  3. There's an awful guitar sound at teh start of "Home Free" that I wanna try to fix ... and not happy with the vocal tone on that one - perhaps too much reverb? It's not clear enough.

So, first hour or so of today remixing those. I would normally have spent a week listening to those mixes on heaps of different sound systems and making sure they are exactly what I want. This time, however, I just need to get on with it ... and the flaws that result are what is meant to emerge from the process ... <sigh> ... have to keep reminding myself of that ...

Anyhoo, once I'd fixed those small things I opened a new session and imported all of the raw dump files into Pro Tools - one stereo track per song. Across the Master fader I dropped Maxim, which is a mastering compression plugin (and about the only useful Mastering plugin I have) and a stereo analysis plugin. This one doesn't change anything, but tells me how wide the stereo field is on each track. Also re-imported the reference tracks so I could compare the stereo fields with my own work. Pleased to say I was pretty close to the Guitar and voice parts of the Springsteen track, but the Bangles one was wider on account of having some keyboard sounds panned wide and back in the mix. So far so good ...

Had a listen to each song individually and in various combinations ... wanted to make sure that the voice levels were all about the same - nothing sticks out and nothing goes missing compared to the others. Again, not bad. There were a couple that stuck out, so a slight reduction in level brought them back into line. A couple were right up front and harsh compared to the others, so I dropped a reverb on those to push them back slighty. Was prepared to add EQ but tought they were actually pretty consistent without it ... the limited instrumentation and template setup served me well.

Again, I don't have the toys to do this properly, and it's ALWAYS best to get a fresh set of ears (not just a new day) onto this process. This one is meant to be rushed and flawed ...

So, once I was happy with the consistency across all the tracks I bounced them all down again and named them what they needed to be for distribution purposes. Imported them into iTunes and listened again ... twice ... up close and while out in the kitchen cleaning up. Pretty happy with the results - here's the album on Spotify:

Now, better ears than mine will be able to tell us all what could be better ... please do in the comment below. This is about helping me and everyone who reads this to understad and improve, so let us know exactly what you think. And if you, dear reader, have any questions, please ask away below ... :-)

Posted by Hughie at 6:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 4, 2017

Mixing Alive and Alone - Day 1

Wow! So that went better than expected - got a first mix of all ten tracks in one day! I put this down to the consistency of the recordings, the use of a mix template, and the simplicity of the arrangements. Even so, a few challenges popped up along the way ...

As suggested last night, I had a template set up, into which I imported the tracks for "Forever Mine". Not sure why I started with that one - I did everything else in alphabetical order - sort of. Maybe because I wanted to get the stomp box sound on the heartbeat right.

Of course, straight away that was a problem, because I had recorded that with bare feet in an attempt to get a more thuddy, deeper sound. Guess what? The bare foot made a clickier sound than the Dr Martens boots did, and also made a scrape sound as the skin lifted off the pine in the stomp box! Aaarrrggghghghhh!!

Adding a noise gate removed the scrape in between beats, and some really intense EQ cut tops and boosted the bottom end, which improved the results, but proved the old saying that you can't "fix it in the mix". Don't like the results on that one, but ... still, that's why this project exists ...

So, I basically set up the template by mixing the first song. That took about three and a half hours. I fiddled with everything, added effects, took them off, put too much of them on, took it off, panned things into crazy positions, put them back ... tried a heap of stuff. But the most time-consuming part was playing with the subtleties of the combination of Chorus, Delay, and Reverb to make something that I think sounded a fair bit like the reference mixes. I haven't listened back to the results closely and don't want to fatigue my ears, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good things sounded to me ... and how close they were to the references. I also got rather impatient at the end and spent less time checking back, so I might have strayed further from the goal as the day wore on ...

Anyhoo, "Forever Mine" first - set up the template. From there I just deleted every audio file from the template and then imported the next one, renamed, saved ... each song individually, but starting from what I knew was a pretty decent sound. from there, consistent recordings and consistent effects settings made mixing each song a matter of tweaking subtleties rather than beginning from scratch. Not sure if that's the best result, but it was a faster process ...

That said, every song required individual attention. As I finished the first one, for example, I noticed that the vocal wasn't quite how I wanted it. It sounded odd - but I really didn't pay any attention as I was so excited to have it done. When I heard the second song, "I Need Your Soul", with vocals that sounded odd, I checked a few settings and noticed that I have put the chorus times left and right at different settings - probably while I was playing with things in crazy ways. This created a wierd phase kind of effect, which was fixed straight away and I was very pleased with myself. Fixed the template as well .... good thing I picked that up early in the process!!

Got a much nicer sound out of the stomp with Dr Martens boots on it - needed a fresh EQ and so on. Guitar needed to sound slightly different, but not lots. Tweaked lots of things very slightly. Save - export - next song. Bashed out most of them in about half an hour each in this order:

  1. Forever Mine
  2. I Need Your Soul
  3. Angels
  4. Red Hot
  5. She Don't Want Your Love
  6. Somebody Else's Skin
  7. Whiskey and History
  8. When It's Over
  9. Simplicity - this one was different because of the changes in level during the song. Spent a while on it.
  10. Home Free - this one had a click in the vocals from a lazy edit. Spent forever trying to fix it but it's still there - see if you can spot it ...

I also noticed a weird sound on the guitars in the opening bars of "Home Free". It's sort of a finger-on-strings thing, but with a phase effect as well. Not wanted and I have no idea how to get rid of it - if I can at all. Please let me know in the comments if you can figure out what it is and what I can do about it ...

Tomorrow I will crack them all open and listen afresh before attempting to Master them into a coherent album. Hope I like the results ...

Posted by Hughie at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

July 3, 2017

Mixing Alive and Alone - setup

Right! The time has come to mix this thing ... need to just get it out. I have a bad habit of agonising over the imperfections and wanting to fix things, but after watching Macklemore on the subject, I have allocated the next few days to getting this done - imperfections and all.

So, technicalities first. I am mixing and mastering in Pro Tools 9, which is perfect for mixing but not for mastering. Given my lack of skill in audio engineering, the lack of mastering toys probably makes no difference and, in any case, it's what I have to work with. See limitations below ...

The biggest bummer with this approach is that I have Pro Tools 9 - an old version - on a 2011 MacBook Pro. It can cope with the workload as long as I don' try to do too much - either from a tracks point of view or from a plug-ins point of view. I intend to upgrade as soon as I can afford to - ie I sell lots of track from this album ... please do your part to support the upgrade ... :-)

The main problem with the aging setup is that the OS upgrade since I installed PT9 have rendered the DAE plugins (I had some neat AIR ones and a couple of other bundles) useless. I am limited to using the native Pro Tools plugins, which is probably a good thing because it will save me a heap of time trying lots of other things out without really knowing what I'm doing ... D-Verb and 7-Band EQ here I come!

My process will have to be simple, partly because I don't really know what I'm doing and partly because of the technical limitations of my gear. Fortunately, mixing a voice and guitar is not complex ... compared to mixing a masive band or something ... I am using two reference tracks: Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad" and The Bangles' "Following". I like the space in those mixes and hope to get somewhere near them - obviously, only some parts of them are useful because they rapidly progress to include more instruments while I'm sticking with guitar, voice and stomp box for the whole songs ... they are also a little misleading for some of my songs becuse they have sparce guitars and I have some very busy, active guitar parts as well. Still - this is what I chose and it will do for teh purpose of the exercise.

The recording sessions in Pro Tools have been distilled to single, unprocessed stems, which will be imported into a new session for mixing. When I recorded, I had several takes on playlists and applied a few effects to get a feel for how the parts fit together. Although I promised not to, I did end up comping a few parts together, too, so the output has to be a single file with all effects removed. I also recorded 6 or 7 songs in a single session, which places a lot of strain on the laptop's processors, I think ... better to start over with a fresh session.

I have sought a lot of advice over the years about recording, mixing and so on. I have read a lot and forgotten most of it because I've not actually tried to apply it ... until now. Here's my most valued sources:

Of course, I can't possibly take all of the advice in these resources. I fully intend to make lots of mistakes and have to fix them up - probably next time I do this ...

So, six or seven stems to mix - depding on the song. Today I have created a mix template with the signal chains that I think will be useful:

A&A Mix Template.jpgAs you can see, it's pretty straightforward and pretty much straight out of the Pro Tools templates. Because I had three mics on each part (except the stomp box) I chose to combine those signals into a stereo aux track and apply most effects there. No idea whether that's the best approach but it worked for me ...

So, tomorrow I will make a new session for each song and import all of the audio. Then we will see how far I get through the ten songs in one day. I know expeienced engineers do that easily but I amvery conscious of my limitations and have allowed four days for this stage ...

If you happen to be an experienced sound guy or producer, let me know in the comments what I could have done better here ... this is a project for posterity, after all ... :-)

Posted by Hughie at 6:18 PM | Comments (0)
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