Full of Love

August 22, 2006 10:55 AM

Working draft of a song I'm engineering—written by friend and former bandmate Brian, who is on guitar and vocals, with keys added by moi. Feedback/criticism desirable. This is my first real effort to play producer/engineer to someone else's material.

posted by cortex (12 comments total)

This is where we are after a couple of two-hour sessions, a week apart, on my miniature mobile studio set up in his living room.

I've had him play three guitar tracks of varying attack/intensity, distributed across the stereo field; there's also some piano (synth, via Reason) for bass/fullness, and a weird little kiddie-keyboard instrumental break in the middle.

And Brian's vocals. This has been the biggest challenge so far—he's a relatively new singer, who has grown a lot vocally in the time I've known him, in no small part from his experience as the de facto frontman of our old band. There's a lot more nuance and control in his voice than there used to be, but it can be hard to get exactly what I want out of him—hard to know how to tell him to alter fractions of pitches, change timbre.

Any gut reactions, insights, ideas, etc regarding the vocal performance and the recording as a whole are welcomed and encouraged. I'm looking for feedback from outside the system, in part.
posted by cortex at 11:00 AM on August 22, 2006

Thumbs up here. One question though, on the guitar tracks, is one supposed to act as a timing element? The clicking of strings is pretty prominent in the song and seems to detract from the voice of the song a bit.
posted by snsranch at 3:43 PM on August 22, 2006

Good song alright, thumbs up here aswell. I think the arrangement might be a bit too sparse though. I reckon it could do with some more treble in places either from the piano (depends how good your samples are I guess) or that keyboard thing (which sounds cool!). It might benefit from bringing in a fairly low-key beat too, like bongos or djembe or something like that.

In terms of the vocals, one trick you might try is get him to warm up by singing the track in some different styles, like get him to do one as Tom Waits and another as Liam Gallagher or another as Damien Rice and record those takes anyway. Then if you want to bring in a different texture to the vocals you can subtly layer bits under the main vocal. Bonus also is that it might be easier to get him to sing a certain way in the main takes if you have a reference from those 'wacky' takes, so you could say "How 'bout this time you hit that note kinda the way you did when you sang like Liam Gallagher."
Also I've always been fond of racking up the reverb a few notches on the vocals at the end of the phrases that you want to make an impact. Subtle but effective.
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:59 PM on August 22, 2006

OK, I'll bite. Please take what I say with a grain of salt--my daily life has little to do with music beyond the consumption of random MP3s.

Overall, I like it. I had to listen to the song several times to get a good feel for it. It's not my favorite song ever--probably due to my love for heavily-orchestrated rock--but it has promise. As for the vocals: I feel that, while Brian has a nice tone to his voice, it sounds flat during parts of the song (examples from the beginning include the parts like "hands are stiff" and "everybody says they love you"). It sounds as if he's speaking, rather than singing.

The chorus is awesome. I really like when the piano kicks in. In really adds an emotional depth that I felt was lacking during the rest of the song. Brian's singing sounds great here--especially during the second chorus, when he harmonizes with himself.

The kiddie-keyboard, while interesting, felt a bit... off? It was really pitchy for me. Maybe a different instrument would work. Hm.

The vocals sound a bit hollow, but the song sounds great in hi-fi stereo headphones. :)

Lastly, I like that the song doesn't just drop off at the end. That's a huge pet peeve of mine in music--when there's no satisfying conclusion. My suggestion, though, is to leave the guitar a bit louder at the end. That way, you can hear the final cut-off. As is, the last note is rather low.

Well, that's my objective opinion--feel free to take it or leave it. :) For what it's worth, the song grows on you the more you listen to it.
posted by ElectricBlue at 4:03 PM on August 22, 2006

Good stuff so far.

ElectricBlue: the sudden drop-off of the final guitar note is a kluge—Brian wanted the click pretty goddam loud in the cans when he was tracking that, and it bleeds pretty distinctly during the quiet final ring-out. We'll either have to track another part in for that or do a slow fade or do Something Creative to work around it.

The kiddie keyboard is decidedly off—it's a piece of junk. It sounds notes that are, by my best estimate, about 3 eighth-tones flat. I may try a bit of pitch adjustment, or we may replace it with something else—it was an improvisation at the time.
posted by cortex at 4:37 PM on August 22, 2006

First off, nice song, like how it sounds and how it's coming together. A couple of suggestions, which are worth exactly what you paid for them:

- I agree with TwoWordReview - more from the piano! I'm biased, being a pianist myself, but I definitely thought you could use some varied treble piano, particularly as the guitar part is so driving and repetitive.

- A vocal nitpicky point: I realize some current (rock?) music styles involve rough, edgy vocals, but I think some of the singing could use some work. The first chorus, especially, he's singing pretty heavily there, which (to me) makes them sound flat. And heavy.

- Vowel-wise, too, I'd rather he error on the side of "I em full of luhve" (like rub) then "I yam full of laaave" (like blob). Tall vowels that open your mouth north-south sound richer and warmer than wide vowels that open your mouth east-west.

But these are picky points. Overall, the song isn't really my style (another reason to take my suggestions with a grain of salt), but still a good song.
posted by Zephyrial at 7:22 PM on August 22, 2006

could be better in a fuller arrangement ... one of the guitar tracks is booming ... some kind of acoustical resonance happening there ... perhaps eq and roll off below 150 hz to take care of that and perhaps boost above 4000 hz to give the guitars more jangle, but you wouldn't want the clicking to be more than it already is ... by the way, if he can finger strum, that would get rid of it
posted by pyramid termite at 1:31 PM on August 27, 2006

His voice doesn't sit right in the mix; it isn't present enough. It needs to be brought forward and EQed some, possibly compressed. The acoustic guitars ought to be brighter. The little interlude in the right channel about halfway through seems too quiet, and the panning of it makes things sound unbalanced there. There are a bunch of vocal phrases that are flat and should be redone. The vocal melody could really use more variation. Some more harmonies could help, but the harmony that's there doesn't sound right; it's hard to hear and seems like it's out of tune. The most bothersome thing was how empty and focus-less the mix seemed between lots of his vocal phrases.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:48 PM on August 27, 2006

comment to the comments: I never realized how little I knew about recording/mixing etc.

cortex, thanks for posting this, I'm learning alot.
posted by snsranch at 4:22 PM on August 28, 2006

Heh. Yeah, it's nice to get feedback unfettered by any personal relationship or existing bias. However, I strongly someone else to put their neck out for the next one.
posted by cortex at 4:29 PM on August 28, 2006

strongly prefer!
posted by cortex at 4:30 PM on August 28, 2006

Will you be reposting this once it's refined a bit more? I think it has a lot of potential. I'd personally prefer a richer sound, and agree with with above posters regarding the keyboard and the vocals (including the "ah" sound in "love"). Regardless, good work.
posted by moira at 10:26 PM on September 1, 2006

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