The Basics - Get Them Right and the Rest Will Follow
by, 04-05-2012 at 04:21 PM (939 Views)
I often see people asking for advice on specific sounds or on a full track when it is submitted to the BTR forum.
Members will usually try to be helpful by offering their interpretation of the situation, and more often than not this involves something well beyond the basics of recording.
This is a shame, because to my ears, more often than not on this forum, a recording can be improved greatly by adhering to some basic principles.
This is a guide intended to get you on the right footing, it is by no means a comprehensive "How To" report.
1. Get The Source Right
Try to make the best possible noise in terms of quality. If you must use a cheap guitar, at least check out the intonation, and put some new strings on it. Similar thing for drums. Tune them so that they sound nice, use new heads if possible.
Amps - beg steal or borrow good quality amps. Remember, the recording will remain well after the amp has left the studio so do whatever you can to get the good stuff.
OK now that you're making a good quality noise, it will help greatly if there is a good quality musician making the noise. Now I know that is easier said than done, but if you can't find a top class musician hiding behind the sofa, the musicians on the project should at least learn the parts fully. Not just because it will save time in the studio, and the recordings will sound better without having to edit tracks to make them technically correct, but because when you know a part inside out and back to front, this frees you as a musician to try something different and exciting while the red button is pressed, because you know exactly where and how you are going to rejoin the main part when you come out of your 'flourish'.
If you have recorded a take, and you are sure that the musician (which may of course be you) is capable of better, then go back and do another take. This is the beauty of recording studios, if you make a mistake you can go back and do it again, so don't settle for second best, keep going until you have "the one" - every time.
I know I will get slated for this but as long as your mics are not cheap $10 crap you should be ok. SM57's and 58's will cover a whole load of stuff admirably, including vocals, so don't think you have to spend $k's to get the 'sound' - you really don't.
How to mic. Again, I may get slated for this but at least it's start: Shove a finger in one ear, then approach the 'noise' - whatever it may be - with your unblocked ear facing it - as though it were a mic. Now move your head around until you find a nice sounding spot for your mic. Place the mic in the spot. Yes, you will look like a complete dickhead doing this, but the rewards will be plenty!
3. Recording Levels
You may have all sorts of preamps, compressors etc which is fine if you really insist on them, but don't forget the important thing - the gain staging. By this we mean basically don't overload any component at any step of the way. Just keep it sensible. Dead giveaways are: gain knobs turned up high, meters glowing red, horrible distorted sounds coming out of your monitors. Use your common sense.
When the level hits your DAW, you're looking to create a WAV that is not too small, and not too big. If you're in doubt, keep it on the small side, you can boost a digital signal without too much of a side effect, but if the signal is too big, it may be carrying clipping and/or distortion.
When a take is finished, monitor it back in solo before moving on to the next thing. Yes it's boring - embarrasing even, but it has to be done so that you can pick up on errors and spurious noises/glitches.
4. Clean That SOB Up!
This element is so important, and so easy, but it's just not exciting, so I guess that is why a lot of people don't do it.
You need to tidy up the recorded track. Edit the track so that it is clean at the front and back. If there is any point in the track where the instrument is not actually playing, edit silence in, either by use of a gate, or by editng the WAV, or by automation.
Now shelve it. What does that mean? - High pass filter (i.e. low cut) from 20 hz upwards. keep going upwards of 20 hz until the recording starts to sound significantly too 'thin' - then go back a little bit to where it sounds ok. In the same way use a low pass (i.e. high cut) filter, gradually cutting from 20khz downwards until the recording starts to sound unacceptably dull, then go back a little bit to the frequency where it still sounds ok. If you don't have parametric EQ's and filters, you can use a graphic eq - I do.
Why is this important? Shelving gets rid of all of the unwanted rumble and hiss on a track that we don't want to hear. Do this for every recorded noise - without exception - and your projects will sound a whole lot cleaner and more professional. If you want to hear the effect that shelving has, toggle the bypass button after shelving a sound so you can hear the difference between shelved and not shelved. Now imaging that difference on 10, 20, 30 - whatever number tracks. the difference is significant to say the least.
This is more of a creative thing but until you know a bit more, imagine the performers on stage and recreate that visual image aurally with your pan pots. For example you may have two guitarists, and you may imagine them one at each side of the stage, so you pan one left and the other right. The drummer may have three toms, so pan one left, the next one centre, the next one to the right - and so on. N.B. avoid hard-panning until you are more used to panning and the effect it can have on your mixes.
This may be #6, but it is the single most important part of your project. Your mix is going to be dependent by about 70% - 80% on the correct levels, so take your time and get it right.
Use a reference track. Select a commercial recording that you think sounds really great, and is preferably of the same genre of music you are recording. Load it into a spare track in your DAW. Now, using the solo button, toggle between your reference track and your own project. How loud is that snare? Match up the level of your snare to the level in your reference track. Where is the bass guitar in the mix? Match yours up. You are not trying to make your mix sound like the reference mix here, you're just trying to get in the ballpark with your levels.
Once you have everything levelled up, don't ditch the reference track. Keep toggling back to it throughout the project. Faders always tend to creep upwards, and that is the beginning of the end. By using the reference track frequently you will force yourself to get those faders - and consequently those levels - back down to where they belong.
7. All The Other Stuff
There's EQ, Reverb and all that jazz, most of it is down to personal preference, what I have tried to do here is get you to a point where you can start to apply your processing. If you have done #'s 1 - 6 fully your processing will be used for enhancing something that is already sounding pretty good, and not for trying to repair a lost cause.