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I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:39 am
by Rainmak3r
Hi fellow LinuxMusicians!

I've just uploaded the very first song I recorded using only open source tools, and I'm quire excited (and scared! :) ) to share this here. It's a demo of the instrumental version of a song I wrote called "I'll be back for you": instrumental because it's actually supposed to be a "regular" song, but I have only sketched the vocal lines so far (in the refrain, mostly), so that will only come back later. The idea was to write a "progressive metal" kind of song, even though I guess the only prog parts left in there are a couple of tempo changes, and it ended up much more "catchy" especially in the refrain, but I like the result anyway!

There are also a couple of parts I should really re-record, but for a first complete example I think it works already. You can listen to it on SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/lminiero/ill-be-back-for-you

Everything was recorded using Ardour, and you can find the setup for the different instruments below. Apologies if I'm adding these many details, but I'm really interested in feedback from you guys, especially considering it's my first experience with many of these tools, and so I'd like to know what you feel about the end result and some of my choices.

  • Drums were written using Hydrogen, and played with the YamahaVintageKit. I'm not a drummer, and I guess that you can tell from what will probably sound like weird choices for some patterns or fills... Anyway, I added some reverb in Ardour, and a compressor, both using Calf: I'm completely new to this, but I found some tips online and I tried to follow those.
  • The bass is not really a bass either, as I don't own one. I used the "Bass" preset in Rakarrack and used my guitar instead. I found out that it doesn't sound that bad if you stick to the 6th string (if you play the same note on the 5th you do notice), which made playing some parts a bit weird but I think the end result wasn't bad. In Ardour I just added a "Calf Crusher" for a bit of distortion, as I had a distinct sound in mind that I wanted to try and replicate (check 0:50 of this song by Hamferd if you're curious, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqH_2pi25rw if you're curious). Pretty sure I'm not even close, but I do like how it sounds in the verse.
  • All guitars were recorded using my beloved Mexican Fender Stratocaster HSS. I've been out of practice for a while (you'll notice from how I struggle with the solo :mrgreen: ) but I had a ton of fun!
    • For the main riff I wanted something quite heavy: I struggled a bit finding something I really liked in Guitarix, but I ended up with the "Running Wild / rogues" preset, and I think it has quite the punch.
    • For the clean guitar in the verse, I used the "Succulent Clean" preset from Rakarrack, which I really like: there were some alternatives I considered ("Clean Swirl" is amazing too!), but I feel this sounded the best here.
    • For the short Bridge and the Refrain, I used the "rock_heavy_rack / Dirt dry" preset in Guitarix: initially I thought about using the "rogues" preset here too, but it sounded too heavy for that, and "Dirt dry" had the right "miaow" in it 8)
    • I ended up using "Dirt dry" for the Solo as well, although played with the neck pickup instead of the neck humbucker, and with some reverb added in Ardour. I couldn't find a solo sound I liked in neither Guitarix nor Rakarrack, and I feel "Dirt dry" played its part nicely anyway.
  • For the sparse keyboards you can hear in the verse, I used the "Soft Pad" in ZynAddSubFx (man, I love that tool!) driven by an Akai LPK25: which means I "played" keyboards too, but they're so basic I guess anyone could :) I usually write MIDI a lot (especially with Lilypond recently), but it seemed simpler to just play it here.

Then, nobody asked but again, I'm way too excited about this, so I thought I'd share come info on the creative process as well! I don't know about you, but I'm personally fascinated by how songs come to life, and how they can change considerably from the first seeds to the final "product". If you don't really care, feel free to skip the next part entirely; otherwise, I'm really looking forward to feedback about that too, as it documents some of the choices I made for the final structure that may or may not make sense to you.

  • The main heavy riff the song starts with was the very first part I "composed". It was initially supposed to be longer, especially when it falls on the G5 and E5, but I feel it works better this way.
  • The intro idea of the "low-fi riff that then becomes the real thing" has been probably done a thousand times, but I always liked the effect, for instance in "Of sins and shadows" by Symphony X (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3enWuHtTlwQ). I wasn't sure how to do it in Ardour, but I ended up just using a highpass and lowpass filter on the same track, and it seemed to do the trick.
  • The verse is actually the last part of the song I worked on: I had the riff and the refrain in mind already, and couldn't find a proper way to tie them together. I knew it had to be "slower" and "groovier", but it took me some time to find the right thing. Eventually the arpeggio came to mind, and it was the seed for the verse in general.
  • Initially the arpeggio in the verse was played since the beginning, but when I started experimenting with the pad in the background, it sounded cooler to have it come in later the first time the verse is played instead.
  • I'm not sure we can call the Bridge a "Bridge", since it's very short and is basically part of the refrain if you think about it, but the idea for the muted two-strings chord with nothing behind it is pretty much derived from "I walk beside you" of Dream Theater (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGiTss6y5-o). Very different kind of song, but a personal favourite of mine!
  • The refrain came to mind shortly after I came up with the riff: initially it was simpler and more straightforward, but I ended up with a 7/4 tempo instead. The refrain in the song actually bounces back and forth between 7/4 and 4/4 a few times, which I felt worked better for some of the parts in there.
  • The solo was the very last thing I worked on, instead. While I've been playing guitar for many years, I'm not a virtuoso at all, and so I wanted something that could be melodic but still interesting enough, possibly with a couple of more "complicated" parts here and there. It came up in different moments, and I realize I still made the "complicated" parts a bit too complicated for my skills, as you can very distinctly hear in the demo (I felt like I should study "myself" :mrgreen: ). Anyway, I like the way it starts and then progresses, and I'm sure one day I'll be able to play it properly :lol:
  • What to do after the solo was something I thought about as well: initially I thought about bringing the refrain back, but since the solo comes after two loops of the refrain, and the solo itself is played on a "simplified" refrain in 4/4, bringing the refrain back once more sounded "wrong". So I just had it followed by the heavy riff for one last riff+verse+bridge+refrain round instead. This may make the song longer than it should, but I don't know, it just seems better.

That's REALLY all, now... kudos to you if you made it to here, and really looking forwards to your thoughts on the song and the rest!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 1:21 pm
by jonetsu
The song in its essence has many good parts. The sound, when blasting fully is not bad. A bit more bass perhaps. In the quieter passages though it sounds a bit empty, and the drums do not enliven those passages. That is, if it remains an instrumental. If vocals are added - or perhaps a main melody - then it would change the perspective. Again, the parts where it gets busy, and there are many, are very nice.

At second listen, some form of modulation on the hi hats would make it more alive during the calmer passages. If there's for instance a probability gauge for each hi hat hit then varying the probability could induce a less linear yield. Variations of the snare hits could also be all right. The guitar is quite good and I find well recorded so far. The production tends to lean towards the mid while neglecting the lower range, eg. bass drum, bass.

All in all very nice !

Cheers.

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:16 pm
by Rainmak3r
jonetsu wrote:The song in its essence has many good parts. The sound, when blasting fully is not bad. A bit more bass perhaps. In the quieter passages though it sounds a bit empty, and the drums do not enliven those passages. That is, if it remains an instrumental. If vocals are added - or perhaps a main melody - then it would change the perspective. Again, the parts where it gets busy, and there are many, are very nice.

At second listen, some form of modulation on the hi hats would make it more alive during the calmer passages. If there's for instance a probability gauge for each hi hat hit then varying the probability could induce a less linear yield. Variations of the snare hits could also be all right. The guitar is quite good and I find well recorded so far. The production tends to lean towards the mid while neglecting the lower range, eg. bass drum, bass.

All in all very nice !

Cheers.


Thanks for listening and for the tips!

I'm especially happy you thought the guitars turned out good enough, since as a guitarist it's what I shamelessly spent most of the time on. All rhythm guitars were recorded twice so that I could put one take all on the left and one all on the right, a tip a friend gave me and that apparently is a quite common approach: it turned out to give indeed some kick to guitars, and give a better sound overall besides impact. I didn't apply any filter apart from that, just small tweaks on the presets themselves, e.g., when I thought they had too much reverb or were too noisy for the recording itself.

In general, yeah, the idea is to add the vocals sooner or later, so hopefully the mix will improve by then. I honestly thought the calmer part sounded nice, but I do see your point about it sounding a bit empty: for the song I have in mind, I don't think the main instruments need a change (that's the feel I was looking for) but you're probably right about the drums not being the best there. I already did try to vary the velocity of most of the hits using Hydrogen (snares and hi-hats mainly) across the whole song actually, to try and make it sound less "fake", but I suspect that didn't help much; maybe the variations were just too subtle, or they possibly should have been varied across patterns as well, rather than on that same pattern alone. In general, I think drums are probably the worst written instrument in there, and one of the things I should really improve on in the future.

On the production, I agree, I did indeed want some more bass: not only for the bass itself, which is sometimes a bit hidden, but for drums as well, as kicks tend to disappear as well. The second iteration of the riff, for instance, is supposed to have double kicks, but you can hardly hear them. I thought this might be due to the reverb and compressor, but at this point I suspect equalization is lacking as well. This is definitely another of the areas where I'll have to do some more studying, as I wouldn't know where to start: would this need to happen per track? on the whole mix? simple equalization until things start to pop out better, or are there other filters that can help here?

Thanks again for the feedback!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:14 pm
by jonetsu
Thanks for your feedback on the feedback !

I found it can pay to edit manually each note/event. Which in the case of high hats would be track-based work and not by pattern. A pattern usually recurs too quickly and we easily can detect it, even not consciously. It's longish work to do, and should be done near the end of the production.

Sensible compressor settings also can work in conjunction. It's way too easy to throw a compressor in a range where it will flatten out events. Really easy. I took a long time to learn this and even today it needs special attention. If the events fed to the compressor are too similar then the compressor will not enhance them and make them sound more vibrant, more alive. So I find it's usually a good idea to manually go by a track and add some variations on a per-note basis if needed so the compressor can pick up on them.

I was wondering about the guitars. Two takes, or a stereo expander/double tracker of some sort ? I play guitar - acoustic only - and two good takes can really work wonders. Although some times a stereo expander or some such can provide some effect, when it has a delay parameter.

I noticed the double bass drums. They could be problematic when bass is added to the kicks. It might be even a good case to mult that part to another track and give it special treatment. And to make the bass work with it during that part.

The style of this piece is organic, so even with vocals it could be important to keep the "background" sounding organic, and not robotic/computerized.

Cheers.

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:27 pm
by Rainmak3r
jonetsu wrote:Thanks for your feedback on the feedback !

I found it can pay to edit manually each note/event. Which in the case of high hats would be track-based work and not by pattern. A pattern usually recurs too quickly and we easily can detect it, even not consciously. It's longish work to do, and should be done near the end of the production.


Which means I should probably not rely much on Hydrogen for that... I mean, it's a very convenient way of quickly creating patterns, but then the result should be exported to something like MIDI, so that we have more control on that, rather than having Ardour record Hydrogen's output right away. The alternative would be "cloning" patterns so that we have different copies of the same thing with different velocities, so that even when played in sequence it's less robotic. Unfortunately it doesn't look like Hydrogen has a "humanizer" of sort that can introduce the probability variation you suggested, so that probably means doing this somewhere else.

jonetsu wrote:Sensible compressor settings also can work in conjunction. It's way too easy to throw a compressor in a range where it will flatten out events. Really easy. I took a long time to learn this and even today it needs special attention. If the events fed to the compressor are too similar then the compressor will not enhance them and make them sound more vibrant, more alive. So I find it's usually a good idea to manually go by a track and add some variations on a per-note basis if needed so the compressor can pick up on them.


This is very likely what has happened in my recording as well :mrgreen:

I added the Compressor, but only made a couple of tweaks that were suggested somewhere for drums: short attack and long release, or something along those lines, and that also helped with the too high volume of the recording itself (looks like Hydrogen is quite loud, and Ardour reported many clippings)). Since I don't know much about Compressors in general, I didn't dare do anything else. I guess it will be time to start studying a bit more.

jonetsu wrote:I was wondering about the guitars. Two takes, or a stereo expander/double tracker of some sort ? I play guitar - acoustic only - and two good takes can really work wonders. Although some times a stereo expander or some such can provide some effect, when it has a delay parameter.


It's two different takes, as they need to have a bit of difference among each other for a more organic feel I guess. Not sure if the same is needed when playing acoustic guitars as well, though, or only when some distortion is at play. One of the ideas for another song I have does start with an acoustic guitar on its own, so it will be fun experimenting with that too!

jonetsu wrote:I noticed the double bass drums. They could be problematic when bass is added to the kicks. It might be even a good case to mult that part to another track and give it special treatment. And to make the bass work with it during that part.

The style of this piece is organic, so even with vocals it could be important to keep the "background" sounding organic, and not robotic/computerized.

Cheers.


Thanks again for taking the time to give all these tips!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:57 pm
by modusjonens
Cool track! I also enjoy writing metal and using Ardour/Hydrogen :)

The intro idea of the "low-fi riff that then becomes the real thing" has been probably done a thousand times, but I always liked the effect, for instance in "Of sins and shadows" by Symphony X


This trick gets me every time. I thought it was well-employed here!

Unfortunately it doesn't look like Hydrogen has a "humanizer" of sort that can introduce the probability variation you suggested, so that probably means doing this somewhere else.


If you open up your drum track in Hydrogen and show the Mixer (button up at the top, to the left of Instrument rack), you should see a "humanize' knob on the main bus. You can use that to introduce some randomness in hit velocity. Hope that helps!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:12 pm
by jonetsu
Rainmak3r wrote: I added the Compressor, but only made a couple of tweaks that were suggested somewhere for drums: short attack and long release, or something along those lines, and that also helped with the too high volume of the recording itself (looks like Hydrogen is quite loud, and Ardour reported many clippings)). Since I don't know much about Compressors in general, I didn't dare do anything else. I guess it will be time to start studying a bit more.


To that I would like to suggest some studying material which I appreciated a lot. It's made by mixing engineer Michael White (Whitney Houston, David Bowie, David Byrne, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix remixes, etc...) and the style is really about study, eg. theory and examples. There are no predigested tricks. His approach to compression is to work with the dynamic range. It is based largely in recreating a human feel to tracks that were not recorded with face-to-face musicians in real time, meaning without real-time interaction between musicians. His classes often use a virtual chalk board to explain concepts and techniques. He's the type of guy that's totally dedicated to what he's doing and his passion is rather contagious. You will never see his face, except in one Presonus add, although he does have a business, he's not pushing for marketing.

"Compression is About Perception Not Suppression"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmjMa3Dn1Bo

"Defining Compressor Attack and Release Times"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT4XPvZiA5g

One more:

"Mixing and the 5 Frequency Bands"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78n2htSPwlE

A youtube search will yield a lot more:

"michael white mixing"

He also hosts free continuous mixing sessions on Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm EST, about 2 hours each. The current mix in development is kind of a punk song.

All in all, I find Mike is one of the best mixing learning resource out there with one caveat: one must be willing to study, understand and practice. No quick tricks.

Cheers.

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:23 am
by Rainmak3r
modusjonens wrote:Cool track! I also enjoy writing metal and using Ardour/Hydrogen :)


Thanks! I remember listening to a couple of your tracks and I enjoyed those too :D

modusjonens wrote:This trick gets me every time. I thought it was well-employed here!


Thanks!

modusjonens wrote:If you open up your drum track in Hydrogen and show the Mixer (button up at the top, to the left of Instrument rack), you should see a "humanize' knob on the main bus. You can use that to introduce some randomness in hit velocity. Hope that helps!


Gosh, I feel like a real idiot... I really didn't know about the Mixer in Hydrogen: 3 different knobs for humanizing the output, and different levels for volume as well, including master! This would have helped with the clipping in Ardour as well when recording, I guess. Thanks for the tip!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:25 am
by Rainmak3r
jonetsu wrote:To that I would like to suggest some studying material which I appreciated a lot. It's made by mixing engineer Michael White (Whitney Houston, David Bowie, David Byrne, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix remixes, etc...) and the style is really about study, eg. theory and examples. There are no predigested tricks. His approach to compression is to work with the dynamic range. It is based largely in recreating a human feel to tracks that were not recorded with face-to-face musicians in real time, meaning without real-time interaction between musicians. His classes often use a virtual chalk board to explain concepts and techniques. He's the type of guy that's totally dedicated to what he's doing and his passion is rather contagious. You will never see his face, except in one Presonus add, although he does have a business, he's not pushing for marketing.

"Compression is About Perception Not Suppression"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmjMa3Dn1Bo

"Defining Compressor Attack and Release Times"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT4XPvZiA5g

One more:

"Mixing and the 5 Frequency Bands"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78n2htSPwlE

A youtube search will yield a lot more:

"michael white mixing"

He also hosts free continuous mixing sessions on Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm EST, about 2 hours each. The current mix in development is kind of a punk song.

All in all, I find Mike is one of the best mixing learning resource out there with one caveat: one must be willing to study, understand and practice. No quick tricks.

Cheers.


Wow, thanks! You gave me a lot of very good material to study, so I know what I'll start doing this weekend :)

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 11:08 pm
by milo
This is a solid effort for your first try on these tools. I especially like the chorus effect on the guitar in the quieter parts of the track. Do yourself a favor and buy a cheap bass at a pawn shop for $100. You won't regret it. Playing bass on a 6-string guitar never works out the way you hope it will. There is just no replacing the sound of a fat string.

I find that every track I record teaches me something new about the process, and when I finish one I always think it is the best I have ever done. But then over time I can go back and hear my old tracks and find things I could have done differently knowing what I know now. You will no doubt do the same with this track someday.

You are just the kind of tinkerer geek we want more of in the Linux audio world. (See https://linuxmusicians.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=20077&start=15 for context.) Welcome to the forum, and keep it up!

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:56 am
by psyocean
Cool music, what else to say... :)

Image

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 9:11 am
by Rainmak3r
milo wrote:This is a solid effort for your first try on these tools. I especially like the chorus effect on the guitar in the quieter parts of the track.


Thanks for the kind words, they're really appreciated! The chorus effect on the clean guitar is actually part of the "Succulent Clean" effect in Rakarrack, which is very cool indeed: I just added some Calf Reverb on that, so not much.

milo wrote:Do yourself a favor and buy a cheap bass at a pawn shop for $100. You won't regret it. Playing bass on a 6-string guitar never works out the way you hope it will. There is just no replacing the sound of a fat string.


Yeah, I guess you're right... the way I did it was funny, but it does fall short. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to buy another instrument: mostly because I really DON'T need incentives for that, usually I have to struggle NOT to buy one :D

milo wrote:I find that every track I record teaches me something new about the process, and when I finish one I always think it is the best I have ever done. But then over time I can go back and hear my old tracks and find things I could have done differently knowing what I know now. You will no doubt do the same with this track someday.


100% agree on this: I've digged some stuff I did and recorded 15/20 years ago, and there's a lot I'd do differently today. Working on this track did teach me a lot, and it' been quite fun: can't wait to revisit it (probably earlier than someday, hehehe) and work on more stuff!

milo wrote:You are just the kind of tinkerer geek we want more of in the Linux audio world. (See https://linuxmusicians.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=20077&start=15 for context.) Welcome to the forum, and keep it up!


I've been a Linux user for 13 years, so I guess I am a bit of a tinkerer by now! Being able to play with it for some fun stuff too besides work is really satisfying, and I was positively shocked by how many great tools people have contributed to the community. I really look forward to dig even deeper and start using other tools as well.

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 9:12 am
by Rainmak3r
psyocean wrote:Cool music, what else to say... :)

Image


Hahaha, thanks! Even though you'll never see me risking my Strato in a pool :mrgreen:

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 9:15 pm
by modusjonens
Rainmak3r wrote:Gosh, I feel like a real idiot... I really didn't know about the Mixer in Hydrogen


I say there's no reason to feel bad -- we're all here to learn! I must have been using Hydrogen for a few months before I even realized the mixer was even an available tool! I really ought to have read the docs more thoroughly, hah.

I *also* only recently realized you can add LADSPA effects there as well. I've started playing around with using the built-in Multiband EQ on the master bus, so I can start to sculpt my sound before I bounce out to .flac and import into Ardour. Not sure it's an approach I'll stick with, but nice to know the option is there.

Been meaning to say, I really like what you've sketched out for that solo. I would definitely be interested in hearing that fleshed out!

Meant to ask previously: what are you thinking in terms of vocal style(s) for this one? I could imagine a few different types of vocals at different points -- curious what your plans are there if you care to share.

Re: I'll be back for you (instrumental version)

Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2019 8:47 am
by Rainmak3r
modusjonens wrote:
Rainmak3r wrote:Gosh, I feel like a real idiot... I really didn't know about the Mixer in Hydrogen


I say there's no reason to feel bad -- we're all here to learn! I must have been using Hydrogen for a few months before I even realized the mixer was even an available tool! I really ought to have read the docs more thoroughly, hah.

I *also* only recently realized you can add LADSPA effects there as well. I've started playing around with using the built-in Multiband EQ on the master bus, so I can start to sculpt my sound before I bounce out to .flac and import into Ardour. Not sure it's an approach I'll stick with, but nice to know the option is there.


That's an interesting approach: I think it's quite helpful for previews, but I'd probably stick to the "raw" input and only apply the same LADSPA effects in Ardour instead, just in case I change my mind later on or some revisions are needed.

modusjonens wrote:Been meaning to say, I really like what you've sketched out for that solo. I would definitely be interested in hearing that fleshed out!


Thanks, that's really appreciated! I gave the solo a lot of thought, since I'm not Yngwie Malmsteen and so super-fast runs were out of the picture :mrgreen: I tried to come up with something melodic and yet interesting, and here I think that some advices I heard in a few videos Marty Friedman did for Guitar World helped a lot, especially in terms of how to interpret some notes and phrases to make them more "personal". As I said, though, some parts I wrote are still a bit too fast for the rusty old me (like the short 80's kind of run at the beginning), so I'll have to improve on that.

modusjonens wrote:Meant to ask previously: what are you thinking in terms of vocal style(s) for this one? I could imagine a few different types of vocals at different points -- curious what your plans are there if you care to share.


I don't have a clear idea yet, if not some vocal lines for the refrain itself and how to conclude that. I think that for the verse, some quieter but intense vocal à-la Roy Khan or Geoff Tate would be cool (I have some ideas on the lines there), and possibly an almost-whispered part on the short bridge; then some higher pitched clean vocals for the refrain itself, which will be mostly singing the title, that should lead to a "growl" singing the title almost in staccato immediately before going back to the heavy riff. As you see, still pretty much in the "design" part, but I think that would be the main idea.

I'm curious, did you picture something different by listening to the song instead?