Tour Diary: Hellpets – Spring 2001: Home Recording Sessions for Teddy Bears Gone Bad
I’ve always been an analog cassette multi-track kind of guy, so it wasn’t without some anxiety that I entered the world of digital audio production. And what better way to get started than with a head first dive into a full-blown rock album? Things went about as smoothly as could have been hoped for, considering. The following few paragraphs will go into some homespun technical mumbo-jumbo that might be uniquely boring to the average person. More tales of Hellpet rock ‘n’ roll excess and mayhem are on the way so I won’t blame you for skipping this one.
Phase One: How on God’s green earth do I get ProTools to run on this computer?
In a much appreciated attempt to get me off my lazy bohunkus, Mike Merriam actually flew up to Portland from Baton Rouge to lend me a PC (you know, personal computer) expressly so that I would record something for the first time in three years. My part of the deal was buying the ProTools Digi001 system. Well, that and actually making some damn albums for crying out loud. First order of business, the computer’s processor wasn’t compatible with the software. We substituted an 800MHz Intel chip. Of course, the chip wasn’t compatible with our motherboard, so we got a brand new one of those. Turns out that the motherboard wasn’t compatible with our case (that’s the actual box that houses the computer innards) or our keyboard. By this time we got it back, the computer was virtually unrecognizable but worked.
Phase Two: Drums
Since I only have six microphones, I decided that there would be six drum tracks. Brilliant, no? I used a cheap CAD condenser about a foot in front of the kick, an SM57 (bought especially for the occasion) close on the top snare head, a $20 “dynamic” mic (who are they kidding) close on the rack tom, a Shure Prologue (my crappiest mic) on the floor tom, and two SM58s as stereo overheads (in the basement that means about 2 feet off the cymbals). The Digi001 only has 2 mic preamps, so I outboarded a bunch of stuff through another mixer. By the way, never try recording kick drum through an Aphex Tubessence preamp. I wound up with more noise than signal. I recorded a scratch guitar part (recorded direct and later discarded) along with Chris as he mercilessly pounded out the drum parts. We got his tracks wrapped up in about seven hours (which includes 90 minutes of driving around town looking for drum dampening rings).
Phase Three: All the other instruments
The Countess’ bass and Audrey’s keyboard parts were a breeze. There’s nothing like just plugging an instrument in, setting levels and pushing record. For the bass, I actually had the Countess plug into her Gallien-Krueger combo and ran the balanced XLR out into the computer. For guitar, I dragged the Alamo amplifier to the farthest corner of the basement and pointed it toward the wall with a mic in front of it. Did I mention that I have no baffles? Meanwhile, on the other side of the room I played with a microphone directly in front of the guitar to pick up whatever acoustic sounds might be coming from the thing (it’s an electric/acoustic after all). The result was sheer loveliness.
Phase Four: Vocals
Once again I used my bottom of the barrel CAD condenser. I spent the first morning collecting materials to make a homemade pop filter, per the instructions in a recent issue of Tape Op. Finally, they’ve found a legitimate use for embroidery hoops (I’m kidding, honestly). Audrey and the Countess nailed all their backing parts almost immediately. Meanwhile I, as usual, spent hours going through version after identical-sounding version until I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t going to do it any better.
Phase Five: Mixing
Welcome to my personal hell. I’ve never claimed to have things like an “ear” or “knowledge” or “common sense” and that was all too apparent as I toiled in the dank subterranean confines of Casa Hotstream West attempting to seamlessly integrate a manic hodgepodge of quasi-musical noises. Finally, through a long series of trials and gruesome error, about 20 wasted CD-Rs, consultation from local popmeister Dave Klopfenstein and mailing mixes to Mike in Baton Rouge for suggestions, the final mixes emerged. And jeezums if they didn’t sound harsh to the tender ear.
Phase Six: Mastering
Lets hear it for Sonic Crush mastering studio! Recommended by the aforementioned Dave K., James Gray is some sort of audio magician. I had managed to avoid much additional financial outlay up to this point, but boys and girls, a good mastering job is worth it. This message brought to you by the Council of Mastering Engineers with House Payments.
And voila! There you have it! There’re also the riveting stories of taking photos, graphic design, trips to the Kinko’s, ordering CD-R blanks, home manufacturing, etc., but you can read all about that when my autobiography comes out.