Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Voice Diary

One project I've had on the back burner for a couple of years is making a recording for friends of the the Dylan songs I've been singing for over 30 years. There have been several sessions with Dave the former Army Band drummer and Dr. Andy on bass, separately and together, to get a feel for how to do them with a small ensemble as opposed to just me and the guitar.

Here lately I've been doing some test recordings to figure out how to best use the audio equipment to get the best sound on the voice and guitar. Running the sound through the speakers and/or headphones has been a revelation. It's like holding a magnifying glass to both tone and articulation. In a purely acoustic environment the sound of your voice is a blend of bone conduction and what the room sends back, which has the effect of buffering and delaying it for the tiniest bit of time.

Using a nice condenser mic no more that a foot away from the mouth and having that feeding headphones gives the voice a temporal immediacy and a clinical clarity. Small details I never noticed loom large. (Dr. Andy says it's the same for him using headphones with both the cello and the bass.)

One thing that's become particularly apparent is my not articulating clearly throughout a song. Just because I know the words as well as I do from memory doesn't mean someone listening will.

Something else is that the tone of my voice doesn't always sound like I'd imagined it does on some of the songs, and isn't conveying the sense and mood of the song as I intend.

All of which is to say recording yourself is a wonderful aid to learning to make music, and that using headphones while making the music amps up the experience.

One small audio procedure that seems to work well setting volume levels at that sweet spot that's at a high level comfortably short of feedback shriek is paying attention to the EQ settings. With my Mackie mixer there are knobs for high, mid and low EQ and I've been turning up the volume enough to hear a little room noise through the speakers, then dialing back any EQ that creates any sort of hum or white noise, and then turning up the gain. It's dawned on me that feedback shrieks are as much a creature of poor EQ settings as they are of too much volume.

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