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25 days to the release of “The Lucky One” (Mid-April)

My 21st century rock harmonica record "The Lucky One" has been mixed and mastered, and we're down to graphics, pressing, and shipping. Graphics will be finished this weekend. After that, it'll take 5-10 days to make the CDs and another 5-10 days to ship to me, after which I will immediately ship CDs and/or digital downloads to all who contributed to my Indiegogo funding campaign. CDs and digital downloads will also be available from the usual suspects--CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.--at the same time. So we're looking at actual records (physical and/or digital) on the street in 25 days or less.

The original plan was to have this project done before Christmas. I promise everyone who's been waiting that you'll be glad you did, and I thank you sincerely for your patience.

Get ready to rock!

The Lucky One is coming!

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How I Recorded “The Lucky One”

I'm planning to do a series of posts describing the specific sounds and techniques I used to record every song on "The Lucky One," and I thought I'd start out by laying out the overall process that took this record from idea to finished recording.

I recorded “The Lucky One” in two basic stages: 1) With the band in the studio, playing the basic tracks for all the songs. 2) In my home studio, recording harmonica, vocal, piano, and organ parts.

The gear

In February of 2016 I bought a designed-for-purpose music laptop computer by Jim Rosenberry of Studio Cat, with 16 GB of RAM, dual core i7 processor, and a huge screen. I bought this machine specifically so I could work on music anywhere, and it went with me every time I was on the road for more than a week in 2016. Starting in March 2016, working from my home offices in CT and Idaho, I sent frequent rough demos and lyrics of potential selections for the record to my producers Ed Abiatti and Mike Brenner.

I used Cakewalk Sonar running on my laptop and a range of virtual instruments, including VB3 for organ sounds, TruePianos Amber for piano, Lounge Lizard for electric pianos, and Cakewalk Studio Bass to create basic band arrangements for the songs, and recorded harp and vocal roughs over those to produce the demos. (I later used Sonar to record the vocal and harp overdubs on the band tracks.) I used a FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface with an Audio Technica AT4050CM5 large-diaphragm condenser or an ElectroVoice Raven dynamic mic to record vocals, and a Digitech RP500 with an Audix Fireball V mic to record the harp parts.

That collection of instruments and recording gear with that computer was my essential platform throughout the project, and I’m glad to have it. It’s portable (though relatively heavy and bulky for a laptop), and extremely powerful. Using a Digitech RP for my recording interface meant that I could use almost any RP at any location I happened to be at, load the sounds I needed into it from my computer, and be ready to lay down harp tracks. The computer worked very well, with maximum 10 ms latency in recording mode with the RP500 and under 5 ms with the FocusRite.

Preparing for the sessions

We settled on the songs and arrangements in summer 2016, and I made demos of all the songs in Sonar, packaged those with lyric sheets, and distributed the packages to the band about two and a half weeks before the first recording session.

Beginning on September 19 2016, the band—me on harmonica, Mike Brennan on lap steel, John Cunningham on bass, Mark Schreiber on drums, and Peter Rydberg at the recording console--spent 3 full days and 2 nights in Rydberg's 1935 Studio in Philadelphia recording the songs. The objective was to get great rhythm section performances and some great jams, and we got everything we wanted. I recorded all harmonica tracks using an Audix Fireball V into a Digitech RP500, with the audio output from the RP500 going to the board via stereo XLR. Rydberg loaded up the raw tracks from those sessions on a solid state hard drive and sent them to me. I loaded them into Sonar, song by song. Then I got a rough mix going, which was really pretty easy because the tracks basically sounded good with everything set at unity level.

Doing the Overdubs

Then I went to work on the harmonica parts. My goal was to imbue these tracks with color, rhythm, and occasional overwhelming virtuosity. I expected the harmonica tracks to fall in place quickly and easily, and they did. After years spent making and analyzing loop recordings, I have a good sense of how to layer harmonica parts so they don’t interfere with each other or clog up the works. Using pitch shifters to move parts up or down an octave helps a lot. Wah wahs and auto-wahs put motion in parts, and so make them stand out in an arrangement. Wobble sounds like vibrato and rotating speaker convey intense emotion, and work well either in foreground or background of an arrangement.

All overdubbed harp parts were recorded into my laptop via an Audix Fireball V mic into a Digitech RP500, which connected to the computer via USB. (Which means that there was only one stage of audio-to-digital conversion on the overdubs.) One very useful feature of this approach is that if I know what patch was active on the RP when I recorded a part, I can duplicate the sound exactly if I need to for another overdub. It’s worth noting that in the mixing and mastering processes, the only effects applied to the harmonica parts were EQ, delay, and/or reverb—the tones sound very much as they did when they were recorded straight from the RP500.

The last step for me was recording the vocals. For this I used an Audio-Technica AT4050CM5 mic into the preamp on a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface. I recorded in two different rooms in my house, using blankets and pillows pinned to walls and a portable stand-mounted “vocal booth” to cut down on reflections in the room. In the end, the vocal tracks sounded good, without the wrong kinds of room sounds.

To the Mix

I loaded the overdub tracks as 24-bit 44.1 kHz WAV files into Dropbox, which is where Chris Peet, the mix engineer, picked them up. Chris put his mixes on Dropbox for me to download and audition. This was an efficient way to exchange very large files over very large distances, and it made it easy for everyone to respond quickly to changing arrangements. As it happened, I made some snap decisions about replacing solos recorded with the band in the studio with newer takes, and this process made it easy for everyone to do that. As noted above, the new takes were made using the same RP500 setups as the originals, so they slid right into the mixes with little or no adjustment.

Chris also produced rough mixes for Mike Brenner to use with the percussionist and backup singers (Mark Schrieber and No Good Sister, respectively) in producing their overdubs. Mike sent me the rough mixes from those sessions directly so I could comment on the parts almost as they were recorded. Then those parts too were uploaded to Chris, and the final mixes began.

In the end, it took at least two passes to nail the mix on every song. Some songs went through five passes, with one or two passes per day once the process started. All the mixes were wrapped up in a week of elapsed time. With the mixes approved, the stuff went to mastering at True East in Nashville. We did three passes on the master, and that was it. The music is recorded.

It was close to a year from start to finish. Would’ve gone faster if I hadn’t had anything else to do at the time, but the proof is in the product, and I like this record plenty. Stay tuned for details on every song, coming to you soon via this blog.

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Hunter's Music, Recommended Artists & Recordings, The Lucky One

Stay tuned for details on the instruments and FX used for “The Lucky One!”

"The Lucky One," my 21st century rock harmonica record, will be released this month. Once it's released, I'm going to do a series of posts in which I describe the harmonicas and FX used on the record, track-by-track. In case you were wondering, EVERY harmonica track on this record was recorded with an Audix Fireball V mic through a Digitech RP500 running a customized version of my patch set for Digitech RP500, and straight to the board or computer from the RP500 via the XLR outputs (in the studio with the band) or a USB connection (in my home studio during overdubs). If you own a license for our patch set for Digitech RP500, you'll get a copy of the patches I used for those tracks, and you'll be able to try those sounds for yourself. (If not, go get yourself an RP500 and a copy of our patch set.)

In general, the sounds I used on this record break down into a few basic categories:

  • natural, with no FX beyond a little reverb or delay
  • amped-up blues
  • wah and auto-wah
  • wobble (vibrato, rotating speaker, vibro-pan--you know, wobble)
  • pitch shifted (usually down, sometimes up)
  • time-based modulation (chorus, flanging, and so on)
  • I used a number of variations on these basic sound groups to keep everything fresh, but when you get right down to it those are the FX that count, and combining them in various ways produces a lot of different colors.

    Stay tuned to get the full details on how it's done.

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    “The Lucky One” is on target for release this month!

    I haven't posted much to this blog lately; been too busy behind the scenes getting "The Lucky One" ready for release. At this point the overdubs are done, the mixes are underway, and we're getting the artwork ready for production. Whew! Lotta stuff. Worth the effort, because the tracks sound amazing. The initial band sessions in Philadelphia produced a bunch of tracks that were just crackling with energy, and my goal after that was to keep that energy while filling out the arrangements. In the end, the overdubbed harmonica tracks just rolled into place, most on the first or second take. (I spent more time and takes on some of the solos, because, well, they're solos.) From the beginning I knew that the vocals would be a challenge for me, and getting those right is what took months of hard labor in a darkened room, all by myself. Like Ringo said: It don't come easy. Now that we're coming down to the finish line, I feel--joy. Joy that I was lucky enough to come to this place in my life, with the people and resources around me that I needed to do this record. Joy that the vision of 21st century harmonica that I began working on over a decade ago is being realized. Joy every time I hear the music. I'm the lucky one.

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    “The Lucky One” is coming soon, but not before Christmas

    I'm nearly finished with vocal and harp overdubs for my record "The Lucky One." I'd originally thought we'd have the record available for sale (and for distribution to the people who contributed to the Indiegogo fundraiser) by Christmas, but it's looking more like January now. I apologize for the delay; rest assured that I will deliver the best damn stuff I can, even if it takes another week or two, and the results are worth waiting for. I'll take this opportunity to talk a little about this record. It's no secret that I'm using layered overdubs with plenty of FX to shape the sound of this record. That's not new in itself; artists like Scott Albert Johnson and John Popper have used FX very well on recent records, and Filip Jers, among others, created masterpieces on his first CD with overdubbed harps. What's new is that I'm not simply out to produce new electric harmonica sounds with this work; I'm putting the harmonica into a range of roles in the band that it has rarely, if ever, occupied. Harmonica is traditionally a lead instrument in a rock band; I'm building on the work of Lee Oskar and Magic Dick to put it more deeply into the rhythm and horn sections, guided by the sounds of blues, the band Morphine, and the White Stripes. The results are definitely new; these textures have never been present on any record I've heard, and I've heard a lot of harp records. Most importantly, I imagine that this music can be effectively performed live with a band that includes at least two harmonica players playing through the Digitech RP500 setup I've used for all the harmonica tracks.
    Digitech RP500: It's all over "The Lucky One"

    Digitech RP500: It's all over "The Lucky One"

    And why not? Plenty of rock bands have two guitarists; how about some equal time for harp players? This is not music designed only for the studio; this is music designed to be performed. (By the way, if anyone is interested in being part of some of my performances, please contact me. Qualifications include ability to play diatonic harps in multiple positions, the ability to play chromatic harmonica in multiple keys, and the willingness to use the rig I provide, which of course includes a Digitech RP500 and an Audix Fireball. Practical knowledge of chord structure and theory is essential, like for example knowing what notes are included in an Ab major triad and what scales work against that chord. Ability to read music in this case is deeply respected, but not required. New York/Philly area is tops.) If this record goes as planned, it will be as definitive a statement about the role of harmonica in a rock band as my previous CDs, "The Act of Being Free in One Act" and "The Second Act of Free Being," were for solo harmonica. That's what I'm shooting for. I know it's ambitious; the facts are that I've been working on this approach for ten years, the concept is fully formed, and I'm too old not to aim high right now. When Mick Jagger said in an interview recently that spending three full days in the studio recording the new Stones blues record was pretty hard on him, I knew exactly what he was talking about; I literally limped out of the studio in Philly after three full days and two nights of blowing my brains out on this record. Like I said: time to aim high. Whatever else this record is, it's not the usual, by design. And it rocks hard. You can check out samples of early rough mixes in the "Updates" section of the Indiegogo campaign for "The Lucky One". (The campaign is closed, so you can't make a contribution. If you like what you hear, just buy the download or the CD come January.)

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    More from “The Lucky One”: Make The Noise You Came To Make

    Like other pieces on "The Lucky One", "Make the Noise You Came to Make" relies on a horn section made of harmonicas shifted down one and two octaves. To that we add an amped blues sound with a Whammy that shifts the pitch down a major second, creating a slide guitar effect, and another sound that uses a vibropan effect to create a psycho organ. All those parts were created with a Digitech RP500, and all can be heard on this 30-second sample. The thing rocks hard with a cool vibe that owes something to both Morphine and The Doors. Check out 30 seconds of "Make the Noise": "Make the Noise You Came to Make" copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved. And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here. img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size

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    A Mysterious Piece of “The Lucky One”: Deeper

    "Deeper" has been in my repertoire for years. I recorded a version of this piece for my subscription list, a decade or so ago. The original had a few harmonica parts and a lot of cool synth sounds, many of them courtesy of the hard-edged synth Pentagon. This version was recorded straight through by me and the band in the studio with me playing the lead on a Seydel Chromatic Deluxe into the Digitech RP500 running a Tweed Deluxe amp model--a nice clean, full sound--with a triggered flanger on it. Very smooth and electronic. In the second half of the piece, the lead harp is augmented by a patch that pairs an octave down with a wah wah for some very cool articulations, and by a patch that runs the Audix Fireball mic through an iStomp running Swingshift to drop the pitch an octave before it hits the triggered flanger in the RP500. Like the title says: Deeper. Check out 30 seconds of "Deeper": "Deeper" copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved. And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here.

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    A hard-rockin’ piece of “The Lucky One”: Double Lucky

    The basic structure of Double Lucky, one of the hardest-rocking tunes on my record "The Lucky One," is a double blues: 24 bars, with 8-bar vamp sections between each 24-bar form. There are variations in the turnaround in each 12-bar section. Bar 12 ends on an Eb chord; bar 24 ends on an Ab chord. The piece is in C, and includes F snd G chords as well. If the piece wasn't played as a dead-serious blues-rock raveup, the changes would make it sound like Steely Dan. I wrote the rhythm harp vamp part--the second half of this clip--while I was sitting in traffic or something, and recorded it on my iPhone so I wouldn't forget it. The demo I sent the band didn't have that part on it, so I gave them the part in the studio and made a few comments about the feel, we rehearsed it, and we ran it down for the recorder in real time together, the way we did every basic track for this record. (I love those guys.) This clip is the rough mix of that live performance, with the harp solo added via overdub. The rest of this post is mainly of interest to harmonica players, so if you're not one of those you might want to just click on the link above and go hear the clip. If you like this music and want to make sure you get to hear the whole thing soon by helping us fund the project (and also get cool perks like a digital download of the music, a CD, a copy of the Digitech RP500 patch set I'm using for these songs, and more), check out Our Indiegogo campaign. 21st Century Harmonica Playing rhythm on this piece demands all the chords you'd get from an F harp plus the ones you'd get from an Ab harp. Most amped harmonica players use bullet mics of one sort or another, which is fine for big, heavy single note tones (like you need for traditional Chicago blues), not so great if you want to use a lot of chords. I wanted the harmonica to play a strong rhythm role in this piece, so I used an Audix Fireball V to record these parts, and on the Digitech RP500 I used a Champ amp model coupled with a pitch shift of a minor 3rd up to make the missing chords and put some heavy crunch on them. The rig is 21st century harmonica gear. (And all Huntersounds RP500 patch set licensees who signed up on or after September 2015 will get the set for free when this record is released.) The pitch shifting approach is 21st century too; I don't have to use multiple harmonicas to get a wider range of chords, I just have to shift the pitch, which I can do in real time under foot control. The Low F harmonica also isn't much older than the 21st century, and its use in this context is brand new.
    Digitech RP500: Can't do "Double Lucky" without it

    Digitech RP500: Can't do "Double Lucky" without it

    How I Played It I used a Manji low F harp for all the rhythm parts. I played F and G on the turnarounds as octaves, which gave them a horn-like sound. I played the Eb as a full chord by shifting the C chord (draw 2-3-4) up a minor 3rd, and I did the same with the Ab by shifting the F chord (blow 1-2-3-4) up a minor 3rd. I used a Lee Oskar C Natural Minor (equivalent in register to a standard F harp) for the lead part, which I played with the same patch I used for the rhythm parts, with the pitch shifter disengaged. The Lee Oskar C natural Minor is pitched an octave higher than the Low F, so it contrasts very nicely with the rhythm harps. This stuff is red hot. Dig. And like I said: check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

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    A Glimpse of “The Lucky One”: Orphan Jam

    This clip of "Orphan Jam" from the sessions for my record "The Lucky One" is based on a simple chord progression: G major and Eb major. The lap steel sets an appropriately grand and spooky tone, and the harmonica comes in like some kind of alien singing. The piece as you hear it here was recorded in one pass live in the studio with no overdubs. The band, with Mark Schreiber on drums, John Cunningham on bass, and Mike Brenner on lap steel, rocks hard. I've said before that every time I drag my complete harmonica rig out to a session, there turns out to be one song where I need an instrument from deep in my case that I haven't used in ten years. This is that song for this session. The harmonica I used on this piece is a Lee Oskar that I set up years ago, dropped in my case, and completely forgot about. It has a unique pairing of reed plates, which is something you can do pretty easily with Lee Oskar harps. The draw reed plate is a standard C harp draw plate, which makes a G7+9 chord, and the blow plate is the blow plate from a Lee Oskar G Natural Minor, which makes a C minor triad. So G7 on the draw and C minor, relative minor of Eb, on the blow, and all the right scale tones are in place. There's no Bb built into this diatonic tuning, which is not tops when you consider that one of the two chords is an Eb major, but you can get that Bb in the bottom octave with an easy bend on the draw 3 reed, and in the middle register with an overblow on the blow 6 reed. I used both on this piece. (That approach works for single notes, but of course it doesn't work for chords. I used a chromatic harmonica in C to give me partial G and Eb chords.) The harmonica is played through an Audix Fireball V mic into a Digitech RP500 running a patch I set up myself that includes a big distortion, an octave up pitch shift, and a long digital delay set low in the mix. John, Mark, and Richard John in the moment Mike closeup We're definitely in the 21st century now. If you like this music and want to make sure you get to hear the whole thing soon by helping us fund the project (and also get cool perks like a digital download of the music, a CD, a copy of the Digitech RP500 patch set I'm using for these songs, and more), check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

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    Huntersounds RP500 Licensees: Get Ready for the “Lucky One” patchset

    I put together a lot of customized sounds for the Digitech RP500 for my upcoming record "The Lucky One." A number of those sounds are specifically designed to work together in a loop, i.e. they've been engineered to fill in the audio spectrum without clashing. Other sounds were just set up to be as striking as possible--the kind of sounds that make people turn their heads to see what the hell is making that racket on stage. These sounds will be made available at no charge once the record is released to any Huntersounds RP500 licensee who purchased the patchset license on or after September 2015, which is the vast majority of licensees. Any licensees who purchased prior to that date can get the "Lucky One" patchset for $15.
    Digitech RP500: The patches we made for "The Lucky One" come with every license we're selling until the record is released

    Digitech RP500: The patches we made for "The Lucky One" come with every license we're selling until the record is released

    If you're considering buying the RP500 patchset now, please note that anyone who buys a license for my RP500 patchset between now and the date the record is released will get a copy of the "Lucky One" set too. If you'd like to get a download of the record with those sounds, I'm offering an mp3 download along with the patchset as one of the perks for contributors to the Indiegogo project for this record; check it out here. ­­­‪­‪­­­‪‪‪­‪­­­‪‪­­‪­­­­‪­‪­­­­­‪‪‪­­­­‪‪­‪­ As always, thanks to all Huntersounds licensees for contributing to the development of these sounds, which (if I may say so) are a treasure trove for harmonica players on stage and in studio. I'll talk to my producer about putting a few clips from the "Lucky One" sessions up on my site by way of illustration.

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