Some thought and highlights from the 2019 NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA.
EQ settings for vocals sometimes feels like you’re trying to find buried treasure. An endless task of moving knobs and listening to the changes just seems overwhelming. Then comes the conversation about filters on vocals that almost always arises in every session.
Getting ready for a big studio session? Then you will want to prepare for giving your best performance on the mic. Knowing what to expect and making sure that you get the most out of your studio time is essential to making a great album. Here are some tips and things to consider before you step into the studio.
Podcasting is a great way to sharpen your audio production skills. You have opinions and podcasting is the perfect way to convey your thoughts in an engaging media. Here are some ideas and options for gear to get your podcasting career heading in the right direction. Click on the post title to view the entire article.
Producing is the construction of music. You have to make choices about the project as a whole and this will include things like EQ, panning, compression, lengths of the delay, when to delay, when to chop up the vocals, when to add guitar solos, how the song begins and ends, and everything else that happens in between. This is not an easy task, but it does have huge rewards that are long-lasting if you do it right.
There are way too many plugins out there and you may feel confused on which ones to buy and incorporate into your workflow. Here is an open discussion for you to ask questions and get insight for all those plugins. I'll regularly post any new releases or deals that I come across for those plugins that you should consider adding to your system.
Vocals are the most important part of a recording. Over the years, I've heard some bad recordings that are wildly popular. It boils down to the vocals. If the lyrics and the emotion is just right, than the song will be a success. Now you should spend some time working on the music. I'm not saying that all you have to do is produce vocals, but do give the vocals the most attention.
Start by recording a very rough scratch track and than take a few moments to listen to the context of the vocals with the music. Does the feel of the track have the flare that you're seeking? Do the vocals sound like they carry the listener through the song? In some cases, it may be good to re-write some of the lyrics to convey more emotion or to mold into the music a bit more. This is a golden opportunity to figure out how the delay and reverb will be used to treat the vocals. Sometimes, the style of delay may lead you to a different style of singing or even slimming down some of the lyrics.
Now of course this technique is dependent upon the context of the song, yet I've used this approach on many tracks with great success. Next post I'll discuss more about mic placement and tracking scenarios.
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.
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!
When you're in the studio, turn off your cell phone. There is nothing to be gained by allowing the outside world to interrupt your genius. Focus on the music and let the moment unfold with your undivided attention.
If you use your phone for lyrics or notes, that's obviously something you need handy. Just move it into airplane mode and resist the temptation to play any games. If you take photos with your phone, save the social media sharing for after the session. Unfocused time in the studio is wasted time in the studio.
To delay or not to delay, why is this a question? Delay is what makes the music come alive! Delay can be very tasteful and should be used to some degree on every mix. It can be subtle and very light, but it will give your mix that edge that kicks it up a notch.
Delay comes in many forms and with even more parameters. Some delays have built in filters, while others have feedback control. No matter what delay you choose to use, experiment with the controls and get a feel for how the delay responds to the audio. Once you know how the delay impacts the audio, use it to blend the sound into the mix. You can also get creative with your delay tone by adding a distortion or a flanger effect. Make the delays stand apart from the original track and they will have more impact on the mix.
If the delay has a sync feature, that can be useful if your music has a tempo map and sticks to the BPM grid. Quarter notes usually have the right amount of space and make a big impact on the empty pockets of the mix. If your mix is not on a tempo map or you're looking for a more organic sound, then turn off the sync feature and set the delay by hand. This technique is a great way to get a vintage sound for your mix. Some of the greatest mixes of the 70's have delays that were set by hand. Don't be afraid to try something new and set your own echo or delay.
The biggest drum seems like the easiest drum to mic, but this big fella can be tricky at times. You really have to pay attention to the music. The tone of the kick drum needs to match the tone of the music. This requires selecting and placing the right mic in the right spot to capture the tone that you need.
There are a few options I recommend. The Shure Beta 52 is a rock solid mic for any recording. It provides depth, punch, clarity, and snap that works well with virtually every recording. You can never go wrong when using this microphone to record your kick drum.
My backup mic is the AKG D112. This egg-shaped mic is versatile for many recording applications, so it's an excellent choice for those of you on a tight budget. Besides kick drum tracks, this mic works well for recording any instrument that has a lot of low-end detail. I've used this microphone to record congas, bass guitar, trumpets, horns, and vocals. So for the $199 price tag this mic carries, it's well worth the investment.
The third microphone that I recommend is a little unorthodox. The RODE NTK is a secret weapon that I like to use when I need a bit more slap in the kick drum. It's a tube-based condenser that has a magical sound when placed in just the right spot. Usually I find that spot slightly off-center in front of the drum head. The $499 price on this mic does put it in the slightly expensive category, but this mic can do it all. From vocals to acoustic guitar, this mic is excellent on almost any recording.
Hope this helps you get better kick drum recordings. Happy tracking.
The music is finally ready to be recorded. You've put hours into rehearsal and composing the music. The band has worked out all the rough spots and the music has a good flow from beginning to end. Now comes the crowning achievement, booking time at a recording studio to immortalize the music.
There are some important steps that need to be taken before you get to the studio. As an engineer that has worked at a recording studio for 2 decades, I've seen what works and what doesn't work, so I'd like to share a bit of helpful knowledge on the topic. These steps can apply to any musician getting ready to reserve time at a recording studio. I'm also going to share some tips on how to maximize and get the most productivity out of your studio experience.
First, be sure that you're ready for recording. This is a broad generalization, so let me go over the many parts that accompany this statement. To kick it off, make sure that your music is finalized and all the parts are in place. This means that the band has been rehearsing and all the band members are on the same page when it comes to performing the songs. The last thing you want to do is spend valuable studio time rehearsing parts of a song and trying to compose the music on the fly. Now it's OK to experiment and try different ideas, but there should be a core foundation to each track so the music is recorded within the time allocated to you while in the studio.
Second, be sure that all your instruments are in good shape and sound their best. In many cases, strings should be replaced at least 3 days prior to the recording session. This will give them time to stretch and settle in for a brilliant sound that will sound great when recorded. So many times I've had guitarist come into the studio with old worn out strings and they never sound as good when compared to recordings with fresh strings.
Drummers should bring a few extra drum heads and or snares just to hear what the recorded sound turns out to be. There are many things an engineer can do for your music, but try to rely on getting good raw recordings to start with and not relying on EQ to fix any deficiencies.
Vocalist should exercise their voice leading up to the session. Don't strain or wear out your voice, but condition it just like any athlete would prepare for a big game. Don't drink any cold liquids before the session because they tend to constrict the vocal chords. Bring room-temperature bottles of water to keep the throat from getting dry and if you prefer something to soothe the throat, bring honey or tea. Studio sessions usually last all-day, so it's important to stay hydrated and bring snacks to keep your energy up. Bananas are always a good idea for natural energy and trail mix is a good way to subside hunger pains.
Third, be prepared to back up your recordings. Most studios today are recording on a digital audio workstation like Pro Tools or Logic. You need to be ready to make back up copies of your recordings so that you ensure that your investment doesn't get lost, stolen, or accidentally get deleted. Most studios will have a way for you to back up your recordings on to a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. With prices rapidly dropping on storage devices, this shouldn't be a problem to find a device with enough space to back up your recordings. I'd recommend a minimum of 2 TB, but 500 GB is usually enough for most musicians. By backing up your recordings, you will have the ability to take your recordings home and mix them yourself if your budget runs out for studio time. You could also record at one studio and then take the files over to another studio for mixing. Sometimes it's a good idea to get a few different engineers working on your music to keep the sound unique and diverse on the album.
Fourth, put someone in charge of time management. Staying on track is the most difficult thing to do in the studio. You can ask the engineer to help manage the studio time, but it's always best to have a band member keep track of the time. Most everyone has a smart phone these days and they all come with alarms and timers, so use them. Set the alarm on vibrate and let it remind you when it's time to move on. Figure out how much time you want to spend recording each song or parts of a song and stick to it. So many times I've had musicians show up to the studio with the intent of recording 3 or 4 songs and only wind up recording 1 or 2 songs. It is very easy to get wrapped up in recording and over-dubbing tracks that time will just slip away. Figure out a way to manage your time and do your best to stay on schedule.
I want to give you a few helpful ideas about how to manage your recording sessions. If you have a hard time getting all your band members together, then it's best to have everyone pick a date that is convenient for a recording session and mark it on the calendar. Most studios have a no refund or no rescheduling policy, so it's important to make sure the studio date works for all the band members.
Try to get all the recording done with all the band members present. This isn't a huge deal, but I've found that it's always nice to have all the band members at the studio when the initial tracks are recorded. Things like solos or backing vocals that will be over-dubbed can be done with individual band members. If possible, try to record the band in a live environment. I don't me a live concert, I'm referring to the whole band recording at the same time. There is a lot of "magic" that happens when musicians play together. This also helps cut down on the amount of time spent tracking each individual member of the band. Plus, if you haven't been rehearsing with headphones, don't try to do it for the first time at the studio. Try and recreate the feel you get when the band rehearses. This is the way you perform the music, so try to recreate that sound / vibe when you record.
I'll have some more helpful info for you soon, but feel free to leave comments or questions and I'll respond as soon as I can. Hope this info was helpful and your recording sessions go smoothly.
Everyone is looking for advice about how to get those sweet full-sounding vocals into their mix. There are many options out there and I can only offer my thoughts and experience, but I encourage all engineers to think outside of the blog, book, or videos. Come up with your own way of recording vocals and you'll be much happier with the final mix. It's a great idea to take information and techniques from multiple sources and experiment to find out what works best for the music and the equipment that you have access to at the moment.
Microphones are a major factor when you're recording vocals. Not all microphones are created equal and they certainly all won't give you the same sound. The price of a microphone isn't a concern that you should worry about when searching for the right mic for your vocal tracks. Focus on a mic that will give you what you're looking to track as a solid base for your vocals. If you're looking for clean and crisp vocals, try to find a mic that has a flat frequency response or one that at least has a smooth response in the range of the vocalist. Some mics are specifically tailored for vocals and they typically do a great job. If you have the ability to audition mics before you purchase them, I'd highly recommend that route.
Now for the first tip / secret that I use to get great sounding vocals. Placement of the mic is by far the most important place to start. Move the vocalist around the mic to find the right spot for the amount of presence and clarity. Don't just have the vocalist stand right in front of the mic. Many times, vocalists will stand too close to a mic. This causes too much presence in the low frequencies and tends to pick up a lot of sibilance. A pop filter placed right in front of the mic won't alleviate this problem. But it is a good idea to use a pop filter to guide the vocalist to the proper distance from the capsule of the mic. There's not a specific amount of space that you can use on each vocalist, you have to work with how loud and what type of tone the vocalist has for each individual track. That's why they have a goose neck for being placed in different places depending on the vocalist. Plus, it's a great idea to mount the pop filter on a separate mic stand. This allows you to move the mic around while maintaining the spot where the vocalist stands. Keep in mind that the vocalist doesn't have to be on axis with the capsule of the microphone. It's quite alright to experiment with having the vocalist sing off to the side of the mic. This technique may reduce the amount presence and help the vocal fit right into the mix.
I hope this information helps you get started with tracking amazing vocals. The vocalist can be the most amazing singer in the world, but how they're recorded is half of the quality. So work with your vocalists and talk to them if you're hearing something that doesn't sound good. It's perfectly normal to have a vocalist do another take if there are problems with the recording. Never fall back on the notion that it can be fixed in the mix. Strive to be the best engineer you can be and do everything you can to get solid vocal tracks. Less is more and this goes a long way when you start to mix and the vocals already sound perfect. A few tweaks here and there and you should be able to get the right sound for the mix. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about the techniques that I've listed here.
Multiple mixes of a song is a technique that I've developed over the many years of my career. Music tends to unfold differently every time you approach a mix. If you're using a program that allows you to save or save as multiple times, such as ProTools or logic, it's not a bad idea to try a new mix even if you think you nailed it the first time.
Here's how I like to set up my sessions. After I record, I like to save the session as just a raw track that hasn't been mixed. Then 'save as' the name of the track_mix1. This way I have a template to go back to when I want to create a new mix. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. I usually tend to think at least three mixes is a good reference point to determine whether or not you like a mix. Sometimes it's a good idea to try up to 10 mixes.
Try this, set up a timer and give yourself a time limit for the mix. Anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes should be enough time to get a good rough mix. When the timer goes off, save your mix session, close it, & open a new session.
After you feel that you've made enough versions of the mix, go back and review each of the mixes. You can bounce each of the mixes down as an MP3 file and put them on your phone or MP3 player. Then go for a run, take a drive, or head over to a friend's house and listen to your mixes outside of the studio. This will give you a reference point as to which mix is probably the best and/or if a few mixes should be worked on and handed to a client for review.
Try this technique on your next mix and see what happens. You may be surprised that the third or fourth mix is actually the one that you wind up keeping.
If I had a nickel for every time I had to turn down levels on the tracks I receive when I'm doing a mixing session, I'd be a millionaire. If you want to hear what your mix sounds like at a louder volume, try turning up the volume on your monitors first. Don't push the faders all the way up or use a compressor/limiter, you're only doing damage to your mix.
Set up a reference track! Just import your favorite song into your DAW session and listen to it through the monitors. You have an idea what that song sounds like so you can use it as a reference point to calibrate your system and get a good point of reference for your mix. Mixing without a reference track is like driving a car blindfolded. Not a good idea.
Most DAWs come with a metering plug-in or a metering software program. Use it! It's there for a reason. Metering helps you get a good idea of how loud your mix actually sounds. If your DAW doesn't show RMS levels, there are a bunch of programs out there that are free and will give you a good reference point for your RMS levels. Try and give each of your mixes at least 10dB of dynamic range. If possible, give your mix anywhere between 15dB to 20dB of dynamic range. You'll notice a huge difference in the audio quality of your mix if the dynamic range has lots of room to breathe.
Louder is not better if your mix has a bunch of digital distortion. If no one will listen to you music, it's probably not the content, but rather the lack of quality mixing that was put into the music. Take the time to give your music a real good listen. Critical monitoring is so important to making sure that you get a good mix. Don't over compress and don't smash your limiter or compressor so that your meters are all the way maxed out at 0 dBFS.
The influx of recording equipment has moved the music industry to new heights. Companies like AVID & Focusrite, just to name a few, have made home recording possible for thousands of bands and musicians. Music is flourishing in the world and more and more people are finding out that making music is simple and rewarding. Virtual instruments can now be tracked with MIDI to accompany a solo artist. Now it's possible for one musician to compose a whole album on their laptop or tablet. This is truly the dawn of digital music and the possibilities continue to mount as more and more companies are networking to bring audio tools into the homes of millions around the world.
Now that you're excited about recording, I just want to help you get started. Before you buy anything, do a little bit of research. Read a few reviews from different sites and don't hesitate to ask a professional about what they recommend. The best information is going to come from actual musicians and engineers that are using the equipment on a regular basis. Pretty much all the gear available today is a good investment. Most hardware interfaces come with their own software, so you've got what you need to get started.
Take it slow at first. Buy an interface and some headphones to get you started. You don't have to invest in a whole studio right away. Build your studio piece by piece and spent time figuring out what works best for your recording and mixing setup. If you can buy used gear from a trustworthy source, try that first. Save some cash so you can get your studio off the ground without breaking the bank. I've had my Digi002rack for years and it is still tracking and mixing like a champ. You can find one on eBay for about $200-$300 and will be a great place to start your recording education.
Again, most of the gear out there is affordable and you don't need to spend all your savings on setting up your studio right away. Buy a few key pieces and then start recording. Once the cash flow starts coming in, you can put some aside for investing in new gear. Do some research and ask some questions. The reps at Sweetwater.com are really helpful and if you want to talk with my rep, Joseph Secu x1232, he's a wealth of knowledge for all the gear they have for sale.
I hope all of you have a happy holiday season and make some great music.