020 R&D – The Mixing Sessions: Rounds 1 and 2

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In this episode, me and my homie chat about the mixes. Click the playhead above to check it out!

Help us raise some dough for our upcoming album release! Click on the image below to access our Kickstarter (note that Kickstarter donations can only be processed via desktop or laptop, not mobile). Thanks for your support!

Impermanence by Deer Leap – Album Review and an Audio Interview with Guitarist, Matt Hunter

ImpermanenceToday’s episode is about a band who has just released a full length album. I interview good friend and guitarist Matt Hunter of Deer Leap, and we talk about their newest release called Impermanence. We also talk about the recording process, the mastering process, and everything else that goes with an album launch. Click the playhead above to listen to the podcast interview.deerleapDeer Leap is a post-rock indie band from New Hampshire. They have a finely crafted atmospheric, yet driving sound made up of arpeggiated guitars, crisp, popping bass lines, dynamic drums, and melodic vocals that evoke feelings of reminiscence. Their style builds upon itself in an epic kind of way and then breaks into catchy, but subtly-delivered harmonies and chants.

Impermanence – Album Review

Impermanence manages to capture a vibe that it maintains throughout. Guitar lines and vocals carry tunes while drums and bass hold down steady, sometimes-syncopated rhythms that make for dynamic mixes. Each instrument is clearly defined and everything sounds intentional. Vocals compliment the music, adding melodic goodness to the overall sound.

One standout track is “Looking Glass Station”. Delay effects in the treble set a soothing soundscape while the song progresses into a funky-type break in the middle of the composition. The title track (following immediately) kicks off with an oddly-comforting dissonance that eventually falls in to a pleasing bundle of chords and rhythms.

With a modal character that doesn’t let up, the music accomplishes what it seems to set out to accomplish. The album reaches its climax on track eight, “Go Big. Go Home” when catchy meets calm. The lyrics suggest a sense of desire  for something greater when they plead, “Just once I’d like to be more than a memory…” with the rhetorical response, “I know, I know” as if the plea is immediately answered with a solution of musical resolve.

An overwhelming feeling of calm is present throughout (even though, I bet their stage-show is anything but calm). You wonder if Deer Leap knows something about life that we don’t know. Themes are repeated with intricately-weaved guitar work that sets like a back drop for the rest of the sounds.

Impermanence is a solid listen from front to back. Thirty-two-ish minutes seem to go by quickly when you’re listening. Deer Leap music and merchandise is available at the links/locations below.

You can get in touch with Deer Leap via their Facebook page or email deerleapmusic@gmail.com.

-Rollz

019 R&D – Album Launch and Discussions About The Podcast Format

The album will be available for online streaming and downloading on Friday, September 2, 2016!

However, if anybody wants to get their hands on a CD before that date, we will ship one to anyone who donates at least $10 to our Kickstarter campaign. Click on the image below to access our Kickstarter!

kickstarter


Thanks for the support and we can’t wait for you to hear our new stuff! Enjoy the podcast by clicking the playhead at the top of this post and make sure to subscribe on iTunes!

AlbumRelease

-Rollz

018 R&D – Reaction To GZA’s (from Wu-Tang Clan) Perfomance

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We went to see GZA perform at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. Doors opened at 10:30 PM, but GZA didn’t go on until around 1:00 AM which is typical of a rap show. Either way, it was worth the wait because he put on a great show. He came on stage to perform his album Liquid Swords in its entirety and it was definitely cool to see.

Wu-Tang Clan has been a major influence of Rollz and Dice mostly because of the way they approach music making and developing concepts. The group consists of multiple emcees all of which were individual but tied back into the core concept that was birthed by GZA and RZA. They had a fascination with Kung Fu movies and turned it into a concept that launched the careers of all the members. I am mostly fascinated with the way they allowed the Wu-Tang brand be a vehicle for not only music, but for movies, clothing, books, and other things. In fact, RZA explains in his books. Here are the links to those books:

I recommend reading these books if you’re a fan of Wu-Tang because RZA dives into a lot of the stuff that went into making their records and brand. Anyways, RZA explains in these books that GZA was the source of a lot of the knowledge that the group was kicking. It showed at the concert because GZA was every bit calm and collected on stage. It was clear that he was a professional and really good at what he does because of his sense of calm on the stage.

In this episode of the podcast, Dice and I chat about the show and how GZA continues to be an inspiration to us today. Check it out by clicking the play button above and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast! Oh yeah, and below is a playlist with the Liquid Swords album for your listening pleasure.

GZA Liquid Swords

-Rollz

017 R&D – California Sessions Part 2 | Rollz and Dice Climb A Mountain

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After we finished with California Sessions podcast part 1, we decided we needed a fresh pair of ears since we had been in the lab all day and were in a bit of a fatigue. Also, we acknowledge that we can get attached to our work in a way that is biased since we generally spend a lot of time in the studio.

That was when we recruited my lovely girlfriend Leah to take a listen and her first reaction was regarding some minor mixing that we addressed and her second reaction once we fixed the mix was that this “intro” sounded more like an “outro”. Dice and I thought about it for a minute, took a step back, and realized that she was right! Everything about it was more like an outro! We set out to make a few minor tweaks to the mix and ended up making the actual intro an extension of our first track. That wrapped up our first couple sessions and we took a breather over the weekend.

When Monday morning rolled around, it was time for the vocal session. This session was a grinder. We got levels so we could have consistency throughout as far as input gain and sound was concerned. Using two Shure SM57s, we took vocals. Although these mics aren’t traditionally used for studio vocals, we love using them because they tend to isolate sound relatively well. It also happens to give us the sound we were looking for to record vocals at the same time which is one of the things that we like to do on our tracks. We’ve always liked the performance sound to come through on our recordings.

We decided to record three takes and if we needed any punch-ins, we would focus on that after. This turned out to be a good strategy as we didn’t dwell on any one track too long. Once we made it through all the tracks, we hung it up for the day and were ready to move on to the scratch session and vocal overdubs.

After the grueling vocal day, we were able to have a more laid back scratch session the following day. These takes were were when we were using both Serato records and the Rane SL2 for our signature “warehouse funk” cuts as well as the classic Redman and Chuck D cuts that litter Dice’s record collection. We went from front to back and put the scratches in between the vocals and tastefully throughout. That was super fun!

Next up was the overdubs. This was also relaxing and easy because all we needed to do was add layers and back up our existing vocals. It went really well and we recorded more than we actually needed. We purposely did this so we could pull out the extraneous vocals in mixing. It would be easier to take away then it would be to add in this particular case.

Boom! We bounced the rough cuts and listened on a different set of speakers taking mental notes from our initial impressions. We are now sitting on the raw tracks ready to mix! Both of us decided the mix sessions will be done over the coming weeks and will be discussed over the coming episodes of the podcast.

Other than one more touch up session, we wrapped up with our California Recording sessions the day we recorded this podcast! Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks!

-Rollz

016 R&D – California Sessions | Recap of Dice’s Arrival and Session One

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Our first studio session together in California was fun and I will get to that, but first I want to mention what lead up to it.

Dice arrived and we went straight to an open mic/karaoke restaurant where we performed one of our new songs and one of our old songs. Since we hadn’t performed together in 6 years, we were a little rusty, but it was fun anyways. We realized some of our instrumentals were in need of some leveling and other mixing so that gave us some more to do in our upcoming sessions. We rehearsed a bunch more after the open mic as we were really starting to get the feel for the tracks again.

The next day was the photo shoot and it couldn’t have gone any better. We made it in and out with everything we needed. Then finally, our first studio session arrived! We woke up and before getting into the session itself, we just kind of relaxed and talked about how we wanted the sessions to flow. We settled on the idea that we would start from track one and work our way forward. So the intro it was!

We spent the first couple of minutes booting up the systems and whatnot and Dice mentioned that he wanted to retake the sample so we sat there and got levels. I was hearing a hum while I was gain-staging and Dice said it was because we needed to ground our turntables to the mixer.

Of course!

I began tearing up headphone wires and splicing them together to get something going, but it just wasn’t working. Finally, we just decided one of us was going to be the conductor to get rid of the excess sound. Dice grabbed the metal on the turntable with his left hand and the metal on the mixer with his right and we took one minute and forty seconds of a sample with virtually no noise! Probably not the best way to do it, but sometimes in the studio, it’s whatever works!

Boom! New sample taken and we were ready to sequence. We already had a demo for the intro so we were able to freeform a little bit. I lined it up and had the idea to sample the last piano chord from our first record to be the first chord of the second record. Additionally, the original sample contained some piano noodling, so I replaced that with my own piano performance where I imitated the baseline from the upcoming sample.

Then, the magic began.

We added a few echos and loops and we were onto the scratching. This was really the moment of truth because the reason we got the Rane SL2 was so we could DJ the record. (For more information on the Rane SL2 and Djing the record, visit www.rollzanddice.com/ranesl2). Anyways, I pressed acapellas from our session with Greyface (our in-house comedian and hypeman) from the first record and from the East Coast session where Millie and Dice recorded Greyface. We got Dice on the wheels of steal and had him drop the needle like he was old school DJayin’ it, performing with wax, except now he’s able to use timecode records.

We had a couple of technical issues that caused some dropouts on my Mac mini that was running 8 GB of RAM so we switched to the MacBook Pro with 16 GB and that did the trick! We got the scratch session done quickly and decided it was a wrap!

Check out the podcast episode and check out some dope photos at at www.aaronkbaker.com.

 

015 R&D – Initial Reaction To The RANE SL2 Serato Interface | DJing The Record

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So Dice and I have discussed, nay, dreamed about being on wax since the outset of our group in 2009. In the past seven years, we haven’t been able to make it happen unfortunately because of the high overhead costs of pressing to vinyl. You essentially need to pay for a minimum of 100 records to even have these copies made (or you have to know somebody). This makes sense though, because of the delicate/expensive pressing process. Totally cool though.

However, coming from listening to the likes of Slick Rick, Gang Starr, Lord Finesse, and others like that, I was used to hearing the DJs scratching the voice of the rapper who is actually rapping on the track. They were able to do this because the record labels would press acapellas of their vocals from previous records or they were just using previous records. Dice and I never got our first album on wax (yet), but fortunately we were able to come up with a smooth alternative thanks to technology.

In the podcast episode at the top of the page, there is a clip of me telling Dice that I got my hands on a piece of technology that allows us to scratch our voices on our album without having to press vinyl. His reaction is priceless! Then, I describe how I made my decision to purchase the interface (Rane SL2) along with some of the process I went through while setting up. Additionally, I made a video of me unboxing the Rane SL2 and setting it up. Check that video out here:

Before buying the Rane SL2 Serato, I ensured that it would be compatible with my current computer and operating system by checking the specs and minimum hardware requirements at the manufacturer’s website. I have a MacBook Pro and OS X version 10.8.5 so I was in the clear. 
 
Once I got the product, I unboxed it and the first thing I had to do was install the drivers and software that came with it on CD ROM. The installation of drivers is often overlooked in the process even though it’s super simple. Drivers are included on the CD ROM disc, but can also be downloaded from www.serato.com at anytime. The first thing I always do when I get a piece of hardware is go straight to a search engine and type “Rane SL2 USB Driver Downloads” (obviously replacing “Rane SL2” with whatever hardware unit I am using). Doing this generally directs me to the website to download direct from there so I know I have the most up-to-date info. Essentially  it’s like installing a printer for the first time on a computer; you just need to make sure the computer knows what device it is talking with. 
 
So I downloaded the drivers and the next thing was the Serato DJ software. This was another super simple install as It’s just like installing any other piece of software. Once I was finished, I checked my Audio MIDI setup to make sure that the drivers were properly installed and they were, so I selected the Rane SL2 as my audio input and output. 
 
At this point, I could finally get to the hardware! I took the main unit out of the box first, shut down my computer, and plugged in the interface to my Macbook Pro via the included USB cable. I restarted the computer and immediately, the blue light of success came on and I knew I was golden!  
 
I got so excited and I wanted to try it right away even though my buddy Aaron Baker hadn’t brought over the direct drive turntables that we were eventually going to use to do the official testing. I instead grabbed the only turntable I had which was belt driven. Not the kind you generally use for this. Not the type of table for scratching, beat juggling, or mobile DJing. Nope this is purely for listening, Here is a picture of a turntable NOT to use with the Rane SL2: 

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My Numark PT-01 USB Turntable is great for listening, not so great for scratching. 

I still wanted to test the new gear so I used it anyways. I continued digging through the box and came across the other four stereo RCA cables, the control CDs, the rubber feet for the SL2, the quick start guide and Serato DJ Manual, and BOOM!! There they were like two plaques waiting to be framed! The time code control vinyl records! This is what it was all about for me. As soon as I saw those, it became real. The SL2 comes bundled with two of them. This is the real magic of what this device does in my opinion. Now we can utilize Dice’s DJing skills with our own recorded voices! Here’s how the signal flow works: 

  1. The time code vinyl goes onto the turntable just like a normal record would.  
  2. Drop the needle.
  3. The signal goes out the phono outputs from the turntable go to the inputs of the SL2 using one of the RCA cables. In this case, we have set the SL2 to phono (not CD) since we are using turntables. 
  4. Conversion of the electrical signal occurs, transferring it into digital using ones and zeros (just like the Matrix! NEO!!) 
  5. The USB cable carries the impulses made on the turntable (scratching) into the computer where the Serato DJ software allows you to cue up any ole’ piece of music or sound effect. 
  6. The USB cable then carries the signal BACK to the SL2. 
  7. At this point, the signal can be sent out to you standard DJ mixer or just any old mixer! In my video example I just used a regular 8 channel mixer to do the testing.
  8. The sound is mixed like any other live sound! 
     

Now, I’m coming from a non-DJ background so I don’t have a traditional DJ mixer with a cross fader at the moment. Dice and Baker have those. I plugged directly into my 8 channel Harbinger mixer that I have laying around, plugged in my headphones and there it was! I was able to connect the vinyl turntable as a controller for my digital software. 
 
This for me, was a big deal. This means we can DJ our record as we write it! This will allow for bigger picture decisions like tempos and track flow on the fly! I’m pretty excited to continue to dig in more! 

Speaking of digging in more… I have a lot of it to do! But if you are trying to make a decision about whether or not to get the Rane SL2, listen to us chat about how we are making use of it in the podcast at the top of this page. In the podcast, we discuss how we can use it to record our voices and scratch them into the song any time we please! We don’t have to wait for the vinyl press of our acapellas to come back from the mastering plant anymore! Just kidding, we’ve never actually done that either. 😉 Take a listen, leave a comment, have a donut.

Rollz

Music In Today’s Episode

Gang Starr