Saturday, 29 September 2012

Review - Motorhead in the studio

I fancied writing a very short review about the book Motorhead in the studio which I have been reading and finished recently. I've never focused on their music a great deal so was interested in hearing how their records have been made and shaped metal culture along the way.

The book depicts all the bands catalogue up to 2009 explaining how they went about preproduction, interviews with band members past and present, the engineers and producers mainly. Where they recorded and the choices for doing so.
As a sound engineer it was interesting to hear anecdotes about stories from the studio and reasoning's as to why this microphone was used over that one. Unfortunately once you've read one chapter you have pretty much read them all. You are soon to discover that Motorhead have a set method of just walking into a rehearsal space writing tunes while Lemmy write the lyrics. They have a bust up with the producer make amends and release the record. Rinse and repeat.

The book is good at explaining Motorhead's production method as repetitive as it is but as a sound engineer and musician I found I learned nothing new from one chapter to the next and felt the book didn't have a great reward at the end.

If you want to hear some stories about Motorhead in the studio having bust ups with producers and have them explaining their song writing process you'll like this book as it delivers that in spades.

If you were looking for specific insight into making classic records or what you may want to consider when recording a Metal band (Lemmy would suggest Rock'nRoll) look else where.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Musical Hybrids

A musical hybrid is a wonderful trait to have as a musician and in my opinion it is the only way forward to evolve music, make it interesting and to stop some genres becoming old or stale. 

All the best musicians over the years offer a trait within them that is from another genre somewhere or another. A hybrid musician consists of you playing a genre of music you aren't naturally accustomed to and combining it to your bands style.

The Doors are a great example of hybrid musicians as they have guitarist Robert Krieger who's style comes from Flamenco and uses finger picking within his progressions, combining John Densmore and Ray Manzarek who were both took inspiration from early Jazz which gave them a 'loungey' typed feel. Leading to Jim Morrision who wrote poetry and sometimes performs not too dissimilar from Blues, Soul or RnB. When these elements are combined and focused into performance they create something totally new. Not just Rock'N'Roll but the new category that evolved to be called today "Psychedelic Rock"

The Doors

Using myself as an example in the first band I joined Drink Fuelled Violence (DFV) they were a Punk/Punk-Rock band. I drew inspiration from Heavy Metal and American Punk Rock at that time.
Most bass players of Punk/Punk-Rock (a generalisation incoming...) will only follow the root note of the progression and fail to show any talent, focus or soul what so ever. Most likely because they were forced to pick up bass by their band mates in the first place.

My inspiration came from bassists like Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) 
Jason Newsted (Metallica) and Steve Harris (Iron Maiden).
These guys made complex and sophisticated bass lines and the let the bass do totally unconventional things that brought their bands to life - No longer would you hear bassists thumping their strings. The bass lines were smart, I picked up on their respective styles quite naturally and applied it to my own performance, no longer is the bass following a 3 chord progression of guitars and drums, the bass has brought something to the table now that is pleasurable to the ear. You can hear the groove between the bass and drums, In my case DFV had a thriving, grooving, solid back bone. Which did our performance and more importantly our style wonders. 


In DFV we had the Punk/Punk-Rock drummer providing the back bone of our music with his love of 200bpm beats, that kept our music fast paced and lively.

The Rock lead vocal/guitarist who wrote the 'conventional' chord progression and vocal performance, his talents thanks to Rock were catchy and said progressions covered all genre bases to make it likeable for a wide audience
The Heavy Metal Punk-Rock bassist (yours truly) who combined those elements mentioned above and kept the foundation of the groove tight and interesting with the grooving bassline.
All these styles had a moment where they shined proudly in the music, when you combine the sophistication or core traits from other genres the music evolves. Our little Punk-Rock band now had its own style and signature sound.

If you want your band to be original and to have a sound 'out of the box' you will want one or more of the members to have the following.

1) Their own hybrid style combination
2) A common sound/direction you all agree upon. 
3) Then apply the  knowledge of how to adapt their style to your genre that musically makes sense.
(E.g. you wouldnt want a Thrash solo in the middle of a Jazz groove, it doesn't make sense)

While its fine for your band to all have the same favourite type of music or influences, chances are your music won't grow because you're not exposing yourself to new sounds. The only true way to create your own style is to
experiment and grow not only as a band but as musicians too.

Below are some examples of hybrids, which are formed by my own opinion and not to be treated as fact. The red lines indicate where the hybrid styles would mix after they have taken their influences. While mixing the genres is obvious I.e. Rock + Punk = Punk-Rock , hybrids take the elements without defining themselves like Jimi Hendrix did.

Other examples of Hybrid musicians are
Pink - Rnb / Pop / Rock
Yngwie Malmsteen Classical / Metal

Apocalyptica - Classical / Metal
Zapp - Funk / Soul 

While the last 2 mentions are bands, like The Doors all members in them have the hybrid elements.

Do you have your own hybrid mash-up of styles you bring to your band? If so what makes your sound different to the rest of your band or even the genre?

Have you seen what sort of rig a Heavy Metal - Punk Rock bass player would use? Make sure to read my Ideal Bass rig of 2012

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Why intonation is important

stunning bass-string shot from urbanscreen on Vimeo.

While this video is strangley beautiful and is a bit arty/majestic at the same time I think it highlights why intonation and saddle height is important with regards to bass and guitar.

As the strings vibrate you can see how easy it is for your frets to get in the way of the strings and the strings to distort their vibrations thus producing the wrong note. Especially if the saddles aren't high enough.

Fret buzzing is cringe worthy and albeit rather amateur so make sure you sort your intonation our today!

Now your strings are sorted have you thought about the Best Bass rig of 2012?

Your role in the Music Industry

From a little young age you've probably had the dream of playing a sold out Wembley stadium with your band hearing the cheers of the fans and living the dream.

I wanted to discuss what steps you are taking to edge closer and closer to your dream. There are endless ways into the music industry and they don't have to strictly be as a musician.

As you can see, the band is actually a very small part of the picture, granted they are the most popular part of the ordeal but if you really wanted to be involved there is plenty to do and many opportunities to claw your way in.

As time goes on, more so recently while I've been in a career change I wondered how I can get back to a career that takes me closer to the ultimate goal and work in the music industry.

After you play in a band or two you get the idea whether you're making progress as a group, if your songs are well written, recorded or you have a large turn out at your gig you would be silly not to push and stride harder to succeed.
On the other hand if your songs are average, you're not growing as a band – bickering with each other and you play to empty rooms all the time it may be time to consider a different route through the industry or even another band.

When I realised that its highly unlikely I wont be a 'Rock Star' any time soon - because the elements don't add up or its not meant to be (hint hint). I still wanted to be part of that dream, even if I'm not in the spotlight, even if I could 'share' that limelight I just wanted to be part of it.

I then decided the next best thing to a musician, because of practical reasons would be a live sound engineer. Almost all the benefits of being a musician except you don't have to play a thing or lug about heavy instruments and gear. I am of a technical mind and love how all these little intricate parts works together.
This proved to be my calling as I had far more opportunities presented to me as well as doors opening up once I was an engineer. The best part being I was still part of the lime light and the excitement being part of the 'team' even though I was at the back of the venue. 

Things have moved on and priorities changed, for the moment my progress in the music industry and I assume many others is held back because of financial restraints.

Work has since dried up with regards to live music as venues have shut down, promoters out of business, opportunities dire and friends moved on. With no time nor money to invest in a band and start from the bottom to work my way up to the ultimate dream - I have to think of ways that will keep me in the musical loop.

That brings me to today, I have my own solo music project Alfie Williams which suits me when I have the time as well as my BandCoach program which will be ready when the time is right and of course this blog where I can pass on my knowledge of live and studio sound as well as how to make the best of your band to give you the success I have not yet found.

Who knows what the next incarnation of my dream will be, I hope to one day climb back up the ladder whether that be in a band or as an engineer. Either way as long as you present an interest and keep things realistic you will be true to yourself and succeed. 

How have your dreams changed and adapted along the way? Do you have plans to make a come back to "the ultimate dream"? What is your plan to get to places others cannot? 

If you're stuck with your band have you thought of becoming a Musical Hybrid?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Steam sale and music piracy

Summer is upon us and gamers all over the interwebs have been buzzing with the excitement of heavily discounted games for the PC.

If you aren’t familiar with the Steam sale, Steam a desktop client that allows the purchase and downloads of a large variety of gaming titles. They have a bi-yearly sale where games can be discounted by as much as 75%. 

What’s this got to do with the music industry you say? Well music piracy is on rise as per usual and if the music and film industry can learn anything it that they can make an even the most hardcore of pirates legal customers.

I appreciate we have the ITunes store, but there isn’t much choice for alternative. Personally Apple doesn’t do it for me and I have no interest in their services or products. That and I don’t particularly care for their marked up prices. I think if you want to shift pirates to legal downloader’s give them the means to acquire a mass of cheap music or film in an easy method.

Most might be happy with 99p a download but personally that’s not good enough. I feel that is over priced,  I will only pay full price if I support the artist or if I truly liked a product and had the intention to pay full price later on at a more convenient time. If you want to encourage people to purchase media you have to give it to them cheaper than that.

I bought 2 games from the Steam sale and it only came to a fiver; if this price was applied to CD's/digital downloads I would probably pay for it. Personally, Apple doesn’t cater to my tastes musically so I wouldn’t bother with its featured albums but that’s a different story.

All over Reddit gamers are rejoicing at the discounts and how much they've bought compared to pirating. These members are actually happy to pay as long as it is an easy viable option to gather and own media.

Another thing the ITunes store doesn’t give you the right to have. You don’t own your music you are pretty much licensing it from them. If you die and wanted to pass your digital music collection on, Apple wouldn’t allow it because you never did own your music.

While the wheels of change are slowly grinding, the music and movie industry better catch on to give the people cheaper, more readily available 'disposable' media. Learn to adapt and survive, because your old business models are no longer profitable.

If you have given up music because of the pirates have you thought about your role in the music industry?

Edit 1 14/8/12
After reading a recent update to the Steam UA (user agreement) it does not let you own the game they actually licence it to you similarly to what Apple and Itunes do. So when you shuffle this mortal coil you will legally not be allowed to pass those games on to your family as you would with your other property such as CD's DVD's etc. Still regardless, with that one flaw it is a much better system than failing models like the retail business of HMV which in recent days have lost £16 million pounds.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Top 5 things you need before recording

When you have a chance to lay some tracks down in a studio its important to focus and remember to why you are there and to make the most of it.

When I record I have 5 things I make sure I have that help me focus, to perform to the best of my ability and to make the most of the daylight. I only have about 12 hours to record over the weekend, the following will get me set up plough through and Rock N Roll with no distractions (except maybe #4)

1) Big breakfast
What better way to start the day with a kick-arse breakfast. Personally a massive sandwich/roll with as much in it as possible. My personal favourite is Bacon, sausage or chicken, cheese, onion, tomato, gherkins, bit of garlic and of course mustard. Washing that down some cool lemonade.
This meal will set you up for a good few hours. While you may feel bloated now but it will give you an extra hour or 2 before you need to refuel at lunch.

2) Coffee
Following your meal you should have a nice medium to strong coffee cooling on the table. Caffeine being a stimulant and all round proven measure to increase focus, concentration stamina and ability.
Nothing like a boost to get the mind rolling, and to stop you slumping during your takes.
Below is a video from CPG Greys
"Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever"
as of recently I am convinced. Have a couple of these over the day, by all means have a energy drink if you prefer but they don't have the same satisfaction as a coffee in my opinion.


3) Space
You are now prepared to do your thing, you get in the studio but find it hard to do your one take of a life time. You find you can't concentrate and looking around, the studio has a load of toot cluttering the surfaces. Like rubbish, dust and unused equipment for example. While this tip is a bit 'zen like' and 'hippy dippy' before I record I clear my surrounding surfaces so that nothing is in eye sight. The only things that are taking up room is my guitar amp,  pedal board, paper notepad, interface and nothing else.

My cables are all woven and around and hidden behind furniture. Ok a pain in the arse if you want to change the set up but none the less this gives me peace of mind and no nagging feeling like "I must tidy up later" alternatively its what the Chinese call Qi or Chi to you and I, where energy, life force and inspiration can flow around you with no resistance ... Like I said, a little hippy dippy if you're into that. But it works.


4) Khazi, aka the office or throne room.
After all your coffee and food you will want to make sure the Khazi is a few steps away. obviously you cant help this all the time, it is where it is and not much you can do about that. But if  by chance you're building a studio then for gods sake but the toilet next to the control room for a better time for all.

5) Time
lastly you need to set aside time, using my recent recording as experience. I completed it in two weeks and had another listen whilst mixing on the third weekend and realised I wasn't happy with the quality of the guitar. I didn't ignore it and say "that will do", it had to be re recorded. Point being always put aside extra time whether to try something new, record some more or experiment. You can never have enough time in a studio. Use every second expanding your knowledge, gathering inspiration and most importantly your sound. Ask questions and get involved.


Bonus tip # 6

6) Warm up
Nothing makes the process smoother than being well warmed up for your performance. Put a half hour TV show on and just hit those strings. Get the blood flowing to your hands, stretch, play, warm and yes moisturise those hands. I will provide some exercises in the future.

That's my list, what are the 5 things you need to get to it and record? Do let me know below. Who knows I could add a new step for myself.

Now you're ready to record have you seen why intonation is important?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Ideal Bass Rig of 2012

If I had a unlimited budget to buy any gear I want, this is the set up I would choose right now. The gear listed below I believe can tackle any gig I would have to play. The amp and cab are designed to play anything and deliver the necessary tones for the genre, thats the main reason I love the SVT combo
Alfie Williams Bass Rig
Bass GTR > SansAmp > TU-2 > MXR Octave > Tech 21 Chorus >
  Ampeg SVT 4


First hand experience using these recording on a session or two. Absolutely love the warmth of this head. Ridiculously punchy and has all the lows. All the best use them so cant go wrong with a SVT.

ATK 305 with SVT 4 and 8x10 Ampeg Cab

Heritage SVT-810E
Nothing compliments a SVT head better than a SVT cab! Again first hand experience using these and the sound couldn't be better. It handle anything you throw at it, whether that be Punk-rock, Metal or even Jazz! The ultimate bass tone.

To compliment the amp I have chosen 3 main effects I use when it comes to bass. I don't over do it but its nice to have any of these 3 effects at one time.

If you want to know more about bass cabs I must highly reccomend having a look at the go to guide for bass amplifier guide

Sansamp PSA 1
While the SVT gives a beautiful growl, the PSA gives you that little bit more control over your OD/distortion settings. In my ideal set up this would be crucial.

Standard tuning device that works best in dark stage conditions and built like a tank to boot.

MXR octave
Compared to the BOSS OC3 that I currently use, the MXR Octave has a little more range when it comes to tracking and sounds that little bit better. While a digital sounding octave can be a personal taste I don't like it all the time, hence the MXR choice! 

Tech 21 Bass Boost Chorus
I can't think of anything better than that 80's sounding chorus. Big, fat and shimmering. Compared to the Digitech Multi Chorus the Tech 21 has ultimate control over those shimmering tones and I want it BAD.

OD, Octave and a chorus, what more could you want in a bass sound? This has it all! 

There is a fantastic bass effects pedal guide that explains all you need to know about the differences between all those pretty pedals.

DR HI beams 45 - 120 (5 string) Or the 4 string pack DR DDM 45 – 10. If you wanted to know more about strings and why these hi-beams rock I've written a guide explaining which bass strings you should choose when creating your rig.

Lakland 4401 for the studio or live performance
Lakland 4401

Ibanez ATK 305 for live performance. 
ATK 305

Of course if we are going to talk about ideal basses, well thats a different conversation altogether! Speaking of which, if you like the basses mentioned have a look at the different types of bass you can get to go with your rig.
Whats your ideal rig? Which parts of mine do you like or dislike? Leave comments below as I really want to know.

Now you have the best Bass rig of 2012 have you seen how I like to record with my Top 5 things you need before recording?