Things I’ve (already) Learned about Home Recording

Yesterday was Thursday. That means yesterday was the one night a week I’m able to work on recordings for the upcoming poetry album. I was trying to sneak in recordings early in the morning, before the roomie gets up, too, but in terms of time I can work on the project due to outside forces beyond my control, it’s all been very hit-or-miss. And, of course, there have been a few mysteries that a novice at home recording has to trial-and-error their way out of that someone who’s been at it a while just knows. Reading articles only takes us but so far before we have to experiment. After all, we don’t have the same physical space as a person writing an article. Whoever’s reading this, unless you happen to be hiding out in my closet, your house is arranged differently from mine, is going to sound different, is going to need different work-arounds to accommodate that.

But, this morning I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the things I’ve learned doing these voice only recordings.

1. There is no such thing as a quiet house. You may think that that night when no one’s home but you and the cats count, but it doesn’t, not really. It helps, but we overlook so much – the sound of the computer, the sound of the heat kicking on, birds outside the window, your neighbor closing his car door. I overlook the train until it blares by in the last 10 seconds of an otherwise great recording, and the fact that my chair squeaks if I lean back in a certain way. This is why noise removal features are so important.  Noise removal can’t do much about those random loud noises that happen in life, but they can remove ambient noises. So, they probably won’t do a damn if your cat suddenly jumps up and meows on the top of his kitty lungs, but if you’re heater kicks on mid-recording, you’re probably still okay.

2. Your voice changes all the time. We all know our voice changes when we’re sick. We also know our morning voice isn’t quite the same as our evening voice, but there are other subtle differences that happen day to day. My voice, for example, is a teeeeeeny bit grittier on rainy days.The naked ear can’t really hear it, but the microphone can. The first time I heard it, I thought it was part of the ambient noise.

3. There is a distance sweet spot for your mic that produces the best sound quality. Last night, I kept getting so frustrated at gravelly sounding recordings. I didn’t realize at first why one recording sounded really clear, and the next sounded grainy even after removing the noise. I thought I was doing things just the same both times. It was the same night, so circumstances were the same! But they weren’t the same. The gritty recording, I was holding the mic closer to my mouth. With my mic, too close means you lose sound quality. Too far means the same thing.

4. ENUNCIATE. What’s funny about this is that when I do an open mic, I know. I let my voice carry. I fill my lungs with air. At home alone, I seem to think if I can hear me, everyone else can, too. And, while the mic can hear me, it doesn’t hear me quite the way it should.  We have to remember that we hear ourselves from inside of our head. That’s why when we hear our recorded voices they sound off and we have trouble accepting them. We’re just a lot closer to the source of the sound than even the mic is. If we want a clean recording; we have to talk as if we’re talking to a room of people, not as if we’re talking to ourselves.

5. You’re going to mess up. A lot. For not reason.  Sometimes you will screw up a 10 line poem 6 or 7 times a row by saying confiscate instead of communicate, or we instead of you. You’ll have a lot of half recordings that end with a half-screamed “agh, fucker!” (at least, I do.) because you were nearly done and messed up the same exact spot. AGAIN. Sometimes, that’s telling you something about the piece. Sometimes, it’s just your mouth being clumsy.

6. Take breaksIf you want clean and consistent sound, don’t try to record ten poems in a straight shot. You only have so much air in your lungs and your throat will get dry. Even if it doesn’t feel dry, you’ll be able to hear the difference in the recordings. Do two or three pieces. Go get some water. Fuddle around a bit, maybe record a few and then take a break to clean them up. Start fresh after that.

7. What works one day may not work the next. When I started the recordings I thought my best bet for clear sound was coming when I wrapped my mic in satin, held it in place with a binder clip. This seemed to take some of the harshness out of the tone of the mic. Last night, it was hurting more than helping. Since the satin meant a slightly changed vocal quality, recording without it made it really inconsistent with the  tracks already recorded. I had to start from scratch (and totally broke rule #6. I am well aware that I will probably have to re-record several tracks, but if I got at least half of the album clean in one night, then I’m still on schedule in spite of having to back track).

8. You will find workarounds on a budget. Not everyone can afford decent recording gear. I, personally, am working on a shoestring budget. That means that my recording equipment does, some days include spare pieces of fabric, binder clips, and/or cupping my hand at the side of my mouth. I don’t have a great mic, but I have one that’s good enough for this project. And sure, I hope I can upgrade my recording kit over time, but I have what I have. There is absolutely nothing wrong with jimmyrigging the rest. Use whatever you need to get your sound where it needs to be. If that means sitting under your desk, or repurposing a cheesecloth, so what? Your readers won’t know what’s going on behind closed doors unless you tell them, anyway. (Note: I have not repurposed a cheese cloth. Mostly because I don’t own a cheesecloth. But anything is possible.)

I’m sure there are a lot of other things I wanted to say that I’m missing, but I’m going to be late to work as it is if I don’t wrap this up. Sufficed to say, the album is coming along, but is definitely a learning process.

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