Lessons from recording a jam session

When you live in a house of musicians, someone is always playing something.  Last night, a friend of ours came over and started playing my Yamaha MIJ vintage acoustic guitar.  But when he wanted to take it to open tuning, I gave him my other acoustic guitar (an old Cort beater) and told him to go for it.

And here’s where I learned an interesting lesson:  it’s a good idea to have a few instruments around that can take a beating, and you genuinely don’t care.  That gives the musician room to do whatever they want, without you being stressed out about something happening to your precious instruments.  That doesn’t mean you should allow anyone to beat up on your gear, but it’s good to have some gear around that’s made for rougher treatment, or that it’s ok to do something unique with– taking strings off a guitar or hanging an accordion from the ceiling or whatever someone wants to do to try to achieve a unique sound.  A recording studio shouldn’t feel like a museum of instruments.

When he got the guitar to open tuning, I started setting up my condenser mic, because I’ve been wanting to record more with it.  “Remember,” the audio engineer said, “it’s a directional mic.”

“I’m pointing it at him,” I said.

“Think of it as a flashlight,” he said.

DUH!  I got it.  Once I saw it as a flashlight, I could see a much better angle to set it at.

He started playing some stuff while I messed with the trim.  I am still learning how to get just the right level of sound with the condenser mic.  Also, the trim button is so goddam tiny on the MOTU, you have to turn it with your fingertips, which means that it’s difficult to dial it in precisely.  It’s like, too low, too low, too low, too high.

The other thing I noticed while adjusting the trim is that if you have the view zoomed out too far, it takes a second for the wave form to change shape.  That was another reason I was struggling with levels.

“Turn it all the way up!” he said.  So I did, which created a wall of sound on the track.  After he recorded it, I turned the gain, and of course had those funny flat-top wave forms.  It was kind of cool though– it created an interesting acoustic distortion effect.  He laid down a track over that which I actually recorded at the proper levels, then we gave everyone acoustic instruments to do one last percussion track.  I only had one headphone splitter so only two people got to wear headphones.

Here’s another lesson– one headphone splitter is not enough.  I need to go to radio shack again.

For the “final” track, I took out the percussion and added lyrics– my friend had done a little chant about how much he liked tobacco so I cut it up and laid it over the guitar parts.  He spoke in a really staccato way so I was able to break it up word by word, which I giggled over all morning.

So, when recording a jam session, have a lot of beater instruments, make sure you have enough headphone splitters (and headphones, although everyone’s got earbuds these days) and make sure you record some dialog so you can add lyrics in the post. LOL

Seriously, although it was just a good time (and good practice for me), my friend also improvised a little song that was very nice, and I hope he uses sometime in the future.

Maybe I need a headphone amp.  I’ll put it on my list.


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