Tips For A Better Vocal Recording

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Source: https://pixabay.com/p-1003635/?no_redirect

So you have been recording music on your own and you have some great sounding instrument tracks. Now it’s time for vocals. Vocal recordings can be tricky because, unless you want lo-fi and artsy sound quality, you have to be sure to make them clear and professional, and this can be difficult when you don’t have the money to walk into a studio and use their industry standard sound booths and microphones. In some ways the vocals are the most important part of a song, so be sure to follow these tips when recording at home.

Choosing Your Room

The room in which you record will have huge effects on your vocals. The brightness, clarity, and reverberation of the vocal track is at the mercy of the room size and shape, so choose a room that suits your style. I find that most projects work well in a small, “dead” or soundproofed room. If you choose you bedroom for instance, try standing a mattress up against a wall or hanging blankets around you. This will help to limit the room noise and provide a pure recording space. You can also invest in noise reducing foam which does the same thing in a more professional looking way.

Check out this Instructables page on making a soundproof studio.

Choosing The Microphone

Every microphone is different and will provide unique tone qualities for your recordings. While the overall tone of your vocals is up to you to decide, you should make sure you know what type of microphone will work best for your track. For most contemporary projects a small diaphragm condenser will work well, clearly balancing the vocal tones and capturing even the most subtle sounds. However, if the vocal part is especially loud (or requires a flatter and warmer sound) many artists, such as Bono of U2 and Brandon Flowers of The Killers, choose to use dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57.

Using The Right Equipment

To ensure a quality recording, it’s important to minimize noises and bleed through or “spill.” While a soundproofed room will definitely help, noises from your headphones may bleed through and get picked up by the microphone. Avoid this by using noise cancelling headphones, turning off the click track or metronome (if possible), and simply turning down the headphone volume as much as possible.

It’s also important to remember to use a pop filter when recording. This will greatly reduce the annoying mouth noises that come with singing, such as clicking and popping as well as the “whooshing” of breaths.

Be sure to check out these weird vocal tricks too, courtesy of Izotope.

Have you ever recorded vocals at home? What tips do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

Recording Drums At Home: Part Two

So you just successfully tracked drums and everything is going well, but when you play them back in your DAW they seem stale and lifeless. So what’s next? Mixing the drums is the next step and, while this is more difficult, this is also where you get to take full control of the sounds you want.

Here are a couple basic techniques that will offer huge benefits for your drum recordings.

Dealing with phase

Since drums use many microphones, phase issues always arise. Phase is quite simply the misalignment of audio wave forms which results in conflicting and sometimes cancelled out sounds. I like to group the overheads together and then look for a kick or snare hit to sync up with.

By zooming in on your wave forms and lining up the hits, your drum sound will sound much bigger and more clear.

Here is some more information about phase.

Panning

Panning is essential for all instrument tracks within a mix, but the drums especially benefit from it due to, once again, the many different parts of the drum kit that have been recorded. Panning is the amount of stereo signal going into the left or right speaker. My favorite drum sound is produced by panning each of the overhead tracks 90% onto their respective sides. Then I pan the rack tom usually about 40% to the left and the floor tom 40% to the right, to give the illusion that the drums are surrounding you. With this little bit of panning, the drums are given much more space and room to breath.

Check out Ask Audio’s 5 Mistakes To Avoid: Using Panning.

Setting levels

Before you add any plugins to your drum tracks, you must make sure you like your volume levels. This is when you change the level for each recorded track in order to get the foundation of your drum kit’s sound. These settings are always different for every project, since different styles require different sound balances, but most people like use the overheads as the base of the sound. Then you can drag each remaining drum level up until you find a nice balance. Having well balanced levels is integral to giving your drum recording a good sound.

After that you should start adding plugins and effects, like compression, EQ, and reverb, to really personalize your mix and to bring your drums to life. Check out my introduction to these tools here

In case you missed it, check out part one where I cover the basics of recording a drum kit.

What are your drum mixing secrets? Are there any things I should try? Let me know in the comments below!

Recording Drums At Home: Part One

Recording drums usually feels like a daunting task. They are the most difficult instrument to record, often requiring many different microphones and techniques, so most people prefer to leave it to professionals in the recording studio. Personally, I’ve found that with a little practice and average equipment, I’ve been able to record exceptionally good drum takes (for being in a bedroom). Here’s how I record my simple four piece drum kit.

First off, you need the right equipment. This includes at least one overhead mic, for cymbals and a general sound of the kit, regular dynamic mics for each drum, and a specialized low end mic for the kick drum. You can find great starter sets at places like Guitar Center or Sweetwater that come with all required microphones, and I have arguably the cheapest but most surprisingly powerful Pyle PDKM7 set. I also use a Shure SM57 and a Shure Beta 52.

Starting with the kick drum, I find that my favorite sound is gathered just outside the porthole on the resonant head. I use a Beta 52 and set it on a pair of boots that are luckily the perfect height (obviously you should try to use a stand or something equally stable).

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Next is the snare drum which always sounds best with an SM57. I clip that onto the top head and angle it towards the very center of the drum to capture the “full body” sound. Most people also mic the bottom to capture the snare wires, but I find that it is easier to just let the overheads deal with those shenanigans.

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Then for the rack tom I use one of the little Pyle dynamic mics. These mics work much better for toms than snares, so I clip that on the top head as well, again aiming it toward the center of the head.

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For the floor tom, there are many mics and placements you can use, depending on the sound you want. Rather than a regular dynamic mic, I use the kick drum mic from the Pyle set, since I don’t need it for the kick drum and because it has a better low frequency response.

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Finally, the overheads. Overhead mics can be any condenser microphone, since clarity and brightness is the priority. While I have a few AT2020’s, I find that the simple Pyle condensers work well. I use boom stands to position them roughly three feet above the kit, usually aiming them together at around 45 degree angles. This allows for nice stereo coverage of the entire kit.

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Once these are all plugged into my durable Tascam US1200 interface, all that is left is recording!

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Be sure to check out part two where I cover basic drum mixing methods.

Have you had any luck recording drums at home? What mic placements do you use? How much better is your equipment? Let me know in the comments!

The Three Most Important Plugins for Every Mix

Once you have recorded your tracks, the next step in the mixing process is to add plugins. Plugins bring life to your tracks as well as add unique effects and depth to your mix. Here are three essential plugins and the benefits they offer.

1. EQ

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Equalization is one of the most powerful, and essential, plugin effects at your disposal. EQs give you the option to boost and cut any frequencies within an audio track. This gives you the option to drastically change the tone of each track, and can help to create space within your mix. In some ways, EQ serves as the tool that neatly organizes each track within the song. This is usually the first effect that is used in the mixing process.

Here’s a great introductory guide to EQ from Sonicbids!

2. Compression

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Compression is used to change the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest parts of a track. For example, if you have a vocal track with a few loud parts that stand out from the rest of the track, a compressor can be used to bring those levels down to create a smoother dynamic range. The basic controls consist of the threshold, the decibel level at which the compressor “kicks in,” the ratio, how much compression will occur after the threshold is reached, and the attack and release levels, which control the time the compressor takes to affect the signal and to let it return to normal respectively. Compression is one of the more confusing plugins to understand, but it is essential to creating a good mix.

Here’s 10 tips for getting started with compression by Home Studio Center!

3. Reverb

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Reverb is my favorite effect by far. It is essentially the reflection, or “reverberation,” of an audio track that creates a sense of distance. When properly used, reverb fills the spaces within a song and creates depth. With too much reverb, songs can sound “muddy” or too noisy. When using reverb, you can make an audio track that you recorded in your bedroom sound like it is being performed anywhere from your shower to an empty cathedral.

Here’s a video by Waves Audio that will show you how to apply reverb!

There are dozens of other types of plugins out there, so what kind do you like to use? Do you have any specific techniques or products that you prefer? Let me know in the comments! Also, check out Plugin Boutique for a great selection of paid and free software.

3 Essential Microphones for Beginners on a Budget

The types of microphones you use can greatly alter the quality and tones of your music, so you should definitely consider what kind of sound you are looking for before you make a purchase, especially considering that you could spend anywhere from $100-$5,000 on a single mic. I’m a firm believer that high price does not translate to a better sound, and as a novice recording engineer, you only need to understand the two main categories of mics: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones are usually cheaper than condensers, require no external power, are capable of handling high sound pressure levels, and are built to be simple and sturdy. Condenser mics tend to be more expensive because they are much more sensitive to all frequencies, require an external power source, and are much more fragile due to their complex design. For a more in-depth comparison of these microphone types, check out this article on Make Use Of.

Here are three microphones that I believe are essential for home recording on a budget.

Shure SM57 (Dynamic)

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Source: shure.eu

The SM57 is one of the most popular microphones of all time, and for good reason. It is essentially the “Swiss army knife” for recording, and it is capable of recording just about everything including guitar amps, snare drums, and even vocals. The SM57 has a frequency range of 40 to 15,000 Hz, so it can capture mid to high range frequencies very well, and it is rugged enough to be heavily used for a lifetime. You can pick one up for about $100 here at Amazon.

Audio Technica AT2020 (Condenser)

Source: audio-technica.com

When it comes to condenser mics, the AT2020 is an amazing deal. It provides a great frequency response of about 20-20,000 Hz and provides crisp and clear audio quality. This mic is great for vocals, and can be used for acoustic instruments and some percussion as well. For just around $100, this mic is an amazing value and a great choice for beginners. (Buy on Amazon)

Shure Beta 52 (Dynamic)

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Source: shure.eu

Designed for kick drums, the Beta 52 is an amazing low-end microphone. With a frequency response of 20Hz to 10kHz, a presence boost at 4kHz for extra “punch,” and the ability to withstand extremely high sound pressure levels, this mic is an obvious choice. It even works well for recording bass guitar amps if you prefer to not record with a direct input. The Beta 52 is a well-built and capable bass mic that you can pick up for less than $200 here on Amazon.

These are some of my favorite mics that I own, but what do you think? Did I miss something? What are some of your favorite budget microphones? Let me know in the comments!

3 Great DAWs for Beginners

A DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation, is an essential part of every home recording studio. DAWs are software programs in which you can record and edit audio and are the foundations of digital recording. While many experts recommend Pro Tools, which is the industry standard software, there are dozens of other programs to choose from that offer similar control at a fraction of the cost (both for your wallet and your CPU). Here are three DAWs that I think are great for beginners:

REAPER

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Source: reaper.fm

REAPER is an extremely stable and flexible application that runs on both PC and Mac. It is a fully functional audio and MIDI recording program that enables in-depth editing and mastering, supports a wide variety of plug-ins, and is extremely lightweight (with a file size less than 20MB). REAPER is also affordable, offering a discounted license to personal users and educators for only $60 and a commercial license for $225. While REAPER may not look as pretty as some other programs, it proves its worth through seemingly endless customization and constant free updates. You can download a free 60-day trial and check out the rest of its features on the official website.

GarageBand

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Source: itunes.apple.com/us/app/garageband

For Mac users, Apple’s GarageBand is a powerful introductory recording program, complete with hundreds of virtual instruments and sound loops. This program is great for bedroom producers who don’t have access to many instruments or musicians. GarageBand also features a simple, user-friendly interface that allows for quick and easy song creation. GarageBand is also a simplified version of Apple’s Logic Pro X, which is their professional level recording program and a common alternative to Pro Tools. The best part is that it only costs $4.99, so you can become familiar with Apple’s recording software and eventually make a smooth transition to Logic Pro. Learn more about GarageBand here.

Mixcraft

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Source: acoustica.com/mixcraft

Acoustica’s Mixcraft is an affordable and powerful multi-track recording program made exclusively for PC. The user-friendly interface resembles Apple’s GarageBand, and allows new users to comfortably begin recording music at their own pace. Mixcraft is packed with virtual instruments, plug-ins, and thousands of instrument loops for song creation right out of the box. It is a great program to introduce users to the world of digital recording, but it does require quite of bit of computer memory and hard drive space. The home version is fairly priced at $89 and all future upgrades are offered at a discount for returning customers. Check out all of Mixcraft’s features here.

 

I personally use REAPER, since I love its stability and the customization if offers. While I am still learning all of its features, it is allowing me to easily learn as I go.

What do you think of this list? Are there better programs? What kind of software do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!