Music

House of the Rising Sun

After putting many hours into what was meant to be a simple cover song project, I am very glad to say that House of the Rising Sun is officially released and available for download.

Finally!

I’m not sure how many hours went into the production here over the last few months, but it’s easily one of the more complicated things I’ve done. I set out to stretch away from my comfort zone, experiment with some new software, and learn new techniques. Check, check, check, and check, more than I’d ever bargained for.

First off, this song’s just got a ton of layers going on. Many psycliq songs take a pretty straightforward rock band approach. You’ve got your drum kind of stuff, a bass instrument, a couple midrange bits to add texture, and maybe a melody up on top to carry things along. The first version of this has organ, drums, a couple guitars, bass guitar, two interlocking synths, a string pad, some sound effects, some vocals, and a solo line. And that’s just what I can remember off hand! It was quite a challenge putting all of these pieces together into something that sounded like a single song and not just a mush of noise happening. At least, I hope I accomplished that much.

Second, this was my first time around with a bunch of new versions of software, like ProTools 9, Reason 5, Amplitube 3, and others. Several of these were major upgrades with very different ways of working than what I was used to. I also had a few new tools to help the process, like the AKAI MPD18 drum pad, which works fantastic with Reason, and the nanoKontrol2, which works fantastic with Pro Tools 9. I also made an effort to master the songs a bit with TRackS3, and hope that I didn’t mangle the sound quality too badly in the process. But in doing so, I made sure to export all of the stems out to allow for remixes and the like in the future.

Third, and speaking of remixes, I simply couldn’t leave well enough alone. Once I’d basically gotten the main mix the way that I wanted it, I immediately started tweaking things around and making some experimental remixes. One of these added four additional tracks on top of the existing madness, if you can believe it.

There are four different mixes total in the single, with instrumental versions of each, bringing the grand total to eight tracks. The download also comes with a sixteen-page art booklet with illustrated lyrics, as well as a set of desktop wallpapers made out of the minimalist cover art. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal at only $2, if you ask me.

But you didn’t ask me, so I’m going to let you decide for yourself: go ahead and listen to it for free, right here!

If you like it, support independent music and tell your friends!

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A slice of MicroKorg

Inspired by the MicroMoorg project, I’ve decided to try and mod my own MicroKorg into a folding synthesizer. The control panel on the mK has always been a bit awkward to use, as you really do need to lean over it to read everything in the edit matrix. Plus, I thought it would just look awesome to have this little guy fold up like that.

As you can see, the first part of the project is taking the thing apart. Sorry for the terrible picture, but it’s all I have right now. Once we got everything out, we carefully measured where the components fit and found, as others have, that you can slice the chassis apart pretty cleanly between the keyboard and the editor panel. We used a dremel to make the cut, which worked fairly well except for some melting underneath the arpeggiator switches. There’s really just not much plastic there to hold things up once you cut away the bottom portion, so we’re going to have to figure out how to reinforce that when this all goes back together.

You might notice that last sentence is in the future tense.

Once we had everything apart, we tried to fit the hinges we had onto the remaining case only to discover that nothing quite fit the way we wanted it to. After mocking up a few different ideas, we decided to call it quits and put the basic unit back together. Needless to say, this was quite disappointing, but better to take this project a little bit slow and have better results than a quick hack job that nobody would be happy with. And most importantly of all, the MicroKorg needs to still work when it’s all done.

So the next step is going to be figuring out exactly how to reattach the two pieces so as to allow freedom of movement but maintain some level of structural integrity. I’ve got some ideas, but only time will tell what’s going to work in the end. We’ll be updating the blog here with progress, so stay tuned.

(I say “stay tuned” a lot, don’t I?)

Production

House of the Remixed Sun

First, a quick note: Have you downloaded the Telegraph EP yet? It’s a limited edition! Not many copies left and only a couple weeks to grab them!

After I basically finalized the the mix for “House of the Rising Sun” to a point I’m pretty happy with, I continued to poke at it a little bit more because I can’t leave well enough alone.

At first it started with me just cutting out some of the tracks and adding a few filters to other tracks to create a very sparse organ-driven version of the song. The regular mix is a kind of slow, loud shuffle with lots of layers happening to it, and I was looking to trim things down and open them up a lot. Of course this wasn’t good enough and I ended up routing the melody synthesizers through the organ sounds. Even so, it was nice and simple and a good exercise in remixing from existing track stems.

Then things got a little nutty. I pulled open the regular mix and swapped out the drums entirely for a much more driving march beat, something I’ve been calling a techno-stomp. I also mixed in most of the synth sounds throughout the song instead of fading them in and out. It completely changed the feel of the song, and so I swapped out the effects on the bass and guitars and a few of the other synths. I even added a flanger to the organ, just because. However, this wasn’t nearly cacophonous enough, so I added a secondary drum track, some synth bass, and some mellotron strings to fill things out.

My poor little computer was having trouble keeping up with the results, especially when I bounced out all the individual tracks, but I like how it sounds. I think it has on the order of 17 active tracks, most of theme stereo with plugins running on top. For reference, most Psycliq songs have about 5 or 6 stereo tracks, tops.

What started out as a little production exercise is going to turn into a digital single. Sometime in the next few weeks, you’ll be able to pick up “House of the Rising Sun” from all over the place with at least these three mixes, maybe more if I go even crazier.  And then it’s on to some new, original music!

Music

The Telegraph EP

Update: This album is no longer available for download.

Last week, my wife and son were out of town and I had the house to myself. I’m given to understand that this is when a poor bedraggled husband like myself is supposed to drink beer and watch Bruce Willis movies. Unfortunately for such plans, I am not a fan of beer and my wife is a fan of Bruce Willis movies and would have been upset if I’d had a marathon without her.

So what’s a man to do but hole up in the studio and record a whole new album! Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Telegraph EP.

OK, so it’s not exactly a whole new album. It’s more of an EP of cover songs. I recorded all six of these songs in straight takes with just an acoustic guitar and a vocal mic. No overdubbing, no special effects (apart from a touch of EQ and reverb to compensate for the terrible room acoustics I have here), and no fancy packaging. What you get is a raw collection of six acoustic tracks, not available anywhere else. And you can download it for FREE, right now!

But, I will admit, there’s a bit of a catch. In a world of constant availability and unexpiring archives, I wanted this little album to be something different. It was recorded on a whim with very little forethought or afterthought (or midthought at that rate), and while I want people to hear it, it’s going to vanish just as quickly as it came into being.

Starting tonight, the Telegraph EP will therefore remain available for free online for up to three weeks or fifty downloads, whichever comes first. At that point, it will takes its place in history. I don’t plan on doing any physical CD versions of it or releasing it on iTunes or anywhere else. It’s going to be a bandcamp-exclusive digital-only limited-time limited-quantity (and yet totally free) flash in the digital pan. After you’ve downloaded your copy, please tell all of your friends to grab a copy, too! Bandcamp even makes this easy with a little “share” button.

So why are you still here reading? Go download your copy today and be a part of history!

Production

Somebody Stop Me

I’ve been slowly but dilligently working away on finishing up “House of the Rising Sun” here in the studio, and I’m glad to say that it’s nearly complete. I’m trying out all kinds of new production techniques and getting a handle on new pieces of software and hardware while putting this together.

The results are currently something of a monster. With all of the tracks activated (including the MIDI tracks that have since been printed to audio), I had to zoom out as small as I could just to get them to fit on the screen. Now this is nowhere near what a Celldweller song looks like, but for me, it’s pretty crazy. There’s definitely a lot going on in here, and I wanted to try and bottle some chaos with my take on this song.

I’m also trying my hand at doing a bit more EQ and mastering on this track than I ever have before. It’s tricky business, and I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m doing wrong. But in the end, It’s all a learning experience, and I intend to take everything that I’m doing here and apply it to future recordings.

Overall, I am really liking how this is coming together. “House of the Rising Sun” should be available in about a few weeks’ time, once I’ve got all of the final mixing taken care of and can get it packaged up. It’ll be available as a digital single from the Bandcamp site, so keep an eye out!

Production

There is a House down in N’Awlins

I’ve been hard at work on a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” over the past couple weeks. I’m using it as an opportunity to find my way around new software and equipment, and to try out some new ways of working with what I’d had already.

One really big change? No programmed drums on this track. They’re still synth generated, but I played the whole rhythm section on the MPD18 drum pad controller. The results are a lot more organic than usual, with a lot more variation in dynamics. I’m sure I’ll gravitate back towards at least a few programmed loops, but this has been a really interesting experience. Granted, the fact that the song is in 6/8 helped push that decision, but it’s still been good. I’ve also been figuring out how to mix using the nanoKontrol2, and it’s already been a great upgrade to its predecessor. The physical control over volume sliders is actually making me use the volume automation a lot more than I used to, and doing things by ear instead of by what was easy to set up.

The song itself is really starting to come along, and I’m excited about the arrangement. I’m hoping to have it wrapped up sometime in mid August if all goes well. Subscribers to the newsletter will be getting a preview cut of it in the next week. Want in on the action? Subscribe today!

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Sensitivity (in the drum department)

When I first got the Akai MPD18 drum mad controller, I immediately noticed that I had to hammer on the pads to get it to register much of anything. While playing on the pads did feel much more natural than playing drum patterns on a keyboard, the fact that I had to hit so hard did detract from the overall experience. Plus, it kinda hurt my fingers.

I poked around the internet for a bit and found out that my problem was far from uncommon. Why this didn’t come up in any of the reviews that I’d seen for this unit ahead of time, I don’t know. But as with many common problems these days, the solution was also ready to be found on the very same internet. Pad corx are simply little circles of very thinly sliced cork cut to exactly cover the underside of the rubber pads on the MPD18 (as well as all of Akai’s other drum controllers, it turns out). I poked around on the net and saw a handful of glowing recommendations, so I ordered a set.

They came in the mail about a week back, and installation was completely painless. They seriously just stick on to the bottom of the rubber pads, resting right on top of the sensors on the PCB. After using them for a few days here, I can gladly add my voice to the chorus of glowing reviews.

The transformation was immediately noticeable. Instead of having to jab the pads to get anything to register, I could now gently let my fingers fall by their own weight and have appropriately light-touch signals be picked up by the computer. Amazingly enough, this didn’t lead to spurious hits or a lack of volume control. On the contrary, I feel like I have much more control than before, and can actually use the whole expressive range that MIDI is capable of. I was even able to rattle along a fast hihat section without it skipping, which was an important and welcome change of behavior.

If you’ve got an Akai MPD or MPC, you really should do yourself a favor and pick up a set of pad corx. They are well worth the tiny cost for how well they help a very real problem. I’ve been using the MPD to track out scratch drums on several new songs already, and I will likely be using it to program many of the drums on the new album.

Speaking of the new album, if you want to be the first to hear anything about it, then you should sign up for the Electric Goodies newsletter. Incidentally, we’re changing things up with the newsletter, but more on that in another post. For now, if you want to sign up, just go here and drop your email into the form!

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Now We Begin Again

As you all know, I’ve been in the process of upgrading the studio. Over the weekend, I finally got the rest of my packages and got everything installed and running. Now with all of that overhead out of the way, I can finally sit down and begin working on music again. Once I get my head wrapped around these new tools, I’ll start putting up a few blog posts about what’s what. I will say, though, that it’s nice not having to jump through a half dozen hoops every time I want to open a program now. It’s the beginning of a new era! Until the next upgrade is required, of course.

This has taught me that waiting for sales and special offers really pays off though. The way I calculate it, I spent about a third of what I would have if I had paid full price for everything. The makes my inner cheapskate very happy.

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Sale Madness!

In case you haven’t heard, the folks over at IK Multimedia are having a pretty sweet sale right now in celebration of their 15th anniversary. Basically, buy any bit of their stuff, and you get 15% off and another product of theirs (of equal or lesser value) for absolutely free. Can’t beat that with a stick.

I was in the market to update my copy of Amplitube anyway when this sale came around, so the timing was really great for me. Most of the guitars in Psycliq recordings have been piped through one version of Amplitube or another, and the new version has some great capabilities to it that I can’t wait to exercise. I picked up T-RackS 3 Deluxe as my free download, and hope to use it for better mixing and mastering of my stuff from here on in. Maybe I’ll even issue remastered versions of old tracks or something, who knows?

Anyway, they make good stuff and it’s a great deal, so you should go check them out.

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The MicroMoorg

I ran across this awesome little project the other day: The MicroMoorg. It’s an awesome little mod to the venerable (and versatile) microKorg synthesizer to make it look a bit more like the classic analogue synths from Moog, such as the Minimoog. I am so jealous of this that I’m very strongly considering pulling together something similar for my own microKorg. However, I think that I’d want the hinge to still allow it to collapse, so I could keep lugging it around in the same case I’ve been using for it. Still though, very sweet little setup, that.