Demonstrating The Demo
July 29, 2004
I want to say a big THANK YOU to all the positive feedback from the 3 songs on my website ( . I mean, I must have received at least 100 emails in just a few weeks’ time. That’s comforting to know and a huge danke to The New Guy for getting that together on such short notice. But, seeing as he runs CASTLEBLUE records, he’s used to doing things at the very last minute. Several people (who I assume are musicians) asked me about my home set-up and how I write and/or do my demos. See, setting up and breaking down gear is not only a pain but it makes it difficult to maintain continuity with your work quality. And thus, I have decided to simply say what It is that I use and how I use it. You will be shocked at how simple my set-up is, as well as how inexpensive it was to put together. NO ONE I KNOW has a set-up this cheap. But then again, maybe it’s not necessary to have the world’s greatest equipment when you are just trying to get those ideas down and you want them to sound as good as possible. And I do it all without the help of a computer.
For recording, I use a Roland/Boss BR1180CD. This is a digital 8 (or 10) track recorder. You can use up the 8 tracks, mix down to tracks 9/10, and then use the mastering program to ‘hook it up’ and then you can pop a blank CD-R in there and BAM, instant Demo. I like to record 2 separate acoustic guitars (as opposed to 1 guitar in stereo) and pan them LEFT and RIGHT, hard. THEN I like to record a slightly dirty electric guitar and pan that STRAIGHT UP. For the acoustics, I use my PPA-1 condenser microphone and for the electric I use the BR1180 amp COSM. My 2 favorite settings are the Fender Twin (with tremolo) and the Matchless (or Vox) with a Shure 57 on it. Now, keep in mind, these are COSM microphones and COSM amplifiers. But they sound wonderful, as good as the real thing (to my ears, at least) and saves you a sh*tload of time, not to mention eliminating all those ridiculous ugly wires. I also use a ROSS 4 channel headphone mixer and I own 3 pairs of AKG K-220 M stereo headphones.
I like to double vocals (sometimes even triple them) and then, depending on what I want, I’ll either BOUNCE them in stereo (like I do those 2 acoustics and that electric I spoke of) or I’ll bounce them in Mono. When you BOUNCE, it means you are playing back 2 or more tracks of music and allowing them to be recorded onto 1 or 2 empty tracks. This creates usable space. (Imagine being able to widen your closet at will and you’d have a more accurate picture of what I mean) Then I record other stuff that I want like percussion (which I use my digital keyboard for cause it’s easier and it doesn’t sound bad most of the time. If I need a real instrument I simply pull one out and record it with the microphone) or drums or sampled horns or sampled strings. Now, the way my gear is set-up makes it so easy a child could do it.
Let’s start with my mixer. This is a very good quality mixer made by BEHRINGER. It’s a EURORACK MX 602A. It’s a 4 input/6 channel mixer with 2 XLR inputs, as well as 2 post-gain knobs. What does that mean? Well, the XLR inputs are the big fat microphone inputs. All the other inputs are 1/4 inch inputs, like you see on guitar leads (cables.) I leave a microphone cable in input ONE and a guitar cable in input 3. I always keep the master and input volumes on ZERO when I’m not using them, to avoid any trouble. My mixer has PHANTOM POWER, which you need, if you plan to use a condenser microphone. I forget why but I’m sure somebody can explain it better than I can. So those 2 items are my standard setting. Now, I like to use a tad bit of compression on the condenser microphone and how much I use depends on what instrument I’m recording. If it’s vocals I tend to go easy. Too much and you can hear me breathe on the Demo. But when I do acoustic guitars I use more and this helps eliminate huge peaks and valleys that can happen with an unpredictable instrument like the acoustic guitar. The compressor I use was actually given to me by my friend (and LOVE Engineer) JOHN WOOD (who also goes by the name, John Would). I kept bugging him about compressors because I wanted to know. John owns STANLEY RECORDING STUDIOS in Venice and he’s only about a 15 minute walk from my home so I sometimes go in there and bug him during sessions. He got tired of me bugging him and GAVE me a DBX 163 Compressor/Limiter. See, the compressor ‘compresses’ the low levels and the limiter ‘limits’ the high peaks. (Think of the Compressor as your new credit card with a minimum monthly payment of $10. Now think of the Limiter as your credit card limit.) See how easy that is? And the way I utilize the DBX is I run a lead from the SEND of the mixer into the IN of the DBX. THEN I run the OUT of the DBX into the RETURN (mono return, that is) of the mixer. I then adjust the ‘effect level’ that I want and then I send a stereo lead from the mixer’s OUTPUT into the INPUT of the BR1180CD.
And that’s it. When I want to record a track, I simply touch the button of the track (let’s say track 5) and hit PLAY/RECORD. When I’m done, I listen back to it. I almost always record to an internal ‘click track’ the BR1180CD has (a click track is a metronome that is also perfectly in sync with the tracks you are recording) and this obviously makes ‘over-dubbing’ a piece of cake. So I pick another track (er, track 7?) And record while listening back to track 5. Now I have 2 parts. And you can see where this is going. Simple stuff. Now, my keyboard is a Yamaha ps-gx76 all-purpose keyboard. I use it for percussion and drums (as I mentioned ) but also for horns, strings, organs, pianos, sound effects and about 400 other things that would take forever to describe in detail. One of the neat advantages both the Yamaha and the Roland have is that I can run a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) lead from one to the other and the two pieces of equipment ‘talk’ to each other. No, not like “I, Robot.” If you hook the lead up and dial in their respective MIDI channels, you can utilize sounds from one instrument and call it up on another. I like to use the MIDI to extract drums and percussion from the Yamaha the Roland just doesn’t have.
Now, I don’t really like to use the MIDI stuff unless I am doing TV/FILM work. When I studied Film Scoring, my Instructor always made a big deal out of MIDI. “Mike, you can’t be too rich, you can’t be too thin and you can NEVER have enough MIDI.” So there you have it. MIDI is a must for Film and TV things. If you’re a real nerd you could probably do alright. Like I said, I mess around with it when I have to. Otherwise, I prefer to keep it simple and keep my mind OFF the owner’s manual and ON the music. And after everything’s been recorded, I listen carefully to each instrument and see if there are any problems like if a guitar is too ‘low-end-like’ I’ll dial out a bit of the Lows in the EQ. Then I decide what gets panned and where and then I listen to see what the levels should be. THEN I give it a good LOUD listen. Then I give it a good LOW LEVEL listen. Then I turn the system off (after first saving all the data cause I’m a dummy when it comes to that stuff) and take a walk to get some tea or a bite to eat. Because, by that point, my ears are not very good judges.
I’ll usually wait at least a few hours before I give the tune another listen. Then, if all is well, I’ll mix the tracks (could be anywhere from 4 to 8 tracks) down to a stereo mix, which is on tracks 9 and 10. Then I run a simple mastering program that has the ability to be more elaborate but I am simple guy with very simple needs and so, I use the simplest program on the BR1180CD. Then I either burn a CD (if I need to) or I am done. I can then take a copy to a friend’s computer and have them load the song(s) into their computer, rip the sound from my CD-R and convert the files to MP3 files. I’ve written, recorded, mixed and emailed songs for TV in under 3 hours. If a person REALLY needs to hear a tune, in this day and age, I can make it happen with little effort. And I like that. You can use all that extra time to watch TV, drink beer or spend time with your girlfriend/boyfriend.
And the cost?
BR1180CD -$1,000 (bought on sale on www.musiciansfriend.com)
AKG headphones -$69 for 3 (on sale on www.musiciansfriend.com)
ROSS 4-channel headphone mixer -$60 (on sale at Sam Ash)
YAMAHA PSR-gx76 -$300 (but received as an Artist endorsement, thanks to our old P.R. guy, John R.)
Pacific Pro Audio PPA-1 Condenser Microphone -$99 (on sale, amazing deal Y’all!) (
Microphone stand (don’t know the value; it belongs to Daddyo, actually)
Hohner Acoustic Guitar -$130 (Trutone gave me an unbelievable deal for this amazing guitar.
Gibson 1978 White 335 -$200 (Jackson Browne sold this to me at this unbelievable price, out of the kindness of his heart. Bless him. Every time I see him I thank him.)
Various cables/leads needed -$50 (rough estimate)
So, for just under $2,000 you too could have a simple home studio. And with computers being what they are, you could even do it for half what I invested. And still make quality music in a fraction of what it takes in big old useless and expensive recording studios that will only hand you crap, most likely. Keep it in your hands, is what I say. And I hope this helps everyone who asked.