I'd like to give a shout out to Kris Smith of Haus of Kraus Recording Studio. He Mixed and Mastered "Gratitude" –a new album by my Folk-Rock group The Holler! with awesome results. Kris is known around town for his edgy work with Peace Officer, Post Paradise and his own project Ghost in the Machine , now hear him shine with an acoustic folkedelic band. I would recommend Kris for any kind of project...Mandolin? Yes.
The Master went to get pressed yesterday...come up to the Mishawaka on May 7th to celebrate "Gratitude" and get your copy!
The album was recorded at my basement studio, Green Man Sound Lab. I used a Tascam DP-02 for all the tracking. These can be purchased new for $379.99 at Musicians Friend. It’s a very inexpensive machine (less than the cost of a decent microphone!) and super easy to use—great for an artsy type like me that wont sacrifice songwriting time or practice for reading long technical manuals. For the gear heads out there: my studio is equipped with a Yamaha compressor/limiter, Beringer tube pre-amp, Sure SM81, SM57’s, Audio Technica 3030, and a Roland RE-501 space echo (super cool). Aside from the vintage echo machine, my studio is very modest and some engineers would even describe my equipment as “crappy”…but I know how to use it!
The DP-02 is a portable 8-track 16-bit hard disc recorder that can only record 2 signals at once—OR ONE STEREO SIGNAL! That means I had to take 8 channels of drum kit and mix them live to stereo 2 track for the recording. After I tracked the drums, I was left with 6 tracks for Bass, Mandolin, Guitar, lap steel, and 4 Voices. This meant getting creative with sharing tracks, a lot of trial and error went into who’s vocals should be married on one track, etc.
The Tascam DP-02 has virtually no editing capability, and mixing down to stereo is a live performance in itself that needs to be rehearsed with detailed notes and sometimes 3-5 hands on the faders and knobs. After making a few mixes I realized I couldn’t achieve the sound I was looking for with such a limiting process.
While I was mixing Gratitude, I was also attending weekly booking meetings for FoCoMX III, a great Northern Colorado music festival. This is where I met Kris Smith and learned about his lush project, Ghost in the Machine. Before long we were discussing mixing and mastering possibilities at Kris’s studio, Haus of Kraus. Props to the Fort Collins Musicians Association for facilitating networking amongst working musicians!
I sent Kris my rough mix so he could catch the vibe I was looking for. Then I sent the individual tracks with some basic instructions: “make it like my mix…only better.” All Kris had to work with in the mix down of Gratitude was 6 tracks of voices and instruments, and 2-tracks of drums, every piece of the kit was represented on those two tracks. You can imagine the lack of flexibility he encountered in the mixing process with the kick drum, overheads, snare, and toms all married together on 2 tracks! Considering these limitation, he did a great job with the drums.
Kris mixed the project from the east coast, I think he mentioned that he was at Plymouth Rock for a day of mixing! I would have preferred to be there in person but constant contact through emails and phone made me comfortable that we were getting somewhere magical with the project. I was able to review every change he made and cross reference with my own mix to be sure we were on the right path.
After the mix was approved by The Holler!, I sat in on the mastering session at Haus of Kraus in Fort Collins. It became clear during mastering that we had a great project, I was very pleased. Overall the process was very organic and natural…great qualities for an acoustic album, there is awesome personality in every voice, Kris was able to make us shine on this mix. Tracking at my home studio was a dream come true. Not having the worry of cost looming over your head was huge…I can think of numerous occasions in studios where it took an hour or two to capture a good 12 bar solo break, all the while burning up my bands hard earned cash. If you are a positive person, I am sure you can think of all kinds of reasons that “it was a good experience,” but honestly speaking, this is not money well spent, especially for a band on a budget. Our approach made time for each musician to write parts in the studio and even act on wild creative impulses without thinking about $$$ and killing that sacred creative process. Tracking at Green Man Sound Lab saved our cash for the mix down and mastering process.
This approach to recording The Holler! was fun, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I would recommend it to anyone who can track at home. If you find a guy like Kris Smith to work with it will sound even better.
Ambient sounds on The Holler!’s Gratitude: Rivers and Bikes
Josh Vogeler (drummer for The Holler!) and I were recently in the Cache La Poudre Canyon looking for the perfect ambiance for our new record. We drove up to a secret spot where the river strays from the road, all that can be heard are the pines whispering in the wind and the river flowing through and under ice—ice that was breaking while we watched.
With a hand-held stereo digital recorder I tracked 30 minutes of pre-season rapids, ice melting and Josh scrambling up an eroded hill side with his Ocarina, a small clay whistle. The tracks were recorded in 44.1k 16 bit stereo-the highest resolution my studio at home can work with. I find it ironic that my field recorder captures higher resolution than my home studio!
The next day was bicycle noise day, very simple--or so I thought. Strap the recorder around my neck and ride around. I was looking for all those little noises that make bicycles so “silent” compared to cars. The chain making contact with gear teeth, freewheel hub ticking, my knobby cross-tires on the gravel driveway and broken pavement of Laporte Avenue, a little heavy breathing and maybe a goose honk break tone. My big problem: wind noise. Even with my pop filters on, the wind noise was too strong. To overcome this, I had to multi-track the different sounds that I was looking for in a non-moving environment where wind noise would not interfere with delicate bike sounds. So, I put the bike up on my work stand (upside down on my picnic table) and examined the “sweet spots” for mic positioning. Funny, this is a process I normally do with my mandolins and guitars. I learned the sounds I was looking for would be accentuated with less lube on my chain so I dried it off with a rag and began to crank. I recorded takes of the rear derailleur and front crank set, and then rolled the bike on the pavement and gravel (at low speed) to capture that rubber on road sound. Once mixed together, I hope to create a bike riding soundscape at the beginning of the album’s title track: Gratitude.
This may seem like a lot of work for a few seconds of ambiance, but we care deeply for the Poudre and Bicycles and wanted to represent them well on our record that will live forever.
The Holler!’s new album Gratitude will be released May 7th. We are throwing a CD release Masquerade at Mishawaka up the Poudre canyon in Northern Colorado. Cycling/Carpooling is highly encouraged. A CD copy of Gratitude is included with admission and yes, masks are required to get in.
My first big exposure to The Beach Boys was on a California road trip my family took a long time ago. I think I was 7 or 8. I had a Beach Boys tape of my dad’s in my walkman for the bulk of that adventure. I don’t remember what album it was (perhaps a mix tape?), it was filled with early hits like Surfer Girl, Surfin’ USA, and Barbra Ann. I’ve primarily been exposed to the Beach Boys hits on the radio and always associate those songs with the back seat of our family’s flesh-colored 1978 Chevy Malibu Classic Station Wagon--until recently. I am now 33 and Last spring, an audiophile friend handed me a copy of “Smile” on CD, It was an unfinished version from 1966 with scratch vocal takes and instrumentals. He said he got it from a friend who had access to the digital archives at Capital Records. It didn’t sound like the Beach Boys I was familiar with. Conditioned by their radio hits to think they were just another pop band from the 60’s, my mind was blown on the first listen. I was surprised to hear the amazing orchestrations and psychedelic textures. This was the beginning of my post-pubescent fascination with the band, and a discovery of Brian Wilson’s musical vision and genius. I found that CD to be one of my most played recordings of 2010—I must have listened to that CD 200 times last year. Since then I have purchased a re-mastered copy of “Pet Sounds” and Brian Wilsons 2004 “Smile.”
I remember my dad telling me that “Darlin” off of “Wild Honey” was one of his all-time favorite songs, so when I found a copy on vinyl a few weeks ago at a flea market in here in Fort Collins, I had to buy it. What a great record. So now on to this blogs original purpose: to talk about my “Wild Honey” experience. What I really wanted to share was the joy I have found in playing back “Wild Honey” at 6% slower speed. My record player has a “pitch” knob that can slow down or speed up a disc up to 10%. I use it to micro-adjust the tuning so I can play along with albums when learning tunes. I haven’t figured out what 6% means to the original key of the album, but it’s 6% slower and 6% lower. I’ve tried it with other recordings to find “sweet spots” with no success, but there is something about the Beach Boy’s music, maybe their voices, maybe the fast-tempo songs that makes them sound great slower and lower.
This sounds crazy and most Beach Boys fans would probably call it blasphemous, but I’ve really enjoyed Carl Wilson’s voice in this key (6% down) specifically on “Darlin”. There are nuances in his tone that bring amazing life to that song when played back slower. I’m not trying to say the Beach Boys would be better with slower tempos and lower keyed songs, or that Carl should have been a Baritone…I’m just reporting my discovery and would love to hear from other Beach Boys fans. For someone familiar with the record, you may not be able to stomach this 6% thing, it profoundly changes the feel of this classic album, but I am new to the record and this era of the Beach Boys. I suggest you try it—and please send me your impressions. If anything, this awesome record will last little longer.
To all the musicians out there reading this: get a solo gig—if you can handle it. Maybe you are a kick-ass picker, drummer or singer for a band. You’ve been doing it for a while with yer mates and life is good… I dare you to play a show by yourself! Now the voice in your head begins to speak: “but I need my mates to make it happen,” or “I’m just a drummer—how can that entertain a crowd?” It can’t hurt to try it once man!
Playing solo is a refreshingly shocking way to assess your knowledge of the repertoire and musicianship. In rehearsals with the full band, I get caught up in hearing “others mistakes” that shock my experience, all the while shortchanging my perception and ability to hone my part. Makes me wonder about all my flubs, as If my shit don’t smell. So I possess a critical ear that I haven’t fully learned to use. The “off” switch and “friend” filters have not been found and the manual is lost! It’s how you react in the heat of passion that makes someone like me a dick…perhaps another topic some other time! Anyways, with an ear like that you can become overly critical when the sensor is aimed at yourself. Now it’s your own breath, voice, picking strokes, and ringing strings. No one else, that’s it, alone in a desert, exposed! Now there’s complete control over EVERY aspect of the performance. Here lies the great responsibility: it’s up to you to expose every little pitch indifference, fracked note, cheesed lyric and faked melody that the music contains. Don’t forget about the phrasing, the details that make the melody effective, the inflections that make the words emotional, the melodic counter-part of the guitar, what notes to let ring, when to build dynamics…*gasp* a lot of stuff, and it’s all you. Beautiful! 100% accountability…not always so much fun, but you learn a lot about yourself. I recommend that EVERY musician get out and perform their craft SOLO at least once—IF YOU CAN…it’s an eye opener man!
“Michael's Mayhem, Maybe” is just getting started! I'm turning on web presence with a vengeance today. Tina (my sister) is a very talented marketer and has cued me in on some of the finer points this arena requires. On the top of her list: Start a Blog. OK Tina, here it is. What does this have to do with music? I guess we will see as time goes by. Getting involved in the business side of music making has been a daunting task indeed and has tried my patience and creativity to the max. If I can figure out this computer thing then I can surely tackle “Brilliancy” on the mandolin. After experiencing the dread of learning hypertext, I’ll welcome the frustration that comes with getting a challenging new tune under my fingertips. There’s nothing like a little screen starin’ to put my love of music (and dislike of screens) into perspective.
Although tedious at times, I feel like I am breaking into an exciting new world and a world full of music lovers can’t be that bad! The whole point of this blog is to generate interest and engage my fans by giving them a glimpse of where the music comes from. So how do I do that? I’d like to think it’s the same as making music: fish around, dig it up, write it down, work it into the whole and present it to the audience. When the performance is over, you feel entertained at worst and at best—inspired. Why someone would read a journal entry of mine is beyond me, but then again, it took me a while to realize that someone would want to hear me sing. So to all you fans reading this: Think about a new world that you could break into. Why haven’t you yet? What’s stopping you? I know my answer: "cause I was scared."