Tips for Avoiding Tech Trouble When Recording Your Songs
Maybe your hard drives have never fried, or the power hasn’t suddenly gone out in the middle of a session, or your reliable old condenser mic has always been just that. But as Paul Simon once opined, everything put together sooner or later falls apart. Which is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead in order to prevent some unforeseen technical snafu from derailing an otherwise smooth recording session, particularly when working with guests who are on a fixed schedule, have no patience, or both. Duty now for the future!
Patching prep. Wire up all microphones, amps, headphones and other gear well in advance of a session, then set preliminary levels on the recorder and solo each input to ensure recording channels are free of distortion, buzzes or other extraneous sounds that can cause interruptions. Remember that the road to a clean signal path begins with quality cables that produce limited background noise—if any of your wiring is suspect, companies like Whirlwind, Monster, Hosa and Pro Co offer rugged, high-gauge replacements that come with stress-resistant jacks for all your patching needs. Carefully secure all cables to the floor using strips of gaffer tape (which can be easily removed without leaving a sticky mess) to keep players from accidentally tripping over stray wiring.
Beware digital demons. By now even analog heads like myself have to admit that recording digitally is more efficient and user-friendly than working with finicky old tape machines, lovely though they may be. Unlike analog signals which are printed on the spot, however, your digital work is only as good as the last “save”; should you lose power in between even for a second, all your latest takes would be toast. One solution is to use an automatic battery backup with surge-protection system, which not only keeps your megabytes intact in the event of a black-out, but also protects your electronics from being damaged by an unexpected voltage spike.
While a spool of good recording tape might show signs of wear over time, by and large the music contained within could last for decades. Not always so with digital storage, which can have a much shorter lifespan and, if damaged, is often an all-or-nothing proposition—one day the music’s there, the next day it’s not. Consider your own hard drive suddenly failing mid-session, abruptly wiping out your current effort and possibly others residing on the same disc. Therefore, you’ll want to regularly check the integrity of your main storage device, particularly if it’s seen active duty for a number of years (or better yet, replace with a newer, faster and roomier drive/card).
Back it up before you go. Maintaining a consistent back-up regimen is the best way to keep works-in-progress from falling into the abyss. These days even basic workstations can connect to a computer or portable drive via internal card or USB interface, making it quick and easy to run off multiple duplicates of your recording data. Should anything happen to your machine in between back-ups, you’ll at least be able to pick up where you last left off, rather than starting from zero.
Keep it covered. That crackling sound you sometimes hear when first adjusting an amp that’s been in prolonged storage is proof that electronics and crud don’t mesh well. To prevent dust and dirt particles from mucking up your machinery, at the end of each session place a clean, lint-free (preferably plastic) covering over your essential studio equipment. While you’re at it, be sure to regularly vacuum your work area, cleaning non-electronic surfaces with Windex and using a small dusting tool to remove stray particles from control surfaces as needed.
Bottom line—many of us think nothing of making redundant back-ups of computer storage, keeping files safe from malware, and so forth. Therefore, why not devote the same attention to something that’s at least as important as your PC data: your own music.
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