I haven’t lost my mind (at least I don’t think I have)…
A few weeks back, I was sitting at home alone late at night just jamming out with my guitar and a small practice amp. Nothing special, just something cheap to get some songwriting ideas out.
It was pretty dead silent aside from my guitar playing, but I kept hearing a woman’s voice and what I swore was a trumpet somewhere in the house.
I got up at one point to check it out, thinking maybe I had left the TV on or something… No such luck. It started to freak me out a bit, so I checked the studio, my laptop, everywhere I could think of where something might have been playing. At 3 AM, the last thing you want to deal with is thinking you’re going crazy to mariachi music.
The problem was – I couldn’t find anything. I was positive it was exhaustion, so I decided to call it a night and went to bed.
The next day I went to finish the song and it started up again.
Was my song doomed to be haunted forever, never to be finished? No, it turned out to be something much less sinister – my amp has some poor electrical wiring that was picking up radio waves.
It seems so obvious now, but because it was so late and I had the volume so low, I couldn’t pinpoint the issue. As soon as I turned the volume up a bit, the far-off radio station came through the amp hiss like any old AM radio program would.
Paranoia Inspires Creativity
I’m not going to recommend anyone start looking for haunted houses for studios, but I now feel it’s safe to say that the paranoia of some singing woman led to inspiration for me. Hearing the way the music came through the junk guitar amp made me realize there’s more use for a guitar amp in the studio than you’d traditionally think. Hearing the vocals come through in such a lo-fi manner had me wondering how Toneforge would sound as an effect. As it turns out, Toneforge Jason Richardson absolutely nails lo-fi vocals in a mix.
It makes sense with the way the plugin is structured – no gain knob means your input can determine how much or how little of the amp’s tone you want to imprint on the sound. Using your output to boost the signal helps stretch the voice thin – just like my little practice amp was doing to the radio station.
In both situations, running a weak signal in and cranking the level on the way out created a uniquely low-res sound, and for the mix I was working on at the time, it was just what I needed.
Just like Fluff explains in the video – it’s not always going to be that cut and dry. Sometimes you need to do a bit more EQing and tweaking to get something to sit right, but for an authentic sound without wasting your money on a dedicated “low-fi” plugin this is a great solution. Best of all, when you’re not using it on vocals, you can use it for some seriously heavy guitar tones.
Who Would’ve Thought?
I certainly never expected AM radio to inspire me to change my workflow (especially in 2017), and aside from being genuinely scared for a day or two, I got some serious inspiration in a way I never anticipated from a songwriting session.
Have you ever been inspired to use a plugin in an unconventional way? Has any of your gear had you questioning your sanity? If the answer to one or both of those questions is yes, we’re going to get along just fine. Share your experience over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum where we can all laugh at our paranoia together.