My recorded track won’t sync

In the pandemic times many people try online music collaboration, and most people run into track synchronization issues. They’d play the backing track on one device (say, laptop) and record on another (say, phone). The recorded track would for the love of Zeus not want to synchronize with the backing track, no matter how much they dragged it left or right. It’s baffling and frustrating.

What causes this? Using two unsynchronized clocks [devices] does.

And how to do it correctly? Use one clock [device]. Make sure that that the same device plays the backing track(s) and records your performance.

Examples of setups that work:

  • A Digital Audio Workstation on a laptop or PC
  • A multitrack app on the phone (wired headphones recommended)
  • An audio recorder with the overdub function

Examples of setups that don’t work:

  • Any situation when you listen from one device and record on another.

You might think that clocks run at a constant speed, but it isn’t true. You can see it for yourself. Take any recording, about 5 minutes long, and import it into your DAW. Then play it back, and record it on your phone. Then import the recording from the phone into your DAW.

It won’t align.

It won’t align no matter how much you drag it back and forth. Either the beginning is in sync and the ending isn’t, or vice versa.

You might get away with short recordings, up to maybe 1 minute or minute and a half. They will still drift, just not enough for the drift to be perceptible.

Let’s say this represents the backing track:

A sequence of evenly spaced vertical lines on square paper.
You can imagine that lines are bar lines, or beats. Musical time.

Then you record your track on top of it, and you hope that it looks like this:

A sequence of evenly spaced vertical lines, which do not align with the grid of the squared paper.
The lines are off grid. You could drag them a little to the left and they would align again. But…

But in reality, your recorded track looks like this:

A sequence of unevenly spaced vertical lines, which also do not align with the grid.
Look closely. Lines are not spaced evenly. Even worse, the number of lines is different!

Compare it to the original:

The unevenly spaced sequence drawn next to the evenly spaced sequence. Corresponding vertical lines (number 1, number 2 and so on) are connected to show that misalignment grows to the right.
Comparison with the backing track shows that vertical lines are increasingly off grid.

How to fix this? You can’t easily fix a track that has been recorded this way. You would need to cut it into pieces and align each piece individually. I wholeheartedly advise against it. You will never be 100% sure if you aligned each piece correctly. You’ll also destroy any subtle timing properties of the recording. Maybe the musician wanted this phrase to be slightly behind the beat? It’s best to record the track again, sorry.

The solution is to record audio on the same device that plays the backing track.

It’s a subtle problem. Minuscule differences in clock speeds accumulate over time. A 0.02% imperfection in clock speed will be perceptible in a recording. You might think I’m crazy or pedantic saying that clocks of our phones and laptops are that inaccurate. But they really are! We are used to phones and laptops showing accurate time, but this is only because they synchronize time over the network. The source of accurate time is a set of atomic clocks.

If my laptop’s or phone’s clock speed is wobbly, how is it possible to ever record anything in sync? When you’re using a single device for recording, it will still speed up and slow down, but both playback and recording speed up and slow down together, and don’t drift apart.

I hope this article sheds some light on the problem, and that you see how the root of the issue is based in basic physics. I also hope I convinced you that if you want to record, you need to invest some time into learning a simple DAW, or get an audio recorder with the overdub function.

Vem pro meu lounge bass line trascript

Some two years ago, I was listening to a compilation of forró music on YouTube, and one bass line caught my attention. The song was Vem pro meu lounge by Wesley Safadão. Virtually everybody who heard my interest in the song’s bass line, mocked me for it. Apparently Safadão’s music is not held in high regard. But, I was truly impressed that such a rich and improvised bass line could make it into popular music. That could never happen in Europe.

Sadly, the original recording I worked with, has been taken down from YouTube. There is a number of live recordings of the song; they all sound quite close, but since Lourinho improvises the bass line, none of them will be an exact match (this one is quite close).

I’m not 100% sure who the bass player on this recording is, but it’s probably Guilherme Santana (instagram). The playing style matches closely other videos I’ve found online.

Vem_pro_meu_lounge-1Vem_pro_meu_lounge-2

Here’s the bass line in the ABC notation for the future generations:

X:1
T:Vem pro meu lounge
L:1/16
Q:1/4=86.00
M:4/4
K:F#
V:1 bass nm="Bass guitar"
V:1
z8 z4 z2 C,,2 |"^intro" D,,8- D,,2A,,2 G,,F,,E,,C,, | D,,12 E,,4 | F,,16 | C,,16 | B,,,16 | %6
D,,8 .D,,.D,,2D,,/D,,/ .E,,.E,,2E,,/E,,/ | F,,16 | C,,8- C,,4- C,,2D,,C,, | %9
B,,,2 z2 B,,2C,2 D,2C,2B,,2A,,2 | G,,G,, z2 z4 z8 | B,,,B,,, z2 z4 z8 | F,,F,, z2 z4 z8 | %13
C,4 z2 F,G, B,A,G,F, D,2G,,2 || F,,G,, z2 F,G, z2 F,,G,, z2 G,F,D,C, | %15
B,,2<B,,,2 C,,D,,F,,G,, .B,,.B,, z B,,- B,,.B,, z C, | F,,4 C,D,F,D, .F,.F, z F, .E,.E,D,=D, | %17
C,D,D=D C.=A,,D,=D, C,.=E,,D,,=D,, C,,2=C,,2 | B,,,2>F,,2 G,,B,,G,,F,, B,,2<B,,,2 D,,=D,,C,,2 | %19
z2 F,,2E,,2D,,2 C,,2 z2 z4 | z16 | z8 z2 z C,, D,,F,,D,,C,, | %22
F,,2 z2 C,C,D,C, .F,.F, z (F, .E,)E,D,=D, | C,D,E,G, C=D,D=E ^ED,DD, CDA,D | %24
=A,D^A,D =A,DG,D F,2D,C, F,F,D,A,, | B,,B,,G,,G,, F,,G,,B,,B,,, z2 z C,, D,,F,,D,,C,, | %26
F,,2 z2 C,C,D,C, F,=A,,E,=E,, D,E,,=D, z | z C, z2 G,,A,,C,C,- C,C,A,,G,, C,,G,,C,,=D,, | %28
D,,2 z2 C,D, z C, D,.F,.D,A,, D,A,,C,F,, | B,,B,,G,, z F,,2B,,,2- B,,,2 z2 C,,D,,F,,G,, | %30
F,,2 z2 C,D,F,D, F,F,E,E, D,D,=D,D, | C,2 z2 B,,2C,2{/C,} D,2C,2B,,2A,,2 | %32
G,,G,, z2 z C,D,D, F,F,D,=D, C,B,,G,,F,, | B,,.B,,C,C, D,D,F,G,{A,} B, z A, z G,2.F,2 | %34
{/G,} A,CG, z F,2D,C, F,F,, z2 .E,,2.D,,2 | z C,,C,, z z G,,A,,C, z C,, z2 C,,D,,F,,D,, | %36
F,,G,, z2 F,G, z2 F,,G,, z2 G,F,D,C, | B,,B,,.G,,2 F,,2B,,,2- B,,,4 C,,D,,F,,D,, | %38
F,,2 z2 C,C,C,C, F,=E,,A,,E,, B,,E,,=C,E,, | C,G, z G, G,,G,,A,,G,, C,C,G,,2 C,G,,C,=C, | %40
B,,G,,F,,B,,,- B,,,F,,G,,B,, B,,,4 D,,=D,,C,,2 | z2 F,,2E,,2D,,2 C,,8 | %42
D,,2 z2 G,,A,, z C, D,F,.D,A,, D,A,,C,A,, | .B,,B,, z B,, D,2F,2 .B,,B,,.A,,A,, .B,,B,, z C,/D,/ | %44
F,.F, z F, z F,C,D, F,F, z F, E,E,D,=D, | C,D,G,A, B,A,G,F, E,D,C,A,, D,C,=A,,F,, | %46
D,,2 z2 G,,A,,C,A,, C,D,2A,, D,A,,C,G,, | B,,F, z F, F,,F,,G,,F,, B,,,2>C,,2 D,,F,,G,,D,, | %48
F,,2 z2 C,C,C,C, .F,2.E,2 D,A,,.=D,2 | C,C,A,, z G,,A,,C,2 z4 G,,A,,C,A,, | %50
C,D, z2 A,,A,, z C, D,F, z A,, D,A,,C,G,, | B,,B,, z B,, G,,F,,B,,,2- B,,,4 C,,D,,F,,G,, | %52
F,,2 z2 C,2 z C, z C,F,,2 F,,G,,D,=D, | C,2 z C, G,G,C,2 z C,G,G, C,G,C,2 | %54
D,2 z D, A,A,A,A, G,G,.F,2 .D,2.C,2 | B,,2 z2 F,,G,,B,,.B,, z2 .B,,B,,- B,,B,,G,,=G,, | %56
F,,2 z2 C,D,F,D, F,F,E,E, D,D,=D,D, | C,2 z C, A,,G,,E,,D,, z2 C,,2C,,2C,,2 | %58
D,,D,, z2 z4 z8 |] %59

The above should work with the online ABC editor.

Where to listen to jazz in Dublin

Two excellent places are JJ Smyths and Sweeney’s, but they are the most known ones, and there are many more that are also interesting. Here’s a few which I know first-hand:

  • Weekly Sunday jazz brunch with Stella Bass – starts every Sunday at 2pm. Vocals, piano, double bass and drums. Mainstream jazz, they take requests, but they won’t play Led Zeppelin (a friend tried). You’ll have more luck asking for an Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone or Roberta Flack song. The venue has superb acoustics.
  • Louis Stewart plays first Wednesday of the month in The House restaurant in Howth. It’s a guitar + double bass duo, sometimes joined by a sax player. It’s the best jazz guitar I heard in Ireland.
  • The Essential Big Band – I saw them when they played in Bleu Note on Capel Street (photo). These days they play in the Grainger’s pub on Malahide road on Mondays.
  • Monday Jazz jam session in The Grand Social – starts at 9pm, runs until midnight. It’s an open stage jam, so anything can happen. Acoustics are so-so.
  • Hot House Big Band plays in Bad Bob’s in Temple Bar, admission €5

There’s a jazz night in the Bello Bar on Sundays, but I haven’t been there yet.

There’s also the Bray Jazz Festival 2014 coming up on the bank holiday weekend in May.

UPDATE 2016-08-16: Mercantile is in Bad Bob’s now, Sweeney’s closed, and the jam session is on Mondays.

Choir with bass and drums, can it work?

I was wondering why some choirs, when touring with two-piece band, go for piano+drums, as opposed to bass+drums. Piano can play bass notes, but the piano+drums setup leaves the overall sound not as full as a dedicated bass instrument.

Any choir, when singing á capella, will drop in pitch over the course of a song. Even the brilliant Perpetuum Jazzile . Try playing along to e.g. Mas Que Nada, and you’ll see that they drop at least a semitone. It’s a gradual process over a few minutes, rather hard to spot by an unguided ear.

When there’s a piano or guitar playing with the choir, it’ll help the choir hold the pitch. I thought that bass guitar would do that as well. It sounded so good as an idea: you can have a piano trio or a guitar trio, with one main harmonic instrument and a rhythm section. Choir is a type of a harmonic instrument, so all it needs is a rhythm section! Therefore, bass+drums+choir should work great.

It turns out, this combination doesn’t work out. The bass guitar does not in practice help the choir hold the pitch. One explanation could be that it’s generally hard to hear the pitch of low notes. I tried to play higher notes, but it still didn’t help. The idea of a choir with a rhythm section doesn’t work.

UPDATE 2012-07-24: I got a good effect by playing chords in some parts of the song (somewhere up the neck) and bass notes elsewhere. For instance, I’d play chords in the verse, and bass notes in the chorus. It was effective.

The Fateful rehearsal

Can small events influence our lives at large?

It was spring 2000, in Warsaw, Poland. My band, whose members were professional level musicians, featured two vocals, a brass section and the basic quartet: drums, bass, piano, and guitar. Gigs were rather difficult to find, but the band played live every now and then. There was not enough work for the band to live, but too much for it to die. Considering the size of the band, and the relatively unpopular, at the time, music genre — acid jazz — it’s no wonder that gigs were difficult to get.

I was continuously working on music arrangements. The band had a brass section (trumpet and trombone, sometimes also a sax), so I was adding brass section parts to every song. It felt great to work on them, and experience the new air of songs boosted by the brass section.

The band played mostly covers, with the objective to have enough material to play gigs. In the meantime, I was working on original songs. While we already had five of them, getting new ones was a priority. We needed enough songs to record an EP.

This is where the fateful ‘single event’ comes up. We had a gig in a club, preceded by a rehearsal in the morning, as usual. I had just printed all parts for a new song, and was very excited about rehearsing the best song I ever wrote. We started the rehearsal by playing a few songs as a warm-up. Everything went fine. After the warm up, I handed out the parts of the new song. Band members studied the sheets for a while, and eventually nodded that they’re ready. I counted in, slowly, and the band started playing. Intro. First verse. It sounded great. Suddenly, something went wrong: one person missed a beat, another hit a wrong note. Whatever it was, the music stopped. It’s a normal occurrence at rehearsals. I thought nothing of it, and was just about to count in again, when somebody said that they don’t want to rehearse the song anymore. ‘Me too’, added somebody else. I looked around. People were looking at the floor, avoiding eye contact. They didn’t want to play it. I still wanted to rehearse this song, but it was no use to push for it. The rehearsal ended.

Excitement turned into frustration. Rehearsals continued, but the band never rehearsed this song again. Nobody asked about any new songs. I stopped writing brass sections, and stopped composing originals. The band got a few more gigs, but I had no motivation to drive it anymore. Wanting to get some rest from the band, I bought a book about programming and spent my vacation studying it. In the autumn, I applied for an undergraduate course in Computer Science, and my music career ended.

Was really the unfortunate rehearsal the beginning of the end of my band? Or would the band collapse anyway? It seems like a stupid question, unless I realize that it changed my life completely.

snd_intel8x0 doesn’t block anymore

Since upgrade to Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) on my Amilo Pro V2000D, the sound doesn’t block anymore. It’s nice that all the applications can use the sound at the same time, even after switching the user — the other session is able to use the sound as well.

There is one thing that got worse after the upgrade: the sound skips sometimes. While listening to the musisc, it sometimes suddenly skips few seconds of the music. This is annoying, because then the music misses the beat and it’s destroying the pleasure of listening.

I noticed that it always (I think…) happens in the same moment: about 3 minutes 40 seconds of the song.

UPDATE: I think it’s more like 3:38. And it’s not ALSA, it Rhythmbox 0.9.5 that does that.

Barumba and Stone Cold Heart

I just found out that my favorite band Incognito used the same drum loop for two songs:

  • “Barumba” from “100 And Rising”
  • “Stone Cold Heart” from “Who Needs Love”

I listened to Barumba for many years now and I love it. However, the newer (2002) song “Stone Cold Heart” fits very well with the loop, and I appreciate the perfection of Incognito’s arrangements, sound and mixing.

Summertime

I don't compose or arrange music anymore, but I still have a dream of creating a professional recording of my version of Summertime. The idea came as an inspiration from The Brand New Heavies' Sometimes. There are hundreds of Summertime versions already, but I believe that this one deserves a professional recording. I have a prototype, which was being recorded from 1998 to 2001. At that time, I struggled to record it on an overclocked Celeron 300. The drums were recorded with four microphones, two of them so bad that they could catch frequencies no wider than 300Hz – 8kHz.

The last time I worked with this arrangement was in 2001. If it's 2006 and I still can't get it out of my mind, it means I need to do something about it.

I’m Airto Moreira’s fan

…or, to be more specific, I'm fan of his five tracks, no more, no less. I had once a magnetic tape from my father with 4 tracks of an unknown artist. I listened to them for years and never stopped wondering, who could've made such a record. Finally, someone on the newsgroups said that it might be Airto. In fact, those four tracks came from the "I'm fine, how are you?" album. I was expecting a lot more and I found… just one track, a fifth from the same album. The remaining 3 tracks are so much worse that it really makes me wonder how the heck do they happen to be on the same album. I also sampled the new album, "Life After That", which was a disappointment.

Those five tracks are apparently recorded with a complete band, consisting of experienced jazz musicians. This base gives with Airto's Brazilian instruments and rhythms a solid base. And I think he needs it. The "Live solo" from "Live After That" has a funny beginning, but the rest sounds rather pathetic, unless you smoke dope.

And it's not like I don't like Airto, I really do! Just look on his profile on last.fm, I'm his top fan (at least at the time of writing). I just don't get, why are his records so uneven.