I’ve had a busy week. I bought a new couch last weekend, so the old one and a bookcase ended up in the recording studio (which is also my daughter’s part time bedroom) making it impossible to do anything until it was sorted. Since I still had a massive cut on my guitar-playing fingertip (and another on my thumb thanks to a couch-moving accident), it wasn’t really making any difference.
The Recording Diaries: part 2 ??? an actual beginning
So I ended up doing this massive house reorganise thing where I must have moved at least one bit of furniture from each room into another. Took the old couch to the Op Shop. Got into a bit of a cleaning frenzy and got the place looking so good I will no longer be embarrassed if the kids’ friends’ parents drop by. it was a bit overdue; and having the place a bit more civilised makes it much easier to give energy to the recording project.
During the week I also had to go into work to tie up a few loose ends, and do a day’s voluntary work for Friends of Merri Creek (I design and lay out their quarterly magazine). Aas the end of the week loomed closer I was starting to feel like time was slipping away from me; so on Thursday afternoon I managed to grab some time to drag my guitar and little amp into the lounge room and go over the two songs I’d already decided to record first, in order to get a rough basic mix of each to submit to the Darebin Songwriters’ Award (which closes Thursday 5 August).
Friday morning I was determined to make a start. My daughter (T) was returning from school camp at 2pm so I needed to be done by about 1:30. Thus this was the perfect time for my computer to totally crap out. It’s been doing this thing lately (erratically of course) where it won???t wake up from sleep. You just have to shut it off and restart it, and sometimes it starts up still asleep, and you have to do all sorts of esoteric things to it to get it going again. So I spent about an hour on this, and then a similar amount of time wrestling with my audio software trying to get it to work properly. It’s a great, full-featured professional quality free open-source multitrack audio workstation (Ardour) but it needs to be run in conjunction with another great, pro-quality audio routing utility (Jack) and they just don’t always play well together. So by the time I was ready to go at last, I had only around two hours, which is really not that much time.
But I made the most of it! By the time I had to pack up and jump in the car I’d recorded several takes of an acoustic guitar track for one song, and an electric guitar track for the other. I decided in the end that the acoustic guitar track was too slow, so I’d need to do it again; but at least figured out exactly how I want to play it. And I figured out the optimal microphone placement, and that I’d need to remove the scratchplate from the guitar so it wouldn???t squeak when I played it.
Saturday dawned and I had a two-hour block in between taxiing T to and from her theatre class. I unfortunately spent a lot of that time faffing about with Ardour and Jack again. it’s great when it’s working, but an almighty pain when it’s not.
I managed to get the new acoustic guitar part down, and while I got the speed right I just wasn’t quite happy with it. Fortunately T was quite happy for me to continue using her room for a few hours after we got home again. So I finally got that guitar part done (it’s a bit flawed but has a good vibe so I think I’ll keep it as is), and vocals for both songs. The first one ??? to go with the acoustic guitar track ??? was similarly flawed but with that special something. The other is acceptable but not really good enough; it’ll be fine for the songwriting competition entry, but I’ll redo it for the album.
In the early evening i ferried the kids to various places and came back to have the house to myself for the night. I made the most of this, recording the harmonica part for one song, and mixing both of them.
I’m using a stereo recording technique I learned on a webpage somewhere, with a matched pair of condenser mics (R??de NT1-As) aimed across each other.
The sound I’m getting is unbelievably good. A real natural vibe. On the acoustic guitar, I position them right opposite where the neck meets the body, so one is getting more of the sound projected from the guitar body while the other gets more of the close by room sound. Listening to it it doesn???t sound like it’s left or right or anything: it just sounds like it’s in the room with you. For the electric guitar, one is aimed at the middle of one speaker and the other is aimed at the edge. For the harmonica they are positioned right in the middle, and listening back there’s a very subtle spread of low notes to high notes from right to left. By recording the vocals in mono and sticking them right in the middle, everything is anchored but just so expansive.
This is the tricky bit. i don’t have proper monitor speakers or a neutral monitor amp. Instead I’m running it through my hifi amp and speakers, which add the sort of colour that is really nice when you???re playing a CD, but not really ideal for mixing raw audio. It will have to do, but I’m thinking that I will do all the mixing at a friend’s place with the right gear.
I’m really a very amateur sound engineer, so I’m trying to have a really light touch, knowing how easy it is to destroy tracks by over-engineering. I’m just adding a little compression to the electric guitar (and to one of the vocals that was a bit erratic volume-wise) and some light natural reverb to the vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. By using good mics and instruments I don’t really need to EQ anything.
OK, so I have actually recorded two songs. The first one I’m thinking is ready for the album (what it lacks in polish it makes up for with vibe); the second is not but I will use it as a guide track to do a better version.
I wrote this back in early 1990 during a bout of depression. I had been writing heaps of songs and I was stuck in this thing of using unusual chord progressions and complex melodies to try to be original or good or something. Brainlessness. Suddenly, i guess, I’d had enough and came out with this. It’s one of my favourites of my own songs. I’m planning to open the album with this, and as a (slightly ironic) reprise repeat it as an instrumental with a big wall-of-sound type production.
Sleep All Day
This is from three or four years ago. I was going out with someone who was actually n love with someone else. Not recommended unless you wanna write a cool song. The final version of this will have a couple of guitars, bass, drums, maybe one or two other things. Sparse but complex
That’s really it for the weekend; I’ll be hanging out with T and tidying up the garden a bit, as my landlord is coming over for an inspection in a week and a half 😦 But i’ll have the house to myself come Monday, so now that I’ve popped the cork I’ll be doing some more intensive work ??? building up Sleep All Day and getting started on maybe two more. And getting my voice working properly! One thing I learned this last few days is that when you don’t song for a while your voice gets a bit dodgy. Will have to start singing louder in the shower.