In the good old days when I was a student at Edinburgh Uni – we’re talking the early 90s – the world of recording was getting used to the idea of digital. This new way of converting sound into bits and bytes was going to revolutionize the audio world. CDs had been around for about 10 years or so and different formats were trying to dominate the market: Digital Tapes – DAT – MiniDisc just to name a few.
We had a well-equipped studio in the music faculty in which I spent many an evening trying out this and that and creating tape loops, using digital effects and generally messing around. Some of the faculty staff knew what they were talking about, some pretended they knew – much the same as the students.
As I wandered off into the world of live music and performing around the place with all sorts of dubious, and sometimes famous, musicians, my interest in the studio diminished somewhat. Years later, I got to know the inside of a studio from the other side – the performer’s – and all but lost interest in the knob-twiddling and cable-winding of the engineers hidden behind the glass divides.
Over the course of the next couple of decades, the idea of home studio recording became more and more interesting, and of course affordable. I dabbled in soundcards for my PC, bought used mics on Ebay and tried recreating those legendary studio sounds of my past in my home office. All to no avail. Back then, FX were the in thing – if you didn’t have enough FX on your tracks, you were simply nothing.
These days, having entered middle age, I rely on my ears to do the work. If I record something, I start by getting the microphone position right. After I’ve selected the right mic for the job of course. When recording an organ – is the mic high enough? Is it close enough? Is it too close? Do I want a direct, mechanical sound, or do I want a diffuse “acoustic” sound capturing the reverberation of the room. Do I want to mix sounds? What about phase issues? And, as you can quickly see, things once again start to get complicated. More often than not, I just place a stereo pair of omnidirectional mics at a certain distance from the organ in a church to get a natural balance. When I get home and transfer the files to the PC for mixing, I am usually very happy with the sound and hardly ever add any “salt and pepper” to the recordings.
Is less more? I think it is. When it comes to modern recording technology though, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends and fashions – I find myself browsing websites looking at the latest modelling microphones and latency-free 192khz interfaces before I gradually return to earth, remembering that I’m not recording a symphony orchestra for a film score – all I need is a good pair of mics, a good pair of ears and a way of getting the recorded sound on screen for your enjoyment.
What’s next? Well, there are of course BETTER microphones for the job. They are ludicrously expensive, but they sound amazing. They capture the deepest bass notes of ANY organ faithfully, the highest, crispest mixture sounds AND the natural sound of the room. They can be connected via the fanciest of cables to a dedicated high-end interface or independent recorder. The sound can then be mixed and edited using the latest and greatest plug-ins to further enhance the sound and blow listeners’ minds. But are those listeners sitting in a sound-adjusted space, listening on space-age speakers at precisely the right angle and distance? You can see where this is going!
I want to get the right middle-of-the-road sound for my projects. Not good enough – that’s not, erm “good enough”! I want the right balance of cost, effort and results to provide my loyal YouTube supporters with a true, clear, natural organ (or piano!) sound!
I think I’m getting there…