My Typical Recording Experience

This afternoon I had a typical home recording experience, complete with too many dogs, too many cords and too much laughter (which is where this story ends).

Some time ago I worked on putting a backing track to one of my old songs. To make a long story short, I set aside the good, but not really appropriate, backing track. Only today have I finally sat down and tried to put together a new one. I thought I had a scratch vocal & guitar file for this somewhere, but if I did it must have been so awful that I deleted it. So I really am starting over. First I made a typically muffled and muddy guitar track. Then I fiddled with various settings, making a gazillion guitar intros until I finally got the level to something that I could hear.

Then I had to do something about the metronome. Like turn it off. Without it I tend to get slightly off time with this song. So I sifted through my files to find something that was a simple click or tap, but loud enough for me to hear over my guitar. (Always a problem.) Decided this time to try a kick drum cranked all the way up. OK, so I’m ready to go. Got everything plugged in. Got everything almost disentangled.

To visualize this properly you have to understand where I’m working on this. I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor, wrapped around my guitar, wedged between the couch and the coffeetable, tethered to the laptop on the table by a fairly short headphone cord. Which is in the way of the guitar. More fiddling. Then I’ve got to get the cheapo computer mic—another thing with a short cord— positioned as close to the guitar as possible without me hitting it when I play. OK, am I ready now? Yeah, let’s do this.

I get halfway into the first verse and an itch begins. I try to ignore it, but my timing goes so I stop the recording & delete the file. I scratch. I start again. Now I’m itching all over. I stop. I scratch. I scratch all over real good. I tell myself it’s all in my head, but it feels like my back. I begin again. The dogs bark hysterically. I stop. They stop. Perhaps because I’m screaming. But at least I’m not itching.

I begin again, do a couple of takes, all the way through the song. I’m surprised at how much it sounds like me. The recording is better than usual. Unfortunately my playing isn’t better than usual, so what I’m really cheering is the quality of the cheap computer mic, not the quality of the music. It’ll sound better, I tell myself, when I get some other instruments in the mix. I go through some likely files, auditioning drums and bass. I’m still sitting on the floor wrapped around my guitar. When I get something I’m moderately satisfied with I decide I’ll do the vocal.

This is the beginning of the end.

I’ll have to hold the mic—and my shirt (more on this anon), so that means taking off the guitar. The stand is within reach, but that’s moot because somehow the headphone cord, the mic cord, the guitar strap and my neck have all gotten tangled up in a sort of web, with my head being at the center of the knot. Another five minutes while I get this sorted out. For reasons I can’t explain I did this without unplugging anything, even though it occurred to me at the time.

Guitar safely stowed, headphones back in place, I set up the program to record, checking the levels again. Then I pull my black t-shirt over my nose, grip the computer mic, hit record and start. The t-shirt prevents the “pbt” sounds from hitting the mic and crackling. I do a couple of takes. The neck of my t-shirt keeps sliding down over my nose, so I have to hold it. I’m not doing too badly. Out of key, but on course, despite being startled that when I take quick breaths between lines or words I accidentally suck my t-shirt into my mouth. This is distracting as hell. Stay focused. Just finish it, never mind what key you finish it in.

I have to do another take because of words at the beginning of a line being muffled by the t-shirt being sucked into my mouth. I’m plugging away though. This take is going well. Maybe not a total embarrassment. I’m holding the t-shirt a bit away from my mouth, but trying not to touch the mic with it. Trying not to look at the mic. I’m mic-shy. I don’t like doing this. But I’m almost finished. I can see the end of the song coming up. Almost done…and it will be a good take! (Well, pretty good, considering.)

Last chorus and my two dogs spontaneously come bounding into the room, one on either side of me. They don’t bark. The little one tries to get in my lap. I’m hold the mic, belting out the last chorus…just a few more lines…the big dog sticks her nose under my arm….and….I lose it… My voice goes up in a squeak and I start laughing and laughing and I think I’m not going to stop.

The dogs, their mission accomplished, wander off to stare vacantly out the window. I’ve stopped recording. There’s no reason to bark.

This is, in every respect, a typical recording experience…and people wonder why I do digital music instead of recording my own…