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Home Recording FAQ
Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 5/5    Views: 120277

Home Recording FAQ
by Shawn Maschino

2) Home Recording Frequently Asked Questions
2a) What is home recording and why would I want to do it?
2b) What are the most popular uses of home recording?
2c) Are there any books/mags available on home recording?
2d) Where can I find other resources, like on the Internet?
2e) Well I want to start a home studio, what do I really need?
2f) Where is the best places to find equipment, and should I get new or used?
2g) What are the basics behind recording?
2h) Who can I stay cost effective or make money recording?
2i) What is the standard recording procedure?
2j) What does mastering really do (or, why aren't my recordings as loud as others)?
3) What is / are... ?
3a) a 2/4/8/16/24... track recorder?
3b) a mixer?
3c) a patch bay?
3d) better, analog or digital?
3e) compression?
3f) reverb?
3g) these -10db and +4db numbers about, and what is balanced and unbalanced?
3h) the difference between dBu, dBV, dBv, and a dBm?
3i) a X-Y mic'ing setup?
3j) some eq'ing tips?

4) How do I ... ?
4a) record vocals?
4b) record guitars?
4c) record drums?
4d) record bass?
4e) record various other inputs?
4f) use my MIDI gear and/or computer in recording?
4g) build my own ... ?
4g1) patch bay
4g2) mixer
4g3) effects
4g4) monitors/speakers
5) Recording Hints and Tips
5a) What is bouncing?
5b) What is punching in/out?
5c) How do I get rid of the background noise?
5d) My levels are all off, what can I do?
5e) Why does it sound right while recording, but come out lower during playback?
5f) I want to go from analog to digital, but where should I start?

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2) Home Recording Frequently Asked Questions
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2a) What is home recording and why would I want to do it?

A musician or aspiring sound-engineer who wants to put together a private, or
public, small and cheap, or professional and expensive studio might do it in
their home before moving to an outside facility.

2b) What are the most popular uses of home recording?

One of the biggest reasons for recording at home is to make demos of your
band to try to get signed, or to record a song you wrote to try to get it
sold. Other uses are to record your jam sessions in case you come up with
"the" song and it will be on tape and not lost forever. Many musicians and
sound enthusiasts simply enjoy sculpting sound in the comfort of their own
home.

2c) Are there any books/mags available on home recording?

Here's a short, but by no means definitive, list
Title - Author - ISBN # - $
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Musicians Home Recording Handbook - Ted Greenwald - 0-87930-237-2 - $19.95
Project Studio Blueprint - Greg Galuccio - Introduction to Professional Recording
Techniques - B. Bartlett 0-672-22574-3
Sound Advice: A Musician's Guide to the Recording Studio - Wayne Wadhams - 0-02-872694-4
Multi-Track Recording - Brent Hurtig & J.D. Sharp - 0-88284-355-9 - $19.95
MIDI for the Professional - Paul D. Lehrman & Tim Tully - 0-8256-1374-4 - $24.95
Audio In Media: The Recording Studio, - Alten, Stanley R. - 0-534-26064-0 - $45.75
Home Recording Techniques
Home Recording for Musicians
Hot Tips for the Home Recording Studio
Making a Great Demo
The Billboard Guide to Home Recording
The Musician's Guide to Home Recording, Second Edition
The Musician's Home Recording Handbook
Using Your Portable Studio
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Some pro and project recording magazines are EQ, Mix, and Recording and can
be found at Barnes & Noble bookstores and many other book/magazine stores.
You can also find EQ at http://www.eqmag.com and Mix at
http://www.mixmag.com. Mix Magazine (as well as many music equipment
catalogs) maintains a very good selection of relevant books which you can
purchase from them.

2d) Where can I find other resources, like on the Internet?

An outstanding set of internet links for the home recording enthusiast can be
found at the HomeRecording.com Web site at
http://homerecording.com/musiclynx.html

A select list of other sites are:

GAJOOB
http://www.utw.com/~gajoob/
A great site with reviews on indie releases, places to look for help and lots
of other neat tricks...

4-Track FAQ
http://homerecording.com/4trackfaq.txt
A FAQ on 4-track recording, good place to start.

Guitar Geek's Recording Chats
http://www.abilnet.com/guitargeek/recording/recording.html
Interviews with artists about how they record at home.

Sonic State's Tweak of the Week
http://www.sonicstate.com/directories/tweak.html
Good cheap easy tricks to try.

The Unofficial Tascam 424 Home Page
http://homerecording.com/tas424.html
They like the new 424MkII. Some useful general tips, too.

The Unofficial Tascam 488 Home Page
http://homerecording.com/tas488.html

Doing it Yourself
http://www.ram.org/music/making/tips/DiY.html
includes:
Building a Studio
Using the Studio
Copyrights, Trademarks, and Publication
Duplication and Distribution
Marketing/Promotion

Looper's Delight
http://www.annihilist.com/loop/loop.html
Mostly tips for using an Echoplex to make loops, but some general useful
info/theory/discography stuff.

Studio FAQ 0.1
http://www.public.asu.edu/~deafen/studio-faq-01.html
A going-into-a-studio-for-the-first-time primer.

Budget FX
(dance-music-centric, but good advice anyway)
http://bunji.realitycom.com/kilo4-3/fx/budgetfx.htm

How to Use a Patchbay
http://homerecording.com/patchbay.html

Some others with good general tips are:
http://members.aol.com/harvgerst/records/tips.html
http://www.guitar9.com/studionine4.html
http://www.guitar9.com/studionine3.html
http://www.guitar9.com/studionine.html
http://www.soundtech.co.uk/index.html
http://www.soundtech.co.uk/hints.html

Some good sites with specific info:
Sonic State Mic Database -
http://www.sonicstate.com/directories/mics/MIC-MAN.HTM
Sonic State's Synth Site -
http://www.sonicstate.com/synth/test.html
DOTCOM's online drum machine -
http://www.abilnet.com/guitargeek/effects/effects.html
STOMPER Drum Synth -
http://www.lysator.liu.se/~zap/stomper.html

In addition, be sure to check out the various newsgroups.
Some of the more popular ones are:

rec.audio.pro
alt.music.4-track
rec.music.makers.songwriting
alt.music.producer
rec.music.makers
rec.music.makers.bass
rec.music.makers.guitar
rec.music.makers.synth
rec.music.synth
rec.music.compose

Mailing Lists -
Home Recording Mailing List - Send a message to macjordomo@loomisgroup.com
with "subscribe homerecording" in the body of the message and see the Home
Recording Web site for more info.

Mixmasters - Another recording/mixing list, send a message to
listserv@netmaniac.com with "subscribe mixmasters" in the subject. Read the
Mixmasters FAQ first at http://homerecording.com/mixmasters.html

2e) What do I really need to start a studio?

That all depends on the quality of sound you want. There are many books that
outline this well, along with sites on the Internet that contain information
on construction of a studio and how to set one up. Normally, you are not in
business until you have something to record on. If this is your first foray
into recording, consider one of the many kinds of 4 track machines currently
available. You will also need a system of monitoring, or listening to the
music you put on tape, which can be on headsets, but speakers are usually
best. A home stereo setup works well for this, but at some point you may
want to consider purchasing professional monitors and a professional
reference amp for the best quality and clarity. There are lots of other
devices that you'll probably want to look into that are covered in later
sections.

For a fairly short write-up on setting up a studio, go to
http://homerecording.com/studio.html

This in no way covers everything, but it's a good place to start for new people.

2f) Where is the best places to find equipment, and should I get new or used?

This may mostly be a matter of preference. Many people prefer new, but many
other musicians search out the used bargains. Consider that new recorders
and effects will have warrantee's with them. Buying a used mixer or recorder
isn't necessarily a problem, just make sure all the inputs and outputs work!
As for the best place to go, usually a local dealer is better then a mail order,
simply because if there's a problem and you need to get something finished a
local place will (usually) let you borrow one while yours is getting repaired
so you don't fall behind. However, mail order many times will have the best
prices. Another advantage with local shops is their used gear inventory,
as well as getting to know the sales help. If you develop a relationship
with one of the clerks, many times they will give you the best deal possible.

Don't forget about the newsgroups too. Great prices on great gear can be
found daily on the recording newsgroups, and on rec.audio.marketplace

2g) What are the basics behind recording?

The basic way is to plug in your input (a guitar, vocals, keyboard,
whatever), into the recorder (4-track, DAT, hard drive...) and try to get the
input level on the recorder to register about 0db or +3 or so on the VU meter
for the best quality. It's best to hit the red once in a while, but not to
stay there for extended periods. It's better to hit higher levels when using
analog or where you will be bouncing so that when you bounce the signal level
won't be too low. (see more discussion on bouncing below) The more you move
the recording, the more your quality and sound level will degrade. However,
digital formats like ADAT or DAT are completely unforgiving if you overload
them. While an overloaded analog signal can actually sound good, an
overloaded digital signal will result in a very unpleasant noise.

2h) How can I stay cost effective or make money recording?

Maybe one of the most asked question, however not directly involved with
recording, this should get a little attention, the following are some tips to
stay out of the red:

1. Track at home. Use the cleanest recording medium possible. 4track if
you must, but 8 analog or ADAT is better. consider renting one - it's not
that expensive. don't be afraid to make performance mistakes, don't try
for perfection, try for energy and interesting performances instead -
happy accidents are good. Get a sonically clean recording. Bypass gear
that you own that is too noisy, plug your inputs directly into the back of
the ADAT or other recording machine if you have to. consider bypassing
your board entirely for inputs, and use it only for output monitoring if
need be.

2. Mix cheap, duplicate cheap. this doesn't mean poor quality, it
means find the people who are talented, but underutilized. Get them on
your side. Find a studio with a good board that will mix for $20hr.
(they are out there, go look!! You can get some great results with a
minimum of equipment if you have someone with talent behind the
board). Always check your mixes against a CD, consider having an
outside engineer help you mix with a fresh perspective and a fresh ear.

3. spend the $ for mastering. I know it's another few hundred but it
will be the best few hundred you have ever spent. DONT master it
yourself. get an outside professional to do it with a fresh ear. Skimp
on your recording, and maybe even your mixing, but DONT skimp on
mastering!! the public expects a clean and clear finished result and
mastering will help you get it.

4. have your duplicator run the duplicating only. do the packaging
yourself. call your friends over, buy a case of beer and start stuffing
inserts. it's fun and it will cut your duplication costs in half. do
your printing locally, use local artists for the graphics. You'll maintain
more control over the finished product, and you'll integrate another
group of people into your realm who might buy your album (the artist
people usually know lots of cool people). check out the local art schools
for people who could design your goods.

5. ask all the local independant record stores if they would carry your
independant release on consignment. most local stores have a local music
section ( if they don't, encourage them to start one - offer your tape as
their first release) and will carry your music without any hesitation. Ask
the major record store chains too - you never know.... Charge HALF of
what the major's charge for their tapes and CD's. CD's should sell for NO
MORE than $7, and tapes should sell no more than $4. go for volume of
sales, not high paying sales. Try to get counter space by the register
for your release and put up a small sign indicating that you are a local
artists. People dig that stuff and will spend $ on local artists if the
price is right.

6. Get on the web and talk up your release. solicit feedback and post
that feedback as testimonial of your goodness.

7. Talk to local college radio about playing your music. if it is "radio
ready" (see "mastering" above) they will play almost anything. provide
the station with as much info about your stuff as possible - include your
internet testimonials, and where your album can be purchased.

8. Create a flyer on your computer that talks about your band, your
music, what radio stations you can be heard on (include their phone number
for requests) and where you can buy your album. Go downtown and hand out
that flyer to people standing in line to get into the bars, or waiting to
get into a concert, or to buy concert/sporting event tickets, waiting for
the bus, whatever. encourage them to call the radio station to request
your music.

9. Create a larger nicer flyer that can be read from a distance of 10-15
feet or so that basically says "(insert album name here) on sale here!"
and place this flyer/poster in the window at the stores where your album
is on sale. In smaller print write that you are local artists, include
some reviews, etc.

10. have all your friends call the radio stations to request your music.
Ask people on the net to call your radio stations to request your music.

11. hold free concerts in town parks, high school gyms. enter as many
local music contests or band showcases as you can. be heard! send a free
copy of your CD to the local newspaper or other music related local or
regional periodicals. If you are in New England, there is a mag called
Northeast Performer who will write a lengthy review of your work. be sure
to take exerts from these kind of reviews for your flyers. Have T shirts
made and sell them at your shows. Have small stickers made with your logo
and stick them everywhere - bumpers, lampposts, toll booths, kids
notebooks, the Mayor's wife's behind, whatever.

12. sell albums yourself wherever you need to, but encourage people to buy
your album at the stores. The stores like this part and will be good to
you.

The main thing to remember is to believe in what your doing and have
fun, making music and recording for the purpose of making money at
first is almost always going to result in bad music, if you don't believe in
yourself or your music don't bother. Another good point is that if you
love playing and really believe in your music you'll be encouraged to
push it, go out to find places to sell it and get good prices at mixing and
mastering houses.

2i) What is the standard recording procedure?

The standard procedure for getting recordings done is:
1) Write the music/lyrics, without them there's not much to record
2) Practice, a lot, if you're recording at someone else's place it'll save time
on mistakes, and if not you'll still sound better because you'll know it inside out.
3) Record the music
4) Mix the music, this is where you'd add extra effects, and get it into 2 tracks
for the next step.
5) Mastering, this makes the recordings sound more full and even.
6) Duplication, to make copies to sell, give away, have pile up in the corner...

2j) What does mastering really do (or, why aren't my recordings as loud as others)?

Mastering is a process of compressing or limiting the entire mix so that the levels
on the entire mix are more consistent and even. This allows the person transferring
the finished product to CD or tape to print the levels really, really hot without
too much fear of overloading the levels to degradation. Mastering also can involve
some final tweaking to the EQ's or editing of songs together with the correct amount
of space between them and so on. Mastering is usually done today on computer workstations
like Soundtools and friends, but in past days it was done on standard analog compression
and limiting gear by a guy with a really good ear. Mastering is a very important part of
getting that "radio ready" sound. Without mastering, your tapes will never be as hot or
as clear as professional recordings. But don't despair, with just a few pieces of quality
compression or limiting equipment, and some fine EQing, you can get a close facsimile.

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3) What is ... ?
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3a) a 2/4/8/16/24... track recorder?

A 2/4/8/16/24... track recorder is what you will be using to record your
music. An example of a 2 track recorder is a cassette deck, it has 2 tracks,
one on the left and one on the right. Though you can record different things
on to each track, most people simply use a 2 track machine to record the left
and right channels of music. Most standard 2 track decks must record both
tracks at the same time.

However, a multi track recorder has the advantage of being able to record on
only one track at a time, or on all tracks at the same time - much more
flexibility which will be critical in recording your music. 4 track machines
are normally your entry level into multitracking. They allow you to
(initially - again see "bouncing" below) record 4 separate and distinctly
different tracks of music - i.e. drums, bass, guitar and vocals. An example
of a 4-track would be the Yamaha MT140. Many 4 track machines have a built
in mixer (see 3b), aux sends, and punching ability. 4-track machines -
like most 2-track machines - usually use standard cassette tapes as their
recording medium, although unlike your standard cassette player, you can only
record on 1 side of the tape.

Some 8-track players also use cassettes but the higher quality ones use
mostly 1/2" open reel-to-reel tape. 16 and 24" are almost always open reel,
many with the tape width of up to 2". Most digital multi-trackers, such as
DA-88,s or ADATs don't use standard tape, they either use DAT cartridges
(which is a form of tape), direct hard drive recording, or a very high
quality form of video VHS tape.

3b) a mixer?

A mixer is a component that allows you to connect all your instruments, and
peripheral equipment to your tape recorder. It allows you to control the
individual level of each instrument begin sent to tape, to control the tone
of the instrument via equalization, or EQ, as well as the amount of "effect"
being added to each instrument from your peripheral effect processors. (more
on this later) Mixers usually have at least 4 inputs, but can be as many as
48 for the big boys. This means that you can plug in as few as 4 instruments
or microphones, or as many as 48 instruments or microphones - and be able to
control each one individually. A mixer for home recording purposes should
have at least stereo monitor outs, and stereo outs. Most will, and should
have, direct outs on each channel, the ability to group different channels to
be combined together and sent out the mixing board together (called
"bussing"), auxiliary sends to route the signals to processors, and some sort
of VU meter to view the input and output levels. The mixing board is the
central control unit in any recording studio and should be thoroughly
researched before deciding on a specific model. If possible, test drive your
friend's mixer to learn the in's and out's (no pun intended!) of what you
want before buying your own.

3c) a patch bay?

Ever notice that all the input and output jacks for your mixer and effect
processors are in the back of the unit where you can't get to them? A patch
bay simply re-reroutes all those ins and outs to a central location so that
you can "patch" together all the different devices you need to use. It's a
series of jacks that are connected to all your effects and outputs that
routes the signals you want just by connecting "jump" cables on your
patchbay. This saves time and makes work a lot more organized. You can
buy them for anywhere from $45 to $185 depending on how many "points" they
have. Most start at 48 patch points but can range as high as 128. Building
one is fairly simple to do, cost less too. See the How To.. sections for info.

3d) better, analog or digital?

No such thing as better, only different. Factors that might influence your
decision include cost, sound quality, cost of tape, reliability,
compatibility with other studios, ease of expansion, how the medium might
alter the original sound, and what special stuff it can do. Here's a quick
rundown (glittering generalities) of analog vs. digital on these points:

**track for track, analog is generally a cheaper machine to buy, but only by
a few hundred dollars

**digital is a more faithful reproduction of the original sound - it's near
CD quality. (Some feel that this is actually a detriment, that digital is
"TOO perfect". Analog tends to modify the original sound but in a pleasant
way - mostly for guitars and bass. Most rockers use nothing but analog.)

**analog tape is much more expensive than digital - $30 a roll for 1/4", but
only $10 per tape for ADAT

**analog machines are generally more reliable.

**digital machines have experienced a tremendous boon recently, and as a
result, almost everyone has one. With that in mind, digital machines are
probably more compatible with someone else's studio than analog. It's pretty
easy to find another studio with ADAT, but it's pretty hard to find another
studio with 1/2" 16T.

**digital machines can be expanded readily. they all have connectors in back
that chain them to another machine of the same make. this allows you to
expand from 8 tracks to 16 tracks with the plug of a cable. some analog
machines can expand and be chained together, but normally there is much more
involved than plugging in a cable.

**digital barely alters the original sound at all no matter how many times
you bounce tracks - the sound really doesn't degrade. analog alters the
sound - sometimes in a pleasant way - and does degrade over the course
of many bounces.

**digital has basically zero noise while analog has some level of background
tape hiss of varying degrees, depending on the quality of the machine and the
tape.

**analog can perform tricks like running the tape backwards, or splicing
several takes of one song together. digital doesn't do tricks, but many
digital machines have features such as copy and paste, automatic punch in,
total recall, and more.

**analog is generally more fun overall but lower sound quality. digital can
be prone to fussiness, but is generally a cleaner sound.

3e) compression?

A compressor controls the level of the signal going into it by reducing the
volume of the loud parts, and increasing the volume of the soft parts to make
the signal overall more consistent. Most compressors have 2 variables,
compression, which is how much to compress the signals, and release, which is
how long to hold the compression for, the release can be used to increase the
sustain of the notes. Compression is normally used on vocals, bass, and
drums, as well as other instruments as needed. It can be used while
recording, or in the final mix down. Most people prefer to run everything
"dry" (no compression or other extra effects) into the mixer, use the sends
to go out to the effects, and then record, adding the final effects during
the mastering.

3f) reverb?

Reverb is an effect that changes the original sound from sounding like it was
recorded in a closet, into sounding like it was recorded in a gymnasium. It
adds depth and ambiance to your music. Most people like to add at least some
reverb to the whole mix, to make it sound more full.

3g) these -10db and +4db numbers about, and what is balanced and unbalanced?

The real story on line levels is fairly complex, but the quick answer is:

a -10dB level is about 0.3 volts
a + 4dB level is about 1.2 volts

Pro levels are +4, semi-pro and consumer are -10. The original US telephone
company signal levels became today's +4; the Japanese consumer-electronics
industry began a -10 standard.

Without going into all the impedance and stuff like that, either level is
fine, but +4dB lines generally have better noise immunity because the
signal level is much hotter. As long as your -10 equipment can handle the
higher input level you'll be fine. Prevent overloading it by keeping its
input-level set low.

Balanced vs. unbalanced is a different matter: -10 is usually unbalanced, +4
is usually balanced. Balanced lines offer excellent immunity from hum and
noise pickup. This is usually the reason a studio is using +4dB because
they want the balanced lines.
An unbalanced line has the "hot" and "ground" wires.
A balanced line contains a "positive" and "negative" (electrically
inverted) copy of the signal (called "hot" and "cold" respectively), plus a
shield ground. The receiving-end of the cable inverts the cold and adds it
to the hot (assume the "value" of the signal is 1:

N = noise pickup in the cable
hot wire + (- cold wire) = 2
(+1 + N) + (- (-1 + N)) = 2

You end up with a double-voltage signal (the doubling is 6dB of gain). Any
noise pick up cancels out neatly.

These are line levels. Mic levels are typically about -50dB, instrument
levels are about -20dB (but they can vary widely).

3h) the difference between dBu, dBV, dBv, and a dBm?

dBuV and dBmV imply a reference level of one microvolt and one millivolt,
respectively - which are simply not relevant here.
dBu is referenced to 0.775 volts (1 mw into 600 ohms)
dBV is referenced to 1.000 volts (1 mw into 1000 ohms)
dBv is the same as dBu (0.775 volts... just to confuse us)
dBm is the old power reference of 1 mw
Note also that dBm is 10log(P/Pref) while dBu,V,v is 20log(L/Lref).
Pro gear indeed has a larger signal - by a large margin (though not 14 dB!)

3i) a X-Y mic'ing setup?

The following was taken from a mailing list posting
>I keep reading about this particular mic technique suited for acoustic
>guitar. Its called the X-Y setup, or something like that. I know it
>involves 2 mic's with different placements, but I am not clear on how
>these are to be set up. If anyone could shed some light on this, it
>would be appreciated.

Sure, it's real simple. It takes two directional mics and you want them to
be as closely matched as possible. By directional, I mean either cardioid
or hypercardioid, pickup patterns. Omni won't work for this technique,
since it depends on the directional response of the mic to get a stereo
effect.

You put the mic's with their capsules as close together as you can get them,
and have them pointing at angles to each other, probably in the range of
90-110 degrees apart.

So if you're using "pencil style" small diaphragm condenser mic's, you get an
arrangement that looks like a "V" with the capsule ends of the mic's
together. Run that into two channels on your console and pan hard left and
right.

Having the capsules together like that helps keep the phase of the sound
coherent, and then the directionality of the mic's gives you a stereo sound
field. You can vary the angle between the mic's to determine how wide the
stereo separation sounds.

I've used the X-Y technique for drum overheads and acoustic guitars and it
sounds great! You still have to move the mic's around to find the best spot
for 'em, but it gives you a nice natural sounding stereo image.

2j) some eq'ing tips?

The following is taken from a mailing list posting

Since I work on a digital multitrack, I also wrestle with tone issues,
trying to warm things up and keep them from being thin and tinny. Some
thing's I've learned:

100 Hz is a warm area. If your signal has anything in this range, try boosting.
200 Hz is a boomy area. Try a cut here.

Most sounds have a component in the lower-mids (300 - 1K) that give some body,
search this area for a boost that sounds good. Although some of the frequencies
in here are also muddy, especially in and 300-800 area, but it all depends on the
music for this area.

1.5K - 2K is a nasally area. Cutting here makes a lot of things sound better,
but if you cut too much you risk losing body.

2K - 4K is a warm area, especially for guitars, a boost here can add body and
warmth to the mix.

4 - 5K is a harsh area. A cut here can often allow you to bring up the overall
level of a sound.

A lot of sounds also have some component in the highs (7K and up) that's
offensive--SSSSSS or whatever. Sometimes if you cut that, then do a
general high-end boost, the thing sounds more pleasing. Cymbals usually
are in the 8K - 10K range, so it's best to leave them alone in that area.
Also, in general, SATURATION equals warmth. Compression can give a
saturated sound. Tube gear especially (compressors, EQ's, amps) gives a
saturated sound. Ditto for analog tape. In general, the more
analoggy-tubey-compressy stuff you have in your signal chain, the warmer
things will sound.

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4) How do I ... ?
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4a) record vocals?

The simplest method would be to plug the microphone right into the inputs of
your recorder. However, even if you choose to do this, you may need an
additional piece of equipment called an impedance adapter. This device is
basically a converter that changes the three prong XLR connector of most
microphones to a 1/4" plug used by most other equipment's inputs. It also
adjusts the voltage of the microphone to match the 1/4" input as well. A
better way to do vocals is to use a microphone pre-amp instead of an
impedance adapter to do this. While the pre-amp will change the connector
from XLR to 1/4", a mic-pre will also improve the quality of the vocal signal
dramatically. A good quality studio will have a good set of mic-pre's to use
not only for vocals, but anything else that might need a little quality
enhancement.

Microphone selection is also very important. While the Shure
SM-58 will do the job, a high quality dedicated vocal microphone will add a
new dimension to the sound of your vocals. If you are working on a vocal
intensive tune, consider renting a good mic for the day. When upgrading your
studio, consider a quality vocal mic as one of your first upgrades.

4b) record guitars?

There are more questions regarding how to get good guitar sounds on the
newsgroups than any other question. Unfortunately there are more ways to get
guitar sounds than could ever be answered in print. Generally there are
three main ways to do this:

1) Go direct

Simplest method. Plug the guitar right into the mixer or tape deck. Generally
doesn't produce that biting crunch tone that guitarists crave. Sounds good on
clean (un-distorted) guitar.

2) Run through an effects processor then into the mixer

Not a bad alternative. Many effect units sound great this way. Allows you to
add distortion and other goodies. Has the advantage of simplicity (and not
disturbing your neighbors while cutting a scorching lead at 3am) but the
disadvantage of still (maybe) not achieving the desired crunchy tone.

3) Mic the amp/room

Preferred method of guitarists everywhere. Plug the guitar and distortion
into your favorite amp, crank the amp, and stick a SM-57 in front of it.
Never fails to produce the best tone. A favorite method of locating the best
place to put the mic is to turn on the amp, but leave the guitar off.

While listening through headphones, move the mic around in front of the amp
until you find the point where the amp hiss is loudest. That's the place to
put the mic. Turn up the guitar and go for it. However, many great guitar
sounds are found in other locations around the amp - don't be afraid to
experiment. Try micing from behind the amp, from the side, or from several
feet away from the amp. Enjoy! This is one of the most fun things you can do
in recording!

4c) record drums?

Drums can also be very difficult to record. If you have a four track you may
want to use an additional mixer to run all the mic's from the drums into and
then mix the results of the sub-mixer into one or two tracks. Some people feel
that you really can't record drums with less then three mics, but in reality
there are no rules. Led Zeppelin is famous for using minimal micing techniques,
and is also know for getting some of the best drum sounds ever
recorded. For most people, one mic in the kick, and two mic's positioned overhead
will give good results.

If you have a fairly large mixer, and/or a large number of tracks, consider
using at least 6 or 8 mic's. For an example, place a mic in the kick
(two kicks? use one mic for each), one pointed at the snare, one or two
for the mounted toms, one or two for floor toms, and at least two overhead mics.
A standard technique for mixing drums involves turning off all the mic's except
the overhead, listening to the kit through those mic's, and making the kit sound
good with those mic's only.

This may involve moving the mics around until you find a good spot (a good
balance between the sound of the room and the sound of the drums), or adding
some EQ control. Once these mics sound good, bring up the kick mic and balance
to taste. Once these three mics sound good together, bring up the remaining
mics only a little bit. Overall, you should be hearing the room mics most of all,
with the kick mic fairly prominent in the center. The other mics are used primarily
to bring in a little of the sound of the stick impacting with the drum head - the
"snap" of the kit.

A common error is for people to mix drums the other way around. They bring up
the individual drum mic's first, and then bring in the room mics. While there
are no rules in recording, you're likely to be happier with the first method.
As always, be sure to experiment to taste!!

Some mic's that are suggested for drum micing are:
AKG D112 or EV-RE 20 - kick drum

4d) record bass?

Bass is frequently recorded direct - meaning plug the cord straight into the
board. Some folks like to add a little compression to bass. Another
technique is to place a mic in front of the bass cabinet and record the sound
of the amp, or to split the signal from the bass and record both direct and
through the amp. Again, experiment to taste. Amp sounds will normally have
more attack and "character" while direct sounds will normally have more
"roundness and fullness". A combination of both sounds can be very nice.

The following was taken from a post on a mailing list:

A handful of tips:

Keep the bass tone controls flat (full on everything if it's passive,
centered if it's active). You can't create sound in the mix that wasn't
recorded in the first place. Although lots of (us) bassists generally
prefer a deep sound with limited highs, you need it all on tape; you can
cut the highs during mixing.

A bass track that sounds good when soloed is not appropriate for many
mixes. You often need to cut the deep lows (150 Hz and below): the lows can
swamp the playback equipment, and the lowest stuff doesn't even get
reproduced in cars, boom boxes and small stereos.

When the fundamental of a bass signal is missing (as with cheap playback
systems), the brain uses the even harmonics to synthesize the impression of
hearing the lower fundamentals. For example, if you have a good 164.8Hz
overtone, the listener will "hear" the low E two octaves down at the 41.2Hz
fundamental. You don't need perfect reproduction.

Boost 1-2KHz to get the fret noise and finger overtones. These may sound
ugly when soloed, but they'll add articulation to the bass in the mix.
A general point to remember when EQing is not to always boost, which can
cause overloading and distortion. Try to achieve the desired boost by
cutting everything else and bumping up the level.

Speaking of distortion, sometimes that's what's needed to wake up the bass.
Run the clean track through an effects unit to add a little. Use an
amplifier simulation if you've got one, or feed the track into a bass amp
and mike that during the mix.

If you've got a drum kit in the mix, make sure that the kick and bass
aren't in the same area of the spectrum. Use your ears or an analyzer to
check.

Add some compression (try going for about 5dB of gain-reduction on most of
the notes). Adjust ratio and threshold for roughly this gain reduction. A
medium release time, say about 0.5-1 seconds should work well, but first
try the compressor's automatic (or medium) settings. Compression will allow
you to tame the note peaks while "filling in" the decay of the notes.
Extreme compression will turn the bass into an organ-pedal sound. (Apply
compression after the EQ section).

4f) use my MIDI gear and/or computer in recording?

MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface. It is simply a
computer language that computer based instruments use to talk to each other.

Midi can be extremely useful for the musician who likes to use it. Here
are some common uses for MIDI:

1. connect 2 keyboards together so that you play one and the other follows
along playing exactly what you play on the first one. for example - keyboard
#1 has a piano sound but you'd like to add some strings from your second
keyboard. Just connect a midi cable to them and the second keyboard will
follow the first one exactly. viola - strings and piano together! (actually
there's a little more to it than that, but we'll get there later.)

2. connect a midi effects unit to a sequence. If you do this, and then
program midi change commands on your sequencer, the effect unit will change
effect settings automatically as the sequencer rolls by.

3. connect a sequencer to a midi lighting controller that turns lights on
and off remotely and automatically

4. transmitting data from a computer based instrument to a storage device,
ie. a disk drive. If you are big into instrument programming you will
eventually want to store your settings. Midi allows you to send this data
from the instrument to a disk drive, hard drive, or jaz drive for storage and
re-loading at a later date.

What are sync codes:
Sync codes are similar to midi in that they are a computer language that
talks between instruments, but they are not the same as midi. Sync codes or
sync tones are used to lock together a tape based recording device (4 track,
ADAT, whatever) with a sequencer. All the sync tones do is record on the
tape a computer tone that tells the sequencer what time it is and where in
the song the sequencer should be. This is commonly used where you want to
record keyboards driven by a sequencer along with guitars, live drums etc.
First, you would connect your sequencer to the sync tone generator, and the
sync tone generator to the tape machine. Start the tape machine, and then a
few seconds later, start the sequencer. You are thus recording a sync tone
to tape while the sequencer tells the sync tone generator what time it is.

Now, when you roll back the tape, the sync tone on the tape will tell the
sequencer what time it is and will always start the sequencer at exactly the
same moment. Say you have an 8 track recorder. You now have the ability to
record 7 tracks of guitar and drums (track 8 is for sync tone) and have the
keyboards play along exactly in time. mix the keys in with a mixer and
you've got more than 8 tracks of music with an 8 track tape machine.

Sync operations can be very cool, but also very problematic. Sync tone is
very unstable and is very susceptible to failure. Electrical spikes, low
sync tone level, and many other silly things can cause the sync to dropout
during playback. when this happens the sequencer will stop cold. it will
usually pick back up again when the tone returns to normal, but dropouts will
render the tone useless.

FSK and SMPTE are the most common types of sync code. Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU)
is one of the primary builders of sync tone generators, although J.L.
Cooper's PPS2 has been shown to be extremely reliable. Pocketsync from Anatec
has mixed results. While some people swear by it, some people (including me)
swear at it.

4g) build my own ... ?

4g1) patch bay

Building a patch bay is easy. take a hollow box, or some kind of plastic strip, buy
a bunch of jacks (1/4" ones at radio shack cost about $1.29 each), cut holes in
whatever you're going to put them in, screw the jacks in. Then you have to decide
how you want to do it, you can:

a) Have in jacks on one side and outs on the other, making it so on the back you can
connect anything to the jack, and by plugging in on the front it will go out the
corresponding hole in the back. Just make sure it has a return to the back and that
goes out to the front! To do this just solder wires direct from front jacks to the
back jacks.

b) Have everything hard mounted. Buy some cable and solder a 1/4" head on one side
and the other side to the jack, you only need one side of jacks this way and the
head will go into the effects.

c) Normalize it, so that you don't need the jump cables in the front to use your
basic setup. There are slightly more expensive jacks to buy that are "normalized",
so that when there's nothing plugged in, it goes to one place, but when you plug
something in it, the signal goes to wherever the plugged in cable goes.

4g2) mixer

Mixers are much more complicated to build. If you are good with electrical
diagrams, many publications and web sources will provide you with a diagram
that you can use. Generally, you should leave mixer building to the pro's.

4g3) effects

Not as hard to build as mixers these usually cost about as much to build as
to buy, so most people just buy. But to make your custom sounds you can
build your own. There is a FAQ on building effects as well as specs and
schematics for all the major types of effects on the 'net. Use your search
engine to search for "effect build FAQ" in AltaVista or other engine and you
should get some interesting results.

4g4) monitors/speakers

This is something that many people have tried but very often it results with
a very un-flat response rate, and is best to let the "pros" do it. For
information on speaker design you may want to check out
http://www.hi-fi.com/speaker

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5) Recording Hints and Tips
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5a) What is bouncing?

Bouncing is a way to free up tracks, although doing it too much can
compromise quality. What you are doing is essentially taking the music
that's on a few tracks (for example 1-3) and recording all of them at the
same time to track 4. Good points: frees up tracks 1-3, bad point: you can't
go back and clean up the original 1-3, and you can't add effects to any of
them individually like you could before bouncing. On a four track, a
frequently used technique is record drums on track 2, bass to track 3, and
bounce them all to 4. Then do rhythm and lead on 2 and 3 leaving 1 open for
vocals. If you need more then just 1 for vocals or want to add keyboards or
other things, bounce the rhythm and guitar to 1. This leaves 2 and 3 free
again, but not you can't add extra effects to the guitars individually, and
tracks 2 and 3 have already been recorded on 2 times, making them less
high-quality.

5b) What is punching in/out?

Punching is the lead guitarists best friend. It allows you to quickly engage
and disengage the record mode on your recorder as the tape rolls by a point
that might need a touch up. Say you've done a great solo, but missed one
brief passage. Punching allows you to go back to that passage and touch it
up, but punching it to where you made a mistake, and punching out after it's
fixed. Most recorders have a foot switch option to control when the punch
in/out starts/stops, and some (most digital recorders) have auto-punch that
start and stop the punching for you at specified times in the song. Usually
punching is best handled with an experienced engineer at the controls as you
play. That way the engineer can find a good point to get in and out, and the
musician doesn't have to worry about manning the punch switch (and possibly
missing the punch point and recording over something you wanted to keep).

Consider also making a backup of the track before you start punching just in
case you screw up. Also, pay attention to your punch points. Sometimes the
punch operation will cause a slight "pop" to be heard on the tape, so you may
want to "hide" that pop by engaging the punch switch at the same time that
the kick drum is heard. Thus the kick masks any possible pop from the punch.

5c) How do I get rid of the background noise?

The main way most home and semi-pro setups use is a noise reduction. The
most common is dbx, and it's better then Dolby but the one problem is to play
back you need to have dbx on or it'll sound bad. This isn't a problem if you
record and master from the same deck which most people do. Digital recorders
have no noticeable tape hiss and hardly ever use noise reduction during
recording. However, the instruments being recorded also have their own
random noise and may need to be cleaned up. The most common way is to adjust
the EQ to eliminate some of the high end hiss, and to use a noise gate to
shut off the sound when no one is playing. There are also many
post-recording/ pre-mastering signal processors that clean up the sound and
kill the hiss. BBE makes most of these which can be useful if your studio is
prone to noise and interference. Be sure also to exercise good cable
management, and cleanliness. old cables, or dirty contacts can generate
noise. Audio cables that cross power cables can generate noise. Neon, or
fluorescent lights can sometimes make noise, as can dimmer switches. A good
engineer will systematically search for noise sources and eliminate them. A
good engineer will never stop trying to reduce noise in both the gear and the
environment.

5d) My levels are all off, what can I do?

If you recorded with the VU meters showing one level and on playback it's
another that's not necessarily a problem. Analog machines especially tend to
reproduce the recorded signal at a lower level than inputted.. If the
playback level is louder than the in/out level, clean the tape heads and
check for interference. If you're mastering and the tape deck VU shows
levels at +3db or so but when you play the final tape back it's a little
lower you may want to re-do it. Most people will record/master about 1 1/2
to 2 notches into the red. Other problems may involve selecting the input
type (mic, instrument and line) make sure you're on the right one, this can
really effect the quality and noise.

5e) Why does it sound right while recording, but come out lower during playback?

See 5d, it basically answers it!

5f) I want to go from analog to digital, but where should I start?

If you already have a good computer (at least a 486dx66 and 8-16meg of ram or
higher), you may just want to buy a sound card and use the computer as a
direct hard drive recorder. This is definately a bonus, because sound editing
on the computer is easy, and there are lots of other tricks you can do.
Other things to get include recording/editing software, and with MIDI you may add
some extra life to your sound with virtual tracks! Computers also have the
advantage of being able to burn a CD of your music. Otherwise an ADAT or some
other digital format (mini-disk, digital cartridge) may do the trick, there
are a lot of 8-track digital recorders that are only a couple hundred more
then analog 8-tracks. There are also hard disk recorders like the Fostex
DMT-8 and the Roland VS880 that have great sound and editing, these can run
up into the $2,000+ range.

-TC Staff

Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 5/5    Views: 120277


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