January 16, 2014

Frontier Cabin: "That's No Way To Run A Railroad!"

Last summer, I decided to begin recording some of my original music and to share it publicly. My ambitious goal was to record a double album's worth of songs, generate a buzz through social media and indie radio stations, and maybe sell a few copies on CDBaby. This undertaking brought me much insight and has helped me to see further down the road that stretches out before me.

The most important thing I learned is that the quality of the production is at least as important as the song itself. I've been hearing this for years, but I've stubbornly refused to believe it. Sending my songs out into the world badly produced now feels to me a little like sending my children off to school wearing potato sacks.

My current home studio set-up is, in a word, laughable. I have Magix Music Maker software. It's not the first name in music software, but it actually is not that bad, except when it crashes. My keyboard is a Yamaha-P200. It has some nice piano and electric piano sounds, but it does require some maintenance. I've taken keys from the top end to replace broken or sticky keys in the bottom and middle. The action is not what it used to be, but it's not ready for the dump by any means.

My recording methods, on the other hand, have been pretty shabby. To properly record my keyboards and vocals, what I should have done was run my keyboards and microphone through something like this, the first item on my "Building A Better Studio ( On a Budget)" shopping list :

This is the Tascam US144MKII, an audio interface that retails for about $120. It will enable me to patch my mic and keyboard directly into my pc for optimal sound quality and zero latency (hopefully).

Instead of using this handy dandy gizmo, I was recording my vocals and keyboards using a standard run-of-the-mill pc mic. Not even a good pc mic. Instead, I should have been using a dynamic vocal mic like the one I use four night a week, singing for a living. I was too intimidated by my lack of knowledge about audio interfaces, so I opted for the easy plug and play pc mic, and the headaches of latency and unwanted distortion. Along with a decent mic, I'll also need a pop filter, like this one:

Aside from cables, there is one more thing I need to make more beautiful music. A wider range of instruments. Time for some Virtual Studio Technology, or VST. As I understand it, with certain software, I'll be able to play many different sounds through my keyboard, which will act as a midi controller. Just the word "midi" scares me, as I'm sure you realize by now that I am not very technically inclined. However, I must jump over that hurdle to reach my goals. I've looked at several VST packs. This one intrigues me a lot:

This is Fab Four, a collection of instrument sounds made popular by, you guessed it, The Beatles. The possibility of recording my music using Hofner and Rickenbacker basses, Fender Stratocasters, and maybe even a well-placed Mellotron is simply too tantalizing to pass up. Over the past few years, my style has become increasingly more baroque, and I think these instruments would complement my ideas very well. VSTs are not cheap however. I haven't seen this for less than $250, and my piggy bank is empty right now.

It looks like $700 will complete my basic setup. The only other challenge is the fact that I live in an apartment. I find it easy to sing other people's songs in a live venue, but I feel a little stifled singing my own songs with other people living so close. I'm afraid this has led my vocals to not sound as good as I'd like them to sound. I probably will have to invest in some soundproofing so that I can sing with confidence and still maintain my "good neighbor" status.

My wife and I are moving to another apartment complex next month, so the plan is to get moved in, and hopefully have the home studio funds saved by March or April.  I might set up a PayPal donation button in case anyone out there would like to lend a hand.

In the meantime, I will be writing more songs, finishing lyrics to other songs, rehearsing completed songs, and continuing to perfect my engineering abilities. I have quite a few odds and ends to share, too. Song sketches, instrumental tracks, production exercises, that sort of thing.

In December, as a production exercise, I assembled two songs using only premade loops and samples. One of them is called "Papagayo." The name popped in my head and when I looked it up to see if it was actually a word, I found that it was! In Spanish, papagayo is a word used meaning either "parrot" or "kite." I "borrowed" some kite footage from YouTube and made a video to complement the music. It's my New Year's present to you!

As a reminder, Frontier Cabin has a Facebook page. Some things will only be shared there. A "like" would be very much appreciated! If I get 100 likes, I'll share my infamous "Waffle House Willie" song. Well, it's not infamous. But it should be.

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