I admit that today’s blog-post is a bit longer than normal (that’s only because it’s a lot more interesting than normal). So if you’re simply looking to hear this week’s song, you can click this link right here. But you have to promise me that you’ll go back and read the post. Promise? Ok, go ahead you can click it.
Today marks the fourth week of my nine month long endeavor to release a song recording and a blog-post every week. As I explained in the first weekly blog-post, my primary goal for this project is to produce a large quantity of work, yet my underlying hope is that I will happen to create some good quality work along the way as well. Yet quality songs are hard to come by. Assuming that I have written a good song (which is certainly not a safe assumption), there is still the problem of making the recording of the song sound good. I use a recording software called Logic 9, and with it I have more ease of control, more effects, and more tracks at my disposal than George Martin and The Beatles could ever dream of, but I have an extremely limited understanding of how to use all this power. My knowledge of the recording process comes solely from me tinkering around with various recording devices and software and watching a few youtube videos. When I am recording, I typically have a vague sense that I am doing something wrong, and sometimes when I make something that sounds good, it feels a lot like luck.
So instead of subjecting you readers/listeners to weeks and weeks of poor quality recordings, I decided to try to learn a thing or two this week from my ole buddy Jason Tedford. Jason is the sole owner and operator of Wolfman Studios where he records musicians and bands in all genres and all walks of musical life. He also plays guitar for the riotous rock band Iron Tongue and is a co-owner of the brand new music shop Dogtown Sound in North Little Rock. I got to know Jason during our stint together in the band The See, and he has always impressed me as someone who is extremely kind, humble, genuine, talented, and incredibly knowledgeable about music, recording, and Star Wars. So for the small price of one Gyro Platter, Jason agreed to meet up with me Monday at Leo’s and let me pick his powerful brain. Below is an abridged transcription of our conversation— if you want to delve deeper into more technical side of our conversation, feel free to send me a message and I’d be happy to share. Enjoy!
L: Jason, this is just so the people can get to know you a little bit. You are probably the biggest Star Wars fan I know, but who are you in Star Wars?
J: Han Solo. Who else would I want to be? Han Solo.
L: I mean that’s a pretty bold claim, we’re talking about the whole star wars universe— most of us probably aren’t Luke, or Han, or Leia, or even Jar Jar— we’re probably just some dude sitting at the cantina.
J: Ok I can say I want to be Han Solo. That for sure. Whether I am him or not… I mean I don’t know, I’m a bit of a scruffy looking nerf herder. So I think I got that. Scoundrel a bit. I think I got that. He’s very anti-establishment. He’s a nonconformist. He sums me up pretty well. He’s definitely who I want to be, and he’s definitely who I’m most like. I mean I do have this (points to his millennium falcon tattoo).
L: Ok, I’ll give it to you. Here’s another Star Wars question, where does The Force Awakens rank against all the Star Wars films?
J: I’d say it’s a tie for third. First is New Hope— I saw it when I was six and it was a huge thing for me, now is Empire a better movie? Probably, but there would be no Empire without a New Hope. So second is Empire Strikes back. Third, is a tie between Jedi and Force Awakens. And then if you’re going to add the prequels in the’ll be ranked in reverse order: It’s gonna be, revenge of the Sith, Attack of the Clones, and if we have to put it in there, Phantom Menace last.
L: Ok now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can start talking music. So you both play in bands, and record them. Which do you identify yourself as more, musician or recording engineer?
J: Oh I think I definitely identify as a recording engineer/audio nerd, more than anything else. There have been times when I’ve gone years without being in a band, that I’ve always had the studio going on.
L: Did you start playing first? Or did you start recording first?
J:I started playing first… Well… that might not be totally true. Because when I was a little kid, I would spend hours at my grandmother’s house playing on this cassette deck doing all sorts of radio shows— all sorts of crazy stuff. And ya know, going through high school, I mean even when I was playing guitar, I had cassette decks chained together trying to record something. I didn’t really understand the concept of being a recording engineer. I didn’t even realize that was a job until I was in my first band and recording for the first time.
L: And what band was that?
J: Well it I guess it wasn’t my first band, but it was the first band I was in that actually recorded. It was a band called Pseudo Hippie, and it was all the same people who were in Ashtray Babyhead. It was like an early 90’s grunge band, we sounded like we came right out of Seattle!
L: Cool, cool, cool…
J: Eh, I don’t know if it was that cool. Haha! But we recorded, and it wasn’t real good—it was in a not great studio, but I was like “wow this is fascinating!”— this whole process ya know? And it really kinda grabbed me at that point. But it wasn’t really until the next band that I was in— which was called Marigold and we wen’t to record with Barry Poynter, at his studio which was then still at his parent’s house, and we’re recording with this dude and he has a console on a pool table and he’s tracking drums in the sun room, and we’re like “this sounds amazing” — that’s when it dawned on me “hell, I could do this!” I bought my first four track probably weeks after recording with him and was tracking stuff in my house, and that’s when it all started for me.
L: So jumping forward quite a bit, what are some of your favorite bands that you’ve recorded to date?
J: The Becoming Elephants record was a lot of fun to do— those guys are just incredible musicians. The See record was a personal accomplishment, I was really proud of The See record. The Collin vs. Adam record was really really fun and good. Who else… That’s it. Haha! No. I’m always recording with this guy Drew DeFrance— hard to say I like a particular album because he just does a ton of stuff. He’s really great to record with. They’ve got a full band now, and they’re all really good solid work your ass off players. Who else, Brian Nahlen is always really fun to work with. He’s great, writes great songs, great singer, and he’s got really great ears. Piph is really great to work with— he’s a pro.
L: And do you record using Tape or Digital? And is one better than the other in your mind?
J: I use digital. I used to have tape, but I don’t have it anymore— I mean it’s sitting in a closet, because it’s just too hard to mess with, and it’s not the type of tape that people are looking for. People are looking for 2 inch tape—16 or 24 track whatever— because it sounds better.
L: It sounds better than digital?
J: Well, two inch tape sounds better than the half inch tape that I was running. Two inch tape vs. digital? They both sound good. It’s really more of an opinion. I think that certain things sound better on tape— I think drums and bass guitar. Guitars can sound good on anything. But I think with a lot less work you can make things on tape sound a little bit punchier and a little more real and have some grain to it that is really fun and interesting, whereas you have to literally create that on the digital side.
L: Can you do that? Can you fool somebody with digital into thinking that they’re listening to tape?
J: You can. But the fact that you’ve got 90 percent or more of the population listening to music as MP3’s on their phones or streaming off of Spotify, I don’t know if it even matters anymore! Hahaha! You can listen to something and go “oh, that has a nice warm, punchy kind of feel to it” — that could have been done with tape or it could have been done with digital. I think some people, depending on the medium that they’re listening to—whether it’s vinyl, or CD, or MP3, and depending on the speakers and where they’re listening— maybe they can tell a difference; maybe they can have a preference. I don’t think it matters anymore. The funny thing, is that it’s all going to be digitized at one point or another.
L: When you listen to music, how do you listen to it— what medium do you use?
J: Usually it’s off of CD. Usually it has been ripped onto my iPod, but at full range. I don’t mess with MP3’s— I’ve got friends who are like “I’ve got 50,000 songs on this iPod of mine” and I’m like “yeah, but they’re all MP3’s, and I’d rather have 5,000 songs that sound good, than 50,0000 songs that sound bad.” I mean there aren’t 5,000 songs I’m going to listen to anyway! So that’s what I usually listen to, in my house or in my car. In my house either with my studio monitors, or in my room with my vintage Klipsch Heresy speakers.
L: So here’s a technical question. What are you referring to when you say “full range” as opposed to MP3?
J: Well an MP3 is a compressed audio file. CD’s are generally 44.1 (kHz) sampling rate, 16-bit audio files. When I’m ripping a CD into iTunes I’m ripping it in at that same resolution. It makes your file size 10 times better, but it sounds as good as it does on CD.
—At this point, Jason launched into a long and fascinating technical explanation of the sampling rates he uses during his tracking, and mixing process in the studio. I learned a lot, but I had to stop him to insist that he take a bite of his Gyro—
L: Ok so before we wrap up, I want you to try to ruin one of my songs for the public. I want you to listen to it, and tell me what’s wrong with the recording. This song is called Jesus Burger.
J: It’s kind of Beatlesy! But are you tracking any of this stuff as MP3’s?
L: This is an MP3!
J:Oh yeah I can tell… It’s very 60’s. It’s good. I like it. But I could tell it’s an MP3 right off the bat. I could definitely hear the phaseyness and the weirdness about it. The drums are a little hard to kind of distinguish, at first you can hear them and then as it goes on they kind of get muddied up in the mix. If they were a little more defined, I could probably feel the rhythm a little better. It might be an EQ thing— usually a lot of your muddier frequencies are in the low-mids, and sometimes dipping some of that out can give you a little clarity. The vocals are a little on the thin side— which may be that you are using a dynamic mic. If you got a condenser mic, that might be better. Your voice is a little on the higher side, and you’re singing throughout it, rather than screaming like some guys do. I feel like a condenser would be better for your voice. A condenser will be a lot clearer and more flattering for your voice and might sit in the mix better. We could make a great song out of that.
Thank you Jason for sitting down and talking to me! It was a totally fun and educational experience. I’m going out to Dogtown Sound now to buy a condenser mic to help make my dainty vocals a little thicker and creamier. For now, here’s another Opus recorded without the help of a condenser mic. Enjoy!
This post is part of a nine month project in which I am releasing a new song and blog post every week. If you want to get caught up, here are the links to the previous entries:
Nine Months of New Music— Opus 1