beginning a project it is important to have an idea of how you want the
song to sound like, or album. Things to consider are: Instrumentation,
Style of music and what kind of processing is needed and suitable.
- As an
engineer, it is good practice to always carry a CD that you are extremely
familiar with as a reference to distinguish room acoustics and monitor
Depending on the style of music you will be recording, familiarizing
yourself with current styles, production and instrumentation will help
generate new ideas for your project. As an example if you are looking to
record your band that is currently alternative rock you might pick up the
latest Smashing Pumpkins album or Soundgarden. Both bands fall into the
Alternative/Grunge bin of musical labels but both significantly differ in
what and how they approach they're music and recording. On the first
Pumpkins album some of the songs had 40 guitar tracks per song to create
impression of a "wall-of-sound" that surrounded the listeners listening
spectrum; Soundgarden's BadMotorFinger used a heavier drum and bass
combination to make their sound more driven oriented. Another classic
example of the "wall-of-sound" usage was 1960's producer Phil Spectre. The goal was to multiply the instrumentation to
fill the listening spectrum to the maximum.
Dissecting your favorite albums is an excellent sou8rce for inspiration.
Listening to the different signal processing used such as reverb, delay and
other effects (FX) can dramatically alter the texture of your recordings.
Your listening "session should focus on the frequency spectrum the album
projects. To illustrate frequency spectrum analysis we'll look at the
popular album "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" by the Black
Crows. The first thing to listen for is the driving factor that predominates
the entire album. Hip Hop albums tend to boost the lower and higher
frequencies to get that guttural feeling of pumping rhythms and the
crispness on the higher frequencies. Punk music tends to rely heavily on the
use of overcompressed distorted guitar that is
very tiny sounding in the overall mix opposed to the Smashing Pumpkins.
Overall Punk music focuses the mid-range frequencies as the dominant range.
Little low-end and little top-end. Mid-range frequencies tend to fall in the
500Hz - 10,000KHz range. The Black Crows is guitar driven. Guitars fall in
the 500Hz - 3,000KHz range.
One of the toughest to mix are the drums and the bass. The overriding problems
that tends to occur on independent albums is the incorrect recording and
mixing of the kick-drum and bass guitar. Below is a few concepts to remember
the next time you enter the recoding studio.
A) If the kick-drum has a "fat" sound, which can be defined as a
"Thwapping" sound, the bass-guitar must be very "pointed".
Pointed means that rather than a very "round" full sound, the sound
becomes very "thin" or "pointed", mid-range frequencies
will bring a fat,muddy sound into an audible level. For tight kick-drum sounds
a full, rounded bass should be the approach to counter the kick-drum.
The general rule for recording bass and the kick is: IF the kick drum is
pointed the bass should have a rounder sound and vice versa, if the bass is
pointed (You can hear the frets snapping) then the kick should lean more
towards the rounder thudding sound. If both are rounded the result is a mush
sound in the lower frequency range that is undistinguishable to the ear. And
of coarse, is both are pointed there will be conflicting frequencies that can
result in frequency cancellation or phasing. Neither are good for a quality
sound recording unless use to create a specific sound.
The guitar tracks where recorded using close-micing. Close-Micing refers to
microphone placement. In the case of this album the mic's were placed right
in front of the amp to capture the nuances of the guitar and amp. The result
is a more in-your-face sound that is dry and raw the same way ACDC's Back In
Black's guitar sounds. For a warmer and less raw sound you can move the mic
away from the amp at varying distances for different sounds.
Vocals can be recorded completely dry and dead meaning no
reverb and a vocal booth that is padded to stop reflections.
Using a Southern rock album,
what does that mean? It tells us that the
recording process uses the "Less IS MOre" concept. The mix is simple
(sounding). Each instrument is placed in the audio spectrum to be heard with
panning on the guitar and harmonica. Typical panning for guitar is spreading
out a stereo feed hrad-left and hard-right. This sound creates a dimensional
effect of 180*. Tom-TOms on drums tend to be panned left - right to fill empty
is a very important element in the mix. Without panning all instruments are
trying to occupy the same space which, as mentioned earlier, causes frequency
cancellations, phasing and undefinable notation. With panning you are able to
spread out the frequency ranges to accommodate all recorded instruments so as
not to overlap as result in frequency loss. This should give you an idea on
how to approach constructive listening. There are other factors that come into
play that will looked at as we continue. Take all of the ideas presented,
characteristics and sound treatments and make a list that you can build and
always have on hand as a reference.
This is defined as the total energy present within any listening environment
and is determined by 1) the original or direct sound, 2) the early reflections
(Echoes) and 3) the later, more diffuse reflections or
"reverberation". Churches tend to be very ambient. Their rooms are
cavernous and do not contain many diffusers. This echo effect is generally
present when a sound is made. Where as recording studios have sound proof
rooms that control reflections by absorbtion. The end result is just the
Direct sound without either of the other two characteristics.
Room ambience can
and is used on everything from vocals to drums and bass and overall mixes to
enhance the recording.
Signal processing consists of a wide array of sound treatments ranging from
delay and reverb units to pitch shifting and compression, wah-wah FX and more.
It is handy to have quick reference guides for your own recordings. (Get to
know your equipment and the different characteristics of the amp, tuning, and
FX units before entering the studio. By knowing the capabilities of your
equipment you will be able to better create the sounds your hear in your
head). Additionally, you may find that you want to re-create a sound you heard
on your favorite album that you would like to use in your recording such as a
guitar effect or snare sound, whatever the desired effect, having a guide
handy will free up time as well as act as a reminder on how to achieve them
Miking techniques are an integral part of the recording process and is
considered to be on of the most crucial elements of a professional recording.
Factors such as which mic to use with what instrument and what micing
positions to use for what sound are a "science" in themselves.
Listing to records and picking out certain interesting qualities and trying to
recreate them is one of the best ways to expand your idea/reference list and
ideas. As used in the example of the Black Crows, the guitar had a raw
in-your-face sound that is achieved by close-micing to capture the sonic
nuances of the guitar's grit and amp. BASIC MIKING POSITIONS:
Drums: 1 - 2 overhead mics positioned on an X Y axis to capture the room
ambience and overtones if the entire set.
- Kick Drum:
Placing a mic inside directly level and in the middle of the kick drum
will capture the initial "slap" of the kick-pedal. The result is
a tight sound.
- Other Kick
Drum micing positions include placing the mic just outside the kick drum
to capture not only the "slap" but the air-rush the follows.
This produces more of a thump/swosh
- Snare drum:
Standard micing for the snare include positioning a mic (most live and
mid-size studios still use the traditional Shure SM57) above the head of
the snare. Or placing the mic underneath the bottom snare head or using
Hi-Hat: The Hi hat is very important to have the right mic placement as it
tends to provide the ongoing tempo of the song. Traditionally the mic is
placed at one side of the HiHat about 4-6 inches from the top hat at a 45*
- TomToms: The
same technique can be used for the toms as the snare. Placing a mic on the
top of the skin about 2-4 inches for each tom. Depending on the sound you
are going for a single mic can be placed in between the two toms.
Crashes: Generally these will be picked up by the overhead mics. You do
have the option to mic each individually.
Depending on the sound you are going for, various mic placements will be more
suitable than others. Much of the earlier recording from there
50s and 60s
relied on only 2 or 3 mics placed strategically to capture the entire essence
of the sound. In the 70s the move to close-micing prevailed. If you listen to
drum sounds from the 70s on recording such as the Doobie Brothers, Leonard
Skynard and more, you will hear a very flat dead sound. Tom Toms tended to be
muffled so as to produce a simple "thud" without much tone. With the
80s and the advent of the Drum Machine, tuning did not become much of an issue
as the were not alterable.
There are many techniques for getting a great guitar sound. Again it comes
down to the overall sound of the song, certain micing will work better than
others. One method is placing a mic about 4 inches in front of the amp at the
edge of the cone in order to bypass the "air rush" that occurs when
the speaker cone is displaced. Another is placing the amp in a hall way and
setting up the mic at various distances to capture various room ambiences.
The Bass guitar proves to be a difficult instrument to capture correctly.
Special attention should be placed in recording the bass. One of the better
methods is to hook the bass up to a "DI" box (Direct In) right to
the mixing console as well a micing the amp (much the same way you mic a
guitar amp). This gives the engineer the option to use either or both. Using
the DI box will give you greater control on the final sound but just micing
the bass amp will not as you will be unable to erase or remove any hiss, room
ambience or other intrusive elements. If you are trying to generate an
old-style feel or "live" performance feel then micing is the way to
go as it will capture not only the direct sound of the bass but also the other instruments that are playing live as well which creates more of a
"live" or "human" feel.
Piano is another difficult instrument to properly mic. There are many methods
of micing and few that capture the true essence on the instrument. One method
is to open the lid (grand or upright) and place 1 mic about 12 inches above
the lower registers and one mic 8 inches above the high register. PZM mics can
be employed as well to capture the higher registers by taping them to the top
of the lid on a grand or on the back of an upright.
Horn players either have direct-input ready instruments or they rely on
traditional micing which is to place the mic about 12- 24 inches from the bell
of the horn. Generally, horn players will know how to play into the mic for
Tempos can be used for general musical style reference. A song may have
several different tempos in it that you like and can try. Tempos can keep a
song interesting if used correctly. Tempos can also portray the differing
moods of a song by slowing or speeding up.
As mentioned previously, panning is an important element in mixing your music.
It is a difficult procedure to effectively use it if your not sure what it is.
Panning is defined as the positioning of sound in a left-to-right spatial
perspective between two speakers. Keep a record of certain typical panning
positions for various instruments. As in the Smashing Pumpkins breakout album
Siamese Dream, guitar was the driving force with up to 40 tracks of guitar for
just one song. In this case the guitars would be spread out over the spectrum
to create that feeling that your "inside" the song.
There are no rules when it comes to recording. You can place a cardboard box
over the singers head to create a shallow, boxed-in sound or fill up a bathtub
to give a room more ambience for recording guitars, vocals drums ..whatever.
Knowing how to create those sounds and why the various recording techniques
achieve these sounds will allow you to expand on your own sound in hopes of
creating a unique sounding recording.