Monday, January 6, 2014

Engine Five Studios

Well the holidays are over and here is the latest update on the making of the new Huxster full length release.
We've moved into our studio/practice space right around Thanksgiving to start overdubs. so far we've gone to Powerstation NE to track as much of the ten songs as we could. that included all the drums, Bass and we hoped some Guitar. i brought the tracks back home and went through the task of editing the drum and bass tracks into completed performances. once i was done it was back to our place we've dubbed "Engine Five Studios". we'd like to think this is were all the magic happens.

First up at our space was Acoustic guitars. Paul banged through most of the tracks fairly quickly; there wasn't acoustic on all tracks so it was fairly painfree. after this we moved to electric guitars, so now for all the gear heads here is the micing and preamps we used to capture Paul's array of stuff. Paul set up his live setup for tracking; why not it is "his" sound and it sounds great. this includes a closet find 1965 Fender Deluxe and a 17watt Dr. Z stack. for the Deluxe i used a Sennheiser 421, for the Dr. Z i used a BLUE Baby Bottle and for the room i used the Powers Microphone Company Kelsey. these were recorded on three separate tracks with a fourth for a direct line. Microphone pre amps for this are an Avalon 737 for the room mic, a Toft A2C two channel pre for the 421 and the BLUE. the DI was a fishman.

Now the secret sauce, Paul's Guitars. Paul like most guitar players, i assume, have different guitars for different sounds and feeling. regarding the year of each of his guitars, i'm sure i'll get it wrong but the models are: Gibson Firebird, Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG (with P90s), Epiphone Casino, Fender Telecaster, Taylor Acoustic and a Guild Acoustic.  Guitar tracks from Powerstation were all recut with additional rhythm tracks and solos. the intention of this record is not to go over the top with tons of "stuff". we are a three piece rock band and we want the record to sound like it.
Next on the docket is vocals. as a drummer, i'm not allowed to sing and frankly, i don't want to (even if i could). i leave that up to the trained professionals. for vocal recording we try to keep in simple as well. microphone into a pre amp into protools. we built a vocal booth out of moving blankets in our control room so Dave and Paul can work on their own. as for the gear to record vocals, i setup two microphones since i really want to capture the performance without worrying about which microphone wants better for a style or singer. i setup two great vocal microphones side by side. a Neumann U87 and a Powers Microphone Company "Kelsey" both through a Toft mic pre.

Just a short history of my involvement with Powers Microphone Company. several years ago i got a post on Facebook regarding a breast Cancer benefit someone was putting together. i reached out and offered Huxster to play the show. during the lead up to the show on facebook i discovered the organizer knew someone who made custom microphones. well of course i reached out to find out. this is when i met Bill Powers. Bill had a studio and like most of us wanted some of the best microphones available to record with. we also like most of us he couldn't afford the 10s of thousands of dollars to purchase high end microphones so he did what most of us couldn't do; he built his own. so i called Bill and told him i wanted to check out is top mic against my Neumann U87. i went to his studio with my Neumann and we compared microphone. Bill has a tubed microphone named the "Madison" which was a prototype at the time to compare with. i was blow away especially after Bill told me the price he wanted to charge. before i purchased one however i wanted to really test it so i setup at my studio to record a vocal using both microphones actually the same way i'm recording the Huxster vocals now. i set them up side by side using the same type pre with no EQ or compression, just a slight change of gain to match levels and recorded one of the Huxster tunes we were working on at the time. i made a quick mix again without any processing; one mix with the U87 and one mix with the Madison. you could barely tell the difference between microphones. i bought serial number 001 and love it. once Bill came out with the "Kesley" which is similar but with multiple positions/partners and dual elements i grabbed one and love it as well.
Here is the Link to Bill's microphones; buy his microphones and support local independent musicians.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Now the fun stuff

Huxster recording 11/19/2014

So many people think recording music is all fun and games. i remember being a kid and reading about Fleetwood Mac taking a year to record their "Tusk" record. i just read the Ken Scott book and he talks about taking 6 months to record Supertramp Crime of the Century which for 1974 was a very long time to record. Then there is the classic story of the Beatles recording their first record in 16 hours!!
Well speaking from my experience with Huxster our problem has been time. we all have real jobs and families as well as in the past someone all ways gets sick when it's time to record vocals. for this record we had placed a hard stop thanks to Miley Cryus of the first week of January 2014.
Our Producer/engineer Paul Hager is also her front of house engineer and she starts her world tour the end of January. so we need to have all overdubs and more importantly, edits done by Christmas. as for production on this record we are not going to go crazy. besides the standard bass, guitar and vocal overdubs there may be a little percussion and some keyboards. nothing outrageous.
But before any overdub or mix can be done i have to edit the drum takes. in the last post i mentioned the multiple drum takes of each song trying to get the "one" flawless take. to get the "one flawless take i had to weed through all of the takes to make one solid performance. that's not to say i couldn't play the song solid at least once; i did but sometimes a chorus in one take was better than another or the bridge was tighter on one than another and for the song "Guns and Roses" where i try my best to be Keith Moon.....well i had to piece several bits i liked into one.

Drums being the foundation of the song really have to be right. it would be foolish to think few drummers cut and paste sections; many of them do. again it is in the sprint of presenting to best possible performance possible. in some cases producer will actually cut and paste whole sections of songs to "improve" the song such as extend a chorus or trim the bridge or my favorite, shorten the guitar solo.
the power of computers these days gives us the flexibility to do this easily unlike back in the day of tape where you had a tape machine, splicing tape, razors and grease pencils. an edit took a long time and if you got it wrong....oops no undo key stroke.

the other great joy of recording with a computer is i can sit at home in shorts and a t-shirt and edit or pre-mix all i want. it also allows me to make mixes for review and if i missed something, no problem i can just recall and fix it. 
well i'm going back to editing and getting ready to watch TV. tomorrow we start the overdub phase of the record. and that's another post for another day.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Powerstation day one

Recording is underway!! On Tuesday October 29th at 8am (yes, not very rock and roll) Huxster moved into Power Station New England to begin what will be our third full length disc. Power station New England is intended to be a clone of Avatar (formerly Power Station) in Manhattan. here is a quick link to their web site: they have a fantastic sounding main room and three good size ISO room.

our first day as any first of recording is setup. this could take forever with tuning, mic placement, wiring and then actually getting sounds. our first day was no different. we decided to bring our complete setup of drums, guitar and bass rigs. Paul Hager our engineer/producer also brought some stuff. Paul being a vintage gear fan brought a 1970's Ludwig Vistalite drum set and the grand daddy of snare drums; a Ludwig Black Beauty. in addition to Paul's drums i brought my tried and true early 80's Yamaha drums. the story goes after i got married and my first son was born, my wife and i had moved into a small apartment. up to then i hadn't owned or even played drums for a few years so one day my friend Frank and i went into E U Wurlitzer on Newbury street in Boston. Frank was looking at gear so i decided to walk around and like something out of a movie, there it was, a used white Yamaha drum set. something in my head said to buy it. i remember bringing it home and getting "spoken to" about where was i going to play them or even store them. bad idea at the time but i've had those drums all these years, record several records and many many shows they still sound fantastic.

For guitar gear Paul Hager brought a Nash T72 deluxe which is a replica of a early 70's Fender Telecaster. This was added to our guitar player Paul Amenta's setup of a Dr. Z amp and his all original 1965 Fender Deluxe. the Deluxe was the classic "barn find" or in this case, closet find. the story goes that the original owner bought in the 60's, played it for a while but stopped playing and left it in his closet. the owner past away and his wife found it while cleaning out the closet. for recording a Royer and a SM57 were used on each amp. to capture the amplifiers in the ISO was a C30.
Bass was tracked using a RE20 and 421 on Dave's Orange cab and we added a vintage Ampeg B15 mic'd with a Yamaha Subkick typically used for low frequencies of a kick. the sound of the subkick surprised all of us because it was actually clear as opposed to muddy which is what you'd expect. the subkick is intended to be used on a bass drum on the outside of the drum to capture the really low frequencies. a second microphone is typically place inside the drum to capture the attack.
Stringed instruments for the session were:
Rickenbacker 4001 bass
Fender Precision bass
Nash T72 Telecaster copy
Gibson SG
Gretsch Countryman

so the first day was getting setup and getting sounds after the technical issues were overcome. the night before i changed the heads on my toms because the drum sounds i was hearing in my head were classic 70's rock such as John Bonham and Ian Pace. i was listening to Deep Purple's Machine Head recently and love the drum sounds. so i decided to use typical white coated heads. the cats back in the day were "reformed" jazz players so their drums were tuned high and wide open.
as i started to set up, Paul immediately suggested i use his vistalite 22" double headed bass drum. of course it's the same color as Bonham's classic set so who was i to disagree. he also suggested to use his classic Ludwig Black Beauty; again another great drum Bonham used to use. we came to the session with five snare drums to choose from but as soon as i hit the Black Beauty, the choice was made. at this point the setup was Vistalite 22" kick, 12" Yamaha rack tom and a 16" Yamaha floor tom. Cymbals are all Soultone Extreme series whom i have an endorsement deal with. the story of how i wound up with Soultone is a another long one for another blog. :) Cymbals are 16" hihats, 17", 18", and 20" crash with a 22" ride.

ok that's the gear, now the recording. first there aren't enough words to describe what goes into recording. for the people who don't know, it takes time to dial in the sound of each instrument and that requires someone to hit the drum(s).....for a long time. it should be the guy who will actually be playing them......i won. by 2:00pm we were ready to record but wait there is more prep work. these days it is best to play to a click track for many reasons, best one is to record multiple passes of a song and cut and paste the best pieces into one track. the hope is to get one complete take but that is not always the case and i'll talk about that later.
first song up to bat was "Roll me over". we had practiced the songs at our space with a drum machine in advance to find the right tempo. keep in mind we had been playing all of these songs out live for a while so we had a really good handle on tempos. right outta the gate the click felt slow. it's easy to tell because i found myself having to check myself and slow down. so now another common theme to the sessions was any tempo we "had" selected was bumped up two or three clicks.
for the next four hours we tracked many takes starting with "Roll Me Over", "I'll find a way", "Heart Attack" and "Far Away".
moving along at a pretty good pace the guys in the band talked me into attempting to track one of Paul's tunes called "Gun's and Roses". live this is typically our last song of the set because it is a higher energy song and i actually have a drum solo towards the end of the song. we had only played it to a click once to establish the tempo. i figured we would only use the click to setup the song but drop it once we got going. problem is trying to "solo" with the click i ALWAYS drift from the click. i got overruled and we tried the song, after a couple of takes it was not working with the solo. we then decided to try a pass without a solo; just play it straight and i would "overdub" the solo the next day. in theory it sounded like a good idea so to end the first day i finished the day with a "straight" pass of the song.

one of the great things working at Powerstation was working with their staff engineer Gabe Herman. Gabe was fantastic i think due to his years dealing with indie bands and club work. he would add insight and support when needed as well as some creative Protools edits when necessary.

as a side note, Paul Hager has been touring around the world for years and knows ALL the good places to eat. after a full day at the studio he took us to Pepe's pizza at Mohegan Sun. great pizza and "interesting" people around the casino.

Day two at powerstation started out with breakfast at a local diner (again another Paul find) and Advil. i'm getting old and being as out of shape as i am, playing drums for hours the day before took its toll on me. now it was back to work and back to "Guns and Roses" grrrrrrr.
i'm not a jazz drummer and i don't like to solo but for this song it kinda screamed Keith Moon after the second chorus, the last few live shows i took the solo over the top....and sped up but without a click, it wasn't a problem. recording, it's a problem. the good thing was i hit it first thing in the morning so the vibe was back to the Keith Moon vibe on Quadrophenia; my absolute favorite record of all time. after a bunch of passes and a little comping by Gabe, we had a take. as this point we went back and listened to what we had done the day before to see if there was anything that needed to be redone. "Far Away" and "I'll Find A Way" both have sections were i ride the toms and of course i over played them. we decided to return to them later if we had time.
back to work with "Heart Attack"; another Dave tune. once done we move to Dave's angry song, Four Words, this time i swapped out the Soultone ride with a Paste dark rock ride for it's heavy brass sound with little to no decay. we then ran through "Highway Song", "Any Other Day" and "Out of your head".
Last song for the record was "No Surprise" and again another ride cymbal change to a Zildjian ping ride i've had since high school. this is another song with a couple of drum fills. by this point my mind was everywhere else but on the song and even worst, into the song. to this point i had been playing drums hard for 6 or 7 hours. i was junk. after a trip to Five Guys, i was ready to attack the song again. i think it was one or two takes and done after a greasy burger and fries.
to complete the drum tracks we moved to the Vistalite toms and cranked up the dampers. this worked out great to re-track "Far Away" and "I'll Find A Way". drums are done....except for edits and we stil had a few hours left. ten songs tracked which was the minimum we wanted to get done. we were also hoping to get keeper bass and guitar tracks. so at this point we moved on the clean up bass and guitar tracks on "Far Away", "Guns and Roses" and "I'll Find A Way". and with that our time at Power station came to an end. to complete our trip to Powerstation we got a tour of the soundstages they have. the complex is actually called Sonalysts with full production stages. we got to see stage 5, stage 7 and stage 15. stage 15 is where many major touring acts stage their full show production for rehearsal prior to touring. it is a 15,000 square foot room. John Legend was in just before we started our session.

for our sessions at Powerstation we have to thank Gabe Herman who's help was invaluable to the success there. also a very very big hug and thanks to my friend Paul David Hager who fit us in between TV appearances with Miley Cryus and Avril Lavigne. and of course my two best friends and band mates Paul Amenta and Dave Dunn.

 Next phase of this record is to move back to our practice space for overdubs. our plan is to have the record tracked before Christmas so Paul can mix it before he goes off on tour with Miley "Wrecking Ball" Cryus. next blog will be from our space and my not so vintage equipment.

Joe Patten - Drummer in Huxster 11/1/2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Getting ready to record

So Huxster is a day away from our show at the New World Tavern in Plymouth and a five days away from heading into Power Station NE to begin recording our next full length release. we have ten songs we've been playing live for the past few months and been able to refine arrangements as we've been working them out. i've tapped my old friend Paul David Hager to work on the record with us, at least for basic tracking.

Paul has become a fantastic engineer and has relocated to California to be more connected to the music industry. i've always known Paul to be a great engineer locally in the Boston area. Paul and i started engineering bands around Boston at the same time. i was working with Big Hot Sun and Paul with his brothers band Elevator Drops. we used to run into each other all the time. once my first real band Wrench started playing out we had Paul mix us, he was the prefect choice. Paul went on to work with all the Disney brats like Miley and the Jonas Brothers, rock legends like Devo, Goo Goo Dolls and Van Fucking Halen. right after Van Halen released their last disc i and a chance to meet up with Paul at his studio in Burbank where he played me some of "his" rough mixes. Alex Van Halen's drums never sounded so good.

Once we started planning to record this next disc there were a few things we wanted. first we needed to find people to work on this that we trusted and allow me to focus on playing drums. being an engineer sometimes has it's downfall. Paul was one of my first choices and as fast as i asked, he agreed. i thought awesome we have one of the best engineers in the country now we need a studio with a great sounding room. we had done our last record at Outpost in Stoughton Mass with Jim Siegel. the problem is Jim dismantled the studio and moved most of the equipment to his new location. the new location is really just for mixing and overdubs. then we thought maybe we could move the Huxster studio to what was left of Outpost but that fell apart due to a water pipe burst at Outpost over the winter.

Next issue was to find a studio that worked for Paul, many studios were talked about on both the west and east coast. due to costs it was decided to stay on the east coast. we had reduced the list down to three or four studios with Power Station looking like the best choice.

The last road block was Paul's schedule because during the summer he tends to do shed tours with different bands. this summer it was Devo and some TV with Miley and Arvil which filled his schedule. well we got him locked down for a couple of dates which will allow us to record basics for all ten songs. we are hoping to get drums, one guitar track and a keeper bass track during this session.

As we head into the next few weeks i'll post more insight, pictures and maybe video as we progress through the recording process. I hope everyone who assumes a record takes no time and doesn't want to pay for it will understand how much time and more importantly, MONEY goes into making a record. studio time cost, production costs, instruments cost, strings, sticks and heads cost, travel to gigs and studio costs. Huxster is not signed to a label, we did do a kickstart pledge drive. it's just us doing it with no commitments to anyone but the people who like our music. when we're done, simply buy our records, buy our t-shirts, and support us at our gigs so we can continue the Huxster machine.