Category Archives: recording

Recording Process for Banding Together 2015

Last year, I wrote about the recording process for Banding Together 2014 and how it evolved from 2012-2014. In 2015, the process took another step forward. Here’s how.

In 2012, I put a stereo field mic on my dining room table, sat in a chair, and let it happen. In 2013, I learned a bit about mic placement and I stood up to get some more energy on the recording. In 2014, I abandoned the stereo field mic approach and instead used two mics. This gave me better control over the balance between the voice and guitar.

As I set up to record Banding Together 2015, I started with the same approach as 2014. And then at the last minute, just before hitting record, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that same stereo field mic I had used in 2012 and 2013. I had a thought!

Though I liked the sound of the 2014 recording, everything sounded “up close.” As the listener, I didn’t get the sense I was in the room. There was no ambience, no space, no room sound. So at the last minute, I grabbed the stereo mic, placed it on the other side of the room, and hit record. I didn’t expect to use it in the final recording at all, but I thought it would be a nice experiment. I had changed my approach each year since 2012. It just didn’t feel right to take the same exact approach.

Well… what was just an experiment turned into a revelation.

I was shock when, after having finished recording my performance, I dropped the stereo field mic’s audio into the mix. It made it sound so much bigger! There was a bit of space between the source of the sound and the mic. The room acted as a natural mixing board, blending the sounds of my acoustic guitar and my voice in a natural way. Combining this sound source with the close up sources made the overall recording sound fatter and larger. It sounded like you were there in the room with me. Which was exactly what I was going for!

Having that room sound alongside the closer mics on my voice and guitar really gave me the best of both worlds. I had the detail and presence I needed from the close ups and I also had the room and a sense of space from the room mic.

And of course, after all this, I made a connection I probably should’ve made from the beginning.

It’s a lot like recording drums! The close up mics are for the detail, but the drums don’t sound complete until you hear what they sound like in the room. The room is essential!

Just like anything you are trying to capture acoustically, the room can make all the difference.

P.S. If you’re interested in listening to the final recording, it’s available on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else. Check it out here.

Recording It Live

My latest album – Banding Together 2015 – is a live album. Not live in the sense that it was recorded at a show or even in front of a live audience (other than my cats). It’s live in the sense that the performance is live. I played my guitar and sang each song from the beginning to the end. And that’s what you hear on the album.

But why do it live? Why not record to a click track and multi-track the guitar and vocal separately? Recording software makes it easy. Plus, it produces a nice “studio sound.”

In this particular case, live was a requirement. The Banding Together webathon had to be performed live because that was the nature of the event. But even if that requirement wasn’t there, would I have done it differently? Would I have multi-tracked?

I don’t think so. Not that I wouldn’t ever record that way, but there’s something special to me about being able to hear a singer/songwriter perform songs in the most intimate setting. I don’t believe you can truly capture that sound unless it’s recorded as a live performance.

When the performance is recorded live – even if it’s captured in a studio – it feels like you’re in the room with the musician. That’s what the early Bob Dylan records – like The Freewheeling Bob Dylan – make me feel. That’s what Damien Rice’s first record makes me feel. It’s the best part about stripped-down, live-performance recordings. They allow us to hear the music as written.

It’s the reason MTV’s Unplugged was so popular, right? We’re able to hear if the song stands on its own. We can focus on the melody, lyrics, chord changes, and intent of the songwriter. We’re not distracted by studio effects or instrumentation.

We want to feel the natural ebb and flow of the music as expressed through the dynamics of the performer. It’s not often we hear true dynamics in today’s recordings. The effect of dynamics is often achieved by adding or subtracting instruments, but rarely does the overall loudness change.

Yet if you’re listening to one person play in front of you live, the player’s dynamics come through so clearly. This is something I wanted to capture in Banding Together 2015. I want you to feel like I sat down on your couch and sang you my songs with all my heart.

I hope that feeling comes through when you listen to it.

Where to Listen to My Latest Record

Thanks to everyone who downloaded and listened to my latest solo acoustic album, Banding Together 2015.

In addition to being available for pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, it is also now available basically everywhere you can listen to or download music! I’ve listed some of the most popular ones below as hyperlinks. Enjoy!

Listen to Two Live Tracks from the Toll Collectors

Recorded live at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ earlier this year… check out two live tracks from Christina Alessi & the Toll Collectors. There’s an original called “Leave the Light On” and a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Enjoy!

If you can’t see the embedded player above, use this link to listen to it directly on Soundcloud. https://soundcloud.com/christinaalessi/sets/christina-alessi-the-toll-collectors-at-maxwells-live

New Album Available Today

My new album is available today!

Photo Oct 21, 6 16 09 PM

Download it, stream it, and own it at Bandcamp today.

About the Album

Banding Together 2015 features eight songs (seven original and one in the public domain) performed live. I recorded it for blowupradio.com’s Banding Together Webathon which aired last month. Today, i’m making it available as a digital album that you can stream, download, and own. I recorded it in my apartment with studio-quality microphones and then worked with Missile Silo Studios to mix and master it. I think it came out sounding pretty great. I hope you agree!

Use the player below to stream or download the album. (If you don’t see the player, click here.)

My Favorite Daydream

I’m releasing a new piece of instrumental music today. “My Favorite Daydream” is available via Bandcamp to stream and download.

Daydreams can carry a stigma. Minds that daydream can be considered weak, wandering, and even wasteful. If you are a daydreamer you are not someone who is grounded in reality.

Yet there is a certain power in daydreams.

It gives your mind a chance to unwind. A chance to release the tension that comes as a result of concentration, in an age where we are pulled in many directions and always expected to be “on.” An age where our FOMO is urging us to fill our schedules to capacity.

This piece celebrates daydreams. (And is also a reminder to myself that I need to have them more often.)

The music is like a daydream in that it moves along at its own pace and combines instruments that wouldn’t normally come together. When I listen to it, I hear movement, a sense of adventure, and also a little bit of sadness. Layers of conflicting emotions. The mind unwinding in its own way.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Let it lead you to many of your own non-wasteful daydreams.

Listen below or here, if you don’t see the embedded player. Download your own copy by naming your price here.

My New Record Is Available Today

Today, I’m releasing a new record into the world! It’s a recording of my recent performance on Banding Together: A Webathon to Benefit the Spondylitis Association of America.

Banding Together 2014 Album Cover

 

About the Record

Things you won’t find on the record:

  • auto-tune
  • overdubs
  • editing
  • studio tricks

Things you will find on the record:

  • my voice
  • acoustic guitar
  • original songs recorded in their purest, simplest form

The recording features a half hour of original music, recorded in a way that captures the live performance with high fidelity. I worked with Missile Silo Studios to mix and master it professionally, so it sounds good coming out of your sound docks, speakers, and earbuds. (Read more about the recording process here.)

How to Get the Record

The record is available as a digital download.

Pay what you want for it. You can even grab it for free. I’m proud of the way it came out and I just want you to have it!

After you download it to your computer, you can easily add it to iTunes, Spotify, or any other music player. Just drag the files into your player.

Get the new record today ➝

I hope you enjoy it!

 

Live Recording at Home – An Evolution

IMG_7959.JPG

This year – for the third year in a row – I recorded my upcoming performance for the BlowUpRadio Spondylitis Benefit Webathon live from my apartment.

The process of recording this performance has evolved over the years. And I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Year 1

The first year, I had just purchased a great little field microphone made by Zoom and thought this might be a perfect opportunity to try it. I didn’t give much thought to mic placement. I just placed it on a table. Then I sat in a chair and began singing/playing.

I was actually quite pleased with the sound of the mic. The only trick was getting the right acoustic balance between the voice and the guitar. The guitar was a bit too loud when I played with a pick. So I decided to strum with my fingers instead. That seemed to fix the issue.

My friend Joe Egan who runs Missile Silo Studios in NJ did some awesome post-processing work on the recording to clean up the EQ and boost the levels.

Overall, I was pleased with the result. I also released it as a live digital record.

Year 2

I used the Zoom mic again, but this time I wanted to focus on two improvements.

  1. Capture more energy in my performance
  2. Achieve a better balance between the guitar and voice

To capture more energy in my performance, I decided to stand up while playing. It worked quite well, actually!

The second improvement was based on the fact that in Year 1, Joe had to do a bit of studio magic to bring out the frequencies that needed to be heard. So in Year 2, I wanted to capture a better overall signal directly from the source. To do this, I put the mic on a stand and worked on finding the right placement. I wound up putting it just below chest level and about a foot away from where I was playing. I angled it slightly upwards to capture more vocal. This helped achieve a better guitar/voice balance.

Again, I sent the recording to Joe. He actually commented about how much better it sounded right from the start. Yes!

I released this one as a live digital record, too.

This year

Though I was happy with the results from the previous two years, I wanted to try and push things to the next level. This year, I wanted to make something that sounded closer to a studio recording. I still wanted to record each song as a live take – no overdubs, no edits. But I wanted more control over the balance of the guitar and voice. I wanted to be able to achieve better isolation so that each instrument would come through with more clarity and impact on the recording.

So this year, I relieved the Zoom of its duties and opted for a two-microphone approach. I wound up with the mics pictured here – an SM57 on the voice and a large diaphragm condenser mic on the guitar.

IMG_7016.JPG

Arriving at this setup was actually a lot trickier than I imagined.

The tricky part was not the mic placement. It was deciding which mics to use. I started with the large condenser mic on the voice and another smaller condenser mic on the guitar. The large condenser is my best mic in terms of capturing the clearest audio and the largest range of frequencies.

The result? The voice sounded good, but there was no isolation. The acoustic guitar was coming through the vocal mic loud and clear. I wasn’t achieving my goal.

Then I thought of a story about Bono, of all people.

I had heard that Bono would sing through an SM58 mic in the studio. These are mic’s that vocalists use during live shows, but not so often in the studio. The mic works nicely during a live concert because it actually ignores most of the sound around it. It only pays attention to the sound directly in front of it.

Bono liked to use this mic in the studio because it meant he didn’t have to wear headphones. The engineers could emulate the feeling of being in a live concert by playing the instrument tracks over the studio speakers. Then Bono would sing his vocal takes from inside the control room with the music playing around him. Just like he was at a live show. This would’ve been an impossible recording situation had he been trying to use a large condenser mic for his vocal, as many engineers do.

By using the SM58, Bono was able to harness the energy of a live performance. Plus, the producers had enough isolation on the vocal track to do all the post processing and mixing to produce a great sounding studio album. And after listening to U2’s Joshua Tree, can you really argue with the result? Bono sings his heart out and it sounds great.

Thinking about this story made me realize something. My problem – too much sound from the guitar being captured by the vocal mic – was the same problem that U2’s engineers solved when they handed Bono an SM58. The mic captured only the sound that was directly in front of it, Bono’s voice.

This gave me an idea. I own a SM57. It’s practically the same mic as the SM58 (just add a pop filter!). So I thought, Why not try the SM57 mic on the vocal? I still really liked the idea of using the large condenser mic in some way, so I put that mic on the guitar instead of the voice. I angled it just slightly downward so that it didn’t pick up too much of the vocal.

Bingo. The mic swap made all the difference! The SM57 did its job. It ignored the guitar and captured my voice nicely. The large condenser mic sounded really nice on the guitar, too. It filled up the rest of the space in the recording with a good balance of low, middle, and high end.

Once again, I sent the raw tracks off to Joe for mixing and level-boosting at his awesome studio, Missile Silo Studios. I’m so excited about the result. It’s the best-sounding one yet!

You can hear the finished recording when it airs this weekend as part of blowupradio.com’s Spondylitis Benefit Webathon.

You have four opportunities to listen. The set will air on the following websites virtual stages at the following times:

40FootHoleStudio.com Stage:

Saturday 10/18 @ 1:10pm

Sunday 10/19 @ 1:10am

Blowupradio.com Stage:

Monday 10/20 @ 4:20pm

Monday 10/20 @ 10:20pm

 Hope you are able to tune in!

The Importance of an Intriguing Story

you_smiled

It’s sort of funny. More ironic than funny, actually.

A few years ago, I wrote, performed, and recorded a piece of music entirely on an iPad. The GarageBand app had just been launched and I wanted to experiment with it. So for a few days, I used my time commuting on the 2 Train between Brooklyn and Manhattan to compose and record. I liked the way the piece turned out, so I released it online.

The ironic part? It’s the most listened-to piece of music I’ve ever composed.

I had to disable downloads from SoundCloud because they were about to charge me an upgrade fee. It was getting too many! I moved it over to Bandcamp here on this page, so you can still download it if you want to.

But this post is not to talk about one music service over another. Nor is it to discuss techniques for composing music on an iPad. And it’s certainly not to tell you about how many people are listening to my music.

This post is to share the part of the story that is most interesting to me. Why is this piece getting so many listens?

Well, it certainly wasn’t for either of the reasons I thought it might be.

  1. It was released as a free download.
  2. It was composed and recorded entirely on an iPad.

No. Turns out, the reason actually has to do with the piece’s title. It has an intriguing story. The intriguing story led to me writing about that story. And writing about that story is what continues to allow people to find and listen to the music.

I must confess. At the time, I didn’t even know there was an intriguing story to tell.

My piece was an instrumental, so I was at a loss for a title. I happened to be scrolling through a blog called i can read. The blog consists of quotes layered over images in a beautiful way. The day I named my piece, I came across a fantastic quote.

“When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.”

So I named my piece, “You Smiled Because You Knew.”

After deciding on this title, I figured I should probably know a little something about the origin of the quote. The blog post attributed it to William Shakespeare.

Yet something about that attribution gave me pause. Really? Shakespeare? It didn’t sound like something he would have written. Sure, he wrote plenty about love, but the structure and the phrasing seemed uncharacteristic.

My curiosity kicked in and I discovered that my suspicions were, in fact, correct. The quote is not Shakespeare. It is actually a translation of the Italian libretto from the Verdi opera, Falstaff. Written by Arrigo Boito. Not Shakespeare.

I thought this was absolutely fascinating. Think about all of the years that have passed since the Falstaff libretto was written. All of the years since Shakespeare has lived. All of the technology that allows us to research the written word in seconds! Yet still, we have a misconception about something so seemingly simple as who should be credited for a popular quote.

As a brief aside, the opera is actually based on a work by Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” So there is a loose connection. It is probably the reason the quote is falsely attributed. Yet Shakespeare never wrote those lines. It was Arrigo Boito.

All of this was so intriguing to me. I couldn’t help but write about the experience. And since my experiment with composing music on the iPad led me down this path in the first place, I included a link to my instrumental piece, “You Smiled Because You Knew.” You can read that post here.

I couldn’t believe what happened after writing that one post. Other people had been curious about this too! They read about my discovery and listened to the piece. Some even reached out to tell me about it. I noticed increased traffic to my website. More and more people were listening and downloading my musical composition. To this day, that one post drives more traffic to my website than any post I’ve written. It’s actually the 3rd search result when you Google the quote!

Yes, it’s sort of funny. A piece of music I wrote and released quickly as an experiment is the most listened-to piece of music I’ve ever created.

But it just goes to show you how far a great story can go.

I’ve learned something valuable from this experience. I hope that in sharing it, you will also benefit. What I’ve learned is this – It’s so important to tell your story. It’s interesting. It’s important. And it will take you places you never thought possible.

So please, go tell yours.