Toilet Tutorials: How To Record The Space Bar On Your Keyboard
Recently, Matt Kiichi Heafy of Trivium (a.k.a. the greatest band that ever was, or ever will be) tweeted a message to Trivium fans (which should be everyone on the face of the planet) that Trivium’s next album won’t feature any singing or screaming vocals at all. Instead, he will be exclusively pressing the space bar.
This is yet another demonstration of the forward-thinking genius of Matt Heafy, and the fact that Heafy’s middle name, “Kiichi,” is actually Japanese slang for “space bar,” makes it a double entendre to boot. Presumably though, this is not referring to Trivium’s forthcoming October 2, 2015 release, Silence in the Snow, which is already expected to be the greatest selling album of all time by industry analysts, since Trivium has already released several songs from this highly anticipated album which feature Space Bar Heafy’s glorious melodic vocals.
But what Heafy’s latest tweet portends could entirely reshape the way we think about music, and even more so than Trivum’s storied career already has. Say what you will about the progressive nature of Trivium’s music, but this is a band whose music clearly cannot be referred to as “derivative” by any stretch of the imagination. I will fight you if you disagree.
At the same time, Heafy’s tweet is inspiring, and makes me wonder what this new form of music to which Heafy alludes–this “Spacebarcore,” will sound like. Fortunately, I happen to be among the world’s leading authorities on micing and recording keyboard space bars. In this article, I will show you how to properly mic and record a space bar in the hopes that you will go forth under the guidance of our musical prophet Space Bar Heafy and bring Spacebarcore to every corner of the globe.
1. CHOOSING THE RIGHT KEYBOARD
Before you even get started, it is imperative to remember where your source tones are going to be coming from, i.e., the keyboard itself. Whether you get this right can make or break your recording.
To start, avoid keyboards with rubber keys entirely. Not to mention the fact that these are exclusively used by hacks and posers, they are utterly useless for recording the space bar, and produce very little “clack” even when the spacebar is tapped forcefully. Instead, use a keyboard with hard plastic keys (note that although I’ve tried recording keyboards with metal keys, these tend to sound overly metallic and harsh in the 5k Hz range and end up needing substantial EQing to properly carve into a mix. Use them at your own peril).
You should also consider the tempo and style of your Spacebarcore music in choosing an appropriate keyboard. For example, a faster, thrash or black metal song would lend itself better to a space bar with a higher pitched “clack,” while a doom metal song would work better with a big, booming sounding space bar.
You should experiment with different types of keyboards to see which space bar sounds best for your music, but a good rule of thumb to know is that the bigger space bars found on desktop keyboards tend to produce a bigger, boomier sound, while laptop space bars have a higher pitched, more focused attack. For me, I find that my Apple MacBook Pro’s space bar gives me the best of both worlds, but Asus and Toshiba notebooks are a couple more affordable alternatives with comparable sound.
2. CHOOSING THE RIGHT MICROPHONE
To do this right, you need to use a professional microphone, and not some cheap $15 piece of crap you bought at Best Buy to use with your Kareoke machine or something like that. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune either, and all you really need is a single dynamic microphone to get the job done
As far as dynamic mics go, you really can’t go wrong with a Shure SM57 (pictured above) for micing a space bar. This is a fantastic mic that you can probably get used for about $70, and I even hear that it does pretty well with guitars and drums. Other options would be the Audix i5, another dynamic mic that is similar to the SM57, but with a flatter EQ curve, or even the Shure SM7B, a microphone traditionally used with vocals, but also works great on space bars.
(Note that I would not recommend using condenser mics for this application due to the percussive nature of space bars, but as I’ll explain, you might want to combine your close-miced dynamic microphone track with a condenser mic placed 5 to 6 feet away to capture the sound of the room)
3. CHOOSING THE RIGHT PREAMP
The onboard preamps on most audio interfaces are for the most part, absolute crap, and sound more sterile than a mule. If you’re serious about recording a space bar, bypass your audio interface’s onboard preamps, and get yourself a decent preamp that is going to add a little analogue “color” to your space bar tracks.
With space bars, I prefer API-style preamps, which tend to sound a little “punchier” than Neve-style preamps or tube preamps. Warm Audio makes an excellent, affordable API clone called the WA12, which sounds on par with my API preamps for a fraction of the price. It’s excellent for micing space bars, and in theory, you could also use it for guitars, vocals, drums, or other sound sources.
4. POSITIONING THE MICROPHONE
In many ways, micing a space bar is similar to micing a snare drum. First, point the mic toward the center of the space bar, and position it about 3 to 5 inches away. Now, open your DAW and and listen to the playback of the space bar through your monitors or headphones. If you have a control room, listen to it there and have your studio intern and/or other household slaves tap on the spacebar. If not, use a decent pair of studio headphones to hear the output of the sound through your DAW.
You’ll be surprised to hear that the sound of the space bar through your DAW’s output (i.e. the sound that the mic and preamp are picking up) is a little different than what your ears hear in the room. At this point, it’s a game of centimeters. Try moving the microphone in small increments toward, or away from the space bar, until you find the “sweet spot” where it sounds the best. You also might want to consider placing the mic “off-axis” (as demonstrated in the picture above) so that it is placed at a bit of an angle instead of pointed directly at the center of the space bar.
With correct microphone positioning, you should be able to get a great space bar sound with just a single dynamic mic, but feel free to experiment with other micing techniques. As I mentioned previously, you could add a condenser mic placed further away from the space bar to capture the sound of the room. You also might want to try using two close-miced dynamic microphones, one on-axis, and one off-axis.
Keep in mind that whenever you are using more than one microphone to mic an audio source, you will run into phasing issues if the mics are not properly placed in relation to each other, so when using multiple microphones, always use the 3:1 rule.
5. CAPTURING THE PERFORMANCE
Now that you have everything you need to record the space bar, keep in mind that the performance in tapping the space bar also is a big part of the overall tone. If your space bar tapper is a small-fingered weakling, you’re probably not going to get the kind of “clack” that you are looking for in a space bar track. The last thing you want to do is have to go back and blend in space bar samples because of a lackluster performance from your space bar tapper. So, like a proficient drummer recording snare and toms, your space bar tapper should be hitting that space bar like it owes him/her money.
There are many things you can do to ensure that your space bar tapper is prepared to deliver his/her best tapping when you record too. For instance, your space bar tapper should warm up for at least 20 minutes before tracking. Any hard surface like a table or skull will do for tapping warm ups. Also make sure your space bar tapper also drinks plenty of water on the day of recording ensure proper hydration, and even taking caffeine supplements an hour before tracking can really improve a space bar tapper’s energy and focus.
Hopefully these tips will help you capture some BROOTAL and CRUSHING space bar sounds for your Spacebarcore band, which obviously will not sound nearly as majestic as whatever that mad scientist Space Bar Heafy thinks of next. Feel free to share any of your own space bar recording techniques in the comments section and/or links to some of your siqq Spacebarcore demos.