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HP Palmtop Helps Create New Music CD

HP Palmtop Helps Create New Music CD

This musician used his HP Palmtop to keep on schedule and within budget while recording his band's new CD.

By Tom Boyles

When I first started out as a musician and began recording in a recording studio, I was 18 years old. That was in 1985, and everything in the recording studios was analog. I don't think there was any recording on digital, at least not in the studios that I could afford to record in at that time.

We recorded on 8-track, 1-inch, reel-to-reel tape, and keeping track of who recorded what on each track was, at times, pretty difficult. I even went out and bought my own 4-track, reel-to-reel multi-track recorder, with visions of having my own recording studio.

Four-tracks would quickly become not enough tracks, and what is called "ping-ponging" would be used. This means that recorded tracks from three tracks, for example, would be mixed and recorded to the fourth track. Then the three original tracks could be used again for more recording. Whether on the old 4-track multi-tracker or the 8-track multi-tracker, when tracks got "ping-ponged" around, the whole recording process could get to be a huge mess.

The spiral notebook

 I put together a spiral notebook with pages and pages of notes of what was recorded and how things got "ping-ponged," so I would know what sound and what instrument was recorded where, and what still needed to be recorded. This notebook was usually a pain to have around because it was large and cumbersome, besides forcing me to thumb through all these pages to find one single bit of information needed to continue the actual recording process.

It wasn't out of the ordinary for me to spend more time looking through all my notes in that notebook, instead of playing a guitar, bass or keyboard track. Oh, what I would have done back then to have something ...anything... even close to my HP Palmtop PC.

 The digital age is now here, and we're smack dab in the middle of very complex recordings far beyond 4-track and 8-track, let alone the mess that ping-ponging can make of the recording project. Studios today have 16-track, 32-track, 64-track, and 128-track multi-tracker recorders that just get messy and complicated all on their own. (No need to ping-pong tracks anymore.)

A good engineer will keep some sort of report or journal containing all kinds of settings: what was recorded, what will be recorded, and what effects are to be used on each track - all organized - and all this usually in a version of the old notebook I used to have. Good recording engineers also are adept at thumbing through their notes, and they spend a lot less time in the notes than I ever did.

 For the past several months I have left the recording engineering to someone else so I could concentrate on being a musician. My band, Corduroy Bloom, currently is recording its first full-length CD, and we have to stay very organized to get this project done in the time frame we have projected for it.

Studio time and the recording engineer's time is expensive, and usually bands can't afford to spend time in the studio or waste the engineer's time trying to organize instead of working on the main objective, which is recording the tracks.

We also need to keep complete, detailed notes of specific items so that information can be added to our CD album insert. The most important task is keeping the recording process organized and well-planned out so that the goals for each session are accomplished, and that the least amount of time and money is spent.

 Using my 200LX

 Enter my HP 200LX Palmtop PC. I might as well strap a guitar on the little guy because he's in the studio with me 100% of the time. I can jot notes down during a session quickly and have them well organized. I can also keep track of the number of hours spent in the studio for each session. This lets me keep tabs on how much is spent, and also keeps us within our projected budget for the album.

 I designed a database template that allows me to quickly enter specific information I need throughout the entire recording process each day until the whole project is done. Our estimated time for recording our current project is four months. Our projected budget for the album is $9,500.00.

As each recording session is completed, I can look back through the database and review the entire process. I can easily assess whether we are staying on schedule, and if we are staying within our projected budget. If I didn't use the database, I wouldn't be able to stay organized. And without organization, we could end up spending two or three times as much money, and taking two years for the project, instead of four months.

My 200LX Palmtop PC does the job, and does it well. I have yet to allow the group to get over budget, and we have easily stayed on schedule. We started recording at the beginning of October 1997, and as we close in on the end of January 1998 we are getting close to finishing this project. Even though spending this amount of money on the project is painful, it would be even more painful if we went over budget and spent even more than we expected.

 My studio database

 In the database that I created (Screen 1), I first enter the date. This allows me to track the day we recorded. Next I enter the start time and the end time. so I can calculate the number of hours in the studio each day.

 Screen 1. The fields in the author's custom database allow him to store notes about what's on different tracks, as well as time spent in the studio each day.

 Next I enter the song title that we worked on during that session. I also have in this database a place for the producer's and the engineer's names. Throughout the album these names likely don't change, but in case we have someone else come in the studio for individual songs, this change can be documented for easy access to the needed information when we start developing the layout of the CD insert.

In a notes field I have track-by-track notes. This is what makes the palmtop so awesome. I have every bit of information I need for staying organized and also have all the notes I need, no matter where I am. The notes can be easily typed in and there's no limit to how much is typed in, and everything can be categorized and organized so individual bits of information can be found quickly and easily.

Then I enter the final day cost (number of hours by amount per hour) and then the balance, which is calculated by adding the previous recording session's amount to the current day recording session amount.

 My studio DataCard

 On the DataCard (see Screen 2), I have organized this information so I can easily scroll through the records and see specific items of information to quickly determine what was done, who was involved, and how much time and money has been spent. (Editor's note: see pages 31 and 32 of the January/February 1998 issue of The HP Palmtop Paper for a detailed discussion of how to alter the display on the DataCard.)

 Screen 2. The author has edited the display of his DataCard so that he can quickly view necessary information without having to open each day's record.

 With my palmtop with me in the studio, I can easily review this information and enter new data. My palmtop quickly shows me how much time and money is needed, and what has to be done during the next recording session. This provides a well-organized plan for keeping each recording session running smoothly and spending the least amount of money, but getting the most quality out of the time spent.

Without my palmtop, I would be hauling around a big spiral notebook and spending more time looking at notes than doing what needs to be done, and what is most fun - recording the tracks of the album!

 Mixing the recording

 Mixing the completed recording is the next and probably most important part of making your own CD. My palmtop again plays the part of keeping the information organized. During mixing, the individual tracks are adjusted in volume, and different special effects are added to each track, as needed, to make the entire song sound great.

Only one song a day is mixed, so with our album as an example, it will take 12 days to mix, because we have 12 songs. Each day that a song is mixed, a lot of information is discussed about each song.

To prevent ourselves from forgetting which information goes along with each song, I created a special database for the mixing process (see Screen 3). This database keeps me organized and allows me to access information at any time I need it.

 Screen 3. This special database helps the author keep organized during the mixing process.

For example, I need to know the date the song was mixed, and what time it was dubbed to a stereo cassette. The database also tells me the order in which all the songs were mixed when they are all finished. Additionally, I can tell if an individual song was mixed during the day, or in the evening.

Keeping track of mixes

I will also need to know what version of mix we decide on. Each song on our album is mixed three times. The first is a general mix, the second is mixed with the vocal tracks mixed 1 decibel lower from the general mix, and the third is mixed with the vocal tracks mixed 1 decibel higher from the general mix. Deciding which version to use is very important, of course.

Once the entire project is mixed, we decide in what order the songs will appear on the album. The palmtop allows me to add to the database a place for that, and it can easily be adjusted as we make that decision. Finally, the Notes field provides a very important place for all the detailed notes I need for each song as it is mixed.

 With the DataCard displayed (see Screen 4) , I can quickly scan the entire database to know what songs are done and which still need work. The DataCard also makes it possible to take a "quick-glance" and get the information I describe above.

 Screen 4. The DataCard has been edited to allow quick scanning of the database.

 The HP 200LX has been a huge and absolutely necessary part of the recording process of the CD project my band is working on.

Corduroy Bloom's New Album

iPhone Life magazine

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