Tuesday, October 09, 2007

No high-tech solution for a low-tech problem

I record a lot of our performances at the Artsgarden. I've been running a separate recording mix and sending it to a component-system CD recorder, and the recordings have generally sounded good. And the recorder is easy to use: I pop in a blank disc, hit the RECORD button, and let it go. Between songs, I hit the WRITE TRACK button to start the next song on its own track. When it's over, I hit the FINALIZE button. Four minutes later, I hand the performer a copy of their performance. Simple.

But it's getting more complicated. I've recently had problems with the CD recorder; performers have told me two or three times that the CD didn't turn out, and I've gotten a "CHECK DISC" error messages a few times. The recorder also only uses special music-only CD-Rs; because of irritating copyright laws, you can't use standard blank CDs. And music CD-Rs are getting harder to find; they're going the way of floppies, zip discs, and minidiscs.

I'd like to keep the functionality of being able to record and give performers a copy of their performance, and I'd like to do it with something less obsolete than a stereo-system CD recorder with increasingly-onerous media requirements. I've got some budget left for the year, so I've been looking at getting a USB audio interface, some recording software, and some new hardware (I'm thinking MacBook Pro) to use for recording. Audio interface? Easy. MacBook Pro? Easy. But I can't find a software package that does what I need. I've looked at Reason, Audition (formerly CoolEdit), Logic Studio, Peak Pro, Pro Tools, Nuendo, Garage Band, and Audacity so far. Some of them have spectacular feature sets, and they'll do some amazing things. But none of them will let me hit a button to start recording, start a new track without a gap, and easily dump a pile of tracks to a CD. I'm amazed that I can't spend $2500 on hardware and $1500 on software (this is Nuendo's retail price) to emulate the functionality of my $400 CD recorder. The closest I can find are a pile of options for recording one big, long track, which I then have to manually split into separate tracks; almost everything will let me do this, but the time involved varies widely between software suites. Oddly, the one that seems to make it easiest is Audacity, which is shareware. It won't do everything some of the others do, but it's got a more fundamental mastery of the basics. But it still takes five or ten minutes of editing between the end of a show and the time I can start burning a CD for the performer. And I've really got other stuff I should be doing during that time. I'm continuing the search for functional software. I want to buy toys, but I won't spend a huge pile of cash just for the sake of buying toys. I don't even buy gaff tape unless I really need it, so spending a good chunk of my budget on software and hardware that makes my life harder just isn't going to happen.

I know I've got a few audio guys who read this; any advice?


Theo A. said...

I tried Audacity and had some problems getting it to make CDs. Cool Edit Pro is a lot friendlier for the editing, but also doesn't make CDs easy. It's true that I can't think of anything on the market that works as easy as a dedicated hardware recorder. Your best option might be to find something that will break up a long recording into tracks and save them quickly, then use other software to burn the CD. Good luck!

Russ said...

Take a look at a Zoom hard disk recorder. You could probably get away with one of the smaller models that c/w CD (an 802 perhaps?) and even pick it up on ebay for 200 or so?

www.zoom.co.jp or just google it.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

That looks interesting. I used a similar recorder from Boss (the BR-1200CD) a few years ago. I hadn't thought about using a dedicated hardware solution -- I've mostly been looking at Mac-based software solutions. But I might have to start looking at hardware recorders; I'm having trouble finding any software that'll do what I need.