Friday, November 21, 2008


Another day, another guitar. I picked up a 2006 Epiphone Casino today, in a beautiful Cherry finish. Made in China at an Epi-only factory, the build quality and finish detail is excellent.

No photos yet, but here's a stock picture:

It's completely hollow, unlike the famous Gibson ES-335 which has a center block running from the base of the neck to the end pin. Lots of Beatle guitar sounds started with a Casino, notably "Day Tripper" and "Don't Let Me Down". The lack of a center block makes the guitar decay quickly, meaning it is well-suited for rhythm guitar duty, though the Fabs used it for everything, with Lennon playing his almost exclusively post-Revolver. Paul uses his to this day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Historic Films

Here's a great link to watch some classic music video from the vaults of Historic Films. Click on the "Online Comp Reels" tab on the left and catch some prime footage of Ralph and Carter Stanley, Muddy Waters. The Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and much more. The interview with the nerdy guy at the end does not turn out like you might initially think it will.

I found this place because they bought the rights to "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" and have apparently been transferring the quad tapes to digital for a while now. I want to buy this stuff...hurry up!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

GarageBand '08

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my penchant for digital audio software - Pro Tools, Cubase, Reason, Live, etc. I'm most proficient with Cubase 4 and am easing my way into Pro Tools gradually. The rest I just dabble with for fun.

The GarageBand app that comes free with your new Mac - as part of the iLife bundle - was always a fun little diversion, but not really all that useful.

Until now. I traded in my refurbed 15" MacBook Pro for a new, 17" MacBook Pro last week. My old one had just had a logic board replaced ($688) and started running hot...within Apple tolerances, but not mine. The new Mac, actually the model before the brand new one, was on sale for $1699, a full $1k less than the NEW new model. I got 2.4gHz and 2gb RAM with a 160gb hard-drive. Nice.

GarageBand '08 is the latest, greatest version of the program and in my opinion it raises GB into useable pro audio recording least for demos. Apple's flagship DAW, Logic Studio has a little brother called Logic Express....GarageBand is Logic Express Lite.

These new features make all the difference for me :

  • Multiple takes with comping option
  • Built-in tuner
  • Automatable effects
For those of you not savvy to studio jargon, "comping" is short for compiling. You can comp several takes and use the best parts of each one to make up a master take. Let's say you were singing "Happy Birthday to You" and you loved the way you phrased "Happy Birthday", but did not care for that take's "to You". You like the "to" on Take 3 and the "You" on Take 2. Now you can use each of those favorites and consolidate them into one new track of a perfect vocal. Not a small thing. The same, of course holds true for guitar solos, bass lines, whatever.

The built in tuner may be minor to some, but it's one more piece of essential gear you can leave home as part of a mobile notebook-based studio.

Automatable effects is a really pro feature. You could already automate the volume and panning of any track. Panning refers to the placement of the instrument on the left or right stereo field. Very useful in crafting a professional mix.

Now I'm sure some will claim that this is not a pro app, that it is a toy to play around with and write EurodiscoTranceHouseAcidJazz beats with. Fine, suit yourself. To me, it is the ultimate demo machine. I can get a track up and running in minutes, and take the next couple of hours refining the drums and bass parts into what I envision.

My attitude toward demos has changed a bit. I used to think that it was a waste of time and that you might accidentally get the take doing a demo...and if you were in a hurry and cut corners on tonal quality, you might get a take that, while perfect, is sonically unusable. I remedied this by always using my fill-blown rig to record demos or worktapes with.

For this record, my wife Donna' s second effort, we decided to rent some studio time in a real commercial studio to cut the bass, drum and acoustic guitar tracks. You can't get a better sound than that at home, usually, and it will help the record compete with other albums in the marketplace. We're scheduled to go in the second week of December. We will still do a lot of overdubs at home - vocals, electric guitars, pedal steel, fiddle, etc.

But to save time in the studio, we are demoing the songs, giving the players a pretty good idea of what we want while not tying them to my feeble attempts at drums and bass programming. We can create the general vibe of the song well enough to pass it along for reference. The bonus for me is that I get inspired by the great sound in GarageBand and start playing parts that I might never have come up with if I only allowed myself the tracking day or "guitar overdub day" to be creative. I can re-visit the song over and over, adding and subtracting ideas until I get a rough image of the finished product.

I'm using the Line 6 KB37 as a front end for GarageBand. 2 mic pres with phantom power, a 2.5 octave keyboard, a USB audio interface, and access to the Gearbox Gold bundle of guitar, bass and mic pre models. The Gearbox effects show up as AU plugins in Garageband, meaning I can apply them to any track, not just guitar or bass. Bus-powered, so no power supply.

You can hear the rough version here: "Can I Get a Ride". Some of the parts are out-of-tune, some out of time, but I was getting ideas and I just recorded them as they came to me. It's a demo!

I cut all of the acoustic guitars and Dobro with an M-Audio Pulsar II mic or B.L.U.E. Bluebird mic into the KB37 through a Gear Box model of an API mic pre. The electrics (Crunch rhythm, Clean Lead and 12-String Jangle) went into the KB37 and through my own tweak-as-needed preset of a Mike Campbell tone I call "American Girl", essentially an AC-30 with a bit of compression and reverb. The drums and bass are samples from the GarageBand library that I modified to fit our song.

I also just figured out that my Waves Musicians Bundle II plugins that I bought for use with Pro Tools and Cubase work with GarageBand, so I can access world-class EQs, compressors, delays, etc.

A Macworld commenter put together this list of new features:

  • Full effect automation. You can alter any parameter of any effect over time
  • Automation points (e.g. Volume curves, Pan curves, etc) can now be "locked" to their region so that they move along with it when dragged or duplicated
  • Each track now offers 4 AU effect slots per track instead of only 2
  • Multi-Take: You now have the ability to loop and record your performance on a "Real" (Audio) track over and over, later selecting which ones to keep, combine, and/or delete without having to stop your recording session.
  • "Software" (MIDI) tracks also offer Multi-Take, if you wish, or you can choose to have them work as they have in previous versions, combining each pass into a single take
  • Software Quantization is no longer "All or Nothing" there's a slider for the amount of Quantization.
  • Effect slots in Track info can be rearranged to effect a track in different orders
  • Exports to disk can now be AIFF, AAC, or the often asked for Mp3
  • Uncompressed AIFFs can also be exported as 24-bit files for further Mastering
  • Loop Families: A quick and easy way to swap loops between similar ones of the same name (Family)
  • GB can now show you the name of the chord you are playing on a "Software" (MIDI) track
  • In notation view, along with the proper note being displayed (1/4, 1/8, etc), a small bar visually shows the note's duration when the note is selected.
  • You can delete a region and have all the regions to its right move to the left, the duration of the deleted region
  • There is an "Arrange" track that let's you create and name sections, like Verse, Chorus, Bridge, etc. These sections can be dragged, duplicated, or deleted as a chunk
  • Software tracks offer an Enhance Timing feature now that can even be used while recording
  • There is now a Fade Out option to fade out songs in a curve
  • The Master Fader and Master Volume Curve now operate independently
  • There's the new Visual EQ, a hybrid of a Graphic EQ and a parametric EQ, with a built-in spectrum analyzer
  • The somewhat useless "Simple" compressor has been replaced by a real one with parameters that can be set
  • The length restrictions have been vastly increased, in theory, over 16 1/2 hours without any hacks needed to get there.
  • The Digital display under the timeline offers some new, and some improved options.
  • GarageBand can now burn CDs
  • Ability to edit AND print notation.
  • Timeline control over tempo.

I'd highly recommend GarageBand '08 to any musician looking for a quick, easy and comprehensive demo solution.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

That Was the Year That Was

Last night LeAnn Rimes played her final scheduled show of 2008 in Frisco, Texas at a benefit for the Boys and Girls Club. And so ends a blur of a year of touring the country with a great bunch of people. LeAnn and Dean were consumate pros and I thank them for hiring me for the tour. Tour Manager Steve Emley has been a constant source of good info and had taken care excellent care of us in the band and crew. Production Manager Anthony Aquilato kept the crew moving with his inimitable Bronx panache.

My fellow crewmates: Shamus Bacon, Steve Hoover, Josh White, Danny Blazcak, Zeke Clark, and Daryl Dixon gave each other hours of fun and only a few minutes of un-fun as we supported the Kenny Chesney tour all Summer long.

Unless something interesting pops up in the next two months, I'm diving head-first into making Donna Beasley's new record. I'll be trying a few new things this time around... Stay tuned!