Goddess bless midlife crises. After age 40, and the dissolution of my marriage — and after more than a dozen years in which I barely sang in the shower — there must have been something in me that felt like it was “safe” to play and sing and write again. Maybe it was the feeling that as an Eccentric Old Bat I could do whatever I damn well wanted without worrying about being hip and cool, I don’t know. But I found myself reaching for a guitar, buying a dulcimer and a keyboard and learning to play them, even taking up drums. I even wrote a song about the Venus of Willendorf that I wound up singing at one fat-friendly venue, strictly one-shot.
As I did all this, I felt like I was getting the feeling back in my extremities again, after having been frozen for years and years. Why, oh why, do we deny ourselves what brings us joy, just because we don’t “look right”? Why does the Cult of the Best, Youngest, Thinnest and Cutest keep so many of us frustrated and unfulfilled? I could have kicked myself for all the years I lost to this cultural madness I had bought into. Music was fun, damn it. It was just plain fun. And I was entitled to fun!
And when my XH the Mac fiend turned me on to Garageband, an extremely user-friendly and great-sounding recording software program, I knew I had to have it. And I knew I had to record my songs with it — starting with the Venus of Willendorf song. Eventually I did buy a Mac Mini, which came preloaded with Garageband, in its original incarnation where it had only 512 MB of RAM. I quickly found out that Garageband was a memory eater and that I’d need to upgrade to the full GB (the most the original incarnation would hold) in order to be able to record more than one or two tracks at a time.
Over time, I learned that I could use my Yamaha “toy” keyboard as a MIDI controller, i.e. a keyboard you plug into a computer in order to get it to record computer-generated sounds like piano, bass, and congas (as I used on my song), as well as dozens of other instruments. I might not have been the greatest keyboardist ever, but no worries — Garageband lets you edit the crap out of your performance digitally until it sounds just right (but not too right).
When it came to adding live percussion (tambourines and shakers) and vocals, however, I quickly realized that my cheapo $10 desktop microphone wasn’t going to give me a very good sound. And I think at that point I realized that I wanted this thing to be good. I wasn’t just messing around and having fun, I had gone way beyond that. Even if Rolling Stone wasn’t going to call, even if I’d never be You-Tubed to death, I was proud of my song, and I wanted a recording that did it justice.
So I screwed up my courage to walk into the Beaverton Guitar Center and buy myself a real microphone. I wasn’t sure exactly why this was such a nerve-wracking prospect for me; I’d been in musical instrument stores before, even while I was fat. But something about this felt different. I was going in there as a musician, not just someone buying crap to fool around with. I wanted to find the right microphone to bring out the natural warmth and texture of my voice (PCOS may not have done great things for my looks, but it sure makes me sound great — I can reach an octave lower than your average female vocalist). I knew I couldn’t spend $2000-plus on a pro-quality ribbon mic, but I could spend a couple of hundred getting a decent home setup, and I knew there were respectable mics in that price range. I had money — well, a little money, anyway — to spend. They wouldn’t really be stupid enough to spurn my business because I wasn’t a Hot Skinny Rock Chick, would they?
As it turns out, no. The kid — he was a kid, maybe 19 or 20 years old at most — behind the counter really couldn’t have been sweeter; if he was laughing at me, he did a good job of keeping it internal, which was all that mattered to me. Besides, something in me must be changing — for once, I really didn’t give a damn if someone less than half my age, someone young enough for me to have given birth to, didn’t think I was cool enough for them. He set up a couple of different microphones for me to try out in their audio room, and I wound up settling on the Audio Technica AT3035 (pictured) with an M-Audio Mobile Pre preamp to connect the microphone to the computer, at about
half two-thirds the MSRP! Once I got the thing home, it took me a lot of time experimenting to get the right levels, find the right kind of “wind screen” to avoid popping (I finally made one out of an old knee-high stocking and a wire clothes hanger), and position myself at the right distance from the microphone so that the sound came in nice and strong, but not so strong it would distort. And with a mic that sensitive, it picked up everything, including the creaking of my floors when I moved my feet (I had to stand on a pillow while singing to avoid this). One take had this “crunching” noise I couldn’t figure out the origin of, when finally it dawned on me that it was my eyeglass chain.
But finally, finally I got myself a number of good takes and edited them together, and got myself to quit tinkering with the track until I was burnt out on trying to make it “perfect,” since I could have spent a year doing that if I didn’t stop myself. Maybe it’s not perfect. But it came out pretty darn good for a home recording, I think. I will post the linky to my Garageband.com page in my next post, and you can tell me if you agree!