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Highway to Hell - revisited

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ronws
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In another thread, I mentioned that one day, with quite a bit of twang, I thought I had approached the timbre of Bon Scott while singing this song and then, midway through, changed to how I normally sing it. Mike and jonpall were interested in hearing that. Only, I can't quite reproduce what I did. It may vary well have to do with something I was breathing that day. I work in construction and I am exposed to all kinds of dust and particles, including blown popcorn insulation, drywall dust, cutting oil from pipe fitters, diesel fumes from heavy machinery. Hollering across a work site to a co-worker, you name it.

Anyway, I have been recording this song for most of this week, trying to recreate what I described. Today, I did at least 4 takes. I mowed the lawn earlier and I thought maybe grass pollen might affect things. I can't do what I thought I could do. However, samples were asked for and I thought I would submit this.

The backing track is a karaoke track I downloaded but it had original vocals on it so I used the vocal remover for center panned vocals that is available in Audacity. It doesn't remove it all but quite a bit. Including the tones of instruments near the range of the vocals. So, the music sounds a bit rough.

I used breath support, fry, twang, and some covering, I think. After recording, I used the pre-set eq labelled Columbia. I used compression. I adjusted the volume of both tracks. I tried clip fix and that didn't help anything. And I think I like this version better than the acoustical version I had submitted when I first came to this forum.

I feel I do better when I sing with the spirit of the song rather than trying to exactly copy Bon Scott. I have no illusions and I am on the highway to hell. That's a whole other thread in maybe a different forum. So, it is somewhat of a theme song for me.

And come to think of it, when I hear the original, it sounds like Bon Scott is overloading the mic. Well, I can do that, easily enough, especially with the mic that I have.

Columbia pre-set is bass heavy and I used it precisely to recover any bass tone. Of which I don't really have any in this song. I didn't hurt myself in any part. Don't ask me how, but I get a diatone in my voice in the phrase "Don't need Rhyme." I like that sound and kept it. So, this is me and I can now accept what I sound like on this mic.

It's rough sounding and distorted. But I welcome any thoughts, really I do. Good, bad, indifferent. Maybe I can figure how Bon Scott got that sound. Whether it was genetics that gave him a naturally high and raspy voice, or the response curve of his mic, or both. But whatever, I really enjoy doing this song, even if it's just for myself.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/Highway%20To%20Hell%20-%202.mp3

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Hi Ron! I liked that take! It sounds like you're on the right track. You had a light sound colour and it was twangy, which is good for these type of vocals. But you said that you wanted to add rasp and I think I know how you could achieve it. You need to add more "evil" into the sound, IMO :) If you gradually think more "evil" or "intense" or whatever works for you, rasp should appear. But you have to try to do this without simply clenching your throat. Try to "think" of the sound you want rather than "how" you are going to do it, and keep the focus in your soft palate. Listen again to your take. It's not "evil" enough, right? :) I'm sure you can put that sound in if you experiment with it. But note that it might take more than one day to really get it ingrained into your muscle memory. It might take a few days to learn how to make the sound but a year to be able to do it without thinking about it. If you need help in finding out how to produce that "evil" sound, let me know and perhaps I could help. Hope this helps! Cheers.

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Hey Ron, I've been listening to your clip all morning. I liked your low and high midrange , it's really close to Bon's style.

Your really high notes I think need to be a bit more solid. It seems to me you go into a different , albeit weaker, side of your voice.

I compared it to your previous performance and liked this one much more.

I second what Jonpall said about rasp.

Keep'em coming Ron,

Thanos

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Sounding good Ron! Better than I sound trying it for certain! Bon has such a hard sound to emulate and for me I end up constricting too much. It sounds like you have a much easier time on this version. Keep rocking' buddy!

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Hey Ron, here are two examples of what I'm talking about when I say add "evil" or "sharpness" to get rasp for the high notes, along with increased breath pressure into the soft palate, but without breathiness, and without increasing the volume TOO much:

http://www.box.net/shared/ldsh0lzemp

http://www.box.net/shared/6g3php5mnk

And here's an example of the light curbing sound colour voice that can be used as the underlying tone behind such singing, just as a reference:

http://www.box.net/shared/7ierz4ajsv

I'm not saying that I can do it that great - and every now and then I screw up big time. But maybe this could help you, I don't know. Again, that was one of your best stuff so far and it's a bitch of a song. Cheers!

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Ron,

I like this take better also. To my ears, you have some serious intensity going on. Good job man! You definitely got some powerful vocals pushing that mic around, but I can still hear through a lot of it. Keep after it man, you're on the right track!

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Thanks everyone, especially you, jonpall. I tried some grittier sounds and wasn't confident with them and fell back the safety of how I normally sing it, though I did try to add more twang. The one thing I like about this take is that my timing is better, I think. I read an article in the main site that spoke directly to my timing issue. In singing with playback, I was listening for the phrase, which would make me late. The singer leads the music. So, I applied that. But I want to try that.

Thanos, I know the high parts sounded weaker. In reality, they were as loud or louder but without any grit. So, yes, it's making the high parts sound weak.

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One of the meaner sounding songs I could think of is "You Could Be Mine" by Guns and Roses. The thunderous jungle beat of Matt Sorum, pulsing blast from Duff McKagan, and of course, the buzzsaw of Axl Rose. But I have spent so long trying to clean up my tone that I have fallen out the habit of super-nasally twang. This was me trying to sound mean.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/you%20could%20be%20mine.mp3

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So, anyway, jonpall, I was thinking about what you said, either more intense or more evil, whatever works. I was trying my maximum twang, ala Bob, where I was getting some rattle and it still wasn't sounding right and I wasn't controlling the note.

Then, I thought back to my original analysis of the song, the intent, Scott's performance. He was singing mostly in his chest, which was a higher range than most. What's important about that is how relaxed he is. The song is about accepting one's destiny toward hell. A "devil may care" attitude, literally and figuratively. In fact, when he hits a high note, he crunches down, in almost a glottal (I think) scream. The beat of the song is laconic, laid back, decadent. Even Angus' solo is slow and bendy, for the road to hell is wide and easy. Believe it or not, this song is the general ring tone on my cell phone.

So, after about another 4 takes, what I did was open up my jaw. I'm on the highway to hell and there is no stopping it so relax, enjoy, for confutatis maledictus shall surely come. Sorry, I borrowed that last bit from Mozart. I still use twang for the highest notes but added fry to get some distortion.

The reason I end on the descending glissando is partly visual, to get a feeling of descending into the Pit. When I perform the song live, I drop my head, like a robot who's battery has run out.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/Highway%20To%20Hell%20-%202a.mp3

edited to add:

I ran an acoustic eq, a bass boost, and compression, in that order.

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So, after about another 4 takes, what I did was open up my jaw. I'm on the highway to hell and there is no stopping it so relax, enjoy, for confutatis maledictus shall surely come. Sorry, I borrowed that last bit from Mozart. I still use twang for the highest notes but added fry to get some distortion.

The reason I end on the descending glissando is partly visual, to get a feeling of descending into the Pit. When I perform the song live, I drop my head, like a robot who's battery has run out.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/Highway … -%202a.mp3

edited to add:

I ran an acoustic eq, a bass boost, and compression, in that order.

That's really good Ron. That's really really good. I liked the both the mid and high range and there were no weak notes.

I understand it's the style and approach to the song - and I know it's what Bon does - but If I may, you seem to approach the notes using an upward sort of "glissando"

(not referring to the end of the song where you reach the low note) and my guess is, if you "nail" those notes directly first and then slowly add this effect you'll get near

perfect results. It's just an idea that might give you that xtra 5% but I could be dead wrong.

In any case both your singing and recording sound more solid than ever. The processing chain you used lessened the "distortion effect" you've been struggling with to a great extent.

Best,

Thanos

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That's really good Ron. That's really really good. I liked the both the mid and high range and there were no weak notes.

I understand it's the style and approach to the song - and I know it's what Bon does - but If I may, you seem to approach the notes using an upward sort of "glissando"

(not referring to the end of the song where you reach the low note) and my guess is, if you "nail" those notes directly first and then slowly add this effect you'll get near

perfect results. It's just an idea that might give you that xtra 5% but I could be dead wrong.

In any case both your singing and recording sound more solid than ever. The processing chain you used lessened the "distortion effect" you've been struggling with to a great extent.

Best,

Thanos

Thanks. Yeah, that one high note, sometimes I hit it directly, other times I slide up to it. I think I like it better dead on, as well. Bon Scott slid on that one, too.

Funny thing about the distortion of fry. It's the same note but not as clean, yet, sounds meatier to some. That. and something else I can look back and feel. I believe I was also covering. Some vowel modification that makes the tone "darker" less ringy and pingy. And that seemed to work best with a dropped jaw.

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Good point, Ron, on letting the emotion behind the song lead you to the final sound in your voice. And Bon Scott's voice wasn't always raspy, just sometimes, but it was always cool. Here's another tip for rasp: You might try to make the sound increasingly sharper (or more evil or thinner or twangier, whatever you wanna call it) and at the same time increase your breath pressure into your soft palate. Jamie Vendera's main thing about distortion is to focus the sound into the soft palate and I think that's a great advice. Who knows, maybe that could help you with rasp, if you're still interested in it. But just keep experimenting and having fun with singing and you sound like you're on the right track. You're ready and willing to experiment with comments people make on your singing, yet are smart enough to discard things that don't make sense to you and that, IMO, is the right way to learn. Cheers.

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I believe I was also covering. Some vowel modification that makes the tone "darker" less ringy and pingy. And that seemed to work best with a dropped jaw.

It does sound as you describe it less "ringy" and "pingy", I think you've found a good way of improving your tone without losing your twang.

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Yeah Thanos, the throat is still configured in twang, just darkening a bit with covering and some fry, which sounds like distortion.

Jonpall, I've tried what your talking about and it's not a consistent result but I have been working on effects like, as well as that of Thanos and the kh sound, that I interpreted as close to the ch sound in german. That is, I can do it some, it's just not consistent, yet. And not that I would need that effect all the way through. But I am working on "evil" twang.

What also helps me is listening to the original album version versus their live performance. Bon didn't always distort every note. And when he did, I'm thinking it was a fry or rattle, except for some of his high notes, which sounded like a strangled scream. Live, they didn't play it the same way every time. But watching Bon, His manner is free and easy, he's smiling, confident. His voice sounds open, with some distortion here and there. That, the effects are more subtle.

But the effect of the whole song is different than, say, "Long Way to the Top." That's a faster song with a different message for the audience, and of course, involving Bon playing bagpipes.

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Fry is releasing just enough tension on the folds to get a rasp. It also needs controlled breath so as not to exert too much pressure. But I am also working on the evil twang, as well. I can do like Bob and twang enough to get a rattle, which I take to be the false vocal folds getting together. But I haven't trained that into consistency, yet. Who knows, I may not get there but it's fun to try and I'm really enjoying the feedback. For example, when Thanos noted that the high notes sounded weak. In reality, they were quite strong and also quite pure. By frying, I introduced a "distortion" effect that made the note sound meatier, or more rock and roll-ish.

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Your second take sounds better overall, to me at least. Your mic also seems less overloaded. I find it a bit sad that your vowels aren't all that understandable, but high up there, well, it's hard. I like the power of your voice, I wish I could duplicate it :P

It's not quite the kind of songs I listen to, but after a first contact that was a bit like " What is this ?" I actually like it. I'm sorry I don't have any advice for you though.

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Maybe you haven't heard this song.

Here's the original, from a broadcast tv show, somewhere around 1978.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_5kv8QeBBc

I think it's worthy to note that Ronald Scott, the singer, usually known as Bon Scott, had a high speaking voice. Where as I speak with a low baritone. He was nicknamed Bon because he was from the bonnie highlands of Scotland. In fact, the whole band was from Scotland but were originally doing glam rock in Australia before they got together and created this sound. Which is odd. 4 scotsmen in Australia creating a truly american sound.

I call this song my theme song and Bon Scott lived it. He was the one person in the group that was prone to go to pubs, drink too much, and get in fights. Me, I don't like fights and I'm on the highway to hell for different reasons but the sub-text informs the emotional content of the song.

Part of my problems is what I can accomplish with the desk mic that I have. All I can do is try to vocalize differently than I normally do and then use the mixing and effects features of Audacity.

And, please, trust me, I am overloading the mic from at least two feet (61 cm) away. Whereas you sing just above a whisper at times, I sing loud enough to give you a headache. My first wife said I could sing at the Cotton Bowl, without a p.a. system. The Cotton Bowl is a football stadium at Dallas Fair Park in Dallas, Texas. It seated 80,000 when the Who played there in 1982. How do I know? I was there. She might have exaggerated a bit. But my biggest problem is that the mic can't handle what I do.

The big secret to how I recorded the second take is dropping my jaw a bit and covering the vowels (slightly different pronunciation) to approximate a high "chest" sound, since Bon Scott's chest voice was so high. And I used different effects on the vocal track in mixing it, later.

A good case in point is that some thought the earlier take was weaker or lighter on the high parts. If you were here physically when I recorded it, you would have disagreed with that. Those were really loud, piercing notes. But the mic doesn't quite get it. So, I created a version that more people liked by working around the limitations of my equipment, rather than explaining it as an equipment problem.

When I perform this song live, I don't sing it the way I did on the second submission. However, in the mornings, on my way to work, I am working on a version with more growl and less covering in it.

Also, I just realized some irony, or even a pun. I drive US 75, aka North Central Expressway, sometimes locally called North Central Distressway, to get to work. "Highway to Hell," indeed. But probably Steven is the only one here who will get the significance of that reference.

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Ron, I know you are tight on funds, but when I saw this i thought of you.

http://www.woot.com/blog/viewentry.aspx?id=14229

Maybe something like that would work for you until you could get some better stuff. Just an idea.

oh it didn't list the price. $65 with shipping included.

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Thanks, Quincy. Most of my problems could be solved with a better mic. Though I wouldn't mind that other stuff.

Ronron, I do have quite a range and can hit some really high notes, such as the one before the last lyric. And it may be hard to tell in the recording, but that note is one of those "burst your eardrums" notes. What I am learning here is breath control and some timbre modification. I didn't always have the ability to sing high. I found out how to get to my upper range back in 1988. Learning breath control has helped with pitch problems. Timbre modification to get around the limitations of equipment or make a song sound more "rock." And timing. The greatest thing I have learned when it comes to singing against playback is that the singer leads the music. Normally, I perform live, playing guitar while I sing. In that case, as I have done for decades, my singing cues come from what my hands are doing on the guitar. So, learning to record has been a new experience for me.

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