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The Second Story Project

So, I have to say that it’s interesting to resurrect a project that once was – for all intents and purposes – dead. Here’s the back story:

My previous project, Second Story®, was a female fronted neo-prog group that played in the Philly region from 1996-2004. We recorded our original, self-titled album at Eyeball Studios early on; it comprised mostly material that Scott and I had written before John or Danielle had joined the band. (In fact, 5 of the songs had been previously recorded with our original singer, Zaughn.)

We gigged a bunch behind that album, all the while writing new material. We began recording our second full-length album – to be called “Thin Twisting Line,” from a song lyric on it – in January 2001. To steal a phrase: What a long, strange trip it was to become.

We booked an entire week at Indre Studios in Philly, a large-scale, well-known (and expensive) studio in the area. All of us took a week off from work to allow us to all be there the whole time. Based on our familiarity with the material, our previous studio experiences, and the expected professionalism of the studio, we figured we’d probably have time left over at the end.

Boy, were we naive.

The first of many things that went wrong? Less than a week before the starting date, the studio manager called: “Patti LaBelle wants to come in to do rehearsals the week you’re booked. Can you bump?” So, I called the rest of the band, and we were able to accommodate her. For a price, of course – the liner notes of the album, if we complete it, will contain the line “Thanks to Patti LaBelle for providing the tape reels for our recording session.” Yeah, we don’t move for anybody for free – not even Patti LaBelle. And three brand new 2″ tape reels cost well over $600.

So, as you can imagine by my tone, we didn’t finish the project in the 7 days we allotted. We didn’t even get half of the tracking done, never mind mixing. AND, to make matters worse, John and myself, who both worked for an music software firm at the time, came back to the next work week to find out that we both were getting laid off. So, in the middle of this fabulously expensive studio foray, John and I lost all of our expendable income (and our living income, too!)

To make a very long story a little shorter, we were able to manage sporadic trips back to the studio over the next several months, but it took a couple of long, agonizing years to actually complete the tracking. Then we moved to mixing. That ended up being even more disappointing; after the vast amount of time that had passed – after the great deal of time, energy, and money that had been spent – the mixing of the album went quite badly. The resulting album sounded disjunct, loose, and just weak. We left the studio completely spent and totally demoralized.

After some time passed, we decided to take those tapes to a new studio to re-mix with a new engineer and fresh ears. After some aggravation getting the tapes transferred to a format that worked, we let Vic at Giant Steps have a go at it. His mixes were considerably better, but they still didn’t capture what we had hoped for, and we knew we couldn’t release the CD and be proud of it.

Not long after that disappointment, the band quit being active in performance or songwriting, and the album has been essentially shelved since our “disbandment” in 2004. But we’ve always wanted to complete the album, if only to have something to show for all the time and money.

So over the last year, I’ve been collecting the things I need – and the time and experience – to do the mixes myself. The original studio tapes were in multiple formats; the drums were recorded on 2-inch 24-track reel-to-reel, while the rest of the tracks were sync’d on a trio of 8-track digital tape machines (DA-x8 machines by Tascam).

I picked up a DA-38 for a few hundred bux on eBay; however, a 2″ 24-track machine is about the size of a large refrigerator, and about twice the weight. And, they usually run for between $10-20k. So, unless one fell from the sky, I couldn’t reasonably obtain one of those, especially not for a one-off project. And a lot of studios don’t have them anymore, since the advent of ProTools and other DAW systems.

So, considering that I’d have a hard time converting the 2″, I was planning on doing the mixing based on the tracks on the digital tapes only – the recording engineer had put rough drum mixes (kick/snare/kit L/kit R) on the tapes to save wear and tear on the 2″ machine. Unfortunately, I quickly found that it wouldn’t be a good solution – the 4-track drums on the digital tapes were totally inadequate.

Luckily, I found a guy who runs a studio in Millville, and he has a 2″ machine. He dumped the tracks down to individual tracks on a DVD for me, so now I’ve got everything! I’ve dumped all the 8-track digital stuff down to SONAR, and now with the addition of the original 2″ drum tracks, I can really get at these mixes.

Okay, so it begs the question: “Why will it be different?” I mean, we had two professional engineers at two different studios attempt (and fail) to mix our album.

Here’s why:

  1. I’m not on a timetable due to budget constraints – I can take my time
  2. I fully understand the “vision” – meaning, I KNOW what it’s supposed to sound like
  3. I really want it to sound good this time. It means a lot to me (and my bandmates)

Well, that was a record-breaking blog post for me. I’ll start telling you how the mixing is coming along in my next one… Hint: so far so good!


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The H-Clamp Microphone Clamp

One of the issues that I’ve always dealt with is getting a good, consistent mic signal from a guitar or other stringed instrument, especially in the studio. Once you get the distance, angle, and orientation set, the player starts playing and moves around – and the whole thing gets out of whack. Plus, who wants to sit stock-still while trying to record a guitar part? You just end up with a stiffly-played, unevenly recorded part.

No fun.

That’s where the H-Clamp comes in; it’s a very simple – but super-logical – answer for the need for a stable mic holder for guitar, upright bass, and a host of other acoustic instruments. Made by a UK-based manufacturer called ExplorAudio, the simply conceived but extremely well-made clamp-on mic boom makes mic-ing up an upright bass, acoustic guitar, etc. easy. It is equally at home in the studio and on stage.

Made of durable and lightweight alloys and composites, it doesn’t load up your instrument too badly, and its instrument contact points are covered with silicone and other protective surfaces to prevent damage or scratching. The boom can hold most mics; you can use an optional shock mount for isolation purposes. And since it’s a boom, you can adjust the mic’s positioning pretty freely. It allows for a large variety of placements, angles, and positions. And of course, where you place it on the instrument is pretty much up to you. So if you prefer the “off-axis towards the soundhole” option or the “pointed at the 12th fret” position, you can pull it off.

ExplorAudio makes several different models; a version for acoustic guitar, a version for Cello, a version for Upright Bass, and a version for “Extra Deep” Bass (for basses of unusual depth). They also make a “Guitar Plus” version which includes three separate depth shafts, allowing you to get one H-Clamp for multiple instruments. Very cool! The photo to the right shows my H-Clamp on my carved upright bass; it’s holding one of my Oktava MK-012 small-diaphragm mics.

The only place I know of to get these things in the USA is Gollihur Music – of course, I happen to work there. We always have them in stock, and the feedback from other musicians has been very positive. I have a couple of them in my home studio, and they’re definitely money well spent.

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An introduction

So here I go, I guess it’s time to start blogging. All the cool kids are doing it, so maybe I should too. I’ve always been a sucker for peer pressure.

Seriously, though – here’s the gist of it; lots of musicians are on the web, hawking their band, selling their album, talking about gear, etc. So I thought that this would be a nice way for me to do that and more – share experiences with musical oddities like modifying guitars (I do that a lot), circuit-bending (I just started playing with that), and creating insane guitar or bass rigs with all sorts of bells and whistles (I’ve done that for myself as well as helped others with it). So I’ll be talking about a lot of that sort of stuff as it occurs to me to do so. I’ll probably ramble on about old musical projects, neat toys, long lost instruments I never should have sold, etc. Hope that interests you.

Who I am is a lifelong musician; son of a vocal/general music teacher (Mom) and a former music major/club musician/music store owner – and now, boss (Dad). My primary instruments are voice and bass (bass guitar and upright bass), but I’m a multi-instrumentalist and therefore own a large collection of other stuff – keyboards, drums, guitars, mandolins, didgeridoos, trumpets, and much more. I have my own studio, which I call Digital Din; my training is purely “on-the-job” as far as engineering goes, but last November my group Din Within released our debut album; it’s an album that (with writing partner Josh’s help) I recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered myself. Of course, I was also responsible for much of the performance. It’s done quite well worldwide; it’s available for sale at Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, iTunes, Napster, and many more (check out the Digital Din Homepage for a list of many of the retailers at which it can be purchased.)

So that’s about it for now. I think my first post of real content will probably be about my “new” bass – actually a 4-banger from the 80’s that I bought to recreate my first bass – one I wish I still had (for sentimental reasons only) but don’t because I sold it to a former co-worker (Tom Wetzel – you still have my bass, man?)

Anyway, tune in soon for that post. Thanks for reading!

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