Hi. Last month we talked about the purpose of recording a demo tape: to get you gigs. We also touched on how to package your tape properly, but we didn’t get into how you can make a decent-sounding demo without going broke-a financial state you’re probably already in.
If you already own a four-track machine, you’ll be pleased to hear that it is possible to record an acceptable-sounding demo tape on it. I’ve heard plenty of clear, powerful demos that were done on four tracks. But, before trying to make yours, you should either get a book on recording techniques or get some advice, because recording an actual band on a four-track is a difficult thing to do well. Let me explain: you’ve only got four tracks to work with and, on many machines, you can only record on two at any one time. As a result, you may have to record several things at once–like, for example, the whole drum kit on one track and the rhythm guitar and bass together on another. You’re obviously going to have to make sure that the relative balance of the instruments is perfect. If the bass ends up being too quiet relative to the guitar, or the cymbals are too loud compared to the rest of the kit, you’re not going to be able to “fix it in the mix.”
It is possible to bounce tracks together on a four-track, but the more you do it, the more you’re going to diminish sound quality. As a general rule, bouncing should be kept to a minimum. Having said that, all those great-sounding Beatles records were recorded with a four-track (it’s all that was available at the time), and they bounced tracks like crazy. You can get good at anything, providing you work on it enough.
You’re not going to have much opportunity to do guitar and vocal overdubs on a four-track. But that’s okay: it’s best to keep things simple for a demo. To do it right, you’re going to need at least two decent mikes. I recommend a Shure SM-57 for instruments and an SM-58 for vocals. These are the same high-quality mikes used by the pros, and you can get them for about 100 bucks each. As for the space, your rehearsal space should do just fine.
If you own a four-track machine but what I’ve said thus far sounds like too much of a hassle, you might want to record your demo at a cheap 8- or 16-track studio. Inexpensive ADAT (digital 8-track recorder) studios are popping up all over the place so you should be able to find one through your local music entertainment paper. There are always ads for cheap recording places on the bulletin board at your local music or record store, so check them out, too.
Before booking time in a studio, make sure your whole band knows the songs you intend to record and can play them together as a band. Even the cheapest recording studio known to man is an expensive place to rehearse in. What you don’t want to do is get there, set up, start recording and then suddenly realize that someone doesn’t have his or her shit together. Treat your recording session like a gig: make sure your guitars have new strings on them and that everyone has spares of stuff that might break or need to be replaced: strings, batteries (believe me, there’s nothing worse than trying to find a 9-volt at 3:30 in the morning), guitar cables, amp fuses, spare tubes, drum sticks and drum heads. Even if there is a music store near the studio you’re using, you don’t want to pay for studio time while someone runs out to get whatever it is you need to continue. If you’re recording late at night or on a Sunday, the store probably won’t be open anyway. Recording studios charge you by the hour, regardless of whether you ‘re recording or not.
That’s enough talk for this column, let’s play . . . The Skronk Chord. In the previous two issues, we looked at riffs that feature notes that “rub” against each other to create an unsettling, dissonant sound. I call this skronking. This month we’re gonna learn a nasty-sounding chord comprised of two notes that, when combined, have a high skronk factor: the root and the diminished fifth. FIGURE 1 is a chord diagram of this moveable chord shape. with the root on the low E string. FIGURE 2 is the exact same chord but with the root note on the A string. As you’ll hear, these two chords sound pretty dark and dissonant, even when played with a clean tone. Adding distortion makes the picture even uglier. To make ‘em sound even bigger, you can double the root an octave higher, as shown in FIGURES 3 and 4.
A good example of this chord in action is found in the main verse riff of “Blur the Technicolor,” on Astro Creep: 2000. FIGURE 5 depicts the riff played using single notes, while FIGURE 6 shows the riff with the chord. Play the two versions back to back and you’ll hear the skronk factor added by this simple chord shape. To modulate the sound even more on the LP, I used an MXR Phase 901 bought from a junkie for ten bucks. Try using this chord in some of your own stuff, but don’t overdo it. There’s truth in that old saying about the pitfalls of having too much of a good thing.