The Laptop Sessions: “We have a lot of songs on this site” – an impromptu article by Jeff

Originally posted 2009-04-30 22:41:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Welcome to Thumpin’ Thursday!  I have a really cool song to bring you this evening, it is a favorite of mine and one i’ve wanted to cover for a long, long time.

The song is…

Well, that’s how I was planning on starting the post this evening.

But, for the first time in the history of this site, I finally fell for the fatal mistake of being part of a site w/ multiple cover artists posting on it.

I recorded a previously covered song.  A song that has been posted for some time now.

Funny thing is when I am going about my business figuring out the list of songs I want to do, I usually check the category of the artist to make sure that song hasn’t been done already.  Hell, i’ve even caught myself writing a song on the list that i’ve already covered, let alone one that Chris or Jim have already tackled.

But the more songs that get added, the more likely this mistake is going to be made.

By my guesstimate, we have just about 500 cover/original videos posted on this site.  When you get right down to it, assuming 12 songs a CD, that’s 42 CDs and change worth of songs on this single website!  Most of them are familiar songs – we don’t delve into the rare album cuts often for the sheer reason that most people don’t know them.

But yet, despite my best efforts, I did it.

I even did the song in one take – and it’s not a terribly easy song either.

I even edited it and slapped on the titles, filters, and effects.

I even started writing the article for it!

So because of this, you have been reading my thoughts.

To be honest, I blame the extremely busy week i’ve had.  The prom i’ve helped plan is happening in 3 weeks, and we start selling tickets for it tomorrow.  I have to revise and edit the planned format, and print them on cardstock in the morning.  I also have to correct a few more Physics quizzes (how fast do you have to throw a 2.4 g dime at a 3.0 kg piece of plywood, such that they have a perfectly inelastic collision and start moving at 2.0 m/s anyway?), finish correcting Earth Science projects, get ready to introduce the next (and probably last) Chapter in the course, since the Seniors only have 13 days left of class (excluding tomorrow).

Oh, and to boot I was at the Doctor’s for two hours today – but I’m not at liberty to say why.

Well, next week I guarantee I will cover, play, record, and post a song that has not already been covered.  Until then, I hope you have found some humour and light hearted-ness in this post.

Until then…

The Weekend Review: July 2012 Report

Originally posted 2013-01-11 01:00:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Cold Hard Want (House of Heroes)

Producer: Paul Moak

Released: July 10, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Out My Way” & “The Cop”

Kicking off as it does with the a cappella “A Man Who’s Not Afraid,” it is immediately clear that House of Heroes continues to work to defy the preconceived formulas imposed on their genre.  The next three tracks proceed to blow the roof off, raging with energy and literally screaming with ideas, criticisms, and hopes for change.  While “We Were Giants” runs a bit predictably, “The Cop” rebounds with the rare acoustic outing by House of Heroes, highlighting their more subtle talents, primarily with vocals.  Where this album falls of previous efforts, most notably 2010’s masterful Suburba, is from midpoint forward; the second half suffers from alternatingly predictable and bland moments that detract from the powerhouse opening.  Still, Cold Hard Want is a strong effort that marks House of Heroes as band worth keeping track of.

 

 

 

Harakiri (Serj Tankian)

Producer: Serj Tankian

Released: July 10, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Uneducated Democracy” & “Cornucopia”

“We rape the earth and don’t know why it strikes,” Tankian sings early on Harakiri opening track “Cornucopia.”  This sets the pace for the ten tracks that follow, ten songs driven by a critical voice that is masterfully woven into fast-paced soundscapes.  As early as “Ching Chime,” there is an epic quality that Tankian achieves here, particularly on this track’s chorus.  He seems to delight in continually ramping up the pacing, then alternatingly dropping back a notch to allow for some vocal breathing room and amping back up to nearly breakneck speed.  The result is an album that is both fun to listen to and engaging: there is both a beat and a message to be conveyed for anyone willing to listen.

 

  

 

 

thefearofmissingout (thenewno2)

Producer: pHd

Released: July 31, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Won’t Go” & “The Wait Around”

When I reviewed thenewno2’s 2008 debut album You Are Here, the best description I could form was that it was what I imagine Radiohead would have sounded like if George Harrison had been their frontman.  On their sophomore release, thenewno2 have maintained elements of their signature sound, yet I don’t know that this comparison holds true any longer.  They seem to have progressed, developing their sound beyond the realm of handy comparison. However, there is something missing here on thefearofmissingout that helped to drive You Are Here and enabled its strong sense of cohesion.  Still, it is rewarding to see the band stretching out a bit, incorporating new elements (rap, for instance), and maintaining an overall sense of experimenting with what will be their signature sound.

How To EQ Your Recordings – Tips on Equalization from a Music Producer

Originally posted 2009-09-01 22:53:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome new and longtime fans of the Laptop Sessions to this very special article that I believe will help a lot of aspiring musicians and recording artists make their recordings sound professional while recording them at home.  This article isn’t just in lieu of recording my usual Tuesday night Laptop Sessions acoustic cover song music video- my list of covers to do is actually longer than ever- I just had the urge to write an informative article that many people will find interesting and useful.  Before getting down to business, let me note that I’m hoping to record an extra-special cover song music video this week for inclusion on the music blog next Tuesday night, so stay tuned!

I’ve always battled with trying to make my home recordings sound professional.  I went out and spent hundreds of dollars on acoustic foam that I hung on the wall (and by “hung”, I mean attached to the wall by spray glue, permanent wall tape, and Gorilla glue), invested in some computer processing plugins for my music, and bought great microphones and amplifiers.  But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that “home recording” sound out of my songs!  I do have a few tricks now (one secret way of getting the most volume out of my recordings and another to clear everything up), but that’s after the mixing occurs.

This article is meant to focus on the tweaking that should be done while mixing a song down to a 2-track stereo pre-master.  After you’re done recording, go into the EQ (or equalization) settings on your workstation, which I’m assuming is digital nowadays.  I use a DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation)- a Tascam 2488 24-track recorder.  I love it and I really can’t see myself upgrading for any reason for a very long time.  My brother prefers to use the computer and uses Sony’s ACID.  Some use Pro Tools, but I never got into it, even though I’m a huge Mac fan.  To be honest, I use Final Cut Pro for video editing, but I’m not really a fan of that, either.  I used to LOVE Sonic Foundry’s Vegas (before Sony bought them out) for video editing.

One more point before we get to the EQ settings- back when I recorded using analog equipment, I never had to deal with equalizing the multitracks of my songs.  Truth be told, I actually still love analog recording, even though I always worked towards removing that hiss that goes along with recording on old fashioned cassette tapes.  You see, with digital audio recording, you reach a peak at “0”- if your volume goes above zero, it’ll “clip” and you won’t hear anything- maybe a bit of digital distortion.  But, with analog recording, you could allow the levels to go into the red a couple of decibels and still get clear recordings (to a certain degree).  Thus, all my old analog masters are much louder and fuller.  Plus, since there was more room for me to boost levels, individual instruments stood out in the mix more.  Of course, I realize now that what I was doing really wasn’t the “proper” way to record and mix, but honestly, the results were there, so “proper” isn’t really a good argument for me.

Onto EQ- basically, I’m going to give you some pointers on how to EQ certain tracks so that your audio doesn’t sound muddy when you mix it down to a 2-track stereo pre-master.  The theory behind cutting some of these “bands” of equalization (say all the sound below 50Hz) is this: Say you have 24 tracks like I have on my DAW.  Well, when you record, you’re recording ALL the possible sound spectrum that your microphone or pickup can handle.  Then, the DAW records every possible piece of sound information it hears because DAW’s are digital and can pick up any sound, especially when it’s uncompressed PCM files (like .wav or .aiff files on your computer).  The theory here is much like the file-size savings you get when you convert something from a .wav or .aiff file to an .mp3 file.  You get essentially the same sound quality, but at a tenth (or less) of the file size!  How is that accomplished?

Well, with mp3s, it’s a combination of a couple things- first, it compresses the data in a special format that’s smaller in file size than a standard uncompressed .wav or .aiff.  That part doesn’t matter to us here.  What matters is that all-important second piece to the mp3 compression- mp3s don’t carry ALL of the sound information that uncompressed files do.  So, for instance, a high quality mp3 file will have all the sound frequencies, minus the very, very high and very, very low frequencies.  The vast majority of humans don’t hear these sound frequencies anyway, so shaving them off the sound file doesn’t alter the sound we hear that much.  But, since there are less frequencies (and thus, less information in the file), the file size gets smaller.  Now, if you have a lower quality mp3, one of the ways it gets the file size down is to limit the sound frequencies in the file further.  That’s why you get a low quality mp3 that sounds like it’s coming through a phone- there’s not as many frequencies in the file, so the size is smaller, but the sound is affected more.  Once you start cutting into sound frequencies that humans can actually hear, you start altering the sound of the music file.

So, how does all that relate to EQ-ing your music?

Well, we’re essentially trying to do that same second-piece of the mp3 process, but track-by-track.  And, we’re not trying to save file size, we’re trying to save from that “muddy” sound that home recordings get.  So, why does that “muddy” sound happen when you mixdown your recordings?

Well, I’ve always noticed that the sound coming out of my 24-track is pristine during regular playback.  But, when I mix it all down to a pre-master, I notice the difference.  That’s when the recorder tries to blend all your tracks together and fit 24-tracks worth of sound into just two tracks- a left channel and a right channel for stereo.  As you can imagine, that’s not an easy task and there are a lot of “assumptions” your recorder makes when mixing down.  For instance, if two tracks have a sound playing at the same frequency and at the same volume, your recorder may decide to give once precedent over the other during the mixdown process, which brings one sound out and drowns the other one out.

Also, have you ever noticed that live acoustic recordings, such as one person singing with an acoustic guitar and nothing else, always sound so much clearer and louder, especially when it comes from a home recording?  Well, that’s because you only have two tracks competing for their share of the sound space.  And since a guitar and one vocal track don’t compete for as much sound space as, say, a guitar and bass would (without EQ, that is), you get a much clearer recording.

So, the idea is this: we have 24 tracks of sound that use every single possible frequency.   That means that the bass guitar track, even though the part you really want to hear (most of the time, unless you’re Brian Wilson) is in the low frequencies, it still contains a recording of ALL frequencies, from low to high.  Now, say you had a vocal track.  Vocals take up a very specific range of EQ frequencies, as the human voice can only go so high or low- most of the time, we’re right in the middle.  Well, the recorder also records ALL possible frequencies on this track, as well, including ones that would conflict with your bass track.  Now, add two acoustic guitars, electric guitar, piano, drums, etc. and you have every single one of these tracks with sound information in every single possible EQ band.

But, the point is- Every instrument or vocal track only needs certain frequencies! So, why would you have 24 tracks all have hum in the 80HZ range (say from a furnace that was on next door that your microphone happened to faintly pick up) and drown out your bass drum, which thrives in that frequency?  (Just a note- that furnace sound at 80Hz may sound very faint on one track, but multiply it 24 times over and you’ve got a major problem that you wouldn’t have been able to fix without EQ)  So, every instrument needs its own sound space to live in.  If you reduce the number of tracks competing for a certain EQ frequency band, you’ll give every instrument its own “pocket” of sound space in the mix and nothing will get drowned-out.

I will also point out that this is my least favorite part of the recording process- it’s tedious, there are SO many options (do I cut by 3 db or 4 db?), and since you have to go track-by-track, it takes forever.  But, this process is the single biggest reason why my recordings don’t sound “homemade” anymore, so it’s definitely worth the effort.  I just have to remember to go back and read that sentence the next time I go to mix a song…

I figure the best way to go is by instrument:

Vocals: Ah, a very important part.  For vocals, especially recorded at home, you’re definitely going to want to make them brighter and to remove those bassy undertones that appear in the recordings.  For each vocal track (which for me, is plenty) I reduce sound at the 225Hz mark (most EQ setups will allow you to pick a frequency and when you either boost or reduce that frequency, it’ll boost or reduce the frequencies immediately around it, too).  I reduce at 225Hz a lot, up to -10 db, but make sure to listen back in case you’re altering the sound too much.

Then, I boost at 4kHz (that’s kilohertz, as opposed to Hz, or hertz- Hz (hertz) are lower frequencies and kHz (kilohertz) are high frequencies) to bring out the main range of the vocals, as that’s where most of the sound information in a vocal track lies.  I’d give a boost of about 3db.

Finally, if you don’t have a great condenser microphone, don’t worry!  You can breathe some life into your vocal tracks by giving a 1 or 2 db boost at the very high 10kHz frequency.  This will help brighten your vocal tracks.

Guitar: For guitars, especially acoustic guitars, I cut everything below 100Hz, as this will interfere with our bass drum sound- something that should be avoided at all costs.  I cut to -10db here.  Then, you can boost about 3db anywhere between 150Hz and 5kHz, depending on your guitar and the sound you want.  If I have two acoustic guitar tracks, I’ll EQ one with a boost in the lower frequencies and the other with a boost towards the high frequencies to give a balanced, different sound to each.  I like bright acoustics most of the time, so I’ll go towards 3kHz, but for some mean electric guitar, you may want to keep it around 1000Hz.

Bass: Again, you’d think this would be the “lowest” EQ space in your mix, but it’s not- you need that space for the bass drum or your song won’t have a beat!  So, give a cut at 250Hz and below of about 3db.  If you’re like me and like a “crunchy” bass (listen to the bass on “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys and you’ll hear what I’m talking about), you can brighten the string noise of the bass by adding a couple decibels to about the 3.5kHz range.

Bass Drum: The all-important bass drum lives in the “bottom” of your EQ mix.  Increase the 80Hz frequency (by as much as you want, but start at 3db) or you can go up to the 100Hz mark, if you think it sounds better.  Between 150Hz and 600Hz, though, you’ll want to cut the EQ so it doesn’t interfere with your bass or possibly your guitars, depending on your decision.  So, here, cut quite a bit: up to -10db.  For this, you can also add a bit of “bite” at the 3.5kHz range.

Snare Drum: Also important, you’ll want to get rid of that “boxiness” sound at around 900Hz and maybe give a boost (we’re talking a couple of decibels here) all the way up at 9kHz for some brightness.

Cymbals: Cut anything below 200Hz on these almost completely- why would you EVER need those low frequencies from a cymbal?  This is the perfect example of useless sound information that would muddy-up and get in the way of your bass drum.  Give another cut (slight- maybe 1 or 2db) at 1.5kHz to take away some of the annoying ring and loudness from the cymbals that will cut through your mix too much.  You can also apply these changes to a tambourine track.

Some other tips:

– Cut at 50Hz to reduce microphone “pops” on your audio tracks- I hate when a great take is ruined by a popped “P”, so this should help.

– Piano is a tough one because it actually uses many of the frequencies in the sound spectrum.  But, to make it sound more “aggressive” (Jerry Lee Lewis, anyone?), boost your EQ at around 2kHz.

– To give some “sparkle” to your guitars, especially acoustic, you can give a 1 or 2 db boost to the 10kHz region, as well.

I hope these tips help you out while mixing your recordings.  I know they certainly helped me!  But, just like the old “leading a horse to water” adage, I figured it was best to first educate you on why this process is so important and why it works before giving you the info. you’ll need to get great sounding recordings, even if you’re rocking out in your home studio.

If you have any questions/comments, arguments/beefs, let me know by leaving a comment below!

Where has the summer gone?

Originally posted 2012-02-11 12:13:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff:

A couple of months ago, I was going into school to clean out the classroom. I had had the busiest of my 3 years at my school, being a coach, a moderator, and of course a teacher. Thankfully I didn’t have to move too many things, or take much down. I even arranged the desks in a configuration i’d like to try for the new school year.

But after that last day, I had a field trip to Boston with the Saturday Program students the next Monday. That was fun and busy, but exhausting.

Then a week later, it was off to UNH for 2 weeks of training. Training for a course it doesn’t look like i’ll be teaching this year. It really is a shame, though. This past year I taught a Saturday program at Fairfield University for high school freshmen. It was like a TAG program (Talented and Gifted). The students were very smart, with-it, and fast. The course was a lot of fun to teach, and the kids loved it. Attendance was exemplary for a saturday program that draws from the inner city.

But it looks like we are unable to continue the program this year because G.E., who was the source of our funds, decided to cut our grant – despite basically giving a 4 year commitment.

So these poor kids who had such a good time with the first year, cannot continue.

Despite this, if the program DOES continue at some point in the future, i’ll be ready to teach it.

So after that, I had a couple of weeks off which included a trip to the ever famous and heavily reported Jim Fusco’s wedding. And it lived up to expectations.

Then a nice week-long vacation at an all-inclusive resort (see my post last week for a couple of thoughts about that).

But I am realizing that, holy crap where has the summer gone? I go back to school in 2 weeks. It really goes by way to quickly.

It almost (emphasis on almost) makes me want to work all year so I don’t have an extended break to look forward too. I think I’d appreciate vacations a little more.

I didn’t get a chance to record a whole bunch of videos and I have not gotten any writing done. All my time spent playing guitar has been for the purpose of learning and recording songs for this site.

Unfortunately for me, while I feel relaxed and energized, I still feel like I’ve got nothing done. It’s a terrible feeling.

And my immediate future is going to be busy as well. This semester I’ve been asked to teach 4 classes instead of the usual 3 (for a nice pay boost), and at some point during this semester my life is going to change forever.

Yeah it’ll be a very exciting next few months.

But in conclusion, I really dislike the fact that time feels relative. The upcoming year, while it will be exciting, will move at a much slower pace, as opposed to the breakneck speed of summer I have experienced.

But at least you’ve got us for entertainment all 52 weeks of the year!