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Current Tape Reviews

Artist Name:
John McCracken
Date Posted:
March 2015
Rock and Pop
Equipment Used:

Mac with M-Audio Keystudio 49 keyboard controller and Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 and PreSonus Firestudio Tube interfaces, running Steinberg Cubase 6 and 7.5 with stock plug-ins (including HALion SE standard kit for strings and all drums). Yamaha HS7 monitors. Mics: Audio-Technica AT3035, Shure SM57 and SM81. Fender American Strat (with glass slide) through Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp, Martin HD28 acoustic guitar.

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Production Notes & Credits:

"Smile" is a male vocal rock song. John did it all at his home studio.

Reviewed By: Marty Peters
Rating: 3
Recording: Holy Fab Four, Batman! John has delivered a pretty spot-on homage to the lads from Liverpool here. Let's dive in and see if he needs any "Help"!

First off, let's give John props for getting a really authentic vibe with "Smile". Nearly all of the sound sources, as well as the string arrangements, are in the classic Beatles style -- with a special hats off for the picture-perfect slide guitar parts heard thoughout the track. The tone, performance and choice of notes here are pure George Harrison, and as good as any that we have heard in this genre during our tenure at Readers' Tapes. We also dug some of the additional arrangement "candy", including the drum fill intro, as well as the ascending bass lines and the aforementioned George Martin-inspired faux string parts.

Now for the flip side. John tells us that his drums were derived from the stock HALion SE virtual instrument in his Cubase software. While we found the tom tones to be pretty satisfactory, the snare drum has a very compressed sound through our monitors, robbing it of the dynamic range required to help drive the track. We also felt that the kick drum was lacking in the low frequency area; we hear plenty of click, but insufficient thump though our speakers.

While we are on the subject of compression, we are also hearing a tad too much of it on the lead vocal. While the master engineers at Abby Road were no strangers to compression, sometimes to an extreme, it was applied in a way that was musical rather than leaving an artifact or smear.

Suggestions: "Tribute" style recordings can be a slippery slope, and John has delivered the goods for the most part here. As is often the case with one man/woman band projects, the programmed or software drums are the weakest link in the chain. The simple fact remains that most of these submissions come to us from folks whose main instrument is melodic rather than rhythmic in nature. While there is nothing wrong with the part itself, we would encourage John to scour his software and find a snare drum sound more in keeping with the distance-miked nature of those classic Beatles recordings, rather than the compressed one currently in place.

As for the compression, John's performance here is not belting (in a way that a song like "Helter Skelter" might be), therefore it is not in need of the volume peak control that heavy compression/limiting achieves. We suggest that he back down the ratio/threshold and release times on the vocal compressor until the smear on the ff's, tt's and sss's disappear. Lastly, adding a few dB of EQ in the 60–80 Hz range would help put some body into the kick drum sound.

Summary: We can work it out!

Contact: John McCracken,
About: Marty Peters

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