N is for Noise

I live in a noisy flat with whistling windows on the corner of a busy road. It makes recording acoustic guitars or vocals quite awkward. It’s easy to plug an electric guitar into your computer to capture it, but if you ever want to use a microphone then all sorts of external factors get in the way. Even if I manage to not catch the random bumps or clatters or engine noises that creep into my home, the recordings never come out sounding great.

Almost every time I’ve tried to record via microphone, I’ve listened back in dismay, hearing a dreadful “hsssssss” permeate the recording. There is an inevitable “noise floor” that’s going to get into your recording; nothing’s ever completely quiet. I’m simply not very good at setting up my recording equipment to minimise the background noise. And once you’ve recorded it, it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of that hiss. It’s so frustrating! But I just need to keep on practicing.

Could someone please buy me a recording studio? 😉

Careless recordings

This morning, I set up my microphone in my living room and, in the moments between buses driving past, I played my classical guitar.

I’ve mentioned before that Track 3 is a bit of a non-song. I’m not keen on it, but I’m stuck with it, as I don’t have the time to write a song to replace it. I figured I might as well try something different, so I mixed things up a little by recording the guitar parts with my classical guitar. I originally wrote the music with electric guitars in mind, and wrote an energetic drum beat for the chorus which probably won’t work so well any more, but whatevs!

They say that when producing music, nothing is more important than having great recordings to begin with. No matter how good you might be at mixing and mastering a track, you can’t polish a poo.

In the other songs that required guitars, I plugged an electric guitar straight into the computer (maybe going via some effect pedals), but I wanted to use my classical guitar this time. Classical guitars with their nylon strings can sound wonderfully wholesome and earthy. But since there is no direct way to plug one into the computer, you can’t avoid using a microphone, and it is easy for unwanted noise to get into the recording.

There are all kinds of factors to consider. It is often desirable to “deaden” the room by hanging blankets on the walls to absorb sound reflections. Reverb would be added later on to make it sound like your song was recorded in a concert hall or a cathedral or a canyon or whatever you’re into. But I’ve also read that acoustic guitars should be recorded in a real-sounding room, whatever that means. I don’t know. So much information, so little time to experiment and figure it out for myself. It’s overwhelming.

It takes lots of practice to hear sounds properly. No point stressing out, I reminded myself, and I just pointed a microphone at my guitar and played it.

So now I’ve pretty much ticked off everything on my to-do list for the writing and recording stage of the project, and just in time! Tomorrow is the start of week 9 and I am going to start mixing all my bits and pieces together into something amazing! (Positive thinking!!)

A sneaky trick to make me sound like a better guitarist!

I’m writing four songs in twelve weeks. I’ve split the twelve weeks into two parts: the first eight weeks are for writing and recording the songs from scratch; the final four are set aside for the post-production stuff. Tomorrow is the first day of week eight, but since my fourth song has pretty much written itself, I’ve been looking back at the previous tracks and building up a bit of a to do list.

Simply put, I like Song 1. I think I’d be happy to listen to it if someone else had written it. I wish I could say the same for my second and third songs. The third one, in particular, is pretty dire: it doesn’t sound finished, or coherent, or anything. But I don’t have time to do any great musical restructuring, so I’m stuck with it!

My to-do list is dominated by the fact that I need to re-record some guitar/bass parts, in particular for Songs 1 and 3. I’ve spoken before about having issues with finding the right guitar tone, and that makes the recording process very scary to me. In fact, that’s why I decided to write Song 4 entirely using MIDI instruments which use sound generated by the computer.

I recorded the guitars in Song 2 without any effects, and the sound is okay. It’s passable, for me with my horribly low standards/reluctance to re-record. Ach, I’ve a cheek to call myself a musician! There was one wee passage that really troubled me though: a speedy, playful part for two guitars that came out a bit sloppily. It wasn’t even that fast, and I’d had to practice it a million times until I was happy with the recording, but the more I listened back, the more I heard it was a tiny bit out of time.

Instead of re-recording it, I used some computer trickery!

Image

This is the audio track for one of the guitar parts that I wanted to fix. It shows eight bars of music, subdivided into 4 beats per bar. If you look at the arrow at the start of bar 5, you can see that the audio doesn’t quite start on the beat. With Ableton Live, you can insert so-called warp markers into the music and then squeeze or stretch bits together until they sync up with the beat. After some careful adjustments I restored order to my sloppy guitar parts!

Image

Everything lines up much better now! I was amazed by how well it worked, even though it’s just subtle changes. (If you’re really paying attention, you might be able to figure out that I’m playing two notes per beat in bars 1-2 and 5-8, and triplets in bars 3 and 4!)

My plan for today was actually to spend some time re-recording my guitars for Song 3. I’m thinking I will use my classical guitar instead of plugging in an electric one. I just love the earthy sound of classical guitars with their nylon strings! As well as that, I bought a new condenser microphone with money I don’t have and I need to get some more practice before I attempt to record my sister playing the flute for Song 1!! However, instead of facing my fear of recording, I went for a nice long walk and hung out with squirrels and stuff.

Awkward selfie on Corstorphine Hill.

A post shared by mairi (@mairielise) on