Quick recording for songwriters

tip submitted by Chuck Durfor

Pick up a Minidisc recorder for about $200 US. It’s money well spent. I use a Sony RZ-37, although there are probably new and better machines to be found. (If I were to buy a new one I’d look for a digital output, see below). (Also consider the Zoom H2, H4 and other handy handheld digital recorders. – Ed.)

Anyway, at each performance, connect the minidisc to the tape (or line out) of your PA amplifier. Then turn the machine on before a set and off after a set concludes. (Minidiscs cost about $2.00 a piece, are re-recordable like tapes, and in mono can hold 140 minutes of music).

The result is a digital recording of your performance. The value of the recording is many fold. It’s a convenient way to review new (or old) material under the calmer light of day, for example, after a night where one is convinced that a career at McDonald’s would be more appropriate.

It can also provide ‘live’ material at near CD quality for promo and press kits. Clearly, the savings in studio time alone pay for the recorder.

Your digital recordings also might provide material for a ‘live’ album. A friend who runs sound for The Common Ground Festival tells me that their last few compilation CDs were all originally recorded on minidisc. Hence, if a commercial ‘live’ release is your ultimate goal, a minidisc recorder with a digital output is an excellent choice!


Finally, I found one unusual role for my minidisc recordings: as a thank-you gift for people signing my mailing list. With the cost of blank CDs about 10 cents, giving away selected performance material is a great way to keep my music in the hearts and minds of my fans.

In fact, if you would like to hear my personnel ‘bootleg,’ contact me at cdurfor@aol.com. It’s about 60 minutes of instrumental acoustic fingerstyle guitar and free.

For this tip I must thank Mike Elosh, a fantastic singer/songwriter from Rockville, Maryland. – Chuck Durfor.

Editors: Thanks, Chuck. I found this series of tips extremely valuable. I will be trying out several of your ideas.

I’d like to underline what you said about reviewing your material. When in the process of writing or editing a song, it is sometimes difficult to hear the song critically and objectively while at the same time singing it and possibly also simultaneously playing an instrument.

While you are still in the process of editing, it helps to record what you’ve got and listen to the recording without any distractions. You can listen carefully over and over. You are now hearing it more like most other people hear it, including your audience, talent scouts, agents, managers, record company execs, etc.

Remember, you are listening to the song itself, not your performance of the song, so you can let go of any self critical comments about your voice. The goal is to detect any places where you can improve the song, whether that means tweaking the lyrics, cutting a verse, simplifying the melody, substituting a more colorful chord or whatever.

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