“Terminal”

Okay, here is a song I recorded today. I’ve been going at it for about 12 hours now so I’m pretty pooped.

The song is called, for the moment, Terminal. The music is actually the first song I ever wrote on guitar, back when I had just moved to Somerville with the boys (I think Wing came into my room and asked me if I was writing a song, and I rudely replied “no!”, totally embarrassed. That was the first and last time I ever lied to Wing…). I finally wrote some lyrics for it and fleshed it out this spring.

Terminal | lyrics

Some notes:

  • I play the normal instruments on it: acoustic, electric, bass, a bit of keyboard, and of course the vocals. I still haven’t recorded my mandolin! This isn’t a mandolin song, though. The next one I have planned should be…
  • I had a lot of fun playing some crazy bass parts. They’re mostly during the chorus, so they’re pretty hard to hear, unless you’re wearing headphones. That’s probably good — I think the bass line is almost too busy.
  • No harmonies! Normally I love ’em (see, for instance, this song), but this time… didn’t happen. But ooh I love harmonies…

This must be my most frequently-updated LJ week of all time. Back to work for me… maybe no new entries for a while.

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12 Responses to “Terminal”

  1. i like it

    (hopefully constructive) criticism:

    the processing on the vocals is a bit heavy handed for my taste. i get the feeling that you’re doing this to try to mask “how crappy you think your voice sounds”. but your voice doesn’t sound crappy. i think a little more musical honesty would be a good thing in this case. i’d dial it back a bit if i were you. (note that this is highly subjective, but i’d say most of the best vocalists have highly personal, non “pop star” voices – that’s a big part of what makes them great. tom waits, for example.)

    also, what kind of mic are you using to record the vocals?

    i love the simplicity of the bass in the first verse. to make it even better (in my view): turn the volume down and pluck harder. i want to hear a little more of that initial transient at the onset of each note. i think it will help keep the listener’s interest just a tad more. i’d also like to hear a version in which the bass doesn’t change notes until the very end of the verse. i know it’s following the chord progression, but a little tension is your friend.

    you play bass fills with the mindset of a drummer playing tom fills. the same rythmic patterns, the same accent patterns, etc. this is fine, but the result is that sometimes during the chorus, the bass and drums coincide in conception to such an extent that the forward motion just sort of pauses for a beat or two. i think a more linear (which might mean somewhat simpler) conception of what you’re doing with the bass line would help the song a lot.

    did you ever hear the band “the humming” play when you were at harvard? their bass player, a friend of mine from high school, has about the best concept of how to move a song forward of anyone i’ve ever heard.

    • aj says:

      Re: i like it

      Hey, thanks for the comments. Some more info….

      “processed vocals”: I assume you mean the chorus, since there’s virtually no processing on the verses (except a little reverb to counteract the fact that I’m recording in a 10×12 room). For the chorus, I actually didn’t do that because the vocals sounded bad; I did it because they were getting lost in the mix and I couldn’t figure out how to get them heard without just pumping up their volume (which sounded ridiculous). Also the lyrics for the chorus require it to be just a bit dreamlike… and I had no idea how else to do that. Basically I think my problem is that I have no producing or engineering skills — I have no idea how to record well, or mix well, or achieve a desired sound. Hopefully this skill will come with practice.

      I’m using condenser mics for vocals (MXL 990) and instruments (MXL993), with a tube preamp (Behringer MIC200 Ultragain). They’re not the most high-end (in fact, I got the mics for really cheap), but they definitely sound a lot better than what I used to use.

      Bass playing: you’re definitely right. It should be more simpler, and more nuanced. There were a couple of problems: 1) I’m not very good at bass. So plucking (tapping) hard while getting an even sound is really hard for me. 2) It’s really fun to play bass. I get carried away sometimes :). 3) Due to lack of time, I recorded all the instrumental tracks first, before recording any vocals. So even though I knew how the vocals went, I still had this compulsion to make the instrumentals interesting. Which resulted in way too much fooling around, and not enough of actually playing the song.

      For example, here is the second chorus without vocals (slightly remixed to bring the electric guitar to the foreground):
      Terminal instrumental
      You might want to listen on headphones. It sounds nearly like a real instrumental track (except with poor, recorded-in-a-day musicianship :), one that wouldn’t have any vocals. Clearly I have to exercise more restraint in the future…

      I think a lot of people use the bass as a percussive instrument, to enforce the rhythm as much as the tone. But on second lsten, you’re right: I think it would benefit from more independence from the drums.

      • Re: i like it

        one way to get the lyrics heard without pumping the volume: dial back the non-vocals tracks a bit between 2kHz and 4kHz (where the first and second formant frequencies of human speech are), and possibly boost those frequencies somewhat in the vocals. this will (usually) make the vocals more understandable without making them “louder”. plenty of other ways to do it, of course.

        • aj says:

          Re: i like it

          That’s a good idea. Perhaps I’ll try it for my next song. Scheduled recording time: early August.

    • aj says:

      Re: i like it

      Oh also, never heard “the humming”. I guess they’ve disbanded by now?

      • Re: i like it

        yeah, they’re no more (sniff). the bass player (a friend from highschool) and the keyboard / trombone / flute player were both class of ’99 at harvard, lived at the center for high-energy metaphysics (i always loved that name). i’ll post an mp3 or two for you when i have a chance, but in truth, they’re one of those bands that you really needed to see live to fully appreciate.

  2. lastquestion says:

    Good song! I like. Some comments (all IMHO): Good levels for all the instruments, although the total overall volume was a little low. (I had to hit volume up quite a couple of times on the thinkpad). The vocals in the chorus were too processed compared to the rest of the song. However, I also see your problem with the vocals getting lost. But, maybe what you could do is boost the vocals a few dB. Shrug.

    • aj says:

      Glad you like it! Yeah, the volume was a little low. Originally it kept redlining so I decreased the recording volume, a little too much, apparently. I just amplified it 5db and re-uploaded it… enjoy :).

      Yeah. Hopefully for the next song I’ll be better at mixing. I think I’m slowly getting better each time…

  3. Terrific song!

    You’re so frickin’ clever, man. Sounds great! (I’m really sorry I broke your foot rest thingy.)

    • aj says:

      Re: Terrific song!

      Hah, thanks. It appears that my life is so tame that I have to make up stuff (e.g. songs) to keep it interesting. You, on the other hand, are a veritable gold-mine of humorous goings-on. Your latest post was just as quality as the previous one. (I laughed out loud at the MILF line.) Keep it up!

  4. Anonymous says:

    song

    that was fun! when does the album get released?
    ~sarah

    • aj says:

      Re: song

      Haha, it gets “released” when I finally get a chance to record all the songs in my head! Right now, based on how things have been going, that’s going to be in like 2008 :).

      How’s your busy life going? I’m looking forward to your party!