My Best Song Ever!!!

Hallelujah!  It took a month of excitement, failure, expirimentation, drudgery, and inspiration to get comfortable with Garageband, but I have finally finished a song that I am THRILLED with.  I wrapped up  “You Don’t Know How Good You’ve Got It” this past Friday night and it gave me so much goddamn pleasure I can’t even describe it.  So many things came together to make it right that I am not sure where to begin. 

Well, I suppose the first place to begin is with the fact that I really committed myself this time to learning a program so as to let it help me rather than let it frustrate me.  The first song I did was pretty forgettable but I learned a lot.  The second got better, and the third was the charm.  A few realy important things I did:

Expirimentation:  In the last post, I mentioned how I decided to use my Fender amp rather than the Garageband amp.  This gave me the sound I was looking for.  This song needs a beefy guitar because the guitar really carries the song.  The software amp just did not quite cut it.  It was an extra step to use the Fender.  I had to come home from work in the middle of the day when the kids where at school and spend an hour getting things right, whereas with the software amp you  can turn it to 11 at 11 when the kids are sleeping.  Well well worth the extra step.

Another problem was the vocal.  It is a loud  vocal and I was having a really hard time hitting all the parts without clipping.  Well, a heavy bout of poison oak the other day led me to the doctor and after visiting the doctor I went next door and visited my friend Joe Koenig and we were shooting the shit and he told me about how a compressor was indispensible on his last tour.  Next thing I know he has emailed me a craigslist link to the exact compressor he used on his tour, an Alesis 3630.  I called the guy and bought it the next day for $60 and that night I was using the compressor to compress my vocals and it worked miraculously.  I am not much of a gearhead.  Rather, I fall more along the lines of a dumbshit who doesn’t know that just outside my door is a device that can compress my vocals and keep them from clipping.  Well, I am no longer a dumbshit in that particular regard, but now I can only imagine the other studio wizardry that I am ignorant of.  Anyways, the lesson is, get a compressor!  They are cheap (or extremely expensive if you prefer).

The other thing I did was listen to a cut of the song in the car all week which had a scratch vocal in it.  It really helped me understand how I wanted to sing the song.  I spent a lot of time one night laying down the vocal the way I wanted it to sound, and then when I got the compressor the next day I was able to nail it in one take. 

Get wild and crazy!  Wow, a few beers into Friday night and I’m howling at the moon and I come up with this great yodeling yelp which fits right into the song and takes it from being pretty normal to giving it a real sense of originality.  This yodeling yelp got help from the stars.  We had a babysitter that evening/night so I had extra time to mess around and expiriment.  It was also a Friday and I was feeling GOOD and it was just one of those great artistic moments that just happened. 

Still, this song came about from lots of hard work.  I wrote it a few years ago.  I sang it live as a rock song and I sang it live as a solo acoustic song and I recorded it as a solo acoustic song.  So when I finally got around to building it on Garageband a week ago, I had a vision of what I wanted that had been building for some time.  The fact that I was able to bring that vision to fruition in just 5 days with Garageband is tremendously satisfying.

You don’t know how good you’ve got it

“You dont’ know how good you’ve got it”  is the title to the latest song I am creating on Garageband.  It is a rocker.  I love making rockers.  It is the main reason I got back into recording.  I grew up in the Midwest and all those years spent walking the neighborhood as a paperboy listening to classic rock on my Walkman made quite an impression. 

I wrote “you don’t know…” a few years ago as a total fluke.  I got stuck on a melody and it was one of those songs that just “wrote itself” as they say.  It just spilled out.  It is really fun to play live with my wife on drums and me singing and playing a very loud electric guitar.  It is also fun to play it solo acoustic with harmonica.  Two totally different feels.  When I finish with the rocker I will post both versions for a nice little compare/contrast.

I started the song on Monday because I felt like “The Oil Oligopoly” was more or less finished.  I tend to take the “it’s good enough” approach and move on.  Besides, I had listened to The Oil Oligopoly enugh times that I was getting really sick of it.

As I work more with Garageband (it will be our one month anniversary on Thursday!) the process is becoming more streamlined.  I started this latest song by figuring out how many beats per minute the song should be.  I figured this out by simply playing the guitar part along to a metronome at different beats per minute until I found the right feel.  I settled on 136 beats per minute, which just happens to be the same BPM as The Oil Oligpopoly.

One major discovery with this song has been my distate for the amp modelings in Garageband.  “You Don’t Know” relies on a heavy riff.  I tried the Garageband version of the Fender Twin and got a reasonable result.  But then I tried my real life Fender Deluxe Reverb and i mic’d the amp into a Shure SM 57.  The difference was great.  Just a warmer, fuller sound coming out of a real tube amp.

The Oil Oligopoly

I wrote the song “The Oil Oligopoly”  a couple years ago when gas prices were going through the roof and everyone was bitching and moaning about it.  Now, with the BP spill, the song takes on some new resonance.  It is pretty interesting how much whining was going on during the beginning of 2010 about how big and out of control our government is, and then the spill happens and everyone starts whining about how the government is not doing anything.  Which way do we want it?  Americans are such little babies.  I’m an American so I guess that makes me one too.

Anyways, I have a few tweaks to make with The Oli Oligopoly, but I feel like it is my first “success” with Garageband.  A finished song that I am proud of.  And it is once again timely.

How do I get that organic sound?

I have loggeed some serious hours on Garageband this week.  I spent all last night on it and had to peel myself away at midnight.  This past weekend I abandoned my first project in favor of recording another song called The Oil Opigoply, which is a song I wrote a year or so ago.  I needed to work on a song I had already written in order to have some semblance of structure to work with.  It has been helpful.  I started by playing the acoustic guitar riff in the song, which, is the same all the way through.  I played it for about one minute and then took the best four bar chunk of it, cut it, pasted it, and looped it.  Next was the bass.  I spent probably 4 hours on the bass just trying to figure out a nice, non-obtrusive bassline.  I finally found one and did the same thing;  I played it for about one minute and took the best four bar chunk from it and looped it.   They fit together perfectly.  Mind you that this was all put together to a synthetic drum track.  I like to create a drum track first since it is a bit more dynamic that just following the metronome.

I have never dealt with looping before.  On the one hand, it can be a time saver, since you don’t have to play a track for the entire 3 minutes like I had to do on the Boss BR1180.  On the flip side, it gives the song a more mechanized sound which I do not particularly like.  I am a sucker for flubs and for the swing that you get when the instruments arent all EXACTLY on the one and when a 3 minute take instills an overabundance of humanity into the take.  This makes the sound song real.  A bit off-kilter, but still very real.  Editing in Garageband encourages me to line things up more metronomically and this creates a more robitic sound.  So I am really struggling with how to use the editing tools of Garageband to my advantage to give the song a more organic feel and not vice versa.  The synthetic drum track deinitely contributes to the metronomic feel, and I think I may need to go back to the old days of playing live drums into one mic.  Anything to give the song a more real feel. 

Speaking of playing drums into one mic, this brings up one of the limitations I am still dealing with.  My Apogee Duet interface only has 2 XLR mic inputs, so I can only use 2 mics at a time for drums.  Another option is to buy an interface that is more expensive, which has more XLR inputs, or to get a mixer, which I can use to mic all the drums separately and which would then feed into one of the XLR inputs on the Apogee.  But since I jsut spent a shitload of money on my existing set-up, I cannot yet justify the cost of spending more money. That time will come.  After all, with recording and everything else, there is always something better out there that we MUST have.  Then everything will be just great.

When I was looking into interfaces, I considered the drum conundrum, but i didn’t have an extra $1,500 to spend on the Apogee Ensemble, which has additional XLR inputs.  Also, I would have needed to buy a whole set of drum mics.  So, I am stuck with what I am stuck with.  But overall I am really happy with the Apogee Duet.  The sound is great, as is the functionality.  Great bang for your buck.

Heather Mansfield and the power of blogging

My wife’s friend, Heather Mansfield, is quite the entrepeneur.   Among other things, Heather consults with non-profits about how to get the most out of sites like facebook, twitter, and wordpress.  Well today I attended her webinar, which was a 1.5 hour tutorial about the benefits of using wordpress.  It was absolutely fascinating.  It is both exhilarating and frightening as to the level at which we, as individuals have the tools to A) create content and B) drive people to that content.  Yes, old news I know, but I have had my head in the sand for some time and I am just getting around to extracting it so bear with me as I experience the oohs and aahs of my new surroundings.

You can sign up for one of Heather’s webinars here http://www.nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com 

The Long Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend.  The kids went to bed at 10 tonight (Friday), so this will likely be a protracted evening of blogging and fiddling with audio.

I mixed down my first Garageband song on Wednesday night to get things done in time for my self-imposed 2 week deadline.  I played it for my wife and the original scowl of a couple weeks ago came back.  And I deserved it.  I’ve made enough songs to know when a scowl is deserved and when it is not.  This song deserves a scowl.  It is only 3 minutes long, but it drags out.  The catchiest part is the chorus, which only lasts for about 10 seconds and then the song ends.  But hey, it was a good exercise and I am learning.  Speaking of learning, I’m also learning how to blog and use this fancy wordpress website, so I will try to upload the audio of the song.  I am also taking a “webinar” on Tuesday, June 1 which explains how to use all the features of WordPress.  It is being taught by our friend Heather Mansfield, who gives webinars on a wide range of topics.  Her website is here:  www.nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com As of June 2nd I will be a blogging badass.

At this point I am in dire need of creating something INCREDIBLE in Garageband.  I derive a frightfully large amount of my self-worth from my recordings, and since there has been a bit of a recording dry spell as of late, the self-worth account is heavily into the red.  The new song did not help matters.  Basically, it reminded me of just how much goddamn work goes into recording, and that I had better be doing it for no other reason than for the love of it.  But that is not why I am doing it.  I’m going down the rabbit hole in search of something amazing.   And the only way to find it is to slave away and dig dig dig until you hit it.

I can’t seem to stop tweaking and editing the new song.  This is great from a learning standpoint and it is awful from a “get on with your goddamn life” standpoint.