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Press, Reviews, Endorsements - Norm Stockton

“Yes, I guess fundamentally this is a bass album,” Norm admits, “but I really didn’t want to make the music too ‘bass-centric’; I didn’t want it to be one of those albums that only a bass player could appreciate.”

While any bassist would be riveted by the playing on this CD, it displays Norm’s compositional and arranging skills as well, not to mention his developing skills as a band-leader and recording engineer. The latter is due to the fact that Norm recorded nearly the entire CD on his Roland VS-1680 24-bit Digital Studio Workstation.

“I used the VS-1680 as a mobile studio for much of the project,” Norm explains. “There were a number of people whom I’d record in a hotel room someplace, like guitarist Kevin Rogers—a fantastic player based in Kansas City—who travels with me. One night we were in Raleigh, North Carolina and I said, ‘Kevin, I have some stuff I’d love you to play on.’ So he came over with a Strat in one hand, a couple of stomp boxes in the other, and we plugged right into the Hi-Z input on the VS. Those tracks ended up on the final CD—they came out great!”

In fact, the VS-1680 not only allowed Norm to record when and where he wanted, but also facilitated a very loose and unrestricted approach to developing the material. “The Virtual Tracks—I mean I sound like a commercial here, but it’s true—make all the difference in the world,” he enthuses. “I explained the overall vibe to Kevin, but then gave him carté blanche to do whatever he liked. He went in a number of different directions and we recorded it all. That way I didn’t have to make any specific decisions that night. Later I created a composite track with bits and pieces from all the Virtual Tracks—it’s just very convenient.

"Another thing that helped me was the ease with which I could put together a template of a song,” Norm explains. “I was at a stage where I had all these songs but it was such a pain to go in and try to sequence all the parts before I had musicians play them for real. I recorded a percussionist friend of mine playing eight bars of an A section and eight bars of a B section, etc. Then I just set up a tempo map in the VS for the tune, and then simply by cutting and pasting, within minutes I’d have a totally workable template for the song. Norm StocktonThat was the basis for the whole project. We did that, I tracked all my basses, and then I just went along replacing parts as they were recorded. At the end I went back to the percussionist and recorded him for the final. The non-linear aspect of the VS was critical for that approach.”

Norm Stockton first made a name for himself as an educator with his acclaimed bass instructional video series Grooving for Heaven (www.normstockton.com). He’s now transitioning from being purely a bass player to an artist in his own right. “It’s kind of a weird deal for me,” he admits. “Most bass players tend to be more of a side-man. Even the thought of standing front-and-center is strange. There’s a certain amount of security and comfort just being back there with the drummer,” he laughs. “On the other hand, it’s very exciting to step into new territory.”

But, of course, Norm is a bass player. As such, there’s no missing his five- and seven-stringed instruments on this record. Whether it’s a smooth groove or a soaring solo, the bass on this recording sounds superb. “It’s amazing the response I’ve received about the tone of my bass on this recording,” reveals Norm. “The technical editor at Bass Player magazine e-mailed me asking, ‘What did you use? The tone was amazing.’ And almost everyone I talk with, the first thing out of their mouth is ‘That tone was amazing!’” he laughs. “So what was my trick? Well, yes it’s a good bass to start, but from there the secret is: Bass, Monster Cable, Hi-Z input—that’s it! That was the whole thing—getting a good solid signal without overdriving the input—very little EQ even. Later I put in some tube-effect stuff, and we mixed down to half-inch analog tape—which definitely helped the bottom end. I did use a couple of stompboxes on a few tunes, but otherwise it was just direct into the VS.”

No compression? “Nope, not as far as the VS goes,” Norm continues. “Yeah we used it during mixdown, but not during recording. For me as a player, I want to get as clean a signal as possible during tracking. I don’t want to compress it right off the bat and then have the engineer later say it’s too washed out. When I’m tracking I try to keep things in a tight dynamic range via my playing technique.”

Norm continued his education in self-producing and learned a whole lot about what works theoretically and what works for real at the end of the project. “When we were getting ready for mixdown,” he explains, “I had to wrestle with endless details regarding sample-accurate transfers between the VS and the digital system on which we were mixing. Ultimately, B.C. [Carr] from Roland suggested we simply try an analog transfer and hear what it sounds like—which in this present day is hilarious as everyone’s so concerned about bit rates and all this other stuff.” Norm continues, “Well, get this, I ran an RCA cable out of the back of the VS into a recorder and that’s how we transferred it for mixdown. The thing that blew me away is that because of the way the VS is set up you gain about 4dB when you do an analog transfer. So tracks that may have been at a borderline low dynamic level became the punchiest things you’ve ever heard. When the engineer began mixing,” smiles Norm, “he commented that this stuff was really well recorded, and that I must have spent a lot of time transferring this over. Here I’m just cracking up because out of exasperation I just grabbed an RCA cable. Some people get so obsessed with the all-digital route—and it has its place of course—but analog these days is underrated.”

With the education of Norm Stockton complete, he reveals his recipe for a great record. “I’m now convinced that tracking with the digital clarity you get with the VS and then going through the analog process during mixdown is the way to go—especially for electric bass and the style of music on this project—I think that combination rocks!”


This page reproduced by the kind permission of The Roland Corporation.

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