Tim Tunes

3-9 Songwriting - East Tennessee Valley - Part 3

February 06, 2023 Tim Rose Season 3 Episode 9
Tim Tunes
3-9 Songwriting - East Tennessee Valley - Part 3
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Hi. I’m Tim Rose and this episode is Part 3 of my Tim Tunes podcast “Songwriting – East Tennessee Valley” where you follow along as I write and record a new song. If you have not listened to Parts 1 and 2, I highly encourage you to go back, give it a listen and then come back and listen to this episode. 

Welcome back, listeners. Over the last two episodes you’ve looked over my shoulder as I wrote the song “East Tennessee Valley”. So far, we’ve completed the basic structure of our song, then we refined and defined it better by creating a lead sheet, writing an arrangement and then recording that arrangement. In this episode well add vocals, and maybe a few other bells and whistles to our recording. Then, we’ll mix down the recording, make the master mix of the song and, finally, publish it on the web 

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[Intro]
[Intro Theme – Motor]

Welcome back, listeners. Over the last two episodes you’ve looked over my shoulder as I wrote the song “East Tennessee Valley”. So far, we’ve completed the basic structure of our song, then we refined and defined it better by creating a lead sheet, writing an arrangement and then recording that arrangement. In this episode well add vocals, and maybe a few other bells and whistles to our recording. Then, we’ll mix down the recording, make the master mix of the song and, finally, publish it on the web.

[Pod Lick]

Hi. I’m Tim Rose and this episode is Part 3 of my Tim Tunes podcast “Songwriting – East Tennessee Valley” where you follow along as I write and record a new song. If you have not listened to Parts 1 and 2, I highly encourage you to go back, give it a listen and then come back and listen to this episode. This is a continuation of those previous episodes, and the horse, as the saying goes can see the barn. Let’s get right to it. So, put in the headsets or AirBuds or fire up the stereo. Cause this is happening right now.

[Pod Lick – Big D]



[Vocals]

Part 5 – Recording the vocals.

Remember back in Part 1 when I talked about my inspiration for writing this song? I need to make sure that I’m in that frame of mind as I record the vocals. If I can successfully convey that feeling in my performance, I will have met my goals with the song and the recording.  In a way it’s a lot like acting. I need to imagine myself in that situation and put myself back on the road coming into Knoxville. 

If I don’t do that and just kind of sing along with the melody as I’ve written it in the arrangement, the song may sound dull and lifeless. In my little mind play of the song, I tend to think of the arrangement without the vocals as being like the set, the lights, the costumes, and the movement of the play. Beautiful and moving in their own way, but not as touching and meaningful as the voice. The arrangement sets the mood and tone of the song, but there is something about the voice that stirs our emotions in a way that nothing else can.

Voices are like fingerprints – no two are alike and each is unique. Whenever Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Frank Sinatra, or Nat King Cole or Paul McCartney start singing, you know right away who it is. When I was young and singing and playing in bands, we were trying to imitate, to the best of our ability, the bands of our day. I was pretty good at it and could sound like lots of different singers: Robert Plant, Elvis, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, John Denver, Roger Daltry, James and Jackson Brown – it didn’t matter who the singer was, I tried to sound like them. So, when I started writing and performing in earnest, it begged the question, “What does Tim Rose sound like?”

When we listen to our voices for the first time on a recording, the reaction is almost universally bad. This more because we don’t sound anything like how we hear ourselves in our own heads. It can take a long time to go from “Oh my gosh! I didn’t know I sound like that!” to “Hey! I sound good!”.

I needed to find my own voice, so I turned to my acting training. I developed a method where I relax and focus on the meaning of the song and then… I just sing it. I’m not trying to be any of those singers I mentioned before, although I’m sure they creep in from time to time, I’m focused on conveying the meaning and emotion of the song.

Now, this is easy to say and simple to understand, but not so simple to do. I find that it’s critical to warm up before I sing, especially as I’ve gotten older. Plus, warmups tend to relax you and get you out of the mind set of your day-to-day thoughts. They clear your mind and help you focus on the task at hand. It’s hard to perform well when you are thinking about something else, “Did I turn off the stove? Isn’t my car payment due tomorrow? Why don’t they call me back? I wonder if I’ve gotten any likes or comments on my post?” These intrusive thoughts can interfere with concentration during a performance and lead to, at worse, mistakes and at best, unintended micro inflections that distract from the performance.

And make no mistake, recording is a performance. There’s just nobody listening while you are recording.

It’s important to be able to hear yourself when recording. This may seem like a no brainer, but in hustle and bustle of recording it’s easy to miss. Especially if you are both performing and engineering the recording.


Also, unlike the days of old and analog recording, you can’t let the meters get into the red.  You’ve probably seen sound meters before. There are graphic meters that represent the sound level in a kind of bar graph and then there are needle meters that show the volume on a dial sort of arrangement with a needle moving back and forth according to the sound volume. In both types of indicators there is a red region that indicates the volume is too high. With the analog recordings (ie actual tape or record recordings) it’s ok for the sound to peak out quickly and then fall off. With digital recordings, recordings made on a computer, it is not. Both analog and digital “peaking” produce distortion in the mix. The analog distortion can produce a pleasant kind of compressive effect if it isn’t too intense. Any distortion produced in digital recordings, however, is just bad. It will introduce loud clicks and nasty, hurty sounds. It’s almost as if the computer recording the digital sound says, I have no idea how to interpret this signal, so here is something to torture you with.   

Picking a microphone

One of the most important choices that you need to make in recording voices is in the selection of the microphone. It’s important to pick a microphone that highlights the best features of your voice. So, for someone like me who is more of a baritone/bass it might seem like I need a microphone that emphasizes the bass/baritone range. This, however, is not the case. I find in general that I like the sound of my voice when the microphone is relatively flat, that is, it doesn’t emphasize any particular frequency. All microphones have some frequency variations, so no microphones are truly flat. To a certain extent, I think that it’s more that I imagine that I like a flat microphone than that I do.

Singing the melody

The next thing I do is sing to make the recording of the melody. As you’ll recall we have a recording of the melody played by the tenor saxophone that we made when we made the lead sheet. By now I’ve heard that melody about a thousand times and have it ingrained in my brain. So, when I go to record the melody all I have in front of me is the lyrics. I won’t play the melody along as I record it. I feel like this gives me greater freedom in interpreting the song. I don’t want to be locked in.

I will generally sing the complete melody from the beginning to the end in one take. I’ll then go back and rerecord any sections that I don’t like. Often, I’ll rerecord the entire song. It only takes 3 or 4 minutes. Usually after three or four takes I’m done. To make sure that the vocal is Ok I’ll listen to the entire vocal both with the backing tracks and without. This is what it sounds like without the backing tracks:

[Play first verse melody only]

And this is what it sounds like with the backing tracks:

[Play second verse with the backing track]

Now that we have the melody, we need to add any harmonies that we want. Deciding what harmonies should go where is a kind of an art form and really is a matter of taste and artistic preference. Harmonies can be used as a tool to emphasize certain moods in the song. In our case, since this is primarily a happy song, I’m using harmony to lift up the feeling of the song in certain places. You have to be careful with harmony, though.  Harmony can make it difficult to understand the words sometimes and can obscure the meaning of the song. So, use harmony judiciously and with care.

In this song I’ve decided to use harmony on the following phrases. In verse one the first harmony I have a single harmony a thirdish above the melody on the line, “I start feeling happy” in the second line and then again in the line “This flying footloose feeling”.  Next I add two harmonies of ahs behind the line, “I was born here years ago and left as a child to roam”. Then, I sing the end of the verse with just the two harmonies.

That sounds like this:

[Play Harmony only 1st verse]

When I’m recording the harmonies, this is what it sounds like. I prefer to record the harmonies without the backing tracks so that I make sure I get the harmonies right. Then I’ll add the rest of the tracks to make sure the harmonies sound right with the rest of the arrangement.

In the second verse I’ve made all of the harmonies three parters. Here is what that sounds like with the backing tracks added back in:

[Play Harmony 2nd verse with tracks]

The next big harmony section is the bridge which is done entirely in three-part harmony.  Without the backing tracks that sounds like this:

[Play Harmony Teaser]

Sounds pretty good to me.  There are additional harmonies in the last verse and of course a great big old harmony ending, but I think I’ll save those for the final mix.

Speaking of which…

[Mixing]

Part 6 – Mixing down the song

It’s been a few days since I made the last recording for the song and, hopefully, I’ve gotten the last session out of my mind. If that isn’t the case, then undoubtedly, I will mix the last thing recorded either too loud or too soft. I guess we’ll find out in a few minutes.

But before I jump in to mixing, I like to review each part to see if I want to tweak the sound quality with effects. For instance, the piano part gets a little harsh in the highest part of the solo. And the rhythm guitar sounds a little thin. Also, now that I have a nice bright bass sound, I want to explore putting some more bottom back in.

But first, I’m going to revisit the vocals. You may have noticed in the vocal and harmony examples there were some effects already applied to them. Let’s explore that a little.

[Podlick]

Normalization

While recording, it often occurs that certain parts are not recorded at the same volume as other parts. Wherever this is not my intention, I use a tool called normalization to bring the volume up. Normalization preserves the differences in volume of a particular section while increasing the volume of the phrase to the maximum level available without distortion. While this levels-out the volume it also increases the volume of any noise in the recording. And you need to be aware of this. However, Normalization makes mixing a lot simpler as you don’t have to go in manually and adjust the volume of each little bit of recording.

This is a sample of my voice before Normalization

And this is a sample of my voice after normalization.

[Podlick]

Equalization

One of the first things that I do after recording the voice is to EQ it. That is to change the frequencies that are emphasized or deemphasized by the microphone and the recording system. This process is called frequency equalization or EQ. It’s kind of backwards since what you are doing is making the frequencies unequal by fiddling with them, but so be it. With my bass/baritone voice one of the first things I do is deemphasize the lower frequencies. I know this seems counter intuitive, but if I don’t do this most microphones will over emphasize the lower frequencies and my voice will sound, well, for lack of a technical term, too whooey. This will muddy up the mix and make it more difficult to hear the voice clearly in the final mix.

I’ll show you what I mean. Here is a raw recording of the first verse without EQ or effect. I’ve left out the other instruments so that you can hear the effects more clearly.

[Play RAW voice sample]

And here is the same sample with EQ applied to it.

[Play EQ’d voice sample]

As you can hear the differences are very subtle.

This version has a very common eq filter call a high-pass filter applied to it. The high-pass filter is a very common filter. Counterintuitively, the high pass filter allows higher frequencies to pass through it and deemphasizes the lower frequencies that can muddy up the sound. Why this is called a high pass filter instead of a bass filter is a mystery to me. It almost sounds like something sound engineers do to mystify the mixing process and keep the uninitiated out. This issue is so common that most mixing boards have a high pass filter button for every channel.

Mark Baxter, a vocal coach of mine, used to say the top needs a little bottom and the bottom needs a little top when you sing. What he means is that high notes need some frequencies from your lower voice and low  notes need some higher frequencies as well. If you don’t have this then your higher notes will sound thin and reedy and you lower notes will sound thick and, well, muddy. These higher additional frequencies are what we usually call overtones. And the lower additional frequencies are called, guess what, undertones. If someone has pleasant overtones, we say that voice has a lot of resonance. If the overtones are not so pleasant then we say that voice is like most of the contemporary metal band vocalists. Just search Death Metal and have a listen for an example.
[Podlick]

Creating virtual space

At the time of recording almost everything is about getting rid of the sound of the room you are recording in. That makes the recording sound kind of dead, so we have to add back some kind of ambiance to breathe life back into the recording. There are numerous tools available to do this, but I like to use good old-fashioned reverb. Ambience comes from the sound reflections in a space where you are recording.

So, a virtual large performance hall may sound like this.

A small room may sound like this.

And this is the sound of train station.

I like the sound of a medium sized room. And I try to use just enough reverb so that it sweetens the sound but doesn’t call attention to itself.

Any effects that I use I use judiciously. Otherwise, the recording loses the feel of the performance and starts to feel artificial and flat. Everything that you do changes the quality and timbre of your recording. So, tread lightly.

[Podlick]


Balancing the Mix

Now that we’ve applied all the effects to the tracks that we want. It’s time to start balancing the mix. This is where we set the sound volume and pan levels. The pan level determines how much sound goes to the left or right speaker in the mix. I like to move the instruments a little left or right so it doesn’t sound like everything is coming from right in front of you. In this case I’ve panned the piano a little left and the guitar a little right. We’ll leave the bass slightly off-center left and the drums slightly off center right.  It’s very subtle but it adds more space and a sense of the placement of the instruments.

I should mention that I mix the rhythm instruments, the guitars, bass, piano and drums into what I call the instruments sub master. Then I mix the vocals into another sub master. Then these two channels are mixed together into the master channel. That way I can balance the vocals to themselves and the instrument tracks into themselves. Now I can increase or decrease all of the vocals against the backing track without having to adjust each vocal track.

The first thing I do is to take all of the levels to zero. Then, I’ll bring up the drums first. Now is the time to make any micro adjustments to the sound. For instance I may want to manually increase the volume of fills so that they stand out better in the mix. Once I am satisfied that the drums sound good and are not peaking, I bring in the bass. I’ll go through the same process with the bass that I did with the drums. Once I am convinced that the balance between the drums and the bass is good, I’ll add the piano. I’ll slowly bring it up until I think the balance is good. Next, I add the rhythm guitar. And then finally, the lead guitar.

While working on the track I found that it was too dense. The song needs more air it needs to breathe. So I decided to try a little experiment. After selecting the instruments I made audio recordings of each of them so that I could better manipulate each sound. Now what I going to try is to play the synths with different instruments, the piano will still be a piano and the bass will still be a bass and the drum kit will still be a drum kit, but the samples will be different. Then, I’m going to hard pan the old instruments to the left channel and the new instruments to the right channel. I’m going to attempt to hollow out the middle of the virtual space and put the vocals and guitars in there. You’ll hear it in the final mix.

Once all of the instruments have been balanced, I’ll mute the instrument sub master so that I don’t hear the instruments anymore and start working with the vocals. I’ll bring up the melody first and then the 1st harmony track and finally the 2nd harmony track.

Once I’m satisfied that the vocal track is properly balanced then I’ll unmute the instrument track and balance the instrument track with the vocals track. Now comes the most boring part of the whole process. I need to listen to the mix over and over again, looking for little tweaks to make. Also, I need to try the mix out on different speaker systems to see how it sounds on cheap little speakers and earbuds.

[Podlick]
[Mastering and Publishing]

Part 7 - Making the Master

Once the balance is complete, I’ll create a master mix by exporting the music into a single music file. The Cakewalk system stores sounds in wav format, but the wav files are too large for most streaming services, so I usually mix down to flac format or occasionally, mp3.  After checking the master mix to make sure it isn’t distorted or too soft, I’ll let it sit for a few days to let my ears clear out.

Then, I’ll go back and listen to the master and load it into another piece of software, AVS 4 You, to make the final master. I almost always normalize the master mix, and I may apply eq or compression, if needed. But usually, I’ll just trim the beginning and the end of the piece and make the final master track. Now after one more round of listening through different speaker and computer and phone systems. The track is ready to publish.

Part 8 – Publishing the Track

I use a tool called SongCast to publish my music. Unlike the old days, I only publish online, now. SongCast will distribute the song to multiple places for the song to be available for streaming and downloading. But, sadly, nobody downloads anymore and streaming just doesn’t pay. Last year I had 740 streams and sold one track. I made a whopping $5.18.  That’s one of the reasons I started this podcast, to get more people to stream my songs and, if possible, to supplement my income.

This song won’t be available online, except from this podcast and for my patreon patrons, until I publish the Rest of Tim Tunes – Volume III. You see if I publish more than three songs at a time it’s cheaper to publish them in an album as opposed to stand alone. Regardless, once published in the tool the song is available for streaming or downloading from Apple Music and iTunes, TikTok, SoundCloud, Pandora, Facebook, Tidal, MediaNet, Amazon, YouTube and Spotify, to name a few.

[Podlick]

[Outro]
Well, that’s about all the time we have for this episode. Wait, what? Oh, you want to hear how the final mix turned out? Well, why didn’t you say so. Without further ado, here is the world premiere of “East Tennessee Valley”.

[Play East Tennessee Valley]

So there, you have it. Please feel free to send me comments on this episode via Facebook at the Tim Tunes Podcast group or email me at timtunespodcast@gmail.com or if you are a patreon subscriber you can send me messages via Patreon.

Speaking of Patreon, I’d like to give shout outs to two of my donors. We’ve recently received donations from Terry Sullivan and Sally Sislak. Thank you guys so much for donating it means the world to me and helps to keep the podcast going.

By the way, my Patreon site is now up and running at patreon.com/timtunes. You can subscribe for a monthly donation of 3 dollars to become a Tim Tuna Level Donor or 5 dollars for the Tim Tunes Saints Level. 

In return for your patronage, you’ll have access to all kinds of extra content like this song. Tim Tunes Saints will have complete online access to my song library. If you choose to donate, then I thank you in advance. If not, then you can also help the podcast by liking or reposting my Facebook posts, or if you listen on iTunes please rank me favorably. That will go a long way towards increasing my reach.

How ever, you choose to support the show, I appreciate you. Thanks for listening. 

[Outro Pod Lick, [After Outro Pod Lick ends]




Intro
Part 5 - Recording the Vocals
Picking a Microphone
Singing the melody
Part 6 -Mixing down the song
Normalization
Equalization
Creating virtual space
Balancing the Mix
Part 7 - Making the Master
Part 8 Publishing the Track
Outro
East Tennessee Valley - Final Mix