Recording Tips

Things I’ve begun to learn…

Making recordings or albums is a lot of work and a lot of fun. As I’ve gotten into making albums I’ve begun to learn about how to record. Frankly, I think too few Highland bagpipers record; because of this there is limited experience/knowledge on the subject. To date I still have limited experience, but I have collected information from as many pipers as I can — the likes of Mark Saul, Aaron Shaw and others — on how to record, the type of gear that works, and what to do with getting your album mixed. Frankly, this could stand to be a page all on its own … not to mention I could make a whole page on how to make an album — ghesh!

I am in the drafting stage of this section, let alone this page, but here’s a few things off the top of my head that I’ve picked up…

Respect Copyrights — It is a TON of work looking them up, but it will be worth it — it respects the artist and potentially protects you legally later on. What I found to be the least work is to use tunes that you know are Traditional/Public Domain tunes — more simply put, if you have a book of compositions and the word “Traditional” is part of the information found with the title/composer/etc tune-information, then you’re good, you’ll need to take this information to your CD manufacturer later on. Using your own compositions is nice if you have them, because you don’t have to pay anyone for using them and you can do whatever you want with them, but do be sure to copyright/register your work. Remember, just because a tune that was composed 10 years ago and its been played many times by other musicians does not mean its in the Public Domain — some people like to take the ‘because I say so’ approach when it comes to tunes that are actually under copyright, but that doesn’t make it so.

Develop a way to keep your notes organized — You are going to be dealing with a lot of information and communication, keep it manageable. Personally, I developed a series of worksheets using Excel (I’m working on a blank copy with examples that will be posted here for download), a particular set of file folders on my hard drive (including thing such as sheet music, album art concepts, etc), and a folder to keep communications relative to each particular album project.

While it is possible, it is not advisable to do punch-ins/outs of pipes when recording. Usually you’ll have to record each track with the piper/s playing the song non-stop — this shouldn’t be a leap seeing as how many of us prepare to perform &/or compete. However, mistakes happen, so roll with them while in a recording session — beforehand, try to get your songs to where you can play them how you want to record them so while in studio you can do them within 3 to 5 takes … which doesn’t always happen, but its a good aim.

Some pipers record with their drones shut off — just their chanters — and then record their drones separately, recording a strike-in, shut-off, and droning (building the drone-sound behind their chanter looping the droning between the strike-in and shut-off). For most players this is inadvisable — to achieve it you need to have a very good ability to control the air pressure of your instrument without drones, and most of us aren’t used to this … so record everything all together.

Bring copies of other artists’ tracks that you want your tracks to sound like to the person who mixes your album — if you have 12 tracks for your album, you should have 12 other artists’ tracks. These tracks need to represent the sound you want to achieve, they do not have to be the same tune-style that you are recording in (reel, jig, march, air, etc). If the person mixing your album rejects this in principal or does not listen to your example tracks, drop them immediately and find someone else to mix your album.

When your album is complete get it mixed by someone who plays pipes and mixes — they’ll have a better idea of what your album should sound like. Since our instrument is a-typical, usually most audio engineers don’t know much if anything when it comes to recording or mixing bagpipes. Someone who mixes that doesn’t play pipes will likely mix your pipes (particularly if you’re playing in a rock band) as a horn (eg saxophone) and can mess up your album. When it comes to mixing, my understanding is that pipes need to be mixed more like a vocal track than as an instrument/horn.