Album Challenge: Post 16

I think I’m ready to move on to the next song.


Here is what the latest version sounds like.

Here are some notes on what’s changed since the last version.

  • Completely re-tracked the vocals. The old ones weren’t rehearsed enough.
  • Added drums in parts. Again, here is that pattern I see popping up all over my songs. The kick is only present in the chorus.
  • Added strummed acoustic guitar chords leading into the chorus. Reminds me of Pink Floyd.
  • Added bass. I’m starting to convince myself I know how to think in bass. One thing I have over a sessions guy is I know the material very very well.
  • Added shouts. Screw!
  • Added a siren type sound. It’s actually my voice being pitched around by an auto tuner. I was shocked at how well that worked.
  • Piano rhythms change up throughout.
  • I used a paper towel to get a pizzicato acoustic guitar sound.
  • I added some internet found sound for the Bart announcement.
  • Added heavily distorted drums at intro.
  • Added some vocals as pads. Heavy delay. Some auto tuning up an octave.

Here is an example of the pizzicato guitar.

Here is the auto tuned vox effect. There is a bit more then auto tune on this. But auto tune is doing all the pitching work. This is just the stock plugin that comes with Reaper.

Next up a rap song. Something that was fully produced once before. But at the time it was a one day rush job. I didn’t get the sound I wanted.

Album Challenge: Post 15

The importance of gaining perspective. After working on a song for a while it’s easy to loose perspective. Sometimes a throw away part is my favorite in hindsight. This has happened enough for me to get smart about it. Now I record a lot of ideas and review them after a day or two.

A good monitor mix. I have never been in a studio where the monitor mix wasn’t rushed and needed tweaking (Granted most of my studio recording was under “budget strain”). A good mix lets you hear the relevant parts of the music so you can pitch, stay in time, and “feel” the music as you perform . It let’s you hear the nuances of your performance if you need to. Take the time to get it right.

Why do I bring this up? I’ve been doing a quick and dirty monitor mix. I used headphones that were way too bass heavy. That was actually the biggest issue. Now I’m using some AKG 240s. It’s night and day. I can hear little details in my voice. Pitch better. Hear the music better.

They are open headphones. Imo open headphones always sound more open. They have less resonant cavity. Could the music bleed into my vocal tracks? Sure. Maybe a little. Ask yourself what’s important? The world’s cleanest album or a good vocal performance? From that perspective it’s easy.

Another tip worth mentioning; monitor with one ear open to the room. My voice never sounds natural through headphones. It always does in the room.



Album Challenge: Post 14 Production List

Summery: Here is a list of production tips that have worked for me. Just jutting them down as a reminder. This list isn’t static. I’ll be updating it as I discover new ideas.

Drums: (I’m using BFD2 but these ideas aren’t specific to BFD imo)

  • Humanize velocity. When I do this the drums have more excitement… human quality? I wonder if differences in velocity can be perceived as timing variations? I’m using the global BFD parameter here. Not sure if you can do it per drum unless you use the grooves page.
  • Add swing timing. Sometimes I like this. Other times it doesn’t work at all.
  • Dry drums: Try dry hi-hats with the quickest decay. Try dry snare direct mic. Don’t use ambient mics at all. Ambiance can take up a lot of mix space.
  • Velocity to dynamics: Try setting at 100% for lots of dynamic variation.
  • Try adding my acoustic kit a la Beastie boys low-fi drums.


  • Use the sm7
  • Double the voice. You might have to do many short takes to get spot on doubles. As a variation try recording at different distances or with a different timbre to the vox.
  • Instead of moving the mic off axis to reduce high end leave the mic parallel with the floor and sing off axis.
  • Get a good monitor mix with non-boomy headphones. Hearing a good mix is important for the performance.
  • Set the compressor up for normalized audio. Record several takes, explode in place, normalize, add compressor.


  • Play a real bass. It just sounds better. A real performance has more interesting articulations.
  • Add some transistor type distortion. This adds high end that is harmonically related.
  • Record at half time. This allows me to play faster stuff I normally can’t. When played back at normal speed it doesn’t sound quite the same as real time playing but it’s a sound.


  • Vary the rhythm.
  • Vary the accents.
  • Add the sustain pedal. This gives things a certain dissonance that works on some songs.

Acoustic Guitar:

  • Strings can be muted with things like a paper towel. This gives a soft puckish sound.
  • As for vox leave the mic static and rotate the guitar to get the right balance for the song.
  • Try hard panned doubled performances of simple strummed chords.


  • Try using the vox as a pad a la “Terrible Doubts”. Use massive delay as I repeat phrases/sounds on the mic
  • Remember I can capture any sound routed through my sound card. Think “found internet sounds”. Cntr clicking on the output channels will route them to my DAW.
  • Autotune can be used to slowly pitch up anything with a stable pitch. It can used to pitch a sample to several different notes to follow a chord progression.
  • The reverb in my bathroom sounds very good on some things. Try committing to some of my house reverbs. A portable recording device can be used to monitor the song (Zoom recorder).  That way I don’t have to lug my whole rig, mics, cables.

Album Challenge: Post 13

Editing that video made me think of process. I think process happens when you do something for a while. A predictable pattern emerges. For example, tracking the drums first. So you follow this pattern and it alleviates some of the “not knowing” anxiety.

It’s a double edge sword though. Sure a defined process may be calming but it’s also kind of static.

I think it’s important to realize that progress doesn’t have to be linear, predictable, or have a pattern. That thought can save you some frustration.

During the video edit I started from scratch several times. It seemed like I was going nowhere.  But when I finished I realized what was going on. I was learning each clip of video and figuring out where it best fit with the music. Each aborted attempt was progress in disguise. Unless you realized that you can get really frustrated. I know I did.

The same could be said of producing a song. This song is called “Screw Tonight”.

I originally recorded it as a joke. But given the theme of this album it fits right in. I just have to take it from demo-singer-song-writer land to album-land. So far it’s not going well. Let me list what I don’t like.

  • The dampened guitar is too harsh. Try different mic placement, using thumb instead of pick, recording for samples and assembling them on timeline.
  • Voice should be softer. Try different performances at different mic distances. Try adding melody line with piano under vox. Try singing it softer. Duh.
  • It needs more interest. More changes. Listen to Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique for ideas. The Beasties are very good at adding interest but still sticking with a theme.
  • Drums aren’t fitting.

I listen to music different then my own and think about how it’s put together. I think this is a helpful producer exercise. For example, Paul’s Boutique has all kinds of ambient sounds coming in and dropping out. They don’t grab your attention like the drums and vocals but they change the feel of the music.

Here it is so far.

Album Challenge: Post 12

Update: Haven’t heard from the Wing Girls. I did get a charming auto response. Maybe someday I’ll be saying, “Due to the overwhelming amount of emails we [I] receive each day we [I] will not be able to respond to each person personally.”

Here is the video that inspired “City Hall”. Shot on my iPhone. Apple, tempt me to sell out please. Every man has a price. Mine is lower then you think.

Still haven’t decided on the next song.  Tomorrow I’ll attempt to catalog the “domestic life” song ideas. See if I come up with a full album or close.

Short post. It’s really about the video.

Album Challenge: Post 11

Fashion’s where you find it. I take inspiration where I can get it. A ’70s film. Taking my daughter to City Hall. Asking for a cup a tea. And now from this youtube video by the Wing Girls. The video isn’t on youtube anymore. Find it here. It’s hard not to watch this one. Two sexy, smart, and fun girls give pointers on how to get a blow job. I thought it was funny and decided to do a response song… not video. Let me know if you want to shoot the video.

Renaissance thinking: I’ve never been a very focused songwriter. Never sat down thinking I’m going to write anything in particular. I’m all over the place. I think that’s a good thing.

I was watching the “Lost Interview” with Steve Jobs. He talked about the teams he put together. I’ll paraphrase. He wasn’t looking for people focused on technology but people who had wide ranging interests and had taken up technology. That’s something to think about as a songwriter, musician, or really anyone. Being over-focused can cut you off from the rest of the world. It can breed boring technical proficiency.

Like many, many songs of mine they get partially finished and sit around.  This one was a bit better formed. I had chords, a rhythm, a melody, even finished the lyrics.

I did my typical thing trying out different keys and meters. I decided to use a key where I have to push my voice on the high notes. I thought that might give it a more pop feel. Not sure.

Hmmm… two paragraphs of tangents. Onward.

Production Ideas: One reason I’m recording demos and then giving them a second pass weeks or months later is because of the production ideas I’ll accumulate along the way.  Here are a few things I tried on this song.

Use your own reverbs: I knew I wanted to add claps to this song. First I recorded myself clapping where I record vocals. My room is dry and so were the claps. I added reverb. Still didn’t like it. Then I dug into the samples on BFD and Kontakt. Didn’t like those. I had a hunch the space around the claps was the key.

Here they are recorded in my bathroom.

That space is very reflective. Lots of marble and glass. The room is not a box, more like an “L”. I left the door open so the sound could travel into other rooms.  But did I really want to lug my gear (tower, interface rack, mics) in there just to test out an idea? No. I thought about using my iPhone but decided my portable Zoom recorder would be best. It records in stereo, decent sample rates, wav. IMO an iPhone would be a step down in quality and phones often use a format that needs converting.

After locating the Zoom I was un-amazed and disappointed to find the battery compartment seized up with corrosion. Kids, remove the batteries! With new batteries it still didn’t power up so I had to turn into ghetto MacGyver. Success.


Ideally I would monitor the song as I clapped. That way my clapping is musical… accents in the right place etc. But it was faster to match the Zoom’s metronome to the Song’s BPM and clap to that. I rehearsed a few times with the song so I knew the basic pattern. Since the Zoom starts recording at the top of the bar the imported files were on my DAW grid. Cool.

It’s subjective but the sound I got from clapping in the bathroom was far better then any sample I had. That got me thinking about Reaper’s convolution reverb. I know I can make my own impulses. I like some of the spaces in my house. Maybe I will collect some impulses. But you know that won’t sound the same as recording in those spaces. Could be an interesting comparison to do.

If I want to record in those spaces I have to devise an easy way to monitor and record. Using my Zoom in 4 track mode with one track being the monitor mix? Stay tuned.

BFD Humanize: The goal of this control is like many other techniques: Inject some human into a drum machine. According to the manual it varies velocity. It does not (from what I can tell) vary timing. I could check this by printing some drums with and without humanize and comparing the waveforms. But why bother? Whatever it does I like. Sounds more energetic. I’m taking note.

It appears you can get finer control if you use the sequencer and grooves in BFD. Vary the timing, velocity, and add swing grids. But I’ve already abandoned using the BDF grooves page and sequencer. It’s just easier to work with midi items on the DAW timeline. Reaper offers the same types of controls or so it seems. You know for sure when you try them.

Percussion: I typically begin with a drum kit. But percussion (things like bells, shakers, tambourines) can add some nice energy. I’ve been listening to some modern bands that do a good job of that. Of course it’s not a modern idea at all. Check out Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”.

I approach this kinda like Stomp. Anything can be musical. You just have to be able to play it. You’d be surprised (or at least I was) at how hard it is to make simple things sound musical. I’m using a promo bell from Geico Insurance.


Since I’m not interested in joining Stomp I get the performance as close as I can. What I don’t like I try to fix in editing. Editing is not magic but it can correct some timing errors well. With obvious reverbs (like my bathroom) be careful not to abruptly edit them out. A little time stretch and additional reverb can help.

Album Direction: This album is drifting toward my “domestic life” concept. Debating if I should narrow the focus given the tight timeline.

I’m getting more interested in a hybrid approach. Mixing BFD with my drum kit. Mixing Kontakt bass with my Jazz Bass. Mostly ’cause so far it’s worked. Both add interest. Neither can sound like the other.

What’s next: Get the rough production done on “Wing Girls”. Send that off to the Girls and see what they think.

Rough edit the video for “City Hall”. After all the song is based on the video I shot.

Pick the next song.

Album Challenge: Post 10

Adding variations.  Even the best hooks get old if you loop them for 3 minutes. A song may only have 2 parts (verse, chorus) but there are always variations. Lyrics change, instruments come and go, rhythms get subdivided.

When I was into mixing audio one author pointed out the common difference between an armature mix and a good one: Variations. This is even more true at the production level.

It hasn’t been easy for me. It’s easy to change things. Not so easy for those changes to make the song better. Could I add mad cow bell? Yes. Would it be a change? For sure. Song better? Doubt it. Ideas diluted? Probably.

Simple  instrumentation? I’ve been thinking of keeping the instrumentation very simple and varying the performance. This song has 3 instruments. Voice, drums, piano. What if those were the only tracks? Just changing the piano rhythm can really change the feel. Ditto for the drums. Could I make that fly? Keep it interesting with 3 parts?

‘Cause the truth is the other things I’ve tried (bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar) haven’t done it for me.  So I’m going to leave them in and return later. Stepping away for a few days or weeks gives me perspective.

Orchestrating? I listen to this and say… Does it need new rhythms? Does it need more complicated chords? More melodies? I don’t think so. If that’s true, should I just support what’s already there? A C chord on the acoustic guitar on top of the C chord on the piano? Have the bass follow the root notes of the chords? Double the voice?

When I was in rock bands that type of thing was looked down on. “Dude, he’s just following the root notes!” But sometimes that’s what works best. Can you imagine Van Halen with a virtuoso bassist stepping on Eddies guitar work?

So that’s another idea I’m thinking about. Complimenting what’s already there with layers. Doubled vocals are all over the place. Multiple mics are combined all the time to get drum sounds. Adding a root note bass sure can make a song sound big.

Why risk diluting the strong ideas with weaker ones? Just for novelty? No thanks.

I was listening to a Keith Richards interview. He talks about the importance of taste. It’s a great point. Taste, or good judgement, should be making the final call. Not theory, or technology, or something you read about your favorite band. Every song is it’s own unique context with its own unique solutions.

Done… for now. Next up a poppy rock song.

Album Challenge: Post 9

Routines are good, Mm-k?  A few years ago I went on a small tour of California. I was reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp. She makes an argument for creatives cultivating habits. While habits tend to be the opposite of creativity I think she makes an excellent point. You never know when inspiration will strike. You hope with guitar in hand, a recorder handy, or while in the studio. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll produce something good. But in my opinion it greatly increases the odds. Plenty of bands do this without knowing it. They have practices and go on tour.

I’m putting a routine in place. A routine way to set up a mic. Routine instruments. Setting up some templates for my daw.

Set and forget your preamp = blasphemy. For the mic I’m still happy with my sm7. The only thing I fault is it’s self noise and it’s preamp demands. If you have a quite source there will be some noise. I leave the preamp gain all the way up (using my cleanest pres) and forget it. Yeah, I set and forget the pre. Habit. I record at 24 bits for extra headroom. To date I haven’t clipped. If anything I’m low.

My new acoustic guitar mic placement. I want to give a shout out to my pal Ken who suggested this a while back. At the time I was comparing methods of recording acoustic guitar. I didn’t try this one. Ken suggested I point the mic down the neck at the sound hole. I took this with the camera lens just above the mic.


You vary the bass by tilting the guitar like so. In practice I tilt my playing and leave the mic alone.


Another thing I do is back the guitar off the mic until I hear the proximity effect drop off. It’s pretty dramatic listening on headsets. That puts the sounds hole at about 2′. This is with the sm7. Check out your own mic as proximity affect can vary.

That’s how I miced the guitar for this song.

The danger of adding too much. With a soft intimate song there is always a danger of over orchestrating.

My first attempts at adding drums didn’t do it for me. But then I realized there was an accent pattern on hi-hats that worked. It’s a pattern I’ve been seeing a lot in my work. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2. Eight 1/8th notes. Accent on the 1. What works about this I don’t know. But I tend to like 3s. 3/4 timing, triplets. There’s an interesting intersection of 4/4 timing and groups of 3.

The kick has 2 distinct parts. The syncopated chorus part and the “on the beat” verse part. For a change of gear the drums drop completely out in parts.

The strumming guitar is one of those “miss it when it’s gone” things. It doesn’t jump out at you. But when you take it out the feel of the song changes.

Just like the hi-hat pattern the solo piano was something I was humming. I get a lot of ideas from beat boxing (poorly) and humming/thinking melodies. Maybe because voice was my first instrument. I’m just not good enough on piano to bang out a melody the way I want to.

The field recordings were taken from the video I shot a few years ago. That’s an actual applause from Gavin Newsom speaking. I think he was saying, “Some day I hope Chris Porro puts this in an awesome song”.

That’s a stopping point for this song. Next up finishing Put Some Tea on for Your Puppy.


Album Challenge: Post 8

Inspiration: If you’ve ever seen San Francisco’s City Hall you know it’s pretty nice. Also pretty golden. No surprise it became of object of interest for my daughter. She made a habit of spotting it from our car as we drove around the city.

A trip to city hall was in order. She was about 3 at the time. I had her all day back then.

She loved City Hall. It’s gorgeous inside. At the time there was a huge Hindu looking sculpture in the plaza. 4 huge arms reaching out across the grounds. As the song says we ran down the marble halls, saw the major (Gavin Newsom), and looked off the balconies.

Rhythm: After playing with it a bit I decided this finger-ish style pattern worked best. Not strumming. Not individually fingered notes. Just a few strings at a time. Getting the rhythm right was key. Again, I’m surprised how little things can transform a song.

A Click? This is played with a metronome. I have mixed feeling about clicks. More and more music is being recorded to a click. In a way I think it’s just lazy. It does make some things easier. But people don’t do anything to a perfect click. Not run, walk, speak, sleep. Natural human variation makes things interesting. You might be excited as a chorus starts and speed up. You may slow down for an anthem style chorus. A click track takes that away. My broader complaint is; It makes music sound industrialized… like it rolled off an assembly line. It’s a product of industry not humans.

I’ve spent a good amount of  time tempo mapping performances. It always takes longer. So in the interest of recording ideas quickly I decided to record to a click. I do think, if you work with a click, it’s important to nail the tempo best you can. If there is one tempo make sure it works for most of the song.

The Rest: I’m not convinced this song needs drums. Maybe. Maybe not. I will likely add some bass, some more acoustic guitar, and vocals. I was listening to Kurt Viles new album (good call Joe) and liking the use of delay on guitars. This version actually does have a 1/8 note delay on the guitar. It’s one of those “you miss it when it’s gone” things.

Like all of this, I’ll know when it’s done. Sometimes, most of the time, you need to hear it to know. Picking songs to record? Pretty easy. Producing them so they shine? A little harder.


Album Challenge: Post 7

Vocals: I know I go on about finding the right key for the vocals. Let me go on further. It’s not just about making it singable. It’s about using the voice so it’s appropriate for the song. There were a couple of ways I could sing this. Start the vocals high on the verse and drop down an octave for the chorus. Do the opposite. Go into falsetto. Technically lots of options. But where in these options do the vocals match the emotional content of the song? I tried out a few things in the studio. Quickly transposing the music. Final decision was made in the shower. I was singing in a place where things just sounded right. The verse was dropped an octave and had a mellow sound to it. The chorus has more energy and climbes into falsetto which is way prettier then belting the thing out.

If you are a vocalist I’d recommend you sing your ideas to tape… er, drive and arrange the music around them. Plus or minus a few cents.

Inspiration: I’ve been thinking of doing a “domestically” inspired album for years now. That is, home life. A house, maybe some kids, yard work, taping HBO, a wife.  Ooops, wrong order dear.

Isn’t that where rock stars go to die? Don’t mind that. I’ve heard great rock music that took it’s inspiration from the Holocaust, or huffing organic compounds, or dead-end jobs. The common thread being inspiration. Passionate singing about entomology is better then ho-hum songs about love. Yeah love. The thing that conquers all. Lays kingdoms in ruin. In the end it’s not about the topic so much as the authors emotions toward the topic.

Is this one highfalutin justification for some boring-ass topic I’m taking up? Maybe. But put some damn tea on for your puppy! please.

This song is exactly what it sounds like. Me nagging my wife to make some tea before we watch taped HBO. Mmmm, that’s good domestication.

Drums: There ain’t noting wrong with a little bump and grind. The natural corollary? There ain’t nothing wrong with bone dry snare. Don’t fear the ambiance reaper.

A good sounding bone dry close mic-ed snare can sound glorious. If it doesn’t sounds like huggin’ angels it still sounds pretty good. That’s what’s going on here if you must know (and you don’t). Not an ambient mic for miles. I think it works. Take note inner producer.

The cymbals are also bone dry close mic-ed and damped. This puts them right at the front of the mix but they don’t take up too much sonic space with decay.

Back up. Did I talk about dampening in BFD? Well it’s a lot like real dampening. On the kick I wanted the boom so no dampening. Let it ring out. Later I may tune it. Try to match the decaying pitch to the song. Most of that is pretty low and won’t be heard by your average playback systems. Some it will. Unlike the snare I left all the ambient mics in place on the kick. There is a good deal of high and mids in those. Space. If it’s a retro Bonham feel I’m 110% ok with that.