Welcome to second episode of Reveries End’s studio blog!
There’s been quite a break from last episode but we’ve been very busy with this project and time is of the essence. However, now it’s time we continue our story. This update is a more traditional blog post, but read on because there’s interesting stuff coming up (at least for music tech geeks and bass players. You can always skip to the end and just watch the video, but you’ll miss out! :))
Jaakko, the bassist of Reveries End tells about recording bass tracks for Reveries End’s debyt album.
Okey bass, that’s a really important part of any album (at least bassists think so). I wanted to play the tracks well, but I had a feeling that I hadn’t rehearsed well enough to go record them at studio. So, we planned that we would record dry DI bass signal at home studio and re-amp it later in a better studio. All we had to do was to tweak as good a DI sound as possible and make sure that the signal wasn’t distorted (not good for re-amping). Simple, right? Hell not!
On monday morning I left Tampere for Järvenpää, where our album’s co-producer and recorder Markus Heinonen lives. I had purchased a fresh set of strings but didn’t have time to put them on the bass so I figured out that I’d change them at Markus’ place. When I reached Järvenpää and started to unpack my guitar bag I noticed that the new strings were pretty thick. A lot fatter than my previous set. After I had changed the strings I was horrified. They were so different from the old ones that the playing feel instantly changed. Also I had to adjust the truss rod and change string height to get them ringing properly. Not looking good…
I had no other strings with me and my old ones were over a year old, sounding like ones from a reggae album, so no going back then. Ok let’s just try to find the sound and worry about the feel later.
First we tried to run the signal through a tube preamp from ART. It had a opto compressor and an extensive eq section. A lot of buttons and lights and meters… this will probably do something good for the signal… not! After an hour of knob twisting and careful listening we had found out two things: the preamp didn’t do anything we wanted to the signal (in my opinion it didn’t do jack shit) and that my bass’ own preamp was shooting the signal too damn hot, making it distorted. Ok I knew this before, but turning down the volume seemed to take something away from the sound. Later on we tried changing the battery and it helped a bit, apparently because it was of poorer quality. I guess the battery I had before was too powerful or something
This was getting a bit frustrating but we continued anyway, with volume turned about half way up. We tried another preamp, SansAmp from Tech 21. It’s a good preamp, but the sound is too Metal for me, too much middle scoop. At this point I should tell you that I had a clear vision about the sound. I wanted the bass sound of the 90′s or 2000′s jazz fusion players, and turn it towards rock. Yes I’m not right in the head with this, but I have a vision :D. We also tried a basic DI box and finally desperately turned our eyes toward our last device available. A crappy line 6 POD Studio device I had brought with me. We waded through all the amp and cab models and managed to get a remotely decent sound… At this point our ears were too tired to hear anything so we decided to call it a day and focus on more important matters like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movie COMMANDO with directors commentary.
Next morning we listened to the bass sound we had made. It was rubbish. Markus had to go to work, but we agreed that I could stay at his place and try to find out a solution for this puzzle. After playing a while I was frustrated that there seemed to be no way to get a decent DI signal. Even My faithful ESP Standard was starting to feel like a cheap piece of junk of an instrument. I decided to delve deeper into the strange world of the line6 POD. After hours of research and experimentation I had to give up for the day, again. How fucking hard can it be to get a decent starting sound?! Two days and nothing but trouble. Were we ever going to get recording?
Tune, adjust, set, repeat…
Wednesday morning, and the world looked like shit. Disappointed I packed my stuff and drove back to my own place at a dormitory. Luckily it was near. While driving I weighed my options and realized, that all I could do with the equipment at my disposal was to record a completely dry DI signal and equalize it later. This revelation was very relieving, but I had still another problem ahead, the strings. No matter how hard I tried to get used to the new playing feel, I just couldn’t. Finally I had to accept, that the strings I had were meant for lower tuning. We use standard tuning, so the strings were just too tight. I felt like a god damn amateur (which I guess I sometimes am :D). Ok, this is a debut album we’re making, so I just had to bite the bullet and go buy new strings (for a student budget it’s a big deal). I got much lighter ones, from .45 to .125 and once I had installed them they felt great, just like before. Now we’re talking!
What was then ahead, was re-adjusting the bass. Truss rod, string height, mic height and intonation… oh, and by the way I had forgotten most my tools back home at Tampere (the tools that I ALWAYS except now carry in the guitar bag). I found a new best friend called Mr. Leatherman. I could do almost all the adjustments with it, even string height that requires a super small hex key! Making the adjustments and finding good level settings for recording and monitoring took the whole day, but tomorrow I maybe could start recording something. Wow…
I started the new day with a nice morning jog, and then on to recording business. Except… I had been paranoid about distortion in the bass signal from the beginning. I had also found out that my earphones were maybe distorting bass frequencies, so I couldn’t trust them on this. I had tested the non distorted volume levels from the bass with studio monitors at Markus’ home studio so as long as I kept the same settings everything should be fine. But what if something had changed? What if I recorded all the tracks and later found out that they were useless? Fuck! I was starting to lose my mind on this project!
Ok, I tried my PC multimedia speakers and I thought the test signal I had recorded wasn’t distorted… I also called Markus who adviced me to take a look at the recorded audio signal. If the wave peaks were cut at the top like with a razor that would be a bad thing. My signal was, however nicely curved and even though the strongest peaks were almost flat they were slightly round. Is it harmonic distortion then…?
Oh what the hell, time to push down the big red button and go!
Finally, late on Thursday evening I had finished recording the bass track for songs called “Mute” and “Hamartia”. What a day. Once I got the recording settings finally right (Line6 POD studio proved out to be a pretty good device because there’s no latency when playing through it), all went pretty smoothly. I didn’t have to grind over but few hard patterns I wanted just right. That’s what you get when not on paid studio time, perfectionism rising…
A very professional music studio
All in all the bass tracks turned out to be alright. I had to write some basslines again to match the drums better and there was also one track that had to be re-recorded because I wasn’t satisfied with it the first time. In hindsight we were too demanding in the beginning about the sound, especially compared to our equipment. After realizing that, things became a lot easier.
And so, after a lot of time had passed, and I had even played bass a little, there finally came that fateful day when Markus and I synchronised the bass tracks to his computer and we could start planning schedules for guitar recordings. Better late than never I guess.
Here’s a playing clip from a song called “Unwind”. Notice the extremely cool playing shirt HALFORD (borrowed from Markus) and smooth funky moves while grooving out towards the sunset.