Updated: Dec 13, 2021
In volume one I left you just as I was about to head out to Vancouver, BC to attend the Art Institute of Vancouver for Professional Recording Arts. I had been playing as the lead singer and guitarist in a prog-punk-rock band called Effluo back in Lethbridge and things went alright for a few years but eventually life got in the way. Shane, our bassist, had a beautiful baby girl and Jacob got the itch, as he often does, to find greener pastures in another city. I didn't really tell them at the time but our band splitting up really got to me. We still remained best buds but, separated in a couple cities, I got pretty depressed after we split. It felt like the wind had been taken out of my sails and I was adrift in a sea of 9-5pm melancholy and creative frustration.
That's when I first learned that running a band is tough! We went from recording our first ever EP in our best friend Donovan Howell's basement to playing no music and being off on our own life journeys, which seemed to be leading further and further away from the music. We had just spent months recording 4 songs, playing battle of the bands and writing new songs, and now... we were in our early 20s with no direction and the dissonant echo of our prog-punk-rock songs echoing loudly between our ears and in our hearts. What happened? We had just started and now it was ending...? Or "on Hiatus" as some bands like to say - us included (still on "Hiatus" BTW). It was a tough pill to swallow but it wasn't all for not.
The process of making our first EP was so thrilling, inspiring and educational. Donovan was using our EP, "Incipio Quiritimo" as a practicum for his Digital Media Arts Diploma from Lethbridge College and he taught us a lot about recording music. Using GarageBand, a bunch of College rental microphones, a four channel mixer, and a 2 channel A/D interface we learned how to record. Mostly the basics, but it set the foundation for a new way of looking at, hearing, understanding and feeling music. Baffling, sound proofing, microphone placement, room noise, reflections, fan motors, dynamic or condenser microphone? Gibson or Fender? All things I had never really considered at the ripe age of 18 but that I was now sure must have been considered by the Grammy and Juno award winning engineers and artists that had made the music that filled my soul. It was like a new discipline was unlocked in the RPG of life and my ignorant brain was humbled to realize how much I still had to learn.
Looking back with multiple awards in sound engineering, a couple albums & singles and a diploma in Professional Recording Arts it's funny to realize just how many mistakes we made. The tracks were so noisy, the timing was all over the place, the effects and processing were... well they were 2005 GarageBand at best and the mix was clouded, quiet and totally unmastered. Granted it was recorded in a basement with no treatment by green thumb 18 to 20 something's but our passion was firmly in tact. We had an actual physical CD with a design and everything. To my starry-eyed brain this was a massive accomplishment and, honestly, it was... It is - for anyone. To really put yourself into a recording which in today's digital world could last for thousands of years and be found by anyone with a connection is big deal. Maybe not to everyone else but you've essentially immortalized yourself in some small way and that's not to be taken lightly.
As the high of a CD release party and pattering out of family and friend's "kind" reviews faded away I was left with a deep sense of dissatisfaction. "Is this what we sound like?" I remember thinking. The objectivity offered when you can hear YOURSELF is incredibly valuable but can be very disheartening. As time went on it became harder to listen to the recordings because my standards kept growing and my ear kept getting better. I remember thinking, "I can do better... can't I?" but soon the band "went on hiatus" and I started working in the restaurant business as a cook while my music aspirations seemed to be fading.
Then, one day, not long after my, then, girlfriend decided traditional University wasn't for her she came across an ad from the Art Institute of Vancouver online and decided to request more info on a Digital Film and Video diploma. As she was describing what she'd found I asked if there was a music or recording diploma and as fortune would have it, they had the Professional Recording Arts diploma so we requested one of those as well. I owe a lot to her for having the initiative to apply for more info because it was a fork in the road which led me to where I am today. I believe this was summer or fall 2007.
By the time winter came around that year the info packs had come and we were both interested in moving to Vancouver to go to school so we set up a call with an admissions administrator to learn more. One evening my family and I gathered in the living room around my iPhone 3 on speaker phone to discuss the program. Then the number dropped - $34,000+ for a two year intensive diploma... I had some money saved from working in the kitchens and painting houses but not 34K plus rent, food, transit... It didn't seem possible but my parents had been saving for my education since I was a baby so they offered to help, as did her parents and with the little savings and belongings we had we made our way out west on June 30th, 2008.
What I learned out west from Grammy and Juno winning teachers changed my life and my career forever. I continue to use what I learned to this day along with a bunch of advanced learning I've had to do to keep up as technologies, my music and the many processes continue to evolve. I'm happy to say that I've come to a place as a musician and producer where I am capable now and adaptable for what is to come - but it wasn't always this way.
My recordings got better over time through professional training, trial and error after error. So in order to help you avoid starting where I did with weak vocal recordings full of lots of flat notes and unnecessary noise I wrote a blog post dedicated specifically to improving your vocal recordings called:
How to: Record Clean Vocals, De-noise your Tracks and Correct Pitch Using "Flex" in Logic X.
I hope these tips help you make your recordings sharper, clearer and full of character. In the next addition to the blog I'll get more in depth with some of the initial critical lessons I learned in my first few months in Vancouver and give you some tips and tricks again to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made as a novice audio engineer.
Before I go I want to wish you well on the path ahead and gently point your attention towards a great book by Daniel J. Levitin called "This is your Brain on Music." In the book Daniel J. Levitin explains the mechanism of sound and music in the brain and how it affects our neurology, hormones and biochemistry. A very fascinating read I was turned onto during my time at the Art Institute. Here's a link to the book on Amazon:
That's all for now, folks. If you enjoyed what you read or found some value in it please leave a comment & subscribe to the site to stay up-to-date with all of the newest posts, news, tips and announcements.