My First Week With Big Mono

So during study week, we set out to write and record music for our Industrial, Synth Pop, Darkwave project, Big Mono. This is an overview of my first week with Big Mono and the inception of an idea born out of passion, dedication and electricity!

Check out my previous blog post. What is Big Mono?


On Monday we were in the midi studio which is a room designed entirely for integrating analogue synthesisers and drum machines with Midi. Our intention was to lay down the electronic drums and some bass synth as a bed for the track and in order to sketch other elements over. We did want to spend time getting the right sound on these elements because we intend on using them in the final track.

The first thing we did was have a listen to our reference tracks and discuss what our aim was. Once we got everything set up we started composing a drum beat on the TR-8 drum machine. We got a simple beat that fit the vocal melody and then spent a bit of time playing around with the synths. Jaxon had wires everywhere creating sounds through patches on the Roland 100 while Adam and I played around with the Moog Sub 37, We used a preset called grind and moved the frequency to get the sound we wanted. (320Hz) While Adam was playing the verse I slowly lifted the frequency up just past 500Hz as it came into the chorus, We recorded the chorus at that higher setting and zeroed the resonance.

We jammed for a bit on the basic structure to get some ideas down and then went about getting the drum beat and sound just right so we could record it along with some bass synth ideas. We tried all the different kits on the drum machine and found one that was nice and big sounding, we all liked it but it was maybe a bit too big. We didn't want it to sound like dance and on analysing our reference tracks the drums in the tracks sounded like a combination of tight electronic drums combined with real drums. So we played with the tuning, turned the compression up and the decay down.

Arrangement Rather than playing a section and looping it, we played a section for the whole length of time we thought we would need it. Because even though we are making electronic music we want a human element to it. Once we had nailed the first verse and chorus section we duplicated them to create the bed for a full song. The song structure is pretty simple.

Song Structure: Intro Hook Verse Chorus Hook Verse Chorus

Tuesday On Tuesday we were booked in the Audient 4816 B with the intention to record some bass guitar and bring some human feel to the track.

Adding a Human Element to Electronic Music

Not everyone could make it but fellow student Simon Audus and I crossed paths and he offered to add some groove to the song with some funky bass playing. Simon had a really nice amp. The Ampeg BA 110 So we opted to mic up the amp with an AKG D112 and a Sennheiser MD421. We got the tone in the room to sound really good, by driving the scrambler fx on the amp (a distortion that replicates the famous Ampeg SVT Tube amp). We brought the tone on the bass up and the bass down on the amp because we wanted the bass to have punch but lots of presence. Once we got the sound we wanted in the room I went into the control room to check the sound and it was like chalk and cheese. The sound coming through the desk had so much sub bassy it was crazy. We had both mics pretty close to the amp. Recording Bass Guitar

We moved the mics further back and there was still too much sub. We moved them back more and got a pretty good sound. It was warmer than the sound in the room but it had the punch we were looking for and it really suited the tone of the synths in the song, so we set about recording it. Simon just did a run through and did a really good take, he took the musical cues in the song, got the changes right and everything. We had a listen and Simon said yep I've got it, I know exactly how I want to do it. He went in and nailed the second take and that's a wrap. Simon is very capable of doing takes like this.

Jaxon joined us around this time and we all played the track back. We were all really happy with the groove and human feel that the bass brought to the track.

Wednesday On Wednesday We were booked in the Audient 4816 A Studio with the intention to sketch placeholders in the song. we aimed to record some scratch vocals as a sketch over the base track so we could find space for the hooks and melodies for the Synth and Guitar to fit.

As I went to add the vocals in I realised the verse sections were longer than necessary so we edited it down and I recorded a quick version of the vocals with an SM58 just as a guide. while we were in the studio Jaxon had been playing along to the song on his guitar and had a sexy little hook which we recorded plugged straight into the Fireface interface then I recorded a guitar melody idea in the chorus of the song. After this we spent way too long going through preset effects on the Roland Juno DI looking for a good lead sound, we figured if we find a good lead sound the synth melodies we record will be legit and not placeholders. The more we went through the effects the more we seemed to like the 80's FM synth sounds and we picked an FM Bell sound that we liked but in retrospect steered the whole sound of the song in a different direction to what we intended. The time was well spent though because Adam used a lot of this time to compose the main synth hooks and he is the sort of musician who can write something really melodic if given the time to play around which I believe we achieved in this session, we also learnt that by creating our own lead synth sound we might be able to get something really unique.

Drum Input List

Thursday On Thursday we were booked in the Neve Custom 75 studio with the intention to record live drums for the track and once that was done to have a jam as a group to let off some steam and potentially find some ideas for songs.

Set Up: We had a busy day ahead of us, setting up a drum kit requires a lot more work and dedication that using electronic equipment but is well worth the effort. We collected a huge amount of equipment and headed up to the Neve live room to set up the drums. we had 13 microphones on the drum kit, micing everything top and bottom. We choose to do this to capture the smack of the drum on the top and to capture the resonance on the bottom. We wanted a big drum sound and we were familiar with this technique so we thought we would give it a try on this project. It took a while to set up and once we were set up we checked the gain staging, phasing and overall sound of each drum, moving mics where necessary (note our pic below is before this not after it, I should remember to take more pics) we did have to adjust the tom mics a bit and move the Overheads further apart but eventually got it sounding pretty good, We did apply some EQ on the desk to tom 2 just to cut some of the woodiness on the way in.

Drum Kit Micing Top to Bottom with Steve Albini

Tracking: With everything set up, Jaxon was keen to get his headphones on and start smashing some skins, We got his headphone levels just right and then starting recording. He had the beat he wanted for both parts of the song worked out and they really complimented the drum machine, the variation on the verse and chorus over the same backbeat really helped give the song some added dynamics. After a little over an hour of not getting it just right we had a coffee break, came back in and nailed it. (there's a lesson to be learnt in that)

Jam: After the drums were recorded and we listened back to it carefully a few times to make sure we were all happy with it. We set up to have a much-needed jam. With Jaxon on drums, Adam on keys and me on bass. This was actually a really good comradery building exercise and made us all learn a lot about each other. The dynamics of our team has really developed over this course, I have worked closely with Adam over a number of projects and the three of us have been working together this whole trimester on the Permanent Revolution Album. We all have different strengths and weaknesses but fit together really well.

The Importance of Playing With Other Musicians

Once we started playing, we broke into a crazy progressive rock piece, reminiscent of the Doctor Who Theme or Uprising by Muse, we played grungy stuff, gothy stuff, funky stuff and a really catchy little piece that sounded like New Order. We recorded our whole jam for future reference and reflection and may use some of these ideas as the basis for future songs.

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