Posts Tagged ‘Sound recording and reproduction’

Most of my attention over the last couple of months was directed at completing the recording of our second CD – In the Clouds by the Big Sky Gliders. There is nothing like a deadline to focus your attention and when the fellow who records us announced he was moving to the coast, it was all hands on deck to finish all the recording and mixing. It all seems a little anti-climatic now, but we had a couple of weeks of long sessions to complete everything. But it is done – over a year from to start to finish and around 100 hours of actual studio time to get the finished product.

The new recording by the Big Sky Gliders

The new recording by the Big Sky Gliders

We don’t have the physical copies yet as I am still working to complete the artwork, but you can listen to the new recording at www.bigskygliders.bandcamp.com.

Have a listen and we hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours.


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I recently found songza.com, a steaming music service online. I quite like it. There are a lot of different genres of music represented and I have discovered a number of streams that really appeal to my musical sensibilities. At work, it is a godsend. I don’t have to bring my iPod or CDs and the music helps to keep me sane.

But there is one problem and it is the same reason I really resist using the ‘shuffle’ command on my iPod or previously, my CD player. I grew up in the era of the LP album. And if you weren’t listening to music on the radio, it was from an album. And albums presented songs in sequence – like telling a story.

Today, Grand Hotel from Procol Harum was playing – one of my favourites. The next song was by the Faces (Every Picture Tells a Story). One of the great Faces songs, but when it came on, my brain screams; “That’s wrong! – It should be Toujours L’Amour – the second song on the A side of the Grand Hotel album”. I find it amazing that after 40 odd years I still expect the songs to be in ‘correct’ order and it is jarring when they aren’t. A product of my generation I guess.

Cover of "Grand Hotel"

Cover of Grand Hotel

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My university degree is in physical geography. I majored in climatology and hydrology, with courses in meteorology, biogeography and soils. When I hit my mid-life crisis and was faced with a job that started to look very tenuous (we were going to be privatized), I looked around to see what else I could do. I ended up taking a 2 year diploma in adult education through the University of Alberta. I didn’t know if the diploma would get me a job, but I enjoyed teaching when I was a graduate student and I felt that if I was going to spend two years of my evenings moving forward, I wanted it to be something I enjoyed.

My diploma led me into the environmental education section of our department and just recently, a job at MacEwan University teaching undergraduate labs in earth science. I thoroughly enjoy my teaching but it has led into an unsuspecting issue.

Hell, for me, is a bad presentation. I work hard on my presentation skills and there is nothing so annoying than having to sit through a badly planned session that is given by someone who either doesn’t know his subject, doesn’t care or doesn’t know how to communicate effectively.

Recently I took a free seminar on home audio recording. There was enough demand that an extra session was planned and since I was on the waiting list, I was able to get into the second session. It was supposed to start at 10 in the morning and at 9:57, the instructor arrived and the doors finally opened. Based on the start alone, I did not have a good feeling about the upcoming session. We spent the first 15 minutes setting up the a-v and then the instructor disappeared to get some microphones from the store’s rental stock. So finally at 10:20, we got going. First there was a 10 minute personal introduction – wrong – in a 2 hour session you don’t use that amount of time on an introduction. Now there is no doubt the instructor was knowledgeable. He teaches at a local university and has had years of experience. But it was obvious he had not figured out how much content to supply given the limited amount of time available.

Then he talked about the basics of sound. Then we talked about the size and shape of rooms for recording. Then came the microphones – lots and lots of microphones. I now know a lot about microphones but the time was slipping by. A friend of the instructor showed up so we could have someone to record. But when there was only 20 minutes left in the session, the instructor realized that maybe we might want to try recording something. So, in a very hurried fashion, he set up the microphone and recorded about 40 seconds of guitar and then voice. And then we were done.

I have been to worse sessions but my personal hell will be long, rambling talks where everything is written on the PowerPoint slides and there are so many facts and no context that there is no hope of retaining it all.

My advice – know your time limit, gauge your material accordingly, know your audience, and tell stories! People listen when you tell stories and put your facts into some sort of context that people can relate to. It’s not hard to do – just takes some preparation and thought beforehand.

The next sound you hear is the soapbox being pushed away – I feel better all of a sudden.

English: RCA 44 Ribbon Microphone -- Creative ...

Image via Wikipedia

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We, as in the Big Sky Gliders, are back in the studio recording some more songs. The goal is to eventually get 10 songs done and then release them as an album. We have been using Rick Garvin’s Backyard Studio. Rick is very knowledgeable in matters of recording, having years of experience in these matters. We have become more efficient and prepared in our approach as well, which means less time and hence, less money.

I have always found recording to be a fascinating process. I did some in the 1980s on purely analog equipment with some friends. In those days, you were looking at a purpose built studio that cost lots of dollars. Our first recordings were done at the university radio station in 2-track. Most of our later stuff was on 16-track equipment. To watch my buddy edit tape with a razor blade and adhesive tape was a lesson in its self.

But now with digital, recording has come to the masses. I appreciate Rick’s expertise, but I have always wanted to have the capability to record my own music at my own convenience. When my oldest son moved out a couple of years ago, I requisitioned a former bedroom and having been putting bits and pieces together to be able to record at home. I started out using Audicity, the freeware recording software. However, I just purchased an M-Audio MIDI controller that came with ProTools SE software. It certainly is a limited version of ProTools but it is a good way to learn. I am not really worried about isolation or ambient noise – now I can put down tracks to experiment with before we go into Rick’s studio.

The Bedroom Studio

The home rig has already come in handy. One of the songs we are working on is called ‘Sunday Morning Alibi’, written by Don. I normally do the vocals but in the real studio, because I was fighting a cold, I found I couldn’t hit the high notes. But, using the home setup, I was able to do a recording of the song and try different vocals to see if I could sing in a different register and still get the effect I was looking for. I added guitar, mandolin, bass and a midi keyboard track to get a sense of the arrangement as well. So, here is a home recording of the song, complete with scratchy and off key vocals. This is fun!

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It has been a week since our participation in the songwriter’s circle at the Common Ground Festival. I am still smiling about that one. Jim’s wife, Wanda, was also taking pictures and has supplied a few more of the afternoon.

Jim as the 'Mysterious Stranger'

Look way up!

The Big Sky Gliders in the warm glow of the LED light bar.

We went back into the studio this week to record some more tunes. However, I realized that I had screwed up when I put our first three songs on to Bandcamp. I had .mp3 files and converted them to .wav. This really didn’t work well, so I got the original .wav files from Rick and have replaced the .mp3 conversions. The result is a better brighter sound for all three songs. It is worth another listen at our Bandcamp site.

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One of the things we learned when recording was how precise the process is. And precise means it takes far longer than we ever imagined. The last three times we have been in the studio there was precious little recording happening. Mostly we were going over the songs again and again – picking up imperfections, mistimed notes and variations in the sound levels. Rick, our sound guru, is amazing at picking up these little issues and as he works he is continually asking what we want and how we like the sound. And this is the right thing to do but it illustrates a very interesting phenomena.

Less of this ...

and more of this

It was a couple of nights ago and nearing the end of a 3-hour session mixing a 2 minute song when Rick asked our opinion on something relatively trivial. My brain just said “whatever” – I just wanted to get it over. Thankfully someone else had the right answer (which I knew was correct but I was so tired of things at that moment I just didn’t care). At the end of the night, Rick told us about “ego depletion” – a theory that it the more decisions you make, the harder it becomes to make them. He used the example of car salesman – they ask the easy and trivial questions first and then hit you with the expensive decisions near the end of the negotiations – when your brain is tired and the “I don’t give a rat’s ass” malaise sets in. Ego depletion is based on the work of Ray Baumeister in the United States.

This is fascinating stuff with lots of real world implications. Recording is just one small example. When we read more, some of the research talks about the possible role that blood sugar levels may play in this situation. As a diabetic, this caught my interest. I think the next time we go in, I am going to bring along some form of sugar to see if it makes a difference in how I approach the tasks associated with recording. Playing is one thing – putting it all together is another.

And the New York Times’ columnist John Tierney had a real interesting article on the subject earlier this year. It is a good article and gives an insight into how this phenomena can be used in your everyday life.

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We are continuing to get closer to our goal of having three songs recorded before the holidays.

Jim and Don watching Rick do his magic

For the third song, we added the bass and banjo parts since Don had already put down the guitar and vocals. And, we had a special guest. Our buddy Kyle came in and added fiddle parts to two of the three songs. Kyle is a very accomplished performer and really added something special to the tunes.

Kyle in the booth

For me, the bass part wasn’t that tricky. My issue is I don’t play in the booth since we run a direct line from the bass right into the board. The other instrumental parts are recorded using a microphone so they need to be done in insolation. This means I sit with four guys around me watching while I play my part … no pressure. At least in the booth, you don’t have prying eyes watching your mistakes. And we make mistakes – but then Rick is there to fix the mess we make. A few clicks of the mouse and what was broken is right again. It is just amazing to watch Rick move your bass note so it lines up with the exact start of the beat because you were a couple of milliseconds early or late. Magic.

A lot of studio time involves waiting ...

So, soon to be in stores by the holidays … well, not really, but all that is left is to redo one guitar track and then mix and we should have our first recordings finished. In the new year, we will go back in and record enough for a CD. Stay tuned.

Anxious parents awaiting the results

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