Here is the write-up I did for my final project. Within it is everything I did. Period.
Overall, this blog idea was a good idea; I just failed at blogging.
My senior project can be downloaded for free at heathenofthenorth.bandcamp.com.
Senior Project Documentation:
I. Approximate Total Studio Hours
Studio A – 20 Hours of drum recording
Studio B – 2 Hours of violin recording
Studio D – 10 Hours of checking mixes and mastering
Home Studio – Approximately: 80 hours song writing; 120 hours recording and editing; 70 hours mixing
Total – Approximately 302 hours
Since most of my project was done at home in my own time, I did not think to document everything. I would sit and work whenever had free time. I spent an average of about 10 hours a week. Some weeks I would less than 2 hours while others I would work 20-30 hours. It depended on my class schedule and my judo schedule.
II. Original Project Proposal
For my senior project, I will write, record, and produce a full-length concept album based around the Völsunga Saga from Norse mythology. The goals of this project are to demonstrate the skills of songwriting, recording, and producing gained over the last three years of schooling. The three basic stages of this project are writing demos of the songs, recording and editing final tracks, and mixing and mastering the tracks for the finished project.
Detailed Description of Work
For the first stage of the project, I will write demos of the songs and record them in Logic to get the basics of all of the parts. The story can be broken down into eight basic parts/tracks:
1) The Birth of Volsung
Volsung’s mother is pregnant with him for six years and decides to have him cut out of her. He is born almost fully-grown and kisses his mother’s brow before she dies.
2) The Feast
Volsung has a feast where he invites the king called Siggeir to his court in order to marry his daughter. During the feast, a shrouded, one-eyed man sticks a sword in the tree Branstock and says that only one worthy of its power will be able to remove it. Sigmund, Volsung’s son, removes it. Siggeir offers to pay Sigmund for it but Sigmund refuses.
3) The Wedding of Signy
Volsung debates with himself whether or not letting Signy marry Siggeir is a good idea. Ultimately decides to marry her off. Siggeir invites the Volsung clan to come to his kingdom and have a celebratory feast.
4) The Slaying of Volsung
Upon arriving in Siggier’s kingdom, Volsung and his clan are attacked by Siggeir’s forces. Siggier slaughters everyone except Volsung’s ten sons. Siggeir takes the sword from Sigmund.
5) The Death of the Brothers
Siggier’s mother transforms into a wolf every night and devours one of the brother’s alive. When she tries to eat Sigmund, he bites her tongue off and she dies. Sigmund escapes into the wild.
6) Training of Sons
Signy sends her sons one at a time to train with Sigmund so that they may kill Siggeir. Sigmund finds them weak and kills them. After this happens with two sons, Signy changes form with a witch. She then tricks her brother into sleeping with her. She gets pregnant and eventually sends this son, Sigfjolti, to train with Sigmund. Sigmund proclaims this son is strong enough to defeat Siggier and avenge the Volsung Clan.
7) Slaying of Siggeir
Sigmund and Sigfjolti storm Siggier’s keep, killing pretty much everybody. Sigmund cannot bring himself to kill Signy’s other sons by Siggier but Sigfjolti kills them. They make their way to Siggeir, and kill him. Signy tells Sigmund that Sigfjolti is his son and walks into the pyre with Siggeir.
8) The Broken Sword
Years later, in a battle between Sigmund and King Lyngi, Odin comes down and breaks the Volsung Sword and slays Sigmund because it is his time to die. The pieces of the sword are saved to be re-forged one day.
I will also add short narrations between tracks to fill in gaps in the story. My goal will be to write one demo a week in fall term. Also during fall term, I will need to find an artist to do the album artwork.
After writing and recording demos in Logic, I will record basic tracks in winter term. I will find/hire a drummer to play the drum parts. I will play the bass and guitar parts. I will do all of the vocal parts as well or have someone come in and do them. My goal is to have all of the drum parts recorded by week four or five, record all of the bass and guitar parts by week seven or eight, and have all of the vocal parts down by week ten. I will edit them as I go. I think I can manage editing two songs a week as different parts are added. The last thing I need to do winter term is start coming up with a distribution plan for this album; I will start brainstorming this around week five.
In spring term, I will mix and master all of the songs. My goal will be to mix two songs a week. I want to have them all mixed by week five or six. I will need to have my distribution plan finished around week five or six as well. That will give me two to three weeks to get everything mastered as well as write and practice my presentation.
– Week 5 – have four song demos written
– Week 10 – have all song demos written (now projected to be done by beginning of winter term); find artist to do album art work
– Week 4 or 5 – have all drum parts recorded/edited
– Week 7 or 8 – have all bass and guitar parts recorded/edited
– Week 10 – have all vocal parts recorded/edited
– Week 5 or 6 – have all songs mixed; have distribution plan set up
– Week 7 – master album
– Week 8 – have presentation prepared and well rehearsed
– Audio Quality – 30%
– Delivery of Media – 10%
– Recording Project Documentation – 40%
– Presentation – 20%
III. Recording Documentation
Drums were recorded in Studio A on the drum kit there. Drums were played by Zach Beaver. The input sheet can be found below.
|Drum Input Sheet
Bass was recorded DI through my Phonic Helix MK II at my apartment. My bass is a Fender Squire P-Bass. At first I considered re-amping this signal but liked the way it sounded DI.
Guitars were recorded DI through my Phonic Helix MK II at my apartment. My guitar is a Gibson Les Paul Custom with an EMG-81 in the bridge pick-up. After editing the guitars, I re-amped them through my Marshall Mode Four Half Stack. Channel Settings and pictures below. I mic’ed the top right speaker with an SM 57, running through the pre-amp on my Phonic Helix MK II.
The vocal signal chain was MXL 990 through my Phonic Helix MK II at my apartment.
Violins were recorded both in Studio B and at my apartment. The violins for ‘Wedding of Signy” were played by Victoria Baccini. She had an acoustic/electric violin so I mic’ed the violin with a Nady CM-88 through my Phonic Helix MK II. I did not take pictures at this session. The violins for “Signy’s Betrayal” were played by Alberta Douglas. She had an acoustic violin. I used an AKG C214 through the Toft preamp with no other processing.
IV. Project Journal
For recording drums, I close mic’ed as much as I could. I placed the mic’s between 1-3 inches away from the heads. I moved them around to find spots I thought would sound the best. The only drum sound that I sample replaced was the kick drum. The original sound I recorded did not have enough attack. I sampled a single kick drum hit from Children of Bodom’s “Bodom Beach Terror” and used it in every song except “The Wedding of Signy.” As far as editing goes, I used both Elastic Audio and Beat Detective on the drum tracks, depending on what worked and sounded the best. When the drums were lined up with themselves but not the grid, I used Beat Detective. When the drums were lined up with neither themselves nor the grid, I used Elastic Audio to fix them. It took between one and three hours to edit drum tracks plus another 30 minutes to an hour to sample replace the kick drum per song.
Bass and guitar were probably the easiest for me to record. Like stated earlier, I took a DI signal, edited it to fit the drums better, then re-amped it. For bass, I could record a track in about an hour. It would then take me about another hour to edit it to the grid. Guitars took longer. For most songs, I recorded a left and right rhythm guitar and various lead parts, depending on the song. It would take me between two and four hours to record all of the various guitar parts because I had to relearn many of them. It would then take me another hour or two to edit all of the guitars to the grid. After editing the guitar parts, I would re-amp them through my Marshall Mode Four Half Stack. This would usually take about thirty minutes to an hour per song.
Vocals were difficult for me to record. I recorded all of them in my apartment. Though I am in on vocal scholarship, my voice is not exactly made for metal. I found it difficult to sing with guitars compared to piano or a cappella. Also, I did not rehearse these songs often. My vocal performances were initially so-so. Also, I attempted “growling” for some of the songs since that is a big part of metal. Originally, I was going to have all of the words growled but since I could not find someone who was good at this, I wrote vocal melodies where I could. I ended up downloading Melodyne and using that to help with vocal tuning. It would take about an hour or so a song to record all of the vocal parts plus another hour or two to edit each vocal part. For the growls, I added a little bit of distortion to the voice to give it a little more grit.
Recording violins was interesting. My first violin player was Victoria, a freshman Bio major who I met in chorus. She played violin on “Wedding of Signy.” It was her first time recording so she was very nervous. She brought her electric/acoustic violin to my apartment and we recorded in my room. The sound of the violin was a little thin for what I was looking for. To try and give it a little more body, I had her play in a corner of my room and placed the mic about 3 feet above the bridge of her violin. I also took a direct line from her violin. Because she was nervous, her playing suffered some. I had to heavily tune all of the violin parts because she was consistently flat. We spent about two hours recording one song. It took me about four hours to tune all of her violin parts. Initially, I tried just using Auto-Tune. Unfortunately, my demo period ran up before I could finish. I ended up using Melodyne to redo everything. Trying to set up another recording time with her was a crazy. She got really sick around the time we were supposed to record and I heard little from her for about three weeks. She ended up finding me a replacement violin player, Alberta, a senior from Victoria’s old high school. Alberta played violin for “Signy’s Betrayal.” We recorded this in Studio B. This session went really smoothly. Alberta was a fantastic player. She knocked out all four violin parts in one take a piece. I had her improvise at the end of the song as well. She had never really tried improvising before. I gave her a rough idea of what I was looking for and we got six takes of solos. I took my favorite parts from all of these takes and grafted them together into the completed solo. As far as tuning goes, Alberta was pretty much spot on and I did not have to use Melodyne.
As far as mixing goes, I always started with the drums. I balanced out the kick sample with the rest of the kit. On some tracks, I tried using an Expander/Gate on the kick and snare tracks to clean things up. Overall, it did not make a much of a difference because I found most of the sound I was getting that I liked was coming from my overhead and room mic’s. I sub grouped the drums and on some tracks used parallel compression on them. I sent the regular sub to reverb.
Next, I would add in bass. On most songs, I added distortion to the bass guitar to make it a little dirtier so it would blend better with my distorted guitars. I tried to EQ the bass in such a way to bring out the attack while still supporting the low end of the mix. I added a little compression to control the attack and decay so everything was a little more even.
Guitars usually came next. I sub grouped the rhythm guitar tracks and panned them hard left and hard right. If I had more than one lead guitar track, I would sub group them as well panning them slightly off center. On most songs, I had to take out some high end from both the rhythm and lead guitars. I did not use a lot of compression on my guitars. I would send the sub groups to the reverb.
I almost always added vocal in last. This was because I was usually still in the process of tuning them. I took out some low end from my voice and usually compressed it around 3 dB. I sub grouped by clean and growl. I sent the sub groups to the reverb.
Only two songs had violin on them, “Wedding of Signy” and “Signy’s Betrayal.” For “Wedding of Signy,” I rolled off a few dB of high end to darken the sound. Since I took both a DI and a recorded signal for this track, I would alternate panning them to mid left and mid right. I sent all of the violin tracks to one sub group. I compressed them between 3 and 6 dB to even out dynamics. I bounced them down to one stereo track because all of the Melodyne plug-ins kept overloading my CPU. The violins on “Signy’s Betrayal” were easier to deal with. I really only sub grouped them and sent the sub group to the reverb.
As far as mastering, I did not do too much. I tried to get all of the levels to be about the same and applied a little EQ to each to try and make sure they all sounded about the same.
The last thing I took care of was album artwork. Originally, a friend of mine in the graphic design program was supposed to take care of it for me. He had to back out because of work on his senior project. I had my roommate, Matt Catron, take photos of a sword I had. He then manipulated the color in Photoshop to make the rust on it look like blood. I then took this picture over to another graphic design friend of mine, Carlin “George” Rieger, and together we fashioned a cover, track list, and liner notes. We found a Viking Font online and used that.
IV. Marketing and Distribution Plan
The marketing and distribution plan for this album is simple: I will put it on BandCamp and The Pirate Bay for free download or “pay what you want.” For me, the whole purpose of this project was to demonstrate the skills I learned over the last four years at Drexel. I made this album as something to add to my portfolio. I believe recorded music is a part of culture. Culture is something to be shared, not sold. Therefore, if someone wants my music, they can have it and enjoy it for free. If they like it enough to pay me for it, that is awesome. If not, that is awesome too; at least they listened to it.
V. Final Summary
Overall, I am pleased with my final outcome. I feel like I got the best results I could, using the equipment I did. I tried to do as much of this project in my apartment with as much of my own gear as possible because I want to start a small recording business using the gear that I have. This was a field test for their sound. I feel like my vocal performance could have been more edgy at times; my voice is more suited for choral singing than metal. When recording vocals, I was self-conscious because my roommates were in the house. I did not want to be too loud and disturb them. I would have gone to the studio to do vocals, but that would have meant finding someone else to run Pro Tools while I sang/growled and it was difficult to find someone whose schedule matched mine. Also, I liked the leisure of being able to record when and how I wanted without a time limit. As for mixing, I feel like I got the best I could out of my monitors. I would sit and listen to songs by Amon Amarth, Tyr, and Eluveitie and try and match their sounds. I feel like it worked well. My rhythm guitars could probably stand to be a little less muddy but I think they work well. Also, there is more bass than one typically finds on a metal album. I went through three rounds of mixing. By the time I check my mixes in D, there was not much I wanted to change about them.