Behind the Scenes with Peroxide

This is a blog about the making of my cover of Peroxide by Nina Nesbitt, found here:

DISCALIMER: I am in no way pretending I know exactly what I’m doing or am some kind of expert in this! I am completely self-taught and am merely sharing my process with those who are interested. If you get some ideas from it then that’s wonderful, and if anyone actually knows about this stuff and wants to give me some constructive feedback, that is also very welcome 🙂

1) Drum beat (Hydrogen)

For this cover I used Hydrogen Drum Machine to create a drum track. I first exported it with the metronome clicks as a guide for recording, then later mixed and exported it to fit in the final track.

Hydrogen

2) Recording (Ardour)

I set up the mic and camera suitably for each part and record each one live. The audio goes directly into Ardour and the video is just recorded to the camera. All audio- with the exception of some midi tracks which I’ve connected to the computer via USB midi to power YoshimiZynAddSubFX or Qsynth– are recorded via preamp (see the tech timeline post here for more about the equipment and software I use/have used over the years- COMING SOON).

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In this video I recorded the electric guitar and bass by mic-ing up their respective amps, whereas before I’d use direct input with guitarix. I’ve found mic-ing the amps does give a better result, but before this cover I didn’t have access to a bass amp and I had been having some earthing problems with my normal amp.

I generally start with the acoustic guitars, then vocals, followed by electric guitar, bass, piano and finally other bits and pieces like synths and sound effects. Other instruments like clarinet, sax, mandolin, ukulele, flute etc. would probably be recorded after piano, but it depends on the song. Sometimes I just record some scratch vocals as a guide for the next instruments and record the actual vocals last so that I have the advantage of the whole instrumental behind it. I didn’t do that for this cover.

I usually add in temporary plugins- especially reverb and compression on the vocals- while I record over the top so that I have more of a feel of how the final track will sound.

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3) Mixing (Ardour)

I mute every track and start mixing in the same order as recording, adding them in one by one.

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This is the final mix for this video:

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FinalMix

I like to have the acoustic guitar doubled (two separate recordings) and then panned left and right, as I did here. I’ll generally add a bit of reverb to the guitars and vocals, and a small amount to some other tracks too.

Here is just a bit about the plugins I use:

Reverb: on my first videos I used the ‘plate reverb’ by Steve Harris, but I am now a big fan of the ‘C* plate- versatile plate reverb’ by Tim Goetze. I find I can get a very echo-y, mysterious sound with it but also if I only want a hint of reverb it’s good for that too.

Compression: The ‘Dyson Compressor’ by Steve Harris was always my go-to compressor, I found it did a good job with minimal tweaking, however more recently I’ve found that it tends to cause tracks to clip and does not have the flexibility I find I sometimes need. I am now fond of the ‘Calf Compressor’ (Thor Harald Johansen) which has a nice graphical interface and a graph showing the compressor curve, which is helpful.

EQ: I didn’t use any EQ in this video, but that is unusual! I will normally use the ‘C* EQ’ (Tim Goetze) although in the past I’ve used the ‘multiband EQ’ by Steve Harris.

Highpass: on the occasions when I want a highpass filter I’ll use the ‘GLAME highpass filter’.

4) Mastering (Jamin)

I route the master bus of Ardour through to the inputs of Jamin and then add some gain in the built in limiter. Normally I would not add this much gain because it tends to clip before this much can be added, but in this case it actually sounded OK, at least to my ears. I generally don’t fiddle with the compression much, I might adjust a few things by small amounts but this is really where my skills start to wear thin! I tend to roll off the very high and very low frequencies, and add a small amount gain at about 14 kHz. This particular song I found needed very little EQ, often I will make some more adjustments around the 100 Hz- 1 kHz part of the spectrum.

Jamin

I then route the output of Jamin back to a stereo track in Ardour and record it back before exporting and going on the video editing.

5) Video editing (OpenShot)

Firstly I line up all the videos to sync with the audio track and then slice them up, adding masks and transitions where I think will fit. I make the white dividers in the GIMP and import them into the OpenShot session.

Here are the tracks lined up:

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Here is the final edit:

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And that’s it, we have a finished video 🙂

If you have any more questions about my recording process, the software I use or just any comments or feedback, feel free to comment here, on any of my videos or message me on facebook or email. I enjoy talking about this stuff and am always up for learning some more!

E.

Behind ‘Made in Heaven’

I thought I’d give a little insight on the meanings behind my songs. Some have a basis in personal experiences, but most are just from the imaginations of my mind… (note: this was written shortly after the album was released, don’t ask me why I left it so long to publish!)

The Game

Umm, this is not a great start, but I honestly have no clue as to what this one is about! I just played around with the chords and sang the words that came out. I suppose, what it evolved into was a song about not living in denial and accepting what’s happening in the present rather than living in the past.

Obvious (Better Off Now)

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory really. It was originally about someone who quite obviously wants to be with another person but won’t admit it, although the ‘better off now’ idea evolved it into a song more about two people who used to be together and now, one of them won’t let go, even though it ended for the best.

This Way

This was one my early songs, pretty self-explanatory really… it’s about someone who is wondering why the person they love has left them.

11:49

The inspiration for this one came when my alarm clock stopped at 11:49 and it started me thinking about a scenario in which someone is effectively stuck at a time in the past when a particularly life changing event happened, perhaps with or to a person who was important to them. They’ve realised that they need to move on, but that they can still ‘honour the memory’; moving on doesn’t mean forgetting.

Mirror

This one was written as an encouragement to any girl who feels worthless or struggles with self-image. I definitely think it’s a sad thing that so many people think they have to look a certain way to be beautiful when it’s just not true.

The devil will use it to get to you but you gotta be strong, don’t let him through, ‘cause you’re strong girl, you’re stronger”.

Deep End

The very start of this song came to me on the way back from a school trip when we’d gone to hear poetry read for our English GCSE (no laughing please…) If I remember correctly, I felt inspired to write some poetry and something like the first verse of Deep End came out of it. Sometime later, I was traveling back from school and listening to a new CD I’d got and thinking how nice it was just to be able to listen to the music and not have to worry about anything else (I think there was some work I was particularly stressed about at school). Hence, the rest of the song was born.

P.S. That CD was Illuminated by Ally Rhodes, and I cannot recommend her music enough. Get it here (at time of posting she’s having a HUGE sale and you can get her physical albums for just $3.50- DO IT!): http://store.allyrhodes.net/

Come in Time

This song is about someone who’s going through a rough time, and it’s just saying don’t worry about what you can’t change. Live in hope with the knowledge that things will get better and you’ll find your place in the world without having to change who you are.

Made In Heaven

This one is along the same lines as ‘mirror’ really; no one should doubt who they are because they were made with a set design and purpose in mind by a God who cares. Everyone was made for good things and the times when we go the wrong way aren’t the end of the road; we can turn back and rediscover that.

Open Door

I actually wrote this one at a songwriting workshop, and originally didn’t really like it very much, but recording the album version has made me appreciate it much more! I’d recently read a book in which everyone could hear people’s thoughts and I was wondering what it would be like if life were actually like that; all the secrets that would be revealed, the inability to be alone with private thoughts living with a constant invasion of privacy. The series of books I was reading is called the ‘Chaos Walking’ series and the first one is called ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ by Patrick Ness. (Highly recommended by the way!)

Alive with the Fire

This one is about someone who used to be so carefree who allowed bad decisions to lead their life to somewhere it shouldn’t be. The song focuses around them making a full recovery to their real self and leaving behind those things which were controlling their life and stopping the smiles.

Free Society

So this is probably one of the most political songs I’ve written! It kinda got to me that everyone’s always going on about equality, yet as a product of this, the equality of some people seems to be more important than that of others. People don’t seem to be allowed opinions, and are even in some cases discriminated against, if they appear to have an alternative belief that contradicts what society wants. Equality does not mean everything has to be exactly the same, equality means treating everyone with the same respect and assigning everyone an equal worth. To my mind, it seems that we’ve lost focus on this ultimate end goal, and instead focused on little matters that just confuse matters and limit peoples’ freedoms.

E.

Artist No. 4: Liv/ Tom & Liv — Taking a tour of my music collection

I first discovered Liv’s music when we were both winners in Ally Rhodes’ Cover Contest for her album ‘Conversations With A Ghost’. Even before the winners were announced, I’d listened to her entry (above) and knew that it was something special. When Ally pointed out that she had some free music on Bandcamp I went straight off to take a listen (who am I to say no to some free downloads?) so I ended up downloading her ‘Sway Me To Sleep‘ EP, and through that Tom & Liv’s ‘Reveries‘. Since then, I’ve also downloaded their ‘Awake in the Night‘ EP. Seriously, I have never heard anything so beautiful in my life. From the first listen I was hooked, even to the point where when I had a meagre 256MB of space on my (very old) music player to take with me to India, I ensured that every single one of their songs that I owned featured on it. That ended up being eleven out of forty-nine songs: almost a quarter. Other artists had to cope with a couple of songs each, a few more if they were lucky, just so that I could squeeze them all in! (And I’m telling you, there was not one moment on that trip when I regretted that decision, and bear in mind I was stuck with these same forty-nine songs for a whole month…)

So, about their music (feel free to listen while you read ^^ )… well, Ally described Liv’s contest entry as ‘floating in a heavenly cloud of harmonies’ and I’m certainly not going to disagree, but this description can be used far more widely than just that one video; it pretty much applies to anything she has a part in! I’d say that this is a major contributor to the calm and relaxing feel which is always present in the music that her and Tom create, as well as the soft and gentle ambience their songs exhibit.

Their songwriting is also remarkable. Each and every song is a piece of art in itself, flawlessly crafted both lyrically and melodically. I like the fact that the meanings of the songs are not necessarily immediately obvious, perhaps quite abstract in a way, and it just adds to your enjoyment because throughout each listen you discover more twists or interpretations of the lyrics that you hadn’t considered before.

My personal favourite track, if I had to choose just one, would be ‘I’m Your Company’ from Tom & Liv’s ‘Reveries’ EP. The instrumentation in this one is simply divine as well as being it’s a perfect eat-your-heart-out harmony filled track, and who can argue with that? I also love the mix of the male and female voices, I always think it adds another dimension when there’s more than one voice featuring.

Now this is where I’m very grateful for Ally Rhodes’ competitions, and ones like it, because with relatively few subscribers as far as YouTube music is concerned, it is quite fathomable that I would never have discovered Liv otherwise, and I think that is one of the great things about YouTube. I’m also very excited that we are working on a collaboration at the moment; I’m honoured to have her voice grace my channel!

So basically, what I’m trying to tell you, is that you should go download her music, watch her YouTube videos and just generally stalk her online presence (aka like/follow her on Facebook and Soundcloud). Also, do the same for their collaborated music, on Bandcamp and Facebook.

Finally, here are a few more videos in case by some miracle you haven’t already been convinced. (And because I just couldn’t decide which ones to feature…)

Artist No. 3: Folk On — Taking a tour of my music collection

This week, I’m going to introduce you to the weird and wonderful world of Folk On. As you can probably tell from the name they are a folk band but, even more exciting than that, they are a comedy folk band! The group consists of Derek Tinkleberry (vocals), Donald Cornfoot (harmonica/ mandolin/ guitar) and Edmund Sidebottam (guitar).

I have had the pleasure of seeing them live a few times at Greenbelt Festival and I have to say, their performances and songs are nothing short of genius! They mix folk music and comedy in a brilliant, unique way and the interaction between the members of the group is great. The great thing about seeing them live is that each time they do a song, they make it slightly different so it’s always equally entertaining; they never fail to raise a laugh. This year at Greenbelt they even did a Coldplay ending to one of their songs- ‘Dad, I’m in love with a Morris Dancer’!

My favourite songs are ‘Ernie the Slug’ and ‘Alright’, but any one you can get your hands (ears) on is worth a listen. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on their own website. People of the Internet, embrace the folk! 😉

Artist No. 2: Natalie Holmes — Taking a tour of my music collection

Natalie Holmes I stumbled across a few years ago, and she’s come on leaps and bounds since then. My collection is graced with her first EP, ‘The Simplest Things’ and is soon to be joined by her second one ‘Child’ (it’s so new that currently it’s only available on iTunes, so I’m waiting for the physical copies to be available on her Bandcamp page).

Her songwriting is very real and honest, and I think the real beauty in her work comes from its simplicity. The sound on ‘The Simplest Things’ is very much acoustic, with guitar and piano forming the majority of the accompaniments. The lead vocals are stunning; she negociates her range impressively with a lovely, gentle tone as she reaches the highest notes. Each song is complimented well by the backing vocals, my favourite moments being in ‘Backwards’ during the final choruses.

Of course, I can’t introduce Natalie without mentioning her YouTube channel. She’s clocked up over 1,000,000 views and it’s not hard to see why. Both her covers and originals are always a pleasure to listen to, and her very genuine personality shines through in her videos. I love the fact that she covers a lot of other YouTube artists too, and doesn’t just pick a song because of its popularity at the time.

Artist No. 1: Mree — Taking a tour of my music collection

Lying in bed, ill after catching something rather nasty during my time in India, I was dozing whilst listening to my rather eclectic music collection. It dawned on me how many great artists there are I’ve managed to stumble across that some of you may not have had the chance to find yet! This is me giving you that opportunity.

P.S. You can thank me later 😉

So without further ado, here’s the first artist I will introduce to you: the wonderful Mree.

Mree (aka. Marie Hsiao) has to be one of the most talented musicians on YouTube. She records and produces her own music and her videos can be described as no less than works of art. Her debut album ‘Grow’ currently resides in my music collection, soon to be joined by her second album ‘Winterwell’ released on the sixth of this month which I can’t wait to get my hands on!

Her music is unique, often described as experimental folk, but I’m not big on genres so to me that doesn’t mean a whole lot! What draws me to her music, is not any of the labels that have been assigned to her, but the absolute beauty of her work. Each song is created, crafted and formed flawlessly, the vocals are absolutely stunning and the atmosphere of each song is simply immersive; you can lose yourself in her music for hours at a time.

She plays many of the instruments herself and the arrangements that she creates never disappoint. Something I have a definite soft spot for in any music is harmonies, and Mree definitely doesn’t let me down there. The vocal lines, counter melodies, harmonies and backing vocals fit so well together and send literal tingles down your spine!

Her YouTube channel I would describe as quality over quantity, and there is not a single video on there which is not worth a watch, so if you’ve got some spare time go check it out 🙂

Album Reflections…

‘Made in Heaven’ did not happen overnight. I planned this album many times and it evolved endlessly; adding songs, changing titles, even re-designing album art. And that is why I didn’t even start it for a couple of years- I made plan after plan but didn’t actually get round to recording anything… The opportunity to use it to fundraise for an expedition I’m doing finally gave me the incentive I needed, and I got the whole thing finished in just a few months! Lesson one: scheduling. It’s no good having general ideas or end goals if you have no time frame in which to achieve them! Once I’d decided the date I wanted it to be finished by, I scheduled in time for all the songs, mixing, mastering etc. and I may not have stuck to it like glue, but it did mean that the whole thing was finished remarkably quickly.

The next thing I learned, and probably the most important, is that the more you listen to a particular recording, the less objectively you can judge it. I understand now, why the mastering engineer is usually a different person to the mixing engineer; the fresh pair of ears allows a new perspective and the mastering is able to do the song justice. But unfortunately I was on a budget of exactly £0 so involving another person was simply not an option for me.

This effect was mixed with a heavy dose of ear fatigue, something I only cottoned onto sometime late in the process. This was so extreme for me that by the mastering stage, the songs physically hurt my ears to listen to. I’d been recording/ mixing/ mastering for days on end, with the volume control probably not as low as it should have been, so my ears were just sick of the constant noise. At the time I didn’t know about this, so it was worrying me that I was having to heavily EQ things to get them to sound acceptable to me, because I knew I shouldn’t be having to. And whatever options I tweaked, there was still the harsh tonality that was hurting my ears. Luckily, I realised what was really going on before I ended up with 11 tracks of overproduced rubbish. (Although, I still have a feeling I added rather too much processing, but I was so tired of re-mixing and re-mastering that in the end I decided I’d just have to accept it as it was or I’d be caught in a vicious cycle and never be finished.)

Finally, something that was reinforced for me, and something I think is important to note, is that despite all the stuff we read on the Internet (well, I do anyway), it is NOT necessary to have an expensive load of hardware, all the microphones you could possibly dream of and tonnes of fancy software to create your own worthwhile projects. I think it’s just an excuse we use as to why that thing we always wanted to do hasn’t happened yet. And as much as I’d like to get [insert name here] microphone or amp, not having it does not mean that I can’t use what I have now to create something I can be proud of. Besides, I know that all the professional equipment in the world won’t allow me to make anything that even compares to what a professional engineer can do, unless I invest time in my skills first.

I didn’t spend a single penny through the whole process, I used the wonderful load of free software that’s out there, plus a single microphone and preamp I had invested in a while ago. And okay, so I’m not naïve; I do realise that I am very much an amateur and had the album been made by a ‘real’ engineer at a fancy studio then it could have sounded much better. But had I done that, I would not have had the experience of doing all the stages of the process myself and learning the things I did. (Plus, the bank account would be looking pretty sick right about now!) Nobody becomes an expert overnight, and we shouldn’t let something small, or the next new thing, get in the way of what we want to do now.

E.

The final product: Made In Heaven