Interlude: My Recording Technology

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:18 pm

Since I’m recording two clapping pieces this week for your listening pleasure (one in the previous post and one yet to come), and since Albert and Ryan Fleming both asked (here) about how I record, we’ll take a brief respite from the clapping posts and I’ll reveal my “technologies and techniques” of recording.

My “first album” of sorts, Following A Star, was recorded at the end of 2005 using my iBook G4 laptop, which (I think) was new in 2004 and was running Mac OSX 10.4 Tiger at the time. I used the Mac program GarageBand v. 1.1.0 to actually record the album, and lacking any real recording equipment, I used the computer’s built-in mike. For being a built-in mike, it performed very well, and the only real drawback was noticeable but not overwhelming static in the background. (You can listen to that whole album on my website, www.ajharbison.com, under the heading “Popular Music” on the Music page.)

Last year, for Christmas, my mother bought me the instrument I’ve been using for the recent recordings (“Just As I Am” and the clapping recordings). It’s called The Snowball, and it’s made by Blue Microphones. The cool thing about The Snowball is that it’s a professional quality USB mike, so it’s exceptionally clear while needing no intermediate interface–a standard USB cord runs straight from the mike into the computer. I love it. I still use GarageBand, and now that I’ve figured out how to use The Snowball with the program, it’s great. (Before I realized that you had to change the audio input setting within GarageBand, I was still recording with the built-in mike thinking I was using The Snowball. That was a bummer.)

If you’re the audio geek type, you can check out all the product specs on The Snowball’s page. If you’re too lazy to check that out, the basic stats are that it records at a 44.1 kHz and 16-bit rate–typical CD quality–and can operate in either omnidirectional or cardioid polar patterns. In other words, it can do pretty much anything I would ever need it to do, and it does it at a very high level of quality. I’m very happy with it.

The only problem that I’ve come across–and I’ve only discovered it recently–is that it has a slight latency problem with GarageBand; in other words, when I’m recording a second track, there’s a slight delay between what I hear in the first track and what I’m recording on the second track. So if I sync the performance of the second track to the first as I listen to the first, when I play them both back the second track will be slightly behind. I haven’t figured out how to fix this yet, and I’m not sure whether the problem is in the mike, the program, or my computer (it’s getting old now and it’s rather slow). I recorded “Just As I Am” playing guitar and singing at the same time (so it was only one track), and I’m recording the clapping pieces by syncing both parts to GarageBand’s built-in metronome, which has worked thus far (and made me think of this A.W. Tozer quote). But if I want to do any other multi-track recording, I need to figure out how to eliminate the latency.

But in terms of quality, I couldn’t be happier. The guitar and voice, even recorded together, sound terrific, as Albert pointed out–I joked to my girlfriend that “the guitar sounds better than live!” If you have any suggestions about the latency, let me know; if I figure it out, I’ll post about it here. And until then, Albert and Fleming (and any others who are curious): I hope this satisfies your curiosity.



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    ryan fleming on 09.12.2008

    Thanks for the response! About the latency, if you want we can perform a little experiment. You can come over sometime (or I can come to your place) and we can try recording with your mic on my computer (it is a 6 month old Macbook Pro) to see if it is a hardware issue, and we can also try recording into Logic Pro to see if it is a software issue. I can also take a look at your settings and setup within Garageband.

    Also, do you have monitoring turned on when you record (i.e. you can hear what your playing through your headphones when your recording)? You can turn off monitoring and just play along while you record, and then you can drag the audio file backwards in time to compensate for the delay. You might have to adjust the snap feature within garage band so you will be able to drag it to the precise spot where you need it.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Gravatar

    Darth_Harbison on 09.12.2008

    Yeah, I’m still bitter about when you figured out that Garage Band was secretly using the built-in mic anyway. Some of us were really hindered by this in the making of certain media projects with certain audio tracks.


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