Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies
Home Recording
For Musicians
5th Edition
by Jeff Strong
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies®, 5th Edition
Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774, www.wiley.com
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2014941049
ISBN 978-1-118-96801-7 (pbk); ISBN 978-1-118-96803-1 (ebk); ISBN 978-1-118-96768-3 (ebk)
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Contents at a Glance
Introduction................................................................. 1
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording.................. 5
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording................................................................... 7
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear................................................................................... 17
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio............................................... 49
Part II: Recording 101................................................ 79
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer............................................................................................... 81
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments................................................................. 97
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones..................................................................... 111
Part III: Getting Ready to Record.............................. 137
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound.................................................................... 139
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques............................................... 153
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments............................................................................ 167
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record................... 191
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording................................................................................ 193
Chapter 11: Recording Audio........................................................................................ 203
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data............................................................. 211
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song........ 227
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance........................................................................ 229
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music..................................................................................... 249
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors..................................................................... 277
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music............................................................................... 301
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product.............................................................. 315
Part VI: The Part of Tens........................................... 333
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music................... 335
Chapter 19: Ten Invaluable Recording Tips................................................................ 349
Index....................................................................... 355
Table of Contents
Introduction.................................................................. 1
About This Book............................................................................................... 1
Foolish Assumptions........................................................................................ 2
Icons Used in This Book.................................................................................. 3
Beyond the Book.............................................................................................. 3
Where to Go from Here.................................................................................... 3
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording................... 5
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Examining the Anatomy of a Home Studio.................................................... 7
Exploring the recording essentials....................................................... 8
Checking out recording system types................................................ 10
Getting a Glimpse into the Recording Process........................................... 11
Setting up a song................................................................................... 12
Getting a great sound........................................................................... 12
Recording............................................................................................... 12
Overdubbing.......................................................................................... 12
Making Sense of Mixing.................................................................................. 13
Cleaning up tracks using editing......................................................... 13
Equalizing your tracks.......................................................................... 13
Processing your signal......................................................................... 14
Blending your tracks............................................................................ 14
Adding the Final Touches.............................................................................. 14
Mastering your mixes........................................................................... 14
Putting your music out into the world............................................... 15
Promoting your music.......................................................................... 16
Chapter 2: Get↜渀屮ting the Right Gear. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Determining Your Home Studio Needs........................................................ 18
Detailing Your Digital Options...................................................................... 20
Computer-Based Digital Recording Systems............................................... 22
Finding the right computer setup....................................................... 23
Getting the sound in and out............................................................... 25
Choosing the right software................................................................ 30
Studio-in-a-Box Systems................................................................................. 33
Taking a look at the benefits............................................................... 33
Examining some popular SIAB systems............................................. 34
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Mobile-Device Recording............................................................................... 35
Android.................................................................................................. 35
Apple iOS............................................................................................... 36
Windows................................................................................................ 38
Stand-alone Recorders................................................................................... 38
Examining Analog Goodies............................................................................ 40
The tube stuff........................................................................................ 41
Tape saturation emulators.................................................................. 42
Reality check......................................................................................... 42
Exploring Sample Setups............................................................................... 42
Live and MIDI studio............................................................................. 43
MIDI-intensive studio............................................................................ 43
Live studio............................................................................................. 45
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Understanding Analog Connections............................................................. 49
The ¼-inch analog plug........................................................................ 50
XLR.......................................................................................................... 53
RCA......................................................................................................... 53
Delving into Digital Connections.................................................................. 54
MIDI......................................................................................................... 54
AES/EBU................................................................................................. 55
S/PDIF..................................................................................................... 55
ADAT Lightpipe..................................................................................... 56
TDIF........................................................................................................ 56
USB.......................................................................................................... 56
FireWire.................................................................................................. 57
Thunderbolt.......................................................................................... 58
Sampling Some Studio Setups....................................................................... 59
Audio with some MIDI.......................................................................... 59
MIDI-intensive setup............................................................................. 62
Live audio.............................................................................................. 62
Working Efficiently......................................................................................... 66
Taming heat and dust........................................................................... 68
Monitoring your monitors................................................................... 68
Optimizing Your Room.................................................................................. 69
Isolating sound...................................................................................... 69
Controlling sound................................................................................. 72
Part II: Recording 101................................................. 79
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Meeting the Many Mixers.............................................................................. 81
Analog mixer.......................................................................................... 82
Digital mixer.......................................................................................... 83
Table of Contents
Software mixer...................................................................................... 84
Computer control surface................................................................... 85
Understanding Mixer Basics......................................................................... 87
Examining inputs.................................................................................. 87
Checking out the channel strip........................................................... 89
Recognizing mixer routing................................................................... 94
Opting for outputs................................................................................ 95
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
Meeting MIDI................................................................................................... 98
Perusing MIDI ports.............................................................................. 98
Understanding MIDI channels........................................................... 100
Appreciating MIDI messages............................................................. 101
Managing modes................................................................................. 102
Taking orders from General MIDI..................................................... 102
Gearing Up for MIDI...................................................................................... 103
Sound generators................................................................................ 104
Sound card........................................................................................... 108
MIDI controller.................................................................................... 109
Sequencer............................................................................................ 109
MIDI interface...................................................................................... 110
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Meeting the Many Microphone Types....................................................... 111
Construction types............................................................................. 112
Polarity patterns................................................................................. 118
Assessing Your Microphone Needs........................................................... 122
Deciding How Many Microphones and What Kind................................... 123
Getting started.................................................................................... 123
Movin’ on............................................................................................. 124
Going all out........................................................................................ 125
Finding the Right Mic for the Situation...................................................... 127
Partnering Mics with Preamps.................................................................... 130
Solid-state............................................................................................ 130
Vacuum tube....................................................................................... 131
Hybrid................................................................................................... 131
Considering Compressors........................................................................... 132
Analyzing Some Microphone Accessories................................................ 133
Microphone cords.............................................................................. 133
Microphone stands............................................................................. 133
Pop filters............................................................................................. 133
Caring for Your Microphones..................................................................... 134
Daily care............................................................................................. 135
Storage................................................................................................. 135
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Part III: Getting Ready to Record............................... 137
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Making Sense of the Signal Chain............................................................... 139
Setting Optimal Signal Levels...................................................................... 141
Understanding Pre and Post Levels........................................................... 143
Interpreting the various levels.......................................................... 143
Looking at examples........................................................................... 144
Getting a Great Guitar Sound...................................................................... 146
Creating a Killer Keyboard Sound.............................................................. 147
Making the Most of Microphones............................................................... 148
Placing mics properly........................................................................ 149
Compressing carefully....................................................................... 149
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
Singling Out Spot Miking.............................................................................. 154
Detailing Distant Miking............................................................................... 156
Assessing Ambient Miking........................................................................... 157
Selecting Stereo Miking................................................................................ 159
X-Y pairs............................................................................................... 160
Blumlein technique............................................................................. 161
Spaced pairs........................................................................................ 162
Stereo microphones........................................................................... 163
Overcoming problems with stereo miking...................................... 164
Creating Miking Combinations.................................................................... 166
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Getting a Great Lead Vocal Sound.............................................................. 168
Making the most of the room............................................................ 168
Choosing the best mic........................................................................ 168
Getting Good Backup Vocals....................................................................... 171
Examining Electric Guitar Miking............................................................... 173
Using the room.................................................................................... 173
Getting the most out of the mics...................................................... 173
Exploring Electric Bass Miking................................................................... 175
Managing the room............................................................................. 175
Getting the most from the mic.......................................................... 175
Miking Acoustic Guitars and Similar Instruments.................................... 176
Making the most of the room............................................................ 176
Using your mics.................................................................................. 176
Maneuvering Horn Mics............................................................................... 178
Understanding the role of the room................................................. 178
Making the most of the mics............................................................. 178
Table of Contents
Placing Mics for a Piano............................................................................... 179
Harnessing the sound of the room................................................... 179
Managing the mics.............................................................................. 180
Setting Up Mics for Strings.......................................................................... 180
Making the most of the room............................................................ 181
Making sense of the mics................................................................... 181
Digging into Drum Set Miking...................................................................... 181
First things first: Tuning your drums............................................... 182
Using the room to your benefit......................................................... 182
Picking up the kick (bass) drum....................................................... 184
Setting up the snare drum................................................................. 185
Tackling the tom-toms....................................................................... 186
Handling the hi-hats........................................................................... 187
Creating the best cymbal sound....................................................... 188
Miking the whole kit........................................................................... 188
Getting Your Hands on Hand Drums.......................................................... 189
Perfecting Percussion Miking...................................................................... 190
Exploring the impact of the room..................................................... 190
Choosing and using the mics............................................................ 190
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record.................... 191
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
Understanding Multitracking...................................................................... 193
Getting Ready to Record.............................................................................. 194
Setting up a song................................................................................. 195
Selecting a sound source................................................................... 195
Setting levels....................................................................................... 197
Getting the sound you want.............................................................. 197
Choosing a monitoring source.......................................................... 200
Saving Your Work......................................................................................... 201
Sharing Files with Others............................................................................ 201
Chapter 11: Recording Audio. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
Performing Your First Take......................................................................... 203
Punching In and Out..................................................................................... 204
Manual punching................................................................................ 205
Punching with a foot switch.............................................................. 205
Automatic punching........................................................................... 205
Repeated punching (looping)............................................................ 206
Exploring Overdubbing................................................................................ 207
Submixing...................................................................................................... 208
Bouncing........................................................................................................ 209
Keeping Track of Your Tracks.................................................................... 210
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
Synchronizing Your Devices....................................................................... 211
Synchronizing two (or more) synthesizers..................................... 212
Synchronizing a computer sequencer and a synthesizer.............. 213
Synchronizing a sequencer and an audio recorder....................... 215
Using the transport function from one device
to control another........................................................................... 218
Sequencing.................................................................................................... 218
Recording MIDI data........................................................................... 219
Overdubbing........................................................................................ 221
Editing your data................................................................................ 222
Quantization........................................................................................ 224
Transposing......................................................................................... 224
Saving Your Data.......................................................................................... 225
Transferring Data Using MIDI...................................................................... 225
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song......... 227
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
Understanding Digital Editing..................................................................... 230
Copy...................................................................................................... 231
Cut/Delete/Erase................................................................................. 231
Insert.................................................................................................... 233
Paste..................................................................................................... 234
Move..................................................................................................... 234
Export/Import...................................................................................... 235
Undo..................................................................................................... 235
Finding the Section You Want to Edit........................................................ 236
Editing aurally..................................................................................... 236
Editing visually.................................................................................... 237
Editing to Improve the Sound of a Performance...................................... 239
Replacing a bad note.......................................................................... 240
Evening out a performance............................................................... 241
Getting rid of distortion..................................................................... 243
Getting rid of noise............................................................................. 244
Correcting pitch problems................................................................ 244
Creating a Performance That Never Happened........................................ 245
Creating loops..................................................................................... 245
Assembling a song.............................................................................. 246
Making composites of your tracks................................................... 247
Discovering Other Ways to Use Editing..................................................... 247
Adjusting the length of a performance............................................ 248
Reversing a phrase............................................................................. 248
Table of Contents
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Understanding Mixing.................................................................................. 250
Getting Started Mixing Your Song.............................................................. 251
Exploring Equalization................................................................................. 252
Graphic................................................................................................. 253
High- and low-shelf............................................................................. 253
High- and low-pass filters................................................................... 253
Parametric........................................................................................... 254
Equalizing Your Tracks................................................................................ 254
Dialing in EQ........................................................................................ 255
Starting with general guidelines....................................................... 258
Vocals................................................................................................... 261
Guitar.................................................................................................... 262
Bass...................................................................................................... 262
Drums................................................................................................... 262
Percussion........................................................................................... 264
Piano..................................................................................................... 265
Horns.................................................................................................... 265
Using the Stereo Field.................................................................................. 265
Panning left or right............................................................................ 266
Placing sound in front or back.......................................................... 267
Adjusting Levels: Enhancing the Emotion of the Song............................ 268
Dynamics............................................................................................. 269
The arrangement................................................................................ 270
Automation: Riding the Faders................................................................... 270
Real-time automation......................................................................... 271
Snapshot automation......................................................................... 271
Tuning Your Ears.......................................................................................... 272
Listening critically.............................................................................. 272
Choosing reference recordings......................................................... 274
Dealing with ear fatigue..................................................................... 275
Making several versions.................................................................... 276
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
Connecting Effects........................................................................................ 278
Insert.................................................................................................... 278
Send/return.......................................................................................... 278
Controlling Loudness and Softness with Dynamics Processors............ 280
Introducing compressors/limiters.................................................... 281
Targeting frequency ranges with multiband compression........... 283
Getting started using compression.................................................. 283
Sampling some compression settings.............................................. 284
Introducing gates................................................................................ 290
Getting started using gates................................................................ 291
Introducing expanders....................................................................... 291
Getting started using an expander................................................... 292
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Adding Ambiance with Effects Processors............................................... 293
Introducing reverb.............................................................................. 293
Getting started using reverb............................................................. 295
Introducing delay................................................................................ 296
Getting started using delay................................................................ 297
Introducing pitch shifting.................................................................. 297
Chorus.................................................................................................. 297
Getting started chorusing.................................................................. 298
Simulating Effects......................................................................................... 299
Microphone simulator........................................................................ 299
Amp simulator..................................................................................... 300
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
Demystifying Mastering............................................................................... 302
Processing........................................................................................... 302
Sequencing........................................................................................... 303
Leveling................................................................................................ 303
Getting Ready to Master.............................................................................. 303
Paying a Pro or Doing It Yourself............................................................... 304
Hiring a Professional Mastering Engineer................................................. 305
Mastering Your Music Yourself.................................................................. 307
Optimizing dynamics.......................................................................... 308
Perfecting tonal balance.................................................................... 311
Sequencing your songs...................................................................... 312
Balancing levels.................................................................................. 313
Preparing for Distribution........................................................................... 314
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315
Getting into CD Recording........................................................................... 315
Purchasing CD-Rs......................................................................................... 316
Recording Your Music to CD-R................................................................... 317
Using different CD recorders............................................................. 317
Recording for mass production........................................................ 319
Protecting your rights........................................................................ 321
Making Multiple Copies............................................................................... 321
Doing it yourself.................................................................................. 322
Having someone else do it................................................................. 322
Understanding Downloadable Music Files................................................ 325
Bit rate.................................................................................................. 326
Mode..................................................................................................... 328
Creating MP3 Files........................................................................................ 330
Choosing encoding software............................................................. 330
Encoding your music.......................................................................... 331
Pressing Vinyl............................................................................................... 331
Table of Contents
Part VI: The Part of Tens............................................ 333
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote
Your Music. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 335
Marketing Yourself....................................................................................... 336
Setting Up Your Own Music Website......................................................... 337
Putting Your Music on a Music Host Site.................................................. 339
Engaging in Social Media Networking........................................................ 340
Offering Free Downloads............................................................................. 341
Selling Downloads........................................................................................ 342
Licensing Your Music................................................................................... 343
Streaming Audio........................................................................................... 344
Podcasting..................................................................................................... 345
Selling Your CDs........................................................................................... 346
Connecting with an Email Newsletter........................................................ 347
Chapter 19: Ten Invaluable Recording Tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 349
Using an Analog Tape Deck......................................................................... 349
Layering Your Drum Beats.......................................................................... 350
Decorating Your Room................................................................................ 351
Setting a Tempo Map................................................................................... 351
Listening to Your Mix in Mono................................................................... 351
Doubling and Tripling Your Tracks............................................................ 352
Tapping the Input of Your Mixer................................................................ 352
Overdubbing Live Drums............................................................................ 352
Pressing Record, Even during a Rehearsal................................................ 353
Leaving the Humanity in Your Tracks....................................................... 353
Index........................................................................ 355
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
f you’re like most musicians, you’ve been noodling around on your instrument for a while and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and get serious about recording your ideas. You may just want to throw a few ideas down
onto tape (or hard drive) or capture those magical moments that you have
with your band. Or you may want to compose, record, produce, and release
the next great platinum album. Either way, you’ll find that having a home
studio can give you hours of satisfaction.
Well, you’ve chosen a great time to get involved in audio recording. Not long
ago, you needed to go to a commercial recording studio and spend thousands
of dollars if you wanted to make a decent-sounding recording. Now you can
set up a first-class recording studio in your garage or spare bedroom and
create CDs that can sound as good as those coming out of top-notch studios
(that is, if you know how to use the gear).
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition, is a great place to
start exploring the gear and techniques you need to create great recordings
(if I do say so myself). This book introduces you to home recording and helps
you to get your creative ideas out into the world.
About This Book
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies not only introduces you to the
technology of home recording but also presents basic multitrack recording
techniques. In the pages that follow, you find out about the many types of digital recording systems that are available, including computer-based systems,
all-in-one recorder/mixer systems (called studio-in-a-box systems), and standalone recorders that require separate mixers and effects processors.
You get acquainted with the basic skills that you need to make high-quality
recordings. These skills can save you countless hours of experimenting and
searching through owner’s manuals. In this book, you discover
✓)>>The ins and outs of using the various pieces of equipment in your studio
✓)>>Tried-and-true engineering techniques, such as microphone choice and
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
✓)>>The concepts of multitracking, mixing, and mastering
✓)>>How to turn all your music into complete songs
✓)>>How to assemble and release an album
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies puts you on the fast track toward
creating great-sounding recordings because it concentrates on showing you
skills that you can use right away and doesn’t bother you with tons of technical jargon or useless facts.
Throughout the book, you see sidebars (text in gray boxes) and text marked
with the Technical Stuff icon. Both of these are skippable — they provide
interesting information, but it’s not essential to your understanding of the
subject at hand.
Finally, within this book, you may note that some web addresses break across
two lines of text. If you’re reading this book in print and want to visit one of
these web pages, simply key in the web address exactly as it’s noted in the text,
pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist. If you’re reading this as an
e-book, you’ve got it easy — just click the web address to be taken directly to
the web page.
Foolish Assumptions
I have to admit that when I wrote this book, I made a couple of assumptions
about you, the reader. First, I assume that you’re interested in recording your
music (or someone else’s) in your home and not interested in reading about
underwater basket-weaving (a fascinating subject, I’m sure, but not appropriate for a book entitled Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies).
I assume that you’ll most likely record your music using a digital hard drive
recording system because these are the most common types of systems available. I also assume that you’re relatively new to the recording game and not
a seasoned professional. (Although if you were, you’d find that this book is a
great reference for many audio engineering fundamentals.) Oh, and I assume
that you play a musical instrument or are at least familiar with how instruments function and how sound is produced.
Other than these things, I don’t assume that you play a certain type of music
or that you ever intend to try to “make it” in the music business (or even that
you want to treat it as a business at all).
Icons Used in This Book
Throughout this book, I use a few icons to help you along your way. These
icons are as follows:
The Tip icon highlights expert advice and ideas that can help you to produce
better recordings.
Certain techniques are very important and bear repeating. The Remember
icon gives you those gentle nudges to keep you on track.
Throughout the book, I include some technical background on a subject. The
Technical Stuff icon shows up in those instances so that you know to brace
yourself for some dense information.
The Warning icon lets you know about those instances when you could
damage your equipment, your ears, or your song.
Beyond the Book
In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now,
this product also comes with some access-anywhere goodies on the web.
Check out the free Cheat Sheet at www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/
homerecordingformusicians for helpful information, all provided in a
concise, quick-access format. You can also find articles online that build
on the material you find in this book. Go to www.dummies.com/extras/
homerecordingformusicians for these informative articles.
Where to Go from Here
This book is set up so that you can read it from cover to cover and progressively build on your knowledge, or you can jump around and read only those
parts that interest you at the time. For instance, if you’re getting ready to
record your band and you need some ideas on how to get the best sound out
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
of your microphones, go straight to Chapter 8. If you’re new to this whole
home recording thing and want to know what kind of gear to buy, check out
Chapters 1 and 2.
For the most part, starting at Chapter 1 gets you up to speed on my way
of thinking and can help you understand some of what I discuss in later
Part I
Getting Started with Home
For Dummies can help you get started with lots of subjects. Visit www.dummies.com
to learn more and do more with For Dummies.
In this part . . .
✓)>> Discover the gear you need to build your studio.
✓)>> Understand how the home recording process works.
✓)>> Choose the best recording system for your needs and goals.
✓)>> Set up your studio so that it both sounds good and is easy
to work in.
Chapter 1
Understanding Home Recording
In This Chapter
▶)>>Exploring the components of a home studio
▶)>>Peering into the process of recording
▶)>>Making sense of mixing and mastering
▶)>>Finishing up your project
udio recording is a fun and exciting activity. Being able to put down
your musical ideas and craft them into an album is nearly every musician’s dream. The only problem is the learning curve that comes with being
able to record your music at home; most musicians would rather spend their
time and energy making music.
In this chapter, I help you get a handle on the basics of home recording and
show you what’s involved in the process. You discover the basic components
of a recording studio and find out what gear you need to buy first. In addition,
you explore the multitracking process and find out what’s involved in mixing
your tracks. You move on to exploring mastering and finding ways to share your
music with your listeners.
Examining the Anatomy of a
Home Studio
Whether it’s a $100 porta-studio or a million-dollar commercial facility, all
audio recording studios contain the same basic components. Understanding
these basic components is an area where many people get lost and one about
which I receive the most emails. As you glimpse the recording world, you’ll
inevitably think that recording your own music will cost way too much and
be way too complicated. Well, it can be. But it can also be pretty simple and
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
cost-efficient. In the following sections, I present a list of audio-recording
essentials and offer insight into cost-saving and efficient systems that you
can find on the market.
Exploring the recording essentials
To take the mystery out of recording gear, here are the essentials that you
need to know:
✓)>>Sound source: The sound source is your voice, your guitar, your ukulele,
or any other of the many sound makers in existence. As a musician, you
probably have at least one of these at your disposal right now.
✓)>>Input device: Input devices are what you use to convert your sound into
an electrical impulse that can then be recorded. Here are the three basic
types of input devices:
•Instruments: Your electric guitar, bass, synthesizer, and drum
machines are typical instruments that you plug into the mixer.
These instruments constitute most of the input devices that you
use in your studio. The synthesizer and drum machine can plug
directly into your mixer or recorder, whereas your electric guitar
and bass need a direct box (or its equivalent, such as a Hi-Z input
in your mixer) to plug into first. A direct box is an intermediary
device that allows you to plug your guitar directly into the mixer.
Chapter 7 explores instruments and their connections to your
•Microphones: A microphone (or mic) enables you to record the
sound of a voice or an acoustic instrument that you can’t plug
directly into the recorder. A microphone converts sound waves
into electrical energy that can be understood by the recorder. I
detail several types of microphones in Chapter 6.
•Sound modules: Sound modules are special kinds of synthesizers
and/or drum machines. What makes a sound module different from
a regular synthesizer or drum machine is that a sound module contains no triggers or keys that you can play. Instead, sound modules
are controlled externally by another synthesizer’s keyboard or by
a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controller (a specialized
box designed to control MIDI instruments). Sound modules have
MIDI ports (MIDI jacks) that enable you to connect them to other
equipment. Chapter 5 digs into the details about sound modules.
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording
•Software synthesizers: Software synthesizers (also known as
softsynths) are software programs that don’t need hardware MIDI
connections because the sound modules are stored on your computer’s hard drive.
ç’•å±´Depending on what your sound source is, it may also be an input device.
For example, an electric guitar has pickups that allow you to plug it
directly into a mixer input without having to use a microphone. On the
other hand, your voice can’t accept a cord, so you need to use a mic
to turn your singing into an electrical impulse that can be picked up
by your mixer or equivalent device. You can find out more about input
devices in Chapter 7.
✓)>>Mixer: You use a mixer to send the electrical signal of your input device
into your recorder and to route signals in a variety of ways. Traditionally, a
mixer serves the following purposes:
•Routing your signals into your recorder: This allows you to set
the proper level for each input device so that it’s recorded with the
best possible sound. Chapter 4 explores the different mixer-type
devices for this purpose.
•Blending (mixing) your individual tracks into a stereo pair (the
left and right tracks of your stereo mix) or surround sound channels: This role of the mixer is where your vision as a music producer takes center stage and where you can turn raw tracks into a
polished piece of music. Chapter 14 explores this use of a mixer.
✓)>>Recorder: The recorder stores your audio data. For most home recordists, the recorder is digital. You can find out more about the different
types of recorders in the next section of this chapter.
✓)>>Signal processors: Most of the time, you have to tweak your recorded
tracks. Signal processors give you the power to do this. Signal processors can be divided into the following basic categories:
•Equalizers (EQ): Equalizers let you adjust the frequency balance of
your tracks. This is important for making your instruments sound
as clear as possible and for getting all your tracks to blend well.
•Dynamics processors: Dynamics processors are used to control
the balance between the softest and loudest parts of your tracks.
They have many uses in the studio to help you make your tracks
sit well together and to keep from overloading your system.
Chapters 7, 15, and 16 explore ways to use dynamics processors in
your music.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
•Effects processors: Effects processors allow you to change your
tracks in a variety of ways, to create either a more realistic sound
or unusual effects. Typical effects processors include reverb, delay,
chorus, and pitch shifting. You can find out more about these processors in Chapter 15.
✓)>>Monitors: Monitors, such as quality headphones or speakers, enable
you to hear the quality of your recording and mixing. Monitors come in
three basic designs:
•Headphones: Headphones come in an astonishing variety. Some
are good for listening to music, while others are good for recording
and mixing music. Most home recordists start with headphones
because they typically cost a lot less than speakers and serve the
double duty of allowing you to hear yourself while you record and
allowing you to hear the mix when all your tracks are done.
•Passive: Passive monitors are like your stereo speakers in that you
also need some sort of amplifier to run them. A ton of options are
available with prices from around $100. Just remember that if you
go this route, you need to budget money for an amp, which can run
a few hundred dollars or more.
•Active: Active monitors have an integrated amplifier in each
speaker cabinet. Having a built-in amp has its advantages, including just the right amount of power for the speakers and short runs
of wire from the amp itself to the speakers (this is kind of a tweaky
area that some people claim produces a better sound). You can
find quite a few active monitors on the market starting at just a
couple hundred dollars.
Checking out recording system types
With the long list of equipment that I present in the previous section, you
may think that you need to spend a ton of money to get everything you need.
Fortunately, home-recording systems are available that contain many of the
components you need, so you don’t have to buy everything separately. I go
into detail about these systems in Chapter 2, but here’s a basic overview:
✓)>>Studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems: These are all-in-one units that have
everything in them except for the sound source, input device, and monitors. For very little money (starting well under $1,000), you get almost
everything you need to start recording. These types of systems are also
easy for a beginner to use and are great for musicians who don’t want to
spend a ton of energy tweaking their setups.
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording
✓)>>Computer-based systems: These systems use the processing power
of your computer to record, mix, and process your music. Computerbased systems, similar to the SIAB systems, perform many of the typical
recording functions at once. When you have one of these systems, you
only need your sound source, your input devices, and your monitors.
✓)>>Stand-alone systems: These systems are reminiscent of traditional
recording studios in that all the pieces of gear are separate. The downside is that you have to buy all your components separately, which can
cost you more than buying one of the more inclusive systems (for example, the SIAB and computer-based systems). For people who already
have a bunch of gear, such as a mixer and signal processors, this can be
a decent option because you’re buying only what you need at the time.
✓)>>Ultra-portable systems: Even though the rest of the systems I describe
here can be portable, ultra-portable systems are designed so that you
can record nearly anywhere with little fuss. These types of systems
include linear recorders and tablet computers, which I introduce in
Chapter 2. Like SIAB and computer-based systems, most of what you
need is included so all you have to worry about are your sound sources,
input devices (or not — some come with mics already), and monitors
(most often just a set of headphones).
Getting a Glimpse into the
Recording Process
It’s easy to focus on all the gear that’s used in audio recording and think
that the process must be pretty complicated. Well, it can be if you want it
to, but it doesn’t have to be. The heart of recording over the last 40 years
or so has been an approach called multitracking. At its core, multitracking
involves recording all the instruments on separate tracks so that you can
mix them later almost any way you want. You can multitrack by recording
everything — or at least most of the instruments — at one time, just like a
live performance, or you can go to the other extreme and record each instrument separately. Either way, you need a bunch of tracks to be able to record
to, and you need to understand how to blend all these separate pieces into
something musical.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Setting up a song
The first step in recording your music is to set up your system to record.
Because you’re probably using a digital system, you need to configure your
song. This usually involves setting the file type, bit depth, and sample rate.
This process is one that you’ll become very good at in no time. For the lowdown on setting up songs in various systems, check out Chapter 10.
Getting a great sound
Getting your sound source to sound great in your system is the most important aspect of recording quality music (well, aside from the song and the
performances). This is also an area where you’ll constantly be growing and
learning. I’ve been recording professionally since 1985, but I still discover
something new every time I set up a mic or plug in an electronic instrument.
Any time you spend tweaking your mic placement or recording chain setup
(configuration and levels) is time well spent, and the reward is often added
clarity or at least a more interesting sound. For an introduction to the intricacies of recording high-quality source sounds, check out Part III of this book.
After you have everything set up, the actual process of recording your music
properly is pretty straightforward: You enable your track and press the
Record button. This is easier said than done when the clock is ticking and
you know that every mistake you make is being documented. Luckily, digital
recording makes it easy to redo a track without costing you anything in audio
fidelity. (It will cost you time, but because you record at home, you may have
more time to get your recording right.) Check out Chapter 11 for the specifics
on recording using a variety of digital systems.
With one track recorded, you’re ready to dig into one of the most invigorating parts of the multitracking process: overdubbing. Overdubbing is the process of adding new tracks to your existing ones. This feature allows you to
be the one-man band or to bring in other musicians to spice up your music.
Overdubbing is easily done with digital multitrack recorders. To get you
going quickly, I cover the details in Chapter 11.
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording
Making Sense of Mixing
For most recordists, the process of mixing is what turns their mishmash of
musical tracks into a song. Mixing involves the following steps:
✓)>>Cleaning up your tracks by removing unwanted noise and performance
✓)>>Equalizing each track so that it blends well with all the others
✓)>>Adding signal processing to enhance each track
✓)>>Setting levels for each track to tell the story you want to tell with your
The following sections offer an overview of these steps.
Cleaning up tracks using editing
When you record, you want the best possible sound and performance for
each instrument that you can get, but try as you might, sometimes you run
into problems. These can include picking up unwanted sounds, such as chair
squeaks, coughs, or other instruments, and can include (and often does)
mistakes a musician makes that need to be cut out. In the olden days of tape
recording, this editing process, which involved physically cutting out the bad
parts of the tape with a razor blade, took time and skill. Today, you can do
the necessary editing by using the editing functions in digital systems. This
is nice, but it can also tempt you into editing your tracks more than is necessary and, as a result, can suck the life out of them. To help you understand
what you can do with digital recording systems and to help keep you on track
with your editing, check out Chapter 13.
Equalizing your tracks
When you start mixing a bunch of instruments, you often need to adjust
the frequencies present in each instrument so that they all blend without
creating mush (a highly technical term). By adjusting the frequencies of
each instrument in the mix, you can make sure that each can be heard. This
process is simple, but it can be time consuming. To make it easier for you,
I cover equalization in detail in Chapter 14.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Processing your signal
In the world of multitracking and small, acoustically untreated recording
rooms (most home recordists use a spare bedroom or basement to record
in and don’t have a ton of money to make the room sound great), it’s almost
essential to process the sound with effects or dynamics processors. Doing so
is usually intended to add the feel of a live concert to the recording, although
many people also use signal processing to create interesting effects. Because
the possibilities for processing your track using a digital system are almost
limitless, this is an area where most beginners overdo it. The ability to alter
your tracks can be used and abused — I cover the basics of processing in
Chapter 15 to help you keep the abuse to a minimum.
Blending your tracks
This is also a process in which most new recordists run into problems.
Properly mixing your tracks means keeping levels from getting out of hand,
placing things where you want them in the sound field (left to right and front
to back), adjusting EQ to blend all your instruments in a pleasing way, and
using signal processors, such as compression and reverb, to make the most
of each track. This process is a circular one and takes skill and patience to
get right. Cutting corners always results in an end product that falls short of
its potential. To help you make this process easier, I cover mixing in detail in
Chapters 14 and 15.
Adding the Final Touches
After your songs are recorded and mixed, all that’s left to do is add the finishing touches. These include mastering your songs, putting them all on CD, and
getting them out into the world through promotion.
Mastering your mixes
Mastering is an often-misunderstood (and even unknown to many) part of the
music production process that can make or break a CD (well, not literally).
Mastering consists of several important steps that are intended to polish
your songs so that they make up a complete collection on a CD, commonly
referred to as an album. Here are the steps for mastering your songs:
Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording
1.)>> Optimize the dynamics.
ç’•å±´ The goal here is to get the dynamic levels within and between each song
to their best. It also means making your music smooth (no sharp edge to
the music) or punchy (a pronounced attack) — or something in between.
Unfortunately, most people are concerned only with getting their CDs
as loud as possible when performing this part of mastering. This isn’t a
good idea, as you find out in Chapter 16.
2.)>> Adjust the overall tonal balance.
ç’•å±´ The point of this part of the mastering process is to create tonal continuity among all the songs on your CD. Because you probably recorded
and mixed all your tunes over a period of months, each song may have
slightly different tonal characteristics. This part of mastering is where
you make all your songs consistent so that they sound like part of an
album and not a bunch of disjointed tunes thrown together haphazardly.
3.)>> Match the song-to-song volume.
ç’•å±´ When your listeners play your CD, you don’t want them to have to
adjust the volume of each song as it plays (unless they absolutely love
a particular tune and want to turn it up, of course). The goal with this
part of mastering is to get the volume of all the songs on a CD at pretty
much the same level. This keeps one song from barely being heard while
another threatens to blow the speakers.
4.)>> Set the song sequence.
ç’•å±´ How your songs are arranged on your CD helps tell your story. Think
about how the order of each song on your album can make the most
compelling musical statement. This part of the mastering process
involves not only deciding what order everything should be in but also
the steps you take to make it happen.
Putting your music out into the world
Formatting your finished and mastered songs for distribution and sales is one
of the most exciting parts of the recording process. At last, you have a product, a complete musical statement that you can share with (or sell to) others.
Like a lot of audio recording and production, the act of making distributable
and saleable music is more involved than simply clicking the Burn button
in your CD-recording program (at least if you want to make more than one
copy) or uploading your music to a website.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
In today’s largely digital world you have two basic distribution methods:
streaming/downloadable music and physical CDs. As a throwback, more and
more people are releasing music on vinyl records today.
Dealing with digital distribution
All music is now delivered, first and foremost, as a digital file. MP3 and AAC
are the most popular formats. Depending on where your music goes, such
as iTunes, Amazon, or any of a myriad of Internet music sites, you need to
encode your music to meet the site’s requirements. It’s a pretty simple process, but one that’s closely tied to an area most musicians would rather not
have to deal with: promotion. I cover this topic in Chapters 17 and 18.
Creating CD copies
For CD copying, you can either duplicate or replicate your CDs to make
copies to give or sell to your fans. Here’s a quick rundown on the differences
between these two approaches (Chapter 17 explains them in detail):
✓)>>Duplication: Duplication consists of burning multiple CD-Rs from an
audio file. Duplication requires very little setup, so it doesn’t cost much
to make smaller quantities, such as 50 to 500 CDs.
✓)>>Replication: The replication process starts with producing a glass master
from your finished CD-R. This master CD is then used to create CDs using
special CD presses, just like the major-label releases. Replication costs
a bit more for setup, but the cost to create larger quantities of CDs is
lower than that for duplication. This is a good choice for quantities of 500
or more.
Embracing vinyl
Many indie musicians are also embracing vinyl as a medium for their music.
There are several reasons, many of which relate to creating a more compelling product. It’s also worth mentioning that vinyl is much harder to pirate
than a downloadable digital file. This is adding to appeal of vinyl records
as a cost worth considering. I cover the details of making vinyl records in
Chapter 17.
Promoting your music
The final and most grueling step of recording and putting out a CD is the promotion process. This is where you either make it or break it as an independent artist. To help you along, I offer ideas and insights in Chapter 18.
Chapter 2
Get↜渀屮ting the Right Gear
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding your home recording needs
▶)>>Taking a look at digital recorders
▶)>>Understanding analog studio equipment
▶)>>Exploring a few different recording systems
or many people, building a home studio is a gradual thing. You may start
out with a synthesizer and a two-track recorder and add a microphone.
Then you may decide to buy a multitrack recorder. Then you trade in your
stereo speakers for real studio monitors. And before you know it, you’ve
invested thousands of dollars in a first-rate home studio.
When setting up your home studio, you can go a couple of routes. You can
walk into your local musical instrument store or pro audio shop without any
forethought, buy the pieces of gear that catch your eye, and then figure out
where you may use them in your studio. (Hey, don’t laugh — I’ve done this.)
Or, you can determine your goals ahead of time and research each piece of
equipment before you buy it to make sure that it’s the best possible solution
for you at the best price point. I recommend the latter approach because you
end up with only the equipment that you need and not a bunch of useless
gear that may only ever look good sitting in your studio.
The process of choosing the right equipment doesn’t have to be difficult. All it
takes is a little self-assessment and some basic knowledge about the different
equipment options. This chapter helps you discover these things. Here you
explore a few different system configurations and begin to understand what
can work for your situation. You also become familiar with some of the many
analog extras that so many people who favor digital recording want today.
Digital recording technology is evolving at an incredible rate. As soon
as the ink dries on this paper, the next best thing in recording gear may
surpass much of the technology that I write about in this chapter. It’s
tempting to always look to the next great innovation before you decide on
a recording system, but I caution you against this wait-and-see attitude.
Digital recording technology is now at the point that what you can record
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
in your meager home studio can sound as fat, as clean, or as (insert your
favorite recording adjective here) as the best recordings that have been
released in the last 20 years.
Don’t be afraid to just jump in and start recording. The way to great-sounding
recordings is through hours of recording experience (not to mention having
great songs with which to work).
Some of the equipment that I describe in this chapter isn’t on the top of the
list for most home recordists. I discuss this equipment, though, because you’ll
likely be taken over by a disease that runs rampant in the audio recording
world. Yes, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re almost assuredly going to get a
chronic case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). Don’t worry; it’s not terminal
(unless, of course, you don’t run your future purchases by your family first),
but it can be uncomfortable. Nothing much is worse than having your eye on
a piece of gear you just can’t afford. “Let’s see, food for a month or that new
compressor I’ve just gotta have? . . . Oh well, I needed to go on a diet anyway.”
The good news is that you’ll never run out of new equipment to drool over
and you’ll never be alone in your suffering — everyone who owns a recording studio (private or commercial) suffers from GAS to some extent. The best
way to keep GAS at bay is to decide on a system and buy it. Then stop looking at gear and get to work making music. After all, that’s why you bought the
stuff in the first place.
Determining Your Home Studio Needs
Home studios can vary tremendously. A home studio can be simple, like a
handheld digital recorder with a built-in microphone set up in the corner of
your bedroom. Or you can opt for something elaborate, like a multitrack digital
recorder with thousands of dollars in outboard gear and expensive instruments
residing in an acoustically treated addition to your house (whew!).
Whatever your budget, your first step before purchasing a home recording
system is to determine your recording goals. Use the following questions to
help you uncover what you truly need (and want) in your home studio. As
you answer these questions, remember that most recording studios aren’t
built all at once — pieces of equipment are added slowly over time (a mic
here, a preamp there). When getting your first home studio system, start with
only those pieces of gear that you really need and then add on slowly as you
get to know your equipment.
For most home recordists, the weakest link in their recording system is their
engineering know-how. A $4,000 mic is useless until you gain an understanding
of the subtleties of mic placement, for instance. (Check out Chapter 8 for more
on such subtleties.) I recommend that you wait to buy that next piece of gear
until you completely outgrow your present piece of equipment.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
To get an understanding of what kind of home studio is best for you, ask
yourself the following questions:
✓)>>How much money can I spend on equipment? For most people, money
is the ultimate determining factor in choosing their studio components.
Set a budget and try to stay within it. The sky’s the limit on what you can
spend on recording equipment for your home studio, but you don’t need
to spend a ton of money. If you know your goals and do your research, you
can create top-quality recordings without having the best of everything.
ç’•å±´In fact, your skill as a recording engineer has a much greater effect
on the overall quality of your sound than whether you have a $3,000
preamp. With the techniques that you discover in this book and tricks
that you uncover as you get to know your equipment, you can make
recordings good enough to compete in the marketplace.
ç’•å±´Digital recording technology has improved tremendously over the last few
years and will continue to improve in the years to come. Don’t get sucked
into the belief that you have to have the latest, greatest thing to make
great music, otherwise you’ll always be buying something. After all, great
albums and number-one hits throughout history were recorded on lesser
equipment than you can find in most home studios today. Focus on the
song and the arrangement — practicing solid recording techniques — and
you can get by with any of the pro or semipro recording systems available.
✓)>>Is this studio just for me, or do I intend to hire it out to record others?
Your answer to this question may help you decide how elaborate a
system you need. For example, if you eventually want to hire yourself
and your studio out to record other people, you need to think about
the compatibility of your system with other commercial studios. Your
clients need to be able to take the music that they record at your studio
and mix or master it somewhere else. You may also have to buy specific
gear that clients want to use, which often means spending more money
for equipment from sought-after manufacturers that may sound the
same as lesser-name stuff. If you’re interested in going the commercial
studio route, check out other commercial studios in your area and find
out what they use and what type of equipment their clients ask for.
ç’•å±´If this studio is just for your use, you can focus on getting the best
bang for the buck on gear without worrying about compatibility or
marketability issues.
✓)>>Will I be recording everything directly into the mixing board, or will
I be miking most of the instruments? Your answer to this question is
going to dictate your choice in how much of your budget goes toward
equipment and acoustical treatments for your room. If you intend to plug
your instruments directly into the mixer and you only need a microphone
for the occasional vocal, you have more money to spend on synthesizers or plug-ins for your digital audio workstation (DAW) — or you just
won’t have to spend as much. (DAWs are covered in detail in the section
“Computer-Based Digital Recording Systems,” later in this chapter.)
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
ç’•å±´Conversely, if you plan to record a band live, you must allocate enough
money for those pieces of gear to allow you to do that effectively, such
as having enough mics and inputs, sound isolation, and available tracks
of simultaneous recording.
✓)>>How many tracks do I need? The answer to this question is important if
you’re considering a system that has limited tracks, such as stand-alone
recorder or studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems that come with 4, 8, 16, 24 (and
sometimes more) available tracks. (For the lowdown on these systems, see
the sections, “Studio-in-a-Box Systems” and “Stand-alone Recorders,” later
in this chapter.) This question is still worth considering even if you end up
with a computer-based system because, even though many recording software programs boast having “unlimited” available tracks, you’re still limited by the power of your computer and the number of inputs and outputs
contained in your audio interface hardware. (For more on the capabilities
of computer-based systems, check out the section, “Computer-Based
Digital Recording Systems,” later in this chapter.)
ç’•å±´Having more tracks is not necessarily a better thing. The more tracks
you have, the more you think that you need to fill them for every song.
This can make for cluttered arrangements and hard-to-mix songs. No
matter how many tracks you end up with, use only those that you need
to make your recording the best that it can be.
ç’•å±´With digital recorders, you can create submixes and bounce several
tracks into one or two without losing sound quality, reducing the need for
more tracks. (Find out more about bouncing in Chapter 11.) Remember
that some great albums were made using just four or eight tracks.
✓)>>Will I be sequencing the parts or playing the instruments live? If you
plan on sequencing all your music (that is, programming your part into
a computer or sequencer and having it play your part for you), make
sure that you get a good MIDI controller. You can also consider having
less capability for audio tracks. But if you plan to play and record all the
instruments live, make sure that your recorder has enough tracks for
you to put each instrument on its own track.
Detailing Your Digital Options
Even with the fast pace of today’s technology, one thing is for sure in the
home recording world: Digital is here to stay. Digital recording has become the
standard for home recordists and most commercial studios. And the format
of choice is hard drive because it has many advantages over the other forms
of digital recording. Not only does hard drive recording create a great sound,
but it’s also relatively inexpensive, especially compared with an equivalentsounding studio from 15 to 20 years ago.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
In the sections that follow, I examine the main types of digital home studios:
computer-based DAWs, the all-in-one SIAB systems (such as the Zoom R8
or R16), and stand-alone recorders (like the TASCAM X-48MIKII). Each has
its advantages. What’s right for one person may not be the best choice for
another. (Isn’t it great to have choices?)
Regardless of the type of digital recording system that you like, consider the
following things before buying:
✓)>>Editing capabilities: Some systems allow very fine editing of audio data,
while others offer less. If you want so much control that you can edit down
to the waveform — which basically means being able to edit out a single
note or even just a part of a note — look for a system with that capability.
If such control is less important to you, take a pass on such systems.
ç’•å±´Along with the actual editing capabilities, find out how this editing is
done. Is it on a tiny LCD screen or can it be done on a large computer
monitor? Of course, if you won’t be doing a lot of editing, this feature
may not be important to you. If this is the case, you may be able to buy
a system for less money that sounds as good as the one with full editing
capability. Paying for something that you won’t use doesn’t make sense.
✓)>>Compatibility: Compatibility between the various parts of your system
(the recorder and sequencer or the software and audio interface, for
instance) or between your studio and other studios (your friend’s or
a commercial studio) is an important issue for many people and one
that may come back to bite you if you don’t consider it before you buy
a system. For example, some plug-ins don’t work with certain software
programs. If you just have to have a certain soft-synth (software synthesizer) or amp simulator plug-in, make sure that you buy a system that
allows you to use it. (Plug-ins are extra sounds, samples, and effects that
you can “plug in” to your computer-based DAW’s software program to
increase its capabilities.) Likewise, some sound cards don’t work well
with certain software programs.
✓)>>Number of simultaneous tracks: Even though a recorder may say it has
16 tracks, it may not be able to actually record that number of tracks
at one time. Most SIAB recorders, for example, record fewer tracks
than they can play back at once. This usually isn’t a problem because
you likely record only a few tracks at a time and overdub the rest. This
would be a problem if you needed to record all 16 tracks of a 16-track
recorder, such as recording a band playing live at a club.
✓)>>Realistic track count: If you end up considering a computer-based
system, the number of tracks that a computer software program is
advertised to record and how many tracks you can actually record with
your computer are often two very different things. Find out beforehand
what a realistic track count is with the central processing unit (CPU)
and random-access memory (RAM) that you have so that you’re not
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
disappointed after you’ve forked over your hard-earned money. The best
way to do this is to go to online forums (you can find some by typing
audio recording forum in your favorite search engine) or talk to other
users in your area to see what their real-world experiences are.
✓)>>Sample rate and bit depth: The sample rate and the bit depth of the
system determine the sound quality that it can record. (The bit depth is
the size of the audio sample in binary digits, and the sample rate is how
often the sample is taken per second — notated as kHz.) Most semipro
and pro systems have a 24-bit resolution and the ability to record at several bandwidths — 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 kHz, for instance. The number
of tracks may vary depending on what bandwidth setting you choose.
ç’•å±´Although most pros still record at 44.1 kHz (the standard for CD audio),
more people now want to record at 96 kHz (the standard for DVD audio)
or even 192 kHz (the current high end of audio recording). Even with
the most expensive recorder, you have to live with having about half
as many tracks at your disposal when recording at 96 kHz instead of
44.1 kHz because of the additional processing power it takes to record at
the higher resolution.
✓)>>Expandability: As you learn and grow as a musician and recording engineer, your needs also grow. Knowing this, your best bet is to plan ahead
and choose a system that can grow with you. Can you add more tracks
by synching another machine or increasing available RAM? Can you
easily synchronize the system with other machines? For example, if you
want to record 24 tracks now and you use a stand-alone recorder, can
you add another recorder and have it synch properly? Or, if you buy an
SIAB and you want to add more inputs later, can the system you’re looking at do that? Some can and some can’t, so do your research and think
about your future needs.
ç’•å±´You’ll find that almost all the new semipro and pro systems available are
expandable, but explore these questions carefully if you look at purchasing
used gear.
Computer-Based Digital
Recording Systems
Computer-based DAW systems are hardware and software options that you
can connect to your computer. These systems can be pretty straightforward, such as simple two-track recording freeware that you install on your
home computer using a stock sound card. Or, you can go for a sophisticated
system, like built-from-the-ground-up computers optimized to do one thing
and one thing only: record, mix, and play back audio. (Okay, that’s three
things, but you get my point.)
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
To set up a computer-based DAW, you need the following things:
✓)>>A computer (preferably with a speedy processor)
✓)>>A bunch of memory and dual hard drives
✓)>>A sound card or an audio interface (the interface between the computer
and the outside world, usually housing the converters and sometimes
the preamps)
✓)>>The software
Finding the right computer setup
No matter which computer platform you choose (see the nearby sidebar
“Mac or PC?”), the stuff that you find inside your computer plays a major role
in determining how smoothly (or how less-than-smoothly) your DAW runs.
I suggest buying a computer that you can dedicate solely to recording audio,
because running other types of applications (home finance software, word
processors, or videogames) can cause problems with your audio applications
and reduce the stability of your system.
Mac or PC?
Whether to buy a Mac or a PC is a hotly
debated topic among home recordists. Most
professional studios used to favor Macintosh
computers for recording audio. PCs were
thought to have too many bugs to work well
for audio. Even if this were true in the past,
it’s not true anymore. Your decision between
a Mac- or PC-based recording system should
be based more on your personal preferences
in computer platforms and the particular software that you intend to use rather than which
one is more stable. Either platform may or
may not be stable, depending on what you’re
trying to do.
Choose the software that you want to use, and
buy the computer that has the best track record
for running that software. Some programs are
available only for one platform or another. For
example, Logic Pro X and Digital Performer are
Mac-only programs, and Sound Forge and Sonar
are available only for Windows PC users. Other
programs, such as Nuendo and Pro Tools, are
available for both Mac and Windows computers.
If you already have a computer or if you prefer
one platform over another (PC or Mac), be sure
to determine whether a program works on that
platform before you buy it.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
The following list clues you in on the various pieces of hardware that you find
in your computer:
✓)>>CPU: The CPU is the heart of your computer studio. The speed of your
CPU ultimately dictates how well a program runs on it. As a general rule,
for audio, get the fastest processor that you can afford. For most audio
software, you need at least a dual-core CPU. But honestly, these requirements are the absolute minimum that you’ll need to use the software
programs. If you want a system that can handle the demands of recording or mixing many tracks (24 or more), you’ll need to step it up a notch
or two and get a computer with a dual or quad core processors (Mac or
PC — it doesn’t matter).
✓)>>Memory: Computer-based audio programs and all the associated plugins are RAM hogs. Here’s my advice: Buy a lot of RAM. Okay, that’s not
very specific, but how much you need depends on your recording style.
If you record a lot of audio tracks and want reverb or another effect on
each track, you need more RAM (and a faster processor). If you record
mainly MIDI tracks with instruments that already have the effects that
you want, you can get by with less RAM (and a slower processor).
ç’•å±´For most software programs, the recommended minimum amount of
RAM is around 4GB; 8GB is recommended for typical use, and 16GB or
more enables the program to run much more smoothly. RAM is relatively
inexpensive, so get as much as you can. I’m currently using 5GB of RAM,
and I’m at the low end of what’s comfortable.
ç’•å±´Regardless of the platform that you choose (PC or Mac), keep in mind that
you can never have a processor that’s too fast or have too much RAM.
✓)>>Hard drives: To record audio, make sure that you get the right type of
hard drives. Notice that I said hard drives (plural). Yep, you should get
more than one if you want to record more than a few tracks of audio. You
need one hard drive for all the software and the operating system and
another drive for the audio data. Having this setup greatly increases the
likelihood that your system remains stable and doesn’t crash, especially
if you try to run 16 or more tracks.
ç’•å±´As for the size of the hard drive, bigger is better, at least for the drive
where you store your music. For the core system drive, you can get by
with an 80GB drive; for the audio drive, having even 120GB is pretty conservative because audio data can consume a ton of space. For example,
a five-minute song with 16 tracks recorded at 24 bits and a 44.1 kHz
sample rate takes up about 600MB of hard drive space (that’s about
7.5MB per track minute). If you choose to record at 96 kHz, you can
double this figure.
ç’•å±´You may also want to add a third hard drive so you can back up your
data. I usually buy a duplicate to my recording drive and transfer my
work each day. As computer experts often say, “Your data doesn’t
exist if it doesn’t exist in at least two places.” If you prefer not to have
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
a third hard drive, you can burn your data to DVDs or even use an
online backup or storage service, such as ADrive (www.adrive.com),
Backblaze (www.backblaze.com), Carbonite (www.carbonite.com),
Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), or Mozy (www.mozy.com). (↜渀屮You can find
more services like these by typing online data storage into your favorite
web browser.)
ç’•å±´Choose your hard drives wisely. For the software hard drive, you can
get by with a stock drive (usually the one that comes with your computer). But for the audio side, you need a drive that can handle the
demands of transferring audio data. Here are the main things to look
for in an audio drive:
•Spindle speed: Also called rotational speed, this is the rate at
which the hard drive spins. For the most part, a 7,200-rpm drive
works well for recording and playing back audio.
•Seek time: This is the amount of time that it takes the drive to
find the data that’s stored on it. Many manufacturers no longer list
this spec, but if they do, look for an average seek time of less than
10 milliseconds.
•Buffer size: Often called a cache buffer, buffers are memory units
that store data as the data is being transferred. According to the
audio-recording software manufacturers, you need a buffer size of
at least 16MB, but I recommend that you get a drive with at least a
32MB buffer.
•Interface type: Most external drives contain ports for a variety of
interface types, such as USB 3, eSATA, FireWire and, sometimes
The track count that you get out of your system is directly related to the
speed of your hard drive — the faster the drive, the more tracks you can
record and play back at one time. (Of course, the type of drive you buy determines how large a role your processor plays.) My current drives are Seagate
Barracudas — 7,200 rpm, 3Gb/s, 3TB, with a 64MB cache buffer (around $100).
For external drives, I’ve also had good luck with LaCie d2 2TB 7,200 rpm drive
with a 32MB cache; this drive can be found for under $200.
Getting the sound in and out
After you have a computer with enough speed and muscle (see the preceding
section), you need the appropriate hardware to transfer the sound into and
out of it. This requires a device called an audio interface. Audio interfaces are
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
available with three types of connection methods: PCIe, FireWire, and USB.
Here’s a quick rundown on the three types (the details are spelled out in the
following sections):
✓)>>PCIe: PCIe interfaces are inserted into one of the PCIe slots located
inside your computer’s case.
✓)>>FireWire: FireWire interfaces connect to one of the FireWire ports in
your computer.
✓)>>USB: USB interfaces connect to your computer — you guessed it — through
one of the USB ports in your computer.
The Intel-developed Thunderbolt interface (originally called Light Peak)
is considered by many to be the future of audio and video connectivity.
Thunderbolt offers speeds from 20 to 100 gigabits per second, which is
considerably faster than PCI, FireWire, and USB options. Although no
Thunderbolt audio interfaces are available as this book goes to press, expect
this to change soon — maybe as soon as you’re reading this book. I wouldn’t
expect interfaces using Thunderbolt to be cheap, however. With all this
speed, manufacturers will want to include a ton of inputs and outputs, so
expect to pay for them. Still, this may be a great way to go if your goal is to
record many tracks at once.
PCIe interfaces
Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) is the old standard for getting
audio into and out of a computer. This technology consists of a slot into
which you place a card containing the audio transfer components. PCI
Express (PCIe) replaced the original PCI slot in computers starting in 2004
and it has essentially replaced then in any computer you’ll find working today
(or at least any computer capable of recording music). PCIe had an advantage over the other interface types because of the fast transfer speed of PCIe
technology. This type of interface isn’t without its problems, though:
✓)>>Many computers (for example, laptops and all Macs except the Mac Pro)
don’t have a PCIe slot.
✓)>>Because PCIe technology is changing, all cards don’t fit in all computers,
so make sure that the PCIe interface that you’re considering can fit into
your computer.
PCIe interfaces come in the following varieties:
✓)>>Separate sound card with no analog inputs and outputs: In this case, you
need to buy separate preamps, direct boxes, and analog-to-digital (AD) and
digital-to-analog (DA) converters. For most home recordists, the separatesound-card route isn’t the best solution. In fact, even for the pros, this isn’t
the most popular choice — so much so that this option is quickly falling
from the marketplace. Figure 2-1 shows examples of PCIe sound cards.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Figure 2-1:
sound card
inputs or
outputs, so
you need
to buy
to use this
type of card
for audio
✓Analog inputs and outputs within the card: Having the analog connection located in the card used to cause interference with the other
components in the computer’s housing (such as fans and hard drives),
which caused low-level hums in the recorded audio (not a sound you
would want, I can assure you). This is generally no longer the case
unless you buy a really inexpensive card, but the bad rap led buyers to
shy away from this approach and it has become uncommon as a result.
You can find some less expensive audio interfaces configured this way,
but the higher end of the market has generally abandoned it. Figure 2-2
shows an example of a PCIe card with analog connections.
✓Analog inputs and outputs housed in a separate box: This box is
called a breakout box. Because of the low-level hum problems in the
early interfaces, most manufacturers of PCIe-based audio interfaces
put their analog circuitry in a separate box with a cord attached to the
PCIe card. One advantage to this — besides eliminating the hum in early
models — is that you can tweak the input and output levels without
having to use a software menu. The dials for the levels are placed on the
breakout box within easy reach, as shown in Figure 2-3.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-2:
Some PCIe
often come
with analog
run from the
Figure 2-3:
with a
box for
the analog
components is the
form of PCIe
If your preferred audio recording computer doesn’t have a PCIe slot, don’t
worry (or don’t bother adding one). FireWire, Thunderbolt, and USB are all
excellent technologies to use for recording music.
FireWire interfaces
FireWire interfaces connect to the FireWire port in your computer. (Figure 2-4
shows a typical FireWire interface.) FireWire ports come in two varieties:
FireWire 400 and FireWire 800. (Chapter 3 has more on the differences between
these two in terms of transfer speed.) FireWire is available on laptop computers as well as desktops, which makes FireWire interfaces more versatile than
PCIe-based systems. For example, you can easily move the interface from
computer to computer. If you have a laptop and a desktop computer, using a
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
FireWire interface allows you to switch between the two computers simply by
moving the FireWire cable from one computer to the other. If you want to do
some location recording, this is a big plus because you can take your interface
and laptop to a great recording room, record the drums, for example, and then
bring the audio back home for mixing and editing in your studio.
Figure 2-4:
A FireWire
connects to
the FireWire
port in your
FireWire interfaces generally come with eight to ten inputs and outputs and
cost starting at about $250 and run up over $1,500.
When using a FireWire interface — and if you want a lot of inputs and/or outputs — a problem can arise if you also have a FireWire hard drive to which
you want to record audio. Basically, having the FireWire interface and the
FireWire hard drive on the same FireWire bus is asking for trouble, because
you’re sure to reach the data transfer limit of FireWire. So make sure that the
two FireWire devices are on different buses (data channels).
USB interfaces
USB interfaces (see Figure 2-5) come in three varieties: those using USB 1.1,
those using USB 2.0, and those using USB 3.0. Most computers have at least
one USB port. Aside from the too-slow-to-use version 1.1, USB is a great
option for your audio interface. USB interfaces can be inexpensive and offer a
variety of input/output configurations.
Stay away from USB 1.1 interfaces. The latency (delay between the sound
entering the interface and exiting your speakers) is too great to keep from
being frustrating. You can find decent USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 interfaces for very
little money, often starting well under $200, though they can run as much as
$1,000, depending on the manufacturer and the number of tracks and other
options they include.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-5:
connects to
your computer’s USB
Thunderbolt interfaces
For the last two revisions of this book I had hoped that I could talk at length
about the super, most awesome Thunderbolt interface and how it changed
recording in the same way that moving from tape to digital did, but, alas,
I wasn’t able to — and I still can’t. Thunderbolt was first introduced in 2011,
but it has been slow to find its way into audio interfaces.
I’m giving this interface type its own section now because you can find a variety of (albeit expensive) interfaces utilizing a Thunderbolt “bridge” to allow
you to connect through the Thunderbolt port on a computer. These devices
are mostly FireWire-enabled devices at their core. This means that if you
have a computer with a Thunderbolt port, such as a MacBook, you can now
find an interface that works in the absence of a FireWire port.
You can expect more audio interfaces with Thunderbolt ports to appear in
the hopefully not-to-distant future.
Choosing the right software
When setting up a recording system, I always recommend that you start by
exploring the software you want to use. Whatever program you decide to
use will work better on one type of computer than another. By choosing the
software first, you can use the software manufacturer’s guidelines to help you
set up your computer. Most software is written for either a Mac or a PC and
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
has been tested with a variety of hardware configurations. Unless you’re very
computer savvy, I recommend starting with a system that’s been tested to run
smoothly with the program that interests you.
For the most part, audio production software falls into the following two
✓)>>Audio-recording programs: These programs allow you to record numerous
tracks (the number depends on the program) and let you edit, equalize,
and mix those tracks as well as add effects.
✓)>>MIDI-sequencing programs: These programs allow you to record MIDI
performance data (without the sounds) and edit and mix the data. The
difference between audio and MIDI recording is covered in detail in
Chapter 5.
Most audio production programs offer both audio and MIDI recording and generally do a good job of both (and they’re getting better all the time), but some
entry-level programs allow you to only record audio or do MIDI sequencing.
If your budget is limited and you want to record using both audio and MIDI,
make sure that your chosen software allows you to do so. That said, choose
the program based on its features and whether it fits with your working style.
Researching a program you’re interested in
If you already own a computer and you want audio-recording or sequencing
software to go with it, do the following research on the software that
interests you:
✓)>>Find out the product’s compatibility with your system. Visit the software manufacturer’s website for information about whether your system
will work with that program, as well as what additional hardware you
may need in order to get the software up and running.
✓)>>Find out what other users are saying. On the Internet, you can find an
online discussion board for each of the major audio-recording software
programs. Before you buy a program, go to the sites of the programs
that interest you and see what people are saying about them. Ask questions and explore the issues that other people are having with the
programs. Doing so can save you lots of time dealing with bugs in your
system and allow you to record a lot more music. You can find these
sites by using the product name as the keyword in your favorite search
engine and checking out the Internet forums.
ç’•å±´One great way to see whether a particular program is right for you is to
find out what people who play your type of music are using. For instance,
a lot of people who compose with synthesizers and MIDI use Logic Pro
X because using MIDI and software synthesizers is quick and easy in this
program. They also don’t need a bunch of hardware synthesizers to get
the sounds they want, which saves space in their studio and saves money,
because they can bypass the hardware to get their synthesizer sounds.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Checking out some popular programs
You can choose from numerous music-production software programs, including
the ones in the following list:
✓)>>Apple (www.apple.com/logic-pro): Makes Logic Pro Audio and
GarageBand. These programs run only on Mac systems. Logic Pro X has
been around for a while and is one of the top programs available. The
downside is that it’s for Macs only. Like all the programs, Logic has its
way of working — some people like it, while others have a hard time
grasping the way the user interface functions. (I love it.)
✓)>>Avid (www.avid.com/US/products/family/Pro-Tools): Makes Pro
Tools, Pro Tools HD, and Pro Tools Express. These programs work on
both Mac and PC systems. Avid’s Pro Tools TDM systems (the company
offers several versions) are arguably the standard for digital audio in pro
studios, although many pro studios are using any one (or more) of the
other programs that I list in this section.
✓)>>Cakewalk (www.cakewalk.com): Makes SONAR X3, among other programs. These are designed to run Windows PCs. SONAR does a great job
of recording (and editing and mixing) both audio and MIDI.
✓)>>Mark of the Unicorn (www.motu.com): Makes Digital Performer. This
program runs only on a Mac. Digital Performer is a powerful program
that does MIDI and audio equally well. One advantage of this program
is that Mark of the Unicorn makes very good audio interfaces that are
designed to work well with its software. You end up with a better chance
of having a stable system.
✓)>>Sony Creative Software (www.sonycreativesoftware.com): Makes
Sound Forge, Vegas Audio, and ACID. These programs only run on
Windows PCs. ACID is a very popular program for hip-hop and techno
artists because of its strength in loop-based recording.
✓)>>Steinberg (www.steinberg.net): Makes Cubase, Cubasis, Nuendo, and
WaveLab. These programs run on both Mac and PC platforms. Nuendo is
Steinberg’s best program, and it’s excellent for recording audio. Nuendo
isn’t very strong in MIDI sequencing, so if this feature is important to
you, this may not be the best program to use. In that case, if you like the
Steinberg line, you may want to try Cubase, which is a great program
that’s on par with SONAR, Logic, and the others and is stronger in MIDI
sequencing than Nuendo.
Most of these manufacturers offer program demos that you can download
for free to see whether you like them. These demos work just like the full
versions except that you generally can’t save or print your work.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Some of these manufacturers also make audio-interface/sound-card hardware
optimized for their systems; this hardware can generally work on other systems
(check with the manufacturer to make sure). You may find an easy and greatsounding solution by choosing a software and hardware setup from a single
manufacturer. If you do, you’re likely to have fewer compatibility problems.
Studio-in-a-Box Systems
Integrated mixers/recorders/effects processors were once quite common
(computer-based systems have overtaken them in the last few years). Cassette
porta-studios, first introduced in the 1970s, enabled the home recordist to
compose music at home without spending a fortune on equipment. But it
wasn’t until the Roland VS-880 came out in 1997 that great-quality recordings
could be made at home using a single piece of equipment. Okay, you still
needed an instrument and microphone to plug into it, but everything else fit
into this one little box, which is now referred to as a studio-in-a-box system.
Taking a look at the benefits
One of the biggest advantages of using a SIAB system is that you don’t need
to be computer literate — just turn it on and start to record. SIAB systems
are also portable — you can take them almost anywhere to record, so you’re
not limited to your studio room. (You can get a view of an SIAB system in
Figure 2-6.) Think about this for a second: If you want a big drum sound and
all you have is a small converted bedroom for a studio, you can load up your
SIAB system, a few microphones, and your drummer’s drum set (don’t forget
the drummer) and go to an empty warehouse, gymnasium, or church, for
example. (Of course, you can do this with a laptop computer system, too, but
it’ll cost you more.) In fact, with many of these recorders you don’t even need
to have electricity to do this. Most of these recorders draw very little power
and can operate on batteries.
Early versions of SIAB systems were somewhat limited in what they offered
and weren’t very user-friendly when it came to sharing files between systems.
The newer generation of SIAB systems is being designed to import and export
audio files in formats that you can open on other manufacturers’ recorders,
freeing you to transfer files between different systems.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-6:
A studioin-a-box
you need to
make great
Examining some popular SIAB systems
Many of the major recording manufacturers make SIAB systems. Check out
these companies and compare the specifications of each unit:
✓)>>Boss (www.bossus.com): Boss makes basic all-in-one recorders, such
as the eight-track BR-600, which are inexpensive and easy to use. These
units record in 16 bits at a 44.1 kHz sample rate.
✓)>>TASCAM (www.tascam.com): TASCAM has been in the home recording
market for a long time, first with cassette porta-studios in the 1970s and
now with digital systems. You can find several units, including the DP-005
six-track recorder, which records at 16 bits, and the DP-24 24-track
recorder, which records in 24 bits.
✓)>>Zoom (www.zoom.co.jp/english): Zoom is a relative newcomer to
the SIAB market and offers innovative solutions that can be used as a
stand-alone studio, computer audio interface, and computer software
controller. Zoom’s two recording systems include the R16 and R24,
16- and 24-track units, respectively. They both record in both 16 and
24 bits and integrate seamlessly with a computer. This means you can
record on location and connect to a computer to overdub and/or mix.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Mobile-Device Recording
Smartphones and tablet computers are gaining ground, both in the number
of people using them and in their ability to be used for creating music. As
recently as a couple years ago, when I last updated this book, you couldn’t do
much with your phone or tablet. Perhaps you could record a couple tracks
at 16 bits or maybe mix tracks in other software within your computer with
a mixer app, but that was about it. Nowadays, you have quite a few ways you
can use a smartphone or tablet to record and mix music, though your options
are still mainly limited to Apple devices.
This section outlines the basics for the three most popular mobile system
types: Android, Apple iOS, and Windows.
Mobile development is happening at a blistering pace, and new apps and
system upgrades are constantly appearing, so I recommend checking out the
three main app stores for what’s new:
✓)>>Android: https://play.google.com
✓)>>Apple iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/
✓)>>Windows: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/apps
Android is, by far, the most popular mobile platform. However, it’s pretty
slim on apps and hardware that can be used for music composing, recording,
editing, or mixing. That said, this section offers some hardware and app
options to get you recording on your Android device.
Dedicated hardware options for Android are currently limited. The basic
voice-recorder apps all use the internal microphone, while some other apps,
such as the USB Audio Recorder, are able to use certain USB audio interfaces.
Here is the first of what I expect will be many USB-based hardware
manufacturers that will offer Android-supported devices:
✓)>>IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com/products/cat-view.
php?C=mobile): IK Multimedia offers a handful of hardware options for
your Android device. These include mics, a mic preamp, a guitar input,
and a mixer, all at pretty low prices.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Here are some audio recording apps for Android phones and tablets:
✓)>>iRig Recorder (www.ikmultimedia.com/products/
irigrecorderandroid): This is an enhanced version of a voice
recorder that allows you to record up to 16-bit/44.1-kHz audio and edit
and enhance it with various tools and effects. You can also share your
recordings in a variety of ways.
✓)>>J4T Multitrack Recorder (https://play.google.com/store/apps/
details?id=com.jaytronix.multitracker): A four-track recorder
with effects and mixing abilities. Works with the internal mic and a
variety of USB audio interfaces (though it doesn’t list which interfaces
are compatible).
✓)>>n-Track Studio Pro Multitrack (https://play.google.com/store/
apps/details?id=com.ntrack.studio.pro): This is a multitrack app with mixing and editing functions. It works with a variety of
USB audio interfaces. You can find a list of tested devices here: http://
✓)>>USB Audio Recorder Pro (https://play.google.com/store/apps/
details?id=com.extreamsd.usbaudiorecorderpro#?): This app
opens your Android device to a variety of USB audio interfaces. Be
sure to check the device compatibility list before trying to use a USB
interface: www.extreamsd.com/USBAudioRecorderPRO.
Apple iOS
Apple was the first company to make apps available for mobile users, and
with its head start, it has managed to provide a fairly broad selection of
mobile apps and hardware that can allow you to use an iPhone or iPad to
record your music. As of this writing, here are some hardware and software
options that can get you creating music on your Apple device.
Because the Apple devices have been around a while, there has been support
for USB audio with the iOS software — just about any USB interface will work
with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. However, I strongly recommend that
you choose an app first and then see what hardware is supported.
That said, here are hardware options that have proven to be reliable for iOS
✓)>>Apogee (www.apogeedigital.com): Apogee makes high-quality
audio interfaces that are used in the better studios. It has several
studio-quality interfaces for iOS devices, including One, Duet, and
Quartet. These devices are more expensive than others, but they’re
worth it if you want to record at the highest possible level.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
✓)>>Blue Microphones (www.bluemic.com/iOS_devices): Blue makes
some nice mics, and it has two dedicated to iOS devices: Spark Digital
and Mikey. Both plug right in and work flawlessly.
✓)>>IK Multimedia (http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/cat
view.php?C=mobile): IK Multimedia offers a fairly large selection of
interfaces for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
✓)>>Tascam (www.tascam.com/products/iphone): Tascam was the first
company to make a portable, personal multi-track recorder with the
Portastudio cassette four-track in the 1970s (this was my first recorder,
too). It now offers a few options for iOS devices, including the iXZ
interface and iM2 microphone.
There are a growing number of audio recording apps for iOS devices. Each
of the hardware manufacturers that I list in the preceding section have their
own apps, but here are a few that are hardware agnostic (you can find them
in the iTunes App Store):
✓)>>Auria: This is my favorite audio recording app. Maybe it’s because
I’ve been using it a while, but after playing with other apps, I think it’s
because it works well. At $25, Auria is more expensive than the cheapest
apps, but less expensive than the spendy ones.
✓)>>Cubasis: This app is based on the Cubasis computer recording program
and is very powerful. It costs a bit more ($50), but for people used to
professional recording software, it’s a nice program.
✓)>>GarageBand: This is a free app made by Apple, and it’s pretty much the
same as the Mac GarageBand program. It’s easy to use but somewhat
limited in its capabilities. Still, it’s stable and free, so it’s worth giving it a
✓)>>MultiTrack DAW: This app isn’t as feature rich as some others, but for
$10 it does a lot. And it’s stable.
✓)>>Music Studio: This app isn’t free ($14.99), but it’s nice. I find it easy to
use and fairly powerful.
This list could go on, so I highly recommend doing some searches for audio
recording and music app in the App Store. Also, tons of instrument apps (for
drums, piano, guitar, synths — you name it) are available for the iPad, or iPod
to allow you to make music in a variety of ways.
If you want to use more than one music app at a time and have them sync,
such as audio-recording with a synth, I highly recommend Audiobus. This app
opens worlds that you can only imagine until you try it. It only works with
compatible apps, but at this point, there are over 400 of them, so it’s not like
you’re limited.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Windows 8 is the newcomer to the mobile world and, as such, currently
offers the most limited variety of options. In fact, you won’t yet find any audio
interface hardware that is compatible with Windows, so the only recording
you can do with a Windows mobile device is through the built-in microphone.
The essentially limits this device to a lo-fi recorder or a place for ideas that
you flesh out on a more capable device.
That said, here are a few recording apps for Window 8 (I hope more will
come soon):
✓)>>Lexis Audio Editor: This app records and edits. The free version doesn’t
let you save as MP3 — you have to pay $7 for that function.
✓)>>Recorder One: This is one of the higher-rated free audio recording apps.
Nothing fancy, but it works.
✓)>>Recording Studio: The free version gives you two tracks; the Pro version
($8), 24 tracks. This app offers a lot of virtual instruments — you can
add more.
✓)>>Sound Editor: This free app lets you record, edit, and share sound files.
Barebones but usable, especially for the price.
If you want an inexpensive, no-fuss gadget to record two tracks, you may want
to consider a linear recorder, a two-track recorder (sometimes called a voice
recorder or field recorder). Many linear recorders come with mics built in, and
some even have effects. The cool thing about a linear recorder is that it can
fit in your pocket and record with surprisingly high quality, such as 24 bits
(although many are 16 bits). Check the specs of the various models if the bit
depth is important to you.
Stand-alone Recorders
The first affordable stand-alone digital recorder to hit the market was the
Alesis ADAT (which stands for Alesis Digital Audio Tape) in 1992. This
machine revolutionized home recording, making it possible for the home
recordist to create some pretty high-quality recordings without having to
spend a fortune. Many commercial studios used ADATs as well. In fact, a
lot of hit records from the mid- to late 1990s were recorded on ADATs. The
ADAT uses digital tape cartridges, which look much like VHS videotapes, and
they function much like analog tapes. And like analog tapes, the digital tape
cartridges have limited editing capabilities. (For more details on editing,
see Chapter 13.)
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Stand-alone digital recorders are the least common type of home studio
recorder because they require a separate mixer and other outboard gear,
such as external effects units or preamps. This makes the cost of this type
of system higher than a comparable number of tracks that you get in a SIAB
or computer-based system. The advantage is that you can swap out these
recorders as newer models come out without having to update your whole
system. This is one reason why stand-alone recorders are so popular in
commercial studios and for recording live events where a live mixer is used.
Figure 2-7 shows a typical stand-alone recorder.
Figure 2-7: A
can easily
be added to
an existing
The following major manufacturers produce stand-alone hard drive recorders:
✓)>>Alesis (www.alesis.com): Alesis makes the 24-track HD24 and HD24XR
hard drive recorders. These units are the company’s follow-up to the
hugely popular ADAT recorders of the ’90s.
✓)>>TASCAM (www.tascam.com): TASCAM makes the DR-680 8-track recorder
and the flagship X-48MKII 48-track workstation. The DR-680 is a basic
recorder, but the X-48MKII is a hybrid that allows you to connect the
recorder to your computer for all the editing and plug-in power contained
in computer-based systems.
These stand-alone units cost from about $500 to $2,000 or more, depending
on the number of tracks and other options. You also have to buy other
necessary gear — such as mixers and signal processors — separately, which
raises the overall cost of these systems considerably.
Because these companies’ product offerings are constantly changing, your
best bet is to check out each of these manufacturers’ websites and compare
their specifications. The next step would be to try a demo of each product
with the features you want, so that you can find out whether you like their
sound. Also, be sure to check out the compatibility of the system with other
systems, if that’s important to you.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Oh, how I yearn for that analog sound
An interesting trend in digital recording is the
quest for analog sound. In the marketplace,
you find new pieces of gear being marketed
as having warmth or a vintage sound. What
exactly is this sound?
This sound is . . . wait for it . . . distortion. Yep,
good ol’ noise and distortion. Why would someone want to duplicate that now?
When the mild distortion that’s inherent in good
analog recordings was eliminated in digital
recordings, we missed it (sigh). In analog recording, you find a technique that’s used to add
something wonderful and beautifully pleasing to
a recording: tape saturation. This is caused by
recording the sound onto a tape recorder at a
high enough level that the tape becomes saturated (hence, the term tape saturation), and certain aspects of the sound change.
For the most part, tape saturation adds even
harmonics to the sound. Not to get too technical, but these are the tones present in the music
but, for the most part, hidden behind the main
tone. Tape saturation brings out those tones
just a little, and people find them pleasing to
listen to. Tape saturation also mellows out the
high frequencies by smearing them together a
little. Without this sound, many listeners (certainly not all) find digital recordings somewhat
harsh or cold. In case you didn’t know, these
are highly technical terms meaning, “I don’t
hear that thing I’m used to hearing in an analog
Digital recording can’t duplicate this sound
exactly. (However, some units come close;
see “Tape saturation emulators” later in this
chapter.) If you try to use the tape saturation
technique with a digital recorder (by overriding the input levels), all you get is more harshness and a horrible clipping sound. (The sound
is clipped off by the digital converters, and you
hear crackles and clicks.)
Examining Analog Goodies
So, you find that you gotta have that analog sound, too, but you don’t want to
(or can’t) deal with the expense of a complete analog system. Well, you’re in
luck! Do I have a deal for you! You, too, can add some of the warmth to your
digital recordings if you’re willing to shell out the green. Yep, come on down,
and I’ll set you up!
Seriously, you can buy analog extras to help you add a little of that analog
distortion to your music. Don’t get me wrong; many of these products are
great and have a place in a home studio. Just don’t get so hooked by the need
to have warmth in your recordings that you go out and buy everything that
you can to add mild distortion. This warmth is just distortion, after all.
Most of the time, people use tube gear on their instruments to get them
to sound warmer. In sound recording, tube gear refers to components
that still use the ancient technology of vacuum tubes to get them up and
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
running — and up and running with all that distortion that some listeners
describe as warm. Tube microphones, preamps, compressors, and equalizers
are only a few of the types of products available to add some semblance of
the much-sought-after analog sound.
If you want to go tubeless, look for special tape-saturation emulators on
the market to give you that analog edge. See the section “Tape-saturation
emulators,” later in this chapter, for more info.
The tube stuff
Vacuum-tube microphones, preamps, compressors, and equalizers have been
around for decades. In fact, before solid-state (transistor) technology was
developed, everything electronic had vacuum tubes in it — both good-quality
and bad-quality audio gear. Vacuum-tube equipment definitely had a sound
to it, and tube technology definitely had its limitations — the main one being
the coloration that was added to the music. This coloration is now highly
sought after in today’s world of digital recording (see the sidebar “Oh, how
I yearn for that analog sound,” earlier in this chapter), so the tube stuff has
become increasingly popular.
To get the pleasing analog distortion that’s so popular today, you don’t need
to buy gear with vacuum-tube circuitry. Some top-quality solid-state gear can
get you the same sound as the vintage tube stuff. In fact, some of the most
sought-after vintage preamps, equalizers, and compressors — particularly
those bearing the “Neve” name — are solid state, and they still have a beautifully colored (distorted) sound. So, when you go in search of the tube sound
for your studio, remember that you can get the sound you’re after without
having to buy actual vacuum-tube gear.
Not all “tube” gear produces a pleasing sound. Sometimes the distortion that
a piece of gear adds to your music creates more noise and mud (lack of clarity in the sound) than it adds warmth. Be sure to listen to the equipment that
you’re interested in before you buy it. Make your purchase decision based on
whether you like the way the equipment sounds for your particular music. Do
your homework before adding any tube gear — or any new equipment that
you spend your hard-earned money on. Read reviews and specifications, talk
to people, and above all, listen to the equipment before you buy.
Many audio-recording retailers allow you a certain amount of time after you
buy a piece of equipment to return it if you don’t like it. Of course, you have
to pay for it before you leave the store, but you usually have a timeframe in
which you can return it. Ask your music retailer to be sure of its return policy
before you buy.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Tape saturation emulators
The new great thing in audio recording is the tape saturation emulator, also
known as the analog tape emulator. These units are designed to add the characteristics that you get from recording high levels onto tape, such as the mild
distortion that analog aficionados love (see the sidebar “Oh, how I yearn for
that analog sound,” earlier in this chapter). You can find both stand-alone
tape saturation emulators and plug-ins for your computer-based system.
These can be expensive (over $2,000 in some cases), but many pros swear
by them. As I write this book, this technology is in its infancy, so expect the
prices to drop dramatically and the choices to expand exponentially over the
next few years.
A really decent tape-saturation plug-in for computer-based systems is the
Vintage Warmer (www.pspaudioware.com). This plug-in can add pleasing
distortion to your tracks for about $150. If you use it, be careful not to
overdo it. Using too much saturation is easy and can ruin an otherwise
good track.
Reality check
Do you need any tube or analog emulator gear in your studio? The short
answer is: No, you don’t. You can make great recordings without any of this
stuff. All you need is an instrument, a microphone, a mixer, a recorder, and
some monitors — oh, and some good, solid engineering skills.
What really counts is your music. People who listen to music don’t care
whether you use (insert gotta-have gear here) to record your masterpiece. All
they care about is whether they like the music. So don’t make yourself nuts
(or go broke) over any of this stuff.
Exploring Sample Setups
In the following sections, I help you start thinking about the best system
configuration for your needs. Whether you’re an electronic musician who only
needs a sequencer, some MIDI instruments, and a two-track recorder, or you’re
a purist who wants 16 tracks of simultaneous recording and needs dozens of
microphones to record your whole band live, I help you figure it out.
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Because I don’t know what type of recording you want to do, I outline three
basic systems to give you an idea of what may work for you. You can see a
system that works well for both live recording and MIDI sequencing, a system
for MIDI sequencing and the occasional instrument or vocal overdub, and a
live rig that contains little or no MIDI instrumentation. This is only a starting
point, but as you shop around for a system, you’ll be able to find a setup that
best meets your needs.
You can configure your home recording system in almost unlimited ways.
Part of what will influence your decisions is your initial budget and how you
like to work. Look around and talk to other people who have a home studio.
Join an Internet forum and discover the different ways that people are recording — find out what works for them and what doesn’t. Then jump in and don’t
look back. The most important component in your studio is you!
Live and MIDI studio
The live and MIDI studio is your best choice if you want to incorporate both
MIDI-sequenced parts and live instruments (such as guitar, electric bass, and
drums). For this type of system, you need a recorder, a mixer, and a MIDI controller. You also need a few microphones and any instruments that you plan
to record — generally at least one synthesizer or sound module, an electric
guitar and bass, and a drum machine or real drum set. Figure 2-8 illustrates a
setup that’s centered around an SIAB recorder with a computer for sequencing.
Of course, you could use a stand-alone recorder instead (you need a separate
mixer), or you can incorporate the whole system into a computer if you choose.
You want a system with a fair amount of tracks (at least eight) that allows you
to record at least two tracks of MIDI instruments as well as several tracks of
guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
MIDI-intensive studio
Are you a one-man band? Do you prefer to program a performance rather
than to play it? If so, you may want to have a MIDI-intensive studio. The
advantage of the MIDI studio is that one person can “play” many instruments
at the same time. A disadvantage is that the music can sound somewhat
stiff. (See Chapter 12 for advice on how to overcome this.) And you may lose
touch with what it feels like to play with other musicians — which is not
always a bad thing, especially if you’re into that whole reclusive artist thing.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-8:
This system
enables you
to record
both audio
and MIDI
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
Because MIDI instruments can be programmed to play the part perfectly, with
all the dynamic variations that you want, you can spend your time working
on the parts (composing, setting levels, and creating effects) without actually
having to record them. As a result, you can get by with fewer audio tracks in
your system, but you need to have more MIDI tracks available. An advantage
to this approach is that MIDI tracks take less CPU power and RAM to run
compared to the same number of audio tracks. So, you can get by with a lessexpensive computer (or use the one you already have) and save your bucks for
more synthesizers or plug-ins.
For a MIDI-intensive studio, such as the one shown in Figure 2-9, you need a
sequencer (a device that allows you to record and play back MIDI performance
information) and at least one sound source. This can be a keyboard synthesizer, a sound module, a sampler, or a computer equipped with sounds, called
soft-synths. You also need a drum machine or drum sounds in your computer
if you intend to make any music other than ambient or classical-type music.
In addition, you need a MIDI controller to, well, control these sound sources.
This, too, could be part of the computer software, or it could be the synthesizer. Check out Chapter 5 for more on MIDI controllers. If you end up using a
computer-based sequencer, you’ll also need a MIDI interface.
In addition to the MIDI stuff, you need some sort of recorder. Again, this can
be included in your computer setup. If you plan to sequence all the parts
and don’t want to include any vocals, you could get by with a decent twotrack recorder. On the other hand, if you see yourself including vocals or any
non-MIDI instruments — such as an electric guitar, for example — you need a
microphone (for the vocals) and the ability to record more tracks.
Live studio
Thirty years ago, when a band wanted to record, the members all went into a
studio together, set up their gear in one large room (with maybe a few dividers between them), and played as if they were at a concert. Then they would
overdub a guitar solo, backup vocals, and maybe a few percussion instruments.
The beauty of this type of recording for a band is that you have a better
chance of capturing the magic of a live performance. The disadvantage is
that it takes a little more recording skill to get a good sound. (Of course, you
discover many of these skills in this book.)
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-9:
A MIDIintensive
studio: Most
of your
r� ecording
is via MIDI
with a
of audio
Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear
For the live studio, you need a recorder with at least as many available simultaneous tracks as you think you need for your band. Eight tracks are usually
enough for most bands. The tracks would break down as follows:
✓)>>Rhythm guitar: One track
✓)>>Bass guitar: One track
✓)>>Piano, organ, or synthesizer: One or two tracks
✓)>>Rough vocals: One track
ç’•å±´You generally record this track over again after the rest are done to get a
cleaner track.
✓)>>Drums: Two to four tracks
ç’•å±´The number of tracks varies depending on the type of sound that you
want. You may need a separate mixer to create a submix of the drums if
you’re only using two tracks.
Aside from the simultaneous track count, you probably want extra tracks
available to record a guitar solo, background vocals, and maybe percussion
instruments. In this case, a 16-track recorder is a great solution. If you want
more flexibility in getting your band’s sound, you could get a recorder that
can record as many as 16 simultaneous tracks.
Figure 2-10 shows a system that can work well for live recording. This setup
is illustrated using a stand-alone recorder, because most stand-alone recorders can record all their available tracks simultaneously. With this system,
you need a separate mixer and all the cords to connect them. (Check out
Chapter 3 for more details on cords.)
If you’re one of those many people who like to record one or two tracks at a time
but still want to play all the instruments live (with no MIDI sequencing), your
need for lots of simultaneous tracks is reduced. An SIAB system is probably your
best solution because it costs less and takes up less space.
You can also use a computer-based system to record all the instruments
live. Just make sure that you have both the inputs and available tracks that
you need.
If you record all the instruments live (all at once or one at a time), you also
need to have enough microphones and mic stands. And you must contend
with making your room conducive to recording live instruments (I discuss this
more in Chapter 3).
With the many ways to configure a home recording system, you’ll probably
lean more toward one type of system than another (computer-based, SIAB, or
stand-alone). Then it’s just a matter of weeding through the options until you
find one that resonates with you (and your budget).
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 2-10:
A system
for live
Chapter 3
Getting Connected: Setting Up
Your Studio
In This Chapter
▶)>>Getting to know the various types of connectors
▶)>>Plugging in your equipment
▶)>>Creating an efficient workstation
▶)>>Making your room sound great (or at least decent)
kay, so you’re ready to turn that spare bedroom or basement into a
recording studio. You need to unpack all your shiny new gear and get it
plugged in properly, and your room needs to work for you. This involves creating an efficient place to work, but above all, it means following tips in this
chapter to make your room sound good. This can be tricky — after all, pro
studios spend tons of time and money so that their studios sound great. You
may not need to spend a ton of money (as if you could), but you do need to
spend some time.
After you decide on a space for your home recording system, the next steps
involve setting up the system and preparing your space to work for you. In
this chapter, I help you make sense of all those analog or digital connectors
and help you plug them all in properly.
This chapter also shows you how to find the best way for you to work in your
environment, with a fair measure of tips and tricks thrown in to make your
room sound as good as possible.
Understanding Analog Connections
You’ve probably had a chance to see and use a variety of analog connectors. If you play a guitar or keyboard (synthesizer), for example, you’re
familiar with a ¼-inch analog plug. Some microphones use an XLR analog
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
plug. Keeping all these connectors straight can be a little confusing: Why do
you have to use one plug for one thing and another for something else? And
what’s a TRS plug, anyway?
Read on to discover the most common analog connectors: ¼-inch (mono/TS
and stereo/TRS), XLR, and RCA.
The ¼-inch analog plug
The ¼-inch plug is the most common audio connector and one of the most
versatile. These plugs come in two varieties: mono/TS and stereo/TRS.
The plug on a cord that you use for your guitar or synthesizer is an example
of a mono ¼-inch plug. The mono part of the name refers to the fact that you
have only one channel through which to send the signal. This type of plug is
also referred to as a TS plug (short for Tip/Sleeve). The tip is the end of the
plug, and the sleeve is the rest of the metal part. A plastic divider separates
these two sections. Check out Figure 3-1 to see this familiar plug.
Figure 3-1:
A typical
plug used
for guitar
and other
TS plugs are used for a variety of purposes — to go from your guitar to your
guitar amplifier (amp), from your synthesizer to your mixer, from your mixer
to your power amp, and from your power amp to your speakers. You would
expect that one cord could work for all these applications. After all, a TS plug
is a TS plug, right? Well, not really. The same plug can be wired differently,
and it can carry different levels of power. For example, here are the differences between instrument and speaker cords:
✓)>>Instrument cord (the one you use for your synthesizer or guitar):
This cord contains one wire and a shield — the wire is connected to the
tip, and the shield is connected to the sleeve. You need the instrument
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
cable’s shield to minimize noise. If you use a speaker cord (discussed
next) for your instrument, you may end up with some noise (that is, you
may hear a hiss or a buzz — or even a radio station — coming out of
your amp or coming from where you’ve plugged in your instrument).
ç’•å±´Instrument cords are often called unbalanced lines because of the way
that they’re wired. An unbalanced cord has one wire surrounded by a
braided shield; the wire is connected to the tip of the TS plug, and the
shield is connected to the sleeve. The signal is sent through the wire, and
the shield is used for the ground. (It keeps the noise down.) You can also
find balanced lines, which I explain in the next section of this chapter.
✓)>>A speaker cord: This cord contains two wires and no shield — one wire
is connected to the tip and the other to the sleeve. Because the speaker
cord carries a lot more current (power) than the instrument cable, the
speaker cord doesn’t have a shield. The signal level covers noise that’s
present in the cord. Because you have much less current present in an
instrument, you don’t want to use a speaker cord for your instrument.
When buying cords with TS plugs, first be sure to look at (or ask about) what
purpose the cord is designed for. Then, when you take the cord home, be sure
to note what type it is so that you use it correctly. You can mark your cord in
a number of ways: You can put colored tape on it (red for speaker or blue for
instrument, for example), put a tag on it, or — gasp — dot it with nail polish.
You generally don’t need to worry about which end of the cord you plug
into your instrument — the signal can travel equally well in either direction.
However, you can buy cords that are designed to send the current in one
direction. (This cord has an arrow on it, designating in which direction the
signal should flow.) I call these designer cords, and two of the most common
brands are Monster and Planet Waves. The theory behind these cords is that
they do a better job of preserving the sound qualities of the instrument for
which they’re designed. These cords are specifically designed for almost
every instrument and application known to man.
A stereo/TRS (short for Tip/Ring/Sleeve) ¼-inch plug looks like a stereo headphone plug (take a look at Figure 3-2). The tip is the end of the plug, the ring
is the small middle section located between the two plastic dividers, and the
sleeve is the rest of the metal part of the plug. A TRS plug can be used for the
following three types of cords:
✓)>>Stereo cord: A stereo cord is used for signals that contain two separate
portions: one for the right channel and the other for the left channel.
This type of cord is generally wired with the left-channel signal attached
to the tip, the right-channel signal connected to the ring, and the shield
wired to the sleeve. This type of cord is typically used for headphones.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-2:
Use a balanced
(TRS) plug
to connect
)>> audio gear.)>>
✓)>>Balanced cord: A balanced cord is used on professional audio gear
to join the various pieces of equipment (to connect the mixer to the
recorder, for example). The advantage with a balanced cord is that you
can have longer cord runs without creating noise.
ç’•å±´Why are balanced cords so conveniently noise free? The balanced
cord has two wires and a shield inside and has the same signal running
through both wires. One signal is 180 degrees out of phase with the
other (that is, their waveforms are opposite one another), and when
the signals get to the mixer (or whatever they’re plugged into) one of the
signals is flipped and added to the other. When this happens, any noise
that built up in the signal is canceled out.
✓)>>Y cord: A Y cord consists of a TRS plug on one end and two TS plugs
on the other, forming — you guessed it — a nice representation of the
letter Y. This cord allows you to insert an effect processor — a compressor or equalizer, for example — in the line of a mixer (more specifically, into the insert jack of the mixer). Check out Chapter 4 for details
on mixers. The TRS plug both sends and receives a signal. This cord
is wired so that the tip sends the signal and the ring receives it (see
Figure 3-3). The sleeve is connected to the shield of each cable.
Figure 3-3:
Use a Y cord
to send and
receive a
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
The XLR connector is used for microphones and some line connections
between professional gear. This cable has a female and a male end (see
Figure 3-4). The cord is wired much like a TRS connector and is balanced
to minimize noise. The XLR microphone cable is also called a low Z cable
because it carries a low-impedance signal.
Figure 3-4:
An XLR connector: One
end is male
(left) and
the other
is female
RCA plugs — named for good old RCA and also called phono plugs — are
common on home stereos and on some semipro audio gear (see Figure 3-5).
They function much like a TS plug but aren’t very common in professional
audio equipment. However, you find them on some mixers so that you can
connect a CD player, turntable, iPod, or other media device. They’re also
used for digital S/PDIF signals (see the next section for more details on
these babies).
Figure 3-5:
plug is used
mainly on
stereo and
some semipro audio
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Delving into Digital Connections
If you’re going to record using a digital recorder or mixer, you’re going to run
into digital connectors (plugs and cables/cords). Digital audio equipment is a
recent invention, and as such, no one standard has emerged. Because of this
lack of standardization, a variety of digital connection methods are on the
market, only a few (or one) of which may be on the equipment that you own
or intend to purchase. Regardless, knowing about the most common types of
connectors and their purposes can help you decide what equipment is right
for you.
MIDI, short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a handy communication protocol that allows musical information to pass from one device to
another. To allow the free passage of such information, MIDI jacks are located
on a whole host of electronic instruments. Synthesizers, drum machines,
sound modules, and even some guitars have MIDI jacks. And, to connect all
these instruments, you need some MIDI cables. The MIDI connector contains
five pins (male) that plug into the female MIDI jack (port) on the instrument
or device (see Figure 3-6).
Figure 3-6:
MIDI connectors
have two
male ends.
The device
contains the
female jack.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
AES/EBU (Audio Engineering Society/European Broadcasting Union) cables
are much like S/PDIF cables (described in the next section). The AES/EBU
standards require these cables to transmit two channels of data at a time.
They differ from S/PDIF cables in that they consist of XLR plugs and use balanced cables. (Figure 3-7 shows what the inputs look like on the recording
equipment.) AES/EBU was developed to be used with professional audio components (hence, the use of balanced cords — the kinds used in professionallevel equipment).
Figure 3-7:
S/PDIF and
look the
same as
analog RCA
(S/PDIF) and
EBU) but are
marked as
digital on the
S/PDIF (short for Sony/Phillips Digital Interface Format) cables consist of an
unbalanced coaxial cable (one wire and a shield) and RCA plugs. (Figure 3-7
shows what the inputs look like on the machine.) These cables can also be
made from fiber-optic cable and a Toslink connector. The S/PDIF format can
transmit two channels of digital data at one time. S/PDIF protocols are similar
to AES/EBU standards, except that S/PDIF was originally designed for the consumer market — which explains why unbalanced cords are used. In spite of
being developed for the consumer market, S/PDIF connectors are found on a
lot of pro recording gear along with (or instead of) AES/EBU.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
If you want to use cords that are longer than 3 to 4 feet when using an S/PDIF
connector — or about 15 feet for AES/EBU connectors — your best bet is to
use video or digital audio cables. Regular audio cables degrade the sound at
longer distances because they can’t transmit the type of signal that digital
produces without affecting the quality of the sound. If you use audio cables
for longer distances, you lose some of the sound’s definition. Some people
describe this sound as “grainy.”
ADAT Lightpipe
The ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) Lightpipe format allows eight tracks
of digital audio to be sent at once. Developed by Alesis, ADAT Lightpipe (or
simply Lightpipe for short) has become a standard among digital audio products. It consists of a fiber-optic cable that uses a special connector developed
by Alesis.
TDIF (Teac Digital Interface Format) is Teac’s return volley to the ADAT
Lightpipe format. TDIF uses a standard computer cable with a 25-pin connector. Like the ADAT Lightpipe, TDIF cables can transmit eight channels of digital data at a time. TDIF isn’t nearly as common as ADAT Lightpipe because
Alesis made its Lightpipe technology available to other companies to use for
free. Alesis encouraged these companies to adopt it as a “standard” because
the Alesis ADAT recorders were so common.
USB, which stands for Universal Serial Bus, is a common component in nearly
all modern computers. In fact, your computer probably has more than one
USB port. In case it’s been a while since you’ve had to use your USB connection, take a look at Figure 3-8. As you can see, USB has the following different
plugs that fit different jacks:
✓)>>Rectangular connector: This is called the “A” connector and is for any
receiving device, such as your PC or a USB hub.
✓)>>Square connector: Called the “B” connector, this is used for a sending
device, such as your USB audio interface or printer.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
Figure 3-8:
USB uses
two types of
the “A” connector (left)
and the “B”
Aside from having two different types of jacks and plugs, USB also has different standards, as follows:
✓)>>USB 1.1: This standard (the original) can handle a data rate of up to 12
Mbps (megabits per second).
✓)>>USB 2.0: Also called High-Speed USB, this standard can handle 40 times
the data flow of the earlier standard — 480 Mbps.
✓)>>USB 3.0: This is also referred to as SuperSpeed USB. This connection
transfers data at an astounding 5 Gbps, tens times as fast as even USB 2.0.
You’ll still find some USB 1.1 audio interfaces on the market, but most have
migrated to the faster, 2.0 and 3.0 versions.
Developed by Apple, FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394 or iLink) is a highspeed connection that is used by many audio interfaces, hard drives, digital
cameras, and other devices. Even though FireWire was developed by Apple,
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
you can find FireWire ports on devices from many manufacturers. FireWire
cables, unlike USB cables (see the preceding section), have the same connector (see Figure 3-9) on both ends.
Figure 3-9:
FireWire is
a high-speed
Like USB, FireWire comes in two flavors, which are described as follows:
✓)>>FireWire 400: This standard supports data transfer speeds of up to
400 Mbps. Many audio interfaces currently use FireWire 400 as a way to
connect with your computer. These interfaces can handle quite a few
inputs and outputs.
✓)>>FireWire 800: Yep, you guessed it — this standard can handle data
transfer rates of 800 Mbps. Several FireWire 800 devices are available.
Thunderbolt is the fastest connectivity format to date, with speeds between 20
and 100 gigabits per second. Audio interface manufacturers are excited about
this amazing speed, and many experts see Thunderbolt as the next format that
the pros will embrace. But, like USB 3.0, Thunderbolt is too new for any products to be available. This may change soon, so keep your eyes open.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
As I mention in Chapter 2, you can expect the first units to be relatively
expensive, maybe not because of the cost of the technology, but because of
the number of inputs and outputs that these units will likely have. For most
home recordists, however, the existing connectivity options are sufficient for
doing anything you want to do.
Sampling Some Studio Setups
Everyone’s studio setup is a little different. Because I can’t come into your
home to help you set up yours, I show you a few typical setups in this section
that you can use to configure your system.
I outline these three systems in the sections that follow:
✓)>>Audio with some MIDI: This system is designed to record audio tracks
and run MIDI tracks simultaneously using stand-alone components.
✓)>>MIDI-intensive setup: This setup relies heavily on MIDI, using a computer to run audio and MIDI.
✓)>>Live audio: This setup optimizes live-instrument recording with no MIDI
devices and can consist of a studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system.
Whenever you connect or disconnect cables within your system, make sure
that the power to the equipment is turned off or that the volume on the device
is turned all the way down. Otherwise, you may damage your speakers or
your ears.
Audio with some MIDI
The most common home studio setup includes one or two MIDI devices connected to a digital recorder and one or two microphones plugged in to record
vocals or an instrument. Figure 3-10 shows this typical setup. Here, the guitar
and bass may be either miked from the amp or plugged directly into the
mixer using one of the following three techniques:
✓)>>Use a direct box (a device that changes the impedance level of your
guitar so that the mixer can process the signal).
✓)>>Plug your guitar into your amp and run a cord from the line output of the
amp to the mixer’s channel input.
✓)>>Use the Hi-Z input of your mixer, if this input is available.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-10:
The most
studio setup
both liveinstrument
and MIDI
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
The setup in Figure 3-10 consists of a stand-alone recorder, a separate mixer,
and a computer running MIDI sequencing software. Here’s how you connect
the equipment in this scenario:
✓)>>Plug all your instruments into the channel inputs of the mixer. For
example, insert a TS plug into a ¼-inch jack and an XLR plug into an
XLR jack.
✓)>>To connect the synthesizer to the MIDI controller (computer), run
a MIDI cable from the MIDI-output jack of the MIDI interface to the
MIDI-input jack of the synthesizer. The connection between the MIDI
interface and computer depends on your MIDI interface. This connection
is usually made using a USB port, but you can find MIDI ports in many
audio interfaces. In this case, the connection type depends on the type
of interface you use. Chapter 2 has more details on audio interface connection types.
✓)>>To connect the mixer to the recorder, run ¼-inch line cords from the
direct-output jacks of the individual channels to the line (track)–input
jacks of the recorder. Figure 3-10 shows only one cord running from the
mixer to the recorder (and one running from the recorder back to the
mixer), but you can have as many cords as you have direct-output jacks
in your mixer or line-input jacks in your recorder. For example, if you have
an eight-track recorder, you have cords running from channels 1 through 8
of your mixer into the track-input jacks 1 through 8 of your recorder. Of
course, if your system consists of an SIAB or a computer-based system,
you don’t need to run these cords because the connections are made
within the box (see the section “Live audio,” later in this chapter).
✓)>>To monitor the tracks of the recorder, run cords from the individual
line-output jacks of the recorder back to the mixer. You would generally plug these cords into channel inputs 9 through 16. Again, if you have
an SIAB or a computer-based system, you don’t need to do this.
ç’•å±´If you connect your recorder and mixer as I just outlined, you have channels 1 through 8 on your mixer controlling all the inputs and channels 9
through 16 controlling the recorded tracks. If you don’t have that many
channels in your mixer, you need to jockey some cords around. The
routing possibilities are almost endless with a mixer. Check your owner’s
manual for recommended setups and routing suggestions.
ç’•å±´As an example, suppose that you have a 12-channel mixer and an eighttrack recorder. If you don’t intend to record more than four tracks at a
time, you can use tracks 1 through 4 for your channel inputs from your
instruments and tracks 5 through 12 for the track inputs from your
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
ç’•å±´If you need more inputs and don’t want or need to listen to the tracks as
you record, you can allocate fewer channels for track monitoring and
more for instrument inputs.
✓)>>Run line cords from the main left- and right-output jacks of the mixer
to your power amp (or powered speakers).
✓)>>Run speaker cords from the power amp to the speakers. (You obviously don’t need these if you have powered speakers because the connection is internally wired.)
MIDI-intensive setup
The MIDI-intensive setup has numerous MIDI devices hooked up to a mixer
and a microphone occasionally plugged in to record vocals. The system
shown in Figure 3-11 features a computer running audio and sequencing software, as well as an audio and MIDI interface. The mixer is housed within the
software program. All your instrument and microphone audio outputs are
plugged into the audio inputs of the interface, and the MIDI connections are
made using the MIDI input and output jacks.
The diagram shows both MIDI input and output connections on all the sound
modules and synthesizers. This allows two-way communication between the
MIDI controller (located in the computer) and the instruments, which gives
you more flexibility with sequencing.
Because all routing is done within the computer, you don’t need as many
cords as you would with a stand-alone system.
Live audio
If you intend to record a live band, you’re likely to use this setup. The live
audio setup requires more microphone connections and rarely has MIDI
devices running into it. Figure 3-12 shows how you would make the connections for this type of application.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
Figure 3-11:
A home
Rarely are
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-12:
The live
setup. MIDI
devices are
rarely used.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
The setup in Figure 3-12 consists of an SIAB system (a Roland VS-1880, for
instance). Because all the routing takes place within the box, your setup is
simple. All your instruments and microphones plug directly into the SIAB
(most units even have one Hi-Z input for a guitar or bass). If you want to plug
in both the electric guitar and the bass at the same time, you still need one
direct box or line output from your amp.
If you plan to use more than two microphones at once, make sure that you
have enough inputs because most SIAB systems have only two XLR jacks. If
you want to plug in more mics than you have XLR jacks, you have the following options:
✓)>>Use a separate analog mixer for plugging in extra mics. Then run an
instrument cord from the channel output of the mixer to the channel’s
line input on your SIAB system.
✓)>>Use one or more external preamps to convert the low-impedance mic
cords to high-impedance TS cords. Just plug your mic into the preamp
and run an instrument cord from the preamp to the channel’s line input
of your SIAB system.
✓)>>Use line converters, such as a direct box or an adapter. Plug your mic
cord into the direct box or adapter and then plug into the channel’s line
input of your SIAB system’s mixer. (You can find an adapter at Radio
Shack for about $12 — part no. 910-0913.) This is the least expensive
option, but it costs you more in terms of sound quality — it doesn’t
sound as good as the previous two options.
All that’s left is to run line cords from the main outputs of your SIAB system
to the inputs of your powered speakers. In this case, you use ¼-inch instrument cords (T/S) rather than speaker cords because the input on your powered speakers is actually the input to the amplifier and not the speakers. The
connection from the amp to the speakers is made internally in the speaker
If you don’t need to record with multiple tracks and you’re okay with mono
or stereo, a ton of portable recorders (often called linear recorders; see
Chapter 2) can do the trick. Some even include their own mics. You may also
find that a tablet computer, such as the iPad, is useful for live recording. Again,
I present some options along this line in Chapter 2.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Working Efficiently
I hope that you’ll spend many hours in your studio creating great music (possibly to the dismay of the rest of your family). One important thing to keep
in mind is that you need to be comfortable. Get a good chair and set up your
workstation to be as easy to get around as possible. Figure 3-13 shows a classic L setup. Notice how everything that you need is within arm’s reach. If
you have enough room, you may want to consider a U-shaped setup instead,
which is shown in Figure 3-14.
Figure 3-13:
A classic
L setup:
is easy to
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
Figure 3-14:
setup can
work great if
you have the
room for it.
If you use a lot of outboard gear — such as preamps or effects processors —
and you think that you need to plug and unplug a lot, invest in a good
patch bay (see Figure 3-15) so that you don’t have to strain to access the
cords that are tucked away behind your mixer. A patch bay is a device that
has a bunch of inputs and outputs that allows you to route your gear in
(and out) in an almost infinite variety of ways. If you do much plugging
and unplugging, you’ll quickly find out that a patch bay is an indispensable item. It can save your back — and your cords (repeated plugging and
unplugging wears them out quickly and produces buzzes that can be hard
to locate).
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-15:
A patch bay
lets you plug
and unplug
gear without having
to crawl
behind each
piece of)>>
Taming heat and dust
The number-one enemy of electronic equipment is heat. Dust is a close
second. Try to set up your studio in a room that you can keep cool and
fairly dust-free. Air conditioning is a must for most studios. Be careful with
a window air conditioner, though, because it can make a lot of noise, requiring you to shut it off when you record. Depending on where you live, this can
quickly warm your room. Regarding dust, try to cover your equipment when
you’re not using it, especially your microphones. A plastic bag placed over
the top of a mic on a stand works well.
You can also just put away your mics when you’re not using them. However,
if you use a particular mic a lot, you’re better off leaving it on a stand rather
than constantly handling it — some types of mics are pretty fragile. (You can
find more details on caring for your mics in Chapter 6.)
Monitoring your monitors
If you have a set of near-field monitors (speakers) — the kind that are
designed to be placed close to you — they should be set up so that they are
the same distance from each other and from you, forming an equilateral triangle (see, high school math has some real-world applications). The monitors
should also be placed at about the height of your ears.
Figure 3-16 illustrates the best placement for your monitors. Placing your
monitors this way ensures that you hear the best possible sound from them
and that you can accurately hear the stereo field. (For more on the stereo
field, see Chapter 14.)
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
Figure 3-16:
Your monitors (speakers) sound
best when
placed at
equal distances from
each other
and from
Optimizing Your Room
Your studio probably occupies a corner in your living room, a spare bedroom, or a section of your basement or garage. All these environments are
less than ideal for recording. Even if you intend to record mostly by plugging
your instrument or sound module directly into the mixer, how your room
sounds has a big effect on how well your music turns out.
As a home recordist, you probably can’t create a top-notch sound room.
Professional studios spend serious cash — up to seven figures — to make their
rooms sound, well, professional. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend near that
much money to record music that sounds great. All you need is a little understanding of the way sound travels, some ingenuity, and a little bit of work.
Isolating sound
When you start recording in your home, both you and your neighbors are
probably concerned about the amount of sound that gets into and out of your
room. Sound waves are nasty little buggers. They get through almost any surface, and you can’t do a lot to stop that from happening.
You’ve probably noticed this phenomenon when somebody with a massive
subwoofer in his car drives by your house blasting obnoxious music. (Ever
notice how someone else’s music is obnoxious whereas your music never is,
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
no matter how loud you play it?) Your windows rattle, your walls shake, and
your favorite mug flies off the shelf and breaks into a thousand pieces. Well,
this is one of the problems with sound.
The best (and classic) way to isolate your studio room from everything
around it is to build a room within a room or to use sound isolation materials
to reduce the level of sound passing through your floors, ceilings, or walls. I
don’t have the space to go into detail here, but you can find resources to get
you started by doing a Google search with the keywords “sound isolation.”
Here are a couple places to get you started:
✓)>>Sound Isolation Company (www.soundisolationcompany.com):
Aside from selling products to help you keep the sound in (or out) of
your studio, you’ll find useful information here about the process of
sound isolation.
✓)>>NetWell (www.controlnoise.com): Again, this company sells products
to help control sound, but you’ll also find good basic information here to
get you started.
If you don’t have the money or space to build a room within a room or to add
expensive sound isolation barriers to your recording space, the best thing
you can do is to try to understand what noises are getting in and getting out
and deal with those noises. For example, if you live in a house or apartment
with neighbors close by, don’t record live drums at night. You could also consider using a drum machine or electronic drum set instead.
Another idea is to choose a room in your house or apartment that is the farthest away from outside noise (an interior room, for instance). Basements
also work well because they’re underground, and the ground absorbs most of
the sound. Placing a little fiberglass batt insulation (the typical house insulation that you can find at your local home center) in the ceiling can isolate you
pretty well from your neighbors. Detached garages are generally farther away
from other buildings, so sound has a chance to dissipate before it reaches
your neighbors (or before your neighbors’ noise reaches your garage).
Also, keep the following points in mind when trying to isolate your studio:
✓)>>Dead air and mass are your friends. The whole concept of a room within
a room is to create mass and dead air space so that the sound is trapped.
When you work on isolating your room, try to design in some space that
can trap air (dead air) — such as a suspended ceiling or big upholstered
furniture — or use double layers of drywall on your walls (mass).
✓)>>Don’t expect acoustical foam or carpet to reduce the noise. Using these
items helps reduce the amount of sound that bounces around inside
the room, but acoustical foam or carpet does little toward keeping the
sound in or out of the room.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
✓)>>Isolate the instrument instead of the room. Isolating the sound of your
guitar amp can be much less expensive than trying to soundproof your
whole room. Most commercial studios have one or more isolation booths
that they use for recording vocals and other acoustic instruments. You
can use that concept to create your own mini isolation booths.
One idea for a truly mini isolation booth is to make an insulated box for your
guitar (or bass) amp. If you just have to crank your amp to get the sound
that you want, you can reduce the amount of noise that it makes by placing it
inside an insulated box. Check out Figure 3-17 to see what I mean.
Figure 3-17:
An ampisolator box
reduces the
amount of
noise you
hear from
your amp,
even when
it’s cranked.
You can also create an isolated space in a closet by insulating it and closing the
door when you record, or you can put your guitar amp (or drums) in another
room and run a long cord from there to your recorder. If you do this, remember
that for long cord runs, you need to use balanced cords; otherwise, you may
get a bunch of noise and your signal may be too low to record well.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Controlling sound
After you create a room that’s as isolated from the outside world as possible,
you need to deal with the way sound acts within your room.
Sound travels through the air in the form of waves. These waves bounce
around the room and cause reflections (reverberations or echoes). One of
the problems with most home studios is that they’re small. And because
sound travels very fast (about 1,130 feet per second — the exact speed
depends on the humidity in the environment), when you sit at your monitors and listen, you hear the reflected sound as well as the original sound
that comes out of your speakers. With big rooms, you can hear the original
sound and reflections as separate sounds, meaning that the reflections
themselves become less of a problem. For a good home studio, you need to
tame these reflections so that they don’t interfere with your ability to clearly
hear the speakers.
How all these reflections bounce around your room can get pretty complicated. Read up on acoustics (the way sound behaves) to discover more about
different room modes: axial (one dimension), tangential (two dimensions), and
oblique (three dimensions). Each relates to the way that sound waves interact
as they bounce around a room. Knowing your room’s modes can help you
come up with an acoustical treatment strategy, but very complicated formulas
are used to figure out your room’s modes, especially those dastardly tangential and oblique modes.
You can find out more on room modes, as well as discover some room mode
calculators, by searching the Internet for “room modes.” I recommend that
you research these modes; this topic alone could fill an entire book.
At the risk of offending professional acoustical engineers, I’m going to share
some tricks that I’ve been using in my studios. My main goal has been to
create a room with a sound I like that gives me some measure of control over
the reflections within the room. Because I (and most home recordists) both
record and mix in one room, it’s helpful to be able to make minor adjustments to the acoustics to get the sound I want.
The two best sources I’ve found for sound control and acoustics information are Ethan Winer’s forum at Musicplayer.com (http://forums.
The_Audio_Expert.) and John Sayers’s Recording Studio Design forum
(www.johnlsayers.com/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=3). Both can offer
you a wealth of information and guidance on optimizing your room.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
Sound control plays a major role in two aspects of recording — tracking and
mixing — and each requires different approaches for you to get the best possible sound from your recordings. I cover both of these aspects in the sections that follow.
Sound control during tracking
Tracking is what you’re doing when you’re recording. Two things that can
make a room a bad environment for tracking are not enough sound reflection
and too much sound reflection.
When tracking, your goal is to have a room that’s not so dead (in terms of
sound reflection) that it sucks the life out of your instrument and not so alive
that it over-colors the sound. The determining factors in how much reflection you need in your room are the instrument that you record and the way it
sounds in the room. If your room is too dead (with not enough sound reflection), you want to add some reflective surfaces to liven things up (the room,
that is). If your room is too alive (with too much sound reflection), you need to
add some absorptive materials to tame those reflections.
You could buy a bunch of foam panels to catch the reflections or install a
wood floor or attach some paneling to the walls to add some life, but then
you would be stuck with the room sounding only one way. It may end up
sounding good for recording drums or an acoustic guitar, but it would probably be too alive for getting a great vocal sound — which requires a deader
space. One solution that works well is to get (or make) some portable panels
that can either absorb or reflect the sound.
Figure 3-18 shows an absorber/reflector that I’ve used and found to work
well. One side has an absorptive material (dense fiberglass insulation), and
the other has a reflective surface (wood). They’re assembled in an attractive
frame and designed to stack easily. Even with minimal woodworking experience, you can crank out a set of them in a weekend for very little money
(about $50 per panel). I guarantee that if you make them (or hire someone to
make them for you), you’ll find dozens of uses for them around your studio. (I
outline a bunch of ways to use them in Chapter 9.)
Sound control during mixing
The following sections detail the steps that can help you control the sound of
your (probably less-than-perfect) room during mixing.
Get a good pair of near-field monitors
Near-field monitors are designed to be listened to up close (hence, the near in
their name) and can lessen the effects that the rest of the room has on your
ability to accurately hear them and to get a good mix.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-18:
reflectors make
the sound
characteristics of your
room quick
and easy.
Mix at low volumes
I know, mixing at low volumes takes the fun out of it, right? Well, as fun as
it may be to mix at high volumes, it rarely translates into a great mix. Great
mixing engineers often listen to their mixers at very low levels. Yes, they
occasionally use high levels, but only after the mixing is almost done and
even then only for short periods of time. After all, if you damage your ears,
you’ll end up with a short career as a sound engineer (hey, that rhymes!).
I don’t want to sound like your mother, but try to resist the temptation to
crank it up. Your ears will last longer and your mixes will sound better.
Use panels to tame sound
Even with these two things (near-field monitors and low mixing levels), you still
need to do something to your room to make it work better for you. The secret
to getting a good mixing room is to tame the sound reflections coming out of
your speakers. Dealing with high-range and midrange frequencies is pretty
easy — just put up some foam panels or the absorptive side of the panels from
Figure 3-18. (See, I told you that you would have a use for those panels.) Here’s
a rundown on how to place absorption panels in your studio:
✓)>>Start by hanging two panels on the wall behind you (or by putting
them on a stand or table) at the level of your speakers.
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
✓)>>Put one panel on each side wall, right where the speakers are pointed.
This positioning, shown in Figure 3-19, gets rid of the higher frequencies
and eliminates much of the echo.
✓)>>You may need to put some type of panel on the ceiling right above
your head. This is especially important if you have a low (8 feet high
or less) or textured ceiling (you know, one with that “popcorn” stuff
sprayed on).
Figure 3-19:
like this
helps with
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
ç’•å±´You may not want to mount one of the absorber panels over your
head because they’re fairly heavy. A couple of 2-x-4-foot dense fiberglass panels (the same ones that you used in the absorber/reflectors)
wrapped with fabric would work perfectly. In fact, you can easily make
overhead diffusers like the ones shown in Figure 3-20.
Figure 3-20:
Use overhead panels
to get rid
of reflections off the
✓)>>You can also place a set of fiberglass panels in the corners of your
room behind the speakers. Just hang the panels at the same height as
your speakers so that they cut off the corner of the room. If you don’t
have enough room to fit the panels at an angle in the corner, you can
eliminate the backing from the fiberglass and bend the fabric-covered
panel to fit right in the corner. Either approach absorbs sound that may
bounce around behind the speakers.
Use bass traps to tame standing waves
You also need to consider standing waves when mixing. Standing waves are created when bass tones begin reflecting around your room and bounce into each
other. Standing waves can either over-accentuate the bass from your speakers (resulting in mixes that are short on bass) or cancel out some or all of the
Chapter 3: Getting Connected: Setting Up Your Studio
bass coming out of your speakers (resulting in mixes with too much bass).
One problem with standing waves is that they can really mess up your mixes,
and you may not know that they’re there.
To find out whether you have a problem with standing waves in your studio,
sit in front of your monitors and carefully listen to one of your favorite CDs.
Okay, now lean forward and backward a bit. Does the amount of bass that you
hear change as you move? Next, get up and walk around the room. Listen for
places within the room where the bass seems to be louder or softer. You may
find places where the bass drops out almost completely. If either inspection
proves to be true, you’re the proud owner of standing waves. Don’t worry,
though. You can tame that standing-wave monster with a pair of bass traps.
Bass traps absorb the energy in the lower frequencies so that they don’t
bounce all over your room and throw off your mixes. You can buy bass traps
made of foam from some music stores or (yep, you guessed it) you can make
your own out of wood and insulation. Check out Figure 3-21 for a look at
some homemade bass traps.
Figure 3-21:
Use bass
traps to get
rid of standing waves.
The most common placement for bass traps is in the corners behind you
when you’re sitting at your mixer (see Figure 3-22). Placing a set of bass traps
in the other corners of the room can help even more.
Part I: Getting Started with Home Recording
Figure 3-22:
Put bass
traps in the
behind you
to eliminate
After you place the bass traps, do the listening test again. If you notice areas
where the bass seems to get louder or softer, try moving the bass traps
around a little. With trial and error, you can find a place where they work best.
Try not to stress out about the sound of your room. As important as your
room’s sound may be, it has a lot less impact on the quality of your recordings
than good, solid engineering practices. I know, I keep saying this, but it’s important to remember. So, do what you can and then work with what you have.
Part II
Recording 101
Find out how to tap a live mixer to record your show in a free article at http://www.
In this part . . .
✓)>> Get to know the way the signal flows through different
✓)>> Understand the purpose of all the knobs, buttons, and connectors in recording systems.
✓)>> Explore how MIDI canenhance your music-making
✓)>> Discover the role of the three most common types of microphones for the home studio and get practical advice on which
ones work best for your needs.
Chapter 4
Meet the Mixer
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding the different types of mixers
▶)>>Deciphering channel strips
▶)>>Exploring routing and busing
f you’ve ever been to a recording studio and watched a great recording
engineer create a mix, you’ve probably been entranced by the way that he
or she interacted with the mixing board: a dance around the mixer, a twist of
a knob here, a push of a slider there. All this works to the beat of the music.
It’s like watching a genius painter paint, or a great orchestra conductor conduct, or a brilliant surgeon surge . . . er, operate. I’ll even bet that one reason
that home recording caught your interest is the chance to play with those
knobs and sliders yourself. Go ahead and admit it — you’ll feel better.
Well, you get your chance in this chapter. Not only do you discover what all
those knobs and sliders do, but you also begin to understand all the functions that the mixer fulfills in the studio. You discover what makes up a channel strip and how it’s used. You get a chance to see how busing and routing
work and even discover what these terms mean. But first you start by examining the different types of mixers that are used in home studios.
Meeting the Many Mixers
For the home recordist, mixers come in several varieties: the analog desk, the
digital mixer or computer control surface (with or without sliding faders and
fader banks), and software mixers controlled by your computer mouse and
Part II: Recording 101
Your choice of mixer mostly depends on the other equipment that you use in
your studio and on your budget. Here’s the lowdown for the three basic types
of recording systems:
✓)>>Studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system: These all-in-one units come with a digital
mixer — just plug in your instrument or microphone and you’re ready
to go. Most mixers in these units offer quite a bit of flexibility in routing
your signal, so you’ll likely be able to do quite a bit with little hassle.
The features of the mixer in each SIAB system vary, so look at the specs
of the unit that interests you before you buy.
✓)>>Computer-based system: All recording software includes a digital mixer
that’s controlled by your keyboard and mouse. Most of these programs
also allow you to connect an external bit of hardware called the computer control surface. This gives you real knobs and sliders to tinker with
as you work.
✓)>>Tablet interfaces: A number of apps are available for tablet computers
that give you control over the digital mixer in a computer-based software program. These can be handy because you can use your fingertips
to control the various sliders and knobs, giving you a similar tactile feel
to a physical mixer instead of the singular function that exists when
mixing with a computer mouse.
✓)>>Stand-alone components: Because everything is separate in this type
of system, you need to buy a mixer before you can use your recorder.
Here you can choose between an analog or digital mixer, and you need
to invest in the cords necessary to make the proper connections (this
alone can get expensive). The type of mixer you choose will be based
partly on your budget, but mostly on your working style and whether
you prefer analog or digital mixing. I talk more about analog and digital
mixers in the next two sections.
Analog mixer
The analog mixer, shown in Figure 4-1, enables you to route the signals within
the analog domain. Analog mixers tend to have many knobs, lights, and
faders — a set for each channel. If you want to change from mixing inputs
(your instruments) to mixing sounds recorded on the recorder, you need to
plug and unplug cords, or you need to get a mixer with twice as many channels as your recorder.
Analog mixers are quickly becoming relics of the past for most home recordists. This is because digital mixers offer more functions for the price and generally sound just as good — if not better — than their analog counterparts.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
That said, many commercial studios still use (and prefer) large analog desks
for their mixing needs. This is because top-notch analog mixers ($100,000 to
over $1 million) have a sound that many pros prefer. They also look impressive, and many engineers are used to the workflow of an analog mixer.
Figure 4-1:
The analog
mixer has
tons of
lights, and
faders to
play with.
Digital mixer
The digital mixer, shown in Figure 4-2, is a great option for home studio
owners because it can perform the same functions as a conventional analog
mixer in a lot less space. Routing — the process of sending your signals to
various places within the mixer — becomes almost easy using one of these
mixers. You can switch between input and track channels without having to
change a single cord.
Part II: Recording 101
Digital mixers handle all the busing and routing tasks within the digital
domain. With no cords to mess with, noise is less likely to enter the system.
And if noise does enter the system, it’s easier to find and eliminate.
One of the great things about digital mixers is that you can automate your
mix. You can set up complex fader and effects changes to run automatically.
Figure 4-2:
The digital
mixer performs the
same functions as
an analog
mixer but
takes up
less space.
Software mixer
If you want the flexibility of a digital mixer and don’t have an overpowering
need to physically touch the faders and knobs, a software mixer (shown in
Figure 4-3) may work for you. The software mixer is included with any computer audio or MIDI production software program. The advantage of a software mixer is that after you have the computer and audio software that you
want, you have nothing else to buy.
Software mixers work much the same way as digital mixers. Because software
mixers are digital, you have an almost infinite variety of routing choices that
you can make without having to patch and repatch cables. Still, some people
may not be too keen on mixing with a keyboard and a mouse instead of the
more traditional knobs or slide faders.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
Figure 4-3:
Use your
mouse and
to control
a software
If you want the best of both worlds — high-tech computer software and tactile
stimulation — you can find control surfaces that allow you to control the software’s mixer using real faders and knobs, as described in the next section.
Computer control surface
If you end up with a computer-based system with a software mixer, you’ll
have some knobs, buttons, and faders to play around with on the computer
control surface, as shown in Figure 4-4. Aside from being able to fiddle with
knobs, you’ll find that a computer control surface is a handy tool if you
decide to use a computer-based digital audio workstation (DAW) and want
(or need) to control the virtual mixer with some hardware.
Part II: Recording 101
These controllers send MIDI messages — messages encoded using the
Musical Instrument Digital Interface communications protocol — to the
computer. These MIDI messages tell the computer which parameters to
change. Programming a computer control surface to work like a separate
digital mixer is easily done.
Figure 4-4:
A computer
surface acts
like a digital
mixer for a
Not all software works with each computer control surface, so check with the
software or computer control surface manufacturer before you buy to make
sure that the computer control surface is compatible with your system.
Tablet computer apps offer virtual control surfaces where you use the touch
screen to control the elements of the mixer in a manner similar to a separate
hardware control surface or mixer.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
Understanding Mixer Basics
The mixer is an extremely versatile piece of equipment, allowing you a staggering variety of input and output configurations. And digital mixers (both
hardware and software) are even more flexible than their analog counterparts. In fact, many digital mixers can be programmed to do almost anything
you can imagine. Regardless of the type of mixer that you use, some mixing
aspects are universal: the inputs, the channel strip, busing (also known as
routing), and the outputs. The rest of the chapter explores these functions.
Think of a mixing board as a sort of air-traffic controller for the audio world.
Just as the folks in the towers near an airport communicate with all the planes
in the air, making sure that collisions are avoided and that traffic moves
quickly and efficiently, the mixer routes all the incoming and outgoing signals
from the instruments, effects, and recording devices so that the signals reach
their desired destination without any problems.
Examining inputs
To move your audio signal around within your mixer, first you need to get
the signal into the system and then adjust the signal level. You perform these
steps with the input jacks and the trim control.
You find the following three basic types of inputs, which are generally located
on the back of your system:
✓)>>Microphone: This is the XLR input (the three-pin thingy). It’s used for
microphones and often also has phantom power as part of its connection
(which generally can be turned off if you want). Phantom power is necessary for condenser mics to function; Chapter 6 has details.
✓)>>Line/instrument: This is a ¼-inch jack (generally TS- but sometimes
TRS-balanced) that accepts line-level signals from a synthesizer, a drum
machine, or the line output from your guitar amp.
✓)>>Hi-Z: This is an input designed for the home recordist. This type of input
uses a mono ¼-inch (TS) jack and allows you to plug your electric guitar
(or bass or fiddle — anything with an electronic pickup) directly into
your system without having to mic it or run it through a direct box first.
For more on the different connector types, check out Chapter 3.
Part II: Recording 101
)>>A direct box (or DI box, short for direct injection) is traditionally used to connect your guitar or bass directly to the mixer without having to run it through
your amp first. A direct box’s purpose is twofold:
✓)>>To change the guitar’s impedance level so that the mixer can create the
best sound possible (otherwise, the guitar can sound thin or noisy)
✓)>>To change the cord from unbalanced ¼-inch to balanced XLR so that you
can use a long cord without creating noise
For more on cord types and balanced versus unbalanced signals, see Chapter 3.
If you use a computer-based system, the inputs and outputs are located in your
audio interface (the hardware you use to connect the analog world to the computer world). Chapter 2 has more on the various types of available interfaces.
Trim control
The Trim control is a knob that’s used to adjust the level of the input signal
as it enters the mixer. You usually find the Trim control at the top of the front
panel of your hardware unit. On SIAB systems and analog and digital mixers,
this control is generally located at the top of the mixer section for each channel, and on audio interfaces, it’s often found on the front panel. The amount
that you adjust the Trim control depends on the instrument that you have
plugged into the channel strip. If the Trim control is set too high, you get
distortion; if it’s set too low, you get a signal that’s too weak to record. So be
sure to listen as you make your adjustments.
Most Trim controls have a switch or markings for Line or Mic(rophone) signals, with the Line level to the right and the Mic level to the left. Turn the
knob all the way to the left for line sources — or slowly turn it to the right
for microphone sources — until you get a nice, clean sound coming into the
mixer. See Chapter 7 for more on setting input levels.
For microphone sources, you use the Trim control to adjust the level for recording. Turning the control up (turning the knob clockwise) activates an internal
preamp in the mixer, which boosts the level of the signal coming from the mic.
The internal preamp in pro mixers is usually fairly decent (it can sound pretty
good). However, many professionals prefer to use an external preamp because
it can often sound better or have a sound characteristic they want.
If you use an external preamp, check the owner’s manual of your mixer to see
whether you can bypass the internal preamp. Most professional mixers enable
you to do this. Sometimes just turning the Trim control all the way down (to
the Line marking) disengages the preamp from the circuit.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
Checking out the channel strip
The mixer is composed of numerous channels through which you route your
signal when you record or mix. The set of controls for each channel makes
up what’s called the channel strip. The channel strip contains a lot of information, and the visual position of the various functions often doesn’t correspond with the actual flow of the signal. In the following sections, I explain
both the elements of a typical digital channel strip and the path of the signal
through this part of the mixer.
Viewing the channel strip layout
Figure 4-5 shows the channel strip in a typical analog mixer, and Figure 4-6
shows the channel strip for a software mixer. Even though the mixer may
look confusing with all its knobs or buttons, lights, and sliders, you only need
to understand the basic makeup of one channel to understand them all. The
channel strip’s job is to send the signal from an instrument or microphone to
wherever you want that signal to go.
Figure 4-5:
The �channel
strip in an
mixer moves
the signal
through your
Part II: Recording 101
Figure 4-6:
The channel
strip in a
software or
digital mixer
lets you
control your
signal in
many ways.
Because most home recordists use a digital mixer of some sort — whether
software or hardware — I explain the channel strip in Pro Tools to give you an
idea of the functions of digital mixers in the channel strip window (as shown in
Figure 4-6). Your mixer may have some different features (and a different layout),
but the basic functions are pretty universal. These features are as follows:
✓)>>Input: This is where you choose the input that’s assigned to the channel
strip. In most systems, making the selection is as simple as clicking the
Input button and choosing from a menu that opens onscreen. You can
generally choose between a physical input from your hardware interface
or a bus (an internal signal). For more on routing an input, see the section “Recognizing mixer routing,” later in this chapter.
✓)>>Output: This button controls the output of the track — where the sound
goes when it leaves the track. This can be a hardware output or any of
the buses (internal signal paths) that are available in your system.
✓)>>Automation Mode: In digital systems, automation means having certain
channel strip parameters (such as volume, panning, mute, send level,
and insert level) adjust dynamically throughout the song. Using this
button, you can choose among the different automation modes. These
modes vary depending on the type of system you have.
✓)>>Track Group: This menu lets you group your track with others, which is
handy for creating submixes (mixed tracks within the larger mix) such as
for drums. Creating a group lets you adjust one track fader to control all
the faders in the group.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
✓)>>Panning dial: Use this dial (or a slider in some systems) to pan your
track to the left or the right in the stereo field. (For more on panning, see
Chapter 14.)
✓)>>Panning display: This display shows your track’s panning position — its
place to the left, right, or center in the stereo field.
✓)>>Record Enable: Pressing the Record Enable button enables the track for
recording. When enabled, this button flashes red. In digital mixers, SIAB
systems, and computer control surfaces, this button is located on the
physical unit and not on the screen.
✓)>>Solo and Mute: These buttons either solo or mute the track. Solo means
that all the other tracks in your song are silenced (muted). Muting means
that only the selected track is silenced.
✓)>>Volume fader: This is the control for setting the volume of the audio
that’s contained in this track.
✓)>>Velocity/volume meter: This display, located to the right of the Volume
Fader, shows you the volume (Pro Tools calls this velocity) of the track
as the music plays. If you have a color display, any notes above digital 0
usually show in red at the top of the display.
✓)>>Track Type: This icon shows you the type of track. This is handy with
systems that can record and play back audio and MIDI tracks.
✓)>>Numerical Volume: This display shows you the volume of the track in
✓)>>Track name: Many digital mixers allow you to customize the tracks’
names so you can remember what’s recorded on them. You see the name
listed here. To change the name at any time, click it and type a new one.
Following the flow of the signal
One of the most important things to understand when recording is how the
signal moves within your system. This knowledge lets you make the most of
your tracks and helps you tailor the sound to match the music you hear in
your head as you compose, engineer, or produce your masterpiece.
Using the ubiquitous Pro Tools as an example again, here’s how the signal
flows through the channel strip (shown from top to bottom in Figure 4-7):
✓)>>Source audio or input: This is the signal that is coming from your hardware input or that is recorded to your hard drive. The signal starts here
and enters the track’s channel strip.
✓)>>Insert: This function lets you insert effects into your track. The Insert
function is for effects, such as equalizers or dynamics processors, where
you want to change the sound of the entire signal. Some SIAB systems,
such as the Roland boxes, have separate EQ sections.
Part II: Recording 101
✓)>>Send prefader: The Send function lets you route part of your signal out
to an aux bus, where you can then insert an effect such as reverb. With
effects such as reverb, you don’t want to use the Insert function — as
you would with a compressor — because you want to be able to control
how much of the effect you hear. (Compressors only enable you to affect
the entire signal, not some portion of it.)
ç’•å±´Adjust this slider or knob to send as much or as little of the signal to the
appropriate auxiliary component (aux, get it?) for effects processing, applying as much or as little of that effect to your final sound. Turning the knob
to the left produces less effect, and turning it to the right gives more effect.
ç’•å±´Along with being able to set the Effect Send level at each channel (you
can send more than one channel’s signal to each effect), you can also
adjust the level of the affected signal that’s brought back into the mixer
by using the aux bus fader (which is described in the next section).
ç’•å±´The Aux and Send functions can often be set to send the track’s signal
either prefader or postfader. Having this option gives you more flexibility
to control the affected sound. For example, you can send the dry signal
of a kick drum to a reverb (with the switch in the Pre position) and then
boost the bass on the dry signal. Doing this gives you some reverb on
the higher frequencies without adding it to the lower ones, which would
create some mud in the final mix.
ç’•å±´The downside to this technique is that you can’t control the level of the
signal being sent to the effect using the fader. (You bypassed the fader in
the Pre position.) In this case, if you raise and lower the channel fader,
the amount of effect that you hear in relation to the dry signal changes as
well. For example, when you lower the fader, you hear more effect because
less dry signal is mixed in — and when you raise the fader, you hear less
effect because the dry signal is louder and the effect level is the same.
✓)>>Solo and Mute: These buttons let you solo (silence all other tracks) and
mute (silence) the output of the track.
✓)>>Fader: This function lets you control the level (volume) of your signal
leaving the track and going to the output(s) you’ve chosen in the Output
section of the channel strip.
✓)>>Send postfader: When you have the Pre button disengaged, your Send
signal is sent from your track after it passes through the track fader.
Adjusting the volume of the track also adjusts the level going through
your Send function.
✓)>>Pan: This control lets you adjust the amount of your signal that goes to
the left or right channel of your stereo output.
✓)>>Output: This is where your signal goes as it leaves the track’s channel strip.
This can be the master bus (connected to one of your physical outputs) or
an aux or a submix bus, where it will later be sent to the master bus.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
Figure 4-7:
through the
strip from
top to
Part II: Recording 101
Recognizing mixer routing
After you have an instrument plugged into the mixer channel strip, you want
to send that signal somewhere. This is referred to as routing or busing. (The
place where the signal ends up is, conveniently enough, referred to as a bus.)
Most mixers offer numerous busing possibilities, as follows:
✓)>>Master bus: This is where your signal goes before it leaves your system
and where you mix all your tracks.
✓)>>Submix bus: This is where you can mix several tracks before they go to
the master bus.
✓)>>Auxiliary bus: This is where you can add an effect to your signal and
then move it along to the master bus.
In the next few sections, I introduce you to some of the most-used busing
options and describe some ways to make this process easier.
Master bus
The master bus is where your music gets mixed and where you choose which
of the physical outputs this stereo mix goes to. The Pan knob setting for each
channel strip (how far to the left or right) dictates how much signal is sent to
the left or right channels of the master bus.
The master bus has a channel strip of its own where you can insert effects
such as a compressor or EQ. (I’m not a big fan of this, as you find out in
Chapter 16.) The master bus channel strip looks like a, ahem, stripped-down
version of a regular channel strip — it doesn’t have some routing options
such as an Input selector, Sends, or Solo and Mute buttons. This is because
it’s the final stage of your signal flow, so these functions aren’t necessary.
Faders for each channel control how much level is sent to the master bus and
how the volume of each channel relates to the other. The master fader only
determines the amount of overall volume of all channels that are routed to it
(for sending out to your speakers or to the stereo mix level).
Sub(submix) bus
Sometimes you have a group of instruments (such as drums) that you want
to control as a group independently of the master fader. Sending these tracks
to another track and submixing them there enables you to adjust the overall
volume of the drums without affecting the volume of any other instruments that
aren’t assigned to this channel. This is called a submix, and signals sent this way
are sent (wait for it) through the submix bus. When your signal exits this bus, it
goes to the master bus, where your signal is blended with the rest of your tracks.
Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer
Software mixers, such as the one in Pro Tools, often don’t have submix buses
per se. Instead, you can simply route your signal to any of the internal buses,
where you can adjust the level of all the signals coming to that bus by using
the channel strip fader associated with the bus.
Auxiliary(aux) bus
The aux bus is where you send your signal when you use one of the Send
functions in your channel strip. This bus often has a channel strip of its own,
where you can insert the effect you want to use. From this bus, your signal
goes to the master bus, where the signal is mixed with the rest of your tracks.
Opting for outputs
Most mixers have a bunch of output jacks that are located on the back of the
hardware, to the left. You often find output jacks for the master bus, headphones, and monitors.
Master Out jack
The Master Out jack goes to the power amp for your speakers or goes directly
to powered monitors, if you have any. This jack is generally controlled by the
master fader and sends the signal that’s routed through the master bus.
Phones jack
The Phones jack is for your headphones and is fed by the Phones knob
on the master console. This jack carries the same signal as the master
bus — only you can control the volume separately.
Monitors jack
The Monitors jack generally contains that same signal as the headphones
and master outs but gives you another place to be able to plug in speakers
or headphones. Oftentimes the Monitor Out jack is also used for hardware
monitoring in systems that have it. Hardware monitoring, which is common
on computer-based audio interfaces, enables you to monitor directly from
the interface, rather than wait until the audio signal goes into the computer
and back out again before it reaches your ears. This reduces the latency that
is often heard when listening to yourself as you record.
Part II: Recording 101
Chapter 5
MIDI and Electronic Instruments
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding MIDI
▶)>>Getting to know MIDI ports
▶)>>Making sense of MIDI data
▶)>>Choosing the MIDI gear you need
y first job in a recording studio was in 1985. I can still remember
the first time I walked into that studio. The owner was sitting, arms
crossed, in a chair in front of the mixing console (it was called a console in
those days because the mixer took up nearly the whole room). He looked at
me and pressed a key on the Macintosh computer sitting next to him. Then,
all of a sudden, a synthesizer started playing, then another, and yet another.
This is cool, I thought. But then I heard my nemesis — the drum machine.
Drum machines made me lose my recording gigs as a drummer and drove me
to expand my career to that of a recording engineer as well. However, I eventually came to love that drum machine and the many others to follow (sigh).
In fact, over the years, I became so captivated by the whole MIDI/drum
machine thing that I assembled a whole series of electronic drum sets using
drum machines and samplers — all controlled through MIDI.
In this chapter, you find out how the Musical Instrument Digital Interface
(MIDI) enables synthesizers and computers to communicate with one
another — a revolutionary thing for a musician. You get your hands dirty in
the world of sequencing — the process of recording MIDI performance information so that you can play your performance automatically. You also peruse
a variety of MIDI-capable instruments and explore the ins and outs of controlling your MIDI gear.
Like audio recording, MIDI can be a deep subject. You can go nuts trying to
understand every little nuance of MIDI. (I know some guys who are not quite
the same after plunging headfirst into this stuff.) The reality is that to use MIDI
effectively, you don’t need to know every little thing about it. In this chapter, I
focus on what you need to know to get started.
Part II: Recording 101
Meeting MIDI
MIDI is a protocol that musical instruments use to communicate with one
another. They do this through a cabled connection and a language that allows
each one to understand the other, regardless of the manufacturer or instrument. All that’s required is an instrument equipped with MIDI ports (jacks).
MIDI data is different from an audio recording because it contains no sound
as such; instead, it’s limited to performance information. This includes information about various performance characteristics, including the following:
✓)>>Note-on and note-off: What note is played and when
✓)>>Velocity: How hard someone presses a key
✓)>>After-touch: Whether the key pressure changes after the initial press
✓)>>Vibrato and pitch bend: Whether the pitch changes while a key is
This information allows the MIDI musician to potentially create a performance that is as rich in texture as those of the world’s finest players.
Digital messages that are sent from one device to another across a cable
(called the MIDI cable, of course) create MIDI data. The cable connects to
MIDI ports on each device, and the messages are sent in the form of binary
digits. Each instrument can understand and respond to these messages.
Perusing MIDI ports
Three types of MIDI ports exist:
✓)>>Out port: Sends messages.
✓)>>In port: Receives incoming messages.
✓)>>Thru port: Sends messages that one device receives directly to the in
port of another instrument. You use the thru port when you create a
daisy chain to connect more than two devices. Figure 5-1 shows a daisychain setup.
MIDI signals travel in only one direction. Data flows from the out port of a
device to an in port of another device, but not the other way around. Likewise,
data going through the thru port originates from the first device in the chain
and not the device whose thru port is being used. The way that data flows
allows a lot of flexibility in how you can connect different devices. Here are
some examples:
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
Figure 5-1:
can be
through the
in, out, and
thru ports
on each
✓)>>Example 1: In Figure 5-1, three synthesizers are connected in a daisychain lineup. A cable connects device A’s out port to device B’s in port.
Another cable connects device B’s thru port to device C’s in port. In this
scenario, device A controls devices B and C. Devices B and C can’t control any other device, because neither device B nor device C has a connection from its out port.
✓)>>Example 2: Suppose you connect device B to device C by using device
B’s out port instead of its thru port. In this case, device A sends messages to device B but not to device C. Device B controls device C. Device
C has no control over either A or B because neither one is connected to
device C’s out port.
✓)>>Example 3: Now take a look at Figure 5-2. In this figure, two devices (a
synthesizer and a computer sequencer) have MIDI cables running from
the out port of each to the in port of the other. (The MIDI interface in
this figure is necessary to make MIDI connections in a computer.) This
allows the communication to go both ways. For example, a master synthesizer and a computer sequencer are frequently connected this way
so that you can send performance information from the synthesizer to
the sequencer when you’re recording your part and from the sequencer
back to the synthesizer when you want to play the part back.
A connection to a MIDI device’s in port or through a device’s thru port doesn’t
allow the device to control another device. A MIDI device can control another
device only if the cable is connected from its out port to the other device’s
in port.
Many newer MIDI-capable devices can connect to a computer via a USB connection. This single connection can take the place of all three MIDI
Part II: Recording 101
Figure 5-2:
two devices
with cords
going both
ways allows
Understanding MIDI channels
Okay, so you have a daisy chain of MIDI instruments all hooked together and
you want to control them from your master keyboard or sequencer program.
Now you want the drum machine to play the drum part and a sound module
to play the string part. This is where the MIDI channels come in handy.
The MIDI channels allow you to designate which messages go to a particular machine. You can program each machine to receive messages on one or
more of the 16 MIDI channels. For instance, you can set your drum machine
to receive messages on channel 10 (the default channel for drum sounds)
and set the sound module with the string sounds to receive data on channel 1. (You set the MIDI channels on your instrument by using the System
Parameters menu. Check your owner’s manual for specific procedures.) After
you assign your channels, your master keyboard sends the performance
information for both the drum machine and the sound module playing the
string sounds across one MIDI cable. Each receiving device responds only to
the messages directed to the MIDI channel that it’s assigned to receive.
In this scenario, the sound module with the string sounds receives all the
data from the master keyboard, responds to the messages on channel 1,
and simultaneously sends the data from the master keyboard to the drum
machine (via the sound module’s thru port). The drum machine receives
the same messages from the master keyboard as the sound module but only
responds to those sent for channel 10.
Having 16 MIDI channels allows you to have up to 16 separate instruments
playing different parts at the same time. You may use 16 different devices or
16 different parts from the same device if you have a multitimbral sound generator. (For details, see the “Synthesizer” section later in this chapter.)
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
You would think that each MIDI channel would be sent along its own wire in the
MIDI cable, but this is not the case. Inside the MIDI cable are three wires. Two of
the wires are used for data transmission, and the third is a shield. MIDI messages
are sent across the two wires using a channel code, which tells the receiving
device what channel the data following the code applies to. So, a MIDI channel
message, called a channel voice message, precedes each performance command.
Appreciating MIDI messages
For MIDI instruments to communicate with one another, they need to have a
common vocabulary. This is where MIDI messages come in. MIDI messages
contain an array of commands, including the following:
✓)>>Performance data messages: These messages consist of note-on and
note-off, velocity, after-touch, vibrato, and pitch-bend messages.
ç’•å±´Each MIDI performance data message has 128 different values. For
example, each note that you play on the keyboard has a number associated with it (middle C is 60, for instance). Likewise, velocity is recorded
and sent as a number between 0 and 127, 0 being the softest volume (no
sound) and 127 being the loudest that you can play.
✓)>>Control change messages: These are a type of performance data message. These messages contain data about expression, including modulation, volume, and pan.
✓)>>System common messages: These messages contain data about which
channel the performance data is sent to and what sound in the sound
library to play. System common messages also include information
about timing data, master volume, and effects settings.
✓)>>System exclusive messages: These messages contain information that is
exclusive to the system or device. The messages can include data transfers of new sound patches, among other things.
To use MIDI effectively, you don’t need to know all (or many, really) of the
MIDI messages that a device can recognize. If you hook up your gear and
play, your MIDI devices generate and respond to the messages for you.
Not all MIDI devices recognize all the MIDI commands. For example, a sound
module generally can’t send performance data messages, such as after-touch
messages, because a sound module doesn’t have triggering mechanisms that
produce these commands.
Check your instrument’s manual for a MIDI Implementation Chart. All MIDI
instruments come with this chart. In it, you can find a list of all the MIDI commands that the device can send or receive. The chart also includes information
on polyphony (how many notes the instrument can play at once) and multitimbrality (how many different sounds the instrument can produce at once).
Part II: Recording 101
Managing modes
Your synthesizer, drum machine, or other MIDI module has four operating
modes that dictate how your instrument responds to the MIDI messages it
Mode 1: Omni On/Poly
In Omni On/Poly mode, your instrument responds to all the MIDI messages
coming across the wires (well, except the MIDI channel data). This means
that your synthesizer or other device tries to play the parts of all the instruments hooked up to your MIDI controller. In this mode, your device also plays
polyphonically (more than one note at a time).
Some older MIDI devices default to Omni On/Poly mode when you turn them
on. In this case, you need to reset your instrument if it’s one of several in your
MIDI setup. If you don’t, the instrument responds to any MIDI messages sent
from the controller, not just the ones directed toward that instrument.
Mode 2: Omni On/Mono
Omni On/Mono mode allows your device to receive messages from all MIDI
channels but only lets it play monophonically (one note at time). This mode is
rarely, if ever, used.
Mode 3: Omni Off/Poly
In the Omni Off/Poly mode, your device can play polyphonically but responds
only to MIDI signals on the channels that it’s set to. This is the mode you use
most often when sequencing. I talk more about the magic of sequencing in
the “Sequencer” section later in this chapter.
Mode 4: Omni Off/Mono
In the Omni Off/Mono mode, your instrument responds only to the messages
sent on the MIDI channel that it’s set to and ignores the rest. Instead of playing polyphonically, as in Mode 3, your instrument plays only one note at a
time. This can be advantageous if you’re playing a MIDI controller from an
instrument that can play only one note at a time, such as a saxophone.
Taking orders from General MIDI
If you compose music for other people to play on their MIDI instruments
or if you want to use music from another composer, General MIDI is invaluable to you. General MIDI (GM) is a protocol that enables a MIDI instrument
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
to provide a series of sounds and messages that are consistent with other
MIDI instruments. With General MIDI, you can take a Standard MIDI file
(SMF) of a song that was created on one sequencer program, transfer the
file to another program, and use that other program to play the exact performance — sounds, timing, program changes, and everything else.
GM instruments contain numerous sound patches that the MIDI community
has standardized. Although the quality of these sounds isn’t subject to a uniform standard, their sound type and location (Acoustic Grand Piano on Patch
#1, for instance) are the same on all GM-compatible machines.
Not all MIDI-capable instruments follow the GM standards. If this feature is
important to you, be sure to find out whether the instrument that interests
you is GM-compatible before you buy.
GM standards dictate not only the particular sounds of a synthesizer but also
which drum sounds are located on which keys, how many notes of polyphony
the instrument has, and how many different channels the instrument can
receive and send instructions on. Here are the two levels of GM compatibility:
✓)>>GM Level 1 compatibility: Level 1 protocols were developed in 1991 and
consist of a minimum of 128 instrument patches, 24 notes of polyphony,
receiving and sending capability for all 16 MIDI channels, 16-part multitimbrality, and a host of controller and performance messages.
✓)>>GM Level 2 compatibility: Level 2 was implemented in 1999 and
includes more sounds, polyphony, and features. A GM-compatible device
has 32 notes of polyphony, 16-channel support, up to 16 simultaneous
instrument sound patches, and a host of additional sounds (384, to be
exact), including 2 channels of simultaneous percussion sounds. Also
added to the GM2 standard are reverb and chorus effects.
Gearing Up for MIDI
Okay, so this MIDI thing sounds kind of interesting to you, and you want to
know what you need to buy to do some MIDIing yourself. Well, I’m sorry to
inform you that you can’t do any of this cool MIDI stuff with your vintage
Stratocaster guitar or your acoustic drum set (unless you do some fancy rigging to your gear). Here’s the equipment that you need to record using MIDI:
✓)>>Sound generator: This device enables you to hear the music and may be
a synthesizer (hardware or software), drum machine, sound module, or
Part II: Recording 101
✓)>>MIDI controller: This device controls the MIDI instruments in your studio.
✓)>>Sequencer: This device records and plays the MIDI performances that
are programmed into it. The sequencer allows you to program your part
into the synthesizer and have it play back automatically (much like the
old-time player piano).
✓)>>MIDI interface: This interface enables your computer to send and
receive MIDI data.
I know this sounds like a lot of stuff, but most of this gear performs more than
one function in the MIDI studio. For example, nearly all synthesizers come
with drum sounds, and some synthesizers even include a sequencer. In this
case, this one synthesizer can do the job of a sound generator, drum machine,
MIDI controller, and sequencer all in one. Or, you can get a computer equipped
with sequencing software (part of most recording programs such as Pro Tools,
Sonar, or Logic), a couple of software synthesizers (acting as your sound modules/generators), and an external MIDI keyboard with its own internal interface
(you can find many with USB connections that plug right into your computer).
This setup gets you going with as few components as possible.
Sound generators
The sound generator is the core of the MIDI studio — it’s what produces
the sounds you hear. Without it, you may as well skip the rest of the stuff
because, of course, you can’t hear any of your work.
Sound generators can come in many different shapes and sizes: You find the
fully functional keyboard synthesizer, the independent drum machine, the
stand-alone sound module, samplers, software synthesizers (soft synths),
and the computer sound card. Each of these devices has its strengths and
In the following sections, I discuss the different types of sound generators.
Although you may find one piece of equipment that does everything you
want, in this section, I separate all the features that different equipment may
have to help you understand the function of each feature and decide how to
configure your studio.
A synthesizer, like the one shown in Figure 5-3, consists of not only sounds
but also a keyboard on which you can play these sounds. Synthesizers come
in a variety of sizes and configurations. For example, some keyboards come
with as few as 25 keys (two octaves) while others provide as many as 88
keys — the size of an acoustic piano keyboard.
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
Figure 5-3: A
contains a
and a
variety of
If you’re in the market for a synthesizer, you need to consider the following
✓)>>Polyphony: This is the number of keys that sound at one time. Most
decent modern synthesizers have at least 16 notes of polyphony,
although ones with 32 notes are not uncommon.
ç’•å±´Each manufacturer treats polyphony differently, and the GM standards
(discussed in the section “Taking orders from General MIDI,” earlier in
this chapter) allow some variations on the effective use of this parameter. For instance, a synth patch may use more than one sound to create
the sound that you hear. The synth patch that you love so much may,
in fact, consist of four different sounds layered on top of one another.
In this case, you just reduced your polyphony to one-fourth with that
one patch. If your synthesizer has 16-note polyphony, it’s now down to
4-note polyphony because each of those 4 notes has four “sounds” associated with it. If you use this patch, you can play only 4 notes (a simple
chord) at a time, not the 16 that you thought you had to work with.
ç’•å±´Your best bet is to buy a synthesizer (or sound module) with the highest
polyphony you can afford, especially if you want to layer one sound on
top of another or do multitimbral parts with your synth.
✓)>>Multitimbrality: Most decent keyboards allow you to play more than
one sound patch at a time. This is called multitimbrality, which basically
allows you to have your keyboard divided into several groups of sounds.
For example, a multitimbral synth can divide a song’s chords, melody,
bass part, and drum-set sounds into different groups of sounds and then
play all those groups at once.
ç’•å±´If you do any sequencing, a multitimbral synth is a must-have. Otherwise
you would need a separate synthesizer for each type of sound that you
wanted to play. Fortunately, with the GM standards, compatible synthesizers made since 1994 have the ability to play 16 sounds at once.
✓)>>Keyboard feel: Some keyboards have weighted keys and feel like real
pianos, while other keyboards have a somewhat spongy action. If you’re
a trained piano player, a spongy keyboard may feel uncomfortable to
you. On the other hand, if you have no training in piano and don’t need
weighted keys, you don’t have to pay the extra money for that feature.
Part II: Recording 101
✓)>>Sound quality: This is a subjective thing. Choose the synthesizer that
has the sounds that you think you’ll use. I know this seems kind of obvious, but buy the synthesizer whose sounds you like even if this means
having to wait and save some more money. If you buy a synth that was
a good deal but you don’t love the sounds, you’re wasting your money
because you’ll just end up buying the more expensive one later anyway.
✓)>>Built-in sequencer: Many keyboards contain a built-in sequencer, which
allows you to program and play back your performance. These are usually called keyboard workstations or MIDI workstations because they
contain everything you need to create a song. If you’re considering
buying one of these complete workstations, take a good, hard look at the
sequencer and the user interface to make sure that you like the way it
works. Each manufacturer treats the process of sequencing a little differently; you can probably find a sequencer that fits your style of working.
Drum machine
A drum machine contains not only the sounds of the drum set and other
more exotic drums but also a sequencer to allow you to program rhythms.
Figure 5-4 shows you a typical drum machine.
Most drum machines contain hundreds of drum sounds, numerous preset
rhythm patches, and the ability to program dozens of songs. All stand-alone
drum machines have pads on which you can play the part. The more advanced
drum machines can give your rhythms a more human feel. Effects, such as
reverb and delay, are also fairly common on the more advanced drum machines.
Figure 5-4:
A drum
has drum
and often a
to program
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
Sound module
A sound module is basically a stripped-down version of a synthesizer or drum
machine. Sound modules don’t contain triggering devices, such as the keys
for the keyboard or pads for the drum machine. What they do contain is a
variety of sounds (often hundreds) that a master controller or sequencer triggers. The advantage of sound modules is that they take up little space and
cost considerably less than their fully endowed counterparts, especially in
the case of software synthesizers (generally called soft synths).
If you already have a master keyboard, adding sound modules can be a costand space-effective way to add more sounds to your system.
A sampler is a sound module that contains short audio samples of real instruments. Most samplers come with sound libraries that contain hundreds of
different types of sounds, from acoustic pianos to snare drums to sound
effects. These sounds are often much more realistic than those that come in
some synthesizers.
The real purpose of a sampler is to allow you to record your own sounds. For
example, in the ’80s, it was cool to make a drum set out of unusual percussive
sounds. A snare drum could be the sound of a flushing toilet (don’t laugh; I
actually did this) or breaking glass. Tom-toms could be grunts set to certain
pitches. You would be amazed at the strange stuff that people have turned
into music — all with the help of a sampler.
Another common use of a sampler is for recording short sections of alreadyrecorded songs. This can be a melodic or rhythmic phrase, a vocal cue, or a
single drum or synth sound. Sampling other songs is common in electronic
music, rap, and hip-hop (be careful of copyright issues before doing this,
however). If you’re into electronic music or hip-hop, you may find a sampler
a necessary addition to your studio.
Soft synths
If you’ve chosen a computer-based system for running your home studio, your
digital audio workstation (DAW) software enables you to produce great sounds
by using soft-synth plug-ins. Soft-synths are basically software equivalents
of stand-alone synthesizers, sound modules, or samplers. As you can see in
Figure 5-5, a soft synth’s graphical user interface (GUI) is often designed to look
just like a piece of regular hardware, complete with buttons and knobs.
Part II: Recording 101
Figure 5-5:
Computerbased DAW
users can
choose soft
synths to
create their
Of course, soft synths have advantages and disadvantages:
✓)>>Advantages: Soft synths cost less than stand-alone units because no
hardware is involved.
✓)>>Disadvantages: Unlike regular synthesizers, a soft synth needs a computer
to run and requires quite a bit of processing power to work effectively.
This can slow your computer system and prevent you from recording as
many audio tracks or applying as many effect patches as you’d like. It may
also introduce some latency into your system, depending on what audio
recording program you use. Most offer automatic delay compensation
(ADC) to deal with this, so don’t let this stop you from using soft synths.
Countless soft-synth plug-ins are available for most DAW programs. The best
way to find the soft synths for your DAW program is to visit an Internet newsgroup or message board that covers your software. Then do a search for soft
synths or ask the other members what software they use.
Sound card
Most sound cards that you can install in your computer (or that come with a
desktop computer) have General MIDI sounds in them. Depending on the quality
of your sound card, the sound may be decent or border on the unbearable.
To find out whether the GM sounds in your computer’s sound card are any
good, play a MIDI file on your computer. First, do an Internet search for MIDI
files (just type MIDI in your favorite search engine). Some sites require you to
Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments
pay to download a song — especially for popular or familiar tunes — but
many sites allow you to choose a song to listen to without downloading or
paying a fee. Click a song and it should start playing automatically. You’ll
immediately know whether you like the sound of your sound card.
If you bought a new sound card for recording audio, you’ll generally find that
the sounds are pretty good. And with your audio program, you have access to
soft-synth patches.
MIDI controller
A MIDI controller is a device that can control another MIDI device. MIDI controllers come in many different formats. In fact, a MIDI controller can be anything from a synthesizer to a drum machine or a computer to a xylophone.
When MIDI first came out, your controller choice was limited to a keyboard,
but now you can choose among keyboards, wind controllers (for saxophones
or other wind instruments), guitars, and drums. So, even if you don’t play
piano, you can find a controller that resembles an instrument that you know
how to play. Look around, and you may find one (or more) MIDI controllers
that allow you to create music your way.
Although you can get stand-alone sequencers and sequencers integrated
into a synthesizer, you probably want a computer-based sequencer for your
home studio. The reasons for this are many, but the overriding factor is that
you can have your MIDI and audio tracks in one place, and a computer-based
sequencer gives you more-powerful editing capabilities than a sequencer
that’s contained in a box and that uses a tiny LCD screen.
Of course, if you want to do only a minimal amount of MIDI in your studio, you
don’t necessarily need all the power of a computer-based sequencer program.
For example, imagine that you have a drum machine and an eight-track recorder
that has synchronization capabilities (your owner’s manual describes
whether the recorder can synchronize with other devices) and that you play
guitar-based music. Being a guitar freak, you want to use six tracks for your
guitars and two for your singing. With a MIDI connection from your drum
machine to your recorder, you may be able to synch these two machines
and wait to record your drum parts until the final mix. This effectively gives
you a lot more tracks — one for each drum sound that you’re using because
you can adjust the volume, pan, and sound of each instrument in your drum
machine. This setup is similar to recording each instrument on a separate
track in your recorder.
Part II: Recording 101
MIDI interface
The MIDI interface allows you to send and receive MIDI information from a
computer. Many sound cards have a MIDI port, but if you end up doing a lot
of MIDI sequencing and use more than one sound module or external controller, you need a separate MIDI interface, such as the one shown in Figure 5-6.
Figure 5-6:
You need
to connect
your instrument to a
MIDI interfaces come in a staggering variety of configurations, so you need to
consider several things when you buy a MIDI interface. The following questions can help you determine your needs:
✓)>>What type of computer do you own? MIDI interfaces are usually configured to connect to your computer using either a USB port or an audio
interface, and audio interfaces use one of four available options: PCI,
FireWire, Thunderbolt, or USB. (Chapter 3 has more details on audiointerface connection types.) You determine which option to use by the
type of port(s) you have in your computer. For example, most Macs have
USB, FireWire and Thunderbolt, whereas a PC may only have a USB port
(though you can add FireWire or Thunderbolt ports if you like). Having
said all that, most dedicated MIDI interfaces use USB ports, which come
with nearly all computers nowadays.
✓)>>How many instruments do you intend to connect? MIDI interfaces
come with a variety of input and output configurations. Models are available with two ins and two outs, four ins and four outs, and even eight ins
and eight outs. You can also buy “thru” boxes, which have one or more
inputs and several outputs. If you have only one or two instruments, you
can get by with a smaller interface (in this case, a 2x2 interface — two
ins and two outs — would work great). If you have many instruments
that you want to connect, you need a larger box.
Chapter 6
Understanding Microphones
In This Chapter
▶)>>Discovering the various type of microphones
▶)>>Positioning microphones for the best sound
▶)>>Exploring a variety of preamps
▶)>>Understanding how to care for your microphones
microphone’s job is generally to try to capture, as closely as possible,
the sound of an instrument. But you can also use a microphone to
infuse a specific sound characteristic into a performance. Likewise, a preamp,
which boosts the signal of a microphone as the signal travels to the recorder,
can be used to accurately represent a sound or to add texture and dimension to it. Microphones and preamps are the center of the sound engineer’s
palette. Just as a painter has his paints and brushes, you have your microphones and preamps. And just as a painter can create a stunning variety of
visual textures with his tools, you too can make your creative statement with
the judicious use of these two pieces of equipment.
In this chapter, I explore the two most versatile tools of your auditory craft.
You look at the various types of microphones and preamps, and you gain
an understanding of each one’s role in capturing a performance. You also
discover what types of mics and preamps work for particular situations. To
top it off, this chapter guides you through purchasing and caring for your
precious new friends (the mics and preamps, that is). You can find out how to
use your mics in Chapter 8, where I discuss specific mic placement options.
Meeting the Many Microphone Types
When you start looking at microphones, you basically find four different
types of construction methods (condenser, boundary, dynamic, and ribbon)
and three basic polarity patterns (omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8).
The following sections explore these various constructions and patterns and
help you make sense out of them.
Part II: Recording 101
Construction types
Whether a microphone is a $10 cheapie that has a cord permanently attached
to it or a $15,000 pro model with gold-plated fittings, all microphones convert
sound waves to electrical impulses that the preamp or mixer can read and
the recorder can store. Each of the three construction types captures this
auditory signal in a different way, and as such, each adds certain characteristics to the sound. Here’s how the different mics affect sound:
✓)>>Condenser: This type tends to have a well-rounded shape to its frequency response and a fast response, allowing it to often pick up high
transient material, such as the initial attack of drum, very well. These
mics can sound more natural, but they can also be somewhat harsh if
placed too close to a high transient source.
✓)>>Boundary: Boundary mics are like condenser mics in that they can
capture a broad range of frequencies accurately. Because these types of
mics rely on the reflection of the sound source to a flat surface they’re
attached to, you need to make sure that this surface is large enough
to reproduce the lowest frequency you want to capture. (Remember:
Sound waves get longer as the frequency gets lower.) Otherwise, you
lose the low frequencies.
✓)>>Dynamic: Dynamic mics tend to accentuate the middle of the frequency
spectrum because the thick diaphragms (relatively speaking when compared to a condenser mic) take longer to respond.
✓)>>Ribbon: Because the ribbon mic is relatively slow to respond to an auditory signal, it tends to soften the transients (the initial attack of an instrument) on instruments such as percussion and piano. The high end isn’t
as pronounced as with other construction types, so these mics tend to
have a rounder, richer tone.
I detail these aspects in the following sections. In most cases, the type of construction dictates the general cost category in which the mics fit.
Phantom power
Phantom power is the small amount of voltage that is applied to a condenser microphone
when it’s connected. This power enables the
mic to function properly. In most cases, the
phantom power comes from your mixer or
preamp and is sent to the microphone through
one of the wires in the XLR cable. (I cover XLR
cables in Chapter 3.) Some condenser mics
have an internal battery or separate power
supply that provides this power.
A switch, usually located on the preamp or
mixer, enables you to turn phantom power off
and on. Even though dynamic microphones
don’t use phantom power, this small amount of
voltage doesn’t damage them.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
Condenser microphones
The condenser microphone is, without a doubt, the most popular style of
microphone used in recording studios (home or commercial). Condenser
mics are sensitive and accurate, but they can also be expensive. Recently,
however, condenser mics have come down in cost, and you can buy a decent
one for about $200. Very good ones start at about $500.
The condenser microphone has an extremely thin metal (or metal-coated
plastic or Mylar) diaphragm (the part that senses the signal). The diaphragm
is suspended in front of a metal plate (called a backplate). Polarizing voltage
is applied to both the diaphragm and the backplate, creating a static charge
in the space between them. When the diaphragm picks up a sound, it vibrates
into the field between it and the backplate. This produces a small signal that
can then be amplified. Figure 6-1 shows how a condenser mic is constructed.
Figure 6-1: A
mic consists of a
very thin
parallel to a
Condenser mics need a small amount of voltage (from 9 to 48 volts) to function. If you use a condenser mic, make sure that either it has its own internal
battery or you have a preamp or mixer equipped with phantom power, which
is described in the nearby sidebar.
Here are a few additional decisions you need to make when selecting a condenser mic:
✓)>>Tube or solid-state? Condenser mics can be made with either vacuum
tubes or transistors (known as solid-state). As with all the tube or solidstate gear, base your decision on the sound characteristics that you
prefer. For the most part, tube condenser mics have a softer high end
and a warmer overall tone. Solid-state mics, on the other hand, are often
more transparent — they capture the sound with less coloration.
Part II: Recording 101
✓)>>Large or small diaphragm? Condenser mics come in two broad categories:
large diaphragm and small diaphragm (see Figure 6-2). Large-diaphragm
mics are more popular than their smaller-diaphragm counterparts, partly
because large-diaphragm condenser (LDC) mics have a more pronounced
bottom end (low frequencies). Large-diaphragm mics also have a lower self
noise (noise created by the microphone).
ç’•å±´Before you buy only large-diaphragm mics, consider this: Small-diaphragm
condenser (SDC) mics often have an even frequency response and can
more accurately capture instruments with a pronounced high-frequency
component (violins, for instance).
Figure 6-2:
mics can
have either
large or
Boundary microphones
A boundary microphone is essentially a small diaphragm condenser mic
mounted in a housing that directs the diaphragm parallel to the surface
onto which it’s mounted. You can see a diagram of a boundary mic’s setup
in Figure 6-3. The parallel setup allows the mic to pick up the sound that is
reflected off the surface that it’s mounted to, such as a wall or table.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
Figure 6-3:
mics are
on a flat
surface to
pick up the
The advantage of a boundary mic is that it can pick up sounds accurately
in reverberant rooms and can capture sounds from multiple sources. For
example, if you were recording people talking in different parts of a room, one
boundary mic could record everyone — you wouldn’t need to use multiple
Boundary mics are often mounted on the floor of a stage, a table in a conference room, or a lectern of a church or large hall. Because it’s hard to find a
surface large enough to vibrate to the lowest frequencies, it’s more common
to use these mics for vocals, pianos, and other instruments that don’t have
a super-low pitch. If you do record something like a kick drum with a boundary mic, you’ll likely need to dial in some EQ on the lower frequencies.
(Chapter 14 has more on EQing your music.)
Boundary mics can be found in many of the same polarity patterns as condenser mics: omnidirectional and cardioid. These mics are fairly inexpensive
and start under $100, though you can spend several hundred or more if you
The boundary microphone employs a condenser microphone diaphragm
mounted parallel to the mounting surface to capture the reflections of the
sounds off the surface the mic is mounted to (see Figure 6-4). As the sound
hits the surface that the mic is mounted to, it picks up the vibration, and the
diaphragm creates an electrical charge that is sent to the preamp. These mics
require phantom power to operate.
Part II: Recording 101
Figure 6-4:
A boundary mic
places the
parallel to
the surface
to which
the mic is
Dynamic microphones
You’ve probably had the chance to use a dynamic mic. The hugely popular
Shure SM57 and SM58 often characterize this type of mic. Dynamic microphones have several qualities that make them unique. They can handle a lot
of volume (technically known as sound pressure level [SPL]), which makes
them perfect for extremely loud signals, such as drums, amplifiers, and some
rock vocalists. Dynamic mics are also not as transparent (they don’t accurately represent high frequencies) as condenser mics, so they often impart a
“dirty” or gritty” sound to the signal.
The dynamic microphone uses a magnetic field to convert the sound impulse
from the diaphragm into electrical energy, as shown in Figure 6-5. The diaphragm is often made of plastic or Mylar and is located in front of a coil of
wire called a voice coil. The voice coil is suspended between two magnets.
When the diaphragm moves (the result of a sound), the voice coil moves as
well. The interaction between the voice coil’s movement and the magnets creates the electrical signal.
The sound of a dynamic mic can be described as somewhat boxy, meaning
that these mics don’t represent the highest or lowest frequencies of your
hearing spectrum accurately (not necessarily a bad thing). Dynamic mics
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
are also durable. Rough treatment probably won’t damage them much, aside
from the diaphragm, and a tough metal screen protects it. Dynamic mics are
typically used for live shows. These mics are often very inexpensive to buy
and maintain; you can get a good dynamic mic for about $100.
Figure 6-5:
mics pick
up a signal
using a
field and a
voice coil.
Ribbon microphones
A ribbon microphone produces its sound in much the same way as a dynamic
mic. The diaphragm is suspended between two magnets. The ribbon mic differs from the dynamic mic in that it uses a thin ribbon of aluminum instead
of plastic or Mylar (see Figure 6-6). Ribbon mics were popular from the 1930s
through the 1960s but have, for the most part, taken a backseat to condenser
mics in today’s studios. This is mainly because ribbon mics are fragile and
expensive and aren’t as transparent as condenser mics. In fact, a gust of wind
or a strong breath blown into the diaphragm is all it takes to break an aluminum ribbon in one of these mics. (It’s not the end of the world, though; ribbons aren’t that expensive to replace — they generally cost $100 to $150.)
Ribbon mics are experiencing a renaissance because of the number of recording engineers who are searching for an old, vintage sound. Ribbon mics have
a unique sound that is often described as silky or smooth. This essentially
means that the high frequencies tend to roll off slightly (gradually reduce)
and the lower frequencies smear together a bit.
Ribbon mics used to be fairly expensive (at least $1,000), but as interest in
them has increased from digital recordists, you can now find some decent
ones for just a few hundred dollars.
Part II: Recording 101
Figure 6-6:
Ribbon mics
use a ribbon
two magnets to
create their
Polarity patterns
Microphones pick up sounds in different ways, which are known as polarity
patterns. Here’s how the various patterns work:
✓)>>Omnidirectional mics can capture sounds all around them.
✓)>>Cardioid (or directional) mics pick up sounds just in front of them.
✓)>>Figure-8 (or bidirectional) mics pick up sounds from both the front and
the back.
The polarity patterns on microphones are represented on a chart that often
comes with the microphone (or is part of its spec sheet). This chart is often
called a polar graph, and the graph shows how well the microphone picks up
various frequencies in front of or behind it.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
The omnidirectional mic can pick up sounds coming from anywhere around
it. Omnidirectional mics are useful for situations where you want to capture
not only the source sound, but also the sound of the room that the source is
coming from. You can find omnidirectional mics used in stereo pairs for drum
overheads and groups of acoustic instruments, such as orchestras.
Omnidirectional mics are not generally used for close miking — when you
place the mic less than a foot from the sound source — because they tend
to catch too much background noise. You can see the pickup pattern of an
omnidirectional mic in Figure 6-7. The round pattern shows that the mic picks
up sound from all directions.
Figure 6-7:
The omnidirectional
mic picks up
sounds from
all around it.
Cardioid mics (also called directional mics) pick up the sound in front of
them and reject sounds that come from behind. Cardioid mics are the most
common types for live bands because you can control the sound that they
pick up. If you have a cardioid mic on the tom-tom of a drum set, the mic
picks up only the sound of that drum and not the sound from the other
instruments around it.
Part II: Recording 101
The three types of cardioid mics are cardioid, super-cardioid, and hypercardioid. The differences among the types of cardioid patterns of each mic
aren’t that great. Check out the graphs in Figure 6-8 to see how the polarity
patterns of cardioid microphones differ.
Figure 6-8:
The three
types of cardioid mics
have similar
Generally, you don’t need to think about the minor polarity pattern differences
among the types of cardioid mics when you buy or use a microphone. You
won’t notice the practical differences in the way these three types of mics work.
Cardioid mics all produce more bass when they’re close to the sound source.
This is called the proximity effect. Essentially, the closer the mic is to its
source, the more bass the mic picks up. You don’t find the proximity effect in
omnidirectional or figure-8 mics. Many cardioid condenser mics have a bass
roll-off switch that allows you to eliminate added bass that may occur from
having the mic close to the source.
Figure-8 mics (also called bidirectional mics) pick up sound from both the front
and back, but not all the way around. If you look at the graph in Figure 6-9, you
can see that sound is not effectively picked up from areas on the sides of the
Figure-8 mics are often used to record two instruments simultaneously. For
example, you can place the microphone between two horn players with the
side of the mic perpendicular to the players. This allows you to capture both
instruments while eliminating any sound in front of the musicians.
Most figure-8 condenser mics have the same frequency response for both the
front and back sides, but some ribbon mics produce very different responses,
depending on whether the sound is coming from the front or the back. For
instance, a Royer r121 mic picks up more high frequencies from the back side
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
of the mic than the front. You can use this to your advantage when recording
an instrument. If the sound has too many low frequencies, just turn the mic
around a little or a lot, depending on how many high frequencies you want to
add (more on this in Chapter 9).
Figure 6-9:
mics pick up
sound from
both front
and back,
but not the
Multiple-pattern mics
Some condenser microphones can switch among various pickup patterns.
These are generally large-diaphragm mics. These mics have a switch that
allows you to choose from omnidirectional, cardioid, or figure-8 (refer to
the left image in Figure 6-2). These mics can do this because they generally
contain two sets of diaphragms and backplates, which are positioned back
to back. You may want to have at least one of these types of microphones
around to give you more variety in microphone positions.
The omnidirectional pattern in a multiple-pattern microphone works (and
sounds) differently from a true omnidirectional mic. So, for critical applications (recording an orchestra, for instance), the multiple-pattern mic may not
be a fair substitute for an exclusively omnidirectional mic.
Part II: Recording 101
Assessing Your Microphone Needs
Buying microphones is, without a doubt, one of the most critical decisions
that you make when setting up your home studio. Using the right microphone
for the job can mean the difference between recording okay tracks and truly
spectacular ones.
Back in the 1990s, you had to choose between inexpensive dynamic mics
(what most home recordists could afford) and expensive condenser or
ribbon mics (what the pro studios had). But, as luck would have it, we’ve
entered a time in home recording where you have many more options. In fact,
a whole line of project studio mics has recently emerged. This is a relatively
new market in the long history of microphones that manufacturers have
found to be hugely profitable, so the choices are expanding almost daily. In
some cases, a $500 project studio mic can rival a $2,000-plus pro mic — at
least for the home recordist’s purposes.
So, the question that you’re inevitably going to ask is, “What microphones
should I get for my home studio?” Good question. And the answer is, “Well, it
depends on what you need.” So, before I go into detail about what mics may
be best for you, you should spend a minute assessing your needs. The following questions may help you in your assessment:
✓)>>What type of music will you record? If you play rock or pop music, you
should probably start with dynamic mics because they’re inexpensive
and their limitations in high or low frequencies don’t matter as much as
if, for example, you wanted to record your string quartet. In this case, a
pair of condenser mics would do the trick.
✓)>>What instruments will you record? Loud amps, drums, and screaming
singers beg to be recorded with dynamic mics, whereas light percussion,
vocals, and stand-up basses shine through with large-diaphragm condenser mics.
✓)>>How many mics will you use at once? If you need to record your whole
band at once, budget constraints may dictate your choice between
dynamic and condenser mics or a condenser or ribbon mic for vocals. If
you need only a couple of mics to record the occasional vocal or instrument, you can invest more in each mic.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
Deciding How Many Microphones
and What Kind
You’ll likely build your microphone collection over time instead of buying all
your mics at once. This is the best way to buy mics, because it gives you time
to develop an understanding of what you can do with the microphone that
you have before you plunk down your money for another one. You’re better
off having a few mics that best fit your situation than having a whole bunch of
mics that just sorta work for you.
If you’re like most people, your budget dictates how many mics you can buy
and what kind they may be. In the following sections, I try to help you get
the best mics for your recording needs and guide you through the process of
slowly accumulating microphones.
Getting started
A basic mic setup consists of a couple of dynamic mics for drums, guitar
amps, or other loud instruments and a decent large-diaphragm condenser
mic for vocals or other acoustic instruments. The next sections lay out the
mics that I would consider if I were starting out on a budget.
Dynamic mics
A Shure SM57 is hands down the best choice for your first dynamic mic. This
is a great dynamic mic for very little money (about $100). This mic works well
for miking amps and drums and the occasional gritty vocal. Everyone should
have at least one of these mics.
Large-diaphragm condenser mics
Your choice here depends on your voice and the acoustic sound that you’re
looking for. For economical options, I would check out the following mics:
✓)>>Studio Projects B1: This inexpensive mic is a good choice for your first
large-diaphragm condenser mic. You can find one for about $120.
✓)>>MXL 990: This mic has a slightly different sound than the Studio Projects
B1 and costs just slightly less (around $100). Buy the mic that sounds
better to you.
✓)>>Audio Technica AT2020: This mic is in the same basic range of the
Studio Projects and the MXL, with a street price around $100, but it
offers a slightly different sound. I recommend auditioning all three and
deciding which you prefer.
Part II: Recording 101
✓)>>Blue Spark: This mic is more expensive than the previous three (about
$200), but it’s several steps up from the others and worth an audition. Blue
makes some awesome mics, and this is one of its least expensive ones.
✓)>>Audio Technica AT3035: This mic splits the difference between the
Spark and the AT2020 (about $150). Check it out because it has a different flavor (sound) than the others, and you may prefer the sound of this
mic over that of the Spark and AT2020.
A large-diaphragm condenser mic is the first condenser mic for most home
recordists. These good all-around mics can work well for many applications.
Movin’ on
After you have your basic mics, you can start to add a few more. If you intend
to record your band, you need to at least mic the drum set (four mics can get
you around the set). In this case, you can add a couple more dynamic mics
and perhaps get one or two that are designed for particular applications. For
instance, mics are made to work best on the kick drum of a drum set. At this
point, you can also get a second condenser mic — maybe a small-diaphragm
condenser mic this time or a large-diaphragm tube condenser mic. You may
want to choose one that sounds different from the one you already have — or,
if you love the one that you have, you can get a second one just like it to use
as a stereo pair.
Dynamic mics
For additional dynamic mics, I would add one or two more SM-57s and try
one of the following:
✓)>>Sennheiser e609: I like Sennheiser mics; these are some of my favorite (and inexpensive) amp or kick-drum mics. The e609 has a different
sound than the venerable SM-57 and doesn’t cost much more (a little
over $100), so adding one of these lets you cover some more bases.
✓)>>Audio Technica ATM25: This is a pretty good kick-drum mic for not a
lot of money (about $200), although it is more costly than some other
dynamic mics. If you record drums live, this mic is worth trying.
Large-diaphragm tube condenser mics
If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?), try out the following relatively inexpensive large-diaphragm tube condenser mics:
✓)>>Rode NTK: This is an awesome mic regardless of price, but for about $530,
it’s one of the best deals available. This mic is good for vocals and acoustic instruments. I’ve even used a pair for the overheads on a drum set.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
✓)>>Studio Projects T3: This mic has an advantage over the Rode NTK
because it has a variable polar pattern selector, allowing you to choose
among omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8 patterns — and patterns
in between. The NTK is cardioid only. This variability gives you more
options when recording and increases the versatility of the mic, making
this $500 mic worth checking out.
Small-diaphragm condenser mics
Though not sexy to most recordists, small-diaphragm condenser mics can
come in handy. Here are a few inexpensive ones that are worth checking out:
✓)>>AKG Perception 170: This mic is inexpensive (about $80) and sounds good
on many types of acoustic instruments — guitars, violins, cellos, double
basses, drum overheads, and percussion. This is a solid starter SDC.
✓)>>Audio Technica PRO 37: For a few more dollars than the AKG, the AT
PRO 37 ($125 street price) also offers quality sound for not a lot of money.
✓)>>Rode M3: The Rode M3 is pretty nice for a relatively inexpensive smalldiaphragm condenser mic (around $150). I find that Rode generally
offers very good mics for the money, and this mic is no exception.
Going all out
As your mic collection grows, you’ll probably start looking for a vocal mic
that works best for you. In this case, you may look at large-diaphragm tube
condenser mics or even a ribbon mic.
Choosing a vocal mic is a personal thing. If you’re a singer, audition a bunch of
mics by using your voice to see what sounds best to you. If you record more
than one singer and each has a different type of voice (tenor or soprano, for
instance), you may need to look for more than one vocal mic.
After this, consider buying a stereo pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics
for drum overheads (mics placed over the drum set) or other multi-instrument
applications. You may also want to start adding some higher-quality (and more
expensive) mics to your collection. The following sections detail mics that
offer a good bang for the buck.
Dynamic mics
Here are a couple of higher-end dynamic mics that I use:
✓)>>Sennheiser MD421: This is arguably the industry-standard tom mic. It’s
been used on tons of recordings over the years. If you intend to record
drums with more than the basic three- or four-mic setup (see Chapter 9
Part II: Recording 101
for more details), having a couple of these tom mics is a necessity. They
aren’t cheap (just under $400 each), but for their purpose, they’re worth
every penny.
✓)>>EV RE20: This is a common kick-drum mic that is also used for amps
and some vocals. You can get this mic for about $450.
Large-diaphragm condenser mics
You can find a ton of good large-diaphragm condenser mics, and the sky’s the
limit on how much you can spend on them. That said, consider the following
reasonably priced options:
✓)>>Shure KSM-44: This is my go-to LDC. It’s a multipattern mic that offers
omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8 configurations. The sound is
pretty neutral by today’s standards. Many manufacturers like to boost
the top and bottom ends of their mics to make them sound “sexy”; the
KSM-44 doesn’t have this feature, and as a result, the mic is very versatile. I often use one for drum overheads and other acoustic sources such
as big percussion instruments (like surdos, congas, and djembes) and
acoustic string instruments — and even as a room mic for ensembles.
This mic costs about $1,000.
✓)>>AKG C414 XLS: This is another industry-standard mic that sounds great
on a lot of sources — vocals, acoustic instruments, drums, and others.
Like the KSM-44, this mic has selectable polar patterns. In this, you have
five choices: omnidirectional, cardioid, wide-cardioid, hyper-cardioid,
and figure-8. This mic sells for about $1,100.
✓)>>Neumann TLM 103: This is an industry-standard mic for a lot of sources,
including many vocalists, percussion, and drums. (I love to use this as
a room mic placed 6 to 8 feet in front of the kick drum.) This mic isn’t
cheap (about $1,100), but you’ll never need to upgrade it.
Ribbon mics
Ribbon mics used to be very expensive and required a great preamp with lots
of clean gain (volume) because they don’t produce a very strong signal. This
is changing. You can now find a ribbon mic for just a few hundred dollars,
and if you don’t have a high-gain preamp, you can find a mic that produces a
stronger signal (called an active-ribbon mic). Here are some ribbon mics that I
✓)>>MXL R40: This is one of the least expensive ribbon mics available, and
it sounds pretty good, especially for the price (under $100). For the
budget-minded recordist who needs a ribbon mic, you can’t go wrong
with this one.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
✓)>>AEA R84: This is one sexy mic. It looks gorgeous and sounds great. For
classic “silky” vocals or to take the edge off instruments such as trumpets and other horns, this mic is awesome. Of course, awesome doesn’t
come cheap — it runs about $1,000, plus you need a good high-gain
preamp. Still, if you like the vocals sound that you can get only from a
ribbon mic or if you record a lot of horns, you need to try this mic.
✓)>>Royer Labs 122: This is the first active-ribbon mic. It has electronics
that boost the mic’s signal, so you don’t need a super high-gain preamp
to get a good sound. The ribbon mics from Royer Labs are known as
great mics, and this one costs about $1,750.
Small-diaphragm condenser mics
If your budget allows you to get a pair of great small-diaphragm condenser
mics, these boutique mics are my favorites:
✓)>>Josephson C42: I can’t recommend this mic highly enough, especially
the matched pair (model number C42mp). A pair of these mics is great
for drum overheads and almost every acoustic instrument I’ve tried
them on. I love to use a single mic on double bass, a pair on piano, and
a pair on a live ensemble. These mics run about $500 each ($1,000 for
a matched pair), but you’d be hard-pressed to find a mic at double the
price that sounds better.
✓)>>Peluso CEMC6: The CEMC6 mic is a nice unit, especially for under $350
each ($700 for a matched pair). These mics rate almost as highly as the
Josephsons. But if you’re on a tight budget, try one or a pair of these
You won’t find either of these mics at the big music retailers, so if you’re interested in them, you’ll need to look around a bit. I suggest searching online to
find an Internet retailer. A bunch of reputable dealers carry them.
Finding the Right Mic for the Situation
Certain mics work better than others for particular situations. In this section,
I present some typical applications to give you an idea of what types of mics
are traditionally used for various purposes. (You can find more ideas about
mic usage in Chapter 8, where I discuss specific miking techniques.)
When you consider a mic, think about the frequency spectrum that the
instrument encompasses. If you use a dynamic mic for a symphonic orchestra performance, for example, you’ll be disappointed by the results because
it lacks an accurate high-frequency response. On the other hand, using a
Part II: Recording 101
small-diaphragm condenser mic on the tom-toms of a drum set makes them
sound thin and is a waste of money because you can get by with a much less
expensive dynamic mic for this purpose.
Microphone choice is fairly subjective. The following list contains basic suggestions based on what is typically used:
✓)>>Vocals: Most people prefer the sound of a large-diaphragm condenser
mic for vocals. If you have the budget, you may also want to audition
some ribbon mics for your voice. A dynamic mic is best when you’re
going for a dirty or raw sound (excellent for some harder rock, blues, or
punk music) or if your singer insists on screaming into the mic. A smalldiaphragm condenser mic is rarely the first choice for most singers, but
it’s not out of the question for some vocalists if you don’t mind a bright,
present (high-frequency) sound.
✓)>>Electric guitar amp: A dynamic mic or a small-diaphragm condenser mic
works well on an electric guitar amp. Some people use large-diaphragm
condenser mics on guitar amps and like the added low frequencies that
can result. A ribbon mic can sound great, but take care in placing the
mic so that you don’t overload it and blow the ribbon. Move the mic
back a bit or off to the side and you should be fine.
✓)>>Electric bass amp: Your first choice when miking an amplified electric
bass is either a large-diaphragm condenser mic or a dynamic mic. Either
one can capture the frequency spectrum that the bass guitar encompasses. Small-diaphragm condenser mics aren’t a good choice because
of their inherent high-frequency focus. I like ribbon mics for electric
bass, but you need to take the same care as you would with a guitar
✓)>>Acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments: A large- or smalldiaphragm condenser mic or a ribbon mic works well in most instances.
A dynamic mic has too limited a frequency response to create a natural
sound (but may create an effect that you like). Choose the large- or
small-diaphragm type based on the overall frequency spectrum of the
instrument. For example, to capture the depth of a guitar’s tone, choose
a large-diaphragm mic, but for an instrument with a higher register, such
as a violin or mandolin, a small-diaphragm mic works great. I’m partial
to small-diaphragm condenser mics for these instruments because I can
get more clarity and I don’t have to fight the low-end bump that often
occurs with a large-diaphragm condenser mic.
✓)>>Horns: I’m partial to ribbon mics for horns. These types of mics can
soften the tone slightly and make the horns sound more natural, especially if you mic closely (within a couple feet or so). My second choice
is a large-diaphragm condenser mic in a figure-8 or omnidirectional pattern placed off to the side of the instrument a bit. For this, you need a
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
large-diaphragm condenser mic that has multiple patterns, such as the
AKG C414B or the Shure KSM-44. Some people like a tube condenser mic,
so if you’re on a budget, the Studio Projects T3 is a good place to start.
✓)>>Piano: Both large- and small-diaphragm condenser mics are generally
used for piano. Your choice depends on where you place the mics and
how the room sounds. For example, a great-sounding room begs for a
pair of omnidirectional small-diaphragm mics placed away from the
piano a bit. I’m not a fan of ribbon or dynamic mics for this instrument.
✓)>>Drum set: The tom-toms, snare drum, and kick (bass) drum all sound
good with dynamic mics because they don’t contain high frequencies.
You can also use large-diaphragm condenser mics, but be careful where
you place them because if your drummer hits them, they’re toast.
✓)>>Cymbals: For the cymbals of a drum set, a pair of small-diaphragm
condenser mics works well, although some people prefer to use a largediaphragm mic instead. A ribbon mic also sounds pretty good and
can take some of the harshness of cymbals when recorded digitally. A
dynamic mic would lack the high-frequency response to make the cymbals shine through in a mix.
✓)>>Miscellaneous percussion: Now, here’s a broad category. By miscellaneous, I mean shakers, triangles, maracas, and other higher-pitched
percussion toys. For these instruments, either small- or large-diaphragm
condenser mics can work well. If it’s a very quiet instrument, a largediaphragm mic would be preferable because of the higher self-noise of
the small-diaphragm mic.
You may choose a different type of mic, especially if you try to create a certain effect. For instance, using a ribbon mic on a metallic shaker rather than a
small-diaphragm condenser mic softens the highest frequencies of the instrument and gives it a mellower sound.
If you intend to record loud instruments — drums, amplified guitars, or
basses, for example — look for a mic with a high SPL rating. This is a rating of
how much volume (listed in decibels) the microphone can handle before distorting. A high SPL is above 130 decibels.
Some professional condenser mics have a pad switch that allows you to
reduce the sensitivity of the mic, thereby increasing its ability to handle high
sound pressure levels.
Part II: Recording 101
Partnering Mics with Preamps
One of the most important relationships in your home studio is the one
between your microphones and the preamp (the nice bit of hardware that
boosts the mic’s signal so it can be recorded). The greatest microphone in
the world run through a cheap preamp won’t sound good. By the same token,
a cheap mic plugged into a great preamp sounds only as good as the bad mic.
If your mixer includes XLR inputs (low-impedance microphone inputs), you
already have internal preamps in the channels with the XLR jacks. For the
most part, these preamps are of lesser quality than the external variety, but
they may work for you. For instance, some home recordists swear by the internal preamps in the Mackie VLZ-Pro mixers.
Plug in your mic and listen to the sound that you get. If you like it, you may
not need to buy external preamps right away. If not, you may have to allocate
some of your gear money for an external preamp.
You can find three types of preamps in the marketplace — solid-state,
vacuum tube, and hybrid — and each has its own characteristics. In the following sections, I explore preamp styles and discuss how each relates to the
sounds that are produced by the types of microphones I discuss earlier in the
chapter. This can help you understand the relationship between the microphone and preamp in your studio.
Solid-state preamps use transistors to boost the level of the microphone.
These preamps can be designed to produce as clear and detailed a sound
as possible (often referred to as “transparent”) or can be designed to add a
pleasing level of distortion (warmth) to your music. Solid-state preamps cost
from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars.
A clean and clear solid-state preamp (such as the Earthworks or GML brands)
is a great choice if you want as natural a sound as possible on your recording
of an instrument or if you’re using a microphone that has a sound quality that
you want to hear as clearly as possible. For example, I particularly like the
way that a solid-state preamp works in conjunction with a tube condenser
or ribbon mic. The warmth and smoothness of these types of microphones
shine through clearly with a clean solid-state preamp.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
On the other hand, a more aggressive (warm or pleasingly distorted) solidstate preamp, such as those modeled after the classic Neve designs, can add
just a touch of “grit” to certain instruments. These types of preamps are great
with dynamic, ribbon, or condenser mics, especially when recording drums,
guitar, and some vocals.
Vacuum tube
These preamps use vacuum tubes to process and amplify the microphone’s
signal. This generally adds some coloration to the sound of your mic (how
much and what kind of coloration depends on the particular preamp). As
you’ve undoubtedly discovered after reading any other chapter in this book,
digital recording aficionados love the sound of tube gear, especially tube
preamps. The advantage of a tube preamp is that it can add a warm sound
to your mics. The disadvantage is that you often can’t get rid of this colored
sound. Professional recording engineers often have several tube preamps in
their studios to give them different coloration options.
The preamps that are included in your mixer are solid-state. If you find that
you want the colored sound of a tube preamp, you need to buy an external
Tube preamps are great for imparting a subtle low-frequency addition to the
sound of the microphone signal. Tube preamps also seem to slightly soften
the higher frequencies. If you’re like most people, you’ll like the addition of a
tube preamp, especially if you intend to record rock, blues, or acoustic jazz
music. The downside is that all-tube preamps are expensive, with the least
expensive costing about $1,000 (the Peavey VMP-2 — no longer made but you
can find them used) and most running several thousand dollars (brands like
Manley Labs, for instance).
I prefer to use tube preamps with drums and any “woody” instrument (acoustic guitar, for instance). In this case, I often reach for a large-diaphragm
condenser mic, and in extreme cases, I may even use a large-diaphragm tube
condenser mic with the tube preamp (for an extra dose of “tubiness”).
A hybrid preamp contains both solid-state and tube components to boost
the mic’s signal. Most of the inexpensive (under $1,000) “tube” preamps that
you find in the marketplace are actually hybrids. An advantage to this design
approach is that the preamp can often be adjusted to have varying degrees of
Part II: Recording 101
that warm tube sound. The disadvantage is that these relatively inexpensive
tube preamps don’t have as clear a sound as a great solid-state preamp, and
they don’t have quite the same pleasing character as an expensive all-tube
For most home recordists, this type of preamp offers a lot of flexibility and
can allow you to get either the fairly clear, open sound of a solid-state preamp
or the warm, colored sound characteristic of a classic tube preamp. If you
can afford only one external preamp, one of these hybrid versions may be
right for you.
The countless hybrid preamps on the market vary widely in price and sound
quality. (In fact, most of the hybrid preamps are marketed as tube preamps.)
Your best bet in choosing a hybrid — or any preamp for that matter — is to
do some research. Talk to people, read reviews, visit Internet forums, and then
audition the two or three that stand out to you. Choose the one that you think
sounds best for your needs.
Considering Compressors
A compressor enables you to alter the dynamic range (the difference between
the softest and loudest sound) of an instrument. Along with the microphone
and preamp, the compressor is often added to the signal chain before it goes
to the mixer. The advantage of using a compressor in the signal chain before
it hits the mixer is that you can control the transients and have a hotter
(higher) signal level going into the converters or recorder. This hotter level
used to be necessary when recording at 16 bits, but with 24-bit recording,
you don’t need to worry as much about getting the highest signal into your
system. I discuss setting optimal levels in more detail in Chapter 7.
If you record a lot of vocals or real drums, a decent external compressor may
be a good idea — just go easy with it (again, check out Chapter 7). You can
find some great-sounding compressors for as little as $200. My favorite is the
FMR Audio RNC-1773, a really nice unit for the money.
As long as you’re looking at preamps and compressors, take a look at some
channel strip devices, which are integrated preamp, compressor, and equalizer
combos. For some people (and maybe you), a channel strip device is the way
to go. It allows you to have just one unit, reducing the amount of cords, and
it’s designed to make the three parts function well together. Quite a few greatsounding channel strip devices are available for under $500.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
Analyzing Some Microphone Accessories
Along with your new mics, you’re going to need a few accessories. These
include mic cords, mic stands, and pop filters.
Microphone cords
Microphone cords can cost from about $10 to several hundred dollars. You’re
probably asking yourself, “Is there really a difference between a $10 or $20
mic cable and one that sells for hundreds of dollars?”
My answer is, “Supposedly — but chances are, you’ll never hear it.” Let me
qualify this answer a little. Unless you have a very good mixer, recorder,
microphones, preamps, analog/digital and digital/analog converters, monitors, and ears, you’re wasting your money on expensive microphone cords. I
know only one sound engineer (not me, though — I’ve spent too many years
behind the drums) who claims that he can hear the difference between an
average mic cord and one of the expensive ones. And even he says that the
difference is very subtle. (It would have to be; otherwise, I would hear the difference, too.)
Don’t waste your money on an expensive mic cord (or any cord) until the cord
is the weakest link in your signal chain. By then, spending a couple hundred
dollars on a cord will seem trivial because you’ll already have invested tens
(or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in top-quality gear.
Microphone stands
A sturdy mic stand is essential for your studio. Mic stands are relatively inexpensive, so resist the temptation to buy a flimsy one. A good mic stand has a
sturdy base and can securely hold your mics.
Good mic stands cost about $30 and have either a round cast iron base (great
for getting into tight spaces) or a tripod base. Either one works well.
Pop filters
A pop filter is a nylon screen that eliminates the “pops” (technically called
plosives) that singers make when they sing. Plosives are the result of sudden
bursts of air projected into the mic (from singing words starting with P’s and
T’s, for example). If you record vocals, a pop filter is a must-have.
Part II: Recording 101
Pop filters are relatively inexpensive (starting at about $20), but if you want to
make your own, use a pair of tights or pantyhose and a coat hanger. Bend the
coat hanger into a circle and stretch the tights or pantyhose over it. You can
attach the coat hanger to the mic stand by using duct tape. Adjust the coat
hanger so that the pop filter is 4 to 6 inches away from the microphone, and
then have the vocalist sing through it. Check out Figure 6-10 to see a homemade pop filter.
Figure 6-10:
You can
make a pop
filter out of a
coat hanger
and a pair
of tights or
Caring for Your Microphones
After investing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in microphones, you
probably want to know how to take care of them properly. Caring for or storing your microphones isn’t rocket science. Just follow the general guidelines
and ideas that follow, and you’ll keep your mics in tip-top shape.
A good microphone lasts a lifetime. Take care of your mics, and they’ll give
you years of service.
Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones
Daily care
The most important thing to keep in mind when using your mics is to resist
the temptation to blow into them. I know you’ve probably seen someone on
stage blow into a mic and yell “Test” to see whether it’s working. And you
figure that’s how the pros must check their mics. Well, it isn’t. Blowing into a
mic is a sure way to literally blow out the diaphragm in some mics, especially
those expensive ribbon mics. To determine whether a mic is working, just
speak into it in a normal voice.
You don’t need to blow or yell into any mic unless, of course, your singer’s
style is to yell into the mic and you’re trying to set the input level. In this case,
offer him your trusty dynamic mic and keep that expensive ribbon mic hidden.
Another thing to remember when handling your mics is that they can be fragile. Condenser and ribbon mics don’t survive rough handling well. In fact, if
you drop a condenser or ribbon mic, you may break it (this is another good
reason to have a sturdy stand). Dynamic mics, on the other hand, are more
durable, which is why they’re often used for live applications and on drums.
(It’s not uncommon for an overzealous drummer to whack them by accident — as a drummer, I know about this firsthand.)
Try to keep your mics away from dust and high humidity. Dust is probably
the number-one enemy of a microphone because the dust can settle on the
diaphragm and reduce the sensitivity of the mic — and even alter its frequency response. Always cover your mics or put them away when you’re not
using them.
Most professionals have mic lockers, where they can safely keep their mics
when they’re not in use. Mic lockers come in several varieties. You can make
a special locked box fitted with foam padding that has a cutout for each mic,
or you can keep your mics in their pouches or cases (if the mic came with a
case) in a closet or cabinet.
Regardless of the type of storage cabinet you have, try to handle your mics
as little as possible. In fact, if you have a mic that you use a lot, I recommend
leaving it on a secure stand rather than repeatedly dragging it out of its case
or storage cabinet.
Part II: Recording 101
If you do leave your mic out on its stand, cover the mic with a plastic bag and
close the open end around the mic when it’s not in use (see Figure 6-11). This
keeps out the dust.
Figure 6-11:
your microphone with
a plastic bag
keeps out
the dust.
Humidity can also be a problem for microphones. If you live in a humid environment, store your mics with a bag of silica gel next to them. (Silica gel,
which absorbs moisture, is the stuff that comes in the packaging of a lot of
electronic gear.) You can find silica gel listed as desiccant packets online — if
you do an Internet search by typing desiccant packets or desiccant sacks/
sachets into your favorite search engine, you’ll find plenty of options.
Part III
Getting Ready to Record
Find out about re-amping to enhance your tracks in an article at www.dummies.
In this part . . .
✓)>> Explore the process of setting the best levels for both pluggedin and miked instruments.
✓)>> Get to know the fundamentals of microphone placement.
✓)>> Dig into common miking approaches.
✓)>> Mike a variety of common instruments to get nice-sounding
Chapter 7
Getting a Great Source Sound
In This Chapter
▶)>>Setting levels properly
▶)>>Making your guitar sound great
▶)>>Getting the best sound from your keyboards
▶)>>Keeping your microphones from overloading your system
he quality of your recording relies heavily on two things: how your instruments sound and how well you get that sound into your computer without messing it up. The problem is that anyone can easily mess up the sound
or at least fall short of getting the best possible sound.
This chapter gives you the knowledge to keep bad sound — or sound that’s
not as good as it could be — from happening. In this chapter, I describe signal
flow and the role that it plays in shaping the sound of your instrument. I also
give you tips on how to get great guitar sounds and killer keyboard sounds
without hassle. To top it off, I spend a few pages getting you up to speed on
miking effectively.
Making Sense of the Signal Chain
The signal chain is the path that your sound travels from its creation (your
guitar, keyboard, or voice) to your recorder. This path often includes several
steps — and pieces of gear — that need to be optimized so that you don’t
end up with too much or too little sound going to your system. I cover the
flow of various signal chains in detail in Chapter 4, but here’s an overview of
the process. Figure 7-1 shows the straightforward signal chain for a mic going
into a studio-in-a-box (SIAB) recorder.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 7-1:
The signal
chain is the
In this example, the sound originating from your voice enters the microphone, travels to a preamp-equipped input in your device (where it’s amplified), is converted into digital information within the device, and finally gets
sent into the recording software section of your recorder and the hard drive
(where it’s stored).
The key to a good instrument or mic sound is getting each signal in the chain
set to its optimal level. This particular signal chain involves just two places
where you can make adjustments to your signal levels:
✓)>>The source: In the example shown in Figure 7-1, the microphone’s placement has a huge effect on the signal level that goes into your computer.
Moving the mic just a couple inches can have a significant impact on your
signal level at the preamp. A good, solid level keeps you from having to
crank up your preamp too far, which causes noise. If the level is too hot,
though — hot in the sense of a solid signal between –12dB and –6dB — you
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
risk getting distortion at the mic. This same concept holds true for keyboards or other electronic instruments, as well as guitars plugged directly
into your interface.
✓)>>The preamp-equipped input: You adjust this level to get the right level
in your recorder. I discuss the optimal signal level for different systems
in the next section.
Setting Optimal Signal Levels
Getting a sound signal to the recorder takes several steps. The path that the
sound takes from the instrument or microphone to the recorder is called the
signal chain (see the previous section). You need to be aware of the signal
level at all these steps to get the best sound possible. Too much gain at one
stage forces you to reduce the gain at another. Likewise, too little gain at one
point may require you to overdrive (bump up the gain) during the next stage.
Incorrect gain structuring results in a signal that’s too low (which creates
noise) or a signal that’s too high (which causes distortion). In fact, with poor
gain structuring, you can have a signal that is both too quiet and distorted.
How you set the levels that you record to disk has a lot to do with how good
(or bad) your performance sounds. The key to getting good recording levels
is to get as hot (high) a signal as you can without going over the maximum
that the converter or recorder can handle. If you use analog tape, you have
some leeway in how hot your signal can get, but if you record digitally, you
don’t have that luxury. Anything over the baseline of 0dB is going to clip (distort). 0dB, by the way, doesn’t mean “no sound.” Instead, it refers to the highest level that a digital system can handle without clipping the signal.
How hot is hot enough, you ask? Well, it depends on who you talk to and at
what bit depth you record. Because you’re reading my book, here’s my take
on the best levels at which to record:
✓)>>16-bit systems: By this point in the book (assuming that you’ve read
other sections on digital recording), you know that I’m not a fan of 16-bit
recording. This is because to record with enough headroom, you need to
turn the incoming level down so much that you start to lose sound quality; that is, you’re using fewer than 16 bits and lowering the resolution of
your system. In this case, I usually recommend setting your level higher
in a 16-bit system than in a 24-bit system — usually with peaks no higher
than –6dB. This allows some room for transients (check out the section
“Making the Most of Microphones,” later in this chapter) while preserving as much resolution as possible.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
✓)>>24-bit systems: Because plenty of bits are available, you have more
wiggle room before you start to lose sound quality. For 24-bit systems,
I suggest that you record with your peak level at or below –12dB. This
gives you enough room for transients to sneak through without clipping
your system.
When you set your recording levels (do this by playing a section of your
song), keep the following points in mind:
✓)>>Keep an eye on the clip light on your preamp/input. Not all inputs
have a clip light, but if yours does, it’s most likely located next to the
trim knob. Sending too hot a signal through your preamp/input is the
first way you can create distortion. Your clip light should illuminate
only faintly once in a while, if at all. If your clip light is glowing red, your
signal is way too hot and you may end up with distortion. (Check the
owner’s manual for your preamp to see when the clip light is set to activate. Some clip lights are set to go off at –6dB, others illuminate at –3dB,
and still others light at 0dB.)
✓)>>Use the meters as a guide. Both your mixer and recorder have meters
that show you the level of the signal going in. Both of these levels are
important, so keep an eye on them. Make sure that the meters never go
above 0dB and that they peak out at a maximum of –12dB to –6dB. Also,
be aware of whether you’re monitoring pre or post levels, which I discuss
in the next section.
The straight-line rule
Most professional engineers are taught to
record by using the straight-line rule. This rule
comes from the old days of analog recording.
Following this rule is considered not only good
engineering practice, but also a courtesy to any
other engineer who may handle your tracks.
The straight-line rule basically involves setting up your input levels so that they roughly
match the levels that you want when you mix
the song. You do this by setting your channel
fader at 0dB (also marked as Unity on some
mixers) and adjusting your input gain (the trim
knob on your mixer or preamp) until you have
a clean signal (no distortion) on the recorder’s
meters. The signal’s level needs to be approximately the same as the level of the instrument
in the final mix. For some instruments, such as a
snare drum, the level peaks close to 0dB, but on
other instruments, such as the string section,
the level may be near –10dB. If you follow the
straight-line rule, when you’re ready to mix your
tracks, set all your faders at 0dB — and you’ll
have a rough mix.
The courtesy is that if someone then takes
your recorded tracks to another system with
another engineer, that engineer only has to set
the faders at 0dB and everything is ready for
final adjustments.
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
✓)>>Trust your ears. Even with the clip light and meters, you still need to
listen carefully to the signal. Many of the level meters on digital recorders are fairly slow to respond and can often miss sudden, extreme transients. If you hear any clipping or occasional harshness in the sound,
turn down the level, regardless of what your meters tell you.
✓)>>When in doubt, turn down the level. If you can’t tell whether the sound
is clean, don’t be afraid to turn down the level a little. Recording at
–16dB instead of –12dB isn’t going to ruin your track, but a clipped note
Understanding Pre and Post Levels
Most digital systems provide several options for monitoring meter levels. You
can have prefader input levels, postfader input levels, prefader track levels,
postfader track levels, and master bus levels (see Figure 7-2). Even with the
same signal, different kinds of levels (prefader, postfader, input, track master
bus, and so on) may end up showing different readings on your meters.
Interpreting the various levels
I try to clear up what all these different levels mean in the following list:
✓)>>Prefader input levels: The prefader input level shows you the level
of the signal going into the mixer’s channel strip before the signal hits
the EQ or fader (hence, the term prefader). Your sound source and trim
adjustment (either on the mixer or on a separate preamp) control the
level shown on this meter.
ç’•å±´If your signal is too low or too hot and you don’t have a separate
preamp, adjust the trim knob on your mixer. If you’re using a separate
preamp, adjust the trim knob on your outboard preamp. You can also
make adjustments to this level at the sound source. This could be
either the output level of your instrument or the placement of your
✓)>>Postfader input levels: The postfader input level shows your signal
level after the signal has traveled through the input channel’s channel
strip — that is, after the EQ and fader settings.
ç’•å±´This level is different from the prefader input level only if your fader
is somewhere other than unity gain (or 0dB) or if you’ve made some
adjustments to the EQ. To be specific, if you’ve removed any frequencies
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
with the EQ or set your fader below 0dB, your postfader level is lower
than the prefader level. Likewise, if you’ve added frequencies with the
EQ or placed your fader above unity, your level is higher than it was
going in.
✓)>>Prefader track levels: This is the most important level of your input
signal chain (that is, if a most important level exists). This meter shows
you what is actually recorded to the hard drive of the recorder.
ç’•å±´If you’re using an analog mixer and a stand-alone recorder, you see this
level on the recorder, not the mixer.
ç’•å±´This level matches the level of the postfader input channel routed to the
recorder channel. If you have more than one input channel routed to a
recorder track, this level is generally higher than each of the individual
input postfader levels. This is because the signals combine to produce a
higher overall level (called summing). If this is the case and the prefader
track level is too high, you need to adjust the levels on all the tracks that
are routed to this channel to drop the level coming in (the submix fader
level, if you have these tracks run through the submix bus).
✓)>>Postfader track levels: The postfader track level shows you the level
after you make adjustments to the track channel’s fader or EQ settings.
Like the postfader input level, the postfader track level is different from
the prefader track level if you’ve made adjustments to either the EQ or
the channel fader settings.
✓)>>Master bus levels: The master bus level shows you the sum of all the
levels being routed to the master bus. Unless you have only one channel
going to the master bus, this level is different from any of the individual
levels going to it because all levels from all the instruments are taken
into account (summed). This is the level that is most important when
you’re mixing because this is the level that the two-track master records.
Not all types of systems have all these level-monitoring options. For example,
if you have an analog mixer, you may not have meters on anything except the
recorder (prefader track level) and the master bus (master bus level).
Looking at examples
You can use the various monitoring sources to find out where in your signal
chain you may be introducing distortion or where you need to boost the
signal. If you find the source of the signal problem, you don’t have to overcompensate at a different part of the signal path. For example, perhaps you
connect a microphone to an external preamp and set the trim on the preamp
for a good, hot signal. The prefader track level going to the recorder, however, is too low. In this case, you can check the postfader input level to see
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
whether something is squashing your signal. The fader may be set too low, or
some EQ may be set to reduce some frequencies. To fix the problem, you can
either raise the fader or adjust your EQ until your level at the prefader track
meter is where you want it to be.
Figure 7-2:
allow you to
monitor your
signal levels
at various
places in the
signal chain.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Another scenario is when your recorded track has even levels (as seen on the
prefader track level) but you’re getting distortion at the master bus (master
bus level). In this case, check the postfader track level to see whether it looks
different from the prefader level. It most likely will, and you can fix the problem
by adjusting either the fader or the EQ until the level is tamed. If both the prefader and postfader track levels look the same, the combined levels that come
from more than one track to the master bus are probably causing the distortion. In this case, you need to reduce the levels from all the tracks going to the
master bus to bring the master bus level down a bit.
Don’t get too stressed about your levels. Use your ears and trust yourself. If
you get noticeable digital clipping (distortion), just record the part again. One
of the great things about digital recording is that you can erase and re-record a
performance as many times as you want without compromising sound quality.
Getting a Great Guitar Sound
Do you wanna know how to get the absolute best, richest, most engaging
guitar sound? Well, I wish I could tell you — but alas, I can’t. This is something you need to figure out by listening as you tweak your gear. That said,
you can record sound into your computer in four ways, and each way has its
pluses and minuses, as I describe in the following list:
✓)>>Directly from your guitar into your instrument input: The instrument
input in your system could be located in your analog mixer (standalone systems), your recorder (SIAB systems), or your audio interface
�(computer-based systems). This assumes that your instrument input
can handle a direct connection from a guitar. (Most can, but check to
make sure that the one you have or want has this capability. If it doesn’t,
you need to get a direct box to put between your guitar and your instrument input. I talk about direct boxes in Chapter 1.) By using this method,
the sound you get from your guitar is pretty much the same sound
you’re going to get recorded.
ç’•å±´You may not like the sound — in fact, I’ll bet you won’t. The solution to
this unfortunate state of affairs is to use a plug-in (or more than one) in
your recording program to get the sound you want. This is a common way
to get a guitar sound, and tons of good plug-ins can help, including plug-ins
for providing distortion, delay, chorus, and even special amp simulators
that are designed to sound like popular guitar amplifiers. One advantage
to this approach is that you can tweak the sound of your guitar as much
as you want after it’s recorded. The disadvantage is that you can easily
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
become afflicted with indecision disorder and be unable to pick the sound
you want. Also, many guitar-tone connoisseurs feel that getting the sound
this way isn’t as good as miking up an amp with the sound you want.
✓)>>From your guitar to an amp simulator and from the amp simulator
into your instrument input: Amp simulators are like the plug-ins that
you can get for your software, only they’re stand-alone units that already
have the various sounds in them. A bunch of stand-alone amp simulators are available on the market, and most offer decent simulations of
the most popular guitar amps. This can be a good solution for many
people, but the disadvantage of doing this — instead of adding your
effects in the computer — is that after you record your sound through
an amp simulator, you’re stuck with that sound. Of course, if you often
get hit with indecision disorder, this may be a good solution for you.
✓)>>From your guitar into your amp and from your amp’s line output to
your instrument input: Recording a guitar this way is great for people
who have an amp that they like the sound of but who don’t want to mic
a speaker. When you follow this approach, you have three volume controls to adjust to get your level into your recorder — your guitar, your
amp, and your interface. You may have to take time tweaking these settings to achieve the best possible sound.
✓)>>From your guitar into your amp with a mic picking up the speaker’s
sound: This is the old standby approach because you get to record the
actual sound you’re used to hearing coming out of your amp. With this
method, having the right mic and mic placement makes all the difference in the world. I offer some specific guitar-amping mic techniques in
Chapter 9.
There is no single way to get a great guitar sound. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may just come up with a sound that really moves you.
Creating a Killer Keyboard Sound
They key to getting a killer keyboard sound is making sure that you get the
sound into your system without messing it up (no pressure here). Depending
on your gear, keyboard sounds can be brought into your system in one of the
following ways:
✓)>>Using the analog outputs in your keyboard: For an external keyboard
that contains the sounds you want to record, plug an instrument cord
from the main outputs of your keyboard to the corresponding number of
inputs in your system. Turn your keyboard volume up between ½ and ¾
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
or until you get a decent signal to register in your recorder. If your instrument input has a volume (gain) control, adjust it and the volume of your
keyboard until you get a solid sound without distortion.
ç’•å±´Follow the guidelines that I list in the section “Setting Optimal Signal
Levels,” earlier in this chapter, to get your best signal levels.
✓)>>Recording MIDI data and adding the sound later: If you have a MIDIcapable keyboard and a MIDI sequencer, you can record your musical
performance as MIDI data and assign the sound later. In this case, connect your keyboard to your MIDI sequencer. This can be done using a
MIDI cable connected to MIDI ports in each device, or it can be done
with a USB connection if you have a USB-equipped keyboard and MIDI
sequencer (such as a software program in a computer). Chapter 5
explains how to make the connections for this.
ç’•å±´Because you’re recording MIDI data instead of an audio signal, you don’t
need to worry about setting the record level. Chapter 12 explains the
process of recording MIDI sequences in detail.
Making the Most of Microphones
Finding a great sound from a mic is key to getting a great-sounding recording. To do this, you need to use the best mic for the application and place it
where it can sound its best. This requires not only knowledge of the different
types of mics (see Chapter 6), but also an understanding of how these
mics are used for a variety of instruments (see Chapter 9). In the following
sections, I give you a quick tutorial on setting optimal levels of your microphones to help you get the most out of the mics and techniques I present in
the other miking chapters.
The most difficult part of getting a good sound by using a microphone is
dealing with sudden, extreme increases in the sound signal. These blips are
called transients, and they regularly happen when a drum is first struck, when
a vocalist sings certain syllables (for example, those that begin with a P), and
when a guitar player picks certain notes. In fact, because you can’t always
control the amount of force that you apply to an instrument, transients can
happen at any time, with any instrument, and without warning. (Highly
trained musicians produce fewer extreme transients because they have a
greater mastery over their muscular movements.)
In digital recording, all it takes is one slight, unexpected note to cause clipping and distortion, ruining what may otherwise be a perfect musical performance. Believe me, nothing is so heart-wrenching as listening to the perfect
take (recorded performance) and hearing the unmistakable sound of digital
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
distortion. Although you can’t eliminate transients (they are part of an instrument’s character), you can tame extreme transients that often cause clipping.
You can do this in the following three ways:
✓)>>Set your levels with enough headroom to handle these transients. I
cover this step in the section “Setting Optimal Signal Levels,” earlier in
this chapter.
✓)>>Minimize transients with proper mic placement. I explain this process
in the next section.
✓)>>Run the signal through a compressor when recording. The section
“Compressing carefully,” later in this chapter, gives you the lowdown on
this process.
Placing mics properly
A microphone that’s placed too close to a loud sound source or pointed too
directly toward the point of attack can easily pick up extreme transients. In
most cases, you just need to pull the mic away from the instrument a little or
turn it ever so slightly to avoid a signal that’s too high. I don’t go into detail
here because I cover mic placement thoroughly in Chapter 9.
The main thing to keep in mind when placing your microphones is to experiment. Don’t be afraid to spend time making small adjustments. After all, the
track you save could be your own.
Compressing carefully
Compressors are processors that allow you to control the dynamics of a
signal — and boy, are they ever versatile. You can use compressors on the
front end while tracking (recording) instruments to make sure that you don’t
have stray transients. You can use them to level off an erratic performance.
And you can use compressors to raise the overall apparent level of a mixed
song. In the following sections, I discuss the first use of compression: the
control of transients. (You can find out about the other ways to use compression in Chapters 14 and 15.)
If you have an SIAB system or a computer-based system, you probably have
a compressor included with the effects in the unit. Although you can record
tracks with this compressor, your signal has to go through the A/D converter
first. (The A/D converter changes your signal from analog to digital form.)
Because these systems are digital, the A/D converter is the first in line after
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
the preamp. This often defeats the purpose of using a compressor to control
transients because the A/D converter is where you often get your first dose of
distortion. If you’re serious about using compression on the front end to tame
transients, you may want to insert an external preamp into the signal chain
before the A/D converter.
Getting to know compressor parameters
Compressors have a series of dials that allow you to adjust several parameters. They are as follows:
✓)>>Threshold: The threshold setting dictates the level that the compressor
starts to act on the signal. This is listed in decibels (dB). For the most
part, you set the threshold level so that the compressor acts only on the
highest peaks of the signal.
✓)>>Ratio: The ratio is the amount that the compressor affects the signal.
The ratio — such as 2:1, for instance — means that for every decibel
that the signal goes over the threshold setting, it is reduced by two
decibels. In other words, if a signal goes 1dB over the threshold setting,
its output from the compressor will only be ½dB louder. The ratio is the
one parameter that varies considerably from instrument to instrument
because the level of the transient varies.
✓)>>Attack: The attack knob controls how soon the compressor starts, well,
compressing. The attack is defined in milliseconds (ms), and the lower
the number, the faster the attack. For the most part, you’re trying to control transients, and they happen at the beginning of a note. Therefore,
you set the attack to act quickly.
✓)>>Release: The release parameter controls how long the compressor continues affecting the note after the note starts. Like the attack, the release
is defined in milliseconds. Because transients don’t last for very long,
you usually use a short release time when using compression on the
front end.
✓)>>Gain: The gain knob allows you to adjust the level of the signal coming
out of the compressor. This is listed in decibels. Because adding compression generally reduces the overall level of the sound, you use this
control to raise the level back to where it was going in.
✓)>>Hard knee or soft knee: Most compressors give you the option of
choosing between a hard knee and a soft knee (or they do it for you
based on the setting that you’ve chosen). Hard knee and soft knee each
refer to how the compressor behaves as the input signal passes the
threshold. More detailed descriptions are as follows:
•Hard knee applies the compression at an even rate, regardless
of the level present over the threshold. So, if you choose a compression setting of 4:1, the compressor applies this ratio for any
Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound
signal over the threshold limit. Hard-knee compression is used for
instruments like drums, where you need to quickly clamp down on
•Soft knee applies the compression at a varying rate depending on
the amount the signal is over the threshold setting. The compressor gradually increases the ratio of the compression as the signal
crosses the threshold, until it hits the level that you set. Soft-knee
compression is used on vocals and other instruments where the
signal doesn’t have fast peaks.
Creating compressor settings
When you use a compressor to keep transients at bay, you only want to
compress the highest transient levels — the ones that would overload your
system or eat up your headroom — and you want to do this so that you don’t
hear the compressor kicking in. Even though every instrument contains different levels of transient signals and each person who plays an instrument
creates different amounts of extreme transients when he or she plays, keep
the following points in mind as you choose your settings:
✓)>>Keep the threshold high. With a high threshold setting, your compressor
only kicks in as the signal gets close to distorting. For most instruments,
I would use a setting of about –6dB. Some instruments with very high
transients, such as percussion and drums, can handle a setting like –10dB.
Set your threshold so that when the extreme transient happens, it triggers
the compressor only a couple of decibels, and the nontransient material
(the main sound of the instrument) doesn’t trigger the compressor.
✓)>>Adjust the ratio to the material. For high-transient material (such as
drums and percussion), choose a higher ratio, and for lower-transient
material (like strummed or bowed string instruments), choose a lower
ratio setting. Try to use a ratio that relates to the level of the transient over the nontransient signal. Because percussion instruments
have initial signal peaks (transients) that are much stronger than the
body of the instrument’s sound, you can compress this peak without
affecting the main sound of the instrument. By matching the ratio to
the degree of the transient this way, you can create a more even level
without changing the sound characteristics of the instrument.
✓)>>Use a short attack. Transients happen at the initial attack of the instrument. This means that if you want to compress the transient, the compressor must kick in right away when this signal happens. A setting of
1 millisecond or less is optimal.
✓)>>Use a short release. Transients happen quickly, and they last a very
short amount of time. When you try to control these signals during
tracking, you only want to catch the transient itself — and no other
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
part of the instrument’s sound. Setting a short release time — start with
about 10 milliseconds — ensures that your compressor doesn’t linger on
to affect the body of the instrument’s recorded sound.
✓)>>Don’t mess with the gain. Because you’re only catching the highest
transient signals and you’re only compressing them a tiny bit, you don’t
need to add or reduce any of the signal that’s going through the compressor. Leave the gain control at 0dB.
When using a compressor during tracking, keep the following two points in
✓)>>You can always add compression to a recorded track, but you can
never take it away. If you’re not sure how much compression to apply
to a particular situation, you’re much better off erring on the side of too
little because you can always run the sound through another compressor later.
✓)>>If you can hear a change in the sound of your signal, you probably
have the compressor set too high. The reason that you use a compressor on the front end is to eliminate extreme transients, which you can’t
hear when you play. If your compression setting changes the sound,
you should slightly reduce the compression setting (unless you’re going
for that effect). I talk more about the effects compressors can make in
Chapter 15.
Chapter 8
Taking a Look at Microphone
In This Chapter
▶)>>Exploring spot miking
▶)>>Discovering distant miking
▶)>>Examining ambient miking
▶)>>Exploring stereo miking
▶)>>Combining miking techniques
o record acoustic instruments — that is, any instrument that doesn’t
have an electronic output — you need to use a microphone. The resulting sound can vary considerably based on where you place the mic in relation to the instrument and the room that you record in. I spend quite a bit of
time — three chapters, in fact — talking about microphones because they’re
so important to the quality of your final recordings. (See Chapters 6 and 9 for
more miking details.)
In this chapter, I take a look at some of the most common microphone techniques that are used in professional recording. You get a chance to see, up
close, how spot miking works. You also get a broad view of distant miking
and take a look at the big picture on ambient miking. In addition, this chapter
explores common stereo miking techniques and explains what to look for
when combining these various approaches.
Regardless of the style of microphone that you use or the type of instrument
that you record, you can use one or more of the following mic-placement
techniques to capture the sound that you want:
✓)>>Spot (or close) miking: Put your microphone within inches of the sound
✓)>>Distant miking: Pull your mic back a few feet from the sound.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
✓)>>Ambient miking: Place your mic way back in a room.
✓)>>Stereo miking: Set up two mics at various distances from one another.
✓)>>Combined miking: Use a combination of the four traditional placement
strategies listed here.
This chapter introduces you to the four traditional mic-placement strategies
that are used in recording. You discover the characteristics and purposes of
each of these four methods and gain an understanding of how each relates to
a particular tonal or sound quality. I also discuss how you can combine these
Singling Out Spot Miking
Spot miking (also called close miking) involves placing your microphone
within a couple feet of the sound source. Home recordists use this technique
most often because it adds little of the room (the reverb and delay) to the
recorded sound. Figure 8-1 shows the close miking placement.
Figure 8-1:
Spot miking
placing the
mic within a
couple feet
of the sound
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
Spot miking tends to create a less natural sound and can compromise the
quality of your recordings if you’re not careful. It can also offer advantages if
you record multiple instruments in one pass or if your room doesn’t sound
good. Here are some things to consider when using spot miking:
✓)>>Transients are more extreme. Distance from a sound source tames
the initial attack of an instrument. Spot miking picks up more transient
material, which can make the sound of the instrument seem harsh and
can overload your mic, preamp, or converter without your seeing it on
your level meters. You need to listen closely to your recorded sound to
make sure that you don’t have distortion. A solution to this problem is
to move the mic back a bit or point it slightly away from the instrument.
✓)>>The room isn’t part of the recording. This can be good or bad, depending on the sound of your room:
•On the plus side, it can keep a bad-sounding room from ruining the
sound of your track by putting it so far in the background of the
recording that it isn’t really heard on your tracks.
•On the downside, you lose the natural ambience of an instrument
that gives it its character, so if you have a nice-sounding room, this
technique may not be the best choice (depending on how many
instruments are playing at once — see the next bullet point).
✓)>>You can isolate each instrument. Spot miking can help you keep multiple instruments separated in your tracks, so if you record your band
live, you can create some isolation among instruments. (This assumes
that you use a microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. Chapter 6 has
more details on this.) This makes mixing a lot easier. Because of the
downside that I list in the previous bullet, I’m a big fan of using room
mics (using the ambient technique described in the section “Assessing
Ambient Miking,” later in this chapter) in conjunction with spot mics to
create a more realistic sound.
✓)>>Even minor adjustments in mic placement can have a huge impact on
your recorded sound. Because the mic is so close to the sound source,
small adjustments to the mic’s placement make a noticeable difference,
and the mic may not capture the complete sound of the instrument.
Finding the spot that sounds the best may take you awhile.
✓)>>The closer you put your mic, the more bass you record. I mention
this in Chapter 6, but it bears repeating here. As you move a mic with
a cardioid polar pattern in close to the sound source, the mic picks up
more bass energy. This is called the proximity effect. It can be an advantage for some applications — rounding out the sound of a vocal, for
instance — but it can also cause problems with some instruments such
as acoustic strings, where you don’t want the extra bass muddying the
sound. To counter this effect, use an omnidirectional or figure-8 mic or
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
move the cardioid-pattern mic away from the sound source until the
bass is more manageable. (See Chapter 6 for a rundown of the different
types of mics.)
Detailing Distant Miking
When you use distant miking, you place mics about 3 or 4 feet away from the
sound source, as shown in Figure 8-2. Distant miking enables you to capture
some of the sound of the room along with the instrument. An example of a
distant-miking technique is the overhead drum mic. With it, you can pick up
the whole drum set to some extent. Coupling the distant mic with a few select
spot mics, you can record a natural sound.
Figure 8-2:
The microphone is
placed 3 to 4
feet from the
in the
Distant miking has its pluses and minuses. Here are some things to remember
if you use this technique:
✓)>>You can get a more natural sound. By moving the mic back a few feet
from its source, you give the instrument a chance to breathe a bit and
allow the sound to blend a little with the room in which it’s played. You
also eliminate the impact of the proximity effect (see the previous section)
and correct the balance between the body of the instrument’s sound and
the transient from the initial attack. This often creates a more pleasing,
natural sound.
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
✓)>>Other instruments may bleed into your track. If you record more than
one instrument at the same time, distant miking increases the bleed of
other instruments into the track of the instrument that you want to
record. The solution to this is to use the spot-miking technique instead,
move the instruments farther apart, adjust the mics so that the blind
spot of the mic is facing the instrument you don’t want to record, or
place gobos (acoustic baffles) between the instruments.
✓)>>The sound of the room is important. With the mic farther away from
the instrument, more of the room sound (the reverb and delay) is picked
up in relation to the instrument. As a result, you hear more of the room
in your tracks. This can be nice if your room sounds good, but it can get
in the way if your room doesn’t.
✓)>>Multiple mics can cause phase problems. Whenever you use more than
one mic on a source such as a band or drum set, the relationship of
these mics to the source and to one another plays a significant role in
the sound you get. If the mics are not placed properly, some frequencies
may drop out. Called phase cancellation, this is the result of the recorded
waveforms reaching each mic at slightly different times. The section
“Overcoming problems with stereo miking” and the section “Creating
Miking Combinations,” later in this chapter, explain this phenomenon in
more detail.
Assessing Ambient Miking
Ambient miking is simply placing the mic far enough away from the sound
source so that you capture more of the room sound than the sound of the
actual instrument (see Figure 8-3). You may place the mic a couple feet away
from the source but pointed in the opposite direction, or you may place it
across the room. You can even put the mic in an adjacent room, although I
admit this is an unorthodox technique. The distance that you choose varies
from instrument to instrument.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 8-3:
placing the
mic so that
it picks up
more of
the room’s
sound than
the instrument’s
Ambient miking definitely has its place, but using this technique requires
forethought. Consider the following items when you use this technique:
✓)>>You lose the attack of the instrument. Because the mic is so far from
the sound source, it picks up more of the ambience of the room than the
attack of the instrument (hence, the name of the technique). To counter
this effect, use distant or spot mics for the instruments that you want to
have a more pronounced presence, and blend these mics with the ambient mic when you mix.
✓)>>You need a good room. Ambient miking relies on the sound of the room
to create a pleasing ambience. If your room doesn’t sound great, you’re
better off using a closer miking technique instead. On the other hand, if
you can find a great room in which to record — a church or auditorium,
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
for instance — setting up a mic in the middle of the room (you must
listen for the best placement by walking around the room as the music
plays) can give your tracks that extra something that can set them apart
from the run-of-the-mill home recordings.
✓)>>Placement is key. Just as each instrument has a sweet spot, each room
has a place that sounds best. Take your time finding this location and
put your ambient mic there.
✓)>>Watch for phase problems. Because an ambient mic is typically used in
conjunction with another mic or two (or more), you must keep the relationship among the mics correct; otherwise, you’ll have problems with
the phase of the recorded waveforms. (I introduce the concept of phase
cancellation in the preceding section, “Detailing Distant Miking.”)
Ambient mic placement works well in those places where the room adds to
the sound of the instrument. The sound that you record is ambient (hence, the
name). If you mix an ambient mic with a spot mic, you can end up with a natural reverb. So, if your room doesn’t add to the sound of the instrument, avoid
using an ambient mic. You can always add a room sound by using effects in
the mixing process (see Chapter 15 for more details).
Selecting Stereo Miking
Stereo miking involves using two mics to capture the stereo field of the instrument. You find a variety of stereo-miking techniques and some pretty complicated ways of using two mics to record. The three most common approaches
are X-Y (coincident) pairs, the Blumlein technique, and spaced pairs. You can
also find stereo mics that do a good job of capturing the stereo field of an
Stereo miking has the advantage of capturing a fairly natural stereo image,
though not as good as what your ears capture. When you listen to performances that were recorded with well-placed stereo miking, you can hear
exactly where each instrument performed on the stage. Of course, such wonderful stereo miking is an art. You can’t just set up a couple mics in a room
and automatically get a good stereo sound. Capturing a stereo image with
two mics requires careful planning.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
X-Y pairs
X-Y (coincident) stereo miking consists of using two mics that are placed
right next to each other so that the diaphragms are as close together as possible without touching one another. X-Y stereo miking is the most common
type of stereo mic setup and the one that you’ll likely use if you do stereo
miking. Figure 8-4 shows a basic X-Y setup. Notice how the mics in this figure
are attached to a special mounting bracket. This bracket makes positioning
the mics easy.
Figure 8-4:
The X-Y
stereo mic
uses two
placed close
When you record using the X-Y technique, keep these points in mind:
✓)>>The stereo image (the placement of the instruments in the sonic
environment) isn’t as wide or as realistic as it is in real life. The X-Y
technique is easy to set up and results in a decent sound, so (as with all
things in life) you have to deal with the compromise this ease creates.
No solution to this exists, so if a wide stereo image is important to you,
consider using a different stereo technique, such as the spaced pair or
perhaps a Jecklin disk. (See the section “Overcoming problems with
stereo miking,” later in this chapter, for more about using a Jecklin disk.)
✓)>>Don’t use two mics when one is enough. After you get a pair of nice
mics for X-Y miking, you’ll want to use them on everything. A stereo-mic
approach to a classical guitar composition is nice, but honestly, recording the acoustic guitar in a rock ballad with five other instruments playing isn’t necessary and just makes life more complicated when you mix
the song (see the section “Creating Miking Combinations,” later in this
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
✓)>>Keep some distance between the mics and the sound source. The X-Y
technique has no benefit over a single mic if you place your mics within
a couple feet of the sound source.
ç’•å±´You simply don’t have enough space for a stereo image to develop until
you’re at least 6 feet from the instrument or group of instruments. In
fact, I recommend being at least 10 feet from the sound source before
using the X-Y stereo miking approach.
Blumlein technique
The Blumlein technique is named after Alan Dower Blumlein, who patented
this approach in 1931. Blumlein stereo miking involves placing two figure-8
mics in much the same way as the X-Y pattern (at right angles to one
another with the diaphragms as close together as possible). The two mics
are mounted on separate stands, one above the other. Figure 8-5 shows this
Figure 8-5:
uses two
mics placed
at right
angles to
one another.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
The advantage of this technique is that the figure-8 mics pick up signals from
both the front and the back. This produces a natural sound. You also don’t
have to contend with proximity effects (enhanced bass response due to being
close to the sound source) because figure-8 mics don’t produce these effects.
Here are some suggestions for when you should use this technique:
✓)>>The room sound is important. Because the Blumlein technique uses
figure-8 mics that can pick up the sound on the other side of the mics
than your instruments, you end up recording quite a bit of room sound
with your instruments. This is one of the reasons that this technique
sounds as good as it does, but your room must add to the quality of
your sound, not hinder it.
✓)>>Find the best place in the room. Take some time to find the best place to
put the mics. The placement may not be in the center of the room or the
front of the band. Instead, it may be off to one side or closer to the back
or front. This advice holds true for all miking, but with the Blumlein technique (or when using omnidirectional mics with the other techniques),
correct mic placement can make the difference between a decent recording and a truly awesome one.
✓)>>Get a sturdy stand that can handle both mics. Using two stands to hold
both mics makes moving them around (to find the sweet spot in the
room) a real pain in the you-know-what. You can easily find mic-stand
adapters that hold both mics. These can be an invaluable investment.
Spaced pairs
Spaced-pair stereo miking involves placing two mics at a distance in front of
the instrument(s) that you want to record and at a distance from one another.
This approach can work well if you record an ensemble that takes up a lot of
room. Figure 8-6 shows a top view of a typical spaced-pair stereo mic setup.
Keep the following things in mind when using the spaced-pair stereo-miking
✓)>>Follow the rule. One of the most important things to consider when
stereo miking with spaced pairs is that you’ll experience phase problems
if you don’t space the mics properly. Fortunately, experienced recordists
have discovered a basic guideline that makes it easier to place the mics.
Called the 3:1 rule, this guideline says that you should place the mics
three times farther apart than they are from the sound source. Doing so
minimizes potential phase problems.
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
Figure 8-6:
To use the
place two
mics away
from the
source and
apart from
one another.
✓)>>Break the rule if necessary. As handy as the 3:1 rule is, it isn’t foolproof.
At times, this rule doesn’t produce the best sound. In the next chapter,
I offer one of these instances for placing drum overheads in a three-mic
technique. Use the rule as a guide, but trust your ears to determine the
best place to put a spaced pair of mics (or a single mic, pair, or a group
of mics).
Stereo microphones
If you want to record an instrument in stereo and don’t want the hassle
of learning how to set up stereo pairs, you can use a stereo mic. Stereo
mics have two diaphragms in them and use a special cord that allows
you to record the output from each diaphragm on a separate track. An
inexpensive stereo condenser mic is shown in Figure 8-7. This type of
microphone acts like an X-Y pair, so follow the guidelines and suggestions
that I offer in the section “X-Y pairs,” earlier in this chapter, when using
one of these.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 8-7:
A stereo
can do a
good job of
a natural
Overcoming problems with stereo miking
When you do stereo miking, watch out for phase cancellation and poor stereo
imaging. I describe these thorny issues and a simple solution in the following
Phase cancellation
Phase cancellation happens when the two microphones are placed so that
each receives the sound at a slightly different time. When this occurs, you
don’t hear the bass as well because the low frequencies drop off. Improper
mic placement or two mics that are out of phase with one another can cause
phase cancellation.
Most digital recorders have a phase switch that allows you to reverse the
phase of the signal (even after it’s recorded). To test whether two mics are out
of phase, just reverse the phase on one mic (don’t do both) and listen to see
whether the low frequencies become more apparent:
✓)>>If they do, you’ve corrected the problem and you’re good to go.
✓)>>If this doesn’t correct the problem, try changing cords on one of the
mics because some mic cords are wired differently than others. If this
doesn’t work either, you need to adjust the relationship between the
two mics. Just move one mic around a little and listen for changes in the
bass response. When the missing bass appears, you know you’ve solved
the problem.
Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques
Poor stereo imaging
Poor stereo imaging occurs when you can’t tell where things fall from left to
right (or right to left, if that’s the way you think), or when you can’t hear a
clear center point in the sound. Poor stereo imaging is a little more difficult
to correct than phase cancellation, but you can fix it.
The solution depends on the stereo-miking technique that you use. If you
use the X-Y technique, you’ve probably placed your mics too close to the
sound source. If you use the spaced-pair technique, you’ve probably placed
the mics too close to one another in relation to the distance from the instruments. In either case, adjusting the placement of your mics should clear up
the problem.
A Jecklin disk is a simple device that can make dealing with these issues much
easier (and give you a pretty realistic stereo image for not a lot of money). A
Jecklin disk is a ¼-inch-thick round plate, approximately 12 inches in diameter,
with ½-inch of foam attached to both sides (see Figure 8-8). Omnidirectional
small-diaphragm condenser mics are placed on either side of the plate at
precise locations and this entire unit is directed to the sound source. To learn
more about the Jecklin disk, do an Internet search and you’ll find plenty of
hits — including some plans to build one for under $30.
Figure 8-8:
A Jecklin
disk can
make stereo
easy and
capture an
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Creating Miking Combinations
Often you’ll want to use more than one mic. The possible combinations are
almost limitless: You can use several spot mics on one instrument, you can
use a spot mic and an ambient mic, you can have a distant mic and a spot
mic, or . . . well, you get my point. As exciting as these possibilities can be,
keep the following points in mind to get the best sound when you combine
multiple mics:
✓)>>Be aware of phase relationships. Each mic interacts with all the other
ones when you record, and you need to take the time to set up each mic
so that it doesn’t interfere with any others. This means honoring the
3:1 rule for stereo mics (see the section “Spaced pairs,” earlier in this
chapter). The only way to ensure that your phase is good is to record a
snippet of a song (or a whole song if you want) and then listen to your
ç’•å±´Listen to each mic individually and then together to see whether any
frequencies drop out. If frequencies drop out, finding the problem mics
will take some detective work. You need to play pairs of mics that you
recorded until you find the problem; then you need to adjust each mic
until the problem goes away. If you do this enough, you’ll get pretty
good at placing mics and making phase relationships work.
✓)>>Be aware of bleed between mics. This is mainly for bands that want
to play together while still maintaining as much isolation as possible.
A string quartet rarely needs isolation because all the instruments
blend well together live; this blending is integral to the overall sound.
However, a rock band with miked amps usually needs enough isolation
so that you can do some tweaking to each instrument when you mix.
ç’•å±´In addition, a band that plays well together and can nail the performances can have more bleed — whereas a band with a marginal player
or two (you know whether you have one in your band) who has to perform additional takes or punch-ins to fix a weak performance requires
much more isolation. Doing a punch-in to a live, bleed-filled performance
(for instance, if your bass player flubbed a few notes) can sound wrong
in the mix.
✓)>>Use only as many mics as you need. Every additional mic that you add
to your setup complicates your recording process considerably. To keep
things simple, use as few mics as possible to get the sound you want.
If you’re using a digital recorder, it probably has a phase switch that enables
you to fix the phase problems later if you missed them as you recorded. This
isn’t as optimal as recording without this problem, but it may allow you to
save an otherwise-good set of tracks.
Chapter 9
Miking Your Instruments
In This Chapter
▶)>>Exploring microphone techniques
▶)>>Miking amplified instruments
▶)>>Miking acoustic instruments
▶)>>Miking drums
he location of a microphone in relation to your instrument or a singer has a
huge impact on the sound of your recording. In fact, just a movement of an
inch or two — or even a slight turn of the mic — can bring out different characteristics in the sound. The art of placing mics is one that you will undoubtedly
spend a lifetime discovering.
In this chapter, you discover the fundamentals of using microphones to
get a good source sound. You explore tried-and-true miking methods along
with practical miking tips and tricks that you can use right away. You also
examine the use of compression and mic placement to control and eliminate
transients — the usual peaks in the instrument’s sound.
In Chapter 7, I present ways to get the best sound from your mics and to keep
extreme transients from ruining an otherwise-nice recording by overloading
your inputs and clipping your audio, so check it out if you haven’t done so yet.
Just remember, you don’t need to use a compressor when tracking — simply
keep your levels low enough to leave room for these unexpected signals. If you
do decide to use a compressor during tracking, keep the attack and release
times short (Chapter 7 has more on this). You only want to catch the initial
signal and not mess with the rest of the instrument’s sound. If you want to use
a compressor to sculpt the sound of your instruments, you can do that easily
during the mixing stage of producing your song. I cover this approach in detail
in Chapter 15, where I offer a bunch of sample settings to get you started.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Getting a Great Lead Vocal Sound
Regardless of the type of home studio you have or the style of music that
you record, you’ll probably record vocals at some point. And unfortunately,
vocals are among the most challenging sounds to do well. You have to
find the right mic for the person who’s singing, and then you need to try
different approaches to get the best sound out of him or her. Fortunately,
you’re in luck. In the following sections, I lead you through the (sometimes
complicated) process of getting good lead vocal sounds.
Making the most of the room
To get the best possible recording of vocals, you need a dead room, which
is another way of saying a room that has no reverberation. (Chapter 3 has
tips on how to deaden your room.) Recording vocals in a dead room gives a
sense of “presence” and allows you to add compression to the vocals without
making them sound distant. (This is because the compressor raises the level
of the background noise, particularly the reverberation from a live room.)
The easiest way to deaden your room for vocal recording is to hang curtains,
carpet, or blankets around the room or to use the absorbent side of the reflector/absorber panels that I discuss in Chapter 3. Try to cover the front and
both sides of the vocal area with absorbent materials. If you use the reflector/
absorber panels that I describe in Chapter 3, you need to raise them off the
ground, because the panels are only 4 feet tall.
Choosing the best mic
You have a lot of options for miking vocals. The type of mic that you use
dictates where you place it.
Dynamic mic
Dynamic mics sound best when you place them close to the singer’s mouth.
The effect that you get is gritty. Huh? Okay, by gritty I mean dirty. That’s no
help either? Let me see . . .
✓)>>Sound: Dynamic mics produce a midrange sound (the high frequencies
aren’t reproduced well). When someone sings with the mic right in front of
her mouth, the sound lacks even more high frequencies due to the proximity effect (an enhanced low-frequency response at close range). The result
is a deep, bass-heavy sound that’s often described as gritty or dirty. This
type of sound can be great for some styles of rock and blues music.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
✓)>>Setup: To set up a dynamic mic for this purpose, just put it on a stand so
that the singer can get his mouth right up against the windscreen.
Large-diaphragm condenser mic
Large-diaphragm condenser mics are the most common types of mics for vocals.
✓)>>Sound: These mics can clearly reproduce the entire audible frequency
spectrum and slightly accentuate the low-mid frequencies (200 to 500 Hz)
at the same time. Their sound is nice, warm, and full-bodied (that sounds
like I’m describing a wine). The proximity effect (how close the singer is to
the mic) determines how nice and warm-bodied the sound is. The closer
the singer, the deeper and richer the tone.
✓)>>Setup: When you set up a large-diaphragm condenser mic for vocals, you
need to place the mic so that nasty sibilances (the sound from singing s
and t sounds) and pesky plosives (pops from singing p syllables) don’t
mess up your recordings. To deal with plosives and sibilance, you can
either use a pop filter (see Chapter 6) or have the singer sing past the mic.
ç’•å±´If you want the singer to sing past the mic, you can do one of the following
•Place the mic above the singer and set it at an angle pointing away
from him (Figure 9-1, left).
•Put the mic off to the side and face it toward the singer (Figure 9-1,
•Set up the mic below the singer and angle it away from him
(Figure 9-1, right).
Figure 9-1:
You can
place the
mic at
angles to
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Small-diaphragm condenser mic
The small-diaphragm mic won’t be your first choice in a vocal mic, unless
you’re recording a female vocalist with a soprano voice and you want to
catch the more ethereal quality of her higher frequencies.
✓)>>Sound: The small-diaphragm condenser mic creates a much brighter or
airier sound than the large-diaphragm mic. This means that it doesn’t
contain the low-mid (200 to 500 Hz) warmth of its larger-diaphragm
✓)>>Setup: You set up the small-diaphragm mic in the same way that you set
up the large-diaphragm mic.
Ribbon mic
The ribbon mic is a good choice if you’re looking for a crooner-type sound
(think Frank Sinatra).
✓)>>Sound: The ribbon mic is thought to add a silky sound to the singer’s
voice. By silky, I mean a slight drop-off in the high frequencies (not as
severe as a dynamic mic, though). To my drum-abused ears, ribbon mics
have a kind of softness that the large-diaphragm condenser mics don’t
have. The sound is more even, without the pronounced low-mid effect.
✓)>>Setup: If you use a ribbon mic, you can set it up in the same way that
you set up a condenser mic. Just be more careful about singing directly
into a ribbon mic because the ribbon can break if you sing, speak, or
breathe too hard into it.
Many digital studios (the studio-in-a-box [SIAB] and computer-based systems,
especially) contain mic simulator programs as part of their effects packages.
Mic simulators allow you to use a relatively inexpensive mic (a Shure SM57,
for instance) and make it sound like a much more expensive vocal mic. The
mic simulator doesn’t match the sound of a great mic perfectly, but it does
give you more options, especially if you don’t have the bucks to buy a handful
of top-notch vocal mics.
One of the great things about using a mic simulator is that you can choose
the exact sound you want after you’ve recorded the vocal part. This way, you
can spend less time trying to choose the perfect mic and get down to the
business of recording before your singer gets worn out.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
Getting Good Backup Vocals
To record backup vocals, you can either track each part separately by using
the same mic-placement techniques that I describe earlier or have all the
backup singers sing at once into one or two mics. If you do the latter, you can
use a stereo pair of mics, a figure-8 mic, or an omnidirectional mic.
If you use a stereo pair of mics, I recommend setting them up in a coincident
X-Y pattern (introduced in Chapter 8). Have the vocalists stand next to each
other facing the mics at 3 or 4 feet away. Large- and small-diaphragm mics work
best for this setup. Check out Figure 9-2 for a neat top view of this arrangement.
Figure 9-2:
The X-Y
pattern can
work well
for backup
If you choose to use a figure-8 mic, the singers can stand on opposite sides of
the mic (see Figure 9-3). The advantage of this setup is that the singers can
look at each other while they sing.
An omnidirectional mic can also work well for backup vocals. In this case, the
singers stand in a circle around the mic, as shown in Figure 9-4.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 9-3:
singers can
stand on
either side
of a figure-8
mic and see
each other.
Figure 9-4:
stand in
a circle
around an
omnidirectional mic.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
Examining Electric Guitar Miking
Miking your electric guitar is a personal thing. It seems to me that every
guitar player spends a lot of time getting his or her “sound” (although I don’t
play guitar, so what do I know?). If you’re a real guitar player, you undoubtedly take great pride in recording your sound exactly right on tape, er, disc.
You likely spend countless hours tweaking your amp and adjusting the mic to
get the sound just right. On the other hand, if you’re not a real guitar player,
you may just want to record the part and get it over with. Either way, you can
start looking for that perfect guitar sound by placing your mics in one (or
more) of the ways that I describe in this section.
Guitar miking involves mostly spot mics, so your only consideration when
recording a guitar using an amp is how your neighbors feel about noise, er,
your most-excellent guitar playing.
Using the room
Whether you play through a small jazz chorus amp or power-chord your way
through a 6-foot-tall Marshall stack, the room that you play in has less impact
on your sound than it does if you play drums or sing. For the most part, look
for a room that is fairly dead — a room without natural reverberation. You
can always add effects later.
Getting the most out of the mics
The type of mic that you choose largely depends on the type of sound you’re
looking for. For example, if you’re looking for a distorted rock guitar sound
with effects, a dynamic mic works just fine. If you favor a clean sound, a
small-diaphragm condenser mic may work better for you. If you’re going for a
warm, full-bodied sound, try using a large-diaphragm condenser mic.
No matter which type of mic you use, you get the best sound from your amp
speakers by putting a mic about 2 to 12 inches from the cabinet, with the mic
pointing directly at the cone of one of the amp speakers (the cone is located in
the center of the speaker). You can see this positioning in Figure 9-5.
You may want to experiment with how far the mic is from the amp and the
angle at which you point it. Sometimes just a slight movement in or out, left
or right, can make all the difference in the world. You can even try pointing
the mic at different speakers if your amp has more than one, because each
speaker has a slightly different sound.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 9-5:
Start by
placing a
mic near the
cone of a
speaker in
your amp.
I know some engineers who disconnect all but one speaker in the cabinet
(assuming that you have more than one speaker) to lower the volume and still
have an intense, distorted sound. This can be especially beneficial if you have
one of those amp stacks with a volume knob that goes to 11, and you need to
crank the amp to get your “tone” (come on, rockers, you know who you are).
This way you don’t overdrive the mic — creating distortion — and you can
still get that nasty sound you’re looking for.
If you can’t quite get the sound that you want from your amp with the one
mic pointed at the speaker cone, try adding a second mic 3 or 4 feet away.
You also point this mic directly at the speaker cabinet for a more ambient
sound. This may also give your sound more life, especially if you have a room
with natural reverberation. If you add a second mic, remember to watch
for phase differences between the mics and make adjustments accordingly.
(I discuss phase cancellation in Chapter 8.)
Are you sick of the same old sound coming out of your amp? Do you wanna
really shake things up (and I mean this literally)? Well, put your guitar amp in
a tiled bathroom and crank it up. You can put a mic in the bathroom with your
amp (a couple feet away) and maybe another one just outside the door (experiment by how much you close or open the door). The effect is, well . . . try it
and find out for yourself.
On most digital recording systems, you can use an effect called an amp simulator to give your guitar a variety of sounds. The amp simulator can make
your guitar sound like it was played through any number of popular amplifier
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
setups. This can save you the hassle of trying to mic your guitar amp and keep
your neighbors happy. Just plug your guitar into the Hi-Z jack in your mixer. If
you don’t have a Hi-Z jack, you can use a direct box or the line-out jack of your
amp (more on this in Chapter 4).
Exploring Electric Bass Miking
When you mic an electric bass, getting a good sound can be a real bear.
Your two adversaries are muddiness (lack of definition) and thinness (a pronounced midrange tone). These seem like almost polar opposite characteristics, but they can both exist at the same time. I outline the best way to avoid
these problems in the following sections.
Running your bass guitar directly into the board — via a direct box, your
amp’s line-out jack, or a Hi-Z jack on the mixer — gives the guitar a punchier
sound. Some recorders have amp-simulator programs for bass guitar as well
as guitar. So, don’t be afraid to skip the amp and go directly into the mixer. Or
if you’re bold and have the available tracks, try using both a mic and a direct
connection and mix the two mics to taste.
Managing the room
The sound of an electric bass guitar can quickly get muddy. Your best bet is
to choose a room that doesn’t have a lot of surfaces that reflect sound (for
example, paneled walls and wooden floors). A dead room is easier to work
with. Don’t make your room too dead, however, or it just sucks the life out of
your amp’s tone. If you can get your amp to sound good in your room, placing
the mic properly is easy.
Don’t be afraid to be creative and to try recording your bass in different
rooms. Look for a room with a warm sound to it. One thing, though — the
bathroom amp trick that I mention earlier in this chapter doesn’t work well on
bass guitar (but it can be fun to try anyway).
Getting the most from the mic
Because the bass guitar produces low frequencies, a dynamic mic or a largediaphragm condenser mic works well. I avoid small-diaphragm condensers and
ribbon mics for the electric bass, but try them if you want. Who knows — you
may end up with an awesome bass track.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Mic placement for the electric bass is similar to the guitar: You place a single
mic 2 to 12 inches away from one of the speakers. Sometimes with bass,
angling the mic and letting the speaker’s sound kind of drift past the diaphragm
produces a great sound. For a bass, skip the distant mic, which generally just
adds muddiness to the sound.
Miking Acoustic Guitars and
Similar Instruments
At the risk of offending banjo, dobro, harp, or ukulele players, I’m lumping
all strummed or picked string instruments together. I know, they all sound
and play differently, but the microphone placement techniques for all these
instruments are similar. Allow me to explain.
Because all these instruments have a resonating chamber, you can pretty
much use the same mic placement for any of them. You use different types of
mics for different instruments, and I get to that in a minute.
Making the most of the room
Because these are acoustic instruments, the room plays a role in the sound
that you end up recording. Unless you have a great-sounding room, you want
to minimize its impact on your instrument’s sound. You can do this by recording with spot mics or by placing absorber/reflectors in strategic places around
your room. Put the absorber side out if the room is too live; put the reflector
side out if the room is too dead.
For example, if your home studio resides in a spare bedroom with carpeting
and that awful popcorn stuff on the ceiling, you can put a couple of the reflector panels around your guitar player and the mic. This adds some reverberation to your guitar. Any unwanted reflections from the ceiling or walls are
shielded from the mics, because the absorber sides of the panels are facing
the rest of the room.
Using your mics
I often prefer to use condenser mics when recording acoustic instruments.
The type of condenser mic you use depends on the overall tonal quality that
you want to capture or accentuate. For example, if a guitar has a nice woody
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
sound that you want to bring out in the recording, a large-diaphragm condenser mic is a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re trying to capture
the brightness of a banjo, a small-diaphragm mic is a better choice.
You can position your microphone in a variety of ways, and each accents
certain aspects of the instrument’s sound. Even a slight adjustment to the
mic can have a significant impact on the sound. You may have to experiment
quite a bit to figure out exactly where to put a mic.
To help with your experimentation, listen to the instrument carefully and move
the mic around (in and out, left and right) until you find a spot that sounds
particularly good. You need to get your ears close to the instrument to do this.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
✓)>>Put the mic 6 to 18 inches away from and 3 to 4 inches below the
point where the neck meets the body of the instrument. Then make
minor adjustments to the direction in which the mic points. Pointing it
toward the sound hole(s) often gives you a richer, deeper tone. (This
can translate to muddiness on some instruments.) Turning the mic more
toward the neck brings out the instrument’s brighter qualities. See the
image on the left in Figure 9-6.
✓)>>Place the mic about 3 feet away from the instrument and point it
directly at the sound hole. At this distance, you capture the rich sound
from the sound hole and the attack of the strings. See the center image
in Figure 9-6.
✓)>>Put the mic about 6 inches out from the bridge of the instrument. Try
pointing the mic in different directions (slight movements of an inch or
less can make a huge difference) until you find the spot that sounds best
to you. See the image on the right in Figure 9-6.
✓)>>Set up the mic at about the same distance and angle from the instrument as the player’s ears. Point the mic down toward the instrument so
that the mic is a couple inches away from either side of the musician’s
head. This is an unorthodox approach that I like because the player
adjusts her playing style and intonation to correspond to what she is
hearing when she plays. With this technique, you’re trying to capture
exactly what the musician hears.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 9-6:
the mic in
these ways
can produce
a good
Maneuvering Horn Mics
There’s nothing like the sound of a skilled horn player. Sure, you can use a
synthesizer or sampler to play horns, but it’s not quite the same. Luckily,
horns, such as trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, use similar miking
techniques, so if you want to mic horns, you don’t have to understand a ton
of different techniques.
Understanding the role of the room
Because of the high volume levels of most horns and the fact that you mic
them fairly closely, you don’t get a ton of impact from the acoustics of
the room. Unless your room sounds really bad (for example, a small spare
bedroom with carpeting and a low ceiling), you can deal with any room
sound that bleeds into the mic.
If you have a small room that adds an unwanted sound to the instrument,
surround the horn player with acoustic panels; the setup is similar to what
I describe in the section “Getting a Great Lead Vocal Sound,” earlier in this
chapter. You can experiment with using either the reflective or absorptive
side of the panels to record the sound that you want. Generally speaking, err
on the side of a more dead room — you can always add reverb later.
Making the most of the mics
For most horns, a decent condenser mic — large- or small-diaphragm — works
well. If you want a richer tone, a ribbon mic is the way to go. In fact, whenever
I mic horns, I pull out a ribbon mic first, and it usually stays out until the
session is over.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
You can place the mic from 3 inches to a foot or more from the instrument,
depending on the instrument and the sound you’re looking for. For example, a
trumpet, because of its high sound-pressure levels (SPLs, or volume), would
sound best with the mic a little farther away than the placement for a tenor
sax. This is especially true with ribbon mics, because too much pressure can
blow the ribbon.
Most horns generally sound better if the mic is placed just to the side of the
bell (the part where the sound comes out). This keeps the SPL that the mic
picks up low enough to avoid distortion and not blow your precious ribbon.
For some of the louder instruments, choose a condenser mic with a high SPL
rating and/or a pad switch, or move the mic away from the instrument a bit.
(A pad switch reduces the amount of sound — usually by 10dB to 20dB — that
the mic’s internal circuits process, allowing you to have a louder signal without distortion.)
If you want to record more than one horn instrument at a time (a couple of
trombones, for instance), you can use a figure-8 condenser mic and position
each horn player on either side of the mic. As an alternative, use one or more
mics a couple feet away from the players.
Placing Mics for a Piano
If you’re lucky enough to have a real piano to record, you’ll probably want to
record it live rather than use a piano patch on a synthesizer. The following
sections give you suggestions on how to effectively mic a piano.
Harnessing the sound of the room
Pianos can be tough to record if your room doesn’t sound great. Because
of the size of the instrument — especially if it’s a grand or a baby grand
piano — you need a large room with a high ceiling to get the best sound.
If you have an upright piano in a living room, for example, you may find it
easier to just record a piano patch (sound) on a decent synthesizer.
If your room doesn’t add to the sound of the piano, use a closer mic placement
than you would if your room sounded great.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Managing the mics
Condenser mics are a must for recording piano. Either small- or largediaphragm mics work well. Your mic placement depends largely on the sound
you want. Here are a few examples:
✓)>>Funky rock or ragtime sound: Place your mic close in toward the hammers. In this case, I would use two mics — one over the higher register
and one over the lower, 6 to 12 inches away from the hammers.
✓)>>Natural classical-type sound: Move the mics out from the instrument —
2 to 6 feet is usually good, depending on how much room sound you
want in the mix. The farther you move the mics outside of the lid, the
higher you should place the mics because the sound moves up as it
goes out. A good reference is to use the lid as a guide.
The farther outside the instrument you put the mics, the more room sound
you pick up.
If you don’t want to use a traditional condenser mic or if you want to try
another approach to piano miking, you can use a boundary mic. A boundary
mic is an omnidirectional mic that attaches to the instrument. You can find a
decent-sounding boundary mic for about $50 from Radio Shack (Cat. #33-3022)
or for a few more dollars from most other microphone manufacturers. Just
mount the boundary mic to the underside of the piano’s lid (consult your mic’s
manual for details on mounting it) to get the best sound. You can also use two
boundary mics — one over the lower register and one over the higher one.
Setting Up Mics for Strings
Stringed instruments — violin and fiddle, viola, cello, and acoustic bass — can
be a lot of fun to mic. They have a rich tone and produce an almost unlimited
variety of textures. Each instrument has a different tonal spectrum, but because
they all have the same basic shape and design (f-holes, strings, bows, and so
on), they can all be thought of similarly. You can try any of the techniques that
I describe for one of these instruments on the rest of them. For example, try the
mic technique from the cello on the fiddle and see what you think. Your options
are many, so experiment and use what you like.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
Making the most of the room
As with any other acoustic instrument, the room can have profound impacts
on the sound that you capture. Unless you have a really nice-sounding room,
try to isolate the instrument from the room’s sound. In this case, spot miking
is the best choice. On the other hand, if you have access to a great-sounding
room or concert hall in which to record, by all means add room mics or use a
stereo-miking technique.
Making sense of the mics
My favorite type of mic for classical string instruments is a small-diaphragm
condenser unit, although on occasion I reach for a large-diaphragm condenser
mic. A dynamic mic may produce an interesting effect, but it doesn’t capture
the most natural sound.
You can place the mic for each of the string instruments as follows:
✓)>>Violin, fiddle, and viola: These all sound great with a mic placed 1 to 2 feet
above and behind the instrument and facing down at the instrument’s body.
✓)>>Cello and double bass: For these instruments, place the mic several feet
away from the instrument (between 4 and 8 feet) and point it toward
the f-hole in the instrument. This allows you to capture the sound of the
entire instrument. The only drawback is that you also get a fair amount
of the sound of the room. If you don’t want the effects of your room
recorded, you can place acoustic panels on either side of the mic.
✓)>>Ensembles: Ensembles sound best when miked with a stereo pair placed
between 8 and 20 feet away. You can use any of the stereo-miking techniques that I describe earlier in this chapter. If you’re miking soloists,
you may also need to add a spot mic or two for their instruments. If so,
follow the recommendations that I provide earlier in this list and watch
for phase problems.
Digging into Drum Set Miking
If you’re like most musicians, getting great-sounding drums seems like one of
the world’s great mysteries (you know, along the lines of how the pyramids
were built or how to cure cancer). You can hear big, fat drums on great albums
but when you try to record your drums, they always end up sounding more
like cardboard boxes than drums. Fret not, for I have solutions for you.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
First things first: Tuning your drums
The most important part of getting killer drum sounds is to make sure that
your drums are tuned properly and that they have good heads on them
(okay, those are two important things). Seriously, if you spend time getting
the drums to sound good in your room, you’re halfway to the drum sound of
your dreams. I don’t go into detail here, but if you want specific drum-tuning
guidance, you can do an Internet search or check out my book Drums For
Dummies, 2nd Edition (Wiley).
You’re looking for a clear, open tone on your drums. Resist the temptation to
apply duct tape or other dampeners to the drumheads. Drums that are deadened and don’t ring clearly definitely sound like cardboard boxes when you
record them.
After you tune your drums as well as you can, the next step is to take care of
rattles that may be coming from the stands or mounting hardware. Tighten
any loose hardware and move any stands that may be touching one another.
You may need to make small adjustments to the pitches of your drums if
they’re causing hardware to rattle.
If you still have ringing or unwanted overtones, you can dampen them slightly.
Cotton gauze taped lightly on the edge of the head (away from the drummer)
is often enough. If you want a real dry sound on your snare drum, you can use
the wallet trick: Have the drummer place his wallet on the head — the drumhead, that is. (Use the drummer’s wallet because it probably doesn’t have any
money in it.)
When your drums have been tuned perfectly, you’re ready to start placing
microphones. You can choose from an unlimited number of miking configurations, only a few of which I can cover here (it would take a whole book to
cover them all).
Using the room to your benefit
The room influences the drums’ sound more than it influences that of other
instruments. If you’re looking for a big drum sound, you need a fairly live
room (one with lots of reflection).
I know, you’re thinking, “But I just have a bedroom for a studio, and it’s
carpeted.” No worries, you can work with that. Remember: You have a home
studio, so you potentially have your whole home to work with. Here are a
couple ideas to spark your imagination:
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
✓)>>Buy three or four 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood and lean them against
the walls of your room. Also, place one sheet on the floor just in front of
the kick drum. The plywood adds reflective surfaces to the room.
✓)>>Put the drums in your garage (or living room, or any other room with a
reverberating sound) and run long mic cords to your mixer. If you have
a SIAB or a laptop computer–based system, you can just throw it under
your arm and move everything into your garage or, better yet, take all
this stuff to a really great-sounding room and record.
✓)>>Set up your drums in a nice-sounding room and place an additional mic
just outside the door to catch an additional ambient sound. You can
then mix this with the other drum tracks to add a different quality of
reverberation to the drums.
What type of drum set?
If you want to buy a drum set for your home
studio, here are some guidelines that have
worked for me:
for jazz) on the top and either clear or
coated Ambassadors (I choose based on
aesthetics) on the bottom of the drum.
)>>✓)>> Smaller drums can sound bigger. At one
point, I had two top-notch Gretsch drum sets
in my studio. One was a rock kit that had a
24-inch kick; 13-, 14-, and 18-inch tom-toms;
and a 6½-inch-deep metal snare drum. The
other was a small jazz kit consisting of an
18-inch kick, 10- and 14-inch tom-toms, and
a 5-inch deep-wood snare. Guess what?
Even for the hardest rock music, the small
kit sounded much bigger. You can tune the
small drums down a bit and they just sing!
)>>✓)>> Use cymbals with a fast decay. Cymbals
that sound great on stage are different from
those that sound great in the studio. Stage
cymbals often have long decays and slow
attacks. This causes bleeding, especially
through the tom-tom mics, and correcting
the problem can be a headache. If you buy
cymbals for your studio, choose those that
have a very fast attack and a short decay.
)>>✓)>> Choose your heads wisely. Not all heads
are equal. Some sound great on stage,
while others are better suited to the
studio. Because the heads that come
with a kit are most likely not the ones
that sound the best on a recording,
invest some money in testing different
drumheads on your kit. I prefer either
Remo pinstripes (great for rock and
R&B) or coated Ambassadors (great
)>>✓)>> More expensive isn’t always better. For
recording, my favorite drum sets are used kits
from the late ’60s and early ’70s. My all-time
favorite recording set is a late-’60s Gretsch
jazz drum set with an 18-inch kick drum, a
10-inch mounted tom-tom, and a 14-inch floor
tom. For a snare, I love old 5-inch wooden
snare drums (for example, Gretsch, Ludwig,
or Slingerland). The last one of these sets that
I bought cost $350, including all the mounting hardware and the snare drum. It wasn’t
pretty, but it sure sounded great.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Picking up the kick (bass) drum
When recording a kick drum, most recording engineers choose a dynamic
mic. In fact, you can find some large-diaphragm dynamic mics specifically
designed to record kick drums.
No matter where you place the mic, you can reduce the amount of boominess
from the drum by placing a pillow or blanket inside it. Some people choose
to let the pillow or blanket touch the inside head. I prefer to keep it a couple
inches away from the inside head, but I find it can be beneficial to let it touch
the outside head.
That said, you can place your mic in several ways:
✓)>>Near the inside head (see Figure 9-7, left): If you take off the outside
head or cut a hole in it, you can put the mic inside the drum. Place the
mic 2 to 3 inches away from the inside head and a couple inches off
center. This is the standard way to mic a kick drum if you have the outside head off or if a hole is cut in it. This placement gives you a sharp
attack from the beater hitting the head.
✓)>>Halfway inside the drum: You can modify the preceding miking technique by moving the mic back so that it’s about halfway inside the drum.
In this case, place the mic right in the middle, pointing where the beater
strikes the drum. This placement gives you less of the attack of the
beater striking the head and more of the body of the drum’s sound.
✓)>>Near the outside head (see Figure 9-7, right): If you have both heads on
the drum, you can place the mic a few inches from the outside head. If
you want a more open, boomy sound (and you have the drum’s pitch set
fairly high), point the mic directly at the center of the head. If you want
less boom, offset the mic a little and point it about two-thirds of the way
toward the center.
Figure 9-7:
You can
place a mic
in several
places to
get a good
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
If your drum sounds thin after trying these mic placement approaches, you
can try these two things:
✓)>>Tune the drum slightly up. In your quest for a deep bass tone, you may
have tuned the drum too low. (This is especially common if you have a
large bass drum.) In this case, the drum’s fundamental tone may be too
low to be heard clearly. Raising the pitch a bit usually solves the problem.
✓)>>Create a tunnel with acoustic panels. Putting the mic in the tunnel often
helps if you have a room that’s too dead. Place two of the panels on their
sides (reflective surfaces facing in) with one end of each panel near the
outside of the drum. Angle the panels out so that, where they’re farthest
from the drum set, the distance between them is just under 4 feet. Then
lay the other two panels (reflective surface facing down) across the side
panels to create a tunnel. You can also place a piece of plywood on the
floor under these panels to further increase the resonance. Place the mic
halfway into the tunnel, facing the center of the drum.
Setting up the snare drum
The snare drum is probably the most important drum in popular music.
The bass guitar can cover the kick drum’s rhythm, and the rest of the drums
aren’t part of the main groove. A good, punchy snare drum can make a track,
whereas a weak, thin one can eliminate the drive that most popular music
Because the snare drum is located so close to the other drums, especially
the hi-hats, a cardioid-pattern mic is a must. The most common mic for a
snare drum is the trusty Shure SM57. The mic is generally placed between the
hi-hats and the small tom-tom about 1 or 2 inches from the snare drum head
(see Figure 9-8). Point the diaphragm directly at the head. You may need to
make minor adjustments to eliminate bleed from the hi-hats. This position
gives you a nice punchy sound.
If you want a crisper tone, you can add a second mic under the drum. Place
this mic about an inch or two from the head with the diaphragm pointing at
the snares. Make minor adjustments to minimize leakage from the hi-hats.
If you have the available tracks, record each snare mic to a separate track
and blend the two later during mixdown. If you don’t have the available
tracks, blend them until you have the sound you want.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Figure 9-8:
The proper
for the snare
drum mic.
Tackling the tom-toms
The tom-toms sound best when using a dynamic mic. For the mounted toms
(the ones above the kick drum), you can use one or two mics. If you use
one mic, place it between the two drums about 4 to 6 inches away from the
heads. (Figure 9-9 shows this placement option.) If you use two mics, place
one above each drum, 1 to 3 inches above the head.
If you want a boomy sound with less attack, you can place a mic inside the
shell with the bottom head off the drum.
Floor toms are miked the same way as the mounted tom-toms. Use the following
✓)>>Place a single mic a couple inches away from the head near the rim.
✓)>>If you have more than one floor tom, you can place one mic between
them or mic them individually.
If you want to apply compression to the tom-toms, start with the settings that
I list for the snare drum in the preceding section.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
Figure 9-9:
Miking the
with one
Handling the hi-hats
The hi-hats are generally part of the main groove, and as such, you want to
spend time getting a good sound. You may have problems with a few other
mics on the drum set picking up the hi-hats, particularly the snare drum mic
and overhead mics. Some people don’t bother miking the hi-hats for this
I like to mic hi-hats because, to me, these cymbals often sound too trashy
through the snare drum mic. If you mic hi-hats, make sure that the snare
drum mic is picking up as little of the hi-hats as possible by placing the
mic properly and/or using a noise gate (a dynamic processor used to filter
unwanted noise).
You can use either a dynamic mic or, better yet, a small-diaphragm condenser
mic for the hi-hats. The dynamic mic gives you a trashier sound, and the
small-diaphragm condenser mic produces a bright sound. You can work with
either by adjusting the EQ. I usually add just a little bit (4dB or so) of a shelf
EQ set at 10 kHz to add a little sheen to the hi-hats.
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Place the mic 3 to 4 inches above the hi-hats and point it downward. The
exact placement of the mic is less important than the placement of the other
instrument mics because of the hi-hats’ tone. Just make sure that your mic
isn’t so close that it hits the instrument.
Creating the best cymbal sound
You want to know one secret to the huge drum sound of Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham? Finesse. He understood that the drums sound louder and
bigger in a mix if the cymbals are quieter in comparison. (I’m guessing this is
true, because I never really talked to him about this.) So, he played his cymbals softly and hit the drums pretty hard. This allowed the engineer to raise
the levels of the drums without having the cymbals drown everything else
out. Absolutely brilliant.
Because having the drums bleed into the overhead mics is inevitable and the
overhead mics are responsible for providing much of the drums’ presence
in a mix, playing the cymbals softly allows you to get more of the drums in
these mics. This helps the drums sound bigger.
Ask (no, demand) that your drummer play the cymbals quieter. Also, use
smaller cymbals with a fast attack and a short decay. Doing these things
creates a better balance between the drums and cymbals and makes the
drums stand out more in comparison.
Small-diaphragm condenser mics capture the cymbals’ high frequencies well,
though many digital recordists like the way a ribbon mic mellows the cymbals. You can mic the cymbals by placing mics 12 to 18 inches above each
cymbal or by using overhead mics set 1 to 3 feet above the cymbals (see the
next section).
Miking the whole kit
Most of the time, you want to have at least one (but preferably two) ambient
mics on the drums, if for no other reason than to pick up the cymbals. Assuming
that you use two mics, they’re called overhead mics, and as the name implies,
they’re placed above the drum set. The most common types of mics to use for
overheads are large- and small-diaphragm condenser mics because they pick up
the high frequencies in the cymbals and give the drum set’s sound a nice sheen
(brightness). You may also want to try a pair of ribbon mics to pick up a nice,
sweet sound on the overheads.
Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments
To mic the drum set with overhead mics, you can use either the X-Y coincident technique or spaced stereo pairs. Place them 1 to 2 feet above the cymbals, just forward of the drummer’s head. Place X-Y mics in the center, and
set up spaced stereo pairs so that they follow the 3:1 rule (for example, the
mics should be set 3 to 6 feet apart if they’re 1 to 2 feet above the cymbals).
This counters any phase problems. Point the mic down toward the drums,
and you’re ready to record. Figure 9-10 shows both of these setups.
Figure 9-10:
capture the
cymbals and
the drums.
Getting Your Hands on Hand Drums
Hand drums can be anything from the familiar conga to unusual drums,
such as the North African tar. Because you may encounter many types of
hand drums, this section gives you general guidelines when recording any
hand drum.
Your selection in mics depends on the type of drum and its tonal characteristics. For example, conga drums occupy the middle of the frequency spectrum
and produce a loud sound that a large-diaphragm condenser mic can capture
well. Or, if you want a tighter, drier sound, you can use a dynamic mic. If you
choose the dynamic mic, the mic colors the sound of your recording.
If you want to record any of the smaller, higher-pitched hand drums, use
either a large- or small-diaphragm condenser mic and skip the dynamic mic
Part III: Getting Ready to Record
Mic placement also varies considerably among the various hand drums. Listen
to the sound of the drum, and find a place where you like what you hear. For
the most part, placing the mic 1 to 3 feet from the drum creates the fullest
sound. If you want a lot of attack, you can place the mic closer. You lose some
of the drum’s depth, however, when you place the mic closer than a foot.
Perfecting Percussion Miking
Miscellaneous percussion instruments, such as shakers and triangles, are
nice additions to many styles of music. These instruments sound best with a
good condenser mic. I choose a large- or small-diaphragm mic, depending on
the characteristics that I want to pick up. For instance, a shaker can sound
great with a large-diaphragm mic because this mic slightly brings out the
lower frequencies of the instrument and softens the overall sound a bit.
Exploring the impact of the room
Most of the time, the room doesn’t have a huge impact on percussion instruments because you mic them closely. If your room does get in the way, use
the acoustic panels in much the same way that I suggest for vocals earlier
in this chapter in the “Getting a Great Lead Vocal Sound” section (partially
surround the mic and musician with baffles).
Choosing and using the mics
Both large- and small-diaphragm mics work well for percussion. When recording percussion instruments, the main thing to remember is that they can have
a high SPL, so you may need to pad the mic, move it back, or turn it sideways
from the sound source.
I like to put a single mic 6 to 36 inches away from percussion instruments,
depending on the size of the instrument and how much room I want in the
sound. For example, because maracas are loud, I put the mic back a bit
(18 inches), whereas with an egg shaker, I find that 6 to 8 inches often sounds
best. But when I record an agogô bell or an Afuche, I like to have a little
room in the mix to give the instrument more depth. In this case, I mic from a
couple feet away.
Part IV
Laying Track: Starting
to Record
Find out how to organize your songs with track sheets in a free article at
In this part . . .
✓)>> Get started recording your music.
✓)>> Explore the role of multitrack recording in modern music
✓)>> Set up a song in your system.
✓)>> Record audio tracks, from the first track to overdubs, to punching in and out.
✓)>> Record MIDI sequences and understand this often-Â�
misunderstood technology.
Chapter 10
Multitrack Recording
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding multitrack recording
▶)>>Setting up a song to record
▶)>>Monitoring your mix
▶)>>Saving and sharing files
s recently as the 1960s, when someone wanted to record a song, he
had to assemble a band, rehearse, and then perform the song live. If
one of the musicians made a mistake, the whole band had to start over and
record the song again. Not so anymore. You’re lucky enough to record in an
age where you can not only write the song, but also record it yourself and
play all the instruments. If you like, you can make lush, layered music without
involving anyone else. In other words, you can multitrack.
In this chapter, I introduce you to the basics of multitrack recording, a process that enables you to assemble a song by recording one part at a time. You
discover how to set up a new song in a variety of systems, and you find out
how to set up the monitoring source and sound to help you inspire a great
performance. This chapter also walks you through the process of saving files
and transferring data between systems.
Understanding Multitracking
Multitrack recording is the process of recording each instrument (or group of
instruments) individually and keeping those performances separate until a
later date. Consider the CD or media player that you have at home or in your
car. All the instruments are contained on a pair of stereo tracks. You can adjust
the volume or equalization of these tracks, but you can’t adjust the sound
qualities of the individual instruments contained on these two tracks. The
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
multitrack recorder, on the other hand, allows you to keep all these instruments separate (see Figure 10-1). Multitrack recording lets you do the following
✓)>>Make adjustments to the sound of the instrument on each track
✓)>>Adjust the levels (volume) of the instruments in relation to one another
✓)>>Assemble a “performance” that never happened
Figure 10-1:
lets you
keep all the
unlike a CD
or iPod.
Getting Ready to Record
Before you can press the Record button on your system, you need to:
✓)>>Find and choose the instrument or sound that you want to record.
✓)>>Set the optimum volume level going to the recorder.
✓)>>Decide what you want to hear while recording your performance.
These steps are covered in detail in the following sections.
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording
Setting up a song
If you’re using a digital recording system, you need to open a new song file.
When you do this, you may be asked (or prompted) to choose the sampling
rate and resolution of this new song. (Some systems have you provide this
information when you choose a track to record to rather than when you open
a song file.)
You generally have the option to choose a sampling rate (the number of times
every second that the digital recorder or converter takes a snapshot of the
sound; check out Chapter 2 for details on sampling rates). Your options may
include 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, or 192 kHz. Some
digital recorders don’t allow you to make a CD if you record with anything
but a 44.1 kHz sampling rate. Check your owner’s manual if you intend to
eventually put your music on a CD.
Some systems may also let you choose the bit depth (the size, in binary
digits, of the sample that the converter or recorder takes) that you want to
record in. For this parameter, I usually choose the highest bit depth available
to capture the best sound possible. If you choose 20 or 24 bits, you need to
convert the final mix to 16-bit if you want to put your music on a CD or want
to deliver your music to a host of online download or streaming sites, but the
advantages you gain from recording at a higher bit depth far outweigh the
conversion factor. (Go to Chapter 2 for more on bit depth.)
Finally, name your file, and you’re ready to select a source signal to record.
Selecting a sound source
When you select a sound source, you simply set up your instrument or microphone so that it records to the track of your choice. Here’s how to select a
sound source:
1.)>> Turn the input trim knob and fader on the channel strip of your mixer
all the way down to avoid hearing an unpleasant noise or potentially
damaging your monitors.
2.)>> Plug your instrument or microphone into the appropriate input jack
of your system.
ç’•å±´ For a microphone, this may be a separate preamp or the internal preamp
in your mixer, studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system, or audio interface. For an
electric guitar or bass, use the Hi-Z input or a direct box, and for a keyboard
or other electronic instruments (such as a drum machine or sound
module), use any of the instrument inputs.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
3.)>> Choose the track that you want to record the signal to.
ç’•å±´ This procedure varies from system to system. Here’s how to route the
signal in the following systems:
SIAB systems: In many SIAB systems, you can route the signal from any
mixer input to any recorder track by pressing a button. For example, on
the Tascam DP-24, just press and hold the Input button for the input
channel your instrument or mic is connected to until it flashes. Continue
holding the input channel’s button and press the Select button for the
track channel that you want to route that instrument or mic through.
Release the Status button, and you’re all set.
Computer-based systems: You need to open the Input window to choose
your input source. This process is pretty simple and is similar for most
programs. Here’s how you do it in Pro Tools:
a.)>>Choose Display➪Edit Window Shows➪I/O View.
ç’•å±´The I/O section of the Edit window appears, showing the inputs
and outputs for each of your tracks.
b.)>>Click and hold your mouse button on the Input selector until the
Input menu pops up.
c.)>>While still holding down your mouse button, move the mouse
over the Input menu until it rests on the input listing you want.
d.)>>Release the mouse button to select the input listing.
ç’•å±´This menu closes, and the input you’ve selected appears in the
Input selector.
Stand-alone systems: If you have a stand-alone recorder with a separate
analog mixer, you need to connect a cord from the input channel that
your instrument is plugged into to the track that you want to record to
(use the direct line outputs from the input channel).
4.)>> Arm the track that you want to record to (that is, set it to the Record
ç’•å±´ This procedure also varies from system to system. Here’s how to arm
the track on the following systems:
SIAB systems: A Selector button glows various colors, depending on the
mode that the channel is in. Press the button on the track number that
you’re recording to until you see a red glow. This means that the track is
ready to record.
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording
ç’•å±´ If you’re using an SIAB system and want to record to a different track
number than the input channel you’re plugged into, make sure that you
arm the track that you want to record to and not the track associated
with the input channel. If you don’t do this, you either record your
music to the wrong track (and possibly erase something else) or you
don’t record anything, depending on the routing of your system.
Computer-based systems: Arm the track within the software by clicking the Record Enable button in the main window of your program. In
Pro Tools, for example, this button is located in both the Edit window
and the Mix window for each track.
Stand-alone systems: Press the Track Selector button located near the
Track Level meter on the front of the machine until the button blinks red.
Setting levels
Getting a sound signal to the recorder takes several steps. The path that the
sound takes from the instrument or microphone to the recorder is called the
signal chain (or the gain structure). For example, if you want to record your
voice, you first capture your voice with a microphone and then you feed that
signal to a preamp. From the preamp, you send the signal to the channel strip
of your mixer, which sends the signal to the analog/digital (A/D) converter
and then to the recorder. (Chapter 7 has more on signal flow.) The signal
chain may have all or just a couple of these steps, however. For example,
a synthesizer is connected to the mixer, which is in turn connected to the
You need to be aware of the signal level at all these steps to get the best
sound possible. Too much gain at one stage forces you to reduce the gain at
another. Likewise, too little gain at one point may require you to overdrive
(bump up the gain) during the next stage. Either of these scenarios reduces
the quality of your sound. See Chapter 7 for more on setting optimal signal
Getting the sound you want
After your levels are set, you can concentrate on fine-tuning the sound of the
instrument before you record it. Here you can either adjust the EQ or apply
effects to your sound.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
I reserve EQ for getting rid of any seriously unwanted frequencies that I’m
picking up in a mic. For example, I generally cut some low midrange frequencies on the bass guitar and kick drum because I know that these frequencies
will be a problem later. Otherwise, I pretty much leave the EQ alone when
Don’t get too wrapped up in perfecting the EQ of a recorded instrument at
this point. All you want is a good, clean sound that approximates what you
want in the final mix. You have another chance to make adjustments to the
sound of your recorded instrument in the mixing phase.
Check the levels going to the recorder after you’ve made adjustments to the
EQ, because the levels may change.
The question of whether to record effects — reverb, delay, chorus, and so
on — along with an instrument is a long-debated topic. Professional recording
engineers caution you against recording your instruments wet (with effects)
because this limits your options when you mix the song. On the other hand,
by recording an instrument with an effect, you can use that effect processor on
another instrument during the mixing process. Ultimately, you have to decide
whether adding an effect to an instrument on the front end (before recording)
is the way to go. (I describe effects in greater detail in Chapter 15.)
If you record using a computer-based system, adding an effect during tracking
may stress your computer’s processor to the point that it affects your recording. This can cause audio dropouts, pops, clicks, or other unwanted interruptions or corruptions to your audio data. If you have a slower computer or if you
record a lot of tracks at once, you may find that you can’t record with effects.
In this case, your headphone mix while you track has no effect added to the
sound, but you can still add effects during the mixing process (as described in
Chapter 14).
If you’re sure about the sound you want, you can add the effect on the front
end. If you’re not sure, you’re probably better off waiting until later. You can
always print (record) the effect during a bounce procedure, a neat trick where
you rerecord one or more tracks to another track. Bouncing is a common procedure if you don’t have enough tracks in your system to record each of your
instruments to its own track. I cover the bounce process in Chapter 11.
If you decide that you want to record your instrument with effects, you need
to route the instrument through the effect processor and route the effect to
the recorder. If you have an SIAB system, this is pretty easy. For example, to
do this in a Tascam DP-24, follow these steps (most SIAB systems are similar):
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording
1.)>> Select the Source button for your input channel that your instrument
is plugged into and route the channel to the track that you want to
record to.
ç’•å±´ If you have a computer-based system, you need to use the Input menu
on your screen to do this. On an SIAB system, your manual spells out the
specific routing procedure.
2.)>> Arm the recorder’s track (press the recorder’s Status button until the
button blinks red).
3.)>> Select the effect that you want to use and assign it to one of your
effects buses.
ç’•å±´ Go to the Effect 1 menu by pressing the cursor to move to the Insert
Effect function. Next, scroll through the Effects list using the jog wheel
and turn on Insert Effect (the indicator will light) for the effect that you
want to use. Press the Select button. Your chosen effect is now assigned
to Aux Bus 1.
4.)>> Choose prefader or postfader on your Aux Send and turn the knob
until you have the right amount of the instrument’s signal sent to the
ç’•å±´ You do this by going to the channel mixer settings menu on your screen.
5.)>> Start recording.
ç’•å±´ See Chapter 11 for the lowdown on recording.
On some systems, if you want to hear your recorded track, you may have to
“unroute” the effect from that track. Your owner’s manual spells this out for you.
Adding an effect in a computer-based system, such as Logic Pro, involves
these steps:
1.)>> Select one of the buses from the Send selector in each track’s channel
strip that you want to route to the effect.
ç’•å±´ You can view a track’s channel strip in the Environment window (choose
Windows➪Environment if the window isn’t open) or in the Arrange
window. To open a track’s channel strip in the Arrange window, click
the track name in the Arrange window to highlight it. The channel strip
appears on the left.
ç’•å±´ When you release your mouse button after selecting the bus, the bus is
listed, and a trim pot (knob) appears next to the bus number.
2.)>> Adjust the trim pot to a moderate level.
ç’•å±´ I usually start with about –15dB.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
3.)>> Double-click the bus number.
ç’•å±´ You’re taken to the Bus Channel strip in the Environment window, where
you can choose the effect to insert into the bus.
4.)>> Using the Insert selector pop-up menu in the Bus Channel strip, select
the Effects plug-in that you want to use from the Inserts pop-up menu.
ç’•å±´ The Effects Plug-In window opens. Here you set your parameters, such as
predelay, reverb time, and room type (for a reverb plug-in, for example).
5.)>> Play your track by clicking the Play button in the Transport window.
ç’•å±´ Your session plays, and you hear the effect of your plug-in on your track.
You can then tweak the plug-in parameters or the send level for your
track as your song plays to get the sound that you want.
To record an effect with an analog mixer and a stand-alone recorder, you have
to route things differently. You can do this one of two ways: by running cables
from the master output of your mixer to the track input of your recorder or
by creating a submix and connecting the recorder’s track input to the submix
output on your mixer. Your owner’s manual should clearly explain these
Choosing a monitoring source
To record effectively, you need to hear what you’re doing. This requires you
to set up your monitoring source so that you can hear what you want to hear.
You want to monitor the sound that’s going through the recorder. This way,
you can hear any distortion that may be present. Here’s how monitoring
works on the following systems:
✓)>>Computer-based systems: Set the output for your track(s) to the output
that you have your monitor speakers plugged into. If you use the main
outputs in your interface, these are usually assigned to outputs 1 and 2
in your system. (You can assign them however you want — check your
manual for the specifics on doing this.) Set your outputs to channels 1
and 2 and turn on your monitors.
✓)>>SIAB systems: Because SIAB systems have fader banks, make sure that
you designate the track channel to monitor rather than the input channel. After you’ve chosen the track channel that you want to listen to,
bring up the fader to a level that allows you to hear what’s going to disk.
✓)>>Stand-alone systems with an analog mixer: You need to have the
track output from the recorder connected to an input channel of your
mixer. Check out your owner’s manual or go to Chapter 4 to find out
how to do this.
Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording
Saving Your Work
After you record a track that you want to keep, you can save the song. Standalone recorders automatically save a track after you record it (much like a
tape recorder). If you use an SIAB system or a computer-based system, however, you need to save the file just like you save a file when you’re working
in a computer program. And like other files in other computer programs, it’s
a good idea to save your work often so that you don’t lose any of the music
that you worked so hard to record. Check your owner’s manual for your system’s procedures.
In addition to basic file-saving commands, most digital systems (computerbased and SIAB) allow you to save individual “scenes” or “snapshots” within
each song that contain things such as mixer and effects settings.
Sharing Files with Others
Because your music is stored on a hard drive, you can transfer the data to
other systems. The advantages of file sharing are far-reaching. You can collaborate with other people without ever being in the same room together. In
fact, I’m working on several projects where I’ve never sat down with the other
musicians. One such musician is even across the country from me. We just
create CDs with our parts on them and send the CDs back and forth.
The disadvantage of file sharing is that there isn’t yet a single standard for
saving data. Some recorders use proprietary file formats that only a system
from the same manufacturer can open.
If you’re concerned about being able to transfer data from one system to
another, look for a system that can import and export WAV or AIFF files.
Nearly all computer-based programs and stand-alone systems are compatible
with these file types. SIAB systems may or may not have this capability.
All is not lost if you have a system that has a proprietary file format. All digital
recorders have jacks in them that enable you to transfer the data from one
system to another. This means that you can send your file from your system
to a computer and then use software to convert the file into a format that
another person’s recorder can read. (The software that you choose varies
depending on the systems that you want to transfer the files to and from.) If
you’re doing a lot of transferring, this can be time consuming, but for the occasional transfer, it’s no big deal.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
If you work with a system that can save files in the WAV or AIFF format, you
don’t have this problem, and you can easily transfer your stuff from one
machine to another. Also, if you’re transferring songs from one system to
another system of the same type (a Zoom R24 to another Zoom R24, for
instance), you don’t have to worry about file conversion either.
Chapter 11
Recording Audio
In This Chapter
▶)>>Recording your first track
▶)>>Punching in and out
▶)>>Exploring overdubbing
▶)>>Recording a submix
▶)>>Using a bounce to consolidate tracks
▶)>>Keeping your tracks organized
↜kay, you’ve plugged in your instrument, set up your routing the way
you want it, gotten the levels just so, and chosen what you want to
hear while you play. Congratulations, you’re ready to record. Now the fun
begins. . . .
In this chapter, I walk you through the process of recording tracks for your
song. You start with your first take, move on to overdubbing by adding more
tracks, and punch in and out to redo some parts. You also explore the process of submixing to record multiple instruments into just a couple of tracks.
Performing Your First Take
Your palms are sweaty, your pulse rate is up, and your hands are shaking as
you get ready to press the Record button. I know the feeling; I’ve been recording for over 25 years and I still get a little tense when the tape, er, disk starts
to roll. There’s something about knowing that what you’re about to play is for
keeps (or at least could be).
Relax. Take a deep breath and remember that you’re both the artist and the
producer. You can take as many “takes” as it takes you to get a good “take.”
(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. A take, by the way, is an attempt at a performance.) Anyway, it’s normal to get a little nervous when you know the recorder
is capturing every sound that you make.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
To do your first take, follow these steps:
1.)>> Cue the beginning of the song.
ç’•å±´ Press and hold the Stop button while pressing Rewind on a Zoom R24 or
click the Stop button twice in Logic or Cubase, for example.
2.)>> Arm your track by pressing the Record Enable button or, in the case of a
Zoom studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system, the Status button until it blinks red.
3.)>> Arm the recorder by pressing the Record button until it flashes red,
and then press the Play button (or the Record button again in the case
of the Zoom).
ç’•å±´ Presto, you’re recording.
4.)>> When you’re done, press the Stop button and then press 0 or the Stop
button again to rewind.
ç’•å±´ To listen to your recorded track, you need to disarm the track that you
recorded to and set it to play.
5.)>> Press the Track Status button until it turns green (or deselect the
track — just click the track bar).
ç’•å±´ Now you’re in playback mode.
6.)>> Adjust your channel fader on the track channel that you recorded to
and press the Play button.
Well, how does it sound? Good? Then you’re ready to record a different track.
If you don’t like the sound, you can record the part over again by rewinding,
rearming the track (by pressing the Status button until you get the red blinking light again), and pressing the Record button followed by the Play button.
If you’re like I am and you make lots of mistakes, you’ll figure out how to do
this procedure at lightning speed.
Depending on your system and the recording settings you’ve selected, you
may be able to keep each take and decide later which one to use for your final
song. This may be in the form of virtual tracks (as in the case of the Roland
SIABs) or regions list (in the case of Pro Tools). I recommend checking your
manual for the specifics on how to do this in your system.
Punching In and Out
Punching in and out refers to being able to overdub a section of a performance
(that guitar lick you keep missing, for example) while keeping the part of the
performance that you like. Punching in and out can be pretty simple: Play
the track and press the Record button when you want to start. Then press the
Stop button when you’re done. At least that’s how it used to be done.
Chapter 11: Recording Audio
With a digital recorder, you can set up the system to punch in and out a
number of ways. You can punch in and out manually either by using a nimble
finger to punch buttons or by using a foot switch. You can also program the
recorder to punch in and out automatically. If you go the automatic route,
you usually set up your system to punch in and out once, but in some cases,
you may want to rerecord over the same part of the song a certain number of
times — a process known as loop recording.
Manual punching
Manual punching in and out is exactly what it sounds like: You manually press
the Record button when it’s time to start the punch, and you manually press
the Stop button when you’re done. This is the type of punch you do if you have
enough time between when you press the Record button and when you need
to start playing, as well as when you stop playing the part and when you can
get to the Stop button. You may also do manual punching if you’re acting as the
engineer and someone else plays the instrument.
Punching with a foot switch
On most recorders, you can use a foot switch to punch in and out. This frees
your hands so that you can play your instrument while you do the actual
punching in and out.
Automatic punching
Automatic punching in and out is one of the many gifts from the digital
recording gods. This process allows you to fully concentrate on getting your
part right without having to worry about getting the punch right. With automatic punching, you can replace very small passages or get into really tight
places with your punch.
For example, suppose you have one bad snare drum hit (I’ve been there
many times) that you want to replace. With automatic punch in/out, you can
set it to start recording right before that bad note and stop immediately after
it, leaving the rest of the notes untouched.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Even though each recorder is a little different in its autopunch procedure, all
recorders follow these basic steps:
1.)>> Select the track you want to punch in and out of.
2.)>> Arm the track by pressing the Select button until you get the red
blinking light.
3.)>> Locate the punch-in point on your recorder.
ç’•å±´ You do this either by playing the song until you get to the point that you
want to punch in or by keying in the numbers for that section of the song.
4.)>> Press the In Point (punch in) button on your recorder.
5.)>> Locate the punch-out point on your recorder.
ç’•å±´ You do this either by playing the song until you get to the point that you
want to punch out or by keying in the numbers for that section of the
6.)>> Press the Out Point (punch out) button on your recorder.
7.)>> Press the Auto-Punch button on your recorder.
8.)>> Rewind the recorder to just before the punch-in point.
9.)>> Press the Record button followed by the Play button.
ç’•å±´ Some recorders don’t require you to press the Record button first.
10.)>> Play your part.
When you’re done, your newly recorded part is neatly placed in the song.
Repeated punching (looping)
If you have a tricky part to record and you know it’ll take you a few tries
to get it right, you can use the repeated punching (also called loop recording) function. During the repeated punching procedure, the recorder keeps
repeating the section within the loop until you press the Stop key, so you can
try recording your part as many times as you want without having to set up
the punch in and out procedure again.
This procedure uses the same basic steps as the automatic punch in/out procedure, except that you also need to choose the section of the song that the
recorder plays before and after the actual punch times (called the loop start
and loop end points). For some systems, you can do this the following way:
Chapter 11: Recording Audio
1.)>> Locate the place where you want to start the loop on your recorder.
2.)>> Press the Locator button.
ç’•å±´ This stores the location point you chose in Step 1.
3.)>> Locate the place where you want the loop to end.
4.)>> Press another Locator button to store this value.
5.)>> Press and hold the Loop button.
6.)>> While still holding the Loop button, press the Locator button that you
used to store the loop start point (Step 2).
7.)>> While still holding the Loop button, press the Locator button that you
used to store the loop end point (Step 4).
8.)>> Follow the steps for the automatic punch in/out that I list in the preceding section.
Exploring Overdubbing
After you record one usable track, you can move to the next step: overdubbing. Overdubbing is simply adding another track to an already-recorded
one. Overdubbing is the heart of the multitrack recording process for most
home recordists and is a technique that you’ll undoubtedly use and occasionally abuse.
The overdubbing process is pretty straightforward. You simply follow the
procedures for recording a take while making sure that you’re monitoring the
recorded tracks you’ve already made.
When you record an overdub, hearing certain parts that you recorded earlier
may throw you off. If this becomes a problem, you can turn down certain parts
in a mix and only listen to those parts that help you perform the overdub. For
example, if you’re overdubbing the lead vocal and a dobro part breaks your
concentration on your lines or on hitting a note correctly, just slide the fader
for the dobro’s channel down a little (or a lot).
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Multitrack abuse
You have a recording system with 16 or more
audio tracks, a couple dozen MIDI tracks, and
countless virtual tracks (additional tracks in a
digital system that are hidden behind the main
tracks for recording variations of a part). What
do you do? Well, you do what anyone else in
your shoes would do — you try to fill all your
available tracks with instruments. After all,
that’s how you get really lush recordings, right?
Yeah, sometimes, but this could also be a recipe
for a bunch of mud. In fact, you can end up with
a super-lush recording by using just a handful
of tracks. Lushness is a product of the song’s
arrangement (how all the parts fit together)
rather than just the number of tracks.
One of the most difficult things about multitrack
recording is knowing how to use your tracks
most effectively and having the discipline to quit
when the song is done, regardless of whether
you’ve used all your tracks. So, remember that
just because you have the tracks available to
you, doesn’t mean you need to use them all.
At times, you may want to record a bunch of instruments, such as the drums
of a drum set, to one or two tracks. In this case, you need to create a submix
of the inputs before you commit them to disk.
Submixing is essential if you have a recorder with fewer tracks than you have
instruments. The advantage of creating submixes is that you can get by with
fewer tracks. The disadvantage is that you can’t make many changes to the
sound or volume of the individual instruments after you record them.
Recording by using submixes presents challenges that overdubbing doesn’t.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
✓)>>Make sure that each instrument sounds the way that you want it to
sound on the final mix. You can still make minor adjustments to EQ and
effects, but only to the entire submix group.
✓)>>Before you record, make sure that each instrument’s volume is where
you want it to be relative to the volume of the other instruments.
✓)>>Decide where in the stereo field you want each instrument. This is called
panning, and it determines how far left or right each instrument can be
heard. Panning is discussed in more detail in Chapter 14.
This can take time to set up, but if you’re limited on available tracks, you can
record a lot of instruments on few tracks.
Chapter 11: Recording Audio
If you’re not sure exactly how you want the final submix to sound, you can
record more than one version onto separate tracks and use a bounce procedure (see the following section) after you’ve recorded. This gives you more
time to experiment with alternative versions of your submix.
Bouncing is like submixing, but you do bouncing after you record the tracks.
For instance, you can record all your drum mics onto separate tracks initially
and then, later on, bounce (or combine) all those tracks onto one or two
tracks. In most cases, you want to bounce to two tracks rather than one so
that you can maintain panning information in your final mix.
Bouncing has advantages over submixing. You can take your time getting
each instrument to sound good before you group them together. On the
downside, you may not have this option if you’re recording live and can
only put the drums on two tracks initially. In this case, you need to create
a submix.
If you have the space to record the instruments to separate tracks initially,
here’s how you bounce the tracks down to two:
1.)>> Decide which tracks you want to bounce, and route these tracks to the
tracks that you want to bounce to.
2.)>> Adjust the EQ of each instrument to get the sound you want.
3.)>> Adjust the panning of each instrument — use the panning knob
located above your mixer’s channel fader — so that the instrument is
where you want it in the stereo field.
ç’•å±´ Remember that you need to bounce to two tracks in order for panning
to work.
4.)>> Set the levels of each instrument relative to one another.
5.)>> Add any effects that you want to record with the instruments.
6.)>> Press the Record button.
You can use virtual tracks (see the next section) to record several different
versions of your bounce. This gives you options later when you’re mixing. For
example, set the track levels differently for each bounce — raise the snare
drum in one, change the EQ of the hi-hats in another, and so on.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Keeping Track of Your Tracks
One of the great things about digital recording systems is the number of
tracks that are often available. Computer-based systems, for example, often
have unlimited numbers of tracks (or obscenely high numbers), and many
SIAB systems offer virtual tracks. Virtual tracks are additional tracks that are
hidden behind the basic tracks of the system. They allow you to record various takes of a performance on separate tracks, but only one virtual track can
be played at a time. Virtual tracks are great when you’re not sure whether
you like a particular take but it’s not bad enough to record over.
Having all these tracks is great, but keeping (ahem) track of them all can be
daunting. Even though many computer-based recording programs offer places
to include notes in your session, I find it helpful to have track sheets to document all my tracks and settings. Track sheets are forms where you enter basic
information for each of your recorded tracks, such as what instrument, take,
and performance section are included. This gives you a visual representation
of your song’s components and makes it easier to choose which performances
to include in your final mix. (For more information on track sheets, go to
Here are some Internet resources to get you started:
✓)>>Ultimate Track Sheet (www.ultimatetracksheet.com): This page offers
track sheets for 8- to 48-track sessions for $1.
✓)>>VS-Planet “User Track Sheet” Collection (http://www.vsplanet.com/
Pages/UsersArea/Downloads): This page is part of The VS-Planet, which
is a site dedicated to Roland VS-series recorders. Scroll down the page
until you get to the VS-Planet User Track Sheet Collection. You can also
find studio-organizing forms on this page (located just below the track
sheet downloads).
Chapter 12
Recording and Editing MIDI Data
In This Chapter
▶)>>Synchronizing MIDI devices
▶)>>Recording your performance
▶)>>Editing MIDI data
▶)>>Saving your work
▶)>>Transferring MIDI data between systems
ecording and editing MIDI tracks are similar to the process you undertake
with audio. The main difference is that MIDI tracks contain performance
data instead of sound. This offers the advantage of being able to choose what
sound or instrument “plays” your data after you’ve finished recording. Of
course, this also provides the temptation not to make a decision on your sound.
In this chapter, I get you started recording MIDI by walking you through the
process of synchronizing a variety of MIDI devices. Then I give you the lowdown on recording your tracks, adding to them with overdubs, and editing it
all in some of the many ways that most sequencers allow you to. To top it off,
I offer a little advice about saving and transferring MIDI data.
Synchronizing Your Devices
To create any kind of music with MIDI, you need to synchronize your devices
to one another. The first thing you have to do is decide which device is
going to send the MIDI commands (called the master) and which devices
are going to receive them (called the slaves). The process for synchronizing
MIDI devices varies slightly from configuration to configuration. You can get
a glimpse into a few possibilities in the following sections.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Synchronizing two (or more) synthesizers
In this first scenario, you synchronize a synthesizer and a sound module (or
another synthesizer). In this case, your keyboard is the master because this is
the instrument that you actually play. Start by attaching the MIDI cable to the
out port of the keyboard and to the in port of the sound module. Figure 12-1
shows the setup for two synthesizers. If you have more than two devices, you
can run a cable from the thru port of the second device to the in port of the
next one, and so on. You can connect up to 16 devices this way.
Figure 12-1:
nizing two
the MIDI
cables as
The next steps involve configuring each device in the chain so that each
device recognizes its place and responds only to those messages that you
assign to it. Keep in mind that all devices operate differently, so I can’t walk
you through the exact steps for your instruments. Be sure to read your owner’s manual for your device’s specific procedures. The following steps give
you a general idea of the process involved in synchronizing two synthesizers:
1.)>> Go into your master keyboard’s system parameters and choose
ç’•å±´ This is generally a dialog box located within the software of your device.
2.)>> Choose Slave for each of your other devices.
ç’•å±´ You usually do this by going into the MIDI synchronization menu in your
3.)>> Make sure that each device in your chain is set to mode 3 or 4,
depending on whether you want polyphony.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
4.)>> Assign a MIDI channel for each device that’s down line (connected to
the out port) from the master.
ç’•å±´ You can find channel assignments within your device’s system parameters. For example, in a ddrum4 sound module, you press the System
button until the light next to the word MIDI illuminates. You then use the
dial to choose the MIDI channel that you want to use.
ç’•å±´ You can choose from 16 channels (1–16), but if you have a drum machine,
set it to channel 10 because this is the default drum channel for General
MIDI (GM) devices.
5.)>> Play the master keyboard.
ç’•å±´ This makes your other MIDI devices play the appropriate sounds. If you
don’t hear anything, make sure that you have the appropriate MIDI channel selected.
Synchronizing a computer sequencer
and a synthesizer
If you’re using a computer or sequencer and you want to synchronize it to a
sound module or synthesizer, you need to go through some additional steps.
These are as follows:
1.)>> Connect your synthesizer to the MIDI interface, and connect the MIDI
interface to your computer.
ç’•å±´ Run the appropriate cable from the MIDI interface to the appropriate
jack of your computer. For example, this can be a USB cable if you have
a USB computer and USB MIDI interface.
2.)>> Connect the MIDI interface to your synthesizer.
ç’•å±´ You do this by connecting a cable from the MIDI out port of your synthesizer to the MIDI in port of the interface. Then connect another cable
from the MIDI out port of the interface to the MIDI in port of the synthesizer. This allows the MIDI communication to go both ways, as shown in
Figure 12-2.
3.)>> If you’re using a synthesizer to play your MIDI sequences from your
computer, you need to set your synthesizer to local off mode. Then
enable the thru function in your sequencer program so that the MIDI
information that you send from the keyboard to the sequencer is sent
back to the keyboard.
ç’•å±´ Local off mode disables the keys from the sounds and makes the
sequencing process go much smoother. Enabling the thru function in
your sequencer program enables you to hear what you’re playing while
you record your part.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Figure 12-2:
A computer
and synthesizer
are synchronized
using these
ç’•å±´ If you don’t set your synthesizer on local off, you create a feedback loop.
In a feedback loop, both your synthesizer’s keys and the sequencer are
sending the same messages to the sound generator in your synthesizer
and causing it to play each note twice. The best that can happen is that
you trigger each note twice and use up your polyphony faster. The worst
that can happen is echoed or stuck notes and possibly jammed messages, which may cause your system to lock.
4.)>> After you connect all the cables, be sure to choose the MIDI channel
that you want the track recorded to and set both the sequencer and
the instrument to that channel.
ç’•å±´ You can find the MIDI channel selector within your device’s software.
Sometimes, the MIDI channel selector may be a key command, such
as repeatedly pressing the System button in a ddrum4 sound module.
Other times, the MIDI channel selector is a pull-down menu that
you access from the top of your computer screen. In Cubase, the
channel selector for the sequencer is located just to the right of the
track name.
After you have your channel setup and local off business out of the way, you
can play your synthesizer, see it register in the sequencer, and hear it play. If
you don’t hear anything, check all your settings.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
Synchronizing a sequencer
and an audio recorder
If your system does the sequencing inside the computer and your audio
tracks are recorded on either a stand-alone recorder or a studio-in-a-box
(SIAB) system, like the Tascam 2488, you need to synchronize them. In this
case, your devices use timing data instead of communicating/responding
with the help of performance data.
Both your sequencer and your recorder need to recognize the same timing
data, which you ensure by determining which device is the master and which
one is the slave.
The process that I describe in this section also works if you’re connecting a
synthesizer to a drum machine. Select the sequencer as the master device and
the drum machine as the slave.
You can choose either device to be the master. In this example, I outline setting up your system with the SIAB system as the master and the sequencer as
the slave, as shown in Figure 12-3. You may be able to set up your system the
other way around (particularly if you have a stand-alone recorder connected
to a sequencer), but I chose this way because doing so allows you to use the
faders and transport functions (play, record, stop, and so on) in your SIAB
system. With some systems, you may be able to use your sequencer’s transport and automation functions with this setup as well, which I discuss in the
section “Sequencing,” later in this chapter.
Figure 12-3:
A system
with a
and audio
recorder is
set up this
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
After you’ve chosen which device is the master and which is the slave, you
can start synchronizing your systems. These steps help you get going:
1.)>> Choose Internal Synch in your master device’s Synchronization
dialog box.
ç’•å±´ Each device has a different procedure for this, so read your device’s
manual to find out how to choose the synchronization mode. In
a Tascam 2488, press SYNC/MIDI. A dialog box appears. Choose
Source➪Internal. Click the YES/ENTER button to accept this setting and
return to the main menu.
2.)>> Choose External Synch in your slave device.
ç’•å±´ This can be a dialog box within the MIDI synchronization menu. For
example, in Cubase, choose Options➪Synchronization from the main
menu on the top of your screen. The external or internal synch choice is
in the upper-left corner of the dialog box.
3.)>> Choose either MIDI Time Code (MTC) or MIDI Clock for the timing
ç’•å±´ In Cubase, for example, this option appears directly below the external
or internal synch option.
ç’•å±´ You ultimately want to choose the timing method that you prefer and the
one that works best for your gear. You can find out about these timing
methods in the nearby sidebar “MIDI Time Code, MIDI Clock, huh?”
4.)>> If you chose the MTC mode, you need to choose a frame rate to go
with it.
ç’•å±´ For this example, set your frame rate at 24 frames per second (fps). You
should be synchronized at this point.
5.)>> If you chose MIDI Clock in Step 3, you need to choose between tempo
map and synch track.
ç’•å±´ For more on these options, see the nearby sidebar “MIDI Time Code,
MIDI Clock, huh?”
6.)>> Press the Play key in your master device to see whether your slave
device responds.
ç’•å±´ If it does, you’re set to go; if it doesn’t play, double-check your settings.
Your timing settings probably aren’t exactly the same.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
MIDI Time Code, MIDI Clock, huh?
When you try to synchronize two devices using
MIDI timing messages, you’re met with several
choices. One is between MIDI Time Code (MTC)
and MIDI Clock. The other is frame rates and
tempo map or synch track. This can be confusing, so this sidebar contains a brief overview of
these options.
MIDI Time Code uses absolute time in its
messages (the actual time on the clock from
the beginning of the song or reference point
in hours, minutes, seconds, frames, and subframes). This data can then be translated into
SMPTE messages (the kind of synchronization
data used in film and television). If you choose
MTC, you also have to decide the frame rate for
the time code. Several frame rates are available, and each is associated with certain mediums. They are as follows:
)>>✓)>> 24 fps: This rate is mainly used for films.
)>>✓)>> 25 fps: This rate is for audio, video, and
film equipment used in Europe and
other places that use the SECAM or PAL
)>>✓)>> 29.97 fps: This rate is for color televisions
used in the United States, Japan, and other
places that use the NTSC format.
)>>✓)>> 30 fps: This rate is used for black-and-white
televisions or for working with audio only
in the United States (Europe’s black-andwhite TVs use the 25-fps rate).
If this isn’t confusing enough, both the 29.97and 30-fps rates also have either drop frame or
nondrop frame formats. This gets pretty technical, but drop frame formats basically drop
two frames every minute, except for the tenth
minute, so that the timing data matches the
clock exactly. These are generally used for live
video feeds.
MIDI Clock is different from MTC in that it tracks
the time of a song in beats and measures rather
than in minutes and seconds. MIDI Clock messages are generally sent every 1/24 of a beat,
but you can set most sequencer programs to
much higher resolutions than that. Cubase VST
version 5 can be set as high as, get this, 1,920
pulses per quarter note (PPQ).
When you choose MIDI Clock, you need to
choose between using tempo map or synch
track, as follows:
)>>✓)>> Tempo map: This is basically a layout of the
tempos and time signatures used in a song.
To use a tempo map to synchronize your
SIAB system and sequencer, you need to
create the map itself. Every system is a
little different in this procedure, so I don’t
go into detail here.
)>>✓)>> Synch track: A synch track is a track (at
least was a track on analog recorders) that
follows along with the tempo and measures
of a song. To use a synch track, you need
to first record one. If you have a digital
recorder, you most likely don’t need to take
up an actual track to do this.
So, which do you choose? Unfortunately, that
question doesn’t have a clear answer. The
equipment that you have dictates part of your
answer. (For instance, the Roland VS-1680 SIAB
system can send MIDI Clock and MTC messages, but it doesn’t always effectively respond
to those messages.) The goals you have for
your music dictate the other part. If you’re composing music for film or TV, your choice is clear
(24 fps and 29.97 fps, respectively).
If your equipment and musical goals don’t limit
your choice, choose what you like. Just make
sure that both machines have the same settings.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Using the transport function from one
device to control another
Another aspect of synchronization can enable you to use the transport function (play, stop, record, and so on) from each device to control the other. This
is the MIDI Machine Control (MMC) function. The MMC function is located
within the Synchronization menu of your device’s software. (You can find this
in the same place as the MTC synch in most systems.) MMC allows you to
send machine control messages from the slave device to the master device.
For example, in the setup shown in Figure 12-3, you can set the sequencer to
send MMC messages and the SIAB system to receive them. Your sequencer
must be set as follows:
✓)>>MTC slave–External synch
✓)>>24 fps
✓)>>MMC master
Your SIAB system in turn must be set as follows:
✓)>>MTC master–Internal synch
✓)>>24 fps
✓)>>MMC slave
These settings enable you to use either device’s transport functions to control the other. The MTC master sends the timing data, but each device sends
control messages to the other. Check your system’s manuals to see whether
you can do this with your gear.
Sequencing is the heart of most home recordists’ MIDI studios because
sequencing allows you to actually record your instrument’s part and play it
back. If you’re like most people, the sequencing part of MIDI is what excites
you the most. With sequencing, you can play as many instruments as your
room can handle (or more, if you have long cords).
Sequencing is not unlike audio recording: You have the same transport
functions (start, stop, record, rewind, and so on), and you have the ability
to record each instrument on a separate track. This is where the similarities between audio tracks and MIDI tracks end, however. As I’ve mentioned
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
before, MIDI sequencing deals with performance commands and not audio
waveforms. This opens a few doors that can come in mighty handy in the following situations:
✓)>>If you aren’t the greatest player in the world
✓)>>If you’re not sure what key you want the song to be in
✓)>>If you don’t know (or haven’t decided) what sounds you want to use
With MIDI sequencing, you can make a whole host of changes to your performance after you’ve recorded it. You can change the placement or volume
of individual notes, you can change the song’s key, and you can change the
instrumentation (for example, you can have a brass ensemble play a part that
you originally wrote for the strings). Another great thing about MIDI sequencing is that you can capture a performance that you don’t have the skills to
pull off live.
Recording MIDI data
You can record a MIDI track in one of the following ways:
✓)>>Real-time recording: Play the part as you would for a regular audio
✓)>>Step-time sequencing: Manually input the music one note at a time.
Step-time sequencing is a great tool if you don’t have the skills to perform that part in real time.
The MIDI tracks in most sequencer software programs look virtually the same
as the audio tracks except for a small icon. Logic, for instance, has an M icon,
and in Cubase, you find a small musical note. Each icon is located to the left
of the track name. You generally engage the track that you want to record to
by clicking it once.
Preparing to record
Before you start to record a MIDI track, you need to make the following
adjustments to your setup:
✓)>>Make sure that your MIDI gear is synchronized. For details on how to
do this, check out the section “Synchronizing Your Devices,” earlier in
this chapter.
✓)>>Set your levels and the patch (sound) that you want to hear. Setting
levels simply means setting the volume that you hear through your monitors at a comfortable level.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
ç’•å±´To choose the sound that you want to hear, you can select the sound in
your synthesizer, in which case the sequencer recognizes this setting, or
choose the sound within the sequencer program. This process is done
differently for each type of sequencer, but most of them have a track
menu located to the left of the screen that applies to the track you have
✓)>>Set your metronome to the tempo that you want to record to. You do
this by opening the Metronome Settings menu (which is often located on
the Options menu). Choose the tempo and time signature for your song,
and you’re set to go.
ç’•å±´Within the Metronome Settings menu, you can also choose the MIDI note
that the metronome sounds on, whether you have a count in before the
song actually starts (called a pre-roll), and more.
You don’t need to set the tempo for a song ahead of time. You can always
adjust this later. In fact, you can set the tempo slower than the final version
so that you can play the part slower and get the notes right. This can be especially beneficial if the part is difficult or if you’re not the greatest player in the
world. Just be sure to set the tempo to its final speed before you start recording audio tracks, because you can’t change the tempo of the audio tracks later
like you can with MIDI tracks.
Real-time recording
If you’re recording in real time, just press the Record button and start playing.
You can find the Record button on the Transport Bar if you use a computerbased software program (this can be found on the Windows menu in Logic,
for example). On a Roland VS-1680, the Record button is the red button on the
lower left of the device. (Don’t forget to wait until the pre-roll is finished if you
have that function engaged.)
If your recorded performance is the way you want it, you can move on to
another instrument’s part. Just set up a new track to record the sound that
you want on the MIDI channel you prefer. If you don’t like your performance,
you have the following options:
✓)>>Rerecord your part from the beginning.
✓)>>Rerecord only those sections that don’t sound right. Rerecording parts
of a performance is generally referred to as punching in and out. This
involves setting your recorder to just record a section of your performance, as I describe in Chapter 11.
✓)>>Edit the performance. I discuss the details of editing in the section
“Editing your data,” later in this chapter.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
Step-time sequencing
Step-time sequencing involves entering your part one note at a time. This can
take a long time to do, especially if it’s a part with lots of notes. But step-time
sequencing may be your only option if you don’t have the skills to play the
part live.
Most sequencer programs include a step-time sequencing mode. Select this
mode and then click the Record button. You enter your part by selecting the
note value (eighth note or sixteenth note, for example) for the first note or
chord. Then when you play the note on your keyboard, it’s entered into the
sequencer. Choose your next note, press the key(s) you want to record, and
so on.
Some sequencers enable you to enter notes in a score window. If you can read
music, this can be much easier and faster than the traditional step-time mode.
Just choose the note’s duration from the menu bar and click the place where
you want that note to be. After you get the hang of this method, step timing
can be pretty quick. Check your sequencer program’s manual for details.
After you record some MIDI performances, you can easily add to or change
them. The time-honored name for this kind of recording is overdubbing.
Overdubbing MIDI performance data is similar to overdubbing your audio
data. Most programs allow you to overdub in several ways: manually punching in and out, punching automatically, and loop punching. In addition,
because MIDI is strictly performance information with no actual sound, most
recording programs allow you to either replace or merge existing MIDI data
when you overdub.
Using MIDI Merge/Replace
When you overdub to a MIDI track, many MIDI recording programs offer
you the option to either replace existing material or add new data to it. For
example, in Pro Tools, you make this selection by clicking the MIDI Merge/
Replace button. This button is located in the Transport window, as shown in
Figure 12-4. Here’s how it works:
✓)>>When the Merge/Replace button is engaged (MIDI Merge mode), new
material is merged with existing MIDI data on the record-enabled track(s).
✓)>>When the Merge/Replace button is disengaged (MIDI Replace mode), new
MIDI data replaces existing information on the record-enabled track(s).
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Figure 12-4:
Add new
data in a
To engage MIDI Merge in Pro Tools, follow these steps:
1.)>> Open the MIDI controls section of the Transport window by choosing
Display➪Transport Window Shows➪MIDI Controls.
ç’•å±´ The Transport window expands to include the MIDI controls section.
2.)>> Click the MIDI Merge button.
ç’•å±´ The button becomes highlighted.
Most MIDI sequencers have a similar function, but by default, any overdubs
you do are placed in a new sequence — leaving the original intact.
Punching in and out
If you like some of your initial take and want to record over only part of it,
you can set points at which to start and stop recording within the session.
This is called punching in and out.
As is the case with audio tracks, most programs allow you to punch into MIDI
tracks in several ways. These include punching in and out manually, automatically, and repeatedly (looping). With the exception of being able to choose to
merge your punched data with your original performance or being able to
replace it, punching into and out of MIDI tracks is the same as punching into
and out of audio tracks. I detail the exact procedures for performing these
punches in Chapter 11.
Editing your data
The editing capabilities for MIDI tracks are quite extensive. Not only can you
perform the typical cut, copy, and paste functions, but you can also quantize
(adjust the timing of a note) and transpose (adjust the pitch of a note), which
I cover in the sections that follow. Heck, you can even fix a single bad note if
you want to.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
In most newer sequencer programs, you have the following three ways of
performing edits:
✓)>>Piano-roll graphic window: This is the most common way to edit MIDI
performances. Look at Figure 12-5. In this window, the horizontal bars in
the center are the MIDI notes recorded on the track. Each of these notes
can be lengthened, shortened, and moved. The top of this window contains navigation tools, editing options, and quantization values (the note
value used to adjust the timing of a performance). Just select the note,
and you can use any of these editing functions.
ç’•å±´You can also view detailed note data including the note’s start time and
length, pitch, velocity (volume — both on and off), and MIDI channel by
double-clicking a note in the grid.
✓)>>Score window: If you read music, the score window may be your choice
for editing. This window looks just like a piece of sheet music (as shown
in Figure 12-6). Within this window, you can move notes around in much
the same way as the piano-roll window. The only difference is that you
can see the musical score as you edit your performance. Some sequencers allow you to print the score as well. This can be handy if you’re composing music that you want other people to play.
Figure 12-5:
The pianoroll window
lets you do
a variety
of editing
Figure 12-6:
The Score
menu shows
you your
MIDI data
in musical
score form
and allows
you to edit
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Quantization is simply allowing the sequencer to fix your rhythmic timing.
Say you recorded a drum pattern, and because you played it on your keyboard, the timing kinda stinks. The bass drum missed the downbeat, and the
snare drum is inconsistent. Don’t worry — you don’t need to rerecord your
part. You can just move all those notes into their proper places — and you
don’t even have to touch each note to do it. Just choose the quantization
value and click a button.
The quantization value determines the subdivision to which the quantization feature moves the notes. For example, if you choose a quantization
value of 16, all your notes are moved to the nearest sixteenth note. With
most sequencers, you can choose a number of quantization values, including
eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and thirty-second notes.
Most new quantizers also allow you to assign a percentage to the quantization value. For example, a setting of 50 percent moves the note halfway
between where you played it and the next quantization point designated
by your quantization value. The higher the number, the closer to the actual
quantization point your note will go. This feature is essential in keeping quantized music from sounding stiff.
Double-check your track after you’ve quantized it because it may have moved
a misplaced note in the wrong direction. This happens if your note is farther
away from where you want it to be and closer to another quantization point.
If a note has moved in the wrong direction, select that note and move it to
where you want it.
Imagine that you write a song you plan to sing, but then you meet someone
with a great voice who wants to sing it. The only problem is that you already
recorded all the parts and this great singer’s voice is in a completely different range than yours. The song would sound so much better if it were raised
a couple of keys. Well, if your recorded tracks are MIDI, you simply go to the
Options menu, choose Transpose, and type in the change of key. Presto, your
whole song has changed key, and you didn’t have to rerecord a single part!
Try doing that with your audio tracks.
Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data
Saving Your Data
For the most part, saving data in your sequencer program is like saving data
in any computer program. Yep, you need to click the Save button (or press
⌘+S if you have a Mac). Don’t forget to save your work regularly, lest your
computer crashes and you lose several hours’ work.
The main thing to know about saving data in a sequencer program is that
most programs have their own proprietary file format. You generally can’t
take a saved file from your program and play it on another one.
If you want to play your MIDI tracks on another sequencer program or make
it available on the Internet for other people to play, make sure that you save
your music as a Standard MIDI file (SMF). Nearly all sequencer programs allow
you to save in this format. Some even do this by default. Check your owner’s
manual to see how to do this. Then you can give your MIDI tracks to anyone
who can play an SMF, and if you recorded your stuff by using a GM standard, it
sounds just how you intended it to sound, regardless of the listener’s gear.
Transferring Data Using MIDI
Another great thing about MIDI is that you can use the cable and ports to
send more than just MIDI performance information. Many manufacturers
allow you to send sound patches through the MIDI connection by using
system-exclusive messages. This can be a great tool. In fact, I own an electronic drum set; its sounds can be changed and updated by connecting a
MIDI cable between the sound module (brain) and my computer. I can store
gazillions of sounds on my computer without cluttering up (or overloading) my drum set’s brain. But wait, it gets even better. This manufacturer
makes new sounds available on its website to download for free! Yep, I can
add new sounds to my drum set without having to buy anything. You gotta
love it!
Performing a data transfer via your MIDI connection is easy. Just connect
your device to the MIDI interface on your computer, open the data-transfer
software provided by the manufacturer, and follow the directions.
Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record
Part V
Turning Your Tracks into a
Finished Song
Find out how to create alternative mixes of your songs in an article at www.
In this part . . .
✓)>> Explore the process of editing audio and MIDI data to help you
clean up your recorded tracks or to create new arrangements
of your songs.
✓)>> Get clear on mixing, the process of blending all your individual
tracks into a cohesive whole.
✓)>> Use signal processors to add interest and dimension to your
✓)>> Add the final touch to your album with mastering so that it can
compete with the albums you find at the music store.
✓)>> Put your music in its final format for distribution, both on the
Internet and as a physical CD.
Chapter 13
Editing Your Performance
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding digital editing
▶)>>Editing aurally
▶)>>Editing visually
▶)>>Correcting flaws in your performance
▶)>>Combining your best performances from several virtual tracks
ven after you put in all the time needed to get the best sound and
Â�performance, you’ll most likely want to make changes to your tracks.
You may want to get rid of some noise or clean up a few bad notes. Well, you
can do this with editing. And if you have a digital hard-drive system, you can
edit to your heart’s content without sacrificing sound quality and without
losing your original tracks.
In this chapter, you discover the joys of fixing a performance with editing.
I cover the basics and try to help you find out whether your editing style is
visual or auditory. You also explore the ways that you can use the editing
capabilities of your digital system to create a performance that never happened by creating loops, assembling song sections, and making composites
from virtual tracks.
The way you edit your tracks depends on your digital recording system. Some
systems, such as computer-based digital audio workstations (DAWs), use tools
similar to those in word processing programs. Other systems, such as standalone systems and studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems, base their editing methods
on traditional audio approaches. I can’t possibly cover all the variables that
exist in the many types of systems, but I can show you the basics so that you
understand what possibilities exist. Hopefully, you get enough of a glimpse
into the world of audio editing that you can apply these skills to the system
that you own.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Some people never do any editing of a recorded performance except to get rid
of unwanted noise. What they record to disk is what they use. I rarely do any
editing except for making the occasional loop and/or deleting a stray bad note.
You may be like I am and have little use for the amazing tools available in most
digital systems’ editing menus. That’s okay — don’t feel like you have to use
every capability of your system. On the other hand, if editing fits your style,
don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops and get creative.
Understanding Digital Editing
In the old days of analog tape, you needed to break out the razor blade and
adhesive tape to do audio editing. Cutting out a performance was exactly
that — physically cutting the performance from the tape that contained the
audio. The problem was that after you finished the cut and taped the open
ends back together, you couldn’t reassemble the original performance. (Well,
I suppose you could try to peel that tape off the new joint and tape the part
you cut out back in again.)
And it got even worse. If you wanted to edit a single track, you had to cut a
little window in the tape where that part was, but only in the track you were
working on. You were left with a hole in the tape.
And then consider this: While you were cutting and taping the tape, you were
touching it with your fingers and getting oils all over your precious tracks. The
result: sound degradation. In all, analog tape editing was messy work that introduced unneeded stress on the tape (and perhaps the recordist) and degraded
the sound of the music.
Lucky for you, there’s a better way — digital editing. You can edit digitally by
using your hard-drive recording system. Digital hard-drive recording allows
you to do a staggering variety of things to your recorded tracks. You can cut,
copy, delete, erase, insert, move, and paste your music, among other things.
And the best part is that you can do any of these procedures and still change
your mind when you’re done.
This aspect of digital editing is called nondestructive editing, which means that
your original recording is kept intact (the recorder often makes a copy of the
original data before it makes the edits or it simply points to the data to be
played and ignores the data you chose not to have play). On the other hand,
the no-returns policy of analog editing is referred to as destructive editing, and
after it’s done, you’re committed to the results, regardless of whether you like
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
Editing can be done in a variety of ways, and almost every recording system
does it a little differently. In the following sections, I list many of the basic
editing functions that a digital hard-drive system can perform.
The Copy command is universal in digital audio and does exactly what you
think — it makes a copy of a selected performance. Here’s how the different
systems generally work:
✓)>>Computer-based systems: Copy can work much like the Copy function
of your computer’s word processing program. A copy of your selection
is made and put into a clipboard section of your system. You can then
take that copy and paste it somewhere else in the song.
✓)>>Stand-alone or SIAB systems: These systems don’t necessarily place
copied material on a clipboard. Instead, you’re prompted to choose a
place to paste your work before you make the copy.
Many systems also allow you to choose how many times you want to copy
the part and choose whether you want to override the existing material
where you copy it or insert the new material into that section instead. If you
insert the copy, the existing material moves over and makes room for the
copied section.
The Cut, Delete, and Erase commands all do the same thing to the selected
section — make it go away. The difference is what happens to that material after it disappears and what happens to the remaining material on the
track; Figure 13-1 illustrates these differences. Here’s the lowdown on the
✓)>>Cut: Lifts the selected audio section and puts it on a clipboard so that
you can place it somewhere else. On some systems, such as the Cubase
VST, the rest of the audio track stays put, leaving an empty space where
the cut section was. On other systems (Logic Audio, for example), the
existing material is brought forward to fill the space left by the cut
material, similar to the way that your word processing software deals
with the Cut command. Some systems, such as Cakewalk, allow you to
choose whether the existing material moves forward.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>Delete: Eliminates the selected material, keeping you from placing it
anywhere else. Delete acts like an analog audio cut-and-tape procedure:
The material following the deleted section is brought forward to fill
the empty space. The Delete command is common among stand-alone
recorders like the Akai DR-16Pro and among some SIAB systems such as
the old Roland units.
ç’•å±´Most computer-based systems, such as Pro Tools and Logic, have a Snap
option that can treat existing material the same way as Delete, depending on how you’ve set your preferences. In this case, the Snap option
snaps existing material back to fill any space left by a cut section.
✓)>>Erase: Like Delete, Erase gets rid of the selected section and doesn’t
allow you to put the section anywhere else. Unlike Delete, Erase leaves a
hole in the audio where the selected section used to be. The remaining
audio stays put.
ç’•å±´Most computer-based systems have a Silence procedure that acts just
like Erase. When material is “silenced,” an empty space is left where the
material used to be.
Figure 13-1:
Cut, Delete,
and Erase
are treated
in digital
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
The Insert function is common among stand-alone and SIAB systems. It allows
you to place a selected piece of music in a track (or multiple tracks) and moves
the music that exists after the insert point so that there’s room for the inserted
material (see Figure 13-2). This is a handy feature that lets you add to a section
without losing data.
Figure 13-2:
back to
make room
for the
For example, say you have a bridge section of a song that you wrote and
recorded to be 8 bars long, but after you’ve finished the song, you want to
add a guitar solo to the bridge and 8 bars just isn’t long enough. (You guitar
monster, you!) You want the bridge to be 16 bars long instead. Well, instead
of having to rerecord the entire song with the new bridge section, you can
copy the 8 new bars that you have for the bridge and insert them at the end of
the existing bridge section, making the bridge 16 bars long. This takes only a
second to do, and you don’t have to plug in any mics or play any instruments.
If you have a computer-based system that doesn’t have an Insert function, just
select all the music immediately after the current bridge section and move it
over 8 bars by using your mouse. This leaves an 8-bar space that you can then
fill using the procedure I describe earlier.
If you have a song with a lot of tempo changes and you use a tempo map (a function that allows you to set the tempo and time signature for each section of the
song), make sure that you double-check your tempo map after you’ve made
your edits because the tempo map won’t adjust automatically. For example, if
you add 8 bars to the bridge (like I describe in the earlier example), you need
to add 8 bars to that section of the tempo map to make sure that the rest of the
song remains accurate.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
As obvious as this may sound, pasting is just placing your selected music
somewhere. Like the Cut and Copy functions, this function is a staple for
computer-based systems, but it isn’t common among stand-alone or SIAB
systems. In many cases, Paste overwrites the existing material where you
put it, as shown in Figure 13-3, unless you have an Insert option and you use
it as well. Some computer-based systems treat Paste like a word processing
program does — the existing material moves over and makes room for the
pasted section.
Figure 13-3:
places your
over existing
Like all computer Paste functions, whatever you put on the clipboard stays
there until you replace it with something else. So, you can paste the same
selection as many times as you like.
Nearly all digital recording systems have a Move function. In most cases, you
can just choose the audio section that you want to move and choose a destination for it. If you don’t have a Move function key, your system probably
has the Cut, Copy, and Paste options that you can use the same way. Cut and
Paste can move your music just as effectively as the Move function.
Moving audio data can be performed several ways depending on the system,
but you probably move data by using a Move menu or by clicking and dragging. On the Move menu, you designate the section to be moved and where
you want to move it to. This can be within a particular track or from one
track to another. Within this menu, you may have the choice between overwriting the material at the destination point with your selection and moving
the existing material to make space for the stuff that you moved. The latter is
sometimes called a Move/Insert procedure.
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
If you have a system that uses a large video monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard, you may have the option to just click and drag the selection where
you want it. In most cases, your moved selection overwrites the existing
material in its new place, effectively erasing it (although it may still be
hidden underneath — but you can’t hear it when you play back the track).
In other systems, the moved material is inserted in its new place, moving
existing material in the process. Your system’s owner’s manual should spell
out how this procedure is treated.
Exporting and importing involve moving music from one song file to another.
Some systems enable you to import a single track from another song, whereas
on other systems, you have to import everything in a song file.
If you can import only a whole song file but you just want a single track, just
make a copy of the song that you want to import and erase everything you
don’t need from that song. Then when you import the song file, you import
only the stuff that you want. Doing it this way rather than importing the whole
song file and then erasing the unwanted stuff afterward is quicker because the
computer doesn’t have to import more than you need.
Undo is the most important key/function that you have in your digital system.
It allows you to, well, undo what you just did. Without it, you may as well be
trying to edit with analog tape, a razor blade, and adhesive tape.
How much you can undo depends on your system. Most systems give you
at least 99 levels of undo — that is, you can make 99 consecutive edits and
reverse them all (or just some of them). Some systems even go as far as
giving you 999 undos. How’s that for insurance? So, edit at will, because you
can always change your mind later.
On the other hand, some systems have only one level of undo. This isn’t a
deficit, however, because this program gives you the option of saving your
selection before you make the edit. If you choose to do this before each edit,
you’re essentially allowed as many undos as you want, as long as you have
the hard drive space to store all those copies of your audio track.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Some systems, such as the Roland V-Studios, have a Song Optimize function.
Song Optimize enables you to save the song and throw away junk that you
don’t think you need, thus reducing the size of the song file. This is a nice
feature except, after you optimize your song, you lose the ability to undo anything you did before you optimized. So, if you think that you may want to undo
something you’ve done, don’t click that Song Optimize button!
As you can see by all the different ways that various programs use and define
editing procedures, you need to read your owner’s manual and be familiar
with your program to use these functions properly.
Finding the Section You
Want to Edit
To use an editing function, you need to find the section of music that you
want to change. The musical section can be the whole song from one track, a
short musical phrase from several tracks, or even a single note. You can find
the beginning and end of the section that you want to edit in two basic ways:
editing aurally and editing visually.
Each method has its advantages, and you’ll probably prefer one method over
the other for your working style. I’m from the old school and much prefer
editing by listening to the section I work with. I trust my ears much more
than my eyes. You may find that the opposite is true for you. But chances are,
you’ll use a little bit of both approaches for your music.
Editing aurally
The traditional way to perform an edit is to play the song on the tape deck
until you reach the general area of the music that you want to edit. You then
stop the tape and manually rock it back and forth against the play head to
find the precise place to make the cut. You mark the back of the tape with a
wax pencil and go looking for the next edit point. This process requires careful listening, and finding the exact spot to edit often takes quite a while.
For pre-digital people, such as myself, the manufacturers of digital systems
make this process similar to editing analog tape (yeah). Finding an edit
point aurally is often a two-step process: First you need to find and mark the
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
general section that you want to edit using a marker (also called an anchor
point), and then you need to identify the exact spot for your beginning and
end points. You do this with the Scrub function, as detailed in the following
1.)>> Listen to the song and place a marker (sometimes called an anchor
point) on the fly as the section you want to edit passes.
ç’•å±´ Do this by clicking the appropriate Marker button (the Insert key on a
Tascam 2488, for instance). Mark both the beginning and end points as
accurately as you can. Your markers will be a little off, but don’t worry
about that now. Your next step involves refining those points using the
Scrub function.
2.)>> Use the Scrub function that’s associated with your system to zero in
on the spot you need.
ç’•å±´ The Scrub function works much like analog tape where you can “rock”
the music back and forth (this is called scrubbing — hence, the name)
to find the precise spot that you’re looking for. In some systems, such
as the Tascam 2488, you can scrub using the Jog wheel. Start from the
marker points that you set on the fly and dial the wheel back and forth
until you find the exact spot to edit. This may take a while, so be patient.
Do this for both the beginning and end points for your edit.
ç’•å±´ There may be variation on the way scrubbing works on your device, so
consult your manual if you don’t have a job wheel. The Scrub feature on
most digital recorders works pretty well — each just works a little differently and one approach may work better for you.
Not all digital recorders have a Scrub feature that works as well as the old
analog tape rocking technique. So, if being able to scrub is important to you,
be sure to test this feature on the systems you’re looking at before you buy.
If you have a computer-based system, you may find a scrub-type feature on
the Tool palette. In Cubase, for instance, the Scrub tool uses an icon that
looks like a small speaker. Look at your system to see whether you have this
Editing visually
Digital recording systems, especially those that use large video monitors,
enable you to edit your music visually. This can be a great asset when you
want to edit sounds down to the waveform level or if you don’t want to
hassle with aural searching.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
In visual editing, you choose your edit points by viewing the audio waveform
of a track on-screen. The audio waveform shows the amplitude (volume) of
the sound that’s recorded to disk. Check out Figure 13-4 for an example.
Figure 13-4:
The waveform editor
lets you see
the music,
making editing pretty
You can use the waveform as a guide to show you where a particular sound
is located. For example, if you pull up the waveform of a drum rhythm and
set the track to play, you can see where the various sounds of the drum set
(snare drum, kick drum, and so on) are located. Then just put a marker on
the fly or stop the playback roughly where you want to be. As you get used
to hearing the music and seeing the waveform pass by on your computer
screen, you’ll be able to tell by looking at a waveform where a sound starts
and stops.
Take a look at Figure 13-4 again and find the cursor that’s located just before
the third large waveform. This is a snare drum note. You can select that section in the following ways (some systems offer you several ways, while others
just have one):
✓)>>Click and drag to create a box around the section you want to edit.
This is generally the easiest way to choose a section of audio.
✓)>>Choose the numerical location points. On SIAB systems, which typically
don’t have a cursor or mouse to work with, you can do this quickly by
finding the point in the waveform and clicking a button (called the Now
button in the Roland SIAB systems). The data is entered into the box,
and you don’t have to type the numbers.
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
✓)>>Type the beginning and ending edit points in the appropriate dialog
box. This is an option if you have a computer-based system. If you have
a keyboard and you’re a fast typist, this may be the most efficient way
for you to choose edit points.
On most systems, you can zoom in or out on the waveform graphic for a
better look. You can often increase both the height (amplitude) and width
(time frame) of the image of the waveform that you see.
With most instruments that have slow attacks — a slow initial sound, as with
vocals or guitars — you can see the start of the sound by looking at the waveform. The beginning in the rise of the waves matches the beginning of the
sound. But on drums and other instruments with very fast attacks, the attack of
the instrument happens before the rise in amplitude. In fact, if you look again at
Figure 13-4, you can see a vertical dotted line just to the left of the snare drum’s
part in the waveform. This is where the attack starts for that drum sound. If you
were to rely only on your eyes and choose the waveform part that you see, you
would miss the initial point of the stick hitting the drum (and all the character
that it contains). What you would hear is a mushy-sounding snare drum.
Many computer-based programs have a function that allows you to find the
start point of your audio with a simple keystroke. In Pro Tools, this is called
Tab to Transient. In this case, all you need to do is enable this function, move
your cursor to a point just before the section you want to find, and press Tab.
The cursor moves to the beginning of the audio data. This feature is handy
for making edits quickly and accurately. If this type of function is important
to you, be sure to look closely at the computer program before buying to see
whether it can do this.
Even though you use the waveform screen to do editing, you still need to find
the beginning of that sound by using the Scrub function (described in the preceding section). Just search the space before your drum note until you hear
where the attack starts. It’s usually about 40 to 50 milliseconds before the
waveform jumps up.
Editing to Improve the Sound
of a Performance
To edit your music, you need to know a couple of useful skills. These include
being able to edit individual notes and phrases, finding and replacing notes
that are too loud or too soft, getting rid of noise and distortion, and correcting pitch problems.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Replacing a bad note
Replacing a bad note is one editing procedure that I use frequently. Here’s an
example: A few weeks ago, I played the drum part of a new song for the band I’m
currently recording with. I really got into the groove — the feel was right, I made
all the changes, and I even did some really cool fills and stuff. When I listened to
the part after I finished recording, it sounded fine, so I went on to record other
parts. But when I listened to it again a week later, I heard one snare drum hit
in which I caught the rim, and it sticks out in the mix like the proverbial sore
thumb. I could just punch in a new snare drum note, but I’m lazy. Besides, I had
already put away my mics, and there’s no way I could set them up the way I did
the day I recorded the drums, not to mention tuning the drums exactly the same
way I had them that day.
Well, here’s a time when I’m thanking my lucky stars that I have a digital
system that allows me to make minute edits (just try slicing a single snare
drum note out of an analog tape). Hopefully, you won’t have to do this procedure, but if you do, follow these steps:
1.)>> Copy the track that you want to fix.
ç’•å±´ This way, you can reference the original track.
2.)>> Place the copy on a track or virtual track that allows you to hear both
the original and the copy at the same time.
3.)>> Listen for a snare drum hit that you especially like and select it by
using one of the techniques that I describe in the section “Editing
aurally,” earlier in this chapter.
4.)>> Make a copy of the selection.
5.)>> Find and mark the bad note.
6.)>> Place the copy of the good note right where the bad note is.
ç’•å±´ The procedure for this varies depending on your system.
ç’•å±´ Make sure that the Insert function is turned off. Otherwise, you add an
extra note and move the bad note over, along with the rest of the music
from that track.
7.)>> After you have the good note in the place of the bad one, turn up the
volume of both versions of your track and listen to them again.
ç’•å±´ You should hear an exact copy of the track, except for that one note. Listen
carefully at the place of the replaced note for any timing problems. The
two tracks should match perfectly. If they don’t, just use the Undo function
and try again. Also, check the rest of the song after that note to make sure
that you didn’t accidentally insert the note rather than replace it.
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
If your system doesn’t allow you to make such a fine edit or if you can’t successfully select a single note, you can replace a whole measure instead of just
the single note. Just follow the same steps and use a larger phrase instead of
the one note.
Evening out a performance
Evening out a performance means making adjustments to the levels of a
note or phrase within the song. Sometimes it can also mean changing the
emphasis of certain notes to change the meaning or “feel” of a part. This section covers these areas using two functions called Normalize and Quieten.
(Some systems call the Quieten function Gain Change.) A track often contains
a stray note that is either much louder or much softer than the rest of the
notes around it. In this case, you don’t need to cut it out and replace it with
another note, as I did in the example in the preceding section. Instead you
can just make a change to the volume (or level) of that note, as follows:
✓)>>To raise the volume of a note: Select the note that you want to change
and choose Edit➪Normalize. In most cases, Normalize allows you to
choose the maximum dynamic level (in decibels) that you want the section to be, the amount below clipping (0dB) that you want, or the minimum headroom that you want to have left (also in decibels). These last
two options are essentially the same thing.
✓)>>To lower the volume of a note: Select the note that you want to change
and choose Edit➪Quieten (or Gain Change). This lowers the amplitude
of the selected section by a predetermined amount. On some systems,
you can choose this amount.
If you know where your levels are in decibels (dB), you can also choose
Edit➪Normalize to reduce the level of a note. In the dialog box that appears,
choose a value that’s lower than the peak of your selected note. For example,
if you have a drumbeat that is too loud — right at 0dB — and the surrounding notes are at –6dB, you can choose 6dB for either the minimum headroom
you want to have left or the amount below clipping. This drops your signal by
6dB — the level of the rest of the notes. If you don’t know where your levels
are in decibels, you can experiment until you get the level where you want it.
Using the Normalize function to reduce the volume of a note may be better
than using the Quieten function if you want to control exactly how much
quieter you want the note to be and your system doesn’t allow you to set the
value used by the Quieten function.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
You’re not limited to making adjustments to single notes. You can also use
Quieten or Normalize to adjust the levels of short phrases or an entire track.
Normalize and Quieten only adjust the levels of the section that you choose
to work with. So when you use these functions, be aware of how your edits
relate to the music in and around your edits. For example, if you normalize or
quieten a section of the waveform, the softest notes increase in volume only
by the level that the highest note increases. For example, Figure 13-5 shows a
percussion line before and after normalizing to maximum dB. The view on the
left shows the levels before normalization. The one on the right is after the
normalization procedure. The notes were raised a bit, and the overall dynamic
range remains the same.
Figure 13-5:
keeps the
range of
the original
Next, take a look at Figure 13-6. This shows what happens when you choose
the quietest section to normalize. As you can see, the relationship between
the various notes has changed dramatically. Played back, this passage
now sounds unnatural, and the original performance is altered beyond
Figure 13-6:
Choosing a
quiet section of a
song and
it alters the
range of the
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
You can use normalization to change the emotional content of a piece of
music — even its meaning — by changing where the emphasized (accented)
notes are located. For example, take the phrase “I love your music” (a phrase
that I hope you hear a lot). Depending on which word of the phrase is emphasized, you get a slightly different meaning:
I love your music.
I love your music.
I love your music.
I love your music.
These are slight variations but ones that can alter how the listener perceives
something. In the same way, by changing the level of a note or phrase, you
can change the emotion of the performance. This isn’t something that you
want to do often because re-recording the part (if you can) is probably easier.
But knowing that this is something you can do will hopefully open your mind
to other possibilities.
Getting rid of distortion
In Chapter 10, I am adamant about setting your levels so that you don’t get
digital distortion. Even if you follow my advice and are extremely diligent in
making sure that you didn’t get any digital clipping, one note may have snuck
through anyway. Well, it may not be the end of the world.
If you have a system that allows you to adjust the individual waves of a waveform, just reduce the level of the single clipped note. You do this by zooming
in as close as you can to the distorted note and choosing only that one note
to quieten. (Your system’s manual should clearly explain this procedure.) If
you can’t adjust the waveform, you need to replace that note with a good,
undistorted one (if you can find one) or reduce the level of that note until the
distortion is hidden.
If this is the lead vocal, you probably don’t have the option to reduce the
level, and replacing a bad note in a vocal part generally sounds unnatural. If
you can replace the section with another phrase from the song, that’s your
best bet. If you don’t have that option and you can’t rerecord the part, you
can mask the distortion by adding a little distortion as an effect to the entire
vocal track — a procedure that’s performed more often than you may expect.
If the performance is top-notch and if messing with it will take away some of the
magic, you can always leave well enough alone and leave in the clipped note
(distortion). After all, the performance is the most important part of any song.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Getting rid of noise
No matter what you do when recording, you’re going to end up with extra
noise, such as a chair squeak, a cough, or too much breath from the singer.
To get rid of the noise, just select the noise and follow your system’s procedures for erasing or silencing a selection. When you do this, be sure that you
don’t have a Snap function engaged; you don’t want the material following
the erasure to move.
Some computer-based systems also have sophisticated plug-ins (additional
software that you can add to your recording software) to reduce noise within
a track that has other material, such as the hum of an air conditioner behind
a vocal track. All you have to do to reduce or eliminate this noise is choose
the section of a track (or an entire track) and apply the plug-in.
Correcting pitch problems
It used to be that if you sang or played an out-of-tune note, you had to record
it over again. If your singing is mediocre (like mine on a good day), you could
spend hours trying to get every note just right. And after all these hours of
fixing out-of-tune notes, you’re often left with a performance that lacks “feel”
(emotional impact). Well, those days are behind you. You can now edit your
sour notes using a pitch-correction program. You can find pitch correction on
nearly all digital recording systems that include effects processors (computerbased and SIAB systems in particular).
To correct pitch, choose the note(s) that you want to correct and then
choose the pitch-correction option on your editing menu. In the dialog box
that appears, choose the amount of change that you want. You may need to
experiment a little to find just the right pitch.
Some devices, such as Antares Autotune, make the correction for you automatically. (Antares Autotune is available as both a stand-alone processor and
as a plug-in for a computer-based system. You can find these components
at most major musical instrument retailers.) And some pitch-correction
programs, such as the one in Logic Audio, allow you to adjust not only the
change in fundamental pitch but also the pitch change of that note’s harmonics. This can produce a much more natural sound.
Unless you’re going for a particular effect, be judicious in your use of pitch
correction because it can suck the life out of a performance. Sometimes the
slightly out-of-tune notes are what give a performance its character.
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
Pitch correction is often part of the system’s editing functions, but it can be
used as an effect as well. Check out Chapter 15 for ways that pitch shifting
can add depth to your music.
Creating a Performance That
Never Happened
Editing can be much more than just fixing a bad note or phrase — editing can
consist of assembling a performance that never really happened. In the following sections, I walk you through the often-timesaving process of putting
together a song from small parts: one- or two-measure loops, single sections
such as verses and choruses, and parts of separate performances from virtual tracks (called a composite take). Doing these procedures has advantages
for you as a recording engineer. For example:
✓)>>By creating loops, you don’t have to play the same one- or two-bar
phrase over and over again for the duration of the song.
✓)>>By assembling song parts, you can alter the song’s structure any way
that you want.
✓)>>By making composite takes, you can create a performance that you
could never play in one pass.
Creating loops
Loops are repeated phrases within a song. Looping has been around since the
beginning of multitrack recording. You used to have to make an actual loop
of tape containing the music that you wanted to repeat — thus, the name
loop — and load the loop into an analog tape deck to play repeatedly. This
tape deck was then connected to the multitrack deck, and the looped performance was recorded onto that deck.
Now all that looping can be done digitally. You can make loops of any instrument, but the most common ones involve drum rhythms. For example,
each section of a song usually contains a short one- or two-bar rhythm that
repeats many times. By using loops, you can just play the drum part once
and make copies of it for the rest of the measures in that section. This saves
you from having to play for the whole song. Looping can be a great feature if
you play an instrument live and if keeping the part steady is fairly difficult.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Making loops is easy: Just select the section that you want and copy it to the
end of your existing rhythm for as many times as necessary. Keep the following points in mind when looping, however:
✓)>>Make sure that your beginning and end points are accurate. If you
start with beat 1 of the measure, end with beat 1 of the next measure
(that is, if you want a one-bar loop). If you’re off just a little bit, this
affects the feel and timing of the rhythm.
✓)>>Choose a point in the rhythm with a sharp attack. An example is the
downbeat with the kick drum or the snare drum backbeat on beat 2.
This helps you find the exact beginning and ending points for your loop.
✓)>>When you record the part, set a metronome (click track) in your
system and play along to it. This creates a clear point from which you
can find your edit points.
✓)>>Give your looped music a more human feel. To do this, overdub fills
and embellishments onto another track (Chapter 11 covers overdubbing
in detail). Then either adjust the mix so that you mute the main groove
when the fill happens or place your fill directly into the groove track
(Chapter 14 has details on mixing). Some songs and styles of music can
work well if you let the fills and the groove happen at the same time, so
experiment and use the approach that you prefer.
Assembling a song
Okay, you’ve recorded all the parts for your new song and have the arrangement and structure the way that you thought you wanted it. But suddenly (or
maybe not so suddenly), you wonder what the song would sound like if you
started with the chorus instead of the first verse. (I know this isn’t common,
but go along with me here.) All you have to do is choose the chorus from all
the tracks in the song and copy or move the tracks to the place where you
want them to be.
Today, many musicians play just a portion of a song and assemble the song
from there. For instance, except for the lead vocal, you can just record one
verse and one chorus on each instrument. You then go into your editor palette and put the song together. This lets you alter the song’s structure quickly
and easily.
This procedure is pretty simple: Just choose your musical section and then
cut, copy, or paste it to where you want it to be. If your system doesn’t
have the Cut and Paste functions, you can use the Copy and Move functions
instead. (All these functions are described earlier in this chapter.)
Chapter 13: Editing Your Performance
Making composites of your tracks
If you used your digital system to record several versions or takes of a part
onto different tracks (also known as virtual tracks in some systems — tracks
hidden behind a main track), you can use the editing function of your system
to blend the best parts of each performance into one perfect track. Take, for
example, a lead guitar part that may be used throughout the song to act as a
counterpoint to the lead vocal. Now assume that you weren’t sure when you
recorded the part what you wanted to do for each phrase. In this case, you
would have recorded several versions of this guitar part onto different tracks
in your system (or onto several virtual tracks of one track). I explain this procedure in Chapter 15.
To make a composite track of the best parts of your various lead guitar takes,
choose the parts that you want to use and move them all onto one more
track (assuming that you have another empty track or virtual track to put
them on). Keep in mind that you need to move each of the good parts one at
a time because each is on a separate virtual track.
You can move your guitar parts in one of the following ways:
✓)>>Click and drag your selection to the new virtual track.
✓)>>Use the Move function in your recorder to simply move the part from
one virtual track to another.
✓)>>Use the Cut and Paste functions to cut the part from one virtual track
and paste it to another.
When you’re done assembling all the parts of one track, such as the lead
guitar track, you can make adjustments to volume differences between
the various assembled pieces using the Normalize or Quieten functions (described earlier in this chapter, in the section “Evening out a
Discovering Other Ways
to Use Editing
Aside from being able to fix problems in your tracks or to make changes to
the structure of a song, you can use editing to simplify your other work. The
following sections cover a couple ways that the editing capabilities of your
digital system can be used outside the box, so to speak.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Adjusting the length
of a performance
Time compression and expansion allow you to make small adjustments to the
length of a section of music. This can be useful if you’re trying to match your
music to a video or if you want to change the feel of a vocal performance.
For example, you can slow the last word in a phrase for a more crooner-type
sound, or you can match certain words to rhythmic accents in the music. You
can also fix a poorly performed drum fill (one that speeds up or slows down).
To compress or expand a section, you use a function called — at least on
some systems — Time Machine. To use it, select the music that you want to
edit and fill in the parameters in the Time Machine dialog box.
Reversing a phrase
Being able to change the waveforms of your music can open a lot of possibilities for experimentation. I’m sure you’ve listened to a recording and
been told that a subliminal message was hidden within the music. Of course,
the Beatles were famous for putting reversed vocals in the back of the mix,
and you can do this easily as well. Just record a vocal phrase like “Buy Jeff
Strong’s CDs,” select it, and then choose Edit➪Reverse. Presto! You have a
subliminal message. (Sit back and watch my CD sales go through the roof!)
Reversing a musical phrase can be used in many more ways than to peddle
my sorry music, however. For example, you can add a reversed drumbeat or
cymbal crash to add anticipation. This was overused in the ’80s, but I think it
can still be effective, depending on the style of music that you play.
To do this procedure, follow these steps:
1.)>> Select a drumbeat (be sure to get the initial attack) and copy it to an
empty track.
2.)>> Place the end of your selection where the drumbeat that you want to
anticipate begins.
3.)>> Choose Edit➪Reverse to reverse the phrase.
ç’•å±´ If you play both tracks, you hear a reversed snare go right into a regular
snare hit. Both attacks should happen at the same time. If they aren’t
exact, just move the reversed one over until the attacks are the same.
Chapter 14
Mixing Your Music
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding mixing
▶)>>Using equalization effectively
▶)>>Understanding the stereo field
▶)>>Using reference recordings
fter all your tracks are recorded, edited, and cleaned up as much as
possible, you’re ready to turn those individual parts into music. This is
the act of mixing. Mixing involves setting levels, setting equalization (EQ, or
adjusting the frequency response of your tracks), using stereo panning (placing your instruments from left to right in your mix), and adding effects so that
your song tells the story you want it to tell. How you mix your song has as
much impact on the way it sounds as each of the individual parts that you’ve
recorded — more so, in fact. Even minor adjustments in the relationship
among the various instruments in your song can have dramatic impact on
how the song affects your listeners.
In this chapter, I introduce you to the process of mixing your music. Discover
how to take advantage of neat tools like the aforementioned EQ, effects, and
stereo panning to make all your instruments fit in the mix. You find out how
to reference your music to other people’s recordings and how to train your
ears so that your mix “translates” to different types of playback systems.
Mixing music is a subjective thing. How you have one instrument relate to
another can be done in an almost infinite variety of ways. You may find that
several mixes work equally well for your song. Allow yourself to experiment,
and don’t be afraid to record several different mixes.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Understanding Mixing
Think about all the time it took you to record all the tracks for your song. You
spent countless hours setting up mics; getting good, “hot” (high, but not distorting) levels on your instruments; and making sure that each performance
was as good as you could get it. You would think that most of your work is
done. Well, on the one hand, it is — you no longer have to set up and play
each instrument. On the other hand, you still have to fit together all the parts
that you recorded. This process can take as long as it took you to record all
the tracks in the first place.
Your main tool during the mixing process is the mixer. Figure 14-1 shows
a basic mixer setup in a software mixer program. The screenshot on the
left shows the main mixer menu — with faders for each of your tracks. The
screenshot on the right shows the channel strip section of the mixer. (For
details on how the mixer functions, check out Chapter 4.)
Figure 14-1:
The main
mixer menu
in a software mixer
(left) and
the channel
strip section
of the mixer
Mixing involves making sure that each instrument can be heard in the mix
(the recorded whole that’s the result of blending all your recorded parts)
without covering up something else or sounding out of place. You do this in
the following ways:
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
✓)>>Choose the recorded parts that add to the emotional impact of the
music and build intensity throughout the song. Also, don’t use parts that
are unnecessary or that clash with parts that have a greater impact.
✓)>>Set the levels (volume) of each of the instruments relative to one
another so that nothing is buried so far back in the mix that you can’t
hear it and no instrument is so loud that it overpowers the other
✓)>>Adjust the EQ of each instrument so that each leaves room for the other
instruments in the mix. This means getting rid of any frequencies of an
instrument that clash with another or adding certain frequencies that
define the sound of that instrument so that it can be heard clearly in the
✓)>>Take advantage of stereo panning to put each instrument in its proper
place in the stereo field — left or right — where it can either sound as
natural as possible or produce an effect that you want. Also, stereo panning allows you to make room for each instrument in the mix, especially
those that have similar frequency ranges.
✓)>>Add effects, such as reverb or delay, to the instruments in the mix either
to place them in front or in back relative to other instruments or to
create a desired sound.
The mixing process is where you can get really creative in crafting your song.
The stress of capturing great performances is over — you now have to massage all the parts of your song into a cohesive whole. Don’t be afraid to try
new things. Experiment with different EQ, panning, and effect settings. Take
your time and have fun. The great thing about mixing is that you can make as
many versions as you want, and you can always go back and try again.
Getting Started Mixing Your Song
Before I start to mix a song, I do a few things to prepare myself for the process. My goal before I mix is to get in the headspace of mixing. This often
means taking a step back from the song and approaching it as a listener
rather than as the musician who recorded the tracks. Start the mixing process by following these steps:
1.)>> Determine the overall quality that you want from the song.
ç’•å±´ This can be defined as a musical style or a feeling. You probably don’t
need to think about this too hard because, when you started recording,
you probably had a definite sound in mind. In fact, most composers hear
a song in their heads before they even start recording.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
2.)>> Listen to a song or two from a CD that has a similar sound or feel as
the song you’re trying to mix.
ç’•å±´ Listen on your studio monitors if you can, and try to get a sense of the
tonal and textural quality of these songs. Listen to them at fairly low
volume and be careful not to tire your ears. All you’re trying to do at
this point is to get your ears familiar with the sound that you’re trying to
produce in your music.
3.)>> Set up a rough mix using no EQ or effects and listen through it once.
ç’•å±´ For this listening session, don’t think like a producer; instead, try to put
yourself in the mind-set of the average listener. Listen to the various
parts that you’ve recorded and see whether anything sticks out as being
particularly good or bad. You’re not listening for production quality.
You’re trying to determine whether some instruments, musical phrases,
licks, melodies, or harmonies grab you as a listener.
4.)>> Get a piece of paper and a pen to jot down ideas as you work.
ç’•å±´ As you listen through the song, take notes on where certain instruments
should be in the mix. For example, you may want the licks you played
on the lead guitar throughout the song to be muted during the first
verse. Or maybe you decide that the third rhythm guitar part that you
recorded would be best put way to the right side of the mix while the
other two rhythm guitar parts may be closer to the center. Write these
ideas down so that you can try them later. You’re likely to have a lot of
ideas as you listen through the first few times.
After you follow these steps, go through the song and adjust the EQ, panning,
and effect settings until you get all the instruments to fit nicely together. I
outline these procedures in the following sections.
Exploring Equalization
The most useful tool that you have for mixing is equalization. Equalizers
allow you to adjust the various frequencies of your instruments so that you
have enough room for each of them in your stereo tracks. Four types of
equalizers are used in a recording studio — graphic, shelf, filter, and parametric. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which I outline in the following
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
The graphic EQ has a prescribed number of frequencies that you can adjust.
Graphic EQs generally have between 5 and 31 frequency bands, each affecting a small range of frequencies. (The manufacturer determines the range,
which can’t be adjusted.) Graphic EQs are useful for eliminating an offending
frequency from the signal or for making other adjustments to the tonal quality of the source signal. You probably won’t use a graphic EQ much in the
mixing process because the parametric EQ can do what the graphic EQ can
do — and a whole lot more.
High- and low-shelf
A shelf equalizer affects a range of frequencies above (high-shelf) or below
(low-shelf) the target frequency. Shelf EQs are generally used to roll off the
top or bottom end of the frequency spectrum. For example, you can set a
shelf EQ to roll off the frequencies below 250 hertz (Hz) to reduce the amount
of rumble (low-frequency noise) in a recording. You generally use the shelf
EQ for the lowest and highest frequencies and the parametric EQ for any inbetween frequencies when you mix.
High- and low-pass filters
Sometimes your track just sounds better if you eliminate a few carefully
chosen frequencies. You just need to know which ones to target. That’s where
another type of EQ can help with the needed audio acrobatics: low-pass
(ducking the high frequencies that you don’t want) and high-pass (jumping
over the low frequencies that you don’t want).
This type of EQ is called a filter because, um, it filters out frequencies either
higher (low-pass) or lower (high-pass) than the target frequency. A low-pass
filter eliminates unwanted high frequencies, and a high-pass filter gets rid
of unwanted low frequencies. In Pro Tools, the low- and high-pass filters are
designated with the icons seen here in the margin. The low-pass filter is the
downward slope (top), and the high-pass filter is the upward slope (bottom)
art in the margin.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
The parametric equalizer allows you to choose the frequency that you want
to change as well as the range of frequencies around that frequency. With a
parametric EQ, you dial in the frequency that you want to change and then
you set the range (referred to as the Q) you want to affect.
The Q is a number that signifies the number of octaves that the EQ affects.
Generally, you can adjust the Q setting to affect frequencies between ½ and
2 octaves wide. Not all parametric EQs use the same reference numbers for
their Q settings. Some have ranges from 0.7 (2 octaves) to 2.8 (½ octave),
while others, such as Pro Tools, use numbers from 0.33 to 12 without indicating what the numbers relate to in terms of octaves. The one constant among
parametric EQs is that lower numbers affect larger ranges of frequencies than
the higher numbers do.
The fact that each brand of parametric EQ uses slightly different numbers to
reference its Q settings shouldn’t matter much to you, because you choose
your Q setting based on what you hear in the mix. Just as you can experiment
with different frequencies to adjust in the mix, you can also try different Q settings to find the best possible frequency range to use.
The beauty of a parametric EQ is that you can take a small band (range) of
frequencies and boost (increase) or cut (decrease) them. This capability
enables you to fit together the various instruments in a mix. (This technique
is called carving out frequencies.) When you’re mixing, the parametric EQ is
the most useful equalizer because you can adjust the frequency response of
each instrument so that the other instruments can be heard clearly in the
mix. One downside to parametric EQs is that some systems don’t offer you
many bands (sometimes just one with the addition of a couple of shelf EQs),
so you have to make your EQ decisions based on the type and number of EQs
you have to choose from. Another downside is that parametric EQs need processing power to run. If you have a lot of EQing to do, you may end up stressing your system pretty hard.
Equalizing Your Tracks
Only so many frequencies are available for all the instruments in a mix, and
if more than one instrument occupies a particular frequency range, they can
get in each other’s way and make the mix sound muddy. Your goals when
equalizing (EQing) during the mixing process are to reduce those frequencies
that add clutter and/or to enhance those that define an instrument’s sound.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
To do this, make a little space for each instrument within the same general
frequency range. You do this by EQing the individual tracks as you mix. The
following sections explore this process in detail.
Dialing in EQ
Before you start EQing your tracks, you need to know how to find the
frequencies you intend to adjust and how to make those adjustments.
Figure 14-2 shows an EQ plug-in for Logic Audio. Although each EQ will look a
little different, they all end up performing the same basic function. In this section, I walk you through Logic’s Channel EQ.
Figure 14-2:
The EQ
section of
a mixer’s
strip allows
you to adjust
the frequencies of your
Logic’s Channel EQ is an eight-band EQ with four parametric bands, one highshelf EQ, one low-shelf EQ, one high-pass filter, and one low-pass filter. As you
can see in Figure 14-2, the EQ types are listed at the top of the graph, but the
adjustments for these bands are located under the main graph.
Logic’s (and some other recording programs’) EQ has a really great feature
where you can see the frequency response of your track. This function is
engaged by clicking the Analyzer button on the left side of the plug-in window.
This is handy because, with the Analyzer button engaged, you can actually
see the changes you’re making to your track as you make them. This is also
a potential problem because many people rely on their eyes instead of their
ears. Be careful not to let what you see affect what you hear.
Using parametric EQ
The parametric EQ is the go-to EQ when mixing because it allows you to
adjust specific frequencies to get each of your tracks to sit nicely in the
mix. (I give you guidelines for doing this later in this chapter in Tables 14-1
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
and 14-2.) To use the parametric EQ, click the Peak EQ button (it looks like
a circle with a line coming from the left and right sides) in the EQ plug-in
window you have open. You have three settings to adjust:
✓)>>Gain: This is the amount of boost (increase) or cut (decrease) that you
apply to the signal. In Logic and Pro Tools, to get your boost (gain)
amount, either you can point your mouse over the parameter and
click and drag up or down, or you can click in the EQ graph above the
parameter controls and drag up or down. In Pro Tools, you can also
type in the amount in a text box.
✓)>>Freq: This frequency is the center of the EQ. You select the range of
frequencies above and below this point by using the Q setting (see the
next bullet). In Pro Tools, you can either type the frequency in the text
box on the left or use the slider to make your adjustment. In Logic, to get
the desired frequency, you can either point your mouse over the parameter and click and drag up or down, or click in the EQ graph above the
parameter controls and drag left or right.
✓)>>Q: This is the range of frequencies that your EQ will affect. The higher
the number, the narrower the range that gets EQ’d. In Pro Tools, you
adjust this setting either by moving the knob or by clicking in the text
box and typing a value between 0.33 and 12. In Logic, you can point your
mouse over the parameter and click and drag up or down to get the Q
value you want. Your settings can be anywhere from 0.10 to 100.
Using low-shelf/high-shelf EQ
Low-shelf/high-shelf EQ is good for enhancing or reducing high or low frequencies, such as adding a sense of presence to cymbals (add a few decibels
at 10 kHz). In the context of EQ, shelf means that the EQ effects are on the
frequencies above (high shelf) or below (low shelf) your setting (called the
corner frequency). To use low-shelf/high-shelf EQ, click the Low Shelf and High
Shelf buttons in the EQ plug-in window. These buttons look like sideways
tuning forks located second from the left and second from the right above the
EQ graph in Figure 14-2.
When you use low-shelf/high-shelf EQ, you have three parameters to adjust in
both Pro Tools and Logic:
✓)>>Gain: This is the amount of boost or cut that you apply to the signal. In
Pro Tools, you can either type in the amount in the text box next to the
shelf button or use the knob to the right. In Logic, to set the boost, you
can either point your mouse over the parameter and click and drag up
or down, or click in the EQ graph above the parameter controls and drag
up or down.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
✓)>>Freq: This is the starting frequency for the shelf. In Pro Tools, you can
either type the frequency in the text box or use the knob to make your
adjustment. In Logic, to set your desired frequency, you can either point
your mouse over the parameter and click and drag up or down, or click
in the EQ graph above the parameter controls and drag left or right.
✓)>>Q: This is the steepness of the shelf of your EQ. The higher the number,
the steeper the shelf that’s applied — meaning that the range of frequencies affected to get the gain change of the shelf is narrower. To adjust
this parameter in Logic, you can point your mouse over the parameter
and click and drag up or down to get the Q value you want. Your settings
can be anywhere from 0.10 to 2. In Pro Tools, you adjust this setting
either by moving the knob or by clicking in the box and typing a value
between 0.1 and 2.
Using low-pass/high-pass EQ
Here’s where you tell your plug-in which frequencies to avoid in the course
of adjusting the EQ. (So, when you apply low- or high-pass EQ, you’re telling
the mixer to pass on certain frequencies.) The low- and high-pass buttons are
located at the far left and far right above the EQ graph in Figure 14-2.
To use the low- or high-pass filter, click the appropriate button in the EQ window.
In Pro Tools, you have two options: Freq and Q. The Freq setting is the frequency
that the filter begins filtering. Any frequency below (high-pass) or above (lowpass) the setting is removed from the track. You can either type the frequency
in the text box or use the knob to make your adjustment. The Q is the range of
frequencies that your EQ will affect. With these filters, you can select among 6,
12, 18, and 24 decibels (dB) per octave. The higher the number, the more severe
the filter. In Logic, you have the same three settings — frequency, gain/slope, and
Q — as the rest of the EQ types. And as with the other EQ types, you adjust the
settings by pointing your mouse over the column of the setting and clicking and
dragging the parameter that you want to adjust. With the high-pass and low-pass
EQ (filters), the gain/slope parameter adjusts the slope of the filter (how quickly
it totally cuts off the frequency).
Deciding which frequencies to boost or cut
Here’s a good trick to use when initially trying to decide which frequencies to
boost or cut:
1.)>> Solo the track you’re working on by clicking the Solo button in the
track’s channel strip and set your parametric EQ to a narrow Q setting
(a high number).
2.)>> Turn the boost all the way up (turn the EQ knob all the way to the
right) and sweep the frequency setting as you listen (to sweep, just
turn the EQ knob’s frequency dial to the left and right).
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
3.)>> Notice those areas where the annoying or pleasing sounds are located.
ç’•å±´ This can help you better understand the frequencies that your instrument produces.
4.)>> After you find a frequency to adjust, experiment with the Q setting
to find the range that produces the best sound and then adjust the
amount of boost or cut to where it has the effect that you want.
After you determine the frequencies that you want to work with, do your
EQing to the individual track while the instrument is in the mix (not soloed).
You’re trying to make that instrument fit as well as possible with the rest
of the instruments, and to do this, you need to know how your instrument
sounds in relation to all the stuff (music) going on around it.
When making adjustments in EQ, your goal is to make all the tracks blend
as well as possible. In some instances, this means making some radical EQ
moves. Don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to make your mix sound good,
even if this means having cuts or boosts as great as 12dB.
Starting with general guidelines
Although some instruments call for specific EQ guidelines, you should consider some general issues when EQing, regardless of the instrument involved.
When it comes to the audible frequency spectrum (which is generally about
20 Hz to 20 kHz), certain frequencies always have certain characteristics.
Table 14-1 describes these frequencies.
Table 14-1)>>
EQ Frequency Sound Characteristics
Sound Characteristic
20–100 Hz
Warms an instrument or adds boominess to it
100–200 Hz
Is muddy for some instruments but adds fullness to others
350–450 Hz
Sounds boxy
750–850 Hz
Adds depth or body
1–2 kHz
Adds attack or punch to some instruments and creates a nasally
sound in others
2–5 kHz
Increases the presence of instruments
5–8 kHz
Sounds harsh in some instruments
8 kHz and
Adds airiness or brightness to an instrument
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
You’re generally better off cutting a frequency than boosting one. This thinking
goes back to the early days of analog EQs, which often added noise when boosting a signal. This can still be a factor with some digital EQs, but it’s much less of
an issue. I still try to cut frequencies before I boost them just out of habit, and I
recommend that you do the same (not out of habit, of course, but because if a
noise difference exists between cutting and boosting, you may as well avoid it).
The exact frequencies that you end up cutting or boosting depend on the
sound you want, the tonal characteristic of the instrument, and the relationship between all the instruments in the song. In the following sections, I list a
variety of frequencies to cut or boost for each instrument; Table 14-2 shows
an overview. You may not want to follow all the suggestions. Just choose the
ones that help you meet your goals.
Table 14-2)>>
EQ Recommendations per Instrument
150 Hz
Adds fullness
200–250 Hz
Reduces muddiness
3 kHz
Adds clarity
5 kHz
Adds presence
7.5–10 kHz
Cuts sibilance
10 kHz
Adds air or brightness
100 Hz
Reduces muddiness
150–250 Hz
Adds warmth
2.5–4 kHz
Adds attack or punch
5 kHz
Adds bite
80 Hz
Reduces muddiness
150–250 Hz
Adds warmth
800–1000 Hz
Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz
Adds attack or punch
Bass guitar
7 kHz
Adds brightness
100–200 Hz
Adds fullness
200–300 Hz
Reduces muddiness
500–1000 Hz
Adds punch
2.5–5 kHz
Adds attack
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Table 14-2 (continued)
Kick drum
80–100 Hz
Adds body or depth
400–600 Hz
Reduces boxiness
2.5–5 kHz
Adds attack
100–150 Hz
Adds warmth
250 Hz
Adds depth or body
800–1000 Hz
Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz
Adds attack
Snare drum
8–10 kHz
Adds crispness
200–250 Hz
Adds depth
600–1000 Hz
Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz
Adds attack
5–8 kHz
Adds presence
40–125 Hz
Adds richness
400–800 Hz
Reduces boxiness
2.5–5 kHz
Adds punch or attack
10+ kHz
Adds brightness or sheen
150–200 Hz
Reduces rumbling
1–2 kHz
Reduces trashiness
10+ kHz
Adds brightness or sheen
100–200 Hz
Reduces muddiness
400–1,000 Hz
Reduces boxiness
500–800 Hz
Cuts boxiness
10+ kHz
Adds brightness or sheen
250Hz and
Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz
Adds attack
8–10 kHz
Adds brightness
80–150 Hz
Adds warmth
200–400 Hz
Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz
Adds punch or attack
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
100–200 Hz
Adds warmth
200–800 Hz
Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz
Adds punch or attack
7–9 kHz
Adds breath
For most popular music, the vocals are the most important instrument in the
song. You need to hear them clearly, and they should contain the character
of the singer’s voice and style. One of the most common mistakes in mixing
vocals is to make them too loud. The next most common mistake is to make
them too quiet. (This is especially true if you’re the singer and are even
slightly self-conscious of your vocal skills.) You want the lead vocals to shine
through, but you don’t want them to overpower the other instruments. The
best way to do this is to EQ the vocal tracks so that they can sit nicely in the
mix and still be heard clearly. The following guidelines can help you do this.
You can use several techniques with the lead vocal, depending on the singer
and the style of music. For the most part, I tend to cut a little around 200 Hz
and add a couple decibels at 3 kHz and again at 10 kHz. In general, try following these guidelines:
✓)>>To add fullness, try adding a few decibels at 150 Hz.
✓)>>To get rid of muddiness, cut a few decibels at 200 to 250 Hz.
✓)>>To add clarity, boost a little at 3 kHz.
✓)>>For more presence, add at 5 kHz.
✓)>>To add air or to brighten, boost at 10 kHz.
✓)>>To get rid of sibilance, cut a little between 7.5 and 10 kHz.
To keep backup vocals from competing with lead vocals, cut the backup vocals
a little in the low end (below 250 Hz) and at the 2.5 to 3.5 kHz range. To add
clarity, you can boost a little around 10 kHz without getting in the way of the
lead vocal.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
For the most part, you want to avoid a muddy guitar sound and to make sure
that the attack comes through in the mix.
Electric guitars can often use a little cutting below 100 Hz to eliminate muddiness. A boost between 120 and 250 Hz adds warmth. A boost in the 2.5 to
4 kHz range brings out the attack of the guitar, and a boost at 5 kHz can add
some bite to the guitar.
Acoustic guitars often do well with a little cut below 80 Hz and again around
800 Hz to 1 kHz. If you want a warmer tone and more body, you can try boosting a little at 150 to 250 Hz. Also try adding a few decibels around 3 to 5 kHz if
you want more attack or punch. A few decibels added at 7 kHz can add a little
more brightness to the instrument.
This instrument can get muddy pretty fast. The mud generally happens in the
200 to 300 Hz range, so I either leave that alone or cut just a little if the bass
lacks definition. I rarely add frequencies below 100 Hz but boost some between
100 and 200 Hz if the instrument sounds flat or thin. Adding a little between 500
Hz and 1 kHz can increase the punch, and a boost between 2.5 and 5 kHz accentuates the attack, adding a little brightness to the bass.
With the bass guitar, one of the most important things is to make sure that it
and the kick drum can both be heard. You need to adjust the frequencies of
these two instruments to make room for both. For the most part, try cutting
frequencies from the bass that you may add to the kick.
The guidelines for EQing the drums depend on whether you use live acoustic
drums or a drum machine. (The drum machine probably requires less EQ
because the sounds were already EQ’d when they were created.) Also, the
type and placement of your mic(s) also affect how you EQ the drums. (You
can find out more about mic placement in Chapters 8 and 9.)
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
You want the kick drum to blend in with the bass guitar. To do this, reduce
the frequencies that the bass guitar takes up. For example, if I boost a few dB
between 100 and 200 Hz for the bass guitar, I generally cut them in the kick
drum (and maybe as high as 250 Hz). To bring out the bottom end of the kick,
I sometimes add a couple of decibels between 80 and 100 Hz. The kick drum
can get boxy-sounding (you know, like a cardboard box), so I often cut a little
between 400 and 600 Hz as well to get rid of this boxiness. To bring out the
click from the beater hitting the head, try adding a little between 2.5 and 5 kHz.
This increases the attack of the drum and gives it more presence.
The snare drum drives the music, making it the most important drum in popular music. As such, it needs to really cut through the rest of the instruments.
Although the adjustments that you make depend on the pitch and size of the
drum and whether you used one mic or two during recording, you can usually boost a little at 100 to 150 Hz for added warmth. You can also try boosting at 250 Hz to add some depth and cutting at 800 Hz to 1 kHz if the drum
sounds too boxy. A little boost at around 3 to 5 kHz increases the attack, and
an increase in the 8 to 10 kHz range can add crispness to the drum.
If you used two mics during recording, consider dropping a few decibels
on the top mic in both the 800 Hz to 1 kHz range and the 8 to 10 kHz range.
Allow the bottom mic to create the crispness. I generally roll off the bottom
end of the bottom mic below, say, 250 to 300 Hz. Depending on the music
(R&B and pop, for instance), I may add a little sizzle to the bottom mic by
boosting frequencies above 10 kHz with a shelf EQ.
For many recording engineers/producers, the snare drum sound is almost a
signature. If you listen to different artists’ songs from the same producer, you’ll
likely hear similarities in the songs’ snare drum sound. Don’t be afraid to take
your time so the snare drum sounds just right. After all, if you become a famous
producer, you’ll want people to recognize your snare drum sound, too.
Tom-toms come in a large range of sizes and pitches, but for mounted toms,
you can boost a little around 200 to 250 Hz to add depth to the drum. A boost
in the 3 to 5 kHz range can add more of the sticks’ attack, and for some additional presence, try adding a little in the 5 to 8 kHz range. If the drums sound
too boxy, try cutting a little in the 600 Hz to 1 kHz range.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
For floor toms, you can try boosting the frequency range 40 to 125 Hz to add
some richness and fullness. You may also find that cutting 400 to 800 Hz can
get rid of any boxy sound that the drum may have. To add more attack, boost
the 2.5 to 5 kHz range.
Most of the time, the hi-hats are pretty well represented in the rest of the
mics in the drum set, but depending on which mics are picking up the hi-hats,
you can use the hi-hat mic to bring out their sheen or brightness. To do this,
try boosting the frequencies above 10 kHz with a shelf EQ. You may also find
that cutting frequencies below 200 Hz eliminates any rumble created by other
drums that the hi-hat mic picked up.
With the cymbals, I usually cut anything below 150 to 200 Hz with a shelf EQ
to get rid of rumbling that these mics may pick up. I also drop a few decibels
at 1 to 2 kHz if the cymbals sound kind of trashy or clanky. Adding a shelf EQ
above 10 kHz can add a nice sheen to the mix.
Overhead mics
If you used overhead mics to pick up both the drums and the cymbals, be
careful about cutting too much low end — this can just suck the life out of
your drums. Also, if the drums coming through the overhead mics sound
boxy or muddy, work with the 100 to 200 Hz frequencies for the muddiness
and 400 Hz to 1 kHz frequencies for the boxiness.
High-pitched percussion instruments, such as shakers, sound good when the
higher frequencies are boosted a little bit — over 10 kHz, for instance. This
adds brightness and softness to their sound. You can also roll off many of the
lower frequencies, below 500 Hz, to eliminate any boxiness that may be present from miking too closely (see Chapter 8 for more on mic placement).
Lower-pitched percussion instruments, such as maracas, can also have the
lower frequencies cut a little — use 250 Hz and lower. Try boosting frequencies between 2.5 and 5 kHz to add more of the instrument’s attack. To brighten
them up, add a little bit in the 8 to 10 kHz range.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
For pianos, you often want to make sure that the instrument has a nice attack,
as well as a warm-bodied tone. You can add attack in the 2.5 to 5 kHz range, and
warmth can be added in the 80 to 150 Hz range. If your piano sounds boomy or
muddy, try cutting a little between 200 and 400 Hz.
You find a variety of horns, from tubas to soprano saxophones, so to offer
blanket recommendations for all of them would be ridiculous (although I’m
no stranger to ridiculous). So, with this thought in mind, I often start the EQ
process for these instruments by looking at the 100 to 200 Hz range to add
warmth to thin-sounding instruments. Next, I approach the 400 to 800 Hz
range to get rid of any muddiness that occurs unless it’s a really low horn like
a tuba. In this case, I often look for the muddiness a little lower — say, in the
200 to 400 Hz range. To add some more attack to a horn, you can tweak the
2.5 to 5 kHz range a bit, and to add some of the breath of the instrument, look
toward the 7 to 9 kHz range.
Using the Stereo Field
When you’re at a live concert and you close your eyes, you can hear where
each instrument is coming from onstage. You can hear that certain instruments are on the left side of the stage, others are on the right, and still
others seem to come from the center. You can also generally discern whether
an instrument is at the front or the back of the stage. Put all these sounds
together, and you have a stereo field.
The stereo field consists of placement from left to right and front to back.
When you mix a song, you can set your instruments wherever you want them
on the “stage” that’s created by your listeners’ speakers. You can do this
with panning, which sets your instruments from left to right, and you can
use effects, such as reverb and delay, to place your instruments from front
to back in your mix. When you mix your song, try to visualize where onstage
each instrument may be placed.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Some people choose to set the panning and depth of their instruments to
sound as natural as possible, while others use these settings to create otherworldly sounds. There is no right or wrong setting when panning and adding
effects to simulate depth — just what works for your goals. Don’t be afraid to
get creative and try unusual things.
Panning left or right
You adjust each instrument’s position from left to right in a mix with the panning knob. The panning knob is generally located just above each channel’s
fader. This can be either a knob that you turn left or right or a slider that you
move to the left or right.
Panning for most songs is pretty straightforward. I outline some settings in
the following list:
✓)>>Lead vocals: Lead vocals are usually panned directly in the center.
✓)>>Backup vocals: Because backup vocals are often recorded in stereo,
they’re panned hard left and hard right. If you recorded only one track
of backup vocals, you can make a duplicate of the track and pan one to
each side, just as you can with stereo tracks.
ç’•å±´In addition to tracks panned to each side, some mixing engineers also
have a third backup vocal track that’s panned in the center to add more
depth. Your choice of doing this depends on how you recorded your
backup vocals and how many tracks you have available for them.
✓)>>Guitar: Lead guitar is often panned to the center (or just slightly off-center
if the sound in the center of the stereo field is too cluttered). Rhythm
guitar, on the other hand, is generally placed somewhere just off-center.
Which side doesn’t matter, but it’s usually the opposite side from other
background instruments, such as an additional rhythm guitar, synthesizers, organs, or pianos.
✓)>>Bass: Most of the time, the bass guitar is panned in the center, but it’s
not uncommon for mixing engineers to create a second track for the
bass and pan one to the far left and the other to the far right. This gives
the bass a sense of spaciousness and allows more room for both the
bass guitar and kick drum in the mix.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
✓)>>Drums: As a general rule, most people pan the drums so that they
appear in the stereo field much like they would onstage (but you don’t
have to take this approach). The snare drum and kick drum are typically
panned right up the center, and the tom-toms are panned from right to
left slightly. Hi-hat cymbals often go just to the right of center, the ride
cymbal just left of center, and crash cymbals sit from left to right, much
like the tom-toms.
✓)>>Percussion: Percussion instruments tend to be panned just off to the left
or right of center. If I have a shaker or triangle part that plays throughout the song, for instance, I pan it to the right an equal distance from
center as the hi-hat is to the left. This way, you hear the hi-hat and percussion parts playing off one another in the mix.
✓)>>Piano/synthesizers/organs: These instruments are usually placed just
off-center. If your song has rhythm guitar parts, the piano or organ usually goes to the opposite side. Synthesizers can be panned all over the
place. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the synths to be actively panned
throughout the song (that is, they move from place to place).
Some mixing engineers like to keep their instruments toward the center of the
mix, while other engineers prefer spreading things way out with instruments
on either end of the spectrum. There’s no right or wrong way to pan instruments. In fact, no one says that you have to leave any of your instruments in
the same place throughout the entire song.
Placing sound in front or back
As you probably discovered when you were placing your mics to record an
instrument, the quality of sound changes when you place a mic closer to or
farther away from the instrument. The closer you place a mic to the instrument, the less room ambience you pick up, thus making the instrument
sound close to you, or “in your face.” In contrast, the farther from the instrument you place your mic, the more room sound you hear. As a result, your
instrument sounds far away.
If you’ve ever stood in a large room and talked to someone, you’ve seen (well,
heard, actually) how this relationship works. When your friend stands close
to you, you can hear him clearly. You hear very little of the reflections of his
voice from around the room. As he moves farther away from you, the room’s
reflections play an increasing role in the way that you hear him. By the time
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
your friend is on the other side of the room, you hear not only his voice but
also the room in which you’re talking with him. In fact, if the room is large
enough, your friend probably sounds as if he were a mile away from you, and
all the reflections from his voice bouncing around the room may make it difficult to understand what he says.
You can easily simulate this effect by using your reverb or delay effect processors. In fact, this is often the purpose of reverb and delay in the mixing
process. With them, you can effectively place your instruments almost anywhere that you want them, from front to back, in your mix.
The less reverb or delay that you use in conjunction with your instrument, the
closer it appears on the recording, whereas the more effect you add to an
instrument, the farther away it seems from you.
The type of reverb or delay setting that you use has an impact on how close
or far away a sound appears as well. For example, a longer reverb’s decay or
delay sounds farther away than a shorter one. In Chapter 15, I go into detail
about the various effects processors to help you understand how best to
use them. I also present settings that you can use to create natural-sounding
reverb and delay on your tracks, as well as some unusual settings that you
can use for special effects.
Adjusting Levels: Enhancing
the Emotion of the Song
After you have a rough mix and have your EQ and panning settings where you
want them, your next step is to determine which parts of which tracks are
used when — and sometimes, whether a part or track is used at all. If you’re
like most musician/producers, you try to get all the wonderful instrumental
and vocal parts you recorded as loud as possible in the mix so that each can
be heard clearly all the time. After all, you didn’t go through all the time and
effort to record all those great tracks just to hide them in the mix — or worse
yet, mute them — right?
Well, I feel your pain. But during the mixing stage of a song, you need to take
off your musician’s hat and put on the one that says producer. A producer’s
job is to weed through all the parts of a song, choose those that add to its
impact, and dump those that are superfluous or just add clutter. Your goal is
to assemble the tracks that tell the story that you want to tell and that carry
the greatest emotional impact for the listener.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
This can be the toughest part of mixing your own songs because you aren’t
likely to be totally objective when it comes to determining what to use. Try
not to stress out. You aren’t erasing any of your tracks, so you can always do
another mix later if you just have to hear the part that you muted before.
One of the great joys when listening to music (for me, anyway) is hearing a
song that carries me away and pulls me into the emotional journey that the
songwriter had in mind. If the song is done well, I’m sucked right into the song,
and by the end, all I want to do is listen to it again.
What is it about certain songs that can draw you in and get you to feel the
emotion of the performers? Well, aside from a good melody and great performances, it’s the way that the arrangement builds throughout the song to
create tension, release that tension, and build it again. A good song builds
intensity so that the listener feels pulled into the emotions of the song.
Generally, a song starts out quietly, becomes a little louder during the first
chorus, and then drops in level for the second verse (not as quiet as the first,
though). The second chorus is often louder and fuller than the first chorus,
and is often followed by a bridge section that is even fuller yet (or at least different in arrangement from the second chorus). The loud bridge section may
be followed by a third verse, where the volume drops a little. Then a superheated chorus generally follows the last verse and keeps building intensity
until the song ends.
You have two tools at your disposal when crafting your song to build and
release intensity: dynamics and instrumental content (the arrangement).
Dynamics are simply how loud or soft something is. Listen to a classic blues
tune (or even some classical music), and you can hear sections where the
song is almost deafeningly silent and other sections where you think the
band is going to step out of the speakers and into your room. This is an effective and powerful use of dynamics. The problem is that dynamics seems to
be a lost art, at least in popular music.
It used to be that a song could have very quiet parts and really loud ones.
Unfortunately, a lot of modern CDs have only one level — loud. This often
isn’t the fault of the musicians or even the band’s producer. The radio stations and record company bean counters have fueled this trend because they
want to make sure that a band’s music is as loud as (or louder than) other
CDs on the market. (You can read more about this trend in Chapter 16.)
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Try recording a song with a lot of dynamic changes. I know this bucks the
trend, but who knows, you may end up with a song that carries a ton of emotional impact. Also, as you mix your song, incorporate dynamic variation by
dropping the levels of background instruments during the verses and bringing
them up during the chorus and bridge sections of the song. You can always
eliminate your dynamic variation by squashing your mix with compression
during the mastering process.
The biggest mistake that most people make when they mix their own music
is trying to get their song as loud as commercial CDs. This is the mastering
engineer’s job, however, not yours, so don’t worry about it. Get your song to
sound good with a balance between high and low frequencies and loud and
soft sections. Let the mastering engineer make your music as loud as it can
be. She definitely has gear that is better designed to raise the volume of a
recording without making it sound squashed or harsh. (More on mastering in
Chapter 16.)
The arrangement
Building intensity with the arrangement involves varying the amount of
sound in each section. A verse with just lead vocal, drums, bass, and an
instrument playing the basic chords of the song is going to have less intensity (not to mention volume) than a chorus with a wash of guitars, backup
vocals, drums, percussion, organ, and so on. Most songs that build intensity
effectively start with fewer instruments than they end with.
When you mix your song, think about how you can use the instruments to
add to the emotional content of your lyrics. For example, if you have a guitar
lick that you played at every break in the vocal line, think about using it less
to leave space for lower levels at certain points in your song. If you do this,
each lick can provide more impact for the listener and bring more to the
song’s emotion.
Automation: Riding the Faders
When you have the levels of each instrument set so that you can hear each of
them when the song plays, you may think that you can pretty much leave the
levels that way during the whole song. Well, you can, but that often limits the
amount of dynamics in your mix.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
Rarely do you set the levels of each instrument at the beginning of the song
and not move the various instrument levels up and down throughout the
song. For example, you may find that you want the rhythm guitar parts
louder during the chorus, or maybe you have a short guitar lick in the second
verse that you want to bring up a little in the mix.
To adjust levels during the song, you used to need several hands (or at least
one more person to help), and you jumped from one fader to another and
constantly made changes to the effect settings while you recorded the final
mix. One mistake, and you had to start recording over again. This is no longer
the case for most digital recorders because most of them have an automix
feature. Automix enables you to record the fader moves and effects changes
that happen throughout the mix so that you don’t have to actually move the
faders when you record to two tracks.
Depending on your system, you have one of two types of automation features
(or both): real-time automation and scene or snapshot automation.
Real-time automation
Real-time automation is also referred to as dynamic automated mixing. This
feature allows you to record the fader, panning, effects settings, and other
things in real time to each track as the song plays. The advantage of this type
of automation is that you can seamlessly get volume changes, and you can
record these changes while the song plays.
The disadvantage of real-time automation is that it takes you a while to do,
especially if you have a lot of tracks to automate. Real-time automation can
also take up a lot of hard drive space and can tax your processor if you have
a complicated mix with lots of tracks, effects, and mixer setting changes.
Snapshot automation
Snapshot automation involves saving the mixer data at intervals rather than
throughout the entire song. To do snapshot automation, just set your mixer
(levels, EQ, effects, and so on) the way you want it for a particular section in
your song (the verse, for instance) and take a “snapshot” of it. Whenever you
make a mixer move, you take another snapshot, and so on. Snapshot automation can be useful if you have a song without a ton of complex mixer changes.
The advantage of snapshot automation is that it takes up a lot less hard drive
space and requires less processor power. The disadvantage is that it can take
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
much longer to automate the song (you have to program each instance into
the mixer), and any complex mixer moves, such as fade-ins and fade-outs,
may not sound as smooth.
If you’re going to mix your music and have more than eight tracks, get a
system that enables you to do automated mixing (I say eight tracks because,
for the most part, you can handle mixing up to eight tracks the old-fashioned
way). Research the automation features of the system that interests you
before you buy it. For example, a given system may offer real-time automation, but it may tax the system’s processor and add to your song’s file size so
quickly that using it becomes more hassle than it’s worth. Likewise, some systems (the Roland VS-1680, for example) don’t allow you to change the effects
patch during automation. The more you know about your mixing needs, the
better you can tell what automation approach will work for you.
Tuning Your Ears
To create a mix that sounds good, the most critical tools you need are your
ears, because your ability to hear the music clearly and accurately is essential. To maximize this ability, you need a decent set of studio monitors and
a good idea of how other people’s music sounds on your speakers. You also
need to make sure that you don’t mix when your ears are tired. The following
sections explore these areas.
Listening critically
One of the best ways to find out how to mix music is to listen to the way
music that you like is mixed. Put on a CD of something similar to your music
(or music that has a sound that you like) and ask yourself the following
✓)>>What is the overall tonal quality or texture of the song? Notice how
the frequencies of all the instruments cover the hearing spectrum. Does
the song sound smooth or harsh, full or thin? Try to determine what you
like about the overall production.
✓)>>How does the song’s arrangement contribute to its overall feel? Listen
for licks or phrases that add to the arrangement. Notice whether the
song seems to get fuller as it goes on.
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
✓)>>Where are the instruments in the stereo field? Notice where each
instrument is, from left to right and front to back, in the mix. Listen to
see whether the instruments stay in one place throughout the song or
whether they move around.
✓)>>What effects are being used on each instrument? Listen for reverb
and delay lengths, as well as the effect level compared to the dry (unaffected) signal.
✓)>>What tonal quality does each instrument have? Try to determine the
frequencies from each instrument that seem dominant. Pay particular
attention to the way the drums sound, especially the snare drum.
✓)>>Do you have any phase cancellation messing with your tracks? Phase
cancellation changes the sound of your mix by reducing certain frequencies. These can cause serious problems with your mix. (Check out
Chapter 8 for more on phase cancellation.) Test your mix in mono (turn
off the stereo panning on your master bus). You should be switching
from mono to stereo often as you mix, especially if you’re adding tracks
to a mix or making big EQ adjustments.
Even if you’re not mixing one of your songs, it’s a good idea to occasionally
sit down and listen to music on your monitors to get used to listening to
music critically. Also, the more good music you hear on your monitors, the
easier it is for you to know when your music sounds good on them, too.
A good mix should sound good on a variety of systems, not just through the
speakers in your studio. Before you decide that a mix is done, copy it to a CD,
iPod, smartphone, or whatever, and play it in your car, your friend’s stereo,
and a boom box. In fact, try to listen to your music on as many different kinds
of systems as you can. As you listen, notice whether the bass disappears or
becomes too loud or whether the treble becomes thin or harsh. Basically,
you’re trying to determine where you need to make adjustments in your mix
so that it sounds good everywhere.
Unless you spent a lot of time and money getting your mixing room to sound
great, you have to compensate when you mix so that your music sounds
good on other people’s systems. If your room or speakers enhance the bass
in your song, the song will sound thin on other people’s systems. On the
other hand, if your system lacks bass, your mixes will be boomy when you
listen to them somewhere else.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Choosing reference recordings
A reference recording can be any music that you like or that helps you to
hear your music more clearly. For the most part, choose reference recordings
that have a good balance between high and low frequencies and that sound
good to your ear. That said, some recordings are mixed really well, which can
help you get to know your monitors and train your ears to hear the subtleties of a mix. I name a few recordings in the following list. (Disclaimer: I try to
cover a variety of music styles in this list, but I can’t cover them all without a
list that’s pages long.)
Only use high-quality recordings as a reference. MP3s or other “lossy” file
formats will not give you a good reference. Unless you can get your hands on
high-resolutions digital files (such as FLAC, WAV, or AIFF), I recommend you
stick to CDs.
Yes, some of these albums are old(er). I tend to prefer older recordings, before
mastering became a competition to get the most volume out of a recording.
Keep this in mind when looking for good reference music.
✓)>>Steely Dan, Two Against Nature
✓)>>Lyle Lovett, Joshua Judges Ruth
✓)>>Norah Jones, Come Away with Me
✓)>>Sting, Brand New Day
✓)>>Ben Harper, Burn to Shine
✓)>>Leonard Cohen, Ten New Songs
✓)>>Beck, Mutations
✓)>>Peter Gabriel, So
✓)>>Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense
✓)>>Sarah McLachlan, Surfacing
✓)>>No Doubt, Return of Saturn
✓)>>Los Lobos, Kiko
✓)>>Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals
✓)>>Depeche Mode, Ultra
✓)>>Bonnie Raitt, Fundamental
Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music
✓)>>Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
✓)>>Macy Gray, On How Life Is
✓)>>Pearl Jam, Yield
✓)>>Metallica, S&M
✓)>>Dr. Dre, 2001
All commercial recordings have been mastered. This is going to affect the
sound of them a little — most important, they’ll be louder than your music. If
you toggle back and forth between your mix and a reference recording, adjust
the relative levels so that each sounds equally as loud coming through your
speakers because the louder song always sounds “better.” And remember:
Don’t try to match the volume of your mix to a reference recording.
Dealing with ear fatigue
If you’ve ever had a chance to mix a song, you’ve probably found that you
often do a better mix early in the process, and the longer you work on the
song, the worse the mix gets. In most cases, this is because your ears get
tired, and when they do, hearing accurately becomes harder.
To tame ear fatigue, try the following tips:
✓)>>Don’t mix at the end of the day, especially after doing other recordings. Save your mixing for first thing in the morning, when your ears
have had a chance to rest.
✓)>>Keep the volume low. I know you’ll be tempted to crank the volume on
your song as you work on it, but doing so only tires your ears prematurely and can cause damage, especially if you have monitors that can
get really loud.
✓)>>Take an occasional break. Just 10 or 15 minutes of silence can allow
you to work for another hour or so. Also, don’t be afraid to walk away
from a mix for a day or more.
✓)>>Try not to mix under a deadline. This suggestion fits with the preceding one. If you’re under a deadline, you can’t give yourself the time you
may need to rest and reassess your mix before it goes to print.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Making several versions
One great thing about digital recording is that it costs you nothing to make
several versions of a mix. All you need is a little (or a lot of) hard drive space.
Because you can make as many variations on your song’s mix as your hard
drive allows, you can really experiment by trying new effects settings or
trying active panning in your song. You may end up with something exciting.
At the very least, you end up discovering more about your gear — and that’s
always a good thing.
Print (record) a mix early on. Most of the time, your best mixes happen early
in the mixing process. Print (or save) the first good mix that you make before
you try making creative ones. This way, if you get burned out or run out of
time, you have a decent mix to fall back on.
Chapter 15
Dialing In Signal Processors
In This Chapter
▶)>>Using effects
▶)>>Understanding dynamics processing
▶)>>Exploring signal processing
nless you record your songs using a live band in a perfect acoustic
environment, your music will sound a little flat without the addition
of some type of effects. Effects allow you to make your music sound like
you recorded it in just about any environment possible. You can make your
drums sound as if they were recorded in a cathedral or your vocals sound
as if you were singing underwater. Effects also have the ability to make you
sound better than you actually did. For example, you can add harmony parts
to your lead or backup vocals, or you can make your guitar sound like you
played it through a number of great amplifiers.
In this chapter, you discover many of the most common signal processors
used in recording studios. (Signal processors are the neat hardware behind
all the effects you can achieve in a recording studio.) You discern the difference between insert (line) and send/return effects, dynamics processors, and
effects processors. You also get a chance to explore ways of using these processors, with recommendations for using reverb, delay, chorus, pitch shifting, compression, noise gates, and expanders.
All effects have presets. Presets are factory settings that enable you to dive
right into using the effects processor without having to know how each parameter works. Presets are a good place to start when you’re not really sure how
to get the sound that you want. Most presets are named, and the name may
give you a hint about where you may use it. For example, a reverb with a preset
called vocal plate lets you know that it may be worth trying on vocals. After
you choose a preset, don’t be afraid to tweak it a little to get the sound you’re
after. Most decent effects processors allow you to save any changes that you
make to the preset.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
The best way to discover how to use effects on your music is to experiment.
The more you play around with the different settings, the more familiar you’ll
become with how each effect operates. Then you can get creative and come
up with the best ways of using effects for your music.
The Bypass button on your effects processor is your friend. With a press of
this button, you can quickly turn off the effect to your signal. Use it to check
your effect settings against your original signal. Sometimes you’ll like the original sound better.
Connecting Effects
For an effects processor to work on your sound source, you need to connect
the processor properly. Regardless of the type of signal processor or recording system you’re using, you have the option of connecting your processor
directly into the channel strip (called a line effect or insert effect) or routing it
through your aux bus (a send/return effect).
Insert (line) effects are placed in the signal path so that all the instrument’s
sound passes through the effect, as shown in Figure 15-1. Line effects alter
the entire signal of the instrument and don’t allow you to mix the amount
of effect that you have with the original dry (unaffected) signal at the mixer.
(Some insert effects allow you to adjust the balance of dry and affected signal
using a Mix dial.) Line effects are generally dynamics processors like compression or gates, which are great for evening out signal levels and getting rid
of noise on your tracks, but they can also be the useful new effects, such as
amp or microphone simulators, that are available to the home recordist.
Send/return effects, such as reverb, delay, chorus, and flange, allow you to
mix both the affected and unaffected sound separately. The send/return
effect is connected to the aux bus in your mixer (through the aux jack), as
shown in Figure 15-2, and as a result, you can adjust both the dry signal and
the affected signal separately. This enables you to do the following things
that you can’t do with a line effect:
✓)>>Run as many instruments through the same processor as you want. For
example, you can have your snare drum, kick drum, bass guitar, and
backup vocals all run through the same reverb.
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
✓)>>Have as much or as little of the affected sound in your music as you
want. This can be an advantage if you want just a little reverb on your
vocal track, for instance.
✓)>>Pan the dry signal to one side of the mix and the affected signal to the
other side. This can add depth to an instrument and can be used for a
variety of cool effects.
Figure 15-1:
go in the
signal path
and affect
the entire
sound of the
Figure 15-2:
A send/
return effect
allows you
to have both
affected and
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Controlling Loudness and Softness
with Dynamics Processors
Dynamics processors allow you to control the dynamic range of a signal. The
dynamic range is the difference between the softest and loudest signals that
a sound source produces. This range is listed in decibels (dB). The larger the
dynamic range, the more variation between the softest and loudest notes.
The three types of dynamics processors are compressors/limiters, gates, and
expanders. The following sections give you the lowdown on each item, but
suffice it to say that, with the help of dynamics processors, you can do a
number of important things to your music. You can add punch or smooth out
an instrument’s sound, you can eliminate noise from a track, or you can even
out an erratic performance.
Figure 15-3 shows the dynamics processors section of a popular computerbased recording program. Although each dynamics process works a little
differently, they all use some of the same controls. In this figure, you use the
dials at the bottom of the window to control the different parameters for the
processor. The left section’s level meters show you how much processing of
the dynamic range that you’re doing.
Figure 15-3:
allow you
to control
the levels of
your signals.
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Introducing compressors/limiters
The compressor’s job is to compress the dynamic range of the sound being
affected. The compressor not only limits how loud a note can be, but also
reduces the difference between the loudest and softest notes (it compresses
the dynamic range).
The limiter works much like the compressor except it limits the highest level
of a sound source. Any signal above the threshold is chopped off rather than
compressed, as with the compressor.
Compressors/limiters are used for the following three main purposes (although
other purposes certainly exist as well):
✓)>>To keep transients from creating digital distortion during tracking:
This is common with drums that have a very fast attack (initial signal)
that can easily overload the recorder (or converters or preamps).
✓)>>To even out a performance that shows a high degree of unwanted
dynamic variation: You do this during either the mixing or tracking
stage. An example is a singer who has poor mic control (moves constantly in front of the mic), and as a result, some recorded passages
become loud while others are very quiet.
✓)>>To raise the overall apparent level of the music during mastering: For
example, listen to a CD recorded ten years ago and one from the last year or
so, and you’ll notice that the newer CD sounds louder than the older one.
I cover the first of these three purposes in Chapter 7, and I explore the third
purpose in Chapter 16. So, that leaves the second purpose to explore with
sample settings later in this chapter.
In Chapter 7, I explain the purpose of the various parameters of a compressor, but to keep you from having to flip through the book to find that information, I present those parameters here as well:
✓)>>Threshold: The threshold setting dictates the level that the compressor
starts to act on the signal. This setting, listed in decibels, is often listed
as decibels below peak (0dB). In other words, a setting of –6dB means
that the compressor starts to act when the signal is 6dB below its calibrated 0dB mark. (In digital systems, 0dB is the highest level a signal can
go before clipping.)
✓)>>Ratio: The ratio is the amount that the compressor affects the signal.
A ratio of 2:1, for example, means that for every decibel that the signal
goes over the threshold setting, the signal is reduced by a factor of 2. In
other words, if a signal goes 1dB over the threshold setting, its output
from the compressor is only ½dB louder. With ratios above 10:1, your
compressor starts to act like a limiter.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>Attack: The attack knob controls how soon the compressor kicks in. The
attack is defined in milliseconds (ms), and the lower the number, the
faster the attack.
✓)>>Release: The release parameter controls how long the compressor continues affecting the signal after it has dropped back below the threshold
setting. Like the attack, the release is defined in milliseconds. The lower
the number, the faster the release time.
✓)>>Gain: The gain knob allows you to adjust the level (volume) of the signal
going out of the compressor. This is listed in decibels. Because adding
compression generally reduces the overall level of the sound, you use
this control to raise the level back to where it was going in.
✓)>>Hard knee or soft knee: Most compressors give you the option of choosing between a hard knee and a soft knee (or they do it for you based on
the setting that you’ve chosen). Hard knee and soft knee refer to how the
compressor behaves as the input signal passes the threshold. They’re
defined as follows:
•Hard knee applies the compression at an even rate regardless of
the level present over the threshold. So, if you choose a compression setting of 4:1, the compressor applies this ratio for any signal
over the threshold limit. Hard knee compression is used for instruments like drums, where you need to clamp down on any transients quickly.
•Soft knee, by contrast, applies the compression at a varying rate,
depending on the amount the signal is over the threshold setting.
A soft knee setting gradually increases the ratio of the compression as the signal crosses the threshold until it hits the level that
you set. Soft knee compression is used on vocals and other instruments where the signal doesn’t have fast peaks.
Some two-channel compressors have a link function that allows you to connect
the two separate channels and control them from one set of controls. Having
the two channels linked ensures that you end up with the same settings on both
channels. This is useful when you want to compress a stereo signal.
Some compressors have a sidechain option. Hardware compressors generally
have a jack located on the back panel. Software compressors often have a
sidechain section somewhere in the compressor’s control section. Regardless
of where it’s located, the sidechain option allows you to insert an equalizer
into the signal path of the compressor (using a Y cord). The sidechain option
is used to “de-ess” vocals (get rid of the nasty s sounds of sibilance).
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Targeting frequency ranges with
multiband compression
Multiband compressors allow you to designate the frequency range that you
want to compress. Most multiband compressors have three or four bands.
The four-band versions have low-, low-mid-, high-mid-, and high-band versions. The three-band versions have low-, mid-, and high-band versions. You
often get to choose where your frequency ranges are.
Multiband compressors are used most often during the mastering process,
but they can be handy on individual tracks as well. The main advantage of
these types of compressors is that you can compress a specific frequency
range without affecting the sound of the rest of the track. This can be helpful
if you have an instrument that’s either buried or overpowering a mix. You just
add a little (or a lot) of compression to the bass, for example, to bring it up in
the mix, without affecting the higher-frequency instruments.
Getting started using compression
The compressor is one of the most useful — and one of the most abused —
pieces of gear in the recording studio. The most difficult part of using compression is that every instrument reacts differently to the same settings. So,
instead of presenting specific settings for you to use, I offer you some guidelines and ideas for using the compressor effectively. (You can find sample
�settings and more ideas in the next section of this chapter.)
The following steps show you one good way to get familiar with the compressor:
1.)>> Dial in a high setting (an 8:1 to a 10:1 ratio), and set the threshold all
the way up by turning the dial fully to the right.
2.)>> Slowly turn down the threshold, watch the meters, and listen carefully.
ç’•å±´ As you dial the threshold down, notice where the meters are when
you start hearing a change in the sound of the track. Also, notice what
happens to the sound when you have the threshold really low and the
meters are peaked (the sound is very different from where you started).
3.)>> Slowly dial the threshold back up again, and notice how the sound
changes back again.
After you get used to how the sound changes as you adjust the threshold, try using different attack and release settings and do this procedure
again. The more you experiment and critically listen to the changes made
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
by the different compressor settings, the better you understand how to get
the sound that you want. The following guidelines can also help you get the
sound you want:
✓)>>Try to avoid using compression on your two-track mix while you mix
your music. This is the job for the mastering phase of your project. If
you compress your stereo tracks during mixdown, you limit what can
be done to your music in the mastering stage. This is true even if you
master it yourself and think you know what you want during mixdown.
✓)>>If you hear noise when you use your compressor, you’ve set it too high.
You’re compressing the loud portions enough to make the level of the softest sections of the music (including any noise) much louder in comparison. To get rid of the noise, turn down the ratio or the threshold settings.
✓)>>To increase the punch of a track, make sure that the attack setting
isn’t too quick. Otherwise, you lose the initial transient and the punch
of a track.
✓)>>To smooth out a track, use a short attack setting and a quick release
time. This evens out the difference in level between the initial transient
and the body of the instrument and results in a smoother sound.
✓)>>When using limiting to raise the volume of a track or mix, only limit
2dB to 3dB at a time. This way, the limiter doesn’t alter the sound of
your signal; it just reduces the highest peaks and raises the volume.
Less is more when using compression. Resist the temptation to dial too much
in — it just squashes your music. On the other hand, if that’s an effect that
you’re going for, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Sampling some compression settings
Because compressors are used and abused so frequently, I thought it might
be helpful for you to have some basic settings to get you started. This will
hopefully save you the headache of ruining a few tracks before you get the
hang of this powerful tool.
Lead vocals
Some recording engineers think compression is a must for vocals. It evens
out the often-erratic levels that a singer can produce and tames transients
that can cause digital distortion. You can use compression on vocals to just
even out the performance and to create an effect.
If you use a compressor to even out a vocal performance, you don’t want to
hear the compressor working. Instead, you just want to catch the occasional
extremely loud transient that would cause clipping. A good compression setting has a fast attack to catch the stray transient, a quick release so that the
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
compression doesn’t color the sound of the singer, and a low ratio so that when
the compressor does go on, it smoothes out the vocals without squashing
them. Typical settings may look like this:
Threshold: –8dB
Ratio: 1.5:1 to 2:1
Attack: Less than 1 ms
Release: About 40 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
If you want to use a compressor that pumps and breathes — that is, one that
you can really hear working — or if you want to bring the vocals way up front
in the mix, try using the following settings. These settings put the vocals “in
your face,” as recording engineers say:
Threshold: –2dB
Ratio: 4:1 to 6:1
Attack: Less than 1 ms
Release: About 40 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You need to
add a fair amount of gain at this setting.
As you can see, the two parameters that you adjust the most are the threshold and ratio. Experiment with these settings and check the effects of them
by toggling between the affected and unaffected sound (use the Bypass
switch on your compressor).
Backup vocals
What about compressor settings for backup vocals, you may ask? I recommend a setting that’s midway between the invisible compressions and the
pumping and breathing compressions that I describe in the previous section.
Such a setting brings your background vocals forward slightly. Your settings
may look like this:
Threshold: –4dB
Ratio: 2:1 to 3:1
Attack: Less than 1 ms
Release: About 40 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need to add too much gain.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Electric guitar
Generally, electric guitar sounds are pretty compressed. You don’t need
�additional compression when you track the guitar unless you use a clean
(undistorted) setting on your guitar. If you want to use a little compression
to bring the guitar forward and give it some punch, try these settings:
Threshold: –1dB
Ratio: 2:1 to 3:1
Attack: 25 to 30 ms
Release: About 200 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
The slow attack is what gives the guitar a bit of punch. If you want less punchiness, just shorten the attack slightly. Be careful though, because if you shorten
it too much, you end up with a mushy sound (sorry — ahem — the guitar has
no definition).
Electric bass
Another way to get a handle on the potential muddiness of the amplified
bass guitar is to use a little compression. Compression can also help control
uneven levels that result from overzealous or inexperienced bass players. Try
these settings for a start:
Threshold: –4dB
Ratio: 2.5:1 to 3:1
Attack: 40 to 50 ms
Release: About 180 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
When using compression on bass, make sure that your attack setting isn’t too
short, or else the sound will become muddy.
Strummed or picked acoustic stringed instruments
You don’t generally need a lot of compression on acoustic stringed instruments, especially if you want a natural sound. You can use the compressor to
even out the resonance of the instrument to keep the main character of the
instrument from getting lost in a mix and to avoid a muddy sound. These are
good settings for strummed or picked acoustic instruments:
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Threshold: –6dB
Ratio: 3:1 to 4:1
Attack: Around 150 ms
Release: About 400 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
The release is set very high because of the amount of sustain that these
acoustic instruments can have. If you play an instrument with less sustain,
like a banjo, you may find that a shorter attack and release work just fine. In
this case, try the following settings:
Threshold: –6dB
Ratio: 2.5:1 to 3:1
Attack: 40 to 50 ms
Release: About 180 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much, if any, added gain.
It’s rare that I use a compressor on horns. The only time I may use one is if
an unnatural variation exists in levels due to poor playing (although I usually
prefer to ride the faders to even the levels instead of trying to fix the problem with compression). Still, if I were to use a compressor, I would start with
these settings:
Threshold: –8dB
Ratio: 2.5:1 to 3:1
Attack: Around 100 ms
Release: About 300 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
As with other acoustic instruments, I don’t often use compression on a piano
unless I’m going for a specific effect or I want to even out an erratic performance. Settings for effect can run the gamut; just dial in some settings and
see what you get. Using compression to even an erratic piano performance
takes a little more finesse. In this case, start with these mild settings:
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Threshold: –10dB
Ratio: 1.5:1 to 2:1
Attack: 100 to 105 ms
Release: About 115 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much, if any, added gain.
Classical strings
For the most part, adding compression to string instruments played with
a bow isn’t necessary. However, you’ll find that using a compressor on a
plucked acoustic bass and fiddle can bring them out in a mix.
A starting point for compressor settings for a fiddle would be as follows:
Threshold: –4dB
Ratio: 2:1 to 3:1
Attack: 40 to 50 ms
Release: About 100 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much, if any, added gain.
Try these settings for the acoustic bass:
Threshold: –6dB
Ratio: 5:1 to 8:1
Attack: 40 to 50 ms
Release: About 200 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You need a
bit of added gain here.
Kick drum
The kick drum responds well to a compressor when tracking. For the most
part, you can get by with settings that allow the initial attack to get through
and that tame the boom a little. Sample settings would look like this:
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Threshold: –6dB
Ratio: 4:1 to 6:1
Attack: 40 to 50 ms
Release: 200 to 300 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
Snare drum
Adding compression to the snare drum is crucial if you want a tight, punchy
sound. You have a lot of choices with the snare. The following settings are
common and versatile:
Threshold: –4dB
Ratio: 4:1 to 6:1
Attack: 5 to 10 ms
Release: 125 to 175 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
Hand drums
Compression is usually a good idea with hand drums because the drum can
produce unpredictable transients. For most hand drums, start with the following settings:
Threshold: –6dB
Ratio: 3:1 to 6:1
Attack: 10 to 25 ms
Release: 100 to 300 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don’t
need much added gain.
Because percussion instruments have high sound levels and are prone to
extreme transients, I often like to use a little compression just to keep these
transients from eating up headroom in the mix. Here are good starting points:
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Threshold: –10dB
Ratio: 3:1 to 6:1
Attack: 10 to 20 ms
Release: About 50 ms
Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You need a
bit of added gain here.
Introducing gates
The gate is basically the opposite of the limiter. Rather than limiting how
loud a note can get, the gate limits how soft a note can get. The gate filters
out sound below the threshold while allowing notes above it to pass through
Gates are useful to filter out unwanted noise that may be present in the
recording environment. A classic place to use gates is when you record
drums. You can set the gate to filter any sound (other drums for instance)
except for the sounds resulting from the hits to the particular drum that you
have miked.
The following settings are similar to the ones for compressors/limiters:
✓)>>Threshold: The threshold sets the level (in decibels) at which the gate
opens (stops filtering the signal). The gate allows all signals above the
threshold setting to pass through unaffected, whereas signals below the
threshold setting are reduced by the amount set by the range control.
✓)>>Attack: As with the compressor/limiter, the attack time sets the rate at
which the gate opens (in milliseconds). Fast attacks work well for instruments with, well, fast attacks, such as drums, whereas slow attacks are
better suited for instruments with slow attacks, like vocals.
ç’•å±´For the most part, try to match the gate’s attack time with that of the
instrument you’re gating. If you don’t do this well, you may hear a click
when the signal crosses the gate’s threshold. This is generally a result of
having the attack set too slow for the instrument. Adjust the attack time
until this click goes away.
✓)>>Hold: The hold setting controls the amount of time that the gate stays
open after the signal drops below the threshold. After the hold time is
reached, the gate closes abruptly. This parameter is listed in milliseconds. The hold parameter allows you to get the gated drum sound that
was so popular in the 1980s (Phil Collins, anyone?).
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
✓)>>Release: The release setting dictates the rate at which the gate closes
after the signal hits the threshold (listed in milliseconds). Unlike the
hold feature, the release setting doesn’t close abruptly; instead, it slowly
closes (according to the release setting). This produces a more natural
sound. You should set the release time so that it matches the natural
decay time of the instrument. Otherwise, you can get a clipped-off
sound. (If you want the clipped-off sound, use the Hold feature.)
✓)>>Range: The range is similar to the ratio setting on the compressor
except you choose the amount (in decibels) that you want the gate to
attenuate (reduce) the signal. For example, a setting of 40dB drops signals below the threshold setting by 40dB.
Getting started using gates
Noise gates can be extremely useful in getting rid of unwanted noise. The
most common use for a gate is to eliminate bleeding from drum mics. For
example, your snare drum may bleed into your tom-toms mics. When using
noise gates, keep the following tips in mind:
✓)>>When the threshold is reached, the gate allows the signal through. If
your background noise is high enough, when the gate opens, you still
hear not only the intended sound but also the background noise. This
can be a problem if you’re using gates to eliminate the noise of your
hard drive fan or other room noise. Your best bet is using acoustic
panels to eliminate the noise rather than using gates.
✓)>>When gating drums, be sure to set the attack very fast. Otherwise, the
initial transient is lost, and you end up with mushy-sounding drums.
✓)>>Take your time setting the release time of the gate so that it sounds natural and doesn’t clip the end of your instrument’s sound.
✓)>>Only set the range high enough to mask unwanted noise. If you set it too
high, the sound becomes unnatural because the natural resonance of
the instrument may be filtered out.
Introducing expanders
The expander is to the gate what a compressor is to a limiter — instead of
reducing the volume of notes below the set threshold by a specified amount,
the expander reduces them by a ratio. In other words, with the gate, you set
a certain amount, in decibels, that a signal is reduced, and with the expander,
you reduce the signal by setting a ratio. The ratio changes the signal gradually, making the affected signals sound more natural.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
You use an expander when you want to subtly reduce noise from a track,
instead of just filtering it out completely. A classic example is when dealing with the breath sounds from a singer. If you use a gate, the resulting
track sounds unnatural, because the gate filters out the breaths completely.
However, you can set the expander to reduce the breath sounds just enough
to be less noticeable, but still leave a little of the sound so that the singer
sounds normal. (Everyone has to breathe, right?)
Again, the following settings sound familiar from my previous discussion of
compressors and gates:
✓)>>Threshold: The threshold in an expander works the same way as with
the gate — anything below the threshold is affected and signals above
the threshold pass unaffected.
✓)>>Ratio: The ratio dictates how much the signal is attenuated by the
expander. When using a ratio of 2:1, for instance, the expander reduces
signals below the threshold by a factor of 2. In this case, a signal that is
10dB below the threshold is reduced to 20dB below it; likewise, a signal
that’s 2dB below the threshold would be reduced to 4dB below it.
Getting started using an expander
Because the expander works much like a gate, you can use the same basic
starting points. Choose the gate or expander based on the type of overall
attenuation of the signal you want. For example, the expander is a good
choice if you have an instrument that contains sounds that are too loud but
that you don’t want to remove completely (you just want to reduce them a
A vocalist’s breath is the perfect situation for using an expander over a gate.
In this case, you can set the expander’s threshold just below the singer’s softest note and start with a low ratio (1.5:1 or 2:1, for instance). See whether the
breath sounds improve, and if they don’t, slowly dial up the ratio until you
get the effect that you want. Be careful not to overdo it though. If the breath
sound drops too far away from the vocal, the vocal sounds unnatural.
If you use a high ratio in your expander (6:1 or above), the effect you get is
similar in sound to that of the gate, only you end up having less control of the
sound because you don’t have the hold or release parameters to adjust. So, if
you have to use a high ratio on a signal, a gate may be a better choice for that
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Adding Ambiance with Effects Processors
Effects processors can be used as either send/return or insert effects. In
both cases, you can work with both the dry (unaffected) signal and the wet
(affected) signal separately. If you use the effect in a send/return routing, you
can adjust the wet and dry signals with the Aux Send and Aux Return knobs. If
you use the effect in a line configuration, the effect has a Mix parameter on it,
where you can adjust the wet/dry balance. Because most people record in a
studio with a fairly dead environment, acoustically speaking, effects are necessary to make the music sound more natural. The purpose of effects processors
is to mimic real-world situations or to add a supernatural feel to the music.
You have quite a few choices in effects processors, and many more show up
every year. The most common effects processors are reverb, delay, chorus,
flange, and pitch shifting, all of which I detail in the following sections.
Introducing reverb
Reverb is undoubtedly the most commonly used effects processor. Reverb
is a natural characteristic of any enclosed room and is the result of sound
waves bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling. A small room produces reflections that start quickly and end soon, whereas larger rooms, halls, or cathedrals have slower start times and the reflections last longer.
This room effect enables you to place your track from front to back in the
mix. You do this by varying how much of the affected signal you include with
the unaffected one. For example, mixing a lot of reverb with the dry signal
gives the impression of being farther away, so your instrument sounds like
it’s in back in the mix.
You can adjust several parameters when using reverb, which gives you a lot
of flexibility. Check out Figure 15-4. This shows what the reverb processor
looks like in a popular computer-based system.
The following list explains how the parameters, most of which you can see in
Figure 15-4, affect the sound of the reverb:
✓)>>Algorithm: Whether you use a reverb patch within your recording
system or a separate outboard reverb unit, you can choose the type of
reverb that you want to use. You have the option of a room, hall, or plate
(a type of reverb that uses a metal plate to create its sound). In addition, you can choose the size of the room (in this case, small, medium,
and large). You may also be able to choose from a large pop-up menu
of options, including algorithms created from samples of actual rooms
(often called convolution reverbs).
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Figure 15-4:
allows you
to add ambiance to your
giving it a
more realistic sound.
✓)>>Decay: The decay is the length of time that the reverb lasts. Larger or
more reflective rooms produce a longer decay.
✓)>>Predelay: A sound reaches your ears before the sound’s reverb does,
and the predelay is the amount of time from the sound’s beginning to
the start of the reverb, which is described in milliseconds. Because
reverb is made up of reflections of sound within a room, the sound takes
time to bounce around the room and reach your ears. By then, you’ve
already heard the sound because it came directly to you. Predelay helps
to define the initial sound signal by separating it from the reverb. This
parameter is essential in making your reverb sound natural.
ç’•å±´A small room has a shorter predelay than a large room. Predelay times
generally range between 10 and 50 ms.
✓)>>Density: The density parameter (not shown in the reverb plug-in in
Figure 15-4) controls the level of the early reflections (the first few milliseconds of the reverb sound). Because the early reflections take less
time to reach your ear than the main body of the reverb, you hear a
thinner reverb sound to begin with, followed by the main reverb. The
density parameter enables you to simulate different room sizes because
the main section of a reverb takes longer to reach you in a larger room.
The higher the density setting, the larger the apparent room size. Not all
reverbs have this setting.
ç’•å±´Some reverb processors don’t have a density setting (as is the case for
the processor shown in Figure 15-4). In such a case, this parameter is
usually factory set and varies based on the type and size of room parameters that you choose.
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
✓)>>Diffusion: Diffusion affects the density of the reflections in the main section of the reverb sound. A higher diffusion setting results in a thicker
sound. Think of the diffusion parameter as a way to simulate how reflective the room is. More reflective rooms produce a much higher diffusion.
To simulate a less reflective room, use lower diffusion settings.
ç’•å±´Like the density setting, some reverbs don’t have a diffusion parameter;
instead, it’s factory set and depends on the room type/size parameter
that you choose.
✓)>>Hi Cut and Low Cut filters: These filters allow you to control the rate
at which the high and low frequencies decay. Most of the time, the high
frequencies decay faster, so being able to control this effect can result in
a more natural-sounding reverb.
Getting started using reverb
Reverb is like garlic: The more you use, the less you can taste it. Just as the
new chef puts garlic in everything (and lots of it), many budding sound engineers make the same mistake with reverb. Go easy. Remember: Less is more.
Here are some other points to keep in mind:
✓)>>Mixes often sound better when you use reverb on only a few instruments instead of all of them. For example, it’s common for just the
snare drum of the drum set to have reverb on it. The rest of the drums
and cymbals remain dry.
✓)>>Think about how you want each instrument to sit in the mix when you
choose reverb. Make sure that the type and amount of reverb fit the
song and the rest of the instruments.
✓)>>Try putting the dry sound on one side of the stereo field and the
reverb on the other. For example, if you have a rhythm guitar part that
you set at 30 degrees off to the right of the stereo field, set the reverb
30 degrees off to the left. This can produce a nice effect.
✓)>>To keep the vocals up front in the mix, use a short reverb setting.
A vocal plate is a great choice because the decay is fast. This adds a fair
amount of the reverb to the vocal without making it sit way back in the
✓)>>Experiment with room types, sizes, and decay times. Sometimes a long
decay on a small-room reverb sounds better than a short decay on a
large-room or hall reverb.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Introducing delay
Along with reverb, delay is a natural part of sound that bounces around a
room. When you speak (or sing or play) in a room, you often hear not only
reverb but also a distinct echo. This echo may be short or long depending on
the size of the room. The original sound may bounce back to you as a single
echo or as multiple, progressively quieter delays.
Several types of delay effects exist, including a slap-back echo, tape delay,
and multiple delays, and each of them is designed to add dimension to your
instrument. To create these various effects, you adjust several parameters, as
the following list and Figure 15-5 make clear. Different delay processors have
different parameters, but the three most universal and useful parameters are
time, feedback, and mix/effect level, as follows:
✓)>>Gain: This lets you set the signal level going into the delay.
✓)>>Mix: This parameter controls the output level of the effect. The higher
you set this parameter, the louder the delayed signal is relative to the
original signal.
✓)>>Low-pass filter (LPF): The LPF lets you filter out some of the high frequencies from the delay.
✓)>>Delay: This parameter controls the amount of time between the initial
signal and the repeated sound. The time is listed in milliseconds and can
be as short as a few milliseconds or as long as several seconds.
✓)>>Depth: This parameter lets you add modulation to the delay so that you
can create a chorus effect. (See the “Getting started chorusing” section,
later in this chapter, for more on chorus and flange effects.) The higher
the level on this setting, the greater the modulation.
✓)>>Rate: This setting lets you adjust the amount of time that the modulation
takes to go one time through its cycle.
✓)>>Feedback: The Feedback parameter controls how many times the echo
repeats. A low setting makes the echo happen just once, and higher settings produce more echoes.
Figure 15-5:
A delay
allows you
to create
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Getting started using delay
Delay is used a lot in contemporary music, and many times you don’t hear
it unless you listen carefully. Other times, it’s prominent in the mix, like the
snare drum in some styles of music such as house, dub, or reggae music.
Here are ways that you can use delay in your music:
✓)>>Use delay as a slap-back echo on vocals. A slap-back echo consists of
one to three repeats spaced very closely together, which fattens the
sound of the vocals. You generally want to set your time parameter
between 90 and 160 ms. Set the level so that you barely hear the first
echo when your vocal is in the mix and adjust it from there until you like
the sound. In pop music, a slap-back echo and a vocal plate reverb are
commonly used on lead vocals. (This technique was really common in
the 1950s.)
✓)>>Use the tempo match feature to have your delay echo in time with the
music. This can add some depth to the mix without creating a muddy
or cluttered sound. Be careful, because if you use this too much, it can
make your music sound annoyingly repetitive.
✓)>>To create special effects with delay, try using the pan or shift controls
to move your instruments in the mix. This can be a lot of fun on background instruments, such as rhythm guitar and synthesizers.
Introducing pitch shifting
Pitch shifting allows you to change the pitch of a recorded instrument. This
gives you a number of different options when you mix. For example, you can
run your backup vocals through a pitch-shifting device to make them sound
fuller. Or you can create backup vocals from the lead vocal track by multing
(making a copy and putting it on another track or two) the lead vocal and
subjecting it to a pitch shifter.
Using a pitch shifter is pretty easy: Open the program and choose how much
you want to change the pitch either up or down. To use the pitch shifter to
fill out a vocal, just change the pitch (up or down — it doesn’t matter) a few
semitones until you like the sound. You can either create a subtle effect that
sounds like two or more people trying to sing the same pitch, or you can
create harmonies by changing the pitch one or more steps.
Chorus takes the original sound and creates a copy that is slightly out of tune
with the original. Unlike the pitch shifter — an effect that remains constant —
the chorus’s shifted pitch varies over time. This variance is called modulation,
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
and the result is an effect that can add interest and variety to an instrument.
Chorus is used extensively to add fullness to a sound, particularly guitars
and vocals.
Most chorus effects give you several parameters with which to work, as the
following list makes clear:
✓)>>Rate: The rate dictates how fast the modulation happens. This parameter is described as a frequency (usually 0.1 to 10 Hz). The frequency
actually doesn’t refer to a pitch; instead, it describes how many times
per second (Hz) the oscillation happens. The oscillation is controlled by
the depth parameter.
✓)>>Depth: The depth parameter controls the amount of pitch modulation
that’s produced by the chorus. The settings are often arbitrary (you can
get a range of 1 to 100). This range relates to a percentage of the maximum depth to which the particular chorus can go, rather than an actual
✓)>>Predelay: The predelay setting affects how far out of time the chorus’s
sound is in relation to the original. This setting is listed in milliseconds,
and the lower the number, the closer the chorused sound is to the original in time.
✓)>>Feedback: The feedback control sends the affected sound from the
chorus back in again. This allows you to extend the amount of chorusing that the effect creates. This setting can also be called stages in some
✓)>>Effect level: This could also be called mix in some systems. The effect
level controls how much effect is sent to the aux return bus. This allows
you to adjust how affected the sound becomes.
Getting started chorusing
If reverb is like garlic, chorus is like cayenne pepper. You may get away with
adding a little too much garlic in your food, but if you add too much cayenne, you run the risk of making your food inedible. Such is the case with the
chorus effect. Used sparingly, chorus can add a lot to your music, but if it’s
overdone, it can wreak havoc on a good song. Here are some tips for using
this effect:
✓)>>To fill out a vocal track, try setting the rate at 2 Hz, the depth at about
20 to 30, and the predelay at 10 to 20 ms. Keep the feedback level low.
✓)>>Use a chorus on backup vocals to make them fuller and allow you to use
fewer tracks.
✓)>>Pan the chorus to one side of the mix and the dry signal to the other.
This can be especially interesting on guitars and synthesizer patches.
Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors
Along with chorus, your system may have other modulating effects, such as
flange and phase shifting. These two effects work much like chorus, except
they alter the original signal in time (flange) and in sound wave position
(phase shifting) rather than pitch. The parameters you have for such effects
are similar to those that you find for chorus effects. You can use the flange and
phase shifters in many of the same applications as the chorus if you’re going
for a different effect.
Simulating Effects
Recently, effects have emerged that allow you to alter your original signal
so that it sounds like it was recorded using a different technique or source.
These are simulator effects, and the two most common are microphone and
amplifier simulators (modelers). Both of these effects are intended to be line
effects, but on some systems, you can use them as send/return effects to
create interesting, well, effects.
Microphone simulator
As its name suggests, the mic simulator alters your signal to make it sound
like it was recorded through a different microphone than the one you used
(obviously). The great thing about the mic simulator effect is that you can
have a bunch of microphone sounds available to you without buying a bunch
of expensive mics.
The only real drawback to mic simulator programs is that they don’t sound
exactly like the mics that they’re trying to model. I mean, making a $100
dynamic mic sound like a $3,000 large-diaphragm condenser mic is pretty
hard, no matter how much computer processing you do. But this is no big
deal, because all you’re trying to do with a mic simulator is expand the
options that you have with a given mic. So, even though the modeler can’t
exactly match the bigger-buck mic, it can provide a pretty decent sound for
your inexpensive mic.
The other possible drawback to using a mic simulator program is that the
mic that you used to record the part in the first place may have an impact
on how well the simulator sounds. Most mic simulator programs designate
which mic was used to model the initial sound and which mic the simulator
is trying to sound like. For example, in the Roland V-Studios, as you scroll
through the various mic simulator patches (effects), you see them listed with
one mic name followed by another (“SM57 – U87,” for instance). If you want
to get a sound like the second mic listed, you need to use the first mic listed.
If you use a different mic than the one listed first, you get a different sound,
but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just different.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
The best option if you want to go this route is: Mic Mod EFX by Antares. Mic
Mod EFX offers over 125 mics and it’s easy to use. Go to www.antarestech.
Amp simulator
The amp simulator effect allows you to essentially have access to a whole
roomful of top-notch amps without having to buy, maintain, or store them.
One of the great things about amp simulators is that they allow you to plug
your guitar directly into your mixer (or direct box), and you can eliminate a
lot of noise that miking your guitar amp can cause. You also get to choose the
sound that you ultimately want after you’ve recorded your part. This gives
you more flexibility during mixdown.
The downside to amp simulators, as with mic simulators, is that they may not
sound exactly like the amp they’re trying to model, but this shouldn’t matter
as long as you get the sound that you want. Another downside is that amp
simulators use processing power, and if you have a ton of tracks with a bunch
of effects and other plug-ins, you may find your computer getting bogged
down a bit. The remedy for this is to print (record) the effect onto a separate
track before you mix the song. This frees power for other uses.
There are dozens of amp simulators on the market. Here are some worth
checking out:
✓)>>Guitar Rig by Native Instruments: Guitar Rig comes with 15 different amp/
cabinet combos, a Control Room function that lets you mix a handful of different miked amp simulators together. Go to www.native-instruments.
✓)>>AmpliTube by IK Multimedia: Several versions of AmpliTube are available, from a free version to one with 160 gear models. Find out more at
✓)>>Vintage Amp Room by Softube: This program contains three vintage
amp models with almost limitless virtual mic positioning. You can get a
20-day demo license to try it before you buy by visiting www.softube.
✓)>>ReValver by Peavey: This software includes 20 amp types, almost 800
speaker configurations, stomp box, and other effects. You can do a
lot with this software. Check it out at www.peavey.com/products/
Chapter 16
Mastering Your Music
In This Chapter
▶)>>Understanding mastering
▶)>>Knowing when to master your music yourself
▶)>>Knowing when to send your music to a mastering house
▶)>>Taking a turn at mastering your music
ou’ve spent a lot of time getting all your tracks recorded using the best
mics that you can afford (mics you’ve carefully set up following the
guidelines in Chapter 9, I hope!). You adjusted your levels just right, EQ’d,
panned, and added effects to each instrument with great care so that they fit
perfectly in the mix. Now you have awesome-sounding music. So, all that’s
left is to create cool album artwork, and find places to distribute — and
you’re ready to go platinum, right?
Well, you could do that, but you would be missing one of the most important
steps in getting your music to sound its very best. This is the mastering process. Mastering can turn your already-good music into a truly great album.
The only problem is that most people have no idea what mastering is. It’s
been presented as mysterious voodoo that only people who belong to some
secret society and have access to a magical pile of gear can do.
This isn’t the case. Mastering is, in fact, a pretty simple process that involves
pieces of equipment that you’ve already used. Mastering does require specialized skills, but you don’t need to go through strange initiation rites to
understand them. All it takes is an idea of what to do, decent ears (you’ve got
a couple of those, right?), and a dose of patience while you work your way
through the process.
In this chapter, you get a chance to understand the “magic” that is mastering.
You discover what’s involved in mastering your music. You explore ways to
master your music yourself and discern when it may be best to find a professional to do the job for you.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Demystifying Mastering
The mastering process of recording involves preparing your music for duplication. Several steps are involved in taking your songs from individual, mixed
tunes to part of a whole album. First, you need to optimize the dynamics
and tonal balance of each song. Then you need to process the songs so that
they’re matched to each other in volume. These steps usually involve doing
some EQing, compressing, limiting, and sometimes expanding to the songs.
You also need to sequence your music so that you have the songs in the best
possible order, with the appropriate amount of time between each song. Your
last step is to put your mastered music onto a format that enables you to
distribute it. (This is usually a CD or digital file taken from the final CD-quality
mix. I describe this process in detail in Chapter 17.)
No matter how well you recorded and mixed your music, you still need to do
some processing during the mastering stage. This usually consists of adjusting levels with compression, limiting, and EQing and using additional processing if necessary.
The purpose of the processing stage is to balance the overall tonal characteristics of each song and optimize the dynamics of each song so that the songs
are at their best overall volume. You can achieve these goals by using the following tools:
✓)>>Compression: Some music sounds best when it’s smooth, and other
music is much better when it has a punchy quality to it. Judicious use of
compression can produce either of these effects. (I give you suggestions
for compressor settings in the section “Optimizing dynamics,” later in
this chapter.) A good mastering engineer knows when and how to make
music punchy or smooth. (Sorry, you can’t have both at the same time.)
ç’•å±´Adding compression to the mastering process is an art. Too much or the
wrong type of compression makes your music sound flat. Too little, and
your music may sound weak.
✓)>>Limiters: If any instruments are too loud in comparison to the rest of the
mix, a limiter can tame them so that the difference between the song’s
peak level and average level is optimal. This difference varies depending
on the style of music, but it should never be less than 6dB and is usually
between 12dB and 18dB.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
✓)>>EQ: Because you recorded and mixed each of your songs individually
over a period of time (often a long period of time), each song probably
sounds a little different. Some may be brighter than others and some
may be heavier on bass, but one thing’s for sure: Each has a different
tonal quality.
ç’•å±´For your compilation of songs to work as a unit, the songs’ tonal quality
needs to be somewhat consistent. The songs don’t have to all sound the
same, but they do need to work well together. The mastering engineer
uses multiband EQs on each song to make them work as separate songs
and gel as a complete artistic statement.
Sequencing involves putting your songs in the order that you want and setting
the blank space between each song so that the album flows well from one
song to another. Because an album is supposed to represent a cohesive body
of work, this is one of the most important aspects of mastering.
A crucial aspect of mastering an album is getting the levels of all the songs
to be the same. After all, you don’t want your listener to have to adjust the
volume of his stereo from one song to another. Having consistent levels from
song to song helps with the cohesiveness and flow of an album. This is done
with simple gain adjustments, compressors, and/or limiters.
Getting Ready to Master
When mastering your music, you can save yourself a ton of time and energy if
you keep a few things in mind during the mixing stage. When you’re wearing
your Mixing Master hat, the following reminders can make the mastering process go a bit more smoothly:
✓)>>Check your levels. Listen to your mix quietly, and you can tell whether
one instrument stands out too much in the mix. Also, burn a CD or
create a digital file of your mixed song to test on other systems (your
car, phone, or your friend’s stereo system). Listen carefully. If the bass
drum is even slightly too loud, it eats up the headroom of the rest of the
instruments, and you can’t get the volume of the song very high.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>Check your EQ. Even though the mastering engineer EQs the entire
song, make sure that you spend the time getting each instrument EQ’d
as best as you can in the mix. If you don’t get your EQ just right during
the mixing process and the bass guitar sound, for example, is muddy
and needs to be EQ’d during mastering, you lose some of the low end on
all the instruments. This makes your mix sound thin. If your bass is EQ’d
properly in the first place, you don’t have to make this adjustment to the
entire mix.
✓)>>Test your mix in mono (turn off the stereo panning on your master
bus). This helps you hear whether any instrument’s volume or tonal
characteristics are seriously out of balance with others. I never consider
a mix finished until I monitor it in mono.
✓)>>Apply compression to your mix before you record the two-track mix
just to see what your music sounds like compressed. Don’t record the
compression, though. Leave that for the mastering engineer. By testing
your mix with some compression, you may hear whether certain instruments are too loud in the mix because this becomes more apparent
when the mix is compressed.
✓)>>Listen for phase holes. Phase holes occur when you record an instrument (for example, piano or backup vocals) in stereo and the two tracks
are out of phase. To listen for phase holes, pay attention to how the
instrument sounds in the stereo field. You have a phase hole if you hear
sound coming only from the far right and far left and nothing seems to
be coming from the center of the stereo field. If you have this problem,
just reverse the phase on one of the two channels for that instrument.
Even though a lot can be done to your music in the mastering stage, don’t rely
on mastering to fix problems in your mix. Get your music to sound as good as
you can during mixing. If you do this, the mastering engineer has an easier job
and can make your music sound even better. If you don’t, you’re stuck with a
bunch of compromises in the mastering stage.
Paying a Pro or Doing It Yourself
Whether to master your music yourself or to hire a professional may be one
of your toughest music-making decisions. If you master your music yourself,
you can have complete control from start to finish and save yourself some
bucks. On the other hand, if you hand your mixed music to a skilled professional, you have the added benefit of another person’s ears and advice, and
you can end up with a finished product that far exceeds your expectations.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
So, how do you choose? Well, your first consideration is probably based on
economics — do you have the money to spend on professional help (for your
music, that is)? Mastering can cost from a couple hundred to thousands of
dollars. A midline mastering engineer often charges around $500 to master
an album (about ten songs). This may seem like a lot of money, but if you
find the right engineer for your music, it can make the difference between a
decent album and a truly world-class one.
Another consideration for hiring out your mastering is how well you know
your equipment and how capable it is of performing the mastering procedure. To do mastering, you need at least one good (well, preferably great)
multiband compressor, a limiter, and a great multiband parametric EQ. You
may also need to have a CD burner of some sort and the software to create
a Red Book CD master if you intend to distribute CDs (more about this in
Chapter 17).
Before you decide, take a look at other benefits of hiring a skilled professional
to do your mastering:
✓)>>You get a meticulously tuned room and top-notch monitors. This
enables you to hear what your music actually sounds like.
✓)>>The professional has equipment that’s specifically designed to handle
the process of mastering. The EQs, compressors, and other gear that
the mastering house uses can tweak your music so that it can sound its
✓)>>You get a fresh set of professional ears that may be able to hear things
in your mix that need fixing. You may be so close to the project that
you have a hard time hearing your mix objectively. You may not even
know what adjustments to make to your music so that it sounds its best.
Hiring a Professional Mastering Engineer
If you decide to use a professional mastering engineer, the following tips can
help you choose one for your project:
✓)>>Ask around for referrals. If you know local bands or musicians whose
music you like and whose albums sound great, ask them who mastered
their music. Call local studios and find out who they recommend for
mastering in your area. Also check out Internet forums focusing on mastering music. Here are a few:
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
•Gearslutz.com: www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum
•ProSoundWeb: http://repforums.prosoundweb.com/index.
•Recording.org: http://recording.org/index.php?forums/
✓)>>Listen to other recordings that the mastering house has done in a style
of music similar to yours. You’re entrusting your artistic vision to someone else, and you need to be sure that this person is the right person for
the job. If you like what the prospective mastering engineer has done on
other people’s music, you’ll probably like what she does with yours. On
the other hand, if she has never worked with music similar to yours or
if you don’t like the way she mastered someone else’s music, she’s probably not the right person for the job.
✓)>>Clarify the fee for your project before you start working together.
Most mastering engineers charge by the hour and can give you a pretty
good estimate of how many hours they’ll need to do the job. You’ll also
be expected to pay for materials (reference recordings, for example).
✓)>>If you don’t like the way the engineer mastered your music, you’ll
probably be charged the hourly rate to redo it. Some engineers may
redo your project for free, but don’t count on it. Be sure to discuss this
possibility before you start the project so that you’re not met with an
unwanted surprise.
Many mastering engineers can do a demo of one or two of your songs so that
you can hear what kind of job they can do to your music before you hire them.
Ask whether the mastering engineer you’re interested in offers this service. It
can save both you and the engineer a lot of time and energy if he isn’t right for
the job. It can also help you determine whether your mixed music is ready for
mastering or whether you need to go back and make adjustments.
After you choose the mastering engineer that you think will work well for you
and your music, you can make the process much easier and less stressful for
both of you if you follow these guidelines:
✓)>>Discuss your expectations and desires. This is the best way to ensure
that your mastered music turns out the way you want. People who are
unhappy with the job that the mastering engineer does usually aren’t
clear about what they want or don’t understand what’s possible in the
mastering process.
✓)>>Take a few CDs or really high-quality digital files whose sound you
like with you to the mastering session. Talk with the engineer about
how you can get your music to sound similar. A skilled engineer can let
you know right away whether the sound you want is possible.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
✓)>>Try to be present at the mastering session. Many people send their
music to a mastering engineer and expect him to do the job �without
their presence in the studio. Try to go to the studio, but if you can’t,
be sure that the engineer clearly understands your desires and
If you’re in the studio during the mastering process and things aren’t going
the way you want, talk with the engineer and try to get things on track again.
If you’re unable to communicate with the engineer, stop the session, have her
burn a ref (reference copy), pay for the time that you’ve used, and listen to
the ref at home. If you don’t like what you hear at home, you may be better off
going somewhere else with your music.
If you’re at the mastering session and the mastering engineer insists on working on your music while listening at really loud levels (although occasional
checks at high volumes are okay), grab your mix album and run, don’t walk,
from the session. This is a true sign of an inexperienced (or incompetent) mastering engineer. Mastering needs to be done at low to moderate levels because
the tonal balance of music changes at high volumes.
Mastering Your Music Yourself
If you decide that you just have to do the mastering yourself, or at least you
want to try it once before you decide to spend the money on a pro, following
some guidelines can increase your chances of mastering success. I describe
them in this section.
In other chapters, I present specific techniques and settings to get you
started. Unfortunately, I can’t do that when it comes to mastering. There are
just too many variables and too many ways to mess up your music when trying
to master it. What I can (and do) help you with in the upcoming �sections is to
walk you through the process of mastering and show you the tools to use for
each step. When reading these sections, keep the following points in mind:
✓)>>Less is more when mastering. Do as little as possible to your music. If
you find that you have to make a lot of adjustments, you may want to go
back to the mixing process and try again. When you master your music,
you only need to optimize the dynamics and tonal balance of each song,
get the levels between the songs even, and sequence your songs.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>Mastering is all about compromise. Each adjustment you make to your
mixed music affects all the instruments. If you use EQ to get rid of muddiness on the bass guitar, you affect not only the bass guitar but also
every other instrument in the mix.
✓)>>Don’t try to master a song right after you mix it. Give yourself time and
space from that song before you do anything. In fact, I recommend that
you take a few days away from any of the songs for your album between
the mixing and mastering stages. A little time to reflect and rest your
ears can do wonders for your ability to hear what your music needs.
✓)>>You can only master music if your monitors and monitoring environment are great. Without a good reference for how your music sounds,
trying to EQ or dynamically process your music does no good. The
music may sound good through your speakers but probably doesn’t
through others’. Before you master, make your room sound as good as
you can and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your monitoring environment by listening to a ton of commercial CDs that have the
sound you’re trying to emulate.
Optimizing dynamics
Okay, this is where the magic in mastering happens — where you can make
your music shine or where you can royally mess it up. (How’s that for adding
a little pressure?) Before you get tense (okay, breathe), remember that you
can always go back and try again. Oh, did I mention that you should make
backup copies of your individual tracks and your final mix? Well, if you
haven’t already done the backing-up business, now would be a good time to
do that. I’ll wait.
Are you done? Okay, now to the job at hand — getting your music to be as
loud as possible. (I’m just kidding; see the nearby sidebar “Turn it up!”)
Seriously, optimizing the dynamics of your songs doesn’t mean getting it
as loud as you can, but rather giving it life and emotion. And, yes, this also
means getting it loud enough to sound good.
The style of your music and the arrangements that you use determine how
you optimize the dynamics of your music. For example, classical music has a
much broader dynamic range than rock music does, and the infamous “wall
of sound” type of arrangement has a narrower dynamic range than a song
with sparse verses and thicker choruses.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
When you’re optimizing the dynamics of your music, be sensitive to the song
and try not to get sucked into the idea that you need to get the most volume
out of your music. I know I’m beating this volume thing into the ground, but
you would be surprised how seductive it is to try to get just a few more decibels out of the song (no, wait; you’ll soon find out).
You have two main tools to use when you work on the dynamics during
mastering — a compressor and a limiter — and each has its purpose. For
the most part, if you’re trying to add punch or smoothness to your music,
a compressor does the job nicely. On the other hand, if you’re trying to
squeeze a little more volume out of a song and you don’t want to change
the song’s sound quality, a limiter is your best choice.
Here are suggestions that can help you use compression and limiting (also
covered in Chapter 15) most effectively during mastering:
✓)>>Use a mild compression ratio (between 1.1:1 and 2:1) to keep from
overcompressing your music.
✓)>>Apply only 1dB to 2dB of compression or limiting at one time. If you
need more than that, chain more than one compressor together and use
these small amounts on each. If you compress or limit more than 1dB or
2dB at a time, you end up with artifacts (audible changes to your music
caused by the compressor or limiter).
✓)>>Work with your attack and release times. An attack that’s too short
takes the punch out of your music by cutting off the initial transients.
Likewise, a release time that’s too long doesn’t recover quickly enough,
and the dynamics of the vocals disappear. In contrast, if the release time
is too short, you hear distortion.
✓)>>Set the threshold so that your compressor’s meters dance (bounce) to
the rhythm of the music. Only the loudest notes (snare drum or lead
vocal accents, for example) should trigger the meters and then only by
1dB or 2dB.
✓)>>Use a multiband compressor to bring out individual instruments in
the mix. For example, if the bass drum seems to be getting lost, you can
apply mild compression to the lower frequencies (around 80 to 100 Hz).
This brings the instrument forward in the mix slightly.
✓)>>When you’re not sure that what you’re doing sounds better, don’t use
the processor. Any dynamics processing is going to affect the quality
of your song’s sound to some extent. If adding this processing doesn’t
improve the overall sound, you’re better off not using it.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
A song without a significant difference between its softest and loudest notes
quickly becomes tiring to listen to. Always keep the difference between the
average level and the peak level greater than 6dB. In fact, try to have a peakto-average ratio between 18dB and 24dB if you can. Your music will have a lot
more life in it and sound much more interesting.
You can get a good idea of the peak-to-average ratio of your song by watching
your meters and noticing where they max out and where they seem to stay
most often. Some systems allow you to switch your meters between Peak and
Average settings. (To find out whether your system has this option, check
your owner’s manual, which should be clear about your metering options.)
Play the song and make note of the highest peaks using the Peak metering
setting. Then listen to your song again using the Average setting on your
meters and make a note of this level. When you’re done, compare the two.
More scientific ways to do this exist, but this technique gives you a good idea
of your peak-to-average ratio.
When you’re testing your compression or limiter settings (you do this by comparing the processed and unprocessed versions), be sure to have the volume
of both versions exactly the same. Any difference in volume defeats the purpose of side-by-side comparison because people almost always prefer the
louder version, regardless of whether it sounds better.
Turn it up!
Everyone wants his or her music to be as loud
as possible. Louder sounds better. In fact, test
after test has shown that when people listen
to two versions of a song, they nearly always
prefer the louder one (regardless of whether it
actually sounds better). Musicians, producers,
and engineers seem to be in a competition to
see who can make the loudest album. If you
compare a CD made about 20 years ago with
a recording made this year, you’ll notice that
the newer one is much louder. Give them both
a good listen. Does the louder one really sound
You can test this by setting both recordings to
play at the same volume and then switching
back and forth. (You need to turn the volume
up a bit on the older recording to match the
volume of the newer one.) One way to do this
is to record both songs into your DAW and set
the levels of each so that they’re the same. At
the same volume, which song sounds better to
you? I’m willing to bet that nine times out of ten,
you’ll prefer the older song. This is because
older recordings have more dynamic range
than newer ones do. The variety is pleasing to
listen to, whereas the song with only a small
dynamic range quickly becomes tiring.
Do yourself and your listeners a favor, and resist
the temptation to compress the dynamic variability out of your music. Your mix will be much
easier to listen to and have a lot more life and
excitement. You can always turn the volume up
on your stereo if it’s not loud enough, but you
can’t add dynamic range after you’ve squashed
it out.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
Perfecting tonal balance
The tonal balance of a song is how the various frequencies of the music relate
to one another. You’re not concerned with how each instrument sounds in
the mix (that’s the job for the mixing stage); instead, you’re looking for an
overall balance of frequencies within the hearing spectrum.
For the most part, a tonal balance consists of an even distribution of frequencies from 20 Hz to 10 kHz with a slight drop-off (1dB to 2dB) from 10 kHz to
20 kHz or higher. That’s great, you say, but what does that sound like? Well,
listen to a number of great recordings, and you’ll hear it.
When you master your music, you want to constantly compare the sound of
your song to that of other CDs whose sound you like. In Chapter 14, I list a
variety of excellent reference CDs for mixing. These CDs work just as well for
mastering, so check them out.
When you adjust the overall tonal balance of your songs, listen carefully for
frequencies that seem too loud or too soft. You can find these frequencies
by listening to the instruments in the mix or by using a parametric EQ and
sweeping the frequency spectrum. To do this, set your Q fairly wide (0.6, for
instance) and turn the gain knob all the way up. Start with the lowest frequency and slowly raise the frequency as the song plays. Adjust annoying frequencies by cutting them by a couple of decibels to see whether your overall
mix improves.
Follow these general EQ guidelines:
✓)>>If your mix sounds muddy, add high frequencies (above 10 kHz) or cut
low ones (200 to 400 Hz). Likewise, if your mix is too bright (common
with digital recording), try reducing the frequencies above 10 kHz by
using a shelf EQ or a Baxandall curve.
ç’•å±´To use a Baxandall curve, use a parametric EQ and set the threshold at
20 kHz with a Q setting of about 1. This gradually cuts frequencies above
around 10 kHz. You can adjust the Q to reach as far down as you want.
Your EQ graph shows you what’s happening.
✓)>>Use the same EQ adjustments for both the right and the left channels.
This keeps the stereo balance intact and doesn’t alter the relative phase
between the channels. For example, if you add some bass frequencies
(100 Hz, for example) to the one channel and not the other, you may
hear a wavering or pulsating sound around this frequency that goes
back and forth between the speakers.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>If you used a multiband compressor on specific frequencies, you may
need to make some EQ adjustments to them. Compression tends to
mess with the frequency response.
✓)>>If you need to adjust the EQ of certain instruments in the mix (the
snare drum is buried, for example), note the overall effects of your
adjustments on the rest of the mix. If your adjustments aren’t fixing
the problem, go back to the mixing process and make your adjustments
there. You’ll be glad you took the time to do this.
ç’•å±´Any adjustments you make to the EQ during mastering impact more
than just those frequencies; the adjustments alter the entire frequency
spectrum and the relationship among all the instruments. So, listen
carefully as you make adjustments, and back off the additional EQ if you
don’t like what you hear.
Some people check the tonal balance of their songs against that of their favorite CDs. You do this by recording a favorite-sounding song into your mastering
program and taking a look at its frequency response by using a spectral analyzer. (Some programs have a built-in spectral analyzer, but you can also buy
one as a plug-in for many systems.) Then do an analysis of your song and compare it to the spectral analysis of a recording you like. This technique seems to
work for many people (not me though — I like using my ears instead, but alas,
I’m old-fashioned).
Sequencing your songs
Sequencing your songs consists of choosing the order of the songs on the
album as well as the amount of silence between each song. When you wrote
and recorded your songs, you probably had an idea about the order in which
you wanted them to appear on your album. If you don’t know how you want
to arrange your songs, here are some things to consider:
✓)>>Consider each song’s tempo in the sequencing equation. Some albums
work well if songs with a similar tempo are placed together, while others
work best when contrasting songs follow one another.
✓)>>Think about a song’s lyrics and how they relate to the lyrics from the
other songs on your album. If you want to tell your listener a story, consider how the order of the songs can best tell that story.
✓)>>Think about the chords that you used in each song and how they relate
to another song that you may want to place before or after it in the
sequence. The ending chord of one song can conflict with the beginning
chord of another.
Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music
Aside from having to decide how your songs are ordered on your album, you
also have to think about how much time you put between each song in order
to create the most impact. Many people assume that you use a set amount
of time between all the songs on each album. This isn’t the case. You can
put any amount of silence between each song that you feel is appropriate to
set the mood that you want. Sometimes you may want just a second or two;
other times, four or five seconds is more appropriate.
For example, if you have a mellow ballad followed by an upbeat song, you
may want to leave a little more time between these two songs so that the
listener is prepared for the faster song (try leaving a space that’s four to six
beats long at the slower song’s tempo, for instance). Or, if you want two tunes
to flow together, you can leave less time in between them. Use your ears and
think about how you want your listener to respond when going from one
song to another.
Balancing levels
For a truly professional-sounding recording, you want all your songs to be at
nearly the same relative level so that your listeners (I hope you have more
than one) don’t have to adjust the volume on their stereos from song to song.
Balancing the levels of your songs to one another is pretty easy. In fact, in
most cases, you have very little to do after you EQ and optimize the dynamics of each song. You balance the levels from one song to the next by playing one song, then the next, and listening for significant volume differences.
(Didn’t I say that it was easy?) You can also look at your master bus meters to
see whether each song is at the same level, but your ears are a much better
If you notice any differences, just raise (or better yet, lower) the levels until
they’re all roughly the same. Don’t get too finicky. Some variation from song
to song is okay. In fact, minor differences can help to make your album more
interesting to listen to. When you’re balancing levels, just make sure that any
differences aren’t enough to make the listener run to her stereo to adjust the
volume knob. If one or two songs seem to be much lower in volume than the
rest, you may want to go back to the volume-optimizing stage and raise those
songs a bit to make them more consistent with the rest of the songs on the
album. This way, you don’t lower the volume of the entire album based on
one or two quiet songs.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Preparing for Distribution
After you have all your songs optimized, balanced, and sequenced, it’s time
for the final step. This last step involves saving your music in a format that
enables you to distribute the music.
Distribution often involves making digital files available for music download
sites or streaming services, burning CDs, or pressing vinyl records. I cover
each of these options in the next chapter, so the last step you’ll make in this
chapter is to save your mastered music with these considerations in mind:
✓)>>Leave some headroom. Don’t set your master gain to 0dB. I recommend
dropping it to between –1dB and –3dB. Sure, it will be a little quieter
than it could be, but the extra headroom is important to get the best
sound out of your recordings.
✓)>>Don’t use a brickwall limiter. This type of limiter squashes the loudest
notes and limits that total dynamic range of your music and will cause
distortion in low resolution MP3s and vinyl records.
✓)>>Keep your high bit rate. Bounce to the same rate that you used to
record and mix your music. If you recorded at 24 bits, leave it there for
your masters. And don’t add dither. You can do this later if you intend to
make CDs to distribute.
✓)>>Don’t change the sample rate. You may choose to do a sample rate conversion later, but for now, leave it alone.
Chapter 17
Creating Your Finished Product
In This Chapter
▶)>>Putting your music on CD
▶)>>Encoding your music to MP3
▶)>>Preparing your music for vinyl
nce you have your music recorded, mixed, and mastered, you’re ready
for the final steps to putting it out into the world. There are essentially
two ways to do this: Put it on a physical medium or make it available digitally.
In this chapter, I cover both these options. I encourage you to do both.
First, I walk you through the process of recording your music to CD whether
it’s for you to sell or for you to hand off to a manufacturer that creates retailready packages for you to distribute. This process is pretty easy, and by following a few simple steps, which I lay out in detail for you, you end up with a
product that you’ll be proud of.
Also in this chapter, you explore the process of creating MP3 files to use for
any kind of digital delivery option. This not only allows you to offer samples
of your music online, but also lets you put your music on iTunes and Amazon.
I walk you through the process of determining the right way to encode your
MP3 files and preparing them for online submissions.
Last but not least, I offer insights into a niche market — vinyl records — that
is gaining popularity with musicians who want to use a retro technology to
make a splash. I give you a few tips for making your music ready for vinyl and
choosing a company to press your record.
Getting into CD Recording
Today, one of the coolest things about audio recording is that you can create
music in your home and put it on the same medium that the biggest record
companies use. When I first started as a recording engineer, the best you
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
could do was put your music on a cassette for other people to listen to; pressing vinyl was expensive. But now, anyone with a computer, a CD recorder, and
a few inexpensive CD-Rs can put his or her music on the same format as all
the best albums in the record store. You gotta love it!
You may have a computer with a CD-R or CD-RW drive. If so, you also have
software that you can use to record your CDs. Most CD-recording software
works fine for putting your mastered music onto CDs. If you don’t have a
recorder and you want to add one to your existing computer, check the
system requirements for the recorder that interests you to ensure that your
system is capable of using it. For audio CDs, you can use just about any
CD recorder on the market (as long as it’s compatible with your system, of
If you have a studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system or a stand-alone system, you can
record CDs in one of these three ways:
✓)>>Connect your recorder to a computer and transfer your music files to
the computer to record your CDs.
✓)>>Get a CD recorder that’s designed to work with your recorder. All SIAB
systems have a CD recorder option. This option is generally mounted
inside the box.
✓)>>Get a stand-alone CD-recording system. Stand-alone CD recorders come
in a variety of types, from real-time recorders that function like a cassette
recorder to hard drive–based recorders, such as the Tascam CD-RW900.
Regardless of the CD recorder you get, make sure that you can create a Red
Book CD. I know this sounds mysterious, but the term Red Book means only
that the CD is an audio CD, not a CD-ROM. Red Book is a standard that affirms
that the data is in an audio CD format. This ensures that your CD can play on
all audio CD players. The information that came with your CD recorder clearly
states whether it can record audio — or Red Book — CDs.
Purchasing CD-Rs
A staggering variety of CD-Rs are available. You have silver, white, green,
blue, gold, even black CDs, and you have data and music CDs. So, which ones
are best? Well, that depends.
Unless you have a consumer CD recorder from a few years ago, you can
record your CD onto any data CD-R. You can find these just about anywhere,
and they can cost as little as 10 to 15 cents apiece if you buy in bulk.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
If you have an older consumer CD recorder (pre-2000 — check your user’s
manual to see what yours is), you have to use music CD-Rs. These CD-Rs have
a code in them that allows older consumer recorders to actually record. These
CD-Rs cost a lot more, not because they capture music any better, but because
a royalty, which goes to the recording industry, is figured into the price of the
CD (don’t get me started).
If you have a recent CD-R recorder connected to your computer or SIAB
system, or if you have a professional-grade CD recorder, you can get by just
fine using run-of-the-mill data CD-Rs.
As far as which of the countless CD-R brands to use, they’re all pretty much
the same. I always go with the least expensive; the worst thing that can
happen is that an error occurs and you have to record again. Keep in mind
that some CD-Rs work better on some recorders, and the only way to find out
is to try them. When you find a brand that works, try to stick with it.
Recording Your Music to CD-R
Recording a CD is easy. Just open your CD-recording software and follow the
prompts. A few things, however, can be helpful to know to get the best sound
and to create a CD that you can duplicate. I cover these topics in the following sections.
Using different CD recorders
If you’re using a computer-based system, recording a CD is as simple as opening your software and following the program’s directions for making a CD. If
you have an SIAB system, you follow similar procedures, but your user interface (UI) looks much different. If you use a stand-alone recorder, things will
be even more different.
Some systems, such as computer-based programs, allow you to dither your
mix separately, before you record your CD. (Dithering is described in the
section “Preparing for Distribution,” in Chapter 16.) I highly recommend this
approach because it gives you a chance to hear the dithered music before you
commit it to disc. If your system doesn’t support this approach (SIAB system
users, take note), make sure that you compare your disc with the original
mix file. (Actually, you should always check your recorded CD to make sure it
plays properly and sounds good.) You’ll hear a slight difference in sound, but
that’s what happens when you go from the 24-bit to the 16-bit format.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Computer-based systems
If you have a CD recorder program, such as CD Creator, Jam, Toast, or Wavelab,
recording your CD is easy. Recording a CD with any of these programs gives
you quite a bit of flexibility in organizing your songs and placing space
between them.
You generally just click the Add Track button on the main screen and select
the track you want to add. You may also be prompted to choose any silence
that you want to place before the track as well as ISRC codes (unique identifiers for each song on your CD) and PQ subcode information. (A PQ subcode
is additional information added to the CD data that includes start and stop
times for each track, among other things.) When you have all your tracks
assembled, you can record your CD. Pretty simple, huh?
Studio-in-a-box systems
Since SIAB systems rarely contain a CD recorder as one of their options, you
will likely need to transfer your mixed files into a computer in order to burn
your files to CD. Here’s an overview of the process of transferring mixed
files from a Tascam DP-24 recording system to a Mac. The process on other
devices will likely be similar.
1.)>> Connect a USB cable from the USB port in the Tascam DP-24 to a USB
port in your computer.
ç’•å±´ It doesn’t matter if the Tascam unit is turned on or off.
2.)>> Choose USB from the Menu screen.
ç’•å±´ This disables record and playback operations and saves your currently
loaded song. The Tascam DP-24 appears as an external hard drive on
your computer’s display.
3.)>> Click the DP-24 icon on your computer.
ç’•å±´ You see three folders: Music, Utility, and AudioDepot.
4.)>> Click the Music folder.
5.)>> Navigate to the song that has the master file you want to transfer.
6.)>> Click and drag the file onto your computer to your chosen location.
ç’•å±´ The file is copied and transferred.
7.)>> Use your computer’s CD burning software to complete the burning
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
Stand-alone CD recorders
A variety of stand-alone CD recorders are available, and they all work differently. Some record the CD the same way that a cassette player records — you
connect the input of the CD recorder to the output of the device that contains
your music and press the Record button on the CD recorder while pressing
the Play button on the device with the music. The CD is recorded in real time.
Other stand-alone CD recorders, such as the Tascam CD-RW900MKII, work
more like computer software programs than cassette recorders.
With the Tascam, you need to first copy the music files from your recorder’s
hard drive to the Tascam’s hard drive. From there, you can edit, sequence,
and even dynamically process each song before you record all the songs
to a CD-R. When you’re happy with the order of the songs and the spacing
between them, you can record your CD.
If you want to do dynamic processing to your music in the Tascam, be sure to
send your files to the machine undithered. You can dither in the Tascam after
you make your changes — this improves the sound of your final CD. If you’re
only sequencing your songs, you can send the files dithered if you want.
Recording for mass production
If you intend to send your CD-R to a duplication or replication company to
have it mass produced, keep the following suggestions in mind:
✓)>>Check for physical defects to the CD-R before you try to record to it.
Scratches, fingerprints, smudges, and other imperfections on the mirror
side (bottom) of the CD-R can cause errors in the data. Be sure to use a
clean and unblemished CD-R for recording your master.
✓)>>Always write your master CD by using the Disc at Once mode. This
allows the CD to be read as a Red Book audio CD. Your other option
when recording a CD is to use Track at Once. Track at Once records
one song (track) at a time and produces more errors than Disc at Once,
which records the entire CD at one time. Because of the errors present
on CDs that are recorded using Track at Once, a mass producer’s equipment can’t read — and therefore summarily rejects — CDs that people
produce with this method. (In fact, many older CD players for homes
and cars can’t read these CDs either.) So, be sure that you use Disc at
Once whenever you make a CD of your mastered music.
✓)>>If you can, use an error-detection software program to check for errors
in your recorded CD. If you don’t have access to an error-detection program, check the back of the CD for any blemishes (just as you did before
recording onto it).
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
✓)>>Listen carefully to your entire CD after it’s been recorded. Compare it
with your original file and make sure that the CD is perfect. Also, spend
time reevaluating the order of the songs. Make sure that they flow well
✓)>>Use a felt-tip marker to label your finished CD master. Don’t use a ballpoint pen or an adhesive label (paper or plastic). A ballpoint pen can
damage the surface of the CD. Adhesive labels can slow the rotational
speed of the CD and cause errors in the duplication or replication process. They’ve also been known to come off inside a duplication machine,
clogging the works (and irritating the duplication technician).
✓)>>Label the CD master with the name of your album and all your contact
info. Use a felt-tip marker, of course, and write on the top (non-mirror
side) of the disc. Your contact information should include your name (or
your band’s name), your phone number, and the date the master was
✓)>>Make three CD-Rs of your mastered music. Keep one copy safe in your
studio and send two to the duplication or replication company. This
ensures that if one of the two CDs that you send for mass production
has an error, you don’t waste time sending the company a replacement
because they’ll already have a second copy.
✓)>>Prepare a PQ subcode log. PQ subcodes are additional information
written on the CD that provides time code information, such as track
numbers and start and stop times of each track. If your CD recorder software doesn’t support PQ subcodes, make a list of the start and stop time
of each track (referenced from the start of the CD) on a separate piece
of paper — as well as the track number and length of each track — and
send it along with your CD masters. If your software program can generate a PQ subcode log, print it and send it with your CD master.
If you’re recording a CD for a major record label or if you want to make your
music available as digital downloads, you need to supply ISRC codes with your
CD. ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code, and it contains
information about the CD, such as the owner of the song, country of origin,
year of release, and serial number. You enter ISRC codes into a dialog box on
most CD-recording programs, and the information is placed on the disc.
You can find out more about ISRC codes at http://isrc.ifpi.org. You
can register yourself as a record label and be able to create your own ISRC
codes on this site. Registering takes time, so be sure to do this before you’re
on a deadline to get your CD printed. If you don’t want to go through the
steps to set yourself up as a label to generate your own codes, many of the
larger CD replicators (check out the section “Making Multiple Copies,” later
in this chapter) can create codes for you.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
Protecting your rights
Before you put your music out into the world, get it copyrighted. Getting a
copyright on your music is easy and relatively inexpensive, so there’s no
reason not to do it.
The easiest and cheapest way to register your copyright is online, through
the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). The online system is easy to use,
allows you to upload your music files, and costs only $35. You can access the
eCO at www.copyright.gov/eco.
If you still want to register by mail, you can. Just fill out an SR (sound recording) form and send it to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.
You can find the SR form at www.copyright.gov/forms, or you can call the
Copyright Office at 202-707-9100 and ask to have it mailed to you. Choose (or
ask for) the Form SR with Instructions. The current cost for filing the form is
$85, but double-check this fee before you send in your form, because the fee
has been known to go up. You can fill out one form for each CD, so the cost
per song isn’t very high. Send your completed form, the fee, and a copy of
your CD to the address listed on the form.
The form is pretty easy to fill out, but if you find that you have difficulty, you
can call an information specialist to help you out. The number is 202-707-3000.
Be prepared to wait on hold for a little while.
Several months after you complete your registration (whether by mail or
online), you’ll receive a certificate in the mail, but you can consider your music
copyrighted as soon as you submit the form. If you use snail mail and you’re
especially protective of your music (paranoid?), you can wait until your check
clears your bank. At this point, you can be almost certain that your form is
being processed. If you can’t sleep at night unless your music is copyrighted,
it’s best to wait until your certificate arrives in the mail before you start selling
or distributing your CD. (This is a good reason to file for your copyright early.)
Making Multiple Copies
When you have a CD that you want to copy, you can either make the copies
yourself or hire someone to make the copies for you. If you do them yourself,
you have to record CDs one at a time, just like the first one. This can cost less
but it takes a lot of time (as you undoubtedly found out when you recorded
your first CD).
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Doing it yourself
Well, you’ve done everything else yourself, so why not add the copying process to the list? If you have more time than money and you only need a few
CDs, making them yourself may be a good option.
To make saleable CDs yourself, you need not only the CD recorder but also
a graphics design software program and a printer to print the CD labels and
cover material (the CD sleeve and tray card). Even with this equipment, your
package won’t look as professional as the package that a CD duplication
or replication company can create, but what you create is probably good
enough for you to sell a few copies to your friends and acquaintances.
Having someone else do it
Depending on how many copies you want, you can either have them duplicated
or replicated. Either process can provide you with a professional-quality product that you can sell alongside major releases. Your choice between duplication
and replication depends on how many copies you plan to have made.
Duplication involves making copies of your master CD-R the same way you
made the CD-R in the first place. The only difference is that duplication companies use CD recorders that enable them to make more than one copy at a time.
Duplication is great if you want to make a small number of copies — from 50
to 300. Bare-bones CD-duplication companies often provide one-color printing
on the CD and either a vinyl sleeve or a jewel case to hold the CD. Most fullservice companies can prepare retail-ready packages, which look like other
commercial CDs and include CDs with printing on them, jewel cases with
color-printed inserts, and shrink-wrap. You can expect to pay $2.50 to $5 for
each CD, depending on the quantity that you order.
An advantage to having your CDs duplicated is that it can usually be done
quickly. Many duplication companies can provide you with a finished product
in as little as a few days (although seven days seems to be the average). The
disadvantage is that you usually pay considerably more for each CD than if
you do it yourself or go the replication route.
To have your CDs duplicated, you need to provide a CD-R master (a CD-R that
was recorded as an audio CD). If you want the duplication company to create
retail-ready packages, you also need to provide artwork that’s laid out to the
company’s specifications.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
If you’re interested in going the duplication route, here are a few resources to
get you started:
✓)>>CD\Works: www.cdworks.com
✓)>>Disc Makers: www.discmakers.com
✓)>>GrooveHouse: www.groovehouse.com
✓)>>NationWide Disc: www.nationwidedisc.com
✓)>>Oasis Disc Manufacturing: www.oasiscd.com
You can also do an Internet search for more places by using the search term
CD duplication.
Replication is used for making commercial CDs and involves recording a
glass master (the master disc from which all your CD copies will be made)
from your master CD-R. The glass master is then used to transfer the data
onto CD media. Replication is designed for larger runs of 500 or more copies.
Quantities less than 300 aren’t cost effective because the glass master often
costs between $100 and $200, and the film needed to print the CD, sleeve, and
tray card can cost several hundred dollars more.
UPC barcodes
If you make a CD that you intend to sell through
major retailers, such as music stores or Internet
retailers, you need a UPC barcode. A UPC barcode is a string of numbers that identifies your
product. Every CD has its own unique barcode.
You can get a barcode in one of two ways:
Register with and pay $750 to the Universal
Code Council (UCC) or pay $0 to $50 to a CD
replicator or distributor.
Unless you intend to release more than 35
CDs, your best bet is to buy a barcode from
a replicator or distributor, who can provide
barcodes for a small (or no) fee with your CD
order. Here are additional places where you
can get a UPC barcode:
)>>✓)>> Disc Makers: www.discmakers.com
)>>✓)>> Oasis Disc Manufacturing: w w w .
)>>✓)>> CD Baby: www.cdbaby.com
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
CD replication usually comes with printing on the CD in one to four colors
and a tray card and sleeve that are often printed in four colors. Most CD replication companies have retail-ready CD package deals that cover everything
from the layout of your artwork (some do and some don’t, so be sure to ask
first) to printed CDs, jewel boxes, and shrink wrap. You can expect to pay
$1,200 to $2,000 for 500 to 1,000 copies from most manufacturers.
If you want to go the replication route, you need to provide the replication
company with a master audio CD, artwork set to the company’s specifications, and a completed order form. Oh, and you probably need to pay half the
money upfront before the work can start (bummer).
After people at the manufacturing company receive your order form, the CD,
and artwork, they make a reference CD and proofs of your finished printed
material. Be sure to look over the art proofs carefully and listen to every
second of the reference CD. Any mistakes that you don’t catch are your problem, so take your time and compare the reference CD very closely with the
master recording. (You did make a copy of your master CD before you sent it
out, right?) The master and the reference CD should be identical.
Having your CD replicated is a stressful thing. You’re spending a ton of money
and getting quite a few copies that you need to be proud enough of to go
out in the world and sell them. So, choosing a CD-replication company is an
important task. Quite a few companies are out there, so choose the place that
makes you feel the most comfortable and that makes a high-quality product.
Following is a list of the larger CD-replication companies:
✓)>>Disc Makers: www.discmakers.com
✓)>>DiscMasters: www.discmasters.com
✓)>>GrooveHouse: www.groovehouse.com
✓)>>NationWide Disc: www.nationwidedisc.com
✓)>>Oasis Disc Manufacturing: www.oasiscd.com
For more possibilities, input the term CD replication in your favorite Internet
search engine.
Many CD-replication companies can provide you with great resources, information, and even opportunities for promoting your work. Take advantage of
these opportunities if you can, but don’t choose a company based on its promotional promises. Choose a company because of its customer service, price,
and the quality of its product.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
Be sure to ask for referrals — or at least a list of satisfied clients — before
you choose a duplication or replication company. As always, your best bet
when entrusting someone with your precious music is to ask friends for recommendations. Also, take timing estimates with a grain of salt — on a couple
of occasions, a company promised to finish my CDs by a certain date and
missed the deadline. So, leave plenty of time between when you print your
CDs and when you need them.
Understanding Downloadable Music Files
I’m sure you’ve heard about MP3s or maybe AAC. In fact, I’m willing to bet
that you’ve downloaded more than a few MP3s or AAC files from the Internet
and experienced firsthand the immediacy that these types of files offer. You
go to a website and choose a song to download. After only a few minutes, you
have a copy on your hard drive that you can listen to anytime. You can even
put that song on a CD or portable player and take it with you.
With all this convenience and immediacy comes a downside: That digitalfile song doesn’t sound as good as one that was mastered to a CD. For most
people, this is a small price to pay for the ability to download a song. After
all, most people play their music on less-than-stellar stereos (iPods come
to mind). If you’re one of the lucky few with a stellar (or more-than-stellar)
stereo system, you’ll hear the difference, which may prompt the following
question: “Why doesn’t a song in MP3 or AAC format sound as good as one
mastered to a CD?” The answer: lossy data compression.
What do you mean, “near-CD quality”?
You may have heard the term near-CD quality
when referring to MP3 or AAC sound. This is a
marketing term that means, “It doesn’t sound
as good as a CD, but we’ll make it sound like it’s
pretty darn close, and maybe the buyer won’t
notice.” If you sense a note of cynicism in my
writing, you’re right. Don’t delude yourself into
believing that the song you start with is going
to sound the same after this lossy conversion.
The difference between a song on a CD and a
song that’s near-CD quality is like the difference
between playing a CD in your car and then
hearing the same song on the radio. You lose
some high end and the bass is thinner. You may
even lose the stereo image, depending on the
conversion mode you choose, and you definitely lose some of the dynamic range. Overall,
the song has a little less life to it.
This is not a huge difference for most people,
but is noticeable nonetheless. The good news
is that most people don’t seem to care (or are
at least they’re willing to accept it).
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Lossy compression is a process that shrinks the file size of your music so that
it takes up less hard drive space. Data compression is a necessary evil in this
process. A regular CD music file can take up 30MB to 40MB (about 10MB per
minute). That same song can take up only 3MB to 4MB in MP3 or AAC format.
This is important because, if you’re going to do any promoting of your music
on the Internet, a 30MB to 40MB file is way too big to download or to stream
on the web (even for people with broadband Internet connections).
Although compression causes your digital download file to lose fidelity as
well as megabytes, I think this loss of quality is an advantage. Because your
MP3 or AAC doesn’t sound as good as your mastered CD, you give listeners
just a taste of your music. By giving people this taste, along with the opportunity to purchase a CD, you help them to decide whether they want to buy the
high-quality version.
Other file compression formats being used, such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio
Coding) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), have improved the sound quality
of MP3 and are being used by some delivery systems, such as AAC on iTunes,
so you may find that encoding your music into one of the other file types works
better for you. Some of the encoding software I mention later in this chapter can
encode into these file types as well as MP3. You may want to try one of these
on your music to see what you think works best — just make sure whatever file
format you choose can be played by the people you want to hear your music.
Bit rate
The bit rate determines the quality of your encoded music. When you encode
your music, you have to choose your file’s bit rate, as shown in Figure 17-1.
Bit rates range from 20 to 320 kilobits per second (Kbps). The higher the
bit rate, the better the sound quality. The downside is that higher bit rates
create larger files. When you convert your music to MP3 format, you’re constantly balancing quality with file size.
The bit rate that you ultimately choose depends on how you plan to use
your MP3 or AAC file. For example, if you want to put your music on a downloadable music host site (a website that makes people’s MP3 or AAC music
available for download), you most likely need to choose the 128 Kbps rate
because this is what many host sites require for download. For Hi-Fi mode
you may choose 192 Kbps or even 256 Kbps, depending on the provider. On
the other hand, if you want to stream audio on the web, and you want anyone
(regardless of connection speed) to hear it, you’re better off choosing a lower
rate, such as 96 Kbps or even lower, depending on your host’s requirements.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
Variable bit rate (VBR) is an option that many MP3 encoders offer. VBR allows
the encoder to change the bit rate as it compresses the file. The advantage
of this approach is that sections with fewer instruments or less data can be
compressed further than sections with more critical information. The result
is often a better-sounding MP3 file that takes up less space. The only drawback — and it’s a big one — is that not all MP3 players can read a file created
with VBR. So, you’re probably better off not using this approach for your
web-based files.
Figure 17-1:
MP3 encoders allow
you to
choose the
bit rate of
your MP3.
If you’re making MP3s to listen to through your own player and it supports
VBR playback, using VBR keeps your files smaller. If you do choose VBR,
you’re prompted to choose an average bit rate or a minimum and maximum
bit rate. Try them both and choose the one that sounds best to you.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Modes essentially refer to whether your file is in stereo or mono; however,
your choices include more than just plain stereo and mono. You have the
option to choose mono, stereo, joint stereo, or sometimes force stereo (also
known as dual mono), as shown in Figure 17-2. Again, choose the mode based
on your music and how you prefer to balance quality with file size.
Figure 17-2:
MP3 encoders have
modes from
which you
can choose.
Here’s a look at the various modes and how they relate to quality and
file size:
✓)>>Mono: Mono takes up little room because all the stereo data from your
CD is contained on one track. The sound quality can be good, depending on the bit rate that you choose, but you lose all stereo-imaging data.
Choose mono mode if the loss of the stereo image won’t adversely affect
your song or if the overall sound quality is more important to you than
the stereo information.
✓)>>Stereo: Stereo mode consists of two mono tracks. With stereo mode, you
retain all your stereo information. The drawback is that your two tracks
are at half the bit rate of the mono track that uses the same bit-rate
setting. For example, if you encode in stereo at 128 Kbps, each of your
tracks is only encoded at 64 Kbps. So, if you want each track to be at 128
Kbps, you need to encode at 256 Kbps. This creates a file that’s twice as
large as the mono file at 128 Kbps but has the same sound quality.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
ç’•å±´Stereo mode is a good choice if you have a song with complex stereo
panning effects that you just can’t live without and you don’t mind a
sound quality that’s slightly lower.
✓)>>Joint stereo: Joint stereo mode is a cross between mono and stereo.
This mode consists of creating one track of audio information and one
track of information that tells the player to send certain sounds through
one speaker or the other (called steering data). You get most of the
stereo information with only a slightly larger file size than with mono
ç’•å±´For most songs, the difference between regular stereo and joint stereo is
indistinguishable as far as the stereo image goes, but you end up with a
higher-quality recording with joint stereo because the higher bit rate is
used. You may find that this option works better for you than the regular
stereo mode. Experiment and see whether you can hear a difference.
✓)>>Force stereo: Force stereo (or dual mono) mode is essentially the same
as mono mode — one track of audio data is recorded and the stereo panning information is lost. The only difference between mono and force
stereo is that force stereo makes sure that the mono data is sent through
both speakers of the player. You choose force stereo mode if you don’t
mind your music being in mono but you want to ensure that it plays
through both speakers.
Mastered for iTunes
If you’ve spent any time at the iTunes Store
in the last couple years, I’m sure you’ve seen
tracks listed as having been “mastered for
iTunes.” You may have thought that it was just a
marketing tactic, but it does mean better sound.
Songs that are mastered for iTunes not only use
iTunes Plus’s higher-resolution files (256 Kbps
AAC versus 128 Kbps for regular iTunes files),
but these higher-resolution files are encoded
directly from the highest-resolution files used
for the recording. Apple specifies that you
ideally encode your 256 Kbps AAC files directly
from 24 bit/96 kHz files (though 44.1 or 48 kHz
can be just fine). The key to this spec is that
you aren’t reducing your final mixes to CD quality before turning into the AAC files. Instead,
you’re skipping one degrading process, leaving your music more pure. According to many
mastering engineers, the difference in final
sound quality is noticeable. You can read the
specs here: www.apple.com/itunes/
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
Creating MP3 Files
To create MP3 files, you need MP3 encoding software and a CD or audio file
of your music (well, you need a computer, too). To create an MP3 file of your
music, just choose the song to convert and let the encoder do the rest. Certain
variables can make your MP3s sound their best — such as which encoder you
use and what parameters you choose. I cover these variables in the following
Choosing encoding software
You have a lot of MP3 encoding software choices. Some software encodes
from various file formats as well as from a CD, whereas others don’t encode
directly from a CD. Not being able to encode directly from CD isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, because the process of lifting music from a CD (also
known as ripping) can cause audible artifacts (noise, clicks, pops, and so on).
If you encode from a WAV or AIFF file, you can first make sure that the sound
going into the encoding process is as good as possible.
If you get an encoder that doesn’t encode from CD and you use a stand-alone
or SIAB system that doesn’t support file importing (or you don’t have your
recorder connected to a computer), you need CD ripping (copying) software
as well.
Here are a few popular MP3 and AAC programs that both encode and rip:
✓)>>iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes): iTunes is free and can rip from CD
into MP3 and AAC formats equally easily. It’s simple to use and, if you
have an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, or if you buy music from the iTunes Store,
you already have it loaded onto your computer.
✓)>>Switch Audio Converter Software (www.nch.com.au/switch): You
can download the basic version for free, which allows you to play, rip,
record, and convert MP3s and audio CDs. This program works with
Windows PCs and Macs. There is also a plus version available for more
encoding options that costs $30.
✓)>>Toast Titanium (www.roxio.com): This is the most common Mac-based
program. It costs about $100 and allows you to not only create MP3s, but
also record your mixes to CD — plus a lot more.
Many MP3 encoders are available, so if you’re looking for a little more variety, I suggest doing an Internet search for MP3 encoding software. You’ll find
plenty of options.
Chapter 17: Creating Your Finished Product
If you record using a computer-based system and you use one of the more
full-featured, popular programs such as Pro Tools or Logic Pro X, you can
probably create MP3 files without getting additional software. Most decent
programs offer this capability.
Encoding your music
The actual encoding process is pretty simple. Just open your MP3 encoding software and choose the parameters that you want for your file. I can’t
list step-by-step details here — every encoding program is a little bit different — but keep the following points in mind when you encode your music:
✓)>>To ensure that you get the best sound quality possible, encode your
downloadable digital files from a WAV or AIFF file instead of directly
from your CD. The process of ripping a song from a CD can create problems in sound quality. So, by converting your CD to WAV or AIFF files
first, you get a chance to hear your ripped song and to correct problems
that ripping may have caused before your music goes to MP3.
✓)>>Import your WAV or AIFF file into a sound editor. Sound editor programs,
such as Sound Forge or Wave Burner, work fine. (You can find sound editors online.) When you have your file in the editor, use the Maximizer plugin to raise the overall level of your song. You lose some dynamics, but they
may not come through with the MP3 or AAC file anyway. If you recorded
your music to your computer, you can use the recording software instead
of a separate sound editor to do this procedure.
✓)>>Choose the stereo or joint stereo modes for a better sound. Most
online music hosts require a stereo file. Choosing the force stereo option
is fine if your encoder supports it.
✓)>>If you want to put your music on the web, choose the 128 Kbps bit rate
because it covers you for most situations. If you’re encoding for specific
providers, check to find out what bit rate they prefer.
✓)>>Experiment with different modes and encoding engines. Some sound
better than others on certain types of music.
Pressing Vinyl
There is a trend for musicians to create compelling packaging to try to entice
listeners into buying a physical product rather than just taking a free download. (Whether you offer a free download or not, chances are, your music will
be available for free somewhere through peer-to-peer [P2P] sharing.) One of
the ways artists are distinguishing themselves is to offer vinyl records.
Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song
This retro format is a viable option for breaking through the noise and getting
your music heard (I cover more ways to “premiumize” your music to help
with promotion in Chapter 18). If you’re interested in putting your music out
on an old-fashioned record, here’s what you need to know:
✓)>>It takes a lot longer to make a vinyl record than a CD. Expect to wait
close to eight weeks for your finished record.
✓)>>Not everyone has a record player. In fact, as attractive as it may be to
put your music out on vinyl, the vast majority of your fans will not have
the proper equipment to play it. So, when you print, keep this limited
market in mind. The average independent artist only prints a few hundred records at a time.
✓)>>A vinyl record doesn’t hold a lot of music. You may need to cut songs
from your CD to fit the constraints of the vinyl. A 12-inch 33⅓ rpm
record holds only about 18 minutes per side and a 7-inch 45 rpm record
holds about 4½ minutes per side.
✓)>>You may lose some fidelity. If you’re mixing your music with the modern
style of having pretty heavy bass, you may need to dial that back to
accommodate the limitations of the vinyl medium. You may also find
that the high frequencies drop as you move to vinyl. You can deal with
this and make an excellent-sounding record if you have the special knowhow. Here’s an article on how to prepare your music for vinyl: www.
✓)>>Most vinyl record pressing companies will include a download card in
your record’s packaging so that your listeners can download your music
to a portable device. This allows you to offer the best of both worlds.
If a vinyl record interests you, check out these resources for the many options
and prices:
✓)>>GrooveHouse: www.groovehouse.com
✓)>>United Record Pressing: www.urpressing.com
✓)>>Record Pressing: www.recordpressing.com
✓)>>Rainbo Records: www.rainborecords.com
Most CD duplicators and replicators also have recommendations for vinyl
pressing companies that they work with regularly. So, if you have a CD manufacturer that you like and you want a vinyl record, ask the manufacturer for a
Part VI
The Part of Tens
For ten innovative indie musician ideas, head to www.dummies.com/extras/
In this part . . .
✓)>> Explore ten great promotion and distrbution ideas as you begin
to share your music with the world.
✓)>> Discover ten tips that you can use in your studio to improve the
quality of your recordings.
Chapter 18
Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and
Promote Your Music
In This Chapter
▶)>>Marketing yourself
▶)>>Utilizing social networking
▶)>>Making the most out of your Internet presence
ongratulations! You have a final product to sell. The hard . . . oops, I’m
sorry . . . the easy part is behind you. I’m sure you don’t want to be stuck
with boxes of expensive coasters, so now you have to work on getting people
interested in buying your music. You’ve just gone from being a musician-Â�
composer-engineer-producer to being all those plus a record-company-�ownerbusinessperson (exactly how hyphenated can a person get, anyway?).
Your friends and some acquaintances will probably buy a few copies, but
after you’ve sold copies to all of them, you need to promote your music to
the broader world. This can be tricky. After all, you’re now competing with
the big boys and — face it — you don’t have nearly the resources that they
do. Traditional channels of distribution and marketing are pretty much out
of the question for you. So, to succeed in selling your music, you need to try
some alternative approaches.
In this chapter, I show you a variety of ways to get your music out to the
masses. From basic promotional ideas to online distribution, this chapter
covers a lot of ground. You discover how to find web hosting sites, how to
encode your music for online distribution, and how to make a few bucks from
music downloads.
Throughout this chapter, I list a lot of music promotion services that you can
get involved in. Many of them are free, but others charge a fee. These fees can
add up, so I recommend sticking with the free plans until you know whether
the fee-based service can add to your bottom line. Also, keep in mind that if
you have your music in a lot of places, it’s easy to lose track of or be unable to
keep up with updating your music.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Marketing Yourself
I’m no marketing guru, but I have managed to create a nice niche for myself
and my music. So, trust me — you can do the same. All it takes is a little
imagination and a lot of hard work. In the following list, I present a few ideas
that have worked for me and other enterprising, independent artists:
✓)>>Take yourself seriously. What I mean by this is take the job of promoting
and selling your music seriously — treat it as a business. Getting people to
notice and buy your music is a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be a drag
(if it is, you’re better off getting someone else to do it for you).
✓)>>Get organized. Get your new business off on the right foot by developing a habit of keeping track of your sales and developing a contact
list. One of the best investments that you can make is to get a contact
management database (Act! is a good one for Windows, and Contacts is
serviceable for Mac users) to keep track of promotion contacts (newspapers, radio stations, and clubs), CD and download sales, and fans. Also,
do yourself a big favor and keep meticulous records of your income and
expenses; you’ll be grateful that you did when tax time comes.
✓)>>Create a mailing list. This is one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways that you can start to develop a following. Make a signup sheet
for your mailing list available at every public appearance. (Ask people to
include not only their postal mail addresses but also their email addresses.)
Then enter those names into your database. You can then either send out
snail mailings or email notices whenever you play or do anything worth
mentioning. I talk more about email lists later in this chapter.
✓)>>Get out and be seen. This one is pretty straightforward. Get out in the
world and let people know about your music. This can mean playing
gigs or talking about your music. I have a good friend who releases an
album each year. He prints a thousand copies, which he sells at his gigs,
and every year he sells out. (Hey, that’s an extra ten grand a year after
expenses — not bad.) He also uses his albums as his calling card to get
more gigs.
✓)>>Look beyond the music store. It’s nearly impossible to compete with
the labels — indies and majors alike — in the music store. Unless you
live in a small town or know of a music shop that has a section devoted
to local bands and can sell your CDs, you need to think of other places
to put your music. For example, another friend of mine has his CD at
quite a few of the local businesses in his neighborhood around the holidays. Every place, from the local pack-and-ship to the video store, has a
countertop display with his CD. He creates a small poster that fits on the
counter describing him and his music. He sells quite a few CDs and gets
a handful more gigs each year this way.
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
✓)>>Capitalize on your style. Another one of my friends composes folksy,
New Age music, and he managed to get his CDs into a handful of New
Age gift shops. He often puts them in the stores on consignment and
checks each store once a week to refill the countertop display and collect money that the store took in (minus the store’s cut, of course).
Going into the stores every week helps him to develop a relationship
with the store owners, many of whom have arranged for him to do performances in their stores, increasing exposure and sales.
✓)>>Try something different. Years ago, I teamed up with a local author
and played at her book signings. (This is before I wrote books myself.)
She read a passage from her book, and then I played for a few minutes. I
always ended up selling a few dozen CDs at these events.
✓)>>Don’t be stingy. Give away your CD. I usually count on giving away
about 10 percent to 15 percent of the CDs that I print. These can be for
reviews, to try to get gigs, or for any purpose that may spread the word
about your music. Giving out your CD as a promotional tool is an inexpensive way to let people know what you’re doing.
I’m sure you can come up with dozens more ways to promote and sell your
music. Think outside the box and use your imagination. Don’t be shy. Do whatever you can to get your music out into the world.
Setting Up Your Own Music Website
No matter what else you do, you need to have your own website. A website
is your calling card — a place where you can showcase yourself and your
music. With your own site, you can provide a lot more information for visitors to read. You can also offer more products that may make you more
money than your CDs — T-shirts for instance.
Some hosting services make it easy to create a website for you or your band
and allow you to offer downloads or streams of your music, CDs, and other
merchandise. All the following sites are geared toward musicians. The one
you choose will likely depend on the fit for you or your band. Here are some
✓)>>Bandvista (www.bandvista.com): Bandvista’s plans start at $15 per
month, and it has hundreds of templates to start your design.
✓)>>Bandzoogle (www.bandzoogle.com): Bandzoogle has plans starting at
$10 per month, though if you want to create a design of your own (not
from a basic template) it’ll run $15 per month.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
✓)>>HostBaby (www.hostbaby.com): HostBaby has one plan ($20 per
month or $199 per year — your unique domain name is another $12 per
year) and offers five free CD submissions to CD Baby (www.cdbaby.
com), so it’s pretty competitive with the other sites.
✓)>>Rock Web (www.rockwebhosting.com): Rock Web has hosting plans
starting at $10 per month and offers pretty much the same options as
other sites for the money, but its templates are somewhat limited for a
band or musician. Still, you can be creative and set up a site quick and
cheap. And like all the other sites, you don’t need to know HTML or any
other web code.
Each of these sites offers slightly different features for the money. Take a close
look at their plans and keep in mind that, while all offer free trials, you’re
unlikely to move from one host site to another, so choose the site that you feel
best about and whose features most closely match your needs.
When you design your website, keep the following points in mind:
✓)>>Make your site easy to navigate. Make sure that your visitors know
where they are on your site at all times. It’s often a good idea to have a
menu bar on each page so that they can at least return to the home page
without having to search for it.
✓)>>Consider mobile devices in your design. Smart phones and tablet computers are a growing segment of online users, and many of them don’t
support Flash technology. So, I recommend skipping the fancy flash intro
and jumping right into the meat of your site.
✓)>>Make ordering your music (or other stuff) easy. Put a Buy My Music
button or link on every page.
✓)>>Double-check all your links. Nothing is worse for a web surfer than clicking on links that don’t work. If you have links on your site, double-check
that each one works. And if you have links to other people’s sites, check the
links occasionally to make sure that the page you’re linking to still exists.
✓)>>Test your site. Before you sign off on your site design, check it from
a slow connection and multiple devices if you can (or have your web
developer do this for you). You instantly get a sense of whether your
site’s download time is speedy. If it’s slow to load or confusing to navigate, keep working on it until it works. You may also want to check your
site using different web browsers and screen resolutions to make sure
that your site still looks good.
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
✓)>>Make your site your browser’s home page. Years ago, before I knew
better, I had a site down for weeks because I didn’t have it set as my
default site in my browser. I didn’t find out until I got a call from a friend
who told me it was down.
Putting Your Music on a Music Host Site
A music host site is a website that allows you to add your music to its list of
available music downloads. Putting your MP3s on a host site can give you
exposure that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. You can direct people to
the site to listen to your music and also benefit from traffic that the site itself,
other musicians, and the site’s fans generate. For some of the larger sites,
that can be a lot of potential listeners. Although MP3 host sites are constantly
changing, a few have managed to hang around for a while:
✓)>>Bandcamp (www.bandcamp.com): Bandcamp lets you offer downloadable music, physical CDs, and even merchandise like T-shirts. A basic
plan is free (pro plan is $10 per month) to offer your music or merch,
though it does take a cut of your sales. Bandcamp’s cut is 15 percent for
digital sales and 10 percent for CDs or merchandise.
✓)>>Soundcloud (www.soundcloud.com): Soundcloud lets you upload your
music and make it available as a download or online stream. It’s free and
it’s popular, so it’s a worthwhile place to add your music. Soundcloud
is very strict about ensuring no one is uploading material that he or she
doesn’t own the copyright to, which is a good thing for musicians.
✓)>>Reverbnation (www.reverbnation.com): Reverbnation.com is kind of
a one-stop-shop for releasing and promoting your music. It offers website hosting, digital distribution, email contact management, newsletter
delivery, and more. It has a free plan that lets you upload and offer your
music for download, but if you want to monetize it, you’ll need to pay
some money. The price varies depending on what services you want to
use, but its basic full-service plan runs $20 per month.
✓)>>Last.fm (www.last.fm): Last.fm is a streaming radio service with a
dynamic community. You can put your music on the site plus offer links
to your CDs and downloads. You can also sign up for a plan that pays
you for the streaming, but it won’t amount to much unless you have a
ton of plays (check out the Terms and Conditions for details).
Be sure to read and understand the contracts (often called agreements) that
each of these sites requires you to agree to. Make sure that you don’t sign
away your rights to your music. If you’re not sure that you like a particular
agreement, don’t sign up for the service. You can find plenty of other places to
put your music on the Internet.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Watch this (My)space
MySpace (www.myspace.com) used to be
the place to be on the Internet for musicians.
Originally just a place to hang out for a few
lonely souls, it became a cultural phenomenon. Then, due to the bad publicity surrounding privacy and safety for its members, that
phenomenon turned into a cautionary tale for
people wanting to promote themselves online.
Plus, many MySpace users’ “friends” were
just other bands wanting as many “friends” as
possible — they had no real interest in other
people’s music.
Of course, with the pace of the Internet and
the recent sale of MySpace to Specific Media,
Myspace (now without the capital S in the
middle) could experience a renaissance and
become popular again (stranger things have
happened). Regardless, tons of people still go
to www.myspace.com, so it’s worth keeping
an eye on to see if it turns around.
Engaging in Social Media Networking
People are atwitter (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) about social networking
as a way to promote themselves. I’m personally still a bit cool on the actual
sales that can be made using Twitter, Facebook, and the other social networking sites, but I won’t deny that these sites generate a lot of activity, and activity is always a good thing. So, I’m not really going out on a limb to suggest
that you join the social networking world, too. It can be a great way to connect with your fans (and possibly attract new ones).
Aside from the music hosting sites I list earlier in this chapter, there are some
general social networking sites musicians are using. Here is a list of the most
popular ones (as of this writing anyway):
✓)>>Facebook (www.facebook.com): Facebook is the largest, most active
community on the Internet. With its size and reach, it’s not going away
anytime soon. So, if you’re not already on Facebook, you really need to
get to it. Because of its size, many of the other musician-centric sites,
such as Reverbnation, have apps that allow you to connect your account
to your Facebook page. This gives you the best of both worlds and
makes it easier to manage your social networking.
✓)>>Twitter (www.twitter.com): Twitter lets you share news and links
in 140 characters. And for some reason this type of blogging (called
micro-blogging) has become popular. I’m willing to bet you’re already
on Twitter, regardless of how often you actually tweet. If you’re not, you
should at least try it out and see if you like it.
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
✓)>>Google+ (http://plus.google.com): Google+ allows you to connect
with your social circle, mostly by sharing in new and unique ways. Given
that this is Google’s creation, there is a good chance it will become popular, and if it becomes popular you’re probably going to want to engage
in it in some way.
There have been a lot of complaints and concerns about privacy and content
ownership with these social networks. If either of these is an issue to you,
make sure you read and understand the user agreements that you’re bound
by when you sign up and use these sites. If you’re unsure whether you have
privacy or if you give up any rights to your music by posting it on these sites,
you’re better off erring on the side of caution and limiting what you share.
Offering Free Downloads
Offering a freebie can be a good way to get people interested in your music
and a way to turn people into fans. Online promotion of your music almost
requires you to make downloads available to your potential fans. You can talk
about your music all you want, but what people want is to hear your music.
The purpose of the free download is to get your listener excited enough
about your music that he buys your CD or comes to see your show.
Turning a freebie listener into a buyer isn’t that difficult. My company offers a
variety of free download demos, and we’ve found that over 10 percent of the
people who take a free demo end up buying a CD or program from us. This
is an inexpensive way for us to get new customers and a very good return
on investment. On top of that, by allowing our customers to try our recording first, we receive fewer requests for a refund (contrary to most music
creators, we offer a money-back guarantee on all our CDs and programs). So,
you won’t be surprised to hear me suggest that you should offer free demos/
downloads of your music. (I won’t suggest a money-back guarantee unless
you’re doing something therapeutic like I am.)
Give people a taste of your music and sell an upgrade — other tracks, CDs,
vinyl records, boxed sets, CD and T-shirt packages, tickets to a live concert
stream . . . anything that turns a casual listener into a fan. There are some
good models out there for monetizing your music if you look around.
I’m not a fan of making all your music free to download as a way of generating
buzz. I see a freebie as a teaser. I believe that if you offer your fans something,
they’ll buy it. Even if you’re “not in it for the money,” charging for your music
says that you value what you do. And if you value it, your fans will, too.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Selling Downloads
People are downloading music at a growing rate and feel comfortable purchasing their music in a digital format (don’t let anyone tell you that people
won’t pay for it — just look at the success of iTunes, for example). When my
company made our CDs available as downloaded files, it took less than five
months for our download sales to overtake our physical CD sales. Now downloads account for almost 80 percent of our generalized recording revenues.
And the best part is that we don’t have to print or ship anything.
Tons of sites, including iTunes and Amazon, can host your music downloads,
for free or at a cost to your fans. Depending on the online music provider, you
may or may not be able to put up your music yourself. Here’s a short list of
the more popular online music sites:
✓)>>iTunes (www.itunes.com): iTunes is the most popular download music
site, so I recommend you make your music available there. The problem
is that, unless you have 20 professionally manufactured albums with
ISRC codes for each track (Chapter 17 explains ISRC codes), iTunes
won’t take your music. The good news is that iTunes will accept your
music, even just one CD, if you use an approved aggregator, such as CD
Baby or TuneCore (both covered later in this list).
✓)>>Amazon (www.amazon.com): Yes, you can sell your music on Amazon.
Boasted as the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon offers two categories — Professional seller and Individual seller — so you’ll find a
category that fits you. Go to www.amazonservices.com for more
information. To sell downloads on Amazon, your CDs need to be online,
and you need to set up an artist page. If you don’t have a physical CD
on Amazon, you can still get your MP3s on the site by using one of the
aggregators I list in this section.
✓)>>CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com): CD Baby is an online music store that
specializes in independent artists. Aside from allowing you to sell your
physical CD, you can also sell your digital downloads. In fact, CD Baby
not only enables you to sell CDs on its site easily, but as an aggregator,
it can also help you sell your downloads on other sites, such as iTunes,
Rhapsody, and Amazon. And CD Baby takes only 9 percent of your revenue for the trouble.
✓)>>TuneCore (www.tunecore.com): TuneCore is an online music distributor and, as such, helps you make your music available in a lot of places.
These include Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Spotify, and others. TuneCore
charges $50 per year for each CD/album you upload.
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
✓)>>Music Host Network (www.musichostnetwork.com): Music Host
Network is an online music distributor, like TuneCore, and offers pretty
much the same service at the same price ($50 per year). You can try
Music Host Network for free, although a free account has very limited
digital distribution.
✓)>>Bandcamp (www.bandcamp.com): Bandcamp lets you offer downloadable music, physical CDs, and even merchandise like T-shirts. A basic
plan is free (pro plan is $10 per month) to offer your music or merch,
though it does take a cut of your sales. Bandcamp’s cut is 15 percent for
digital sales and 10 percent for CDs or merchandise.
This is a very short list of online options. Look around for other places to sell
your digitally formatted music. There are a ton of them, and more are showing
up every day.
Licensing Your Music
Licensing (also called “sync” licensing) gets you paid for your music and
gives you exposure to audiences that may not otherwise find your music.
You can license your music to film, TV, commercials, and a host of other outlets — I’ve licensed my music for dance videos and shows, conferences, and
other unexpected places.
It used to be that you got lucky and someone called asking to license your
music (this is how all my licensing happened), but nowadays there are services that offer listings of libraries or producers looking for music. Here two
worth checking out:
✓)>>Taxi (www.taxi.com): Taxi has been around a long time and has a very
active member community, as well as a yearly “road rally” conference to
help you get the most out of the service. Membership will cost you $300
plus a small fee for each submission, but for all they offer, this can be a
bargain if you work to get the most out of the service. They don’t take a
cut of the money you make on placements for royalties.
✓)>>Audiosocket (www.audiosocket.com): Audiosocket vets the music that
they offer their buyers but doesn’t charge their artists to list their music. So,
if you are interested in offering your music through them, complete an application and a few songs. If they accept your music and sell any, they take a 50
percent cut in the placement fee and 50 percent of the publishing royalties.
✓)>>Broadjam (www.broadjam.com): Broadjam helps you submit your music
to publishers. It’s also a music hosting and download site. Membership
starts at about $10 per month.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Streaming Audio
Streaming audio is basically an audio file that begins playing without actually
downloading to your listener’s computer. The advantages are that it greatly
reduces the amount of time your listener has to wait to hear your music, and
it keeps your listener from being able to steal your music. The downside is
that the quality of the audio can be lower.
You don’t have to know any of this if you go with a website host that is set up
for musicians, such as those I list in the “Setting Up Your Own Music Website”
section at the beginning of this chapter. These hosts take care of creating the
appropriate code for you.
You always want to make the process of navigating your site and listening to
your music as fast as possible. This provides a much better experience than
having to wait. The less time a person has to wait, the more likely she is to
return. The more repeat visitors you get, the better the chance you have for
selling CDs.
You can create streaming audio in a number of ways, but the most common
is with an MP3 file. The process is the same with either method, except that
your filenames are going to be different.
The following steps walk you through the process of getting your MP3 file to
stream on your site:
1.)>> Create an MP3 file, using a bit rate of 128 Kbps.
2.)>> Save the MP3 file so that you can identify it.
ç’•å±´ The easiest way to do this is to save your file as songname128.mp3 (the
128 stands for 128 Kbps).
3.)>> Create a pointer file and name it songname64.m3u.
ç’•å±´A pointer file is a file that directs your visitor’s audio player to the song so
that it plays without waiting for the entire song to download. This file contains directions to your MP3 file. For example, your file would contain the
following text:
ç’•å±´ You can also use the M3U file to create a playlist — that is, have more
than one song play without making your visitor go to another page
on your website. To do this, simply add another song on another line.
Adding two more songs would then look like this:
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
ç’•å±´ The M3U file plays the songs in the order they’re listed in this file.
ç’•å±´ Keep in mind that if your visitor doesn’t have an audio player, he can’t
listen to your music. It’s a good idea to put a link on your site to another
site where your listener can download an audio player.
4.)>> Create a hyperlink on your web page to the songname128.m3u file.
ç’•å±´ For example, you can put the hyperlink in some text, like this: Check
out our new song, songname; then link the text to the file. Or, you
can place the hyperlink in a picture or graphic (or both).
5.)>> Upload your MP3 file, your pointer file, and the new page with your
hyperlink to your website.
6.)>> Go to your website and test how the streaming audio works.
Make sure that your site hosting service has its MIME types configured for
MP3. Otherwise, your audio files won’t work. (Don’t worry — the people who
work for your hosting service will know what you’re talking about when you
mention MIME types. That’s their job.)
If all this sounds like too much work, you can just create a link to the streaming files on your MP3 host site. This way, people can still hear your music,
even if it isn’t available on your site.
Podcasting is another way to offer audio online. Typically, podcasts are
media feeds that your visitors can subscribe to and get updates automatically as they’re published. If you regularly update your music or if you want
to have an audio blog (or video blog) that your fans can listen to (or watch),
this can be a great way to keep them involved in your music.
The process of creating a podcast starts with recording the content and then
putting it in an MP3 format (if you’re doing audio). You have this book, so
you can create audio content easily. Just follow the steps outlined throughout
the book to record and convert your music. Next, you need to host it or have
a podcasting site host it for you. This process can get pretty complicated,
so I recommend checking out Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Tee
Morris, Chuck Tomasi, Evo Terra, and Kreg Steppe (Wiley). You can also
check out these sites to learn more about podcasting:
✓)>>The Apple podcast page (www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/specs.
html): This page on the Apple website contains tons of information on creating a podcast and publishing it. This is a good place to start.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
✓)>>Podcasting Tools (www.podcasting-tools.com): As the URL suggests,
this site has information, links, and tools for creating a podcast. This is a
good place to find quality information.
If you’re ready to get started podcasting, here are a few sites worth looking into:
✓)>>Hipcast (www.hipcast.com): Hipcast is an easy-to-use site that lets you
create and publish your audio or video blogs. This site offers a sevenday free trial period, with plans starting at $5 per month. You don’t find
a lot of information on this site about podcasting, but if you’re ready to
give it a try, this is a good inexpensive option.
✓)>>Libsyn (www.libsyn.com): Libsyn offers plans starting at $5 per month
and, for an added cost, offers Apple iOS and Android apps for mobile
✓)>>PodHoster (www.podhoster.com): PodHoster, as the name states,
hosts podcasts. With this service, you record your audio and PodHoster
hosts it. This is a good option for musicians who record their own music
and know the ins and outs of the audio-creation process (that would be
you, after you’ve read this book). PodHoster offers a 30-day free trial,
with monthly plans starting at $5.
Selling Your CDs
Regardless of whether you have your own site, you can always sell your CDs
on the Internet through other outlets. An advantage to selling your music
through other online stores is that you can capitalize on the traffic that the
store generates. A number of online retailers are out there, but the following
list gives you the lowdown on some of the major players:
✓)>>CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com): CD Baby puts your CD on its site for a
small setup fee ($35). For this, you get a web page (which the people at
CD Baby design) with pictures, bios, MP3s, and streaming audio. The
site sells your CD for any price you set, takes $4 from the sale, and gives
you the rest. You even receive an email whenever someone buys one of
your CDs. Signing up is easy; just direct your browser to www.cdbaby.
com and click the Sell Your CD icon. The instructions are clear, and helpful articles on the site can help you to, well, sell your CD.
✓)>>Bandcamp (www.bandcamp.com): Bandcamp is a way for you to sell
not only your CDs, but also merchandise such as T-shirts, coffee mugs,
and so on. Bandcamp doesn’t charge a monthly fee, but it does take
a cut — 15 percent or less, depending on how much you sell and the
prices you set.
Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Ways to Distribute and Promote Your Music
✓)>>Amazon (www.amazon.com): If you want to sell your physical CD on
Amazon, all you need is a retail-ready package (professional manufacturer and with a UPC code on it). To join, point your browser to www.
amazonservices.com and follow the prompts.
Because the Internet is constantly changing and growing, you may find other
sites that allow you to sell your music online. Use your favorite search engine
to search for the phrase sell your CD. This gives you a ton of other places to
consider when selling your CD online.
Connecting with an Email Newsletter
An email newsletter is an inexpensive way to keep your music on people’s
minds. Try to send newsletters to your subscribers somewhat consistently,
but don’t just send out the same message on a regular basis. Give your subscribers new information, such as a press release about where you’re playing
next or a link to a new song that you’ve just uploaded.
Don’t send your newsletter to anyone who hasn’t asked to receive it. This is
called spamming, and it’s illegal.
To build a subscriber list, encourage people to sign up for your mailing list at
your gigs and on your website. Or offer them a free download when they sign
up on your website, and put a subscription form on every page. Always provide an easy way for users to unsubscribe from your list.
If you’re serious about sending out an email newsletter, an email service
provider can collect and manage addresses and send out your messages.
The advantages of using an email service provider include ease of use, but
the most important is that it will help your messages get to your subscriber.
Sending emails directly from your email account can get your messages
blocked — and if the email host (such as Gmail or Yahoo!) labels you as
spam, they’ll ban your messages. The rules on this get pretty complicated,
and trying to keep up with changes and be compliant is a full-time job.
Your best solution to make sure your messages go through is to use an experienced email service provider. Here are a few I recommend:
✓)>>AWeber (www.aweber.com): AWeber has been around a long time (I’ve
used them for the last eight years) and has the best customer service
I’ve come across in this industry. You can actually get someone on the
phone. In fact, they encourage it. Their plans start at $19 per month (for
up to 500 subscribers). You can try AWeber for a month for only a dollar,
and they offer excellent email marketing advice (through a newsletter,
videos, and blogs).
Part VI: The Part of Tens
✓)>>Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com): This popular provider
is easy to use and offers a 60-day free trial. Its basic (500 subscriber)
plan is $15 per month. Plans with more subscribers cost about the same
as the other providers I list here. I haven’t used Constant Contact, but I
have friends who are very happy with this provider.
✓)>>MailChimp (www.mailchimp.com): I also use MailChimp, and what I
like about this one is that it’s super easy to use and its data tracking
(clicks and whatnot) is very good. What I don’t like is that it won’t get on
the phone with you if you have problems. You’re stuck with instant chat
or email (not the worst thing but kind of annoying if you have a complicated problem). MailChimp has a free account option that allows you to
try them out and see if you like them. Once you get to a couple of thousand subscribers, the cost is about the same as everyone else in this list.
You can find a lot more by doing an Internet search using email service provider or email marketing as your search term.
If you choose a music-centric company to host your website (check out the
“Setting Up Your Own Music Website” section, earlier in this chapter), you may
find that your blast email needs are taken care of and you don’t need to hire a
separate provider. However, if you end up with a lot of fans, you may find the
features offered by a dedicated provider useful.
Chapter 19
Ten Invaluable Recording Tips
In This Chapter
▶)>>Improving the sound of your recordings
▶)>>Making your room look and sound good
▶)>>Making edits easier
▶)>>Capturing and preserving an artistic performance
hroughout this book, I suggest things that you can do to make your
recordings as good as possible. In this chapter, I present you with more
simple and effective tricks that you can use to improve the quality of your
recordings. You find ways to add more of that sought-after analog sound to
your music, fatten up your tracks (add more depth), and increase the overall
feel (artistic interpretation) of your performances. You also discover a couple
of tips to help you improve the sound of your room, make the editing process
easier and quicker, and double-check your mix before you call your song
Using an Analog Tape Deck
If you have a digital recorder and yearn for that analog sound, you can run
the tracks out of your recorder, into an analog tape deck, and back into the
digital recorder. You can do this for drum tracks or even the final two-track
mix. By blending the tape-saturated tracks back in with the original ones, you
can add as much or as little of the distorted analog sound into your clean
digital tracks as you want and reverse anything that you’ve done later.
This procedure is really simple. Just bus (route) the outputs of your recorder
to the inputs of your analog tape deck, and run cords from the outputs of
your tape deck back into two empty tracks in your digital recorder. You can
then mix these two new tracks with your originals.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
A slight time delay (a few milliseconds) occurs between the original tracks
and the returned ones. If you have a graphical editor, you can eliminate this
time delay by following these steps:
1.)>> Choose a single snare drum or bass drum stroke on both sets of
2.)>> Enter the waveform graphical mode and compare the two waveforms
to see where they differ; you can use your cursor to determine the distance between the two beats.
ç’•å±´ See Chapter 13 to find out more about editing.
3.)>> Cut that distance from the front of the tape-returned tracks.
4.)>> Double-check your work by listening to both sets of tracks.
ç’•å±´ If both beats play at exactly the same time, you’re done. If not, just click
the Undo button and try again.
If you don’t have a waveform editor, you eliminate the time delay by listening.
You can start by picking a time, 20 milliseconds (ms) for instance, and deleting it from the front of the tape deck–enhanced tracks. Listen and make any
adjustments from there. With a little experimenting and a dose of patience,
you can find the right amount to cut. Make a note of this amount because this
number will be the same the next time you do this procedure.
Layering Your Drum Beats
If you use a drum machine or an electronic drum set to play your drum
rhythms, you can make these rhythms much fatter by layering one sound on
top of another. Likewise, you can use this technique to add sampled drum
sounds to your acoustic drum tracks to fatten them.
If you recorded your drums using MIDI, just duplicate the drum tracks that
you want to add to, select the drum that you want to duplicate, and change
its patch number to match a sound that you want to add. Depending on your
drum machine’s polyphony, you may need to record the original tracks to
audio before you play the second set of drum sounds. (You can find out more
about using MIDI in Chapter 5.)
If your original tracks are from an acoustic drum set, you have to trigger the
sound from the drum machine by hand (press the trigger pads in time to the
music) or, if your audio software has the capabilities (Logic Audio, for example), you can create a MIDI file from the audio track. Then just choose the
instruments that you want to have triggered from the new MIDI track.
Chapter 19: Ten Invaluable Recording Tips
Decorating Your Room
When you set up your studio, think about the types of materials you use
for furniture, floor, and wall treatments. You can improve the sound of your
room simply by using materials and furniture to absorb or reflect sound. For
example, you can use a couch to catch some of the room’s reflections or a
bookcase placed on the wall behind you to deflect some sound waves. Carpet
on the floor or curtains over your windows absorb sound. In contrast, wood
floors and bare walls add reflections and give your room a more live sound.
If you think about how the furniture and decorations in your studio affect
sound, you can save time and money when you optimize your room for
Setting a Tempo Map
Before you start to record, set a tempo map of the song within your system.
You do this by entering the number of measures (on some systems), the time
signature, and the tempo for each section of the song in the Tempo Map or
Metronome dialog box of your system. Then, when you record, play to this
When it’s time to do your editing, just choose the section(s) of your song that
you want to edit by cueing the measure and beat that you want to work with.
This enables you to choose edit points much faster and more accurately and
makes quick work of producing loops or assembling a song from parts.
Listening to Your Mix in Mono
After all the effort that you put into getting each instrument to sit exactly
where you want it in the stereo field, the last thing you probably want to do
is listen to the song in mono. Doing so, however, enables you to see your mix
differently and to hear whether any of your instruments are crowding out the
others. Even if you like to have stuff moving in the mix, listening to your song
in mono can help you to find problems in the arrangement.
If it sounds good in mono, it generally sounds great in stereo.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Doubling and Tripling Your Tracks
If a track sounds thin to you in the mix, just make a copy of it onto an empty
track (if you have one) and use both of them in the mix. Doubling or tripling
a track is called multing, and it’s especially useful for vocals, particularly
backup vocals.
If you don’t have the tracks to spare, make a copy of the track you want to
mult onto a separate virtual track and then combine those two tracks by
using a bounce procedure, which I explain in Chapter 11. You can do this as
many times as you want with digital recorders because you don’t lose sound
quality in the process. If you want, you can mult dozens of times and end up
with really thick tracks. Don’t overdo it, though — lots of thick tracks added
together can create a muddy mix.
Tapping the Input of Your Mixer
Tapping the input of your mixer means eliminating the mixer’s circuitry from
the signal. Depending on your mixer, this may provide you with a better
sound going to disc. If you have an analog mixer, you may be able to tap the
inputs when you record. Tapping the inputs involves using a Y cable. The TRS
plug of the Y cable connects to the mixer’s input jack, one of the TS plugs
goes to your preamp, and the other TS plug goes to your recorder. Check
your owner’s manual to see whether you can tap the input of your mixer.
The downside to tapping the Inserts on your mixer is that your EQ or fader
doesn’t affect the signal, so make sure that you get the best sound you can
from your instrument and get the levels going into the mixer exactly how you
want them going to tape.
Overdubbing Live Drums
If you’re like most home recordists, you record most of your drum tracks with
a drum machine or electronic drum set. You may find them thin-sounding or a
bit stiff. A good remedy for both the thinness and the stiffness can be overdubbing some real drums or cymbals to add to the electronic ones. (Overdubbing is
adding separate tracks.)
Chapter 19: Ten Invaluable Recording Tips
For example, you can add real hi-hats to a rock song. Eliminate the drum
machine hi-hats, keep the electronic kick and snare, and play the hi-hat
part to the other drums. In many cases, the variable nature of the hi-hats
is what creates the feel of the drumming. I discuss overdubbing in detail in
Chapter 11.
Pressing Record, Even
during a Rehearsal
Get your instruments, mics, and levels set before you start to rehearse your
part. Then when you start to practice, press the Record button. You may be
surprised when you catch the perfect performance before you plan to record
a serious take.
Leaving the Humanity in Your Tracks
Along the same lines of recording your rehearsals, don’t be so hooked on
getting every note just right that you miss the feel of a performance. Listen
to some of the greatest records ever made, and you can hear little mistakes.
In fact, it’s those little mistakes that often make those records so great. So
before you go Auto-Tuning and editing the life out of your music, give it a
good listen and see whether that note you want to fix is what gives the part
its character.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
AAC files, 325–326
absorber panels, 74–75
accessories, for microphones, 133–134
acoustic guitar
compression settings for, 286–287
EQ recommendations for, 259, 262
miking, 128, 176–178
acoustics, 72
active monitors, 10
active-ribbon microphone, 126
ADrive (website), 25
AES/EBU (Audio Engineering Society/
European Broadcasting Union)
cables, 55
after-touch, 98
AIFF file, 331
Alesis, 39
Alesis ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape),
38–39, 56
algorithm parameter, reverb and, 293
Amazon, 342, 347
ambiance, adding with effects processors,
ambient miking, 154, 157–159
amp simulator, 174–175, 300
AmpliTube (IK Multimedia), 300
analog, 40–42, 49–53
analog mixer, 82–83
analog tape deck, 349–350
anchor point, 236–237
Android, 35–36
Antares Autotune, 244
Antares’ Mic Mod EFX, 300
Apogee, 36
about, 32
apps for, 37
hardware for, 36–37
podcast page, 345
website, 35
arrangement, 270, 272
attack setting
compressor, 150, 282
gates, 290
attack time, in mastering process, 309
attacks, 239
first take, 203–204
punching in and out, 204–207
recording, 203–207
with some MIDI sample studio setup,
streaming, 344–345
audio interface, 88
audio recorder, synchronizing with
sequencer, 215–216
audio-recording programs, 31
Audiosocket, 343
aurally, editing, 236–237
Auria app, 37
automatic punching, 205–206
automation, 270–272
Automation Mode, feature on channel
strip, 90
auxiliary bus, 94, 95
Avid, 32
AWeber, 347
axial room modes, 72
Backblaze (website), 25
backplate, 113
backup vocals
compression settings for, 285
EQ recommendations for, 261
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
backup vocals (continued)
microphones for, 171–172
panning for, 266
bad notes, replacing, 240–241
balanced cord, 52
balancing levels, 313
Bandcamp (website), 339, 343, 346
Bandvista (website), 337
Bandzoogle (website), 337
bass (kick) drum. See kick (bass) drum
bass guitar
EQ recommendations for, 259, 262
panning for, 266
bass traps, 76–78
bell, on horns, 179
bidirectional microphones, 120–121
bit depth, 22, 195
bit rate, 314, 326–327, 331
bleed, 166
blending tracks, 14
Blue Microphones, 37
Blue Spark microphone, 124
Blumlein technique, 161–162
boost, 256
Boss, 34
bounce procedure, 198
bouncing, 209
boundary microphones, 112, 114–116, 180
breakout box, 27
brickwall limiter, 314
Broadjam, 343
buffer size, 25
built-in sequencer, 106
cache buffer, 25
Cakewalk, 32
Carbonite (website), 25
cardioid microphones, 119–120, 185
cardioid polarity patterns, 118
caring for microphones, 134–136
CD Baby (website), 323, 342, 346
CD Creator, 318
master, 322
purchasing, 316–317
recording to, 317–321
creating copies, 16
recording, 315–316
selling, 346–347
CDWorks (website), 323
cello, miking, 181
channel strip
about, 89
devices for, 132
signal flow, 91–93
viewing layout of, 89–91
channels, MIDI (Musical Instrument
Digital Interface) connection,
Cheat Sheet (website), 3
chorus, 297–299
classical strings, compression
settings for, 288
cleaning tracks using editing, 13
clip light, 142
close miking, 119
combined miking, 154, 166
compatibility, 21
composite take, 245–247
about, 302
applying, 304
getting started with, 283–284
in mastering process, 309
settings for, 284–290
compression ratio, in mastering
process, 309
compressors, 132, 149–150, 280,
computer control surface, 85–86
computer sequencer, synchronizing with
synthesizer, 213–214
computers, setting up, 23–25
condenser microphones
about, 112, 113–114, 123–127
for acoustic guitar, 176–177
for horns, 178
for percussion, 190
for piano, 180
Constant Contact, 348
construction type microphones, 112–118
control change messages, 101
Copy command, 231
cords, microphone, 133
CPU, 24
critical listening, 272–273
Cubasis app, 37
Cut command, 231–232
cutting, during editing, 256
EQ recommendations for, 260, 264
miking, 129, 188
panning for, 267
data, saving, 225
DAWs (digital audio workstations). See
digital audio workstations (DAWs)
Decay parameter, reverb and, 294
decorating studios, 351
Delay parameter
about, 268, 296
delay and, 296
getting started with, 297
Delete command, 231–232
Density parameter, reverb and, 294
Depth parameter
chorus, 298
delay and, 296
designer cords, 51
destructive editing, 230
devices, synchronizing, 211–218
diaphragm, 113
Diffusion parameter, reverb and, 295
digital audio workstations (DAWs)
about, 11, 22–33, 82
choosing monitoring source, 200
Copy command, 231
Paste command, 234
recording to CD-Rs, 317–318
selecting sound sources in, 197
digital connections
ADAT Lightpipe, 56
MIDI, 54
S/PDIF, 55–56
TDIF, 56
USB, 56–57
digital distribution, 16
digital editing, 230–236
digital mixer, 83–84
digital options, 20–22
direct box, 8, 59, 88
directional microphones, 119–120
Disc Makers (website), 323, 324
DiscMasters (website), 324
distant miking, 153, 156–157
distortion, removing, 243
distributing and promoting
about, 15–16
preparing for, 314
types of, 335–348
DIY mastering, 304–305, 307–313
double bass, miking, 181
doubling tracks, 352
downloadable music files, 325–329
downloads, 341–343
Dropbox (website), 25
drum machine, 106
choosing sets, 183
EQ recommendations for, 262–264
EQ recommendations for
overheads, 260
layering beats, 350
miking sets, 129, 181–189
panning for, 267
tuning, 182
Drums For Dummies (Strong), 182
dry signal, 293
Dummies (website), 3
duplication, 16, 322–323
dust, handling, 68
dynamic automated mixing, 271
dynamic microphones
about, 112, 116–117, 123–126
for electric bass, 175
for electric guitar, 173
for hand drums, 189
for hi-hats, 187
for kick (bass) drums, 184
for tom-toms, 186
for vocals, 168–169
dynamic processors, 9, 280–292
dynamic range, 280
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
about, 269–270
optimizing, 15, 308–310
ear fatigue, 275
about, 229–230
capabilities for, 21, 247–248
cleaning tracks using, 13
composite take, 245–247
digital, 230–236
to improve sound, 239–245
locating sections for, 236–239
MIDI data. See MIDI data, recording
and editing
effect level, 298
about, 198–200, 273
connecting, 278–279
defined, 265
simulating, 299–300
effects processors, 10, 293–299
efficiency, in studio setup, 66–69
electric bass
compression settings for, 286
miking, 175–176
electric bass amp, microphones for, 128
electric guitar
compression settings for, 286
EQ recommendations for, 259, 262
miking, 173–175
electric guitar amp, microphones for, 128
Electronic Copyright Office (eCO), 321
electronic instruments. See MIDI (Musical
Instrument Digital Interface)
email newsletters, 347–348
encoding, 331
encoding software, choosing, 330–331
ensembles, miking, 181
EQ (equalizers). See also specific
about, 9, 198, 303
checking, 304
tracks, 13, 254–265
equalization, 252–254
equalizers. See EQ (equalizers)
equipment, 17–18, 103–110
Erase command, 231–232
evening out performances, 241–243
expandability, 22
expanders, 280, 291–292
Export command, 235
Facebook, 340
Fader function, on channel strip, 92
fatigue, ear, 275
feedback loop, 214, 298
Feedback parameter, delay and, 296
fiddle, miking, 181
field recorder, 38
figure-8 microphones, 120–121, 171, 172
figure-8 polarity patterns, 118
files, sharing, 201–202
finished product
about, 315
CD recording, 315–316
creating MP3 files, 330–331
creating multiple copies, 321–325
downloadable music files, 325–329
pressing vinyl, 331–332
protecting your rights, 321
purchasing CD-Rs, 316–317
recording for mass production, 319–320
recording to CD-Rs, 317–321
FireWire, 26, 28–29, 57–58
first take, performing, 203–204
foot switch, punching with, 205
force stereo mode, 329
Free Lossless Audio Coding (FLAC), 326
Freq, EQ plug-in, 256
Freq parameter (Pro Tools/Logic), 257
frequency ranges, targeting with multiband
compression, 283
Gain, EQ plug-in, 256
Gain Change, 241–243
Gain parameter
delay and, 296
Pro Tools/Logic, 256
gain setting (compressor), 150, 282
gain structure, 197
GarageBand app, 37
gates, 280, 290–291
gear. See equipment
gear acquisition syndrome (GAS), 18
Gearslutz.com (website), 306
General MIDI (GM), 102–103
gobos, 157
Google+, 341
graphic EQ, 253
GrooveHouse (website), 323, 324, 332
guitar. See also specific types
EQ recommendations for, 262
panning for, 266
sound of, 146–147
Guitar Rig (Native Instruments), 300
hand drums
compression settings for, 289
miking, 189–190
hard drives, 24–25
hard knee setting (compressor),
150–151, 282
for Android, 35
for Apple iOS, 36–37
monitoring, 95
harmonics, 40
head. See drums
headphones, 10
headroom, 314
heat, handling, 68
Hi Cut filters, reverb and, 295
high-pass EQ, 257
high-pass filters, 253
high-shelf EQ, 253, 256–257
EQ recommendations for, 260, 264
miking, 187–188
panning for, 267
Hipcast, 346
Hi-Z, as mixer input, 87
hold setting, 290
home recording. See specific topics
home studio. See also specific topics
components of, 7–11
determining needs for, 18–20
compression settings for, 287
EQ recommendations for, 261, 265
miking, 128–129, 178–179
HostBaby (website), 338
hybrid preamps, 131–132
icons, explained, 3
IEEE 1394, 57–58
IK Multimedia, 35, 37
IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube, 300
iLink, 57–58
Import command, 235
In port, 98
Input feature, on channel strip, 90
about, 87–88
devices, 8–9
postfader levels, 143–144
prefader levels, 143
sound, 25–30
tapping of mixer, 352
trim control, 88
Insert command, 233
insert effects, 278, 279
Insert function, on channel
strip, 91
instrument cord, 50–51
about, 8
EQ recommendations per, 259–261
miking, 167–190
audio, 88
MIDI. See MIDI (Musical Instrument
Digital Interface)
PCIe, 26–28
tablet, 82
type, 25
iRig Recorder, 36
isolating sound, 69–71
ISRC codes, 320
iTunes, 329, 330, 342
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Jam, 318
joint stereo mode, 329, 331
feel of, 105
sound of, 147–148
keyboard workstations, 106
kick (bass) drum
compression settings for, 288–289
EQ recommendations for, 260, 263
miking, 184–185
panning for, 267
large-diaphragm condenser microphones
about, 114, 123–126
for acoustic guitar, 176–177
for backup vocals, 171
for electric bass, 175
for electric guitar, 173
for hand drums, 189
for horns, 178
for kick (bass) drums, 184
as overhead microphones, 188
for percussion, 190
for piano, 180
for strings, 181
for vocals, 169
Last.fm (website), 339
latency, 29
layering drum beats, 350
layout, of channel strip, 89–91
lead guitar, 266
lead vocals
compression settings for, 284–285
EQ recommendations for, 261
miking, 168–170
panning for, 266
leveling, as stage in mastering, 303
adjusting, 268–270
balancing, 313
checking, 303
setting, 197
Lexis Audio Editor app, 38
Libsyn, 346
licensing music, 343
Light Peak. See Thunderbolt
limiters, 280, 281–282, 302
limiting, in mastering process, 309
linear recorder, 38
line/instrument, as mixer input, 87
live and MIDI studio sample setup,
42, 43, 44
live audio sample studio setup, 62, 64–65
live drums, overdubbing, 352–353
Logic Pro, adding effects in, 199–200
Logic’s Channel, EQ, 255
looping, 206–207
loops, creating, 245–246
lossy compression, 326
Low Cut filters, reverb and, 295
low-pass EQ, 257
Low-pass filter (LPF), 253, 296
low-shelf EQ, 253, 256–257
Mac, 23
MailChimp, 348
mailing list, 336
manual punching, 205
Mark of the Unicorn, 32
marketing yourself, 336–337
mass production, recording for, 319–320
master bus, 94, 144, 211
Master Out jack, 95
about, 301–302
balancing levels, 313
DIY, 307–313
leveling, 303
mixes, 14–15
optimizing dynamics, 308–310
preparing for, 303–304
preparing for distribution, 314
processing, 302–303
professional, 304–313
sequencing, 303, 312–313
testing volume, 310
tonal balance, 311–312
memory, 24
messages, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital
Interface) connection, 101
meters, 142
metronome, 220
Mic Mod EFX (Antares), 300
microphone simulator, 299–300
microphone sound, 148–152
microphones. See also dynamic
microphones; large-diaphragm
condenser microphones; ribbon
microphones; small-diaphragm
condenser microphones
about, 8, 111
accessories for, 133–134
for acoustic guitar, 128, 176–178
active-ribbon, 126
ambient miking, 154, 157–159
assessing needs for, 122
for backup vocals, 171–172
bidirectional, 120–121
boundary, 112, 114–116, 180
cardioid, 119–120, 185
caring for, 134–136
choosing, 123–127
combined miking, 154, 166
compressors, 132
construction type, 112–118
for cymbals, 129, 188
distant miking, 153, 156–157
for double bass, 181
for drum sets, 129, 181–189
for electric bass, 175–176
for electric bass amp, 128
for electric guitar, 173–175
for electric guitar amp, 128
for ensembles, 181
figure-8, 120–121, 171, 172
for hand drums, 189–190
for hi-hats, 187–188
for horns, 128–129, 178–179
for kick (bass) drum, 184–185
for lead vocals, 168–170
as mixer input, 87
omnidirectional, 119, 171, 172
for percussion, 129, 190
for piano, 129, 179–180
polarity patterns, 118–121
preamps and, 130–132
for snare drums, 185–186
spot (close) miking, 153, 154–156
stereo miking, 154, 159–165, 171
for strings, 128, 180–181
techniques for using, 153–166
for tom-toms, 186–187
types, 111–121
typical applications for, 127–129
for vocals, 128, 168–172
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
about, 8, 54, 97–98, 104, 109
channels, 100–102
gear for, 103–110
General MIDI (GM), 102–103
interface, 104, 110
messages, 101
modes, 102
ports, 98–100
MIDI Clock, 217
MIDI data, recording and editing
about, 211
saving, 225
sequencing, 218–225
synchronizing devices, 211–218
transferring, 225
MIDI Implementation Chart, 101
MIDI Machine Control (MMC) function, 218
MIDI Merge/Replace button, 221–222
MIDI Time Code (MTC), 217
MIDI workstations, 106
MIDI-intensive sample studio
setup, 43, 62, 63
MIDI-sequencing programs, 31
Mix parameter, delay and, 296
about, 9, 81, 87
channel strip, 89–93
inputs, 87–88
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
mixer (continued)
outputs, 95
routing, 94–95
tapping input of, 352
types, 81–86
mixes, mastering, 14–15
about, 13–14, 249–251
adjusting levels, 268–270
automation, 270–272
equalization, 252–265
getting started, 251–252
sound control during, 73–78
stereo field, 265–268
tuning your ears, 272–276
mobile-device recording, 35–38
about, 328–329
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital
Interface) connection, 102
monitoring source, choosing, 200
about, 10, 68–69
near-field, 73–74
Monitors jack, 95
listening to mix in, 351
testing mix in, 304
mono mode, 328
Mono/TS ¼-inch plug, 50–51
Morris, Tee (author)
Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, 345
Move command, 234–235
Mozy (website), 25
MP3 files
about, 325–326
creating, 330–331
streaming, 344–345
multiband compression
in mastering process, 309
targeting frequency ranges with, 283
multiple-pattern microphones, 121
multitimbrality, 101, 105
MultiTrack DAW app, 37
multitrack recording
about, 193–194
bouncing, 209
defined, 11
overdubbing, 207
preparing for, 194–200
saving your work, 201
sharing files, 201–202
submixing, 208–209
tracks, 210
encoding, 331
licensing, 343
promoting, 16
Music Host Network, 343
music host site, 339
Music Studio app, 37
music website, 337–339
Musical Instrument Digital Interface. See
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital
Musicplayer.com (website), 72
Mute button feature, on channel
strip, 91, 92
MySpace, 340
NationWide Disc (website), 323, 324
Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig, 300
“near-CD quality,” 325
near-field monitors, 73–74
NetWell, 70
newsletters, email, 347–348
noise, 244
noise gate, 187
nondestructive editing, 230
Normalize function, 241–243
note-on/off, 98
n-Track Studio Pro Multitrack, 36
Numerical Volume feature, on channel
strip, 91
Oasis Disc Manufacturing (website),
323, 324
oblique room modes, 72
Omni Off/Mono mode, 102
Omni Off/Poly mode, 102
Omni On/Mono mode, 102
Omni On/Poly mode, 102
omnidirectional microphones, 119, 171, 172
omnidirectional polarity patterns, 118
128kbps bit rate, 331
organs, panning for, 267
Out port, 98
Output feature, on channel strip, 90, 92
about, 95
sound, 25–30
overall tonal balance, 15, 272
overdrive, 141
about, 12, 207, 221
live drums, 352–353
MIDI Merge/Replace button, 221–222
punching in and out, 222
overhead microphones, 188–189, 264
pad switch, 179
Pan control function, on channel strip, 92
panels, 74–75
panning, 208, 265, 266–267
Panning dial feature, on channel strip, 91
parameters. See specific parameters
parametric EQ, 56, 254
passive monitors, 10
Paste command, 234
patch bay, 67, 68
PC, 23
PCIe interface, 26–28
Peak EQ button, 256
Peavey’s ReValver, 300
compression settings for, 289–290
EQ recommendations for, 260, 264
miking, 129, 190
panning for, 267
performance data messages, 101
adjusting length of, 248
editing. See editing
phantom power, 87, 112
phase cancellation, 157, 164, 273
phase holes, listening for, 304
phase relationships, 166
Phones jack, 95
phono plugs, 53
phrases, reversing, 248
compression settings for, 287–288
EQ recommendations for, 260, 265
miking, 129, 179–180
panning for, 267
piano-roll graphic window, 223
pitch bend, 98
pitch problems, correcting, 244–245
pitch shifting, 297
plosives, 133–134
plug-ins, 21, 244
podcasting, 345–346
Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition
(Morris, Tomasi, Terra, and Steppe),
Podcasting Tools, 346
PodHoster, 346
pointer file, 344
polar graph, 118
polarity patterns, 118–121
polyphony, 101, 105
pop filters, 133–134
ports, 98–100
post-levels, 143–146
PQ subcodes, 320
preamps, microphones and,
Predelay parameter, 294, 298
pre-levels, 143–146
presets, 277
pressing vinyl, 331–332
Pro Tools, 222
signals, 14
as stage in mastering, 302–303
professional mastering, 304–307
promoting. See distributing and
ProSoundWeb (website), 306
protecting rights, 321
proximity effect, 120, 155, 162, 169
punching in and out, 204–207, 222
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
EQ plug-in, 256
in parametric equalizers, 254
Q parameter (Pro Tools/Logic), 257
quantization, 223, 224
¼-inch analog plug, 50–52
Quieten function, 241–243
Rainbo Records (website), 332
range setting, 291
Rate parameter
chorus, 298
delay and, 296
ratio setting
compressor, 150, 281
expanders, 292
RCA plugs, 53
real-time automation, 271
real-time recording, 219, 220
Record Enable button feature, on channel
strip, 91
Record Pressing (website), 332
recorder, 9
Recorder One app, 38
recording. See also multitrack recording
about, 12
audio. See audio, recording
to CD-Rs, 317–321
CDs, 315–316
essentials of, 8–10
for mass production, 319–320
MIDI data. See MIDI data, recording and
process for, 11–12
during rehearsals, 353
systems, 10–11
tips for, 349–353
Recording Studio app, 38
Recording Studio Design forum, 72
Recording.org (website), 306
rectangular connector, 56
reference recordings, 274–275
referrals, for professional mastering
engineer, 305–306
rehearsals, recording during, 353
release setting
compressor, 150, 282
gates, 291
release time, in mastering process, 309
Remember icon, 3
repeated punching, 206–207
replication, 16, 323–325
ReValver (Peavey), 300
about, 293–295
getting started with, 295
setting for, 268
Reverbnation (website), 339
reversing phrases, 248
rhythm guitar, panning for, 266
ribbon microphones
about, 112, 117–118, 126–127, 178
for drum sets, 188
for vocals, 170
rights, protecting, 321
ripping, 330
Rock Web (website), 338
rotational speed, 25
routing, with mixers, 94–95
rumble, 253
saleable CDs, 322
sample rate, 22, 314
sample setups, 42–48, 59–65
samplers, 107
sampling rate, 195
Sayers, John (studio designer)
Recording Studio Design forum, 72
score window, 223
Scrub function, 237
seek time, 25
Send postfader function, on
channel strip, 92
Send prefader function, on
channel strip, 92
send/return effects, 278–279
about, 109
built-in, 106
computer, 213–214
synchronizing with audio recorder,
about, 218–219
defined, 20
editing data, 222–223
in mastering process, 312–313
overdubbing, 221–222
quantization, 224
recording MIDI data, 219–221
as stage in mastering, 303
transposing, 224
attack, 150, 282, 290
compression, 284–290
compressor, 150–152
levels, 197
optimal signal levels, 141–143
song sequence, 15
tempo map, 351
setup. See also studio setup
computers, 23–25
dynamic microphones, 168
large-diaphragm condenser
microphones, 169
ribbon microphones, 170
sample, 42–48
small-diaphragm condenser
microphones, 170
songs, 12, 195
sharing files, 201–202
shelf equalizer, 253
SIAB systems. See studio-in-a-box (SIAB)
sibilances, 169
sidechain option, for compressors, 282
signal chain, 139–141, 197
signal flow, 91–93
signal levels, setting optimal, 141–143
signal processors
about, 9–10, 14, 277–278
connecting effects, 278–279
controlling loudness/softness with
dynamic processors, 280–292
simulating effects, 299–300
simulating effects, 299–300
16-bit system, 141
slap-back echo, 297
slaves, 211
small-diaphragm condenser microphones
about, 114, 125, 127
for acoustic guitar, 177
for backup vocals, 171
for cymbals, 188
for electric guitar, 173
for hand drums, 189
for hi-hats, 187
for horns, 178
as overhead microphones, 188
for percussion, 190
for piano, 180
for strings, 181
for vocals, 170
smearing, 40
snapshot automation, 271–272
snare drum
compression settings for, 289
EQ recommendations for, 260, 263
miking, 185–186
panning for, 267
social media networking, 340–341
soft knee setting (compressor),
150–151, 282
soft synths, 107–108
Softube’s Vintage Amp Room, 300
software, 30–33, 36
software mixer, 84–85
software synthesizers, 9
solid-state microphones, 113
solid-state preamps, 130–131
Solo button feature, on channel strip,
91, 92
Song Optimizer function, 236
assembling, 246
setting sequence, 15
setting up, 12, 195
song-to-song volume, matching, 15
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
Sony Creative Software, 32
sound. See also source sound
adjusting, 197–200
controlling, 72–78
from dynamic microphones, 168
editing to improve, 239–245
EQ frequency, 258
getting great, 12
input, 25–30
isolating, 69–71
from large-diaphragm condenser
microphones, 169
output, 25–30
placing in front and back, 267–268
quality of, 106
from ribbon microphones, 170
from small-diaphragm condenser
microphones, 170
sound card, 108–109
sound editor, 38, 331
Sound Editor app, 38
sound generator, 103, 104–108
Sound Isolation Company, 70
sound modules, 8, 107–108
sound source, 8, 195–197
Soundcloud (website), 339
Source audio or input function,
on channel strip, 91
source sound
about, 139
guitar, 146–147
keyboard, 147–148
microphones, 148–152
pre- and post-levels, 143–146
signal chain, 139–141
signal levels, 141–143
spaced-pair stereo miking, 162–163
S/PDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interface
Format) cables, 55–56
speaker cord, 51
speed, of hard drives, 25
spindle speed, 25
spot (close) miking, 153, 154–156
square connector, 56
stand-alone systems
about, 11
choosing monitoring source, 200
components, 82
Copy command, 231
recorders, 38–39
recording CDs, 316
recording to CD-Rs, 319
selecting sound sources in, 196, 197
standing waves, 76–78
stands, microphone, 133
Steinberg, 32
Steppe, Kreg (author)
Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, 345
step-time recording, 219, 221
stereo cord, 51
stereo field, 265–268, 273
stereo imaging, 165
stereo miking, 154, 159–165, 171
stereo mode, 328–329, 331
Stereo/TRS ¼-inch plug, 51–52
storage, of microphones, 135–136
straight-line rule, 142
streaming audio, 344–345
strings, miking, 128, 180–181
Strong, Jeff (author)
Drums For Dummies, 182
studio setup
about, 49
analog connections, 49–53
decorating, 351
digital connections, 54–59
efficiency in, 66–69
optimizing your space, 69–78
sample, 59–65
studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems
about, 10, 33–34, 82
choosing monitoring source, 200
Copy command, 231
recording CDs, 316
recording to CD-Rs, 318
selecting sound sources in, 196–197
submix bus, 94–95
submixing, 208–209
Switch Audio Converter Software
(website), 330
synch track, 217
computer sequencer and synthesizer,
devices, 211–218
multiple synthesizers, 212–213
sequencer and audio recorder, 215–216
about, 104–106
panning for, 267
synchronizing multiple, 212–213
synchronizing with computer sequencer,
system-common messages, 101
system-exclusive messages, 101
tablet interfaces, 82
take, 203
tangential room modes, 72
tape saturation, 40
tape saturation emulators, 42
tapping input of mixer, 352
Tascam, 34, 37, 39
Tascam CD-RW900MKII, 319
Tascam Dp-24, 318
Taxi, 343
TDIF (Teac Digital Interface Format), 56
Technical Stuff icon, 3
tempo map, 217, 351
tempo match feature, 297
Terra, Eva (author)
Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, 345
mix in mono, 304
volume, 310
30 fps rate, 217
threshold setting
compressor, 150, 281
expanders, 292
gates, 290
in mastering process, 309
Thru port, 98
Thunderbolt, 26, 30, 58–59
time delay, eliminating, 350
Tip icon, 3
Toast, 318
Toast Titanium (website), 330
Tomasi, Chuck (author)
Podcasting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, 345
EQ recommendations for, 260, 263–264
miking, 186–187
panning for, 267
tonal balance, in mastering process,
tonal quality, 273
track count, 21–22, 25
Track Group feature, on channel strip, 90
Track name feature, on channel strip, 91
track sheets, 210
Track Type feature, on channel strip, 91
tracking, sound control during, 73
blending, 14
cleaning using editing, 13
doubling, 352
equalizing, 13, 254–265
making composites of, 247
postfader levels, 144
prefader levels, 144
simultaneous, 21
tracking, 210
tripling, 352
transients, 148, 167
transport function, controlling devices
with, 218
transposing, 224
trim control, 88
tripling tracks, 352
tube microphones, 113
TuneCore, 342
tuning drums, 182
24 fps rate, 217
24-bit system, 142
25 fps rate, 217
29.97 fps rate, 217
Twitter, 340
Ultimate Track Sheet (website), 210
ultra-portable systems, 11
Undo command, 235–236
United Record Pressing (website), 332
UPC barcodes, 323
U.S. Copyright Office, 321
Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 5th Edition
connections, 56–57
interface, 26, 29–30
USB Audio Recorder Pro, 36
Volume fader feature, on channel
strip, 91
VS-Planet “User Track Sheet” Collection
(website), 210
vacuum tube preamps, 131
vacuum-tube gear, 41
variable bit rate (VBR), 327
velocity, 98
Velocity/volume meter feature, on channel
strip, 91
versions, 276
vibrato, 98
Vintage Amp Room (Softube), 300
Vintage Warmer (website), 42
vinyl, pressing, 331–332
viola, miking, 181
violin, miking, 181
virtual tracks, 210, 247
visually, editing, 237–239
vocal plate, 277
backup, 171–172, 261, 266, 285
EQ recommendations for, 259, 261
lead, 168–170, 261, 266, 284–285
miking, 128, 168–172
panning for, 266
slap-back echo, 297
voice coil, 116
voice recorder, 38
changing for notes, 241
for mixing, 74
testing, 310
Warning icon, 3
WAV file, 331
waveform, 238–239
Wavelab, 318
websites. See also specific websites
music host site, 339
track sheets, 210
vinyl, 332
your own music, 337–339
wet signal, 293
Windows, 35, 38
Winer, Ethan (audio expert)
Musicplayer.com, 72
XLR connector, 53
X-Y stereo miking, 160–161
• Y•
Y cord, 52
yourself, marketing, 336–337
Zoom, 34
About the Author
Jeff Strong is the author of seven books, including Pro Tools All-in-One Desk
Reference For Dummies (Wiley). Jeff is also the director of the Strong Institute
(www.stronginstitute.com) — a music-medicine research Â�organization
and therapy provider — and the founder of Brain Shift Radio (www.brain
shiftradio.com). Jeff graduated from the Percussion Institute of Tech�
nology at the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles in 1983 and has either
worked in or owned a recording studio since 1985. Every week, he records
dozens of custom client CDs using the equipment and techniques found
in the pages of this book. He has also released over 35 commercially available CDs, including the Brain Shift Collection: Ambient Rhythmic Entrainment
eight-CD set on the Sounds True label (www.soundstrue.com) and the
best-�selling Calming Rhythms, which is used in tens of thousands of homes,
schools, and institutions worldwide. You can discover more about Jeff’s
music and recording studio at www.jeffstrong.com.
Author’s Acknowledgments
I owe a hearty thanks to executive editor and fellow musician Steve Hayes for
making this fifth edition possible. Also, my gratitude goes out to my editor,
Elizabeth Kuball, who helped make an already great book even better. Thanks,
as well, go to technical editor Ryan Williams for keeping me on track and upto-date on the many technical aspects of this subject.
As always, I’m grateful to my family (Beth and Tovah) and my many friends
(you know who you are) who indulge me in my obsession with recording and
recording gear.
Publisher’s Acknowledgments
Acquisitions Editor: Steve Hayes
Project Coordinator: Erin Zeltner
Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball
Cover Image: ©iStock.com/sumnersgraphicsinc
Copy Editor: Elizabeth Kuball
Technical Editor: Ryan Williams
Editorial Assistant: Claire Johnson
Sr. Editorial Assistant: Cherie Case
Go to www.wiley.com/go/eula to access Wiley’s ebook EULA.
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