New Album–From Jerusalem to Rome

If you’ve followed this blog for some time, you’ll know that I occasionally post about my home studio recordings. One project which I have been working at on and off for over a decade now is a concept album around the life of the apostle Paul. The songs were all written by my friend Ali back in 2001, and we recorded the vocals to all 13 songs in just a few epic late night sessions in a spare bedroom with Ali singing into a cheap microphone through a pair of my wife’s tights stretched over a coathanger.

I was left with the task to work out some arrangements and record the backing tracks. It took far longer than intended (five children has had something to do with that), but this year I decided I wanted to put the project to rest, and finished off the final two songs (Suffering Servant and Demas Blues).

The other reason for my reticence to release this album is that really all the songs could do with being re-recorded for one reason or another. I’ve learned a lot about recording, and improved a lot as a musician over the last 10 years, and some of my earlier work makes me cringe (in fact most of my current work does too). But I’ve found Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder at the Simply Recording podcast to be very inspiring. Their advice to set time-limits was just what I needed to hear.

If I had to pick my favourite three of Ali’s songs I think I’d go for My Life for your Glory, Opposition and Joy, and the reprise of Teach me to Fall. Even if you’re not a big fan of the blues, make sure you check out the lyrics – Ali has an excellent way with words. I’ve put the whole album up on bandcamp so you can listen for free.

(Unfinished) Song–You have set my heart free

A couple of months ago I started to record a song I wrote based on the “Daleth” section of Psalm 119, which is one of my favourite parts of the Psalm. I ran into a few technical difficulties with my recording setup along the way and never really got round to finishing it. Hopefully at some point in the future, I can finish it off properly, but since I am blogging my way through Ps 119 at the moment, I thought I’d post it in its current state. Apologies for my rather out of tune singing. I did manage to record one good take, but realised later I’d got the words wrong!

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The lyrics are based very closely on Ps 119:25-32 NIV (1984)

I am laid low in the dust
Preserve my life according to your word
I recounted my ways and you answered me
Teach me your decrees

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts
That I will meditate on your wonders
I have chosen the way of truth
I have set my heart on your laws

My soul is weary with sorrow
Strengthen me according to your word
Keep me from deceitful ways
Be gracious to me through your law

Let me understand…

I hold fast to your statutes Lord
Let me not be put to shame
I run in the path of your commands
For you have set my heart free

I have set my heart on your laws
For you have set my heart free

Song – More of You

It has been far too long since I last recorded a song, so over Christmas I spent a few evenings in my home studio (well, in my dining room actually). The song I chose is called “Lord, You Desire” and was written by my friend John-Daniel Laurence. It has been one of my favourites ever since I first heard him play it. If you would like to hear the official version, get hold of the Your Favour album from All Saints Peckham.

As usual, the recording isn’t really ‘finished’ as there are a multitude of improvements I would like to make, but I have decided to stop here. You can listen to my version here:

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Recording Notes

Mixing – the whole song was recorded and mixed in REAPER.
Drums - programmed with EZdrummer, using the Nashville kit, plus some compression
Bass - played on my Yamaha bass, with with some extra compression and EQ
Vocals – I made a real mess of recording these due to difficulties getting a good signal level. I then added EQ and compression and used the new Bootsy EpicVerb for reverb.
Piano – I used the True Pianos demo, with some EQ to take the low end off, some very gentle compression and a convolution reverb.
Electric Guitar – used a patch from Line6 GearBox.
Cello – uses a Dimension Pro patch

Lyrics

Lord, you desire a heart that’s pure and holy
Without holiness, no one can see you Lord
Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see you
A heart after your heart, this is what you desire

Give me a heart that burns for you
A passion that will never fade away
Give me a devotion that will never cease to cry
More of you in my life

I need more of you, more of you
More of you in my life

Song – You Have Always Given

Here’s a recording of a song I wrote and started to record last year, but the recording process stalled. I have spent my spare time in the last week or two finishing it off. I used an interesting new recording program, REAPER this time, instead of SONAR which I normally use.

The lyrics are taken from a Celtic prayer that Scot McKnight posted on his blog. It is called “Expressions of Faith” and is about trusting God for the future based on his faithfulness in the past. I’ve made it into 3 two-part verses, and added my own chorus to give it a bit more of a song structure.

You can listen to it here

Lyrics

Lord you have always given
Bread for the coming day
And though I am poor
Today I believe

Lord you have always given
Strength for the coming day
And though I am weak
Today I believe

All Sufficient One
I believe in you
I put my trust in you
Never failing God
My life is in your hands
I need nothing more than you

Lord you have always given
Peace for the coming day
And when I’m tempted to fear
In You I believe

Lord you have always kept me
Safe through each passing day
And when I’m facing more trials
In You I believe

Lord you have always marked out
My path for the coming day
Yet when the way seems hidden
Still I believe

Lord you have always spoken
Just when the time was right
Yet even in the silence
Still I believe

Recording Details

As I said, I used REAPER, which has some great audio features, although lags behind SONAR in terms of MIDI functionality.

Vocals – I am singing on this one, and Steph sang the backing vocals. It is actually the first time Steph has sung on one of my recordings, and she did a great job (you should have heard my attempts at harmony!). It was also nice that I finally have written a song that she likes enough to want to sing! Even my children sing along to this one.
Acoustic Guitar – This is my Yamaha APX-4A recorded direct from pickup. I am not pleased with the sound I got out of it. I was having some computer problems at the time of recording which meant that my focus was on successfully recording anything without pops and clicks.
Electric Guitar – The electric guitars made use of the built-in effects in my new Line6 USB audio interface.
Bass Guitar – this is my Yamaha bass compressed with Kjaerhus GUP-1
Piano – this was my home-made Yamaha P200 soundfont. If I had been using SONAR I would have recorded quite a few more takes of the piano MIDI as my playing was fairly ropey.
Organ – Organized trio VSTi again – this is becoming a regular feature on my tracks
Drums & Percussion – I used EZDrummer and the EZX Percussion expansion for the drum sounds, and played the drums in myself on the keyboards before fixing them up and adding fills in REAPER’s piano roll view.
Mixdown – I used a Sonitus multiband compressor to even out the EQ a bit and then Kjaerhus classic master limiter to get me up to full scale (and a very small amount of limiting in the loud bits)

Song – I want to Know Your Voice (Remix)

Since I’m in the mood for remixing my friend Ali McLachlan’s songs, here’s another one. I Want to Know Your Voice is a kind of funk/blues song which is Ali’s new tune to some lyrics his brother wrote. Again, I’ve not departed too much from the mix I did back in 2001, but just updated it here and there to hopefully give a slightly more polished sound (though still far from professional!)

You can listen to the updated mix at Soundclick.

Remix

Arrangement – The main problem with this song is that the verses get a bit boring and drawn out. I experimented with cutting half of each verse out, but it didn’t really work, so I ended up sticking with the original five minute arrangement.
Vocals – As usual Ali is singing through my wife’s tights into a cheap mic. A bit of compression and reverb was added.
Bass – The original bassline was recorded on a very cheap bass guitar with a limp sound. I eventually gave up trying to compress and EQ it into shape, and re-recorded it, sticking fairly close to the original bassline.
Trumpet – Its rare I get my trumpet out, but I think it works really well on this song. I used the original recording, and some compression and reverb really makes it nice and bright.
Drums – I kept to the original pattern from my old Alesis SR-16 drum machine, with a few open hi-hats added in for interest. I used a SmartLoops set of drum samples again.
Piano – The piano part remained as is, fairly understated, mainly used to help add interest during the dull parts of the verses.
Organ – I kept the blues organ from my Yamaha P200 stage piano droning right through the whole song, as in the original arrangement.
Electric Piano – I added an electric piano part using the Mr Ray VST again for a bit more variation.
Electric Guitar – I re-recorded the palm mute parts (although they are still a bit lame), as well as adding some arpeggios and auto-wah parts, all using the Behringer V-Amp 2. I also replaced the acoustic guitar outro solo with a shorter electric guitar solo.
Mixdown – Most tracks as usual were compressed with Kjaerhus GUP-1, and I used a combination of Lexicon and Cakewalk reverbs. I’ve been a little bit bolder than normal with the mastering limiter on this one, as my mixes tend to be on the quiet side compared to other people’s tracks.
Conversion to MP3 – I have been noticing recently that the conversion to MP3 is introducing some distortion in some of the bass guitar and kick drum hits at loud points in the song, which are definitely not present in the WAV mixdown. If SONAR had a decent sidechaining feature I would try to duck the bass guitar with the kick drum. Maybe SONAR 6 will allow this.

Lyrics

I want to know your voice.
Want to know the moving of your Spirit in my life.
I want to shine for you.
Let the light of Jesus be seen in everything I do.

I want to be close to you; I want to walk with you.
I want to be close to you Lord Jesus.
I want to walk with you every minute, of every day
Let the thoughts of each moment be centred on you.
Let the thoughts of each moment be centred on you.
Let my life revolve around you.

Song – Don’t Ditch the Gospel

Here’s a previously unreleased Ali McLachlan track for your entertainment. I recorded this along with the rest back in 2000 but this one never saw the light of day because I couldn’t come up with enough creative ideas for a backing track.

Anyway, I decided to blitz it in the space of a few evenings and this is what came out. It’s not perfect, but I thought it would be nice for it to get a public hearing (the message behind the song is a timely one). As usual Ali is doing the singing, and I am to blame for instruments and mixing.

You can download it or stream it here:
http://www.soundclick.com/bands/songInfo.cfm?bandID=36829&songID=4364917

Recording

Vocals – Ali is singing. He had to sing to a very sparse backing track. The introduction originally was over the top of some music, but it didn’t seem to work, so I ended up going for an a cappella intro. As usual Kjaerhus GUP-1 provided the compression.
Keyboards – I used the freeware Mr Ray electric piano and Organized trio organ, which both served me very well.
Drums – This was just one instance of Dimension with a SmartLoops set of samples loaded. I started off using some MIDI blues patterns from SessionDrummer and modified them to fit better. Working this way saved me a whole lot of time over my usual technique of programming all the beats by hand, and using multiple instances of Dimension for each drum.
Percussion – Triangle sound from Hypersonic, and I had to settle for using one of Joel’s toy tambourines (with only 3 jangly bits) because I couldn’t find the proper tambourine. Of course, I found it after finishing mixdown.
Bass – My Yamaha bass with some GUP-1 compression.
Guitars – All used the V-Amp 2. I wish I had used less heavy sounds for the first two guitar solos, but its too late now.
Mixing – As I was looking to finish this project quickly I just used one reverb – the Lexicon Pantheon SE and the Kjaerhus classic master limiter. Kjaerhus GUP-1 and Sonitus EQ were liberally scattered around on various tracks.

Lyrics

I’m not ashamed of the gospel,
Because it is the power of God
For the salvation of all who believe

You know you can have a bad line and still catch a fish,
You can be bad to your woman and still end up being kissed,
You can take your eye off the ball and still score a goal,
But don’t ditch the gospel if you want to save souls

You don’t have to be a monkey if you want to climb trees,
You don’t have to do a jailbreak if you want to break free,
You can do without a guitar if you want to play rock and roll,
But don’t ditch the gospel if you want to save souls

You can be the biggest loser and be on the winning team,
You don’t have to hit the headlines to end up being seen,
You can lean behind your shovel and still dig a hole,
But don’t ditch the gospel if you want to save souls

Well you can lie in bed all morning and find you’re getting paid,
You can fail in all your subjects, and finally make the grade,
You can wrap yourself in cotton and wind up catching cold
But don’t ditch the gospel if you want to save souls

Don’t tell me you got something better
Don’t tell me you got something clever
Its a stumbling block baby!

To preach the cross is crazy
If you’re dying in your sins
But to us who are being saved
It is the power of God

Well you can lose in every battle to find you’ve won the war,
You can try to find a planet, and still be wanting more,
You can be ever so unlucky and end up striking gold,
But don’t ditch the gospel if you want to save souls

If you want to save souls
Don’t ditch the gospel
Don’t throw it away
There’s nothing better
If you want to save souls

Song – Opposition and Joy

I’ve recently finished a remix of “Opposition and Joy”, a song by my friend Ali McLachlan, which is about the twin themes of opposition and joy that ran through the life of Paul. He draws particularly from 2 Cor 4.

You can stream or download the new version from Soundclick.

There were a few reasons I decided to do a remix. First off, my mixing skills have been slowly improving, and I wanted opportunity to practise some of the new techniques I was learning about. Opposition and Joy is also one of my favourite songs by Ali, and I felt that my original recording was fairly mediocre. On top of that, I’m visiting him soon, so I’m hoping to be able to take with me 3 or 4 remixes of his songs that do a bit more justice to his singing and songwriting ability than my original versions did.

Most of the remixing was done in 20-30 minute sessions during my lunch hours at work. This meant I didn’t have access to instruments or keyboards, so I had to focus almost exclusively on fixing timing issues and working on the overall sound of the mix.

Original Recording

The lyrics and music were written by my friend Ali, although bizarrely he seems to view me as
having co-written the music. All I did was listen to him singing it to me and worked out a chord progression.

It was recorded very quickly back in 2000 using Cakewalk Pro Audio 9. He sang into my Senheisser Evolution e845 dynamic mic with a pair of my wife’s tights stretched over a wire coat-hanger as a pop-shield. We had a click track and some very basic quantised piano chords for him to sing over, but at that stage we hadn’t worked out that there were some bars of 3/8 every now and then (its in 6/8).

The backing instruments were added after vocals. The P200 piano was the main backing instrument. A nice cello soundfont provided the bass in the introduction and in two later verses. A bass soundfont was used in preference to an bass guitar, mainly because lacking a compressor and the know-how to use EQ, my el-cheapo bass guitar was just not cutting through the mix. Drums were programmed in using my (new) JV-1010. There were some electric guitar power chords to beef things up during the bridge, and finally a guitar solo. Virtually no effects were used in the original version apart from those built in to the synths and amp sims I used.

The Remix

Arrangement – This song actually has not only four verses but three separate choruses and a bridge, not to mention the guitar solo. This meant that the original track was a rather lengthy 5 minutes 45, which is OK considering that it is a good song, but still perhaps a bit on the long side. There was not much scope for removing material, but there were two chorus repeats (one before the bridge and one at the end) that could be removed without too much damage to the overall flow of the song.

Piano – I made use of my P200 sfz file played through the Cakewalk Dimension soft-synth. There weren’t any glaring errors, but the timing was a bit sloppy in places, and so I made use of the “nudge” feature of Sonar to improve timing without making it sound mechanical and quantised. I applied some EQ to the piano to balance out the overall frequency response of the mix and stop it competing with the bass instruments so much.

Bass – I originally kept the bass as MIDI, and used a Dimension bass patch. The timing was dreadful and there were some glaring wrong notes, but these were not so apparent in the original mix because it was mixed so low. I fixed the timing errors, and removed the bass-line altogether while the cellos were playing. However, the new MIDI bass line still didn’t quite cut it, so one evening I quickly recorded a new bass line using my Yamaha bass.

Drums – The drums made use of the ns_kit7 free, routed through multiple instances of Dimension using a drum map. I made various improvements to the velocities and patterns, hopefully resulting in a more authentic sounding drum track. The original only had a few patterns that were repeated throughout. I didn’t have time to redo it entirely, but did add some new fills and variations in places. Using multiple instances of Dimension also allowed different compression and EQ on different kit parts as well as a better volume balance between them.

Vocals – Ali is a great vocalist to work with, as he gives it his all every time, and has great pitch and timing. There was one word that had clipped on recording, one phrase slightly early, and one phrase slightly late, but apart from that all that was needed was some compression, EQ and reverb. I added a few delays to key phrases in the last chorus. I await to see whether Ali likes that, or thinks it sounds tacky.

Guitars – There are only two short sections of guitar on this track. I re-recorded the power chords in the bridge as their rhythm didn’t quite match the drums. I used my V-Amp 2 for the amp sound, and probably over-did the distortion, so needed some drastic EQing to get things back into shape. I used blue-tack to damp the unused strings during recording. The guitar solo was left untouched. Its not my greatest guitar solo ever, but I’ve heard it so many times now it feels like it belongs with the song.

Cello – The cello sounds were left as on the original. If I had a more realistic cello sample I would have used it, but the one I had wasn’t bad.

Mastering – Again the Sonitus Multi-band compressor worked well for me, evening out the piano and guitar sounds a bit more. The only problem is that the verses now don’t seem quite as quiet compared to the choruses.

Lyrics

They say that I’ve turned traitor.
They said I’d be dead within a year.
They said I’d never succeed in my quest,
And they tried to intimidate me with fear.

We proclaim him, Christ crucified.
We proclaim him, Christ given for sin.
We proclaim him, Christ risen in glory.
Peace with the Father found only in him.

It’s true that I’ve been beaten,
And worked till my strength is all gone.
But I realise now as I sit in these chains,
They can take a man down but the gospel goes on.

We’re pressured, but we are not crushed.
Persecuted, but never alone.
We’re frustrated, but never despairing.
We’re jars of clay for Christ’s treasure to show.

This gospel’s bearing fruit in all the earth.
This gospel’s turned the world upside down.
Empires fall, their rulers shaken;
The earth is rocked to its foundation;
Cause this mighty Christ has taken our sins away.

They’ve resisted my gospel all over.
They’ve dogged my every step.
They’ve tried to ruin the work of God,
And they come to me like a thorn in the flesh.

They’ve shouted me down in the courtyards.
They’ve stoned me and left me for dead.
They’ve tried to poison the comforts I’ve had
And they’ve criticised all that I ever said

He’s returning, the conquering King.
He’s returning to redeem all he made.
When Christ leads his triumphal procession,
I’m overjoyed I’ll be in the parade.

Song – See My Face No More

In my lunch hours at work, I have been trying to improve my mixing abilities by revisiting old recording projects. It meant I didn’t have opportunity to re-record any parts, but I could change the effects, and fix any problems in the MIDI recordings. This song is the first one I recorded for Ali McLachlan, originally using Cakewalk Pro Audio 9, back in 2001. It’s based on Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

You can listen to it or download it from my Soundclick page here.

Recording

Vocals:
The vocals were all by Ali McLachlan singing through a pair of my wife’s tights stretched over a coathanger into an old Toshiba microphone. Ali was a very easy vocalist to work with – most of his takes were spot on first time, and he always sang with full conviction. For the remix, I added some compression and EQ, and a bit more reverb.
Drums & Percussion
The drums were programmed and used sounds from my Korg X5D. I replaced the sounds with nskit7 samples, and improved the patterns to vary the velocities. I found some free conga samples on the internet for the outro.
Acoustic Guitar
I added some compression and reverb to the acoustic guitar part, as it was completely dry in the first version, which sounded a bit odd on the introduction.
Organ
The original organ sound was (I think) from my Korg X5D. I managed to recreate something close enough using the Organized Trio VSTi.
Bass
The bass guitar I used was a very cheap model in the shape of a Gibson SG. Its output completely lacks definition, and nearly nothing in the higher frequency range. A bit of compression and EQ helped things along a bit, but really I could have done with re-recording it. I also borrowed some notes from an earlier chorus to fix some duff ones in chorus two.
Electric Guitar
The electric guitar parts were left more or less unchanged from the original, except the levels were dropped a bit on the lead guitar.
Piano
I used samples of my P200 to replay this part, and fixed a couple of notes accidentally hit too hard.
Mastering
Again I found the Sonitus Multiband Compressor gave really nice results.

Lyrics

I’ll be gone on the rising tide with the gale at my back
Compelled by the will of God to walk a certain track.
Solemn prayers in the salted air, then part from the shore.
Tears shed and a farewell said, “You’ll see my face no more”.

Don’t break my heart,
Though it may be hard.
Let me play my part.
Don’t keep me from the will of God.

Come loosen your chords of love that bind me here with you.
There’s time to run and a time to hide, a time to follow through.
Rough or smooth, I never get to choose, I’m happy just to serve.
That he leads me in his will is far more than I deserve.

There are times of opposition
Hardships down the road I tread
But doubts and fears leave me no options
God’s way is the way ahead

I’m back in the old town now with the music to be faced.
If my vow is sealed anywhere, I’m sure this will be the place.
Wreck the peace with a chance to preach the gospel to the Jews.
Inner pain and a Roman chain, but with a life still left to lose.

Song – No other god

I’ve finished recording my first song using SONAR 5. This time its an upbeat praise song called “No other god” written by Mark Cox. It was a favourite at my previous church, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they still sing it occasionally there. I’ve kept the backing relatively simple this time, with just one guitar plus bass and drums.

You can download it or stream it online from here

Lyrics

There is no other god, who’s worthy of my praises
There is no other god, who’s worthy of my love
There is no other name, by which I’m saved
There is no other god in whom I trust

For He is glorious, God of all the heavens
He is glorious, Lamb upon the throne
Yes He is glorious, God of my salvation
I will praise His name forevermore
I will praise His name forevermore

(second time: For You are glorious…)

Recording

I wanted to use this project to get to grips with some of the new workflow enhancements in SONAR 5. I decided to keep this recording short and simple, without any instrumental breaks.

Guitar – recorded direct through my V-Amp. I struggled to get the exact sound I wanted, either on the V-Amp or using plugins, but I settled for the “Crunch V-Amp” amp model in the end.
Bass – is my Yamaha bass DI-ed, with Kjaerhus Compression
Vocals – Me again (sorry) with some compression and reverb
Drums – Used sfz with natural studio lite soundfont. I played the drums in live on the keyboard (2 takes – one for bass & snare, one for cymbals), and then did some extensive tidying up later. I actually used two instances of sfz, so that I could process the kick separately. I always have trouble getting the nskit kick to cut through the mix, so I applied some EQ to bring it out a bit more in this track.
Mastering – Kjaerjhus master-limiter.