Monday, March 26, 2012

New Toys: Axe Fx

I just picked up a new piece of gear... well, new to me. It's a rack unit by the good folks at Fractal Audio called an Axe Fx Standard. You may remember me posting a while back about the Digidesign Eleven Rack. Imagine an Eleven Rack on steroids with better product support and almost 10x the capabilities. This thing's a monster.

I'm only just beginning to crack the surface of this beast, but here's the plan. I'm intending on putting the Axe in a rack with a single space power amp (either a Carvin or an ART... both fair well with Axe users) and running it into a 1x12 cabinet. This rig can be run at very low volumes with the cabinet acting as a personal on-stage monitor. The FOH will get a stereo send from the XLR outs complete with cabinet modeling for the room. The on-stage cabinet would function without the modeling. This is a level of functionality that I wanted from the Eleven Rack, but was one step beyond the processor's capabilities. Too bad too!

The other function I'm hoping to use the Axe for is a complete effects processing unit. I would run all my delays and modulations through it and run it in the loop of the Budda. Fear not, the Budda isnt' going anywhere. By running the Axe in the loop, i can standardize my effects from rig to rig, and the Axe has far more processing power than my pedals. Downside, it's much harder to be spontaneous with settings on the Axe. So, I'll likely keep a pedalboard as well, for those times when I just want my Direct Drive and a tape delay.

So, new toys! If I get this thing figured out, I'll bring it out for one of the April shows. But, for now, there's a lot of learning that needs to happen first.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Making of Violet Mary 3: Bass, Guitar and Cue Mixes

To recap: the first session was simply to get drum sounds. We made it about 90% of the way there before Scott and I hit the wall, so I took a sample and we called it a night. I know that we'd be starting the next session by looking over the snare sound again before moving on.

Tonight, we started by switching out the snare. The problem with the sound we had was that it was too ringy and lacked a mid-rangey "splat" that I'm looking for. Scott had two other snares he wanted to try. The first was a brass snare he uses at rehearsals. It's beautiful on the rehearsal recordings; very dry, immediate and fat. We threw that under mics and it was close, but possibly too dry. After monkeying with positions on that snare, we swapped it out for his gigging snare: a Pearl Reference snare. We all knew it was the one almost immediately. Just dry enough, just fat enough, but not characterless. We futzed the mic positions a bit and shazam, good sounds.

Next up is the bass. Marty's running direct, but I also want to take advantage of his stereo board. His pedalboard, which is part of his personal tone, has stereo effects that help shape and color his tone. We decided to take a completely dry sound, pure and direct, alongside the wet tone. This will give us the most flexibility in the mix.

Cranfill will be tracking the first 4 sounds with his Bitmo Modded Epiphone Valve Jr. through a 1x12 with a 70/80. The Valve Jr. really has a Tweed Deluxe thing going on, perfect for laying fuzz tones or boosts on. I miked the speaker at a 45 degree angle around the cap edge with a SM57. I then ran that 57 through API 550 and 2500 on the computer. The API's have an aggressiveness to them that just loves guitars.

I opted for my Port City Sahana head, which is a 50 watt Plexi clone, through my 1960BX cab in the iso-box. It's miked with a 57 as well as a ksm32. The 32 is off axis at the cap edge, and the 57 is straight on and dead center. This will be a bit more cutting than Cranfills sound, and should complement it. I'm not going for a huge sound on these first few tracks. Definitely a Marc Ford / Rich Robinson deal. Also been listening to a lot of The Elm's live CD. Great Les Paul into Marshall tones. For these first 4 songs, we'll be going for those kind of tones along with acoustic tracks.

The first four tunes will be:
Take The Train
You and I
Lonely Bird

Be looking for another update this weekend from our first tracking session!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing The Next Record

This new record is coming together in a somewhat unique way from After The Plunge. We started recording ATP with only 4 songs really in the can. We were just eager to get a new record together that would feature our then new drummer, Scott Butcher. So, we we took the 4 songs we had and started tracking on those. As we fleshed those songs out, we wrote a bunch more and tracked them as they were written. Many of the songs on ATP were not played in front of people until after the CD was released. And, if memory serves me, there are songs that have never been played out. The record takes on a feel when it's created in the studio. It's a coherent thought from beginning to end, and focused more on a private listening experience.

This new record, whatever it is that we'll call it, is a bit different. We started writing on the new record in early June, having passed our newest member, bassist Marty Dorren, through a trial by fire. Most of these new songs have been written with two main guiding principles:

1. People latch onto melodies, so each song must have a memorable hook. It could be a guitar lick or a keys phrase, but likely it's a vocal melody. Harmonies help reinforce those hooks.

2. If people can't latch onto a melody, give them something they can move to.

I started demoing song ideas in Logic. I'd start with drum tracks created with ToonTrack's EZ Drummer, and then I'd lay down the guitar parts I heard in my head. Sometimes I'd add a simple bass part to communicate the idea. The point of such demos was not to orchestrate parts for the band, or to dictate the changes, but to get the idea out of head so that I could talk over it. I'd come into rehearsal with the demo that I could play for the band, explain the basic thematic ideas and the key points. From there, they'd descend on the idea like an invading army, sometimes pulling it apart and reconstructing, other times merely refining and adding their personalities to the track.

I'm going to take you through one such track from beginning to end. This is a track that initially came in as a Logic demo. There were no words, no bass part. Just guitar and drums. Here's the demo as the band received it:

Planning My Escape by Mike Muscarella

As the band moves this track forward, I will continue to upload samples and progress notes. I may also do that with other tracks.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Making of Violet Mary 3: Drum Day

Hi all - My band, Violet Mary, is back in the studio to track a third full-length record. We've decided to record a behind-the-scenes blog for each session. I'm definitely cueing a bit off of Pete Thorn and James Lugo... you can google them and learn more. Both gentlemen make excellent youtube videos from their studios. Mine is modest by comparison, but it's still pretty fun!

So, here's installment number one: Drum Day. I'll be adding more posts as the sessions commence. Note: there will likely be some significant gear-nerdery. I recommend Advil for any headaches that occur due to gear-nerdum.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Inside The Belly Of The Whale: Tommy Wales

Tommy Wales (of Wales Road fame) returned The Whale on saturday to cut the follow up to "Snake Hisses and Judas Kisses". SHJK was the first of Wales 15 records to be recorded with me, and was his best selling and most played EP to date. Thus, a return trip was in order.

This new EP will be tracked entirely in Logic Pro, a departure from my usual modular and nearly analog system. My Logic rig was predominately a remote recording system for live multi-tracking. All of the live cuts on Violet Mary's "End Times Puppet Show" single were recorded using it. I followed that by doing a more traditional recording project for the Silver Threads. Logic came through as well, though I didn't have to set up cue mixes or overdub at all. The end result was remarkable, and the process was rather smooth. I was curious about mixing a full EP with a mouse, and found that while I missed the faders and knobs, the act of automating a mix made up the difference and then some.

Assuming Wales Road's project is a success, I will likely transition The Whale to Logic. It will be hard to let go of my knobs and faders (get your heads out of the gutter), but Logic greatly expands the studio's capabilities. It's hard to pass that up.

(audio samples with the next post!)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Inside The Belly Of The Whale: Session 10

I started mixing the first of 11 tracks for the new Violet Mary record titled "After The Plunge". The goal this week is to mix the tunes that will appear on the promotional single, "You Won't Rule The World" and "Whiskey Drinking Woman". Along with those two album cuts, we're going to feature three tunes from our show at The Fairport Landing on June 11. First of those is a new take on Trigger Happy from Marionette, followed by Release (also from Marionette) and our cover of Mountain Time, a tune by Will Jennings and Joe Bonamassa. Joe has mentioned that he can't play a show without playing that song... people will riot. We've found the same to be true; a credit to the quality of the song!

Keep your eyes peeled for "The End Times Puppet Show", the new single from Violet Mary available July 11 everywhere Violet Mary stuff is sold.