Archive for February, 2008

 

Today Special

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Hey, happy leap day. I guess it is a special day. But that isn’t what this post is about.

We had a really enjoyable studio night last night. After what seemes like years of mixing and mastering, we’ve finally started to get back to the fun part: making new music.

We’ve got a storehouse of riffs that we’ve amassed over the years. Lots of the musical ideas have come from teensy little pieces of really long jams that we’ve recorded. Other ideas have dropped, fully-formed, out of our heads and hands. Generally that’s what we start with.

Last night for example, we recorded some general noodling around. We set up a simple session in Pro Tools and let it run while we fired up different rhythms on the trusty Dr. Groove drum machine and improvised. We weren’t really coming up with anything that was rocking our collective world, so we changed tacks (keeping the jams, of course, we might find something inspring in there after all).

We pulled up an old riff called “today special”, named for a sign that used to hang in our favorite east-side Chinese food take out place. We had created the jam at Mike’s place immediately after setting up his “remote” studio, which is a kind of stripped down affair. We recorded directly into Acid (we only did the acid 10 times… uh, I mean ONE time, man) and posted it online so I could drag it into my system and goof around with it.

We almost lost the whole idea, forgetting that it was out there in cyberspace. I thought about it much later and wondered where it had gone. Fortunately I found it, or the idea would have been completely lost – a very frustrating thing, and something that I’ll probably touch on in another post sometime.

In any event, we pulled it up last night and found that it fit our mood quite nicely (r&b funky, which seems to vie with heavy-duty rock for our attention). After monkeying around with it for a while we came up with what could be a good chorus, and stripped down the verse a little. As always, it’s going to continue to evolve until we reach the final product, but that’s the really wicked cool part of the creative process. When it’s done it may have changed from the original so much that it’s only got a passing resemblance, but we’ll have ourselves a new DD69 tune.

Turning the Gears

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Just read a cool post at Punk Rock Your Life that really captures the current state of DD69 HQ.  Go ahead, check it out.  We’ll be here when you get back.

Nice to see you again.  So that’s what we’re trying to do – get the gears turning again.  Sometimes it’s really discouraging to know that a few years ago we had some momentum and then the drunkdude machine ground to a halt for one reason or another.  We’re starting from scratch again, letting people know about the new record, getting ready for some shows in 2008, looking for other bands that we’d fit with on a bill, scouting gig locations…

It’s a bit like trying to get four guys to push a stalled tractor trailer – heavy duty.  But we’re doing it.  Finally, after all this time, we’re in action.

By Design. Or Beer.

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

punky stickerIt took us a long time to come up with the packaging design for “Funk Out With Your Junk Out“.  Considering we worked on it for so long, it’s not surprising that we went through a number of concepts before only recently settling on the “beer-ish” final product.

Initially we were just going to go DIY and manufacture CDs ourselves, using printable CDs, off-the-shelf CD boxes with stickers on the front, and these killer shrinkwrap bags.   The original punky sticker that was to serve as the cover was simple black and white, probably for economics.  The CD was full color, because we were printing it ourselves.

We went through a bunch of potential titles and associated designs, including the “LP label” CD, the “hypno” CD, and ultimately the “short guy” CD.  For several years I thought we were going to use “short guy” for the CD and some variation of an old family photograph (in which we found “short guy” in the first place) as some part of the outer packaging.

When we started to realize that we had spent a huge amount of time and effort writing, recording, mixing, and unltimately mastering the record, we began to consider actually getting it manufactured.  After all that energy put into it, we were inclined to have a real live product that we could show off, instead of what our friends and family considered vaporware.

When we decided to have some manufactured, Mike spoke up and said he didn’t like the “short guy” design.  It was a surprise, since it had seemed the de facto design for at least three or four years with no one expressing any dissatisfaction with it.  For some reason he felt that people might mistake the group of men in the 1930s era photo for the members of the band.  Riiiight.

short guy CD design However, as with most of the times Mike has piped up, it wound up being a good thing.  We rethought the whole packaging and went through a few rounds of new designs.  We settled on what became the final design shortly before sending the master off to be replicated.  Among our design inspriations: beer, beer labels, beer, beer bottles, a bag of 20-year-old beer deckels that Mike brought back from Europe in the late 80s, and beer.  Did I mention beer?

Just goes to show you: if you’ve hit a design roadblock, feel like you’re out of creative ideas, or feel stuck in a design rut, it can be extremely effective to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.  I mean, we could always have fallen back on the older designs – thank goodness we didn’t.  The final product is way more fresh to us, and really conveys our approach to making our brand of music – some fun, some angst, some poetic license, all with a slightly dry flavor and a little carbonation thrown in for texture.

Speaking of which, our close personal friend Uncle Crappy turned us on to a CD meme which inspired today’s post.  It’s fun, and you could wind up wasting hours and hours – and who doesn’t love that when there’s stuff to do?

It’s easy: (1) Get a band name by visiting this random Wikipedia entry page.  Title of the entry is the name of your new band, which will soon rule the world.  (2)  Get an album title by visiting this page for a random quote.  Take the last four words of the final quote for your title.  (3) Get an album cover at this flickr page – the third image is your cover.  If the image isn’t under a creative commons copyleft that lets you use it, reload the page and keep checking the third image until you find one that will let you share.

Here’s what I came up with in no time at all: My new band “MACE” and our debut record “ungrateful to these teachers“.

rock ON

Cool image courtesy of z.H.Becky on Flickr 

Bang, your album cover is ready.  Man, I wish we would have thought of this before all of the rock-paper-scissors and arm wrestling that went down for our record.  Next time we’ll know better.

All agog, but is it right?

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

We’ve got some older recordings with drums laid down by an old friend who, sadly, has since passed away. He did a great job on the songs, and we want to keep his performances. Since they were recorded a number of years ago, though, they reflect the equipment and skills we had at the time. Today we would be able to do a much better job of capturing his playing (allegedly).

At issue are some of the sounds on the recording. Kick and snare, for example, are just… well a little weak. I want to say they sound ‘puffy’, but what does that mean? I don’t know. I’m just a drunkdude. For the longest time we’ve been trying to EQ and compress them to get a better sound, but the truth is that you can seldom “fix it in the mix”. What to do?

While paging through Mix magazine recently, I ran across an ad for a drum replacer plug-in called “drumagog”. I had tooled around before with a sound replacement plug-in which lets you select three different trigger velocities for three different sounds – say a strong kick, a medium kick and a soft kick. That was kind of a pain. This product looked like it might be a little cooler, so I visited their website and downloaded a demo.

With the demo installed and a song loaded, I found that the plug-in was very flexible and had plenty of options. I tried it out on a song and was really impressed at its capabilities, even considering the fact that the demo only comes with a small handful of sample “replacement” sounds. You can completely replace the recorded sound if you want to, but I wound up using the replacement sound on a new copy of the existing kick track . I mixed the new track under the old kick track to give the kick a little more “snap”.

The question that I ask myself is: is it bogus fakery to do this kind of stuff? You know, what everyone will derisively refer to as studio trickery. Cheating, even.

I’ve developed the opinion that it’s okay to do something like this when it doesn’t change the actual performance, but instead helps bolster the sonic fidelity. For example, the plug-in track matches the original performance and dynamics (you do have to correct for latency, but the plug-in conveniently tells you how much latency you need to correct), so it’s not a case where you’re wholesale manufacturing a drum track that didn’t exist.

I know songwriters that have taken a recorded kick drum, triggered a MIDI track, quantized the MIDI track, and finally used the MIDI to lay down a new kick track. At that point they’ve effectively removed the real live drummer’s performance. Why not just program a drum machine and be done with it?

Even though DD69 recordings are studio-intensive, we first capture the live core performance of the whole band, then add overdubs and clean up the resulting sonic mayhem. Sometimes we write using loops or cut-and-paste methods (K-Billy wrote a solo piece by piece on Thursday’s studio night, and when we convene again he will lay down the entire thing in one pass). We generally record several takes of a performance and assemble the best sections into one final take. But we’re not eliminating an actual performance and replacing it with a performance manufactured in-studio.

I guess in the final analysis you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to achieve your vision, and I know that some music is pre-assembled. But somehow I don’t feel like that’s the road we’re traveling.

In a perfect world we’d have the U87s and SSL console and phenomenal outboard gear, but in the real world of dd69 we’ve got a couple basements and a handful of mics wrapped in gaff tape. So it’s more about working with the tools we’ve got to make those real performances as sonically close to what we hear in our collective drunkdude mind as possible. Bring on the plug-in…