November 28, 2006, Gearwire Artist Feature, Patrick Ogle:
“On Pro Tools, GarageBand, And Pitch Correction: Lovespirals’ Ryan Lum And Anji Bee”
Ryan Lum has been making electronic based music for a decade and a half. First working with Suzanne Perry in shoegazer/ambient/electronica band Love Spirals Downwards and now in the successor project Lovespirals with new vocalist Anji Bee.
Lum’s music has ranged from the beautiful, meandering, shoegazing of Love Spirals Downwards to the new project’s fusion of downtempo and electronic jazz. Between the two bands Lum has released 9 full length releases and one single. Yet despite this electronica pedigree, Lum and Bee often eschew the electronic cutting edge for what some might consider old-fashioned [musical values]. Lum especially eschews the over-use of plug-ins.
“Two big reasons I don’t go crazy with audio plug ins and all: first, my computer is a bit old and a bit too slow and outdated for going nuts with that stuff.” says Lum “Second, I don’t really need them beyond basic stuff like compressors. I’d rather use a good rackmount reverb than a plug-in. Plus, some plug-ins just sounds horrible.”
Lum has used ProTools 24 TDM hardware since 1999 with his Apple Tower and a three year old copy of ProTools 6.
“It’d be nice to get a new TDM system, but you need around $10,000 to make it happen so that’s the main reason why I’ve kept what I have,” says Lum. “But honestly, there’s no real ‘need’ to upgrade though they try to make you believe you need to. The only real thing I’m missing out on is that the newer systems have way more power and can run tons more plug ins.”
Since he isn’t a big fan of plug-ins the trade of works for him. A Lovespirals’ song usually begins when Lum comes up with something interesting on the guitar and then he lays down a quick sketch on an iPod or Garageband so it can be referenced later. Sometimes Bee writes lyrics to fit these sketches and sometimes the lyrics are the starting point Lum works around.
“The funny thing is that sometimes I’ll write lyrics based around some music he’s playing, only to end up tucking them away and using them with a completely different piece of music later on. It’s all very fluid. “ says Bee.
In ProTools, Lum starts with playing guitar to figure out the tempo of the song. After that he puts a “super basic” drum track together and loops it for the length of the song so there is a track to play along with and the song gets built up from there. Lum plays all the instruments while Bee does the vocals.
“I’m really a guitar player. I’ve been playing since I was like in 2nd or 3rd grade. My parents bought me a Gibson Les Paul Standard when I was high school. I still use it a lot.” says Lum. “For the past few years though I’ve been into Fenders. I have a Telecaster and a couple Strats. I have a 1968 Fender Bassman head which I run through an 1960’s Jensen speaker that’s in an old Univox combo amp. So yeah, I love old tube amps.”
The upcoming Lovespirals album that is being recorded now is inspired by the magic Lum hears when he plays through tube amps. Despite the love of vintage tube amps and the sounds generated by older gear that are dear to him Lum is ambivalent about the use of tape in recording.
“I really like being able to go in and edit things in a way that would be impractical with tape,” says Lum. “Plus, I’ve never owned a great tape machine. In the 90’s I used a Tascam 388, which was a low-end 8 track recorder and mixer. Even though tape is supposed to sound better, and I know that it does, my ProTools system sounds much better than the Tascam, which I bought for $3000 back in the day. Plus, I love the automation in ProTools. That’s something I only could dream about in the 90’s since only hundred thousand dollar mixing consoles could do that then.”
And cost is always an issue with home recording. If price is no object then you are likely make your living on something other than music (with few exceptions professional musicians tend to spend a lot of time chasing dollars as a matter of survival).
“Pro studios can afford to have the best stuff, but we at home have to get the best bang for the buck. I believe you should try to get a good microphone and a good mic pre-amp, the best you can afford. Assuming you set it all up in a good way and record a great performance, you’ll get a nice sounding recording,” says Lum. “I think that’ll go a long way towards making your recordings sound great. I’d also suggest getting a good hardware reverb. You can find used Lexicon PCM 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s for pretty cheap these days and they all sound way better than reverb plug ins. Plus you know it’ll work after your next ProTools upgrade.”
Knowing your gear and having sound engineering skills are the best way to avoid all of the virtually endless list of things that can go wrong recording. By sound engineering skills Lum doesn’t mean you need to get a degree, rather learn to use your ears.
“It’s so easy these days to record at home but too many home recordings sounds like home recordings. Knowing how or where to place a mic to get a good sound is a big one,” says Lum. “My advice is to keep moving it around until it sounds good. That’s really what sound engineering is all about: learning to really listen, to really use your ears.”
Lum and Bee both have one technological bogeyman they see lurking in professional recording and mainstream music; AutoTune.
“Pitch correction software like AutoTune is killing music. You can hear a freaky robotic quality when it’s used,” says Lum. “Before its invention, you’d record more takes until the singer got it right. Unfortunately, I suspect many of the singers who use AutoTune aren’t really great singers, so they kind of need it.”
Bee agrees but says the scourge has spread out of the mainstream and into underground music as well.
“I hear it creeping into every genre of music, not just pop and dance music. I think it’s really too bad that singers don’t take the time to perfect their craft organically. Just do a second take, for crying out loud!” says Bee. “Besides which, I find it creepy how AutoTuned vocals tend to sound alike. It takes so much of the human element out of vocals that I feel it strips away emotion. Imagine if they had pitch corrected Astrid Gilberto!”
“We’ve found that podcasting creates a whole new set of audio recording situations that have taken up a pretty good chunk of time to solve. That’s practically a whole other interview! “says Bee.
See the original interview on Gearwire.com
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