Quick Tips on Audio Recording from Years of Hating My Results

Today on Twitter Eric Lawrence, creator of one of my favorite debugging tools, Fiddler, mentioned that he wanted to clean up some crumby audio that had lots of noise in it.  Having spent most of my adult life as an amateur musician and having recorded some pretty lousy audio I thought I’d share some tips from my experience.  These will not help everyone (possibly even Eric) but they’re here for posterity.

The first issue I faced was having a built in microphone on my laptop.  In my experience this always leads to bad results.  The first problem is that fans and electrical currents always seem to interfere here.  You can try to use tools like Audacity or Adobe Audition to clean up the recordings, but they’ll often sound different when you’re done because pieces of the sound wave will have been clipped due to the filters that remove the noise.  If you can: get a secondary microphone that is away from the laptop even by a foot.  You may still pick up some background fan noise, but it will be significantly better.  I have a simple recording studio set up in my office and I still get laptop fan noise in the background if my microphone is too close to the MacBook I have.

I mentioned to Eric that I’ve used my Samsung Galaxy 4S to get great recordings of conversations and aside from people touching the phone the microphone is already geared to handle a speaker-phone setup so it does a good job.  If you can’t get an external microphone for your computer a phone may be a good working solution.  Several apps exist for the different platforms for recording lectures and these tend to work well.  The smart phones don’t have fans, and they tend to be designed for picking up audio.

One useful trick for making sure you don’t get feedback and to confirm you’ve got good audio input is to use headphones.  I like over-the-ear headphones because they are not noise canceling [which is cool, but can also fool with your perception of what you’ve recorded], but will block some of the external sounds.

In addition to equipment sound settings on your computer/laptop/recording device can have a big impact.  To get louder sounding audio some hardware/software combinations will do either hardware or software amplification and this can really add to background noise or distortion.  It can also amplify electrical interference or line noise.  Check the settings on your device and confirm that you don’t have the microphone or line-in volume set to 100% as this can be a problem.  Rather than assuming this is the problem it’s recommended you do a test with the settings adjusted at 100%, 90% and so forth.  It’s funny, but you can use the microphone at 70% [for example] get your recording and then use Audacity or a similar package to normalize the audio and it will up the volume, but you’re less likely to run into distortion or clipping.

On my mac I use GarageBand for all the recording I do because it’s there.  GarageBand gives me control of the input sources under preferences.  It gives me control over the master volume, the track volume, and I can enable the compressor to maximize volume consistency for each channel.  If you’re not familiar with the workings of GarageBand you may need to do some help file scanning, but it’s pretty direct and you should be able to get to a stable starting point relatively quickly with its podcast settings.  I haven’t used Windows for musical recording for about 7 years now so I’m a bit behind on what’s there except Audacity and Audition.

I hope this help!  If you’ve got questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Nonsense and Stuff

Some friends are moving to Cal-e-fornia from Tejas.  I don’t know why, but apparently they want to move from where it is hot and humid to where it is hotter and humidor. That being said, I wrote a very quick ditty to celebrate this wonderful opportunity.  You may listen to it below:

I’m Moving to CA

Disclosure: I was born in California, this song is, like almost all of my work, tongue-in-cheek.

Guitars, Guitars, Guitars

I have 6 guitars.  I’m not saying that to brag because I know folks with way more guitars than that.  I’m just going to start out with that information so I can tell you the story of how I acquired those guitars.  There are some fun stories behind a few of them, and frankly, they’ve all been gifts of one form or another.

The oldest guitar I have is my bass guitar.  I got that when I was about 15 because we needed a bass player at church and I volunteered to learn to play the bass.  I saved up some money and through a good deal that I worked with my youth group leader the guitar was purchased for about $200.  I loved  having a bass guitar, it was the best after having fiddled with my dad’s acoustic guitar.  I’ve worked on the electrical wiring, and it still gets the job done as needed.  That being said, I’d love to have a 5 string for those extra low notes.

The second oldest guitar I have is a 12 string Yamaha I bought from a co-workers husband when I was about 17.  It is impossible to keep in tune and it hangs on my wall collecting dust.  I interrupted worship at church a few times just to tune it because it was so out.  Yes, I was that tacky.

Third is my Washburn 6 string.  I saved up my money from work for a few months and purchased this guitar because at that point in time I wanted to be a worship leader professionally and that required a good guitar.  After some work and such I had about $900 invested in it and it is singly the most expensive guitar I have and all of the other guitars together didn’t cost that much.  Even with that much money it’s still not an expensive guitar by today’s standards.  I lead worship with that guitar and have so for about 14 years now.  I don’t lead worship professionally, so I guess that didn’t pan out 😉  I did manage to record this and this though. There’s also this historical Texas number.

Next is the Washburn 6 string electric I got the first year for Christmas from my family.  Jessica orchestrated to have everyone pitch in and I got the red burst electric.  I really wanted a solid color guitar, but Jessica didn’t know and my first reaction was to be sad that it looked “too country and western” and not enough “Nirvana”.  I play it semi-regularly and I’ve recorded with it for a long time.  It’s a great guitar and I’m over the country & western thing, and instead remember how proud my wife was to get it for me that first Christmas.

Several Christmases ago I picked up my acoustic bass.  It was really cheap and it has some fret buzzing on the upper frets, but it doesn’t require an amplifier and it sounds pretty good for the most part.  I wanted to be able to play with friends (namely my friend Brad Maston at the time) and it seemed like a good idea.  It probably wasn’t 😉

Lastly is the classical guitar that my friend Mike gave me last year.  It was in his closet and he asked me if I wanted it.  Excitedly I said yes.  I really dig the classical guitar, the sound, the feel, and the playability of the classical guitar are really engaging.  I’ve recorded with it a few times, too.  I’m grateful for the gift, and I’m glad that I can use it – I’m hoping to use it at church soon to do a Willie Nelson-like number I’m writing.  Yes, that’s very silly.

I have told Jessica a few times, “I’d like to get another guitar.” She rolls her eyes and laughs at me because let’s face it: 6 guitars is a lot of guitars.  Just in case you wonder how I could want another guitar here’s why: each one is unique and has its own sound and feel and stylistic quality.  I would like a dobro guitar (also known as a resophonic) because they’re classic blues guitars.  I would also like to get a fretless bass guitar – because they’re super smooth sounding and jazzy.

I’m glad that when I asked my dad when I was 12 (yes, that was 21 years ago) if he would show me how to play the guitar that he said yes and he showed me the C and G chords.  It took me months to get those chords down smoothly and I could barely play a song when I foolishly told my youth group leader, “I’d like to play the guitar for worship tonight.”  I did HORRIBLE!  That being said I’ve written a number of worship songs, a number of silly songs, and a number of impromptu songs over the years.  I don’t take the guitars for granted and if you want to hear the differences in the guitars let me know in the comments and I’ll try to record something that lets each one of them shine in context.

La Bamba

Tonight we had a good old fashioned jam session at the Kaes house.  It was an all request night by which I mean anyone could pick a song (I didn’t really pick a song, but I did try out a new guitar/melody/song piece accompanied by hand percussion and it was quite cool).  It was in honor of a friend, Eliska, who is from the Czech Republic, but was visiting for a number of weeks over the summer but has to fly home Tuesday.  She plays quite a few instruments so it was good fun.  We also had “Funkle Doug” on the piano (for some of the time), who is a great jazz pianist.  Eventually we worked our way to the song La Bamba.

I’m not sure how it came about that we played La Bamba, but we did.  There was dancing.  Young and old were either playing or dancing.  It was good.  There was life, there was fun, there was family, friends, and fellowship.  There was love.  All from a silly 3 chord song with a catchy hook.  I hope your weekend had a La Bamba  in it.

Prejudiced? I Can’t Tell

Today I was listening to a pop artist because I had heard her name enough times that I had to find out why people were listening to her. For those of you keeping score: it’s not Britney Spears. YouTube had a number of her videos online so I listened to them on the y’ube and got a feel for the style of her album(s). I did not watch more than about 10 seconds of her video but I’m pretty sure I’m prejudice. The reason I say that is that with computers and software being what they are even I can sound relatively decent so I want a genuine artist writing from their heart about things that matter to them. I need something deeper than dulcimer tones.

Am I prejudiced against the pretty faced girl who sings like an ‘angel’ (pardon me while I puke in my mouth after writing that)? I think so. What if the unnamed country-pop star is really a great, talented gal who writes real songs from her heart? I’m scared if she does because she’s got to have a large chunk of bubble-gum lodged in there and its coated with banjos [this makes her songs authentic country, I believe]. Definitely enough to have a need for heart surgery. If she likes country music and enjoys singing about love, broken heartedness and incestuous relationships like traditional country musicians that’s great, but it just doesn’t show up in the lyrics and the videos are more about her hot young body than they are about her personality.  Or, as my sister, who likes country, likes to say: her qualities [a reference to the Bachelor TV show].

Help me find a really, really good country artist who writes quality songs, has depth in lyrics, music stylings, and isn’t just a celebrity for appearance sake.

A Kids Song In the Making

Tonight, to relieve some stress and to do something I haven’t done in far too long I began working on a song. A kids song. An alphabet oriented kids song. I wanted to post what I’ve recorded so far and wanted to get some feedback.

Lyrics:
W I Need U
I had to ask O Y
R U coming back
I think I’m gonna die

Xs are the hardest N
This life which is OK
You flew away
Like some distant blue J

W I need U
I had to ask O Y
R U coming back
I think I’m gonna die

MP3

Fair

I have been a big fan of Poor Old Lu since the mid 90’s when two brothers who were in a (sphhhblunk rock) rock band with me encouraged me to give them another listen. When I had listened to the demo tape at the Christian bookstore I had heard a slower song and shut the tape player off. Yeah, I was really a good music listener back then. However, after borrowing their copy of ‘Sin’ I became hooked. Fast forward to 2005. Poor Old Lu is gone (for now), but Aaron Sprinkle, their guitarist has a lower priority solo career. Aaron’s touring band turns into his band Fair. Fair isn’t Poor Old Lu 2.0. Fair is more like Aaron Sprinkle 4.0. Its got a good solid sound, great harmonies, and a nice driving feel at places and careful respect for the delicate intricacies of dynamics in other places.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2006
Rating: 4.5 ear canals out of a total 5 ear canals
Theological Content: Could Play on Secular Radio without anyone knowing the band was Christian unless you knew they were Christian, in which case you can pick up underdones & themes.

If you’ve not heard Fair I’d check them out on iTunes or Amazon.com.

Recommended Tracks:

  • The Attic
  • Carelessness
  • Cut Down Sideways
  • Confidently Dreaming
  • The Dumbfound Game
  • Unglued

Squaredance

There is nothing like country music and line dancing to make you wish you married your sister.  Or if you don’t have a sister, maybe you wish you lost a dog or something.

Squaredancing on the other hand makes you wish that you had coordination enough to dance more sophisticated dances like you see people doing in theater productions.  Don’t get me wrong, squaredancing is fun because its easy, but after evaluating my ability to play simon says where every call is something simon said, I’m ready to take on dancing with the average Joe.  Its like reality TV only its reality.  I have relatives who went to school for dance, I have even more relatives who ballroom dance, but its just not in me.  When I have danced ‘improvised dance’ I think that some people present were ready to call 911 to make sure that the ambulance was hurrying because the convulsions were getting worse.

This last Saturday our church had a dance – but it was a square dance.  Various members of the congregation stayed home because they had some sense, but we wanted our girls to be able to have fun.  And fun they did have [<- that sentence was so Yoda, I don’t know where it came from].  And we as adults had fun.  It was the first time I’d danced with my wife in public since we got married.  8.5 years of not knowing that the easiest way for me to dance with Jessica was to take up square dancing.

I think next year I need to wear suspenders.

American Idol’s Star of the Night?

Tonight’s super-star was a girl who couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old. She cried during several of the performances. How do I know? Because when she was crying the camera crew was on her. She got more attention than the artists when she turned on the water works.

Congratulations Ashley (Ryan Seacrest asked her name) for rocking America with your tears of joy. It was truly like the British invasion video footage I have seen of teen girls crying over the Beatles.

Out of Tune

I submitted a cover song to a podcast cover song competition last month.  Actually, it was recorded last year, but submitted last month.  I got routed.  Spanked.  Demolished.  But such is the way of music, subjectivity and the fact that I can’t hold pitch very well compared to better trained singers.  However, this was a learning experience and if there is a next time I’ll take what I learned from this and attempt a better submission.  What are those things I learned you ask?

  1. Re-record your vocals until they’re as close to spotless as possible.  I’m certain this cost me.
  2. Work out your arrangement and refine it.  I have tried to communicate this to others but somehow didn’t apply it to myself (can you believe I’ve produced a band before?)
  3. When you play your recording for someone and their first reaction is to laugh… it might be best to figure out how to get a smile instead

I appreciate that Dan Klass, one of the judges, was the Paula Abduul of the group 🙂  He at least liked the beginning few seconds of the song 🙂