Notes from the Shore

Work, marriage, kids and music

Recording Session – Redeemed

This was a long time coming.

A year ago I got together with some other guys to start working together writing new songs. We completed our first song (with some additional help – see below) near the end of the summer, and I set about trying to record it. Unfortunately, just as I got with Brandy, who wrote of the chorus (and¬†definitely needed to sing the lead) she entered one of the busiest periods of her entire life, working 2-3 jobs at once and finding her ministry responsibilities suddenly through the roof. So, since I was sure she was the one to sing the lead (you’ll understand when you hear the end product) I needed to be patient.

That patience paid off a couple of days after Christmas when we made it happen. I gathered with Brandy, Reikus and Dena to have a go. Preparations included working up a complete demo version, complete with tempo track and drums for use in the recording. The song wanted to have a natural increase in tempo through to the bridge, which is the high point of the song.

Unfortunately this turned into something of a learning experience. The plan was to bring a computer, interface and a couple of mics, using the church’s piano to record MIDI. The main reason to record everything at the same time was that the chorus after the bridge would be out of time, meaning we needed to record everything (or at least vocals and keys) at once.

The first difficulty came when I searched my cable box for my MIDI cable. Nothing doing. I didn’t check the box before leaving and, sure enough, the MIDI cable was missing. Okay, option – the piano has a USB port on the back which could be plugged into the computer to record MIDI that way. Whoops – only have one USB cable, and the interface is plugged into that. Okay, punt – record the audio of the piano directly with the audio out jack. Hmm, odd, there doesn’t appear to be a signal. No time to figure it out – last chance – set a mic up over the speaker on the piano.

We rehearsed the song a few times and went to play along with the prerecorded drums. Wrong tempo. We decided that is was way too fast, so I made an executive decision to scrap the tempo track and record everything free.

In the end we got a decent recording. I’m still learning to use the interface – this was my first big outing with it. Aside from the forgotten cord and the resultant difficulties, the biggest problem was that I had difficulty balancing the guide track with the mics in the headphones. I think this just is going to require more practice.

Technical Details

We have an old HP all-in-one computer (think the PC version of an iMac) that my kid’s used to use to access the internet. They’ve since outgrown it (one built a super-powerful gaming system, the other spends all day on her laptop) and it has been sitting unused in the corner for years. I’ve thought for a while about repurposing it as a recording computer – it has a touch screen and an on-screen keyboard when needed, so I thought it wold be just the ticket.

Two recording sessions later I’ve determined that it does a fine job recording, but there really isn’t any substitute for a dedicated keyboard and mouse. I also learned that my Behringer UMC 1820 has enough headroom to clip an SM57, but most importantly, the MXL BCD-1 has a great live tone and fantastic off-axis rejection. Listing to the soloed lead vocal track I had to crank it way up to hear the piano just a little bit. It was a great buy for this application.

Next Steps

Next I have to sync the temp track up to the recorded part. Once I’ve done that I can use the drum track that I created for the original tempo map. I also need to re-record the piano part (and I have plans for the final chorus that could be very cool – more to come). After that we’ll bring in a bass player (both of my co-writers play bass) and I have to decide if there are going to be any other parts added, like guitar or organ. Then it’s time to mix and produce the video (oh, yeah, I forgot to charge my video camera so all our video was recorded on my phone…)

More to come.

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