A few weeks ago this blog turned nine years old. Kind of nuts to think next year it’s gonna be ten. WHERE DID ALL THAT TIME GO? WHERE?
I don’t know if there will ever be another year like the first few, when I posted pretty much every other day. Those were crazy times. But you never know. I’m just glad I got through those few middle years of being kind of “meh” about the blog and have once again committed to using this as a place to talk to myself. And motivate myself. And dance with myself.
These days I don’t like to go weeks without saying anything here if I can help it. But I had a valid excuse this time, I swear! I was sick.
It never fails. I’ll be ramping up work on something, getting ready to head into the home stretch, and then out of nowhere a mega-cold will knock me out for at least a week or two and mess up my ears for a while, so even doing any significant mixing work is pretty much impossible.
I don’t get sick often (knock on laptop screen). Maybe once every year or two. But when I get sick, I get sick. In italics. I’d say about every third album I make, the coughing and sneezing and muffled hearing is bound to come calling before I’m finished, disrupting my momentum.
Maybe it’s just my body’s way of giving me a break when I won’t take one on my own. I don’t know.
Whatever the case, it’s awfully nice to have my ears back now, and to be able to sing without hacking up a lung. I wish this one time my ears had been given a free pass, because I could have put a huge dent in all that remastering work while recording was out of the question. What can you do?
A couple o’ things that may be interesting:
A day or two before that cold showed up, I was almost finished remastering CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. One of the few songs left to revisit was “95 Streets to the Right (Is Where I Will Find the Heart of You)”. And I couldn’t find that song anywhere. The title wasn’t scrawled on any of my backup CDs.
I knew there was no way I didn’t back the song up. It had to be somewhere. For more than a decade now I’ve been backing up everything, whether it’s worth keeping or not. On one backup CD there was something called “Dream Songs”. When I saw that, I was pretty sure I remembered recording fragments of a few bits of music I remembered from dreams and then, instead of making a new song file, just recording “95 Streets” there too.
I’ve gone through a lot of different brands of recordable CDs over the years — Maxell, TDK, Sony, Verbatim, Ridata, and a host of others I don’t remember offhand. Most of them have held up. Whether it’s got audio or data on it, I can grab a CD that’s almost twenty years old and know it’ll still work without any issues.
Before I started getting Taiyo Yuden CDs for the most important stuff (and TDK for the slightly less important stuff), I liked Verbatim. Around 2007 or 2008 they changed the way they made their recordable CDs, and they became pretty glitchy and useless. Maybe the printable ones are better. I don’t know. I just know the “regular” kind degraded so much, they were only useful for making rough mixes, and even then I couldn’t play them on most systems because they were more or less defective. I don’t buy those anymore.
You know what’s coming.
For some reason I’ll never understand, I used one of those CDs to back up “95 Streets”. As you’d expect, it was toast. It would get halfway through transferring the data back onto the mixer, and then it would freeze up.
I dug through another box of backup CDs and found an alternate, backed up to a different brand. That one worked just fine. Right about then I was pretty happy I always back up everything at least twice, just in case one CD goes janky on me.
And hey, I’m getting a new camera tomorrow. That calls for more dancing.
The cheap Pentax point-and-shoot and the little Flip video cameras have served me well, but it feels like it’s time to step things up a bit.
I almost did this a year ago. I was getting frustrated with how grainy the video I shot with the Flip cameras would get in low light situations. More than that, every time I filmed myself talking to the camera I would have to get it very close to my face to get the best, most present sound possible out of the tiny built-in microphone. Without a flip screen to show me what the framing was like, I would usually end up cutting off part of the top of my head (sometimes creating the illusion of a receding hairline) or the bottom of my face (leaving my chin feeling shunned). And that drove me nuts, though I learned to live with it.
I did a lot of research, trying to find cameras that would hold up better in low light but wouldn’t break the bank. You can spend a ton of money on a great camera. I’m never going to be a real filmmaker. Something that costs thousands of dollars would be wasted on someone like me. So I was looking for the best bang for the buck possible.
I found some videos made by Ray Ortega and was impressed not only by their quality, but by his willingness to share information with viewers. I sent him an email, outlining what I was trying to do and what I was looking for. I didn’t expect to hear back. He wrote a long email in response, making suggestions and giving some very thoughtful advice. (Huge thanks go out to him for being so kind and eager to help a stranger.)
Then I decided it wasn’t the right time to spend the money. And maybe I wouldn’t know what to do with a better camera anyway. Maybe I was fishing outside of my pond. So I sat on it.
With YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK inching closer to the finish line now, I started thinking again about how frustrating it was going to be to try and get the framing right for my narration bits, which will end up forming a pretty large part of the album’s video companion piece. With the few segments I’ve filmed of myself talking so far, sometimes I’ve had to go back and do it again four or five times before I get a take where I’m not cutting some part of my head off or moving out of the frame without meaning to. Even using a small mirror to try and see what the camera sees only helps so much.
One suggestion Ray made in his email was to use a better camera to film the bits of me talking and any interviews there might be with the other people involved in the making of the album, bumping up the quality of those parts and making for an interesting visual contrast with the older recording footage shot on the Flip cameras. The more I thought about that, the more it seemed like a really good idea.
After a lot of mulling it over, I decided a Canon T5i was the way to go. It has its fans and its detractors, but for the price and the ability it will give me to take pictures and shoot video at a level of quality far above anything I’ve ever done before, I look at it as a bargain, and almost a no-brainer. Plus it’s new. I gave some serious thought to a used Canon T3i, but it’s always nice to have a warranty. Because you never know.
When it comes to video, I won’t be relying on a built-in camera microphone anymore, either. I grabbed one of these over the weekend.
It’s a Zoom H1 microphone/recorder. For such a cheap little thing, the sound quality the H1 captures is pretty outstanding. It’ll be worth the minor inconvenience of mounting it somewhere nearby but out of the camera’s field of vision, dumping the audio on the computer, and syncing it up with the video. Another option would be recording my voice in the “studio”, mixing it all proper-like, and using that as the audio. But this will be much simpler and less time-consuming, and still a huge upgrade in sound quality.
So if you notice a marked improvement in the clarity of the self-shot pictures and videos that show up here from time to time, that’s why.
I expect there to be a bit of a learning curve, but I’m looking forward to figuring out how to get the most out of that new camera. And it’s not like the little Flip fellas are going anywhere. When I’m shooting in-studio footage they’re still probably going to be the best choice. They’re small enough to position in odd places, I don’t have to worry about knocking them over (it’s happened before, and they don’t seem to care one bit), and it’s easy to forget they’re even there, which hopefully makes other singers and musicians feel a little less self-conscious about being filmed.