February 26, 2010

RPM Day 26 - White Out

I was planning on spending last night at the studio finishing up drums and starting vocals, but thanks to a blizzard, I had the shittiest commute of my life. It certainly wasn't the longest (that would be the 8 hour/30 mile drive during a storm a few years back), but it wasn't fun. I couldn't drive five feet without getting stuck. Fortunately a truck was able to push me up a hill, and the rest is history.

That being said, I ended up bumping bass back up to the top of my queue, not because I thought it was a priority, but because it was the only thing I'd be able to safely accomplish given the circumstances. And accomplish, I did. I got 8 out of 9 tracks completed (only the last minute drum-only track remains) last night and this afternoon. No, they're not the most inventive bass tracks in the world, but in lieu of a lead guitar and an authoritative kick drum, it does its job.

The tracks went mostly smooth, though I did struggle with one particular bass line at the end of one track that never really clicked. The most notable issue I had was discovering that my guitar tracks were not actually recorded in standard tuning as I intended-they're all lower (can't recall offhand if it's a half- or whole-step lower). I guess the built-in tuner on my electric/acoustic is a damn dirty liar.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to get up early and walk to the studio and see what words I can come up with. No snow songs, I promise that much.

February 25, 2010

RPM Days 23-24ish

Day 23

I was in the studio until 2 AM ignoring the blisters and sore muscles in order to finish off my drum tracks. I think my playing was a little better, but I'm not so sure my microphone setup was. There's still not much kick drum being picked up. It's a shame because I really was incorporating it into my beats.  

The other only other thing of note is that I wrote a new track... on drums. This was a result of my worry that I don't have 35 minutes of material. I only had 8 songs written (and one of them is basically two minutes of filler), so at an average of 4 minutes a song, I wasn't going to make it to the finish line. It's possible that my song average is higher (or even lower), but the point is that I just don't know the total track time yet until I have basic mixes done and I don't want to risk not having access or energy to play drums at the last minute. Right now that track is just drums. I have an idea for a melody, but I probably won't dive too far into that song until the end.

While recording, I was a little gentler on the 8-track, and it only locked up once, at the very end of the night. I did figure out how to recover those "lost" songs though. I still can't explain why the system kept freezing, or why the system freezing caused the 8-track to erase the songs' table of contents, but none of the sound files were actually deleted. I basically had to go to the hard drive, copy the songs' .bak files and recreate them as .adl or something in order to get the 8-track to add it back to the selectable menu. It was annoying, but I'm glad I didn't lose any material. I'll be honest, that would've been the last straw.

Day 24

I was asleep on my feet all day because of the past few nights' sleep deprivation. By the time I got home I had no desire at all to jump into bass playing or lyric writing. I got home, shoveled some Chicken Lo Mein into my mouth, and passed out at 9 PM, halfway through Roger Ebert's commentary track on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Excellent, by the way.

Morning 25

There was supposed to be a giant snowstorm blanketing New Jersey by the time I woke up today, but at 6 AM, there was nothing on the ground. I was hoping for a bonus snow day to spend working on this project, but instead, I got in my car and went to work. Of course it started snowing heavily as I drove in, so there's still hope that the work day will end early and I'll be able to get a lot accomplished.

I did make some stereo mixes of the guitar and drum tracks before I left today because I wanted to be able to start working on lyrics while driving in my car. Either the 8-track or my computer was running very poorly this morning, so I only managed to make 5 or 6 mixes before I had to leave. While listening to them on the way in, I realized that a couple are mixed a little too low, but at least that's an easy fix. Better to do that now then after I add more tracks.

I also realized just how much I still have to do. Coming up with 9 complete sets of lyrics and then recording them in less than 4 days is complete insanity. Fortunately, I have my new mp3 player, so I can play the track through my car stereo, turn on the mp3 microphone, and babble my way to a melody and lyric. I think I managed to come up with good starts for 3 songs this morning. If I can do 3 more on the way home, I'll feel a little less overwhelmed.

What I'm not so confident about is the bass. Not that I can't play it, but that I simply might not have time. I originally intended to do that before vocals, but right now words are taking the priority. Because the kick drum is almost nonexistent, I know the album needs a bottom end. But on the bright side, I consider myself more of a rhythm guitar player, so the stereo spectrum is fairly full as it stands. In a perfect world, I'd have bass and a lead track, but this is crunch time, and the songs need words.

The other big snag I discovered this morning is that I completely forgot to record drums for an entire song. I'm going to try to get that completed at the studio tonight. Maybe I'll use the out of tune piano to write the music for that drums-only song.

February 23, 2010

RPM Days 21-22 - The Crying Days

I have almost given up this challenge several times in the past few days. Not because I don't have it in me to write and record all these songs, but because I'm becoming more and more aware of better ways to do everything. I've been making so many mistakes and doing things the hard way, that I just want to start it all over. From the beginning I knew that what I was going to have on March 1st was not going to be the best, but now I'm struggling with the reality of it. I am still passionate about what I've written, but it's getting hard to push through when I know it's not all it could be.

Day 21

On Sunday I finished structuring whatever songs I had written earlier in the month.  Getting to the end of the day was a real pain in the ass, and I came close to smashing my guitar, smashing my skull, or smashing my guitar into my skull numerous times. For all the parts I'd written and recorded on camera, I'd hardly written any of them down. As someone who likes weird chords and rhythms, but has little musical theory knowledge, this was the stupidest thing I could have possibly done. I spent the majority of the day staring at myself on YouTube trying to figure out what my fingers were doing. On a number of videos, I was focused on the wrong hand, which meant I had no choice but to figure out the chords by ear. The RoBeastress reasonably argued that the songs were all works in progress anyway, so even if the wrong chords sounded good, they'd still be mine. Unfortunately, when I'm in music mode, obsessive often trumps reasonable; not getting them exactly right would invalidate the time I spent coming up with the parts in the first place. I think ultimately, I figured out all the chords (and yes, wrote the difficult ones down).

Another problem was that one of my acoustic guitars (the one with the slutty schoolgirl sticker) was tuned a half step lower than standard, but that was a little easier to solve. I just downtuned my acoustic-electric, then retuned it up to record. So a few of the songs that you may have heard before won't have the extra flat of heaviness.

Oh! Yet another issue. Like I mentioned in the last post, I'm recording with the acoustic-electric exclusively here. I've haven't had it that long and I've never recorded with it, so I learned the hard way about one of its quirks. A few hours into the day and I thought my playing was getting shittier, but it turned out that the battery was dying and it affected the sound quality of the chords. I don't know how much was recorded before I changed the battery, but it's probably not too noticeable.

By the end of the day I had 8 tracks of doubled acoustic guitar recorded. I have no idea if it's 35 minutes of material. I believe most of the songs average about 4 minutes, so I am probably looking at the possibility of having to squeeze out one more track. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Day 22

Yesterday I started plotting out exactly what I was going to do with the rest of days and how I was going to accomplish things on the digital 8-track. I decided that I would go for broke and do drums first since they will be the hardest. I bought some sticks and went to the practice space. Nobody was there, so I jumped into the driver's seat.

After recording two tracks of guitar the previous day, I had two slots left on the 8-track without having to bounce or make any other concessions, so I decided that I was just going be economical/lazy and use only two mics. I tried a couple different setups and was never really crazy about any of them, but I also didn't have all fucking night to dick around with precise microphone placement. I'd always wanted to try the Recorderman setup, but I completely forgot about it that technique until about 5 minutes ago. Fortunately, what I did last night was actually pretty close, minus the fine tuning.

There is a serious lack of kick drum presence on the recordings, but I'm starting to think that it's a result of the either my 8-track (and it's obscene lack of EQ) or the kick drum's quality itself. When we recorded our band demo a few months back, we had a similar the same problem. I'm sort of OK with this because my kicking is weaksauce, but at the same time, if I'm going to have sore leg muscles the next day (which I do) I want those beats to register, goddammit.

I started right in on my favorite track and quickly realized that I:
  1. Was not in shape
  2. Should have used a click track 
  3. Had no idea what I was going to play on drums
  4. Still wasn't incredibly familiar with my own song structures
  5. May have made a horrible mistake in thinking that I was better off with real drums
I basically made up drum beats for each part as I came to it, which is nothing unusual. But recording to the 8-track is better with fewer punch-ins on drums, so I still had to be able to put the parts together. When you're not really a drummer, the fuckups are aplenty, so any time I screwed up, I immediately erased the whole take and started from the beginning again. Whenever I was completely frustrated I used punch-ins. It took me hours and hours just to finish the first song, and that was one I thought would be the easiest!

The next one took a while too, but I do think I got a little better at playing. With my arms at least. My right leg revolted by the third song. I would stare at it and try to move it with my mind, but it just wouldn't do what I wanted anymore. I think it was jealous because my left didn't do much of anything the whole time. I tried to throw in some toms for variety, but the longer the night went on, the less complex my beats got.

On the fourth song, the 8-track froze while I was attempting to undo a part I recorded. This is normally a simple operation with the quick touch of button, only this time "Please wait" stared at me for 5 minutes. None of the buttons gave any response, so I had to pull the plug and restart. I was on a roll with the drum parts for that song, so I turn it back on as fast as I could and immediately hit record again. Suddenly, a different song was playing.

I backed out to the menu to switch songs, and the entire track was missing. CC1, CC2, CC3, CC5... What the fuck? I am confident that the track has not been deleted, but it would completely ruin whatever momentum I had if I were to boot up my laptop, hook it up to the 8-track, then try to recover the files. I had no choice but to move on the next song. When I was working on Song 6, the same exact fucking thing happened. It's not like the machine is running low on memory. There's about 68 hours of recording time left on the thing. I guess I was pushing it to the limit with all of my takes?

At about 1 am, my body said it was time to go home. I was smelly, sweaty, and tired. I could feel a blister forming on the thumb, no thanks to the stick I cracked and then continued using upside-down  for the last three hours. All in all, I got 4 or 5 songs finished completely. 2 are missing (though I had come up with most of the parts for them), and I think there's one that I just don't have any good parts for yet (the song I thought would be the second easiest, of course).

I have regular band practice tonight, so I'm going to try to recover those lost tracks during downtime, then stay another 4 hours or so after we finish. I got about 4 crappy hours of sleep last night, so doing it again tonight is going to suck, but I don't really have a choice. I still have to do a bass track (Wednesday/Thursday?), then vocals for lyrics that I haven't even written (Uh, Friday/Saturday/Sunday?). By noon on Monday, March 1st, this needs to be on a CD, in an envelope, at the post office. I think the only thing that can break my spirit now is if these two missing tracks can't be recovered. I'll get my guitar and skull ready.

February 21, 2010

RPM Day 21 - Learning the Hard Way

My transition from writing to recording has not been enjoyable. First, I couldn't find my headphones. Then I realized my drum machine power cord is dying, plus, it's annoying to program when I'm in a hurry. And I forgot to bring my guitar and effects pedal home from the studio.

I went back to the studio to see if I could find my headphones (I couldn't) and grab my guitar and other crap. I decided while I was there that I would record with real drums instead of the machine. No, I'm not really a good drummer, but I don't want to deal with programming for hours when I could just play a half-assed version for real in half the time. I also decided that I would record with my electric/acoustic because I've written almost all of the songs that way, and I've never recorded with it before. Electric/acoustic needs love too.

I didn't have the structure of the songs hammered out yet, nor did I have guide tracks recorded, so I decided to concentrate on the guitars first instead of drums. I am holing myself up at the RoBeastress Fortress for the weekend to accomplish this. Last night I bought some Sennheiser headphones and set up shop. Then I realized the headphones were open air, so I went back and exchanged them for some Shure headphones that were more my style. After that, eating dinner, and ebaying (I finally got an mp3 player!), I felt it was too late to start recording. So I played Tetris instead.

I played around with sounds this morning, but ultimately I decided against using the effects pedal with the acoustic/electric. I couldn't settle on any good distortion, and since I never record anything clean, I figured this experiment would be the time to try it. Another potentially foolish decision I made today was to not use a click track. The click that is on the digital 8 track I'm using isn't so hot and I didn't want to waste time futzing with the drum machine again, so I'm just going to wing it. This will be trouble if I fail at real drums and have no steady tempo to insert the drum machine track, but it's the risk I'm taking. As they say, Fuck it, I'm doing it live.

I recorded a track and a half of doubled acoustic rhythm parts and decided to take a food break. The food break ended up becoming food, a movie, and a nap break. The nap ended up being 6 hours long. Thanks Claritin. I eventually finished off the half track, and did a third before deciding it was too late at night to be playing guitar. In retrospect, I probably should have used the electric after all because it's not as loud to play, but I've already committed to this acoustic deal, so I'm sticking it out for better or for worse. I'm also realizing that acoustics probably sound better mic'd and not plugged in, but again, too late.

Oh, another idiot move I've made during this project is recording myself playing songs, but not writing down the chords. Because I basically wrote each song fairly quickly, I immediately forgot how to play them, and I've had to relearn each one by ear instead of memory. I think I'm picking them up accurately, but it's yet another time waster.

Tomorrow, I need to finish recording the rhythm guitar for the rest of songs or else. I'm debating whether or not to put leads on there with the electric, or if I should even bother with leads at all. Or if I should just let the bass track take over for any melodic lead I was imagining. And oh yeah, I need a bass.

I think what I'm really doing here is just putting a simple demo together, far from the solo album of my dreams. I just don't have the time or resources to accomplish that in only 28 days unfortunately. At least I'm learning a lot about this process (though most of it is through trial and error) so I can go into it next time better prepared. And not waste so much time playing Tetris and sleeping.

February 14, 2010

RPM 2010 - Day 14 - Meet Me Halfway

It's the halfway point in the month of February. I may or may not have 35 minutes worth of music. I'm not really sure. All I know is that if I spend the second half of the month working as slowly as the first half, then I'm not going to complete this challenge.

My band Plowing Mud Forever is playing a show on Tuesday night, then practicing again on Wednesday, so I probably won't even get to start recording until Thursday the 18th, which doesn't give me a lot of time. I don't have my 8-track or drum machine with me, so I think I'm going to be stuck writing and arranging again tomorrow.

With all the snow and cabin fever last week, I watched The Shining a couple times, so I had a half baked idea of writing a song based on the film. I called it "The Shindig." I came up with an intro that reminded me of a helicopter sound like in the beginning of the movie, but then I decided my concept was stupid and wrote other music completely unrelated to The Shining. Some of the lyrics are sort of inspired by the film, so maybe all is not lost. I've also been watching a lot of the Poltergeist series so I'll probably work that in too. I wrote most of this song yesterday, then realized this morning that my recordings didn't actually record, and tried to recreate as much as I could today.

Here's what I've got:


February 10, 2010

RPM Challenge - Day 10 - Snow Day

I stayed home from work because of the blizzard today, but unfortunately my camera died fifteen minutes into my writing this morning. I forgot the charger at the RoBeastress' castle, so I had to record using the stinky laptop microphone. At least I managed to finish off a song. There are only three parts to it, and I may edit this down even shorter, but I think what you're going to hear is as complex as it's going to get. All the parts are 4/4 which I try not to ever do, but I wanted to experiment with being normal for a change. It's a very standard pop structure - I think I was channeling Michelle Branch. There are one or two slightly dissonant chords in the chorus, so I'm still keeping it real up in the feel, Catarrh Clothesline style.

I really should have written more songs today, but the technical problems worked against my motivation. I don't know how many more songs I need to write because I haven't tallied up my total progress. I think I have 6 songfuls of songs and another standalone progression. I'll come up with another track on Friday night or Saturday morning (or both) and see if it's time to start recording on the digital 8.

Here's yet another untitled thing with crappy audio and crappy recycled video clips:


February 8, 2010

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Season CINCO Promo Contest Entry, Long Title!

I took a one day break from the RPM Challenge to whip up a video for the Tim & Eric Awesome Show Season 5 promo contest. I have ideas for a couple more, but I don't know if I'll have time to piece any together. Windows Movie Maker is not the most versatile program, but it's the only one I've got. Regardless of its limitations, I like what I came up with. Here it is.


February 6, 2010

RPM Day 6 - A Man Exploding

I'm going to call this one "A Man Exploding" because I came up with a few lyrics for the verses and that was one of them. This video will look a little sloppy because I pieced some of the sections together after recording. I just wasn't sure how I wanted them to fit, but I think I like this composition. By the time I got to the final chorus, I forgot how to play it, so it's slightly different than the first two. Oh, and because it's the weekend, I'm wearing glasses. It's a new rule. Here you go:


February 4, 2010

RPM Day 4 - Into the Wild/Into the Light

Day 4 video - http://www.youtube.com/v/khre1EU8wLo

Day 4 special bonus video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB41I0SoTMI

February 3, 2010

Stick it to the Mailman

I had band practice last night so I didn't have too much time to work on solo riffinating. I did come up with a few parts to play around with, but I worry that one may be too close to a Deftones song. I'm not going to bother uploading it until I flesh it out more tonight.

No major progress to speak of from Day 2, so what else will we talk about? How about what I think will shape and inspire my RPM process. I've always loved the first Foo Fighters record because Dave Grohl wrote and played all the parts on the album himself. If I had the time and resources to recreate that situation, I would love to attempt something like that. I'm not such an amazing drummer or bass player, but there's something about DI-Completely-Y that appeals to me. Maybe it shows my narcissism and a difficulty in giving up creative control, but I enjoy working independently on material, and knowing that the album was one person's vision and execution enhances the experience for me. I love the riffs and the songs, and despite the variety in the tracks, there is a still a unifying sound and consistency.

I've also been influenced heavily by Dave Grohl's lyrical style on this album (to be honest, I can't say the same for the Foo's subsequent albums). The sounds and rhythms of the words are more important than the story it doesn't tell. Take these lines from "Watershed..."
I stick it to the mailman
I'm pinned against a pot plant
I'm sick of all the sun-tan
Oily with the ray-ban

I'm skinny as a spit pan
Dealing with the shit plan
Playing with my bad hand
Just another rock band
I don't know what the song means, and I don't think I ever really cared, but I enjoy that each line recalls the previous in terms of rhythm and rhyme. I've never been much of a vocal person so I tend to mimic that kind of playful abstraction. I come up with a line and then sort of reinterpret it in order to write other lines. I end up with a lot of internal rhymes and alliteration, even if the phrases don't necessarily make sense. For instance, the other day I had the phrase "stick it in the mac n' cheese" in my head (for reasons I won't divulge here). Repeating that over and over again, it morphed into a bunch of other lines. With a little bit of coaxing, research, and immaturity, I ended up with this mess:

Stick it in the mac n' cheese
Fuckerfaster Appleseed
Johnny keep it quiet please
Jackin' off to van der Steen  
Jessica inspired the
Splattered Hewlett Packard screen
Watch out for the hackers' scheme
Back it up with McAfee
Yeah, it's impersonal nonsense, but I'm not trying to rewrite "Imagine" (though now that I really analyze it, I sound like I'm trying to rewrite "Watershed"). To me, lyrics are riffs too. You fuck around with them and make them noisy and sloppy where they need to be. Maybe as an experiment, I'll try to write a pretty one this month. We'll see.

February 2, 2010

First Day, First Song?


Playing in front of the computer screen gives me Avatar face apparently. I recorded the guitar portion of the video at a different resolution which I will probably not do from now on. Overall, I'm surprisingly happy with the track despite it only taking about an hour or so to come up with. Here's to hoping all the songs are this easy.

It might not stay at this tempo, and it might not be this mellow in the future, but like I said, it's "a decent framework" (do I have to use quotation marks if I'm quoting myself?). There are a few weird time changes, a few weird chords, but a pretty standard structure. That's sort of a typical Robeast Rollie song, so maybe I need to get a little more experimental for the next 9 songs.

Speaking of me, I told you that I'd tell you about the tale of my "band" name. Catarrh Clothesline is an anagram of my full name. It wasn't the funniest or the most offensive, but it's simple, alliterative, and a little gross. I'm a fan of it. Here were some other of my favorites:

The Saccharine TrollHitler's Anal CrochetElectoral Shit RanchStale Hernial CrotchLeather Lion ScratchInhale Scrotal RetchThe Last Coil RancherTallest Chino ArcherOther Anarchist CellOrchestra in Cat HellAntarctic Hell HorseEarth, Narcotics, HellRear Technical SlothThe Clitoral RanchesThe Citronella CrashRichest Carnal HotelHostile Rectal RanchRectal Chain HolsterEthical Rectal HornsRetinal Scratch HoleAlien's Leather CrotchTorch Each InstallerSectarian Hell TorchHer Lethal NarcoticsThe Tall Heroic NarcsHello Erratic SnatchRectal Crash HotlineAnthill Earth SoccerClean the Shit CorralLeech Scar TriathlonHarlots' Chanticleer  Some of those are pretty awesome, but I prefer the simple, two word anagram. Catarrh is mucus caused by an inflammation of mucous membranes, so a Clothesline of it makes for a fun visual. I have a stuffy nose most of the time, so it fits. And Catarrh is pronounced like Guitar, so that's another plus. Catarrh Hero has been used before, unfortunately. Oh well.

I've got regular band practice tonight, so I don't know if I'll have time to come up with any new riffs. See you tomorrow, maybe.

February 1, 2010

The RPM Challenge - Day 1

Today, February 1, 2010, the first day of the shortest month of the most controversially pronounced year of my life (I'm sticking with Twenty Ten, haters), signals the beginning of Record Production Month. Similar to November's NaNoWriMo, The RPM Challenge seeks to jumpstart artistic creativity by having participants to write, record, and share 10 songs or 35 minutes of original music by the end of February. I signed up for it this year and will be documenting my progress and problems here, posting audio on The RPM Challenge website, and may post some video on them there YouTubes.

Since this is my first time attempting this challenge and I'm not really sure how to approach it, I have no idea what's going to happen in these 28 days. We're encouraged not to use any prerecorded material or even start writing until February, so I'm going into it with my riffs and ideas formatted from my brain. In fact, I seem to have even sabotaged my writing process further by losing my mp3 player which I'd normally rely on as my sketch pad for songs and lyrics. I guess I'll be going back to pen and paper for a while until I can find the right replacement player on eBay.

So what tools do I have? I have an electric guitar and amp at the practice space, a crappy acoustic guitar at my apartment, and a good acoustic/electric guitar at the RoBeastress' apartment. I've got ProTools, but no laptop to run it on so I'll be relying on my cold, unfriendly digital 8-track for recording. I've also got some rinky dink keyboards and a decent drum machine to round things out. Maybe when no one is looking at the practice space, I'll sneak some real bass or drums into the mix.

It feels like I'm light years away from the point of even starting to put things down on tape (or hard disk), but no matter how I slice it, I've only got 28 days left to finish this. If that's not enough of time constraint, I'm also busy prepping 10 songs for a March recording session with my band Plowing Mud Forever. I am committing myself to this Challenge though, so if I have to go back to the days of Mountain Dew fueled all-nighters and headphone hair, then that's what it will take. I think the key is going to be to always have an instrument or an inspiration nearby. That sounds wise enough to embolden, huh?

Always have an instrument or an inspiration nearby.

I'm also going to try to stop complaining so much. There's just not enough to time in February to whine. Tonight I'm going to go home and dick around on my crappy acoustic and see what I can come up with. Whatever it is, it will probably be out of tune, but at least it's a start. Those don't count as complaints, do they? If anyone is interested in following me on the RPM site or linking up or whatever sociomusical networking is to be done there, my "band" name is Catarrh Clothesline (long story, I'll tell you tomorrow).

By the way, another great thing to do tonight would be to fill out Mark Prindle's 2010 "Top 7-3" Reader Survey. The deadline is midnight tonight!