Yesterday I went to my studio to work on a new piece. At 86 beats per minute it is the slowest piece, so far, and quite romantic, I find. It took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to get the old G4 Mac to start up. I hate that startup button on the old Mac towers, always have. There is no positive feedback as to what’s happening… I pushed the button and nothing happened, then I had to move around the dust-free box the computer is housed in, open the back door, and remove the power cable from the back. That resets the power button. Replug the cable, close the door, open the front, push the power button… repeat…
After a while the computer finally started up. I am coaxing life, and indeed music album after music album, out of a classic old piece of computing hardware. 2004!! That’s ancient! Then again I am becoming a classic, or vintage, myself…
Perhaps the failure to start up is related to the internal battery, which is there to keep time while the computer is turned off, having no power left. Each time the computer does start up I have to enter the current time and date, as the computer defaults to some date in the last century… I ordered a new battery, which is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I’ll wait to panic until after I install the new battery. Perhaps the start up issue will be resolved with a new battery. I don’t know what I can do if it doesn’t…
I worked on the piece and hummed a few melodies to myself. I find humming is often a great way to find a melody, as opposed to playing the guitar right away. This way I can usually discover melodies that are simpler and more memorable.
In the recording room I played the melody on my guitar, then played a second, different, melody that seemed to materialize. Back in the control room I listened to the first melody, then the second. I wasn’t in love with either option, though. After a while an idea came to me, the possibility of using both melodies. I set up a separate track for the second melody and panned the two guitar melodies, one slightly to the left and the other slightly to the right. Now it might become a dialog. I removed sections from each melody so that the melody switched back and forth between the guitars. Now there was something. I listened to it for a long time, enjoying the new melody.
This afternoon I will go back to the studio to hear whether the melody/melodies hold up. To be continued…
Today I was asked about the gear I use to record my guitar and I wondered whether it would be of interest to leave that information here as well…
I have already recently mentioned that I use a 2002 Macintosh G4 computer. That 2002 computer runs at the awesome speed of 1,25 Ghz!! For comparison, my 2018 phone runs at 2,5 GHz! Ha! The latest version of the Pro Tools recording software that can run on this Mac is PT 6.9.1. I believe PT is up to version 12 by now. My computer is very stable and PT 6.9.1 is very stable, and I have no desire to upgrade.
In the studio I use a Neumann M149 microphone, which I have had since sometime around 1997. Around that time I also acquired a Martech MSS-10 microphone preamp, after testing and comparing a dozen different preamps. All in the room immediately knew that the MSS-10 was the best of the bunch, certainly for my guitar.
I think microphone and preamp are far more important than the recording device. One has to start out with the best possible signal.
For concerts I have the Earthworks SR40. I have used this microphone for a few years now and absolutely love it. Great sound, great feedback rejection, and plenty of gain.
I am in the late stages of creating a new album. As of this past week I am pretty certain that all of the music has been recorded and that I am now simply fine-tuning the mixes. Almost every morning I walk about five miles and listen to the music, making notes as to the changes I might want to make in the afternoon.
Working digitally has changed the mixing process radically for several reasons. One of these reasons is that everyone working with a computer can recall any aspect of a mix, from the volume of each track to the panning (left-right location), the EQ and Reverb settings. Movement can also be automated, for example an instrument can move in the left to right matrix, or can move up and down in volume.
This kind of automation came at great cost in the mid-Nineties, and wasn’t available at all before then. An analog mixing console with total recall might cost up to a million dollars. Renting time in a studio that had such a console was quite expensive, so I don’t have much experience using one. The only time I would see such a mixing board was when I played guitar on other people’s records.
We found ways to simulate some of the effects of recall. I remember delegating jobs to band members, and the engineer, who were tasked to move a fader up or down at a place in the song, or pan a certain track. In essence we were playing the mixing console. And since we didn’t work in a studio with a total recall board, every mix was original. We had to keep making changes manually until we got it right. And if I later heard something I didn’t like, we had to set up the mix from scratch. I would fill pads of paper with numbers, trying to make note of a basic mix in case we had to revisit it.
Another big change is that in the Nineties mixing commenced when recording was completed, as it meant switching to a different playback head on the analog tape recorder. Working digitally I constantly make mixes and the computer remembers those mixes. I can make a copy of a mix and then make any changes to it without losing the mix before. Nowadays nothing much happens when recording is done because I have been mixing since the first day.
This digital process has become natural to me. In many ways I prefer it to the analog process. Working with a tape recorder I always needed an engineer, but recording with a computer I can handle by myself. I can experiment and get as far out as I want to, and can instantly go back to a different mix. I also do prefer working by myself in the studio, my laboratory. Being alone in the studio feels more like a painter’s process.
So, now I am finalizing the mix of each piece of music and it is curious how a song comes together. I always know the moment it happens. I am sitting at the console and am listening, either on two old Tannoy speakers I love or on headphones, Stax or Audeze… then I make a tiny change, and it could be anything, like turning up a drum or the bass, or moving a rhythm guitar to the other side, and suddenly I am jumping up and it’s happened. I dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching!! Before my brain figures out what’s going on, my body already knows. I love that feeling. Happened again this evening.
That’s my studio computer, on the left, a 2002 Macintosh. Every album released on SSRI was recorded on that machine, a total of fourteen albums I think. At this point my phone probably has a faster processor…
That computer keeps humming though and I am currently recording album number fifteen on it. Since 2002 technology has changed so much, and updating everything became such a daunting task, that it was much easier to keep working with this old beast. And perhaps I even love working with an ancient computer. It reminds me that ideas are more important than gear.
Jon suggested that I write “Classic Macintosh Sound” on the inside cover of the new album. It was a joke because computers don’t actually have a sound. The sound is determined by the file type and the digital to analog converter, which is usually not handled by the computer itself. It’s funny and I might do it. :-)