RPM Challenge 2023 production notes
The RPM Challenge is inspiring, because it gives me an objective and a set deadline to fight procrastination, but it’s also frustrating because I don’t feel that I have enough time to do anything properly (but then, when I do have enough time, I just procrastinate *shrugs*). Because I work full time office hours, I went for the “5-track and/or 20-minute EP” target because that’s more realistic than the “10-track and/or 35-minute full album” that I’ve attempted in the past.
I can’t say that I’m entirely satisfied with any of these, but I did at least finish them before the deadline and they might have some useful ideas that I can use later. This post is as much for my own future reference as much as anything, because I'm likely to forget how I recorded everything.
In an attempt to stop them sounding languid and samey, I arranged each track in a different time signature. I don’t know whether it’s something I’d recommend to other people, but it’s still fun to try.
This was a deliberately disposable, lo-fi and trashy rock thing, recorded on the cheapest gear that I had lying around. The bass is plugged straight into my Sansamp, and the guitar parts were made up pretty much on the spot (I cheated a bit and did the solo in a couple of extra overdubbed takes). If these songs all sound bad, this one sounds bad on purpose.
Both guitars were recorded through the same amp (a 15-watt Fender Bassbreaker head), so I changed up the speakers and mics to separate them out in the mix a bit. The Jazzmaster went through a Boss DS-1 and an open-backed Marshall 1x12, mic’d up with an E906; my FGN Masterfield went into a Fuzz Face through a closed-back Zilla cab loaded with a greenback speaker and captured with an SM57. The solo used the FGN, Fuzz Face and a Morley wah.
Time signature: 4/4
I don’t own a proper acoustic guitar, so I took my Epiphone Casino (which currently has its pickups and wiring removed), tuned it down to some weird Nick Drake-inspired open C tuning, and strummed some arpeggiated chords in front of my Rode NT1 condenser. I did the same with the mandolin. I can’t recall whether I used that mic or an M160 ribbon on the guitar solo at the end, but that was done with my FGN through an EQD Hizumitas fuzz and the Zilla 1x12. The M160 is a nice sounding mic, but I find myself having to crank the gain on my interface up full because it’s not really sensitive enough to capture anything at “home studio” volume. I used the NT1 for almost everything else.
Time signature: 12/8
Almost everything in this track was done with VST synths in Cubase, using a Yamaha digital piano as a MIDI controller. The guitar solo at the end came from a Boss OS-2 overdrive/distortion box, an old RV-2 reverb and the “Widening” preset on my Stymon Mobius. None of this was in my personal style or comfort zone, but I’ve been listening to a lot of synthwave playlists lately and thought that something that was deliberately 80s retro might be fun.
Time signature: 2/4
The foundation for this track came from guitar chords strummed through a Catalinbread Soft Focus reverb, double-tracked to give a stereo effect. The synthesized strings from the Yamaha keyboard fill in the harmony with a Squier baritone guitar plugged into a Mesa Boogie F50 adding a melody over the top.
Time signature: 5/4
I was struggling to find something to make the fifth and final track, so just stuck with the familiar “slow build-up and wall of guitars” post-rock sort of thing. It was all thrown together in the space of a couple of days. I’m so inexperienced at playing piano that I had to record the left- and right-hand parts separately. The quieter guitar bits are just reverb pedals (the Soft Focus again, and the RV-5’s “modulate” setting), with either the overdrive of the OS-2 or the Bassbreaker’s own distortion to add some dirt. Then there’s Big Muff-style fuzz towards the end (Russian muff for the bass, and an IC muff and the Hizumitas on each of the guitar tracks).
Time signature: 6/4