What I learned while recording my song The Sun is Up

I like having a job. Hey, I’ve got bills to pay! Gainful employment, though, does tend to make finding the time to record music a bit tricky. And, I share walls with my neighbours, so I can’t sing and play the guitar into the dead of night. Last week, I had a couple of days to focus solely on my new album, which was awesome. Let me tell you about what happened.

The Sun is Up

During lockdown, my partner, Kathy, and I often walked to a ferry building close to our home. The tranquillity was breathtaking. It was like we’d stepped back to a simpler time and place. In The Sun is Up, I describe one of our walks.

Since beginning the recording process, I’ve recorded several song ideas. However, having come to grips with much of the technology, like Protools, it was time to finish something. So, during my two days of musical freedom, I worked on The Sun is Up, mainly because I had a good idea about how the song should be.

Microphone technique

Apart from my voice, the main instruments on my album are acoustic guitars. And, to me, it’s important to achieve the best possible recordings. I recently purchased a pair of Rode M5 condenser microphones, which enable me to record in stereo and capture more of each guitar’s characteristics than I would with a single microphone.

For The Sun is Up, I used an XY microphone technique (see diagram) where the microphones are positioned at 90° of each other.  I also placed the pair about 9″ away from the guitar with the diaphragms directed just above the guitar’s soundhole. By having a bit of distance between the microphones and guitar, I wanted to capture a sound comparable to what an audience would hear. I pointed the microphones above the soundhole was to avoid boominess that can happen due to air exiting the guitar.

A useful discovery

Initially, I thought I’d need to buy another stand to accommodate two microphones (more expense). But, then I discovered a handy device called a stereo bar, which allows me to attach two microphones to one stand. With this piece of equipment, you can measure the spacing between microphones and set precise angles. It’s a great find.

Two Rode M5s attached to a stereo bar in an XY position

Watch that foot!

I’ve got a habit of tapping my foot whenever I play the guitar. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it helps me keep time. However, when recording with sensitive microphones, foot-tapping can end up being recorded along with the guitar, which usually isn’t good.

Using a high-pass filter to cut all frequencies below 100 hertz can reduce the offending noise, but I’d rather not have the tapping in the first place. So, I placed a cushion under my foot. Problem solved. Later during the recording process, though, I sat on a tall bar stool to better position myself in front of the microphones. I am, you might say, ‘vertically challenged,’ so my feet didn’t touch the ground. Another solution to my foot-tapping problem!

Would you like to hear The Sun is Up?

During my two days off, I recorded, in my opinion, a fairly passible version of The Sun is Up. Once I am satisfied with the performances and arrangements, I will get the song mixed and mastered by a professional audio engineer. In the meantime, here is a short sample of what I have come up with so far.

A breakdown of The Sun is Up

Apart from some mild compression and a little EQ, the lead vocal is completely dry. To be honest, I’m not all that happy with the sound; I might try using one of my Beta 57A dynamic mics. But, after I’ve recorded the final take,  but I hope that the engineer I choose to mix the song will apply a little audio magic. Let’s see.

I played the main guitar part with my Martin dreadnought. To create a feeling of space, I applied stereo delay (30 milliseconds) and panned the original signal to the left of the mix with a smidgen of delay to the right. The harmonics you can hear at the beginning of the song are courtesy of my Ibanez dreadnought.

As the song gets going, I introduce my tenor ukulele, which I recorded with a single microphone. For effect, I doubled up the ukulele after the first chorus and recorded a separate ukulele rhythm part.

Adding some rhythm

I’m not using a drummer on my album, nor will I programme drums. I still want some rhythm, though. So, in place of a kick drum, I muted the strings of my Ibanez with my left hand and tapped the first and second beat over the guitar’s soundhole with my right hand. It worked a treat. I also added double-tracked handclaps and tambourine. Thanks to a little percussion, I think the song now ‘rocks’ along nicely.

My next step

As soon as I get the time, I plan to tidy up The Sun is Up and then get it professionally mixed. As far as my next song goes, I’ll probably record an instrumental — a tune called Two, which is a first for me; I’m no instrumentalist.

I’ll tell you about Two in my next post. Stay tuned!

For updates on my progress, please complete the form below.

Andrew Healey

Editor

Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

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