If you read this blog, I am pretty certain that you don’t tune in for the sounds of a lonely guitar on the high plains, or cowboy tunes strummed in a saloon. You’re here because, like me, you’re kind of synth nerd and you want to read about and listen to the finer points of control voltages and weird software.
The thing is, if you read this blog, you also know that I’ve developed an affection for the esoteric instrument called “the guitar.” When I’ve had a few hours to kill in the music room, it’s more than likely been in practicing pentatonics and managing the fret board than wiggling knobs and patching cables. This will not always be the case, i promise. Stick with me here for a bit. I’ve fallen for a diversion, but it will lead somewhere, eventually, that will come back around to beepy buzzy beats.
In addition to learning the guitar for the last eighteen months, I’ve also been trying to understand and learn about recording. I’ve been ingesting old TapeOp magazines and any information I can find on the internet about recording methods and gear.As I do this, I realize that I need to expand the purpose and mission of this website to include these newfound links and informations and, well, gear. I recently installed a patchbay, I now have a decent little mixer, and I’m all set up to where it’s very easy now for me to press “record” and create some tracks. Like many music hobbyists, I find that I end up reading about this stuff more than actually using it (there are legitimate reasons for this that I’ll get into some other time) and last Sunday I decided that I need to actually play some music and actually record it.
Just a couple nights earlier I picked up a very large book at a local bookstore called The Folksinger’s Wordbook, edited by Fred and Irwin Silber. As I browsed it, I ran across The Streets of Laredo, which is an old cowboy song that I like. I believe the first version I remember hearing was by Marty Robbins, and more recently I discovered an odd cover by The Blue Aeroplanes. So here I had the lyrics as well as the basic guitar chords. True to the old saying that all you need are three chords and the truth, the chords were D7, A7 and G. That’s it.
On Sunday, I set up some mic stands, opened a few recording tracks in Ableton, and set forth. First was the acoustic guitar rhythm track played to a click at 115 bpm. D7, A7, G. Done. I played around with some positions for the microphone, an Audio-Technica AT-2035 until I found something I liked, and I used a software compressor and EQ to get something I thought sounded good. Once this was down, I spent fifteen minutes or so recording some picking on the same acoustic guitar. Over the next hour, I recorded two or three tracks of accordion, some whistling, some singing, and various electric guitar tracks. The electric guitar was mic’d with an Electro-Voice 635, which is odd in that It seems to have a very low output. I plan to test this specifically, because I also noticed that my Onyx 1220i mixer seems to have a wildly different gain structure than the Motu Ultralight I use. When I had a mic plugged into the Ultralite, I left the input gain/trim at 0. I assume that this is unity. It recorded a nice clear sound at a good recording volume. With the Onyx mixer, I had to turn the gain up near its maximum to even get a usable signal at all, and it was still significantly quieter than the Ultralite. The last little bit on the gain knob ramps the input up from barely audible to overdriven. I don’t know yet enough to know if this something that is supposed to be — like they’re using different input gain methods — or whether it’s even an issue. With digital recording, I read the tracking levels aren’t as vital as they are in analog, since the noise floor is so low and the bit-rate is so high (48k in this case). I can (and did) raise the level up in mixing with no noticeable noise. So maybe it’s no big deal.
Once all the recording was done, I gave myself a break for a day, and went back on Monday to listen to the tracks. It was easy to pull out the whistling, singing, and all of the electric guitar since it was all pretty bad. The whistling and singing was terribly out of tune (I’m not good at either, though I would like to be) and the electric guitar parts were uninspired. I knew my window for time to record this was running out before the house got noisy with people, and I was not into it.
In the end, what I got was a bass line of accordion with two acoustic guitar parts. The rhythm strumming and some surprising lead picking. Surprising because I don’t remember all of what I did here and it’s all one take with no edits. It’s simple and might not warrant all 1000 words of this post. But I’m pretty pleased and it led to a week (so far) of thinking how I might add in the modular synth to something like this, and really giving some thought to recording techniques and some more gear that I could use (like a compressor). After mixing this, I thought of some stuff I’d like to try and make some changes, and I plan to get back in, maybe this weekend, and visit The Streets of Laredo again.