notes from the shore

Adventures in Home Recording

Recording Session

I went over to my friend’s house yesterday morning to track a piano part on his new song.  I mentioned it in my most recent Production Update. After we had the rehearsal at his place where we worked out the details of the instrumentation we tracked a scratch for me to take home (recording it with his Zoom H4).

After getting home I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get a decent track along with the scratch. I just couldn’t get it to sound natural playing along with our rubato take. I contacted Will and we set up a recording date so we could track the song together. After several postponements (we’re both too busy) we had that tracking date yesterday.

I showed up at Will’s house at 9:00 and we got to the business of setting up. He planned on close-miking his voice with a Shure Beta 58 and his guitar with his AKG C414 set to figure-8 mode. By aligning the null of the figure-8 with his mouth, he pretty good separation of the inputs.


I recorded direct-to-MIDI using his digital piano. We both monitored directly off his mixer using the audio output from the piano (no latency). He recorded all three track simultaneously on Sonar with his 1010LT.


We hadn’t played the song together for over a month and were a little rusty. Both of us had independently worked on it the evening before, and both came to the same conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to get “there” until we were together. Right notes, right tempo, etc, but no vibe.

After getting the equipment set up and monitoring situation worked out, we began running. After three run-throughs of increasing quality, we decided to go for a take. Would you believe that the first take we made it about 45 seconds into the song and were so screwed up that we just hit “Stop.”

The fourth take was the keeper. We decided before the fourth take that we would concentrate more on flow and vibe than technical perfection – we were compensating for each other’s mistakes, and losing the flow of the song in the process. Live it wouldn’t have made a difference and would be forgotten before the next measure was complete, but in a recording it was unacceptable, and would be nearly impossible to correct in mixing and overdubs.

Satisfied, we dumped the files to my thumb drive and I took them home for editing. The plan is that I will edit the MIDI performance to my heart’s content and sync the tempo track to what we recorded (we recorded free time, without any metronome – my preferred way of recording). Then I will send the edited track back to Will and come over to his place to mess with velocities. The reason being that he will render the final with NI’s Akoustic Piano which I don’t have. Since every piano sample responds to velocity a little differently, I cannot accurately set the piano response at home.

I’m also looking at adding some auxiliary percussion, like shaker and cymbal rolls to the track.

One last note. Over the last several years I have borrowed a large amount of Will’s equipment (his is mostly nicer than mine) and borrowed his services as an engineer while I played at being a producer. I see this work I’m doing with him as some level of payback for all the kindness he has shown me. I was thinking, and expressed to him, that the one thing I’ve never borrowed from him is his musical talent, and am currently working on a song in fingerstyle guitar that he would be able to contribute to wonderfully.

This afternoon I realized that I blew it. He has made a HUGE contribution to my recorded music. What prompted my memory was listening to my live worship CD that I recorded nearly four years ago. He played electric and acoustic guitar on that project, and even added some bass guitar overdubs. That project would have been a fraction of what is was without his contributions.

Thanks, my friend.


May 3, 2009 - Posted by | Production Diary

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