For the Record

By Chris Ball

This series of articles will get your musical and guitar aspirations on track with the latest tips and techniques on recording.

PART 1 – Convenience and simplicity

Put away your Pro Tools people, this article is going to focus on the most primitive form of recording in our digital age: The mobile phone voice recorder.

Don't be fooled by the simplicity of this idea. As a musician, if you've never really delved into the world of recording, the humble voice recorder is a game-changer.

These days every man and his dog has an iPhone or equivalent smartphone, with a built-in voice recording tool. I can't begin to tell you how powerful this feature has been for me, and many others I know.

Imagine me, driving around in my Ford Falcon wagon, and a new idea for a song pops into my head. Whether it's a simple melody, riff or even a bunch of lyrics, I'm in no position to pick up my guitar or load up Pro-Tools with a microphone in hand.

But what do I always carry around with me, along with 99% of my fellow humankind (don't quote me on this statistic)?

That's right, a mobile phone!

Besides being the biggest distraction ever invented (particularly since they incorporate Facebook and the internet), they happen to be a very handy recording device. Better yet, they are super-easy to use, always convenient (unless you have already drained the battery with GPS or a 4-hour phone call) and the sound quality is improving with every reincarnation of the iPhone, of which there is no scarcity.

They are the perfect tool to get you started on your quest to lay that magical idea that breeds your first top 40 hit. And if the first idea doesn't go anywhere, keep trying, because with ultra-compressed audio formats and 16GB SD cards the size of your thumbnail, there is no need to be conservative on how many sound files you rack up.

I've read about bands like Metallica and The Foo Fighters, in their early years spending countless hours beside their cassette recorders, with the tape rolling and a steady stream of audible ideas being thrown at it.

Well, they certainly managed to do okay (to put it mildly) with a cassette recorder, despite it probably remaining in one location most of the time and requiring hours of back-tracking through tapes to find those special moments after the fact.

We are certainly spoiled by comparison, with a digital recorder in our pocket with a seemingly bottomless pit of recording space, no messy or costly tapes, and files that are named and organised when we record them, for a quick and painless retrieval at a later date.

Besides archiving the guts of your next 5 albums on your phone, another use for the recorder, particularly for you budding guitarists out there, is as a jamming tool. Pick up your guitar and play any chord progression or riff you know repeatedly for 2-3 mins, which is a worthwhile challenge in itself. Besides being a great exercise in developing tightness and consistency in your playing (of which you can soon assess upon playback of the recording), it will also provide a handy backing track for you to then start soloing over.

The phone speaker with volume adjustment should be quiet enough to accompany your unplugged electric guitar and loud enough to do the same for your acoustic, so now with your self-created backing track you can improvise until the cows come home. Yes, digital technology certainly has it's perks in making life easier for us musicians.

Next time you pick up the phone, I hope it's to capture that new guitar riff you've been messy around with, and not to send your 29th text message for the day.

And if you are yet to purchase a smartphone and needed yet another reason to jump on board the digital age of mobile communication, well, you now have one!

Please note, this article is not an endorsement for Apple or the iPhone. Firstly, do you really think they need another endorsement from some muso guy in Melbourne, Australia?

Secondly, I actually own a Samsung Galaxy 3S, which still does the job, but I'm pretty confident that everyone reading this article can at least relate to iPhones.

In case you're still wondering about driving around and recording, let me clarify something: In the interest of your safety and that of your fellow citizen, I strongly recommend pulling your car over before you whip out the phone and start tracking your ideas. Unless the idea simply can't just kidding...don't be silly, be safe!

See you next time for the next instalment of 'For The Record'!

Chris Ball is a professional guitarist, singer, composer and guitar instructor. He actively records and tours as solo artist and as founding member of hard rock band Black Fuel, and resides in the South-East suburbs of Melbourne. Check out Chris' guitar lessons here: