Posted by: kubiakl | February 11, 2010

Mic Check, We Recording?

How do you record?

For a couple of years now I’ve had a Fostex MR-8 digital 8-track recorder.  It’s served me well for recording ideas I’ve had, and I’ve even done some full songs with multiple guitar tracks.  Usually I bypass any built-in effects and use a microphone (Shure SM-58) to capture the sound.  Occasionally I’ll run a guitar straight into it (for acoustics I use a Fishman pickup that attaches easily into the soundhole) just to avoid any ambient noise.

But there’s a problem – with no drum kit (I live in a third-story apartment, my neighbors would hate me) and almost no experience creating drum loops on my computer, my songs lack any percussion.  This is sad.  Sad because it limits the music I can make, and sad because it means any creative base comes from the guitar.  I can’t just jam out on a beat to try and find a new idea.  Rhythm is a good place to start creating music and rhythm begins with your drums.  So it’s been a while since I really used the Fostex.

This was hammered home to me two weekends ago.  The Drummer and I finally had some time to get together.  It had been a while, what with one thing or another coming up on the weekends and him living outside of Austin.  We jammed around, trying new things, until I started playing a riff that made him say “That’s it.  We’re recording that.”

We went to his Mac laptop and he opened up GarageBand.  He plugged my Strat straight into the 1/8″ microphone jack and previewed some tones for me, after a few tweaks I was satisfied.  We chose a drum beat that matched the tempo and I arranged the song while playing along with it (adding a chorus part, deciding how long between the choruses, etc.).  Once that was done he hit record and we had our main riff played all the way through.  He added a distorted acoustic to double the chorus, I added some lead guitar towards the end, and then I took a run at playing bass.  After all of that was set he mixed it down to his iPod and we went back to his drum kit where he recorded a live drum track.

Then he amazed me by sitting down and writing lyrics on the spot.  I usually get lyrics only when inspired (read: too lazy to actually force myself to write) so my songs sit and wait a while sometimes.  I threw in a few lines but he wrote the bulk of it.  We went through some vocal effects ideas and timing of the words while he gave it a run through.  He wasn’t satisfied and it was time for me to head out so I left him to the task.

From synthesis to completed instrumental track took less than two hours.  That’s including the three takes I had to do for the lead and the time I spent tweaking tones (I’m somewhat picky when presented with so many options), plus his two or three drum takes.

For those who are unfamiliar with computer recording, let me explain why I’m so amazed at all of this.  My previous attempts to record straight to computer have been… problematic.  It seemed like no matter what I did there would be a lag between what I played and what came out.  (This issue is called “latency” and is a major problem with computer recordings.)  It was damn near impossible for me to play in time with the music because I couldn’t – I would have to play ahead of the beats to play in time and am no where near talented enough for that.

But alas, I’m a PC at the moment.  So no GarageBand for me.  I talked to Ratarue about recording and he recommended a program called Ableton, but I haven’t had the time to check it out yet.  So until I decide to go the Mac route are there any suggestions?  I’d like a simple interface (GarageBand gave a very easy to navigate visual), without latency, and hopefully one with some rhythm options.  Software would be nice so I could tweak it as I go, but I’m also open to hardware suggestions.  The BOSS BR-600 looks like it might fit the bill – anyone with experience care to let me know?  It would be nice to be able to show up with a few ideas next time instead of hoping inspiration strikes while I’m out there.

But in the meantime, there’s my neglected Fostex.  Staring at me accusingly from the floor and dusty from lack of use.



  1. […] more: Mic Check, We Recording? […]

  2. No response to your question, but I enjoyed this and your next post very much. When do I get to hear the recorded stuff and start in with the “I remember when he was just learning” stories? 😛 PS. Listening to an Old Fav, Ian Moore’s Green grass album, especially “Closer” which I remember clearly getting me through college without going insane at one point.

    Cheers, and good luck finding some PC-based software. You could probably get an older model mac laptop for cheap just for this software.

  3. […] I was looking for a digital machine that was cheap and as easy to use as the 4 track Tascam cassette recorder I had used for years. I always have tons of song ideas laying or spinning in my head and it’s good to just turn on a recorder and form it into a song…Track by track. Are we recoding yet? […]

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