The vocal sound, of course, is an entirely different animal, as there is no virtual anything about it. It’s me. However, I have been exploring ways to get the sound of me where I want it.

First up is my voice itself. It can be harsh sometimes, with lots of volume jumps. But it is what it is. I’ve lost some range over the last decade, but not too much (and I suspect that I could get it back if I really got into singing again regularly). That’s a whole different topic though, one that I may explore. In any case, I don’t really do a lot of warming up, I’ll just sing a song 4, 5, 6 times and then pick the best one. Usually, the 3rd or 4th take will be the best. I love to find little one-off variations that make the performance interesting. I like to drink something between takes, usually water mixed with lemon juice, maybe coffee. When I perform live, I usually drink alcohol, which is probably not a great idea, but it has benefits as well.

I am currently recording my voice with a Mojave Audio MA-200 microphone. It’s got a bright, present sound that I really like. I don’t EQ it except for rolling off frequencies below 150hz. I just use Logic’s channel EQ for this – it has a graphic frequency analyzer that makes it easy to set the roll off frequency.

The vocal signal then goes through a number of effects. First is the Waves CLA-76 “Blacky”. I hit the signal pretty hard with this, shooting for -10 on the peaks. Ratio 4:1. Then, I run this into a limiter – either the Waves CLA-2A or a PSP Vintage Warmer,  just to catch stray peaks.

From there, the signal hits a SoundToys plugin called the Decapitator. It smashes the sound even further and simulates overdriving analog devices. Very cool.

Then, a little SoundToys EchoBoy, which is the best echo plug I have found.

Lastly, the vocal gets some Logic Space Designer applied – this is a nice convolution reverb.

The overall effect sounds natural, but gets some added character and aggression from the plugs.

One irony of computer based recording, is that I’ve spent a good amount of money on plug-ins that simulate analog recording (I’ll go into more detail about them in the future). But, I find the advantages of computer recording to be tremendous, and being able to manipulate the sounds in so many ways is really just mind-blowing. And, with some of these recently released plug-ins, analog sound can be injected in. Is it authentic? I suppose not. But it sounds pretty damn good to me.


the strings

The string sounds on the “Single #1” tracks are from the EastWest Symphonic Orchestra virtual instrument. Like the others I have found, this is just fantastic and obviously useful to the home recordist that may not have the budget or space to bring in an entire orchestra. Of course, there’s always a place for cheesy synth string sounds – but these tracks were not it.

The real challenge with the strings is to come up with an arrangement that works. In fact, this is the last thing I need to finish up. I’m very familiar with the great string arrangements on those old Elton John and Neil Diamond records, but my tracks are way more stripped down so I’ll need to do it by feel. I guess I’ll just know when I have it, but I won’t know how I got it. That’s how art usually works.

the piano

The tracks on “single #1” are live piano/vocal takes, with virtual string overdubs. Here’s some history and details on my piano…

I am a piano sound fanatic. Ever since I started playing, it’s been incredibly frustrating to not be able to get a good piano sound. Back in the ’70s, you might play a Rhodes (heavy) or Wurlitzer, neither of which are anything at all like a piano. Then came the Yamaha Electric Grand. Closer. But not the same. And way too fucking heavy!

Then came the first affordable sampler, the Ensoniq Mirage (I do wish someone would produce a Mirage sound library – there were some cool, lo-fi sounds). This was what I played on the Red House’s “There is a Window” album, and at countless live shows at the Green Parrot and Stone Pony. Again, close, but not the same.

That was followed by an Emu Emax, used on “Circus Life” (unreleased Red House album). Same piano story as above. I think I might have played the synth sound on “Silhouette” with this on the SBK release.

In the early 2000s, I picked up a Roland RD-600. This was played on “sitting/waiting”. A really good emulated piano sound, but still not the whole way there.

Fortunately, it has a really nice keyboard feel, so I am still using this as my piano MIDI controller. I have had to replace a few of the key mechanisms over the years (see http://www.mikelattrell.com/RD600.html for how to do that), but the RD-600 has served me well.

The actual piano sound is produced by the Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys virtual instrument. This thing just sounds outstanding. It does one thing, and does it masterfully.

The piano sound is run through a compressor (to exaggerate the sustain) and EQ (to give extra brightness) – to my taste. The compressor is Waves CLA-2A  and the EQ is Waves PuigTec EQP-1A which are both really nice sounding. The EQ especially, which is modeled after a Pultec EQP-1A, is unlike any EQ I had used previously – you can dial in quite a lot of high end, yet it sounds natural without harshness.

Virtual instruments are a godsend for the home recordist (particularly pianos and drums) as there are so many (insurmountable) challenges to recording the real thing in a small, home environment. Using a virtual instrument gives me 1) a top quality instrument, 2) top quality microphones and processors, and 3) a fantastic sounding virtual room.

A long way from bouncing back and forth between two cassette decks!

recording story 1

I’ve always been into home recording. I have nothing against recording studios, but I’ve always been fascinated with the recording process and I also like to endlessly tinker with my songs/mixes. So, home recording has been my chosen method for a long time. Prior to 2004 or so, I was working with a fostex 8-track reel-to-reel (“last chance afternoon” was recorded on that), and ADAT (the remainder of my recordings). While I felt that I got passable results, the equipment was limiting in that 1) I couldn’t really record live performances 2) # of tracks was very limited and 3) the quality of effects processors was weak.

Since I finished recording “sitting/waiting” in 2004, I got into computer based recording. Over the last 7 years I have traveled a long road paved with songwriting, learning, distractions, family, obsessions and insanity. But let’s stick to the music for now. The setup I have arrived at now (details to come in later posts) has finally removed the limitations and I feel that I can really capture what I hear in my head now. However, getting there is not as easy as just buying a computer and Logic Pro (my DAW) – I have spent a great deal of time getting the right plug-ins and virtual instruments, and learning to work with them in a natural way.

Over this time period, I’ve written (some finished/some partial) a lot of songs – probably close to 200. Trying to choose a subset of these to create an album (whatever that means nowadays) has proven to be a dead end. So, I’ve settled on producing pairs of songs. Most likely they will be paired on stylistic similarities. The first two songs are piano/vocal performances, with some strings added. I’m finishing up the second track and hope to have “single #1” available soon. I am really pleased with the songs and performances.