The July Album Challenge: Day 1

Happy July! Today being the first day of the month, I decided to allow myself to begin working on my album challenge. I didn’t waste any time getting started.

All of the material being written and recorded for this album is fresh, new material. I’ve committed myself to using only musical ideas developed this month (ie: no recycling of old material). I had made the decision that I wanted to include a decent amount of acoustic piano in the creation of this album.

The only readily available piano I have is the family upright piano located in our living room on the first floor. This creates many challenges:

1. I’m much more limited in terms of the time spent writing/recording with the piano.
2.  It’s an old upright and doesn’t exactly sound amazing but it has some soul to it that makes it special.
3. The room it resides in is a recording nightmare: square, low ceiling. There is some furniture which helps suck up extra sound. I will certainly be close miking the piano for recording when the time comes.

But challenges are good…right?

I set up my trusty Zoom H4 Handheld Recorder and sat down at the piano to start working on ideas. I soon had some material that was quickly developing. I recorded the ideas as they came and then practiced them. Not being a serious pianist, I tend to write the music and then take twice as long to teach myself how to play it.

I recorded the sum of the ideas and then moved down to the basement studio to start fleshing out a bit of a demo of the idea. I tracked some drums, bass and even some electronic elements. I was quite happy with the resulting sounds. I’m very excited about what the next 30 days will bring.

Day 1 | Recording ideas as soon as they surface

Day 1 | Recording ideas as soon as they surface

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Zoom H4: Awesome Handheld Recorder

Last summer I purchased a Zoom H4 Handheld Recorder in order to record live music and spur-of-the-moment ideas without my Pro Tools rig. This was quite possibly the best recording investment I’ve made so far.

The Zoom H4 records to SD cards, just many digital cameras do. It takes standard AA batteries or can use the included power supply. It has a built-in XY stereo condenser mic setup that is perfect for recording live performances, acoustic ideas and the like. In addition, the H4 has two XLR/1/4″ inputs allowing you two use two external microphones or direct 1/4″ connections.

I’ve used all three setups and have been quite happy. I’ve recorded many concerts now with the built in mics. In several instances, I’ve recorded a solo instrument with one close mic and one room mic through the XLR inputs. The pre’s are decent considering the device and the inputs provide phantom power that can be turned on in the event that you’re using external condenser mics. I’ve recorded a direct stereo line from a soundboard with the 1/4″ inputs as well and the results were quite good. One of my favorite uses is to utilize the multi-tracking feature and layer ideas with the built in mics. I can record guitar, bass, some percussion and then a lead line or vocal line if I feel like it; all with just the H4 itself.

I tend to dump the files (recorded as .wav or .mp3) into my Pro Tools software for editing though the H4 comes with Cubase LE which is another piece of digital audio recording/editing software.

For $299, this is an investment worth making. I would suggest it for anyone who needs a nice quality handheld recorder for any purpose. It suits the musician well because of the ease of use for recording ideas and even has some simple onboard effects and mic-modeling. For those who don’t need the multi-tracking or the extra inputs, the H4 has a little brother; the Zoom H2.