Thursday, November 04, 2010

Studio Engineer R Us

Somebody asked me how I record those songs I've inflicted on people on SoundClick. It's pretty easy.

Here's how the current song, "Guns and Butter," came to be out in the world.

I wrote it last night after midnight. Came up with a chord progression this morning. Typed the song up. Sang it through twice to get the feel, then opened the Mac music program GarageBand. 

Gear: I have an inexpensive Samson USB microphone plugged into my computer for input. I lit that and opened a blank vocal track in the program, no EFX, just plain. (You can do all kinds of things to adjust the sound, echoes, changes in pitch, other instrument loops, and whatnot, and then equalize the tracks -- EQ -- to get a final product.)

I pushed the record button, read the lyrics and chords off the screen, and sang the song with my guitar.

Once that was done, I doubled the track, i.e., made a duplicate of it. 

A bit of technical stuff, not much, and I'll explain. When you record something with one mike (single signal) onto whatever medium, you get a single channel, resulting in a recording that is monophonic or monaural. If you use two or three or however many more microphones, multiple channels result in stereophonic sound, albeit the channels get fed into a single path.

So when you listen to stereo with two or more speakers, you can hear different parts of the band from one or the other or both if that's what the producer wants. Stoners love listening via earphones to music that starts in one ear and flies over their heads to the other ear ...

To make a monophonic recording work better with multiple speakers, you can do a kind of cheat -- if you pan the output to the left or right, that's how it comes out. So with more than one track, you can pan one left and the other right, and make it sound as if two singers are on different sides of a listener.

If you double a track and pan one each way, it gives you a fuller sound. Don't ask me why.

After that, I put on headphones and changed the output driver in GarageBand to those, and listened to the recording. When it came to the part where the chorus began, I hit record again and sang along, this time trying to do harmony. I'm not very good at it, but it is what it is. 

I doubled that track and panned it left and right, too.

On the last chorus, sung Acapella, I added a third track, with a slightly different harmony.

One take each track.

Once that was done, I sweetened one of the original tracks using an effect called "Gospel Choir" -- appropriate for me, don't you think? -- then exported the whole thing to an MP3, and uploaded that onto SoundClick.

It is warts and all -- buzzing strings, flubbed lines, I didn't punch in any notes or try to adjust the pitch or tuning. I'm not selling CDs, nor auditioning for anything, so I'm not going to get into perfect takes. If I were, I'd have to sing the thing a hundred times to get it down cold, and where's the fun in that? 

So there you have it. Cheap and dirty home studio work, and now you know. 

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