Lessons Learned in the Studio: Part 2 – The Real Thing

If you know me, you know I’m a gadget girl. I like my toys! Synth instruments, modeling guitars, amp models and a brief love affair with Logic Drummer are just the tip of the iceberg.

None of these things compare with the real thing.

Lesson #1: Modeling

Yeah. I love my Line 6 gear. 10 years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d forsake my 150-watt stack with two 2×12 cabs. Enter Sean Halley a few years later.

Now aside from being some serious eye-candy, Sean can actually play the guitar. Really. Well. So now, OF COURSE I’m dialed in.

I remember that first demo ever – it was for the refresh of the Variax line. Box number 3 checked off. Eye candy? Check. Great guitar chops? Check. Massively cool gadgetry? Double check. I’m hooked.

At the time, I already had an HD-500X and the Variax had me drooling.

Give me a guitar that I can connect to my computer and reprogram with software and I am there. However, there is a somewhat overlooked feature of the Variax that I very recently came to appreciate. It contains the ability to blend the magnetic pickups with the various guitar models.

I started to appreciate this sort of thing when Dave Sykut (DavidSykutRecording.com) had a “discussion” about whether or not a direct box was necessary in conjunction with my fancy toys. Just kidding. Dave understands my toy fetish and was very understanding. And he was pretty much using the direct box with or without my consent. So there’s that.

When I heard what he did by mixing the straight, uneffected pickups with the sounds from the modeled guitars running through the Helix effects, I was completely amazed. What I thought was a pretty good Metal tone with some nice bottom end and just the right amount of crunch turned into AMAZING! (Hey, Tim – there’s that word again!)

The resulting sound (which isn’t complete yet, I realize) blew me away. And this was on my song.

Lesson #2: Drums

The tough thing about modeling is that you can’t capture air movement digitally. Sure, you capture a sound, but when air moves a speaker or a gets pushed from a kick drum, something magical happens.

Energy is released into the room.

And in the case of Jeremy “Animal” Papay (JeremyPapay.com) we’re talking metric tons of energy.

When I tried to play along with Jeremy after rehearsing to Logic Drummer, I realized that there is a reason we need to capture live recordings. The whole feel of live drums actually threw me for a loop. The songs I thought I was so familiar with had become completely foreign because I could now FEEL them in addition to hearing them.

Just hearing something is so different than being able to feel it; experience it in Twilight-Zone like dimensions.

It was an amazing difference and even though I’m using modeled guitars and basses for all of my parts in the song, just having a real drummer, real drums and real air making real movements have already made this EP sound better than I ever expected.

Lesson #3: Keyboards

“MIDI makes everything easy,” they said. “You can program everything in one place and take it to another and everything will be exactly the same,” they said.

Not of huge of “They.” Whoever “They” are.

A few notes of reality.

First, this only really works if everyone has the EXACT same soundbanks in their libraries and DAWs. For things like strings, organs and harpsichords (guess what sounds I like to use A LOT!) you’re probably OK and will get close or even better.

For sounds like “Demonic Gargling Alien Synth Kalimba from the Abyss of Space” (guess what sound I like to use A LOT!) you’re probably going to have to play around quite a bit.

Now, I used to be a hardcore music geek, doing all of my own synth programming (from scratch, even!) recording, mixing and mastering.  I even took a friend’s basement demo one time and remixed and remastered it for her. Didn’t turn out half badly.

But those things take as much time as actually playing instruments and writing songs. So I had to make a choice and that choice was was playing guitar and writing songs. Even my visual aesthetic is left largely to my photographers (Margie Mackrell – https://www.facebook.com/21SevenPhotography and Rob Carson) whom I trust implicitly.

To be fair, that will eventually change, but for now it’s one less thing that I have to worry about.

One of the side effects of that choice was picking from preprogrammed synth patches. Sadly, that means that not all patches are transferable from platform to platform.

Another thing I learned is that MIDI is, in general, a standard. However, not all MIDI is transferable. I use Guitar Pro for my tabs (for the crowdfunding campaign) and I use Logic Pro X to record my demos. I will painstakingly fix all of the timing errors in Logic, only to find that when I import those MIDI files into Guitar Pro, I end up with quadruple-dotted 128th notes.

Starting in Guitar Pro and importing to Logic is even worse.

And the same thing can happen between DAWs, as well, so it’s not a perfect system. Fortunately, it’s easier to quantize the digital files, but it’s still not a hundred percent effective.

While we’re talking about keyboards, yes I really do prefer a physical keyboard to a guitar synth. Who saw THAT coming? I know I surprised myself.  You see, when I play keyboard lines on guitar, they sound like, well, guitar lines.  When I play keyboard lines on an actual keyboard they sound more like keyboard lines.

So there you have it. Even in the digital age, real is better.

Until next time – ROCK ON!

Leave a Reply