My Practice Tracks Recording Project

Before Christmas, my singing coach, Sherry Kennedy, sent one of her students to me with a new project. Her student sings with one of the Up2Something choirs in Calgary. Some of the pieces the choir is working on are challenging, so she hired me to make practice tracks recordings of the alto part.

A New Kind of Gig: Recording Practice Tracks

This was a little different from the practice tracks recordings I make for my piano students on occasion, so I had a bit of a learning curve. From the get-go, I knew that it would be most efficient to record the alto tracks digitally from my Yamaha CP-33 straight into my computer, using my favourite free audio recording and editing software: Audacity by SoundForge.

First, I had to research just how to get my digital piano to “talk” to Audacity, as initially, the program didn't recognize that the my piano was plugged into the computer. More specifically, my digital piano was plugged into my M-Audio Box, which wasn't on speaking terms with Audacity.

The turnaround time was approximately one week to do eight songs. I quickly saw why my client needed mp3 practice tracks: some of them were quite tricky, with multiple time signature changes and/or key signature changes. If it wasn't that, there were complex rhythms.

My client asked for just her part. However, there were bars and bars of alto tacet, with tempo changes in between. I decided to play one of the other vocal parts during those times.

Part 2: Recording Vocal and Piano Accompaniment mp3 Tracks

Last month, my client came back. She and her fellow altos wanted practice tracks of all their repertoire for the year: 15 songs. Actually, it was more than 15 as "A Celtic Fantasy" was a set of three songs, while "A Tribute to Queen" was a medley. Many of them were fast and lively.

It was hard work, but it was fun putting together vocal and piano accompaniment mp3 tracks together for a client. Photo by R-M Arca.

This time, they asked for piano accompaniment during the alto tacet. Now, I could have done that, but that would have broken the flow. What if I messed up and played the soprano part after playing the piano interlude?

Besides, what if someone from one of the other choir sections came back and hired me to do practice tracks for them? The piano accompanist/sometime conductor in me demanded that piano accompaniment mp3 tracks were required for all of the works. That way, I could separate the tracks: piano accompaniment only, alto only, or vocals with piano accompaniment.

Talk about a make-work project. I tried to speed learn/semi-fake all the works in under a week. It didn't take long for me to realize that I would need to record a section at a time and then mix the tracks together. With a short window, made shorter with music teaching and writing, I could be “on” for short sections but not extended periods of time. This also made it possible to record each piece in multiple sittings. I could take a break, teach, sleep and start up, right where I left off (the beauty of digital recording).

Here's a screen shot of one of the tracks, “A Tribute to Queen”:

I remember how difficult it was to record a passable track of music for my university audition tape. Digital recording is some much cleaner. Boo-boos are easier to fix too. Screenshot by R-M Arca.

Did I have to do all of that? Probably not. However, I was looking at this from a long-term perspective. If I get more gigs like this – making piano accompaniment mp3 tracks – I need to hone my skills at each step. Not only that, I also need something that I can show off (Note to self: add a clip to your Soundcloud).

Besides, the pieces were just plain cool. I was itching to play them. As far as piano accompaniment projects go, this was pretty neat. Hard work, but I can see the potential  practice tracks recording to be a neat sideline gig.