microphones

Mixing Guitars | Solos

Mixing Guitars | Solos

Guitar solos need to pop and stand out in a mix. They're the pinnacle or crescendo of a song in many cases, so they need to have that grand finnale attitude. Let's dive into a discussion about mixing guitar solos. 

The effort it takes to run a recording studio

The dream has been achieved! I am living the life I've always wanted and it feels great to work in my own studio everyday. The rewards are tremendous and there is nothing I'd rather be doing with my time. Being so immersed in my work on a constant basis has given me the knowledge and experience that is required to work at a professional level in this industry. I know many of you are looking to attain the same goal, so let me share just a fraction of my awareness with you.

First, running your own business, regardless of what you do, is no easy task. There are quite a few things you need to consider before diving into starting up a recording studio. Consider this, you'll need to cover your overhead and start up costs before you see a dime of profit. The initial investment is what overwhelms most entrepreneurs and that is just the tip of the iceberg. You're going to need a computer that is powerful enough to handle the processing, a DAW software program, an interface, lots of cables, mics, mic stands, headphones, headphone mixers, racks for gear or road cases, power conditioners, external hard drives, and potentially a studio space. This is just the foundation, there are plenty of other bells and whistles that you'll need to pull off a professional studio.

Now that that idea is rattling around in your head, tackle this notion, you will need to budget for electricity, water and sewage, garbage service, insurance, a security system, and rent. So your budget on a monthly basis is around $2,000 just to keep the doors open. That's the cheap end of the spectrum, which will probably not be adequate enough to compete in the market.

Now if you've invested a large chunk of change into an education in audio production, owning your own studio is the ultimate goal. These startup and recurring monthly costs are just scratching the surface of what you need to consider for operating a steady and reliable studio business. I just wanted to get your mind in motion for all that needs to be considered. Check back in soon as my next few posts will dive deeper into the elbow grease that is needed to keep a studio running smoothly and having the stamina to build a solid reputation to keep the machine well oiled.

Building a Home Studio | Top 10 Microphones

Thinking about getting a microphone to start or build on your home recording studio? Here are 10 mics you should consider. Ranging from Dynamic to USB mics that are great for singing or podcasting.

Building a home studio | Part 1

Starting a home studio can be confusing at times. There's so much information on the web that you don't know where to start. Here are a few helpful tips on how to get your studio going.

Start with a budget. Stick to the budget. You're not going to build a world-class studio overnight. It takes time to develop a feel for how a studio operates. Buy affordable gear at first to determine if you have the talent and stamina to run a studio. Running a studio is a full-time job and will consume all of your free time. So it's best not to invest all your money into the studio up front.

Get a decent interface. One that has a few mic preamps and some routing options. As you grow, you can upgrade your interface. There are so many options, but you can find used Digidesign 192 HD interfaces on eBay for about $500. Start with one of these if you can afford the system setup. If you're on a tighter budget, I recommend an interface that has been modified by Black Lion Audio. They offer superior A/D conversion and at a price that won't break the bank.

This will be the core of your studio, so spend a little bit of time researching what will work best for you. A good computer is also vital and there are many PC & Mac options. We'll get into that tomorrow.

Mixing without plugins

How many of your mixes have plugins strewn across each and every channel? I'm going to guess almost all of them or at least a good portion of them. Are you relying on the plugins to make your recordings sound better? Have you ever tried to mix with just panning and volume adjustments?

Today's modern engineer has become too dependent on digital enhancements of recordings. Things like proper mic placement and quality mic preamps have been replaced with software that constantly needs to be upgraded. Thus, music is loosing the ambiance and mood of the performance that was captured in the studio. Lush layering techniques are being replaced with copy & paste keyboard commands.

I pose this challenge to all engineers that are mixing with a DAW; make a rough mix of your recordings with no plugins just so you can hear the naked truth about your mics, mic placement, and room reflections. Mastering what mic to use and where to place it to capture the best sound will exalt your recordings to unparalleled quality. Musicians will flock to you once you've learned how to capture the purity of sound and translate it in to timeless recordings. If you are using plugins like training wheels on a bike, it's time to grow up and learn how to balance your mixes with knowledge and experience.

Recording | Guitars

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Recently recorded a project that had some heavy guitar riffs. The guitarist wanted to get that overdriven tone, but still retain clarity. This is always a challenge for any engineer. Mic choice and placement are crucial. Amp volume rears its ugly head in your face and can create a nightmare for you in the mix. Here's how I did it without spending a lot of time trying to get just the right take in one shot.

Setup a few mics in front of the cab. I like to use a Shure SM57, Shure SM7B, Sennheiser e606, and Sennheiser 421. Put one in front of each cone slightly off-axis and pointing away from each other. Then run the guitar to a DI for tracking the clean signal and then thru to the amp head. Based on how many mics you setup + the DI, you'll have a decent amount of tracks to work with. Normally, I don't use all the tracks, plus there can be phasing issues. All I need is one good track from the take and we're golden.

The first take should be at the level of overdriven tone that the guitarist prefers. Then reamp the clean signal with the amp at a slightly lower volume. This should give you more clarity from the performance. You can keep doing this routine until you get enough layers to blend in the desired sound for the guitar tone. Pan out the different takes and adjust volume levels to widen the mix.

This is just the concept. You'll need to experiment with your setup to find out what works best.

Recording | Drum Setup

Tracking drums is an art form that takes years to get right. There is a lot of trial and error, so get used to disappointment. You have to really grasp your mics, gear, and room. That said, there's one major problem with tracking drums. The drummer keeps changing. Not all drummers can be good studio drummers, so here's a few tips on making sure you get good drum tracks on your recordings.

First, studio drumming is not the same as live performance drumming. When you have microphones all around your kit, it does take a little finesse to get good takes.

Second, the drum setup is completely different in the studio. There needs to be separation between the high hat / cymbals and the toms. This means that the cymbals need to be raised up higher so they're not in the same plane as the drum heads. You may not agree with me, but your album will be all washed out.

Third, microphone placement is crucial! This one I can't stress enough. If you have a tom, a cymbal, or whatever the hell is on your kit and you only hit it once, get it out of there. That can be overdubbed later and does not need to take up real estate that the mics need.

These are just the foundation for a good drum setup in the studio. Leave comments or questions if you want to hear me rant some more.

Recording | Pro VO tracking

Voice over work can be very profitable and provide steady income. You just need one thing, a professional sound. Some recordings are just superior to others and it boils down to the talent and how the talent is recorded. Imagine just reading out loud for the rest of your professional career. At Shine On Studio, I produce some of the highest quality vocal recordings heard around the world. If you have a critical VO recording that needs to sound extremely professional, you've found your new recording studio.

My equipment and mic selection offers a wide range of presence and tone that will compliment any voice actor's project. I've worked with professional commercial productions for Television, Video Games, Theatrical Releases, Company Promotions, Educational Documentaries, Audio Books, Instructional DVDs, TV commercials, Radio commercials, and Private Interviews. I provide direction and vocal coaching to help clients get the right performance recorded to impress their employers.

Come by the studio for a tour and hear some of the quality production that has been produced at Shine On Studio. You've got the talent and I've got the experience to get the job done right. Professional sound for professional voice actors.

How to start a recording studio | part 2

Now you've got your computer and interface all ready to go. It's time to pick out a microphone or two so you can start recording. There are so many options out there and the prices are all over the place. Keep your budget in mind and remember there is more gear needed to complete the studio. So be reasonable about what you can afford.

BLUE KIWI • Main Vocal Mic

At the very least, seek out a decent vocal mic. Vocals are such a big part of the music that it pays to have a clean vocal mic. If you have the budget, I highly recommend the BLUE KIWI mic as your main vocal mic. It's produces a very clean sound and has impressive detail in capturing vocals. I use this mic on a daily basis at the studio and it has been my go-to mic for years. Now, this is not an entry level mic at $1,999, so don't buy it if your budget doesn't allow this expense. There are other mics out there, so do a little research and find one that works for your setup. The RODE NTK is an excellent utility mic that can track vocals and then be used to record a kick drum. The tube in the NTK gives the signal a nice analog warmth that helps tracks sit nicely into the mix. I've used my NTK on guitar amps, acoustic guitars, vocals, drums, congas, violins, and a slew of other instruments. All the tracks sound great, so this mic is well worth the investment.

Now your budget might be tight, so not to fret, there are some great options out there for a budget studio. Blue makes a few smaller versions of their flagship mics. The REACTOR is a great mic if you can find one. They're about $500 brand new and they have the same capsule as the KIWI. The Blue Bird is another excellent option and it is another versatile mic that can be used for many different applications. Right now Sweetwater.com is offering a Blue Bird mic + a Focusrite Scarlett interface for $299. That's a good deal for getting yourself up and running.

The staple mic is the Shure SM58 and you can never go wrong with this mic. It is built like a tank and can take a beating and still provide quality audio recordings. This mic is under $100 and will give you solid recordings on almost anything you put in front of it. Now it's not designed to be used as a multipurpose mic, but I've had good results from using it as a snare mic and a vocal mic. If you want a solid instrument mic, the Shure SM57 is your new best friend. It is a universal mic for anything that needs to be recorded and it is also built like a tank. This mic is the go-to mic for many engineers for tracking snares, guitar amps, toms, and sometimes vocals. Very affordable and extremely versatile are the big bonus points for these two mics.

I could go on and on about all the different mics, but these are just some of my favorites. If you have a question about a mic or want to know what I think about a particular mic, just post a comment here and I'll respond as soon as I can. Now get back to recording!

Today's FAQ : What's a DI?

DI is short for 'direct input' and it means you take a direct signal from a source. Usually a DI will be used for recording guitar, bass, and keyboards.

"Why should I use a DI, when I have a perfectly good amp that can be mic'd?"

Good question. If you like to mic up your amp, go ahead and do it. As a secondary back up, I'd suggest splitting the signal and tracking a DI along with your amp. You'll get a nice clean track along with your amp track to work with when you mix. Think of it as a safety net in case the amp track doesn't work out. Maybe the mic didn't capture the tone you wanted, but the performance was epic. If you tracked a DI, then the performance has a chance to be relived & re-amped!

Re-amp your performance with the DI track. You can now play back the clean DI track and feed the signal into your amp. Move the mic around until you find the tone you desire. Now you have lots of options with minimal effort and you look like a seasoned pro. There are other options like using the DI track with amp emulated software. This way you can shape your tone with digital ease. There are so many possibilities with digital software that you can try out many different sounds to hear what works best for your mix. There are so many options at the fingertips of engineers, this is a great time in musical history. Take advantage of the DI and begin to explore what your music can become.

Recording | Rock Vocals

Rock vocals can appear to be an easy task, but they're most likely the hardest vocals to capture. Many rock songs have different levels of vocal intensity and this makes them tough to record. Unless the vocalist is a seasoned studio professional, you're going to wind up doing a few different takes and then composing a final track from multiple playlists. So, let's be up on how to approach this task.

First, have the singer go all the way through the song and get a feel for the level of intensity at each part of the song. Mark where there are significant changes to the vocal intensity. Start with the softer / quieter parts of the vocals. Position your mic so that there is no capsule distortion. (See my earlier post on mic placement) save the screaming / high intensity parts for the end. This will save the vocalist's voice and not put too much strain on the vocal cords.

Now a big part of the recording is emotion, so you need to encourage the vocalist to express their emotion. Listen to the recording and decide if you believe the lyrics and feel the emotion that the music is conveying. Rock vocals are the glue to the song and they need to be convincing.

Recording | Hip Hop Vocals

In Hip Hop music, the vocals are 99% of the performance. So why not put 99% of your effort into mixing the vocals? Clients that record vocals at the studio are always pleasantly surprised at the clarity and detail our system provides. Plus many years of experience of EQ and adding effects is just the cherry on top.

The first thing with recording vocals is to make sure the mic is in the right place. Some vocalists have a forceful way of singing, so an off-axis mic technique is better suited for them. You have to listen to the recording and make sure the mic capsule is not overloading. Standing close to the mic can give lots of tone and presence to the vocals, but if there is capsule distortion, the performance is tarnished. Move the mic around ( or the vocalist) until you find a spot that is a good balance of clean signal and presence.

Trade Gear for Studio Time | Get More From Your Gear

Trade Gear for Studio Time | Get More From Your Gear

Trade your musical equipment and instruments for studio time. Great way to unload the gear that you don't use or don't need any longer and get some quality studio time to work on your next recording or mixing project. You can also trade gear for Pro Tools lessons. Click the post title for more details.

Mixing Snare Drums

Robi Bean & Justin Fawsitt tracking in the studio.

Snare is the pulse of a rhythm section. It pumps movement into a song and supports the kick drum. However, the snare drum can be one of the more difficult sounds to mix. Snare is usually so prominent that it resides up front in the mix and usually sits right behind the vocals. So here are a few tips for good mixing techniques to get the snare in the pocket.

First, use good mic placement to capture the tone and ring of the snare that is desirable for the track. Typically a SM57 is used for snare tracking, but you may want to experiment with other mics to see if they give you a sound that is more desirable. I've used a Sennheiser e606 with great results for rock and punk snare recordings. Paired with the right preamp, you can really sculpt a tone that is your signature.

The next step is EQ. See if you can find the frequency that is prominent in the vocal track and then notch out just a touch of that frequency in the snare track. Also, use filters to help shape the tone of the snare so that it fits nicely into the mix with the other drum mics. As a sidenote, be sure to monitor your overhead mics as they will have plenty of snare sound. Sometimes there is a boxy sound to the snare around 300 Hz. Sweep your EQ around this frequency range and find the Boxee sound. Once you found the undesirable tone in the snare just notch it out a dB or two. This will help your snare cut through the mix and sit nicely behind the vocal track.

Behind the Scenes | Recording Engineer Clean Up Work

The recording engineer's work is not done after the session is over. The engineer must spend time working on the audio files to clean up unwanted noise in the files and make sure that fades are properly applied to smooth transitions. Back up copies need to be made and even though the engineer doesn't sit there and watch the computer transfer files, the engineer has to wait and check after the transfer is done to make sure that all the files transferred properly.

I'm usually in the studio hours before a session to check on timing issues and pitch correction. Returning to a session after taking some time off allows me to hear the tracks again with fresh ears. This way I'm more likely to catch little mistakes and focus on the recording's blemishes. This also gives me time to focus on ways to approach and produce the recording. I usually take this time to make notes for mixing the tracks. This way I am prepared for mixing as soon as the client arrives at the studio. If any re-tracking is required, will usually start there and then proceed to mixing. It's the little things like this prep work that keep my clients happy and keep them coming back to record more at Shine On Studio.

Keep your vocals in good condition

Singing professionally is a tough business. Vocalists constantly condition and exercise their throats to stay in good form. When you make a living using your voice, it's can be a constant discipline to keep it in shape. Regular breathing exercises and proper fluids tend to be excellent choices for the marathon singers that perform almost every night.

Before a long day of tracking vocals in the studio, it's a good idea to have done some prep work. Don't drink any cold fluids before you start your recording session. It's also a good idea to drink warm tea or something that will soothe your throat. Take a decongestant if your sinuses are acting up and don't do anything that would cause you to sneeze constantly. Things like dusting the house before a recording session can be disastrous to your vocals.

If you're singing in a band or getting regular work to sing professionally, take time each day to warm up your voice. Keep exercising your lungs, throat, and jaw muscles. Just as runners need to stay in shape for the marathon, vocalists need to stay in shape for the performance.

Today's FAQ : What's a DI?

DI is short for 'direct input' and it means you take a direct signal from a source. Usually a DI will be used for recording guitar, bass, and keyboards.

"Why should I use a DI, when I have a perfectly good amp that can be mic'd?"

Good question. If you like to mic up your amp, go ahead and do it. As a secondary back up, I'd suggest splitting the signal and tracking a DI along with your amp. You'll get a nice clean track along with your amp track to work with when you mix. Think of it as a safety net in case the amp track doesn't work out. Maybe the mic didn't capture the tone you wanted, but the performance was epic. If you tracked a DI, then the performance has a chance to be relived & re-amped!

Re-amp your performance with the DI track. You can now play back the clean DI track and feed the signal into your amp. Move the mic around until you find the tone you desire. Now you have lots of options with minimal effort and you look like a seasoned pro. There are other options like using the DI track with amp emulated software. This way you can shape your tone with digital ease. There are so many possibilities with digital software that you can try out many different sounds to hear what works best for your mix. There are so many options at the fingertips of engineers, this is a great time in musical history. Take advantage of the DI and begin to explore what your music can become.

I use a Countryman 85S for most of my DI tracking. It does provide clean and clear tracks without coloration. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a solid DI. It is my go-to DI for nearly every direct recoding done at the studio.

Most preamps can be used as a DI. I have a GML 2032 that I regularly use as a DI for bass guitar. The built-in EQ works wonders on shaping the bass sound so that it fits beautifully within the mix. Typically all I have to do is add a little compression and the bass finds a pocket in the mix.

I also have a BBE DI-1000 w/ a Jensen transformer that works amazingly well on acoustic guitars. The BBE Sonic Maximizer allows me to add just the right amount of brightness to the DI track. That way I don't have to spend hardly any time EQing the track.

I'd love to hear more from everyone. Please share what DI boxes you use for tracking.

Selecting mics for recording live drums | Overhead Mics

Selecting the right Mics for a live drum recording can be a difficult decision. Drums tend to have an unique sound for each individual kit. You also have to take into consideration the style of drumming. The drummer is just as much a part of the kit, so based on how the drummers plays the kit should factor in to your decision.

Overhead mics are by far the most important decision you make when deciding to record drums. About 75% of your audio will come from the overhead mics. Overhead Mic placement is also a big factor whether you do a symmetrical or asymmetrical mic placement.

Condenser mics are usually the first choice for overhead mics on a drum set, however many engineers have had lots of success using dynamic microphones for their overhead mics (OH). The goal is to capture the essence of the drum kit. Putting the drums in the mix to set the mood for the music is the goal. How you sculpt your sound will define your ability to record and mix a quality production.

I like to treat drums as a single instrument and not a bunch of individual instruments. This way I can place mics where they are most beneficial to the recording. Sometimes I'll mic each of the rack toms + overheads + a Beta 52 on the kick. This will give me a more snappy and punchy sound to the kit that is great for a song that needs strong dynamics and percussion. Other times I'll just use a SM57 on the snare + Overheads + an AKG D112 on the kick for tracks that are jazz flavored. These are just a few examples, but versatile dynamics for the type of drums that will fit in the mix.

You can always place mics and then decide if they are relevant to the mix. Just watch out for phasing and over-ambience. The more mics in the mix, the more likely you'll have phase problems or what I like to call a foggy mix. Try starting your mix with just the overhead mics and mute all other mics. Listen to what the OH mics are providing and then slowly bring in the other mics. You should filter and EQ each mic so it fits in with the OH mix. If the signal is weak or disappears, then invert the phase to see if the track is out of phase with the OH track.

There's more to cover, so I'll open this topic up for Q's and discussion. Leave a comment below to add any insight you'd like to share.

Recording Guitars and Guitar Amps

Recording guitars can be a bit tricky, so here are some helpful tips. First, you should always track a dry signal of the guitar. Run a DI box before the amp to make sure you get a straight tone in addition to any mic recording you capture. This will give you the option of re-amping the track. Who knows, this could be the track you wind up using.

Try tracking with different mics. Use dynamic and condenser mics on the amp in different locations until you find the tone you're looking for. Angle the mics directly at the cone and then angled off to one side. You'll get very different tones and this can help you shape the texture of each track.

Be sure to check your phase alignment if you use multiple mics for the same take. Using two mics on a single amp can help you blend a tone that is unique and works best for your mix. Just be sure that you don't choke the tone by having tracks that are out of phase with each other. If the mics sound great on their own, but sound thin when combined, this usually means there is some phase cancellation between the two tracks.

These at just some starting points to keep in mind. Leave a comment if you have questions or would like more details about my techniques. Thanks for reading my blog.