Making of Born Blind

by Joshua Lykkeberg

Listen to the album here:
http://theresiduals.bandcamp.com

Waiting for a Moment:

               After years of trying, I finally made this album a reality. This album was met with many roadblocks over the course of 5 years, from training bandmates to be able to play their instruments, to constantly getting new members just as they learn all the songs. The songs had been all ready maybe a year into being a band, but even so, I can say now I’m happy it did get delayed as long as it did.

               I had waited for “the perfect time” to make the album when I finally had a kickass lineup, but there are no perfect times for anything. After 4 years of being a band, I finally went solo-artist. I had realized that you don’t make perfect moments, you just make moments, then from there, they can turn into something amazing.

 Tools:

               Everyone that didn’t already know I was using midi drum tracks from following my social media accounts thought I used a real drummer, and even the ones that knew said they forgot while they were listening or just couldn’t tell. I had done a lot of research into midi drums learning about the importance of velocity of each hit with variation, “humanizing” the drum sections to off-sync the timing, and using prior knowledge of exaggerating certain holds and pauses to make sure my drums had a raw, human sound.

               It took a year of messing around until I finally found a good work flow to making the drum tracks. I originally started worrying most about the track sounding robotic, so I recorded guitar first, then tried to place drums over the guitar track so it would sound natural. This took half of forever and I realized I would never get the album done like this. Once I read more about humanizing midi tracks, I experimented, and combining that with exaggeration on any key parts, I was able to produce a sound I was happy with. Thus, my official recording started in December 2016.

               The most important aspect of creating anything (other than passion and skill) is workflow. You can be amazing at what you do and know how to do it perfectly, but if you don’t have the tools, knowledge, or practice to do it quickly, you will take forever to make your dreams into reality. I had my tools: my guitar, my amp, my friends’ bass and bass amp, my drum software, my DAW to put everything together, and my i-phone.

               “I-phone? What do you need that for?”

               I recorded all instruments on an i-phone (excluding the drums which were of course midi). I had done some demos, which can be found on my bandcamp as Demos 2015, with my iphone just to make sure the new songs I was making sounded good and so people could see that I was creating stuff. After doing a few demos, I was starting to get a sound I was really happy with. It made the guitars sound raw and alive compared to some local demos and albums I would hear recorded with “top-quality” mics. I had originally bought the go to SM-57 and tried it out, but it sounded way too bassy, muddy, and overall just dry.

               I’m sure it was me not knowing how to use the damn thing properly, but when it comes down to it, if you’re set on doing something yourself and don’t have the knowledge to use great tools, what’s more important? Using the standard, top-quality equipment and not getting the sound you want because you aren’t skilled enough to use it, or using things that are unconventional that produce equal if not better results that give you what you want? I chose the latter and am perfectly happy with the tone and feeling of the instruments.

               If I had to make any complaints on using an i-phone, it would be that it could capture more of the low end on the guitars, let less noise in, and that everything ends up in the red (on the DAW) leaving not that much room for mixing/mastering. Also, I had to e-mail the tracks to myself and place it as perfectly as possible, so it was harder than recording directly onto the track. Sacrifices need to be made in every decision, so I decided the raw, dirty, but clear sound with a little extra work was best for the album.

               For the drums, I used Addictive Drums software by XLN audio. I had done my research on drum software, but when comparing programs like EZ Drummer, Superior Drummer, and others, Addictive Drums sounded the most natural to me. Looking more into the program, I saw that Arch Enemy had used Addictive Drums on their album Doomsday Machine, specifically, I saw a sample of Nemesis, and then I knew that I had been fooled. Listening to the other samples on various sets they had and researching what makes a midi drumset sound human, I felt confident and bought it.

               For my amp I used a 6505 Peavy head, which I’ve had for quite some time. I didn’t hesitate at all when buying my guitar head or the drum program (after doing much research) because if it’s something you are truly passionate about and will spend lots of time doing, why would you not invest in getting the best equipment available? (I am not planning on being a sound engineer so recording microphones don’t count for this statement) Because I had a guitar head that gave me a tone I could not be happier with, and a drum program that could sound amazingly natural, using not top quality recording gear was fine, because everything else was top quality and made me feel comfortable. The guitars and bass instruments themselves were just normal and I had gotten extremely comfortable in playing them, so everything felt natural playing.

 Workflow:

               Now back to the workflow, the final decision I made was to make all midi drum tracks first, bass, guitar, then vocals. I started in December of 2016 and I finally made the call. I gave myself a deadline or it would never get done. It was originally set for the end of February 2017 (which would never have happened) and ended up being March 26th due to wanting to do a CD release show.

               Having previously attempted recording, I had already found all the mic positions and gotten sample tracks that I made an eq for each track. So i actually did most of the mixing before hand because I already knew all the sounds I was going to use. I of course changed levels and such more into recording writing down each instrument’s levels to keep things consistent throughout.

               The drums took the longest to make and luckily it was the first in the process because it gave me an actual gauge on how far along the project I was in. 10 songs to make and almost every single track had a hefty amount of drum work to do.

               I began every song by doing the bass and snare for each riff. I would put the tempo for the track to whatever I though sounded right, not worrying about actual speed, but in creation. I wrote down tempos and adjusted as needed on my paper. Once the bass and snare were placed for each riff, I would add the cymbals, toms and anything else needed. Speed wise, it would be fastest to do all snare and bass, but realistically, you want to see each riff come to life as you make it to stay inspired. So I would work on each individual section in this manner until I had the song finished. I would then take the paper with all the timings for each riff I wrote down, test each riff’s timing by playing guitar over it, then if happy, render each riff at that tempo, and finally, place them in a separate compositing file. The tracks would last until all drums were silent.

               Since I played over each drum section, the timing usually would be fine, but I would sometimes have to speed up and slow down the drum tracks after doing a full guitar play through. I would do a quick recording of the guitar purely for timing reference, not caring if I played every note properly or if I played every note 100% passionately. Then I did a quick vocal run in the same manner, but making sure to hit any special nuances to make sure I had time to do them and do them correctly. I made sure to make each drum render as fast as possible at first so I could slow them down as needed, because if there’s one thing people don’t want, it’s a boring, slow track that’s supposed to be fast and energetic. Finding the balance is the fun part though because you want those hard notes to hit, and the faster a riff is, the less hard notes will hit.

               Once drums were done, I would record bass. I would play over the drum tracks a few times before recording to check timing again and adjust drums as needed. Then I would record until I got the take/takes I wanted. I would try to get the bass in one run, which it was for the most part, but its always good to do at least 3 playthroughs you’re happy with so you have tracks to work with later. One playthough, the verse could be perfect and the chorus sloppy, and the opposite could be true on the next track and they could mesh together flawlessly. I made sure to listen to the tracks alone and then together then use parts of other tracks for certain sections as needed before I left for the night.

               Then I would record guitar. It would vary whether I did lead or rhythm first depending on the song. I would leave solos for last. This was generally the easiest part, but I did many, many, MANY repetitions until I got it “perfect” or as close to perfect as I could possibly get it. I used the same, multiple take approach here as well using more than one take only when absolutely necessary. This generally took most of a day per song. Once again I’d listen multiple times to make sure everything was as I wanted it before I moved on.

               I recorded vocals in usually 1-2 hours, so this was the fastest step and a releif once I got to it because it was the least time consuming and marked the finish of a track. I made sure to do each section (basically until I got to something with a decent pause) was exactly how I wanted it until I moved on to the next section. I would listen multiple times each time I recorded so I could do better on the next pass. Each section would have as many as 9 takes before I got one I was happy with. Each section if not multiple sections were usually their own separate takes.

               Once I thought I got the vocals good, I would listen to it the rest of the night (like I said guitars would take up most of the day and vocals would take a bit too, so it would be pretty late by the time I finished) to make sure everything was perfect as could be and patch things up if needed.

               I would usually do this workflow in 3 song increments. As the drums would take a long time to make, and time restrictions would only allow me to do things at certain times, I would just make each track as I could. This kept me inspired because instead of finishing all drums, all bass, ect at once, it felt like I was making a kickass masterful song rather than a whole album. With this mindset, as long as you keep the album goal in your mind, it lets you really connect with each song more because you work on the song until its finished and move on to the next one.

               The bass had to be recorded starting 2-4AM until about 8AM because I had to record at Hemorage’s practice studio where the gear was since I don’t own my own bass gear. I had to record that late because it is a “practice studio” meaning that there are other people in the building playing constantly and that would usually be my only window. I would sleep after I got off work and set alarms for midnight, 2AM, and 4AM to make sure I could record. I would keep going until I got the 2-3 tracks done I had ready on drums.

               The guitars took all day and I recorded in my apartment, meaning I could only record guitar on my days off of work. I was pretty much working full time 5 days a week while recording this whole album, along with having to make time for other things on one of my 2 days off. This meant that every day off was precious and I had to make full use of it.

               During the last 2 weeks of recording, finishing the last 3 drum tracks, along with trying to record bass at 2AM, stopping at 8AM, going home and recording guitars all day, you can imagine I only got 2-3 hours of rest during the last 2 weeks of recording directly before the CD release show. I was working nonstop and was feeling super drained, but before I recorded anything I would take an hour or 2 hour nap and 20 minutes or so to wake up so that things sounded and felt energized. Most of the reason why I recorded so close to the CD release is because I planned a highly ambitious art/lyric book.

 Artwork:

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               I knew from the get go, that I wanted a 16 page art/lyric book. An album 5 years in the making, why wouldn’t I go all out? I thought of some concepts about the album and current things going on around me relevant to the album. I finally came up with the concept for my album cover and started drafting things out.

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               My album cover consists of a punk being pulled down by alcohol hands and being surrounded by smoke demons. The concept behind the artwork is that I’ve always seen metalheads and punks that try to look and do things a certain way. With metal, it’s a kind of showy, extravagant genre when you think of bands like Judas Priest or the cartoon characters of Metalocalypse which is kind of a representation of most modern “Metal” bands. So you kind of come to expect a certain “look” coming from metal bands and fans. I chose to put a “punk”on the album cover because of a lot of people I see and know who claim punk. Punk as far it was first intended, was supposed to be a deviation from the norm and against society’s expectation. When you start making things a “must have” to be punk as visualized on my punk character: infinite amounts of patches, buttons everywhere, studs everywhere, snapbacks, boots, torn/sewn back together clothing, they aren’t really punk anymore as much as a fashion trend. Out From the Bushes, track 8 on Born Blind, elaborates a little more on this.

               These clothes basically make you automatically accepted in some areas of the punk community regardless of who you are or anything because they can already tell, “you’re punk”. My other artwork only found behind the physical CD when you remove it, which elaborates more on the meaning of the smoke demons and alcohol, depicts a “punk” looking into a mirror and seeing a party/dubstep/raver person you would figure would be a “punk’s” worst enemy. The 2 characters are in the exact same pose and both holding a bottle of alcohol and smoking a blunt to depict that the stereotypical people these characters represent do exactly the same thing.

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               What do stereotypical punks do? Smoke, drink, party. What do stereotypical ravers/party people do? Smoke, drink, party. That piece shows the connection between the “punk” lifestyle which is supposed to be about being different being exactly the same as a lifestyle that would be deemed as sameness or boring in their eyes. This ties back into the album cover where the smoke, alcohol, and clothes all control the punk.

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               The back of the lyric book is an old artwork I resurrected and redrew. I originally had this image on the back of my first band business cards. It depicts a seemingly neverending line going into a building labeled “TECH INC” with the smoke and pollution coming out of the building directs the masses onward to the right of the image. Once these people enter the building, their brains are taken out, collected in a tank, and their bodies tossed onto a massive pile of past subjects.

               When I made new business cards, people kept asking me what ever happened to the design, so I knew I needed to bring it back to be on something as important as the lyric book.

               The lyric book has each song take up a dedicated page to that track. Each page in the book is the brick wall background on the album cover and the words are graffiti. I thought this would just be a cool theme and look for the album so it would seem like everything is in the same place. The album you are listening to is all around you was the message I was trying to convey with the artbook. That punk being controlled by everything could be anywhere and all these things are there if you just look. The graffiti and people/animals are there as if these things materialized in a more obvious representation, some of which you’ve seen in some shape or form.

               The final digital version of the album cover took 3 days after concept art was done in 4-6 hour increments. I did 12-20 poses on how many positions I’ve seen people spewed about the floor all the time (more specifically I was thinking of someone in particular passed out in these positions). Dressed him up in clothes based off a few people I know that have the most exaggerated forms of these clothes, and made the middle smoke demon and alchohol hands. This was a pencil sketch which I then traced over digitally for the first day, colored and adjusted the second day, and added textures the third day.

               The booklet took 2 weeks of nonstop work making sure to get a consistent/natural feel I was going for. I would probably take a day on each page just to make sure everything was how I wanted it. I almost didn’t send it in on time because I was working on it so much. There were some days when making the booklet where I couldn’t work on it just because I had been working on it non-stop and was burnt out (which also happened during recording). So on those days, I just relaxed, played some video games to take my mind off things, and gave it another shot the next day.

 Advertising:

              I made sure to post my progress on the album constantly on social media. I would usually only use instagram stories because it allowed to post almost every tiny bit of progress possible and show people who were really interested how it was done and what it takes. Also, since instagram stories disappear after 24 hours, I didn’t have to worry about posting too much. Whenever I would reach a point where I had accomplished a lot and feel like I didn’t announce anything for a while, I would make a preview of some sort so everyone else could see where it was headed. These actual posts would usually be more polished previews.

               The social media approach was working extremely well with certain people coming back to check things out all the time. Some that normally just check everyone’s social media accounts, and others that had never checked out my account much until they saw I was creating an entire album. The higher quality content you present on social media, the more people will pay attention. This doesn’t necessarily go to say you have to make a high quality video or anything like that for every post, but if the subject matter or the reasoning for the post is something high quality, people will come back time and time again to see its progress.

               I also released 2 singles, one a month before release, and the other a couple days before release. This approach didn’t work as well as expected, but it did perk some ears that it made it’s way into.

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               For the CD release show, I had advertised online and messaged everyone I knew that was waiting for this album. The CD release show was almost as important to advertise as the album itself because you get a twofold victory from advertising well. One, you get people to come out to the show, and two, you make it clear that you are releasing an album, so anyone who didn’t know now knew once I sent them this message. This sparked conversations with people I hadn’t talked to in years and they were excited about the album.

               The CD release show went great, a lot of people came out surprisingly as there were 2 other huge shows going on in San Francisco that night. I was exhausted the day of the show from working non-stop the 4 days before, but gave it my all. I had made 2 foamboard smoke demons from my album cover for the merch booth which I finished at the venue at the last second. I had finished the album with everything I had envisioned, I had all the little extras I wanted, so I couldn’t be happier.

               I had download cards and flyers which I prepared for the show. The download cards simply had the album cover with text on the back saying that the album was “Out Now” and how to download it with the album art brick wall being in the background. I kept the layout minimal so it would have maximum impact. The flyers followed a similar approach having a similar style to the download cards text wise, but instead had the album cover in the background so that it would accomplish the wow factor and the minimalistic, high impact approach.

               The download cards were a huge success and I had gotten a huge amount of plays within the first two days as a result. I continue to pass these cards to anyone I talk to at shows and on the street. I also post flyers whenever and wherever I feel like is a good spot because I made the flyers and download cards so that they can be used anytime rather than just during the time of release.

               I have put the physical CD in a couple CD stores, namely in Marina and Los Angeles, CA. I also have the album on spotify and youtube and most other music outlets to provide maximum accessibility to everyone. Although I only advertise bandcamp and spotify so that I can direct my audience’s attention rather than telling them to “find it anywhere” as I hear so often. I feel directing the audience to 2-3 different sources that they are most likely to have or be able to access is a better approach because they have in their mind where to go rather than taking an extra step to have to think about where they want to listen to it.

 Conclusions:

               All in all, it was a very difficult album to make, but very rewarding. I feel like I finally made something worth showing and that is top quality. It took a lot of hard work, sleepless, and stressful nights to make it, but in the end, it was worth it. Working on some music videos next for this album, so keep an eye out!

Check out the album here and download it for free!

http://theresiduals.bandcamp.com

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