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A Task Facing Me

The bulk of the songs for Uneasy Listening is sitting on the hard-drive of my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation or Discount Analogue Workaround, depending on age and prejudice) awaiting editing. What does this comprise?

Well, as far as the guitar parts are concerned, it involves editing out the occasional (I insist) fluffs from the selected take using corresponding bits from alternate takes. This can be a painstaking episode auditioning the selected take closely to identify the aforesaid fluffs, performing the edit on the computer screen by incorporating and cross-fading bits chopped out of other files and incorporating them into the selected one, then listening closely to the results to make sure the edit is seamless.

For the vocal track it involves “comping” from four or five takes. For the uninitiated, this involves selecting the best lines, phrases, words, or even parts of words from these takes and gluing them together in a new master version of the vocal track. With a little imagination you should be able to see that this can be a mind-numbing venture.

In fact, both of these activities are the least creative part of the process of putting an album together and can leave you spiritually drained. You are, after all, listening out for the bad bits. And, to be honest, some bits can indeed be hair-raisingly bad. There is also a danger that, after spending a couple of hours with headphones on staring at the screen, your faculty for making accurate judgments can become blunted at which time it’s best to shut the DAW down and come back to it the next day.

So why don’t I just record the song as I would perform it; ie, guitar and vocal all at once straight into the mics and into the DAW? Well, there are a few reasons:

1. I don’t have the mics to do this effectively
2. This is hard (to my mind, impracticable) without an engineer to help with mic placement, and get an optimum balance between them at the console.
3. The sonics of the studio are not optimum for this method.
4. I would only feel comfortable recording this way (think take after take) when the house is empty, which is rare.
5. Working the way I do enables me to apply EQ, compression, and reverb (sparingly in each case) to the guitar and vocal separately, allowing greatest flexibility.

I would not hesitate to record the songs as performed in a commercial studio with an engineer to hand, but that is not the case. I’m happy with the way I work and I’m concerned only in achieving results that are sonically pleasing to the customers of my records. And I mean by that obtaining a quality of production that doesn’t get in the way of the songs. Or to put it simply: to achieve transparency.

But there it is. I have a pleasant few days mucking around with .wav files and their raggedy representations on my computer screen. I’m just glad I recently invested in a new computer graphics card so I can see the fluffs and bum notes in their digitally crystal clear, accurately colour-balanced glory.