Sunday, 30 March 2014

4 Tips For Recording Metal

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post containing tips for WRITING metal. This post is a sort of follow-on of that, imparting a few tips I've learned about recording metal, particularly in the mixing aspect.

Before the tips, a bit of housekeeping. You may notice that on the right hand side, there is now a flashy new Facebook "Like" button and a Youtube "Subscribe" button. As much as I don't like typing this, it'd help out a great deal if you could simply click on either one of these, or both if you're feeling generous.

But anyway, the content of this post. I'd imagine that some of it most people will know, but, it'll hopefully still be helpful.

Tip #1: Dial back the distortion/drive
I, like many others I'm sure, when I first started playing metal assumed that the more distortion, the heavier the sound was. For practise/jamming, crank it up as much as you like. But for recording, having a lot of distortion simply makes a lot of the notes hard to hear. This is particularly noticeable if you want to have a track with large chords with many separate voicings.
A song can still sound heavy with lower distortion settings (see Uneven Structure, their tone has a lower distortion setting and they sound massive)

Tip #2: Use at least some kind of EQ
Admittedly, it took me a while to start EQ-ing properly as I thought it was a lot harder to learn than it actually is. Knowing even a ballpark figure for the frequency ranges of the instruments you're using can go a long way. Being able to boost/cut certain parts of the sound is an invaluable tool. An incredibly useful resource for this can be found here. This contains a chart with most instruments, their associated frequency ranges, along with what effects boosting/cutting certain frequencies will give you. I refer to it all the time while recording and it helps a great deal.

Tip #3: Compression is your friend
I find that using a compressor is just as important as learning how to EQ. Compression, when used correctly, can add some much needed punch and fullness to the mix, particularly in the djent genre when used on the kick drums. If used incorrectly, it can give that strange effect where all the volumes fluctuate according to the loudest signal. This usually occurs when the track is compressed too much. Chugging chords on a guitar (especially an extended range or down tuned guitar) can sound massive if compression is applied correctly. There are plenty of online resources to learn more about compression.

Tip #4: Loud doesn't mean good
This is a mistake I made all too often in my earlier recording days. I would crank up the volume of everything in an effort to make the track sound heavy and massive. Of course, I'm sure you all realise that all this achieves is massive clipping. I now always try to have the volumes set so that they sit just a bit below that threshold at their peak. This allows for the master to be lower, giving greater headroom, no clipping and a potentially high output song.

That's all for now, these tips are merely meant as a basis for research and learning. If you take the time to learn a bit about each one (especially EQ/compression) then you will find your mixes sounding a world away from where they were, in a very positive way.

Cheers for reading, now whack those subscribe buttons!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

5 Video Games You Should Probably Definitely Play

So I play video games. A lot. Exhibit A (Through Z).Of course, I don't think of myself as an authority on the matter by any means. That would be arrogant and insane (of which I am both, in moderation). It's just that usually when I've recommended a game to someone it's usually gone down well.

I am aware that most people will have played at least one or even all of the games in this list, there are only five, but if someone who reads this decides to try one of these games then I've done my job.

Anyway, here's the list, in no particular order:

Game #1: The Legend of Zelda (Any non-handheld platform)
As will be obvious from the LINK (get it?) above, I love the Zelda games. I grew up playing Ocarina of Time and then Wind Waker, as well as the myriad of Game Boy titles (Oracle of Ages/Seasons, Link's Awakening etc.). I mention the "any non-handheld" part not because I don't think they're great games, but because the other titles are much more immersive and you get a proper feel of what Hyrule is really like. I've yet to play Skyward Sword, but Twilight Princess was just as fantastic as the others I've mentioned and any of these games should definitely be given a go.

Game #2: Warcraft III (plus Expansion)
Yes. This game marks the first  3D real-time strategy game I ever played, having played Age of Empires and Warcraft II a hell of a lot before that. It may even be one of the first 3D RTS games released. Don't quote me on that. The point is, the game is brilliant. Excellent storyline and a good role-playing aspect from the levelling up of heroes (anyone who knows me knows I basically orgasm at the mention of experience gaining). Also, the online aspect. Heard of, maybe played a game called DotA (Defence of the Ancients)? That started as a custom game on The creativity of the Blizzard community makes the online component of Warcraft III still fresh and crazy fun today. Add to that the hilarious things some of the units say when you click them too many times and we have a fucking fantastic game.

Game #3: Baldur's Gate (ANY OF THEM)
This is one series of games that I ALWAYS, without fail come back to playing for weeks on end. Obviously I love it for the experience, see above. But the story to this is incredibly well told through well written and in depth dialogue. This should come as no surprise since it is based on Dungeons & Dragons. The terminology takes a bit of getting used to, THAC0 and whatnot, but once you've learned it, it really is one of the best games I've ever played. The large variety of classes (and sub-classes) as well as the huge arsenal of spells makes this a very replayable game as no two playthroughs will ever really be identical. And now that the Enhanced Editions have been released (and almost completed by myself and my flatmate), all the minor bugs that were sort of annoying have been fixed and the whole game feels a lot more modern and even more enjoyable.

Game #4: Super Mario (64 onwards)
Noticing a trend here? As with Zelda, the handheld titles are brilliant too, but having a pad and playing it on the big screen is a lot more satisfying to me. The beauty of these games is that they make you want to kill yourself, while still coming back for more. There are some brutal platforming puzzles (Secrets in Super Mario Sunshine, holy shit) and some fun boss fights across them all, along with the classic red coin challenges. Add the pure innocence of simply "bopping" everything into oblivion and the ability to put on different hats and there's something for everyone.

Game #5: Black & White
This is one game that is unlike any I played before and unique in this list. You play a God. You have followers in villages. You gain an amazing creature as your sort of avatar (for want of a better word). Your creature can learn to do pretty much anything you and your followers can do, cast miracles, take care of villages by watering crops and such. You can be good or evil. It's wide open. The thing that impressed me most about this game was that it seemed so long and awesome, but it only has 5 "levels". There's just so much to do on each one that you don't really think of them as "levels" but more, worlds, each with their own missions. The Creature Isle expansion is also amazing and offers so much more creature development. The fact that your creature retains this development in the original is one of my favourite things ever.

That concludes my list of games you should probably definitely play. Hopefully some of you will now have a new game to play on Monday nights. And Tuesday. Also Wednesday. Every day.

Feel free to suggest me some games.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

5 Tips on Writing Progressive Metal

As hopefully some of you readers know, I write, record and produce my own "djent" (progressive metal) compositions (Soundcloud and Youtube on the right). After 2/3 years of doing this, I'm finally at a point where I am happy with the majority of material I write, as opposed to discarding 9/10 of all the riffs I write. This came as a slight shock to me, but has made playing and writing all the more pleasurable and I have learned a great deal along the way.

This post simply expresses 5 tips I've come to learn about writing progressive metal that I hope any musicians who read this can either relate to or take on board themselves.

1) Broaden Your Horizons
I fell into the trap of listening to the same bands and same songs over and over, and, as a consequence, my music wouldn't progress the way I wanted it to. I would end up writing things that sounded all too familiar, The trick (not really trick, it's pretty logical) is to simply listen to different bands. I'm not saying go way out of your comfort zone and pick up a genre you've had no experience with (though I'm sure that would help a bunch too) but (at least in the metal genre) find new bands that you would not normally listen to. I am constantly discovering new artists that write some truly excellent stuff and it has brought my writing on leaps and bounds.

2) Technical Doesn't Always Mean Good
Who doesn't love listening to a brutally difficult riff played with ridiculous precision? I do, of course. However, writing purely to try and impress people with your guitar prowess will quickly become a chore. You should write what you feel and hear in your head, if that makes sense, not the fastest, triple-picking-est music you possibly can. Step back once in a while and play a nice large chord that sounds massive. It's awesome.

3) Instrumental? Vocals? Whatever You Like
I see a lot of bands' videos on Youtube now get completely unhelpful comments like "This would sound so much better without vocals" or "I wish there was an instrumental version of this". The bottom line is, if you are happy with how it sounds, vocals or not, that's what you've created and it shouldn't be up to people to try to make you change your sound. I myself write mostly instrumental music (because I can't write lyrics for shit) and, yes, I enjoy instrumental bands (AAL) but vocals can add so much to a song. It takes skill to make vocals sit on incredibly harsh music without it being undermined by vicious riffing and if you're managing that, don't you dare stop because someone on Youtube doesn't like it.

4) Musicians Make the Sound, Not the Gear
This harks back to my "Djent Tone Part 1" post, where I mention that spending massive amounts of money on recording gear (this is particularly popular right now in the djent scene) is completely arbitrary. "That guy has an AxeFX, I've gotta get one so I can sound like him." No. I have a Line6 UX1 and use Pod Farm. This maxed out at like, £100. I'm not saying my tone is amazing, but I think it's now pretty good and sits in a mix well. It's all about how YOU play. Not how much money you blow on gear.

5) Keep Writing
This tip may seem like a cop-out  and pretty general. But it's true. Keep writing, if not for anyone else, but for yourself. I'm constantly humbled that I still get plays on my older songs on my various profiles and incredibly constructive comments. The internet, mostly, is your friend and most powerful tool. Share your music, let others hear what you're about, and someone will tell you you're doing a great job. Which you are.

These tips aren't anything to swear by, by any means, but they certainly help me, even right now when I wrote this, thinking about them was helpful. Now go write some music.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Let Us Play [Part 2]

My last post was mainly a self-promotion post about how I had started making gaming videos again. This post continues that theme, but with a few points I've learned along the way of sharing my series. 

First off, here it is: 

Now, since this game has been "Let's Played" a lot before, getting the views has been hard work. Not being a very prominent internet presence, I'm having to try and get my video noticed through all the much larger channels already having done the same thing. 

I'm not saying I'm doing this just for views, I'm actually having a lot of fun recording it, but it sure would be nice! The one thing you have to keep telling yourself is that, somewhere, there is someone who wants to watch your content. They may be in the minority, but at least they exist. 

Once I had the idea of starting to do Let's Plays, I started looking (mainly around Reddit) at advice people had for making good content and where to share it and such. I was met with wave upon wave of posts indicating that getting good views is impossible since, now, everyone, ever is making videos. I see the point these people were making, and yes, a lot of people are doing it, but that just means the idea of Let's Plays is becoming more and more popular, yes? 

This has been proven to me already by receiving a private message on Reddit, after sharing my videos around, from someone who runs their own Let's Play archive-ish website. After joining this website and setting up a profile I added my videos to it. I then received a further message from someone on that site asking to collaborate. 

This is exactly the kind of community of gamers I imagine, not the negative, elitist societies that seem to have established themselves all over the web that condemn every Let's Play they see if they have seen someone else do it before. Everything's been done before. It's just finding the right audience for your material that matters. There will be one. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Let Us Play

Having, inevitably, already failed to keep up with my weekly posts, I thought that now might be a good time to publish a new one, as I actually have something to talk about.

If you follow me on Google+ (thank you), then you may have already seen that I published a new video yesterday. After much deliberation, and waiting for a part to arrive, I am now making a second attempt at creating a Youtube "Let's Play" series. My first go, although the first part has a good few views, I don't see as being much of a success, as I chose a pretty big game and used my laptop to record.
Now that I have my desktop, however, things have changed. With decent frame rate and resolution, as well as a microphone stand so you can actually hear me, this has become something I am very excited about.

What is the series? Well, some may view it as a cop-out, I just think of it as me playing a game I've loved for an incredible length of time. Besides, if I'm "relaunching" my channel it makes sense to do a game people know surely?

The point of this post is, probably obviously, to promote the fact that I'm recording again and to ask you, the reader, to throw even a glimpse towards the video as, you know, every little helps.

But that's enough rambling, if you like the video, say so! If you don't, say so!

As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, 16 December 2013

There and Back, Again

So, again, I haven't written in a while. Uni has been hitting hard and not letting up and I've barely had time to do anything other than work.
However, the semester has now finished and I have the flat to myself for a week or so, where I'll be mostly revising for the exam period after Christmas.

As you might have guessed, the title of this post is both because of how long it's been since I wrote (see post Coming Back) and because of the new Hobbit film, which is mind-blowingly good! Being a huge fan of the whole franchise in general (Lord of the Rings Metal Medley) and growing up with the first trilogy, these newer films are an absolute pleasure to watch, to the point where I am building up excitement all year until each part comes out.

Seeing it (twice now) has given me plenty of inspiration for the album I'm writing, due to the music in the films being phenomenal. The mixing and mastering process is coming much more naturally to me now as well, which should pave the way for the second part of my Djent tone blog posts (Part 1).

I have now also become partnered with Zoomin TV on Youtube which is a significant boost to my channel and incredibly helpful (incidentally this is my channel if you want to check it out).

I'll keep up with the posting from now on as I'll have more time, as always, questions and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Coming Back

Well, I haven't written in a while, mostly because of the mountain of tests I've been thrown by uni.
With positive news,today I had my interview with a Chemistry company in Belgium. This went pretty well (I feel) so I can now stop worrying and get back to the good stuff (i.e. guitar, games, internet).

I have also finished building my custom computer and it is a monster!

 This has increased my recording power a lot, so I should be able to get more writing down for my proposed album. This has also given me more time to work on this, as I think I haven't posted for a week and a half or so, maybe two.

I am pleased to say that my Lord of the Rings medley, (here, if you're interested) has been getting a good deal of attention and positive feedback as I now have a Reddit account. I don't think I've ever seen a social site with so much user activity! This has rekindled the passion to write more music that I hope people will like, so stay tuned for more.

Again, thank you for reading, and comment below!