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Tips And Guides

NOTES ON RECORDING AND TRACKING

It’s no question that the tracking stage is vital in determining your finished product. Whether you’re recording at home or in a big analogue studio, the fundamentals are essentially the same. For example, a well-rehearsed and executed performance will nearly always gain a superior result compared to one that is sloppy, out of time and out of tune. Master your instrument, whether it be guitar, vocals or harpsichord – do your best to bring out your best! Whilst we do have amazing technology at our fingertips to fine tune and make a good performance great, I concur with the old adage of “you can’t polish a ……” you know the rest! I’m also a firm believer that tracking ‘flat’ with minimal to no effects lays the best foundation for your subsequent mixing and mastering goals.

TIPS FOR GETTING A GREAT GUITAR SOUND WHEN RECORDING:

Here’s a few points to consider when recording guitar(s):

  • Ensure the guitar strings are relatively new and preferably slightly “played in”. Brand new strings whilst creating a very crisp sound, can also create unwanted high frequency content when recording. The strings may also go slightly out of tune if strings are not stretched to pitch appropriately.
  • Ensure the wiring/electronics in the guitar are in good order and free from pops and clicks (e.g. if your guitar when plugged in and adjusting your tone/volume knobs creates unwanted hiss/popping sounds, your guitar may be in need of a service). This also applies to the guitar input jack.
  • Use some good cables. This does not necessarily mean expensive ones, simply ones that have not been dragged through 500+ gigs.
  • If playing through an effects/pedal board, ensure patch leads are all in good order and free from pops and clicks.
  • Signal chain is also important in your guitar rig and can significantly alter your tone. Here’s a great article on suggestions for setting up the order of your pedals in your signal chain: http://www.thegigrig.com/acatalog/top-tone-tips.html
  • If you are recording via a microphone in front of an amplifier, microphone selection and placement can have significant impact on the recorded sound. Dynamic microphones are most commonly used in this instance (e.g. SM57).

TIPS FOR CAPTURING A GREAT VOCAL RECORDING:

  • Ensure the singer is well rested and rehearsed. It’s important to be relaxed and not fatigued by excessive singing/vocal strain prior to the session.  Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine, all of these factors can affect the timbre of the vocal recording.  Unless of course, you’re looking for that sound!
  • Ideally, record in an acoustically treated vocal booth with an appropriate microphone. If this option is not available to you, a reflection filter coupled with a pop filter (to reduce “plosives” and “pops”) can achieve equally good results.
  • Create a suitably balanced headphone mix for the singer. A less cluttered mix featuring simply the rhythm section and bass/keys/guitar can help reduce distractions and assists in keeping the singer focused on correct pitch and timing for an ultimately cleaner, more accurate take.
  • Use the correct mic placement and distance to bring out the best characteristics of the vocal recording. Experiment with different positions until you find the right spot, use your ears and sometimes what may be technically correct may not be right for every recording.
  • Be conscious of the number of takes you are recording to achieve the desired result. In many cases, 3-4 takes or track versions is more than enough to “comp” a great vocal.  Remember singer fatigue, if you are battling to get the right take it may be time to take a break.  Get some fresh air, have a beverage and come back with fresh ears (and hopefully a fresher voice!).
  • Keep effects such as EQ and compression to a minimum. Pay particular attention to EQ, because once you start “carving out” frequencies at the recording stage, they are lost forever from the recorded version and you will continually be trying to add and replace frequencies throughout the mix.  Remember you can always shape the vocal later.  Similarly with compression, use only enough to keep the dynamics in check and avoid those peaks.
  • Add some reverb to the singer’s headphone mix, this can really help with confidence and gives the singer a sense of space. Ultimately, do not record the reverb, you can add any relevant reverbs/delays during the mixdown stage.  This gives you much more flexibility as reverb is an effect that can have dramatic effects on a mix.

TIPS FOR RECORDING A GREAT DRUM SOUND:

Recording acoustic/real drums is arguably the most challenging job in the studio.  It usually is the most time-consuming and is critically reliant on factors such as correct microphone selection and placement, the general sound of the room and of course the drum kit itself.  Here’s a few points to get you started:

  • Ensure your drum set is equipped with a new set of drum heads/skins and that they are tuned and slightly played-in a day or so prior to your recording session. Remember that different types of skins create different tones, so choose wisely.  Similarly ensure you have a few sets of sticks, perhaps even a few different types so you can experiment and achieve the desired sound.
  • Have some additional tools available to help the session run smoothly. Things like oil to fix squeaky pedals, gaffer tape, an adjustable spanner for noisy/rattly stands, blankets/pillows to dampen the kick drum and a drum key!
  • Practice playing to a metronome or “click track” prior to your session. It is common to be required to play along to one in the studio and it can really help with session editing later if you have a drum take that is recorded in time.  Different genres of music have different approaches, so this may not always be the case.
  • Microphone placement is a crucial step and there are a number of ways to capture various drum sounds. Incorrect placement can cause phase problems with your recording which can result in “hollow” or “thin” sounding recordings.  This should be appropriately tested prior to settling on your sound.  If you are finding you have to use EQ to fix a problem at the tracking stage, then try moving the mics and checking the phase instead.  Here’s a helpful article on ways to set up your microphones around your kit:

http://www.musicradar.com/tuition/drums/13-correct-ways-to-mic-up-a-drum-kit-209119


TIPS FOR BEING PREPARED WHEN HEADING INTO THE STUDIO TO RECORD:

  • Ensure you are well rehearsed and have become familiar with all the detail and nuances of the song. It’s important to be certain that the arrangement is solidified prior to the recording session, so that you are not wasting time trying to coordinate changes on the fly.  It may be worthwhile recording a rough demo prior to your main recording session to become familiar with how the song translates, that way you can make any changes and rehearse them well before the session.
  • Have a plan for the tracking process and the order with which you intend to record each instrument/vocal. Also, have an idea of how many overdubs you expect to make so that you can factor this into your plan also.  It has become quite common for bands/artists to record as many tracks as possible (even multiple versions of the same take) and then opt to “fix it in the mix”.  This can be highly counterproductive and can unnecessarily take up both additional time in the studio and subsequently valuable mixing time.
  • Have your engineer and producer attend a rehearsal session prior to your studio recording day. This helps in planning for studio set up, microphone selection and can really fast track the entire process on the day.
  • Make sure your instruments are set up and ready to go with fresh guitar strings, drum heads etc. Having to deal with this stuff whilst you are in the studio can interrupt the creative process and once again, uses up valuable time that you could be recording and doing the important things.
  • Finally, be well rested and hydrated prior to your recording session. Leave the celebrations and partying until after all the hard work is done.  After all, that’s why they call it the “after party”!

REFERENCE TRACKS

It is important to consider reference tracks when submitting your project for mixing. This is to assist us in gaining a picture of the overall end result you are aiming for. As general rule, it is recommended you provide approximately 2-3 songs as reference tracks. We understand the importance of influences and musical inspiration at Mic Nix Productions, and these reference songs will give us an insight into how to best approach your project. It is also important to understand how a unique production is achieved. For example, you may wish for your song to sound aesthetically like your favourite Katy Perry song. To achieve that, you will have had to record in the same studio, using the same instruments, placed in the same spot with identical microphones and placement, recorded through the same compressor, equalizer, and the list goes on! It would probably help to be Katy Perry also! Even then, it may not sound the same way twice.

A unique production is your path to individuality in the musical landscape. Don’t be afraid to be creative!

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR MASTERING:


When referencing songs for mastering, it is also important to identify the version of the song you are providing, as this can drastically affect the dynamics of the end result. For example, a recent re-master of an album in most cases will display significant differences to the original mastered version (in particular, with regard to loudness and dynamics). This is a somewhat subjective area and ultimately comes down to your personal choice and preference.