Cheap Recording Tips 4

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« on: May 24, 2011, 02:12:00 AM »
So, in the previous posts I've covered the basic gear and free software to get started with tracking at home.
Im now gonna discuss a few tips and hints for the tracking process that can help get the best audio signal possible with our budget gear. I'll also discuss some other gear that could be useful. Some tips might appear a bit obvious or that I'm treating you like idiots and I apologise for that, but they are based on actual things I've experienced.

1. Tune your instruments! I've already heard grossly out of tune instruments in my short time on this forum. There is no better way to destroy a good song than to perform it with out of tune instruments. And when recording, your tuning has to be robo. Many acoustic guitars have an inbuilt tuner. Also if you are recording your guitar, dont use your DI to tune it - its gonna be recorded via the mic, so tune it via the mic. Most DAWs have tuner plugins with them.
Also be wary of the response of an acoustic. When you first hit the string, it goes a bit sharp before settling down after. Some people tune to that first attack, others to when it settles, I go for something in the middle. And think about where you play the guitar. IF you dont have an awesome awesome guitar, then often it can be in tune when you play the open strings but not high up on the neck. If your part is high up on the neck then make sure it is in tune up there! Seriously, TUNE your guitars!

2. Timing is crucial. Im not saying quantize everything to hell, but it really makes a difference when your different tracks are in time with each other.

3. The pencil trick. If you are having problems with silibance (annoying 's's') then before reaching for the de-esser plugin try this. Attach a pencil to a mic with a rubber band so that it is dead centre on the capsule of the mic. Then try re-recording. I swear it works.

4. Mic Placement. Many places will say put the mic here or here to get this or that sound. Its BS. Bottom line is, if it doesnt sound good to you, then you should probably move your mic. Also dont start thinking that it has to be as close as possible to your mouth/guitar, in fact, quite the opposite. A good few inches to a foot away is a good start. But get in there and start moving it around.

5. preamp/hardware volume. All hardware has an optimum level at which the signal to noise ratio is best. It's generally around 0VU. My preamps etc all say in the manual something along the lines of 'do not peak past 0VU for prolonged periods, but aim to have the average signal as close to 0VU as possible.'.
It's quite possible that the output of your preamp/mixer is overloading your soundcard/DAW. First check that your soundcard nominal levels match your preamp output (you can often switch between +4Dbu and -10dBv, if you are unsure what your preamp output is, go for +4, its the standard for recording gear). If it is still too loud, turn your DAW input down, not the preamp.

6. Learn the song. I know its exciting when you first pen a song and you want to get it down and up for review as quick as possible. But please, take the time to make sure you can play the thing through. Mistakes are unforgivable. The same goes for lyrics - take the time to right them down properly, If I see lyrics written down in texting lingo, I cant be bothered to take the time to try and decipher them to give them a proper review.

7. Room acoustics. Edit 2012: This is probably obvious to everyone, but: when you record anything with a mic, you are recording not only the source (guitar, vox etc), but the way it interacts with the room as well. Some rooms sound better than others and unfortunately, as you may have noticed it is generally big, wooden rooms or rooms with funny angles (concert halls, sydney opera house) that sound the best. I.E rooms most of us don't own.
There is also another side to room acoustics - when you listen back to a song, you not only hear the song (and the way the monitors play the song) but the way it interacts with the room. When mixing, it is important that it DOESNT interact with the room - you only want to hear the song. The only option is to use acoustic treatment to deaden the room. Proper acoustic treatment involves frequency response measurements, bass traps, broadband absorbers, diffusors - a whole lot of money.
You can get some way by populating your room with soft furnishings, hanging blankets and using rockwool.

One note here though: Most things sold as 'acoustic foam' or 'acoustic panels' do not do much good and using blankets or a panel of rockwool will be equally effective. 99% of the problems with rooms you and I will be dealing with (rooms in general in fact) is to do with low frequencies bouncing around all over the place. These require a lot more than some foam to 'soak up'. Bass traps are the way forward, but these are expensive.
From working in 2 studios I can say that many studios construct their own traps using rockwool and wood :), its fairly cheap, but time consuming.
Ethan Winers website has plans and construction details for some truly excellent bass traps:

Again though, blankets, soft furnishings and playing around with mic placement is the way forward for most of us...

8. Noise
Make sure you dont have the tv on, or you are not recording when your roommate decides to play his favourite death metal album or anything stupid. Also, dont put potential noise sources (like your pc) in daft places like next to the mic. If you have limited space, then make sure the 'dead' side of the mic (the back) is pointed towards the noise source. Common sense.

Other Equipment
In previous posts, we got kitted out with a mic, audio interface and a DAW to satisfy recording needs (you also need a mic stand and shock mount, and of course cables).
But what about if we get richer, or are richer? What other equipment is useful?

Studio Monitors
Or in normal speak - Speakers. Without a doubt, if you are just listening through regular computer speakers or, woe betide, built in laptop speakers, a decent pair of speakers should be next on the list. The should be first on the list! Having a decent pair of studio monitors improves things no end. You dont need to get some great big huge things, especially if you are in a small room (might cause more problems than it solves), but there are a lot of quite lauded small, or 'nearfield' studio monitors around, like Adam A3x's, A5x's.
Edit 2012: Monitors, monitors, monitors!!! The difference between studio monitors and hi-fi speakers is HUGE. Monitors are made for exactly that - monitoring your song, that aren't designed to flatter but to tell the truth. Accuracy is the key and you will notice 1000000 things you never noticed before when you listen through your songs on monitors.
If you can barely afford anything, at least have a look at the behringer truth, which although 'behringer', are surprisngly well reviewed:

good article on monitoring:

A Good Pair of Headphones
 Good headphones are great in many situations - when tracking (you dont want the mic to pick up the speakers!), or when mixing at night and you dont want to disturb anyone, or just to listen really closely to the mix. I dont know much about different brands, but I do have a pair of Sony MDR-XD200 which work well.

Beyond these basics, there is a whole host of hardware that you can go wild with - compressors, effects, pedals, midi controllers etc etc. Just ask yourself this question - is it really going to improve your mixes? A lot of the time just buying a decent chair or a bigger screen will be more beneficial than splashing out on expensive gear. Remember that if it sound awful when you play it, no amount of effects, plugins, posh mics etc will make it sound good. If it sounds great when you play it, the few items Ive mentioned should be enough to capture it.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2012, 01:56:23 PM by Ramshackles »


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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2012, 07:08:27 PM »
Hi Ramshackles

I have read your advice on recording issues which have helped in my understanding of some tech' stuff.Thanks hugely !!
I wondered if you have any experience with iPad app's such as "Garageband" and the like. I have recently been dabbling with GB and intend to get IK's Amplitube.
I'd love to hear your opinion if you had time to pen a few words ?
Kind regards


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« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2012, 08:46:32 AM »
Hi Hojo,

I know Ramshackles is not a Garageband user. I don't know how similar the iPad version is to the standard Mac one, but that's what I use for all the stuff I post here - if I can help I'm happy to, but the iPad version may differ a lot for all i know......
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2012, 03:23:43 PM »
Hi Hojo!

I used to have a demo version of Amplitube and found it a very nice piece of software. I didn't end up buying it, because I don't need it that badly and don't have the money for it for now. But if you were to buy it, I'm pretty sure you would enjoy it  ;)

Like a little spider I'm climbing the insurmountable. But I never hold myself accountable. - KT Tunstall


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« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2012, 05:29:23 AM »
Ive not used garageband. Ive used 4 or 5 different DAWs and my opinion is they all achieve pretty much the same thing and are of similar quality....its more a question of which ergonomics/workflow you prefer.
I recommend Reaper as it has all the functionality of cubase, protools, sonar, but is very very cheap.
Im sure you can achieve all you want to with garageband aswell, its just a matter of knowing your DAW very well...


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« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2012, 07:35:45 PM »
Great tips, in these posts, thanks RS. I really like that pencill trick for de-ss-ing...i gonna try that


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« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2012, 12:08:22 AM »
Great advice, here's some more, buy a book by Jason BLUME called 6 steps to songwriting success worth every penny, it's full of tips including how to choose a studio and how to prepare in advance. I can totally recommend a local studio in west London with great acoustics, great staf,f and a unbelievable sound. I find that not having to worry about recording techniques and spending thousands on equipment, not to mention the learning curve, is worth £25 an hour to me especially when i get a great result. Check out

Danny ;)