In 7 days, I fly out to Northshield to attend the Known World Bardic Congress and Cook’s Collegium VII, an event that takes place once every two years and attracts participants from around the Known World to attend classes and share knowledge of cooking and bardic arts. More commonly referred to as Cooks and Bards, it’s a wonderful opportunity for cooks to cook food and for bards to eat it. :D I suppose there’s an element of “sing for your supper” involved, too… I’m helping proof-read the site booklet and it’s hard not to get sidetracked by all the awesome sounding class descriptions and wanting to write down my class schedule! Also, I’ve been honored with an invitation to participate in the “Concert of SCA Luminaries”. One or two performers were selected from each of 12 kingdoms represented at the event, and I’ve been chosen to represent AEthelmearc. (Yay!) I’ve always come away from this event feeling inspired and motivated, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of this year’s offerings!
There are tons of good resources out there on recording. I’m going to audio-techno-geek for a bit in a couple blog posts and eventually write up a proper page under the Music heading on my full kit and process, but I’m still learning, fixing, and figuring things out for now.
I attended Master Philip’s Home Recording for Bards at Pennsic 43. One of the most valuable things he pointed out was that it’s very easy and not too expensive to get decent sound into your computer. However, it’s rather tricky to get a professional-sounding recording produced. I have the right equipment to get a good recording, for the most part, but that’s only part of the puzzle. Here’s the equipment I’m using for my current recording dabblings:
- Condenser Mic: Rode NT1-A
- Dynamic Mic: Shure SM57
- Preamp: PreSonus Firebox 6×10 (soon to be swapped out)
- Software: REAPER
- Headphones: Sony MDR-V600
- Computer: MacBookPro Retina with SSD
I wouldn’t use this as a shopping list for a beginner. This is equipment I’ve collected over the past 6 years, and the headphones are closer to 15 years old.
Now, connecting all these things together gets a little more tricky, and here’s where I ramble a bit about technical specifications that 95% of people reading this won’t really care about. When I bought the Firebox, I was working off a Mac Pro tower which had Firewire input. Firewire is preferable to USB (at least USB 1.1 and USB 2.0) for two reasons: speed and isochronous transfer. The latter as best as I understand it means less potential corruption of data, particularly during periods of high data transfer. In theory USB supports it, but I’m a bit fuzzy on the details and am given to understand that Firewire does it better. The problem is that my laptop doesn’t have a Firewire port. It has USB 3.0 and it has Thunderbolt. There are dongles to plug Firewire into Thunderbolt, but I’ve had 3 die on me in the past year because they’re cheap plastic pieces of poop. I have a Belkin thunderbolt dock with Firewire input, but the point of the dock is to let me plug in all my peripherals and not have to keep plugging and unplugging, and my office (with said peripherals) isn’t a good place to do recording. One option I considered was getting an analog audio-to-USB converter, but the only option I could find was only 16-bit, and industry-standard is 24-bit. Especially given that I’m going to want these tracks professionally mastered, having proper audio resolution is important.
The other option is to buy a new preamp that’ll plug directly into my computer. Thunderbolt is a new enough standard that the only thunderbolt compatible preamps are mucho pricey, and all the USB preamps seem to be 2.0. I have one expert telling me that USB 2.0 can wonk up timing synchronization, but that’s a networking expert, not an audio expert. There are two audio experts, though, who approve of the preamp I just bought and should be arriving any minute now, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. (Said experts are Ken Theriot and Ben Dechamps, both who produce superb quality recordings.) Even though the Scarlett 2i2 is USB 2.0, I’m only using it for two inputs at 24-bit, 44.1 kHz recording, so the USB 2.0 should be plenty. The things I like about the Scarlett 2i2: two XLR inputs, on-board monitor jack, phantom power supply, and it’s bus-powered so I don’t need to plug it into the wall. [Feel free to contact me for more explanation on those terms.]
Now that I have the proper gear that will make recording more convenient and a bit more portable, I can start focusing on, you know, the actual *content*. Garbage in, garbage out, after all. No amount of gear can make a mediocre performance sound good.
I’m rather happy with how Pennsic went this year. Arrived on site first Friday, too tired to get out of camp though. Saturday, unpacking and some practice. Then the bardic activities got going.
Sunday was Opening Ceremonies, which went decently for the first time AEthelmearc has sung in a few years. Gwen, Alianora (Sylvan Bard), Orlando (current Dean of AEthelmearc Bardic College) and myself were planted at the door of the barn and singing our little hearts out. Next year, maybe we’ll get larger songbooks out, but at least the populace had the lyrics to Scarlet. (Note to self, Lorelei has kingdom songs for every kingdom, and I want to get my hands on those for welcoming in the royalty of every other kingdom next year because as hosts, we’re on the field first.) I’m told the back of the line still didn’t know when or what they were singing, so again, note for next year, better and earlier organization. That night, Efenwealt’s concert was a hit. I got 3 pieces in, one of which was Efenwealt’s own Misha. So nice to do that piece for an audience that already knows the audience participation bits. :) Bonus, got some positive feedback on my rendition of Eleanor Fairchild’s Twilight Ride despite the lack of bodhrán.
Monday, Bardic Expo, I ended up doing Warrior’s Wyrd. I need to remember that the restriction to having those lyrics written down has been lifted, but it’s ingrained habit to say it’s not to be recorded and must be passed on by oral tradition. I still twitch seeing the lyrics to that and “Born On The Listfield” (both being by Ivar Battleskald) written out. Overall, I was quite pleased with the quality of the Bardic Expo. Lots of great performances. Monday night, the kiddo (3 and a half) and I hit up the Ramshaven Bardic for an hour or so before his bedtime. Excellent performers and excellent hospitality (which included high tolerance of my little one and chocolate chai latte courtesy of Her Excellency Sibylla, omnomnom).
Tuesday, the Upping Your Game collegium panel was beneficial. Turned into a fair bit of roundtable “Here’s what I did most recently to up my game.” Hit up an hour of Ken and Lisa Theriot’s concert that night (love them), then off to the Atlantian bardic at which this happened. A little history: at my first ever bardic circle (at someone’s house), I heard Efenwealt sing Fair Lady Atlantia, and it was enjoyably stuck in my head for days. I knew I wanted to get to know this person better. At my first event, during the evening’s bardic circle in the post-sunset twilight under an open-sided pavilion, I heard him sing “Heloise and Abelard” and I was entranced. I knew then that I wanted to study with him, and a few months later, he took me on as a student, later as his apprentice after his elevation. We rarely get to sing it as a duet together due to being in separate kingdoms and both having kids, so that link is the only recording I have of us performing that song together in over 15 years of apprenticeship. It’s just from my iPhone sitting on the bench next to us as we sang, but I still treasure every performance we get together. </sappiness>
Wednesday, Home Recording for Bards with Master Philip. Quite enjoyable. I already knew all the technical stuff he had to share, but it was good to hear how easy it is to get *a* recording versus how difficult it is to get a *good* recording. There was also a lot of discussion on potential pitfalls of producing a CD, including copyright issues and the difficulties of mastering. That night, Heather Dale concert, at which Quyn, Heather and I sang a trio arrangement of “The Parting Glass” as performed by the Wailin’ Jennys. It was pretty amazing. There was someone in the front doing video and somewhere there’s an audio recording of it, and once I have either of those, I’ll share them here.
Thursday, took it a bit easy, entertained a bit at the Children’s Party at AEthelmearc Royal (in which half of the entertainment I provided was in letting children touch my harp). Tracked down a gentle at War who gave me permission to include one of his pieces on my CD, and I’m glad I found him in person instead of online as it seems I’m performing it differently than I heard it so many years ago. Meant to hit up the AEthelmearc Bardic circle, but I got too sidetracked after the Commedia All-Stars performance. Cheap plug, they were amazing, highly recommended if they do it again next year.
Friday was mostly packing down camp, but as I didn’t leave until Saturday, there was some song-and-story time (intermingled with social chatter) at the next-door camp. Casual bardic circles like that can be so relaxing.
Now, I have a few bards to track down online, some songs to trade back and forth, and a whole lot of recording to do! Mistress Zsof made the most generous offer to any SCAdian at the Home Recording class to give her professional-caliber feedback on recordings. Mundanely she works for a radio station and her full time job is to listen and evaluate albums for technical quality and content flow. Fantastic resource to have found, and I fully intend to take her up on the offer once I have my tracks mastered.