I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making bacon

Did I ever mention how much I wanted to be a DJ? Ah, yes, I did. Repeatedly. OK then! But did I ever mention that I now am a DJ, of sorts? Because I .. oh, wait. I've done that too. Seems I need some other flimsy excuse to big up mixcloud.com and my shows. And this is it! In an attempt not to gain listeners, but to hopefully entice others to make shows that I can listen to, here's a guide to how I make PORK. (No animals were harmed during the writing of this post; the chicken in the curry I've just ordered died ages ago. Probably)

Now, I could just say "I use such-and-such-a-piece-of-software, go read the instructions", but that would be pretty damn lazy of me, so what the hell: Flight of the Conchords doesn't start for ages, I'll kill the intervening time trying to be helpful. I may not succeed.

All that said, I do need to mention the software, as it is pretty central to the whole process.

The software #1

I use Übercaster. It's a Mac-only piece of kit which isn't free, both of which may alienate a lot of people from the start. But I only have a Mac; and I did try a few free hoops, but jumping through them proved comparatively painful.

The songs

I wrote a bunch of stuff here about how I go about picking the songs, and now I've deleted it: it was all pointless guff and bunkum. The simple fact is I buy and listen to loads of metal, and when a song grabs me by the bollocks I note it down. When I've got to 10-12 songs I call it a setlist.

The setlist

I have a formula. It goes something like this:
  • start with something which sounds like a pig
  • flip-flop between death metal and grindcore
  • play something a bit lighter about three-quarters the way through
  • finish with a beast
Not exactly rocket surgery.

The software #2

Back to the nuts-and-bolts how-I-make-the-show bit.

Übercaster is awesome. I want to make that clear. I'm not on commission, this isn't an advert, and I forked out 80 quid even though I could have easily got a cracked or hacked copy. I forked that out because I used it for the first 3 shows in free mode and loved it. The way Übercaster lets (actually, makes) me work is what makes the show so easy and fun to do. The enforced workflow is this: prepare, record, cut, release.


OK, so there's still a step prior to Übercaster: I copy the mp3s I'm going to use into a directory for the episode, numbered in the setlist order. So for example 01-AnnotationsOfAnAutopsy-GoreGoreGadget.mp3 and so forth.


Now I'm ready to fire up Übercaster. To begin with I'm presented with a mostly empty screen, with nothing but the mic configured. You can do a lot of things at this stage, if you're more professional than I am: set up auto-timings (if you know how long you want to, or are going to, speak for), use a show "template" which contains, say, the jingles or ads you're going to play already, etc etc. But I'm just going to play music and talk, so it starts thus:

Into this window I drag and drop the songs. Once they're imported, most times my OCD takes over a little bit and I arrange them into the right order, normally in 3 columns. Why do I do that? No idea. Here's some proof that I don't always.

Note the numbers in the boxes. They are the shortcut keys I have assigned each song. This is my favourite feature of the software: a key turns the sources on and off while you're recording, which means mute/unmute for the mic and play/stop for the songs. I set them up to be orderly and intuitive: M for the mic, 1-9 for songs 1-9, 0 for the tenth song, and if there are more, shift+1-9 for songs 11-19 (though I'm unlikely to ever play that many songs in one show). The next picture shows the dialog which comes up when you set it. It's so simple, and means no dicking around with the mouse/trackpad during the show.


Actually recording the show is so easy -- because of the keyboard shortcuts, because all the chat is freeform, and because I do no mixing, beat-matching, cross-fading, etc, it's simply this:
  • click record
  • wait for the 3-2-1 intro countdown
  • say "My name's Darren, and this is PORK"
  • hit 1, hit M
  • ... song 1 finishes, hit M, talk ...
  • hit 2, hit M
  • ... song 2 finishes, hit M, talk ...
  • rinse and repeat 'til the last song
Here's the recording screen, with a song playing. The red boxes are the live sources, and the "clip" (song) shows how long it has left. It starts to flash with 5 seconds to go, which is handy. You can also see there's an overall running time near the bottom left too, plus the familiar record/stop/pause controls. There are other fancier bits too, volume levels and source controls, but I'm such a basic user they mean nowt to me.

I use a Logitech ClearChat Pro USB mic to record my voice, these days. Prior to that (for the first two shows) I just used the laptop's builtin mic. Nothing pro here, and I've no desire to spend money on more equipment.

The spiel

I have very little in mind about what I'm going to say between each songs. I mean, fairly obviously I'm going to say who and what I either just played or am about to play (or both), and I'll make some repetitive claims as to the filthy provenance of each song, and sometimes I'll say what album and/or year it came from. If the band are playing at Hellfest I tend to mention that, ditto if I ever saw the band live. But other than that I let the emotion take me where it wants. The key point, I believe, is that I listen to the songs live. They're not just cut and pasted in, with me doing the talking bits pretending I've just heard the song. I have just heard the song! And how it makes me feel feeds what I say.

I'm led to believe that Bruce Dickinson sounds rubbish and wooden on his radio show, as if he's reading a script and having his talking bits spliced in between the songs. The opposite approach to mine. Maybe his is better, I don't know.


Back to Übercaster. Cutting, for me, is just tidying up. Do I go back and listen to my own voice? Sort of. Sometimes I'll listen to entire links, but mostly I'll just listen to the transitions between chat and pork. In "cut" mode, Übercaster lets you drag entire clips around, and also shorten them by grabbing the ends and moving them inward. So, since generally I turn the mic off after the song starts, cutting mostly consists of ripping off the overlapping bits from the mic. Then I tighten the gaps between music and talking up a bit -- perhaps talk over a fading out cymbal or what have you -- and we are GO.

Übercaster lets you do loads more than I do with it. You can create volume envelopes, and by having multiple sources playing at once you can do mixes etc. I could fade a song out and talk over it, or fade it in, etc etc. But I don't. This software is powerful and I only scratch the surface. Pork scratchings, if you will.


Release is their single-word for saying "save". Of course I'm being a bit flippant, and it's more than that: releasing an Übercaster project actually means saving it to mp3, filling the mp3 with ID3 tag metadata (including album art), etc etc. What's more, it has integration to things like Amazon S3 and FTP, meaning it'll acutally publish it on the internet if you want. But I only put mine up on mixcloud, so saving it as an mp3 is good enough for me.


I'm really not going to document the mixcloud upload process here. Come on! Suffice it to show that I put the setlist in a text editor ready to cut and paste in, but that's about it. Then I go announce it on twitter (and therefore Facebook), and hey presto. PORK.

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