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.
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.
This is probably the #1 question that I get asked by many of the students. This is one question that has many different answers, but one underlying theme. You have to listen to the music and find the right balance for the reverb within the mix. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision of choosing the texture and depth of the reverb so that it is audible and felt, but not distracting. If the reverb is meant to be huge, use your judgement to make sure the space is the right fit for the mood of the music. Let me go over a few examples of what reverbs should do to add to the mix and not destroy them.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is does the track need reverb. Not all songs need to have reverb! This is something that gets overlooked by amateur engineers and producers. Just because it is there does not mean you need to use it. The simple test, if the mix sounds really good without reverb, then it does not need any reverb.
If you decide that the track could use some texture, depth, width, or space, then try a few different reverbs as a starting point. I usually set up about 4 - 5 different reverbs to give options, but it is not uncommon for me to use a blend of all the different reverbs. Sometimes all you need is one reverb to achieve the sound that is needed for the mix. When one is not enough, then it is time to start experimenting with the audible pleasures of multiple reverbs. Start with two and bring the levels down so the effect of the reverb is not audible. As the mix plays back, slowly bring in the first reverb until it is just barely noticeable. Then bring in the second reverb until they two compliment each other. You may need to adjust the size or predelay to get that silky smooth sound, but make small adjustments as you go along. Just go with your gut and let your ears tell you when the level of reverb is right.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the reverb is not the main focus of the song, so it should be in the background and enhance the song. Keep a modest amount of reverb in your mixes and your songs will start to get more attention. Music is organic and has life of its own. Be sure to let the music breathe and compliment it with the space of your reverbs. When in doubt, less reverb is what will work.
PC or Mac, this is the ultimate question. If you're unsure of which one to get, you can always get a Mac and install parallels to run both platforms. A PC will ultimately be a little more affordable and have multiple options for a decent DAW.
I have personally had both computers and over the years have settled on a Mac. I started with a G4, then moved to a G5, and now I currently use a Mac Pro. If you're going to run a ProTools HD system, you'll need a computer that can handle PCIe cards. You can buy a chassis to house the PCIe cards, but then that is one more cable and device on your desk.
Be sure to get a computer with a fast processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. The i5 & i7 processors are excellent options for audio production. If you're not quite sure what to choose, call a specialist. I work directly with Joseph Secu at Sweetwater.com (800) 222-4700 x1232.
Also be sure to get a good monitor. With all the mainstream TVs having the ability to connect via HDMI or VGA ports you can have a large selection of monitors to choose from. Being able to see what you're working on is very important. You're going to be staring at this computer screen for hours on end, so it would be a good idea to invest in a screen that doesn't strain your eyes.
Tomorrow we'll cover microphones.
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.
I respond to internship requests on a daily basis. Many of the requests are one-sided and offer no benefit to the studio. Here's the deal, an internship is beneficial to both the studio and the intern. If you want to intern at a studio, you have to possess some sort of value to the progress of the studio. The studio is going to give you experience and education so you can be a competent member of the industry. If you have nothing to give back, you'll never get an internship.
Before you go and start pestering studios, you need to do a little prep work. Start with reading a few books on Pro Tools and recording principles. You can read books on many different topics and learn quite a bit about the industry at your own pace. Educating yourself adds so much worth to your assistance in the studio. Once you know the difference between XLR & AES cables, you will move quickly through patching and studio setup.
Buy some gear and do some home recordings. Get a little bit of experience with using a DAW and play around with the settings. If you want to learn Pro Tools, go to www.avid.com and sign up to receive Pro Tools First. It's a free version of Pro Tools that will get you started. Most professional studios use Pro Tools HD, so there will be a slight learning curve, but getting familiar with the fundamentals is important.
Watch a few videos on YouTube and ask some questions in forums. Do not show up to the studio with a bunch of questions. When you're in the studio, just observe! You're there to learn and the engineer is there to work. If clients are on the studio, keep your yapper shut. If someone asks you a question, answer them, but that should be the only time you speak.
If you do have questions during a session, write them down and save them for after the client's session. It all boils down to manners and common courtesy. You need experience and that is what you should absorb. Being in the room while a session is happening is chalk full of experience. Pay attention to how the engineer conducts the session. Keep track of how many takes are recorded and how they're recorded. When the session is over, start to help with the break down. Ask the musicians if they want help loading their gear. Be helpful and it will be rewarded.
Vocal distortion can be the glue that pulls your vocal tracks together. Just a simple side-chain with the vocals being processed through a distortion plugin or amp head can pull the vocals coward in the mix and at the same time find the right pocket for the vocals in the mix. You may be saying to yourself, "I don't want my vocals all fuzzy and gritty." Not to worry, by side-chaining the effect, you can blend in the dry and wet vocal signals to a level that works best for your mix. The distortion will add just enough color to the vocals so they feel like part of the music and not just ambiguously floating above the music. Slap some EQ on the distortion track to get a brighter or darker tone to your distortion coloring. Just don't go overboard with the vocal effects, unless that is the goal for the track. Happy mixing!
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.
Every mix has one special element that likes to show off its plume of feathers. I call this element, "The Peacock" of the mix. Sometimes it is the vocals and sometimes it is the guitar. I'm never quite sure until I get in front of the mix. It just takes some time to listen and figure out what needs the most attention; How you should build the mix around the peacock is dictated by the array of colors present in the mix. If you display the peacock properly in the mix, it will draw attention to itself and listeners will be seduced by its beauty. The only thing you need to focus on is making sure the complimenting tracks don't get overlooked and the peacock will do the rest of the work.
Mixing vocals can have its challenges. Do not fret! There are ways to make your vocals big and wide without
laying on huge amounts of compression. Try this technique, add some side-chain delay sends from the main vocal. Add 3 or 4 sends with delays set to different lengths. Slowly bring up the faders on the delay tracks to blend the vocal into the mix. It's also a good idea to have different eq curves on each of the delay tracks. Play with filters to get the right tone for your mix.
There are certain things that contribute to a great recording. The first is the interface that you're using. You can go and spend some $$$ on a HD converter and get great results. However, there is an alternative for great sound at a more affordable price. Black Lion Audio (www.blacklionaudio.com) is a company based in Chicago and they have some modifications that rival some of the big expensive converters. For under $2,000 you can get the BLA Signature Mod on your 002 or 003 rack. We currently have one that is used as our mobile rig and it holds up quite well. Many of the live recording that Shine On has been hired to record have been tracked with our modified 002r.
The Signature Mod will improve your converters, clock, and mic pres. These are huge improvements over the Digidesign stock interface. They also beef up the headphone amp to provide a more accurate monitoring option. The A/B recordings we did with the interface are jaw-dropping. There really is no comparison between the recordings. The mod improved the attack of transients and the depth of the EQ range. Drums have more punch, guitars roar and scream with more intensity, bass is bigger and richer in the low end, and vocals just rip through the mix to sit right in the pocket. These improvements are well worth the investment. You'll save time in the studio and your mixes will have a brilliance that just cannot be matched at this price point. If you'd like to get more info or experience with the interface, sign up for one of our Pro Tools lessons and an engineer will show you the ins and outs of this impressive upgrade to your studio.
You've decided to start a recording studio. Now comes the planning for how to build your studio from the ground up. There are so many options, so let me help you consider a few that are crucial to the success of your new studio. I've been in the business for over 20 years now and I've seen what works and how well everything works. There are many different types of audio production studios, but for this segment, I'm going to focus on the beginner's project studio. Though you may have already started to build your studio, I'll be offering advice on things to consider for the success of all levels of studio production.
Before you spend too much time planning or spend any money on gear, take time to hash out your budget. You'll need to make some tough decisions about what is necessary now and what can be purchased down the road as the studio grows. Start a spreadsheet of your available finances and keep track of what you're spending. The last thing you want to do is buy a bunch of gear and then not have the funds to connect the pieces. There are things that many new studio engineers overlook and this is one main reason I'm writing this article.
First, you have to decide if you're going to be a PC or a MAC based computer system. You could get a new MAC and load Windows with the Parallels program. That's all up to you. There are advantages to both OS systems, so this decision has to fit with your configuration and your budget. PC systems are typically more affordable, but do carry the risk of more frequent crashing and data loss. MAC systems are more expensive and not as flexible as a PC based system. I'm not going to get too in-depth here, but if you'd like to post a comment, I'll do my best to respond.
For now, we'll assume that you've made your computer decision and you're ready to move on to the core of your system, the DAW. The DAW ( Digital Audio Workstation) is the heart of all digital recording studios. This is the interface that will provide recording and mixing capabilities for your studio. Most DAWs come with a hardware interface which does the A/D & D/A conversion for your audio. This is by far one of the most important choices to make when building your studio. The quality of audio conversion will ultimately impact the detail of the audio that comes out of your studio. The higher quality converters will give you a more accurate monitoring sound and yield a more dynamic range to your mixes. The beauty of most DAWs today, they will work with almost any interface you choose. This makes the options more bountiful and presents the opportunity for 3rd party companies to get into the market. Ultimately, this allows engineers the ability to mix and match software and hardware to customize a studio setup that is just right for their needs. Customize is such a great word and it is such a liberating concept!
I've personally worked with many different DAWs in my career and they all do a fine job of recording and mixing. There are some that only work on PC and some that only work on MAC, but most are cross-platform, so do pay attention to what is compatible with your system. The most widely used DAW is AVID's Pro Tools. Virtually every professional studio I've been in over the years is running Pro Tools as their primary DAW. It's not cheap software, but it is very user friendly with a mild learning curve. There are tons of books and videos out there to get you started working in Pro Tools and I'd recommend this as your primary DAW. The new line of AVID HD I/O interfaces have excellent converters and the audio quality is pristine. However, Pro Tools HD systems are not cheap. The entry level system is the Omni HD + Pro Tools HD Native and that starts at $4,999.00. Now there are some upgrade options, but just to get into Pro Tools HD, you may be spending a big chunk of your budget. If you can afford a quality interface, it will pay dividends down the road. Just be sure you are buying fear that you can grow into and not grow out of quickly. One pit fall I regularly encounter is folks who buy bargain gear with the intention of selling it when they need to upgrade. My warning is that you may not be able to sell the gear for a decent price, so don't rely on this strategy to recoup your capital funds.
Hope this was some useful insight for you to consider. Keep in mind there are many options out there and I highly recommend that you at least consider multiple DAWs and Hardware interfaces before you commit to purchasing. You should also look into financing your purchases and Sweetwater (.com) has some nice 0% interest for 24 months financing options. If you want to talk with my sales engineer, Joseph Secu x1232, he'll give you some good advice on what would work best for your setup. He's helped many of my clients purchase the right gear for their home studios and he's been helping me for over 14 years. I only have great things to say about Sweetwater and Mr. Secu.
Please leave any comments and I'll respond as soon as possible. Thanks for reading part 1 of this blog article. The next section I'll be discussing vocal microphones and preamps.
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.
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.
A good rule of thumb is to always bring an external hard drive or flash drive as a back-up for all your studio recordings. You've invested your heart, soul, time, and money into the recording, so be sure to make an extra copy (or two) of your session files. Things happen and you don't want to loose all your hard work only to wind up starting over from the beginning. Now that storage media is so affordable, there is really no reason you shouldn't back up all your work. There are lots of great websites to get a good price on storage media. Check http://www.macmall.com or http://www.amazon.com for great deals. If you need any advice on purchasing storage media, just contact the studio.