The Musicians Guide to Making Great Recordings
Audio Interfaces, Analog to Digital, and other Recording Gear
Audio Interface is the standard modern way of recording. While other options like tape machines do exist, the cost and availability of such systems is growing more and more expensive. Unless you have a ton of money or some other reason why you can’t use a computer, and audio interface and a DAW like Pro Tools is probably the right choice.
The Audio interface is a piece of hardware that takes the audio from analog to digital. It may be USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, PCI, or other type of connection depending on what kind of PC or Mac you are using.
Sampling Rate Differences
The audio itself can be captured at different resolutions for varying quality. 44.1k 16 bit is CD quality, 24 bit is slightly higher dynamic range, so 24 bit 44.1k or 48k is usually fine for most recording setups. While there are higher sample rates, there are so many other things that affect the sound, sample rate is unlikely to affect your sound very much. In general we try to steer away from mp3s and other lossy media types, but in a pinch even an mp3 is acceptable for instrumentals many times.
While high resolution audio at 192 or 96k is possible at our studio, we don’t often use it because it creates huge files and bogs down plugins and computer processing power. I’d rather have 2 extra good takes at 44.1k than 1 take at 96k any day.
Sometimes the audio interface does additional processing or can do additional audio processing or run real time plugins on the audio, or be used as software mixer.
Microphone Selection and Technique
Microphones and DI boxes are the essential link between the sound source and the recording interface. So what’s the best recording microphone? Well that depends on your source material, they way you are using it, and your opinion!
Recording Great Drums
Recording drums is an artform! Get good drum sounds from the drum tuning and kit, to proper gear choices and placement of mics.
Drum mic placement can vary from wide 20 ft or more away room mics, to close mics almost touching the head of the drum. We can experiment with mics on the Snare, Kick and Toms, as well as micing the whole kit with overheads and room mics to really capture the tone of the kit as played by the drummer in the room
Recording Awesome Bass
Getting the right sound at the source is essential to getting the right sound. What the best sound is may vary from genre to genre. In other words,. the best sound for rock or pop may not be ideal for hip hop or reggae. Getting great bass sounds isn’t that difficult, From the initial performance, to mixing and EQing the recorded track, we can dial in the perfect bass tone.
Recording Great Vocals
Great vocals tell a story to make the all important human connection between singer or vocalist and listener. Recording a vocal isn’t just as simple as putting the best mic you have in front of the singer and hoping for the stars to align. Choosing the right mic for the application is important too. Even if you had the most expensive mic in the world, the venerable Shure SM58. THe best recording microphone might be the u47 or u87 for Vocals, but it really depends, so try out different mics and see what sounds best.
Applying Equalization Dynamics, Effects, and Mixing and Mastering
EQ and mixing can be one of the most important parts of the process. While equalization can be described as just balancing the highs the lows and mids, how different elements interact with one another is a big part of how a mix sounds. EQ is perhaps the most important tool the audio engineer has when making changes to mix. EQs can be analog, digital, parametric, or multiband, and with many EQ plugins, I’d recommend trying out various options and see what works best with your material and workflow.
Dynamics processing is often misunderstood. It can be overused, or underutilized, and how you decide to use dynamics control in your mixes will have an additional effect on how your sounds feel.
Dynamics is volume control, so the volume can be change at various places. As the sound goes into the amplifier or preamp, with a pedal on the guitarist’s pedal board, or with an amp, or using plugins or analog hardware during the mixing or mastering phase.
Compressors, limiters, noises gates, and expanders are the main types of pure dynamics processing. Hardware preamps, or analog or digital compressor threshold attack and release settings as well as, Sonic maximizers, saturatiers, distortion, and multiband dynamics, or tape effects can also make changes to the dynamics of the audio in addition to adding tone, distortion, or character to sounds.
Many of the digital plugins used today emulate vintage analog equipment still available, so experiment and see what types of dynamics processors work best for you. Some examples of classic compressors would be the 1176 or LA-2a or La-4a.
Many times people forget about the most important dynamics control we have available. The fader, or just volume automation. Many times, the volume is automated on almost every track, nearly every note, to give that phrase by phrase professional manipulation that really enhances the track.
Look at your waveforms and think about which parts could be faded or which parts could come up. Get into the nitty gritty and decide whether you want a transparent effect or a creative touch
The best mixes aren’t perfect, but they have all a common thread. A common feeling or theme that is recognized by listeners as something that is interesting or set apart from the crowd in some way. Creating mixes that pull listeners in and using the equipment and technology that you have in the most creative way possible is what the art of mixing is all about.
A great arrangement makes a great mix, so don’t forget to check your material for songwriting changes that could enhance the mix. From writing material and recording and monitoring back, using software or hardware to manipulate the sound, every phase of mixing and mastering offers unique operiutones to manipulate the sound. From state of the art plugins to hardware worth the price of a car, audio engineers use panning, equalization and dynamics processing, as well as reverb, delay, and an array of effects, automation, and dynamics control to add expressive creative touch to the performance.