Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Project

Greetings everybody!

It has been a frenzied few weeks with the end of term but I am happy to report that finals are finished and I am taking a well needed break before I start my Spring term classes! For starters, I'm headed to San Francisco on Sunday!

I'm not sure what it is about writing final exams but I always seem to find myself drawn to something else other than studying... yes, some may call this procrastination.... but I think of procrastination as something when you're substituting the work that you should be doing with some menial task like cleaning or watching t.v. I chose a different procrastination route this exam period and I took on a personal recording project. I don't want to divulge too many details at this point, but upon realizing I needed voice recordings of myself, I was able to produce them within two weeks. It seems like a relatively painless procedure but it definitely is a challenge to produce a solo voice recording of yourself when:

1. You don't take voice lessons and your voice isn't coached into a state where solo rep can just be whipped out and performed

2. You're not a music student and do not have free access to music rooms to record in

3. You don't have all the special software and equipment it takes to produce a good recording

4. You don't have an accompanist

5. You don't have tons of money to shell out on said facilities, equipment, lessons, and services

I was deciding whether or not it was worth it to even do in the first place, but then I realized, what do I have to lose?


I suppose, but I thought that I could live with that since I've done less productive things with my time in the past. I could also part with time if I was learning something new and enjoying it in the process.


Well, there were ways I could keep the cost low, I could manage to do the recordings myself but there were other variables that I would need to call in favors for and things I was willing to pay for since it was only fair.

These were the things I needed to achieve:

Learn the music
-I called in the services of my lovely mezzo soprano friend, Becky, whom I met in the U of A Madrigal singers (MAD's), to help coach me and work on my text and the musical goals I needed to achieve with the music. It was a few hours one afternoon where she worked magical things since I suddenly was able to connect to a soloistic resonance undiscovered in my voice and which I was unable to achieve during my teenage years of voice lessons. Stupid breathy teenage voice! In that few short hours, I knew what I needed to do and the sound that I wanted to achieve but obtaining it consistently was entirely another thing in itself. In order to crash learn the music, I went onto Naxos' e-online library and began listening to tracks of the songs I was looking to sing so I could learn notes by musical diffusion. It seemed to work quite well since the melodies were slightly familiar to me even as I went into my coaching session with Becky. I spent each successive day rehearsing the music at home and my parents were definitely wondering why I had suddenly unearthed my digital piano and was practicing in my brother's old bedroom. Also, probably wondering why I was so gosh-darn loud!

Find an accompanist-Probably my easiest task. I tried to comb my memory for my friends who accompanied voice soloists and a few came to my mind. At the same time, I was regretting the fact that I severed many musical connections via Facebook since it didn't occur to me that I would require their services in the future. Oops! However, a name did pop to my mind: Jessica! I sang with Jessica in MAD's and she is a lovely human being. I kind of felt like we came from the same background since we are both choristers at heart and she was also an excellent accompanist. I e-mailed her, detailing my grassroots recording ambition, and she had no problem in consenting to help me out. Lovely! The only juggle would be to find a time that would work for both of us.

Secure a Recording Location-By far my biggest challenge! If only I still had access to the music building since I knew how to work all the equipment in one of the recording studios (I had taken a music composition course last year) but I no longer had the privilege of accessing those facilities. I tried to make contact and get information from anybody who could help me out! My lovely MAD's conductor, Len, provided me with some good suggestions, Mary-Ellen, my friend, told me to check out some church venues, from here I inquired about some local church locations like Holy Trinity, Roberston Wesley, St. Joseph's. Most of these options led to me to dead-ends or they wouldn't fit my recording needs due to timing. However, I managed to secure a connection to record in the Fine Arts Building but I wouldn't know if the room was free until the very last minute. Needless to say, it worked out.

Obtain Recording Equipment
-I knew that if I wasn't going to be able to get into the old studio to use their equipment, I would need to find it elsewhere. My department actually has a materials rooms with video recording and audio recording equipment so I decided to check that out first. The path of least resistance is always desirable. I signed out a small reporter-style digital audio recorder and decided to test it out. It worked alright, nothing amazing, but it made me feel better that I would be able to obtain a recording just maybe not a high quality one. However, my friend Christina from class graciously loaned me her professional recording microphone which is easy-to-use and just hooks into a laptop via a USB outlet. Excellent! We had a mini session where we tested out the equipment and this is when I began to hate Garageband on my Mac. I've played with it multiple times before and I had no problems, but when hooked up to the mic, it just wasn't recording the way I wanted and my insufficient troubleshooting skills forced me to seek an alternative. Upon hearing my recording lament over coffee, my friend Twila suggested Audacity instead. It was free and it would suit my purposes since it was closer to what I used in my composition course! I had used Audacity before but it just didn't occur to me that it was what I should have been using! It's so helpful to get a fresh perspective sometimes.

In the end, it seemed to work out smoothly. I was able to get into a room and I was laden down with so many bags that I pretty much felt like a one-woman recording show. I brought my laptop, numerous extensions cables, Christina's microphone, my backup digital recorder, my noise cancelling recording headset (which I borrowed from my Speech lab) for easy playback, a notebook for Christina to make notes in, and copies of all my music so she could follow along. In the middle room I set up a desk laden with all my personal and borrowed equipment. I was actually pretty proud of myself that I was able to whip it together. It looked equal to more professional recording sessions I've had in the past. The only difference being my equipment probably wasn't as nice.

Suddenly, I felt all this pressure to perform well. It took so many resources, effort, and time to bring all these variables
together but it all came down to the fact that I needed to be... recordable. I didn't want to waste everybody's time! However, I just felt a huge amount of support which eased my stress. In the beginning stages when I asked Becky, "Is this even worth it? Am I even good enough or am I just making a complete fool of myself by doing this?" she assured me that I wasn't. I felt like an impersonator. A chorister trying to mimic the voice of a famous mezzo. What I discovered is that I just sounded like me but it was perceptually different from what I was used to hearing because I don't actually hear myself in choir. That probably sounds strange but I'm focused on bringing my sound forward to merge with the other voices that I don't muffle the sound so that I can hear it in my head. Occluding your own sound, just so that you can enjoy it, doesn't really do anything for your audience.

On the day of the recording, all I felt was support from Christina handling my makeshift recording station and Jessica at the piano. When I wasn't able to sing below a middle C, after being too warmed up (any other singers that run into this problem!?!?), they assured me that my chest voice didn't sound crappy and helped me stay positive while I struggled to access the lower range I knew I possessed. So frustrating! But I decided not to dwell on it, called it a day, and used a recording that I made earlier that week when I was playing with the digital recorder during my practice session. I was able to obtain the other recordings I needed from the session. Nothing perfect, I assure you, but probably the best I was able to produce with some slight blips and kinks here and there. I was alright with that. The world isn't perfect, therefore, there are no perfect recordings.

Overall, I have had a busy past 2 weeks! Upon handing in my last final, I went and set-up my own recording session and it seemed like everything just came together at once. I'm just so thankful for all the musical connections I have made and the people willing to help me out throughout the process. I am not used to asking for things so I was just amazed at the amount of generosity I received from all of my friends who were gladly willing to dedicate their time and talent to my cause. I tried to offer monetary compensation to Jessica for playing and even she didn't want it! She said it was just nice to help me out and even come out and see me. It just warms my heart :) I thank all of them here! For the ones that were able to help me out, the ones who weren't able but wanted to, the ones who helped indirectly by listening to me gripe about the frustration of putting a project like this together... thank-you! It was fantastic to feel the musical love and it worked well to counterbalance my headache from all those logistical details!

I'll keep you posted on the outcomes of my recordings :)

Take care!

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Oh, Sable!!!! I sooooo understand that feeling of doing so much work to get into the recording studio and then realizing you actually have to sing to make it happen!

I did the same thing back in November, it felt like I had done so much work to try to get a venue, recording technician, and other musicians all at the same time...

Such a huge undertaking, and when the actual recording day was set to begin, with my lutenist doing a final tune-up, I knew that the violinist, cellist, and harpsichordist would be arriving in 20 minutes (after I had theoretically recorded everything necessary with lute and theorbo), to keep it all running smoothly...I stood there in the middle of it all and burst into tears!

"It's too much pressure! I can't sing under all this pressure!" Luckily both the lutenist and recording engineer were very understanding, and we decided to start the session off by recording Dowland's "I saw my Lady weepe" so that I could put my weep-y state of mind to good use :) It worked - you can definitely hear that I am near tears on the recording... but I like to think that someone might hear it and just think that I am overcome with the emotion of the song...

What were you recording for, Sable?