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Ooo! A Project!


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Two friends want to record an album as a Christmas present for their grandchildren. Can I do it? Yes. In fact, I can handle production from beginning to end, including burning the CDs and putting labels on them. Great opportunity for the Tone-Deaf Sound Engineer.

I explained my limitations. The Tascam has just 4 tracks, and 2 inputs (guitar and mike) that have to be used separately. I have one singing mike, and one stand. If I’m going to record two of anything—two voices, or two guitars—I have to do them separately.

And it occurred to me those last statements aren’t quite true. I have two mike stands (picked one up at a garage sale that needs a head fitting) and a couple of extra mikes I’ve never tried out (same garage sale). I have the ancient 6-channel mixer, too, that I’ve never used, and the adapter I had Radio Shack make me for it so I could use electricity instead of a pile of batteries. I also have two sets of headphones, but I may be able to use only one at a time (they have different ends, too). Abovementioned friends have a couple of wireless mikes of their own, but I don’t know if they have stands for them.

I probably need all of that stuff to record these guys. Their guitars aren’t electrified (and one is an old F-hole type that can’t be rigged with a conventional pickup); unless they want to play my guitar, they’ll have to be miked. I probably want to put one of them on one “side” of the virtual “stage” and one on the other, and record their miked guitar and vocal simultaneously, one person at a time.

We’ll want to record two lead instruments—his harmonica and my guitar—and that, I think uses up the other two tracks, unless I want to try recording his harmonica lead while his wife is singing. (I may not want to push the Sound Engineer persona that far.)

I’ll want to remember the settings, because I will use them again—for every song on the CD. Poor man’s mastering, that—if the volume settings are the same for every song, it’s effectively mastered without having to do anything else. (I can use Audacity for mastering, but I’m not sure I know enough about the program to do it well.) We convert the mixed files to *.cda (CD-Audio) format, and decide what order they’re going to go in on the CD. I can burn the CDs on the old Akai CD burner, but the computer can do it, too (it’s just slower).

The one limitation I can do little about is the minuscule size of the Tascam’s “brain,” which is a small-capacity digital-camera chip. Normally, I can’t fit any more than one song on it. If we’re really good—i.e., if we can record each track with a minimum of re-takes—I might be able to fit two mixes on the chip before having to drive home and dump them to the computer. We all do live in the same town, but I still might not be able to do more than four or so songs a day.

They still have to pick the songs. (I wonder if they’d want to do any of mine?) I told them to plan on an hour’s worth of music (12-13 songs); over that, almost anybody gets boring.

From the graphic-design end, I get to design the label (which will have their photo—which I’ll take—on it), and print it, too. I’ll do all this for the cost of materials (probably a little over $2 per CD), because they’re friends; if it comes out good, they can tell other folks, and I might have some sideline work.

UPDATES: Not much. Nobody’s answered my responses to the ads on Portland Craigslist; Movie Dude (he of the “aging rock star” film) never called back; no word, either, from the folks who run that open mike in nearby Bay City. No Santa gigs, either (though I have grown a full Santa-style white beard just in case). Still playing with the Friday Night Group on Friday nights, and I’m still getting asked about the next album—which at this point I can’t afford to finish. My poster for the library’s Saturday afternoon music thing has reportedly gotten a lot of attention, and I reminded the librarian I’m up for paying work.

Joe

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