Dual core (Intel) laptop with RME MultiFace w/HDSPe ExpressCard interface running Windows XP, Steinberg Cubase 4, IK Multimedia SampleTank, and Toontrack EZ Drummer with Nashville Expansion Pack; FMR Audio Really Nice Preamp and Really Nice Compressor, Focusrite TrackMaster channel strip, DigiTech GNX3000 guitar processor; Samson C03 condenser mic; Korg M50 keyboard/workstation, Fender Strat w/Bill Lawrence noiseless pickups, Ibanez 5-string Soundgear bass.
Reviewed By: Marty Peters
Recording: As you may imagine, well over fifty percent of the submissions to Readers’ Tapes are one man/woman band projects. While the availability of low cost, high quality gear has allowed for a dramatic rise in the number of home and project studios, to quote a famous ’60s tune, “One is the loneliest number.” Through the years a great many of you have written to us describing the highs and the lows of working alone, often at difficult hours, trying to capture “the muse’.
In response, we have on many occasions discussed the pitfalls of recording musicians wearing all of the hats as they go about their task. In our critiques, it is often the lack of a dedicated producer or a qualified outside ear that is pointed out as undermining a potentially successful recording. With this in mind then we look at this month’s Spotlight selection. “Stewards” is indeed a OMB (one man band) project. The fact that John has managed to wear all of the hats with such skill makes it deserving of a closer look here.
John started his tracking process by laying down a click track using his Korg M50 as a controller into EZ Drummer with the Nashville Expansion Pack for his sounds. Primarily a pianist, John made one initial pass of “finger” drums and then went back and quantized/spot edited the tracks, removing the “sloppy parts”.
Next came the bass part, which was a combination of John’s Ibanez Soundgear 5 string and some SampleTank “fingered bass’. After the piano and guitar parts were added via the M50 and John’s Fender Strat/ DigiTech GNX3000 processer, he made the decision to re-tweak his drums, eventually coverting them to audio files where he added eq and compression.
When it came time to mix, John relates that “I really tried this time to pay attention to frequency “zones”, and did my best to limit various instruments to those frequencies where I felt they were most effective. In the past, I’ve had real problems with the 225–275 Hz range, but I think this time I made some improvements there in keeping it less muddy. I also implemented a technique I’d never tried before: using the kick drum to slightly “duck” the rhythm guitar parts, creating a little more emphasis on the kick.”
So did all of this hard work and details pay dividends? Well, as a former vice presidential candidate once put it, “You betcha!”
The track intros with a great sounding tom fill and off we go. The drums have a “realistic” feel and the tones are excellent, and this includes the cymbals which have a wonderful analog sound complete with a natural sounding decay time.
The bass is prominent in the mix, but perhaps because of John’s attention to the possibility of frequency masking, it retains a “buttery” tone despite driving the track along. The guitars are also superb—the tones are smooth and rich, and have quite a bit of “air’ considering they were tracked direct without an amp.
We would also be remiss if we failed to mention the really fine job that John did on his vocals. Recorded with a Samson C03 mic/ Focusrite TrackMaster channel strip combination, the vocals have a rich “analog’ tone, and the balance between the lead and backing vocals totally delivers the goods. Well done.
Suggestions: As stated earlier, working alone in the studio can often be a angst filled experience, a fact that John has experienced as well, according to his correspondence with us. It is our belief that perhaps the most difficult part of the equasion is the lack of a dedicated producer, someone willing to make the tough decisions when it comes down to not only the quality of the performances, but also of the mix.
In the one man band scenario this “hat” requires more than a good measure of honesty, vision, overview and courage. Self-examination and criticism are not pills that are easily swallowed, and because of this many projects fail to reach their potential. In John’s case, he seems to have figured out a way to wear this “hat” comfortably, and with it firmly in place, the rest of the pieces have fallen into line quite nicely, thank you.
Summary: A fine effort indeed.
Contact: John Watilo, email@example.com.