Archive for the 'audacity' Category


Lesson V Go for it with a guide…

My next lesson I’ve learned from my home-recording endeavors, is to just go for it because there’s no other way to learn.

By all means, use books as a guide. I got the Dummies one, and I got a very good one on mixing as well, which I still need to read. And as you do that, go for it and don’t be intimidated. You might as well just throw yourself in the deep end, because that’s the main way you’re going to learn at home-recording. (Of course, don’t rule out music engineering school if you have the time and money etc…)

Now having said that, keep in mind you’re going to sound like an amateur, and you’re going to sound like an amateur because you are one AND because if you’re just home-recording as a hobby, your songs won’t be professionally mastered anyway.

Yes, we want to sound like our rock-star heroes but if you want to think about comparing yourself with them realistically for a second, consider the fact that you’re competing not with just one artist or band (who are professionals), but with a team of professionals helping them who also happen to own lots of very expensive equipment.

Each song I do helps me to figure out how I can try to make the next one better. I then look back on my earlier songs and squirm, and I think that will always be the case. But if I didn’t tackle them head on, then I simply wouldn’t have learned anything (and it’s still a struggle, because it’s very easy to procrastinate with a task that’s overwhelming and there’s not guarantee you’ll feel happy with it at the end anyway).

And you learn from every part of the process, whether it’s the actual songwriting process, the way you arrange each part, perform each part (percussion and vocals are my main weaknesses), record each part, then mix them, add compression, EQ, effects, panning, levels and finally mixing down to a stereo mp3 track. (I’ve even learned some lessons about compressing to mp3 because if done poorly can really sound tinny and awful).


Lesson Four: Keep a Record.

(About recording and mixing my music)

Another thing about experimenting with affects, compression and EQ etc is that there’s no point stumbling on to a good sound if you can’t remember how to do it a second time. And considering there’s an infinite number of combinations with EQ, compression and other affects, then taking notes is essential. (Having said that I’m not always very detailed with my notes, like ‘Did some eq on this track…’).

I’ve also found it essential to keep track of all the different versions I may do of a song. For example, I may use electric guitar for the solo on one version, and acoustic guitar on another version. I may experiment with different keyboard sounds and how they work with the rest of the song. This could leave me with atleast four or five versions, and when I listen back, I need to have the details of what I’ve done to each song.

Also, even with some of the free effects that come with audacity, many have 8 or more different paramaters. So, I may experiment with digital delay for example, and in another song want to use a similar sound, so knowing how I got that sound with the specific parameters will save a lot of time.

My delving into recording and mixing has often caused me to feel overwhelmed at times, and the more everything is organised, from how my files are organised on my computer, to all the notes and everything I’ve made from recording (like what instrument on what track, what compression I recorded with, which mic etc) and with actions taken in Audacity, will help me navigate my way through to a finished demo.


Lesson two: Strive for perfection in each part

Coming from a rock background this one’s a hard one for me. The only recording I did with Rhombic Void was recording the four-piece live at the same time. I didn’t have to worry so much about every single note, though I did make a couple of mistakes which are detectable if one should listen. But with the cover of wild drumming, power-bass and my own distortion pedals, it’s more the energy you’re trying to capture.

Now I’m recording everything myself. Including shakers, keyboards, bass, both acoustic and electric guitars, and most challenging of all for me, vocals. Recording each track separately, I have to aim for perfection, for every off-note and mistake makes a difference. Having said that, I’ve never finished a recording and felt ‘yes, I did that perfect’. Each take will always have it’s imperfections. It just depends on to what extent (i.e. to make the song unusable).

It’s also a psychological challenge, because it can be nerve-racking. What if there’s a section I just can’t nail? What if my fingers stumble right at the end of a delicate five-minute finger-picking track? There are ways to touch them up with software, but I just have audacity, the freeware, rather than high-end Protools or Cubase etc. There are still ways I can try to improve the mistakes, but I’m not an expert, and I often end up spending more time twigging the computer.

So I found practising each part is key. The more you practice before recording, the less stress. Of course, in a home-recording situation, recording can be just like practising, taking as many takes as I want. But it’s time-consuming setting up all the gear, getting everything right. Best to practice comfortably a few times beforehand.

This can also get time-consuming. I may write a song simply with one acoustic guitar and one voice, but I love adding a bass part, lead guitar, keyboards, percussion and other overdubs.. That’s half the fun for me, so I often make a reference track of guitar and vocals, then jam and experiment over the top with other instruments. It may mean having to work out what scales are applicable over different chords, and working out the harmony on keyboards (which is hard for me as I’ve only had keyboards for a few months).

Back to lesson one -the more tracks, the more the challenges, and the more I need to workout each track and practice to get as tight a recording as I can. These two lessons are still a big challenge for me. Getting everything rehearsed right as much as possible, but I can’t spend two much time on each song. So, fewer tracks means more time to rehearse, the tighter the tracks will be in recording, and the easier it is to juggle in the mixing process. But I always want to make the song sound ‘fuller’ and ‘bigger’ with extra overdubs.

And often I’m not sure if the song should have acoustic rhythm guitar or electric, or keyboards,or a combination, so I’ll experiment -and this means more juggling round to get things right in the mix. And this leads to lesson number three…


Lessons from home recording…

I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learnt recently from my experiences in home recording. I’ll do it over several posts, but the first main lesson I’d have to say is KISS.

Not the glam-rock band, but ‘keep it simple stupid’. More specifically, the less tracks you have for a song, the less mess you’re likely to get in.

In an effort to want a song I’m recording to sound as ‘pro’ as I can get it (for a home-recording hobbyist) I’ll often add all kinds of overdubbs and extra tracks including guitar licks, extra percussion, several keyboard sounds and harmonies. But a thing I’ve realised, everytime you add a new track you have to make more decisions on gain, compression, panning, equalisation and other effects, as well as how it fits into the overall mix.

Furthermore, if you’re not accurate with timing and pitch, then things start sounding loose and messy the more tracks you have. Different tracks may cover up a mistake, but they also may cause it to sound more pronounced.

So, I’ve found it’s easy to deal firstly with basic bass, drum machine (no real drummer unfortunately), rhythm guitar, one main vocal and maybe harmony, and either lead guitar or keyboards. This makes the job of mixing and arranging less daunting. In fact it’s also good to just work on acoustic guitar and voice sometimes as well.

By the way I use Audacity for all my mixing, but I record via a Yamaha SIAB box.