Ideas for good riffs and songs are like butterflies. They have to be savored, impressed on the brain and maybe even captured before they flit away. And too often they do just that, leaving us scratching our heads a day later trying to remember that great lick or lyric that seemed so vivid just 24 hours before.
The solution is simple: on the go recording — quick ‘n’ easy ways to get ideas in the bank without a microphone of a studio full of gear. Here are some suggestions:
• Smart Phone: All smart phones have a voice memo app. In the iPhone, it’s found by hitting the “Utilities” icon. If you’ve got a guitar part, a vocal line or even a whole song or a rehearsal you’d like to preserve, voice memo will get the job done. Provided your phone’s memory is not overloaded already, there’s more than an hour of recording time available. And you can email the recording. Skeptical? Don’t be. Keb’ Mo’ and Gary Nicolson co-wrote a tune for Keb’ upcoming album BLUESAmericana, due in early June, on Keb’s iPhone using voice memo.
• Gibson’s Memory Cable™: Leave this new innovation plugged into your practice amp, and when you’ve got a great idea, just plug in your guitar and push the button on the cable’s side and drop your riffs, licks or chord progressions onto the mini-SD card inside the cable. Remove the card later and drop what you’ve recorded onto your favorite playback device. Simple!
• GarageBand: GarageBand is great for small but complex tasks, like multi-tracking and doing quick ‘n’ dirty mixes, but on a Mac it’s also hard to beat as an electronic memo pad. Just open up GarageBand, set the preferences to external mike and record whatever’s happening through your laptop’s built-in speakers. When you’re done, convert it immediately into an MP3 that goes straight to iTunes — ready for playback, sharing, etc.
• Portable digital recorders: These go under product names like TASCAM, ZOOM and DIG or, in Roland's case, the "DR", "DP", R, BR and SD series. They’re all lightweight, versatile digital recorders that need no external microphone and get great quality “field recordings” of solo performances, band practices or whatever your point their internal mikes toward. They download directly into other devices, like computers, and often have combinations of built-in microphone to allow stereo, 360-degrees and other recording patters. And they work off a cheap SD card, so when one fills up, it can be archived and replaced. One you own one of these devices and get used to their memo functions and capabilities, it takes literally seconds to be “rolling.”
• Tape: Now let’s get old-school. They still make cassette tapes and cassette tape recorders, although they’re now more often found in your local office supply store than the electronics shop. These are entirely reliable ways of recording your songs for posterity, and cassettes packed with song ideas stack nicely on your workspace shelf.
• Telephone: In the ’90s, I would get a song idea and call myself at home, where my cassette based telephone answering machine would record what I played and I could snatch the tape out later. The modern equivalent is the voice mail services that most major telephone companies provide. Call yourself, play and sing your tune and pick it up later along with your other messages.