Project Home Studio: On Our Own
- 1999 29 Apr
It was time to do a new recording project. How was it time? Well, we we're threatening to burn each and every one of our old CDs until we caused a new hole in the ozone layer. Okay, that may be a little extreme, but as a band we had a lot of new material, and we wanted something new out there representing us. So naturally we had two options, do we go to an expensive studio (pay a lot of cash, but probably get an awesome finished product), or do we somehow try to do it on our own?
Well, obviously we did it on our own, because I wouldn't be writing this article if we had gone in a "real" studio. I would be working at the closest fast food venue trying to pay off our debt. We've established that we wanted to record our own project. So what about equipment? Between the three of us in the band we had plenty of stuff to actually play gigs and what not, but not to record a project. We did have one major thing. I had just gotten a brand-new Fostex digital 8 track a few days before we made the huge plunge into full-on "indie-ness." So we had our board, but what about compression, monitors, proper mics, effects, and equalization? Oh yeah, and also a DAT machine, headphone extensions, pop screens, extension cords, DAT tape, speaker cable, extra headphones? And the biggest one: someone to record us and help us along this dark journey that few dare to tread.
That's where our connections came through once again. We knew we would have to rent some, buy some, and hopefully borrow some. That's when this wonderful magazine (CM) came through. Mackie powered monitors, Rane Mojo compression and equalization, an Alesis MicroVerb4, and Shure mics (an SM 57, SM 58, KSM32 a cardoid condenser mic, and a Beta kick mic) were all on their way for us to record our soon-to-be album. One huge problem taken care of. One left: what about our engineer and mixer? That's when our friend, fellow musician (but about 300 times more of one), and "real" studio intern, Mike, said that he would love to help us. So we were set. We gave ourselves a week (that was Sunday) to: get all the "little" things we needed, make our bassist's basement a recordable place, set up all the equipment, pick all the songs to be recorded, and pick up our drummer, since he lives over 4 hours away (don't ask how that works, but it does).
Friday of that week, we thought we were ready. All the equipment came, we made about 5 trips to American Music (our local music store) to rent and buy stuff, we threw up curtains and sleeping bags all over the basement - oops, I mean recording studio - to make it dense, practiced with our drummer, and had a gig that night. We went to our gig, played well and got home late. Woke up early Saturday morning and began our journey. Drums first, of course. Well, to be honest, that's the way we had to do it because our drummer had to be home Sunday evening (he had school on Monday). So we had less than two days to record 10 drum tracks. To record our drums we used three mics: the Ksm32 (our hero of the project), a SM 58, and the Shure Beta kick mic for the bass kick.
Also, none of us had ever played, let alone recorded, with a click track, but we just went for it anyway. So after two hours of getting a good drum sound, and two hours of getting all the equipment working together, it was time to try the first song. After we got used to the click, the rough guitar and bass tracks went pretty smoothly. We then had to record the drums after the rough tracks, due to track space. That was our first problem. We were doing all right, three songs done, but it was getting late. We wanted to do two more. So we made our second mistake: to save time we did two songs without a click track. We'll talk about that later.
We all went home late, and came back to the dungeon - oops, recording studio - early Sunday morning. We had six hours to do five more drum tracks, because we had to drive our drummer back to Mexico, or wherever he lives. So we were a little rushed. Somehow it went smoothly. We did one more song without a click, not because we didn't want to, because it has super weird timing. Our drummer played awesome. We went fifteen minutes over schedule wrapping things up, but the drums were finished. Off to Mexico.
Monday was acoustic guitar day. Basically we had to get a good guitar track to match perfect with the drums. We used the Shure KSM32 to record all the acoustic tracks. After about an hour of getting a good guitar sound we started to record the easy songs. We did two songs, before we realized our first problem with our compressor: it has to have a constant signal to stay on. If it wasn't receiving a constant signal it would shut off, and that was giving us an airy sound. So we turned up the signal and re-recorded the first two songs. We recorded one more, and then we realized our mistake from Saturday night. The two songs that we didn't use a click track with sped up and down at times that they weren't supposed to, which made it close to impossible to record a good guitar track. So we called it quits for the night. We came to this conclusion: we were going to ax one song (the one that was on our first EP), and we would try to do the second with bass first, then have the guitar try to follow the bass. What a day.
Tuesday we finished the acoustic tracks with ease. We were back on schedule. Wednesday was bass day. We got all the bass tracks done, including the one song that we left the bass to fix. We used the Beta kick to mic the bass amp; it worked great. We all (the engineer included) had a gig that night, but we made it in plenty of time.
Thursday our goal was to get all the electric guitar tracks done. I don't know how we did it, but we did. Doing the acoustic tracks, then the bass, and then the electric was smart. It was fairly simple, just follow the old tracks. We used two amps: my Roland and my Danelectro "Nifty Fifty." We also only used two electric guitars, my Hamer and my Danelectro. It was a fun day. We were stoked.
Friday we decided we'd go meet our friend Mike and he could lay down some keys. We had two songs that we wanted him to play on. Mike is extremely talented (playing for over 11 years). After we ran around trying to find a place to record, we landed at Nathan's house. We decided to use Mike's Rhodes piano. After about an hour of showing him the first song, his track was done. Then on the second song, the miracle happened. Nathan was dinking around on the Rhodes, showing Mike what we wanted, and Mike jumped on and started playing the low end. Nathan kept on playing the high end. It sounded so awesome. So we recorded it, with both them playing at the same time. Two takes, over and out.
Saturday we all took a break. It was very much needed. Sunday we went back to Carl's basement and listened to everything we'd recorded so far. We were happy, but we still had doubts. We still didn't know if it was going to be a "good" recording or not. We were still worried that it might be airy, but we plunged forward anyway. We decided we'd record the two songs that were acoustic and had no drums that night. Acoustic guitar, bass, congas, floor tom, and one electric track were all recorded Sunday. We were tired but happy.
Monday we began working on vocals, which started with getting a good vocal sound. The rane compressor couldn't do what we needed it to do for vocals. The engineer thought we should get something he was a little more familiar with, so we rented an Alesis 36/30. It worked great. Once again we used the Shure large diaphragm condenser to record all vocals. After about an hour of testing and getting a good sound, we had a quick jam session, and finished one track. Then it was time to go see our favorite band: Sunny Day Real Estate.
Tuesday and Wednesday we finished recording my vocals. It went well. At times it got frustrating, but with time and a few changes it sounded great. Thursday we started to do the backing vocals (sung by our bass player). We got half the songs done. So that meant that Friday we had to finish backing vocals, record a violin track, try a harmonica track, and wrap everything up. Friday I had a concert to help promote, so I was in Portland. They finished up everything with the Shure condenser mic. We were done recording. Wahoo! Now mixing.
Saturday we took off. Sunday and Monday were mixing days. We decided to mix at the engineer's house. First we mixed the songs on the Fostex Dmt-8vl, then put them on DAT ( from our rented DAT machine), and then put them on normal tape so we could listen to them in a variety of stereo players. The Mackie powered monitors were perfectly clear. We cranked every mix. Five songs were over and done with on Sunday. They sounded great - no air. Monday we finished the other five. Monday night we sat down and listened to "Words." It was amazing to hear how all our work had paid off. We were worn out, but very proud.
Tuesday we sent the DAT to the duplication and mastering company. Wednesday we sketched out a rough idea for our artwork and gave it to a design company. Friday we got the artwork back, and after a bit of a struggle, we decided to re-do it on our own. We designed the cover, tray, and inside all on Microsoft Publisher. The following Monday we sent it off. That Tuesday we got the mastered pre-CD. We popped it in and held our breath. After listening to the first two songs we knew it kicked. They did an awesome job. The recording process of "Words" was finally complete.
I'm now sitting here typing this article, knowing that we made the right choice. It was worth all the hard work. We will soon have a product that we're very proud of out in the world. Sometimes it's best to do things on your own.
To get more info on the Just Roads "Words" album, write to: 4441 S. Meridian Suite #275, Puyallup, WA 98373 or email [email protected]