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First paid recording gig...

Discussion in 'Recording' started by vttom, May 23, 2010.

  1. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    My wife accompanies (on piano) a local violin teacher and her students and in return gets free violin lessons for our 2 daughters. Every year a small handful of her older high school students make recordings of themselves for college applications, scholarship applications, etc. We decided we'd put together a home recording studio and offer to make recordings for the students.

    Well... My wife and I just had our first paid recording gig in our home studio last night.

    We spent 3hrs recording the instruments last night. This morning my wife finished up the editting. She fixed some clunkers in the MIDI capture of the piano and spliced together the good parts from multiple takes of the violin.

    Now comes my turn to master the recordings.
  2. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    I suppose I ought to have cataloged our gear:

    Mic: Audio-Technica AT3035
    A2D/D2A/MIDI Interface: Tascam US-144
    Piano w/ MIDI out: Yamaha Silent Series
    DAW: Garageband '09
    Computer: 24in. iMac (2.6GHz Pentium Core2 Duo w/ 2GB memory)
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    This reads as a bit of a jaw-dropper. Can you explain your recording (tracking) process, and exactly how you use the MIDI track? Who wears headphones and when? Which tracks do you mix? How have you treated the room? How do you determine where to position the microphone?
  4. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    Let me start with the room...

    It's a small "den" approx. 13ft x 10ft rectangular. We've used it as a music room for ~1yr. The floor is hardwood about 80% covered by an area rug. The piano is along one wall, the computer and peripherals on a desk along another wall (No room for a separate control booth in our house. Fortunately, the iMac is superbly quite. No fan noise. No harddrive noise.) There's a book case in 1 corner. At the moment, we don't have any acoustic treatments covering the blank walls or windows, and, unfortunately, it shows in the recordings - there's a bit of an "empty room" echo. But, for the moment, it's managable. In some earlier trials, by the time I added some reverb and EQ to the violin track, the room acoustics were largely unnoticeable.

    And now the setup:

    The Yamaha Silent Series is a bona fide piano (hammers and strings), but it also has velocity sensors on each key and a MIDI out port. We put it in silent mode, in which the hammers are prevented from hitting the strings, thus turning it into a very heavy MIDI controller.

    I put the microphone on a boom stand and flew it in from above so there was nothing to impede the violinist's instrument, bow, or sight-line to the music.

    [I'd decided on mic placement days before... my wife got out her violin (yeah, she plays violin, too), I held the mic in-hand, put on the headphones, turned up the monitor on the Tascam, and moved the mic all over the place to find a good spot relative to the F-holes of the violin. I decided on a spot about 1 ft above and 1ft away from the instrument, with the front face of the mic parallel to the strings. This seemed the best placement to minimize the undesireable room acoustics]

    Both the MIDI and mic were jacked-into the Tascam US-122, which was connected to the iMac over USB. I also setup the Tascam as the audio output device. I hooked up the Line Out into a Sony stereo receiver and connected 2 sets of wireless headphones and 1 set of wired headphones to the Sony.

    And here's the recording process:

    In GarageBand, I created a pair of tracks: 1 software instrument track for capturing MIDI from the Yamaha, and 1 "real instrument" track for recording the violin.

    Everyone wore headphones except for myself (my wife at the piano, the violin student, and the violin teacher). They're only needed to hear the piano track, anyway; I didn't need them to know when to start and stop. I had sound-checked everything with the headphones before we started, so I knew I just needed to watch the VU meters to make sure we didn't peek too high.

    Even though I put some of the violin into the monitor mix, they chose to uncover 1 ear.

    When we were ready to go, I'd hit the record button, give them a signal, and the instrumentalists would start.

    Over the course of 3hrs we recorded 4 performances. 1 of them we did in a single take. But the other 3 needed additional takes to get right. The violin teacher was there to decide when we'd had a satisfactory take. Some of the pieces had clean breaks between sections, so we planned to piece together different parts of the song from different takes, and we also took advantage of that so we didn't have to re-record sections that we'd decided were already good-enough. Each time we started a new take, I created a new pair of tracks in GarageBand. We wound up with something like 12 separate tracks on the most difficult piece.


    The next morning, my wife editted the recordings by splitting and splicing together the desirable sections from the various takes (always in piano/violin pairs), and fixed up some clunkers and timing problems in the MIDI scroll of the piano accompaniment.


    All that remains is for us to master the recordings. We'll probably get to that tonight. The piano and violin tracks need adjustments to the volume levels here and there. We also want to experiment with the EQ and effects to "sweeten" the sound. Without any effects right now the violin sounds rather thin and bland. The challenge will be deciding how much is enough and how much is too much. We don't want to mis-represent the capabilities of the violinist.

    As for the getting paid part... Our intention is to use the money to pay for and upgrade the gear. My wife and I are already employed full-time; we're just doing this for fun, and to fill a need in the community.
  5. RyanAE

    RyanAE Guest


    It sounds like you and your wife's idea has come to fruition finally. I am just setting up a home recording studio right now in a room about the same size as yours. It is just for personal projects though. My wife and I are moving into a 2 bedroom apartment today. I'll be starting after I finish this post. :) I can almost hear the excitement in your words! I wish you the best experiences moving all of this forward.

  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Thanks for explaining your MO. What I still find a little puzzling is the use of the MIDI track in the final mix. What is doing the synthesizing of audio from the MIDI stream? What sort of sound are you getting from this? Could you not replay the MIDI track into the piano and record another audio track of the actual instrument with no violinist present?

    Solo violin is not easy to record, even with top-of-the-range equipment and a good acoustic space. I'm a little worried when you say the violin is coming out "thin and bland". This may indicate that your AT3035 is not really the right microphone for the job and/or the Tascam interface has not got the tonal quality for violin, or just that more experimentation is needed in terms of positioning of both the player and the microphone in the room. Since the object of the exercise is to get a good violin recording, it's important to achieve a good representation of the player's sound before any EQ and effects are added. These should be sparing, and used to make small adjustments only.

    I don't believe the Mastering Engineers on this forum would think that what you describe as "mastering" falls into their domain! The instrument balance, individual track EQ and track effects are normally considered part of the mixing process. Once you have a two-track mix you are happy with, an ME could work on it to give it the final polish.

    I know I'm being a bit picky, so I also wanted to say congratulations on your enterprise!
  7. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    GarageBand has a piano synth built-in. It's not half-bad, really, and adequate for our purposes. The reason we do it this way is so that (1) we can record the piano and violin simultaneously without having to isolate them acoustically and (2) so that my wife can edit the MIDI after-the-fact to clean up a few notes.

    I wish. While Yamaha makes pianos with MIDI playback, our model does not. It only does MIDI capture.

    You're preaching to the choir on this one. We're just trying to do the best we can with what we've got. Another reason we got into this is because the students were buying time at a local recording studio, but that guy does 99% of his business recording local rock bands. We listened to the recordings and they're not any better than what we've achieved. For now, we're charging only a little bit more than my wife would for just the accompaniment. Everyone involved knows that we're newbs at this and it's not going to be top-quality stuff, and that you get what you pay for.
  8. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Ah, I see. All the instruments of the Yamaha Silent Series pianos I have used have had replay facilities, so I was not aware that there were output-only versions.

    Adequate as the Garageband piano synthesis is, it may still be worth looking to see if there are any third-party MIDI synthesis packages that might give you an improved piano sound. I believe there was a thread about that topic on these forums a little while back.
  9. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    Even though we've been at this only a short time, we already have a wish list of upgrades. #1 is to replace the Tascam US-122, it's a bit flaky. #2 is to upgrade the acoustics of the room by investing in treatments to tame the echos. #3 is to upgrade beyond GarageBand (most likely Logic Express or Logic Pro). #4 would be to buy a stand-alone piano synth module if the one that's bundled with Logic is no better than the one built-into GarageBand.
  10. RyanAE

    RyanAE Guest

    When you are ready to start looking for a high quality piano synth I strongly recommend the following:

    If you are able to afford it, this would be my top choice (many listening demos available):

    Quantum Leap Pianos

    Not only is the sound and expressive possibilities mind blowing straight out of the box, it also includes an incredibly easy-to-use interface for further shaping the sound and room dynamics.

    If you cannot afford the above $495 USD price tag then I suggest you choosing one of the many piano packages made by Native-Instruments (many listening demos available):

    Pianos & Keys, 11 Packages to choose from ranging in price between $59 USD and $189 USD

    Depending on style, these all sound great and have easy-to-learn interfaces that can shape the sound and room dynamics further. They all can be used inside Native-Instruments (free) Kontakt Player available on the same website here:

    Free Kontakt 4 Player which includes a free sample library

    Hope this helps! :)
  11. vttom

    vttom Active Member

    Very nice. Thanks for the pointers.
  12. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Also, when it comes to the down-the-road upgrades, consider a ribbon mic - especially if you think you'll be doing a fair amount of strings/horns.
    As a classical/jazz trained clarinetist/bassist that has ventured into recording rock bands, I can vouch for their ability to reproduce the richness of timbre of a lot of traditional instruments.
    They work well on thinner-sounding acoustic guitars and (not thin) female vocalists as well. Not to mention guitar amps and as a room mic.

    I have relatively cheap ribbons (~$250/pair) and highly recommend even these for trumpets, 'bones, saxes, violins, and female vocalists.
    There's something about a ribbon mic that dynamics and condensers just can't do.
  13. DJFlexx

    DJFlexx Active Member

    CONGRATULATIONS!! I thought of doing this idea many years ago. I thought it would be a great way of making money. Just as a suggestion. Since your wife and you know what the colleges are looking for maybe you could produce some backing tracks containing the most popular songs that the colleges "love" to hear and/or make songs that show the best expressiveness of particular instruments and make a small library for yourselves that will allow your wife to only record her part once therefore freeing her from the recording process in the near future and she can concentrate on the students performance as a coach rather doing two things at once. This will allow her to obtain a much better performance out of the student and a better performance equals less editing.

    Once you build up a nice library of tracks you will eventually rarely have to record a complete song from start to finish and what you do is just mix the students performance with a stereo mix down from your library's tracks so your overall time invested is lessened yet you are still getting paid the same amount or maybe even more if you get popular. I would make a website and post success stories of people you helped get into college by recording them!!

    And the AT3035 is a good mic but if you want to CAPTURE the overall awesome sound of an instrument, such as the violin, you are going to need a better interface and while you're at eventually you should upgrade to Logic!! You will appreciate logic much more than garageband!

    Very cool venture! CHEERS!

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