Friday, June 26, 2015

Building a Home Recording Studio | Part 5

We've covered some basics on what mics to purchase. Then we discussed some options for recording drums. Today I'd like to focus just on the kick drum. The biggest drum seems like the easiest drum to mic, but this big fella can be tricky at times. You really have to pay attention to the music. The tone of the kick drum needs to match the tone of the music. This requires selecting and placing the right mic in the right spot to capture the tone that you need.

There are a few options I recommend. The Shure Beta 52 is a rock solid mic for any recording. It provides depth, punch, clarity, and snap that works well with virtually every recording. You can never go wrong when using this microphone to record your kick drum. I've tracked many rock & metal bands with this mic and the results are exactly what I wanted. With the right placement, this mic can record kick drums that don't need much EQ and compression to sit well in a mix.
At a modest price of $189, this mic is affordable and will be worth every penny you spend on it.

My backup mic is the AKG D112. This egg-shaped mic is versatile for many recording applications, so it's an excellent choice for those of you on a tight budget. This mic is great for tracking a lighter kick drum sound. Blues & Jazz music seems to bloom naturally when this mic is on the kick. Besides kick drum tracks, this mic works well for recording any instrument that has a lot of low-end detail. I've used this microphone to record congas, bass guitar, trumpets, horns, and vocals. So for the $199 price tag this mic carries, it's well worth the investment.

The third microphone that I recommend is a little unorthodox. The RODE NTK is a secret weapon that I like to use when I need a bit more slap in the kick drum. It's a tube-based condenser that has a magical sound when placed in just the right spot. Usually I find that spot slightly off-center in front of the drum head. The $529 price on this mic does put it in the slightly expensive category, but this mic can do it all. From vocals to acoustic guitar, this mic is excellent on almost any recording.

Hope this helps you get better kick drum recordings. Please leave comments and questions here and we'll start up the discussion. Happy tracking.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building a Home Recording Studio | Part 4

Yesterday's post was about starting your mic collection. Today I'm going to discuss mic options for recording drums.  Small diaphragm or Large diaphragm condenser mics are usually the best option for overhead mics on the drums.

Selecting the right Mics for a live drum recording can be a difficult decision. Drums tend to have an unique sound for each individual kit. You also have to take into consideration the style of drumming. The drummer is just as much a part of the kit, so based on how the drummers plays the recording of the kit should factor in to your decision.

Overhead mics are by far an important decision you make when deciding to record drums. A decent amount of your audio will come from the overhead mics. Overhead Mic placement is also a big factor whether you do a symmetrical or asymmetrical mic placement. Just make sure that your mics are placed equidistant from the snare drum so that you don't have any phasing problems with your snare sound.

Condenser mics are usually the first choice for overhead mics on a drum set, however many engineers have had lots of success using dynamic microphones for their overhead mics (OH). The goal is to capture the essence of the drum kit. Putting the drums in the mix to set the mood for the music is the goal. How you sculpt your sound will define your ability to record and mix a quality production.

I like to treat drums as a single instrument and not a bunch of individual instruments. This way I can place mics where they are most beneficial to the recording. Sometimes I'll mic each of the rack toms + overheads + a Beta 52 on the kick. This will give me a more snappy and punchy sound to the kit that is great for a song that needs strong dynamics and percussion. Other times I'll just use a SM57 on the snare + Overheads + an AKG D112 on the kick for tracks that are jazz flavored. These are just a few examples, but versatile dynamics for the type of drums that will fit in the mix.
You can always place mics and then decide if they are relevant to the mix. Just watch out for phasing and over-ambiance. The more mics in the mix, the more likely you'll have phase problems or what I like to call a foggy mix. Try starting your mix with just the overhead mics and mute all other mics. Listen to what the OH mics are providing and then slowly bring in the other mics. You should filter and EQ each mic so it fits in with the OH mix. If the signal is weak or disappears, then invert the phase to see if the track is out of phase with the OH track.

There's more to cover, so I'll open this topic up for questions and discussion. Leave a comment below to add any insight you'd like to share.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Building a Home Recording Studio | Part 3

Microphones are the pulse of a studio. They capture the sound and deliver it to the interface. This is the first point of contact where the sound is captured and harnessed to be preserved for eternity in the digital realm. Every mic has its advantages and disadvantages. In the right situation, a good recording can be made with a handful of SM57s and one large diaphragm condenser.
That is exactly where you should start. The Shure SM57 is a tank & a workhorse. It's great for recording almost everything. This dynamic mic can take a beating and still give you great recordings. It's ideal for recording snare drums and guitar amps. Each SM57 has a different sound, so it's a good idea to have a few in your mic locker.

Focus on getting a decent vocal mic that can be universal for other applications. The RODE NTK is a great place to start and will be a handy mic to have when you start to build up your mic collection. This large-diaphragm tube mic has warmth and character that gives vocals the texture they need to fit nicely into a mix. RODE has a long lasting reputation as a microphone manufacturer and I've had my NTK for 15 years and the beast is still getting use everyday in the studio.

Sweetwater has some great reviews and a wide selection of microphones. If you're going to be recording drums, the AKG D112 is a popular mic for kick drums. The D112 is also great for recording horns and brass instruments. The Shure Beta 52A is another great mic to have in your locker for tracking kick drums. If you're going to be doing Voice Over work for TV or radio commercials, the Shure SM7B is the primary mic you should be considering. This mic has become legendary in the world of VO production. I use the SM7B to narrate all my YouTube videos.

There are so many options that it is impossible to keep this post short and still pack in all the details about microphones. If you're considering a mic for your studio, leave a comment below and we'll start up a discussion about it. Stay tuned for Part 4 tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building a Home Recording Studio | Part 2

PC or Mac, this is the ultimate question. If you're unsure of which one to get, you can always get a Mac and install parallels to run both platforms. A PC will ultimately be a little more affordable and have multiple options for a decent DAW.

I have personally had both computers and over the years have settled on a Mac. I started with a G4, then moved to a G5, and now I currently use a Mac Pro. If you're going to run a ProTools HD system, you'll need a computer that can handle PCIe cards. You can buy a chassis to house the PCIe cards, but then that is one more cable and device on your desk.

Be sure to get a computer with a fast processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. The i5 & i7 processors are excellent options for audio production. If you're not quite sure what to choose, call a specialist. I work directly with Joseph Secu at (800) 222-4700 x1232.

Also be sure to get a good monitor. With all the mainstream TVs having the ability to connect via HDMI or VGA ports you can have a large selection of monitors to choose from. Being able to see what you're working on is very important. You're going to be starring at this computer sc
reen for hours on end, so it would be a good idea to invest in a screen that doesn't strain your eyes.

Tomorrow we'll cover microphones.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Building a Home Recording Studio | Part 1

Starting a home studio can be confusing at times. There's so much information on the web that you don't know where to start. Here are a few helpful tips on how to get your studio going.

Start with a budget. Stick to the budget. You're not going to build a world-class studio overnight. It takes time to develop a feel for how a studio operates. Buy affordable gear at first to determine if you have the talent and stamina to run a studio. Running a studio is a full-time job and will consume all of your free time. So it's best not to invest all your money into the studio up front. 

Get a decent interface. One that has a few mic preamps and some routing options. As you grow, you can upgrade your interface. There are so many options, but you can find used Digidesign 192 HD interfaces on eBay for about $500. Start with one of these if you can afford the system setup. If you're on a tighter budget, I recommend an interface that has been modified by Black Lion Audio. They offer superior A/D conversion and at a price that won't break the bank. 

This will be the core of your studio, so spend a little bit of time researching what will work best for you. A good computer is also vital and there are many PC & Mac options. We'll get into that tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Music Review | EsZ "Maybe I'm Trippin"

Brooklyn's hottest musical genius, EsZ, has released a new single, "Maybe I'm Trippin" and brings his smooth flavors to the music industry. A reflective track with lyrics that reminisce the vintage styles of artists from the past decades with a flare for the progressive direction that the hip hop movement is making. EsZ is a pioneer into the uncharted territory of the unknown future of music. The track finds a way to combine instruments in a composition that brings emotions from all directions. When you here this track it strikes a chord with your own feelings even if the lyrics are not what's repeating in your own mind.

Production techniques on this track are very progressive and exemplify the deep creativity of everyone involved in this production. EsZ has surrounded himself with a team of professionals that are breaking ground on a new voyage deep into the heart of new musical ideas. Great things come from the artists that think outside of the box and this track will definitely have you trippin' on the unique style of the flow from beginning to end. Take a few minutes out of your day and check out the track. It just may take you to a new level of consciousness and possibly lead you to adding the track to your music collection.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Recording Drums

Tracking drums is an art form that takes years to get right. There is a lot of trial and error, so get used to disappointment. You have to really grasp your mics, gear, and room. That said, there's one major problem with tracking drums. The drummer keeps changing. Not all drummers can be good studio drummers, so here's a few tips on making sure you get good drum tracks on your recordings.

First, studio drumming is not the same as live performance drumming. When you have microphones all around your kit, it does take a little finesse to get good takes.
Second, the drum setup is completely different in the studio. There needs to be separation between the high hat / cymbals and the toms. This means that the cymbals need to be raised up higher so they're not in the same plane as the drum heads. You may not agree with me, but your album will be all washed out.

Third, microphone placement is crucial! This one I can't stress enough. If you have a tom, a cymbal, or whatever the hell is on your kit and you only hit it once, get it out of there. That can be overdubbed later and does not need to take up real estate that the mics need.

These are just the foundation for a good drum setup in the studio. Leave comments or questions if you want to hear me rant some more.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Recording Guitars & Amps

Recently recorded a project that had some heavy guitar riffs. The guitarist wanted to get that overdriven tone, but still retain clarity. This is always a challenge for any engineer. Mic choice and placement are crucial. Amp volume rears its ugly head in your face and can create a nightmare for you in the mix. Here's how I did it without spending a lot of time trying to get just the right take in one shot.

Setup a few mics in front of the cab. I like to use a Shure SM57, Shure SM7B, Sennheiser e606, and Sennheiser 421. Put one in front of each cone slightly off-axis and pointing away from each other. Then run the guitar to a DI for tracking the clean signal and then thru to the amp head. Based on how many mics you setup + the DI, you'll have a decent amount of tracks to work with. Normally, I don't use all the tracks, plus there can be phasing issues. All I need is one good track from the take and we're golden.

The first take should be at the level of over-driven tone that the guitarist prefers. Then re-amp the clean signal with the amp at a slightly lower volume. This should give you more clarity from the performance. You can keep doing this routine until you get enough layers to blend in the desired sound for the guitar tone. Pan out the different takes and adjust volume levels to widen the mix.
This is just the concept. You'll need to experiment with your setup to find out what works best.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mixing without plugins

How many of your mixes have plugins strewn across each and every channel? I'm going to guess almost all of them or at least a good portion of them. Are you relying on the plugins to make your recordings sound better? Have you ever tried to mix with just panning and volume adjustments?

Today's modern engineer has become too dependent on digital enhancements of recordings. Things like proper mic placement and quality mic preamps have been replaced with software that constantly needs to be upgraded. Thus, music is loosing the ambiance and mood of the performance that was captured in the studio. Lush layering techniques are being replaced with copy & paste keyboard commands.

I pose this challenge to all engineers that are mixing with a DAW; make a rough mix of your recordings with no plugins just so you can hear the naked truth about your mics, mic placement, and room reflections. Mastering what mic to use and where to place it to capture the best sound will exalt your recordings to unparalleled quality. Musicians will flock to you once you've learned how to capture the purity of sound and translate it in to timeless recordings. If you are using plugins like training wheels on a bike, it's time to grow up and learn how to balance your mixes with knowledge and experience.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Mixing Vocals | Adding Distortion and Lo-Fi

Vocal distortion can be the glue that pulls your vocal tracks together. Just a simple side-chain with the vocals being processed through a distortion plugin or amp head can pull the vocals coward in the mix and at the same time find the right pocket for the vocals in the mix. You may be saying to yourself, "I don't want my vocals all fuzzy and gritty." Not to worry, by side-chaining the effect, you can blend in the dry and wet vocal signals to a level that works best for your mix. The distortion will add just enough color to the vocals so they feel like part of the music and not just ambiguously floating above the music. Slap some EQ on the distortion track to get a brighter or darker tone to your distortion coloring. Just don't go overboard with the vocal effects, unless that is the goal for the track. Happy mixing!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mixing Keyboards & Synths

Keys and synths can appear to be an easy task to mix. They have dedicated outputs and don't require microphones. This very fact is what makes them difficult to tame sometimes. Their EQ spectrum can be all over the stereo field and this can make them unruly when it comes time to mix. My approach is to save the keys & synths for last. I like to mute them and address the drums, bass, guitars, & vocals first to get a nice even balance. Then the keys are like the icing on the cake. They layer a nice thick sound over the mix and it allows you to use surgical EQ to get the pockets filled to your taste. Keys are sometimes the glue that pulls a mix together and sometimes they cloud up the mix and make it murky.

Approaching keys with care can give you more control over the final balance of the mix. In some mixes, it would be a good idea to add some light delay on a 16th note. This can give the appearance of a wider sound for the keys in the mix. You can also split the signal into two mono tracks and add reverb to just the left channel. This will give the keys more depth in the low end and allow the high end to shine a bit more.

Piano tracks typically benefit from proper EQ and a silky sounding reverb. The mood of the track will lead you to what style and depth of reverb to use. I love to hear a dark reverb with long tails, so I like to use a low pass filter on the reverb return. This allows the initial attack of the bright notes to shine with a very pleasing trail of dark tones following behind them.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Advice & Tips for performing live on stage

I've been out to see some local music this past month and wanted to make a few comments on stage presence and what to do when you're on stage. The first thing to remember is that you are the one on stage, so you provide the entertainment. All eyes in the room are on you, so be the artist and give the audience something to watch. The last show I went to see had two bands performing. The first band was impressive. The music had motion and a creative element that was engaging. The musicians were very emotional and it was obvious that they loved their music. The singer was dancing and really putting on a show. Bravo!

The second band started their set and all the musicians were standing still and starring down at their instruments. The singer started the set by saying, "This is a new song, so we may mess it up. Really hope you like it." These are horrible things to say when you're on stage in front of a crowd. It sounds like you don't rehearse and you're insecure about your own music. What do you care if anyone likes the music or not? Will you stop playing a song just because someone says they don't like the song? I certainly hope not. Everyone has a different taste in music, so some will like your tunes and some will not. That should have no relevance on how you compose and perform your music.

The attitude you have on stage transfers onto the crowd. If you're timid and nervous, the crowd will be shy about listening to you perform. When you show emotion and feel the music when you're on stage, it energizes the crowd and they open up to your music. Music is passionate by nature, so release the emotions that inspired you to compose the music and put on a good show for the audience. Please, rehearse your live performance! Don't just meet in your everyday clothes and robotically practice your songs, pretend you're on stage every now and then. Maybe set up a camera and video yourselves so you can see what you look like to the crowd. The stage performance is just as important as the music. Please, for the love of sanity, mute your amp while you tune your guitar. There is nothing that will kill a buzz faster than a lame guitarist plucking random strings to tune a guitar. You never hear a big time guitarist on stage tuning their guitar, so neither should you!

It's OK to talk to the crowd and get them amped up, but keep it short. Unless you're a natural stand up comedian, the longer you talk, the faster the crowd looses interest in your performance. Save the chit chat for after the show. If you need some guidance, just look up some videos on the web of your favorite bands performing live. Take notes on what they do well and how they keep the audience entertained and engaged in the performance. A good live show will propel your music career and news will spread of how impressive your live show can be. That's how you draw a crowd to your shows. Stop asking all your friends to come to each of your shows. You need to reach people you don't personally know.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

3 ways to avoid ending your career in music

Getting excited about your music is a great feeling. Everyday I work with musicians that are motivated and driven to compose and create new music. I see first hand the creative process that goes into the labor intensive tasks of developing ideas into new songs. Many musicians start sending out info on social media while they are still amidst the recoding session in the studio. Some leak videos and audio recordings of the music before the recording session is complete. Though you may be excited and eager to share your excitement with the world, you have to stay focused and maintain a professional attitude. No one will take you seriously unless you have some element of intrigue.

When you prematurely release media and info your image and reputation becomes amateur. My years working with CMJ, Live 105, and Shine On Studio have given me ample opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished and successful musicians in the music industry. Let me share a few ways you can avoid ending your music career.

1. The element of intrigue
It is a good idea to engage your fans and followers on social media, but don't over-saturate your feed with mundane info. If you tell everyone everything you do, then there is no mystery about you. When this happens, people loose interest in what you're doing. Then when you finally have something special to share, it gets over-looked and has no impact on the world. Cut back on talking about yourself and sharing every moment of your life. If you must engage the social media, talk and comment about what other people are doing.

2. Rough drafts are not public
When you leave the studio with rough draft mixes, take them home and review them. That is the purpose of a rough draft! These mixes should not be posted on your website or social media. When you release unfinished work, your reputation and image are permanently scarred. Listeners don't care that you label the track "rough mix" or that you will be making changes to the mix later. They just absorb what they hear and immediately decide if they will follow or forget you...forever. You should always strive to put your best work forward and impress the world with your musical talent. First impressions are vital to success in the overcrowded modern music industry. Wait for the final mix to be finished and then release all of the tracks at one time for the best impression you can make on the music community.

3. Keep you personal & professional lives separate
As an entertainer, you must constantly entertain. Sharing your personal life with the public does not bode well for your professional career. The moment that the public does not view you as a unique individual in the entertainment industry is the moment when you lose all credibility. You must stay focused and keep all your public interactions on a high level of professionalism. Separate your social media and keep your personal life private for your friends and family. The public likes entertaining distractions, so be their entertainment with your music.

These few guidelines can lead to the foundation of a successful or unsuccessful music career. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain a professional music career. Think about what you do before you actually do it. Ask your friends and family for feedback before you present yourself to the world. Hire a producer that you respect or that has a good reputation. Hire a manager or a publicist to maintain your public image. These are things that professional musicians do and they are successful. You get out of it what you put into it, so be aware of what you're putting in.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Choosing the Right Audio Engineer

Not all audio engineers are the same. Some specialize in a particular field of audio production. Others focus their skills on a certain genre of music. Choosing the right engineer is a very important part of your album. The right engineer will produce your music and essentially become a member of the band. Without the right engineer, your recordings will fall on deaf ears.

How do you choose the right engineer?

Start by talking to a few different engineers. You can tell a whole lot about a person just by having a simple conversation. Talk about your music and the vision you have for the finished recordings. Talk about things that interest you and find out if you share any common interests. You don't have to be good friends with the engineer, but you should at least get along. You will be spending many hours in the studio with the engineer and you need to make sure that you will be productive. So before you spend hours on end with an engineer working on your music, make sure you can see eye to eye on the vision of the project.

A good way to gauge an engineer's potential is to listen to some of their past recordings and projects. Any professional engineer will have a few examples of their work out on the internet. If you like what you hear, then you will be happy with what the engineer can do for your music. The engineer doesn't necessarily need to be an expert in the genre of music you prefer. Some of the best albums have come from an engineer that specializes in a completely different genre of music. Sometimes a fresh set of ears on the project is the key to success.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How to get the most from your Recording Studio Time

Many bands come to Shine On with no prior studio experience, so here are a few tips for using studio time efficiently.

First and most importantly, be prepared to spend time working on recording & mixing. Spending all your time on recording will leave you with unfinished tracks. A good engineer will record decent raw tracks, but they will still need to be mixed. The amount of time it takes to mix a track can vary, but a good rule to follow is at least 1 hour of mixing for each recorded minute. So a 4 minute song can take 4 hours to mix. If you want to get technical about the mix, plan more time. Better to over-estimate than run out of time with half-mixed tracks.

Second, show up on time. Time is the primary factor for how your session moves along. Showing up late to a session is the same as giving away money. Don't expect an engineer to stay late cause you showed up late. It's called an appointment and that means everyone has agreed to meet at a specific time.

Third, make sure your gear is in good condition to record. Tune, replace strings, bring spare everything, and always plan for the worst-case scenario. It doesn't happen often, but I've had sessions where the tubes in the amp burn out. Think of everything because this rolls back to the time factor. Running to Guitar Center in the middle of your session is waste of time and money. Don't expect the studio to put your session on hold while you run errands.

If you plan ahead and prepare for your session, you'll walk away with great recordings that sound professional.

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