Recording While Traveling
A harmonious combination; new places, new people, new ideas and new sounds in different lands that present their own rhythms and culture can stir up something good in a natural and genuine way when recording while traveling.
The perfect time to try new things, tune your ear, hone your craft, become a better producer, musician, and songwriter. When traveling and moving around frequently, lugging heavy recording equipment is not exactly practical and can cost money that often is not at your dispense when heading out into the world for a nose around. So, the alternative can be to keep it simple and use the basics, which in my case are a smartphone with a voice recorder and GarageBand. I set myself a challenge to use these to come up with something fresh and unique to each place and time I passed through. This involves thinking outside the box, working for your sound and using the environment around you as your studio. I wanted to capture something simply, in its raw and pure state and I’ve found it’s possible to produce a sincere and honest sounding recording with these applications. So many of the early blues recordings I love were created in a minimalistic way and sound as powerful as anything to this day.
On September 16, 2013; together with my band, I released an album, 10 tracks that took us the best part of 2 years to record, mix, master and release. A long winding slog of hope, but a wonderfully fulfilling learning experience and our own blind wandering into the world of recording and producing music. We recorded all the songs ourselves, firstly in the shed where we practiced using Cubase version 6.0 at the time, a Mackie Onyx Satellite audio interface, a decent T. Bone vocal mic and some Shure SM 57s to mic up the amps and instruments. We then spent some time in a professional studio where we re-recorded some tracks live, recorded all of the drum tracks, all vocals and mixed the record using Logic Pro 9.
On the day of my birthday January 16 2015, having not recorded let alone written a song since the release of the album, I left my home on the Emerald Isle in search of change, excitement, inspiration and somewhere that was nowhere but I knew I wanted to record and become better at recording the songs that I had hoped would find me along the way.
My approach to recording while traveling in this way starts with always having my phone on me in order to capture anything different or intriguing that may drift passed my ear while out wandering or in the case that I was to stumble upon a location where the natural sound of the river flowing, the wind rustling the leaves or odd sounding birds doing their thing could make for an interesting background to set a track against. There are very different sounds, feelings, and movements you’ll hear in a remote village in Cambodia or in the Australian outback than what you’ll get in a shed in the West of Ireland. Approaching the recording like this makes for a record that sounds like a place as if a song has a home and can evoke memories of a certain period of time.
When just using the microphone on a smartphone or a laptop to pick up your sound, how and where you position them is important. This can vary with the location also but generally if sitting down to record, the best placement can be found easily by simply moving the device slightly nearer or closer to you or by changing the angle they are facing you, it can easily be figured out in a few takes.
When it comes to keeping it basic, GarageBand ticks all the boxes. It’s accessible, versatile and reliable and has been a good travel partner to date. It has all the basic features needed to create a good recording, allowing you to multi-track songs in stereo as well as being equipped with an arsenal of effects to allow you to alter the sounds of your instruments and even a virtual session drummer if you feel that way inclined. I’ve been keeping the recordings as natural as possible and trying to use the acoustics of the room or the sound of the location in order to capture a mood or feeling before messing with the effects to change the recorded sound. Whatever you may need in order to add to or tweak a track though are on offer, and the easy to use editing system gives huge scope to mix things up.
To date, the best sounding recording has happened in a wonderfully one-take and natural way which is often the case. The location was Ladchado, a small fishing village in Central Thailand at a school in which I was staying; teaching English during the day and sleeping in the school at night. Every day as I opened the windows in my room I could vividly hear the sound of kids playing, birds singing, and the river running and these sounds provide the perfect backdrop for the song and can be heard clearly on the recording. I haven’t changed or altered the sound recorded in any way. All the elements of where I was, how I was feeling and what I was pondering at that moment in time are all captured in that song and I am transferred back to that precise point with every listen.
Recording While Traveling by Darragh O’Dea