Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's Electric

As I said in the last post, we want to get Zac Coleman guitar parts on any songs that could use them. He played with us for one show early on. A few of the songs we played with him are on this EP, so we sought him out.

The two songs we have done so far are "Only You" and "A Search / A Love Affair".

I sent Zac the songs as they were mixed so far. He sent back this mp3 with his added guitar for "Only You".

His part sounds fantastic. I love the tone he creates. There was some unfortunate background noise from the amp that I couldn't take out without the single track. I thought it would be good to try recording him directly into my song files. I got the chance when over at the Colemans', practicing with Zac and his wife Trina for songs they've been writing (which was a lot of fun). We recorded the amp into both an SM58 and a Perception 200. I definitely preferred the SM58.

Here's a bit of the electric guitar recorded there for "Only You"

And here's the song put together.

Somehow I convinced him to try a part for "A Search / A Love Affair". This is his part for the second half of the song.

And here's the whole song mixed together. The section with his guitar part above starts about 3:40 in.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Album 2 Milestone

I am, by profession, a project manager. I tend to think of things in terms of a project plan, with dates and milestones and barriers and stage gates. Six Sigma is a drug, people.

We've hit a milestone for album 2. Potentially all acoustic guitar, drums, and vocals have been recorded. Just in time, too, since I had to return the amazing mics we were borrowing.

The songs are coming together, in my opinion, much better than the first album. Experience goes a long way. Everything feels more solid. Songs sound closer to what I want them to sound like.

Project tasks remaining:
1. Convince Zach Coleman to play electric guitar on at least three songs. He played live with us once and left a mark on the songs that we don't want to forget.

2. Re-record anything. One thing I learned from the first album is when to cut your losses and just record it again. It's much better than trying to fix a track that just doesn't feel right.

3. Add anything. Extra vocals?

4. Obsess for a while. I don't think this will be as drastic this time around, but we'll see.

Here are all the songs for album 2 in their current state (no particular order).


It's OK to be Afraid

While You Were Away

The Lies

I'm Sorry

Only You

A Search A Love Affair

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Only You

The first song we decided to work for the second album is one of our oldest. Matthew and I wrote the words together one evening in my basement.  It is a quiet song, which required a different approach to recording.  I close-miked everything on the drumset.  Since we only have two inputs to work with, I first recorded just the bass drum to Matthew's scratch guitar.  After that, I recorded the hi-hat by itself.

Finally, I recorded the snare brushes and cymbal by placing a mic right next to the snare, and the other mic a few inches over the ride cymbal.

Matthew took a couple takes for a final guitar track.  The humidity was terrible (and I live in an old house without central air), so the guitar tuning was affected quickly.  My favorite take was his last one, where the guitar wasn't *quite* in tune.  I think it fits the mood of the song just right.

Matthew then did a couple vocal takes.  His first ones were sung straight, but didn't fit.  Then he did one take while basically singing in a whisper, which was perfect.  Here's the result:

"Only You"

Download the song.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Red-headed step-bass

The recording process is in a bit of a dip right now because of the birth of Jonah Winner.

But, we were lucky enough to have Kendall Ludwig (of Curly Red fame) write a bass part for Move On.  She came over to record it just before we finished the album.  The only issue was that the bass made it stand too apart from the other songs on the album.

So, I've been working on it as a special version.  I had a great time mixing it into the song.  It feels like it was there all along.

Move On w/ Bass (Listen on big speakers)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Choosing a name

How do you choose an album name?  Do you pick a song title?  A lyric? An idea that sums is all up?  Or do you pick what sounds good?

Here were some of our options:

  1. winter fever (working title)
  2. don't lose your head (name of two of the songs)
  3. keep it together (lyric in two songs, also the name of a Guster album)
  4. giving up on words (lyric)
  5. we'll be the history (lyric)
  6. remember one another (lyric)
Well, what's the album about?  Change.  Becoming a better person and moving on.  And, as the songs says, we're doing that by giving up on words and living in our actions.  Done.

So here's the final cover.

Monday, June 14, 2010


It's time to move on to the next set of songs.  The first EP is done, but it was meant as a learning tool and a way of proving to ourselves we could do this.  There are a lot more songs to record.

The original plan was to now do more of a full length album with 10 - 12 songs on it.  The plan has been changed to do another EP of 5 - 7 songs.  The reasons are thus...

  1. The thought of working on 12 songs makes my head hurt.  We have the songs, but not the bandwidth.
  2. We can concentrate.  The final result of 5 songs will be of better quality if we can give them the time they need.
  3. It allows a more continuous stream of content to the public.  (by "public" I mean the 8 people that come to see us play)
  4. It's still a learning process.  This next EP should be much higher quality, and hopefully it will be a building block to the one after that.  

So which songs are next?  Here's the list of what's in the queue.  The first 5 songs are pretty definite.  We'll have to choose which of the last three fit in.
  1. only you
  2. i'm sorry
  3. desperate
  4. a search a love affair
  5. it's ok to be afraid
  6. the lies
  7. these days
  8. while you were away


Matthew has been busy working on the layout to be printed for the album.  I like it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We Freaking Won

I've been following Steve Guttenburg's blog on CNET, the Audiophiliac, for about a year. In March, I saw something about a contest he was running for excellence in recorded sound. Apparently he kept hearing that anyone with a microphone and a laptop could make a great recording, and he wanted people to prove it. Funny, that's exactly what we've been doing...

It was pretty good timing to send in something we'd been working on. Indeed, I had taken a few of Mr. Guttenburg's blog comments to heart while doing my mixing. So, on a bit of a whim, I sent in three recordings, listed below in the order in which I expected them to be competitive.

1. Don't Lose Your Head - Alternate
2. All Coming Together
3. Move On

About a week later, I get an email saying Magnet South is one of the winners in the "Audiophillie Music Awards for Excellence in Recorded Sound". We ended up being in the top three "1st place" winners. Just awesome. For which song? Move On.

Steve gave me a call and did a short interview to understand what we were all about. They listened to the songs and talked about the contest on CNET's The 404 podcast. We're played about 13 minutes into the program.

Steve did a write up on his blog about all the winners.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

New batch demos

Matthew and I have been putting some finishing touches on the first set of songs. Are they perfect? No. But we've been obsessing over them. There are things I'd do differently if we were starting them over. I guess that's what the next batch of songs is for...

Here are a couple of demos of the songs we'll be working on for the full length album. We did not have access to the wonderful mics from before (though I hope to get them for the actual recording). This was all done with the AKG Perception 200 and a SM57.

"The Lies"

"These Days"

The guitar part and vocals are to a metronome. I decided to I need to push myself a little more on the drums. This represents a desire to add more energy to the songs, if a bit less on tempo.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Digital audio workstations come with lots of toys. It's easy to get suckered in by the myriad options. Here's a simple example.

Don't Lose Your Head - Alternate (as it should sound)

Don't Lose Your Head - Alternate (the grunge arena version)

The fuzz version is fun, but it makes me feel like a dirty liar. Maybe it shouldn't. I'm perfectly comfortable using digital effects to enhance a certain sound I want to hear. So where's the line?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The unexpected favorite

Matthew decided a while back that the song "Don't Lose Your Head" would also sound good with a little less pop and a little more jangle. We were planning to record this for the longer set of songs.

However, he was playing it while warming up to record some other songs. He mentioned how nice it will be to eventually record it. Since he was obviously in the mood for the song, I created a new file and told him to just record it now.

It's a little irritating (as the drummer) that this is my favorite thing we've recorded. Simple and beautiful. Probably because the pressure was off and we weren't TRYING to get a great sound.

Orgy. You know, like, and organ. Part 2

Here are the songs for which we recorded organ.

It's All Coming Together

The organ comes in after the first section. It's a short song, but I can't get it out of my head. We wanted the organ be up front, with the guitar mostly serving as rhythm.

Better Version of Me

The organ has strong presence all the way through the song. It starts by itself, with drums and guitar jumping in after a few seconds. The song has imperfections in the syncing of guitar and drums, but that gives it a fairly good live feel, like we're playing in the church. It's one of my favorite songs to play.

Don't Lose Your head

Here the organ serves as a support function. Something to give the background an extra layer. Comes in after about 50 seconds. I'm getting a little lost in reverb and amp simulations on this one, but it's fun.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Orgy. You know, like, an Organ. Part 1

Today Matthew and I recorded some organ for a few songs. It's something we've been looking forward to for a while. This post is all pictures. The next one will have the music.

The setup at Stone Chapel is a Hammond Organ(which predates the B3), hooked up to twin Leslie 122 cabinets. It's an absolutely gorgeous sound when you're in the room.

We put the mic about 2/3 to the back of the church and 10 feet up. This was to mic the room, not just the cabinets. Once get this far back, the tone from both cabinets and the reverb of the room all come together.

Matthew wrote and performed all the parts. I played the role of audio engineer (and photographer).

I'm working on incorporating the organ part into the songs. Look for the music samples soon.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Six songs in various states

It's definitely been a while since my last post. We have been working on the first batch of songs before we swing around and apply our learning to the rest. There's still plenty of mixing to do, especially in bringing out a warmer, fuller guitar sound. Opinions are appreciated.

Here are the first six as the are now...

Better Version of Me

Just drums and guitar so far, but I think it's sounding great. We're adding organ and vocals soon.

Don't Lose Your Head

One of the more complete songs. We need to add Aimee's vocals in the background.

It's All Coming Together

This is my (Zach) attempt. It's me on guitar and djembe. We'll also add organ and vocals to this.

Maybe Kisses

The dancing song. It's fun, but I think the guitar may need to be re-recorded in better tune.

Move On

Might just be complete.

New York in Winter

I sped up this song without Matthew's permission. We'll see how he feels. The current vocals are scratch.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drum Kit Pics - For Funsies

Moving On

Matthew and I chose "Move On" to dive into with the recording process (and with the gorgeous mics). It will be one of the more complicated songs because it has two sections that we will record separately, but will need to keep some continuity between them. This is also a good chance for me to try out different drum mic setups.

Here's what Matthew recorded to the click track for the first section...

Here is my first good take with the two UMT 70 S in a stereo pair over the drum set. The floor tom was recorded separately.

The clip is louder because I was trying to bring the snare and bass forward through EQ. After quite a bit of tinkering, I just felt this was not as "live" a drum sound as I wanted. It also didn't have enough capture of the bass drum.

I did a little playing around, and chose to go with one mic about three feet over the kit pointed at the snare, and one mic about four feet in front of the kit pointed at the top of the bass drum. Like so...

I tried this setup with one of the KM-88s in the position over the set, thinking they would be good overhead mics. It didn't seem to capture enough of the body of the sound. If I had lots of inputs, I probably would have used them as overheads while close miking the kit as well. But limited to two inputs, the best combo seemed to be the UMT 70 S in each position. This gave me more of what I was looking for...

And with Matthew's scratch. Not much done in terms of mixing/producing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Unexpected Gift

As we started this process, we spoke with anyone we know who has experience with recording. One of these people is a friend from our House Church who records professionally, including orchestras. When we asked him for advice he said, among other things, "Give me a call sometime and I'll let you borrow my microphones."

Awesome. I gave him a call. Here's what we get to borrow...

A pair of Microtech Gefell UMT 70 S

A pair of Neumann KM-88i

A pair of Milab DC-63

A pair of Neumann KMi with different capsules

These mics are amazing. Getting to work with them is a real treat. It may seem obvious, but the real benefit of these microphones is how they reproduce exactly what's happening. The downside of this is that you need to make sure your performance, the instrument, and the room are sounding exactly the way you want.

We have been using the mics to experiment with the song "Move On". The next post will have some examples.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Putting it Together

Matthew and I gave our process a trial run this week, recording guitar, vocals and drums on "New York in Winter".

Step 1: Dial in a metronome in the room to the right tempo
Step 2: Record Matthew playing along to the metronome (scratch)
Step 3: Record Matthew singing along to the guitar track (scratch)
Step 4: Record Zach playing along to the guitar and vocals. This would be the first track to keep.

This is how far we made it. Here's the guitar by itself...

And here's everything else with it. It's a long way from perfect. I need some mixing lessons.

After this, we would record actual tracks of guitar and vocals over the drums. I'm not sure if this process is overly complicated or not. We could probably remove a couple of the steps. Right now we just want to get comfortable with the whole process.

Here's Matthew, stepping up.

Oh, and here's Ben. Helping.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An interface

The key to being able to do a recording ourselves is to be able to actually record wherever we want. We needed a way of connecting mics to a laptop. I started looking into audio interfaces, which is a more confusing world than I would have thought.

Technology for home recording has taken some amazing leaps in recent years. I won't feign expertise by posting a bunch of specs and opinions. Instead I'll tell you the trade-offs I was balancing.
  • Cost
  • Quality of recording (s/n ratio, sample rate, bit depth)
  • Preamps (needed phantom power)
  • Number of XLR inputs
  • Connection (USB, Firewire)
  • User reviews

After a few days of intense internet research, I went with the Cakewalk (previously Edirol) UA-25EX. I chose it for it's apparent quality and consistently good reviews. It should allow us to record anything (guitar, vocals, electric guitar, organ) with relative ease. The downside is that it only has 2 inputs, which limits us from a drumset perspective. However, I've been reading up on recording drums with 2 mics and think the sound will work for us. I will post results from those tests later.

Here's a pic of the interface hooked up...

A microphone

An outstanding bass player and audio technician I know once told me that the biggest reason you pay for a studio is their microphones. They have other great expensive equipment and isolation booths and cheap beer, but microphones are at the top of the list for differentiators.

This is why getting a decent microphone was at the top of my list for our project. I was looking for a general purpose condenser mic. There are many players in the field so I decided to let Craigslist choose for me. There was an AKG Perception 200 for $100, second-hand but new condition. I'm pretty sure it was a drug house I bought it from, given the level of security, but regardless it seems it was a good deal.

Here it is, now in my possession.

Matthew and I did some testing at the church with that mixing board. Here's a sample of the audio quality. This is from a new song, which might be titled "It's different when you're gone".

This was a very encouraging mic test.

The appeal

Recording ourselves is attractive for a few reasons.
  1. We have time
  2. We don't have money
  3. We have a vision
That last one is important, and frustrating. We know how we want our music to sound, but can't completely describe it. It's live, energetic, full (for two people). This is easy to hear in a practice room, but difficult to capture.

And that's where reasons one and two come in. Doing it ourselves allows us to experiment without paying for someone else's time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's OK to be Afraid

In this post I'll share a few versions of our song "It's OK to be Afraid". It illustrates the progression of recordings we've had done.

Here is our demo version, recorded live at Stone Chapel.

This is an example from Stone Songs, also recorded live. This version has Zach Coleman on electric guitar. We opened for Bill Mallonee.

And here is the version for what was supposed to be our EP. Recording quality is much better, but the timing is off between us. The aforementioned buffoon couldn't be bothered to fix it.

A brief history

Magnet South is an acoustic indie band in the Baltimore area. We have been playing together for a couple years and have at least a couple fans. We also have at least an album's worth of songs, but no album. Various tactics have been employed, with equally various levels of success. There was the live recording at Stone Chapel, the live recording at Stone Chapel with an audience, the basement "studio" of a buffoon, and then a period of incubation. I'll post some examples later.

This blog is to serve as a record of our newest resolve - to do it ourselves.