How To Do Everything Wrong, And End Up With An Embarrassing Album

The year was 1994… 

I had started a band with a drummer and bassist, assembling an original song list that sounded like it would fit in the Grunge universe, but also allowed us to play some more complex stuff. We were already doomed to fail.

Our drummer, who had a great aesthetic sense, was a teenager with a skinny teen boy’s body, and had little stamina behind the kit to play long and hard. Our bassist was a singing guitarist who picked up the bass to start a band with me, and he played bass like a guitarist. I was a know-it-all lead guitarist, determined that we could change everyone’s mind in Cincinnati about what they wanted to hear.

Grunge? Really? Who listens to THAT? We’ll do BETTER stuff.

These guys are hacks, and they’ll never be successful.

The fact that we had lasted for six months was, in itself, a triumph. But we were getting antsy. We wanted to gig. We wanted an album. We wanted to sell an album at our gigs.

In 1994, the home recording market had been exploding for a couple of years with the release of Alesis’ ADAT 8-track modular digital recorder. It used super VHS tapes, and multiple ADATs could by connected together to make more simultaneous tracks available. Link two ADATs, and you had a 16-track system. Link three, and you have 24 tracks. Well, I had an ADAT, and a friend had one too. So we had the capacity to make something like an album.

The Alesis ADAT: Finally, home studio recording can sound like the pros, when it isn’t eating your tapes.

What we did NOT have was a good recording location, or sufficient microphones.

With polite inquiries, my bandmates and I got the OK to use a church sanctuary late one night. We set up our gear, and hastily recorded ourselves playing all our songs to get the drums on tape. We knew we could overdub everything else later. Our engineer friend cobbled together some sort of method to get signal on to tape, and give us a stage monitor.

So far, here are the ways we had already failed:

  1. We recorded before we were ready, because we were impatient.
  2. We recorded hastily.
  3. We planned to overdub, and made no effort to get good bass, guitar or vocal performances on tape.
  4. Our recording system was cobbled together. No headphones!

 

We used a click for tempo, and played it through our stage monitor. The click bled into the drum kit’s overhead microphone. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but our young drummer tended to get nervous, and fall out of time.

When I got everything back to my townhouse, I heard all the flaws in playback. Being the persistent sort, I took it as a challenge to make it all work. I spent a lot of time processing the bad drum tracks, and then tried to add my guitars in such a way as to make the drum recording work.

Here are some more ways we failed:

  1. We kept on trying to polish a turd, instead of starting over and doing it right.
  2. We used substandard gear.

 

In the midst of this, we became self-conscious. Our sound was rather heavier than what our friends listened to, and we started trying to get them to like us by writing things that were a little lighter.

At about this time, I sent a demo in to a regional indie label, and got a polite rejection letter that read, “We think your sound is a bit too avant-garde, and we’re looking for something more like the next Hootie And The Blowfish.” I sure wish I had kept that letter. In any case, I sat right down and wrote something a little Hootie-flavored. Our sound was already evolving, and we reasoned that a couple Hootie-like songs mixed in with our King’s X / Soundgarden heavy stuff would make us more widely appreciated.

More things we did wrong:

  1. Tried to please everyone.
  2. Changed our sound.
  3. Handled rejection poorly.

Still, what made perfect sense was to keep pounding away on a poorly-conceived album. On every work lunch-break, I raced over to my recording rig to sing a little, or get some guitars recorded. I overdid everything. Right in the middle of all of this, our bassist moved back home to Indiana. This only lasted a few months, but it put an end to our gigging and rehearsing. In the meantime, I finished the album (mostly just to prove I could). This seemed noble.

 

I mixed the finished album at a friend’s studio, and started working on the visual components. CD’s were the standard, but a lot of bands still trafficked in cassettes. I could see no way to afford a CD project, so I had the album mastered to a DAT, and had a small run of cassette copies made. Then (and remember this is the 1990′s) I poured money into a good tape deck, a laser printer, card stock, cassette labels and cases. I spent a ton of time learning to design logos. I printed out the adhesive labels and inserts for the cassettes, and made a few every day. Our bassist moved back to town ,and we got right back to the business of making music. He hadn’t really played bass since he moved, but that didn’t stop us from recording.

When the album was finished, here’s what we had:

  1. Bad performances,
  2. Poor recordings,
  3. Time spent trying to fix things that should have been scrapped.
  4. A homemade cassette album that featured…
  5. Songs that didn’t belong together.
  6. Money thrown away on supplies and equipment.

All you have to do to end up with a similarly inferior product is to copy any of this process.

Twenty-some years later, the home recording universe is a different place. Any crap performance can be edited, and almost any bad sound can be processed into something listenable. But is that what you want? A fake representation of your abilities? To me it’s like a toupee. It isn’t real hair. You didn’t grow it, and you’re trying to fool people into thinking it’s the real you.

If your bandmates can’t perform well on their instruments, just don’t even start. Take the time to get it right. Break rehearsals down, and take turns listening to how everyone plays. When it’s tight and accurate, THEN you’re ready to start the rest. Take the time. Earn it. Somewhere down the road (sooner than you think), you’ll be listening back and wondering about your time and energy spent. Don’t you want to be proud of it?

To illustrate my folly, I’ve made the whole album available online, here: http://davideberhardt.com/html/trosa.htm

Fiat Lux – The Return of St. Andrew

There are some back-stories and related details. Enjoy the spectacle. Learn from my folly!

I invite your comments, related tales, and questions. Bring ‘em.

Product Review: Tech 21 FlyRig RK5

Review of the Tech 21 FlyRig RK5, by Dave Eberhardt

First off, I recorded a demo of the FlyRig RK5, which you can check out, here: https://youtu.be/vzaO05Kvlvs

Tech 21 has produced several items which I like very much. The original SansAmp has shown up on a many of the recordings I’ve made (I’ll bet you a sandwich you can’t identify which ones), and I liked the Bass Driver preamp on my bass so much that I bought an RBI to keep in my studio rack.

The original FlyRig seemed like such a great idea when I first discovered it, and the RK version had the sort of gain I really like, so I jumped on it. The SansAmp section, reverb and DLA (delay) are the same in both models, so the only difference is the OMG gain in the RK version, versus the PLEXI gain in the original.

First reactions: The FlyRig box is surprisingly tiny, and so I was even more surprised at how tiny the actual FlyRig actually is, inside it. Seriously, it’s the size of two cell phones end-to-end. It came with its own proprietary (and alarmingly flimsy) power supply. Sadly, this is not a standard 9v adapter, so you can’t add a FlyRig to an existing pedalboard daisy chain.

Sounds and features: By itself, the SansAmp section is glorious. It sounds like an amp, and responds like one. Tone controls are responsive and musical. The reverb is remarkable. Unfortunately, it isn’t foot-switchable. There’s no graceful way to deal with this on stage. Just don’t even try.

The OMG gain is fantastic, and interacts well with the SansAmp. Then the OMG boost sends it all into screaming rock Valhalla. Used without an amp, the SansAmp functions well as an amp-simulator, letting you boost it with the two stages of the OMG. With an amp, the SansAmp section can be used as its own boost/gain, and the OMG and its boost can be tweaked differently. So there are lots of gain combinations to explore.

The DLA section boasts a really nice-sounding tap delay, with the option to add a randomized modulation. Turning the delay-time all the way down allows the modulation to be used as a “secret” chorus. As a delay freak, I was disappointed that the only realistic use of the delay was tapped quarter notes (or 8th-notes if I double-timed it). If you want dotted-8th delays, you better be able to tap a beat-and-a-half. Lotsa luck with that. I was further disappointed (and really surprised) by the DLA noise floor.

Persnickety: There is a current trend to have footpedals color the clouds with their huge bright light shows. I hate this. When I perform, I want my pedal rig to be as unobtrusive as possible. The Flyrig lights up every knob in each section that’s enabled. I wish each function just had a single LED. If you like footlights, you may love it. Moreover, when powered-up, the whole unit -I mean, each section- defaults to being ON.

At the end of a few weeks of using it both live and in the studio, I found myself craving more options, or wishing I had just gotten an OMG pedal. To me, the unit doesn’t offer much that I don’t already have, and it’s tiny footprint (while impressive) isn’t enough of a perk to replace anything I already have.

I asked Tech 21 if the FlyRig could be modded with extra jacks (I was really interested in a send/return, perhaps on a single stereo jack), and was told that they couldn’t imagine such an option. In my experience, manufacturers are rarely imaginative in this regard.

Maybe someone else will mod their FlyRig, and I’ll revisit the option. Until then, I’d rather use something a little larger, quieter, and better-appointed

Pros: Compact, great amp-sim and gain stages.

Cons: Reverb isn’t switchable, delay is limited and noisy. Power supply is distressingly cheapo.

 

Have you tried one? What was your experience?

Tonal Identity: What’s the guitar that best transmits YOUR sound?

I grew up with an unapologetic worship of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, and as such, was dead-set on becoming a Gibson Les Paul / Humbuckers / Marshall guy.

The shred-era exploded while I was high school, and “super-strats” with pointy headstocks ruled the day. I got a non-pointy, affordable model with a locking tremolo, and contented myself with whatever amp I could use at the time. Even back then, Les Pauls were hard to afford, and seeing them with tremolo just looked weird.

King’s X invaded my world in the late 80′s, and I heard Ty Tabor getting incredibly heavy, yet articulate tones out of his Strat. While I had already landed on doing volume-swells with a volume pedal, I really appreciated how he was doing them all with the Strat’s volume knob.

Somewhere around then, I also really started to crave the classic sound of a Strat. I knew nothing about them, really. I bought one in complete ignorance, brand new off the shelf, and got VERY lucky to have gotten one that sounded so good (it’s a Mexican model). To this day, it’s the guitar with which I have been seen (and photographed) the most. It took a while to adjust my playing style to single coils, but no matter what other guitar I try, that Strat is what works best for me on stage.

My studio go-to guitars are a Mexican Telecaster and an Electra Invicta from about 1980. I even have a real Gibson Les Paul that I tried to use live for years, and I finally got a Jazzmaster about 2 years ago (wanted one for years, but that’s another story). For me, on stage, it’s almost always a Strat that makes it happen.

I put together this dorky little video to illustrate a bunch of types of sounds I might pull from a Strat, using only an original POD Pro. Check it out here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5YUrhHtlUY

What guitar works best for YOU? What fits your playing style/vibe/etc, and why? Forget hero-worship and brand identity. What do YOU get the best results from?