Use Whats Available

Hi all!

Sometimes I am so focused on the gear I don’t have that I can overlook the gear I do, and what the point of even having gear is – to make music. I was reminded again of this when listening to a demo I made with my old band Corban Ablaze. We had a few originals that we were really happy with and wanted to make some basic recordings of them. I didn’t have a Zoom recorder or anything decent enough to sit in a room to capture a jam, and none of us had enough cash to hire a studio for a day or 2. So in the end, we just went to down to church where there was a nice drum kit and a mixing console and a bunch of Sure SM58’s. The mixing desk was connected to a PC running Audacity (which is FREE, God bless open-source), so we tracked everything one at a time onto separate tracks on Audacity.

First we mic’d up the drums with four SM58’s: 1 between hats and snare, 1 between the 2 rack toms, 1 on the floor tom, and 1 on the kick drum. The tom mic’s picked up the cymbals just fine. Even though a 58 on a kick drum is far from optimal (imagine the opposite of a clear, deep, thumping bass sound) – it’s all I had available! So we played out the song over again until we got a good continuous drum track. A single track with all the drums mixed  to approximate levels. Not something to make a studio tech smile, but we were determined to the best we could.

Next we did bass, then 2 guitar tracks (for left and right panning), then keyboard tracks. After playing this song over for at least an hour, we moved on to 2 others. Same again with the single tracking. Shure 58’s all round.

Then when I got home, I imported all the separate wave files into Garage Band on my laptop. Why the choice of Garage Band and not ProTools or Cubase or the like? Because it’s FREE!!! And good.

Then later at night, I went back down to church to record vocals. I had a rough mix from the laptop in my headphones and laid some tracks down the same way, 58 to mixing desk, to Audacity. Funny to think Im recording vocals through the same mic I recorded the kick drum with earlier that day. Oh well.

Then over the next few weeks, as I made pockets of time available, I was able to use as much processing trickery I knew how to extract as much sonic goodness as possible within Garage Band. Some techniques I used:

  • Duplicated the drum tracks 3 times to equalise and compress separately for cymbals, toms & snare, and kick drum. I used heaps of hard compression on the cymbals to get the sound I was after. Especially to make the ride shine and the china fit in better.
  • Panned the drum tracks slightly off centre, except for the kick track.
  • Panned one guitar track roughly 80% to the left, and the other 80% to the right. Classic and good.
  • Keyboards were great the way they were. Maybe just some compression.
  • Added compression and overdrive to the bass track. Deeper and dirtier sound.
  • Delay, overdrive, early and moderately hard compression for vocals.

One thing I will point out is that the instruments we used are all very nice- Gibson Les Paul Custom through Laney VH100R, Mapex Venus (Remo Pinstripes all over), Sabian and Zildjian A & K custom cymbals, Peavey Soundgear SR1200 bass, and some half-decent Yamaha keyboard. This really helped with maintaining some kind of quality in the tones.

So the point to this post is to encourage anyone who is feeling too broke or lacking in gear to record anything. Think about what you DO have and what your friends already have. What does the guy down the road have? Can you invite a friend of a friend around for a beer and see if they could lend or operate their gear for you?

Try not to let gear and money worries cloud your creative process. I always tell myself that I can record it again one day when Im rich and successful. It helps take off the pressure and get some music into reality. And please – learn something new and have some fun while doing it!!!

So here’s the track that came up best-

4 thoughts on “Use Whats Available

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  1. Hi,
    I see you use Garage Band also. Nice, I do too. Enjoyed your article. Sometimes I tend to think that you concentrate mostly on guitars and drums and that’s cool because that your expertise. However, keyboard accompaniment is also important and I can barely hear it. I hear the guitars and the drums very well. But maybe that is the intention, the battle of the guitars and drums. In that case the keyboard is not suppose to be heard very well. Enjoyed reading the article.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

    1. Hey Patty, glad you enjoyed the article! I agree that keyboards could have been mixed a little louder to be sitting where I would consider a better volume.

      Also an interesting personal note on mixing keyboards… One of the best guitar tones I mixed was a Hughes and kettner statesman and ESP stratocaster with some killer pedals and 2 Shure SM57’s on the cab set at different angles at different points of the speaker cones. The best keyboard tones I mixed came from a guy playing a Nord Stage plugged into the PA. The end. No compression, no eq, nothing extra needed. If the player knows their keyboard well, its plug and play baby!

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