The pink string & ceiling wax guide to digital recording

Andy Pitcher, January 2000

BAiT's first album's been on the drawing-board almost since the beginning of the band (although the name and concept is only recent). Second only to writing and performing their original material, the art of recording has been a serious concern of BAiT, as they see it as the primary way their music is most likely to be introduced to Joe Public - not to mention those in the recording industry.

Recording began back in February, 1999 (in fact Certainty Sir was hoiked in from our first dabble with the 1680 in September 98).

Fixed

What we wanted to do was record a kicking little song with loadsa crunchy guitar, bags of rhythm and bass, but with a catchy edge to show off our melodic side. That's Fixed.

With the Roland Studio, it's fairly easy to just plug-and-play, but you still have to get the sounds onto the hard-drive the HARD way. i.e. by sticking a microphone over what is making the sound. Trial and error got us an established 3 mic set-up to lay down John's drums: 1 SM58 covering the snare/hat, a dedicated bass mike on the kick drum and GLORY HALLELUJIA - a REAL Audio Technica Condenser Microphone hovering overhead. Okay, so we still DI the guitar and bass, but now the vocals are blessed with a real microphone using phantom 48V power supplied from the Roland, and going through the on-board compression and reverb unit..oooohh echoey!!

The electric guitar is multi-tracked using the in-board effects and guitar amp simulations. Dan first used his home-made Stratocaster style Claire guitar and I plumbed in my Violin Bass to get that middley thumpy twong (if this is getting too technical for you, please let me know).

EQ advice is sometimes taken from the Roland on-board patches but in reality is a combination of advice from books, friends, the net and using our own ears!!

Our performance is good (we're happy), the recording equipment is oozing digital silence and simplicity, and what's more we start to approach the REAL studio experience, getting results. AT LAST!!

Clockwork

As above but this time using Dan's Yamaha electro-acoustic. Now if you just plug in an electro-acoustic, you end up with a rather middley strum sound (listen to any Roy Harper album) that's ok but we wanted a bit more. So one track was set up to DI the guitar whilst another was connected to a condenser mic hovering over the sound-box. A bit of nifty combining in the mix and some EQ around the 800 Hz area thickens the guitar to help it chug nicely against the bass.

The lead vocals were recorded during the half-term holidays at my old mate Mel Henderson´s house. Mel´s girlfriend, Caren and her two daughters were visiting, and listeners with extremely keen lugholes may well detect the odd child at play in the background as I try to stay cool while take after take is blown. The more complex harmonies warbled by Dan & John were added later at our manager's house.

By the way, we're rather proud of how the middle-8 turned out. By using a heavily reverbed flange effect on the guitar, alongside some beater-played cymbal, we employ our trademark lead vocal swap - this time from Andy to Dan. The 3 voice crescendo into the final chorus is tasty and remains just about below the OdB mark courtesy of some well-programmed compression.

Certainty Sir

As was mentioned, this one made it from the previous year's work. It's one of my (as Dan likes to point out) more chordy tunes. Actually it was written on the bass, but Dan is right, the changes are a bit varied and rapid (for those guitarists out there TRY: Verse  E - C#m - C maj 7th  - B min 7th -  E)

Anyway, having said that, the guitar line is a single complete take using the DI-Condenser method, equalised for extra brightness. The bass took a bit longer to get down though cos I kept playing a bit ahead of the beat (bad Andy). John's snare is kept snappy with a little compression and the lead vocals are thickened by using some artificial delay-based doubling at 20 milliseconds (gosh, sometimes I almost sound like I know what I'm doing)

Listen to the expanded backstrum at the end of the song. I bet you wish your backstrum could be expanded like that? (huh huh).

PS. see if you can hear the synth marimba, I shoved it on for a laugh..

Okay UK

The secret here is tightness. The arrangement is simple, and the idea is to hear everything that's going-on over the heavy rhythm. Nothing techno special to report here except for the use of a single explosion sample (lifted from the nearest action video I could lay my hands on) at the beginning.

Don't Know Why

Okay, I´ll be honest with you. I reckon we might have over-cooked this one. just a little. It's a short number which is great when we do it live, but there is a temptation when you multi-track in the studio to just add and add and add. This is when it's a good idea to have a separate PRODUCER on hand to suggest alternate arrangement stratagems. The basic rhythm track is great, with my bass and John's kick drum providing some serious drive. Dan's rhythm guitar is DI/CON again and there's the occasional lead electric heavily flanged which kicks in here and there. I'm reasonably happy with my clipped lead vox and I love the clarity and precision of Dan & John's backing. However, the track is a little crowded by the keyboard extras and other bits and pieces which come close to muddying the whole thing up.

The moral of the story: When you go out and buy a brand new KORG XD5, don't be too eager to splash it about all over the place. Dab gently.

Side note: I vow that when we do get signed, there will be a crisp version of this little beauty released that'll knock ya sox off!! - WATCH THIS SPACE.

Every Broken Heart

One of the many problems band's face when they record their own stuff, is how to make arrangements work for the song instead of against it. Limited technical experience/equipment can sometimes make songs (especially power-ballads) sound very flat when recorded. With EBH we thought very carefully about how to harness the power of Dan's delicious ballad and the way we were going to release it in a gradual and controlled fashion. As the instruments join the song, one at a time, space is added using digital reverb patches. The drums and bass are powerful but mixed so as to avoid overwhelming the delicate guitar and (less delicate and heavily compressed in places) vocals. Blending a cello and string section in the second verse was not easy as the frequencies are close to those of the human voice, especially given that Andy & John are la´ing away over Dan as well. The song gets louder, then softer, then louder again... yeee haaa ride those faders boys!!

Lonely Joe

Now this one's interesting. On top of the Dan's basic crunchy tube-driven guitar (Claire in all her glory) , Andy's miked-up Westone Thunder and John's tastily compressed and EQ´ed drums are a few (some rather silly) techno bits that you may find interesting. The intro and chorus are enhanced using a solid sound from the KORG´s organ bank (NOT TOO HEAVILY APPLIED THIS TIME). The chorus is also expanded by adding a post-production stereo chorus effect to the guitar line and real-time doubling of the lead voxs (i.e. I had to sing the bloody line again over my original take). The middle-8 solo drums are also enhanced by use of John's Roland electronic kit and by us stamping and clapping like three mad buggers in the kitchen at Silke Studios.

Listen for the reverb snap as John's drums kick back in. Also the off-the-cuff lead twiddles at the end and Daniel bending the guitar neck after hitting that final E.

Games

John decides to write a song. John decides he's going to do so on the mandolin. I have to figure out how to mic a mandolin. I ignore the DI method and stick a condenser microphone over the soundbox. Mandolin sounds a bit middley. I boost the 5-8 kHz range on the desk's parametrics. VOILA.. instant mandolin plinky strum!! Seriously, this one was recorded so well that in the words of the great George Martin: "The whole thing just mixed itself" The mandolin enhances the acoustic guitar because we took off the high-end and made sure the condenser was directly over Dan's soundbox (oooh sounds painful). John's vocals are subtly double-tracked here and there to thicken and enhance, whilst mine and Dan's backing is left un-touched by EQ and panned in stereo to his left and right during the delicious chorus harmonies. The drums are miked as always but again with very little EQ except for on the kick. I'm playing my violin bass with my thumb to enhance the low end (around 160 Hz). Dan cuts in with some occasional electric tube sound and John and I do some very distant ooohs at the end courtesy of some serious cavern-like reverb. On the whole a real pleasure to play on, to engineer, to mix-down and (hopefully for you out there) to listen to.

Malfunction Junction

From an engineering/production point of few, I reckon this one is pretty close to what it will be when BAiT gets signed and in a `real´ studio. The separation (both of frequencies and in stereo space) has just... WORKED. The drums have been recorded using the 3-mic method but then have passed through a bit of compression and dedicated effects to get them onto a single stereo track. The guitars are enhanced using stereo chorus effects and the lead vocal is subjected to some serious delay and phase modulation. Backing vox are also spaced-out (quite literally) using reverb and panning. Keyboards enhance certain sections and strummed acoustic guitars are also present and panned either side of the lead instruments to avoid central build-up. The odd passing car effect is swooshed past in stereo as well. All in all another happy one.

Listen for the long fade out drum fills and lyrics.
Oh and I love the tambourine too (live miked via the condenser. pity poor Johnny's wrist).

Wired

There's also a lot going on in this one too. However the only additional techo facts are:

1. The first use of an external mic pre-amp (BAiT´s ICON DIGITAL PA) to enhance the backing vocals. Ok so we only realised this after Dan had put down a really great lead vocal. "Doh!!" Two weeks before recording the last song on the bloody album, I read somewhere that most on-board recording desk microphone pre-amps are the reason home recordings can sound a little washed-out. So we tried using the ICON and. well you live and learn don't you?

2. Strange Flowery Keyboard Overdubs. I blame John personally, because it's his song and he wanted the addition of post middle-8 synth line and the freaky analogue sine-wave bending out of tune at the end. (Rick Wakeman eat ya heart out).

3. Bass Solo Bit. Oh that's easy, I just played the bloody thing through a phaser effect and mixed it in.

I Know You

Reverb, reverb and yet more reverb. Using one of the very nice piano patches on the KORG, I put down the basic keyboard backing to this (strange time-signature) ballad before painting on the rest. Thanks to the XD´s low-noise output I was able to bung on the strings, the organ sounds, the special effects without any significant hiss build-up. Bass and guitar were added in the conventional manner, however it was essential that the bass came in at certain levels at a certain frequency so I enhanced the line in post-production by using the dedicated parametric patches on the VS 1680. The lead vocals were recorded live with reverb and then subtly doubled, same as the backing voxs and the whole thing bounced over to minidisc with even more reverb added to the main piano and to the subtle cymbals to make them more distant. This was a bit of a git to mix but I reckon (mainly because it shows off BAiT´s variety) that it was worth it.

I really would love to record this at Abbey Road though!!

NIMBY Cover