Smile at Me – Details

I developed this song in a similar manner to “Kansas City.” It was written on the acoustic guitar, so I recorded the guitar first, with a basic tracking vocal, which I ended up keeping for the final mix.

The acoustic guitar was recorded using two mics: a Shure SM57 up kind of close to the strings to get the impact of the strumming, and my Audio Technica AT4040 mic set back about two-three feet. I mixed both tracks together with a bit of a left pan.

The rest of the elements were as follows, in this order:

* Live drums, using my Tama kit. I mic’d it as I usually do (see Details for the song, “Down a Notch”), but moved the AT4040 off to the left a bit, closer to the hi-hat side of the kit, just to add a little more room ambience. The AT4040 ended up pretty low in the mix anyway. I originally tried for a more elaborate drum track, but based partly on my limited playing ability, I decided to keep it simple. The main elements are the open hi-hat starting key measures, a slight change in the kick drum rhythm at the end of each verse, and some carefully placed tom fills. I tried to limit the use of compression on the drums, but ended up using it somewhat to clarify the kick and snare in particular. As usual, the drums were a blast to play and record. 🙂

* For bass, I went with my usual approach of using my Yamaha RBX 170 recorded directly through the PreSonus Firestudio into Cubase. However, instead of using any compression, I went with one of the built-in simulated amps that come with Cubase 6 now. It’s the AmpSimulator plug-in, and I started with the “Tube 1” and “Cabinet 10” presets. Then I tweaked the EQ in both the amp plugin and in the Cubase channel. I’m finally learning that it’s better to cut bass frequencies in many cases, rather than attempt to boost any. I think the final mix on this is much cleaner near the bottom and not as muddy as my previous mixes, but only your ears can say for sure.

* I then started adding some keyboard sounds. I wanted to experiment with some of the Cubase 6 built-in sounds, and ended up settling on these patches from the HALion Sonic SE software synth:

1) Prog Rock Organ, panned hard right and low in the mix, except at key parts of the song to fill in between verses.

2) Soft Attack Brass, panned a bit left and used to bring home a few primary tones at selected points in the verse and as a way to build up to the chorus.

3) Solo Viola, which is actually used in the song more like an electric violin.

4) [GM 006] Electric Piano 2, which I used in the chorus to add a staccato little rhythm. Doesn’t really sound like an electric piano, but it served the purpose I was looking for.

* For background vocals, I again tried to keep it simple. Added single track of background for a few key phrases in the chorus, and then added a harmony to the chorus, which was fun, because this song has some chord progressions that required a little planning for the harmonies (for example, A major to A minor in the chorus meant dropping the harmony down a half-tone from C# to C natural, which took some practice tracks to get right).

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