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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!

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Pro Tips & Techniques, Recommended Artists & Recordings, The Lucky One

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.

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

    “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.

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

    “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.)

    Blog, Pro Tips & Techniques, Recommended Gear, The Lucky One

    Making the Harps a Little More Grippy

    When I recorded with the band in Philadelphia for my upcoming record "The Lucky One," we had to turn off the air conditioning in the studio every time we did a take, and that room got pretty toasty after a while. On some of the tunes, especially the ones where I was blowing hard for three minutes straight, my hands got sweaty and the harps got slippery. I had to put a lot of energy into just holding on. That's not tops. I decided to make my harps grippier. After soliciting advice on that subject on the Harp-L list, I came to the conclusion that 1) no one is commercially offering cover plates with grippy surfaces, and therefore 2) I had to make them myself. Some of the solutions offered on Harp-L were, to say the least, impractical. (Coat the cover plates with glue and apply sand? Please. I put that thing in my mouth.) Ultimately I decided that the easiest thing to do was to cut some kind of grippy tape to size and apply it to the cover plates at the outer flange. I found egrips .75 inch wide tape on Amazon.com and ordered a roll. At $40 per roll, it's not cheap, but one roll is enough to do over 100 diatonic harp cover plates, top and bottom, so if you've got plenty of harps it's cheap enough. So far I've treated 28 harps with the stuff, so the price per harp is currently a little over $1. To fit a harp with the tape, I cut off a 2" long strip from the roll, then cut that in half lengthwise to make two strips 2" long by 3/8" wide. That's just about the same as a finger's width, so I can apply it to the plate without worrying about my mouth coming in contact with the tape. Here's a picture of a Seydel Session Steel with the tape in place. This harp also has its key spelled out with a 1/2" tall stick-on label, which I applied so I can see the key of the instrument on a dark stage.
    Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

    Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

    When you're holding a harp, the tape is invisible to the audience, and when you're not it looks pretty good, as opposed to looking like an obvious hack. That was important to me. I don't want other musicians catching a glimpse of the inside of my harp case and thinking "What sort of musician has a box full of that kind of jury-rigged crap?" (My cases, including the cloth 14-piece Seydel case in which I currently carry 19 harps, the aluminum purpose-built one fromcustomharpcases.com., and the 8-piece compact folding case from Suzuki, all look nice, but still.) Once I got the hang of it, it only took a minute or so per harp to cut the tape and fit it. I did all 28 harps in well under an hour. So my harps are now non-slip, and I can play in a hot room without worrying about the instrument popping out of my hands in a spray of sweat. A small thing, perhaps, but better is better. From my point of view, I'd rather be able to buy something like this off-the-shelf (ideally, as part of a new harp, rather than an aftermarket add-on) than spend my own time putting it together. But this is a pretty simple, quick mod that's easy to get right on the first try, so I'll live with it until harmonica manufacturers realize that it's better to sell instruments that people can hold on to even when they're sweating.

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    Something for now: The Road Out of Here

    "The Road Out of Here" is one of the pieces on my upcoming record "The Lucky One." I've previously released a solo looped version of this tune via this site. The version on "The Lucky One" is supported by a full band, but it's got the same reckless energy as the looped piece. The lyrics for this piece seem apropos to recent events in America and the world, so here they are. Enjoy. "The Road Out of Here" copyright 2016 by R. Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions, all rights reserved On the road Out of here Communication is frequently unclear Information Is easily received But nobody knows what they can believe We watch the Sky Swinging from greed to fear You better bring more than your eyes and ears If you wanna know who's driving On the road out of here On the road Out of here You're king of the mountain or you disappear Number one Gets a lot Number two gets a little Number three gets not The mountain is steep And the dropoff is sudden and sheer A whole lotta people gonna fall to the rear It's the rule of the road on the road out of here On the road out of here The preppies are playing with stolen gear Trading shots Swapping knives Practicing lying to their future wives Well honey they'll say I'm just going out for a beer But the bars are all closed She will yell through her tears While his car speeds away on the road out of here On the road out of here No signal you send ever disappears What you say what you buy where you go Everybody knows it everybody knows It's a world without secrets And we are transparently clear And when I know what secrets you cherish and fear I'm gonna drive you around on the road out of here

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    Coming soon: pre-order page for “The Lucky One!”

    Thanks to everyone how contributed to the Indiegogo campaign to fund our 21st century rock harmonica record "The Lucky One!" We expect the record to be completed soon, with digital downloads available to contributors before Christmas, and hardcopy CDs available in January. If you missed the deadline for contributions, not to worry. In a few days we'll have a page up at this site where you can pre-order the record and/or the digital download. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you haven't heard the clips from this record that we've posted at this site, check them out now in the "What's New" section. img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size

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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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