Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Taking Something Floating in the Air

My first recorder. It weighed a ton!
This past weekend I taught a workshop on recording in a home studio, from setting it up, to find the right equipment, to recording.  As a kid, my brother and I recorded on my step-father's Grundig reel to reel machine, and occasionally on the Dictaphones my dad sold from his office supply store in South Wales (before Office Max was invented).  The Grundig had a great smell to it and would wake up like a living beast.  You would click it on with the roll volume button, and watch the green light (above the word automatic) come slowly on and the whole creature of a machine would hum. You could smell the electricity of it, like you can smell the gas burning from a fast car driving 100 mph or more.

I wonder where those tapes are now, and if they still have a couple of little boys pretending to be police officers or spies on them! I later used that same Grundig to record my rock and band. I moved 'up' to a cassette machine, a Walkman and tried recording with that. My best friend Billy in the UK had a Tascam Portastudio which recorded 4 track onto a cassette.  We played with that a lot and recorded a bunch of songs - at least one albums worth! That was the first time I tried engineering a track.  I would take my cassette recorder with me and record my life and stories to my wife when she was over here in America and I was still in the UK. I have always loved recording sounds, stories, and other people, especially street musicians, as well as photograph them. I usually have a voice recorder and camera with me!

When I began life as a professional storyteller in 2003, one of the first things I wanted to do was record stories, share them with the world, and show the world what I could do. Share stories and show my talent, was my plan.  But I also knew I wanted to do the best job I could possibly do - not just a quick record, get it out there, but a really good job.

There is a folk story about a woman who spreads gossip. One day she discovers that something that she spread was a lie and went to the preacher to see what she could do to stop it from spreading further.  The preacher told her to take a feather pillow to the top of a hill on a windy day.  When she was there, she was to rip open the pillow and sake the feathers into the wind, then return to talk to the priest. She did this.  When she got back to the priest, she asked what to do next.  He told her to go and collect every single feather she had released from the pillow. She said it could not be done, and he agreed, but this is how rumours, lies, gossip spreads. Once it is out there, you have no control over it. It has a life of its own, and that is the same to ANYTHING we put up on-line. So I wanted something good, that in 10 years I could look back on say 'It's still good, and I am still happy with it."

Second-hand Tales, released 2006
Artwork copyright Rob Brookes 2006
The first CD was recorded professionally in a studio, but I watched and learned and went home, found Audacity and played with it. Audacity is a free Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). That first CD was released in 2006. I recorded more, and played with Audacity more. I began putting stories on my website. Some of the tools I purchased a long the way (my Roland Edirol R-09 and Zoom Q3) had light versions of DAW programs like Cakewalk and Cubase, so I tried those out.  But I liked the simplicity of Audacity, although there were many limitations.  I began putting more stories on my website. I recorded my second CD in another studio and sat with the engineer, watched, asked questions and played more with the programs I had, working between Audacity and the others, combining talents (tools), if you were.  That CD was released in 2008.  In
More Second-hand Tales, released 2008
Artwork copyright Rob Brookes 2008
2010, with my own equipment (the Edirol R-09) and the DAWs I had, I recorded my third CD.  The music was recorded at the second studio and the stories and music were put together there, and produced, with me helping (again asking questions and watching closely). This was released in 2011 and won Parent's Choice Gold Award.

A Tangle of Tales, released 2010
Artwork copyright Rob Brookes 2010
Then I invested in new equipment.  I bought a condenser mic, a USB box, and set of headphones, as a kit, put out by PreSonus and it came with their DAW called Studio One.  I started playing around with the kit and discovered I had found the digital audio workstation for me! It was fast to learn, easy to use, did everything I wanted it to do and more.  I recorded more and put more out on my website. Played around with the new tools I found. I made bootlegs of unreleased stories which I sometimes gave away at birthday parties. Someone asked me to record their juvenile fantasy novel, which I did.  That was in 2012. Last year (2013) I recorded 4 more books and so far this year (April 2nd 2014) I have recorded two more. All in my home studio. (I would share a photo of it, but it is in a bit of a mess right now!)

It's is not that I like the sound of my own voice.  I just love playing around and recording. I take my voice recorder everywhere I go mostly. You never know when you will hear something cool. (This is the time to listen out for those Peepers calling out to their mates!) Sometimes we just take it for granted, but there is still wonder in it for me, which is probably why I love it so much.  The DAW does not have the same smell that the Grundig used to have, and luckily it does not hum like it! But the same magic instilled in me all those years ago, has a strong hold; and that magic of taking something floating in the air, something unseen and capturing it so I can be heard again and again is pretty cool to me!