MMNFAQ: Producing The 30 Days Project

Hey, music nerds! Want to help me write my FAQ? Send in your question!

Here’s one from LisztNut:

How did Miss Music Nerd make the recordings in “The 30 Days Project”? Specifically, what type of equipment or recording setup was used, who were the performers, how much rehearsal was involved, etc.?

All of the pieces were recorded by me and my All-Electron Philharmonic Orchestra!

My basic rig consists of three pieces of hardware and two software programs:

Hardware:

  • Mac computer (I was using an iMac at the time)
  • Yamaha P-120 digital piano
  • M-box 2 audio/midi interface

Software:

  • Finale for music notation and some sequencing
  • Pro Tools for sequencing, recording, processing and editing

For the solo piano pieces, I just connected my piano to the M-box with an audio cable and recorded into Pro Tools. In some cases, there may have been some over-dubbing involved — I can neither confirm nor deny that! 😉 There were a few piano pieces that definitely required more than one track, because they needed three or four hands: Tango-ish and Something Languid. There was even a two-piano, eight-hand piece: On Not Being Stingy.

When I wanted to use other instruments, there were a couple of different ways to do it. Finale has some passable MIDI sounds, so I used them where I could. Sometimes I could just save a whole Finale score as an audio file and be done, but more often I would save each instrument’s track separately and then load them into Pro Tools for tweaking and mixing.

When Finale’s MIDI sounds weren’t enough for me, I turned to Xpand!, which is a virtual instrument plug-in for Pro Tools. It has some fun percussion and keyboard instrument sounds; I especially liked the accordion and jazz organ sounds I used toward the end of Cicadas in Love and the “glassy glockenspiel” in Out of the Loops.

When using Xpand!, sometimes I would play the music into a Pro Tools instrument track through the piano, and other times I would generate MIDI data with Finale and import it, so I didn’t actually have to record it myself. In any case, using more than a few Xpand! intruments at once puts a serious strain on my system resources! I never lost data due to crashes, though (phew!). Someday when I’m rich and famous, I’ll have a top-of-the-line digital audio workstation with the most powerful computer known to humanity (until the day after you buy it, at least!), but for the moment I have to make clever and resourceful use of my mid-range gear. 😉

The cicada sounds, by the way, were the only sounds I didn’t produce myself. I used sound files from University of Michigan Museum of Zoology’s website, after the scientists there kindly granted me permission. I did, in fact, have live cicadas singing outside my window at the time, which is where the idea for the piece originated, but I wouldn’t have been able to get the quality and variety of sound files I had access to if I’d had to record them myself.

I’m grateful that we have this new-fangled digital technology, because it’s really fun to get an idea immediately of what your piece will sound like. Also, it’s the only way I could have done something like the 30 Days project.

Still, there’s nothing better than having your piece performed by live musicians. I am hoping to put on a live concert of these pieces at some point, hopefully this coming fall. I won’t have any trouble finding musicians in Boston, that’s for sure! Stay tuned! 😀

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