Recording the EP

I did some shopping around for recording studios to see if I could save some money. In the end, I decided to go back to Clear Track Studios because:

  1. They had the greatest number of great-quality sample tracks on their website.
  2. The best facility and equipment that I’ve seen so far
  3. I know and like the recording engineer, Spencer Bradham

Again, my #1 criteria was the quality of sample tracks. I listened to other studios, but no one came close. The drawback was that Clear Track was the most expensive – but why settle if I could afford it? This time, with a rehearsed band and a fully-developed idea in mind, I was confident I would get a great product.

We started on Sunday, April 2 with drums and bass. Eric and Richard nailed their parts like the pros they are. We finished the next weekend with guitar and vocals. To save time, keys and background vocals were recorded in my home studio and added in the mixing phase.

We took the time to record video of the recording process. I synced it up with my single “Too Slow” to make a music video. I’ll be releasing the video in just a few days! Yay! Thanks Tim Bedinghaus for the great shots.




After a couple rehearsals, I decided on the grand master plan for producing this EP:

  1. Record the songs at my home studio (track each individual musician)
  2. I arrange and edit the music at home, send the “scratch” tracks out to the band
  3. Record everyone for real at Clear Track studios.
  4. Mixing and mastering by Clear Track, with production by me.

It’s been going well. I had to bring each person to my house once per week to record, and we just recently finished the last song.

I finally scheduled dates for us to go into Clear Track! We start tracking there in early April. This time with a definite style/sound in mind, I am absolutely thrilled about releasing this EP. The next step will be planning the release party!!!! AHH! I want to have it in late May or early June.

This whole thing is blowing a hole in my bank account. It’s also eating up all my time right now; I have late nights and burn-out weekends. It’s so worth it, though. In the end, even if people don’t really like my music, I’ll be glad to know that I created something with personal meaning.

KatAnna – the band.

Meet Eric Allaire (drums), Richard Jimenez (bass), Spencer Davis (electric guitar), and Cody Moore (keys & sax)! They are my new band mates!

A few months ago, I felt a little stir-crazy and decided I wanted to create my first EP for real. I had a few options:

  1. Do the whole thing myself: arrange, produce, perform, mix, master, promote, release… yuck. I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all those goals in a reasonable time frame. Learning to mix was really my biggest setback; it takes time and experience and focus. I wanted to get to the release part ASAP.
  2. Get a band and go into a studio: arrange, produce, perform my parts, promote, release. This is expensive, but it cuts my work in half. Time is the more difficult resource to deal with right now, so I chose this option. Another advantage is that I now have 4 connections to other friends, musical / music business advice, venues, and general support.

Cody Moore, my college marching band buddy, helped me pull the band together. At first I was honestly worried that having a band would slow me down – since rehearsals and human chemistry and blah blah blah. But if anything, it has forced me to stay true to my timeline. Also, their musical input has really taken my songs to the next level – they are so talented. I worried that there would be drama, but these guys are nice and chill. No divas (except me, of course). They’re pretty much down for whatever as long as their schedules allow.

Home Studio (6): The Desk

Harry built me a desk! It took a lot longer than we thought it would, but it came out so beautiful. Happy birthday to me!


The design: First, we visualized it. How big did I want it? Where would the monitors go? I wanted rack mounts (the speaker shelves) and a slide-out tray for the MIDI keyboard. Then, we drew it out and took measurements. Harry went to Home Depot and purchased pieces of wood and stain. He cut the pieces in our back room, sanded them and notched them. The edges came out round and smooth. He assembled the desk to make sure the pieces were cut right in the right dimensions. Then he started staining, which was the long part; the plywood was very light and absorbed a lot of stain before it would turn dark. He also took special care with the stain so it would look even and not blotchy. After about 6 weeks of that, he finally assembled the finished desk!

It makes such a huge difference to have all that working surface. I can fit all my speakers on it! And now all the wires are hidden, which gives the whole room a sleek, professional look! I would guess that a similar piece of new furniture would have cost me $1000.

Home Studio (5): Acoustic Treatment

Ugh. This stuff gives me a headache. Just look at this picture.

It’s a mess, but I have a good reason for trying. Here’s a snippet of the studio AFTER we fixed it:

Acoustic treatment prevents sound waves from reflecting against the walls and corners in the room. Unwanted reflections can cause cancellation (or amplification) of certain frequencies. For example: From where you sit, it sounds like your song is lacking in bass, so you compensate by enhancing the bass in you mix using EQ. The result is that when you listen to your mix on headphones or car speakers, it sounds muddy or boomy. It’s because room contained unwanted reflections which fooled your ears, so you over-compensated.

The problem with Google is, anyone can put “facts” on the internet (like me, right now!) So if people have different opinions, how do you know which one is right? I’ll just tell you what I’ve tried so far.

1. Your (Mixer’s) Position

Your head should go in the center of the room facing the shortest wall. Being centered is important for a symmetrical stereo image, blah, blah, etc. Google how and where to place your monitor speakers. They should be in an equilateral triangle with your head.

2. Acoustic Panels and Bass Traps

At first I tried to wing it by slapping up foam everywhere. I poured money into those silly-looking foam pads because I was too lazy/cheap to go for the real panels. As you can see, that looked ridiculous.

We built the acoustic panels at home. You can buy 2′ x 4′ x 4″ acoustic panels for about $60 each from Acoustimac (right here in Tampa), or you can make 6 of them for around $150 using plywood, foam, a hammer, nails, and a staple gun. You can buy the rockwool insulation from Home Depot or a box of Roxul from Acoustimac (it’s $60 for 6 pieces of 2′ x 4′ x 2″ foam.) You can purchase the canvas fabric from Joann’s. 

To learn how to build acoustic panels yourself, Youtube it. Here is a video that I enjoyed:

3. Where to Place the Panels

Google how to use the mirror method to find reflection points.

First, I planned out the room. I drew the dimensions in Microsoft Excel. In the drawing on the left, the red panels were bass traps– thicker corner protection against low frequency reflections. The gray acoustic panels were my second priority, and the blue ones were lowest-priority (not really necessary to get a good mix; these were more for recording a loud drum set, or just aesthetics).

When you are done, make loud noises in your room and see if you hear any echoing or ringing. If you do, you may need to move a panel or add more treatment.

I’m very lucky to have a handy man at home. While renovating the panels, we decided to paint the room red. Here are some photos! It’s still not finished, but it’s a lot nicer than it was before!


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Home Studio (4): Microphones – Condensers vs. Tubes vs. Dynamic

I scoured pawn shops and Craigslist, searching for that magical, affordable microphone that would capture my voice exactly the way I wanted. You can do a lot with just a cheap mic, EQ and compression, but I wanted to go to the next level. I have pretty aggressive vocals, and I wanted them to cut through a mix without cutting someone’s ears off.

Choosing the right mic can get complicated. Which type of mic did I need? Again, I’m no technical expert so I’ll speak in the simplest terms.

Dynamic mics are ideal for live performances; they handle aggressive sounds well and they’re good for avoiding feedback. The Sennheiser e835 is my dynamic mic of choice for live gigs. Why? Guitar Center let me test it in-store against a Shure SM58, and I liked this one better. It was the first one I bought and I’ve never had a reason to change.

Condenser and Tube mics are more common in recording studios. For my style of music (mostly pop), they capture a high level of detail that shines through in recorded tracks. If you want to know the difference between a condenser and a tube mic, Google it. Nice tubes have a reputation for being “more musical” because they can handle sudden volume spikes better than condenser mics – in other words, transients are less harsh. This opinion is based on what I’ve read and heard from different people.

Different microphones have different frequency responses. Some mics compliment a high/bright voice, while others might make one sounds hissy or shriek-y. Since every mic and every voice is different, experimentation is the only way to find your true love. For pop music I use a forward, bright voice. I didn’t want to spend over $1000 on any microphone, so that U87 crap was out of the question.

Here are all the mics I’ve tried at one point or another (they are all condensers, unless specified “tube”):

  1. MXL 990
  2. MXL 991
  3. MXL V67i
  4. Rhode NT1-A
  5. Rhode NTK (Tube)
  6. AudioTechnica AT4033
  7. AKG C414
  8. Studio Projects C1
  9. Neuman TLM-102
  10. Avantone CV-12 (Tube, modified)
  11. SE 2200-A IIC

The mics I use primarily use for vocals now are the Avantone and the SE. The SE is my favorite, and was relatively cheap (about $300?) I heard that Amy Winehouse used it once – what other convincing did I need? Out of all my mics, the SE requires the least amount of vocal processing in Logic in order to get the tone and clarity I desire. I adore this mic. Again, what works for me might not work for a warm-sounding male singer.

At Clear Track studios, they used a tube mic on my vocals and swore that tube was the only way to go. So I bought into all the hype and purchased the Avantone CV-12 to try it out. I modified it with a different tube and capsule (actually, Harry did this for me because he has better soldering skills). It’s nice, but the SE still requires less vocal processing in my rookie opinion. I hold on to it because it’s pretty, it’s a tube, and maybe someone else will come over and sing on it. So there you go.