May 27, 2020

Lockdown Blog 42: How we're recording tracks

Greetings from an exceptionally warm Scotland! You might or might not have noticed a slight decrease in the volume of blogs coming your way. Having now spent 2 months in lockdown, confined to the same location and social group, finding something of note to write about each day was starting to become a challenge as the novelty wore off. So we’re now going for just 3 blogs per week, but by golly will the content be scintillating as a result. In truth, we haven’t been shy of things to do in our lockdown. We’ve been meeting 4 times per week online, with the meeting topics varied. Sometimes we’ve been looking at normal administrative questions, sometimes developing our new model of work with COVID, sometimes working creatively on our plans post-COVID, and occasional having a totally social call. But one of the things keeping us very much out of trouble, and musically engaged, is creating new music videos each week from our isolation. As the guy who looks after our social media platforms, I’ve been taking a lead on organising these recordings and have learnt so much in the process, and have been so pleased to see the positive public reception; to date these isolated music videos have gathered 1,018,000 views. For those of you who might have seen them (I’ll include links at the bottom for those who haven’t and are interested), I’ll take you through the process of how we’re recording them and getting — I think — really nice results in the circumstances. Stage 1: Choose the songWe’re constantly throwing round ideas as to which pieces could work well. They want to be well-known enough that people might engage with the material and recognise the title. But they need also to be varied in style and era, so that we don’t do the same kind of piece each week. So far we’ve had everything from Tallis, to English folksongs and Billy Joel. Stage 2: Find a recording for the guide trackSinging along to a metronome often produces performances which sound about as interesting as a metronome. We’re trying to keep a live and flexible feel to the performances even though they’re digital. So we’re finding recordings (either archive, live or released) of the group singing the song, and taking that as our ‘guide track’, which gives us the tempo, pitch, rubato and phrasing that we might create live in concert.Stage 3: The settingIn order to make the audio recording as flexible as possible in the mixing and editing phase, we’ve been getting very creative with cushions, blankets, duvets and all sorts to dampen the acoustics in our rooms. This means there’s no unwanted reverb on the track, so it can be added to the audio afterwards.Stage 4: The kitWe each have a decent microphone (USB condensers or better) which can plug into our laptop to create a decent quality WAV file of the audio. We use iPhones (note: Nick is one of those guys who will refuse to get an iPhone and sticks to Android) to record our video (1080p at 30fps), and headphones to listen to the guide track while singing - so that the track can’t be heard in the audio recording. Stage 5: Take 1, Take 2, Take 3…..To some extent or other, each of us is a perfectionist. So the process of recording just ourselves solo, along to a live backing track, is quite unnerving and it’s hard to know how obsessively to strive for the perfect take. But having recorded our track a few times, we pick the best one of the bunch and send it off to be stitched together.Stage 6: Audio dudeWe’ve been using an excellent sound engineer called Nicholas Girard (whose wife Clare, as it happens, was in The Swingles for a while!) to put our individual tracks together. He tidies up the moments of ensemble which aren’t quite together, creates a good balance between the different voice parts, and then adds some reverb to give it that live feel. He then sends back a version for our feedback, and then a finished version a day or so later. Stage 7: Video dude(s)There’s nothing more glamorous than Nick and me for the video elements. We’re taking it in turns to get stuck into DaVinci Resolve (a piece of video editing software), and essentially working it out as we go along. We trim the guys’ video files into shape, and then arrange them on the screen — adding fancy extra elements as and when we’re feeling brave enough. And so there you have it: a seven-step cycle which takes us from week to week. It’s keeping us singing, keeping us busy, and hopefully keeping people around the world entertained for a few minutes each week. Having said that, I’d take the real-life version any day.Video links:

And so it goes:

We’ll meet again:

If ye love me:

Dance to thy Daddy:

Still to come: Down to the River to Pray &You Are The New Day