The Man I Love

May 12, 2010 8:07 PM

The Gershwin standard. Really just testing the equipment/setup. I think it failed, but here it is anyway.

Nothing to write home about, unfortunately. Sorry for the out-of-tuneness, both piano and vocal. Hopefully it'll be a little more inspired next time.

Recorded through a Radio Shack mic hung from a nail in the ceiling in my kitchen and one of these stupid little things plugged into my laptop running Audacity 1.3.12 beta on Ubuntu Lucid 64-bit.

posted by koeselitz (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

If anybody knows how I can cut down the hiss, that'd be nice. Doesn't seem very bloodly likely with Audacity, but I need all the help I can get, and their noise reduction seems to reduce soulfulness as well.
posted by koeselitz at 8:11 PM on May 12, 2010

Your voice sounds great, and I love the very minimal piano accompaniment. And whatever out-of-tune-ness there is, for me it only serves to give the whole thing personality and realness. No kidding.

Now, your level here is very low, and I'm guessing your recording level must've been really low, and that'll be one reason why you've got hiss, I reckon. This whole thing need to be hotter. But mostly what I'm wondering about is... why is everything in the right channel only? Man, you gotta fix that and repost this! Cause honestly, even some hiss isn't that big a deal, but having only one channel, that's definitely no good.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:42 AM on May 13, 2010

Hrm. Only one channel because I've only got one microphone, I guess. I don't know.

Seems like it'd be possible to boost the signal if I just use an amplifier. And maybe I can do something about the channel thing. I'll record something different tonight and see what I can come up with.

Thanks for the input, flaps.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 AM on May 13, 2010

i'm with flapjax's first para totally. i really, really liked it.

i don't know audacity but there's got to be a way to get both channels going. i would venture if you've got a stereo input on yr pc with just a mono mic plugged in it, it'll record to one channel if it's a stereo track you're recording onto, so i'd get a stereo mic for a start if that's the problem! oherwise i'm guessing you could create a new mono track in audacity and cut and paste just the half of the track with signal on into it, if you get what i mean. i may be barking up the wrong tree here but this music is worthy of at least one more channel. i'm sure there are other audacity users on here who can be of more assistance if you describe your setup.

but, the music is great.
posted by peterkins at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2010

Agreeing on both fronts: there are some simple improvements you can make to really improve the basic quality of the recordings, and in any case this is very nice.

Having used that very Fast Track USB for about three years as my audio interface, I can (probably) tell you what's up with the only-one-side thing: the Fast Track routes its two inputs (one XLR, the three-prong thing typically used for decent mic connections, the other 1/4" of the sort used for patch cables and guitar cords and such) to two separate channels of output over the USB connection.

The default behavior in Audacity is probably the same as the behavior I remember seeing in Garageband when I first started using it: it take those two channels and treats them as the left and right channels in a single stereo mix coming in from the Fast Track. If that's the case, the solution is simple, you just need to make sure you set up the track you're recording as a mono track recording from the correct channel. Fiddle with Audacity to figure out how to assign input like that. (And be sure with a quick sanity check that you've assigned the correct channel to save yourself the "fuck, that was a good take and I recorded silence" pain. Speaking from extensive experience.)

I don't know what kind of mic you're using; if it's plugging into the XLR port on the back of the Fast Track, the onboard pre-amp can boost the signal on that channel up front, which may help getting your recorded input up to a more reasonable level and save you from some of that nasty hiss. This is another sanity-check situation: you want the level high enough that the recording isn't super quiet, but you also want to make sure you don't turn the pre-amp gain up so high that the loudest bits end up distorting (aka clipping), because that'll sound crap as well and really isn't fixable after the fact.

I test my gain by recording a few seconds of me playing as loud as I can (or as loud as I'm likely to in the track I'm recording, at least, or a bit louder), then looking to see if that ended up peaking—if the waveform of the recording flattens up against the top and bottom boundaries of the track its in, that's a bad sign. Turn it down a bit, try again, repeat until you get a waveform that is reaching close to the walls of the track but it's hitting them and flattening out.

Note that if your mic plugs into the 1/4" jack instead, the above is moot on the Fast Track since there's no pre-amp gain for that channel.

Note also that while using a pre-amp to raise the input level will help with hiss, a crappy enough mic will just be noisy in its own right so you may end up looking at just buying something a little less cheap. A used Shure SM57 or similar dynamic mic might be a good first purchase that you can do for $50-$75, and will work great with the Fast Track.
posted by cortex at 3:41 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two other things:

1. Mic position is the very first thing you can do to adjust your volume, so if you can find a way to get the mic reasonably close to the piano that may help compared to the current recording. The standard approach for this sort of thing is to just get a mic stand, and you can probably pick up a simple boom stand (one that has a joint and a telescoping arm, which makes it easy to stick a mic pretty much anywhere in space) for like $20 somewhere. But in the shorter/cheaper term, you can always just tape the thing to a handy inanimate object or something.

2. Doing a one-mic take of multiple audio sources—in this case, your piano and your voice—has pros and cons, but the biggest cons are (a) trying to get a good balance between the volume of each, which comes down again to careful mic placement and will require some experimenting, and (b) having to nail both aspects at the same time to your satisfaction.

So you may want to take advantage of the fact that Audacity is a multitrack DAW and experiment with laying down just the piano track first, with the mic positioned ideally for that, and when you've got a take of the piano that you feel good about you can set up another mono track in Audacity and recording your voice separately with the mic set up comfortably for that.

It's a bit more time consuming, so maybe don't worry about that for now if you're enjoying just experimenting with the basic recording process, but it's something to consider. You may also find when trying to do it as overdubs that it's harder to get a natural feeling when you're not both playing and singing at the same time, if that's how you're used to performing.
posted by cortex at 3:48 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the tips, cortex. I know you'd mentioned to me a while back that you had something similar to this Fast Track USB – I guess I didn't know if I'd gotten the one you had or not. Getting it running in Linux was interesting, although they seemed to have fixed the drivers nicely, which is why I'm here doing this now.

Unfortunately I don't have an XLR cable – just a 1/4" cable to the mic. It's not a bad mic (one of these) but I'm thinking about upgrading. In fact, I'll probably do that in the next week here – and pick up an XLR cable while I'm at it.
posted by koeselitz at 6:32 PM on May 13, 2010

So great.
I get frustrated when awesome stuff like this is hindered by a wall of stupid technology that doesn't need to be there. But even with that, this plays like a lost treasure. Beautiful.
C'mon over and play our piano any time. I'll record it.

Oh, and I'm assuming this isn't your entry for the "#1 song on the day of my birth challenge" 'cause if it is then MAN you're old.
posted by chococat at 7:03 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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