Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering A Song (Pt.2 Sp Edition)

Hey again,

Thanks to everyone for all of the great feedback and interest in Part One!

So far we have talked about what it's like to write a song, as well as some general ideas of how to arrange one. For this tutorial, I chose to do an arrangement of Darren Korb's Setting Sail, Coming Home from the Bastion soundtrack. Rather than simply try to recreate the original, I opted to create an A Capella version (you can find the process, as well as some examples of the sheet music back on Part 1).

I would like to preface this tutorial by saying that I will be doing my best to use language that everyone can understand, and will avoid talking about things that get too technical. If you have specific questions, be them basic or complicated, feel free to ask them in the comments or send me a private message and I will do my best to give you a clear & simple answer =)

Now that we have an arrangement that's ready to hand to my players, let's do just that and get this thing recorded.

(You are probably curious why this is a "Special Edition." Well, read on and you'll find out =) But be prepared, this will be a very long post)

Recording & Initial Editing

As you might expect, when you're working with live instruments, you're more than likely going to want some kind of way to get that sound into your computer. Sure, MIDI is an option (and an amazing one, at that) but it'd be nearly impossible for me to do a completely vocal arrangement with MIDI. This means that I'm going to have to get my singers' voices onto my computer via an Interface and a Microphone.

The interface

Above is what I used for getting my signal from the microphone into my computer. It is an MBox Pro Firewire Interface. Interfaces are one of your best friends when it comes to making & producing music in your home studio. Interfaces act as hubs for absolutely everything. Every signal that is going into your computer is connected directly through the interface, and every signal that comes out goes straight back to the interface. As you can see with the picture above, on the right side there is a 1/4 inch cable plugged in - those are my monitor headphones. Around back, my monitors (speakers) are also plugged in. On the left is where my microphone is plugged in. Every raw bit of audio coming in or out is handled by the interface.

The MBox Pro is fairly expensive, but you can find USB/Firewire interfaces for very reasonable prices by searching around Amazon and similar sites =)

To the left is a picture of my general setup. Just so you're clear on my equipment: I am using a Macbook Pro 15" with Logic Express 9 (the simplest version of Logic) to record & mix everything. My monitors are Equator D5s. To the right is the microphone I used to record my own vocals. My other vocalists recorded with their own.

Now that equipment is out of the way, let's talk recording.

I'm going to let you guys in on a secret - I did not record any of this in a sound-proofed room.

That's right, it is not taboo to make recordings without having to invest thousands and thousands of dollars in sound proofing equipment. You can get recordings that sound just fine with a regular room! Would I release songs recorded here on an album and sell millions of copies? Probably not. Realistically, If I wanted to do that then I'd definitely go for a room with great isolation from sound so my mic is only picking up frequencies from the voice; but unfortunately I'm not quite selling millions of albums. For the purposes of a more grounded professional musician, I'm content to work in my bedroom if a studio isn't available.

As far as micing technique goes, that is completely up to you. I did not use a pop screen when recording because I'm a fairly dry singer, but I know one of my male singers did indeed use one. How far away from the mic the singer should be is dependent on how loud they sing, how much gain you are giving them, et cetera. For singers, mic technique is all about trial and error. If you're micing instruments, it's a very similar concept except you likely will not be using a condenser mic for amps - you'd be better off with a dynamic mic like an SM57 directed at the speakers (probably with a -10 or -20 dB pad set). This is because compressor mics are picking up everything in the room as well, but you will only want the amp's sound if you're recording a guitar (for example).

Alright, let's bring our singers into the project now. As previously mentioned, I'll be doing the entirety of this project in Logic Express 9, but all of the concepts I'm putting forth can translate to whatever DAW (Digital Audio Workplace) you are using. Common DAWs include Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, Reaper (Free!!), Digital Performer, among many others.

As you can see from image on the left, I'm not using a template when starting this all up so I can show you every step.

Now, the first thing you're going to want to do upon entering your DAW's workspace is create a track. Usually you'll be prompted to make one, in this case I've made a mono audio track (I'm not recording in stereo, so stereo would be superfluous for this track). As you can see, my input is not set (bottom left side where it says I/O [Input/Output], the spot for input is blank) - that is my next step, so I am able to actually start using the audio from my microphone.

Now my input has been set (notice it says Input 1 under the I/O now). You will notice that on my track, I have the little "R" and the little "I" selected. The "R" is having the track 'Record Enabled,' meaning that when I hit record that track will be the one recording. The little "I" is for 'Input Monitoring,' which means I can hear my own voice through my headphones since the program is sending the signal out for me.

I have also finished my recording of the first track with the image on the left. As you can see, the track is not all one long chunk of sound like you would expect, it is broken into smaller pieces. This is because I have gone back and chopped up my recording where there is total silence. (As an aside: when I cut away silence, I try my damnedest to never take away any breaths - breathing make it sound organic. Taking away the breathing will make your recording sound lifeless and synthetic.) This is a practice you'll see throughout this tutorial - I like to segment my audio into smaller portions so I have a visual aid that can help me easily identify the various sections of the song. This is important, you will see this come back at the end.

Next up, I recorded my next track of vocals & chopped away the silence accordingly. You'll probably notice that in the new track, Zia Lead, that there is a little section with some white curves. Those are fades. What happened there is that my female singer had different timing than my male, so in order to line them up I made a cut between two of her words, changed their positioning, and faded between them to make it sound smooth/natural. I used the 'Fade Tool' in Logic to do this. You can find the Fade tool by clicking the spot on the upper right side (under 'Notes' & 'Media') that has the little cursor macro and switch to the 'Fade Tool.' Then it is just a matter of dragging and adjusting the curve to your liking.

Another thing you'll notice about the previous picture is that I have added a bunch of empty tracks. Now that my leads are recorded and I'm happy with how they sound, I can ignore them for the time being. I'm now going to focus completely on my background vocals until they are completed, then I'll incorporate the leads again near the end.

Now, bear in mind, this is not a performance practice that I will always follow. If I were recording a song with full instrumentation, (bass, drums, guitar, et cetera) the rhythm section would be recorded before my leads. I would always want to lay down something for the lead instruments to work over top of, but since I am working with vocalists I approached this recording in a different way. What I did was create a 'Guide Track' (if you look at the first screenshot I took, you'll see that a previous track available was 'Setting Sail Guide') which is a piano recording of all of the parts for my vocalists to record along with, seeing as there is no support apart from other vocalists when recording begins.

Back to the recording.

While I was ranting about guide tracks & which order you should record in, I've magically finished recording all of the parts. Since we have all of the tracks, I have color coded each one so they're easy to differentiate at a quick glance. Again, this is very important and will come back at the end. You'll notice that there are some paired colors, that is because I recorded some parts (Bass, Baritone, Tenor) with two different singers to give a fuller sound. Notice I've also arranged them from lowest voice (Bass) at the bottom, to highest voice (Soprano) at the top. This is all for the sake of workflow and being able to have a clear visual representation of everything you're working with. I know I have mentioned it a few times already, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a clear and easy workflow, you'll see why later.

With the above images, I have begun the next step in preparing my tracks. Similar to what I did with the lead vocals, I have listened to each track individually, making cuts where there was silence. I listen to each track in its entirety 2 times after I've finished my cuts just to make sure there are no artifacts (popping, buzzing, et cetera) and there is no distortion or noticeably bad breath noise. Then, I listen to each pairing of tracks (listen to both basses at the same time, listen to both baris, et cetera) to make sure they sound good together. You'll notice in the third picture that one of my bass parts has a whole lot of cuts, that's because I was fixing some entrance timings by chopping between words and moving them around to sync the two tracks up.

Now I noticed one little thing that needed fixing in one of my tracks. One of my Tenors hit a wrong note. That's okay, it is a quick fix. I used Logic's "Pitch Corrector" tool and loaded it onto the track (notice that in the 'Inserts' section on the left I have the Pitch Corrector set to my Tenor 2 track). I am now using the 'Automation' function of my DAW (Notice up on the top bar 'Automation' is selected').

Automation is something that you will want to use for the rest of your life in your DAW of choice.

Period.

What Automation does is, well, automate. You can tell it to do any function over any period of time, which means you won't physically have to worry about that function. Volume and panning are very common for automation, but in this case I will be automating my pitch corrector (you get to the automation of the inserts of your track by going to the automation state, clicking the little arrow on the bottom left of the track, and selecting whatever it is that you want to automate). Since my singer sang an E instead of an Eb, I will be telling my pitch corrector to change whatever note is being sung to an Eb once it hits a certain area (notice on the picture above and to the left that the automation has two states: on and off). Now that I've fixed that note, it will sound a little weird (Logic's pitch correct is not perfect). What I have done to compensate for that is brought the volume down at that note just a little bit so my other tenor's voice will make the area sound more natural (you can see the volume automation in the picture to the right).

The last thing I am going to do before moving on is to add some compression to some of my tracks. What compression does is, well, compress. If you have a track and the gain/volume of the track has parts that are really, really loud and parts that are really really quiet, it's going to be hard to work with that track as a whole because you'll have to alter the volume all over the place. What compression does is brings down those really loud parts to make them sound closer to those really soft parts, meaning the entire track is around the same volume. This is extremely useful for vocals, and is something you will need to learn how to use if you want to work with vocalists. I will not provide a tutorial on compressors right now; but if you have questions, feel free to ask.

Okay! Now the initial editing is done! Our tracks sound really great individually - there are no errors or artifacts, their volume is consistent and our paired parts sound good together. That means it is time to start mixing.

Mixing & Mastering

Ready to mix

Now is the time that I let you guys in on one of the reasons why this is a Special Edition. I want you guys to get the most out of this tutorial as possible, so I am going to do something a lot of audio engineers are uncomfortable publicly releasing and give you a raw file with absolutely no mixing or mastering. This is such an uncomfortable thing to do because there are still lots of errors that need to be fixed, some voices get drowned out, some are way too loud and it is generally misrepresentation of the final product. I wanted to provide this to you guys so you could have an idea of what this project sounds like at the time the above image was taken, compared to what the final product will sound like.

Here is the file for your reference.

(I have another surprise for you guys at the end that makes this tutorial even more special =) You'll enjoy it)

Now we know what our song sounds like with no mixing. Thankfully it doesn't sound terrible, and that is thanks to one thing: My singers. I'm about to let you guys know one of the most important piece of advice I've received.

The secret to having a good recording is having good players.

Yes, pitch correction and audio editing has gotten to a point where we can manipulate what we're working on to sound 'right,' but 'right' doesn't always mean 'good.' For something to sound good, it needs presence and confidence. Good singers have both of these things, as well as a great sense of pitch. Editing too much makes your work sound unnatural. Just remember: Confidence and presence make for good players, and good players make for good recordings.

Alright, now let's get to mixing.

As you may have noticed by the image above, all of my tracks are muted. That is because there is a golden rule when it comes to mixing: START FROM SILENCE. This is a rule that a lot of new engineers & producers don't understand and think it is best to mix things based on where they sound in a full mix. If you are doing that, please stop - the way I am mixing may take a little longer but it will sound much better.

Since I am starting from silence, I am mixing everything one track at a time. My first step is to mix my pairs together, to make sure both voices sound equal and to make sure they compliment each other rather than battle. I achieve this by volume automation between the two tracks.

Now, this is the point where things may start to get a little technical if you're new to this, but don't worry, it will all make sense. Now that I have mixed my paired voices, I am going to make it easier on myself for the final mixing process and make a new track that lets me control that new sub-mix (meaning I no longer have to change the individual tracks, I'll have one track that controls their combined output). This is a process called Bussing. Bussing has many purposes, including inserting a single effect to multiple tracks, routing tracks to external devices and signal flow (this one is what we're using Bussing for). Bussing is achieved by going to your mixer window and creating a new Auxiliary track, and using its I/O settings to control which Bus you will use. In the images above, you'll notice that I made a new track under each of my paired sections. If you look at the 'input' of each of these tracks, you'll see that its input (under the I/O section) is Bus (x).

Busses in mixer

Notice that in my mixer window, the Auxiliary tracks are labeled in Tan where my audio tracks are labeled in Blue. also notice that my various Bass, Bari & Tenor parts all have their 'output' section of their I/O set to a Bus. Ignore the highlighted track for now, it will be explained soon.

Now that we have set up our busses, it is time for us to start mixing individual sections. Since I have my Basses, Baris and Tenors bussed, I will no longer be mixing their individual tracks but their Auxiliary tracks through automation. I start one at a time in an additive way. First I begin by mixing my Basses and Baris, (shown in picture on left) making sure they blend well. After that is complete, I add my Tenors (shown in picture on right) and mix until I feel they completely blend.

Once I am happy with that mix, I create another bus (that is where the highlighted track in the above picture I asked you to ignore comes in). Since these are all mixed well together, I can now mix them as a unit by routing them all to a new bus that is specific to their section (Male Backgrounds). The routing for these busses is shown in the picture to the left, my apologies for having cut off the track labels - but hopefully you'll see that it is still the Male BGs (male backgrounds) track that is selected and that its input is now Bus 4, and all of our bussed male sections have their output set to Bus 4 as well.

Now that we have our male section ready, I go through the exact same process with my female section. I first mix my female background parts together (thankfully there are only two of them this time around) and then create a bus for their section once I am happy with their mix. The next thing I do is mix my two background sections together, and then add my lead parts to get a general idea of how I want everything to balance. The above pictures document that process.

Now, I'm nearing the end. Since I'm adding my lead vocals, I am doing very minimal amounts of movement with my individual tracks anymore, it is almost entirely mixed with volume automation from my busses. After a while, I finally have a final mix.

Mixing Completed

Now I hope you can see why I stress having very clear workflow habits (color coding, order of tracks, et cetera). Without any order, the above picture would make absolutely no sense; but since I have my sections split up, my tracks colored and have them in the proper order, I can clearly see exactly what I'm working with. Get into the habit of practicing good workflow habits from the very start, that way you won't be tripping over yourself when you're nearing the end of your project.

Now that I am happy with how the general mix is, I will apply some mastering effects. These include Reverb, Equalization, Saturation and Stereo Imaging. I have provided a quick screenshot of most of the effects I used above. For the 4 images on the left, pay attention to what is at the top of the little window the effect is in, these are new busses I've created solely for mastering. They are the Mastering Lead bus and Mastering Background bus. These both go straight to my output, which mas my final mastering effects (seen in the right two pictures) which include a final EQ, Stereo Imaging, Multiband Dynamics, Loudness Maximizer and a Harmonic Exciter.

This is what a track looks like before its file hits your ears

This brings us to the end of this tutorial.

One thing that is worth knowing is that this entire process took somewhere around 40 hours to complete between transcription, arrangement, recording, editing, mixing and mastering. To make a professional-sounding recording takes a lot of work, as well trial & error when you're learning the process; but I hope you agree that the product is worth it.

Thank you for reading along and, again, if you have any questions I would be more than happy to answer whatever ones you may have! Feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment about anything and I will get back to you within a day (usually).

Now, remember I mentioned there is another reason this is a special tutorial for you guys? Here is why. I have not only provided a recording of this song for you, but I have provided the stems as well.

Stems are those colored tracks you see above rendered as audio files. There are 10 individual audio tracks so you can bring them into your DAW and experiment with them yourself =) They have all of the effects applied from my mastering tools, so they may be strange to work with; but it should give you an idea of how you can alter the volume, panning and various other elements of each track to change the sound of the entire project.

Here is a link to the stems.

I hope you enjoy them! And I also hope you enjoy the song.

I have uploaded the completed song to Soundcloud, you can check it out here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this tutorial and I hope it has been helpful to you. Again, if you need any help, have any questions, feedback, criticism or generally want to chat, get a hold of me any time.

<>

-Alex

12 Comments

Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering A Song (Part 1)

Hey all

You guys have probably seen me posting around Giant Bomb for a few years now - posting about things like having depression, driving a zamboni, as well as posting some music I composed for the Global Game Jam and, more recently, posting a symphonic song I did.

I adore the Giant Bomb community and wanted to give back to you guys by providing an interactive tutorial. I'll lift the curtains and let you guys come behind the scenes of a working musician, giving you my interpretation of what a professional musician does when he/she is working with a piece of music. I'll take you through the entire process - from writing & transcribing what's in your mind to finally having a product that you feel comfortable releasing to the world.

This post is meant for anyone & everyone who is interested in writing & recording music, so I'll try my best to use language that be understood by people of all skill levels. For the purpose of brevity, I will be skipping over some very essential skills such as Music Theory, and basic functionality of DAWs (Digital Audio Workplaces, like Garage Band, Logic, Ableton Live, Cubase, Pro Tools and the like). If you have any basic, specific or technical questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send me a direct message. I will be more than happy to address any queries you may have.

Let's us begins

The First Few Steps - Composing & Arranging Your Song

Everyone's musical process starts in a different way. Some people like to sit at a piano and plunk out notes until something they like comes out, others like to figure it all out with nothing but a piece of paper & a pencil, where someone else may like composing entirely within a program on their computer (using something like Finale, Guitar Pro, et cetera). Personally, I do all of the above. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to write a piece of music as long as you're happy with what comes out in the end.

For the purpose of this post, I will not be composing/writing an original, but rather doing an arrangement of a song composed by someone else. I have chosen to do the song Setting Sail, Coming Home by Darren Korb (from the Bastion soundtrack).

The way I approach transcription is to start by having an instrument handy (piano, guitar or bass are my personal go tos) and play along with the recording's melody a few times. As I do this I'll jot down what I'm playing into Finale, until the melody is completely transcribed.

Zulf's Melody
Zia's Melody

On either side of this text is an example of what my initial transcription of both melody/vocal parts looks like. (just give them a click & they'll expand)

Once I'm convinced what I have on the page is correct, that's when I start to flush everything out. My next step is to transcribe all of the chords that are happening underneath. I have included all of the transcriptions, including the one with chords & guitar solo, in the download link below.

Here is a link to all the PDFs of the transcription.

Now that we have all of these components, it's time to actually start arranging this tune to make it into something more than just recreating the original.

I have decided to go in a completely different direction with this song and am making it A Capella (done solely with voices, no instruments).

NOTE: Bear in mind that I am going to be doing a fairly elaborate arrangement here. If you're writing an original tune with a band you are already writing/playing with them all the time this whole process may not even be necessary. Since I am only one person and I want a full vocal arrangement, I need something that I can to hand to players that is easy to read/understand so they can perform & record the song with little issue. You may not need to do this in your situation, but it is an extremely valuable skill to have.

I will skip over the detailed process of actually arranging all of this because that would be an entire tutorial in and of itself, but here is the basic thought process that I go through:

I listen to what parts of the original song I want to influence my arrangement, and picture in my head how I want it to sound in the end. Do I want a voice emulating the drums? No. Now, since there is no percussion, how will I compensate for that? Well, I'll need movement in the accompanying voices so it doesn't sound stale. What's my solution? I'll have the accompanying voices emulating the guitar, as well as harmonizing with the melody to provide a flowing and thick feel. But how many voices do I need? Well I want the bass to be doing its own thing to provide a solid foundation for everything else, I want a male doing one melody part and a female doing the other melody part like the original - the middle voices will flush out the rest of the spectrum with a female Alto and Soprano, and then a male Tenor and Baritone since my Bass is doing something completely unrelated. How about an intro? Well, it'd be boring to just start with a bunch of voices doing that guitar intro so let's just be simple and have it start with one voice and then build from there. Remember, simple is better. How about that guitar solo section? I'll completely change the accompaniment there, have everyone doing completely different things that cascade & flow, and then have everyone in rhythmic unison at the end. Okay, this sounds good, let's actually get to it now.

That is just an example of the madness that was going through my head when making the arrangement. The skills necessary for arranging, as well as being able to write specifically for vocalists, is a little idiosyncratic. If anyone is interested I can touch further on that process, but for now I will simply provide the final version of my arrangement.

Below are a few pages from the arrangement just to give you an idea of what I hand to the singers. (Link to the entire PDF here)

Now we are getting somewhere.

The arranging process can sometimes be the step that takes the longest (if you're doing an elaborate arrangement like I did here). It involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation and a lot of failure. Don't be discouraged though! I have failed innumerable times, but you learn from each and every one of those failures and your arrangements get better and better.

If you're simply writing a song with a band in your garage, maybe you don't even need to write it down like this; but, as previously stated, this is a skill that is invaluable if you want to make a career/make this whole process easier on musicians you're inviting in.

Now that we have an arrangement, we are ready to begin the next step.

I will continue this tutorial in another post in the very near future, providing screenshots of my work process within my DAW of choice, how I go about mixing all of the vocals and what I do to make everything sound professional for a final product. In the end, I will also provide you guys with a recording of the song, complete with 5 vocalists.

Stay tuned, and if you find these posts interesting I would be more than happy to do more!

<>

EDIT:

Part 2 is up and you can check it out here =)

Edit 2:

Updated dead links, welcome OC ReMixers!! Thanks for checking this out

21 Comments

Hardware Review: Playstation TV

I'm a fairly frugal person, but this Holiday season I decided to go against my nature and spend a little of my hard-earned cash on Boxing Day sales.

I purchased a new PS3 Slim to take the place of my PS3 fat that's on its way out (and is also across the continent while I'm back home from school) and figured, "well, the Playstation TV is on sale and I could use a new personal gaming monitor... Also, it could be cool to experience 3D gaming." With that, I bit the bullet and purchased one on sale for $299.

First off, I'd like to say the PS3 slims are amazing! Quieter than my fat ever was and extremely light, making it easy to transport - I'll probably take it back to school with me, as I'm almost certain the old one is going to explode within the year. (I'll miss that PS2 backwards compatibility, though...) I highly recommend the PS3 slim if you guys are ever in the market for a new console, I played it for 5 hours straight between watching a film and playing Rayman: Origins, and the thing stayed nigh silent the whole time and kept itself very cool.

Anyways, the TV - I'll try to keep this short so you aren't facing a wall of text

My initial thought upon opening the box was how sleek Sony has gotten with their packaging. Everything fits together really tidily and looks appealing upon first opening. It is a subtle touch, but one that's very appreciated. Everything that is included seems to be of very high quality. The stand feels sturdy, the HDMI cable doesn't feel flimsy like most stock connection cables and the 3D glasses seem like they can take a beating.

The screen itself isn't extremely large, it is 24" - a fair size but definitely not meant to be the main screen in your living room. It works remarkably well on a desk, and does a superb job doubling as a PC monitor. The contrast between lights and darks on the Playstation TV is some of the best I've ever seen, regardless of the size of the screen. The whites are bright and the darks don't have that blueish tinge that is notable with lower quality screens.

Don't let the angle fool you, the screen is actually smaller than it appears

The connections are simple, the TV has 2 HDMI ins and one Component in. I'm using the HDMI cable provided and running the sound from the back of the TV to a small set of speakers and subwoofer via the 1/8th inch stereo out. I have yet to encounter any issues with connections (they all feel as though the components are strong and not likely to weaken over time) but will update if that changes.

There is one issue you should be aware of if you plan to use the Playstation TV as an actual TV, though. It does not come with a remote control. This is fine for me as I'm using it more as a monitor, but if you require a remote control you should be able to use the Playstation remote, or any universal remote.

Cell phone picture does not capture it, but the 1080p resolution is gorgeous

Now... 3D Gaming.

I'd never experienced an active 3D system before. I'd previously used those great old red/blue 3D glasses, as well as the more recent RealD glasses that most modern movie theatres employ, and have never been a fan. Maybe you'll think it was a bad idea for someone who has a predisposition against 3D to purchase a 3D TV, but as I'm making my way into the gaming industry (I'm a composer and studio/sound engineer) I figured I should know as much about what innovations are happening in gaming as possible.

I like 3D gaming.

I really like 3D gaming.

This realization totally caught me off guard. My first experience with 3D gaming was with Wipeout HD. I first played a few rounds in standard 2D, and then moved to 3D. There were a few things that I noticed almost immediately: the HUD pops out at you and the sense of speed is much more dramatic. I really enjoy the HUD aspect. For some reason I'd forever associated HUDs as just being a part of a screen, but when it pops out at you you truly get a different perspective on the entire game you're playing. I actually prefer it.

I haven't had any problems using the glasses, either. Sometimes you can notice the flickering if you look at another screen (cell phones, et cetera) but overall their active nature isn't too noticeable. It does wash out the colors a bit, but it isn't extremely dramatic. I also have yet to encounter any issues with becoming dizzy with the 3D, even after 2 hours of play.

I haven't tried any other games with 3D yet, but I do own Uncharted 3 and will be playing that on Friday - I'll update with my thoughts on that after playing. I will also update with my thoughts on SimulView (2 players seeing different images on the same screen) technology when my best friend and I play with that a bit.

My thoughts on the Playstation TV are extremely positive after having used it for 3 days now. I recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone who is looking for a very high quality experience for an extremely reasonable price-point (especially on sale).

5 Comments

"Just take my money!" - Awesome things to buy

Hey guys, I thought I'd throw out a blog post that shows off some really, really awesome products out there that I'd personally love to try or at least have around.

First off, never worry about jumping into the shower at the 'wrong time' again with the Temperature Controlled Color Changing LED Shower Head

How awesome is that?! No more guessing about when the temperature is just right when you're stepping into the shower. Also, I think it'd be pretty awesome to have a shower in the dark with glowing water =)

Next up: enjoy every day with a pop of the Bubble Calendar

Think 'Advent Calendar,' but it lasts all year - and is like bubble wrap... But a calendar... I know that I'd probably lose control about halfway through the year and just start popping all of them.

You like getting involved in things during betas, right? Well why not join the beta for the Hover Bike?

Yes, you can buy one of these prototypes =) Personally, I'd be much too terrified to give one of these a shot right now; but the idea is fantastic!

Ever been to the beach? Ever brought a towel to the beach and then suffered the frustration of getting sand everywhere after the fact? Well, no more with the Sandless Beach Mat!

Maybe if you turn the thing upside-down, you can find your way to china!

Like having random information on the fly? Why not carry Wikipedia around with you always with the Pandigital WikiReader - No internet connection required!

As it says in its description, it's like having 1000 editions of an Encyclopaedia with you at all times =) And it has a 'random' button!!!

That's what I've got for you guys for now, if you'd like to see these and more, check out the 'Shut up and take my money' subreddit here.

If you guys like this, I'll try making another one in the near future!

Thanks,

-Alex

6 Comments

Being a Zamboni driver

First off, I'd really like to thank everyone who read my previous blog post, it was incredibly interesting to read how many different people have been affected by depression in some way and the support was so very appreciated. Thank you.
 
Anyways, more importantly. 
 
Zambonies. 
 
 



 
If you've been to any event that's taken place at an arena (save for Curling), you've likely seen one. (Or an Olympia, another brand of Ice Resurfacer) They are big, they are cute and they are mesmerizing. Seeing dirty, white ice transform into clean, reflective ice has a hypnotic quality to it. 
 
As a Canadian, it wasn't uncommon when you were a kid to sit around at your local rink during a minor league hockey game and spend the intermissions pressing your face against the glass to watch the whole procedure - it seemed magical. As an Olympic level Speed Skater (short story: qualified for Olympic trials, didn't want to give up 150% of my free time), I'd even spend some of my warm-up and down time watching the thing. I think it's safe to say that anyone who's experienced this euphoric effect has wanted the opportunity to drive one of these mythical mechanical beasts.
 
I've spent the past year (and a bit) working in order to help afford my education for fall 2011 onward. I ended up getting a job working for the city I live in as a maintenance person as well as 'manager' of the local outdoor stage they own. (I have lots of sound/music background, that's what I'm continuing my education in) This was a pretty cool gig! I spent my whole summer outdoors working with musicians (and some actors for a while, but we don't speak of thespians) and enjoying the fresh air. Below this text was a picture of where I was working.
 
It was picturesque, beautiful and a perfect job for summer.
 
But... Being Canadian....
 
So much for the cushy, outdoor stage job.
 
Seeing as the stage is not heated and that it wasn't going to be used for the 10 months of winter we have, (exaggeration, just so you know. Barely...) I had to be relocated until next season. I was scared of ending up doing too much outdoor work now! Thankfully, it finally got decided (plus, you already know where I'm going with this) - I was to be 'stationed' in the arenas until the grass came back out.
 
At first it didn't settle in. "arenas, huh? Cool, so I'll be picking up garbage after games, cleaning dressing rooms..." 
"Ready for your training on the machine?"
"Machine? What?
 
Oh....
 
Hell yes"
 
It took about an afternoon's worth of learning to get the basics, but I could essentially start driving a Zamboni! I let loose with the thing in the empty arena, got it up to top speed and felt the cool air running through my hair (it can go pretty quick!) before turning in for my first few practice floods. Sure, my ice didn't look perfect the first few times; but after a few weeks it was starting to get consistent! Now, having done it for around a year, I can do pretty good ice fairly consistently (not perfect though, it takes a ton of experience to nail it every time - I'll touch on that in a second) but the controls are no longer an issue; it's simply the gauging of how much water to leave, how much ice to take off, etc.
 
Let's talk about how a Zamboni works.
 
People see these machines all the time, but unless you play these sports or are maintaining the ice, you rarely think about what the thing is actually doing. The Zamboni is essentially performing two tasks: 

1) Slicing off a thin layer of ice with an extremely (read: EXTREMELY, ARM SEVERINGLY) sharp blade, and the snow that is produced is taken via a horizontal and then vertical auger into the hopper (The big blue part in the picture provided earlier [our machine's hopper was white]).  

2) Spreading water behind it with a skirt which acts as a giant squeegee.
 
This is simplifying it to its extremes, but these are the basic principles of the Zamboni. 
 
There is also a very specific path which is followed, I have attempted to draw it out. (Sorry I suck at drawing)
 
 
As you can see, we start with the edges then work to the middle, then start a series of loops which are the exact same size around whilst overlapping at the ends. The tricky part comes from knowing how to balance your water at the ends (if you don't leave enough, it'll look dry and crappy. If you use too much, it'll build up and start melting that ice [we use hot water]) as well as adjusting your blade (you're going over the same spot over and over again, if you leave your blade down you'll wear it down).
 
You do get used to that though, haha. Allow me to show you the controls =)
 
This is taken from the seat of the Zamboni. From right to left: 

1) This is the control for the blade. It controls the incline as well as the height, so it is not just a simple up-and-down motion.
2) This controls the water. When away from you (as it is here) the water is off, and towards you the water is fully on.
3) This controls the smaller water tank (see the number 708? It's located on that tank) that is used for, well, more water.
4) The plunger. That helps clear up the bottom of the vertical auger in case ice/snow is building up.
 
All the while, this is being controlled via a hydrostatic (constant RPM) motor. The significance of this motor means that the auger is constantly moving at the same speed and you can go as fast or as slow as you want - your speed will have no effect on the auger.  (The aforementioned Olympia machines run on a regular motor, so you have to watch your RPMs in the corners)
 
This thing also runs on natural gas, in case you were interested. That's why we can run it indoors for a long time with minimal amounts of ventilation, seeing as natural gas burns fairly clean =)
 
Lastly, I'd like to show a view from behind the driver's seat during a flood.
 
This was during my last flood of the season, 2 weeks ago, before the ice came out =)  
 
We're now doing summer maintenance in this arena, and my first time back at the stage will be this Sunday! Hoorah =)
 
Feel free to ask any questions! I'd love to take some.
 
Hope you guys found this somewhat interesting =)
 
-Alex
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Being a Gamer With Depression

Mental illness isn't a subject that many are incredibly candid about; nor is it something that many people feel comfortable talking about. I would like to be forthcoming with my own issues. I suffer from clinical depression, and refuse to take any medication to suppress any of the symptoms.

When I was growing up, my free time was split as such at home: 20% sports, 40% Music, 40% gaming. As I grew up in the 90s, and my consoles of choice were the SNES in the early 90s and the N64 as well as PC gaming in the mid-late 90s. The worlds of these games were enthralling and let my imagination run wild with the vivid imagery the artists had created. RPGs, platformers, action and adventure games were my chosen genres for most of that time and it was really easy to lose entire weekends devoted to one single game, playing through it in its entirety more than once. The passion in the industry was exciting and the fact that games were getting so drastically much better from year-to-year made me excited for the prospect of what the future of gaming would hold.

As I grew older, games were always there. In the early 00s I fell further into the PC gaming side of it, joining clans in games like Quake 3, Elite Force, Jedi Knight II/Jedi Knight Academy, etc. The communities were always like-minded people who loved the same things you did, were there for the same reason; but yet all came from completely different backgrounds. There were rich kids, poor kids, smart kids, dumb kids, physically handicapped kids and star athletes. For a young teenager, it gave me such a beautiful vision for what communities of people should act like; but, as I grew older, I discovered that wasn't the case.

This is where gaming started falling to the wayside. Mid-teens to early adulthood - things start getting a little rough all over the place. Family, friends and general social connections started getting very weak and it became difficult to stay motivated for anything. I had lost some of my best friends to car accidents, had been disowned by old friends due to drama caused by lies, witnessed my immediate family fall apart... A lot of extremely negative situations all falling unto themselves. Sadly, being introverted made this very difficult to deal with and I ended up simply bottling up those emotions for years.

Having been hurt when trying to open up to people before, it felt impossible to get any kind of catharsis through conversations. My old friends had all either moved or stopped talking to me, and I didn't trust anyone 'new' enough to open up. My girlfriend at the time was my best friend, but she was not the best to talk to with these things (she happens to be a bit of a thespian and doesn't quite understand sincerity with delicate issues). I tried many different things to feel 'better.' (None of these ways included illicit substances or alcohol. I am strictly against using mind-altering substances due to the deaths of friends and family as well as family history... Etc) Eventually, things that were previously my greatest passions became chores. I never felt like leaving the house to continue doing sports, music was less fun and more demanding and gaming, one of my favorite ways to lose myself, seemed pointless.

I had my PS3 and would continually try to sit down and play through a game like Uncharted or Resistance; but couldn't keep dedicated. My mind would wander, I would find stupid things to complain about ('those textures look weird,' 'come on story, move faster,' 'another puzzle? no..') and then would walk away from them. PC gaming was the same, even the old community stuff felt trite. I found it hard to play online for more than 10 minutes because I'd get frustrated after losing a round or two. It felt I had become fatigued from gaming, though I'd barely been doing it. There was no getting around it, I knew something was wrong.

By the point this really hit me was after 2 years of University. The summer of 2010.

I moved back home so I could spend the following year working, earning money to go to school in the States (I'm Canadian) and not have to take out loans. I was living in the city where all my old friends lived; but none of them would ever want to see me. I was living in the house of a deteriorating family, they eventually fell apart. I still had my girlfriend, but even we broke up. (Though we remain best friends to this day. I consider her my only real friend here) Things were not positive, and to top it off, I grew tired of my job. (Still working for it though, for school)

Things seemed really bad, and I was constantly down in-the-dumps, crying at night, losing all motivation to talk to people or do things - I needed change. I talked very sincerely with some close friends from University as well as my previous girlfriend/best friend. I let little bits out and bore some hidden emotions to some very trusted people. Not a lot of opening up, but more than there had been for all of my life. This prompted me to incite bigger change. I found a psychologist who was recommended to me by my workplace, and had my initial consultation. I let my emotions fly, talked about things I refused to talk about and that had almost become repressed memories. He knew more about me by the end of an hour than most anyone knew about me from a lifetime of friendship.

Through that psychologist, I learned that my depression was textbook and that all the tragedies that had happened in my life became huge burdens to me. It was because of my personal issues that things had become so difficult to enjoy and I was so constantly pained.

The talk with this man opened my eyes and I immediately realized how foolish I had been to avoid things I loved... I decided to try and open up with someone else. I traveled back to the city in which I went to University and spent a whole day hanging out with a friend who I considered someone I wanted to be close with. We both talked about our respective issues, and through that day learned that we were very much the same - losing passions, rough pasts, repressed feelings, depression... We both got a lot of of the time together and agreed that we really needed to do this more often.

That day with the friend was yesterday.

The fact is that depression is likely to be a part of my life for a very long time; but understanding it and being honest with yourself about it is the only way to truly deal with it. It is not weak to talk to people about it, nor should it be scary if you have someone you trust and love. If they care about you, they'll listen - and it's entirely likely that they have hard times too and need someone just as much.

Back to gaming, though.

After that consultation with the psychiatrist (this was about 6 months ago), I noticed that I started seeing the joy in things I did previously. Now I could pick up my instrument and learn a piece of music for fun rather than feel burdened by it again. I could find the motivation to go for a 4 hour bike ride. Most importantly to me, though - I had the state of mind to be able and sit down with a game and enjoy it for the story and atmosphere again.

I could have cried the first time I was able to sit down and enjoy a story like that again. The game that drew me back was Mass Effect. I became totally enraptured with the characters, the fiction and the universe - I kept playing and genuinely wanting to know what would happen next, doing every side quest I could and reading every codex entry between missions. The catharsis of being back in the gaming world made me so happy, and I continue to love playing games - even more-so now! Resistance 2, Uncharted 2, Grand Theft Auto 4, Persona 4, Portal 2 - I've played through all of these in the past few months.

The reason I'm writing this is that I know some people are going through similar things in their lives, and even though I'm a complete stranger to you - I care. I know, I've been there; but it does get better. You just have to make it better for yourself. Find someone to listen to you. Hell, I'll listen to you if you really need to talk. I'm completely willing to try and help.

I'd really like to extend my gratitude to the wonderful community here at Giant Bomb and Whiskey Media. I've been coming here since its inception, as well as the other sites that grew out of it. (Screened, Tested and later got into Comic Vine)

I'd been coming here for years, but was simply not motivated enough to make an account or try to participate in anything because of the hole I'd been stuck in for that whole time. Though that was the case, I loved the Quick Looks and Endurance Runs - I'd spend hours of my day watching them and thoroughly enjoying them. Now that I'm 'well,' it's good to know that a community like this exists and that it is so much like the communities I used to belong to (albeit much bigger, and with more console fanboys than there were then).

I love you guys, and I want you to know that you rock <3

-Alex

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