Exploring the Home Recording Rabbit Hole

ailevin

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This started with an innocent question; that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I was just curious about how folks in this Classical Ukulele Challenge thread went about recording their music. BTW, that Classical Challenge is one of my all time favorite threads on UU. The originator of that thread, @ploverwing, pointed me to this recent thread and I also found some pointers in the SOTU. To be fair, I knew I was looking for trouble since I used the phrase rabbit hole in my post. I have no idea how rabbits actually burrow, and I wonder if it is a decent metaphor in this information age where you face branch points every few clicks, and you never know the potential depth of any of the branches. I thought this might be another one of my beginner experiences that might help someone else save a bit of time, expense, and general pain in a similar exploration.

As before I will start with a bit of background. My wife and I have been taking ukulele lessons for about 1.5 years now. We take most of our lessons via FaceTime, but I have never really looked into improving the audio or video quality, and I don't record out lessons. I did participate briefly in some open mic events via Zoom (Zoom the video conferencing app), and learned that there are settings there to improve the quality of the webcam audio for live performance. Our teacher had mentioned using the voice memo app on my phone to record the chords of a song and then practice playing the melody with that chord track. She also suggested that recording was an excellent way to gain more insight into how I am playing and to improve my playing. And then there was that Classical Challenge thread that I thought I might post to. BTW, I heard in the news last week, that now prepositions are considered fine things to end a sentence with. I like to think I have a good ear, but I also know that at 73, my hearing isn't what it used to be, and I have had significant drop off in the high frequencies. I am pretty good with computer technology, and have experience with Windows, MacOS, and Linux, though as you will see, not so much with digital audio technology. I also have a background in physics and signal processing, but that is of surpisingly little use practically except for rationalizing things after the fact.

I started recording video with my iPhone mounted on a photo tripod. This worked well in terms of video, but there were issues with the audio. Apple does a lot of adaptive processing on the microphone that is probably a good idea for making sure someone can hear your voice over background noise, but it is problem recording a ukulele. It not only changes the tone and dynamics here and there, but if you are playing softly, the microphone may decide that the ukulele is noise and that something else in the background is what you want to record. It's just not optimized for recording acoustic intruments. I also discovered that watching these videos (or just listening to them) was a little like standing naked in front of a mirror--it was hard to see anything but the problems. However, the recordings did help me change and improve my playing and in that sense they were helpful so I wanted to find a way to get better audio for my iPhone. This was about the time that I started searching for solutions on the internet in general and on UU in particular.
 
I've been using the iRig Mic Studio USB microphone to record audio to my iPhone. It's pretty simple, has its own recording app, and can export audio (and video) in several formats. Usually, the only post-processing I do is to snip off the dead air at the beginning and end of the recording. Not the cheapest USB microphone out there but I'm pretty happy with the results.
 
For me so far, the definitive thread on this topic came from the Seasons of the Ukulele Weekly Song Challenge forum, a forum dedicated to a friendly weekly song challenge where scores of people are posting recordings every week. The most recent season as I write this, Seasons of the Cuckoolelele (an exploration of mental health in a variety of aspects, including its absence), had right at 100 recordings submitted!

I highly encourage anyone interested in recording themselves to explore the Seasons -- seriously, pick a thread, any thread, and watch a dozen or two videos on it. You SHOULD be watching ALL of them (I try!), but at the very least, you'll see that there can't possibly be one right answer to this question. Out of the dozens of videos you watch, I'll wager that not two of them have the same method, unless it's "I leaned my phone against a saltshaker and went for it". There are more methods of recording you and your ukulele than there are people and ukuleles!!!

So, that definitive thread. Here ya go, courtesy of @UkingViking : What do you need to record a video for the Seasons? And of course if you're not recording for the Seasons, just take UkingViking's great advice, and post your video wherever you like!

One thing I love about this thread is that it's short. :) Once an "answer" thread gets too long, the replies can get in the way of finding the actual answer! On my to-do list: to take great short threads like this one, turn them into "articles" and post them in a yet-to-be-built Resources section of the site. I DON'T want to pin a bunch of 30-page long FAQ threads (again, not helpful at all at that length), but these couple of posts from UkingViking on that thread are absolutely indispensible.

My favorite single tip in the site is from an old friend of mine, @Mark Suszko, with whom I go back 20 years or so in the world of video production at the site where we both previously orbited. Mark is the one who suggested that I take up the ukulele as I was having more mental health struggles than usual as the pandemic began, and I in turn suggested that he sign up here. :) His "New Member Introductions" thread had a GREAT suggestion for a quick and dirty "tripod" for your phone camera using a CEREAL BOX (or similarly shaped box), here.

And hey, this thread may join some of the ones above, but the short answer REALLY is: there are no wrong answers. Play, sing (optional!), record, post, repeat! Don't sweat the rest!
 
Alan, if you haven’t looked into Reaper that’s where you might want to investigate.
Reaper is a DAW, digital audio workstation.
It’s used by professional recording studios and amateurs as well.
It works on any PC and you can try it free and if you want to buy it the cost is $60.
You can literally do anything with it. My son has used it for recording and mixing multiple tracks to create amazing finished musical works.
It allows you to record multiple tracks and render them together into a complete recording.
You can record a rhythm track and then monitor that track as you play along a lead track. Then add a voice track on top of that.
It can be a very complicated program because of all the many many ways you can manipulate each of the tracks dynamically, but it can also be a very simple way of recording your playing and easily laying down separate tracks that you can monitor and play along with.
All you need is a computer and a microphone.
My son turned me on to it and I’ve been having lots of fun with it.
Only one BIG problem. I’m amazed at just how bad I sound!!
 
The funny thing about the box pod is that if you look closely, the box I cut up was from B&H, a fine company in New York that sells high end video and audio gear, including tripods costing over a thousand bucks all-up... but I made a "tripod" from one of their empty boxes; does that make it an official B&H tripod? :)

The dollar stores and Five Below stores and Big Lots type stores, Menards and Walmarts all now carry cheap phone camera tripods or other kinds of mounts, so you don't have to make them out of cardboard shipping boxes or pizza boxes unless you wanna; five bucks will score you something workable. Your bigger challenges are grabbing good sound and lighting. One of the easiest things to do about the sound is to put a second phone in your shirt pocket while shooting your video, using the memo record feature built into both iphones and Androids. It's not a huge deal to synch these two tracks up in a computer editing system anymore: many of the apps can figure it out and do that for you automatically now, but I can talk you thru more methods if you have special circumstances or questions.

For lighting, the simplest thing might be to sit near a white wall and point an everyday lamp bulb at the wall: as it bounces off the wall it will make a soft, flattering light. Tape a big white posterboard or white foam board from the drugstore to the back of a dining room chair, and put that on your side opposite the white wall for a "fill", and not you might be amazed at just how much better the picture looks. Little things like not having a light or window right behind you, and putting the lens at your eye level, instead of shooting up your nose, make a world of difference at zero cost. I think a lot of you might use a tablet or a laptop's web camera to record yourselves: just get that thing up off the table, stop giving us shots of nose hairs and ceiling fans, aim the webcam at your face level and see how much better it already looks!

The other thing I will say is, actual camcorders are out there in the fifty dollar range, brand new or used on ebay and facebook marketplace and pawn shops, etc. They were made for this kind of thing, and their audio can be easily supplemented with outboard mics for as little as fifteen bucks, so we're talking the cost of skipping a couple of dinners at McDonald's or whatever, to get you going. Don't feel that a smartphone is the only way to capture yourself. You may not have noticed, but you can actually do some minor video editing right inside of your youtube page these days!
 
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You may not have noticed, but you can actually do some minor video editing right inside of your youtube page these days!

YouTube's editing features are exactly what many folks are looking for, I think. It's not for advanced syncing of audio and video, and you don't want to build complicated vfx sequences there, but if you've got a decent-ish take in a long video, or maybe want to assemble pieces of a couple of decent parts of takes, YT will definitely get you there!

And thanks for the great advice on the rest! I agree, even basic attention to lighting (no need to buy anything if you don't want to!) and the most basic framing (centered is dandy!) will go a long way toward making you be happy with the visuals.

One of the easiest things to do about the sound is to put a second phone in your shirt pocket while shooting your video, using the memo record feature built into both iphones and Androids.

I should note for the iPhone crowd in particular that I just last week added support for .m4a audio files specifically to enable iPhone voice memo folks to upload their recordings directly to the site without converting to MP3 first, or without having to leave it as an attachment that some folks can't play at all.

I'll post the details in the Site Announcements forum in the next day or two (there's a funky bit of a workaround on the upload side, but once you've done it once, it's a piece of cake), but this is a very important workflow that I'm glad to offer better support for!
 
Only one BIG problem. I’m amazed at just how bad I sound!!
Boy, do I understand that sentiment? I remember when I started playing ukulele my 88-year-old father wanted to hear me play. Reluctantly I strummed a song and sang the melody. Afterward, he said, "You did a good job, but the voice!!- don't sing!!"

I heard Billy Joel the other day saying he hates listening to himself. I feel it is a universal thing.
 
Even John Lennon said he hated listening to his own voice. Go figure.
 
Boy, do I understand that sentiment? I remember when I started playing ukulele my 88-year-old father wanted to hear me play. Reluctantly I strummed a song and sang the melody. Afterward, he said, "You did a good job, but the voice!!- don't sing!!"

I heard Billy Joel the other day saying he hates listening to himself. I feel it is a universal thing.
My friend says he can't sing. I say to him: "Tell that to Tom Waits or Bob Dylan."
 
I was amazed to see all the responses this morning.

@Larry U: The iRig Mic Studio is kind of a natural transition to the next chapter of my exploration which was a USB mic. I have not tried any of the iRig gear, but it shows up again and again with excellent reviews.

@TimWilson and @Mark Suszko: That SOTU definitive thread kind of saved me at a point when my head was spinning and I had no idea what to even investigate. I know it is going off topic somewhat, but I applaud your idea for pinning some short threads. I would suggest a series of "So You Want to ... ." Perhaps we could also separate the comments and suggestions about those threads, so they stay compact and can be edited or kept up to date without growing uncontrollably.
The B&H box tripod is very cool. Fortunately I have many tripods around from other hobbies.

@mlolya: DAWs are another whole chapter here, but spoiler alert, I am currently using Reaper.

@Timm_S & @efiscella: My teacher is a professional singer and song writer and is regularly performing and making videos. She told me about a course at Berklee where the students had to write and perform a song/piece. The instructor then video taped a performance and their grade was based on the quality of their critique of the piece and the performance. That sounds brutal!

After reading @UkingViking's excellent thread on SOTU, I decided to dip my toe in the water with an inexpensive USB microphone, but before I get into that, I need to do a quick flashback to the ancient days of home reel to reel tape recording. When I was a kid, we had an Ampex 1/4" four track reel to reel tape recorder. It was somewhat high end for a home stereo system, and I used it to record rehearsals and performances in stereo with a set of included mics. When I started down this path I had a lot of trouble translating my purely analog model into today's world of digital devices. Without getting into a debate over terms or whether the whole world is a digital simulation, I think of ukuleles, speakers, microphones, my ears, and transmission of sound as analog--some possibly complex combination of relatively smooth periodic waves created in and traveling through air. The microphone and speakers translate between pressure waves in air and electrical voltages on a wire. Those electrical signals remain analog, and to the extent that the mics/speakers do a good job, they are a good analog representation of the sound. Depending on the particulars of the speakers and the mics, the analog electrical signal may need to be amplified (preamplified) and those electronics are typically analog as well. In the olden days before digital, the tape recorder electronics, recording head, and signal stored on the tape were analog as well.

Today, at some point between the microphone and storing a sound file, the analog electrical signal from the mic has to be converted to digital (analog to digital or A-to-D conversion). And similarly on the way to the speakers there is D-to-A conversion. Inside a computer the sound card (a chip or portion of a chip mostly these days) handles all of this for the computer's internal speakers and microphone, if they are there. If you have a headphone jack, that is analog IO and the sound card deals with DA and AD conversion. If some external audio device, like a microphone connects to the computer (or smart phone) via USB, then the external device must do the conversion to digital, because the USB is digital. The portion of the USB mic that amplifies the analog mic signal and converts it into a digital output for the USB is called an audio interface. I think of an audio interface as some sort of external sound card.

Anyway, back to my story, since I am a cheapskate, I was looking for the cheapest USB mic to improve my iPhone audio and after reading a few reviews, I bought the Samson Go Mic Portable. It is a tiny portable condenser mic with attached stand/mount/clip that was $38 when I bought it and is now available for $29. It has three switchable mic patterns, and a headphone jack. The headphone jack allows you to listen to what the mic hears without the delay caused by AD, DA, buffering on the USB interface, and processing by the computer. Once again that headphone jack is courtesy of the audio interface within the USB microphone, which gives you an amplied output of the analog mic input. The USB mic plugs directly into my computer, but requires a camera interface when attaching it to an iPhone. I already had this gadget that allows you to connect a USB and external power to the phone via the lightning port. Both my computer and my iPhone recognized the mic instantly and the quality of the sound was surprisingly good. Just clipping the Samson mic to the phone and recording in a relatively quiet place was a large improvement. I now had a decent quality raw mic input to my phone that I could control without all the adaptive help from Apple.

OTH, with the better audio quality I was now listening to the audio more critically, and discovered the importance of microphone placement, room dynamics, and extraneous noise in general. Without really engaging those very interesting topics, I quickly realized that the best place for the phone (camera) in terms of video and the best place for the microphone in terms of audio were different places. Also, I found that working with my phone there were these faint clicks now and then that did not seem to be related to what the audio track was doing. It sounded to me like some sort of digital interference or digital interface glitch. I did a few experiments turning off various things on the phone and also tried it with an iPad, but I still had those glitches. There were no such problems when the mic was connected to my computer. At this point, I decided that the Samson Go Mic Portable along with my iPhone was good enough for the diagnostic and practice videos I wanted to do. However, I also decided that I was much more interested in getting good quality audio, than I was in getting videos with excellent audio quality. So I decided on more experiments with the USB mic using my computer, but now I had to figure out how I was going to capture and manage my recorded audio on the computer, which brought me to the DAW branch of the rabbit hole.

BTW, before I move onto DAWs, there is a wide variety of USB microphones on the market with different features, sound quality, and applications. The real issue, which I didn't realized at the time, was whether to unbundle the microphone and the audio interface. If your application only requires a single microphone and there is a USB mic that works well for you, then that can be a very clean and cost effective solution. OTH, if you want to use multiple microphones or you want to use different microphones in different combinations, then it makes more sense to buy a separate multichannel audio interface and mic(s) that have a direct analog connection into the audio interface (usually an XLR cable). Most audio interfaces also allow you to plug in electric instruments directly. As a BTW to this BTW, I did briefly considered pickups for my ukes, but I decided I wanted to stay with mics for now and explore that later.
 
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^ Reel to reel tape is so wild to me. The closest I came to using that was during my stint with the Yankees for Spring Training. Non linear editing is where it's at for me. It's where I started back in college when we had to make music videos for class.

As far as DAW goes, I just use Adobe Audition. My work pays for the whole Adobe suite, so that's probably not an option for many on here unless you plan on going deeper into the rabbit hole.

I just prefer not needing my computer to be on when I'm recording / playing in addition to all the cameras and my 16 track recorder.
 
I see a lot of used smartphones at the local pawn shop. Why is this of interest? Because even if you never re-activate their ability to make a phone call, they are still tiny movie cameras and audio recorders you can slip into a shirt pocket, for cheap.
 
There seem to be far more of these audio posts on uke talk than in the audio video sub forum, I wonder how come - its like we all feel more at home in some sub foras 😆.

I have ventured a bit further down this rabbit hole myself than I probably ought to, without getting good at it. Watching YouTube videos about gear and recording techniques, but not recording a whole lot and not taking the time to experiment and listen to determine what works. Which nooks and crannies of the rabbit hole to explore should probably be considered with the intended use in mind. It is easy to learn about gear and techniques and think: I need that! Sometimes you dont.

First question one has to ask is: why am I recording? Do I want to release "serious" music, do I want to make videos, do I just want to self evaluate or do I want to learn a new skillset just for the heck of it, taking time away from playing my ukes? For me, the main motivation is: since I dont perform at any gigs, I record to have a creative output from my playing. I get to share my recordings through the SOTU challenges, so hence videos are the format. Would I like for something to sound good enough to listen to outside the seasons? Sure, but one step at the time.

I have watched a lot of toturials online, and most focus on big productions with a full band. I heard about LUFS, the perceived loudness of a tune. The toturials said to compress tour music until you reached -14db. I absolutely butchered a couple of videos with compression until I realized that for a recording of one person quietly singing and picking, about -20db to -24db makes so much more sense. I got all these tools in Reaper, but I had to learn not to go over board with things I havent learned properly. A bit of EQ, perhaps a small touch of compression, but gently.

When I do my videos, some things are given:
  • I will not be recording more than one person playing at the time
  • I will be compromizing with room acoustics, because my home is not treated for acoustics and I will also choose a spot to record that doesnt look too messy because video.
  • I will be compromizing with mic placement, because I dont want the mics to be too much in the middle of the shot.

I am not planning on selling my interface, but I have to admit: with the above compromises I could probably do just fine without. If I am only recording myself, I will either want mono or XY stereo, which both can be achieved with the right USB mics or portable recorders. If I was not doing video I could place separate mics for uke and vocal, but if I was not doing video I could record these one at a time. And since I compromise so much on audio aspects that probably mean more than the difference from a top notch USB mic to a home studio level mic + interface, that would probably be a small difference. That being said, I can hear the difference when I compare my Yeti to the better mics, but I dont think about it when listening to the Yeti recordings without comparing.
 
Would a USB microphone be a significant improvement over a lavalier microphone? (noticeably different?)
 
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To be fair, once the USB mic was plugged into my PC, I could have just used the Sound Recorder app, and perhaps I should have, but I had a limited license for Bitwig (max 8 track which seemed more than enough) that came with a MIDI Mini-keyboard and there were also a bunch of virtual instruments including a nice grand piano that were included. I knew that Bitwig was a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW (pronounciation rhymes with law). But when I got my keyboard and opened it and quickly closed it because I had no idea even how to set it up. I basically followed a cookbook to set up the piano effects that I wanted using analog lite which is an Arturia SW synthesizer. MIDI is a digital interface that is not digitized audio, but more like a set of digital instructions for how to make audio. So my MIDI keyboad has a USB interface that encodes which key I hit, when I hit it, how hard I hit it, when I released it and perhaps some other info about what is going on with the keyboard, like buttons pushed, knobs turned, spring loaded wheels moved back and forth. Then it is up to the program that receives it, in my case, Arturia Analog Lab Lite to turn that information into a digital sound according to which instrument I pick and a bunch of other parameters. MIDI is another fascinating topic, but that is as far as I am going here. The main point is that I could get my keyboard to make sounds but I had figured out nothing about the Bitwig DAW.

With my new USB microphone up and recognized instantly by my PC, I was excited to power up Bitwig and start recording. I had already figured out that I needed some special drivers (ASIO, rhymes with rodeo, but more like Ace-eo) so I downloaded ASIO4all. Bitwig had a record button, a good sign, but pressing it did nothing that I could see. Also, the whole context seemed to contradict everything about my mental model of recording based on my old reel to reel experience. Bitwig seemed organzied around time signatures, measures, tempos, and the structure of songs. My first impression was that this was something for composers using synthesized instruments, clips, and loops. Why should my tape recorder care about my time signature and tempo? I was thinking in terms of recording either an entire piece or hours of rehearsal at a time. Because my mental model was so different from what wa being presented in the Bitwig menus and on the screen, I was beyond confused. There was also the small matter that I had no idea how to connect my USB mic or for that matter anything else as an input or output. This was not plug and play at all. It was more like plug and lose the will to live. I searched for intro videos, but they either skipped over the audio setup or assumed more knowledge about audio on computer than I had, and recording audio from mics was usually somewhere around chapter seven. Then I remembered that my youngest son was a professional musician with a serious home studio. He was busy packing to leave on tour, but he made some time to have a Zoom session where I shared my screen with him. He quickly recognized Bitwig as being similar to Ableton, a DAW he has used pretty extensively. He led me through properly setting up Bitwig, doing a quick recording of my ukulele, and doing a little bit a post processing to show me how things worked.

I worked with Bitwig for a couple weeks and more or less got the hang of it, but I would regularly run into an issue where I had no idea how to solve the problem. At the time I was primarily just playing with mic placement, room location and a little bit of EQ, primarily a low shelf to remove extraneous noises from both the general surroundings and as I later learned from my computer. It was definitely a learning experience and I got to where, although Bitwig still made little sense to me, I could get basic recording and EQing done. My oldest son, who is an amateur musician but an IT professional suggested that I look at Reaper. He also told me not to spend years figuring it out like he did, but rather spend the time to watch some of the rather thorough tutorials on YouTube. In fact, Reaper has a pretty good set of tutorial videos at their website. Reaper has as much feature shock as Bitwig, but the keyword searchable preferences in Reaper, and Reaper's context sensitive setting that come up when you right click on an item are much more effective that Bitwig's context sensitive hovering. Of course I watched the Reaper tutorials but never gave much time to Bitwig tutorials. Another thing I learned through the tutorials, was how people actually use a DAW, and I also learned some of the vocabulary that people use to describe what they dow with a DAW. I really had not thought about recording tracks separately and combining them, or doing multiple takes of sections of a piece, or overdubbing a melodic part over a track of chords I had previously recorded. As I better understood how DAWs grew to emulate and in some cases replace aspects of studio recording, I developed a different mental model of what a DAW was and how I could use it at home. Now having a click or metronome while recording a track seems more reasonable, and I can see the value of setting tempo and aligning tracks with measures and beats.

I have been using Reaper for several weeks now, it is my DAW of choice. I am still tweaking my settings and layout, but I am happy with the SW and while it is not free, I believe it is a bargain. While this DAW and mic placement learning phase was going on, I was starting to think about better microphones and whether/which audio interface might be appropriate. However, as I thought about it, the little SAMSON portable clipped to the phone was good enough for quick videos, but the clumsiness and either interface or interference problems with the iPhone and interface got me thinking about better portable recording solutions. And that is my next chapter, Portable Recorders.
 
@UkingViking
There seem to be far more of these audio posts on uke talk than in the audio video sub forum, I wonder how come - its like we all feel more at home in some sub foras 😆.
I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize there was such a forum. I was debating between Beginners, Shameless Self Promotion, and here. Frankly, there is so much more activity here that it is my preference unless mods would like to prod me elsewhere.
I have ventured a bit further down this rabbit hole myself than I probably ought to, without getting good at it. Watching YouTube videos about gear and recording techniques, but not recording a whole lot and not taking the time to experiment and listen to determine what works. Which nooks and crannies of the rabbit hole to explore should probably be considered with the intended use in mind. It is easy to learn about gear and techniques and think: I need that! Sometimes you dont.
Amen. Been there; done that.
First question one has to ask is: why am I recording? Do I want to release "serious" music, do I want to make videos, do I just want to self evaluate or do I want to learn a new skillset just for the heck of it, taking time away from playing my ukes? For me, the main motivation is: since I dont perform at any gigs, I record to have a creative output from my playing. I get to share my recordings through the SOTU challenges, so hence videos are the format. Would I like for something to sound good enough to listen to outside the seasons? Sure, but one step at the time.

I have watched a lot of toturials online, and most focus on big productions with a full band. I heard about LUFS, the perceived loudness of a tune. The toturials said to compress tour music until you reached -14db. I absolutely butchered a couple of videos with compression until I realized that for a recording of one person quietly singing and picking, about -20db to -24db makes so much more sense. I got all these tools in Reaper, but I had to learn not to go over board with things I havent learned properly. A bit of EQ, perhaps a small touch of compression, but gently.

When I do my videos, some things are given:
  • I will not be recording more than one person playing at the time
  • I will be compromizing with room acoustics, because my home is not treated for acoustics and I will also choose a spot to record that doesnt look too messy because video.
  • I will be compromizing with mic placement, because I dont want the mics to be too much in the middle of the shot.
Your first question is indeed the correct and crucial question. Yet, for me it has evolved even in the short time I have been recording. I started with a video production focus and but now I'm more interested in improving audio recording quality. I also have to confess to enjoying the exploration of equipment and techniques, though I am trying hard not to let this "ship in a bottle" aspect interfere with time spent working on my ukulele playing.

When my son was helping me with Bitwig and I asked about EQ and compression, his first question was, "What don't you like about the original recording?" Of course I had no answer since I had never considered that. When he listened to the recording and applied EQ to demonstrate how the Fx worked, I was amazed at how little he did. He basically rolled off the base below 100 Hz and the treble above 10K because he said most of what was there was noise from things other than the ukulele. He demonstrated compression and reverb to demonstrate the controls, but again I was amazed by how tiny his additions or subtractions were. And he paid meticulous attention to the levels going in and out of each effect.
I am not planning on selling my interface, but I have to admit: with the above compromises I could probably do just fine without. If I am only recording myself, I will either want mono or XY stereo, which both can be achieved with the right USB mics or portable recorders. If I was not doing video I could place separate mics for uke and vocal, but if I was not doing video I could record these one at a time. And since I compromise so much on audio aspects that probably mean more than the difference from a top notch USB mic to a home studio level mic + interface, that would probably be a small difference. That being said, I can hear the difference when I compare my Yeti to the better mics, but I dont think about it when listening to the Yeti recordings without comparing.
If I had to stick with my little Samson USB mic, I could certainly meet my goals in terms of recording to analyze and improve my ukulele playing. My uninformed assessment is that there are very fine USB microphones available though perhaps not at bargain basement prices. However, part of the fun for me right now is exploring the possibilities and for reasons I'll explore in my next chapter, my next set of mic experiments are going to be with non-USB microphones.
 
I see a lot of used smartphones... even if you never re-activate their ability to make a phone call, they are still tiny movie cameras and audio recorders you can slip into a shirt pocket, for cheap.
Please elaborate on how to use (non-Apple, please) a "smart" phone (Samsung, for example) where the SIM (or whatever it is called these days) is not registered or connected to any service (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T...) with just the phone and charger. How to get files off the phone's memory MicroSD?
 
Would a USB microphone be a significant improvement over a lavalier microphone? (noticeably different?)
I would like to clear something up about the terms you used, which might help answer your question. A lavaliere mic is a tiny, omni-directional mic used typically as a clip-on on people's lapel or necktie. (A very few of them are directional but most aren't.) They are powered mics that either have a little battery in their cable or they take a Phantom power feed from an audio mixer to do their job. In some ways, a "lav" mic can be ideal for self-recording because, planted around your clavicle somewhere, it will get your voice as well as the tone from an acoustic ukulele in a fairly even mix. There are very inexpensive "lav" (pronounced: "Lahv" ) mics available on Amazon and elsewhere; in the range of $25 and up.

Lav mics aren't usually USB mics: they would plug into a USB adaptor of some kind, like the Shure X2U, then go into a computer.

Viking mentioned it earlier, I think, that quality can depend not just the type of mic used, but also, the type and quality of the converter that turns the analog mic signal into a digital one that goes out via USB into your recording device. I like the Shure X2u and the Icycle models for this: they use balanced XLR connectors, but you can buy adapters inexpensively if your mic cable isn't an XLR. Do you need a $100-$200 Scarlett? Not at first, maybe not ever.

Why would you prefer an XLR cable? Balanced audio from an XLR is going to be much less noisy than a regular guitar cable with a TRS plug on the end, especially at longer distances. If your signal has noise, that gets into the digitizing process and becomes part of your sound.

I have turned on a few people to using the Takstar mini shotgun mic: it's designed for use with phones or camcorders and does a good job from up to about six feet away, with decent rejection of noise to the sides and behind, for a price around $25. If you don't want to hang wires on yourself or the uke, a shotgun like this connected to your phone or camcorder or laptop can give a good result, for low investment. It's somewhat comparable to the Rode brand shotguns in this price point. It comes with a cold shoe mount but you'll have to adapt it to whatever mic stand you have around.
 
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I'm going to reveal another secret technique for my videos: sometimes, they are lipsynched, like in my "Wonderful Christmastime" video and David Bowie "Let's Dance" music video.

Because there are going to be situations where you can't simultaneously get good sound AND picture. Sometimes, I build the entire track first in audio-only, in Apple Garage Band. I then make a looping audio file of that, and play it on the set, as I play along live on-camera. I'm actually singing and playing on camera but I'll replace the live audio with the original Garage band audio to get the best of both worlds.

A few times, I have reversed this process, where I played and sung outside with wind, traffic, barking dogs, airplanes, mowers, leaf blowers, etc. and other outside noises, then re-tracked in Garage Band while listening to the camera audio, in a process the movies call ADR (Automatic Dialog Replacement) or "looping". We did some concert gigs where the audio board operator completely bolluxed-up the mix, and my multiple cameras captured wild live sound, but it wasn't full; certain voices and instruments were too low. I brought that into the computer, and ADR looped some uke parts and some vocals to restore the sound to be closer to the ideal. I have saved many a project this way.

It was the only way to make the sound good. And the biggest truth I can tell you from over three decades of professional TV production in my former career is: people will put up with a poor picture quality if the sound is good, but they NEVER stick around more than a few seconds if the sound is bad, even if the images are fantastic. if you have to make a compromise between audio and video, ALWAYS favor the audio.
 
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