Song: Manwomanchild – The Telepath Returns

While my influences are mostly in the 70s post-punk and to some extent glam-rock vein, I’ve been on a psychedelic kick lately. I guess this song is partly the product of that. The angular chord changes on some of those late 60s psych records really appeal to me, and you can hear elements of Syd Barrett / early Pink Floyd, Os Mutantes, and the Pretty Things in the melody here.

Lyrically, the song went through a couple of transformations, so it’s very different from where it started. It was initially about a group of mountaineers who climb Mt. Everest only to be arrested when they get to the top, but this first-person voice crept in and kind of shifted the song toward its current shape, equal parts gleeful and menacing.

Song: Manwomanchild – Recent History

As promised, we are releasing an entirely new track today! It’s called Recent HistoryDownload it for free here.

–David Child

Song: Manwomanchild – Wedding Toast

As promised, we are releasing an entirely new track today! It’s called Wedding Toast! Download it from SoundCloud here.

–David Child

A Guide to the Manwomanchild Electric Guitar Sound

A while ago, I was asked what kind of guitar amp I use for Manwomanchild recordings. Of course, our guitar sound is due to a number of pieces of kit, not just the amp. In the interest of providing a complete picture, here’s a full gear guide to the Manwomanchild electric guitar sound: Fender Jazzmaster, ProCo Rat, MusicMan Sixty-Five, Vintage Celestion 30 Speaker, etc.


I play a Fender Jazzmaster

Almost all of the electric guitars you hear on our records are this thing. It’s been slightly modified by the folks at Amherst Music House–I think they swapped out one of the pickups with a Duncan Quarter Pounder and changed something about about the switch wiring. It’s everything I would want from a guitar: easy to play, sensitive to dynamics, has a beautiful clean sound but works well with distortion. If I ever lost it, I would buy another in a heartbeat.


…which I plug into a ProCo Rat

This is the only effects pedal I actually use, and I don’t use it all that much. As a general rule, any solo that you hear me play will be a combination of this ProCo Rat and the distortion on the Music Man Sixty-Five. There’s considerable talk on message boards about how older ProCo Rats are somehow different and better from new ones. I don’t know if that’s really true. Mine is probably from the early ’90s.

Radial DI Box
Radial DI Box

…and that’s plugged into a Radial DI Box

After recording at Machines With Magnets, I picked up one of these. It has a DI “thru” output so that you can record both the output from your amp and the direct output from your guitar at the same time. This can be useful if you feel like you recorded the perfect take, but don’t love the amp sound you used (or just want to double it with another amp). In such cases, you can output your recorded DI track back to your amp and re-record it without having to replay anything. That being said, it occurs to me as I write this that we have never once done this. We do use the direct input for bass recording, though. The sound of my bass guitar is roughly 70% heavily compressed DI track, and 30% output from the amp.

Music Man Sixty-Five
Music Man Sixty-Five

…all of which gets plugged into my Music Man Sixty-Five Amp

I love this thing. All of the guitars on all of our recordings are done with this amp.  I bought mine off eBay about twelve years ago after seeing a photo of Television playing with similar one in the 70s (a stupid reason to buy gear, but it worked out well for me). One of the best things about it is that when the gain is turned up it’s extremely responsive to my playing style. It has a beautiful clean sound, but if you hit the strings hard it will get dirty in proportion to how hard you play. I went through a ton of amps before finding the right one for me. If I lost this amp, I would definitely by another.  This amp has both a bass and a regular guitar channel. The bass channel would probably be completely ludicrous to use live as an actual bass amp, but we do use it occasionally to add some coloration to our bass tracks.

Tom Schulz Power Soak
Tom Schulz Power Soak

…through a Tom Scholz Power Soak

This goes in between the amp and the speaker. It allows me to turn the amp up above 3 without shaking the old wooden floors here. There’s a lot of talk on message boards about how vintage tube amps only sound good when they’re cranked up to 8. I don’t know if that’s really true, but it can’t hurt, so we do it.

Oktava 012-01 & Samson S11 Mics
Oktava 012-01 & Samson S11 Mics

…and into 1×12 Celestion Vintage 30 Speaker

The Vintage 30 is a great recording speaker. Not much more to say about that. The weird homemade cab that I’ve been using for the past decade is something I found in the old AMVETS Thrift Store in Allston, MA. Don’t really know much about it except that it’s lined with some super gross fur on the inside.

…which gets miced by two Mics: a Samson S11 and an Oktava MK-012-01 Condenser Mic

When you don’t have a tremendous amount of cash to spend on gear, you can mask a multitude of sins by doubling up on things. Instead of mixing through one set of downmarket speakers, use two; instead of one mic for your guitar amp, use a couple of those as well, etc.  We record these both simultaneously on two different tracks along with a direct input track from the Radial DI box on a third. I then mix two or three of these to taste later. If I’m not into the tinniness of the Oktava, I turn it down a bit in the mix relative to the Samson. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of crazy debate online about these Oktava condenser mics. Some people say they’re secretly amazing mics being sold for pennies, other people say they’re complete shit, and still others claim they used to be amazing, but now they’re made by someone else and are indeed shit. If that’s the case, I don’t really know which version I have. Mine sounds decent on its own, but great when combined with the Samson S11. The S11 is just your standard SM58 clone. I do have an SM58 as well, but I like the S11 slightly more because I’m used to it.

OK. That’s pretty much it for the electrics. I’ll do another post next week about the acoustic and bass guitar sounds.

—David Child


The Process: Weekly Review

Calmettes, Pierre. "A travers les métiers." 1898
Calmettes, Pierre. “A travers les métiers.” 1898

In the last blog post, I talked about how I carry around an audio recorder with me wherever I go. It’s a great way to capture melody ideas when I’m not near my main music computer. That being said, these song sketches pile up really, really quickly. If I didn’t have a system in place for organizing them, I’d have hundreds of audio files with cryptic names all over my desktop in no time.  As promised, this week, I’m going to cover how I deal with this song ideas after I’ve recorded them.

As you’ve probably gleaned from this post’s title, once a week, I review all of the song ideas that have accumulated on my iPhone. I save the best ones in a catalog of song parts so that they can easily be assembled into full songs later.

Usually, I do this on my desktop computer and with an acoustic guitar within easy reach so that I can play with the ideas and come up with other related ideas before archiving them. The first step is to get all of the song pieces into a folder on my music computer. Next, I go through each of the files in the folder. For each piece, I follow these steps:

  1. Identify what it is — Is this a bridge, a chorus, a full song? Most often, ideas come to me in pieces although I do occasionally — in a moment of clarity — get lucky enough to write a full song in one sitting.
  2. Make a snap decision about it — Is this good enough to save? If I listen to an idea and it doesn’t do anything for me, I delete it immediately. There’s no point in wasting valuable time polishing something that doesn’t have any clear potential. Nothing feels better than deleting something sub-parit reminds me that I am actually exerting some creative control over this process and that I’m not totally at the whim of my own inspiration.
  3. Usually, at this point, the files don’t have descriptive names. My next step is to name the file. This is usually based on whatever placeholder lyrics I happened to sing in in the original recording. I’ll usually start the file name with a letter and a number. The letter lets me know what type of song part I think this is: “B” for bridge; “C” for chorus; “V” for verse; “S” for full songs. I choose a number that’s one higher than the last one I used. Here’s an example: B017_you_you_took_me_by_surprise.mp3. From this file name I can tell you that: a) this is a bridge; b) it’s the 17th bridge; c) it contains the placeholder lyrics “You, you took me by surprise.”
  4. Sometimes, if the song is in a weird key that’s out of my range, I’ll figure out what would be the ideal key for the part is and re-record the song part at this point. I’ll also try to figure out the range of workable keys. Ultimately, there’s a high likelihood that I will need to change the key that a part is in order for it to work with other parts in a song. It’s useful to know how low or how high I can sing a part and still have it work.
  5. Next, I figure out the tempo of the part. I do this by tapping along to my demo using the “tap” functionality on my drum machine, but a website such as this works just as well. I also try to figure out the slowest and fast tempos for which the song part still works.
  6. The final step is by far the most important step. I enter the song piece into a list of song parts I keep. The list has a few columns. Here’s a sample row:
    File Name Ideal Key Key Range Ideal Tempo Tempo Range Rating
    B017 you you took me by surprise.mp3 G# E-A 150 150-155 ☆☆☆☆

    Here’s a quick rundown of the columns:

    • File Name – Self-explanatory.
    • Ideal Key – The key in which this part sounds best. In the example above, the part sounds best in the key of G#maj.
    • Key Range – If the part’s key needs to be changed, how far up or down from the ideal key can it be transposed and still sound good? In the example above, the range is from Emaj up to the Amaj above it.
    • Ideal Tempo – The tempo (in BPM) at which the part sounds best.
    • Tempo Range – Similar to key range, if the part needed to be slowed down or sped up, how far can we push it and still have it sound good?
    • Rating – A quality rating (1-5 where 5 = best) for the part. Generally anything less than a 3 stars won’t stay in my song parts list for long.
  7. Repeat until all of my songs parts are either cataloged or discarded.

That’s it! I do this every week. It usually takes me a half an hour or so for all of the parts. Periodically, I’ll go into the song pieces folder on my computer and try out different combinations. When I’ve used a part in one of my songs, I’ll put a (*) next to name of the part in the list so that I know not to reuse it elsewhere. Once I’ve got two or three parts that can be combined into a full song, I’ll record a quick acoustic demo of the pieces working together, and then get to work on actually recording the song in earnest.

Hope this helps!

–David Child

The Process: Song Sketches

"La Nature." Juin 23, 1888.
“La Nature.” No 786. Juin 23, 1888.

Anyone who has ever made a habit of writing music knows that song ideas almost never occur to you when you’re looking for them. My solution to this has been to carry a recording device with me at all times. Whenever I have an idea, I slip off somewhere quiet and sing it into the recorder.

When I first got started, I used to use a microcassette tape recorder to capture my ideas (it wasn’t all that ‘micro’ either). I have distinct memories of wandering the streets of Boston singing into this clunky box while trying not to make eye contact with strangers. Nowadays, smartphones are a much more convenient way to capture ideas. There are hundreds of apps for capturing voice memos; even the default iPhone Voice Memo app is a huge leap forward from the microcassette recorder days. Better still, free cloud-syncing storage services such as Dropbox or Evernote have revolutionized the way I work. Evernote is great because it allows you to record any number of song ideas right from its iPhone App and then sync them back to your desktop computer to continue work at home. With Dropbox, I use the Griffin iTalk or DropVox, both of which accomplish the same thing.

Here are some tips that I follow when making my song sketches:

  • Tip #1: Placeholder lyrics – If I don’t have a recording device available when inspiration strikes, I attach placeholder lyrics to my melody as soon as possible (I jot them down on a scrap of paper or in my phone). Lyrics are a great way to remember a tune, although (of course) nothing beats a recording.
  • Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to sound ridiculous – No one will hear my song sketches except me. If the melody is out of my vocal range, I keep it in whatever key occurs to me; I can always transpose it down to something I can sing comfortably later.
  • Tip #3: Record first without backing – Even if I’m near an instrument when inspiration strikes, I record sketches without any backing or chords first before attempting a version with the backing. The reason is this: attaching chords to a melody can actually substantially change an idea (listen to any of the Girl Talk records for intentional examples of this). Sometimes, it’s useful to have a version of a melody before the chords were added.

In the next blog post, I’ll be covering what to do with the ideas once you’ve gathered them.



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