Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pick Two

There is a maxim that producers tend to live by. A project can be three things:
1) Good
2) Fast
3) Cheap

However, you can only have it two out of the three ways. If it's good and fast, it ain't cheap. If it's fast and cheap, it ain't good, and if it's cheap and good, it ain't fast.

I can almost hear all of the producers out there smiling knowingly. Now if only more of the accountants understood this...

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sanctum - Part II

While recording “Transcending Time,” I’d been playing with my new Duduk. It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship handmade by a master somewhere in Turkey. (There is truly very little you can’t get your hands on via the internet.)

As a violinist, learning to play erhu, viola, and cello weren’t much of a stretch, but the Duduk was in interesting challenge. I fell in love with the sound of this instrument after hearing it on shows like Battlestar Galactica. Not long after, it became extremely popular in all kinds of movie scores. It’s a double-reed instrument which, unless you’re an oboe player, is something new. It requires you to purse your lips and apply pressure in an extremely non-string-player manner.

This instrument is a bit difficult to tame. Controlling the pitch was an interesting task, and its not a wonder it takes many years to play it well. What made it particularly tricky in this context was the fact that I intended to play it over some background chords, so the pitch had to be brought into line with these or the whole thing would sound truly awful.

Fortunately I had a little help from my friends at Autotune to keep things from getting out of control. Yes, instead of practicing for years, I cheated a bit. (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.) The resulting track is OMN 179/11 “Empty Eons”

As the title may indicate, just playing this felt like a trip back through time and space. The Duduk is considered one of the oldest instruments on the planet, and you can feel the history in its sound. I suppose there’s something slightly ironic about recording it digitally and altering the sound with computers in order to travel back through time, but I loved the end result.

As I mentioned previously, finishing “Sanctum” took almost exactly one year. Of course, part of this was that I had other projects to do, but another part of this was that the devil is in the details. As with any project, the first 95% is easy, but it’s that last 5% that’ll kill you. Since this was a labor of love, I gave it everything I had, and that meant driving myself insane with the last 5% to get it “just right.”

Anyone who’s done this knows the strange and frustrating places it can take you, but I figured if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it all the way. Do it right and it’s right forever. Do it wrong, and you’ll always be bothered by it.

So mixing, re-mixing, fixing, tweaking, tweaking some more, tweaking even more…you get the idea. Finally, however, I arrived at a finished product. Fourteen tracks born of the heart through freedom. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having accomplished this. Along with it, though, comes the vow to never do it again. Joy, frustration, confusion, elation – all part of the mix.

But now at least I can say I did it.

-Dave Hab

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sanctum - Part I

I’ve been asked to write a bit about what went into some of the tracks in our libraries. I figured I’d start with a couple of tracks from the album I had the most involvement in: OMN 179 Sanctum (

Previous to starting work on writing these tracks, I had spent years as a freelance composer and producer. This meant that I was either writing for someone else’s specifications or working on someone else’s music – again, to their specifications. Being busy trying to make a living precluded me from having the luxury of just writing something for ME and not for someone else.

When I started writing for Omnimusic, I was given more leeway in writing than I was used to having, and I liked it. I pitched the idea for “Sanctum” to Doug and he let me run with it and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I spent the next year following my muse wherever it led.

I envisioned something with a world influence, fairly acoustic, and peaceful. In preparation for some of the ideas I had, I bought and learned how to play an erhu, duduk, pennywhistle, Irish tenor whistle, cello, viola, and various percussion instruments.

I started at 5AM on New Year’s Day. The astute will note that either I was still up from partying all night, or I was an incredibly boring human being. I assure you it was the latter. But for some time, I’d been bouncing around the idea for what became the second track on Sanctum, “Transcending Time” and having the day off afforded me a chance to get started.

I wrote the piece before the family got out of bed, and recorded it a few days later. The title “Transcending Time” came out of the fact that it was a bit non-standard in its phrasing. Pulling out my new cello, viola, and Tenor Whistle, I played all the parts myself, making me a one-man quintet (something I’d always wanted to try.) Here’s the resulting track:

Now the liberation had begun and the floodgates had been opened. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was writing for me, and had the freedom to write what I wanted, instead of what I had to.

It's a nice feeling.

-Dave Hab

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Low-level Monitoring

Discussing ear fatigue leads me to the topic of low-level monitoring. What most people don't realize is that everything sounds good at paint-melting volume. It imparts such power and drama and your senses are so overwhelmed by sonic mayhem that you don't get a sense of what the track really sounds like.

Since not everyone will be blasting the track through fusion-powered gigawatt-rated speakers, you need to also know what things will sound like at human volume levels. This is where low-level monitoring comes in in the studio.

It actually takes quite a bit of discipline to keep the volume levels low while mixing, because it sounds so much more exciting LOUD! However, the louder you mix, the more quickly you will not only lose perspective, but your ears will wear out, and then you'll start doing things like turning up the cymbals…

-Dave Hab