Audio Engineering Techniques

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by noahace3, Aug 24, 2011.

  1. noahace3

    noahace3 Member

    Hello everyone, my name is Noah and I am new to this forum! I have been doing music for over a decade now and have just started my home recording studio. I am currently running Logic Pro 9 using reason in rewire for certain synth sounds and sometimes using redrum vs hyper editing in logic.

    My main question and concern is that when i record my recordings sound very flat. Essentially they are as beefed up as the "stock" settings that come with all my plugins, hence omnisphere and guitar rig howeverI am not getting that nice warm full sound youd hear on a cd. What I am getting is often a quite nicely mixed hollow sound.

    I have heard of the terms compressors and eq's however I am not really sure how to make that applicable to what im doing, as i know nothing of eq's for vocal tracks or anything on the techy side. I can lay it down but I cant get it to sound good. Hardware wise I am running a pro fire 2626 as my interface, v88 on my mic and unfortunatly ive been using my Micro Korg XL as a midi but it really doesnt make a difference; thats more of a comfort issue when im laying down a piano track. Playing off a Gibson Les Paul straight into guitar rig which can sound VERY NICE however its all very hollow in the long run.

    Can someone please educate me on getting my recordings to sound nice and round for vocals, and guitars, drums ect ect.

    Thank you!

  2. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Hi Noah.

    What you are experiencing is the disillusionment of discovering that recording is a highly technical AND artistic process that requires a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals and the tools we have at our disposal to either, 1. correct a problem, or 2. supply an effect.

    The tools you mentioned, i.e. EQ, compression, etc are not what makes a stellar recording (although they have their place) and this is the dark art of the craft. First and foremost, the golden rule of audio is that your sound is only as good as your source.

    The source being - in order of importance - the performer, the instrument, the room, and the microphone. Do not discount the room because it can offset the frequency response of the instrument and the microphone, depending on it's dimensions and the position of the source and microphone in said room. It is for this reason why a well designed studio with proper acoustics is still crucial to achieving an excellent recording. The moral, therefore, is to not beat yourself up if you can not achieve the linearity, proper frequency balance and "shine" you hear on professionally produced recordings out of your home studio because professionals in their professional environments automatically have an advantage (along with keen ears and lots of experience!). Additionally, chances are they are working with professional musicians with lots of studio experience and world class, VERY expensive gear (and the knowledge how to use it all properly!). It's easy then to see that an excellent result is an aggregate of many factors that the audio engineer ensures are as best as they can be during every phase of the recording and mixing process.

    The next most important thing is your monitoring chain, i.e. your speakers, your DA converters (in the case of a DAW based system), and your room. As always, the room is a huge factor because - in a worst case scenario - if your monitors are not true, if your room is irregular and has many acoustic inconsistencies and if your DA converter is sub-standard, you will always be guessing about what you are hearing. There is no way around this and I can not stress enough the importance of making sure your monitoring environment is as best as it can be. A good start would be to research acoustics online to find out what you can do to improve your monitoring environment. Your monitoring chain is the last place the audio passes through before your ears so it is therefore crucial that it is as representative as possible. Do not overlook this point.

    Of course, there are many other in-depth facets to this craft that can not be sufficiently explained in one post. These include microphones with their responses, selection and placement, proper use of processing tools, gear selection and their "sound aesthetics", proper frequency balance, gain staging, mix balance, routing, automation, etc. However, if you make sure your instrument and your [hopefully stellar] performance is properly captured with a good microphone optimally placed in the best sounding part of your room and that your monitoring environment is as acoustically tuned as you can muster, I can guarantee that your sound will improve.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers :)
  3. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Hi Noah. I could not send this in PM for some reason so I will try answer your questions to the best of my ability here.

    Let me give you some perspective. I have been recording and producing music for almost 12 years now. When I first started, I luckily found a position at studio during college that had been opened by some prominent members of the community who also happened to be my friends. The chief engineer at that time became my mentor and he taught me the fundamentals of what recording is about, basic workflow and techniques. This is a typical start of many engineers who's goal it is to produce professional recordings.

    What I found out early on was that, despite all the fancy gear we had at our disposal (we had some top-class mics, preamps, outboard gear, etc) I still could not achieve the sound that I heard on my favorite recordings. So, it was clearly not the gear. I thought I was getting close but there was still something missing, particularly that shine and clarity I'm sure you are hearing.

    So, I plodded along for many years. And this is what we all do. It's a trial and error process and the revelations that keep popping up is that it is a thorough understanding of the fundamentals that is key. It is amazing how much the fundamentals are looked over until something goes "bing" and you finally understand. For instance. For years my colleagues and I heard and were told that it is crucial make sure your phase relationship in a multi-mic setup, as found in a drumset recording, is correct. But we ignored that fact. I don't know why, but we did. I suspect it was because phase relationship is a very nebulous thing in audio and something that is difficult to grasp. Anyway, then, one day we were experimenting around and all of a sudden, when flipping the polarity of the overheads in a particular drum recording, the drums came to life and the whole thing made sense. This was after many years of recording experience. It was the holy grail of the sound we were seeking. However, note that flipping the overheads one every recording is not the rule. That is the caveat. Flipping the phase itself is not the trick but KNOWING WHY you're doing it is. These are the things that dawn on you as you continue your journey.

    What you need to know is that everything in audio is subjective. You need a reference. What is a good vocal recording? One that is clear, consistent, present and distortion free? Possibly. However, if your production goal is to produce a song that sounds like it was produced in the 50's, your clear and modern vocal recording will stick out like sore thumb as vocals often sounded raspier, band limited and often a little distorted in the 50's. It is for this reason that presets never really work and why it is impossible to tell someone what EQ to use or how much compression to use. How long is a piece of string?

    There are two kinds of acoustic scenarios that I mentioned. 1. The acoustic response of the room while recording, and 2. The acoustic response of the room during playback. That is why most professional recording studios have a CONTROL ROOM and a RECORDING ROOM, each with their own acoustic design and signature and acoustically isolated from each other. Even if you are recording straight into your computer, the sound still has to be played back at some point and it will be at that point that it interacts with the room where your monitoring chain is located. You will be surprised how much this affects the resulting sound. The reason why your favorite CD's sound great in your room is because they have been mixed in an environment that the working engineer knew very well - most likely a well tuned, even and flat control room - and has been mastered to reproduce properly on a wide range of playback systems. This is an art and why mastering engineers are so crucial. It also has a lot to do with the mix which is why high-end speakers used in mix studios are not designed to be hyped or flattering. They are designed to be true and transparent whilst offering high resolution. Also, it is common for mix engineers to find a speaker they like and can produce good work on and for them to stick with them for many years because learning your speakers is a learning process. This is because to date there is no such thing as "perfect".

    See, this is what I was talking about. If everything is warm, there is no warmth. That is the zen of audio. Exciting recordings are thing of contrast. There is no warmth without cool. See what I mean? If you dissect a professional mix by soloing each and every track/element you will most likely find that it is a dance of contrast. For instance. Acoustic guitars sound great when they are big and warm on their own but when you insert one into a mix it can very easily eat up all the space because it's frequency response is very wide - from the lowest lows to the lower-high end. For this reason it is common to eliminate much of the low end of the acoustic guitar to accentuate the string sound, which is all the ear usually needs to perceive their fullness within the mix. In other words, you thin it out. Sometimes compression is used as well to keep the often erratic dynamic range of the acoustic guitar at bay. So you see, everything is subjective and this is the crux of the art of recording. The best advice I can give you is to buy the best pair of matched condenser mics you can find so that you can make good mono and stereo recordings because, after all, the best time to achieve what you are going for is at the beginning and a good pair of mics will last you a lifetime as opposed to digital gear, which is constantly changing. The rest is a balancing act, both in terms of level and frequency.

    Check out these books:

    - Modern Recording Techniques by David Miles Huber and Ronald Runstein
    - Music Technology: A Survivors Guide by Paul White
    - The "Basic" series by Paul White
    - Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science by Bob Katz
    - The Daily Adventures of Mixerman by Mixerman
    - Zen and the Art of Mixing by Mixerman
    - Mixing with your mind by Michael Stavrou

    Also, check out some tutorials on Youtube and maybe consider getting some Logic tutorial DVD's like these ones: Logic Pro 8 Tutorial DVD Level 1: Electronics Logic Pro 8 Tutorial DVD - Level 2: ElectronicsHope that helps.

    Cheers :)

    Ps. You're welcome.
  4. elbradamontes

    elbradamontes Member

    You should receive entry to Valhalla for this response. I am a teacher and as such, I am a very patient person. Even I slapped my forehead while reading this thread. I don't know if the kid was trolling or full of himself or just completely not getting it and over eager but you went above and beyond. I'd also like to add that it is the midrange that provides the "warmth" that most people speak of. That and distortion. It is in this middle range that cheaper gear looses the battle. That and low range clarity. And transient response. I've been a DI proponent for years and I've recently given in. DI just doesn't come close to a good mic'd setup. Sure, I can get StudioDevil to sound better than my line 6 amps, but not my twin. But that's only because the line 6 is an emulator anyway with little concern for speaker and cab design. So for all you producers out there still reading this post... wondering why you can't get a good sound with your awesome new digirack and $200 monitors is like wondering why you can't paint a picasso with your crayons. Wondering why you can't get a great sound with your brand new Neumann and avalon running through your $5,000 genelec surround monitors in your expertly designed control room is like wondering why you can't paint like picasso with your new $3,000 dollar brush set. You can't do with crap gear what you can with great and you can't do with great without skills. So... before you drop 2k on something.

    Here's an exercise

    Record with your current setup. I'm going to assume that most of you reading this are guitarists or have access to one. If you have a mic mic a cab, experiment with placing it on the cone, edge, angle, and both near and far on your amp. Use two mics if you have them. Record direct and reamp twice if you don't. If you don't have an amp and mic use a simulator but know that it will sound like piss and only give you part of the benefit of this exercise. Ignore anyone who tells you they know of a new sim that sounds just like an amp. Lies. And I'm not guessing. I have the sims and the amps. Lies. But I digress. Now, experiment with phase rotating the two signals. If you don't have phase rotation, sample delay one signal. Do this summing to mono. Now go back to stereo and spread one far left, one far right. See how the middle vs wide effects the sound. Now, double one of the mics and play the two identical tracks back panned center. Mute and unmute one signal. Notice how the eq response of the mic gets drastically exaggerated when doubled. Now go back to your two differently mic'd tracks. Bring them back to middle or sum to mono. Normalize the volume. Notice no eq'ing is needed yet to drastically alter the sound up to this point. Now, eq one of the signals so that it accentuates the other. Find the sweet spot of the "cone" recording and the sweet spot of the "edge" recording. What do the two tracks do differently? What does each do well. Eq to bring out the better qualities of each track knowing the other can pick up the slack. Pick a frequency you want to add or subtract from each. Now solo one of the tracks you just eq'd. Notice that it doesn't have to sound good on its own. It only has to work combined with the other. In fact, it probably will sound bad on it's own. Now here's the punchline: every single track of every single instrument will do this in your mix. Your bass tone will fight the lower register of your guitar which will fight with your snare which will fight with the overheads which will fight with the vox. Each instrument is at war for resources and the resource is headroom across the audio spectrum. Plus, your ears can only really distinguish 3 different sounds at a time. Above that and your brain selectively ignores information. It's analogous to why "Magic" works. It's better to outskill your mic's than to have a new mic you don't appreciate. Record over and over and over and over and read Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, look up Pensado's Place, and keep coming back to Then know that sweetwater has a 60 days same as cash payment policy.
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    with Fender open back amps i like to take a 87 in figure 8 and put it sideways behind the amp. then i put a pair of 421s in front. ... i personally always place the front mics on amps at a 90 degree angle to the cone about half way between the cone and the edge. i get a real sense of depth doing this. stereo with not only a feeling of left / right but also front / rear.

    if you don't have an 87 any large diaphragm capacitor mic with switchable pattern selection in a figure of 8 will work. 87s work well for this because they have a pretty wide pick up ...

    a benefit to this way of capture is you can do this even when you track a band live in one room and you can do it with more than one amp at a time especially if you gobo the amps off.

    after rereading the original post, another thing to consider is tools of capture. both the mic and pre are noted for the lack of character. flat, transparent. and that is his complaint.

    the pro fire pres and the V88 both have very flat response which is good. they capture what is there without adding much of anything.
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    The theory of Goodulation (c) 2013

    there's what i call the "goodulator"(c) way.

    this is usually more expensive mics and transformer based mic pre amps. sennheiser 421's, 57's, 414's u-87's with neve and api pres would be a good example.

    in the Grohl movie (in the good part) .. they talk about the console a lot with Rupert Neve, who said it was designed on purpose not to be "accurate" but to make everything sound sweet. = "good".

    so if you are looking to goodulate(c) your recordings look for a pre that is transformer balanced on both the inputs and outputs.
    the pre should have a phase flip button, HPF, and a pad. gain controls on the mic input and one to trim the outs. and look for mics that have more character and not so accurate. those bumps in the freq response can sound good for some things. buy 2.
    howdy((( we like to buy things in pairs so we can record in stereo ))) diddlydoo

    another way might be to use some mic modelling plugs and maybe a liquid channel plug or something like that to emulate "goodulation" but that usually ends up as a near miss to the real thing.

    keep recording
    (C) (R) from this point forward the words; Goodulate, Goodulation and Goodulator in all forms and spellings.
    Kurt Foster - (2013)

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