3 Methods for Recording a Song at Home

Your brain works in a unique and individual way. Your mind follows a logic that many other people do not understand. If your methods of sitting down and actually recording keep you content and creatively inspired, then that’s how you should be recording. But most people don’t know what processes are conducive to their own productivity. That’s how I want to help you today.

I am going to outline 3 different logical methods / processes that you can use to record a song today. If you’re sufficiently motivated and inspired, you might even be able to finish a rough draft by the time you should be in bed. Give each of them a whirl, and hopefully you’ll find something useful – even if that’s just three methods you know don’t help you.


1. Compositional Recording

I hear songs playing in my head, and I’ve found that the best way to get them from my head to the computer is to figure out each part of the song section by section. What do the first 8 bars of the intro sound like? I reproduce that until I’ve got the basics of the music recorded, and then move on.

When I say “the basics of the music,” I mean three things:

  1. The groove on the drums/bass. I don’t have to have a perfect drum beat/bass line, but the groove in my head is fundamentally represented.
  2. The basic rhythm and notes on all the instruments. If I’m hearing a breakdown, I focus on rhythm; if I’m hearing a chorus, I focus on the notes. Sometimes I end up with more of a musical skeleton, sometimes it’s closer to a proper composition. As long as I can hear the song in my head through the notes, it’s good enough.
  3. General lyrical/melodic content. Even if I don’t have all the best articulation, all I’m looking for as I record piece by piece is to understand the basic form of the song in my head.

Once I’ve got a firm understanding of how the song goes, I can take the pieces and arrange them, cut them, mix them up etc. Then I re-record all the different pieces, filling in the melodic/rhythmic/stylistic gaps that are inevitable in recording section by section.

This method is most effective if a) you use loops, b) you use MIDI, c) you don’t have perfect pitch and want to get the song out of your head before you forget it.


2. Record from the Bottom Up (Or Vice Versa)

This is pretty much the most common way anyone has ever recorded in a professional setting. You record the song from the ground up: drums first, bass, other rhythm instruments (guitars, pianos, strings), melodic instruments (vocals, guitars, strings), and you finally end with the icing on the cake: any tiny fills, licks, transitions etc. that you want to color your tune.

If you’re a one-man band at home, this is a good way to record songs, especially in the case that you’re not a drummer first, and a bassist/guitarist/vocalist second. Drummers are really good at staying in time with a metronome, but most other instruments play more in time when they can play to a solid drum pattern. I’m not trying to bash non-drummers and bassists, but in my experience guitarists, pianists, vocalists etc. are all great at following the rhythm laid down by drum’n’bass. They’re not so great at leading the rhythm.

If you used process 1. to get ideas down, you might want to re-record all of the pieces in this fashion so that it sounds coherent instead of mashed together. This is just cleaning up the brilliance you came up with by recording section by section! 🙂

Alternately, to spur your creativity you can do this process backwards: melody first, upper rhythm instruments, bass, then drums. You’ll still probably want to add the musical icing to the cake at the end, though. That makes the whole song sound much cleaner and coherent.

This recording process is great if you write your music and have a firm understanding of your song already and want to put it in MP3 form.


3. Go Old School and Record the Whole Band at Once

Back in the days of the gramophone (and more recently with the turntable), if you wanted to record a song with multiple instruments, you got your ensemble together and recorded the whole shindig in a couple takes. While you can make that all nice and complex and get a fancy interface that you can plug all the instruments into, you can also take one (1) omnidirectional mic (the Blue Snowball isn’t a bad choice), place it in a place where it can easily hear all the instruments, plug it into your computer and press record.

If that isn’t about as simple as recording gets, I don’t know what simple means.

There are several drawbacks to this process: if you don’t play with other people, you can’t ask them to come out and record with you. (It’s super important to your growth as a musician to play with other people! Do it as often as you can!) Also, it can be hard as heck to get the mic placed well so that you hear all the parts clearly and concisely, especially if you have more than four or five instruments playing (including vocals).

That being said, it’s a great way to record a song quickly and effectively!


So there you have it – 3 ways to record a song at home. They’re all effective, but definitely have their merits and setbacks. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

A Philosophy for Life: Do What You Can

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt


I’m going to take a wild guess and say that somewhere in the depths of your head, you’ve probably got some huge dreams for your life. Maybe you’ve got a novel hitting at the sides of your brain. Maybe you’ve got four full-length albums, a feature length movie, a new invention, or some other abstract piece of creativity.

Regardless of whether you want to be a celebrity or just be a part of something that’s massively successful, the time to start realizing your dreams is now. It doesn’t matter how ready you are, how much you have yet to learn, or how enormous your dream is. Right now, there are tangible things you can be doing to move towards making that dream a reality.

There is no tomorrow.

Tomorrow exists as a concept, but nothing more. You spend your entire life today – this present moment, to be precise. So unless you do something today to make your dreams for tomorrow, that tomorrow will never morph into today. Besides, your life isn’t an end product, it’s a constantly moving process. When you wake up in the morning, you’re either closer to your goals, or further from them based on what the you in the right now has done.

The impossible goal is to always be moving towards your goals. But too many people sit and wait for some perfect set of circumstances tomorrow. Your excuses are no reason to stop moving forward.

Think you’re too young/old/tired/busy to work toward your dreams?

It doesn’t matter how insufficient you are: you have what you need to do something, right here, right now. And even if you don’t reach that end product you have in your mind, anything you do to reach that goal is worthwhile.

I haven’t sold a note of my music since I started recording, but I’ve recorded over 100 songs. That’s 100 more songs than I’d have if I had said that my tools were too shoddy, that I didn’t have any good music in me, and that I was too young to actually do something.

Do what you can with what you have.

Want to write a novel? Open a Google Doc and starting typing. Want to become an actor? Check out your local theaters and audition for a role. Want to start a business? Open a Fiverr, Etsy, or Amazon account. Or start gathering your products.


If you want to start making music and still have excuses, allow me to attempt to refute them:

  • I don’t have a digital audio workstation DAW! Download a free one, or experiment with demo versions of industry DAWs like Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Reason, Mixcraft, and really, any other DAW. Just look up the “DAW name + free trial” in Google. With some of them you’ll only have 30 days to try them out.
  • I don’t have an instrument/can’t record my instrument! If you can’t use an in-DAW keyboard controller (you use your QWERTYboard to play notes) and MIDI instruments, then there are an infinite number of free sound loops and sounds you can mix and mash together.
  • I can’t use a computer! Use #9 on this list on your iPad. Or use a camera (even if it’s on your phone) to take footage of you playing your instrument, and use other programs to isolate the sound for MP3.

These days, it’s super cheap to get started recording. Heck, for the price of a mid-range guitar, you can build a small home studio. All you really need is a USB mic and a DAW (if you have IRL instruments and don’t just choose to use MIDI. Then you might want a MIDI-USB keyboard and a DAW, but really, you could probably get away with just a DAW like Garageband).


I can guarantee that no matter what your dream is, there is something that you can do here, now, today, in your village to make it a reality. The only thing left is to get out and do something. So what are you going to do today? What do you have, or can you get for free to get started?

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

3 Tips for Getting the Best Sound Out of MIDI Drums

I have never had the opportunity to record an acoustic drum set. If I want drums in my songs, I have no choice but to use loops or some sort of MIDI instrument. In terms of sound, neither of those options are bad! I prefer MIDI drums because I have more complete control over the final sound. If you don’t have access to real drums or a skilled drummer, arranging a MIDI sequence is no sin – it’s making good use of the resources at your command.

Here’s my 3 cents for getting good sound from your MIDI kit.


1. Mix and Match Sets

If you don’t have third-party drum sounds, then the best way to get the sound you want out of MIDI drums is to mix up the different sounds from the presets in your digital audio workstation DAW. In Garageband that means you have to have multiple tracks for each preset you want, which can get tedious. (As you’ll see in tip 2, this can be used to your advantage.)Garageband MIDI DrumsBecause my computer is old as the hills, when I mix and match I tend to do a cymbals track and a body track to save on computing power. I might use the Heavy set for my cymbals, and the Portland set for the bass, snare, toms, and so on. If mixed and EQ-ed well, these stock MIDI drums can sound more than decent.

2. EQ and Mix Parts as Separately as Possible

As mentioned, having multiple tracks for each part of your drum is rough on your computer, but great for solid mixing. Think about it: if you were recording acoustic drums, you’d have mics everywhere. Each mic would lead to an individual track in your DAW, and could be tweaked individually.

Use panning to help create a realistic feel for your drums as well.
Use panning to help create a realistic sound from your MIDI.

In the sample above we can see again how ancient my computer is, because I still don’t have all the mics that would be on an acoustic set as its own individual track! The point remains, though: you can get the cleanest sound from the bass drum if you’re just mixing and EQing one sound. Repeat for each drumhead, and you’ve got MIDI that sounds good and is clear in the mix.

One way to remove the problem of having too many tracks would be bussing, or running separately mixed and EQed tracks through one track. I still haven’t figured out how to do this in Garageband, but if you’re doing it in another DAW, it’s a great way to save visual space on your screen, put sounds together, and mix/EQ all of those tracks together so they sound unified. (For more about buss mixing, check this video out.)

If you don’t know where to start in mixing your drums, this article here has a good foundation that you can build upon.

As I said, I usually only use two tracks. Rather than individually crafting a sonic space for each drum, I do it en masse by EQing the bass, snare, and toms in the same track. (Same for cymbals.) It’s not as clear and it doesn’t sound quite as good, but it works for maintaining my sanity and getting a decent sound.

3. Humanize Your Hits

The goal in working with MIDI instruments is to get them to sound as human as possible – that is, to sound like a real person could have played it on a nice kit. That being said, if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter whether or not a human could have played it.

But if you don’t want to sound like your drums are being played by a machine, then there’s 3 things to keep in mind.

  1. Humans have four limbs. Any drum pattern you make can’t realistically have more than 4 hits. If you’re having trouble imagining what is and isn’t humanly possible on the drums, head on to Youtube and spend half an hour watching drum tutorials.
  2. Humans don’t have perfect rhythm. When you make a MIDI track, you can quantize each note to fit the metronome perfectly. Don’t. Drummers are awesome, but even the best don’t have 100% accuracy. Quantize to 80-90% to maintain quality rhythm and humanness.
  3. Humans can’t play with the same precise power consistently. Velocity is MIDI language for power – you can set it anywhere from 0-127 in the editor. Many DAWs have a “randomize” function for velocity. No surprise, Garageband doesn’t have this function – if you want to vary and humanize your velocities, you have to go through note by note.

Personally when I’m arranging sequences, I vary velocities in my first bar, and copy+paste the notes into the next bar, and rearrange them there to fit my groove. That way each bar has some variation, even if it’s not perfectly random. Another way to is to randomly select a whole bunch of notes in the song, and lower or raise all of their velocities at once. Repeat that a couple times, and you’ve got a pretty decent randomization without literally moving each note.

That’s all I’ve found to get your MIDI drums sounding like you recorded an acoustic set.


As always, this is about doing what you can with what you have. If you have Superior Drummer 2.0 (or better, access to real drums and a real drummer) then by all means, use your resources. They will sound fantastic. For the rest of us mortals, we’ll just be here tweaking EQ to get our MIDI to sound as awesome as possible. Will it sound as good as Superior Drummer? Not even a little bit. Will it be better than wishing we had Superior Drummer? Absolutely!

I’m no expert, but if you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Your Skill Gap

I’ve got some good news and bad news about human nature, especially in context to doing something new, like recording music.

The good news is that you’re pretty awesome. The music you listen to is great, inspired, well-produced music. You know what sounds good, and what doesn’t. I talked about it in the mixing article a bit, but your ears are tuned to know what sounds good. You have great taste, and can critique a song, someone’s playing style, whether or not they’re in time or tune.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that your brilliant self can often be undermined by things outside of your control. Your ears fatigue naturally, and you can’t hear the nuances between tones. Your love for a project sweeps you up with it, and you stop seeing its weaknesses because love is blind.

Whether or not these facts that I’m spouting about you are true objectively or only subjectively, I know objectively that you can make great things. Think I’m blowing self-empowering fairy dust all over you? Check out this video.

Ira Glass talks about storytelling, but the same is true of all creation. The gap that you have between the song that you hear in your head and the song that comes through your headphones isn’t caused by the fact that you’re a dumb, worthless git. It’s a gap in your skill. You haven’t yet mastered the art of taking the music in your brain and putting it into MP3 form.

You can’t close that gap unless you sit down and make something. If you don’t give yourself the opportunity to fail, you’ll never find the opportunity to succeed. I’ve recorded over 100 songs, but I’ve shared only 6 of them with a human being who isn’t me. I can guarantee that if I had given up on song 35, I never would have made it here today.

6 songs isn’t something huge to boast about, but it’s 6 songs more than I would have made if I had given up after my first pitiful attempts. Do your MP3 sound horrible today? That’s fine, as long as you try to improve with each new recording.

You can close your skill gap. Remember, your skill is a process not a product – you will always be able to move forward and improve yourself. There isn’t a ribbon that you tear or a line that you cross that tells you you’re proficient, successful, or a master. There’s just tomorrow, another step you can take towards or away from closing that gap.

Keep walking, friend.


I’m here a step or two ahead (or behind…), walking the same road of improvement. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Mixing Basics – Start Your Journey on the Long Road

Mixing is the subjective process of taking raw audio and polishing it.

That’s all it is, all it has to be. Sure, there’s plenty of schools of thought that tell you what “polished” sounds like, but it’s all subjective to the ear of the beholder. As my music/mixes demonstrate, I’m still learning how to polish my songs in a way that is more in line with popular music. That’s right, I’m no expert.

But I’ve learned enough to share something useful, and that’s what I offer you today: a foundation to mixing.


Mixing is Finding Balance

Using your subjective listeners on either side of your head, your job as a mixer is simply to balance all of your recorded tracks so that you can hear each one clearly. Be careful not to fatigue your ears though – take many breaks, and mix at low volumes. Your ears are your most important tool as a mixer, so don’t overwhelm them or exhaust them if you can help it.

That being said, the fastest, simplest way to balance sound is by adjusting the volume levels on your tracks, and adjusting your panning.Volume Levels and Panning KnobsBalance your volumes so that you can hear everything clearly, and create a stereo field by balancing the panning to the Left and Right. A stereo field is just the space in a recording – if you’ve ever been to a symphonic performance you’ve experience something similar to a stereo field.

Violins are set to your far left, cellos and basses to your far right, with 2nd violins and violas in the middle. The different angles that the orchestra is placed at creates space in the sound – you don’t hear percussion from the right, because they’re in the back. Panning artificially creates that sense of each instrument having it’s own space.

You don’t have to pan to balance volume well, but if you use panning you need to consider how it impacts the balance of the volume and vice versa. Listen carefully to determine what sounds best, and most balanced.


Balance Using EQ

Equalization is a delicate thing to balance, and to be honest, I really struggle with it. That being said, here are three principles I use to guide me when I EQ:

  • I cut frequencies rather than boost them. If I want to hear more bass, rather than pulling up the curve near the bass frequencies, I’ll pull the curve down in the mids.
  • I try to clean up my frequencies. Use a HighPass or a LowPass (or a HighShelf/LowShelf) plugin to cut off frequencies that your instrument doesn’t need to be singing in.

    I put a LowPass on my bass so that I don't have unnecessary treble frequencies cluttering up the high range.
    I put a LowPass plugin on my bass so that I don’t have unnecessary treble frequencies cluttering up the high range.
  • Each instrument has its own little frequency zone. Bass is in the bottom, rhythm guitars are the low half of the mids, lead guitars are the higher half of the mids, vocals are in the top. Drums are tricky, as they fit into all of those. Equalizing each part of the drum individually is helpful to keep them clear.

Here’s some links to more specific numbers and guides for using EQ:


Balance Using Compression

Compression is all about taming your recording’s dynamics. Most compressors take your loudest sounds, and reduce their volume to the level of your softest sounds. This makes your recording’s volume more consistent, but also squashes your sound.

Compression is very common in pop music, but not in orchestral soundtracks. After all, if you want to go from a soft, tender moment to a huge action scene, the change from soft violins to blaring brass won’t be noticeable if it’s all an equal volume. I have elected to rarely use compression to maintain the dynamics in my songs. When I do use it, I always am careful not to overdo it and play around with ALL the settings.

The trick to successful compression is to tweak until it sounds good and well balanced. Remember, balance is your goal – if compression helps you reach that goal, then use it! But just because you have a dynamic track doesn’t mean that it needs compression.

If you want a more comprehensive discussion of compression, check out this article from The Garageband Guide.


Hope you found this article useful! I’ve found all of my most useful information on mixing came from this guy, so check him out if you want to zoom down the road to great mixing. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Just Do Something

A lot of the people I know are giving up on New Year’s Resolutions.

That’s not something that bothers me. I haven’t set a concrete resolution since 2011. What bothers me is that they’re slowly letting their dreams and goals die. The people who were going to change the world in 2012 haven’t done anything since January of the same year. I haven’t set a concrete goal, but I’ve still been doing something: NaNoWriMo (’12 and ’14), recording tunes, sharing tunes (here and here), going to college, making new friends, and getting kickass grades.

We’re a little bit young to let the world suck up our hope that quickly.

Increasingly though, I find myself surrounded by apathy. The world sucks, but nobody cares, so long as they aren’t personally affected by it. Even when those same people start packing on pounds and losing their energy to poor time management, they have very little desire to change their lifestyle.

But this New Year’s I’m going to fight back, and I hope you’ll join me. My strategy is simple:

Just do something.

Choose one lifestyle change, and everyday, take one tiny step in the direction you want to go. Don’t despair if you miss a day. After all, you’re only taking tiny steps. Just wake up in the morning, and get back on track with another step.

You could set a concrete goal – one year I decided I was going to learn one song per month. Or everyday you could just do something. Set your homepage to Ultimate-Guitar. Subscribe to a Youtuber that teaches songs for guitar. Buy a stand and keep your guitar within arm’s reach. Most importantly: play that sucker as often as you can.

The most important part is to not get stuck setting a goal or despairing that you failed to reach a goal. Do something, do anything to keep you on a track towards that end goal. Today, it doesn’t matter if you’ve tried in the past and failed. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared or don’t know how.

Don’t get stuck doing nothing. After all, apathetic is a pathetic way to be. And don’t freak out if you don’t know how. Make finding out a part of your tiny steps in your desired direction.


If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

My Setup – How I Record Guitars, Vox, and Drums in Garageband

I usually use one of two chains to get sound from my head to the computer. If you’ve checked out my gear gallery, then you might want to see how I go about recording. I don’t have much gear-wise, but way more than when I first started. So let’s go!


Guitar/Bass

I either use my mic or USB interface to plug my guitar into my computer. If I use my mic, I set it in front of my amp and use Garageband X to record whatever sounds I get to come out of my amp. Alternately, I plug my guitar directly into the UX1 interface and record into Garageband 5.1.

That simple.

If you choose to use multiple input sources in Garageband, don’t forget to change your input in Preferences.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.41.04 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.41.33 PM

Why the distinction between 5.1 and X? Well… Garageband X doesn’t realize that I’ve registered my POD Farm for this computer, and won’t let me use POD Farm sounds in its interface. So I just use Garageband 5.1 if I don’t want to mic my amp. Works like a charm.


Vocals

I do have a cheapo $15 pop filter that I got for Christmas. So I set that up in front of my mic, plug it into the computer, and sing. I prefer using Garageband X for recording vocals, as the little Note pad is great to put lyrics in. Simple.Lyrics to Disciple's "Invisible"


Drums

To be honest, I usually arrange my drums by hand in the MIDI editor. I prefer EzDrummer to Garageband’s MIDI drums, so it doesn’t make sense to use Garageband X’s Drummer feature.

It’s a pain in the butt, and takes forever. Worth it? In my opinion as a novice drummer, yes. I can’t play very many advanced beats, so it totally works for my intents and purposes.

One of the perks of Roland’s brain is that it does a quick record in MIDI information. So if I don’t arrange a drum track by hand, I play it on the electric drum set, take the USB with the .mid file to my computer, drag the file into the project, and voila! I have decent drums to play to.

If I play the drums for myself, I have to use X, because 5.1 doesn’t open .mid files. Which is fine. Another thing to note is that you have to set the tempo on the drums to match your project tempo, or else everything goes wonky. (Or you could just set your project tempo to the tempo on your drums. But that doesn’t work so well if you’ve already recorded audio in X.)


That’s it! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!