Readers Poll

Today’s rapid diffusion of home recording gear is giving artists many options for recording their music. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Even though the DIY route is becoming more widespread, many artists realize that delegating the process to a recording engineer will most often yield more productive, albeit more expensive, results.

What is your opinion:

– Do you prefer to record at a studio, or DIY at home…?
– How many projects have your recorded at home…?
– Which method did you try 1st…?

– Do musicians become more creative in the DIY recording process…?
– In the studio is there more attention paid to the quality of work…?
– Why is it assumed every musician possesses an aptitude for DIY recording…?

Reader's Poll
Leave a comment and answer these questions.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Preparing for the Studio Experience

So, you have selected the studio you will be doing your project with and the dates are set. You have been rehearsing right? Playing your songs in the studio is going to sound very different from the sound you heard in your rehearsal space. Sometimes its a huge difference. You will typically be separated from the other players. Physically as well as sometimes visually. You will be referencing your sound via headphones.
(More on headphones in the next blog)

Know your songs forwards, backwards and in between. In other words, be able to start the song from any measure and know where you are in the song. You may be asked by the engineer or producer, to play just a certain section to be edited later into the main take. New heads on the drum set the day before and tuned appropriately. New strings on guitars 2 or 3 days before the recording. New power tubes if using tube amps. If using a piano or keyboard tune to that. Record scratch (not really keeping) vocals so the rest of the band has a reference. Your engineer may even ask you to write out the vocals – it’s a good idea to do this beforehand and bring them to the session with you. Anything you can do to prepare before the session will save time/money and once in session everyone can focus solely on recording.

Record the rhythm tracks first, for all the tunes, then add the vocals and solo stuff as overdubs. Jam or play different songs, than what you will be recording, for at least a half hour to get a feel for the headphone sound and mix. Once that is done then and everyone is comfortable, go thru one of the project songs so the engineer can make sure tones are good and levels are good. Then make it happen.

There really is no sense in playing a song more than 4 times or takes. You will lose the freshness and it will sound bland. If it doesn’t happen, move on and come back to it later. Always have a couple of other songs to record in case it doesn’t work out with one of the tunes. Remember you do not need to record all at one. Sometimes its just a crappy day for playing. End the session and come back fresh the next day. If takes are going great pound the songs out, if not take a 20 minute break go outside get some air, relax and go back to it. Also, recording should not be arduous. Challenging a bit, yes and certainly fun and creative.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Tips for Selecting the Studio

Comparing StudiosYou have to visit the studio to get a sense of how comfortable it will be for you. You will be spending much time and money in pursuit of getting your music recorded in the best possible way, so you need to feel comfortable in the atmosphere and in the relationship with the engineer. Otherwise you may not be able to realize your potential. Musicians in general are not very good business people. And using a studio is part business. Keep the biz part separate from the art part and sessions will go easier.

Make sure you discuss rates, type of payment, when payment is expected etc. Ask a lot of questions. Most of the time it’s not necessary to do an actual contract, if you like the studio but are getting weird vibes on the biz side of the equation a contract might be called for. Any studio owner will not have a problem with a simple contract that spells out rates, payment, times, options. When talking to the engineer, ask about other projects they have done. What approach they may have on your project. What you as the artist expect for your recording.

Remember, this should be a rewarding experience full of hard work and some pleasant surprises.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Stereo Mic-ing Techniques

Here are the various names of different techniques.

> Spaced omni
> X/Y
> Decca tree
> Blumlein
> Mid-Side

I am not going to go into detail on each one of these techniques but rather talk about the different uses for them. If you want detailed info, enter the name into a search engine.

Spaced omni is good for medium to large ensembles, use them spaced about 15′ apart. Good stereo spaced sound, but lacks a defined center image and depth of field.

X/Y is great on solo instruments such as acoustic guitars, quartets, small vocal groups and over head on drum sets. Gives you good stereo separation with a nice center sound. Does not work well for larger ensembles.

ORTF works very well on medium to large ensembles such as string orchestras, concert band, symphony’s, 30+ choral groups. Great stereo image with very good center and depth of field.

Mid/Side is usually a “STEREO” microphone. Great for video work, not so great for music as the left and right side pickup can be a bit phasey. But it has a very strong center hence great mono compatibility for video/movie work. You can use this technique with non-stereo mics but it’s a bit clunky to set up.

The Blumlein style sounds very nice and gives you a great room sound but is ugly to look at and set-up is troublesome.

The Decca Tree is the primo set up used by just about every symphony orchestra that has recorded out there. Sounds great but is a bit tricky to set-up and is very expensive.

Use the right technique for the job and you’ll get great results.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Recording Tips for Recording Main/Lead Vocals

Get the best mic you can afford. Unless you don’t care how your vocals sound do the aforementioned.

This will be a large diaphragm condenser model with at the very least a $1000 price tag. Many top vocalists of today go thru a signal chain worth upwards of $20,000. Vocals are king!

Here are some of my recommendations: Neumann U87, TLM103, U67, M147, U47, U47fet. AKG C-12, C414. B.L.U.E. KIWI, Cactus. Shure KSM 44, KSM 32. There are many other great mics, these are the ones I am most familiar with. Experiment with different mics. Borrow them from friends. Find the one that works best for you or the singer. After you have the mic use a really nice mic pre-amp. Here again spend some money! A single channel will set you back about $1500 for a decent unit.

Your signal chain should be mic – preamp – compressor – eq – recorder.

A lot of todays music is heavily compressed, vocals included. Engineers are using ratios of 10 to 1 and upwards while recording and mixing vocals. Don’t do it. Keep the dynamics in your music. Use settings around 4-6 to 1 recording and mixing if need be.

If the vocals get lost going from verse to chorus or vice versa use fader automation to even it out, not compression.

What are your microphones to use for recording vox?

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .
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