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PSA for Home Recorders: My Findings

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Guitarfreak, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    There are a lot of misconceptions about recording when you are first starting out, and since this is a pretty popular place for beginners to get some advice about gear and techniques, I guess I will share my findings. I'm no expert, and if you are reading this wondering what mic to buy or what the hell an interface is or why you would need one, then you can be sure that I was in your shoes some day not long ago. I'm a scientific person, I don't believe much of what I read or hear. I test every theory and come to my own conclusions. Here are a few of them, and the list will surely grow as time goes on.

    1. Gain Structure: Gain structure is THE most important aspect of getting good sounds recorded and mixed. It's so important that it's not even funny. Whenever you have more than one volume control for something, the balance between those controls becomes a part of the ultimate sound itself. Hit one stage too hard and you could lose high end or introduce unwanted noise and artifacts. Cut too much at one stage and you will have to make up for the signal loss at another stage and ultimately your sound will be noisier and less crisp. This applies ITB as well (In the box) where your faders and plugin gain structures are concerned.

    Along with this idea of gain structuring is the idea of headroom, you should leave a decent amount of headroom at each stage to ensure maximum clarity and accuracy. I would consider between 6 and 12dB of clean headroom a very good thing. As long as you record in 24 bits, which most (if not all) DAW's are capable of, you will not experience any problems with the noise floor.

    2. Leave it Alone!: One of the major causes of poor production is over-production. I will take that statement with me to the grave. Just because you have not-so-good gear doesn't mean you should go hacking at it with a digital EQ to try and "save" the sound. Just get it right from the start or start over. There are lots of good applications for EQ, but a base tone is not one of them. I can't tell you how many times I have been struggling with a mix only to find that I got the clarity I needed when I took off the EQ I had applied. Too much EQ can actually cause distortion. I remember hearing a project that a friend did and hearing a horrible ringing distortion whenever the acoustic guitar played a certain chord. He said he didn't know what it was or maybe he recorded it too hot. I snoop around for a while and find that it was due to an EQ spike he made in the upper midrange on that track that caused problems whenever the acoustic guitar hit that one note. It wasn't his fault, nor the fault of the guitar or recording process, it was a post-production error. Think back to point 1, gain structure. If something isn't sitting right in the mix or the tone isn't quite right, rather than opening up the EQ screen and creating a huge mountain of phasey goodness, play with the volume controls and you may find that it sounds entirely different now. That's the beauty of audio, the littlest thing can cause a big difference.

    Sort of on the same line of thinking is the idea of "arbitrary mixing." I am referring to the idea that no matter what happens or what you are recording, you will always need to do SOMETHING. This could be anything, a High Pass, a Low Pass, a midrange hill or dip, adding reverb, compressing... the list goes on... DON'T DO IT! There is no way that independent of source material, a single mix decision will always apply for the better. I used to mid-scoop all of my guitar parts, and apply HP/LP to every track, even if just a little just to tighten everything. This one took me years to find, but I was literally choking the life right out of my tones and mixes. Everything I made sounded spongy and blanket covered. For the longest time I attributed this to poor mic preamps or a bad recording environment, and while that may be true, it wasn't the issue. It took a while for me to break those long ingrained practices, but now my mixes are sounding much more present and professional sounding and all I had to do was bypass a few EQ plugins... Basically if you are listening to something and it sounds "weird" then you are probably EQing it too much. After recording a project, bounce a copy of the project with nothing besides volume adjustments for balance between the parts and maybe pan. The results may surprise you. You can reference this against later mixes to see for sure if the changes you are making are for the better.

    3. Use Your Ears: The most expensive option isn't always the best option. Every piece of gear has its own sonic personality and that makes every piece of gear unique in its own right. Lots of beginners are looking for the 'best' piece of gear, whereas seasoned engineers look for the 'right' piece of gear. If the mix demands the mid hump of an SM58, then you'd better use an SM58 and not waste your time playing with a Rode or comparable condenser, or some other mic that may be more "accurate" or "higher quality" but it may not be the right choice. If the mix demands the upper end clarity of a certain mic then use a that mic rather than using the wrong mic and having to EQ it to death later on.

    I see it too many times with people and guitar gear. Here you have a Tubescreamer pedal that's been boosting cranked up tube amps on countless rock and metal recordings containing everyone's favorite guitar tones, and yet some people complain about the low end loss (and/or midrange hump) when you click it on. News for you guitar tone chasers out there, that's what made all of those guitar tones classic. At low volumes you hear the low end loss yes, but at stage volumes you hear the focusing effect that keeps the amp tight rather than allowing it to flub out like it wants to. Then you have people that spend 4k and up on a guitar amplifier that has so much low end at practice volume that it sounds like a bass guitar, and enough low-midrange power to muddy any guitar sound. To make matters worse they don't boost it with a tightening overdrive and they complain about how their sound gets lost in the mix. Don't be deaf, use your ears. The "right" choice isn't always the most logical or most expensive, in fact many times it isn't. Sometimes things just work because they work. Don't fight it.

    4. Mic Positioning: When you hear the word mic positioning, don't immediately think of a microphone, think bigger. Think about the room you are recording in, what you are recording, what that microphone is plugged into, and what you want the result to sound like. The dimensions and reflective qualities of the room will transfer to the recording without fail, make sure you always consider this when positioning the mic. Remember the end result is to transfer the experience of witnessing a band playing live. For us rock/metal guys, you won't get a result that sounds like a cranked arena if you put your amps/drums/vocalists into a coat closet and press record. That's not the way sound works. I don't know where the rumor of "small dead rooms sound better on tape" started, but it couldn't be further from the truth. The approach of recording a dead environment and adding reverb later seems appealing to a beginner because it denotes an easy to follow process, but the reality is that good sound sounds good and bad sound sounds bad. It is far better to record a good sounding room and not have to do anything afterward.

    Going deeper, position your source material (general term for something being recorded) in the room in a place that is most conducive to sound capturing. You don't want to have anything too close to the walls or corners or you will surely pick up those reflections and you will have phasing issues. Depending on where the mic is placed in the room, the reflections are reaching it at a different time interval and this can lead to poor transferal of sound. Certain spots, or "nodes," will have reduced low end because the low frequencies are bouncing off the wall and reaching that point out of phase with the source material. Other spots will have too much low end because the low frequencies are bouncing off the walls and reaching that point in phase with the source material. A good rule for positioning is the "Golden Rule" which utilizes D'Avinci's Golden ratio of roughly 61% of each wall length and room height as the optimum positioning within that room. Next place your mic around the source. Use your ears for this, it helps to have a nice pair of isolation headphones so that you can block out what your ears are hearing and hear only what the microphone is hearing. Do this right and you won't "have" to edit anything in post just to make it sound good.

    OK that is my spiel. Having good gear is definitely a desirable thing, but knowing how to use what you have is more important. That is the drive that sets apart real engineers from hobbyists. When you have hit the wall with a piece of gear that needs upgrading you will KNOW it. Otherwise you should be practicing your technique instead of complaining about how crappy your preamps sound.
  2. jg49

    jg49 Well-Known Member

    Wow, you have come a long way since you first joined. Great piece
  3. Brushuto91@aol.com

    Brushuto91@aol.com Active Member

  4. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Isnt this the 'davedog school of recording crap?'
  5. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    I will add a new point.

    5. Listen to Davedog!: Because Davedog is the MAN!
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I'm so proud of all my children.
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I'm glad I'm not a man anymore.

    Need I say more?
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Should have said less!
  9. jg49

    jg49 Well-Known Member

    Out of the closet into the sun, more or less, doesn't matter
  10. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I dont where this suddenly is going so I'll not encourage it.....

    So listen to yer Mother.
  11. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    Just realized that yesterday was the one year anniversary of this guide. Although I cannot edit the original post at this time (I would assume that too much time has passed) I can't think of anything major that I would change... general principles still apply. If anyone has anything on topic to add, please feel free to do so.

    Anyway, take care :cool:
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    You said everything right. I really can't imagine that anything anybody else would have to say would be of value?

    Got milk?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    Haha. Well maybe I was hoping for a Remy lecture :)

    For point 1 in the original post, for anyone reading, I meant "gain staging" not "gain structure." The latter of which I do not believe is a real term, but I am sure you got the point through the explanation anyway.
  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Funny, I knew that's what you meant. I thought the structure of your staging was clear. In a roundabout, up-and-down, in and out, way which would be the staging of your structure.

    My new issue of FOH (Front Of House) trade journal now features George Peterson as the managing editor. He was formerly the managing editor for MIX magazine for over a decade. He wrote that the downfall of recording studios and folks getting their $500 boxes from Guitar Center made everybody think that they were Recording Producers/engineers and that the bar had been far too lowered in the recording industry today. Weren't we just talking about that? And that live sound now with all of these really cool 64 input, totally recallable, real-time plug-in digital mixers have opened up incredible possibilities for recording everything live with the superlative Roland Yamaha Digi Co. mixers. Oh well...

    We are a dying breed we are.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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