Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Perils of Home Recording

A long long time ago, in a musical comedy galaxy far far away, three guys got together to perform song parodies.  They weren't exactly a band and they weren't exactly a comedy act.  In fact, they defied categorization.  But they were pretty funny.

Way back then, if you wanted to do song parodies, you needed a bunch of talented musicians, a recording studio and a talented engineer.  Having very few of these, the guys decided to buy the remnants of a recording studio where they recorded their previous output.

The equipment was large.  It took up the better part of a bedroom.  It cost an exorbitant amount. The mixing board was so heavy it took five people to move it.  The reel to reel tape deck used half inch tape and recorded up to eight tracks; more than the Beatles had at their disposal during the early years.

It's been many years since the purchase of all that gear.  It still resides at various houses, in various states of disrepair.  We stopped recording and doing comedy because the market went to hell.


An opportunity came up recently to 'put the band back together', as it were.  A rocker is having a party and we were going to submit a tribute in the form of a parody.  This would take place over two nights; a writing night and a recording night.

Writing went well, which left recording.  One of us went out and purchased an all-in-one recording device a few years back.  This one device, somewhat larger than a briefcase, replaced every piece of equipment in our former studio, plus it gave us more tracks and effects.  You could carry it under one arm (ain't technology grand?).  Again, we had more horsepower than the Beatles did during the greater portion of their recording career.  But let's face it - we were no Beatles.


Recording night came around quickly.  The only problem with the recording device was that no one had the faintest idea how to operate the thing.  Back in our recording days, we had no internet and few places to turn for help.  Now we're in the twenty first century and it's all about the internet.  A short search turned up the manual download for the recording device and it was downloaded.  I studied the manual valiantly, hoping I'd retain the information when the time came.  Of course, anything having to do with retention is pretty funny in my case.  I have the attention span of a pregnant gnat and the retention of a two-year old (on a good day).

We set up in my living room, as that was the single patch of floor available in the house.  We're not going to be featured on an episode of Hoarders but we're headed in that direction.  As I mentioned, the original studio took up an entire room and was soundproofed.  The living room... well... not so much.  Plus we had a lot of assistance, in the form of a wife and a particularly precocious spaniel.  We have no idea how large a place they would have in the session until shortly after we started.

The first order of business was to get backing instrumental tracks onto the recorder.  This being 2014, the tracks were streaming through an iPhone (not mine, of course - I use android).  We set up the system and got right to recording.  When I say got right to recording, I mean we had to send someone to Radio Shack (you've got questions, we have silly looks).  Twenty dollars and thirty minutes later, we had enough cabling to tie the lot of us up and send a signal from the iPhone to the recorder.

About thirty seconds into recording, the iPhone went off, totally scrubbing the take.  No problem.  A little laughter and a reset later, we were off to Take Two.  A minute later, the iPhone rang again.  I looked at the iPhone owner and told him, in my best superior voice, that an android phone wouldn't keep ringing in the middle of a recording (untrue, but makes a great story).

The iPhone owner suggested Airplane Mode but let's face it - that would kill the streaming.  So he turned off all of his notifications, buzzers and bleeps.  

Take Three: this time the phone waited two whole minutes before the text message came in.  Apparently he hadn't turned off all of his buzzers.  Take Four finally made it through the recording maze without any interruptions.  We were so happy, the singer tripped over his own headphone wire and fell down, pulling the cable out of the headphones.  Fortunately for him, Koss made his headphones with a plug on both ends of the cable, so no damage was done.  This was a happy accident, like the fact that every appliance maker puts out devices that turn themselves off automatically (or my house would have burned down years ago).

Next it was time to record the vocals.  We got all set up, hit Record and got right to it.  At precisely this moment, my wife went outside for a cigarette.  First there was the terrible screech of the door opening. Then the grating sound of the sleigh bells that she put on the door for notification purposes.

Take Two went swimmingly until the moment the singer looked odd and kept pointing downwards. Apparently the dog had taken the opportunity to eat some of his crunchy food, five feet from the microphone.

Take Three sounded really good until my wife got up and went into the kitchen to wash some dishes. This was compounded by her Mobile Percussion Instrument (the sixteen bracelets she wears on one arm, that jangle horribly whenever she moves).

We were starting to miss our very old technology, as well as the soundproofed room at about this time. It became necessary to explain recording and the concept of SILENCE to the wife (insert wife joke here).

Take Four was pretty successful, if you don't count the ridiculous display of thrashing about and groaning really loudly from the local fuzzy spaniel, who was sitting in someone's chair at the moment.  Fortunately it was far enough from the mic that it didn't get onto the recording.  Twenty years from now,  someone will pull up the vocal track to this song, isolate it and will hear all sorts of Doggy Orgasm noises competing with the singer.

Take Five went well.  No, really... it was a keeper.

Take Six was only interrupted by the dog again; this time slurping water from his bowl.

We were one minute from sending the dog AND the wife upstairs with some crayons to keep them busy for a while.  We were not beyond welding doors shut.

An hour later, with no falling, Doggus Interruptus or Wifus Car-Revving Noises, we had a semi-professionally produced song, ready for sending.  The recorder had a built-in cd burner, so I burned a few copies, after consulting the manual.  What the manual also mentioned, many pages later, was that you had to first burn the disc, then finalize the disk.  It was intuitive (assuming you designed the device and wrote the manual for it).

Which is how I engineered the most recent parody that's going to make some serious noise.

The recorder is now old school... the new ones are all computer and software based. Sometimes I miss  playing and recording.  Then I remember the smelly, dingy bars and too many takes of one track and sometimes I don't miss it at all.


  1. Ya gonna sell any copies?

  2. I'll write further about this, as information appears.