Preparing to Record:
So you've decided to record? By now your song should be well-practiced and smooth in performance, if you're going to record it all the way through. Some people prefer to work by recording pieces of their song first. Either way you need an organizational system in place that is logical.
- Set up a file tree. A file tree is like making an outline for an essay; except with folders. Start by going to the hard drive you will be recording on and create a new folder called Project 1 for example. Now open that folder and create another folder named Raw Tracks. This is where you will save all of your tracks which are dry, meaning no effects. Each track should be recorded dry every time. Effects are added in the mixing stage. Each take for each track should be saved with a consecutive number after the track, and tracks should be saved as the instrument for their title. You can also make folders for the individual instruments you will be recording under Raw Tracks as such: Bass, Vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Harmonies, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Hi Hat, 16 "Crash, 18" Crash, Ride, Tom 1, Tom 2, Floor Tom, Overhead 1, and Overhead 2, and Keyboards. I find this tedious to scroll through while in the mixing process, so I organize them into their own folders after I'm done mixing.
- Create a folder under the Project 1 folder called Wet Tracks. This is where you will place each track after you apply the effects, processing, normalization, and any automation you may use during the mixing process. Apply the same systematic numbering system for each wet track take that you did with the dry track takes. This ensures that you can go back and listen to how different effects or processing adds or subtracts to your composition.
- Finally, make another folder under the Project 1 folder called Master. Again, as with the takes above, use a consigned numbering system so that you can easily refer to each master.
- Get a notebook and take notes on all the settings for every change you make to each track. If you find that a compressor is set with too much threshold, then go back and change it and write down what the name of the compressor is, and where all the settings are for that specific track. Detailed notes make it easier to go back and apply your original settings in case of a lost or corrupt file. This should be done at every step in your recording process.
Microphone Placement for an Acoustic Drum Set:
Mic placement for acoustic drums is not a science, but an art. I will just lay out the rule of thumb for a basic kit and you, or the drummer, can go from there. There are many factors when considering mic placement such as room size, player dynamics, and the type of mic used.
- Bass Drum: Right outside of the sound hole. If the head does not have one, then place it where one would be. (off-center)
- Snare Drum: Put mic about an inch from the head between the Toms at a 45 degree angle. If you want a mic for the bottom do the same (but point the mic up at a 45 degree angle!)
- Hi Hat: Place mic pointing away from the kit to the left of the post at a 45 degree angle about 3 "away from the top cymbal.
- Toms: Place a bit off-center at an 80 degree angle to the head around 3 "away.
- Floor Tom (s): Place at a 45 degree angle, 3 "away, and a bit off-center.
- Overheads: Around 2 & 1/2 'from the Ride. Tip: adjust closer or farther away for less or more (respectively) room sound.
- Listen back to a test recording of each microphone on solo to get an idea of how much bleed is coming through other drums / cymbals. Adjust according to taste.
Getting The Most From Your Digital Audio Workstation:
Your DAW is the heart and soul of your studio. Treat it gently, and do not smoke or drink around it. Too many things can and will happen. The last thing you want is for someone to spill a beer on it. Water might be OK, but beer has a lot of sugar and other sticky stuff in it, so celebrate your perfect tracks outside of the studio.
- Turn off your computer sounds and the internal microphone, and disable the internet if you're working on a computer. This ensures no interruptions and unwanted sounds creeping into your recordings.
- Disable sleep, hibernation, power saving, screen savers, and any other interruptions.
- Run a test recording first, making sure the latency is set correctly and your audio drivers are functioning properly. Adjust recording levels to peak at -1 dB. Load this test track down with processing and effects plugins. Do not process them on to the track, just insert them. The goal here is to find your limit of processing power so you know how many plugins you can run before a system crash.
- If you can, use another monitor in continuation mode. This will allow you to undock all of your features like plug ins, transport, and mixer so that you can concentrate on your track view without all of your panels in the way.
- Select your Raw Tracks folder to be the default save to folder. Make sure that either auto save is enabled or that you are in a habit of hitting control or command s after making edits. Remember to be taking notes also. Tip: some music stores sell a track notes notebook.
- Set up and name all of your tracks accordingly, making sure everything is routed properly, then save as a template using the same name as your project. If you have to start over, you'll be one step ahead of yourself.
Let me take a moment here to explain that mixing is different than mastering. Understanding this and applying techniques described herein will set you apart from all other "Independent" artists. The term mixing connotates multiple tracks, where mastering refers to a stereo two track (right & left). Just as in the examples of an outline and the file tree organizational system described above, mixing and mastering are sequential. Mixing happens before mastering. Mastering does not happen at the same time as mixing. Mixing is the art of blending multiple instruments to sound homogenous, meaning alike, or as one. That does not mean making a guitar sound like a drum kit. It involves adjusting the individual instruments volume, frequency, panning, effects, and other levels so that the focus is on the sound which all of them make together. This is called synergy (1 + 1 = 3). It creates something greater than itself which by itself it can not attain. With that said, let's get on with mixing.
- If you are going to automate your mix meaning for example having different effects fade in or out, or get stronger through time, make an automation track.
- Normalize your track to -1 dB. You have to be able to hear what you are working with. Anything above zero dB (decibel) will clip and sound distorted. You want the cleanest signal possible.
- If you have reasonable space between when an instrument last sounded to it sounding again (a rest), select the blank space and process it to silence. This ensures no finger noises or breath or stool creaks creep into the track.
- Equalization is the single best way to reduce noise. Subtractive EQ is almost always better than additive EQ. EQ should be the first go to correct your sound. Example: If you are working on a simple bass guitar track you can run a high pass filter or simply cut the high frequencies to – infinity dB. Try to only boost the used frequency range +2 or +3 dB. Any more than that can cause problems. Tip: To give vocals a punch use a low-shelf EQ filter around -3 dB at 150 Hz, then add 3 dB of gain to the whole track.
- Limiters can be set to -1 dB so your additions through EQ and FX do not exceed that and cause distortion.
- Compression can be tricky, but with a little bit of playing with you'll see they add that PUNCH you're looking for. Compressors have 4 main controls: 1. Threshold: A lower setting (measured in dB) means that a greater part of the signal will be treated and vise-versa. 2. Ratio: Determines the Input / Output ratio for signals higher than the Threshold. Example: A 5: 1 ratio means that a signal overshooting the Threshold by +5 dB will leave the compressor +1 dB above the Threshold. 3 & 4: Attack & Release: Attack and Release settings determine how fast the Compressor acts on the incoming signal so as to maintain a more natural and curved response. Tip: If your particular Compressor has a meter, monitor what the threshold turns down in dBs on the meter and adjust the Gain relative to that. This compensation evens out the signal.
- Noise Gates: These open & close to let sound through or block sound depending on their threshold settings. Think of them as a valve, or hose bib. Gates do basically the same thing as the above mentioned trick with silencing an instrument rest point. They can be used to take out the bass drum bleed from a snare mic, or use corrective EQ to achieve the same results.
Plug Ins :
There are thousands of Plug Ins out there that do everything from effects to bit rate conversion. I use them for effects, spectral analysis, custom metering, processing, and a few in mastering. Plug Ins have to be recognized by your DAW; some manually, some are automatic. A little side note: RTAS are used for MAC based systems. Here's a list of some pro audio Plug Ins I use:
- Izotope Ozone, Advanced RX2, Nectar, Spectron, and Alloy. Izotope products are all amazing pro audio repair, effects, and mastering Plug Ins. Demos are available at Izotope
- Blue Cat Audio: These are pro processing Plug Ins. They offer a free download, not a demo, which is awesome. Get it at Blue Cat Audio
- Waves: This is one expensive set, but well worth it. I use their plugs all of the time.
As I said earlier, mastering is different than mixing. Now that you have recorded and mixed your tracks down to a stereo track you are ready for mastering. Go ahead and normalize your file to -6 dB. This will leave you headroom to work with. Do not worry. When you're done with the mastering stage you normalize to -.5 dB. Headroom is just like it sounds. It is the space between where you are at and where you want to be in decibels.
In the mastering stage you'll want to do things like add a bit of compression, add a bit of EQ. You do not want to add a lot of anything. I think of it like cooking using spices. A dash of this, and a pinch of that. There really is no way to describe exactly what to do in mastering. You do not want to add stereo expansion, or brightness. You should do those things in the mixing stage. What you are aiming for is making all of your songs sound like they flow together. Do things like put them in the same "room", adding a touch of reverb. You are also trying to make them sound good on all devices, so you'll want to burn a reference CD to play on a boom box, a car stereo, and your home system. Take notes on the differences in sonic qualities and strike a balance between them. Doing this will ensure good transfer.
Setting Up A Record Company :
The next thing you might think about doing after completing your project is setting up a record company. You can do this by going down to your local government building and getting a business license. You have different rights and protections with each different type of company. A sole proprietor gives you the individual little protection from a lawsuit, whereas a corporation is like an individual on own own, protecting your personal assets from judgments.
After your license you'll want to set up a business checking account so you can do business. Set up your website, and then start advertising your product.
Put Your Music On Amazon :
You can sell your albums and MP3's on Amazon by opening an account with Createspace. It's free to join, and all you have to do is upload your materials. You have to strictly follow their uploading guidelines; if you do not, your material will not be accepted. Make sure all of your artwork is in the correct formats along with your audio tracks. You might as well convert your.wav files to.aiff right now, and make sure your songs are in the correct order by placing an 01 etc. in front of the song titles. I would suggest signing up as an individual, not as a business because you never know when the economy will take a crap and out of business.
Thanks for reading,