Zone Recording: Starting from Scratch

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Zone Recording. I am on the road at the moment in New York for the National Guitar Workshop.

Recently before I left for tour, I was contacted by Magna Carta Records to start a project off for them. They are doing a Rush tribute album and had three songs left they needed done. My information was this, "We want you to do a version of these three songs."

"Fly By Night"
"New World Man"
"Force 10"

"But we want you to make them heavy and modern sounding." I was given the OK to change the arrangement if I felt it needed it.

The idea was for me to start the songs off in Brainworks, and do all the rhythm guitar parts to a click, for overdubs of drums, bass, vocals and solos to be done after my guide track was set.

Of course I jumped at the chance to do this, since Rush is one of the most influential Canadian bands EVER!

Upon plotting my course, I knew that whatever I recorded had to be very precise for everyone to build on later, or else it would sound like... you know... crap!

My first step was to put these songs in my ipod and have repeated listens every morning when I go to the gym. I find here I get ideas for what to do later in the day when I am working in the studio. I will play the song over and over, trying to hear my interpretation in my head so I have some sense of direction.

I started with "Fly By Night". I did this because it was the easiest tune to knock out. I thought, modern and heavy, so I started in a drop C tuning using a Les Paul.

I kept the arrangement the same, but did add an extra solo section to the song. I gave it a "Martone" flavor with chunks, pushes and chugs in all the right places. For the rhythm sounds I used the double stack summed to mono technique. Read the "Two Heads Are Better Than One" column for info on this technique.

I first brought the original tune into Acid to beatmap the tempo of the song. Once I got the approximate tempo, I entered that information into Sonar.

Next I imported the original as a guide track. Then I imported a straight "money beat" drum loop groove.

Of course I had the idea already of how I was going to play the song, so I started on the chorus of the songs first. I laid out songs markers for verse, chorus, etc. for easy navigation throughout the song.

I did a left, right and center channel for all the chorus sections. This really makes it pop out and punch you in the face in comparison to the verse, which was just double tracked.

I then did all the verse sections while the solo section came down to one mono guitar straight up the center.

There was also the come down section in the song which I used the Digitech 1101 and the new Vox guitar to achieve this very spacey flange/delay section.

Then bam! The song was born. I then cut the drums up a little to show were proper hits would be, I found that my timing was a little off on some of the guitar pushes, so I redid them to make sure they were perfect and nothing was out of time.

I then did a scratch bass track just for fun. Then I did a rough mix, master, and sent a mastered mp3 off to Magna Carta for approval.

The next song up was "New World Man".

I went a little more nuts on this song.

I still stayed in drop C tuning but the sounds were much more rich that I created. The first thing that I wanted to do was make sure I did not use any keyboards on this song. There was a pad that happened in the song however, and I had the idea to use a E-Bow, multi track it many many times in thick harmony, set it back in the mix with lots off delay to give the effect of a keyboard. It worked awesome.

I also used a nylon guitar for added flavor in the verses doubled with a clean Parker guitar. Les Paul again did all the chunky rhythm parts. I also used the Pigtronix Envelop Phaser for all the weird envelope type heavy sounds.

I did the same process with the drums and bass. In my rough mixes I always bumped up the triple chorus guitar by 2 dB to make the chorus just kick ass!

The last track was the kicker. "Force 10". I saved the hardest one for the end.

I thought about this before I started. The song goes through a few different feels, 4/4, then a triplet 6 section, etc. I knew I did not want to be in drum hell with this, so I figured out a very easy way to map this out! There is a place called They have tabs for almost every song known to man! I found a version of "Force 10", listened to it to make sure it was cool and made sure it had MIDI drums and bass before I selected it.

Then I saved it as a MIDI file, and imported this MIDI file into Sonar. I then selected the drum file and triggered the MIDI drums through gigi studio with a slamming rock room kit.

Vola! It worked awesome!

All the hits were there to use as a guide track! Sweet!

I used a similar technique with the E-Bow to emulate the synths, and similar technique as above in regards to the heavy guitars.

After all the songs were done, and sample mp3 masters were sent to Magna Carta, it was time to get all the files ready to be sent off.

I exported all files in the session, including working drums, bass and click as well as all guitar at 0:00 for each session in separate folders. There was also the sample mastered .wav file so the person working with it next could hear how it was supposed to sound.

These were the burnt on a DVD and FedEx'd off the next day. Bam! Done.

It was tons of fun and I look forward to finding out who they use on the drums, bass, vocals, etc.

May the tone be with you.

David Martone is a guitarist from Vancouver, Canada who has released seven solo CDs which showcase his musical diversity and brilliant guitarmanship.

His 2007 CD is entitled "When The Aliens Come", which features a progressive sound incorporating jazz, rock, fusion and metal influences.

David Martone