Mixology, the NuEVI and Trumpet Playing with Home Recording - Musician on a Mission
Updated: May 14, 2021
A lot has been happening since my last post. I thought I'd share what going on with the hopes of inspiring others.
I've already posted before about rebuilding my trumpet playing after a serious setback. That is going VERY well and I'm back to gigging and recording. I CAN play lead now, though I can HONESTLY say, now, that I just don't care if I play lead or not. I just want to play MUSIC and would rather play 4th chair and blow some solos than sulk about whether or not I play lead. In short, I've grown up. About time, eh?
I mentioned that I am recording seriously again. I also mentioned the NuEVI, and that is a subject of this post. However, the main topic is DIY recording.
I have been doing home recording for over 25 years and ALL of my engineering skills have been learned by doing things by the seat of my pants mixed with my background as an electrical engineer specializing in communications electronics and electro-acoustics. I also have a master's degree in physics, and that has been a huge help. However, I never taken a class on engineering and mixing before, until now, and I want to go on about that a bit.
I cut my teeth with DIY recording with largely analog gear, save for some early digital electronic outboard gear, such as reverb, processors and delay units. I used analog tape (Fostex gear) and did all of my editing with a block, some grease pencils and a razor blade and special Scotch tape. Imagine how excited I was when the ability to edit waveforms produced on a monitor as opposed to rocking the spools of tape around on an analog machine!
I have produced a lot of music of varying quality - from REALLY bad (cringe worthy) to, IMHO, really good. As technology improved my music got better, as one would expect. I was doing large ensembles all by myself by overdubbing parts. That is a remarkably transparent process, now.
When we went into lockdown, all of my gigging stopped, as it did for everyone else. I worked out a non-monetary deal with Brett Dean of the Shout Section Big Band to do a series of remote recording to keep the interest of the band members and the public alive as we were all hunkered down. I did most of the engineering/editing/mixing with Brett prepping the reference tracks and music and organizing the musicians. The quality of the tracks that were submitted to me varied from excellent to appalling. The performances were fine, but many folks recorded by just blasting away at an iPhone or iPad while listening to the reference track and click through ear buds. Many of the tracks submitted were so badly clipped that you could not distinguish between individual on the monitor. My eq's looked like combs! Here are several examples of what we were able to produce.
Clearly the second one is better. Brett and I agreed to an old stereo spread chart that he dug up on an old album (vinyl) that had that info in the liner notes. For what it is, and what it was trying to do, I thought it was quite good. I have to admit, though, that as of this writing, I have lost over 40 pounds and gotten very much back in shape, so it is a bit hard to watch myself. Also, my trumpet playing has very much relaxed, so the I don't look like I'm trying to inflate a hot water bottle when I play a high note. Oh well... My next project will be INFINITELY better.
OK, moving forward, I did my OWN project for the Variable D Postulate ensemble that featured my playing all the trumpet and trombone parts and with Colin Drozdoff on keys, Luke Angle on Drums, Kevin McMahon on Bass and Andy Schlinder on all saxes. I had control of most of the recording process and the other four folks knew how to record this stuff. I used the same mix chart. Here is the track. You can clearly hear that it is a marked improvement over the other two. However, there is still much room for improvement.
Ok, so where am I now? Well, if you've read some of my recent blogs, I've been in recovery for being laid up unexpectedly last year (though the flugel solo in the last track was part of my recovery work while the other brass parts were recorded before the unfortunate event), so I've been using a lot of my time to hone my skills all across the board.
I am currently working on a new project - recording a chart called DD Quizbone written by Steve Wiest. On it, I play all the trumpet and trombone parts AND the sax parts (sorry Andy...). I'm recording the sax parts using a Berglund NuEVI and the canned sax samples that come bundled with LogicProX/Garage Band. I'm still waiting on the rhythm parts from Colin, Luke and Kevin, but the horn parts are largely done and mixed and EQ'd. I haven't added any compression or fine tuned my reverb or mixing, and that brings us to part of the blog title.
I realized that I didn't really know how to take full advantage of a DAW, digital audio workstation. I use Logic ProX and everything I've done up to this point has been, as I said earlier, by the seat of the pants.
I was watching a Rick Beato video and he mentioned side chain compression. I didn't know what that was, in the spirit of the new millennium, I started Googling it. I stumbled across a website called Musician On A Mission, a series of online classes on contemporary recording tech and methods, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
OK, their PR is very intense. You might feel like they are really selling you very hard. They offer lots of stuff that I am NOT using, yet, like assisting with you with promoting your music online or helping you develop an online business doing mixing for outside clients. However, I signed up for their "free-master class" (a thinly veiled promotion of their products) and found that what they were offering for FREE was so helpful that what they were selling MUST be good. I wasn't wrong.
I signed up for the Ultimate Mixing Bundle for $400. I am just finishing up the first bundle on EQ and found it INCREDIBLY helpful. The course is all pre-prepared videos with lots of support materials and sound sample for practice. They have gone to a LOT of trouble putting all this together - very well done. Like any good course, there is sufficient redundancy built in to reinforce the concepts without wasting time. Just the EQ module has really impressed me. I have already made huge progress and that is only after a week.
As I get back into my music and life full swing again, I have come to realize something about myself. I am becoming an artist, but my pallet isn't paint; it's sound and audio files and my canvas is a DAW! Musician On A Mission is helping me fine tune my skills. I can't WAIT to get the video out for DD Quizbone and many subsequent projects.
We all love the sense of awe at going into a cool recording studio to make music, but the reality of the situation is that you do a LOT of this on your own for a FRACTION of the cost right in your own home.
I am doing a couple of projects for Brett Dean and the Shout Section Big Band (just playing trumpet) but some of the tricks I've picked up there with tuning the room I record in have already helped.
So, in conclusion, EMBRACE DIY! The playing field is level but the extra training will help you play the game even better.