Folks have asked about what I use to record. The answer varies.
Setup 1 – Kitchen and Laundry Room Recordings
At home in my “kitchen recordings” I use a MacBook Pro with GarageBand (GB) and Audacity. This is mostly because GB is a Mac product and plays nicely with my tools, but it’s limited in weird ways sometimes and I can usually make my changes in Audacity if it will not work in GB.
Garage Band has a lot of plugins that modulate your recordings in different ways. This can be good but can lead to an overproduced sound sometimes, or even a sound that’s plain weird, even if unintentional. I usually mess with the settings and make custom environments for spaces in which I record regularly.
Sometimes I’ll use my USB MiC by Apogee which I really like. It currently retails for about $225 online. You can read all its details online, but in a nutshell, it has basic gain controls and a stand and plugs into the Mac and the iPad and had good ratings at the time I was buying.
I use this at the kitchen table or in the laundry room for more “professional” sound recording – i.e. when I don’t want to hear the clock in the background.
Setup 2 – Field Recordings
I also use an iPad with GarageBand for iPad. Because it’s super portable this is a great solution for SCA folks to record on the fly. I also sing frequently in a large, beautiful Catholic church with fantastic acoustics and a big pipe organ – but I don’t want to set up my laptop to record a solo piece – that feels weird. The iPad alone takes pretty great recordings in that space with the inline mic in the device itself.
I also have used the MiC with the iPad and GarageBand for recording and it’s been a lovely combo. I always export to the Mac to do work on the recordings as the GB for iPad functions differently than the computer version.
About Headphones: If I’m doing fancy things, like adding tracks, I use a set of in-ear small headphones for recording, and a pair of over the ear for listening. I got the best ones I could get at the time, so they were cheap. That being said, I like the in-ear ones best for recording as they don’t have much sound bleed.
Setup 3 – Studio
I know people who have made great home studios. I’m not one of them. I can competently record and edit myself, but it’s not always what I want. I don’t want to have to be engineer – I want to be musician. So my third setup is “go to the studio.” The one I go to is Main Street Studio in Bangor, Maine. Andrew Clifford is the recording engineer (and a percussion teacher!) Studio A is a welcome home-away-from-home and I found that my investment in the time I spent there was invaluable.
Andrew chose carefully the mic/s for this project and preamps so they’d be the best things for my voice and style. I only ever had to think about music (ok, and sometimes money) but I always felt like my work was in excellent hands and I had a real professional there to give me feedback.
Ultimately when I decided to record and release a CD I decided to record at a studio. To me, the results are considerably better than I could have achieved at home. The mic/preamp combo at the studio was a $10k set, add to that the sound of the studio room, quality of the engineering, and quality of the headphones for tracking – it was worth every penny to me. (And because I know you want to know, the studio charges $50/hour.)
I will detail more about the process of making the CD in later posts. But moving on…
So what’s the difference?
I’m going to attach some pieces for you to listen to that might help illustrate why I made the choice I made to record professionally.
I’ve included a media player which has songs from my studio CD, “I Am of the North” which was recorded in the late winter and early spring of 2014 and released in July 2014.
(If below this sentence there appears for you a large, blank space, just go to the CDBaby website here and you can listen to the clips there at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/aneledafalconbridge)
You can compare several of these with the studio versions. I chose pieces that are pretty similar in terms of what I did to them – minimal instrumentation, etc, so you can get a better sense of what the recordings actually were like more than how I arranged the pieces for the CD.
Puer Natus – solo voice – December 2014
“Puer Natus” recorded with iPad internal mic with Garage Band in a gigantic, empty Roman Catholic Church. The church gives it a nice sound – one I couldn’t fake with settings in GarageBand without it sounding overproduced. (Recording with Andrew in this space is a goal of mine.)
River Ran Red – solo voice and drum – August 2011
This was recorded on the Mac. This is a song where a click track would have helped a lot. I hummed and drummed and recorded that (you can hear the humming if you listen for it!) track first. Then I sang over it on a separate track.
Listen for the difference between it and the CD version in the player.
In the studio version I sang this “to the grid” with a click track, then recorded the drum as a separate track. We added the bigger, bass “boom” later to give more punch to it.
The March Home – harp and voice – August 2011
This was recorded …. I have no idea how I recorded this. It’s a retrospective miracle. It’s done at the kitchen table, I remember that much. On the MacBook, probably without an external mic because I think I just _did_ it. Listen for the difference between it and the CD version.
In the studio version I recorded the harp and voice, then just the harp (using the initial track as a guide) and then recorded vocals separately. Then I finally added the percussion last. It’s not how it’s usually done, but it was ok.
Wait for the War to be Over – solo voice – March 2012
This one is is simple – solo voice. Nothing extra. It was recorded on the iPad with the MiC and processed in GB.
Listen for the difference between it and the CD version.
In the studio I just sang this in the sound booth. I did it more than once. At one point there were bird noises added, then taken away again. It was better just left alone. Of course, solo vocal work with a _really_ good microphone is a double-edged-sword — it’s amazing but if you screw it up it’s like the bat signal. Nothing with just the voice was done in fewer than four takes. Nothing. (Sigh.)
I Fight for You – solo voice – July 2013
This one is great because the song didn’t change much from when I wrote it and recorded it initially in July 2013 to half a year later when I recorded it in the studio. It was done in the laundry room “studio” with the MiC and MacBook into GarageBand.
Listen for the difference between it and the CD version.
The studio version had a click track for the vocals and a drum that was recorded after the vocals. We digitally enhanced the drum because I wanted it to sound like a heartbeat. I was thrilled when someone said to me, “that drum sounds like a heartbeat” because I knew my vision had worked for at least one person who wasn’t me.
Now Springest the Spray – solo voice – Nov 2014
This one was recorded in late 2014 – after my time in the studio and after the CD release. I used the MiC and GarageBand on the MacBook at the kitchen table. I’d consider this a rough cut, but you can hear how the harp is picked up compared to just the inline device mic used in recording The March Home above.
We Wear the Purple and Gold – solo voice – June 2011 date of composition / April 2012 self-made recording
The MOST illustrative is probably this song – We Wear the Purple and Gold. I put a track to it that I was “pretty happy with” and I released it to the world here online. It’s this version:
I REALLY REALLY encourage you to listen to THAT one in comparison to this. The difference is enormous. I would never have been able to achieve that sound had I been left to my own devices.
I think the sound is REALLY superior on the CD. I’m not ashamed to ask people to pay for the work, because I’m proud of the production values. I’ll probably only record these pieces once – I’m proud to have this be the way they are remembered.