DIY Album


Do It Yourself music album.
As an indie music band, we don’t have any producer / manager / artistic director / label / distributor / booking agency / designer / … which technically means, we have to do all that stuff by ourselves. It’s a bit like being an actor, one day you’re a photographer, the next day a sound engineer… or at least, we try to be !

DIY Album

Recording & mixing guitar : My own recipe


Even if there might be a perfect way to record electro-acoustic guitar and electric guitar, I assume mine is not perfect. Below I explain the way I recorded and mixed the acoustic and electric guitar on the album, with extremely cheap gear and stuff.

What I used for the recording itself :

  • USB soundcard (E-MU tracker pre, probably the cheapest one ever) with two Jack/XLR input and a stereo output for direct monitoring (i.e. without latency).
  • Headphones
  • Korg ToneWorks Pandora Box (a very cheap multi-effect device that I got from my guitar teacher Yann-Guirec Le Bars almost for free, some years ago)
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The USB soundcard, the headphones and the Pandora Box
  • Of course a Laptop (Mine is 2GHz AMD Athlon Dual Core, 4GB RAM, Windows 7-32bits)
  • Microphone : Behringer B-1 (Also used for percussions and vocal, actually for all the instruments of the album !)
  • One microphone stand.
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The microphone listed above.
  • 2 Jack cables, one XLR cable
  • And the music recording software, the wonderful Cubase SX3 !!

Of course the microphone has to be put in a suitable way next to where the right hand will touch the strings… Listening carefully with isolated headphones can help to find the best setting.

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Microphone setting for acoustic recording

Okay, now let’s talk about the recording itself, for acoustic guitar first. I record two mono tracks, one with the microphone and one from the Pandora Box.

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Two guitar tracks

The upper track is the one from the microphone, the lower is that from the Pandora Box. See for each track the routing I used (Microphone on right-in, Jack on left-in).

Then, each track will be doubled. Jack track 1 will be sent to the right output, and its copy to the left output. Then Microphone track 1 will be sent to the left and its copy to the right. The levels of the two copies have to be reduced in order to separate them in the stereo output. I also add a time delay of say 15-20ms to those two tracks to enhance the stereo effect.

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Then both tracks get doubled, a time delay of 15ms is added to the two copies.
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The mixer shows the routing and levels used for each track…

And of course, basic effects such as compression should be added to each track…

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“Multiband compressor” effect.

Reverb, delay, flanger etc… are also possible, only your ears can tell you what is missing, in case something is actually missing !

And what about electric guitar ? Let me show mine :

DSC_0285
My electric guitar ??

Yes, I know, this is not really what we can call an electric guitar, I have a nice Kort electric guitar but I left it in Brittany, we have to reduce the amount of luggage when travelling from Brittany to Istanbul ! But here is the Pandora Box, EXTREMELY helpful ! So, Pandora has a stereo output, I use a special cable to split it in two mono outputs that will be connected to the soundcard as follows :

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The way Pandora is connected to the soundcard, see the two thin cables on the left.

Then, I only use two tracks, one for each mono output. From Cubase, one is sent to the left output, the other to the right. Some examples of what it sounds like here or here !

I used exactly the same kind of procedures for electric baglama and electric ‘ud. For acoustic ‘ud I only used the microphone and two tracks.

Well, I’m quite satisfied of the result so far, even if this surely has to be improved ! Would you have any useful advice, please let me know, all suggestions are welcome 🙂 !
§ Yann

Buy Astrakan Project debut album

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DIY Album

I pealed the potatoes : recording@home advantages


1 Comment

A recurring question is “Should we record at home or in a studio ?”. Both have obvious advantages, I won’t try to say that you shouldn’t go to a studio, but I’ll try to highlight the advantages of home recording…

Okay, let’s assume your songs are ready, and that time has come to record them for your next CD :

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The raw songs

When you start recording, you may realise you need some more practice in order to make the songs “cleaner”… If you’re already in the studio, it simply means this is too late, because you have paid to be there.

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The songs are ready !

Now, if you record yourself, you can choose whether you want to record instruments in this order :

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Instruments order, first proposal.

or this one :

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Instruments order,  second proposal.

The only way to make sure the order will be yours is to do it yourself ! Or if you don’t know, at least you’ll have enough time to try different possibilities. Don’t forget also that in a studio, one more person at least (the sound engineer with his own tastes, preferences, experience) will probably get involved into your project. This can be your own choice since he can be VERY helpful to you and make you highly benefit from his own experience and technical knowledge. This is something you have to take into account very seriously before taking your decision.

And what about the tools / softwares / hardwares you will be using ? Those of the studio are most probably far better than yours !

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Tools and hardwares, can you guess which one belongs the studio ?

The good point is that you will make all your best to get the best from your own tools (the yellow one) ! Also, it depends on what you need to record. A guitar or a voice can be recorded at home very easily. If you plan to record black metal drums with double pedal, I would strongly advise you to go to a metal experienced studio, definitely !

You need also time for recording, and the more time you spend in the studio, the more you pay, unless a powerful label is doing it for you 🙂 . And you NEED time to try different things, sounds, effects, mix etc… When time gets shortened, in most cases the final result will not sound as good as expected…

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Available time for the recording is extremely relevant !

At the end, with home recording you may end up with this :

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Your home made recording is over !

But by going to the studio you may end up with that (which is also good by the way but maybe not exactly what you had in mind) :

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The studio recording.

And the same advices should apply for the mastering !

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Did you make your mastering yourself ?

§ Yann

DIY Album

Why don’t you buy our nice-wonderful-beautiful album ?


4 Comments

We are musicians, artists, and as any artist, totally passionate about we are doing, and sometimes… well, we forget about reality, we forgot we were in 2013…

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Astrakan project world music album on bandcamp

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Long before we released our album last September, we had long talks before deciding to release it digitally or physically. Mainly for promotional reasons, including in short words “you don’t exist if you don’t have an album”, we went to the classical album. Then we did a lot of work on the cover, we also bought them all from the manufacturer, and still haven’t sold enough of pieces to get our return on investment. All that said, we somehow got very narrow-minded about the way we wanted people to access our music. We got so attached to our “album” that, kind of, we didn’t want people to get our music in any other way that on the physical CD… Sounds *silly* put that way… but it really was that way…

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Download astrakan project world music digital album on bandcamp

So, yes, we know, they are loads of very good reasons to get only digital music, including lack of space, environmental concerns, … So…

it’s now available for download, for 6€

We added single covers so that they’ll display nicely when you play them on your favourite smart phone. And we’ll lunch a very special offer of 50% on Tuesday the 30th, to celebrate the Celtic festival Beltain. Any comment? Of course you may share!

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DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Bağlama’s pitch


2 Comments

Bağlama, also commonly called “saz” in western Europe has the advantage of having moving frets, which means that fret position can be easily modified until you get the suitable music scale. Moreover, it has extra frets that enables to play notes between the common semitones that you have on a guitar or a piano. Thus, we’re entering the very exciting world of “quarter-tones” and “commas” (you can read this to learn more about this topic).

vue-saz-01
My bağlama

But those “quarter-tones” can be very different from one culture to another, or even from one performer to another. I always have the feeling that quarter-tones are very (!) high in Turkish music (more technically, I would say they’re about 50-60 cents above the lower degree, a semitone equals say 100 cents) whereas they sound usually lower in Breton music (I would say 30-35 cents. I have made some pitch measurements on Breton singer old recordings, and it tends to agree these values).

Therefore, moving frets are very convenient for adapting the instrument to the suitable scale, since you can move some of the frets upwards.

frettage-saz-01
Moving the fret to get the suitable scale

I am pretty happy of the result, you can hear it on this live recording we made in Beirut last year : An Daou Gamerad Fidel

§ Yann

astrakan breton world music on facebook

DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Using loops on stage : Trying to find the right balance


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As we use a computer with pre-recorded loops on stage (this post), we realised that we needed (and that we still need !) to find the right balance between those two following extreme situations:

  • A : The computer only provides very simple loops such as a drone or a basic beat.
  • B : The computer provides the full set of missing instruments so that we play the songs as they can be heard from the album. B-statement in our minds is this :

I must say that when I had started loop programming, we were first very close to the A-statement. Later on, as I was thinking that my programming skills and experience were increasing, we got very close to the B-statement…

The kind of music we would like to play on stage is somewhere in-between. A-statement may not be sufficient since we are in most cases only two musicians on stage (Voice and stringed instrument, except when we have guests), whereas B gives the feeling that we are not really playing but that the laptop is playing for us. Some would call this “Karaoke” !

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Our laptop, footswitch and instruments

So, we’re going back to A, but not as close as in the beginning, loops mostly consisting in drones and light rhythms. We do hope we’re on the way to find the right balance !

[ yann ]

DIY Album

How to use latency as a sound effect


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When using softwares like Ableton Live on stage, with not such a powerful laptop and a cheap soundcard, the problem is that the output instrument sounds come out with a time delay of a few ms, which can be quite uncomfortable when playing on stage.

I use this unwanted delay as a stereo effect for the stringed instruments by a very simple trick :

Instrument signal enters the soundcard by the left side. I use the direct stereo monitoring, which means that direct instrument sound is sent to the left output. Then in Ableton Live, I send all the instrument output to the right side, but it will be heard with a little time delay.

Live-01-LoopsThis gives a very interesting stereo effect that makes the instrument sound out clearer among the loops.

[ yann ]

DIY Album

16-bit or not 16-bit ?


What professional sound engineers say :

It is commonly known that professional studio recordings are made using 24-bit depth and sometimes 192kHz sampling frequency. But records that are on a CD are only 16-bit and 44.1kHz which enables a sound quality that is already far above what human ear can feel.

But then our question was :

Why the hell are they using 24-bit/192kHz although 16-bit/44.1kHz is what we use for a CD ? The answer is rather simple : when processing tools are used (such as compression or reverb for example during the mix and also during the final mastering process), low bit depth and low sample frequencies result in lower sound quality after the processing, for a simple reason : numerical errors that occur during the computations (because numerical data use a finite number of digits) get more amplified as the processing chain gets longer. Therefore it is strongly advised to record and process using the highest bit depth and sampling frequency as possible, and to convert the final result to 16/44.1 before burning the master.

But this means several requirements :

  • Much larger amount of memory
  • More powerful computers and stuff to handle this
  • High quality and expensive monitors (they can be very expensive !)

As a conclusion : much more money !

And what we do have :

In our case, we have a very cheap USB soundcard (E-MU tracker pre, about 100€), Behringer MS40 monitors (among the cheapest monitors ever, around 200€), and a laptop (a PC, not even a Mac which means no firewire) with 2GHz AMD Athlon Dual Core and 4GB RAM.

The voice and the stringed instruments were recorded with a Behringer B-1 microphone that we bought for 70€ in Portugal. We also used a Korg Pandora ToneWorks for the stringed instruments effects (Compression, chorus, flanger, distorsion etc…) that we got almost for free from my previous guitar teacher some years ago. The percussions were recorded both with this B-1 and a basic SM58 microphone.

This is what we could call a cheap home don’t you think ?

The home studio

So our conclusion was :

  • First of all, we think our monitors cannot truly render the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/192.
  • Our sound recording skills, experience and listening accuracy may not be sufficient to be able to feel the difference (it is commonly said that a sound engineer’s ear has to be trained for at least 10 years before being fully accurate).
  • Most of the samples we used when setting up the pieces (i.e. snare or bass drum samples for instance) were mostly free samples collected from the internet, or even extracted from CDs, and therefore 16/44.1 samples.
  • The recording process was already quite advanced, and we were feeling doubts growing up in our mind.
  • We read somewhere that Alanis Morissette’s first CD was recorded using 16-bit…
  • We also realised that most people listen to mp3 music on their computer or smartphone directly from youtube or soundcloud with average loudspeakers or headphones !

Then we said, let’s keep on going with 16/44.1 and let’s really try to do our best !

Can you really feel the difference ?

[ yann ]

DIY Album

When recording latency is a problem…


1 Comment

As most Cubase SX3 or any other music recording software users I have little latency problems. Of course, it is possible to set up automatic time shifts to correct this unwanted artefact during the recording sequences, by telling Cubase to automatically shift the recorded tracks by a certain number of samples backwards. However, I have noticed that latency depends on a combination of various parameters such as : the number of tracks, the number of insert effects; the CPU activity etc… which means that latency is never exactly the same from one recording to another. Well, this is quite annoying, isn’t it ?

I found a tip to correct this unwanted latency effect once I have recorded a new track :

  • I activate the tempo “click” and I get its level to the highest value as possible.
  • I put my monitoring headphones on top of the microphone used for the recording.
  • I record a few seconds of “clicks”.
“Click” recording.

Then I select the content of the new tracks including the “clicks” and I zoom onto one of these “clicks”.

Select the last recorded tracks including the “clicks”.
Set the cursor at the beginning of a measure, i.e. where the “click” should be.
Zooming…

I shift (by hand) the click to the right position it should have (like beginning of a measure).

Set the beginning of the “click” at the right place.

OK, it sounds like a grand mother’s remedy, but it works well !

[ yann ]

DIY Album

Who won ? Contest results…


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First of all, we really would like to say a big thank you to all that participated, and spread the word around. What we loved the most was to read about how you actually found the languages, some using the Internet, some dictionaries, or books, some asking friends or relatives.

We were thinking we’d prepare a fun video to announce the result, but (to keep it short) we had some technical issues. So starting with English, we also had Turkish (we’re based in Istanbul), then Breton (a Celtic language still spoken by a very few in the western part of France – in Brittany, and the language we use in our music), French, Portuguese (Simone’s family is from Portugal), German, and finally Dutch (we lived in Holland some years ago).

If you’re following us on facebook, you already got the results, if not then, among the correct answers…

Album contest
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I asked an very innocent hand…

Album contest
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To pick up one name :

Album contest
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The lucky (happy?!) winner is from Brittany.

Album Songs and Lyrics, DIY Album

The album’s out… today !


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Our album is now released !

You can buy it from here (it will use PayPal), for 12€, shipping included for any destination.

First tune is called “tri martolod an oriant” (3 young sailors, some facts and a translation here)

Promo Video & Contest

If you hadn’t yet seen, here’s a short video where we share some steps during the recording process. The sample track is the “mouezhiou“, based on a traditional dance from the Vannes’ area (South of Brittany).

If you watch carefully the video, you’ll see Yann holding a notebook with different languages statements. If you’re able to recognise those 6 languages, (appart from “the album is out” in English!) , enter the contest and get a chance to win your personal copy of the album ! If you’re following us either on FaceBook, on YouTube or here, you might already have some clues…They are all related to our personal journey, and we both can at least communicate in any of them.

Rules are very simple : (1) find the correct answer (2) share this video with your friends and let us know. Who knows? They also might like it too! (3) fill in your contact to enter the contest.

[ contest dead-line was 8th of October, and the winner was… ]

You want more ? If not done yet, you can follow our thoughts during the recording on the blog section.