Race Car Hearts – Yearbook Sessions

In November last year, my old thirst band mate and friend Chris Perrin, approached me about a project he was planning;

The master plan

Starting in January, Chris wanted to release a single on the first day of every month of the year. Each single would have four tracks and would follow the classic theme of ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’.

None of the songs had been chosen or recorded. Some of the music wasn’t even written but the idea was to go with the flow and record what felt right for that moment (This part has been exciting and challenging in equal measure).

Chris works full time and has a young family but he wanted to deliver these four songs a month, on CD, to the lovely people who would sign up to his ‘Yearbook Sessions’, for just a £1 per release.

It sounded so bloody crazy I couldn’t say no.

A journey begins with a single step

Tracking at the house of Perrin.

Tracking at the house of Perrin.

We got started on the first single, tracking loud stuff at Chris’s house with help from Steve Marsh (thirst, E.M.F) on bass and Steve Duffy (X-Factor eye candy) on drums.

Once the tracks were ready (or we ran out of time) I started mixing from the comfort of my box room.

Mixes OK? Print and press the CDs, hand them over to the Royal Mail.

Repeat.

Over half way…

It’s now almost July and we’re about to deliver our seventh batch of tracks to the subscribers.

Are we tired? Yes, a bit. Are we bored? Hell, no.

What’s more daunting is, when we eventually finish the December release, what mad plan will Chris come up with next?

For more information check out the Race Car Heart ‘Yearbook Sessions’ page: http://www.racecarhearts.com/#!yearbook-sessions/cqhz

Windows 8.1 and the iCade 8-bitty

I’ve recently had my eyes opened to the world of arcade game emulation.

Street Fighter Alpha on RetroArchThanks to the RetroPie project my spare Raspberry Pi is no longer spare. I’m controlling the games with an old Wii controller and PS3 controller but neither of them exude the retro feel I hanker for.

Then I saw an iCade 8-bitty controller going very, very cheap on eBay (one of these) and grabbed it before properly reading up about it. I naively assumed a bluetooth controller is a bluetooth controller. They’re not.

All bluetooth controllers are not the same

The 8-bitty pretends to be a bluetooth keyboard, this would be fine, but it sends two different key characters for each button press. This is unconventional and was apparently a work-around for iOS (for which this device was originally targetted). This also limits the 8-bitty to one controller per system, so useful for solo players only!

I have yet to get it working with my RetroPie setup (that’s work in progress) but I can happily report it works perfectly with Android 4.4.2 using Snes9x EX+ and with a bit of fiddling on Windows 8.1.

Getting it working with Windows 8.1

Pairing the 8-bitty with your Windows 8.1 machine is pretty simple (obviously you’ll need a Bluetooth receiver/dongle):

  • Click the ‘Start’ icon
  • Open up ‘PC settings’
  • Click ‘PC and devices’
  • Click ‘Bluetooth’
  • Turn Bluetooth on if you haven’t already
  • There will be a message saying ‘Your PC is searching for and can be discovered by Bluetooth devices’
  • Turn on the 8-Bitty and hold down the two centre buttons
  • Your PC should show ‘Keyboard ready to pair’ then ‘ThinkGeek 8-bitty Game Controller’ as it recognises the device.
  • Click ‘Pair’, your PC will think about it for a bit and then finally you should see a ‘Connected’ message.

So the 8-bitty is now paired with the PC, great. What now?

I’m using mine with the awesome RetroArch. It doesn’t support the 8-bitty out of the box but I did discover a very useful script (written by Scott Chamberlain, thanks!) knocked up for the original iCade. I’ve modified it to target the default keyboard setup for a fresh install of RetroArch.

You’ll need to grab a great (free) utility called AutoHotKeys and edit the default script to add the following code:

; Original script written by Scott Chamberlain
; http://gaming.stackexchange.com/users/3638/scott-chamberlain
; This script translates the iCade 8-bitty to normal button presses for use with the default RetroArch keyboard configuration.
; Press END to terminate script
; First letter is the pressed signal, the second key is the released signal
end::ExitApp
#IfWinActive ahk_class RetroArch
; Uncomment the line below to verify your 8Bitty is sending keypresses to a command window`
;#IfWinActive ahk_class ConsoleWindowClass
w::Send {Blind}{Up downtemp}
e::Send {Blind}{Up up}
a::Send {Blind}{Left downtemp}
q::Send {Blind}{Left up}
d::Send {Blind}{Right downtemp}
c::Send {Blind}{Right up}
x::Send {Blind}{Down downtemp}
z::Send {Blind}{Down up}
y::Send {Blind}{rshift downtemp} ; Select button
t::Send {Blind}{rshift up} ; Select button
u::Send {Blind}{enter downtemp} ; Start button
f::Send {Blind}{enter up} ; Start button
i::Send {Blind}{s downtemp} ; X button
m::Send {Blind}{s up} ; X button
o::Send {Blind}{a downtemp} ; Y button
g::Send {Blind}{a up} ; Y button
h::Send {Blind}{q downtemp} ; L button
r::Send {Blind}{q up} ; L button
j::Send {Blind}{w downtemp} ; R button
n::Send {Blind}{w up } ; R button
k::Send {Blind}{x downtemp} ; A button
p::Send {Blind}{x up} ; A button
l::Send {Blind}{z downtemp} ; B button
v::Send {Blind}{z up} ; B button`

Obviously this script can be modified to suit any Windows app or game. You can use the ‘Window Spy’ utility included with AHK to target specific applications (I’ve specifically targetted RetroArch using the “#IfWinActive ahk_class RetroArch” line.)

The latest version of AHK also features a cool script to .exe compiler. I’ve compiled the script above and written a .bat file to launch my script .exe and then run RetroArch straight after.

My next task is to get the 8-bitty working with my Raspberry Pi setup. I’ll report back on that as soon as I’ve made progress.

The 56 Killers have an Evil Heart

56 Killers have released another track and video from their live recording session in Jim’s loft.

The video features footage from the band’s recent headline show and because of various scantily clad ladies is probably NSFW.

However, if you’re not at work (or your work don’t care), check out the video :)

Sugar Coated Love

56 Killers have released a track from their live E.P (you can read all about the recording session here.

It’s a proper stomper, check it out.

Recording the 56 Killers

What a way to start the year; Crammed into Jim Jeffries’ loft recording a live demo for his new band, 56 Killers.

56 Killers in Jim's LoftThis was a first run out for my recently acquired recording kit. It’s nothing too fancy as I’m not doing this for a living any more but also not cutting any corners as I still have a level of quality I want to achieve.

I picked up a 2nd hand Zoom R16 from ebay as this unit gives me a couple of options. I primarily use it as a USB interface into my laptop (an i7 Sony Vaio Pro 13) into Reaper. Should the worst happen out in the field then the R16 is also a standalone mulitracker (8 in/2 out/16 channels) that tracks to a SD card (I added 32Gb) and will even run on batteries! Sound wise it’s pretty good. The only downside is the mic pre-amps, though clean and clear can get quite noisy when wound up.

As I’m limited to recording 8 channels at once I figured I needed a little utility mixer to sub-mix some mics (toms, overheads) and use as a quieter pre-amp for vocals /acoustic guitars. That utility mixer happened to be a Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB. I know Behringer has it’s haters but this little mixer packs a lot of features into a tiny footprint (and a tinier price). For my money I got 4 quiet mic pres with eq and compression. The compressors are those single knob jobbies and are a nice to have, great if used sparingly.

As for microphones, I played it safe and stuck with what I knew, a clutch of 57s and a Beta 57 (I love them on snares). I needed a pair of condensers for cymbals and acoustic guitar. After auditioning several cheapies (via sound clips on the web) I went for a pair of Behringer C4 (yeah, yeah, more Behringer gear). Again, they’re not the quietest mics but tonally they work for me.

So, back to the session; 56 Killers are a rock ‘n’ roll-a-billy band consisting of five members – Lee (Vox), Jim (Vox + Guitar), Pete (Bass), Mark (Drums) and Connor (Guitar). My channel sheet looked as follows:

  • Kick (SM57)
  • Snare (Beta 57)
  • Drum Submix L – Drum Overheads L (Behringer C4)
  • Drum Submix R – Drum Overheads R (Behringer C4), * Floor Tom (Beyer Dynamic M10)
  • Bass Amp (SM57)
  • Connor Guitar Amp (SM58)
  • Jim Guitar Amp (SM58)
  • Lee Vocals (SM55)

Space was fairly tight so I used a mini stand on the kick and drum clips for the snare and floor tom mics.

The bass (being a double bass) really needed a couple more mics but this was a live demo and channels were limited so magic would have to be worked (and was) with what we had.

I arranged the room to minimise or take advantage of bleed where I could. I put the bass amp behind the drum kit, lined up with the kick drum. This kept the bass end central in the overheads and also helped Mark to lock in with Pete. The guitar amps were placed at opposite ends of the room with Lee’s vocal mic placed in the middle-ish, off-axis to everything (ish). We used Jim’s old P.A to feed a small amount of Lee’s vocal back into the room for the band.

Set-up took about an hour and a half, (give or take breaks for bacon sandwiches) and then it was down to the band. They didn’t mess around. 4 tracks nailed.

The band plan to release the session as an EP sometime this year, I’ll keep you posted.

My New Love

Over the years I’ve used various different DAW software. Back when I built my first audio PC, I started with Cool Edit Pro (Now known as Adobe Audition). When I made the jump into the industry as a professional I worked my way through versions of Cubase and Nuendo, finally settling on Pro Tools.

This was a commercial decision more than anything. Avid had released the first native version of Pro Tools that meant that all the gear I’d acquired would not go to waste. Finally I had a ‘Brand name’ DAW I could sell to the clients.

However, I’m now far away from the world of enticing musicians through the doors and I’ve found a new love: Reaper

To be fair to myself, I did give Reaper a go back in it’s early days. It was nice enough but I saw it as a risk. The Cubase/Nuendo rig we had around then was rock solid. Paying customers have an expectation that they won’t be wasting their time with hangs or crashes.

Nowadays, Reaper has advanced massively. It has a thriving community of users and contributors that have encouraged and supported the developers to get the software to where it is today – A sleek, sophisticated product that can be customised to within an inch of it’s life.

This post isn’t intended to be a ‘hard sell’, I just wanted to mention one of the features that has impressed me in recent days – Project regions. Exciting eh? OK, well, maybe if I explain a little.

The Project regions feature allows you to apply left/right markers around various sections of your open project, you can name these regions, move them about and also specify whether they are to be rendered or not.

I’ve found this feature most useful for mastering projects for digital distribution. You can collect all the tracks of the release into one project, specify regions around each track, name them and render each track to it’s own file with one click of the ‘render’ button whilst still achieving a cohesive overall master. I think of all the time I wasted in the past just carrying out this simple process.

There’s a whole host of stuff in Reaper that I’ve yet to fully appreciate but my love for it is growing daily.

Post Match Summary

Recording with Matt and his Marvellous Mechanical Band went extremely well. We managed to wrestle seven tracks into being in a small space of time, stopping only once for an egg, bacon and sausage sandwich.

The mixes have been completed and delivered. As soon as Matt makes any of them public I’ll pop a link to them up here for you to enjoy.

The Marvellous (Festive) Mechanical Band

This weekend I’ll be resuming something that has become a tradition in past years; The annual Marvellous Mechanical Band album recording.

Every year Matt and his assortment of instruments would turn up at the studio, bash out 10 crazy tunes in 10 minutes (that’s what it felt like anyway) and leave me to pick up the pieces.

It should be great fun :)

Wahoo! First post! Hurrah!

…this is how they all start.

These website, blog things.

Dripping with optimism and exciting plans for the future.

Six weeks later all those good intentions and interesting notions are gone with the wind. You find yourself sat on the sofa, TV remote in one hand, cup of tea in the other, numbly watching the X Factor and wondering what it was you had said you would do…

THIS SITE WILL NOT BE LIKE THAT (until it is…)

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