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I see, but don't hearI recently purchased some recording equipment that will — theoretically — enable me to compose and record music in the comfort of my home. I’ve got a MIDI keyboard controller, a MIDI interface, a fancy microphone, and a whack of recording software, not to mention all the cables that connect the various components.

Having spent a good deal of time in a friend’s recording studio, I’ve developed a decent conceptual idea of how all this stuff works and how to go about “building a track.” And I now have access to (virtual) libraries full of sounds and just as many effects. So imagine how excited I was — after bringing the gear to my buddy’s house and getting a quick but informative tutorial — to fire the system up at home and get down to the business of recording a song.

Like a real pro, I selected a grand piano sound, set the click track to the desired tempo, cracked my knuckles, hit the red “record” button, and … waited.

No click track.

That’s not entirely true. The metronome was on. I could see it keeping time. I just couldn’t hear it. There I sat, with my fancy new gear, recording silence that I could see on the computer screen in front of me.

I laid into a G major chord on my grand piano (the MIDI keyboard controller) and heard the glorious sound through my headphones. But where was the damned click track? I checked the settings on the console that appeared on my computer screen and could find no rational reason why I shouldn’t be hearing the thing.

I remembered my friend pointing out that certain functions have to be engaged in order for sounds to come through the speakers. But those functions were related, in this case, to the grand piano. I couldn’t find a button or knob that made the sound of the metronome come piping through my headphones.

I checked the metronome settings and confirmed that everything was as it should be. Still, no click track. Naturally, I called my buddy and asked him too diagnose the problem over the phone — like a hypochondriac asking a physician to do the same.

He’d have to see it for himself, my buddy told me.

How helpful, I grumbled to myself, wondering if there was a button I could engage that would let him see, on his computer, what I was looking at on mine. I’ve had customer-service technicians halfway around the world move my cursor around when I couldn’t get my laptop to reboot. Wasn’t there some way I could show my friend what I was seeing, so that he could help me turn the metronome volume on?

I was stuck. And I was getting mad. I was all jacked up and ready to record the basic tracks to a newly composed song and I couldn’t get the metronome to make a sound. But I could see it, clicking away in silence, taunting me like a digital fiend.

I took a few deep breaths before trying once more to resolve the issue. Failing again, I took to Google and was provided with all manner of message-board threads and YouTube tutorials — none of which seemed to offer a simple, straightforward fix. I checked the volume knobs on the MIDI interface. I checked the metronome settings at least five more times. I deleted the track and started anew.

And then it dawned on me: I’m going to need to learn how to use this stuff.

 — David Brensilver

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