Tag Archives: home recording

Song Sources: The [very, very late] FAWM 2021 Wrap-Up (Part 1)

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on Pirate A.M. Waves. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Better late than never this time around: I forgot even to update my home page with the new album, I was so focused on announcing the release on YouTube and Bandcamp.

Covert art by my dad:

Pirate A.M. Waves

Lyrics

F Bb C
Sleep on the gravel like you planned
F Bb C
And in the backseat when you can’t
F Bb F C
Watching as the stars like birds in a vee
Bb F
Set and finely disappear

Chorus
F Bb C
If you wander then you’ll see
F Bb C
Those who disappear are free
F Bb F C
But I’ll be damned if they couldn’t be saved
Bb F
Hearing pirate AM waves

In a little church on 35
They sit and they pray for afterlife
And what you called the endless day by day
Called a different word for pain

Somewhere near nowhere and free will
Fighting through static and the still
Hidden in the sea of amber waves of grain
Sings pirate AM waves

This was the 10th song I wrote for the month, but I moved it first as I thought it was a good signal for the album’s themes.

This is a someone (in my head, a trucker, but it doesn’t actually matter) out on the road somewhere along I35 in the endless expanse of tremendously little known as the great plains trying absolutely desperately to find hope in anything. They try to find it in nature, by sleeping out under the stars one night, and in a little roadside church, but finally for some perhaps completely inexplicable reason find it in a broadcast from a pirate radio station, the only thing that they can get on the dial of their radio.

There were a bunch of things that led to this one, but I started reading about Pirate Radio a little after it was mentioned in a Tom Scott video. My site leader at work also mentioned that he was getting his ham radio operator’s license, which is kinda interesting (and apparently it’s much easier now because they don’t need to know Morse code anymore).

The song’s not about radio, exactly, and I’m not totally sure I even really explain why this makes me feel what it does (I guess this is why we write stories … to express things we can’t express otherwise, right?). I’ve never listened to a pirate radio station, but I was thinking: Terrestrial radio was declared dead not too long ago, and yet it’s almost certainly going to outlive television. And even if it does disappear, there’s this little group of people who would commandeer the now-empty space for their own purposes, and sometimes just to talk with other people who have a two-way radio. 

Continue reading →

Song Sources: The Howling Tongue of Each Other (FAWM 2016) part 1

Since this year’s FAWM was a bit more varied song-to-song, I thought it was worth talking about all the songs.

Most of the notes here are directly from my “liner notes” posted with the songs on FAWM.org, but I’ve updated the entries with my current thoughts. I hope this proves useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Before you click “more” I want to stress that, while I’m happy with the recordings — and some people have even paid money to download them — these are still home recordings, recorded on a lot of DIY gear, good quality budget stuff, and using comparatively simple production techniques with mostly real instruments. I think they’re good quality demos, but I can still tell the difference when I listen to something recorded in a real studio and can definitely tell the difference next to something that’s been professionally mastered. Continue reading →

New toy — a recording interface!

Scarlett 18i8

It’s twice as big as the mini mac!

I recently got a FocusRite Scarlett 18i8 — a little USB-based digital recording interface.

It’s been a long time since I did home recording, unless you count my YouTube videos done with the handheld camera my dad gave me. My last set-up was a 4-track Tascam cassette recorder. I still have it, but I haven’t used it years, because I don’t even have another cassette tape player, much less a way to convert the recordings to digital.

Back when I got that, it was a few hundred dollars, and anything resembling a studio microphone to go along with it was hundreds of dollars, with very few options below $1,000, so of course I just used dynamic mics. It was barely useful for demo recordings. Digital options were just coming out at the time and ran in the thousands of dollars for anything that was as functional or as good sounding, so I didn’t even bother looking until much more recently — when I discovered that things like this existed for less than I had paid for the Tascam.

I’m using Joe Scala’s old mini mac with it, and did some things in GarageBand just to get used to everything. All the recordings I’ve done so far are just plugging the guitar (with or without my pedalboard) into the interface. The preamps in the interface are very good, so I’ve been impressed with that so far.

I set up a Soundcloud page to host the recordings. Here’s a couple of the ones I made in GarageBand:

A Mark Knopfler instrumental piece from some of his soundtrack work I’ve always loved:

An instrumental cover of Gillian Welch’s “Hard Times”:

Then this week I picked up LogicPro, a digital audio workstation program that GarageBand is based on. It’s a professional-level DAW for a ridiculously good price, and I immediately liked it as much as Protools. It’s very easy to use and intuitive, even if things are in a different place (or called something different) than what I’m used to. To learn overdubbing and punching in, and to get used to the plugins and amp models, I recorded a little bit of rock and roll:

There are a couple things that immediately struck me: First, the signal:noise ratio is much better than GarageBand, with much less hiss. Everything just sounds a little clearer. Second, punching in (that is, recording at a specific place in the track to correct a mistake or pick up where you left off) is a breeze, with a “count in” setting to automatically play a few bars before the recording starts. It also seems to automatically crossfade overdubs (blend them together so you can’t tell that they were different takes), and a bunch of other super helpful stuff. The plugins (effects — like compressor/limiters, reverb, etc.) also seem very good. Finally, the amp models are excellent. Garageband was good for clean stuff, but the second distortion, whether from a pedal or its own modelers, became involved, quality really degraded. It sounds more natural in LogicPro, and there are some really cool things you can do like changing the “microphone” model or even moving it to a different place on the “speaker,” which I thought was a pretty insane detail to include.

I picked up a couple budget Audio Technica studio mics that got good reviews, and I’ll be using them as soon as I’m set up somewhere in the house appropriate for singing or micing a guitar. Unfortunately, the basement practice room has a leak in the wall that lets in water when it rains, so I need to get that sorted out before I can use the room regularly.

All of the above tracks were done with the Don Quixotecaster. I did use the mandolin on something I didn’t post to Soundcloud, and it worked fine through the pedal board.

I’m really looking forward to doing lots of recording now. I sort of forgot what a good practice tool it was, but also this lets me do one of the things I really love about music all the time — some people like playing live best, but I’ve always enjoyed the time in the studio, where you really get to play around and make mistakes and discoveries (sometimes both at the same time!), more.

Song Sources: “26th Street Underpass”

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

apartment 2

Gets so hot in the summer …

My first apartment in Baltimore was a third-story walkup on 25th Street between St. Paul and Charles St. I lived there for a couple years, most of the first year by myself and then for about a year with Lexa after her lease ran out while we saved up for the house. Continue reading →

Song sources: “Fallout Shelter”

Warning: There’s an explicit lyric. You have been warned.

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

Lyrics

To be honest, I don’t remember the writing process for this one too well. I think I started writing it after I noticed a sign for a fallout shelter one of the buildings near work that says the capacity is 1250, and it was almost certainly influenced by Josh Ritter’s “Temptation of Adam” (if you’ve never heard that one, it’s is lyrically perfect and one of the best songs I’ve ever heard). I do know that my wife had been playing Fallout 3 a lot around the time I wrote this, so that might have had something to do with it.

Baltimore still has a one o’clock whistle, which is an old air raid siren that’s played on Mondays at 1:00 in the afternoon. What little reading there is to do on the subject leads me to believe that this is in fact one of the many strange things about our city. Also, there are supposedly 112 of them. (Not a primary source, there, but there’s a picture of it.) I don’t remember hearing it in other places I lived, but the only other large city I’ve ever lived in was San Antonio, and I lived on the outskirts and worked in a windowless building, so who knows. Continue reading →

Song Sources: “Robin (The Mirror)”

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

This song came out of thinking about the cancellation of the U.S. shuttle program. If that sounds weird, then you don’t know me very well. Really it’s more complicated than just having given up on flying around in space. There are all sorts of implications, but the biggest one is probably “well, this planet is all we get after all, ever.” I have a general interest in space and astronomy, so I consciously know that the chance of terraforming Mars or reaching another star is remote in the extreme, but that doesn’t seem to help. People fight hopeless battles all the time, even knowing that they’re futile, but there’s a big difference between than and actual despair. So I pondered that a bit.

My wife was on vacation for the weekend at a conference, so I had the house to myself and got the song done in a couple days. Continue reading →