here goes...

As promised, we are finally delivering some actual content related to our just-commenced recording project. And in the spirit of generosity, as well as some guilt related to the very low frequency of posts on this blog, today's edition is going to be epic.

We'll start with the general idea: We're a band working on a record by ourselves, and we thought some people might find it interesting to follow along as we proceed. We don't have a very solid plan here, but our basic approach is to try to create a good-sounding document of what we do live, along with some limited embellishments that we come up with during recording. We want to use the process of recording in somebody's house as an opportunity to inject a little serendipity into the result, which we think is lacking in a lot of recorded music (though there are lots of great exceptions to this - more and more lately, in fact). So, while we're going to do a fair amount of overdubs and that sort of thing, we're going to try to keep it to a minimum, and we'll avoid using tons of post-production compression and effects (except in some cases for, er, effect). The idea is to leave things for the most part as they are, in order for the recording to be a document of something that actually happened in a particular place and time, rather than just a thoroughly-crafted product. We think this is one great thing about many records we like (including a few recent examples), and it fits in well with the aesthetic of our current crop of songs, since in many ways they're about space, place, and interplay between the band members.

So here's where you come in: As we go through the process of tracking songs, doing mixes, overdubs, etc., we're going to throw a lot of stuff on here for everyone to check out. At this point, that's going to be a lot of rough mixes, ideas, things that might get scrapped, or whatever - we're going to try not to edit much what we put up here. We simply invite you to enjoy the chance to see the process at work, warts and all.

Also, since we're recording geeks (or at least some of us are), we're going to explain things with a fair amount of technical detail about microphones and so on. Today, though, since there's a lot of that stuff, we'll go ahead and give you something to listen to, and you can skip the rest if you're not the sort of person who gets excited about Grundig GDSM 200s. Of course, there are lots of pictures, too, but none of them even have people in them (sorry, James).

One last thing before we get to the good stuff: We've spent a lot of time and energy gathering and learning all of this gear ourselves, but we wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as we have without the help of a few friends. In particular, we've relied a great deal on the amazing generosity and enthusiasm of Jim Marrer, who's loaned us a ton of gear and offered a lot of great advice over the past year or more. And more recently, we've received a few choice items on loan from Eli Aiken (including those crazy Grundigs!), who really shouldn't have (but is welcome to do so again). Finally, we've got to give some love to Tape Op Magazine. If you've read this far and you don't know about it, you need to check it out ASAP.

Alright, so here's the first track. It's called "I Propose," and it features some signature Jupiter Watts guitar interplay, along with alternately kooky and spooky lyrics. It's just basic tracks with scratch vocals, but there's not a lot more to this song than what's here:

I Propose (rough mix 5/29/09).

We'd love to know what you think of it.

OK, now for the serious recording geekery:

We'll start with the obligatory console shot. The heart of the studio, it's a 1989 Soundcraft 600 with patchbay. It has its quirks, but for the most part it works very well, and it sounds great. It also came with a number of snakes that make interfacing gear through the patchbay very easy - though we have done a lot of soldering, especially with all the equipment we've recently acquired.

And here's a bunch of said equipment. There's probably no reason to go into all of it; it's a pretty standard bunch of home studio stuff, most of which should be familiar if you're an avid Tape Op reader. The FMR RNLA is the latest acquisition; it sounds great, though not as colored as expected. Of special note are a few items on top of the rack: In the wooden box on the right are a pair of RCA BA-31 mic pres, courtesy of Jim Marrer. These are old, they sound killer, and they're especially great because they have absolutely no features - only an on/off switch. Want to adjust the gain? You're gonna need some inline pads. Over on the left, just peeking above the top of the rack, there's a Grace Lunatec V3, used only for its pres, which are just as awesome as everybody says they are - maybe we should be trying to use the conversion. They're on loan from Eli Aiken. At the bottom of the rack you see two totally stock M-Audio Delta 1010s, one of which is pushing ten years old and working fine (knock on wood). They feed a custom-built PC running Sonar 8.

Facing the console is this chair people sit in when they want to criticize the mix or just check out for a minute. Reactions are usually mellower on the ancient and grubby orange velour couch, which you can just see in the console shot above. There should be a couch in the room with every recording console, even though the Beatles didn't do it that way.

This shot shows what tight quarters we're in: Everything possible is tracked live in the living room, just outside the "control room," which isn't even separated by a door. The house is a 1921 Craftsman, but the previous owner helpfully removed the wall between the living and dining rooms. Combined with the high ceilings, this makes for an unusually good sounding residential space.

Here's the main setup; everyone's in a half-circle facing the drums during tracking. The SVT is mic'ed up close with a Beyer m380, a classic mic for this purpose, though it can be too much if you're not careful. Most things are mic'ed closely to minimize bleed. James' Pro Reverb is covered with an AT 4033 - not our first choice, but it produces good results in this setup and we wanted to use all of our large dynamics on other sources. He usually plays a Les Paul these days, so it doesn't come out too bright. Clay's keys are recorded direct, though he does have an amp in the room for monitoring.

Here's Ramon's guitar setup; he uses an AC30 and loves that little old Silvertone for recording. And he owns that killer Jazzmaster, but tends to favor the Squire Tele next to it! Oh well, it does sound like a Tele. The funny little mic on the AC30 is the Grundig mentioned above; apparently it has the same capsule as the famous Sennheiser MD409. We wouldn't know, but we do know it sounds freaking killer - totally 3D guitar action. Up front you can see we're using an RE20 for James' vocals, which he prefers to any condenser he's used, and an SM7 for Ramon's. These are both really trendy right now, maybe because they're so awesome. The SDC in the weird spot is an AKG C360b, just standing by for use on acoustic guitar.

The most unconventional thing here is the drum setup - we stumbled across the idea of doing this minimal kit - similar to a "cocktail kit," but with even less to it - quite a while ago when we began to really focus on more quiet, spare music. Ramon, James, and Clay switch off drum duties, and we never use anything more than percussion in addition to these two drums. You can see an MD421 on the snare; this is probably the only mic in the room we actually move around all the time; it's a great mic, though, so all crappy snare sounds are totally our fault. There's a D12 under the floor tom, which sounds amazing and kick-drummy in just the right way. We all love Ringo, anyway - and yes, we said D12, not D112. The overheads are AT pro37Rs; they're in X/Y facing away from the band to minimize bleed. That 57 is just there to feed a delay we occasionally use. Oh, and you can get a sense of the shape of the room and where the drums are located if you notice the vocal mics just peeking above those gobos. It is pretty tight quarters, but it's comfortable and produces a great vibe, and it's infinitely quieter and more pleasant than our rehearsal space.

So there you have it - that's how we'd record a band if we were going to do it in a smallish old house. Which we are. This was the standard setup for the first session, which produced basic tracks for five songs in three days; we'll likely do at least one more such session in the next month or so, along with tons of overdubs in less complex setups, some possible at other locations. Keep an eye out here as we'll be posting lots more and looking for feedback, especially if you want to geek out about old mics and stuff.

Oh yeah: We will try to put up some pics with people in them someday, too. We promise.

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