Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting It Right At The Source: Part 2

In this part, we will talk about a few more concepts and ideas to keep in mind while recording.

Record Multiple Takes (even if you don't think you need to)

The main advantage I find of recording multiple takes is that you can combine them to make one amazing "take." Doing this allows you to focus on each section, one at a time, so every section is recorded being played or sung at it's absolute best. This also allows you to have more options when mixing and adjusting the arrangement during post production.

Record More Then Is Needed

This will leave yourself with as much options as possible down the road. The statement "less is more" is still very true and I'm not trying to argue against it. But, lets say you use 12 mics to record you drums, who says you actually need to use all 12 of the tracks? Maybe the overheads pick up the toms just fine, or the room mics mixed with only the kick and snare gets you that drum sound you were looking for.

When recording guitar try using a cable splitter (Hosa has some great, inexpensive splitters) so you can record a clean direct input, the signal from after your pedals and effects (before the amp), and the mic(s) on your cabinet all at the same time, all on their own tracks. Why you ask? When you get half way through mixing and it's long after the guitarist (who happens lives hours away) went home for the night and the, you realize you want a different guitar sound. You can do it now by using your audio sends to send the DI of the guitar out to the guitar amp and re-record it. You get the same great take but a totally new guitar sound.

Label Your Files As You Go

When you are working with a bunch of files, recording dozens of takes and tracks, things get messy real quick. It's even messier when all your tracks are titled something like "audio_01_23" or "track1-1." Be sure to label as you go and label it in a way that is cohesive and simple. When exporting to get it mixed, you may even want to organize them in folders if there is a large number of files.

Record Drums To A Click

In a lot genres of music, the drums are the foundation. It's what holds the tempo and carries the beat. When you record your drums to a click (metronome) this will mean your drum tracks will stay on beat throughout your entire song. You can even take this a bit further and time stretch the recording to lock tightly to the grid. Doing this though will sort of kill the human element of live drums, but, that may be what you are going for. Once you start recording the rest of the instruments over your drum track, everything will now be consistent and still have a very natural feel to it. This technique is standard procedure in any serious recording situation. Another pro to having your track on beat is that delays and other tempo synced effects will mix better and easier.

Use your drum triggers!

If you are blessed to own a set of decent drum triggers, you have a powerful tool in your studio. Having your drum set miked, the triggers attached and a trigger-to-midi module like the Alesis Trigger|io you can track your acoustic drums as well as midi data that matches your takes perfectly. So.. why do this? Well, if your recording in your basement your drum tracks are not going to be the most professional sounding. So, using the drum triggers you can layer in high quality samples (that were recorded in a pro studio) or replace your kick, snare, toms and if you have really nice triggers, even cymbals and hats.

Thanks for reading!

This is just a few more things to think about when recording next. I hope these posts and future ones like these inspire you to make some great music. (we'd love to hear it!) If you liked this article, we ask you, please share it, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Getting It Right At The Source

With the new age of technology, more and more producers and artists are starting to look at mix and master engineers as audio magicians. Though there is a vast amount of things we can do, we are not magicians (well, most of us aren't). One thing that can not be undone is bad recording. Avoid saying "we'll fix it in the mix" as you are really just working against your self. To get a great final mix, you need great recordings. In this article we explore the why and how of getting things right at the source.

Mic Position

Mic position is probably the most important aspect of recording. Moving a mic just half an inch can give you an all new sound. Next time you are recording, try multiple mic positions and compare them side to side. This will give you an audible representation of the huge difference a small location change can make on your recording. Another thing is the proximity effect, the closer you mic something, the closer is sounds.. If you have an idea how you are going to mix the track this can be very helpful. For example, you may wanna record your backup vocals with a little more distance than your lead vocals so they will sit a bit further back in the mix, naturally. Don;t be afraid to do some research on multiple techniques to record each instrument.

Choosing The Right Mic

Choosing the right mic can be crucial to getting good recordings, and by "right" I do not mean most expensive.

Knowing the basics about each type of microphone can get you a long way, specially when on a tight budget. There is many different types of microphone so we will just talk about the most common ones; dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. A dynamic microphone has a stronger output volume and can handle loud noises. This is why they are great for recording drums and other loud things. Condenser mics are a bit more sensitive, and can be damaged by very loud noises. They are great for recording vocals, acoustic guitars, strings and many more instruments. Ribbon mics are the most sensitive, and have the lowest output volume, so you will need a good preamp to keep things clean. They can be easily damaged and are best for quieter sound sources. They tend to color the sound a bit more then other types of microphones.

The polarity of the microphone will also be visually represented in the user manual. The polarity varies from mic to mic and some even offer multiple polarity settings.

Hypercardioid Polar Pattern

Here are the basics: Cardioid mean it picks up from the front, bi-cardioid (also known as bi-directional or figure 8) picks up from front and back. Omnidirectional picks up from all sides. There are other polar patterns (subcardioid, hypercardioid, shotgun, super cardioid) but they are less common and you can refer to your user manual if need be. If you can understand the basic patterns, then any other pattern will be easy to understand.

Now that you have your user manual in-hand or on-screen, lets take a look at some other specs that will further help you choose which mic to use. This information may be overwhelming at first glace but, the basics are simple.

Shure SM58 Frequency Response Curve

The frequency response curve visually represents how the mic "hears" the sound. You can use this information in order to choose a mic that will pick up and compliment the frequencies you want. For example, when miking a hi-hat, you might want a brighter mic then when you are recording a bass cabinet.

Impedance seems very complicated (and I am sure the math and science behind it is) but, it is basically how far the signal can travel through cable without loosing any quality. The lower the impedance, the father it will travel. When the signal travels further then it is able to, you will get a loss of high end and output volume.  As a general rule, anything below 1,000 ohms should be good for the studio as they can be used with virtually any length of cable and not experience loss of quality.

Hardware and Audio Interfaces

We'll start with mic pres (microphone preamplifiers). If you are looking to buy a mic pre, just do some simple research about the hardware in question. Customer reviews on sites like Sweetwater and Musician's Friend can be very helpful.

You want a mic preamp that can amplify the tiny little signal your mic gives you without generating noise or majorly altering the audio in a negative fashion. All mic pres will saturate and color you audio to some extent. The saturation and coloration created by certain mic pres is why a lot of engineers spend thousands of dollars on a single channel mic pre and also own multiple brands and models.

Neve 5012 Mic Preamp

Again, by good we do not mean expensive. In my home studio (where I mix and master) I use an Mbox 2 for my audio output. They can be bought used for less then $100 and the pres on it are clean. So you don't have to break the bank to get decent recordings. But be aware, the more mic pres you want on your interface, the more you will pay.

How your audio gets from the mic pre to your computer is also a vital link in your audio chain. If you own something like a Digidesign Mbox or a Tuscam US-1800, your mic pres are part of your audio interface and connect directly to your computer via USB or Firwire. This is a great way to reduce the length of your audio chain. Analog to digital converters can get spendy and come in many different varieties. Do remember, if 50 people say it's great on Sweetwater, chances are, it is. Just be sure to be aware of hardware with bundled software, it may sound appealing but if you happen to not like the unit or sometimes it may not even work, you can not send it back, as most places do not accept returns on software.

Hope this article helps you get on the path to better recording and inspire you to make some great music. (we'd love to hear it!) If you liked this article, we ask you, please share it, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Read Part 2 Here