from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek
“Wow, it sounds a lot better than I expected!”
This was the pleased reaction of one of my students. We were getting ready for an upcoming student recital and she, like many of my students, had made a recording of her pieces as a final run through. She was pleased with the result. When I suggested making the recordings she, and many of the students, had been quite reluctant.
“Why record? Isn’t it better to not know how you sound? I hate the sound of my own voice.”
I totally get it.
The recital before last, I did a song with my daughter, Nadia. She sang a song called Bulletproof, with me backing her up on guitar. Several times in our preparation I had thought, “We should record this.” But, then would come the chatter: “Nah! Let’s keep it spontaneous.” “It’s too much trouble.” “You’re just going to nit-pick at yourself, just be in the moment.” So, I convinced myself not to do a recording.
We performed at the recital and the song was really well received. My wife made a video, so I got to hear our arrangement for the first time. Nadia’s vocal performance was heart-breakingly beautiful -so sensitive. And, the arrangement worked really well until a certain section, the climax of the song, where the energy really picked up. At that point our arrangement had some issues. The way that I was accompanying Nadia seemed to make her struggle to keep up. It would have been a really simple fix if I had known.
I regretted not making a recording! You can’t fix something that you are not aware of. It later occurred to me that there are practically no recordings that I regret making. The recordings that I regret are the ones I didn’t make.
“But, I’ll get really wrapped up in trying to fix things.”
I totally get it, again. For me, listening back to a recording can be a bit jarring. There is a really strong temptation to erase it immediately and redo it, fixing all the perceived errors. Trust me! I have tried this many times with very mixed results and a lot of tension. In my experience, the idea that you can redo a performance exactly, except for the errors, is a delusion. The key seems to be to accept what you hear, and acknowledge the things that you would like to improve. That way, you can bring a new awareness into future practice, allowing the change to happen, gently over time. Recordings are a really important part of creating a feedback loop for yourself.
How something feels is not always how it is going.
The fact is that most of us are not very good at evaluating how we are performing. How something feels is not always how it is going. So many times I have thought I “nailed” a performance and, when I eagerly listened back to the recording, discovered that I hadn’t nailed it at all. Good to know!
I’ve also had the opposite experience so many times. I do a performance and I’m really not sure how it went. You could tell me it was terrible, I would believe you. But, listening back to the recording I discover that I was at my best, and I didn’t even know it! What a lovely surprise.
Don’t miss out on some of the beautiful sounds you are making.
If you decide to make a recording, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Most phones have decent recording capacity these days. If you want to try home recording with a proper mic and software that is a whole other fascinating adventure. For now, let’s assume that you are making a simple recording with the your phone or iPad. Here are some thoughts:
1. Be aware of balance.
The balance of voice and instrument(s) in a recording is very important. Experiment with where you place your phone. If you don’t have enough voice in the recording, raise the phone up nearer to your face. Not enough instrument? Put the phone lower, near your uke. Also, it’s a good idea to figure out where the microphone is on your phone. You want it pointing at you!
2. How close?
You may need to experiment with this. I’d say 2 or 3 feet away is good, but it depends on how echoey the room is. Generally, the further away the mic is, the more reverberation you will get from the room. The closer it is, the drier or more direct, the recording will be.
3. Don’t delete it right away.
Try this little experiment. Make a recording and listen to it right away. Two weeks later, listen to it again. Note any difference in your reaction. I find the more time that has passed since the recording, the more objective I can be.
4. Make it a gift.
Anne Lamott talks about this in her book, Bird by Bird. Thinking of what you are producing as a gift for someone can really help motivate the creative process. Record a friend’s favourite song! Or, maybe your recording can be a gift to your future self?
I hope you hear something beautiful that you have never noticed before.
I leave you with some recordings of me and my daughter Nadia doing a few songs. We made these one-mic recordings about 5 years ago, when she was six. I am very grateful that we pushed the record button:
Sound of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
by Nadia and Guido
I Don’t Need Anything But You (Annie)
By Nadia and Guido
All for now,
P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!